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…

Roman J. Israel, Esq. Movie Review

Like his directorial debut Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy combines a myopically focused central character with Los Angeles landscapes in Roman J. Israel, Esq. Denzel Washington is Roman, the secret weapon in a small law firm known for its justice fighting pursuits. He’s a behind the scenes legal guru who’s uncomfortable in the courtroom and dealing with people in general.

When the public face of the firm suffers a heart attack, Roman (who I’ll refer to as that but always uses his full name and title) must go job searching. He pairs up with George Pierce (Colin Farrell), who runs a more successful operation that puts dollar signs over the virtuous work Roman is used to. It creates an opportunity for him to expand his wallet, as he struggles with the morality of his more high scale surroundings and assignments.

Part of the conscience searching is represented by Maya (Carmen Ejogo), a civil rights activist inspired. She works in an underpaid environment that her new friend would flourish in. Yet he also is effective with George until a questionable ethical decision about a murder case changes things.

Gilroy created a masterwork in 2014 with Nightcrawler. In that, Gilroy wrote Jake Gyllenhaal his best role as a strange but ingenious man whose work comes before all else. That traits apply to Roman and we have Washington providing a unique and always watchable performance. With big glasses, an Afro, and an extensive music collection constantly filling his ear buds, we’ve never seen Denzel quite like this and he seems to relish it.

Unlike Nightcrawler, this picture doesn’t totally work. The court case involved is practically an afterthought. The interpersonal relationships between Roman with George and Maya feel a tad underserved. This may be because the central figure here can’t get too close to anyone, but the film sometimes feels as distant as he is.

Washington almost makes it all worth it anyway, but ultimately Roman J. Israel, Esq. is well meaning and also slightly disappointing.

**1/2 (out of four)

 

Roman J. Israel, Esq. Box Office Prediction

Denzel Washington headlines Roman J. Israel, Esq., which expands nationwide over the Thanksgiving weekend. From Nightcrawler director Tony Gilroy, the legal drama hopes to appeal to the star’s fans and adult moviegoers looking for alternatives over the Turkey Day frame. Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo costar.

Israel has some issues that could block it from achieving solid grosses. While Washington can be a draw, this isn’t an action pic which are often his highest earners. Additionally, there is little awards buzz and reviews have been mixed (it sits at 55% currently on Rotten Tomatoes).

I’ll estimate that this won’t even reach double digits over the full five-day holiday weekend.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. opening weekend prediction: $5 million (Friday to Sunday), $6.9 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Coco prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/11/14/coco-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

The reaction to the film itself was mixed, but Denzel Washington has increased his chances for an eighth Oscar nomination for Roman J. Israel, Esq. The legal drama is director Dan Gilroy’s follow-up to his acclaimed 2014 pic Nightcrawler (which is one of my favorite movies of the last few years). Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo costar.

As mentioned, reviews from its Toronto Film Festival screening have not all been positive (it’s at 71% currently on Rotten Tomatoes). Yet critics have singled out Denzel’s work here. His inclusion in Best Actor might be its only chance at Academy recognition. Gilroy could land an Original Screenplay nod (as he did for Nightcrawler), but that race is already looking busy.

Mr. Washington has won twice – for Supporting Actor in 1989’s Glory and lead in 2001’s Training Day. Just last year, he probably came very close to getting his third for Fences (he lost to Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea).

In my intital round of predictions last Thursday, I had the performer playing the title character here ranked 15th. He’ll be ranked higher in the second round on Thursday.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Stronger

The Toronto Film Festival is underway and that means a fresh round of Oscar Watch posts hitting the blog after Venice and Telluride provided their own.

Last night, David Gordon Green’s Stronger screened. It tells the true story of Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs during the Boston Marathon bombing with Jake Gyllenhaal playing him. Early reviews have been positive yet it probably won’t factor into the Picture or Director races.

Gyllenhaal is a different story. His performance has been praised and it would not be surprising if he landed his first nod for Best Actor (he did get a Supporting Actor nomination for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain). Additionally, the Actor race seems somewhat light at press time and the voters could make up for other nominations Gyllenhaal could have received (Nightcrawler anyone?).

Costar Tatiana Maslany could also find herself in discussion for a Supporting Actress nod over her costar Miranda Richardson.

Bottom line: Toronto has bolstered the chances for Gyllenhaal to be among the five finalists for Best Actor.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

RIP Bill Paxton

Sadly, this morning I write a post I didn’t expect to with the news that Bill Paxton has passed away at age 61. For even casual movie fans, Paxton was a very familiar face that starred and co-starred in blockbusters such as Aliens, True Lies, Twister, and Titanic.

Upon hearing the news of his death, I began to realize just how present he’s been in my movie watching existence over the last three decades plus. I first knew of him as Chet, the bullying older brother in Weird Science. If that is a guilty pleasure pic, his performance is one of the best pleasures in it. It’s a terrific comedic performance.

Just one year later, his role in Aliens stuck out in that fantastic sequel with one-liners like “Game Over, Man!” That same year, he starred in Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire cult classic Near Dark.

All told, Mr. Paxton has about a dozen DVDs and Blu-Rays sitting on my shelf. Like I said, he was truly a part of many of our collective filmgoing experiences from the 1980s on. He was alongside Tom Cruise just three years ago in the solid Edge of Tomorrow and was a rival tabloid cameraman to Jake Gyllenhaal in my favorite picture of 2014, Nightcrawler.

His TV credits include headlining HBO’s “Big Love” and just a few weeks ago, his CBS crime drama “Training Day” (based on the 2001 Denzel Washington film) premiered. His final movie will be The Circle with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. It opens in April.

Other notable onscreen efforts range from Predator 2 to Tombstone to A Simple Plan and U571. Today I wish to highlight a trio of lesser known titles worth seeking out:

Two are from 1992. Trespass finds him and William Sadler as firefighters who find a treasure map that pits them against drug dealers Ice Cube and Ice-T. It’s great gritty fun. One False Move is an intense crime thriller from director Carl Franklin and written by Billy Bob Thornton. Gene Siskel named it as his favorite movie of that year and it is impressive.

Paxton turned to directing himself in 2001 with Frailty, an underrated and effective thriller where the actor plays a religiously fanatical father. I just watched it again recently and it made me wish Paxton had directed more.

What Bill Paxton did leave us with is his own treasure trove of performances to enjoy. He will be missed.