Friday, 16 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Song Kang-ho in A Taxi Driver

Song Kang-ho did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Kim Man-seob in A Taxi Driver.

A Taxi Driver follows an unassuming Korean taxi driver as he escorts a German reporter trying to cover the Gwangju uprising.

I will admit that my initial glowing reaction for this film was amplified by the fact that I knew nothing about it going in making its particular revelations of what the story entails especially striking. Although do not misunderstand me I like the film a great deal, but it's not a flawless film by any measure particularly not when the film leans the scales of fictionalization perhaps just a bit far in its climax. It takes kind of an Argo approach where it has successfully had a lower key yet very tense climax, but then decides to follow it with a more overt action climax. I will admit the action climax is well done in terms of technique, but it just feels a little excessive. Having said that, what originally made me so invested into the story still stands which is within Song Kang-ho's portrayal of the titular taxi driver. Now I must address my perhaps hasty comment in the past in regards to Song Kang-ho where I described him as a "poor man's" Choi Min-sik. That was an unfair statement as Song Kang-ho is a very talented performer in his own right. This performance is further proof of that in that his work carries the film even beyond the fact that he is the lead of the film. Of course as we open up the film this seems like a fairly lightweight performance by Song Kang-ho. This is right in the first shot where we open with him cheerfully singing along with a song on the radio while he drives his taxi around Seoul. Song makes a rather brilliant decision to approach the role from the outset as though he is the lead in a comedy. That's seen from his energy from that opening sing song realizing a man with a song in his heart though not exactly carefree.

Song's approach is notable though as he navigates the early scenes where he goes about what seems like a normal day for the taxi driver Kim. Song delivers the role as this sort of rascal you'd expect from a little more farcical style comedy as in the early scene he scoffs at some young protestors for having it "so good", and goes about chasing down one of them after they inadvertently cause him to break a mirror on his taxi. What I love here is that Song doesn't play it as though we the audience watching him should notice that anything is wrong about this in anyway. This is just a fun performance to watch as Song brings such an abundance of energy to the part that manages to make Kim rather endearing even as he tries to chase down the young guy. He brings just this right type of exuberance in the role fitting to a hapless comic hero even as he deals with a pregnant couple using his taxi, that wouldn't be out of place in an 80's comedy. Kim briefly chews out the man when he doesn't have the money to pay, and what could be a despicable little scene Song makes work in the sort of humorous exasperation he reveals. Although he's not getting his fare, even this is made properly of no importance as he attempts to complain, until the man promises double the next day, where we get Song's hilariously timed instant switch in Kim to a most accommodating taxi driver. Song's terrific in that he does play Kim as a kind of a jerk, but properly as the kind of jerk who is easy to like.

This is not to say that we don't see that Kim has a few problems, as he we find out he's a single dad who is having difficulty making his rent. This is obviously a problem although it is purposefully not given too much gravity by either the film or Song's performance. Song delivers the right earnest, if somewhat hapless, affection though in his early scene with his daughter. He shows well that though Kim loves his daughter it is obviously not exactly prepared to be this great dad. There is just a touch of sorrow that alludes to their mutual loss, though Song effectively portrays this as enough in the past that it no longer is directly upsetting however is still inherent within his relationship with his daughter. Song naturally uses this as part of our sort of hapless hero who even with those problems still is in no way bogged down by them that would make him lose this unique spirit of his. This spirit that is so well realized by Song as something that is both endearing yet selfish at the same time. That sense of fun is so effectively created by Song fitting to a guy who really isn't overly troubled because in his view his problems are not so great they cannot be overcome. Song though finds this exact way this is created though through the narrow perspective that he portrays that defines Kim. Song specifically delivers every line early on that concerns someone out of his situation as this quick brush off of any such concerns returning always to his own experience which while isn't perfect Song shows that he can get along with it just fine.

Kim decides to essentially steal a rider from another taxi driver after overhearing of the inordinately high fare offered for a trip to Gwangju. The rider being a German journalist (Thomas Kretschmann) from Japan intent on covering the uprising in the city despite the South Korean government's ban of foreign journalists. Kim, not knowing the actual details of the job, takes the journalist and here we advance to what could initially be just the beginning of an old fashioned buddy road trip movie. Song is hilarious here in continuing to portray Kim's self absorbed way as he goes about dealing with the journalist who is a particularly demanding costumer. I must say I have particular affection for Song's purposeful butchery of the English language when pretending he has some degree of fluency in it. Song's delivery in this is sheer perfection of a man just trying to get through the most basic communication to get the journalist to stop talking. Song just rambles out any of the words he can as quickly as he can, but then always trails back into Korean as though he only has a very limited set of words he can go by. The majority of their communication ends up being non-verbal then as the two go off where Song continues to be great in actually being kind of a real jerk yet doing it in such amiable way. As Song puts on such a smiling face while attempting any point of actual communication, particularly when it is about his fare, then instantly switches to almost a death stare, a comedic stare mind you, when he goes back to mock the man in Korean.

The two make for an entertaining pair even as Kretschmann plays the journalist as only mildly annoyed by Kim's lack of conviction towards his job. Song though is great in always portraying that exuberance to please only within the context of making the money for the job, but really a general pettiness when that is not a concern. Song's reactions are very funny as he continues to quietly insult the man still just in that singular frame of mind. A chance for this comes when they initially arrive at Gwangju that is obviously going over some considerable upheaval though they arrive during a calm. Song doesn't break his more comedic side even as they arrive in the strange place though he naturally adjusts just early on in portraying the man's slight confusion at the sight of the place since he had no real awareness of. He's still self absorbed though but now in a different way. When the two show up the journalist is greeted with open arms by the local students trying to protest the government, and who initially offer considerable praise to the taxi driver who brought the man. Song's still very entertaining in just showing the rather sudden burst of a foolish pride, even though he has been more or less complaining the whole way without any awareness for the importance of the trip. Song transitions well in calming the more overtly comedic performance to just a still lightly comic one as he discovers something is going on but doesn't take too much note of it.

