Sunday, February 26, 2017

Racial Tension: “Get Out” is a Pitch Black Satirical Horror-Comedy

Remember in “Scream 2” when Jada Pinkett's character complained that “the horror movie is historic for excluding the African American element?” Oh if Maureen could of seen “Get Out” she would lose her mind! I don't know if I've ever seen a movie quite like “Get Out;” it's a horror film that's also a stinging satire of race relations. Jordan Peele, of “Key & Peele” makes his directorial debut with a witty, fun, and creepy film about African Americans' fear and anxiety in a still very racist America. Like a top-notch, feature length “Twilight Zone” episode (and influenced heavily by “The Stepford Wives”), the film is a creepy thriller but also features matter-of-fact social commentary that never bogs down the story and doesn't forget its best reason for existing: to be an extraordinarily entertaining and suspenseful film with something to say about our current state of affairs. The best horror films are a reflection of their time and “Get Out” is no exception.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) are a young, attractive couple who are preparing to visit Rose's family's estate for the weekend. Chris is concerned that Allison hasn't told her family that Chris is black. She insists that her family isn't racist (her dad would even vote for Obama for a third time if he could) and that won't be an issue whatsoever. The couple hits a deer on the way home and so begins a weird weekend that gets progressively more and more bizarre. Rose's parents seem nice eough. And why wouldn't they be, her mom is played by Catherine Keener and her dad is The West Wing's Bradley Whitford (but he'll always be that jerk Mike from “Adventures in Babysitting”). Chris notices though that the two black house servants seem to be acting funny, like they've been brainwashed or something. The less you know from here on out the better.

“Get Out” is an incredible feature film directorial debut for comedy guy Jordan Peele. It is such a disturbing pieces of filmmaking not only because it's frightening and suspenseful but because it has a lot to say about us as a society. The satirical wit shown here was certainly not lost on me in a world where racial tensions have almost reached their breaking point. We live in a really scary world sometimes and it's reflected back on the screen. Peele commands the frame; the film is unsettling from the opening scene. His actors are amazing, especially Kaluuya whose photographer character has a Star Wars-level bad feeling about this weird family. I believed every minute even if the third act threatens to become a bit over-the-top; I was with Chris every step of the way. And the brilliant moments of witty comic relief, including a scene-stealing LilRel Howery as Chris' concerned best friend, are a welcome relief from the almost unbearable tension.

There aren't enough positive things to say about “Get Out.” It's a must see for anyone even remotely entertained by fans of either scary movies or witty social commentary. The film features great performances, interesting characters and a fascinating and creepy story that takes us down a rabbit hole of bizarre human behavior. See it with a crowd and have a blast.  GRADE: A

Saturday, February 25, 2017

2017 Oscar Forecast (UPDATED)

Holy Crap. Oscars 2017 will always be known for this:


Bust seriously, MOONLIGHT was the surprise big winner of the night with 3 wins including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Yet AGAIN the only times I ever get best picture wrong is because of that gosh darned SAG ENSEMBLE award. I hate that pesky jerk. It's just not possible for a movie to win best picture without the whole support of the actor's branch. They are the largest branch of the Academy after all. A win for Moonlight is a pretty big deal considering the notorious Brokeback Mountain snub more than 10 years ago. Seeing members from La La Land and Moonlight get to share the stage even because of such a bizarre (and unprecedented) mix-up really represents what a great year for film this has really been. Long story short, just put Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway back where they were. No one has forgiven Faye for "Dunston Checks In." I got got 16 out of 24 correct. It was bad year for predicting but it was a hell of a show. 

Here we are, the eve of Oscar. Am I the only one losing sleep because of some of these categories? Anyways, I really can't complain about this year's crop of films. There's nary a bad one in the bunch. “La La Land” came into this race an almost unstoppable force. It got record-tying 14 nominations so the big question remains how many will it get? Will it be a Titanic and sweep with 11 wins? Or will it be an “All About Eve” and earn a respectable 6? There are several interesting races to watch, including Best Actor, Best Foreign Language Film, and some of those wacky tech categories (can La La Land really win Best Sound Editing??). Without further delay here are my somewhat fearless predictions. Let's do it!

