2014 BAM Award Considerations – April

I decided that with the plethora of BAM Awards-related post towards the end of 2013 and the start of this year it was best to wait to the end of this month before officially recommencing the process.

I will post these lists towards the end of the month to allow for minimal updates. By creating a new post monthly, and creating massive combo files offline, it should make the process easier for me and more user-friendly for you, the esteemed reader. Enjoy.

Eligible Titles

Forgetting the Girl
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Heaven is for Real
Stranger by the Lake
Hillsborough
Joe
The Little Rascals Save the Day
Oculus
A Birder’s Guide to Everything
Bad Words
A Haunted House 2
How We Got Away With It
Bears
Bad Boys
Maradona ’86
The Opposition
WNUF Halloween Special
The Quiet Ones
A Long Way Off

Best Picture

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joe
Oculus
A Birder’s Guide to Everything

Best Foreign Film

Best Documentary

Hillsborough
Bears
The Opposition

Most Overlooked Film

As intimated in my Most Underrated announcement this year, I’ve decided to make a change here. Rather than get caught up in me vs. the world nonsense and what a film’s rating is on an aggregate site, the IMDb or anywhere else, I want to champion smaller, lesser-known films. In 2011 with the selection of Toast this move was really in the offing. The nominees from this past year echo that fact. So here, regardless of how well-received something is by those who’ve seen it, I’ll be championing indies and foreign films, and the occasional financial flop from a bigger entity.

Best Director

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joe
Oculus
A Birder’s Guide to Everything

Best Actress

Lindsay Beamish Forgetting the Girl
Karen Gillan Oculus

Best Actor

Christopher Denham Forgetting the Girl
Nicolas Cage Joe
Brenton Thwaites Oculus
Kodi Smit-McPhee A Birder’s Guide to Everything
Jarred Harris The Quiet Ones

Best Supporting Actress

Scarlett Johansson Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Redford Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Patrick d’Assumçao Stranger by the Lake
Tye Sheridan Joe
Ben Kingsley A Birder’s Guide to Everything

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Annalise Basso Oculus
Katie Chang A Birder’s Guide to Everything

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Jet Jurgensmeyer The Little Rascals Save the Day
Garrett Ryan Oculus
Kodi Smit-McPhee A Birder’s Guide to Everything

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Tye Sheridan Joe
Drew Justice The Little Rascals Save the Day
Alex Wolff A Birder’s Guide to Everything
Steele Stebbins A Haunted House 2
Aldo Maland The Quiet Ones

Best Cast

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joe
Oculus
A Birder’s Guide to Everything

Best Youth Ensemble

The Little Rascals Save the Day
A Birder’s Guide to Everything

Best Original Screenplay

Forgetting the Girl
Oculus
A Birder’s Guide to Everything

Best Adapted Screenplay

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joe

Best Score

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joe
Oculus

Best Editing

Forgetting the Girl
Joe
Oculus
A Birder’s Guide to Everything
The Opposition

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joe
Oculus
The Quiet Ones

Best Cinematography

Forgetting the Girl
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joe
Oculus
A Birder’s Guide to Everything
Bears
The Quiet Ones

Best Art Direction

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joe
Oculus

Best Costume Design

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joe
The Quiet Ones

Best Makeup

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Oculus

Best Visual Effects

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Oculus

Best (Original) Song

Joe
The Little Rascals Save the Day

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Review – How We Got Away with It

How We Got Away with It concerns Henry (McCaleb Burnett) who has just been released from prison on the verge an annual weekend getaway with a group of friends to his hometown. A sudden tragic turn of events causes some of them to respond in a violent manner.

When one is a credits reader they may be leery seeing one of the actors listed as one of the writers and director as well. However, this film does have a very cinematic start and flourishes throughout. Moreover, its ensemble nature, for the most part, feels organic and not as solely a showcase.

The film builds mysteries, throughout but how big they are and how much they should be guarded is one of the main struggles of this film. Subtext swallows text; while that is a higher-class problem to have than the opposite it presents a challenge of its own, which is keeping interest through the subterfuge. The subterfuge can become either a beautiful smoke-screen to a gorgeous reveal or a frustrating encumbrance when a clearing is reached. Here it ends up being more the latter as some of the information revealed is unsurprising, or doesn’t change the game. Ultimately it feels like the film plays coy for far too long.

This even extends to the characters and their relationship to one another. Now that does end up being clearly by design as events unfold. However, there is a cumulative effect to all these facts being played so opaquely, as in the end all the scenes aren’t intrinsic in leading to the big reveal and something more tangible to hold on to would be nice. The issue being that the dialogue is precise enough, and the actors are en point enough that you know they’re driving at something, but are not always sure of what. There needs to be a scrap thrown now and then. After reveals there are scenes that play out perfectly, but then the cycle on consistent tenuous engagement recommences.