The situation though slowly appears to be more dire though and Song's terrific in portraying this slight confusion as this representation of him slowly coming out of his bubble a bit. He is sidetracked though when the locals question his motives, and he changes his relationship with the journalist from comically distant to more intensely so. This is mostly in part when those motives are questions and Song's terrific in portraying almost this defense as instinct as the man who in his mind is doing what he's doing for a good enough reason. When the two begin to explore more of the city Song is so effective in just creating this sense of discovery in the man which at first is with a bit of joy as people start treating him well for his "deed", while also capturing this certain bliss of a man who has no idea what's going on. Song presents this especially well by still showing it as mostly within this stuck perception though on how it specifically effects the man. His interactions with the locals and the journalist Song still makes very curt as he would treat any customer still. When they witness more overt violence though Song again carries this character to next stage so well but does not over step the moment. In that he now finds that same self-absorption though now without any humor and just this sense of concern for himself along with a bit of anger for the journalist who he believes put him in this situation.

Song is outstanding though in how subtly he realizes the change in just the scenes of interacting with the locals and the journalist. In these middle scenes he's very quiet and Song's body language is a man just kind of shrinking into his own fear. The kindness of the locals and the moment of just interacting as people Song brings just the slightest change as he begins to notice the people. Song brings out just hints of warmth conveying a slowly growing camaraderie. I especially love his moments with Kretschmann as he captures this perfect combination of this ever so slight understanding towards the man, but with this striking passive aggressive manner that he realizes in these bits of dark joy he finds at any time he can secretly make fun of the man. In every instance of witnessing another horrific misdeed by the government Song naturally ease out of this state and slowly becomes more open and honest in they way he interacts with those around him. Song has a great scene, after the journalist saved him from a vicious soldier, where he finally reveals something about himself to the man, though sort of accidentally keeps it secret since it's in Korean. It's a powerful moment though as Song exudes the man finally breaking his "man as an island" mentality by revealing his own tragedy in the past of losing his wife. Song replays this loss in his performance capturing the grief in this way of understanding the suffering around him finally suggesting a man who has perhaps now come to terms that he was not alone in his pain.

Kim leaves Gwangju without the journalist, in order get his car properly repaired and to return to Seoul to take care of his daughter. While he is getting his car repaired he has time to himself. This is a incredible scene that Song Kang-ho uses so well as this juxtaposition to the man we saw as he entered Gwangju. There we saw the man mostly concerned with his money and his own problems while being oblivious to the obvious troubles around him. In this scene he walks around a celebration and Song's performance conveys the way the man cannot enjoy what is around him as in his mind he shows the man drifting back to the horrors witnessed in the city particularly when all he hears is the government propaganda on what is happening there. This is best realized when he takes off in his taxi again, singing along with the radio as he did in the opening of the film yet now instead of the joyful sing song of a man in his own world Song delivers a wailing tune weighed down by his awareness of the rest of the world. When Kim returns to make sure the journalist makes it out of the city this could come off as overly maudlin yet it is is absolutely earned by Song's performance. In the final act of the film Song's performance becomes mostly reactionary yet it makes no less of an impact. He is fantastic and downright heartbreaking in every scene by showing the full extent of the gravity of the situation in his work. As he watches every atrocity Song's performance ensures the emotion is not lost through realizing how every moment nearly breaks the man. His work with Kretschmann is particularly notable as they don't really say much more to each other yet just the way they look at another powerfully conveys the mutual connection through both their sorrow over what they have seen but also within the conviction to unveil the truth to the world. This is an amazing performance by Song Kang-ho as he pulls the rug out from you by anchoring this film and its tone throughout in such a notable fashion. It is his performance that makes the extreme change in tone from the opening frame to the final shot work. He is convincing in every moment as he goes from this goofy guy in a largely comic work, to a wholly dramatic and devastating portrayal of a man living through and coming to terms with such a horrifying experience.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: James Franco in The Disaster Artist

James Franco did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for SAG and winning a Golden Globe, for portraying Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist.

Oh hai everyone. The circumstances of this review, they're crazy, almost as if I started reviewing me underwears. Alright maybe not  that much ahahaha. What a story, ahahaha as I go from reviewing the original performance by Tommy Wiseau for its infamous quality to the performance as that performance by James Franco which was nearly Oscar nominated. Before I unpack the story behind the room filled filled with spoons I must admit my own feelings towards the inception of this project. After being delighted by the book of the same name as this film I'll admit my anticipation for the adaptation perhaps matched the extent to which chocolate is known to be the symbol of love by society, which as we know is almost unqualified in that vast belief. In short I was excited. Upon hearing James Franco optioned the novel, who I have never been the biggest fan of and I certainly did not see him in the role as the football while wearing tuxedos playing aficionado. Upon also hearing of Franco casting it as this beautiful party. Where he invited all of his friends in cameo or even leading roles, while that might have been good thinking to Franco, but that along with the first teaser was leading me almost to scream your tearing me apart James Franco!

I was concerned more than a strange man/boy creature should be who bought drugs from the wrong oddly named drug dealer. As Tommy Wiseau would be an easy enough character to get wrong because on and off screen he is so ridiculous it would be easy enough to only be the caricature of the man. I must admit though before I started throwing my TV out of a window only for it to fall in a way that is against the laws of gravity, I saw the extended trailer and eventually the film which changed my tone faster then when you don't want pizza but pizza was already ordered for you. Although I won't quite say I said oh hey James Franco I didn't know it was you, upon the opening of the film Franco comes close to becoming the realization of the man who will incorrectly act like a chicken right to your face. We see this as Tommy Wiseau represents the idea of the fearless actor to Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) as they meet in an acting class. Franco of course cannot tell you the secrets of Tommy Wiseau, they're confidential after all. He instead must be the enigma of the man that is quite unlike your typical hu-man being. A man who will randomly say "How's your sex life" as a normal trait of human behavior, this is course a representation of Tommy more so than the legendary character of Johnny the banker from The Room, although these things can blur a bit.

