Tag Archives: J. K. Simmons

The Accountant

accountant_09413

“You have to choose. Are you going to be a victim?”

So it seems my hopeful search for a great thriller in 2016 is over. The last of the high profile cinematic rollercoasters has hit the screens and now we must prepare ourselves of the onslaught of Christmas ensemble movies that are incoming.

Luckily, whilst most of this year’s thrillers have barely been able to hit average in my books – only really thrilling in the same way that paying £15 for a ticket to the latest churned out Halloween nonsense can be called horrifying – The Accountant at least has a decent stab at dragging us to the edges of our seats. And while it isn’t always successful in its endeavours, it’s a damn sight better than a lot of its recent competition.

Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, a man who has grown up with a few factors that decided his fate early on. First, he suffers from what appears to be Asperger’s Syndrome; an inability to communicate with the majority of the world, as well as a few other telling issues that we get to see as the film goes on. Christian has a difficult life ahead of him. A life made worse by point number two: Left with his tough-as-nails military father after his mother decides she can’t cope and leaves, Wolff’s traumatic childhood is made harder when his old man tries to teach him about the world his own way.

Fast forward a few decades and Wolff has made the very best of his situation. He’s become an accountant with the uncanny ability to unravel even the most complicated books around. This makes him an invaluable asset to everyone from the locals doing their returns, to crime bosses looking for skimmed cash. When a run-of-the-mill job for a corporation uncovers more than it should have, Wolff and the company accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick) find themselves on the receiving end of an awful lot of guns-for-hire looking to take them out. All the while, he’s being investigated by a treasury agent (the always splendid JK Simmons) with a bit of a thing against our main character.

The Accountant is another one of these films that no one seems to know how to market. Delayed to let the market react to Batfleck earlier this year, it’s advertised as this strange action thriller hybrid and doesn’t really fully check either of those boxes. But whilst most of what I want to say about the film is complimentary, it doesn’t feel like it when I say that it’s played out better than most of its ilk this year.

But I do want to be positive and complimentary. There’s plenty of good stuff to say about The Accountant. For starters, Affleck’s portrayal of Wolff and his issues is nothing short of brilliant. The film goes to some considerable length to not name our main character’s affliction, yet Affleck does a wonderful job of convincing us that, even as an adult, he has issues leaving work unfinished or maintaining eye contact; all tell tale signs of his lifelong struggle with his condition.

Likewise, the way the film makes you feel hatred for Wolff’s father for the way he treats his son is beautifully offset when you realise that the accountant has essentially used his upbringing to turn what would possibly cripple some into something close to a superpower. When you see that Christian is really an accountant/lethal killing machine, you are almost impressed by what his old man did, whether or not it was cruel at the time.

With a superb cast supporting him, Affleck really does shine in his role, as do Simmons and Kendrick, with John Lithgow and John Bernthal doing a decent job bringing up the rear. Although, with such a cast, you may end up (as I did) wanting just a little more from the guys we got on screen.

And that’s something that can be said about a lot of the film. You’re left wanting just a bit more, and a bit more, and a bit more. Director Gavin O’Connor – the man behind films like Pride and Glory and Warrior, (favourites of mine) – seems to lose his way in the middle of his two hour math-a-thon. Our introduction to Christian Wolff goes very well, and the flashbacks to his childhood are interesting. I’m enthralled once the final act begins and we get to see Wolff the super killing machine, but the middle, say, thirty minutes, seem to sag. Not knowing how to push the story forward and get us to the reveal we all knew was coming, it just seems to stutter a bit trying to get to its last section. A real shame for a film with so much going for it.

But don’t be disheartened. I thoroughly enjoyed The Accountant. I just wanted it to be ever so slightly tighter than it turned out to be.

Advertisements

London Film Festival 2016: Day 12

ff026

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Flash back with me about 60 hours or so, fellow readers, to my press screening of Nocturnal Animals on a Friday morning.  It’s a sold-out screening, completely full from front-to-back of people dying to watch Tom Ford’s new feature.  Now I want you to picture, as soon as the film makes its final cut to black, the sound of the entire back section standing up, grabbing their things, and making straight for the doors.  Not even before a single end title card appeared to denote the film had absolutely and officially finished were a bunch of people making a beeline for the exit.  I was joining them from my slot in the middle of the third row about 10 seconds later, before you judge, and a whole bunch of us basically sprinted the length of Leicester Square to get to the Picturehouse Central, greeting a queue that had already stretched around the corner of the cinema and into the middle of the street.

We were sprinting, you see, because we were all desperately trying to make it into the queue for the press screening of the Closing Film, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire (Grade: B), before the intangible cut-off mark became apparent.  It was a queue that had clearly started long before Nocturnal Animals had wrapped, made up of critics and industry professionals either shut out of or uninterested in that film, or who had decided that missing Nocturnal Animals was an understandable sacrifice given the opportunity of making it into Free Fire, but both crowds had clearly gotten there a good hour early.  I got real lucky and made it to the queue well before the shut-out point, which meant that I got to see Free Fire a good 2 days before the screening I had already bought a ticket for!  It also meant that I’ve been under embargo for the past 2 days, but I’m still at that stage in my critical career where embargos fill me with a kind of geeky excitement so that’s all good.

