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A Review of The Personal History of David Copperfield

Before I get to the review — let me first mention the whole experience. I haven’t been to a movie in so long I can’t remember what the last one I saw was? I’ve seen several at home, on demand, streaming, etcetera etcetera etcetera but not at the theater.

They’ve been closed. Boarded up. Not open.

But now they are open again. We ventured out yesterday, Labor Day, and watched The Personal History of David Copperfield. Our party of six were the only ones in the theater, felt like a private screening. We did not buy snacks, and I kept my mask on the whole time.

I was unsure of going because I have been super cautious. Had the theater been crowded I probably would have felt differently, but with just us, there was no real danger at all. Now to the movie:


I loved it. I have to admit some of my love may have been the sheer giddiness of being in a movie theater again, but I think I am able to separate those emotions. I loved the movie.

Hugh Laurie, Dev Patel, and Tilda Swinson–DONKEYS!

David Copperfield is my favorite Dickens book, and I was very afraid they would mess it up. It is a long book filled with marvelous characters that have complicated relationships. The movie compresses a lot of this, for understandable reasons, but it perfectly captures the spirit of the book. Yes, they truncated Clara and really didn’t make Uriah Heep as awful as he was in the novel, but the feel of the book is there. Actually, none of the bad guys are as bad as they are in novel — not his stepfather, not his step-aunt Mrs. Murdstone, and not Steerforth, either. The movie softens all of those a bit. Perhaps that is because Dickens is so brutal.

My favorite part of the novel was the house with David’s Aunt, Mr. Dick, Janet, and the donkeys. I still remember laughing out loud when reading those parts and having Aunt Betsey shout, “What the Deuce?” Janet is reduced to mere ‘servant’ in the movie, but the feeling of that house is spot on. Mr. Dick, portrayed by Hugh Laurie, should be nominated for best supporting actor. He is amazing, as is Peter Capaldi as Mr. Micawber.

A decision was made to cast the movie completely multicultural regardless of part. All of those white British people being played by people of color who have white children or visa versa is refreshing. That is a choice that fits Dickens zeitgeist of social justice and calling into light the problems of the day. I adored Dev Patel’s performance as David. He seemed perfect for that role (as he seemed to be for Saroo in Lion — a movie that didn’t get proper respect, IMHO).

The movie is rated PG and is really safe for the whole family. I would like to see it nominated for best picture.

#Oscar Predictions 2019

I used to be much better at predicting these, but then Birdman and The Shape of Water happened and now my confidence is shaken. Will I let that stop me from making predictions. No way!

Here are my picks. Keep in mind, I don’t pick all the categories, just the ones I’m interested in. For example, costume design and sound mixing are irrelevant to me.

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Best Picture–I predict Green Book. It is the best ‘total package’ movie. It is not a great movie, like Spotlight, The Artist, Or 12 Years A Slave, but it is probably the best this year. I would not be surprised if BlacKkKlansman or Roma won, but I don’t think so. If The Favourite wins, I’ll be mad for a year or two. For more thoughts on best picture, click here.

Actress In a Supporting Role–Regina King. There is a chance Marina de Tavira might pluck this as an early upset, and if she did, I wouldn’t be mad. My actual choice for this was snubbed for nominations–and that is Awkwafina from Crazy Rich Asians.

Actor In a Supporting Role–Sam Elliot. I called this one the day I walked out of the theater, and I’m sticking to it.

Foreign Language FilmRoma

Documentary FeatureMinding the Gap. The biggest travesty of the Oscars is Mr. Rogers Won’t You Be My Neighbor was snubbed. If RBG wins it is a political choice, because in terms of documentary skillset, it wasn’t that great.

Original Song–Shallow

Animated FilmIncredibles 2

Actor In a Leading Role–Christian Bale. By the end of Vice, I thought it was Dick Cheney on the screen.

Actress In a Leading Role–Glenn Close. Hands down. no contest.

Director–This is a tough one. It is a two person race between Cuaron and Spike Lee. I’m picking Spike Lee on body of work.

 

Oscars Best Picture Nominations 2017

unknownIt has taken me a while, but I have finally been able to see all nine of the films nominated for best picture this year. Before I begin my brief, NO SPOILER reviews for each, let me give some general impressions. First, this is an outstanding batch of films. As a group, it might be the best overall nominees I have ever seen. In any other year, each film could be a winner. Second, the variations in types of movies is impressive. Some are arthouse films like Moonlight but then there are car chases like Hell or High Water, then La La Land is a musical, and let us not forget the scifi awesomeness of Arrival. There is something here for everyone. Third, as a whole, the films are less graphic and more normal. Although some of the films earned their R rating, none of them are needlessly gratuitous (I’m looking at you 2014) and some, like Hidden Figures, could be on the Hallmark Channel tonight unedited. If you liked movies, this is your year.

