Monday, December 10, 2018

There's a clearcut film 'Favourite' among 24th annual Critics' Choice noms

     The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA) announced today the nominees for the 24th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards.  The winners will be revealed at the star-studded Critics’ Choice Awards gala, broadcast live on The CW Network from 7– 10 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 13. 
Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz help boost 'The Favourite.'
“The Favourite,” which debuts on northeast Ohio screens this Friday, leads all films with 14 nominations, including Best Picture. “Black Panther” also impressed with 12 nominations, followed by “First Man” with 10; then “Mary Poppins Returns,” “A Star Is Born,” and “Vice” with nine each; “Roma” with eight, and “Green Book” with seven noms.
“    "The films of 2018 have been some of the most culturally impactful in recent history,” said BFCA President Joey Berlin. “They’ve portrayed stories from every walk of life, from all different perspectives, and have touched audiences and inspired conversations that we will continue to have for years to come.  We are so excited to have the opportunity to celebrate all of them, and the people who made them on Jan.13 on The CW!” 
Here is the complete list of movie nominees:
     Black Panther
     The Favourite 
      First Man
      Green Book 
      If Beale Street Could Talk
      Mary Poppins Returns
      A Star Is Born

Christian Bale – Vice
Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate
Ryan Gosling – First Man
Ethan Hawke – First Reformed
Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen – Green Book

Yalitza Aparicio – Roma 
Emily Blunt – Mary Poppins Returns
Glenn Close – The Wife
Toni Collette – Hereditary
Olivia Colman – The Favourite
Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Mahershala Ali – Green Book
Timothée Chalamet – Beautiful Boy
Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott – A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Michael B. Jordan – Black Panther

Amy Adams – Vice
Claire Foy – First Man
Nicole Kidman – Boy Erased
Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone – The Favourite
Rachel Weisz – The Favourite

Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade
Thomasin McKenzie – Leave No Trace
Ed Oxenbould – Wildlife
Millicent Simmonds – A Quiet Place
Amandla Stenberg – The Hate U Give
Sunny Suljic – Mid90s

Black Panther
Crazy Rich Asians
The Favourite

Damien Chazelle – First Man
Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born
Alfonso Cuarón – Roma
Peter Farrelly – Green Book
Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay – Vice

Bo Burnham – Eighth Grade
Alfonso Cuarón – Roma
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara – The Favourite
Adam McKay – Vice
Paul Schrader – First Reformed
Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly – Green Book
Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski – A Quiet Place

Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole – Black Panther
Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk
Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters – A Star Is Born
Josh Singer – First Man
Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman

Alfonso Cuarón – Roma
James Laxton – If Beale Street Could Talk
Matthew Libatique – A Star Is Born
Rachel Morrison – Black Panther
Robbie Ryan – The Favourite
Linus Sandgren – First Man

Hannah Beachler, Jay Hart – Black Panther
Eugenio Caballero, Barbara Enriquez – Roma
Nelson Coates, Andrew Baseman – Crazy Rich Asians
Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton – The Favourite
Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas – First Man
John Myhre, Gordon Sim – Mary Poppins Returns

Jay Cassidy – A Star Is Born
Hank Corwin – Vice
Tom Cross – First Man
Alfonso Cuarón, Adam Gough – Roma
Yorgos Mavropsaridis – The Favourite
Joe Walker – Widows

Alexandra Byrne – Mary Queen of Scots
Ruth Carter – Black Panther
Julian Day – Bohemian Rhapsody
Sandy Powell – The Favourite
Sandy Powell – Mary Poppins Returns

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Mary Queen of Scots

Avengers: Infinity War
Black Panther
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Ready Player One

The Grinch
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Avengers: Infinity War
Black Panther
Deadpool 2
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Ready Player One

Crazy Rich Asians
Deadpool 2
The Death of Stalin
The Favourite
Game Night
Sorry to Bother You

Christian Bale – Vice
Jason Bateman – Game Night
Viggo Mortensen – Green Book
John C. Reilly – Stan & Ollie
Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool 2
Lakeith Stanfield – Sorry to Bother You

