Blade Runner 2049 wins in New Mexico!


Yesterday, the New Mexico Film Critics Association named their picks for the best of 2017!  They also became the first group to pick Blade Runner 2049 as the best film of 2017.

Here are their winners:

Best Picture
Winner: “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: “Lady Bird:

Best Director
Winner: Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Runner Up: Denis Villeneuve, “Blade Runner 2049”

Glenn Strange Honorary Awards

  • Glenn Close
  • Olivia De Haviland
  • John Carpenter
  • David Lynch

Best Actor
Winner: Sam Elliot, “The Hero”
Runner Up: James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”

Best Actress
Winner: Jennifer Lawrence, “mother!”
Runner Up: Jessica Rothe, “Happy Death Day”

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Catherine Kenner, “Get Out”
Runner Up: Maryana Spivak, “Loveless”

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Harrison Ford, “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: Ewen Bremner, “Trainspotting II”

Best Ensemble
Winner: “Raw”
Runner Up: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

Best Original Screenplay
Winner: “November”
Runner Up: “Lady Bird”

Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner: “The Disaster Artist”
Runner Up: “Call Me By Your Name”

Best Animated Film
Winner: “Loving Vincent”
Runner Up: “The Breadwinner”

Best Foreign Language Film
Winner: “November” (Estonia)
Runner Up: “BPM” (France)

Best Editing
Winner: “November”
Runner Up: “Blade Runner 2049”

Best Cinematography
Winner: “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: “Song of Granite”

Best Music/Score
Winner: “The Shape of Water”
Runner Up: “mother!”

Best Production Design
Winner: “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: “The Shape of Water”

Best Documentary
Winner: “City of Ghosts”
Runner Up: “Faces Places”

Best Young Actor/Actress
Winner: Garance Mirillier, “Raw”
Runner Up: Sophia Lillis, “It”

Best Original Song
Winner: “The Misery of Love” from “Call Me By Your Name”
Runner Up: “Prayers for this World” from “Cries from Syria”

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Horror Film Review: The Girl With All The Gifts (dir by Colm McCarthy)


It says a lot about the state of things that movies about the end of the world have recently become not just popular but also extremely plausible.  It seems like every time I look at a list of upcoming films, I see predictions of fear, desperation, and apocalypse.  Almost every end of the world scenario now seems to come with zombies.  Perhaps people are taking that famous line from Dawn of the Dead to heart.  When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk with Earth.

The British film The Girl With All The Gifts is one of the latest examples of the apocalyptic genre.  It has everything that we’ve come to expect from films like this: flesh-craving zombies, blighted urban landscapes, soldiers trying to maintain order as the world collapses into chaos, sinister scientists, children faced with rebuilding the world, and that one lone idealist who doesn’t want to give up on the present.  It’s a familiar story but The Girl With All The Gifts tells it well.

In this case, the end of the world has been brought about by a fungal infection.  Those afflicted not only lose the ability to think but are also transformed into flesh-eating maniacs.  Interestingly enough, the term zombie is never used in the film.  Instead, the infected are called “the hungries.”  I assume that’s because the infected aren’t actually the living dead.  In fact, even after transforming them, the infection still eventually kills them.

(If you really want to freak yourself out while watching The Girl With All The Gifts, consider that the fungal infection is actual thing, though it only affects carpenter ants.  For now…)

In an isolated army base, a group of children are kept in cells and guarded over by soldiers, like the gruff Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine).  They are experimented on by scientists, like Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close).  And they are taught by a kind-hearted teacher named Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton).  One of the most intelligent of the children is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who often asks Helen to tell the class a story.

The children are often bound and required to wear masks.  The adults are under strict orders not to touch or even get too close to the children.  Why?  Because the children are hungry too.  Born after the end of the world, the children are unique in that they crave flesh but they also retain the ability to think and speak.  The soldiers view them as freaks and potential enemies.  Dr. Caldwell views them as test subjects.  Only Helen views them as children.

You can probably already guess where this is going.  When the hungries overrun the army base, only a small group of people manage to escape — Helen, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks, another solider, and Melanie.  They eventually make it to London, which is now overgrown with vegetation.  Some of the film’s most haunting and tense moments come as the group attempts to maneuver through a crowd of docile, unsimulated hungries.  They know that making the wrong move or the least little sound will result in the hungries waking up and attacking.