Anyways, Free Fire is Ben Wheatley’s attempt at lean, mean, semi-mainstream genre fare and comes to you with an incredibly simple premise.  Set entirely in an abandoned warehouse somewhere in America in the 1970s, a group of IRA members led by Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are trying to buy some guns from South African arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley), the deal being facilitated by Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer).  But what should be a very simple transaction keeps turning ever more complicated and sour the longer it drags on – the guns aren’t what Chris ordered, Vernon is secretly withholding the ammo from the order, nobody trusts each other, and everybody on both sides is a complete goddamn idiot.  When it turns out that one of Chris and Frank’s group (Sam Riley) got into an altercation the night before with one of Vernon’s men (Jack Reynor) over something unconscionable, things turn heated very quickly, and then somebody pulls a gun…

In essence, Free Fire is one of those finger-gun battles you used to play as kids given the big screen treatment, with elements of Sam Peckinpah thrown in for good measure.  That giant kind of free-for-all where everybody’s wildly shooting at everybody else, where every bullet doesn’t kill you cos it totally just hit your shoulder pads rather than any vital part of your body, where everybody has unlimited amounts of ammo for unexplained reasons, and where things eventually just devolve into a lot of people crawling around pathetically in a desperate attempt to finish off everyone else for reasons that are lost even on themselves.  It purposefully aims lower than any of Wheatley’s other films so far, clearly being positioned as a more mainstream calling card and the kind of genre fare that gets placed in various Midnight Movie programmes for many years down the line, which is why it is inarguably his weakest.  It’s a giant empty stylistic exercise, at a stretch you could read the film as being a commentary on rampant unchecked masculinity, but the film also relies on that very thing for its premise and action.

free_fire_storming

No, Free Fire deliberately aims rather low.  That said, I don’t consider that a particularly bad thing.  If the film were any less than the massive amount of fun that it is, then I would consider it a bad thing, but I do love me an exquisitely-made and very fun genre piece.  In fact, Free Fire is near-flawless in what it sets out to be.  The idea of an hour-long gun fight can sound tiring on paper, but Wheatley and his partner-in-crime Amy Jump break that macro concept down into more micro elements, feuds, and tasks in order to keep that pace up – going from that initial exchange, to having to deal with a pair of gate-crashing snipers, to re-igniting the initial feud, to trying to figure out a way to diffuse the situation, and so on.  As a result, the film is impeccably paced, its first half-hour very slowly turning up the pressure, exploding all at once when things go to Hell, and then having contained peaks and valleys despite not too much changing in the grand scheme of things.

Wheatley and Jump wring every last drop they can out of their premise – whilst that 70s setting pulls double duty in explaining why nobody can call for back-up, and allowing the pair to indulge themselves in some truly criminal facial hair and snappy suits from the era – and they manage to stage and edit the firefight with surprising coherency.  Logistically, this must have been a nightmare to organise and edit, but it’s almost always clear where everyone is in relation to everyone else and who is shooting at whom, with the few instances where it’s not creating the intentional effect of disorienting the viewer in the same way that the cast are disorientated.  The script does a very good job at crafting a varied cast of characters when it could have been very easy for each of them to become interchangeable and samey, and it’s often very funny, albeit not as funny on paper as it often thinks it’s being.

That’s where the cast comes in.  Stacked from top-to-bottom with a mixture of big names and talented character actors, they’re more than up to the task of picking up the slack when the script occasionally lets them down and turning quips that otherwise wouldn’t be that funny into howlers, as well as finding a hundred different ways of yelling out the f-word.  They’re all clearly having the absolute time of their lives playing thoroughly awful people and staging an over-the-top gunfight, and that enthusiasm is properly infectious.  Brie Larson gets to remind you that she’s capable of some of the best eye-rolls in the business, Jack Reynor continues his recent redemption streak for Transformers: Age of Extinction, Armie Hammer is delightfully smug, Sam Riley is often a goddamn riot, Sharlto Copley finds the sweet-spot between “hammy” and “irritating” that he doesn’t always nail, Michael Smiley is a load of fun, and Cillian Murphy gets to bust out his natural Irish brogue for once and it’s still as dreamy a voice as ever.

Like I said, Free Fire is almost likely going to be a minor footnote in Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s respective careers once they both finally wrap up and get those giant deserving retrospectives, but that’s by design.  Free Fire isn’t trying to go down as a classic, it isn’t trying to blow minds, and it isn’t trying to say anything at all.  It’s a 90 minute style exercise, an attempt by the pair to make a slice of lean, mean genre fare.  And I can’t really knock them too hard for it, not when Free Fire is this near-flawlessly constructed, and not when I had this much fun the two times I saw it.  I’m cooler on it after my viewing of it on Closing Night than I was after the press screening, but I still really enjoyed it, as did the rest of both of the capacity screenings I was in, and that’s really all you can ask for out of genre fare.

ghoul_the_chris_outside_-kathleens

Sticking with Wheatley-affiliated works, because I did in fact watch other films today, Gareth Tunley’s directorial debut The Ghoul (Grade: C+) is a really hard one to talk about.  I would tell you the premise, except that the premise is not the premise at all, as revealed about 20 minutes in to this 81 minute film, and it’s the kind of reveal that’s necessary to experience fresh in order to get the most out of the film.  In as vague terms as I can put it, The Ghoul is a psychological thriller about depression, daydreams and imaginations, and psychotherapy, that manages to create the impression of the film withholding its ultimate explanation for a reason rather than because the film itself doesn’t even know what it’s doing.  At its best moments, it creates this unsettling bad dream atmosphere; the kind where it feels real but keeps jutting around, and where you feel like something’s wrong but aren’t sure why until it’s far too late.  Like I said, it’s hard to properly talk about The Ghoul, which is why this review’s so short, but it is a solid first effort.  It’s messy, a bit too self-serious, and a little over-ambitious given its no-budget, but that atmosphere and a very well-handled lead performance by Tom Meeten pulls it through.  Worth a look, overall.

Since I didn’t get an approved ticket for Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, the kick-off film to my final day at the festival was the Chinese-funded, American-made, Western-aimed kids animation Rock Dog (Grade: C) in 3D (which added absolutely nothing to the film beyond mild dizziness as usual).  Set in an all-animal world – which is distressingly becoming the default setting for most animated films once more – the film follows Bodi (Luke Wilson), a dog and the son of Snow Mountain’s chief protector, Khampa (J. K. Simmons).  Snow Mountain is entirely populated, apart from Bodi and Khampa, by sheep and, once upon a time, they were terrorised by evil wolves, until Khampa used mystical martial arts to repel the village of them.  Bodi is being groomed to take over as protector of the village, but he’d rather become a musician and, after a radio falls from the sky and exposes Bodi to rock music, he becomes inspired to pick up sticks and move to the city to become a rock star.

rock_dog_01

If you pulled out your Generic Kids Animation Bingo Card halfway through reading the description and got almost a full-house by the end, you’re pretty justified in doing so.  Rock Dog is absolutely generic interchangeable animated kids fare, almost exactly the same as any other foreign kids animation that’s given a haphazard English dub and punted into UK cinemas in the hopes of a quick easy buck.  There’s the usual “be true to yourself and everything will work out” moral, an excessively naïve and optimistic lead character, a soundtrack filled with incredibly on-the-nose needle-drops, far too many characters that distract from the main tale and lead to the film being far too busy, wacky physical comedy and screaming for the kids and almost-swearing gags for the adults, way too much plot that just needlessly keeps the film in first gear…  If you can think of a cliché, it’s almost definitely here.

