I am officially declaring this to be "The Awards Season of the Short Title". In fact a majority of the major contenders can actually be summed-up in one word. So don't be surprised if this year's Best Picture lineup is thin - and by that I mean thin in letter-count.
Bradley Cooper has two shots at a nomination: a starring role in the chef drama "Burnt", and a supporting turn opposite Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro in "Joy". And the same goes for Cate Blanchett, who is being put-up for Best Actress contention in both the TV news drama "Truth" and the romance "Carol".
But Blanchett will have some stiff competition: Emily Blunt leads the critically-acclaimed crime drama "Sicario". Carey Mulligan is receiving great reviews for her performance in "Suffragette". Saorise Ronan is also a contender with "Brooklyn". And Brie Larson is building momentum for her work in the indie "Room".
Entertainment biopic "Trumbo" features a star-studded cast of Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, John Goodman, Elle Fanning and Helen Mirren. However, the "Ensemble of the Year" award may go to "Spotlight" thanks to a line-up of Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci.
A couple of Michaels - Caine and Fassbender - lead "Youth" and "Macbeth", respectfully. Tom Hardy plays twins in the true crime story "Legend". The already-controversial "Concussion" may feature a knockout performance from Will Smith. And let's not leave-out a couple of wild card flicks with legendary characters returning to form: James Bond back for "Spectre" (which sounds awfully close to "Skyfall") and Rocky Balboa ringside in "Creed".
I'm making a fairly confident prediction: the title of the upcoming Amy Poehler/Tina Fey comedy - "Sisters" will not be heard on Oscar night, or any other time during Awards Seasons (even the ladies' former hosting home: The Golden Globes).
2008's Oscar-winning documentary "Man on Wire" beautifully showcased the incredible French artist Philippe Petit, who, in 1974, defined cultural American history by walking on a wire hung between the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City. The story itself is remarkable, and as the Hollywood version of Petit's feat, "The Walk", once again proves - Petit's saga leading-up to his daring stroll is so unbelievable there's no way any of it could have possibly been made-up.
The previous film from legendary director Robert Zemeckis, 2012's airplane pilot drama "Flight", featured a memorable sequence early on with Denzel Washington landing a 747 upside down. The rest of that film wasn't nearly as strong, though Washington's performance definitely held your attention. "The Walk" has a reverse effect. It's Petit's backstory and the preparations for his walk that are interesting and escalate in quality as we get closer and closer to the critical morning of August 7th. And then, after 90 minutes, the showcase visual scenes finally appear.
"The Walk" had been primarily screened for critics, and marketed to audiences, in its IMAX 3D format. I decided to see it in regular 2D, and trust me, the visuals and this interpretation of Petit's actual walk are still very effective. And the climactic wire walk sequence is accompanied by my favorite film score of the year so far - it's absolutely lovely.
Early on, and at certain key spots, Zemeckis intentionally throws us a gimmick aimed for the 3D effect, and you can tell that much of his vision was aimed for that format. Otherwise this fictionalized execution of the story is as straight as a wire. His biggest risk was allowing Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who is quite convincing as Petit in the dramatic and conversation scenes) to narrate the entire film. And he does this, often, on camera, looking directly at the lens while standing next to the torch atop the Statue of Liberty. For me, this device was the one element "The Walk" could've easily walked away from. We do get to hear Petit talk about his psychological struggles and first-hand experiences of the amazing event, but each time we go to Gordon-Levitt on Lady Liberty it feels awkward, leaning towards corny (or maybe that he's going to try to sell us auto insurance).
Even so, "The Walk" succeeds with a fine lead and solid supporting work from Sir Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy, a veteran trapeze artist who mentors Petit, and Charlotte Le Bon (who shined opposite Helen Mirren in "The Hundred-Foot Journey") as Petit's girlfriend Annie. The real Petit personally trained Gordon-Levitt, which must've been an unforgettable experience for the Golden Globe nominated actor.
Most of all, "The Walk" pulls-off something rather difficult in the symbolism department: making us believe in and care for buildings that, tragically, no longer exist. It's clear throughout that Zemeckis has the importance of these structures on his mind, honoring them through this triumphant event. The towers will live on, as Petit puts-it, "forever".
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Walk" gets a B.
We’ve seen a Disney animated classic, a Cathy Rigby musical, an NBC live TV musical and a Johnny Depp drama that all involve the story of Peter Pan. What else can possibly be done with this character we know too well? “Pan” dares to answer that by going the prequel route with the tale of young Peter’s first adventures in Neverland.
All of the elements were in place for something special: 13-year-old Levi Miller, who was chosen from more than 4,000, set to shine as Peter. The multi-talented Hugh Jackman taking-on the villainous role of Blackbeard the Pirate. And Joe Wright, the brilliant director of the thriller “Hanna” and the 2012 Keira Knightley version of “Anna Karenina”, steering this “Jolly Roger”.
But when Warner Bros. released "Pan"'s first trailer last November and then announced they were moving it out of the Summer season and into Fall, I knew that wasn’t a good sign. It turns out I was right. “Pan” is a consistently underwhelming and weak effort that never comes close to reaching the second star to the right.
Things don’t get off to a great start, as Peter, who was abandoned by his mother (Amanda Seyfried has little more than a cameo), lives at an all-boys orphanage in London during the height of WWII. One night, he and many others are magically taken from their beds by pirates to become “The Lost Boys” on a ship set for Neverland. When they arrive and are greeted by Blackbeard, Jackman and the others are singing the classic Nirvana anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. As bizarre and confusing as this scene is to watch, it’s one of “Pan”’s only legitimate surprises.
