“Whatever it takes, I know I can make it through” Here’s the new trailer for Avengers: Endgame!


So, I just watched the latest trailer for Avengers: Endgame.  Here are a few of my initial thoughts:

First off, people always make jokes about how, while Thor’s a God and Captain America is basically 100 years old but still looks like Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner pretty much only brings a bow and arrow to the fight.  But you know what?  I was really happy to see Renner return, even if he does have a questionable haircut.  And I was even more happy to see that, after being underused in the previous Avengers film, it looks like Scarlett Johannson has got a decent role.

Plus, for at least some of the film, Scarlett’s a redhead again!

I loved the trailer’s use of black-and-white.  It added a sense of tragic grandeur to the whole thing.

I’m still traumatized by the end of the Infinity Wars.  Yeah, I know that everyone will probably be resurrected and that there’s no way they’d ever kill off Spider-Man for real but seriously, that was hella depressing!  “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good….” AGCK!

Captain Marvel shows up at the end and gets Thor’s seal of approval.  One wonder if they waited to see this weekend’s box office numbers before deciding to include that scene at the end.

Speaking of which — where’s my review of Captain Marvel?  I saw it earlier this week.  I’ll be posting it soon.

It’s hard not to notice that Thanos wasn’t in this trailer.  Of course, we did see him in the previous teaser.

Finally, I love the fact that Avengers: Endgame and Degrassi share the same tag line.  “Whatever it takes!”

Here’s the latest trailer for Avengers: Endgame!

 

 

Book Review: Need To Know by Karen Cleveland


 

How well do you know the people you love?

That’s the question that’s at the heart of Need to Know, the debut novel of Karen Cleveland.

When we first Vivian Miller, the main character and narrator of Need to Know, she has a life that, on the surface, many would envy.  She has four children, a nice house in the suburbs of D.C., and a handsome and charming husband named Matt.  Of course, there are problems.  Money’s tight.  One of her children has a heart defect, one that will undoubtedly require surgery in the future.  Honestly, Vivian would be happy to stay home and spend all of her time taking care of the children but, as Matt always reminds her, they need the money that her job brings in.

Vivian works for the CIA.  She’s an analyst and, as glamorous as working in intelligence might sound, her job basically involves spending a lot of time in the office, searching through the computers of suspected Russian agents.  For instance, there’s the mysterious Yury.  When Vivian searches through Yury’s files, she comes across a folder that is labeled “Friends.”  Inside the folder are five pictures of five people who might or might not be working for the Russians.

Four of the pictures are of total strangers.

The fifth picture is of Matt.

If nothing else, Need to Know is a book that will keep you guessing.  Is Matt a Russian agent or was his picture placed in the folder just to compromise Vivian’s position with the CIA?  Has Matt spent ten years being a perfect and supportive husband or was he actually a passive aggressive manipulator?  What do the Russians want and how far are they willing to go to get it?  And, even more importantly, how far is Vivian willing to go to protect her children?

Need to Know is a strong debut novel, a perfectly paced thriller that will take consistently take you by surprise.  Karen Cleveland is a former CIA analyst herself and she puts that background to good use in Need to Know, supplying a lot of interesting details that you wouldn’t get from a book written by … well, by someone like me, whose national security expertise is pretty much limited to what I’ve seen in the movies.

(Speaking of movies, apparently Charlize Theron will be producing and starring in the film version of Need to Know.  Personally, the entire time I was reading the novel, I pictured Naomi Watts as Vivian, Jeremy Renner as Matt, and Richard Jenkins as Vivian’s boss, Peter.)

I did have a few issues with the final few chapters of the book.  Though it didn’t effect my overall enjoyment of the novel, I would have liked a stronger ending.  That said, the ending does potentially leave room for a sequel and I will definitely be reading the next book that Karen Cleveland writes!

If you’re in the mood for a good and intelligent spy thriller, Need to Know is definitely one to check out.

Belatedly, Here Are The Nominations of the North Texas Film Critics!


Two days ago, the North Texas Film Critics Association announced their nominations for the best of 2017!

On twitter, there’s been a lot of speculation as to why the NTFCA totally snubbed Call Me By Your Name in their nominations.  Hilariously, some people — all from out-of-state, of course — are assuming that the NTFCA must be made up of evangelical, right-wingers because it’s a Texas organization.  Seriously, those people have no idea how left-wing most members of the Texas media are.  Texas may be a Republican state but most of our native film critics are somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders.

