Wild Nights with Emily

[3 stars]

Emily Dickinson has remained a surprisingly controversal character in the field of poetry.  This somewhat comic biography/exposé of her life isn’t likely to reduce that. In fact, for some, it may shatter their sense of her.

The movie is at its best when writer/director Madeleine Olnek (Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same) is using the story to skewer the literary world and literary criticism. Primarily this is through the voice and actions of Amy Seimetz (Pet Sematary), who’s smarmy, self-important Mabel Loomis Todd provides the narrative thread to explain what we thought we knew about Dickinson’s life and art. Olnek counterpoints it throughout with the re-enactments/fictional conceptions based on the recent revelations of Dickinson’s letters and poetry.

Molly Shannon’s (We Don’t Belong Here) is often restrained as Dickinson, but occasionlly a little unleashed. She and Susan Ziegler (Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same) present the challenge of a life-long relationship in an era where it should have been impossible. And yet, it appears to have been one of the worst kept secrets of its village and family. It was the rewriting of that history that hid that truth for over 100 years.

Where Olnek’s film is at its weakest is when she allowed the comedy to get too broad (no pun intended). Some of this is with Shannon, but it extends to side characters too, such as maid Lisa Haas (Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same) or Emily’s brother played by Kevin Seal (Laggies). Also, the overall structure is somewhat fractured, slipping between a sort of forced period movie approach and contemporary speech and editing. The combination isn’t always comfortable or effective.

The odd sensibility and choices aside, the film works. The angering absurdity of the time and situation, not to mention the impact of the decisions, hits home well. For something a little different that will entertain and even educate a little, this is a good choice.

Wild Nights with Emily

A Classic Resurgence

We are at an inflection point in story-telling, both in sensibility and technology. No one is sure where and how it will wash out and what will be left in its wake…but, think about the last 10 years and what has changed about what you watch (forgetting about where  you watch it, which is another long discussion). Frankly, the trend toward bigger and more complex stories is something I’m celebrating, even as other issues like “good enough” culture of quality and fractured landscapes are causing other challenges. The return of classics in more complete forms is definitely one of positives in this trend.

Classics (of all cultures) have long been a source of material for writers and entertainers. They’re “classics” for a good reason after all: they found a truth that resonates with their public that transcends time periods; this is what allows them to live on. Of course, language and society change over time, so while the truth may still apply, the provided journey tends to become ever more challenging to contemporary audiences as years, decades, and millennia go by.

This is why writers constantly reinvent (or steal) them, to keep them fresh for current audiences. Shakespeare, in particular, is reinterpreted constantly to this end (think LearThe Donmar Warehouse, Richard III, 10 Things I Hate About You, and so many more). And “updating” the stories, either in place or language, allows relevant themes, storylines, or even aspects of character to be more accessible to an audience to whom it applies but is otherwise unable to receive the message from the original.

The BBC has been known to not only not be afraid of classical literature as source material, but often to embrace it. This has produced some amazing series and movies… but also a sort of genre of its own that tends to be rather staid period pieces. Hollywood has, likewise, plumbed this vein, but often produced short-cutted stories that lose so much of the original that they are mere sketches of the breadth and depth of those tales.

The streaming world has changed this. The current approach now is to create multiple episode productions that drag the material onto screen in both a more complete way, and by updating them to contemporary sensibilities to keep them accessible and fresh.

While this has been going on for a while (see Sherlock), there were three in quick succession recently that suggest to me it’s accelerating. The first to drop was War of the Worlds late last year. But Dracula and A Christmas Carol both came available about the same time and raise interesting specters. I’m going to leave Little Women out of this because it is such a wholly different genre than these three and was a single movie, but the discussion still applies, just not quite as directly.

OK, top line is that all three are great stories that were considered very dark in their day. But, as tales of horror, they pale in today’s light and genre offerings. One of the first aspects of these reboots is just how violent they can be, and just how horrid to their main characters they are. When they were originally published, they were received relatively the same as the new versions are now….that is, disturbing and scary. To pierce the modern skin, inference and subtlety had to be replaced with direct example to achieve the same effect.

