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Hey Kids! Funtime 2018 Oscar® Predictions!


T
he 90th Academy Awards® Ceremony is in two days, so it’s time for my predictions. Mind you, the last few years I got the same score: 16 out of 24, so I’m no Oscar-predicting genius here (my best score was 21 out of 24 in 2014). The only real lock this time around is that host Jimmy Kimmel will touch greatly on the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

This year is a particularly difficult roster to choose from as every other critic’s predictions are very divided especially when it comes to the big one:

1. BEST PICTURE: GET OUT

It looks like the front-runners for this category are THE SHAPE OF WATER (12 nominations), THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI (7 nominations), and GET OUT (4 nominations). Now, if it wasn’t for that big snafu last year when LA LA LAND was mistakenly announced as the winner, when it was really MOONLIGHT that got the gold, I would probably go with THE SHAPE OF WATER. LA LA LAND seemed like such a lock, but that incident has made me rethink my pick again and again.

But I’ve settled on Jordan Peele’s brilliant debut. I hesitated at first because it’s my favorite of the three, and playing favorites doesn’t always work out, but it just feels like it has the edge over its competition.

The rest of my predictions sans commentary:

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro for THE SHAPE OF WATER

3. BEST ACTOR: Gary Oldman for DARKEST HOUR

4. BEST ACTRESS: Frances McDormand for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sam Rockwell for THREE BILLBOARDS

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Allison Janey for I, TONYA

7. PRODUCTION DESIGN: Paul D. Austerberry, Shane Vieau, and Jeffrey A. Melvin for THE SHAPE OF WATER


8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins for BLADE RUNNER 2049

9. COSTUME DESIGN: Mark Bridges for PHANTOM THREAD

10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: FACES PLACES

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: EDDIE+EDITH

12. FILM EDITING: Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos for BABY DRIVER


13. MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, and Lucy Sibbick for
 DARKEST HOUR

14. VISUAL EFFECTS: Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon, and Joel Whist for 
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

15. ORIGINAL SCORE: Alexandre Desplat for THE SHAPE OF WATER

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “This Is Me” from THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (Justin Paul & Benj Pasek)

17. ANIMATED SHORT: DEAR BASKETBALL

18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: DEKALB ELEMENTARY

19. SOUND EDITING: Richard King and Alex Gibson for DUNKIRK

20. SOUND MIXING: Gregg Landaker, Gary Rizzo, and Mark Weingarten for DUNKIRK


21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Jordan Peele for GET OUT

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: James Ivory for CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: COCO

24. BEST FOREIGN FILM: A FANTASTIC WOMAN


As I always say, tune in Monday to see how many I got wrong.

More later…

GAME NIGHT: A Fairly Funny Film For February

Opening today at a multiplex near us all:

GAME NIGHT (Dir. John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, 2018)

I didn’t have very big expectations for this film, John Francis Daley and Joanthan Goldstein’s follow-up to their directorial debut, 2015’s VACATION reboot, as February has often been a dumping ground for lame comedies like FIST FIGHT, HALL PASS, IDENTITY THIEF, and lame comedy sequels like ZOOLANDER 2, and HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2.

But GAME NIGHT is a fairly funny farce, that puts its talented cast through the manic motions of a murder mystery party that gets out of hand, and results in a considerable amount of big laughs.

It begins with the meet cute of a young couple, Max (Jason Bateman), and Annie (Rachel McAdams) at a bar’s trivia night, and a following montage shows us how their shared hyper-competitiveness thrives in game after game over the years since.

In the present day, Max and Annie meet up with their friends Kevin (Lamorne Morris), his wife Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who always brings a different dumb blonde, for game nights in the suburbs (the film was shot in Marietta, Georgia, but I don’t think they ever mention where it’s set). Max and Annie don’t invite their creepy police officer neighbor (Jesse Plemmons), who used to come to the get togethers with his wife, but their divorce has made the group hold their games in secret from him.

But then Max’s more successful businessman brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), shows up in a 1976 Corvette Stingray, which happens to be Max’s boyhood dream car, and blows their cover. Brooks announces that he wants to host the next game night at a mansion he’s rented, and promises that it’ll take the tradition “up a notch.”

Max, Annie, Kevin, Ryan, and his date Sarah (Sharon Horgan) show up to Brooks’ to find that he’s planned an elaborate staged mystery for them to solve, and the winner gets the Stingray.

Jeffrey Wright comes in as a FBI agent distributing files full of clues to the players, but gets interrupted by two armed thugs who burst in and knock him unconscious, and have a violent brawl with Brooks, which the group of friends think is part of the game.

Brooks gets abducted, and the crew, split into their respective couples, set out to investigate the clues and find him. Max and Annie track him down to a sleazy dive bar where they think the patrons are phony criminals with fake guns. Amid real gunfire, they rescue Brooks and in a high speed car chase he tells them that he’s not really an entrepreneur; he’s a smuggler who’s being hunted down for a stolen Fabergé egg, the film’s McGuffin.

While they’re running around through all the zany, and sometimes bloody twists and turns, each couple has their own premise: Max and Annie’s is that they are trying to have a baby but Max has been stressed out by his brother; Kevin and Michelle’s is that it’s revealed that she had a fling with a celebrity before they were married and Kevin obsesses over figuring out who it was; and Ryan’s dilemma is that he usually dates air-heads, but Sarah is a lot smarter than he is.

Some of this stuff is sitcom-ish, and the film has many familiar scenes – the dive bar where Max and Annie are oblivious to being in over their heads is pretty generic feeling, and a climatic race to stop a plane from taking off is one of several overdone elements, as well as one of several fake-out endings, but the sheer amount of hilarious one-liners and gags that land doesn’t let such clichés and convolutions get in the way of the fun.

Like in one clever stand-out set-piece has the cast throwing the Fabergé egg back and forth to one another in an unbroken shot through the hallways, and balconies of a mansion belonging to a mobster (Danny Huston).

Working from a screenplay written by Mark Perez (THE COUNTRY BEARS, ACCEPTED), Daley and Goldstein keep the pace popping with laughs interchanged with genuine thrills while the narrative keeps one guessing what’s real and what’s fake.

GAME NIGHT mostly works as a take-off of the manipulations and expected tropes of many straight-laced-folks-get-caught-up-in-dangerous-underworld scenarios, like when in a brutal fight somebody is thrown and lands on top of a glass table but it doesn’t break like in every other movie (Kevin: “Glass tables are acting weird tonight!”).

On the scale of NIGHT movies, GAME NIGHT is a lot better than last summer’s ROUGH NIGHT, but around the same quality of 2010’s DATE NIGHT.

The movie shows that Daley and Goldstein, who co-wrote the HORRIBLE BOSSES movies, and had their hands in the screenplay for SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING (along with four other writers) are getting better at what they do, which is getting a terrific cast to play off each other in the service of a funny storyline. Well, funny enough for February that is.


More later…

The 2018 Oscar® Nominated Short Films: Animated

Death, fairy tales, bullying, a player’s love of his game, and frogs are the subjects of this year’s group of Oscar-nominated animated shorts which are playing at various theaters near me alongside programs of the likewise nominated Live Action and Documentary shorts.

The 90th Academy Awards® will be broadcast live on March 4th, so there’s plenty of time to catch up with these short films, and good reason too as they’re a pretty pleasing batch.

The first animated short, Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant’s DEAR BASKETBALL, is Bryant’s love letter to his sport, based on a letter he wrote to The Players’ Tribune in 2015 announcing his retirement.


Bryant is depicted in sketchy hand-drawn animation from when he was a child shooting imaginary game-winning shots with rolled-up tube socks in his bedroom, to imagery of him making his famous moves that won five NBA championships with the Lakers as an adult.