Emily Blunt – Mary Poppins Returns
Olivia Colman – The Favourite
Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade
Rachel McAdams – Game Night
Charlize Theron – Tully
Constance Wu – Crazy Rich Asians

A Quiet Place

Cold War

All the Stars – Black Panther
Girl in the Movies – Dumplin’
I’ll Fight – RBG
The Place Where Lost Things Go – Mary Poppins Returns
Shallow – A Star Is Born
Trip a Little Light Fantastic – Mary Poppins Returns

Kris Bowers – Green Book
Nicholas Britell – If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat – Isle of Dogs
Ludwig Göransson – Black Panther
Justin Hurwitz – First Man
Marc Shaiman – Mary Poppins Returns

“Critics’ Choice Awards” are bestowed annually by the BFCA and BTJA to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement. The BFCA is the largest film critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 300 television, radio and online critics. BFCA members are the primary source of information for today's film-going public.  Historically, Critics’ Choice Awards are the most accurate predictor of the Academy Award nominations.
BTJA is the collective voice of journalists who regularly cover television for TV viewers, radio listeners and online audiences.

HBO and Netflix lead networks with 20 TV nominations each, followed by FX with 16, Amazon with 12, and NBC with 11.  Topping the list of nominated series are The Americans (FX), The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX), and Escape at Dannemora (Showtime) with five each.

A complete list of nominees can be found here on the Critics' Choice Awards web site.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

'Meme' doc shines spotlight of celebrity on some folks you might not know

Who knew that so many people had so much time in their lives to stare at their phones and computer screens so religiously? Apparently, their web-celeb icons certainly apprehend such constant devotion, as brazenly reported in the somewhat eye-opening Netflix documentary, "The American Meme" (streaming Friday).

I mean, disciples of leader of the flock Paris Hilton, with followers in the billions and a bank account in the mind-boggling millions as a result of such fanatic consumption and extreme worship, even compare her to Jesus Christ in this mostly diverting latest from writer/director/producer Bert Marcus ("Champs," "What We Started").

Hilton's Bel Air mansion features this tribute to the Paps that helped create her.
"My fans call themselves 'The Little Hiltons,' " says hotel heiress Paris, "and all of them call me 'Mom.' "

Others might simply call her smart, despite the ditsy demeanor that put her in the right place at the right time of a photographer whose work was picked up by Vanity Fair and instantly sent Hilton into the wild and crazy orbit of social media stardom. Of course, the Internet did the rest and now, she says, "I wake up daily to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr (etc.). I have over $50 million in each of my platforms."

Yikes! And we ain't seen nuthin' yet, as Marcus parades out an assortment of new media heroes, some recognizable and others not so much.

Perhaps the most successful include pay-for-play party boy Kirill Bichutsky (aka "Slut Whisperer"); controversial Vine queen comic Brittany Furlan; self-proclaimed social commentator Josh Ostrovsky (who calls himself "The Fat Jewish"), and DJ Khaled (real name Khaled Mohamed Khaled) claiming, "I had a vision of being one of the biggest music moguls in the world."

So let it be written, so let it be done.

All briefly and gleefully relate their start-up stories, and Marcus unabashedly exposes and exhibits their very particular acts before the dark side of celebrity sets in. A few talk about infamy and depression and, in Bichutsky's case, maybe performance-based alcoholism.

It says here you'll even buy into Furlan's discussion of the inevitable downward spiral, that is, until you discover with whom and how she finds salvation.

The answer won't be revealed here. Simply find out for yourself among the many "are you kidding me(?)" moments in this less-than-sacred salute to the Shrine of the Self-Absorbed.

Unrated: nudity, alcohol abuse and profanity; 1:35; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Friday, November 23, 2018

'Green Book' rules; 'Ralph' returns; 'Creed' & 'Front Runner' both on ropes

Mortenson and Ali ride easily through the crowd-pleasing "Green Book."
Among five films opening in time for the big Thanksgiving weekend, the feel-good "Green Book," already the winner of the Oscar-indicating People's Choice Award at this year's 43rd annual Toronto International Film Festival, looks like the one to see.

Even if it is a kind of "Sopranos" meets "Driving Miss Daisy," not to mention this year's answer to "Hidden Figures," this truth-based road trip through the mean-spirited South of the '60s has left me singing its praises ever since I did watch it in Toronto last September.

