Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Annihilation - Review

Army vet turned biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) joins up with a small squad of accomplished females in their venture into "The Shimmer", a classified region hampered by mysterious mutation and time dilation that her long-thought dead husband (Oscar Issac) somehow survived in. ANNIHILATION banks heavily on surreal visuals, disturbing sci-fi and easy ambiguity in order to fool the viewer that they are watching something highly intelligent and masterfully crafted. Alex Garland's take on the Jeff VanderMeer novel with the same generic name is a baffling affair, laughably amateurish at some points but quietly unnerving at other times. In order to partake in the real terror and intrigue of the picture, you have to twiddle your thumbs through the establishment of its wafer-thin characters and a lot of stalely directed walking segments. Some of the early goings feel like they weren't handled by the vision behind EX MACHINA but by someone with the same caliber as Tommy Wiseau; One of the biggest unintentional laughs comes when the geologist brings up the painful death of her daughter and then the film just cuts ahead, proceeding to never give said character any more actual distinction for the rest of the film. If you try to focus on the main plotline of Lena's strained relationship with her husband, you will be sorely disappointed. It's so rote and vanilla, never having a pulse to it until the predictable ending that any one with half a brain can call out. But even with all of the eye-rolling and deep sighs it helps produce, I frankly couldn't hate the film or say it's a complete wash. The actresses try their best with whatever they got, the horrors on display are truly horrific, and it wisely maintains a toxic air of helplessness the very moment the party crosses over. Even when the CGI comes out in full force during the climax, bequeathing many sights that are on the edge between sobering and ludicrous, you still feel uneasy and paralyzed from the gross aesthetics, nihilistic theming, and the intensely throbbing score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. Maybe a re-watch down the road will help alleviate or possibly even cure my mixed feelings toward it but I certainly can not recommend it to the average joe. Those seeking a downer or dark science fiction need only apply.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

2018 Oscars Predictions

As always, these are my predictions to win, not who or what movie I wish would win.

Best Picture: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actor: Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour

Best Actress: Frances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney - I, Tonya

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro - The Shape of Water

Best Original Screenplay: Martin McDonagh - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Adapted Screenplay: James Ivory - Call Me By Your Name

Best Animated Film: Coco

Best Foreign Film: The Square

Best Documentary Film: Faces Places

Best Documentary (Short Subject): Edith+Eddie

Best Animated Short Film: Garden Party

Best Live Action Short Film: The Silent Child

Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat - The Shape of Water

Best Original Song: "This Is Me" - The Greatest Showman

Best Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema - Dunkirk

Best Film Editing: Lee Smith - Dunkirk

Best Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin - The Shape of Water

Best Costume Design: Mark Bridges - Phantom Thread

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick - Darkest Hour

Best Sound Editing: Richard King and Alex Gibson - Dunkirk

Best Sound Mixing: Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo - Dunkirk

Best Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049

I am actually fine with this year's edition of the Oscars but it frankly lost all steam with me up to this point. I had to keep reminding myself that it hasn't happen yet; that's what you get with a planning airing in March!

Oh boy, Jimmy Kimmel is back as the host. He was just so great last year I literally don't remember anything he did save for yelling at Warren Beatty. If the awful hosts of past years at least have a nugget in my memory bank.

Expect way too many jokes about the winner envelopes and last year's Best Picture controversy. That is, if you are willing to turn it to watch the program; even with the still lingering hoopla about the Best Picture blunder, the television viewing audience will be very low.

I sadly see the potential of there being a total shut out for Get Out. Jordan Peele has been gaining some traction in recent weeks for Best Director but I believe del Toro has already earned the votes. He really should get it for Best Original Screenplay but the dumb Academy would rather give it to McDonagh. Three Billboards is a good film and the script is quite unique but it pales in comparison to Peele's social-political horror-comedy-drama.

Poor Willem Dafoe. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. The new Peter O'Toole of our time.

Best Foreign Language Film can go to anyone. Same with all of the short categories, which have not made a dent online. I just hope that Kobe Bryant one doesn't win Best Animated Short.

See you on Monday with my reactions to the awards and the ceremony itself.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Barry Crimmins - RIP

Barry Crimmins has died. He was 64 years old.

He's best known nowadays as the featured figure in Bobcat Goldthwait's powerfully funny and tragic documentary Call Me Lucky. Crimmins himself was a very volatile stand-up comedian whose satirical jabs and anti-authoritarian barbs provoked laughter and shock among his audiences. He never received widespread acclaim during his heyday but remained a popular underground figure within the stand-up community. He opened and operated two comedy clubs in Boston during the 1980s, Stitches and The Ding Ho, which helped jumpstart the stand-up comedy boom and gave many future legends their big breaks in the industry.

During the 90s, Crimmins switched gears and became a political activist. He opened up to the public about being a survivor of sexual abuse and began targeting internet providers like America Online for their lax attitudes toward pedophiles operating their systems and creating chat room havens. He famously brought the matter and hard evidence he helped cultivate before the U.S. government, causing AOL to suffer a publicity nightmare and abruptly enforce new policies.

