Category Archives: The Scope

The Indie Spirit Oscars

SOURCE: MovieWeb

Have you heard about any of the Academy Award nominees? Yeah, me neither.

Like clockwork, the Academy Awards recently released their nominations for this year’s ceremonies. Unlike previous years where I wake up at my own leisure and read the nominees at my earliest convenience, I actually got up earlier the morning of the announcements and listened to the livestream on my way to work. Good gravy, are these people pretentious. The live-action shorts that played before the category announcements were so high-quality that they were better produced than many of the nominees themselves were. Can we recruit these people to make better films for these categories in future award ceremonies?

But never mind that, you’re not here to hear me gripe about the Hollywood elites. You’re wanting the breakdown on this year’s nominees. Let’s hop into it.

Leading the pack of best picture nominees this year is Guillermo Del Toro’s science-fiction romance The Shape of Water, a weird and uncomfortable movie about a fish creature falling in love with a woman. In hindsight, I passively admit that the film is mostly deserving of its 13 nominations. It is, after all, visually and aesthetically pleasing, and the creature himself has some of the most convincing effects I’ve seen in the past year. But I didn’t like the movie itself, feeling that it was too preachy and on-the-nose to be taken seriously. I do think Del Toro is very deserving of an Academy Award in general. His films Hellboy and Pacific Rim both pushed the boundaries in what could be achieved through visual storytelling, while Pan’s Labyrinth was a beautifully dark fantasy that put adult tragedies through the innocent eyes of a child (it’s actually one of my frustrations that film didn’t win best foreign language film at the 2007 Oscar ceremony). Will The Shape of Water be the film to break Del Toro’s losing streak? Possibly, but I can’t help but feel that parts of his earlier filmography are more deserving for an Oscar than The Shape of Water is.

The runner-up best picture nominee with the most nominations is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a World War II drama depicting the battles for French beaches, seas, and skies. Again, Christopher Nolan is a fantastic filmmaker: one of our generations best. But his earlier films are astronomically better compared to the sloppy, confused timeline that Dunkirk gave us. His first nominated film Memento was a mind-boggling and fascinating study of a decomposing mind, while The Dark Knight broke the boundaries between what we consider superhero movies and art. Inception is one of the greatest films this decade. Any one of these masterpieces could and should have been major contenders for best picture in previous ceremonies. Why is it suddenly that the lapsed, removed experience of Dunkirk is the one picture to suddenly give him a serious chance at the Oscars? Dunkirk is nominated for eight Academy Awards. It deserves five of them.

Side-note: In addition to Dunkirk’s best picture nomination, this is also the first time Nolan has been nominated for best director, merely getting only screenplay nominations in previous ceremonies. Regardless of what your opinion is on Dunkirk, can we at least agree that it is blatantly outrageous that this is Nolans’ first best director nomination?

Next is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which places in this year’s ceremony with seven Oscar nominations. This is one picture you gotta look out for here, folks. It swept at both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actor Guild Awards, winning the highest prizes at both ceremonies. Its stars Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are both serious contenders for this year’s acting categories. Writer-director Martin McDonagh has a strong chance at the best original screenplay award. I haven’t watched the film yet, but it’s been racking up wins this awards season like a Star Wars movie stealing the holiday box office. Keep your eyes focused on this one.

Two surprise nominees here that I wasn’t expecting: the biopics Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread, both starring Hollywood heavyweights Gary Oldman and Daniel Day Lewis. The surprise here isn’t that they’re nominated for best picture, but that they’re nominated for five other Academy Awards besides it. I figured those two pictures were shoo-ins in the acting categories due to the reputation of its leads. I didn’t expect them to also slip in to the production design, costume, makeup, and cinematography categories as well. If anything, this shows that this year’s ceremonies are not as predictable as they usually are, and they’ll really contain their own twists and turns that none of us were expecting. I’m genuinely excited to see how these two films will impact the best picture race on Oscar night.

SOURCE: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Also nominated for best picture is the coming-of-age drama Lady Bird, the gay romance film Call Me By Your Name, and the satire-comedy-horror picture Get Out. Out of all of the movies to be nominated for best picture this year, my favorite is easily Get Out. If you haven’t seen it yet, you absolutely need too. It’s one of the most creative films I’ve seen in years, making a provocative race commentary that is equal parts violent, scary, entertaining, and relevant to its intended audience. The fact that it’s nominated here not only for best picture, but also best director, actor, and screenplay makes my heart happy for writer-director Jordan Peele, who basically exploded onto the film scene with this directorial debut. One could only dream to have a year as successful as Peele did.

There’s one best picture nominee here that doesn’t belong. Not because it isn’t deserving, but because it isn’t fairly backed up by its other nominations: The Post. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely deserves to be nominated for best picture. The journalism-drama tells the story of the Washington Post reporting team that broke the story on U.S. Government’s obscured involvement with the Vietnam War, which eventually developed into the Pentagon Papers expose. It very much is Oscar-worthy material. The issue is that it’s only nominated for one other award besides best picture, and that is best actress for Meryl Streep’s role in the film.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened in recent Oscar history. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was only nominated for best picture and best supporting actor for Max Von Sydow in 2012, while the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma was only nominated for best picture and best original song in 2015. The worst of these offenses was Spotlight in 2016, which only won best original screenplay in addition to its best picture win. It is the only best picture winner in Oscar history to receive only two awards from the night.

This pity-nomination party has to stop in the Academy Awards. A film is not considered the best of the year for one actress alone, but for an assortment of cohesive elements that work together for the film. The director Steven Spielberg. The writer Josh Singer. The editor Michael Kahn. The cinematographer Janusz Kamiński. Streep’s co-star Tom Hanks. There was a lot of talent associated with this film, all of them equally deserving for attention as Streep was. Either give the film more nominations to support its best picture nomination, or don’t nominate it at all. There were plenty of other hard-hitting contenders that could have been nominated instead of The Post that have the nominations to back it up. Blade Runner 2049 with five nominations. Mudbound with four nominations. Baby Driver with three. You can make a case for any of these films and more to be nominated in the place of The Post due to its acting and technical nominees. Why on Earth are we giving out pity nominations for movies that can’t get more than two nominations from Academy board voters?

Overall, how do I feel about these nominations? Meh. They’re fine. I’m not really excited or maddened by their recognition here. They’re just kind of a passing mention of under-the-radar films to be aware of before you get to awards night.

I will say that, just like every year, there is obvious snubbing in categories where films did not deserve the disservice they received. You will notice, for instance, that Wonder Woman got zero nominations, despite being one of the biggest critical and commercial successes of the year. Detroit got zero nominations, despite its attention to detail and authentic depiction of such despicable events. The Stephen King horror film It got zero nominations, not even for makeup or supporting actor for its brilliant performance by Pennywise actor Bill Skarsgard. Good grief, even Logan got snubbed with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s mesmerizing performances as old heroes reflecting on their broken selves (although it did impressively nab a best adapted screenplay nomination, the first superhero movie in Oscar history to ever receive such an honor).

But Academy Awards ratings have been consistently dropping, ever since its changes to the best picture category first proposed in 2010. Continuing to skip over mainstream films such as these is exactly why. Critics love the indie flicks that continue to surprise us in new ways, while moviegoing audiences love the occasional blockbusters that give them the escapism and entertainment that they need. It’s entirely possible to love and appreciate both of these kinds of films. Somebody please send the Academy the memo.

– David Dunn

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You Just Got Boba-Fetted

Warning: Spoilers ahead for ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi.’

Nobody hates Star Wars movies more than Star Wars fans do. This is made no more apparent than with their spiteful reaction to its most recent sequel The Last Jedi, which is currently sitting at 49% on Rotten Tomatoes and 46 on Metacritic among its users. That’s lower than any of the prequel movies, including The Phantom Menace. The critics conversely say it’s one of the best Star Wars movies ever made, with many arguing that it’s even better than The Empire Strikes Back. I have a question for both of these viewers: are you all out of your minds?

The Last Jedi is not the best Star Wars movie by any means. Honestly, it doesn’t even break the top five. Yet, I find Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be challenging both to the series’ characters and to ourselves as fans. That’s because it throws both of us through loops nobody was expecting, forcing us to digest shocking, life-changing choices and fully confront their implications face-to-face.

