The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Season 1

I gave this show a try for no particular reasons. I knew it had won awards and praise, but not so much that I felt I absolutely had to watch it, particularly given that no one I knew was actually watching it. Nothing about the brief blurb I read particularly connected with me, there weren’t any actors that I recognised and to be honest the trailer rather put me off. I think I probably just watched it because I couldn’t face surfing through Netflix’s endless lists so I just plumped for the thing it was advertising at the top. From that incredibly apathetic start came one of my favourite experiences watching television for a long time.

I think ‘charming’ is probably the word that I’d most use. Which is a little odd because there’s a lot of weight and depth to the show. Just like the main character – on the surface there’s politeness and wit and bubbliness; but underneath is real emotion, heartache even; not to mention some well delivered vulgarity.

The blurb will make you expect a TV show about being a stand-up comic, particularly a female one; however it’s as much about being a ‘good’ Jewish housewife, about defying expectations. It’s not about whether she’s a comic who happens to be those things, or a housewife who happens to be a comic. Mrs Maisel is a fully realised character, a REAL character, one who is still working out who she is and what she wants to be, while dealing with the expectations and perceptions of all those around her, and that she puts on herself.

There are some really beautiful moments throughout the series. They’re so exquisitely written that I could write entire essays about them. The writers do not constrain themselves with standard approaches, they write just like life – serious ideas that are surrounded with comedy, or stand up routines that are full of pure emotion. I laughed at sad bits, cried at funny bits, and literally applauded the screen. I wanted to watch the whole thing without stopping, but I also wanted to savour it and make it last longer.

There are some series that seem unremarkable in offering, and even on first glance if you’re not paying attention, when you’re watching can seem nothing special. But a little bit of thought and focus and you’ll find something that will really stick with you and you’ll cherish. That’s Mrs Maisel.

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Books in March

Sometimes I actually read things rather than watch them flicker before my eyes. March was actually a good month for reading, so makes a good starting point for my monthly summary of what I’ve read. (Plus I didn’t watch much TV so haven’t got much to write about on that front.)

Neil Gaiman – Sandman Vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
A couple of decades ago at university (oh, how it hurts to write decades) Sandman was the thing that all my friends obsessed with. It’s taken me this long to get round to finally reading it and I was left significantly underwhelmed. Nothing about it worked for me. I’m going to blame 3 factors.
1) I don’t really get on with graphic novels. I find it hard to take time to ‘read’ the pictures rather than just the words. I also didn’t really like the graphic style of this one.
2) I don’t really like it when I’m forced to join a lot of the dots together. I struggled to keep track of some of the characters given the jumping time frame and never really cared about any of them.
3) As I was reading I couldn’t help but think of how obsessive people got about the series, particularly of course the more goth end of the spectrum of my friends. That just made me feel rather grown up and dull.
I don’t think I’ll bother reading the rest of them, I certainly won’t buy them, as they’re a far more expensive cost per minute than non-graphic novels, and I don’t get the proportionate increase in enjoyment.

Agatha Christie
There’s something comforting about Agatha Christie. I’ve never read one and been disappointed, although I can’t say as I’m ever blown away by them either. It’s like settling into a comfy sofa with a good friend and a nice cup of tea – relaxing, unchallenging and just plain nice. I read two this month, both very cheap on Amazon kindle.
Mysterious Affair at Styles: has a fairly mercurial Poirot as seen through the eyes of a rather dim-witted Hastings, investigating a family full of pretty unlikeable people. Poirot’s smugness gets a little waring at times, but as Hastings feels the same way, it has a muted impact on the reader. The mystery develops very well and I found it satisfying that I was sometimes ahead, and sometimes behind of the reveals.
Cat Among the Pigeons: A slightly odd Agatha Christie, given that it’s billed as a Poirot novel but he doesn’t turn up until about 2/3 of the way through the book, giving it an odd lack of focus. I’m not sure the mystery is one of her best, and the setting at a posh girls’ school and all the usual character types is also a bit cliche (although of course it may not have been at the time). So it’s not one of her great classics, but it’s still perfectly readable.

Roger Zelazny – Amber 1: Nine Princes in Amber
It’s always interesting to finally get round to reading classics, they can feel cliche because so many have imitated them, but there was something still very fresh about Zelazny’s work. It comes from an era of SF that didn’t waste any words or pages, leaping straight into things and just getting on with them. The initial amnesia of the central character is both a useful way to introduce the audience, but also very carefully done with the gradual realisation of memories and experiences. It wasn’t something that I finished and immediately jumped on the second book, but I think there’s a good chance I’ll continue reading the series.

