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Thursday, December 31, 2015

All We Need Now is a WOC Sci-Fi Protagonist And We'll Be Getting Somewhere

I can almost here the sound of Internet racists everywhere sharpening their pitchforks.

But, first things first: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is a great movie. Actually, scratch that; it's a great sci-fi event to be experienced. It's that rare mix of 70s nostalgic (Hi, Han Solo! Hi, Chewbacca! Hi, General Leia!) and progressive, modern culture that actually works in a non-ironic, endlessly entertaining way. And most importantly, it's a mainstream film that acknowledges that people of color (including Asians and Latinos, and even women who don't strictly run on AA batteries or via an electrical plug) actually make it to the future. And let the church say Amen to that.

Can I also just say how elated I am that we are all finally talking about His Majesty John Boyega? He plays a black male First Order Stormtrooper, wielding a lightsaber, and he's one of the film's two lead characters (the other--surprise!--a woman). Let's all bask in that glory for a moment, shall we? Now all of you need to go back and watch Attack the Block, so you can catch up with the rest of us longtime fans.

But with all this talk about diversity and forward-thinking, particularly regarding major genre films like this, I have to wonder when women of color will get their chance to dual against the likes of powerful warriors in a galaxy far, far away? Am I asking too much, too soon? I mean, if we're going to talk about diversity, well dammit let's talk about it.

There have been many think pieces suggesting that the success of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS has helped bring the black nerd to the mainstream, but I am curious to see where it will go from here. Are we going to finally see more quirky blockbuster genre films (or even small, arthouse films) with people of color as lead characters? Idiosyncratic romantic leads that actually get the guy (or gal)? Nerds that aren't the butt of the jokes and command the whole movie?

I'll wait in eternal hope.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

ANOMALISA: The Feel Bad Movie of the Year

I say this facetiously, of course, because while there are several moments in ANOMALISA that I appreciate, dialogue that is wonderfully delivered, the film itself is absolutely soul-crushing. To say that filmmakers Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman's (the latter of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame, and others) exploration of the human spirit in decline, told through the eyes of stop-motion characters voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh and David Thewlis, is an investment to watch is truly an investment.

Despite its universal theme of loneliness. ANOMALISA's quirkiness doesn't strictly come from the use of adult-themed animation. Before I knew it, I had found myself in a love/hate relationship with Lisa (Leigh) and Michael (Thewlis), who both prove over and over again how underwhelmed they are with their own lives, yet how recklessly they are willing to make sacrifices to please another. But perhaps that's the point Kaufman (who wrote the screenplay) is trying to make. Either way, I found myself drifting in an out of engagement with the film.

At any rate, you can get to know more about both Lisa and Michael in these two new featurettes Paramount Pictures:

ANOMALISA opens in limited release today.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Best of 2015: Films That Were New To Me

Every year my friend, the awesome cinematographer and writer Cybel Martin, asks me to do an end-of-the-year #NFOTD list. I usually just post on my Twitter feed, but this year I am going the extra mile and writing a full post about it. In case you are unfamiliar, the goal of NFOTD (or "New Film of the Day"), is simple: watch one film that is new to you each day. At least, that's the goal. Many of us, including myself, either do several films in one day and skip some days in a week, or just do what we can at our own pace. And yes, we keep a yearly spreadsheet of our activity. But no, it's not a competition (though I have watched a whopping 200 new films this year, and we still have a few more days left of it. Just saying).

Anyway, here's my list:


Title: Room (my review)
Year of Release: 2015
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writer: Emma Donoghue
Cinematographer: Danny Cohen
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers


Title: Advantageous (my review)
Year of Release: 2015
Director: Jennifer Phang
Writer: Jacqueline Kim, Jennifer Phang
Cinematographer: Richard Wong
Cast: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams


Title: A Most Violent Year
Year of Release: 2014
Director: J.C. Chandor
Writer: J.C. Chandor
Cinematographer: Bradford Young
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo


Title: Man From Reno (my review)
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Dave Boyle
Writer: Dave Boyle, Joel Clark
Cinematographer: Richard Wong
Cast: Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna, Kazuki Kitamura


Title: What Happened, Miss Simone? (my review)
Year of Release: 2015
Director: Liz Garbus
Cinematographer: Igor Martinovic
Cast: Nina Simone, James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite

Title: Paris Is Burning
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Jennie Livingston
Cinematographer: Paul Gibson
CastAndré Christian, Dorian Corey, Paris Duprée 

Title: Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Thomas Allen Harris
Writer: Thomas Allen Harris, Paul Carter Harrison, Don Perry
Cinematographer: Martina Radwan
Cast Arthé Anthony, Anthony Barboza, Hugh Bell


Title: The Miracle Worker
Year of Release: 1962
Director: Arthur Penn
Writer: William Gibson
Cinematographer: Ernesto Caparros
Cast: Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke, Victor Jory

Friday, December 25, 2015

I Have Finally Found the Best Film of the Year

It really was like a needle in a haystack this year, but my was it worth the wait. I'm talking about ROOM, the quiet indie drama that I cannot stop thinking about after watching it for the first time a few days ago. Partly because it's been so long since I've seen a great film that I forgot what one looked like, and also because I remain struck by both the simplicity and tenderness of the narrative that is haunted by a deep tragedy.

So what is ROOM about? In a few words: the complexity of motherhood and life itself. And no, I'm not talking about the kind of pretentious existentialism found in most Terrence Malick films. ROOM is built on a foundation so unfathomable--the abduction, rape and forced domestication of Joy (Brie Larson), a 17-year-old young woman, trapped in a small, dilapidated and gloomy room with only her middle-aged male captor as her perpetual visitor. It isn't until Jack (Jacob Tremblay), born out of this horrible situation two years into it, enters her life that she is able to emotionally escape from her prison--through the innocent eyes of her young son. By immersing through Alice's Looking Glass and watching the "aliens who live inside the TV screen," Joy is able to protect Jack from the unthinkable reality they live in. But when he becomes more curious about their nightly visitor (who he only sees through the crevices of the closet/makeshift bed in which he sleeps), and his tantrums become more oppressive, Joy has to find the strength to get them out of this situation before it completely destroys them.

With a premise that's excruciatingly familiar in far too many different headlines, ROOM illuminates the human spirit at its most broken state--with its only motivation to assure the well-being of another. Larson's performance is remarkably authentic; she embodies the level of frustration, fear, desperation and anger that you would imagine from someone in this situation. It's a portrayal that captures not only the physical torture but the psychological imprisonment that crushes her soul. But then there is the aspect of her motherhood on top of all that, which is both a blessing and a curse in that it gives her a purpose--once stripped from her--yet it doesn't give her a whole lot of room to be angry or distraught. It is that sense of confinement that cripples her emotionally, and ultimately leads her to believe she's an unfit mother. To which Jack responds, "Yeah, but you're Ma."