SOURCE: Forbes

Take, for instance, Luke Skywalker. A lot of fans were angry at how writer-director Rian Johnson represented Luke in the film as an exhausted and defeated old man who had lost faith in the Jedi and in himself. Even Luke Skywalker himself was frustrated at how he was handled in the film, with actor Mark Hamill going so far as to say this version of Luke isn’t his Luke Skywalker.

“Jedis don’t give up,” he told SensaCine in December. “I mean, even if he had a problem, he would maybe take a year to try and regroup, but if he made a mistake he would try and right that wrong, so right there, we had a fundamental difference. But, it’s not my story anymore. It’s somebody else’s story, and Rian needed me to be a certain way to make the ending effective.”

Exactly. Actors disagree with their directors on how their characters should be portrayed all the time. Even Harrison Ford wanted George Lucas to kill off Han Solo in Return of the Jedi (although the character later met his demise at the hands of his son in The Force Awakens). A disagreement with your director on a character’s direction doesn’t necessarily mean its the wrong direction; just a different one. And that’s exactly what Johnson was aiming for: a Luke Skywalker who lost his way, devoid of the hope he once possessed and lacking the faith that made him a Jedi in the first place.

But just because he isn’t the hero you remember, doesn’t mean he still isn’t the hero at all. I found myself strangely caught up in Luke’s emotions in the opening moments of the film: of him once again meeting Chewie and asking where Han was, sneaking onto the Millennium Falcon and reminiscing on old memories, finding R2 and seeming so happy to see his old friend again. I actually teared up at the moment when he told R2 that he was never coming back and that nothing was going to change his mind. R2 uttered a beep, spurred his head around, and lit up a projection of the first message that brought them together in the first place: his sister Leia begging “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You are my only hope.”

We weren’t seeing Luke Skywalker the swashbuckling space hero in The Last Jedi. We were seeing Luke Skywalker as a broken fragment of what he once was. That makes sense, because in the context of the Star Wars universe, these characters aren’t invulnerable movie icons that live happily ever after. They’re just people, complete with their own flaws and doubts that make them penetrable with their emotions. Characters change in movies because people change in real life. What makes characters like Luke a Jedi is not succumbing to their failure or regret, but instead resolving to get past their own feelings and do the right thing, which Luke eventually does in this movie.

Also, if you have a problem with Luke’s attitude and exiling himself, Johnson is not the right person to blame for that. Director J.J. Abrams is, as he was the one who first banished Luke to that gaudy island in The Force Awakens in the first place. Johnson was just following through on the implications made in the first film. Don’t shoot the messenger for what the tax collector handed to him.

CREATIVE COMMONS

There are other elements in the picture that don’t work as well. One of those is the planet Canto Bight, where Finn (John Boyega), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), and BB-8 travel to recruit a code breaker to get them onto the First Order’s Star Destroyer. This side-plot felt removed and out-of-place, forcefully injecting themes of animal brutality, war profiteering, and capitalism in a movie that’s most known for its big space battles and lightsaber duels. Mind you, I didn’t hate the sequence. Boyega and Tran had a good enough chemistry to keep me engaged throughout, and BB-8 is such a quirky character that I can enjoy watching him no matter what mundane plot he’s going through. But the scene itself was awkward and disjointed. It felt weird to go from a fast-paced chase in outer space to essentially a dragged-out casino scene where our heroes narrated exposition on unnecessary social commentary.

However, I don’t think that scene itself was the problem. The problem was Laura Dern’s character, whom I simply refer to as “Purple Hair Lady” considering that is her most distinguishing feature. This whole sub-plot arrived because she refused to tell Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) the plan to outrun the First Order to make a point about following orders. Yet when you’re about to be killed by Hitler’s equivalent of a First Order maniac, I would think you would put personal vendettas aside and focus on the important tasks at hand, mostly saving your crew. Because Purple Hair Lady didn’t do that, she confused Poe and the others, threw them into the Canto Bight subplot, which ended up being meaningless because they got caught anyway, and to make matters worse, her secrecy actually endangered the mission, with the captured Finn and Rose inadvertently leading the First Order to attack the escaping life pods instead of the main Starship. Basically, 40 minutes of the movie could have been cut if Purple Hair Lady provided only one line of dialogue to a concerned Poe. That’s not a lapse in judgement. That’s poor writing.

However, that scene where Purple Hair Lady takes the Starship and suicide lightspeeds into the Destroyer was amazing. That scene made it into my top five favorite visual moments out of the entire series.

SOURCE: IGN

The worst part of the movie unequivocally comes with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who is abruptly killed off halfway through the movie in a moment nobody was expecting. Admittedly, the scene was very cool, with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) turning his lightsaber using the Force towards his master while tricking him into thinking that he’s going to kill Rey (Daisy Ridley). Instead, he kills Snoke and teams up with Rey to take down Snoke’s Pratorian guards, which leads into a lightsaber fight so spectacular that it barely nudged into my top five lightsaber duels of all time. There’s just something really satisfying about a bunch of lightsaber weapons crackling into each other all at once here.

But upon sitting over it, I realized that we still know nothing about Snoke. We don’t know where he comes from, how he knows the Force, when he met Ben Solo, how he tempted him over to the Dark Side to become Kylo Ren, and how he gave rise to the First Order. This was one of the most intriguing characters introduced in The Force Awakens, and here he is needlessly axed off like Boba Fett was thrown into the Sarlacc Pit in Return of the Jedi. Is that a fair treatment of a character? I wanted to know more about him before his climactic death, maybe in a duel with Luke or Rey before biting the lit end of a lightsaber. Thanks to Johnson, we’re never going to get that, and that’s the most frustrating aspect of the film.

Side-note: I do humor the possibility that Snoke might make his return as a Force ghost in Episode IX. Throughout the movie, Rey and Kylo are connected through the Force to conversate, and later on Snoke reveals that he was the one connecting them. Yet after he died, Rey and Kylo were connected once again briefly before Rey took off in the Millennium Falcon. Is that potential foreshadowing for the character’s return?

SOURCE: ComicBook.com

There are two changes to the Star Wars lore that were jarring upon my first viewing, but upon further analysis I grew to eventually accept. The first one is the reveal of Rey’s parents. After the aforementioned battle with the Pratorian guards, Kylo asks Rey to join him with the First Order so they can rule the galaxy. To tempt her, he asks her to confess who her parents were. With tearful eyes and quivering lips, she hesitantly said:

“They were nobody.”

And that’s that. Kylo Ren tells her that she was sold off into slavery for drinking money, that she comes from nothing, and that she is nothing. Rey’s parents are nobody.

For all of the hype built up in The Force Awakens, this is reasonably disappointing to many fans. Here I was thinking she was either a Skywalker or a Solo, and it turns out that she’s neither. I was at first extremely frustrated by this weak reveal, but as I further lulled on it I came around to liking it. Mostly because it’s poetic in how someone who came from nothing can grow to become someone so important in the Star Wars saga, but also because it makes the tragedy of the character all the more real.

The series, in hindsight, is a story about family: the ones we come from, the ones we don’t have, and the ones we make for ourselves. Anakin had only one family in his mother and wife, and both were taken from him. Luke lost his family in a raider attack, but found a new one in his sister and in his father that he never knew. And Rey likewise was abandoned by her family, but now finds a new family among people who lost their own families as well. It’s a really sweet sentiment that I appreciated the film for exploring. Even if her true parentage is retconned in Episode IX, I at least appreciate that they have that underdog theme going on in there.

The second is how Luke dies in the movie. In admittedly one of the best scenes in the film, Luke shows up on this salt planet (yes, a salt planet, don’t ask) to defend the Resistance from the First Order. After all the AT-AT’s fire a barrage of blasts at Luke and he deflects them all (he humorously brushes it off like a leaf fell on him), Kylo Ren emerges from his cruiser to face his former master. As Luke kept frequently dodging Kylo Ren’s attacks and sidestepping his lightsaber swipes, I caught myself wondering why Luke wasn’t swiping back? Or why his feet weren’t leaving footprints on the salty surface? I got my answer shortly after: Luke isn’t actually on the salt planet. Instead, he’s still mediating on a rock back on his exiled planet, and since he overexerted himself by making a Force projection from star systems away, he collapses, faces the sunset, then vanishes into the Force like his masters Obi-Wan and Yoda before him.

I was extremely disappointed with this upon my first viewing, mostly because it wasn’t the ending that I wanted for Luke. I had built up in my mind years ago a big, epic duel between himself and Snoke, while Rey and Kylo Ren possibly fought each other in the background. The fact that he passed on through the Force instead of meeting some epic end like Han did in The Force Awakens? It felt like short-changing the character itself.

