Spirit Awards Review Nominee Screenings – week one

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So I am a member of Film Independent and every year they do a two-week long jaunt of screenings of all the Spirit Award Nominees. As a lover of Indie films, these two weeks are quite heavenly as not only are the screenings just a short distance from me, but let me see and open my eyes to many films that you don’t always get a media screening invite for. It gave me personally an extra benefit this year as I was quite ill, especially these past few months and missed quite a few of screenings I did have. So onward with brief thoughts and grades on everything I’ve seen so far. Mind you, I did miss some of these even, as not only do they do a whole block of them on weekends as in four in a row – I had a medical time-out for most of the week. Luckily, many of the films are luckily on Netflix, Prime or Hulu – and as voters are also provided with links to watch all of nominated films. But truthfully, watching films on a laptop just seriously isn’t how they are meant to be viewed now is it. So with that in mind – here we go. (following in the format of the Film Independent Screening Awards schedule)

Day One:
“SORRY TO BOTHER YOU” Dir: Boots Riley

I was really loving the first part of this film as it was satire sharp, imaginative and funny. But not only does it run too long, but that bizarro left turn it takes in the last third of the movie will surely leave most as bewildered as I was.
Grade: C-

Day Two:
“SHIRKERS” Dir: Sandi Tan

This was a great little women-driven documentary that takes on a journey of a lost film, a strange relationship that made that happen, and all the friends along the way. But maybe it’s the oddness of all of it put together that works so well.
Grade: B

“LEAVE NO TRACE” by Debra Granik

If you asked me if I thought I would enjoy a film about a man (Ben Foster) and his 13-yr. old daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) who have been living off the grid in an urban park of all places, and what happens when they make a single mistake and get caught, well I would’ve have probably laughed a bit and given you a ‘NO’ in response. As it was, I loved this film. It was taunt with drama, and the age old question of what is right or perceived as so, and what is wrong, again, perceived as so.
Grade: A

“HEREDITARY” by Ari Astor

While the film wasn’t scary per se for me, nor a particularly good horror film by any stretch, it did stitch itself together enough to follow along and be entertaining mostly because Toni Collette took it there. I had forgotten about Gabriel Byrne somewhat over the years, but his supporting role along with Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff topping off with good performances of their own, helped bring this film up a notch to be sure.
Grade: C

“ROMA” Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

A completely different take on the trials and tribulations in the life of a maid in to a rather dis-functional wealthy family in 1970’s Mexico City. While Yalitza Aparicio is a breath of fresh air to be sure, along with Marina de Tavira and well, truly the whole cast, I do think it’s a bit over-hyped in the ‘how good it is’ department. Mind you it IS good and I will leave it at that.
Grade: B

Day Three:

“PRIVATE LIFE” Dir: Tamara Jenkins

Both Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti give a completely believable ordeal of what one couple goes through to have a child – including numerous fertility ordeals, tests, fake surrogates, family surrogates, money and most of all their own lives and relationships, in a series of choices that can only make one cringe at times as to what some will choose to endure.
Grade: C-

“THE FAVOURITE” Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Let me just shout about how much and how long I’ve loved Olivia Colman. I always felt she was under-utilized so much or not given enough credit for her work. Here, she finally gets her lead role that will no doubt finally change all that and bring her an award. Alongside Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as her supporting, they do a commendable job of making this odd story come to life. While I didn’t love the film overall, the performances were so strong. Even Nicholas Hoult dons the old British wig and make-up to do a fun spin here as the strangest of cads. All said and done, just give Olivia her due already and be done with it.
Grade: C+

Day Four

“MADELINE’S MADELINE” Dir: Josephine Decker

I tried very hard to find a redeeming quality of this film and I just really didn’t find one. It was all over the place with nonsensical scenes cutting back and forth to add up nothing of what makes a film flow from scene to scene. It completely lacked any sense as you didn’t know if Molly Parker’s character was wanting Madeline (Helena Howard) to be crazy or making her crazy. All in all, it just lacked any and all of the Drama/Mystery/Thriller it is categorized as.
Grade: D-

“MINDING THE GAP” Dir: Bing Liu

As we know not all documentaries are going to be a pleasant, happy experience. This one however, made me feel as though I was watching a long drawn out episode of Teen Mom. And while I’ve never actually watched that show, I’m going to guess if you add in their boyfriends and skateboards, you’ve got it down pat. Enough said.
Grade: D-

“FIRST REFORMED” Dir: Paul Schrader

Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried both give good performances here and once again, without that this would be a truly hard film to sit through in it’s entirety. I just wish the movie didn’t drag so much for so long in many different parts. It’s seems as it’s trying to be a social commentary on despair, climate change, torment and tragedy all wrapped up in a bow that you see the ending coming right at you by the 30th minute leaving nothing to chance.
Grade: C

Day Five:

“If Beale Street Could Talk” Dir: Barry Jenkins

While I wasn’t Moonlight’s biggest fan, I did find Beale Street to be a far better film to be sure. I still didn’t love it as it left a lot of questions unanswered for me that I wanted to know and made it feel incomplete to me. While Kiki Lane and Stephan James are the leads, for me it was all about Regina King and Michael Beach (who is all of a sudden in so many projects and I love this fact) who really brought home the acting. And while so much of this hit hard, there was just still too much I wanted to know more about.
Grade: C+

And that’s all I’ve seen at this point – but I’ve still this weeks schedule and to make up some of last week’s also. So please come back as I will hopefully be posting more often again.

