Saturday, March 3, 2018

Oscar Thoughts / Predictions 2018

Oscar Predictions And Thoughts 2018 List / 90th Academy Awards  For 3/4/18        

    It's that time again... the 90th time with a clean rounded anniversary year... for the grandest face-off of last year's achievements and films. Truly many could-be (And may will) “at-lasts” and important steps, along beloved acclaim while some surprises as well. The major popular categories , who will likely win and who I'm cheering for etc.

Best Picture:
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

  Who Will Win: It's hard to say... truly a year with some fantastic films with no clear shot. But I think the clear fight tonight is two ways between The Shape Of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri due to how respected their makers are and the result. Possibly leaded by Call Me By Your Name. Although as other years have shown, anything can happen anywhere.

Who I Want To Win: The Shape Of Water... Del Toro made something amongst his best ever and it truly shows what films can be..magical , deep,'s everything.

Best Actress:
Sally Hawkins - The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie - I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan - Lady Bird
Meryl Streep - The Post

Who Will Win:  I think that the Shape Vs Three Billboards battle extends to many others, so I gotta go to Hawkins (who is unique via ASL) versus McDormand. However, the other three are apparently strong contenders... Robbie with a showpiece and Streep being..Streep as always.

Who I Want To Win:  Sally Hawkins, for doing so much with so little.

Best Actor:
Timothee Chalamet - Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis - Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya - Get Out
Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington - Roman J Israel, Esq

Who Will Win:  It's really tough... hopefully Daniel Day-Lewis who almost always does and may his last one if he's truly leaving the industry. Or Gary Oldman at first... I feel darkest hour could be a dark horse. However I could see Get Out breaking conventions

Who I Want To Win: Any of those mentioned above, for notability. Moreso Oldman since he's been a topic after Leonardo DiCaprio.

Best Supporting Actress:
Mary J Blige - Mudbound
Allison Janney - I, Tonya
Lesley Manville - Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf - Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer - The Shape of Water

Who Will Win: Word on the street is Metcalf has high odds, no comment really haven't seen most of these.

Who I Want To Win: Since it was the only film I saw,  Spencer for Del Toro.

Best Supporting Actor:
Willem Dafoe - The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins - The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer - All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Who Will Win: An interesting cross-fight for Three Billboards. It will be one of Harrelson/ Rockwell for that reason. Plummer has high buzz as well while the others could dark horse it.

Who I Want To Win: I hear Rockwell, I feel he's earned it. I look forward to seeing him in that film soon. 

Best Director:
Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan
Get Out - Jordan Peele
Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig
Phantom Thread - Paul Thomas Anderson
The Shape of Water - Guillermo Del Toro

Who Will Win:  As always, and super true this year, could go any way. Perhaps less so for Phantom Thread. But I feel Del Toro has the mark..

Who I Want To Win: Del Toro because it was great, but also.. Nolan, because he never has..and that's what he's best at...a tough tie.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Call Me By Your Name - screenplay by James Ivory
The Disaster Artist - screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H Weber
Logan - screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green; story by James Mangold
Molly's Game - written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound - screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Who Will Win: This seems like a spot Call Me By Your Name may lock, or a genre surprise like...any of the others. Logan and Disaster Artist less so do to subject...but..

Who I Want To Win: DISASTER ARTIST PLEASE..because it deserved so many more nominations. Almost at that point, Logan as well... exceptional.

Best Original Screenplay:
The Big Sick - written by Emily V Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out - written by Jordan Peele
Lady Bird - written by Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water - screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor; story by Guillermo del Toro
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - written by Martin McDonagh

Who Will Win: Shape Vs Three Billboards, with plentiful contenders,,, maybe something refreshing like Big Sick or Get Out.

Who I Want To Win: Get Out would be especially pleasant due to its themes, seconded by the great Big Sick . Both comedians branching into film

Best Original Score:
Dunkirk - Hans Zimmer
Phantom Thread - Jonny Greenwood
The Shape of Water - Alexandre Desplat
Star Wars: The Last Jedi - John Williams
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Carter Burwell

Who Will Win:  Here its in my opinion Zimmer Vs Desplat, reknown and beloved makers.

Who I Want To Win:  Either for Dunkirk or Shape Of Water, incredible. However this may be Star film of the year...'s best odds at this show... and Williams is getting older..

Best Animated Feature:
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

Who Will Win: Coco has this nigh-locked as per “good Pixar movie” tradition. However, the refreshing Breadwinner or Loving Vincent could take it.

Who I Want To Win: I wouldn't mind Coco.

