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

Heresy! Charlatan! -- Roma v Bohemian Rhapsody


Differing with Critics -- a brief essay by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

[Disclaimer:  What follows is not the opinion of management (FilmZ), lest any sensitive cinephiles out there get the vapors in a fit of pique.  I take full responsibility for its contents.  GSM,R]

To put things in context at the beginning:
Roma is tied with The Favourite for the most Academy Awards nominations with ten, including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actress, and Actress in a Supporting Role.  It enjoys a 96 (out of 100) from Metacritic--an aggregate score of some of the best critics in the US.
Bohemian Rhapsody has five Academy Awards Nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor.  But it scored an anemic 49 on Metacritic.

I saw Roma and Bohemian Rhapsody on consecutive days, and I liked Bohemian Rhapsody more.

Reflective researcher that I am, I asked myself, what is more important in judging a film, how much  we appreciate it or how much it entertains us?  Ideally, both; at least there should be some balance.
A funny thing happened as I watched these particular movies.

Several critics urge fans to see Roma in the theater (rather than Netflix) to get the most out of the visual experience.  I can tell you another reason: if you watch it in the comfort of your home, say, in a recliner with a cup of cocoa, you are likely to doze off.  Lucky for me, FilmZ and the Czarina were there to rifle jujubes at my face whenever I faded.  Roma is auteur Alfonso Cuaron's lyrical autobiographical paean to his childhood maid and his reminiscence of a fractured family in the Roma section of Mexico City in the early-1970s.  Make no mistake, Cuaron is a brilliant, two-time Oscar winner and multiple nominee who has directed films as wildly divergent as the sci-fi Gravity, the dystopian Children of Men, the coming of age Y tu Mama Tambien, and my favorite Harry Potter entry, The Prisoner of Azkaban.  He has earned our respect.  True, I was mesmerized by Roma: the black and white photography; the slow, dreamlike camera pans, like the one that shows the protagonist hanging the family wash on the roof that reveals other maids doing the same thing on rooftops across the neighborhood; the vignettes that play out like our own nostalgia--little moments like a sunburn at the beach as well as big ones like a family tragedy; the artsy touches like the reflection in the wash water of the jet soaring overhead.  A worthy tribute to a beloved woman.  My conclusion: For a slow, quiet, drama, give me Debra Granik's pensive Leave No Trace.

I had avoided Bohemian Rhapsody as long as I could.  When it was first released, few critics had anything good to say, and even acquaintences said it was like a VH-1 production, the only selling points being Rami Malek's performance as Freddie Mercury and the fabulous music.  Further damping our desire was the director, Bryan Singer; the less said about him the better.  Then came the Golden Globes nominations, then the wins, then the Academy Awards nominations.  We could resist no longer.  FilmZ, the Czarina, and I headed out to the local third-run theater (a place reminiscent of Shelob's lair).  And then something strange happened. A good cast, including Lucy Boynton (Mary, love of Freddie's life), Gwylim Lee (lead guitarist Brian May), Ben Hardy (percussionist Roger Taylor), Joe Mazzello (bassist John Deacon), Allan Leech (sleazy manager Paul Prenter), and Tom Hollander (ethical lawyer Jim Beach) convincingly parlayed the hackneyed dialogue and Cliff Notes plot into somethng we cared about.  It didn't hurt that the music took us back decades on our own nostalgia trip, and we cared that these brilliant guys got together to form Queen, that the synergy of their talents would create a singular sound.  We wished Freddie would not hurt Mary or his family or his bandmates; that he would pursue happiness instead of self-destruction.  We truly were moved and thrilled, and in the end, we mourned the loss of Freddie, but, damn, that last performance.  Sometimes, I think the big-time critics get together at a bar and agree whether or not a movie is good.


How We Did With Oscar 2019 Nominations



Dearest Serfers,

Back on November 19, we posted our "Too Early Academy Award Nomination Predictions" and now that the results are in, it's time to face a reckoning.  Making predictions like this before many of the most prestigious pictures have been released is a fool's errand; in that case we were the right "Guy" for the job.

The films First Man and Widows are perfect examples. Two months ago, they looked like contenders; however, the former was forgotten, and the latter was not as good as expected.  As a result, our predictions across categories were hammered--those two films provided our only misses in the Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay.  They also provided one of only two misses with Director, Cinematography, and Original Score.