The second aspect that is common is that they are all given the room they need to address the book-length ideas in an amount of time that can contain them. We aren’t forced into a 90 minute or 2 hour stripped-down rendering of the large psychological and sociological ideas the original authors intended. The stories are expansive and contemplative on these points. Paired with good writing and broken into a serial, they sustain these aspects and open the old stories back up for a new audience.

For all of the concerns about the streaming invasion, one of the main positives is the room they are making for bigger and more niche ideas. Remakes of classics is just a small piece of that, it reaches well beyond classics in terms of material. But, since classics return and return and return, there is a history to compare it to, whereas adaptations like Watchmen or American Gods, also provided room to breathe (and arguably modern classics), have no previous incarnations to celebrate.

Today’s Strand is Netflix, Prime, and HBO. And, in many ways, and despite the current streaming wars, it is bringing about a Renaissance in story telling that is even affecting theatrical releases (think It: Chapter 1, It: Chapter 2). And then there is the Marvel Phases, which are less direct, but still taking advantage of the desire for expansive stories.

So, while we may also be encountering mountains of mediocre and empty material (as we always have), the new Hollywood (wherever that is in a distributed, global sense) is also creating some top notch entertainment from the bones of its ancestors. And that is something to celebrate and support. We’re even seeing it start to expand in cultures as these companies reach for new markets, bringing Western stories to them, but also their stories to us…something that is already accelerating as well on global streamers like Netflix in particular.

Only You (1994)

[3 stars]

Romcoms never quite go out of style, though only a few retain their well-intentioned joy as years go by. Only You is somewhat on the cusp of losing its mandate due to cultural shifts. However Norman Jewison’s (Moonstruck) light romance, echoing Roman Holiday, had one aspect really going for its longevity: it’s cast.

Long before they were to match up (non-romantically) in Spider-Man, Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. got tangled up in this light comedy. And while Downey certainly has some fun and commands the screen, Tomei is the one to watch here. She is as luminescent as Audrey Hepburn, with the same vulnerability and strength. She takes the weakest of lines and moments and turns them into something magnetic, keeping the story rolling along despite any of outlandish choices Diane Drake’s (What Women Want) script forces her to make.

Along with Bonnie Hunt (Toy Story 4), and some smaller roles by Fisher Stevens (Motherless Brooklyn) and Billy Zane (Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight),  the story unspools across two relationships, one new and one old. And, of course, the question of destiny and love hangs over it all.

This isn’t a brilliant film. And, as I mentioned, it’s showing its ages at the seams. However, it is a reasonable distraction just to see Tomei work the screen and glow as she does. So if you’re in the mood for a light romance and to see a couple of stars in their younger days, turn this one on and let it wash over you. Just don’t expect too much or think too hard.

To Be or Not To Be (1942)

[3 stars]

Before Jojo Rabbit, but after Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator, Carole Lombard and Jack Benny took on Hitler and WWII in their own slightly-screwball comedy of Polish acting royalty battling the Nazi invasion in Warsaw. And they had help from a very young Robert Stack.

There is a lot to enjoy in this wartime, feel-good flick. Director Ernst Lubitsch helped the cast navigate the darker sides of war, leaning into it as a foil rather than sinking into it in despair. Given this was created and released less than a year after Pearl Harbor, that’s pretty amazing.

Admittedly, the rhythm of the comedy overall is a bit odd for today. Though Lombard’s fast, sharp wit, a la her previous Twentieth Century, is certainly one of highlights. Overall, there is more of a stage sensibility with the dialogue and odd pauses. But, despite the dated feel, it manages to entertain and surprise with a clever script and focus on the human in the danger. But it isn’t a satire or larger commentary, it is purely a romantic comedy with WWII trappings.