Again though, the more I thought about it, the more this ending made sense. First of all, how was Luke going to get to the salt planet? His X-Wing was drowned in the ocean back on his island, and he didn’t have an Astromech droid to co-pilot it. Not an ideal scenario for sure, but if you’ve written Luke into a corner on the far side of the galaxy, it wouldn’t make much sense to ham-fist an explanation into there just so Luke can fight on the salt planet, now would it? As Luke mentions in the film, he went into exile for one purpose: to die and bring an end to the Jedi. For someone who seems so committed to that purpose, it wouldn’t make sense for him to stow away an escape pod somewhere on the island so he can just opt out of suicide, now would it?

Second, Luke isn’t the Jedi that he once was. As Rey mentioned earlier in the film, Luke purposefully closed himself off from the Force as penance for his past actions. This implies that even though Luke is still in-tune with the Force, he’s not all-powerful as he once was, nor are his fighting skills as refined as when he was younger. Stacked together, we have an aged, crippled Luke stranded across the galaxy on an isolated planet with no way of getting off, who still needs to save his family star systems away regardless. So what does he do? He Force-projects himself across the galaxy to distract the First Order, exhausting himself fatally, ultimately sacrificing himself so that the Resistance can get away and fight another day. It’s not the ending I would have preferred, but I can’t deny that it works in the context of this film. It’s just one of those cases where what I wanted as a fan conflicts with objectively reviewing the film as a critic. That happens once in a while, where your cinematic intuitions contradict one another in a film.

And yet, the moment was still strangely sentimental, with Luke ending his place in the series the way it began: facing the sunset, staring at the two suns shining down on him, hopeful for what the future will bring. Unfulfilling, yes, but this was the ending Luke chose for himself. Even though I felt let down with Luke’s return, I have to admit there is something satisfying about Luke finding peace with himself after all of these years of suffering that he’s had to endure.

I will not deny that I felt disappointment with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A lot of fans did. And yet, the movie was about disappointment. Luke’s disappointment in himself and the Jedi way. Kylo Ren’s disappointment in his masters, both from the light and dark side. Poe Dameron’s disappointment in the Resistence. Finn’s disappointment in his friends that betrayed him. Leia’s disappointment in her allies who abandoned her. Rey’s disappointment in her life’s heroes and with who she was and where she came from.

Yet through that disappointment, frustration, and failure, something good came out of it. Our heroes grew. They matured. They became better people, and they became more, not less, motivated to fighting their enemy and protecting each other. And that catharsis is the point of the movie: the fact that tragedy can bring about strength and growth.

In a throwback moment to The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda appears as a Force ghost to Luke and tells him that failure is the greatest teacher: that it educates us beyond anything we can learn by ourselves. “We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda tells Luke in a touching moment. Hopefully the fans who hated this movie can learn to grow up like the rest of the characters in this series do.

Post-script: The Porgs are cute. I have nothing to add beyond that.

SOURCE: StarWars.com

– David Dunn

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Top 10 Films of 2017

2017, you suck. From the bottom of my barely-beating black heart, you suck.

You have done nothing this year to give anyone recompense for the misery you put them through the year before, nor have you restored anyone’s already-lack-of-faith in humanity. The hurricanes that ravaged Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The wildfires burning California to a crisp. The mass shootings from Sutherland Springs all the way to the Las Vegas strip. North Korea’s Nuclear-powered temper tantrums with the United States. The rise of the white supremacist snowflakes. All of the sexual assault scandals ranging from Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore. Not to mention the retweeter-in-chief sitting in the oval office right now.

I thought 2016 was bad. 2017 was so horribly deformed that Father Time looked down at it next to all of his yearly children, broke down weeping, and cried out “What have I done?!”. Thank God the movie theater was here to give us some relief from this year’s misery and nonsense.

A few housekeeping items before we get into this year’s top 10. First of all, as a general disclaimer, this list only includes movies that I have seen in 2017. I realize that movies such as The Shape of Water and Lady Bird may very well deserve to be on this list. However, I have not seen those movies, and I am not going to give unearned praise to movies that I have not reviewed on my own.

Second, this is a list of my personal favorite films from 2017. As this is the case, there are going to be absentees from this list that you’re going to be frustrated by. I know you thought Split and Dunkirk were the greatest films of the century and won’t survive unless you lick the film stock every two seconds, but I’m afraid to tell you that both of those movies sucked. A lot of films from the year have had a lot less to work with, yet have done a lot more with their material. They’re the ones that are going to be recognized on this list; not Mr. and Mrs. Oscar bait.

Speaking of having less to work with, let’s recognize this year’s special prize selection before we get into my top 10. Every year, I select one limited release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, and yet achieved more thematically despite their smaller viewership. This year, my special prize goes to…

Special Prize: Your Name

SOURCE: Toho

A beautifully animated and emotionally poignant portrayal of love, joy, heartbreak, soul-searching, and the human connection that all of us share. Makoto Shinkai’s phenomenal animated film tells the story of Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi), two Japanese teenagers who switch bodies every week against their will. This exploration of perspective and identity is integral in learning these character’s relationships, and as their soul intertwine, we come to learn and care more about these characters and their plights. And the animation is colorful, vibrant, and gorgeous, transforming seemingly simplistic sights into breathtakingly extraordinary ones. There have been many incredible animated films released this year, including Coco and Loving Vincent. Yet none are as inventive and captivating as Your Name is.

Now enough with the formalities. Let’s get into the only 10 good things to come out of 2017, starting with:


10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The most recent film in the Star Wars saga, a film about our heroes letting us down, our expectations not being met, and our resolutions failing to be reached. When Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally comes face-to-face with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she seeks his guidance in training her to become a Jedi and help save her friends from the tyranny of the First Order. The visual effects and the action are nothing short of gorgeous, with the X-Wings, TIE Fighters, lightsabers, droids, and creatures across the galaxy reaching out to you and placing you vividly in the moment of any scene. Frontrunners Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill shine in the film’s key roles, with Hamill specifically reprising Luke in a grimmer, more mournful façade. A great addition to the Star Wars saga, but one that nonetheless challenges your identity as a fan of the series. The Last Jedi will definitely be a heavily-talked about conversation topic for Star Wars fans for years to come. Three and a half stars.

9. Baby Driver

SOURCE: TriStar PicturesA sleek, stylish, and electric action-drama booming with nostalgia, in-cheek humor, and a hot-blooded soundtrack to boot. When a getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) decides he wants to get out of the criminal life, he has to go through his boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) and assassins Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Bats (Jamie Foxx) to save his girlfriend Debora (Lily James) and hit the road running. Elgort is a powerhouse in the lead, portraying a conflicted young man guided by a moral compass in a place where it points nowhere. The action and comedy blend together perfectly, with writer-director Edgar Wright framing the film as a homage to classic 1980’s espionage films. And the soundtrack is infectious in its appeal, with featured artists such as The Beach Boys, Queen, and Simon and Garfunkel here to keep your feet tapping. The year’s biggest surprise hit. Three and a half stars.

8. Logan

SOURCE: 20th Century FoxHugh Jackman’s last outing in a role that he has served well for more than 17 years, a finale that is equal parts violent, action-packed, emotional, heartbreaking, and powerful. When Logan (Jackman) is approached by a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keene) asking for his help, he teams up one last time with his mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) to save Laura from the men that are after her. Refusing to shy away from the bloody, hard-R violence that made Deadpool a mainstay, Logan is the most emotional, the most vivid, and the most grounded story told in Wolverine’s saga. Instead of the action and the visual effects, writer-director James Mangold chooses to focus on something more practical to Wolverine: his humanity. Like The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2, Logan relates to us on a more human level as opposed to a fantastical one, and the characters deal with real struggles as human beings, not as superheroes. Jackman and Stewart also give the most defined performances of their careers, playing their characters in their most vulnerable, broken appearance to date. Time will remember Wolverine for the hero. I will remember Logan for the man. Three and a half stars.