It’s in London that a lot is revealed about both the nature of the disease and why Melanie is, as the title states, the girl with all the gifts.

For the most part, it’s all very well done.  The film has such a strong opening and powerful ending that it’s easy to forgive the fact that the middle of the film occasionally drags.  Director Colm McCarthy creates some haunting images of the post-apocalyptic world and, even if he does borrow a bit heavily from 28 Days Later, at least he’s borrowing from the best.  He makes good use of his cast, too.  Glenn Close is as perfectly sinister as Gemma Arterton is perfectly idealistic.  Sennia Nanua is both sympathetic and a little bit frightening as the girl who might eat you as quickly as she might save you.

The Girl With All The Gifts is a good movie but it left me feeling incredibly depressed.  Post-apocalyptic ruin no longer seems as safely far-fetched as it once did.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Teaser Trailer Arrives


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“I am Groot.”

James Gunn finally unleashes the first full teaser trailer for his upcoming space opera superhero film out on May 2017. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 remains one of the 2017’s highly-anticipated films and looking back at how the first film there’s a great chance this band of galactic misfits’ next adventure could join the billion-dollar club. Not bad for a film that earned its popularity on the shoulders of a talking, psychotic raccoon and a talking tree (if I remember correctly, that tree made Lisa Marie cry).

This teaser trailer definitely focuses on the smallest member of the team in Baby Groot and from the reaction on the internet since the teaser trailer’s release it might have just broken the internet in some fashion. The humor from the first film looks to return as well with the cast staying the same and more in tuned with one another.

As all teaser trailer should do, this one doesn’t reveal much of the film’s plot. Just enough action and great visuals to whet the appetites of those already eagerly awaiting the film to arrive.

Consider appetites to be whetted.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is set for release on May 5, 2017 in 3D and IMAX everywhere in the galaxy.

A Sneak Peek At Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


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“There are two types of beings in the universe. Those who dance and those who do not.”

Another brief break from our regularly scheduled horror programming courtesy of Marvel Studios and James Gunn (and the rockin’ sweet poster of the whole Guardians looking like they’re about to drop the hottest 80’s rock album in history).

Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit for Marvel Studios in 2014. It was an obscure Marvel Comics property that many thought would finally end the long streak of box-office success for Marvel Studios and it’s growing and ever-expanding Cinematic Universe. Instead, it was a huge hit with audiences and critics, alike.

This was the film that finally cemented the arrival of a juggernaut blockbuster studio. One that ended up tying Warner Bros. and DC Studios into so many knots in trying to keep up. If Marvel Studios could make a film that had a talking raccoon and tree who spoke only one phrase into a major hit then surely a film with Batman and Superman sharing the screen would be a mega-success.

Now, we have to wait until the start of the 2017 Summer film season to see what new cosmic adventures and hi-jinks Star-Lord and his Guardians of the Galaxy have been getting into.

Until then James Gunn has released this sneak peek (pretty much a teaser trailer) into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (he did promise there will be an official trailer coming soon).

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is set for a May 5, 2017 in theaters everywhere.

The Girl With All The Gifts Gives A Glimpse of A Hungry, Dystopian Future


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Several years ago, a video games was released for the PS4 that took on the zombie survival horror genre and put a new twist on it. The game was called The Last of Us. It was a game set in a post-apocalyptic Earth where an unknown fungal infection had decimated the world’s population by turning those it infected into mutated creatures with a taste for living flesh.

There’s been talk of turning the game into a live-action film, but things never progressed beyond the concept and pre-development stage. The game’s narrative does lend itself well into being a live-action film.

Now let’s move up a few more years. The year 2014 to be exact and we see comic book writer and novelist M.R. Carey release a novel titled The Girl with All The Gifts. It’s a novel which shares the detail of a fungal infection creating zombie-like creatures (called “hungries” in the book and film) from those who become infected. Outside of that important detail the novel and the game only share the post-apocalyptic setting.

The novel was so well-received by critics and readers alike that plans to adapt the book into a live-action film was made soon after it’s release. While the live-action plans for The Last of Us languishes in development hell, it looks like we’ll finally be able to see something similar with the soon-to-be released film The Girl with All The Gifts.

