Tag Archives: Viola Davis

Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners

Dark. Rainy. Uneasy. Covered in a cloak of gloom, gruesome secrets and morally questionable actions. Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners is one of the premier kidnapping thrillers of recent years, and a mile marker in the still blossoming career of a man who will no doubt go on to be a legend. Many thrillers are lacking in some elements while excel in others, but here every base is covered with care and attention, from style to substance to pacing to realism to thematic material. When a couple’s daughter goes missing without a trace on a quiet suburban block, the distraught father (Hugh Jackman) tries to take matters into his own hands with disastrous and damaging results. When you factor in how long the case drags without clues, results or hope it’s kind of hard to blame him for taking action of his own volition, but when he abducts a mentally challenged man (Paul Dano) who was seen skulking around in a creepy RV the day of the incident, he crosses the line from righteous investigator to dangerous vigilante. Jake Gyllenhaal and his snazzy hairstyle are great as a rugged detective who just can’t seem to get a grasp on what happened but doesn’t quit anyway. Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Wayne Duvall, Viola Davis, Dylan Minette and more make vivid impressions, but it’s the consistently surprising and always dynamic Melissa Leo who steals the show and galvanizes the story with her chilling work. Roger Deakins is a prince among DoP’s and his rain streaked, utterly bleak visual mood-scape here is something to behold, the overcast weather seeps into the bones of these characters and brings out all the confusion and hopelessness of this grim, downbeat story. This is a detailed, difficult tale that does have an answer by the time the final act rolls around, and by that time we’re so so steeped in the quagmires of Jackman’s extreme actions that the further the trip goes into unpleasantness, the more eerily fitting it seems. It’s a dark, relentless trip but thanks to everyone involved and especially Villeneuve’s assured direction, it’s one worth taking.

-Nate Hill

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Denzel Washington’s FENCES

This truly is a remarkable film.  It is made with so much delicate care and craftsmanship, the entire two hours and nineteen minutes is fluid and seamless.  It’s the picture that feels like Denzel Washington has been working his entire career to not only make, but perfect.
Set in a dilapidated Negro ghetto in 1954, Washington is the tough and oblique patriarch of a family suffocated by their hopes and washout of the American Dream.  Viola Davis not only gives her career best performance, as Washington’s steadfast wife, she easily gives one of the best performances in recent cinematic memory.

While the performances and Washington’s perfection behind the camera are a sight to behold, the cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, production design by David Gropman, and editing by Hughes Winborne are so perfect, they go unnoticed.  As the film progresses, whether it is a performance, an aesthetic, or a technical aspect, they work in such unison that nothing stands out, the score does not out perform the editing nor does the writing outshine Davis.

The narrative strikes a hidden chord between being timeless and culturally and politically relevant.  It’s a tough story about a (black) working class family that deals with the conventional setbacks of life, yet they have their own uniquely complex set of hurdles that are undoubtedly self inflicted.

FENCES is truly the epitome of a Best Picture.  Everything, and I mean everything, is perfected in the film.  It has all the ingredients to be that Best Picture, but what makes the film surpass the run of the mill, end of the year Oscar bait,  is at its core it is filled with an unmatched amount of heart about what it is to be a family.

PTS PRESENTS EDITOR’S SUITE HUGHES WINBORNE POWERCAST

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image1Podcasting Them Softly is honored to present a discussion with feature film editor Hughes Winborne! Some of his credits include the Marvel blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, The Help, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Great Debaters, and Sling Blade. He won the Academy Award for his editing work on the 2005 film Crash, and this winter, his latest project, Fences, re-teams him with director and star Denzel Washington — the film looks absolutely fantastic and we can’t wait to see it. We hope you enjoy this informative and entertaining chat where we found out more about Hughes‘ process, his experiences, and some his inspirations. Enjoy!

