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Best Actress -- Who will be nominated?
Davis? Blunt? Adams? Chastain?

"I'm glad everyone is cheering Fences on, but I feel that people are overestimating its Oscar potential. The furor reminds me of when people were going ga-ga for August: Osage County. " - Jes

"Davis  in Fences. I saw it on Broadway ... it is a true blue supporting role." - Charlie G

"I really hope it's Amy Adams year, only because some of her stans are so insufferable and will never shut up if she loses again. " - Laura

 

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Thursday
Nov132014

Stockholm Film Festival: The Franco and the Faulkner

Glenn has been attending the 25th Stockholm Film Festival as a member of the FIPRESCI jury. Today he looks at James Franco's latest creative endeavour, 'The Sound and the Fury'.

James Franco’s latest isn’t a part of the films I was sent to Sweden to judge, but in my apparent need to one day become the pre-eminent expert on the 36-year-old’s career, I decided to find time for The Sound and the Fury. His second Faulkner adaptation after last year’s As I Lay Dying shows that Franco is improving as a director when it comes to the creation of coherent and engaging cinematic worlds, but while somebody like the equally fast-moving Xavier Dolan is able to take his inspirations and weave them throughout his own auteurial style, Franco’s films still feel like he’s merely copying what he has seen elsewhere without putting his own stamp on it.

For instance, his misguided debut film about the murder of Sal Mineo, titled simply Sal, was Gus Van Sant lite to say nothing of My Own Private River, while last year’s Child of God was incredibly indebted to Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. Faulkner’s novel, from what I gather, isn’t the easiest to make work on screen and Franco with his editor Ian Olds have chosen an elliptical form that layers flashbacks upon memories within sun-drenched images of nature and human innocence to symbolize how precious this life is. It’s style is representative of the source material’s structure, but it comes off visually as derivative of other films, predominantly The Tree of Life and it’s swirling, time-skipping narrative.

For those unfamiliar, The Sound and the Fury tells the story of the Compson family, a formerly rich and powerful Mississippi dynasty who are devoured by misfortune and resentment. Divided into three chapters (the book’s fourth chapter is integrated throughout), each devoted to one of the family’s three brothers: Benjy (Franco, clearly having never seen Tropic Thunder), Quentin (newcomer Jason Loeb, anchoring the film’s strongest segment) and Jason (a slimy, cowardly Scott Haze, much improved over his similarly hot-tempered role in Franco’s Child of God). It was wise of Franco to not indulge in a lavish adaptation, keeping the ensemble low-key (he does, however, find time for cameos by Seth Rogen and Danny McBride – most unexpected Pineapple Express reunion ever!). Yet at the same time his devotion to the novel means more interesting characters don’t get the attention they deserve.

Ahna O’Reilly as scandalous sister Caddy, Joey King as her deserted child, and Loretta Devine as the long-serving family maid are all impressive – Devine especially gets one killer showdown with Haze that begs for a director to capitalize better on her intense face. Despite their stories feeling redacted with large blank holes of history left untouched, they are the more emotionally and dramatically complex characters. Perhaps a narrative shift to these unsung female characters is the brave direction Franco needed to allow his film to truly separate itself from both the novel and similarly-themed films. The film looks handsomely made, the period details appearing nicely deteriorated, but in terms of impact I was left wanting. The Sound and the Fury is a step in the right direction for Franco the director, but it still doesn’t quite suggest he’s on the verge of something truly great. Yet, at least.

Thursday
Nov132014

101 Days 'Til Oscar

 

WARNING: We are now entering our Oscar countdown trance. Do not resist. Resistance is futile. 

COMING SOON: Tomorrow every Oscar chart will be updated to reflect last two weeks of buzz and actual first hand knowledge. Plentiful interviews coming your way.

TRIVIA: Neither 101 Dalmatians (1961) nor 101 Dalmations (1996) received an Oscar nomination of any kind. No, not even an Original Song nomination in '61 for Roger's in-film hit single "Cruella De Vil" 

 

Thursday
Nov132014

AHS: Freakshow "Bullseye"

While Nathaniel catches up with his DVR post-AFI, here's Adam - Editor.

American Horror Story, and in particular this season's "Freak Show," has about as much forward progression as a treadmill. This week's episode trudged ahead with its story by the smallest margin possible that could still be labeled "forward". Miraculously, the episode somehow managed to contain four plotlines: Elsa, further displaying her ruthlessness to survive on her birthday of all days, reveals a dangerous new act for the Freak Show (after surely watching Theo James perform a similar routine in Divergent); Stanley exerts pressure on Maggie to murder the Freaks; Paul indulges in a secret romance with Penny as he juggles his illicit affair with Elsa; and Dandy attempts to woo Bette and Dot much to the chagrin of his mother.

