The Great Wall

“There was a lot of controversy surrounding this movie, to the point where I almost skipped it. The crux of the problem was why does a movie about the Great Wall of China star Matt Damon? Shouldn’t it star an Asian actor? The filmmakers gave sort of mumbling responses, and no one was really too satisfied with their answers. As someone who does try to be sensitive to such things, it wasn’t enough to make me not wanna see the movie. However, the main reason I did still wanna see it was Damon, which plays right into the argument of why that type of white washing is so prevalent. Therefore on principle, unless I had strong convincing otherwise, I was gonna sit this one out.

Then I had some strong convincing. I stumbled on an article by an Asian American critic who saw the film and put the controversy into context. Basically what it comes down to is that for this particular story, the characters were meant to be of European decent, and they weren’t cast as savior figures. Yes, Damon is crucial to the mission’s success, but not in a way that elevates his status above the Asian men and women he fights with. Essentially, the article likened it to how Mad Max: Fury Road was a truly feminist movie in the way that Max assisted Furiosa. She couldn’t have succeeded without him, but he didn’t come in and over power the situation.

The other thing that convinced me was understanding the reason why they purposely chose to make this film about Asian culture that starred a big name Hollywood actor. This was meant to be the first (of hopefully many) collaborations between the two countries and film industries. Instead of just making our films in our respective countries and then sharing them abroad, why not try working together on something that hopefully both sides can enjoy. That is absolutely something I could get behind, even if the buzz was that it wasn’t as great of a film as it could have been.

I ended up really enjoying it. I’m typically not into those big battle action type of movies, and I expected to be really bored. Somehow, I wasn’t. I loved the unique fighting style the (wo)men at the wall had. How they wore beautiful bright colors to indicate their specializations. How skillfully they wielded their weapons. The amazing visual of the crane squadron swooping down to attack. I felt it was stunning and expertly crafted.

The story was fine, and Damon carried it well even if he couldn’t sustain the accent (what was that supposta be anyways?). Willem DaFoe was underused and we could have had more of Pedro Pascal. But for a first stab at this type of cross cultural film, I think it was a solid effort. I really do hope this sort of thing becomes, well, a thing. I’d love to see what sort of collaborations our nations (and others) could come up with.

The Great Wall – \m/ \m/ \m/”

A Cure for Wellness

“Psychological thrillers are one of my favorite genres (I’ve actually recently started claiming to prefer thrillers over action as it is), but I’ve seen so many of them that I feel I can get a pretty accurate read from the trailer. My take on the trailer for A Cure For Wellness was that it looked really cool, but was probably very confusing (a standard pitfall for the genre), and that the story might stretch a little thin. Oh and I got a total Shutter Island vibe from it.

Turns out, I was dead on. There was a bit more of a solid mystery to bite into, which was a pleasant surprise, but I really had no idea what was going on for most of the movie. But it looked really dang cool. Most of it eventually came together in a way that I could live with, but it wasn’t nearly as satisfiying as a really well crafted psycho-thriller can be (see again: Shutter Island).

I did appreciate seeing Dane DeHaan take the lead here, and starting off with an unlikeable character was a bold choice. I’m torn now between never needing to see it again, and wanting to untangle it further knowing what I know now. But given that it’s a two and a half hour run time, I think I’m just gonna leave this little movie locked away in the secluded location where it all takes place.

A Cure for Wellness – \m/ \m/ \n”

The Lego Batman Movie

“Oh one of the ultimate movie tests: Can a breakout side character carry their own film? In other words, is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Minions couldn’t do it. Neither could The Penguins of Madagascar (although I never cared much for Madagascar to begin with). And I never saw it, but I’ve been told that Puss in Boots couldn’t make it work either. Could the Bat pull it off? Kind of.

