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Oscars 2016 Best Picture Summary: Part 3

Most of you have already seen my first summary or even my second summary. This last summary will have a look at the last three Best Picture nominees I saw. They were Lion, Hidden Figures and Hell Or High Water.

film-lion

Dev Patel plays Saroo Brierley, an Australian searching for his family back home in India in Lion.

LION

Lion is one of those films which came out of nowhere to surprise everyone who has been lucky to see it.

We have seen many against-all-odds stories in the past. This is something because this is a true story of something that really was against all odds. It wasn’t just about making it happen but also of the family relations Saroo has developed over his lifetime. What will happen? Will he leave the family he’s always known? Is the family he’s searching for still alive? The best quality of this story is that it keeps us intrigued and hoping Saroo reunites, but also has us concerned of what will happen after.

Another quality of this story is that it does not forget the cause of the problem. Saroo is seen as the lucky one who was able to reunite with his family after all these years. However throughout the film, especially at the beginning, we see the cause of the problem. Saroo was unsupervised when he boarded the express train. The language barriers caused problems. Even Saroo’s mispronunciation of Bengali words caused problems. The train stations of Calcutta are loaded with stray children ready for abductors to prey on, and station police looking the other way. Even the missing posters advertised before his adoption were no good as his mother is illiterate. India failed Saroo and Saroo succeeded thanks to Google Earth and his fierce will. The film at the end lets people aware of the problem; 80,000 children go missing in India each year. The film’s website informs people of how they are making a difference in aiding to protect children in India.

This film is an accomplishment for the Australian film industry. I don’t know if Australia has ever had a film nominated for Best Picture before. This is director Garth Davis’ first ever feature length film. Bet you wouldn’t believe that. Luke Davies did an excellent job in adapting Saroo’s biography into a winning screenplay that keep the audience intrigued and hoping for the best in the end. Dev Patel’s performance as Saroo was the highlight as he did a great portrayal of a young man who’s angry on the inside and knows what he needs to do. Nicole Kidman was also excellent as the mother who appears grateful on the outside but has some inner hurt waiting to come out. Young Sunny Pawar was also very good playing the young Saroo. He was cute but he didn’t take it overboard. He played his part well. The film also featured top notch cinematography from Greig Fraser and excellent original music from Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka.

Lion is an excellent film featuring a story you won’t forget. A surprise contender this year and a worthy one.

hidden-figures

Hidden Figures is the story of three African American women working for NASA who broke new ground and brought down racial barriers.

HIDDEN FIGURES

It’s good that we have a film like Hidden Figures to tell us about a piece of history that we never knew about.

The film comes at the right time as it deals with a lot of situations that are relevant in our world. This may be set in the early 60’s and revolves around a moment in space history but it has a lot of situations relevant to today. One is of workplace racism. It’s not as bad now as it is then but there are still a lot of unsolved problems. The second is of technology being so good, it can replace workers. These three women had iron wills. They knew they had potential, they knew they had what it takes and they wouldn’t let racism or the threat of modern technology stop them from reaching for their achievements.

The year of 2016 was a crushing year. It was a year that constantly reminded us that there was still a lot of racism to overcome. Despite the improvement over the decades, it was able to show its ugly head with low employment rates and police beatings. This is a film that reminds us that racism can be overcome. When you look at it, the women were doing this all during a turning point in the history of African Americans. African Americans in Virginia had less rights than they do now and discrimination was perfectly legal. Back then there were still separate washrooms for colored people, separate library books for white and colored people, and police beatings during civil rights marches. The women overcame these barriers and they opened doors for other colored people for generations to come.

This is only the second film Theodore Melfi has directed and written. This is the first feature-length script Alison Schroeder has written. Does come across as like something you’d get from Hollywood, but it’s not a weakness. It does all the right moves. Taraji Henson was great as the protagonist Katherine Goble-Johnson, but the show-stealer was Octavia Spencer. She was not only good at playing a woman who wouldn’t let technology kill her job, and the jobs of 30 other black women, but she was a colorful scene-stealer too. Janelle Monae completes the trio as one who just wouldn’t say die to her ambitions. The male actors were mostly supporting roles but Mahershala Ali was the biggest one as Jim Johnson, Katherine’s new husband. The mix of Motown music mixed in with the original score from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch also added to the spirits of the movie.

Hidden Figures showcases a little-known fact about a big moment in American space history. It’s also the right uplifting movie needed at this time.

hell-or-high-water

Hell Or High Water is about two Texas brothers on a robbing spree and a policeman (played by Jeff Bridges, right) trying to chase them down.

