Friday, March 22, 2019

Us

Last night I saw Us, starring Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke.

Gabe (Duke) wants to take his family for a relaxing vacation in Santa Cruz, California. They're game ... as long as they can bring along their phones and magic tricks. His wife Adelaide (Nyong'o) has reservations because of an incident that happened to her on the same beach when she was a young girl and voices her apprehension. But they go anyway.

After they meet up with friends and enjoy some sun, the family heads back to their summer house to call it a night. The kids are tucked into bed and the couple is chatting when a family appears at the end of their driveway. At first, Gabe tells everyone not to worry and tries to approach the four with kindness. When they don't respond, things escalate and soon they become hostages in their own home.

Each of the figures who appeared in the driveway appear to be clones of Gabe's family and attack their identical counterparts. Soon the entire group is in chaos, spread out inside and outside of the house and into the neighborhood.

From this point on, the battle continues as more about these "tethered" people is revealed and the family sees what they're up against.

Those who say Writer/Director Jordan Peele has invented his own sub-genre of horror are correct. He doesn't just use psychological tricks, he blends the unknown with a welcome humor to appease the audience at just the right time before launching another "gotcha" moment and finishing with a twist. His techniques are more satisfying than traditional horror because their smarter.

I had a lot of fun at this film and seeing it in a sold-out theater amongst jumpy, squealy filmgoers only added to the experience. Make sure to see this one on the big screen if you can.

~~~

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Captain Marvel

Tonight I saw Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson.

Carol (Larson) wrecks in an unknown place while in-flight with her fellow pilot/mentor/hero, Dr. Lawson (Annette Bening). Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) takes her under his wing to train her to defend her new people. After a harrowing mission, she crash lands into earth and discovers she's been there before.

As Carol navigates her once-known territory, she gets help revealing her long-forgotten life from human Nick Fury (Jackson), who acts as a right-hand-man and takes a liking to Goose, the cat that's along for the ride.

For me, who isn't much of an action fan, there was perhaps too much action upfront to allow me to embrace the characters. I felt like I was supposed to like Carol, and rooted for her, but the flashbacks of her origin story weren't really enough for me to attach myself to with any solid emotion.

Couple that with a literal darkness that enveloped the space and fight scenes, and I found it hard to stay with in certain sections.

What went well? The chemistry between Larson and Jackson; the brilliant 1990s soundtrack that had me singing along with it throughout and the sarcasm/clever one-liners that Marvel is so good at. There are definitely moments to savor. Of course, the ass-kicking woman is the greatest element.

That said, this is no Wonder Woman.

When I left that film after the first viewing, I wanted to go don a metal outfit and start taking over. When I left this film, I had a pleasant feeling, but it didn't stay with me far beyond the parking lot.

I'm hoping the next installment really shows what Brie can do in Carol's skin.

~~~


Sunday, February 24, 2019

My 2019 Oscar Picks and Predictions

Here are my final picks for tonight's ceremony:

WRITING: ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
My Pick: FIRST REFORMED

WRITING: ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: BLACKKKLANSMAN
My Pick: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

VISUAL EFFECTS
Who Will Win: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
My Pick: FIRST MAN

SOUND MIXING
Who Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: BLACK PANTHER

SOUND EDITING
Who Will Win: A QUIET PLACE
My Pick: A QUIET PLACE

SHORT FILM: LIVE ACTION
Who Will Win: SKIN
My Pick: DETAINMENT

SHORT FILM: ANIMATED
Who Will Win: ANIMAL BEHAVIOR
My Pick: BAO

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Who Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
My Pick: MARY POPPINS RETURNS

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
Who Will Win: "Shallow" from A STAR IS BORN
My Pick: "Shallow" from A STAR IS BORN

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
Who Will Win: BLACK PANTHER
My Pick: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Who Will Win: VICE
My Pick: VICE

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Who Will Win: ROMA
My Pick: COLD WAR

FILM EDITING
Who Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: VICE

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
Who Will Win: LIFEBOAT
My Pick: END GAME

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)
Who Will Win: FREE SOLO
My Pick: RBG

DIRECTING
Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron for ROMA
My Pick: Spike Lee for BLACKKKLANSMAN