7. Get Out

SOURCE: Universal PicturesA strange, surreal, and deeply unusual horror film, but also immediately relevant to its intended audience. When an interracial couple goes to visit the girlfriend’s parents for a weekend getaway, they discover that her parents aren’t all that they seem: and neither are their neighbors. “Key & Peele” co-creator Jordan Peele comes forward here in his directing debut as a masterful storyteller, deconstructing and elaborating on white privilege and the devastating effects it can have on individual lives. Daniel Kaluuya and Lil Rel Howery respectively delivers the films most climactic and comedic moments, with Kaluuya particularly impressive in portraying a character that is confused, scared, and victimized in a situation where no one is coming to help him. Get Out is one of the most creative, compelling, riveting, and darkly humorous films I’ve seen in years. It works across the board as horror, comedy, drama, or satire. Take your pick. Three and a half stars.

6. Thor: Ragnarok

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion PicturesMarvel’s standout of the year, a movie that has absolutely no business being this good or memorable. When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) starts getting visions of Ragnarok, the prophesied destruction of Asgard, he has to team up with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to stop Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) from destroying Asgard. Packing five different genres into one unorthodox mess of perfection, Thor: Ragnarok is a funny comedy, a thrilling action movie, an exciting adventure, a heartfelt drama, and a groundbreaking superhero epic all at once. The comedy hits exactly the right notes with the right lines. The drama, while at times a little too brisk, strikes with the emotional chord that it needs to. The action scenes are thrilling. The visual effects, mesmerizing. The music, synthesized and catchy. Even the Easter Eggs are infectious in their appeal. I haven’t had this much fun in a superhero movie since The Avengers in 2012. Yes, I’m comparing Thor: Ragnarok to The Avengers. Don’t knock it until you try it. Four stars.

5. It

SOURCE: Warner Bros. PicturesA terrifying and insightful personification of fear made possible by the brilliantly mad mind of Stephen King. When a group of kids discover an omniscient being disguised as a clown haunting their hometown, the children decide to team up and put an end to it’s villainy once and for all. The cast takes center-stage in a horror film fueled by complex emotions and ideas, with Bill Skarsgard perfectly embodying the madness and bloodlust that the iconic character Pennywise the dancing clown would possess. Director Andy Muschietti also smartly compares and juxtaposes human nature with that of a predator’s nature, asking us if these two concepts can exist in the same society. It is visually dynamic and haunting, with the makeup and costuming on Skarsgard being among the best work I’ve seen in years. A thoughtful, captivating, and intensifying look into the psychology of fear and how it affects our flawed perceptions of life. Four stars.

4. Detroit

SOURCE: Annapurna PicturesA cruel, horrifying, and maddening fact-based account of one of the most egregious cases of police brutality in American history. During the 12th Street Detroit riots of 1967, a team of rogue cops infiltrate their way through the Algier’s Motel and pin the inhabitants against the wall, demanding to know if they’re hiding any weapons inside the building. As the hours pass, the teenagers soon realize that this is not a run-of-the-mill police checkup, but instead a fight for survival between themselves and the men who are supposed to be upholding the law. Thoroughly researched and accurately dramatized from the Academy Award-winning team of screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit is one of the most riveting and essential pieces of cinema you can watch this decade. The details of this real-life account are haunting and tragic, and the cast equally commits to recreating this monstrous night with passionate urgency. Newcomer Algee Smith especially shines as a troubled R&B musician, a terrified kid caught in this confusion of racial prejudice and hatred that permanently damages him for the rest of his life. Don’t turn away from Detroit. Watch and be horrified by our nation’s history. Four stars.

3. Wonder Woman

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

A blessing to both cinema and gender equality, a film that propels its female protagonist as not only just as capable as the men around her, but in many scenes is better suited for more difficult tasks. Gal Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince, an Amazonian born on the hidden island of Themyscira where her and her Amazonian sisters reside. When Ares the God of War makes his return to wreck havok on the planet, Diana suits up in Themyscira’s sacred armor, lasso, shield, and sword and sets out to defeat Ares and save the world. The action is fast-paced and enthralling, with Wonder Woman charging through German soldiers and toppling over buildings like the aftermath of a Superman battle. Yet, the softer moments leading up to the action is what captures us the most, with Diana finding her place in a constantly shifting world ruled by male conflict and ego. Gadot remains emotionally persistent throughout the picture, while director Patty Jenkins handles both visually spectacular scenes and emotionally grounded moments with a surprising amount of finesse. In a day and age filled with cold, bleak, heartless blockbusters, Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air we all desperately needed. Four stars.

2. The Big Sick

SOURCE:

One of the most pure, honest, and heartfelt experiences you can have at the cinema this decade. Telling the story of how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his future wife Emily (Portrayed by Zoe Kazan), The Big Sick shows their love story starting off in a comedy club, to a hospital wait room, to New York as this magical film shows us how love transcends all cultural barriers. Nanjiani is an open book here as a writer and as an artist, telling a part of his life story with the sincerity and honesty needed to make it work. He spits out clever one-liners like they’re coming out of a comedy machine, yet he also embodies the emotional turmoil needed to make his story tragically believable, not just entertaining. Director Michael Showalter directs the entire cast impeccably here, making every scene feel genuine and down-to-Earth. If The Big Sick feels real, that’s because it is. Four stars.

1. War for the Planet of the Apes

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

An epic and emotional conclusion to this prequel trilogy that functions as a summer blockbuster, a war drama, and a somber tragedy all at once. When the apes’ forest home is raided and the apes are left broken and displaced, their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) sets out on a journey for vengeance against the humans who took the lives of his primate brethren and end this insufferable war. Featuring a masterful performance by the motion-capture king Andy Serkis himself, War for the Planet of the Apes is an intimate, intense personal drama disguised as an action blockbuster, equal parts powerful, emotional, and morally conflicting. Writer-director Matt Reeves pulls inspiration from all of the greatest war classics in this inspired, original take on the Planet of the Apes franchise, throwing his characters through compelling, thought-provoking scenarios as opposed to mindlessly action-packed ones. The visual effects are also at their best in the series, not only accurately animating the apes’ physical characteristics and mannerisms, but also their facial expressions and emotional reactions. The best Planet of the Apes movie out of the series by far, and my pick for film of the year. Four stars.


That’s all for this list, folks. Thank you for spending part of the new year with me and my favorite films from 2017. Tune in next year for when I rate the top 10 nuclear missiles that Kim Jong-Un will inevitably fire at us.

– David Dunn

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Battle For The Net

CREATIVE COMMONS

Net Neutrality. You’ve been hearing those words all week just as much as I have. But what do they mean? Simply put, it’s what allows the internet to be open and accessible to all of its users, allowing us the freedom to go wherever or whenever we want on the web. Many things that make the internet so integral to online communication and trade is because of net neutrality, allowing us to access online innovations such as Netflix, Skype, Steam, Facebook, and so much more. If repealed, the internet will become completely deregulated and everything you’ve come to love about it will cease to exist.

Sounds dramatic I know, but it’s true, especially in my case. Independent journalists such as myself live and die by net neutrality. In the face of major media conglomerates such as TIME, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, writers like me are small fry compared to big fishes like them. And yet, net neutrality sets us on an even playing field because all of our data is treated equally on the web. Because of net neutrality, content creators like me always have an equal opportunity to reach web traffic, just as much as any of our competitors do.

So why does the Federal Communications Commission want to repeal net neutrality? The reason FCC chairman Ajit Pai claims is to “restoring internet freedom,” although you have to wonder if he’s talking about freedom for the internet or for its service providers?

“The federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet,” Pai announced in a statement last month. “Instead, the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them, and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

First of all, the service plan that’s best for its users is the one we already have now, where we’re charged with one bill per month for internet use. That’s directly because of net neutrality. If repealed, the one bill we have to pay would be split into multiple different bills, which would just make payment a lot more confusing for its users by the end of the month.

CREATIVE COMMONS

When you buy a pair of jeans, you pay one amount for the jeans, not multiple payments individually for the beltline, shins, legs, and pockets. The pair of jeans we’re wearing right now is the internet with net neutrality. If net neutrality is repealed, we would have to pay for all of our services individually, including social media, streaming services, email, online shopping, and more.

Second, there’s no evidence that the government is “micromanaging the internet” to begin with. That would imply that they dictate control over what content is available and what can or can’t be shared, to which they obviously do not. Don’t believe me? Then why hasn’t Donald Trump blocked The New York Times’ or CNN’s content on the web? Why didn’t Barack Obama put up a paywall for Fox News or Breitbart? Simple: it’s because they can’t.

