Friday, December 16, 2016

Truth #1044 - Star Wars: Rogue One

Stormtroopers are the most useless things in the galaxy.

Donnie Yen as a Chinese Zatoichi will kick your ass.

He is also his own anti-aircraft gun.

Always watch the towers.

Technology can raise the dead (or at least animate them).

I love how Disney is paying Mads Mikkelsen.  Just wish they'd give him bigger parts.  But then again, so much of this film is contained in short bursts, no one gets much time.  They count down, then the actor has to blurt out as much information in as little time as possible.  Not really a lot of acting here - just a lot of relating exposition.

Ping (after first appearance of K-2SO, leans over and whispers):  "Favorite character so far."

Ping (about halfway through film, after another scene with K-2SO, leans over and whispers):  "Still favorite character so far."

::SPOILER::  Not too long into the beach battle finale, I got hit with the realization that, unlike in other movies that declare something a suicide mission, but some people make it back, no one was going to make it back on this one.  The gravity of how many people sacrificed everything for the mission to get the plans, and just how blind they were going into the mission, really created a lot of gravity that made this film better.  This was written very well.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Five Movies, One Weekend

I haven’t done a movie binge weekend like this in a while, and as you can imagine, I had a blast.  Not saying everything I saw was good, but it was fun to be in five theaters with decent-sized audiences (and a few surprises).  I’ll put them in the order I liked them most, so last one is last place.

Nocturnal Animals – My one trip to AFI Silver this weekend (everything else I saw at Regal 20 Silver Spring).  This was the most “filmic” film I saw (read “artsy”).  You may already know that the director and screenwriter (based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright) and producer is the fashion designer Tom Ford.  I know nothing about fashion and haven’t seen Ford’s other film A Single Man (2009), but I will definitely check it out.  You get hit in the face at the beginning with a Lynchian credit sequence, then slide into style (beautiful sets and costumes, dim lights, Amy Adams wearing a lot of eye makeup, overhead canted angles).  This is a story within a story.  The frame is that Susan (Adams) is an art dealer, and her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) is some sort of business man.  There’s some financial strain between them (and even more issues, as the film reveals), and Hutton must leave town for the weekend.  Conveniently, Susan is sent a draft of her ex-husband Edward’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) first novel to read.  He’s going to be in town this weekend, and maybe they could get together?  What happened in Susan and Tony’s past eventually comes out, as the audience is given pieces of the frame story as Susan begins reading the novel.

The story of the novel, which is far more interesting than the frame story (but also more straightforward and intense), is a family (the dad [Tony – also played by Gyllenhaal], mom [Laura – played by Isla Fisher] and young teenage daughter [India – played by Ellie Bamber]) is driving through West Texas when they are forced off the road by three men.  The men kidnap Laura and India, leaving Tony out in the middle of the desert.  Tony makes it back to a town and gets in touch with the local law enforcement.  The rest of the novel’s story is Tony and Bobby (Michael Shannon) trying to bring the men to justice.

I don’t really want to say too much else about the movie, in case you want to go see it.  I recommend not reading or watching any reviews of the film because I don’t think you’d find it as interesting if you knew what was going to happen.  I will say that Michael Shannon is the best part of this film.  There’s a lot of stereotypes masquerading as characters in this movie, which is probably its biggest weakness, and sometimes the ambiance can stray a little too far to pretentious, but it’s still the best thing I saw all weekend.  And, while I didn’t have any problem with the ending, apparently some people do.  I had one person in the theater I saw it in (which was over half full) actually say out loud “That’s it?  Retarded!” when the credits started rolling.  Classy.

Manchester by the Sea – 2 of the 5 movies I saw (this one and Nocturnal Animals) were about people who had really bad things happen to them in the past, 2 of the 5 had bad things happening in the characters’ present time (Moonlight and Allied), and 1 of the 5 dealt with bad things that would happen in the future (Arrival).  None of these films are going to send you home lighter on your feet than when you arrived.  Out of all five, this film imparted the most emotional damage.  It also had the best acting.  Casey Affleck really deserves serious attention for what he did in this film.  It’s a very honest film.  However, I got so annoyed watching it.  This goes back to something I talk about in Film 101 about the use of soundtrack.  The two schools of thought are that either the music should not be intrusive or be very present and aid what is happening.  All too often, music is used to intensify the emotions on the screen at that moment.  And in some cases, it will hammer what you are supposed to be feeling into your skull.  The saddest piece of music ever is Adagio in G Minor for Strings & Organ by Tomaso Albinoli.  The way it is used (and the whole thing is used) in this picture was over-the-top ridiculous.  It didn’t need to do that.  This film would have been the top spot if it hadn’t been for this.