Genevieve Cogman – The Invisible Library
A first time author who has come up with a passable excuse for throwing together all the tropes that she wants to. You’ve got steampunk zeppelins, great detectives, magic, werewolves, dragons… pretty much anything you want. It’s quite blatant, but the glue holding them together is just about solid enough that she gets away with it. I’m not sure anything made a huge amount of sense, but things move along quickly enough it doesn’t matter. The central character is vibrant and pleasant company, although everyone around her is rather one-dimensional and clunky. A fun read and I’m not ruling out picking up some more books in the series.

London Transport Museum – London by Design: The Iconic Transport Designs that Shaped our City
This is a beautiful book, but ultimately rather unsatisfying. Visitors and curators at The London Transport museum picked their favourite pieces of design, an impressively wide sample including specific posters, architecture of stations, specific types of bus, pieces of equipment, fonts and layouts of public spaces. Each item then gets a double page spread, mostly comprising of photos with a short quote from a member of the public about why they chose it, and a very short piece from a curator explaining its importance. The problem is that I wanted to know more about most of the things, and I wanted it to be told a bit more chronologically about how each type of item (eg design of tube stock) evolved. It whetted the appetite but left you nowhere to go next.

Films in March

I said a while ago that I was going to start including films and books here, so I think it’s time I delivered on that. So, I’m going to try to do a quick monthly round up of what I’ve watched and read.

New releases:
The Square (cinema): There’s some great stuff in this film. Some properly laugh out loud observation and humour, particularly in the weird reality of a modern art museum. It would have worked really well as a sitcom in the vein of W1A or The Thick of It. Unfortunately it was in the wallowing pretension of a 2.5 hour long film, which was determined to ram home some messages and morals as well. There were too many strands, and many of them were just left hanging or forgotten. So the film was both too long and incomplete. It’s a shame because the funny bits were incredibly well done.

Mute (Netflix): The style will be incredibly familiar to anyone who’s seen Bladerunner or Altered Carbon, but it’s a solid entry into the genre that kept me engaged the whole way through. I can’t think of anything else to say really, it’s not a classic for all time, but it’s perfectly satisfactory.

Annihilation (Netflix): I thought this film was absolutely rubbish. It took me two attempts to get through it because I was falling asleep on the first viewing, and that was even before I reached the part where everything got completely bonkers. I didn’t mind that the overall setup was weird, I objected to the fact that they kept trying to explain it with science (which was both dubious and boring), and that the characters made no sense at all. I actually watched the whole thing a second time because I read so many good reviews that I was beginning to think I’d missed something. I watched it with someone who’d read the book and added some background and context that made things make a bit more sense… but I still didn’t particularly like the film and from the sounds of it I wouldn’t like the book either. Some people may say that it didn’t get a cinema release because studios are scared that people won’t watch ‘smart’ sf. But the problem isn’t that this is too smart, it’s that it’s too stupid!

New for me:
Colossal (Amazon Prime): The concept at the centre of the film is bonkers, but that really doesn’t matter because, like all good science fiction, it’s about the fallout from the central idea. The character development here is fascinating and the things go in directions that you might not predict, but that still make perfect sense. The whole thing is smart, original, witty and incredibly satisfying.

Once (was on Amazom): I gave this film two attempts, the first time I wasn’t feeling it I assumed it was because I was in a grumpy mood, but even a couple of weeks later in the middle of a relaxing day, it still didn’t work for me. The biggest personal problem was that I didn’t really like the music in it, but I think even without that I would still have been slightly irritated by the noodling tempo and awkward characters.

Hampstead (Amazon Prime): Twee. There really is no other word for this than twee. It’s passably entertaining thanks to the always wonderful Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson but they’re struggling with a clunky script and the supporting cast are bogged down with ploddy characters.

Rewatches
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DVD): This is the kind of film that’s just joyous to watch, I had a smile on my face just about the whole way through the film and at one point laughed so suddenly I choked on my ice cream. The world is immersively vibrant, the character are completely alive, the story is completely engaging and the script is hilariously snappy, the whole thing is just a complete joy. I will admit that there were a couple of scenes that dragged a smidge and surprisingly I found Cate Blanchett’s the weakest performance (and accent) of the bunch, but those are really very minor quibbles. I could cheerfully have gone straight back and watched this a second time!

The Terminal (Amazon Prime): This is a very sweet comedy with a slightly uncomfortable thread of xenophobic drama. The concept of someone living solely in an airport is quite a cute one, but the way they manage to get the character stuck there, and the way he is treated by immigration is pretty horrific. The film is very much a throwback to Tom Hanks romantic comedies of the past, which in some ways is good, but in other ways seems like a bit of a waste of his and Spielberg’s talents. I like that the film avoids some of the standard cliches and I really enjoyed the first 1/2 but there’s some more dramatic stuff in the 2nd half that felt a little misplaced within the overall tone. And dear lord there’s a lot of product placement! Still, I will happily watch Tom Hanks do just about anything.

