Velvet Buzzsaw Movie Review

There’s a moment in Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw where one of the vapid SoCal characters walks past a pile of garbage and declares it an inspired work of art. He doesn’t realize it’s just plain garbage. The writer/director has his eye trained on the reviewing class here in this satire fueled with intermittent gore. Items are junk or priceless because critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) says so. His opinion matters and his choices influence. When he has his eyes dilated after an eye appointment, someone asks if those flimsy and disposable sunglasses he wears after are the new designer craze.

These small moments provide some well-placed humor as Gilroy dissects his power-hungry characters one by one. The setting is Los Angeles, the same locale from his 2014 effort Nightcrawler (which happened to be my favorite film of that year). Gyllenhaal starred in that as well. His portrayal of Louis Bloom was a desperate figure looking to climb the ladder of his chosen profession. In Buzzsaw, Morf already has made it. The Bloom figure would be Josephina (Zawe Ashton). She works for an art gallery run by Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) and she’s trying to make her mark. Josephina gets that chance when a tenant in her building dies and leaves behind a vast collection of paintings. No one knows much about the dead man’s background, but his works are immediately deemed masterpieces.

It takes a considerable amount of time for people to discover that the paintings have a mind of their own. A violent mind for anyone who dares to exhibit them. Or perhaps they’re just blinded to it because they see the dollar signs involved. Everyone in this piece judges art by that monetary standard only. Whether it’s an image that could harm you or whether it’s literal garbage, it’s valuation is what counts.

Velvet Buzzsaw is a bizarre and hit or miss concoction filled with stuffy self-important individuals to root against. You may find yourself cheering on the paintings to do their grisly thing. The cast is sprawling with Gyllenhaal adding another peculiar part to his repertoire. Russo (who’s married to Gilroy) is as ruthlessly profit hungry as she was in Nightcrawler (though her part isn’t as memorable). Her background here does provide the title as it’s the name of a punk rock band she was in decades ago. Toni Collette is a curator looking for her best angle to get in on the new craze. Natalia Dyer (of “Stranger Things” fame) is an opportunistic assistant who gains the unfortunate distinction of finding lots of dead bodies.

The artwork comes alive in visually arresting ways from time to time. The main difference between this and Nightcrawler comes down to this – I was constantly enthralled by the disreputable populace of the latter. It’s a more rare occurrence in the former. Velvet Buzzsaw won’t be mistaken for trash, but it shouldn’t be hailed as a sensation either.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Velvet Buzzsaw

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival just before its Friday debut on Netflix is Dan Gilroy’s latest picture Velvet Buzzsaw. The horror satire reunites the writer and filmmaker with his Nightcrawler lead Jake Gyllenhaal in a film said to mercilessly mock the world of art critics and collectors. Several movie critics seem quite impressed. Others are more mixed. The current Rotten Tomatoes score is 82%. Costars include Toni Collette, Gilroy’s spouse and frequent collaborator Rene Russo, and John Malkovich (who must have office space at Netflix with this, Bird Box, and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile).

Reviews suggest Buzzsaw could be quite polarizing. It may have a tough time breaking through with Oscar voters nearly a year from now. That said, both of the director’s previous works nabbed one nomination. 2014’s Nightcrawler was recognized for its Original Screenplay. In my view, it should’ve received more nods than that (especially Gyllenhaal). 2017’s Roman J. Israel, Esq. saw Denzel Washington garner a lead actor spot.

If Velvet has enough strong boosters, another screenplay nomination isn’t totally out of the question. Yet there’s a long road ahead to see whether that’s a possible outcome. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

An eagerly anticipated premiere at the Sundance Film Festival occurred yesterday with the screening of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile. Set for release on Netflix this year, the true life crime thriller casts Zac Efron as notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. Joe Berlinger, who’s known primarily for documentaries (his sole fictional work is the maligned horror sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2) directs. The filmmaker also made an extensive documentary about Bundy that’s up on the aforementioned streaming service this weekend. Costars in Vile include Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Jeffrey Donovan, Jim Parsons, and John Malkovich.

Early reviews are mixed and its Rotten Tomatoes score is presently at 67%. Yet critics seem to agree on one thing and that’s the terrific work of Efron in the lead. Some suggest it could be a career changing performance. I know that the concept of Efron nabbing an Oscar seems far-fetched. Yet if Netflix can put together a solid campaign and depending on how competition plays out in 2019, you never know. The company did prove in 2018 that they’re now a factor with the Academy (see multiple nominations for Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs).

