Month: March 2016

Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs (2015)

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Michael Fassbender received his 2nd Oscar nod for playing Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs is a very good movie that I was initially very enthusiastic about, but that kinda died down a little. I actually liked that the movie tells his story through 3 different product launches – it flowed very well for me, and personally, I would not have liked an overly-detailed story of the man’s life either. The main issue I had was with the script, which was a bit hit or miss for me. Some parts were brilliantly written, while some parts came across as a bit forced, especially all the conversations about his adoption and his relationship with his daughter. It just felt a little bit self-indulgent at times, as if Aaron Sorkin was trying to tell us what a brilliant writer he is.

Michael Fassbender is such an unlikely choice to play Steve Jobs – not that I am complaining, I always thought of him as one of the most talented actors working today, but you know, I’m still very curious. Say what you want about Ashton Kutcher’s performance, but he definitely had a stronger resemblance than Fassbender. Nonetheless, it is the characterization and layers of this performance that really impressed me.

Right from the start, you know that Jobs is quite the d-bag to say the least, and what I really loved was how Fassbender makes him so charismatic and compelling, even when he is insulting and humiliating his team members. I mean, the scene where he threatened to publicly humiliate Andy was so good that I got the chills – I could feel how intimidated Andy was myself. I think what worked so well was that he managed to justify Jobs unpleasant personality, and this allowed us to fully understand where he was coming from. Fassbender brilliantly brought out the man’s “different” way of seeing things, and how this alienated him from people because of his approaches that only he himself understands.

The script kinda throws in many different facets of Steve Jobs into the mix, but Fassbender managed to gel them together perfectly. I loved how he handled his difficult relationship with his daughter and her mother – he cares for them and yet you can sense that he really dislikes them at times too. Despite the slightly abrupt way of handling the change between his relationship with his daughter, I think Fassbender brought out an underlying tenderness beneath Jobs’ unlikable facade.

Overall, I was really impressed with Fassbender’s performance but at the same time there was somethingh holding me back in loving it entirely. I think it mainly comes from the awkwardness of the script at times, but Fassbender gave a complex and fascinating performance nonetheless. 4.5/5.

Kate Winslet received her 7th Oscar nod for playing Joanna Hoffman – given that Winslet won the Bafta and Golden Globe, there is no question that she was the runner-up for the win.

Unlike Vikander, Kate Winslet’s role here is a true supporting one. Pretty much like Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, the role isn’t complex or deep – she’s really here to support Fassbender’s performance and then tell him off severely at the end.

I am no expert in this, but her accent did come across as a bit wonky and fake at times. Like I could hear that she was “putting on an accent” in some parts, but this wasn’t a huge issue anyway. I think Winslet does a very good job in being the mediator of all of Jobs’ conflicts. She has this air of professionalism and calmness that I really liked, as if handling Jobs was nothing more than pacifying a super annoying big baby to her. Of course, she has brilliant chemistry with Fassbender – you can tell they enjoy working together and that was instrumental in making this performance work. I even liked how she tried to subtly hint at her inner conflict on whether she should interfere with Jobs’personal life.

Her big Oscar scene was my main problem. Even though she has already hinted at her character’s inner conflict from the beginning, it still came off as way too abrupt, though to her credit, she pulled it off.

Overall, I think this is a solid supporting turn by a great actress – nothing amazing, but still very good. A high 3.5 to low 4 is fitting, I think.

Brie Larson in Room (2015)

Brie Larson won the Oscar for playing Joy/Ma in Room. I think the best actress race this year was really predictable the moment the precursors started. Larson swept everything and I’m sure everyone saw her win coming. Still, I am quite looking forward to watching the performances this year – they all seem very strong and have their own unique qualities.

Room is a terrific film that I found myself very engaged in. I expected myself not to like it because of the subject matter – a woman who was kidnapped and raped for 7 years  – but I thought the director Lenny Abrahamson handled it extremely well. I might have given Joan Allen a supporting actress nod if her role was more drawn out, but she is talented enough to make the most out of her limited part (Random, but I LOVE her as Pamela Landy). Still, the ultimate scene stealer here was Jacob Tremblay as Jack – mind you, I usually find kids annoying as heck but he WAS SO DAMN GOOD (and adorable). The way he handled he character’s innocence and transition to the outside world was really beyond his years.

