Category Archives: The Scope

Avengers Assemble: Top 10 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies

If you had told me in 2008 that Iron Man would propel a cinematic franchise that’s made more money and movies than the Star Wars, Batman, and Harry Potter franchises, I would have laughed at you all the way to class. “How could that be?” I would’ve asked. “Marvel doesn’t even own the rights to its most popular character, Spider-Man!” A decade later, I’m eating my words, and I couldn’t be happier for it.

It’s amazing to see how far Marvel has come since then. Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and later this year, Ant-Man & The Wasp will be the 20th. That means Marvel has pumped out an average of two films every year since Iron Man’s release. The fact that Marvel has pushed out that many movies is impressive enough on its own. The fact that nearly all of them were as financially and critically successful as they were makes their feats all the more impressive. Before Marvel, Star Wars was the highest-grossing film franchise at $8 billion. The MCU has blown that away with a whopping $15 billion.

To say that Marvel has become successful at the movie business would be a severe understatement. It became successful, stacked billions of billions of dollars on top of it, threw on a cosplay, then break-danced in front of the movie theater like it was Flash Gordon. I would go so far as to say it’s the only considerable force at the box office. Even when you include Star Wars as competition, Walt Disney still owns both of those properties. So who else is there to offer serious cinematic competition at the likes of Disney?

With Avengers: Infinity War releasing past week and quickly on its way to grossing one billion dollars at the box office, it’s worth taking a look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best. So without further adieu, here are my Top 10 films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

– David Dunn

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

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

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

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

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

Case in point:

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

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

Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk, again.

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

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

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

– David Dunn

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2017 Oscar Predictions

The more I cover the Oscars, the more frustrating they become to me.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: I’ve always disliked the Oscars, long before I even started this website in 2013. That’s because they have consistently snubbed the most obvious winners ceremony by ceremony, almost for as long as the Oscars themselves have existed. Perfect example: how is it that Alfred Hitchock, the iconic director behind classics such as Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds, has gone through his ENTIRE 50-year career and never won a single Oscar? Meanwhile, Edith Head has won eight Academy Awards. Who? My point exactly.

You would think that by this point, the Academy would wisen up and make more educated decisions in their awards and nominations. But no, if anything, they’ve gotten worse. 2016 famously had that #OscarsSoWhite controversy, where they embarrassingly snubbed the cinematic epics Beasts of No Nation, Creed, and Straight Outta Compton in their acting and picture categories. They had that clumsy envelope mishap last year during its best picture announcement for Moonlight. Not to mention that it has snubbed masterpieces such as Rush, The Dark Knight Rises, Catching Fire, Captain America: Civil War, and Patriot’s Day in all of its categories from the past several years. I completely understand these movies not getting nominated for best picture or director. But seriously, not even costume design?

This year, their snubbing is arguably at their worst yet. For one thing, they’re still refusing to fill all 10 of their best picture slots, capping it off at nine nominees. Why do they keep doing this? There’s no reason to be that disinterested in a potential 10th nominee. Either go all in with your slots, or wuss out and go back to five nominees so we can all go to bed sooner. Opening a potential tenth spot just to leave it empty is like flipping the middle finger to the fans behind Blade Runner 2049, The Big Sick, Logan, War for the Planet of the Apes, Baby Driver, and so, so many others. It’s disgraceful to the film community and it’s disrespectful to the passionate fans behind it. You might as well fill a Transformers movie in the tenth slot since you’re basically eliciting the same disgusted reaction from your viewers anyway.

But nevermind the empty 10th slot. This night is about the movies that are getting recognized: the so-called “best of the year.” It would be great if anybody has seen them. Call Me By Your Name, a coming-of-age romantic Italian drama, grossed the lowest of any best picture nominee at $25 million. The other coming-of-age drama Lady Bird performed better at $48 million, but it still pales in comparison to Dunkirk’s $500 million box office numbers. Phantom Thread didn’t even break its budget price, bringing in a measly $27 million against its production costs of $35 million. Why, then, is it nominated for six Academy Awards? Because Daniel Day Lewis is in it, I guess. Although oddly enough, that excuse didn’t work for Academy favorite Meryl Streep this time around, since her film The Post is only nominated for two awards this year. Is her time in the spotlight finally up? We can only hope so.