Dark Matter: Seasons 1-3

I’m in a bit of a TV funk at the moment (well, an all-round funk really but let’s keep on subject) and all I’m really in the mood for is easy to watch stuff. I don’t really want to be overly challenged, or have it pointed out how awful the world can be. Friends recommended Dark Matter to me on those criteria and it did a pretty good job of filling the need.

What you don’t have here is anything revelatory. It’s not science fiction that’s pushing boundaries at all, it takes every single trope and basic idea ever seen in Star Trek or Stargate and applies them without a huge amount of creativity. And to be honest, often without a huge amount of talent or quality either. It’s resoundingly second rate in budget, set, cast and innovation. It’s also notably lacking in visual style beyond “how can we redecorate this warehouse this week?”.

So, how come I watched all three seasons (39 episodes) in just a couple of weeks? Well it has two things going for it, the first is a simple and easy trick which is that the last 2 minutes of each episode form a teaser for the next episode. So every episode has a cliffhanger and sucks you into the next. Cheap, but effective.

The second reason is that it always manages to do just enough to keep you engaged, getting itself microscopically across the boundary where any lower and you’d give up on it. The ideas it plays with are interesting enough, and could have been very interesting if they’d been better developed. The cast mostly lacks in experience and depth, but The Android and Three manage to standout and develop interesting and complex characters beyond what the script is offering them. And every now and then there’s a flash of real charm or the beginnings of a great little idea that sucks you in again before gradually decaying away.

This series worked for me because I went in with low expectations and low requirements. It’s a shame because with a couple of bigger actors to headline it, a bigger budget to play with and a bit more polish to the script it could have been a real gem.

90th Academy Awards

Yesterday I posted my full reviews of 8 out of the 9 nominees for best picture and my thoughts on what should and will win (tldr – I think Dunkirk should win, although I didn’t see Ladybird which might have been a contender, but I think Shape of Water will win). By my count there were 4 films which received at least one nomination, and I saw 23 of them, a very respectable 52% (the same as last year). In terms of nominations there were a total of 106 slots, and I saw the films that contributed to 82 of them, 77% which I’m very happy with (7% higher than last year). I’m just kicking myself I haven’t seen Ladybird which is the only film with more than one nomination that I haven’t seen (plus it looked good and I really want to see it). Below are my thoughts on the nominations, occasional mentions of missed nominations and my predictions for what will win.

Lead Actor:

  • Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name – He did a good job with a very mediocre script, forced to talk in a way that no real human person would ever talk.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread – I never got a sense of what this character was really like, whether he really loved or cared about any of the other characters or was even self aware of what he was like. Not sure if that’s script or performance, but either way, it didn’t make for a strong nomination.
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out – Interesting. This didn’t occur to me while I was watching, but there’s a huge range to the performance from quite cheesy comedy and the kind of ridiculous situations that appear in horror films, but also there’s real depth to the character and the quality of Kaluuya’s performance make this more than ‘just’ a cheesy horror.
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour – unrecognisable physically and completely inhabiting the role, far from just a caricature
  • Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq. – Sorry Denzel, I haven’t seen it. Although I’m sure he’s superb as usual
  • Wouldn’t it have been something to see Hugh Jackman here for Wolverine in Logan. It really was an impressive performance in Logan, that delivered incredible emotional punch. Tom Hanks gave a storming performance in The Post as well, maybe that’s just what is expected from him now though. Of course it wouldn’t have mattered because the award should and will go to Gary Oldman. For the record my runner up would be Kaluuya.

    Lead Actress:

  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water – an impressive performance with the restriction of zero dialogue
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – McDormand for me was about the only thing that truly worked in this film.
  • Margot Robbie, I, Tonya – Just like her character, I don’t think she’s got as much attention and praise as she deserved. It’s a brash performance on the surface, bordering on comedy sometimes, but there’s also depth to it.
  • Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird -I haven’t seen it, but she’s 23 and this is her third nomination (this, Brooklyn and one for supporting in Atonement 10 years ago!)
  • Meryl Streep, The Post – I was expecting a powerful character and performance and was hugely surprised and impressed that the character was nowhere near as forceful as expected, but the performance was exquisite as usual
  • Again, it’s bad luck to be nominated this year against Frances McDormand, but Robbie is the runner up for me. I would have put Jessica Chastain in for Molly’s Game too, seems odd that Vicky Krieps wasn’t nominated for Phantom Thread given she actually had a more interesting character than Day Lewis. I’m also a bit surprised that Judy Dench wasn’t nominated for Victoria and Abdul.

