Movie Review ~ Raw

The Facts:

Synopsis: When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.

Stars: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella

Director: Julia Ducournau

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Usually, if a movie features well-prepared food with sumptuous ingredients people will tell you to go in with a full-stomach to avoid it growling too much at the sights of such a feast.  I’d advise anyone seeing Raw to be absolutely, positively sure your stomach is free from any contents and to certainly avoid eating while watching.  After a busy day where I forgot to eat lunch, I made the mistake of firing up this French horror film while eating dinner and that was a mistake.  A big mistake.

Joining her older sister (Ella Rumpf) at a prestigious veterinary college in Belgium, Justine (a wildly game Garance Marillier) is plunged into the school’s storied hazing rituals which make the drinking challenges in 2016’s Goat look like a tea party.  Naïve and very vegetarian, Justine gets no breaks for being the sister of an upperclassmen, eventually being forced to consume a raw rabbit kidney much to her own horror.  Developing an unsightly skin rash and nursing an increasingly insatiable for uncooked meat, Justine transforms into a flesh-eater not above eating a crudely amputated finger of a similarly cannibalistic loved one.  As the hunger grows so does the competition between sisters as they each set sights on Justine’s bisexual roommate (Rabah Nait Oufella) who may turn out to be satisfying on more than one level.

Writer/director Julia Ducournau’s debut is a bold and bloody feature with a feminist streak amidst the gore.  While it falters around the mid-point and never quite makes it back up the hill, it has a clever ending and go-for-broke performances that make sure it’s never boring.  Excessive in every sense, Ducournau takes multiple cues from Italian horror-master Dario Argento in the way she uses color and light to create some seriously atmospheric sequences.

If you have your ear to the film festival circuit, you may have heard how the graphic violence in Raw was enough to cause audience members to pass out and upchuck their popcorn and Jujubes.  Safe to say that if you’re inclined to heave at the sight of flesh being gnawed at this isn’t the movie for you.  While I did look away a few times (‘hairball’ is all I’ll say…you’ve been warned) and caught a few scenes through carefully splayed fingers, the bloody grisliness featured in Raw wasn’t enough for me to reach for my smelling salts or the remote to turn it off.

The extremity of the movie begins to wear and at times becomes too repetitive, but in a sea of zombie films and space alien features, Raw is a nice international reminder that horror doesn’t have to feature the undead or extraterrestrials to create a sense of dread.  Sometimes our own bodies crave something that can scare us even more.

Movie Review ~ Life (2017)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station whose mission of discovery turns to one of primal fear when they find a rapidly evolving life form that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: On the drive home after the screening of Life, I ran afoul of my partner after repeatedly referring to it as an ‘odd, little movie’.  At first thinking I was just lazily falling back on a casual turn of phrase, I began to agree with myself that for all its A-List star power, occasional scares, and well-executed special effects the film was a strange, small endeavor for all involved.  Not tiny enough to be a direct-to-video tax write-off and not big enough to be a major player in the summer months (though it was intended for a May 2017 release until Alien: Covenant moved its release date in close proximity), Life fits decently into the grey area between Oscar season and the mid-year blockbuster event films.

In an unusually long pre-title sequence, we meet the crew occupying the International Space Station as they intercept a satellite returning from Mars containing a specimen from the red planet.  As the camera glides from person to person, it feels less like an introduction and more like a location tour to help orient the audience for the action to come.  Macho Rory (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool) is the wise-cracking dude of the team, Army vet David (Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners) is about to break the world record for most consecutive days in space which worries quarantine officer Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation).  They join commanding officer Kat (Olga Dihovichnaya), scientist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare, Jupiter Ascending), and pilot Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada, 47 Ronin) in marveling at the extraterrestrial life discovered when the Mars sample is thawed out.

Fascination turns to horror as the specimen, dubbed “Calvin”, begins to grow rapidly in mind and body, eventually escaping the confines of the lab and hunting down the crew one by one.  It’s Alien-like premise aside, there are a few surprises to be had in Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese’s script for Life as it takes some turns you may not be expecting.  Director Daniel Espinosa (Child 44) is no Ridley Scott, however, and the workmanlike way Life is compiled and its odd pacing gives it the feeling of a movie that desperately wants to be better than it is.

When Reynolds, Ferguson, and Gyllenhaal signed on, I’m betting they were counting on this being a summer release but truth be told the way the film is structured and performed it feels more like an art-house alternative to a sci-fi horror tent-pole picture.  Reynolds is on cruise control as his usual cool as a cucumber self while Gyllenhaal surprisingly rests a bit on his laurels and goes only halfway in crafting the haunted character he’s perfected in films like Enemy and Nightcrawler.  Only Ferguson seems to lock into her role, never over-doing the “company man” attitude or under-selling her rising terror that this creature may somehow find its way back to earth.

