Posts Tagged ‘Viola Davis’

Dollar Signs and Empty Promises

Widows

Director: Steve McQueen

Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Jacki Weaver, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Carrie Coon, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Brian Tyree Henry, Garrett Dillahunt, Cynthia Erivo

In a labyrinth tale which at times is difficult to follow, 12 Years a Slave and Shame director Steve McQueen weaves a tangled web in the contemporary Chicago crime drama Widows featuring an outstanding ensemble cast including a brilliant Viola Davis, Oscar winner for Fences, Oscar nominees Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as a ruthless hitman, Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) as a pushy Polish mother along with Oscar winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies) as Colin Farrell’s hectic father Tom Mulligan.

What sets Widows apart is that McQueen frames the film as a gritty more complex version of Oceans 8 with pivotal roles for Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki (The Tale) and Michelle Rodriguez as three widowed woman who decided to band together and conspire to do a heist to rob from alderman Mulligan played by Colin Farrell who is in a turf war with his contestant a rising African-American politician Jamal Manning played by Brian Tyree Henry (Hotel Artemis).

Daniel Kaluuya plays the insanely evil and vindictive younger brother Jatemme Manning who feels nothing as he tortures a snitch in a wheelchair or makes victims sing before executing them at point blank range.

Director Steve McQueen frames every shot with a keen eye for detail especially the excellent scenes with Viola Davis as she comes to terms with her husband and thief Harry Rawlings explosive demise, shot in a series of intimate flashbacks scenes made more poignant that action star Liam Neeson plays the street savvy thief Rawlings.

What Widows does offer is a sophisticated treatment of contemporary American race relations, inner city corruption, poverty and crime of which there is plenty in this film.

McQueen lets certain scenes linger too long while allowing others to be cut so short that their explosive nature is electrifying. Where he is excels is at is controlling this massive and diverse ensemble cast.

Veteran star Robert Duvall has a fairly major role as the paternal Trumpesque figure Tom Mulligan who is trying to retain his family’s supremacy in the political environment despite his son Jack’s dubious double dealing whose only achievement is offering dollar signs and empty promises.

Equally refreshing is to see Fast and Furious star Michelle Rodriguez in a more substantial role as she battles to keep her family together after her Latino husband Carlos, a briefly seen cameo by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo perishes in Rawling’s heist that goes terribly wrong.

Widows gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and has a massive twist which should keep audiences riveted in a sprawling crime drama held together by superb acting. Highly recommended viewing.

Pittsburgh Patriachy

Fences

Director: Denzel Washington

Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Stephen Henderson

Viola Davis gives a career defining performance in Fences, the big screen adaptation of the Pulitizer Prize winning play by August Wilson directed and starring Oscar winner Denzel Washington (Training Day, Glory). Davis whose previous credits include The Help, Eat, Pray, Love and Doubt recently won all the major acting awards including the Golden Globe, the Bafta and the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the 89th Academy Awards in February 2017.

Her performance in Fences is a testament to her immense talent. Davis plays Rose Maxson opposite Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson, a 1950’s African American garbage collector in Pittsburgh who punishes his sons for his own failed dreams.

Denzel Washington inhabits the screen in his larger than life portrayal of Troy, the Pittsburgh patriarch who is intent on demonstrating how hard he has worked to keep his family together, only to reveal far deeper character flaws and underlying fragility which comes out in the play’s stunning second act.

Troy’s sons Lyons and Cory, played by Russell Hornsby and Jovan Adepo are continually chided for pursuing their own dreams. Lyons, a son from Troy’s first relationship wants to be a jazz musician while the teenage Cory wonderfully played by Adepo is constantly held back from participating in the city’s football league merely because his father’s dreams of becoming a major football player were dashed at a young age.

Wilson carefully scripts the conflict scenes between Troy and Cory as they clash over ambition, careers and what is holding them back. Fences is about a working class African American family held together by Rose, as the mother figure who has to contend with all this male egotism and bravado, only to stoically continue when she is unforgivably betrayed.

Like all films based on plays, the action is limited to the Maxson’s house  and backyard where domestic clashes are played out in brilliant dialogue which requires exceptional acting capabilities. When Rose discovers a serious transgression of Troy, her security is shattered and her devotion to her husband is undoubtedly brought into question, causing a significant rift between Troy and Cory who cannot forgive his father for what he has done to his mother.

Directed by Denzel Washington and featuring brilliant performances by the entire cast, Fences is a superb film adaptation of an American classic elevating the lives of ordinary working class people to extraordinary clarity amidst a time when historically America was transforming through the significant Civil Rights movement. When JFK and Martin Luther King heralded a new decade in American politics defined by radical change and constant upheaval.

