Friday, February 16, 2018

A Reel Review: BLACK PANTHER



For director Ryan Coogler, the pressure was certainly on in bringing BLACK PANTHER to the big screen for the first time. Originally created in 1966, the character was the very first African-American superhero; a reaction to the Civil Rights movement, and over the years has come to mean a lot to a lot of people. The character represents equality and culture and a lot more, and deserved to be done right in the massive, and ever-growing series of Marvel’s super-films.

After the death of his father, T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) arrives home as the new king of Wakanda; a hidden, technologically advanced African nation which has remained secluded from the world for thousands of years. While being faced with the immense pressure of Wakanda’s future and living up to his father’s reign, T’Challa’s right to the throne is challenged by N’Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan), also known as Killmonger…who has big plans for Wakanda and its secrets.

BLACK PANTHER arrives as the 19th (!) film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) since 2008, and right away makes the smart decision to focus its story on a single, isolated region which rarely ventures out, even though the eventual stakes have far-reaching consequences. It’s a battle for the throne and the future of Wakanda, with the latter point being the most important. Wakanda is a region of long-standing tradition; with the tradition of never interfering or assisting the world with its problems the hardest one to break. It’s a world-building exercise that gives T’Challa, his supporters, and his enemy Killmonger good territory to battle over, as the film leans heavily on a theme of what to do with old traditions when they seem obsolete; is it a betrayal of ancestry to adopt to the changing times, or a necessity to survive?

Far from a basic origin story (it’s not an origin story at all), BLACK PANTHER goes deeper with its characters for even more meat to chew on. T’Challa is struggling with the burden of rule and getting out of his father’s shadow, while Killmonger is a villain coming out of tragedy. Killmonger especially is given strong motivations to take over Wakanda, and his ideas of how the isolated kingdom should be using its riches and technology is debatably on the right side. This gives BLACK PANTHER an important depth.

Once the action starts BLACK PANTHER truly soars. The fight scenes, especially the hand-to-hand combat are a thrill, and every time T’Challa dons the Black Panther suit, the screen is commanded by his presence. The film is packed with tragedy with character deaths and lots of stabbing with spears and claws, and the stakes to every fight are always felt. The film looks beautiful and every shot is framed nicely. Editing and pacing could be a little tighter in some places; scenes leading up to a few action sequences needed some more energy and forward momentum. Ludwig Goransson’s score is excellent. The film is saturated in African culture; clothing, traditions, and music are a major part of the film’s identity and give it a uniqueness in the Marvel catalog and the superhero genre.

Chadwick Boseman is excellent as the struggling ruler and as the hero. The burden of leadership can always be seen on his face, but he switches from unsure to fierce in a blink, and his accent is perfect. Michael B. Jordan matches Boseman nicely, and is given a lot to do while nearly stealing the movie. Boseman is surrounded by a great supporting cast; Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, and Forest Whitaker are well-cast and are very good, and Jordan trades barbs with returning Marvel bad-guy Andy Serkis…who is always a joy to see. Martin Freeman also reprises his role as a government man; his character feels a little extraneous but his worth is eventually felt by movie’s end.

The final battle of BLACK PANTHER relies on way too much spectacle and becomes a bit of a CGI headache, but the film still wraps with a satisfying conclusion, and despite being firmly entrenched in the MCU, operates very well as a standalone film. As a superhero movie, BLACK PANTHER excels in action and character, and its few flaws don’t derail it as a fitting adaptation to an important hero.

BOTTOM LINE: See it






Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Reel Preview: Everything You Need to Know About BLACK PANTHER




This week, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) releases their 18th film in their series since 2008 in the form of BLACK PANTHER, which may be one of the most anticipated superhero films of all time. In this preview, is everything you need to know about this newest Marvel adventure…

What’s the big deal? – The big deal is that the character of Black Panther is the first African-American superhero to appear in the comics, predating other well-known heroes such as Luke Cage, Falcon, and the DC Comics’ character John Stewart/Green Lantern. Although cinema has brought us black superheroes before in BLADE (1998) and HANCOCK (2008), the Black Panther character pre-dates those, and is the first solo outing for the character in the MCU.