It’s a swift and fluid five minute film, but it feels like a commercial or beginning of a feature length documentary. It’s no doubt a sincere, and well-intentioned ode, but it still struck me as self-promotion and I wasn’t moved by it that like I bet somebody who’s a fan or into basketball would be.

Anyway, onto a very differently toned short, GARDEN PARTY which was written and directed by Victor Caire, Florian Babikian, Vincent Bayoux, Théophile Dufresne, Lucas Navarro and Gabriel Grapperon.

That’s right, it was made by six French 3D artists, who dub themselves Illogic Collective, during their studies at MoPA, animation school in France.

The seven minute movie concerns a group of amphibians exploring the immaculately detailed grounds and interiors of a mysteriously abandoned mansion. The frogs and toads swim in the pool, feast on rotten food, and inadvertently turn on the house’s lights, stereo system, and outside sprinklers by jumping on the buttons of a control panel. The photo realism is stunning, so much so that the visuals border on the grotesque especially when we find out what happened to the estate’s former resident.

These students’ production definitely deserves to win, but I’m thinking that because of its dark undertone it’ll probably be passed over.

Every year, Pixar has a short in competition and Dave Mullins and Dana Murray’s LOU, about a schoolyard bully being taught a lesson by the contents of a lost and found box, is their entry this time around. 

In a colorful animation style that should be well familiar to anyone who’s seen any of the Disney subsidiary’s movies, the film tells the story of a mean kid who steals his classmates belongings – such as a red hoodie, a couple of baseballs, a football, a piggy doll, a pitcher’s mitt, an orange and white scarf, a slinky, a toy truck, a jump rope, a book, a shoe, a lunch box, a hat and a tennis racket.

I listed all of those items because they come together to form an anthropomorphic character with the baseballs as its eyes. After a hilarious scuffle, the bully is punished by having to return all the things he stole, and is redeemed just as you thought he would be. LOU, which originally ran before showings of CARS 3, is a predictably pleasing six-minute piece of fast paced Pixar fun, but since they won last year with the charming PIPER, I doubt this is their year.

The following short, Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata’s NEGATIVE SPACE also concerns the assorted contents of a box, but this time it’s a suitcase and it’s about a father teaching his son how to properly pack it for a trip. 
The French film is an adaptation of a poem by Ron Koertge via a neat-looking stop motion world of models and miniatures. It’s a charmer with a touchingly witty conclusion, and, funnily enough, it’s the second short of the bunch that animates the rolling up of socks (DEAR BASKETBALL is the other). I can totally see this one winning.

At 28 minutes in length, Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer’s REVOLTING RHYMES is the longest of the animated shorts. It is an adaptation of a 1982 Roald Dahl book of poems satirizing six famous fairy tales that’s narrated by The Wire’s Dominic West as the big, bad Wolf.

The Wolf tells his story to a kindly woman in a café about Red Riding Hood and a blonde Snow White meeting at the funeral for Snow White’s mother. We learn that Red Riding Hood keeps her money in a bank made out of many piggy banks run by one of the three little pigs, and that Snow White’s father, the King (voiced by Rob Brydon of those TRIP movies with Steve Coogan) marries a crude woman, Miss Maclahose, who has a magic talking mirror for the “who’s the fairest” bit. The seven dwarfs appear as ex-horse race jockeys, who ask the mirror which horse to bet on as Snow White pines for her Prince, and so on.

Dahl’s dark spin on these familiar stories is illustrated by computer animation that at times resembles the work of Aardman Animations (Wallace & Gromit) despite not involving clay. The rhymes aren’t really revolting, but there are some grim fates for some of the characters. As the film feels a bit stiff, it may be my least favorite of the animated shorts, but the British-German production just may tickle enough Academy voters to get it the gold.

Since four of the five films run around five to seven minutes, there are three bonus shorts to pad out the Animated Shorts package to feature length: Kevin Hudson’s WEEDS, Daniel Agdag’s LOST PROPERTY OFFICE, and Lucas Boutrot, Élise Carret, Maoris Creantor, Pierre Hubert, Camille Lacroix, and Charlotte Perroux’s ACHOO! I ‘m not going to go into any detail about these “commended” shorts, but I will say that ACHOO! about a sneezing Chinese dragon who invents fireworks is my favorite of them.

If you haven’t already check out my reviews of the Oscar® Nominated Live Action Shorts.

More later…

The 2018 Oscar® Nominated Short Films: Live Action


T
he 90th Academy Awards® ceremony is in less than two weeks so it’s a good time to catch up with the nominated Short Films that are playing at various theaters near me in separate programs of the Live Action, Animated, and Documentary nominees.

The five Live Action Short Films are a fairly dark lot, with one comical exception, but even that one has a dark edge to it. The first short in the program, Reed Van Dyk’s DEKALB ELEMENTARY, concerns a school shooting so it’s impossible to not think about the Parkland, Florida school shooting last week. 

Writer/director Van Dyk, based the film on a recording of a 911 phone call from 2013 that was placed during a school shooting incident in Atlanta, Georgia.

Bo Mitchell plays the young gunman who takes a front-office administrator (Cassandra Rice) hostage in the school’s front office, but she calmly handles and diffuses the situation. The 20 minute film is full of unpleasant tension and can be hard to watch, so much so that there have been reported walk-outs at showings.

But if you can make it through, the acting by Mitchell and especially Rice is effective, and the spare scene feels chillingly real. Maybe the timing is bad for this short, but when would be a good time for this subject? I really can’t decide if its timeliness will work for or against it when it comes to Academy voters.

Onto the aforementioned comical short of the batch, Derin Seale’s THE ELEVEN O’CLOCK. This 13-minute Australian film concerns a therapy session between a psychiatrist and a patient who thinks he’s a psychiatrist. 

Josh Lawson, who wrote and produced, stars with Damon Herriman as the two men who get into a verbal then a bit violent battle over who’s the patient and who’s the doctor that echoes Monty Python (that’s because it’s based on a sketch from the heavily Python-influenced BBC series A Bit of Fry & Laurie).

It’s an amusing 13 minute trifle, but it has an ending that most people won’t be surprised by, so I really wouldn’t bet on it to win this category.

After that light diversion, we’re back into the darkness with Kevin Wilson Jr.’s MY NEPHEW EMMETT, which dramatizes the last night in the life of Emmett Till, an African-American teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. 

Director Wilson Jr., who also wrote the short, shoots the incident from the perspective of Till’s uncle, Mose Wright (L.B. Williams), who has to stand by with his wife (Jasmine Guy) in the middle of the night when two white men (Dane Rhodes and Ethan Leavertonwith guns abduct Till from their home, and take him off to be murdered.

As one of the racist abductors, Rhodes is intensely sinister as he threateningly spouts the n-word and drops f-bombs at Williams’ Mose making this another short that’s hard to watch at times, and also feels sadly timely.

The nearly 20 minute historical drama will definitely get some voters sympathy, but I doubt it’ll get the gold.

Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton’s THE SILENT CHILD doesn’t involve murder or guns, but it has a dark undertone. It concerns a deaf six-year old named Libby (Maisie Sly), who is taught sign language by Joanne, a caring social worker (Shenton). 

Libby and Joanne develop an affecting bond, but Libby’s dreadful mother (Rachel Fielding) says she’s worried about her daughter “learning this language that I don’t know and no one in her school will know,” and cancels Libby’s sessions with Joanne.


Despite it ending like a Public Service Announcement for deaf awareness, Overton and Shenton’s 20 minute short is a poignant, and heartbreakingly sad drama that makes a strong case for its subject. I’m not feeling a win for it on Oscar night, but I won’t be unsatisfied if it does.

Finally, the most cinematic of this roster of the Live Action Shorts, Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen’s WATU WOTE (Swahili for ALL OF US), which takes place in the border region between Kenya and Somalia where, as the opening titles tell us, “the atmosphere of anxiety and mistrust between Muslims and Christians is growing.”
Based on the true story of the Mandera bus attack by Al Shabaab terrorists in December 2015, the 22-minute film * stars Adelyne Wairimu as a young woman named Jua, a Kenyan Christian who has to contend with a bus full of Muslims on a trip to visit her sick mother.