Even when some satisfactory answers and information are revealed it proves a bit more frustrating because in the end it’s not that far from succeeding as a whole. It’s a film that’s belabored and too “cute” for its own good.

This especially proves true when it comes to the sequence that illustrates the title. It ends up being a second example of Becker (Jon Lindstrom), the detective, nearly Holmesian intuitions, powers of deduction and evidence gathering. It’s another double-edged sword: it’s cinematically handled and to an extent respects the audience’s intelligence, on the other hand its incredibly convenient and quick.

When all is said and done, it’s a different approach to a fairly standard story that should find an appreciative audience, it just didn’t hit home here.

5/10

Review – A Long Way Off

A Long Way Off is a film that is a modern retelling of the story of the prodigal son. As such it has the foundation, firstly, to be an effective human drama and, second, transition well to a modern secular retelling. However, its successes and ultimate failures are attributable mostly to what is built upon the foundation of one of the most beautiful stories the Bible has to offer.

Aside from a title card at the beginning citing the chapter and verses of Luke wherein the story is disseminated first, the source is never that overt, save for plot points (should you know them) and certain pieces of dialogue (again, should you know them). That title card at the beginning is indicative of one of the issues the film has which is that of lacking in subtlety.

Not to say that this film ever truly hides its nature as faith-based entertainment, but the narrative of a man struggling with his purpose, family, ultimately faith is universal enough such that it should translate to all audiences regardless of their religious or other affiliations.

That’s why in a story of unconditional acceptance of a son by his father, and by extension of the Father for all His children, its an exceptionally curious and tonally incongruous decision to include divisive material that isn’t even veiled but appears in the forms of propaganda, virtual infomercials, politicking and more. One example is Sean Hannity introducing a book that “has converted many liberals to conservatives.” Another is a scene that has narrative purpose: the lost son seeks a gun in self-defense and the salesman is not only a clairvoyant, knowing he never used one, but also a mouthpiece for responsible application of the second amendment.

This isn’t a comment fueled by personal leanings but one that is made noting the lack of narrative necessity of these asides; in the aforementioned gun-buying scene Jake, the prodigal son; didn’t have money anyway, so it was crafted just to make the point that there are responsible gun vendors, etc. These are just a few examples. People who took issue with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty would have an embolism watching this film. Product placement is one thing (and a necessary evil of all levels of filmmaking) but when it starts to feel like you’re not just acknowledging the reality of corporate influence in the world but like you’re leasing airtime to people for infomercials, that comment overtly on the story mind you, it becomes a further issue.

Granted in the modernization of a story there needs to be a sojourn into excess and secularism. However, the perils of leaving home and forsaking ones family cannot be cartoonish if the film is to maximize its full potential. And that’s about the only way to characterize an eye-patch clad gangster with a wise-guy accent. The film still, in spite of itself and due to the strength of the story its basing itself on, has its moving moments.

It seems as if a few things were at work here the film was trying to cram all its ideas in one story whether they truly fit or not, when it really didn’t have to. Despite some stilted scenes and dialogue the core of the film does function, but in an updating it is really about the update that makes or breaks it. A litmus test of a faith-based film is if it’s preaching to the choir. It sounds like a platitude but it’s true, it has to work as a film. This film more often then not seems like it’s not only preaching to the choir but trying to tell us who is welcome in the choir – or maybe just sell us books also.

5/10

Poverty Row April: One Year Later (1933)

 

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old Poverty Row April post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically depending on the theme. Enjoy!

One Year Later (1933)

Every once in a while there is a film that will have you firmly ride the fence for a while. I usually like to give myself time to digest and think about a title. There have been quite a few titles that were about nothing or next to nothing in this theme (and that was not unexpected). This film is clearly not in that category, but it does have its issues, and plays a little coy with the details of the drama unfolding.

Ultimately this title gets a pass for a few reasons: while it doesn’t use a lot of voice over or flashbacks, the combination of audiovisual cues was still new film grammar at the time, it does tell a tale of fractured chronology, which is rather different than most of the fare thus far. Though it plays a little hard to get and does time-wasting tactics, it is also playing subtext while skirting what precisely happened in the year of the story that intervened. The events that escalate towards the film’s climax don’t click as well as they could, but they all make sense. I had a concentration lapse that cost me not to fully account motivations at first; I’ve bridged those gaps. It’s a film that is well-made, takes interesting story paths and for the most part stays engaging, despite its hiccups and difficulties.

6/10

Poverty Row April: Hoosier Schoolboy (1937)

Here’s another Mickey Rooney-starring title. This one is for Monogram when he’s a bit older than the last one. It’s a great performance by Rooney in what feels like two long short films intertwined, as a character who seems like she may be the lead does an impressive vanishing act in the secon half of the film. It’s no great shakes, but it’s a decent way to pass the time.

Watch the film here.

By Any Means Necessary: Tracking Titles

This is a follow-up to a recent post where I revived this idea and made it a theme.

