Monday, November 2, 2015

Oscar Bait - Round One

During the last quarter of the year, studios begin bringing out their "prestige" pictures, which are films designed to catch the fancy of the awards-granting community. Often, these films are more serious in tone, anchored by A-list performances, and intended to be far more "arty" than the summer blockbuster season.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

 From the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking that Guillermo del Toro's gothic Crimson Peak is a horror movie. Indeed, there is gore and scare here, but this film is far more melodrama than horror - and I mean that in a good way. If you're expecting Pan's Labyrinth 2, you'll be disappointed. (Then again, why would you expect that? Del Toro doesn't repeat himself.) Peak is delightfully over-the-top in terms of taking stock characters - the blonde damsel, the penniless cad, the raven-haired spinster sister, the honest doctor, etc. - and giving them dark, dark twists. Melodrama is characterized by moremoreMORE! and Peak has that in bundles. The decrepit mansion hiding a sinister secret! The isolated countryside! And more Georgia clay that you'll find in Gone with the Wind. If you go into Peak knowing that you're going to see something that is far more Grimm fairytale crossed with Wuthering Heights than straight-up horror decked in lace, you'll  probably find yourself enjoying it tremendously. Marvel at the inability of homeowners to patch a hole in the roof! Cringe at the combination of open flame and waist-length tresses! Speculate on the sheer amount of yardage in the costumes! And be on the lookout for butterflies and moths! I say catch this on the big screen just for the visual feast that del Toro has provided to you - Peak is lush, rich, and unlike anything else you're likely to see this year. Featuring Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska.

Steve Jobs, on the other hand, left me a bit confused. Michael Fassbender does a fine Job here (sorry - bad puns sometimes sneak in), Kate Winslet is having fun as his long-suffering (funny how everyone in Jobs' inner circle can be described as "long suffering." The man may have been an obsessive visionary, but he was also an ass), talk-him-down-from-a-ledge, right hand Joanna Hoffman, and Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels turn in solid performances, yet the film just doesn't seem to really go anywhere. The film, which is based off Walter Isaacson's 2011 book, covers the period from 1984, when the highly-touted Macintosh was launched (which nearly destroyed the company) to 1998, when the iMac was launched. This gives the audience ample time to see Jobs be a jerk to his co-founder and best friend, his CEO, his engineers, his assistant, and his daughter. The use of product launches to frame the events of the film is interesting, but ultimately, it doesn't help the film progress in any way other than marking time. Truly a puzzlement. Rent it if you like, but it's also fine to pass on this one. Directed by Danny Boyle.

Burnt - ah, this is a fun one! My co-host and I have been agreeing too often lately and Burnt breaks that streak decisively. Everything I enjoyed about this film, Ensley hated. Not disliked - actively hated. (Which should at least make for an interesting show when we review it!) No doubt about it, Burnt is Oscar bait for Bradley Cooper, an incredible actor who has been nominated for three consecutive acting Oscars but has yet to take the award home. Here, he plays a superstar chef (Adam Jones) who has thrown away his opportunities through addiction (far more common in the restaurant world than you might think, by the way - it can be a hard-partying life when your work ends after midnight) and general bad-boy behavior. He's burned every bridge he had and done a sort of self-imposed penance (also, he fled to avoid some bad debts) and wants back into the world of Michelin-starred, incredibly high-end restaurants. His addictions are under control (and he's blood-tested weekly to make sure of that), but he's still a raging jerk to others around him. The behavior is tolerated for the sake of that elusive third Michelin star and people will overlook a lot when they think you're pursuing perfection. I thoroughly enjoyed Cooper's performance; Ensley wanted to walk out. I agree that Burnt celebrates the bad-boy chef (sort of like Steve Jobs does, only here Adam Jones actually makes the things he's obsessing about) and there is a romantic subplot that feels terribly tacked on and is a waste of Sienna Miller, but I can't help it - it's fun seeing Cooper rip things up. Who knew the American Sniper would get so upset over an overdone scallop? Oscar loves a redemption story, and Burnt has it in ten-foot letters, complete with a buffet. However, Oscar also loves a winner, and this film is not doing well at the box office. It's a rental - there's really nothing here that demands to be seen on the big screen - but I say give it a try. Directed by John Wells.

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