That said, it’s not as numbingly dull as most other generic and effortless animated kids fare.  The art style may be poor – although it does feature the interesting design choice of having Bodi’s village represent Eastern, and particularly Tibetan, aesthetics whilst the city more represents Western aesthetics – but the character animation itself is halfway decent, going for the kind of 3D squash-and-stretch that Genndy Tartakovsky and the Hotel Transylvania crew have been trying to accurately transfer over the CG medium.  The film also does pick up some steam once Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard) enters the scene, being a delightfully self-centred and cantankerous rock star parody that’s so over-the-top, and so well-performed by Izzard, that he actually pulls out laughs on a regular basis that are otherwise lacking in this film.  Look, you probably already gathered that Rock Dog wasn’t going to be worth much once you realised that they likely expanded all of their creativity and effort on the title (reverse the Dog part) and those are low expectations the film mostly fulfils.  It’s not bad or offensively lazy, it’s actually quite watchable, but there’s also not much to recommend here either.  It’s ok.

Although it does now hold the title of being the weirdest place that I’ve heard Radiohead’s “No Surprises” crop up in.  So, that’s something, I guess.

Day 13: I reflect on the madness of the last 12 days and provide my list of the 10 best films of the festival.

Callum Petch got him a rock and roll band!  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The 2015 BAFTA Nominees Rundown

With the 2015 BAFTAs coming up, Callum Petch guides you through the likely winners and losers of all of the major categories.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

We have one final stop on the awards train before we reach The 2015 Oscars in almost exactly one month’s time, and that’s The 2015 British Academy Film Awards.  The BAFTAs, for those who don’t know, celebrate the best in the past year of film with an added British tinge due their being a British awards body and all.  Although their main purpose for people like us is to get one last indicator as to how The Academy will be voting come February 22nd, since all of their nominations and eventual awards typically line up with one another.

So, that’s what we’re here to do.  With the awards themselves in just over two weeks, and my having seen just about every single one of the major nominees, I am here to guide you through the major categories, tell you who I feel deserves to win, who you should probably put your money on if you’re a betting kinda person, and any snubs, rule-flaking inclusions or just plain weird things that caught my fancy.  We’re not covering all of them, because we’ll be here all day – although other members of the site may fill in those blanks later if they wish – but we’re doing most of them.  So, without further delay, GRAPPLING HOOK!


lefoBest Animated Film

Nominees: Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, The Lego Movie

Who Should Win: Soooo…  I know that I’m supposed to say The Lego Movie, and I do really, really like The Lego Movie, but…  Big Hero 6 is currently playing to my heart way more.  I’m sorry, but it is!  I was actually sat writing about Kung Fu Panda 2 the other day when this quietly devastating yet heart-warming scene from Big Hero 6 popped up into my head and now I just want to go and spend more time with that cast again.  I’m sure whenever I eventually get around to watching The Lego Movie again, I’ll put that back on top but, yeah, I guess I’m switching teams and rooting for Disney.  Sorry, folks.

Who Will Win: Time was that I would say that this was The Lego Movie’s to lose, but with How To Train Your Dragon 2 upsetting it at the Golden Globes and not even being considered in the Oscar category – although I still find that a mostly strong list, so I’m not going to complain much – I really don’t think this is a safe bet anymore.  Big Hero 6 is Disney, so that will always be in the running, and awards bodies are really loving The Boxtrolls it just racked up 13 nominations at this year’s Annie Awards (which, incidentally, is a very lazy set of nominees this year, but this is not the place to talk about that) – so that has a good shot.  My money’s still on The Lego Movie leaving with the award, but don’t be surprised if either of the other two take it instead.

Other Notes: The BAFTAs have always only had three nominees for this category, so that makes snubs more obvious but also, sometimes, more understandable.  Although I was lukewarm on it, I am glad to see Laika rack up another nomination with The Boxtrolls and it deserves that spot more than How To Train Your Dragon 2.  That being said, colour me disappointed that there’s no room for The Book Of Life, which sadly seems destined for cult status rather than mainstream acceptance.  Also, even though there was clearly no chance in hell of it ever happening, I would like to have seen the genuinely excellent My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks get a look-in.


71Outstanding British Film

Nominees: ’71, Paddington, Pride, The Imitation Game, The Theory Of Everything, Under The Skin

Who Should Win: Under The Skin is a film that deserved far more love and attention from awards bodies than it has gotten, although the fact that it’s slipped away with barely any recognition outside of the BAFTAs – Mica Levi’s excellently unsettling score is also up for an award – is kinda fitting really.  It is really not a film for everyone, but its quiet study of gender, sexuality, and gender performance – as well as its quietly furious screed about how casually, and occasionally outwardly hateful, sexist society views and treats women – is utterly gripping and compelling viewing for those willing to work for their films, and Scarlett Johannson puts in the single best performance of all of last year in it, too.  It’s my no. 5 film of 2014, and it deserves this award.

Who Will Win: It won’t, though.  Not by a long shot.  Nor will Paddingtonwhich I did like but don’t get the intense passionate love that critics and audiences are throwing its way – nor will ’71, and most certainly nor will Pride.  See, The Imitation Game and The Theory Of Everything are up for Best Film and it looks real bad if the films that are up for Best Film don’t win Outstanding British Film.  The Weinsteins have been campaigning hard for Imitation Game, but this is the home turf of Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, which may sway voters towards The Theory Of Everything.  I’m leaning more towards the former, though, so those of you looking for a definite bet should put money on The Imitation Game.