I think the biggest strength The Lego Movie had turned into Lego Batman’s weakness. LM had zero expectations going into it, and it was all a joyous surprise. LB had all the expectations in the world, and it was impossible to live up to. That doesn’t mean that everything wasn’t awesome. The movie was still hilarious and clever and nostalgic, and full of so many expected cameos and winks and gags. I just feel like there was something missing from the excitement I had for LM. It was one of those where in the moment, I walked out thinking it was epic, and cooled down pretty quickly once it had time to settle. Still Will Arnett is in the running for my favorite Batman. Even more importantly, Lego Batman is infinitely superior to what Zack Snyder’s doing with DC. Let’s face it Warner Bros, you’re never gonna top Marvel. Maybe just let the Lego guys take it from here…

The Lego Batman Movie – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

“John Wick left me on a bit of a Keanu Reeves kick last weekend, especially after seeing him talk Bill and Ted 3 with Graham Norton. Wait, I haven’t blogged Bill and Ted’s yet? Excellent!

This still kinda holds up in its way. Oh my God is the technology and graphics outdated. But the party on vibe gets me as giddy as it ever did. For such “”dumb”” dialog, it’s so very clever. (I tell my cats to “”be excellent to each other””) every time I leave the house. And Bill and Ted are so completely likeable, you have to root for them, and forgive Keanu for any career missteps *cough*cough*Dracula*cough* after.

Now I wanna go listen to hair metal and rock out with my BFFF. Party on dudes!”

Fifty Shades Darker

“I kinda wanted to skip this blog post so that I wouldn’t have to admit that I watched this movie. The one friend I confided my plans to asked me after “”So how was it?”” After initially stalling, I replied with “”My relationship with the movie is about as complicated as the relationship in the movie””.

I honestly don’t know why I’m drawn to this franchise. We all know I don’t go in for romantic films. I saw it classified somewhere as an erotic thriller, and I am all about thrillers, so maybe that’s part of it? The “”Curious?”” tagline from the first was a big part of what drew me in then. This time, I knew it was supposed to be bad, but I still wanted to go. I wasn’t even sure what kind of bad I was hoping for, if maybe I thought it’d be that so-bad-its-good-for-the-wrong-reasons sort of film or what. Although even if I can stick with the movies, I’m fairly positive I could never get thru the amateurish writing style of the book. I ultimately justified going because I was able to get a crazy cheap ticket. I mean, I kinda had to at that point, yeah?

I still have the problem of “”how are these two so in love if they hardly know each other”” but I could more easily get past that since we’d at least established the relationship in the first movie. And I did really appreciate how much more self aware Ana is now, and strong willed in knowing what she will and won’t put up with. Christian’s psychology is still a bit of a stretch, but at least there was more exploration into his past instead of just firmly stating that he’s wired that way.

There’s so much of it that’s still kinda laughable and cheesy, but if I’m only rarely gonna watch a movie like this, I can deal with it. I certainly much prefer the darker (no pun intended) tone you get here than the overly cheery romcom vibe that I avoid at all costs. Whether or not anyone else should see this, I feel like it’s one of those that you’d decide on your own, independently of my lowly opinion. But maybe only go if you too can get a crazy cheap ticket.

Fifty Shades Darker – \m/ \m/ \n”

Oscars 2017

=============================
BEST PICTURE
Okay here’s the order that I’d vote:
Manchester By the Sea – I’ve been pretty set on this as my pick for a while. Initially, I thought it might be too small scale of a film, but as time has gone on, I just can’t get over it. Srsly, damn good screenplay, phenomenal acting, and a near perfect movie.

Hell or High Water – This one’s not gonna happen, but that doesn’t stop me from ranking it high on my own list. The story is so relevant for today, and I was so fully immersed in the setting. Plus another incredible cast.

Hidden Figures – We all love a feel good movie, and even better is a feel good movie with an important story. I want every little girl to see this and understand that they can do anything they want to do. I want to see more stories like this.

La La Land – I wanted to champion this movie. Yeah, it’s kind of an unfair advantage to have such a big production of a film, but the spectacle of it is so well done. The problem for me is that if you take that element out, you’re left with a fairly mediocre movie. It’s looking like it’ll take the win, but I it’s not what I would choose.