It's simply a timely and, probably, much-needed odd-couple buddy pic to serve as antidote to our strife-filled political times. And, oh yeah, it's entertaining, too, in the somewhat surprising hands of director and co-writer Peter Farrelly, one-half of the comedy-slanted Farrelly Brothers team whose movies always find a gold-tinged heart or two along the way.

This one stars Viggo Mortensen, already a two-time Oscar nominee (for "Eastern Promises" and "Captain Fantastic"), on his way to a third for playing a bouncer/waiter at New York's famously mob-run Copacabana nightclub. However, when the joint closes down for months of renovation in 1962, the guy they call "Tony the Lip" has to find a new job.

Enter world-class musician/performer Don Shirley, a distinguished virtuoso who needs a tough guy to drive him to Alabama -- and other parts unknown. I mean, where might you turn for assistance as an African-American on a concert tour through an area of the country that uses something called a "Green Book" to help Blacks find safe places to eat and rest?

Look for Mahershala Ali, who already owns a supporting actor Oscar for "Moonlight," to win another one for his equally sensitive portrayal of Shirley, a man who apparently lived with equal parts talent, grace and pain. Ali's performance truly becomes a great one in a movie whose own strength is the way it simply allows humanity to shine through the flaws.

Rated "PG-13": thematic content, language includes racial epithets, smoking, violence, suggestive material; 2:10; $ $ $ $ $ out of $5

Three other films don't measure up as successfully, although "Ralph Breaks the Internet" ($ $ $ out of $5), which is not as funny as its 2012 predecessor, "Wreck-It Ralph," does offer some nice-looking peeks into its animated cyber world. (And, oh, by the way, why aren't they calling it "Ralph Wrecks the Internet"?

John C. Reilly returns to voice video arcade hero Ralph, and so does Sarah Silverman, as his best pal, the Sugar Rush racer named Vanellope. This time Ralph is trying to keep her in the game by searching the web for a wheel replacement to fix Van's broken machine at good ol' Mr. Litvak's Family Fun Center.

A couple of new and interesting girl-power characters enter the picture by way of Shank (Gal Gadot), a "Grand Theft Auto" superstar, and Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), an Internet impresario extraordinaire.

There's also an assortment of product placement or, in this case, actual corporate-heavy moments, featuring the powerful likes of Amazon, eBay, Google, etc. Disney plugs itself quite eagerly, too, most notably by pushing its incredibly wide assortment of movie princesses into the plot.

Of course, more perverse types might prefer the creepy-crawly clown who occasionally floats into the extremely colorful mix.

Jordan's title boxer and Stallone's venerable Rocky return in "Creed II."
Though no one would call Sylvester Stallone's beloved "Rocky" character creepy, his floating in and out of the perfunctory "Creed II" ($ $ out of $5), spouting silly old bromides and offering unconvincing advice, might bother some as much as it it did me.

Then again, there is a box-office reason for putting his character on screen for an incredible eighth time, and a four-day holiday haul very likely will prove it this weekend.

Seriously though folks, there's nothing here that even remotely smells fresh, complete with hysterical announcers such as Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and even Scott Van Pelt, arguably ESPN's most credible on-air personality, going way over the top in promoting the fights in this revenge sequel.

Somehow, the son of mighty Commie Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) comes out of the Ukraine to fight reigning heavyweight champ Adonis Creed (Michael B, Jordan) in a couple of overtly brutal bouts that continue a story begun in 2015's far superior Creed.

Of course, Ivan viciously knocked out Apollo Creed, Adonis' dad, way back in 1985 during "Rocky IV." Thus, Apollo's subsequent death, as a result of the injuries suffered in that "exhibition bout" 33 years ago, allegedly sets up these battles between Adonis and young Viktor Drago (played by hunky newcomer Florian Munteanu).

I don't buy it or, in fact, the constant melodrama in the life of still-angry Adonis, whose soon-to-be wife (the always fine Tessa Thompson), mother (Phylicia "Clair Huxtable" Rashad) and trainer Rocky/Stallone offer nothing but love and support.