Other Notes: Starred Up should really be in contention.  One of the best British dramas in years and it’s kept out by two slops of porridge?  Ugh.  Ditto for Richard Ayoade’s The Double, which everybody seems to have let undeservedly slide into the background since last April.  I can’t really complain too much, though, 2014 was a very good year for British film and I’m just glad we’ve gotten actual British films filling up the list this year.  You know, unlike last year.


GHB_9907 20130130.CR2Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Damien Chazelle for Whiplash, Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and Nicholás Giacobone and Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo for Birdman, Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Who Should Win: Nice strong list here.  As much as I like Whiplash and Birdman, though, I feel that they are great scripts that are elevated to excellent scripts by everything else from the movie – performances, direction, editing, etc. – so I’m not particularly rooting for them.  The script for The Grand Budapest Hotel is excellent, managing to balance whimsy and light-hearted farcical caper antics with this constant undercurrent of sadness and melancholy, a tale of men born out of time and a nostalgic longing that is admirable but foolhardy.  Meanwhile, Nightcrawler’s script has a tonne of things to say about capitalism, the media, classism, business, and the kind of sociopathic monster that one can be yet still win in our broken society.  I’m good with either of those taking it, leaning more towards Nightcrawler.

Who Will Win: This will be The Grand Budapest Hotel’s consolation prize.  Sure, it received 13 nominations overall, but most of those were in the technical categories that, although deserved, most people, and especially headline writers, don’t care about.  This is where it gets its due in the major categories, to apologise for it having no chance in anything else.  Whiplash has garnered enormous traction as of late, but I still don’t see it going over Grand Budapest here; this one’s basically set in stone.

Other Notes: You will notice that I left out Boyhood whilst I was going through complimenting the nominees.  We’ll come back to that.


gone girlBest Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: Jason Hall for American Sniper, Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl, Paul King & Hamish McCall for Paddington, Anthony McCarten for The Theory Of Everything, Graham Moore for The Imitation Game

Who Should Win: Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl.  Duh.  I really don’t have to say any more than that, do I?  Considering the rest of this field, I really don’t think I do.

Who Will Win: This field is suspiciously weak, full of films that have nothing to say or actively steer themselves away from having anything to say about their subjects or themes (although I do find that a plus in surprise nominee Paddington’s case), almost like it’s been designed with the express purpose of making sure that Gillian Flynn will win.  Hmm, funny that.

Other Notes: Something that became immediately clear to me when this season’s awards films were lined up like this: this was very much a year of films, and especially biopics, about men that spectacularly failed to have anything to say about the men that they’re about.  I mean, this is often a problem with awards bait films – failing to have any thematic arc or insight into their subjects but superficially arranging the beats of a feel-good story to create the illusion that something is being said – but it’s especially true this year.  Maybe that’s a sign that we should diversify who we tell our stories about?


Film Review FoxcatcherBest Supporting Actor

Nominees: Steve Carell as Jon du Pont (Foxcatcher), Ethan Hawke as Mason Evans, Sr. (Boyhood), Edward Norton as Mark Shiner (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz (Foxcatcher), J. K. Simmons as Terence Fletcher (Whiplash)

Who Should Win: J. K. Simmons, hands down, no contest.  If you disagree then, quite frankly, you just haven’t seen Whiplash.  Simmons takes the two registers that he typically operates on – hammy shouting fury, and warm paternal comfort – and weaponises them to stunning effect, adding nuance to the character of Fletcher whilst still frequently keeping him at the level of a complete monster.  He is utterly sensational as this utterly inhuman force of nature and rage and he deserves this award far more than anyone else.

Who Will Win: Good thing that he’s guaranteed the win, then.  He’s basically been on a well-deserved awards tour which, on February 22nd, will culminate with the 60 year-old taking the stage at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles to collect his first ever Oscar.  For one of our best and most consistent character actors for the last 20 years, in a career-defining role, it will be incredibly satisfying to see.  We’ll get a taste of that feeling at the BAFTAs and it will be wonderful.

Other Notes: Two well-earned nominations for Foxcatcher, although Steve Carell’s appearance here reeks of canny studio awards gaming.  I mean, Best Actor has been a tight lock for months and the chance of anybody unexpected breaking in is slim, so why not position one of the leads of the film as a Supporting Actor in the hopes of at least scoring a nomination?  Of course, there is a case to be made for Ruffalo also being the main character in Foxcatcher, too, but I think this all says more about the clever protagonist shuffling nature of Foxcatcher than anything else.


imitation gameBest Supporting Actress

Nominees: Patricia Arquette as Olivia Evans (Boyhood), Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke (The Imitation Game), Rene Russo as Nina Romina (Nightcrawler), Imelda Staunton as Hefina Headon (Pride), Emma Stone as Sam Thomson (Birdman)

Who Should Win: It takes a damn strong actress willing to put in the extra work to not have the film completely whisked away from them by Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, but Rene Russo was more than up to the task.  She excellently embodies a woman who has to fight every day for the power she wields, who hates having to rely on Lou Bloom but recognises his value, and seizes on every possible advantage and opportunity in a desire to raise her stature and influence.  She’s a more socially acceptable version of Lou Bloom, basically, only with some inherent sympathy ingrained in her due to the institutionalised sexism of her line of work, and Russo nails it all totally.  So, yeah, I’m on the Russo train.

Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette has been the front-runner since the second Boyhood had its festival premieres, she has been sweeping practically every awards body that nominates her, and if she doesn’t win the Oscar I will be utterly floored.  She’s going over here.  I am fine with that, she is quite literally the only thing I actually liked about Boyhood, but I’m still going to be a little bitter regardless.

