Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Marshall (dir by Reginald Hudlin)


So, here I am.  January is nearly over.  The Oscar nominations have already been announced.  2018 is well under way and yet, I still have 158 films on the DVR that I need to watch and a few 2017 releases that I still need to catch up on.  At this point, I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never truly be “caught up” when it comes to watching movies.  But, that’s okay.  I love movies too much to ever regret having an excuse to watch more.

On Wednesday night, I watched Marshall, which came out last October.  A film about the early life of civil rights activist and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, Marshall seemed like a movie that would perfectly capitalize on the current political atmosphere.  The film starred Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman and a lot of people — including me — assumed that the excitement over Boseman as Black Panther would also translate into excitement over a chance to see him in this film.  (For that matter, Josh Gad has also recently been proving himself to be a far better actor than I originally believed him to be.  Never again will I refer to Gad as being the poor man’s Jonah Hill.)  The film’s reviews were respectable.  Quite a few sites, including this one, listed Marshall as being a potential Oscar nominee.

And yet, when the movie was released, it fell flat at the box office.  On the week of its release, it finished in 11th place.  I guess there’s a lot of reasons for that.  Personally, I think it would have done better if the film had been released in November or December.  In a month that is traditionally dominated by horror movies and the last gasps of a few summer blockbusters, Marshall seemed somewhat out-of-place.  Perhaps Marshall would have stood a better chance if it had been given a limited release in December, with a big awards push for Chadwick Boseman.  Who knows?  As it is, it ended up losing money and it only received one Oscar nomination, for best original song.

Having now watched Marshall, I can say it’s a good movie, though perhaps never quite as good as you want it to be.  It takes place in 1940.  After making a name for himself defending blacks in the South, attorney Thurgood Marshall travels to Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) who has been accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson).  It soon becomes obvious that Northern justice is just as corrupted by bigotry as Southern justice.  A racist judge (James Cromwell) rules that Marshall will not be allowed to even speak in court.  Marshall ends up advising the chauffeur’s attorney, an insurance lawyer named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad).  All of Sam’s friends expect him to just make a deal with the smug prosecutor (Dan Stevens) and move on.  However, Sam believe his client to be not guilty and, with Marshall’s help, is determined to win an acquittal.

Director Reginald Hudlin never seems to be quite what type of movie he’s trying to make.  Sometimes, the film feels like a reverent biopic.  Other time, it’s an old-fashioned courtroom drama, complete with different flashbacks depending on who is doing the testifying.  And then other times, Marshall is an extremely stylish film that almost turns Thurgood Marshall into a comic book super hero.  Fortunately, Chadwick Boseman is such a talented and charismatic actor that he holds all of the disparate elements of the film together.  Not only does Boseman bring intelligence and righteous anger to the role, he also brings a sense of fun.  As played by Boseman, Marshall isn’t just outsmarting a prejudiced system and putting racists in their place.  He’s also having a good time while he’s doing it.  Boseman is a lot of fun to watch and he gets good support from Josh Gad and Sterling K. Brown.

Marshall may not be a perfect film but Chadwick Boseman is always watchable.  The excitement over Black Panther has proven that Boseman is a star but Marshall shows that he’s a pretty good actor as well.

Music Video of the Day: Madness by Muse (2012, directed by Anthony Mandler)


I, I can’t get these memories out of my mind
And some kind of madness has started to evolve
I, I tried so hard to let you go
But some kind of madness is swallowing me whole, yeah

I don’t smoke because 1) I have asthma, 2) I have a predisposition to addiction, and 3) I’m so obsessive compulsive that if I did start smoking, I would become the biggest chain smoker in the world and I’d end up being one of those women you see in anti-smoking commercials, popping out her fake teeth and pointing at the hole in her throat.  That’s not for me.

That said, if I ever do start smoking, it’ll probably because of this song and this video.  Seriously, just the opening bass line makes me want to light up.  And then the video itself proves that smoking is pretty photogenic when the cigarettes are being held by beautiful people.

The song, itself, was written by Matt Bellamy after he had a fight with his then-girlfriend, Kate Hudson.  According to Bellamy, he was reflecting on the fight and thought to himself, “Yeah, she was right, wasn’t she?”

As for the video, it features two lovers on a train, dealing with their own issues while a riot rages around them.  The two lovers are played by Erin Wasson and Max Silberman, both of whom are achingly pretty.  (For some reason, the usually reliable imvdb insists that the man on the train was played by Emile Hirsch.  Sorry, that’s definitely Max Silberman.)

