Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Academy Awards 2019, And the nominees are...

So this year's Academy Awards may be having a hard time getting a host booked for the event, but at least there were some pleasant surprises as far as nominations go this year. Let's take a look at the nominations.

Best Picture
"Black Panther"
"A Star is Born"
"The Favourite"
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
"Green Book"

Best Leading Actress
Glenn Close, "The Wife"
Lady Gaga, "A Star is Born"
Yalitza Aparicio, "Roma"
Olivia Colman, "The Favourite"
Melissa McCarthy, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"

Best Leading Actor
Christian Bale, "Vice"
Bradley Cooper, "A Star is Born"
Viggo Mortensen, "Green Book"
Rami Malek, "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Willem Dafoe, "At Eternety's Gate"

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, "Vice"
Marina de Tavira, "Roma"
Regina King, "If Beale Street Could Talk"
Emma Stone, "The Favourite"
Rachel Weisz, "The Favourite"

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, "Green Book"
Adam Driver, "BlackKklansmen"
Sam Elliot, "A Star is Born"
Richard E. Grant, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
Sam Rockwell, "Vice"

Best Director
Spike Lee, "BlackKklansmen"
Pawel Pawlikowski, "Cold War"
Yorgos Lanthimos, "The Favourite"
Alfonso Cuaron, "Roma"
Adam McKay, "Vice"

Best Original Screenplay
"First Reformed"
"Green Book"
"The Favourite"

Best Animated Movie
"The Incredibles 2"
"Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse"
"Isle of Dogs"
"Ralph Breaks The Internet"

Best Cinematography
"Cold War"
"Never Look Away"
"The Favourite"
"A Star Is Born"

Best Visual Effects
"Avengers: Infinity War"
"Ready Player One"
"First Man"
"Solo: A Star Wars Story"
"Christopher Robin"

Best Foreign Language Film
"Cold War"
"Never Look Away"

Best Documentary Feature
"Free Solo"
"Minding The Gap"
"Father and Son"
"Hale Country This Morning, This Evening"

Best Documentary Short
"Black Sheep"
"A Night at the Garden"
"Period. End of Sentence"

Best Original Song
"Shallow" from A Star is Born
"I'll Fight" from RBG
"All The Stars" from Black Panther
"The Place Where Lost Things Go" from Mary Poppins Returns
"When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings" from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Best Adapted Screenplay
"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs"
"Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
"If Beale Street Could Talk"
"A Star is Born"

Best Production Design
"Black Panther"
"The Favourite"
"First Man"
"Mary Poppins Returns"

Best Costume Design
"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs"
"Black Panther"
"The Favourite"
"Mary Poppins Returns"
"Mary Queen of Scots"

Best Sound Editing
"A Quiet Place"
"Black Panther"
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
"First Man"

Make Up and Hairstyling
"Mary Queen of Scots"

Best Film Editing
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
"Green Book"
"The Favourite"

Best Original Score
"Black Panther"
"If Beale Street Could Talk"
"Isle of Dogs"
"Mary Poppins Returns"

First and foremost, holy shit. History has been made today. "Black Panther" has become the first superhero movie to ever be nominated Best Picture at the Oscars. This is a huge, huge deal. The snobbish and prickish Academy has finally validated that superhero movies are much more than superpowered people putting on colorful outfits and beating each other up. It couldn't have happened for a better superhero movie either, "Black Panther" isn't getting this much attention because of its nearly all-black cast, its a superhero movie that ignores superhero formula but also abides by those rules at the same time. There isn't another superhero movie like it, and I'm so happy that its being represented like this. Its got a ton of nominations as you can see and that music to my ears.

The other big surprise was "Roma" getting so many nominations. First of all, "Roma" is a Netflix film and for many years now, no award ceremony has taken Netflix movies seriously at all. But "Roma" is so amazing that its hard to ignore. Second of all, sadly foreign movies are more often than not regulated to only the Best Foreign Language oscar only. As if foreign movies can only be represented in one category. Both "Roma" and "Cold War" are two movies from other countries that received multiple nominations. That's huge, and much needed this year. No doubt that The Best Foreign Language winner will between "Roma" and "Cold War" deservedly so. But sorry "Cold War," I love you but "Roma" is winning that for sure.

