“DUNE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Fear is the mind-killer.

There are a few movies that come once in a generation where they don’t feel just like cinema, but rather as raw, immersive experiences that feel equally epic in their scope of storytelling as they do in their visceral visual presentation. Star Wars in the 1980s is one such example. Jurassic Park in the 90s is another. Lord Of The Rings in the 2000s. The Avengers movies in the 2010s. Now here comes the newest science-fiction epic in Dune, and if it isn’t destined to become the next decade-defining blockbuster, it definitely feels like it should be.

Based on Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction saga, Dune takes place in the far distant future where different houses fight for control over different planets in the galaxy. One of the most sought-after planets is the desert world of Arrakis, which carries an element known as spice that allows for interstellar travel, making it the most valuable asset in the universe. The House of Atreides is gifted the planet of Arrakis to harvest the spice for the good of all the houses, but in the process, they get caught up in a violent conflict between the Fremen, the native dwellers of Arrakis, and the Harkonnen, a vicious race of savages that seek the power of the spice only for themselves. Now trapped on the world of Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) needs to find a way to adapt to the harsh environment surrounding him and harness the desert power of Arrakis.

When I heard that Denis Villeneuve was remaking Frank Herbert’s classic tale of “Dune,” I nearly fell out of my seat. For those of you that are unaware of it, “Dune” has been hailed as one of the most important science-fiction novels of all time, right alongside the likes of “Anthem”, “Ender’s Game,” and “1984.” To see a large-scale adaptation of one of the most essential books ever written would have any reader giggling in their seats, where I admittedly found myself not too long ago.

Yet despite Denis’s cinematic prowess, I found myself a little hesitant to accept a live-action “Dune” remake. For one thing, “Dune” had been visually adapted twice before, once in David Lynch’s 1984 film and once in Frank Herbert’s TV show in 2000. Neither one really reached the fascination or intrigue that the book inspired and were really kind of silly and gimmicky in retrospect, although I do find their amateurish quality slightly endearing. For another thing, “Dune” had been largely considered an unadaptable story, with its dense lore amounting to a massive 412 pages.

Granted, it wasn’t the first book to be considered “unadaptable.” Yann Martel’s “Life Of Pi” was largely considered unadaptable, as was Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.” Yet, both were made into magnificent movies by Ang Lee and Zack Snyder. Still, that doesn’t mean that it’s a sure thing. Indeed, it means that whoever does end up tackling the project has a massive, massive challenge ahead of them, one that may mean breaking up the book’s plot into multiple movies.

Thank God that Denis Villeneuve was a brave and competent enough filmmaker to take it on, because he fulfills every bit of the book’s lofty expectations and then some. The first thing you notice with Dune is how immersive it is: visually striking, audibly haunting, and emotionally stirring. The very first line of dialogue you hear in the movie isn’t even human: it’s Harkonnen, and its rich, deep voice eerily echoes the words “Dreams are messages from the deep.”

Immediately after that, we’re swept into an engrossing display of Arrakis: its beauty, its danger, its dry, devastating heat, the invaluable spice, and the people willing to fight and kill and die over it. What follows from there is an engrossing and absorbing experience that completely and fully immerses you in its characters, lore, and setting in a rare display of intrigue, excitement, and fascination.

I’m not just talking about merely watching the movie play out on screen. Sure, you see the vast landscape, the colossal spaceships, the endless void of space and its planets, the massive explosions that blow up on battlefields and mining sites. But the film is so much more than merely seeing the images on screen: you experience them. You feel the sun rays beating down on you, the dryness in the air as the desert sands of Arakkis parch your mouth, the wind from the space thrusters blowing against you, and the heat from explosions radiating off of your body as the shockwave blows you off of your feet.

See, in a rare marriage of visual and audio mastery, Dune drops you in the middle of Arakkis and forces you to feel the loneliness and isolation of its characters. Movies have a bad habit of superficially showing you what characters are going through instead of engrossing you in the moment of what they’re experiencing. Dune places you right alongside House Atreides and forces you to try and survive the dangers of the desert alongside them. Not since Avatar has a movie immersed you so vividly into its lore and setting.

The production of the film is a technical marvel, from Greg Fraser’s vast and expansive cinematography to Joe Walker’s expert editing to the eerie and striking visuals to the mesmerizing score by Hans Zimmer. Even the all-star cast is masterful in their roles, with Timothee Chalamet shining the most as a fallen prince torn between two different destinies.

Dune is a rare example of a perfect picture. Yes, a perfect picture. I literally would not change a single thing about it. Some viewers may not appreciate Denis Villeneuve’s trademark slow-burn style of storytelling, but that’s because of their personal preferences as movie watchers, not Denis’ craft or ability as a filmmaker. To think that years ago, we questioned how he would handle his first science-fiction picture with Arrival, then how he would revive Ridley Scott’s long-cherished franchise with Blade Runner 2049. Now he has made Dune, and its legacy will surpass both of those pictures. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Tagged , , , ,

“NO TIME TO DIE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Nicola Dove | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

Goodbye, James Bond.

We live in an age where closure is beginning to become the norm in big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. The Dark Knight Rises. Logan. War For The Planet Of The Apes. The Rise of Skywalker. Avengers: Endgame. These movies prove that you can have a definitive end to our heroes’ journeys, and not only will audiences be fine with it, but they quite possibly might love it. That’s because when you take away the lights, the cameras, and the special effects, these larger-than-life heroes are not the immortal cinematic icons they’re portrayed as on-screen. They’re people, and their story deserves an appropriate ending just like anybody else does.

In No Time To Die, Daniel Craig experiences his own ending in his final portrayal of James Bond, a role he’s inhabited so seamlessly ever since his debut in Casino Royale in 2006. In No Time To Die, Bond goes into retirement after defeating Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and saving his lover Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) in Spectre. But like any other 007 movie, James Bond is once again pulled into the spy world when his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) asks him for a favor. Now facing yet another potentially world-ending threat, James Bond needs to suit up one last time to defeat a nefarious new foe named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).

Watching No Time To Die was a particularly meaningful experience for me, not just because it signifies the end to an amazing era of James Bond, but also because this was one of the first movies on the chopping block when the COVID-19 pandemic came to our doorstep last year. After delay after delay after delay, it almost seemed like this movie was never going to get released. To finally watch it now after all this time feels like the world is finally turning a corner on this blasted pandemic, though I do kind of find it funny that the big threat in No Time To Die is, ironically enough, a virus.

To say that No Time To Die is a bold undertaking of the James Bond mythos is a severe understatement. It isn’t merely another entry in the James Bond franchise. Like Casino Royale and Skyfall, No Time To Die introduces the character to new and unusual circumstances, circumstances Bond would never have been caught dead in the original Ian Fleming novels. What makes Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond so interesting is that he’s less of a caricature and more of a character. He isn’t a generic movie spy that is used to channel toxic male fantasies of drinking vodka martinis, hooking up with beautiful women and killing bad guys. In many ways, he is an incredibly pained and tragic character, one whose endless cycle of violence and espionage almost seemed predestined to him.

It’s rare for James Bond to be vulnerable, or indeed, even to appear weak in front of not just the movie’s villains and supporting characters, but also in front of the audience. But all of the best movies feature vulnerable moments for the character. In Casino Royale, it was when Bond was getting tortured by Le Chiffre or when he failed to save his first love. In Skyfall, it was when Bond was struggling with post-traumatic stress or when he failed to save M. In No Time To Die, he once again finds himself in a place of vulnerability and weakness in an arc that has been set up ever since the first movie. And like all of the great Craig Bond movies that came before, he fails to save a life that’s very important to him, though I won’t spoil by saying who.

Of course, all of the quintessential Bond elements are prevalent in No Time To Die. The high-stakes and adrenaline-pumping action. The tight and quick editing and the over-the-top and insane shootout and chase scenes. The amazing and mesmerizing score by Hans Zimmer. The haunting yet angelic single by Billie Eilish. And of course, Daniel Craig’s amazing performance, brilliantly contrasted with Rami Malek’s ice-chilling presence as the movie’s villain. All of the elements that made previous Bond movies thrive are just as evident here as they’ve ever been before.

Yet the incredible thing about No Time To Die is how it shows Bond reacting to a changing world. Indeed, how he reacts to MI6 keeping up its operations despite his retirement, how new double-Os enter the picture and accomplish the same things that he does, really how people in his life move on without him when he’s no longer in the picture. It all makes him feel so, so obsolete, and that’s what I love so much about this movie: it forces James Bond to evaluate who he is when he isn’t 007. Is he more man than mercenary? Or is he just another number?

Director Cary Joji Fukanaga (“True Detective,” Beasts of No Nation) has accomplished a rare feat with No Time To Die — he made James Bond fallible and brought him down to our level, a man haunted by his own demons and whose insecurities drive him to make ruinous, self-destructive choices. While some people may be frustrated how the movie deconstructs the larger-than-life myth of James Bond, I for one love that we’re taking away the license to kill and looking at how the man behind it tries to live his life without it. It’s funny how the movie is called No Time To Die, yet by the time the end credits rolled, all I could think about was how James Bond lived.

Tagged , , , , , ,

“CASINO ROYALE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

A new Bond for a new age.

With over 40 years of cinema behind him, James Bond is one of the oldest — and most timeless — action heroes to persevere throughout film history. Why don’t we know more about him? We know all about Dr. Jones and his early crusades that led to him becoming Indiana Jones. We all know the rags-to-riches story of Rocky Balboa, the tragic beginnings of Batman, and Luke Skywalker’s parentage that literally spans the galaxy. But for some reason despite 20 films dedicated to his name, James Bond is a character whose history has always eluded us. Why is that?