Other Notes: Nice to see Pride get a non-Britain-specific nod!  Really annoyed that it’s not for any of the cast members who played a homosexual – who were the actual goddamn protagonists for that film which, lest we forget, is the reason why Pride works – but at least it’s being recognised for something; that film was a very nice surprise for me.  In terms of snubs, four words, to be repeated for Best Actress: where is Emily Blunt?  Seriously, between Edge Of Tomorrow, Into The Woods, and even her voice work in the dub of The Wind Rises, she’s spent the last year reminding us all that she’s one of the best actresses in film today, but we’ll snub her totally come awards time?  I don’t get that.


TTOE_D17_ 05356.NEFBest Actor

Nominees: Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing (The Imitation Game), Ralph Fiennes as Gustav H. (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom (Nightcrawler), Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything)

Who Should Win: My heart wants Keaton to win, because it’s Michael Keaton, he is great in Birdman, and I want nice things to happen to the guy.  However, my head has to admit that Gyllenhaal put in the better performance this year – the much better performance – and so I’m backing him to take home the statue.  Plus, based on how The 2014 Failed Critics Awards went, you all would probably tear me shreds if I didn’t.

Who Will Win: All signs point to Eddie Redmayne taking this one with very little effort.  This category has been a constant fight between Redmayne and Keaton since awards season started up in earnest, but the splitting of their performances into separate “Drama/Comedy” categories has made it harder to gauge which is taking the biggest prize home with them.  Keaton has the comeback and long-overdue narrative ingrained in a victory that awards bodies love, but Redmayne has the exact kind of showy, yet empty and trying-way-too-hard performance that awards bodies love.  I think Redmayne is going to take it here, also because he’s on home turf, and then he’ll also pick it up at the Oscars.  Dammit.  Maybe he’ll at least be good in Jupiter Ascending.

Other Notes: Very nice to see Ralph Fiennes get a nomination for Grand Budapest.  This does make me wonder why, mind, Tony Revolori has been totally skipped over for any Best Supporting Actor nominations.  He is very much the heart of the film, arguably more so than Gustave, and Revolori puts in a quietly strong and personal performance that has curiously gone uncelebrated.  Also, we’ll nominate Benedict Cumberbatch but not Ben Affleck for Gone Girl?  Fine, sure, whatever.


la_ca_1202_still_aliceBest Actress

Nominees: Amy Adams as Margaret Keane (Big Eyes), Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore as Dr. Alice Howland (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliott-Dunne (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed (Wild)

Who Should Win: We all saw Gone Girl, yeah?  We all saw Rosamund Pike with her captivating note-perfect Lauren Bacall-referencing performance?  Good, then I don’t have to explain myself further.

Who Will Win: Julianne Moore has been due for decades, she’s finally going over here.  The problem is that she shouldn’t.  I don’t mean this in a subjective opinion way, either, I mean that the BAFTA Eligibility Rules should disqualify her from contention.  As you can check on their own website, only films released in UK cinemas to the general public between January 1st and December 31st of any given year are eligible.  However, if you are a film released in UK cinemas for the general public between January 1st and February 14th of the year in which the awards take place, then you are still eligible for awards contention as long as you screen the film to BAFTA members by December 19th.

Yes, this does all sound more than a little shady and cop-out-y.  It gets worse.  See, even with that very generous window, Still Alice still doesn’t qualify – it doesn’t receive a UK cinema release until March 6th, well past the closing eligibility date – and, therefore, shouldn’t be here!  Selma meanwhile, which does qualify – UK cinema release: February 6th – and which I haven’t seen but I’ve heard is great, is shut out completely.  So, yeah, I am against all of this.  Julianne Moore could put in the single most outstanding performance I have ever seen, and I will still be against her winning.  I’m sorry, but it’s against the rules and am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?

Other Notes: Scarlett Johannson.  Emily Blunt.  That is all.


Whiplash-6606.cr2Best Director

Nominees: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), James Marsh (The Theory of Everything)

Who Should Win: Look, I really dislike Boyhood, but I cannot deny the commitment, the energy, the time, and the skill that Richard Linklater put into making the thing.  To shoot one film over 12 years, the logistical and financial nightmare of organising and lining up everyone’s schedules to get this thing to happen, the hard work put in to keeping everyone’s character consistent, and to keep the film looking and remaining visually consistent despite progressing as a director significantly in the space of a decade…  Yeah, I have to respect that and admit that this is an award he should walk away with.

Who Will Win: Like hell is this not going to Linklater.  Maker, from the second this film was in the can, every Best Director gong going today was pre-packaged and all set to be FedExed to his front doorstep.  If he doesn’t win, then I quite frankly have no idea what to believe any more.

Other Notes: No Ava DuVarney for Selma, which is the sole thing that I am saying on the subject until I finally get to see the thing.  More egregiously, no David Fincher – the man who BAFTA quite rightly acknowledged as a superior filmmaker to Tom Hooper 4 years ago, and who put out quite possibly his best work ever, or at least his best directing work ever, this year, is apparently just no match for James Marsh’s directing for The Theory of Everything, a film that I fell asleep during for about five minutes.  Sure, of course he isn’t.


boyhoodBest Film

Nominees: Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything

Who Should Win: Despite this sudden backlash that has collectively greeted the thing – because apparently we don’t even wait two months now before we try and backpedal on our opinions – I still think Birdman is brilliant and maybe even quietly genius in the way that it’s able to walk so many tightropes without ever properly falling over into un-self-aware “Artist Rants About Mainstream Film, Critics, The Internet and Clouds”.  However, I find The Grand Budapest Hotel to be the best of all of these nominees by a country mile, so I am flying that flag all the way.

Who Will Win: I know that the current narrative is that this is a straight fight between Birdman and Boyhood, with The Imitation Game sneaking its way into contention thanks to the usual Weinstein efforts, but those people are just trying to spice up a narrative to which the ending has been pre-ordained since June.  Boyhood will win with no contest and Richard Linklater will finally pick up a Best Film award, along with finally getting the Oscar equivalent a few weeks’ later.  Shame the film in question sucks.  I broke down here why I strongly dislike Boyhood and why it is objectively a bad film beyond its central gimmick, so I won’t waste time repeating myself.  Just know that I am against this disappointingly inevitable outcome.

