Film Review: Godzilla vs. Kong (dir by Adam Wingard)


From the minute Godzilla vs. Kong was announced, I’ve been rooting for Godzilla.

I’m probably not alone in this. I mean, let’s just be honest. King Kong seems like he means well and certainly, he’s had to deal with enough dumbass humans that it’s impossible not to feel some sympathy for him. But, in the end, King Kong is just a big monkey whereas Godzilla is an atomic, fire-breathing lizard who only protects Earth because he can’t stand the thought of anyone else destroying it before he gets the chance. King Kong is cool but Godzilla is a freaking badass. (It’s not a coincidence that literally everyone hates the fact that the original, Japanese-produced King Kong vs. Godzilla ended with King Kong winning.) One of my main hopes when it came to Godzilla vs Kong was that Godzilla would be declared the rightful winner of this battle of the Titans.

Obviously, I can’t tell you whether or not my hope came true, not without spoiling the film. (That said, it’s probably debatable just how much you can really spoil a film like Godzilla vs. Kong.) I can tell you that the title of the film is accurate. Kong and Godzilla meet and they fight, a total of three times. Buildings are climbed and destroyed. Radioactive fire is spewed across the Earth. The monkey and the lizard do not team up to conquer climate change. The climatic battle takes place in a city and many people are undoubtedly killed as a result but no one ever mentions anything about any of them so you’re free not to worry about them. Though the film doesn’t quite have the same charm as the sight of two men in rubber monster suits tossing miniature trees at each other, the CGI and the fight scenes are all undeniably well-done. As far as the film’s actual story goes, it’s all pretty dumb and it has none of the subversive bite of director Adam Wingard’s pervious films but Godzilla vs Kong is still undeniably entertaining. Those who have commented that there’s not much subtext to Godzilla vs Kong have a point but that’s actually a huge part of the film’s appeal. After a year of pop culture that was marinated in doom and gloom, there’s something undeniably appealing about a film that says, “Sit back, enjoy, and don’t worry about a thing.”

(I saw one negative review of Godzilla vs Kong that complained that the film didn’t have a strong environmental message, as if the filmmakers should have stopped the action so that Greta Thunberg could show up and shout “How dare you!?” at the two monsters.)

Of the two stars, Kong gets the most screentime, despite the fact that Godzilla is the more interesting of the two monsters. There are also humans in the film, played by recognizable performers like Alexandar Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Demian Bichir, Julian Dennison, and Brian Tyree Henry. All of the humans have their own reasons for being concerned about Kong’s fight with Godzilla but, to be honest, you really won’t care. Regardless of the talent of the individuals playing them, the human characters really aren’t important and the film is at its weakest when it tries to convince us that they are. This is a film you watch because of the monsters and it works best when it focuses on them.

As I sit here writing this, Godzilla vs Kong is on the verge of leaving HBOMax. However, it’s still playing in theaters, which is the idea way to watch an effects-driven film like this one. It’s the first true blockbuster of the post-pandemic era. Hopefully, it’ll be the first of many.

A rivalry begins in the Godzilla vs. Kong trailer


Back in 1986, Optimus Prime muttered 6 six words to Megatron that would sear itself into the minds of kids for a generation.

“One shall stand, One shall fall.”

And here we are, 30 years later, still using that phrase, or something like it. as Godzilla vs. Kong  offers the tagline “One Will Fall”.

After 3 mega movies (Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island & Godzilla: King of the Monsters), we’re finally ready for a kaiju matchup of truly epic proportions. Godzilla vs Kong pairs the two legendary monsters against each other, though for what reasons, we’re not entirely sure. Neither side wishes to concede, and the battle looks like it’s going to be both in the water and on land. From the newly released trailer, it looks like Kong’s the current hero. The returning characters of Mark and Madison Russell (Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown) from Godzilla: King of the Monsters seem to feel that something’s wrong with our atomic breath spewing hero. Dr. Chen (Zhang Ziyi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is also on hand to help. After saving the world twice, why would he suddenly turn on mankind? I’m not sure I like the idea of Godzilla being a villain in all this, but they have to have a reason to fight, I suppose.

While it doesn’t look like anyone returns from Kong: Skull Island, we still have Kong and some supporting characters in Alexander Skarsgard (The Legend of Tarzan), Julian Dennison (Deadpool 2), Jessica Henwick (Underwater), Eiza Gonzalez (Bloodshot), Danai Gurira (Black Panther), and Lance Reddick (John Wick 3 – Parabellum).