Had the movie only had three characters, it may have felt a bit less cramped…and been a bit easier to understand.  Dihovichnaya & Sanada’s thick accents make it difficult to understand them at times, which becomes a problem anytime they’re tasked with delivering key bits of information.  There’s an attempt to give Bakare an interesting back story in a briefly mentioned tangent as to how the wheelchair bound man is living out his dream of mobility in the anti-gravity playground above earth.  Alas, any deeper development is jettisoned in favor of more scenes of peril inflicted by the bloodthirsty fast evolving being that’s taken over the ISS.

While there are some solid special effects sequences that take place outside of the station, anything that happens inside had me alternately rolling my eyes and raising my eyebrows.  Calvin flirts between an animated starfish-like object and a questionably created CGI monster that looks like an evil cousin to the benign alien creatures from The Abyss.  Espinosa films so much of the movie in tight close-up or without any establishing shots that it’s often hard to tell where anyone is in relation to each other and voiceovers are used as a cheap gimmick to tell what they can’t show.  I definitely got a couple of guffaws from the way the astronauts kept bobbing up and down (some more violently than others) as a way to show the zero-gravity atmosphere.

So yeah…it’s an odd little (big-ish) movie and while it may carve out some decent box office numbers by being released in a movie climate that’s been largely earthbound, Life isn’t going to be on the calling card for anyone involved.  It’s bound to be forgotten entirely by the time Alien: Covenant is released in two short months.  Perhaps this will find greater value on Netflix which, come to think of it, would have been an ideal release platform instead.

Movie Review ~ Beauty and the Beast (2017)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: An adaptation of the Disney fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.

Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Sir Ian McKellen, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Dan Stevens, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Hattie Morahan

Director: Bill Condon

Rated: PG

Running Length: 129 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10, 7.5 on a second viewing)

Review: Let’s start with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: I had to see this live-action version of Beauty and the Beast twice before I felt I could really give it a fair shake.  I had been so looking forward to seeing Disney’s classic tale come to life that I perhaps went in with expectations dialed too high, spending much of the first screening feeling a bit, well, let-down.  Not that the production design wasn’t glorious (it is), not that the music wasn’t stirring (Alan Menken’s score still dazzles), and not that the actors giving flesh and bone life to characters crafted in animation studios weren’t up to the task (they are…mostly), but there was something that just didn’t hit my ‘Thrill Me’ button.  Seeing it again two weeks later in 3D accompanied by rich Dolby Atmos sound, I found some magic that wasn’t there before…but many of the problems remained.

Let’s go back to 1991 when Disney hand-drawn animation reached its full renaissance and true zenith with the release of Beauty and the Beast.  A dynamite blockbuster and instant classic, it also became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture (other nominees that year? Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides, and the winner The Silence of the Lambs) a title it held for 18 years until the list of nominees was expanded and Pixar’s Up nabbed a nom.  Disney recognized it had a property that could have a life beyond the silver screen and soon Beauty and the Beast became a highly popular and endlessly profitable Broadway musical.  With countless releases on video, DVD, BluRay and a 2012 re-release in 3D, the film is easily Disney’s bread and butter.  It’s no wonder, then, that with the popularity of Disney’s recent slate of live-action adaptations of their classic animated films (Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book), Beauty and the Beast is swooping back into theaters in a lavish new production.

You know the story, right?  Snooty, spoiled prince angers old beggar woman that’s really an enchantress in disguise.  Prince is turned into a beast and his staff are turned into various objects until the prince/beast learns to love and be loved in return.  Enter headstrong and misunderstood Belle who winds up imprisoned by the Beast but warms his cold heart.  The rest is fairy tale history.

My biggest issue with 2017’s BatB (let’s shorten it, shall we?) is its length.  The original film was a solid 84 minutes with very little in the way of excess plot, characters, or showiness but this film is 129 minutes and feels longer than it had to be.  That’s due to some baffling additions in plot and characters that feel like distractions from the action instead of support for the story.

Take Audra McDonald (Ricki and the Flash) and Stanley Tucci (Spotlight) as the castle entertainment turned into a wardrobe and a cadenza, respectively.  McDonald’s character isn’t new but the role is beefed up to ridiculous proportions, seemingly only to have an excuse to showcase McDonald’s glorious soprano.  Tucci’s piano man adds nothing to the plot and winds up taking time away from established characters Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen, The Wolverine, crazily underused) and Lumiere (Scotsman Ewan McGregor, A Million Ways to Die in the West, nearly nailing a French accent).  Emma Thompson’s (Saving Mr. Banks) is no Angela Lansbury but, even though an obvious choice, her warm-hearted Mrs. Potts gets the job done, delivering a sweet interpretation of the title tune.

