Sunday, 4 March 2018

Most Snubbed: 7 Movies I Thought Deserved Oscars (2018 Edition)

Well, this is turning out to be quite an interesting Oscars. There are so many nominations that are genuine surprises that it's hard to really say the Academy got much of it wrong. Firstly, there are the multiple nominations for 'Get Out'. Horror, almost never gets nominated, and a horror movie with a predominantly black cast, by a first time director, with liberal white people as the villains? This is like the time Eminem rapped "You think I give a damn about a Grammy" and then won a Grammy for it.

Still, no matter how much they got right, (like finally giving Guillermo Del Toro a best director nomination, and recognizing a female director in Greta Gerwig) they were a few things I thought they didn't get right. 7 to be exact.

At this point, it's pointless to expect a motion capture performance to be acknowledged by the Academy. The technology is mostly used in films that don't exactly scream 'Oscar-worthy'. That said, for the last decade, Andy Serkis has made it impossible to ignore his work with the character Caesar. He plays the role with such immense gravitas and that is no different than in 'War for the Planet of the Apes'.

For a final performance, it's perfect. 

'The Big Sick' is one of the best films to come out last year. It's been praised for being a story that needed to be told, and in such an endearing, and at times heartbreaking way. I don't think any of it works without the fantastic work of Zoe Kazan. Although this is the story of her co-star Kumail Nanjiani meeting his wife, Zoe Kazan is the one that makes you fall in love. She's charming when she needs to be and makes the movie's relationship feel familiar, for the good and the bad.

If you didn't fall in love with her you're inhuman. 

Look, I know, okay? I know. There were a lot of great performances this year. Plenty that went without nominations. I could've given this to Ray Romano for 'The Big Sick', Josh Gad for 'Marshall', or any of the stellar supporting cast in 'The Post'. Instead, I'm giving it to LilRel Howery, who had the hardest job of all in the most iconic film of 2017. He made a film about the harsh realities of racism, easier to understand with his very human and natural performance. Maybe it's his role inherently that does that, and there's not much to LilRel's performance. That's a valid argument. But my counter-argument is his pitch-perfect delivery, and expression when he declares he is TS-mothafuckin-A.

He handles shit. 

I like comic book movies as much as the next guy, but I'd hardly be the one to rally for their inclusion in the Academy Awards. I'm very content with leaving them as the spectacles they are. Still, I will champion a film that does its best to break the mold. No film, not even Nolan's 'The Dark Knight', came closer to that than 'Logan'. It's only fitting that the heart of that film, played by Dafne Keen, should be recognized. She gave us a character that was convincing in every strong emotion she was faced with. Add that to her age, and the fact that she spends most of the film completely silent, and you have a winner in my book.

Say different. I dare you.

Edgar Wright seemingly can do no wrong, yet he seems unable to be recognized for it. His movies are unlike any other, and that's true with 'Baby Driver' as well, which delivers some of the best-directed car sequences of the last decade. Beyond that, 'Baby Driver' is a film that has such an incredible use of a soundtrack, as Wright applies his hyper-visual directing style to match up with his well-curated list of songs. It's the most effective direction of music since 'Birdman'.

"You're welcome" - Edgar Wright (presumably)

If you weren't already aware, this list is not for the uninitiated. Here at, we tend to do off-kilter things, like suggest you should check 'Transformers: The Last Knight' out on cable, because why should we be the only ones to suffer? Well one movie that made up for some of the misery that was 2017, was 'The Lego Batman'. A film that took Batman, a character that's been a part of film history for decades and gave him his best treatment yet, all while knocking him down several pegs. It's a great script and finds a tremendous balance between references, humour, and genuinely moving character work. In a damn Lego movie.

I like to think of 2017 as the year that genre films came to play. Tired of being set aside as kids films, mindless action, and the bottom of the barrel. Logan, Get Out, The Shape of Water, The Big Sick, all these are genres that are thought not deserving of the lifetime praise that you earn when you get nominated for an Oscar. I can think of no greater achievement in that regard that 'Blade Runner 2049'. This was a movie that was entire, unapologetically, sci-fi. It was harsh, dark, and sublimely beautiful. I gushed about this film when it came out, and thought for sure that by now I'd be soured on it. Yet, it remains my favourite film of 2017. It's almost 3 hours long, but I could watch it again and again.

