Monday, April 10, 2017

Full Frame 2017: Days Three & Four


This was my ninth year covering the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival for Film Babble Blog. I had attended various films before at the event, but my four day coverage became a thing in 2009. Now, I only saw a smidgen of the 90 films shown from last Thursday morning to Sunday night's last screening, mine is, of course, a pretty limited perspective. There were a number of films I missed that I heard great buzz about, like the Frank Stiefels short HEAVEN IS A TRAFFIC JAM ON THE 405, which won a few Full Frame Awards, but I’ll catch up with those later. Here’s what I saw on Saturday and Saunday:

WIELKI TEATR (aka THE GREAT THEATER)

(Dir. Sławomir Batyra, 2016)


This 30-minute short joins STILL TOMORROW and LONG STRANGE TRIP in having an excellent sound design. Whether it’s the echoes through the rafters, or the clamor of the orchestra practicing, or the bustle of assemblers, upholsterers, and prop masters getting the sets for in place, everything audibly pops in Sławomir Batyra’s backstage breakdown of the rehearsals for Mariusz Trelinski’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at The Grand Theater (Polish name: Wielki Teatr) in Warsaw. 

There is no voice-over narrator, no interview sound bites, just a series of shots of people doing their jobs in seemingly every nook and cranny of the largest opera theatre in the world with only random voices giving instructions like “Fishermen, to the boats please.” Made up of a number of visually pleasurable shots that match its immersive sound, Batyra film is a wonderfully artful tour of a magnificent venue. 

Post note: THE GREAT THEATER got an honorable mention in the Full Frame Jury Award for Best Short category.

ONE OCTOBER (Dir. Rachel Shuman, 2017) “New York is never the same city for more than a dozen years altogether,” a quote credited to Harper’s Monthly from 1856 starts off this film shot in New York City during October 2008, in the weeks leading up to the historic election of Barack Obama. The film follows WFMU radio host Clay Pigeon around as he interviews random people on the streets, capturing the flavor of that memorable season when the world economy faced its most dangerous crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Cinematographer David Sampliner’s camera also captures the Big Apple beautifully in vivid shots, whether of protesters, parades, street musicians, or bird watchers in Central Park, that are interspersed throughout the film. This is enhanced by Paul Brill’s lively score performed by cellist Dave Eggar.

But it’s the people that Pigeon (real name Kacy Ross) talks to that will be the film’s biggest takeaway, like the old coot who says, “listen, the white guys have been in charge for so long, give the black guys a chance, they can’t do worse than we did,” or the young mother who complains about the gentrification of Harlem, “five more years I won’t even be living here, this won’t look like this no more.” The one hour and seven minute ONE OCTOBER is a fine time capsule as is, but I could’ve gone for some more New Yorker straight talk. 

BRONX GOTHIC (Dir. Andrew Rossi, 2017) I had never heard of dancer, writer, and choreographer Okwui Okpokwasili before, but I know I’ll never forget her after this powerful doc about the performance artist’s acclaimed solo show “Bronx Gothic.” 

Rossi (PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES) films Okpokwasili as she takes her show on tour to small theaters in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Atlanta. Alongside the ample samplings from the show, which depicts the dialogue between two 11-year-old black girls growing up in the Bronx, we also get a glimpse of her life offstage, and with her family. The audience reaction shots are priceless as the performer’s material, demeanor, and especially her chaotic, seizure-like dancing obviously pushes many buttons. 

Okpokwasili, who calls her work 
memories from a rupture that's never been sutured, is an engaging presence so there’s a lot of entertainment value in watching her talk with students, discuss the recent remake of “Roots” with her white husband (Peter Born), and play with her daughter, all elements that give the intense performance art segments a great grounding. I’d be remiss if not to mention how well-timed and funny the woman’s work can be as well. Though what we see of Okpokwasili’s show leans towards darkness, there are cracks where the light gets in. I’d like to see the entire performance some day.

MAY IT LAST: A PORTRAIT OF THE AVETT BROTHERS (Dirs. Judd Apatow & Michael Bonfiglio, 2017) I was a bit distracted as this film began, as the legendary D.A. Pennebaker (DONT LOOK BACK, MONTEREY POP, ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS, THE WAR ROOM, do I need to go on?) sat down next to me in Fletcher Hall ten minutes before the film began. Pennebaker, and his wife and film-making partner Chris Hegedus are regulars at Full Frame who helped get the festival started so it’s not the first time I’ve been in their presence, but the idea of watching a rock doc sitting next to the guy who invented rock docs was hard to shake.

When the doc, which is about the popular North Carolina folk rock band, the Avett Brothers, began and there was footage of the group walking through the hallways of a venue before a show, I couldn’t help but think about how the well worn tropes of following around and filming artists backstage, hanging with them in hotel rooms, and capturing them interacting with fans are all things that the guy to my right did first. But soon into Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio’s film, I was able to focus on the story of a band I basically knew nothing about. 

Hailing from Mount Pleasant, N.C., Scott and Seth Avett are depicted as two simple farm boys who get along great together unlike other famous musician brothers like Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks, or those damn Gallaghers in Oasis. They start off rebelling against the country music of their father’s generation and take to wanting to be Nirvana, but they returned to their roots after a revelatory encounter with bluegrass icon Doc Watson at Merlefest, the musician’s annual traditional-music festival in Wilkesboro, N.C.

The doc takes us through the Avett Brothers’ career, but largely focuses on the making of their 2016 album, “True Sadness.” One of the film’s highlights is a stirring studio take of “No Hard Feelings,” which emotionally drains the brothers. They ask producer Rick Rubin if they can take a break and Scott and Seth walk outside to regain their composure as various folks congratulate them on the performance. Alone, they discuss how weird it feels to get complimented for work that calls upon very personal, naked feelings (particularly about Seth’s 2013 divorce). The scene reminded me of something Bob Dylan said when complimented on his classic 1975 album “Blood on the Tracks,” which many felt dealt with his divorce, “It's hard for me to relate to people enjoying that kind of pain.”

Speaking of Dylan, the guy who shot famous footage of his legendary 1965 and 1966 tours was right next to me! Sorry, back to the Avett Brothers. 


