The Women Film Critics Circle Honors Portrait of a Lady on Fire!


The Hollywood Foreign Press Association weren’t the only ones making an announcement today!  The Women Film Critics Circle also announced their picks for the best of 2019!

And here they are:

BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN

  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)
    Runner-up: Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig)

BEST MOVIE BY A WOMAN

  • Harriet (dir. Kasi Lemmons)
    Runner-up: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)

BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER (Screenwriting Award)

  • Greta Gerwig (Little Women)
    Runner-up: Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)

BEST ACTRESS

  • Tie: Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) and Lupita Nyong’o (US)
    Runner-up: Renée Zellweger (Judy)

BEST ACTOR

  • Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
    Runner-up: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

BEST FOREIGN FILM BY OR ABOUT WOMEN

  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)
    Runner-up: Atlantics (dir. Mati Diop)

BEST DOCUMENTARY BY OR ABOUT WOMEN

  • Varda by Agnès (dir. Agnès Varda)
    Runner-ups: Maiden (dir. Alex Holmes) and Honeyland (dir. Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov)

BEST EQUALITY OF THE SEXES

  • Marriage Story
    Runner-up: The Aeronauts

BEST ANIMATED FEMALE

  • Anna (Frozen 2)
    Runner-up: Bo Peep (Toy Story 4)

BEST SCREEN COUPLE

  • (TIE) Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Noémie Merlant/Adèle Haenel) and Marriage Story (Scarlett Johansson/Adam Driver)
    Runner-up: Hustlers (Jennifer Lopez/Constance Wu)

ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD – For a film that most passionately opposes violence against women

  • (TIE) Bombshell (dir. Jay Roach) and The Nightingale (dir. Jennifer Kent)
    Runner-up: Hustlers (dir. Lorene Scafaria)

JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD – For best expressing the woman of color experience in America

  • Harriet (dir. Kasi Lemmons)
    Runner-up: Queen & Slim (dir. Melina Matsoukas)

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

  • Harriet (dir. Kasi Lemmons)
    Runner-up: Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig)

ACTING AND ACTIVISM AWARD
Jane Fonda

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Alfre Woodard

Horror Film Review: Us (dir by Jordan Peele)


“They’re us,” a child says in Jordan Peele’s second film, Us.

And indeed, they are.  Us suggests that everyone has at least one doppelganger, living underground in conditions of absolutely misery and awkwardly imitating the same lives as those above ground, just without any of the rewards that those of us above-ground take for granted.  Those underground are known as the Tethered, because they’re permanently tied to those of us above ground.  Of course, what’s easily overlooked is that we’red tied to them as well.  Or, at least, we are until someone picks up a knife or a pair of scissors and violently severs the connection.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the film’s title — Us — can just as easily be read as U.S, as in the United States.  Jordan Peele may have said that he wanted Us to be a full-on horror film, as opposed to Get Out‘s mix of comedy, horror, and social commentary, but Us definitely has its political subtext, with the Tethered meant to stand in for every marginalized group that has been pushed underground by American society.  Though the film may have been inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone, it actually has more in common with the classic British shocker, Death Line (a.k.a. Raw Meat.)  There’s not a huge amount of difference between the largely mute Tethered and the pathetic cannibal in Death Line who, after growing up in the British Underground, is capable of only telling his victims to “Mind the doors.”

If nothing else, Us proves that Jordan Peele actually is a good filmmaker with a firm grasp on how to make an effective horror movie.  Get Out was good but also, I think, a bit overpraised by mainstream critics who often seemed to not realize just how much, in their attempts to make sure that we understood just how much they loved and understood the movie, they sounded like Bradley Whitford bragging about how he would have voted for Obama a third time.  When Us came out, a lot of viewers were waiting to see if Peele’s second film could possibly live up to all the hype surrounding its director and, for the most part, it does.

Political subtext aside, this is the all-out horror film that Peele promised, full of jump scares, disturbing imagery, and just enough humor to keep things from getting too unbearably nightmarish.  (As bad as you might feel for Elisabeth Moss’s character and her family, it’s hard not to appreciate the irony of the film’s Alexa-substitute misunderstanding a command to call the police.)  Interestingly enough, the Tethered are pretty much homicidal as soon as they come above ground.  This isn’t a case where a tragic misunderstanding leads to bloodshed that could have been avoided.  No, this is a case where the Tethered have spent decades trapped and out-of-sight and they’re pissed off about it.  Just because the Tethered may be us, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to have any sympathy for us when they finally do track us down.  In the style of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Have Eyes, Us follows a perfect family as they eventually find themselves resorting to the same violence as the Tethered, in an attempt to save not only their lives but also the lifestyle that they’ve come to take for granted.  The Tethred are us indeed.

