FlixChatter Review: JUST MERCY (2020)

I saw Just Mercy at Twin Cities Film Fest last October, but finally just got around to reviewing it. It ends up being perfect timing given today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day as it’s known in the States), celebrating Dr. King’s birthday. This year it happens to be the 25th anniversary of the day of service that celebrates the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy.

Just Mercy is an extraordinary BOAT (based on a true story) film. Not only because of the powerful and thought-provoking subject matter, but the story is based on a memoir of attorney Bryan Stevenson who’s depicted in the film, with Stevenson himself served as an advisor. That aspects lends authenticity to the story, plus there’s two powerhouse actors bringing it to life: Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson, and Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian, a wrongfully imprisoned black man who’s on death row.

The story starts with Stevenson after graduating from Harvard Law School. Naturally the bright young lawyer could’ve taken a number of lucrative jobs in a big city of his choice. But instead he drives to Alabama to work on people who are wrongly-condemned and not afforded proper representation. His only ally is Eva Asnley (Brie Larson), a young mother working to match lawyers with death row inmates. She was about to give up when she got a call from Stevenson looking to start a legal center for inmates on death row.

As far as legal/courtroom dramas goes, Just Mercy perhaps isn’t the most accurate. I talked to an attorney friend of mine after the screening and he noticed a bunch of glaring inaccuracies in the courtroom scenes. Be that as it may, for most people who aren’t in the legal field, I don’t think we’d ever notice those. What the movie has going for it is the emotional impact. The flashback scene that shows an encounter between Walter and the town sheriff who obviously deems Walter guilty before he does or say anything. “You don’t know what you’re into down here in Alabama, when you’re guilty from the moment you’re born.” – it’s just one of Walter’s gut-wrenching quote that stays with me. By the time we see him in the film, Walter’s already served several years on Alabama’s Death Row, having been accused of murdering an 18-year-old white dry-cleaning clerk.

It’s the kind of film that gets you riled up for the blatant racism and injustice that sadly still hasn’t been completely eradicated to this day. The film mentioned the fact that Walter had an affair with a white woman automatically made him a suspect, despite having a strong alibi that he was nowhere near the location of the crime, and dozens of witnesses were with him at the time of the murder. The scene where Bryan first met Walter’s family, greeted warmly by his wife who’s astounded that he’d bother to visit them packs an emotional punch.

Both Jordan and Foxx did an astounding job in their respective roles. It’s clear that the subject matter is personal to them, and it shows. Foxx has shared in several talk shows that his own father was wrongly jailed for seven years for having $25 of illegal substances. What’s most heartbreaking to see is how Walter sort of resigned himself to a death sentence. Even when Bryan assured him he could get an appeal, Walter thought a death sentence a foregone conclusion. It’s no surprise given just how much the rigged system is stacked against them, and that what really happens have no bearing on the jury’s conviction.

The third act consists of conventional courtroom drama stuff. It gets a bit schmaltzy and even plodding at times, but director Destin Daniel Cretton manages to keep the emotional quotient high. Jordan and Foxx really shine on and off the courtroom scenes, but I have to give props to supporting actors Herbert Richardson as Walter’s fellow death-row inmate and Tim Blake Nelson as a career criminal whose false testimony incriminated Walter. Rafe Spall, an underrated English character actor,  is also pretty effective as the District Attorney for Monroe County, a key figure in Walter’s appeal process. If I have to nitpick however, aside from one brief conversation with his mother about wanting to fight injustice, we don’t really get to see just who Bryan Stevenson is and what is he about as a person. I suppose the film’s focus in the fight to free Walter McMillian, but I think his character (and Larson’s) could use some more depth.

Overall, the talented cast elevates Just Mercy slightly above a run-of-the-mill social justice drama. Stylistically, this film is pretty subdued, no dazzling cinematography or cutting-edge camera work to speak of. Even the music isn’t particularly memorable. But in the end, it’s Walter McMillian’s narrative that takes center stage, as it should be because it’s an inspiring, timely story and one that needs to be told. The film made me want to learn more about the McMillian’s case and others similar to his, as well as the Equal Justice Initiative that Stevenson and Eva Asnley founded in 1989. For that reason alone, the filmmakers and cast did an admirable job.


Have you seen JUST MERCY? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

I think it goes without saying that Captain Marvel is an important milestone. It’s not the first movie featuring a female superhero, but it’s the first out of the gate out of the behemoth Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Honestly, I try to tune out the buzz around this movie, something that’s getting increasingly difficult in the social media age. I only watched the trailer twice and didn’t read anything else, preferring to go into this movie as ‘blindly’ as possible.

The movie takes place in the mid 90s and the movie starts off in a planet called Hala, part of the Kree Empire. A woman called Vers (Brie Larson) is suffering from recurring nightmares with visions of an older woman. Her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Benning), some kind of AI being that rules Kree, keeps telling her to keep her emotions in check. Vers doesn’t remember who she is, and we’re not told as to why she suffers from amnesia (if that is even the case). As I’m not familiar with the comics, it’s all a bit bewildering, and perhaps that’s intentional given the state of disorientation that Vers find herself in.