Best Cinematography:
Blade Runner 2049 - Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour - Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk - Hoyte van Hoytema
Mudbound - Rachel Morrison
The Shape of Water - Dan Laustsen

Who Will Win: Deakins has honest odds at a film that should have gotten so much more...and he's gotten older too and never has. But Dunkirk and Shape have high quality, as I hear for Mudbound. Viscious category.

Who I Want To Win: Almost equally between Blade Runner, Shape, and Dunkirk... aside the reason above. All fantastic looking.

Best Costume Design:
Beauty and the Beast - Jacqueline Durran
Darkest Hour - Jacqueline Durran
Phantom Thread - Mark Bridges
The Shape of Water - Luis Sequeira
Victoria and Abdul - Consolata Boyle

Who Will Win: If they count the creature as part of it, Shape Of Water, as convcing as Hawkins is. Otherwise perhaps the literal Phantom Thread.

Who I Want To Win: Shape or Beauty and The Beast for fantasy.

Best make-up and hairstyling:
Darkest Hour - Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski & Lucy Sibbick
Victoria and Abdul - Daniel Phillips & Lou Sheppard
Wonder - Arjen Tuiten

Who Will Win: Darkest Hour, for Oldman's look.

Who I Want To Win: Darkest Hour, for Oldman's look..duh!

Best production design:
Beauty and the Beast - production design by Sarah Greenwood; set decoration by Katie Spencer
Blade Runner 2049 - production design by Dennis Gassner; set decoration by Alessandra Querzola
Darkest Hour - production design by Sarah Greenwood; set decoration by Katie Spencer
Dunkirk - production design by Nathan Crowley; set decoration by Gary Fettis
The Shape of Water - production design by Paul Denham Austerberry; set decoration by Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin

Who Will Win: Another tough category... lifted by the gorgeous Blade Runner and Shape.

Who I Want To Win: See above, although here as well Beauty is lush.

Best visual effects:
Blade Runner 2049 - John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert & Richard R Hoover
Guardian of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner & Dan Sudick
Kong: Skull Island - Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza & Mike Meinardus
Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan & Chris Corbould
War for the Planet of the Apes - Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon & Joel Whist

Who Will Win: Ah my favorite category...the kind of movies reacted to by me. The Academy loves their Planet of the Apes, could see that... or almost anything else.

Who I Want To Win: Star Wars has some odds here but I think even moreso Blade Runner was magnificent (and if it doesn't win elsewhere get at least one)

Best film editing:
Baby Driver - Paul Machliss & Jonathan Amos
Dunkirk - Lee Smith
I, Tonya - Tatiana S Riegel
The Shape of Water - Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Jon Gregory

Who Will Win: Anyone aside Tony, seriously locked category. Perhaps Baby Driver has a chane.

Who I Want To Win: Almost a tied love of Baby Driver and Dunkirk, snappy.

Let the match commence this weekend!! Enjoy the presenters and spectacle

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Annihilation Review

Director: Alex Garland
Cast Headliners: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac
Original Release Date: February 23, 2018 (Theatrical Run USA Only)