He will be missed.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Padmaavat - Review

Everything that Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) seeks to possess, he does so by any means necessary, whether it's viciously killing his way to becoming sultan or conquering kingdoms just to snatch up all of their jewels and princesses. His latest whim of greed is the kingdom of Mewar, whose heavily fortified capital city of Chittor contains Queen Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), the exquisitely beautiful and intelligent wife of King Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor). PADMAAVAT suffered through a sea of controversy and violence in its native land just to be released, only for the film to end up being an an adequately entertaining epic with one hell of a great performance. Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali presents the film as a mixture of old and new interpretations of the cinematic epic. In more simpler terms, this movie is what you get if you blend the 2002 take of DEVDAS with the aesthetics of Game of Thrones. The film is unbelievably gorgeous in all of its details, from the delectable costume design to the marvelous sets to the expansive cinematography that captures it all. Story wise, however, it suffers from often being too hokey and by-the-numbers for the modern taste. All of the betrayals, sacrifices, and tears hit their respective marks to ho-hum effect and I had to keep reminding myself that this isn't The Illiad despite its many allusions to it and even to the bad 2004 film TROY. One of the few saving graces in this department is the inclusion of Malik Kafur, a personal slave/assassin to Alauddin that brings a sexual charge to the picture that is sorely lacking in the main romance. If there is one reason to sit through this near three hour film, it is to watch Ranveer Singh. He is an unstoppable force of nature as the temperamental and conniving tyrant. The rest of the cast do an amiable job but can't keep up with Singh save for Jim Sarbh as Malik Kafur. This goes double for Padukone, who's sadly a bit dialed back as the titular heroine who can outwit anyone who challenges her. And that goes triple for Kapoor, who's a boring corpse of an actor that thinks that blue-steeling everyone and delivering his lines in a low tone makes him a charismatic leader. As for the music, the dance sequences are well shot and choreographed yet only the song "Ghoomar" proved to be memorable. And the less said about the CGI animals and the suited-for-3D shots, the better. PADMAAVAT is nowhere near as sacrilegious as some idiotic pundits and conservative thinkers believed it to be but it only checks enough boxes to be a serviceable epic.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Initial Reaction to the 2018 Oscar Nominations

We once again have nine nominations for Best Picture but this time around I have at least seen four of them. That's one up from last year! Whoo-hoo! Anyway, three of those titles (Dunkirk, Get Out, and The Shape of Water) made it into my Best Films of 2017 list. The last one is the front-runner in this race and to the sure-to-win nom, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I recently saw the film after its surprise win at the Golden Globes and I frankly have to say that it is good but not that good. I loved Sam Rockwell and McDormand does a fine job, along with the rest of the game cast, yet it really didn't resonant after leaving the theater. It's also a little too stagey (the words are more important instead of the blocking) and way too indie-riffic (small sets, mixture of quirky and grim, and the presence of Peter Dinklage and John Hawkes). Certainly not my favorite of Martin McDonagh and I feel like I will be on backlash bandwagon in the near future due to my satisfactory response and the fact that I really want Get Out to be the surprise winner. Seriously, how cool would it be if we had back-to-back Best Picture winners by black filmmakers?

I would gladly pluck out Darkest Hour and The Post in favor for The Disaster Artist and Mudbound but alas, Oscar bait must rule again.

Jason Blum is now an Oscar nominated producer. Can you believe in miracles?

I was so excited hearing Jordan Peele's name being read for Best Director. Gerwig was the cherry on top. Very glad that Steven Spielberg got a pass.

Absolutely loved seeing Daniel Kaluuya up for Best Actor. Denzel Washington, on the other hand, made me roll my eyes. He's great and all but really, for the bomb that was Roman J. Israel, Esq.?

Of course, the snub of James Franco comes as no surprise given the recent allegations levied against him.

Best Actress went accordingly until, SHE CAME AT THE END! God damn Meryl Streep! I have not seen The Post and she may be great in it, especially compared to her nomination last year for Florence Foster Jenkins, but I'm just sick of her stealing a slot from someone more deserving of the rub nearly every year now. Will next year have her be up for Mamma Mia 2?!

Both of the supporting acting races each had a surprise new contender into the race. Armie Hammer was booted in favor of Woody Harrelson and Lesley Manville thankfully took the place over Hong Chau. I accurately guessed that Harrelson would sneak his way into another Best Supporting Actor nom but Manville coming in out of nowhere was a true shocker.

Speaking of shockers, Logan up for Best Adapted Screenplay!

Very glad that The Big Sick and The Disaster Artist at the very least got some love in the screenplay categories.

The Boss Baby. Potential winner of Best Animated Film.

Ferdinand. Potential winner of Best Animated Film.

I know last year's animated output stunk but those two really shouldn't be here. Unfortunately, some changes in the rules last year were implemented to curb the nominations in this category so that anime and indie films could be shoved aside for the heavy hitters. Yes, the animated elite in Hollywood were pissed off at My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle so much that they pressured the Academy to rule more in their favor. Thankfully, we have The Breadwinner and Loving Vincent in there as potential spoilers against Coco.