*  We've reprinted our November 19 predictions below.
*  Don't be confused by the terms FRONTRUNNERS and CONTENDERS; FRONTRUNNERS were our picks, and CONTENDERS were individuals and films that had a chance to pull an upset nomination.
*  All new commentary is in bold.  Also, all actual nominees are in bold, with our "misses" in regular print.

Enjoy,  FilmZ
_________________________________________________________________________________

BEST PICTURE - (maximum of ten nominees)
Potential surprises:  First Man and A Star is Born could face backlash; Roma might be confined to the Foreign Film category; the yet-unseen Mary Poppins Returns could blow everyone away; much beloved Black Panther could overcome the blockbuster stigma and make waves.
Roma exceeded even its own high expectations, tying The Favourite with 10 nominations.  Black Panther did indeed make waves.  And we completely missed out on Bohemian Rhapsody, which defied critics and impressed the Academy.

FRONTRUNNERS:
The Favourite     [we predicted 7-9 Oscar nominations; it received 10]
First Man     [we predicted 5-7 nominations; it received 4]
Green Book     [we predicted 4-6; it received 5]
Roma       [we predicted 6-7 nominations; it received 10]
A Star is Born     [we predicted 8-10 nominations; it received 8]
Vice     [we predicted 6-7 nominations; it received 8]
Widows     [we predicted 5-6 nominations; it received 0]

CONTENDERS:
BlacKkKlansman     [We predicted 4-6 nominations; it received 6]
Black Panther    [We predicted 3-5 nominations; it received 7]
If Beale Street Could Talk     [We predicted 4-6 nominations; it received 3]
Mary Poppins Returns     [We predicted 2-4 nominations; it received 4]

Where we missed big: Bohemian Rhapsody  [We did not predict its nominations; it received 5]
_________________________________________________________________________________

DIRECTOR - (five nominees)
This is a crowded field that bears watching over the upcoming weeks as some films push to the forefront and others fall off.  Right now, critics anticipate great things from many films, but audience reaction to these directors' movies will have something to say about it.  Regrettably, so will industry politics and the dreaded backlash.  It looks like there are eleven contenders, and frankly, we wouldn't be surprised if any of them receive nominations.
Cuaron and Lanthimos were safe picks, and they are probably still the frontrunners. Selectors must have thought Best Director and Best Actor were too much for Cooper.
An important note: the expanded Academy membership that includes a big influx of international members has thrown a monkey wrench into predictions. Seeing Pawel Pawlikowski join the group is a shot across the bow at traditional Oscar selectors.


FRONTRUNNERS:
Damien Chazelle - First Man
Bradley Cooper - A Star is Born
Alfonse Cuaron - Roma
Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite
Spike Lee - BlacKkKlansman

CONTENDERS:
Ryan Coogler - Black Panther
Peter Farrelly - Green Book
Marielle Heller - Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Barry Jenkins - If Beale Street Could Talk
Adam McKay - Vice
Steve McQueen - Widows

Where we missed big:  Pawel Pawlikowski - Cold War
_________________________________________________________________________________

ACTRESS - (five nominees)
The big questions here: how much love will Roma get and thus carry Aparicio upward; can the Academy voters overlook genre and acknowledge Collette's incredible performance; will Nicole Kidman be recognized for several dynamic 2018 roles; will Blunt's as yet unseen Mary Poppins catapult her into frontrunner status?
The answers above are Yes, No, No, and No.

FRONTRUNNERS:
Yalitza Aparicio - Roma
Glenn Close - The Wife
Olivia Colman - The Favourite
Viola Davis - Widows
Lady Gaga - A Star is Born

CONTENDERS:
Emily Blunt - Mary Poppins Returns
Toni Collette - Hereditary
Nicole Kidman - Destroyer
Melissa McCarthy - Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Julia Roberts - Ben is Back
_________________________________________________________________________________

ACTOR - (five nominees)
Bradley Cooper is the only lock here, and Ethan Hawke or Lucas Hedges could slip in and replace one of the frontrunners.  Dafoe won the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival, but few have seen his film here, and no one has seen Eastwood yet.  Mediocre reviews from TIFF could hurt Jackman.
Our big win here is the pick of Dafoe, who received little love back in November, and our disrespect for Ethan Hawke, who most critics loved.

