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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Joy


I do understand how Joy could be polarizing.

I like David O. Russell's genre-bending, film-on-the-fly sensibilities.  Maybe if I had told you beforehand that Joy is an updated Cinderella as told by a bi-polar person with AD/HD you might have received it a little better.  DOR combines Robert Altman's dialogue, Martin Scorsese's narratives, Christopher Guest's multiple-trial improvisations, and Frank Capra's human idealism into a unique style. 

NEGATIVES: The dysfunctional family dynamic of the first 20 minutes was too chaotic for me.  The dream sequences and the soap opera as substitute for life metaphor I enjoyed, but I can see why how they could seem jarring and clunky.

POSITIVES:  The message of the power of friendship through the undying loyalty of Joy's ex-husband and childhood friend Jackie; the female empowerment, "I don't need a prince" feminist anthem; the rags-to-riches success story--these things were heartening and inspiring.  The excellent cast gave honest, terrific performances, led by Jennifer Lawrence's restrained, nuanced Joy that carried the film on her shoulders.

Critics were split along gender lines (males averaged 53%, females 85%) and age (older critics like Richard Roeper, A.O. Scott, and Sasha Stone were positive about Joy while millenials, in their typical herd mentally, rated it harshly). 

I've seen all but one of DOR's movies, and I've liked all of them. Silver Linings Playbook (one of my all-time favorite films), The Fighter, and American Hustle were better, but I rate Joy a solid B, and I believe history will treat it well.


8 out of 10

Sicario


Director Denis Villanueve’s (Prisoners) biggest film to date is an unqualified home run.  This riveting thriller, set on the US-Mexican border, the disputed turf of the war on drugs, featured Emily Blunt as Kate, a tough and honorable FBI agent trying to apply law and order to a part of the world where neither applies.

As we meet her, Kate is leading a bust on a human trafficking operation.  Her team uncovers something much larger and pays a huge price for that discovery.  Cut to a regional FBI office where Kate and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) are called in by her boss (the ubiquitous Victor Garber) for a mysterious meeting with group of criminal justice suits that includes a jeans and flip-flop bedecked Matt Graver (Josh Brolin).  Kate is offered an opportunity to go after bigger fish than the ones she previously pursued. 

Next, we find Kate and Matt in a gymnasium-like room where a crewcut crew chief is explaining a mission that sounds vaguely illegal to a group of men that included Delta Force, Texas Rangers, miscellaneous mercenaries, and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a sleepy-eyed, laconic operative in a rumpled suit who somehow seems more dangerous than any of their the posturing, testosterone-exuding teammates.  In short order, we are off on the mission.  We know very little about it because Kate knows very little about it.  This is the strongest part of the many strong parts of this film: Villanueve thrusts us into Kate’s shoes, and we learn as she does.  We empathize with her, and Blunt’s face holds a mirror up to our own harrowed feelings as Sicario hurtles toward a destination we aren’t sure we want to reach.

Following her badass turn in the sci--fi thriller, Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow, Emily Blunt cements herself as a legitimate action star.  I had heard that this role would push her into the forefront of the Oscar race.  She is certainly good enough, but I don’t know if this is the role that will do it for her.  Benicio Del Toro, though, puts in a performance that rivals Javier Bardem’s turn in No Country for Old Men.  I expect to hear from him as Supporting Actor come Oscar Time.  Legendary Cinematographer Roger Deakins will be there, too, and maybe this will be his year after 11 nominations.  He captures the bleak beauty of the landscape—at times the film even has a documentary feel to it—and a night vision vignette is a piece of claustrophobic wonder.  That set piece, along with a scene at the border-crossing scene and several others, stay with the viewer for days afterward.


8.5 out of 10

Ex Machina


Alex Garland is an experienced screenwriter (28 Days Later, Sunshine), but Ex Machina is the first time he has written and directed a film.  He is off to a good start.  This tight (1:48 run-time) sci-fi thriller is long on atmosphere and creepiness.  Don’t let that put you off, though; it is an exhilarating head-trip that is a feast for the eyes and mind.  A friend, marveling at some of the photography, asked me where the film was shot; research later revealed locations in Norway that had not been featured in commercial movies before.  But much of the film elicits an eery claustrophobia that makes any shot of the outdoors feel liberating.

