Triple Frontier, Review By Case Wright


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The heist movie or treasure hunt movie is always the same and always pretty fun.  It’s not supposed to be Shakespeare; it’s supposed to pull you in and be a thrill ride.  This iteration is all about the down and out Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who decide to seek their fortune the old fashioned way: ripping off a drug kingpin!  In true heist genre fashion, everything works out great!

The characters came across as real Veterans to me.  After some research, the writer- Mark Boal was embedded with a platoon in Iraq and he also wrote The Hurt Locker.  The characters in Triple Frontier were like the men I knew: strong, divorced, and liked to joke.  Ben Affleck’s character Tom struck me as especially realistic.  He loved his daughter, but there was a distance because he was just not suited for civilian life.  She wanted him home, but he always wanted to be away.  You could see on her face that she knew the moment his buddies came calling that he was already gone.

Oscar Isaac plays Pope who has a gig doing private security/law enforcement in South America.  He is in pursuit of Lorea, a drug boss, who is causing all kinds of problems. Yada Yada Yada.  Pope finds the location of Lorea’s hideout which has hundreds of millions of dollars stashed inside, but he needs a team to kill Lorea, Lorea’s men, get the cash, and get out of the country.  He turns to his former squad to pull off the heist.  They need a little cajoling, but they come around. There isn’t a lot of dialogue after they agree to the heist, which makes sense.  They committed and now transitioned to soldier-mode.  The heist starts off with success in sight, but it’s not long before everything goes wrong and they are in a fight for their lives.

The film is shot really beautifully and has some high-priced songs for a Netflix program. Everything seemed very real.  Even the way the characters carried themselves and flowed through Lorea’s hideout was seamless.   They moved the way we are trained to move through rooms.  I am always looking for that in action films.  Are they not having muzzle-awareness (pointing there weapon accidentally at a friendly)?  Are they holding the rifle close to their face? Are they aiming right?  The answers to those questions were yes.   J.C. Chandor should be really proud of himself for the realism.

What kept pulling me into the story wasn’t the action (which was excellent BTW); it was that these men were like the ones I knew.  The team itself was representative of who does our killing for us: salt of the earth…men.   I like seeing women in action films and I am already excited about Black Widow, but the infantry in real life is male.  They are regular guys who are asked to do terrible terrible things.  When those terrible things are done, we cast the men aside.  The story concludes a lot like the war itself did with a lot of loss and not a lot to show for it.  This film has a political statement between the explosions and it’s worth listening to it. 

* I included Mary Pop Poppins by the True Loves in my review.  The song embodies the heist genre like no other.  Also, they are Seattleites!!!!

Lisa’s Way, Way Too Early Oscar Predictions for March


The Oscar (1966, dir by Russell Rouse)

Right now, when it comes to predicting the Oscars, there are two big questions to consider.

First off, will Burden ever find a distributor?  From the reviews in Sundance, it sounds like the type of film that could be embraced by the Academy but, if it can’t get in theaters, it’s not going to get any nominations.

Secondly, will Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman came out in 2019 or 2018?  Right now, Netflix says that The Irishman will be released in 2019 but we all remember what happened with The Wolf of Wall Street.

As of now, I’m going to choose to believe that Burden will get a 2018 release date and that The Irishman will come out in 2019.

I’m also going to chose to believe that Black Panther will be the first “comic book” movie to be nominated for best picture.

Also be sure to check out my predictions for January and February!

Best Picture

At Eternity’s Gate

Black Panther

Boy Erased

Burden

First Man

If Beale Street Could Talk

Mary, Queen of Scots

A Star is Born

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Widows

Best Director

Damien Chazelle for First Man

Ryan Coogler for Black Panther

Andrew Heckler for Burden

Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk

Josie Rourke for Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Actor

Christian Bale in Backseat

Willem DaFoe in At Eternity’s Gate

Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased

Ryan Gosling in First Man

Garrett Hedlund in Burden

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Saoirse Ronan in Mary, Queen of Scots

Kristen Stewart in JT LeRoy

Best Supporting Actor

Jeff Bridges in Bad Times at the El Royale

Colman Domingo in If Beale Street Could Talk

Robert Duvall in Widows

Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

Forest Whiteaker in Burden

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams in Backseat

Claire Foy in First Man

Nicole Kidman in Boy Erased

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Margot Robie in Mary, Queen of Scots

Olivia De Havilland and Friends

Lisa’s Way, Way, Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For February


Could Black Panther be the first comic book movie to receive an Oscar nomination?

