‘Star Wars’ finally swallows its pride and gets help from more successful younger sibling ‘Marvel’

Marvel Executive, Kevin Feige (Photo from Veriety.com)

It is a weird feeling when your younger sibling becomes more successful than you, especially when you were on top of the world before their little sniveling ass came along. In its heyday, “Star Wars” was not just a blockbuster, it was THE blockbuster. It made all the money, had all the fans, and got all the publicity. Sure, there were always other big film franchises, but “Star Wars” always sat comfortably on its throne, knowing full-well that most other films should be honored that theaters would even use the same projectors that they used for “Star Wars” to show their movie. Life was good and their rule was absolute. And then Marvel released the 1-2 punch of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”…

Now, “Star Wars” has been cleanly checked and their trajectory is not looking nearly as favorable as its adopted counterpart’s. Mom and Pops Disney are thrilled that they can go around showing off to their neighborhood frenemies just how successful their children are compared to the other kids around town, but “Star Wars” is starting to feel a bit insecure in its place at home. The last “Star Wars” film, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” was the first certified dud the franchise has ever produced, and “The Last Jedi” which preceded it was so divisive that many fans campaigned to have it removed from the official canon. The films aren’t making money and the fans aren’t loving the product being released, all while its younger sibling leapfrogs it in the hearts of the world. It’s a tough scene.

Hopefully, “The Rise of Skywalker” can stick the landing and make an otherwise shaky sequel era end on a strong note, but “Star Wars” knows it’s too late to change the course of its current trilogy. They are on their fifth movie and at this point, they have accepted that whatever will be will be. But where this upcoming film might be a finale, it is also the genesis of a brand-new opportunity to reignite the franchise with creativity. “Star Wars” has always had the financial resources available to it, but now that it lives under the roof of Disney, it can get some much-needed help from the family. Enter: Kevin Feige.

Feige is best known as the Marvel Studios executive who is the frontier brain behind the massive success that is the MCU. Not that everything he touches is guaranteed to turn to gold, but he had been at the helm of the largest cinematic undertaking in history and made it universally beloved. Feige is the man that turned obscure characters like “Ant-man” and “The Guardians of the Galaxy” into pop-culture mainstays. If there is ever an individual to put your faith in to make a likeable film with unconventional material, this is your guy. And, as an employee of Marvel, he works for Disney, meaning it really is not that complicated for him to head on over to “Star Wars” for a project or two. Well, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “Star Wars” has indeed brought Feige onboard to develop a new Star Wars movie outside the parameters of the main saga that they are currently working on.

This is easily the smartest move for “Star Wars”, which I have criticized ad nauseum for lacking focus and a true vision of storytelling since Disney acquired the rights in 2012. Feige is very open to the idea of introducing new characters and unexplored eras of “Star Wars” and he is a self-described “die-hard fan” of the franchise. Loser nerds like me will rejoice in the idea of someone who truly understands the source material taking the helm for a film and hopefully steering the franchise in a more positive direction. This is a franchise that has its engines stalling at them moment. They are unable to successfully do anything fresh because they fear it’ll be too different than what older fans remember, while simultaneously undoing a lot of the ground underneath its feet. It’s time to stop playing not to lose and Feige is the guy for the job.

So, what is fair to expect from a Kevin Feige led “Star Wars” film? While it may be easy to say he’ll make a Marvel film in “Star Wars” clothing, I think that is too easy. Feige is a leader who understands how a franchise operates, so maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to assume that he will treat both franchises the same. Will he use stories and characters from Legends? Possibly, but don’t hang your hopes up on this. While I am sure there will be plenty of references to Legends materials, Disney is fairly set on telling their own stories, and personally, I am fine with this. Sure, I would like acknowledgments of the stories that have been otherwise ignored, but to me, those stories do exist. Let’s be inspired by those stories to be creative and show that the simple good versus evil trope doesn’t have to be the only philosophy explored in “Star Wars”. Either way, I think we can all agree that if he takes even a little bit of inspiration from “The Old Republic” stories and video games, we are in for a treat. Take a look at their cinematics here!

This is better than everything Disney has made thus far

What do you guys think about this move by “Star Wars”? Do you think that Feige is the right man for the job or do you think he is just going to turn the franchise into a clone of the MCU? What do you hope his movie will be like? Let’s discuss your thoughts!

Ad Astra (2019) – Movie Review

Ever since I was a child, Science Fiction has always resonated with me on a more personal level than most, if any other, genre of storytelling. Aside from the expansive worldbuilding and plethora of routes to explore ones own imagination, Sci-Fi has seemingly always created deeply personal narritives that have made connections with me. It is fair to say that this genre has helped shape my maturity throughout my adolescence and the person I have grown into being. When the trailers for James Gray’s “Ad Astra” first dropped in early 2019, I immediately felt the rush of excitement and anticipation of witnessing a new epic in the genre that I so deeply love.

Whether we realize it or not, we find ourselves in an era that is a sort of Sci-Fi Renaissance. The likes of “The Martian”, “Interstellar”, and “Gravity” have given us a (pardon the pun) stellar collection of recent films in the genre that take the rules of our reality and seek to make compelling stories within the realm of possibilities while still looking forward to create a future that is beyond our current capabilities. It is the ability to understand our current limitations aren’t a static obstacle and someday we will be able to take the next step in the exploration of our universe that has given this genre the endurance to survive for as long as it has. We, as human beings, always have a curiosity as to what the future for us holds for us, and “Ad Astra” continues this phenomenal trend of accurately depicting “the near future” as it desribes.

This deeply intimate story of a desolate journey into the farthest corner of our Solar System was not the movie I expected to see, but it was uniquely beautiful in its own way. The biggest sin that this movie commits is that it is poorly advertised by the film’s marketing department. We are promised an epic exploring the grandiose nature of space and the cosmic forces that surround us, but that is but a footnote in the ledger of what this film really is. The focus of this film is squarely on the relationship of Brad Pitt’s Major Roy McBride with his estranged father, Tommy Lee Jones’s Colonel Clifford McBride, who just happens to be the most decorated astronaut in human history, but at the expense of the relationships with his family.