Soon we get to see a battle sequence between the Kree undercover soldiers and their longtime enemy, the alien shapeshifters known as the Skrulls. My mind wanders a bit as more fight and action stuff happen on screen … until Vers ends up in a pod heading to Planet C-53, then crash landed in a very familiar place, earth. I won’t spoil where she lands exactly, though it’s actually in the trailers. In any case, I perk up again when I see S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, still two-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), both have been digitally de-aged considerably. I feel that the movie’s pace gets more interesting once Vers and Fury team up, and along the way we meet Goose the cat. I think I can watch an entire hour of just Fury and Goose, they’re quite the unlikely friends I never knew I needed!!

It’s no surprise that Vers has a past life on earth. We just don’t know who is she exactly and who woman the woman is who’s been in her dreams (or is it actually a memory?) Fury and Vers discovered that Vers is actually Carol Danvers and she was a U.S. Air Force pilot who’s been presumed dead for six years. The key to who she really is lies in her bestie Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and some of my favorite moments happen in her New Orleans’ home, involving the Skrull leader Talos (seriously, can’t they pick a name more dissimilar from Thanos??), played brilliantly by Ben Mendelsohn. One thing I like about this movie is how it plays with my expectations as to who the real enemy is. I guess comic fans might already figured that part out, but to a casual fan like me, I thought that part is handled well.

Overall I think Captain Marvel is a fun addition to the MCU canon. However, I can’t help but wish I liked her character more by the end of the movie. Now, before you accuse me of not being supportive of the first MCU female superhero, please hear me out. As a female filmmaker AND a female film critic, naturally I want to root for this movie and I do recognize its importance in the genre. Yet something is wanting… by the time the end credits rolled, I just didn’t feel emotionally-connected to her the way I did with say, Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman, or even other characters in MCU… Captain America, Black Panther, Tony Stark, Black Widow, even Thor who’s also an alien being. I’m not comparing these movies, each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but given the importance of Captain Marvel to the MCU as a whole and to Avengers: Endgame specifically, I think it’s fair to expect something more impactful.

I do want to say that Brie Larson is a terrific actress and I can’t really imagine another actress who’d be perfect for the job. Yet her character arc isn’t really compelling …there wasn’t much transformation before and after she discovered her real identity. Perhaps if Danvers had started out being a bit more lost or downcast as a result of her amnesia, her character might’ve been more impactful. I think the biggest opportunity for emotional resonance is in the relationship between Danvers and Maria, and even with Talos towards the end. Yet their scenes barely tug my heartstrings the way Steve Rogers and Bucky’s friendship did in the first Captain America. Actually, the only part I teared up a bit was when the movie paid tribute to the late Stan Lee.

Goose the cat stole every scene it’s in!

Performance-wise, there’s an effortless chemistry between Captain Marvel and Nick Fury that’s really fun to watch. Goose the cat is obviously a hoot, which is quite a feat given how challenging it must be to direct cats to do anything! I’m not particularly fond of Annette Benning’s casting here, though I adore her as an actress. She seems like she wanted to laugh every time she uttered her lines which I find distracting. Jude Law is pretty memorable though Ben Mendelsohn is much more the scene-stealer.

Ben Mendehlson as Skrull leader Talos

I do have to give props to the duo filmmakers, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for tackling such a difficult character to begin with (more on that in a bit), especially since this is Captain Marvel’s first intro ever in the MCU. At least with Wonder Woman, we had at least seen her as part of the DC superheroes in Batman v Superman before she got her standalone movie. The filmmakers embraced the weirdness nature of Danver’s character and origin story, and gives the movie a the funky retro vibe and an overall lightness in tone. I also appreciate the fact that there isn’t a romantic plot in her story which I find refreshing. I’m not against it if it’s organic to the story, but in this case it’s just unnecessary.

The highlights for me are the humorous scenes involving Fury, Goose and Talos. Given that I grew up in the 90s, the retro set pieces are quite amusing… I smile gleefully imagining Millennial moviegoers watching all those ‘ancient’ technology such as pager, computer CD drive, modem, etc as if those are relics from the past… man, those are stuff I had to use in college! As far as the retro soundtrack goes, the fact that we’ve heard it before in the Guardians movies, the novelty’s sort of worn off by now.

I think what makes Captain Marvel an inherently tricky character to bring to life is that she’s so mega powerful. Many filmmakers often speak of how difficult it is to tackle an all-powerful character like Superman and make him/her relatable. Even the Russo Brothers chimed in about that very topic in this article, which makes me really curious to see how they handle the Captain Marvel character in the final Avengers movie. The way she’s depicted here, she’s practically indestructible and there are a bunch of scenes showcasing her immense superpower. The more power she exerts, the less interested I was in her character (and the movie). The action scenes are largely unmemorable, and it’s also lacking a single sequence that truly stand out (i.e. the Fury car chase in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, No Man’s Land battle scene in Wonder Woman). Given Disney’s mega budget, I expect the special effects to be top notch and they are, but by the third act I find them to be a bit too long and too bombastic for my liking.

