Vincent's Views

Kong: Skull Island

 

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Sometimes the most unexpected aspects of a film are the most enjoyable. In the case of Kong: Skull Island, which I enjoyed for multiple reasons, the most delightful aspect was the film’s relation to another film, a relation that is far from accidental and makes KSI an expansion of an established cinematic universe. The question therefore is whether Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film works on its own or if spends too much time being referential. The answer is most assuredly the former, as Vogt-Roberts crafts an immersive thrill ride with a motley crew of adventurers journeying to the titular island, only to find more than they bargained for. This crew are diverse in terms of gender, race and personality, with tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), disgruntled US army colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and visionary Bill Randa (John Goodman), who provides the main link to another film, as well as various other characters that have just enough background to make them more than faceless beast fodder. The 1973 setting, during the US withdrawal from Vietnam, establishes a conceit of humans’ non-superiority in relation to nature. The film explores this premise as several of the characters develop a new appreciation of the environment and their relationship with it. The most important aspect of this is of course Kong himself (played in performance capture by Toby Kebbell, who also plays soldier Jack Chapman), a massive presence who looms over the film even when off screen. Unlike other versions of the big ape, KSI does not overplay a Beauty and the Beast angle, as Weaver is far more capable than Ann Darrow and Kong remains unequivocally wild. This wild otherness gives the film its engrossing atmosphere, which is enhanced by other creatures and never lets up, Vogt-Roberts’ dynamic visual style conveying the thrills and spills of our heroes. With a post-credits scene setting up future developments, this is one island I’ll be keen to revisit.

Logan

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X marks the spot and, by all accounts, the end. James Mangold’s Logan concludes Hugh Jackman’s seventeen years playing the Wolverine, and it serves as a fitting finale to the hirsute one’s cinematic adventures. Shot through with bitterness, regret and melancholia, Mangold’s film in a bold, mature character study that balances pathos and dark wit with more grounded and gritty action sequences than we have seen previously in this franchise. Dispensing with world-shattering events, Logan follows the eponymous mutant along with fellow long-term player Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, and newcomer Laura (Dafne Keen), as they attempt to escape from armed men working for a mysterious company. There is little in the way of super-powered battles, as the action consists of physical fracas of fists, feet and claws, as well as bullets and bombs. The adult rating is well deserved as F-bombs and claret fly with wild abandon, and the bloodletting especially demonstrates how sanitised the earlier X-Men films were. Here, limbs are severed, heads are pierced, bodies erupt and blister. The violence is far from gratuitous, however, as pain and injury is not restricted to the faceless adversaries of our heroes. Logan is at his most vulnerable, bearing scars and wounds, coughing throughout the film and easing his pain with a near-constant flow of alcohol. Charles is worse, suffering from a degenerative disease that causes telepathic seizures. Both men are also deeply troubled by their pasts, some of which we know from previous films but others are only referred to in passing. The fruity language is integral to this burnt-out masculinity, since Logan and Charles have largely given up caring. Mangold maintains the conceit of world-weariness throughout the film, with a measured visual style that often captures the characters in wide shots of the unsympathetic landscape, making the film more like a western than a standard superhero movie (although the Shane references are a bit too neat). Perhaps most bleakly, there is little sense of redemption in the film, as animosity and prejudice remain prevalent, but crucially are not located in any single evildoer. The X-Men series has always been interested in prejudice and difference, but this was simply reiterated in recent entries. Logan reinforces that prejudice and fear of the different are systemic issues deeply imbricated in society, despite supposed progress. This makes Logan not only a fitting farewell to a beloved character, but a highlighting of contemporary issues that demand attention and the effort for change.

