My Ballot: BAFTA Rising Star Award

I have for some time wanted to start a series like this, and figured this new year was a good time to start. Essentially, whenever there is a publicly-voted award in the film world I will share my thoughts and vote here.

I was thankful to be reminded of this award this morning. It’s one I have voted in before and since it’s kind of a body of work award and is thus more intriguing than most. I can’t recall how many times I have voted in this poll in the past, but considering that Nicholas Hoult and Emma Stone have been nominated previously, and also been BAM honorees, I’m fairly sure I cast my ballot for them in the years in which they were nominated.

As for this year’s ballot the choices are:

Elizabeth Olsen, considering that I picked her as Best Actress last year, and liked her in a subpar film this year, she’s already “risen” in my mind.

Andrea Riseborough, I sadly haven’t seen in any of her recent roles, so I couldn’t vote in her favor.

Suraj Sharma, I liked him far more than I did The Life of Pi, but it’s a stepping-stone to potentially bigger and better roles for him.

Juno Temple, I liked her performances in Killer Joe and The Dark Knight Rises. However, there was another tandem of roles that was more impressive this year amongst this list.

Alicia Vikander, is not only a very strong lead in A Royal Affair that was quite nearly earned her a Best Actress nomination in the BAM Awards, but also had a “Don’t You Recognize Me?” kind of moment to me after I saw that when I realized she was in Anna Karenina.

Review- Peace, Love & Misunderstanding

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding has a simple enough set-up: in the very first scene a husband (Kyle McLaughlin) asks his wife, Diane (Catherine Keener), seemingly out of nowhere for a divorce. The second scene is the dinner party they were planning for and he seems his normal petulant, pedantic, socialite self and she’s affected. While the legalities are being straightened she decides to take her kids; college-aged Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and high school student Jake (Nat Wolff) to Woodstock to stay with her long-estranged mother. As they stay their the difficulties of reuniting and illustrations of why Diane left become readily apparent.

So the foil is established early inasmuch as you have in this tale a hippie mother (Jane Fonda), who still very much embodies that lifestyle and a conservative, attorney daughter. The film does well to arc a majority of its characters. This film is a bit like Boy because it’s not so much about all of its characters changing, but more about accepting your family for what it is. Fonda’s character won’t change, as adventurous as Diane gets on the odd occasion she fundamentally will not either, it’s really a progression of learning to accept and live and let live on the other side of the mother-daughter relationship. Zoe is an interestingly drawn character; seeing as how she’s a college student she is open-minded and politically aware, at least in theory, but meets people who challenge her preconceived notions in a very creative way. She is at a crossroads more than once in the film, and must decide if she’ll be more laissez-faire or more rigid, seeing as how she’s torn. Then there’s Jake who is perhaps the most deftly written character because he is awkward around girls he likes, tells mostly inappropriate jokes with his sister and takes his documentarian ethos wherever he goes (and sometimes makes mistakes in that regard). However, it is he that makes the most incisive observations in the film but he doesn’t express them verbally.

He expresses them through his free form poetic short film that debuts at a short film festival in the story. We see the entirety of the film and many of the scenes are spliced back creatively in juxtapositions that seem apropos of nothing when looking at just one pair of joined images, but as a whole the short serves to illustrate that in spite of the lunacy and at times chaos that transpired between the family members during their time away it was evident all the way there was affection amongst all members of the family there was just difficulty in expressing it.

So while having a few characters not fundamentally change, at least not yet, makes the rendering of drama a bit more difficult the relationships do work as a whole. What was not even a family per se before this film started; now is one. While the nuclear family fractures, the extended family starts to re-solidify and working a number of characters together, leaving them at peace with one another is something and quite true: their may be a truce but each individual will still have his or her own baggage.

The progressions aren’t instant, or in a bee-line, a bit like reality it’s two steps forward and one step back. However, there are gaps being bridged throughout the course of the film.

