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.


More later...

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.

More later...

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.

More later...

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.

More later...