Director Lenny Abrahamson, from Emma Donoghue's great screenplay (based on her novel of the same name), intentionally avoids showing the audience every single moment in this story (and it never goes where you expect it to)--allowing for several points of interpretation. Whether or not you like that tactic, you have to appreciate the fact that it's a dying style in film. Without all the answers, the film itself becomes even more unsettling, culminating in the audience's fear and disillusionment of certain characters.

With resonating performances throughout, including supporting characters played by Joan Allen and Tom McCamus, and immersive cinematography (literally every scene is shot so beautifully that you feel like you are experiencing it with the characters), ROOM is an amazing achievement all around.

Rating: A (***** out of *****)

Watch the trailer:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Year of 'Meh' (Cont'd)

Gawd, it's like a horrible virus. The 'meh' films this year aren't disappearing; they're multiplying.

You know when folks ask you how you feel about a movie and you can't even think of a word to describe it--not because you're so struck by its beauty but because it really is that unremarkable? Yeah, that's where I'm at with too many movies this year. These are the most recent ones I've seen that I am filing under 'meh':

SPOTLIGHT: While I'm a little fatigued at this point with so many films dealing with molestation in the Catholic church, I would be up for one in which that wasn't the most interesting thing about it. The main characters, all journalists at a Boston newspaper, uncover a major story linking the Catholic church child molestation and basically spend the whole movie trying to bust it wide open. Trouble is, it's already as wide open as it will ever be at the beginning of the movie, and no real breakthroughs occur throughout the film--just a whole lot of interviews with victims and reporter frustrations. It's just so generic to watch. No one from the cast--not Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, or Mark Ruffalo--can save this.

THE DANISH GIRL: It's a fine movie, but put it this way: the trailer is basically the entire story. That said, you're not going to find any revelations when you see it. Not even character development. However, Alicia Vikander's performance (as the devoted wife of Eddie Redmayne's Einer/Lili, known as one of the first transgender pioneers), which is every bit as tender as so many critics have been raving, is worth the price of admission. The cinematography is also breathtaking, but once the movie gets to the ending credits, I'm just like "ok."

CAROL: As much as I adore Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara is the best thing about this movie about a young store clerk and an older married woman who find themselves in love with each other in 1950s New York. Again, the photography is gorgeous and the actresses' chemistry is palpable. But Mara's haunting performance is the only intriguing thing about the film. I find myself not caring about either of these two characters, and often questioned their own desire. It left me very cold and unbothered.

LEGEND: Listen, our guy Tom Hardy put in WERK this year. He's fantastic in Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant and is convincingly bats**t crazy in Legend (though the film itself is very middle of the road). As I was watching it, I kept thinking of the 1993 Lifetime movie Love, Honor & Obey: The Last Mafia Marriage (you know, back when Lifetime was good). Only because it seems like a neverending saga following a crazy mobster (two of them actually, twins played by Hardy) and his blindly devoted wife (Emily Browning, in her most intriguing role to date). I know it's based on a true story, but this narrative just seems so done to death.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Our Infatuation with the 80s Continues with the Trailer for Richard Linklater's EVERYBODY WANTS SOME

Well, I'll say this about the new trailer for Richard Linklater's new film, EVERYBODY WANTS SOME: at least it doesn't try to remake the 80s for a millenial audience, but rather brings the 80s--the look, the hideous fashion, the cheesiness--to the millenials. The only thing is, I'm not sure if a millenial audience would really care about it.

That's my one read of this movie, and I won't say anything else about it for fear that I may later eat crow like I did after seeing and loving his last film, Boyhood, last year. Here's the synopsis for EVERYBODY WANTS SOME, described as a "spiritual sequel" to Linklater's classic 1993 film film Dazed and Confused:

Set in the world of 1980s college life, Everybody Wants Some is a comedy, directed and written by Richard Linklater, that follows a group of college baseball players as they navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood. Get ready for the best weekend ever.

Watch the trailer:

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME opens in theaters April 15, 2016. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

SCHOOL OF ROCK - THE MUSICAL: The Coolest Class On Broadway

Let me just get this out the way: I have never seen the 2003 film, School of Rock. I know, I know, for years everyone has been telling me to watch it because of my love of rock and roll, but my annoyance toward Jack Black just kept steering me away. So, I decided to see the Broadway show, School of Rock-The Musical instead. And my, is it great.

First of all, can I just say that my new favorite thing is watching overworked, misunderstood and awkward kids play the electric guitar while standing on top of a school desk singing at the top of their lungs "Stick it to the Man!"? OMG, I never felt so much joy and confusion (because "the man" I know of kinda looks like their white, beer-bellied substitute teacher, Dewey played by Alex Brightman. But, we don't have to talk about that). Check it:

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie, it follows a reject rock and roller (originally played by Jack Black) who, recently ousted from his own band, decides to pose as his buddy and former bandmate, Ned Schneebly (Mike White), to become a substitute teacher at a private school for some extra money. With his lack of any professional experience own unorthodox style of teaching, he turns his newfound minions into a makeshift rock band for a chance at redemption--and learns a little something about each student along the way.

As it turns out, all these kids needed was a little rock and roll in their hearts and an anthem to call their own to turn into bite-size rebels. Each of the young actors has a ton of energy and can rock out like the best of them, even while wearing their stuffy school uniforms. Under Laurence Connor's direction and with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the wonderfully diverse cast (including black, white, and Asian children) confidently command the stage with Brightman, who also does a fantastic job getting the audience on their feet with his fist-pumping combination of comedy and musical showmanship.

School of Rock-The Musical highlights something that too many take for granted--the importance of music education. Not only is it a way for kids to express themselves, but it gives them something to be proud of. I say rock on. 

Here's another kickass musical number from the show, from earlier in the story when Dewey realizes that he's in the presence of budding musicians and decides to curate them for a new band:

School of Rock-The Musical is currently running on Broadway. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

BAD SANTA 2 Will Ruin Christmas Next Year

I can't say I'm very excited about this one. Actually I'll go further than that, I'm tired of successful first films being rewarded with unnecessary sequels solely to get more money from audiences. Quality be damned. Which brings me to BAD SANTA 2.

I admit I am not too keen on the original 2003 film (sorry, I don't find a pissy Santa very entertaining to watch), so the news of Billy Bob Thornton (in whom I have renewed interest after Fargo's first season) reprising his role doesn't have the same impact on me as, say, it does for probably everyone else (though Kathy Bates playing his mom is kinda intriguing). Until Lauren Graham officially reprises her role, I will stay completely uninterested.

Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) will direct from a screenplay co-written by Doug Ellin (Entourage) and Shauna Cross (If I Stay, Whip It).

BAD SANTA 2 opens in theaters nationwide on November 23, 2016. 

Who's hyped?

Review: CONCUSSION Doesn't Make Much of an Impact

I've gotta hand it to Will Smith. He's been meticulous about choosing projects over the last few years, straying away from his signature alien and summer blockbuster action films and venturing into meatier dramas and major comic book franchises (i.e. Suicide Squad). For that, he's become somewhat of an interesting actor to watch.