Alex Garland has become one to watch. He already was notable for his past works including writing on 28 Days Later and Dredd but it was his directorial debut in Ex Machina which proved his knack for deep sci-fi. Annihilation, semi-loosely based upon a trilogy of novels, is his next take on material that will terrify as much as it causes wonder in its beauty.
The movie jumps around in its time-telling which is one of its drawbacks due to things being discussed “in present” before or after they occur “in the past”. Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biologist being interrogated by a group of government officials led by Lomax(Benedict Wong, who just asks a few sincere questions and not much else aside a particularly great line) after a disastrous mission.
The majority of the film shows the unfolding of this mission into the surreal rainbow-alien covered wilderness of The Shimmer. Lena finds herself at a military base outside this quarantine zone after her husband Kane(Oscar Isaac) shows up disillusioned and sick at her apartment after he was the only survivor of a previous expedition to the Shimmer with his unit of secretive government operatives. Both are abducted by the government Southern Reach task force led by psychologist Dr.Ventress(Jennifer Jason Leigh). With Kane in recovery the coincidentally all-women team of Lena, Ventress, paramedic Anya(Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie(Tessa Thompson), and geologist Cass(Tuva Novotny) venture past the boundary wall of The Shimmer into its coastal heart to find answers on what happened to the previous team.
The movie's primary standout is its tone which isn't surprising from director Garland. Every second spent inside Shimmer-affected lands is ominous and uneasy. The forest-filled setting and at times greyed-out dark pallette , as well as the use of aliens, may remind one of the great 2016 film Arrival in many ways. Although here the use of time and its plot is more linear and traditional with increased action. Post-apocalyptic abandoned towns and installations are contrasted by quiet natural glens and beaches. There's actually some beautiful use of color and plentiful surreal trippy imagery . That's because in The Shimmer, biological matter is being slowly mutated. This leads to strange flower patterns, crystal structures, and flesh-like fungus covered trees and buildings for background. It also leads to animals both oddly serene( like flower-deers, translucent fish, and plant-shaped-imitation people) and deadly (like the alligator-shark hybrid and undead zombie-like bear seen in promotional material). The mysteries of what can happen within is a standout through this ambience and the less one knows the better.
Aside from some at times questionable use of jumping around or spending on certain sequences the plot is filled with the afromented surprise and twists. Matter, time, and sanity are questioned on what is planned by the characters to be a simple in and out mission(and which actually surmounts to more or less that … much more of a haunted alien swamp house than the constant subtleness of Ex Machina). Horror and action are words that apply to some parts of the film but not always. It more often leaves one feeling like they have been affected by alien wonder themselves and thinking upon its Lovecraftian science than pulse pounding action although be warned the terror can be terrifying at moments.
Garland's cinematography and direction is of course wonderful. Some of the special effects can be slightly less convincing but it is very slight. Music is moreso the variance with some chilling otherworldly strings and horns mixed in with out of place calm acoustic guitar or folk songs. The peak of the film comes as the human world is left behind and the hellish heart of mission's destination is reached with its shocking answers and happenings.
For all of its strengths through tone , mystery, and bizzareness the characters along for the ride are a mixed bag. Portman's Lena gives a more or less decent performance whether sincere, depressed, inquisitive , or heroic. Isaac's Kane's true self is mostly contained to some flashbacks where he has both warmth and disaffected natures...increased by his PTSD on return after which he sits the majority of the rest of the film out. Rodriguez's Anya is perhaps more or less the only other most notable role of the film bringing spunk , paranoia, and occasional humor depending on the situation. It's ironic that there is some meta reunions through both Padme Portman and Poe Isaac from Star Wars being married and Thor of the MCU's female friends Jane (Portman as well) and Valyrie (Thompson / Josie) being in the same film. Unlike that role , and others, Thompson is just kind of ...there and subdued although aiming to try. The same applies top Leigh's Ventress and Novotny's Cass. The film is about characters in some ways as their personal pasts haunt them almost as much as the Shimmer does, but this varies in effectiveness as stated.
It's surprises are at times typical, but particularly its ending will stay with the viewer. It's worth the buildup and mysterious voyage. Garland has made a solid mashup of sci-fi, horror, and drama one again that is worth for its more or less unique blend of chilling and relaxing elements. 8.25 out of 10

Black Panther Review

Black Panther
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast Headliners: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Danai Gurira, Letita Wright, Martin Freeman, many others
Original Release Date: February 16th, 2018

