28th Feb2014

Predictions for the 86th Annual Academy Awards – Film

by timbaros

This has got to be the toughest Oscar race in years. While in one or two categories there are clear cut winners, the rest of the categories are neck and neck between two clear cut potential winners. Here are my predictions on the 86th annual Academy Awards on Sunday night, predictions for those who should win and for those who will win.

Best Picture:
For some strange reason the Academy nominated 9 films in this category, and not ten as it has in years past.
12 Years a Slave is the sentimental and dramatic favorite because of its storyline, a topic no other film has tackled. Gravity could slip in and win because of it special effects wizardry, telling the amazing story of a woman adrift in space. But it looks like 12 Years a Slave will squeak by.
Nominees:The Wolf of Wall Street, Nebraska, Captain Phillips, Gravity, American Hustle, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, and 12 Years a Slave.
Should Win: 12 Years a Slave. The film has opened up an international conversation on slavery. And the Academy would love to see producers Brad Pitt and Steve Mcqueen on the podium.
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave. As McQueen may be shut out as Best Director, this category will be where he wins an Oscar.
Best Actor:
This race is either a shoo-in for Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club or a shoo-in for Chiwotel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave. While McConaughey has won 17 Best Actor awards from various critics groups, Ejiofor just recently won the BAFTA for Best Actor (Dallas Buyers Club was not eligible for the BAFTA’s due to its 2014 release). If either man wins it won’t be a surprise as this is the closest Best Actor race in years. In any other year, Bruce Dern would win for Nebraska, but the quality of performances in this category this year are high caliber. So high caliber that two beloved actors who gave perhaps the best performances of their careers were overlooked: Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips and Robert Redford for All is Lost.
Nominees: Christian Bale for American Hustle, Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street, Ejiofor, and McConaughey
Should win: McConaughey. He lost 45 pounds to play AIDS patient Ron Woodruff.
Will win: McConaughey. Ejiofor may be gaining momentum, but its McConaughey’s year (and he was also memorable in The Wolf of Wall Street)
Best Actress:
Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine will win and should win. Her performance of a woman who has lost everything and has to her life over again start from scratch is excellent. The other woman in this category don’t stand a chance, though if Gravity sweeps everything it is nominated for, then expect Sandra Bullock to take it. Though Blanchett is a sure lock.
Nominees: Blanchett, Bullock, Amy Adams for American Hustle, Judi Dench for Philomena, and Meryl Street for August: Osage County
Should and will win: Blanchett
Best Supporting Actor:
At this point it appears that Jared Leto is the frontrunner for his role as Rayon the drag queen in Dallas Buyers Club. Leto has won an incredible 38 awards for this performance, his first performance in a film since 2009’s Mr. Nobody. Michael Fassbender could sneak in take the prize if the Academy feels that it needs to hand 12 Years a Slave lots of awards.
Nominees: Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips, Bradley Cooper for American Hustle, Fassbender, Leto, and Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street
Should win: Leto, who has walked off with the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards
Will win: Leto, for losing a lot of weight to play a drag queen with AIDS.
Best Supporting Actress:
A month ago I would’ve predicted that Lupita N’yongo was a shoo-in for her performance of a repressed slave in 12 Years a Slave. But tJennifer Lawrence has been winning the majority of awards for her role in American Hustle. And while Lawrence won the Best Actress statuette last year for Silver Linings Playbook, she could possibly win back-to-back Oscars. However, N’yongo and Lawrence may cancel each other out, as this how close this race is, and any of the other nominees sneak in and win.
Nominees: Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmin, Lawrence, N’yongo, Julia Roberts for August: Osage County, and June Squibb for Nebraska
Should win: N’yongo. Even though she was in very little of 12 Years a Slave, she was in it’s most memorable scene where she gets lashed by Fassbender’s character – one of the most brutal screen moments of last year.
Will win: Lawrence. This is her third nomination, and she is absolutely loved in Hollywood, so there is no doubt they will award her again.
Best Director:
Alfonso Cuaron should and will win for Gravity. Cuaron waited for new technology to be built in order to make the movie that he wanted to make. Gravity has received worldwide excellent reviews and is still making loads of money. Plus, he’s won the DGA, BAFTA and the Golden Globe Awards for Best Director. It is highly unlikely that Steve McQueen will win this, but if he does he will be the first African to win Best Director.
Nominees: Cuaron, McQueen, Alexander Payne for Nebraska, David O. Russell for American Hustle, and Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street
Should and will win: Cuaron, for making an incredible and beautiful film, so unlike anything that has ever been shown in cinemas.
Best Animated film: Frozen
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay: Her
Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty (Italy)
23rd Feb2014

Exposed: Beyond Burlesque – DVD

by timbaros
images-108Exposed: Beyond Burlesque takes us into the wild and wonderful world and lives of several burlesque performers. It’s an in your face, genitals and all movie. Directed by Beth B, we are taken into another world, to an underground scene that seems to exist as a fantasy to most of us but a reality for the performers.