In the end, how I feel for Captain Marvel is a testament to the fact that MCU has been consistently churning out good movies. Of course some are better than others but the recent ones, especially those helmed by the Russos, have set the bar high. It’s quite telling that I was more giddy watching the first post-credit scene than I was in the entire movie. Let’s just say I’m now even more excited for Avengers: Endgame than ever before! So while this movie has its moments, it just wasn’t the trailblazing movie I expected to introduce such a powerful super-heroine.


Have you seen CAPTAIN MARVEL yet? Well, what did YOU think?

A trio of brand new trailers: FREE FIRE, LIVE BY NIGHT and THE PROMISE

movietrailers

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaassss!!!

Sorry ehm, now that I got my giddy enthusiasm out of the way… [well just enough so I can actually do a post, ahah]

Well if you’ve visited my blog long enough you’ll know how much I’ve been crushing madly on Sam Riley… and he deserves every bit of my love… and then some. Anyway, today we’ve got three trailers, two of which has two Batmans AND a Scarecrow too 😀

FREE FIRE

Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

I’ve been waiting for this trailer since the day I heard Sam was cast in it… so that was about a year ago! I mentioned it here, can’t believe it’s been four months since we got its first official photo!

Well, today we didn’t just get ONE but TWO Free Fire trailers… the top one is the official UK trailer and below is the RED BAND trailer… more blood

Some lucky folks got to see this at TIFF Midnight Madness last night w/ the cast and crew… yes including my Sam!!


Well, early reviews have been mostly positive!

The main reason I’ve super excited for FREE FIRE is because Sam Riley‘s in it… but of course the cast is amazing! Besides Sam we’ve got Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley, Jack Reynor, and Noah Taylor.


I know Sam isn’t in the movie much, heck he’s not even mentioned in the trailer (what a travesty), but he’s been mentioned quite a bit in the early reactions of the movie on Twitter!! I have a feeling he isn’t gonna survive in this movie, and neither is many of the cast, but from the reviews sounds like director Ben Wheatley isn’t killing people off so soon. It’s a game of survival so I guess it wouldn’t be fun if everyone dies in the first act, ahah.

People are saying it’s as violent as the promos made it out to be, but also a lot of fun. Nothing like a good sense of humor to break all the tension of a group of trigger-happy gangsters stuck in a warehouse full of guns! There’ll be gunfire alright!


I’ve actually met Jack Reynor once… now if only I could meet Sam one day!!! [I believe I will!] 😉


I hope we get this one on the big screen, no US release date yet but the lucky UK folks will get this in March 2017.


Live By Night

livebynight

A story set in the Prohibition Era and centered around a group of individuals and their dealings in the world of organized crime.

Now this one I’m actually surprised to see a trailer so soon! But hey, I love pretty much everything Ben Affleck‘s directed, especially Gone Baby Gone, so I’m excited on that front. Now that he’s Batfleck, I do keep thinking that his gangster character Joe Coughlin looks as if Bruce Wayne’s dark past prior to him finding a conscience and becoming Batman to save his city from gangsters, ahah. It looks intriguing, though I’m not crazy about Scott Eastwood’s casting. I mean everyone else is great… Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, etc. I only wish his screen time is small [I didn’t see him in the trailer but that could be my selective perception, ahah]


The Promise

thepromise

Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and Chris – a renowned American journalist based in Paris.

Seriously there’s barely ANY buzz on this movie! Aside from that super boring generic title, it’s got Christian Bale AND Oscar Isaac?? Bale is sporting a similar beard as in The Dark Knight Rises for some reason, and Isaac is doing a Turkish accent? Y’know what, I don’t know what to make of this trailer… it’s a love triangle set in the Ottoman Empire… sounds really juicy but somehow the trailer is just… okay. What was the promise in the title? I must’ve missed it in the trailer. Y’know generally I’m always wary of love triangles, it’s prone to clichès and schmaltziness, which is what I detect here too despite those two great actors. Montréal-based actress Charlotte Le Bon plays the woman in the center of the triangle, I’ve just seen her in Anthropoid. I’m not as impressed w/ her there as I was in The Hundred-Foot Journey. Well, I might go to the press screening if there’s one, otherwise more like a rental.


What are your thoughts on any one of these new trailers?

///

Everybody’s Chattin’ + First Look of ‘Queen of Katwe’ + ‘Free Fire’

EverybodysChattin_Movies

Happy Wednesday everybody! I’m still high from seeing the first look of my dahling Sam Riley in Ben Wheatley’s new movie (more of that below). It’s been ages since I see anything new with him on social media… ah the peril of loving an underrated actor. But y’know what they say, you can’t choose who you love.