I think it’s for several reasons. One may be because it adds to his mystery and intrigue, and keeping his backstory in the dark maybe contributes to the elusiveness of his character. Another may be to allow for multiple interpretations of James Bond. Since we’ve had six actors play the part now, it makes sense to keep his story loose and flexible to allow for overlapping storylines and not convolute different films’ timelines. But the most rational explanation may be that his backstory simply doesn’t matter. James Bond exists in the here and now: in the mission, the objective, the target, the drink, the beautiful women, the pleasures of the instant because tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Whatever the case may be, Casino Royale is the newest reboot of MI6’s favorite secret agent. It is also arguably the most raw and personal James Bond film to date, something I never expected to say about any James Bond movie ever.

In this modern retelling of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale introduces a younger, less robust Bond in Daniel Craig, shortly before he even achieves his double-0 status. All of the usual James Bond elements are here. The fast-paced and exciting action. The high-stakes shoot-em-outs and intensive fight choreography. The sleek vehicles, weapons, and spy gadgets. The over-the-top chase sequences that take you over streets, bridges, buildings, hallways, and skyscrapers. The drop-dead gorgeous Bond girl in Eva Green. The chilling and unsettling villain in Mads Mikkelsen. The twists, the turns, the conspiracies that drive the plot forward. Everything that makes James Bond James Bond is in here and dialed up to pristine shaken-not-stirred detail.

But it’s not the usual Bond elements that impress me: what really impresses me with Casino Royale is the ruggedness, the roughness, the gritty realism that makes this film move and breathe with the authenticity of a top-secret SIS mission report. There are so many nuances to the film that you learn to appreciate and value that I don’t even know where to begin.

I’ll start with the film’s star Daniel Craig, who carries his part with the confidence and collectiveness of a Sean Connery and with the dispassion and coldness of Timothy Dalton. In previous films, James Bond has been portrayed with the suave coolness of a master infiltrator — a man who knows how to get out of every slippery situation, regardless of whether they’re in a secret base or a woman’s chambers. Here, the younger, more inexperienced James Bond is prone to more mistakes and is a lot less calm under pressure. That makes him surprisingly more vulnerable and the action feel a lot more immediate and real.

When he finishes making his first kill, his hand quivers and he breathes sporadically as he processes what he has done. When he makes a startling realization, his eyes pop and he spurs into action, knowing that something horrible will happen if he does not stop a particular outcome from happening. When someone close to him feels a particular pain that he’s familiar with, you feel his empathy as he consoles them and processes their grief with them. When he’s captured and being tortured, he doesn’t experience it like a hardened agent who fears nothing, but as a rookie experiencing this for the first time and is very, very afraid, even if he refuses to break. That level of emotion is a rare quality in a James Bond performance, and it will easily be Craig’s greatest asset the more he establishes his own 007 identity going forward.

But Craig is only half the puzzle. The other half comes in the film’s clever and crafty screenplay, which combines the typical Bond troupes delivered by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with the style and swagger of a real-world espionage thriller from Academy Award-winning writer Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash). In previous Bond movies, the screenplay may have been given second focus to over-the-top gizmos, gadgets, and camp so silly and obnoxious that it would have made Adam West blush. Not here. In Casino Royale, the larger-than-life spy movie spectacle is traded out for a dense and layered plot that perfectly establishes James Bond and his beginnings as a double-0. Oh, and the dialogue is so sweet and snappy and so perfectly understands James Bond. One of my favorite lines is where Bond comments how the love interest isn’t his type. “Smart?” she asks. He responds “Single.”

Side note: The subversion of the classic “shaken, not stirred” line is also worthy runner-up.

All of these elements are masterfully brought together by director Martin Campbell, who returns to the director’s chair after bringing us Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of the character in GoldenEye 10 years ago. Whatever your opinions of the previous entries in the James Bond franchise, Casino Royale breathes new life and fresh blood into this everlasting series. The action choreography is so fast, brutal, and impactful that it leaves you dizzy while watching it. David Arnold’s mesmerizing score is so exciting and enthralling, with the snazzy horns and emotional orchestra throwing you back to the classic days of James Bond. And the editing by Stuart Baird is so smart, gradual, and all-encompassing that it allows you to follow all of the threads that are unraveling while never losing track of everything that’s going on. I find it fascinating that one of the most engaging scenes in the entire movie isn’t a fight or a chase scene, but rather a card game between Bond and the movie’s villain. That’s because the film’s astronomically high stakes are set up very well, and you know what will happen if Bond pulls a bad hand.

It’s hard to say which is the best Bond movie, or even who is the best Bond actor, because of how many stories, movies, and portrayals are out there of the double-0 agent. But even amongst the sea of James Bond retellings and reinterpretations, Casino Royale stands out, as does its star. That’s because they both understand that James Bond is more than a gun, a bullet, a bow tie, a license to kill. James Bond is an action. He’s a statement. He’s a man that will do what needs to be done even when the world is collapsing all around him. That’s why when he says his name is James Bond at the end of the movie, we believe him.

Tagged , , , , , ,

“VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE” Review (✫1/2)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

One dysfunctional symbiotic family.

The best part of Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the mid-credits scene. That’s not a good sign for a movie when the best part of it literally happens after the movie is over. Venom: Let There Be Carnage promised to be a revival of the symbiotic superhero: a darker, grittier, edgier telling that got to the roots of what makes the lethal protector tick. Oh, will comic book fans be so, so disappointed. 

In this sequel to the 2018 Spider-Man spinoff, Venom: Let There Be Carnage follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as he adjusts to his double life as a carnivorous superhero and a journalist trying to revive his career. The key to reigniting his career is Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer who has left behind a trail of bodies, and thankfully with a wig much more convincing than in his post-credits scene in the first movie. Eventually through a convoluted sequence of events, Cletus ends up with his own red-blooded symbiote he nicknames “Carnage.” Now Eddie and Venom have to once again unite to defeat this symbiotic serial killer and save the Earth… again. 

Venom: Let There Be Carnage shares the same strengths as its predecessor, specifically Venom himself. Scripting, directing, and storytelling aside, Eddie and Venom were among the best characters in the first movie, and their odd, offbeat chemistry still works perfectly in tandem with each other. That makes sense considering they’re both portrayed by Hardy himself. Still, it isn’t easy to create a connection with, well, yourself, and Hardy embodies both roles masterfully here. Whether he’s Eddie Brock investigating a story or Venom is starving for human brains, he captures the essence of both characters very, very well. When they are together, Eddie and Venom are easily the funniest, craziest, most entertaining parts of the movie. 

I say “when they’re together,” because for some reason, Hardy and screenwriter Kelly Marcel thought it would be a good idea to split Eddie and Venom up for half the movie. I have no idea why they thought this. After all, Eddie and Venom are perfect as a chaotically dysfunctional pair, not as two different entities going through their own separate melodramatic identity crises by themselves. In the limited time they are together, Eddie and Venom perfectly play off of each other’s manic, wild energy, snapping at each other like two alpha wolves fighting for control. When they are apart, they couldn’t be more pathetic, with Eddie whining about his failed marriage and Venom… dancing at Rave parties? What? 

Side Note: As an alien who is very sensitive to sound, it is very weird that 1) Venom doesn’t feel threatened by attending a concert where stereo speakers are blaring all around him, and 2) That neither did director Andy Serkis, who lets Venom carry on with his monologuing despite the fact that he should be a pile of goo thanks to all of the loud sounds surrounding him. 

What about Venom’s antagonist, Carnage? How was he done in the movie? Well, he’s a mixed bag. On one hand, when the Carnage symbiote is out, Carnage is a vicious force to be reckoned with, tearing up prison gates, destroying cars and helicopters, and biting the heads off of police officers like they’re Tootsie Pops. All of this makes Carnage a fierce, formidable character, and eons more intimidating than Riot was in the previous movie. 

But when he’s just Cletus, he has these winey, mopey monologues about how he wasn’t loved enough as a kid and that’s why he kills people today. Wah-freaking-wah. Other Marvel characters like the Hulk, Black Widow, and Shang-Chi have also had similarly traumatic childhoods and didn’t use it as an excuse to eat people. The fact that the script attempts to connect Eddie and Cletus together and treat them like they’re the same person is actually the most gross and manipulative part of it all. Sorry, but Venom is nothing at all like Carnage. Venom eats criminals only to survive. Carnage would kill a kid just because he thought it was funny. They’re not at all the same, and the fact that the script tries to paint it like they are shows how little it understands both characters. 

The rest of the movie plays out pretty much like the first one did. Eddie gets down on his luck, gets possessed (or repossessed) by Venom, learns to accept himself (again), and then gets into another gooey fight with the monstrous villain that’s too incomprehensible to follow at the end of the movie. Whatever you think of these movies, Venom: Let There Be Carnage embodies the same strengths and most of the weaknesses as its predecessor. When Eddie and Venom are the focus, the movie is at its strongest. When the focus is shifted to the supporting characters, we care nothing about their half-hearted performances or the weak sauce writing they’re provided with. 

But somehow it’s only getting worse. While the first movie was a passable, if not mildly disappointing, introduction to Venom, its mishaps can at least be forgiven because it was trying to re-establish his identity after a very underwhelming appearance in Spider-Man 3. Now here comes Venom: Let There Be Carnage, a movie which has now had at least two opportunities to learn from its mistakes and just doubles down on them harder. Pray that Venom’s next big-screen appearance does more justice to the character than his previous two outings have. And for whatever it’s worth, I’m not referring to Venom 3

Tagged , , , ,

Inside Our Insecurities

It’s amazing how universal the language of loneliness can be. When COVID-19 came to our front door last year and forced all of us to socially distance from one another, a lot of us found ourselves staying indoors isolated from any human connection whatsoever. This has led to many of us being trapped not just inside our homes, but inside our thoughts, our emotions, our insecurities, and ultimately everything about our very being. I got to know David Dunn very well during my time quarantined with him last year, and I can tell you with utmost confidence that I don’t like him very much. I still don’t.