I expected this to be one of the worst of the year. How I love being wrong. 
I had a hard time building this list once again this year, which is a sign that the awards seem to be getting better at the selection. That makes this piece less fun to write, but it's better for the industry as a whole. Sure, I don't expect some of the surprising nominations to win. Gary Oldman will almost certainly win for Churchill despite recent allegations of abuse, and I don't see Jordan Peele taking away the Best Director Award. However, something about this year makes me feel like there's a turning of the tide. Maybe that's naive, but hey, a guy can dream.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

'Black Panther' (2018) Review: A Game changing Masterpiece

G.O.A.T: A film that is unique, special, and incredibly important.
It seems the phrase "Best Marvel movie yet" loses it's meaning more and more. It's something that's proclaimed with almost every iteration in the cinematic universe. Mostly for different reasons. This creates a constant one-upmanship among the films. As a viewer, it's seemingly great that. We're treated to great films at a near constant rate, but there does exist the potential for that greatness to become old news real fast. Basically, if every movie is special, no movie is.

There's no way to know how it will affect 'Black Panther'. It's certainly a test of time. I will say that objectively speaking, I believe 'Black Panther' to be Marvel's best achievement in filmmaking. I don't think that's likely to change due to how realistic this work of impossible science fiction feels.

The movie with the indestructible suit, and the magic healing space rock.
Also the one with the most stakes of any Marvel movie.
The Marvel Universe has shown us many unbelievable things. The Norse God of thunder? Real. Robots that can walk through walls? They’ve envisioned it. A talking raccoon guarding the galaxy? Make it so. They’ve even shown us the realm of magic. However, if you thought the world was finished growing, the franchise is about to expand even further with its latest film, ‘Black Panther’.

At the centre of it all is not the Black Panther himself, but rather his home, Wakanda. The country is
a rich and vibrant world all on its own. It's also fully realized. Wakanda feels more lived in than
Asgard has in three Thor films. The set and costume design in this film does a tremendous job
of giving the environment and its inhabitants a history. You feel as though every striking fabric
has a purpose.

The film is a shoe-in for costume design or the Oscars are getting burned to the ground.
That level of immersion goes a long way in making ‘Black Panther’ a great film. It makes it easier to swallow when the movie goes to some complex and emotional places. For an action movie, it takes on concepts that are often shied away from in the films typically nominated for Academy Awards. Bringing them up is one thing, but having your character's actions be driven by very real world motivations gives this film a palpable resonance. It simply speaks to the audience on a deeper level than these films tend to.

The characters are not simply avatars for action. They're breathing, thinking personas that you come to know intimately, even if they're given just a morsel of screentime. So much so that anyone from Lupita Nyong'o's 'Nakia', to Daniel Kaluuya's 'W'Kabi', could've taken centre stage and delivered just as fulfilling a film.

With such realism and depth, it's no surprise that the film moves with glorious purpose. Pacing is paramount for the panther. The greatest type of script is one that has each line serve a function, and that's on display with this film. You either learn about the characters, the story, or both with every moment on screen. Nothing feels wasted in 'Black Panther'. That's a relief in a film with less action in it than 'Thor'.

When you're no longer in the best Marvel movie since the last Marvel movie.
Of the action scenes here, they range from good to great, with only a few minor issues. Graphically they're mostly solid, but now and again you are reminded that nothing on screen is actually happening. There is one James Bond-esque sequence, in a casino no less, that has the best action in the film. Trouble is, it happens so early on and is never really topped in the rest of the film.

The movie will have you not just engaged but deeply invested. T’Challa’s plight becomes that of the audience. Fitting, considering much of the audience is seeing themselves on the big screen in a way they never have before. As kings, heroines, and brimming with intelligence, charm, and oozing with intense and well thought out character development. In fact, the only characters lacking development are those not from Wakanda, which, I have to hope was intentional.

Sadly, he is the character with the easiest name to remember. 
Very rarely is a film able to do what 'Black Panther' does. The women are not sexualized, but their feminity is never questioned. Instead, it's portrayed as a thing of strength. The men are granted moments of weakness, and an opportunity to express doubt, struggle and emotion. The cast is allowed to play roles that there ought to be more of. Danai Gurira plays a general, Letitia Wright plays a supergenius inventor. 'Black Panther' is one of the best cast movies in a long time, with actors that know their roles and play them exceptionally well.