Despite having seen them at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro back in 2005, I’m not really familiar with much of their music but I enjoyed the concert sequences, and may give them more of a listen as a result of this fine summation of the Avett ethos. The screening was well received by the audience, but the panel Q & A afterwards in which guests Scott Avett, the band’s cellist Joe Kwon, and codirector Michael Bonfiglio came onstage to great applause, was a lovefest with questioners who the band often recognized from their gigs taking them for their music more than asking them questions.

The last film I saw at the fest was Yance Ford’s STRONG ISLAND, which was an encore on Sunday afternoon because it won two awards at Full Frame’s Awards Barbeque at noon: the Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award and the Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award.

The awards are well deserved as Ford’s film is an impassioned exploration of his brother’s murder by a mechanic in Long Island, New York in 1992. William Ford Jr., 24-year-old black teacher, was going to confront the people at an auto repair shop who weren’t fixing his family’s car after an accident that was actually caused by the same people. William was unarmed, but was shot and killed by .22 caliber rifle fired by Mark Reilly, a white 19-year-old mechanic. Reilly was not indicted by a white judge and an all-white jury for the crime and went free, while the Ford family sat in mourning helplessly by.

In extreme close-ups, Ford, pours his heart out about the grief over his brother’s senseless killing, the racist system, and his transgender coming out, while his mother, Barbara, and sister, Lauren, give us their takes on this angering, all too common tragedy.

A well made, straight forward, and up close and personal film that wrestles with the wounds from injustice that can never be healed. STRONG ISLAND is one of the strongest documentary debuts I’ve ever seen.

I probably could’ve come up with a better last line for that review, but I’m tired after four days of docs in Durham so it
ll have to do. 

So that’s Full Frame 2017! It was one of my favorites of all the years I’ve attended.

If you haven’t already, please check out my coverage of Days One, and Two.

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Saturday, April 08, 2017

Full Frame 2017: Day Two


Day two of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival held at the Carolina Theatre and the Marriot Convention Center in Durham, N.C., was a lot livelier than the first day as the weekend crowds starting pouring in. This was also due to the capper of the second day of the fest - the North Carolina premiere of Amir Bar-Levs epic four hour Grateful Dead band biodoc, LONG STRANGE TRIP. But first let me get to some other worthy docs I saw on Friday.

THE ORIGINAL RICHARD MCMAHAN
(Dir. Olympia Stone, 2016)


This fascinating 20 minute film, part of the New Docs Program, concerns outsider artist Richard McMahan, who makes miniature versions of some of the world’s great paintings. Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, McMahan is the creator and curator of the Mini-Museum, a traveling and online exhibit of thousands of his hand made replicas including intricate recreations of Egyptian tombs, 20 years in the making. McMahan’s work is incredibly impressive, and he's a likable, if extremely eccentric character (he wears period costumes at his installations) so the doc is a short but sweet treat.

Next up, I saw another film in the New Docs Program, Garret Atlakson’s MOMMY’S LAND, which was making its World Premiere at this year’s Full Frame.

The film tackles the protest that was formed by a group of women who were dislocated when the corrupt government of Cambodia forcibly evicted them from their homes in 2006 and 2007 to make way for new developments funded by World Bank.


The former residents, mostly young mothers, of the Boeung Kak Lake (BKL) area in Phnom, Penh, whose houses were flooded and destroyed by property developers filling the lake with sand, rally behind a fellow resident, an elderly grandmother they call “Mommy,” in often violent demonstrations. Watching this unfold in brutal confrontations with Military Police, while uncaring ruling party members stand uncaringly on the sidelines, is heart breaking. Mommy’s perserverance is inspiring, and filmmaker Atlakson’s eye never shies away from the excruciatingly uncomfortable imagery of bloody assaults that were made on these women fighting for the land titles owed to them. It can be a bit grueling, but the timeliness of Mommy and her people’s struggle makes for a powerfully emotional 68 minute viewing. 

ALL SKATE, EVERYBODY SKATE
(Dir. Nicole Triche, 2016)


Miss Doris, a woman in her late 70s who runs a 50-year-old roller skating rink above a post office in Topsail Island, N.C., is the subject of this charming 20-minute short. Miss Doris takes us through her operation, her family’s history, and displays her own skating skills for us as well. Another inspirational tale of an old unstoppable lady, albeit under severely different circumstances than MOMMY'S LAND, Triche’s film celebrates Miss Doris and her beloved community venue, which looks like, with no plans for retirement, she will keep rolling as long as she can.

BALLOONFEST (Dir. Nathan Truesdell, 2017) This is a six minute curiousity, mostly made up of archival TV news reports, about the United Way of Cleveland, Ohio, attempt in 1986 to break a world record by releasing over a million balloons in the air. However, a high pressure system approached, causing many of the balloons to end up in Lake Erie making a search for two missing fishermen difficult. Despite the event not being recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records, the initial release of the balloons, with swirling clouds of color engulfing the skyline is quite a site to be seen. 

LONG STRANGE TRIP (Dir. Amir Bar-Lev, 2017) Ive had my ups and downs with the Grateful Dead. I loved them in the late 80s to mid 90s, seeing them close to a dozen times, but came to loathe them later in that decade. Ive come back around these days, but still wouldnt consider myself a Deadhead. Ive loved the work of Amir Bar-Lev (MY KID COULD PAINT THAT, THE TILLMAN STORY), so I was pysched to see his take on the iconic San Francisco bands legacy (Martin Scorsese being one of the film's executive producers added to that as well).

This new four hour, career-spanning documentary (thankfully containing an intermission), features a wealth of archival footage, both vintage and current interviews from band members, and a intoxicating exploration into the Deads philosophy and vision. That philosophy can simply be stilled down into having fun as the late lead guitarist/singer Jerry Garcia puts it, and that vision can be seen as to just keep on truckin,' but there's a lot of ins and outs and what haves you involved, as the Dude would say.

From the 1965 Acid Tests, to a hilarious late ‘60s appearance on the Playboy After Dark TV show where they dosed the coffee pot, to their famous 1972 European tour to their performance in Egypt in 1978 to their surprise success in the ‘80s with their first top 40 single (“Touch of Grey”) and beyond, Bar-Lev’s pacing never falters, and the music never stops. Bar-Lev, in attendence at the fest, boasted before the screening that he and his crew utilized the original individual instrumental tracks of many of the band's studio recordings to provide a musical bed for the film, and it sounded great through the Carolina Theatre’s Cinema One speaker system.