FRONTRUNNERS:
Christian Bale - Vice
Bradley Cooper - A Star is Born
Willem Dafoe - At Eternity's Gate
Ryan Gosling - First Man
Viggo Mortensen - Green Book

CONTENDERS:
Clint Eastwood - The Mule
Ethan Hawke - First Reformed
Lucas Hedges - Boy Erased
Hugh Jackman - The Front Runner
Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody
Robert Redford - The Old Man and a Gun
_________________________________________________________________________________

SUPPORTING ACTRESS - (five nominees)
Some of these choices are speculation.  That may be because we haven't seen most of the contenders yet.  Adams, Stone, and Weisz are usual suspects here and King is getting a lot of positive buzz, but only Foy is a known quantity.  At this point, any of the contenders could move up.
The shocker here, is Marina de Tavira, whom no one predicted for a spot.

FRONTRUNNERS
Amy Adams - Vice
Claire Foy - First Man
Regina King - If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone - The Favourite
Rachel Weisz - The Favourite

CONTENDERS
Elizabeth Debicki - Widows
Nicole Kidman - Boy Erased
Natalie Portman - Vox Lux
Michelle Yeoh - Crazy Rich Asians

Where we missed big: Marina de Tavira - Roma
_________________________________________________________________________________

SUPPORTING ACTOR - (five nominees)
The general consensus has Chalamet among the favorites, but our gut sees other favorites.  The only shoo-in is Ali, but industry love of Elliott is strong, and word of mouth for Grant is exuberant.  We thought BlacKkKlansman was Driver's best performance to date.  Jordan is always terrific, and we hear that Kaluuya is chilling in Widows.
We rest our case.

FRONTRUNNERS
Mahershala Ali - Green Book
Adam Driver - BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott - A Star is Born
Richard E. Grant - Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell - Vice

CONTENDERS
Timothee Chalamet - Beautiful Boy
Michael B. Jordan - Black Panther
Daniel Kaluuya - Widows
_________________________________________________________________________________

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - (five nominees)
Conventional wisdom predicts A Star is Born to be a nominee, if not a favorite, in this category.  Considering that this is the fourth go-round for this film, we don't really follow the wisdom here.  We're feeling pretty good about our frontrunners as the final group of nominees, but hey, we've been wrong before.
We liked Buster Scruggs, so no quibbles here for missing out on that.

FRONTRUNNERS
BlacKkKlansman
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
First Man
If Beale Street Could Talk
Widows

CONTENDERS
Beautiful Boy
Crazy Rich Asians
The Front Runner
A Star is Born

Where we missed big: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
_________________________________________________________________________________

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - (five nominees)
The Favourite and Green Book seem like certainties, and Eighth Grade is a festival and critical darling that could get a nomination here as a nod to the fondness with which it is held.  Again, Paul Schrader's First Reformed is believed by many to be headed for a nomination, but we're thinking Adam McKay (Vice) better hits the zeitgeist.  A Quiet Place is a very cool movie and it deserves recognition, but it seems like the experts touting it are being ironic.
What we said above pretty much summarized this category.  

FRONTRUNNERS
Eighth Grade
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
Vice

CONTENDERS
First Reformed
A Quiet Place
_________________________________________________________________________________

CINEMATOGRAPHY - (five nominees)
The favorite is, of course, The Favourite; period pieces always have a leg up in this category.  First Man makes us feel as if we were in the '60s, in space, on the Moon.  A Star is Born is immersive.
Cold War and Never Look Away took us by surprise and are evidence that this year's Oscars will provide some shockers like we haven't seen in years.

FRONTRUNNERS
The Favourite
First Man
If Beale Street Could Talk
Roma
A Star is Born

CONTENDERS
At Eternity's Gate
Black Panther
Cold War
Green Book
Widows

Where we missed big:  Never Look Away
_________________________________________________________________________________

EDITING - (five nominees)
I provided no text for this category in a weak attempt to be ironic.  It's probably good no one noticed because this was my worst predictive category.