@pegsatthemovies

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REVIEW: “NOCTURNAL ANIMALS” (2016) Post: Q & A ~ Tom Ford

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If you’re looking for a sequel of sorts to  A SINGLE MAN, it won’t be found anywhere in “NOCTURNAL ANIMALS”. Tom Ford’s take on this tale of redemption, revenge, love and cruelty, terrified me at times, but in all the right ways.
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NOCTURNAL AMINALS is a dark, yet stylish thriller directed by a man who knows a thing or two about style – having previously worked as creative director for both Gucci and YSL and now of course, his own design firm, Tom Ford. So to say his delving into film could have been less than stellar or have gone in all the wrong directions, wouldn’t be absurd. He could have gone style over substance, thankfully, here we get both and Ford’s perfectionism makes this one of the most powerful films I’ve seen all year.

This is really a story within a story with the perspective coming from Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner who spends most of her life at home alone, with her often out-of-town husband Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer), pursuing his ‘business’. Randomly, (so we think) Susan gets a manuscript for a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom she hasn’t heard from in over 15 years and as curiosity gets the best of her, she starts reading it. Almost immediately she finds herself completely absorbed with the story, so much so, we see it as she herself ‘see’s’ it to have happened. As she continues to read, she has flashbacks to how her own relationship & marriage with Edward broke down as well as perceived thoughts that the way she is ‘seeing’ this violent thriller could maybe some type of veiled threat against her from Edward. nocturnal-animals-3

Edward’s novel provides the film with its dark soul, the story of Tony Hastings (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) & daughter India (Elle Bamber), who run into trouble when traveling through some back country Texas roads late at night, you know the type they make movies about how not to ever drive down. It’s pretty heavy stuff to watch it all, and I couldn’t help but clench the seat while watching it all unfold, but it all plays out as essential in making this such powerful watch.
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The rest of the cast features the always scene-stealing, can-we-just-give-him-an-Oscar-already Michael Shannon, as Bobby Andes, a career best performance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is truly vile, creepy and just plain terrifying as the Ray Marcus, and Laura Linney’s appearance as Susan’s mother, Anne Sutton, who even in the short space of time we see her, makes an impact.

Gyllenhaal is good here doing dual roles though playing Hastings is seemingly the much harder performance, I just feel like he’s trying these same type of thriller roles out one after another to see which one hits hardest. Amy Adams is quite brilliant and it’s this role that should garner her another Oscar nomination at the least. It seems some don’t like Aaron Taylor Johnson’s performance, probably because if anyone knows how to bring the ‘pretty’ to a film, it’s Tom Ford and Johnson along with Hammer and a few others are the ‘pretty’ to be sure. But he also knows how to bring a performance, and for me, I like it when I get surprised by one and Johnson’s did that for me.

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This is one damned good film and I’m thinking it’s going to garner itself a few award nominations.

Grade: A
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Screening courtesy of Hammer Museum ~ The Contender Series
NOW SCREENING NATIONWIDE

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Post Q & A with Tom Ford
First off, I can’t say enough on how congenial this man is. He has been quite brilliant as not only a designer, but so far, as a filmmaker also, and yet is more than pleased to answer any and all questions posed and makes you feel as though your friends after only a few minutes conversation.

Mr. Ford acknowledged the fact that he’s been so very lucky in being able to make his films his way so far. After being in the same industry for so long (30 yrs. in design) he says it’s been nothing but a blast for him to be able to do this and he loves it for being so different.
He also notes it’s been great getting the cast he wanted as he really had to find two people who could span a 20 year time frame, and in doing so, both look it and be able to act it out. He felt Amy Adams just resonates so much expression on screen with just looks as she doesn’t speak as she reads the novel, but expresses it.
He noted that while they took some liberties with the film over the actual novel by Austin Wright, it would have been almost impossible to have filmed it exactly as written so deep a story it is. My favourite statement of his was that he wants you to remember this film..not just one day after you see..not just a few weeks later..but still be thinking about a year later and remember how it made you think and feel.
I think he will get his wish on that one. 🙂

REVIEW: “MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” (2015) Warner Bros. Pictures

