Retrospective Reviews #4: Oscars Catch Up

I know I promised to fill in a gap with this 4th edition that would be close to my heart, but that gap is becoming excessively hard to fill. So, until then I’ll post about some of the 88th Academy Award nominees I decided to finally catch up on recently in honor of the ceremony. Then we’ll travel back in time.

02/25/16: 45 Years

45 years

Sundance Selects

45 Years isn’t the most exciting name for a film. It’s a fitting name for the picture that has earned Charolette Rampling a Best Actress nomination, a title that speaks to the commitment of time one devotes to a marriage. Through the rather deliberately paced workings of 45 Years, Rampling and her co-star Tom Courtaney are an extremely convincing older married couple. Their daily routines, small bits of body language and simple touches show off a nuanced interaction that has so much history implied through quiet grace. All of this is impressive… and about as entertaining as seeing an elderly couple interact. That may sound rather dismissive and I’m all for slower character pieces, but sometimes extreme accuracy can feel a bit lofty and bland. The two felt like a real couple, but they weren’t a couple of characters I could feel that invested in even as revelations come to light. 45 Years works far better as an accurate exercise in performance rather than anything that emotionally investing, which is far more necessary for a smaller character piece like this. Even if I couldn’t find much emotional resonance, Rampling still delivers a phenomenal performance. One that has all sorts of crucial beauty and subtlety that elevates the flat direction and limited story progression. The final shot in particular is haunting, showing the range Rampling’s face has in ways few others could portray. If she only received her nomination for that shot, it’d still be worth it… though it’s probably not worth sitting through this entire film.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Old Person Sweaters

02/27/16: Trumbo

trumbo

Groundswell Productions

I love a good HBO Films production. HBO can often take a cinematic story that likely wouldn’t get financed by major studios and give it the proper respect it deserves on a format that can be seen from the comfort of our own homes like Behind the Candelabra or The Normal HeartTrumbo has no actual connection to HBO, but it also doesn’t have much of a connection to that spirit of the better HBO Films, many of which were from Trumbo director Jay Roach. Instead, it feels more like a TV film of old; one that rather blandly tells a true story without much of any actual perspective or bite to it. Trumbo obviously has a story filled with political bite, given subjects of McCarthyism and the Black List that could be full of intriguing layered conflict. Yet, it’s a pretty cut and dry story of black & white morals, with even little say on the nature of communist paranoia beyond how it affects our middlingly interesting major characters’ personal lives. Instead, we need more glossy hints at far better films and cameos by actors badly imitating iconic figures in cinema. Of course, this isn’t to say Trumbo is that bad a film. It’s competently put together by Roach and filled with actors who can’t help but deliver solid work, including Best Actor nominee Bryan Cranston who fully embraces the eccentric nature of the titular screenwriter. But it’s not enough to get past this rather straight forward story telling that seems to be missing much of the nuance or political intrigue. So… it’s just sort of there. There for the occasional chuckles and giant list of character actors involved, but not for much else.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Screenwriter Pseudonyms

02/27/16: World of Tomorrow

worldoftomorrow

I don’t usually review short films here or in my general past a critical writer. The short film format is often so fickle, given the obvious limitation of time to tell a story. Filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt is one of the few people who can consistently break that expectation with his deceptively simple animated works, which often use stick figures to portray complex psychological and emotional topics. With World of Tomorrow, Hertzfeldt not only captures major issues that dwell in the brain, but does it through a remarkably masterful use of his limited style and an acute awareness of the progressive loneliness of a modern tech based existence. The juxtaposition of the vastly endless implications of such crushing loneliness and the voice of Hertzfeldt’s young niece Winona Mae’s ramblings is charming on a surface level. Yet, it speaks to a major theme throughout the short of spontaneity and joy being lost in a cold sterile world you see. There’s so much to unpack from a mere 16 minute short that hits the ground running with the emotionally resonating sci-fi concepts and never lets up. Honestly, World of Tomorrow is probably the best sci-fi film of 2015 and deserving of more than just a hopeful win for Best Animated Short.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Depressingly Relatable Stick Figures

Other Recent Works:

 

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