HELL OR HIGH WATER

I missed Hell Or High Water when it first came out in the theatres in August. I admit I was caught up in the summer fare and I overlooked it. I finally saw it recently and I’m glad I did.

One thing is I miss seeing is crime comedies. You know, the dark comedies featured in crime stories. This film has a good amount of comedy to it with their failures at robbing first. Even the situation where the brothers rob the Texas Midlands Bank and pay the mortgages they have with the bank off with the robbery money is full of surprising irony. It’s not even the robbery spree that has all the comedy. There’s the comedy when the rangers visit the places they question. There’s even comedy with that hard waitress at a restaurant they eat at: “What don’t you want?” The comedy doesn’t last as the story gets darker later on. However it does end on an ironic note as the now-retired Officer Hamilton does meet up with Toby Howard, perfectly free, and inquires of the robberies he and brother Tanner committed together.

One thing about this crime drama is that it has a lot to say. We have two brothers–Tanner who appears to have no redeeming values and Toby who’s as cool as a cookie– robbing various branches of the same bank. You see signs advertising debt relief. You hear from people– both family and people the brothers run into– talking of their own economic hardships. You see the indigenous people, who are still referred to as ‘Indians’ with their own outlook on things. Mostly negative. Looks like this story has a lot to say. Even hearing Alberto Parker say that he believes the true criminal is the Texas Midlands Bank does get you thinking. Maybe it’s the Bank that are the true robbers around here.

This is actually the first American production from Scottish director David MacKenzie. He has a reputation back in the UK with films like Young Adam, Hallam Foe and Starred Up. His first American production is top notch and really delivers as both a crime story and an offbeat Western. This is also an accomplishment for writer Taylor Sheridan. Already having made a name for himself in Sicario, he delivers again in what is actually his second feature-length script. Of all acting performances, Jeff Bridges is the one that was the best. He delivered a top job in character acting from head to toe. He was completely solid in character. Chris Pine was also good as the brother Toby who’s smart, tries to play it cool and possibly the one person in the world who could see redeeming qualities in brother Tanner. Ben Foster was also a scene-stealer as Tanner who a complete ruthless loose cannon who appears to have a bone to pick with everyone over anything and possesses a false sense of invincibility. Gil Birmingham was also good coming across as the wise partner who plays it cool. The country music in both recorded format and original from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis fit the film perfectly.

Hell Or High Water makes for an intense thrill ride that’s big on thrills but also takes you to the heat of the moments. The story even gets you thinking. Now why did I miss it during the summer?

That does it. My final summary of the Best Picture nominees for 2016. After seeing Hell Or High Water, that makes it 16 straight years of seeing all the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night. My predictions for the wins coming on Saturday.

 

 

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Movie Review: Taxi Driver (1976)

Robert-De-Niro-Taxi-Driver

Seeing Taxi Driver in the theatre reminds you how Robert De Niro captivated you as Travis Bickle and why you can still see its greatness after all these years.

You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talking… you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here.

Every now and then, I like to check a classic movie that’s lucky enough to get shown on the big screen again. This summer I was lucky enough to catch Taxi Driver shown on the big screen. It’s one of my favorite Martin Scorsese films and it was a delight to see it on the big screen. It reminded me how much I missed the first time. Especially of its purpose at the time it was out.

The film is about Travis Bickle: a Vietnam marine honorably discharged who came to New York City from New Jersey to make a living for himself. He takes a job as a taxi driver and his job involves dealing with a lot of dirty work in the city as he’s often taken to the rubbish areas of the City.

He makes an attempt to win the love of a woman named Betsy who volunteers for presidential candidate Charles Palantine. His attempts are not that successful as he buys her a Kris Kristofferson album she already owns and takes her to a movie theatre showing a Swedish sex education film. She leaves the theatre immediately. Travis tries visiting the Palantine campaign office to win her back but is unsuccessful. Though he senses a hint she may still have feelings for him.

Two moments during his cabbie job change Bickle. One day he’s lucky enough to drive Charles Palantine when he comes to NYC. He tells Palantine he’s a supporter and wants him to clean up this town. Another case is when a child prostitute named Easy enters his car to evade her pimp Sport only to be taken away by him. Despite it being brief, he can’t forget her.