Roy is tasked with traveling to Mars on a series of confidential missions in order to send a transmission to his long-lost father who is believed to be somewhere orbiting Neptune and responsible for a series of anti-matter bursts that are threatening all life in the Solar System. Col. McBride was originally thought to have died roughly 19 years prior when his mission’s communications seized, leaving a young Roy and his mother to cope with the loss and abandonment of Clifford with no closure whatsoever. The abandonment Roy experiences has made it near impossible for him to effectively connect with any other human being, a quality that actually makes him the ideal astronaut, as he always remains focused on the mission at hand, his pulse rate never rises above 87, and he always passes his frequent psychological evaluations. This comes at the expense of his marriage to Liv Tyler’s Eve, who is honestly nothing more than a prop for the film to use to express Roy’s distance from humanity. However, thanks to a healthy dose of voiceovers, Roy’s inner monologues express a great deal of conflict he has with processing his isolation and abandonment. The farther Roy travels into space, the more he actually connects to his own humanity.

Undoubtedly, the film’s greatest strength is that it is consistent with its message from the beginning to the end of the movie. The idea of looking out to the stars in the search for extraterrestrial life while simultaneously ignoring the degrading nature of humanity back home is perfectly mirrored in Clifford’s abandonment of Roy. Clifford chose to leave behind all of his connections to Earth and take some dubious actions in pursuit of his mission, and Roy seems destined to continue of his father’s trajectory. As Roy journey’s to the Moon and then to Mars, we see how the astronauts are encouraged to feel less and less, with the mandatory psychological evaluations administered by robots and dosages of mood stabilizers that they must take in order to make their travels. This point is only exacerbated that seemingly everyone who accompanies Roy on his voyage ends up dead before the credits role. The irony that we will be desperately searching for life while ignoring everything that makes life worth living is the thesis of the film and it offers us all an introspective moment to decide what the most important things in our life are and what gives life meaning.

The visual effects of this film are praiseworthy. Sci-Fi is typically a genre that blazes the trail with special effects, often because it necessitates the realistic rendering of many things that are physically too large to capture on camera or technology that does not yet exist. Yet, it is with this element of filmmaking that the story more subtly depicts the future and the world we are headed for. As a science nerd, I appreciate how the rockets are designed. They use solar sails and microwave emitters for thrust, two technologies that many scientists believe to be the future of space travel. The fact that it is just a visual and not a fact uttered in dialogue makes this a great treat for those of us who enjoy seeing a reasonable probability for scientific advancements. The way they render the Moon and the active commercial society that inhabits the lunar colony is a real joy, showing the spread of western consumerism with the additions of a Subway and a Dunkin Donuts in the background. This is further hinted at in Roy’s commercial flight to the Moon where the future Virgin Atlantic charges $150 for pillows and blankets. I guess capitalism is really excited for human advancement as well.

There have been a few comparisons made to the Vietnam War drama “Apocalypse Now” and I find some of them are warranted but maybe not all of them. There is no question that there are similar themes, tones, and storytelling mechanisms between the two. Both heavily explore the ideas of losing yourself in the mission, becoming isolated, and use voiceovers to give us insight into character growth, so it is definitely fair to say that there is noticible influence from Francis Ford Coppolla’s classic epic. While it tries to stand on the shoulders of the giants that precede it, I do not think it is fair to put this into that same tier just yet. “Apocalypse Now” is 40 years old and still beloved to this day, and there is still no guarantee that “Ad Astra” will be remembered in a few months. Legacy is earned, and even if the content is comparable, you aren’t born a legend. Let’s see if this film stands the test of time.

I have seen that the response to this film is divided and I feel the need to address that. Some who have viewed the film have claimed it fails to deliver enough excitement to warrant the visuals, cast, and marketing it received. There is no doubt that this film is somber and if you go in looking forward to an exciting space adventure, you may leave the theater disappointed. Even I could not escape an ever-present sadness when I left the theater, and I enjoyed the movie. I saw the film with two close friends and I could very much see that we all seemed to absorb the feeling of isolation that Roy endures throughout the film, a sort of loneliness in polite company. And that is just it: the film is not an easy watch. Similar to recent films like “The Revenant” and “Dunkirk”, “Ad Astra” will not make you leave the theater feeling lifted-up and likewise the film probably does not offer much re-watchability. But I stand by the fact that this film is beautiful and a viewing should be highly encouraged to everyone. I implore people to give the film a chance and treat it as a thought experiment for the future of humanity. No, there is not a ton of action scenes but the visuals are stunning and the philosophy is palpable to us all.

“Ad Astra” is a wonderful movie that is tightly focused amongst a genre that is typically more grand in its execution. It is wonderfully acted by an understated Brad Pitt, who is burdened with virtually the entire film resting on his shoulders. Most supporting characters are negligible, and that is a shame considering the talent that those minor players possess, however that should not detract from the film. It never attempts to make the film about anybody other than Roy and Clifford, and to its credit, it stays true to its own vision. As far as pure Science-Fiction (Which means I am excluding comic book films) films go, “Ad Astra” has continued this revival of intimate realism that the genre has been trending towards in the past decade or so.

I would give “Ad Astra” an intimate 8.8 out of 10

Directed by: James Gray
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 13 Minutes

Hustlers (2019) – Movie Review

If you were to base your judgments solely on the trailers, you would be forgiven if you thought “Hustlers” was bound to be a second, non-NC-17 rated version of “Showgirls”. Let’s face it, the idea of a movie starring strippers is still viewed as a slight taboo in society, and most audiences rarely look beyond the surface-level of a film to make opinions on its substance. And on the rare times they do accept the subject matter, it is mostly along the lines of wanting to see the main actors and actresses as close to naked as possible (I am looking at you “Magic Mike”). I am sure there was an idea floating about that this would be a softcore porno that offers nothing more than risqué material that will push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in polite society. The fact that Cardi B is in it probably didn’t do much to make the case that this was a serious film either.