Franco seems to have it all down, I mean the strange saunter, the mysterious glares, the unknowable accent...what's going here? Well Franco seems to have captured Wiseau past the surface level of his strange sunglasses, and even stranger wardrobe. There is that exact way of speaking even past the NOOOOWEORLLEANS accent, but the exact way his voice has these variations depending on the mood of the man. In this capturing of the man that is enough to make it interesting, this is a comedic performance in the sense that it is naturally funny the same way Tommy Wiseau is naturally funny in his strange way of navigating the world. The man who will go about saying "I'm tired, I'm wasted...I love you Baby" that isn't what one typically states in any circumstance, however the real Wiseau isn't far from that strange I'll say atypical juxtaposition of words and emotions. Now as much as the real Wiseau may wish for me to keep my comments in my pocket his very being is quite hilarious just as Franco is here, since he captures that same strange wavelength that the rest of us could only hope to achieve. For example I'm sure Wiseau understands the logic of the flower shop scene in his own mind, however we ponder every word, its very existence, except for perhaps the inclusion of doggie one of the better actors in that film. Franco simply finds the state of being that is Wiseau which is highly entertaining to watch, better than dropping off the earth anyways, that's a promise.

Of course before I go off to eat the delicious delicacy of haaaa, I must ponder if this performance is above a standard impression. Well I would say it is to the extent that it is one of the best impressions one probably has seen of the frequently impersonated Tommy Wiseau, although what takes this further beyond just an entertaining impression is any potential humanization of the very alien Tommy. This is of course as odd as introducing then dropping a cancer subplot through a single line, because Tommy's reactions are not so simple. I mean few people chuckle at hearing someone get beat up so bad they ended up on a hospital on Guerrero street or even specify the hospital name for some reason, no one goes cheep cheep to imitate a chicken, well except Tommy Wiseau. Franco's work then must attempt to bring out some strange inner truth of Tommy. In this sense Franco's portrayal of the other sides of Tommy are within his relationship with Greg played by his brother. This friendship is even atypical as the encouragements of Tommy towards Greg are strange in themselves demanding silence on questions about his past while also requiring the return of his own support. There is some strange vulnerability that Franco captures in more subtle moments, within this purposefully extroverted work. A sense of some desire for kinship though very much internalized towards these single moments of earnest friendship mixed in mostly within Wiseau oddity. Franco finds those moments but also uses them to essentially work towards the creation of the more problematic Tommy, that is only lightly touched upon here.

It is there which Franco fashions, for the feel good take to the material, to show it as a jealousy in Tommy towards losing his friend than the more inherent nature of the man who actually made the original film. It does work as such though in this is a return to The Room form, as we see Tommy/Johnny echo themselves as they become fed up with their mutual worlds. The overcoming of this, which is less dramatic for Tommy than it is for Johnny, is merely found in Tommy achieving equilibrium after Greg returns the encouragement to Tommy by showing that his passion project of the Room is beloved even if it is not in the way he intended. This again is Franco still as Tommy and his reactions seem right if perhaps limited in that we do never fully understand who he is past a certain point, to the point that it is obvious Franco never learned the whole truth either. This is an enjoyable representative of Wiseau, and enough of a realization beyond simply an impression to at least feel we've seen something of Wiseau in this film beyond simply being entertained by his unique antics. If James Franco were to ask "What do you want from me, huh? HUH?" about this performance, I'd say what he gave was more than enough. Now one might have a point of view that is so different than mine in regards to this performance. That is fine, as long as we can still love each other, you don't even have to say it, but one should just always remember that if a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live. 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Christian Bale in Hostiles

Christian Bale did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Captain Joseph J. Blocker in Hostiles.

Hostiles tells the story of a seasoned soldier being forced to transport a dying Native war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to his tribal lands.

I will admit after watching this film for a second time my original thoughts, which I will admit were somewhat bolstered by my great affection for the western genre to begin with, of that the film had flaws was perhaps an understatement. This film is a tapestry of wasted potential within its story of essentially the horrors of the west to which the film garners not a single pointed insight from therein. The film suffers from an excessive amount of characters while really under serving the majority of them in their attempt to some how include of all of them to tell this story. This is particularly true within the characters of the Natives who have barely a handful of lines though the film acts as though their story is of equal importance to that of the U.S. cavalry yet it never grants them more than the most surface of development. It's a film that seems burdened by its importance yet never offers the needed substance to earn this approach. This is commonly true for director Scott Cooper's career in general who perhaps someone should tell that even Silence and Schindler's List with their bleak subject matter had a few jokes in there, and that's just the truth. Of course a film can be great without humor however Cooper takes the approach that if a film has the appearance of this apparent gravitas that it will in turn realize itself within the narrative, yet that is never the case with his work particularly not in this film.

One credit I will grant for Scott Cooper is he seems to usually have a way with his actors whether or not they are working with compelling material. This is the second time he is working with Christian Bale who previously elevated Cooper's Out of the Furnace with his devoted work. Bale here is as devoted in his portrayal of Captain Joseph Blocker, obviously someone who has been part of the "Indian Wars" for a long time when the film opens. Bale portrays the first scene establishing Blocker as this hardened sort as he pays no mind to his men as they brutalize a few natives they have captured. When he is tasked with the mission at the center of the film though Bale establishes his tone for the rest of the film which is to be more intense than he's ever been in his career, which is saying quite a lot for an actor known for his intensity. Bale is utterly volcanic in this performance as he portrays such pent up anger as he initially tries to turn down the mission. The severity of the man's hatred Bale portrays as deep within the man's heart, but he carefully shows that this is not a hollow prejudice. Bale reveals this by inflicting his greater intensity when speaking of the chief's past that involved killing his friends. Bale uses his intensity to reveal a man on the brink of an emotional breakdown when he speaks of these past events, a breakdown that we see a scene later when he is isolated in the wilderness which Bale uses well to establish Blocker's hate as stemming from this war.

When the journey begins Bale is great in having established this hardened state of the man this is both in terms of his no-nonsense attitude in general. Bale delivers essentially the commanding presence a man who needs to be in these circumstances and properly overshadows every scene as being this focal point within them. He brings that right power personality essentially within the burden of the man's past as well as his hatred. When Blocker originally has the chief chained up Bale delivers this with a shade of malice, but more overtly as this strict method of protecting himself during the journey. They quickly come across a massacred homestead with only Rosamund Pike's Rosalie as a survivor. Bale again captures the scene well within this portrayal of a man who is not at all taken aback by what he sees rather reacts with the utmost professionalism of a man who has seen this many times before. He does suggest the right inherent decency deep within the man just again in the way Bale portrays just faintest bit of warmth, though still within as a soldier's courtesy sort of fashion, as he attempts to take care of the shattered woman. It's a good scene as Bale uses it to establish a different potential side of the man, but once we get Bale having fully established who Blocker is this is where the film begins to run into trouble in terms of the development of its themes in a truly meaningful way.