Regardless of my annoyances with the Academy’s nomination process, these are the movies we have to pick from, and the winners aren’t going to predict themselves. Let’s hop right into this year’s Oscar predictions.

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Best Picture: Predicting this category has become a crapshoot wheel of fortune for the Oscars. Half of the best picture winners from the past decade haven’t even won best director, and the rest of them have arrived to their best picture win through very strange methods. Argo won best picture in 2013 despite Ben Affleck not even being nominated for best director. 12 Years A Slave won best picture in 2014 despite Gravity sweeping the rest of the night. Spotlight won best picture in 2016 despite winning only one other award from the night for best original screenplay. And don’t even get me started on last year’s best picture mixup fiasco between La La Land and Moonlight.

The selection process for these best picture winners have become completely lopsided and unpredictable. Perhaps that’s why I’m struggling so much in my prediction for best picture this year. In previous years, best picture was usually the first category I checked off in my predictions. This year, it was my last. It’s seriously become that uncertain.

The best picture race this year has boiled down to two pictures: The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Most people believe that The Shape of Water is going to snag it, mostly because of its sweeping in the Producer’s and Director’s Guild Awards. I’m not convinced. For one thing, a science-fiction film has never won best picture in Oscar history. Not once. Not 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Not Star Wars in 1977. Not E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial in 1982. Not Apollo 13 in 1995. Not Avatar in 2009. Not Inception in 2012. Not Gravity in 2013. You want to talk about Oscars bias? Nominate a science-fiction film for best picture. It almost immediately dashes all hopes of a best picture win.

That being said, the genre that the Academy is consistently in favor of are dramas. Every single best picture winner from this decade has been a drama film, from The Hurt Locker all the way to Moonlight. This works in favor of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri because it is based in a realistic setting as opposed to The Shape of Water’s fantastical one.

I have no idea who is going to win best picture this year on Oscar night. The confusion from previous ceremonies has completely dashed my confidence in predicting this category. But if we’re basing our decision solely on trends repeated throughout Oscar history, then Three Billboards is the safest choice. I will be fuming if The Shape of Water becomes the first science-fiction film to win best picture over Star Wars.

Best Director: Guillero Del Toro won the DGA award, which means he’ll also win the best directing Oscar for The Shape of Water. I’d prefer it go to first-time writer-director Jordan Peele, whose horror-satire film Get Out was a clever and ingenious look at race culture and how neo-liberalism negatively impacts minority communities. However, Del Toro did deserve an Oscar years ago for Pan’s Labirynth and was wrongfully snubbed against Germany’s The Lives of Others. I guess this year will give him the recompense that he’s so desperately deserved this entire time.

Best Actor: No contest, Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour. Not only does it take a lot of talent and dedication to portray a historical figure as significant as Winston Churchill, but Oldman is another actor that the Academy has disregarded time and time again for the past several years. He didn’t even get his first nomination until 2011 for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. His win for Darkest Hour will make up for all the years the Academy has snubbed him.

Best Actress: While Sally Hawkins’ performance was the best thing to come out of Guillero Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, I highly doubt the Oscar will go to her, especially since a best acting award hasn’t gone to a non-speaking role since Jean Dujardin for the silent film The Artist in 2011. Since this is the case, I’m going to go with my runner-up option with Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Her strained performance as an grieving mother devastated by the loss of her daughter was beautifully poignant and tragic, not to mention that sassy spunk she threw around at anyone in her general direction. Her character was one of the most memorable figures to come out of cinema this past year. I will be infuriated if the Oscar is awarded to anyone else besides McDormand or Hawkins.