Throughout the time in NYC, Travis is lonely and disheartened to see how trashy of a city NYC has become. He’s completely disgusted and he feels he might snap any minute but his fellow cabbies believe he’ll be alright. However he goes out and purchases illegal guns from a dealer named Easy Andy, sets up some personal gun mechanisms and even rehearses what he’s about to say when confronted. On that day, he goes to a store where a robbery happens and he shoots the robber dead.

He has a chance meeting with Easy. He pays money for her but he’s not interested in sex with her despite Easy coming onto him. Instead he has a frank talk with her in a café during breakfast. He learns Easy is not simply some sleazy young teen girl but a young naïve teen runaway named Iris Steensma. He wants to take her out of the prostitution business but she is disinterest, or maybe afraid of Sport.

The following day, Travis has a letter for Iris with money in the envelope. He believes it will be a death wish. However Sport gets a hold of the letter and gives the money to Iris’ next customer. Travis attends a public rally led by Palantine telling the people of New York what he has planned. Travis appears with a Mohawk haircut and appears to attempt to assassinate Palantine but is able to run away.

Then he goes to the hotel where he knows is Sport’s brothel. He approaches Sport, asks one question, and shoots him. Sport survives but Travis is after the bouncer and Mafioso in Sport’s ring in order to free Iris. Travis shoots all three dead but is unable to shoot himself in the end like he intended to. Travis recovers from his coma of three months returning to his job. Iris is back home with her parents whom they consider Travis a hero. The film ends with Travis giving Betsy a ride, leaving us to question what will happen next.

The film rested mostly on the character of Travis Bickle. We have a Vietnam vet trying to reassimilate himself back into daily life. He possesses a set of values and beliefs but his uncoothed attitude causes a lot of social interference with those around him. On top of it, he’s disgusted with what he sees in New York City. He comes across a man who’s about to snap any minute and he knows it. However you wonder when he will snap. We think it will be an assassination the Palantine speech where he could have died a bad guy. Instead he takes a shot at redemption: one that he felt would cost him his life but didn’t. It almost made you feel like he was about to become a martyr figure but is given a second chance in life. It does seem like when Betsy quotes the lyrics from the Kris Kristofferson song The Pilgrim, she’s setting up for what Travis is about to become.

It’s the prostitute Easy/Iris whom changes him and is able to bring about a positive human side of him few notice, including himself. He knew his duty was to free Easy from Sport or whoever else got in his way and it might mean his life but he was willing to do it. He just needed the right motive to do it. He just asked Sport for Iris and he didn’t know who he was talking about. That was all the motive Bickle needed. You often wonder why he did it. For himself? For Iris?  To redeem himself in the eyes of Betsy?

Somehow I think Scorsese is trying to make a certain statement with this film. Throughout the movie we see images of Charles Palantine running for president and promising to clean up New York. However it was Bickle who did a small deed of ending crime involving a teenager in a single act. I believe Scorsese had something to say about politicians which he wanted to say through Bickle but it didn’t entirely make sense. We see Bickle dating Betsy who volunteers for Palantine’s campaign, Bickle having Palantine posters in his bedroom, Bickle driving Palantine and even speaking his support to him but we also see Bickle fake what appears to others as an assassination attempt. It’s obvious the message of politicians being cowards who are all talk was the message of that but it surprised me how Bickle would pull that on a candidate he appears to support. He’s even seen after his recovery with Palantine posters. Hard to understand.

Without a doubt, this is one of Scorsese’s best films. It still tells a story that captures people’s intrigue and lets people interpret their own version of the story. It still causes a lot of debate on what certain scenes mean and what the film is all about. One film expert claims the film is about the decline of New York coinciding with the decline of the male hero at the time. Good points. One person even stated how Bickle goes from human trash to almost like a saint-like figure.

No doubt the film was controversial in its time. It would still make people uncomfortable today. The violence however got a lot of people talking. However it’s nothing compared to the violence of movies throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Those movies went all out. Nevertheless the violence here does resonate with you. Even the theme of an act of vigilantism being made heroic in people’s eyes makes one question Scorsese’s feelings of vigilantes. Also that scene where Easy comes onto Bickle after he pays her the money would definitely anger people today. People have less of a tolerance to scenes like that today than they did back in the 70’s.

The film has you asking a lot of questions as you leave the theatre. You wonder was such a shootout necessary to free Iris from Sport? Or was it a case where Bickle was a person bound to explode any minute and it turns out this was the right minute? Also was the incident with Palatine a case where it almost happened instead of ‘faking it’ like I thought it was? Still gets you questioning once you leave the theatre.