The group gets attacked by the Apache enough, killing some of Blocker's men, that leads him to unchain the chief and his family so they can work together to finish their trek. That's what happens and then film proceeds to offer many paths yet doesn't properly commit to any of them. In that it never gives them the amount of development needed  with Cooper's direction at fault but particularly in his writing of it. The material is problematic leaving the other performers and Bale to try to make something of this film. I would describe what we see as the film continues in Bale's work as the raw material of a masterful performance, sadly never fully realized into one due to the material. It is not on lacking of his part as throughout the film we are essentially granted vignettes of different paths for his character that could been more fully explored. We get one scene between Bale and his wounded buffalo soldier Corporal Woodson (Jonathan Majors). This scene hasn't really been built towards as it is this exploration for their apparent long friendship based on the two serving together for some time. The film did not earn this moment through developing this story, but having said that Bale tries his absolute best to make up for it within the context of the Blocker he has established. Bale projects this abundance of hidden concern and gratitude for the man within the cold hide of the man to make it an effective moment all within his own performance nonetheless.

The film does this again and again. We also see this through his relationship with two men more mentally unhinged than he is from the war. The first being condemned murderer Sergeant Wills played well by Ben Foster yet the role might as well have been defined by the tired old line "We're not so different you and I". The intensity delivered by Bale and Foster in a single scene is notable enough, and Bale is once again terrific in trying to make this additional subplot work. This time delivery a blunt coldness to the man he refuses to admit he's at alike, though effectively realizing this as taking some degree of suppression from Blocker. In these moments he realizes a more directed hate towards this man possibly because he reminds him of himself, possibly because he's what he could be, these are both interesting ideas alluded to by Bale but not really all that well explored by the film. The second relationship is with his loyal Sergeant Metz well played by Rory Cochrane as a man who is basically in the same state as Bale's Blocker yet without the control to prevent his life of killing and death from destroying his mind. Bale is great in the scenes between them in portraying just the bit of camaraderie the man has to offer as he attempts to comfort his friend, and does suggest their long history of pain together. Bale is terrific by offering this different look at Metz than at Wills, as in his eyes there is that concern rather than hatred, concern seemingly both for Metz and himself. When Metz takes his own life, Bale is outstanding in his portrayal of this man just barely holding onto his own sanity, through his expression of these pained rugged breaths that suggest Blocker controlling himself as fully letting in  the sorrow would swallow his mind whole if he embraced it.

Those relationships are interesting yet still don't seem fully explored to the heights that they could be. They at least get somewhere there though, but perhaps are diluted a bit by the film's choice to pile on its suffering as though it will make a weightier film with each death it depicts. Again there is at least something there, there is far less in Blocker's ongoing relationship with the damaged Rosalie. The development of the relationship as written is extremely underwhelming. Once again though I can't discredit Bale's work. In his scenes with Pike Bale is exceptional in offering a bit more of than initial warmth that suggests a potential at a decent life. Bale allows just this most minor regression of that intense control that defines his character. When he explains that God has been blind to the west, Bale's fantastic in the moment in letting a bit more tender emotion even within cynicism by granting this sense of a man having some type of optimistic belief if somewhere very hidden within him. Although the writing continues to not develop this relationship into anything truly notable, Bale cannot be faulted in his portrayal of Blocker slowly coming out to her in each moment with her, even when the film barely grants him those moments. The most underwritten element is sadly the central one involving Blocker's relationship with Yellow Hawk. The only thing as written the film gives is again that the chief suggests they need to fight together so they do. This somehow is suppose to build  to the point that in the end he so respects the man that he would be willing to fight and die for his right to burial. The film doesn't attempt to show this slow progression of a growing respect at all. It is largely assumed since Studi has so few lines in the film. Bale I will say can't quite make this work to be at all powerful or potent. I will say he does at least try to establish some sense of this transition by gradually easing the direct intensity towards Studi, and shifting to the people he genuinely hates like Foster, or the ranchers they fight at the end of the film. I don't think this is a flaw in Bale's performance because he does try to provide what he can, and given that there are genuinely powerful moments within his own performance inside this lacking material is remarkable. If I were only assessing the success of the character, I would say Blocker isn't quite there. I'm looking at the performance though and on that end Bale is incredible in how much conviction he brings to every scene, and what he manages to deliver within his role despite how many flaws there are within the material behind it.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Jeremy Renner in Wind River

Jeremy Renner did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Cory Lambert in Wind River.

Wind River tells the story of a murder of a young Native American woman on a Native American reservation investigated by the FBI, and the minimal local law enforcement aided by a local wild life tracker.

Wind River is an often problematic film in its approach towards its subject matter. This partially is in a more technical sense in writer Taylor Sheridan's inconsistent work while trying his own hand at directing one of his scripts where it strangely often plays closer to a TV pilot than a completely successful standalone feature film, but also more inherent towards the choices within the script not even considering the somewhat underwhelming plotting of the film. The faults within the script though are most readily evident in its attempt to adhere towards some greater importance within the story. Now aside from that it also includes the common trope, which has been questioned by many since at least Glory, which on a side note is actually a more easily justified example, where what should be a minority lead story follows white characters. This could have been avoided if the part I am going to address had been played by a Native American actor like Zahn McClarnon for example. The irony though is many of the flaws would have persisted within the film particularly since Jeremy Renner's performance as Cory Lambert is without a doubt the film's best quality.

What's so notable about Renner's work here is his completely atypical approach for a film that could have been made more of a revenge thriller of sorts, certainly with a different leading performance. Renner though from the outset very much emphasizes Cory as just this normal local guy from Wyoming working in and around the Native reservation by killing dangerous predators. Renner doesn't play him as this grizzled bent character, rather he takes a more naturalistic approach for a man who really is just living his life as the film opens. This isn't to say that Renner depicts the role with this carefree attitude, but what he does is find this certain tone that works so effectively for the role. Renner conveys just an inherent salt of the earth type of quality that is fitting to his character. He never over emphasizes this though in his approach. In that he does not make him this "man of few words" type, but rather just a working class hunter type whose more or less an average guy. Renner is able to exude this very specific vividness of the past, disregarding certain things we learn later about his character, but also in terms of a guy who has worked hard for many years in fairly rough conditions. Renner in regards to the man's setting and job doesn't show any exasperation towards that, but rather shows an authentic attitude of a man who lives a tougher life and is just fine living it as is.