So about those links…

Jordan reviewed a terrific film Mia Madre, that’s perfect for Mother’s Day [or any day]

Everyone’s fave series Game of Thrones is back, and so is Margaret‘s awesome episodic reviews!

Steven lamented on Brian de Palma’s Bonfire of the Vanities

Speaking of lamenting, Mariah posted her thoughts on the whitewashing in Hollywood, most recently the casting of Ghost in the Shell

Thursday Movie Picks are still going & going… Dell just posted on his three fave droids/cyborgs

Eddie‘s entry to the Rob’s Genre Grandeur series talks about how Fast Five holds up 5 years later

Now here’s a real head scratcher, Paul asks which body of work you prefer Michelle Pfeiffer vs Meg Ryan

Mickey reviewed one of my fave films out TCFF last year – Room

Last but not least, don’t forget to stop by Mark’s blog on Monday for his Decades Blogathon!


Time for a couple of First Looks…

qok_poster

Ok so I’m a sucker for inspirational true stories. This one is based on a book of the same name by Tim Crothers. Though there have been films made about chess champions before, I actually haven’t seen any of them. The fact that this one tells a non-American story makes me more interested in it. The film, shot in Uganda and South Africa is directed by Mira Nair (a female director is always a plus in my book!) I had only seen Vanity Fair and The Reluctant Fundamentalist from Nair, but most people are probably more familiar with her famous film Monsoon Wedding.

Here’s the synopsis per Screenrant:

The film tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a chess prodigy from Uganda who earned Woman Candidate Master status in 2012, following the deaths of her father and brother.

I love both David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, so that’s another big plus. It’s one of those stories you likely can predict how it’ll turn out, but still intriguing nonetheless. I’m already tearing up watching the trailer so I’ve got to bring tissues when I do watch the movie.


FreeFire_teaserposter

I’m still so very giddy just from seeing the first photo of this gangster flick, I don’t know what I’ll be when the trailer comes out!

I had already heard of this when Sam mentioned it in a couple of Pride + Prejudice + Zombies interviews. He called it a 1.5 hour gang shootout, which sounds epic cool! The filmmaker du jour Ben Wheatley, fresh from all the buzz of High Rise is directing this, AND it’s executive produced by Martin Scorsese!

The synopsis per EMPIRE:

Free Fire is set in Boston in 1978. The story, which Wheatley is pitching as a muscular crime flick in the spirit of Melville, Hawks, Scorsese himself and Walter Hill, charts the fallout from a gun-running hook-up orchestrated by Larson in a deserted warehouse. At its centre are two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley), on a connect with a pair of arms traffickers, Ord (Armie Hammer) and Vernon (Sharlto Copley), but soon wishing they’d given the whole enterprise a wide berth when the bullets start flying.

The film also stars new Oscar winner Brie Larson, Noah Taylor and of course, my darling Sam Riley!

FreeFire_firstlook
Look at the mustaches + 70s outfits on these guys!

Per EMPIRE article: “The idea for Free Fire came from my love of hard-boiled crime movies,” Wheatley tells Variety. “The Asphalt Jungle, The Big Sleep,The Killing and The Big Combo through The Driver, Le Samourai andThe French Connection, to the modern cycle of GoodFellas, Casino,Hard Boiled and Reservoir Dogs.”

“It will take you and stick you in the middle of the action,” he elaborates. “I want the film to have the stylish, no-nonsense feel that you get in [Sam] Peckinpah’s The Getaway. It’s a modern ‘70s movie. Muscular, tough and spare.”

Hmmm, I actually didn’t care for The Getaway, but maybe because I didn’t really like Steve McQueen who’s just so damn smug, but I do like the cast here and it looks more of an ensemble piece than just centered on a single hero. And of course seeing Sam Riley (with 70s ‘tache AND glasses? Oh my!) on the big screen again is a major plus! A24 has acquired the US rights, so I can’t wait to see a trailer soon.

Both of these films are scheduled to be released later in the Fall.


So what do you think of either one of these new films?

My 2016 Oscar recap… in tweets, gifs and clips

OscarsTelecast2016

Ahhh the morning after… So did you see the telecast last night? I went downstairs to my entertainment room at 6:30 and was hoping the whole thing would just start at 7pm, but heh of course we had to get through all the red carpet stuff first. Someone tweeted that the Oscars is really just a whole bunch of commercials interrupted by an award show, heh isn’t that the truth!

Anyway, it must’ve been quite a whirlwind night for these four acting winners.

poses in the press room during the 88th Annual Academy Awards at Loews Hollywood Hotel on February 28, 2016 in Hollywood, California.
Photo courtesy of ABC.com

I did live tweet last night, but honestly I just didn’t have the energy (nor desire) to do a full writeup as I usually do, so I figure why not just do it w/ social media?

Red Carpet Stuff






The monologue & things…

For the most part I enjoyed the telecast, despite being so award fatigue by now. I have to say I was most curious to see how Chris Rock would fare as host. Well, I kind of have mixed feelings about it, though I did laugh at his no-holds-barred approach to the whole #OscarsSoWhite issue.

