The Gothams Honor Nomadland


The Gotham Awards were handed out last night, honoring the best in independent film.  In the past, the Gothams have been awarded at the starts of awards season but this year, they’re happening right in the middle.  It’s a weird awards season but apparently, Nomadland either winning or being a serious contender is the one thing that you can depend upon.  Admittedly, it’s debatable how much of influence the Gothams really have on the Oscars.  Many films that Oscar-eligible are not considered to be Gotham-eligible.  For instance, the big-budgeted, studio-backed blockbusters that are often mentioned as possible Oscar nominees are not Gotham eligible.  There’s a kind of nice justice to that, I think.

That said, every victory helps.  Nomadland has kind of been an obvious Oscar contender for several months now but it never hurts to notch another victory on the wall.

Here’s are the nominees and the winners, with the winners in bold:

Best Feature
The Assistant
First Cow
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland
Relic

Best Documentary
76 Days
City Hall
Our Time Machine
A Thousand Cuts (TIE)
Time (TIE)

Best International Feature
Bacurau
Beanpole
Cuties (Mignonnes)
Identifying Features
Martin Eden
Wolfwalkers

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Radha Blank – The Forty-Year-Old Version
Channing Godfrey Peoples – Miss Juneteenth
Alex Thompson – Saint Frances
Carlo Mirabella-Davis – Swallow
Andrew Patterson – The Vast of Night

Best Screenplay
Bad Education – Mike Makowsky
First Cow – Jon Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
The Forty-Year-Old Version – Radha Blank (TIE)
Fourteen – Dan Sallitt (TIE)
The Vast of Night – James Montague, Craig Sanger

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Jude Law – The Nest
John Magaro – First Cow
Jesse Plemons – I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Best Actress
Nicole Beharie – Miss Juneteenth
Jessie Buckley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Yuh-Jung Youn – Minari
Carrie Coon – The Nest
Frances McDormand – Nomadland

Breakthrough Actor
Jasmine Batchelor – The Surrogate
Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami…
Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Orion Lee – First Cow
Kelly O’Sullivan – Saint Frances

Breakthrough Series – Long Format (over 40 minutes)
The Great
Immigration Nation
P-Valley
Unorthodox
Watchmen

Breakthrough Series – Short Format (under 40 minutes)
Betty
Dave
I May Destroy You
Taste the Nation
Work in Progress

Keeping in mind that I haven’t seen all of the nominees yet, I guess my favorite winner is Andrew Patterson as Breakthrough Director for The Vast of Night.  The Vast of Night was one of my favorite films last year and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Patterson does in the future.

Along with these awards, the Gothams also paid special tribute to: Steve McQueen, Ryan Murphy, actors Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman and the ensemble cast of The Trial Of The Chicago 7.  A tip of the hat to Next Best Picture for that information.  I did consider watching the Gothams last night but …. well, The Bachelor was on and then after that, I was really tired.  To be honest, I would probably have watched if the awards had been presented by people dressed up like Batman.  Y’know, Gothams.  Gotham City.  All of that.  Anyway….

Congrats to the winners!

Here Are The Nominees of the 2020 Indiana Film Journalists Assosciation!


Bad Education

The Indiana Film Journalists Association (IJA) has announced their nominees for the best of 2020!  They’ll be announcing the winners on December 21st!

What I like about these nominations is that there’s a lot of them.  2020 may have been a difficult year for many but there were a lot of good films released and it does seem kind of silly (as it does every year) to limit things to some sort of arbitrary number.  Why only nominate 10 films when you could nominate 20 or 30?  Many of the nominees below will appear on my own personal best lists in January.

The other thing that I like about these nominees is that the include films like Bad Education and Mangrove.  There’s some debate as to whether or not these films should be considered Oscar eligible.  I feel that they should be so it’s nice to see that the folks in Indiana agree with me!

Here are the nominees:

BEST FILM
Da 5 Bloods
Another Round
The Assistant
Athlete A
Bad Education
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Dick Johnson is Dead
Emma.
The Father
First Cow
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari
The Nest
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland
One Night in Miami
Palm Springs
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Possessor
Promising Young Woman
Small Axe: Mangrove
Song Without a Name
Soul
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The Twentieth Century
The Vast of Night

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Onward
Soul
Wolfwalkers

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
76 Days
Another Round
Bacurau
Beanpole
La Dosis
Song Without a Name

BEST DOCUMENTARY
76 Days
All In: The Fight for Democracy
Athlete A
Boys State
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Desert One
Dick Johnson is Dead
Disclosure
John Lewis: Good Trouble
The Last Out
Miss Americana
MLK/FBI
Time
Totally Under Control
Welcome to Chechnya