A must see for Deadheads and those curious about the band, but maybe not recommended for haters as such a lengthy breakdown of the ethos of Garcia and company is doubtful to win them over. For the folks in the audience I saw it with on Friday night, some of whom shouted their appreciation for individual gigs being mentioned, it was a delight from beginning to end.

Coming soon: Coverage of Days Three & Four. And be sure to check out coverage of Day One, if you haven’t already.

More later...

Friday, April 07, 2017

Full Frame 2017: Day One


W
ith a chill in the air, day one of the 20th Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival kicked off today in Durham. The Festival is celebrating its 20th year (it started as the Double Take Documentary Film Festival in 1998), with a roster that includes 48 films in the New Docs program (27 features and 21 short films), 23 films in The Invited Program (22 features and one short film), and 19 returning films included in the DoubleTake program (one from each year in Full Frame’s history).

Here’s what I saw on the first day of this year’s four day fest:

STILL TOMORROW (Dir. Jian Fan, 2016) 



This New Docs selection is the story of Xiuhua Yu, a Chinese woman who rose from poverty when her poem, “Cross Half of China to Sleep with You” became a hit on social media, having been shared over a million times in 2015. 

While the writing of Yu, who suffers from cerebral palsy, is discussed on talk shows and seminars in Hong Kong and Bejing, her life back home in a rural village in central China is in dark contrast as struggles with a cold, unfaithful husband and her mother dying of cancer. 

The sexual nature of Yu’s poetry is scrutinized, with her responding “So, I’m a slut, so what?” on one show, but the achiness in her desperate pleas for divorce, and her yearning for freedom via her newfound fame is ever present. 

The sharp cinematography by director Fan and Ming Xue beautifully illustrates Yu’s world and her poems, which are quoted via titles throughout, while the sound design by Li Danfeng captures the serene isolation of Yu’s farm-life amplifying the wind through the fields with sweet between scene sweeps. A thoughtful, stirring doc that’s as poetic as its subject.

LIFE - INSTRUCTION MANUAL (Dirs. Jörg Adolph & Ralf Buecheler, 2016)


This German film, part of the Invited Doc Program this year, is a perplexingly disjointed affair. It’s a bunch of short segments, all about how humans learn to do things, covering a wide range of activities – from childbirth classes to indoor skydiving to some weird movement that involves people walking around with their arms lifted above their heads as a coping mechanism.

That last bit comes off a bit Monty Python-ish, as does the stream of consciousness editing of these fragments of film together, but the doc feels thematically off, and gets really tedious pretty early on. There were a number of folks in the audience that left early who I bet felt the same way. One scene has us watching a robot slowly get a carton of orange juice out of a refrigerator then take forever closing the door of the appliance. Like so much of this film, I was left wondering what the point of all this purposely out of context stuff was.

THE GROWN-UPS (Dir. Maite Alberdi, 2016)



Fairing much better on Full Frame’s first day this year was Chilean filmmaker Maite Alberdi’s THE GROWN-UPS, also part of the Invited Docs Program. Alberdi paints the picture of four middle-aged students at a Chilean school for people with Down’s Syndrome, who spend their time training at the school’s catering class. A couple of them, named Anita and Andres fall in love, but their respective families, and Chilean law, are against them marrying and living together.

THE GROWN-UPS is a touching window into the kind of lives that don’t get much exploration on the big screen. Anita, who is certainly the film’s protagonist, gets a lot of sympathy from the camera as it captures her sad, worrying eyes over her predicament, but is also able to make us laugh with how she rolls her eyes at yet again hearing the repeated “Who are we? Conscious adults” mantra as said in unison by her classmates.

There are some story strands that aren’t followed up, and I can’t decide if the ending is simply sad or unsatisfying, but overall Alberdi’s doc is a keeper. I’m just unsure if the device of blurring, or obscuring the images of everyone around the central subjects – i.e. staff, family members – was really necessary.

Best Doc of the Day: STILL TOMORROW

More later...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

March Film Babble: LIFE & THE LAST WORD

I’ve been too busy working on a book project (more on that later) to babble much these days about movies, but here’s a few films I’ve seen recently that I’ll weigh in on:

LIFE (Dir. Daniel Espinosa, 2017)



It’s often been said that ALIEN, is a “haunted house in space” movie, and that’s certainly the case with this movie which takes Ridley Scott’s 1980 sci-fi classic, and mixes it with Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY.

LIFE concerns a crew made up of Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya returning from a mission to Mars on the International Space Station with a soil sample that contains a single-celled organism.

The organism, which is named Calvin by schoolchildren in a Times Square ceremony back on earth, quickly grows into a multi-celled Flubber-like creature that starts killing the crew members one by one.

That’s basically it for the plot, as it’s all about the familiar fight for survival tropes that keep trapping the remaining cast members at every turn. There is some genuine suspense, and some stellar effects, but I found a great deal of tedium to be in orbit with these one-note characters.

I will give kudos to the dark, twisted ending, despite the fact that it could easily set up a sequel as the idea of a LIFE franchise makes me cringe. But since this film flopped at the box office, it doesn’t look like that’s something I have to worry about.

THE LAST WORD (Dir. Mark Pellington, 2017)




If you didn’t get enough of Shirley MacLaine as a controlling, crotchety old woman that everyone in town hates in Richard Linklater’s BERNIE, then this is the movie for you.

MacLaine plays Harriett Lauler, a wealthy, retired divorcee who wants to shape her legacy by getting newspaper obituary writer Amanda Seyfried to craft her eulogy before she’s dead.

This leads to all kinds of cutesy-ness, with MacLaine’s Harriett mentoring an underprivileged black 9-year-old (AnnJewel Lee Dixon), becoming a DJ at a college indie rock radio station, and sticking it to the suits at the advertising agency that screwed her over.

It’s one of those movies where everybody appears to be a familiar face. 