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Bird Box Movie Review

Susanne Bier’s Bird Box, based on a 2014 novel by Josh Malerman, imagines a post apocalyptic world where we all must develop a blind side. How fitting, I suppose, that Sandra Bullock is the headliner. It is she and some of her cast mates that holds this concoction together, at least for a while.

We first meet Bullock’s Malorie as she instructs two young children that they are about to embark on a dangerous trip with her. She is soon rowing and rowing and rowing a boat not so gently down a choppy stream to an unknown destination. They’re all blindfolded.

A flashback to five years earlier finds the pregnant Malorie getting a checkup with her sister (Sarah Paulson). She seems none too excited about her impending delivery. Different complications arise as people start committing suicide suddenly all over the globe. It’s soon discovered opening your eyes and looking at some never seen creatures brings on the self violence.

Our soon to be parent manages to hole up with a group of strangers that includes the home’s boozy owner (John Malkovich), another expectant mom (Danielle Macdonald), and a war vet (Trevante Rhodes) who connects with Malorie. It’s in these initial scenes where Bird Box is at its most engrossing. There’s nothing terribly fresh here as the group figures out how to survive, but there’s some interesting characters and actors playing them to make it worthwhile. Jacki Weaver, Lil Rel Howery, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly are part of the eclectic mix as well.

This gets about an hour’s worth of mileage from its premise and the wrinkle of the sighted having to go blind is a newish twist once they venture out (thank goodness for GPS). Eric Heisserer’s screenplay never concerns itself with what the heck really happened to cause this anyway. We do know birds can sense the monsters. The unexplained phenomena of what did happen isn’t all that important, but total ignorance is a tad surprising. Heisserer did significantly superior work with his adapted script for Arrival.

The picture is as much an allegory about motherhood than it is a science fiction horror thriller. There’s also elements of M. Night Shyamalan’s unfortunate The Happening. It had more unintentional laughs than this, but it also found cooler ways for spellbound victims to off themselves.

Bullock’s performance is committed and she certainly makes this watchable. The Oscar winner has played maternal instinct impressively before (the already mentioned The Blind Side, Gravity) and we see it here. Yet the true gravity of this whole situation never feels as suspenseful as it quite should. Maybe it’s the details left unseen or maybe it’s the familiar themes we’ve seen plenty of times already.

**1/2 (out of four)

Best Supporting Actor: A Look Back

Continuing on with my look back at the major categories from 1990 to the present at the Oscars, we arrive at Best Supporting Actor! If you missed my post regarding Supporting Actress, you can find it right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with that blog entry, I’m picking the top 3 least surprising winners (performers who essentially sailed right through awards season) and the 3 biggest upsets in each race. I am also selecting the strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the 28 actors whose support earned them a golden statue:

1990 – Joe Pesci, GoodFellas

1991 – Jack Palance, City Slickers

1992 – Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

1993 – Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive

1994 – Martin Landau, Ed Wood

1995 – Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects

1996 – Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire

1997 – Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

1998 – James Coburn, Affliction

1999 – Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

2000 – Benicio del Toro, Traffic

2001 – Jim Broadbent, Iris

2002 – Chris Cooper, Adaptation

2003 – Tim Robbins, Mystic River

2004 – Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – George Clooney, Syriana

2006 – Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

2007 – Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

2008 – Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

2009 – Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

2010 – Christian Bale, The Fighter

2011 – Christopher Plummer, Beginners

2012 – Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

2013 – Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

2015 – Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

2016 – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

2017 – Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

There are plenty to choose from as far least surprising winners, but here’s my top ones:

3. Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood’s Western picked up a slew of awards on Oscar night and Hackman’s inclusion in that race was never really in doubt. It was his second statue after winning Best Actor 21 years previously for The French Connection.

2. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

It was director Christopher Nolan giving numerous awards speeches on behalf of the late Ledger, as his work playing the iconic villain swept all precursors as well. This remains not only the only win in the omnipresent superhero genre in the 21st century, but the only nomination.

1. Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

Like Ledger, Bardem created a bad guy for the ages in the Coen Brothers Oscar-winning picture. He picked up all the precursors as well for his role.

And now the upsets!