Anybody who ventures into a theater and makes it through the first half-hour or so will realize that the film really isn’t about stripping or being a stripper, but rather a group of several women who use their experience as strippers on Wall Street to manipulate and steal from high-rolling financial workers. This is more of a heist movie than a movie about exotic dancing, with motifs and ideas that actually warrant some discussion. In reality, the film is about the personal bonds these women formed with each other and the crimes they committed, just wearing the theme of strippers as a coat of paint.

While the cast of this ensemble film is all likable, we only get to know Constance Wu’s Dorothy (AKA “Destiny”) and Jennifer Lopez’s Ramona, both of whom do an exceptional job in their respective roles. Destiny is the audience’s surrogate. While she is not exactly a total newcomer to the exotic dancing scene, she is a novice in comparison to Ramona who seemingly is a seasoned professional who knows all the secrets and tricks to make the most money. We learn from Ramona alongside Destiny, and we watch Destiny gradually shift from a follower to a co-leader of the group. Ramona, on the other hand, embraces the mentor role from the beginning. You can see she thrives when younger dancers come to her for advice. She is the older sister/mother to all of the women who so desperately have a void in their lives in that particular role. And it is because of the natural gravitation that she can convince her friends to push the limits of the law.

The strength of the film is undoubtedly the characters, specifically Destiny and Ramona. Both possess a likeability about them that gives their human side an appeal. Destiny expresses her emotions in a visible light, whereas Ramona hides hers under layers of a tough, Brooklyn façade. Both characters embrace the idea of living in luxury, if they can, while simultaneously understanding that providing for the people they care about is the minimum goal. The circumstances and motivations for the characters change throughout the film, often reacting to real-life economic conditions. Since their business is so closely tied to the spending and lifestyle of Wall Street employees and executives, their methods and reasoning adjust to the current situation. Early in the film, money was abundant and they simply were trying to maximize how much each patron spent at the club. They were honest workers who may have used manipulation tactics, but certainly nothing illegal. But when the economy crashed in 2008 and their club almost went under, the girls turned to baiting, drugging, and stealing from men instead, often completely ruining these men in the process. Although it was objectively not righteous of them, they do morally justify themselves saying that Wall Street stole all that money from the people and forced the world to come to this. If anything, they are just stealing the money back from the people that crashed the economy because of their corrupt business practices.

The interview with Julie Style’s Elizabeth is used as a neat framing device that also reveals the inner workings of Destiny as a character. She questions Elizabeth if she has ever had to worry about putting food on the table or keeping the lights on, which she obviously had not. Perhaps this is a bit obscure of a reference, but the personal struggles exhibited by Destiny and to a lesser extent, Ramona, are reminiscent of the song “What Would You Do?” by City High. This R&B song that came out in 2001 details an encounter the lead singer had with an old friend when she reveals that she had to become a stripper to feed her son. If you are having difficulty relating to the circumstances of these women, I would give the song a listen. The lyrics go:

“What would you if your son was at home —
Crying all alone on the bedroom floor —
cause he’s hungry, And the only way to feed him is to sleep with a man for a little bit of money —
And his daddy’s gone, somewhere smoking rock now, in and out of lockdown, I ain’t got a job now —
So for you this is just a good time, but for me this is what I call life”.

Destiny almost perfectly mirror’s the chorus’s words with her experience in the film where she can’t get a job, has to provide for both her daughter and her grandmother, and she was forced to do acts that she was not totally comfortable with, and who are we to judge the actions of a person as desperate as she was?

Of course, a film that tackles this sort of subject matter is likely to stir up plenty of debate as to how much it does or doesn’t support common feminist ideals. There is something unjust about the idea of a middle-class white boy, like myself, judging a film that is made by almost an entirely female cast and crew (with the exception of minor male characters) about how feminist it is. I should not be the final jury as to whether or not this film does or does not further this ideology, but I hope you all already knew that. In my unqualified opinion, I believe the message of “Hustlers” is all about female agency and utilizing everything in one’s capability to succeed. While there is no doubt that exotic dancing contributes to the objectification of women, the idea that the women choose for themselves their path is what I find so progressive. If anything, the film portrays the male characters as easily manipulated by the female characters because the women are able to take advantage of how predictable male behavior is. It is actually what makes these women so formidable and capable of pulling off the crimes they committed.

Ultimately, “Hustlers” is a film about just how far people will go when they are desperate, and just how dangerous desperate people who know what they are doing are. The film wants to you to ask yourself what you would do if you have only one way out and then realize that you couldn’t possibly know until you are there yourself. The film is not one that I typically would have given a fair chance in my past but I am glad that I did. I was very entertained and enthralled with the personal struggles of the two leading women.

I would give “Hustlers” a hearty 8.5 out of 10

Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Mette Towley, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 50 Minutes

Adam Sandler… getting Oscar Buzz?! What a time to be alive!

If you had Adam Sandler in your Oscar pool, I bet you have a cocky smirk on your face right about now. A prediction like that is so ludicrous that the only way it cashes out for you is if you engaged in some sort of witchcraft. And yet, here we are. The new trailer for “Uncut Gems” just dropped on the interwebs a few hours ago and Adam Sandler, of all people, is garnering serious Oscar Buzz, and now I’m terrified because it seems we live in a world where witches are real. Also, Mike Francesa, the New York sports radio talk show host that is wrong with predictions so often it is almost impressive, appears to be co-starring in it too, and dropping F-bombs, making this possibly the most unlikely success story in human history.

I am not 100% sure what the film is about based on the trailer but it certainly grabbed my attention. Sandler looks like he is playing a sleazy jeweler with a high stakes gambling problem and that subject-matter is ripe for compelling narratives to be harvested from. And while it appears there are splashes of the type of comedy that Sandler made his name on, the role is probably more of a dramatic one, which is a task he has not attempted much in his career. But if you think this is all smoke and that there is no way Adam Sandler can actually succeed in this type of film, let us not forget that he was actually nominated for a Golden Globe as a lead Actor in the Paul Thomas Anderson film “Punch-Drunk Love” in 2003, so we know he is capable of this if he is given the right material.