Too bad his characters haven't been as interesting. From the savvy yet bland hustler in Focus to the loving yet virtually absent father during the apocalypse in After Earth, they just aren't compelling to get to know. But you'd think that would be different for his role in CONCUSSION, inspired by the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist whose controversial study of brain trauma related to the sport of football cost him nearly his career and reputation. See, that has the potential to
be a fascinating movie, except for the fact that 1) there are no actual football scenes, 2) the conflict isn't compelling enough, and 3) we don't learn anything about Dr. Omalu outside of this particular case. (Also, Smith and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays his doting wife, look nothing like the real people). That said, the film has very little appeal after experiencing it in its entirety.

Part of the problem is that the film doesn't humanize its subject. Dr. Omalu is presented more as an obstacle--socially awkward, brilliant, but sparking too much slanderous discussion against football with his studies that indicate that the sport is a direct link to concussions and fatal brain trauma. We see him bickering with his medical peers, both threatened and annoyed by his techniques, taking on the discomforted National Football League, and in turn its associated physicians--all to no avail. It's not particularly dramatic or even fascinating to watch. The weak, forgettable score doesn't help heighten the drama, and neither does Smith's (presumably under Peter Landesman's direction) assuaged performance. It's all just...very middle of the road. Perhaps CONCUSSION may have been better suited for the small screen, where having a dramatic impact isn't as much of a mandate. As a big screen feature, it falls incredibly flat.

Which brings us to the other glaring issue that sports fans may especially notice: it's lack of actual sports scenes that influence its agenda. While the film continues to impress that Dr. Omalu isn't anti-football, it doesn't really go out of its way to present the sport in action--for better or worse (outside minimal footage of old games). In fact, it seems more of a sub-theme of the film. But that brings us to wonder what the film is actually trying to say. Is it to tell Dr. Omalu's story, albeit thinly? Is it to inform audiences of how dangerous football really is? Or is to highlight that a highly accomplished black doctor had the audacity to make a statement that could jeopardize one of America's favorite pastimes (an actually poignant aspect that is presented as a mere mention in the film)?

CONCUSSION doesn't honor any of its presumed agendas very well, though Smith seems committed to the role and Dr. Omalu's character. It's already racked up a few award nominations this season, but I'll be curious to see how many will remember this film a year from now.

Rating: C+ (*** out of *****)

Watch the trailer:

CONCUSSION is in theaters December 25. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

WATCH: Frank Underwood Asks for Your Vote in Season 4 of HOUSE OF CARDS

Gosh, there are so many crazy men running for office in 2016, it's an embarrassment of riches. Now House of Cards' Frank Underwood has added himself to the mix, and nothing good can come from that. Except maybe excellent TV. That's right, folks. Frank Underwood (aka actor Kevin Spacey) has announced the upcoming fourth season of the hit Netflix series via this campaign ad (shout out to the marketing geniuses who came up with this!):

I'm amped. The new season of House of Cards premieres March 4, 2016 on Netflix.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

THE HATEFUL EIGHT: Jennifer Jason Leigh Becomes the New Inglorious Woman in the Tarantino Universe

When Quentin Tarantino gave us badass Uma Thurman in Kill Bill back in 2003, I wanted to be her--despite the fact that her character was jumped by several different people, while pregnant. It was like I was seeing Thurman for the first time ever, reincarnated as a vicious biker babe in yellow leather and black pinstripe. The uniform of a champion.

It's often been said that being in a Tarantino film was like career viagra (John Travolta should still be thanking him for Pulp Fiction), yet he should also get some credit for creating some of the most unforgettable women characters in modern cinema--from Patricia Arquette in Modern Romance to Salma Hayek in From Dusk 'Til Dawn and Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds. This year, he gives us Jennifer Jason Leigh in THE HATEFUL EIGHT. And oddly enough, she might be the least badass of them all. But she is definely memorable.

That isn't to say that Daisy Domergue (Leigh) isn't an amazing Tarantino character. Actually, she's quite the paradox; part despicable villainess and part perpetual victim. And you're never quite certain whether you should be rooting for her or scared of her. Like most Tarantino characters, she doesn't have much of a back story, and really, most everything we ever will learn about her character is in her first scene--sitting in a horse-carriage handcuffed to her bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kirk Russell). A female killer who's become somewhat of a heroine in the maniac industry, Daisy appears to get off on John's sporadic bursts of violence against her--despite suffering a broken nose and a black eye. Or maybe she's amused by John's lack of power over her (her devious smirk seems to suggest that she's got something up her sleeve).

It's a rather perverse introduction that incites a number of questions from the audience: Are John and Daisy actually a couple? Are their roles actually the opposite from what they say, where Daisy is the bounty hunter? Is Daisy actually insane? (Her mild reaction to her abuse is disturbing, at best). Leigh, mostly known for her dark yet quieter performances in movies such as Dolores Claiborne, Single White Female and The Machinist, here is often the loudest person in the room with the fewest lines. That's partly because she's attached to John, who instantly takes command of any room he's in, but also because the mystery surrounding her is unsettling--so you don't want to take your eyes off her.

But Daisy is just one deranged character in an even sketchier bunch that includes Samuel L. Jackson
as Major Marquis Warren, Walton Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix--two of the eight souls stranded in the middle of a snowstorm in post-Civil War Wyoming. These four stumble upon a cabin where they meet another group of four (played by Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, and Michael Madsen), which is right around the time the s**t hits the fan for each of them. The octet, along with handy O.B. Jackson (James Parks), is confined in a space where each of their motives have nowhere to hide.

In THE HATEFUL EIGHT, Tarantino creates an uncomfortably claustrophobic atmosphere that borrows from both The Defiant Ones and 12 Angry Men in its narrative and character structure, yet spirals into a Tarantino-esque mystery--complete with time shifts, riddled dialogue, and lots 'o blood. While it's not his best film (it's far too long and indulgent at times), Tarantino absorbs the audience into a scene, compelling you to look at each and every inch of it--indicative of many vintage films (his usual film playground). But as the film is shown in 70mm, it forces you to go cockeyed trying to take everything in.

Coming in at a whopping 3 hours, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a wicked and entertaining western with a great score even if it is a bit of a Tarantino cornucopia.

Rating: B+ (**** out of *****)

THE HATEFUL EIGHT opens in 70mm on December 25, with a nationwide theatrical release on December 31.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Don't Be Fooled by Its Cast. THE BIG SHORT is a Disaster

I don't even know where to begin with THE BIG SHORT. That's not because it's so great that I want to make sure each word I write about it is thoroughly contemplated. Actually, it's the opposite; it's such a giant mess that I barely want to spend time thinking--much less writing-- about it. In fact, I have to keep checking its IMDB page to make sure it's not a David O. Russell film. Because it wreaks of self-important pseudo-commentary that is more hollow and garishly humorous than it cares to admit.

But this is an Adam McKay film, and he has created a similarly sloppy presentation of a group of finance guys who find themselves on the outside looking in and are pissed about it. So they try to overturn manipulate the financial system in an amazingly uninspired way that isn't even at the level of Office Space. It's crude, hollow and erratic. An not nearly as charmingly ballistic as it likes to think it is.