    Supporting Actor:

  • Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project – not seen.
  • Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – a quiet performance, mostly quite unremarkable, but with some very nuanced scenes in the middle. Shame his character didn’t make much sense. The nice guy he played didn’t go at all with his actions – why did he not do a better job of communicating with the family of a murdered girl, or dealing with an out of control subordinate?)
  • Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water – wonderful as ever. Many of his scenes look on the surface to be the comic relief, but there’s a depth to him that’s heartbreaking.
  • Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World – not seen, but it’s an impressive achievement to turn in a performance at such short notice
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – he played all the extremes of his character expertly, despite the fact the plot made very little sense for him.
  • I think Sam Rockwell will win, and I don’t think I disagree. I could also have put Patrick Stewart in here for Logan

    Supporting Actress:

  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound – I didn’t think there was much nuance in the role or the film as a whole.
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya – hilarious and terrifying, this is a long way from CJ and a great comedic and dramatic performance all at once.
  • Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread – a performance as someone restraining their feelings is only impressive if they also reveal what it is they’re restraining. I didn’t know whether Manville’s character loved or loathed those aorund her, or just didn’t give a crap and was thinking about her pay cheque or what was for lunch.
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird – She’s one of the reasons I’m annoyed I haven’t seen this.
  • Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water – sorry, but there wasn’t enough here to warrant a nomination for the always excellent Octavia Spencer.
  • I align with popular opinion again and will be happy to see Allison Janney lift the award. Wouldn’t it have been lovely to see Carrie Fisher in here for Star Wars

    Director:

  • Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan – the scale of the filming was phenomenal. The sheer number of extras, special effects and visual effects, stunts, sets and locations that required coordination breathtaking. And then to not lose the individual stories in there, was a true marvel.
  • Get Out, Jordan Peele – was there anything outstanding in the direction of this? I don’t really think so. The script and performances, yes. But the direction, while well done, wasn’t anything special that I recall.
  • Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig – I wish I’d seen this so that I could offer comment beyond “only the 5th woman to be nominated for best director”.
  • Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson – It was stylish, in the way that you’d expect a story set in 1950s about fashion to be stylish. The richness and attention to detail, focus on stitches and the perfection was very real.
  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro – if the director is to blame for a runtime, then I think this is where the film fell down. The pacing was too slow, spending too much time really drilling home every look, every bit of body language, until all subtlety was lost and I was bored.
  • I think this one should go to Christopher Nolan, it’s the bigger achievement to deliver a technically difficult film and make a film that’s more than just a technical achievement. The absolute cynic in me wonders if they’d give it to Greta Gerwig for political reasons, but I think they’ll award Guillermo del Toro. Missing – I wasn’t actually a big fan, but wouldn’t it have been fantastic for Patty Jenkins to be nominated for Wonder Woman and double the number or women director nominations

    Animated Feature:

  • The Boss Baby – I didn’t like the trailers so didn’t bother. There seems some surprise it was nominated.
  • The Breadwinner – not even heard of it I’m afraid
  • Coco – There was a lot of good in Coco in terms of the bigger stuff – style, message and heart; but I was slightly underwhelmed with the ‘small’ stuff like plot and pacing.
  • Ferdinand – looked unremarkable
  • Loving Vincent – this looked like an incredible artistic achievement, although I’ve got no idea of the plot etc.
  • I rather hope Loving Vincent wins from the point of view of the greater artistic achievement, but I think it will go to Coco.

    Adapted Screenplay:

  • Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory – awful. No one talks or behaves like real human beings.
  • The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – Not seen
  • Logan, Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green – I was impressed at this film, a moving character piece about aging, while also still an entertaining superhero film.
  • Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin – the master of dialogue is on fire here, except for a miss-step (on a park bench) that I found unforgivable.
  • Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees – the dreary narrative was completely unnecessary and spoilt the film.
  • Of that list, I think I’d vote for Molly’s Game, but I suspect the Academy will go for Call Me by Your Name. Death of Stalin should have been nominated.

    Original Screenplay:

  • The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani – I know it’s based on a true story, rather limiting the creativity, but the structure didn’t work for me, I just didn’t see the couple in it, they had too little time together for this to feel like the romance was justified.
  • Get Out, Jordan Peele – both classic and original, a by the numbers horror film with the twists and turns you’d expect, but with a modern look at race that just adds to the horror.
  • Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig – not seen
  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – solid idea, but I just don’t think there’s anything remarkable here.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh – sorry, but this didn’t work for me. I didn’t feel that the story made any sense, that the characters (including the off-screen ‘town’) behaved logically and threads were raised and dropped indiscriminately (particularly the race element and the criminally underused ‘black best friend’ cliché)
  • I would have like to see I, Tonya here, the creativity of mixing interviews and live action, and breaking the fourth wall was really innovative and worked incredibly well. Get Out is the winner for me, but I think the award will go to Three Billboards.

    Cinematography:

  • Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins – beautiful. I was bored almost to tears by the film, but at least that gave me plenty of time to appreciate the visuals.
  • Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel – I didn’t think there was anything special here
  • Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema – completely immersive in each of the settings
  • Mudbound, Rachel Morrison – the cinematography does stick with you, you can almost feel the mud and the rain and the dreariness of the environment. Also, the first ever woman to be nominated for cinematography. Yup, really.
  • The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen – the tone of water throughout was quite mesmerising, it did have a very interesting and immersive style to it.
  • Roger Deakins for Blade Runner surely, if for no other reason than this is his fourteenth nomination and he’s never won!