          The Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone on for so long now (nearing 10 years with 1-3 films per year) that it's becoming harder and harder to be truly unique anymore.  The origin trope of “guy from the normal world gets powers, meets a larger  than life world” has had slight permutations but , aside smartly making things less about the origin and more about building their character arc, been played out in very similar ways. Black Panther's focus to have it be ABOUT the larger than life world of its own gives it a unique flair. It's also important and inspiring that, coincidentally or perhaps as it should be for the inspiration, this is the first major comic-based superhero blockbuster , PG-13 film  who is black. This makes it even a better feeling that the movie is good at that. The potential of T'Challa and Wakanda is utilized more or less as it was wanted to be.
A slickly animated intro shows the fusion sci-fi / magic basis of what the fictional MCU nation of Wakanda is. In the midst of Africa long ago, a large meteorite of vibranium (the source of captain America's shield and many other things) crashed into a mountain and granted the local people incredible technological advances . In the midst of strife, the goddess Bast gave the leader of the Wakandans the abilities to be the Black Panther through the vibranium-laced heart-shaped herb.  The country soon set itself isolated to hide the secrets from the outside. This epic background history gives the movie's titular role something unique... he is a legacy of responsibility he's known about his whole life, compared to most other MCU heroes who find their lives changed into something wild. Protagonist  T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) was born into a life that would require his heroics. Another important flashback  occurs that should be seen firsthand to show what this sometimes entails.
The present tense of the plot jumps (in one of the only ties to the larger MCU making it smartly standalone) to right after 2016's Captain America: Civil War where T'Challa had a guest introductory role. He is returning home after the death of his father to truly bear the title and responsibilities of  King of Wakanda where of course things don't go without incident. Soon met after a neat battle sequence are fellow Wakandans in is his bodyguard and top leader of the fierce Dora Milaje Okoye (Dania Guirira), his ex-girlfriend spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), his mother Ramonda (Angela Basset), and sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Additional Wakandans include more bit roles in Zuri (Forest Whitaker) , W'Kabi(Daniel Kaluuya), and M'Baku (Winston Duke). 
This large and nigh-allstar ensemble cast is one of the highlights of the film. In what is some of the most supporting characters introduced in a MCU film at once there's almost  nothing but total admiration for every single one the characters and performances unlike other such films where there may be one or two highlights. Boseman as T'Challa , when he isn't using his awesome acrobatic and martial arts abilities through his herb powers and (new and more capable!) armor suit, has some strong character growth and confrontations. He may appear to be one of the fiercest superheroes around but he has some dramatic weaknesses and growth to attain the title including visions of his late father T'Chaka(John Kani in a bit more of a role than Civil War although still slight) in the dreamy ancestral realm; he also doesn't forget to drop a suave quip or threat at times although less than most of his peers.  Guirrira's Okoye brings with her some of the film's best action moments and morals. So too does the caring Nyong'o as Nakia or the wise-cracking (comedic highlight) Wright as Shuri. Truly everyone gets to get in on the action and plot.   The likes of  Whittaker as Zuri , Bassett as Ramonda , and Kayuula as W'kabi  are lesser involved and effective  but bring an authenticity to the accents and participation. Duke's M'Baku is a surprising highlight that has to be seen firsthand to know why.
This extends to the non-Wakandan and or villainous characters.  Also returning from Civil War is CIA Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) who has a definitely larger role bringing some “outsider eyes”, humor, and action although at times he feels at times a bit over-the-top naive or something unneeded but he's often likeable.  Wonderfully over-the-top is one of the villains (returning from his small debut years ago in 2015's Avengers 2) in Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who T'Challa encounters early into his fresh reign. Serkis is even more insane and evil than he was in that film. He hams and ramps up the evil madman angle and brings a unique oddball hipster take to things alongside his new laser hand cannon. It's a bit unfortunate there's not actually more to him in the long epic plot, but thats because of an even more vile force in Erik “Killmonger” Stevens( Michael B Jordan).
Jordan as Killmonger is a highlight solid role in a tapestry of solid roles. Like the best of MCU and overall film villians (which her certainly contends for being higher than lower on the chart)  he has a sympathetic motivation to his evil plans.  He is at times charming , occasionally humorous , smart, cunning, and deadly. He has an arc and meaning of his own naturally mirroring T'Challa's that unfolds its mysteries as the story goes on. He is better in combat when his face can be seen (sometimes questionably covering his unique look with armor suits etc) and at times is generic but just as much is deeply memorable while touching upon some important themes.
The story and plot is thus long but filled with some epic stakes and twists. Parts of it may remind one of Shakespearean or by extension (literally..) the Lion King-esque melodrama but it works. This is epic nation spanning stuff of tribes and royal inheritance that makes it more than just street level bank robbers. Plentiful action and excitement exists aided by this. A trip to South Korea perhaps a side distraction but in Wakanda proper, paticuliarly the end, there's some big excitement .
Ryan Coogler brings a solid directing angle to things. The best fights match his work in Creed via visceral realistic duels on waterfall for tribal rights and so on. Hand to hand with spears and the like makes things as exciting as a good boxing match or fencing duel that fits for him. So to are the lush natural landscapes of Wakanda's countryside or smaller interior spaces (more on its unique look in a moment). Larger takes vary at times but also impress. His soundtrack composing friend Ludwig Goranssen gives a truly great original score of relevant drums and strings that give it a truly African flair. Kendrick Lamar made a great original rap album for the film as well although unfortunately just a few pieces are used.
The visuals... at times stun and at other times disappoint. The movie's magical fantasy lore and sci-fi utopia ambience each impress as a whole on the surface level. This may be  the biggest Afro-futurist influenced spectacle to have ever released.. with incredible colorful costumes and dreamy spirit dimensions and giant rhinos and laser shields and spears right out of the comic world.  At times this CGI and set-design can inspire awe. But unfortunately, at other times this CGI is weaker than used to likely due to the abundance of it (although even older films such as the Guardians of the Galaxy managed to pull it off). This harms particularly so some of the fights where both heroic and opposing forces are utlizing armor suits and can look like a film from a past era than the latest in spectacle. However, the good is uniquely impressive and the flaws are not egregious to ruin it all.
As a whole, Black Panther sets out to what it wanted and needed to be more or less. The Black Panther himself dives deeper into his world both growing into it and setting things up (excitingly) for the future. This unique vision burns strong aside some typical tropes. It's an important movie while remaining fun , mystical, action-packed and of course humorous. Wakanda Forever. 8.64 out of 10

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top Ten Favorite Films / Video Games Of 2017