Godzilla vs. Kong is due in IMAX and on HBO Max on March 26th, 2021.

The Films of 2020: The Midnight Sky (dir by George Clooney)


For all of his skill as an actor, George Clooney is a remarkably mediocre director.

Yes, I know.  Clooney was nominated for an Oscar for directing Good Night, and Good Luck but that film was honored more for what it was about than what it actually was.  All of Clooney’s directorial efforts — from the Oscar-nominated to the Razzie-embraced — have suffered from two huge problems.

Number one, George Clooney can occasionally set up an interesting shot but he appears to have no idea how to create or maintain narrative momentum.  His films tend to lay flat, with incidents piled on top of each other but you never get the feeling that there’s some sort of internal motor moving the action along.  It’s not easy creating and maintaining a narrative flow but it’s something that all good film directors can do. It’s also something that Clooney has never managed to master.  Instead, he seems to assume that his own good intentions and broader concerns will provide the film with whatever momentum it needs.  Unfortunately, good intentions are not the same as storytelling talent and, as a director, Clooney rarely brings any of the nuance that’s makes him such a good actor.  George Clooney could play Michael Clayton but he could never direct the film named for him.

This bring us to Clooney’s other problem as a director, which is that he approaches his films with this sort of dorky earnestness that feels incredibly old-fashioned.  On the one hand, dorky earnestness can be a likable trait.  On the other hand, when watching his directorial efforts, you do find yourself wondering if George Clooney has seen any films made after 1989.  There’s nothing terribly subversive about George Clooney’s artistic vision.  He’s not a director who takes you by surprise nor is he a director who is capable of making you look at the world in a different way.  While other filmmakers are challenging preconceived notions and attempting to reinvent the cinematic language, Clooney is busy trying to revive live television productions and making the type of stolid films that haven’t been relevant since the end of the studio system.  It’s a shame because, as an actor in films like Michael Clayton and Up In The Air, Clooney expertly revealed the insecurity that lurked underneath the seemingly perfectly façade of the seemingly successful alpha male.  But as a director, he’s a third-rate Taylor Hackford.  And while it’s true that not every director can be Martin Scorsese, is it too much to ask for a director who at least tries to do something unique or different?  For someone who has enough money and international clout that he can basically get away with just about anything and who has worked multiple times with the Coen Brothers and Steven Soderbergh, Clooney is an oddly risk-adverse filmmaker.

Unfortunately, all of Clooney’s directorial weaknesses are on display in The Midnight Sky, a rather slow science fiction film that would have made a good episode of The Twilight Zone but which falls flat as a movie.  In this one, the world is ending and George Clooney is basically the last man left in the Arctic.  Clooney is playing an astronomer who has spent his life searching for habitable planets and who is now dying of a terminal disease.  He thinks he’s alone but then he comes across a mysterious girl named Iris.  Iris rarely speaks and when she does speak, it’s to ask questions like, “Did you love her?”  While Clooney is trying to figure where the little girl came from, he’s also trying to get in contact with a space mission so that he can warn them that the Earth is no longer inhabitable and they should relocate to one of Jupiter’s moon.

The space mission, meanwhile, is made up of Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bircher, and Tiffany Boone.  They’re stuck in space and trying to figure out why they can’t communicate with Earth.  There’s a scene where their station gets bombarded by asteroids.  The special effects are impressive (and this is a film that, despite being released on Netflix, really is meant to be viewed on a big screen) but during the whole scene, I was like, “Hey, it’s Gravity all over again!”  Clooney never makes the familiar material his own.  Instead, you find yourself thinking about all of the other sci-fi films that you’ve seen about the end of the world.  Clooney doesn’t have the eccentricity of Alfonso Cuaron nor does he have the frustrating but intriguing megalomania of Christopher Nolan.  Instead, he’s still same the director who thought that Edward R. Murrow was never more compelling than when he was complaining about people wanting to be entertained.

Lest anyone think that I’m going overboard in my criticism, allow me to say that The Midnight Sky isn’t really terrible as much as it’s just incredibly bland and forgettable.  As I said before, the special effects are impressive.  Clooney manages a few properly desolate shots of the Arctic, though making the Arctic look like the end of the world isn’t exactly the most difficult task in the world.  As an actor, Clooney wears a beard in The Midnight Sky.  Whenever the beard makes an appearance, you know that Clooney means for us to take him seriously and he gives an okay performance.  He delivers his lines convincingly but his character is a bit dull and you can’t help but feel that Clooney the director wasted the talents of Clooney the actor.  The film probably would have been improved if he and Kyle Chandler had switched roles.