Some good choices in Best Foreign Language Film but wow, how did Foxtrot not get in?

Good old Agnès Varda, still alive and kicking major ass as she's nominated for her co-direction in the indie favorite doc Faces Places.

In a Heartbeat not getting a Best Animated Short nomination is a serious headshaker. Maybe it was some stupid technicality.

Can't really say much for the technical side of the awards but I'm very happy its littered with multiple noms for Blade Runner 2049 and the fact that Baby Driver gets to compete for Best Editing.

Other major snubs: Gal Gadot, Tom Hanks, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tiffany Haddish, The Beguiled, Nick Jonas and Mariah Carey in Best Original Song (thank you lord), and mother!. Yeah, I know that last one didn't have a chance anywhere but last night's Razzie noms still burn in my soul!

That's all I can muster right now. Tune in next month for my predictions which I will obviously fail at.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Initial Reaction to the 2018 Razzies Nominations

As per usual with the dummies running this show, the Razzie people once again chose to go with pure easy pickings. But wow oh wow, they really got extremely lazy this year, largely giving all the nominations to the same five or so movies.

Let's start with the elephant in the room: why is mother! anywhere on here?! Yes, the movie gained noteworthy buzz with its "F" rating via CinemaScore and it generated a polarizing response from viewers (see my own review and where it landed on my year-end lists for proof) but everyone can at least agree that it shouldn't be sullied by being featured here. I can at least be okay with Darren Aronofsky being up for Worst Director but no way should Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem be here at all.

Zac Efron wasn't so hot in Baywatch, acting wise I mean, but like Lawrence, he "earned" a nom just because of his notoriety with the youth. Oh you Razzies, you are just so scandalous with your mudslinging at millenials and their faves. It's almost like you are trying to stay relevant!

How on earth did Matt Damon not get a Worst Actor nomination for The Great Wall? That performance was such an easy layup for the Razzies and yet it was left in the dust. Hell, they even skipped on one of their "absolutely hilarious" joke nominations by having Damon and his terrible ponytail not up for Worst Screen Combo. More on that category later...

Again, like with Lawrence and Efron, Emma Watson gets a Worst Actress nomination for her work in The Circle to get heat from the teenagers and young adults. That movie had far more egregious things in it than Watson.

I really do not like Katherine Heigl but many people and even critics have pointed out that she is pretty much the best thing in Unforgettable and turned in a very creepy performance.

And there it is, the Razzies' unfunny sexual humor by having Tyler Perry nominated for Worst Actress again.

Seriously, how did Millia Jovovich skip out on another nom? She got it for the last Resident Evil movie and she is way, way worse in The Final Chapter.

Holy shit, they were were pulling teeth just to fill out Worst Supporting Actress. I had some trouble as well doing my own version but the five nominated by the Razzies didn't really raise much of a stink at all. Goldie Hawn was one of the few shining lights of Snatched by critics and the same goes for Sofia Boutella in The Mummy. Also, nice job you did there: the titular character from that movie, who gets a ton of screen time, gets regulated to the back just so they can throw shade at Emma Watson.

What is there to say about Worst Screen Combo? If ever they was a clear neon-glowing sign that the Razzies aren't even trying anymore, it is this year's edition of the category.

As for the snubs: Seriously, seriously, where's The Bye Bye Man? How daft can you get Razzies?

No Rings? No The Snowman? No The Last Face, not even for Sean Penn's awful directing? Nothing for Alien: Covenant? And what blackmail does Scott Eastwood have to avoid being featured in these awards?

Dear lord, the Razzies just keep getting worse and worse with each passing year. It used to be fun for bad movie lovers but now it is just feels totally hollow.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

France Gall - RIP

Famous French singer France Gall has died. She was 70 years old.

She started off her long music career as a popular teen singer in the early 1960's. However, she is forever immortalized for winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1965 with the Serge Gainsbourg penned song "Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son". Everything about her involvement in the contest came under attack: she and Gainsbourg were representing Luxembourg instead of their native France, the song was deemed too weird and inappropriate for the event by conservative critics, and her live performance was mocked for being off-key. Nevertheless, the song ultimately won and helped modernize Eurovision, ushering in a huge wind of change to the look and feel of the contest and led to more contemporary music stylings instead of the rote crooning that dominated in previous editions.

She continued her daring musical misadventures with Gainsbourg in tow, highlighted further with the very controversial song "Les Sucettes", until her twenties when she began to struggle with her career. She eventually found her footing again in the late 70's, coupled with her marriage to composer Michel Berger and extensive humanitarian work, and had a big hit in 1987 with her album Babacar.

When I delved head first into all things Eurovision last year, I tended to stay away from the early years of the contest due to its often stale musical offerings. But then I came into contact with "Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son", which has become one of my favorite Eurovision songs due to its vibrant music, subversive wordplay, and of course Gall's adorable voice.

She will be missed.