There’s Gedde Watanabe, best known as Long Duck Dong in SIXTEEN CANDLES (don’t expect a gong here), as Harriett’s gardener; there’s Tom Everett Scott from THAT THING YOU DO! As Seyfried’s editor, Joel Murray (Bill’s brother of many credits, but you may know him best from Mad Men) as Harriett’s former colleague, Thomas Sadoski from The Newsroom as Harrietts radio station manager, Phillip Baker Hall as Harriett’s ex-husband, who has one of the film’s better scenes; and, yes, that’s Anne Heche as Harriett’s estranged daughter, who has one of the film’s worst scenes.

The script by first time screenwriter does have ambition at times so there are moments of wit and honesty, but more often it feels like TV melodrama sprinkled with hot or miss one-liners.

The irony in this movie about a woman wanting to be fondly remembered when she’s gone, is that MacLaine should have no such worry. She has an impressive filmography including a few of my favorite films, like THE APARTMENT and BEING THERE, so a lightweight piece of cheese like this won’t hurt her legacy at all.


More later...

Friday, March 10, 2017

Another KING KONG Reboot, Anyone?

Opening today at a big ass multiplex near us all:

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

(Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017)

When I was a kid forty years ago, the winter of 1977, my favorite movie was the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis produced remake of KING KONG. I had seen when it was released the previous Christmas, and it was probably still in theaters around this time that year. I definitely still had it in my mind when STAR WARS came out that summer, as I wrote about before in this space.

I didn’t see the 1933 original for a few years yet, so the ‘70s one with Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and the mechanical ape that climbed up the side of the World Trade Center towers was my only KONG. It’s a pretty silly looking movie now, despite that it won an Oscar for visual effects, but still has a place in my movie loving heart.

Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, which also won for visual effects, wasn’t bad, but when it came to the idea of yet another update, I can’t say I was thrilled. Especially with the news that it’s part of Legendary Picture’s MonsterVerse (that’s right), which kicked off with the GODZILLA reboot of a few years back.

But, dangit, KONG: SKULL ISLAND ain’t half bad. A lot of critics have been saying that it’s got an APOCALYPSE NOW vibe to it, with its Vietnam era setting, helicopters outfitted with speakers blaring music while dropping bombs, and even a variation on the crazy Dennis Hopper character, and, yeah, that does fit.

But if the message of APOCALYPSE NOW is that war is hell, the message of KONG: SKULL ISLAND seems to be: warring with King Kong is hell.

This variation of the 84-year old tale has John Goodman as a government agent Bill Randa recruiting Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, a former British Special Air Service Captain; and a helicopter squadron led by Samuel L. Jackson as Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard, to explore an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean known as “Skull Island.”

Also along for the ride is Brie Larson, with great looking curly, full bodied ‘70s hair, in the part of the blonde that Kong falls for, but this time the character is a photojournalist and peace activist named Mason Weaver.

The expedition wakes up the gigantic gorilla with their pesky explosives and in the eye-popping spectacle of chaotic CGI, the angry ape destroys most of their helicopters, leaving many casualties of Kong. Split into two groups, the team travel the island to get to the other end where they’ll be met by a resupply team in three days.

Hiddleston’s Conrad and Larson’s Weaver, and their group discover John C. Reilly as an American pilot who’s been stranded on the island since World War II. That’s the variation on the crazy Dennis Hopper part, and Reilly’s Hank Marlow is a hoot, stealing every scene he’s in.

Reilly’s Marlow tells Conrad and Weaver about terrifying creatures that live underground that Kong keeps at bay, and tells them that they are called “Skullcrawlers.” Not getting the response to this that he wanted, Marlow backpedals: “that’s the first time I said that out loud, and it sounds stupid, you can call them anything you want.”

Samuel L. Jackson playing the Samuel L. Jackson role (he even says “hang on to your butts”) steals scenes too with his intensity with wanting revenge for his dead men, while we basically just wait to see how the corrupt Goodman character is killed off.  

KONG: SKULL ISLAND is no masterpiece, but it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of action sci-fi popcorn cinema. It’s a lot stronger than Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA, and it’s more satisfying than Jackson’s KING KONG redux. It ticks off all the expected boxes (can’t have a Vietnam theme without Creedence’s “Run through the Jungle”), and it possesses a lot of visual power. Mostly though, it’s simply a fun monster movie.

But when seeing the stinger at the end after the credits (following the Marvel business model to a t), and getting the sense of the larger franchise they’re planning, I’m not sure I’m game for a endless series of KONG adventures. 

I should just grin and bear it though. I’ve got to accept that these remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings do great business, and as a hardcore fan and follower of film, I’ve got to remember the words of Hyman Roth, as played by the late, great Lee Strasberg, in one of the best sequels ever: “This is the business we’ve chosen.”

More later...

Monday, March 06, 2017

Jordan Peele's GET OUT: The First Great Film Of 2017

Now playing at a multiplex near us all:

GET OUT (Dir. Jordan Peele, 2017)


GET OUT, The directorial debut of Jordan Peele, best known as half of the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele, is the first great movie of 2017.

I mean I adored THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, but this is some next level shit.

The premise of this film, which has been described by many critics, and its creator, as GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER meets THE STEPFORD WIVES, concerns a 20something black man named Chris (Daniel Kuluuya) who travels with his white girlfriend Rose (Girls’ Allison Williams) to visit her family at their rural estate.

While packing, Chris asks Rose if her parents know that he’s black. She says she hasn’t told them, but that they are liberal and will have no problem with it. Rose even predicts that her father will boast that he would’ve voted for Obama for a third term.

Sure enough, shortly after being welcomed with hugs, Rose’s wealthy surgeon dad Dean (The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford) indeed says: “I would’ve voted for Obama a third time if I could; hands down the best President in my lifetime.”

But despite Rose’s parents, Dean and Missy (Catherine Keener), being so friendly, there is a black handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and a black housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) who are acting very odd. As Missy is a hypnotherapist it’s hard not to suspect that these people were put under a spell that turned them into this family’s slaves.

Chris’s friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent who’s taking care of Chris’s dog back home, certainly thinks so, blurting into the phone: “White people love making people sex slaves and shit!”

Chris tries to avoid Missy’s offer to put him under hypnosis to help him quit smoking, but finally succumbs and through a risky visual he finds himself helpless and trapped in a black void that she calls “the sunken place.” He wakes up shaken the next morning, but Rose reassures him and it’s on to a big backyard party sequence full of upscale white people who praise Chris and say things like “black is in fashion.”