In Inside, Bo Burnham also finds himself locked in with himself (or at the very least, a caricature of himself) and struggling with the same emotions many of us experienced last year.  In this new Netflix special, Bo writes, shoots, edits, directs, and performs everything all by himself inside of his apartment for a whole year to stop himself from “putting a bullet” into his head. Creating is no longer merely a source of enjoyment or fulfillment for him. Instead, it has become a literal means of survival, or at the very least, an attempt at some semblance of sanity or well-being. 

I’m taking a break from my self-imposed hiatus to talk about Inside for a number of reasons. One is because I relate closely with the subject matter Bo explores here, and another is because I know Bo is a funny and introspective entertainer that evaluates deep and complex ideas and enjoys savagely deconstructing them for his viewers. But perhaps most simply, I genuinely felt inspired to talk about Inside. It’s funny how for the past year, I felt my reviews contributed nothing of significance to the general public during a pandemic, an election, and a racial and cultural reckoning that’s been long overdue. I still don’t, but I at least understand a lot of what is being explored in this film, and I think that’s worth talking about. 

When Inside opens up, we see Bo’s younger self walk into his apartment, which is surprisingly a seamless transition from the ending of his last comedy special Make Happy five years ago. After the title screen, we see a gradual progression from the pale, baby-faced Bo we’re used to seeing into his older, bearded, lethargic self that sings about how exhausting menial tasks such as getting up and sitting down have become for him. Then in his first musical number “Comedy,” he reflects on how pointless joking seems in a time like this to the sounds of artificial laughter echoing in the background. His first words feel the most helpless: “I wanna help to leave this world better than I found it, and I fear that comedy won’t help, and the fear is not unfounded.” 

It’s not even five minutes into the special, and we’re already fully immersed into the sentiment of what it was like living through 2020. The rest of the film is like that, observing deep social issues through the personalized lens of one guy locked inside his room for a full year. I think it’s funny how many films released last year tried to cheaply cash in on the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it was unbearable romantic comedies like Locked Down or the grossly manipulative horror film Songbird. Yet with Inside, Bo beautifully portrays what it was like living through 2020 better than any other film has so far.  

It’s hard to know where to start with Inside, because so much of it is just so clever, ingenious, and original. Obviously, one of Bo’s most distinguishable elements as an artist is his music, which has always been equal parts funny, catchy, memorable, insightful, and incredibly entertaining. But while his quirky piano melodies and clever lyrics have always been his strongest suit as a performer, Bo is operating on a whole other level with Inside. He experiments and toys with multiple musical styles and genres throughout the film, whether it’s with the jazzy pizzaz of “Unpaid Intern,” the ’80s workout tunes of “Problematic,” or the folksy guitar strums of “That Funny Feeling.” Musically speaking, Bo is at his most versatile here and has never been better. 

But it isn’t just his musical styles that stand out: his lyrics are equally mature, oddballish, and incredibly thought-provoking. In the innocent, adolescent sounds of “How The World Works,” Bo dispels of societal misconceptions with the help of a sock puppet facing an existential crisis, while in “30” he laments on growing older and becoming the quote-unquote “boomer” that he used to make fun of. One of the very best songs in the film is “Welcome To The Internet,” where he parodies the internet in a performance that can only be described as a millennial James Bond villain and monologues how he aims to take over every intimate, personal, chaotic moment of your whole life. The most eerie and sinister line comes in the chorus, where Bo asks “Could I interest you in everything all of the time?” 

Surprisingly one of the most standout elements of this special is the visuals. I know, I know, a film shot entirely in one room over the course of a year doesn’t sound like it would be that eye-catching. But Bo makes excellent use of the space he’s confined to, composing captivating, sharp, and visually stimulating shots more so than even some filmmakers do on big-budget movie sets. During “FaceTiming With My Mom,” the dark blue hues of his room nicely complement the isolated feeling of being locked inside as the framing shrinks to the 16:9 ratio resembling a smartphone. Meanwhile in “Problematic,” the saturated oranges and reds shine vibrantly like a workout video, with a sweaty Bo riding on an exercise bike asking his viewers to “hold him accountable.” 

The most visually impressive sequence lies in “White Woman’s Instagram,” where he hilariously parodies social media tropes inside of the 360:360 squares you’d normally see on Instagram. Not only is the song funny enough on its own, but the images and shots you see here accurately recreate some of the same photos you might see on Instagram. I’m not even kidding. Whether it’s latte foam art, an avocado, or a stunning light display, every image he captures could be pulled from the film and published on Instagram, and nobody would question it. It is that distinct and on-point. 

All of these elements make Inside an entertaining comedy special, but not necessarily a unique one. What truly makes Inside stand out is its tone and emotional complexity. Throughout the picture, Bo visibly struggles with his isolation, anxiety, and depression, and this is further emphasized in the mood between cuts. During the musical numbers, the room is brightly lit up, the colors and their hues are shimmering and shining, and Bo seems genuinely happy, or at least entertained, while playing his piano and singing. But in between the music and skits, Bo is noticeably more solemn, somber, and sluggish: like it’s a challenge for him to even breathe sometimes.

I’ve seen this type of behavior before in myself last year. Whenever I was on Zoom calls, hopping onto daily FaceTime sessions, talking on the phone, or filming in front of my camera, my room and face was lit up with the same vibrancy and life that was on Bo’s. But whenever the cameras were shut off and I sat in my dark room scrolling through Twitter or Facebook, I felt a tightening around my chest like the world was closing in around me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I feel like many people experienced this sensation last year, and Bo brilliantly recaptures the essence of that emotion with stunning detail… quite possibly because he went through that too.

The film’s most powerful moments come in the lead up to his second to last single “All Eyes On Me,” where Bo collapses into tears as he experiences a full-on mental and emotional meltdown. During the song, Bo asks us to pray for him in a mesmerizing symphony of sorrow, where he reveals he had struggled with panic attacks his whole life and was just getting better right before the pandemic hit last year. Again, I relate way too closely with this. Not only have I suffered from my own panic attacks as well, but I was just getting serious about seeking professional help last year before the pandemic shut everything down. The last verse most captures my emotional state last year: “You say the whole world’s ending? Honey, it already did.” 

Finally in his last single “Goodbye,” Bo reflects on how much he’s changed over the last year and how he can never go back to who he once was. As I saw his younger, friendlier, familiar face fade into the grimy, unkempt appearance of a man as emotionally drained as he was exhausted, I cried as if I was saying goodbye to a dearly beloved friend I had known my entire life. I feel like in a way, Bo was saying goodbye to his old self in the song as he comes to realize he’s now a different person at the end of it all. Truthfully, the same thing happened to me last year too. I doubt any of us came out of 2020 being the same person we were at the beginning of it.

And throughout the whole special, you’re rooting for Bo to step outside, just once: to have the sun shining on his face, free from that crummy, dark, claustrophobic room, just trying to live his life one day — one breath — at a time. I am going to spoil it for you by saying he never does go outside. Instead, there’s a filmed bit where he steps outside to a spotlight shining on him and the sounds of applause cheering for him, but when he tries to go back inside, he panics when he discovers that he’s locked out while the audience laughs at him and his misery. The final shot is him watching this scene from his projector, and while the audience is laughing, he lets out a small smile from the corner of his mouth. 

For some reason, I find this ending to be a much more fitting, much more powerful ending for the film rather than some melodramatic conclusion where he epically flings the door open and leaves his room forever. And the reason why is because it completely fits his character and where he is at by the end of the film. Throughout the picture, Bo struggles with his identity, his self-worth, and how he sees himself. After all, when the world is on literal fire outside of your home, how small and insignificant must you and your struggles feel compared to all of the misery and suffering going on outside of the world? But by the end of the film, Bo has come closer to a place of acceptance and self-realization. While there are things about himself he may never like and he may never get over, he has grown to be more comfortable — more aware — of himself, so much so that he can even utter out a small laugh at himself and not feel insecure for doing so. 

To me, that’s more encouraging and sincere than a theatrical, over-the-top Hollywood ending ever could be. That shows growth. That shows progress. That shows hope that not only one day Bo may be truly comfortable with himself, but that he can one day maybe live his life free of the anxiety and panic that has plagued him for so long. Hope that one day, he may be able to step outside and not be afraid of doing so. 

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , ,

Lost In The World

“I don’t like my mind right now. Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary. I wish that I could slow things down. I wanna let go, but there’s comfort in the panic.”

– Chester Bennington

First of all, I wanted to thank my readers for sticking with this website for as long as you have. Since 2013, I’ve been writing reviews on this website because I love talking about the movies and sharing my experiences with others. It has never been easy for me to connect with people on a personal level, and the movies have always helped me break through some of those social barriers I’ve always had. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for following me and for always being interested in my opinions on the movies. Your support is what has kept me going all of these years.

Secondly, I want to apologize for all of the inactivity you’ve seen on my website for the past year. Since the pandemic hit in March last year (God, it feels so good to refer to 2020 as “last year”), I was under the impression that I would be able to publish content on my website like never before. For once in a rare occasion, I was not bound by the release schedules of new movies coming out or the cycling of unwanted sequels, remakes, and reboots pouring into movie theaters. I had even more freedom to watch and review whatever I wanted from home. A smarter critic, or a more stable one, would have leapt at the opportunity to invest in themself and their portfolio.

I began with a decent-ish start. I reviewed one of the best movies released last decade, a Spanish film by Alfonso Cuaron called Roma, revisited The Invisible Man and Sonic The Hedgehog, finally got to review the emotionally-stirring Spike Lee epic Malcolm X, and even got to follow up on his newest release Da 5 Bloods. And just last month, I got to write a spoiler-filled review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Man, that was fun.