Last year, around this time, we were asking the exact same question about LoganLogan didn’t pick up a Best Picture nomination but it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, which would seem to suggest that the Academy is slowly coming around to accepting that so-called “Super Hero Films” can also be legitimate Oscar contenders.

As for Black Panther, it is currently the most critically acclaimed and financially successful film of 2018.  For those who say that there’s no way the Academy will ever nominate a comic book film for best picture, it should be remembered that there was a time when people said that Academy would never nominate a horror comedy for Best Picture.  Much like Get Out, Black Panther could prove the naysayers wrong.

Anyway, here are my Oscar predictions for February.  As always, it ‘s really way too early to be making these predictions.  Usually, Sundance provides at least a little bit of a guide but this year, Sundance was pretty low-key.  The most obvious Sundance Oscar contender — Burden — doesn’t even have a release date yet.

Also, the uncertain status of The Weinstein Company has thrown a lot of films into limbo.  Some of the unreleased TWC films might find homes with other studios.  Others will probably be left in limbo.  Then again, even if those films do get a release, I doubt the Academy is going to nominate any films stained with the noxious fingerprints of the Weinsteins.

Even more than usual, the guesses below are random.  At this time next year, we’ll probably look at this list and laugh.  Some of you might laugh today.

Check out January’s picks here!

Best Picture

Black Panther

Boy Erased

Burden

Colette

First Man

Mary, Queen of Scots

A Star is Born

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Widows

The Women of Mawren

Best Director

Ryan Coogler for Black Panther

Andrew Heckler for Burden

Richard Linklater for Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Steve McQueen for Widows

Josie Rourke for Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Actor

Christian Bale in Untitled Adam McKay/Dick Cheney film

Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased

Ryan Gosling in First Man

Jake Gyllenhaal in Wildfire

Garrett Hedlund in Burden

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Viola Davis in Widows

Keira Knightley in Collette

Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Saorise Ronan in Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Supporting Actor

Jeff Bridges in Bad Times at the El Royale

Robert Duvall in Widows

Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

Rami Malek in Papillon

Forest Whiteaker in Burden

Best Supporting Actress

Claire Foy in First Man

Nicole Kidman in Boy Erased

Leslie Mann in The Women of Mawren

Lupita Nyong’o in Black Panther

Margot Robie in Mary, Queen of Scots

James Franco Wins At The Gothams!


Hi, everyone!

Well, as I sit here typing this, I am eagerly awaiting the announcement of the National Board of Review’s picks for the best of 2017!  I keep thinking about how, in 2015, nobody took Mad Max: Fury Road seriously as an Oscar contender until it was named best picture by the NBR.  What the NBR does today will go a long way to determining whether this is an exciting Oscar season or a boring Oscar season.

However, the National Board of Review are not the only people who have been tabulating votes over the past few days.  Last night, the Gotham Awards were handed out in New York City.  The Gothams, which honor independent films, have lately been a pretty good indicator of what will, at the very least, receive a nomination in January.  Based on last night’s results, it looks like it could be a good year for Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, Saoirse Ronan, and James Franco!

You can check out the nominees here.  And you can see the winners below!

Best Feature — Call Me By Your Name

Best Documentary Feature — Strong Island

Audience Award — Get Out

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Actor: James Franco, The Disaster Artist

Best Actress: Saorise Ronan, Lady Bird

Special Jury Award for Ensemble Performance: “Mudbound,” presented to Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, and Jonathan Banks

Made in NY Honoree: Michael K. Williams

Breakthrough Actor: Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”

Breakthrough Series — Long Form: Atlanta

Breakthrough Series — Short Form: The Strange Eyes of Dr. Myes

 

Film Review: Mudbound (dir by Dee Rees)


In Mudbound, Jonathan Banks plays one of the most hateful characters to ever appear in a motion picture.