And I could be wrong, but To Be or Not To Be is also probably one of the last comedies about Hitler until Mel Brooks tackled him again in The Producers 25 years later. (Note: though I know Abbot and Costello made Hitler Ho!, I can’t find a year for it anywhere, let alone a copy). As WWII quickly progressed, humor about it was not what people were looking for.

For a silly escape with some historical significance, this is worth looking up at some point…and the Criterion restoration is crisp and beautiful.

To Be or Not to Be

Oscars 2020 (results)

So another host-less Oscars (making a long, often boring ceremony even less intriguing and without personality) is behind us. OK, there were moments (like the Steve Martin and Chris Rock riffs).

Here are my results.

Majors: 4 out of 10 (40%)
Minors: 3 out of 9 (30%)
Technical: 2 out of 5 (40%)
Overall: 9 out of 24 (37%)

These are the worst I’ve done in years (I’m usually near 90%)…I’m not sure how I feel about that! In some cases the Academy overcame long standing prejudices (look at Best Pic), but in others they showed extremely narrow thinking (e.g., Netflix hate). In most cases I was pretty sure of the potential upset, but in others I was as surprised as anyone. This year could have been a turning point in many ways, but I don’t think that’s happened quite yet in either diversity or in accepted platforms. At least there a number of really great films to see or catch up with down the road.

So it is what it is…. and here is the recap…

MAJORS

Actress in a Leading Role

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Siorse Ronan (Little Women)
Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

My prediction: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)
Winner: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

This is pretty much a slam-dunk based on the previous ceremonies this year. And it is an amazing performance.

Actor in a Leading Role

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

My prediction: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Winner: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Actress in a Supporting Role

Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Scarlett Johannson (Jojo Rabbit)
Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

My prediction: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Winner: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

My prediction: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Winner: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
The Two Popes

My prediction: Little Women
Winner: Jojo Rabbit

Not a huge surprise given WGA, and a solid choice.

Original Screenplay

Knives Out
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My prediction: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Winner: Parasite

Oh so happy to be wrong on this one. I really thought the self-referential drivel would win, not because it deserved to but because it was self-referential.

Directing

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

My prediction: Sam Mendes (1917)
Winner: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

Not a mistake and not a disappointment, though a bit of a surprise.

Animated Feature Film

How To Train Your Dragon
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

My prediction: Klaus
Winner: Toy Story 4

Netflix hate and name recognition wins again. For the record, it isn’t that I didn’t like Toy Story 4, but it is not better than Klaus or I Lost My Body. Originally I did think it would take the statuette, but it really shouldn’t have. Do yourself a favor, watch Klaus and see what you’re missing.

Best Picture

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My prediction: 1917
Winner: Parasite

Holy guacamole!I’m not disappointed here, but I am shocked, despite the stated possibilities. That preferential ballot is a bugger to predict. Welcome to history (first international film to win best pic).

International Feature

Corpus Christi
Honeyland
Les Miserables
Pain And Glory
Parasite

My prediction: Parasite
Winner: Parasite

MINORS

Documentary Feature

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
Honeyland

My choice: The Cave
Likely winner: American Factory

Documentary Short Subject

In The Absence
Learning To Skateboard
Life Overtakes Me
St Louis Superman
Walk, Run, Cha-Cha

My prediction: St Louis Superman
Winner:
Learning To Skateboard

Live Action Short Film

Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
Saria
A Sister

My prediction: A Sister
Winner: The Neighbors’ Window

Animated Short Film

Dcera (Daughter)
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

My prediction: Kitbull
Winner: Hair Love

Original Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” – Toy Story 4
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You” – Breakthrough
“Into the Uknown” – Frozen 2
“Stand Up” – Harriet

My prediction:  “Stand Up” – Harriet
Winner: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman

Probably should have updated this before the freeze, but this isn’t a surprise.

Original Score

Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

My prediction: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Winner: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)

Production Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My prediction:1917
Winner: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Sure, why not.