My Top Ten Favorite Films / Video Games Of 2017

Say what one will about this year for themselves or our world, it’s certainly been commendable for media across all fields.  It’s wild to believe how much has come and gone, and how much of it stands amongst the greatest of greats.  As always, if something obvious is missing, I haven’t experienced it or enough of it to justify… or I don’t agree. Here it goes:

Top Ten Films Of 2017
1.       Star Wars: The Last Jedi: For bringing us back Luke Skywalker almost like we once knew him… for having him reunite with R2-D2, Chewie, etc… and for making Rey’s journey just as epic and more unexpected, with incredible visuals / cinematography … for shaking up what Star Wars was and can be.
2.       The Disaster Artist: For the ultimate on-screen Wiseau impression aside the guy himself from Franco. For being hilarious, both to anyone and even moreso…the fans. Yet also, dramatic and inspirational.
3.       Dunkirk: For adding another crisp directed film to Nolan’s lineup…haunting, gritty, realistic at the same time… war the disaster movie.
4.       Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2: For taking the first movie and making things bigger, crazier, more colorful, more action packed and wild and funny with legend Kurt Russell… and baby Groot.
5.       Blade Runner 2049: For being both a fantastic followup to the original as well as its own, music and atmosphere drenched noir story.. with great performances and transporting one to the future.
6.       The Shape Of Water: For its wonderful set design, music, romance and horror..not just from the monster. For showing that words aren’t needed for emotion.
7.       War For The Planet Of The Apes:  For bringing Ceaser’s journey to a close, with style, epic stakes, and emotion. For sweeping vistas and evil Harrelson, and a sense of closure and motivation.
8.       Logan: For being the most different X-Men film yet..and in its own dark , gritty way. For being a western with claws, for having not just a great sendoff for Wolverine..but for Professor X as well.
9.       Baby Driver: For being hilarious, frenetic, totally Edgar Wright…great soundtrack. Great performances, from everyone.
10.   The Lego Batman Movie: For being the ultimate Bat-tribute, incredibly charming and with a lesson or two amidst wild fun.
Honorable 11 -13:
11.   Thor: Ragnarok (ZANYHULK)
12.   It (SCARY80SCLOWN)
13.   Detroit (GRITTYTRAGEDY)

Top Ten Video Games Of 2017
1.       YET ALSO, 2 .. I cant choose…Nintendo was stellar. Super Mario Odyssey: For going back to that 64 / Sunshine style… and some Galaxy…and some NES….and fresh.. a little bit of everything. Gorgeous, free, fun , the cap is so fresh from capture to in one.. so much to do yet not long enough, but oh so sweet while it lasts… the one that was dreamed of.
2.       YET ALSO, 1 .. I cant choose...Nintendo was stellar The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild:  For being worth the long wait and journey. For taking the franchise to a more open and influenced by others place than ever while also being true to the series’ best aspects. The setting, the music, the ideas (weapons aside).. the dream.
3.       Sonic Mania: For showing Sanic games can be awesome again. For letting a fan make what fans want.. both using the original while having tasty morsels of new, packed with references and fun. For making one feel like its back in the day exactly again.
4.       Gravity Rush 2: For putting an open world into its tutorial, and then bringing one to an open world(s) all next to each other. For being fun, fluid, fresh and beautiful.
5.       Horizon: Zero Dawn: For being shiny and fresh in concept. For mixing a great narrative heavy story with freedom. For showing that companies can be fresh out of a box.
6.       Splatoon 2: For being as great as the first game, and better. For bringing in features wanted and unexpected. For some of the best single player level design, and for being the game the first was meant to be.
7.       (Episodes 3 to 5 Of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 3 A New Frontier… epic, emotional stuff with wildly varying choices. But, was released between 2016/2017 so really...) Injustice 2: I must admit, I have a personal attachment via NRS. However, truly fun for its refined fighting system, gorgeous visuals, DC tributes, and content and roster. It’d be up here anyways.
8.       Mass Effect: Andromeda: For being so shiny and open..even if it wasn’t everything it should have been. For its ideas and ambition, for its combat, for perhaps one last ride.
9.       Golf Story: For being a retro throwback yet so fresh. For its soundtrack and writing, and making golf wild and more fun than ever.
10.   Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle: For being so weird it somehow works. For making tactical combat accessible . For its laughs and charm and depth.
Honorable 11 – 13:
11.   A Hat in Time(COLORFULINDIE)

13.   For Honor(INTENSE)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Star Wars "Episode VIII" : The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast Headliners: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, more
Original Release Date: December 15th, 2017