We never find out the character’s given name.  Everyone just calls him Pappy.  He’s the patriarch of an unimpressive family, a wannabe king who has no kingdom over which to rule.  Pappy never has a kind word to say to anyone.  He even tends to be brusque with his grandchildren.  When one of his sons returns from serving in World War II, Pappy only wants to know if he got laid in Europe and how many men he killed.  Pappy only killed one man in World War I but he did it face-to-face.  He’s proud of that.

As much as Pappy dislikes the members of his family, it’s nothing compared to how much Pappy hates people who aren’t white.  Pappy is the type to demand that, when he dies, he not buried anywhere near anyone black.  Pappy is also the type who takes it as a personal insult if a black man uses the same door that he uses.  When he sees Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) using the font door of the local grocery store, it doesn’t matter that Ronsel has just returned from serving his country and is still wearing his uniform.  It also doesn’t matter that Ronsel’s mother is helping to raise Pappy’s granddaughters.  What matters is that Ronsel is defying the social norms of 1940s Mississippi and Pappy takes that as a personal insult.

There are six narrators in Mudbound, all of whom tell us their story and share with us their thoughts.  Pappy is not one of those narrators and, for that, I was thankful.  I would have been frightened at the thought of entering his hate-fueled mind.  All we have to do is look into his hateful eyes or listen to his scornful voice and we know what’s going on in Pappy’s head.  He’s a man who has accomplished nothing in his long life, whose only happiness comes from making others miserable, and who fears the change that he secretly knows is coming.  It’s not just hate that makes Pappy demand an apology when Ronsel Jackson uses the front door.  It’s fear.

Mudbound tells the story of two families in Mississippi and the farmland on which they both live and work.  (Early on, when a skull with a bullet hole is discovered, we’re informed that an old slave cemetery is under plowed fields.)  Pappy’s oldest son, Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke), owns the land.  Desperate for his father’s approval, Henry hopes to succeed as a farmer but he soon proves himself to be rather clueless.  Henry’s wife is Laura (Carey Mulligan).  Laura was a 31 year-old virgin when she met Henry.  She tells us that she married him because she didn’t want to be alone.  She stays with him because she loves their children.

The Jacksons live on Henry’s land.  They’re tenant farmers and Hap (Rob Morgan), the family patriarch, dreams of one day owning his own farm.  While Pappy openly hates the Jacksons, Henry treats them with a patronizing condescension.  (Whereas Pappy knows that he’s hated, Henry actually thinks that the Jacksons look up to him.  There’s not a lot of humor to be found in Mudbound but I couldn’t help but smile at Henry’s cluelessness about how little Hap thought of him.)  Henry and Laura even hire Hap’s wife, Florence (Mary J. Blige), to serve as a housekeeper.  Henry and Laura think they’re doing Florence a favor, never considering that they are essentially asking Florence to neglect her own family so that she can take care of their’s.

The Jackson and the McAllans do have one big thing in common.  They both have sons serving in the army.  Ronsel is a sergeant who is both surprised and happy to discover that white Europeans are not the same as white Americans.  Henry’s younger brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), is a captain in the Air Force.  When the war ends, both Ronsel and Jamie return to their families.  Jamie returns with a severe case of PTSD and a drinking problem.  Having experienced freedom in Europe, Ronsel is angered to return to a country where he is still expected to sit in the back of the bus and cheerfully accept being treated like a second class citizen.

When both of them are caught off guard by the sound of a car backfiring, Ronsel and Jamie immediately recognize each other as returning soldiers.  A friendship develops between them, one that goes against the racist norms of their society.  Violence and tragedy follows.

Mudbound is a Netflix film.  It’s currently getting a one-week theatrical release so that it’ll be Oscar-eligible.  (If it is nominated for best picture — and many think that it may be — it’ll be the first Netflix film to be so honored.)  That said, the majority of the people who see Mudbound will see it via Netflix.  That’s a shame because, visually, Mubound is a film that should be seen on a big screen.  The imagery — the farmland that seems to stretch on forever, the storms that always seem to roll in at the worst possible moment, the scenes of Ronsel and Jamie in Europe — is frequently beautiful and haunting.  (The comparisons to the work of Terrence Malick are justified.)  Even when viewed on a laptop, Mudbound still looks good but I fear that the small screen will rob the film of some of its epic scope.  Since Mudbound is a leisurely paced film, I fear that many members of the Netflix audience are going to be tempted to hit pause and then not return to the film for an hour or two, therefore robbing Mudbound of its cumulative power.