Moonlight – I get that this is an important movie, and for that reason, I moved it up the list. I want a movie like this to win. I just wish I enjoyed the movie more than everyone else seems to have.

Lion – This movie was so beautiful, and it gave me so much to think about. Honestly, I was so moved by the story, and I’m glad that it’s getting recognition.

Arrival – So much more than an a scifi. It’s almost too subtle so it doesn’t stand out as much as it should. Still, they got something right in nominating the movie

Fences – Someone asked me how you can tell if someone is a good actor. This movie is the most perfect example

Hacksaw Ridge – Hey I enjoyed this movie, but it’s the last one I’d pick to win. It’s this year’s American Sniper. There’s an audience that it really appeals to, but there’s so many better movies that year.

=============================
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Every year there’s a category like this one. Where I’m so torn between two choices that no matter which of them wins, I’m gonna be equally ecstatic and upset. This year, it’s Casey Affleck vs Denzel Washington. Their performances are so opposite, it’s tough to compare. Affleck says so much by saying so little, and Denzel spits out more dialog than the other nominees combined. Affleck’s never won, vs Denzel’s 2, but Denzel would be the first African American to win 3 and to direct himself to a win. I had mostly been leaning towards Affleck, but I saw the Fences trailer again the other day, and it made me want it for Denzel.

It’s hardly worth even talking about the other guys, but I would love to see Ryan Gosling take one of these home sometime. I’m thrilled to see Andrew Garfield earn his first nomination, and I love the attention Viggo Mortensen brings to Captain Fantastic.

The most obvious person missing for me is Joel Edgerton for Loving, but I guess the beautifully understated performance was too understated to get him his first Oscar nomination. Michael Keaton could have made a run for it with The Founder, and I thought Sully might finally break Tom Hanks’ way too long nomination dry spell (srsly, how did he not get on the list for Captain Phillips?). It also would have been cool to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt get his first for Snowden, but I guess people didn’t enjoy that as much as I did.
=============================
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Kind of a strange one this year. No real front runner, and no one that gets me that excited. If I were a voting member of the Academy, I’d go with Isabelle Huppert. For me, that’s just based on the performance itself. Continuing off performance, I think I’d next go with Ruth Negga who in truth is likely in last (or next to last) place. If anyone is a front runner it’s Emma Stone, and I’m inclined to agree with the prediction. The Academy does like to crown young and on fire actresses, and she gets points for the added difficulty of singing and dancing, even if she didn’t wow me as much as the others. Natalie Portman lost some steam as the film didn’t pick up as much recognition as expected. Personally, I move her down the list because she’s already won before. Which brings us to Meryl Streep. We all know I adore her, but she ain’t winning this year. Just breaking her own nomination record.