Every other added character brings more creepiness: Rose’s obnoxious brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), Stephen Root as blind art expert Jim Hunter (who’s well aware of the irony of being a blind art expert, thank you!), and the dapper, docile Logan (LaKeith Stanfield), the only black person at her parents’ party.

Chris thinks he’s met Logan before, but can’t place him. He takes a picture of Logan, during an awkward conversation about race, and the flash makes him freeze, have a nosebleed, then come flailing at Chris yelling several times: “get out!”

That’s as far as I’m going to go with the plot. GET OUT keeps you guessing up to the end, and it’s a fantastic ending. Peele makes great choices all along the way, and it all adds up to a funny, thrilling, ride that makes some wonderfully timely points.

It’s a terrific social satire, but its surreal tinges, i.e. “the sunken place,” are what really give GET OUT its edge. Peele, who wrote the screenplay, has constructed a woke suspenseful scenario that delightfully toys with its protagonist as much as it does its audience.

The underlying message, or one of them anyone, in GET OUT is that the intents of well meaning and well off, liberal white people can be just as dangerous as hardcore cross-burning redneck racists.

This movie, currently #1 at the box office, was %100 on the Rotten Tomatometer until a certain critic, the infamous Armond White of the National Review had to go and ruin that perfect score with his pan (“Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ a Trite Get-Whitey Movie”).

Don’t listen to him. GET OUT is a must see, even if you aren’t a fan of scary films. It transcends that genre and then some. In an interview with Business Insider, Peele said he wants to make more movies about “social demons,” with premises about how “these innately human monsters that are woven into the fabric of how we think and how we interact.”

Well, he’s certainly off to a stellar start.


More later...

Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscars 2017: Whew, That Was Awkward



So last year I got my worst score ever in my Oscar predictions (16 out of 24). Well, this year I got the same damn score. 

The one that I most wanted to be off on, LA LA LAND for Best Picture, I was wrong about, but not in the way I wanted, for, if you haven't heard, it was mistakenly announced as such.


It was really painful to watch the conclusion of the 89th Academy® Awards, which I saw broadcast on the big screen at the Rialto Theater last night, when the team behind LA LA LAND found out that MOONLIGHT was the real winner.


The presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, had been given the wrong card - they had one for Best Actress, which had been given to Emma Stone (one I got right!) earlier in the evening. 

The moment when director Damien Chazzelle had to admit “We lost, by the way” has already been noted by many as one of the most embarrassing things to happen at the Oscars ever.

The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan even wrote: “Not since a Chicago newspaper headlined ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ has there been a massive public screw-up on the order of what happened at the Oscars on Sunday night.”

So, yeah, that was a crappy instance in which MOONLIGHTs thunder was stolen and the LA LA LAND folks looked way foolish. 


Maybe somehow it fits into our current world dominated by alternative facts and fake news. I dunno.


I will note that I thought Jimmy Kimmel did a good job hosting. My favorite line of his: “I want to say thank you to President Trump... remember last year when it seemed the Oscars were racist?


Anyway, here
s the other Oscar predictions I got wrong:


COSTUME DESIGN: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: THE WHITE HELMETS

FILM EDITING:
HACKSAW RIDGE

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: SUICIDE SQUAD - That's right, SUICIDE SQUAD is now an 
Academy® Award-winning film. What was I thinking predicting STAR TREK BEYOND?!!?

LIVE ACTION SHORT: SING

SOUND EDITING: ARRIVAL

SOUND MIXING: HACKSAW RIDGE - I had this film down for SOUND EDITING. Live and learn.

Okay! So thats that. Now lets all collectively move on to a new year of movies that Ill be wrong about winning Oscars next year.

This Oscar wrap-up post is sponsored by USB Memory Direct, my recommended promotional flash drive supplier.


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Friday, February 24, 2017

Hey Kids! Funtime 2017 Oscar Predictions!



Yep, it’s that time of year again. The 89th Academy Awards ceremony, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, is on Sunday night so it’s time to pony up some predictions for the event. This year, it seems like people are going to tune in more to see what anti-Trump stuff is said, than for who wins what, and it’s looking like a LA LA LAND sweep is brewing, but whatever the case I’ll be watching the broadcast at the Rialto Theater in Raleigh, and hoping I get more right than last year (2016 was my worst score in five years: 16 out of 24).

So here are my predictions:

1. BEST PICTURE: LA LA LAND


I’d prefer MOONLIGHT as it was my favorite film of 2016, but I’m betting on the sunny fantastical love letter to Los Angeles, movies, and love itself to take home the gold on Sunday night. I did really enjoy LA LA LAND, so I won’t be unhappy if it wins, but an upset in this department would be fun to witness.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle for LA LA LAND

3. BEST ACTOR: Casey Affleck. A lot of critics are saying Denzel Washington, for his role in FENCES, might come out ahead here. I personally liked Washington’s work better in this category, but Affleck, despite the resurfacing of past allegations of sexual harassment, just feels like a lock here.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Emma Stone. The wild card is Isabelle Hubbert for ELLE, which I haven’t seen.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali for MOONLIGHT

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis for FENCES.

And the rest:

7. PRODUCTION DESIGN: LA LA LAND

8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: LA LA LAND

9. COSTUME DESIGN: JACKIE

10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: O.J. MADE IN AMERICA

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: JOE’S VIOLIN

12. FILM EDITING: LA LA LAND

13. MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: STAR TREK BEYOND

14. VISUAL EFFECTS: THE JUNGLE BOOK

15. ORIGINAL SCORE: Justin Hurwitz for LA LA LAND

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “City of Stars” from LA LA LAND

17. ANIMATED SHORT: PIPER

18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: ENNEMIS INTÉRIEURS

19. SOUND EDITING:
HACKSAW RIDGE

20. SOUND MIXING: LA LA LAND

21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Kenneth Lonergan for MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Barry Jenkins for MOONLIGHT

23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: ZOOTOPIA

24. BEST FOREIGN FILM: THE SALESMAN

As I always say, tune in Monday to see how many I got wrong.

This Oscar predictions post is sponsored by USB Memory Direct, my recommended promotional flash drive supplier.