First of all, there was never really a point in the film in which I can even make out what anyone was trying to do. All I remember is a lot of white male angst, spastic outbursts and shrill demands, then very quiet moments at home with their mildly supportive wives (who are more often heard than seen). Ryan Gosling's character constantly breaks the fourth wall (in a non-ironic and non-clever way) every few minutes, in an attempt to provide the obligatory "aren't these guys a**holes" commentary; Brad Pitt is the overly confident dude who every so often likes to remind the other jerks that he has the upper hand; Christian Bale is the unpredictable yet awkward loner who tries to break the system without any contact with actual people; Steve Carrell is the ridiculously hot-tempered, cartoonish finance guy who literally hates everyone and everything; Finn Wittrock and Max Greenfield are pretty much the sucka MCs of their own weak a** scheme. (Normally I would refer to each of them as their character names, but I can't even be bothered).

Guys, this is not worth 2+ hours of film (and definitely not all the awards praise it's been getting, but
I digress). It's a atrocious. It's like watching skeevy, remarkably pin-brained Wall Street a**holes try to out-douche each other. The fact that they are the real problem with "the system" has somehow escaped them, and that may be the most infuriating part about this whole trainwreck. Seriously, no one feels sorry for these dudes.

But anyway, THE BIG SHORT is basically this year's American Hustle--uncomfortably strange, sporadically entertaining yet and overwhelmingly vapid.

Rating: D (* out of *****)

THE BIG SHORT is now playing in limited release, and opening nationwide on December 23.

Monday, December 14, 2015

I've Never Been More Proud of My Fellow Online Film Critics

You've probably heard the news by now: the Online Film Critics Society (of which I am a member) has just named Mad Max: Fury Road the best film of 2015--and I couldn't be more psyched. It is definitely an inspired choice, but a well deserved one that will hopefully push awards voters in a more open-minded direction.

And if that news wasn't rad enough, it was announced earlier today that the Critics Choice Awards also nominated the George Miller-directed film in 13 categories. Okay, now this award season is getting interesting! (side note: Goodnight Mommy was also nominated here for best foreign language film, which totally rules). 

But back to the OFCS winners, check out the full list here:

Best Picture:
Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Animated Feature:

Inside Out

Best Film Not in the English Language:
The Assassin (Taiwan)

Best Documentary:
The Look of Silence

Best Director:
George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Actor:
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)

Best Actress:
Cate Blanchett (Carol)

Best Supporting Actor:
Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina)

Best Supporting Actress:
Rooney Mara (Carol)

Best Original Screenplay:
Spotlight (Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Carol (Phyllis Nagy)

Best Editing:
Mad Max: Fury Road (Margaret Sixel)

Best Cinematography:
Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale)

Non-U.S. Release (Alphabetical Order):
Cemetery of Splendor
The Club
The Lobster
Mountains May Depart
Mia Madre
Right Now, Wrong Then
The Sunset Song

I have a few thoughts about all this Carol love, but...I'll hold on to them until I post my review in the next few days. 

Independence Day: Resurgence Is Coming, Y'all

I'm actually kinda hyped about this, all of a sudden. The trailer for INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE looks like a pretty amazing summer blockbuster experience--even if Will Smith is nowhere to be found (and he used to be the king of summer blockbusters, pre-Dwayne Johnson).The 2-minute video is giving me major Armageddon meets Independence Day vibes, and that's alright with me. Though Smith jumped ship, I'm stoked to see the rest of the original cast there, including Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, and Sela Ward. I'm also curious to see what Liam Hemsworth (who's good to look at, but is stale toast when it comes to his acting).

Get ready for it... Here's the synopsis:

We always knew they were coming back. After INDEPENDENCE DAY redefined the event movie genre, the next epic chapter delivers global spectacle on an unimaginable scale. Using recovered alien technology, the nations of Earth have collaborated on an immense defense program to protect the planet. But nothing can prepare us for the aliens' advanced and unprecedented force. Only the ingenuity of a few brave men and women can bring our world back from the brink of extinction.

Watch the trailer:

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE hits theaters everywhere June 24, 2016.

JOY is the Most Disingenuous Portrayal of Single Motherhood in a While

What is it about recent David O. Russell films that as soon as I see them, I completely forget that I did? Such is the case of JOY, a film that is essentially a mashup of every single Lifetime movie but which Hollywood tries to soup up with big name stars (*cough* Jennifer Lawrence *cough* Bradley Cooper) and not much else. Oh Mr. Russell, you're nothing if not predictable.

Folks still say that Erin Brokovich, which I admire for both its tenacity and spirit, is a mediocre film that only granted Julia Roberts an Oscar because she wore a push-up bra. So if we're going with that logic, I'd say that any awards thrown at JOY would be strictly on account of the fact that Lawrence's character (the titular downtrodden single mom-turned-victorious businesswoman) cuts her hair off toward the end of the film--apparently signifying her rise to badassery. Because I guess any other gesture would not have been as subtle.

I would bet that very scene is the one that makes it on the awards reel since every other point in the film seems so put on. Lawrence is awkwardly miscast as an exhausted mother of two at the end of her rope juggling a leech-y family that includes her soap opera-obsessed mother (Virginia Madsen), out-of-work musician ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez), and retired father (Robert DeNiro). Though she smartly falls back on her audience-pleasing quick wit and sarcastic quips, Lawrence still isn't able to convincingly play a woman with more years and life experience than she has--especially not opposite Ramírez who is 13 years her senior. It comes off as insincere, even when she's in the middle of a meltdown scene after Joy's most promising invention in years flops You see, Lawrence (whose most fitting role to me is still The Hunger Games) is attempting to pull off the somewhat inspiring true story of Joy Mangano, a successful home-invention entrepreneur most famous for the Miracle Mop. You may remember her from this 1996 infomercial:

While Lawrence's natural determination proves useful here, she's still far too remote from Mangano's story to portray her without any irony. And Russell's annoying penchant for humor is even more so here--thus proving neither the filmmaker nor the star have a genuine appreciation for the narrative. Say what you want about Erin Brokovich, but Roberts had a connection to the similar "single mother against all odds" story that never seemed disingenuous. That scene when she's driving and her boyfriend (Aaron Eckhart) is on the phone telling her that her youngest uttered her first word...her reaction to his news crushes me every time. Even when Joy is at the end of her rope, I never found it moving. It just seemed...comical. 

Trust me, I hate any binary approach to film criticism as much as anyone should, but I found the parallels of Brokovich and JOY fascinating to say the least. This isn't meant as an either/or (both films deserve to stand on their own merit), but it just confirms how imperative it is to have an attachment to the source material/subject. 

JOY opens in theaters nationwide December 25.