We are introduced (or more fittingly exposed) to 8 female and male burlesque artists. They are not shy about being naked onstage, for them it is a personal freedom, and a job that they all enjoy doing.
We meet, in no particular order:
-Rose Wood, a New York City Transgender performance artist acclaimed for his brutally frank commentary on social mores and hypersexuality, and for his exhibitionistic performance. He’s actually a man, but during the course of the movie, he gets breast implants, and he bravely walks the streets of New York City with his new body. He says “I try to present the audience with another way of seeing the body”. Wood is a featured performer at The Box in NYC, where he sometimes performs as a rabbi. He is far from mainstream.
-World Famous *BOB* (yes, that is her actual stage name), a voluptuous blonde bombshell whose large boobs are the main feature of her performances. She even uses them to mix martinis! She left home at the age of 16 when she realized she was a gay man (!!) in a woman’s body, and was eventually taken in by a group of drag queens, hence her drag queen-like appearance. She is all woman. She categorises herself as a woman who acts like a man who dresses in drag.
– Bunny Love. She uses theatre, dance, music, film, lots and lots of makeup, and southern belle costumes to explore contemporary issues in her shows. She has performed in mostly all of the burlesque venues in NYC, and they keep asking her to come back. She says in the film “My family is a bit in the dark as to what exactly I do.” We see her on stage, totally naked, putting lipstick on her lips and on her vagina, wrapping herself up in black tape.
– Tiger! James Tiger! Ferguson is a Stripperformance artist. He is also an actor and dancer, and most of all a stripper. He won the first King of Boylesque title at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in 2006. He is a boy in a man’s body.
– Dirty Martini. Perhaps one of the world’s most well-known burlesque artists, she specializes in performing as a 1940’s and 1950’s legend of burlesque entertainer. She says ” I was struggling a lot with this issues of acceptance so I needed a way to express myself so people could see me as a dancer for the unique properties that my body has.” And her body DOES have unique properties. Martini (not her real name) has appeared on television talk shows all over Europe, including our own Paul O’Grady show.
– Bambi the Mermaid. She is a conceptual visual and performance artist, with a cute smile to match. Her performances involve lots of disturbing images that she hopes will be controversial, as well as dressing up as a lobster. Bambi produces Coney Island’s famed Burlesque at the Beach, New York’s oldest and longest running burlesque show, which is heavily featured in Exposed.
– Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz. Burlesque’s first couple. Mat and Julie actually got married in 2012 and are perhaps considered Burlesque royalty. Fraser is the UK’s best-known disabled performer who participated in the Paralympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies. He says in the film that “he’s always been a rebel” and Fraser’s tried to be as normal as possible, despite being bullied in school (for his short arms). He has discovered the joy to make people laugh, and he’s adamament that he’s not a separatist. Muz, who is from Detroit, Michigan is a conceptual performer and choreographer. She is a girlie girl, not shy to shock audiences, either with performances that include lots of blood, being totally naked onstage, or dressed in outlandish costumes. And she says that “being naked for me is a pleasure. It’s like an amor, its the best costume.”
These are the performers who are featured in Exposed. But the film’s best scene are the ones between Fraser and Muz. They appear to be made for each other. They are both in the same kind of work, and they both love what they do, and in Exposed, we see them both on stage together, using various body parts as part of their show, whether it be Mat’s penis or Muz’s vagina, anything seems to go for them. And we see them in bed with each  other, discussing how and when they met ( in 2006), and how they were smitten with each other, and how much they are in love. It’s actually quite touching. It’s a real true romance in an otherwise unreal world.
Director Beth B. (no last name) has expertly captured some of the American and British Burlesque scenes, interspersing footage from burlesque performers of the 1950’s.
Burlesque shows at venues such at New York City’s The Slipper Room, the alternative performance space called Dixon Place, Performance Space 122, and Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, and most memorably the shows that take place in world famous Coney Island are in the film. Also featured are performances at the Fringe Festival in Amsterdam which area quite sexual and raw. These performances are expertly woven into the film in between the performers speaking about their lives and how they got into burlesque.

“It’s an immediate and honest and sometimes brutal art form”, says Mat Fraser. That would sum up Burlesque – and Exposed.

23rd Feb2014

Seduced & Abandoned – DVD

by timbaros


Seduced & Abandoned is not your typical documentary. It is a documentary about a film that will or will not be made. Ultimately, is this film a real film? Or was it made up just to make this documentary?