What is this all about? – Picking up after the events of CIVIL WAR (2016), BLACK PANTHER follows T’Challa, who is returning home as the king of Wakanda; a fictional, technologically advanced secret city in East Africa. T’Challa uses his wealth, technology, and skills to moonlight as the Black Panther hero, and he finds himself challenged by a long-time adversary…leading to global consequences.

Who is behind the camera? – BLACK PANTHER is directed by Ryan Coogler, who brought us the magnificent CREED in 2015. His other notable credit is the acclaimed FRUITVILLE STATION in 2013.

Who is in front of the camera? – Chadwick Boseman reprises the role of T’Challa/Black Panther, which he debuted in CIVIL WAR. Boseman is also well-known for his role as Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013). The aforementioned adversary of T’Challa is played by Michael B. Jordan, who is a long-time collaborator with Coogler…having appeared in CREED and FRUITVILLE STATION. Returning Marvel actors include Martin Freeman (CIVIL WAR), and Andy Serkis (AGE OF ULTRON). The rest of the strong cast includes Lupita Nyong’o (12 YEARS A SLAVE), Daniel Kaluuya (GET OUT), Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker.

Random Facts – Andy Serkis’ character and T’Challa’s country were introduced in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON in 2015. Wakanda was also mentioned as a location in IRON MAN 2 (2010) * Wakanda is the home of vibranium mines, which is what Captain America’s shield was made out of * The fighting style in the film is based on Africa martial arts * The filmmakers cite BLADE RUNNER (1982) as an inspiration for Wakanda’s design * The February release is the earliest ever for an MCU film * This is the second solo movie for a character introduced in CIVIL WAR. The first was Peter Parker/Spider-man in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) *

What to expect – Beginning with the creative team behind the camera, Marvel has succeeded time and time again because they always seem to get the right people for the right jobs. The decisions in their directors and actors have been solid. The call to bring Ryan Coogler aboard, a well-established and acclaimed filmmaker, can only be a good thing. Coogler has shown great skill behind the camera and an ability to express his characters very well. In front of the camera, Chadwick Boseman brought chills his first time out as Black Panther in a limited role, and having him in a film full-time is sure to be a treat. Boseman is surrounded by a great cast and he can only thrive on that. All these pieces should add up well, with the sum-total another home-run, and historic hit for Marvel.

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BLACK PANTHER arrives February 16th.











Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Reel Birthday


This month marks the 8th anniversary of Reel Speak.

This little blog was founded on a love for cinema; a love that began in a darkened theatre in 1977 when the magnificent STAR WARS captured the imagination and heart of me, and the entire world. It was a night that set me on a career and life path, with Reel Speak founded on a desire to share that love and expand on the wonderful world of movies.

Each year, to celebrate Reel Speak’s first blog entry on February 24th, 2010, this Blogger is proud to share the Top 20 reasons Why I Love the Movies. It’s my favorite one to post each year, as I get to revisit this list of direct and indirect references to films which have captured me the same way STAR WARS did over 40 years ago. This list has changed and evolved, and each year it offers an opportunity to reflect. The events of the past year in my life has me looking back at family, and my family’s love for movies which led us to that theatre in 1977. Dad was a John Wayne fan, and was all about watching The Duke in THE COWBOYS and THE GREEN BERETS. Mom is all about GONE WITH THE WIND. My brother and sister followed in my footsteps with STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and this Blogger’s girlfriend is all about THE SOUND OF MUSIC and MARRY POPPINS. Cinema has been with me for years, and it always shall be.

So here are my reasons for loving film, which can give a glimpse into what makes me tick, and maybe inspire you to examine what films are important in your life, and why.

WHY I LOVE THE MOVIES

20. Because the trick is not minding that it hurts.

19. Because if they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you.

18. Because a Jaguar Shark ate my best friend.

17. Because we will not walk in fear of one another.

16. Because of John Williams.

15. Because I have been, and always shall be your friend.

14. Because what we do in life echoes in eternity.  

13. Because Red October was hunted.

12. Because the only Virtue is Vengeance. A Vendetta.

11. Because Crom laughs at your four winds!

10. Because it’s a wonderful night for Oscar.

9. Because they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

8. Because “I love you”, and “I know”.

7. Because every man dies. Not every man really lives.

6. Because I will drink your milkshake.

5. Because if someone asks me if I’m a god, I say yes.

4. Because they needed a bigger boat.

3. Because there had to be snakes.

2. Because the Fellowship will not fail.

1. Because of what happened on May 25th, 1977.


Monday, February 5, 2018

A Reel Review: The Super Bowl Movie Trailers - The Good, The Bad, & The Glorious



The Super Bowl, the NFL’s championship game and annual cultural milestone, is always one of the most watched TV events of the year. Advertisers take full advantage of even the most casual observer tuning in to roll out a new campaign, as does Hollywood. This year’s crop of movie trailers was on the light side, but still offered plenty of Good, Bad, and Glorious. Here’s how it played out during Super Bowl LII (that’s 52, for you muggles)…