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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February Film Babble: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 & FIST FIGHT

And now, a few new movies that I saw a bit back but am only getting around to babbling about now:

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

(Dir. Chad Stahelski, 2017)



I was among those who were surprised at how much they liked the first JOHN WICK. I didn’t have any expectations going in, but found it to be thrilling, funny piece of high octane action cinema. Now Keanu Reeves, and stuntman turned director Chad Stahelski, are back for a second round of frenetically edited sequences crammed with gunshots to the heads of countless attackers.

As it begins right after the previous entry ended, with Reeves’ Wick tracking down his ‘69 Mustang coupe at a chop shop owned by Peter Stormare as the brother of the mob boss villain from the first one, it feels as much like an extention as it is a sequel. That’s fine by me as Stahelski, working with returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad, keep the original’s dark humor and ultra violent vibe going smashingly.

Sure, the plot is contrived – Wick retires from the assassin’s life for a second time, even reburying his weapons, but when he refuses a new job from a dapper Italian gangster (Riccardo Scamarcio) his house gets blown up (luckily his new dog, the pittbull he got in his first film, doesn’t get killed) and he’s pulled back into the criminal underworld game – but I was highly entertained throughout by how far the filmmakers stretched the limits of their stylized stunt choreography scene after scene.

And, sure, it doesn’t have the freshness of the first, but in Common as the bodyguard of Wick’s mark (Claudia Gerini), it has a worthy foe for our hero to fight, which a killer set-piece at the Rome Continental proves punch after powerful punch. It’s also a bit of a kick to have Reeves re-united with his MATRIX co-star Laurence Fishburne, as a brutal crime lord named The Bowery King, who comes to Wick’s aid.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is a solid follow-up that, for the most part, soaringly transcends its status as being a retread. It’s also a much better example of the form than how the Tom Cruise/JACK REACHER franchise is unfolding. Now there’s crossover mash-up I’d like to see: Wick vs. Reacher. But, of course, only if Wick wins, which, for sure, would be the only way it could really go down.

FIST FIGHT (Dir. Richie Keen, 2017)


Walking out of the screening for this film, I heard somebody say “I’m surprised this isn’t a summer release!” I chuckled to myself because I found the slapdash comedy, FIST FIGHT, to be a perfect release for the dumping ground season of February.

It’s got a slight premise –Ice Cube as an angry history teacher challenges Charlie Day as a meek English teacher to a fight on the last day of school – a B-list cast (no offense to Tracy Morgan, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, and Jillian Bell, but c’mon, who we kidding?), and a sloppy screenplay by first timers Van Robichaux and Evan Susser, so its slotting this season is dead on.

That said, I laughed more than I thought I would. Much like last December’s OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY, there are too many funny people on screen for there not to be a least some hilarious hi-jinks.

The use of over dramatic music to enforce the severity of Ice Cube’s threat to Day is a great gag at first, but like every other running joke – the drawing dicks on everything shenanigans of “Prank Day,” Day’s constant attempts to weasel out of the showdown (hard to root for him when he plants drugs on Ice Cube to frame him), and the creepiness of Bell’s character wanting to sleep with her students – it wears thin really fast.

FIST FIGHT is something that I’ve deemed many a movie that’s dropping during these off seasons – a throwaway matinee at best. With this one though, only check it out if you’ve seen absolutely everything else at the multiplex. Otherwise, stay home and watch some random episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia, that’s where Day and director Keen have put in much, much funnier work together.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at a multiplex near you (sheesh, it's at 22 theaters in my area):

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE
(Dir. Chris McKay, 2017)


Will Arnett’s Batman stole 2014’s funniest film, THE LEGO MOVIE, fair and square, so here’s his highly anticipated spin-off, and I’m happy to report that it’s just as funny.

Maybe even funnier, as it insanely packs its one hour, 44 minute running time with as many gags as the filmmakers can stuff into it. And amazingly, just about every one of them land hilariously.

While THE LEGO MOVIE writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are on board only as executive producers, the screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers Jared Stern, and John Whittington (all animation comedy veterans) retains their ultra meta sensibility which kicks in from the get go with Arnett’s gravelly voice-over: “All important movies start with a black screen.”

After Arnett’s supremely self-absorbed, cocky, and forever brooding Dark Knight talks us through the studio logos, and opening titles, rivaling DEADPOOL’s laugh-every-few-seconds opening sequence, the film gives us Zach Galifianakis as the Joker hijacking a plane full of explosives. The plane’s pilot, for McGuffin Airlines, mind you, isn’t appropriately scared and reminds the Joker of the many times his evil plans were thwarted by Batman including “that time with the parade and the Prince music.”

This alludes to the movie’s best and most successful idea: to riff on the entire history of Batman. Arnett’s Batman back story calls upon every incarnation of the classic character from last year’s BATMAN V. SUPERMAN back through Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy, the Joel Schumacher and Tim Burton versions from ’89 to ‘97, the silly ‘60s TV show (yep, there’s clips of Adam West doing the Batusi), and even the old black and white ‘40s serials. There’s even a can of Bat Shark Repellent from BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)!

Batman does indeed thwart the Joker’s latest attempt to destroy Gotham City, who it’s amusing to hear speak in Galifianakis’ Southern accent, but, worse, he hurts his long-time foe’s feelings by telling him that he doesn’t consider him his greatest enemy and that they aren’t “a thing.” This relationship talk satire makes for another great running joke (Batman: “I like to fight around”).

So The Joker devises a new plan involving getting banished into the Phantom Zone so that he can unleash an army of seemingly every D.C. comics villain ever, and many recognizable evil entities such as Gremlins, King Kong, Jaws, and the Daleks (Joker: “British robots – ask your geek friends!”) and take over Gotham City.

Meanwhile, Batman is feeling pretty down and lonely (“One is the Loniest Number” is on the soundtrack) in his big empty Wayne Manor mansion which is on an isolated island, and it doesn’t help that the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) wants him to do away with his lone vigilante standing and team up with the police.

Smitten with Barbara, who history tells us will become Batgirl, Arnett’s Bruce Wayne unknowingly agrees to adopt orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who, of course, will become Robin. Arnett and Cera together makes for a nifty Arrested Development reunion, and they play off each other wonderfully, especially when it comes to how much Batman hates Robin
s short shorts.

