“READY PLAYER ONE” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Easter Egg: The Movie

Ready Player One is a celebration of entertainment, a pop-culture explosion jam-packed with all of your favorite characters, icons, and memorable moments from your childhood growing up. I couldn’t tell you how many times I grinned ear-to-ear while watching this film, or how many times I jumped up and down in my seat in excitement, or how many times I was overwhelmed from recognizing all of the cameos popping up on the screen at once. This film could have been retitled as Easter Egg: The Movie, because that’s exactly what it is: one giant, gorgeous, deliciously colorful Easter Egg, and man is it fantastic to look at.

Taking place in Columbus, Ohio in 2045, Ready Player One shows us a dystopian future devastated by the effects of climate change and economic inequality. The middle class no longer exists. People live in sheds and old trailer homes instead of houses. The education system is practically non-existent. And no matter where you turn, all signs point to old American life ceasing to exist.

Enter the Oasis, a virtual reality experience where just about anything is possible. The Oasis has become people’s new reality: their place of escape. And whether they’re racing in a re-creation of 1940’s New York City, dancing in an anti-gravity night club, or literally building their own “Minecraft” world, the Oasis is a national treasure that everyone shares together.

One day, the creator of the Oasis James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away, but before he does he records a message for all of his video-gaming fans everywhere. He says that he’s hidden an Easter Egg in the Oasis, an object which hands control of the Oasis over to whoever finds it first. Now determined to find the Easter Egg before business CEO and corporate shrill Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) teams up with his friends to find the Easter Egg and save the Oasis.

The appeal in Ready Player One lies in its nostalgic value; in your ability to discern entertainment icons and characters and get excited at their unexpected appearance. This, of course, seems too simple to be taken seriously. However, Ready Player One is a simple film, and it never asked to be taken seriously. With these rules established, we’re ready to plow ahead and dive head-first into all of the pop-culture fun this movie delivers, and man does it deliver it.

How common are the Easter Eggs in Ready Player One? Very. They are so prominent in the film that they are as integral as the visual effects themselves are. Virtually every scene has at least one throwback to 80’s or 90’s culture. In one of the earliest shots, for instance, Wade can be seen driving around in the Delorean from the Back to the Future franchise. I’m tell you guys, after 28 years with its engine shut off, there’s no greater joy than seeing the Delorean revved up again and tearing the streets up, even if the Delorean and those streets are artificial.

That’s only one Easter Egg among hundreds. King Kong is back from the dead ripping buildings apart, the Iron Giant is reactivated after being shut off for several years, and there’s even a blood-soaked tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. My favorite cameo was one where the Chucky Doll was tossed into a crowd like a grenade, and he starts slicing through hoards of computer-generated enemies like a mincemeat grinder. Yes, a Chucky Doll will do that in this movie. It will do a lot of things.

The cameos, the Easter Eggs, the surprise appearances: they’re all so fun and exciting to watch, and it’s a pure joy to just glance at the screen at random moments and go “Oh look, it’s so-and-so! And also what’s-his-name!” But that’s not the core component of the movie. It’s an important one, yes, but what makes Ready Player One so cherishing is how much these characters mean to these kids playing as them. We’ve all been through those moments in our childhood where we grab our toys, trucks, and action figures and spit out silly noises as we scream and pretend like our toys are fighting each other. Ready Player One is the video-game equivalent of that. Yes, these kids and the villains they’re fighting are inhabiting a fictional world, but the love and passion they have for it is not. For them, it’s as real as any action figure, costume, and video-game controller ever could be. The Oasis is not based in reality, no. But it is their reality, and that’s the important part.

In that, Steven Spielberg finds the human part of this story; the part that turns this movie from merely an entertaining experience to an extraordinary one. When Steven Spielberg was filming the underwater scenes for his shark film Jaws, or had E.T. pointing to Elliot’s forehead, or had that magnificent T-Rex let out a loud, dominant roar in Jurassic Park, he didn’t make any of these scenes from the corporate, money-grabbing mindset of Nolan Sorrento. He created these moments like the kids in Ready Player One created theirs, thinking, dreaming, and playing like storytellers in their own worlds. In that, Spielberg speaks to something much more profound than the need to be entertained: he speaks to the much larger questions of creating ourselves.

Yes, Ready Player One’s message is a straightforward one. But then, it was meant to be straightforward. What we are given here is not an opportunity to critique, but an opportunity to place ourselves in the VR mindset of these kids, let loose, and have fun. And for all of the action, visual spectacle, humor, heart, and fun that this movie delivers, Ready Player One has only one flaw, and that is that the Super Mario Bros. didn’t make an appearance.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

“PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING” Review (✫1/2)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

More like downsizing.