Rating: C- (** out of *****)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The NAACP Image Awards Nominate WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?, Like Everyone Should

I don't know how What Happened, Miss Simone? became the redheaded stepchild of this award season, but it has. And it's upsetting. It is by far the best documentary this year (Amy, be damned) and needs to win all the things. So far, the NAACP Image Awards is one of the only groups that remember this as it was nominated in the best documentary category. *slow clap*

The rest of the nominations list is pretty predictable, including Black-ish, Scandal, Beasts of No Nation, and Creed--with very few laughable nominees (which include Dope). I know it is film or TV, but I have to take this time to express my utter excitement for all the awards love given to rock group Alabama Shakes for their amazing album, Sound & Color. They're nominated here for Outstanding Group, Duo or Collaboration, and they also appear in several categories on the Grammy Award nominations list. If you haven't listened to their music yet, you need to. That's a mandate. In fact, here is "Gimme All Your Love," an instant classic.

Check out the rest of the TV and film nominees:


Michael B. Jordan
Misty Copeland
Pharrell Williams
Shonda Rhimes
Viola Davis


Outstanding Motion Picture
Beasts of No Nation (Netflix)
Concussion (Sony)
Creed (Warner Bros./Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Dope (Open Road Films)
Straight Outta Compton (Universal)

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation (Netflix)
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Secret in Their Eyes (STX)
Michael B. Jordan, Creed (Warner Bros./Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Michael Ealy, The Perfect Guy (Screen Gems)
Will Smith, Concussion (Sony)

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
Lauren Keke Palmer, Brotherly Love (Flavor Unit)
Sanaa Lathan, The Perfect Guy (Screen Gems)
Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
Viola Davis, Lila and Eve (Samuel Goldwyn)
Zoe Saldana, Infinitely Polar Bear (Sony Pictures Classics)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Martian (Fox)
Corey Hawkins, Straight Outta Compton (Universal)
Forest Whitaker, Southpaw (The Weinstein Company)
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation (Netflix)
O'Shea Jackson Jr., Straight Outta Compton (Universal)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Angela Bassett, Chi-Raq (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Concussion (Sony)
Jennifer Hudson, Chi-Raq (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
Phylicia Rashad, Creed (Warner Bros./Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Tessa Thompson, Creed (Warner Bros./Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture

Beasts of No Nation (Netflix)
Brotherly Love (Flavor Unit)
Chi-Raq (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
Infinitely Polar Bear (Sony Pictures Classics)
Secret in Their Eyes (STX)


Outstanding Documentary (Film)

Amy (A24)
Dreamcatcher (Rise Films, Green Acres Films & Vixen Films in association with Impact Partners and Artemis Rising Foundation)
In My Fathers House (Break Thru Films)
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (PBS Distribution/Firelight Films)
What Happened, Miss Simone? (A Radical Media Production in Association with Moxie Firecracker for Netflix)

Outstanding Documentary (Television)

August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand (PBS)
Belief (OWN)
Kareem: Minority of One (HBO)
Light Girls (OWN)
Muhammad Ali: The Peoples Champ (BET)


Outstanding Comedy Series
black-ish (ABC)
House of Lies (Showtime)
Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
Survivor's Remorse (Starz)

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series

Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
Anthony Anderson, black-ish (ABC)
Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Showtime)
Dwayne Johnson, Ballers (HBO)
RonReaco Lee, Survivor's Remorse (Starz)

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series
Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin (The CW)
Loretta Devine, The Carmichael Show (NBC)
Tracee Ellis Ross, black-ish (ABC)
Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
Wendy Raquel Robinson, The Game (BET)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
David Alan Grier, The Carmichael Show (NBC)
Laurence Fishburne, black-ish (ABC)
Mike Epps, Survivor's Remorse (Starz)
Miles Brown, black-ish (ABC)
Terry Crews, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Anna Deavere Smith, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Danielle Brooks, Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
Laverne Cox, Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
Marsai Martin, black-ish (ABC)
Tichina Arnold, Survivor's Remorse (Starz)

Outstanding Drama Series

Being Mary Jane (BET)
Empire (Fox)
How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)
Power (Starz)
Scandal (ABC)

Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
LL Cool J, NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)
Morris Chestnut, Rosewood (Fox)
Omari Hardwick, Power (Starz)
Terrence Howard, Empire (Fox)
Wesley Snipes, The Player (NBC)

Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
Gabrielle Union, Being Mary Jane (BET)
Kerry Washington, Scandal (ABC)
Nicole Beharie, Sleepy Hollow (Fox)
Taraji P. Henson, Empire (Fox)
Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Alfred Enoch, How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)
Bryshere Y. Gray, Empire (Fox)
Guillermo Diaz, Scandal (ABC)
Joe Morton, Scandal (ABC)
Jussie Smollett, Empire (Fox)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)
Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead (AMC)
Grace Gealey, Empire (Fox)
Naturi Naughton, Power (Starz)
Regina King, American Crime (ABC)

Outstanding Television Movie, Miniseries or Dramatic Special
American Crime (ABC)
Bessie (HBO)
Luther (BBC America)
The Book of Negroes (BET)
The Wiz Live! (NBC)

Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Miniseries or Dramatic Special
Cuba Gooding, The Book of Negroes (BET)
David Alan Grier, The Wiz Live! (NBC)
David Oyelowo, Nightingale (HBO)
Idris Elba, Luther (BBC America)
Michael Kenneth Williams, Bessie (HBO)

Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Miniseries or Dramatic Special
Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Hotel (FX Networks)
Aunjanue Ellis, The Book of Negroes (BET)
Jill Scott, With This Ring (Lifetime)
LaTonya Richardson Jackson, Show Me a Hero (HBO)
Queen Latifah, Bessie (HBO)

Outstanding News/ Information (Series or Special)
Katrina: 10 Years After the Storm (ABC)
News One Now (TV One)
Oprah Prime: Celebrating Dr. King and the Selma Marches 50 Years Later (OWN)
Oprah: Where Are They Now? — Civil Rights Special (OWN)
Unsung (TV One)

Outstanding Talk Series
Melissa Harris-Perry (MSNBC)
Steve Harvey (Syndicated)
The Daily Show With Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
The Talk (CBS)
The Wendy Williams Show (Syndicated)

Outstanding Reality Program/Reality Competition Series

Dancing With the Stars (ABC)
Iyanla: Fix My Life (OWN)
Shark Tank (ABC)
The Voice (NBC)
Welcome to Sweetie Pies (OWN)

Outstanding Variety (Series or Special)
Black Girls Rock! (BET)
Family Feud (Syndicated)
Oprah's Master Class (OWN)
The Daily Show With Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Children’s Program

Doc McStuffins (Disney Junior)
Dora and Friends (Nickelodeon)
K.C. Undercover (Disney Channel)
Little Ballers (Nickelodeon)
Project MC2 (Netflix)

Outstanding Performance by a Youth (Series, Special, Television Movie or Miniseries)
Hudson Yang, Fresh Off The Boat (ABC)
Marcus Scribner, black-ish (ABC)
Marsai Martin, black-ish (ABC)
Miles Brown, black-ish (ABC)
Skai Jackson, Jessie (Disney Channel)

Outstanding Host in a News, Talk, Reality, or Variety (Series or Special) — Individual