The Good

-Airing before kickoff, but still worth a mention are John Krasinski’s horror-thriller A QUIET PLACE and the Jennifer Lawrence-led spy flick RED SPARROW. Both offered new footage while ramping up the tension and action.

-It’s always fun to see Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doing anything, and the trailer for his new thriller SKYSCRAPER didn’t disappoint. The trailer offered some dizzying visuals and a surprise handicap for the Rock’s character.

-The MISSION IMPOSSIBLE series with star Tom Cruise is about to bring its sixth film since 1996, and the new trailer for the July release, subtitled FALLOUT, was a showcase for some great-looking stunts.

The Bad

-The good news about the trailer for JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM is that it was full of people being chased by dinosaurs. The bad news about the trailer is that it was full of people being chased by dinosaurs. Just the same old thing all over again.

-You get negative points for not showing up. No trailer for the Warner Bros. adaptation of DC Comics’ AQUAMAN (they need positive vibes badly), and nothing for high-profile releases such as TOMB RAIDER, PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING, THE INCREDIBLES 2, or READY PLAYER ONE.

-Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER was cross-promoted with a car commercial. Fans don’t care about cars, they want to see their heroes.

The Glorious

-Where Disney may have stumbled with BLACK PANTHER and INCREDIBLES 2, they made up for it in the superhero department with a new spot for the much anticipated AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. The quick spot drove home the point that this is the beginning of the final chapter of a journey that started a decade ago, and also managed to feature the majority of the massive cast.

-You get major points for pulling a surprise, and Disney won the cinematic night with the first look at SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. We heard that there would be a trailer last week, and then told no...we’d have to wait until Monday, so when that famed LucasFilm logo faded up, attentions were no doubt grabbed. The trailer was quick and snappy with some stunning visuals of the old Empire and the Millennium Falcon, and the first look at Alden Ehrenrich as Han Solo. And as a bonus, the trailer served as a teaser for the full-trailer release which arrived today. STAR WARS is still full of surprises.

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Super Bowl LIII will be played February 3rd, 2019.




Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2018 - Episode II



The bad news about the cinematic month of February is that it’s still in Movie Siberia; where cast-offs go to quickly die. But the good news is that it’s a short month, and this year there is at least one high-profile release to look forward to. Here are the notable releases for the upcoming month:

WINCHESTER – Based on the true location of the famed Winchester manor, this horror film follows the widow to the creator of Winchester Firearms (played by Helen Mirren) who is haunted by spirits in the mansion. Jason Clarke (ZERO DARK THIRTY) co-stars.

FIFTY SHADES FREED – Based on the novel by E.L. James, this erotic thriller is the third and final entry to the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY series. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan reprise their roles.

PETER RABBIT – The beloved creation by Beatrix Potter comes to life in this live-action, CGI hybrid. James Corden provides the voice of the rabbit, and he is joined by Margot Robbie, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, and Daisy Ridley (THE LAST JEDI).

THE 15:17 TO PARIS – Famed director Clint Eastwood returns with this true story adaptation of three American friends who confront a terrorist on a train bound for Paris. Those three American friends star as themselves.

BLACK PANTHER – It’s not often we see a high-profile superhero film released in the first two months of the year, but Marvel has earned the clout to do whatever the hell they want at this point. Chadwick Boseman reprises the role of Black Panther which he originated in CIVIL WAR, and he is joined by Michael B. Jordan (CREED), Lupita Nyong’o (THE LAST JEDI), Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kuluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. It is directed by Ryan Coogler, who directed the acclaimed CREED (2015), and FRUITVILLE STATION (2013).