Normally, for a comic book movie, you hope for a few things. You hope it's well balanced, with good action, and maybe makes you want to see it at least a second time. ‘Black Panther’ supersedes all that, and delivers perhaps the best superhero film of the decade. I’ll put it this way; when leaving ‘Black Panther’, any excitement I had for ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ dissipated. I only wanted to know when I was going to experience ‘Black Panther’ again.

Rating: G.O.A.T.

Friday, 9 February 2018

'The Shape Of Water' (2017) Review: Beautifully Different

Big Screen Watch: Perhaps the most unique film of 2017

If I told you about the best film of the year, what would I say? Certainly not that it's 'The Shape of Water'. No instead, what I will say is that 'The Shape of Water' is a movie that is unlike any other, which is par for the course with director Guillermo Del Toro. It's set in the early 1960s and follows the strange love story of a woman and a man. Only the woman is a human and the man, is covered head to toe in scales.

If that description is enough to scare you off, then you have no business seeing 'The Shape of Water'. It is definitely a film that explores the unconventional, to say the least. With a story so submerged in fantasy, you'd think the film would be more of a fairy tale. In fact, while 'The Shape of Water' can feel very surreal at times, I was surprised at just how gritty the film was.

The first half of the film shows this the most. You spend ample amount of time watching Sally Hawkins character Eliza Esposito silently go about her day as a cleaning lady at the facility where she finds her finned lover. What you benefit from this is a real sense of what this world is. More importantly, who the people in it are.

Eliza is a mute, communicating mostly by sign language with her roommate, played by Richard Jenkins, and her coworker, played by Octavia Spencer. Both brought a sense of humanity to this movie, as their relatable characters grounded an otherwise unbelievable tale. It's a pity then that the film doesn't succeed at this on all accounts, particularly as it relates to Michael Shannon's character, a villain too obvious for a Disney movie. Michael Shannon already exudes creepiness. Why would you play that up?

Even well lit he's unsettling.
From the moment he steps into frame, there's no mistaking the character. Enveloped in shadow, and clad almost entirely in black, with a dark hat. The character helps to bring across the movie's storybook quality. Its villain is as evil as he can b because there needs to be one for the fairy tale. In that way, it works, but so much of 'Shape of Water' dives into developing real characters that it nevertheless feels out of place.

It wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't given so much screentime. I'd appreciate it if he was treated as a figurehead. A literal object of opposition, but instead the film gives him so much screen time that it only repeats itself. Having a one-note character so prominent in the film just becomes grating. Still, there was plenty I still enjoyed in 'Shape of Water'. Its marvelous aesthetic beauty is surpassed only by its touching message of kindness and empathy, in the face of adversity. All that and a near perfect score by Alexandre Desplat.

Seen here trying to get into the mind of a fish man with "hand fins"
'Shape of Water' is a movie that takes its time to tell its story. Perhaps a little too much time in parts. While some might find the film's pairing unnerving, underneath the surface there is something entirely relatable to it. Many people feel like outsiders in their lives and strive to find a person to connect with. While I didn't always connect with 'Shape of Water', I commend it for daring to be different. It plays with an old type of story and creates something that is entirely its own.

Rating: Big Screen Watch 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

'The Cloverfield Paradox' (2018) Review: Easy Come, Easy Go

Catch It On Cable: I mean it's not like you had a choice, but even if this were on the big screen I'd say wait for Netflix.
After what seemed like the beginning of a descent into development hell, the third chapter in the loosely aligned Cloverfield saga has emerged. The film 'The Cloverfield Paradox' was previously known as 'The God Particle', which tells you a fair bit about the film already. Set immediately prior to the original 'Cloverfield', the movie shows us a desperate last-ditch attempt by humanity to solve the world's energy crisis, demonstrated of course by...pretty long lines at the gas station.

What follows is, unfortunately, much of what you've come to expect. There's a ship, a crew, and a mission. A bunch of technical jargon is hurled at you a mile a minute, and nothing goes as planned. I don't want to be reductive in saying 'The Cloverfield Paradox' is your standard space exploration horror flick...but it kind of is. That's not to say there aren't elements of it that I didn't enjoy, but the whole time I couldn't shake the feeling that this had all been done before.

And quite recently too, just can't seem to recall where...
What hasn't been done before, at least not very often, is having the lead in a movie of this type being played by a person of colour. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays the lead role of Hamilton, and she's joined by quite the cast. David Oyelowo as the crew's captain, Daniel Bruhl, John Ortiz, Chris O'Dowd, Askel Hennie, Ziyi Zhang and Elizabeth Debicki all play different types of scientists. They're well-acted roles, and the film has a diverse cast, but aside from that, there's nothing to discern them from any other crew on any other ship, in any other movie.

Just can't seem to remember where I've seen this...
It's a pity that this happened with 'The Cloverfield Paradox'. The film series thus far had seemed to take advantage of the audience's familiarity with sci-fi horror tropes. Each installment in the past took an existing idea but presented it from another perspective. One that was wholly unique and gave you something you already knew, in an entirely new form.

'Cloverfield' is not just another a giant monster movie. It's a giant monster movie that sticks with regular people affected by an incredible disaster. You're not concerned with the military, or the government response any more than the average person ought to be in the situation. You become deeply invested in the characters and their survival. For all 2014's 'Godzilla' failed to present the lizard king as akin to a natural disaster, 'Cloverfield' made it seem effortless.

The same goes for '10 Cloverfield Lane'. Remember in 'Independence Day', immediately after the destruction of the White House, there's a sense that the world has been completely lost? What if you could see a story where the characters ran with that idea, gave up hope, and burrowed underground. What would those people be like? That's '10 Cloverfield Lane', and it's an entirely more intelligent film than the ones it takes its cues from.

But with 'The Cloverfield Paradox', you aren't given a clever take on the space exploration movie, you're just given yet another space exploration movie. One that doesn't seem to know what its central plot point is. Throughout the movie, you will be witness to a series of strange and, extremely unsettling scenarios. They're inventive, and play on your feelings of uneasiness for things that ought to be one way, but aren't. The problem is, the movie moves so quickly from one scenario to the next, you quickly shake off that uneasiness, and sort of just sit in for the ride.

That's partially also due to the movie's tone. It feels like it should be darker than it is, but just the way the film is lit doesn't exactly convey that. It doesn't help that the characters never truly feel like they're affected by the things they see. When Steve Buscemi gets a bout of space dementia in Armaggedon, it's stupid. It comes out of nowhere and feels entirely unearned. To use it is a lazy way to convey tension and conflict within a character. I would've killed for someone to get space dementia in 'The Cloverfield Paradox'.

I think this movie broke me a little.
On the whole, 'The Cloverfield Paradox' is not a very good film. It is also not a very bad film. It is simply a movie that is. Things happen, and then they're moved on from. The visuals stick with you, but not at all because of the context the movie gives them. There's plenty of creativity in 'The Cloverfield Paradox', but not very much of it ties together.

Rating: Catch It On Cable

Monday, 5 February 2018

37. Movie Money 04/02/2018

Movie gods, forgive me, for I have sinned.

Last week I reported that Jumanji January was over. That finally, the long and exhaustive run being had by 'Jumanji:Welcome to the Jungle'. A movie that was bested by a Star Wars movie, only to best it back after only 3 weeks. I assumed that finally, after being knocked off the #1 spot yet again, it would throw in the towel, celebrate its phenomenal run, and mosey on out the top 5. Oh movie gods, I have doubted your wisdom, for this week Jumanji is once again, the #1 movie of the week. It's made $11m this weekend, bringing its domestic total to $352.6m and $855.7m worldwide. What a run.

For the rest of the top 5, it's less impressive developments all around. At #2 we have last weeks big winner, 'The Maze Runner: The Death Cure' with $10.2m this weekend bringing its domestic total to $39m and a $182.6m worldwide. Not at all bad considering its $62m budget, but considering that the first two made almost double that amount, it's safe to say this is the last we'll see of The Maze Runner kids.

Beyond that the #3 spot went to 'Winchester' with a domestic and worldwide total of $9.2m. No word on its budget but considering horror movies rarely cost an arm and a leg, I doubt the film won't at least break even, despite harrowing reviews. #4 was maintained by 'The Greatest Showman' with $7.8m this weekend, making bank with a domestic total of  $137.3m and a worldwide total of $290.4m. Finally at #5, changing at the last minute is 'The Post'. This post previously belonged to 'Hostiles' which brought in $5.1m, but 'The Post' has reigned supreme by a hair with $5.2m.

That's the report for this week and here's the podcast:

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