Suicide Squad: A Review by Nate Hill 

Suicide Squad has left me so torn. On the one hand I just want to belligerantly profess my love for certain key aspects which I have salivated for for a long time now, to blindly just say ‘nope. Fuck it, it’s great’, like that one stupid kid in class who just won’t back down from an argument he is clearly losing. On the other hand I do have to come to terms with the very real, very problematic aspects to the whole thing, weigh it out rationally (not something I’m great at) and make heavy mention of what didn’t work (not something I enjoy doing). I also have a massive bias towards DC as well, particularly all things Batman and foes, so that needed to be taken into account too. 
  Let’s get what didn’t work out of the way: everyone is hearing that the film is a mess, and I can indeed say that yes, it’s one huge jumbled mess, like twenty unmade beds tossed into a washing machine together. It’s heavily edited in places that could have used fluidity, and flatlines in other spots where a bit of frenzy would have worked better. It’s scant on character, frankly because there are too many, packed with a soundtrack that has it bursting at the hastily sewn seams, drastically and obviously cut in specific places that are noticeable holes in which you could drive the Batmobile through, and burdened with a lazily assembled antagonist who doesn’t deserve the heroes they rumble with. That’s just off the top of my head. 
  Now, what worked: There’s a silver lining to the inane madness of the film, because in it’s confusing symphony of random candy coated antics it almost finds a trace of a beat, a rhythm that’s almost decimated by the chorus. I’m not excusing the hackjob of editing or cuts, merely saying that with all taken into account, it kind of takes on a life of it’s own that while completely tone deaf, is never boring. Let’s talk about Harley Quinn and The Joker. When the Blu Ray comes out with all them deleted scenes, I’m going to make a personal fan edit that sheds the spotlight on all the nastier stuff we missed in the theatrical version. The stuff we do get to see with Harley is pure magic, and Robbie owns the film. Maddeningly sexy, sketchy, dangerous, cute, and gloriously insane, she nails it to the wall in terms of what makes the character so special. Jared Leto as The Joker is…. different. While I didn’t like the laugh (he sounded like a geriatric hyena), I really took a shine to the direction they went with the clown this time around. A pasty ghoul who is sick with weirdo ‘love’ for Harley, this is a Joker who is way more in tune with the comics version than Ledger was. There were a few off key mannerisms and questionable little things, but for the most part I’d say he rocked it, and I’m stoked to see him square off with Batman in a standalone flick. 
  So, the rest of the squad. They’re a random bunch of nut bars who are hastily and over enthusiastically hurrah-ed onto stage by stone cold suit Amanda Waller (a terrifying Viola Davis), who is far more villainous than any of them. Davis is the consummate amoral politician, fuelled by gnawing xenophobia and given the power to push her unholy agenda to scary heights. Will Smith is a hoot as Deadshot, he just needed a little less mirth and a tad more menace in the mix. A joke or three sits well with me, but I don’t like wading through quip stew with thoughts of serious threat on the other side, only to find a backbone replaced by pining for his young daughter. Nothing wrong with pathos, but remember guys, Deadshot is a villain, and too much mush takes away from the street cred. Killer Croc is great when he’s around, which isn’t much until the climax where he gets a nice action bit, but still overall underused. I’ve been an avid non fan of Jai Courtney thus far, he’s just reeked of blandness. Well crikey, the guy does a nice job here of being the rambunctious bad boy of the pack, even if the reason for his inclusion in the squad doesn’t extend much farther than ‘he robbed every bank in australia’. Like… what? Joel Kinnaman holds his own as special ops asset Rick Flagg, and Cara Delevingne much less so as the gyrating, Grudge inspired Enchantress. She’s just not a powerful villain in any way, but damn if she didn’t turn heads in that little outfit. Cara actually fared way better as Dr. June Moon in what little time we spent with her, of which I would have loved to see more. Jay Hernandez is on fire (sorry) as Diablo, a flammable ex gang banger who grew a conscience to go with his pyrotechnic prowess. As far as Slipknot  (Adam Beach) goes, there was literally no reason, no reason at all for him to be in the film. Introduced as ‘the man who can climb anything’, he climbs like… one wall that anyone with his tools could scale….and then dies. Poor Adam. Karen Fukuhara is cool as Katana, but we’ve seen the hot Asian samurai shtick done to death, so it’s nothing altogether new. 
  No, the film rests on Joker, Harley and to a lesser extant, Batman. Old Bats is in it for two crucial scenes, one of which had me give out a roaring cheer, as it’s the type of thing I signed up for when I shelled out 22 goddamn dollars to see this in VIP mode. I kept wishing the whole time that I could make my own edit with all of David Ayer’s footage, because there’s so much gold found onscreen, and I know there’s more to be mined on the floors of his editing room, left there by the prudish anxieties of studio heads that just don’t. Ever. Learn. I want to see Batman and his villains thunder out in this blooming DC franchise, and while the rest of the more obscure faces in the squad are fun, I was in it for the core villains. All the stuff with Joker and Harley is inspired, and the car chase where the Batmobile tears after Joker’s purple Hotwheels Lamborghini is pretty much the best part of the whole film. I want more Batman and Co., for shit sake. In any case, there’s a lot of fun to be had, an endless grab bag of stylistic tricks, fonts, gimmicks, colors, sounds and chaotic hullabaloo running around. Some of it works. Some of it doesn’t. Tough shit. It’s certainly not a terrible movie, and I feel many critics resorted to the oft employed ‘knee jerk’ reaction instead of internalizing it all before brandishing pen and keyboard. Critics are a spastic lot of baboons who have have a tendancy, especially these days, to jump the gun and hurl verbal feces at stuff before it’s had a chance to sink in. I’ll concede that there are huge issues, but huge amounts of fun can be found too. Or not. It’s up to you. I certainly had some fraction of a blast watching it, and the only way I can describe the thing as an whole is the Looney Toons having a food fight with a bunch of fluorescent Lucky Charms. If that abstract picture chimes with you, chances are you’ll at least get some kind of kick from the this baby, and probably be just as perplexed by certain areas as I was. Good luck.

JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY’S DOUBT — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Doubt is an impeccable piece of filmmaking. From the Oscar-nominated writing to the air-tight direction to the spellbinding performances, it’s a precision-tooled work from a master storyteller who has an amazing grasp on what he wants to say. Adapted from his Pulitzer winning play of the same name, writer-director John Patrick Shanley crafted one of the most thought-provoking films from 2008 with Doubt, a piece of work that scorches the nerves because of how vital and possible all of it feels. Set in the 1960’s at a NYC Catholic school, Doubt tells the story of a priest who is accused of improper behavior with one of his altar boys. Philip Seymour Hoffman, forceful as ever, is Father Flynn, a seemingly good and decent man who takes a liking to the only black student/altar boy in the school. The scarily intense Meryl Streep is Sister Beauvier, the main accuser, who teams up with another nun, the fragile Sister James, played by Amy Adams, in order to try to bring Flynn down. Sister James is the one who thinks that something improper has occurred; she doesn’t have definitive proof but she merely thinks that something bad has happened. Shanley asks his viewers to make a decision at the end of the film as to who was right, who was wrong, who was lying, and who was telling the truth. This is a hard film to review without spoiling because there’s little to no fat on the bones of the story, with each scene feeding into the one previous and the one following. Every piercing line of dialogue is important to the overall narrative and every moment in each of the three central performances are so integral to the film’s outcome that it becomes a tricky movie to discuss without giving everything away.

And then you have an emotionally shattering Viola Davis, who stole some heartbreaking scenes as the altar boy’s deeply concerned mother; there’s not a false note played by any of these superlative performers, all of whom were bestowed with Oscar nominations for their riveting portrayals. With Doubt, what I think Shanley was trying to get his audience to ask themselves is: How do we really know what goes on behind a closed-door? Is it enough to simply think that someone has done something wrong before you attack their character? What is a person’s moral compass made up of, and how do we truly know the people we work and live with? How do we decide who is right and who is wrong when all of the facts aren’t made clear? Working with the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, Shanley brought an appropriately chilly visual aesthetic to the film, with Deakins stressing grays and browns and darkly lit interiors with tons of Dutch angles and long takes that maximize the dramatic potency of every face-off between the verbally sparring actors. Every line of dialogue crackles with authority, especially when spoken by Hoffman and Streep, and Adams, in the film’s most layered role, did excellent work, painting a portrait of a confused woman who may or may not have started something she has no way of ever controlling. And most importantly, Shanley knew exactly how to wrap up his story, and during the film’s final, stinging moments, you’ll be left with a lot of fodder for discussion after the final credits have rolled.

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