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Brandon Cronenberg – Possessor
Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers – Soul
Sean Durkin – The Nest
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Kitty Green – The Assistant
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round
James Montague and Craig W. Sanger – The Vast of Night
Matthew Rankin – The Twentieth Century
Andy Siara – Palm Springs
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Alice Wu – The Half of It

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller – The Father
Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell – The Personal History of David Copperfield
Charlie Kaufman – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Mike Makowsky – Bad Education
Kemp Powers – One Night in Miami
Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST DIRECTOR
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Brandon Cronenberg – Possessor
Pete Docter – Soul
Sean Durkin – The Nest
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Kitty Green – The Assistant
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Kirsten Johnson – Dick Johnson is Dead
Charlie Kaufman – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Regina King – One Night in Miami
Spike Lee – Da 5 Bloods
Melina Léon – Song Without a Name
Steve McQueen – Small Axe: Mangrove
Matthew Rankin – The Twentieth Century
Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
George C. Wolfe – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Alice Wu – The Half of It
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST ACTRESS
Haley Bennett – Swallow
Jessie Buckley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Carrie Coon – The Nest
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sidney Flanigin – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Julia Garner – The Assistant
Han Ye-ri – Minari
Leah Lewis – The Half of It
Rachel McAdams – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Pamela Mendoza – Song Without a Name
Cristin Milioti – Palm Springs
Elisabeth Moss – The Invisible Man
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
Aubrey Plaza – Black Bear
Margot Robbie – BIrds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Anya Taylor-Joy – Emma.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jane Adams – She Dies Tomorrow
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Toni Collette – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Olivia Colman – The Father
Olivia Cooke – Sound of Metal
Allison Janney – Bad Education
Margo Martindale – Blow the Man Down
Talia Ryder – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

BEST ACTOR
Christopher Abbott – Possessor
Ben Affleck – The Way Back
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami
Paul Bettany – Uncle Frank
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Eli Goree – One Night in Miami
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Hugh Jackman – Bad Education
Jude Law – The Nest
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Mads Mikkelsen – Another Round
Jesse Plemons – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Eddie Redmayne – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Steven Yeun – Minari

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods
Bo Burnham – Promising Young Woman
Bill Burr – The King of Staten Island
Peter Capaldi – The Personal History of David Copperfield
Colman Domingo – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Aldis Hodge – One Night in Miami
Caleb Landry Jones – The Outpost
Alan Kim – Minari
Frank Langella – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Orion Lee – First Cow
Ewan McGregor – BIrds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Bill Murray – On the Rocks
Leslie Odom, Jr. – One Night in Miami
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
J.K. Simmons – Palm Springs
Dan Stevens – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
David Strathairn – Nomadland
David Thewlis – I’m Thinking of Ending Things

BEST VOCAL / MOTION CAPTURE PERFORMANCE
Sean Bean – Wolfwalkers
Tina Fey – Soul
Jamie Foxx – Soul
Oliver Platt – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Donald Ray Pollock – The Devil All the Time
Ben Schwartz – Sonic the Hedgehog

BEST ENSEMBLE ACTING
Da 5 Bloods
Another Round
The Devil All the Time
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
The King of Staten Island
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari
One Night in Miami
The Personal History of David Copperfield
She Dies Tomorrow
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Uncle Frank

BEST MUSICAL SCORE
Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer – The Vast of Night
Terence Blanchard – One Night in Miami
Ludovico Einaudi – Nomadland
Ludwig Göransson – Tenet
Emile Mosseri – Minari
Richard Reed Parry – The Nest
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Soul
William Tyler – First Cow
Jay Wadley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer – Emma.
Benjamin Wallfisch – The Invisible Man
Jim Williams – Possessor

BREAKOUT OF THE YEAR
Maria Bakalova (actress) – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Max Barbakow (director) – Palm Springs
Emerald Fennell (writer / director) – Promising Young Woman
Sidney Flanigin (actress) – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Alan Kim (actor) – Minari
Orion Lee (actor) – First Cow
Leah Lewis (actress) – The Half of It
Darius Marder (writer / director) – Sound of Metal
Andrew Patterson (director) – The Vast of Night
Tayarisha Poe (writer / director) – Selah and the Spades
Kemp Powers – co-writer / co-director for Soul and writer for One Night in Miami
Matthew Rankin (writer / director) – The Twentieth Century
Andy Siara (writer) – Palm Springs
Autumn de Wilde (director) – Emma.

HOOSIER AWARD
Athlete A
Eliza Hittman, writer / director of Never Rarely Sometimes Always and graduate of Indiana University

ORIGINAL VISION AWARD
After Midnight
Assassin 33 A.D.
Dick Johnson is Dead
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Possessor
Promising Young Woman
She Dies Tomorrow
The Twentieth Century
The Vast of Night
Vivarium

Mangrove

Belatedly, Here Are The Gotham Award Nominations!


The Gotham nominations were announced on Thursday and I totally missed them!