                It’s crazy to think that Star Wars has not just been back after a long absence, not just overall great and worthy, but has reached Episode 8 of the sequel trilogy. Star Wars: The Last Jedi has the “middle chapter” aspect to answer in the franchise which defined the darker middle chapter in the first place. It’s sprawling, it’s epic, it’s action-packed, it’s emotional, it’s not perfect but it’s a heck of a ride. As Luke says the film “does not go the way one thinks”… going against audience expectations for at times worse yet for the most part better. It’s old, it’s new, and it’s something beyond.
                Taking the story back to the main continuation of the saga after last year’s Rogue One, this is next set of complications in the conflict of the evil First Order and the Resistance. The base of D’Qar is under attack as an evacuation is underway. It’s a sequence that perhaps crystallizes the essence of both the film and Disney’s era as it has humor both fun and awkward, beautiful cosmic scenery in its exhilarating action (iMAX 3d as always adds much) and dramatic stakes. The situation of bombers and space cruisers could be the climax of some other movies but here it’s just the start, as is tradition.
                Really, the main arc of the plot picks up literally where 2015’s The Force Awakens ended. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is delivering Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) his lightsaber back on the remote island planet of Ach-To to both gain his help in the war and training / answers for herself. Suffice to say, this does not go smooth. Luke is stubborn and regretful and the greatness of the film is what it takes for him to be ready for the world again.  There’s also Rey’s visions, notably her distant communication via magic Force bond to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
                Everything about this “A story” arc is wonderful. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is as charming, funny, and fierce as she was in the last film. More than ever, the stakes at play have her character go to some dark and conflicted places as she moves along the path of the Jedi.  Adam Driver was amazing as Kylo in the last film and he’s even more incredible this time in his evilness and doubling down on the moral ambiguity. In a sense, he’s just as much of a protagonist as Rey.  It’s as if the hero’s journey of the OT of films and the angsty confliction of the PT happens at once. Paired together, hating each other, trying to find the hope of the dark / light in each other between these two characters is memorable, emotional, epic…particularly ramping up as the plot goes on. They are each mirrored in a mentor, although these range in impact.
                Almost the titular character of the movie is the legendary Luke Skywalker. Luckily, he says more than the nothing he had in the last film. He says a lot, and important things at that. Hamill is… so great in his return. Now this will likely be a point of contention amongst past fans …forever, but it’s the way his story led in that he’s far from the perfect hero anymore. This old man Luke is broken, regretful, and likely depressed. But finds a new hope.  It’s ironic that his existence has ended up much like his old masters Yoda and Obi-Wan in that he’s a homeless wanderer on this isle who has eschewed the Force and its trappings along with the world as a whole.  This is due to some shocking revelations about him and Kylo Ren / Ben Solo that is handled for the most part profoundly. Hamill’s sorrow is felt but so too eventually is his confidence and power. He’s wise and or a spark of his old heroic charisma when the time comes. He’s even funnier than ever, a sign of how Hamill has grown since the OT via his voice and other work. It’s great to have him as such a key and important part, especially with Rey, Kylo, and others (including some really nice reunion moments with R2-D2 and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo)). It may be filled with a couple bits of controversy and plot decision to his extent of involvement but one cannot fault the long wanted return of him to the plot.
       If Rey has Luke to look up to, Kylo has Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Snoke, even more realistically captured via CGI mocap) is chillingly evil and powerful. His evil would make Palpatine proud while at the same time having a unique sense of arrogance to him.  It’s a moderate shame that his presence is only slightly more than the prior film and more into his motivations isn’t deeply explored but Star Wars is often, and moreso with Disney, about the current stakes than the background lore (at times) so its logical.  The aesthetics of his headquarters and red Praetorian guards are also imposing and impressive.
                While all of the epic Jedi / Sith story is going on and before it joins them, the likes of the Resistance have their own stories to undergo that are not quite up to the heights but have their gems. General Leia (Carrie Fisher) commands a fleet of ships engaged in a constant struggle with those of General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson). There’s familiar characters like BB-8, C3PO, Admiral Ackbar, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) who attempt to solve the stakes at hand. These are joined by new faces including Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran).   
                There’s some excitement and twists to be had (as across the film) but the least of these happens amidst the space. So to as happened with past SW films, the less powerful characters get involved in their own struggles that tend to have a bit of mixed importance. Leia, Poe, and Holdo struggle how to lead the Resistance while Finn and Poe take the advice of Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyongo) to find the support on the planet Canto Bight.
                Through these at times over-CGI-and-joke packed locations the characters shine through. Of course it’s unfortunate that we lost Fisher in our world, but in Star Wars she is her best Leia since the old days..much more than TFA. She is just as sassy and wise as the old days while getting a bit more into the literal action this time.  Isaac’s Poe too has an increased role, having some roadblocks to his responsibility amidst his wisecracks and shots fired.  Dern, ever effective, has some cool mean-ness as Holdo although some questionable plot happens but she and her dialogue is effective. Gleeson’s villainous Hux is just as evil and even slightly more humorous this time.
                Boyega as Finn continues to charm, and has some funny and good interactions with Tran’s Rose. She is a more civilian-level take than anyone else and has her own moments of humor and emotion. But their plot to a casino is, while packed with alien galactic wonder, a bit pointless and meandering. There’s a crossover with the shady, stammering criminal DJ (Benicio Del Toro) and the return of Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) to add some excitement (particularly when plot threads converge) but it feels filler with some silly concepts compared to the epic war and Jedi stories.
  At times the humor and seriousness clash with each other ..jokes to serious and back, although this is more of a sign of a post - MCU era than the films fault ..but there's effective of each that add to the wild fun or drama depending. And the Porgs , adorable flying puppy bird creatures, are always a charm.  This movie feels like true Star Wars in it's tapestry of attributes. One in particular takes one back to the past ..