I think many people may have overlooked what a baity role Larson actually had, mainly because of the quiet, indie nature of the film. Still, she handled the character’s emotions and thoughts with 100% raw honesty and intensity, and I think that was what blew me away. Like many others before me, I feel that the scenes in the room really had some incredible acting. Besides her fantastic chemistry with Tremblay, she managed to show so many facets of the character within the confines of the room – her fierce maternal instinct and protectiveness, her sense of humour, her desperation/depression and her quick thinking. I especially loved the scene where she was describing how she got into the room to her son because of how heartbreaking it was. But to me, the best moments were when she started plotting her escape because the fear in her eyes was so real and palpable that even I felt extremely nervous despite knowing the outcome.

Many people often criticise the way the script handled the post-kidnap scenes, and while I agree that it becomes even more of Tremblay’s show than hers, I think Larson still managed to leave a strong impact. I agree that the depression may come off as a bit sudden, but I didn’t have an issue with it. As a matter of fact, I thought her aggressive confrontation with her mother was also one of the highlights of her performance, as she really brought out the character’s resentment, anger and inability to “go back to normal”.

As a whole, I just wanted to say I really loved Brie Larson’s work here! I was surprised since many people tend to have issues with her win, but this may be one of the few times I am actually in agreement with the academy’s pick! Of course, I suspect this will change once I watch the other best actress nominees, but as a whole, I consider this a very deserved win. 5/5

Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl (2015)

 

Alicia Vikander won the best supporting actress Oscar for playing Gerda Wegener, the wife of Einar Wegener in The Danish Girl.

I found The Danish Girl to be a mediocre film. It’s not so much of the fact that it has a very shallow understanding of the subject matter – I just found the whole thing very awkwardly shot and the pacing was quite off. The scenes don’t really flow well, and it doesn’t help that I found the score more distracting than anything else. None of the characters seem to have real and believable personalities, although to the actors’ credit, they do seem to try to overcome the weak writing. Matthias Schoenaerts is no doubt a talented actor – but there was seriously no point to his character. Like they could have removed him, and I think there wouldn’t be much of a difference. Also, I think his makeup looks very weird here, and he looks a bit like a wax figurine.

I am not familiar with Vikander, although my general impression of her is that she is a talented actress. I liked her well enough in A Royal Affair. Anyway, it has been said by countless before me, so I won’t dwell too much on it, but yes, this is a leading performance. 100%.

To Vikander’s credit, she gives the best performance of the entire film, and I found myself being able to relate to her character more than the others. She wonderfully brings out the feeling of loneliness, the desperation in trying to “bring” Einar back, and her gradual acceptance of Lili. It could have been an annoying part, but I do believe that Vikander brought much needed emotional honesty to the part and I really managed to feel for her character at times.

I guess my main issue here is that Gerda just isn’t really interesting. The whole thing becomes a bit repetitive after a while, and unlike Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, she doesn’t really introduce any internal conflicts/flaws to the character. The whole “poor, neglected Gerda” narrative comes off as a bit one-dimensional, but then again, that applies to the writing of the entire film.

Her “charming” scenes came off as a bit fake occasionally too, although I would blame that more on Redmayne’s awkwardness. Overall, not the best winner, but a solid performance nonetheless. 4/5.

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Eddie Redmayne received his second Oscar nomination for playing Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe.

I am going to say something that may offend some, but I don’t “get” Eddie Redmayne. I find him a bit bland and “safe” as an actor, and even though he did some amazing physical transformation in his Oscar-winning role, his Stephen Hawking has no personality. I have always felt the same way about his performances in Les Miserables and My Week With Marilyn. I feel that he is better off as a supporting actor who gives reactionary glances to his co-stars, rather than a lead actor who has to carry a film.

Redmayne suffers from a bland script that seems to portray his character as suffering from multiple-personality disorder. I hated the way the dresses seem to act as a form of “trigger” to bring out Lili, I mean, come on. Anyway, I just found Einar and Lili to have zero personalities and I really couldn’t get anything out of his performance. Einar wants to be a woman, Lili wants to fully  be a woman and that’s pretty much it.