Best Supporting Actor: Forgiving the fact that Bill Skarsgard was unforgivably snubbed for his performance as the creepy titular monster in Stephen King’s It, we have a toss-up in this category between Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Williem Dafoe for The Florida Project. I’m going with Rockwell for Three Billboards. His performance as a spoiled, self-centered police officer who doesn’t deserve a badge or a gun was both wildly entertaining and intimidating. You couldn’t really predict what he was going to do next, whether he was jamming to his earbuds in the police station or throwing an advertising manager out of a two-story building. His wildcard of a character won me over, and I would be seriously surprised if the Academy decided to skip over him.

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney for I, Tonya. Not only does she look disturbingly immaculate compared next to Tonya Harding’s real-life mother LaVona Golden, but her genuinely tense and unfiltered presence fueled Tonya Harding’s drive throughout the picture. Boy, am I grateful that she’s not my mother.

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Best Animated Feature: While Loving Vincent was a beautiful love letter to Vincent Van Gogh and features over 65,000 frames of oil paintings on canvas, it’s very hard to see this film beating out Pixar’s Coco, especially when you consider how much today’s social climate is stacked against Mexican immigrants. I have to go with Coco for its representation and wonderful tribute to Mexican culture.

Best Documentary Feature: I was surprised to find that Jane and Step weren’t nominated for best documentary this year despite their outstanding performance during their theater run. But nevermind, I haven’t seen any of the nominees this year for best documentary anyway (shocking, I know!)

My first prediction for this category would have been Last Men In Aleppo. Not because I know whether the movie is any good or not, but only because it reminded me of Gary Johnson’s embarrassing “Aleppo” moment in 2016. Political blunders aren’t enough to hand out Oscars, however, but they are enough to hand out Raspberry Awards. With any luck, Johnson might soon be able to put “Razzie Award-Winner” on his resume.

My best guess is that Faces Places will win best documentary. The reason why is because the premise is that its filmmakers JR and Agnes Varda travel around France creating portraits of the people that they come across. I haven’t heard of a premise so heavily engrossed into its filmmakers since Banky’s Exit Through The Gift Shop in 2011. So for the sake of its immersion and first-person perspective, I’m going with Faces Places.

Best Foreign-Language Feature: I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Square, and early on in awards season it looked like it might sweep at the Oscars. But nah, if we’re predicting the winner solely based on relevance, I’m going with A Fantastic Woman. A film about a transgender woman mourning over the death of her husband while being alienated by his family could not be more pertinent in today’s hateful and divisive society. A Fantastic Woman? Indeed.

Best Original Screenplay: Another category with some fantastic frontrunners that’s hard to choose from. The Big Sick was a poignant and darkly humorous observation on the fragility of human life and how fleeting moments of happiness and love really are. Get Out was a creative and captivating horror-comedy on the impacts of white supremacy against minority communities. And Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a tragic dramedy that profoundly elaborated on rape culture, police brutality, racism, and homophobia fantastically wrapped into one immediately moving package. All of these nominees are worthy contenders in this category. The question is who will be the winner?

A lot of eyes are on Get Out since Jordan Peele recently won the WGA award for best original screenplay. However, the WGA’s are not the most consistent when it comes to predicting this Oscar category, especially with last year’s mixup when Manchester By The Sea won against WGA winner Moonlight for best original screenplay, which in turn won against WGA winner Arrival for best adapted screenplay. How can Moonlight be nominated for both original and adapted screenplay, you ask? Great question. I wish I could give you an answer that made any sense.