The Midnight Sky didn’t really work for me.  The end of the world should never be this boring.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Wolf of Wall Street (dir by Martin Scorsese)


Suck it, The Big Short The Wolf of Wall Street is the best film to be made about Wall Street this century.

Martin Scorsese’s 2013 financial epic tells the true story of a group of rather sleazy people who got rich and who basically, to quote Robert De Niro from an earlier Scorsese film, “fucked it all up.”  Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, giving what I still consider to be the best performance of his career) is the son of an accountant named Max (Rob Reiner).  Fresh out of college, Jordan gets a job on Wall Street.  Under the mentorship of the eccentric (but rich) Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Jordan discovers that the job of a stock broker is to dupe people into buying stock that they might not need while, at the same time, making a ton of money for himself.  With the money comes the cocaine and the prostitutes and everything else that fuels the absurdly aggressive and hyper-masculine world of Wall Street.  Jordan is intrigued but, after the stock market crashes in 1987, he’s also out of a job.

Fortunately, Jordan is never one to give up.  He may no longer be employed on Wall Street but that doesn’t mean that he can’t sell stocks.  He gets a job pushing “penny stocks,” which are low-priced stocks for very small companies.  Because the price of the stock is so low, the brokers get a 50% commission on everything they sell.  Because Jordan is such an aggressive salesman, he manages to make a fortune by convincing people to buy stock in otherwise worthless companies.  As Jordan’s boss (played, in an amusing cameo, by Spike Jonze) explains it, what they’re doing isn’t exactly regulated by the government, which just means more money for everyone!  Yay!

Working with his neighbor, Donny Azoff (Jonah Hill, at his most eccentric), Jordan starts his own brokerage company.  Recruiting all of his friends (the majority of whom are weed dealers who never graduated from high school), Jordan starts Stratton Oakmont.  Using high-pressure sales tactics and a whole lot of other unethical and occasionally illegal techniques, Jordan soon makes a fortune.  When Forbes Magazine publishes an expose that portrays Jordan as being little more than a greedy con man, Stratton Oakmont is flooded by aspiring stock brokers who all want to work for “the wolf of Wall Street.”

And, for a while, Jordan has everything that he wants.  While the Stratton Oakmont offices become a den of nonstop drugs and sex, Jordan buys a huge mansion, a nice car, and marries a model named Naomi (Margot Robbie).  His employees literally worship Jordan as he begins and ends every working day with inspirational (and often hilariously profane) sermons, encouraging his people to get out there and sell no matter what.  Of course, making that much money, Jordan has to find a way to hide it from the IRS.  Soon, with the help of Naomi’s aunt (Joanna Lumley), he is smuggling millions of dollars into Switzerland where a banker (Jean Dujardin, who is both hilariously suave and hilariously sleazy a the time) helps him hide it all.

When Jordan learns that the FBI and SEC are looking into his dealings, Jordan invites Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) to come visit him on his yacht and, in a scene that launched a thousand memes, the two of them have a friendly conversation that’s largely made up of passive aggressive insults.  Jordan taunts Denham over the fact that Denham washed out when he tried to get a job on Wall Street.  Denham laughingly asks Jordan to repeat something that sounded like it may have been a bribe.  When Denham leaves the boat, Jordan taunts him by tossing a wad of hundred dollars bills into the wind….

And here’s the thing.  Yes, the media and our political class tells us that we’re supposed to hate that Jordan Belforts of the world.  One can imagine Bernie Sanders having a fit while watching Jordan brag about how he cheated the IRS.  If Adam McKay or Jay Roach had directed this film, one can imagine that they would have used the yacht scene to portray Jordan Belfort as pure evil.  (McKay probably would have tossed in Alfred Molina as a waiter, asking Belfort if he wants to feast on the lost future of the children of America.)  But the truth of the matter is that most viewers, even if they aren’t willing to admit it, will secretly be cheering for Jordan when he throws away that money.  DiCaprio is so flamboyantly charismatic and Scorsese, as director, so perfectly captures the adrenaline high of Jordan’s lifestyle that you can’t help but be sucked in.  He may be greedy and unethical but he just seems to be having so much fun!  Just as how Goodfellas and Casino portrayed life in the mafia as being an intoxicating high (as well as being more than a little bit dangerous), The Wolf of Wall Street refrains from passing easy judgment and it steadfastly refuses to climb onto a moral high horse.  Jordan narrates his own story, often talking directly to the camera and almost always defending his actions.  As a director, Scorsese is smart enough to let us make up own minds about how we feel about Jordan and his story.

