A couple more reports from London and Chicago festivals heading your way. Here's David on three new films starring either Alicia Vikander or Mads Mikkelsen, who formerly sizzled together in Denmark's recent Oscar nominee "A Royal Affair" - Editor
That Testament of Youth was made the Centrepiece Gala at the festival seems, sight unseen, predictable: supported by the Mayor of London, the Gala slot is one of the few that really demonstrates the festival's support of homegrown cinema, and the story told here is as British as you can get. 2014 marks the centenary of World War I, and with it comes this adaptation of Vera Brittain's iconic memoir. James Kent's film keeps his focus to the period of the war itself, beginning at its end; Vera (Alicia Vikander) looks oddly distraught amidst the celebrating crowds packing London's streets. Testament of Youth is a compassionate reminder of the emotional and physical toll of war on a whole nation - which is what Brittain's memoir proved too, in 1933, not long before the second, more devastating war hit.
While the film is impeccably upholstered, with Consolata Boyle's costumes and Robert Hardy's photography particularly impeccable, it's the character work that makes Testament of Youth such an involving experience, especially through the veil of a 'period' film. Vikander is quite simply luminous, but the camera is drawn as much to the stubborn, robust manner she gives Brittain as much as it is the softer romanticism of the character's winsome independence. The film is decorated with familiar faces giving sturdy turns along the way: Miranda Richardson, Dominic West, Emily Watson and Hayley Atwell all have their striking moments.
How do you make an episode in which almost nothing happens almost half-again as long as episodes where lots of things happen? I know not but Hollywood is getting very good at it lately what with all their supersized TV episodes and two part movie finales for quadrilogies where a trilogy (or less) would do.
In "honor" of the bloating, we're going svelte with a briefer rundown .
Plot: A con artist and his protege arrive at the freakshow with nefarious plans. Bette and Dot still hate each other. Bearded Lady gets bad news. And, finally, ripping itself off completely Freakshow reboots Coven's Danny Huston plotline about a ghostly mass murderer from the past being unintentionally summoned to visit our makeshift family of weirdos.
Episode MVP: Kathy Bates. Ethel visits a doctor and learns she only has a year to live. Immediately gets hammered and then recalls her tragic story of exploitation. Special shout out to Kathy Dietch, the actress playing Ethel's younger self in flashbacks who's done a great if thankless job this season.
Musical Break: Jessica Lange sings after being conned by the newly arrived "spiritualist" Esmeralda (Emma Roberts) into believing there's still a chance for stardom. Lange has now sung twice in a season in which they've hired Patti Labelle and given her zip to do. Now, that's freaky.
Body Count: Unknown. Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley), a man with two faces, massacres an entire circus freakshow in old timey flashback before hanging himself. And a group of birds are decapitated to piss me off on my couch. Enough with the decapitated birds Miss Julie Ryan Murphy!
Movie Reference: A visual homage to a classic moment from John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) via Twisty the Clown.
Episode Grade: D+
That's it for this week but for a NSFW bit after the jump...
CZECH REPUBLIC: FAIR PLAY
A political drama about sports, or a sports drama about politics? Why not be both, says this film about a teenage track star in 1980s Czechoslovakia, who gets bullied into taking steroids by the government forces that want to show off a whole population of physically gorgeous super-athletes at the 1984 Olympics. The battle being waged over ownership of one’s body and health in a dictatorship is an interesting one, and well presented; lead actress Judit Bárdos is a bit shapeless and superficial in portraying the internal tensions of this conflict, but the film around her has been constructed with enough merciless geometry and clinical coolness that it’s surprisingly able to survive a flat central performance.
Oscar prospects: Eastern European reminiscences about the late Communist period feel like they’re some kind of Oscarbait, but not that many have actually shown up in this category. This is, to be sure, a solid example of the form, and the human interest hook is rock solid. By no means do I expect to see it on the nine-film shortlist, but it’s not going to be a “wait, how did THAT get there?” moment if it manages to do so.
Margaret here, examining the first image released of Johnny Depp as The Wolf in Into the Woods.
Take it in. There is a lot going on here. Allow me to guide you through it via the magic of list-making.
THINGS THIS COSTUME MAKES JOHNNY DEPP LOOK LIKE, FROM GREATEST RESEMBLANCE TO LEAST
1. A first-round cut from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy auditions
2. Zsa Zsa Gabor's mustachioed coat rack
3. The illegitimate lovechild of Carmen Sandiego and Templeton the Rat
4. A pile of 1970s car seat covers in dire need of a shampoo
5. The Mask when he watches Cameron Diaz sing for the first time
6. The "after" in a poorly executed "Smokey Eye" makeup tutorial
7. Johnny Depp on a regular Thursday
8. Fanciest presenter at the WerePimp convention
9. A Zoobilee Zoo
10. A Halloween costume assembled from whatever was left at Party City at 8pm, Oct. 31
11. Villain of Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit live-action reboot
12. Zorro making a surprise cameo in the "What Does the Fox Say?" video
13. A magically animated bearskin rug
14. Cruella de Ville's less fashionable younger brother
15. A Very Manly Muppet or a Muppet of a Man
16. The pirating industry's most sought-after stylist
17. Fantastic Mr. Fox cosplayer
19. A molding vintage print ad for mustache wax
18. Huggy Bear
20. [Insert name of any widely ridiculed celebrity offspring here]
21. What Johnny Depp is supposed to look like when he finally works with someone other than Tim Burton
100. a wolf
Any suggestions for additions to the list?