When the bus is ambushed by the terrorists, Jua and the other passengers are commanded at gunpoint by their leader (Faysal Ahmed) to point out the Christians, who they call infidels. This results in a jarring, but powerful moment, which got to me more than anything in the other competing films.

I may feel differently closer to the Oscars® (I’m posting my predictions a few days before the broadcast), but right now I’m thinking this beautifully-shot short about people of different beliefs protecting one another is the one to beat.

* All of the Live Action Shorts this year are around 20 minutes in length, except, unsurprisingly, the lone comic one, THE ELEVEN OCLOCK.

More later…

Annette Bening’s Gloria Grahame Owns FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

Now playing at an indie art house theater near me (and you probably):

FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

(Dir. Paul McGuigan, 2017)


“Always played the tart – big name in black and white films, not doing so well in color though, obviously,” says a Cockney landlady about her new tenant, actress Gloria Grahame, early on in this adaptation of Peter Turner’s memoir about his relationship with the fading silver screen star.

She’s right, Grahame flourished during the golden age of cinema in such movies as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, THE BIG HEAT, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, and even won an Oscar for THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, but the pictures got bigger and she got smaller.

That’s a spin on what the washed-up former silent movie queen, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), famously said in the Billy Wilder classic SUNSET BOULEVARD, and it shows an acute self awareness that Grahame, portrayed beautifully by Annette Bening, references that movie upon first hitting it off with Turner (Jamie Bell).

Turner, an actor 30 years younger than Grahame, falls hard for her maybe around the time that they disco dance together to Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie.”

FILM STARS begins in 1981 with Turner tending to an ill bed-ridden Grahame, but swiftly flashes back to 1979 and plays on touching upon Grahame’s well received performance in “Rain” at the Watford Palace Theatre, trips the couple take to Los Angeles and New York, and various high and low points in their May-December romance.

Bening is usually right on the money in her many stellar performances, and she is again here, once you get past her character’s Marilyn Monroe-ish preciousness which comes on a bit cutesy at first but ends up feeling absolutely authentic.

Bell, best known for his child star turn in Stephen Daldry’s BILLY ELLIOT (2000), doesn’t have the most believable chemistry with Bening, but still is effective in conveying Turner’s initial smittenness, and later frustration when the relationship starts falling apart.

McGuigan, a Scotsman filmmaker (LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN, PUSH, and episodes of Scandal, Sherlock, and Smash), does his best with Matt Greenhalgh’s screenplay, but the story is fairly spare and many story beats can be felt well before they hit. It’s really a film that you see for the strong performance of Bening, its tender mood, and its overall sentiment than for its narrative. And the sentiment is captured gorgeously by Elvis Costello“You Shouldn’t Look At Me That Way” which he wrote for the film, and which plays over the ending credits.

The supporting cast adds considerably to the slim storyline. Particularly Bell’s BILLY ELLIOT co-star Julie Walters, and Kenneth Cranham (VALKRIE), who play Turner’s well-meaning parents, and Vanessa Redgrave, who puts in a wickedly sharp cameo as Grahame’s mother, Jeanne McDougall.


But, of course, it’s Bening who owns FILM STARS with the way she embodies Grahame’s glamour and relishes her romantic visions of old Hollywood. When Grahame tells Turner a bit of advice that Humphrey Bogart once gave her, “Keep it in the shadows, Gloria. Let the camera come to you,” one can get in that moment that Bening herself has lived that line throughout her career.

More later…

The Big, Bad Ass BLACK PANTHER Is A Beaut

Opening tonight at a multiplex near everybody:

BLACK PANTHER (Dir. Ryan Coogler, 2018)

Let me get this straight – after 17 films dominated by white folks, particularly white men, we finally get a Marvel movie headed by a black superhero, with a nearly all black cast, written, directed, and shot by black artists, and released during black history month?

Well, it may have taken them until they got halfway through Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which launched with IRON MAN back in 2008, but here it is, the big, bad ass BLACK PANTHER, and it’s a beaut.

Chadwick Boseman, who’s previously played iconic baseball player Jackie Robinson, iconic soul singer James Brown, and iconic Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, takes on the iconic role of the first black superhero of mainstream American comics, whose real name is T’Challa, known to the world as the ruler of the isolationist African country Wakanda.


When he’s not attending to his country’s policies, T’Challa becomes the Black Panther, outfitted in a sleek skin-tight suit made out of Vibranium (a fictional metal that’s featured in several Marvel movies), and a fearsome feline mask, so he can more effectively fight the forces of evil.


Embedded in Wakanda is a secret technologically advanced civilization which T’Challa becomes the king of after fighting off the challenge for the throne by rival tribe leader M’Baku (Winton Duke).

T’Challa’s supporting crew includes his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his wise-cracking sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his best friend W’Kabi (GET OUT’s Daniel Kaluuya), his ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita N’yongo), and his bodyguards Ayo (Florence Kasumba), and Okoye (The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira).

Threat to the order of Wakanda comes in the form of Michael B. Jordan as N’Jadaka/ Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, who seeks revenge for the murder of his father N’Jobu (This is Us’s Sterling K. Brown).

This second challenge for the throne is where the franchise formula becomes the most transparent in BLACK PANTHER as we know that T’Challa will lose this fight, because that’s the arc of just about every superhero movie. First act, our protagonist is triumphant, in the second they are either stripped of their powers or seemingly killed, and in the third they return to reclaim their glory.

These acts, or challenges, are filled out by zippy setpieces including a nighttime car chase through the streets of Seoul, South Korea; and an air combat sequence involving one of the film’s token white characters, CIA Operative Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) piloting a remote jet.

The rest of the kinetically colorful adventure concerns a lot of swordplay and hand-to-hand combat captured in eye-poppingly sweeping shots by cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who shot Coogler’s 2013 debut FRUITVALE STATION, and was recently nominated for an Oscar for her work on Dee Rees MUDBOUND. There’s also the eye candy of Ruth E. Carter’s elaborate costuming, and Hannah Beachler’s shiny production design.

Written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, the production soars on just about every level. Boseman brings gravitas, and a sense of personal power to his performance, and is well matched to Jordan’s scenery chewing villain. Jordan is also again a good match with writer/director Coogler, having worked with him on both of his superb previous films, FRUITVALE STATION, and CREED.

Of the other cast members, it’s the women who often steal the show, whether it’s Wright with her well-timed one-liners, Gurira with her unblinking icy delivery which will make you forget Michonne, or Nyong’o, whose Wakandan warrior spy character is refreshingly more than just the requisite love interest for our hero.

The enormously positive buzz for BLACK PANTHER has some critics calling it the best Marvel movie ever, but I wouldn’t go that far (not sure which one I’d pick though – I’ll get back to you on that). I’m just going to consider it another vastly entertaining winner for the brand, which, I’ve got to admit, has been impressively consistent in quality for an 18 and counting film franchise.

Of course, along with all the expected Marvel marks being hit – call backs to previous movies, comic cameos by Stan Lee, etc. – there are mid and post credits scenes, so be sure to stay until the very end.


More later…

Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Movies Of 2017 Part 2

And now Part 2 of Film Babble Blogs Top 10 Movies of 2017. Included are memorable lines, or exchanges from each film. For Part 1, featuring entries 10-6 click here.

5. THE BIG SICK (Dir. Michael Showalter)

Terry (Ray Romano): “So, uh, 9/11…No I mean, Ive always wanted to have a conversation with…about it. With…people.”

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani): “You’ve never talked to people about 9/11?”


Terry: “No what
s your, what’s your stance?”


