Sophie’s Choice

Another nomination, and this time her first win as leading actress. There’s no question in my mind that this is Meryl Streep’s best performance. However, in rewatching this, I realized that it might be the single greatest performance of all time.

I made that realization about 25 minutes into the movie, still two hours away from THAT scene. THAT scene would be enough to justify an Oscar win for anyone. But there’s so much more to this movie than just THAT scene. Hell, if you knew nothing about this movie, you’d be impressed with her performance, wanting to give her all the awards and then be completely blindsided by what happens.

Why is it the greatest performance of all time? There are so many layers and levels to it. You have happy post-war Sophie. You have sickly fresh from the concentration camp Sophie. You have trapped in captivity Sophie. So many different sides of Sophie, all of them drastically different in her physicality and demeanor, and every one distinct in the hands of an expert. AND on top of that, there’s accent work (including Sophie at various stanges of knowing English) AND there are entire scenes in other languages (I think Polish primarily). Just a fraction of these factors would be impressive. This is all one role in one movie (and can I get a shout out for such a weighty and complicated role being written for a woman!) and yes THAT scene.

I’m gonna be real with you guys, this is a really hard movie to watch. It has some of the darkest subject matter in our planet’s history. But the experience of watching Meryl Streep in this role absolutely makes it worth it. This is a must watch at least once in your lifetime.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

We move on to Meryl’s first lead nomination, and the first on this list that I’d never seen. Let’s be real, with a title like that, only Meryl would have drawn me to it.

This one surprised me in how I responded to it. In this film, Meryl has dual roles in a parallel story. First is the actual story of the French Lt’s Woman, who in the 19th century (maybe?) lives this life of an outcast with a questionable reputation, and the engaged man (Jeremy Irons) who is drawn to her. Not something I’d typically go for. What I do go for is the parallel story of a film adapation of this story, where the leads live out a love affair that plays out much like the story they’re adapating.

Here’s what surprised me. I expected to be into the film storyline more, but it was the original that I was more invested in. The “real world” story just didn’t draw me in. I think part of it was that the “fictional” story got a disproportionate amount of the screen time. So when we did get the modern story, I felt jolted out of the one that was taking up more of the time. I think I also felt less sympathy for the characters that were obviously engaging in an extra marital affair that would hurt both spouses, than I did for the relationship where their biggest obstacle was society’s views.

Anyhoo, we’re talking Meryl and of course good performance and two very different sides of her. Honestly, I’ve seen the next movie on the list (Sophie’s Choice) before writing this up, so I really can’t make any real judgement of her performance here since it pales in comparison to her next. But we’re not talking about Sophie’s yet. IMDB trivia does say that Meryl thinks this is one of her weaker roles, but weak for her is still miles above normal people.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

I had such reservations about seeing the first Pacific Rim. Big giant robot movie? Haven’t we seen that go badly before? The reason it worked was Guillermo del Toro at the helm. He puts such care and love into everything he does, and it comes thru as a well thought out film with incredible attention to detail. Now that we’ve got another Pacific Rim and del Toro is not at the helm, some of those same reservations started to return.

It’s now ten years after the jaeger robots have taken out the big bad kaiju monsters. While some of the world has moved on, others are preparing for their inevitable return. There’s new troops of cadets learning to pilot jaegers as well as new drone tech that would eliminate the need for such specialized pilots. Then a mysterious giant robot appears…

Let’s be real, this isn’t up to the standard that del Toro set with the first film, but it’s not too far off. The technology and effects are beautiful, the cast is strong, the story is okay (def reminded me of the film version of Ender’s Game). Basically it felt like a summer blockbuster type movie, but maybe a slightly cheaper version. It would have totally gotten buried if it were released in the summer, but it’s a nice teaser easing into the season.

Pacific Rim: Uprising – \m/ \m/ \m/

Tomb Raider

We’re slowly starting to get more movies about bad ass ladies. One day, one of them will be really good. Today is not quite that day, but we’re closer.

Oscar winner Alicia Vikander takes up the aqua tank top to play the newest incarnate of video game legend Lara Croft. Plot doesn’t even matter at this point. It certainly didn’t seem to matter to the filmmakers.

Vikander was perfectly cast. I loved her, and she brought some real grit and heft to the role. I want to see more of this from her, I just want her to have better material to work with.

