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Harrison Ford To Reprise Yet Another Iconic Role In FALFA: AN AMERICAN GRAFFITI STORY

After reprising his iconic roles as Han Solo in the STAR WARS series in 2015, Rick Deckard in the BLADE RUNNER franchise last year, and following news that he’ll don the Fedora for a fifth INDIANA JONES film in 2019, and another turn as CIA agent Jack Ryan for an upcoming series for Netflix later that year, Harrison Ford is set to resurrect another classic character in the newly announced FALFA: AN AMERICAN GRAFFITI STORY, set for summer 2020. 



Ford previously portrayed the cocky street racer, Bob Falfa, in George Lucas’ seminal early-
60s-set 1973 comedy AMERICAN GRAFFITI, Bill L. Norton’s 1979 follow-up MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI, in which we learn that Falfa became a hippy-hating San Francisco cop in the late 60s; and in the hit 2016 reboot, Darren Aronofsky’s STILL MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI, which caught up with most of the original cast in a scenario set around the events of 9/11. 

But in the first stand alone film in the rebooted series, FALFA: AN AMERICAN GRAFFITI STORY, the focus is on the elder Falfa’s life as a cranky curmudgeon who learns to love life again in a tale that its director Denis Villeneuve describes as a “mixture of ‘A Christmas Story’ crossed with GRAN TORINO.”

AMERICAN GRAFFITI regulars Candy Clark, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith, Bo Hopkins, and Cindy Williams are in talks to be included in cameo roles, and although Ron Howard’s character, Steve Bolander, died in the 2016 AMERICAN GRAFFITI reboot, there are rumors that he may still appear in poignant flashbacks, or at least as narrator a la Arrested Development.

At a panel for BLADE RUNNER 2049 at Comic Con last year, Ford was asked by a fan if he planned to reboot every single franchise that he’s ever starred in. Ford swiftly answered, “You bet your ass!” Going by this new announcement that Falfa will live to race another day, the 75-year old actor apparently wasn’t just having a laugh.


More later…

READY PLAYER ONE: Fun Spielberg Is Back!

Opening tonight at a multiplex near everybody:

READY PLAYER ONE (Dir. Steven Spielberg. 2018) 

In a recent New York Times piece about maybe the most famous living filmmaker there is, Steven Spielberg, Brook Barnes wrote about how it’s been a while since the popular director’s movies have had the magic of his early work.

Barnes confronted Spielberg with the idea that the directors later day output has lacked the fun of films like E.T., JURASSIC PARK, and the original Indiana Jones trilogy in the ‘80s. Spielberg countered Barnes’ thesis by saying he was “always moving really fast, and I don’t look back a lot.” 

But, by way of his adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 young adult novel, READY PLAYER ONE, Spielberg looks back quite a bit to the era in which his movies were mega grossing must sees while video games became a big thing, synthetic pop music was the norm, and the possibilities of globally networked virtual reality were just gleams in the eyes of tech nerds. 



You see, this movie is set in the future, but nearly all of its reference points are from three decades ago as that’s when one such tech nerd came of age.

Thats the Steve Jobs/Steve Wozniak mash-up that is James Halliday, played by a frizzy hair wigged Mark Rylance (now a Spielberg regular as he was in BRIDGE OF SPIES and THE BFG) who created the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), a virtual reality world that most of the earth’s impoverished population in 2045 uses to escape their doomed existences.

When Halliday died, five years previous, he left a video message saying that he created a an “Easter egg” that he’s hidden inside his elaborate creation, and the first person to find it will inherit half a trillion dollars, and ownership of the OASIS itself.

So the movie’s protagonist is gunter (a combination of egg and hunter) Wade Watts (MUDD’s Tye Sheridan), going by the name Parzival in the game, who, by studying Halliday’s ‘80s obsessions figures out the first challenge involving a New York car race in which Wade’s vehicle of choice is the Delorean from BACK TO THE FUTURE.

In the overwhelmingly eye-popping sequence, Parzival has to outmaneuver a Tyrannosaurus Rex (ostensibly from JURASSIC PARK) and King Kong (looking like the 2005 Peter Jackson version), and in the process meets the girl of his dreams, another gunter named Art3mis (Olivia Cooke).