3. James Coburn, Affliction

There was clearly no front-runner in 1998 as a different actor was honored in each preceding awards show. Ed Harris took the Golden Globe for The Truman Show, Billy Bob Thornton (A Simple Plan) was victorious at the Critics Choice Awards, Robert Duvall’s role in A Civil Action was honored at SAG, and Geoffrey Rush (Elizabeth) was the BAFTA recipient. Surely one of them would win the Oscar, but it instead went to Mr. Coburn.

2. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

In 2015, the general consensus was that Sylvester Stallone would punch out the competition in his signature role for Creed. That would have been quite a feat after Rocky took Best Picture in 1976 – nearly four decades prior. Yet it didn’t materialize when Rylance made the trip to the podium.

1. Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

Along the same lines, Eddie Murphy was the strong favorite for his rare dramatic work in Dreamgirls. With Jennifer Hudson as a sure thing for Supporting Actress (which did happen), the musical looked safe for a supporting sweep. The Academy surprisingly went another route by honoring Arkin.

And now to the fields overall and choosing a strongest and weakest. For the least impressive of the bunch, I’m going with 2011. Here were the nominees:

Christopher Plummer, Beginners (winner)

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

When it comes to best overall field, I chose 1993. This is the year that Tommy Lee Jones got the gold in The Fugitive. That’s a rare acting win for an action flick. It was deserved in my view and the other four nominees were very strong as well. They were:

Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father

Furthermore, I could keep going with other deserving actors that year, including Val Kilmer in Tombstone and Sean Penn for Carlito’s Way. 

The next trip down memory lane will be Best Actress and it will be up soon!

Throwback Review: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Shadow of the Vampire is high concept cinema in bizarre fashion. It’s not wholly successful in its execution as it struggles to fill the running time of the silent era features it clearly adores. The gimmick is clever on paper and effective occasionally on-screen… what if your lead vampire in your movie was an actual one?

In Steven Katz’s script, the picture happens to be the 1922 German classic Nosferatu. The people portrayed here are real. What happens with them is not. John Malkovich is director F.W. Murnau. He can’t get the rights to Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel so he simply changes the names and keeps the plot (that part is true and resulted in legal proceedings). His casting of Dracu…, or Nosferatu, is said to be unknown theater actor Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe). It’s explained that he’s severely Method in his approach. The cast and crew, which includes Eddie Izzard in the Jonathan Harker part and Catherine McCormack as Mina, just go with it. That is until disappearances and strange illnesses begin to occur. Murnau knows the real secret. Max isn’t acting at all and he’s made a grand and deadly bargain to nab his lead. In lots of movies about making movies, the studio brass or producers are the bloodsuckers. Not here.

The project is centered on just how far a filmmaker will go to make a masterpiece. And Murnau’s heart of darkness takes him down some pitch black roads (in real life he was said to be a swell guy). Portraying pomposity and madness is right up Malkovich’s sleeve and he did it far more memorably in Being John Malkovich.

Vampire belongs to Dafoe, unrecognizable except for those bulging eyes. Under his makeup, the actor is a joy to watch and is basically the reason this is worthwhile. E. Elias Merhige serves behind the camera here. He does excel at capturing the look of the pre talkies. Yet I never escaped a feeling that the idea behind all this seemed smarter in conception than realization.

Mile 22 Box Office Prediction

Mark Wahlberg is back in action mode and reuniting with director Peter Berg next weekend in Mile 22. The action thriller finds the star as the head of an elite CIA unit and the supporting cast includes John Malkovich, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey, and Lee Chae Rin.

This is the fourth Wahlberg/Berg collaboration and it’s the first not based on real life events after Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day. Distributor STXfilms is hoping this will be the start of a new franchise with a TV series and sequel reportedly in development.

That, of course, could all depend on how this performs. The budget is only $35 million, which is quite low for a summer action release. Looking at other similar material from Wahlberg, Mile 22 would love to achieve the $24 million earned by something like 2012’s Contraband. Yet it could debut with something closer to the $14 million made by 2007’s Shooter. The $27 million made out of the gate five summers ago by 2 Guns is a reach in my opinion… that had the Denzel factor.

I’ll say a mid to high teens gross is the most likely scenario, meaning Mile won’t achieve the marker contained in its title.

Mile 22 opening weekend prediction: $16.7 million

For my Crazy Rich Asians prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/07/crazy-rich-asians-box-office-prediction/

For my Alpha prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/07/alpha-box-office-prediction/