The North Carolina Film Critics Honor Minari!


The North Carolina Film Critics Association has announced their picks for the best of 2020 and, in something of a shock for anyone who has following the awards season up to this point, they did not give the best picture award to Nomadland.

Instead, they honored Minari!

And, to be honest, I couldn’t be more thrilled.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I have anything against Nomadland or that I think Minari is the best picture of the year.  I haven’t seen either film (though I hope to correct that soon) so I really don’t have an opinion on what deserves what.  Instead, I’m just happy that the precursor love is getting spread around a little.  Nomadland winning every single precursor contest was getting boring.

It’s a bit like the 2010 awards season, when The Social Network just kept winning over and over again.  When one of the precursor groups gave their price to The Kids Are All Right instead, I was like, “Finally!  Something different!”  It didn’t matter what I personally didn’t care much for The Kids Are All Right.  What was important was that we had at least gotten some variety.

You can see North Carolina’s nominees by clicking here.  And you can find the winners below!

Best Narrative Film — Minari

Best Documentary Film — Dick Johnson is Dead

Best Animated Film — Soul

Best Foreign Language Film — Another Round

Best Director — Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Cinematography — Joshua James Richards for Nomadland

Best Actor — Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Best Actress — Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Best Supporting Actor — Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Supporting Actress — Youn Yuh-jung in Minari

Best Original Screenplay — Lee Isaac Chung for Minari

Best Adapted Screenplay — Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Special Effects — Tenet

Best Music — Soul

Ken Hanke Memorial Tar Heel Award — Will Patton (actor, Minari)

Best Restoration — The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Warner Bros.)

Here Are The 2020 North Carolina Film Critics Nominations!


The regional film critics continue to chime in with their picks for the best of 2020.  Below, you’ll find the nomination of the North Carolina Film Critics.  The winners will be announced on January 3rd, 2021.  That sounds like a long wait but actually, it’s just means that the winners will be announced on Sunday.

Anyway, here’s the nominations.  You’ll notice that there’s no nominations for Small Axe, so I guess that moment has passed now that Amazon has made it clear that they’re still going for Emmys as opposed to Oscars for Steve McQueen’s five films.  That’s kind of a shame since the whole Small Axe thing was at least providing some suspense as far as these awards go.

BEST NARRATIVE FILM
Da 5 Bloods
Minari
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
The Trial Of The Chicago 7

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM
All In: The Fight for Democracy
Boys State
David Byrne’s American Utopia
Dick Johnson Is Dead
Time

BEST ANIMATED FILM
The Croods: A New Age
Onward
Over The Moon
Soul
Wolfwalkers

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Another Round
Bacurau
Beanpole
La llorona
Night of Kings

BEST DIRECTOR
Emerald Fennel – Promising Young Woman
David Fincher – Mank
Regina King – One Night In Miami…
Spike Lee – Da 5 Bloods
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Hoyte Van Hoytema – Tenet
Erik Messerschmidt – Mank
Joshua James Richards – Nomadland
Newton Thomas Sigel – Da 5 Bloods
Dariusz Wolski – News of the World

BEST ACTOR
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Steven Yeun – Minari

BEST ACTRESS
Jessie Buckley – I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Elisabeth Moss – The Invisible Man
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods
Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial Of The Chicago 7
Bill Murray – On the Rocks
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
David Strathairn – Nomadland

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Toni Colette – I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
Olivia Colman – The Father
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Da 5 Bloods – Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Mank – Jack Fincher
Minari – Lee Isaac Chung
Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 – Aaron Sorkin

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
First Cow – Jon Raymond & Kelly Reichardt
I’m Thinking Of Ending Things – Charlie Kaufman
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Nomadland – Chloé Zhao
One Night In Miami… – Kemp Powers

BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS
The Invisible Man
The Midnight Sky
Mulan
Tenet
Wonder Woman 1984

BEST MUSIC
Da 5 Bloods
Mank
Minari
Soul
Tenet

KEN HANKE MEMORIAL TAR HEEL AWARD
This award recognizes a film, artists, or performer with a special connection to North Carolina. In 2017, the Tar Heel Award was dedicated to longtime North Carolina film critic Ken Hanke.

