Friday, March 2, 2018

Red Sparrow: Honeypottin'

From what I can recall from the Marvel movies, the character of Black Widow is an ex-Russian spy who has been kidnapped(?) from her family and trained from childhood to be a super soldier. Only after some regretful kills and mishaps, she learns the error of her ways and decides(?) to switch sides and fight for good-- or at least fight for someone who isn't Russia. That's when she's recruited(?) by the Avengers for her badass fighting skills and knowledge and general awesomeness. She's a strong character that, if Hollywood knew what they were doing, would've had two or three solo movies about her already. So, if the plot and trailers of Red Sparrow have led you to believe that you will be getting was is essentially a mock-Black Widow film complete with a super-soldier Russian chick going ham on bad guys-- you are going to be sorely disappointed in the film. Red Sparrow is NOT an action film, it's not a shoot-em-up, hand-to-hand combat, Atomic Blonde-esque movie. It's a character-focused espionage thriller that's more about the twists and turns of the central character leading to the (probably obvious) outcome that doesn't involve much action at all. There is a lot wrong with Red Sparrow as it does have several faults, but there is, indeed, much to enjoy here as well.

Jennifer Lawrence is Dominika, a premiere ballerina in Russia who seriously injures her leg (cringe-worthy moment) and is forced out of a life she loved. Her mother is ill and the only income they have is from the ballet. Desperate for money to help her mom, Dominika turns to her creepy, pervert-eyes uncle who works for the Russian government. He sends her to a special school in the middle of snowy-nowhere to become a "Sparrow"-- special agents trained to use their looks to lure suspects in, gain their trust, and kill the piss out of them. Dominika is reluctant, but with no other options she joins the Sparrows. For some reason that is never truly explained, she excels at it-- especially the mind manipulation part of it. From there, she's recruited back by the Russian government to pull the ole' honeypot on an American CIA agent (Joel Edgerton), to try and get the name of a mole he is protecting. There's more to it than that and it's a convoluted CIA plot that can get a little tedious trying to keep up with, but generally everything is wrapped up in the end to make a somewhat clearer picture.

Now, the movie is based off of a book series (like most movies these days), so I can only assume the film stays true(ish) to the book, but what I saw was a lot of missed opportunity for some fun. Yes, it's cool to have a thrilling whodunnit filled with allegiance flip flops to keep the audience guessing (you won't be), but there were some real moments where I could tell the audience I was sittting with (and myself) was craving some real ass kicking. I'm not even talking about something as skilled and awesome as the one-shot, stairwell, hand-to-hand, Charlize Theron fight, but if we've been getting training montages and talking about how failure can lead to death, we need to see things go wrong and see Dominika get pissed off with her fists. But it doesn't really happen. She's more cold and calculated (with a couple of random outbursts of very brief retaliatory violence), than an action hero in the making. I'm not just saying this because it's what I wanted out of the movie, I'm saying it because it looked like it was being set up to do so. When Dominika finds out that her injury was pre-planned by her ballet partner and his lover, she goes off and nearly beats them to death with her cane. This is in the very beginning of the movie, yet we don't really get to see Dominika fight like that in the rest of the movie.

But it is a decent thriller. I am one of these moviegoers who isn't trying to solve the mystery early on. I like to enjoy the ride, so I'm one of these vulnerable types who normally doesn't see a twist coming when most people do because I'm not constantly guessing. So, the ending of Red Sparrow was kind of a strange one for me. There are several twists leading up to the climax and I saw about half of them coming (without even thinking about it) and the other ones weren't exactly eye-poppingly shocking. So, if you're one who constantly tries to predict the outcomes of entertainment, it's probably going to be a letdown for you in that aspect as well. However, that wasn't really my biggest problem with the movie. I liked the story, I liked the characters, I liked the acting... but the writing felt... off. I appreciate what writer Justin Haythe was trying to do with the film, giving it a very feminist arc, but it's a feminist story written by a dude. A dude who THINKS he knows what feminists want out of their main characters and of the stories. According to Haythe, in order to make a strong female protagonist, one must make every single man in the movie complete and utter sewage. Literally every male character in the entire film (save for Edgerton) is a slime. They come on to J-Law with basically drool already sputtering down their chins. Two separate characters in two separate scenes attempt to rape her. The product of a good feminist movie and title character is not she's great because all men are bad and this is where Red Sparrow really misses the mark, and it comes off as more insulting to women than empowering them.

J-Law apparently still has some draw. I honestly didn't think this movie was going to be a huge hit, mainly because films like it recently haven't made a ton of money. They've done well, but not top of the charts well. However, the theater I normally frequent when seeing my Thursday night premieres was packed. The reason we pick this theater for Thursdays is because there's never anyone there. We saw the 8:00 Atomic Blonde at the same theater and there were maybe six other people. Red Sparrow was completely sold out. I was trying to gauge the audience on the way out and no one was really putting the movie down. And it makes sense. Whatever faults the movie has can be overlooked by the good in it-- especially J-Law. If I was a betting man, I would've bet a lot that her accent was going to be dreadful. And it wasn't. Because she's a great actor. Joel Edgerton is always a joy to watch and he and J-Law had some very good chemistry (even if their entire storyline is full of plotholes). So, there is stuff to like. But, it's not superior to Atomic Blonde and it's definitely not a "thinkin-man's movie". It's an entertaining little film that can be enjoyed if you just switch your brain off for a little bit and watch the pretty colors.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Big Peck's Cineflex Awards Edition VI: Oscar Winner Predictions

Hit a bit of bad luck last year with only 6 predictions being correct out of 10. I mean, I guess we could say 7 because I had La La Land winning Best Picture and it TECHNICALLY did win for a solid two minutes. This year is going to be much worse. Usually the Oscars are difficult to pick because there are a clear two to three frontrunners, but any of them could win anything so it's the luck of the draw. Of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture (and I've now seen all of them), seven of them are amazing, fantastic, deserve-to-win type films. 2017 was an astonishing year for movies. I mean, only in February did we realize we had probably the best movie we were going to see all year in Get Out (which thankfully was recognized by the Academy, though it probably won't win anything). Then in early summer we had Dunkirk, thinking we had a shoo-in for Best Picture. Then followed everything else. Sure, you've got your Oscar-bait films like Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread, but 2017 was about unique filmmaking voices and talents making great movies. I'll be lucky to get 6/10 this year.

Best Picture:

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Look at this list! Almost any other year, nearly all of them could be the lead contender for Best Picture. It's almost bad luck for these movies to have come out in the same year. Lady Bird, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Get Out, Three Billboards... these are great movies that all deserve the award, but all but one will be outshined by the winner. This is the first year where I don't think the Academy forgot a movie. I think all were deserved (in their own right), however if I had my say, I would make one tiny move-- I probably would replace either Phantom Thread or Darkest Hour with I, Tonya. But other than that, they made the right call. It's going to be a tight race with Three Billboards and The Shape of Water with Lady Bird coming in as the dark horse, but I'm confident(ish) in my prediction:

What's Going to Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
What Deserves to Win: Three Billboards, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water

THIS is the tough category my friends. This one. Right now the projections for Best Picture have Three Billboards neck and neck with The Shape of Water and every other day Variety or The Wrap or Deadline or any number of movie-centric writing has them flip-flopping for Best Picture. The Shape of Water has the definite edge right now. It won Best Picture at both the Producer's Guild and the Director's Guild... and normally the film that wins those... wins the Oscar. But, I just have a feeling about Three Billboards. If The Shape of Water wins, I won't be upset-- but I also won't be surprised. I honestly thought right around awards season, the contenders would be Three Billboards, Get Out, and Dunkirk, but the latter two have kinda fizzled out. So, right now, it feels like it's down to two. I hope I get it right because to me, not only was Three Billboards a superior movie, it legitimately was the best movie of the year.

Best Actor:

Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

This is a solid list. I mean, any category that features Daniel Day-Lewis, Gary Oldman AND Denzel means that there were some solid performances by male actors in a single year. There were even two newcomers. Even though I agree that Chalamet was pretty good in Call Me By Your Name, it's the third performance I've seen him give and I'm just not that impressed by him. I'm not a fan and I'm not sure why. Kaluuya was sensational in Get Out as he freakin' NAILED that one-tear scene. That alone would garner an award from me. As far as snubs go... Tom Hanks is definitely missing from the list, but it's not a stretch to see why. He was good in The Post but he's been better. The one that's difficult to wrap my head around is James Franco. Before the #MeToo movement, Franco would have the top spot and be a genuine contender. Regardless of his actions and what you think of the guy, he knocked his portrayal of Tommy Wiseau out of the park. However, this does not mean that Franco the PERSON deserves ANY recognition anymore.

Who's Going to Win: Gary Oldman
Who Deserves to Win: Gary Oldman

This is Oldman's award. It's a solid list of actors, but there's really only one performance among them that truly stands out and it's Gary Oldman. The movie itself, to me at least, was a real snoozefest (that even Oldman couldn't save), but there's no denying his portrayal of Churchill was the best of the year. Everyone thought that DDL was a shoo-in due to the fact that apparently Phantom Thread is to be his last movie forever. He's already got three... could he be the only one for four? Nope. Not this time. And he was phenomenal in the role... they all were. But you can't tangle with that fat suit and a movie that just drips white hot Oscar bait.

Best Actress:

Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Meryl Streep (The Post)

Take a second and drink in this list of five extraordinary actresses. Think about each film and each performance given be every single one of them. I honest to God can not remember a list this perfect when legitimately EVERY SINGLE ONE gave an Oscar-worthy portrayal. I'm proud of each and every single one of these women. I'm so very impressed by them, I'd like to eliminate the Best Actor category this year and be able to give an extra award to one of these women. Holy shit were they all perfect. It's seriously a shame that only one of them get to win. The only snub I can think of is Michelle Williams for All the Money in the World, and even then her performance in that movie is still sub par compared to the five women on the list. I hope this trend of writing amazing female roles continues and we get to see the Actresses severely outshine the actors for years to come.

Who's Going to Win: Frances McDormand
Who Deserves to Win: Frances McDormand AND THE REST OF THEM

Even though this race is the tightest in all of the categories, I have no doubt that McDormand will win. It will be highly deserved and I can not wait to see her crazy speech. She's a firecracker of a woman who plays the troubled and angry Mildred Hayes. The movie is not an easy one to sit through, but I could watch the movie every day just for her character alone. A close second, for me, would be Margot Robbie, though she's lost a lot of steam and the second place contender at the moment is Sally Hawkins who manages to turn in just as much of an emotionally resonant performance as the rest of them, even though she never utters a single word. Ronan is perfect in Lady Bird and I see bright things for her future. And Streep... well... Streep will always get that fifth spot. This just isn't the year for her to take the gold again. It's going to McDormand.

Best Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Much like the Best Actress category, this category is a sadly (and amazingly) one that is TOUGH. Here are five actors who gave outstanding performances, who, in most other years, would easily win. And not just them, either. Armie Hammer definitely deserved a nomination for Call Me By Your Name, but in a class this outstanding someone had to be left out. It's a shame that only one of these guys can actually take home the gold because a piece should go home with each of them. However, there is one who, by the tiniest of hairs, does stand out above all the rest. 

Who's Going to Win: Sam Rockwell
Who Deserves to Win: Sam Rockwell

Even if it's not the best performance of his entire career (emotionally and comedically I say it's damn near close), Sam Rockwell has been the underrated character actor in Hollywood for far too long. During his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes he made a joke about how happy he is that people are actually seeing a movie he's in and it's a damn travesty. He's one of the most likable actors in recent memory and the dude should be a STAR at this point. An Oscar definitely wouldn't hurt his chances with that. Look, Richard Jenkins made me feel things I didn't know I could feel and Dafoe and Harrelson were wonderful as well (and Plummer was a hell of a Kevin Spacey), but Rockwell deserves this award. He deserves it.

Best Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

Okay... this is a strange list. I agree with the five ladies on the list (though I haven't seen Mudbound, I've just heard how great Mary J. is in it). I do worry a little bit that the Academy is nominating Octavia Spencer every time she's in a movie now so they're not called out for #oscarssowhite any longer. She absolutely deserves a nomination for The Shape of Water -- much more so than her nom for Hidden Figures. Let's just make sure these names are deserved and not obligatory. Meryl Streep gets the obligatory nomination literally every year, we don't need more than one. But again, it's a solid list. Holly Hunter would've made my five for The Big Sick, but other than that, I can live with these names.

Who's Going to Win: Allison Janney
Who Deserves to Win: Allison Janney OR Laurie Metcalf

It's either of them. Seriously. Gun to my head I wouldn't be able to choose which one gave the stronger "tough mom" performance. Janney is the frontrunner because she's basically the Sam Rockwell of actresses-- amazing but sadly underrated. She deserves to win due to her longevity in the business and how happy she makes everyone around her/everyone who watches anything she's in. But Laurie Metcalf... she came out of nowhere. Go back and watch old episodes of Roseanne and point to the TV and say "hey, you know she's going to be nominated for an Academy Award" and no one would believe you. It was brilliant casting on Greta Gerwig's part and Metcalf gave us all a shock at how great she still is. Give it to either of these lovely ladies and it'll be the right call.

Best Director:

Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)

Get the f**k outta here with that Paul Thomas Anderson nomination. No way. No absolute way does he deserve to be on the list with four other directorial geniuses. Phantom Thread was okay. The direction was very Paul Thomas Anderson-y, but it doesn't mean you should just move aside a couple of really deserved people in order to get his name up there. There's a legitimately good chance that Three Billboards is going to win Best Picture, not just because I think it should. And if it does, its writer/director (who will probably get an award for his own script and by proxy get a few of his actors awards) will be devoid a spot on the Best Director list. Get the hell outta here, Academy. That being said... how awesome is it to see the rest of these names? Two who directed their FIRST films ever. I don't know any of them, but I'm proud of four of them... and Martin McDonagh.

Who's Going to Win: Guillermo Del Toro
Who Deserves to Win: Guillermo Del Toro OR Christopher Nolan

I mean, we saw this with Argo before when the Best Picture of the year's director didn't even get a second look. So, I would honestly say that McDonagh deserves at least a nom. But, for me, it's Del Toro or Nolan's to take. Dunkirk isn't going to get nearly half the love it deserves, but it's a stellar movie. What Nolan did with the constant intensity coupled with the lack of dialogue is superb. I've never really seen a movie (especially a war movie) like it. He's been overlooked several times and he should get more notice for his passion project. Speaking of passion projects and being overlooked-- it's equally Del Toro's time for an Oscar. He was sorely overlooked for Pan's Labyrinth and the man is wholly talented in all aspects of film. The Shape of Water is gorgeous, but it wouldn't have been half of what it is without Del Toro's directorial eye. He deserves the award even if The Shape of Water doesn't win. And he will get it.

Best Animated Feature:

The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

So... what is it, Academy? You felt too respected? You were TOO separated from the Golden Globes? They're the ones who are supposed to hand out disrespectful nominations in favor of actual good movies. What, you wanted to be the laughing stock of the awards world? I'm just gonna say this right now... a couple of years ago... The Lego Movie not only deserved a nomination... it deserved the win. And it got neither. This year, you have once again snubbed a very good and highly regarded by critics and audience members Lego movie-- Lego Batman Movie. Not only did you piss on the Lego franchise once again... but you gave one of the five spots... to the f**king Boss Baby?! Are you kidding?!

What's Going to Win: Coco
What Deserves to Win: Coco

This isn't even up for discussion. Coco might be Pixar's magnum opus. I thought Inside Out had everything anyone ever possibly needed in a movie and then they come back with Coco. It's PERFECT. It is a perfect movie. It's so perfect it deserves to be up on the Best Picture list instead of relegated to the Animated Movie category. If you haven't seen it... see it. If you didn't like it... stop watching movies because you're clearly going through something that impedes your ability to love. Coco will win.

Other Predictions: 

Best Original Screenplay:
What's Going to Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
What Deserves to Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Get Out, Lady Bird

(I just want to point out how much I love the fact that five of the best movies of the year... were ORIGINAL SCREENPLAYS. Take more chances, Hollywood!!!)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
What's Going to Win: Call Me By Your Name
What Deserves to Win: Logan OR Call Me By Your Name     

Best Foreign Language Film:
What's Going to Win: The Insult
What Deserves to Win: Uhhhh... no idea. Didn't see any of them and this is the one I've read has the best chance.

How Many Categories I'm Guaranteed To Get Correctly: 8/10


Finally... it's a year where the majority of the front-runners and favorites in all categories are the movies that DESERVE to win those categories. There probably will only be an upset (if there is one) in the Best Picture or (and this would have to be super dark horse) the Best Director category. I could see Get Out or Lady Bird taking the Original Screenplay category for both the fact that each movie will probably get overlooked in nearly every other category and this is a category the Academy could give it a little recognition. But, I'm pretty confident in at least 8 of my picks this year. Let's keep this trend going, Hollywood. Keep banking on original content and let writers bring us beautiful stories we've never seen before. And... for old time's sake... bring back Billy Crystal or Steve Martin for one more Oscar hosting gig before we don't get to see them anymore at all.  

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Annihilation: Mesmerisingly Ambiguous

Sometimes you're a writer/director and your first movie is flawless. Some way, somehow you managed to fit all of the pieces together perfectly to craft a masterpiece. Why this is good: you can immediately establish yourself as a force in Hollywood, one that actors desire to work with, production companies desire to fund, and audience members desire to go see. Why this is bad: it's hard to go up from there. Alex Garland's first film as both writer/director was the sickeningly great Ex Machina back in 2014. It's a perfect little movie that has stayed with me after each viewing. I eagerly awaited his next venture, but knew he would have a hard time topping his first effort. His second film as writer/director is Annihilation. And while it's put together better than someone with lesser chops than he, it doesn't hold a candle to Ex Machina in terms of greatness or emotional resonance.

Going into the weekend of its release, for some reason I had the crazy notion that it was going to do very well at the Box Office. I thought it was going to be the film to knock Black Panther back a peg or two. I thought the star power of Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac, the premise, and Garland's name attached would be the driving force to get audience asses in seats. What I didn't realize is that Garland is not a household name yet (and, unfortunately, neither is Ex Machina - as it is more of an underrated cult hit than a movie held in high esteem by the masses). I also didn't realize that Paramount Pictures, who released the film, gave up all hope on the film entirely. Last year, Paramount didn't have a great year (Monster Trucks, Rings, Ghost in the Shell, Baywatch, Mother!, Suburbicon, Daddy's Home 2, and Downsizing all underperformed). So, needless to say, they needed to start the year off right. Their first move was to make a last-ditch effort to make some money off of the terrible Cloverfield Paradox by selling it to Netflix. And Annihilation-- didn't have a much better fate. Yes, it made it to theaters here in the states, but in other countries, it was sold to Netflix to premiere only 17 days after its theatrical release. That, plus the lack of TV spots and overall advertising in general, Annihilation has all but been given the Cloverfield treatment. And it's much, much better in terms of quality. Though, the conclusions of each film are reminiscent of one another (I'll explain in a bit).

Based off a popular book series, Annihilation features an alien "comet" striking Earth and then surrounding ground zero with a large shimmering bubble (labeled "The Shimmer"). For years, soldiers and scientists and researchers have been going into The Shimmer and only one has returned-- Natalie Portman's husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), who has come back sick and fallen into a coma. Finally, it's time to send in the women. Portman leads a team into The Shimmer to discover just what's causing this ever-expanding bubble to take the lives of so many people, possibly find a way to stop it, and discover what's happened to her husband. Obviously, all is not kosher once inside. Different species of flowers have mutated to become one, animals have combined DNA (like a killer croc with a shark's teeth), and slowly their minds start turning into paranoid mush. I'd never heard of the book series, but it sounded like a pretty decent sci-fi thriller to me. And with Garland's name attached-- I was in.

The result is very Garland-like. He took a lot of risks with the script and the story, and a lot of it paid off. He's not your typical JJ Abrams type of sci-fi writer/director. He's more of a cerebral one. He's not here to give you big neon-sign'd answers to questions you have and he looks deeper into stories thematically. However, he may have dug himself a little bit too deep with this one artistically. This is fine to do as an artist, but you run the risk of alienating your audience-- which is something I think has probably happened with this film. It's easy to get invested in the story. It's a big sci-fi thriller mystery movie with hybrid animals and badass chicks at the center of it. I knew halfway through the movie that I was probably not going to get all of the answers to all of the questions that were forming in my head during the film, but I was hoping for at least a few. And this is where the movie fails-- most of the answers to most of the questions are left intentionally ambiguous (similar to The Cloverfield Paradox-- see, I said I'd explain!). When a viewer becomes this entangled with story, we want/need a little bit of clarity toward the end. We're not asking for a complete explanation, just something to satiate our curiosity since we took the trip. And Garland doesn't give it up. I felt betrayed by the ending and the fact that I got nothing. Then, there's a last ditch effort at the end that feels like it's setting up for a sequel.

The major problem with this is-- your average joe moviegoer isn't going to accept Garland's ending as anything but "artsy bullshit". I'm already a fan of his, and even I didn't accept the ending. I was mesmerized by everything in the movie, but the end, even to me, felt like a cop out. Like the TV show Lost that posed too many questions they didn't know how to answer-- or didn't want to. However, the movie isn't a total loss. It is hauntingly beautiful. I thought I hadn't seen a movie as aesthetically gorgeous as Arrival, but Annihilation ups the ante.  The visuals, coupled with the eerie and oddly relaxing soundtrack made for a very thrilling movie-going experience. Portman is great, as are the rest of the actors (even if I didn't personally care much for Oscar Isaac's attempt at a "southern accent"). So, it's hard for me to recommend the movie knowing that while I'm confident you will enjoy most of the film, the ending will undoubtedly leave you as unfulfilled as I was. It's also a movie that probably should be seen in theaters due to how viscerally impressive it is, but I don't know if I can justify paying for it. I guess the answer lies here-- if it interested you, see it. If not, wait.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Black Panther: A Marvel Triumph

Damn it, Marvel. Since 2008 we have been saturated every year by Marvel movies. They started off slowly, but as of the last five years amped it up so that there is hardly a lull in theaters between Marvel universe films. In the middle there was an onslaught of bad to mediocre Marvel movies that, coupled with the saturation, drove myself away from the films. I was just exhausted and didn't want to keep up with the storylines and watch the same origin story over and over again. I'm talking about The Wolverine, Thor: The Dark World, The Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Four type movies. Then... out of nowhere, Marvel decided to ditch convention and give the movies to risk-taking filmmakers with established voices that don't necessarily reflect the juice-box-mentality of previous Marvel movies. 2016 gave us the R rated Deadpool - a risky move that paid off tenfold. 2017 gave us Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok. All four of these movies gave us a different voice/perspective on the Marvel superhero genre and has somewhat given Marvel a second wind, not only financially, but now moviegoers aren't putting up with half-assed comic book adaptations anymore. There's a reason Justice League couldn't hold a candle to the films above. Most Marvel movies, I've only seen once. They're not my favorite films and I'm still exhausted trying to keep up, but if the movies are as good as they've been, I'll keep attending. Black Panther, in my own opinion... is the best Marvel has offered us thus far.

Black Panther has received a lot of hype so far. It's being built up to the point where expectations are at its highest and most of the time that's a recipe for failure. Believe it. Believe everything good you hear about this film because it's fantastic. Ryan Coogler (director of Fruitvale Station and Creed) has brought something to theaters that is often neglected, overlooked, and bastardized by lesser filmmakers. He has brought to life a story that celebrates people of color, African culture, femininity, and heroism in a time when it is most needed. On the surface, yes it's another superhero movie. But below the surface, at the story's very core is something much smarter and deeper and resonant. I recently heard a debate on the radio about if white boys and girls have their superheros that they emulate, who do black boys and girls have to look up to in the superhero world? There's Blade and Spawn and that's about it. It's a shame it's taken us THIS long, but if it had to wait (it didn't) Black Panther is the movie to answer the question. There are so many different themes explored in this film that one would assume they would miss the mark on at least one of them. This isn't the case. There are poignant moments and moments that make you take a second look at the real world in nearly every scene... along with some pretty neat choreographed fight sequences.

At the forefront is Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), our hero and protagonist of the story, but by his side are an onslaught of tough African warrior women including Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) who alone transcend the term "badass". I found myself, along with the rest of my theater, cheering for them more often than I was cheering for BP. Hell, even Letitia Wright, who portrays BP's 15 year old tech genius sister has a few moments of badassery herself. Coogler, who also shares writing credit on the film with Joe Robert Cole, has crafted a story that's fun and exciting, but also is entrenched deep into the culture of Africa. Every minute detail of the characters and the settings and the costumes and everything has been thoroughly thought about and precisely executed. Having smart writers on a superhero film has been the standard as of late and the movies keep getting better. The best thing that Coogler and Cole did, however, was create a villain with all sorts of layers and depth. He's one of the most sympathetic villains I've ever seen in film. There comes a point in the film where the audience's loyalty is called into question. You're rooting for BP, but once you know the motivation of the villain Killmonger, there are times where you almost root for him. The tugging of heartstrings from opposite ends is a brilliant move by the writers. It also helps that Killmonger is portrayed by the fantastic Michael B. Jordan.

Most have already seen the film, but I don't want to give anything else away for those still needing to watch it, but suffice it to say, it's the best Marvel movie I've ever seen. Take away the "alien technology" and the costumes and I don't even know if I'd throw it into the superhero genre. It's a story about people and the willingness (or unwillingness) to change. Aside from some poor CGI during a few fight scenes, the rest of the movie is perfect. Great acting, great writing, great directing, great movie.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Happened After?: Volume 1

Guest contributor Ashley Green is here to give us a bit of insight into our favorite movie couples. Most of us assume that once the cameras stop rolling and the credits end, the two lovers live "happily ever after". However, Ashley is here to dispell the rumors and give out some much needed truth--



Apparently there are quite a few theories regarding Sandy and Danny and what became of them. After searching around the Internet and deciding that the theory of Sandy and Danny actually being dead throughout Grease was appealing, it's too easy. Almost as easy as throwing these two in a flying car and calling it quits.


In a 1949 Wayfarer Convertible, literally flying away from the school carnival, happily in love.


When that 1949 Dodge Wayfarer Convertible landed, it crashed violently into the real world. 
It turns out that after adopting a completely different personality in order to be loved by Danny, Sandy also adopted a bad hallucinogenic drug problem. Her new cigarette habit, while seemingly innocent, was in fact something much more sinister.

Sherms - as some kids call them - or cigarettes dipped in PCP - were her drug of choice. What appeared to be Sandy and Danny riding off into the sky in a 1949 Dodge Wayfarer was actually Sandy and Danny barricaded in the fun house, Danny in a fetal position while Sandy, brandishing a rusted pipe she tore from the wall, threatening to murder Danny if anyone got too close to their “new home”.

It took 14 hours for Sandy to come down from her PCP high. When she was finally lucid, she realized that she had beat Danny to death. Later, Sandy would realize that maybe it wasn’t entirely the PCP’s fault she killed Danny. Sandy had forsaken who she really was for some greaser dickhead and perhaps her subconscious was just not having it.

Sandy is currently in her 80s, living comfortably in a California mental institution, sometimes suffering from PCP flare-ups due to the excessive amount she ingested in the 50s.

She is the most feared resident.


1963 was a terrible year for anyone who wasn’t a middle to upper class white person (specifically a man), but luckily, Frances “Baby” Houseman checked enough boxes to be able to take a trip to the Catskills with her wealthy family. It was there, in the heart of the southeast New York wilderness, that Baby’s soul found the one it loves (Jesus 6:9 or something). Johnny Castle, the sensitive bad boy with writhing hips and a mild anger problem, bumped and grinded his way into Baby’s heart.

The collision of Baby’s pubic bone with Johnny’s created a tear in space time, and from this rip in the Universe’s fabric, we were given the gift of True Love. That’s the only reason it exists, people.


In the middle of an auditorium, swaying to "(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life", a 1987 hit playing in the early 60s.


It had only been three weeks at a strange resort in the Catskills where all of the rich Caucasians in the area came to dance and play cards, but Johnny and Baby knew their love was eternal. Baby, recognizing Johnny’s new unemployment and homelessness, begged her father to allow Johnny to stay in their guest house, just until he could get back on his feet. Her father may have been relieved to know that the dude banging his teenage daughter wasn’t responsible for the bastard fetus that a non-doctor attempted to extract from Penny Johnson (Johnny’s platonic BFF) resulting in her near death experience, but like, he wasn’t THAT relieved.

So after a hard no, Baby, now fully invested in her love for Johnny, declared that they would wed and her father would HAVE to accept Johnny then. They drove to the nearest courthouse that afternoon and left as Mr. and Mrs. Johnny and Baby.

Baby’s father never fully accepted Johnny, but whatever. Baby and Johnny were deeply, incredibly, unbelievably in love and they had the best sex to ever be had on planet Earth. Baby didn’t join the Peace Corps and didn’t go to college because she had Johnny and she had Johnny’s wiener and really, does anything else matter? So she worked at a lot of diners, and Johnny taught a lot of dance lessons, but they finally saved enough to open their own dance studio in New Jersey.  It was a mild success.

They had enough money to pay their bills and fill their fridge, and really, that was enough for them. Their love was pure and primal and everlasting. Also, banging almost 24/7.

Baby and Johnny were happy and they stayed happy well into their 50s. Eventually though, all good things must come to an end and Johnny died tragically of pancreatic cancer, leaving Baby drowning in grief that caused her to make a terrible plastic surgery choice that ultimately gave her the nose she always wanted, but stripped her of the face that everyone she knew recognized.

Baby, alone, friendless, and without a family, decided to finally pursue her dream of joining the Peace Corps.

She’s currently 72 years old and the best dancer in Uganda.



It’s early 2000s California where no bras, dirty hair, and baggy jeans are all the rage among the burn-out high school girls who embody white privilege. What a perfect time to be alive for Nicole Oakley. She stinks like stale booze and sweat and she hasn’t showered in a week. Nicole is a musky whirlwind of self-destruction and poor choices. Successful, smart, good looking athlete Carlos Nuñez, who busts his ass every day to attend the same prestigious high school that Nicole basically shits all over day in and day out, is immediately drawn to her BECAUSE DUH.

After a series of events which always end with Nicole pants less and crying and Carlos rescuing her, Nicole becomes aware that the world doesn’t revolve around her and the choices she makes affect the one person she cares about most: Carlos.

It’s around this time Nicole and Carlos take a shower together, and I only mention it because it’s such a relief as a viewer to see Nicole practicing some sort of hygiene. That being said, she remains greasy the remainder of the film.

I get being attracted to crazy. I’ve gone out of my way to get closer to crazy people. Ryan asked me to marry him knowing full well how nuts I am. I get being attracted to crazy. But Carlos takes it to a whole other level.


Driving along what appears to be the PCH, snuggling and smiling, Nicole greasy as ever and Carlos willfully ignorant to the chaos his future held.


Carlos graduates and Nicole gets her GED. Carlos enlists in the Navy, goes off to basic training, and Nicole loses her shit. She attempts to burn down her own house.

After being 51-50’d, Nicole is able to work out her emotions with a shrink and waits the remaining 8 weeks of Carlos’ basic training in the hospital.

After her eleventh visit (in a span of a week) to the naval base where Carlos had been stationed, Carlos insisted that Nicole regularly see someone about her issues. She agreed, and stabilized herself with a prescribed cocktail of lithium and diazepam. She then decided it would be best to focus on her photography while allowing Carlos to acclimate to his new role as a Navy pilot. This was a short lived idea.

Nicole quickly ditched her meds, went into a manic spiral, and was arrested outside of the naval base at 3 o’clock in the morning after attempting to break in.

Thanks to his charming personality and ability to make friends easily, Carlos had enough connections already to handle the situation and bail Nicole out of YET ANOTHER MESS. And, like all of her messes before, Nicole reeled Carlos in with tears and self-deprecation, guilting him into forgiving her and staying in the relationship.

Although Carlos seemed to be understanding of yet another Nicole breakdown, Nicole had become paranoid that Carlos would eventually leave her because of her psychotic behavior and poor hygiene. She had secretly poked holes in the condom they used that night during make up sex. Out of guilt and his sense of responsibility for Nicole, Carlos proposed to her after she announced her pregnancy.

Both in their mid thirties, Carlos and Nicole are recently separated parents of three.  Although they are currently living in different houses, Carlos often spends the night over at Nicole’s. He just can’t stop loving her beautiful craziness.

Nicole is pregnant with their fourth child.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Phantom Thread: Yeah... Uh... What?

My thoughts before watching Phantom Thread: Oh, my dear lord Jesus this looks like quite possibly the most boring movie ever put together by human beings, I can't believe this is the movie Daniel Day-Lewis is going to do before he retires, why, oh God, why does this have to be nominated for Best Picture, I really wish I didn't have to watch this movie, should I bring a pillow? My thoughts after watching Phantom Thread: Well... it definitely wasn't boring...

Look, I've considered myself in the past a Paul Thomas Anderson fan. I love Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and I consider There Will Be Blood to be his shining achievement in filmmaking. I can stand Punch Drunk Love (though I believe it has many story flaws). However, his last few films have been duds. I'm talking, of course about the seriously dull The Master and the complete misfire that was Inherent Vice (I still blame him for making Katherine Waterston a thing). When I heard DDL was reuniting with PTA for one final film, I was praying for a reunion that could even just stand in the shadow of There Will Be Blood; however, PTA has never been a conventional director. And while Phantom Thread certainly FEELS like a PTA movie... I'm not entirely sure why in the hell it even exits in the first place.

It's the story of a couple of assholes who get together to become an embittered asshole couple in order to do asshole things and live happily ever asshole after. DDL is Reynolds Woodcock, a respected dressmaker. He lives in a house with dozens of people (who either wait on him or help him sew his dresses). He's got very obvious mommy issues, has never married and is a bit of an obsessive, elitist codger. Oh, and also he probably wants to bang his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), a frigid wildebeest of a woman who gets off on her salty verbal sparring with others. Oh, and she DEFINITELY wants to bang her brother. He meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a younger plain-Jane type who he instantly falls for because she doesn't swoon over him like most women do. When he's an asshole, she's an asshole back and there becomes some sort of weird mutual asshole respect between the two of them. She winds up moving into the house and drawing immediate disdain from Cyril. Reynolds is an asshole to her, she constantly looks like she's miserable, she winds up trying to poison Reynolds... yet... she's very much in love with him. Reynolds on the other hand, has little in common with Alma and is constantly annoyed with her girl-ish actions, yet somehow needs her around. Alma, who is constantly belittled and torn down by Reynolds, gives us zero reason as to why she's sticking around or why she even cares about this dude. By the time we get to her poisoning him (which is over an hour into the movie) it makes little sense to her character and now, as an audience member, we can't decide who is a worse person.

I will give PTA this-- the writing, especially the dialogue, is top notch. There are some verbal jabs in there that made me wanna stand up with a microphone and just yell "aaaahhhhh shit, son!" The lighting, the costumes, the cinematography was all excellent. PTA knows how to direct the hell out of a movie, but his stories just get a little convoluted and masturbatory for the sake of being convoluted and masturbatory. This goes without saying, but the acting was fantastic. DDL is such a sensational actor, it's hard not to think about that this could possibly be the last time we see him on the big screen and how really sad that actually is. Vicky Krieps should certainly get a lot of the credit for the film. It's not easy acting side-by-side with a legend, especially portraying his love interest and that character supposedly trying to be "stronger" than he is. That takes chops... and she's got 'em. But everything else was just so, for lack of a better term, "out there" that it was hard to take seriously. The ending is so unbelievable and into outer space that the theater I was in erupted into [unintentional] laughter at it all. I understand the story is supposed to be about breaking obsession and the attempts at breaking self-destruction, but it was presented in a way that it was almost a parody of these things instead of an indictment of them. Maybe I'm missing the point, but when looking at the story as a whole, there isn't much of a case as to why this story even exists. Even from the start of their coupling, I didn't buy Reynolds and Alma as a thing. Their first date is almost creepy and most of her smiles seem counterfeit. So, I'm not sure why I'm even supposed to buy the preposterous (and artsy as f**k!) ending.

I may have actually had the weirdest experience seeing this movie (and I'm not even talking about the fact that a dog barked three times from somewhere in the theater). I'm talking about how I thought the movie was going to be dull and boring (which it certainly isn't), but I ended up sitting there somewhat enjoying what I was watching (even though I was questioning nearly all of the writing choices). I was mesmerized by it all. The flow of the film, the music, the way it has a soothing feeling to it and how glued I was to every aspect of it-- yet, by the end of it I was thinking back about how nothing really fell together to make a cohesive unit. It's not as Paul Thomas Anderson-y as The Master or Inherent Vice, but it doesn't hold an ass basket to There Will Be Blood. And it does seem like quite a shame that this is assumedly the final DDL movie we get to witness. Because we deserve better and so does he.


Monday, February 5, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox: Good Surprise Movie Drop, Bad Movie

Only a few days ago The Cloverfield Paradox was titled God Particle and it was scheduled to come out in theaters sometime in March. It was scheduled to be produced by Paramount Pictures and be another surprise entry into the infamously secretive Cloverfield franchise. However, just a week or so ago, Netflix bought the rights to the film and (since this movie had been finished for over a year) had the balls to show its first trailer during the Super Bowl on Sunday and then drop the film on Netflix the very same night. I'd been waiting anxiously for this film because I've known about it for awhile. I loved the fact that it was called God Particle and the only plot synopsis you could find about the film was: "rumored to be Cloverfield prequel". When I saw the trailer drop during the Super Bowl, I was even more excited because it looked like someone had finally dropped some money on the franchise and we were getting our big budget alien monster movie we've been craving since the first film. Finally, I was ecstatic when I realized I could watch it that night and how cool it was that I was able to see a trailer for the first time and then immediately be able to watch the film. Way to go, Netflix. However, this ends the excitement I had relating to this particular film.

It's only now that I realized that Paramount was the smarter company here. This film's release date has been pushed back several times and it had people wondering if the movie even existed at all. In a last ditch effort to make some real money on the project, Paramount sold it to Netflix. The reason most likely being-- the movie is not good. Paramount assuredly knew this fact, had the inkling that it would probably bomb at the box office and lose them a significant amount of money. Netflix, who probably also knew the movie was bad, knew that they don't have this same kind of problem. If they can release the trailer and the film on the same day to one of the most watched sporting events in America, then they could get those millions of viewers to watch the film based on name recognition alone before all of the negative reviews come shuffling in. It's different to hear that a movie is terrible and not want to shell out $15 at the theater, than it is to be curious about the next installment to a franchise most people enjoy and watch it for free at home that critics are saying isn't worth your time. Well, here I am. Self-appointed movie critic telling you... it's not worth your time.

The one thing that the Cloverfield movies have done well is utilize the creativity involved in a smaller budget. The first film was a monster movie that never really had to show the monster until the end because it was during the heyday of found-footage. The second film turned the genre on its head and gave us more of a kidnapping-horror movie with a Cloverfield twist. Eventually, we knew the budget was going to go big and give us the story of what the hell is actually going on in this world. Well, for those of you who watched the Super Bowl trailer that promised to tell you where and how everything started-- I'm here to say you are going to be sorely disappointed because I have no more answers for anything after watching the movie than I did before I watched it. What's supposedly a prequel tells the story of a crew of astronauts up on a space station with a high powered particle accelerator used to hopefully generate power for a dying Earth. What happens, however, is the accelerator accidentally rips open a hole in space and sends our crew to another dimension. There, weird shit starts to happen like the walls attacking people, missing spaceship parts wind up inside the stomach of corpses, strangers show up on the ship who are essentially from Earth 2, a severed arm writes notes to its previous owner, etc. And yet... none of this actually seems to make any sense in the long run or connect to anything Cloverfield related.

The franchise took a gamble when it acquired a simple script about a crazy dude who kidnaps two people, holds them in a bunker and tells them he did it because there's been an alien attack and he's trying to keep them safe. It's a cool little psychological thriller trying to figure out if the kidnapper is telling the truth or truly insane. Then, Abrams and company bought the script and added a little Cloverfield connection to the end and voila! they have a sequel (or, at the very least, a spinoff). The Cloverfield Paradox apparently did the same thing. The script was an original piece that producers snagged up and decided to add the Cloverfield flare to it. Except this time... it didn't work at all. The rules of the world are completely convoluted, we're not given any answers to any questions we may have acquired after watching the previous two films (in fact, after this movie, we now have more questions) and nothing really makes sense. It's like they made Lost into a space movie and called it a Cloverfield movie. There's so much unexplained weirdness around the story that nothing every really comes together to give the viewer anything coherent. And by the end it becomes your run-of-the-mill space horror movie we've seen a hundred times where a group of astronauts are picked off one-by-one until there are one or two survivors making one last ditch effort to get home (can anyone say Alien, Aliens, 2010, Event Horizon, Pandorum, Sunshine, Alien: Covenant). Nothing new is presented in this film both genre-wise and Cloverfield-wise.

It's not without its merits. It's a very stylish space movie and the ship and setting in general is very eye-pleasing. And Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings some much needed depth to a movie of seriously one-dimensional characters. Chris O'Dowd is also mostly great as the comic relief. But the rest of it is pretty bleh. It's got a great supporting cast full of actors you'll recognize from much better movies. And there are some thrills and excitement, but it's difficult to get too invested in them when you're confused as to what exactly is going on. Netflix took a gamble with this movie and the way they decided to bring it forth to the world. Unfortunately the product is much like a lot of their other tentpole Netflix originals as it is seriously lacking in multiple areas (see: Bright).