Seriously, that’s how crazy this year has been.

Anyway, with so much up in the air, it’s probably debatable how much anything can be gleaned about the state of the Oscar race from these nominations.  In fact, even in a normal year, the Gothams aren’t exactly known for being Oscar precursors.  However, they do honor worthy independent films and often, they encourage us to track down films that we may have otherwise missed.

Only film with a budget under $35 million were eligible for a Gotham nomination.  So, don’t look at this list and go, “OH MY GOD, WHERE’S MANK!?  WHERE’S TENENT!?”  They’re not eligible.

Anyway, here are the Gotham nominations:

Best Feature
“The Assistant”
“First Cow”
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
“Nomadland”
“Relic”

Best Documentary
“76 Days”
“City Hall”
“Our Time Machine”
“A Thousand Cuts”
“Time”

Best International Feature
“Bacurau”
“Beanpole”
“Cuties (Mignonnes)”
“Identifying Features”
“Martin Eden”
“Wolfwalkers”

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Carlo Mirabella-Davis, “Swallow”
Rhada Blank, “The Forty Year Old Version”
Andrew Patterson, “Vast of Night”
Channing Godfrey Peoples, “Miss Juneteenth”
Alex Thompson, “Saint Frances”

Best Screenplay
“Bad Education,” Mike Makowsky
“First Cow,” Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt
“The Forty-Year-Old Version,” Radha Blank
“Fourteen,” Dan Sallitt
“The Vast of Night,” James Montague and Craig Sanger

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Jude Law, “The Nest”
John Magaro, “First Cow”
Jesse Plemons, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

Best Actress
Nicole Beharie, “Miss Juneteenth”
Jessie Buckley, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”
Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari”
Carrie Coon, “The Nest”
Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”

Breakthrough Actor
Sidney Flanigan, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
Jasmine Batchelor, “The Surrogate”
Kelly O’Sullivan, “Saint Frances”
Orion Lee, “First Cow”
Kingsley Ben-Adir, “One Night in Miami”

Breakthrough Series – Long Form
“The Great”
“Immigration Nation”
“P-Valley”
“Unorthodox”
“Watchmen”

Breakthrough Series – Short Form
“Betty”
“Dave”
“I May Destroy You”
“Taste the Nation”
“Work in Progress”

Film Review: Captain Marvel (dir by Anna Bolden and Ryan Fleck)


Captain Marvel was …. well, it was okay.

I know that’s potentially a controversial opinion.  Since the movie was released last week, I’ve seen it described as being the greatest comic book movie ever made.  I’ve also seen it described as being, if not the worst film of all time, than certainly the worst chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Really, it depends on who you ask and how they voted in 2016.  Myself, I would argue that both sides are incorrect.  Captain Marvel is neither the greatest nor the worst movie ever made.  Instead …. it’s okay.  It’s a middle of the road MCU film, one that has more in common with the first Thor, Ant-Man, and The Incredible Hulk than with Black Panther or Doctor Strange.  It has its moments but there’s a reason why everyone’s favorite character is a cat who only has about 15 minutes of screen time.

Brie Larson plays Vers, who is an elite warrior for the Kree Empire.  The Kree are an alien race.  We know they’re aliens because they have blue blood and their planet looks like a more cheerful version of Blade Runner.  The Kree are at war with another group of aliens, the Skrulls.  The Skrulls are green shape-shifters and, for some reason, they have Australian accents.

Anyways, Vers can’t remember anything about her past but she’s haunted by nightmares that suggest that she might not be a Kree at all.  Instead, she might be an Earthling!  Vers gets a chance to investigate that possibility when, while escaping the forces of the Skrull general Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), Vers plummets to Earth and ends up crashing into a Blockbuster Video.  Working with a youngish Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Vers sets out to discover the truth about her past.

Ever since this film was first announced, Brie Larson has been the target of a lot of unfair criticism.  A lot of it has centered around the fact that Larson rarely smiles in the film but you know what?  Brie Larson’s resting bitch face is the most empowering thing about Captain Marvel.  Vers is a warrior and she’s on a mission.  She has no reason to smile and giggle and jump around like some sort of manic pixie dream girl.  When Vers responded to a man telling her to smile by stealing his motorcycle, I wanted to jump up and cheer.  I mean, hell yeah!  Not only did she refuse to be pushed around but she also got a sweet ride out of it!  Seriously, the next guy who tells me that I need to smile more is losing his car.

Actually, regardless of what some people on twitter seem to believe, Vers does smile in the film.  She smiles when she’s talking to her best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashanna Lynch).  She smiles when she’s talking to Maria’s daughter, Monica (Akira Akbar).  She smiles when there aren’t any men — or Skrulls — around, demanding all of the attention.  Both Maria and Vers are smiling because, finally, they can both be themselves.  It’s a scene that, like Vers stealing that motorcycle, feels far more honest and empowering than some of the film’s other more obvious and on-the-nose girl power moments.  Maria is a rather underused character, which is a shame because the brief scenes between Maria and Vers are some of the best scenes in the film.