Most Quotable: Elsa dismissing Penny’s entrance into her tent as she consoles a wounded Paul, “Speaking of cheap perfume.”

Best Line Reading: In the midst of Amazon Eve expressing her concern on Ma Petite’s absence from breakfast, she manages to still include her curiosity for her eating habits, “She never misses breakfast – I don’t know where she puts it.”

Best Entrance: A swaddled Ma Petite being opened from her box as Elsa’s birthday gift. 

 

Episode MVP: Jyoti Amge, the world's smallest woman at 2'6", as Ma Petite. Runner up: Costume designer Lou Eyrich for Elsa's Temple Grandin outfit in the opening scene.

Movie/TV References: The chair Elsa sits in while she opens her gifts resembles the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones. How well do you think Elsa would fair in the world of Westeros? My guess is that Cersei would dispense with her with the same ease that Bette ate that spoonful of caviar.

Body Count: None, right? Unless I missed something, but Paul isn't looking too great.

Funniest Moments: At least this episode had a handful to get me through to the end credits, like Elsa cuddling Ma Petite on her throne, Ma Petite's butterfly imitation with her tiny figures inside a specimen jar. And Paul, accused of pickpocketing Dandy wiggling his fingers and dryly countering, “That’s a laugh.” 

Episode Grade: D. As evidence I list for you the following scripted lines in all their subtlety:

  1. Paul articulating his loss of innocence, “Before life stole my innocence.”
  2. When prompted by Ethel to blow out her candle and make a wish, Elsa exclaims through voiceover that all she wants is to be loved by another person by saying, “I just want to be loved.” 

previously... 

Thursday
Nov132014

AFI Fest: Weta Digital Celebrates 20 Years with New Technology

Anne Marie here at the AFI Fest with another special event. Weta Digital, the pioneering VFX company behind some of the biggest blockbusters, including the Marvel franchise, Avatar, and The Hobbit, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In  “State of the Art: The Evolution of Weta Digital," Visual Effects Supervisor Dan Lemmon gave audiences a peek behind the digital curtain of Weta Digital’s latest film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, to show how the company develops performance capture to assist and augment cinematography.

 Weta Digital is probably best known for its motion capture process (dubbed “performance capture” by James Cameron "because they also capture emotions"). Dan Lemmon explained that this evolved from Andy Serkis filming scenes as Gollum twice for The Lord of the Rings, into a sophisticated system called a “Capture Volume,” a cube of space surrounded by infrared cameras that record the actors’ movements. For Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, director Matt Reeves wanted to shoot the apes on location, so a new “portable” version was developed. The result had a profound effect not only on the technology of performance capture, but also on the look of the film--both digital and real.

Serkis in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Since Avatar won the Oscar for Best Cinematography in 2009, each subsequent winner has been a VFX-heavy film, so the unspoken question was how Weta Digital interacted with Michael Seresin, the cinematographer of Dawn. Shooting on location allowed Seresin to light the ape actors as he would real characters. Then, Weta Digital could match that lighting on the pixelized primates. In addition, Seresin and Reeves developed a look book, pulling images from The Godfather and grittier 70s films. Dan Lemmon explained that Weta’s job was to mimic Seresin’s intentions, for instance digitally creating the vertigo-inducing helicopter shot for the climax. However, Lemmon also proudly pointed out how Weta Digital improved on Seresin’s vision, whether it was by manipulating the light to capture a digital ape’s eyes, or by adding fake “flaws” to the helicopter shot in order to make the synthetic image more real. 

The result of Weta Digital’s collaboration with Seresin is undoubtedly remarkable, and pushes VFX to be accepted as an art, rather than a gimmick. Still, Weta's additions to Seresin's work mark a definite change in the visual landscape of moviemaking. As VFX are integrated from pre-production to filming to post-production and digital effects get clearer, the line between cinematography and visual effects is going to get increasingly muddy.

Wednesday
Nov122014

Meet the Hateful Eight

Tim here. For a director who doesn’t even have a movie in this year’s Oscar crop, this has been quite a full few days for Quentin Tarantino. First, the full cast of his upcoming Western (which hasn’t even started shooting yet), The Hateful Eight, was confirmed, and then he re-committed on Monday to his longstanding if vague plans to retire after his tenth film is completed (Hateful Eight will be his eighth... oh, I just got that). Calling film a “young man’s game”, Tarantino, who at 51 is less than half the age of currently active Portuguese director Manoel de Olivera, talked about wanting to leave them wanting more, and not wanting to lose his touch, and generally coming off like his own biggest fan in a way that’s kind of horribly off-putting. But what the hell, I’m looking forward to his next film, the last gasp of 70mm and extravagant widescreen as anybody.