One thing a lot of young people would not understand is how Travis Bickle would be disgusted by what he sees out in New York City. Most of us under the age of 50 have grown up accepting the trashy side of our cities as a fact of life and we’ve even seen it turned into a culture via hip-hop music and shown on videos on MTV. However this was the mid-70’s and this trashiness wasn’t as accepted. In fact, it was disheartening. I’m sure Travis represented the disgust seen by many people of how a great city can turn into a trashbin and how buildings that used to be lovely and elegant could turn into dirty places of sleaze. I’m sure that was a common feeling of many from the city. The thing is Bickle is a character who had just moved to the city. Often when I hear Bickle’s disgust of what happened to the city, I think I’m actually hearing Scorsese’s disgust. Scorsese was born and raised in the NYC area and I’m sure what Travis Bickle was seeing was stuff that was breaking Martin’s heart about the city he had always known and loved, until then.

The film is Martin’s. He does a good job of creating a melodrama that’s bound to reach a big climax any moment and you know it will come with a bang. He does an excellent job in capturing the dirt of New York and try to make a redeeming figure of a misfit like Travis Bickle. Days ago, I heard some young people talk about film. They talked how there are no longer any good directors that do film making for the love of it. All for top of the box office. And they talked about directors like Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese who did it for the love it. I do agree with them. However I also believe that the 70’s was the heyday for visionary directors. Hollywood always was a case of top-of-the-box-office. Back in the 70’s, the counterculture crowd welcomed films that defied the rules of the Hays code and took new directions. That’s why Kubrick and Scorsese are considered legends. It’s not to say their spirit has been abandoned. I remember with the increase of film festivals in the 90’s, that spurned about directors of Quentin Tarantino and Lars von Trier who wanted to do their part in film making. Nowadays it doesn’t seem as present as most of the movie going public are more demanding in what they want. They don’t want to feel guilty about ignoring a unique talent or even liking a flavor-of-the month. We’ll see in time if more visionary directors come about.

The film’s excellence is also the result of scriptwriter Paul Schrader. He himself delivers a story that keeps us intrigued as well as allowing us to make our own assumptions of what the story is even after we leave the theatre. Also adding to the excellence of the film is Robert de Niro. He’s the one who has the best sense of who Travis Bickle is both inside and out and keeps us guessing. Also adding to the excellence is Jodie Foster. She plays a prostitute whom you know doesn’t belong on the streets and neither does Travis. Her role was an excellent performance for someone so young. Cybill Shepherd was also good as Betsy but her role was rather lightweight. Nevertheless she did give more to it. Finally a very fitting score from Bernard Herrmann. He already had an excellent resume in film compositions including Citizen Kane, The Day The Earth Stood Still and North By NorthwestTaxi Driver would be his last one before he died months later in 1975. The score is not the John Williams type of score you’d expect in a drama but it does capture the unhappy feeling of the film.

I’m sure Taxi Driver stands the test of time as one of the best thrillers ever. However I feel younger people may not get it. I do believe it’s a movie that still has a loyal following all these years and still maintains its original charm.

Movie Review: Elysium

A computer hacker (Wagner Moura) gives Matt Damon the right stuff to help overtake Elysium.

A computer hacker (Wagner Moura) gives Matt Damon the right stuff to help overtake Elysium.

Okay, you remember how I mentioned a while back about the struggle of big budget action movies this summer? Elysium has been out for a while. Does it have what it takes to get things moving again? Or will it be another casualty?

 

Before I get into the plot, I have to give you a picture of the two worlds. It’s 2154 and Earth is a poor polluted overpopulated planet under anarchaic conditions. Out in space is the satellite Elysium:  a luxurious satellite full of sun, life and full cure from disease in the comfort of your own home. Earth isn’t even ruled by humans. Just ruthless androids programmed by computers. Elysium however has robots in their favor, as servants to them.

 

Max da Costa has developed into a rebel on planet Earth. He grew up an orphan and has lived in prison most of his life. Out on parole, he now works an assembly line of robot parts for Elysium in a wrecked-out Los Angeles. Max has a dispute with a robot that turns violent and lands him in the hospital with a broken arm.

 

In the hospital, he meets with a nurse named Frey. Frey was actually his childhood love in the orphanage. Despite his hard times growing up in the orphanage, he had the comforts of the love of Frey and a nun who served as a spiritual mentor to him and always believed he was meant to do something great one day. Frey is not only a nurse now but a mother of a daughter dying of leukemia.