The film stars newcomer Sennia Nanua as the titular girl with all the gifts with veteran actors such as Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine backing her up. As the so-called zombie fatigue (maybe for some general audiences but definitely not to most horror fans) begin to set in, it’s stories like The Last of Us and The Girl with All The Gifts that continues to breathe in new life into a sub-genre of horror storytelling to keep it going strong.

The Girl with All The Gifts is set to hit the theaters on September 23, 2016.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Big Chill (dir by Lawrence Kasdan)


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There are certain films that truly are “You just had to be there” films.  These are the movies that were apparently loved by contemporary audiences but, when viewed today, it’s difficult to see just what exactly everyone was getting so excited about.  Sometimes, this is because the film itself was so influential and has been copied by so many other films that the original has had its power diluted.  And then, sometimes, it’s just a case that the film was never that good to begin with.

I’m guessing that The Big Chill must be one of those “you just had to be there” type of films.  First released in 1983, The Big Chill was nominated for best picture.  If you look the film up over at the imdb, you’ll find lots of comments from people who absolutely adore this film.  However, when I watched the film as a part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar, I have to admit that my reaction can be best summed in one word.

Meh.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that The Big Chill was a bad film.  To be honest, it was neither memorably bad nor remarkably good.  Instead, it just was.  Overall, the performances were good, the direction was shallow, and the screenplay was occasionally good and occasionally shallow but mostly, it was the epitome of serviceable.

At the start of The Big Chill, Alex is dead.  With the exception of a scene where his corpse is being prepared for burial, Alex never actually appears on screen.  (Originally, Kevin Costner was cast to play the role in a flashback but director Lawrence Kasdan cut the scene.)  What little we learn about Alex, we learn from listening to the other characters in the film talk about him.  For instance, Alex was apparently brilliant but troubled.  He attended the University of Michigan in the 1960s and was close to 7 other politically radical students.  While everyone else was busy selling out their ideals, Alex stayed true to his and, as a result, he ended up spending his life depressed and poor.  Alex ultimately ended up committing suicide, an act that leads to his 7 friends reuniting for his funeral.

Opening with Alex’s funeral and taking place over one long weekend, The Big Chill follows Alex’s friends as they try to figure out why Alex committed suicide and debate whether or not they’ve sold out their college ideals.  They also spend a lot of time listening to the music of the youth, getting high, watching a football game, and washing dishes.

(Interestingly enough, they spend the weekend in the exact same house where Alex committed suicide.  Which, to be honest, I would think would be kind of creepy.)

There’s Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah (Glenn Close), who are the unofficial grown ups of the group.  It was at their vacation home that Alex committed suicide and, over the course of the film, we find out that Alex and Sarah had a brief affair.  Harold owns a company that makes running shoes and, to at least one friend’s horror, is now good friends with the local police.  Sarah, meanwhile, splits her time between crying in the shower and smiling beatifically at her friends.

(Incidentally, throughout the film, Kevin Kline speaks in one of the least convincing southern accents that I’ve ever heard…)

Meg (Mary Kay Place) is a former public defender who, after deciding that all of her poverty-stricken clients really were scum, has now become a real estate attorney.  Meg wants a baby and is hoping that one of the men at the funeral might be willing to impregnate her.  Meg is a chain smoker so good luck, unborn child.  Before Alex killed himself, she had an argument with him.  (“That’s probably why he killed himself,” someone suggests.)

I liked Karen (JoBeth Williams) because she’s prettier than Meg and less condescending than Sarah.  She’s unhappily married to an advertising executive named Richard (Dan Galloway).  As they drive to the cemetery, Richard tells Karen that he can’t believe her famous friends all turned out to be so boring.  Karen is unhappy in her marriage and, after Richard returns home and leaves her in South Carolina for the weekend, decides that she wants a divorce.

That’s good news for Sam (Tom Berenger), an actor who is best known for playing private detective J.T. Lancer on television.  Sam is upset that nobody takes him or his career seriously.  Meg was hoping that Sam would be the father of her baby but, instead, Sam is more interested in Karen.

And then there’s Nick (William Hurt), who is a former radio psychologist-turned-drug dealer.  Nick was wounded in Vietnam and is impotent as a result.  In case you somehow forget that fact, don’t worry.  Nick brings it up every few minutes.