Of course, the idea of two lovers in the middle of a protest immediately makes me think of this famous picture, which was taken in Vancouver during a riot:

And, of course, there’s this Ray-Ban advertisement:

(If the majority of protesters looked as good as the people in the video and these two pictures, I might even be inspired to go to a march or two.)

(Also, be happy that I resisted the temptation to include a picture from that Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial.  I came really close to doing it but, in the end, I couldn’t do it.  I was born a Coke drinker and I’ll die a Coke drinker.  Pepsi tastes too much like Vermont for me.)

This video was directed by Anthony Mandler, who has directed several videos for everyone from Jay-Z to Taylor Swift to Justin Bieber.  (The imvdb credits him with 74 videos.)  The gorgeous cinematography is credited to David Devlin.

Mario Contini, who is credited as being 1st Assistant Cameraman on Madness, was later the director of photography for Saint Motel’s My Type.

Enjoy!

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Alice Through The Looking Glass, Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Me Before You, Mother’s Day, Risen


Here are six mini-reviews of six films that I saw in 2016!

Alice Through The Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

In a word — BORING!

Personally, I’ve always thought that, as a work of literature, Through The Looking Glass is actually superior to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  That’s largely because Through The Looking Glass is a lot darker than Wonderland and the satire is a lot more fierce.  You wouldn’t know that from watching the latest film adaptation, though.  Alice Through The Looking Glass doesn’t really seem to care much about the source material.  Instead, it’s all about making money and if that means ignoring everything that made the story a classic and instead turning it into a rip-off of every other recent blockbuster, so be it.  At times, I wondered if I was watching a film based on Lewis Carroll or a film based on Suicide Squad.  Well, regardless, the whole enterprise is way too cynical to really enjoy.

(On the plus side, the CGI is fairly well-done.  If you listen, you’ll hear the voice of Alan Rickman.)

Gods of Egypt (dir by Alex Proyas)

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the plot of Gods of Egypt.  This was one of the most confusing films that I’ve ever seen but then again, I’m also not exactly an expert when it comes to Egyptian mythology.  As far as I could tell, it was about Egyptian Gods fighting some sort of war with each other but I was never quite sure who was who or why they were fighting or anything else.  My ADHD went crazy while I was watching Gods of Egypt.  There were so much plot and so many superfluous distractions that I couldn’t really concentrate on what the Hell was actually going on.

But you know what?  With all that in mind, Gods of Egypt is still not as bad as you’ve heard.  It’s a big and ludicrous film but ultimately, it’s so big and so ludicrous that it becomes oddly charming.  Director Alex Proyas had a definite vision in mind when he made this film and that alone makes Gods of Egypt better than some of the other films that I’m reviewing in this post.

Is Gods of Egypt so bad that its good?  I wouldn’t necessarily say that.  Instead, I would say that it’s so ludicrous that it’s unexpectedly watchable.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (dir by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan)

Bleh.  Who cares?  I mean, I hate to put it like that but The Huntsman: Winter’s War felt pretty much like every other wannabe blockbuster that was released in April of last year.  Big battles, big cast, big visuals, big production but the movie itself was way too predictable to be interesting.

Did we really need a follow-up to Snow White and The Huntsman?  Judging by this film, we did not.

Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

Me Before You was assisted suicide propaganda, disguised as a Nicolas Sparks-style love story.  Emilia Clarke is hired to serve as a caregiver to a paralyzed and bitter former banker played by Sam Claflin.  At first they hate each other but then they love each other but it may be too late because Claflin is determined to end his life in Switzerland.  Trying to change his mind, Clarke tries to prove to him that it’s a big beautiful world out there.  Claflin appreciates the effort but it turns out that he really, really wants to die.  It helps, of course, that Switzerland is a really beautiful and romantic country.  I mean, if you’re going to end your life, Switzerland is the place to do it.  Take that, Sea of Trees.

Anyway, Me Before You makes its points with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledge-hammer that’s been borrowed from the Final Exit Network.  It doesn’t help that Clarke and Claflin have next to no chemistry.  Even without all the propaganda, Me Before You would have been forgettable.  The propaganda just pushes the movie over the line that separates mediocre from terrible.

Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

Y’know, the only reason that I’ve put off writing about how much I hated this film is because Garry Marshall died shortly after it was released and I read so many tweets and interviews from people talking about what a nice and sincere guy he was that I actually started to feel guilty for hating his final movie.

But seriously, Mother’s Day was really bad.  This was the third of Marshall’s holiday films.  All three of them were ensemble pieces that ascribed a ludicrous amount of importance to one particular holiday.  None of them were any good, largely because they all felt like cynical cash-ins.  If you didn’t see Valentine’s Day, you hated love.  If you didn’t see New Year’s Eve, you didn’t care about the future of the world.  And if you didn’t see Mother’s Day … well, let’s just not go there, okay?