ChrisRockOscars

Right away he addressed the massive elephant in the room full of industry folks…

“You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job! You’d all be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.” 

In response to those who called for him to quit the hosting gig…

I thought about quitting. I thought about it really hard. But I realized they’re gonna have the Oscars anyway. They’re not gonna cancel the Oscars because I quit. And the last thing I need is to to lose another job to Kevin Hart, okay?”

He didn’t just roast The Academy and Hollywood however, he took some jabs at his own Black peers which I thought was hilarious!

“Everybody went mad [this year] … Jada [Pinkett Smith] got mad. Jada said she’s not coming. Isn’t she on a TV show? Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”

“I understand you’re mad. I’m not hating. … Jada’s mad her man Will [Smith] was not nominated for Concussion. I get it … It’s not fair that Will was this good and didn’t get nominated. You’re right. It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for Wild Wild West, okay?”

Double ouch! It didn’t stop there for Jada and Will as later on there’s a whole segment about Black History Month and it’s as if Angela Bassett was talking about Will Smith, but it turns out the person the Academy was honoring was Jack Black. ha!


I gotta say that the skit spoofing how hard it is for black actors to land a role in white Hollywood had me in stitches! Especially this one w/ Tracy Morgan spoofing The Danish Girl. Even Eddie Redmayne was laughing when the camera panned to him.


But the most discombobulating and cringe-worthy moment of the night goes to:

StaceyDashOscars2016
“I cannot wait to help my people out, Happy Black History Month!”

Rock introduced Stacey Dash, who’s known for her role in Clueless and is now a Fox News commentator, as the “new director” of the Academy’s “minority outreach program.”

Yes I knew about her controversial remark back in January when she declared that there should be no Black History Month or BET, but somehow the joke just didn’t jibe and it seems off the mark as most people are baffled by the appearance.

So what does Rock really think about Hollywood?

Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist. But it’s not the racist you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”

Rock certainly didn’t shy away from tackling the race issue head on, though all of this diversity stuff seems to be more about black vs white, whilst there are a slew of other races under-represented in Hollywood… and of course it goes beyond race as women still don’t get anywhere close to the same opportunities as men.

I do hope that as much as it’s uncomfortable and perhaps annoying to some that this diversity issue keeps coming up, perhaps it’ll signal change in the ‘inclusion crisis’ (which is a more accurate term to describe this whole diversity issue) that started long before any Oscar ballot was cast.


Now about those awards…

If all you care about is the four main categories…


Best Original & Adapted Screenplay Awards

I had put these two down as the who WILL and SHOULD win the two writing awards, so yeah I’m happy w/ the results!


Not a fan of Ryan Gosling/Russell Crowe combo, but…


Ugh, Sam Smith is singing that awful Spectre song!


Alicia Vikander won Best Supporting Actress!


First of SIX awards for ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Best Costume Design

///
In the end, ‘Fury Road’ won the 6 Oscars in these categories:

  1. Film Editing: Margaret Sixel
  2. Costume Design: Jenny Beavan
  3. Makeup: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin
  4. Sound Editing: Mark Mangini and David White
  5. Sound Mixing: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo
  6. Production design: Production design by Colin Gibson; set decoration by Lisa Thompson

This i09 article describes my sentiment perfectly…

i09_FuryRoad_Oscars


So… Best Cinematography went to Emmanuel Lubezki.
He’s won THREE years in a row. Poor Mr. Deakins.


Best Film Editing


Best Visual Effects


Best Animated Feature


Best Supporting Actor

Ok so I was rooting for Sly Stallone to win this but I can’t really be disappointed by Rylance win though, it’s not like he didn’t deserve it.


Best Documentary Feature

It goes to AMY. I haven’t seen it yet but Asif Kapadia did the excellent doc SENNA. I have only seen ONE from the five docs nominated!


AlanRickmanInMemoriam


Best Presenter Duo of the Night

Beasts of No Nation‘s Abraham Attah and Room‘s Jacob Tremblay, hands down. Both delivered Oscar-worthy performances in their own right, too!

JacobTremblayAbrahamAttah


Lady Gaga performed a powerful and emotional rendition of her Oscar-nominated song Til It Happen To You from the sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground. It gives me goosebumps watching it and it deservedly received a standing ovation.


But WTF, it’s followed by one the most underserving wins of the night, ugh!

Best Original Song


Best Director

It went to Alejandro González Iñárritu once again [sigh] Soooo bummed for George Miller 😦

THIS.


Best Actress

I thought Brie looked radiant in a blue gown last night… and she gave a gracious speech, thanking everyone from her co-star Jacob Tremblay & boyfriend Alex Greenwald to the moviegoers who saw it.


Best Actor

So Leo DiCaprio finally catches a break! 😉


Best Picture


My Oscar predictions tally

Well, out of the 16 categories I predicted, I got 11 right, so not bad!