Other Notes: 2014 Awards Season.  Otherwise known as “Yay, White Men: Hooray for White Men”.  In fairness, it’s been a pretty poor awards season and Grand Budapest absolutely deserves its spot up there – and I don’t object to Birdman showing up, either.  But it’s also such a safe and blindingly obvious list with little of interest and few of the genuinely interesting or exciting films from this past year.  Where’s NightcrawlerStarred UpWhiplashFoxcatcher?  If you’re gonna choose films about men, why snub the ones that actually have something to say about masculinity and men and challenge current societal notions?  How about Under The SkinGone Girl?  Films that look at the female gender, gender performance, and how society views them?  What happened to Pride, which had things to say about sexuality – far more so than The f*cking Imitation Game – or Belle and Selma, which said cogent things about race (and which I haven’t seen yet but heard excellent things about)?

Look, I and everybody else wouldn’t be getting so angry and worked up and vocal about this if you awards bodies didn’t keep shutting films like those out in favour of paint-by-numbers surface-level slop like The Imitation Game or The Theorzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  When you shut out genuinely original and diverse films in favour of interchangeable porridge like those, it’s a slap in the face to those films that try, that offer up a different perspective, and to those of us who demand and wish for diversity and greater representation in film.  You awards bodies carry way more power than you think you do in this day and age, so what you nominate and reward matters.  So when the awards end up as white and male as this, with many of them genuinely not being the best films released in the past 12 months, you’ll have to excuse us for getting upset and calling you out on it.


That’s the rundown.  The BAFTAs themselves occur on February 8th.  Feel free to throw your insights and predictions for the ceremony into the comments below!

Callum Petch is gonna kill yr boyfriend.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Whiplash

Loud, intense and extremely bold – and that’s just J.K. Simmons! Whiplash is as good as (if not better than) you have no doubt already heard it is.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

whiplash 2Yesterday, the 55 films up for multiple and/or individual Oscar’s at the 87th Academy Awards were announced. There were plenty of notable absentees:  there was no sign of Nightcrawler, Gone Girl or Mr Turner for best picture;  Failed Critics Award winner Jake Gyllenhaal was snubbed for a best actor award;  everything wasn’t awesome for The Lego Movie as it was missing from the animated movies category;  remarkably there was no best editing nomination for Birdman;  and there were no nominations for Under The Skin for, well, any category at all.

As happens each and every year these days – and will no doubt happen again when the winners are finally announced in February – the actual candidates selected caused a proverbial shitstorm on Twitter. However, of all those to miss out in some way, if writer and director Damien Chazelle’s first feature film for five years (and only his second overall) were to have missed out on a best picture nomination, we may well have had a full blown cyber-riot on our hands. Whatever a cyber-riot may be.

In fact, Whiplash has, in total, received five nominations this year. It’s competing for:  Best Motion Picture of the Year;  Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (JK Simmons);  Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published (Damien Chazelle);  Best Achievement in Editing (Tom Cross);  and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing (Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, Thomas Curley)). Each and every one 100% deserved.

Adapted from Chazelle’s own Sundance Film Festival 2013 award winning short film of the same name, Whiplash actually received its first full screening exactly one year ago today at the 2014 incarnation of the same festival. It won both the Audience Award and the coveted Grand Jury Prize for being a “film of uncommon skill that showcases two compelling characters and pulses to a dazzling and irresistible beat.” A line that I’m finding incredibly difficult to disagree with. It has since gone on to be nominated for or an uncountable* number of other awards.

*as in, I couldn’t be bothered to count them, but you can see them all listed on Wikipedia.

Loosely based on Chazelle’s own personal experiences, it stars rising actor Miles Teller as Andrew Neiman, a talented aspiring jazz drummer studying at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory. Not content with simply being great, he dreams of becoming one of the greats and is prepared to sweat, cry and bleed all over his snare and cymbals in order to achieve this. J.K. Simmons, reprising his role as Terence Fletcher, the fictional New York music academy’s most revered conductor, recognises the raw talent in Neiman and invites him to be his new drum alternate. Abused (both verbally and physically) in front of the class by his new mentor, Neiman learns at his own expense that nothing less than exceptional will be accepted by Fletcher.

And so begins approximately 90 minutes of some of the most intense acting you’ll see all year. Simmons absolutely batters you with his performance, much like Fletcher’s approach to training his students. A barrage of expletives and belittlements are spat out of the screen with such ferocity and twisted humour that you can almost smell the beads of sweat trickling out of poor old Neiman as he is intimidated by the tight black shirted and imposing maestro.

It’s also a character steeped in controversy. The insults are not limited to obscure jazz musical references that fly over the head of the uneducated audience. An abject smattering of homophobic slurs bruise the keen protégé’s ego as much as the chair flung at him during his first proper band session would have had it connected. It’s been argued that the use of such derogatory language was unnecessary; that the point could still have been made without the repetition of particular phrases. Especially as a number of professional musicians have been in the news recently dismissing the film’s portrayal of music teachers as inaccurate. Drummer Billy Brown states in The Guardian this week:

“There are purists who think there’s only one way to play jazz. None of them are as militant as Whiplash’s tyrannical band leader, Terence Fletcher, though.”

http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2015/jan/16/drummer-billy-brown-whiplash-review

And this is the thing. It’s less about the precise language that Fletcher uses. It’s not even about the tempo that the perfectionist bangs on about. It’s about forcing Neiman to be even better than the absolute best that he physically can be, pushing beyond his limitations of what’s achievable to meet what is wanted. Much the same way an army drill sergeant would break down a soldier to his core before building him back up, step by step, or drum beat by drum beat. Whatever the character of Fletcher is literally saying during the practice sessions most of the film takes place during is less important than the observable method he’s using.