Wright makes some other interesting decisions, mostly involving the visuals, and the results are largely unimpressive. As for the performances - Miller is not as likeable a Peter as he should be, and at times I simply couldn’t make-out what he was saying due to a strong British accent. Jackman’s Blackbeard is a mix of Willy Wonka and another cinematic pirate - Captain Jack Sparrow, as he delivers some quick and quirky one-liners. He does have a few solid early scenes, but once he, Peter, and a young and goofy Hook (Garrett Hedlund in a carrer-low) meet-up with Rooney Mara‘s Tiger Lily, the rest of the film plays-out in a dull and straightforward fashion. Oh - there are action scenes - including multiple sword fights and ship races - but the uninspired results are anything but swashbuckling fun.
Where were the crocodiles when we needed them? On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Pan” gets a D+.
Matt Damon plays an astronaut stuck on Mars in director Ridley Scott’s “The Martian”. But unlike another recent space saga - 2013’s Oscar-winning “Gravity” - “The Martian” doesn’t have enough dramatic pull to last its entire 2 hours and 20 minutes.
This “Martian” is not named Marvin, but rather Mark. On the 18th day of their Ares III exploration of the red planet, Mark Watney and the five other astronauts get caught outside in a severe storm. A giant piece of debris flies into Watney, sending him flying-off into the darkness. The other crew members, led by mission commander Lewis (played by Jessica Chastain), can’t locate Mark and presume he’s dead. And they must abort their mission and quickly leave the planet to save themselves.
But - guess what? Watney wakes-up the next morning and realizes two things: he’s the only person left on Mars and he’s probably going to die. However, he’s not going down without a fight. Staying positive, he comes-up with plans to grow food, because, as he says while holding an instruction manual to the video camera for a log entry: “Luckily - I’m a botanist!” This is one of at least a dozen notable corny one-liners delivered throughout what should be a very serious film.
Once NASA chief Teddy Sanders (played by Jeff Daniels), a character you’ll hate if you’re always the last person to learn about something important, marketing chief Annie (an interesting casting choice in Kristen Wiig) and Ares missions director Vincent (Chiwetel Ejiofor) find-out that Mark is alive, they decide they must (as the poster reads) “Bring Him Home”.
Though “The Martian” never gets dull, the first half is far more compelling than the second, which features an overly cinematic and cliché-filled finale. And only early on does Damon get a chance to show-off his acting abilities, when dealing with his situation and possible fate.
Scott has made a good-looking film that doesn’t feature any of the noisy sound issues of last year’s “Damon and Chastain space movie “Interstellar”. What “The Martian” lacks are a lot of actual outer space scenes. We get more atmosphere inside mission control than in the real atmosphere. And unlike “Gravity”, which focused mainly on one person with one goal for the entire time, “The Martian” is filled with distractions, from the long list of supporting characters to the absolutely unnecessary 70’s disco music score. Scott was obviously trying to mimic the success of “Guardians of the Galaxy”’s 80s soundtrack, but the attempt fails badly, adding to the film’s uneven tone.
“The Martian” is solid entertainment, but it’s scattered and too cute for its own good. In short - this is far from an “Out of this World” experience. On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Martian” gets a C+.
Ten years ago, Anne Hathaway played the personal assistant to high-strung fashion magazine mogul Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in "The Devil Wears Prada". Now, a decade later, Hathaway is the passionate, stressed-out, bike-riding at the office boss of her own successful online fashion company and 72-year-old Robert De Niro is "The Intern" -though he quickly becomes much more than that. The latest comedy from writer/director Nancy Meyers ("It's Complicated", "Something's Gotta Give") isn't about two people falling in love, but rather two people needing and finding a new best friend.
De Niro's Ben Whitaker was a successful businessman for 40 years - much of that spent at a now extinct phone book company. A widower and recently retired, Ben is looking for new purpose in his life. He reads an ad for a senior citizen internship program at the internet start-up "About the Fit", run by Hathaway's workaholic Jules Ostin. After a few interviews, Ben is chosen for the program, and he's picked to be Jules' personal intern. At first she's not thrilled with the idea of having to interact closely with a man twice her age. But as situations begin to develop with Jules, both professionally and with her personal life, she comes to rely on Ben, and he gets more involved with his new position, bringing some much-needed stability into her modern, out-of-control life.
The first-half dialogue is light, brisk and occasionally sharp, hitting on topics such as old school vs. new school and sexism in the workplace. A couple of situations are played-up for big laughs, including Ben's sessions with company masseuse Fiona (Rene Russo) as well as an "Ocean's 11" style sequence that's a bit over-played. The tone changes dramatically in the second half, and because of that, and the investment you now have in these characters, the final half hour packs a pretty good emotional punch.
Over the course of "The Intern", through a series of events and situations, ranging from humorous to heartbreaking, and all quite authentic, these two somewhat lost souls realize how much they need each other. There are numerous scenes in which De Niro and Hathaway are alone together on screen, and they all generate a special kind of magic. De Niro is charismatic, charming, confident and heartwarming as a seasoned gentleman with depth and class. And Hathaway is consistently believable as a woman struggling to balance her business and family responsibilities. They may just be the best movie pair of the year. And, for me, this is the strongest substantial performance of Hathaway's career.
Meyers has pulled-off something rare these days for a big-studio Hollywood comedy. She's overcome a fairly formulaic premise by combining a smart, heartfelt script with great work from two knockout leads. Here's hoping the Critics Choice and Golden Globes voters keep it in mind for several of the Comedy categories. I had a feeling that "The Intern" could be something special and it exceeded my expectations.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Intern" gets an A-.