Written and Directed by James Toback (whose done very little since his 2008 Mike Tyson documentary), Seduced & Abandoned has him and Alec Baldwin trying to get financing for a movie they are looking to make. They attempt to sell their film, provisionally titled Last Tango in Tikrit (inspired by Last Tango in Paris) as a political-erotic romantic Middle Eastern adventure film, and to star Baldwin, and Neve Campbell. Filmed over 10 days at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, Seduced & Abandoned shows Toback and Baldwin as they pitch the idea of their film, meeting all of the movers and shakers in the film business, the creme de la creme, including actors, producers, directors, agents and most importantly, financiers.
Seduced & Abandoned starts off with a brief history of the festival, along with photos of red carpet events held there over the past 65 years. Then Baldwin and Toback begin their pitch. They seek advice from esteemed and Cannes veteran directors Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Francis Coppola and Bernardo Bertolucci (coupled with clips of their films montaged with the interviews). Then Toback and Baldwin start their mission of trying to get money from anyone who wants to give it to them. They pitch their idea of their film to very very wealthy people, people who can easily afford to write them a check for $20 million. People such as Denise Rich (who tells them she only invests in things that she believes in), Taki Theodoracopulos (where they are seen lunching on his yatch), Jean Pigozzi (who doesn’t commit to anything), and, among others, Arpad Busson, who doesn’t have a lot to say to both men. Also, none are too keen with the choice of Campbell as a leading lady. They also speak to actresses Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger, asking them if they would like to be in their film. Neither of them are convinced. Ryan Gosling joins them for an interview – with him musing about how he got his break in Hollywood and what it takes to be an actor in the film business. All of these interviews are split-screened with scenes from each of their films. And Cannes is captured as the madcap film festival where deals are done, stars are made, and the red carpet is the place to be seen.
But is Seduced & Abandoned a joke about the film business? Or is it a joke about the making of a non-realistic film? What it is about is what film critic Pauline Kael once said – ‘true moviemaking fever’. People are seduced by the premise of making a film, the glamour, the profile, the seduction of the film business. Yet most of the time people are left abandoned, the film never gets made. In this case, it is more of a question of what were Baldwin and Toback trying to get out of this? Surely, their film was actually never going to be made. So what we have here is a movie about them making a movie that is in turn about making movies. Yet, whose time has been wasted: The financiers they spoke to, very busy and influential men who can make deals happen with the stroke of a pen? Or our time, watching a documentary about a film that will never be made. You decide. Seduced & Abandoned is now out on DVD.
16th Feb2014

BAFTA Winners – Film

by timbaros





Steve McQueen’s slavery drama 12 Years a Slave took best film and best actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor at this year’s British Academy Film Awards. With a total of six prizes, Gravity was the night’s most-awarded film, sweeping up four technical categories as well as the gongs for outstanding British film and best director for Alfonso Cuarón.

American Hustle claimed three awards: best original screenplay, best makeup/hair and an award for Jennifer Lawrence as best supporting actress. Cate Blanchett won best actress for the title role in Blue Jasmine, while newcomer Barkhad Adbi was named best supporting actor for his part as a Somali pirate in Captain Phillips.

Gravity’s six awards were rounded out with recognition for best visual effects, best cinematography, best music and best sound. The Great Gatsby was another multiple winner in the technical categories, winning best production design and best costume design.

The awards were announced at a ceremony hosted by Stephen Fry at the Royal Opera House.


15th Feb2014

The Monuments Men – Film

by timbaros
images-102The Monuments Men was originally scheduled for release in December, 2013 in order to qualify for the awards season, but due to problems in the post-production (editing) process, the release was pushed back to February in both the UK and the U.S.
What were the problems? Trying to balance the dramatic element of the film with the comedic element. Did it work? In my opinion (and in the opinions of other film critics), it did not.
The Monuments Men, with the tag line of ‘based on a true story,’ is about a group of men during World War 2 who set about saving valuable works of art form the hands of the nazis towards the end of WW2.
George Clooney, star, director, co-screenwriter and co-producer, plays the head savoir of the art team, and got together his posse of friends to be in HIS movie. These friends include Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman. Other actors drafted to be in this film include Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and English actor Hugh Bonneville. The men play the team enlisted to find the works of art – some of older men were drafted because they were historians and architects and thus were drafted for their expertise.
The dramatic element of the film works fine: Men in the middle of a very dangerous war in occupied countries are tasked to retrieve stolen art. Deaths happen, scenes of fighting all around them, and the realistic looking art and set direction would’ve made for a good movie. It’s the comedic element that just does not work.
What you have onscreen is a mish mash of actors of different ages who are playing characters, but its the older ones who are the brunt of many jokes. Goodman has a hard time in basic training and just generally getting around due to his weight. Dujardin has a thick French accent this is made fun of, but is it funny? No. And Balaban is completely blind when he doesn’t have his spectacles. There is one strange scene where Balaban’s character has a standoff with a German soldier – nothing really happens in that scene but we are supposed to find it funny that both Balaban and the soldier don’t know what the other is thinking or going to do, until the soldier goes away, happy with the cigarette that was given to him. Huh?
Also, there seems to be a separate movie going on between Damon’s character, who is tasked with actually delivering the art to the rightful owners, and Blanchett’s character – lonely and vulnerable Claire Simone – a curator who is forced to allow the Nazi’s to steal valuable art. Simone pines for Damon, but he’s a married man, and his duty is to deliver art, and nothing more. Damon’s character pops back to the team from time to time to remind us that he is in that part of the film as well, in a way to connect his and Simone’s storyline to the rest of the men’s storyline.
The problem with The Monuments Men is that the film just does not work. Even at the end, when a very valuable and sentimental piece of art work that was stolen is found hidden away in a cave, there really is no emotional impact for the viewer. And in the final final scene, Clooney employs his father to play him as an older man to try to tweak some kind of final wrung of emotion, but it fails.
The Monuments Men was made for a whopping $75,000,000. It has so far grossed a paltry $30,000,000 in the U.S. It has just opened up in the UK. Clooney, in acting as the film’s driver, needs a wakeup call in that everything he does does not turn into gold. In this case, The Monuments Men turns to dust. No team will ever be able to save this piece of art.