The biggest flaw with the first Pacific Rim was its third act, where its runtime extended so long with so much content packed together that it really could have been cut out and edited into its own separate movie. This flaw, unfortunately, carries over into its sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising, which descends into a classic case of sequelitus with all of its ideas spent. It has a stupid plot, dull characters, boring dialogue, and humor so unfunny that Adam Sandler could have done a better job at writing it. The movie’s one saving grace is its visual effects. Gee, I wonder where else we’ve seen that before?

Taking place 10 years after Raleigh Beckett, Stacker Pentecost, and the other Jaegers closed the Kaiju portal at the end of the first movie, Pacific Rim: Uprising follows Stacker’s son, Jake (John Boyega) living the good life in a post-Kaiju world. He parties, drinks, trades on the black market, swindles dangerous mob bosses, and steals any Jaeger tech that he can find.

Well like clockwork, Jake’s criminal activities leads him into the jail cell, and this time he can’t simply just bail himself out. Now faced with a potential prison sentence, his sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) gives him an ultimatum: come back to the Jaeger program and help train the new cadets, or rot in a cell for the next 30 years. Jake slightly prefers military service over prison. Slightly.

The problems with Pacific Rim: Uprising all starts with its writing, which is such a poorly-done retread of the first Pacific Rim that it feels more like fan fiction than it does a faithfully-produced sequel. The writer and director Steven S. DeKnight has had several television credits prior to his film debut in Uprising, including writing episodes for Warner Bros.’ “Smallville” and being the showrunner for series’ including “Spartacus” and “Daredevil”. Trust me, he’s definitively a talented storyteller. Unfortunately, all of his experience is wasted here in his first foray into film, and there is no evidence that any skill or talent exists behind his camera at all.

Case in point: the screenplay. It is essentially the exact same plot as the first Pacific Rim was, point by point. We start with a big, epic Jaeger fight, follow with an underdog hero who doesn’t believe in himself, suddenly recruited into a military operation, bonds with the girl in closest proximity to him at the base, a shocking revelation is made about the alien threat, and our heroes team up to disband of said threat.

That’s it. That’s the whole story in a nutshell, a preposterous copy-and-paste of the first Pacific Rim and adding Uprising at the end of the title. Granted, sequels don’t have to be original in every aspect of their storytelling. Shoot, even the most recent Star Wars movies are almost straight rip-offs from the original trilogy. The difference, however, lies in the extra details the filmmakers put into those movies to further their interest. Pacific Rim: Uprising’s mistake was thinking that the interest lied in its derivative plot, which of course, it doesn’t.

Look at the first Pacific Rim as evidence of this. It has the same plot, yes. Yet it succeeds so much more in being fun and entertaining to its audience. Why? It’s because Guillermo Del Toro knew which details to focus on and why. He knew that the size and scope of the Jaeger/Kaiju fights needed to be reflected in the buildings and environments around these monsters. He knew Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba needed on-the-spot, quick-witted dialogue to make them more than the average one-dimensional movie heroes. And (most importantly), he understood the movie he was trying to make. He knew he wasn’t trying to make some seriously out-there, psuedo-dimensional experience like Inception or Gravity. He was trying to make the next explosive, Transformers-esque action fest that overjoyed the inner child in him. That was the movie he aimed for, and he succeeded spectacularly in making it.

Compare this to the desperately confused approach behind Pacific Rim: Uprising. It has no idea what it wants to be. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a serious action movie, a silly Hollywood blockbuster, a complex science-fiction fantasy, or all three at once. All it knows for sure is that it wants to be like the first Pacific Rim, but it doesn’t know how to get there. That’s because the screenplay hasn’t earned the right to compare itself in its storytelling. The sad part is that it knows it too.

Yes, the fight scenes between the Jaegers and the Kaiju are cool. So what? The fight scenes were just as fantastic in the first Pacific Rim, and that was made over five years ago. The music’s electric jams sound fantastic, but again, there’s nothing there that you can’t find in the original already. The only thing to really set this movie apart from its predecessor is John Boyega, who brings such an oafish charm to the movie that he can make something as mundane as eating ice cream seem funny to us.

Even then though, his performance is plagued by the mediocre cast members surrounding him. Scott Eastwood fills out the generic stiff-necked soldier cliché to a “T”, and he demonstrates little personality outside of pure smugness. Newcomer Cailee Spaeny plays the movie’s second underdog, and she overacts so much that she fits better inside of a Disney Channel movie. And Charlie Day? God-awful. His character does such a forced 360 turn from his personality in the first movie that I couldn’t take him seriously or urgently. He felt more like a parody of a mad scientist than an actual mad scientist (and if you didn’t like him in the first movie to begin with, wait until you see him here).