The film is well-acted, with Lupita Nyong’o standing out as both the mother of an imperiled family and her doppelganger, who has spent years underground and who is one of the few Tethered to be able to speak.  Of course, there’s a twist at the end of the movie and I won’t ruin it here, other than to say that it’s effectively done and will actually make you reconsider everything that you’ve just seen.

Us is another triumph from Jordan Peele.  Even more importantly, it’s an undeniably effective horror film.

Quick Review: Disney’s The Jungle Book (dir. by Jon Favreau)


THE JUNGLE BOOK

Without giving away the film, I haven’t much to say about Disney’s The Jungle Book other than I enjoyed it. Granted, it’s one that’s been done a number of times. 

When the trailer for Disney’s The Jungle Book was released, I was happy for it. It was good to see Jon Favreau back to directing bigger productions. After the misstep of Cowboys & Aliens and the success of Chef , it seems like he’s really back on track in a big way. That was my reason for seeing the film this past weekend.

Note that I’ve never seen the Disney Animated Version of The Jungle Book. I can’t really make any comparisons, other than the music, having listened to songs as a kid.

The Jungle Book is the story of Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a young boy who lives in the jungle and is raised by both a pack of wolves (lead by Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito) & a Panther named Bagheera (Sir Ben Kingsley). Evil rears its ugly head in the form of a Tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who wishes to have Mowgli killed because he knows how dangerous he can become once grown. Can the pack protect him, or will have have to find a way to save himself? That is pretty much what you need to know about the plot. I felt the movie had a number of comparisons to the Lion King (and even one reference to Return of the Jedi). Still, it manages to move at a good pace. Unlike Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I didn’t find myself rolling my eyes or counting the minutes until a bathroom break appeared. 

Casting in the Jungle Book is pretty good. There’s hardly a cast member out of place, though not everyone is given a great deal of screen time. It is Mowgli’s story, after all. Idris Elba is menacing as Shere Khan. Scarlett Johannson (Chef, Iron Man 2)  plays Kaa the Snake and has a song on the score. Bill Murray’s Baloo is cute and cuddly, but the biggest casting surprise has to be Christopher Walken as Big Louie. The film even manages to contain a few musical numbers, though I don’t know if it could be classified as a musical. Those moments are few and far between.

Visually, The Jungle Book is downright beautiful. The animals are rendered so well (in some cases) that one might suspect they had actual animals on hand for a reference or at least some on set. It’s still early, but this is a movie I’d tuck away until the next awards season, at least where the Visual Effects are concerned. The 3-D version of the film has some great moments, but I wouldn’t consider it a requirement to actually see it in this format.

Some elements early in the film may be frightening for the youngest of viewers. Tigers are meant to be scary, so Shere Khan definitely worked for me. The same goes with Kaa and with Louie. Overall, The Jungle Book is set to be a major hit and it’s nice to see Favreau with a directorial win.

The Jungle Book Super Bowl Trailer


The Jungle Book

A month before we marvel at Captain America: Civil War we shall be treated to the latest film adaptation of Disney’s animated film The Jungle Book which itself is an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling of the same name.

This film has such an impressive pedigree. In the director’s chair is Jon Favreau who is the man who help begin the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. The cast is a who’s who of some of the most recognizable actors working today: Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Lupito Nyong’o, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito and Bill Murray.

The Jungle Book is being touted as the next step in visual effects in filmmaking with everything except the young Mowgli being computer-generated. The film’s sizzle reel trailer wowed everyone at this past summer San Diego Comic-Con and this Super Bowl trailer does everything to help make that sizzle turn into a full-blown firestorm of hype.

The Jungle Book is set to come out on April 15, 2016.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. by J.J. Abrams) Is the Sequel the Fandom Has Been Waiting For


Star Wars - The Force Awakens

[some minor, very minor spoilers]

When I first began this site on Christmas Eve of 2009 I had to thank the excitement I had for event films after seeing and experiencing James Cameron’s Avatar. It was an experience I hadn’t felt since the days of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, even earlier than that, the original Star Wars trilogy. These were films that fired up one’s imagination, appreciation and love for film as entertainment and art. Some of these films would linger on longer in one’s mind than others, but that first viewing in their initial release would always imprint their effect on each viewer.

When George Lucas announced that he would be returning to that galaxy, far, far away with a trilogy of prequels almost 15 years since the world last saw Return of the Jedi premiere first the first time, the Star Wars fandom were giddy, excited and hyped beyond belief. The Star Wars films and the many spin-offs (novels, comic books, video games, etc.) which came about because of it only whetted the appetites of long-time Star Wars fans for more films detailing the adventures in the scifi universe created by George Lucas.