Reluctantly, because he’s a loner who doesn’t want to get close to anybody due to how he lost his parents (something every Batman movie has to touch on), our tiny plastic Dark Knight teams up with Barbara, Robin, and his trusty Butler Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) to save the day.

That involves a trip to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude (cue: John Williams’ score from SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE) where Batman finds out that all the Justice League crew including Channing Tatum as the Man of Steel, Jonah Hill as Green Lantern, and Adam DeVine as The Flash, are having a party that he wasn’t invited to.

The plot is fairly routine, but that’s sort of the point as the whole enterprise is a spirited take down of tropes that are in every superhero movie, and D.C.’s own troubled attempt to form an interlocking cinematic universe aping Marvel’s business model.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE’s digs at the failings of MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and SUICIDE SQUAD (Jenny Slate contributes a mean Harley Quinn here) are a boon to the film’s smart self awareness.

Even as a comic variation on the character, Arnett’s alternative fact Batman is up there with Michael Keaton and Christian Bale’s interpretations. He’s certainly preferable to Ben Affleck’s take, which is really getting off to a really shaky start (his solo Batman movie seems to be stuck in development hell, with him stepping down as director if you haven’t heard).

A complete success as a wide-ranging parody of the entire Batman movie mythos, and as one of the funniest films in recent memory, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is one to take both your kids and your parents to.


For with its intoxicating visuals, and non stop, over-the-top joke assault, it’s the perfect escapism from how surreal the world feels right now. It’s got a great message too, about how we can all overcome evil by clicking together. Something like that, anyway, I was laughing too much throughout to really care about any moral.

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Friday, February 03, 2017

De Niro Is THE COMEDIAN, Not To Be Mistaken For THE KING OF COMEDY

Now playing at a number of multiplexes near me:

THE COMEDIAN (Dir. Taylor Hackford, 2016)


This guy sure ain’t Rupert Pupkin! I’m talking about the comedian/talk show host wannabe that Robert De Niro played in the 1983 Martin Scorsese film KING OF COMEDY, one of my all-time favorite films.

Pupkin only dreamed of being a star, but Jackie Burke, the protagonist of Taylor Hackford’s new film THE COMEDIAN, is a veteran comic who was once the star of a hit sitcom with a catch phrase and all.

Jamie also differs from Rupert in that he’s a crude insult comic in the tradition of Don Rickles or, maybe more appropriately, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

But this film is less like KING OF COMEDY, and more like MR. SATURDAY NIGHT, Billy Crystal’s 1992 film about an aging has been comic. Incidentally Crystal, who was De Niro’s co-star in those ANALYSE THIS/THAT movies, has a cameo as himself here.

We first meet De Niro’s Jackie as he takes the stage in a sparsely populated New York comedy club to the theme song from his famous TV show. The audience wants Jackie to do his character Eddie from that fictional program, but he doesn’t comply, and goes into his crass act that offends more people than it entertains. Things go askew when Jackie attacks a heckler who is filming the show, and gets charged with assault.

Predictably during his day in court, Jackie sabotages his lenient sentence (community service, anger management classes) with more of his trashy shtick, and gets thrown in jail.

After being released and picked up at prison by his manager (Edie Falco), Jackie meets a 40something aged woman named Harmony (Leslie Mann) at the soup kitchen where he’s doing community service. Harmony’s father, a fan of Jackie’s, is played by Harvey Keitel, whose seventh film this is with De Niro.

We follow Jackie around as he tries to make a comeback by pitching a TV show to a hipster network exec, attends his niece’s lesbian wedding, goes out to dinner with Harmony and her father, and performs at a Friar’s Club Roast, all the while spouting out gross gag after gross gag.

All of these clichéd setpieces would be more palatable if Jackie was, you know, funny, but barely any of his jokes land. I don’t know if it’s De Niro’s delivery or his timing, or if it’s that the material is weak, but I didn’t laugh once during the entire film.

It also appears that they crammed in as many cameos as possible in an attempt to distract from how unimaginative the narrative is. There’s famous comics such as Jimmy Walker, Rhett Butler, Hannibal Buress, and Gilbert Gottfried on the club sidelines, and appearances by such names as Danny Devito (as Jackie’s brother), Charles Grodin, and Cloris Leachman all popping up to spar a little with De Niro.

Perhaps the real difference between THE COMEDIAN and KING OF COMEDY is that KING OF COMEDY had a point to it – about delusion and the modern cult of celebrity.

Hackford’s film drops a lot of references to hip “now” things like YouTube, Instagram, Google News, and going viral, but the screenplay, written by Art Linson, Jeff Ross, Richard LaGravenese, and Lewis Friedman, doesn’t have any insight into what the stand-up biz of today is like for an aging curmudgeon stuck in his ways. In these overly politically correct times, this movie is missed opportunity city.

Jackie is just a caricature that schleps from one gig to another, saying unfunny inappropriate things, with no character development arc – he learns nothing, and neither do we. Jackie’s attempts to date Mann's Harmony all fail to charm as well as there’s very little chemistry between De Niro and Mann. And to cap it all off is an incredibly cringe-worthy ending right out of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.


De Niro, and his co-stars are wasted in this overlong (2 hours), non humorous, and vacuous vehicle that has nothing to say about its subject. It’s depressing to think that younger audiences will know De Niro more from his recent run of lame comedies than from his classic work in the ‘70s, and ‘80s. So if I can encourage at least one young person (or anybody, really) to skip this and watch KING OF COMEDY instead, maybe my time watching this forgettable, unfunny film won’t be wasted after all.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Movies Of 2016 (With Spillover)


I usually try to post my Top 10 before the Oscar nominations, but January has been crazy y’all! With everything going on – the daily ridiculousness of the newly installed Trump administration, having to get one of our cats legs amputated because of cancer, and editing my long in the works book project – it’s been hard to sit down and finalize exactly just what are my favorite films of 2016.

It hasn’t helped that I found the last year to be a pretty weak one for film, with an abundance of bad sequels, a run of epic fails (THE BFG, ALLIED, RULES DONT APPLY) and many movies that were just meh, so picking out the gems was more difficult than in previous years. So here goes my picks, in descending order, with a little bit of annotation, and some links back to my reviews (click on select titles):


10. GREEN ROOM (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)



Sadly, this largely overlooked indie about a punk band who find themselves trapped in the backstage green room of a hardcore club in the woods of Oregon, was one of the last performances of Anton Yelchin, who died in a freak automobile accident in the summer of 2016. Yelchin, as the fraught leader of the punk group, excels in this grimy, gritty, and extremely chilling thriller as do Imogen Poots and a sinister Patrick Stewart.