The rest of the nominations are predictable Academy Award fare. Awards pandering films like "Green Book" and "The Favourite" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" are widely represented. Those are just the types of movies that get nominated for this. I'm glad that the Academy didn't go overboard with the pandering movies though. Films like "Boy Erased" and "Ben is Back" and "A Private War" are movies designed for these, but its clear which movies were better this year. I will even go as far to say that I'm surprised that "Boy Erased" didn't get an original song nomination for "Revelation." No matter what, that's actually a really good song, and I figured it would be a shoe-in.

In speaking of that...let's get to the snubs. John David Washington, John David Washington, John David Washington. How this guy didn't nominated for Best Actor for his work in "BlackKklansman" is beyond my ability to understand. I know I was one of the only advocates for "Beautiful Boy" but I still firmly believe that Steve Carell should have been nominated for Best Actor and Timothee Chalamet for Supporting Actor for that movie, they both did excellent work. I don't get why "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" or "Three Identical Strangers" didn't get nominated for Documentary Feature. While I'm glad that "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" got its animated nomination, I would say that Blackway & Black Caviar's "What's Up Danger?" should have been nominated for Original Song, or even "Sunflower" by Post Malone.

Not to mention...like every year...my favorite film of the year gets zero nominations. I don't get how "Annihilation" didn't even get a Visual Effects nomination. I would have nominated Natalie Portman for Lead Actress, Jennifer Jason Leigh for Supporting and Original score for "Annihilation." Oh and definitely Alex Garland for a Best Director nod. Oh, and the Mutant Bear should have got a Supporting Actor nod!

What do you think of the nominations?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Review: "Glass" proves that M. Night Shyamalan is Hollywood's most frustrating filmmaker

Glass Review
If there is one filmmaker in the business right now that perplexes me the most, its M. Night Shymalan.

One thing is for certain, he's an impeccably talented guy. He's got a brain overflowing with characters and situations, begging to be told. It's pretty evident. "The Sixth Sense" felt like a bomb going off. Even though I was in fourth grade when I first saw that movie, it felt like very few movies I had ever seen, and watching the world around me react to it, it was clear that was the case for many. Shyamalan made a bold statement, and I felt it even though I was young. "Unbreakable" proved that he wasn't a fluke, a one hit wonder, a one-and-done. By the time "Signs" came out and blew my mind completely, I was totally onboard the Shyamalan train, and I couldn't wait for his next movie.

Sadly, for the next decade or so, I'd be righteously disappointed by his output. It was suddenly, he decided to vanish up his own ass. While I will admit that I've warmed up slightly to "The Village" although I haven't given my whole heart to it, I absolutely hate "The Lady In The Water" and "The Happening" and "The Last Airbender" and "After Earth" and "The Visit." I have absolutely no desire to revisit those films for any reason. Shyamalan was lauded as the next Spielberg, but his cons were overwhelmingly beginning to overpower his pros. While the Spielbergs and Nolans and Coens and Andersons and Tarantinos (okay, bad example there) mess up from time to time, they can at least remain consistent. The only thing Shyamalan was consistent at was making stupid movies.

I didn't find out until much later just how big of an ego he gained after his first few successes, and how that allowed him to build a protective wall around himself, free from studio interference when he went to make his movies. Not only did Shyamalan claim to talk to ghosts, but he actually had the audacity to say in interviews that there was a secret to filmmaking that only he and Steven Spielberg knew, which I recall with a bitter laugh, since he's been mostly unsuccessful recently. That secret wasn't coming through in his work. While the studio not giving notes or suggestions sounds like what every director wants and needs, it can actually be a trap. Its the opposite of what Warner Brothers did to Zak Snyder and took too much control on "Batman vs. Superman." As with everything in life, there needs to be balance between studio and filmmaker, and those usually create the best output of cinema.

With all this said, "Split" was a welcome return to form for Shyamalan in 2017, and it looked like he was going to start his own universe of movies. Plus, "Devil" in 2010, which Shyamalan co-wrote, produced under his Night Chronicles studio, but did not direct, proved that he could work with a group of people. I thought perhaps the once promising director was back.

Which brings us to "Glass." The crossover event nobody expected. Bruce Willis reprises his role as David Dunne and Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Mr. Glass, both from "Unbreakable." James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy return from "Split." Several other characters from both movies return as well. But sorry guys, no Cole Sear or Father Hess show up I'm afraid. There is also no visit to 1890's village in the remote woods. "Glass" is a movie filled with great performances and some great ideas. But like so many Shyamalan movies, "Glass" is a cool concept that goes nowhere.