However, while the government’s job isn’t to “micromanage” the internet, it is it’s job to regulate it, specifically via the FCC. Pai says that internet service providers will regulate themselves without checks and balances, but that couldn’t be more incorrect. Service providers have been trying to abuse the internet since 2005, from AT&T blocking Skype and FaceTime to Verizon and Sprint blocking Google Wallet. What stopped them from doing these things was the FCC. Why? Because it’s their job. When you put up traffic cameras on the street to monitor traffic, you’re not “micromanaging” the roads. You’re checking to make sure that drivers are being safe and responsible. When police officers put on body cameras while on-duty, you’re not “micromanaging” police work. You’re holding them accountable for unethical or illegal behavior they may engage in while wearing the badge.

The same applies to the FCC. It’s their job to monitor the internet and make sure it remains free and open, not restricted and limited. For an entity that’s supposed to regulate the internet, why on Earth would they want to deregulate it? That would be like a babysitter leaving the kids to fend for themselves while she’s out with her boyfriend. When the parents come home to find the house on fire, it would not be the kids’ fault. It would be the babysitter’s.

Third, repealing net neutrality would not empower free speech: it would potentially inhibit it. As I mentioned before, internet service providers are currently not allowed to treat data impartially on the web. But if net neutrality is repealed? Then it becomes a crapshoot. ISP’s can put up paywalls for certain websites in addition to the paywalls that may already exist, they can ban certain URLs, even block entire websites altogether.

With the internet as we have it now, we have an equal opportunity to digest and process different types of information at the same time. But take net neutrality out of the picture, and suddenly you have a whole sect of the internet you might not be able to access.

Net neutrality does not inhibit free speech. It protects it. Anyone who says otherwise misunderstands net neutrality and how it impacts our internet consumption.

So again, why does the FCC really want to repeal net neutrality? We can only speculate a number of reasons. It could be because they want to deregulate the internet to lessen the media’s resolve against the Trump administration. It could be because their donors are in the service provider’s pockets and their literal incomes might be on the line. Or it could be just to snow Obama again, as net neutrality was approved during Obama’s second term as president.

Either way, this is a serious issue in protecting our internet freedom and something everyone should be concerned about, whether you exist on the left or right end of the political spectrum. The FCC meets to vote on net neutrality on Dec. 14, and this is more serious than any other legislative issue going on this year. Why? It’s because we possess less of a say in it. Whatever you thought about legislation this year regarding healthcare, credit unions, and tax plans, we at least have a hand of influence in those decisions. That’s because no matter how your senators voted this year, they have to turn around and face your votes during the senate elections in 2018. Actions and consequences are attached to every decision politicians make, and they are delivered by the American people deciding whether or not their senators get to keep their jobs next year.

The FCC, however, is a different story. Unlike with senators and congressmen, voters like you and me don’t impact the employment of FCC commissioners. They are 100% employed by the president and his cabinet. Because of this, our voices matter now more than ever, and they need to be loud enough so every commissioner can hear them from miles away.

So before the FCC votes to repeal net neutrality on Dec. 14, don’t forget to call them on their direct line at 1-202-418-1000, or email the members directly at Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov, Mignon.Clyburn@fcc.gov, Mike.O’Rielly@fcc.gov, Brendan.Carr@fcc.gov, and Jessica.Rosenworcel@fcc.gov. Call them and email them once, then keep calling and emailing them up until the day of the vote. Otherwise you might not be able to access this web page the next time you type in my address.

– David Dunn

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Unite the League: 10 Greatest DC Comics Movies Of All Time

It’s funny how DC Comics is struggling to break into the cinematic universe gig despite their vast influence over comic book history. We give Marvel creator Stan Lee so much credit for all of the creative and dynamic characters he’s brought us over the years, both on the panels of the comic book and on the big screen. Yet has anyone ever stopped to think about the inspiration that came before him? Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in the pages of Action Comics in May 1938. Bob Kane created Batman in 1939. William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman in 1941. Even with all of his young promise, Stan Lee wouldn’t create the Fantastic Four until 1961, 20 years after Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were cemented as comic-book icons, influencing our culture several decades beyond their time. Stan Lee may have perfected the comic-book craft, but he did not start it. DC Comics did.

How ironic is it, then, that the DCEU is struggling both financially and critically five movies into their franchise, yet Marvel is skyrocketing with their 18th film due for release next spring? It’s a shame, really. DC has been a huge part of many childhoods over the years, mine included. The original Richard Donner Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. The Tim Burton Batman movies starring Michael Keaton. The “Batman” and “Justice League” animated cartoons. We’ve grown up with these characters for so long, hoping one day to see them all realized on the big screen. We got our wish, although it may not be what many were expecting.

For the record, I haven’t seen Justice League yet, and will not until later this week when I’ve recovered from my sinus infection. Regardless, I have had time to catch up on the nostalgia on some older DC movies, and boy are there many. Regardless of whether Justice League is any good or not, at least we’ll be able to look back fondly on these 10 DC Comics movies.

– David Dunn

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Pulses of the Nation

CREDIT: David Goldman / AP

One year.

It’s been one year since America went from its last deadliest shooting to the next. That doesn’t just happen. Last year, 49 people were killed and 58 were injured at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This year it’s 58 people and 527 injured at the Las Vegas strip. When will it stop? When will we stop being satisfied with well-wishes and prayers and start taking action on these problems? When will enough be enough?

I learned how to shoot my first BB gun when I was 12 years old, my first rifle when I was 16. As someone who has grown up to value the rights our second amendment grants us, I appreciate the technique and the intricacies needed to not only handle a gun, but to also take care of it and keep it in a safe condition. While I was being trained, I was carefully instructed on how the gun always needed to be pointed down and kept on safety if you weren’t shooting it. Responsible gun owners know this and will treat their weapons as if it’s always ready to shoot to kill. One of my family members actually fired a gun for the first time in her life this past summer and started crying. When we asked her what was wrong, she said “To think that just like that… a life can end.”

I thought about what she said during this month’s horrible turn of events. Do we weigh the loss of life as much as we need to every time we pick up a gun? Do we respect the deadly power that it comes with? Or is it just a fleeting detail, hidden behind all of today’s controversies and current events?

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stricken with grief in a time like this. What kind of human being wouldn’t be? We tell ourselves that what happened wasn’t preventable, that if a man wants to commit an act of violence, he would do it with or without a gun. That much is true. Our nation’s most horrific terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001 was done with a few box cutters and four plane hijackings. Before that, the worst terrorist attack was carried out by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, where he killed 168 people by parking a truck bomb in front of a federal building. Evil intentions aren’t disarmed when you take the bullets out of a gun. As Tyler Joseph observes on the Twenty One Pilots song “Heathens,” “Just because we check the guns at the door doesn’t mean our brains will change from hand grenades.”

Still, it’s foolish to ignore the mountain of evidence that America has become one of the deadliest nations in the world. How deadly? Since 1966, there have been at least 131 mass shootings in the United States. Almost half of them have occurred since 2006. Out of established nations in the world, the U.S. ranks 31st in gun violence. 3.85 per 100,000 citizens died due to gun violence last year alone. In the United Kingdom, that number is .07. The majority of the perpetrators in these shootings are white males, and most of their weapons were obtained legally. Stephen Paddock is only one man out of a tribe of monsters. After the traumatic attack in Las Vegas, police found a total of 23 guns in his living spaces. All of them were legal purchases.

So let’s put these facts into perspective. The amount of mass shootings in the United States are growing in both frequency and fatality. I repeat: mass shootings are happening more often in America and with more casualties. This is not an anti-gun advocate saying this. This is a proponent of gun rights saying this. We had our deadliest shooting last year with 49 dead. It barely took a year to dethrone it. What does that pattern spell for our nation’s future if we allow this to continue?

Yet, the scariest thing to me is not the ongoing threat of gun violence in the United States: it’s the silencing of it. After the Las Vegas shooting, you would think people would respond to this violence and put more careful regulations in place to monitor gun sales. They haven’t. It’s now been a month and congress has demonstrated no initiative in addressing this constant stream of gun violence in the states. Funding for gun violence in the Center of Disease Control has gone down by 96% since 1996, with only $100,000 allotted on its budget. And the Dickey Amendment, which continues to restrict research on gun violence statistics, remains active with no indication of being overturned. How can we even begin to discuss solutions to these issues if we aren’t educated or informed on the statistics regarding these shootings?