    Best Documentary Feature:

  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail – not seen
  • Faces Places – not seen
  • Icarus – the revelations of the Russian state driven doping scandal were breathtaking, but the documentary structure was muddled and confusing given the filmmakers seemed to stumble into the revelation by accident.
  • Last Men in Aleppo – not seen
  • Strong Island – an incredibly powerful and personal account of the murder of the filmmaker’s brother.
  • Of the two I’ve seen, Strong Island would be hard to beat.

    Best Foreign Language Film:

  • A Fantastic Woman (Chile); The Insult (Lebanon); Loveless (Russia); On Body and Soul (Hungary) The Square (Sweden)
  • I haven’t seen any of these, despite having seen several really great foreign films last year, but I suspect that the year of release is different. I’ve heard great things about both Loveless and A Fantastic Woman so i think I’ll guess at A Fantastic Woman.

    Film Editing:

  • Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss – the key thing about this film is the editing and the sound, keeping many of the sequences feeling like music videos without making it gimicky or annoying is an impressive achievement.
  • Dunkirk, Lee Smith – there was a huge amount to be pieced together here, but I wouldn’t think it was anything that other blockbuster action type films do.
  • I, Tonya, Tatiana S. Riegel – there are some clever edits for the ice skating segments, and some very well timed edits for the pieces to camera
  • The Shape of Water, Sidney Wolinsky – I didn’t notice the editing at all. Is he responsible for how drawn out it was?
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jon Gregory – Ditto
  • I think Baby Driver was the one that was doing the most interesting and original work here.

    Sound Editing / Sound mixing – the same films are nominated for both and I still don’t understand the difference

  • Baby Driver – As for editing, the sound landscaping is integral to the film, perhaps the entire point of it.
  • Blade Runner 2049 – I watched this on one of the superscreens with the boosted sound system and I do remember a lot of deep rumbling noises that helped me not fall alseep
  • Dunkirk- the sound was absolutely key to the immersiveness of this film, the gunfire and explosions, the sound in the plane and the relative peace of the chugging boat engine.
  • The Shape of Water – so much dripping that I noticed a higher than normal percentage of the audience taking bathroom breaks
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi – a lot of created noises blending together
  • As usual, I’m going to completely guess here. Let’s go Dunkirk for mixing and Star Wars for editing.

    Production Design:

  • Beauty and the Beast – if you’re just developing an animated film into a real life, I’m not sure you can really take credit.
  • Blade Runner 2049 – yup, lots of interesting design.
  • Darkest Hour – nothing special I thought, lots of recreating historical stuff and not much creativity that I could see.
  • Dunkirk – ditto.
  • The Shape of Water – Very beautiful and interesting to look at, the mixture of period industrial, with the detailed homes of the characters and the theme of water across absolutely everything.
  • I sometimes wonder whether animated films are eligible here, the design of Coco was absolutely stunning. I think Shape of Water was the most creative and original.

    Original Score:

  • Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer – another one of the excellent and complex elements building this film
  • Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood – sorry, I can’t remember the music.
  • The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat – the tonal wateriness of this was impressive, blending with and supporting the style of the film.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams – still managing to bring something new to the Star Wars score after all these years. A legend.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Carter Burwell – I’ve got no memory of the music I’m afraid
  • I do love John Williams, but I think I’d have to vote for Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score. I suspect the academy will reward Jonny Greenwood, but for the There Will Be Blood soundtrack which was disqualified on a petty technicality a few years ago.

    Original Song:

  • Mighty River from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige – unremarkable, and I’m not 100% sure that it went with the style/tone of the film, I think it just played over the end credits.
  • Mystery of Love from Call Me by Your Name, Sufjan Stevens – I at least remember this song being in the film and the tone matches much better. I wouldn’t chose to listen to it, but I also wouldn’t necessarily switch the radio off.
  • Remember Me from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez – not only matching the film in tone and style, but a really integral part of the story. Not my favourite Disney song, but it’s a solid entry.
  • Stand Up for Something from Marshall, Diane Warren, Common – I’ve not seen the film, but I like the song and it seems to match the subject at least.
  • This Is Me from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul – a catchy tune, with a powerful message and the absolute heart and soul of the film.
  • This is Me should and will win.