As the movie begins, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a computer programmer for a giant tech corporation.  He wins top prize in a contest at work: a week at the remote home/research facility with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the CEO of said corporation and a brilliant, creative computer scientist.  The reclusive Nathan lives alone, with only a beautiful cyborg concubine, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) and his research into Artificial Intelligence to while away the hours. 

Nathan is excited to get the Caleb’s opinion on a breakthrough he has made in AI: the beautiful Ava (Alicia Vikander).  Caleb is challenged to decide whether Ava has true consciousness or if she is simply a sophisticated machine.  Over the next week, Caleb spends time with Ava, debriefs with Nathan, and he starts to believe that something very wrong, perhaps evil, is happening at the facility.

The cast for this film is excellent, catching its three main performers on the rise.  Oscar Isaac already has made a name for himself with Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, but with Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming in December, he will soon be a household name.  Domhnall (pronounced DONN-ull) Gleeson is the son of Brendan Gleeson and was first widely seen as Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter universe, but he is in a slew of upcoming films, joining Isaac in Star Wars, costarring with Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, and most notably supporting Leo DiCaprio in the much-hyped The Revenant.  The real revelation, though, is Alicia Vikander (pronounced vih-KAN-dur).  The 28-year-old Swedish actress has been acting since 2002 in Europe, but as Ava, her soft beauty, former ballet dancer’s grace, and downright talent is a star turn.  Like her castmates, she has several high profile films coming up: costarring as Eddie Redmayne’s wife in The Danish Girl, with Matt Damon in Jason Bourne, and in the highly anticipated The Light Between Oceans.  Don’t be surprised if she becomes the next Jennifer Lawrence.

Ex Machina is my favorite movie of 2015 so far, and I believe it sets the bar high for any films that follow.  It is too small to be a major player at Oscar time, though.  I will personally be pulling for  Alicia Vikander as Supporting Actress and for its jaw-dropping Visual Effects.


8.5 out of 10

2015 Academy Awards Predictions


OSCAR PICKS:
Best Picture:
“American Sniper” 
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
“Boyhood” 
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” 
“The Imitation Game” 
“Selma” 
“The Theory of Everything” 
“Whiplash”
A difficult pick, but the original, funny, surreal “Birdman” should win. Only “The Grand Budapest Hotel” challenges it as a work of cinematic art. Having said that, Boyhood” is much beloved, and the critically acclaimed favorite, but if it wins we'll look back in five years and think it was a mistake.
Actress:
Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”
In some years, any of these performances could be a winner, but this year belongs to Julianne Moore.
Actor:
Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”
Like Best Picture, another difficult call. My favorite performance was Cumberbatch's savant interpretation of Alan Turing, but most experts are calling for Redmayne or Keaton. So, let's say Redmayne.
Supporting Actress:
Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
Laura Dern in “Wild”
Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”
Laura Dern was heartbreaking as Cheryl Strayed's mom, and Emma Stone was beautifully rebellious as Riggan's daughter, but it's Patricia Arquette's determined and loving mother in “Boyhood” for the win.
Supporting Actor:
Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”
In a category where every actor except Ethan Hawke would be a worthy winner, J.K. Simmons is a surprisingly easy pick for his turn as the martinet music instructor in “Whiplash.”
Director:
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson
“The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum
A two-horse race. Iñárritu's visionary direction should win. I also recognize the political aspect of the Oscars, and I could easily see the Academy awarding Linklater for his 12-year labor of love.
Adapted Screenplay:
“American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall
“The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore
“Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten
“Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle
Will it be “The Imitation Game,” “Whiplash,” or some dark horse? I'll go with this category as the lone win for “The Imitation Game."
Original Screenplay:
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
“Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
“Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy
I believe it comes down to “Birdman” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The guess here – and it is a total guess – is that the whimsical inventiveness of TGBH wins the day.
Cinematography:
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman
“Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
“Mr. Turner” Dick Pope
“Unbroken” Roger Deakins
Pick any one of these candidates, and you will get no argument from me, but in another category that comes down to “Birdman” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” this one goes to the long tracking and intimate close-ups of “Birdman.”
Foreign Language Film:
“Ida” Poland
“Leviathan” Russia
“Tangerines” Estonia
“Timbuktu” Mauritania
“Wild Tales” Argentina
I know nothing about non-English-speaking film, so I count on my friend, Prof. Quincy Wagstaff and Guy Malone, Researcher. Quincy says “Ida” and Guy says “Leviathan.” I'll stick with Quincy.
Costume Design:
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Milena Canonero
“Inherent Vice” Mark Bridges
“Into the Woods” Colleen Atwood
“Maleficent” Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
“Mr. Turner” Jacqueline Durran
The brilliant palette of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” costume designs perfectly complement the sets and scenery, overshadowing “Into the Woods.”
Film Editing:
“American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
“Boyhood” Sandra Adair
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling
“The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg
“Whiplash” Tom Cross
Adair seamlessly pieces together 12 years of film into one integrated whole, the most masterful part of “Boyhood.”
Makeup and Hairstyling:
“Foxcatcher” 
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” 
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
A toss-up, but let's say “The Grand Budapest Hotel” because it is the only one with a Best Picture nod.
Original Score:
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat
“The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat
“Interstellar” Hans Zimmer
“Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon
“The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson
It was “The Theory of Everything” that won most of the precursors, so who am I to argue (though I liked “The Grand Budapest Hotel” score as much).
Original Song:
“Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie” Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
“Glory” from “Selma” Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie “Common” Lynn
“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights” Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me” Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
Lost Stars” from “Begin Again” Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois
It will be “Glory” because the song is terrific, plus I have it on good authority (my daughter) that Common will give a kick-butt acceptance speech.
Production Design:

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” 
“The Imitation Game” 
“Interstellar” 
“Into the Woods” 
“Mr. Turner”
Every time Wes Anderson makes a movie he should win this category, so “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Sound Editing:
“American Sniper” 
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” 
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” 
“Interstellar” 
“Unbroken”
This one should go to “American Sniper” as a medal for its popularity.
Sound Mixing:
“American Sniper” 
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” 
“Interstellar” 
“Unbroken” 
“Whiplash”
The lush big-band jazz and effects should carry the day for “Whiplash,” although expert consensus has “American Sniper” winning its second award.
Visual Effects:
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” 
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” 
“Guardians of the Galaxy” 
“Interstellar” 
“X-Men: Days of Future Past”
Five strong competitors, but “Interstellar” should fly above the others.
Documentary Feature:
“CitizenFour” 
“Finding Vivian Maier” 
“Last Days in Vietnam” 
“The Salt of the Earth” 
“Virunga”
In this race, “Vivian” is fading, “Virunga” is gaining, but “Citizenfour” holds them both off.
Animated Feature:
“Big Hero 6” 
“The Boxtrolls” 
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” 
“Song of the Sea” 
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”
The technical artistry and humorous but warm story of “How to Train Your Dragon 2” should win it.

2014 Favorite Films


FAVORITE FILMS 
1 - Birdman
2 - Grand Budapest Hotel
3 - Whiplash
4 - Imitation Game
5 - Locke
6 - The Drop
7 - X-Men: Days of Future Past
8 - Only Lovers Left Alive
9 - Gone Girl
10 - St. Vincent
11 - Hunger Games: Mockingjay I
12 - Guardians of the Galaxy
13 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
14 - Snowpiercer
15 - A Most Wanted Man
16 - Wild
17- Nightcrawler
18 - Calvary
19 – Interstellar
20 - Under The Skin

Mad Max: Fury Road


Last night we saw Mad Max: Fury Road.  Aside from the obvious joys of two hours of the sublime Charlize Theron (my favorite African-American actress), who is really the star of the film, the post-apocalyptic world built by Director George Miller is imaginative, colorful, and cruelly-drawn, deftly balancing practical effects and CGI.

In essence, MM:FR is a chase film with an allegory for the corrupt core of a male-centric society and the rise of female dominion.  It unfolds will little exposition; in fact, it could easily be a silent film with only a musical score to accompany it--though the score isn't all that great.  Neither, surprisingly, is Tom Hardy, who mails it in in the rare occasion where the titular character plays second banana, kind of like Django Unchained.  (I believe Tom devoted all of his acting acumen to his supporting role inThe Revenant.)  Nicholas Hoult, though, is very good as a bald evil minion converted by love.

MM:FR is nominated for 10 Oscars, second only to The Revenant's 12.  A guess here is that George Miller could pull what Ang Lee did in Life of Pi: win Best Director along with several technical awards, but definitely not Best Picture.


8 out of 10
 
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