ANNIHILATION -  Director Alex Garland, who brought us the most-excellent sci-fi thriller EX MACHINA (2015), returns to sci-fi with this thriller in which scientists and soldiers venture into a mysterious disaster zone. Stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Oscar Isaac (THE LAST JEDI).

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Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of March.




Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Reel Review: HOSTILES



The Old West can be a tricky genre to bring to the screen these days. It’s the one genre that can fill us with a great sense of nostalgia; images of cowboys and Indians, outlaws and lawman, gun-slinging and horseback riding into the sunset. It’s all familiar territory that movie fans love, but perhaps a little too familiar; after 100 years of Old West films, it’s a challenge to make the old seem new again. Such is the task for writer and director Scott Cooper and HOSTILES.

In 1892, Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) reluctantly accepts the task of escorting a Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) back to his tribal land; from New Mexico to Montana. Along the long journey, Blocker and his men come across a widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was killed by hostile Comanches.

The structure of HOSTILES is an episodic, road-trip movie…with the travelers going from one area to another avoiding hazards such as Comanche attacks, outlaw fur-trappers, overzealous land-owners, and bad weather. The journey gets off on the wrong foot right away, as Blocker, weary and broken from way too many years of war and killing Indians, would rather be doing anything than escorting a war chief, who is himself guilty of many atrocities, back to his native land and freedom. Things are compounded when the widow, Rosalie, comes into the picture and is forced to travel with Indians when she just saw her family slaughtered by natives.

Putting characters into tough positions and seeing how they survive is the name of the game here, and it works well. Blocker, and his long-time comrade Tommy (Rory Cochrane), are both broken men who feel they lost their souls over their years of killing natives, and having them on a mission which is basically a humanitarian task is an opportunity for redemption for the both of them. By the time the destination is reached and the bullets and blood are done, both redemption and tragedy are found in shocking ways.

Director Scott Cooper is no hurry to get his characters anywhere, and certainly drives home the point that it took a long time to go places on horseback. The journey is slow and treacherous, and it shows. The landscapes are filmed beautifully, and Cooper can’t help but to film more than one important scene with the only light coming from a campfire. The gun-fights are outstanding and offer more than one seat-jumper. Max Richter’s score is outstanding, and Ryan Bingham contributes some period-piece friendly original songs.

Christian Bale is outstanding and once again proves his great range. He is battle-fatigued to the point where there is barely anything behind his voice, and the struggle the character has to do his duty can be felt at all times. Rosamund Pike is equally great, and the moment when she has to bury her own family is a heartbreaker. Rory Cochrane nearly steals the show as Blocker’s right-hand man and old friend. The rest of the cast, including Stephen Lang, Wes Studi, Jonathan Majors, Jesse Plemons, and Timothee Chalamet are all excellent. Ben Foster shows up in a little twist of an extended cameo. If there’s any flaw, it’s that the commitment to the style of speaking is so good that it’s occasionally difficult to understand bits of dialogue.

HOSTILES is officially a 2017 film, but it’s dumb release-strategy doesn’t have most of the world seeing it until late January…which basically sabotaged any hopes it had during Awards Season. As shame, as it would certainly have been a contender. Scott Cooper has delivered a Western that is simple in structure, but rich in character…giving the Old West something new to hang its hat on.  

BOTTOM LINE: See it


Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Reel Opinion: Oscars v. Superheroes



The nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced this week (read the recap HERE), and one of the most-talked about snubs, or surprises, is the exclusion of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN. The superhero flick based on the famed DC Comics character was one of the biggest hits of the year, earning universal praise and pulling in an impressive box office haul; it was the ninth-highest grossing film of the year, and is currently the all-time fifth-highest grossing superhero film domestically. It was a cultural phenomenon; re-inventing a decades old comic character and inspiring young women across the globe, with actress Gal Gadot, who played the lead role, instantly rising into the stratosphere of stardom.

And on Tuesday, the Academy nominated it for nothing.

Almost immediately, calls for the Academy being blind to the accomplishments of women in cinema populated social media, despite some historic nominations happening this year. Greta Gerwig, director of LADY BIRD, became the fifth female recognized in the Best Director category, and Rachel Morrison made history as the first woman nominated for Best Cinematography; nominated for MUDBOUND. Not to mention Meryl Streep’s nomination for THE POST made her the most nominated performer of all-time. Yes, the industry has made great steps forward in recognizing women, but those disappointed in WONDER WOMAN’s shutout say it’s a step backwards.

