The Grand Budapest Hotel is definitely a favourite for the Oscar

Oscar Buzz – Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, Wild and The Grand Budapest Hotel A Feast of Tales has reviewed Birdman, Boyhood and The Imitation Game, three of the films nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. Here we review four more of the nominated films, excluding American Sniper and Selma. The Academy Awards will be announced on 22 February 2015. Reviews by Brenda Daniels Whiplash In this film young music student Andrew (Miles Teller) is accepted into a prestigious music group conducted by the revered and feared Fletcher (J K Simmons). Andrew becomes Fletcher’s new protégée. Far from being nurturing, however, Fletcher’s teaching style fluctuates wildly between favouritism and cruelty. Young, impressionable and, most importantly, ambitious, Andrew, is sucked in by Fletcher and tossed about in a manner reminiscent of the film’s title Whiplash (Whiplash is also the title of the music group’s main song). The audience is drawn in to some extent as well and at times I wondered whether Fletcher had good intentions or simply enjoyed torturing his students. But ultimately Whiplash is a bildungsroman – the maturing of young Andrew Neimann. The picture of his protective father (Paul Reiser) looking with astonishment from the stage wings on his son’s superb drumming performance is symbolic of this. It is a memorable moment.

Miles Teller plays the lead role in Oscar nominated film, Whiplash. Photo: creative Commons

Miles Teller plays the lead role in Oscar nominated film, Whiplash. Photo: creative Commons

The Theory of Everything Another Oscar contender for best film is The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking. The film focuses more on Hawking’s personal life than on his professional life, and highlights his relationships and the progression of his illness. It spans several years, starting with Hawking’s time at Cambridge University to the launch of his first books in America. The romance of the young lovers Stephen and Jane is touchingly portrayed and Jane is to be admired for committing to marriage shortly after Stephen’s motor neurone disease diagnosis. At the time doctors had given him only two years to live. Stephen’s reaction to this news is seen in his sudden decision to do his PhD on “The Nature of Space and Time” (the title of one of his books). Other book titles appear in the film in the form of conversations and lectures. And Stephen’s atheism is shown in contrast to Jane’s gentle, yet enduring, Christian beliefs. Eddie Redmayne’s acting as the increasingly infirm Hawking is really good. But I would have welcomed a more intense focus on the scientist’s “theories of everything”; without it the plot is not meaty enough.

Felicity Jones plays a supporting role as Jane Hawkings in Oscar nominated film, The Theory of Everything. Photo: Creative Commons

Felicity Jones plays a supporting role as Jane Hawkings in Oscar nominated film, The Theory of Everything. Photo: Creative Commons

Wild Cheryl Strayd (Reese Witherspoon) embarks alone on a tough, demanding hike known as the Pacific Crest Trail. As her journey progresses, flashbacks to her past reveal that Cheryl has set out on this endeavour in order to properly grieve the death of her mother. A little self-indulgent to begin with, the film improves with time and I found myself identifying with Cheryl. For instance, Cheryl kicks a gas canister in frustration after discovering she had bought the wrong one. She accidentally knocks one of her boots into a ravine and then flings its companion after it in a fit of rage. I could see myself doing those things too. I also identified with images of Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern). Laura Dern acts her part beautifully. The performance is worthy of its best supporting actress nomination and Dern certainly gets my vote. Bobbi’s relationship with her two young children (Cheryl and her brother Leif [Keen McRae]) is a delight to see and I found myself thinking fondly of the many hours I had spent with my own two children.

Reese Witherspoon, seen at the 83rd Academy Awards. She plays the chief character in Oscar nominated film, Wild. Photo: Creative Commons

Reese Witherspoon, seen at the 83rd Academy Awards. She plays the chief character in Oscar nominated film, Wild. Photo: Creative Commons

The Grand Budapest Hotel This is one of my favourites of the eight nominated for best film. The European setting in an indefinable hotel between the two world wars is mysterious, exotic and therefore attractive. The characters are a surprise. The acclaimed concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is a refined, loyal employee of the Grand Budapest Hotel. But he also swears with abandon, cons old ladies out of their fortunes and gets arrested in the process. His new bell boy, Zero Moustafa, is amusing. He hardly speaks in the movie and his activities revolve mostly around drawing a moustache onto his upper lip every morning and rushing with wide eyes to do Gustave’s bidding. The pair nevertheless develop a humorously close relationship. All of this is couched in action that reminded me of the comics I read as a child; a funicular makes its way up a ridiculously steep pathway to the remotely situated hotel; Gustave’s escape from prison involves overly long ladders, unfortunate deaths and speedy getaways in snow-blanketed landscapes. Though not everyone’s cup of tea, I simply loved this film. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delight.