That said, I still had mixed feelings about Brie Larson’s overall performance.  As good as Larson has been in so many other films, she often comes across as rather wooden and awkward here.  Larson delivers almost all of her lines in a rather flat monotone and she’s not helped by some painfully clunky dialogue.  Larson’s awkwardness is painfully obvious whenever she shares a scene with more experienced co-stars like Jackson, Mendelsohn, Jude Law, or Annette Bening.  Bening practically steals the entire film, to the extent that I would have preferred the film has been about her rather than Vers.

(Again, it’s easy to compare this film to the first Thor.  Just as it took the MCU a while to figure out what to do with Thor, one gets the feeling that they’re still not quite sure who Captain Marvel is supposed to be.)

The film’s main weakness is that, when compared to the more recent MCU films. there’s no sense of wonder to Captain Marvel.  Compare the blandness of the Kree homeworld to the vivid worlds of Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok.  Ben Mendelsohn brings a little bit of depth to General Talos but, beyond the shape-shifting, there’s not much to the Skrulls, either.  When Captain Marvel flies into space, there’s nothing transcendent about the moment.  It’s actually kind of boring.  Whereas previous MCU films made space feel alive, the universe feels flat in Captain Marvel.

To cite just one example, one of the film’s biggest battle scenes is over the possession of a lunchbox.  The villains think that there’s something important in the lunchbox.  However, what they don’t know is that Vers has already emptied the lunchbox and is just using it to distract them.  For some reason, directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Bolden show Captain Marvel emptying the lunchbox before the big battle.  As a result, there’s no stakes to the battle and, from the start, we know that it doesn’t matter who wins.  When, after a lengthy fight, the lunchbox is revealed to be empty, Brie Larson mutters a weak one liner that has no impact because there was never any suspense to begin with.  This is pretty basic stuff and it’s somewhat shocking that this film manages to screw it up.

Despite those flaws, Captain Marvel is occasionally diverting.  Samuel L. Jackson brings flair to even the lamest of lines and Clark Gregg has a welcome cameo as Phil Coulson.  Annette Bening plays two different roles and she kicks major ass in both of them.  (One of her characters is named Intelligence, which leads to this hilariously awkward exchange of dialogue between Larson and Bening: “Vers.”  “Intelligence.”)  Despite being buried under a ton of makeup and prosthetics, Ben Mendelsohn does a good job and Jude Law is amusingly arrogant as Vers’s mentor.  Hopefully, Lashawn Lynch will get a bigger role in a future MCU film.

And then there’s the cat.

The cat is named Goose and …, well, look, I won’t spoil it.  Let’s just say that he’s a very special cat and he steals every scene.  In this film, we discover that Nick Fury loves cats, as well he should!

Anyway, Captain Marvel is okay.  There’s a few good scenes and there’s a few clunky ones and finally, there’s Goose and that stolen motorcycle.  One gets the feeling that the most remembered scenes will probably be the ones that were inserted during the end credits.  Captain Marvel will return in Avengers: Endgame and I hope that she doesn’t smile once.

 

Trailer: Captain Marvel


Captain Marvel

Tonight we finally get to see the official trailer for Marvel Studio’s upcoming entry to their ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just like Marvel Universe-616 which was born at the Big Bang and continues to expand ever outward there doesn’t seem to be any sign of the MCU suddenly collapsing under the weight of fan expectations and the imagination of the writers and filmmakers who have been tapped by Kevin Feige and group to usher in the Golden Age of Comic Book films.

This past summer, fans of the MCU were treated to the spectacle (and surprisingly emotional) that was Avengers: Infinity War. Those who stayed for the final stinger at the end of the credits of that film were treated to a clue as to who may just save the MCU from Thanos’ snap.

Captain Marvel will be Marvel Studio’s first female-led entry to the series. Some have been in the camp that Marvel took too long to do such a project while a small, albeit very vocal group think Marvel have been bit by the SJW bug.

For the most part the majority of fans are just excited to see the adventures of one Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel finally up on the big screen. We shall see this March 8 whether Captain Marvel lives up to the hype and excitement that has been building since the end of Avengers: Infinity War.

The First Trailer For Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald Reveals Hogwarts In The 1920s!


Earlier today, the first trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald dropped.  The trailer features sights that will warm the heart of any Harry Potter fan, including Hogwarts in the 1920s and Jude Law inspiring the younger wizards.

This is the 2nd film in the 5-part Fantastic Beasts series so there will undoubtedly be many more years to come of magic, mystery, and nonstop Dumbledore controversy.

