After winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend, public opinion on Green Book quickly pivoted from a general curiosity in a dramatic effort from the guy who did Dumb and Dumber to genuine anticipation for an early Oscar frontrunner. The film’s first trailer, full of emotional monologues and swelling orchestral strings, already gave off a For Your Consideration vibe before Green Book even premiered. But TIFF has certainly become a stronger indicator of awards season success in recent years, and nine of the last ten People’s Choice Award winners went on to become Best Picture nominees. Universal went into overdrive this past week to get their sudden contender out to smaller festivals and screenings, so this week’s presentation at the 34th Boston Film Festival was a pleasant surprise.
Set in the back half of 1962, Green Book follows pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) after he hires bouncer Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) to be his driver on a tour of the Deep South. Their pairing has the trappings of a buddy road movie, Shirley a wealthy and dignified artist and Tony a brash and illiterate tough guy. Shirley is reserved, polite, particular; Tony eats twenty-six hot dogs in a bid to win fifty bucks. More to Green Book‘s theme, Shirley is a Jamaican-born American rightfully concerned about his own safety on a tour of the increasingly bigoted South; Tony, an Italian-American who rarely leaves the Bronx, is for the most part blissfully unaware of his own racism.
A film like The Measure of a Man needs the right actor in the leading role, and Vincent Lindon is the right actor. He’s not commanding, but he’s dignified; he’s not emotive, but he’s emotional; he’s not a force of nature, but if he is then he’s a fault line waiting to quake. He’s always just about to boil, “simmering”, maybe, but then again there’s even less violence in his demeanor than there is in a pot of increasingly hot water. Lindon is simply comfortable, at ease and natural in a tie or a T-shirt, genuine as if he’s blissfully unaware of the camera in his face (and in Measure it’s really in his face).
On the other hand Lindon’s character, unemployed factory worker Thierry Taugourdeau, is decidedly uncomfortable. There are very few opportunities for Thierry to just loosely enjoy life in his own body in the manner of the actor portraying him; Thierry can’t afford that. He’s confronted with his financial realities during every waking moment, sometimes explicitly and sometimes during a scene of him dancing with his wife, and Measure presents Thierry during a time in his life when his employment is everything. He’s like a saggy old Augie March in a rotation of labor by necessity instead of by election; instead of working in jobs dictated by his pride, he takes what he can get and usually has to suppress that pride.
Okay. I just put on Deception, streaming on Netflix. Looks and sounds fairly enticing in an early-’90s Juror/Basic Instinct/Malice sort of way. It’s got Liam Neeson and Viggo Mortensen, both of whom I’m eager to see in a movie together, and Andie MacDowell, whom I really know nothing about. I’ve seen Groundhog Day and Four Weddings and a Funeral, so maybe it will be interesting to see her in a drama. The poster has moody lighting and Neeson is standing behind MacDowell in a subtly menacing way, suggesting that Deception is a cat-and-mouse game of, well, deception.
Okay! This sounds pretty exciting! Let’s get this movie started!
…….wow. Did David Lynch direct the credit sequence? That wasn’t very intense at all — oh, but I get it, I’m being deceived.
Matt Damon’s return to the Bourne franchise is enticing the rest of the band back, too, as Julia Stiles is now said to be onboard the 2016 release. Viggo Mortensen is apparently in negotiations to play the villain, which is an addition that would no doubt wash the taste of The Bourne Legacy away for good.
First he says he’s down to play Wolverine “until he dies”; then, word that Hugh Jackman’s time as Logan would come to an end after the next solo film. Now rumor has it that X-Men: Apocalypse will feature Jackman in a smallish role, maybe even just a cameo, showing that they haven’t quite learned that X-Men movies sans Jackman aren’t as interesting as the alternative.
Vin Diesel is making a Kojak movie, so. Yep.
Hall H regulars Marvel, Sony and Paramount are all skipping San Diego Comic Con this year, presumably because leaked documents are doing all of their marketing for them. Motion State Review will be skipping Hall H, too, which is yet another crippling loss for convention superfans. Next year.
These days future-set postapocalyptic fables are so common that anything such a movie can do to make the idea fresh and original is more than welcome. Cormac McCarthy’s popular The Road and John Hillcoat’s ensuing adaptation with Viggo Mortensen helped to cement the profitability of the genre after a distinct lag since the Mad Max/Blade Runner heyday, and now dystopias seem to be coming through the woodwork. The fact that both Mad Max and Blade Runner will be getting new treatments soon should attest to that desire to recapture the glory days of the genre.
One of the latest entries is Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones, set in a world where water has finally become a scarce and precious commodity. The film is divided into sections focusing on different characters, starting with Michael Shannon’s Ernest Holm, continuing with Nicholas Hoult’s rogueish Flem, and ending with Kodi Smit-McPhee’s son-of-Ernest Jerome Holm. They’re all changed irrevocably by the drought, guarding what little they have with violence and ruthlessness, and most shades of innocence are gone by the time Young Ones takes place. As in most dystopias, it’s the state of things that causes this darker and more animalistic aspect of humanity to come to the surface.
The script for Lisandro Alsonso’s latest film Jauja is reportedly only 20 pages long. Though I haven’t actually read it, that short length wouldn’t surprise me after last night’s NYFF screening. Starring Viggo Mortensen as a Danish military man stranded in a nameless South American desert, Jauja certainly isn’t your typical Main Slate festival offering. If anything, the film walks the tightrope between historical epic and surreal experiment, providing plenty of opportunity for reflection along the way. Unfortunately, the fact that the spaces in which we might take time for reflection vastly outweigh the moments that actually demand interpretation proves to be Jauja‘s downfall.
The film opens with a beautiful shot of Viggo’s Captain Dinesen sitting with his daughter, Ingeborg, and right away we get a taste of Alonso’s directorial style without so much as a hint of what may betide these characters. Mortensen, the only recognizable face in Jauja (or in any of Alonso’s films), is facing away from the camera for the entirety of the motionless opening shot. That’s essentially Jauja in a nutshell: the landscape, the framing, the aesthetic, the emotion generated by the imagery alone – all of this is much more important than the actors, or the characters they play, or the “plot” they partake in.
And make no mistake: Jauja, visually, is stunning. Every shot is carefully composed and lit, and the locations chosen provide Alonso’s camera with enough lush detail for consumption. Many shots seem to stretch on forever, and where most directors would probably work to keep the foreground characters in focus by blurring the backdrop, the reverse is true here. Rocks and clouds and figures far in the distance are as clear as the whiskers on Viggo’s face. Jauja‘s color palate is equally agreeable, and the blue dresses and bright red pants are captured beautifully aside the damp mossy terrain that makes up so much of the film. In this sense, we should admit, the narrative matters less and less.