But history also brings up another point; the Academy is too quick to dismiss superhero movies. There is a snobbery that can be felt every year; superhero films are too cartoony, flashy, noisy, and silly to be taken seriously. In 2008, when Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT didn’t earn an expected nomination for Best Picture, the point was proven that any film with a cape and mask would not be considered; despite Nolan’s film having the cinematic maturity that Academy voters seem to look for. Although Heath Ledger from DARK KNIGHT won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year, superhero films, it seems, would mostly be limited to the technical categories such as visual effects and makeup.

Just as the Academy (and the industry) has slowly been making the turn for women in film, they have slowly (like molasses in January) been making progress in looking at superhero films. This year, James Mangold’s LOGAN became the first superhero adaptation to earn a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, showing that the right approach can work. LOGAN didn’t play out like a superhero film at all, and made the bold and brave moves to take a beloved hero and turn him into a broken old man. It was a move forward for the genre, and the Academy noticed.

WONDER WOMAN was also a step forward for the genre; being the first superhero film with a female lead to be successful critically and financially. But film-wise it stuck close to the standard template that movies of the genre tend to stick to, and while that worked just fine, that’s not enough to impress the Academy. At best, the film could have, and probably should have earned nods for Costume Design, Original Score, and some other technical categories…but Best Picture was always a bit of a stretch. The situation wasn’t quite right for a cape and mask to enter the Best Picture race, but like so many out there who have been overlooked in the past…the day is coming.

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The Oscars will be awarded March 4th.







Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Reel Facts & Opinions: Oscar Nominations - The Good, The Bad, & The Glorious



Nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced today, bringing with them a mix of Good, Bad, and Glorious. Here’s how it breaks down…

THE GOOD

-The nominations were announced in a slickly produced setting with hosts Andy Serkis and Tiffany Haddish (more on them in a minute). Each category was preceded by a short video with stars such as Gal Gadot and Zoe Saldana. The videos were fun and created specific for each category with no dialogue and strong visuals…like a silent film from the age of yesteryear. More of this for the actual ceremony, please.

-Diversity is once again the primary topic of discussion. Oscar favorites Octavia Spencer and Denzel Washington are back, along with newcomer Daniel Kaluuya. Dee Rees became the first African American nominated in adapted screenplay, for her work on MUDBOUND.

-Some other history: Meryl Streep is now the most nominated performer with 21 career nods, having been recognized for her work in THE POST. Also, Christopher Plummer, who famously replaced Kevin Spacey in ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD six weeks before opening night, earned a nomination and became the oldest person ever to be nominated at 88 years young.

-More history: Greta Gerwig, director of LADY BIRD, became the fifth female recognized in the Best Director category, and Rachel Morrison made history as the first woman nominated for Best Cinematography; she was nominated for MUDBOUND.

-James Franco was not nominated for Best Actor for THE DISASTER ARTIST, despite a strong showing during this awards season. Franco was likely passed on due to inappropriate sexual conduct allegations, and it seems the Academy has finally drawn a line; you misbehave, we don’t want you.

THE BAD

-Co-host Tiffany Haddish was a goddamn disaster. She stumbled over every name that was longer than one syllable, mispronounced everything, and came off as an amateur. A little bit of preparation goes a long way.

-I, TONYA, one of the most acclaimed films of the year…did not get a Best Picture nomination, despite earning nominations for Best Actress (Margot Robbie), and Best Supporting Actress (Allison Janney).

-MUDBOUND, a Netflix production, earned four nominations. While this is definitely deserved, the Academy just contradicted its long-standing rule of films needing to play in an actual movie theatre to be eligible. MUDBOUND never left the TV screen, and now the rules have become clear as mud.

-Vicky Krieps was not nominated despite her tremendous turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD.

-Patty Jenkins’ magnificent WONDER WOMAN, a cultural phenomenon, did not receive a single nomination.



THE GLORIOUS

-Co-host Andy Serkis was a charismatic charmer. Get this man a job as a future Oscar host.