Of ALL of the categories I put down for SHOULD WIN, I’m most disappointed by George Miller losing and Roger Deakins losing yet again for the 13th time. Sheesh!!

RogerDeakins
The legendary Mr. Deakins hard at work


Some of my fave gif-worthy moments of the night:

Tremblay_SWdroids

Methinks Jacob Tremblay would like to be in the next Star Wars movie. How ’bout that Disney?

Winslet_girlscoutcookies

LOVE that whole girl scout cookies thing, it always makes for some amusing gifs afterwards!

Keaton_spotlight

LOVE Keaton’s performance in Spotlight, I suppose if Fury Road didn’t get it, I’m glad it went to this film!


That’s it folks, the culmination of Hollywood award season is now over… thank goodness!


So what did you think of last night’s ceremony? Glee, gladness & gripes? Let’s hear it!

The obligatory Oscar predictions post: Who will win & who should win

Oscars2016

Well, it’s that time of the year again… tax season and the Oscars. We’re in fact doing our taxes just before I worked on this post. Both are unavoidable and obligatory, well for most of us blogging/writing about movies anyway.

This is the first year I’m actually looking forward to the opening monologue more than the main event. I can’t wait to hear what Chris Rock‘s going to say about the whole diversity issue. But hopefully the whole thing won’t be too heavy handed and we get to see him poke fun at a bunch of celebs, as to be expected.

ChrisRock

To be honest with you, even though it’s Oscar week, I hadn’t really been thinking much about the Oscars. In fact, I hadn’t been seeing anything Oscar-related the past couple of weeks, though we wanted to see Shaun of the Sheep movie last night, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature but there’s a connection issue so we watched another episode of Jessica Jones instead.

oscar-ballot-2016I’ve posted my thoughts on the nominations, but now that the big event is near, I thought I’d pick who will and SHOULD win the Oscars this year. I’m not predicting ALL of the categories though, just the ones that I have actually seen. Click on this handy Oscar ballot from EW.com if you want to see the full nominees.

So here we go:

BEST PICTURE

Who will win: The Revenant

Who should win: Mad Max: Fury Road

No doubt The Revenant is the frontrunner this year in many categories, but once the dust of award season’s settled I think Fury Road is one people will remember more in the end. It’s such a singularly unique film that’s spectacularly-crafted all around.

=============================

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Who will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Who should win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Even without having seen his performance in full as I have yet to see the film, I think it’s safe to say this is Leo’s year.

Leo_Brie
Methinks we’ll see a repeat of Leo-Brie pairing in the leading performance category

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

 Who will win: Brie Larson, Room

 Who should win: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Having won pretty much every other award in this category, I think Brie will be this year’s Jennifer Lawrence. I still want to see Ronan win it though, as I think Ronan’s understated performance leaves a more lasting impression to me. It’s not a flashy role which takes an astute performer to pull it off so beautifully.

=============================

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Who will win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Who should win: Tom Hardy, The Revenant

I had been championing Stallone from the get go and I’m not surprised he’s the frontrunner in this category. However, part of me thinks that Hardy’s been overlooked in general despite his astonishing performance in no less than three films: Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, which I read is just as compelling as Leo’s and that his character is actually more complex in the film.

=============================

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Who will win: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Who should win: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

I have only seen two performances in this category and I for one don’t think Rachel McAdams is THAT great to be nominated. I mentioned before that I actually wished for Kristen Stewart to be recognized for Clouds of Sils Maria instead of McAdams. So I’ll pick Winslet in this lot as I was impressed by her performance.

=============================

DIRECTING

Who will win: Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant

Who should win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

I’m going to borrow Variety‘s Justin Chang’s reasoning for what he called ‘a tour de force visual storytelling’… “[Miller] gave us far more than just a master class in how to block, frame, shoot and edit action.” Amen to that, let’s hope he’s properly recognized.

=============================

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Who will win: The Revenant

Who should win: Sicario


Fury Road
and Sicario are both spectacularly shot. But I give Sicario the edge because Roger Deakins’ visual mastery has been overlooked time and time again. This is his thirteen nominations with not a single win so far. I read this article on Deakins and his approach to his work and how his imagery is done to serve a larger purpose is why he is such a legend.

=============================

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Who will win: Inside Out

Who should win: Anomalisa

Though I wasn’t blown away by the story of Anomalisa, I think it deserves to win for being such a unique piece of art. It’s one of the most lifelike claymation and the story is unconventionally dark and moody for this genre.

=============================

COSTUME DESIGN

Who will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Who should win: Cinderella

I think Fury Road has won many awards in this category and I certainly won’t be fuming if they win again at the Oscars. But I’d LOVE to see Sandy Powell win in either category, especially Cinderella, given the incredible amount of gowns she has to design. I’m more enamored by Cate Blanchett’s dresses, though of course Cinderella’s sparkly ballgown in iconic in its own right.