All in all, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a haphazard, unnecessary sequel; one that would have added value to the franchise if it were never made at all. The first Pacific Rim was an epic love-letter to Japanese Anime and monster movies, a rock-em-sock-em creature feature that was loads of fun. Pacific Rim: Uprising is just clueless. At the end of the movie, the big baddie Kaiju monster grows three secondary brains to fight our movie’s heroes. Perhaps it would have helped if Steven DeKnight grew a few extra brains himself.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth Are The New ‘Men In Black’

Thor: Ragnarok isn’t the last time you’re going to see the God of Thunder and Valkyrie together. In fact, their next team-up might be much sooner than you think.

After months of speculation, Columbia Pictures recently confirmed a spinoff was in the works for the Men In Black series, and just yesterday, they announced their stars. Thor: Ragnarok actors Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson will play the leads for the upcoming Men In Black reboot, taking place separately from the main film trilogy starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Hemsworth has not closed his deal yet, but he’s expected to in the coming days.

I feel a weird mix of excitement and disappointment with this news. As far as the actors themselves, I find them impeccable. Hemsworth has demonstrated time and time again that he has the chops for both serious, dramatic roles and sillier, comedic ones, while Thompson is just a revelation all her own. I loved her years ago when I first saw her as Adonis’ love interest Bianca in Creed, and since then she’s taken a mold all by herself in movies including Thor: Ragnarok and Annihilation. She is a natural and an inspiration, an up-and-coming star whose career I can’t wait to see skyrocket forward in the near future.

So as far as the casting goes, I am open to seeing these two in another movie together. In a Men In Black reboot, however, I find it indefensibly stupid. We already got our conclusion to the series six years ago with Men In Black 3. Why are we resurrecting it now for a reboot? That didn’t work with The Karate Kid, that didn’t work with Ghostbusters, and it definitely won’t work now with Men In Black, especially with one of those men in black being a woman (although I guess People In Black doesn’t sound as good of a title).

Overall, I find this to be just another recycled news story on Hollywood Boulevard: another cog in the constantly-working machine of remakes, reboots, and unoriginal ideas. But what do you guys think? Are you excited to see Thor and Valkyrie in a Men In Black movie together, or do you wish the neuralyzer could be used on you to forget this development?

Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Variety

Shia LaBeouf Is Writing And Starring In A Movie About Shia LaBeouf

SOURCE: WireImage

This is the most Shia LaBeouf thing Shia LaBeouf has done in a long time.

After being mostly absent from the movies since his last appearance in 2014’s Fury, as well as a recent arrest scandal involving him shouting racial epithets at police, LaBeouf is now coming back onto the film scene with a project very personal to him. It’s a self-biographical picture called Honey Boy, and LaBeouf will be writing the film as well as starring as his own father Jeffrey.

The film will reportedly be centered on LaBeouf’s childhood with his father, mostly taking place during the 2000’s when LaBeouf became a breakout star on Disney’s “Even Stevens.” LoveTrue director Alma Har’el will direct the film, while Manchester By The Sea actor Lucas Hedges to play LaBeouf’s younger self. “Honey Boy” was a nickname given to LaBeouf by his father.

What do you guys think? Are you curious to see a self-biopic by Shia LaBeouf, or do you wish he’d just leave and put a paper bag over his head? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly

Danny Boyle Directing 25th James Bond Film

The name’s Boyle. Danny Boyle.

The Academy Award-winning English director, whose work ranges from Best Picture-winner Slumdog Millionaire to the biopic Steve Jobs, recently confirmed his next project. He will be directing the 25th film in the James Bond franchise, co-writing a screenplay with frequent collaborator John Hodge (Trainspotting, Trance).

Plot details are under wraps, so there’s still much unknown about the untitled 25th Bond film. What is known is that Daniel Craig will be reprising the titular role and the film will take place after the most recent events portrayed in Spectre. How that’s supposed to happen since James Bond’s story supposedly wrapped up in Spectre is beyond me. Maybe Christoph Waltz will return as the villainous Blofeld to continue to haunt Bond’s life? We can only hope.

Overall, I’m very excited to see Boyle take on this project. He has a long and diverse filmography, from the zany and unusual Trainspotting to the Aaron Ralston survival epic 127 Hours. Granted, he hasn’t had much experience in the spy genre. In fact, the only action films you can really credit him for is 28 Days Later and Trance. However, the same could also be said for American Beauty director Sam Mendes, and he ended up giving us some of the best James Bond films in Skyfall and Spectre. Boyle will bring a welcome change of pace for James Bond, and however he chooses to approach the project, I have confidence he’ll bring it with the same Boyle flair that he always has in all of his other films.

What do you guys think? Are you guys excited for Danny Boyle to take on 007, or would you have preferred Sam Mendes come back for round three?

Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Business Insider, Variety

Kristen Wiig Cast As Cheetah In ‘Wonder Woman 2’

Things are getting feisty up in here for DC Films.

After announcing the sequel to Wonder Woman during Comic-Con last year, director Patty Jenkins just confirmed yesterday who the villain will be for the film. The villain will be longtime Wonder Woman foe Cheetah, and she will be portrayed by none other than Kristen Wiig.