Moonlight – This barely edged out Arrival.  I’ve heard the comment made that this film did a better job at portraying the growing up of a boy than Boyhood (2014).  While I like Richard Linklater, I couldn’t stand Boyhood.  However, comparing that film with this one is ludicrous.  There’s plenty of films that deal with growing up.  This is the story of Chiron, a boy growing up in the ghettos of Miami.  Chiron is small (he is nicknamed Little) and gay (though how he gets pegged with this so early on is a mystery to me – his mom says it’s because of the way he runs?), so he gets bullied relentlessly.  Oh, and also, his mom is a crack addict.  Chiron takes refuge in a crack house, where he encounters Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who treats him like a lost puppy, feeds him and takes him home.  At home is Teresa, who will continue to intermittently offer Chiron a stable environment he occasionally stays at into high school.  I want to like this film more, but there’s two big issues with it.  One is a similar issue with Nocturnal Animals.  There are no characters here – only stereotypes.  Instead of a hooker with a heart of gold, we have a drug dealer with a paternal bent.  Mom’s a crack addict who takes Chiron’s money and pawns household appliances for drugs (in one scene, Chiron must boil water to take a bath, because the hot water’s been turned off).  Later in the film, when he visits her in rehab, you get the standard “I’m so sorry, I done you wrong” speech.  Reminiscent of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” Chiron finally snaps one day and breaks a chair over the main bully’s back, which lands him in juvenile detention and eventually jail.  He makes contacts in jail and ends up doing the very same thing that Juan did, running traps in Atlanta.  The only thing that sets this film apart slightly is that Chiron is gay, so you add more tragedy into the already tragic circumstances.  Two, this is poverty porn with a LGBT twist.  Last year, with the Oscars So White Movement, I was hoping to see more diversity in the types of stories we see on screen.  And while there may be more creeping through, we are still seeming to get two extremes:  Boo:  A Madea Halloween and Almost Christmas or Moonlight.  I’m hoping films like Hidden Figures and Fences are the beginnings of turning this trend around.  But seriously, there are more than two stories to tell in the African American community.  I’m still worried that the people who control the money haven’t gotten the message yet.  Just throwing Forest Whitaker in a film is not a sufficient enough move, Hollywood.

Arrival  - Speaking of Forest Whitaker (and he’s going to be in next week’s Rogue One, along with Donnie Yen and Diego Luna – all boxes checked, including having a female lead), he’s in this one.  Out of the two Amy Adams movies I saw, her performance in this one is way better (in fact, comparing the two, I’m fairly sure she was probably bored with what she had to do in Nocturnal).  To be up front with you, I’m not a very big fan of sci-fi, mostly because there are plot holes and leaps of faith one must do to buy what’s going on.  This one’s no different.  So, twelve alien ships come to Earth around the globe to make humanity work together.  That’s their whole goal.  And, it comes dangerously close to not working.  But luckily, Earth has Amy Adams (sorry, I mean Louise Banks) to figure out alien communication.  And, when she is able to figure out language, it unlocks time.  It allows Louise to see into her future.  The upshot of this is that the Chinese general that is dead set on blowing up the aliens in his part of the world tells her at a party in the future (which, since she figured out the language, she can see really specific things), she’s able to speak the general’s wife’s final words, proving that he really needs to listen to her (something he says he doesn’t even do with his supervisors – how does that work in Communism?).  Anyway, the downside is that she can see that she will marry Jeremy Renner (sorry, Ian Donnelly), have a baby together who will get cancer.  She sees this and knows this but chooses to do this anyways.  So, is this a film about how aliens help humanity to work together and join us all in a kumbaya future so that we can help the aliens out in 3,000 years?  Or, is this a film that asks, as Louise asks at the end of the film, “if you could see your life from start to finish, would you change anything?”  With Louise, this is a very serious dilemma, since it will involve her falling in and out of love with Ian and having a wonderful daughter that dies young.  The thing is, it sometimes looks like the movie is trying to make the decision about what it wants to be during the film.  The pacing is pretty slow.  I know it bored the guys next to me, as they were popping out their cell phones all throughout (that was the only audience that did that while the film was playing, and there was a pretty full audience for Arrival, which surprised me, given it is now in its fifth week of release).  It’s not a bad film, but it’s very deliberate, like it’s trying not to lose you.

Allied – Ugh.  To share a text message I had with my friend, I told her she could skip this film, and she said “looks like Mr. and Mrs. Smith Redux.”  I wrote back, “with Nazis.”  This is not a bad plot.  These are not bad actors.  I have to blame two things:  Robert Zemeckis and the editors.  Dear Robert Zemeckis:  Back to the Future was a long time ago.  So was Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  I’m sorry, but I think your freshness date has expired.  This film was so flat.  And boring.  Someone in the row behind me actually snored.  It did get good towards the end, but then when Marianne is writing the letter to her daughter at the end, I was like “was this necessary?”  Any comparisons of this movie to Casablanca (1942) is foolhardy (just because the first part is set in Casablanca during WWII doesn’t mean the two should be set side by side).  I will say the costumes were quite nice.

I’m planning to watch Moana some time this week, and I’ve got my ticket for Rogue One Thursday night.  I’m pretty sure that catches me up to what I want to see.  But, some good films are in the pipeline in the upcoming weeks.  Once I get my final grades in, it’s back to the theater!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Um ... Wow

This was done in one take.  Not sure what to do with it, but the actor sure went for it, and you have to respect that.

Thunder Road from Jim Cummings on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

My Mind Just Got Blowed Up

Getting ready for a podcast tomorrow morning on The Wild Bunch (1969) and looking up information on Peckinpah when I find ... wait a minute ... this can't be right ...

Sam Peckinpah directed Julian Lennon's first two MUSIC VIDEOS?!?!

Peckinpah died two months after.

Fuck.  Me.

Truth #704

I'm watching Jason Bourne in the movie theater Friday with Ping and TJ, and at a point in the film, Bourne falls from the roof of a five story building onto a brick-paved square, gets up, and escapes before a henchman can reach him.  Not that these movies are realistic, but that went too far.

Me whispering to Ping:  "Nobody can fall five stories like that and walk away."

Ping to me:  "He's Jason Bourne!  He's Matt Damon!  We rescued him from Mars!  He can do anything."