FRONTRUNNERS
The Favourite
First Man
Roma
A Star is Born
Vice

CONTENDERS
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mission Impossible: Fallout
Widows

Where we missed big: Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book
_________________________________________________________________________________

PRODUCTION DESIGN - (five nominees)
Again, the well-done period piece has an advantage here, thus The Favourite.  But we also give props to the world building in the other films.  This will be an interesting race.
Roma again exerted its muscle.

FRONTRUNNERS
Black Panther
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
The Favourite
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns

CONTENDERS
Crazy Rich Asians
If Beale Street Could Talk
Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Mary Queen of Scots
Roma
A Star is Born
_________________________________________________________________________________

ORIGINAL SCORE - (five nominees)
Whether it's stirring us, mesmerizing us, or setting the atmosphere of the film, we have some clear-cut delineations among the competing films.
We loved BlacKkKlansman, so any recognition it gets is fine with us.

FRONTRUNNERS
Black Panther
First Man
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Mary Poppins Returns

CONTENDERS
BlacKkKlansman
TheNutcracker and the Four Realms 
_________________________________________________________________________________

Below are the categories we were too lazy and/or too ignorant of to address in November.  We provide them for your interest and information.  At Oscar time we will predict all categories.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Capernaum
Cold War
Never Look Away
Roma
Shoplifters

ORIGINAL SONG
"All The Stars" - Black Panther
"I'll Fight" - RBG
"Shallow" - A Star Is Born
"The Place Where Lost Things Go" - Mary Poppins Returns
"When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings" - The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

COSTUME DESIGN
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther
The Favourite
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen of Scots

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice

VISUAL EFFECTS
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

SOUND EDITING
A Quiet Place
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma

SOUND MIXING
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT)
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence

ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Quick hits: If Beale Street Could Talk, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


We're at the point in the year that the movies are coming fast and furious (no not that movie).  We don't have time to do full reviews, and you don't have time to read them.  Many of the films we'll be discussing deserve more time, but you will be able to get the gist of them from our one-paragraph summaries.


If Beale Street Could Talk

Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) is 19 and pregnant.  She breaks the news to Fonny (Stephan James), a 22-year-old wrongly imprisoned by a racist cop on a rape charge.  Barry Jenkins' (Moonlight) latest is based on James Baldwin's novel about a young couple's struggle against racial injustice in 1970s Harlem.  The performances ranged from good to excellent, with Regina King as Tish's mother the standout.  We liked the non-linear structure, flashing back to Tish and Fonny as childhood friends, and the evolution of their relationsip against the backdrop of prejudice and suspicion.  The jazz and soul soundtrack complemented the lush period photography.  The most sparkling moments were when the families were onscreen, which leads us to the flip side: as interesting as the families were, they only had a couple scenes--most of the story was the young couple, and a lot of their screen time was them staring at each other with mooneyes.  This resulted in glacial pacing (Captain HE said the story could've been told in an hour);  The shift in tone, at times, was jarring--one moment, the couple is walking along in what looks like a scene out of La La Land; the next scene, they are talking about how horrible the ghetto is. In sum, we recommend Beale Street, but not with the enthusiasm an 87 score on Metacritic would indicate we should.
7.5 out of 10


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

At the entrance to this movie is a sign warning off epileptics before they enter.  We were leery enough about taking the family to what seems like the zillionth Spider-Man entry since 2000, and now we see them marginalizing a niche minority.  As the Czarina pointed out, it is the flashing lights in this most animated of animated action-comedies that might trigger seizures.  In this entry, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a gifted Brooklyn teen, is sent by his cop-dad (Brian Tyree Henry) to an academic prep school when he really wants to be a graffiti artist like his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali).  Of course, that radioactive spider bite derails all plans; newly "Spidey"-sensed, Miles is drawn into the battle against the villain Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) who wants to shred the time-space continuum, revealing other planes of existence, each of which has its own version of Spiderman: Earth's Peter Parker (Chris Pine) of course, Bizarro-World-type Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), gritty Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage); there's even a porcine Spider-Ham/Peter Porker (John Mullaney) and a very cool resurrected and superpowered Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld).  It's fun and funny, but with heart and empathy coursing throughout.  And everything is splashed across a backdrop of terrific sounds and an even brighter canvas that looks like actual comic book pages--the singular comics page-print and font design, written "Biffs" and "Pows" inside explosive bursts, the weird angles, the coloration technique, and occasional panes.  It sold us completely.
9.0 out of 10

Vice


Vice -- Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Although our reviews are typically tardy, submitting a review on a film we had seen weeks ago is ridiculous. Sometimes our excuses are lame, but this one is genuinely lame: The Czarina's best friend smuggled in a vat of real absinthe for the holidays, and we just woke up an hour or so ago.