SOURCE: Getty Images

Debuting in Wonder Woman #7 in August 1987, Cheetah is a feminine feline savage who cut herself with an Amazonian dagger, transforming her into a human/cheetah hybrid hellbent on getting back at Wonder Woman. Besides Ares, Cheetah is perhaps one of the more well-known Wonder Woman villains, and their rivalry has been featured multiple times in miscellaneous media, more recently in the NetherRealm Studios video game Injustice 2.

With that, it seems odd that DC would cast Kristen Wiig in a role as menacing and vicious as Cheetah. Don’t get me wrong, I like her as an actor. She was funny in Bridesmaids, and she was great in smaller roles for movies including The Martian and Mother!. Yeah, she was pretty ditzy in that terrible Ghostbusters reboot, but then again everyone was pretty bad in that movie. As comedian actresses go, Wiig is a reliable talent, and it definitely seems like she belongs in a superhero movie somewhere.

But to be completely honest, I don’t see it in a villain role. Wiig has mostly portrayed friendly, loveable characters up until now. She strikes me more as a love interest akin to Lana Lang or Vicki Vale, not a supervillain as spiteful or cruel as Cheetah is. I’ll admit, I’m curious to see how she will approach this portrayal as opposed to her other film roles in the past. But at the very least, I’m more confident in this casting choice than I was when Jesse Eisenberg was cast as Lex Luthor in Batman V. Superman.

What do you guys think? Are you excited to see Kristin Wiig’s Cheetah go head-to-ahead against Diana in Wonder Woman 2? Or do you wish she’d just stick to comedy?

Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Washington Post, Twitter

‘The Shape of Water’ Swims Its Way Through The 90th Academy Awards

Well, at least they got the right envelope this year.

The 90th Academy Awards were held last night, and they were… uneventful, to say the least. The good news is Jimmy Kimmel was just as good at hosting as he was last year, and he peppered the ceremony with some of his much-needed humor to keep everyone chugging through the night. You’ve gotta admit, there’s quite some joy in seeing Ansel Elgort rushing into a Wrinkle In Time screening firing a hot dog launcher into the crowd, or seeing Guillermo Rodriguez waving Oscar flags around with The Shape of Water director Guillermo Del Toro (#GuillermoX2?)

Other times though, the night was mundanely routine. There weren’t a lot of surprising moments throughout the night, and nothing really eventful happened that seemed to set the 90th ceremony apart from other Oscar ceremonies.

Of course, there were your typical Oscar wins and snubs that happened this year, just like they do every other year. Most of them were ones you were already expecting.

Case in point:

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Best Picture: First of all, props to picking Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty to present for Best Picture again. They needed to redeem themselves from the envelop flub that happened during their first time presenting last year. You can bet that they both double-checked the envelope after that embarrassing mix-up, and rightfully so.

Now then, Best Picture. I was originally uncertain which picture was going to take home the evening’s most coveted award, mostly due to the lopsided confusion the category has faced in previous years. I ended up predicting Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri over The Shape of Water for two reasons. One: The Best Director winner has not simultaneously won the Best Picture award from the past several ceremonies. In fact, only three ceremonies from this decade found the same picture winning both awards at the Oscars. With already knowing that Guillermo Del Toro was going to win Best Director for The Shape of Water (see below for my reasoning), I felt that set up The Shape of Water at an odd disadvantage. Clearly I was mistaken.

Two: A science-fiction film has never won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Not once. Not 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Not Star Wars in 1977. Not E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial in 1982. Not Apollo 13 in 1995. Not Avatar in 2009. Not Inception in 2012. Not Gravity in 2013.

Not a single one of these science-fiction films has won Best Picture during the Oscar’s entire 90-year history. None of them, that is, except for The Shape of Water.

Honestly, that’s my biggest frustration with its Best Picture win. It has nothing to do with its unusual or disorienting plot. It has nothing to do with the weird sea-creature-human-underwater sex scenes. It doesn’t even have anything to do with its awkward musical number that was randomly inserted halfway through the picture. It has to do with the fact that The Shape of Water succeeded in a category where 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Apollo 13, and Inception all failed.

Quite a misstep, I must say. But it wouldn’t be the Academy’s first, and it definitely won’t be their last.

Best Director: Guillermo Del Toro unsurprisingly won Best Director, since he already won the DGA for The Shape of Water. I find him an incredibly gifted filmmaker, and am glad to see him win an Oscar in general (he deserved one back in 2007 when Pan’s Labyrinth wrongfully lost Best Foreign-Language film to The Lives of Others). Still, I stand by The Shape of Water’s mediocrity and its inability to connect with certain viewers. Del Toro’s acceptance speeches were literally the best things to come out of that absurdity of a movie.