Monday, February 22, 2016


Are the Oscars racist?  I think Hollywood studios may be racist.  And sexist.  Is that the Academy’s fault?  Considering members of the Academy make up some of the most elite positions in the Hollywood studio industry, there is something to the claim of the Academy being racist.  However, the goal of any industry is to make money.  And in this day and age, where foreign box office frequently eclipses if not blows away domestic returns, the focus (at least for popular films) is on the dollar sign.  The other type of film Hollywood cares about is the prestige film, the type that will garner awards.  On rare occasions, a film can do both, but it is really uncommon.  Ultimately, it boils down to those two qualities:  money or awards.  For that, you need to then point to the audiences for those two types of pictures.

I think many people would be served to read the Hollywood Reporter’s series on how the Academy is trying to offset things by excluding older members in the cry for diversity.  So, essentially, racism is being replaced with ageism.  Yay.

And this has been a great year for movies, so I’m pretty pumped for this year’s awards.  Oscars are supposed to go to people and films that were exceptional.  So, it’s a bit of a Catch-22.  If you don’t nominate minorities because minority directors, actors, screenwriters, and producers didn’t put out content that would be deemed exceptional, then the Academy is racist.  What were some predominantly African-American films in 2015?  Straight Outta Compton, War Room, Chi-Raq, Perfect Guy, Dope, Blackbird.  What did Lee Daniels do this year?  Television.  Steve McQueen?  A short film on Kanye West.  Tyler Perry?  TV.  John Singleton hasn’t directed a film since 2011.  Antoine Fuqua did Southpaw (which didn’t do well critically or financially) and some TV movie.  Tim Story skipped 2015 (but you can see his new film, Ride Along 2, which by all critical accounts is the exact same film as the first Ride Along, so don’t count on that one for next year’s Oscars).  There are others, but you get my point.  And don’t even get started on the underwhelming lack of representation of Latino-Americans or Asian-Americans doing anything or having any films targeted to them.

Anyways, enough politics (too long for this post).  The Oscars care about two types of movies:  prestige films and technical achievements.  If your film is out for box office bucks, then you may get nods for the technical achievement awards.  Otherwise, you better tell a damn good story or have someone acting his or her keister off.  So, let’s do this.  Remember, I will bold films that I have seen, so you can assess how much authority I have to actually opine (and I’ve pretty much seen everything except Anomalisa, Mustang, 45 Years, Joy and Creed out of all films that are currently able to be viewed [some aren’t]).  Some of these aren’t choices so much as ruminations.

Best Actor:  Everyone is simply all-in on this being Leonardo DiCaprio’s year to win.  Was he good in The Revenant?  Yes, he was.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the man do a bad job in a film.  But, he always seems to be playing “intense.”  I never see him playing anything other than that, and not all characters in the world are of an “intense” ilk.  So, I’m not sure if his performance in this is better than, say, what he did in Inception (2010) or Gangs of New York (2002) or Revolutionary Road (2008).  So, is this award more for his body of work?  Isn’t that what honorary awards are for?  If anything, Tom Hardy does the actual acting in this film.  DiCaprio just endures punishment by Iñárritu.  Cranston did a good Trumbo in Trumbo.  Matt Damon was engaging in The Martian, and I’d argue that he went through as much of a grilling as DiCaprio.  The Revenant is totally devoid of humor (well, brief flashes from Hardy with the whole God-is-a-squirrel-that-you-can-cook-for-dinner thing), yet The Martian keeps things much lighter at times.  Michael Fassbinder did great in Steve Jobs (his scene in the middle of the film with Jeff Daniels was incredible), but this is the second film I’ve seen about Steve Jobs, and I don’t care at all about his story (the structure of this film was very clunky, so that detracted a bit).  Oh, and I hated The Danish Girl, so forget that (well, except that Matthias Schoenaerts was in it).  Taking a step back, this may be the weakest category this year.

Best Actress:  Great year for women’s roles.  Blanchett, Larson and Ronan all were outstanding, and these are very different characters.  Ultimately, the one that had to reach the farthest and dig the deepest was Larson.  The magic between Russel and Lawrence is drying up a bit, so maybe those two should take a break.  I did not see 45 Years, so I’m at a deficit in this category.

Best Supporting Actor:  This is where things get much more exciting for me.  I love Bale’s and Hardy’s work in everything they do, but Hardy was better here than Bale, and the strength of The Big Short rested on everyone’s shoulders, as was the case with Spotlight, so it’s weird to see Bale and Ruffalo nominated when their equally amazing colleagues aren’t.  Steve Carell, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Ryan Gosling – they all could have been up.  I’m not at all sure why everyone’s in a tizzy about Creed.  It’s a fucking Rocky movie (and admittedly, I didn’t see this film, so …).  The only thing I liked about Bridge of Spies was Mark Rylance’s performance, which was so honest and understated in a movie that was so overt (while painfully not trying to want to be, or maybe not).  If Stallone gets it, it will be on nostalgia alone, and that isn't right.

Best Supporting Actress:  Hate The Danish Girl, so sorry Vikander (although, she’s the best part in the film – Eddie Redmayne needs to find roles where his character doesn’t destroy a woman who loves and supports his character through hellacious shit, only to dump her [this is TWO YEARS IN A ROW, Redmayne!]).  HOWEVER, her work in Ex Machina was so good and convincing that I’m wondering if they gave her the nod for the wrong film.  Kate Winslet is always good, but her character in Steve Jobs is just too simpering, even when she’s standing up to Jobs.  And, why did she care so much about Lisa?  That was actually a pretty dysfunctional relationship, but the movie doesn’t do a good job of fleshing it out.  Rooney Mara was a bit of a cipher for me in Carol, so I couldn’t really get into her performance.  Hands down, this needs to go to McAdams.  All Leigh did was grin through blood.  Yippie.  I really didn’t like The Hateful Eight.