Adam Sandler is perhaps one of the most divisive figures in Hollywood, which is odd when you consider the most scandalous action he ever engaged in was “Jack and Jill”. If you honestly think about it, the only thing this man did to get people to hate him was release a couple of really crappy movies, and if you consider the actual terrible people that have infested the movie industry throughout history, maybe Sandler doesn’t deserve the animosity he tends to receive. We treat him like he committed a crime but he only made some lazy films where he yells and goes on vacation with his friends from the 90s.

Still, if there is anything Hollywood loves more than itself, it is a good comeback story. The man who created some of the most beloved comedies of the 1990s has produced cinematic excrement since his 2005 remake of “The Longest Yard”, and almost 15 years later, finally rises beyond his own reputation with a performance that is expected to give dramatic heavy hitters like Leonardo DiCaprio and Joaquin Phoenix a run for their money during award season. Hell, it’s so cliché for Hollywood that I could see a movie made about this in 10 years that would also get Oscar Buzz. For what it is worth, Sandler did earn 2 Emmy nominations this year for the first time since 1993. Getting an Oscar nomination too might be just enough to convince me that we are living in a simulation and the operators are just dialing up the ridiculousness-levels as high as they can before we wise up.

I really hope this movie is as good as people think it is going to be. Even if I haven’t been the biggest Sandler fan this century, I still love the idea of another great movie out there and I am rooting for him to deliver. What do you guys think? Are you excited about Adam Sandler’s resurgence or could you give less of a shit? Do you think “Uncut Gems” has the potential others seem to think it does? Anyway, here is the “Chanukah Song”!

The Case for Lupita Nyong’o Getting an Oscar Nomination

As I mentioned in my previous post, Oscar season is in our sights and we (meaning me) need to focus heavily on how the award races are shaping up. I already made a post discussing the case for Robert Downey Jr. deserving an Oscar Nomination for his role in “Avengers: Endgame” so now I would like to give the same treatment to the actor who received my earliest endorsement this year: Lupita Nyong’o. Lupita starred in the critical, commercial, and cultural force that was Jordan Peele’s “Us” that was released in the early months of 2019, and since then a bevy of films have debuted that offer up some competition to her. So, does her performance still stack up in the race or was I just a prisoner of the moment? Let’s discuss.

WHY IT WON’T HAPPEN

The most likely factor going against her is that this award race doesn’t favor oddities the way the Best Actor race might. While most people would not have expected Olivia Coleman to win Best Actress last year if you asked them at this time of year, there is significantly less real estate space in her trophy case right now than there was back then. And not that she was not a deserving winner, but her role was much more in-line with what the typical Best Actress performance looks like, as she played prominent royalty in 18th century England. Lupita, on the other hand, is the lead in a modern horror film, which is a genre that is typically not given the same kind of attention that period dramas are. For Lupita to score a nomination, she would need to press against the tide in a race that more frequently feasts on melodrama and pretentiousness than it does on genre films.

Another contributor to her uphill battle is the fact that most voters have already forgotten her performance, or at the very least moved on from it. When it comes time for votes to be cast, “Us” will be almost a full year old at that point, whereas most of her competition will have more recent roles. It is no secret that we as humans suffer from a recency bias in virtually everything we do. Whether it be good or bad, our views of recent phenomenon tend to be more extreme than the ones that we have had ample time to digest. Her performance needs to be truly memorable to outlast the growing crop of newer performances that will attempt to dilute the favor voters may have had with it when it came out. You can say that it indeed was a truly memorable performance, which is a legitimate view, but do we believe this is an opinion that most voters share? It is difficult to believe that a view of an outlier will be near-universal in its positivity.

But Award Races are mostly political, so is any of that information even necessary? (Ok, it is a little.) If there is anything I learned in my 4 years studying Political Science in college is that in politics, perception is more important than reality. It doesn’t matter who is the best, but rather who everyone thinks is the best, and as I write this, the narrative around Lupita’s performance is rather quiet. No one is talking about her right now and it is unlikely that talks will pick up again since the film isn’t even in theaters anymore. What can happen to give her a boost in the polls at this point? Probably nothing if we are being honest. Major predictive sites currently have Lupita anywhere from top tier to dark horse status, and while that isn’t a death sentence for her case, it would be much more favorable for her to be leading the pack at this point rather than still trying to ascend to the summit.

WHY IT COULD ABSOLUTELY HAPPEN

The most important point that can be made here is that she was honestly phenomenal in “Us”. Despite all my issues with the politics of the award race, typically only performances that are actually quality are nominated. Simply being as good as it was at least qualifies her performance for the discussion, which is as important of a factor as they come. As they say, the best ability is availability. And, at the moment, I have only seen one other performance that is in the same discussion as far as quality goes. If she is Top 2 by the time October starts, she will have a very strong chance to stay within range of the Top 5 performances when the time for voting happens. If we are just talking about being nominated, which we are, it seems like a safe bet that she will have submitted one of the top performances by a leading actress all year.

With regards to the argument that the film is too old to still be relevant come award season, I call shenanigans there! The most obvious comparison to “Us” is the only other film directed by Jordan Peele, “Get Out” (2017). Aside from having the same director, “Get Out” also had a similar early-year release date (February of 2017 as opposed to March of 2019 for “Us”) and the same horror genre that defies the norm, and “Get Out” secured 4 Oscar Nominations, all in major categories. But most relevant to this situation, Daniel Kaluuya, the lead actor in “Get Out” was nominated in his category, despite very little buzz circling him before the Oscars. Kaluuya, like Nyong’o, was the face of his respective film and it seems the voters never forgot him, even if the “experts” thought they would. I understand that every award race is relative to the circumstances of its particular year, but Kaluuya has proven that someone in a situation that almost perfectly mirrors Nyong’o’s can pull it off. In fact, if we look at the probabilities, the actors in this situation are 1 for 1. Ask any baseball fan if batting 1.000 is good.