Since this category is seriously confused to begin with, I’m going with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as the winner for best original screenplay. It covers just as much ground as Get Out does, except it does it in a much more realistic, practical setting as opposed to the horrific confines of a white supremacist family’s mansion. No, I’m not saying the satirical tone works against Get Out’s favor. I’m saying Three Billboards is more believable than Get Out is, although that doesn’t make either of them any less important. I wouldn’t be surprised or upset if Peele ended up taking home the Oscar for Get Out, but my money is on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. God help me if The Shape of Water ends up being the winner.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Let’s get one thing straight here: Logan deserves to be the winner of this category, hands down. Taking the superhero genre and flipping it on its head into a somber dystopian tragedy, Logan is one of those films that shows our iconic blockbuster heroes as older, crippled versions of their former selves, reflecting on their broken identities as they use the last of their days to give Logan’s daughter a chance at life. By every definition, it is one of the best films of the year and definitely one of the best superhero dramas of all time.

It deserves to win the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. It absolutely will not win it.

First of all, while it’s tonally different from the rest of the genre, it’s still technically classified as a superhero movie. That’s works against itself at the Oscars, because the only genre that the Academy is more biased against besides superhero movies are horror movies. A superhero film has never been nominated for best picture at the Oscars. Not once. Not Spider-Man 2 in 2004. Not The Dark Knight in 2007. Not even Wonder Woman or Logan this year.

The Academy just does not like to recognize superhero movies, plain and simple. That bias is exactly why Logan will not win best adapted screenplay at the Oscars. A sham, but not surprising with the Academy Awards involved.

However, there is one genre that the Academy loves to lap up, and that is LGBT dramas. The Imitation Game won best adapted screenplay in 2015, while the fantastic Moonlight also won best adapted screenplay last year. I haven’t seen Call Me By Your Name, but given the Academy’s recent track record with LGBT representation, I think it’s a safe bet for this year’s Oscar ceremony. Call Call Me By Your Name the winner for best adapted screenplay.

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Best Film Editing: I’ll give Lee Smith this much credit: when we’re in the heat of battle in Dunkirk, the action flows effortlessly, and Smith does a great job cutting from shot-to-shot, giving us multiple perspectives at once while at the same time making the action fluid and coherent. The problem as I’ve outlined in my review is that the rest of the film’s assemblage is chaotic, nonlinear, and incomprehensible, jump-cutting from multiple different passages of time at once and overlapping their events one on top of the other. I don’t blame Smith for this as much as I do Christopher Nolan however, as this confusion was the creative decision he made through writing his screenplay. Fun fact: Nolan originally considered not writing a screenplay at all for Dunkirk. Appropriate, since he rightfully isn’t nominated for best original screenplay this year either.

Anyhow, back to editing. The rightful winners in this category are Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos for Baby Driver, as the way they timed their editing and Baby’s driving to the tunes of 1970 hits was clever, skillful, and captivating all at once. First-time nominees are less likely to win in this category, however, and this is both Machliss and Amos’ first Oscar nominations.

Smith, however, has been nominated twice before in previous ceremonies, once for Master and Commander: Far Side of the World in 2003 and once for The Dark Knight in 2008. Couple that with the fact that action films are a genre favorite in this category (Hacksaw Ridge won this award last year, and Mad Max: Fury Road won the year before that), and you have this year’s best film editing winner in Dunkirk.

Best Cinematography: Before Leonardo DiCaprio, cinematographer Roger Deakins was the most snubbed nominee at every single Oscar ceremony. He should have won with his first nomination in 1994 for The Shawshank Redemption, but he lost to John Toll for Legends of the Fall. He was nominated in 2007 for No Country for Old Men, but lost to Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood. And he was nominated again in 2012 for the James Bond film Skyfall, but lost to Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi. He’s been nominated 14 times now and has never won once.

Enough is enough. If Roger Deakins doesn’t win this year for Blade Runner 2049, I’m going to flip a lid. I suspect I wouldn’t be the only one.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The first time I saw a still of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, I thought he had purposefully put on a lot of weight for the role. Turns out he just had a lot of prosthetic makeup on, and good gravy did it have me fooled. While Victoria & Abdul and Wonder also had some great makeup work, neither of them convinced me that their actors were entirely different people. So that settles it for me: Darkest Hour will take home the Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling. I’m still bitter that It wasn’t even nominated in this category, however.