Best Picture
Who Will Win: “La La Land” Let’s be honest. This is pretty much a guarantee right? Not so fast. There’s a little thing I’d like to bring up called the SAG Ensemble “rule.” It’s a phenomena that has existed for over 20 years. No film has won Best Picture without also being at least nominated at the SAG Awards for Best Cast, since “Braveheart.” Don’t believe me? Why do you think Gravity and The Revenant didn’t win Best Picture? Guess what? “La La Land,” the frontrunner for Best Picture, wasn’t nominated for Best Cast at the SAG Awards. So does that mean Moonlight could win? It very well could. But not so fast. I’d also like to bring up a theory I lovingly call the Gibson Theorem. The one time a movie won best picture without a SAG nomination was Braveheart right? And Mel was also nominated (and eventually won) the Oscar for Best Director. I think when Mel Gibson is a nominee it voids the SAG Ensemble rule. Well guess what? Mel Gibson is up for Best Director this year. All of this could be proven mute though if something like Moonlight does manage a surprise win, but you heard it here first folks.
Who Should Win: “La La Land” or “Moonlight” or “Manchester by the Sea.” Dear lord please don’t make be choose. I love all three of these films equally and ther're so completely different and unique in their own ways. I’d be happy if any of them won. I know “La La Land” feels like the “safe” choice but I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most entertaining and fun movies of the year.

Should Have Been Nominated: “Jackie”

Best Director
Will Win: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land.” He won the DGA and La La Land is the best pic frontrunner. Anyone else would be a surprise.

Should Win: Damien Chazelle. “La La Land.” These three films are brilliantly directed in different ways, but Chazelle gets my vote for degree of difficulty. Anyone who could make me like a musical with songs I don't know based on old school musicals I don't care about is a hero in my book.

Should Have Been Nominated: Pablo Larrain, “Jackie”

Best Actor
Will Win: Denzel Washington, “Fences.” Please Oscar gods give me strength. This is such an unbelievably tight race. Arguments can be made for either Affleck or Denzel Washington. Washington has odds on his side: he won at SAG as do most of the winners here. Affleck has been the presumed favorite for a long time but an understated performance and past sexual harassment allegations are doing him no favor. In a post #OscarsSoWhite world Washington seems to be pulling ahead. This one is too close to call.

Should Win: Casey Affleck. “Manchester by the Sea.” Easily the “best” performance of the frontrunners. Affleck is so affecting in this film and is 75% of why the film is so good.

Should Have Been Nominated: Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nocturnal Animals” (What else is new?)

Best Actress
Will Win: Emma Stone, “La La Land.” IF Emma wins and La La Land wins best pic, it'll be the first time the best actress winner was in the best picture winner since “Million Dollar Baby.” Emma doesn't quite have this in the bag however. There others nipping at her heals. I'd be genuinely shocked if Isabelle Hupert won just because it would be so out of the box for the Academy, but the consensus is she's in second place. The fact that “Elle” didn't even make the Foreign Language Oscar shortlist doesn't help. And then there's Natalie Portman, a past winner, playing a real life person, in an almost over-the-top performance. But people don't really like the film (that didn't stop Meryl from winning if we recall).

Should Win: Natalie Portman, “Jackie.” Oh my god don't make me choose. I would probably vote for Emma and her turned up to eleven charm. But Natalie is revelatory in Jackie.

Should Have Been Nominated: Amy Adams, “Arrival.” (Duh).

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight.” HE gives a brief performance and it's very memorable which is why he's been the frontrunner for so long. I don't really see anyone else winning but upsets tend to happen in this category (just as Sylvester Stallone last year). If anyone else were to win it'd probably be Dev Patel.

Should Win: Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea.” Don't get me wrong I love Moonlight and Ali is great in it but I don't quite get the passion behind him. I was really moved by Hedges' work and his chemistry with Affleck is tangible.

Should Have Been Nominated: Ashton Sanders, “Moonlight.” All of the actors who played Chiron were amazing. I was particularly moved by the “second” Chiron.

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Viola Davis, “Fences.” The only “sure thing” in the acting categories this year. Even though she pretty much gives lead performance (and probably would have won Best Actress anyways) she acts the crap out of the part AND SHE HAS FREAKING SNOT COMING OUT OF HER NOSE.

Should Win: Viola Davis, “Fences.” Even if she's committing category fraud you can't deny the power of this performance.

Should Have Been Nominated: Janelle Monet, “Hidden Figures.”