Over the time that I’ve spent writing this review, I’ve come to realize that I actually liked Mudbound a lot more than I originally thought I did.  As opposed to many of the films that I’ve seen this year, I have a feeling that Mudbound is actually going to stick with me.  Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, and Rob Morgan all give wonderful performances, though the cast standout is Jason Mitchell, playing a man who, having tasted freedom, refuses to silently go back to the way things were.

Mudbound is a very good film.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it a great film, though many other critics and viewers are.  Director Dee Rees captures some beautiful images and some wonderful performances but the film itself has some pacing problems.  The first part of the film is occasionally too slow while a few of the final scenes felt rushed.  I haven’t always been a huge fan of Garrett Hedlund in the past and, when the movie started, I had my doubts about whether or not I’d be able to accept him as Jamie but, by the end of the movie, he had won me over.  In the past, I’ve found Hedlund to be a little stiff but, having now seen Mudbound, I have to say that he’s grown as an actor.  I’m looking forward to seeing where his talent takes him next.

Even if it does have flaws, Mudbound is a powerful film and one that I recommend taking the time to watch.

Here Are The 2017 IFP Gotham Award Nominees!


Hi, everyone!

Well, today is officially the start of Oscar season.  This morning, the Independent Filmmakers Project announced this year’s nominees for the Gotham Awards!  While the Gotham Awards may not be as well-known as some of the other precursors, their importance has grown over the past few years.  Though most of the major studio contenders are typically not eligible, a Gotham nomination can provide a definite boost for an independent film.

This year, Get Out received the most nominations.  Get Out has been mentioned as an outside possibility for an Oscar nomination.  It’s generally considered to be the best reviewed film of the year but horror is a genre that has traditionally struggled with the Academy.  For Get Out to receive a nomination, it’s going to need some help from the precursors (much as how Mad Max: Fury Road was legitimized by the critic groups in 2015).  With the announcement of the Gotham nominations, Get Out is off to a good start.

I’m also happy to see that James Franco received a nomination for playing Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist.

Here are the nominees:

Best Feature

Call Me by Your Name
Luca Guadagnino, director; Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, Rodrigo Teixeira, Marco Morabito, James Ivory, Howard Rosenman, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)

The Florida Project
Sean Baker, director; Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Francesca Silvestri, Shih-Ching Tsou, producers (A24)

Get Out
Jordan Peele, director; Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm, Jr., Jordan Peele, producers (Universal Pictures)

Good Time

Josh and Benny Safdie, directors; Paris Kasidokostas-Latsis, Terry Dougas, Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, producers (A24)

I, Tonya
Craig Gillespie, director; Bryan Unkeless, Steven Rogers, Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, producers (NEON)

Best Documentary

Ex Libris – The New York Public Library
Frederick Wiseman, director and producer (Zipporah Films)

Rat Film
Theo Anthony, director; Riel Roch-Decter, Sebastian Pardo, producers (MEMORY and Cinema Guild)

Strong Island
Yance Ford, director; Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes, producers (Netflix)

The Work 
Sabaah Folayan, Damon Davis, directors; Sabaah Folayan, Damon Davis, Jennifer MacArthur, Flannery Miller, producers (Magnolia Pictures)

Whose Streets?

Jairus McLeary, director;  Alice Henty, Eon McLeary, Jairus McLeary, Miles McLeary, producers (The Orchard and First Look Media)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

Maggie Betts for Novitiate (Sony Pictures Classics)
Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird (A24)
Kogonada for Columbus (Superlative Films/Depth of Field)
Jordan Peele for Get Out (Universal Pictures)
Joshua Z Weinstein for Menashe (A24)

Best Screenplay

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (Amazon Studios)
Brad’s Status, Mike White (Amazon Studios)
Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory (Sony Pictures Classics)
Columbus, Kogonada (Superlative Films/Depth of Field)
Get Out, Jordan Peele (Universal Pictures)
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig (A24)


*
Best Actor*

Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project (A24)
James Franco in The Disaster Artist (A24)
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out (Universal Pictures)
Robert Pattinson in Good Time (A24)
Adam Sandler in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Netflix)
Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky (Magnolia Pictures)