Mind you, neither Parzival nor Art3mis knows what either looks like in the real world because they’re represented by self chosen avatars in the OASIS, but there’s immediately a cute connection between them and they team up with Wade’s longtime friend Aech (Lena Waithe), and two other fellow gunters, brothers Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki), to take on the next challenge which lands them into a dead on recreation of the Overlook Hotel from THE SHINING (it was WAR GAMES in the book, but Stanley Kubrick’s classic has a much cooler production design).

Of course, there’s an evil corporation, the IOI (Innovative Online Industries), competing with them headed by CEO Nolan Sorrento (a scenery chewing Ben Mendelsohn doing a convincing American accent), who had once worked as an underling to Halliday and his then business partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg, also doing an American accent).

READY PLAYER ONE gets a bit bogged down in CGI-cluttered spectacle in its third act, but it’s such a swiftly paced, wild ride that so consistently pops through each of its shiny setpieces that that doesn’t mar it too much. Sheridan and Cooke’s budding romance gets a bit cheesy at times (a disco dance set to “Stayin’ Alive” I could’ve done without), but they still work as characters that audiences will want to root for.

Many cynics will no doubt decry this film as pop culture pandering, but if you don’t think about it too deeply, it’s a highly entertaining sci-fi fantasy pic that’s somehow post modern, and old fashioned feeling at the same time.

Sure, it’s a geekgasm-inducing orgy of Easter eggs like the appearances of Chucky, Batman, Robocop, Buckaroo Banzai, Sonic the Hedgehog, the Alien chestburster, and even Monty Python’s Holy Hand Grenade, but, by embracing how the kids of today look back at the once tacky, but now endearingly surreal aesthetics of the ‘80s, the 71-year old Spielberg successfully reminds us (and himself) of his fun side.

Since I, like many of my age (late 40s) grew up on the filmmaker’s crowd-pleasing, high grossing work when we were kids first learning what movie magic is, it’s great to have fun Spielberg back.


More later…

A Bit Of Babble ‘Bout BRIGSBY BEAR

I missed Dave McClary’s BRIGSBY BEAR in its limited theatrical run last year (I’m not even sure if it came to my area), but just caught up with it on Blu ray and I’m glad I did because it’s a real delight. If you haven’t watched Saturday Night Live lately you might not know the films star, Kyle Mooney, but he’s a current cast member since 2013 who has made a bunch of weird, awkward but highly amusing digital shorts (inheriting the brand from Andy Samberg) like this one, and this one.

Here Mooney and director McClary, who both made over 70 of those shorts, have, with the help of co-writer Kevin Costello, successfully translated their silly small screen shenanigans to the big screen with this tale of a scruffy 30-year old named James who discovers that the people he thought were his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) are actually a couple who abducted him when he was a baby, and that there’s a real world outside the underground bunker he’s been living in for all his life.

What’s even crazier is that he grew up watching and obsessing over a children’s television show called “Brigsby Bear Adventures,” but it’s a program that only he has ever seen as his faux father fabricated it – writing, starring, and directing decades of episodes – at an outside studio with props, costumes, brightly colored sets, and even a young woman (Kate Lyn Sheil) he hired to play two roles who Hamills Ted told the show was for Canadian cable access.

So when the bunker is raided by the FBI, and his parents are taken away, James is re-united with his real parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins), but has trouble adjusting with his family, and sets out to make a movie that concludes the Brigsby Bear series.

You have to suspend some disbelief as it’s unlikely that the cops would really let James to use all the props including the original bear costume that were confiscated, but the film earns its ending, which has touching similarities to the climax of James Franco’s THE DISASTER ARTIST

The endearingly meek Mooney sweetly carries the movie with help from a well chosen cast including Greg Kinnear as a sympathetic police detective, Claire Danes as a family therapist, Ryan Simpkins as James’ sister, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as a friend who helps with shooting the Brigsby Bear movie, and SNL alums Andy Samberg and Beck Bennett in brief but effective cameos.