We briefly see Cory going about his work and life with his divorced wife and son. Renner in these interactions is very good by only portraying this appreciation for both of them. There is not this overt somberness in this scene as Renner is able to realize the character's grief in a particularly remarkable way, although more on that in a moment. Renner in his family interactions though delivers that right familiarity with only that slight sense of distance with his wife. I love the expressive warmth he delivers in the scenes between Cory and his son. He has this one great moment where he reminds his son to be safe in his use of a gun. Renner plays this with an absolute concern for the moment which is fantastic moment because he reveals without a hint of paranoia. It is rather in the concern there is that brings this sense of just very firm care that he definitely wants his son to be okay without any over protectiveness to this. He obviously is perhaps more concerned than many a parent might be, which Renner alludes to the past that we learn later, yet he carefully shows that it is a greater concern from that past but not this damaging change. What Renner mostly shows though is just a still loving father and husband. As usual when Renner needs to deliver of charm he can, and this role in particular plays well to his unique strengths. In that Renner's charisma is very unassuming yet definitely there, which is perfect for the type of guy Cory is.

When the actual procedural begins Cory is the one who finds the body and along with the local police chief (Graham Greene) makes contact with the random FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) sent to investigate the crime. Renner is appropriately straight forward in the interactions. This isn't to say that he is ever underwhelming for a moment. Renner rather is so great in conveying the reactions natural to a guy who has had some hard times but hasn't been overwhelmed by them. When he sees the body and later describes it Renner delivers the line as a man who has in a way seen worse, however it isn't hollow. His delivery captures the right assumed emotion essentially in that he finds the right way to accentuate concern though in this very calm grounded way that Cory has basically found in his life. It's fantastic work through how lived in Renner finds this quality. For example when they later go about finding the murdered woman's brother, who is involved in some criminal activities, Cory delivers the news about her death to him after he obviously was unaware of her death. Renner puts forth the line very bluntly but not without emotion. It is rather outstanding how Renner here manages to infuse these most direct moments though still with honest concern, but within the rugged manner of this man. Renner just fully embodies the character so effectively throughout that everything just feels natural to who this man is.

Now perhaps where Renner derived his approach from is in a pivotal scene where Cory and the other investigators go to the murdered woman's father Martin (Gil Birmingham). Cory isn't there to interrogate the man but rather comfort it him as Cory also lost his daughter under similair circumstances. Renner is incredible in this scene as he physically and verbally exudes this philosophy as he speaks the words. Cory essentially tells Martin not to close himself from the past nor to forget it but rather embrace his grief in a specific way. In this Renner is able to find essentially how this man has come to terms with his own grief. As he speaks with this definite tenderness in his words as the love of a father reveals itself. His eyes reveal both this sense of loss of the daughter, but also a certain optimism within it as though is thinking of his best memories with her while giving Martin these words. It is not only a powerful stand alone scene but also wholly makes sense of this man who has found his way to cope with his daughter's loss. This is not to forget but to remember her best he can. We see this in Renner's work in that any moment he speaks about his loss, including when he describes what happened to her to Jane, Renner is very moving as he reveals the sorrow that lives in the man but in a way where he has found ease through the love he still holds for it.

When Martin essentially tasks Cory with killing the man responsible, which Cory basically already intended to do so, Renner grants the assurances not as this vicious hatred but rather this basic understanding as honoring one father's loss. Again Renner creates such a vivid realization of the man's personality and history that he makes his work all the more remarkable by so effectively portraying this different kind of lead for this type of film. He is able to maneuver between emotions because he shows it as just part of this straight forward guy Cory is. He has his slightly humorous and charming moments with Jane, and his concerned ones which Renner makes just the behavior you'd expect from him. What he also finds is this though is the drive to solve the case, which again he doesn't play as this obsession. Renner instead reveals as this serene type of passion that just is inherent to the man, as though it is a given that he will do as he has said. Renner makes this state of being a given as well as a completely earned facet of the character from how he has shown us the man right up until they solve crime. Although Cory kills most of the perpetrators as he would any out of control predator, he takes the lead man, who raped the woman, to die the same way she did. Before he does this though they have brief conversation where we perhaps are granted the most severe gap between acting quality of any single scene in 2017. This is where on one end we have one actor playing his part as a South Park caricature of a redneck "WHEEERRES MAAAAAA BOOTS", against Renner's amazing work. Renner doesn't let the abysmal quality of his co-star to interfere with him giving such a poignant piece work by delivering his "I'm going to kill you speech" with this elegance of a man who knows he's in the right and performing it as this duty. There is emotion within it yet Renner is stunning in the way he so internalizes it in the moment showing the man performing essentially this poetic execution so coldly towards the man, but with so much feeling within himself. Renner's final scene is great summation of his work as he goes to comfort Martin one last time with the minor closure of the death of the men responsible. Renner in the scene barely raises or breaks his voice, yet so calmly and still so directly revealing his warmth towards the man, love for his daughter, and his own grief with such subtle grace. Although one can argue over the choice in casting, Renner does his utmost to make up for that through this great performance.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Hugh Jackman in Logan

Hugh Jackman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying X-24 and James Howlett aka Wolverine aka the titular character in Logan.

Logan is one of the best films within the superhero genre by expanding its limits through its approach as a neo-western in its depiction of essentially the "last ride" of the Wolverine.