Costume Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My prediction: Little Women
Winner: Little Women

Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell
Joker
Judy
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
1917

My prediction: Bombshell
Winner: Bombshell

TECHNICAL

Cinematography

The Irishman
Joker
The Lighthouse
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My prediction: 1917
Winner: 1917

Film Editing

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Parasite

My prediction: Jojo Rabbit
Winner: Ford V Ferrari

Was always a possibility (especially after the BAFTAs). They wanted to show the film some love…this was their chance.

Visual Effects

Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
1917
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My prediction: The Irishman
Winner:  1917

It isn’t that I didn’t say 1917 was the biggest threat to Irishman in this category…but I am a little disappointed in the voters.

Sound Mixing

Ad Astra
Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My prediction: 1917
Winner: 1917

Sound Editing

Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My prediction: 1917
Winner: Ford V Ferrari

OK, I admit to be a bit of a surprise here, considering the field.

Oscars 2020 (final call)

Another awards season is nearly complete. And with all of the other ceremonies out of the way from SAG to BAFTA, DGA, WGA, Annies, Eddies, PGA, done, there is data and trends and confusions to add just a bit of drama and uncertainty to the mother of them all: Oscars.

So, with the nominations, conversations, and voting  period over, here are my final predictions of the night of glitz and glitter…

Actress in a Leading Role

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Siorse Ronan (Little Women)
Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

My choice: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)
Likely winner: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

This is pretty much a slam-dunk based on the previous ceremonies this year. And it is an amazing performance.

Actor in a Leading Role

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

My choice: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Likely winner: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

To my great joy, this is also a slam-dunk. The movie floored me, Phoenix in particular. But I never expected it to grab the attention of the industry this way since it is, at its heart, genre. It’s nice to be surprised sometimes.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Scarlett Johannson (Jojo Rabbit)
Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

My choice: Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Likely winner: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

I’ve never doubted Dern would take this statuette, but I’m not sure she’s the best choice. I think Pugh did more in her role. But Dern is a powerhouse in Marriage Story and she’s had everyone’s attention since the awards began rolling out.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

My choice: Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Likely winner: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Again, this was a category dominated from the top by a single person: Pitt. And it is a good performance in an otherwise awful movie (to my mind). But in terms of impact, Pesci and Hanks were the standouts for me. And while Pesci really is amazing (and has a slim chance of taking this) I feel like Hanks has been overlooked this year, as was his movie. Perhaps it was just too close to Rogers in reality to feel like a performance for most? Both he and Pesci hold their movies together, so really, either would be fine with me…but neither is going to beat Pitt.

Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
The Two Popes

My choice: Jojo Rabbit
Likely winner: Little Women

My thinking on this has changed a lot in terms of who will win. The industry is definitely looking at this category differently than I expected… but also the previous awards hadn’t really grouped all of these together, so its a bit of a guess as to what happens. With Gerwig otherwise shut out, I think she’s got a chance for a consolation prize here. But Jojo has been showing momentum coming into the stretch (including winning the WGA) and it is the most inventive and unique of the tales overall (and Irishman is getting ignored).

Original Screenplay

Knives Out
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My choice: Parasite
Likely winner: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

I still don’t understand the critical love of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. It is a mess of a story and script that falls apart at the end. But it has overwhelming love from the Academy due to its subject matter and it has few other chances to win. But Parasite is likewise surging, so there could be a surprise of conscience and/or quality that tips the balance.

Directing

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

My choice: Todd Phillips (Joker)
Likely winner: Sam Mendes (1917)

I’ve been back and forth on this category all season. Parasite is a brilliant and unexpected film, but it is also forced in some ways. The Irishman is a brilliant example of classic film-making, and manages to create a tiny, focused story out of an epic that flies along, even at 3.5 hours. It is a master-class in directing. But Joker pulls off the seeming impossible and, out of genre cloth, peels back the human condition in a way I’ve never seen before, and guided a performance that is devastating and utterly believable.