But the film is not just about one man and his violently obsessive teaching methods. It’s about art and exceeding mere performance. It’s about the pitfalls and glory that can all come with committing your life to a passion in the hope of achieving a recognised greatness. Above all else, the film is about music – and the inspiration, joy and the pain it can bring with it. The open and rhetorical question is asked; to what cost do you value your ambition?

I’ll just put this out here right now. I hate jazz. It’s a musician’s music and though I can play a few instruments (badly), I just don’t get it. To this philistine’s ear, it sounds like a bunch of individually impressive musician’s each playing their own tune all out of sync with each other, resulting in a mess of noise. I appreciate just how much skill, dedication, practice and immense talent it takes to be a good jazz musician, and that it’s more about achieving a high art than perhaps any other form of music. The transcendence from air flowing through a metal tube to an unquantifiable uniqueness above playing a toe-tappingly good song. But please, don’t play it around me. The fact that I could not only stand it during Whiplash, but outright loved listening to this incredible music and have gone on to spend most of the morning listening to clips of drumming on YouTube, it highlights just how much of an achievement Whiplash is. At least, to me. On a personal level.

Another achievement of course is the fact that Miles Teller is actually playing those drums. Yes, believe it or not, that isn’t a CGI’d Teller or a 40-year old stand-in wearing a badly fitting toupée. Who’d have thunk it? There is, however, a reliance on some clever editing to make it appear as though Teller is playing most of these tracks in one go. As talented as he may be – and as dedicated to his role as he was to spend so long in a drumming-boot-camp – he isn’t. Or, rather, the thundering drum solo for which the film will most definitely become famous was not all done in one take. In fact, just that single sequence took two days to shoot and one immeasurably gifted editor (Tom Cross) to stitch together. Nevertheless… WOW! Whilst Neiman might have been a dick, shrugging off girlfriends and family in order to pursue his goal more narrowly and impress the unimpressable Fletcher, Miles does a fantastic job at trying to keep time with the Oscar-worthy J.K. Simmons’ tempo.

Can I see Whiplash picking up the best picture Oscar in a month’s time? If there’s any justice in the world, yes. Honestly, it seems difficult to look past the buzz for Richard Linklater’s Golden Globe winning Boyhood. Not that the film chosen by the Academy is always the best, of course. Nonetheless, I would be surprised if this exhilarating and thrilling drama didn’t turn at least a few of those nominations into fully deserved wins.

Whiplash is out in UK cinemas today and you can listen to Owen review the film on the next episode of the Failed Critics Podcast.

Men, Women & Children

People apparently still make films like Men, Women & Children.  This is disconcerting.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

men women & childrenDear Jason Reitman,

Congratulations!  You have just directed and co-written one of the absolute worst and most reprehensible pieces of shit I have bared witness to in all of 2014!  I can imagine that you approached the task of directing and co-writing Men, Women & Children – based on a 2011 novel by Chad Kultgen – with some trepidation.  I mean, after all, how could you possibly bottom out harder than you did when you wrote and directed Labor Daya relentless schmaltzy bucket of unicorn piss where Stockholm Syndrome is supposedly the most romantic thing in the world?  Yet you did not let that high bar hit your determination, and you managed to surpass it in just pure, Stone Age, out-of-touch backwardness with flying colours!  Well done!  Gold star!

I mean, it’s 2014 and you made a film all about how technology is The Devil!  I thought that we had outgrown that kind of shit by 2003!  One of the characters in your film blames 9/11 for the rise of mobile phones and the Internet!  I mean, that takes real conscious effort!  That’s not the kind of sentence one tosses off without thinking about.  That takes real, honest effort; the kind where the person who writes it down sits back and reflects upon it and at no point goes, “No, wait, hang on a minute, that’s f*cking stupid and borderline offensive.”  And for a scene like that to perfectly encapsulate proceedings as a whole requires that kind of real, honest effort to sustain itself through two full hours.  So I applaud your commitment, Mr. Reitman!

I especially admire just how far you push your pretentious “Oh, look at me, I have something to say that nobody has ever thought of or expressed before!” sentiments by framing the film with frequent cutbacks to the NASA space probe Voyager, whilst an absolutely wasted and bored-as-hell Emma Thompson drones on in the background about everything and nothing at once.  Like, the message that we are all tiny insignificant specks fretting over nothing and wasting our lives away with technology instead of putting our minds together and attempting to improve humanity’s future by building technology?  Sheer genius!  I’m also certain that the fact that the rest of the film is so vehemently anti-technology and anti-Internet – because of how it is RUINING SOCIAL INTERACTIONS – didn’t pass you by and you, therefore, chose to be so blatantly hypocritical because that’s just how committed you were to making an utterly dreadful piece of crap!

Anyways, sorry, your main message from Men, Women & Children: the Internet and mobile phones and the kids today with their texting and their Instagramming and their vidjagames and their wotsits and howdiddos are ruining everybody’s relationships forever.  Very interesting.  Original, too!  Not ideas-wise, I mean, but in sheer bloody commitment and bald-faced moralising about it all.  I mean, even Transcendence wasn’t this committed to its moralising beliefs, and that was a film that believed that women should stay away from science because their emotions ruin everything!  You, Jason Reitman, could have used this topic for a genuinely balanced and interesting look at how technology has affected our lives and day-to-day relationships.  But, hey, why do that when we can coat proceedings in endless dour humourless “guys, I have just had this huge brainwave” serious tone, strip out any trace of another side to this argument, and just speechify and moralise for two straight hours?

After all, did you hear that people use the Internet and text messaging and the like to bully people and send death threats?  And that there are places and images on the Internet that promote anorexic levels of thinness, which can really hurt a young woman’s self-esteem?  And we can’t forget about those darn videogames that encourage long-form play!  Oh, and how about how the Internet allows teenagers to post revealing pictures of themselves online despite not being of age?  These are all things that happen – they’re not the only things that happen on the Internet, but why let that little fact get in the way of some scaremongering, eh? – and you rightly chose to present them as if you and your co-writer, Secretary’s Erin Cressida Wilson, were the very first people to have ever discovered them and your viewers are Amish farmers frozen in the 1950s who have just been thawed!  Really adds to the stupidly moralistic feel.