I reviewed a few films throughout the year, but nowhere near as many as I wanted to. There were way more films I watched last year that I couldn’t review, among them including Onward, The King of Staten Island, The Devil All The Time, Tenet, The Outpost, The Social Dilemma, John Lewis: Good Trouble, and The Trial Of The Chicago 7, which I labeled my favorite film of 2020.

And when I say that I couldn’t review them, I really do mean that I couldn’t review them. I’ve struggled with writer’s block in the past, whether I’m writing for my own website or for publications outside of it, but 2020 delivered writer’s block like I’ve never dealt with before. I don’t even know what caused it. Maybe I wasn’t feeling inspired. Maybe I felt intimidated by the blank page in front of me. Or maybe I was just tired. God knows 2020 gave me more than a few reasons to feel that way.

This is a strange sensation I feel, and it makes me feel trapped in a way I have never experienced before. In past years, no matter what I was going through, I could always turn to the movies to help me escape from my own reality and immerse myself into another’s. No matter whether I was dealing with issues in my academics or jobs, a dramatic breakup, anxiety attacks, or the death of my grandmother, the movies were always there to help me break away from my own experiences and empathize with someone else’s. Having the privilege to experience that and share that with others is easily one of the greatest gifts I have ever had. No feeling comes close to connecting to someone else through your words and your shared experience in the theater together.

2020 sullied that experience for me for a number of reasons. For one thing, the shut down of movie theaters affected me much more than I expected it to. Whenever theaters closed and everyone stayed cooped up at home, I thought the movie-watching experience would just be a change of scenery. I was grossly mistaken. The theater has another level of immersion to it — the lights dimming, the stereo sound swelling up around you, the screen lighting up in bright and vivid colors as the music crescendoed into its first dramatic note. Whenever you’re in the movie theater, you’re genuinely immersed into the film, its characters, and the story that they go through. It doesn’t become just a movie at that point: it unfolds with a life of its own.

But at home on my couch, you notice that life, that vibrancy, is diminished. Not gone by any means, but diluted into a smaller experience. You notice how the TV screen captures fewer details of the film on it, the sound on the speakers not popping with the same impact, the plumbing and the pipes making sounds around you, your neighbors yelling next door, and the kids shouting outside while they’re playing. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m abundantly grateful we were even able to stream movies at all from home this year. If I had to pick between streaming and not having movies, I’m picking streaming no questions asked. Regardless, there’s no denying that streaming is a different experience from watching movies in a theater. It’s like going from an amazing four-course meal at a luxurious steakhouse to eating at Red Lobster.

Also, different platforms limit access to some of these movies for families that have one streaming service or another. For instance, Soul and the live-action Mulan remake streamed exclusively on Disney+, while Wonder Woman 1984 is on HBO Max. Da 5 Bloods, The Outpost, and The Devil All The Time, meanwhile, were all streaming exclusively on Netflix, and subscription cancellations surged eight times since that whole Cuties fiasco earlier last year. Can you imagine how pointless it would have been to review The Trial of the Chicago 7 a month after several hundred people canceled their subscriptions and can’t even watch the damn thing?

That’s not even getting into the myriad of other horrible, horrible issues the nation was dealing with, including thousands dying from the dreaded pandemic, record unemployment numbers, an economic recession, millions of evictions, food banks under crisis, ongoing cases of police brutality, the resulting protests and riots, and a hotly-contested presidential election where people to this day still refuse to acknowledge that Donald Trump lost and would rather believe in illogical conspiracy theories alleging the election was rigged. Seriously, out of the thousands of issues plaguing this year, who honestly gives a rat’s ass what score a snobby movie critic gave a film on RottenTomatoes?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that 2020 discouraged me in a way I had not experienced before — in a way to where it froze my muscles, wiped my mind blank, and erased the words I was ready to pour out onto the page. That hurts. More than anything else from that crummy, crummy year, being unable to express myself through my reviews was a loss I’ve experienced unlike no other this year. It’s robbed me in ways I didn’t even think I could be robbed.

Now please don’t get me wrong — I understand just how much of a first-world problem this is, especially during a pandemic. If I had to pick between being sick with COVID-19, being unemployed, evicted, homeless, or hit a creative dead zone, I would pick the situation I currently am in now. I’m not a fool. I know without a doubt that circumstances could be worse, and indeed, they may even be down the road. But nevertheless, I’ve lost an important piece of myself in 2020. Coming to that realization is a pain I hope few have to experience.

What does this mean for me and my website going forward? I’m not quite sure. With movie theaters reopening and more and more people getting vaccinated, some people are letting their guard down thinking life is returning back to normal. I for one am not as confident. Although I am fully vaccinated, 60% of the country is still unvaccinated, while in Texas it’s 65%. I’d feel terrible if someone caught COVID-19 from going to see a movie I recommended, or even worse, died from it. Either way, I don’t feel comfortable resuming my movie reviewing like everything is all normal again, because the truth is it isn’t. Not even close.

Besides, I feel like 2021 needs to be more about myself than it needs to be about my portfolio. I need to re-discover my love of writing, invest in my physical and mental health, and re-learn to appreciate movies on their own terms rather than trying to hyper-analyze them all the time. Writing is not my job: it is my passion, and it needs to stay that way. Because of this, I feel like the healthiest thing for me to do at this point is to step away from my website and focus on more urgent priorities that require my attention at the moment.

Understand that this doesn’t mean I am quitting publishing altogether. You’ll still see my byline in Southlake Style magazine and The Waxahachie Sun, and maybe even a video or two on my YouTube page. And a few months down the road if everything truly does go back to normal, maybe I’ll start regularly posting on this website again. Until then, I feel like I need to take the pressure off of posting on here and prioritize myself and my emotional health. It’s something I’ve put off for a long time now and I’ve finally reached a point to where I can no longer ignore it.

Thank you so much for understanding dear reader, and thank you as always for keeping up with me and supporting my website. I’ll be back as soon as I am able, and whenever that happens, I look forward to sharing the cinematic experience with you as I always have.

See you all at the movies.

– David

Tagged , , , ,

Seth Rogan Is Producing A New Animated TMNT Movie

After several years of being stuck in a half-shell rut, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are coming back to the big screen, this time returning to their animated roots.

This news comes from comedian Seth Rogan’s Twitter account, who confirmed earlier today that he will be producing the new animated reboot alongside his frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg. Not only that, but the film will also be directed by Jeff Rowe, who recently co-wrote and directed The Mitchells v.s. The Machines for Netflix.

By the way, if you haven’t watched that movie yet, you totally should. Easily one of the best animated films of the year so far, if not films period.

After two incredibly underwhelming live-action adaptations (with Megan Fox unfortunately starring in both of them), I’m very much looking forward to another TMNT cinematic reboot, especially in the poppy comic-book art styles of The Mitchells v.s. The Machines and Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse. The Turtles have always lent themselves better to animation than it has with live-action anyway, whether it was in the 2003 animated series, the first TMNT animated film in 2007, or the Batman/TMNT crossover in 2019. The potential for this new animated movie is limitless, and regardless of however good it ends up being, I think we can rest confidently knowing that this new movie will be better produced than those two Michael Bay-driven slodgefests we suffered through a few years ago.

I do wonder what the plot is and who the main villain will be. I hope that, unlike TMNT, the Shredder will be the main villain, and done better than he was in both of his recent live-action appearances. I also hope that Seth Rogan will be voicing Mikey, as I think he has the voice and the sense of humor to pull off such a chaotic, hilarious role. If he doesn’t end up voicing Mikey, that will be a huge, huge, huge missed opportunity (and quite honestly, I’m surprised he hasn’t yet voiced Mikey in the recent live-action movies either. But I’m glad he didn’t because his name didn’t have to get dragged into the mud along with Michael Bay’s).

And to top it all off, Jeff Rowe is directing, and this perhaps has me the most excited. While his career is relatively short, his debut with The Mitchells v.s. The Machines was a fantastic one and helped deliver wacky, hilarious, and heartfelt fun to the film’s unusual premise. Plus the guy has written several episodes of “Disenchantment” and “Gravity Falls,” and I love both of those shows. Either way, there’s a lot of talent behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ newest reboot, and I am all here for it.

The new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie will hit theaters in August 2023.

– David

SOURCE: Twitter, Variety

Why I Left The Republican Party

Leah Millis/Reuters

I’ve debated for a long time whether or not I wanted to write this piece. After the four-year nightmare of the last administration, a heavily contested presidential election, and an insurrection that killed five people and threatened our democracy, I needed to step away from politics for a minute to take care of myself and give myself the mental and emotional break that I needed. But after toiling the past few years in my head the last few months, I can no longer be silent. I have to express myself freely here, even if it is just for my own sake.

The first time I became interested in American politics was during the 2008 presidential elections. Back then I identified as a constitutional conservative, and I was rooting for John McCain to win the presidency. There were many reasons why I identified as a conservative back then. For one thing, most of my favorite presidents were all Republicans, including my number one favorite president Abraham Lincoln. For another thing, the Republican Party had a long history of promoting liberty and fighting oppression, and I was especially disgusted by the Southern Democrats’ sordid history with slavery. And for another more simple reason, I just agreed with their platform more. Whether it was regarding free trade, taxes, supporting the police and military, and general social causes, I more closely aligned with Republican policies and thought it led to a stronger nation more than the Democrats’ identity-driven politics did.

But more than anything else to me, the Republicans genuinely seemed to be more interested in free speech and open debate with others they disagreed with, while the Democrats were more inclined to bullying and mocking their political opponents just because they thought differently than they did. I found that kind of repression and belittling to be disrespectful and pointless. If you’re trying to convince me of your argument, you’re never going to get there by calling me names or by treating me with hostility. That’s a piss-poor way to get me to like you, let alone to try and understand your viewpoint.