 

Elysium is under a power struggle. It’s run by President Patel but Secretary of Defence Jessica Delacourt has power desires of her own. She orders the shooting down of a spaceship full of civilians from Earth which earns her a reprimand from Patel and her top security agent Kruger fired. That only fuels Delacourt’s desire for power as she connives a plan to have CEO billionaire John Carlyle design a computerized cybercoup to make her president which allows Carlyle’s company to override security for the next two centuries. Carlyle has the program implanted in his brain for safekeeping until his return to Elysium.

 

Max however is exposed to radiation at the plant one day and is given only five days to live. He desired to head to Elysium to cure himself and through the help of Spider: a computer hacker who builds illegal space caravans to Elysium. Spider agrees to send Max up there as long as he agrees to steal vital information. Max agrees and Spider gives him weapons, a fake Elysium ID, a bionic exoskeleton that can help him withstand force from android sentinels, and a cerebral data upload that can allow Max to steal data implanted in Carlyle’s mind.

 

However Carlyle and Delacourt know what’s going on and try to end Spider’s plan by shutting down the system. In the ensuing fight, Carlyle is killed along with most of Spider’s men. Max’s friend Julio sacrifices himself so that Max can get away. He does but only after being stabbed. Max goes to Frey for help but she wants to come along to get her daughter cured. Max tells her to stay out of it as this might be a suicide mission. Meanwhile Delacourt is in pursuit of Max as he holds Carlyle’s data implanted in his head. Spider wants to extract the data to make all people citizens of Elysium but can’t as long as the power is shut off in his place. The power outage can’t even get Max to Elysium just before he dies.

 

They are able to get a ship to Elysium through Max exchanging the program with Kruger but only to disguise Frey and her daughter as hostages and hold a grenade to his own head. Kruger agrees and Spider is able to sneak more people on board. During the trip, Kruger’s head is severely damaged by the grenade explosion and the plane crash lands in Elysium causing Delacourt to set off a state-of-emergency and fire Patel.

 

Right when Delacourt plans to get the program from Max and ‘bring him to justice’ Kruger’s head is reconstructed and he has mutiny plans of his own which includes assassinating Delacourt and making Elysium his own private playground. This allows Max and Frey to escape and get her daughter cured. However the ‘cure booths’ on Elysium only work on Elysians which her daughter is not made officially. It’s all up to Max to work with Spider to make everyone a citizen of Elysium and defeat Kruger from his regime in what little time Max has left. The ending is somewhat predictable but it works well for the movie.

 

The film seems to focus on the division of the rich and poor. It’s not an uncommon theme. Those who studied classic literature must have read A Tale Of Two Cities. Now we have Elysium where Earth is a hellhole for the 99% who can’t afford to live on Elysium while the rich 1% have it. It’s interesting that Neill Blomkamp is tackling such a common theme of the ‘other 99%.’. If you’ve seen his first big movie District 9, you’d notice how the transporting of aliens from one area of land to another echoes of apartheid. Now we see the separation of classes in Elysium. It’s unique to see Blomkamp make sci-fi movies that can get people thinking. It’s a welcome relief from most of this summer’s sci-fi with is mostly mindless. One unique twist from District 9 is that District 9 shows an outsider succumbing to the apartheid he’s participating in. Elysium is the opposite as it shows the lesser people trying to make the unfair fair. Good change of twist that works here.

 

This is another great sci-fi effort from director Neill Blomkamp. It’s not as well-written or well-directed as District 9 but it does make for a more intelligent sci-fi film than most of what’s been released this summer. The acting however was not that much of a standout. Matt Damon came across as a cardboard hero and Jodie Foster looked like she was trying to be a robot. Alice Braga wasn’t much of a scene stealer. Sharlto Copley however was quite good at playing the villain and Wagner Moura was a scene-stealer as Spider. The visual effects were very good and the satellite of Elysium was done excellently without flaw. It almost looked like a satellite capable of acting the same way earth does, with plant and sunshine, is actually a possiblility even in this century.

 

Checking out the box office, things don’t look so good. Elysium opened two weekends ago at the top of the box office with $29.8 million. Pretty somber since it cost $115 million to make. Last weekend also gave some bad news with only $13.6 million and this past weekend was more bad news as it didn’t even muster $7 million and ended the weekend at #7. I don’t know. Do you think it’s a victim of timing?

 

Elysium seems to be the right sci-fi thriller out at the wrong time. It is intelligent and does get you thinking unlike most of the sci-fi movies this summer but it suffers because of the current audience weariness of sci-fi movies. I think if it was released earlier this summer or even last year, it would have had more impressive box office results.