Cleveland-reared director Steven Caple Jr. ("The Land") inherits the thankless task of following in the footsteps of talented "Creed" helmer Ryan Coogler here, but no one could have rescued a ho-hum script credited to six writers, including Coogler and Stallone.

Screenplay woes -- and a wobbly wig -- also help doom another equally wobbly weekender. That would be "The Front Runner" ($ $ out of  $5), which credits a quartet of writers, including director Jason Reitman.

Jackman plays the forgettable, regrettable Sen. Hart in "The Front Runner."
Said shaky hairpiece, meanwhile, is worn by the usually reliable Hugh Jackman, in portraying 1988 Presidential hopeful Gary Hart, an historical footnote whose personal affairs today play a little too meaningless to dredge up again.

Besides, Reitman fills the first half with an abundance of intrusive noise, and the rest with so much of nothing as competitive newsmen and Hart advisers offer questionable substance all around.

In the end, only Mrs. Hart, who stood by her man as played by the solid Vera Farmiga, offers much to take very seriously.

Also opening but not viewed is "Robin Hood," the umpteenth screen story of the classic thief who gives to the poor after robbing from the royal rich. Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx and Ben Mendelsohn star is this "PG-13" adventure from first-time feature director Otto Bathurst after a very full career in television.

Friday, November 16, 2018

A weekend with 'Widows,' 'Wildlife,' a western and a wizard's 'Beasts'

The November onslaught continues today with seven more films opening on northeast Ohio screens, and, somehow, we've managed to see only five of them.

Leading the way is "Widows," director Steve McQueen's remarkably different follow-up to 2013's Oscar-winning "12 Years a Slave, " with this one again featuring another smart and compelling ensemble cast.
Rodriguez (left), Davis and Debicki portray the ever-plotting "Widows."

Certainly, as the title suggests, some clever women dominate, including the superior Viola Davis as the brains behind a major heist, inspired when their criminally inclined significant others all die during the dangerous robbery that opens the movie. 

After that, Davis' sweet-living Mrs. Rawlings, who desperately misses her own husband (Liam Neeson), recruits similarly grieving gals, played by Michelle Rodriguez and scene-stealing Elizabeth Debicki, and an ultra-cool babysitter (Cynthia Erivo, who was the best thing in last month's "Bad Times at the El Coyote") to help her walk away with millions.

Nothing ever comes easy, though, with a drug kingpin (Brian Tyree Henry) and his psycho brother (Daniel Kaluuya from "Get Out") standing wickedly in their way. On the white-collar end, so are ever-maneuvering father-son pols (Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell).

Also sneaking on board this heavy thrill ride are Carrie Coon, Jon Bernthal and Jacki Weaver in a screenplay from McQueen and Gillian Flynn ("Gone Girl") that crackles with twists, turns and even some pointed social relevance.

Rated "R": violence, language throughout and some sexual content/nudity; 2:09; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Next comes "Wildlife," a much more deliberate experience with a few memorable scenes organized quite nicely by actor-turned first-time director Paul Dano, who adopted the film with actress/girlfriend Zoe Kazan from a novella of the same name. 

One of the highlights is the stunning advance of a raging wilderness fire that likely carries special significance now with all the devastation occurring in California. This one takes place in '60s-era Montana, where a fired golf pro (Jake Gylenhaal) takes teen-age son Joe (a remarkable Ed Oxenbould) to get a glimpse of the widespread blaze that moves so quickly you'll swear that you actually can smell it. 

Naturally, considering the film's title, it's also one of a few revealing metaphors for what's going on in the life of the young man, whose parents obviously aren't getting along too famously. His mother (the superb Carey Mulligan), apparently uprooted one time too many already, comes close to seriously losing it when her brooding husband decides to depart to fight the fires, leaving Joe to find work in a photo shop while mom unravels in various ways. 

Expect Dano to find work himself behind a camera again.

Rated "PG-13": thematic material including a sexual situation, brief strong language and smoking; 1:44; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Hedges and Kidman in "Boy Erased."
Similarly understated in its telling – but also with a fine set of performances – is “Boy Erased,” based on a memoir by Garrard Conley, a young man whose parents sent him to gay therapy camp.