15th Feb2014

Her – Film

by timbaros
images-101It is common nowadays to see people literally connected to their phones. It’s like a third hand for some, and for most it’s the one thing thing that they could not live without. Her, now in cinemas, takes the relationships with our phones even further in that it’s main character actually falls in love with his phone’s Operating System.
Theodore Twombly (played by an excellent and almost unrecognizable Joaquin Phoenix)  is the man who is in love with his phone. Well, he’s not actually in love with his phone but in love with the women’s voice who is the Operating System.
Twombly, recently divorced, fortyish, and obviously very lonely, is an expert letter writer (number 612 in his company) – people hire him to write personal handwritten letters to their loved ones. Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, Twombly’s life revolves around work, and his fascination with technology, which has him purchasing the latest gadgets with the most up-to-date systems. This includes his purchase of a new Operating System that is connected to both his computer and to his phone. However, this Operating System is not just a monotone voice with no personality (similar to Siri on Apple’s Iphone), it is a voice that appears to be specially made for him, a voice that he chose to be a woman. It is a very sexy female voice, whose name happens to be Samantha (the voice of Scarlett Johansson). In a world of futuristic looking buildings and lack of personal interaction, Her takes our relationship with technology (and specifically phones) to a whole different level (scary but perhaps realistic). Twombly is longing, perhaps hopelessly, to connect with that voice and hopefully with the person behind that voice. He is slowly falling in love with that voice, a voice that deep down he knows is just a voice. He tells Samantha his innermost thoughts, and starts telling people that he is in a relationship with Samantha. He even tells Samantha that “you helped me discover the ability to want.” But all Samantha is is the voice of a portable gadget and his computer.
Her messes with the idea (perhaps correctly) that we are all getting too dependent on our phones or laptops/tablets/desktop computers, that we are now living our lives talking, texting, socializing, falling in love – all done on our phones or on our computers. Twombly is not the only one who is in love with a voice, his upstairs neighbor Amy (Amy Adams) is also getting caught up in a relationship with the Operating System left behind by her estranged husband. And it seems that Twombly and Amy would make a perfect couple, but they both are so hooked on their device that they seem devoid of actually connecting to anyone real, anyone physical. Is this how our society will be in 20 years time? This proves just how strangely connected they are (and perhaps so are we) to technology.
Her is director Spike Jonze’s first film that he has written on his own. He wrote it three years ago over a long New York winter. Some of Her was shot in Shanghai which has shiny new skyscrapers and raised walkways, perfect for Her to show how people are in such a crowded city but yet strangely disconnected to each other. And as an added backdrop to the making of Her, Samantha Morton originally recorded the voice of Samantha, but in post production Jonze felt that Morton’s voice didn’t resonate the way he wanted it to. So he went with Johannson, who has perhaps one of the sexiest female voices in Hollywood.
Phoenix, who offscreen has a very strange and somewhat interesting reputation, originally felt that he was wrong for the part of Twombly, but his physical appearance in the film – glasses and mustache – make him look very unrecognizable. Phoenix takes his acting to whole different level in this film as most of the time it is just him (and ‘Her’) talking to each other, making us feel like we are watching a romance blossoming. Phoenix was very good in his last film – The Master – but in Her he is excellent.
Was Jonze trying to send a message with this film that technology is taking over our lives? That we are getting too dependent on technology and specifically our mobile phones? And that our mobile phones are never out of our sight for the reason being that we can’t live without them? Have a look around on your way home tonight. You’ll notice that most (if not all) of the people around you are on their phones, either listening to music, checking messages, playing a game, etc….or just simply holding it in their hands.
It takes a movie like Her to remind us that even phones can let us down, and that there is nothing quite like human interaction. Try it some time, you’ll like it.