Mother’s Day takes place in Atlanta and it deals with a group of people who are all either mothers or dealing with a mother.  The ensemble is made up of familiar faces — Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and others! — but nobody really seems to be making much of an effort to act.  Instead, they simple show up, recite a few lines in whatever their trademark style may be, and then cash their paycheck.  The whole thing feels so incredibly manipulative and shallow and fake that it leaves you wondering if maybe all future holidays should be canceled.

I know Garry Marshall was a great guy but seriously, Mother’s Day is just the worst.

(For a far better movie about Mother’s Day, check out the 2010 film starring Rebecca De Mornay.)

Risen (dir by Kevin Reynolds)

As far as recent Biblical films go, Risen is not that bad.  It takes place shortly after the Crucifixion and stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion who is assigned to discover why the body of Jesus has disappeared from its tomb.  You can probably guess what happens next.  The film may be a little bit heavy-handed but the Roman Empire is convincingly recreated, Joseph Fiennes gives a pretty good performance, and Kevin Reynolds keeps the action moving quickly.  As a faith-based film that never becomes preachy, Risen is far superior to something like God’s Not Dead 2.

 

 

Quick Review: Kung Fu Panda 3 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh & Alessandro Carloni)


imagesHaving become the Dragon Warrior and the Champion of the Valley of Peace on many occasions, Po (Jack Black) has reached a point where its time for him to train others. All of this becomes complicated when Kai (J.K. Simmons), a former enemy of Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) returns to the Valley to capture the Chi of the new Dragon Warrior and anyone else that stands in his way.

The Legend of Korra geek in me hears the character of Tenzin whenever Simmons speaks in this film, only it’s Evil Tenzin vs. The Dragon Warrior. That alone was awesome.

Picking right up from Kung Fu Panda 2, Po is reunited with his birth father (Bryan Cranston), and discovers there are also other Pandas in the world. This, of course, causes a bit of tension for Po’s Goose Dad (James Hong) who raised him up until now. Can Po find a way to stop Kai? The theme of this film seems to be dealing with self discovery (as did the other films), but this focuses more on what we consider our Identity. Are we the role we take on from day to day at work or the role we have at home, or even a little of both? There’s also a nice family element to it as Po discovers what Panda life is like and deals with his Dads. Really young audiences may not exactly catch on to the theme, but there’s enough action and playful moments to keep them occupied.

On a visual level, the animation is beautiful. If you get a chance to see it in 3D, the Spirit Realm is a treat, with rocks and buildings floating around. The action scenes also move in a comic strip format, with the screen split in different ways to catch different elements. If you’re quick enough, you can catch it all. It can be jarring to anyone not used to it, I’d imagine. The Furious Five don’t have too much screen time in this one, save for Angelina Jolie’s Tigress, though it’s cute when you realize that some of the panda children in the village are played by the Jolie-Pitt kids. That was a nice discovery in the credits.

Musically, just like The Dark Knight Rises, Hans Zimmer takes what was a dual scoring effort (at least in the 2nd film) and makes it his. Though he’s assisted by Lorne Balfe (13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi), and drummer Sheila E. (Who worked with him on the Man of Steel score), it’s all Zimmer, really. Kai is given a nice theme to work with, one I can only describe as “Jazz Badass with Kung-Fu Swagger” and I enjoyed the music for the Panda village.

The only problem I had with Kung Fu Panda 3 was that it didn’t feel particularly epic in scope for me. In the first film, Tai Lung wanted to harness the power of the Dragon Scroll. In the second, the Peacock Shen brought cannons to decimate the Valley. This one was more personal and I enjoyed that, but it also felt like it could have been one of the Legends of Awesomeness episodes on Nickelodeon. It moved that quickly. Though it clocks in at an hour and 35 minutes — the same as the other films — it really whizzed by. It’s not a terrible thing at all, really, but I think I wanted something a little more.

Overall, Kung Fu Panda is a fun treat for the kids. While I didn’t go blind out of exposure to sheer awesomeness this time around, it gave me some inner peace and smiles.

Dance Scenes I Love: Cinema Italiano From Nine


Today’s dance scene that I love comes from the 2009 musical Nine.

To be honest, Nine is a terrible film that almost plays like it was specifically designed to parody flashy but superficial musicals. However, Nine is meant to be taken seriously and that’s is its greatest failure. Cinema Italiano is one of Nine’s better-known songs, despite the fact that, in many ways, it epitomizes a lot of what’s wrong with the film as a whole. For one thing, it’s obvious, from the lyrics, that the song’s writer knows very little about Italian cinema. (If anything, it sounds like the song was meant to describe the French new wave.)