After the events of "Unbreakable," David Dunne has been performing vigilante work with his son (Spencer Treat Clarke returns) and has gone by the name The Overseer. Dunne and his son track down Kevin Wendell Crumb, who they suspect has kidnapped four cheerleaders. Turns out Dunne's intuition was correct, and Dunne and Crumb duke it out before being hauled away by shadowy figures from a mental institution. Dunne and Crumb are treated by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) a doctor trying to convince them  they don't have superhuman powers, its all in their heads.

Oh, I also didn't mention that Mr. Glass is also staying at this institution, did I?

As much as that sounds like an awesome crossover, it ends up not adding up to much. Its extra disappointing because as always, Shyamalan has come up with some good ideas. Of course, Mr. Glass and Crumb are going to join forces. Of course the institution isn't what it seems. There are some exciting ideas hatched here, just the problem is Shyamalan doesn't execute them in an exciting way. There is one thing that comes up near the end of the film that would have been really cool had he chosen to do something with it, sadly the way its introduced, it comes off more of a cop-out and than anything else. Oh yes, Shyamalan plays the twist game, but if "The Village" is any example, three twists is a twist too many.

Its also frustrating because the actors really came to play. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson seemed ready to do anything. While I'd argue that Mr. Glass' character is set up totally different from last time, its still a rich performance. Sarah Paulson brings some harrowing insight to her role as Staple. Anya Taylor-Joy and Spencer Treat Clarke both provide outstanding support. Oddly enough, its the work by McAvoy who does the most inconsistent work. In "Split," The Hoard was legitimately a scary figure, there were a couple times McAvoy actually made me laugh in "Glass" though, and I'm sure that wasn't the intent.

I wasn't expecting the typical superhero movie. This doesn't end like the typical superhero movie, and I think that would have hit me like a sucker punch to the heart had Shyamalan not fumbled his execution so bad. By the time the ending roles out, I didn't really care about the characters, which isn't supposed to happen. It kind of stinks, because its always been clear that Shyamalan is an exponentially talented guy. I don't know if he needs a producer to help him along the way, I don't know if he's still got that wall around him intact, I don't know if he isn't the director he's made out to be. One thing is for certain, no great director should drop the ball this many times as he has. I can't even think of a good comparison for him. M. Night Shyamalan. Talented guy, he just can't prove it.

It might be time to head back to the Night Chronicles there, buddy.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: "The Favourite" is a elegant showcase for Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz

The Favourite Review
I've never given many period pieces like this the time of day. I mean, look at my demographic, a movie like "The Favourite" probably doesn't appeal to most males in their late 20's early 30's. It was something that wasn't really on my radar at all. In fact, it was a movie I had no idea even came out. It was one of those movies that just kind of arrived in the winter. That usually means one thing, its a movie designed for one purpose. That purpose being award season pandering. It did get lots of attention at the Golden Globes a little while back. So of course, curiosity got the better of me and I gave the movie a shot.

I have no idea how much of "The Favourite" is true. It follows Queen Anne, who ruled Great Britain during the early 1700's. When we meet her in the movie, her health is waning and she has no interest in governing anything. She spends most of her days having fun, messing around and betting on racing ducks. Most of the governing comes from Sarah (Rachel Weisz) who is her confidante and adviser. Sarah and Anne also have a secret romantic relationship. Sarah's plate is full; trying to keep her romance a secret, finding ways to pay for a war with France, trying to not let Parliament member Robert Harley (Nicholas Hault) undermine her. Sarah never expects someone like Abigail showing up.

Emma Stone plays Abigail Hill. She's Sarah's impoverished younger cousin whose family name lost its good will thanks to her gambling father. Abigail is searching for employment, searching for a meaning of life after losing so much. At first, she does mostly maid duties, but after she cures an illness Anne has, she is quickly promoted to lady of the bedchamber. Anne and Abigail soon develop a friendship and perhaps that relationship materializes into something else? And perhaps Sarah eventually feels threatened by Abigail? 

Director Yorgos Lanthimos does a good job dropping us in 1700's life. Much of the first half hour or so is devoted to really analyzing how a socialite lived during this time period. There is much gossip and much daily activity and he quickly generates some big laughs. I would be lying if I also didn't admit that he finds a way to make this all fascinating. Period pieces like this run in danger of coming off dry, but with the wit and pace of the screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara keeps things light on its feet and the laughs come naturally. Plus the costumes and sets are very well done.

Its not just a comment on 1700's life and not just a bunch of rich political people cracking jokes though. There is a game being played by Sarah and Abigail for the affection of the Queen and how each girl plays against each other is part of the fun. Its a brilliant showcase of talent for both Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. There is a reason why these two will be prominent players in the award circuit this year. Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne and she also does exemplary work and as her character's health deteriorates, she does a really good job showing it, de-glamorizing, bearing it all, its masterful work.

So perhaps this is a movie you don't expect to sneak up on you. But I certainly was drawn into this films charms. There are some big laughs, and some outstanding performances here. The attention to 1700's detail is engaging. But the fun little headgames between the characters is the reason to see this movie. I didn't expect this one to work so well, and I always love a surprise. Perhaps you will too.


John Wick 3 looks to be three times the fun!

I'm pretty sure that the most unlikely but awesome trilogy of films this decade will go to "John Wick," easily. Who would have known that a little action-packed, Keanu Reeves vehicle would have spawned something so addictive.

I like that this series is becoming lighter on its feet, that will only lead to good things. A hitman who killed several gangs at once is silly to think about as real, but while I did enjoy "John Wick," its bizarre tonal shifts kind of make it a weird movie to sit through multiple times. The second film, and telling from the third film, they've really embraced style and are having fun with their concept. I mean, Wick is being chased by a group of people on motorcycles branding samurai swords for crying out loud. This is going to be fun mayhem, and sometimes that is just what I want to watch.

But please, let the pitbull live.

What do you think of the trailer?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

No, you're not dreaming. A real "Ghostbusters 3" is coming in 2020

I thought I was dreaming.

In the dream, I saw that a new "Ghostbusters" movie was coming out in 2020. Not a sequel to that dumb disaster from 2016, but a third film to form a trilogy with the original films that came out in 1984 and 1989 respectively. I woke up from the dream, not wanting to rejoin this mundane real world. Obivously, it was a sweet dream, right? There is no way something like that would happen in real life, right?


Oh I know, it doesn't look like much, but the internet is not lying. This has been a secret project brewing at Sony since God knows when. Ivan Reitman, the original director of the first film's son Jason Reitman is directing. While I think Jason Reitman's film "Juno" is one of the most overrated modern movies of all time, I love, love, love his "Thank You For Smoking" and "Up In The Air" so I am really curious and happy to see what he does. I mean, he was a six-year-old kid when he would visit his father's sets for the first "Ghostbusters" movie. It could quite literally be in his blood to not fuck this up.

"Ghostbusters" from 1984 is one of my favorite movies of all time. ALL TIME. I've been very protective of this franchise. This was the movie my grandma would play for us every time I came to visit, she eventually gave me her VHS's simply because I loved them so much. I've got lots of sentimental value in this franchise, which is why the 2016 film rubbed me so wrong. Its going to feel much more right making a movie taking place in the original timeline.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A First Look at the "Spider-Man: Far From Home" trailer

After the character finally showing up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in "Captain America: Civil War" to his own solo adventure within the Marvel Cinematic Universe in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" to showing up in "Avengers: Infinity War," then getting a Sony-led "Into The Spider-Verse" we've had lots of Spider-Man in the theaters lately. I hope none of you are spidey-ed out yet because the next solo MCU adventure is coming this July.

Wait...what? Didn't Spider-Man turn to dust when Thanos snapped his fingers? Yes, it looks Marvel just spoiled one of their own movies. But hey, if you know the comics, you knew anybody who died-by-cropdust in "Infinity War" wasn't going to stay dead. If you don't know the comics, well, did you honestly think the likes of Spider-Man and Black Panther and Doctor Strange were going to stay dead after one movie? Of course they weren't.

Marvel has confirmed that this movie takes place after "Avengers: Endgame," and it looks like the world in "Spider-Man: Far From Home" looks about the same as the pre-Infinity War world, so I guess whatever the heroes had to do to reverse the snap went on without a hitch! Aunt May, MJ, Flash Thompson and Happy Hogan all seem okay and Nick Fury is doing well too. In fact, he's back into spy mode, recruiting Spider-Man for a mission in Europe while he's there on a school vacation.

And it looks like longtime Spider-Man villain Mysterio shows up, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Fun fact, Tobey McGuire almost bowed out of "Spider-Man 2" when he had back problems, and Gyllenhaal was talked about being cast and replacing Tobey if he did drop out, which of course didn't come to pass. But now Gyllenhaal is playing Mysterio, and it looks like he will be teaming up with Spider-Man? I am sure that will only last until the climax of the movie, or maybe they'll set him up for a future villain. Fury will recruit Mysterio and Spider-Man to battle The Elementals, a group of people who each have power over one...you guessed it...elemental.

While I am a little disappointed that we aren't getting any more classic Spider-Man villains, this does look like another fun entry.

Review: "Ashes In The Snow" is "The Pianist/Schindler's List" lite

Ashes In The Snow Review

If you're a film critic and you see a movie and sit down to write a review for said movie without reading the book its based on, is your review still valid?

I would say yes. I find it funny that some people who are fans of the book make sweeping generalizations that a negative review of a movie based on a book is invalid if the reviewer never read the book. You can be a fan of a book, and you can enjoy the movie of your favorite book. Even I get excited when Hollywood decides to adapt a book I really loved into a movie. But does that give you rose-colored glasses? Does that not allow you to view the movie on its own terms? In general, I think books have always been better than movies. Sure, there are some exceptions, just like there are exceptions to everything, I'd say in general they are. Its not a critics job to read a book then see the movie, a critics job is to watch and judge a movie on its own terms. A movie is not the book, and vice versa.

I bring this up because I see lots of people on the internet getting in a uproar that many critics couldn't stomach "Ashes In The Snow," a new movie playing in theaters right now based upon a book of the same name. The fans of the book are certainly letting their bias flag fly, and they are saying any critic who does not bow down and genuflect for the "Ashes In The Snow" movie are wrong. Which I think is nonsense. Like I said, it may be a great book, but that is not shown in the movie. While I wouldn't say that I hated the movie as much as other critics have. It basically is another version of "Schindler's List" or "The Boy In The Striped Pajamas" or "Empire of the Sun" or "Sarah's Key" or any other movie that took place during World War II's Holocaust. If you've seen certain imagery, you've pretty much seen it all. I'm not trying to say that movies based on this event aren't important, because that's just not true. I'm saying it feels like directors have just been recycling the same imagery for years. Never wanting to try anything new. Never wanting to be innovative. Never wanting to approach this idea in a new way.

World War II was a pretty unforgivable time and scary time in the world, especially in Europe. Even though we were allied with Russia during the war itself, we certainly didn't agree with his idea of Communism and Stalin himself has plenty of sins to answer for. "Ashes In The Snow" tells the apparent true story of a family taken away from their home in Lithuania during Stalin's reign of terror in the Baltic region. We follow Lina (Bel Powley) a 16-year-old girl who gets taken away with her family. The scenes of people getting taken away from their homes is definitely harrowing, but it all has a feeling of "Been there, done that" that is hard to look away from, hard to distance from.

The power of imagery is based solely on what a director does with it and how fresh it is. Movies dealing with this material from yesteryear did such an astonishing job that its been hard to manage ever since. The same thing could be said about "The Exorcist," there hasn't been a great exorcism movie since, definitely some good ones but nobody has made the next great exorcism movie. All of these Holocaust and rounded up in camps movies all begin to look alike and that's hard to look past. The performance by Bel Powley is quite good. The rest of the cast, including Jonah Huer-King, Lisa Loven Kongseli, Sophie Cooksen and Peter Fronzen are all great. They are trying really hard to make this count. 

Not only is this a Holocaust movie (of sorts, of course) but its also a coming-of-age movie. Again, we get dozens and dozens of these a year, and they are really tough to make fresh. Sadly, most of "Ashes In The Snow" is quite boring. It felt like the train ride to the concentration camp took an easy half-hour and sadly nothing of merit really happened as we watched helplessly as people were being bused to their doom. Then its just more of the same. Yes, people were treated horribly, but it all looks the same to me these days.

I just wish the good cinematography and the great performances could have been used in a new kind of Holocaust movie. They certainly deserved a more important movie, not a movie that was simply going through the motions.