I didn’t expect that I’d like it as much as I did, but I found BRIGSBY BEAR to be a goofy yet sometimes sad charmer with a big heart. I love how it celebrates the idea that one’s obsession with something imaginary can be channeled into creating something real that’s personal yet can be shared with many others.


You may be able to get a glimpse of its immense likability in the film’s trailer:

More later…

THE DEATH OF STALIN: History Repeats The Old Conceits

Opening today at a indie art house near me:

THE DEATH OF STALIN

(Dir. Armando Iannucci, 2017) 

Acidic political satire is what Scottish writer/director Armando Iannucci (IN THE LOOP, Veep) does, and in his third feature, in which he takes on the absurdity of Stalinism, he nails it to the wall.

It’s a pretty ridiculous premise to have a cast of British and American actors playing historical Russian figures – i.e. Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev – with none of them making any attempt at Russian accents, farcically fretting over how to handle the unexpected death of dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953 Moscow, but somehow Iannucci pulls it all off with deliciously wicked abandon.

The film’s opening titles tell us that “For 20 years, Stalin’s NKVD Security Forces have imposed the great terror,” and “those on Stalin’s lists of ‘enemy’ names are arrested, exiled, or shot,” which are, to say the least, unusual statements for which to set up a comedy.

However, they well define the stakes at play that plague the Central Committee which includes Minister of Agriculture Khrushchev (the aforementioned Buscemi sporting a bald head), Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor wearing a not so great toupee), First Deputy Premier Beria (Simon Russell Beale), NKVD Secret Police chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (Monty Python’s Michael Palin in his first proper film role since 1997’s FIERCE CREATURES).

While each of these men has feared being put on Stalin’s list before his passing, now they have to figure who will take his place through much bickering, some of which takes place while the body of Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin, who has some lively moments in the first 15 minutes before he has a stroke) lies dying on the floor beneath them.

They are torn about getting a doctor because all of the best physicians are in the Gulag or dead because under suspicion of trying to poison Stalin, so they assemble a team of young and old doctors, who the dictator’s daughter Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) says “look like mental patients.” Beria, the most evil and power hungry of all the fairly despicable characters (or caricatures) here, takes over making the lists, while he grooms the meek vain Malenkov to be Stalin’s sucessor, while Khrushchev is elected to take charge of Stalin’s funeral.

Also muddling up the worried water is Stalin’s drunken son Vasily (Rupert Friend), who bursts in on the autopsy wielding a firearm (Khrushchev to Svetlana: “You father is dead, your brother is shooting a gun – it’s not fine, you’re right.”); and the arrogant appearance of Red Army Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), who declares “What’s a war hero got to do to get some lubrication around here?” upon his brash entrance.

Buscemi puts in one of his funniest performances, and I’m glad they didn’t replace Tambor (he’s been accused of sexual harassment, and was dropped from the show Transcendence) because he’s “on” too. I also love seeing Palin on the big screen again as the proceedings often recall the silly-smartness of Python parodies, and he has some priceless moments here.

Iannucci, who I was surprised to hear based this film on a graphic novel (Fabian Nury and Thierry Robin’s “The Death of Stalin,” 2017), very much carries this with a vibe that will be familiar to fans of his HBO show Veep, and his similarly toned BBC series The Thick of It (plus its resulting movie IN THE LOOP). His thing is to skewer the twisted ideology under which these selfishly foolish folks clamoring for power operate, and in scene after scene here he hilariously hits his targets.

“This is just f***ing wordplay!” Buscemi’s Khrushchev exasperatedly exclaims at one point, but THE DEATH OF STALIN is a lot more than just that. It’s timely because it deals with the Trumpean subjects of dictatorships, and the spreading of false narratives, but what really hits home is how this film wants us to laugh at how dark and scary things can get.

I’m reminded of that famous quote, attributed to George Santayana, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Iannucci seems to be suggesting that when if history does repeat, we are doomed if we don’t laugh at it.