CInderellaCostumes

=============================

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Who will win: The Revenant

Who should win: Mad Max: Fury Road

I think Leo’s severe flesh wounds from the bear attack will likely garner a win for the makeup artist. But the look of the characters in Fury Road is simply astonishing and unforgettable.

=============================

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

Who will win: The Hateful Eight

Who should win: Sicario

One can’t deny the masterful work of Ennio Morricone, who like Deakins have never won a single Oscar for an individual piece of work (he did won an honorary Oscar in 2007). But I was blown away by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score in Sicario, which adds so much tension and dread to the film.

=============================

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

Who will win: Writing’s On The Wall, Spectre

Who should win: Till It Happens To You, The Hunting Ground


Anything other than Sam Smith’s song please!! I think the melody of Writing’s on the Wall is fine but the song w/ his whiny voice is more like writhing against the wall. I actually just listened to Lady Gaga’s song Til It Happens To You and it’s a powerful one on an important subject.

=============================

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Who will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Who should win: Mad Max: Fury Road

war_rig_FuryRoad

It’ll be Fury Road hands down in this category. I mean, the set pieces of Fury Road is unlike any other film I’ve seen. The vehicles alone are incredible, as you can see in this top 10 list. They actually built every single one of those, instead of relying on CGI effects.

=============================

VISUAL EFFECTS

Who will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Who should win: Ex Machina

Ava_ExMachina

I certainly won’t have any qualms if Fury Road wins again in this category. But I was thrilled to see the ‘little film that could’ Ex Machina, with its $15 mil budget get in the race. I’d love to see it win this thing because it’s a visually spectacular film that looks more expensive than it is. The look of the robot Ava alone is so unique in a plethora of robot movies in Hollywood. This film also happens to boast the first female nominee in the visual effects category in more than a decade!

=============================

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

Who will win: The Big Short

Who should win: The Big Short

The Big Short won best adapted screenplay at the Writers Guild Awards and also took the top prize at the Producers Guild Awards, so I’d think it has a big chance of taking home the Oscar. It’s really an unconventional take of a financial crisis, but the risk paid off. I wouldn’t mind The Martian or Brooklyn winning either, esp. the latter.

=============================

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

Who will win: Spotlight

Who should win: Spotlight

I was simply blown away by this meticulous, sharp and understated film. Powerful without resorting to sensationalism or emotional manipulation. This is my second pick after Mad Max: Fury Road to win Best Picture, and if it won in this category, it’ll have a major chance of winning the top prize.

=============================

 

I have a feeling this year there might not be a single film that’ll sweep all of the awards, but if that happens, I hope that’ll be Mad Max: Fury Road!

So that’s it folks. I’m only predicting 16 out of the complete 24 categories.We’ll see how many I’d get wrong tomorrow night 😉


Ok, so what are some of your Oscar winner predictions for this year?

My Top 10 Picks from Twin Cities Film Fest

Top10_TCFF2015

Well, it’s been almost two weeks since the 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest wrapped. I knew the tough part would be selecting the top 10 and so I took my time posting this. I use the same criteria when selecting my top 10 films from a given year. So when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So with that in mind, I present you my top 10 picks:

[Click on the title to read my full review]

10. Touched with Fire

TouchedByFire_10
I really didn’t know what to expect from this, but the subject matter intrigued me. A directorial debut from Paul Dalio, the film seems to have been crafted as a love letter to bipolar artists and creative people. I was quite impressed by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby who played poets who are manic depressive. It’s a heartfelt and sensitive tale of an unconventional love story.

9. Too Late

TooLate_9

This is one of those unique films in which the risky experimentative film-making style paid off in the end. It’s another feature film debut from Dennis Hauck, and it contains only five 20-minute uninterrupted takes, amounting to 100 minutes of non-linear narrative. It’d be a shame if the style was only a gimmick, but thankfully the story is intriguing and actually quite emotional in the end. Plus it’s got an amazing performance from the criminally underrated thespian John Hawkes. His 2015 Northstar Award of Excellence from TCFF is so well-deserved!

8. Remember

Remember_8

As I mentioned in my review, there have been so many Nazi vengeance tales been made on screen before and yet this one manages to inject something new and different into the sub-genre. That alone is a feat in and of itself. Director Atom Egoyan made this with not much frills but the film is brimming with mystery and suspense. Boasted by an astute and heartfelt performance by Christopher Plummer, I was engrossed in the story despite not much action in the film. That finale packs quite an emotional punch, and it’ll make you forgive the generic and boring title, as it actually fits the plot VERY well.

7. It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong

IATIHK_7

Films that contain mostly of dialog between two people is tricky because a lot is required of the chemistry two actors AND of course, the script. Well, director Emily Ting in her directorial debut certainly managed to create a compelling film thanks to those two ingredients. Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung (who I found out was a real-life couple after I saw the movie) have an effortless chemistry together. Everything flows nicely and in a natural way, the actors seem comfortable and fit the roles perfectly. But the strength of the film is in the dialog (also written by Ting), which comes to life as the night wears on.