There is perhaps no actor closer sewn to their role in this genre than Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine as their connection goes beyond just a few entries on the actor's filmography. Jackman before the first X-Men film in 2000 was an unknown theater actor who had only previously been in a couple obscure Australian films. Jackman was not even the first choice for the part only coming into contention through a recommendation by his friend Russell Crowe who turned down the role. Jackman himself was not even cast until two weeks of filming after Dougray Scott dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Jackman was not even initially embraced given his unknown status, and his tall stature compared to the more Danny DeVito sized character of the comics. Jackman's charismatic yet appropriately gruff performance in the original film not only assuaged the majority of such concerns but also led to his breakout as a star in general. Jackman is a notable actor who seems to have appreciated the character that brought his mainstream success far more than many do. His general attitude is to wear it as a bit of a badge of honor showing no hesitations in reprising the role. Of his 18 years in the spotlight Jackman has been onscreen in the role in at least some way for half of them having played the role nine different times. In the public eye he's gone from that Aussie no one knew about hired past the last second to becoming synonymous with the character.

Now there have been some high and lows throughout this tenure, most often stemming from the quality of the film itself. Jackman usually has been a consistent enough factor in these films even when the films themselves have not been great. His sort of basic achievement in the role shouldn't be overlooked. Jackman after all is one of those interesting cases of an actor who broke out really in an against type role. One should have expected Jackman to be the charming romantic lead, but before Jackman could even be pigeonholed into such a role he had already proved himself capable enough as as this rough and often brooding anti-hero. One never thought when even watching his first film, "this guy must come from musicals", rather Jackman established himself as this character and his various facets therein. Although I won't say these films always explored these facets all that well, Jackman always seemed more than eager to himself. Jackman with that in mind obviously took great care to fashion a proper sendoff for the character and his final performance as him that fully explored the role. Re-teaming with The Wolverine's James Mangold but this time both of them taking the next step which that film was allowed to take. This was not only in ensuring a r-rating that doesn't cop out with a ridiculous CGI robo-samurai but also in terms of aiming for a darker and more character driven story in general.

The film establishes this tone quite clearly from the opening scene which rather than some extravagant action sequence is rather a low down and dirty brawl between Logan and a group of thugs who try to lift the wheels off his leased limousine. This makes the fight between Logan and Lady Deathstrike look like a choreographed dance, as here there is nothing but sloppy brutality as Logan struggles to kill the thugs. Jackman's own approach to this is wholly different even in the way he initially approaches them. Jackman rather than the Wolverine swagger of old just portrays Logan as trying to calmly talk to the guys out of the fight before they shoot him. After that point Jackman portrays it as this instinctual reaction as he goes about killing the men. Jackman delivers no cool one liner and portrays no pride in this moment, just a sigh of sheer exasperation as he leaves the scene. Soon afterwards we see one of the common facets of Logan which his ability to endure pain. This is given particularly graphic detail here as even though he can bare the wounds they now scar him. Jackman's work has never been more visceral though in finding every moment of sheer physical torture as Logan treats his wounds. Every scream fraught with such agony by Jackman showing a man who doesn't seem to fully recover even as Logan's wounds seal.

Jackman is outstanding here in realizing the state of Logan as the film opens. He portrays the role as a man who essentially has had it with life, although he doesn't do this in as a dour of a fashion as one might expect. He depicts this in a more day to day sort of fashion and with this certain contentment within this state of not caring about anything. When we see him doing his job as a limo driver Jackman wisely doesn't excessively brood there. He depicts rather this resignation to what his life is now as he goes about making money in between visiting his old mentor Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who he lives with at an abandoned factory. Jackman captures this particular sort of weariness of life for a man who for the longest of time believed he had no way out of it. When he speaks of the past of the X-men with the professor or anyone else Jackman delivers these lines with Logan sharply brushing off any mention of it as a corrosive cynicism towards the past. Jackman shows in these moments Logan's way of coming to any type of grip with it which is almost too keep the past in the past by always reminding Charles that the glory days are gone. There is something especially harrowing in Jackman's approach of this by so quietly revealing this attitude of Logan's, as not a man who is actively troubled by his life, but rather passively so through the sense that he's ready to give up on it through a whimper.

Jackman portrays essentially an acceptance of death in Logan when he speaks to the professor by rejecting talk of the past, and trying to get the professor on their "future" of living their days in isolation in the ocean. When Logan speaks to the professor of this there is a bit of optimism in these early scenes however Jackman portrays this as a externalized rather than internalized optimism. He plays it as Logan granting this momentary encouragement for the professor rather than for his own benefit. Jackman delivers a gentle warmth in that moment but pointedly places within his relationship with the professor than towards Logan's own condition. This is more fully evident when asked about the idea to take a ship out into the sea, along with questions of Logan's single adamantium bullet he carries with him, by the professor's other caretaker Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Caliban reminds Logan of his failing health and confronts him on his plans of suicide. This is where Jackman reveals a real anger with his plight though Jackman depicts it as Logan lashing out to get Caliban to stop speaking. Jackman portrays this in a way of Logan as being well aware of his condition and his own choice but troubled when reminded of it. His anger is that just to stop being reminded of it rather than any sort of actual rejection of truth as Jackman reveals that resignation to be that of a man who knows he's going to die soon and treats the prospect as an inevitability. That anger though Jackman uses suggests there man be some fight left in Logan although very faint.

A complication towards Logan's life reveals itself when he is initially offered a job to transport a young girl Laura (Dafne Keen) to the border of Canada. This is later thrust upon him when Laura's guardian is killed and her only safe haven is with Logan and the Professor. Jackman naturally reveals that this resignation towards his fate leaves Logan rejecting essentially being the "hero" and helping Laura. It is only when they receive a direct threat from the Revers lead by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), who intend to take Laura, does Logan intervene. Jackman even portrays this is essentially a survival instinct at first, realized so well in one of my favorite moments of Jackman's performance where Pierce tells Logan that he's killed Caliban. Jackman in the brief instance as Logan reveals his claws to kill Pierce, after claiming to having killed Caliban, with do we see the return of his old fierce some rage, but this is quickly taken out of him when he's jumped by Pierce's men and beaten into submission. Laura is not just a random little girl but in fact Logan's pseudo-clone/daughter who is able to fight off the men and escape with Logan and Charles. Jackman is fantastic in this scene again by bringing such a desperation in the action sequence. There is no moment where he's the cool collected hero, rather he reveals within his physical unrest of a man just trying everything he can to escape.