Kumail: “What
s my stance on 9/11? Oh um, anti. It was a tragedy, I mean we lost 19 of our best guys. (awkward pause) That was a joke, obviously. 9/11 was a terrible tragedy. And its not funny to joke about it.” 

4. THE DISASTER ARTIST (Dir. James Franco)

Tommy Wiseau (James Franco): “I did not hit her. It’s not true. Its bullshit. I did not hit her. I did not. Oh, hi Mark.”

3. DUNKIRK (Dir. Christopher Nolan)


Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance): 
Men my age dictate this war. Why should we be allowed to send our children to fight it?

2. THE SHAPE OF WATER
 (Dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Giles (Richard Jenkins): “Would I tell you about her? The princess without voice. Or perhaps I would just warn you, about the truth of these facts. And the tale of love and loss. And the monster, who tried to destroy it all.”

1. GET OUT (Dir. Jordan Peele)

Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford) confiding with his daughter’s new boyfriend Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya): “By the way, I would have voted for Obama for a third term if I could. Best president in my lifetime. Hands down.”


Spillover with a few more quotes (Click on the titles in boldface for my reviews):

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Dir. Luca Guadagnino)


BABY DRIVER (Dir. Edgar Wright)

LUCKY (Dir. John Carroll Lynch) “There’s a difference between lonely and being
alone.”


GOOD TIME (Dirs. Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie)

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (Dir. Chris McKay) Black. All important movies start with a black screen.


STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (Dir. Rian Johnson) Yoda’s review of the sacred Jedi texts: “Page turners, they are not.”


PHANTOM THREAD (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)



MOLLY’S GAME (Dir. Aaron Sorkin)

HOSTILES (Dir. Scott Cooper)
Films I havent seen yet, but didnt want to wait to do this list any longer before I caught up: COCO, BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE), MUDBOUND, THE SQUARE, FACES PLACES, and many, many more.

More later…

Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Movies of 2017 Part 1

2017 was a very weird year, so it’s fitting that many of its movies were pretty damn weird too. A lot of franchise films flopped (this is despite the fact that over half of the years top 10 at the box office were sequels), a STAR WARS movie was divisive between critics who loved it, and longtime fans of the series who hated it; and there were a number of films with strangely similar titles like LOGAN, LUCKY, and LOGAN LUCKY, and WONDER, WONDER WHEEL, WONDERSTRUCK, WONDER WOMEN, and PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN. 

Then there were WTFWT (What the F*** Was That?) movies like A GHOST STORY and MOTHER! So yeah, it was one weird year.

A lot of the movies of the last year blur together in my head. I mean, I had forgotten about such dreary titles as THE CIRCLE, THE BEGUILED, and BEATRIZ AT DINNER until looking at a list of 2017 releases just now. And there were also a few films I only liked the first halves of like DOWNSIZING, and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, that are also fading in my memory.

But nows the time to concentrate on the cinema I best responded to, and I thought I’d do what I did a few years back and add what quotes stuck with me as well to the list.

So here goes Part 1 of my picks, in descending order, with their key lines or exchanges, and some links back to my reviews (click on select titles):

10. THE POST (Dir. Steven Spielberg)

Kay Graham (Meryl Streep): “You know what my husband said about the news? News is the first rough draft of history.


9. LAST FLAG FLYING (Dir. Richard Linklater)

Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston): Every generation has their war. Men make the wars, and wars make the men. It never ends!

Reverend Richard Mueller (Lawrence Fishburne): Maybe one day well try something different.

8. DARKEST HOUR (Dir. Joe Wright)

Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman): “Please tell the Privy Seal that Im sealed in the privy and I can only deal with one shit at a time.”


7. LADY BIRD (Dir. Greta Gerwig)

Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf): I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.

Christine Lady Bird McPherson 
(Saoirse Ronan): “What if this is the best version?

6. THE FLORIDA PROJECT (Dir. Sean Baker)



Moonee (Brooklynn Prince): I can always tell when adults are about to cry.


So thats 10-6 of my favorite films. See 5-1 at Part 2.


More later…

PHANTOM THREAD Couldn’t Be More Prestige-y

Now playing somewhere near you:

PHANTOM THREAD

(Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
You can’t get more of a high-faluting prestige picture than Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth film, PHANTOM THREAD. Sure, THE POST comes close as it had a roster of Oscar winners both in front and behind the camera, but PHANTOM THREAD boasts what’s billed as “the final performance of Daniel Day-Lewis.”

Earlier this week, Day-Lewis earned his sixth Academy Award nomination (he’s won three times) for Best Lead Actor, while the film got nods for Anderson for Best Director (his second for direction; he’s also been nominated for Screenplay four times, but hasn’t won for either category), Lesley Manville for Best Supporting Actress for, Jonny Greenwood for Score, Mark Bridges for Costume Design, and, the big one, Best Picture.


By contrast THE POST only got two noms, but, despite one being Best Picture, and the other being Meryl Streep for Best Lead Actress, they seem pretty obligatory.

But enough about how much this movie out-prestiges that movie, let’s get to what it’s about. PHANTOM THREAD is a pristine period piece set in high society London in the ‘50s about the romance, or lack thereof, between Day-Lewis as a control freak dressmaker named Reynolds Woodcock, and a much younger woman, a waitress named Alma Elson played by Vicky Krieps.

Reynolds and Alma spend their somewhat timid courtship with him taking her measurements for elaborate dresses, under the watchful eye of his sister Cyril (Manville).

Alma nervously tries to please Reynolds, but she has to walk on eggshells around his creative process. In one instance, she brings him tea when he’s working, and she gets scolded. Alma quickly leaves, as Reynold angrily admonishes, “Yes, you can take the tea out but the interruption is staying right here with me!”


So the relationship between Day-Lewis’ Reynolds and Krieps’ Alma is a prickly one – I mean, he gets mad if she butters her toast too loud at breakfast – and it goes in a disturbing direction when Alma starts to mix poisonous mushrooms into his food.

Baring thematic similarities to such subtle old timey dark thriller romances like George Cukor’s REBECCA, and Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA and MARNIE, PHANTOM THREAD is a spare, elegant and somewhat odd experience. I admired it, but didn’t feel much of an emotional connection to it. The acting by Day-Lewis is impeccable, as is Kriep’s, who should’ve been nominated as she holds her own with the acting legend lead, but this look into these sad peoples’ lives fell short of being illuminating for me.

Perhaps I haven’t fully processed it yet. Anderson is one of my favorite filmmakers, and I know there are layers to his work that can take a bit to seep in like in his first collaboration with Day-Lewis, the stellar THERE WILL BE BLOOD (it took a second viewing of that to fully appreciate it), and his last film, INHERENT VICE (the same), so I’d be up for seeing it again.

One takeaway I can relay is that PHANTOM THREAD is a very white movie. And that’s not because it doesn’t have a black character in it (though that is a factor). It’s bathed in hazy white lighting, has many white dresses on display, there are walls of bricks painted white, and many big white spaces dominate the screen. Anderson, who did his own cinematography, has fashioned a beautiful looking picture immaculate frame by immaculate frame – a very white, clean, and, yes, very prestige-y picture.


As for its Oscar chances, I’m not thinking Day-Lewis is going to win a fourth Oscar here (I think it’s Gary Oldman’s year), but if he does I won’t protest because his portrayal is definitely up there with the other roles he’s won Oscars for (again, three!). 

Otherwise, I doubt this will get the big one – Best Picture, and, right now, I’m not feeling Best Director, nor Best Supporting Actress (though Manville puts in a sharp performance). The piano-driven score, by frequent Anderson collaborator, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, has a better chance, but when it comes to Best Costume Design, I’m betting Mark Bridges will be hard to beat.