Anyway, here are the nominees:

BEST PICTURE
“Baby Driver”
“The Big Sick”
“Dunkirk”
“Get Out”
“The Florida Project”
“Lady Bird”
“Logan”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

BEST ACTOR
James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Stronger”
Tom Hanks, “The Post”
Hugh Jackman, “Logan”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
James McAvoy, “Split”
Kumail Nanijiani, “The Big Sick”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Robert Pattinson, “Good Time”
Jeremy Renner, “Wind River”
Andy Serkis, “War for the Planet of the Apes”

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, “Molly’s Game”
Judi Dench, “Victoria & Abdul”
Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman”
Jennifer Lawrence, “mother!”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Brooklynn Prince, “The Florida Project”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Emma Stone, “Battle of the Sexes”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Nicole Kidman, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
Tatiana Maslany, “Stronger”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”
Tilda Swinton, “Okja”
Kristin Scott Thomas, “Darkest Hour”
Bria Vinaite, “The Florida Project”
Allison Williams, “Get Out”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Steve Carell, “Battle of the Sexes”
Daniel Craig, “Logan Lucky”
Bryan Cranston, “Last Flag Flying”
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Idris Elba, “Molly’s Game”
Will Poulter, “Detroit”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Ray Romano, “The Big Sick”
Mark Rylance, “Dunkirk”
Patrick Stewart, “Logan”

BEST DIRECTOR
Sean Baker, “The Florida Project”
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Patty Jenkins, “Wonder Woman”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
Steven Spielberg, “The Post”
Aaron Sorkin, “Molly’s Game”
Denis Villeneuve, “Blade Runner 2049”
Joe Wright, “Darkest Hour”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Thimios Bakatakis, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
Roger Deakins, “Blade Runner 2049”
Hoyte Van Hoytema, “Dunkirk”
Matthew Jensen, “Wonder Woman”
Dan Laustsen, “The Shape of Water”
Janusz Kaminski, “The Post”
Michael Seresin, “War for the Planet of the Apes”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“First They Killed My Father”
“In the Fade”
“Menashe”
“Raw”
“The Square”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
“Chasing Coral”
“City of Ghosts”
“Cries from Syria”
“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”
“Jane”
“Step”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“The Breadwinner”
“Cars 3”
“Coco”
“Despicable Me 3:
“The LEGO Batman Movie”
“Loving Vincent”

Here’s The Trailer for Wind River!


Here’s the trailer for Wind River, a crime thriller that has gotten good reviews at both Sundance and Cannes.

Here are a few things to know about Wind River:

First off, a lot of people are pointing out that it stars two members of the MCU, Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.  At this point, however, the MCU is so big — with the movies and Netflix and the tv shows — that it’s hard to think of a recent or upcomng film that doesn’t feature at least one actor from the MCU.  At this point, MCU actors running into each other in non-MCU movies is no longer as big a surprise as it may have once been.  It’s kind of unavoidable.

For me, the most intriguing thing about Wind River is that it is the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, who previously wrote the amazing screenplays for both Sicario and Hell or High Water.  I’ll be curious to see if Sheridan is as good and unpredictable a director as he is a writer.

Here’s the trailer!

Playing Catch-Up: Arrival (dir by Denis Villeneuve)


arrival_movie_poster

I cannot begin to express how happy I was when I learned that the Directors Guild of America had nominated Denis Villeneuve for his work on Arrival.

Arrival was one of the best films of 2016.  In fact, I would argue that it’s one of the best science fiction films that I’ve ever seen.  There were a lot of reasons for that, of course.  There was the brilliant script by Eric Heisserer.  There was the starring performance of Amy Adams, who is one of the best actresses working today.  There was a surprise and thought-provoking twist, one that forced you to reconsider everything that you previously believed.  There were so many reasons why Arrival was a great film but, ultimately, it call came down to Denis Villeneuve.

Working with material that would have led most directors down the road to bombast, Villeneuve instead took a deliberately low-key approach.  Whereas most directors would have encouraged their cast to play up the drama, Villeneuve encourages his actors to take a more inward and cerebral approach to the material.  Arrival is a rarity — a film about smart people in which the people actually seem to be smart.  For once, we don’t need expositionary characters to pop up and tell us that Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are brilliant.  Instead, we simply believe they are from what we see on the screen.  Much like last year’s Sicario, Arrival proves that Villeneuve is a visionary director.

Arrival is a hard film to describe, not because it’s overly complicated but because there’s a huge twist that I really can’t reveal.  Before the twist, Arrival is simply a well-directed sci-fi film.  After the twist, it is something all together different, an intense meditation on faith, love, language, and destiny.  Since I’m reviewing the film late, chances are that you already know about the twist but I’m still not going to spoil it.

What I can tell you is that Arrival opens with the arrival of twelve spaceships, all of which land at different places across the world.  The Chinese have a spaceship.  The British have a spaceship.  I imagine that the Canadians have a spaceship, because who wouldn’t want to hang out with the Canadians?  And, of course, the Americans have a spaceship.  The aliens are inside the spaceships.  They’re octopus-like creatures, ones that almost look as if they could have come from one of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories.  The aliens may appear to be fearsome but they actually seem to be rather benevolent.  No one’s quite sure because the aliens communicate through a complex series of symbols and nobody can understand what those symbols mean.