Screenwriter Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) has made the curious decision to provide a backstory for Belle and her father that involves Paris, a windmill, and the Black Plague.  While it may give more dimension to the character in general, it takes up too much time and again feels like it was added to introduce one of Menken’s new songs.

Ah…the songs.  Three songs from original musical written by Menken and the late Howard Ashman were nominated for an Oscar and hearing them again with a full orchestra it’s not hard to see (or hear) why.  ‘Belle’ is still an energetic introduction not only to our heroine but to her “poor provincial town” as well.  I missed some of the eccentric townsfolk Disney animators dreamed up, they’ve been replaced by bland-ish niceties that strangely seem more sinister than their hand-drawn inspirations ever did.  ‘Be Our Guest’ remains the star centerpiece with McGregor and an entire Crate and Barrel’s worth of kitchen fare going Busby Berkley when serving dinner.  I’ve heard ‘Beauty and the Beas’t a zillion times in a million different versions but it never fails to choke me up with its grand music but tender lyrics.  Surprisingly, the songs Menken and Tim Rice wrote for the Broadway musical are jettisoned for lesser carbon copies.  I can’t quite understand why the Beast’s knock-out Act 1 closing number ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ was replaced by ‘Evermore’ which says nearly the exact same thing.  So, too, for ‘Days in the Sun’, taking the place of ‘Human Again’ without much justification.  The only semi-winner in the bunch is ‘How Can a Moment Last Forever’, sung by Emma Watson and Kevin Kline in the movie and Celine Dion over the closing credits.  It’s a clear bid for an Oscar nomination and never count Menken out to sneak in and win the prize.

Director Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) has never had the lightest touch and it shows in several frenetically edited numbers that cut away when they should be pulling back and showing the choreography.  It’s interesting that the best staged number (‘Be Our Guest’) is the one largely done with CGI and not the otherwise exuberant opening number or villain Gaston’s big boastful number set in a beer hall.  I was worried that the enchanted objects would look odd and they most certainly do.  It takes a good fifteen minutes to adjust to these computer creations which are blended seamlessly into the live-action pieces.  The castle design is gorgeous and the film looks like it spent every nickel of its sizable budget.

In the title roles, Dan Stevens (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) and Emma Watson (Noah) are just dandy but don’t truly possess the ‘It” factor that would make them feel like the only possible choices.  Watson’s got a good demeanor and knows exactly who Belle is, but her singing voice is AutoTuned to an almost comical level and I so missed hearing the soaring vocals of Paige O’Hara.  Though Stevens feels slightly too old next to Watson (giving further fodder to the whole Stockholm Syndrome debate that’s followed the tale since it’s origins), he manages to create an actual character within the constraints of his motion-captured Beast creation.  He’s got a nice singing voice too.

The best of the non-professionals is Luke Evans (The Raven) as Gaston.  Though he isn’t the ‘size of a barge’ as his character indicates in song, he’s a nicely nasty villain cut-off at the knees by the independent Belle and her protective father (Kevin Kline, The Big Chill).  He’s got a rich voice and makes each of his scenes and interactions count, I like that he didn’t try to excuse Gaston’s actions or show any redeeming qualities that might make us feel sorry for him.  Then there’s Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer), an actor I just don’t get.  I liked him in Frozen when he was heard and not seen but as Gaston’s sidekick Lefou he’s easily the most grating presence in the film.  Condon gives Gad far too much slack to modernize his character through shamelessly mugging while lip-synching terribly and though his affections for Gaston are plain as day, the “exclusive gay moment” being buzzed about is a blink and you’ll miss it beat most won’t even recognize.

There’s no doubt this is going to make Disney another trillion dollars at the box office and in clever tie-ins but for me this was the least successful live-action update so far.  It wants to have it both ways; being reverential to the original one moment and not quite as precious to it in another.  Condon wraps it up with a terrible final edit that only made me angrier the second time I saw it. Rated PG, it rides the line of being too long for little kids and pretty scary when you throw in two fairly terrifying wolf attacks.  It’s much darker than the animated film so parents should think twice before taking the tots to this – popping in the original would be my suggestion.

Movie Review ~ Land of Mine

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A young group of German POWs are made the enemy of a nation, where they are now forced to dig up 2 million land-mines with their bare hands.

Stars: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Laura Bro

Director: Martin Zandvliet

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Just when you thought all the good WWII stories had been told, along comes Land of Mine from Denmark.  Nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, it may not have won the top prize or been richly promoted like some of its fellow nominees but it’s a handsomely made effort and a surprisingly memorable one at that.