The Dancin’ Bulldogs – Film
Will Patton (Minari) – Performer
Gary Wheeler – Producer/Industry Professional

BEST RESTORATION
To honor the special role that streaming has played in 2020 due to the global pandemic, the NCFCA added a category to this year’s awards: Best Restoration. This intends to acknowledge the cultural significance of the film in addition to the quality of the restoration.

Beau Travail (The Criterion Collection)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Warner Bros.)
Mädchen in Uniform (Kino Lorber)
Native Son (Kino Lorber)
Roman Holiday (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Horror Film Review: The Fourth Kind (dir by Olatunde Osunsanmi)


“I’m actress Milla Jovovich, and I will be portraying Dr. Abigail Tyler in The Fourth Kind. This film is a dramatization of events that occurred October 1st through the 9th of 2000, in the Northern Alaskan town of Nome. To better explain the events of this story, the director has included actual archived footage throughout the film. This footage was acquired from Nome psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler, who has personally documented over 65 hours of video and audio materials during the time of the incidents. To better protect their privacy, we have changed the names and professions of many of the people involved. Every dramatized scene in this movie is supported by either archived audio, video or as it was related by Dr. Tyler during extensive interviews with the director. In the end, what you believe is yours to decide. Please be advised, that some of what you’re about to see is extremely disturbing.”

And so began the 2009 film, The Fourth Kind!  Milla Jovovich plays Dr. Abbey Tyler, who is still emotionally devastated by the murder of her husband and who finds herself interviewing a lot of potential UFO abductees in Nome, Alaska.  You may remember that, when this film came out, there was a lot of online debate over whether or not it was based on a true story.  That’s because the film was advertised as containing actual “documentary footage” of Dr. Tyler talking to hypnotized alien abductees.  Often times, during the film, a split screen was used so you could watch the “original” Dr. Tyler interviewing a patient while, at the same time, Milla Jovovich and an actor “recreated” the scene for the film.

Of course, the really interesting question here isn’t whether or not the documentary footage was real.  Instead, to me, the real mystery of the film is why, if you had all of this amazing footage of real people freaking out under hypnosis, would you then make a movie starring Milla Jovovich, Will Patton, and Elias Koteas?  It seems like a better idea would be to just make a documentary and save a lot of money on paying the cast.

Anyway, as you probably already guesses, the documentary footage was faked as well and there is no Dr. Abigail Tyler.  Still, you have to admire the amount of effort that director Olatunde Osunsanmi put into trying to convince us that we were watching something based on a true story.  I mean, he went far beyond just using the whole shaky cam stuff that most found footage horror movies fall back on.  Wisely, Onsunsanmi made sure that none of the actors in the found footage were more attractive than the actors in the movie that was supposedly based upon it.  Anyone who has seen enough “based on a true story” movies knows that the real people never look as good as the people hired to play them.  I mean, honestly, this is a gimmick that Orson Welles would probably have appreciated.  That said, Welles probably would have gotten better performances out of the actors in his fake documentary.  When Milla Jovovovich is more convincing as a psychologist than the woman who were told actually is a psychologist, it’s a problem.

As for the film itself, it has a few effective jump scares.  There’s a lot of people yelling in strange voices and, when Abbey’s daughter vanishes, Milla Jovovich does a good enough job communicating the anguish that any mother would feel if her child was abducted by aliens.  Dependable actors like Will Patton and Elias Koteas show up and do what they can with underwritten roles.  The Fourth Kind isn’t a bad movie but its storyline and characters are never as interesting as its gimmick.  It’s the type of horror film that might make you jump while you’re watching but, a week later, all you’ll remember is Milla Jovovich introducing herself.

 

Trailer: Halloween


Halloween 2018

October 19, 2018. Keep that date in mind.

It’s the date for the latest entry to the Halloween franchise. It’s to be a sequel to the original film. It will also discard every other Halloween sequel ever made. So, for those who are so anti-remake/reboot this should alleviate any of those triggers.

David Gordon Green (who co-wrote this sequel with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) directs this sequel as a continuation of the events which happened with the original film. A follow-up that’s 40 years in the making, literally.

So, once again, remember October 19th and make sure to check this film out. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll be the true sequel to Carpenter’s classic.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Megan Leavey (dir by Gabriela Cowperthwaite)


One of the best (and, in my opinion, overlooked) films of 2017 was Megan Leavey.