When the youth especially Cory and Lyons start questioning the wisdom of their parents decisions and more specifically their spectacular mistakes. Audiences should watch out for a particularly outstanding performance by Mykelti Williamson (Forest Gump, Heat, Con Air) as Troy’s disabled brother Gabriel.

Washington and Davis are electrifying as husband and wife and their screen time is a cinematic gem. Fences is highly recommended viewing, a brilliant film made all the more exceptional by Viola Davis’s unparalleled performance, in which she deserved every award bestowed upon her. Fences gets 9 out of 10.

89th Academy Awards

The 89th Academy Awards / The Oscars

Sunday 26th February 2017

OSCAR WINNERS AT THE 89TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS

Best Picture: Moonlight

Best Director: Damien Chazelle La La Land

Best Actor: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress: Emma Stone – La La Land

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali – Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis – Fences

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight

Best Cinematography: Linus Sandgren  – La La Land

Best Costume Design: Colleen AtwoodFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Make up & Hairstyling: Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, and Christopher NelsonSuicide Squad

Best Visual Effects: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Dan LemmonThe Jungle Book

Best Sound Editing: Sylvain BellemareArrival

Best Sound Mixing: Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie, and Peter GraceHacksaw Ridge

Best Film Editing: John Gilbert – Hacksaw Ridge

Best Production DesignDavid Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-WascoLa La Land

Best Documentary Feature:  O. J. Made in America directed by Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman directed by Asghar Farhadi (Iran)

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/89th_Academy_Awards

70th BAFTA Awards

THE  70th BAFTA AWARDS /

THE BRITISH ACADEMY FILM AWARDS

Took place on Sunday 12th February 2017 in London at the Royal Albert Hall

BAFTA WINNERS IN THE FILM CATEGORY:

Best Film: La La Land

Best Director: Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Best Actor: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress: Emma Stone – La La Land

Best Supporting Actor: Dev Patel – Lion

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis – Fences

Rising Star Award: Tom Holland

Best British Film: I, Daniel Blake directed by Ken Loach

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Luke Davies – Lion

Best Costume Design: Madeline Fontaine – Jackie

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul – directed by Lazlo Nemes

Best Animated Film: Kubo and the Two Strings

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/70th_British_Academy_Film_Awards

 

74th Golden Globe Awards

74th GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS

Took place on Sunday 8th  January 2017 hosted by

the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in Beverly Hills, California

GOLDEN GLOBE WINNERS IN THE FILM CATEGORIES:

Best Film Drama: Moonlight

Best Film, Musical / Comedy: La La Land

Best Director: Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Best Actor Drama: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress Drama: Isabelle Huppert – Elle

Best Actor M/C: Ryan Gosling – La La Land

Best Actress M/C: Emma Stone – La La Land

Best Supporting Actor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals

Best Support Actress: Viola Davis – Fences

Best Foreign Language Film: Elle directed by Paul Verhoeven (France)

 

 

Lunacy Prevails

Suicide Squad

suicide_squad

Director: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Jared Leto, Cara Delevigne, Common, David Harbour, Scott Eastwood, Ezra Miller

After David Ayer’s impressively realistic war film, Fury, it was announced that he would be directing the highly anticipated and edgy superhero film, Suicide Squad.

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Assembling an international cast would be easy. Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman and Oscar nominee Viola Davis were all on board but the real casting coup was having Oscar winner Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) play the Joker.

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Big crazy shoes to fill for Leto considering Oscar winner Heath Ledger did such a sterling job of playing The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s visually impressive The Dark Knight in 2008. And then there was Oscar winner Jack Nicolson’s wacky portrayal of Gotham’s most deranged villain in Tim Burton’s Batman back in the 1989.

So Suicide Squad is finally released with huge expectations including a brilliant trailer but is this new superhero film that mind-blowing? If viewers watch this film as a precursor for Warner Bros’s DC Comics expanding their cinematic universe following Batman versus Superman and the highly anticipated The Justice League to be released in 2017, then Suicide Squad will satisfy fanboys globally.

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What saves Suicide Squad is Margot Robbie’s exuberant performance as the psychopathic killer Harley Quinn who also happens to be The Joker’s deranged girlfriend.

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Equally good in Suicide Squad is Oscar nominee Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt) who plays a hard-nosed and ruthless head of a covert government organization and the brainchild behind assembling such a crazy bunch of humans and meta-humans to save Midway City, where the only bond tying the psycho killers together are a shared lunacy and the prospect of continued incarceration.

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What works against Suicide Squad is having such a young villain, model turned actress Cara Delevigne as the evil Enchantress whilst Leto’s crazy Joker has diminished screen time, but then again Leto is returning in The Justice League, so we shall see.