Yet, the prequels’ effect on these long-time fans would be the direct opposite of the effect the original trilogy had on the fandom. These three prequels (all directed and written by George Lucas himself) would do more than disappoint the fandom. It would create a schism between those who saw the original trilogy as the gateway to their fandom and those younger generation who never saw the original trilogy and had the prequels become their gateway to the fandom. Even to this day there would be some of the younger generation who truly believe that the prequels trump the original three films which began the franchise.

When news came down that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and everything which George Lucas had built and cultivated there was no chance in hell that there wouldn’t be another series of Star Wars despite the disaster which were the prequels. Lo and behold, it didn’t take long for Disney to greenlight the sequel to Return of the Jedi and have it set decades after the events of that film.

So, it is with Star Wars: The Force Awakens that the Star Wars fandom get to see whether their continued faith in the franchise was worth it or if they have been Charlie Brown’d once again and had the ball taken away at the very last second. It’s easy to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was great or it was awful. The true answer to whether this film succeeded in what it intended do was a bit more complicated.

Yet, if one was to look for an easy and simple answer then I’m happy to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was great. It had it’s moments of logic gap and plot holes, but as an overall finished product the film succeeded in course-correcting the franchise from the nadir it was at with the culmination of the prequels. It wouldn’t have taken much to surpass the very low bar set by those prequels, but The Force Awakens leapfrogged that bar and went even higher.

The film does begin thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi and we find out with the now familiar episode intro crawl that Luke Skywalker has disappeared since those events and the galaxy has remained in turmoil with his absence. The Galactic Empire has been defeated, but in its place a new danger in the form of the genocidal First Order has arisen from the Empire’s remains. Opposing the First Order is a sort of galactic force supported in secret by the New Republic and led by General (not Princess) Leia Organa calling themselves the Resistance. It’s the conflict between these two factions and the search for Luke that forms the narrative base for The Force Awakens.

The film doesn’t linger too long in explaining the events which occurred in that 30-year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It doesn’t need it as we’re quickly introduced to the series’ new characters in the form of Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the galaxy, who has been sent on a secret mission by Leia to find the clues as to her brother’s whereabouts. Next in line was Kylo Ren who becomes this film’s analogue to the Darth Vader figure of the original trilogy. Yet, the bulk of the film was told through the eyes of Finn and Rey.  The former is First Order stormtrooper who has seen first-hand what the First Order truly stands for and not for the betterment of the galaxy. The latter is a young woman living life on the desert planet Jakku scavenging the graveyard of starship wreckage from a battle thirty year’s prior.

It’s through Rey and Finn that the audience learns through their adventures upon meeting up with each other on Jakku what has transpired since the Rebellion destroyed the second Death Star and killed Emperor Palpatine. To these two characters, the events from the original trilogy seem to have passed beyond the realm of history and become more like legends and myths to the younger generation. Through a combination of fear and awe, Ren and Finn get introduced to some of the original trilogies main characters (Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca and even Admiral Ackbar). These are the stories they’ve been told of growing up come to life right in front of their eyes and their reaction mirrors those of the audience who haven’t seen these characters in anything new and relevant since the end of Return of the Jedi. The reaction alone to seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca alone seemed like the fandom’s collective cheer for the good that has been missing with the franchise for over 30 years now.

The Force Awakens is not a perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Like mentioned earlier, the film does suffer from some gaps in story logic and plot holes. As with most J.J. Abrams directed films he had a hand in writing the script and one could see where he sacrificed coherent storytelling beats for something that just pushed the story along the path he wanted the film to take. For those who have been steeped in Star Wars lore and backstory, this would be easily explained as the Force nudging, guiding and, if all else fails, pushing the characters onto the right path, but for the casual viewers it would come off as story beats of convenience.

As a story to bring back the faithful and lure in those still uninitiated to the franchise The Force Awakens straddles the line between nostalgia and trying to bring in something new to the proceedings.

Let’s begin with the former and just say it now that The Force Awakens does follow some major story beats directly from A New Hope (to a smaller effect from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). One could almost say that this film was a sort of soft reboot of the original trilogy with how it lifted ideas from them and through some writing and directing recombination come up with something new, but still very familiar for hardcore and non-fans alike.

Does this decision to lean heavily on the original trilogy for ideas hurt the film? For some it might be a bit too distracting to recognize too many callbacks to those earlier films, but for most it’s a reminder of what the prequels lacked and that’s the sense of adventure and fun. There was never anything fun about the prequels. The Force Awakens brings it all back and for most viewers this is the course-correction the series has needed since the last images from Revenge of the Sith faded away from the silver-screen.