    Makeup and Hair:

  • Darkest Hour – I presume this nomination is all about making someone who looks nothing like Churchill a dead ringer for him. Which was impressive.
  • Victoria and Abdul – I have no memory of anyone’s hair or makeup.
  • Wonder – some heavy prosthetics work I understand, particularly challenging on a young child I would imagine.
  • I find this category baffling. Only 3 nominations, but where are films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars which have a huge amount of complex hair, makeup and prosthetics, requiring skill and creativity. Or even just Shape of Water for the monster design and making it something the incredible Doug Jones could work in. Guardians should win this one, but Darkest Hour will.

    Costume Design:

  • Beauty and the Beast – does it really count if you’re just re-creating something done in animation?
  • Darkest Hour – similarly, it’s all just straight period costume, and not exactly an exciting period (costume-wise) at that
  • Phantom Thread – given that the costumes were about as much a part of the film as any of the characters, there really was some outstanding work
  • The Shape of Water – unremarkable
  • Victoria and Abdul – more recreating period pieces, but they’re a lot more varied and impressive
  • What I think should win, and what will win – The Phantom Thread

    Visual Effects:

  • Blade Runner 2049; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; Kong: Skull Island; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; War for the Planet of the Apes
  • By this point, I’ve lost the will a bit, I’m not sure how to really compare those films. I’m semi-randomly going to pick Star Wars. They turned puffins into porgs

    Shorts
    I watched 4 out of the 15 shorts, which is pathetic to be honest, but I ran out of time to seek the documentaries and live action shorts out on youtube.

    Animated Short:

  • Dear Basketball – stunning. Stunningly animated, a beautiful poem and a powerful message. Less than 4 minutes long and so powerful.
  • Garden Party – odd. The animation is a little uncanny valley, but it’s cleverly constructed.
  • Lou – cute idea, nice animation on Lou and everything you expect from Pixar.
  • Negative Space – trailer only. The animation looks original and nicely animated.
  • Revolting Rhymes – based on Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake’s work, this trailer really made me want to watch.
  • Dear Basketball is the clear standout.

    Best Documentary Short Subject:

  • Edith+Eddie – available on Youtube but I only watched the trailer. It looks heartbreaking
  • Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 – as above.
  • Knife Skills – unlike some of the others here that I felt I should watch, I actually wanted to watch this based on the trailer
  • Traffic Stop – not sure that I feel I need to watch the rest of the film after watching the depressingly familiar trailer
  • Heroin(e) – availabie on Netflix. A fascinating case study of an American town that has a catastrophic drugs problem, but not with the standard from the point of view of the violence or criminality, but from the point of view of the people trying to save lives. Very interesting
  • A hard group to compare, particularly only based on the trailers, Knife Skills, because I think more people would watch it.

    Best Live Action Short Film:

  • DeKalb Elementary; The Eleven O’Clock; My Nephew Emmett; The Silent Child; Watu Wote/All of Us
  • I’m out of time, so I pick The Silent Child entirely randomly.

    90th Academy Awards – Best Picture Nominees

    My thoughts on the nominees for Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards, tomorrow I’ll share my picks and predictions for the other awards.

    Call Me By Your Name
    I wasn’t enthusiastic about seeing this, I thought the trailer was tedious and the name ridiculous. But there was nothing else on and it’s getting a lot of award nominations, so I gave it a try. It was insufferable. I was bored, annoyed and irritated by hokey writing and cheesy direction. The characters never talked like normal people, the development of the relationship never felt natural and it was so slow I was begging it to be over. The film makers made a critical error when they didn’t spell out the age difference, they did eventually indicate that Elio was 17, but Oliver’s age was never given (apparnetly he’s 24 in the book) and Armie Hammer is 29 and looks considerably older, so I wasn’t sure how creeped out I was supposed to be. The acting was good though, even if they were delivering a nonsensical script.

    Darkest Hour
    This is a film of a performance. Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill is nothing short of miraculous. The physical transformation is key to it, I don’t believe that anyone but his closest friends would have recognised Oldman beneath the prosthetics and makeup. However this isn’t just an impersonation, because Oldman also delivers depth to the character. I’m sure the physical transformation helped him find the character, and mimicking the intonation and phrasing helped the voice; but it is the realisation of complex, contradictory and fully rounded person that is gaining him the awards. I don’t think the film around the performance really rises to the same level. The rest of the characters are sorely under-developed, with people either for, or against our hero; heroes and villains. The narrative itself indicates just how precarious events were, and just how easily Churchill could have been wrong; but the emotional presentation manipulates you to villainise the critics anyway. While the period sets and costumes were very impressive, much of the direction was unremarkable, bordering on twee at times, and there were some clunking scenes and lines in the script. Really this is a 10/10 performance in a 7/10 film.