The three manage to escape which leads them to go and attempt to bring Laura towards her safe haven, and in this we get further exploration between the two central relationships. In part we get Stewart and Jackman together and there is a richness throughout the film in their interactions. They make use of the fact that they've shared so many films together and bring that sense of familiarity in their performances. There is that hint of warmth even as the two seem to be at their lowest point in the early scenes, and use that so well in their dialogue between each other. They speak to one another with the right casual emphasis of two very old friends even as they writhe in different forms of anguish. The introduction of Laura changes this though as Charles tries to take on his old place as mentor towards Logan and attempts to convince him to help the girl. When Charles encourages Logan to do the right thing Jackman's reactions are remarkable as in every word you see the measure that it weighs on his mind. He never once shows him rejecting Charles's words even when he says he's not going to do anything, or that someone else can help, Jackman's face reveals the truth that the old man's words are finding themselves into his soul once again. Jackman in this brings just a bit of hope back to Logan, only a bit in their interactions. There's still a roughness yet Jackman brings just a little of that old Wolverine charm back particularly when the two speak of their old days at school revealing Logan as potentially finding a bit of affection rather only cynicism from the past. There's such a genuine heartfelt quality in the words the share as both Stewart and Jackman create such a powerful friendship between the two. When Charles dies by the hands of X-24, Logan's more exact clone, there is not one but two absolutely heartbreaking moments delivered so effectively by Jackman. The first when he quickly tries to deal with his friend's final moments in just a few seconds with "it wasn't me" where Jackman brings us Logan so earnestly trying to make him understand. The second being his eulogy for the Professor after burying him. Jackman is devastating to watch as he so convincingly internalizes the grief in his broken inarticulate delivery, and brings such a guttural sorrow as he cannot find the words for his friend.

The other relationship is with his sorta daughter Laura which Jackman initially portrays as this overt reluctance towards the girl. He doesn't depict this as insensitive in fact he takes quite the opposite approach in depicting Logan's frustrations around as fighting both with and against his nature at the same time. In one part showing just the begrudging motions in every interaction as though she is a burden, but with this temperamental attitude of a man haunted by too many deaths to want truly take another life into his hands. Jackman though is great throughout as he finds the better side of Logan constantly revealing itself in these interactions with her that gradually become more intimate. Although at first his delivery of every line to her is to the point, Jackman begins to reveal more concern and speaks with more tenderness in every successive scene. He starts to look at her with real care that goes beyond just the responsibility of any normal decency accepting essentially the role as her father as the two make their escape towards Canada. This eventually leads to the final act, which is the weakest portion of the film in just its final action sequence isn't as good as the rest, the introduction of the other clones is a little lacking, and extra plot points involving the central villain just feel unneeded. It doesn't become bad at all though particularly not due to Jackman's exceptionally devoted work. There's a great moment just before the final sequence where Logan speaks to Laura about his own demons from the past, and his plan to commit suicide. Jackman brings in his delivery just this vulnerability as he shows not only Logan recognizing his state more honestly, but also offers this openness towards Laura. That which reveals more closely his concern for her even if he is using it as a reason not to go with her across the border to Canada.

Of course instead of going off and committing suicide though Logan chooses to save them in one final battle which, despite being an action scene is astonishing acting by Jackman throughout. In one part the physical torture he undergoes has never felt more visceral than it does here as he reveals what every wound does to him, and throughout the battle portrays this decaying state of Logan. The only thing essentially keeping him going is when he finally fully unleashes that adamantium rage. This brings me briefly to Jackman's other performance as X-24 that is pretty straight forward as this rage monster. What's so effective though is the way Jackman differentiates the two. The rage in X-24 Jackman makes meaningless as this surface hollow anger, whereas in Logan's rage Jackman carries this palatable deeper emotion within every terrible cry. We see all the sorrow that as brought Logan within the anger showing a man in this state, and not just the beast we see in X-24. The greatest moment of his performance, that sends off the film on a high point, is after the battle is won though this leaves a dying Logan in Laura's arms. Jackman has never been more heart wrenching than he is here in gasping out the final words as Logan. As distressing as the scene is he finds a poignancy as his eyes only project the most genuine of love for Laura as she encourages her not to be the weapon she was intended to be. There is also this rather special moment in which Jackman's portrays this calm at the sight of death as this curiosity and discovery fitting for a man who has suffered throughout his whole life, yet only now is finding release from it. This is a great performance by Hugh Jackman as he explores the character far from the limits of the previous films, and offers a worthy sendoff for his long relationship with the role. He not only delivers his best turn yet as an actor but also the greatest leading turn in any comic book film.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Robert Pattinson in Good Time

Robert Pattinson did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, for portraying Constantine "Connie" Nikas in Good Time.

Good Time is a very effective crime thriller about a man doing whatever he can to get his mentally handicap brother out of jail, after a bank robbery they pulled went wrong, all during one long night.

A great deal of Good Time's success comes from the kinetic pace of the film that is so well realized through the 80's synth score, the editing, and the directing of the Safdie Brothers, and is heavily reliant on Robert Pattinson's lead performance. Pattinson's, an actor who seemingly has taken strides to wipe away his past in the Twilight franchise and his performances as a sparkling vampire. Pattinson ever since the end of the series, and even during the tail end of it has seemingly attempted to tear himself from those YA roots by taking on roles in films far off the beaten path. This seems to be a successful strategy as he's essentially just attempting to prove his talent lie far beyond what he became known for. One can remove any of that baggage from your mind here as he takes on this challenging role in this film. Again challenging through the film's style which demands Pattinson be right in the forefront of almost every scene to the point that quite often his face fills the frame. Pattinson though needs at the same time to develop this character really as the film is constantly on the move to the next series of events in portraying Connie's long night. Pattinson needs us to know Connie, but also in some way make the audience feel that it is worthwhile to follow him through his time in NYC despite his many questionable actions throughout.