Even the new characters introduced in this latest film were an amalgamation of the main characters from the original trilogy. Where Abrams and Kasdan changed this up a bit was to go beyond just creating new analogues for the classic characters of Leia, Han, Luke, Chewie and R2D2. They opted to take all the qualities fans loved about those characters and mixed them all up to be used in the roles of Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren and BB8.

As the standout character in the film, Rey (played by find of the year Daisy Ridley) would bring back memories of not just the young and hopeful Luke from the original trilogy, but also some personal traits of Leia and Han. The same goes for Finn who at times reminded us of Han’s roguish charm to Luke’s naivete of his role in the larger world he has finally witnessed for the very first time. For the half-empty crowd this might look as lazy character development, but those who see the film with the half-full mindset would easily latch onto these new characters. Characters who now take on the responsibility of moving the franchise beyond the nostalgia of the original trilogy and erasure of the disappointment of the prequels to new adventures with the next two films.

So, is Star Wars: The Force Awakens worth returning back to the franchise after the prequels or is it too much of a rehash of the original three films? The answer to that is a definite yes despite some of it’s flaws. For some the very flaws some have pointed out (too many callbacks, sort of a reboot, etc.) was what made the film a fun time to be had. It’s a return to the comfort zone the fandom missed with the prequels.

Will the next two films in this new trilogy follow suit and just rely too much on nostalgia to continue trying to satisfy it’s massive audience? Or will Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow (director of Episode VIII and Episode IX, respectively) move into new territory with minimal callbacks to those earlier films? We as an audience will have to wait til 2017 and 2019 to find out. Until then enjoy what Abrams and Lucasfilm has accomplished with The Force Awakens. A film which has reinvigorated a film franchise that has seem some major lows, but one which also happens to be one hell of a fun ride from start to finish on it’s own merits.

P.S.: Some controversy has arisen since the film’s release concerning the character played by Daisy Ridley. Some have been very vocal about calling her Rey character as a sort of knee-jerk reaction to the accusation that the Star Wars films have lacked for a strong female lead. An argument that’s as misguided and misinformed as that of the films being whitewashed. The films in the franchise have always had strong female characters. The accusation that Rey as a character in The Force Awakens is such a “Mary Sue” (a female character written and created to be the best at everything, no flaws) ignore the details in the character’s development.

What’s sadder is that some of the very people (film critics and writers) who in the past have complained that major films (especially blockbusters) have been lacking in very strong female characters have been the very same who see Rey as a negative and a character too good. This despite the character following in the very same footsteps in how her predecessors have been written (Luke, Han, Anakin). It’s an argument that is sure to bring heated debate among fans and detractors, but one that takes away from the performance of Daisy Ridley who should be one of the many breakout stars to come out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Japanese Trailer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens Even Better


StarWarsVII

Just a couple weeks ago saw the release of the first and last official trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was teasers before that one. The official trailer was suppose to keep the Star Wars fandom sated until December 18 (or earlier for those willing to brave the early advance screenings before midnight). It pushed all the right buttons to keep the fandom happy and wanting more.

Out of the blue, this morning saw Disney release without any fanfare a new trailer but one cut and edited for the Japanese market. It’s a trailer that includes scenes and images already seen in the previous official trailer and two earlier teasers, but also happened to include newer scenes (that still doesn’t spoil what the film will be all about) involving BB-8, Kylo Ren and more Princess Leia and Chewie.

So, it would seem that when Disney said that the trailer released a couple weeks ago would be the one and only trailer for the film it would seem they meant it would be the only domestic trailer. Sneaky, sneaky there Disney.

Plus, I rather prefer the Japanese trailer. Once again proves the Japanese gets the cool things.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Breaks The Internet


StarWarsVII

It’s not hyperbole when I say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens broke the internet tonight. Fandango announced pre-sale of tickets early by accident which caused the massive Star Wars fandom to rush on-line to be able to buy tickets before they ran out for the early showing on December 17, 2015. Well, this hasn’t gone down well with many who thought the pre-sale orders were going to go up after the trailer debuts during halftime of Monday Night Football.

I was one such out-of-luck individuals, but I remembered my days of youth when pre-ordering tickets to such event films meant going to the theater itself and buying them in person. This I did and I’m blessed to have gotten all the tickets I need.

Thus, despite Star Wars: The Force Awakens breaking the internet it would seem doing things the old-school way still rewards those who still thinks in analog and not just digital.

Now, let’s watch the latest trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens over and over before it premieres on December 18, 2015.