More later…

THE POST: The War Against Fake News Has Been Fought Before And Won

Opening today at a multiplex near you:

THE POST (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 2017)

After putting his stamp on just about every other cinematic genre out there, Steven Spielberg now tries his hand at newspaper drama with this timely story that’s ripped straight from the headlines, but, obviously, they’re headlines that are over four decades old. Simply, THE POST relays how the Washington Post defied President Nixon and all his men by publishing top secret files detailing the lies the government told and was still telling about the Vietnam war.

As the paranoid, dishonest tactics of the Nixon White House have many times been likened to the Trump Administration’s troubling methods, it may seem a bit too on the nose to get this big star-studded prestige picture from those liberals in Hollywood about how then is just like now, just in time for awards season.

And yes, this is a cautionary tale about how journalism is being threatened in our current era of “fake news,” but despite the predictable packaging, Spielberg has successfully structured an earnest, old fashioned, and highly entertaining showcase for his inspiring subject, and his superb cast.

And it really is a superb cast as Oscar-winners Tom Hanks, as Washington Post Editor Ben Bradley, and Meryl Streep as the Post’s publisher, Katherine Graham, head the strong ensemble that also includes Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk (with David Cross also on board we get a Mr. Show re-union!), Jesse Plemmons, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Bradley Whitford, and Carrie Coon.

The film begins in 1966 Vietnam, evoked by the familiar sounds of helicopter blades, and CCR blasting, as we see gritty shots of soldiers loading their guns, and applying war paint. Mulling about these men is Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a military advisor on a fact finding mission to monitor the war’s progress.

After we see Ellsberg witness a night ambush by the Viet Cong in the rainy jungle, he reports back to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Greenwood) that things haven’t gotten any better or worse over the last year, they’ve stayed the same.

To Ellsberg’s disgust, McNamara lies to reporters telling them that “Military progress over the last 12 months has exceeded our expectations,” so Ellsberg steals a top secret 7,000 page document soon to be dubbed “The Pentagon Papers,” that strongly says otherwise about US strategy in south-east Asia, and later leaks it to the New York Times.

That brings us to 1971, where Streep’s Graham is taking the Post’s stock public just as the Times’ is publishing a portion of the Pentagon Papers, which leads to the Nixon administration suing the Times to halt further publication.

Under intense pressure, Graham frets over the legal ramifications of the Post publishing the secret files obtained from Ellsberg while Hanks’ Bradlee scrambles with his staff to distill thousands of pages into articles fit to print under strict deadlines.

THE POST can serve as a companion piece and a prequel to Alan J. Pakula’s, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, as it ends where that essential Watergate expose begins, but it stands on its own as a solid, stately tribute to the power of the free press.

Since Hanks, Streep, and Spielberg, all at the top of their game here, have already won multiple Oscars, they may cancel themselves out of the race.


So may co-screenwriter Josh Singer, who won last year for SPOTLIGHT, cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, who’s already won two Oscars for Spielberg films; and composer John Williams, whose won five (count ‘em – five, and three were for Spielberg movies), so I can see this movie not winning anything (it didn’t win any of the six Golden Globes it was up for), but it won’t matter because THE POST is an Oscar-caliber film regardless.

See it so you can see that what is going on now has gone on before, and since it was overcome then, it can be fought and won against again.

More later…

MOLLY’S GAME Is Well Played By Jessica Chastain and Aaron Sorkin

Now playing:

MOLLY’S GAME (Dir. Aaron Sorkin, 2017)

Jessica Chastain is a shoo-in to get an Oscar nomination for her role as Olympic-class skier-turned-Poker-Princess, Molly Bloom, in the crackling, flashy directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin, who is likely to score a nomination (or two) as well.

The real-life Bloom, whose book, “Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World,” this film is based on, was a target of an FBI investigation for running an illegal underground poker ring, which Sorkin lays out here in a movie that at times feels like a busy cluster of montages all crammed together.

That is to say that Sorkin has learned (or cribbed) a lot from David Fincher and Danny Boyle, the filmmakers he collaborated with on THE SOCIAL NETWORK and STEVE JOBS, as well as Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, or pretty much any modern director known for their fast-paced, kinetic style in telling close-to-true stories that are packed to the brim with sizzling, often sordid information.

Through sharply spoken narration, Chastain’s Bloom gives us and her lawyer Charlie Jaffey (a wonderfully understated Idris Elba, who convincingly works his American accent as well as he did on The Wire) her side to how she built her secret poker empire that involved movie stars, sports stars, business titans, and, most dangerously, members of the Russian mafia.

We see how Bloom was goaded into being a hard driven perfectionist by her strict, demanding psychologist father (Kevin Costner, much more effective as a father figure here than in MAN OF STEEL), and how a skiing accident forced her to reevaluate her career goals. After a brief stint as a cocktail waitress in LA, she works an office assistant to a vulgar producer (played with just the right amount of jaded sleaziness by Jeremy Strong) who introduces her to the world of exclusive back room poker matches with extremely expensive buy-ins.

At her first game at the Cobra Lounge (read: Viper Room), Bloom meets Michael Cera as an A-list actor who’s only identified as Player X (a composite of celebrities such as Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio, among others), and becomes one of her principal players when she leaves her boss, and takes his clients to hold her own games in luxurious hotel suites staffed with former Playboy playmates.

In a dizzying array of flashbacks and flash-forwards, we watch as Bloom gets deeper and deeper into a lifestyle of debts and drugs (to help her stay awake for days), bottoming out when she’s brutally beaten up by a mob goon because she refuses the offer of protection by a couple of Italian mafiosos.

One of Sorkin’s most familiar motifs, over confident people sparing with other over confident people, is on full display here in the exchanges between Chastain and Elba, with his trademark snappy dialogue dominating every scene. Sorkin’s screenplay and direction is just as confident as his characters, and it’s a buzz seeing him put all these slick puzzle pieces together into this often exhilarating portrait. It’s also great to see Sorkin refrain from using his patented “walks and talks,” which were a mainstay of one of his most well known works – the presidential television drama, The West Wing.


The sculpting of Sorkin’s material is excellently handled by a trio of editors – Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham, and Josh Schaeffer, who also deserve Academy action. It may feel like “cut, cut, cut” at times but, dammit, they make the majority of cuts flow into one another with exciting energy while enhancing Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s crisp cinematography from shot to shot. 

The film is sprinkled with amusing supporting turns by Brian d’Arcy James as a poker player so lousy that he’s dubbed “Bad Brad” by Bloom, Chris O’Dowd as a Irish drunkard who, like many of the players, falls in love with Bloom; a sweaty Bill Camp as a seasoned card shark, who gets in way over his head; and Graham Greene as the judge overseeing Bloom’s case.


But MOLLY’S GAME is first and foremost a showcase for the radiant Chastain and the rapidly clever Sorkin, who both well play their hands at every jazzy juncture.


Despite being two hours, and twenty minutes long the movie mostly maintains its intensity and momentum. It does get close to being bogged down with too many details, but it largely transcends its well worn rise and fall arc with its wit and stylish gusto. Some folks may walk out of it wondering what the point of all of it is, but I bet they will have been hugely entertained in the process.

More later…

Guillermo del Toro’s Take On Gill-Man In Love

Now playing at more multiplexes than art houses in my area:

THE SHAPE OF WATER

(Dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2017)

When Guillermo del Toro turned down the chance to remake (or reboot) the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON for Universal’s “Dark Universe” series he definitely made the right decision.

And that’s not just because the pending franchise has gotten off to a very shaky start with last summer’s THE MUMMY flop, and is in danger of being scrapped altogether, but because there’s no way he would’ve been able to build upon the concept to make such a beautifully bizarre love story thriller as THE SHAPE OF WATER under a big studio banner.

Del Toro, co-writing with Vanessa Taylor, infringes on no copyrights here, as the amphibian man here is never referred to as “Gill-man,” but it uses the basics as obvious jumping off points for the premise of “what if the creature got the girl?”

