Thursday, February 16, 2017

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (2014)


Academy Awards, USA 2015

Nominated
Oscar
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Glen Campbell
Julian Raymond
Song: "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"

Area 23a
Directed by James Keach
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Netflix)

Legendary country artist Glen Campbell embarks on a farewell tour while struggling with Alzheimer's. He gets incredible support from his family, including his wife who helps him with just about every aspect of his life, and his young adult children, many of them in the touring band. At the center of it all is Glen, his memory failing but able to tap into the place where music is made. Incredibly moving film, even if you don't like country music.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)


Academy Awards, USA 1940

Nominated
Oscar
Best Writing, Original Story
Lamar Trotti

Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by John Ford
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Netflix)

Lincoln is a young lawyer in Illinois who offers to defend a pair of brothers accused of murdering a man one night during a Fourth of July brawl. The ensuing trial looks hopeless, until Lincoln manages to elicit a confession from the real killer in dramatic fashion. Henry Fonda, in heavy make up, almost manages to disappear in the role, only his voice gives him away. The script strays too often into comic relief, and the ending is overblown patriotism, but still entertaining as early Americana with that inimitable John Ford touch.

13th (2016)


Academy Awards, USA 2017

Nominated
Oscar
Best Documentary Feature
Ava DuVernay
Spencer Averick
Howard Barish

Netflix
Directed by Ava DuVernay
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Netflix)

The roots of the modern phenomenon of "mass incarceration" are traced to a clause in the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery, except in the notable exception of punishment for a crime. The clause has been exploited over the decades as a way to incarcerate people of color and use them for cheap labor. The argument is convincing and disturbing, especially in the current political climate. You might want to go out and start protesting after viewing it.

Macario (1960)


Academy Awards, USA 1961

Nominated
Oscar
Best Foreign Language Film
Mexico.

Azteca Films
Directed by Roberto Gavaldón
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

A Mexican peasant refuses to eat until he gets a whole roast turkey to himself. His obliging wife steals one for him, but before he can eat it three ghostly apparitions appear before him. One of them turns out to be Death, with whom he shares the turkey. Amused, Death gives him a supply of miraculous water which will heal the sick, well most of them anyway. The peasant becomes a famous healer and profits from the water, attracting the Inquisition. He makes a desperate escape, only to end up in the cavern of Death. Interesting concept done in by amateurish special effects and simple-minded approach. Compare to the much superior classic Bergman film The Seventh Seal.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Julia (1977)


Academy Awards, USA 1978

Won
Oscar
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Jason Robards
Jason Robards was not present at the ceremony. Presenters Maggie Smith and Michael Caine accepted the award on his behalf.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Vanessa Redgrave
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
Alvin Sargent
Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
Richard Roth
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Jane Fonda
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Maximilian Schell
Best Director
Fred Zinnemann
Best Cinematography
Douglas Slocombe
Best Costume Design
Anthea Sylbert
Best Film Editing
Walter Murch
Marcel Durham
Best Music, Original Score
Georges Delerue

Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Twilight Time)

Childhood friends Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave maintain close ties as adults despite being separated by the demands of work. Jane eventually finds success as a playwright with the help of sometime lover Jason Robards, while Vanessa gets involved with the fight against Nazis. She convinces Jane to smuggle money into Germany while passing through by train. There are some truly tense moments during this sequence of events. Douglas Slocombe's photography can be breathtaking. However, the characters are underdeveloped, particularly the relationship between the two girls which is crucial to the plot, and as a result the finished product is unsatisfying.