Best Actor: Gary Oldman rightfully won for his performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. How is this only his second nomination? Nevermind, the Oscars are for recognizing outstanding talent (or at least, I think they’re supposed to), and Oldman is a talent that has went unrecognized for a long time. A very well-earned congratulations to him. The Prime Minister himself could not have been more proud.

Best Actress: Frances McDormand won her second Oscar for her role in the small-town drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s a very well-deserved win, even if it does overshadow Sally Hawkins’ talents in The Shape of Water. And with her speech paying tribute to her fellow female nominees as well as the importance of inclusion in Hollywood?

Ooph. Gentlemen, I think this goes without saying, but #TimesUp for us. I suggest you get out of the way before Mildred Hayes knees you in the scrotum.

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell won best supporting actor for his role as a racist cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I’m still bitter that Bill Skarsgard wasn’t even nominated for his phenomenally creepy performance in the Stephen King thriller It. But whatever. Rockwell was the most worthy out of those nominated, and I was happy to see him enthralled at the announcement of his name. Congratulations to him regardless.

On another note, this is actually Rockwell’s first nomination in addition to his first win. Man, what are with the Oscars skipping over all of these phenomenal performers for so long?

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney won best supporting actress for her role as Tonya Harding’s mother in I, Tonya. Steer clear of this chick. Clearly, she is not one to mess with.

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Best Animated Feature: Coco won, obviously. I was excited to hear Oscar Isaac shout out “Viva Latin America!” before announcing Coco as the winner. This is a moment that the Mexican-American culture has been working hard a long time for, and this was a moment that was well-earned.

Best Documentary Feature: The documentary on Russian athletic doping Icarus beat out Face Places for Best Documentary. At least the Russians didn’t meddle in this election process (or, as much as we know of, at least).

Best Foreign-Language Feature: A Fantastic Woman won Best Foreign-Language film. Congratulations to Sebastián Lelio and the production team involved. Clearly the #TimesUp movement applies to more than just those who were biologically born a woman.

Best Original Screenplay: I was pleasantly surprised to find that I got this category wrong, as Jordan Peele beat out Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with his film Get Out. Clearly, I underestimated the genius of his screenplay. Or rather, I underestimated the Academy’s capacity at appreciating his genius as much as his fans do.

Either way, I predicted this category wrong, and I couldn’t have been happier for it. Congratulations to Jordan Peele for his very-deserved first nomination and win. Tell me, Mr. Peele, have you decided on the name for the opposite of the “Sunken Place” yet?

Best Adapted Screenplay: Call Me By Your Name won Best Adapted Screenplay. It should have been Logan, but if you’re not going to fairly recognize the superhero genre, the next best choice is the LGBT crowd. Congrats to James Ivory for his hard-earned win, and here’s to hoping that Ryan Coogler is nominated (and wins) next year for Black Panther.

Best Film Editing: Dunkirk won. I’ve already explained why I felt Dunkirk’s editing was inferior to that of Baby Driver’s, but I’m not going to waste any more typing space over the subject. Congratulations to Lee Smith for the win regardless. At the very least, he made better filmmaking decisions than Christopher Nolan did.

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Best Cinematography: FINALLY. ROGER DEAKINS WON BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY FOR BLADE RUNNER 2049. Took him freggin’ long enough. The guy has literally been nominated for my entire lifespan, for movies including The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun, O Brother, Where Art Tho?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Assassination of Jesse James, No Country For Old Men, The Reader, True Grit, Skyfall, Prisoners, Unbroken, and Sicario. He has never won once, until now. Congratulations, Mr. Deakins. Your Oscar is loooooooooooong overdue, but it’s better late than never.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour, obviously. Still wondering where It is, but in either case, congrats for putting the skinny English actor into the obtusely wide slacks of Winston Churchill. Now thanks to Kazuhiro Tsuji, actors will never have to put on weight for a role ever again!

Best Costume Design: Phantom Thread, the movie about costume design won best costume design. Fun fact: Mark Bridges won both best costume design and shortest acceptance speech at the Oscars, with his speech capping in at 37 seconds. That makes him one of the few double-winners for the night, making him the proud owner of another Oscar and a Jetski, courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel. Thanks, Jimmy!

Best Production Design: The Shape of Water. I still toss around in my head whether it was more deserving than Dunkirk or Beauty and the Beast was, but in either case, it did an outstanding job staying true to its wildly different sceneries regardless. I tip my hat to the set design by Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin, which at the very least, was more pleasurable to look at than the film’s sex scenes were.

Best Musical Score: Again, Shape of Water wins. This is Alexandre Desplat’s second win, and the second time that he’s completely deserved the Academy Award for his creative and quirky soundtrack (although, to be completely honest, I could just give the award to John Williams for Star Wars every year and feel just as happy). Congratulations to Alexandre Desplat’s phenomenal composing. It’s one of the few awards that The Shape of Water was more than deserving in.