15th Feb2014

Captain Phillips – DVD

by timbaros
images-100Captain Phillips is the story of man who is responsible not just for his ship but also for the lives of his crew members, it is a story of survival, action, adventure, human emotion and a look at a man who faces uncertainty.
In an Academy Award worthy performance, Hanks plays Richard Phillips, a family man from America’s Northeast who does not have a typical office job, his job is to captain ships to carry cargo through friendly and sometimes not so friendly waters. It is March 2009, and Phillips (this film is based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals, and Dangerous Days at sea, by the real Richard Phillips) is captaining the MV Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship that is travelling to Moombasa, Kenya via the Arabian Sea and past the east coast of the Somali coastline – international waters. Once the Maersk Alabaman reaches these waters, Phillips and his captain Shane Murphy (Michael Chernus), notice two objects quickly approaching their ship. They know right there and then that these two boats are not a welcoming committee. They know, from information provided to them by the U.S. government, that these boats are Somali pirates. To try to thwart them, Phillips makes a false announcement on the radio that they can hear. One of the boats turns around, but one continues speeding straight ahead towards them.  Luckily for Phillips and his crew, this second boat eventually turns around and disappears off their radar. However, later in the day, a single boat is detected on their radar, again heading straight for them. This boat eventually gets to within meters of the Alabama, with four Somali’s on board, who start shooting at the captain and his crew. Trying to stave them off, Phillips orders the water cannons to be turned on as a deterrent from them getting on board. One of the water cannons fails, so Murphy attempts to fix it, but is unable to, and the four Somali pirates use a ladder to get on the boat, rifles in hand, demanding money. Not content with the $30,000 Phillips has onboard to offer them, the situation becomes tense and violent. Phillips tries to outsmart them, and at the same time trying to keep the whereabout of the rest of his crew known to the pirate. The pirates, headed by Bilal (a scary and amazing performance by newcomer Barkhad Abdirahman), are very aggressive and don’t want the hijacking to get out of hand, and they want to find the rest of the crew, who are hiding in the ship’s engine room. The movie gets more dramatic and tense as things go very wrong and Captain Phillips is taken hostage aboard the Somali’s boat. From this point Captain Phillips accelerates its action, intensifies the drama, and shows the pain that Captain Phillips has while he struggles and tries to reason with his captors, all the while being in a very cramped space in the small boat. He senses deep down that this may be the very last time he will be on the water. He is convinced his captors are going to kill him.Greengrass, who directed United 93, Green Zone and The Bourne Ultimatum and Supremacy, sure does know his away around an action film, However, in Captain Phillips, unlike in his other films, he gives his leading man depth, a personality, a real human being (Hanks), who carries the film throughout. Hanks gives the performance of his career, and at the age of 57, having appeared in some of the most successful films of all time, including Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, his performance here is a revelation. In Captain Phillips, Hanks plays a character almost similar to his character in Philadelphiia; death is imminent – or for Captain Phillips – is it? And in the last 10 minutes of this film, Phillips is very distressed, very emotional, very confused, and in shock, and Hanks’ performance in this scene is the mark of a true action genius. It is this part of the film that seals Hanks as one of the greatest actors of all time. Kudos are also for the actors playing the Somali pirates. They are not just the usual bad guy characters, each of them is completely drawn with their own personality, and not lumped as typical terrorists seen on the big screen nowadays. Actually, the actors who played the pirates auditioned to be in this film in Minneapolis, which has a large Somali community, by responding to a television advert. Abdirahman had been working as a limousine driver, and auditioned and got what is basically the second lead role in the film, behind Hanks. Shockingly, Tom Hanks has not been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. This is the biggest mistake the Academy has ever done.
To set the record straight, the real crew members of the Alabama have claimed that this film does not tell the true story. The Chief Engineer of the Alabama, according to CNN, said that Phillips’ recklessness put the ship in pirate-controlled waters. Another engineer claimed that Phillips ignored warnings and set a course through dangerous waters to save time and money. Whatever the facts are, Captain Phillips the movie is one exhilarating ride, with a truly stunning performance by Hanks. Captain Phillips is the film event of the year. Go see it.
15th Feb2014

Blue Jasmine – DVD

by timbaros

images-99Jasmine’s life is no longer what it used to be. Once married to a rich businessman in New York City who turns out to be a crook and a cheat, she moves to San Francisco to start a new life. This is the plot of Woody Allen’s charming new film Blue Jasmine.

Jasmine, in an Oscar-worthy performance by Cate Blanchett, lived in a sumptious apartment on Park Avenue, had lots of clothes and jewellery, and seemed to have the perfect life. Her husband, Harold “Hal” Francis (a perfectly cast and suave Alec Baldwin), was a successful businessman. But it was all smoke and mirrors. Not only was her husband having affairs behind her back, but he was also swindling investors (friends and family included – a la Bernie Madoff), including her sister and her husband. When he tells Jasmine that he is leaving her for a much younger woman, she decides to call the FBI to report him. By doing this, she realizes her life will change dramatically, and change it does. Jasmine has a nervous breakdown, everything that she and her husband owned are taken by the U.S. government, and she is left with just the clothes she has. Broke and nowhere to go, she heads to San Francisco to live with her half-sister, Ginger (an adorable and perky Sally Hawkins). Blue Jasmine juxtaposes her San Francisco life with her former New York life, the smallest memory or thought she has in San Francisco takes her mind back to certain New York memories. Yet, still mentally unstable and extremely emotional,  she is at a loss as to what to do with her life.  Thanks to her sister’s fiance Chili (recent Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale), she gets a job as a receptionist in a dentist office while at night she studies computers so that she can become an interior designer. In the meantime, she meets and falls in love with wealthy diplomat Dwight Westlake (Peter Sarsgaard), yet she is not quite ready to tell him about her previous life in New York, including the fact that her husband committed suicide in prison. Jasmine is not having it easy.

Blue Jasmine, written and directed by Woody Allen, is one of his best films in years. His last two films, the charming To Rome With Love and the beautiful Midnight in Paris, took him to Europe. With Blue Jasmine Allen is back on familiar territory (New York). Allen tends to bring out the best in acting from his actors, and Blue Jasmine is no exception. Blanchett has never been better, in Blue Jasmine she is obviously having a hard time of life, and when it appears she is on the way up, she just gets knocked back down again. Her character is a strong woman, but circumstance beyond her control have changed that. Baldwin, all so suave and slick, is one of those actors where you can always count on giving a great performance, and in Blue Jasmine he does again. Hawkins, always so bubbly in everything she is in, is fantastic as the sister who is happy with her lot in life (working as a clerk in a grocery store) and being attracted to men who are not very ambitious. Max Casalla as Ginger’s ex-husband is very good as he still blames Jasmine for her husband’s swindling of all of his money and the breakdown of his marriage. Blue Jasmine is a very charming movie, with great performances, great location scenery in San Francisco, and a timely story. Let’s hope Woody Allen continues to make movies for the next 50 years.