Later this week I will post about the themes of the movies and who I think the likely winners might be. I am listing them here in alphabetical order.

Arrival

Science fiction is at its best when it uses the template to ask big questions. That is exactly what this movie does–it asks big questions. The first five minutes of the movie are more important than you might think, so pay attention. I loved Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner together, but didn’t care for the stereotyping negative portrayal of the military. It borrows a lot of plot devices from other films, like Contact, Close Encounters, The Day the Earth Stood Still and so on, but it does in a super awesome way.

Chances of Winning: More likely that aliens land this week. Oscar hates scifi.

Fences

This movie is a play. I don’t mean that it is adapted from a play, but it is a play. I think there are only about four sets, with the majority of the movie taking place in the backyard. The strength of the film is the acting. Every single actor in this movie should win an Oscar.  Every. Single. One. You watch the movie, and you’re thinking it is primarily social commentary on Black families who migrated north in the 1950s. But as you watch, you realize that is only backstory. This is really a story about any family with a hard personality, played superbly by Denzel Washington as the husband/father, who is at the same time both beloved and hated. This is the movie you’ll be talking about three days after you saw it.

Chances of Winning: Slim. Probably a strike-out.

Hacksaw Ridge

I learned after watching this film that my grandfather was at Okinawa. I am glad I didn’t know that before, because I would have watched it differently. The movie primarily focuses upon that battle, but it asks bigger questions about religious liberty, war, and the machinations of the military. I really loved this movie and find it an amazing counter-type of what you’d expect from a war movie. Somehow it finds a way to honor everyone. Vince Vaughn was outstanding. The one weird part I didn’t care for was the almost racist portrayal of the Japanese at the end of the film. It didn’t fit and seemed oddly self-serving.

Chances of Winning: Average. War movies have a a tough go at awards, then there is the Mel Gibson factor. 

Hell or High Water

This movie looks, feels, smells, and acts just like West Texas. It is the anomaly of the group, though. If this were the SAT’s, then this movie would be the answer to the question, “Which one of these is not like the other.” Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are so fun and amazing in the movie that they make up for a plot that you can see coming from the opening credits. You’ll like this movie if you like No Country For Old Men, Fargo, and Bonnie and Clyde. It’s kind of the same idea.

Chances of Winning: None. Dare I say, “Not a chance in hell.” 

Hidden Figures

How much do I like this movie? I think it should be shown to every fourth grade student in America. Seriously, it inspires, teaches, rebukes, and entertains all at the same time. I know that racism and prejudice is the backdrop of the film, but as a father of daughters, I love the aspect of the movie that encourages girls that they can do science and math and achieve great things. This movie also has the best line of any film in years. “At NASA we all pee the same color. Yellow.” The problem with this film is that it forces a romance that is unnecessary and loses narrative focus by trying to cover too much.

Chances of Winning: Astronomically small.

La La Land

If you like dreamy-eyed musicals, this is your movie. To say that La La Land is dreamy is not an exaggeration. I literally can’t tell if the whole thing is a dream sequence or not, and I am still debating as to how the end fit everything. The way the characters dress, the cars they drive, the way they speak, everything about the movie screams that it is an out-of-place jumble of Hollywood from about the 1920’s until the present time. The music in the movie is good, but not outstanding, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are wonderful but the rest of the cast is either flat or non-existent, the editing is sloppy, and the sound mixing is awkward. But the dialogue and screenplay–that is off the charts.

Chances of Winning: Likely. For proof, see Birdman.

Lion

This is my favorite movie you’ll probably never watch. I particularly enjoyed the little boy who played the main character. He is the one who should have been nominated for best actor. The scenery is sunny and the cinematography is worth the price of the ticket. The film lags at times with lots of close up shots of Saroo, the main character, looking into the camera or wistfully away trying to figure out who he is. That didn’t work for me so much, but the overall story is so strong I can forgive that. The dialogue is tight, efficient, and meaningful. Nothing is wasted. This is the one you’ll be tempted to skip. Don’t.

Chances of Winning: Average. This is the film most likely to ‘roar’ an upset.

Manchester By The Sea

In my opinion, this was the worst movie of the batch. It is not an awful movie en toto, but it is the least deserving of these nine. The movie has major problems. The abuse of the flashback is one. The flashbacks come so fast to explain major plot moments that it is difficult to tell what is present and what is past. I could have gotten beyond that, but I can’t get by the characters in the movie. It feels like the makers of this movie decided their goal was to make a movie about the biggest jerks in the world going through a major grief crisis. It didn’t work for me.