Best Original Song: Coco rightfully won for “Remember Me.” Great performance, but nothing is going to beat that moment in the film where Miguel quietly kneels down next to his grandmother in the shed and reminds her of her roots. Man, what a scene.

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk won best sound editing. Duh.

Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk, again.

Best Visual Effects: Surprisingly, Blade Runner 2049 beat out War for the Planet of the Apes for Best Visual Effects. While I am disappointed that the Planet of the Apes team continues to go unrecognized despite several years of outstanding work, I do acknowledge that Blade Runner 2049 looked fantastic and sported some of the year’s most skilled visual work, from the pixelated holographic body of Ana de Armas to the digital recreation of Sean Young’s character Rachael. Congratulations to John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert, and Richard Hoover. You brought Blade Runner back to life again.

And now on to the short categories, which surprisingly, I got most of them right this year. The Silent Child won Best Live-Action Short, while Heaven Is A Traffic Jam on the 405 won Best Documentary Short. Perhaps most surprising was that the fact that Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball won Best Animated Short, now making him both an NBA Champion and an Oscar-winner. Personally, I’m just frustrated that Kobe Bryant now has more Oscars than Alfred Hitchcock does. But what can you do?

With that, I have accurately predicted 19 out of the 24 categories this year, an improvement from the shabby 14 I picked from the previous year. See you guys next year, where my luck will inevitably propel me to get all 24 of them wrong.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , ,

“THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

A lone woman trapped out in redneck country.

Here’s an uncomfortable question to ask: in the cases of rape and sexual assault, who suffers more? The victims, or their families? We often focus so much attention on the victims that go through these unforgivable tragedies, as we rightfully should. But do we ever think as much about the father who raised her? The mother who gave birth to her? The brother that grew up with her? What regrets are they experiencing? What battles are they facing outside of the courthouses and police stations? Not to mention that’s for the cases where the victims survived. What about those who didn’t?

I know that’s probably as uncomfortable reading for you as it is typing for me, but it needs to be said. Silence on these issues marginalizes these victims to the point of forgetting them, and the one thing that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri definitely isn’t is silent. Like its loudmouthed protagonist, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is fearless, outspoken, confrontational, aggressive, and uncompromising in its truth. It needs to be seen solely on the basis of understanding what a sixth of American families are going through right now.

In Three Billboards, one of those families belongs to Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), and her family is a broken one to say the least. Her son is estranged from her, while her abusive husband divorced her so he could be with some girl that is 30 years younger than him. Her daughter is also no longer with them, and without getting into the grisly details, she was sexually assaulted and killed over a year ago.

Frustrated by the local police’s lack of progress in the investigation, Mildred takes her own initiative and rents out three billboards saying “RAPED WHILE DYING. ONE YEAR, NO ARRESTS. HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?” Needless to say, Police chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his loyal protégé Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) are a little less than amused at her antics. This spurs them and the town to protest her signage displays, pitting one lone woman against an entire town of rednecks.

While watching the film, I was reminded of a small town in Athens, Texas where my family occasionally travels out to on a piece of property that we own. You will notice that most of the people there are more, shall we say, blunt than city folks are. They don’t beat around the bush. They speak their mind, and rarely do they stray from coarse, unfiltered honesty. Profanity is a second language to them. Drinking, chewing tobacco, and spitting to the side of the road is common practice. And calling someone a bastard is a sign of affection.

I paint this picture to show you that writer-director Martin McDonagh was inspired by these same experiences while writing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and he uses these same people as a current to demonstrate serious institutionalized problems that go on within our justice system. Three Billboards hits on multiple issues all at once. Police brutality. Institutionalized racism. Homophobia. Free speech. And, of course, rape culture. You would think that the film would be overloaded talking about all of these topics at once, and would feel less like a story and more like a university studies lecture.

Not so. The conversations and the concerns these characters share feel genuine and believable, as if they are real people talking to each other and not just actors reciting a screenplay for the camera. I think this is because McDonagh centralizes the conversations around one key topic: the three billboards. McDonagh once saw similar billboards over 15 years ago while traveling in between Georgia and Alabama. Taking that image in his mind and backtracking the narrative, he creates a dialogue about the nature of peaceful protesting, and whether those protests should be tolerated regardless of the communities’ reaction to them.

I was reminded of another recent protest while watching Three Billboards: the NFL kneeling controversy. In both cases, the issues are the same: X problem is going on within local law enforcement, so I’m going to do Y until the issue is addressed. Yet, in both of these cases, the protestor is the one that is being blamed for the issues, not the entity that person is protesting. Here’s a litmus test for you: are you more offended by a billboard calling out your best friend by name, or are you more offended by the dead teenager that was killed under his watch?