The Great Wall

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From a symbol of division comes a tale of unity. This is the thesis of The Great Wall, a co-Chinese-American production that takes one of the world’s great monuments and places it at the centre of a story of disparate people coming together. Zhang Yimou’s bombastic bundle of brash bombardment and balletic battle brings western mercenaries William (Matt Damon, experimenting with a variety of accents) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) to ancient imperial China in search of legendary black (gun) powder. They find the Great Wall garrisoned by the Order of the Nameless One and defending China against the TaoTei, an alien race of monstrous beasts that resemble a cross between a lion and a crocodile. Rapidly drawn into the battle, William and Tovar lend their expertise to those of General Shao (Hanoi Zhang), Strategist Wang (Andy Lau) and Commander Lin (Tian Jing). The film does a decent job of integrating these outsiders into an environment that is both alien yet familiar, and just about avoids the white saviour narrative by making the Chinese characters detailed and not sidelined in favour of the Westerners. Although the action sequences of soldiers VS Tao Tei are stylistically fluid and visually arresting, the film lacks an epic scale or sense of awe, which is surprising considering Zhang’s back catalogue that includes Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Aerial shots of the Wall and surrounding landscape are all too brief, and the combat scenes either take place in long shot or extreme close-up with rapid editing, leaving little time to appreciate the at times breathtaking choreography. While there is spectacle to be enjoyed, the film’s ending is confused and the viewer may be left wanting more. The Great Wall is enjoyable enough, but perhaps ironically lacks real weight.

Patriots Day

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A real life tragedy is a delicate subject to put on screen, especially one that features the incendiary topic of terrorism. Peter Berg largely strikes the necessary tone throughout Patriots Day, a dramatisation of the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon. The film expresses the horror of the situation without overplaying a sense of patriotism, nor being exploitative of the bomb victims. Berg’s great strength is his combination of CCTV, news and cell phone footage with standard cinematic techniques. Aerial shots of Boston provide the broad scale of the story, while shaky cam coverage places the viewer within the events. This blend of visual styles is especially effective in the immediate aftermath of the blasts as it conveys the chaos of a terrorist attack. Subsequent gun battles between the police and the bombers are similarly gripping, the viewer placed at an uncomfortable proximity to genuinely frightening violence. These sequences present the various unconnected figures involved in the marathon and the manhunt for the perpetrators, who are thankfully not presented as raving psychotics but as little men wanting glory. Scenes featuring bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze), as well as victims Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan), Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea) and Sean Collier (Jake Picking), as well as other people involved in the events demonstrate the randomness and indiscriminate nature of the attacks and their aftermath. The film’s weaker sections are those of coherence, as it slides into generic thriller territory closely connected to the professional redemption of Mark Wahlberg’s fictional cop Tommy Saunders. When Saunders interacts with the individuals actually involved in the attack and subsequent investigation – including police commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) and special FBI agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) – the film’s coherence sits unevenly with the chaos of the blasts and disparate nature of the investigation. Overall Patriots Day is uneven, but its blending of different types of footage is effective and Berg is to be applauded for avoiding simplistic flag-waving.

89th Annual Academy Awards – Final Predictions

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With the Academy Awards now hours away, it’s time for final predictions. I’ve given my detailed views on some of the categories already, but now it’s time for the full list, including what I think will win, and what I would vote for were I a member of AMPAS (none of this ‘should win’ nonsense on my blog, thank you!).

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BEST PICTURE

Predicted winner: La La Land

Preferred winner: Arrival

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DIRECTING

  • Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  • Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  • Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
  • Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Predicted winner: Damien Chazelle

Preferred winner: Denis Villeneuve

With all its plaudits and despite its naysayers, La La Land looks set to pick up the big awards. I enjoyed the film fine, but do feel that others, including Manchester by the Sea and Hidden Figures, and especially Arrival, warrant as much if not more attention. So while I see La La Land dancing its way to Best Picture and Directing, my heart belongs to Arrival.

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ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  • Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington, Fences

Predicted winner: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Preferred winner: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

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ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
  • Dev Patel, Lion
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Predicted winner: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Preferred winner:  Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

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ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle
  • Ruth Negga, Loving
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
  • Emma Stone, La La Land
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Predicted winner: Emma Stone, La La Land

Preferred winner: Emma Stone, La La Land (only one I’ve seen!)

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ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Viola Davis, Fences
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion
  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Predicted winner: Viola Davis, Fences

Preferred winner: Viola Davis, Fences

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All the acting nominees I’ve seen were impressive, and I’d be happy with most of them winning. But it would make me very happy if Nocturnal Animals could pick up something.

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hidden Figures
  • Lion
  • Moonlight

Predicted winner: Moonlight

Preferred winner: Arrival

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WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • The Lobster
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • 20th Century Women

Predicted winner: Manchester by the Sea

Preferred winner: Hell or High Water

Tricky ones, but I think I’ve said my piece.

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CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Arrival
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Silence

Predicted winner: La La Land

Preferred winner: Arrival

It is always tough to determine if this award will follow patterns, or rely solely on the skill of the Director of Photography nominated. In this case, much as I love Arrival and would like it to win, I anticipate the long takes and crane shots on location in La La Land will shimmy the film to another award.