Set in 1962 Baltimore, the film is told from the point of view of Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a mute cleaning lady who works the night shift at a secret government laboratory. We get a look into Elisa’s lonely world up front as we see her eat pie with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), a depressed, closeted artist who loves watching old musicals on TV. Elisa and Giles live in rundown apartments above a movie palace theater, so del Toro works in his love for cinema there too.

At Elisa’s work, where she converses in sign language with her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, again playing the help), she learns that a aquatic creature is being held in a huge metal water tank at the facility, and that it’s being tortured by Colonel Richard Strickland (a deliciously creepy Michael Shannon) who captured it in South America.

Elisa makes friends with the amphibian man (played by actor / contortionist Doug Jones) by feeding it hard boiled eggs, and teaching him how to sign, and a romance forms. When she finds out that they’re going to dissect him, over protest by scientist Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), she plots to help him escape.

The escape sequence, among other elements, gave me flashbacks to Ron Howard’s 1984 rom com SPLASH, which had Tom Hanks falling for Daryl Hannah as a mermaid who he rescues from a secret lab, but that did nothing to hinder the spell this film so sweetly casts.

Back at Elisa’s apartment where the fish guy mostly stays in a bathtub filled with salt and some chemicals that Hoffstetler gave her, they consummate their relationship. While the movie contains much grotesque imagery concerning such things as Strickland’s bitten off fingers, and a cat being eaten, the love scenes are as tasteful and touching as scenes between amphibians and humans can possibly be.

You just may need to suspend disbelief considering such premises like that by putting towels under the door you can fill the bathroom of a crumbling apartment completely to the ceiling with water, but if you can do that you’re in for some visual treats courtesy of cinematographer Dan Laustsen.

Without speaking, Hawkins puts in a wonderfully communicative performance that shows fluid chemistry with Jones’ creature, and has a great moment standing up to Shannon’s evil Strickland.

She is a large part of what makes the small, dark off-kilter fantasy THE SHAPE OF WATER del Toro’s most emotionally affecting work yet.

Maybe this means that more established filmmakers should turn down franchise work to go off on their own to make movies inspired by concepts they wouldn’t be allowed to do in those big studio entries. I mean, it sure worked for del Toro.



More later…

Gary Oldman As Winston Churchill = Oscar

Now playing at a art house theater near me:

DARKEST HOUR (Dir. Joe Wright, 2017)

In the case of acclaimed performances in which a famous actor plays a famous historical figure – say, Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, or Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, or Ben Kinglsey as Gandhi, Meryl Streep as anybody, etc. – it’s become a cliché to say things like that they “disappeared into the role,” or “at times I forgot who it was and thought I was watching the real person.”

But with Gary Oldman’s tour de force portrayal of Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s second World War II-themed film, DARKEST HOUR (the first was ATTONEMENT), he really does completely disappear into the role, and I really did forget at times that it was him and thought I was watching Churchill.

Set in 1940 at the height of WWII, when Britain was on the verge of being invaded by Nazis, the film depicts Churchill’s intense first month as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Much of the film is seen through the eyes of Churchill’s personal secretary, Elizabeth Layton (played by Lily James best known for Downton Abbey and BABY DRIVER), as she begins to work for him shortly into the film.

Churchill assumes his role by meeting with King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn, not stammering as much as Colin Firth did in the same part in THE KING’S SPEECH), assembling his War Cabinet which includes his predecessor Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane), and making a big speech to Parliament in which he famously declared that they should “wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime.”

Churchill’s refusal to talk peace with Hitler angers Halifax and Chamberlain, who want him replaced. Churchill remains adamant that they stand their ground against negotiations, and we get a different angle on the same story that Christopher Nolan’s brilliant DUNKIRK told earlier this year (Wright also memorably touched on the Dunkirk situation in a pretty stunning five-minute tracking shot in ATONEMENT).

The look of the film, shot by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS) is so grey and grim that one wonders if they considered making it in black and white. So many scenes are set in pitch darkness in cramped rooms with what spare lighting there is glowing in an Oliver Stone-ish fashion.

The tropes of period piece historical drama are unavoidable at times but Oldman’s Churchill is such a delicious characterization that I was very forgiving of some unnecessary stylish touches – like the two shots taken from above that zoom backwards into CGI-imagery depicting the dark of fire world below.

I’ll be shocked, shocked I tells ya, if Oldman doesn’t get an Oscar nomination, and then the award itself as he’s so delightfully dead on here. For this guy, who’s one of the best actors working today, to have pulled off such beyond convincing interpretations of such diverse personalities as Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald, Beethoven and now this is well worth awarding as it for sure is the most striking acting I’ve seen this year.

The supporting cast glows (literally) surrounding Oldman as Kristen Scott Thomas as Mrs. Winston Churchill, Clementine, makes the most of her worrying-wife-back-home archetype with some warm moments, Mendelsohn’s King George VI has a weary yet hopeful air about him, and James helps bring some light to the dark sets especially in an aside where she tells her boss that he’s doing the V for Victory sign the wrong way.

Anthony McCarten contributes a much sharper screenplay than his previous Oscar winner for that category, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, and the score, by Dario Marianelli whose worked with Wright on nearly every film he’s made, is nicely understated.


But again, it’s Oldman who makes this an essential film to see this season. His performance may be a lot to take for some moviegoers as he dominates nearly every talky as hell moment, ranting as times in his trembling accent always with a glass of brandy or scotch in his hand and a long cigar sticking out of his mouth, but for me the experience is as sublime as the way the words that the real person put together rang out.

Sure, with WWII and the tried and true Greatest Generation spirit that panders to the elder voters, it’s a prime piece of Oscar-bait, but, for a considerable amount of its running time, DARKEST HOUR mightily transcends that.

More later…

THE LAST JEDI Continues STAR WARS’s Winning Streak

Opening in your star system tonight:

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

(Dir. Rian Johnson, 2017)


Warning: There may be Spoilers!

At the end of the previous Episode of STAR WARS, Stormtrooper turned Resistance (the new version of the Rebel Alliance) fighter Finn (John Boyega) was left injured and unconscious after helping to destroy the First Order’s (the new Empire) Starkiller Base (another Death Star), General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and the rest of the good guys were mourning the death of Han Solo (Harrison Ford); while newly recruited Resistance fighter Rey (Daisy Ridley) had traveled to the planet Ahch-To to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) so that he can help bring down the bad guys.


The last shot of FORCE AWAKENS has an emotional Rey handing an old grizzled Luke his old iconic lightsaber.


So now, after two years we get Luke’s reaction to Rey’s gesture, and it doesn’t disappoint. Neither does the rest of THE LAST JEDI, the solid seventh entry in the series that satisfyingly follows through with the threads of the former film, while providing a steady stream of call backs to the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) that should please both the casual and hardcore fans.

The most obvious prediction about the content of THE LAST JEDI is that it’ll mirror Episode V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as much as THE FORCE AWAKENS mirrored the first STAR WARS movie (still not calling it A NEW HOPE, dammit!).

Well, yeah, there are definite parallels – Luke channeling Yoda in training Rey to the ways of the force, Yoda himself appearing (welcome back, Frank Oz!), the reveal of a character’s lineage, and those much loved AT-AT walkers – but it has enough clever story beats and tongue-in-cheek humor needed to make those elements feel fresh.

The plot deals with the First Order achieving more power in their fight against the Resistance via being able to track their movement through hyperspace. General Leia gets harmed in an attack, and while she’s incapacitated, Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo takes control to the chagrin of Poe Dameron (a cocky, returning Oscar Isaac) who’s called a “flyboy” twice by Amilyn.


Finn finds a friend in fellow Resistance member Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), who catches him trying to run away like he was planning to in Episode VII. Together they travel to a planet that has a Monte Carlo-style gambling resort to find a code breaker, but end up with the somewhat shady Benicio del Toro as an unnamed character with an odd speech impediment.