And if there is anything that last years debacle of the Oscars taught me is that the Academy is not as stuck in their ways as the world thought they were, for better or worse (see “Green Book” winning Best Picture as an example of the worse). Recent controversies surrounding the Academy, as far diversity are concerned, has spurred a youthful and diverse renaissance within the organizations voting population, which bodes much more favorably for performances that break the mold. Finally, voters aren’t all old, rich, white people who vote for the same crap every year… just mostly old, rich, white people who vote for the same crap every year. The environment might not be perfect for Lupita to score a nomination, but it is improving, even from 2 years ago when Kaluuya pulled off the feat that she is attempting to pull off right now. The fact that she is actually in the discussion at this point puts her in even better standing than Kaluuya was back then since no one on the outside even considered him a contender.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Go ahead and tell me a cliché monologue from a 19th century English dramedy is better performed than this scene. You will be the one who has to live with your lies

If it were up to me, she would likely get a nomination (This is assuming that 4-5 other performances in the coming months don’t outright usurp her standing, which is improbable to happen). The quality of her performance and the more unique traits of her role should help her standout amongst the crowd. I just hope that voters fairly give “Us” a look, rather than just casting it aside like they do with most early-year horror films. She is very deserving but this is completely reliant on voters being trusted to do the right thing, which is something I have a tough time doing. But, after totally evaluating her circumstances, I would give her somewhere around a 50-60% to get a nomination, which is pretty high. Here’s hoping the voters give her the respect she deserves.

Oscar Season Cometh: Are You Prepared?

2019 Oscar winners Rami Malek (Best Actor in a Leading Role), Olivia Coleman (Best Actress in a Leading Role), Regina King (Best Actress in a Supporting Role), and Mahershala Ali (Best Actor in a Supporting Role)

It is fairly common knowledge that I live for the Oscars (I recently added “The Oscars” category to the site if you want to go back and view my previous takes on the Academy Awards). I have always made Oscar predictions on Facebook every year, and it were those posts that convinced my friends to peer-pressure me into making this site. So, in a very sad way, the Oscars are the only thing that has given my life focus over the past few years. *Sigh* Stay in school kids. But I digress…

I hate the idea of elites patting each other on the backs and telling each other how highly they think of themselves, BUT that doesn’t stop me from spending all year thinking about how every single film stacks up in the races for the most prestigious of awards. The Academy Awards might just be fancy people giving themselves trophies, but the awards themselves are essentially the official legacy of films. Major sports leagues have superlative awards that they distribute at the end of each season such as MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc., each one contributing to the permanent legacy of those individuals who manage to take home a win. I love seeing who will be this year’s film version of Patrick Mahomes, Mike Trout, or LeBron James and cement themselves into film royalty.

Now that we are approaching Fall, Oscar season draws near. Oscar season is the time of year when films that debut are more focused on winning awards than they are with box office performance. There are many film festivals, such as Venice and Toronto, where many winners from previous years have had their debuts and early critical receptions have catapulted them right into the center of award discussions. These festivals often have their own awards for their films that act as a sort of indicator for the later award shows, such as the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and of course, The Oscars.

While we will undoubtedly be discussing many of the films that are going to debut in the weeks and months ahead and how they might fair with Oscar buzz, it is important to remember that the films that came out in the earlier months of the year are still eligible and often can be heavy hitters at the Oscars (Just ask “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Get Out”, and “Mad Max: Fury Road” if they had any troubles getting wins). With that in mind, here are some films that we have already seen this year that could be in play at the Oscars*.

*There are so many films that I can’t give them all spotlights here, but just because they are not here doesn’t mean they do not have a chance.

Captain Marvel”

Potential Nominations: Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Visual Effects

Nothing groundbreaking here, but a big-budget Marvel film that did well with critics and fans is sure to have a presence in the minor technical categories, at least if it is not completely outshined by “Avengers: Endgame”.

“Us”

Potential Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Lupita Nyong’o), Best Director (Jordan Peele), Best Original Score, Best Costume Design

I feel like we have already forgotten about this one because it came out so early in the year, but it undoubtedly deserves to be in the discussion for many awards. At the moment, it still holds on as my personal frontrunner for Best Original Score, as well as one of the top tiers for Best Actress. While “Us” may be on the back burner of our collective thoughts, our subconscious won’t forget just how memorable and unique the sights and sounds of this film were, and I am sure it’ll all come rushing right back to you if you go back and watch a trailer for it.

“Rocketman”

Potential Nominations: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Taron Egerton), Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

In a down year, such as last year, Egerton might be the frontrunner to win it all. Even still, it seems incredibly likely he will be in play for Best Actor, even among a seemingly crowded race this year. And of course, any film with a main motif being a musical career likely will be a factor in the sound categories.

“Avengers: Endgame”

If this scene isn’t Oscar-worthy then I lose what little faith I have left in humanity

Potential Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robert Downey Jr.), Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

As it stands right now, this is the Best Picture for 2019. Show me anything that has had such a meteoric impact on society like this film has. It is the highest-grossing film of all time and the epic conclusion to a decade-long journey in Hollywood. It is a behemoth that is so unique in its execution and circumstances, that it would be one of humanity’s gravest injustices if a run-of-the-mill drama wins instead. As for RDJ, do I think he will get nominated? No. But I think there may be a case for him (as I made in a previous post) so I included him here. Everything else is par for the course for a production this huge.

“The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part”, “Toy Story 4”, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”

Potential Nominations: Best Animated Feature

Big Studio animated films usually DOMINATE this category every year. I have a gut feeling that one of them might end up being snubbed in favor of a lesser-known animated feature, but I have no doubt they will all be in the discussion. Maybe “Dragon Ball Super: Broly” can make a push. A kid can dream, right?

“Booksmart”

Potential Nominations: Best Original Screenplay

This one went over really well with critics for its smart humor. I’m not sure it has the legs to make a Best Picture push but I can see it possibly getting some recognition for its quality writing.

“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”

Potential Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Production Design

The John Wick franchise seemingly came out of nowhere to reach a truly beloved status but that’s not because the films are complex. They are simply elegant and expertly coordinated and this film looks great. Its aesthetic is part of the reason the series is so memorable.