6. A New High

ANewHigh_6

A homeless shelter in Seattle took a novel approach in helping their residents overcome their addictions, and that is to give them an epic goal to summit one of the most dangerous mountains in the country, the 14,400 ft Mt. Rainier. The film shows the residents train for that mission and the drama that happens in the group, led by former Army Ranger Mike Johnson, who spearheaded this unorthodox rehabilitation project. The film asked the question, ‘will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?’ and it certainly made me ponder about that in my own life. It’s quite riveting to see each recovering addict face their demons head on, plus the vast splendor of the mountain is absolutely stunning to watch. Directors Samuel Miron & Stephen Scott Scarpulla also had to train for mount climbing as well in order to make this film. Their dedication and their labor of love definitely paid off on screen.

5. The Last Great Circus Flyer

LastGreatCircusFlyer_5

There are a ton of great documentaries playing at TCFF every year and so it’s no surprise they made up nearly half of my top 10 list. This one certainly has one of the most intriguing subject matter. In 1982, Miguel Vazguez performed ‘the greatest feat in all of circus history’, that is the quadruple somersault, during a Ringling performance. He certainly had a fascinating life journey to tell and director Philip Weyland certainly did his story justice. It’s one of the most entertaining and moving documentary that showcase not only a series of amazing–you could say impossible–physical feat, but also a portrait of a truly extraordinary and inspiring individual. Even if you’re not a fan of circus or trapeze act, I highly recommend this one.

4. Thank You For Playing

ThankYouForPlaying_4

Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that. It’s a tear-jerker of a film but one that’s also incredibly uplifting. The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. This well-crafted film should encourage everyone going through a tough time in their lives, and also inspire people to channel their emotion, whether it’s grief or joy, into something truly creative.

3. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

Raiders_3

When I saw this on the TCFF schedule, I knew this would be one I had to see with my husband. We’re both such huge fans of Indiana Jones and we LOVE Raiders of the Lost Ark! The film has a huge dose of exhilarating fun that matches Spielberg’s adventure masterpiece, as it’s truly the greatest homage to a film fueled 100% by genuine passion and creativity. You can’t help but root for the three guys who remade the film shot for shot when they were 11 years old and reunited 30 years later to finish it. It’s also interesting to see how their families share this unusual journey over the span of three decades. Watch for some extra special surprises that would definitely make you want to get up and cheer. A must-see for Indy fans, but really, anyone who loves a good story would be entertained by this.

2. Room

Room_2

I’m thrilled that there have been a lot more female filmmakers as well as talents represented this year, one of the reasons I love TCFF! So it’s especially gratifying that two of the main gala screenings feature a strong female performer in the lead. I actually saw Room at a press screening before TCFF started, but I’m still going to include it here as this was TCFF’s opening gala.

Room is one of the most well-acted films I saw the entire year, emotionally heartbreaking but not a dour, depressing film. Featuring one of the strongest lead performances this year, Brie Larson shines as a doting mother who’s kept in captivity in a single room for years. The believable relationship between Ma and her young son Jack is crucial to the film and both Larson and Jacob Tremblay nailed it. It’s a deeply immersive film that really get you into the emotional psyche of the characters, thanks to a shrewd direction by Lenny Abrahamson.

1. Brooklyn

Brooklyn_1

It’s always wonderful when a film lives up to your already lofty expectations and then some. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect leading lady to tell the story of Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who moves to Brooklyn and becomes torn between the new city and her homeland. The story is deceptively simple, but I was swept away by the rich, engrossing human drama that’s brought to life by the nuanced performances of the cast.

This is such a gem of a movie and watching Ronan is her understated yet layered portrayal of Eilis is nothing short of mesmerizing. She’s able to convey internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile, as there’s a great deal of economy of dialog in this film but everything has a purpose. I’m also impressed by Emory Cohen, and actor I’ve never seen before but I certainly want to see more of. He has a James Dean-esque vibe here, charming but vulnerable, certainly a worthy suitor to the film’s protagonist.

No doubt this is Ronan‘s best work among her already illustrious career and I’d love to see her get major acting nominations come award season. Kudos to director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby for crafting a beautiful story that’s engaging and full of heart. I mentioned this in my review already but it bears repeating: lest Hollywood forget, well-written story is the greatest special effects of all.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in random order):

Just because these didn’t quite make my top 10, I still think these films are excellent and definitely well worth your time. In fact, I’m pretty sure Anomalisa would make a lot of critics’ top 10 of the year. I love how film festivals always offer *a cure for the common flicks* so to speak, a breath of fresh air from what you see in mainstream Cineplex today.

THANKS AGAIN Twin Cities Film Fest for the awesome lineup!


The TCFF Insider Series kicks off in December, so be a member so you don’t miss out on film screenings/events all year long!

If you miss my TCFF coverage, click on the Twin Cities Film Fest tab at the top of the page.


What are your thoughts on my Top 10?
Which one(s) of these films have you seen or look forward to?