As for the rest – you know the drill: space battles, lightsaber duels, and the powerful pull of the dark side of the force fill the screen as John Williams’ triumphant score bursts out of the sound system.

THE LAST JEDI has more depth, darkness, and drama than THE FORCE AWAKENS. It’s a blast, even in its talky downtime, and it makes great use of its game cast.

Hamill gets his beefiest role since RETURN OF THE JEDI, and it’s his best performance (yes, I’ve seen CORVETTE SUMMER). Ridley and Boyega make more of an impression that their first efforts, while Driver steals the show every time he appears.

However, there are a few issues. There is no backstory to the Emperor figure that is Snoke, and the reveal of who Rey’s parents are feels like an afterthought. Also, C3PO’s red arm in the previous movie is never explained (I hear there’s a comic that tells what happened there but I doubt I’ll ever read that).

Director and writer Johnson (BRICK, THE BROTHERS BLOOM, LOOPER) molds his style successfully into the series, and doesn’t need as many wipe transitions to move the pace along, something that J.J. Abrams overdid.

As for it being Fisher’s swan song (I think, but maybe they’ve got some footage of her that will be used in the next one), it’s touching to see her Leia in a more substantial role than in Episode VII. They take a big chance with her image in a surreal scene that I won’t spoil – I’ll just say that it works.

Glad to see that STAR WARS continues to be back on track again as the stench of George Lucas’s awful prequels has long since faded, and the good will of the galaxy far, far away has been regained.

I’ve seen that many critics are calling it the best since EMPIRE, and I don’t disagree. Maybe the nostalgia that the member berries have triggered has blinded my judgement, but I’m happy that the franchise that dominated my childhood is yet again going good guns (or blasters).

More later…

LADY BIRD: Greta Gerwig’s Directorial Debut With A Difference

Now playing:

LADY BIRD (Dir. Greta Gerwig, 2017)

Not so long ago, Greta Gerwig was the indie film “it” girl. She acted in films made by the Duplass brothers (BAGHEAD), Woody Allen (TO ROME WITH LOVE), and her long-time boyfriend Noah Baumbach (GREENBERG, FRANCES HA, MISTRESS AMERICA). She even brushed up against the mainstream with her appearance in the awful ARTHUR remake with Russell Brand.

But now Gerwig tries her luck behind the camera for her directorial debut, LADY BIRD, which she also scripted.

No, it’s not about the wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson who had that nickname, it’s about a 17-year old Sacramento high school senior with dyed red hair played by Saoirse Ronan (ATONEMENT, HANNA, BROOKLYN), whose parents gave her the name Christine, but she goes by “Lady Bird” and insists that everyone calls her that.

Lady Bird’s tense relationship with her mother, superbly played by Laurie Metcalf ( I don’t need to list her credits, do I?) is the crux of this movie which is set in 2002, when Gerwig was around the same age as its protagonist. That makes one assume that it’s autobiographical, but Gerwig claims that while she was born and raised in Sacramento, and went to an all-girls Catholic school there, the film is only loosely based on her life as many of the situations depicted didn’t happen to her.

We are introduced to Lady Bird and her mom, Marion, as they are returning home from touring a prospective in-state college, and we get a taste of what their emotionally strained life together is like.

While driving home, Marion lectures about where she and her husband Larry (a laid-back Tracy Letts) can afford to send Lady Bird, while our titular character says she wants to go where culture is like New York which makes Marion label her a snob. When her mother goes on a tirade about how her daughter “should just go to city college, then to jail, and then back to city college,” Lady Bird reacts by opening the door of the car and jumping out.

With a cast on her right arm on which she wrote “F*** You Mom,” Lady Bird signs up for drama club auditions at her High School, Immaculate Heart, with her friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), and gets cast in a musical production. During rehearsals, Lady Birdstarts crushing on one of her fellow cast members, Danny played by Lucas Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, and the currently playing THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI).

The couple date, but the courtship is cut short when Lady Bird catches Danny kissing another guy in a restroom stall. So then our heroine has eyes for Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), a snooty, oh-so-deep musician who likes to say “that’s hella tight.”

Lady Bird loses her virginity to Kyle, but is saddened to find out that it wasn’t his first time. Moving on, after getting some rejections to schools she’s applied to, Lady Bird gets on a wait list for a university in New York, but keeps it secret from her mother.

On the sidelines of Lady Bird’s love life, is Jordan Rodrigues as her adopted brother, Miguel; Marielle Scott as his live-in girlfriend, Shelly Yuhan; Odeya Rush as the popular, pretty Jenna, who Lady Bird befriends to her BFF Julie’s chagrin; and Lois Smith, who has a few nice, warm moments as Sister Sarah Joan, the principal of our leading lady’s high school.

Because of its down to earth depiction of a hip artistically inclined young woman, who describes herself as being from the “wrong side of the tracks” going through the motions like going to a drunken party at someone’s rich parents’ house, and the politics of who goes with who to the prom, the film recalls the 1986 John Hughes teen classic PRETTY IN PINK and from what I’ve heard that’s on purpose (According to a Vanity Fair interview with Ronan, Gerwig pointed her towards that film, and Hughes’ SIXTEEN CANDLES before shooting).

LADY BIRD is a coming of age drama that doesn’t break any new ground but its low key tale of a young woman entering a new phase in her life is unpretentiously told by Gerwig, who appealingly doesn’t have her characters making snarky one-liners – consider her the anti-Diablo Cody, and this the antithesis of JUNO. Our  writer/director also brings out great naturalistic performances by Ronan and Metcalf that are both deserving of Oscar nominations.


Its a directorial debut with a difference, the difference being that it has a lot more artistic depth that I expected from Gerwig, whose onscreen presence as an actress can be a bit goofy, quirky, and often way flakey. 

Gerwig makes good choices when it comes to the film’s soundtrack as well, from Jon Brion’s subtle score to the Sondheim show-tunes that Ronan and Ledges sing, to the perfect-for-period snippets of Alanis Morrisette and Justin Timberlake. She even somehow makes the Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash into Me” actually resonate and effectively evoke heartbreak in two different scenes. No small feat that.


More later…

LAST FLAG FLYING Gets Just About Every Last Detail Right.

Now playing:

LAST FLAG FLYING (Dir. Richard Linklater, 2017)
Richard Linklater’s latest is and isn’t a sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 cult classic THE LAST DETAIL. The three lead characters names have changed but they’re basically the same archetypes as the three military cohorts in the original, with Bryan Cranston’s Sal Nealon mirroring Jack Nicholson’s Billy L. “Badass” Buddusky, Steve Carrell’s Larry “Doc” Shepherd stepping in for Randy Quaid’s Laurence M. “Larry” Meadows, and Laurence Fishburne’s Richard Mueller taking on Otis Young’s Richard “Mule” Mulhall.


In THE LAST DETAIL, Navy lifers Buddusky and Mulhall escort court-marshaled Meadows to prison in Maine for petty theft, and take drunken detours along the way. In LAST FLAG FLYING, our trio are vets who re-unite to accompany Carrell’s Doc to the funeral of his son who was killed in Vietnam.

The film begins with Doc showing up at Sal’s dive bar in Norfolk, Virginia, after decades of non-communication, and after a night of drinking, Doc takes Sal to see their old pal, Richard, who became a Christian priest.

The film takes place in 2003, so there are running gags involving the internet and cellphones being new things, and footage of Saddam Hussein on TVs in the background.

Like its predecessor, it’s largely a road trip movie with a lot of buddy comradery, but in this story that happens after they reach their first destination – Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where they learn that Doc’s son didn’t die the heroic death that the army’s official statement reported. They then take his son’s body to bury in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, first by rented truck, then by train after a brush with homeland security with a lot of lively conversation fueling every scene.