Midsommar”

Potential Nominations: Best Cinematography

Yes, I defecated all over this movie in my review of it. I still think it’s terrible, but the one area I gave it props in was cinematography. The Academy usually has a fetish for landscape shots, brightly lit fields, and that sweet, sweet symmetry, and boy does “Midsommar” have that going for it. Other people seem to think the film is good for some reason, so that might help it out too.

“Spider-Man: Far from Home”

Potential Nominations: Best Visual Effects, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing

I am not totally convinced that this film is as special as we want it to be, but the sequences with Mysterio’s effects certainly warrant consideration from the academy, perhaps more so than those in fellow Marvel film “Captain Marvel”.

“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”

Potential Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Brad Pitt), Best Director (Quentin Tarantino), Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing

This one is a powerhouse! If there is one thing the Academy values more than WWII dramas or uplifting films about the human spirit during the fight for civil rights, it is movies about Hollywood. There are so many big names tied to this film, and it did incredibly well at the box office and with critics. Maybe the safest pick is Brad Pitt, at least based on what I’ve been reading, but the production design and hair and makeup categories seem like a pretty sure thing to me. In fact, I give them better than a puncher’s chance in pretty much all of the races listed.

“The Farewell”

Potential Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Awkwafina), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Shuzhen Zhao), Best Director (Lulu Wang), Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film

“The Farewell” is a pleasant reward for venturing into the world of foreign language dramas. A foreign language film that has a presence in the more mainstream categories is a force to be reckoned with (See “Roma” last year, even though it was robbed for Best Picture). Awkwafina is exceptional in the lead role and her versatility with language skills and emotional vulnerability should give her a nomination. Shuzhen Zhao could be a dark horse as well for a Best supporting Actress nomination, as she totally stole the show with all of her screen time. Lulu Wang made a very personal story based on her own experiences and got phenomenal performances out of everyone in the cast. Not only should she be nominated for writing and directing, but I would argue she is among the current frontrunners.


So these are the films that have already made their cases for Oscar consideration. There may have been a few that I have missed, but the race for Oscar gold is far from over. There will be more discussions in the future and many more movies trying to standout amongst the chaff. It will be exciting to see which of these films has the legs to make it to the end of the marathon and which newcomers make the biggest impact. Leave a comment and let me know which films you’ve seen this year do you think has a chance at this year’s Oscars. And let me know which upcoming films do you think will have play well too!

Is it ok to admire films made by terrible people?

Roman Polanski – Image from nbcnews.com (2017)

I have reached a moral conundrum and I would like to discuss it with you. Over this past weekend, Roman Polanski’s film “J’accuse (An Officer and a Spy)” won several awards at the Venice film festival. The film is about Jewish French Artillery Officer Alfred Dreyfus who was wrongly convicted of treason in 1894 because of doctored evidence, which is relevant because Polanski is a convicted child rapist in the United States who fled to his native Poland to avoid jail time in the 2000s. The film seems to be a personal statement of his, possibly reflecting his situation from his perspective, however, before you suggest that maybe he felt he was wrongly convicted, the conviction was due to a guilty plea, meaning he had confessed his guilt under oath. So, despite whatever objections his film might present, according to himself, he is a rapist and a pedophile.

In a somewhat relevant story, actress Scarlett Johansson came out in defense of director Woody Allen who is similarly accused of sexual assault, only with his then 7-year old adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow in 1992. The story only gets weirder when you consider that he later married another one of his adopted daughters in 1997. Johansson says that she and Allen have had very direct conversations about the accusations where he maintains his innocence and she says she believes him. Allen’s films are usually met with massive critical and commercial success, but most of them were produced before these allegations coming to light. Once these allegations resurfaced last year, Amazon terminated their agreement to distribute his current film “A Rainy Day in New York”, which stars big-name actors Timothée Chalamet, Dakota Fanning, Selena Gomez, and Jude Law.

Woody Allen – Image from People.com (2015)

The moral issue I am facing is that is its audience’s responsibility to ignore its existence because of the actions of the people who made it? This can apply to many films and many filmmakers who have all either been credibly accused or convicted of serious crimes. If you are a fan of “The Usual Suspects”, are you obligated to stop watching it since the credible accusations against Kevin Spacey have come to light? Does the content of the character of those involved retroactively impact whether the film should be watched or even enjoyed? Kevin Spacey is still a very talented actor who made enjoyable films. It is also important to remember that there are more people than just the lone individual who worked on the film, all of whom probably worked very hard to create a film that they hoped would be enjoyed.

Fundamentally, I am anti-censorship. Limiting the ability of these filmmakers to produce films and audiences to see or enjoy them goes against a basic tenant of my own morality. Wherever you end up on this debate, it should be your own, personal decision whether or not you choose to engage with the films and not the result of coercion into believing or behaving in one way. It is important that everyone, even horrible people, be able to freely express themselves, or else we have taken away what I consider the main factor in the meaning of life: the ability to make your own decisions. 

I honestly do not know where I settle on this issue for myself. Polanski is a rapist and naturally, I do not want to associate with anyone that vile. But, is giving his film attention an endorsement of him? I want to believe that we are able to separate the two but that is a decision we must all make individually. There are plenty of Michael Jackson fans still out there that I am confident are not pro-child molestation, yet I know many (older) people who refused to buy a Ford automobile because Henry Ford was close friends with Adolf Hitler.

We must ask ourselves if we feel the art is responsible for the actions of the artist. I argue that it is not. However, I am not naïve. I understand that the art and the artist are intrinsically connected and while they are separate entities, they will never be totally separate from each other, especially when the names Roman Polanski or Woody Allen are in big, bold letters on the films’ posters. Because there are actual victims in these instances, we should also take into consideration how they feel in this matter. I imagine seeing Polanski’s film generating award buzz could feel particularly insulting to his victim. And, I do understand that money is the most powerful influencer in the world. If we stop paying to see his films, someone will stop paying him to make them.

The thing we can all agree on is that Polanski belongs in prison and is a fugitive for his actions. But the idea of a horrible person being able to make something beautiful is a difficult situation. What do you guys think? Is it ok to watch and admire films made by terrible people? I do not expect everyone to have the same opinion here because I don’t think there is a universally right answer for everyone. Whatever answer you come to; I hope it is the best answer for you and your conscience.