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Suicide Squad does lose the plot slightly, but as a superhero film especially with David Ayer at the helm, it could have been far edgier and definitely much sexier. This is where Deadpool got it right. If you are going to subvert the superhero genre do it properly especially with such a deranged cast of characters. The use of continued flashbacks in the narrative also detracts somewhat from the primary storyline.

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Despite the steam punk production design, Suicide Squad is not a brilliant film and certainly does not live up to its hype, but will be savoured by all superhero fanboys and if one views the film as a precursor to great things to come then it is outrageously entertaining. Audiences should definitely stay seated beyond the final credits.

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Unfortunately Will Smith and Joel Kinnaman seem to fumble in the film but that is primarily because they do not have sufficiently grittier and bloodier material to work with, a style which director David Ayer is more accustomed to.

See Fury to appreciate where Ayer’s real talent lies.

Trapped in Suburbia

Prisoners

prisoners_ver3

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, David Dastmalchian

French Canadian director of Foreign language film nominee Incendies Denis Villeneuve weaves a web of intrigue in the deeply disturbing suburban thriller Prisoners extracting a brilliant performance by his two central male leads, Oscar Nominees Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) set in a wintry landscape of Pennsylvania.

Prisoners bleak story revolves around two average American families (the Dovers and the Birches) whose daughters are best friends and after a relaxing Thanksgiving lunch, the girls are playing in the street where they are snatched in mysterious circumstances. The parents of the missing girls Keller Dover and his wife Grace played by Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello and the Birches played by Terrence Howard (Dead Man Down) and Viola Davis (Doubt, The Help) are naturally beside themselves with grief and worry.

In steps the local police Detective Loki, a superb performance by Jake Gyllenhaal who goes on a desperate mission to unravel the mystery of these vanished children, uncovering a whole web of secrets in the closely knitted Pennsylvanian community. The first suspect is the shy Alex Jones, wonderfully played by Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks, There will be Blood) who was parked in a RV that the abducted girls were playing on moments before they went missing, but upon questioning turns out to have a seemingly limited intelligence, covering up an even darker secret.

To complicate the investigation even further the fathers of the missing girls Keller Dover and Franklin Birch capture the scared Alex Jones soon after he is released from police custody and then start torturing him as a prisoner in an abandoned apartment convinced that he knows what happened to the little girls. Detective Loki is meanwhile hot on the trial of another suspect Bob Taylor played by David Dastmalchian, who has a penchant for buying children’s clothes at the local Valuemart.

Prisoners is a disturbing tale of how far a father will go to find his lost daughter and the also the ramifications that an abduction can have on a small town community. This is a disturbing film, slightly depressing as most of it is shot against a slate grey sky of an approaching Pennsylvania winter, but fortunately director Villeneuve has assembled a top notch cast including Oscar winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) as Alex Jones’s mysterious aunt Holly Jones.

Viewers have to concentrate in this film as the narrative drops clues all the time about who the real culprit is and as the tension mounts a disturbing twist is revealed whereby the hunter becomes the prey, an analogy first introduced in the opening shot when the ultra prepared and slightly neurotic Keller Dover, a wonderfully different performance by Hugh Jackman is teaching his teenage son Ralph how to hunt deer.

Prisoners only crime is that the riveting, yet gap filled narrative could have been more tightly written by screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski and certain scenes definitely required some crisp editing  to make the emotional resonance of the film more astounding.

Prisoners runs for 153 minutes which is fairly long for a suspense drama about child abduction in a murky and seemingly soulless American suburbia. If film goers enjoyed the Oscar winning Mystic River then Prisoners is that type of film although not as good. Disturbing, compelling and scary, Prisoners will take viewers into a maze of intrigue…

Reinvention of Romance

Nights in Rodanthe

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Romance is reinvented in the 2008 screen adaptation of the successful American author Nicholas Sparks novel Nights in Rodanthe, set on an island off the Outer Banks of the spectacular coastline of North Carolina, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. These two accomplished actors were previously seen together in the brilliant film Unfaithful and are now back together demonstrating that mature love stories are an everlasting draw card for audiences. Nights in Rodanthe directed by George C. Wolfe is a beautifully shot film about the turmoil of human emotions that ordinary people suffer from loss, regret, love and the general difficulties of balancing a family with the demands of a stressful career in contemporary society.