Best Animated Feature Film:  This really isn’t worth discussing because Inside Out will win.  I may be one of two people (Kim being the other) who actually did not like that film, so I’m really missing why everyone is so ga-ga for it.  It’s also sort of weird to see When Marnie Was There up, unless it is a participation award now that Studio Ghibli has essentially ceased functioning (will so miss them).  Boy and the World was actually released in 2013, and I can’t find it ANYWHERE, which is a bummer, because it looks great.  Shaun the Sheet the Movie was SO MUCH FUN that I’d love to see it win.  Didn’t see Anomalisa, but western audiences tend to see animation as primarily targeting kids, so even Charlie Kaufman being part of it won’t make enough impact.

Best Cinematography:  This one is hard, because three of the films up for the award (Carol, The Revenant and Mad Max:  Fury Road) ALL could win this.  Stylistically, Carol is very different than everything else going on in this category, so it will not get the attention it should.  I still feel that Tarantino was idiotic when insisting to shoot Hateful in 70mm.  THE MOVIE TAKES PLACE IN A ROOM for the most part.  Why do you need 70mm for that?  Imagine The Revenant and / or Mad Max in 70 mmm!  Oh my god, how glorious!  So, it’s really down to those two, and that is an incredibly difficult call to make.  However, the dark horse in this is Roger Deakins, whose been nominated for over a dozen times (and rightly so), who’s up for Sicario, which is a well-shot film, but doesn’t come close to his other work.  Wait for Blade Runner 2, Roger.  Out of all these, the least worthy is The Hateful Eight, even if it is in 70mm.

Best Costume Design:  All the films in this category have good costumes, but I have to hand it to Cinderella, the live-action Disney remake.  Post-apocalyptia and deep woods fur trapping just don’t look as good as a fairy tale.  And, Carol’s costumes were good, but everything in that movie sort of melts into itself, so they were harder to “notice.”

Best Directing:  We’ve all heard plenty about the Bataan Death March that was The Revenant, and I think Iñárritu is getting a bit too reliant on his floating long takes, but who can deny his incredible talent?  I wasn’t the biggest fan of Birdman, but the movie was a Rube Goldberg marvel.  George Miller’s Mad Max had the greatest amount of momentum – the film just didn’t stop or let up from minute one to the end.  That’s amazing.  Spotlight managed to have an incredibly balanced, understated approach to something that could have easily been an emotional wrecking ball (imagine if the tone of The Big Short was applied).  Very impressed by McCarthy’s control and patience (Do you realize this guy is mostly an actor and was in the Adam Sandler bomb Pixels this year, as well as directing Adam Sandler last year’s bomb called The Cobbler?  He needs to get away from Sandler.  Fast.).  The opposite spectrum was The Big Short and its in-your-face style of acting and editing to take a dry, complicated topic and turn it into an adrenaline rush that had my blood pressure boiling.  When Carell’s character says “boom!” in that scene towards the end where he debating one of the investment banks’ CEOs while its stock plummets while the debate is going on, I felt it in my chest.  McKay did an awesome job.  And Room’s sheer terror and intensity (I didn’t see a thing about it before I went in, so I didn’t know if they were going to get out) deeply disturbed me.  Abrahamson got a stunning performance out of Jacob Tremblay (want to talk about the Oscars being unfair – why didn’t that kid get a nomination?  Ageism?).  So, I want ALL of them to win.  I really do.  They all deserve it.

Best Documentary:  This one’s a little strange.  You’ve got two movies about wars (Cartel Land and Winter on Fire), two films about female singers (Amy and What Happened, Miss Simone?) and a follow-up to my best picture of 2014, The Act of Killing (which didn’t even win best documentary that year), called The Look of Silence.  I’m afraid I’m not really into the whole talented-woman-gets-beaten-down-by-everyone-and-then-turns-to-drugs thing, so … there’s that.  The two war films were very well-done.    My guess and my hope is that the Academy will give Joshua Oppenheimer the award that he deserved two years ago, realizing their oversight.  However, The Look of Silence is not as powerful of a film as The Act of Killing was, so I’m really unsure here.

Best Documentary Short Subject:  Body Team 12 is about aid workers collecting dead Ebola victims in Nigeria.  Chau:  Beyond the Lines is about a teenager in a Vietnamese health center dealing with being an Agent Orange victim yet still wanting to be an artist.  Claude Lanzmann:  Spectres of the Shoah is about a Jewish director making the ten-hour film Shoah (about the Holocaust) in 1985.  A Girl in the River:  The Price of Forgiveness is about Muslim honor killings in Pakistan and one girl who survived the practice.  Last Day of Freedom tells the story of a man whose brother, a war veteran suffering from PTSD, commits a crime, and the man must turn his brother in.  I’m so depressed typing this stuff up right now.

Film Editing:  Like cinematography, these films are all technically well-edited.  As much as I love The Big Short, this really should go to Mad Max.

Best Foreign Language Film:  This should be Son of Saul, although Mustang has received a lot of attention.

Best Hair and Makeup:  You have to make someone look like they were mauled by a bear.  You have to an army of War Boys who spray silver paint on their teeth when they go into battle and other such oddities like boils all over (the products of generations exposed to radiation).  Both require lots of imagination.  Both are done well.  But, have to side with The Revenant.  Level of difficulty and realism was more demanding here.  Even though The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared did some amazing things with aging the principal actor, the film was boring beyond a certain point, and I think the Academy wants to give as many awards to The Revenant as possible.