                There’s plot holes, there’s some surprising revelations but the good is good. As a audio-visual standpoint, the Star Wars experience has never been as immersive. Director Rian Johnson, in turn with his wild ideas of what the force can do, brings fantastic cinematography, backgrounds (paticuliary the red and white salt of Crait...unique enough from Hoth ) , and visuals. The action is so great, when it shows up (bearing in mind this is more of a nuanced “Empire” of the era so far) whether in space or on the ground.  The music by John Williams is once again, and more than ever, subdued but some re-used pieces adds to the scenes amidst a couple choice highlights.  For Johnson’s sake, if this didn’t have the frame of reference of being Star Wars his effort would be commendable in itself, and added to Star Wars its wild but mostly works.
    This movie has been met with controversy, from the highest of highs to some vehement fan hate or disappointment, with of course all levels of in between. That’s likely because it’s the most fresh, different Star Wars to date in the post-Lucas era… filled with as much mysteries and questions than answers and excitement. The great is so great though, and even in its confusion its vastly entertaining. In time hopefully people can see its risks as strides. For they are in its epic, emotional ride. 9.78 out of 10


The Disaster Artist Review

The Disaster Artist
Director: James Franco

Cast Headliners: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, many many others
Original Release Date: December 1st, 2017 (limited)
   Quotes like “Ahahahahhaha, what a story Mark”  , “You’re tearing me apart Lisa!”, and of course” Oh hi Mark” define legendary movies. Or at least to those in the know, they’re from the infamously bad…yet so terrible it’s in a way good film, 2003’s The Room. The Disaster Artist is a film about the making of that film, and the enigmatic hilarious legend of its creator Tommy Wiseau. On the surface it seems like it could be as silly as its source, but within is a hilarious and heartfelt recreation and tribute to the situation that led to that…disasterpiece.
The story, mostly adapted from the biographical novel of the same name, details the meeting of the two friends, collaborators, and stars of The Room in Tommy Wiseau(James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). This is after (the first sign of this) a funny montage, likely true, of celebrity cameos commenting on the films importance from JJ Abrams to Danny McBride more. The focus goes from acting school to the duo’s bonding over old films to the insane idea of making a film together.. luckily that they did. 
What a story Franco rather, who (in addition to directing / producing it) embodies Wiseau so incredibly well in his performance. His look, his method of speech, his movement… he’s almost unrecognizable as his usual self and is nearly 100 spot on as Tommy. It’s a hard task as Wiseau is a one of a kind person, having a distinct accent that’s “New Orleans” and Franco lives it up wonderfully. The laughs come both from the famous circumstances in addition to original pieces to add to the Wiseau canon. Even when not causing humor, he’s sincere and endearing, angry and hateworthy… each moment doing what it needs to. The only time this falters is into some slight over-exaggeration of things, and when a scene calls for Franco to not have the trademark hair look on fully display. Otherwise he’s the perfect take a fan would want or would cause mirth to anyone.
The other Franco as Greg is a bit less spot on , with some cheesy makeup but he is alright in his dumb innocentness. What is believable, and funny, is how Greg is amazed and intrigued by Wiseau. Their friendship leads to some of the best jokes and drama of the film.  Great care was placed into giving the rest of the cast to the usual comedy crew. Particularly the likes of The Room’s Peter / Kyle (Nathan Fielder), Claudette / Carolyn (Jacki Weaver), and even Chris R (Zac Efron) and Denny / Phillip (Josh Hutcherson) are spot and slapstick. Lisa / Juliette (Ari Graynor) is of course a part although she is reserved mainly for jokes.
Characters that viewers of the Room have no prior basis on are good as well. Of course Seth Rogen makes his way to a James Franco / Evan Goldberg made flick, here as surprisingly more subdued than usual (for his roles) sarcastic script supervisor Sandy.  There’s so many minor original parts that show up… played by the likes of Sharon Stone, Hannibal Burress, Bryan Cranston, Randall Park, Bob Odenkirk,  and more. While purists of The Room may view these as unneeded, they are actually fine and for better worse momentary additions who often have extremely humorous lines to add to the script. 
   That’s the main thing about The Disaster Artist. Its primary audience to enjoy it the most will be fans of The Room’s cult status. There are plenty of moments that mock, or endear, parts of that film. However, the movie is funny enough to be enjoyable to any due to the inanity of Wiseau and peers around. The drama , sadness, and inspiration make it a (odd) inspiring story amidst some occasional melodrama. 
Of unique note is the effort placed into its setting and references. The late 90s / early 00s California are felt strongly from clothing to pop music. One will not hear at “Rhythm Of the Night” without a big smile after viewing.  The flow of it all works silly and swell.
       Just as its title implies, something wonderful is made out of a bad situation. The Room is known as one of the worst movies ever but at the same time one of the most iconic.  This film has taken its behind the scenes into something just as funny and with some deeper stuff as well. This is coming from a fan , but..for hoping what it should be… what a story Franco, 9.52 out of 10 

The Shape Of Water Review

The Shape Of Water
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Cast Headliners:  Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlberg 
Original Release Date: December 8th , 2017

Gullermo Del Toro is synonymous with “personal aesthetic”. His, almost always some level of fantastic, films have a distinct sense of style and technique. His fascination of the supernatural have  covered immersive topics from defending the world from aliens, gothic ghost stories, fairy tales amidst war, or fitting to his plate adaptations of the likes of Hellboy and Blade. His latest film, The Shape Of Water, is an original tale that distinctly sets itself in 1950s/60s Cold War Americana that showcases in nearly every aspect its sense of “beautiful”.
The protagonist of this dark romance is government facility cleaner Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who is mute. She lives a bit of a mundane but content existence, capturing the repeating sense of urbia in her daily commute and scrubdown. All performances in the film are of the highest caliber, but Hawkins is even more notable in how convincing she is. She uses ASL signage with no words , and she moves as one who was a real user would. Even without even hand dialogue, Elisa’s every expression, action, movement is endearing, humorous, or inspiring.  This makes sense for the prime premise… there’s a fish-like being in The Asset (Doug Jones), who she becomes attached to helping out. Jones is great (as always when paired with Del Toro’s vision)… the Asset is so realistic and at the same time, chillingly alien. Both practical and CGI, his appearance is cool while having a spark of charm. Together these two scenes are great. One wouldn’t think a romance with these circumstances  could be so moving, but it is. 
The supporting cast of this shady science saga range are great whether allies or foes. There’s Elisa’s kindly yet nervous father figure Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). There’s a surprising element of what Dr.”Bob” (Michael Stuhlberg) is doing behind the scenes. Minor roles like government aligned Fleming (David Hewlett) and General Hoyt(Nick Searcy) ride more along the line of being merely kooky stereotypes, but maybe that’s Del Toro going for the pulpiness he is often found of. 
To mess up this twisting, exciting tale (much more than meets the eye) is Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who is more of a monster than the Asset could ever be perceived as. Shannon often finds himself in the villainous seat in his film career, but it is for great reason. Strickland is remorseless, demanding, occasionally very funny (the quality script aids in all situations). Shannon brings the utmost of fury and emotion to his scenes. Like the best villains, there’s a bit of sympathy for where he’s coming from and the audience surely is as interested in his scenes as the others. This is a role for him for the ages.
The plot is a slow burner at times but it adds to the mysteries of whats going on. The main arc of Elisa and the Asset finds its way to those around her, and is both emotional and exciting in its feels. Surprises aid to this and the less that’s known the better going in.  It’s long, but justifies itself by the end, allowing for side-stories and interactions that add to the drama. This makes action that much more intense when it appears.
Beautiful as a word most applies to the amazing soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat. It’s gorgeous in use of strings and choir, and has a fitting aquatic quality that helps with the immersion. There’s also choice uses of retro pop and etc music that add to the distinct Cold War, urban and suburban archetype feel that takes the viewer back.
Del Toro knows how to cast, knows how to excite, knows how to arrange a score but as always he’s best at a sense of magic visually. The directing and cinematography is crisp and quality. Wide shots give a sense of place. This is aided by fantastic set design that feels gritty realistic and at the same time slightly surreal.  This feels Del Toro more than ever.
Overall, because of that, this film is incredibly reccomendable. Great performances, immersion, audio/visuals, and emotional drama. There’s very little wrong with this, although one must know its not so much a horror as it is a charming romantic tale …between some bloody dark drama. The Shape Of Water’s shape is of a great film. 9.05 out of 10