I genuinely believed all of this in my heart of hearts until Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination in 2016. To me, there was no part of him that behaved like a true conservative, even less so a president. For one thing, I found his policies to be egregious and excessive even by conservative standards. While we needed border security, I thought the wall was a stupid and wasteful idea and there were better ways to protect our country than by building a giant brick that immigrants could either swim, dig, walk, or climb their way around. I also knew that Mexico was not in a million, billion years going to pay for it, and people who genuinely believed that were either foolish, willfully ignorant, or quite possibly both. His flip-flopping on the issues was also quite concerning, as he couldn’t clearly dictate whether he was pro-choice or pro-life, would accept refugees or deport them all, or protect LGBT communities or discriminate against them. Hell, he even struggled with accepting or rejecting endorsements from the KKK. At least with Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein, you knew where they stood on the issues and could confidently vote for or against them. Donald Trump was more inconsistent than Paul Ryan, and that’s saying something.

But the worst part of his campaign to me was his conduct. From encouraging violence at his rallies to blatantly disrespecting war heroes to mocking a disabled reporter to the thousands of disparaging remarks he’s made about women, including in the now-infamous Billy Bush tape, there was no part of Donald Trump that embodied the decency and the respect that I believed Republicans were capable of. I thought Democrats could be rude and condescending, but Donald Trump was so rotten to the core that he pushed me away from the Republican Party and made me even consider voting for Clinton. In the end I didn’t vote for either major party candidate because, in my view, neither of them deserved the presidency. I still question whether or not that was the right decision to make.

Against all of my better wishes, Donald Trump won the election and became president. And unbelievably enough, I had hope for his presidency. I had thought that imbued with the high power and responsibility of the Oval Office, he would elevate himself to the White House’s standards and be the president that all of America needed. I vastly overestimated his capabilities. From his lies to his racist dog whistles to his multiple emolument violations to his two impeachments to his draconian immigration policies to his inhumane and heartless family separations to his shitty, shitty, SHITTY response to the coronavirus, there was no bottom for how low Donald Trump and his presidency could sink. It’s like he dug himself a 6-foot grave and then kept digging, and digging, and digging, digging, digging, digging, digging, digging, digging, and digging until he popped his Oompa Loompa face out on the other end of the Earth and emerged from China (or Chiy-nah, as the former president likes to pronounce it).

But to me, all of that wasn’t even the worst part of his presidency. Not even close. Because at every turn, at every tweet, at every stupid, cruel, and incompetent decision he made, at every jab at his critics, at every broken precedent, at every disrespectful swipe at his constituents, at every racist, sexist, homophobic statement, at every spit in the face to our constitution and our union, Republicans stood by Donald Trump, defended him, and absolved him of any responsibility or accountability. It’s one thing to support a particular policy a president supports and advocates for. It’s another thing entirely to enable bad, abhorrent behavior and spoon-feed excuses to the baby-in-chief year after year after year after year. It’s like they jumped into the 60-foot grave with the disgraced ex-president and happily started digging along with him. 

When Donald Trump obstructed an FBI investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russia at least 10 times, Republicans supported him by saying the investigation was purely political, despite the fact they all supported a lengthy investigation into Benghazi that resulted in zero arrests or convictions.

When Donald Trump attempted to cancel DACA and jeopardized over 800,000 Dreamers’ lives, Republicans defended it as “good politics” and used it as a scapegoat to try and build the wall.

When Donald Trump was accused of sexual assault by 25 different women, Republicans tried to switch the conversation to Joe Biden’s eight allegations while simultaneously dismissing all of Trump’s accusers as liars and political opportunists.

When Donald Trump separated over 5,000 families and deported over 500 children’s parents, Republicans blamed the Obama administration despite the fact that it wasn’t their policy and that we have seen the attorney general’s memorandum to prove it.

When Donald Trump shut down the government three times due to his own ignorance and refusal to work with Congress, Republicans blamed their Democratic peers despite their numerous attempts towards bipartisan solutions.

When Donald Trump called Africa and Haiti “shithole countries,” compared immigrants to animals, quoted segregationist George Wallace, told four congresswomen of color to go back “from which they came,” and said there were good people “on both sides” of Charlottesville, Republicans argued he was taken out of context and didn’t say those things that he did.

And when Donald Trump’s clumsy, incompetent, idiotic response to COVID-19 cost us over 584,000 lives and counting, Republicans deflected to Obama’s epidemic responses despite the fact that Donald Trump lost 46 times more lives in one pandemic than Obama did in four epidemics.

For me, there was no last straw when it came to Donald Trump’s Republican Party. It was more like they dumped the wheelbarrow of all of its straws, set it on fire, then ripped the wood from the barrow and threw it into the fire to keep it burning. Then they detached the wheels and handles and burned that shit too before they threw the bolts in as well. But if I had to pick a last flaming disaster when it came to Donald Trump and his Trumplicans, it would have to be the 2020 election and their subsequent response to it.

Because if you paid attention to Donald Trump’s rhetoric, behavior, and actions at all over the last six years, none of what happened with the 2020 election’s outcome came as a surprise to anyone. Everything, from Trump’s refusal to concede, to whining that the election was stolen from him, to claiming without proof that the Democrats cheated, to demanding that Republicans overturn the election to launching a God-damned attack on the Capitol, all of it is in line with who he is and how he behaves. And that is, in a few words, childish, immature, repulsive, sickening, and deplorable.

What is surprising is how many Republicans supported his efforts to overturn the election — indeed, continued to support him even after his supporters attacked the Capitol. Shortly after the attack had ended, 147 Republicans voted to overturn the election and the will of the American people. After the certification of the votes, 240 Republicans voted not to convict Trump for inciting a riot onto the Capitol despite all of their empty condemnations of his behavior. Around 45 percent of them then said they supported the Jan. 6 insurrection, voted to oust Rep. Liz Cheney for refusing to say the election was stolen, and then voted against creating a commission to investigate the facts surrounding the attempted coup. Indeed, if Donald Trump were to announce his run for the 2024 GQP nomination today, 66 percent of these idiots would support him again despite everything he did to try and usurp our democracy. That’s how beyond decency, reasoning, and common sense most of these Congressional Republicans have become.

I don’t know what changed with the Republican Party. I genuinely don’t. I don’t know how they’ve gone from resisting tyrants during our country’s founding to now suddenly worshipping one in their own party. I don’t know how they’ve gone from advocating for limited government to now being perfectly okay with authoritarian government as long as it fits their agenda. I don’t know how they go from supporting legal immigration to criminalizing it, from saying all lives matter to only some lives matter, from claiming to be pro-life to suddenly not giving a rat’s ass about other lives the minute they leave the womb. I don’t recognize this party at all from the one I grew up with. More terrifyingly, I wonder if it ever existed at all or if I was fooled into thinking it was ever anything other than what it actually is.

To me, the modern-day Republican Party is not one of fiscal responsibility, limited government, legal immigration, liberty, independence, free speech, pro-life, or even “family” values. It is the party of embracing lies and conspiracy theories over truth and reality. It is the party of making the rich richer and the poor poorer. It is the party that celebrates cruelty and isolationism over unity and progress. It is the party of intolerance that will bully you and yell “fuck your feelings” if your views don’t line up 100% with theirs. It is the party of hypocrisy and double standards that will hold their political opponents to the strictest standards while simultaneously giving themselves a free pass on breaking every precedent in the book. It is the party that cares when Bill Clinton gets a blow job but doesn’t even bat an eye when Donald Trump obstructs multiple investigations, tries to overturn an election, and incites an attack on the Capitol.

That is why I no longer identify as a Republican or as a conservative. Today’s Republican Party does not stand for American values, if they ever stood for them at all. They only stand for Donald Trump and their own reelection prospects. At this point, I not only refuse to support or endorse any Republicans in future elections: I actively advocate that the modern-day Republican structure needs to be torn down brick by brick until only moderates and Never-Trumpers are left. Anything less than complete and utter obscurity for them will continue to threaten our nation now and into the future.

To be clear here, I have not abandoned all conservative beliefs entirely. I still believe that capitalism is a healthier economic model than socialism is, I’m still a full supporter of the second amendment, and more than anything else, I still believe in the importance of free speech and expression. And if Republicans behaved differently over the last few years and refused to exalt one man over our country, our constitution, and our union, then maybe I wouldn’t feel as strongly about them as I do today. But the modern-day Republican Party no longer represents decency, civility, or indeed anything resembling even an inkling of bipartisanship, if it ever did at all. Instead of reinforcing moderates like Liz Cheney, Justin Amash, and Mitt Romney, the Republican Party instead celebrates the far-right conspiracies of Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Marjor-Pain-In-The-Ass Taylor Greene. I refuse to entertain or consider a party that won’t hold its more radical members accountable for their own actions. That is not a political party at work there. That is a cult.

I have one last thing I’d like to say before I wrap this up. Years ago when Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination, I was concerned that he would poison and pollute how people see the conservative movement — that he would harm the Republicans’ image and he would poorly represent the party. Now he has become the perfect representation for what it is today, and that saddens me more than anything I can even express.

I used to be afraid that Donald Trump would destroy the Republican Party. Now I’m afraid that he didn’t.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , ,

Snyderfest 2021

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

Spoiler warning ahead for Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League.’ Seriously. You’ve been warned.

Can a filmmaker’s vision be fully translated to the big screen 100%? When their final product is released in theaters, are we watching their vision as originally intended, or are we watching an amalgamation of the director’s vision, the studio’s stipulations, and the fans’ expectations all at once? In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, we face an unusual circumstance where all three converge into one without interfering with the other. The result is a groundbreaking four-hour epic that challenges the very fabric of what superhero movies are and what they can be. It’s safe to say that there is no other film quite like it out there, and it’s highly likely there will never be another one like it in the future, unless Warner Bros. decides to come out with a six-hour cut of Justice League 2 or something.