In that, McDonagh forms an important conversation that needs to be had: should the victims of these circumstances be silent in their suffering, or should their additional scrutiny be even more of a reason to speak out? Political commentators note all the time that in some sexual assault cases, victims were “asking for it” with what they were wearing or how they were acting. I’m pretty sure Mildred’s daughter Angela wasn’t asking to be killed. Just an educated guess on my part.

But the movie isn’t all doom-and-gloom with dread and weariness. There are brief moments of humanity and humor that shines through the bleak shades of the film, and most of that is thanks to Frances McDormand. She’s such a spitfire of a woman in this movie, a firecracker full of attitude that refuses to take any more B.S. that she doesn’t deserve. I’m telling you, this woman has been through the ringer. She’s faced the abuse and abandonment of her ex-husband, the frustration and anger of her son, and the violation and murder of her daughter. I don’t blame her one bit for being a little off the cuff, and that’s exactly what she is here: a loose cannon ready to throw hands with anyone who approaches her with hostility. She makes you outwardly laugh in moments where she spits deep-cutting jabs, while at other times your jaw drops saying out loud to yourself “I can’t believe she just did that.”

And yet, her character isn’t devoid of sympathy or understanding. She’s actually a very kind-hearted and considerate human being, who very understandably has a hard shell for the people who have abused her kindness in the past. She is not afraid to get confrontational, and she is especially not afraid to get physical. In one moment of the picture, she makes fun of a midget for wanting to sleep with her. In another, she kicks a teenager in the groin and punches another one in her genitals. Yet, in more surprising moments, she expresses genuine care and concern for people she was mocking mere moments ago, sympathetic to their pain in moments where they weren’t sympathetic towards hers.

In fact, describing Mildred Hayes best describes the rest of the movie: a thick skin with a soft heart.

I find no faults in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, only actions and conversations that will make you uncomfortable at watching. They’re supposed to. There are people like Mildred and Angela Hayes all over the world today facing the same anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment, and lack of closure from what they’ve experienced. All they’re left with is the pain, and they’re given nothing to compensate for it. McDonagh had two choices in portraying that loss: either show it in its rawest, most honest form, or don’t show it at all. McDonagh chose the former. If you don’t want to experience that for yourself, that’s totally fair. You can always leave the movie theater. Mildred Hayes can’t leave her life.

Tagged , , , ,

“BLACK PANTHER” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Long live the king.

Black Panther represents a watershed moment for African-American superheroes and Hollywood: a chance to really redefine what an action hero means to people and how they’re represented in mass media. It has all of the elements that makes any Marvel film a great one. It has passionate performances from its talented cast members. Smart character development that makes our heroes’ choices meaningful and consequential. Not to mention its spectacular action sequences that pretty much guarantees it an Oscar nomination year-in-and-year-out. But what makes Black Panther particularly special is the significance of its diversity; its emboldening of marginalized communities by giving them a platform to say what they’ve been trying to say all of these years. It’s one thing to be simply entertained by a superhero movie. It’s another thing entirely to be impacted by the experience and take it with you long after you’ve left the movie theater. Or in this case, Wakanda.

Taking place after the character’s debut in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther now finds T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as King of Wakanda, a hidden African nation housing the Earth’s largest deposit of a rare metal called Vibranium. After losing his father T’Chaka (John Kani) and sparing his killer at the end of Civil War, T’Challa believes that the worst is behind him and he can now focus solely on governing his people.

He is sorely mistaken.

For one thing, M’Baku (Winston Duke) and the Jabari tribe are in strong opposition to T’Challa’s rule, and he’s committed to challenging him for the throne at all costs. Weapons smuggler Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) rears his ugly head once again, as he has an violent history with Wakanda for constantly stealing plots of Vibranium from them. And a shady assassin who goes by “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan) has an eerie obsession with the Black Panther and a hidden agenda he has regarding Wakanda and its people.

Black Panther achieves so much on so many levels that it’s hard to pick where exactly to start. I’ll begin with the writer and director Ryan Coogler, who has achieved ground-breaking strides here both visually and aesthetically for this film. Coogler, who gained attention in his earlier years for helming the biographical picture Fruitvale Station and the Rocky spinoff Creed, creates a technically immaculate world in Wakanda, a highly-advanced society that feels removed and secluded from the rest of the world, but also possesses its own breath and heartbeat in the same sentence. The costumes and makeup evoke the feel and tribalism of the ancient Congo tribes from Africa, a culture which at least partially helped inspire the “Black Panther” comic books, while the production design evokes an Afro-futuristic setting that feels like its evolved years beyond any Western civilization could have in a hundred years. And the action? Spectacular. Whether Black Panther is fighting without his armor in a Wakandan waterfall, or pursuing Klaue through one speeding car to another, the action is fast-paced, enthralling, and engaging. I haven’t felt this excited in a superhero film since The Dark Knight in 2007. Yes, I am saying this with The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War in mind as well.