    Dunkirk
    I had a couple of problems. First – I didn’t understand the structure of the film until near the end. I’ve had a couple of people suggest that I’m an idiot, but a similar number of people have agreed that it’s confusing. Once you know that the there are three stories woven together but that each is covering a different period, it makes sense. But without that knowledge, I was distracted by the fact it was dark in one scene and light in the next; everything seemed to be happening too fast in one of the stories and that meant it lost some emotional impact (it’s not an incredibly bad day, it’s an absolutely horrific week). The second problem was that I couldn’t keep track of the young soldiers, I think that was intentional, after all these are just a small representation of the thousands of men there, they are just faces to some of the numbers. But it did mean, in a practical way, I couldn’t keep track of some of the action and connect bits up.
    Everything else about the film however is incredible. Literally breath-taking, I can’t remember the last time I jumped or gasped so much in the cinema. It’s an immersive and intimate experience that shows up in your heart rate. Every actor gave it their all, but also showed restraint – there are very few moments of big emotion, for the most part everyone is just too tired and resigned for that. It’s a superb piece of film making.

    I, Tonya
    The early months of the year are always a mixture of optimism and slog for film watching. The wave of award nominated films make for some real jems, but also some dull pretentiousness. I seem to have had a bit of a role with films that I’m told are Good, Important and Worthy, and that I have found underwhelming and frankly a bit dull. Thank heavens for I, Tonya. Finally I got to watch a film that I found both impressive and thoroughly entertaining. I knew the headlines of the story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, but none of the details or the backstory. A mark of the success of the film is that by the time it came to the ‘incident’ I had sort of forgotten about it. The background is absolutely fascinating and that, and the quality of performances would probably have been enough to make this a good film. But it’s the construction of the film with interviews to camera that really make it stand out. I laughed out loud throughout the film from the humour, the ridiculousness of the situations and occasionally the horribleness of the characters. Despite the number of award nominated films I’ve watched in recent months, I can’t think of one I’ve been so happy to have seen.

    Ladybird
    I’m kicking myself because this is the only film that I haven’t managed to see. It doesn’t actually seem to have got a very wide release in the UK, neither my local Cineworld or Odeon are showing it which is a real shame, particularly as it has only been on release a week and it’s been snowing pretty much the whole time limiting my desire to travel. I am looking forward to seeing it, the trailer had a nice balance of humour and drama, and also looked quirky and stylish without being irritating.

    Phantom Thread
    I was uninspired by the trailer, but my favourite film reviewers both vouched for it – Mark Kermode has a tendency to like rather pretentious twaddle, but Simon Mayo is usually more reliable for knowing what ‘normal’ people actually like to watch. So given they both gave it an enthusiastic review for being both meaningful AND enjoyable I gave it a try. They let me down.
    Firstly it committed the cardinal sin of being boring, I continually wanted to look at a watch I wasn’t wearing to see how much longer I’d have to endure, and while it wasn’t quite bad enough that I would have given up on it, I certainly was wishing for it to be over faster than it was. There were brief moments of wit, but they were too small and too dispersed to give any real enjoyment. I didn’t quite get a handle on the characters, I never felt like they had a strong enough core to define them. I didn’t really know whether they liked each other, let alone loved one another. The style of it was vaguely interesting, and some of the ideas too, but neither was well enough developed to really make that the centrepiece of the film. I was utterly underwhelmed.

    The Post
    It’s somewhat astonishing that Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have never worked together before, and when you add on an excellent supporting cast and an interesting, and topical, historical event you’re on to a winning formula. I would suggest that the film doesn’t really do much more than put those ingredients together and let it go, there’s not much in the way of embellishment or decoration to it, but then good ingredients do speak for themselves. Everyone is on solid form and the whole thing trips along nicely, just about keeping me understanding a story and background that I knew almost nothing about. I don’t think there’s anything particularly remarkable about the film, but when it brings so many greats together, it can’t help but be something a little bit special.

    The Shape of Water
    I’d been looking forward to this film. I’ve enjoyed many of Guillermo del Toro’s films and been impressed by the style and blending of fairy tale and horror. For the first half hour or so of the film I tried to immerse myself in the beautiful look of it, the quirky characters and the unusual pacing of the dialogue with chatty characters balanced by the silence of the lead characters, who still managed to say a lot even if they weren’t speaking. But after a while I realised that I was trying to immerse myself in it, and trying to enjoy it, rather than actually being immersed or enjoying it. It felt like it was trying to force feelings that weren’t there. After I realised that, the rest of the film became a little bit of a slog. When the dream sequence started my brother and I looked at each other and just rolled our eyes. I was actually very glad it was over when it eventually trudged to a halt.
    There’s something bugging me about the whole film. At its heart it’s a basic monster movie, I know a lot of people have related it to Beauty and the Beast, but for me it was more King Kong. I don’t know at what point it was decided to try and make it ‘more’ than ‘just’ a monster movie, but I think that was a real mistake. Monster movies, or science fiction, or horror already have all the scope to say more than just “the monster needs to escape”, there is always subtext and metaphor, but they don’t have to make a song and dance about it. Yes, they can form a connection without speaking, we get it, we don’t need long drawn out scenes to make the point. You can still get all that power without sacrificing pacing, action, comedy or character. And you can certainly integrate those things without having to have each scene and character fulfill one aspect. For the amount of talent, money, and runtime that this film has, it actually had less impact than something like Hellboy, or Pan’s Labyrinth. Fundamentally – I was bored. Also the constant sound of trickling water left me quite distracted by my need to go to the bathroom.