It’s 1945 in Denmark and while the war is over the battle isn’t quite done.  A crop of young Nazi POW’s are put to work removing the land mines from the coastal beaches and what a deadly task that turns out to be.  Given basic training in locating and dismantling these mechanical booby traps, the young men are kept in rudimentary conditions and nearly starved to death by their captors.  At first, they find little sympathy from their guard Sgt. Carl (Roland Møller), a patriot blistered by his hatred of all Nazis.  Before he meets the boys his anger at the Nazi occupation is demonstrated in bloody detail when he beats a marching prisoner within an inch of his life.

Originally at odds within their own group, they begin to form some semblance of a bond once they are pushed to the brink by Carl and after several lose their limbs and/or lives.  It doesn’t take a seasoned screenwriter to see the plot mechanics of writer/director Martin Zandvliet’s film and you can easily pick out who will avoid going kaboom and almost the precise moment Carl will soften.  Still, strong performances go a long way to elevate Land of Mine away from territory so familiar we aren’t invested in the outcome.

Beautifully filmed by Camilla Hjelm with an unobtrusive score from Sune Martin, Zandvliet keeps you literally on the edge of your seat even as you wait for the inevitable to happen.  As the boys crawl along the beaches and uncover bomb after hidden bomb, you start to let your guard down before reality explodes from below.  To some, it may feel like easy retribution for what the Nazi party did to countless countries and their people, but Zandvliet makes it less about justified revenge and more about the tragedy of the entire situation on both sides.  After all, many of these German POW’s were simple teenagers recruited from their homes and fighting a war they had no value or stake in…when they cry for their families and fallen friends it’s not easy to group them with the SS officers that set about exterminating much of the population in these European countries.

Entertaining but standardly so, it’s not hard to see why Land of Mine wound up in the top five lists at the Oscars just as it’s not hard to see why it didn’t have the full substance to take the award home.  Very much worth a watch, though; just make sure you trim your nails before it starts or else you’ll chew them down during the more tense moments.

Movie Review ~ Logan

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Boyd Holbrook, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Richard E. Grant

Director: James Mangold

Rated: R

Running Length: 137 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: We should all be thanking Mission: Impossible 2.  It may be hard to fathom now, but had his filming as the villain in that sorry sequel not stretched beyond its original shooting schedule, Doughray Scott and not Hugh Jackman would have been the one that wound up playing Logan/Wolverine in nine films.  Well, actually, I’m not sure Scott had the charisma necessary to have lasted as long as Jackman has in the role.  Though he’s ably stretched beyond the superhero universe, Jackman will always be favorably associated with this character/franchise and rightfully so.  Showing a willingness to be a team player (popping up in a cameo during X:Men – First Class) or going his own way in two stand-alone Wolverine pictures, Jackman has seen this role through to the end.  We may see Wolverine again in some form but if Logan is truly the finale Jackman has promised, he’s gone out in a burning blaze of glory.

It’s not worth going back and trying to connect the dots between the X-Men movies when thinking about Logan.  Taking place in the near future shortly after a catastrophic event that dramatically decreased the number of mutants roaming the globe, we meet a weary Logan living under the radar and showing his age.  Moonlighting as a limo driver for extra cash and with his earth-saving days seemingly behind him, he acts as a guardian to Professor X (Patrick Stewart, Green Room), now suffering in an advanced state of dementia.

Crossing paths not only with a silent but deadly pre-teen mutant (Dafne Keen) but the bounty hunter (Boyd Holbrook, Gone Girl) intent on tracking her down, the aged man with adamantium claws that spring from his knuckles doesn’t want to be anywhere near the action.  Resistance is futile, though, and Logan begrudgingly becomes a foster parent of sorts to the girl, committing to delivering her to a protected area in the upper Midwest while keeping Professor X close by.  The trip is rocky with many unexpected detours, all leading to a surprisingly emotional climax that feels justly earned.

With all the “last time as Wolverine” talk surrounding Logan, I’ll let you find out for yourself where our hero is when the credits roll but don’t be surprised if Jackman, reteaming with The Wolverine director James Mangold, has a few tricks up his sleeve as he closes this chapter.  The previous two solo Wolverine films have been a mixed bag.  The first was an outright miss, stumbling out of the gates and pretty much nixing several planned X-Men spin-offs at the same time.  2013’s The Wolverine was a much better film than most gave it credit for but in the end the third time really is the charm because Logan represents the best of what all involved have to offer.

It was a good move on the part of 20th Century Fox, emboldened by the smash success of Deadpool, in okaying Mangold and his screenwriters to make Logan a hard R, a rating it earns within the first five minutes thanks to a gory bit of violence and a barrage of colorful language.  I’ll admit to enjoying hearing Stewart swear like a sailor and while I generally favor the less is more approach, free from ratings restraints it seems like everyone and everything is much looser and less cautious.  The violence is exceedingly vicious and no flesh, blood vessel, bones, or skulls are spared.  And it never feels forced, just that the studio finally allowed the audience to see this world as it was always meant to be.