07th Feb2014

Dallas Buyers Club – Film

by timbaros

images-87In the 1980’s there was no hope for people infected with the HIV virus. Immediately upon diagnosis, the infected were told that they had a short period of time left, perhaps a few months, or less. Dallas Buyers Club is a new film inspired by true events about the life of a man fighting for survival when given a death sentence upon his AIDS diagnosis.

Ron Woodruff, a drug-taking macho womanizing Texas cowboy and electrician, (Matthew McConaughey), is at the hospital after an electrical accident at his work. It is there, in March 1985, that he is told that he has the HIV Virus. Even worse, he is so thin and sickly that the doctor (Dennis O’Hare) at the hospital tells him that he has 30 days left and that he should get his affairs in order. Woodruff, a straight man, doesn’t believe it. He is not gay, so he doesn’t understand how he could have gotten the HIV virus. He refuses to accept this diagnosis until he reads more about it at the local library. He discovers that it is not just gay men who are getting the virus, but IV drug users as well. Upon reading this, he now knows that he’s in trouble…that he’s got the virus. He then finds himself shunned and ostracized by his friends and co-workers.

Back at the hospital, he is told by one of the doctors, Dr. Eve Sacks (Jennifer Garner), that the only drug available was a drug called AZT. She also explains to Woodruff that it is only available in a drug trial, and that half of the participants will receive the drug, and the other half will receive a placebo. Woodruff, who continues taking illegal drugs (including lots of cocaine), and who continues to lose more and more weight, does not accept this and finds a way to get the real drug (he eventually gets it, illegally, from a hospital cleaner who steals it from the drug cabinets at the hospital). However, taking AZT doesn’t seem to help him as he is getting sicker and sicker, and one day he collapses and ends up back in the hospital. He gets put in the same room as Rayon (Jared Leto), a mid 20-something drag queen who is in the hospital for the same reason as Woodruff (AIDS). Rayon is an old friend of Dr. Sacks, he even asks her her opinion on his choice of outfits. At first Woodruff wants nothing to do with Rayon; Woodruff is anti-gay and doesn’t want to be put in the same category as ‘people like Rayon’. He slowly warms up to Rayon, who has a very simple and charming disposition, with a warm touch which he uses to help Woodruff with a cramp in his leg. The hospital explains to Woodruff that they can’t give him AZT (or any other drugs), and he soon realizes that AZT is making people sicker, even at its sticker price of $10,000 for a year’s supply, and people were still dying on a daily basis. So Ron decides to take his health into his own hands.

Woodruff turns to the black market and finds out about a clinic just over the border in Mexico where he meets expatriate physician Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne). Vass treats him with drugs that are not approved by America’s FDA (Federal Drug Administration). In the clinic there are very young men, all with AIDS, in bed or who can barely walk, some close to death, all clinging to hope that being at this clinic could save them. It is hard to believe that this was a time when this was reality. Woodruff finds renewed health and hope, and he also sees that he could start a business by smuggling the medications into the U.S. to sell to fellow AIDS patients, so that is what he does. And this operation becomes the Dallas Buyers Club. So Ron enlists Rayon to solicit from her community those gay men who have no hope left, and soon enough, Ron and Rayon have customers lining up at their Dallas business, which they operate out of two motel rooms. In Rayon, Ron finds another person who is sort of an outcast, but they are polar opposites. But it then becomes them against the world – the cowboy and the queen. And Dr. Saks eventually goes against the grain of what she has been taught in school and gets on Ron and Rayon’s side. Unfortunately, Woodruff’s business brings the unwanted attention from the FDA as he is selling drugs that are not permitted to be sold in the U.S., but this does not stop him. He is a walking encyclopedia of anti-viral medications, pharmaceutical trials and patents and appears to know more than the FDA and the doctors treating HIV patients. He would re-stock any supply that was confiscated, he would travel to other countries, including Japan, to get other alternative drugs. Ron was crusader, a man who gave hope to many who didn’t have any. He organised and led an operation whose customer base was 99% homosexuals, and Texas in the 1980’s was undoubtedly one of the worst places to be homosexual or transexual, must less one with AIDS. Woodruff would succumb to complications from AIDS in September 1992, 2557 days after his diagnosis.

It took 20 years for Dallas Buyers Club to make it to the big screen. A month before Woodruff passed away, screenwriter Craig Borten drove from Los Angeles to Dallas, Texas to meet him and to begin work on telling his story. Borten felt that the story of a homophobic cowboy who suddenly found himself on the front lines of the AIDS pendemic was profound and unique. The film went into development in 1997, with producer Robbie Brenner attached to it, but it didn’t get made. In 2000, Borten teamed up with screenwriter Melissa Wallack to rework the script. The movie then went into active development at a studio for nearly a decade. However, in 2009, the rights went back to Borten and Wallack, and Brenner got back on board. And their first choice to play Woodruff was McConaughey. And McConaughey was up to the challenge. “Ron was an American original. He shook the tree. He made noise. I said I want to get this made, get Ron’s story told,” McConaughey has said. Once a director was chosen (Jean-Marc Vallée, the award-winning director of Café de Flor and C.R.A.Z.Y.), it was a go. Production began in mid-2012, with Jared Leto on board as their first choice for Rayon, and Jennifer Garner as Dr. Eve Sacks, after having initially been told about the project by McConaughey. Principal photography began in New Orleans in mid-2012, with a 25-day shooting schedule.