Pattinson's work is dynamic from the start and one can almost forget even of his English roots with the spot on New York accent he pulls off here. He's just in the role as we see him from his first scene where Connie takes his brother Nick (Ben Safdie) out of a therapy session in order to bring him over and rob a bank. This is the start of Connie's amoral actions however it is also the beginning of Pattinson's portrayal of what compels Connie from the start. Although when he picks up his brother Pattinson portrays a lack of respect for the therapist there is this definite passion he brings towards his brother with a honest concern in the moment. After the seemingly successful bank robbery, where Nick is showing signs of worry, there's this quick moment that Pattinson delivers flawlessly where Connie builds up his brother's morale. He lauds him as doing so well in the robbery and for being an essential part of it. Pattinson makes this absolutely earnest in his delivery towards Nick, showing a genuine concern for his brother at this point. We later learn the robbery was some odd idea of Connie's to try to take care of his brother. Pattinson in just this brief moment shows that this intention was completely honest in Connie as he shows only an absolute truth within the care he brings in every interaction between the brothers. Pattinson projects this warmth of the guardian who is desperately trying to take care of his brother even if it is perhaps to everyone's detriment.

The robbery quickly goes wrong and quickly leads his brother to be in jail with Connie trying to find anyway for his brother to get out of jail and for the two of them to escape out of the city together. Connie's first choice to solve this is to bail him out with the help of his older girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh). This is where Pattinson begins to realize his brilliant approach to the role of Connie as he tries to fix everything he can through the first most practical solution he can think of. There is something very special in this way that Pattinson portrays the way that Connie tries to ease his way through any situation best he can. Pattinson brings this very low key, yet palatable charisma to the role in depicting one way of Connie's method of trying to get what he wants. Pattinson's approach to this greatly aids the film since he does not depict this as though Connie is some sociopath just trying to manipulate everyone, even if he is manipulating a whole lot of people to try to get what he needs. He does this two ways. In one, throughout the film, there is this sense of devotion towards his brother that whenever he speaks of him it is with genuine care and concern. The second though is that Pattinson portrays Connie as basically using these honest feelings to do his dishonest work. Watching it, you'd probably try to help Connie out yourself, as when Pattinson makes any request his delivery is as such that one would think "that seems reasonable enough".

When the mentally unstable Corey can't really help, and he hears his brother is in fact at the hospital this leads to Connie employing some real free jazz techniques in order to try to solve everything. Pattinson is great here by capturing this mindset of the man and kind of doing two things at once. In that he lets us into really his mindset throughout the night while also putting on any front, for usually about a second at a time, in order to smooth over one problem after another in an attempt to help his brother. Pattinson is fantastic in every scene by always realizing the vividness of this thought process as he goes from place to place in order to fix everything for himself. Pattinson's terrific though in playing up any part for even a second at a time. Again Pattinson matches the same kinetic energy that the film has in his portrayal of Connie being absolutely anything he needs to be for even a moment. If he's a son of a dying father, Pattinson's that with an absolute concern. If he's just a friendly neighbor looking for a phone call, he's unassuming and quite appealing to be frank. If he's a security guard for an amusement park he seems very respectable and on the ball. What I love about what Pattinson does here is that as convincing as he is in those moments he always shows us the way the wheels are turning in his mind in between those moments. There is frustration and desperation just before, and after in Pattinson's eyes, it's in these acts that Pattinson reveals a man on a rather thin tight rope.

Again what Connie's doing throughout is pretty bad. Breaking and entering, lying, letting a prisoner out of custody, stealing a car, drug dealing, or even home invasion Connie is game for it. Once again though Pattinson's so good in the way he brings us into the mindset of Connie which is that he always portrays this passion within sort of the performance that Connie himself is doing. This is beyond even the charm he can bring out when he needs it, but rather there is something greater in the way Connie is fooling himself. That passion that Pattinson brings is that of a guy who thinks he's doing the right thing again and again. Pattinson uses this idea particularly effectively when Connie accidentally lets out another criminal Ray (Buddy Duress) who was also in the hospital bearing a similair resemblance to his brother. That man is more or less just going along in life without a second thought for a future beyond that of a single night just as Connie is, however Pattinson specifically reacts to Ray differently than every other character Connie comes into contact with. Throughout the night Pattinson exudes a level of respect to everyone he speaks to even as he's cheating or ripping them off in some way. That is except for Ray. Pattinson reacts to Ray in every moment with this level of disdain and distaste for the criminal. His little threats are vicious and true from Pattinson who shows that Connie cannot stand the man even as he might be a key to solving his problems.

Pattinson's specific reactions towards Duress's Ray alludes to a fundamental truth within Connie that Pattinson reveals so well. Again Pattinson shows that Connie thinks he's doing the right thing however with his hatred towards Ray Pattinson uses as a tell. The thing is Ray is more or less like Connie in terms of their mutual amorality. When Ray expects any sort of camaraderie from Connie due to their mutually desperate situations as criminals, Pattinson is terrific in reveal the greatest intensity in his performance. Pattinson's delivery is a true verbal lashing at every point showing that Connie has views him as just screw up and thug. The thing is though Pattinson brings a level of vulnerability in his reactions with Ray's come backs, that they are not so different, showing these brief moments of self-reflection before he covers it up by trying to tear the guy down all the more. Pattinson puts on just a bit of sanctimony though and portrays rightfully that this Connie is struggling with the truth being spoken about him. This is incredible work as Pattinson dissects this character just in the margins really revealing that his attempts at being the "hero" for his brother have lead him to become a bad person. The final moment of Pattinson in the film is a wordless scene as Connie rides in the back of a police cruiser having failed his "mission". This moment shows the greatness of Pattinson's work in terms of realizing the arc of Connie as in the silent scene we see him finally come to understand where his actions have left him. Pattinson is outstanding in revealing such a raw emotional breakdown as he shows the man seeing what his actions have done, and without saying a word he earns what Connie does off-screen that ends the film. That moment if clarity is just incredibly portrayed by Pattinson showing Connie has finally lost any delusions in terms of his purpose. Now that is perhaps the crowning achievement of Pattinson's work but this whole performance is a fantastic piece of acting. He brings you into every moment of the night through his work that is effortlessly compelling throughout. He takes you not only into what Connie is thinking but also makes every single one of his "accomplishments" believable. Pattinson matches the tone and the pace of the film to deliver sort of a 1970's style star turn here in the best of ways.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017

And the Nominees Were Not:

James Franco in The Disaster Artist

Robert Pattinson in Good Time

Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049

Jeremy Renner in Wind River

Sebastian Stan in I, Tonya

And for the Second Set of Predictions:

Song Kang-ho in A Taxi Driver

Hugh Jackman in Logan

Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky

Christian Bale in Hostiles

Thomas Jane in 1922