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Tag Archive: 2017 Academy Awards nominations


Review by C.J. Bunce

With the unique signature of the only director that could pull off a film like The Shape of Water, have no doubt it is worthy of a parade of Oscar recognition.  As for direction The Shape of Water is a triumph for Guillermo del Toro’s sheer bravery in choices.  As for acting it’s the perfect mix of the four top acting tiers: a superb performance in a challenging role by a lead actor and actress, and a superb performance in a challenging role by a supporting actor and actress.  del Toro’s story, too, is novel, soaring and magnificent, even if it may be derivative of many fairy tales, folklore, and past fantastical films.  In fact it’s del Toro’s intelligent reimagining of stories from Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast on a backbone of films like King Kong, Splash, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon that lends some familiarity and authenticity to its story and characters to touch audiences.  Ultimately the finely crafted assemblage is greater than the sum of its parts, forming the stuff of those classic best pictures of the year of decades past.

The idyllic early 1960s is stripped of its patina to a very real and difficult world beyond the happy families as seen in the slick marketing and television shows of the day, at least for the average person trying to find their way.  A mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) work in a quasi-government corporate facility as janitors.  When a Fed named Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings a gilled, man-like creature (Doug Jones) he captured in South America to the facility for study, Elisa covertly befriends it.  When Strickland and his military cronies decide it’s time to vivisect the creature, Elisa enlists a friend in her apartment complex (Richard Jenkins) to try to get the creature to safety, with even Zelda and a lab researcher (Michael Stuhlbarg) joining along in her plan.

The tragedy of Oscar season is the lack of nomination for Doug Jones, the modern Man of a Thousand Faces (and bodysuits), who has played every character in commercials from McDonald’s Mac Tonight to one of the terrifying Gentlemen of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Marvel’s Silver Surfer, to the star of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and ghosts in his Crimson Peak and Abe Sapien in his Hellboy series, and he is currently headlining Star Trek Discovery, again in prosthetics.  It is a truth that no other actor has the experience and physical skill and talent required to perform in the roles he is sought out for, and his “Amphibian Man” in this film is a showcase of his singular grace, elegance, and style.  His understanding of animal movements and reactions is impeccable.  Sally Hawkins, seen in countless performances (a standout in Fingersmith, Layer Cake, Tipping the Velvet, Blue Jasmine, where she was also nominated for an Oscar, and Never Let Me Go, among other films, and even a bit part in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), perfectly captures a life in silence and a hopeless romantic.  Her piercing stares at Strickland nearly slice him in two.  Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures, Snowpiercer, Medium, The X-Files) plays Zelda for laughs for the most part, and her ramblings about her lazy husband and her support of Elisa are wonderful.  Richard Jenkins (Silverado, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Witches of Eastwick, Wolf, Absolute Power, Into Thin Air, Jack Reacher, Bone Tomahawk, LBJ) takes on a role as neighbor Giles, a part like nothing audiences have seen him play before, a down on his luck ad man, he is boxed in from gaining the love that he seeks.  del Toro makes it possible for each moviegoer to see himself/herself in each of these characters.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The Art of Ferdinand is the latest in a line of books chronicling the creative process behind genre movies, but this is the first we’ve seen that explores the director’s process for envisioning and executing an animated film from beginning to end.  Showcasing a fantastic film, December’s Ferdinand from Blue Sky Studios (reviewed here at borg.com), writer Tara Bennett uses interviews with the director and an army of production artists and incorporates digital artwork and final renderings from the film to explain how a film is made that merited an Academy Award nomination for the year’s best animated film.

Movie buffs and fans of the original story will likely encounter a new lexicon of moviemaking in The Art of Ferdinand.  Not only do readers see the typical concept art and production stills you’d find in a feature film, director Carlos Saldanha explains each step he took adapting one of the bestselling books of all time, Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s Ferdinand, and collaborating with a staff of artists to expand upon the original 30-page tale into a big-budget animated movie.  Saldanha tells how he started with the last third of the film, sequences he knew would need to look a certain way and more closely mimic the events of the storybook.  Each animated character was taken through an elaborate design process.  After development of both the young version and much larger version of Ferdinand the bull, they moved to the supporting characters with drawings, paintings, sculptures, and digital renderings of each in multiple poses with updated techniques but mirroring what you may have seen in “making of” features from animator Walt Disney from decades past.