However, all that said, Mendes is going to take this for the audacity and technical execution of a story that, like Gravity before it, redefines what a movie can be. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t the best story, it is the scope and control he, as a director, had to manage in order to deliver his illusion. And it is bloody impressive.

Animated Feature Film

How To Train Your Dragon
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

My choice: Klaus
Likely winner: Klaus

OK, this is actually more of an open race this year than I originally thought. No one outside the guild expected Missing Link and Klaus to dominate the Annies this year. Frankly, though Missing Link pushed the tech, it wasn’t that great a movie. And I skipped Klaus till recently because, well, Klaus…just isn’t my thing. And while I loved I Lost My Body (and it picked up the top independent animation honor at the Annies), Klaus won me over as the best film overall.

That said, there is still a strong possibility that name recognition and Pixar are likely to dominate the Academy votes here (despite BAFTA agreeing with the Annies). But I’d be wonderfully happy and surprised to be wrong about that.

Best Picture

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My choice: The Irishman
Likely winner: 1917

Because of the preferential ballot, this is really still wide open. Anyone’s second or third choices could rise to the top if everyone’s second or third choice aligned.

In the end, I think Parasite gets International rather than making history as the first foreign language film to take Best Pic. I think Irishman gets snubbed because of Netflix, and I’m praying Once Upon a Time… just doesn’t get the votes as it doesn’t deserve it. But, more importantly, 1917 has been gaining momentum as the season wound down and it’s an impressive epic of a film that pushes the technology and the boundaries of expectation in a way that will likely get it over the top.

International Feature

Corpus Christi
Honeyland
Les Miserables
Pain And Glory
Parasite

My choice: Parasite
Likely winner: Parasite

I don’t think there is any doubt at this point here, despite the excellent field of options.

Original Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” – Toy Story 4
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You” – Breakthrough
“Into the Uknown” – Frozen 2
“Stand Up” – Harriet

My choice:  “Stand Up” – Harriet
Likely winner: “Stand Up” – Harriet

Y’know, I really just don’t care out of this grouping. Nothing stood out for me or in the popular culture. Given the lack of diversity in the Oscars this year (and with no dispersions on her abilities or song), I think Erivo takes it.

Original Score

Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

My choice: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Likely winner: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)

Documentary Feature

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
Honeyland

My choice: The Cave
Likely winner: The Cave

I have good reason for my pick other than the controversy surrounding the director’s fight with 45 getting her visa to attend the Oscars. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. But it is also getting a lot of positive attention as a film. But it could well lose to Honeyland, which has had some great recognition as well.

Documentary Short Subject

In The Absence
Learning To Skateboard
Life Overtakes Me
St Louis Superman
Walk, Run, Cha-Cha

My choice: ?????
Likely winner: St Louis Superman

Live Action Short Film

Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
Saria
A Sister

My choice: ?????
Likely winner: A Sister

No good reason for this choice as compared to The Neighbors’ Window, both of which have some nice buzz. Given the subjects of both, I’m just flipping the coin to A Sister.

Animated Short Film

Dcera (Daughter)
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

My choice: ?????
Likely winner: Kitbull

Why Kitbull? Pixar.

Cinematography

The Irishman
Joker
The Lighthouse
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My choice: 1917
Likely winner: 1917

Film Editing

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Parasite

My choice: The Irishman
Likely winner: Jojo Rabbit

After the Eddies this became a battle between Parasite and Jojo. Ultimately, I think Jojo had more complex challenges achieved more at an editing level. Then again Ford v Ferrari took the BAFTA, so they might pick this up as their only win for the evening.

Production Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My choice: Parasite
Likely winner: 1917

Honestly, I’m not sure what way this is going to break. Parasite has the most inventive design of the field (Jojo is fun, but not quite as sharply done), but 1917 recreates WWI down to such a level of detail it’s almost distracting.

Costume Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My choice: Little Women
Likely winner: Little Women

This is one of the few places Little Women can take an award and the costumes are wonderful period pieces across a huge range of the era. That is usually what takes the prize.