Best Costume Design: It would be pretty pathetic if a film about a dressmaker didn’t win best costume design at the Oscars, now wouldn’t it? I loved the costumes in Victoria & Abdul, and the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake struck out in its visual design as well. But if Phantom Thread was going to win any award at the Oscars this year, it would be for costume design. So that’s the one I’m going with.

Note: Wonder Woman is missing in this category. I just needed to point that out.

Best Production Design: This is actually one of the tougher categories to predict this year, because the truth is I love all of the nominees here. Beauty and the Beast looked gorgeous in the design of its magnificent castle and its inanimate inhabitants, while Blade Runner 2049 magnificently recreated the bleak, dystopian future that we first got exposed to in the original Blade Runner 30 years ago. Both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour accurately depicted the WWII era, with Dunkirk going as far as to use real 1940’s British planes and seaboats for the film.

Nothing, however, visually encapsulated me like the colorful 1960’s designs of The Shape of Water’s city streets, the dark, opaque laboratories, or the dimly lit movie theater resting below Elise’s apartment. I’m split in this category because all of the nominees are equally outstanding, but if I picked the one that I recognized the most while watching, it’s not even a contest. The Shape of Water wins.

Note: Again, Wonder Woman is missing in this category.

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Best Musical Score: Alexandre Desplat won his first Oscar in 2014 for scoring The Grand Budapest Hotel, a quirky and loveable picture whose music perfectly matched the introverted tone that it was going for. This year he’s nominated again for scoring Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, and his music beautifully captured the intrigue and mystery behind this underwater sea creature discovering his feelings for another mortal. His music is completely encapsulating every time you listen to it. For that reason, I have to go with The Shape of Water.

Another Note: Do I really have to spell it out for you at this point? WONDER WOMAN.

Best Original Song: If you didn’t cry during that moment in Coco where Miguel sang “Remember Me” to his Great-Great-Grand-Mama, I’m convinced you have no soul. It was a beautiful, simple song, one that pays respect to the Mexican-American culture and to remembering our heritage. I suspect there will be a lot of outrage if anything but “Remember Me” wins best original song, so I’m going to play it safe and go with Coco.

Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk, hands down. The first ear-screeching “BANG” that echoes in the theater hummed in my ears as if I had just dodged a bullet, and the rest of the film pays as much attention to the haunting sounds and noises of the battlefield. I remember very few films that were as masterful in their sound work as Dunkirk was, so I must advocate for its win in this category.

Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk again. The way Christopher Nolan uses different sound effects in building up tension and unease in a scene is truly masterful, and the sound engineers did a fantastic work at incorporating all of the sounds together in the film. I do love Baby Driver for how it incorporates classic songs into its high-octane action and stunts, but if we take that film out as a possible upset win, the clear frontrunner is Dunkirk.

Best Visual Effects: Viewers were frustrated in 2015 when Christopher Nolan’s space exploration film Interstellar won the best visual effects Oscar over Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This year will give them the recompense that they need. While Blade Runner 2049 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi sported some of the most visually spectacular moments of the year, nothing surpasses the visual effects team’s efforts behind the digital recreation of primate animals and their behavior in War for the Planet of the Apes. I can potentially see one of the other nominees possibly taking home this award in an upset win, but when I really think about it, no one else could be more deserving. War for the Planet of the Apes will win best visual effects.

On a side note, who on Earth thought it was a good idea to nominate Kong: Skull Island for this award? Did nobody see Wonder Woman? Beauty and the Beast? Thor: Ragnarok? Spider-Man: Homecoming? Alien: Covenant? Wolf Warrior 2? Boss Baby?

And finally we come to the forever-dreaded short categories, the nominees which nobody has seen, but for some reason are always expected to predict anyway. I’m just going to rattle off my answers and shove them out of the way. Dear Basketball, Heroin(E), and The Silent Child.

That’s all for me, folks. See you on awards night where I will no doubt be shaking my fist at Wonder Woman’s absence.

– David Dunn

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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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