The whole thing was pure action, which sometimes is enough, but this time, I felt like it needed more. The sequences were suspenseful, looked amazing, and involved lots and lots of inhuman jumping abilities. I particularly enjoyed an early bike chase sequence and a mid-movie sequence involving a plane and a waterfall.

Overall, the movie was fine if you just want some mindless popcorn fun. For me, tho, when it comes to such an iconic character, I want better for her than lazy story telling

Tomb Raider – \m/ \m/ \n

Kramer vs Kramer

Meryl Movie Two and it’s another I’ve written up before. She followed up her first supporting nod with her first win the following year.

The movie follows Dad (Dustin Hoffman) and Son (Justin Henry) after Mom (Meryl) abruptly leaves them to go off and find herself or something. Just when the boys start to get the hang of being alone together, Mom comes back and engages in a hardcore custody battle to reclaim her son.

Ooooh I dislike her so much (the character, not the goddess that plays her). A lot of the attitudes of this film don’t age very well nearly 40 years later, and no really, I have zero sympathy for her character.

Only an actress I love so much could so convincingly play a character I dislike so intensely. For only a supporting role with limited scenes, there’s a lot of range there. But the most compelling part of her performance is the courtroom scenes. Ugh just thinking about it, I wanna punch her (again, character not goddess).

Again, despite the dated material, it’s a very moving and compelling film. Mostly about the boys, and with any other actress that’s where it’d stay. It really is one worth watching for Meryl tho

The Deer Hunter

It’s a new mini project! Been a while since I done one of those, huh? To be honest, this started because I was trying to think of a series to do for Stardust and it occurred to me I could blog it too. Full disclosure, because I wanted to release this all on consecutive days on The ‘Dust, but needed time to do my homework, I’m writing these as I watch the movies, but not posting them until they correspond with my Stardust posts.

Enough already, what’s the project? Meryl Streep’s 21 Oscar nominated performances. I’ve only seen about half of them, so it’s about time I delve into the lot.

First up, first nomination, Best Supporting Actress for The Deer Hunter. The film also won Best Picture and Director and a Supporting Actor victory for Christopher Walken, but we’re here to talk about Meryl. If you want my full thoughts on the movie as a whole, I did write it up for the AFI Project way back when.

It would appear as though the academy began their tradition of nominating Meryl simply for being in a good movie right from the beginning. It goes without saying that she does well, but there really isn’t a whole lot going on for her. This movie is really all about DeNiro and Walken.

Taking a look at the other nominees that year, I haven’t even heard of any of the films she was up against in her category. She lost out to Maggie Smith (yes, duh, I know her, but not her winning film) but I don’t even recognize the other actresses here.

Okay then we can (and I know we will) only go up from here!

Love, Simon

Why did it take so long for Simon to get here? By which I mean, why has it taken so long for there to be a mainstream LGBTQ teen romcom? If there’s any kids who need to feel represented and heard, it’s this community. I’m glad that Simon has finally arrived to tell his story, and I hope he’s the first of many.

Can I also just say that I love the ad campaign in LA for this movie? Specifically I mean the giant billboards that say “Dear LA, which way to WEHO? Asking for a friend” Genius.

Simon is your typical high school student who seems to have everything going for him: friends, family, community. Except he’s hiding a pretty big secret about himself–he’s gay. He connects with an anonymous gay student in his school, and the two begin a rather intimate and supportive correspondence. He realizes he’s falling in love with his penpal, and that he’s at a point where he needs to live his truth and let people know who he really is.

First off, this idea breaks my heart, that we’re still at a place where someone that is gay needs to come out. It’s my dream that if one of my hypothetical one day future kids is gay, that they’ll never need to actually come out. They’ll just talk about someone they’re attracted to as casually as if they were straight. Still though, displaying this story is important because it unfortunately is a huge part of journey for an LGBTQ person, and I’m glad that it’s depicted in such a positive way.

I loved the film so much. Everything about it just made me so happy. Simon is a great character, and I want him to be my best friend. Nick Robinson played him beautifully. He’s just such a deep soul and far more three dimensional than you usually get from LGBTQ characters in comedies. I cared about him, and I cried with him, and I laughed with him.