Based on a true story, Megan Leavey tells the true story of … well, Megan Leavey.  When the film starts, Megan (played, in one of the best performances of 2017, by Kate Mara) is living a somewhat directionless life in upstate New York.  Her parents are divorced and she’s closer to her father (Bradley Whitford) even though she has more contact (and shares a much more strained relationship) with her mother (Edie Falco).  Speaking as a child of divorce, the scenes of Megan trying to navigate the mine field between her parents rang painfully true at times. I spent the entire movie waiting for Megan and her parents to have some sort of big moment where, in typical artificial movie fashion, all conflicts would be solved and everything would suddenly be okay.  To the film’s credit, that moment never comes.

Instead, Megan enlists in the Marines.  She finds herself assigned as a Military Police K9 handler.  What that means is that Megan finds herself in Iraq, working with a dog named Rex.  Rex’s job is to sniff out explosives and other threats.  One wrong move by either Megan or Rex will result in not only their deaths but also the deaths of everyone around them.  Remember how tense some of the scenes in The Hurt Locker were?  Well, that’s nothing compared to the intensity of the bomb-sniffing scenes in Megan Leavey.  After all, in The Hurt Locker, we only had Jeremy Renner to worry about.  Megan Leavey, however, features a truly adorable dog.

When Megan returns home from serving two tours in Iraq, she struggles with PTSD and the adjustment to civilian life.  Rex is assigned to a different handler and continues his duties, leaving Megan without the one creature that she felt she could trust.  And again, Megan Leavey deserves a lot of credit for not offering up any easy or pat solutions for Megan’s difficulties to adjusting to life back in the States.  It’s too honest a film and has too much respect for it audience to cheapen its narrative with easy or manipulative sentiment.

When Rex develops facial paralysis, he is retired from active duty.  With the help of her U.S. Senator, Megan adopted Rex and gave him a home until he passed away in 2012.  That senator was Chuck Schumer and thankfully, Megan Leavey resisted the temptation to cast Chuck Schumer as himself.  Instead, when Megan approaches her Senator on the Capitol steps, the senator is played by a professional-looking character actor who looks and sounds absolutely nothing like Chuck Schumer.  By making this simple casting decision, the film keeps the focus off of the politicians and on Megan and Rex, where it belongs.

Did Megan Leavey make me cry?  You better believe it did.  However, it earned every one of these tears.  This is a wonderfully sweet and moving film, one that works largely because it refuses to overemphasize the sentimental aspects of the story.  Instead, Megan Leavey always remains rooted in reality.  It’s a gritty film about a dog and a soldier who survived being sent to one of the most dangerous places n the world.  It’s the story of how Rex saved Megan’s life and how Megan returned the favor by saving Rex’s.  It’s a sweet, straight forward story that can be appreciated even by people, like me, who prefer cats.

Film Review: American Honey (dir by Andrea Arnold)


american_honey_poster

You would probably be justified in thinking that there’s no way that a great film could be made about those weirdos who occasionally show up at your front door and pressure you to buy a dozen magazine subscriptions (the better to help them win a trip to Europe or go to drug rehab or get a college education) but Andrea Arnold has managed to do just that with American Honey.

American Honey features several scenes of the film’s characters swarming through neighborhoods, knocking on doors and launching into their sales pitch.  We see how the group’s top salesman, Jake (Shia LaBeouf, for once playing a role that makes perfect use of his “permanently full of shit” image), changes his approach from house to house and we listen as he explains his selling technique.  When the smarmy but charming Jake knocks on a door and then starts to flirt with the teenage girl who answers, I immediately started to have flashbacks to when I was going to college and, every summer, the magazine people would descend on Denton, looking for gullible students.  I once opened the door of my apartment and got trapped into a long conversation with a cute but annoyingly hyper guy who ended every sentence by holding up his hand and going, “High five!”  He very well could have been Jake.

We also watch as Krystal (Riley Keough), the group’s somewhat frightening manager, gives everyone their assignments and constantly pressures her crew to bring in as much money as possible.  Though the film never quite becomes an expose, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that the whole door-to-door magazine subscription industry is essentially an unregulated scam that largely survives by exploiting people who don’t have anywhere else to go.  As Krystal puts it, if someone can’t make their sales, that person can easily just be left on the side of the road.

That said, American Honey isn’t really about selling magazines.  What is it about?  It’s about many things.  It’s a road movie, one that lasts nearly three hours and which features a narrative that at times seems to meander almost aimlessly.  (Of course, that randomness is deceptive.  Andrea Arnold knows exactly what she’s doing.)  It’s a tour of what has been termed flyover county, with the crew invading neighborhoods both wealthy and poor.  (When they arrive in a poor South Dakota town, Krystal announces, “I got a lot of relatives here!”)  It’s a celebration of youth and impulsiveness because, even though the magazine crew is being exploited, they’re also having a really good time.  Most of the members of the crew were played by nonactors and they bring a rough authenticity to their roles.  They may be outcasts but, if just for a little while, they’ve formed their own family.  (Albeit a family that lives in vans, cheap motels, and occasionally a deserted farmouse…)

Ultimately, the film is coming-of-age story.  When we first meet Star (Sasha Lane), she’s 18 and she’s living in Oklahoma.  Star was born in Texas and her meth-addict mother died when she was young.  Now that she’s in Oklahoma, she’s working as some sort of live-in nanny, taking care of two children while their mother dances at a redneck bar and their father continually gropes her.  When she sees Jake and the magazine crew dancing in a supermarket (and getting thrown out by security), she’s immediately drawn to them.  When Jake offers her a position with the crew, it’s a chance to both escape and to belong.  Krystal asks if Star is 18.  Star says that she is.  Krystal asks if anyone is going to miss Star after she leaves.  Star says no one will.

And soon, Star is in the back of a van, being driven across the country.  Krystal doesn’t like or trust her.  Jake may or may not be using her.  But, for the first time, Star has a family.  For the first time, she belongs.

And, she soon finds herself discovering and seeing things that she would never have had a chance to see otherwise.  One morning, she sits out on a hill and watches as an equally curious bear approaches her.  When she and Jake attempt to sell in a rich neighborhood, she watches with barely disguised jealousy as a spoiled teenager celebrates her birthday.  In one of the film’s best scenes, she ends up attending an impromptu barbecue with three cowboys and we find ourselves, much like her, trying to figure out just how much she can trust these seemingly friendly men.  In one of film’s saddest scenes, she stops at a house and discovers three neglected children and a junkie mother.  And, in one of the film’s most disturbing scenes, an oil rig worker says he doesn’t want any magazines but he’ll pay her $1,000 for a hand job.

Through it all, we watch as Star approaches each new situation with equal doses of fear and hope, confidence and doubt.  And like her, we find ourselves wondering how far she should go and who she should trust.  Sasha Lane is in every scene of the film and gives an amazingly good performance, one that is all the more remarkable for the fact that this was her first movie.  Much like Katie Jarvis in Arnold’s Fish Tank, Sasha Lane was discovered by the director.  (Jarvis was famously discovered after yelling at her boyfriend on a train platform.  Lane was discovered under somewhat less contentious circumstances, while sunbathing on the beach.)   Sasha Lane gives a brave and unflinchingly honest performance.  At times, I found myself cringing because I could totally understand what Star was feeling and what she was going through.  (Though I never ended up selling magazines, I went through my lost phase.)  There was not a single false note to be found in Lane’s performance.

Special mention should also be made of Riley Keough’s work as the manipulative Krystal.  Keough alternates between being harsh and being strangely likable with such skill that it’s impossible not to share both Star’s fear and her occasional admiration of her.

Ultimately, though, this is Andrea Arnold’s film.  The British director approaches the so-called heartland of America with an outsider’s view and she captures some of the most unexpected and strikingly beautiful images of 2016.  American Honey is a powerful, demanding, and occasionally enigmatic movie, one that feels almost like the type of film that Terrence Malick would make if Malick could curb his tendency to descend into self-parody.  American Honey is one of the best of the year.

Trailer: The November Man


The-November-Man-poster-900x1333

Outside of Sean Connery, my other favorite James Bond has always been Pierce Brosnan. He was able to inject some of the fun that became camp when Roger Moore was Bond, but still retain the ice-cold lethality that Connery brought to the role. It was just bad luck that he ended up with Bond writers and directors that were hit or miss. I think Pierce woud’ve done just as good a job, if not better, in the films that Daniel Craig ended up doing as Bond.

We now have Brosnan back as a spy, but not as Bond, but as Peter Devereaux from the spy novel series written by Bill Granger. The November Man looks to be Brosnan’s attempt to try and add another spy thriller franchise in the mix with both Bond and Bourne. Whether Brosnan succeeds depends on how critics and audiences react to this film.

The trailer makes the film look interesting enough. Using the time-tested plot of master vs. protege, The November Man may have some success when it comes out at the tail end of the summer season with little to no competition.

One thing that’s good to see is Brosnan back on the screen. If Liam Neeson can transition into the elder action hero then I can’t see why Pierce Brosnan can’t do it as well. Neeson can’t be the only Irish kickass on the screen. Lisa Marie would agree that there’s never enough kickass Irish stars on the big-screen.

The November Man shoots its way onto the big-screen this August 27, 2014.

Embracing the Melodrama #45: Inventing the Abbotts (dir by Pat O’Connor)


First released in 1997, Inventing the Abbotts is a small town, romantic melodrama about two families in the 1950s.  One family is poor.  One family is rich.  As you can probably guess, each is fated to determine the destiny of the other.

Decades ago, Lloyd Abbott (Will Patton) and Holt were business partners.  However, after Lloyd had an affair with Holt’s wife (Kathy Baker), their friendship ended.  Lloyd eventually becomes the richest man in town and has three beautiful daughters: dutiful Alice (Joanna Going), wild Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly), and virginal Pam (Liv Tyler).  Holt is long since dead and his two sons, Jacey (Billy Crudup) and Doug (Joaquin Phoenix) live next door to the Abbotts.  While the bitter Jacey is obsessed with the Abbott family and ends up pursuing both Eleanor and the married Alice, Doug claims not to care about the Abbotts.  However, despite his claimed indifference, Doug soon finds himself falling in love with Pam.  Will Doug and Pam be together or will Lloyd succeed in keeping them apart?

To be honest, Inventing the Abbotts is not a particularly good film.  It moves way too slowly, Doug and Jacey frequently swtich personalities whenever the plot demands it, the story is way too predictable, the voice over narration is way too obvious, and Jennifer Connelly’s character leaves the film way too early.  This is one of those films that is determined to make sue that you never forget that it’s taking place in the 50s and you can be sure that every cliché that you associate with that decade will pop up at least once.  There are a few scenes that could have been easily been replaced with a picture of Joaquin Phoenix holding a sign reading, “It’s the 50s,” without causing us to miss out on any important information.

And yet, I still liked Inventing the Abbotts.  I think it really comes down to the fact that I’m the youngest of four sisters and therefore, I have a weakness for movies about sisters.  And the sisters in Inventing the Abbotts are all perfectly cast and believable as siblings so, for me, the movie was redeemed because of the number of scenes to which anyone who is a sister or who has a sister will be able to relate.

As such, despite its flaws, Inventing the Abbotts is definitely a guilty pleasure for me.

Your results may vary.

Inventing the Abbotts

Falling Skies (Official Trailer)


It looks like while vampires and zombies may be battling it out as the “monster of the moment” the past couple of years there’s an oldie quietly sneaking up behind them to try and take up the general public’s attention.

The first shot was a little film from South Africa called District 9. I think more than a few people saw that little film. Then last year we had a film from two special-effects brothers called Skyline. That particular shot wasn’t as good as the previous title mentioned. In fact, it was godawful though not without it’s perverse entertainment value one gets from watching a very awful film that still manages to entertain (though probably not in the way it’s creators intended to).

In less than a couple of months a film called Battle: Los Angeles will hit the bigscreen and will hopefully be a tad better than the similar plotted Skyline. This one has another South African directing it so that may be a good thing.

Coming this June is a tv series that also follows a similar theme of “alien invasion” with the DreamWorks Television series Falling Skies from producer Steven Spielberg and screeenwriter Robert Rodat. The show will premiere on TNT and stars Noah Wylie, Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton and Dale Dye. From what brief snippets of information that has been released about it the show looks to be similar in tone to Spielberg’s own War of the Worlds where it’s about the human armed resistance trying to retake their cities and the planet back from the alien invaders.

It definitely seems to be a very ambitious show and one that hopefully has a much leaner and efficient take on the alien invasion story than the current remake of V: The Series on ABC. That one had many hoping for a sci-fi to make a great return to network tv and instead we got aliens meets True Blood.

Here’s to hoping Falling Skies doesn’t have aliens wanting to have sex with humans and instead aliens just wanting to kill and/or eat humans instead. I think that would make for a much better show.