What makes this movie stand out from all other films that have dealt with AIDS is the performance of McConaughey. His performance is better and more realistic than Tom Hanks in the 1993 film Philadelphia. And while Hanks was given lots of makeup to look sick, McConaughey went through an amazing physical transformation to play the frail, emaciated and dying man. It is McConaughey’s best performance in his career, and perhaps the best performance of the year. McConaughey shed nearly 50 pounds to play Ron to drop down to a weight of 140 pounds. However, in one pivotal hospital scene, McConaughey dropped to 135 pounds in order to play the frail, emaciated dying Woodruff, lying on his hospital bed in his underwear, extremely thin. McConaughey also did a lot of research for playing the role, including reading Woodruff’s journals. ““After listening to audiotapes and doing my research, I didn’t feel I needed any more information. Interviews with Ron were so helpful. In listening to Ron talk after seven years with H.I.V., I realised that a man speaks differently about himself and his legacy in retrospect than he does when he’s living it in progress,” McConaughey has said. He eventually went to meet Ron’s family. “But then I did decide to meet with Ron’s family, and that made a difference. It was very informative. They are wonderful people who opened up the library of their house to me, lent me scrapbooks, other tapes, a couple of his diaries, and more.” Viewers of this film will forget they are watching the goodlooking and hunky actor Matthew McConaughey as he amazingly disappears into being Woodruff.

Like McConaughey, Leto also went through a physical transformation to play Rayon. By the time filming began, Leto got down to dangerous 116 pounds. And Leto plays Rayon with charm, emotion, a touch of femininity, honest, vulnerable – he completely nails the character.  “I did get in touch with my feminine side, because it’s a strong attribute of the character. In terms of emotions it was important for me to study as much as I could about what it meant to be a transsexual woman, to get at how you see things and what you want out of life,” Leto has said. “Rayon is a ray of light, no pun intended. She is someone who wants to be loved and wants to love others, someone who wants to take care of people with humour and kindness. She looks to be electrified. I think she’s a spirit of hope, joy and optimism,” Leto continues.

Dallas Buyers Club feels like it is a documentary, with a countdown on the screen showing how many days it has been since Ron’s diagnosis. And we see him surviving much longer than the 30 days his doctor initially gave him.

“The way I approached playing him is to never forget that he was a businessman first, a man doing what was necessary to survive. Later on, he became a crusader for the cause, but almost without even knowing it. He helped save so many people, and whether he was doing it for all of us or doing it for selfish reasons, he did it,” McConaughey says. 

Dallas Buyers Club is an important movie that excellently captures the era when AIDS was considered a death sentence, the feel, the clothing, the hostility, the fear, the desperation, and the smell of death. It deserves every award it is going to get. 

By the mid-1990s, “the AIDS cocktail” combination therapies became accepted (and FDA approved) treatment protocol for HIV/AIDS patients. In reduced doses, AZT was an early ingredient in these lifesaving treatments. These drug combinations have saved and prolonged millions of lives; in a “cocktail combination,” three drugs each attack different elements of viral replication, thereby greatly reducing the effects of HIV. If it wasn’t for people like Woodruff in those early days, many more people with HIV would’ve succumbed to the virus.

In 1992, screenwriter Craig Borten asked Woodruff how he would feel about his story becoming a movie one day. Borten reports, “Ron said, ‘Man, I’d really like to have a film. I’d like people to have this information and I’d like people to be educated on what I had to learn by the seat of my pants about government, pharmaceutical agencies, AIDS. I’d like to think it all meant something in the end.’” 


07th Feb2014

The Patrol – Film

by timbaros

The-PatrolThe Patrol, opening today in UK cinemas, is a tense, dramatic and realistic film about four days in the life of a British Army patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Looking more like a documentary instead of a film, The Patrol is a study of the lives of the young men sent to, alongside the Afghan army,  fight the Taliban. Set in 2006, The Patrol begins at day 9, with the 6-man patrol team stuck in a small remote Afghan village on a mission called Icarius, to secure outposts in support of the Afghan army. They were sent to patrol the area, and at the same time battle the Taliban who are hiding somewhere in the desert. Forces are stretched and soldiers are ordered to lengthen their patrol. Morale is not very high, the men are under a lot of stress, and the radio they have only works intermittingly. The men have given each other nicknames, some have their last name as their nickname, however, one soldier (played by Alex McNally) has been given the name Ginge, for obvious reasons. The men are led by Sergeant Campbell (Nicholas Beveney), and it is Smudge (Nav Sidhu) who dominates the film as the wisecracking smarty pants of the group, with the best lines.