The film was heartfelt and funny, and the crowd was so into it. I heard crying, I heard squealing, I heard a full rollercoaster (or ferris wheel?) of emotions. Again, I love that this film has finally happened, and I want more.

Love, Simon – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Ready Player One

This is so incredibly exciting. I actually got to see this movie two weeks early, thanks to Stardust. First off, let’s talk about how excited I’ve been for this movie. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited!!! I’ve read this book three times, and it’s top five for me. It’s one of the books I most recommend to people. I love the story, I love the references, and every time I inhabit that world, it’s never enough. I need more geeky goodness.

We’ll get into the details of what all that means, but let’s talk about the event. It happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to freak out about it in advance. On Wed, I was told it could happen. It wasn’t confirmed until early Friday. Friday evening, I was there. A lot of other local Stardusters and YouTube stars were invited, so the early schmoozing was all about the meet and greet. That was almost more fun than the movie itself (for a mediocre film, it would have been the most fun part, but this film wasn’t mediocre). We were given free snacks and drinks and ushered into the RealD private screening room. Author Ernest Cline walked up and introed the movie. I realize I don’t sound too hyped typing this out, but catch me in person you’ll totally get my excitement.

So what’s this movie about? First off, lemme say if you’ve seen any of the marketing materials, they’re not conveying the awesome at all. I feel like the people in charge had no idea what this material is that they’re dealing with, and were just going for a generic mass appeal. But here’s the deal, this is a story for geeks, afficionados of film, games, music, and everything 80s.

It’s the future. The world is in shambles and people are poorer than ever. Their ultimate form of escapism comes from the OASIS: a virtual reality world where you can do anything or be anything. When the inventor of the OASIS, James Halliday, dies, he leaves control of his virtual empire to whoever can find an Easter egg he’s hidden deep inside his creation. To find the egg, you must solve riddles to find the keys to unlock the gate. To solve the riddles, you must know everything that Halliday knew and loved: every movie, every song, every game, everything. Be prepared to geek out.

I don’t even know what aspect to talk about first. Let’s start from the top. Director. Steven Spielberg. Yeah huh. I cannot begin to describe how excited I was when that was announced. So much of his filmography is referenced in the book. But most importantly, he GETS it. He gets the intention of the story and the nostalgic feels it inspires and the significance of every frame. Lately Spielberg has been doing prestige pictures (The Post, anyone?), but this feels like the grand adventures we first loved him for. It’s an experience I’d forgotten how much I missed.

Staying broad for a bit, let’s talk screenplay. If you’ve read the book, here’s a warning. It’s very different. However, I mean that in the best possible way. As I stated earlier, whenever I read the book, I’m bummed that it’s over because I want more. I want the story to continue. I want new challenges. This is that more. The beats of the story are the same, but the details are different. The games are different. The references are different. We always think of that as such a bad thing, but for me, those changes made the film surpass any expectations I had. I’ll admit to being hesitant when the first challenge was revealed and it was drastically different, but once I realized how and why that was, I was so stoked. I took in every second with fresh eyes and the same can’t-put-it-down (or look away in this case) excitement from my first read.

What’s next? Cast and characters. I love Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke and was so excited at their casting. They were perfect as Parzival and Art3miss. But the ones I walked away loving were Lena Waithe and surprisingly Mark Rylance. I haven’t been too sold on the idea of Rylance as a master actor yet. I think I’m still bitter he stole the Oscar from Sly Stallone. Here, I finally got it. Mostly because he really got Halliday. The way he portrayed him felt very real, and I loved his subdued and quiet approach. But it was Lena Waithe who stole the show for me. I loved her both as her avatar and in the real world. I wanna see her in every movie. Can we team her up with Tiffany Haddish in something?

Something else to talk about is the visuals. I’m gonna say a sentence that I rarely ever utter: See this in 3D!! I’m the first one to complain about unnecessary extra dimensions, but it’s essential this time around. It’s gorgoues and every frame is so rich. The first time we plug into the OASIS, you know you’re in for something next level. Also essential is gonna be multiple screenings to catch every Easter egg, so plan to see this on the best screens you possibly can.

When the credits rolled, I was so amped. It had been an amazing film, and the audience experience was out of this world. People were hollering and whooping and screaming and simply reacting loudly throughout the whole thing. Schmoozing afterwards, I was jittery. Everyone else was too. We were all practically shouting our enthusiasm and comparing what treats we found in the far corners of each scene.