Steve Harvey, Family Feud (Syndicated)
Melissa Harris-Perry, Melissa Harris-Perry (MSNBC)
Bryant Gumbel, Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel (HBO)
Trevor Noah, The Daily Show With Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
Larry Wilmore, The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore (Comedy Central)


Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series
Alan Yang, Aziz Ansari, Master of None — "Parents" (Netflix)
Jennie Snyder Urman, Jane the Virgin — "Chapter Twenty-Three" (The CW)
Jill Soloway, Transparent — "Kina Hora" (Amazon Video)
Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, Rebecca Drysda>, Colton Dunn, Phil Augusta Jackson, Alex Rubens, Charlie Sanders, Rich Talarico, Key & Peele — "Y'all Ready For This?" (Comedy Central)
Kenya M. Barris, black-ish — "The Word" (ABC)

Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series

Erika Green Swafford, Doug Stockstill, How to Get Away with Murder — "Mama's Here Now" (ABC)
John Ridley, American Crime — "Episode 1" (ABC)
LaToya Morgan, Turn: Washington's Spies — "False Flag" (AMC)
Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Empire — "Pilot" (Fox)
Mara Brock Akil, Jameal Turner, Keli Goff, Being Mary Jane — "Sparrow" (BET)

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Television)
Dee Rees, Bessie (HBO)
Lawrence Hill, Clement Virgo, The Book of Negroes (BET)
Michael S. Bandy, Eric Stein, White Water (TV One)
Nzingha Stewart, With This Ring (Lifetime)
Shem Bitterman, Whitney (Lifetime)

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Film)
Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, Straight Outta Compton (Universal)
Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois, Grant Thompson, McFarland USA (Walt Disney)
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Inside Out (Disney/Pixar)
Rick Famuyiwa,Dope (Open Road Films)
Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington, Creed (Warner Bros./Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)


Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series

Aziz Ansari, Master of None — "Parents" (Netflix)
Brad Silberling, Jane the Virgin — "Chapter Twenty-Three" (The CW)
Don Cheadle, House of Lies — "The Urge to Save Humanity is Almost Always a False Front for the Urge to Rule" (Showtime)
Peter Atencio, Key & Peele — "The End" (Comedy Central)
Stan Lathan, Real Husbands of Hollywood — "Cabin Pressure" (BET)

Outstanding Directing in a Dramatic Series
Ernest Dickerson, Hand of God — "Welcome the Stranger" (Amazon Video)
John Ridley, American Crime — "Episode 1" (ABC)
Lee Daniels, Empire — "Pilot" (Fox)
Millicent Shelton, American Crime — "Episode Ten" (ABC)
Salim Akil, Being Mary Jane — "Sparrow" (BET)

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Television)
Christine Swanson, For the Love of Ruth (TV One)
Dee Rees, Bessie (HBO)
Nzingha Stewart, With This Ring (Lifetime)
Rusty Cundieff, White Water (TV One)
Salim Akil, The Start Up (BET)

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Film)

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Fox Searchlight/Rhode Island Ave)
Charles Stone, III, Lila and Eve (Samuel Goldwyn)
F. Gary Gray, Straight Outta Compton (Universal)
Rick Famuyiwa, Dope (Open Road Films)
Ryan Coogler, Creed (Warner Bros./Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)


Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance (Television or Film)
Aisha Tyler, Archer (FX Networks)
Audra McDonald, Doc McStuffins (Disney Junior)
Jeffrey Wright, The Good Dinosaur (Disney/Pixar)
Loretta Devine, Doc McStuffins (Disney Channel)
Wanda Sykes, Penn Zero" (Disney XD)

The NAACP IMAGE AWARDS air live on TVOne on February 6 at 9pm EST/8pm CST. 

The Golden Globes Decided To Make Some Bold Choices This Year

You know, for a while there I was getting concerned that folks would forget how genius Master of None is on Netflix. Then came last week's Golden Globe nominations and, just like that, my hope was restored. Lead actor (and co-creator) Aziz Ansari was nominated, though the series itself was criminally snubbed for best comedy series (in a category with two series I've never even heard of).

But Lady Gaga, who has seriously surprised me in this season's American Horror Story: Hotel, was recognized for her portrayal of the maniacal Countess. And Fargo received three nominations for actors Kirsten Dunst and Patrick Wilson, as well as a nomination for best dramatic series. If you haven't seen this season of the series, do yourself a favor and catch up On Demand because it is seriously bats**t crazy in the best way possible.

I'd like to also take this time to applaud the Globes for acknowledging the fact that Mad Max existed this year and it is incredible. How often does an adult action film (meaning, one that isn't The Hunger Games) get recognized at any of these award shows? Right, hardly never. So this is major; let's relish it now before its peers in the best drama category, Carol or The Revenant, take it home.

Of course, there are some duds on this nominations list (basically any nomination for The Big Short). Check out the full list:


Best Motion Picture – Drama
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“The Revenant”

Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
“The Big Short”
“The Martian”

Best Director – Motion Picture
Todd Haynes (“Carol”)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“The Revenant”)
Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”)
George Miller (“Mad Max: Fury Road”)
Ridley Scott (“The Martian”)

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”)
Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”)
Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”)
Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”)
Will Smith (“Concussion”)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Cate Blanchett (“Carol”)
Brie Larson (“Room”)
Rooney Mara (“Carol”)
Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”)
Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”)

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
Christian Bale (“The Big Short”)
Steve Carell (“The Big Short”)
Matt Damon (“The Martian”)
Al Pacino (“Danny Collins”)
Mark Ruffalo (“Infinitely Polar Bear”)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy
Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”)
Melissa McCarthy (“Spy”)
Amy Schumer (“Trainwreck”)
Maggie Smith (“The Lady in the Van”)
Lily Tomlin (“Grandma”)

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Paul Dano (“Love & Mercy”)
Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”)
Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”)
Michael Shannon (“99 Homes”)
Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”)

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Jane Fonda (“Youth”)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Hateful Eight”)
Helen Mirren (“Trumbo”)
Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”)
Kate Winslet (“Steve Jobs”)

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Emma Donoghue (“Room”)
Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (“Spotlight”)
Charles Randolph, Adam McKay (“The Big Short”)
Aaron Sorkin (“Steve Jobs”)
Quentin Tarantino (“The Hateful Eight”)

Best Original Score
Carter Burwell (“Carol”)
Alexandre Desplat (“The Danish Girl”)
Ennio Morricone (“The Hateful Eight”)
Daniel Pemberton (“Steve Jobs”)
Ryuichi Sakamoto Alva Noto (“The Revenant”)

Best Original Song
“Love Me Like You Do” from “Fifty Shades of Grey”
“One Kind of Love” from “Love & Mercy”
“See You Again” from “Furious 7”
“Simple Song No. 3” from “Youth”
“Writing’s on the Wall” from “Spectre”

Best Animated Feature Film
“The Good Dinosaur”
“Inside Out”
“The Peanuts Movie”
“Shaun the Sheep Movie”

Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language
“The Brand New Testament”
“The Club”
“The Fencer”
“Son of Saul”


Best TV Series – Drama

“Game of Thrones”
“Mr. Robot”

