A Review: Logan

Despite having seen every X-Men film (aside from the recent “Apocalypse”), I had never seen either of the two Wolverine standalone films. I had heard enough negative reviews to have simply avoided them, not because I was averse to the idea of Wolverine in his own movie – he is truly one of the most well written comic book characters around, but more because I just hadn’t seen an example of a successful idea for the character of Wolverine on his own. Then along came “Logan”.

image via traileraddict.com

I’ll go ahead and tell you right now that if you’re one of those people who likes to think themselves “above” comic book movies, you would still dig this. I have seen many a superhero flick and there was almost no resemblance to those here. Sure, it’s about a superhero and there are great action sequences, but it doesn’t follow conventional blockbuster tropes. It’s actually a modern Western, gritty and down-to-earth, steeped in old filmmaking lore. What director James Mangold & co. were able to do here is hearken back to the good old days of filmmaking – sparse locations and sets, more character focus, simple but effective antagonists, and disguise it all in a way that also appeals to comic book fans and general movie audiences. It’s brilliant and a joy to behold.

I won’t go too much into the plot details of the film, because I feel they’re better left experienced and also because it’s better if you at least have a working knowledge of Wolverine and the X-Men going in and I’m not going to assume that everyone reading this has that. But even though prior knowledge will enhance your enjoyment and understanding, what I also liked about this film was that it is very much independent. It doesn’t concern itself with Easter eggs or setting up for a myriad of future sequels. It is content to exist on its own, in its own space.

Camera work is sublime thanks to Mangold and cinematographer John Mathieson. Gorgeous Southwestern landscapes are brought to full life, although there is an alternate black and white version called “Logan Noir” that I’m anxious to see as well. Story is concise, filled with emotion – mostly due to the fantastic camaraderie of the ever excellent Hugh Jackman and newcomer Dafne Keen who absolutely 100% steals the show here. Although the movie is indeed called “Logan” and it’s the title character we revolve around, Keen is very much central to the film’s plot and ideas and she is astounding. One of the finest young performances I’ve seen (just after Millie Bobby Brown), and one of the finest performances period I’ll see this year. Patrick Stewart and Stephen Merchant give very fine turns here as well. This movie is so wholly enjoyable and I can’t thank James Mangold enough for all the effort he and his team put in to make such an enduring and bold work of filmmaking.

Grade: A

A Trailer Review: Baby Driver

Okay so, if you’re reading this, you might know me. And if you know me even a little, you know that one of my all time favorite directors is Edgar Wright. I mean like, consistently top five. I think he is brilliant and his movies are wholly original and works of modern art. Needless to say it’s probably clear that his new feature, “Baby Driver”, the newest since 2013’s “The World’s End” is my most anticipated film of the year. His first solo writing credit, he directs a huge ensemble case including Oscar winners Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, Lily James and Ansel Elgort as the Baby in “Baby Driver”.

The film premiered this past weekend to glowing reviews at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX. Along with that premiere, Wright and co. released the very first theatrical trailer for the film which blew my freaking mind.

As you can see from the footage, it looks like Wright has put together something altogether unique. An action thriller that relies on music as heavily as any traditional musical would – only instead of pirouettes and choreography it’s high speed chases and bullets ringing though the criminal underworld. It looks like a blast of a wild ride, and something branded with Wright’s personal stamp, which is only ever a very good thing. I cannot wait any longer to see this movie – is it August yet?!

A Review: Get Out

When I heard Jordan Peele of “Key & Peele” fame was writing and directing a horror movie, I was intrigued. Little did I know, Peele was not only making a horror movie – he was making one of the best horror movies of recent years, one that combined genuine scares with humor and societal themes on racism.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a big city photographer taking a weekend trip to the childhood home of his (relatively) new girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), to meet her parents. One note: Chris is black, and Rose is white –  and she hasn’t told her parents that he’s black. They’re not racist! she insists. They won’t care.

Upon arriving at the Armitage estate, Chris notices something is… off. Not only are Rose’s parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) acting unusually strange around him, but the family’s black housemaid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) are also distant, unmoved, and almost disturbed by Chris’ presence. Like the audience, Chris is slowly realizing everything is not as it seems.

image via jetmag.com

But the beauty of the situation is that of course Chris is right, something sinister is happening, but at first you almost wonder. As a black man, Chris must experience racial tension of this sort every day, even from well-meaning white folks. So is this simply heightened because of the nervous circumstances? Or is something very suspicious and darkly chilling actually occurring?

Peele takes the best of horror – paranoia, and uses this to communicate the black American experience. Watching this as a white female, I can never truly grasp the reality of Chris’ experience. But I can understand that this extended metaphor is intended to show us that racism is alive in America, that it can occur in unexpected ways, and that we must do all we can to step into another person’s shoes and understand what makes them different and celebrate that, but also realize how we are all very much the same. There is a moment near the end that just about made me sick with the presumption that I (and probably everyone who saw it) tacked on to the situation from the connotations we knew it would probably have. That in itself should tell us that something is wrong here in America.