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Director Guy Ritchie starts off with a wonderful, very highly stylized car chase. From that moment on I pinned my hopes that the whole film would be just as good as this sequence. It ends up turning into rather a bumpy ride between plot highs..and plot lows..making it an overall fun, but uneven film.
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Henry Cavill as ‘Napoleon Solo’ and Armie Hammer as ‘Illya Kuryakin‘ are the dymanic spy duo coming from differing enemy camps – Solo being from the CIA and Kuryakin respectively, the KGB, who must work together along with help from German/car whiz girl mechanic/possible double agent (maybe even triple we’re not sure) ‘Gaby Teller’ (Alicia Vikander) to battle the forces of mysterious and evil criminal organization – The Vinciguerra Empire – a rogue Italian group of ex-Nazi loyalists ran by “Victoria Vinciguerra” (Elizabeth Delbecki) & her husband “Alexander” (Luca Calvani). The goal is to uncover the plot to stop them from obtaining and detonating a nuclear bomb.
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Following a fairly standard formula for spy plots that involves good guys vs. bad guys to save the world, here Ritchie throws intrigue to the back burner and instead ramps up the charm and personality of his characters. Each one has their own unique set of traits which set them apart, yet it also brings them perfectly together to create the type of “spy team” with palpable chemistry that works all the way around and delivers to us a most entertaining ride.
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Add in the always witty and charming delivery of Hugh Grant, Jared Harris and Misha Kuznetsov in their respective roles as head of differing agencies and you can’t beat the overall fun that they dish out. 1DE8C234
As with any film of this genre, my motto of ‘your only as good as your villains’ once again applies as I did find those being the only characters the lacking the charm and chemistry of their counterparts, though still stylish, just missing what is truly needed to a baddie, the ability to still like them even though they are the villains.

Ending with the perfect setup for a sequel, I do hope the wonderful stylization remains as do the characters, though with a bit better plot and new villains as it could prove that a sequel might even turn out to be better than an original.

Grade: C
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Screening: Arclight Hollywood – Wednesday, August 12, 2015 – Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Opens Nationwide: Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: “ENTOURAGE” (2015) Warner Bros.

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“The Boys are back in town” — Spread the word around — The Boys are back– The Boys are back…

From the first opening scenes I’m guessing most will know immediately whether or not they will enjoy this film as before the opening credits even roll out we are caught up in the middle of a huge celebrity filled party scene as “Vincent Chase” (Adrian Grenier) is on a multi-millionaire’s yacht celebrating the end of his 9 day marriage with his friends zooming over on a speedboat to join him with nary a girl who’s not supermodel beautiful in sight. Life’s clearly a bitch for these guys..
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Entourage – based on the very popular HBO series that ran for eight seasons, is a fun, fast-paced, energetic look at both sides of the Hollywood machine. Side 1: The glamorous side of fast cars, nice homes & copious amounts of sex; Side 2: takes a really good peek at what goes on in behind-the-scenes deals that go down just to get films made. At 104 minutes long, there is not a moment wasted in packing in a ton of stuff into this glittering ride of a movie. The party scenes are fun, the dialogue is sharp and biting and the actors inhabit their respective characters well.

So remember ‘Medellin’? The film fiasco that was portrayed on the series that almost put a halt to the career of Vinnie Chase. This film picks up from the that as we once again takes a look at the lives of movie star Vincent Chase, his agent (now studio executive) “Ari Gold” (Jeremy Piven) and his group of cronies “Eric aka ‘E'” (Kevin Connolly), “Johnny Drama” (Kevin Dillon) and “Turtle” (Jerry Ferrera) who surround him. This time, the boys are making Ari’s first blockbuster picture ‘HYDE’ with Vince being not only the lead actor but in the directors chair as well. Everything threatens to go off the rails when the movie goes over budget. To get more money for the production, Ari has to go and deal with difficult Texan financier “Larsen McCredle” (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son “Travis” (Haley Joel Osment). Meanwhile, E is dealing with multiple pregnancies, Turtle is trying to court UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, Vince is dealing with his relationship with Emily Ratajkowski and directing his first major film for Ari, and Drama is coping with his stagnant career and a leaked sex tape. It’s all light fun, accompanied by fast cars, LA icon sightings and an absurd amount of celebrity cameos that if you blink you just might miss one of them.
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With various plotlines moving throughout the film, the party scene that occupies much of the middle section of the film is fantastic and the script really starts to move at a faster, funnier pace. But it’s always Ari who brings the film together. He is by far the most compelling character in the film, always ranting and raving, shouting an incessant amount of profanity at his co-workers while dealing with crazy financiers. Piven is a true scene-stealer, spouting off as much as he can and having a lot of fun with the role. As for the other four principle stars, they’re great together, and while it might take you a moment to recognize child-star Haley Joel Osmont, he does really well in this unexpected character turn with perhaps the meatiest co-star role out of all the actors, getting the chance to portray an immature Texan kid overwhelmed by the celebrity lifestyle.
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While this film is far from a masterpiece by any means, it did keep me smiling throughout with some very funny moments, great dialogue and simply put – it just all works. It’s a good summer diversion that delivers everything you want from a movie like this.. a good time.

B-
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Screening Monday, June 1st, 2015 at Pacific Grove Theatres courtesy of Warner Bros.
Nationwide release: Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015