Best Original Score:  I’ve been running into a lot of movies lately where the score is really invasive or inappropriate, so to find one that is good is a bit of a triumph.  Last place is John Bombast Williams, who is an old-school telegrapher.  Carol’s score got intrusive at times. Sicario’s score was pretty good and didn’t interrupt the flow of things.  The Hateful Eight will most likely win, as it did at the Golden Globes, for not only fittingness to the film but nostalgia.  Let’s hope Morricone is there to collect this time.

Best Original Song:  I.  Don’t.  Care.  Although it does gall me a bit that it is possible that something associated with Fifty Shades of Gray may win an Oscar.

Best Production Design:  All of these are good (yes, even Danish Girl).  I’m going to go with Mad Max here, because you don’t really have to production design the wilderness.  You just have to photograph it and not mess up the snow.

Best Short Animation:  Prologue looks cool from the few seconds I’ve seen.  So do We Can’t Live without Cosmos and World of Tomorrow (I saw it on Netflix, and it is very Theater of the Absurd / Beckett / Ionesco – loved it – 5 stars).  Bear Story is ok.  But Sanjay’s Super Team will win because Disney / Pixar (but it would be so refreshing if it didn't).

Best Short Live Action:  I know nothing about any of these.  May get to see them the Sunday of Oscars.  Odds seem to indicate Stutterer will win.

Best Sound Editing:  This, seriously, is between Mad Max, Star Wars and The Martian.  All three were incredibly well-done.  This is hard.  Ultimately have to go with The Martian.

Best Sound Mixing:  Gee, the same three.  But for this … hrm.  Gravity (2013)?

Best Special Effects:  Again, so much good going on technically this year.  I really felt Matt Damon was on Mars.  That sandstorm in Mad Max was harrowing.  The dogfight on Jakku in and out of a crashed Star Destroyer.  The least convincing was the bear attack in The Revenant.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  Woo!  Ok.  So, I haven’t read any of these, so I suckzez.  The author of Carol is the same woman who wrote Strangers on a Train.  I talked to someone who read Room, who said it was mostly from the boy’s perspective, and there is some voice-over by him, and the camera does focus on him (trying to remember a scene where he wasn’t present, and can’t remember one).  This is a rare one where the author did the screenplay.  I had a few students talk to me about reading The Martian and how different it was.  Apparently, the character that Ejiofor is Indian, and there’s a lot of discussion of Hinduism and life and death in the book.  Also, my mom’s boyfriend said the book was quite humorous, which may account for why it was considered a comedy at the Golden Globes (umm ... maybe ...).  Don’t know much at all about Brooklyn’s author or book.  But the guy who wrote the book Moneyball was based off of is the same guy who wrote The Big Short’s source material, and I loved that movie.  It’s not going to win much, if anything, but it has a decent shot here, so I want to back it.

Best Original Screenplay:  Straight Outta Compton is actually written poorly, so this must be some perfunctory nod by the Academy (sorta embarrassing, guys).  I don’t like Inside Out, so there’s that.  Like The Big Short, Spotlight was one of my favorites for this year, and it isn’t going to get much, so I’d sure like to see it win this category, because it was smart and engaging.

And now, the Best Picture Nominations, ranked least to most favorite (I liked all of them this year):

8.  Bridge of Spies: I'm a long-time fan of Steven Spielberg, and I love this historical era.  But, there's no soul in this.  It just seemed really paint-by-the-Spielberg-numbers.  It's good work but not anything surprising or innovative.  Not a bad movie. It's just that Spielberg used to be so great.

7.  The Martian:  This is really saying something when this film is at the bottom of the list, because I completely enjoyed watching this movie.  I was totally invested in Damon’s character and wanted him to get successfully rescued.  The ending was genuinely joyful to me.  I came out of the movie feeling good.  I don’t get that very often.  Perhaps it is the movies I choose to watch, but they don’t usually fall into the “uplifting” category.  This was a fun movie to watch and enjoy, and when you apply 1950s standards into something that is inclusive and exclusive, this is a truly democratic picture, reliant on the individual and the importance on the individual.  This is America, in the way we’d like to see it.

6.  The Revenant:  I was expecting a lot from this.  It wasn’t that I was disappointed – this is a solid film – but the overuse of the floating long shot and the not-so-great score took me out of the experience sometimes.  And other times, I was more interested in looking at the beautiful scenery in the film than in what was happening with the characters.  I wouldn’t say that was a good thing.  And, I’m not someone who buys into the whole “spirit-quest” storyline.  What I did like was any time Tom Hardy was on the screen.

5.  Brooklyn:  This was a well-told story, and the acting was top notch.  This is a quiet film, and there was enough tension generated when the protagonist went back to Ireland if she would stay or not.  I wouldn’t call this film a love story, because while the character does fall in love, it is far more about her experiences and how she reacts to them.  It’s more a love story of the film loving this girl’s story and character.  It’s an emotional film – I saw it in a filled house at the AFI, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  It’s sweet to see something this honest.

4.  Room:  This movie took me for quite a ride, and I’m so glad I went into it cold, because I think even watching the trailer (which I saw later) would have totally spoiled a lot of the suspense I felt, since I didn’t know if they were ever going to get out of Room (they show them getting out in the trailer).  This movie is emotionally pummeling.  I saw it after I saw Brooklyn on the same day, so I sort of went home and had a nervous breakdown.  And even after they get out, that doesn’t solve anything, to the point that Jack wants to go back to Room.  A great film, but not one I would watch multiple times.  Sort of like Hotel Rwanda or Boys Don’t Cry (although oddly enough, I own both on DVD).