Admittedly, the X-Men aren’t quite in my wheelhouse and it’s taken me a while to come around to their place in the superhero universe.  I feel they’ve improved as they’ve gone along, feeling less comic book-y and more wholly formed with each passing entry (I know you all hated X-Men: Apocalypse but I dug it just fine).  While Logan isn’t directly tied to those previous films (like Apocalypse was to X-Men: Days of Future Past), it’s clear they are all operating in the same timeline and for that Logan feels like a step in the right direction.

Coming so far from just chomping on a cigar and trimming his mutant mutton chops, Jackman knows this character inside and out.  He takes the opportunity (and lengthy running time) to bring out every nuance he can, not letting Logan be changed from a grumpy old man overnight.  He’s matched well by Stewart, doing his best acting than in any previous X-Men film. Crippled by his disintegrating brain, his grizzled appearance is a far cry from the wheelchair bound gleaming cue ball in a designer suit we have come to enjoy.  Holbrook manages to make his villain nicely vile without alienating the audience in the process but the real find here is Keen who is able to handle some pretty heavy material and handily go claw-to-claw with the leading man.

Featuring several super charged action sequences and just gorgeously filmed in general, if there’s one thing I could ding Logan for it would be a nagging sense of familiarity to its tale of redemption.  While it has its fair share of original moves, you’ll likely be one step ahead of its protagonists on multiple occasions.  No matter, the movie hums along so nicely that even at nearly 2 ½ hours the time will fly by.

For my money, Logan is the best of Jackman’s outings as Wolverine and I’m glad it doesn’t wind up feeling like a tired final act.  This is what true character completion looks like and I applaud not only the entertainment value of the movie but the cast and crew that were allowed by their studio the freedom to give a proper send-off.  Highly recommended and likely worth a second viewing as well.

The Oscars – Final Predictions

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Well here we are…it’s the day of the show y’all and I’ve done by best to get a look at the nominees. Out of 62 movies nominated this year, I managed to see 61 (My Life as a Zucchini, I’ll be haunted by you for the next 365 days).  If you’re looking for help filling out your Oscar ballot, take heart to my final predictions below.  This was a good year for movies and many decisions are tough choices and/or close calls…but let’s hope there are more than a few surprises tonight and voters didn’t just vote for La La Land across the board.

BEST PICTURE
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures – Should Win
La La Land – Will Win
Lion
Manchester By the Sea
Moonlight

BEST DIRECTOR
Damien Chazelle – La La Land – Will Win
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge – Should Win
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By the Sea
Dennis Villenueve – Arrival

BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck – Manchester By the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences – Will Win/Should Win

BEST ACTRESS
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie – Should Win
Emma Stone – La La Land – Will Win
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight – Will Win/Should Win
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester By the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis – Fences – Will Win/Should Win
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester By the Sea

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Eric Heisserer – Arrival
August Wilson – Fences
Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
Luke Davies – Lion
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight – Will Win/Should Win

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Mike Mills – 20th Century Women
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By the Sea – Will Win/Should Win

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A Man Called Ove – Sweden – Should Win
Toni Erdmann – Germany
The Salesman – Iran – Will Win
Land of Mine – Denmark
Tanna – Australia

BEST EDITING
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge – Should Win
La La Land – Will Win
Hell or High Water
Moonlight

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Arrival – Should Win
Lion
La La Land – Will Win
Moonlight
Silence

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar – Should Win
La La Land – Will Win
Arrival
Passsengers

BEST SOUND MIXING
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge – Should Win
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
La La Land – Will Win
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST SOUND EDITING
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge – Will Win/Should Win
La La Land
Deepwater Horizon
Sully

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Extremis
4.1 Miles
Joe’s Violin – Should Win
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets – Will Win

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Ennemis Intérieurs – Will Win
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode – Should Win

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl – Should Win
Piper – Will Win

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie – Will Win/Should Win
La La Land
Allied

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Mica Levi – Jackie – Should Win
Justin Hurwitz – La La Land – Will Win
Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka – Lion
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Thomas Newman – Passengers

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
13th
I am Not Your Negro
OJ: Made in America – Will Win/Should Win
Fire at Sea
Life, Animated

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
My Life as a Zucchini
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
The Red Turtle
Zootopia – Will Win/Should Win

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
Kubo and the Two Strings
The Jungle Book – Will Win/Should Win
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Star Trek Beyond – Will Win/Should Win
Suicide Squad
A Man Called Ove

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars – La La Land – Will Win (I don’t love any of these songs so I’m not picking a “Should”)
How Far I’ll Go – Moana
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls
The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story

Movie Review ~ The Red Turtle

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The dialogue-less film follows the major life stages of a castaway on a deserted tropical island populated by turtles, crabs and birds.

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit

Rated: PG

Running Length: 80 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review: Nestled into a small theater on chilly Friday nursing a cup of coffee, I knew what I was in for with The Red Turtle. No dialogue, Oscar nominee, first film from Studio Ghibli that wasn’t Japanese, crafted by a small crew. Leading up to the Oscar nominations every shortlist for possible contenders mentioned this one and now having seen it myself it’s not hard at all to understand why. It’s a beautifully told piece that’s part fairy-tale, part parable, and unexpectedly moving.

Shipwrecked and waking up on a deserted island, a man struggles to acclimate himself to his new environment. We don’t know who he is, where he’s come from, or what kind of person he was before we meet him but we’re instantly rooting for him. Exploring the tropical islet, he winds up in a scene as harrowing as any live-action sequence I saw in the past year. When was the last time you felt an animated character was in physical danger…and not in a fantasy sort of way? In this brief bit of peril, writer/director Michael Dudok de Wit quickly shows what the stakes are if anything should happen to the man and how no one is there to help him.

Using bamboo and leaves, he fashions quite an impressive raft to take him back to civilization, only to have his raft capsized by an unseen force before he gets too far. Numerous attempts seem destined for success only to be dashed again and again by this great presence. Desperate, starving, and losing some will the man tries one last time and that’s when he comes face to face with the titular character. How the man winds up connecting with the turtle is best left for you to discover on your own as the tone changes from despair and uncertainty to survival and understanding.

As with most Studio Ghibli films, the animation is broad and flat which makes it look like a series of postcard images instead of one with great dimension but it’s an intensely rich film on nearly every level. There’s also a fair bit of humor to be had as well, with a family of crabs providing bits of comic relief to break up passages of time.

For a film with no dialogue, it really speaks to the heart and I can’t imagine how any words would have enhanced the thoughts and ideas brought to life by Ghibli. A beautiful score by Laurent Perez Del Mar is really all that’s needed to provoke the imagination and stir emotions. Every year the Oscars seem to locate one true animated gem that isn’t a mile a minute caper comedy or franchise blockbuster to give some variety to the category and obviously The Red Turtle is this year’s treasure.

The Red Turtle isn’t going to break any kind of box office but it’s a film I think parents will discover as time goes on and will enjoy sharing with not only their children but their friends.

Oscar Nominees: Best Makeup & Hairstyling

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Every day from now until the Oscars on Sunday, February 26 I’m going to deconstruct the nominees in each category. I’ll give you their history with the Academy, some extra thoughts on each nominee/film, who was snubbed, and what you might consider before choosing them in your office pool.

make-up

Nominee: Eva Von Bahr, Love Larson
Film
: A Man Called Ove
Oscar History: Both have one previous nomination under their belts, for last year’s surprise nominee The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Thoughts: Old age make-up can go very wrong (hello Jersey Boys) or very right, as it did with A Man Called Ove.  This sleeper hit from Sweden also is in the running for Best Foreign Film and it justly earned both of its nominations.  The graceful aging of key characters by Von Bahr and Larson added to the film’s heart and soul as we looked back on the titular character’s life.  Whereas the other two nominees are flashy, the work here is subtle but no less memorable.

Nominee: Joel Harlow, Richard Alonzo
Film
: Star Trek Beyond
Oscar History: Harlow has been nominated twice before, winning for Star Trek.  This is Alonzo’s first nomination.
Thoughts: I missed this one in theaters but watching it at home recently I was impressed not only with the rich visuals of the third entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise but how unique each and every character was in makeup and hairstyle.  No two beings looked alike and even if some looked like well painted sponges, there was a seemingly never ending buffet of colorfully intricate designs that passed by onscreen.  It helps that one of the nominees already won for the original reboot of the series…but then again maybe once was enough for some voters.

Nominee: Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, Christopher Allen Nelson
Film
: Suicide Squad
Oscar History: All are first time nominees
Thoughts: Boy, I really hated this movie  Hated. Hated. Hated.  It’s on my worst of the year list and for good reason – it’s an ugly, rotten film with ugly, rotten characters.  That being said, these first time nominees sure went full throttle into comic book land with new designs for the Joker, Harley Quinn, and Killer Croc.  It’s the Killer Croc design that could push this crew into the winners circle…but I personally can’t stomach the thought of Suicide Squad being forever referred to as “Oscar Winning”.

Missed Opportunity:

Should Been Nominated: Here’s another category where I think the Academy nominated the right artists.  The only other one that could have fit in here would have been Deadpool and it could have taken Suicide Squad’s place.

Any one of these could be named the winner but I’m going to throw my endorsement to Star Trek Beyond for its out of the box/world designs, though I’d be just as happy if A Man Called Ove snuck in there and snagged this one away from two loud Hollywood blockbusters. Just please…not Suicide Squad.

Oscar Nominees: Best Production Design

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Every day from now until the Oscars on Sunday, February 26 I’m going to deconstruct the nominees in each category. I’ll give you their history with the Academy, some extra thoughts on each nominee/film, who was snubbed, and what you might consider before choosing them in your office pool.

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Nominee: Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte
FilmArrival
Oscar History: Vermette was nominated once before, for The Young Victoria. This is Hotte’s first nomination.
Thoughts: Making a futuristic world look not so futuristic is not small feat and Vermette and Hotte aided Arrival‘s director in creating a unified vision of a not too distant future.  From the structured plain-ness of Amy Adams lakefront home to the various tents and pop up war rooms where government officials and scientists work together to figure out what some unexpected visitors want, the production design is organized and focused.  It’s actually a bit too subtle to truly contend with its fellow nominees, but overall the design is crisp.

Nominee: Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock
FilmFanastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Oscar History: Craig has been nominated 10 times before, winning for The English Patient, Dangerous Liaisons, and Gandhi.  Pinnock has been nominated five times before (twice in one year!), winning for The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Thoughts: For me, I always associate production design with the physically present sets and props the actors interact with.  While that does fall under the banner, the job of the production designer is to make cohesive all elements of the film production, including visual effects.  There’s a lot of imagination on display here and the period setting definitely helps one understand how these designers were nominated…but too much of the film feels created not crafted.

Nominee: Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
FilmHail, Caesar!
Oscar History: Gonchor was nominated once before, for True Grit. Haigh has been nominated six times before, winning for Bugsy.
Thoughts: Period pieces always tend to fare better because in the eyes of the Academy, there’s a greater degree of difficulty in the full recreation of the past.  The designers involved with Hail, Caesar! certainly got the feel and look of early Hollywood, creating not only several jaw dropping sound stages but a fully realized backlot and several glamorous beach front mansions.  Remember what I say (because I’ll be saying it often throughout the next few weeks), nothing pleases Hollywood more than to reward films about Hollywood.  

Nominee: David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
FilmLa La Land
Oscar History: First time nominees.
Thoughts: Following along in the footsteps of Hail Caesar!, La La Land also takes place on the back lot of a movie studio and makes its own dreamy trip through a soundstage featuring several genres of classic Hollywood.  There’s a more modern realism afoot and the nominees here were admirably able to clean-up Los Angeles without scrubbing it of all its underbelly touches too much.  I actually started to notice the production design more in the second half of the movie when we visit more intimate venues and glide through a fantasy sequence where the attention to the details makes all the difference.

Nominee: Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena
FilmPassengers
Oscar History: Hendrix Dyas has been nominated once before, for Inception.  Serdena has been nominated previously for Her.
Thoughts: This one is just completely odd to me.  Watching Passengers I remember specifically feeling how artificial everything looked.  The inner workings of the spaceship transporting human cargo to another galaxy is certainly grand in scope and doesn’t go the traditional route but the added visual effects tended to overwhelm the simple design elements..  Where most movies set in space have dark passageways and cold edges, the designers for Passengers balanced a brighter palate, lending some warmth to an overall chilly movie.

Missed Opportunity:

Should Been Nominated: Jean Rabasse for Jackie
Why?: I’m shocked Rabasse didn’t land a nomination for his striking recreations of historical locations in Jackie.  Perfectly blending with the work of the costume designer, the art direction was immaculate and not just the same old artist interpretation of the White House.  Rabasse had his work cut out since so many others have had a chance to put their own stamp on the Kennedy’s and their compounds…but this movie felt like it truly lept from the pages of history.  Passengers should have been swapped out for Jackie.

While I would love Hail! Caesar to nab the statue, it’s looking likely that La La Land, with its more contemporary take at Hollywood will continue its consumption of Oscars with a win here as well.

Oscar Nominees: Best Original Song

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Every day from now until the Oscars on Sunday, February 26 I’m going to deconstruct the nominees in each category. I’ll give you their history with the Academy, some extra thoughts on each nominee/film, who was snubbed, and what you might consider before choosing them in your office pool.