Quick Review: King Arthur – Legend of the Sword (dir. by Guy Ritchie)


KingArthur-LegendoftheSwordUsually, when I go to the movies, I either eat before I get there, or after the movie is done. This way, I don’t have to get up at all and miss anything. If it’s a film I’ve seen before, I’ll take the weakest part to use as a bathroom / food break, if I have to go. It’s one way I can tell if I like what I’m watching.

I got up twice for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Once to go downstairs and get a popcorn and drink, and a second time for a free refill. I even left my stuff behind in my chair for anyone to take on the second trip out. That’s how low my interest in this film fell after about 30 minutes in. I trusted the fates not to have someone steal my motorcycle jacket (keys, gear and all) to take a break from this film.

This may not be the best review to read about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

The Arthurian Legend has been captured in film a number of times. The Last Legion, First Knight, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Excalibur (my personal favorite), and most recently, Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur starring Clive Owen. There’s nothing wrong with a retelling of the story, but Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is all over the place and feels like it has nothing to do with the legends. This isn’t anything against Ritchie. I own Rock-N-Rolla and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and I loved Snatch. King Arthur was just off to me. Even the Sherlock Holmes films seemed more grounded than this one does. None of the actors are truly able to save this film, and a few people actually left in the middle of my showing. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever watched, but Ritchie’s made better films than this.

Granted, I didn’t really walk in with a lot of expectations. The film had it’s release date changed, being sandwiched right between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the week before and Alien: Covenant the week after. It really didn’t have a chance, though I thought maybe it could at least hold the weekend. On the other hand, the movie did feel like a lot of the sword and sorcery films I grew up with in the ‘80s, such as Hawk The Slayer, Beastmaster, Ridley Scott’s Legend, The Sword & the Sorcerer, hell, even Barbarian Queen. In that sense, I might say that the film holds up. If you’re not trying to compare it with anything Arthur/Camelot related, you may actually enjoy it.

Legend of the Sword is the story of Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), who needs to save his land from the evil King Vortigern (Jude Law) after reclaiming the great sword Excalibur. I could say more, but I’d give too much away. He’s aided by his friends, Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillen), along with a Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) that takes the place of Merlin, who’s absent here. Everyone’s performances are okay, particularly Law and Gillen, who chew up any scene they’re in. Hunnam does just as good with what he’s given, but his Arthur is a bit of an ass at the start. Everyone seems to enjoy what they’re doing here. Even David Beckham gets a moment as a henchman. Of them, the only character I really cared about was Goosefat Bill. Aiden Gillen can play the hero, and play one well.

To his credit, Guy Ritchie’s direction is as quick and sharp as it ever was. When there’s action, it’s fast and fluid. You’ve got great running sequences, and giant CGI animals. Even the swordplay is fun, particularly when Excalibur is involved (those are really the best parts). It’s stylish, and looks awesome in some scenes. The dialogue is rapid, with quick cuts along whole segments. It’s what we’ve come to know and expect from Guy Ritchie. Though it worked well for his modern crime films, it come across as being a little disjointed here. I was hoping for King Arthur, not Underworld Boss Arthur who could be Robin Hood, along with his would be Merry Men of Sherwood Forest.

While I’m not saying that every element of the Arthur tale needed to be expanded upon, Legend of the Sword suffers from a few jump cuts that say “Don’t worry about all of this info, just know we reached point B from point A.” It’s efficient, but also turns the entire tale into a Cliffs Notes / Wikipedia summary. The film moves that quick. The film is peppered with these abbreviations that’s supposed to move the narrative along, but does this so fast that you almost have a tough time believing this movie was actually 2 hours long. I’m not asking for Hamlet, but at least allow your characters to flourish or grow or gain something about them that’s endearing. I’ll also admit to having a short attention span, it’s not that short that it requires quick-cut bursts to keep me enthralled.

Overall, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a miss for me. If you have to catch it, you may want to wait for the VOD edition.

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Mini-Reviews: Amy, Gloria, Pitch Perfect 2, Sisters, Spy, Trainwreck


Amy_Movie_Poster

Amy (dir by Asif Kapadia)

Amy opens with brilliant and, in its way, heartbreaking footage of a 14 year-old Amy Winehouse and a friend singing Happy Birthday at a party.  Even though she’s singing deliberately off-key and going over-the-top (as we all tend to do when we sing Happy Birthday), you can tell that Amy was a star from the beginning.  She’s obviously enjoying performing and being the center of attention and, try as you might, it’s impossible not to contrast the joy of her Happy Birthday with the sadness of her later life.

A star whose music touched millions (including me), Amy Winehouse was ultimately betrayed by a world that both wanted to take advantage of her talent and to revel in her subsequent notoriety.  It’s often said the Amy was self-destructive but, if anything, the world conspired to destroy her.  By focusing on footage of Amy both in public and private and eschewing the usual “talking head” format of most documentaries, Amy pays tribute to both Amy Winehouse and reminds us of what a great talent we all lost in 2011.