As I always say, I am not one who dwells too much on the technical aspects of acting but a lot of his line readings come off as barely trying too. His “charm” and “humour” in his earlier scenes are barely existent, even the way he describes his first meeting with his wife were really dull and uninteresting (something about ankles, can’t remember). He kinda just goes through his lines, barely making anything noteworthy about the character. In all fairness, he also has the worst lines to deliver so I’m not sure how much he could have done with them (“I want to be a woman, not a painter,” whispers Lili with profound sadness). Some of his mannerisms are also really awkward. I could try and see it as the awkwardness of transitioning, but somehow I felt like that wasn’t Redmayne’s intention and it just came off weird. I really felt quite irritated with the non-stop whispering and whenever he does that head-tile, shy smile thing.

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Like he does this…

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…alot

I will give proper credit when due, and I do think some scenes were good, like his first time dressing up as Lili in the artist’s ball. That whole fish-out-of-water feeling was palpable and uncomfortable, and I think Redmayne handled that part well. There were a few crying scenes here and there that were decent, but as a whole I am quite meh about this performance. 2.5/5.

Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies (2015)

 

GettyImages-512939266.0Mark Rylance won his first Oscar for playing Rudolf Abel, a soviet spy in Bridge of Spies. Rylance’s win seems to be generally considered an upset because Stallone was favoured to win, hence disproving the famous “comeback” theory. Being an actor whose main territory was in theatre, I don’t think many people would have expected Rylance to win over a movie star in an iconic performance either.

Bridge of Spies is good movie, but I am kinda in a “If you have seen one Spielberg film, you have seen all Spielberg films” mood now with regard to Spielberg as a director. I loved the whole old-school Hollywood feel to the film, and it certainly is very stylish, yet I can’t help but feel that a grittier and more realistic tone to it would have been better. It is not to say that the whole film is super manipulative and sentimental, but I think the residual effect of Julia (1977) was so strong on me that it influenced my opinion a little bit. Still, I liked the movie for what it is and I wouldn’t mind watching it again as I feel that I may have missed out on certain aspects (I’m not in the best of mood now, so I was a bit distracted when watching).

I guess Tom Hanks may have received a couple of votes for his performance as James B.Donovan, but ultimately all the accolades went to Rylance’s quieter and more understated performance. Hanks, for the most part, was very good although I felt like he was doing his “Tom Hanks, the all American hero” routine at times which has always been my main issues with him as an actor (ironic, given the character’s unpopularity). I feel that an actor with lesser star power might have been more effective in the role, but like I said, I thought Hanks was really good and a nomination might not have been entirely undeserved (4 for me).

I think what stood out for me about Rylance’s performance was how he managed to add little tics and facets to Rudolf Abel and make him such an interesting character. To be honest, I felt that the script made him out to be boring as heck, which is what critics of this win say, but I don’t really agree. It is clear that a lot of thought has been put into such a small and quiet performance, making Rudolf a more interesting and complex character than he seems. His quiet little glances, his sniffles, his general posture and composure always suggests something about him, and I think this is largely to Rylance’s credit. I love the way he delivers the line “Will it help?” whenever Donovan asks him if he was worried – so much could be taken away from those three words. I love the underlying humour in it, suggesting that underneath the calm facade was a badass who was always prepared for this day he is caught.

The standing man monologues was so brilliantly delivered as well, revealing so much about the character’s inner state of mine and thoughts. But I especially loved the final scene where he parted ways with Donovan. Once again, I loved the quiet fearlessness in Rylance’s voice when he said that he might be executed when he returns. But the way he portrayed his character’s gratitude to Tom Hanks was the highlight of that scene, barely obvious yet always felt. And I think this goes to show how well Rylance internalized the character, giving him more life than what was demanded from the script.

Like I said, I’d probably need a re-watch to fully appreciate this performance. My main issue is how he kinda gets kicked to one side and disappears for a large portion of the film, which can be justified since he is a supporting character, and yet I wished that there were more opportunities for Rylance to showcase his greatness. Don’t get me wrong, I love my quiet and subtle performances, but there is also a part of me that wants more. Still, a good Oscar win and definitely not “acting in his sleep” as some people say. 4.5/5 for now, though I suspect I would push it up to a 5 in the future.