Talented Aussie Joel Edgerton once again becomes a triple threat here (as he was with "The Gift"), writing, directing and in a smaller role as the less-than-charismatic program leader whose aim is to change the natural course of growing up and everything that entails.

Conley stand-in Jared Eamons, as played quite convincingly (what else!) by Lucas Hedges, is a much more appealing character, and so is his shrewd mother (Nicole Kidman), the effortless go-between for her Baptist preacher husband (Russell Crowe) and their coming-to-grips son.

This balancing act becomes the best reason to see a movie whose pacing, including some intrusive flashbacks, can get in the way of its good intentions.

Rated "R": sexual content including assault, some language and brief drug use; 1:54; $ $ $ out of $5

If you haven’t heard, the popular Netflix service has begun releasing certain films in select theaters to coincide with its same-day streaming, and that includes today's “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” from the fabled Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan. Actually, their latest is a violent series of six separate western stories, named after the title of the first one, which stars Coen regular Tim Blake Nelson, as a nasty and ironically coiffed singing cowboy.

I wasn't exactly thrilled with such an inauspicious beginning, or with the second adventure, either, which continues the entire anthology's apparent connection of living and (mostly) dying in the Old West. That one stars James Franco, playing a bank robber, who meets the wrong end of a noose once too often.

More convincing and, it says here, up to the Coens' eccentric speed is the one called "Meal Ticket," starring Liam Neeson, as the promoter/benefactor of a limbless little man (Harry Melling) entertaining, I guess, locals with his oratorical skills.

Zoe Kazan is nicely featured in an oddly intriguing love story that's the longest tale of the piece, and Tom Waits, as a hardworking prospector, stars in the shortest one.

That leaves a nifty ensemble, including Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson and Saul Rubinek, for the end of the road. It's the final segment called "Mortal Remains," a story that takes them on a stagecoach into what just possibly could be the Coen Brothers' version of the Twilight Zone.

Rated "R": some strong violence; 2:12; $ $ $ out of $5 

Finally and most disappointingly, there's the (not-so) "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald," a sequel to a J.K. Rowling original that I so thoroughly enjoyed.

What's missing here is the whimsy of the first go-round, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," in which we were introduced to all those oddly compelling characters, most of whom return here. Of course, chief among them is beast-searching zoologist/wizard Newt Scamander, played so amusingly and affectionately then by Eddie Redmayne.

Redmayne returns with all the "Fantastic" magic of a wizard's world.
In this one, which seems to be pursuing Harry Potter connections more than interesting creatures, Scamander suddenly has become a combination Rain Man/Dr. Doolittle with political intentions. Surely that's thanks to a Rowling screenplay that's darker and creepier with the re-introduction of the titled Grindelwald, as played by Johnny Depp, who himself has become the poster boy for weird, and his character, who just happens to be BFF to the Potter franchise's beloved Dumbledore (Jude Law).

After Grindelwald's less-than-fabulous escape from confinement in New York begins the picture, Dumbeldore sends Scamander on a secret mission to Paris to find him and and another ultra-mysterious sort named Credence (Ezra Miller). Once there, Newt reunites with his baker sidekick (Dan Fogler, given little for us to laugh about this time) and kooky girlfriend Queenie (Alison Sudol), now suddenly a devoted follower of Grindelwald.

Meanwhile, Newt's own love interest (Katherine Waterston), who doubles as Queenie's sister and a witch cop, too, is also among the cast of thousands in Paris searching for the perplexing Credence.

Thank goodness for all those still extra special effects and filmmaking magicians behind the scenes. They just might keep some wandering minds away from such convoluted storytelling. 

Rated "PG-13": some sequences of fantasy action; 2:14; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also opening are two films we have not seen: "Instant Family," a "PG-13"-rated, foster care comedy with Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro, and "A Private War," the true, "R"-rated story of a celebrated war correspondent, starring Rosamund Pike, Tom Hollander, Jamie Dornan and Stanley Tucci. 

The latter was the closing night film at this year's 43rd annual Toronto International Film Festival and, by the way, that's where we did see "Widows," Wildlife" and "Boy Erased."