Missing? Annette Benning! I would have been all about her winning if she had squeezzed in. Similarly, Amy Adams. I wasn’t as wowed by her in Arrival as others, but I am in favor of her finally taking home the gold. She’s the new Leo. Would have been cool for Emily Blunt to get her first for Girl on the Train, but I guess it wasn’t her year yet. Jessica Chastain had potential with Miss Sloane, but the film itself underwhelmed, even if her performance was stellar. Oh and I really would have loved to see Taraji P Hensen for Hidden Figures. She was the heart and soul of that movie.
=============================
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
It’s looking like a lock for Mahershala Ali and I’m okay with that. No one really stands out that much for me. I guess Dev Patel. He was fantastic and it’s nice to see him score his first. Or Jeff Bridges. He has won before, but I’d love to see HOHW take something home. I am really happy that Lucas Hedges made the cut, but I feel that’s his victory right there. No one saw Michael Shannon coming. He is a fave, and it was a happy surprise, but not one that’s gonna translate to gold.
=============================
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Viola Davis hands down. I’d argue that she should have gone lead, and prolly would have won there too, but here it’s not even a contest. If she did clear up the category, I’d love to see Michelle Williams finally win after four nominations. Her role in Manchester was small, but powerful. Naomie Harris really impressed me in Moonlight too. It’s a toss up between Nicole Kidman and Octavia Spencer, but let’s be real, those two aren’t gonna be standing up on stage.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but missing I’d say Greta Gerwig for 20th Century Women. The reason I can’t believe it is because she usually annoys me, but she was wonderful here. But it would have really sucked if she made the cut when Annette Benning didn’t make lead. Oh and Janelle Monnae should be here for Hidden Figures.
=============================
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
All signs point to Zootopia, but I love the classic Disney vibe of Moana. The other three I never saw. Also, how awesome would it have been if Sausage Party made the cut.
=============================
CINEMATOGRAPHY
I can’t say I really paid attention to this category this year. My instinct says Arrival. I really haven’t a clue how I’d otherwise rank them.
=============================
COSTUME DESIGN
La La Land
Jackie. No question. Those are some iconic pieces. Then, you can’t oppose the one costumer whose name you actually know, Colleen Atwood for Fantastic Beasts. I also really like Allied, by which I mostly mean I really like Marion Cotillard’s green dress (even if it’s not as beautiful as Keira Knightley’s green dress in Atonement). Then I guess La La Land over Florence Foster Jenkins
=============================
DIRECTING
Damien Chazelle is just over a month older than me, and he’s about to win an Oscar for directing La La Land. That certainly puts life into perspective. Directing a musical is no easy task, and he certainly deserves all the accolades for that. Moonlight is looking like the potential spoiler, but I’m not too optimistic. If something’s gonna spoil, I’d rather Manchester By the Sea, but Arrival has some beautiful work too. And no one is gonna give Mel Gibson an Oscar right now, no matter how well done Hacksaw Ridge was. If you ask me, his spot should have gone to Denzel for directing Fences.
=============================
DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)
Big surprise, haven’t seen any of these. I did see one doc this year though, Tickled, when I thought was pretty awesome. Woulda been nice to see that make the cut.
=============================
DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
Oh look something shiny.
=============================
FILM EDITING
After learning so much about this category when Whiplash won, I totally haven’t paid any attention to it since. I’m gonna guess La La Land did well here since timing cuts to music is a thing. Arrival could also be a good choice in how the timelines are stitched together. Really, I think it’ll go to one of those two, so I’m not even gonna pretend to intelligently comment on the others.
=============================
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
I haven’t seen any of these, but seriously, how did Elle not make the list?
=============================
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
I hate the idea of Suicide Squad winning an Oscar, but you gotta admit the make up is pretty awesome and instantly iconic. Some good stuff in Star Trek Beyond too, and I don’t know anythin about A Man called Ove
=============================
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
I don’t even remember any of the scores from these movies (I often done, unless it’s John Williams). But clearly La La Land has the advantage. My instict says Jackie since it probably fits in nicely with the glamorous movie. Then maybe Moonlight? Then Lion and Passengers just kinda arbitrarily chosen.
=============================
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
As much as I really want Lin-Manuel Miranda to win his EGOT, I have faith he’ll get there someday. I’d have to vote for one of my absolute favorite songs of the year Can’t Stop This Feeling. Besides, as far as LMM’s contributions, I liked “We Know the Way” better than the nominated How Far I’ll Go. But there’s a good chance this’ll go to one of the La La Land songs, in which case I prefer City of Stars over Audition. I just feel it has more potential to be iconic. And then I haven’t even heard that last entry, the one from Sting in a movie I’ve never even heard of. I will say, I was really hoping that “The Great Beyond” from Sausage Party would make the cut. I mean, it’s freaking Alan Menkin (?!)
=============================
PRODUCTION DESIGN
I can’t vote against the Wizarding World, so let’s say Fantastic Beasts. However, I also really loved the old timey Hollywood world created by Hail Caesar, and that’s the one nod this movie (which made my top ten) received. Passengers is great in this category because the entire environment was built for the movie, and it was really cool to look at. La La Land was pretty and colorful. Arrival was a bit too stark and bland for me to appreciate it here.
=============================
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
If I’ve seen any of these, it would have been before another movie, and I don’t remember their names.
=============================
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
I know nothing, Jon Snow.
=============================
SOUND EDITING
I first felt I had a handle on this category when I successfully predicted Hurt Locker over Avatar. Sound Editing is about creating the sound effects, and I could still hear the pebbles clinking right before the first big explosion. So sticking with what I learned, go war movie first, I pick Hacksaw Ridge. Maybe Arrival next since this might be a chance for people to show that movie some love. I feel like Deepwater Horizon had more to work with than Sully. And I don’t really see there being too much going on with La La Land and I figure that’ll get enough recognition elsewhere in the night that it doesn’t need this one.
=============================
SOUND MIXING
The one thing I know about this category, is always bet on the musical. So hi there La La Land. Next, go for the war movie. Hacksaw Ridge has more awards love this year than 13 Hours. Then you go scifi. Rogue One over Arrival
=============================
VISUAL EFFECTS
I don’t know that I really have a strong feeling on this one. In the Oscar Pools that I’ve filled out, I’ve gone for The Jungle Book because it’s a slightly different choice. It’s not the same usual things blowing up or superhuman feats and such. Instead it’s seamlessly integrated animal CGI. Next choice would be Doctor strange. Similarly to how Warcraft did earlier this year, I like how they displayed runes and symbols with their magic. And I just really liked that movie. Then comes Rogue One because Star Wars. Deepwater Horizon had some realistic looking stuff with the whole third act. And I havent seen Kubo.
=============================
WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
This is a pretty solid set. I’d want to go with Hidden Figures because I love the movie and it was a story worth telling, but I think as far as screenplays I was most impressed with Fences. I haven’t seen the stage play, but just the fact that they were able to successfully translate the work to the screen is worth recognizing. Next Lion just gives me all the feels, as it was so beautifully written. I’m not as sold on Arrival or Moonlight as others are, but I guess I’d go with Arrival because I did like how the story was structured.
=============================
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
I find it so cool that my top three favorite movies are competing in this category. Except, I’m torn now. From watching it, I declared that I wanted Manchester By the Sea to win this category, and I think I still stand by that. But I loved The Lobster so much, and I love its creativity. However, I think I would credit the direction slightly more than the screenplay. And then Hell or High Water is really strong too. I’d next pick 20th Century Women because it was a beautiful film and had really strong characters. That leaves La La Land, which I’ve said many times, if you take away the spectacle, you get a mediocre movie. As such, I don’t think the screenplay really deserves to be rewarded, especially not when up against those other 4 deserving films.