Best TV Series – Comedy

“Mozart in the Jungle”
“Orange Is the New Black”
“Silicon Valley”

Best TV Movie or Limited-Series
“American Crime”
“American Horror Story: Hotel”
“Flesh and Bone”
“Wolf Hall”

Best Actor in a TV Series – Drama

Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”)
Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”)
Wagner Moura (“Narcos”)
Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”)
Liev Schreiber (“Ray Donovan”)

Best Actress in a TV Series – Drama

Caitriona Balfe (“Outlander”)
Viola Davis (“How to Get Away With Murder”)
Eva Green (“Penny Dreadful”)
Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”)
Robin Wright (“House of Cards”)

Best Actor in a TV Series – Comedy

Aziz Ansari (“Master of None”)
Gael Garcia Bernal (“Mozart in the Jungle”)
Rob Lowe (“The Grinder”)
Patrick Stewart (“Blunt Talk”)
Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”)

Best Actress in a TV Series – Comedy

Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex Girlfriend”)
Jamie Lee Curtis (“Scream Queens”)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, (“Veep”)
Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”)
Lilly Tomlin (“Grace & Frankie”)

Best Actor in a Limited-Series or TV Movie
Idris Elba (“Luther”)
Oscar Isaac (“Show Me a Hero”)
David Oyelowo (“Nightingale”)
Mark Rylance (“Wolf Hall”)
Patrick Wilson (“Fargo”)

Best Actress in a Limited-Series or TV Movie

Kirsten Dunst (“Fargo”)
Lady Gaga (“American Horror Story: Hotel”)
Sarah Hay (“Flesh & Bone”)
Felicity Huffman (“American Crime”)
Queen Latifah (“Bessie”)

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Limited-Series or TV Movie

Alan Cumming (“The Good Wife”)
Damian Lewis (“Wolf Hall”)
Ben Mendelsohn (“Bloodline”)
Tobias Menzies (“Outlander”)
Christian Slater (“Mr. Robot”)

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Limited-Series, or TV Movie

Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black”)
Joanne Froggatt (“Downton Abbey”)
Regina King (“American Crime”)
Judith Light (“Transparent”)
Maura Tierney (“The Affair”)
What are some of your favorite nominees this year?

The Golden Globe Awards will air live at 8pm EST/5pm PST on January 10 on NBC.

Screen Actors Guild Nominations: We Need to Take STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON All the Way

After having written several posts about this, it shouldn't be any surprise for me to say reiterate once more how utterly unimpressed I am with this year's awards favorites, generally speaking. But as many of you already know, I love a good underdog campaign. Which is why I am so psyched that STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is nominated for best picture by the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

For one thing, it's rare that a film that has little to no "star power" (with the exception of Paul Giamatti in a supporting role) is celebrated by major award voters--even more seldom is it a black film. Just take that in for a second: a black film with all unknown lead African-American actors and very few stereotypes might be going all the way to the Promised Land. Even better, the film is atypical. Not only does it elude the standard rags-to-riches biopic format, but it also manages to highlight political statements such as Black Lives Matter and racial profiling--all in addition to telling a compelling narrative about about three talent young black men.

Sure, we've had films like the excellent Ray, and other successful black biopics like Ali and Malcolm X, but STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON features a young black male cast under the age of 30 who prior to the film had little to no fan base. If this movie wins a major award, not only will it prove that there is untapped talent of color in Hollywood (who can sell out the box office), but it will also be the only film that isn't the standard, predictable award bait that's praised every single year.

But of course, it has plenty of competition. Check out the complete list of film nominees:

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
BRYAN CRANSTON / Dalton Trumbo – “TRUMBO” (Bleecker Street)
JOHNNY DEPP / James “Whitey” Bulger – “BLACK MASS” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
LEONARDO DiCAPRIO / Hugh Glass – “THE REVENANT” (20th Century Fox)
MICHAEL FASSBENDER / Steve Jobs – “STEVE JOBS” (Universal Pictures)
EDDIE REDMAYNE / Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe – “THE DANISH GIRL” (Focus Features)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
CATE BLANCHETT / Carol Aird – “CAROL” (The Weinstein Company)
HELEN MIRREN / Maria Altmann – “WOMAN IN GOLD” (The Weinstein Company)
SAOIRSE RONAN / Eilis – “BROOKLYN” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
SARAH SILVERMAN / Laney Brooks – “I SMILE BACK” (Broad Green Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
CHRISTIAN BALE / Michael Burry – “THE BIG SHORT” (Paramount Pictures)
IDRIS ELBA / Commandant – “BEASTS OF NO NATION” (Netflix)
MARK RYLANCE / Abel Rudolph – “BRIDGE OF SPIES” (DreamWorks)
MICHAEL SHANNON / Rick Carver – “99 HOMES” (Broad Green Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
ROONEY MARA / Therese Belivet – “CAROL” (The Weinstein Company)
RACHEL McADAMS / Sacha Pfeiffer – “SPOTLIGHT” (Open Road Films)
HELEN MIRREN / Hedda Hopper – “TRUMBO” (Bleecker Street)
ALICIA VIKANDER / Gerda Wegener – “THE DANISH GIRL” (Focus Features)
KATE WINSLET / Joanna Hoffman – “STEVE JOBS” (Universal Pictures)
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

IDRIS ELBA / Commandant

THE BIG SHORT (Paramount Pictures):
CHRISTIAN BALE / Michael Burry
RYAN GOSLING / Jared Vennett
MELISSA LEO / Georgia Hale
JOHN MAGARO / Charlie Geller
BRAD PITT / Ben Rickert
RAFE SPALL / Danny Moses
JEREMY STRONG / Vinny Peters
MARISA TOMEI / Cynthia Baum
FINN WITTROCK / Jamie Shipley

SPOTLIGHT (Open Road Films)
BILLY CRUDUP / Eric MacLeish
BRIAN D’ARCY JAMES / Matty Carroll
MICHAEL KEATON / Walter “Robby” Robinson
RACHEL McADAMS / Sacha Pfeiffer
MARK RUFFALO / Michael Rezendes
JOHN SLATTERY / Ben Bradlee, Jr.
STANLEY TUCCI / Mitchell Garabedian

PAUL GIAMATTI / Jerry Heller

TRUMBO (Bleecker Street):

LOUIS C.K. / Arlen Hird
BRYAN CRANSTON / Dalton Trumbo
ELLE FANNING / Niki Trumbo
DIANE LANE / Cleo Trumbo
HELEN MIRREN / Hedda Hopper
MICHAEL STUHLBARG / Edward G. Robinson
ALAN TUDYK / Ian McLellan Hunter

The 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will air live at 8pm EST/5pm PST on TBS January 30, 2016. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hate It Or Love It? The First Trailer for X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

Well, this looks pretty epic. The trailer for X-MEN: APOCALYPSE took over the Internet this week and I am sure there have already been about a million think pieces written about it. I'm intrigued.