And yet, I have to admit that I love the scene where Kate Hudson performs Cinema Italiano. I think it’s because, even though Hudson is not a great singer, she so throws herself into her performance that she wins the viewers over. This is the epitome of a guilty pleasure, a scene that I shouldn’t love and yet I do.

The Worst Female Images In A Movie


Did you know that there’s a group known as The Women Film Critics Circle and, much like the DFW Film Critics, I am not a member despite being 1) a woman, 2) a film critic, and 3) a feminist?  I swear, I am feeling so rejected right about now…

Then again, looking over their 2010 movie awards, I’m not sure I would want to be a member.  Check out their selections and then see if you can guess which one has got me all annoyed and profane.

BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN
Mother And Child

BEST MOVIE BY A WOMAN
Winter’s Bone

BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER [Screenwriting Award]
The Kids Are All Right: Lisa Cholodenko

BEST ACTRESS
Annette Bening/The Kids Are All Right

BEST ACTOR
Colin Firth/The King’s Speech

BEST YOUNG ACTRESS
Jennifer Lawrence/Winter’s Bone

BEST COMEDIC ACTRESS
Annette Bening/The Kids Are All Right
BEST FOREIGN FILM BY OR ABOUT WOMEN: *TIE*
Mother
Women Without Men

BEST FEMALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
Conviction

WORST FEMALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
Black Swan

BEST MALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE: *TIE*
Another Year
The King’s Speech

WORST MALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
Jackass 3D

BEST THEATRICALLY UNRELEASED MOVIE BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
Temple Grandin

BEST EQUALITY OF THE SEXES: *TIE
Another Year
Fair Game

BEST ANIMATED FEMALES
Despicable Me

BEST FAMILY FILM
Toy Story 3

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Helen Mirren

ACTING AND ACTIVISM
Lena Horne [posthumous]

*ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD: For a film that most passionately opposes violence against women:
Winter’s Bone

*JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD: For best expressing the woman of color experience in America
For Colored Girls

*KAREN MORLEY AWARD: For best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity
Fair Game

COURAGE IN ACTING [Taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen]
Helen Mirren/The Tempest

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN AWARD [Performance by a woman whose exceptional impact on the film dramatically, socially or historically, has been ignored]
Q’Orianka Kilcher/Princess Kaiulani

BEST DOCUMENTARY BY A WOMAN
A Film Unfinished

WOMEN’S WORK: BEST ENSEMBLE
Mother And Child

BEST SCREEN COUPLE
Another Year: Jim Broadbent/Ruth Sheen as Tom and Gerri

Did you catch it?  Yes, that’s right.  With all of the demeaning, insulting, sexist crap that both the mainstream and the independent film industries have released this year, Black Swan wins the award for “Worst Female Images In A Film.”

Uhmm, really?

Yes, Natalie Portman dealing with a society that forces an unrealistic expectation of perfection on young women — this is a far more negative image than every female  character in The Social Network turning out to either be a bitch, a whore, or an idiot.  Natalie Portman suffering from bulimia because she knows the consequences if she doesn’t maintain the right body type — this is a far more insulting image than Anne Hathaway being charmed by Jack Gyllenhaal pretending to be a doctor while leering at her exposed breast in Love and Other Drugs.  This was the year that Rebecca Hall fell in love with a man who kidnapped her in The Town while The Killer Inside Me lingered lovingly on scenes of Casey Affleck beating both Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson to death.  But no, out of all this, Black Swan featured the worst images of women on screen.

What utter and total bullshit.

I am a feminist and I am proud to be fiercely pro-woman (though never blindly anti-male).  I have always been very aware of the fact that, regardless of intent, most movies are basically sexist fantasies.  And, like a lot of women, I’ve come to accept that as the price I pay for loving movies.  It’s something that I’m more likely to laugh at than to get outraged over.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes get tired of it, that I don’t sometimes wish that just for once, I could see a movie where the female lead didn’t need to be rescued by a man or where she wasn’t expected to epitomize some sort of stereotype.

To be honest, male filmmakers are not solely to blame.  Some of the most demeaning images of women have come from films that were directed by women and which were advertised as being “feminist” films.  Sometimes it seems like movies are either so busy trying to either keep women down or to build women up that they forget that most of us just want to be seen as human beings.