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Nominee: Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Song: ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’ from La La Land
Oscar History: First time nominees, Hurwitz is also nominated for Best Original Score
Thoughts: Right off the bat, let me say that I wish there was a rule that there could only be one nominee per film…but that’s sour grapes on my part because, well, read on.  The first of two songs nominated from La La Land is arguably the better of the pair, though it’s also the one that does more to solidify Emma Stone’s hopes of winning an Oscar than its own.  The 11 o’clock number for Stone’s struggling actress character, it’s got a good bridge but not much of a hook.  Truth be told, it’s largely due to Stone’s earnestly honest performance of it that makes it memorable.  Taken out of context on the live broadcast (and maybe sung by someone other than Stone), I’m wondering how strong it will feel.

Nominee: Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Song: ‘City of Stars’ from La La Land
Oscar History: First time nominees, Hurwitz is also nominated for Best Original Score
Thoughts: La La Land‘s second nomination is for the song featured heavy in the trailers and promo clips.  It’s an ear-worm of an anthem, but not a terribly tuneful or great one.  Score composer Justin Hurwitz wisely interspersed the song generously throughout the film and Ryan Gosling’s laid back jazz musician actually made me think he was coming up with the words right there on the spot.  Don’t forget that Hollywood LOVES to reward material that involves them in some way and a song called ‘City of Stars’ in a movie title La La Land hits the double target for voters that can’t get enough of their own back-patting. If neither film from La La Land takes the trophy, don’t feel too bad for composers/lyricists Pasek and Paul, they have Dear Evan Hansen, a sizable hit on Broadway looking likely to win them a Tony.

Nominee: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Song: ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from Moana
Oscar History: First time nominee
Thoughts: I’m just going to say it and I don’t care if you hate it.  Lin-Manuel Miranda is possibly the most overexposed celebrity alive today and if his song from Moana wins it will be largely due to the Hamilton fever that has taken over both coasts over the last two years.  There’s no doubt that Miranda is musically gifted and winning an Oscar here would make him the youngest EGOT winner ever (winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) but the man has already won everything under the sun (even a Pulitzer!) for Hamilton…voters are either going to want to make it a clean sweep or they’ll think Miranda has filled enough shelf space this year with other statuettes.  That being said, while Moana and this song aren’t my favorite in the Disney canon, it surely makes for a positive message for young girls in that it teaches them they don’t need to pine for a prince to achieve the impossible.

Nominee: Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, Shellback
Song: ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ from Trolls
Oscar History: First time nominees
Thoughts: Like Pharrel’s ‘Happy’ from a few years back, this song from Trolls is the kind of get up and shake your groove thing song that will make its performance one to look forward to.  If La La Land‘s two songs split the vote and Miranda Mania doesn’t bring Moana to the winner circle, this could (and, really, should) walk away the winner. The only caveat I can see is that this one has gotten the most radio air time and if listeners/voters are sick of hearing it every day in their gym it might make it harder for them to cast a vote for it to win.  It’s a fun song with good lyrics and a great hook…a definite party song.

Nominee: J. Ralph & Sting
Song: ‘The Empty Chair’ from Jim: The James Foley Story
Oscar History: Ralph has been nominated twice before, last year for Racing Extinction and in 2013 for Chasing Ice.  Sting has been nominated three times before, for Cold Mountain, Kate & Leopold, and The Emperor’s New Groove.
Thoughts: When the nominations for Best Original Song rolled out, I can imagine many people having to blink a few times when they saw this nomination appear on screen.  Looking over all the nominees, this is still the biggest WTF moment but digging deeper maybe it was wrong to count this one out in the first place.  Both Sting and J. Ralph have been nominated multiple times in this category and Sting especially has a lot of good friends within the Academy.  Trouble is, the song is a bit of a downer as is the documentary it’s pulled from so we could be in for a bathroom break once Sting takes the stage to perform it.  The movie didn’t get much traction…in fact, I didn’t even remember that I had SEEN this movie already, having caught it when it was broadcast on HBO earlier this year.

Missed Opportunity:

Should Been Nominated: ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’ from Sing Street
Why?: Oh my goodness I was SO hoping this song (or any song, for that matter) from Sing Street would make it into the nominations.  The movie has the best songs of the year in my book and any one of them could be placed in the list of nominees and outshone its competition.  Director John Carney’s previous two wide released films (Once and Begin Again) snagged nominations and Once actually won.  I think the music here is better than both of them so it’s a damn shame a song like the favored ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’ couldn’t rustle enough votes to see its name announced on Oscar night.  

In my book, the Best Song of the year wasn’t even nominated.  Instead we’re left with two languid songs from the first original musical produced in Hollywood in decades, a pretty good song from a hotter than hot composer, a party anthem destined to be played in roller rinks for eternity, and a Sting track that feels like a B-Side.  So…while I’d give it to the Trolls song I’m going to go with ‘City of Stars’ from La La Land for the win.  (By the way, all five nominees were better than Sam Smith’s dreadful winning song from last year!)