Chances of Winning: Marginal. The Academy sometimes likes movies like this because they are edgy. 

Moonlight

I have to confess something. I can’t tell if Moonlight is brilliant commentary on the contemporary pressures of people living in ethnic communities in large cities or if it is just one cliche after another. I am being serious. It is either one or the other. I am, at present, leaning toward the latter rather than the former. It feels like cliche that wants to be pretentious. That doesn’t mean the film is not important, but it feels like too much. Poverty. Check. Inner city. Check. Confused sexuality. Check. Personality disorder. Check. Bullying. Check. Abusive family. Check. Crack mom. Check. Drug dealer. Check. Prison. Check. Gangster motifs. Check. It just feels like a little much for me.

Chances of Winning: Average. It all depends on how Oscar answers the “social commentary or cliche” question.

Thanks for reading my summaries. Be on the look out for Oscar predictions tomorrow.

2015 OSCAR BEST PICTURE NOMINATIONS: THEMES AND THOUGHTS

Yesterday I blogged my overview of the best picture nominations, and you can CLICK HERE to read those.  Here are some thoughts I have about the nominations as a group.

best-pic_3166072kThought One:  This is the year of the troubled genius.  The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything both feature brilliant scientists.  Alan Turing (brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in Imitation) and Stephen Hawking (equally brilliantly portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in Theory) both are super-duper-smart but also have troubles.  Hawking’s trouble is the motor-neuron disease while Turing’s is his antisocial, asperger-like behavior.

These are the obvious ones, but not the only ones.  Chris Kyle, the main character in American Sniper, is in the same category.  He is the ‘best’ sniper in American history, but he also suffers from guilt, PTSD, and a very exaggerated sense of duty.  Martin Luther King is the genius orator and leader of the Civil Rights movement in Selma, but his marriage and personal life is in tatters.  Andrew Neiman is a brilliant drummer in Whiplash, but he is unable to live any kind of meaningful life other than to consistently take the verbal whipping of his abusive music teacher.  The actors in each of these roles, Bradley Cooper, David Oyelowo, and Miles Teller do wonderful work tapping into that complexity.

Thought Two:  Words.  None of these, really, are wordy films.  Budapest and Selma are the wordiest, but Sniper, Imitation, Theory, and Whiplash amaze me with how much they communicate without words.  This is also true of Foxcatcher, which should have been listed instead of Birdman.  I hated Birdman.  I bet the entire screenplay for Foxcatcher is only about five pages single spaced.

Thought Three Boyhood and American Sniper have more in common than you might think.  These two films are about as different as night and day in terms of what you see, but they both cover the same period of time and they are both anchored in the Texas experience.  Kyle grew up in Texas and it was a tough, Texas childhood and early adolescence that lead him to join the military.  It was a unique Texas testosterone that fueled his view of duty, guns, violence, and family.

In Boyhood we see Mason grow up in a different Texas.  He is led by his mother (Patricia Arquette) and father (Ethan Hawke) to go on a voyage of self-discovery and self-obsession.  He plants yard signs for Obama in Houston with his dad, slackers around Austin, and becomes an artist in San Marcos.

Of special interest in this comparison, remember when Mason’s grandfather gives him the shotgun for his birthday?  Maybe Mason’s grandparents hung out with Chris Kyle’s parents?

Their lives are so different, but it is altogether possible that if these were real tellings, Mason might have been at Pedernales Falls State Park with his father when maybe Chris Kyle was there with his wife and kids.  More pointedly, it might not be too much of a stretch to think that Kyle, when he was a rodeo professional, might have been a possible love interest for Mason’s mom.

Seriously.  These two movies overlap in so many ways, but they portray two different Americas, two different kinds of Texas.

Thought Four:  Thankfully, the nominations this year are not as sex-laden as last year.  I wonder if Hollywood has realized that they went too far last year with The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, Her, and Dallas Buyers Club.  You can read last years reviews to see how I felt about those, but for now it is proper to acknowledge how ‘unsexual’ the 2015 movies are.  The only one that comes close to anything graphic is The Grand Budapest Hotel, and that is more ‘yuck’ factor than anything else.

Why is that? It could be that the last three winners have been The Artist, Argo, and 12 Years A Slave.  None of those were overtly sexual.  Sure, 12 Years has nudity, but it is not sexual.  It portrays the ugly exploitation of slavery.

Thought Five:  Not much to say except, this years Oscars is about as male-centric lily white as one can imagine.  Diversity has been kicked to the curb.  Consider this piece (Click Here) from the L. A. Times.

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the films.  Tomorrow, if time allows me, I will blog my predictions as to who will win the major awards.

image from telegraph.co.uk