Michael (Jeff Goldblum) was my favorite among the men because he’s at least willing to admit that he’s a self-centered jerk.  Michael is a former underground journalist who now works for People Magazine.  Nobody seems to like Michael and yet, he’s still invited to stay over the weekend.  Personally, I like to think that he does so just to get on everyone’s nerves.  Good for him.

And finally, there’s Chloe (Meg Tillis), who was Alex’s much younger girlfriend and who doesn’t seem to be impressed with any of Alex’s friends (with the exception, of course, of impotent old Nick).

I have to admit that I probably would have responded more to The Big Chill if it was actually about my generation, as opposed to being about my grandparents. Someday, someone my age will make a movie about a bunch of college friends reunited for a funeral and it will be filled with my music and my cultural references and I’ll think it’s brilliant.  And then, a 30 years later, some snotty little film reviewer will watch and probably say, “Meh.  Old people.”

Such is life.

For Your Consideration #10: Guardians of the Galaxy (dir by James Gunn)


GuardiansoftheGalaxy

As of right now, as far as I’m concerned, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film of 2014.

Now please understand, I live in fly-over country and that means that there’s still quite a few films that I need to see.  Next week and through the new year, I plan to see Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Wild, and quite a few other films.  And any one of those films could, potentially, become my new favorite of 2014.

But, as of right now, Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite.

Of course, Guardians of the Galaxy is not the type of film that will ever get a major Oscar nomination.  It’s unfairly dismissed as being pure entertainment or just a summer blockbuster.  A few critics group have been nice enough to mention it but, for the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy is not the type of film that’s going to be given serious consideration for the big awards.

Except, of course, by me.

Below are ten reasons why I think Guardians of the Galaxy deserves serious consideration:

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1) Never underestimate the importance of escapism.

Usually, when a film is described as being “escapist entertainment,” it’s a back-handed compliment.  The implication is that the film may be entertaining but it has nothing to do with real world issues and therefore, it’s not as important as other films.  We’re allowed to enjoy it but we’re supposed to feel guilty about it.

But you know what?

Sometimes, we need to be able to escape.  That was certainly true this year.  2014 will not be remembered as a great year for humanity.  From January to December, it’s been an endless parade of cruelty and intolerance.  And no, we should never pretend that we live in a perfect world.  We need to be aware of what’s happening outside of our own little corner of the world.

But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t earned the right to escape for 122 minutes.  In fact, I would argue that 122 minutes of pure entertainment is something that we need to make time for if we are going to remain strong enough to face and perhaps change the realities of the world.

In short, when I walked out of the theater after watching Guardians of the Galaxy, I felt better than when I had first taken my seat.  I felt happy.  I felt enthusiastic.  I felt ready to face this fucked up world of ours.

There is a place for pure, unadulterated escapism in cinema.

Not every film has to be a somber, self-important mess like Man of Steel.

Thank God.

2) The unappreciated subtext of Ronan

However, Guardians of the Galaxy is not pure escapism.  Much as in this case of The Purge Anarchy and Capt. America: The Winter Soldier, there is a deeper subtext to the film.  You just have to be willing to look for it.

One of the more frequent complaints about Guardians of the Galaxy is that the villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), isn’t particularly interesting and it is true that, when compared to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or Iron Man’s villains, Ronan does seem to be a bit bland.  His goals and his motivation are pretty simple.  He destroys stuff and he kills people.  Why?  Because he’s the bad guy.

But, let’s take a closer look at Ronan.  Ronan is a fanatic who believes that only his way is the correct way and only his beliefs are pure.  Anyone who has different beliefs must be unpure and therefore, if they don’t agree to convert to his way of believing, Ronan is justified in destroying them.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

For all the complaints that Ronan was a one-dimensional villain, the same can be said of Joseph Kony, Kim Jong-un, and Jihadi John, and Fred Phelps.  The same can be said about a lot of evil people but that does not make them any less evil or dangerous.  Ronan may be a simple villain but he’s also the type of villain that we can find all over the world.

The one thing that all Ronan-style fanatics have in common is a complete lack of imagination and humor.  When Peter Quill stood up to Ronan by dancing, it was more than just a crowd-pleasing scene in a big action movie.  It was a call-to-arms to not allow ourselves to be held hostage by the Ronans of the world.  It was a plea to not let the fanatics among us steal our imagination and our right to find joy in our own individual way.