Flixsie is a Roku channel that I just gave a litmus test. It purports to be a search engine for titles available on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Vudu. After having mentioned Dead Snow yesterday I wanted to see if I could stream it, since it turned out I didn’t have it after all. Flixsie couldn’t find it, but it is available to rent and purchase for Amazon. Maybe it only finds included movies but it didn’t find that one.

In my experience the better methods of tracking films you want to see are the ones I don’t use quite often enough.

For Netflix-available titles my preferred resource is InstantWatcher. It cuts through the malarkey and favoritism on Netflix’s menus and shows it all.

For list-making and film tracking I like Letterboxd.

To see what movies are available, and by what means, I like GoWatchIt.

Films Losing the Religious, One Way or Another

Is there any winning with Hollywood and religious-themed fare? Many times, especially in recent examples, it feels like there isn’t. Frequently the film industry is pilloried for its content, as if visual fictions shape the lives of young people more than scripture. However, then when religion comes back in vogue on film (as almost everything does at some point) then that too creates issues. This year has been one of those years.

Noah was the first title to come under a lot of fire for its Biblical inaccuracy.

However, some of the issues that come to light when those complaints are registered is that the complaints themselves are inaccurate. As highlighted in this piece on The Daily Show.

It’s not an uncommon case at its core. It essentially boils down to selective reading and remembering of the Bible. Yes, the Bible does state that Noah is nude and drunk after the waters have receded and he’s cultivated wine. So one thing that Noah does do well is fill in the blanks wherein Noah is conflicted about his duty and where God is silent he has Noah wonder if he’s following His intent correctly.

Following test screenings where religious viewers had bad feedback Paramount returned with some humorous advertising.

Noah (2014, Paramount)

I agree with their stand that their film about Noah need not be a model of Biblical accuracy. I am fine with most of the decisions made in the film. My main issue with Noah is a filmic one not a dogmatic one inasmuch as I feel many of the conflicts and suspenseful scenarios are somewhat old hat and strung out far past their effectiveness.

The fact that the Bible does not cite Ham as deprived a wife or that Tubal-Cain tried to storm the ark is not a concern to me, in cinematic parlance motivations and conflicts were necessary. For after the flood there is a diaspora of Noah’s children to repopulate the Earth. Some additional incentive in that regard is not a bad thing.

While I can’t say I walked away pleased, I can say I appreciated Noah not being treated as a well-meaning buffoon as he was in The Bible: In the Beginning… And piggybacking on the Jon Stewart comment about the Old Testament, that may well be true, it’s a more dour, wrathful section so why make it Hollywood? Conversely, that and effects work may be why there’s never been a big budget rendition of Revelations. However, Noah did underscore that focused Biblical tales have a better chance of succeeding than sprawling pastiches.

Son of God (2014, 20th Century Fox)

In seeing that Daily Show piece I myself was stunned. I knew that in liking Son of God in spite of some of its sketchiness, incessant gravitas and occasional bouts of television, I would be in a minority. However, I could not predict that the casting of Diogo Morgado as Jesus would prove an issue to some.

The curious thing about this is that it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s Portuguese and occasionally had accent lapses, or even that he’s too Caucasian in appearance, but rather that he’s too attractive. This is even more surprising considering that I didn’t really hear much of this complaint when The Bible, the mini-series from which this feature was spliced, aired initially.

I don’t feel I need to belabor the point that an actor is an actor. He is playing a role. In fact, in an upcoming project on the CW he will be playing the devil – so his look is clearly malleable. I can’t say I haven’t been guilty of over-scrutinizing the appearance of an actor playing Jesus, but I’ve moved past such immature notions and it shouldn’t influence an overall impression of a film.

Heaven Is For Real (2014, Sony Pictures)

I’ve seen plenty of films that earned accolades from religious and family-based organizations that were downright awful. There can be a convergence of quality cinema and doctrinally palatable material, but they are not mutually exclusive and a decision needs to be made on both sides. For the filmmaker and consumer story decisions need to take precedent, and for the viewer only interested in faith-based stories they need to decide whether they’d prefer being ignored or slightly misrepresented. For the latter at least creates a talking point. In seeing trailers for Noah I knew it took liberties with the story. I may not have liked all of the decision or some of the techniques, but I definitely appreciated the intent.

Godspell (1973, Columbia)

For Son of God its tonality and casting of main parts were its strengths, but its trying to be too inclusive in the narrative created some issues. In the most recent film Heaven is For Real I was surprised to find debate and grappling with belief all over the place and thought. I have yet to hear if these doubts also made people uncomfortable but, in this recent rash of religious fare, it may be the best albeit not based in Scripture. Ultimately, films have to treat Scripture as source material, be it blasphemy or not. Essentially the same rules that apply to adapting other works to screen. The Word is still there untouched. The film is just another rendition thereof. Godspell is not any less powerful to me just because Jesus didn’t really have a fro or striped pants.