Corpse Bride (2005)


Academy Awards, USA 2006

Nominated
Oscar
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Tim Burton
Mike Johnson

Warner Bros.
Directed by Tim Burton
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

Victorian-era story of an arranged marriage between a shy young man and a timid young girl. They fall in love at first sight, but while practicing the wedding vows he accidentally ends up married to a personable and outgoing girl, who happens to be dead. She takes him to the "land of the dead" where everyone appears to be enjoying themselves. He concocts a plan to get her back to the land of the living to reunite with his fiance, but when she discovers his treachery she whisks back to the dead and he reluctantly agrees to marry her. However, at the wedding she realizes he still loves his fiance and lets him return to her, getting some revenge along the way. This stop-motion animated film takes an otherwise predictable love story and turns it into a Dickensian black comedy that could have been directed by Rankin-Bass. Briskly paced with just the right amount of musical accompaniment, I sometimes wonder if this isn't better than Burton's better known predecessor The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Escape Me Never (1935)


Academy Awards, USA 1936

Nominated
Oscar
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Elisabeth Bergner

United Artists
Directed by Paul Czinner
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Elisabeth Bergner is a homeless waif with a newborn child who befriends a down and out composer in Venice. They decide to set out together with his brother as traveling minstrels, eventually ending up in London. She romances both brothers, leading to the inevitable melodramatic complications. Bergner's over-the-top performance earned her an Oscar nomination, but most viewers will tire of her theatrics rather quickly, leaving no one to root for in this overwrought adaptation of Margaret Kennedy's play.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

There Will Be Blood (2007)


Academy Awards, USA 2008

Won
Oscar
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Robert Elswit
Nominated
Oscar
Best Motion Picture of the Year
JoAnne Sellar
Paul Thomas Anderson
Daniel Lupi
Best Achievement in Directing
Paul Thomas Anderson
Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
Paul Thomas Anderson
Best Achievement in Film Editing
Dylan Tichenor
Best Achievement in Art Direction
Jack Fisk (art director)
Jim Erickson (set decorator)
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Matthew Wood
Christopher Scarabosio

Paramount Vantage
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Paramount) 

Prospector Daniel Day-Lewis gets a tip about an oil field on a remote California ranch. He travels there to buy the ranch and as much surrounding land as possible before the big oil company. He builds a derrick and hires men to operate it. His plans to build a pipeline to the ocean are thwarted by a holdout who refused to sell his land. He also clashes with a local young preacher, leading to a deadly confrontation. Epic story demonstrating how greed, in all of its forms, leads to amoral and ultimately self-destructive behavior. A vivid characterization by Day-Lewis, set to an intense, foreboding soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood. However, the gloomy atmosphere and unlikable characters begins to wear after a couple of hours, and an overwrought ending does not help.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

James and the Giant Peach (1996)


Academy Awards, USA 1997

Nominated
Oscar
Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score
Randy Newman

Buena Vista Pictures
Directed by Henry Selick
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Disney)

An orphaned boy lives with his two cruel aunts in a ramshackle house by the sea. He escapes by using magic "crocodile tongues" which cause a giant peach to grow outside the house. He climbs inside and befriends its inhabitants of talking bugs and insects. Together they cross the ocean in the giant peach, overcoming various obstacles, eventually ending up in NYC. The aunts try to reclaim him, but when their abusive behavior is revealed he prevails. Combination of live action and stop motion animation is a hit and miss affair. The songs are unmemorable, James is annoying and the bugs are broad stereotypes.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)


Academy Awards, USA 1994

Nominated
Oscar
Best Effects, Visual Effects
Pete Kozachik
Eric Leighton
Ariel Velasco-Shaw
Gordon Baker

Buena Vista International
Directed by Henry Selick
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Disney) 

Animated musical fantasy set in "Halloween Town", whose inhabitants are dedicated to the annual holiday. Their leader, Jack Skellington the "Pumpkin King", becomes bored with the whole thing, but while walking in the woods one day falls through a door which leads to the similar "Christmas Town". Unable to fully comprehend those traditions, he instead decides to take it over. He sends three trick-or-treaters to kidnap Santa and lock him up with a creature who tortures and threatens to kill him. Meanwhile, Jack adapts the persona of Santa and sets out on Christmas Eve to deliver presents, only with cruel Halloween twists. Vivid production design brings these fantastical worlds to life through stop motion animation. Danny Elfman's music, however, is not aging well. It too often overwhelms the story, the lyrics are simple and the melodies repetitive. A subplot involving a rag doll woman who falls in love with Jack is underdeveloped and unconvincing. Still, it's a lot of fun around Halloween or Christmas, or both, providing a good antidote to the traditional stop-motion animation specials from Rankin-Bass.