If any film has ever had a troubling production, it was Justice League. Before the movie was even released in 2017, Zack Snyder suddenly exited the film halfway through production and Avengers director Joss Whedon was hired to finish rewrites and post-production in his place. The reasons for Zack’s sudden departure are still heavily up to speculation. Some say Warner Bros. was dissatisfied with Snyder’s intentions and forced him out to go in a different direction. Others feel that Snyder left due to his daughter Autumn committing suicide. More likely than not, Zack’s reasonings for leaving were probably a combination of all of his problems, both personal and professional.

Either way, Joss Whedon ended up rewriting and reshooting a good chunk of the film, ending up with what viewers call The Joss-tice League. And surprisingly enough, it ended up being just as bad as Batman V. Superman was. The colorization was way too bright, the tone was jarring and did not flow well at all, this awkward humor persisted throughout the movie, and Zack Snyder’s grounded and edgy tone seriously clashed with Joss Whedon’s fun and light-heartedness.

Say what you will about Batman V. Superman (and there is plenty to say about it): at least you can say it is one man’s whole and complete vision of what he thought a Batman and Superman movie was supposed to be. The theatrical cut of Justice League didn’t even feel like a movie: it felt like a strangely amalgamated Frankenstein’s monster of four different movies crammed into one. Nobody knew what it was supposed to be, let alone how we were supposed to feel about it. So yes, while Batman V. Superman and Justice League are both failures, at least Zack Snyder owned both his strengths and shortcomings with Batman V. Superman. You didn’t know who to blame for Justice League’s outcome, and that was the worst part of it all: it didn’t feel like it really belonged to anyone.

So when news came out that some of Zack Snyder’s original footage was still out there and just needed to be edited together, fans rallied around the director demanding that Warner Bros. #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. And I’ll be honest, whenever that news originally came out, I thought it was nonsense. After all, filmmakers’ passion projects go unfulfilled all the time, from Guillermo Del Toro’s At The Mountains Of Madness to Martin Scorsese’s Frank Sinatra. Zack Snyder’s situation wasn’t particularly unique, so why would he get the chance to remake his own movie when so many other filmmakers were never afforded their own chance?

Well never underestimate the power of the fans. After Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, and Ray Fisher also came out in support of the so-called “Snyder Cut,” Warner Bros. finally caved in and provided an additional $70 million to fund Zack Snyder’s original vision of the movie. The result is a four-hour film split up into six parts, and whatever you were expecting, I guarantee you that it’s better.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

The film starts in an eerie and ominous tone, quite different from the innocent cell phone footage of Henry Cavill’s CGI mustache in the theatrical cut. After Doomsday kills Superman at the end of Batman V. Superman, Superman’s final breath sends out a shockwave across the universe, illuminating everyone that, as Lex Luthor puts it, “the God is dead.” This is already a much better opening than the theatrical cut because it sets the tone of what to expect from the movie. While the original opening of Superman talking to these kids was clunky and hokey, this opener is much darker and foreshadows what’s coming to the planet. It’s a fantastic reintroduction and it really informs the audience why Batman (Ben Affleck) feels the need to assemble a team in Superman’s place.

There are other noticeable changes to other character’s intros too. Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) vanishes into the sea like Batman vanishes into the night, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) rams through terrorists in London like she’s Supergirl, Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is given a lengthy backstory into how he became a metahuman, and Flash (Ezra Miller) hilariously saves some girl from a truck collision while simultaneously scoring a job as a dog walker. They’re funny, dramatic, intriguing, and sometimes heartfelt introductions that really set up who these characters are and who they’re supposed to be. While I missed a few of the scenes from the original cut here or there, most of these reintroductions are an improvement over the theatrical cut.

At last, we are reintroduced to the film’s big baddie Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) as he arrives in Themyscira to steal one of the sacred Mother Boxes from the Amazons. In my original review, I pointed out how badly Steppenwolf was originally developed, both in his character and his visual effects. He looked like an awful Playstation 3 boss that you had to fight, and his character was about as fleshed out, serving as a carbon step-in for the big baddie we really wanted to see (more on that later). Here, he stands on his own not as a smirking villain, but as a vicious bull powering through his enemies like he’s seeing red. He hacks Amazons and Atlanteans left and right with his battle axe, he throws horses like he’s tipping cows over, and when he’s shot with arrows, his armor snaps them off like a snake shedding its skin. It’s such a great reintroduction for the character, and unlike his original debut, he has an actual presence that you can feel and are more fearful of. The fact that this mammoth answers to an even bigger threat makes him all the more terrifying.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

One of the biggest changes between the theatrical cut and the Snyder cut is the inclusion of Darkseid (Ray Porter), Steppenwolf’s master and ruler of Apokolips. While his role in this new cut is minor and Darkseid doesn’t have many lines, he is a prominent, powerful presence that chills you to the bone. His first appearance is in the flashback where his armada fights the old Gods on Earth, a role Steppenwolf originally fulfilled in the theatrical cut. The fight is so brutal, violent, and unflinching that it felt like you were watching one of the epic battles in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. His other appearances throughout the film are just as terrifying, whether he’s giving a cold-blooded speech to Steppenwolf, destroying the world in a Knightmare vision, or just eerily staring at our heroes through a portal to Apokolips. The last line he says in the movie is the most chilling: “Ready the Armada. We will use the old ways.” The flashback sequences already show us what the “old ways” are, and they aren’t pretty.

By the time we reach the halfway point, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and the Flash just came together to fight Steppenwolf for the first time beneath Gotham Harbor. And surprisingly enough, this is one of the few scenes that I felt was done better in the theatrical cut. For one thing, Flash is much more confident in the Snyder cut, whereas in the theatrical release he questioned himself and was much more hesitant to fight. That was when Batman stepped in and told him to save one person, and when Flash asks what then, Batman responds “You’ll know.” It’s a great exchange and a great character-building moment for both of these heroes. Unfortunately, Snyder decided to cut that out in exchange for more action. I’m happy to watch it, but it just feels less fulfilling than the theatrical cut did.

Also, the scene on a technical level just has some weird changes that doesn’t make sense. When Cyborg enters Batman’s Knightcrawler, the theatrical cut presents him in clear view, while the Snyder cut obscures his appearance through a broken windshield. Even if that is his view, wouldn’t it be more clear to cut to his perspective inside the cockpit rather than outside of it? Also when Flash speeds up and taps Wonder Woman’s sword to her in slow motion, he did that in the theatrical cut because she was being attacked by Parademons, whereas in the Snyder Cut he’s doing it just because she’s falling. That was a strange omission from Snyder because the theatrical cut showed there was a purpose for tossing her the sword, while in the Snyder cut it was just unnecessarily for the sake of style.

But then we come back at the Batcave, and yet another scene is performed better in the Snyder cut: resurrecting Superman. While in the theatrical cut the decision to resurrect Superman felt forced, the decision here feels much more weighty and consequential, like the heroes are playing fire with forces they barely understand. And even right before Superman is resurrected, Cyborg gets a startling vision of a future that might come to pass from Superman’s resurrection. Wonder Woman is dead. Darkseid murders Aquaman in Atlantis. Superman grasps onto Lois’ charred body. And after Darkseid gently places his hand on his shoulder, Superman can be seen hovering over a crumbled Justice Hall as Darkseid’s armies siphon the Earth. It is a chilling moment and provides a dark connotation to a moment we were expecting to be uplifting from the movie.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

And surprisingly, everything surrounding Superman’s arc is done beautifully in the film. From his death, to Lois and Martha’s grief, to his resurrection, to fighting the Justice League, to revisiting his family farm, to re-embracing his Kryptonian heritage, everything regarding Superman’s return felt monumental and meaningful. I was surprised by this, because the death and return of Superman is actually one of my most hated arcs in the comic books, even more so in Batman V. Superman. Here his return feels like a new tomorrow: a coming of hope the heroes weren’t expecting but so desperately needed. Again, a creative decision that felt incredibly underwhelming in the original cut is breathed with new life in this version.

Cyborg’s dad Silas (Joe Morton) dies in Zack Snyder’s version, and to be honest I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I like Whedon’s version how he’s alive at the end and he and his son make amends and work towards rebuilding their relationship together. The ending even pays homage to Cyborg’s traditional look in the comics, and you know I always love a good Easter egg. On the other hand, I do like how it adds to Cyborg’s tragic arc in the film and emphasizes just how much he’s lost in his life. In truth, both versions work well and neither one is done poorly. I think it just comes down to personal preference depending on which ending you like more.

We then arrive at the film’s climax, and holeeeee crap are the stakes raised. Batman is shredding through Parademons, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are fighting Steppenwolf, Flash is building up speed, Superman pops in out of nowhere to lay the literal smackdown against Steppenwolf, and Cyborg is connecting to the Mother Boxes desperately trying to stop them from unifying. But close to the film’s finale, something unexpected happens. The Mother Boxes unify, they incinerate the planet, and Darkseid portals to Earth. The Justice League loses.

And then, right before everything is lost and the Earth is destroyed, Flash runs beyond the speed of light, reverses time, and stops the Mother Boxes from unifying. Flash literally undoes their loss. He saves the world.

I love this sequence for a number of reasons. For one thing, the score by Junkie XL is epic and moving and really swells into the emotion of the moment. For another, Ezra Miller’s performance is phenomenal and he does a great job showing off his dramatic chops aside from his usual comical lines. But one of the things I love most about this sequence was just how unexpected it was. It’s so rare for a superhero movie to show our heroes losing, even rarer to have one of them undoing that loss mere seconds later. It was such a cinematic moment, and eons better from having Flash save one family before awkwardly muttering “Dostoyevsky” in the theatrical cut.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

Finally after Cyborg separates the Mother Boxes in an emotionally moving moment where he acknowledges that he is neither broken nor alone, Aquaman, Superman, and Wonder Woman unite to give Steppenwolf a much-deserved decapitation. Then the film wraps up mostly in the same way the original did: with the heroes going their separate ways, having their own adventures, only uniting at the Justice Hall when they are needed.