Gloria_(2014_Film_Poster)

Gloria (dir by Christian Keller)

The Mexican film Gloria is a musical biopic of Gloria Trevi (played by Sofia Espinosa), a singer whose subversive songs and sexual image made her a superstar in Latin America and challenged the conventional morality of Catholic-dominated establishment.  Her manager and lover was the controversial Sergio Andrade (Marco Perez).  The movie follows Gloria from her first audition for the manipulative Sergio to her arrest (along with Sergio) on charges of corrupting minors.  It’s an interesting and still controversial story and Gloria tells it well, with Espinosa and Perez both giving excellent performances.

Pitch_Perfect_2_poster

Pitch Perfect 2 (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

The Bellas are back!  As I think I’ve mentioned a few times on this site, I really loved the first Pitch Perfect.  In fact, I loved it so much that I was a bit concerned about the sequel.  After all, sequels are never as good as the original and I was dreading the idea of the legacy of the first film being tarnished.

But the sequel actually works pretty well.  It’s a bit more cartoonish than the first film.  After three years at reigning ICCA champions, the Bellas are expelled from competition after Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashes the President.  The only way for the Bellas to get the suspension lifted is to win the World Championship of A Capella.  The plot, to be honest, really isn’t that important.  You’re watching the film for the music and the interplay of the Bellas and, on those two counts, the film totally delivers.

It should be noted that Elizabeth Banks had a great 2015.  Not only did she give a great performance in Love & Mercy but she also made a respectable feature directing debut with Pitch Perfect 2.

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Sisters (dir by Jason Moore)

It’s interesting how opinions can change.  For the longest time, I really liked Tina Fey and I thought that Amy Poehler was kind of overrated.  But, over the past two years, I’ve changed my opinion.  Now, I like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey kind of gets on my nerves.  The best way that I can explain it is to say that Tina Fey just seems like the type who would judge me for wearing a short skirt and that would get old quickly, seeing as how I happen to like showing off my legs.

Anyway, in Sisters, Tina and Amy play sisters!  (Shocking, I know.)  Amy is the responsible one who has just gotten a divorce and who wants to make everyone’s life better.  Tina is the irresponsible one who refuses to accept that she’s no longer a teenager.  When their parents announce that they’re selling the house where they grew up, Amy and Tina decide to throw one last party.  Complications ensue.

I actually had two very different reactions to Sisters.  On the one hand, as a self-declared film critic, it was easy for me to spot the obvious flaw with Sisters.  Tina and Amy should have switched roles because Tina Fey is simply not believable as someone who lives to have fun.  Sometimes, it’s smart to cast against type but it really doesn’t work here.

However, as the youngest of four sisters, there was a lot of Sisters that I related to.  I saw Sisters with my sister, the Dazzling Erin, and even if the film did not work overall, there were still a lot of little scenes that made us smile and go, “That’s just like us.”  In fact, I think they should remake Sisters and they should let me and Erin star in it.

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Spy (dir by Paul Feig)

There were a lot of very good spy films released in 2015 and SPECTRE was not one of them.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with the latest Bond film.  It’s not so much that SPECTRE was terrible as there just wasn’t anything particular memorable about it.  When we watch a film about secret agents saving the world, we expect at least a few memorable lines and performances.

Now, if you want to see a memorable spy movie, I suggest seeing Spy.  Not only is Spy one of the funniest movies of the year, it’s also a pretty good espionage film.  Director Paul Feig manages to strike the perfect balance between humor and action.  One of the joys of seeing CIA employee Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) finally get to enter the field and do spy stuff is the fact that there are real stakes involved.  Susan is not only saving the world but, in the film’s best scenes, she’s having a lot of fun doing it and, for that matter, McCarthy is obviously having a lot of fun playing Susan and those of us in the audience are having a lot of fun watching as well.

Spy also features Jason Statham as a more traditional action hero.  Statham is hilarious as he sends up his own macho image.  Seriously, who would have guessed that he could such a funny actor?  Here’s hoping that he, McCarthy, and Feig will all return for the inevitable sequel.

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Trainwreck (dir by Judd Apatow)

There’s a lot of great things that can be said about Trainwreck.  Not only was it the funniest film of 2015 but it also announced to the world that Amy Schumer’s a star.  It was a romantic comedy for the 21st Century, one that defied all of the conventional BS about what has to happen in a romcom.  This a film for all of us because, let’s just be honest here, we’ve all been a trainwreck at some point in our life.

But for me, the heart of the film was truly to be found in the relationship between Amy and her younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson).  Whether fighting over what to do with their irresponsible father (Colin Quinn) or insulting each other’s life choices, their relationship is the strongest part of the film.  If Brie Larson wasn’t already guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Room, I’d demand that she get one for Trainwreck.  For that matter, Amy Schumer deserves one as well.