Visual Effects

Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
1917
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My choice: The Irishman
Likely winner: The Irishman

To recap my original argument, the invisibleness of The Irishmen’s f/x is what makes it stand out in this field. It’s biggest threat is 1917, which deserves it as well. It’s a small enough award that Netflix hate may not overwhelm sense.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell
Joker
Judy
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
1917

My choice: Bombshell
Likely winner: Bombshell

Bombshell managed transformations the others didn’t, though Judy was certainly a magnificent effort.

Sound Mixing

Ad Astra
Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My choice: 1917
Likely winner: 1917

Sound Editing

Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My choice: 1917
Likely winner: 1917

NOMINATIONS BY FILM

Provided just for reference, but certainly interesting to consider when considering who has the attention of the voters.

Joker (Warner Bros.) – 11
The Irishman (Netflix) – 10
1917 (Universal/Amblin Partners) – 10
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Sony Pictures Releasing) – 10
Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) – 6
Little Women (Sony Pictures Releasing) – 6
Marriage Story (Netflix) – 6
Parasite (Neon) – 6
Ford v Ferrari (Disney) – 4
Bombshell (Lionsgate) – 3
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney) – 3
The Two Popes (Netflix) – 3
Harriet (Focus Features) – 2
Honeyland (Neon) 2
Judy (LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions) – 2
Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) – 2
Toy Story 4 (Disney) – 2

Wisting

[3.5 stars]

You may be thinking: yet another Scandinavian mystery series? There are reasons to take a look at Wisting. While the feel and flow of the mysteries may seem familiar, the series has an intriguing structure.

First, there are two main mysteries in two five-episode chunks. But there are several smaller mysteries as well, not all of which connect (but some of which that do) over the ten episodes. That alone helps provide a more interesting journey through the season; we see cause an effect of various decisions within the season rather than from season to season.

Second, to help gain a broader audience, the first five episodes include an American element. Carrie-Ann Moss (Jessica Jones) is a core part of the first mystery as a semi-rogue FBI agent on the heels of an old murder.

There are some challenges with the series. Part of that stems from the difference in culture (and that Wisting’s family is messed up on top of that). The other part stems from different power structures and laws in Norway. If you’re a procedural fan, the stories here will hurt your head at times as you try to figure out why some things are such a big deal and who is really exposed by aspects.

That said, as a whole it is a solid start that adapts several of Jørn Lier Horst’s books into a fairly satisfying series, and whets the appetite for the next.

Wisting

As You Like It (2006)

[3 stars]

Kenneth Branagh (All Is True) has been associated with Shakespeare since he burst onto the international scene in 1989 with Henry V. Though his career ranges wide, he has continued to circle back to the Bard, investing in and reinventing the canon as actor, director, and writer. This particular comedy is no exception, but it also marked the beginning of his departure from standard period presentations of the tales.

Branagh sets his As You LIke It in feudal Japan, though with a cast of British ex-pats in the main roles. And quite the cast he pulled together as well…frankly too long to list, but with a number of established as well as up-and-comers to enjoy. The important aspect of this transposition is that it provides a nice foundation for the initial coup and sense of danger necessary to get the tale rolling, and it adds a sort of magical aspect to the feeling of the piece.

The play itself, like all the comedies, is somewhat interchangeable with most of Shakespeare’s other secondary tales. It explores love in many aspects through four different couples and three sibling relationships. And thanks to Branagh’s deft directing and writing, those reflections and comparrisons stay crisp and interesting rather than just seeming happenstance as they often do in the longer play. He even shfits the coda to further embrace his theatrical audience and to remind the audience to not take anything too seriously.

There is little believable in the the actual story of As You Like It, other than the emotions and desires. It is simply a romp with reminders that our relationships and our hearts are more important than our possessions and power. It is a comedy, so despite any of the darker aspects, no one is left unredeemed or saved in some way. And it is, of course, funny (often laugh-out-loud funny). So for a light evening of entertainment in iambic pentameter, settle in for some pleasant escape and great performances.