The Gotham Awards juried nominations have recently surplanted the ancient NBR as the first real awards nomination/wins of the film year. That it happens in October is more than a little crazy, but what'cha gonna do? The New York centric film prizes, think of it as the Spirit Awards's East Coast Cousin albeit with far fewer prizes will be held on December 1st. Since they only have six categories and four separate juries (composed of critics and programmers), multiple nods aren't as easy to come by as they are at other shows but a handful of films managed it: Boyhood, Birdman, Dear White People, Nightcrawler, and Under the Skin.
- GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
- LOVE IS STRANGE
- UNDER THE SKIN
Very happy to see the intensely moving Love is Strange, in constant danger of being undervalued, show up. Especially since it didn't show up anywhere else. 199 films were eligible for these honors.
BEST ACTRESS (they don't have lead or supporting designations)
- PATRICIA ARQUETTE, Boyhood
- SCARLETT JOHANSSON, Under the Skin
- GUGU MBATHA-RAW, Beyond the Lights
- JULIANNE MOORE, Still Alice
- MIA WASIKOWSKA, Tracks
Given that Still Alice is only getting a qualifying Oscar run and there's no proof that it will even play in NYC by the end of the year (LA is the only required theatrical run) I think it's weird to nominate Julianne Moore at the Gothams, however excellent she is in the picture. I wonder what criteria they use for eligibility?
BEST ACTOR (they don't have lead or supporting designations)
- BILL HADER, The Skeleton Twins
- ETHAN HAWKE, Boyhood
- OSCAR ISAAC, A Most Violent Year
- MICHAEL KEATON, Birdman
- MILES TELLER, Whiplash
Interesting to see Oscar Isaac show up but not Jessica Chastain when the same nominating committee chose for both categories.
BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR OR ACTRESS
- RIZ AHMED, Nightcrawler
- MACON BLAIR, Blue Ruin
- ELLAR COLTRANE, Boyhood
- JOEY KING, Wish I Was Here
- JENNY SLATE, Obvious Child
- TESSA THOMPSON, Dear White People
Slightly odd choices by the breakthrough committee. I love Boyhood and Nightcrawler but it seems weird to single out Coltrane or Ahmed from either, not only because they aren't the MVPs but because their performances just aren't at the same accomplished level as their co-stars.
- ANA LILY AMIRPOUR, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
- JAMES WARD BYRKIT, Coherence
- DAN GILROY, Nightcrawler
- ELIZA HITTMAN, It Felt Like Love
- JUSTIN SIMIEN, Dear White People
- LIFE ITSELF
- POINT AND SHOOT
I haven't yet seen Life Itself (I know I know) but I increasingly suspect, based on everything I've read about it, that hero worship is really getting in the way. It's not that I don't appreciate Ebert's work or that I don't understand the need to honor him for a special life in this very specialized field. But as with Oscars view of documentary, sometimes subject matter trumps execution in terms of awardage. Critics complain when that happens. Except when it happens to a movie about a film critic ;) I reserve the right to change my mind and consider it very worthy if I see it but I just wanted to point out that this is always a real danger in awardage for all groups, not just Oscar, the effect of subject matter trumping execution.
And by Yes No Maybe So I mean Yes Yes and Also YAAASSSS.
Though the thought of 20 plus superhero movies in the next few years makes me psychologically ill (nothing is special if it's all the time - see also Streep playing every part for women over 60 and tv shows about lawyers/doctors/crimescenes) at least roughly half of the Marvel movies are actually good examples of this soon-to-be oversaturated genre, generally getting the balance right of big pop flair, comic relief and stylized gravitas. And by "half" I'm referring of course to both Captain Americas, Joss Whedon's take on The Avengers and every other Iron Man. I'm hoping the genre goes out* with a big bang, that bang being Avengers: Age of Ultron.
But before we begin a word about "premieres." why do movie studios even bother announcing "premieres" or anything anymore when they then immediately retract the specialness of every debut by shooting their wad early. On Tuesday night's Agents of SHIELD they made a big fuss about how the Avengers Age of Ultron trailer would premiere on next Tuesday's episode (theoretically to boost ratings/interest) and then within 24 hours Marvel had officially posted the trailer online thereby killing the excitement of watching it next week during Agents of SHIELD.
Anyway, for this supersized Yes No Maybe So (our series wherein we break down movie trailers to those three categories) we're doing roughly every image, in the order it appears because we can't help it. Mmmm, can't get enough.