I’m not saying we should have a general ban on automatic weapons in the United States. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t either. Gun control is a very layered issue, and with any issue like it, we need to talk about them in-depth to find the right compromises that satisfy both right-wing conservatives and concerned Democrats. Doing nothing and remaining silent about it is irresponsible and disrespectful, especially to those families who lost loved ones in Las Vegas, Orlando, or in any of the other mass shootings. We have plenty to disagree about in our nation: healthcare, immigration, the economy. The well-being of our citizens should not be one of them.

A point observed to me earlier this week was that Paddock used bump-stock on his rifle during the attacks to turn it from a semi-automatic weapon to an automatic. A friend of mine suggested that congress should discuss banning bump stocks in the United States, considering that would be banning a gun part as opposed to a gun itself. Fine. Great. That’s a fantastic place to start the conversation, but let’s have a conversation. Continuing to bury it threatens greater and more devastating tragedies to happen in the future. Is that when we’re finally going to talk about the issue? When hundreds are dead and families are left grieving?

Do not let this issue get buried. If we do, we threaten to bury our own loved ones with it.

– David Dunn

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Hollywood, the Sexual Predator

CREDIT: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Here’s how the next few weeks are going to go. Harvey Weinstein is going to offer both apologies and excuses, one on top of the other. Multiple Hollywood celebrities, commentators, and insiders are going to condemn him and his actions. Legal procedures will get carried out. Victims will offer testimonies, details, and depressingly vivid accounts of the experiences they went through. All through it all, people are going to say quote “This must never be allowed to happen again.” And then Hollywood will allow it to happen again, and then again, and then again, again and again.

This is not a pessimistic viewpoint. This is a fact. We live in a society where rape culture is in a constant flux of victim-blaming and lies, and through it all we lose focus and consistently fail to advocate for the victim. Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment extends well beyond three decades. His accusers consist of more than 32 women, including actresses Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, Gweneth Paltrow, Cara Delevigne, and Rose McGowan. How many people knew about this? How many complaints were filed to the Weinstein Company? How many times did they overlook those claims? His reputation was such an open-secret in the industry that “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane even joked about it at the 2013 Academy Awards nominations announcement, saying to the best supporting actress nominees “You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.” The room was met with a mix of awkward laughs and uncomfortable silence.

Yet, the most bothersome thing about this is not Weinstein’s egregious behavior. It’s not how far back the allegations extend. It isn’t even the Weinstein Company’s reaction to throw everything under the rug. It’s how much of a recurring trend it is in Hollywood to not only excuse criminal behavior, but to also silence and deflect the accuser’s voices away from the conversation.

Observe, for instance, the following names: Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Casey Affleck. They all share three things in common with Weinstein. They’re all prominent Hollywood figures. They’re all Academy Award-winners. And they all have a history of sexual harassment.

Look at Allen, for instance. Winning four Oscars for Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Midnight in Paris, Allen is highly regarded by many Hollywood award ceremonies, yet his controversies follow him just as closely as his award statuettes. For one thing, during his relationship with actress Mia Farrow in 1992, Farrow discovered that Allen was having an affair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, who at the latest would have been 19 years old at the time they started dating. The fact that Farrow’s teenage daughter started a relationship with her 53-year old boyfriend is disturbing all on its own, but only a few months later her seven year old daughter Dylan said she was molested by Allen while Farrow was out of the house. The case has been reviewed back and forth, with Dylan’s own siblings both defending and criticizing Dylan’s testimony. If it means anything, however, Allen’s biological son Ronan sympathizes with Dylan. The case was closed and Allen was released of all charges, going back into the moviemaking world to win more accolades.

Roman Polanski. Directed the movies Rosemary’s Baby, Macbeth, and Chinatown. Won an Oscar for directing The Pianist. Raped a 13-year old girl in 1977. Entered a plea bargain with the judge to serve his time under probation. Fled to France when he learned the judge was going to ignore the bargain and sentence him to 50 years in prison. You can think whatever you want about the events themselves. It doesn’t change the fact that when he won his best director Oscar in 2002, he was met with thunderous applause from everyone in the auditorium. He continues to work with many notable celebrity figures well into this day.

Casey Affleck. Won a Oscar last year for his performance in Manchester by the Sea. Was sued by producer Amanda White and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka for sexual harassment while he directed the 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here. That controversy was so under-the-radar that it didn’t even hit mainstream conversation until Affleck’s win on Oscar night. I didn’t even find out about it until after I reported on it the day after.

As a film critic, I often find myself in a difficult position where my job is to critique the art and not the artist. Earlier this year, I received criticism for giving the superhero film Wonder Woman four stars out of four, mostly because of Gal Gadot’s position on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The issue is that I wasn’t reviewing Gadot’s social views: I was reviewing her performance in a movie. And the fact of the matter is that she was outstanding in the picture, regardless of whatever real-life causes she advocated for.

The same thing goes for Weinstein. Here is a Hollywood media mogul responsible for the takeoff of so many successful careers and filmmakers. Quentin Taratino and Pulp Fiction. Lasse Halstromm and The Cider House Rules. Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings. Multiple accolades have been garnered from his productions. Six of them won the Academy Award for best picture. He has without a doubt had a huge impact on Hollywood culture and storytelling, and will continue to influence it years beyond this controversy as well as his own lifespan.

But here’s the thing: his successes does not excuse him from his cruelties. Yes, he has produced multiple masterpieces throughout his career. So what? He still sexually harassed, abused, and assaulted more than 30 women for three decades. Where is the accountability? Where are his consequences? He’s been exercising this reckless sexual ego since 1984. Why is it that 33 years later he’s suddenly facing the music for what he’s done? As viewers, we are required to suspend our personal cultural opinions in order to observe the film and review it on its own merits. But as human beings, how can we be responsible for no less than holding each other accountable for our actions?

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

I am reminded of a quote by the iconic Marilyn Monroe, who’s life creepily enough was adapted into the Weinstein production My Week With Marilyn. In her book My Story, she writes “In Hollywood, a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.” I read this somberly, imagining her 40 years after her death still singing “Happy Birthday” to the man in the chair. Only this time, it isn’t president John F. Kennedy sitting in it. It’s Harvey Weinstein, and Hollywood’s executives are all sitting right behind him.

– David Dunn

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No Confederacy, No Common Sense

SOURCE: Ringo Chiu/Getty Images

I was 12 years old when I saw a confederate flag for the first time outside of a classroom. I was at first disoriented by the sight: confused that after a war had ended for nearly 150 years, a flag was still being hoisted that wasn’t our own. I asked my dad why that flag was hanging on the back of our neighbor’s truck. He said that she was “representing her Southern pride.”

I’ve never understood why someone would be proud enough to represent the Confederate flag. It makes no sense. Take away the racial and historical implications behind the flag for a second. Who in their right mind would be proud of something that is most known for losing? That would be like admitting that you’re a Detroit Lions fan, or that you like listening to Nickelback. Once those opinions have left your lips, everything else that comes out afterwards has an embarrassing odor of stupid trailing it everywhere. You support the Confederacy? Good luck being taken seriously after confessing that, folks. I would probably find it funny, if it wasn’t already so pathetic.

Regardless of what you think, the open display of the Confederate flag is a debate that rages on, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to deescalate anytime soon. The more recent controversy spurring on the discussion is the “Unite the Right” protests going on in Charlottesville, VA, where white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members flooded the streets and caused a state of emergency before killing three people and injuring 38 others.

“Unite the Right”? Ha. More like “Unite the White.”

I’m not going to lie, when I first heard about these protests, it broke my heart. I lived briefly in Charlottesville for a time last year, and the city that I remembered leaving was a bright, friendly place where you could strike up a conversation with anyone you met on the street. It wasn’t a hateful, divisive place. It wasn’t unsafe or shady. It was simply a beautiful city, and I roamed the downtown restaurants and venues freely and with ease. I will always have fond memories of Charlottesville and even plan to revisit at some point in the future, preferably before David Duke blows it to hell with a wooden cross burning over it.

So when I heard that once again racist and hate-fueled bigots were protesting in the town, the first thing I asked myself was why? Why were they making all of this fuss? Of course, racists like the KKK don’t need much reason to destroy public property, but nevertheless I was curious of their reasoning. What led them to such a violent escapade?