    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    A film which is hard to really describe, and I find hard to decide whether I liked it or not. I think for me it fell a little too much in between a lot of different posts, but I know that is the very thing that has worked for a lot of people. I laughed, cried, gasped and flinched in all the right places; and each with a depth and enthusiasm that isn’t often found in films; but somehow the combination left me cold. The elements of farce driven by the underlying tragedy is certainly deftly delivered by cast and crew. However there seemed to be a lot of unanswered questions and unexplained character steps that didn’t really sit right with me. At the start characters were hated and excused and I didn’t understand why, and then by the end there seemed to be forgiveness and redemption that likewise didn’t seem explained. I didn’t understand (and still don’t) why a town would be so angry at the mother of a murdered girl, why the town wouldn’t be scared at the idea of a rapist, why they wouldn’t be questioning the sheriff more. I didn’t understand why such a ‘nice’ sheriff would do a bad job liaising with a murder victim’s relatives, or why he would do nothing about a staff member who was clearly completely out of control. I think to me this is a film where all the individual scenes were excellent, but bringing them all together and understanding the underlying context of the characters and the community around them, just made no sense at all.

    What I think should winI’ve found this a rather disappointing year for best picture nominees to be honest. I thought Call Me By Your Name and Phantom Thread were actively bad; Three Billboards and Shape of Water were flawed, and Darkest Hour was clunky. The Post was a solidly entertaining film which i would happily recommend as a good film to watch, but not as remarkable as the names behind it might have inspired and not really Best Picture material. I haven’t seen Ladybird which is massively annoying me as I come to write this. So I’m left with Dunkirk and I, Tonya. What a bizarre choice to have to make. While I really, really enjoyed I, Tonya, and actually found Dunkirk a little confusing on first watch, I think I have to go for Dunkirk in the end. It’s the far greater achievement in terms of filming the un-filmable and deserves the accolade.

    What will win
    I think it’s down to Three Billboards or The Shape of Water really and I’m not sure which way it would go. Would the Academy give it to a ‘monster movie’ or is it actually time that people are looking beyond the simple labels. I think Three Billboards will be recognised in the acting categories, and that might be where the emphasis is. So, I think The Shape of Water will win.

    Mindhunter: season 1

    I’d normally start a review with a brief description of what the show is about and what sort of style it is. Unfortunately that’s a bit tricky for Mindhunter because I’m not sure that anyone involved in this show knew from moment to moment what the show, or any of their characters were about.

    I guess the essence of it is that it’s set in the 60s and the FBI are just starting to dip their toe in the water of psychology – understanding why people commit crimes so it’s easier to catch them. It’s the very early days of profiling, they’re even just beginning to introduce the term ‘serial killer’.

    Immediately however, I hit upon a problem. I’ve watched a lot of Criminal Minds and other shows and films like it. So without a very clear introduction, it was hard for me to work out just how little the FBI know about any of this at the start of the series – when characters *should* know something, when they should be sniffy about something new. It was never clear how innovative characters were being, much of what they said was totally obvious to anyone who’d watched 2 episodes of Criminal Minds, so it really didn’t feel like they were being startling brilliant.

    The series also never settles down into a format. One of the reasons I watched the whole series was because it was one of the least episodic things I’ve ever seen and stopping any earlier would have felt like walking out in the middle of a film. I don’t mind having one long arc (especially on Netflix and when it’s only 10 episodes) but this wasn’t really that either. it wasn’t one long story with a beginning, middle and end, but neither was it broken into smaller chunks with their own beginning, middle and end. There were a few ‘case of the week’ stories, but spread over a few episodes and rarely with a satisfying and conclusive ending. Basically it seemed to have several beginnings, lots of filler and no ends.

    Similarly the different characters never quite seemed to settle either. Eventually some of them meandered their way towards some defining characteristics and histories, but it was a long time coming and there were many wrong turnings. The lead character, Holden Ford, seemed to waver between an academically minded book type and someone winging it on his own initiative; between a back-office bore and a complete rebel. Don’t even get me started on his approach to dating which had me shouting at the screen in disbelief at his lines and the improbable reaction of his girlfriend.

    Ultimately, I think this was a mess. There were moments that I could see some potential in, but it felt like the whole thing was done off a first draft. If you are going to make the whole series one box-set view, then you have to write the whole thing at once. You can’t get halfway through and realise that you need to go in a different directly. The cast definitely deserve better, and so do the audience.

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