A different language of animation is also explored in the book: light sources and bounce-light have greater meaning in an animated film such as Ferdinand, and the director and artists must sketch character turnarounds, color callouts, and texture art, as well as shape, movement, gesture, and expression studies of characters, and a color script similar to storyboards in live action movies, identifying the flow of color throughout the film.   Interaction and movement an actor would perform must be blocked out in the most intricate of ways.  Shape language must be considered, design themes and color themes, proportions of objects, and the use of negative space.

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Speaking of Mark Hamill’s performance in this year’s December release Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams said this past week, “I think we are all going to be very upset if he does not win an Oscar.”  It’s a great thought, and certainly hits on what must be a significant role in this year’s eagerly awaited Episode XIII.  But it’s pretty unlikely if the ghost of Oscars past has anything to say about it.  This year is like most years when it comes to Academy Award nominations.  Dramas monopolize the nominee categories yet again.  When a genre is represented–also as usual–the representations are dramas in genre dress (like Passengers).  The usual representation of biopics (like Jackie), movies about Hollywood (like La La Land) and historical dramas (like Hacksaw Ridge) are back as well, sure to take home some of the coveted trophies tonight.  But nine nominees for best picture and no Midnight Special?

The best animated film category provides a little relief, with Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, and Zootopia as nominees.  Oscar winner Colleen Atwood is back as a costume design nominee with one of the year’s fantasy releases, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which also garnered a nod for production design.  But why Fantastic Beasts?  Compare Atwood’s reserved designs for Fantastic Beasts with her elaborate designs for The Huntsman: Winter’s War.  Alas, Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon’s landmark costume designs for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story were completely ignored, as were the hundreds of new, stunning, alien wardrobe designs and Starfleet retro-design uniforms created by Sanja Milkovic Hays for Star Trek Beyond.

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As usual you need to look for the technical categories for the genre works.  Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad, along with A Man Called Ove are the makeup and hairstyling contenders.  Considering the fifty unique makeups designed for Star Trek Beyond in the franchise’s fiftieth year, this would be a triumph for the franchise.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story landed multiple nominations this year, including a deserved nod for sound mixing.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial.  The Green Mile. Escape to Witch Mountain.  Watcher in the Woods.  Maggie.  Super 8.  The Omen.  D.A.R.Y.L.  A Perfect World.  Starman.  Michael.  Tomorrowland.  The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The Blues Brothers.  The Twilight Zone Movie.  What could these all possibly have in common?  Somehow they are all conjured up together into this year’s release, Midnight Special.

Let’s get the only problem with Midnight Special out of the way first.  It had an inexplicable limited release this past March.  And its theatrical and television trailer was creepy cool, but too cryptic to draw in the masses.  If you don’t tell people what your movie is about, they won’t always take the time to learn more and decide to see it.  And what a loss!  Midnight Special is not only one of the year’s best films, it’s one of the best films of the decade.

You will think about The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” but it’s nothing like it.  You will think about Haven and Grimm, but it’s not like that either.  And you may even accuse Stranger Things of being a knockoff of this film.  But it’s very, very different.

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A father and his old friend kidnap his son from a religious cult, with the government in hot pursuit for very different reasons, drawn in by the son’s mysterious abilities.  Is some messianic end looming ahead?  Why is the government justified in tracking the father down for treason?  Replace the enchantment and wonder you’d find in Spielberg’s Close Encounters and E.T. with a combination of mystery, curiosity, and heart-pounding dread.  Gripping, personal, riveting–Midnight Special will keep you guessing until the end.  What happened to this kid?  Why does he have these powers?  What ends will his father and his friend go to protect him from what seems like the entire world crashing down on them? 

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