This past week I saw a couple of Academy Award nominated films. First was Green Book which was the TIFF People’s Choice film, and has been nominated for Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen) and Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali) as his employer. This is very much a Driving Miss Daisy type film where there are two people from very different backgrounds who find themselves learning and appreciating about each other more. This is based on a true story, and is set in the early 60s in the US. Ali plays a very accomplished black pianist who wants to do a road show starting in the northern US but then heading into the deep south (Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama etc). Viggo plays an Italian street-smart thug and bouncer required to help assist in driving but also protecting his employer. Ali’s character is part of a trio who travels together, but in separate cars. Ali teaches Viggo to write better and assists with letters to his Wife and two kids he leaves behind for a three month trek hat ends on Christmas Eve. Viggo teaches his employer about current day music and more everyday eating for his uptight and secluded passenger. Speaking of eating, Viggo basically ate his way through this movie, from an early hot dog eating contest, to spaghetti and the pizza folded in a hotel room. He must have added 30+ pounds from his days of Aragon in Lord of the Rings. This is a good story. It has some predictable scenes, and an ending that ratchets up the cheese factor. Still two very good performances, although I would suggest that Ali is more likely to win the Award. For a movie that tries hard to break down stereotypes, and show a man courageously enlightening those in the South, it paints a stereotypical view of the Mortensen Italian character with almost every cliché you can imagine. Funny I had never looked into actor Viggo Mortensen’s background and I had assumed it was European. But in truth, he was born in Manhattan, to a Dutch father (Viggo Sr) and American mother. His maternal grandfather was Canadian (Nova Scotia). They met in Norway (everybody has a story it seems). This was a movie well worth the time spent. It’s not necessarily a big screen film.
Also in the theatre I saw Can You Ever Forgive Me? This is a movie where Melissa McCarthy is nominated for Best Actress while her co-star, Richard E Grant is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. This is another story based on true facts. McCarthy plays Lee Israel, an author of books and magazine articles, mostly biographies. The story begins with her on hard times in the early 1990s in NYC. She hasn’t written anything worth publishing in quite some time and she can’t make the rent. She has an alcohol problem, and doesn’t interact well with people. In fact she is just nasty all around. You wouldn’t invite Israel over for dinner. She runs into the Grant character at a bar and they have an uneasy friendship. By happenstance, Israel learns that there is a market for celebrity letters. She moves from selling what she owned to eventually forgeries that she has written herself. The story continues down this path. The true find is the Grant character. He is a chameleon who is a survivor. He finds ways to scrape by and live in New York. The actor has been in many other roles and films, but he is really good. You have sympathy for him while you see he can also be someone with a big heart and help out with Israel and some of her challenges. Is he better than Ali in Green Book? Hard to say, but they are close. This is not an uplifting story, nor a particularly happy one. There is angst on the faces of McCarthy about what they are doing, and who they are potentially hurting – but an underlying feeling that this is just about survival. Again not a movie one needs to see in the big theatre, but it was worth the time.
On Netflix I saw the movie The Ice Man, another true story about Richard Kuklinski, a New York contract killer and thug who also was a strong family man. He lived this double life, with a loving wife (played by Winona Ryder) and relationships with mobsters, like Ray Liotta acting as Roy Demeo. These guys are around the time of the Gottis (70s and 80s). I will make a quick first note that one of the worst miscastings I have seen in some time is David Schwimmer as a mobster. Even with long hair, he just doesn’t look like a guy from the mob. Not at all. Shannon is real find in this film, as he shows a level of intensity in this character that becomes so believable. He is scary when he gets wound up, and he takes the role to another level. It is an intensity in his eyes and how he carries himself. If you were working with him on set I would think that it would be intimidating. He is a big man (6’4”) and Kuklinski himself was 6’5”. So the simple story about how this man can lead the double life, is interesting but it has been done before. If you want to see just how good Michael Shannon can be, then check this out. He can be a bad guy, like last year’s Best Picture The Shape of Water.
Also on Netflix, I caught the Bruce Springsteen Concert, where more or less he played an acoustic version of a few known songs but actually just told stories on stage about his childhood. He is a good story teller, and interestingly talks about how although his songs are mostly blue collar, that he hasn’t been that way at all in his life. He plays piano. Who knew? So he is a multi-talented guy who has written many classic songs. I was glad to have seen it, although I would still like to see him with the E Street Band in a full concert.
Also on Netflix, I watched Whitney which walked through the life of superstar singer Whitney Houston. Taken too soon, but someone who fell into the trappings of fame, and surrounded herself by too many family who treated her as their own personal ATM. Near the end she was sued by her father for $100M, for a contract with a record company that he said he procured. The prevailing story about her was that Bobby Brown ruined her, and began her long road down to addiction. This documentary hints that this is not the case. It just seems to go with the territory, with too much money, too much fame and too many Yes-people surrounding you. It killed Amy Winehouse. It killed Michael Jackson, and Jim Morrison and so many other musicians and celebrities.
Finally Netflix has the Ted Bundy Tapes which is a four part series which examines the case of Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer who made the term come into the language. I did not know much about Bundy. He started in Washington and then moved to Colorado and onto Florida. He was a narcissist, ego-maniac, who felt he was smarter than everyone. He had a God complex, and was brutal with his victims. He played the legal system to its fullest where there was no instant communication, no fax machines. No way for police to exchange information. Yet for all his bravado, and over-confidence, he is caught in a State (Florida) that has the death penalty. He was executed in 1989. The 30th anniversary of the death (January 24th) was last month. I enjoyed Manhunt: Unabomber better than this, but this was still interesting. There were a couple of moments where things happened which were simply unbelievable. I won’t detail them now but they were just shocking. Bundy played the system and self-represented himself for much of it for 10+ years. In the end, justice was served, and people cheered when he was gone.