Interestingly enough, the film’s weakest moments come in its last hour, which doesn’t behave so much like it’s part of the movie as much as it is additional content included under the DVD extras. The brief exchange between Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) and Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) has a few different lines in it. The Knightmare sequence, while more ominous and forbearing than it previously was in Batman V. Superman, is equally irrelevant (although I did like Jared Leto’s return as Joker quite a bit).

The jarring inclusion of Martian Manhunter (Colin Powell) is the most perplexing. He appears twice in this movie, and in both scenes he feels like he doesn’t belong in either of them. In his first appearance, he’s masquerading as Martha Kent (Diane Lane) while having a heart-to-heart with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) about Clark’s death. This was a very human moment — one of the best in the film — and it did a great job talking about loss, grief, and the importance of moving on. Having such a raw and real moment interrupted by an alien shapeshifting from Martha was so out of place and robbed the scene of whatever sincerity it had. Did it ruin the moment? I don’t think so, because regardless of the would-be Martha, the words still meant something to Lois anyway. But it does change the implication of the dialogue, and that bothers me more.

In the second scene, Martian Manhunter appears on Bruce’s balcony warning him of Darkseid’s arrival, but Bruce’s reaction is so underwhelming that it feels less like he’s reacting to meeting an alien and more like he’s annoyed that some homeless guy walked up onto his house unannounced. His nonchalant “Can I help you?” feels so casual that it sounds like somebody is asking him for directions rather than warning him that the literal planet is at stake.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

Overall if I had to describe Zack Snyder’s Justice League in one word, it would be “self-indulgent.” It’s indulgent in its action, it’s indulgent in its characters, it’s indulgent in its visual effects, its comic book lore and universe, and more than anything else, it’s overly indulgent in Zack Snyder’s vision of these characters and how they’re supposed to be. Then again though, maybe what this movie needed was a little more indulgence. While Warner Bros. and Joss Whedon were strictly thinking about the commercial landscape, Zack Snyder’s Justice League genuinely feels like a labor of love and deep fulfillment of a dream he’s always had. It’s rare to find filmmakers that believe in their projects as much as Zack Snyder does his own. And while many of his films lack refinement or coherency, you can’t take away the deep appreciation he has for his work and his characters.

I am confused by the #RestoreTheSnyderverse movement, which asks that Warner Bros. continue to follow the storyline being pursued in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Aren’t they already? Of the six upcoming films being released by Warner Bros., five of them are in the DC Extended Universe, including The Suicide Squad, Black Adam, The Flash, Aquaman 2 and Shazam! 2. Sure a Justice League sequel isn’t on the books, but it would be a simple thing to add it back to the slate. All you would have to do is kill off Cyborg’s father in between movies, and you’re back on track with the same continuity. So maybe the hashtag shouldn’t be #RestoreTheSnyderverse as much as it should be #ReleaseJusticeLeague2. Either way, it’s confusing and doesn’t lend much to the conversation at hand.

So which movie is better? The theatrical cut or the Snyder cut? In my opinion, the Snyder Cut is vastly superior, even if some of Whedon’s better lines and scenes were cut out. Still, we’re witnessing a special moment with the Snyder Cut’s development and release. This is the first movie, in a very long time, where the filmmaker, the studio, and the fans all converged into one very special moment they got to share with each other. More than anything else, I’m happy that Zack got to fulfill his dream and his vision of the Justice League: it’s a privilege many, many other filmmakers don’t get to experience very often.

Four years ago, I started my Justice League review paying tribute to Autumn, and I will end this article by doing the same thing. Zack Snyder’s Justice League gets three stars out of four. Autumn Snyder gets four. So does Zack Snyder.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Chadwick Boseman Loses Best Actor At 93rd Academy Awards

I’m gonna say it: this is the worst Oscar ceremony I’ve seen in a long time. I’m not just talking about the winners and nominees, which are so random and lopsided that a literal pandemic could not have made them worse if it tried. I’m talking about the ceremony itself, which was so poorly produced it felt more like we were watching the Golden Globes. Yes, I am actually comparing the Academy Awards to the Golden Globes. It more than deserves the comparison.

So many things were lacking in this year’s ceremony. For one thing, none of the categories had previews for the nominees that were being honored. That’s fine for the acting or directing categories if you want to save time (indeed, the Academy straight up skipped over them in the 2017 ceremony). But even the technical categories were overlooked. Visual Effects didn’t show any of layering effects, Sound didn’t show any snippets of their sound engineers working in the studio, Cinematography and Film Editing showed no sequences demonstrating their craft, and even Makeup and Costuming skipped over showing stills of the nominees’ phenomenal work. It’s frustrating that when the crew is constantly overshadowed by the actors headlining their craft, the Academy has the perfect opportunity to show them off, and then they just… don’t. I’m used to the Academy snubbing one or two films in the Best Picture category out of pure snobbery. I’m not as used to them snubbing filmmakers’ work outright just for the sake of saving time.

The telecast also screwed up with something they should especially never mess up at any Oscar ceremony: the In Memoriam segment. In previous years, the Academy may have had some slip-ups, from the choice of a musician to omitting people from the segment altogether. This year though, they did the most disrespectful thing they could have done: they quickly glossed through everyone in the montage, as if they were on a strict time limit and they couldn’t go past it. We lost a lot of amazing artists in 2020, not just with Chadwick Boseman, but also with Ennio Morricone, Kirk Douglas, Christopher Plummer, Sean Connery, Ian Holm, Max Von Sydow, Olivia de Havilland, and so, so many others. And how did the Academy choose to honor them? By timing their tributes to the music. This resulted in many artists being passed over briskly with every beat, while others were stayed on longer due to the swelling of the music.

I understand due to how late this year’s ceremony was held that more people were included in the segment. 2020 was a terrible year, after all, and we all lost much from the year. But you honor these artists the best by giving them the time they deserve on the screen: not by giving each one barely a second and moving on. It was a rude, pitiful, and disrespectful tribute to the artists, and quite frankly, the Academy would have been better off if they just cut it from the ceremony entirely and just release a YouTube video separately. At least then you could spend as much time on each person for however long as you want without interfering with the telecast. This presentation was just pathetic, and I can’t help but feel for the families that lost so much this year and deserved so much better of an effort from the Academy.

But as per usual, the worst part of the ceremony comes with the winners, and the Academy keeps up that tradition even with this year’s ceremony. With a year as bad as 2020, you think it would be impossible for the Academy to choose some of the least deserving winners imaginable. But you’ve gotta hand it to the Academy: even a pandemic couldn’t stop them from making some of the worst decisions imaginable for the 93rd Academy Awards.

Best Picture: Nomadland predictably won Best Picture this year, which officially makes it the most boring Best Picture winner this decade (I know, the decade has only started. Give the Academy time). It’s no shocker that Nomadland won Best Picture. After all, it was sweeping Best Picture awards left and right all season long, so it’s no surprise that it won the biggest award on Oscar night as well.

What is surprising is which order Best Picture was presented. In previous ceremonies, the Academy presents Best Picture last to cap off the evening and end the ceremony with a bang. This year Best Picture was presented third to last, right behind Best Actress and Best Actor. I can only assume the Academy did this because they predicted who was going to win in the remaining categories, which they were embarrassingly wrong about. Either way, it makes for a very weird placement and a very strange way to wrap up the ceremony.

For now, I’ll say congratulations to Nomadland for its Best Picture win. Nearly all of the Best Picture nominees were more deserving, but hey, who am I to rob Frances McDormand of yet another Oscar?

Best Director: Chloe Zhao won Best Director for Nomadland, making her the second woman to win in this category and the first woman of color to win the Oscar ever. That’s about the biggest accomplishment to come out of this movie, because as I already said, it is a snooze fest from start to finish. Regardless, the movie does have some sweet, sincere moments in it, and I especially liked how she brought in real-life nomads into the film’s narrative. As far as uniqueness goes, that’s about everything that makes Nomadland special though, and I would have much rather the Oscar have gone to Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman or Lee Isaac Chung for Minari. Either way, congratulations to Mrs. Zhao. I look forward to watching Eternals later this year. Aaron Sorkin was still snubbed in this category for The Trial of the Chicago 7 regardless.

Best Actor: This is the biggest upset of the night and it easily ruined the whole ceremony for me, especially since this category concluded the telecast. Despite giving a career-best performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and winning over the hearts of fans and critics alike, the late Chadwick Boseman lost Best Actor to Anthony Hopkins for his role as an elderly man battling Alzheimer’s in The Father.

I have so many problems with this that I don’t even know where to start. First of all, with Chadwick sweeping the majority of awards season from the Golden Globes to the SAG Awards, it seemed like Chadwick pretty much had this win in the bag. And why wouldn’t he? He gave a great performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and outshined even the titular character on that project. His character was crass, headstrong, confident, cocky, smooth, sassy, pained, and tragic all at the same time. Few actors possess all of those characteristics, let alone in one performance. He was very much the driving force of that film and deserved all of the praise that he received.

Compare that to Anthony Hopkins in The Father, which barely generated much conversation or impact until it was nominated for awards. I have not seen The Father thanks to its overpriced rental of $20, but judging from what I have seen, the film tackles heavy themes regarding losing your memory, your grip with reality, and in a way, a part of yourself. It’s for sure a challenging topic and performance to take on, but no more challenging than say, a metal drummer losing his hearing, a drunken screenwriter taking on the media moguls of Hollywood, and a struggling immigrant trying to provide for his family.