Diane Lane plays Adrienne Willis a Carolingian housewife whose husband abandoned her months ago, leaving her to deal with two children whose life is changed forever when she goes to Rodanthe a small coastal community to look after a friend’s gorgeous Bed and Breakfast for a couple of days only to fall in love with the one guest who arrives to solve a crisis of conscience, Dr Paul Flanner, a doctor from the city of Raleigh who is seeking to make amends with a man who blames him for his wife’s death. Both characters have emotional troubles and are certainly at turning points in their lives, when they spend a couple of nights together slowly revealing each other secrets and the tragedies that they have left behind.

Charlotte, North Carolina,

Fall 2005

Admittedly I am at a slight advantage in reviewing this film, because I have had the privilege of meeting the author Nicholas Sparks in Charlotte, North Carolina in the fall of 2005 and also having read some of his other novels, most famously The Rescue and The Notebook, starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams the latter of which was also turned into an historical love story, all set in Sparks home state of North Carolina. All his novels were international bestsellers and as a writer he has found a niche market, well-written romance novels about ordinary characters living under extraordinary circumstances as they deal with themes of love, redemption, loss and eternity.

As a film, Nights in Rodanthe is placed firmly in the tradition of Love Story and will primarily appeal to the female viewer, but what elevates this film is the extraordinary performances by both Gere and Lane who give maturity and significance to their brief affair, made more poignant by love letters written between them after Gere’s character Dr Flanner goes to Ecuador to make amends with his only son. The art of letter-writing so virtually extinguished in this digital age, is cherished here as are the simple pleasures of reflective contemplation, soul-searching and the emotions that accompany those that have discovered true love later in life, beautifully evoked with spectacular scenery of a turbulent coastline and an astonishing setting.

Eat, Pray, Love and Indulge…

Eat Pray Love

Successful TV series Glee director Ryan Murphy’s big screen adaptation of the Elizabeth Gilbert bestseller Eat Pray Love staring Julia Roberts as a New York writer who decides to embark on a years journey of spiritual discovery is infused with a luminous glow from the opening scene in luscious Bali.

No such thing as a guilty pleasure – just indulge!

Whilst any self-discovery novel is difficult to bring to the big screen especially as Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her own experience on a years trip to Italy, then India and finally Indonesia, Julia Roberts delivers a fine performance as Liz relishing in the exotic locations and a wonderful supporting cast which seems to improve as the 2 and a half hour film progresses.

Eat

The Italy section is superb and the locations especially Rome, the Italian actors and naturally the food are sumptuous and particularly easy on the viewer making the Eat section utterly enchanting.

Pray

Whilst Murphy tried to imitate the opening sequence of Slumdog Millionaire in the India section, the most moving part of the film is a standout character performance by Richard Jenkins as Richard from Texas.

For in the novel, Eat Pray Love, Richard from Texas was a character written with such accuracy and obvious charm that I kept wondering which actor would fill that part. Jenkins does a superb interpretation of a middle-aged American who has literally lost everything landing up at the Ashram to clear his mind and an overwhelming sense of guilt.

Love

The final section of Eat Pray Love, set in Bali was fascinating but after Italy and India, felt a tad faded although the scenery is still ravishing. As far as adaptation goes, the film sticks very close to the novel and Julia Roberts does a hugely impressive task of managing a character that has travelled not only literally across the globe, but also spiritually from a discontented New Yorker escaping an ugly divorce to a woman who has found serenity and peace as she discovers love again in a most unlikely man. Javier Bardem whilst always gripping to watch, gave the impression he was not quite comfortable in such a largely commercial film as Eat Pray Love. Bardem is more at home in edgier roles playing the Spanish seducer in Vicky Cristina Barcelona or the psychopathic killer in No Country for Old Men or the gay Cuban poet in Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls.

Bardem’s role as Felipe the love interest for Liz in the Love act of the journey lacked edge and panache in a role that was as unclear in the novel as it appeared in the film. Although watching Roberts and Bardem together was certainly interesting more for the lack of sparkle than the effort the two actors put in to contrive to make their romance believable.

Best scenes in the film are most certainly in Rome (all the sequences are exquisite) and the delightful meals Roberts character is served puts Babette’s Feast to shame. Worst scene in the film was the ending, but I’ll leave that up to the viewer to decide. Most consistency in Eat Pray Love was the varied choice of actors who played alongside Julia Roberts as her character travels the world, from Billy Crudup to  the shamefully underutilized James Franco to Richard Jenkins and finally to Javier Bardem.

As for it being a woman’s movie, not really as regardless of one’s gender anyone who has ever desired to travel or more importantly decided to take a year off from the monotony of urban living and responsibility and see countless exotic locations could surely identify with Liz’s journey. Eat Pray Love should feature at the Awards season if not for Julia Roberts most certainly for a supporting actor nomination for Richard Jenkins. Whilst it is no Razor’s Edge, Eat Pray Love will find many ardent fans the world over.

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