In Review!: “Bridget Jones’s Baby”

Returning from a long absence from the screen, Renée Zellweger is back and in her signature role for Bridget Jones’s Baby – and she hasn’t lost any of the magnetism or ability. Anyone cruelly focusing on perceived changes to her face is in for the rudest of awakenings: she’s still the same old Bridget, the same charming Renée.

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Another in a growing line of sequels arriving long after their built-in sell by date, Baby is actually quite winning in how it captures the original’s appeal without irony or cynicism. First director Sharon Maguire returns (the second installment The Edge of Reason is wisely ignored) and every ensemble member is back, sans Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver. Indeed, not much has changed and that’s all for the better.

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Updated Oscar Predictions!

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Happy Labor Day weekend, I’ve been busy!

Now that festival season is in full swing and launching us into the Oscar season, I’ve updated the Oscar predictions pages! Some question marks to be answered in the coming months:

  • Will Viola Davis be campaigned in lead or supporting for Fences? The role has been positioned in both on stage.
  • Can Isabelle Huppert be this year’s recognized legend or will multiple projects divide her love? If Elle gets more attention, is it too prickly and slippery for the pearl clutchers?
  • Is anything from the spring and summer going to be able to get a resurgence? For below the line categories, The Jungle Book and Love and Friendship could be major threats.
  • Debating The Birth of a Nation‘s Oscar chances in regards to Nate Parker’s reemerging rape charges and homophobia is indeed gross, but regardless of controversy: could voters just get plain tired of talking/hearing about the movie for nine months?
  • If Silence does open this year (The Wolf of Wall Street had the same release dates woes this time during its year), will there be a long-gestating payoff for the Martin Scorsese passion project? That narrative only took Gangs of New York so far when it didn’t deliver.

In Review!: “Little Men”

Following the lovely and unimposing Love is Strange (and to a lesser extent the isolation of Keep the Lights On), Ira Sachs latest film Little Men proves that the writer/director’s New York City is just about the most honestly realized world in contemporary movies. Men plays like Strange‘s slightly more hardened cousin, the worlds of both so rooted in Sachs’s signature compassion and honesty that it’s as if both could be happening concurrently. The diverse world he builds of humble intellectuals doing their best with inconvenience is even more nuanced here, bursting with no-win compromises for all and a powerful cinematic modesty.

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It’s become a style that makes Sachs’s work immediately recognizable, his voice coming through without the mannered tics or inventive wordplay of his peers. If it feels precious to the audience, it’s because the director is organically building a world that’s all too true to real life.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: The Best of the 1977 Best Shots

While I agree with Oscar on selecting Zsigmond’s work for Close Encounters as the overall winner, does it have my choice of best Best Shot? Let’s review the Best Shots from the past week…

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Vilmos Zsigmond

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Islands in the Stream – Fred J. Koenekamp

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Julia – Douglas Slocombe

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Looking for Mr. Goodbar – William A. Fraker

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The Turning Point – Robert Surtees

And best of the Best Shots is…

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Julia”

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There is enough distance between the present and claims of author Lillian Hellman’s embellishment and falsifications for the origin story of Julia to see the story for itself. One wonders if a contemporary viewing audience would even know who the hell Hellman is (for shame), likely surprised that it was based on a portion of her memoir. Though the film does put her on the pedestal of self-important, suffering artist, if not the story’s hero, you can see how the narrative served to puff herself up. The film was released before authenticity lawsuits were brought up, so its original audience perhaps viewed it differently.

No, now we view the film primarily through the lens of its terrifying depiction of rising fascism. It’s not just the current election the makes it seem all the more real, but the rise in nationalism elsewhere in the world today that’s all too familiar to the fifty years leading up to the events in the film.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Looking for Mr. Goodbar”

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Had I heard that Looking for Mr. Goodbar wasn’t very good or that it was just dated? For some reason, I remembered it carrying a certain scattered and hokey reputation that the film proved wrong when I caught up to it.

The feminist themes of the film may be more eloquently discussed today since the film is closer to the women’s liberation movement’s infancy, but it’s passionate observations still connect to our contemporary point of view. Even if it seems passe to have a film hinge on a woman’s sexual liberation, that’s only a sense of contemporary entitlement convincing you that women don’t have it as bad as they always have. The conversation may have evolved, refined, and gained nuance, but we’re still fighting for the same old crap.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “The Turning Point”

turningpoint3.pngThe Turning Point beautifully captures a pain I’ve never otherwise seen expressed on film. Certainly not as vividly.

Occasionally, I’ll miss performing so much that it aches. There is a pull that will simply never go away no matter how far removed you are from your last performance or the decision to step away. There’s always minor emotional rugs pulled out from under you, small sadnesses you have to live with even though you feel no regret over the decision: seeing friends performing but remembering the chemistry you had together, celebrating their growth with vague embarrassment for your less interesting life developments. When you’re off the stage, everything else seems so small compared to those who stayed.

And of course you hear what it means to stay: the loneliness, the broken bodies, the realized dreams that turn on you.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Islands in the Stream”

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Unfortunately I’ll be following up my favorite of this week’s mega-Hit Me With Your Best Shot with my least favorite. Islands in the Stream is the most forgotten of 1977’s Best Cinematography Oscar nominees, so I’d been hoping for a surprise that never came. The least visually interesting of the bunch, you kind of wonder if the Academy was just taken with the film’s landscape or if this was the result of some carryover love for Patton with Islands reuniting director Franklin J. Schaffner and director of photography Fred. J. Koenekamp (who won the cinematography Oscar in 1975 for The Towering Inferno).

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

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This week, Hit Me With Your Best Shot is getting the jumbo treatment with each of the Best Cinematography nominees of 1977 receiving a daily installment. First up is the Spielberg classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Recently with the start of Netflix’s Stranger Things and the misfire of The BFG (I’ve yet to partake either) have reignited talk about Spielberg’s aesthetic its weaker would-be descendants. Encounters remains the perfect prototype for the true Spielberg formula: primal fear, emotional resonance, and a sense of earned awe. Thematically, it’s also possibly his best in dealing with social outsiderism and daddy issues.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Zootopia”

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I’m not among the many vocal admirers for Zootopia. The amusing character design and relationships are a delight, and of course it has a fiercely progressive (and unpreachy) message for children that is hard not to root for. While the film’s upsides are front and center, they still don’t mask the film’s flatness and unpropulsive energy, and even the social commentary becomes a little muddled by the end. On first glance the animation looks unrefined, but there’s an expressive attention to lighting and tone that probably does more to push the emotions than the screenplay itself.

But Zootopia‘s core is so warmhearted and well-thought out that focusing on its faults feels a bit mean-spirited, and downplays how accomplished it is visually.

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