THE LAST DETAIL was famous for having large amounts of profanity – it contained more uses of the f-bomb than any previous film when it was released in the early 70s – but it’s no big thing these days for a film to be filled with such dirty dialogue so it’s barely noticeable when it’s used here. Maybe that’s from my being desensitized by many viewings of Scorsese movies or frequent listens of Richard Pryor albums, I dunno.

Alongside the strong performances of the main protagonists, is an excellent supporting cast made up of Yul Vazquez as Lt Col. Willits, who tries to stop Doc, Sal, and Mueller from transporting the body themselves; J. Quinton Johnson stars as Marine Charlie Washington who breaks the news to the guys about how Doc’s son died, and especially Cicely Tyson as the grieving mother of one of their fellow Marines, who died in Vietnam.

Despite its sometimes weary depiction of distrust of the Government during the George W. Bush era, there’s a lot of warmth in LAST FLAG FLYING. Linklater handles the pathos superbly, and gets us to care about these very verbal vets. Its dialogue, co-written by Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan (who wrote the 1970 book, “The Last Detail and its 2005 sequel that’s the basis for this film) is rich and real feeling.

Cranston stands out as the grizzled, cynical Sal – it’s one of his most fleshed out characters since Breaking Bad – Carrell’s sad sack succeeds in getting our sympathy, and Fishburne conveys dignified grace, that is except for the funny bits where his Reverend Mueller loses patience with Sal and regresses into his old profane self.

Linklater’s loving update deserves Oscar action, but more so it deserves big audiences who no doubt will appreciate its affable yet profound sensibility. LAST FLAG FLYING gets just about every last detail right.

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THE DISASTER ARTIST: A Good Movie About The Making Of A Bad One

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THE DISASTER ARTIST (Dir. James Franco, 2017)


A few weeks ago I attended a screening of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 opus THE ROOM. I’d seen it before on DVD, but felt like I should get the big screen with an audience experience I’d heard about and it did not disappoint. If you’re unfamiliar, THE ROOM is infamous for being a really bad movie. It’s a San Francisco-set romantic drama that is horribly acted (mostly by Wiseau as the tortured lead), atrociously written (again, by Wiseau), and awfully directed (yep, by Wiseau).

But it has built up a cult following – largely egged on by Wiseau who claims that he meant it to be a so-bad-that’s-it’s-good movie all along – with film-goers interacting with the film ROCKY HORROR-style. Folks attending are encouraged to do things like yell “focus!” when the film gets blurry, toss footballs around during the many scenes where the characters do the same, and throw plastic spoons at the screen whenever a framed picture of a spoon appears (which is often).

The screening was one of many across the country to get people primed for James Franco’s adaptation of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s book “The Disaster Artist” which tells the story of how THE ROOM was made. Franco plays Wiseau, his brother, Dave, portrays Sestero, and Franco’s long time collaborator Seth Rogen takes on the role of the exasperated script supervisor Sandy Schklair.

Franco’s Wiseau, who has a hard to pin down European accent but claims he’s from New Orleans, dreams of being an actor, but can’t land a part so he bangs out a screenplay and finances his own project, drawing upon millions of dollars that nobody knows how he got – Rogen is surprised when his check clears and is told that it’s a bottomless account.

Franco and his crew dutifully recreate the sets of THE ROOM, and we get an ED WOOD-ish look at Wiseau’s acting and directing style – or lack of – and it’s a hilarious series of haphazard scenes though maybe not as hilarious as its incompetently shot subject.

Johnny Depp was originally slated to star, but I’m glad Franco got the role as he seems to have been born to capture the ridiculous passion of Wiseau. It’s possibly Francos greatest role, and maybe best work as a director though I haven’t seen many of the over a dozen films he’s made.


THE DISASTER ARTIST is among the funniest films this year, but it’s not been a great year for comedies or much else I hate to say. I’m not sure if folks who haven’t seen THE ROOM will totally get it, but they might as it accurately depicts what went down – Wiseau himself says that it gets 99.9% of it right of the and features a bunch of dead on recreated scenes at the end (plus stick around for an after credits stinger). It is oddly amusing, and kind of crazy, that Franco made a good movie about
 a bad one, but he really pulled it off.


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One Of Woody’s Worst Films May Be His Best Looking

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WONDER WHEEL (Dir. Woody Allen, 2017)

The most striking thing about Woody Allen’s latest film, his third project for Amazon, is how lushly lit it is. Leading actresses Kate Winslet and Juno Temple’s red and blonde hair appears to always be glowing in golden light, whether in day or night scenes; and the gorgeousness of the color schemes employed by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro is palpable in every scene.

It’s too bad that it’s all in the service of the tired themes and clichéd characters that make up WONDER WHEEL, yet another nostalgic period piece from the Woodman – one that recalls the aura of his previous works CAFÉ SOCIETY (which Storaro also shot) PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, RADIO DAYS, and that fantasy flashback in ANNIE HALL where Allen’s Alvy Singer reminiscences about being brought up underneath the roller coaster in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn.

In very Allen-esque opening narration, Justin Timberlake sets the scene: “Coney Island, 1950s. The boardwalk.” The camera pans over a crowded beach until it hits Timberlake, as Mickey Rubin, a lifeguard who identifies himself as an aspiring playwright, breaking the fourth wall to tell us he’s got a story to tell, “in which I am a character so be warned as a poet I use symbols and as a budding dramatist, I relish melodrama and larger than life characters.”

Mickey introduces Carolina (Juno Temple), who has unexpectedly come back into the lives of her carousel operator father Humpty (Jim Belushi), and her stepmother Ginny (Winslet), because she is seeking refuge from the mob due to being marked by her never seen gangster husband.

Humpty and Ginny live in a shabby apartment, which used to house a freak show, with big open windows that has a great wide ranging view of the park including of the towering ferris wheel of the title. This is all back-drop to a well worn narrative involving a love triangle between Mickey, Ginny and Carolina.

Ginny dreams of running off with Mickey, but then Mickey falls for Carolina, despite the threat of a mafia hit job, which is made clear in a bit that has Sopranos regulars Tony Sirico (in his sixth film for Allen) and Steve Schirripa come to question Humpty about his daughter’s whereabouts.

There’s also a subplot about Ginny’s pyromaniac son that doesn’t really go anyhere, but it does provide shots of fire that go along with the rest of the movie’s orange bathed in blue glow.

Perhaps in the same vein that Andrew Dice Clay gained cred for his role in Allen’s BLUE JASMINE, Belushi puts in a great supporting performance as an angry, broken down working class slob who trying to stay on the wagon. I wouldn’t say it’s quite worth a Oscar nomination, but it nicely continues the ‘hey, Jim Belushi isn’t bad!’ vibe from his appearance on the Twin Peaks revival early this year.

Winslet’s acerbic Ginny is the dominant character here as the film seems to focus on her neurosis over her stepdaughter’s impending involvement with Mickey, and her frazzled attempts to thwart their romance. Winslet puts her all into her acting and anchors the film until it and she goes off the rails.

Timberlake’s Mickey wasn’t lying when he said he uses symbols as he even says “The heart has its own hieroglyphics” when trying to chose between Ginny and Carolina. He also speaks of “the tragic human condition” while giving Ginny a book of Eugene O’Neil’s plays for her birthday – an example of Allen’s screenplay laying it on a bit thick.

All this is transparent decoration around another one of his ‘women be crazy’ plotlines. The repetitive and overly drawn out dialogue doesn’t help either.

WONDER WHEEL’s melodramatic (Mickey wasn’t fooling there either) mix of hefty philosophizing with an all too typical tale of ill-fated infatuation makes for one of Allen’s least satisfying films of his later career.


But while it’s far from his best work, it may be his best looking movie. With hope, the Woodman, in his next film, A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK in which he’s again working with cinematographer Storaro, will come up with a story that’s as good as the visuals.


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