As I’m standing around chatting, author (and co-screenwriter) Ernest Cline walks by. My buddy grabs him for a selfie, and the rest of us in the group follow suit. After I got my pic, I told him that I was a huge fan of the book and that I’d read it 3 times. He changes his stance from let’s-get-this-done-quickly-so-I-can-keep-going to let’s-pause-bc-I-genuinely-wanna-talk-to-you. He asks me how I liked it. I tell him I loved it. He says this is the second time he’s gotten to see it with an audience and the response has been incredible. I tell him how much I loved that it was so different, because (as I’ve stated twice already in this post), it was a way to get more of a story that I’ve wanted more of for a long time. I get a sincere thank you from him that conveys that he’s truly touched to hear something like that from a die hard fan of the book. I’m shaking as he walks off. I realize I may have been a bit overbearingly excited. I also realize this exchange took place in front of my boss’s boss (who was also part of the drive by selfie line), so I think that was a good thing.

I already had my opening night tickets to see this movie, and I can’t wait to revisit the OASIS. I may already be planning to see it at least one more time after that. Once again, lemme stress, if you’re a fan of gaming, film, pop culture, the 80s, go go go to this movie. Get to the first 3D screening you can find on opening day. It’s so worth it

Ready Player One – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

A Wrinkle in Time

Fairly sure I never actually read this book as a kid. There were so many I did read though! And I’m familiar with the title, but I have no recollection of anything other than title and author. It mighta really helped the movie watching experience if I had tho.

Directed by Ava Duvernay, A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of a young girl Meg who travels across space and time to find her scientist father (Chris Pine) who disappeared four years ago. She’s able to do so with the help of the three Mrs. (Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey), celestial beings charged with upholding the good in the universe.

There are some MAJOR positives in this film. Duvernay, a longtime champion of inclusion, has a very racially diverse cast. That’s huge. I was prolly most excited to see Mindy Kaling as one of the Mrs. You don’t often see an Indian actress in such a glorious role, and I adore Mindy but have seen little of her work (read her books, but never saw her tv shows).

The other positive was just the message of the film, that you can do anything or be anything, but being yourself is the most important thing. Especially seeing this message received by an African American girl. HUGE. So beautiful.

Unfortunately, the film itself turned out to be somewhat of a mess. Again, not having read the book, I feel this might’ve been one of those “unfilmable” stories. That word gets thrown around every so often about works (The Lovely Bones, The Watchmen) that are so nuanced and imaginative and layered, that they wouldn’t translate well and would lose much of their meaning. I feel that might’ve been the case here.

Traveling thru space and time in this way isn’t the easiest to put on screen (we can’t all be The Doctor), and I really didn’t get what was happening plot wise. Maybe you need to be a kid to get it, but I really think the context of the book is essential.

I could see this being the kind of movie that I woulda rented from Blockbuster on a sick day as a kid and watched over and over in bed. I hope that kids out there do discover this film and its message. I just think that the adults aren’t gonna know what to make of it.

A Wrinkle in Time – \m/ \m/

Thoroughbreds

I love Dexter, the all American psycho from the Showtime series based off a set of books. I never imagined I’d be thinking about what he’d be like if he were a teenage girl in high school. Now I feel like I have a sense of what he’d have been like.

The film follows two girls (Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy) who have formed a rather strange friendship. One confesses to be psychopathic (not in so many words, but again, I’ve read Dexter, I recognize it). The other is hiding some pretty serious details about her life, including her utter hatred for her stepdad. Long story short, the girls plan to kill said stepdad, and rope in a local drug dealer (Anton Yelchin *tear*) to pull it off.

I often complain about weird tones in movies, but this is one of those cases where the weird tone served the film. It’s supposta be unsettling, and there’s a strange humor in that. Our three leads were great, although I generally prefer nice guy Anton over bad boy Anton. I’m just gonna choose to believe he went out on Green Room instead of this one.

It felt as though the film was building at a slow and steady pace and then abruptly got to its conclusion. I would have liked to see it savor the final act a bit more. Still, this is likely your best bet at this current weekend of mediocre wide releases.

Thoroughbreds – \m/ \m/ \m/