--John Williams received his 51st career Oscar nomination with his nod for Best Original Score for STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

-Speaking of STAR WARS, the four nominations for THE LAST JEDI brings the total number of nominations for the franchise up to 36 over nine films. This is second only to the Middle-Earth films of THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, which has 38 nominations over six films.

-Christopher Nolan finally gets his first Best Director nomination for his towering DUNKIRK, which earned a total of eight.

-This was a great year for sci-fi and fantasy. Guillermo del Toro’s fairy-tale THE SHAPE OF WATER leads the pack with 13 nominations, and the genre is backed up by THE LAST JEDI (four), BLADE RUNNER 2049 (five), and LOGAN (one). LOGAN, by the way, is the first superhero adaptation to be nominated for its writing.

-2017 has generally been considered a strong year for film, with many movies earning plenty of good attention, accolades, and reviews. This year the list of Best Picture nominees reflects exactly that, with nine movies selected for the top category (by the way, five of the nine appeared in Reel Speak’s Top 10 Best list HERE), so the Academy was clearly impressed by the year’s output.

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See all of the nominees HERE

The Oscars will be awarded March 4th.








Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Reel Opinion: The Best & Worst Films of 2017 - Part 2



As stated in Part 1 (HERE), the worst of 2017 happened off the screen, as some of Hollywood’s biggest names were revealed to be flat-out evil men; committing atrocities against women and children for decades. But the absolute best part is that the revelations did finally happen; the bad guys have been flushed out and will continue to be flushed out.

It was a grand year for women in film, as several of the top grossing films of 2017 had female leads, and women who operate behind the camera were noticed during Awards Season. The year was a major step forward, and the trend is sure to continue.

On the screen, Disney had another one of their stellar years; hitting pay-dirt with their re-adaptation of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and two emotional wallops with their two Pixar offerings, CARS 3 and COCO. On the battlefield of superheroes, Marvel served up a triple-cocktail of excellence with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING, and THOR: RAGNAROK. Rival studio DC Comics in the meantime blazed new trails with their magnificent WONDER WOMAN.

Other films that this Blogger highly recommends are Greta Gerwig’s LADY BIRD, Ridley Scott’s ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, Jordan Peele’s GET OUT, Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER!, Craig Gillespie’s I, TONYA, Sofia Coppola’s THE BEGUILED, James Franco’s THE DISASTER ARTIST, and Gary Oldman’s stunning performance in DARKEST HOUR.

Now, on to the ten best films of 2017.

10. LOGAN – The first X-MEN movie way back in 2000 can be credited with getting the ball rolling on the current wave of superhero films, and it took 17 years for the franchise to find a film with the maturity and emotional power of any Oscar or arthouse film. Hugh Jackman, playing the clawed, self-healing mutant for perhaps the final time, plays the once-mighty Wolverine as a broken and aging character, in exile and ridden with guilt. It was a sobering thing to see, and a far cry from the typical cartoon-like movies we get from comic book adaptions; our heroes do grow old, which is new territory for the genre.  Director James Mangold delivered a film with a tremendous sense of closure, topped off with an amazing closing shot.

9. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – An aging and broken hero in exile is also the basis for the 8th entry in the central STAR WARS saga, as writer and director Rian Johnson makes the bold move to tear down the iconic Luke Skywalker (wonderfully reprised by Mark Hamill), and give him the mightiest weight any Jedi has to carry; the last of his kind with the responsibility to pass on what he’s learned. Where the preceding film, THE FORCE AWAKENS, played it safe, THE LAST JEDI threw out the playbook and dug in deep, offering a startling, and welcome self-reflection at the way we perceive failure, legends, and heroes…all while keeping true to the values established in the first STAR WARS 40 years ago, capped by a closing shot decades in the making. The decisions made here may have been divisive among fans, but it ultimately proved one thing; after all this time, STAR WARS is still full of surprises.  

8. BLADE RUNNER 2049 – Speaking of surprising sequels to a decades-old film, Denis Villeneuve delivers a sequel which is far superior to the original, cult-favorite BLADE RUNNER from 1982. Picking right up in the futuristic world where artificial humans are manufactured and hunted, 2049 is visually stunning, thoughtful and engaging, trance-like and meaningful. Harrison Ford steps right back into the role he created 30 years ago, and the film has excellent performances from Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, and Ana de Armas.

7. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI – A wonky third act does not stop this film from being the acting powerhouse of the year, with tremendous performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. Director Martin McDonagh’s tale of tragedy and loss was a snapshot of small town America, while making a strong statement on race, family, and coping with loss.

6. THE SHAPE OF WATER – It was an excellent year for sci-fi and fantasy, and director Guillermo del Toro’s take on the old Beauty and the Beast fairy tale was the capper. Set in the 1950’s, del Toro takes us to a secret government facility where a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) connects with a captured mysterious sea creature. It’s a tale of two misfits literally from different worlds who find common ground, and despite the odd circumstances their love doesn’t seem that far-fetched. The film has a dream-like trance effect to it, and the great Michael Shannon turns in one of the best bad-guy performances of the year.

5. THE POST – Done in the spirit of the classic newspaper film ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, famed director Steven Spielberg brings us the all-important, and very relevant story about the publishing of The Pentagon Papers, which exposed over 30 years of lies about Vietnam by the U.S. government. Spielberg draws many on-the-nose parallels between the Nixon Administration and what’s happening in today’s White House, and while that may seem like low hanging fruit, it works and it works well. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are both tremendous, and THE POST easily belongs on the top shelf of important journalism films; it’s all about telling the truth.

4. WIND RIVER – Taylor Sheridan beefs up his strong resume, which already includes SICARIO (2015), and HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016). Jeremy Renner plays a hunter of predators on an Indian Reservation who assists a young FBI Agent, played by Elizabeth Olsen, in a murder investigation. What could be a simple and clichéd procedural turns into a twisting and turning stunner, while reminding us of the continuing, modern struggles of the American Indian.

3. PHANTOM THREAD – The last time writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson collaborated with the great Daniel Day-Lewis, we got the magnificent THERE WILL BE BLOOD in 2007. Ten years later, they get together again, and deliver an elegant, layered, and unique look at love. Taking place in the 1950’s high-end world of dressmaking, Anderson and Day-Lewis paint the life of a famed dressmaker as one of strict routine, only to be upset when a new lover (wonderfully played by Vicky Krieps) enters the picture. Shot and edited beautifully, PHANTOM THREAD takes the elements of love and relationships into shocking directions, while throwing in one of the most hair-raising, frightening scenes in all of 2017 cinema. This is the product of two masters at work.

2. A GHOST STORY – On paper, the concept seemed ridiculous; take your lead actor (Casey Affleck), throw a sheet over him for 90% of his screentime, and strip away almost all the dialogue. In lesser hands, it would be a failure, but writer and director David Lowery turns it into a masterpiece of love, loss, and the staggering concept of just how enormous time can be. Affleck plays a ghost who is not ready to move on, due to his un-ending love for his wife (Rooney Mara). Time goes by in a blink for the film, but slowly for him, and the decades that pass on-screen boggles the mind. This is a simple, yet grand idea on what happens in the afterlife, and more importantly, what happens when we’re here.

1. DUNKIRK – This Blogger and his girlfriend had the opportunity to view Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic in the glorious 70mm format this year, and it made for one of the most memorable and jaw-dropping cinematic experiences for us both. DUNKIRK, which tells the story of the difficult evacuation of over 300,000 Allied troops who were pinned down with nowhere to go, was definitely made for the big (and biggest) screens possible with its large canvas spanning the enormity of land, sea, and air battles. But beyond that, Nolan finds and re-invents an old cinematic language of impressionistic sights and sound; ditching the clichéd usage of bravado speeches, planting flags, and taking that last hill. The film is fully immersive as it drops us right into the battles taking place on three different fronts, and it makes for an unforgettable and harrowing experience. Nolan’s fascination with the concept of time takes what could have been a simple A to Z tale into a thinking-man’s war picture, and the editing, sound design, and commitment to practical effects and old-fashioned filmmaking is most-impressive. No other film in 2017 was as stunning, or found that rare balance of making old-school, classic cinema feel like new; and that is the best of all worlds.