Well apparently all of this started when the Robert E. Lee statue was reportedly being taken down back in May. After news came out, white supremacists took to the streets in June, July, and August before their most violent outing yet on Saturday. By the way, after all of their protesting, Lexington mayor Jim Gray said they’re going to bring down two more confederate statues in response to their protests, and many more are following in his example. The “Unite the Right/White” march ended up harming the supremacist’s cause rather than helping it.

Like I said, an embarrassing odor of stupid trailing them everywhere.

Cartoon by Andrew David Cox

But it did get me thinking. White supremacists are very protective of their Confederate paraphernalia when it is threatened by the masses. Seriously, they turn into the most fragile little snowflakes you’ve ever seen, turning red anytime they see a pixel of blue floating near their precious flags. This overprotective mentality shows a rare vulnerability in white supremacists. At that point, you would reasonably think that the best way to disarm white supremacy would be to tear down confederate artifacts. After all, Germany doesn’t have Nazi symbolism publicly displayed anymore. Why would America have Confederate symbolism still exist 150 years later?

This is where things get really confusing, because while white supremacy is still very much a real threat, people continue to defend these supremacists and their hateful symbols. That to me is even weirder, because who in their right mind looks at a Nazi beating up somebody in the street, gives a thumbs up and says “You keep doing you, sir! You have every right to hate whoever you want!”

There are many arguments that pro-confederate advocates use to defend their claims. Allow me to deconstruct each of them.

“It’s for historical preservation.”

First of all, there’s a big difference between remembering history and reliving it. Remembering history means recounting past events and allowing them to influence your future decisions. Reliving it means re-enacting past practices to keep those ideologies alive.  A good way to differentiate is by judging the quality of the object’s preservation. Is the object properly stored away and maintained in a proper condition? Or is it constantly in use and faces regular wear-and-tear damage?

This is why the “historical” argument makes no sense to me. The core argument is based on preserving history, but the open public use of the flag is not even for preservation. It’s for decoration. And who in their right mind would want to decorate their belongings with something as ugly and putrid as the Confederate flag?

Then asks the Neo-Nazi “But if we can’t fly it, where do we put it?” You know, there are these amazing institutions called MUSEUMS that are specifically made for the purpose of storing and preserving ancient artifacts. You should try visiting one sometime, you might learn something for a change.

“Those people are exercising their freedom of speech.”

Nobody is denying that someone has the right or ability to openly share and express these ideas. That’s not the point. The point is should they express them? And if they do, does that automatically take away our right to speak out against them?

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence. If you’re going to say or represent hateful ideas, you should reasonably expect blow back from your critics, and you equally shouldn’t discourage those people for exercising the same rights as you do.

Here’s another way to view it. Say a man walks up to a woman in the middle of the street and calls her fat. The woman starts crying, local on-lookers start rushing to her defense and criticize the man for his hateful words. Now, with you bearing witness to all this, are you more likely to defend the woman for being victimized, or are you more likely to defend the man and his right to free speech?

The correct answer is, of course, the woman, because any decent person would defend those who are being unnecessarily harassed. If you, however, answered the man under any circumstance, then you misunderstand the rights that our constitution grants us and should never be allowed to comment on politics ever again.

“We have to remember history so we don’t repeat it.”

Well we pretty much failed in that mission, haven’t we? After all, 46 percent of the country elected a president who was publicly endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, hate groups have grown by 17% since election season began, and literal Nazis are marching in our streets. At this point, preventing history from repeating itself is no longer an option for us. We’re living in it right now.

COURTESY: The Inquisitr/ Rob Cotton

Look, I could counter every point thrown in my direction, but it’s not like it would make any difference. If this political season has shown anything, it has shown that people would rather sit inside their sheltered echo chambers instead of getting out and facing reality as it is. And right now the reality is we are living in one of our nation’s most divisive times in modern history.

Everyone is saying we need to end the hate and come together as one. This much is true. However, the people who divided us with their hate in the first place must be proactive in taking the first steps towards healing our nation. Because of this, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK must allow themselves to be disarmed as we tear down the symbols that inspire their racist-fueled agenda. This includes publicly displayed Confederate and Nazi artifacts.

I don’t want it to be like this. I would like a nation that is civil with each other and allows free, respectful discussion of these issues. But if one side is going to be intolerant with their movement, they cannot blame us if we in turn refuse to tolerate their insolence. It’s okay to tolerate different political ideas. It is not okay to tolerate overt racism and hatred. Unfortunately, our nation has come to that point.

I understand that the removal of Confederate and Nazi images won’t stop the issues this country is facing. Still, we need to take a stand. We must. If we claim that America is for the land of the free and home of the brave, then we must demonstrate that by being brave and fighting for those freedoms.

Removing Confederate symbols won’t cure this country of the hatred that has infested it. But it’s a good place to start.

– David Dunn

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White House, You’re Fired

After a series of shocking firings and resignations, President Donald Trump took his boldest step yet in firing the White House.

No, not the White House staff. The actual White House.

After openly calling the White House “a real dump” earlier this week, Trump fired the White House due to dissatisfaction with the décor and for suspected assistance in leaking to the press. Trump took to Twitter to voice his dissatisfaction with the inanimate object’s performance:

The announcement came after the sudden removal of communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who was employed at the White House for less than two weeks. Other staffers fired or resigned during Trump’s tenure include press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus, FBI director James Comey, national security adviser Michael Flynn, attorney Preet Bharara, director of ethics Walter Shaub, communications director Michael Dubke, and attorney general Sally Yates.

With the administration now in the market for a new place of residence, it is unclear where exactly they plan to relocate during this transition period. However, Russian president Vladimir Putin offered the Kremlin as sanction for the sitting president, releasing a statement saying that he’d “be happy” to help his American comrades during this time.

The White House could not be reached for comment. Wait, sorry, guess I need to differentiate that now. The president’s office could not be reached for comment. The White House building itself, however, is very distraught, saying it wasn’t expecting to get fired after serving presidents for more than 200 years.

Meanwhile, the physical staff inside the White House are equally concerned and confused with the announcement. Chief of staff John Kelly said that while he respects the president’s decision, he doesn’t understand “how you can fire a building, unless you’re physically setting fire to it.” Kelly could not confirm if that was what the president really meant or not.

At a press briefing for the announcement, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders couldn’t give a clear answer when asked about the nation’s future relationship with the White House, saying to reporters in the room “I… I don’t even know anymore.”

The White House is expected to fully vacate from the lawn by mid 2020.

– David Dunn

Disclaimer: This piece is satire and is not an accurate representation of current events.
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La La Land, Moonlight Wins 89th Academy Awards (Sort Of)

I don’t even know what to say.

Every year, the Oscars hand out their fair share of snubs and surprises. Last year, it was when Mark Rylance won best supporting actor for Bridge of Spies over Sylvester Stallone for Creed. The year before that, it was when Big Hero 6 won best animated feature over How To Train Your Dragon 2, whereas The Lego Movie wasn’t even nominated.

I’ve seen the Academy snub films every year, but I’ve never seen the Academy snub the moment of winning before. Unbelievably, the Academy did just that last night.

First thing’s first: Jimmy Kimmel was a fun host. Running the show like he was running his late night talk show, he quipped zingy one-liners, had nominees read mean tweets, poked fun at the president, recreated the Lion King moment with Lion’s Sunny Pawar, and even invited a tour bus into the stage area to meet all of the snazzy-dressed celebrities. He was a good host, although I think he did drag on the political jokes for too long (and tweeting the president was definitely a bad idea. You never stoke the flames of a forest fire).

Everything else, however, was in complete debacle. Let’s start with the biggest one of all on Oscar night:

Best Picture: The most shocking win from the night, and not because of who won, but because of how they won. At first, Faye Dunaway read La La Land off of the card and producers Jordan Horowitz and Fred Berger came up to the stage to accept their award. A few seconds later, they retracted their statements and announced there had been a mistake. Moonlight won best picture instead.

How did this happen? Apparently there was a mix-up with the envelopes and Warren Beatty was given a replacement card for best actress instead. Since that card read Emma Stone, who won best actress for her role in La La Land, Dunaway mistakenly thought that meant La La Land won best picture. Her inferences were wrong and the La La Land team had to turn over their statuettes to Moonlight.

Number one: How could the Oscar staff mess this up this badly? The night went smoothly for all of its categories throughout the night until it came to best picture. Suddenly, Beatty and Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and announced the wrong winners. How could the production team be so negligent? How could they possibly goof it up so badly to the point where they hand a card that clearly reads “BEST ACTRESS” to the announcers for best picture? I still can’t wrap my mind around it. It is without a doubt the biggest and most embarrassing mistake in Oscar history.