The Karate Kid

“Fans of HIMYM will remember that Barney Stinson had an obsession with The Karate Kid. However, in his eyes, the real villain of the film was Ralph Macchio’s Danny. The real hero, Barey Claims, was Billy Zabka’s Johnny. It was a recurring joke on the show, including cameo appearances from both Karate Kids, the real one and the “”real”” one. I think his claim centered around how Johnny was the true karate kid, who devoted his life to the study of karate, whereas Danny just came in and bullied him out of his home turf.

So when watching this movie, I tried to watch it from that perspective. I lasted all of one scene. I’m sorry, but Johnny is way too much of an ass for me to get in his corner. Granted, I am quite sensitive to bullying, but still, I could not stand the guy. And the way that his sensei trained them just grated on me. A philosphy of No mercy? I’m sorry, but I will always choose compassion first.

The other thing I noticed, that’s a trend I kinda hope Hollywood will go back to, is the abrupt ending. The winner of the tournament is declared and the movie just stops. We don’t have 20 minutes of wrap up. I don’t know how many times in the recent past, I’ve been grabbing my bag and ready to walk out of the theater when I thought the movie was over, only to find that there were 5 more scenes of reflection and over resolution. Mr Miyagi knows. We don’t care about that. Keep it streamlined, young grasshopper.”