But it’s not just the production itself that’s so impressive: it’s also the story that Coogler crafts here, a humble fable about a king wanting to do the right thing, but is haunted by the sins of his ancestor’s past. One of my concerns going into this movie was how Coogler was going to handle the race element of the picture. Was he going to ignore it altogether and focus solely on the superhero aspect? Or was he going to put so heavy an emphasis on it that the movie became a social statement instead of an action blockbuster? The answer is neither. Like Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Captain America: Civil War, there are heavy themes underlying the film’s subtext, but it is not what compels the film itself forward. What makes this film a great one is that it is a character drama first, and a social allegory second. The themes of institutional racism and prejudice is as a consequence of the character’s actions throughout the film. It is not the action itself. In making its point humbly, it allows the message to be seen at its most transparently, while at the same time not distracting from all of the superhero spectacle going on.

It would be a crime if I did not mention the film’s outstanding cast. They are the best of any MCU movie so far, hands down. Everyone is so spectacular in their roles, so humane and believable in their interaction with each other that I could dedicate an entire article to talking about each performer individually. I would easily campaign for the film to receive a Screen Actor’s Guild Outstanding Cast nomination, if the SAG Awards didn’t play so much to their bases to begin with.

Boseman, of course, kills it as T’Challa. He was great in Civil War a few years ago, and he’s just as great as he is now. Yet interestingly enough, my favorite characters from the movie are its antagonists, which serve as a sort of remedy to the villain problem Marvel has been facing for a long time now. Duke, for instance, succeeds in playing a dryly charismatic bear in M’Baku, and he’s so boorish that I would love to just give the guy a big hug, were it not that he could crush me in one muscle reflex. Serkis is so wild and over-the-top as Klaue, yet that just makes him all the more fun and fascinating of a character to watch. We usually have the most fun in Marvel movies seeing the heroes and villains duke it out over highly-rendered green screen action sequences. I find it interesting that Serkis was just as fun to watch ranting in an interrogation room as much as he was firing his arm cannon at his enemies.

The best of these performers, however, is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. Part of what makes his performance so mesmerizing is that you don’t really expect a villainous performance out of the guy to begin with. He was one of the super-powered teenagers in Chronicle, Oscar Grant III in Fruitvale Station, and Apollo Creed’s son Adonis in Creed. He’s not really known for playing cruel or malicious characters. Yet, that’s exactly what makes his performance as Killmonger so compelling. It’s the fact that he’s coming from a very human place with it, and his motivations against the Panther make sense and are relatable on a personal level. He is easily one of my favorite villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He would have been number one, if Tom Hiddleston’s Loki didn’t occupy my top spot.

Black Panther is a surprising masterpiece. It’s a stylish action movie, an important social commentary, and a theatrical character drama that hits all of the right notes that it needs to all at once. I’ve given four-star reviews for multiple MCU movies in the past, including Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Thor: Ragnarok. I would recommend all of these movies solely based on how fun they were alone. Black Panther is the first to be truly profound outside of its Blockbuster value. It is the bridge where art meets entertainment.

No, Black Panther is not the first black superhero to be adapted to the big screen. That title belongs to Todd McFarlane’s Spawn in 1997. Like the Wakandan king himself, however, it seems destined to become the most significant from a long line of predecessors. And rightfully so.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Joss Whedon Stepping Away From DC’s ‘Batgirl’

The Avengers and the Justice League were assembled onto the big screen thanks to writer-director Joss Whedon. Too bad he can’t assemble a Batgirl movie too.

After months of pre-production, Avengers director Joss Whedon announced this week that he would be stepping away from directing Batgirl, citing a lack of creative inspiration to write a premise for the film. Reported to be helming a Batgirl movie back in March 2017, many fans were excited at the possibility of Whedon directing a DC movie.

Obviously, their hopes fell a little short of expectations.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

This isn’t the first time Whedon was involved with a DC property. When Justice League director Zack Snyder had to step away from production in May 2017 due to a personal tragedy, Whedon stepped in as co-director to help oversee reshoots and post-production. His work as director was later criticized for interjecting forced humor into Snyder’s vision, as well as that facial hair controversy where he made the visual effects team digitally remove Henry Cavill’s mustache in post-production (the effects, as you can see above, were nothing short of terrible.) In 2007, he was also slated to write and direct an adaptation for Wonder Woman long before actress Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins were attached to the project. Again, his work received a lot of backlash from the comic-book community, mostly for overtly sexualizing his female characters while at the same time toxically characterizing some of the male figures in the script.

Maybe it’s a good thing that he’s no longer attached to directing Batgirl.

With Whedon’s removal, Warner Bros. is currently on the market for a new female director to take over for the project. The next film to be released on the DCEU’s slate is James Wan’s Aquaman, which is scheduled for release in December later this year.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Screenrant, ComicBookMovie.com
Advertisements