9. 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (Dir. Mike Mills)


I think Annette Bening should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination for this over Meryl Streep for FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Streep’s performance in FFJ, but Bening put in an exemplary portrayal as Dorothea, the put upon matriarch of Mills’ cinematic loveletter to the women who raised him. Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, and newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann round out the rest of the fine ensemble. 20TH CENTURY WOMEN somehow simultaneously captures how it felt to be a mixed-up kid in the ‘70s and how it felt to be a mixed-up mother living during the same era. Glad that Mills’ superb screenplay got the Academy’s attention.

8. O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA (Dir. Ezra Edelman) It’s amazing how riveting every minute of this 5-part documentary miniseries is, considering that it’s 10 hours long (467 minutes). But the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson from famous football running back to infamous alleged murderer as seen through the filters of race and fame in the American system never slows down or falters in its engrossing pace. Edleman’s opus, created for ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series, is a masterpiece that not only deserves its nomination for the Best Documentary Oscar, it deserves to win it.

7. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Dir. Kenneth Lonergan) 


This is an achingly sad story about an apartment complex maintenance man (Casy Affleck) who, while still reeling from a tragic incident that killed his two daughters, and destroyed his marriage to his devastated wife (Michelle Williams), is asked to take care of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) after his brother (the boy’s father played by Kyle Chandler) dies. This is a stirring experience, and an oddly funny one at times, that’s hard to shake long after it ends, and that’s largely due to how real these people feel.

6. FENCES (Dir. Denzel Washington)


Denzel Washington’s third turn in the director’s chair is a filmed play, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t play as a great film. Based on the Pulitzer Prize, and Tony Award winning 1983 play by August Wilson, the film concerns Troy Maxton, a working class Pittsburgh garbageman played by Washington, and his family's struggle through the late 50s to mid 60s. Along with the nominations the film got for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis), and Best Adapted Screenplay (August Wilson), Washington deservedly earned a nom for Best Actor as his energy makes many of his monologues more memorable than dozens (maybe hundreds) of other actors’ pontifications this last year. Davis holds her own against Washington, and really should’ve gotten a Best Actress instead of Supporting nomination, but at least she was recognized. 

5. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (Dir. Tom Ford)


I can never unsee the imagery of this twisted yet impeccably stylish psychological thriller which revolves around the sordid contents of a novel that Jake Gyllenhaal sends to his ex-wife (Amy Adams), and, I bet I can never unthink it either. It’ll really be hard for sure to choose between rooting for Michael Shannon in this over Jeff Bridges (in #4 on this list) for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for their portrayals of two vastly different Texas lawmen.

4. HELL OR HIGH WATER (Dir. David Mackenzie)


This is a modern day western heist thriller that runs with the theme of robbing-the-banks-because-they’re-robbing-us. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play the robbers; Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham play the cops on their trail. It’s also starring a wide West Texas landscape sparsely decorated with billboards advertising debt relief, rundown ranches, and yellow fields stretching to the horizon. If its not a deserving Best Picture nominee, itll do till the next deserving nominee gets here.

3. PATERSON (Dir. Jim Jarmusch)


I haven’t posted a review of this film because it never came to my area, and that’s a shame because more people should see this lovely film starring Adam Driver as a bus driving poet named Paterson, who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. It’s the week in the life of our protagonist who fills a secret notebook full of his poems as he goes about his daily routine of driving his bus route, eating dinner with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and having a beer at his neighborhood bar. It doesn’t sound like much happens, sure, but by the end I was cherishing every bit of the minutia that made up Paterson’s poetic existence.

2. LA LA LAND (Dir. Damien Chazzelle) Although this has been highly acclaimed by critics (it stands at a 93% on the Rotten Tomatometer), there has been a considerable amount of backlash against this modern musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as starcrossed lovers/Hollywood hopefuls. While I loved it, I can see the points of people who say it mansplains jazz, its leads aren’t the greatest singers, and that, despite the appearance of John Legend, it’s a pretty white movie. Still, I thought it soared far above most of last year’s releases with its wonderfully bouncy soundtrack (Gosling and Stone aren’t that bad as vocalists), sharp screenplay, and its colorfully inventive cinematography. As it’s nominated for 14 categories, it’ll take home a bunch of Oscars for sure come February 26th.

1. MOONLIGHT (Dir. Barry Jenkins) 



Right now, it looks like the Best Picture race is going to be a duel between MOONLIGHT and LA LA LAND, both of which are my two favorite films of the year. MOONLIGHT takes the #1 spot because it made more of an emotional dent on me with its realism over the pure fantasy of my #2 choice. Jenkins’ film, which tells the Miami -set story of a young African American male named Chiron who is played by three different actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) representing different ages of the character as he struggles with his homosexual identity. It’s fearless in its harrowing honesty, but I bet it will be more remembered for its simple beauty. This definitely deserved every Oscar nom it got.

Spillover (click on the bold faced titles for my reviews):

HAIL, CAESAR! (Dirs. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)

SILENCE (Dir. Martin Scorsese) 
Yeah, I gave this a really mixed review but I think Matthew Zoller Seitz was right when he wrote: “This is not the sort of film you ‘like’ or ‘don't like.’ It's a film that you experience and then live with.” I'm definitely still living with it.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (Dir. Richard Linklater)


GIMME DANGER (Dir. Jim Jarmusch)

WEINER (Dir. 
Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg) 

HACKSAW RIDGE (Dir. Mel Gibson) 

A MAN CALLED OVE (Dir. 
Hannes Holm)

POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING (Dir. Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone)


ARRIVAL (Dir. Denis Villeneuve) This is another film I give a mixed review, but, what can I say? Its growing on me.

HIDDEN FIGURES (Dir. Theodore Melfi)

HUNT FOR THE WILDER PEOPLE (Dir. Taika Waititi)

LIFE, ANIMATED (Dir. Roger Ross Williams)

THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS (Dir. Ron Howard)

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