Victoria Jelinek


Sunshine Cleaning
December 31, 2015, 2:54 pm
Filed under: Published film reviews | Tags: , , , , , , ,

sunshine_cleaning_movie_posterThe heroine, Rose, is a single mom in need of a regular income who starts a business cleaning up crime scenes. The circumstances that prompt her need are multi-faceted. She’s poor. She’s trapped in an affair with her high-school sweetheart, who fathered her son but then married someone else. Her son is perpetually in trouble at school. Her mother is dead. Her father is a ‘chancer,’ whose moneymaking ideas almost never come off. And her sister, Norah, is a hard-living numskull.

Rose is a good mom. She ‘gets’ her son, and he seems like a nice boy, but the teachers and administrators accuse him of misbehaving and she can’t afford to send him to “a good school.” It’s Mac, the faithless love that abandoned her in the first place, that tips her off to the idea of a new business venture. He’s a cop who notices people get paid well for cleaning up after gruesome murders, and so Sunshine Cleaning is born. By the very nature of the work, Rose and Norah (who helps Rose with the business), witness the aftermath of lives irrevocably interrupted.

Does this sound sunny to you? It’s hard to make a feel-good film about murder scene clean- ups and broken lives. While the material has promise as a black comedy, Sunshine Cleaning’s attempt to keep a smiling face throughout is artificial. That said, it is a watchable film due to its cast. Amy Adams as Rose, and Emily Blunt as Norah, are effortlessly charming. As is Alan Arkin, who plays their father, perpetually hatching get-poor-quick schemes, and whose rapport with Rose’s son is heart-warming. If you’re in the mood for good acting, high production value, and can overlook the excessive cheerfulness of the script, despite the circumstances and events of the plot, then this is a movie worth watching.

 

 

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Oscars 2014

academy-awards-filmstrip-logoI was told when I worked at a talent and literary agency in Hollywood many years ago that the formation of the Oscar awards was a cynical endeavor. The legend went that there had been a rash of sordid incidents in Hollywood in the 1920’s involving starlets and wannabes who came to Los Angeles from all over the US, and so the Oscars were set up by the big bosses of the day as a way to create a nobler image of Hollywood and garner some good press. I’m not sure this tale is true, but I don’t dismiss its possibility outright. What is certainly true is that because of the prestige and positive exposure of the Academy Awards, studios spend millions of dollars and hire publicists to promote their films during “the Oscar season.” This practice has generated accusations that the Oscars are influenced more by marketing, than by quality. In 2009, William Friedkin, himself an Academy Award winning film director and former producer of the ceremony, described the Oscars as, “the greatest promotion scheme that any industry ever devised for itself.”

Despite its potentially disreputable origins and many criticisms of the event, the Oscars are still a grandiose affair I love. Speaking of grand, I’m going to make my predictions about the Best Picture category, and then wait with bated breath to see if I’m correct. I think that the Oscar will go to 12 Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall Street. My reasoning is that the Academy will not award Steve McQueen Best Director, given his age and his competition in this category, and unless they award Chiwetel Ejiofor Best Actor, they will not want to appear racist by overlooking this film in the major categories (racism is still a hot subject in the US). Moreover, Brad Pitt’s production company produced it, and there have been some bad press and disappointed expectations regarding his costly movie World War Z, so the industry might want to generate some positive feelings. If it is, indeed, 12 Years a Slave, a movie I found beautiful to look at, but too didactic and self-conscious, it won’t be the first time nepotism and guilt won the day (I remember sitting open mouthed when Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture in 1999). If it’s The Wolf of Wall Street, then it will be in an effort at atonement for the fact that Scorsese has never won the Best Picture award, despite his films Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. Best Director, yes, but never Best Picture. Moreover, Leonardo di Caprio has never won an Oscar, so he may get the Best Actor win, but if he doesn’t, there could be the desire to create a balance with the Best Picture. Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Wolf of Wall Street, but I don’t think it deserves Best Picture. I can live with this win, however.