Best Actress

Melanie Lynskey in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Netflix)
Haley Lu Richardson in Columbus (Superlative Films/Depth of Field)
Margot Robbie in I, Tonya (NEON)
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird (A24)
Lois Smith in Marjorie Prime (FilmRise)

Breakthrough Actor

Mary J. Blige in Mudbound (Netflix)
Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Harris Dickinson in Beach Rats (NEON)
Kelvin Harrison, Jr. in It Comes at Night (A24)
Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project (A24)

* The 2017 Best Actor/Best Actress nominating committee also voted to award a special Gotham Jury Award for ensemble performance to Mudbound, The award will go to actors Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, and Jonathan Banks.

 

Film Review: Unbroken (dir by Angelina Jolie)


Ultimately, Unbroken is a victim of expectations.

From the start of last year, Oscar watchers and other film critics were united in fully expecting Unbroken to be a great film.  No sooner had 12 Years A Slave won best picture then we were all predicting that Unbroken would be named the best film of 2014 and that Angelina Jolie would be the 2nd woman to win an Oscar for best director.

And can you blame us?

Unbroken seemed to have everything that you would expect to add up to Oscar glory.  Not only was it directed by a celebrity (and, ever since Argo, everyone has been under the impression that all performers can also direct) but it starred an exciting and up-and-coming actor.  It was not only a war film but it was a war film that took place during the only war that everyone agrees was a good one, World War II.  It was based on a true story and what a story!  Louis Zamperini was an Olympic medalist whose athletic career was put on hold when he joined the U.S. Air Force.  After a plane crash, he and two other survivors spent 47 days floating in a lifeboat.  They were finally captured by the Japanese and Louis spent the rest of the war as POW.  During that time, he survived terrible torture.  When the war finally ended, Louis set aside his anger and publicly forgave those who had nearly killed him.  When he was 80 years old, he returned to Japan and carried the Olympic torch.  It’s an incredibly touching story and it should have made for a great movie.

And, ultimately, that’s Unbroken‘s downfall.  It has all the ingredients for being a great movie but instead, it’s only a good one.

That’s certainly not the fault of Jack O’Connell, who plays Louis and gives a strong and sympathetic performance.  Actually, the entire film is well-acted, with everyone fully inhabiting his role.  Perhaps the film’s best performance comes from Miyavi, who plays “The Bird,” the sadistic head of both of the POW camps where Louis is held prisoner.  The dynamic between The Bird and Louis is an interesting one, with the film emphasizing that The Bird is in many ways jealous of Louis’s previous fame and Miyavi plays the character as if he were a high school bully who has suddenly been left in charge of the classroom.

That the cast does well should not be a surprise.  Actors-turned-directors can usually get good performances but often times, they seem to struggle with shaping a narrative and this is where Unbroken struggles.  It’s not that Unbroken doesn’t tell a worthy story.  It’s just that it tells it in such a conventional and predictable way.  The entire film is full of scenes that seem like they were lifted out of other, more memorable movies.  The scenes with Louis growing up and competing in the Olympics feel like they could have come from any “inspiring” sports biopic.  (It doesn’t help that Louis’s brother and coach has been given dialogue that sounds like it should be surrounded by air quotes.)  When Louis is joking around with the guys in the plane, it feels like a hundred other war films.  When Louis is floating in the ocean, it’s hard not to compare the film’s static and draggy approach to what Ang Lee was able to do with Life of Pi or J.C. Chandor with All Is Lost.  Miyavi brings a feeling of real menace and danger to the POW scenes but it’s not enough.  Jolie’s direction is competent but there’s not a single moment that feels spontaneous or truly cinematic.

In fact, I sat through Unbroken totally dry-eyed, which is somewhat amazing considering how easily I cry at the movies.  However, towards the end of the film, there was a clip of the real-life, 80 year-old Louis running down the streets of Tokyo with the Olympic Torch and, at that moment, his story became real for me.  And that’s when the tears came.

I really wish Unbroken had been better because Louis Zamperini seems like someone who deserved to have a great film made about him.  Angelina Jolie’s heart was in the right place but, ultimately, it’s just not enough to make Unbroken the film that it deserves to be.