Number two: Props to Jimmy Kimmel, who kept his cool and even offered a few laughs through the whole ordeal. When he got up to the mic after that massive upset, he turned to cheek and said “Sorry guys, I knew I was going to mess this up.” He made the best out of a terrible situation, and I’m grateful he was there to make everyone feel lighthearted despite going through such a heavy-handed mistake.

Number three: Respect also to the La La Land team, who graciously handed their awards over to Moonlight after that embarrassing stint. I’m sure no one was happy after having that moment taken from them, but the La La Land producers were quick to get off of the stage and to get Moonlight on it. They’ve clearly demonstrated their love, respect, and passion for the arts and were more concerned with honoring the rightful winner rather than take the moment away from them. Thank you to Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt. You are the definition of Hollywood class.

Number four: Obviously, congratulations to the Moonlight team, not only for being involved in making a brave and courageous film, but for also being brave and courageous enough to produce it in the first place. Independent film is a part of the industry that has always been wobbling on its own two legs, but putting Moonlight center stage gave the independent scene a little more foundation in its footing. Moonlight is a masterful picture, it is an important picture, and it is the best picture of the year. Congratulations to that talented team for their monumental achievements in storytelling and character development.

All that aside, I’m still frustrated by that massive slip-up. In one fell swoop, the Academy took that important moment away from multiple filmmakers at once. Somebody is definitely getting fired for that stint.

Best Director: No surprise here. Damien Chazelle won the Director’s Guild Award, so that means he also won best director. At age 32, Chazelle is the youngest best director winner in Oscar history. Congratulations Damien, and thank you for encouraging everyone to dream just a little bit more.

Best Actor: Another upset. I was split down the middle on this category since Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington were on equal footing for Manchester By The Sea and Fences. Since Washington won the screen actor, however, I felt that gave him a slight edge in his race towards the Oscar. Turns out I was wrong. Casey joined big brother Ben in the Oscar crowd and took home best actor for his quietly moving performance in Manchester By The Sea. Congratulations to him and for taking on a personal, intimate role that speaks on the human condition and for our longing to reconnect with the things we’ve lost.

Best Actress: Emma Stone won best actress for her performance as an aspiring actress in La La Land. She was a standout in the movie and deserved to be recognized for her complex role as a down-on-her-luck artist. It’s funny, though, how her win would come back to haunt the best picture category mix-up. But don’t even get me started back up on that again.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali won for Moonlight, making him the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar at the Academy Awards. Congratulations, my friend. You were one of the strongest elements of Moonlight, and your speech was also one of the strongest moments of the night. You have my blessings.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis won for Fences. Her call to exhume and exalt the ordinary person summoned a powerful force in the room, and everyone resonated with her message to celebrate life, love, and the arts. Jimmy Kimmel hilariously followed that up with “I think she’s nominated for next year’s Emmy’s for that speech.”

I still feel Naomie Harris was more commanding in her role as a drug-addicted mother seeking redemption in Moonlight. But Moonlight already got some love. It’s nice to see Fences get some too.

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia won, clearly. Look out for its sequel, which will be adapting the 2016 Presidential Elections. (I’m kidding, of course, but don’t be surprised if you see new characters introduced next year named Donald Skunk or Hillary Chimpton).

Best Documentary Feature: O.J.: Made in America won best documentary. That was when Taraji P. Henson pulled out a paper tag from the card and read “MADE IN TAIWAN.”

Best Foreign Language Feature: In another upset, Asghar Farhadi won best foreign language film for The Salesman, making him one of the few filmmakers to win this award twice. Sadly, Farhadi could not come to the ceremony to accept his award in person due to the immigration ban placed on Iran. His call to empathize and understand beyond judgement and apprehension is a message we all need to hear more of.

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan won best original screenplay for Manchester By The Sea. Lonergan dedicated the award to many people in his life, including his father, who passed away earlier last year. Him winning for his passion project behind Manchester made me immensely happy for him, and I can’t help but feel he’s written something relevant for everyone, no matter what age you are. Congratulations, Kenny. No doubt that your father would be proud.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight deservingly won best adapted screenplay, as he guides us through Chiron’s complex childhood and clearly demonstrates how actions in the past affect decisions made in the future. Like many other winners from the night, Moonlight demands that we see people not for their labels, but for their experiences. Congratulations to him and his wonderful achievement in defining human empathy.

Best Film Editing: Before I get into this, I need to apologize. In my predictions, I commented that Tom Cross was going to win best film editing for La La Land, even though he was vastly undeserving compared to his great work on Whiplash. I want to now redact my statement. The Oscar for best film editing did not go to La La Land, but instead went to John Gilbert for Hacksaw Ridge.

It was my mistake to underestimate him. Gilbert has edited numerous films, from The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring to Bridge to Terabithia. Hacksaw Ridge is a full demonstration of his talents as he expertly navigates us through the physical and spiritual warfare that happened on the battlefields of Okinawa. Congratulations and thank you, Mr. Gilbert. You’ve delivered us a very powerful film.

Best Cinematography: La La Land. It should have gone to Bradford Young for Arrival, but since La La Land got snubbed way worse in the best picture category, I’m willing to hand this one over to Linus Sandgren. Hopefully it made the loss a little easier to bear.

jared-leto-joker-suicide-squad

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Okay, now this is getting ridiculous. Suicide Squad won the Oscar for best makeup over A Man Called Ove and Star Trek Beyond. While I’m happy that it won and agree it is the most deserving nominee out of the bunch, I’m frustrated at the Academy voters because they’re so blasted inconsistent with this category. The Iron Lady beat out Harry Potter in 2011. Les Miserables beat out The Hobbit in 2012. The Grand Budapest Hotel beat out Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. Year after year, the Academy snubs the clear standout in this category for one stupid reason or another. Why is it this year that they decide to set themselves straight again?

Whatever. The DC Extended Universe now has an Oscar under their belts, and that’s one more thing they have over the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Congratulations guys, but don’t let it go to your head. You still have Justice League coming up right around the corner.

Best Costume Design: Another infuriating upset. While I agree that Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them has some outstanding costume work, it does not warrant it for an Oscar, especially when you compare it to its nominees such as Allied and Jackie. Plus, its win now makes it the first film in the Harry Potter series to win an Oscar. Yes, dear reader: Fantastic Beasts is considered Oscar-worthy whereas none of the other eight Harry Potter films are. That’s just lividly frustrating to me.

In either case, Colleen Atwood is still the costume industry’s version of Meryl Streep. Congratulations and all that jazz.

Best Production Design: La La Land. A worthy winner, but are you really that surprised?

Best Musical Score: La La Land, obviously.

Best Original Song: La La Land, for “City of Stars.” John Legend’s cover of the song was the stuff of dreams.

Best Sound Editing: The first big surprise of the night. Arrival took home best sound editing and not Hacksaw Ridge. It didn’t seem likely that it would win considering it was a slow burning science-philosophy film filled with quiet moments and eerie alien moans, and most of the previous year’s winners were in-your-face action movies. However, I don’t take away its nomination or its worthiness of the award. Congratulations to Arrival for best sound editing. It was genuinely shocking to see you dethrone Hacksaw.

Best Sound Mixing: However, Hacksaw Ridge’s loss wouldn’t last long since it won for best sound mixing not even two minutes later. I keep debating back and forth in my head whether it was the most worthy nominee or not, but at the end of the day, I really don’t care. It’s outstanding sound work anyway, and the gunfire and bomb blasts made every moment tingle with excitement and urgency. Congratulations to the Hacksaw Ridge sound team. You did Desmond Doss justice.

Best Visual Effects: Since the Academy ruled out Doctor Strange and Rogue One, The Jungle Book won best visual effects that night. It’s not an undeserved win. Congratulations to Jon Favreau and for making these incredible jungle animals come alive. Don’t mess it up now with the Lion King remake.

Surprisingly, I even got one of the short categories correct, predicting that Piper would win best animated short film. With that, I’ve correctly predicted 14 winners out of the 24 categories. Not my worst record, but not my best either.

In any regard, congratulations to Moonlight, La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester By The Sea, and all the other winners from last night. Hopefully next year the Academy will be more thorough with handling its envelopes.

– David Dunn

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