More later…

A FANTASTIC WOMAN: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at an indie art theatre near me:

A FANTASTIC WOMAN (Dir. Sebastián Lelio, 2017) 


Sebastián Lelio’s (GLORIA) fifth feature starts out pleasantly enough with a night between two lovers. 


Orlando Onetto (Francisco Reyes), a successful printing company owner in his late 50s, has a romantic evening with his girlfriend Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), who is a transgender woman. 


They are celebrating her birthday, and he surprises her with plans for them to go to Iguazu Falls in South America. Orlando and Marina have a night of passion at his posh apartment in Santiago, but the tone takes a turn when he wakes up in pain in the middle of the night, and Marina takes Orlando to the hospital.


Orlando in the night dies from a brain aneurysum, and a shaken Marina leaves the hospital, and calls Orlando’s brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco) to tell him. She is picked up on the street by the police and questioned back at the hospital. Everyone appears to hold her under suspicion, and she undergoes a demeaning interrogation where she has to strip down in front of the investigators. 

Things get worse when she deals with Orlando’s angry, disapproving ex-wife Sonia (Aline Küppenheim), who Marina has to give his car back to, and Gabo who forces her to move out of Orlando’s apartment telling her cruely, “I don’t know what you are!” Worse still, Sonia tells Marina not to come to the funeral.

Through this series of indignities, Marina, who moonlights as a nightclub singer, has sessions with her vocal coach (Néstor Cantillana), works as a waitress, and tries to get on with her life despite being haunted by images of Orlando. 


A FANTASTIC WOMEN gets surreal at times with visuals like Marina walking against wind so strong it puts her at an almost impossible angle, and a stunning fantasy of a glittery dance set piece that thrusts her upwards into a confident close-up.

It can be a sad, hard-to-endure experience at times, but Lelio’s film, which he co-wrote with Gonzalo Maza, is ultimately uplifting, and it made a strong emotional impression on me. This has a lot to do with Vega, who puts in a fearlessly convincing performance. 

This moving movie opens today in my area, and my fear is that audience may be resistant to seeing a Spanish language film about a trans woman’s grief, but there’s a reason this won the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars earlier this week – its depiction of the resilience and perseverance of Vega’s Marina in the face of such prejudice is simply fantastic.


More later…

FACES PLACES & THE INSULT: They Lost At The Oscars But Shouldn’t Lose Their Audiences

These two films, now playing at a indie art house near me, lost their respective categories at the Oscars last Sunday, but that doesnt mean they aren’t worth your time:


FACES PLACES
(Dirs. Agnès Varda & JR, ) 



This lovely film, which is nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar this year, could have been titled FACES ON PLACES as it concerns a couple of artists pasting large pictures of faces on buildings. The artists, Belgian filmmaker Agnès Varda and French street artist JR, don’t only do faces as they paste huge pictures of fish on a water tank at one point, but it’s mostly the faces of local villagers, farmers, and other various folks they meet on their journey that they photograph, reproduce in large prints and affix to the side of what they deem appropriate structures.

Agnès Varda and JR are shown traveling across the French country side to brighten up farms, ruins of old houses, and most stunningly a concrete German blockhouse from World War II, on the Normandy coast, in Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer. 



Varda and JR’s film is loose and rambling at times, but never boring as its filled with such vivid eye candy. Throughout their pasting adventures, Varda tries in vain to get JR to take off his sunglasses. His refusal to not be seen without them reminds her of her old New Wave filmmaking friend Jean-Luc Godard, whose house they make their way to at the movie’s conclusion.

The warmth the unlikely duo of Varda and JR exude is felt in every frame, though it’s easy to see why FACES PLACES didn’t get enough votes to win last Sunday as it could be seen as fluffy compared to its more serious competition. Its lightness shouldnt be mistaken for insubstantiality though as it carries a lot of weight, as well as considerable charm, but, most importantly, its a visual treat through and through.



THE INSULT (Dir. Ziad Doueiri, 2017) 


There’s no way this film, the sixth feature by Lebanese-born filmmaker Zias Doueiri (THE ATTACK), had much of a chance up against the power of Sebastián Lelio’s A FANTASTIC WOMAN for the prize of Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, but it still is well worth moviegoers’ attention.