COSTUME DESIGN

  • Allied
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Jackie
  • La La Land

Predicted winner: Jackie

Preferred winner: Jackie

This award typically goes to period films, for good reason, and all but one of these nominees is exactly that. For La La Land to win here would be a bit odd, colourful as the costumes in that film are. After its victories at BAFTA, the Awards Circuit Community Awards and the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Jackie seems like a safe bet here.

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FILM EDITING

  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • Moonlight

Predicted winner: Arrival

Preferred winner: Arrival

This is an interesting one, as Hacksaw Ridge won the BAFTA but Arrival the Eddie (from the American Cinema Editors). I loved Arrival and found Hacksaw Ridge pretty good, and the potential overlap between the various institutions means this could go either way. But maybe Arrival will be this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, picking up various post-production awards if none of the ‘major awards’. For that reason, I would like to see Arrival walk away with this award, and I believe it will.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Predicted winner: Star Trek Beyond

Preferred winner: Suicide Squad

I know nothing about A Man Called Ove, and the sheer range of weird and wonderful make up designs in Star Trek Beyond make it a likely winner. That said, I would like Suicide Squad to win, because I think the negativity this film received was excessive and it would greatly amuse me if the naysayers have to admit to the existence of ‘the Oscar-winning Suicide Squad’.

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MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

  • Jackie
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Passengers

Predicted winner: La La Land

Preferred winner: La La Land

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

  • ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream),’ La La Land
  • ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling,’ Trolls
  • ‘City of Stars,’ La La Land
  • ‘The Empty Chair,’ Jim: The James Foley Story
  • ‘How Far I’ll Go, ‘ Moana

Predicted winner: ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream),’ La La Land

Preferred winner: ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream),’ La La Land

As a musical, it would be rather odd if La La Land did not win in these two categories. While I’m not the biggest fan of La La Land, I did find the solo ‘Audition’ to be very stirring (being one of those fools myself), and I would be happy to see that pick up an award.

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PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • La La Land
  • Passengers

Predicted winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Preferred winner: Arrival

An interesting collection here, with two science fiction films, one contemporary (and very colourful) musical, along with two period films, one which features fantasy elements and the other, like the musical, is about Hollywood. Due to its BAFTA victory, I see this going to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, although the nostalgia and self-love of La La Land and Hail Caesar! might bring them success. For me, the production design of Arrival was a key element to its eerie alienness, and something I would like to see rewarded.

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SOUND EDITING

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully

Predicted winner: Arrival

Preferred winner: Arrival

Back in 2013, there was a tie for this award between Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty. Both were favourite films of mine, and Arrival was my top film of last year. So maybe the pattern will continue. I would also like my top film to win something, hence my pick.

SOUND MIXING

Predicted winner: Arrival

Preferred winner: Arrival

Since Arrival is unlikely to win anything else, I can see it picking up both Sound awards. And I want it to, so there.

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VISUAL EFFECTS

Predicted winner: The Jungle Book

Preferred winner: Doctor Strange

After winning the BAFTA as well as an Annie Award and the Awards Circuit Community Award (as well as others), The Jungle Book looks set to pick up the Oscar as well. Much as the animals and landscapes impressed me in The Jungle Book though, the inventiveness and outright trippiness of the visual effects in Doctor Strange had me (sorry) spellbound, and it gets my vote for most impressive visual effects of last year.

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ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia

Predicted winner: Kubo and the Two Strings

Preferred winner: Zootopia

Kubo and the Two Strings has done very well at previous award ceremonies such as BAFTA and multiple Critics associations, but Zootopia/Zootropolis was one of my favourites of last year, so it gets my vote. It did win the Golden Globe, so maybe Disney’s delightful comedy about prejudice and tolerance might just strike a chord with the Academy members, in this time of strife and division.

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FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Land of Mine, Denmark
  • A Man Called Ove, Sweden
  • The Salesman,Iran
  • Tanna, Australia
  • Toni Erdmann, Germany

Predicted winner: The Salesman, Iran

Preferred winner: The Salesman, Iran

The director of The Salesman, Asqhar Farhadi, has stated that he will not attend the Oscar ceremony in protest of President Trump’s policies. Whether Farhadi attends or not, as an act of defiance I hope that the Academy rewards the film, and I would too.