Aside from this hyper relevant social themes, Peele does an incredible job with the whole film. The script is sharp and so the acting is top-notch. The scares are genuinely thrilling and the third act action is excellently directed. It shows us that not only can Peele master the social themes and humor, but proves himself to be a great action-horror director. I can’t wait to see what he has planned next.

Grade: A+

A Review: John Wick Chapter Two

Well everyone, I really failed at reviewing a lot of my favorite movies of the last year. Maybe in between these newer ones I will go back and review them, because I really want to! But I also want to actually keep up with them for this new year – so far I’ve seen two films released in 2017 and “John Wick: Chapter Two” was the first.

image via indiewire.com
image via indiewire.com

I was late to the “John Wick” trend and only caught the 2014 original a few days before the sequel hit theatres. I’m not sure why it took me so long but boy am I glad I finally took the plunge! This is a world of neon action, nearly invincible assassins, blood and intrigue. “John Wick” was a rare breed of action movie that was just pure, visceral fun. Like any good sequel (which is a very strange phrase usually), “John Wick: Chapter Two” builds on this and expands it in even more exciting ways.

Here we find our leading man, John Wick, only about a week or so removed from the events of the first film. He’s just demolished a good portion of a criminal organization he used to work for – and all because the boss’s dumbass kid killed his dog and stole his car. Now he’s back in the world, much as he tries to resist. The life follows him and he finds himself making good on a debt from years past, while trying to escape the forces that threaten to overwhelm him, shadows of people he used to know.

I’m loving this series so hard. I mean it’s no five-star, and it would rate higher but sometimes the dialogue is a bit cheesy you know what I mean. But that’s because it is what it is, which is high-caliber action, and it’s a masterwork for that genre. Like its predecessor, it’s stylish and smart and overall bloody. It stays just long enough to give you good thrills and doesn’t linger. It sets up a massive criminal underworld but doesn’t try to get too intricate. Basically it is action’s perfect blend. It’s massively good time and you can sign me up for John Wick: Chapter Three right the fuck now.

Grade: B+

2017 Oscar Winner Predictions

What a great year for film and my FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR is tomorrow! Happy Oscar Sunday in advance! Here are my final predictions in all 24 categories. Some are crazy and I’m 50/50 on (Best Actor, Original Screenplay, Costume Design, all the stupid shorts). But in the long run I had to make a decision and went with the gut.
Best Picture
· La La Land
Best Director
· Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Best Actor
· Denzel Washington (Fences)
Best Actress
· Emma Stone (La La Land)
Best Supporting Actor
· Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Best Supporting Actress
· Viola Davis (Fences)
Best Adapted Screenplay
· Moonlight (Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney)
Best Original Screenplay
· Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
Best Cinematography
· La La Land (Linus Sandgren)
Best Film Editing
· La La Land (Tom Cross)
Best Costume Design
· Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
· Star Trek Beyond
Best Original Score
· La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Best Original Song
· “City of Stars” from La La Land, music by Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Best Production Design
· La La Land (David Wasco & Sandy Reynolds-Wasco)
Best Sound Editing
· Hacksaw Ridge (Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright)
Best Sound Mixing
· La La Land (Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow)
Best Visual Effects
· The Jungle Book
Best Foreign Language Film
· The Salesman (Iran)
Best Animated Feature
· Zootopia
Best Animated Short
· Piper
Best Documentary Feature
· OJ: Made in America
Best Documentary Short
· Joe’s Violin
Best Live Action Short
· Ennemis Interieurs

Top 10 Films of 2016

(Plus 10 runners-up instead of 5 because I’m trash).

So we’re a month into 2017 and I finally have a list of my Top 10 Films of 2016! Honestly this was a fantastic year for cinema and I could have easily included my top 30. In fact I normally do 5 runners-up but this year I extended it to 10 because it was just that great of a year. Ugh, I love film. Anyway here’s my picks, tell me if you agree/disagree/whatever!

  1. La La Land
  2. Moonlight
  3. Manchester by the Sea
  4. Arrival
  5. The Witch
  6. Loving
  7. The Lobster
  8. 10 Cloverfield Lane
  9. Captain Fantastic
  10. 20th Century Women

Runners Up:

  1. Jackie
  2. Silence
  3. Hidden Figures
  4. Hell or High Water
  5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  6. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  7. Sing Street
  8. Fences
  9. The Edge of Seventeen
  10. American Honey