In short, it was a lesson that the entire world needs to learn.

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3) I Am Groot

Yes, yes, I know.  At this point, we’ve all had to listen to hundreds of friends, relatives, and strangers who have gotten it into their heads that they can perfectly imitate Vin Diesel saying, “I am Groot.”  But, seriously — there’s a reason why everyone fell in love with that catch phrase and that’s because both Diesel and the film do more with those three words that most actors can do with a four-page monologue.

And if you didn’t tear up when you heard, “We are Groot,” then I’m sorry.  You may be too cynical for your own good.

4) Introducing … James Gunn!

If you’ve read my review of Super or Arleigh’s review of Slither, then you know that James Gunn has long been a favorite of ours.  One of the joys of the success of Guardians of the Galaxy has been watching him become a favorite of everyone else as well.  And he deserves every bit of that success.  Working within the confines of the summer blockbuster genre, Gunn has created a film that works as both a superior action movie and as a quirky comedy.  With Guardians, James Gunn proved that it is possible to make a mainstream film without selling out your own individual style.

5) Introducing … Chris Pratt!

Even before he played Peter Quill, Chris Pratt was one of those actors who I have always been happy to see on screen.  He just has such a naturally likable presence.  But nothing he had done previously had prepared me for the pure joi de vivre that he brought to the role of Peter Quill.  Whether he was trying to convince people to call him Star-Lord or hilariously attempting to “rally the troops” or daring Ronan to a dance-off, Chris Pratt was a joy to watch.  If nothing else, Guardians of the Galaxy is the film that proves that Chris Pratt is a star (perhaps even a Star-Lord).

6) And let’s not forget Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro

Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro are both such quirky and unpredictable actors that I’m always happy to see either one of them on screen.  Having both of them in one movie is even better.  Rooker is perhaps the only actor alive who could not only be believable as a blue-skinned alien with an Alabama accent but who could also make that character into one of the most compelling in the film.  As for Del Toro, I know that his defiantly eccentric performance was controversial but personally, I loved the strange energy he brought to all of his scenes.

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7) And …. everyone else!

One thing that I really loved about Guardians of the Galaxy is that there were no wasted roles.  Every character — from Peter to Zoe Saldana’s Gamora to John C. Reilly’s upright military guy to the people who only had a line or two — felt real.  For a lot of viewers (including me), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) was an easy favorite.

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However, if I had to pick a best performance, I’d go with Dave Bautista as Drax.  Bautista did so much with so little.  As written, Drax is a physical dynamo with a need for revenge and absolutely no sense of humor.  That’s a pretty standard character for a film like this.  However, Bautista did so much with that character that poor, literal-minded Drax ultimately became one of the most intriguing characters in the film.  My favorite Drax moment came when, in response to hearing that everything goes over his head, he explained that nothing could go over his head because he would reach up and grab it.

8) That soundtrack

I have to admit that I didn’t care as much for Interstellar as some people did.  One of my big problems with the film came down to Hans Zimmer’s score.  It was so loud and overbearing that I actually found myself covering my ears.  But what really bothered me was how unnecessary it was.  Whenever Matthew McConaughey or Anne Hathaway made a profound statement or the spaceship started to shake, the music would suddenly blast in my ear.  It was like having Hans Zimmer in my head, repeatedly shouting, “IMPORTANT!  IMPORTANT!  EXCITING!  EXCITING!”

BLEH!

And it made me appreciate how much I loved the soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy.  By using songs that you would never expect to see in a science fiction epic, that soundtrack both mocked the genre’s natural tendency towards self-importance and also forced us to take another look at familiar scenes.  From the minute Peter started dancing to Come and Get Your Love, I knew that I was watching a special movie.

9) The Prison Break

From planning to execution, this was without a doubt one of the best action sequences of the year.  From Rocket laying out his overly complicated plan while Groot tries a much simpler method in the background to Peter asking for the guy’s leg to the use of The Pina Colada Song, this was a perfect scene.

10) And finally … Dancing Groot!

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And those are just a few reasons why I think Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film I’ve seen this year so far.

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(For a differing opinion, check out Ryan’s review here.)