Is Hayden Christensen back for “The Rise of Skywalker”?

While it is no secret that I hold many, many, many, MANY reservations about the upcoming grand finale to the main saga of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, I still love to speculate and fantasize about “The Rise of Skywalker” actually being decent. Oh, what a world that would be. My love for ‘Star Wars’ is so great that no amount of logical issues with the most recent films can quell my interest in any of their projects. And so, I read a bit of news that is just ripe for discussion and irresponsible speculation.

It is being reported via @haydenfannews, and later confirmed by ScreenRant, that Disney has blocked Hayden Christensen from appearing in a panel with Prequel co-star Ian McDiarmid at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention. Christensen, of course, played the saga’s main hero-turned-tragic-villain, Anakin Skywalker in both “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”, working with McDiarmid who played Chancellor/Emperor Sheev Palpatine/Darth Sidious in “The Empire Strikes Back” (in the re-release), “Return of the Jedi”, “The Phantom Menace”, “Attack of the Clones”, and “Revenge of the Sith”. It has been recently confirmed by Disney that McDiarmid’s character will be returning in some capacity for “The Rise of Skywalker”.

Christensen has had a notoriously difficult history with the ‘Star Wars’ fandom, as his turn as Anakin Skywalker is widely criticized. In most instances that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but ‘Star Wars’ fans have a reputation of being awful human beings towards actors whose characters are not met with praise. Just ask Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best, and Kelly Marie Tran about how bad things can get. Likewise, Christensen was forced into a pseudo-exile and only made his first public appearance at a ‘Star Wars’ event at Star Wars Celebration Orlando in 2015, a full decade after last appearing in the franchise. Seemingly though, fans have not only softened to him but have grown to embrace both him and his role in the franchise, despite the negativity that was once thrown his way.

With McDiarmid still playing an active role in the franchise and Christensen now being embraced by the fanbase, it would seem that Disney preventing their appearance together has to have some deeper motive. This has opened up the rabbit hole for speculation of Christensen’s involvement with “The Rise of Skywalker”, meaning Disney stopping the panel might indicate that they are trying to be extra protective of any potential spoilers.

Do I think that Christensen will be in the film? Duh. Of course, he is going to be in it! How could a movie titled “The Rise of Skywalker” that is serving as the finale to the Skywalker Saga, a story that was described by creator George Lucas as “The tragedy of THE RISE and fall OF Anakin SKYWALKER” not have Anakin Skywalker in it? They are already needlessly bringing back Lando and the Emperor despite neither of them being set up for a return in any of the previous films, so how could you not bring back the single most important character to the entire franchise who the film is also named after?

What do you guys think about this news/rumor? Do you think Hayden Christensen will make a triumphant return or is Disney just stirring the pot to get us talking? Do you like sand? And who else do you think might make a comeback for the finale? Ewan McGregor did just announce he was returning as Obi-Wan for a Disney+ show, so I bet it would be pretty easy to get him to come back for “The Rise of Skywalker” too. What about perennial powerhouses Lobot, Max Rebo, and Senator Orn Free Taa? How could the saga conclude without them showing up? What about the droid attack on the Wookies? Let’s discuss!

It isn’t relevant to the post but this is too important to ignore

I am ready to run through a wall for “Joker”

In just the last week, “Joker” officially premiered in Italy last week to a thunderous 8 minute standing ovation and near universal critical praise, while us mortals were given the final official trailer. Hell, IGN.com gave the film an absurd 10/10. I have never seen them give out a perfect score to a film before, and they aren’t alone. Check the interwebs, the reviews are astronomical. I don’t think I am out of line when I say this film will be a force of nature when we are allowed to see it. Just watch the final trailer and tell me you aren’t ready to go to war for this film!

The character the Joker is inarguably my personal favorite comic book character ever created. Although comic books are a medium fertile for developing deep, complex characters with a multitude of motivations, it is the Joker has always stood out amongst the crowd as the most intricate and mystifying. The idea that DC is throwing out there own rules to create a story focused solely on their most enthralling and intriguing property is perhaps the smartest decision they have ever made.

The Joker is also one of the few comic book characters with multiple movie iterations actually being praiseworthy. Nerds are notoriously difficult human beings to please, and getting them to agree on something being good is no small feat. And yet, Jack Nicholson’s Joker from “Batman” (1989) and Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight” (2008) are both loved. And we can’t forget Mark Hammil’s voice work as the joker in “Batman: The Animated Series” (1992-1995), who some still believe might even be the best version (although my vote is still for Ledger). The Joker is an idea that can be explored differently and each experience simply adds to the giant melting pot of the understanding and mystery of who he is as an entity.

While Marvel has thrived this past decade, DC has faltered ever since the conclusion of their Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” Trilogy, which also conviently peaked with the Joker in “The Dark Knight”. Marvel has been capitalizing on the diversity of their characters and the sheer grandeur of the productions they put on, DC still holds one advantage over them: their characters are generally more interesting than Marvel’s. Obviously that is a subjective qualification and not a totally uniform quality even in my exaggerated description, but there is at least a granule of truth to it when you look at the depth of heroes and villains that DC Comics sports. DC has realized that their path forward competing against Marvel is not to try to square up against their cinematic universe, but to utilize the bevvy of interesting and complex characters to create a more intimate storytelling experience. Be different because they are different.

Visually, Joaquin Phoenix looks terrifying in the best way imaginable. The character has always had a creepy clown vibe that resembles the look of nightmares, based loosely on clowns and Victor Hugo’s misunderstood “The Man Who Laughs”. Some versions are chemically scared, while some use face-paint to represent a more realistic portrayal, which is the approach that Phoenix and Heath Ledger before him took when constructing their versions. The direction he seems to have taken draws resemblance to classic films like “Taxi Driver”, and “The King of Comedy” as well as the Alan Moore comic book “Batman: The Killing Joke” and there is even a chance he inspired his look after real life serial killer clown John Wayne Gacy. When you consider the fact that it is believed that Phoenix lost nearly 50 pounds for the role and had all of these great influences, it is setting up my expectations for a performance that can rival some of the best we may have ever seen in film.