3.  Mad Max:  Fury Road:  As I mentioned previously, this film is relentless in its visual and auditory onslaught.  If you didn’t get a chance to see this film in the theater, then that’s really too bad, because it was glorious.  This, Tarantino argues, is why film needs to be in theaters.  In his interview with Bret Easton Ellis, he notes some films are essentially after-school, Lifetime Channel specials.  They need to have a grander scope (which, yet again, begs the question why he set Hateful Eight in a goddamn room for the majority of the film).  And Tom Hardy.  And Charlize Theron.

2.  Spotlight:  Initially, I didn’t like how understated and quiet this film was.  It seemed so unfilmic.  There was only one sequence, the one on Christmas Eve, that looked like it was trying to be a film and not be a documentary.  After talking with Kim about it afterwards, I started to really appreciate what was accomplished by this film.  It would have been soooo easy to make this an exaggerated smear piece, and given Hollywood’s liberal leanings, perhaps it was even expected.  But the respect and restraint shown was truly admirable.  Everyone is acting at the tops of their games.  It is a truly great film.

1. The Big Short:  But this one was my favorite.  I still think everyone should see it, see how we were duped and continue to be duped.  This movie made me just as ill, if not moreso, than Spotlight for its barefaced look at pervasive immorality, greed and selfishness by a handful of people who feel they run the world and are justified in doing so.  This film should enrage you.  And again, everyone is acting their balls off (this is not a very feminine film, whereas Spotlight was more balanced in its representation – I wonder if testosterone plays an integral role in financial debacles … hrm).

Not necessarily what will win, but what I like.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Woo!  Woo-hoo!  Winter break means winter movie time!  And tis the season to watch good movies, with the Golden Globes and Oscars coming up!  The only thing is that Fallout 4 has been syphoning away a lot of time that I would normally dedicate to movie watching, but since I’m having fun doing both, who really cares?

Now, important caveat, I’m going to go off on some of these films because of the visceral reactions I had to them.  So, please don’t expect me to be polite.

Anonymous (2011)*** – Speaking as someone who’s been studying Shakespeare since 1990 (myself, along with my nerdy friends, started a Shakespeare club at my high school – thank you Mrs. Susan Kelly), specializing in him throughout undergrad (did a study abroad in England on him) as well as in grad school, I can safely say I know a thing or two about the authorship question.  And, as someone who is spending a massive amount of time on a specific author right now and how his life linked to his works, you would expect that I would put a lot of stock in really caring about if a guy named Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.  But actually, I was more interested in how Roland “Independence-Day-Michael-Bay-Second-Chair” Emmerich was going to deal with the question, which he seems pretty invested in.  And honestly, even though this movie caught lot of shit when it came out (which was unfair), it was entertaining. Who cares who wrote Shakespeare?  If you delve into scholarship, each play is based on other works behind it. Shakespeare, if anything, was a master plagiarist with a thing for wordsmithing.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)*** – Tony Randall is no Peter Sellers.  And this movie is all kinds of weirdness.  It doesn’t age well, but when you put it into context, the make-up work, by William Tuttle, was the first award for make-up at the Academy Awards (it was an honorary award, since the category didn’t exist before, and wasn’t established until 1981, the other honorary award being in 1968 for Planet of the Apes) and nominated for best visual effects (the only other movie nominated, which it lost to, was Mary Poppins).  That’s impressive.  But still, it makes little sense.  Just know that we are all part of the circus of Dr. Lao (the film was based on a novel by Charles G. Finney, by that name).  The novel is about the moving toward science for answers and the departure from faith and reason, which the movie is not partial to.  You will see factor into some of my comments below.

Poseidon (2006)*** – I got this because I did a podcast on Das Boot, and when Alex asked me about other Wolfgang Petersen movies, I largely drew a blank.  Most of what I had seen of his (NeverEnding Story [1984], Enemy Mine [1985], In the Line of Fire [1993], Outbreak [1995], Air Force One [1997], The Perfect Storm [1997], and Troy [2004]) were good for box office, but I hadn’t seen them since they came out.  They were solid films, but nothing on them blew my mind like Das Boot did.  So, I punted and said he was a good studio director.  Nothing’s going to derail on his watch, and you’ll get a good return on investment.  However, I hadn’t seen this film, which was his most recent film, and it had been a while ago.  I was hoping he was ok, quite frankly.  If you are looking for great characters or plot, this remake of 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure (which I haven’t seen) is not going to do anything for you.  However, this film is a technical marvel.  IF you see this film, get it on DVD (not streaming) and watch the extra features. The stunts are amazing, and there’s very little CGI.  That’s getting rarer and rarer these days.

A Very Murray Christmas (2015)* - Started to try to watch this, because (and I guess this is why it got made in the first place) who doesn’t love Bill Murray?  But this is such an obvious fluff piece that I didn’t last past 12 minutes.

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)**** - This was an obviously talented woman who wrote great music, and the four stars is mostly on Kim’s side, but why, WHY is the cliché such a reality that artists (especially minority women) have to live through shit?  Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith … I’m not going to sit here and list them all, and from what this documentary noted, apparently she liked some mutual combat, but Nina Simone sounded like she went through hell.  It’s an informative doc, but sing-songy in that you’ve heard this story before.

Electric Boogaloo:  The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)*** - Chuck Norris!  Charles  Bronson!  ‘Merica!  Fuck yeah!  This was a lot of fun to watch.  It tells the story of two Jews that just love to make movies, even though they genuinely suck at it, and how Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus created a film company (Cannon Films) that really contributed to filmmaking in the wackiest of ways throughout the 70s and 80s with their truly awful films.  I’ve seen several of these through MST3K.  Nothing says “stinkburger” like a Golan and Globus film.  If you don’t care about B movies (and that means many people) or backstage Hollywood, you will not like this film.  However, it was entertaining and informative.