Of course, when Jordan falls, it’s a dramatic fall.  That said, it’s not quite as dramatic of a fall as what happened to Ray Liotta in Goodfellas or Robert De Niro in Casino.  No one gets blown up, for instance.  But Jordan does lose everything that gave his life meaning.  By the end of the film, he’s been reduced to giving seminars and challenging attendees to sell him a pen.  (“Well,” one hapless gentleman begins, “it’s a very nice pen…..”)  During the film’s final scenes, it’s not so much a question of whether Jordan has learned anything from his fall.  Instead, the movie leaves you wondering if he’s even capable of learning.  At heart, he’s the wolf of Wall Street.  That’s his nature and it’s really the only thing that he knows how to do.  He’s a bit like Ray Liotta living in the suburbs at the end of Goodfellas.  He’s alive.  He has his freedom and a future.  But he’s still doesn’t quite fit in.  Much like Moses being denied the opportunity to physically enter the Promised Land, Jordan’s punishment for his hubris is to spend his life in exile from where he truly belongs.  And yet, you know that Jordan — much like Henry Hill — probably wouldn’t change a thing if he had the chance to live it all over again.  He’d just hope that he could somehow get a better ending while making the same decisions.

Unlike something like The Big Short, which got bogged down in Adam McKay’s vapid Marxism, The Wolf of Wall Street works precisely because it refuses to pass judgment.  It refuses to tell us what to think.  I imagine that a lot of people watched The Wolf of Wall Street and were outraged by the way Jordan Belfort made his money.  I imagine that an equal number of people watched the film and started thinking about how much they would love to be Jordan Belfort.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a big, long, and sometimes excessive film that dares the audience to think of themselves.  That’s one reason why it’ll be remembered after so many other Wall Street films are forgotten.

The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated for best picture of the year.  It lost to 12 Years A Slave.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Review by Case Wright, Dir: Michael Dougherty


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Godzilla: King of the Monsters is like eating a huge handful of different colored Jelly Bellys all at once; it’s fun and kinda sticky.  It was written and directed by Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus, or anything that’s filmed for a few hundred bucks and a sandwich).  Dougherty is known for inexpensive genre films like Krampus, which was kind of fun in a goofy way.  This is a much bigger budget and if it weren’t for the dialogue, it would’ve been great.  Honestly, you don’t really need to listen to the dialogue and Dougherty is a lousy writer; so you’re better off tuning the people out.

The cast was everyone you like: Coach Taylor, Eleven, Tywin Lannister, That Lady from the Conjuring, That Science Teacher from Stranger Things, West Wing Guy, What’s His Face, and the guy who was in the last one who wanted the monsters to fight.  On the monster side: there was Mothra, King Ghidora, Rodan, Michaelangelo, Godzilla, and the rest.  They were all thrown at the screen like water balloons hitting you in the face.

The movie opens with Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) at a Monarch facility where baby Mothra wakes up and everyone seems to want to touch it.  Gross.  They’re gonna get a dino-rash! Terrorists enter, kill everyone, and take ….. did I write take … I meant pick up Dr. Russell and Madison.

Why? Dr. Russell lost her son to the last Godzilla attack and has decided that everyone should die because that makes sense…somehow. So, she sets up her Doctor Doolittle machine to talk/wake up all the Kaijus to kill everyone.  Her argument is really annoying and has a makeshift powerpoint presentation.  She is the embodiment of every sanctimonious Seattleite, Vegan, Composting, Apologist, Whiner all rolled into one; she figures if the monsters kill all the people that the world will be better off- think if that horrible Lorax finally got the money to kill for the trees.  They’re why I refuse to recycle …. EVER!

Anywho….she wakes up all the monsters and Coach Taylor who is Dr Russell’s quasi-ex-husband scientist is granted crazy authority over the military to figure out how to stop all the monsters from killing everyone.  And man do they ever fight?!!! I mean it do they ever fight?  I counted only four monster on monster fight scenes- kinda skimpy.  Also, Godzilla had to be recharged with nukes or radioactive spa time to keep going; I guess Godzilla decided to upload the latest Apple Update.

