Monday, December 25, 2023

The Interested Bystander’s Oscar Predictions: December 2023

Past Lives (c) A23

With the critics group weighing in and the Oscar shortlist being revealed last week, some favorites are emerging in the Oscar race. Films that seem like shoo-ins a few months ago (Nyad and Saltburn) seem to be losing traction as we head into the start of 2024. Meanwhile question mark films that were released early in the year (Past Lives) or late in the season (The Color Purple) have had their prospect outlooks come into focus. 

So, this is how I see the race as of now. 

Be aware, the best indicator of a film’s success, the guilds like SAG and the DGA, and the BAFTAs have yet to weigh in. 

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Interested Bystander Film Review: Andrew Scott Sees Dead People When Revisiting Grief in Excellent “All of Us Strangers”

All of Us Strangers (c) Searchlight Pictures

 Film: All of Us Strangers 
In Cinemas 

Premise: Adam (Andrew Scott) is a writer living alone in London, trying frustratingly to write about the one topic he seems to have been avoiding all his life: the death of his parents in a car accident when he was about twelve years old. He is living in a new modern apartment building where he is appears to be one of two residents to have moved there. The other, Harry (Paul Mescal), drunkenly hits on Adam one night, and Adam, although interested, politely declines. Thankfully, they give it another chance (this time when Harry is sober) and the two hit it off. With this new relationship invigorating him, Adam soldiers on with his parents’ story. He decides on a whim to take the train to his hometown to visit his childhood home, and to his surprise, he runs into his parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy) who are the same age Adam remembers them when they died. They invite him into the house, which hasn’t changed, and they start to “catch up.” Is this all happening in Adam’s mind and he’s playing out what he would talk to his parents about if they were alive again? Or, is the childhood home a haunted house, still occupied by the ghosts of his parents, who have some unresolved earthly issues keeping them in this purgatory? Or is it something else? Like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, Adam gets a chance to interact with his parents–roughly the same age he is now–on this emotional whirlwind to the past. 

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Film Reviews: Men of Ambition and Their Follies are Explored in Enjoyable “Wonka,” “American Fiction” and “Maestro”

Wonka (c) Warner Bros

Film: Wonka 
In Cinemas 

Timothée Chalamet, one of the trendier actors of young Hollywood (he introduced his fans to the sequined harness bib and is now declaring vests are back!), is attempting a decidedly retro persona for his latest film, Wonka. Young Timmy has always had a wholesome vibe about him (despite films where he did things to peaches and was also a cannibal), but playing the younger version of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, immortalized on film by Gene Wilder (with a devilish grin) and Johnny Depp (with a misanthropic disdain), he goes full optimistic wonder, almost as if he was a living embodiment of a curious teddy bear. Even though the imagination of this prequel to Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is less than pure, director Paul King’s bright and whimsical attempt at Willy Wonka’s origin story is perfectly fine, if not equal to the joys of his Paddington films (hence the teddy bear reference). As we see from Wes Anderson’s recent Roald Dahl shorts, the author didn’t always present a cheerful look at Britain in his books, yet Wonka seems to be working more off the Charles Dickens formula. When our young chocolate entrepreneur arrives in London, he has only a handful of coins, which he proceeds to either give away or lose. Finding a cold bench to sleep on, he meets the foreboding and appropriately named Bleacher (Tom Davis). He knows of a boarding house run by Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman), who immediately drowns Wonka in legal red tape, so he is now her indentured servant. But with the help of fellow prisoner Noodle (Calah Lane), Wonka is able to sneak out and present his candy creations to London, which raises the ire of the chocolate cabal and their henchman, the chocolate-addicted police chief (Keegan-Michael Key). And there’s also the matter of Lofty, of the Oompa-Loompa tribe (Hugh Grant, settling nicely into his curmudgeon phase), who keeps trying to steal Wonka’s inventions. This is all well done and fun, with plenty of serviceable songs by Neil Hannon to keep us on our toes, but I’m not sure this Wonka origin story is as whimsical and charming as the filmmakers think it is. The production design by Nathan Crowley and set decorations by Lee Sandales are thankfully a delight for the eyes and will certainly enchant the littlest ones in the audience, however will the film become a classic, as beloved as the 1971 film? Only time will tell, but if the dour The Grinch Who Stole Christmas with Jim Carrey can be embraced during the holidays, I can’t see why the wholesome Wonka, with the always intrepid Chalamet at its center, can’t do the same. 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Film Reviews: Track the Making of Three Women Activists in Very Good “Waitress: The Musical,” “Origin” and “Poor Things”

Waitress: The Musical (c) Bleecker Street

Film: Waitress: The Musical 
In Cinemas for a week via Fathom Events 

Waitress, the musical, and the 2007 movie it’s based on have always had a tinge of sadness over it with the film’s director and co-star Adrienne Shelly murdered before the film’s premiere. The 2016 Broadway musical was a modest critical hit, but audiences loved the show of a down-on-her-luck waitress who finds the strength to continue with her dream of baking pies, even with an unexpected pregnancy with her abusive husband. It ran for almost four years, closing in January 2020, right before the pandemic, and the show reopened with its composer Sara Bareilles as Jenna (she played the part as a replacement during the initial run), with this film capture of the musical as its endgame. And what a fine decision that was because now it’s finally being released as a Fathom Event after its Tribeca Film Festival premiere earlier this year. Bareilles may be a bit no-nonsense to be entirely believable as the meek waitress Jenna who can’t stand up to her loser husband Earl (Joe Tippett), but she sings her songs beautifully, including the big hit song “She Used to Be Mine,” and that’s worth the price of admission alone. Thankfully, the show is filled with other reasons to catch this filmed Broadway production, including original cast members Drew Gehling as Dr. Pomatter, Jenna’s geeky gynecologist, whom she is flirty with, and Christopher Fitzgerald, who got a Tony nomination as Ogie, the amateur magician/war reenactor in love with one of the other waitresses Dawn (Caitlin Houlahan), after an internet blind date. The rest of the cast are fine, but it would be a crime not to mention Charity Angél Dawson as the last of the three waitresses, Becky, who gets to sing the second act opener and showstopper, “I Didn’t Plan It.” The film’s director, Brett Sullivan, is able to get a lot of cool close-ups over the two-and-a-half-hour runtime, including the use of an actual baby, which was probably not part of the Broadway production but gives the story some heartbreaking verisimilitude. But again, the marquee attraction is Bareilles, a pop star turned musical writer and now actress (she was on the TV show, Girls5eva and received a Tony nomination for the Baker’s Wife in the recent Into the Woods revival). Jenna at one point is described as the queen of kindness and goodness and Bareilles is able to radiate that in spades, amid her “sugar, butter, flour.”