Hangul (A Hard Day) (2014)*** - This was an odd duck of a film where the protagonist (a corrupt copy) is definitely not a good guy but gets pursued by an even worse guy in an unraveling chain of events.  But, it was definitely suspenseful.

Last Days of Vietnam (2014)**** - This was up for best doc at the Oscars last year.  Made by PBS, it sheds some light on people that did do the right thing as Vietnam went south (or rather, north).  Very well made.  Maybe I’m getting old, but I wonder what younger generations think when they hear the word “Vietnam.”

From Caligari to Hitler:  German Cinema in the Age of the Masses (2014)**** - I took a class in Weimar film in undergrad (way back in 1996).  This would make a great companion piece for that class, and I need to go back and re-watch it, to write down films I still need to see.  This was very well done.  If you care at all about German cinema, this is a must watch.

Desk Set (1957)*** - Ok, so Tracy and Hepburn.  I’m not enamored of either, but they did have chemistry.  This film, sponsored by IBM, was about how machines can ultimately never replace people.  I don’t know, but given that Hepburn was 50 when this was made, and how the whole “she’s a spinster with a brain” gets played up, it comes across sounding melancholy, even though she “wins” in the end.  It was nice that there was a Christmas party / theme running throughout, this being Christmas and all.

Do I Sound Gay? (2014)** – The title of this is incorrect.  It should be Do I Sound like a Gay Man?  However, since many gay men are so narcissistic, they don’t recognize that there are other people that get lumped into the “gay” category.  Ultimately, this is what plagues the film.  While it is informative in snatches from a linguistic perspective (why do gay men sound that way?), there is little real substance here.

NLL:  Yeonpyeong Haejeon (2015)** - Normally, I love Korean film, and this was about an actual incident in 2002 when North Korea really did engage the South Koreans during the World Cup.  But the over-the-top emotionality and the obvious tribute-piece-feel really dampened things for me.  It’s sort of like Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor (2001) of Korea.

That Touch of Mink (1962)* - Wow.  Wow.  Just WOW!!!  Holy shit!  I like Cary Grant.  I like Doris Day.  And apparently, back in the day, people liked this movie.  This picture was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound and Best Set Direction (color) and WON the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Picture and had Cary Grant nominated for best comedy actor.  Now maybe, maybe (I’m trying to be generous here) this was because this was before the Hayes Code had been dismantled, and the whole film is about how Grant (who is filthy rich) gives Day minks and lots of clothes (since girls like clothes), which is short-hand for “come to Bermuda with me so I can fuck you silly,” and Day’s character Cathy knows this and still goes even though she is a virgin and breaks out in hives in fear of sex, so the whole thing is called off.  So both go back to New York, and Cathy decides Phillip (Grant’s character) is trustworthy enough (and she also doesn’t want to be perceived as a prude or something, because Sandusky) to go back down to Bermuda, invite Phillip back down for what he missed the first trip, but gets so inebriated that nothing happens the second time.  Now, Phillip is a busy man running a corporation, so he genuinely doesn’t have time for this shit, yet he feels responsible for Cathy and her hairbrainedness, so when he hears that she’s off to pleasure the worst man she can find (John Astin, or Gomez from The Munsters), he heads out and stops her.  AND THAT’S WHERE I STOPPED WATCHING, even though, according to Netflix, there’s only six minutes left in the film (I eventually went back and watched those six minutes).  Really, 1962?  Really?  And the comments about “belting” women for not putting out?

Spotlight (2015)**** - One of the two best pictures of this year.  The other is The Big Short.  They are tonally different yet deal with the same thing:  the abysmalness of when human-created social structures that everyone looks up to and has faith in utterly shatters the naiveté of human faith through self-interest.  If you are someone who is religious (and I don’t mean spiritual, I mean religious) in this day and age, and you cling to some hope that a higher power knows you and loves you because you are afraid of death, which all of humanity is subject to, and that gives you comfort, know that what you love is a sham and is corruptible to frightening proportions, and your continued support of such edifices allows this to continue.  What is truly sad about this film is that the art of journalism is dying everywhere, since print sources are dinosaurs, and you need time and infrastructure to break a serious, investigative report.  Heaven help us all.

Carol (2015)*** - Saw this the day after seeing That Touch of Mink, so another shot to cognitive dissonance.  You will see the word “lush” used often in discussions of this film, and that’s no accident.  This is a Todd Hayes film, and one thing that man knows is atmosphere.  You should really see Far From Heaven (2002) before you see this. Same time period, same atmosphere, same premise.  This is not a plot-heavy movie.  Two people meet, by chance, fall in love, but there’s complications.  In Far From Heaven, the issue was race (though the gay comes through with the Dennis Quaid character).  In this film, it’s gender.  Is it a great film?  No.  Out of the films I’ve seen from Hayes, I’m Not There (2007) is superior and has a better use of Cate Blanchett.  It is a very ambitious film.  And while I can’t stand Bob Dylan, it’s a great film.   Carol is an exercise in something that some love films (and many LGBT films) engage in:  the “turgid yearning” film.  For my money, the best of this is Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000).  Those two don’t even get to do it.  But in this film, they do, and a happy ending (which is rare, especially for this time period) is implied.  And, I am sort of surprised that Blanchett has a no-nudity contract in effect.

Mad Max:  Fury Road (2015)**** - Saw this again through streaming (saw it in the theaters when it came out, WHICH IS WHERE YOU SHOULD SEE THIS) because Kim hadn’t seen it.  This movie is such a blast to watch, and I sincerely hope George Miller gets something at the Oscars this year.  So much balls-out imagination fuels this film.  And in an age of reliance on computers to show things, so much of this is actual that you have to be impressed.  And damn, but didn’t Tom Hardy have a hell of a year?