Godzilla ends up on top….literally. He gets on top of a mound in Boston and all the other monsters bow down to Godzilla, except Mothra – She curtsies (she’s from another time).  There’s good CGI and Monster fighting- when they do fight.  Just don’t go trying to find deeper meaning.  I loved these movies because they’d be on tv for the nerd set when I was a kid.  I saw them all.  In fact, in King Ghidora v Godzilla, Godzilla tries to help the Japanese win world war II or at least one battle. It was awesome.  These movies are great because you can unplug and watch some awesome destruction.  This movie brings the boom.  Enjoy!

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6 Actors Who Will Soon Hopefully Win Their First Oscar


Remember how, an hour ago, I listed 6 actresses who I hope will soon get the role for which they’ll win their first Oscar?

Well, now it’s time to look at 6 actors for whom I have the same hope.  Some of the actors listed below have been nominated in the past.  Some of them have not.  Some of them will probably win an Oscar at some point in their career.  And some of them, sadly, probably will not.

However, what all six of them have in common is that all six of them deserve at least one more opportunity to take home a gold statuette.

Ethan Hawke

I’m still stunned by the fact that Ethan Hawke wasn’t, at the very least, nominated for his performance in First Reformed.  It was certainly one of the best performance of the year and probably one of the best of his career.  Ethan Hawke has been nominated a total of four times (twice for supporting actor and twice for adapted screenplay) but has yet to win.  Hopefully, that will someday change for both him and his frequent director, Richard Linklater.

Jake Gyllenhaal

How the Hell was Jake Gyllenhaal not nominated for Nightcrawler?  Ever since Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal has been one of the most enjoyably unpredictable actors around.  He’s even managed to become a star even though it’s obvious that the mainstream film industry has no idea what to do with his eccentric persona.  While Gyllenhaal can occasionally be miscast (as evidenced by films like Demolition and Love and Other Drugs), both Nightcrawler and Stronger showed just how special an actor Gyllenhaal can be.

Ryan Renolds

The next time you find yourself enjoying an R-rated comic book movie that features nudity, profanity, and grotesque ultra-violence, you better take a few minutes to thank Ryan Reynolds.  Reynolds will probably never win an Oscar for playing Deadpool but just imagine the acceptance speech he would give if he did.

Hugh Jackman

Amazingly, the multi-talented Hugh Jackman has only one nomination, for his performance in Les Miserables.  He probably deserved a nomination for his performance in Logan, though that film has the misfortune to be released before Black Panther legitimized the idea of a comic book film as a genuine Oscar contender.  Jackman seems like he’s destined to win an Oscar someday.  Hopefully, in the future, he’ll chose better films than The Front Runner.

Kyle Chandler

Despite appearing in several best picture nominees and giving an award-worthy performance in The Spectacular Now, Kyle Chandler has never received an Oscar nomination.  It’s hard not to feel that the right role is somewhere out there, waiting for him.  Someday, someone will write the perfect script about a small-town sheriff solving the biggest case of his career and the next thing you know, Kyle Chandler will be accepting his first Oscar.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice

Someday, someone is going to write a great role for the greatest living Italian horror actor, Giovanni Lombardo Radice.

Godzilla: King of Monsters 2nd Official Trailer


Godzilla King of Monsters

This past summer we saw the first trailer to Godzilla: King of Monsters. To say that the reaction to that trailer was positive would be an understatement. It was one of the highlights of San Diego Comic-Con 2018.

Now, Warner Brothers Pictures saw fit to release the second trailer for the film. This time with less classical music and more Kaiju mayhem visuals instead. Michael Dougherty takes over directing duties from Gareth Edwards and this time it shows as the film stresses the action in the film rather than the human interactions underfoot.

Kaiju films have been fan-favorites for decades upon decades because of the monsters and less about the humans. The humans really were just there to give voice to the different factions of monsters duking it out. It looks like this time this sequel will follow the same formula.

Godzilla: King of Monsters is set for May 31, 2019.

Film Review: Game Night (dir by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein)


In this time of division and conflict, can we all agree that Game Night is a damn funny movie?

The film tells the story of three couples who regularly get together for, as the title suggests, a game night.  Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) are quirky and a little bit daffy.  Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and his wife, Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) are generally dependable and Michelle has a really interesting story about the time that she met a man who may have been Denzel Washington but probably wasn’t.  Meanwhile, Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are an ultracompetitive married couple, frustrated in their attempts to conceive a child but always confident in their ability to win any game that they play.  At one time, Gary (Jesse Plemons) and his wife used to be a part of the group but, after they got divorced, Max and Annie stopped inviting him.  You really can’t blame them.  Gary’s seriously creepy.