But now we have a Joker movie that is being suggested that it will redefine the entire genre of comic book movies, with a supposed Oscar-worthy performance by Joaquin Phoenix. This character was already the best, but somehow they found a way to improve it? Oh, Hell yeah I’m excited! Imagine a world as shitty as the one we live in but we somehow manage to get “Avengers: Endgame” AND “Joker” in the same year! And yes, I am fully aware that “Joker” has not premiered to audiences yet and it could be another situation like “The Last Jedi” where critics praised it but the fans thought it was dumpster juice (But why would you ever think that way?). But I am not even being cautiously optimistic anymore. Screw caution, I am all in! Vegeta, tell them what my excitement level is!

As Good as It Gets (1997) – Movie Review

After days of preparation, South Florida was hit with an ankle-breaker from Hurricane Dorian that has left us dry but ultimately ticked off for wasting our time. But in that wasted time, my family and I had a movie night where we watched one of the most revered films from 1997: “As Good as It Gets”. The general rule of life is that anything with Jack Nicholson in it is worth a watch, but let me tell you, there is no better way to watch a quirky comedy that is 20 years out of date than having a few glasses of whiskey and being cooped up in a boarded-up house with no sunlight. So, with that in mind, let’s see how this one holds up.

My initial reaction was: It was alright, I guess. The film has a reputation the precedes it as a 2-Time Oscar-Winner, and maybe I was expecting something truly amazing when it was only just pretty good. Whether or not it is fair to judge a film because it does or does not meet initial expectations is a debate that is worth having but ultimately, I couldn’t separate that factor from my feelings of the film. I couldn’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed at a few aspects of the film that are somehow toted as the film’s high points, but I believe that even if I didn’t have my expectations prior, I would likely still have these criticisms.

The story feels forced in some areas. I thought he first half of the film worked much more cohesively than the second half because the latter seemed to be forced to try to conform to the more cliché aspects of storytelling. Jack Nicholson’s Melvin in the first half was great. He was an abrasive asshole who hid from the responsibility of his own actions behind his OCD. He seemed to convince himself that he can’t improve himself as a person so there was no need to even try to be good to anyone else. He was racist, sexist, homophobic, and pretty much every other bad trait you can think of. Similarly, Helen Hunt’s Carol and Greg Kinnear’s Simon were equally interesting in the first half of the film. Carol was the only character that didn’t seem to be afraid of Melvin’s antics and Simon was a gay artist who was beaten a robbed to an inch of his life. But when the film takes the three of them on a road trip to Maryland, everybody except Simon seems to grow illogically.

In the first half of the story, Melvin and Carol had a nice back and forth, but there was ZERO sexual tension or romantic chemistry between them. And yet, the trip to Maryland shows that somehow, they’ve always had romantic feelings for each other. Maybe it is because Melvin is Jack Nicholson who hasn’t looked younger than 55 since he starred in “Chinatown” 20 years earlier, but I just do not believe Carol has ever found this man even remotely attractive in any way. Melvin has always been exceptionally rude to her, and even after he pays for her son’s medical treatment, she still says she would never have sex with him. That works in tandem with the fact that Melvin didn’t do what he did out of the kindness of his heart or to impress her. He wanted her back at work so she could go back to being his waitress and he could go back to his routine. It was a selfish, pragmatic motivation from an older, mentally unstable man, who continues to show how unstable he is after that moment. It would have made much more sense storytelling-wise if she developed sympathy for his situation and became a supportive figure as a platonic friend, but the romance just seemed very forced.

Carol was initially portrayed as fiercely independent, showing the willingness to stand up to Melvin when virtually no one else had the backbone to look him in the eye. Yes, she was looking for love, which included one very creepy date with a guy who didn’t talk but did make large physical advances and had those serial killer wire glasses (you know the ones I am talking about) and blank stare that makes you wonder why she didn’t just call the cops immediately. However, her quest for partnership was played as almost a form of desperation and I think it devalues her strength that despite her ability to call Melvin out, she still ends up with him romantically. You could say she loves him despite his flaws but it really felt as though she was willingly entering a bad relationship because she just couldn’t walk away. It is why I think a friendship with Melvin is more appropriate than a romantic relationship that is doomed to fail. If Melvin was given the opportunity to grow as a person in the film, it is a shame that they didn’t afford Carol the same opportunity, and instead gave her the cliché “Love is where you least expect it” routine.

Much more positively, Simon is a great character who’s arc actually makes sense to me. Like I said before, he is an artist who was robbed and beaten, but those physical actions affect his character immensely. He goes from being a creative man trying to live his best life to being someone resentful and bitter. This is a reasonable and natural reaction as everything he had was taken from him and his only perceivable way out is turning to his abrasive homophobic neighbor to watch his dog and drive him to Maryland to beg his parents for money even though they wouldn’t call or visit him and abandoned him years back because he was gay. Yup, not an ideal situation. Yet, on the trip, Carol helps him rediscover the beauty in life and regain his passion for art and living again. He calls his parents and tells them that he doesn’t need them and seems to really have grown from the experience. Frankly, the type of relationship he fosters with Carol should have been what Melvin also has with her. There is no romance, but there is compassion, empathy, and genuine love. It is a shame that this was not the central theme of the film and the three characters could have been 3 friends who understand each other’s struggles and provide the support they were lacking prior. After all, the strongest structure in nature is the triangle.

Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this movie was bad, just overrated. The message seems poorly thought out and it mainly just coasts on the charisma of its cast and the quirkiness of its characters. Much of the film feels a product of its time and perhaps that is why the forced romance was deemed acceptable. When you really think about it, it’s crazy how the 1990s were allowed to happen. Everything was just goofy. But the film does sport quality acting from all of its main cast and the occasional funny moment that isn’t totally derived from uncomfortable awkwardness, so maybe it doesn’t deserve to be judged as harshly as I did. But I give you my honest thoughts and there they were.

I give “As Good as It Gets” an adequate 6.8 out of 10

Directed by: James L. Brooks
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., Skeet Ulrich
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 19 Minutes

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