The Best Films of 2017

1.       DUNKIRK

2.       A GHOST STORY

3.       PHANTOM THREAD

4.       WIND RIVER

5.       THE POST

6.       THE SHAPE OF WATER

7.       THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

8.       BLADE RUNNER 2049

9.       STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

10.   LOGAN




Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Reel Opinion: The Best & Worst Films of 2017 - Part 1





The worst part of 2017 cinema happened off the screens, as the dark side of Hollywood and the industry as a whole was exposed to the world. Men in powerful positions, behaving badly or like children, were revealed to have been committing atrocities against women and children for decades, and although it is a good thing that they have finally been outed, it’s a shame that it took so long for it to come to light. 2017 may have given movies a black eye, but women in cinema and everywhere else will emerge the better for it.

Other bad news to come out in 2017 film was the passing of industry favorites such as Jim Nabors, Della Reese, Robert Guillaume, Bernie Casey, Frank Vincent, Tobe Hooper, Jerry Lewis, Sonny Landham, Robert Hardy, Sam Shepard, John Heard, George Romero, John G. Avildsen, Adam West, Powers Boothe, Michael Parks, Roger Moore, Jonathan Demme, Erin Moran, Don Rickles, Bill Paxton, Richard Hatch, John Hurt, Martin Landau, and William Peter Blatty.

Back on the screen, this Blogger was a little more selective in choosing films to review, with almost 50 films in the theatre, down from the usual 60-something average. Avoided were critically drubbed stinkbombs such as THE EMOJI MOVIE, THE MUMMY, FLATLINERS, THE SHACK, or anything made by Adam Sandler or Tyler Perry. Out of nearly 50, this Blogger can only come up with five that should have, and could have been better than what they were. But oddly enough, all five of these films have one thing in common (besides stinking); none of them should have ever been made.

This is what happens…

5. THE DARK TOWER – Even if we ignore the fact that author Stephen King’s massive eight-volume story was condensed down to a 95-minute movie, this lame adaptation was still a wasted opportunity. Excellent actors such as Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughy were way too good for this movie, which looked like a cheap knockoff that even the SyFy channel wouldn’t touch. It was rushed, bland, predictable, and not nearly as epic as it told us it was. And the biggest sin of all is that it was boring; which is something that a fantasy film should never be.

4. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES – Every movie should be judged as if no other movies exist; that is, on its own merits and faults seen on the screen. But, for franchise movies we have to consider consistency, and that’s where this fifth entry in the PIRATES series runs aground. One has to wonder if the filmmakers here ever saw any of the PIRATES films, because they literally throw out every major rule and plot point that was so well established before. It’s a break in continuity done for the sake of a sequel which accomplishes very little. Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow had his moments, but not nearly enough to save this sinking ship.

3. ALIEN: COVENANT -  Ridley Scott continues to muck up his once famed franchise that he started back in 1979. COVENANT had the job of mopping up the sloppy loose ends that were left out there by its predecessor, PROMETHEUS in 2012. That was done all right, but once it was, there was no movie to be found as characters had little to do but make dumb decisions and stand around to get killed. Worse, the mythos behind the famed alien creature and its creators became dumber and weaker. And it’s still not finished with even more loose ends punted down the road.

2. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – Critics have been drooling all over this remorseless slog all year, all while ignoring the glaring issue of a grown American man travelling to Italy and having a sexually-charged love affair with a 17-year-old boy. Even if we buy into the idea, the American (played by Armie Hammer), is given zero backstory to justify his fascination with young boys, and worse, the kid’s parents actually endorse it. There are no ramifications or consequences for their dubious affair, and in a year where Hollywood is constantly being accused of pedophilia, it is mind-boggling that a film would be finding ways to justify it. It also had zero climax or buildup in character and plot, and pacing that made it seem 900 hours long. Everything about this was wrong.

1. JIGSAW – No one expected very much from the 8th entry in the SAW horror series which should have ended after the first film, and released seven years after the supposed finale in 2010. This pile of nonsense steals from one of its predecessors with some time manipulation that could be seen from a mile away, and continued to mess up the backstory of the famous Jigsaw killer with more useless flashback. The traps were ridiculous and well beyond the suspension of disbelief, and the acting awful. But the dealbreaker is that it commits the worst sin of all for a horror movie; it wasn’t scary. At all. That’s requirement number one for any horror film, and a failure to do so is reason enough alone to earn a spot as the worst of the year.

The Worst Films of 2017 
  1. JIGSAW
  2. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
  3. ALIEN: COVENANT
  4. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
  5. THE DARK TOWER

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Read the Best of 2017 HERE