We loved Adam McKay's last film, The Big Short, so as we accompanied FilmZ and his youngest, it was with high expectations, and they were fulfilled for the most part. McKay's background is as a comedy writer, so no one should be surprised by the humor in this film about Dick Cheney, the most powerful Vice President in US history; in fact, we can't imagine how depressing and ponderous a story about Cheney would be if it weren't leavened by humor.  Our fellow-traveler, Don Swedanya, actually beat us to the box office on this one and related that he was "impressed and depressed by the film." We agree, and both emotions hung with us long after we left the theater.  And we were angry, too, as we could imagine viewers on both left and right could be.

McKay states up front that it is difficult to garner facts from one of the most secretive politicians in history, but he claims that what is portrayed is factual, and while McKay draws on historical fact to show Cheney the politician as Machiavellian, he portrays Cheney the husband and father as loving and compassionate, prompting one Conservative pudit to label W's Veep, "America's Dad."  How factual is it?  The basic outline of Cheney's career, his political alliances, and his policies are matters of record, starting in 1963, as we see the young Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) as a wild-child who flunked out of Yale.  His then-girlfriend Lynne (Amy Adams) reads him the Riot Act, and the next thing we see, Cheney is a Congressional intern who opportunistically latches onto a crass young US Representative Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell).  "Rummie" is impressed by Dick's quiet, fierce loyalty.  McKay skims through the Reagan years and skips past the '90s quickly, highlighting Cheney's career in and out of politics, emphasizing his stint as CEO of energy industry giant Halliburton.  We slow to close scrutiny with the run-up to the George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) campaign and administration emphasizing Cheney's Vice Presidency.

It is here, the years 2000 through 2008, where we view the most inflammatory scenes, as McKay charts the Florida vote recount, 9/11, the Patriot Act, Afghanistan and Iraq, Halliburton's no-bid contracts, the torture issue, and the vindictive outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.  Condoleeza Rice (LisaGay Hamiton) and Colin Powell (Tyler Perry) are introduced as ethical pros.  The associates that join Rumsfeld in Cheney's inner circle receive more caustic treatment: Paul Wolfowitz (Eddie Marsan), David Addington (Don McManus), Scooter Libby (Justin Kirk).  At home, we see Cheney's love and support of his daughters, Liz (Lily Rabe), who is following her own political aspirations, and Mary (Alison Pill), who comes out as being gay.  It is here where Cheney is most humanized.  FilmZ's son said, "I bet you didn't learn anything from the movie because you told me most of this stuff already." We agreed, of course, because, much is a matter of historical record.  What isn't are the inner workings, the private discussions that lurked behind to facts.  Just between us, we did learn some things: We didn't know Lynne Cheney was such an ideologue and so powerful, we didn't know that the Right came up with the term "Climate Change" (we thought it was the Left).

As he did in The Big Short, McKay offers his trademark asides to explain concepts that might not be common knowledge, such as the "Unitary Executive Theory."  Look for a Shakesperean bedroom exchange between Dick and Lynne, a dinner menu conversation with Alfred Molina as the waiter, offering Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Addington menu specials of heinous wartime acts, and the lewd "Cheney could sell any idea, no matter how crazy" riff.  As always, Bale's transformation is incredible, and Sam Rockwell is perfection as "W."  We had trouble jiving Carell with Rumsfeld, though as the film rolled, the actor became the character.  Amy Adams, as always, is impressive as the strong, ambitious Lynne Cheney (In another article, Adams joked that this was the third movie where she got to scream at Christian Bale: The Fighter, American Hustle, and Vice).  Jesse Plemons grounds the film as its narrator and surprise contributor to the Cheney story.  Vice may meet some revisionist criticism that hurts it at awards time, and, in truth, it's a sliver below The Big Short, but the core actors deserve recognition, and the film itself is a contender.
8.5 out of 10

 
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