Ralph Fiennes stars in Oscar nominated film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Photo: Creative Commons

Ralph Fiennes stars in Oscar nominated film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Photo: Creative Commons

Birdman is an experience for the audience in the real and fake world

Oscar Buzz – Birdman

A review by Brenda Daniels

In line with Cinema Nouveau’s build-up to the Oscars on 22 February, A Feast of Tales is reviewing six Oscar-nominated films. So far we have featured The Imitation Game and Boyhood. In this post we review Birdman. (Some of the films release in South Africa only after the Oscars so coverage for those will be in retrospect.)

Birdman. Wow. What an experience this film is. The storyline centres around Riggan Thomson (a very aged Michael Keaton) and his staging of a Broadway play. In his younger years Riggan was famous for his role as film action hero Birdman.

In this theatre debut Riggan tries to gain credibility instead for his directing/acting part in a serious play. In doing so he struggles with his former self, with personal relationships, and with his search for significance.

But more than a simple plot Birdman is an experience for the audience. It is almost exclusively filmed inside the theatre building.

Apart from one scene in which Riggan is trapped outside the theatre wearing only his underwear. He is forced to walk through crowds of people and make his entry on cue from the front of the theatre. This, and other elements of the film, is symbolic, and highlights the film’s constant interaction between what is real and what is not.

As Riggan struggles with the voices inside his head and walks the corridors of the building from one crisis to the next, viewers are bombarded with the sound of discordant drums. As the film builds to a climax the drumming is interspersed with harmonious classical music as the character finally begins to resolve his inner conflicts.

The other characters serve to confront weaknesses in Riggan. These include his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) whose doodling on toilet paper raises the issue of humanity’s insignificance; the brilliant but unlikeable actor Mike (Edward Norton) who succeeds only in the world of make-believe; and Lesley (Naomi Watts) whose views of Broadway have not yet been tainted by cynicism.

Birdman is an intense, clever and intricately wrought story that sucks the viewer in. It forced me to concentrate in order to grasp its meaning. When I left the cinema complex I felt the tension dissipating as I stepped from the fake world of the theatre into the real world. Or was it the other way round?

Birdman is on screen at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa, it has been nominated for 9 Oscars. The Oscar Award Ceremony takes place on 22 February 2015.

birdman

Philomena a touching film, but puzzling at the climax

A review by Brenda Daniels

Philomena, starring Dame Judi Dench in the title role, is a drama based on a true story. Its plot revolves around Irishwoman Philomena Lee’s search for her son, adopted when he was just four. Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former British Labour Party member, writes her story and helps her in her search.

The story was eventually published (in real life) and revealed the shocking practice of a Catholic convent’s cruelty towards unwed mothers and their babies during the 1950s.

Philomena is played by two actresses – Sophie Kennedy Clark as the young Philomena and Dench as the 70-year-old Philomena. Philomena, along with other young women like herself, was sent to a convent in Roscrea, Tipperary, as penance for falling pregnant out of wedlock. Here the girls are made to work hard and allowed to see their children for only an hour a day.

Gradually, the children mysteriously disappear, ostensibly adopted by wealthy couples, without the mothers’ permissions.

Having always longed to find her son, Philomena, now 70, accidentally comes across Sixsmith, who she enlists to write her story. Martin is a typically cynical journalist, more so because he was recently “given the sack”.

Philomena is a simple, forgiving Irish woman with a firm Catholic faith despite the startling cruelty the convent meted out to her. The two characters and their differing reactions to events create the tension – and humour – in the story.

The pair’s search takes them to the USA where they find traces of Anthony (Philomena’s name for her son) or Michael (as he was renamed). It is while in the USA that the story takes a revealing turn, sending Philomena and Sixsmith back to the Irish convent where their investigations first began.