So no, Natalie Portman is not some sort of “feminist ideal” in Black Swan.  She cuts herself, she’s bulimic, she fears her own sexual desires, she’s too hard on herself, and she’s manipulated by the men around her.  And you know what?  That’s not a sexist fantasy.  For far too many women, present and past, that’s the life that has been forced upon them by an inherently sexist society.  If anything, that’s the type of life that feminism was supposed to provide an escape from. 

Instead, the stridency and judgmental attitudes of far too many so-called “feminists” has simply turned into another way to trap us into that life of guilt and shame and idealized demands of perfection.

The female images in Black Swan are not negative.  They’re honest and that’s why Black Swan meant more to me, as a woman, than every single self-conscious, strident “feminist” film ever made. 

As for the worst female image in a movie — give that award to Eat Pray Love for being yet another movie that basically gives us a spoiled, immature, rich, elitist lead character and then insults women everywhere by trying to present her as some sort of practical model for liberation. 

Julia Roberts traveling across the world without once waking up with dark circles under her eyes might be the ideal but Natalie Portman being leered at by an old pervert on the subway is the reality.

For once, this has been a good year for strong women on American film screens.  Whether it was Noomi Rapace as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank, or even Angelina Jolie as Salt, this has been a year of strong female images.  This has been a year of films that left me feeling empowered — not in the wishy-washy way that so many insultingly condescending films claim to empower but in an honest way that made me feel, for once, that I didn’t have to accept the idea of any limitations on my own dreams or desires. 

It wasn’t just a good year to be a girl who loves movies.  It was a great year.

And Black Swan was the best part of a great year.

(You can read my original review of Black Swan here.)

6 of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Cinematic Dances


As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always loved to dance.  Before I embraced the movies, my life was about dancing.  I was going to be Prima Ballerina and my mom paid for several years of ballet class to help me reach that goal.  I obsessed on it the way that I obsess, today, on Lucio Fulci and Jean Rollin.  However, my brilliant career was cut short by two things — 1) I’m about as graceful as a Clydesdale and 2) I ended up tumbling down a flight of stairs when I was 17 and essentially shattering my ankle.  Actually, I guess those two things might be connected.  Anyway, I can’t complain because giving up my affected love of ballet allowed me to discover my very true love of film.  I was never really a great dancer (though I was, and am, very enthusiastic) but I’m very good at watching movies.

However, I still love to dance and I still love movies — even mainstream movies — that feature dancing.  That’s why I’m so looking forward to seeing Black Swan next month.  Until then, here’s 6 of my favorite dance scenes from the movies.

1) Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Lorraine De Selle in The House On The Edge of the Park

Let’s start off with one of my favorite “dance” scenes of all time, my man Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Lorraine De Selle breaking it down in Ruggero Deodato’s The House On The Edge of the Park.  The man in yellow is David Hess.

2) Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer

If anyone’s ever wondered why I was crushing on Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Inception (as opposed to Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, or Leonardo DiCaprio), it was largely because of this scene from (500) Days Of Summer.

3) The Cast of Murder Rock

Murder Rock is kinda sorta like my own personal Holy Grail — it’s a grindhouse dance movie directed by Lucio Fulci!  Plus, it costars Christian Borremeo, who co-starred in The House on the Edge Of The Park and Dario Argento’s Tenebrae.

4) The Metropolis Dance Sequence

From Fritz Lang’s silent, expressionistic classic, here’s the infamous dance.

5) Kate Hudson in Nine

Okay, so I think Nine was definitely the worst the movie of 2009.  Yes, even worse than Avatar.  However, I love this scene and I love the song featured in it, Cinema Italiano.  Yes, technically, it’s a really terrible song that displays an astounding ignorance of Italian cinema.  If anything, the lyrics appear to be describing the French New Wave.  True, the song do make reference to “neo-realism” but you get the feeling no one involved with Nine ever saw Open City or The Bicycle Thief.  But the thing is do damn catchy that I still find myself singing it in the shower.  Like me, Kate Hudson is obviously not much of a singer or a dancer but she’s very enthusiastic.

6) Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman

An Unmarried Woman was apparently very groundbreaking in 1978.  Seen now, it seems like a better title for it would be An Unmarried Woman Who Can Still Afford A Penthouse Apartment In New York City.  Still, the late, great Jill Clayburgh’s performance holds up well and I like the film if just because it’s still one of the few movies out there that’s willing to acknowledge that an unmarried woman can still be a sensual, happy woman.  The scene below captures perfectly the exhilarating joy of just surrendering to the music and dancing.  Plus, for me, this is one of those “Hey, I do that too!” scenes.  In fact, my ankle is still hurting as a result of rewatching this film last Friday.