Seriously, it’s about time the trainwrecks of the world had a film that we could truly call our own.

Shattered Politics #74: The Aviator (dir by Martin Scorsese)


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“The way of the future.” — Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Aviator (2004)

As I recently rewatched the 2004 best picture nominee, The Aviator, I realized that, in the film’s scheme of things, Ava Gardner was far more important than Katharine Hepburn.  (Or, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that Kate Beckinsale’s Ava Gardner was far more important than Cate Blanchett’s Katharine Hepburn.)

Over the course of the film, both Hepburn and Gardner are involved with billionaire-turned aviator-turned film director Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio).  Throughout the film, Katherine is portrayed as being flighty, pretentious, and overdramatic.  There’s a lot of dark humor to the scene where Katherine breaks up with Howard, largely because Katharine is incapable of not acting as if she’s making a film.  Her every word is so carefully rehearsed that you have to agree when Howard says that she’s incapable of not giving a performance.  Ava, on the other hand, is always direct.  She has a sense of humor.  She has no trouble telling Howard off.  Whereas Katharine put on airs of being an incurable romantic, Ava tells Howard flat out that she doesn’t love him and is only using him to forward her career.

But, while Katharine Hepburn gets more screen time, it’s Ava Gardner who actually saves Howard’s business.  Towards the end of the film, after Howard has had a nervous breakdown and has locked himself in a hotel room, it’s Ava who suddenly shows up, cleans him, and dresses him.  She’s the one who gives Howard the strength to leave his room and to face down the corrupt senator (Alan Alda) who is investigating his business.

Of course, Howard Hughes is best known for once being the world’s richest recluse.  In the 1960s, Howard locked himself away in a hotel room in Las Vegas and spent the next decade laying naked in bed and watching television.  The Aviator doesn’t deal with this period of Howard’s life but it’s full of scenes where we catch glimpses of Howard’s future.  Throughout the film, we watch as Howard obsessively washes his hands.  We watch as he gives precise instructions on how even the simplest of tasks are to be accomplished.  We watch as he grows increasingly paranoid about the germ-filled outside world.  The film suggests that Howard’s obsessive compulsive disorder both served to make him a great engineer and a great filmmaker while, at the same time, ultimately destroying him.

The Aviator was the second film that DiCaprio made with Scorsese.  And, as bad as DiCaprio may have been in Gangs of New York, he’s absolutely brilliant in The Aviator.  As a character, Howard Hughes has so many quirks and tics that it would have been easy for DiCaprio to go overboard.  Instead, he gives a surprisingly subtle performance.  And, even more importantly as far as I’m concerned, he actually sounds authentically Texan when he speaks.

In many ways, much of The Aviator reminds me of Gangs of New York.  Both films are gorgeously produced period epics that try to cover a lot of material.  Both films are absolute cat nip for history nerds like me.  But, whereas Gangs of New York leaves one feeling vaguely dissatisfied, The Aviator actually improves with subsequent viewings.  Whereas the action in Gangs had no center, The Aviator revolves around Howard and the actor playing him.

While the Aviator starts off with Howard making movies and romancing Katharine Hepburn, it’s at its best when Howard appears before a committee chaired by Sen. Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) and passionately defends both himself as an engineer and a businessman and the right of innovators everywhere to freely pursue their passion.  The film suggests that Brewster was bribed by Howard’s main business rival, Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin, in unapologetic villain mode), and it’s hard not to applaud when Howard stands up for himself.

Speaking of which, it’s odd, so soon after reviewing Alan Alda in The Seduction of Joe Tynan, to see Alda playing a far less ethical politician in The Aviator.  That said, Alda’s corrupt performance in The Aviator is a hundred times better than his cutesy work in Joe Tynan.  If anything, Alda gives a performance here that will remind everyone of why they don’t care much for their congressman.

The Aviator was nominated for best picture but it lost to the far more low-key Million Dollar Baby.  Scorsese would have to wait until the release of The Departed for one of his films to finally win best picture.

A Few Very Late Thoughts On Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel


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It took me a while to come around to appreciating The Grand Budapest Hotel.

When I first saw Wes Anderson’s latest film, way back in March, I have to admit that I was somehow both impressed and disappointed.  The film’s virtues were obvious.  Ralph Fiennes gave a brilliant lead performance as Gustave, the courtly and womanizing concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel.  As played by Fiennes, Gustave came to represent a certain type of old world elegance that, I’m assuming, died out long before I was born.  As is typical of Anderson’s film, The Grand Budapest Hotel was visual delight.  Even when the film’s convoluted storyline occasionally grew self-indulgent, The Grand Budapest Hotel was always interesting and fun to watch.