Following the critically acclaimed global smash hit X-Men: Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer returns with X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. Since the dawn of civilization, he was worshipped as a god. Apocalypse, the first and most powerful mutant from Marvel’s X-Men universe, amassed the powers of many other mutants, becoming immortal and invincible. Upon awakening after thousands of years, he is disillusioned with the world as he finds it and recruits a team of powerful mutants, including a disheartened Magneto (Michael Fassbender), to cleanse mankind and create a new world order, over which he will reign. As the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) with the help of Professor X (James McAvoy) must lead a team of young X-Men to stop their greatest nemesis and save mankind from complete destruction.

It certainly looks gorgeous. Is it great? We'll have to see when it hits theaters May 27, 2016. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

On Capturing Humanity, Asian Film Stereotypes and THE ASSASSIN

Why does Hollywood continue to obsess over Asian films in which the characters are either doing some kind of martial arts, are assassins, or are in some way personifying violence? Granted, Korean revenge thrillers are some of the best genre films on the market right now, but the tunnel vision approach to Asian film criticism is so frustrating.

I say this all to say that folks have been fallen all over themselves for the Chinese drama, THE ASSASSIN, which is indeed a solid film but nothing I haven't see before. The story of a seventh-century female assassin whose target is a high-profile political leader in China just, in the words of Jennifer Lopez on American Idol, doesn't give me goosies (i.e. goosebumps, i.e. doesn't get me excited--at all).  Don't get me wrong, the movie is gorgeous to look at (and I'm sure Oscar voters will throw all kinds of technical awards at it--because gawd forbid they recognize any of the actors). But when will people finally recognize the beauty of Asian humanity in film--and not only see them as killers, kung-fu artists and geishas?

During a year in which a film like Advantageous can resonate so deeply as a small independent sci-fi drama, it continues to be left out of the conversation as more expected Asian dramas prevail. It's so tiring.

Watch the trailer for THE ASSASSIN:

Friday, December 4, 2015

On Brutality in Film, Native and White American Depictions, and THE REVENANT

Let's just get this out of the way. Yes, THE REVENANT is brutal. And you know what? So is the era it's depicting--the 1820s, when the relationship between white Americans and Native Americans was at its most belligerent. Food (and clothes) came in the form of carcasses, shelter from whatever you could find lying on the ground, and life from whoever or whatever you can kill to sustain it. The film doesn't sugarcoat any of it, which is no surprise given the fact that its maker, writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu, is known for portraying torment to the nth degree.

But I made it out of my screening of THE REVENANT without having any nightmares, despite Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells's ridiculously misogynistic warnings:

Somehow my dainty femininity was able to overcome the horror of "inspired by true events," when it's more used to "and they lived happily ever after."

Whatever, screw that guy. Only Gawd can save him now, if the Internet hasn't already eaten him alive. The brutality of THE REVENANT is merely the aesthetics to highlight the emotional impact of the story. Leonardo DiCaprio is certainly put through the ringer as Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who, having been left for the dead after a vicious bear attack leaves him badly mutilated, sets out on a murderous revenge mission to find those who abandoned him. But for much of his journey, DiCaprio is forced to used mostly his face to express Glass's agony, later being able to crawl through the dirt for refuge. Which is typically a challenge for the actor, as he has relied heavily on physical gestures and sometimes even wild pacing to evoke emotion. Here, however, the lack of mobility matures him as a performer. He, along with the audience, are trapped in turmoil that brings us from a soldier of war, to a crippled victim, and ultimate redemption. It's harrowing to watch, for sure, but it is tremendously rewarding to witness such an affecting and physical odyssey.

Another reason to see the film is Tom Hardy, who has never been better as the cunning John Fitzgerald, one of the two men Hugh is after throughout the entire film. If his cocky assuredness and scalped head (courtesy of the Natives) doesn't keep you glued to his performance, his maniacal disposition will clench your attention--down to the slither of one lie after another off his tongue. Even at the start of the film, you realize he is a villain that's going to take the entire 2 and a half hour film for karma to meet him.

Both actors are the standout here, but Iñárritu brings out the best in the entire cast--even Domhnall Gleeson, who I never found very impressive before this. He plays the captain of the bunch, Andrew Henry, with honor and bravery.

But what is most refreshing about THE REVENANT is how it portrays the rapport between whites and Natives. Save for one "white hero" moment in a rape scene, both parties are equally portrayed as ferocious primitives  who each have their savior and sinner moments. While the Native storyline isn't as prominent, the characters at least get a voice, a perspective if you will. That's more than most Hollywood movies (though it would be nice if at least every so often a Native character is taking out of this context and leads a Hollywood film, but I digress).

Iñárritu continues move away from his earlier work, which I still prefer, to bring a more Hollywood-digestible tale like this one that blends themes of spirituality, primal instinct and humanity. But he has proven that he can tackle even the most excruciating life stories and turn them into a work of art, with Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography bringing it all together onscreen. They should both be proud of this one.

Rating: A (**** out of *****)

THE REVENANT opens in select theaters December 25, and nationwide on January 8.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

I Hope the New Poehler/Fey Comedy is Funny

I know, most of us love the comedy magic effortlessly created by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I love them too, and I secretly wish I could be their BFF. Buuuuut I don't like their movies. Like, at all. I don't like the movies they're in together, or even the ones they're in separately. Further, I was not able to get into Parks & Recreation (but I did love 30 Rock).  It's like they are only worth watching when they're hosting an award show. Sad but true.

I say this all to say that I am super lukewarm, like borderline cold, on SISTERS, their new film collaboration which sees the two estranged actresses as sisters who reunite in their old family home. More:

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler reunite for Sisters, a new film from Pitch Perfect director Jason Moore about two disconnected sisters summoned home to clean out their childhood bedroom before their parents sell the family house. Looking to recapture their glory days, they throw one final high-school-style party for their classmates, which turns into the cathartic rager that a bunch of ground-down adults really need.

Fingers crossed this is good. 

SISTERS opens December 18. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

This KRAMPUS Movie Sounds Absolutely Ridiculous

Confession: I can't stand horror comedies. I think a movie needs to be one or the other, not both--especially because of their clashing tones. It almost always comes off silly to me. So no, I am not interested in KRAMPUS (which needs to be panned simply because of its title alone). It's about a family whose St. Nick non-believers are tormented by the spirit of "Krampus" during the holidays. 

Note: This is a real movie, not a Saturday Night Live sketch, which I what I was hoping for especially after noticing the great Toni Colette in the trailer. Somehow the woefully dwindling career of Colette and the previously promising career of Allison Tolman (Fargo) has gone kerplunk. How devastating. 

Here's a full synopsis of the film:

Legendary Pictures' Krampus, a darkly festive tale of a yuletide ghoul, reveals an irreverently twisted side to the holiday.

When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers.

All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family's home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.

The horror-comedy also stars Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania Lavie Owen and Krista Stadler.

Krampus and his mischievous underlings have been created by the combined efforts of Weta Workshop and Weta Digital, both renowned for their epic work onThe Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and King Kong, among many others.

KRAMPUS is in theaters Friday.

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