And then there’s Brooks Davis (Kyle Chandler).

Brooks is Max’s brother and, at first glance, he would appear to be everything that Max isn’t.  Brooks appears to have a lot of money.  He claims to have a successful career, even if no one’s quite sure what he does for a living.  He drives a nice car.  When he comes to town to visit his brother, he rents out a mansion.  Brooks is the type of older sibling who always has an embarrassing story or two to share about his younger brother.  In fact, Max feels so inadequate when compared to Brooks that it’s even interfering with Max and Annie’s efforts to have a child.  When Brooks invites everyone to come to his house for a very special game night, Annie and Max are determined to beat Brooks at whatever game he’s planning on having them play.

It turns out that Brooks has hired a company to put on an interactive role-playing game.  While listening to a fake FBI agent (Geoffrey Wright) explain the background of the mystery that they’re about to solve, the couples are shocked when several masked men burst into the house.  Everyone’s impressed as the men beat the fake FBI agent unconscious.  When the men start beating up Brooks, everyone praises Brooks for the realism of his game.  After Brooks is dragged out of the house, the couples set out to solve the mystery of who is behind this kidnapping.  As for the fake FBI agent, he lies on the floor motionless.  Even when Ryan kicks his body, the agent doesn’t move.  Everyone agrees that the agent is a really good and committed actor.

Of course, the joke is that Brooks really has been kidnapped but nobody realizes it.  It’s a good joke but, to the film’s credit, it’s not the only joke.  In fact, Game Night actually get funnier after everyone eventually realizes that they’re no longer playing a game.  Ever after they realize that Brooks actually has been kidnapped, Annie and Max are so competitive that they still keep trying to outdo everyone else.

Annie and Max also discover that they have no choice but to involve their creepy neighbor and former friend, Gary.  Jesse Plemons doesn’t have a lot of screentime but he gives a performance that is so exquisitely strange and awkward that he ends up stealing the entire movie.  Watching Plemons, you both feel sorry for Gary and understand why no one wants to play with him.  His desperation to be apart of the group is both exasperating and somewhat touching.

In fact, the entire cast does a good job, bringing their often clueless characters to life.  Max and Annie are a likable couple and Bateman and McAdams have a natural chemistry that makes them a lot of fun to watch.  There’s a great scene where Max and Annie, still thinking that they’re just playing a game, subdue a group of criminals in a bar.  Max and Annie’s clueless joy is intoxicating.  They’re having fun playing at being tough and we’re having fun watching them.  Of course, it eventually turns out that the gun that Annie thought was a toy is real and loaded and … well, things get a little bit messy.  While the scene where Annie and Max try to figure out how to dig a bullet out of a man’s arm may have made me cringe a little, it also made me laugh.  That’s a credit to both Bateman and McAdams, who made the scene both real and funny at the same time.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Game Night.  Clocking in at 100 minutes, it’s a briskly paced and good-natured comedy that never makes the mistake of lingering for too long over its own cleverness.  Director Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley both redeem themselves for 2015’s Vacation.  If, earlier this year, you missed this one when it was in theaters, see it now and have a good time.

Playing Catch-Up: Manchester By The Sea (dir by Kenneth Lonergan)


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Manchester By The Sea is the latest Oscar contender to be set in Massachusetts.  I’m not exactly sure why but it appears that if you want your film to get some sort of Oscar consideration, it’s always good idea to set it some place in New England.

Consider some of the films nominated for Best Picture since the 1992:

1992′ Scent of a Woman featured a New England prep school.

1994’s The Shawshank Redemption took place in Maine.

1997’s Good Will Hunting took place in Boston.

1999’s The Cider House Rules was set in Maine.

2001’s In The Bedroom took place in Maine.

2003’s Mystic River was set in Boston.

The 2006 winner The Departed was also a Boston-set film.

2010’s The Fighter also set in Boston.  For that matter, The Social Network started at Harvard.

2013’s Captain Phillips featured Tom Hanks speaking with Boston accent.

And, finally, last year’s Spotlight was as much a celebration of Boston as anything else.