Louise Banks is a linguist.  Ian Donnelly is a physicist.  The Americans bring both in to help translate the symbols.  Of course, the rest of the world has their own linguists and physicists working to translate the symbols and, humans being humans, it often seems that the Americans and the Chinese are less concerned with translating what the aliens are saying and more concerned with being the first to understand.  While Louise works, she continues to be haunted by dreams and visions of her daughter’s death from cancer.

And that’s really all I can tell you without spoiling the film and potentially making myself cry.  But I will say that if you haven’t seen Arrival, you must go out and see it now.  It’s one of the most thought-provoking and emotionally wrenching films of the past year.

Add to that, it’s probably going to be nominated for best picture.  It’s been overshadowed a bit by all the attention paid to La La Land, Moonlight, and Manchester By The Sea.  But Arrival is just as good a film as any of them.  In fact, in the future, we’ll probably look at Arrival and say that it was better than all of them.

 

 

Here’s The Full Trailer For Arrival!


Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in a movie directed by  Denis Villeneuve?  Could Arrival be this year’s sci fi best picture nominee?  Or will it turn out to be more like Interstellar?

I’m hoping for the former!

(But then again, who isn’t?)

Check out the full trailer below!

Insomina File No. 16: Kill The Messenger (dir by Michael Cuesta)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Kill_the_Messenger_poster

Last night, if you were awake and unable to get any sleep at 1:45 in the morning, you could have turned over to Cinemax and watched the 2014 conspiracy thriller, Kill The Messenger.

Kill The Messenger opens with one of those title cards that assures us that the movie we’re about to see is based on a true story.  We are then introduced to Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a California-based reporter who we know is a rebel because he has a precisely trimmed goatee.  Gary is interviewing a suspected drug smuggler (Robert Patrick) at the smuggler’s luxurious mansion.  Suddenly, the DEA storms the house, shouting insults and roughly throwing everyone to the ground, including Gary.  It’s actually exciting and promising opening, one that perfectly establishes both Gary as a truth seeker and the U.S. government as an invading army that’s fighting a war that’s full of collateral damage.

Gary, of course, has nothing to do with smuggling drugs.  He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  If he was treated unfairly by the DEA, it’s just because the government is serious about winning the war on drugs!

Or is it?

Following up on a tip, Gary comes across evidence that, in order to raise money for pro-Amercian rebels in Central America, the CIA not only helped to smuggle drugs into the U.S. but also arranged for the drugs to largely be sold in poor, minority neighbors where, in theory, no one would notice or care.

When the story is finally published, Gary is briefly a celebrity.  Not surprisingly, the government denies his accusations and start tying to discredit him.  However, Gary also finds himself being targeted by his fellow journalists.  Angry over being outscooped by a relatively unknown reporter, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post both launch their own investigations.  Instead of investigating Gary’s allegations, they jealously and viciously investigate Gary himself.

Soon, both Gary’s career and his family are falling apart and Gary finds himself growing more and more paranoid…

Remember when everyone was expecting Kill The Messenger to be a really big deal?  It was due to come out towards the end of 2014, right in the middle of Oscar season.  Jeremy Renner was being talked up as a contender for best actor.  Then the film came out, it played in a handful of theaters for a week or two, and then it sunk into obscurity.  Some commentators even complained that Focus Features buried the release of Kill The Messenger and that the film was ignored because of its leftist politics…

Of course, it’s just as probable that Focus Features realized that The Theory of Everything was more likely to charm audiences than a movie that suggested the U.S. government was behind the drug epidemic.

Or it could have just been that, despite telling a potentially intriguing story, Kill The Messenger was an oddly bland film.  Other than one scene in which he admits to cheating on his wife, Gary Webb is portrayed as being such a saint that it actually causes the film to lose credibility.  (Don’t get me wrong.  For all I know, he was a saint.  But, from a cinematic point of view, sainthood is never compelling.)  This is one of those earnest films that gets so heavy-handed that, even if you agree with what the movie is saying, you still resent being manipulated.  (Of course, some of us have grown so cynical about the media that we automatically doubt the veracity any movie that opens with those dreaded words: “Based on a true story.”)  Watching Kill The Messenger, one gets the feeling that a documentary about Gary Webb would probably be more compelling (and convincing) than a fictionalized dramatization.

(Unfortunately, if you think it’s difficult to get an audience to watch a movie that suggested the U.S. government was behind the drug epidemic, just try to get them to watch a documentary about … well, anything.  I know most of our readers would probably happily watch a documentary but that’s because y’all are the best and a thousand times better than the average person.  Love you!)

Here’s what did work about Kill The Messenger: the performances.  Jeremy Renner, who also produced this film, gives an excellent performance as Gary, especially in the scenes where he realizes that both the government and the press are now conspiring about him.  Rosemarie DeWitt has the traditionally thankless role of being the supportive wife but she still does a good job.  And finally, Ray Liotta shows up for one scene and is absolutely chilling in that way that only Ray Liotta can be.

Kill The Messenger doesn’t quite work but, thanks to the cast, it is, at the very least, a watchable misfire.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace