Movie Review ~ Us


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A mother and a father take their kids to their beach house expecting to enjoy time with friends. But their serenity turns to tension and chaos when visitors arrive uninvited.

Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Madison Curry, Tim Heidecker Anna Diop, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Director: Jordan Peele

Rated: R

Running Length: 116 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review: I don’t think anyone expected 2017’s Get Out to be the massive critical and commercial hit it eventually became. Though the early trailers looked intriguing, it’s January release and low-grade buzz didn’t cause Hollywood to give it much more than a second glance. Besides, did one half of a television comedy duo have the goods to deliver a social commentary thriller in his first time out of the gate as a writer/producer/director? Well, a huge box office take, multiple memes, endless cultural analysis, and an Oscar later I think Jordan Peele proved he had more than an inkling as to what he was doing. So when his second feature, Us, was announced, everyone held their breath to see if the sophomore slump would strike someone everyone was now rooting for.

A mere two years after Get Out landed with a bang Peele is back with a film that’s bound to be compared to his previous work but is actually a different experience all together. Where Get Out was a slow-burn thriller, a clear (and clever) response to the then current political climate when it was made, Us is pure horror and doesn’t dig quite as deep into what divides us as a community but instead turns the attention into what defines us as individuals. It’s no less thought-provoking but is resolutely aiming for any exposed nerve where it can strike…and strike hard.

Arriving at their California lake house outside of Santa Cruz, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, Non-Stop) and Gabe (Winston Duke, Black Panther) are ready for a serene weekend with their children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). It looks to be an ordinary few days. The kids bicker like most siblings do while the parents settle in. Gabe has bought a boat he wants to take for a spin around the lake but first he has to convince Adelaide to spend the day at the beach with their casual friends Kitty (Elisabeth Moss, The Old Man & the Gun) and Josh (Tim Heidecker, Ant-Man and the Wasp). Yet there’s something about the beach at Santa Cruz that puts a knot of fear into Adelaide…and we’ll soon find out why.

To give away much more than that would possibly delve into spoiler-territory and I wouldn’t want to reveal any of the secrets the film has been wisely holding back in its carefully curated promotional materials. What I can tell you is nothing the previews haven’t already given away. Another foursome confronts Adelaide and her family on their first night, a family that looks an awful lot like them, a family that may have a link to a traumatic incident from Adelaide’s past that has come to haunt her present, a family we come to know as The Tethered.  And they have a rather unique score to settle.

Peele drops clues to what’s happening along the way but most are only obvious in hindsight as you drive home or start to discuss the film in the parking lot with your friends and loved ones. Like Get Out, Us will be a movie that is fun to dissect long after it’s finished and already ranks high on the re-watchability scale. I also appreciated that Peele kept the movie mostly within the realms of acceptable reality. This is not a supernatural movie where people walk through walls or events occur that are totally unable to be explained. It amps up the tension and makes you feel like what’s happening could conceivably take place. Even if all the pieces don’t quite line up under our modern microscope, there’s enough giddy ways that things fall into place that I was able to forgive the elements that didn’t quite get resolution.

While Get Out was a fairly solid movie considering the budget and novice of those involved, Us represents a leveling-up of all elements. Peele’s already present confidence as a writer and director has grown even more, this is clearly an individual that knows his film history and respects the process.  He has an eye for what looks good and crafts several sequences that are not only technically difficult to construct  but are visually impressive as well.  Everything just looks wonderful in Us. The production design, costumes, cinematography, and score are all key players here and add to the overall effect the film has on its audience. If any of these areas were weak it would have left the film feeling off-kilter in unintended ways. So many horror films that take place in the dark are hard to see but even in dark settings you can follow everything that takes place (though you may be watching it from behind your fingers covering your eyes) and Peele blessedly sets many scares in the stark daylight.

Nyong’o already has an Oscar for her devastating work in 12 Years a Slave and if I had any say in the matter she’d be in the running for another one for the stunning work she turns in here. Playing a dual role that requires her to play two very different sides of a complex coin, she separates the characters so much that when she shows up for the first time as her other character I actually didn’t believe it was her at first…even though I knew it was. It’s a total transformation and though through the wonder of special effects she can share the screen with herself it feels like there are actually two actresses on screen with one another at the same time. Both roles are infinitely challenging and tightrope walking in their level of skill and I can’t imagine any other actor working today who could have done what she did with them.

As he did on his first film, Peele demonstrates a keen eye for casting and has filled the rest of his cast with standouts from top to bottom. Duke is a great match of Nyong’o, he’s a laid-back dad and supportive spouse that holds his own with his formidable co-star. Joseph and Alex make good on going the extra mile in difficult roles for young actors and complete a convincing family unit with Duke and Nyong’o. In their small supporting roles, Moss and Heidecker are appropriately awful in their triteness. Moss especially seems to enjoy basking in her California housewife attire and saying things like “it’s vodka o’clock”…something you know the actress has never said (and would never say) in her entire life.

A huge part of the fun in Us will be for audiences to experience it in theaters with a crowd. While Get Out worked like gangbusters on the big screen for an initial viewing, it’s thriller nature leant it to play just as strongly if you saw it for the first time at home. Yet I think Us will best be enjoyed first and foremost if you’re shoulder to shoulder with another person getting the same jolt you are.

The Silver Bullet ~ Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Synopsis: A faded TV actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.

Release Date: July 26, 2019

Thoughts: To be honest, this first look at the 9th film from Quentin Tarantino is not what I expected.  Though this movie apparently has some connection to the infamous Manson murders that occurred a half century ago, you’d never know it by watching this teaser trailer which mostly focuses on A-listers Leonardo DiCaprio (The Great Gatsby) and Brad Pitt (World War Z) as a has-been star and his wise-cracking stunt double making one last go in La La Land.  You barely see Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) as Sharon Tate and the Manson family members pass by quickly if you aren’t paying attention.  What is there smacks of a lot of “acting” going on, especially from DiCaprio (yikes, that last shot!) and a little of that can go an awfully long way.  It’s clearly a teaser trailer for something more to come but usually Tarantino (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained) offers up something a tad more enticing as an appetizer.  Still, from the looks of it he’s recreated 1969 California as only a truly fanatic film nerd could so I’m absolutely interested in the main course.

Movie Review ~ Gloria Bell

1


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A free-spirited woman in her 50s seeks out love at L.A. dance clubs.

Stars: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Caren Pistorius, Holland Taylor, Michael Cera, Sean Astin, Alanna Ubach, Brad Garrett, Rita Wilson, Jeanne Tripplehorn

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I already have a conflicted relationship with remakes in general and the internal battle I wage with English language remakes of foreign films is even greater. If a film is so revered in its native language why can’t it exist on its own merits and let audiences discover the film on their own terms in their own time? Must it always be necessary to, let’s face it, pander to the lazies that can’t be bothered to put on their reading glasses? It frustrates me mostly because rarely are these U.S. remakes in the same league as their foreign counterparts so the lasting impression most audiences have are watered down versions of what were dynamic originals.

An added complexity to the American remake is when foreign directors adapt their own film for the English language. This is not a new concept. George Sluzier remade his dynamite 1988 thriller Spoorloos in 1993 as The Vanishing and turned it into a tepid vehicle for Jeff Bridges. Michael Haneke’s 1997 Funny Games made it’s remake debut on our shores in 2007. In 2002 Takashi Shimizu released Ju-on: The Grudge two years before he would direct an English language remake that is getting yet another remake in 2020.

The latest auteur circling back to his own work is Sebastián Lelio, the Oscar-winning director of 2017’s Best Foreign Film A Fantastic Woman. Based on his surprise 2013 hit Gloria, Gloria Bell is one of those rare remakes that allows both films to stand on their own without either suffering by comparison. Each may have the same story to tell and center on a woman of a certain age not often well represented in mainstream cinema but Lelio and star Julianne Moore bring a profound depth and realism to the character and her adventures. This helps the movie out of the remake shadow and into it’s own vibrant light.

Fiftyish divorcee Gloria Bell (Moore, Still Alice) lives in Los Angeles and is a manager at an insurance company by day and a dance club denizen by night. Spending her drive to and from work singing along to hits from the ‘70s and ‘80s, Gloria has two children she has a typical relationship with and a few good friends she can confide in. She’s living her life…but maybe not her best life. Her nights on the dance floor are a way for her to go into her own world and lose herself and it’s there she catches the eye of Arnold (John Turturro, Fading Gigolo) another divorcee with his own baggage that quickly gets laid at her feet. As her relationship with Arnold starts to take off and throws her some unexpected curveballs, Gloria takes stock of where she finds herself and starts to enact more control of her life than ever before.

The ups and downs of the relationship between Gloria and Arnold won’t be unfamiliar to most of us but the way things play out may be. A great scene involving Arnold being introduced to Gloria’s adult children (Michael Cera, This is the End and Caren Pistorius, Mortal Engines) and her ex-husband and his new wife (Brad Garrett, Christopher Robin and Jeanne Tripplehorn, Basic Instinct) leads to some fairly awkward and embarrassing developments. It all culminates in one downright infuriating deal breaker that’s not just forgiven (though, admittedly, not easily) but actually repeated later on in the film.

The beauty in Lelio’s film and Moore’s performance is that much of the journey Gloria goes on doesn’t come in what we hear but in what we see. It’s how we see Moore and Turturro interact that informs where they are in their relationship, it’s how Moore carries herself after suffering a set-back before squaring her shoulders that tells us how quickly she bounces back from disappointment. There’s so much happening internally that it could be easy for the movie to feel small but it’s largely filled with truly lovely moments.  It also helps that I genuinely had no idea where the movie was headed and where things would wind up for Gloria.  There was no telegraphed path to conclusion or hints at what the next turn would be — such is life.

Aided by a strong soundtrack of popular tunes not to mention an intriguing score from Matthew Herbert, the film gets the overbaked sunniness of Los Angeles completely right and always places our leading lady in locations that feel like the real world. She lives in the style of apartment and drives the type of car someone with her job would and Moore, as usual, totally loses herself in the role. Though the film does have some melancholy moments laced throughout it ends with a hopeful bang (and, of course, on the dancefloor) as Moore takes us through a whole range of emotions as Laura Branigan’s Gloria plays in the background.  It’s easy to see why many people are highlighting this last scene as a standout but it’s just one of many moments in the film that showcases the star becoming one with the material/character.  Another winning performance from Moore and a worthwhile film to see.

Movie Review ~ Climax


The Facts
:

Synopsis: French dancers gather in a remote, empty school building to rehearse on a wintry night. The all-night celebration morphs into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn their sangria is laced with LSD.

Stars: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull, Giselle Palmer

Director: Gaspar Noé

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: You’re on a plane and before take-off the flight attendant makes the announcement to make sure you know where the exits are. You’re in a Broadway theater and the pre-show spiel mentions to locate the nearest exit in the event of an emergency. These are public services meant to help people that need to get to safety as quickly as possible should there be any danger. My public service message to you, dear reader, should you find yourself in a screening of Climax is to make sure you know where the nearest exit is so you can high tail it out of there if things get too out of hand for you. I sort of had to suffer through it (though not everyone in my screening stuck it out) and I feel like I’m owed some sort of survivors T-Shirt for my efforts.

It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. French director Gaspar Noé has been pushing the boundaries of cinema and the tolerance of viewers for years. His passion to shock is like a child run amok and while Climax is definitely not the most extreme example of his assaults it ranks as one of the most disappointing because it starts out so strong. Had the movie stayed on its path and refrained from the director’s tired tropes meant to rattle our cages it could have signaled a maturity only hinted at in the first (electrifying) half hour.

Opening as most Noé films do with the closing credits before seguing into interviews with a troupe of dancers, Climax manages to create some interest right from the start as we’re introduced to an eclectic group who may not speak eloquently but who charm nonetheless with their off the cuff responses. The non-professional actors improvised almost all of the film and this green-ness works well in these opening scenes as the inexperienced folk gradually become more comfortable with the camera and being questioned by the off camera voice of Sofia Boutella (The Mummy), the only professional actor in the bunch who is also a trained dancer.

The first of two dance sequences is fairly astounding and showcases every person with their individual strengths. Limber, lithe, and fearless, the troupe performs a dance directly to the camera of a piece they’ve been working on for the last three days.  It’s the bold and breathless culmination of an intense period of work that has brought them close together in a short time span. They still don’t know each other that well personally but being in that close proximity has forced an intimacy on them many people outside of the situation wouldn’t understand. I’d almost say this dance scene and the one that follows is worth the price of admission…but then again…

Soon after the dancing ends the drinking begins and it’s discovered someone has laced the sangria everyone is gulping down with LSD. That’s when the trouble starts as the dancers turn on themselves and each other in increasingly bizarre ways. Following the action in five or six long shots that take up the expanse of the 95 minute run time, Noé takes no prisoners as no taboo is off limits. Rape, incest, abuse, drug use, self-immolation, hate crimes…all are explored in gross, gory detail. I should add there’s a child thrown in the mix…and that’s never a good thing in a Noé film. Though I try to remain a spoiler-free source, I have to say that once a pregnant woman gets viciously kicked in the stomach and turns to self harm, I was sort of over what Noé was trying to sell me.

The amateur status of the actors in Noé’s nightmare begins to become a drawback the more the emotional stakes are raised and everything soon becomes a delirium of twisted limbs and screaming frenzy as the LSD-fueled rave rages on into the night. It makes the finale of 2018’s Suspiria look like an MGM musical by comparison. The insouciance displayed toward the audience is remarkable, I don’t think Noé would be disturbed at all to be told that a screening started off sold-out and by the time the film ended only two people were left in the theater. I’m not saying a movie shouldn’t challenging or willing expose a dark side but there’s a taste level threshold that’s crossed here you just can’t bounce back from.

I would strongly suggest skipping Climax completely, even though the first half is quite intriguing. Better yet, wait for it to show up on Amazon Prime in a few months and turn the film off once the dancing stops and the party begins.

Movie Review ~ Captain Marvel

 


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.

Stars: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Clark Gregg

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: This should be a time of full-scale rejoicing. I mean, it only took 11 years and 21 films but Marvel Studios finally is releasing a superhero movie with a female lead. Though it may be trailing Warner Brothers’s epic Wonder Woman by a full two years, Captain Marvel is surely a welcome addition to the Marvel stable of action heroes and the studio seemed to be thoughtful in bringing the character to the big screen. Casting an Oscar winning actress as the titular character and signing on a directing team known for their independent dramas seemed like unexpected choices for an action movie of this size and unfortunately the payoff isn’t entirely worth the risk.

We’re so deep into this saga that it’s almost become a requirement for audiences to have seen, or have qualified knowledge, of previous films in order to make sense out of the action and developments that take place throughout whatever hero’s adventure we’re watching. That’s even true in this first appearance of Captain Marvel, which is set in 1995, long before the events of the movies that preceded it. Make sure to bone up on your Avengers knowledge (namely watch The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy) because it will go a long way in getting you up to speed.

Starforce warrior Vers (Brie Larson, The Gambler) is on a mission with her team on a desolate planet when she is captured by a band of Skrulls led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, Darkest Hour) and taken back to their ship. Staging a daring escape, she crash lands on Earth where she meets a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Glass, de-aged quite nicely) and teams up with him to locate a power source integral to her own origin story…and future Avenger movies. Along the way Vers learns why she’s plagued with nightmares of a fallen comrade (Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) and memories of a life before her time with Starforce. The secrets she discovers help shape the hero she’ll become and reframe what she’s actually defending.

I’ll be honest and say that I couldn’t resist closing my eyes for a small section of the movie around the forty-five minute mark.   Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck can’t quite keep up a solid pace and the film drags early on, even when we should be actively engaged with Vers uncovering more of her history. Things start to pick up once we meet her old Air Force buddy (Lashana Lynch) who fills in some memory gaps and helps to propel us forward into the final act. It’s when her old Starforce buddies, led by Jude Law (Side Effects), Djimon Hounsou (Serenity), and Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians) show up that the film becomes unstoppable as Vers realizes the full force of her power (a moment that gave me goosebumps) and uses it against an enemy she never considered.

Working with a script from four credited screenwriters (Meg LeFauve, Nicole Perlman, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan), Captain Marvel is a bit of an odd duck because it’s an origin story for several key elements that make up the Avengers universe. There’s the obvious first steps for Vers discovering she’s really Carol Danvers, a pilot with the U.S. Air Force presumed dead after her plane went down years earlier. Then you have the beginnings of Nick Fury’s pet S.H.I.E.L.D. project as well as grudges introduced that get resolved in later installments. It’s a lot to juggle and it’s not a totally satisfying balance of storylines.

It doesn’t much help that Larson walks through the movie strangely blank-faced, rarely changing expression from one emotion to the next. She’s definitely putting the acting effort into the movie but one wishes she’d loosen up a bit and I also wonder if she’d ever seen an Avengers movie prior to signing on. Most of the films are sold with tongue planted firmly in cheek but Larson seems averse to going along with any kind of joke. She does create a pleasant chemistry with Jackson’s Fury…you can see why he’d call on her when the going gets tough in Avengers: Infinity War.  The supporting cast is what helps to keep the movie afloat, namely Mendelsohn and Lynch as two key elements to Danvers coming into her own and embracing her superpowers.

Starting off slow but gradually building to an exciting finale, right now I feel like Captain Marvel falls squarely in the middle of the Marvel canon. That being said, I’m willing to wait it out and see if time is kinder to the film over the next few years as the studio wraps up some loose ends and decides what’s next in their plans for the Avengers.

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Phase One
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Phase Two
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015)

Phase Three
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Black Panther (2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Captain Marvel (2019)
Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Phase Four
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Late Night

Synopsis: A late-night talk show host is at risk of losing her long-running show right when she hires her first female who revitalizes her show and her life.

Release Date: June 7, 2019

Thoughts: Movie nerds like myself who keep their ear to the ground (or, more to the point, keep up to date with their podcasts) heard the buzziest film to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Late Night, the comedy written by Mindy Kaling and starring Emma Thompson. Snapped up by Amazon for a June release, Late Night features Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as an icy late night talk show host on the decline and Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time) as her new (and first) female writer.  There’s a little The Devil Wears Prada feel to this first look and I’m not hating it, but I can also tell the movie will have something more to say than just acerbic quips delivered with panache by Thompson.  I’m mostly hoping the movie can follow through with an awards-worthy performance from Thompson and make good on its festival buzz when larger crowds get a look in early summer.

The Silver Bullet ~ Tolkien

Synopsis: Explores the formative years of the orphaned author J.R.R. Tolkien as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school.

Release Date: May 10, 2019

Thoughts: I love a good biopic (emphasis on good) so there’s a certain spark of excitement generated by this first full trailer for Tolkien which seeks to give us a look at the life of the famed author before he wrote the novels that would captivate readers for generations.  Long before he sketched out Middle Earth, created Hobbits, dreamed up Gollum, and conjured Gandalf, Tolkien grew up in the shadow of war and eventually found himself entrenched in it.  I’m interested how the film will tie these experiences into his writing and already am liking the look and feel generated from what I’ve seen so far.  Starring Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite) and Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror), I’m keeping my fingers crossed Fox Searchlight does better with this author biography than they did with their A.A. Milne fiasco Goodbye Christopher Robin.

Movie Review ~ Apollo 11


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A look at the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon led by commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin.

Stars: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins

Director: Todd Douglas Miller

Rated: G

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review:  The red carpet has barely been rolled up from the Oscars celebrating the 2018 movie season but is it too early to feel like 2019 has already seen the release of a surefire nomination for Best Documentary?  Yeah, I know it’s barely March and there are many months to go before the documentary features released this year get shortlisted for a shot at an Academy Award but I can’t imagine Apollo 11 won’t be included in that spread.  Before this weekend, I had heard next to nothing about this film released from indie studio Neon, but after it secured a one-week engagement in IMAX I was curious if I should make time for it.  I’m so glad the timing worked out and I had the opportunity to see it projected on a huge screen.  Here’s a stunning accomplishment in cinema 50 years in the making that looks like it was filmed yesterday.

The moon landing in July of 1969 by the crew of Apollo 11 isn’t exactly an event we don’t know a lot about.  There have been countless books, movies, TV specials, and a few conspiracy theories that have broken down the extraordinary measures it took for NASA to send a man to the moon.  Just last year saw the arrival of First Man, a biopic of Neil Armstrong where Apollo 11’s mission plays a key part of the action.  While that movie was a bust due in no small part to its cold aloofness toward the audience, Apollo 11 embraces viewers with open arms.

Using an astonishing amount of footage that hasn’t been seen previously, director Todd Douglas Miller has put together a documentary with a style I usually shy away from.  There’s no narration and no interviews…it relies entirely on film shot during the time of Apollo 11’s mission both on the ground and in space.  Okay, there’s a tiny bit of basic animation to illustrate some of the maneuvers the spacecraft undertook on its journey to the moon but it’s unobtrusive to the fascinating audio and video many of us will be taking in for the first time.  Remastered and optimized for an IMAX experience, the footage looks spectacular, you’ll very likely forget you’re watching a documentary and not a Hollywood movie that’s spared no expense in reproducing the mission with top notch production design and special effects.

The movie wastes no time in introducing us to astronauts Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins and detailing their preparation to take on this challenge into the unknown.  As they suit up, we get quick flashes of each of their personal histories that led them to this point and hold our breaths as they take their place at the top of a rocket that will send them into orbit. If you’ve seen First Man, you have the added context of what fueled Armstrong’s urge to take to the skies but Aldrin and Collins have always been a bit of an enimga to me.  It should also be noted that Armstrong is shown to be a genial, warm, personable presence…a far cry from the emotionally vacant shell Ryan Gosling played him as in First Man.

Making sure everything goes as planned are hundreds of workers on the ground monitoring their progress from Florida and Houston.  Almost entirely male, the NASA employees manning the control station are level-headed and precise…but at times become a little hard to distinguish from one another.  At the same time, Miller brings in footage of the general public arriving to witness this historic moment, crowding onto beaches and hotel balconies to have the best vantage point at lift off.  These establishing shots are important to orient us to the time, place, and people without ever having to explain anything to the viewer.  I can understand where Miller obtained the NASA footage but these passages of the swells of people is truly an impressive get, especially considering how pristine they’ve been rendered.

There are several scenes in Apollo 11 that unexpectedly hit me in a real emotional sweet spot.  Don’t be shocked if the pulse pounding take-off, Armstrong’s first step onto the moon, the astronaut’s splash landing on their return, or a beautiful coda elicit some tears.  I’m not sure if it was the general awesomeness of these moments captured on film or a feeling of pride at the accomplishment of our country but it’s enough to make you almost uncontrollably leap out of your seat at the end.  I’d sit through the movie all over again just to witness Apollo 11 lifting off from the ground and ascending into the heavens — a truly spellbinding few minutes.

Certain movies are meant to be seen in theaters on the biggest possible screen, like last year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary Free SoloApollo 11 is absolutely one of those films where you should do everything you can to catch it before it leaves your local cinema.  I can imagine it will still play well if you watch it at home but there’s nothing that will be able to beat the experience of watching these monumental moments on the most gigantic screen you can find.  See it, see it, see it.  You won’t be disappointed.

Movie Review ~ Greta

1


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A young woman befriends a lonely widow who’s harboring a dark and deadly agenda towards her.

Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea

Director: Neil Jordan

Rated: R

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  In my mid-teens, I used to love the made-for-TV movies that aired on the USA Television Network.  Remember those?  The modest thrillers featured an array of crazies (mothers, nannies, children, stalkers, stepfathers, etc) preying upon naïve chumps that were easily tricked and overpowered.  They were soapy, syrupy, and an absolute delight to devour on their own or in a weekend marathon where they would all start to blend together by the time Sunday night rolled around.  Watching the entertaining new thriller Greta, I found myself riding a wave of nostalgia because you don’t have to squint too hard to see that for all its handsome production values and A-list leads it’s just a gussied up made for cable movie.

Still grieving the loss of her mother, recent NYC transplant Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz, Suspiria) hopes living in a new city with her college friend Erica (Maika Monroe, The 5th Wave) will help her move on.  Though she’s from Boston, Frances displays some downright Midwestern morals when she finds a purse left behind on the subway and returns it to Greta (Isabelle Huppert, Dead Man Down).  The lonely woman takes a liking to Frances and the two form a friendship that seemingly fills a void present in both of their lives.  Greta’s daughter doesn’t live close and Frances begins to enjoy spending time with the soft-spoken older woman.  That all changes when Frances discovers a secret about Greta that sets into motion a series of events revealing Greta’s true nature.

To say more about the second and third acts of Greta would be to give away some of the twists screenwriter Ray Wright and director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, In Dreams) have waiting for audiences, most of which are telegraphed well in advance.  The film is exactly what you think it’s going to be and doesn’t stray too far from the path.  Usually, I’d huff and puff about this lack of originality but the way Greta unfolds is so nicely handled by Jordan and his actors that I found myself quite enjoying just going along for the intriguing ride.

The performances are actually the most surprising thing the movie has to offer.  It’s a great benefit that Jordan has Huppert in the title role because she brings her inherent oddity to the forefront and makes it her weapon to keep us on our toes.  We know from moment one there’s something off about her (and it seems like Frances does too) but Huppert’s sad eyes and wan smile nicely hide the rage boiling underneath her porcelain surface.  When she feels rejected by Frances she lashes out in unexpected ways, which creates an air of uncomfortable unpredictability and that’s a space Huppert seems to revel working in.

I often struggle with Moretz as an actress but her turn here feels like one of the most fully formed characters she’s tackled.  Frances has some emotional trauma that hasn’t healed and she can’t totally forgive her father (Colm Feore, The Prodigy) who appears to have moved on with his life.  Moretz wades through some of the heaviness in Wright’s script and brings forth a lonely girl in a big city that feels familiar and relatable.  We understand why she might eschew a night out drinking at a club with her party girl trust fund roommate for a quiet dinner with the widowed Greta.  And we also see why Greta’s betrayal of trust hurts her so much.

The slow boil of the first 45 minutes gives way to an increasingly hard to swallow turn of events that don’t always jibe from scene to scene.  At one point Moretz is kicking down a door with her bare foot and in the next shot she’s unable to break a window.  A character is introduced late in the proceedings for no good reason other than to up the danger ante for Frances and satisfy some unspoken violence quota.  And for a movie set in the modern day it mystifies me that Greta’s place of residence is so hard to find one character goes on what is essentially a needle in a haystack search instead of firing up Google Maps.

Jordan is a curious filmmaker with a resume that covers many genres.  He hasn’t had an outright thriller in a while but he wades into the waters quite well with interesting camera set-ups and pacing that keeps things moving along without accumulating much drag.  There are several suspenseful sequences staged with people in peril from dangers just outside the frame and it creates the desired tension.  For those that like blunt edges, there’s a bit of gore that shocks with glee.

Now that the Oscars have been given out and everyone has patted themselves on the back, it’s time to get back to business.  We made it through a particular rough January (Serenity – yikes!) and a February that saw some modest, but not huge, hits (Alita: Battle Angel, What Men Want) and before you knew it, March is upon us.  With a host of anticipated movies set for release in March, Greta is being released in a narrow window before the blockbusters arrive.  It may be getting a release without much fanfare but it’s a better film than it’s modest roll-out would have you believe. With noted caveats aside, this one is worth catching in theaters.

Final Oscar Predictions and Rankings

Here we are!  The big day!  It feels like this awards season has gone on forever and a never ending barrage of controversy from the host, to the length of the telecast, to what awards might not be presented live on the telecast.  At the end of the day, the 91st Academy Awards will be a hostless affair and feature only four of the five musical performances.  All the winners will be announced live and aside from that many of the races are coming down to a photo finish.  As it usually the case, many pundits (myself included) are having last-minute buyers remorse and flip-flopping on who they think the winners will be.

The time has come, however, to shore up my picks and below you’ll see my rankings by film/nominee in each category representing my overall picks as well as a Will Win and Should Win.  Hopefully, this will give me a little room to put out into the ether some last minute good vibes for nominees that may not be coming into the night as favorites but who could leave the ceremony with an Oscar in hand.

Also, this is the first year I’ve seen all the nominees and while I’m not sure how much of a edge that gets me because the Oscars are nothing if not unpredictable when it comes down to it.  I do think, though, that critics/movie fans worth their salt need to look beyond commercial films or buzzed about titles and seek out the nominees that might not be the most talked about.  It felt good to see everything and go into the night understanding what the winners were up against.

BEST PICTURE
A Star is Born
The Favourite

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Roma
Green Book
Bohemian Rhapsody
Vice

Will Win: All signs point to Roma becoming the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar.  
Should Win: My heart hurts that the raw energy of A Star is Born and the audacious pluck of The Favourite won’t be rewarded.

BEST DIRECTOR
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Adam McKay, Vice

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron’s winning for Roma seems like a foregone conclusion.
Should Win:
Spike Lee – I just feel deep down this award was meant for him this year.

BEST ACTOR
Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
Christian Bale, Vice
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

Will Win: Rami Malek – a strong performance but it’s not near the level of work that the person I think should win put in.  Malek has played the game this season, though, and when he wins it will be because he gladhanded his way into voters hearts.
Should Win: 
Bradley Cooper – I just can’t believe Cooper didn’t walk away with this award.  He was responsible for so much behind the scenes with A Star is Born and then to turn in this kind of performance?  It’s remarkable.  I do think his lack of presence with voters hurt him — he likely thought he had it in the bag and didn’t put the same kind of effort that Malek did.  Which is too bad because the award should be given to the performance, not the person.

BEST ACTRESS
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star is Born
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma

Will Win: Glenn Close – it’s not, um, close, to her finest work but it’s definitely her time to take home Oscar gold.
Should Win:
Melissa McCarthy gave the best performance of any of the nominees.  No question.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Elliott, A Star is Born
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Will Win: It’s category fraud since he’s without question the co-lead of Green Book, but Mahershala Ali is heading for his second Oscar.
Should Win: If there’s one wish I had for Oscar night it would be that Rami Malek would be blanked for Best Actor.  If had two wishes, the second would go toward hoping Richard E. Grant would be a surprise upset in this race.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma

Will Win:
Regina King is such a strong force in If Beale Street Could Talk and she’s well liked by nearly everyone in The Academy.  I found the performance to be slightly one-note but the note is almost always played in perfect pitch.
Should Win: Rachel Weisz – though she’ll split the vote with her co-star, Weisz has the trickiest role of the other two ladies in The Favourite.  Seeing the movie again recently only confirmed that she’s the MVP of that movie.

BEST EDITING
Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite

John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody
Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book
Hank Corwin, Vice

Will Win: Seems like people want to reward John Ottman for taking the mess that was Bohemian Rhapsody and fashioning it into something that could be released.  Still, if you’ve seen the film you’d know that the editing is amateur hour all the way.
Should Win:
BlacKkKlansman has so little excess fat on it, it’s streamlined which adds to its breathlessness.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice
Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book

Will Win: This is a close race with many wanting to reward Paul Schrader, even if First Reformed isn’t in the same league as his classic scripts for Taxi Driver or Raging Bull.  I’m still betting on The Favourite to win.
Should Win:
The Favourite – it’s the best shot it has at a sure-thing Oscar tonight, despite tying Roma for the most nominations.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters and Eric Roth, A Star is Born
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Will Win: The team from BlacKkKlansman are the likely victors, only because this might be the only time of the night to give Spike Lee an Oscar.
Should Win:
If you’ve read Lee Israel’s book that Can You Ever Forgive Me? was based off, I’m told you’d know why Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty deserve the award for taking source material and expanding its ideas for the screen.  Just look what they did with Richard E. Grant’s character who only briefly turns up in the book but becomes a solid supporting player in the movie.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Capernaum {Lebanon}
Roma {Mexico}
Shoplifters {Japan}
Never Look Away {Germany}
Cold War {Poland}

Will Win: Roma – the groundswell for this makes it almost an unstoppable force.  Only Cold War (the worst of the five) could upset it should voters not want to vote for Roma here and in Best Picture.
Should Win:
Capernaum – far more involving from a narrative perspective than Roma ever was, I can see why some people are turned off at the subject matter.  It’s still the best of the five nominees.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
Matthew Libatique, A Star is Born
Lukasz Zal, Cold War
Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron for Roma
Should Win:
Robbie Ryan’s cinematography for The Favourite was, like the film, inventive and unexpected.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton, The Favourite
John Myhre, Gordon Sim, Mary Poppins Returns
Hannah Beachler, Black Panther
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas, First Man
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez, Roma

Will Win: The team behind The Favourite created a period-perfect world that was meticulous and gorgeous.
Should Win:
The Favourite

BEST SOUND MIXING
A Star is Born
Bohemian Rhapsody
Black Panther

First Man
Roma

Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody
Should Win:
A Star is Born

BEST SOUND EDITING
A Quiet Place
Bohemian Rhapsody
Black Panther
First Man
Roma

Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody
Should Win:
A Quiet Place

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots
Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Will Win: Ruth E. Carter – every other nominee had some sort of point of reference to work with but Carter created these stupendous designs from scratch using new technologies.  That should absolutely get her the Oscar.
Should Win:
Ruth E. Carter

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
RBG
Of Fathers and Sons
Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Will Win: Free Solo – even if the subject wasn’t such a fascinating guy, the effort that went into making this was Herculean in scope.
Should Win:
Free Solo

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Mirai

Will Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – no other nominee comes close.
Should Win:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Avengers: Infinity War
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Christopher Robin

Will Win: Avengers: Infinity War – the sheer magnitude of effects is impressive, and that is doesn’t look like a cartoon is why it should be rewarded.
Should Win:
First Man – the subtle work that went into sending Neil Armstrong to the moon doesn’t overshadow the action and mostly goes unnoticed.  The best visual effects are the ones that we believe to be true.

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Border
Vice
Mary Queen of Scots

Will Win: Vice – Christan Bale’s performance would be just the glorified impression it is without the work here.
Should Win: Border – if more people had been able to see this movie, they would be on board for voting.  The full body transformation accomplished here was stunning.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman
Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns

Will Win: Nicholas Britell’s score for If Beale Street Could Talk was almost another character.  It’s beautiful.
Should Win:
Britell

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Shallow”, A Star is Born
“The Place Where Lost Things Go”, Mary Poppins Returns
“All the Stars”, Black Panther
“I’ll Fight”, RBG
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings”, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Will Win: “Shallow”
Should Win:
“Shallow”- If this doesn’t win it would be the capper on the cruel journey A Star is Born has gone on these last few months of coming into the awards season as the frontrunner only to be usurped by movies that aren’t nearly as universally liked.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Period. End of Sentence
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden

Will Win: Black Sheep – this was a rough bunch this year and this was probably the best of the four fairly depressing entries.  I don’t think it’s a true documentary, though, which put it out of the running in my book.
Should Win: Period. End of Sentence – I guess I’m just favoring work this year that uplifts and this documentary has its heart in the right place and put it to good use.  I can’t believe some of the comments I’ve read about how male voters will likely be turned off because talking about women’s mestrual cycles was “icky”.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Bao
Animal Behaviour
Weekends

Will Win: Bao – shown in front of Incredibles 2 this summer, it’s the one most voters will have seen, even if it’s not the strongest of the bunch…or even one of the better Pixar shorts.
Should Win:
Late Afternoon – the animation may be simplistic but the journey it takes you on is anything but.  It’s the clear winner for me.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Marguerite
Mother
Detainment
Fauve
Skin

Will Win: Skin – it’s the most cinematic of all but voters knowing the director went on to make a full length film with the same title loosely based on the same subject might want to hold their vote to see how that one turns out.
Should Win: Marguerite – the least problematic of all the nominees and also the least outright depressing. Like the animated short Late Afternoon, it’s a small, simple tale beautifully told.