And the rest:
Best Adapted Screenplay 
Will Win: “Moonlight.” There were weird shakeups in the writing categories this year. The whole season Moonlight competed as an original screenplay but the Academy determined it to be adapted since it was loosely based on an unpublished play called “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” So it competes in this category for the first time which basically relegates the amazing Arrival script to “just happy to be nominated” status.

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: “Manchester by the Sea.” A musical, let alone an original musical, hasn't won a writing award in like a hundred years. Unless of course “Manchester” ends up being this year's “Up in the Air” and surprisingly goes home empty handed? “La La Land” could win in a sweep.

Best Animated Feature Film
Will Win: “Zootopia.” Without any competition from Pixar “Zootopia” will probably take this in a walk. “Moana” or “Kubo and the Two Strigs” would take this in any other year.

Best Cinematography
Will Win: “La La Land.” It seems so rare for films set in modern day to win this award, as it usually is relegated to sweeping period pieces, but the Academy has embraced modern and futuristic set films as of late. This isn't a slam dunk as it has been the past three years with Emmanuel Lubeski's unprecedented trifecta sweep, but I'd actually be pretty surprised if something else won here.

Best Costume Design
Will Win: “Jackie.” This is what I wrote here last year: (This category also has a strong connection with Production Design – formerly Art Direction – so a win for Mad Max would make sense since it’s the PD frontrunner). “La La Land” is the frontrunner in Production Design, but I just can't see how the Academy will award it here since the movie is so “modern” and not flashy (the last contemporary-set film to win this category was Priscilla Queen of the Desert and those costumes were extremely flashy). This category is tricky because there really is no obvious frontrunner with huge period gowns. I feel like period will win over contemporary at the end of the day, unless La La sweeps.

Best Documentary - Feature
Will Win: “OJ: Made in America.” Will the Academy really go for an eight hour film? How many have actually watched the whole thing? And how can other films with regular runtimes even compete? “OJ” is really remarkable filmmaking, it should win, but really I wouldn't be surprised to see the similarly themed “13th” (easily seen on Netflix) or “I Am Not Your Negro” (which has the benefit of recently being released) win here.

Best Documentary - Short Subject
Will Win: “Joe's Violin.” These are notoriously hard to predict. I'm going with the one that has to do with the Holocaust and music. Though Extremis seems to be the frontrunner, I watched it on Netflix and found it dry and depressing.

Best Film Editing
Will Win: “La La Land.” There's a strong correlation between editing and best picture but that has proven not to be all that accurate as of late. Only a handful of Best Picture winners recently have also won for Editing. Also, there are certain types of films that win here. Usually music related (Whiplash, Chicago) or action/war oriented (Mad Max, The Bourne Ultimatum) or war (The Hurt Locker, Black Hawk Down) or back-and-forth /unique narratives (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network) tend to win here. So I think it's a race between La La Land, Arrival, and Hacksaw Ridge. Arrival has a good shot since it just won the drama editing guild award (but so did La La Land in the musical/comedy category). “La La Land” with so many long takes doesn't necessarily have the most “obvious” editing, but I think it may squeak in. But wouldn't be surprised to see Arrival or Hacksaw get in there.

Best Foreign Language Film
Will Win: “The Salesman.” Word on the street is that presumed German frontrunner “Toni Erdmann” will lose to Iranian “The Salesman” since the director has “boycotted” the Oscars because of Trump's controversial travel ban.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Will Win:
“Star Trek Beyond.” Kind of a boring crop this year huh? Sure bad movies get nominated in this category all the time: “Click,” “Bad Grandpa,” “Norbit,” etc. But they rarely win unless it's a particularly strong achievement or weak competition (cough, “The Wolfman,” cough). So I'm sticking with the Trekkies over Suicide Squad.

Best Original Score
Will Win: “La La Land.” Musicals actually rarely are nominated let alone win here since most of the time movie musicals are adapted from the stage. There's no reason to think that La La Land's fun, jazzy score won't triumph.

Best Original Song
Will Win: City of Stars, “La La Land.” I know I know, boring songs usually win this category let's face it (Another Day of Sun is the best song from “La La Land” in my opinion).

Best Production Design
Will Win: “La La Land.” A contemporary film hasn't won this category since “All That Jazz.” That doesn't help La La Land's case but I think it's going to be voted for in a lot of these categories (Especially since sometimes Academy members confuse Production Design with “production value”).