As You Like It

Klaus

[4.5 stars]

Honestly, I wouldn’t have bothered with this if it weren’t for the fact that it won the Annies for best feature this year. I mean, seriously, a Christmas cartoon? As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong and I’m even thinking it has a good shot at the Oscar.

It has been years since anyone has produced a holiday-themed animation that has risen to an annual must-see the way some of the old stop-motion animations of the 60s/70s did. But Klaus may have just changed the tide on that. It isn’t a musical bit of treacle like Santa Claus is Coming to Town. And it is more Hogfather in its sensibility and view of life than you’d expect. But it also tackles the season of retail and human nature in a beautifully honest way and weaves it into the story you expect…in ways that you really wouldn’t have predicted even as you see them becoming inevitable. But for all the intelligence and themes, it remains a children’s tale in the best of ways: it doesn’t talk down to them.

Sergio Pablos (who has spent years in animation and who previously helped write Smallfoot and Despicable Me) chose this as his first project where he was both writing and directing, and I can see why. It is a delicate balance of satire and sweetness that would have been hard to trust to someone other than the person who conceived it. Given that it took the top prize at the Annies this year, and it’s up for an Oscar, I’d say he was spot on.

Jason Schwartzman (Golden Exits) leads the cast with just the right amount of sarcasm and genunie feeling. He’s backed up by Rashida Jones (Spies in Disguise) and JK Simmons (Veronica Mars) with Joan Cusack (Welcome to Me) in a nice bit role. While the story is certainly an overblown fable, they all keep it grounded nicely. Simmons, in particular, has a slow evolution through the art and voice that is great to watch.

Klaus isn’t perfect. It is a bit rushed and hand-wavy in some of the story details. It has some inconsistencies. And, ultimately, it wraps up in a way that is heart-warming but, I felt, a slight cheat given the rest of the story you traverse getting there; but the story is what it is, so I just had to shrug and accept it (though honestly, seeing Klaus as a mildly schizophrenic widower was really fun for a while). Those are the reasons for dinging it just a bit on the rating. However, I can see rewatching this annually (along with Hog Father and Rare Exports, which are more to my holiday sensibilities) because it has a lot of great humor and it reminds you (with a soft hammer) what friends, family, and society can be if we just let them.

Bottom line: If you’ve avoided this because you thought it was just empty kid’s fare and not worth your time…rethink that opinion sometime soon.

Klaus

Angel Has Fallen

[2.5 stars]

Before 300, who would have ever pegged Gerard Butler (Hunter Killer) as the leader of action franchises? Since then he’s done a string of entertaining, but not particularly good, films. And this particular series is as uneven as they come. Olympus Has Fallen was surprising…but its sequel was just awful. However, it made enough to bring us this threquel, which is somewhere between the two in quality.

There are some things going for this story. First, embracing its aging lead and recognizing that a job that involves as many explosions and physical contact as Butler’s has a deteriorating effect on the body. Also, there are some great moments peppered throughout and, perhaps best, the relationship and by-play with Nick Nolte (A Walk in the Woods).

Unfortunately, these tidbits of good are bound together by some of the weakest mysteries, worst logic, and bad writing I’ve seen in a major in quite a while. Poor Jada Pinkett Smith (Magic Mike XXL) is saddled with a character that put the “feeble” in FBI. And Tim Blake Nelson (Just Mercy) is about as credible as a hedghog as the vice president.

Part of what worked against the movie is that its effects and stunts are top notch, making the B-grade script and story show its warts all the more. So, whether you see this one has to be up to you. I’ve seen worse, but I’ve certainly seen so much better. The script is so insulting to the audience that you need to disengage, yell at the screen till you’re too tired to continue doing that, or turn it into a drinking game. Choose your approach carefully.

Angel Has Fallen

Art, writing, life explained… or at least commented upon…

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