Sunday, December 11, 2016

Thoughts on 'Lion' and Others [Updating...]

Within minutes of this posting the Critics' Choice Awards will start, the first televised awards show of the season. But since it's happening a month earlier than it normally does, it will hardly count as the most significant awards news of the upcoming week. Tomorrow will see the unveiling of the Golden Globe nominations, followed by SAG nominations on Wednesday.

As all this happens, more contenders begin creeping out of their limited release hidey holes. I caught up with one such contender this afternoon, The Weinstein Co.'s big hopeful Lion, which hasn't been that healthily represented in first half-dozen-or-so critics awards, but the Academy will rectify that.
The movie is pretty great.
It could easily have succumbed to the typical 'true story' trappings of lesser Oscar bait, but writer Luke Davies and director Garth Davis thoughtfully distill the thematic substance of their source material -- the saga of Indian adoptee Saroo Brierley, who used Google Earth to track down his long lost family 25 years after being separated -- and channel it into a graceful, focused two-act drama. The second act plays almost like a stream-of-consciousness between objective reality and memory, evocatively realized through a rich collage of image and sound (Robert Mackenzie has delivered one of the year's finest mixes here, sure to go overlooked by the CAS and Academy). The performances are quietly effective too. Nicole Kidman, as Saroo's adopted mother has been chalked up as a likely Oscar nominee for weeks, and Dev Patel would be a surefire Best Actor contender if he were in more than half the movie.

I also took the week to catch up with some art house hits from earlier in the year, although to label David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water as "art house" would be a misnomer. His neo-Western is highly accessible entertainment, but with more on its mind than any of 2016's mainstream offerings. Taylor Sheridan's script, in particular, sings on multiple levels as political parable, masculine satire, or exploration of the power dynamics between oppressors and the oppressed;
A marked improvement over his sharp but otherwise hollow screenplay for last year's Sicario.
A tougher sell to average audiences would be The Handmaiden. The erotic thriller from Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook turned plenty of critical heads this year, and has landed a smattering of prizes thus far for Best Foreign Film. Unsurprisingly, Korea opted for another film to represent their country in that Oscar category; Too kinky for the general memberships staid tastes. Personally, I could have done without some of the unpleasantness towards the end, but otherwise found it to be quite absorbing, with bold expressionistic flourishes, a sly sense of humour and interesting shifts in perspective (I may actually need to see it again before settling). And even if the Foreign Langauge Film Oscar is already a no-go, that shouldn't stop the design branch for speaking up on behalf of its sumptuous sets and costumes.
Speaking of, Robert Zemeckis' Allied is nothing if not fetching eye candy, crafted with a visible affection for old school Hollywood stylishness. The fashions arguably generate more heat than the intended chemistry between romantic leads Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, who ultimately can't keep the movie afloat once the plot's premise of intrigue wears off. Still, it's apparent that Zemeckis hasn't lost his stride as a craftsman since returning to the realm of live-action, and I look forward to whatever he has planned next.
Also saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Not much to say, really. More of the same good-wizard-v.-bad-wizard palaver that I got more than my fill of in the first eight movies of the "Potterverse". Even the creature designs seemed derivative. Disappointing.

Stay tuned this week for reactions to the Globe and SAG nominations.

[UPDATE: Catching up with more winter releases]

Despite impressing many a critic at the fall festivals, Jackie is a harder sell to the public (and, one assumes, the Academy) for reasons that are pretty apparent upon viewing. The first English language feature from celebrated Chilean auteur Pablo Larrain is less about America's most fashionable first lady than a chilly essay on legacy and image, scaffolded about a wrought iron from Natalie Portman and underlain by a suite of unique funereal dirges from Mica Levi. Excellent though it is, its meandering psychological vibe hasn't exactly lit awards season afire.

Currently doing gangbusters at the box office is Rogue One, the first in a series of spinoffs Disney has planned in their 'Marvel-ization' of the Star Wars universe. Director Gareth Edwards strips bare the Romanticism of the seven canonical episodes to deliver a grimy, gritty war movie akin to The Guns of Navarone with blasters. While the climactic final hour is indeed gripping, thanks to heightened stakes and strong action structuring, there's little emotional investment to pay off due to rushed or uneven character arcs crammed into the first hour. Let's just say it bears the visible scars of its multiple reshoots. Still, it'd be hard not to be entertained. The project is a crafts showcase across the board, and does well by Edwards' muscular direction.

Passengers is... eesh. I guess it's watchable to a point (thanks mostly to Guy Hendrix Dyas' sleek production design), but it's also colossally dumb and borderline creepy. The theoretical chemistry between red hot A-listers Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence does not materialize. The whole thing almost feels like a half-assed spinoff of WALL-E, except with human beings who aren't nearly as cute or expressive.


  1. I see what you mean in terms of "visible reshoots" on Rogue One. That being said, as a whole and as an action film, did you like the editing very much? Just curious.

    1. It was decent, but to claim I "liked it very much" would be an overstatement.