Movies: Fences and a few quick thoughts on the Oscar nominations

Fences:

The acting in Fences is superb and all the accolades coming Denzel Washington and Viola Davis’s way are well deserved. They can get all the Oscars in the world as far as I’m concerned. The problem I had with the film is that it was a play up on the big screen. After awhile, this very long film (2 hours and 19 minutes) got to me with all the talking. At least on stage, there would have been an intermission to break it up. I am somewhat surprised that the screenwriters did not create more of a story as opposed to giving us what I assume was pretty much word for word the over 25,000 words of the play. I would have preferred that along with the important soliloquies and major dramatic moments of the play, that there had been some flashbacks or other techniques to engage us in the story.

That being said, there are so many powerful moments in this film that in conjunction with the acting makes it one of the better movies of the year. Viola Davis being able to cry and have snot coming from her nose at the same time is an Oscar winning performance if I ever saw one. I think it is difficult to take a play and make it work on the big screen and this one has its issues but along the way, there is some glorious dialogue and amazing acting.  It is well worth seeing.

A Few Quick Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations:

The Positives:

  • Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea – he is amazing
  • Much more diverse set of nominations which are all well deserved
  • By and large, the best films and performances are being honored

The Strange:

  • No Amy Adams for best actress? She has been nominated by every other major group and deserved a nod
  • Thought Hugh Grant would have received a nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins. His performance was deserving and recognized by the other major groups
  • Deadpool clearly did not resonate with the old white Oscar voters – too bad
  • No Taraji P. Henson? Great job in Hidden Fences

My Wish list – Outside possibilities that I wished for

  • Viggo Mortensen got his Best Actor nomination but would have loved to see Captain Fantastic get a best picture nod
  • Would have loved for Sonny Pawar to have been nominated for “Lion”. He made the movie
  • Wasn’t going to happen but I thought Chris Pine was better than Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water
  • My favorite foreign films of the year both came from New Zealand and weren’t nominated – “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” and “The Dark Horse”

 

Movies: Manchester by the Sea, Arrival and Jackie

 

Manchester By the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is a great movie – so far, it is my Oscar pick for best picture. There is no doubt in my mind that it deserves of the 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes as well as the recent award wins and nominations. That being said, it is a very bleak movie so be prepared. Many of the accolades are going Casey Affleck’s way who is riveting as Lee Chandler. I have always thought the younger Affleck is a good actor but he rises to a completely different level in this film as a broken man who can’t be fixed.

Affleck plays Len Chandler, a janitor toiling away in Quincy Massachusetts when he gets a call that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has collapsed. He drives to his hometown; Manchester by the Sea, only to find his brother has died of congestive heart failure leaving a sixteen-year-old son behind. Lee has always been close to his nephew Patrick (played to perfection by Lucas Hedges) who he then has to track down and tell him of his father’s death. Unbeknownst to Lee, Joe has made him guardian for Patrick and trustee of his will. Joe wanted him to move back to Manchester to care for his nephew.

Lee can’t bring himself to take on this responsibility and we find out why during numerous flashbacks.   His life contains an unimaginable tragedy that has destroyed him and as the movie unfolds, we see just how damaged he is. Thankfully, the director has interspersed a number of comedic moments throughout the film to break up the bleakness. Specifically, many of the interactions between Lee and Patrick contain a sarcastic line or two that are quite funny. It is a testament to Casey Affleck’s performance that even while playing a truly broken individual who spends all his time attempting to keep his emotions bottled up that he can still deadpan these lines without breaking character.

Manchester By the Sea is another great film about the Boston area written/produced/directed and/or acted by an Affleck or a Damon including Good Will Hunting, the Departed, the Town and Gone Baby Gone. Growing up in Boston has provided Damon and the Affleck brothers a wealth of material and they have hit home runs with them all.

Arrival

I like Sy Fy but sometimes have trouble with time travel – and that is when time is linear. Arrival explores the concept of non-linear time travel and it was a bit confusing for me. While I still have a few questions, I enjoyed this Alien drama that explores additional themes of life, death, fate and choices. The Director, as he did in Scario, keeps things moving quickly with plenty of suspense.

Amy Adams gives an Oscar worthy performance as Dr. Louise Banks, an academic linguist who is called upon to try and interpret what some Aliens who have parked themselves above 12 locations throughout the world are saying. As the movie unfolds, we see her character pursuing what will arguably be the most important thing she does in her life. Amy lives by herself in a house on the water and from the beginning, the viewer senses in her a pervasive sadness. Through flashbacks, we see that she was a single parent of a daughter who dies of cancer as a teenager but there is much more to the story.

Jeremy Renner is as likeable as he ever has been in a film as a scientist who works closely with Adams trying to decipher the reason(s) for the Alien visit. I’ll leave it at that, as the character is part of a twist that occurs well in to the film. Forrest Whitaker is his usual great self as the Army Colonel in charge of the operation at the US site where the Aliens have landed. The special effects are also very good – even the Aliens who turn out to be Heptapods.

Arrival will appeal to Sy Fy buffs but those who don’t care for the genre may want to skip it as good as it is. The whole time space continuum thing can be very confusing to the non-science types.

Jackie

Jackie is a film that is very hard to get my arms around. On one hand, Natalie Portman is really extraordinary as Jackie Kennedy in this film that covers the assassination and the week thereafter. She is on screen every one of the 99 minutes of the film and often times, we only see facial expressions displaying her emotions. Her accent and voice intonations are spot on and I can’t imagine any best actress candidate having a more difficult role this year.  She is going to be a force to be reckoned with at the Oscars.

That being said, I didn’t love the film. I’m not really sure why other than, the depiction of Jackie here doesn’t match the portrait of the woman I have in my mind. I’m not sure whether either one of these are actually accurate as Jackie was an extraordinarily private person and I’m not sure anyone but her closest family and friends could shed light on her true nature and I doubt whether they ever will. Thus, it is left to our imagination as to what she was really like and the Director of this film has taken liberties given Jackie’s private nature.

Jackie in the week after the assassination was obviously ripped apart by grief, deeply concerned about the welfare of her fatherless children and, if you are to believe the film, very focused on the legacy of her husband. These conflicting emotions create a somewhat fickled, sometimes-abrasive film persona. The movie flashes between an interview she had in real life with Theodore White a week after Kennedy’s death in which she exercises complete control over what he is going to write and the events in Dallas and it’s aftermath. The only thing I was sure of at the end of the film was Jackie’s role in ensuring the Kennedy presidency was viewed in the minds of most Americans as “Camelot”.

In addition to being confused as to what Jackie’s real personality and motives were at this time, I also had mixed reactions to the score, which heavily relied on strings with occasional woodwinds, interspersed. At times it seemed brilliant but at others, very heavy handed to the point of being distracting. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that if one is telling oneself in the middle of a movie “Enough with the cello’s!” then there probably is an issue. There is no doubt, however, that the music captured the tone and spirit of the movie.

I think it is worthwhile to see Portman’s performance in this film but I’m just not that enthusiastic about the movie as the critics are. I didn’t dislike it by any means but at a time when you can see Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, La La Land and some other presumably great films opening in the next few weeks, you might want to wait for the DVD.