It’s been over a decade, and still the question lingers — what the hell happened, award-season-wise, to J.C. Chandor‘s All Is Lost and particularly to Robert Redford‘s towering performance in that film?
After a stellar and industrious career of 50-plus years Redford had given the finest performance of his career, a performance that seems all the more skillful and affecting because of its deftness and spareness and near-silence. And yet he was blown off by SAG colleagues and Academy members because…okay, because he didn’t campaign that much (certainly not to the extent that Bruce Dern did) but mainly because those wankers couldn’t be bothered to watch All Is Lost.
Why? Because they’re lazy but also, I suspect, because they didn’t want to see a film about a resourceful old guy struggling to survive against nature’s merciless persistence. Nature will get us all sooner or later, and they didn’t to grapple with that — too close to the bone.
In late ’13 a journalist friend told me about speaking to a very well-known actor at a party. He said the actor had told him he’d popped in a screener of All Is Lost and then turned it off after ten minutes or so. The actor’s explanation went something along the lines of ‘I saw what this was going to be…all alone, no dialogue, the threat of death…and I quit.’ Advanced-age ADD is what home screenings are all about. This is why All Is Lost has to be seen in a theatre, why it has to be paid close attention to.
Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley's Dungeons & Dragons is instantly boring and a waste of time. I was rolling my eyes after ten minutes' worth, and I bailed altogether after a half-hour or so. The writing is trite and formulaic. The mood is spritzy and light-hearted, yes, but in a strange way exhausting. It's the kind of material that we've seen over and over, and if you're happy with this kind of shite I don't know what to tell you. Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis and Hugh Grant sleep-walk through it.
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Yesterday afternoon I hate-watched Zach Braff and Florence Pugh‘s A Good Person (MGM, 3.24). It’s basically a Lifetime movie about (a) slow grief recovery, (b) Oxycontin addiction and (c) the patient counsel of Morgan Freeman.
After 15 or 20 minutes I wanted to pop an Oxy myself, and maybe another half for good measure.
It’s arduous to sit through — instructive, over-acted, schmaltzy, precious, on the nose, emotionally insistent, socially curious and fortified with phony writing.
I hate addiction, AA and grief-recovery movies, and I really hated the acting in this film in particular. Bored shitless, I mean.
Pugh will always be a grounded, real-deal actress, but the screenplay’s flat treatment of Oxy addiction is “okay, okay, I’ve had enough, what else can you show me?” Freeman has always been excellent in whatever role, but you can tell he’s struggling or, you know, doing the best he can under duress. His vibe feels saggy, weary. Plus Freeman is around 85 now and seems too old to be the dad of Chinaza Uchi, who plays Pugh’s 30ish ex-fiance. He’s more like a grandfather type.
The only reason A Good Person managed a 55% Rotten Tomatoes and a 50% Metacitic grade is because a good portion of the ensemble cast is Black. If the cast had been all-Anglo, it would have fared much worse.
There’s a scene in which Freeman, the father of Pugh’s ex-fiance, shows Pugh an elaborate train set within a model of a miniature town in his basement, and I was saying to myself “this is half-working, this scene…they’ve finally found a groove.” And then Pugh’s character starts singing “Last Train to Clarksville” and Freeman joins in…the fucking Monkees!
I’m sorry but I have to say this: What extended family or close-knit social circle (i.e., people who routinely get together for holidays and birthdays) is composed of 55% POCs and 45% Anglos? Or vice versa? Even in super-artsy or super-wealthy X-factor circles, this kind of social bonding is…well, I’m not aware that it’s common. A Good Person is set in northern New Jersey near West Orange (i.e., Jett and Cait’s neighborhood) and I know how things look and feel in that neck of the woods. Good people and middle-class vibes, but not as woke as Braff and Pugh (who co-produced and collaborated on the script) are imagining.
Presumably a sizable portion of the HE community caught those ticket-buyer sneaks of Ben Affleck‘s Air last…what was it, Friday?