So anyway, let’s celebrate Quentin’s ego with the following list of the Hateful Eight themselves, and a bonus guest star, ranked by Total Hatefulness. A totally subjective quality I came up with by combining the most hateful character the actor has ever played, along with the angriest photo of them I could find in a Google image search.

LEAST HATEFUL

1. Channing Tatum as “Character Whose Name Hasn’t Been Revealed Yet, and Isn’t One of the Core Eight”.
Most Hateful Role: “Pretty Boy Floyd”, Public Enemies (2009)

When the only even slightly bad guy you’ve ever played is barely a cameo, and when I couldn’t find a picture of you actually looking mad even when I searched “Channing Tatum very angry”, you’re clearly not in it for the hateful long term. But I guess that’s why he’s out the outside of the group. Hatefulness (of 10): 0.5

The Hateful Eight themselves after the jump

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Nov122014

Threads: Summer garb from "Atonement"

Andrew here, taking up the mantle for newish series “Threads” while Nathaniel's in LA. Each Wednesday we’ll fixate on one specific costume.

This week, to distract from the flurry of snow that some parts of the U.S. might be experiencing let's go summer. To be honest, I'm mostly using this as an excuse to talk about Keira Knightley since 2014 has been a great year for her and she may well hog the red carpet soon. She's probably the best of the cinematic clothes-horses  right now. It helps that three of her most significant characters were dressed by the excellent Jacqueline Durran. Durran does not work as much as Sandy Powell or Colleen Atwood, but when she does she's simply oustanding.

I’m sure when you hear Atonement  and costume design your mind immediately goes that lush green dress. Why wouldn’t it? I remember the majority of the push for Jacqueline's Oscar campaign in 2007 was around that gown. As lovely as it was, though, it's not the costume I find most impressive in Atonement. For that, look to the understated blouse and skirt Cecilia spends the first 15 minutes wearing.

The simplicity and detail is such a great example of Durran’s ability to triumph with the simple just as with the grandiose. It’s such an effective get-up for Cecilia. The large buttons on the skirt and that unusual pocket placement, the blouse that looks thin enough to deal with the heat. The flowers point to the season but they're not too busy or finicky to seem out of place on Cecilia. It's detailed enough to betray her wealth, but not too ornate to make her seem ostentatious. Particularly obsession worthy is the unusual print on the skirt; the designs should clash, but they miraculously don't.

Like everything in Atonement it photographs beautifully. She strips of the outfit soon enough, though, in that fateful fountain meeting. To reveal, beneath it, a matching slip. I've always wondered if the tan coloured slip was a Jacqueline Durran original, too...

Previously on "Threads":
The Book of Life; Snowpiercer

Wednesday
Nov122014

A Year with Kate: Grace Quigley (1984)

 Episode 46 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn makes a comedy about suicide with Nick Nolte because she's a living legend and she can do whatever she wants.

The truth about a career that spans seven decades, is that for the majority of that career, you'll be what’s traditionally thought of as “old.” Hollywood does not like “old.” The magnificent part of watching Katharine Hepburn age has been watching her flip old age (and Hollywood) the bird. True, her head wobbles, her hair is gray, and her voice is reedy. Still, she leaps after hot air balloons, bicycles, hauls wood, and even wins Academy Awards at an age far past what would traditionally be considered “her prime.” For the past few years, Kate has looked old, sounded old, and even talked about being old, but the stubbornly energetic woman has never felt old. Which is why Grace Quigley is more than a little scary.

Grace Quigley (originally titled The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley) is meant to be a black comedy about assisted suicide. Think Arsenic and Old Lace by way of Harold and Maude. Nick Nolte stars as a neurotic hitman with the misfortune of meeting Mrs. Quigley (our own Kate), an octogenarian who blackmails him into starting a business with her: killing people who want to be killed. Homicidal hilarity ensues, or would, except it isn't very funny. Despite a striptease set to Tchaikovsky, a hearse chase, and several attempts at witty banter, the movie vacillates between morbidity and dullness. The problem is threefold: 1) director Anthony Harvey (who’d beautifully directed Kate in The Lion in Winter and The Glass Menagerie) lacks the light touch needed for black comedy. 2) Nick Nolte’s character is about as good at killing people as he is at delivering one-liners (which is to say not good at all). Most importantly, 3) For the first time onscreen, Katharine Hepburn looks so frail that it is uncomfortably easy to believe she wants to die.

Kate's brush with death and life affirmations after the jump.

Click to read more ...