At the same time, I had some issues with The Grand Budapest Hotel.

One of the major ones — and I will admit right now that this will seem minor to some of you — is that halfway through the film, a cat is killed.  The evil Dimitri Desgoffe von Taxis (Adrien Brody) is attempting to intimidate a nervous lawyer, Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum).  Kovacs’s owns a cat and, at one point, Dimitri’s henchman, Jopling (Willem DaFoe), tosses the cat out of a window.  Kovacs runs to window and sees his dead cat splattered on the sidewalk below…

And this is when the audience in the theater laughed and I got very angry.

To me, there was nothing funny about killing that man’s cat.  But the more I’ve thought about it, the more that I’ve come to realize that my reaction had more to do with the audience than the film.  The film was not saying that the cat’s death was funny.  The film was saying that Dimitri and Jopling were evil and dangerous, as their actions throughout the film would demonstrate.  It was the audience that decided, since Grand Budapest Hotel is full of funny moments and has the off-center style that one has come to expect from Wes Anderson, that meant every scene in the film was meant to be played strictly for laughs.  The fact of the matter is that a typical Wes Anderson film will always attract a certain type of hipster douchebag.  They were the ones who loudly laughed, mostly because they had spent the entire movie laughing loudly in order to make sure that everyone around them understood that they were in on the joke.

But that’s not the fault of the film.  Despite what you may have heard and what the Golden Globes would have you believe, The Grand Budapest Hotel is not a comedy.  For all the deliberately funny and quirky moments, The Grand Budapest Hotel is actually a very serious film.  For all of the slapstick and for all of Ralph Fiennes’s snarky line readings, The Grand Budapest Hotel ultimately ends on a note of deep melancholy.

When I first saw The Grand Budapest Hotel, it seemed like it was almost too quirky for its own good.  And, to be honest, I could still have done without some of Anderson’s more self-indulgent touches.  The sequence at the end, where Gustave, who has been framed for murder, gets help from a series of his fellow hotel concierges started out funny but, as everyone from Bill Murray to Owen Wilson put in an appearance, it started to feel less like the story of Gustave and more like the story of all of Wes Anderson’s famous friends.

However, the more I’ve thought about it (and The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film that I’ve thought about a lot over the past year), the more I’ve realized that the quirkiness is only a problem if you made the mistake of thinking that the film is meant to be taken literally.

The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that the most important scenes in The Grand Budapest Hotel were to be found at the beginning and the end of the film.

The film opens with a teenage girl sitting in front of the grave of a great author.  She opens a book and starts to read.

As soon as the girl starts to read, we flashback 29 years to 1985 where the author (Tom Wilkinson) sits behind his office desk and starts to talk about the time that he visited the Grand Budapest Hotel.  

We flashback again to 1969, where we see how the author (now played by Jude Law) met the owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a man named Zero (played by F. Murray Abraham).  Over dinner, Zero tells the author the story of how he first came to the Grand Budapest and how he eventually came to own the hotel.

And again, we go back in time, this time to 1932.  We see how the young Zero (Tony Revolori) first met and came to be the protegé of Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).  We see how Gustave taught Zero how to be the perfect concierge.  Eventually, Gustave would be framed for murdering a guest, Zero would meet and fall in love with Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), and then Zubrowska (the fictional Eastern European country in which this all takes place) would be taken over by fascists who would eventually claim the hotel as their own.

After the story of Gustave, Zero, and Agatha has been told, we suddenly flash forward to the author talking to Zero and then to the old author telling the story to his grandson and then finally back to the teenage reader sitting in the cemetery.

In other words, the Grand Budapest Hotel may be the story of Zero but we’re experiencing it through the memories of the author as visualized by the reader.  Gustave, Zero, and the entire Grand Budapest Hotel are not just parts of a story.  Instead, they become symbols of an old way of life that, though it may have been lost, still exists in the memories of old travelers like the author and the imaginations of young readers like the girl in the cemetery.

As I said at the start of this, I was vaguely disappointed with The Grand Budapest Hotel when I first saw it but, perhaps more than any other movie that I saw last year, this has been a film that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.  Having recently rewatched the film on HBO, I can also attest that both The Grand Budapest Hotel and Ralph Fiennes’s performance not only hold up on a second viewing but improve as well.

I still stand by some of my original criticisms of The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I still wish that cat had not been thrown out the window, even though I now understand that Anderson’s main intent was to show the evil of Dimitri and Jopling.  And I still find some of the cameos to be jarring, precisely because they take us out of the world of the film.

But you know what?

Despite those flaws, The Grand Budapest Hotel is still a unique and intriguing film.  When I sat down tonight and made out my list of my top 26 films of 2014, I was not surprised that Grand Budapest Hotel made the list.  But I was a little bit surprised at how high I ended up ranking it.

But then I thought about it and it all made sense.

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