COSTUME DESIGN
Who Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
My Pick: BLACK PANTHER

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Who Will Win: ROMA
My Pick: THE FAVOURITE

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Who Will Win: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
My Pick: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Who Will Win: Regina King for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
My Pick: Regina King for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali for GREEN BOOK
My Pick: Richard E. Grant for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Who Will Win: Glenn Close for THE WIFE
My Pick: Melissa McCarthy for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Who Will Win: Rami Malek for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: Christian Bale for VICE

BEST PICTURE
Who Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: BLACK PANTHER

~~~

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Isn't It Romantic

Today I saw Isn't It Romantic, starring Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine.

Natalie (Wilson) is an under-appreciated architect who hates the clichés of romantic comedy narratives. When she gets mugged in a New York City subway station, she awakes to a new world where the streets are clean and the world is painted in colors of love.

After reluctantly entering into a relationship with colleague Blake (Hemsworth), she realizes that to break out of this fantasy world she finds so uncomfortable, she must actually fall in love with who she's meant to be with to break the spell and return to her normal life, so she begins pursuing her best friend, Josh (Devine).

Of course, Rebel Wilson is a pure delight in the lead role and her two suitors are well-cast. Basically this is a fun, clever, classic dig on traditional romantic comedies as it unfolds into one itself.

A welcome reprieve from real life for just under two hours.

~~~

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Documentary Short Nominees (Oscars 2019)

Tonight I saw all five of the nominated films in the Documentary Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order the films were shown.

BLACK SHEEP (UNITED KINGDOM)

A first-person narrative by an African boy whose mother moved their family from London to Essex to be less susceptible to racist violence. Unfortunately, the area they moved to was run by racists and he suffered terrible bullying at the hands of the street kids. His solution was to become more like them so they would leave him alone ... and it worked.

A classic story of becoming a monster to defeat a monster. 

END GAME (UNITED STATES)

An intimate look at several patients who are near death and their many caretakers working to make their last days and weeks the best they can be. By the time the credits are rolling you are invested in what happens to each and every one of these lovely people.

A testament to the good that remains in our world and the agony of the tough decisions that have to be made as we all exit this earth.

A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN (UNITED STATES)

Archival footage provides the burden of proof that 20,000 Americans gathered to celebrate the Nazi movement rising in 1939. This short film reminds us that even in our most diverse of cities, hate can fester and grow.

Chilling, horrific and sadly timely for today.

LIFEBOAT (UNITED STATES)

The organization Sea Watch, a German nonprofit, is responsible for saving over 35,000 people by rescuing refugees from the rough Mediterranean waters. This film explores the lengths they go to on a daily basis to perform those rescues and the severe trauma of the journey.

This serves as a sad reminder of what refugees face as they flee their unsafe home countries.

PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE. (UNITED STATES)
Women in a small Indian village are shamed by their menstruation cycles and finally they may be taking steps to overcome this—by producing modern sanitary napkins and selling them to area women. 

An inspiring, uplifting look at female empowerment, entrepreneurship and necessary cultural shifts.

~~~

So, what's my pick to win? End Game will undoubtedly stay with me the longest, so that gets my vote.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Live Action Short Film Nominees (Oscars 2019)

Today I saw all five of the nominated films in the Live Action Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order the films were shown.

MADRE (Spain)

What begins as a mundane day for Marta (Marta Nieto) rapidly unfolds into a nightmare as her 6-year-old son Ivan (Alvaro Balas) calls to tell her he is alone on a beach in France (she and her mother, who is with her, are in Spain). His father left to retrieve a forgotten toy and he has yet to return. Concern turns to panic when Marta can't deduce exactly what beach Ivan is stranded on and the police are of no help. Did I mention Ivan's phone battery is running low?

An intense back-and-forth commences right up until the end. A well-done suspense tale that will keep your heart racing throughout.

FAUVE (Canada)

Friends Tyler (Félix Grenier) and Benjamin (Alexandre Perreault) are out exploring their surroundings as young boys often do. Benjamin "cries wolf" faking an injury, then swears he sees a fox, but Tyler doesn't believe him and they go on about their day. The end up running around a surface mine and when Benjamin gets close to the water, his feet slide into the moving earth and he yells out for help. By the time Tyler realizes he's not again crying wolf, it's too late for him to retrieve him without being sucked into the mud/sand himself, so he leaves the mine to seek help from an adult.

Grenier deserves an Oscar of his own for the way his face changes when he realizes his friend is in real danger, and his shell-shocked manner in the events that follow. Difficult to watch, but brilliantly executed.

MARGUERITE (Canada)

Marguerite (Béatrice Picard) is elderly and in poor health. She requires in-home care. Her nurse, Rachel (Sandrine Bisson), is wonderfully attentive, bathing her and administering all of her necessary tests. The two develop a lovely friendship as Marguerite nears the end of her life and begins to reflect on her younger years.

Though this is the slowest-paced film of the five, it's no less poignant as the two characters realize they share a bond they didn't know they had. Beautiful story.

DETAINMENT (IRELAND)

Based on a true story, this film recounts the questioning of the killers following the horrific kidnapping, torture and murder of toddler James Bulger (Caleb Mason) in Liverpool, England. The tragic twist? The murderers were kids themselves. The transcripts of the two ten-year-olds, Jon (Ely Solan) and Robert (Leon Hughes), confessing to the crime is how the filmmakers tell the story. It was almost unbearable to watch, so good were these young actors.

A college student when this happened in real life, I don't recall hearing about it on the news at the time, but it stands as one of the most notable murders in modern U.K. history because of the age of the killers. These images won't leave me anytime soon.

SKIN (USA)

The worst of America is represented in the small-minded, trashy community surrounding Johnny (Jonathan Tucker). The white group of friends teach their young how to be sharpshooters and how to hate people of other races.

One night when a black man makes Johnny's son laugh in a grocery checkout line, Johnny snaps, calls for "backup" and beats the man to a pulp in the parking lot as his wife and child look on in horror. They get away with it until ... it's payback time.

The audience I watched with in a Seattle theater literally clapped when Johnny got what was coming to him (which very much re-defines the Biblical "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth") — a powerful psychological exercise that should perhaps be used in schools today.


~~~

So, what's my pick to win? These were all strong contenders in their own right, but I feel as if Detained will linger in my psyche longer than the rest.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Free Solo

Today I saw the documentary, Free Solo, about the life of Alex Honnold.

You know a documentary is good when you have absolutely zero interest in the topic, yet it grabs you from the first few frames and keeps you until the final credits. That was my experience here, watching nearly two hours of scenes about rock climbing.

Alex Honnold is an almost-fearless climber. He has turned his hobby into his career and as a result has very few human connections. He remarks that friends and former girlfriends have concluded he's not normal (which he attempts to validate with an MRI that admittedly has telling results), but he proclaims this with more curiosity than contempt.

Digging into Honnold's past, we learn that his immediate family was never affectionate and that he had to 'learn' to be a hugger in his '20s. His relationship with his current girlfriend (who he met in Seattle at his own book signing) shows that he still struggles with emotional maturity, but he's chosen a wonderful, patient partner to navigate that with him.

His main quest throughout the film is to 'free solo' (climb without using ropes) the vertical El Capitan peak at Yosemite National Park. This is challenging for countless reasons: it's never been done before; the camera crew interferes with his concentration and sometimes his physical movements; there's a section of the rock that's slippery, etc. The part about falling to his death if he screws it up seems to be the least of his concerns, though his loved ones—especially his girlfriend—understandably agonize about it frequently.

If you've watched the news in the past year, you know how this ends, but the journey of it is no less nail-biting as even his own film crew turns around at a certain point because they can't bear to watch if he doesn't make it.