Oh, and porn!  Let’s not forget about porn!  Porn warps one’s mind and makes them incapable of experiencing real intimacy because their mind has been irreparably twisted by the uncouth fantasies and desires that porn does to a young man’s mind!  I must also applaud your distributor, Paramount, for choosing to release Men, Women & Children just 4 days after British government passed a number of laws banning certain acts in pornography, by the by.  Truly inspired timing!  I mean, what would have come off as a preachy Puritan parent beforehand now gets to come off as morally righteous propaganda that our idiot politicians would likely applaud and back as proof of their decision!

Besides, as we all know, pornography is The Absolute Devil and the Internet doubles that devilry by making it easier than ever to get a hold of it.  Plus, now there’s no fun in it!  After all, back in your day, Mr. Reitman, finding pornography was a rite of passage!  One passed down from generation to generation as young sons would stumble upon their father’s magazine collection and continue the cycle.  Excellent work putting that sentiment into your script and having an unreally bored Emma Thompson read it with no trace of sarcasm or irony to really seal that Crotchety Old Man stance, by the by.  This whole thread is like you watched Don Jon and set out to make a film that does the exact opposite of that film’s nuanced take on Porn Addiction; I admire that commitment.

Anyways: relationships!  What is up with those, amiright?  Mr. Reitman, I must say that I find your approach to the various aspects of relationships depicted in this film to be wonderfully misguided.  I mean, it takes brass balls to make a two hour feature whose primary message reads “These relationships would be considerably less f*cked if the Internet weren’t around to facilitate these darkest desires!”  After all, Judy Greer’s pushy exploitative stage mom would never have pushed her daughter, Olivia Crocicchia, into being such a selfish shitty human being if the Internet didn’t literally allow her to exploit her daughter, and Olivia wouldn’t have become such a shitty human being if she didn’t measure her life by her follower count – because teenagers had never worried about popularity until these convenient number totals came along!

Meanwhile, Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt – married parents who no longer feel any desire for one another – would never have started having affairs on one another if it weren’t for the Internet!  After all, the Internet makes it too darn easy; there are literally websites set up for the sole purpose of meeting people to have affairs with!  And their teenage son would have been such a happy and normal boy if it weren’t for that blasted porn warping his brain.  Elena Kampouris, elsewhere, wouldn’t be having body image issues if that damn Internet wasn’t there pressuring her with constant reinforcement!  And look at what the Internet has done to Jennifer Garner!  It’s made her so paranoid about her daughter that she relentlessly stalks her entire Internet and mobile phone presence because THAT GODDAMN INTERNET RUINING EVERYTHING!

An actually good film would have looked at how the Internet affects such situations whilst still acknowledging that these are things that would happen anyway.  But, Mr. Reitman, you realised that such a road would be dreadfully boring and that increasing bewilderment over the realisation that Men, Women & Children sincerely believes that these would not be problems if it weren’t for THAT MOTHERFRAKKIN’ INTERNET is a much better choice!  I was kinda hoping you’d go the whole hog and claim that Major League Baseball was controlling the world via satellites, but I guess you wanted to reign back and settle on “crazy homeless man with tinfoil hats” as your default setting.  Understandable.

I particularly enjoyed the scene, Mr. Reitman, in which you had Dean Norris discover the Guild Wars that Ansel Elgort is into.  The way that he reacts to a keyboard input equalling a character movement in the game like a caveman does fire or a cat does its shadow?  Would have been utterly inadvertently hysterical if you hadn’t played it – much like you play everything else in this film – with this dreary, humourless tone that accurately reflects the guy at a party who thinks he’s all smart to politics and life and stuff but then he opens his mouth and you realise he’s just a f*cking idiot.  After all, we wouldn’t want this film to risk crossing over into “So Bad, It’s Good” territory, do we?  That would defeat the purpose of this whole entire exercise!

And the cast that you assembled for this thing!  Ansel Elgort – turning in a performance that is less “depressed teen” and more “sleepwalking actor” – Dean Norris – who looks incredibly hopelessly lost with his material – Jennifer Garner – turning in a performance that somehow makes her obnoxiously awful character (who the film ultimately ends up proving right a lot due to pretty much nobody being allowed to end this film happy; nice touch) even more unbearable – the disembodied voice of Emma Thompson – whose every word practically screams “can I take my paycheque now?” – Dennis Haysbert and J. K. Simmons – who both get absolutely nothing to do – the wonderful Judy Greer – committed but saddled with atrocious material – Adam Sandler’s once-every-half-decade dramatic role – wasted by getting nothing to do – and a cameo by Phil LaMarr.  It is like you were going out of your way to waste actors and actresses I like!  Bravo!

You know something, Jason Reitman?  I got you all wrong.  I thought I had pegged you for one of the new great filmmakers.  Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air, Young Adult…  That’s a resume that seemingly indicates a filmmaker of great skill, a storyteller who knows exactly how to pitch each scene without it coming across as either a thuddingly obnoxious morality lecture or having a thoroughly misguided moral compass.  But 2014 has seemingly proven me wrong.  Apparently you just want to make disgustingly reprehensible movies with no self-awareness of how incredibly shitty or out-of-touch the finished products come off as.

Well I salute your vision, Mr. Jason Reitman!  That was a really nice touch, too, pretending to build up an actual career before torching it near-totally in the space of 12 months in order to make me feel betrayed that a director such as yourself would voluntarily flush that talent, spark and drive down the toilet.  You absolutely don’t need to take a few years off, reflect long and hard on your last two films, realise exactly where and why everything went wrong, re-hone your skills and come back revitalised and ready to make great movies again!  I mean, why should you?  Men, Women & Children is your magnum opus: a putrid, regressive, out-of-touch, overly preachy, one-sided, humourless slog of a movie.  The kind that can only come about through sheer determination to make a film that offended and bewildered me as much as is humanly possible.

Keep up the utterly dreadful work, mate!

Yours,

Callum Petch

Callum Petch feels love.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!