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • OJ: Made In America
  • 13th

Predicted winner: 13th

Preferred winner: Life, Animated

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DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

  • Extremis
  • 1 Miles
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes
  • Pearl
  • Piper

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

  • Ennemis Interieurs
  • La Femme Et Le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode

Pass – I know nothing about these films.

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Moonlight

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The day before the Oscars, I saw the last of the Best Picture nominees, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, a haunting and soulful portrayal of a man coming to grips with his sexuality and identity. Nominated for eight awards, including Best Picture and Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress, Moonlight has been described as the alternative to the likely Best Picture winner, La La Land. It is easy to see why and, while I enjoyed La La Land, I find Moonlight a more impressive piece of work overall. This is because Jenkins utilises a wide variety of cinematic elements to deliver a film that operates on a number of levels, rather than La La Land’s straightforward feelgood charm. Moonlight’s aesthetic varies from long takes, such as the opening sequence that is included in a single roving shot, to handheld shaky-cam footage and swift cuts as well as point of view subjective shots during conversation scenes. The array of performances in the film range from the cool yet comforting Juan (Mahershala Ali) to the grandstanding of Naomie Harris as drug-addicted mother Paula to the subtlety of Janelle Monáe as Juan’s girlfriend Teresa who takes pity on Paula’s unfortunate son, Chiron, the central character of the film. Played by three actors over the course of three chapters of his life – Alex Hibbert as the young Little, Ashton Sanders as teenager Chiron and Trevante Rhodes as adult Black – Chiron’s life is presented in subtle but never unclear terms. His dismay over his mother’s addiction and his attachment to Juan and Teresa is understandable, while his troubled relationship with schoolmate Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) is at times heartbreaking, while the sequences of high school bullying may ring true for many a viewer. When necessary, Jenkins keeps his camera still while the characters express themselves through halting dialogue and nominal body language, minimalist communication steeped in the cultural background that the film brings to such vivid life. Sex is underplayed in the film and yet sexuality, both nascent and repressed, imbues much of the cinematic texture, at all times handled with the utmost delicacy and restraint. Whether it picks up awards or not, Moonlight deserves to be remembered as an extraordinary film, a beautiful and exquisitely balanced exploration of identity, sexuality and belonging.

89th Annual Academy Awards – Supporting Writing

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As Oscar night draws near, predictions are running high as to who will walk away with golden baldies. I’ve made my predictions in what I consider the easy categories – Picture, Directing, Leading Actor, Leading Actress and Supporting Actress. Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role is trickier, as we have a varied bunch of nominees. Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water is the only previous winner (for Best Actor in a Leading Role in Crazy Heart), he is the oldest of the nominees and he is a major star nominated for a Supporting Role. All of these factors work in his favour. However, Bridges has not won any awards for his performance, and AMPAS tends to follow the patterns of the Golden Globes, BAFTA and the various guilds. In this respect, Dev Patel’s victory for Lion at BAFTA, and Mahershala Ali’s win for Moonlight at the Screen Actors Guild, gives both of them an edge, not least because of the overlap between these institutions. As I’ve mentioned before, young actors are less likely to win, and Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea will probably have future opportunities, although the same is true of Patel. Perhaps Patel’s victory at BAFTA was a moment of British pride in one of our own, and the same may be true of the American Ali come Oscar night. For my money, I would like Michael Shannon to win, because I really liked Nocturnal Animals and thought he was great in it (weirdly, Nocturnal Animals did win the Golden Globe for Supporting Actor, but the nominee in that case was Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Come the night though, because of the overlap with the SAG and the likely desire of the Academy members to reward Moonlight with something, I predict this award will go to Mahershala Ali.

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Lion and Moonlight are also strong contenders for Best Adapted Screenplay and, after its BAFTA win, Lion seems a likely contender. Then again, Moonlight was the winner at the Writers Guild of America. Again due to the overlap between the Guild and the Academy, I see Moonlight as the likely winner of Adapted Screenplay, although my preference would be Arrival. For the Best Original Screenplay award, Manchester by the Sea looks like the strongest contender. Were Hell or High Water to win anything, this is the most likely. Both films feature ordinary Americans dealing with extraordinary but very human problems, but with Manchester by the Sea likely to lose out on Picture and Directing to La La Land, it seems far more likely to win in this category. La La Land could add to its collection here, but I predict Manchester by the Sea will be the winner come Oscar night.

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