The non-pro consensus seems to be that (a) early-bird critics have over-sold it (but not me — I gave it a solid 8.5 grade while adding “just don’t go expecting the world”), (b) it was a bit of an odd strategy for Michael Jordan to technically be “present” for the third-act presentation scene at Nike’s Beaverton headquarters without actually being seen or heard and letting Viola Davis do all the talking, (c) the decision not to try and inflate or amplify the story into something bigger than it is was a wise one.
So what did everyone think? Is it modestly excellent or what? Is it basically a “dad” film or will Millennials and Zoomers be able to roll with it?
Ben Affleck’s Air is a solid 8.5 or even a 9 —- just don’t go expecting the world. It’s a modest, well-crafted film about vision and risk and soul and salesmanship, and the best aspect, I feel, is that it doesn’t swing for the fences.
It’s an unpretentious, steady-as-she-goes sports saga that frets about stress and failure and at the same time insists over and over that “if you don’t take a risk you can’t make a gain,” which is precisely what Walter Huston’s chuckling, goat-like prospector said in TheTreasureoftheSierra Madre.
In a way Air is just as much of a pikers-strike-it-rich story as John Huston’s 1948 classic was and is, and the stakes are just as life-and-death when you consider what might’ve happened if Nike hadn’t signed Michael Jordan and if Matt Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro and Affleck’s Phil Knight had taken a gut punch instead.
Their down-to-business story is about marketing and branding that wound up on a super-scale, but told with a modest brush. Nothing goofy or slick or wild-ass. It starts out ordinarily or even ho-hummishly, but then it picks up a little steam and then a little more, and then little dabs of feeling are sprinkled into the second act and then spoonfuls of the stuff into the third as it gets better and better and better.
And then the big payoff moment comes, which isn’t as emotional as Jerry Maguire but then how could it be? Air isn’t about wives or girlfriends or kids or dogs…it’s strictly about business and that’s a good enough thing, trust me.
Here’s the thing: Damon’s Vaccaro is a beefalo bordering on a lardbucket, and I was bothered by this at first. But guess what? I stopped thinking about the paunch around the 30-minute mark. By the one-hour mark I’d forgotten about it entirely. This in itself says a lot.
7:55amupdate: It’s being said that Viola Davis’s grounded performance as Michael Jordan’s tough negotiating mom, Deloris, is the keeper. She’ll probably be Oscar-nominated, but Damon’s Vaccaro shoulders the weight. He’s playing the poet and the singer and the believer of the piece, and it’s his best performance since…what, the second Bourne film? Or The Informant? And I love how he’s never cowed by Affleck’s Knight, calmly standing his ground, and in fact plays him at the very end. It’s brilliant. And I love Chris Messina’s tough-shithead agent who reps the Jordans and is content to eat alone.
“It’s funny to hear these [mewing little kittens] treating the John Wickflicks like they’re major narrative-driven movies capable of being ‘spoiled.’ I like the new Wick, but neither Wells nor the spoiler whiners seem to understand that a plot doesn’t matter to these movies at all, and [that] notionsofdeathmatterevenless.” — HE commenter “Chuck.”
“Isn’t the ending of John Wick4 all over the internet? I haven’t seen the film, haven’t read a single review, have no interest in the Wick films. But I know that Wick dies or probably ‘dies’ at the end of this one. Seems to be an open secret on the web, so calling spoiler in this case sounds a bit like complaining about people talking about Jesus being crucified at the end of a new Jesus movie.” — HE commenter “Renaissance.”
“I wouid have never mentioned the Darth Vader-Luke Skywalkerbloodrelationship two weekends after opening day. That film is sacred and holy, and it would’ve been criminal to spoil it.
“The difference is clear. JW4 is flotsam — a rank and cynical pornoviolent ‘musical’ that pollutes the environment and lowers the spiritual property values in each and every realm with its gross and cynical disregard for life. I spit on this movie.
“I respected the rights of unpolluted viewers for TWO FULL WEEKENDS. What was I supposed to do, wait six months or something? Besides, like I said, it was really Stahelski’sfault.” — Jeffrey Wells, posted this morning [4.3] in response to spoilerwhinerkvetching.