Best Short Film – Animated
Will Win:
“Piper.” I maintain that there's a very good chance something else could win here because the most “accessible” film (meaning it showed in front of Finding Dory and therefore most people have seen it) doesn't always necessarily win. And Pixar has a surprisingly poor track record in this category. Having said that “Piper” while it is sort of “lightweight” and “cute” it features almost photorealistic animation and is almost unlike anything else Pixar has made in terms of the animation itself. Plus it has a cute animal. And besides this isn't the strongest batch of contenders this category has seen.

Best Short Film – Live Action
Will Win:
Sing (Mindenki).” Another category that is nearly impossible to predict. I'm going with the Hungarian film Sing which has cute kids and singing.

Best Sound Editing
Will Win: “Hacksaw Ridge.” I refuse to entertain the notion that the Academy will give La La Land an Oscar for Best Sound Editing. Period. (The other option is “Arrival). If La La Land wins here expect a total sweep.

Best Sound Mixing
Will Win: “La La Land.” Okay, sound mixing? That's another story. Musicals do gangbusters in this category. A lot of times the sound categories go to one movie, but I feel like there will be a split this year.

Best Visual Effects
Will Win: “The Jungle Book.” In the past we've learned that usually a Best Picture nominee wins here if there is one. That rule was thrown out the window last year when “Ex Machina” surprised many and won over three Best Pic nominees. This year there aren't any Best Pic nominees. I'm going with “The Jungle Book” which, along with films like “Avatar,” has created an entire world created entirely in the computer. The animals are so realistic that if “The Golden Compass” could win this award, “The Jungle Book” should win this in a cake walk. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Block & Awe: “The LEGO Batman Movie” is an Irreverent, Comedic Superhero Trip

It was only a matter of time before LEGOs became a hit movie franchise. So many people poo-pooed the idea of an animated film based on plastic brick building toys no matter how popular the things were. And then we got “The LEGO Movie” and it was just simply brilliant and way more entertaining than it had any right to be (and that’s why I’m predicting the “The Emoji Movie” won’t be nearly as bad as we’re all thinking). With the advent of super hero fatigue, making an entire LEGO movie about Batman and that entire universe felt like overkill but I’m happy to report that “The LEGO Batman Movie” is a spectacularly entertaining and fun movie. It’s unlike any other “superhero film” you’ve seen before because it’s constantly making fun of itself and the conventions of the genre which is why it’s sort of “The Naked Gun” of animated comic movies.

Argue all you want about who is the best cinematic Batman, but Will Arnett has definitely climbed the ranks. His perfectly suited, grizzled voice fits perfectly and his cameo in “The LEGO Movie” was certainly a highlight. Now, starring in his own film, “The LEGO Batman Movie” follows the as cocky as ever Batman as he saves Gotham City yet again from the evil clutches of the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). But the Joker isn’t upset that Batman saved the day, he’s actually upset because Batman refuses to say those three little words: “I hate you.” The Joker then concocts a scheme to release all the evil villains locked in the Phantom Zone. Meanwhile, Batman must deal with the loneliness he feels from being the only one in his huge mansion. He reluctantly adopts an orphan named Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who will eventually become the sidekick known as robin. And not to mention the fact that the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) doesn’t believe in vigilante justice. It’s hard out here for a batman.

As you may assume, the film is packed to the brim with silly jokes, fun references, delightful cameos, and borderline too much action. First of all, the film is simply gorgeous; the animation is astounding. Like the last LEGO outing the film almost has a stop-motion feel to it. It’s extremely impressive. And second of all, it’s hysterical from beginning to end. There are the silly throwaway jokes like references to Bed, Bath, & Beyond coupons and plenty of nods to every past incarnation of Batman. Batman even spends his lonely times at Wayne Manor watching “Jerry Maguire” in his home theater room.

There are too much fun jokes and references to spoil here and it has a third act that is simply outstanding. Like the last LEGO adventure some of the action is almost too frenetic, but there is such a wondrous spirit to the proceedings. You really get a sense that everyone is putting their best effort forward. The script (lead by Seth Grahame-Smith and a slew of other writers) is witty, original, and cheeky. The film works as a great Batman film and as a great Batman spoof mostly because the director is Robot Chicken's Chris McKay). It’s fun for the kids and probably more fun for adults. “The LEGO Batman Movie” is certainly yet another superhero film you won’t want to miss; in fact, it's awesome.  GRADE: A-