Day 11: Children of the local village play ball in the background, the skies are clear with not a cloud in the sky, it is another hot day in the desert, dust swirling about. This is also the day that one of their men – Taff (Owain Arthur) gets shot. They are ambushed with bullets coming out of nowhere, some bullets hitting one of their jeeps, rendering it unusable. Taff is airlifted to base for medical treatment. Meanwhile, there is a mysterious man on a bicycle who appears from time to time on the local roads.
Day 13: The men are told that Taff dies. The youngest soldier – Stab (Oliver Mott) cries, he doesn’t want to go on patrol anymore. The tension becomes thicker, and palpable.
Day 15: The soldiers disobey orders from the Sergeant to go on another ride along to patrol the area. The men question why they are there. With being one man down, do they really need go out on another dangerous patrol and risk their lives, and if so, for the sake of what? Questioning why he is there is Lieutenant Jonathan Bradshaw, whose wife has just given birth to a baby girl.
After 83 minutes, The Patrol is over. But it’s really not quite over. You get the feeling that this film is sending the message of ‘what was the point of the Afghan war’? It’s subtlety conveys a political message that getting into this war was a bad idea. The men take a stand against their sergeant by not following his orders for one last patrol as there is just no good reason to risk their lives. First time Director Tom Petch, who himself served in the army as a tank officer from 1989 to 1997, is obviously making a statement with The Patrol. It’s obvious that Petch is very critical of Britain’s involvement in the war. The Patrol is the first UK feature film about the conflict in Afghanistan.
Winning the Best Feature Award at Raindance Film Festival last year, The Patrol was shot over three weeks in the hot conditions of the Moroccan desert. Comparisons to Lone Survivor, the just-released film about four American soldiers ambushed by the Taliban in the Afghan mountains, will be made. But The Patrol goes one better with its very realistic account of the war. Britain is to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, after the death of 444 British soldiers, to date.


07th Feb2014

Prisoners – DVD

by timbaros

images-97Two young girls are snatched right outside their homes and their parents, along with the police, frantically try to find them in the very dramatic and highly suspenseful new film Prisoners.

The two girls are the daughters of two couples, one white couple, the Dovers – Keller and Grace (an amazing Hugh Jackman and Mario Bello) and the other a black couple, the Birches, Franklin and Nancy (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis). The girls were last seen playing outside of their homes on Thanksgiving day while a mysterious R.V. van was seen parked in their neighborhood earlier that day. Once both families realize the girls are missing, they notify the police and band together to search the surrounding area, including the woods, for them. The police investigation, headed up by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), is quick to find the van and it’s driver Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but there is no sign of the two girls. After attempting to run away from Loki, and not doing a good job of it as all he does is smash his car into a tree, Jones is quickly arrested and held for 48 hours. Jones has child kidnapper written all over his face: he has long hair, with glasses too large for his face, he is extremely introverted, and just very scary-looking, but he continues to admit that he had nothing to do with the kidnappings. Keller Dover thinks otherwise. He knows in his gut that Jones is quilty, and once Jones is released after not being charged, Keller gets obsessed and follows him everywhere. Then one night after he sees Jones trying to strangle a dog near his home, he kidnaps Jones and takes him to a run-down apartment building that Keller’s father once owned. Keller ties him up and repeatedly beats him, asking for the whereabouts of the two girls. Franklin Birch reluctantly helps Keller and for a few days both of them continue to beat and torture Jones, but Jones continues to not say anything helpful. In the meantime, at a candlelight vigil for the girls, Loki notices a young man acting funny. The man sees that he was noticed, and he drops his candle and runs away. Loki goes after him but loses him. Could this be the guy who kidnapped the girls? Loki gets just enough information about this guy to find out who he is and where he lives. He is finally captured and taken into police custody, but he grabs Loki’s gun in the interrogation room and shoots himself in the mouth. Is this the end of the investigation? Meanwhile, Keller continues to be very angry at Loki for not doing enough in the investigation, and blows up after he catches Loki following him. So who kidnapped the two girls? Are they still alive? Why doesn’t Loki do more to search for Jones? As for Jone’s aunt who he lives with, Holly (Melissa Leo), why doesn’t she seemed too concerned for Alex’s whereabouts? Why did Keller Dover meet detective Loki the day after the girls went missing and not on the night they were searching for them? And the one question I really want to know the answer to: Why were the dirty dishes from Thanksgiving still in the kitchen a few days after the girls went missing? Didn’t they have other family members/friends who could’ve helped with cleanup for the distraught parents?

The problem with Prisoners is that it raises more questions than it answers. There are several plot holes in the film, especially in the last 30 minutes of the film when the resolution of the mystery of the disappearance of the two girls take place. But then more questions come up. Why didn’t Alex Jones speak up? What was the Aunt’s reasoning behind what she did? Why wasn’t Grace Keller upset that her husband went missing? And my question: Why was this film close to two hours and twenty six minutes long? When Prisoners is at its conclusion, it is not really concluded as there is one major character who is missing and had not been found by the end of the film. Will he be found? We will never know.

The performances in Prisoners are what save it from being a really bad film. Hugh Jackman is incredible as the father of one or the missing girls. The horror on his face when he realizes that they are missing is so real, so emotional, so raw. He is the star of this film and it won’t surprise me if he gets nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. His performance overshadows all other performances in this film and is his best performance ever. Paul Dano is also excellent as the creepy Alex Jones who seems to be hiding something but won’t/can’t say what it is. Also his best performance ever. Viola Davis as Nancy Birch is also very good as the mother who is in pain, longing for her daughter to return, as does Maria Bello as Nancy Birch. All other performances in this film are just okay. Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki gives an under the radar performance, not his best role, as does Terence Howard as Franklin Birch and Melissa Leo as Holly Jones. But fault is given to write Aaron Guzikowski for his long winded script and to director Denis Villeneuve for not realizing that the story he is trying to tell falls apart as the film goes on.