Oscar Nomination Predictions 2017

So I’ll be awake at 5 a.m. (that’s right, you heard me, every year) for my second favorite day of the year: Oscar nominations!! We will know our contenders soon, and here are my picks. Just some notes: predictions for nominees are harder than winners, duh, so I included one “surprise” to cover my own ass. But I can’t wait to see what curveballs the Academy throws! Also these are numbered but they are in no particular order. Vive le cinema!
Best Picture
  1. Arrival
  2. Hell or High Water
  3. La La Land
  4. Manchester By the Sea
  5. Moonlight
  6. Hacksaw Ridge
  7. Lion
  8. Hidden Figures
  9. Fences
Surprise (or in this case, just the 10th pick): Silence
Best Director
  1. Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
  2. Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
  3. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
  4. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
  5. Garth Davis (Lion)
Surprise: Martin Scorsese (Silence)
Best Actor
  1. Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
  2. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
  3. Denzel Washington (Fences)
  4. Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
  5. Viggo Mortenson (Captain Fantastic)
Surprise: Joel Edgerton (Loving)
Best Actress
  1. Emma Stone (La La Land)
  2. Natalie Portman (Jackie)
  3. Amy Adams (Arrival)
  4. Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)
  5. Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Surprise: Annette Bening (20th Century Women)
Best Supporting Actor
  1. Dev Patel (Lion)
  2. Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins)
  3. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
  4. Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
  5. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
Surprise: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals)
Best Supporting Actress
  1. Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)
  2. Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
  3. Nicole Kidman (Lion)
  4. Viola Davis (Fences)
  5. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Surprise: Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women)
Best Adapted Screenplay
  1. Moonlight
  2. Hidden Figures
  3. Arrival
  4. Lion
  5. Fences
Surprise: Nocturnal Animals
Best Original Screenplay
  1. Hell or High Water
  2. La La Land
  3. Manchester by the Sea
  4. The Lobster
  5. Captain Fantastic
Surprise: 20th Century Women
Best Animated Feature
  1. Kubo and the Two Strings
  2. Moana
  3. Zootopia
  4. The Red Turtle
  5. My Life as a Zucchini
Surprise: Finding Dory
Best Foreign Language Film
  1. A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
  2. Land of Mine (Denmark)
  3. The Salesman (Iran)
  4. Toni Erdmann (Germany)
  5. My Life as a Zucchini (Switzerland)
Surprise: Tanna (Australia)
Best Documentary Feature
  1. Cameraperson
  2. OJ: Made in America
  3. I Am Not Your Negro
  4. 13th
  5. Weiner
Surprise: Fire at Sea
Best Cinematography
  1. Arrival (Bradford Young)
  2. La La Land (Linus Sandgren)
  3. Moonlight (James Laxton)
  4. Lion (Greig Fraser)
  5. Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)
Surprise: Nocturnal Animals (Seamus McGarvey)
Best Costume Design
  1. La La Land (Mary Zophres)
  2. Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)
  3. Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)
  4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Colleen Atwood)
  5. Allied (Joanna Johnston)
Surprise: The Dressmaker (Marion Boyce & Margot Wilson)
Best Film Editing
  1. Moonlight (Joi McMillon & Nat Sanders)
  2. La La Land (Tom Cross)
  3. Manchester by the Sea (Jennifer Lane)
  4. Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)
  5. Arrival (Joe Walker)
Surprise: Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
  1. Florence Foster Jenkins
  2. Deadpool
  3. A Man Called Ove
Surprise: Star Trek Beyond
Best Original Score
  1. La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
  2. Lion (Dustin O’Halloran, Volker Bertelmann)
  3. Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)
  4. Jackie (Mica Levi)
  5. Nocturnal Animals (Abel Korzeniowski)
Surprise: The BFG (John Williams)
Best Original Song
  1. “Audition” – Emma Stone, La La Land
  2. “City of Stars” – Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  3. “How Far I’ll Go” – Auli’i Cravalho, Moana
  4. “Runnin’” – Pharrell Williams, Hidden Figures
  5. “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” – Justin Timberlake, Trolls
Surprise: “Faith” – Stevie Wonder feat. Ariana Grande, Sing
Best Sound Mixing
  1. Hacksaw Ridge
  2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  3. Arrival
  4. The Jungle Book
  5. La La Land
Surprise: Deepwater Horizon
Best Sound Editing
  1. Hacksaw Ridge
  2. Arrival
  3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  4. Deepwater Horizon
  5. The Jungle Book
Surprise: La La Land
Best Production Design
  1. La La Land
  2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  3. Jackie
  4. Hail, Caesar!
  5. Arrival
Surprise: Silence
Best Visual Effects
  1. The Jungle Book
  2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  3. Doctor Strange
  4. Arrival
  5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Surprise: Deepwater Horizon
Best Animated Short
  1. Piper
  2. Inner Workings
  3. Pearl
  4. The Head Vanishes
  5. Borrowed Time
Surprise: Sous Tes Doigts (Under Your Fingers)
Best Live Action Short
  1. Nocturne in Black
  2. Timecode
  3. The Way of Tea
  4. Sing (Mindenki)
  5. Bon Voyage
Surprise: The Rifle, The Jackal, The Wolf and the Boy
Best Documentary Short
  1. The White Helmets
  2. Joe’s Violin
  3. Extremis
  4. The Mute’s House
  5. Watani: My Homeland
Surprise: 4.1 Miles