The film concerns a crude incident between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee that escalates into a national threat. It begins with a Beirut street scene in which construction crew worker Yasser (Kamel El Basha) asks Tony (Adel Karam) a tenant of a building they’re working on, if they can fix the drainpipe illegally sticking out of his apartment balcony. When the Palestinians-hating Tony refuses Yasser and his men’s entry into his place, they fix the pipe anyway but Tony smashes it and a heated exchange results.


Yasser’s boss tries to arrange a truce between the men, but it becomes violent when Tony says “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out!” and Yassar loses it and punches him in the guts, breaking Tony’s ribs. Before long they are fighting in court over the argument, with the extra added twist of their opposing lawyers (Diamond Bou Abboud and Camille Salameh) being father and daughter.


If that engrossing courtroom drama narrative isn’t enough, there’s Tony’s pregnant wife (Christine Choueiri), and both men’s dark back stories involving the roots of the Christian/Palestinian conflicts. Doueiri, whose worked on several of Quentin Tarantio’s films, sheds light on the humanity of both sides of its argument, and gives us a fair, unbiased look at how deep seeded hatred can wreck all kinds of havoc if triggered.


A FANTASTIC WOMAN definitely deserved the Oscar, but THE INSULT definitely deserves a big audience too.

More later…

Oscars® 2018 Recap: My Best Score Since 2015

For those who say we’re all out-of-touch Hollywood elites – Ill have you know that each of the 45 million Swarovski crystals on this stage tonight represents humility. 

I spent last night at the Rialto Theatre in Raleigh watching the 90th Academy Awards broadcast and enjoyed the show a lot more than the last several years. 

It felt like there was more of a purpose to the proceedings this time largely via moments like Frances McDormand’s impassioned speech, Emma Stone saying that four males and Greta Gerwig were up for Best Director, Daniela Vega being the first openly trans actress, Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph joking about #oscarsowhite controversy from a few years back, and rapper Common calling out President Trump: A president that chose with hate/He don’t control our fate/Because god is great/ When they go low we stay in the heights/I stand for peace, love and women’s rights.

Jimmy Kimmel did a good job as host touching on some of the same topics, and I liked his bit about giving away a jet ski to the Osacr winner who makes the shortest speech (see Helen Mirren showing it off above). 

Anyway, I had my best score in years as I bested the last two Oscars (at least by one) with a tally of 17 out of 24. Here’s the ones I got wrong:

BEST
PICTURE: 
My prediction: GET
OUT / What won: THE SHAPE OF WATER


While I got wrong that Jordan Peels excellent film would win the big one, I was right that hed win for Best Screenplay – another great moment as hes the first African American to do so.

BEST DOCUMENTARY:
My prediction: FACES PLACES / What won: ICARUS


BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: My prediction: EDDIE+EDITH / What won:
HEAVEN IS A TRAFFIC JAM ON THE 405

FILM EDITING: My prediction: BABY
DRIVER / What won: DUNKIRK

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:  My prediction: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES / What won: BLADE RUNNER 2049


I really didnt expect BLADE RUNNER 2049 to win more than one Oscar (it won for Best Visual Effects, and Best Cinematography). I predicted Roger Deakins would win for his masterful work on BR 2049, and was happy that after over a dozen nominations over the years that it finally happened.


ORIGINAL SONG
: My prediction: “This Is Me”
from THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (Justin
Paul & Benj Pasek) / What won: “Remember Me” from COCO

LIVE ACTION SHORT: My
prediction: DEKALB ELEMENTARY / What
won: THE SILENT CHILD



Lastly I was disappointed that the In Memorium segment left out John Mahoney, Robert Guillaume, Tobe Hooper, Powers Boothe, Adam West, and Tom Petty (sure Eddie Vedder covering Petty’s “A Room at the Top” worked as a tribute, but I would’ve loved seeing a clip of Petty in THE POSTMAN in the montage).


Okay! That’s it for this year. As I’ve said before, now back to watching movies for fun and not for sport.


More later…

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…