John Wick: Chapter 2

“I do love a good action movie, and in the couple years since the first John Wick’s release, it’s gained a reputation as being among the best. My write up is pretty sparse, but over time my usual response is that it has some amazing action sequences, but the story and pacing had some issues. Still, the amazing-ness of the visuals was enough to get me hella excited.

And the excitement was very much warranted. Similar to the shift we saw between The Raid and The Raid 2 (another of the greatest small scale action franchises of the new millennium), Chapter 2 tightened up the story and went flashier with the action, really taking things to the next level.

Let’s talk about those action sequences first. Once again, we’re directed by Chad Stahelski, Keanu Reeves’ stunt double from The Matrix, and just that statement should tell you what potential this movie has. The fight choreography was so beautifully clean and precise and creative. There was a realism to it as well. I mean, I can’t do the moves they were doing, but I could fully believe that these guys could. No wire work, no CGI, just pure movement, and it was among the best I’ve seen lately.

I also love how well this character fits Keanu. He’s stoic and strong, with his own moral code. It allows Reeves to utilize the discipline he has as an actor, but limits his dialog. It works. I’m excited for him. I want to see more.

Also, the puppy is awesome.

John Wick: Chapter 2 – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Captain Fantastic

“Well that was just delightful. I mean, it wasn’t a light and fluffy movie by any means. Truth be told it did go to a couple dark places. But ultimately the feeling was more on the positive side. Also a positive that with this movie, I’ve now seen all of the “”above the line”” Academy Award nominated films. Go me!

Yeah Captain Fantastic earned Viggo Mortensen his second Best Actor nomination. Here he plays the father of 6 children who he’s been raising off the grid. They learn things like survival skills, physical fitness, philosophy, and literature. When his wife, and the mother of the children dies, he tries to bring them back into civilization so they can attend her funeral (or rather, try and stop the funeral organized by her parents and give her the bohemian send off she always wanted).

Watching it kinda made me want to live their type of minimalist existence. It was so refreshing seeing this band of children that was engaged with the family instead of hiding behind a screen. Kids who had actually learned something and cared about the world. Of course as it goes on, we see how that lifestyle may not be very sustainable, particularly when trying to reintegrate with the world. Still, their sense of family values was truly admirable.

Mortensen was an interesting choice to snag that last spot on the nominees list, but I’m glad that he’s there. Not only because it did make me watch this fun and quirky film, but it’s an atypical choice, and I’m always in favor of bucking the norm. He did give a strong performance with a full range of emotion and honesty, but I also just love that it’s not your typical biopic or weighty drama. It’s something unique and fun, and more thought provoking than most of the films we saw this past year.

This was one of those rare movies that I never wanted to end. I wanted the story to keep going and I wanted to see what this family would get up to. Netflix series maybe?”

Yes Man

“Anyone remember this movie? It’s not even a decade old, but it didn’t really last in memory, huh? Betcha didn’t even remember that Zooey Deschannel and Bradley Cooper are in this. So to refresh it for you, Jim Carrey plays a guy who tries to turn his doldrums around by saying “”Yes”” to every opportunity that presents itself. Yes, he’ll give the homeless guy a ride. Yes, he’ll take guitar lessons. Yes, he’ll go see your weird band play. Only a slightly different premise from Liar Liar where he was compelled to tell the truth.

The one thing that’s cool although completely contrived about the movie is how everything he agrees to somehow comes back around in a really helpful way. For example, the guitar guy taught him to play Third Eye Blind’s Jumper, which he later uses to talk a suicidal Luis Guzman off a literal ledge. But it also leads to a really cheesy and not very believable romcom situation with Zooey. Ugh. I guess it’s right that we’ve forgotten about this movie. Thankfully Carrey’s got some amazing and hilarious movies on his resume we can always return to”