Despite physically speaking to people in America, I thought Martin and Philomena’s visit to the States a bit unrealistic, given today’s worldwide web search capabilities. I also found the penultimate scene in the film a puzzling one. It at once reveals Philomena’s poignant grace and takes the oomph out of an otherwise beautifully told, very touching story.

Philomena is rated 13L, runs for one and a half hours and opened at NuMetro theatres in South Africa on 28 March.

Judi Dench plays the leading role in Philomena. Dench has been nominated for several awards for the role.

Judi Dench plays the leading role in Philomena. Dench has been nominated for several awards for the role.

 

Hairstyles show deeper meaning in American Hustle

A review by Brenda Daniels

American Hustle has been nominated for Best Picture and various other awards for the upcoming Oscar ceremony on 3 March, so I went along to the South African preview to see what all the fuss was about.

The film, set in New Jersey in the 1970s, tells the story of con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and his partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two meet and become lovers and then, posing as a Briton with “banking connections”, Sydney helps Irving take his underhand dealings to a new level. Caught out by FBI agent, Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper), they are lured into an even bigger world of crime in an effort to catch dirty politicians and the mafia red-handed.

Cooper brought a certain manic amusement to his role as an agent determined to make it big and I enjoyed this. The hoodwinked politician, Mayor Carmine Polito, played by Jeremy Renner, had a certain endearing vulnerability to him, and Irving, convincingly played by Bale, had a soft side to him, exhibiting patience with his dumb wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), and affection for his young son.

The film opens with Irving working on an elaborate “comb-over” hairdo, and most of the characters sported hairstyles that required some work. This aspect seemed to mirror the characters’ fake lifestyles, and highlighted their weak efforts at, now and then, wanting to “be real” with each other.

Apart from these mildly redeeming qualities the characters and action in American Hustle are relentlessly seedy.

It was hard, and in fact quite boring, to enjoy a two-hour film that gave no interesting message, showed no characters I could identify with enough to care about, and provided no relief from the dirt. Whilst I don’t like the 70s era with its iconic clothing, music, coiffeurs and American mobsters, there are viewers who do. They’ll get plenty in this film.

American Hustle opens at Ster Kinekor in South Africa on 28 February. It carries an age restriction of 16LS.

Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Adams in a scene of American Hustle (Source: Creative Commons)

Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Adams in a scene of American Hustle (Source: Creative Commons)

Lead up to the award ceremony: Cinema Nouveau Announces Pre-Release Screenings of Three Multi-Nominated Oscar Contenders

Each of the three pre-release titles, August: Osage County, Nebraska and Philomena, will have one screening each at 8pm on 24, 26 and 27 February respectively, at the four Cinema Nouveau theatres at Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria, Gateway in Durban and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Bookings are now open for these three special pre-Oscar screenings.

The talented Meryl Streep, who is no stranger to the Best Actress category, is once again nominated in this category for her role in August: Osage County, which will be pre-released at the four Cinema Nouveau theatres on Monday, 24 February at 8pm. Another big Hollywood name, Julia Roberts, shares the screen with her in this film and is up for Best Supporting Actress.

On Wednesday, 26 February at 8pm, Cinema Nouveau audiences are transported to another American state with the pre-release of Nebraska. With an impressive six Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor – Bruce Dern, Best Supporting Actress – June Squibb, Cinematography, Best Director – Alexander Payne, and Original Screenplay, this black-and-white masterpiece explores another complex family relationship.

With four Oscar nominations – Best Picture, Best Actress – Judi Dench, Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay – Philomena plays on the Cinema Nouveau circuit at 8pm on Thursday, 27 February. It releases nationally on 28 March.

When former journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what to do. All that changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena (Judi Dench), who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about Philomena’s search for her son that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son’s fate, as their basic beliefs are challenged.

Cinema Nouveau audiences can watch these films and make their predictions before the winner of “Best Picture is announced during the early hours of 3 March.

The full list of nominees vying for this prestigious award are: Gravity; Captain Phillips; American Hustle; Dallas Buyers Club; Her; Nebraska; Philomena; 12 Years a Slave; and The Wolf of Wall Street.

For more information and to make a booking, visit www.sterkinekor.com or www.cinemanouveau.co.za. Call Ticketline on 082 16789.

The 2009 Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 2009 Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 31st Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 31st Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)