Oscar History

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Demme (RIP) and His Players

"Yes, Demme was special. So much energy, tension and subversive fun." - Edward

"Demme had great range I specially liked his comedies like Something Wild" - Jaragon

"I really, really, really NEED Beloved to be revisited and reappraised." - Kermit


Betty Buckley (Split)
Michael O'Shea (The Transfiguration)
Filmmakers (Cézanne and I)
Melissa Leo (Most Hated Woman in America)
Ritesh Batra (Sense of an Ending)

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Entries in Review (3)


Review: Tale of Tales

Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales is based on the writings of 16th century author Giambattista Basile, who by most accounts compiled the first collection of fairy tales as we came to know them. If you think that the Brothers Grimm’s non-Disney-fied stories are dark, wait till you get a hold of Basile’s perverse accounts of doomed princesses, kings that set their wives on fire, and men who stab the women who they think betrayed them. More than stories about “fairies” and “happily ever after”, they’re cautionary tales about how unfair the world has always been for women who defy men. One wonders though, why would Garrone make a lavish, epic film about such injustices, without any sense of intention behind why he’s telling them.

The film essentially follows the misadventures of the members of three royal families. The first takes place in the kingdom of Darkwood where a capricious Queen (Salma Hayek) sends her King (John C. Reilly) to his death in order to fulfill the command of a necromancer who has advised him to procure the heart of a sea monster which the Queen must devour in order to have a child. The second family is ruled by the King of the Highhills (Toby Jones) who promises his daughter’s (Bebe Cave) hand in marriage to whoever guesses a riddle. An ogre (Guillaume Delaunay) does, and he’s not the kind of lovable ogre who grows a heart, but a ruthless monster who keeps the princess inside a cave in the mountains. The third tale has a lustful King (Vincent Cassel) “fall in love” with the voice of a woman he has never seen, but whom he must possess. To say that this leads to no good would be an understatement.

After his expertly made Gomorrah, which also saw him intertwine various Neapolitan tales, it’s clear that Garrone has the skills required to engage the viewer in the world he conveys, but one often wants to escape the world he’s crafted in Tale of Tales much more than the one of vicious mobsters in Gomorrah. Where the latter was brutal, its effectiveness in portraying the senselessness of criminal life is unrivaled at least in contemporary cinema. But the way we see the women in Tale of Tales be punished for their desires - whether sexual, filial or maternal - is absolutely merciless. If Garrone was trying to show how little the world has changed in its treatment of women since the 16th century, to do so in the guise of “old fashioned” entertainment seems counterproductive. The film is so keen in its desire to entertain and delight, that it loses sight of the content of the stories to the point that it makes Disney seem progressive. At least in those films a fairy godmother shows up to save the day.

Tale of Tales is now in theaters.



Berlin: 'Genius' starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth

 Amir Soltani is covering the Berlin International Film Festival, TFE's first time at Berlinale! Here is his take on Michael Grandage's Genius.

Berlinale is known for inviting one or two Hollywood pictures to the festival every year to add glamour to the sprawling selection of mostly arthouse curios. One of those films in this year’s edition was Michael Grandage’s first feature as a director, Genius. A period piece based on a true story, the film came to the festival with high expectations, given the distribution deal with Lionsgate already in place, and the pedigree of everyone involved, including thrice Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan, and Oscar winners Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in the cast. But this was all before the film was screened and faced walkouts and unintentional laughs.

Maxwell Perkins (Firth) was the editor and invisible hand behind some of the biggest American masterpieces of literature in the 1920s, including novels by Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pierece). Perkins is a family man, living in an expansive estate with his wife Louise (Laura Linney) and five daughters. As one would expect of the editor responsible for taming wild characters such as Hemingway and, eventually, Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), Perkins is a gentleman of the highest order, calm and gentle, but serious all the same. [More...]

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AFI Fest: Lady in the Van

Anne Marie here reporting from Hollywood & Highland.

Let's be honest: there's probably only one reason you (or anyone) is interested in The Lady in the Van. If you own a copy of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, if you kept watching Downton Abbey even after Julian Fellowes killed two main characters and the series lost focus, then I have good news for you: you will love The Lady in the Van. Dame Maggie Smith is in top form, and the movie is devoted to giving her a variety of small acting moments that pop up in awards show montages and internet gifsets. Even if the rest of Nicholas Hytner's movie is unrelentingly average, Dame Maggie Smith is a delight.

First, let's talk about Maggie. In the last 20 years, the Dame has made a career of playing colorful, curmudgeonly women, effectively destroying - along with her Dames in Arms Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, and Angela Lansbury - the idea that older actresses aren't interesting. (There's a question to be asked about why all of these successful, terribly interesting older actresses are British, but that's a tangent for another day.) As the titular homeless woman who parks in the driveway of a put-upon playwright (Alex Jennings) for 15 years, Maggie Smith continues this fine tradition. Alternately infuriating and empathetic, crazy and charismatic, disgusting and distinguished, Smith creates a character so bizarrely contradictory that you understand why the writer allowed himself to be inconvenienced for almost two decades beginning in the 1970s. Sitting next to Nathaniel and eurocheese, I don't know that I've seen a festival audience react as gleefully to a moment so small as when Dame Maggie Smith, clad in a nightdress and a smelly rain coat, cracked a small private smile while riding a duck on a merry go round.

The rest of the movie is about what you'd expect from a BBC drama - familiar character actors, comedy stemming from British polite timidity - with one exception. The playwright Alan Bennett (who adapted his own play for the screen) splits himself into two characters: the man living the events, and the writer observing them. At first, the conceit is fun, since it gives the observing ego a chance to make the snide remarks that polite British gentlemen just won't say. However, as with many movies that rely on narration, eventually the writer gets didactic, and begins informing the audience how to think and feel about his story. But what he refuses to comment on is more interesting. While he was busy belaboring the connection between his guilt over his ailing mother and the homeless woman he allows to sleep in his yard, I was more curious about his closeted sexuality in Margaret Thatcher's England. 

Ultimately, as a showpiece for Dame Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van delivers. As a BBC drama, it's a little more interesting than usual. Jim Broadbent, Dominic Cooper, and James Corden all make appearances, but are criminally underused. There's one reason to see The Lady in the Van. But it's a good reason in itself.

Grade: Maggie Smith A / Rest of the movie C+ Total = B

Oscar Chances: In a less competitive year, Dame Maggie Smith would be a shoe-in for a Best Actress nomination. As it is, she probably won't make the cut.