Of course, these relational dynamic would hold no interest, and would not be allowed to build as they do, if it were not for the performers inhabiting the roles. If the actors inhabiting these parts are not sufficiently interesting then the struggles they’re in will not be either, and each player in this film excels in their part. Jane Fonda has been infrequently on the big screen in the past few years, alas this is a role and a narrative truly worthy of her talents and she truly shines in the film. For her part Keener seems a bit too perfectly suited but she does do well and plays brilliantly off of Fonda, which is half the battle. It’s not Elizabeth Olsen’s best role, partially due to her screen time, but there are no small roles and having an actor so gifted in a supporting part is truly a blessing for any film. The male performers in this film for the most part take a backseat to the ladies, which is rare but that is not to say they are insignificant. I discussed Jake’s character above but the interpretation by Nat Wolff is quite natural and adept. Some young actors don’t have the reflexivity to play the inherent awkwardness of certain situations that come with the teen years for whatever reason be it range, their type, direction. Yet, everything he does works whether it be his flippant innuendos, self-deprecating humor, aloof artist mode or being painfully shy around a girl. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a charm and confidence that is just enough to be very convincing as the free spirit who could get to someone like Diane. Some actors, or some other casting decisions, might place too strong a personality opposite here. He is winning but subtly so, not forcefully persuasive, which makes him harder for Diane to resist. Now, Chace Crawford does have to be an equal to Zoe as Cole, for nothing else would be so disconcerting to Zoe as someone who not only challenges her beliefs, but is as strong a personality as she is; and he succeeds most easily.

Peace, Love and Misunderstanding is most definitely a character study. However, it’s not a talking heads drama. There is visual interest and the short film does add some artistry in the edit. It’s a film that will have you think on it a bit and the kind that got a little better as I wrote this. It’s definitely worth a shot.


Review- Silent House

Elizabeth Olsen in Silent House (Lidell Media)

With Silent House you have yet another horror film that is a remake of a recent release overseas. What is undeniable is that the concept of a single take style horror film is intriguing, however, the execution of the style and its application to this particular story leaves a lot to be desired. You have on the one hand a lot of technical merit and on the other hand not a lot of narrative merit at all.

Any time you’re taking a notion that Hitchcock experimented with, one he did brilliant things with, you have promise but that promise is never close to fulfilled here. The ruination of this film is not all at once, which makes it all the more frustrating, however, the seeds are sewn early.

One thing that doesn’t quite jive with the production concept is that at some point, after great pains have been taken to establish the reality and immediacy of the situation, the score comes in. Which just alerts you to the artificiality of the situation, which seems to be what they’re trying to avoid so it’s a confusing and unfortunate decision.

In a film where there will be jump scares induced mainly by audio cues, and visuals are to an extent sacrificed, a lot of the film depends on its performers. So far as the lead is concerned Elizabeth Olsen, who broke out last year with her acclaimed performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is a very capable indeed. She accomplishes the rare feat of actually being as quiet as possible but also convincingly scared. It’s not a scream queen performance, it’s the antithesis of that and she does very well with it. None of the film’s failure can be placed on her.

The rest of the cast is another story and part of it has to do with the quality of the performance but also, and equally important, is the fact that many of the supporting players contribute massively to the film’s unfortunate transparency. The film is trying to hide secrets and give you twists, it means well but fails to really surprise.

Based both on the dialogue and the interpretation of Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens and Julia Taylor Ross the actors may as well be saying “Subtext” as well as have it stamped on their forehead. Everything’s played such that you start speculating, a bit uncertainly about the nature of all these people and later are proven correct and you really didn’t want to be. Similarly, it makes the single take a bit more confounding since the ideal visual style would maybe not have been seemingly objective but rather definitively subjective, an all POV tale but regardless of that, which doesn’t really affect my view of this film, the path they chose was marred with mistakes.

Horror films, perhaps more so than any other genre, have become very concerned (perhaps overly so) with twists and keeping the audience guessing. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does complicate the equation quite a bit and gets more than its fair share of films in trouble than it ought to.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to pull a fast one on the audience, but to do so your slight of hand has to be impeccable and here not only was the reveal unsatisfactory, so was the set up. I could see it coming a mile away and I was hoping I was wrong, then I wasn’t and it turned what could’ve been a decent, stripped-down horror story into something of a quasi-farcical failure.