As of this writing, it appears that Manchester By The Sea will continue the long tradition of New England-set films being nominated for best picture.  Interestingly, of all those films, Manchester By The Sea is probably the most low-key.  Though it’s a film that deals with death, it’s a natural death as opposed to the violent executions that dominated The Departed and Mystic River.  And though there are two bar fights, there’s very little violence to be found in Manchester By The Sea.  As opposed to Spotlight, Manchester By The Sea is not about moral crusaders battling against the corrupt establishment.

Instead, it’s the story of an intelligent but irresponsible man named Lee Chadler (Casey Affleck).  When Lee was a young man living in the town of Manchester-By-The-Sea, he was someone.  He was a high school hockey star.  He made an okay living, he had a lot of friends, and he was very close to his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler).  He was married to Randi (Michelle Williams) and he had two daughters.

And then he lost everything.  He lost his daughters, through a stupid accident for which he blamed himself.  Randi divorced him.  His friends abandoned him.  The only thing that prevented him from shooting himself was the intervention of Joe.  Lee eventually ended up in Quincy, Massachusetts, working as a maintenance man and keeping to himself.

And that’s probably what Lee would have done his entire life, if Joe hadn’t died.  Lee returns to Manchester-By-The-Sea and, to his shock, he discovers that he’s been named the guardian of Joe’s sixteen year-old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  Still struggling with his own feelings of guilt, Lee now finds himself thrust into the role of being a father.

Patrick, of course, doesn’t think he needs a guardian and sometimes, it almost seems as if Patrick might be right.  At times, it’s hard not to feel that Patrick is a hundred times more mature than his uncle but occasionally, Patrick’s grown-up mask will slip.  When he learns that his father cannot be buried until the spring and the body will be kept in a freezer, Patrick stays calm until he opens up the freezer at home.  That’s when the reality of it all hits him and it’s an amazingly powerful moment.

Manchester By The Sea is not an easy film to describe.  There’s not much of a plot.  Instead, it’s just a portrait of people living from day-to-day, trying to juggle handling tragedy with handling everyday life.  Conditioned by previous films, audiences watch something like Manchester By The Sea and wait for some gigantic dramatic moment that will magically make sense of the human condition but, by design, that moment never comes.  That’s not what Manchester By The Sea is about.  If there is any great lesson to be found in Manchester By The Sea, it’s that life goes on.

Despite being full of funny lines, it’s a sad film but fortunately, it’s also a well-acted one.  I have to admit that I’m not as crazy about Manchester By The Sea as some of the critics who are currently declaring Manchester to be the best film of 2016 are but I can’t disagree with those who have praised Casey Affleck’s lead performance.  Lucas Hedges also does a good job as Patrick and Michelle Williams gets one revelatory scene in which she happens to randomly run into her ex-husband on the street.

As I said, I liked Manchester By The Sea but I didn’t quite love it.  It’s a well-made and well-acted film and, if it’s not as brilliant as some have claimed, it’s still worthy of respect.

Here Are the 2016 Seattle Film Award Nominees!


Here are the 2016 Seattle Film Award Nominees!  I don’t know what the cat’s yawning about; these nominations are actually an interesting mix of the usual suspects (Moonlight, Manchester, La La Land) and a few unexpected but intriguing picks (like 13th and The Witch).

THE 2016 SEATTLE FILM AWARD NOMINEES:

BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR:

BEST DIRECTOR:

  • Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  • Robert EggersThe Witch
  • Barry JenkinsMoonlight
  • Paul Verhoeven – Elle
  • Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

BEST ACTOR in a LEADING ROLE:

  • Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
  • Ryan GoslingLa La Land
  • Logan Lerman – Indignation
  • Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington – Fences

BEST ACTRESS in a LEADING ROLE:

  • Amy Adams – Arrival
  • Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship
  • Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  • Natalie Portman – Jackie
  • Emma StoneLa La Land

BEST ACTOR in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

BEST ACTRESS in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

  • Viola Davis – Fences
  • Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
  • Naomie HarrisMoonlight
  • Kate McKinnonGhostbusters
  • Michelle Williams – Manchester By The Sea

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST:

BEST SCREENPLAY:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

  • EllePaul Verhoeven, director
  • The HandmaidenPark Chan-wook, director
  • The InnocentsAnne Fontaine, director
  • Under The ShadowBabak Anvari, director
  • The WailingNa Hong-jin, director

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

BEST FILM EDITING:

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE (18 years of age or younger upon start of filming):

BEST VILLAIN:

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