I’ll be gutted if American Hustle wins. Talk about nepotism and a popularity contest. Writer/Director David O’Russell has delivered fine films, such as The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, but this isn’t as good as it’s touted to be. Sure, the actors are charismatic and capable, the production design is entertaining, the soundtrack is nostalgic, and there are fun costumes, as well as a lot of time devoted to amusing hairstyles, but there’s little point or suspense to this film.

I’ll also be upset if Philomena wins either Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay. Sure, it’s harrowing subject matter (see my thoughts on 12 Years a Slave and the appearance of being sympathetic), the acting is brilliant, the humor is good, but this shouldn’t be confused with the Best Picture or the Best Adapted Screenplay. The Former ‘cause there are more comprehensively great films this year in the category. The second, for the same reason, and because there is a storyline introduced and dropped rather clumsily that should eliminate it from this honor: the scene is the one in which Philomena and Martin meet her son’s adopted sister, who came with him from the convent. Mary (Mare Cunningham) states they did not have a happy childhood, and suggests cruelty on the part of their adopted father, but this is not developed. She claims that Philomena’s son never mentioned or considered their origin, Ireland, or his biological mother, a fact that is later completely discredited. I was left with many questions about Mary’s motives for lying, and the inclusion of this scene in the film, and believe that without developing these provocative storylines introduced here (which the film did not) this scene should have been cut. Its insertion niggled me, and I suspect its inclusion is a clumsy attempt to create a sense of ‘jeopardy” before the third act. But I digress.

Captain Phillips was suspenseful and well shot, but not the Best Picture in my opinion. Nor is Her. Relevant, and a great concept, but not the Best Picture. And I think that despite Spike Jonze’s contacts and cult status in the biz, even the Academy won’t give this film the win. Gravity is beautiful and has lofty existential themes that I find incredibly interesting, but if this wins it will be because the Academy doesn’t want to seem as though it didn’t get it. It’s more likely Alfonso Cuaron will get Best Directing (though I hope Alexander Payne gets it). I’ll be happily surprised if either Dallas Buyer’s Club or Nebraska wins Best Picture (though, as mentioned, I’m fine with the atonement and ‘career honor’ motivations prompting Scorsese’s film to win). If neither Dallas Buyers Club nor Nebraska win the Best Picture, then I hope to god that they win Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay, respectively – they deserve it (see my notes on Philomena), or that one of them gets the Best Actor win.

It would be too lengthy a piece to cover the race for Best Actor and Best Actress, or Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Suffice it to say that the competition is thick (please let it be Matthew McConaughey or Bruce Dern! Please let it be Judi Dench or Cate Blanchett!) But, again, it’s worth remembering that members of the Academy choose the winners – these are fallible folks who work, or have worked, in the industry of movies.  Similar to the rest of the big honors, the acting prizes have been criticized for not recognizing superior performances so much as being given for personal popularity, sentimental reasons, atonement for past mistakes, or as a “career honor” in order to recognize a distinguished nominee’s entire cannon of work…watch it all with a grain of salt, and enjoy the fete.



American Hustle

American Hustle movie posterCirca 1978. Skillful con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) cut a deal with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to catch other swindlers in return for clemency. But Irving is having an affair with Sydney, and his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) is a loose cannon, creating a powder keg of a situation that could derail the whole sting.

Nominated for several key awards at the Oscars this year, namely the coveted Best Picture, this film has been given a lot of positive press. Writer/Director David O’Russell has delivered fine films, such as The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook (and the leads, here, were in those films, too) but this isn’t as good as it’s touted to be. Sure, the actors are charismatic and capable, the production design is entertaining, the soundtrack is nostalgic, and there are fun costumes, as well as a lot of time devoted to amusing hairstyles – Bale’s disco comb-over, Coopers tiny curlers, Lawrence’s sweep – but there’s little point or suspense to this film. The elaborate plot attempts to address corruption in America, but repeatedly gets lost self consciously in its own chicanery. And who are the bad guys? Con men, errant politicians, and Mafia bosses are more likeable and upright in this film than the FBI operatives out to take them down. While the friend I watched American Hustle with relegated it to one of the most boring movies he has ever watched, I think it’s worth watching, particularly if you’re into slick visuals, and it’s definitely worth renting on DVD.