Legend (2015)*** - Speaking of which, there’s this movie.  It gets 3 stars because of Tom Hardy, but this is not a good film, and I’m disappointed in Brian Helgeland.  He directed LA Confidential, for crying out loud.  That was a GREAT film.  First, to use the wife as the narrator, who dies, is so stupid (since honestly, no one cares about her). Why have a narrator in the first place?  Second, not enough delving into these guys’ pasts.  Looking into the family tree (that one scene where Reggie goes home after Ronald has killed someone and how his mother defends Ronald cries out for further investigation on the movie’s part) should have been the focus.  Tom Hardy acted his ass off in this, but it doesn’t matter.  Unfair.  This was not a dull story to spotlight, yet this was the result.

The Big Short (2015)**** - Damn near got 5 stars, and when it comes out on DVD, I will surely buy it and watch it several times.  Saw this two times in the theater.  Once with my mother, sister, and mom’s boyfriend.  Once with Kim.  The change in audiences illustrates why no one will care about this film, and it is a TRAGIC SHAME.  My sister said it was very boring and wanted those two hours of her life back.  Mom felt similarly.  Kim, like me, felt it was the best film of the year, and I seriously think that everyone in America (or perhaps the world) should see it.  Why?  BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE BULLSHIT.  The idea that we live in a society that is built on self-preservation is flimsy, at best.  If you watch this together with Spotlight, you should be utterly convinced that the concept of humanity doesn’t exist anymore.  And for both these films to converge upon us during Christmas time, the time for goodwill towards your fellow man that had morphed into buy as much stuff as you can to fill the voids in your lives, then all the better.

Trumbo (2015)*** - This is an era that I’m very familiar with.  However, I did not know about the connection between Trumbo and Edward G. Robinson.  This is a sympathetic, Hollywood retelling of some very dark times in Hollywood, so of course, there will be backlash.  Name names and all of that.  I’m in no way demeaning Dalton Trumbo’s story, and in the last decade or so, there’s been a lot of revision of the story of the Hollywood Ten.  You should watch Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) before watching this.  No, it’s not accurate, but it’s a much better film.  I realize Bryan Cranston is considered a great actor (I haven’t watched Breaking Bad, which puts me in a minority), and he does a great job as Trumbo here.  I think this was good intentioned, and that is not meant as a platitude.

Star Wars:  The Force Awakens (2015)*** - I saw this twice in the theater.  Once, I was with my mom, her boyfriend, my sister, and my nephew, Carter.  Carter was adamant about seeing the film sitting next to me, so we got our own side row, with the other three in front of us.  Whenever something big was about to come up, Carter would nudge me with his elbow in my ribs, saying, “watch this” or “do you remember this?”  Honestly, if I can encapsulate the experience of watching the film as my 11 year old nephew being so excited to show me what big thing was going to happen next in the film, that’s fine with me.  He doesn’t know that when I was his age, I had a huge Star Wars action figure collection which I played with constantly.  He doesn’t know how bitter I was about episode one (The Phantom Menace) so that I didn’t watch 2 and 3.  And I must say that Kim, who had a much lower opinion of 7 than I did, encapsulates this well.  You have a beloved franchise.  It gets compromised.  Then you have someone come along and says, “I can fix this.”  What they do is give the audience what it wants, which is to say it does the same thing as the original, with slight variations and nods to diversity.  Fans love it, a new generation gets engaged, money avalanches in.  Bravo, Disney.  You own everything now.  Let the derivations flow.

Framed (1947)**(except this isn’t on Netflix) – If anything, this entry is an endorsement to see a fabulous film noir called Human Desire (1954) which stars Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame.  In a rare noir where the female is the protagonist, I saw this on (love this channel) hung over and totally dismissive until this movie sucked me in.  Come to find out later it was directed by Fritz Lang.  Fritz Lang!!!  See the film I noted earlier about Weimar cinema.  Anyway, I desperately wanted to see it again, so I went to the YouTube, only to find this movie.  This movie was about 85% exposition and very little payoff.  Sort of embarrassing.

The Wolfpack (2015)*** – This starts out as masquerading as a documentary on six brothers who like to act out scenes from movies or entire movies, making their own props, doing their own shooting and editing.  It devolves into a sickening, sad exploration of child abuse in a family where the parents are so wack-a-doo that they have kept their seven children locked in a public housing apartment, sometimes only allowing them to leave 3-0 times a year.  The family is completely on the welfare system yet (at least the father) despise the outside world for its evils.  What this really indicates is the failure of our social services system, which is radically underfunded so that they cannot catch all the crack and glaring loopholes in the system that would allow people to live like this.

Buffalo Soldiers (2001)* – You would think with a cast like Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glen and Michael Peña that this would be a good movie, and you’d be wrong.  It happens every once in a while.  It gets its tone wrong a lot – it can’t tell if it wants to be a social commentary on the state of the military in the 1990s or a comedy.  It’s definitely not funny.  Turned it off 46 minutes in.

The Enemy Below (1957)** – A WWII u-boat movie?  Made in the 1950s?  Can you get any more into my wheelhouse?  Unfortunately, even though this was based on a novel, there was a lot of inaccuracies in this film (even the way the Germans say “captain” is wrong), but the cat and mouse aspect was enjoyable, and seeing a film like this which is respectful to both sides, when the Hayes Code was still in effect, was impressive.

Seeing The Revenant this week, which did very well during Sunday night’s Golden Globes.  Expect next post to be an Oscar post.