It's a thrilling path to watch, though one I'd never have a desire to replicate. However, the human spirit setting an unimaginable goal and reaching it? That's the stuff of [good] movies.

~~~


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

At Eternity's Gate

Tonight I saw At Eternity's Gate, starring Willem Dafoe and Rupert Friend.

The famed painter Vincent Van Gogh (Dafoe) was not accepted as the artistic genius he was during his time on earth. The connection he felt to nature and the closeness he felt to his work weren't fully appreciated while he was alive, but this film aims to validate those aspects of his career.

Filmed on location in Arles, France, where Van Gogh spent his final weeks, Director/Co-Screenwriter Julian Schnabel puts the viewer in a stream-of-consciousness time machine that offers a glimpse of how the artist absorbed and visually shared his surroundings. A friend described the movie as "hypnotic" and that to me was the perfect interpretation of the vibe.

Dafoe, moving easily between English and French throughout the narrative, was captivating as the troubled painter. Aside from physically resembling the real artist (which undoubtedly helps), his manner, the confusion behind his eyes, his passion—it all made us viewers sure we were stealing an intimate look at one of the most fascinating characters in all of art history.

Though the pace is slow and the story not entirely linear (except that it's chronological), it keeps your attention, as you want to know why Van Gogh felt the things he felt and acted the way he did.

There's tragedy in the suffering his mental illness causes; there's sadness in the lack of recognition he received while he was in his prime, but most off all there's light in the beautiful landscapes and people he brought to life through his timeless paintings.

That's what's illuminated so magically in this film.

~~~


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Green Book

Today I saw Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

Tony (Mortensen) needs a temporary job while the club he works for undergoes renovations; Dr. Shirley (Ali) is a pianist who needs a driver who can double as a bodyguard for his upcoming tour. Tony is Italian; Dr. Shirley is black. It's the 1960s and America isn't the safest place for black citizens.

As they embark on their journey, the differences between the two men become clear: Dr. Shirley is an educated man who takes pride in behaving with dignity; Tony is a tell-it-like-it-is guy with an uncommonly large appetite and low threshold for BS. At first, this personality contrast divides them, but as their trip carries on they begin to mutually appreciate each other's differences.

So why is the film called Green Book?

That's the travel guide black families used in that era to determine safe places to sleep and eat across America. It's the book these two utilized when they took their actual trip (the film of course is based on a true story). It's absurd that the guide ever existed—that it ever had to—but it's also a symbolic reminder of how far we've come as a nation, though our nightly news would indicate otherwise.

Though the film was undeniably formulaic and predictable (even if you hadn't read up on the real story), it was enjoyable from start to finish. The two lead actors disappeared into their roles and delivered award-winning performances.

It's a long movie that doesn't feel long, which drives home a lesson that a nation should have long ago learned: we're all more alike than different.

~~~

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Titanic


Today I saw Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

I’ve reviewed the film twice before, so I won’t do another formal write-up, but I will say that seeing this film on the big screen never gets old or disappoints. Hearing the crowd react to the various now-legendary scenes is always a delight.

I can’t wait until the theaters find another excuse to host an additional showing.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk

This morning I saw If Beale Street Could Talk, starring Kiki Layne and Regina King.

Tish (Layne) is in love with Fonny (Stephan James), a childhood friend she's grown up with in their predominantly black New York City neighborhood. They have a bright future ahead of them with Tish employed by a perfume counter at a high-end department store and Fonny getting his own career off the ground as they prepare to set down roots with a space of their own.

When they make love for the first time, Tish becomes pregnant with their child, which is unexpected but welcomed by the couple. Fonny's mother and sisters aren't so accepting (and the announcement to them about the pregnancy is perhaps the best scene in the film).

Unfortunately, Fonny has been arrested for a crime he did not commit and is placed in prison while Tish's family desperately tries to find and convince the accuser to recant her lineup identification. All the while, Tish faithfully visits and updates him on her pregnancy.

Some viewers may be frustrated by the slow pace of the film, but I actually appreciated it. We really got to know these characters and believe in their love as they battle the injustice of their situation.

Regina King who plays Tish's mother, Sharon, is especially phenomenal, showing every ounce of pain and concern as she comforts and helps her daughter. King deservedly won the Golden Globe for this performance and I'm hoping the takes the Oscar for it as well. She's that good.

Also important is the timing of this story. As our country seems to be enduring an unwelcome revival of hate crimes and racism, these are the narratives we need too see via art to help turn things around. Granted, the folks who need to see films like this probably won't. But for the few that may, it will have been worth it.

Another excellent chapter from Barry Jenkins.

~~~