What I’m saying is that amongst all of the nominees, Chadwick’s performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom felt unique and stood out amongst his fellow nominees. Hopkins in The Father, in comparison, felt like an honorary mention that rarely elevated to the influence of his peers. The fact he couldn’t even tune in to accept his Oscar remotely makes his win even more awkward.

I’ve heard some commentators remark that fans are more motivated by Chadwick’s tragic passing than they are the merits of his performance for the award, but I genuinely don’t think that’s the case. Before Ma Rainey, I thought Riz Ahmed was the clear standout for Sound of Metal and thought that Chadwick was getting the sympathy vote. Then I watched Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and was completely blown away. He immediately sold himself as this overly ambitious musician with dreams of reaching the top, only to be roadblocked by white America around every corner. He made the movie, and after watching it, Chadwick became my only favorite to win the Oscar.

Consider also, that Hopkins has already won a Best Acting Oscar in 1992 for Silence of the Lambs. Meanwhile, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was Chadwick’s first and only nomination. It feels like he deserved stronger consideration for the award, especially since this was his last performance before he died. And before some of you come at me with “bUt tHaT wAs hIS FIrSt nOminAtiOnnn,” Anthony Hopkins’ first Oscar win also came with his first nomination for Silence of the Lambs. It isn’t unprecedented for that to happen, and a stronger case definitely should have been made for Chadwick.

I could be wrong, of course, and I very well may feel differently after I watch The Father later this year. Until then, this snub feels like if Heath Ledger’s Oscar for playing the Joker in The Dark Knight went to someone else: and that really, really stings.

Best Actress: I got this one wrong as well, but I was already on uncertain grounds with a four-way deadlock between Carey Mulligan, Frances McDormand, Viola Davis, and Andra Day. McDormand ended up securing the win for Nomadland, made an awkward remark about including karaoke machines in the ceremony, and then left the stage right after howling like a wolf. Again, I feel like her performance in Nomadland was more muted and less expressive than some of her more memorable performances, especially in comparison with her 2018 Oscar win for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Compared to her fellow nominees that crafted a very vivid presence in their respective films, her performance in Nomadland feels more transparent, like a surrogate for audiences to channel themselves into.

Regardless she now has three acting Oscars under her belt, tying her with Meryl Streep herself. She should feel honored just for that comparison. Hopefully the Academy doesn’t decide to nominate her even further into the future, otherwise good ol’ Meryl might get jealous.

Best Supporting Actor: Even though he was literally the lead in the movie, Daniel Kaluuya won Best Supporting Actor for playing Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. Again, I have no idea how he won Best Supporting Actor for a role that was very much non-supporting when Chadwick literally went home with nothing. Was the Academy somehow convinced that Levee Green was a supporting character and should have been nominated in this category instead? If that was the case, why wasn’t Kaluuya nominated for Best Actor? Would he have lost to Anthony Hopkins for The Father anyway? Does anyone even care enough to examine the Academy’s weird justifications anymore?

Either way, congrats to Kaluuya for his much-deserved Oscar win. It was nice to see him on stage accepting the award, as well as interacting with his old Get Out co-star Lil Rel Howery. And his message of unity in his acceptance speech was especially uplifting and powerful. He deserved an Oscar for that speech alone.

Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn has been called the Meryl Streep of South Korea, so is it really that surprising that she won Best Supporting Actress for Minari? She was just as playful and endearing as her character was in that movie, and her fun little poke at presenter Brad Pitt was especially amusing.

Best Animated Feature: As expected, Soul won Best Animated Feature, marking it as Pete Docter’s third Oscar win and 11th Oscar win for the Pixar team as a whole. Much congratulations for everyone involved with that phenomenal film. Personally I felt Onward was just a bit better, but it’s a win for Pixar either way. At this point, the Academy should just preemptively award the Pixar nominee every year before the ceremony and call it a day.

Best Documentary Feature: In a particularly tight race, My Octopus Teacher beat out its competition to win the Best Documentary Oscar this year. I personally feel for the Collective team since they’ve lost twice this year in both the documentary and international film category, but My Octopus Teacher has a very interesting subject and a unique way that it approaches it. I look forward to watching it in a few weeks, right after trying to understand why Time has so many viewers riled up.

Best International Feature: Thomas Vinterberg won for Another Round, and he gave a very powerful tribute to his late daughter during his acceptance speech. Congratulations to him for his much-deserved win. I’m glad he got to experience this honor in her memory, and I hope he continues to make movies that inspire him as much as this film has.

Best Original Screenplay: As expected, Emerald Fennell won Best Original Screenplay for her wickedly clever and smart portrayal of a woman fighting sexism in Promising Young Woman. I still feel a stronger pull for Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 and would not have been upset at all if he had won this award instead of her. Regardless I am glad both of the nominated female directors this year got to walk home with a prize, especially since women are very often overlooked in the writing categories. So much congratulations to Mrs. Fennell. She very much deserved to win this one over her male peers.

Best Adapted Screenplay: In the night’s first surprise twist, The Father beat out Nomadland for Best Adapted Screenplay. I was fine with this win because 1) The Father seems centered on a very strong emotional foundation, and 2) The awards circuit seemed annoyingly obsessed with Nomadland, so any opportunity where it can be overlooked I’m mostly fine with it. I’m just glad the Oscar didn’t go to Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Can you imagine how annoying it would have been circumventing nine screenwriters onto that blasted stage? I barely have the patience for even two of them, so thank God we didn’t have to suffer through that social distancing nightmare.

Best Film Editing: The underdog Sound of Metal prevailed over the likes of its stronger nominees in The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Promising Young Woman. While I preferred those titles over the winner, Sound of Metal does have a solid assembly of its shots and paints a vivid and somber picture of a man losing a big piece of his life. That’s a hard thing to capture and tell, and Mikkel Nielsen does a great job getting us to sympathize with this character. Plus, he took away this Oscar from the likes of Nomadland and The Father. That’s good enough for me.

On another note, Harrison Ford presented this category with a very funny story about how critics initially reacted to a screening of Blade Runner. I could take Harrison’s annoyed scowl hosting the entire ceremony and that would be enough to keep me tuned in for the whole night.

Best Cinematography: Of all of the nominees for Best Cinematography, the biggest contenders were also the two most boring nominees out of the whole pack: and Mank cliched it from Nomadland, barely.

As much as I love Nomadland getting overlooked in one category after another, cinematography is one I will disagree with and am actually very frustrated about it losing. For one thing, the best thing about Nomadland was easily its cinematography, capturing life on the road and these vast, wide, open shots of the landscapes the nomads get to see and experience. As dull, long, and overbearing as that film is, it is also visually beautiful and does a great job capturing the nomads’ perspectives. It was amazing camerawork, and Joshua James Richards easily outshined his fellow nominees.

Compare that to Erik Messerschmidt, who won the Oscar for essentially copying Gregg Toland’s canted cinematography from Citizen Kane in Mank. I find so many issues with his win, especially since his cinematography is 1) Redundant 2) Plagiarized 3) Contrived and 4) very underwhelming. His work on Mank was nowhere near as striking or memorable as The Trial of the Chicago 7, Judas and the Black Messiah, News of the World, and especially not as much as Nomadland. At the very least, Erik Messerschmidt does not deserve the Best Cinematography Oscar over David Fincher’s frequent collaborator Jeff Cronenweth, who has been nominated for Best Cinematography on Fincher’s last three projects and has not won once. A pity that creative and captivating cinematographers are getting egged to the side while Orson Welles knock offs are going home with the gold. But that’s Hollywood for you, I guess.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom won Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Hey, if Chadwick wasn’t going to win the Oscar, Ma Rainey deserved to win something, right?

Best Costume Design: Again, Ma Rainey won. I have a tough time deciding whether she or Emma. deserved to win. Either way, it’s funny to see Pinocchio trending in these categories after people realized a live-action remake came out last year. Was the pandemic really that bad, to where viewers genuinely did not realize a Pinocchio movie came out in 2020? Or is that just the result of bad marketing? Either way, congrats to Ma Rainey for the costume win, though I much would have preferred the Oscar gone to Chadwick.

Best Production Design: As previously expected, Mank won for production design, and it was the only Oscar it deserved to win out of the whole night. Next.

Best Musical Score: I was genuinely nervous for a minute when Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ names were read, as I was worried that Mank was going to win yet another very undeserved Oscar. Then the Academy read Jon Batiste’s name too, and I was instantly relieved when I realized Soul won instead. Congrats to all three of these amazing composers. They definitely deserved it for the amazing, refreshing sounds they provided not just for the film, but for our hearts.

Best Original Song: In yet another tight category, H.E.R.’s “Fight For You” won against One Night In Miami’s Leslie Odom Jr. for Judas and the Black Messiah. I was split 50/50 under this category and preferred “Speak Now’s” quietly soulful vibe, but if it wasn’t going to win, “Fight For You” was definitely my second favorite pick. Congrats to her either way. With her recent wins at the Grammys, H.E.R. has been having a great, great year.

Best Sound: Sound of Metal won the newly-named Best Sound Award. Duh. It was kind of a given it was going to win since the word “sound” is literally in its title. Either way, congrats to the amazing sound design team. They did a brilliant job capturing what the deaf experience was like for Ruben Stone.

Best Visual Effects: As already expected, Tenet won Best Visual Effects. Congratulations to Christopher Nolan’s visual effects team for the much-deserved win. Good luck explaining the plot to anybody though.

And as per usual, I lost in all of the short categories this year save for If Anything Happens I Love You’s win for Best Animated Short. That leaves my final tally for 16 out of 23 categories predicted correctly this year. Good for me I guess, but it doesn’t take away from the pain of Chadwick’s Best Actor loss. I will never let the Academy live that one down, ever. I cannot imagine what snub could possibly be worse this decade, but the Academy has outdone me before. Let’s give them time to see how else they can infuriate me for 2022.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going back to watching Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Some of us appreciate icons when we see them.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , ,