Best Picture Countdown #1: The Favourite

“I have sent for some lobsters. I thought we could race them and then eat them.”Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in The Favourite (2018)

Of all eight films nominated for Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards, Yorgos Lanthimos’s semi-ridiculous period dramedy The Favourite impressed me the most. A thrilling combination of absurd comedy, stellar dialogue, and engaging, unique characters, The Favorite “re-imagines” authentic historical figures and events from the early 18th century, exploring the complex relationship between lifelong friends Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill and the unexpected arrival of a distant cousin who challenges Churchill’s place as the queen’s “favourite.”

MV5BOTA1MTY0MDYxMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzY5MTk2NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_The Favourite also features a dramatic duck race and a group of men hurling oranges at a naked dude. So, that’s the type of film it is. Yorgos Lanthimos’s visionary directorial style and the wry black humor of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s script is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – or, in this case, their cup of bowel-inflaming hot cocoa – but I found this enchantingly-bizarre film utterly riveting from start to finish. The dialogue in particular is a highlight, with historical speech patterns and trends interspersed with and influenced by current, more modern humor. It’s a jarring combination at first, but gives the film a comedic edge and a unique flair that sets it apart from the other nominees, especially because The Favourite also digs into the emotional, giving depth and motivation to the individual characters, and making their interactions all the more compelling, especially as the rivalry between Sarah and Abigail builds and tensions ignite to life-ruining proportions.

The film’s cast is led by a trio of prolific actresses – Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill, Lady of Marlborough, and Emma Stone as Abigail Hill – and their performances are a roaring success, considering each earned an acting nomination. Regina King seems to be the one to beat in the Supporting Actress category for her turn in If Beale Street Could Talk, but my personal choice is Weisz. Her sharp performance as Lady Marlborough, rife with cutting wit, simmering rage, and festering envy mixed with careful aloofness to mask buried pain blazes against Stone’s desperate, calculated Abigail Hill who seeks to do whatever it takes to reclaim her lost status. Stone is excellent as well, in a role very unlike her usual fare, but I think cast-mate Weisz just edges her out.

Colman dominates the screen as the often-hysterical, but oddly-lovable Queen Anne. Her performance as the troubled monarch, who led a life “stalked by tragedy,” is defined by a scene where she sits on the cusp of a party, all dressed up in finery yet confined to a wheelchair, and watches as her guests and courtesans dance and engage without her as the music swells through the room. That scene alone made her my favorite for the Best Actress race, as well as the scene of her explaining her “children” to Abigail. Nicholas Hoult also deserves a shout-out for his performance as Harley, where he is nearly unrecognizable in a powdered wig and full makeup. His interactions with Weisz and Stone are a major comedic plus.

This film, like many fellow Best Picture nominees, is “based on true events,” and much of it cannot be proven as accurate. However, The Favourite does not present itself as a “blow-by-blow” representation of history, nor does it market itself as a faithful representation. I don’t even think it says “based on true events” on any of the posters or taglines I’ve seen for the film, so I doubt it’s part of the marketing strategy. The people depicted in the film are real, as are several of the events surrounding it, but it never tries to convince the audience that any of it is true. And that is the best kind of historical adaptation. One that tells its own narrative influenced by reality without carelessly inserting potential defamation or pushing any sort of underlying agenda, and it makes the audience more interested in what the “truth” really is. Despite his masterful vision, director Yorgos Lanthimos is a bit of a dark horse in the Oscar race, but when it comes to a film this weird, anything can happen.

On the surface – which does matter when it comes to film – The Favourite is an all-around outstanding production. It’s gorgeous to look at; beautifully shot. The set design, the costumes, the lighting… in a scene where Stone’s character is covered in mud, I felt as though I could smell the stinking sludge on her clothes, or the beef slab being slapped onto Queen Anne’s ailing leg, or the scent of smoke when Weisz is practicing her aim. The footsteps tapping through the halls as the characters move about create both a sense of foreboding and anticipation. And the music is great, including several famous baroque and classical composers and what I believe to be a snippet from one of my favorite Camille Saint-Saëns symphonies, also prominently featured in Babe (1995). You know – the talking pig movie. Anyway…

The Favourite has earned glowing praise from critics and audiences, but when it comes to the ultimate battle on Oscar night, it faces brutal competition. Roma certainly seems poised to win, which would be a much-deserved victory. But for this viewer, The Favourite has emerged as top film for the Best Picture race, and even if it does not take home that treasured honor, I am predicting it will go 4 for 10 on the night, though I won’t protest to a couple more.

 

Oscar Nominations: 10
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actress (Colman)
Best Supporting Actress (Stone & Weisz)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Cinematography
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Film Editing 

 

 

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The Things We Connect With

When you read a book, what are the things you connect with? Are there certain factors that stand out to you more than others?

I read mostly YA, but I don’t shy away from any particular genre, and do stray into adult literature on occasion. For me, there are a couple of elements that leap off the page, and make it easier for me to connect with the story and characters. In regards to the latter, give me a good sarcastic sidekick any day. One who has more purpose than to crack jokes, but still excels at being a master of wit with a cutting edge. I like a best friend or ally who is not afraid to call the hero out on their problematic behavior, and has a whole, well-developed personality all on their own aside from being a sidekick. I especially love strong friendships in YA of any genre. I don’t want a romance story where a relationship becomes the protagonists’ sole focus/purpose, so friendships with a solid foundation are often a favorable complement to that.

When it comes to protagonists, I connect with their flaws. Give me a hero or heroine who is not always likeable, who makes questionable calls, or who makes mistakes that possibly inspire various degrees of calamity. When they have distinct, relatable, or plot-affecting flaws, I am more likely to connect with them. I don’t want to see a female protagonist whose only flaw is that she’s a bit clumsy, or is “too nice,” or some cop-out like that. Give me drama. Give me reasonable self-doubt.  I like it because it gives them more room for growth, as well. I especially like it when a hero/heroine has to fix a major problem that they cause, whether by accident or on purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I like heroines who kick ass and are amazing with a sword… but because I don’t kick ass, I find it harder to personally connect to them.

Villain-wise, I need an antagonist who is more than just their bad deeds. Someone who actually has a point, but is going about it the wrong way. I mean, some villains are just evil to be evil, and that’s fine – but I prefer it when there’s a reason, and the reason has a solid explanation behind it. Or, sometimes I don’t even want a villain – it all depends on the story. Don’t give me an antagonist for the sake of it.

For example, some of my favorite series are The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, and The Charmed Life series by Jenny B. Jones. They contain some of my favorite characters, and ones I have connected with the most. As much as I love a good serious drama/fantasy, it’s stories with humor that I am drawn into the most – hence Meg Cabot being my favorite YA author.

It’s a similar experience with films, though the things I connect with tends to differ. I’m drawn in by the typical things, like basic plot, genre, and acting prowess. But when I’m actually in the theater, it’s different things that snare my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I still like snarky sidekick characters, occasionally-unlikeable protagonists, and conflicted antagonists. However, the things I connect with the most are more on a visual and auditory level.

I am compelled by strong cinematography/set design/production design. If a film is aesthetically pleasing to me, it has a higher change of connecting. Recent visually-inspiring films on my list include First Man, Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, and The Favourite. It’s also part of the reason why I will see any film directed by Guillermo del Toro, Joseph Kosinski, and Zack Snyder. All-time favorites in the visual department include Tron: Legacy, Man of Steel, Crimson Peak, and Oblivion.

Another thing I connect with the most is the music. I need a soundtrack that is part of the film, not just the background. Composers who excel at this are Alexandre Desplat, Ennio Morricone, the Gregson-Williams brothers, and Ramin Djawadi. Also, who can forget John Williams? He’s the perfect example. You know the themes to Jaws, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park because they are so interwoven with and indicative of the film itself. When the score really suits the film, I am more likely to connect with it.

So, I have to ask – what are the things you connect with, whether it be in books or film?

Inaccurate

Historical films can be tricky for viewers – a fact I realized after watching the 1989 miniseries Cross of Fire, starring John Heard and Mel Harris, about the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer by D.C. Stephens, a prominent K.K.K. leader, in 1925. After viewing the film, my history teacher destroyed me by saying that the valiant lawyer in the film, Klell Henry (David Morse), did not actually exist. And thus, my frequently conflicted opinion on historical/biopic films was born.

I make sure, after viewing a historical drama or biopic, that I research the topic afterward to see what the film got wrong. Not because I want to nitpick the movie and rip it to shreds, but because I want to know the truth. At the very least, even inaccurate films can open the door to further interest and research in certain topics. But when adapting delicate subjects, films bear a lot of responsibility with what they portray… and many have fumbled that opportunity.

There is nothing worse for me, regarding historical dramas, than going on to research the true events of a film and finding out that important details have been manipulated, botched, ignored, or misrepresented, because it feels like being cheated out of what could have been an amazing story. Though, many films so deserve credit for introducing audiences to topics or events that they might not have cared about otherwise.

Of course, it is impossible to adapt any historical event into film with perfect accuracy. The very idea is ridiculous. But when you’re playing with real events, real people – especially people who have passed on, and cannot offer a voice themselves – and real world issues, there is a difference between taking creative liberties, and presenting what is essentially a revisionist history. I mean, don’t even get me started on Pocahontas. I thought that shit was true until like, eighth grade. The soundtrack is a banger, though.

Though I’ve always been a fan of Queen, I’d never purport myself as a massive, die-hard fan, so I went into Bohemian Rhapsody with a partial knowledge of both Freddie Mercury and the band’s history… but even with my limited scope, I was scratching my head at a few of the events shown in the film. For example, the first meeting between Mercury and his long-time partner Jim Hutton, and the band’s implosion due to Mercury’s intention to launch a solo career – among numerous other changes, as noted in the many scathing reviews I’ve since seen scattered about the internet.

Without spoiling anything major about the film, Bohemian Rhapsody – though buoyed by the (obviously) brilliant soundtrack and an electrifying, perhaps career-defining performance from lead actor Rami Malek – shoehorns truth and history and fudges timelines into a formulaic, painfully stereotypical portrayal of a band’s bumpy rise to triumph, and the turbulent life of its legendary front man while barely scratching at the surface of Queen’s revolutionary influence on the music industry, and Mercury’s enduring legacy as one of the most iconic voices of all time. It seeks to cover the rough edges with a glossy sheen, to be a Mercury biopic, a Queen documentary, and fictional drama all in one. As a result, the film never delves as deep as it should, especially into Mercury beyond the stage, into his personal life and personal struggles.

It’s a shame, really, that “based on true events” has been skewed by egregious insertions of “drama” that never happened in real life, often invented to make the film fit a standard “storyboard” format. You don’t need “dramatic effect” when the true story is already so compelling. You don’t need manufactured tension, fake squabbles, fictionalized personalities, and a standard “rising action, falling action, climax, resolution” plotline when you are relaying a story that is interesting enough to carry itself. Sure, the watered-down, sanitized portrayal with a near family-friendly PG-13 rating will probably garner more ticket sales, and get a few casuals more invested in the band’s music. But it makes the film, though perfectly serviceable entertainment-wise, disingenuous. It’s not the film that Mercury – or Queen – deserve. Though, again, Malek’s performance is extraordinary, and it was worth seeing the film for that alone. And it is entertaining, so I’m not trying to deter anyone from seeing it.

I’m not going to go into detail about the inaccuracies, because a ton of reviewers and articles have covered it much better than I could, so here’s ScreenRant’s comprehensive list. But beware of spoilers!

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ALL LIES 

This is far from the first instance of this in cinematic history. As referenced before, Pocahontas (and the sequel, which I prefer to pretend never happened) is a big offender, because it creates a love story where there wasn’t one, and sugarcoats historical events in a disillusioning manner. Braveheart, too. And The Patriot. Now, that doesn’t mean they are bad movies, because they aren’t. I actually really love The Patriot and have seen it several times. But they are bad historical movies. And, ironically, all of them feature Mel Gibson…but that’s another story.

This phenomenon of inaccuracy in films makes it all the more baffling when films like Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan receive widespread acclaim for their historical accuracy regarding the events of World War II… because the characters in both films didn’t exist. I suppose that gives them more freedom, when they aren’t profiling the histories and lives of actual people, but it also makes their success more compelling, and perhaps allows them to focus more on the finer details. Grave of the Fireflies is also a highly-praised film for dealing with the effects of WWII on the Japanese – if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, though you’ll need tissues. And then, on the flip side, you get Pearl Harbor and Red Tails, which inject needless drama into real stories that were interesting enough without it.

It is, no doubt, challenging to achieve a credible level of accuracy in historical dramas, period dramas, or biopics. Not all stories fit a cinematic formula, so adapting them does require some creative liberties in order to appeal to audiences and critics alike. But it is not impossible to do so while also being respectful of those who lived through actual events being portrayed, knew of or are related to real people whose stories are being shown onscreen, and without eschewing truth in favor of drama. Audiences don’t need to be shielded from unpleasant truths, they don’t need to be shown a cookie-cutter plot, “based on a true story” should not be an afterthought, and entertainment does not need to smother historical accuracy.

Anyone else have a “Klell” moment, like I did? If so, which historical film or biopic is your biggest offender for ignoring the truth or creating a revisionist history?

 

One Shot #3: Tron Legacy (2010)

I have previously mentioned my enduring love for Tron: Legacy, directed by visionary director Joseph Kosinskibut in case you are unaware, here’s a brief synopsis of my persistent adoration. At one point, I had a Tron wall in my room. I have 2 action figures on my shelf and a glow-in-the-dark Tron Funko Pop. I wrote one of the best academic papers of my life about this film – a 27 page essay entitled “Biodigital Jazz, Man.” I saw it three times in theaters, twice in 3D.

Why does this film resonate with me? To be honest, it’s not the narrative that appeals to me the most. It’s a perfectly serviceable film with great performances and a standard, yet engaging story – and a killer soundtrack. But the aspect I love the most is the visuals. Not only because they are stunning, but because they assist in telling the story and revealing character development and thematic elements MORE THAN ANY OTHER FILM I HAVE EVER SEEN. You can quote me on that.

And though I can pick many shots that come to mind when I think of this film, and I can, excuse my French – analyze THE SHIT out of this movie based on a wide variety of stills – this is the most telling shot for me:

trio

What’s the importance of this shot, you ask – besides the amazing color palette and costumes? It’s visually relaying one of the ideological messages of the film by placing the actors in triangular formation within a scene, almost as a representation of a ‘holy trinity.’ Though this is not the only representation of this in the film, this is the most overt, with Flynn – The Creator – at the center, in an almost godlike position. These images, combined with the fact that Flynn is referred to as “The Creator,” Sam (right) is called “Son of Flynn,” and Quorra (left) is referred to as “The miracle,” help to convey the religious undertones of the narrative in a visual manner. There are other religious and spiritual elements in this film, weaving seamlessly into themes of betrayal, creation, power, and purpose, and each of these three characters assist in the delivery of those messages, which makes placing them in this position all the more telling. It is also indicative of the shifting power structure within the narrative, but I don’t want to delve too deep with that because I’d hate to spill spoilers for a film that came out eight years ago.

And that’s all in one image, folks. This film absolutely nails the “show not tell” idea – a skill that the director carried over to Oblivion, a film I only watched because of him because I don’t like Tom Cruise. Seriously, if you haven’t watched this movie, I challenge you to do so – and see if you can pinpoint other important “trinities” visually represented in the film, because there are two more that I picked out.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Dir: Ol Parker
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Andy Garcia, Cher, Meryl Streep, etc.
Runtime: 1hr54min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Some small tidbits, but nothing major.

Ten years ago, Mamma Mia! hit theaters. I went to see it with a high school friend and my mom, and was blown away by how fun it was. Now, the theater we saw it in has been remodeled, and our lives have changed significantly over the last decade – but on Sunday, that same friend, my mother, and I all met up for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. And, yet again, I emerged from the theater humming an ABBA tune and quelling the urge to dance all the way to my car.

Mamma_Mia!_Here_We_Go_Again.png

Acting as both a sequel and a prequel to 2008’s Mamma Mia!, Here We Go Again is a rom/com musical that follows Sophie (Seyfried) as she attempts to embark on a new chapter in her life, which somewhat mirrors her mother Donna’s (James) journey to Greece back in 1979.

Following in the first film’s joyful, if occasionally silly footsteps, Mamma Mia! Here We Go again is a charming summer romp with plenty of heart and laughter. Amidst the jaunty song and dance numbers, it also offers a surprisingly meaningful message about love and family. Sure, it’s a sequel no one asked for – but let’s be real, here. This film has Cher, and ABBA music. What more could you want?

First, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning the music. Particular highlights for me include “Waterloo,” “Andante, Andante,” “Angeleyes,” “Fernando,” “My Love, My Life,” and, of course, the staples from the original film, “Mamma Mia!” “Dancing Queen,” and “Super Trouper.” I shall forever maintain that there are two types of people in this world – those who love ABBA, and liars. Each number in this film is performed with tangible enthusiasm, and the actors/singers/dancers seem like they’re having a blast and putting their all into it. “Dancing Queen” is a notable mention just for Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgård. And for those of you wondering… no, Brosnan doesn’t get a solo number this time around, per se. But he does sing a small, acapella reprise of “S.O.S,” and I’m pleased to say it is genuinely touching.

It’s impressive how well ABBA’s music naturally weaves into the situations of the characters… with the minor infraction of Cher and Garcia singing “Fernando” near the end. It’s a wee bit shoehorned in, though there are some clues leading up to it, so it isn’t entirely unexpected. But it’s forgivable because Cher. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the instrumental motifs in the film are throwbacks and tributes to the original film/musical and other ABBA songs, like “Slipping Through My Fingers.”

Told through both the lens of present day and flashbacks to ’79, each part of the film receives the appropriate amount of attention, and focus shifts seamlessly between the timelines. The transitions in this film are immaculate, which aids the film’s intention to “mirror” Sophie’s experiences and feelings with those of her mother, and keeps the plot at a respectable pace. Viewers get to see Donna’s initial meetings with Bill, Harry, and Sam, and how she ended up staying in Greece, giving a visual history to the premise of the first film, and also how Sophie is trying to honor her mother by making the grand opening of the Hotel Bella Donna a success while also juggling her relationship with Sky. The scenery is gorgeous, the costumes are perfect, and there’s a satisfying amount of laughs to complement what turns out to be an earnest and heartfelt message about the relationship between mother and daughter, and finding one’s way in the world when a storm threatens your path.

And, brief spoiler alert, Meryl has very little screen time in this. I was initially disappointed with the fate of her character – but when she does appear onscreen, it’s worth it. As in, I teared up. I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this and getting emotional again!

The cast must have had a ton of fun filming this – especially the returning faces. Everyone seems to be having a great time, no one phones it in, and the onscreen chemistry is like actual friends reuniting after a long time apart. The finale performance of “Super Trouper,” is the perfect example of this, and I couldn’t stop smiling through the whole thing. The new faces also do an excellent job of channeling their older counterparts – especially Hugh Skinner as young Harry, Jessica Keenan Wynn as young Tanya, and, of course, Lily James as young Donna. James is both sweet and sassy as Young Donna, and her stellar performance carries the ’79 timeline. Basically, everyone in this film is a delight, plain and simple – and fun pretty much oozes off the screen.

The plot may get a little silly at times, and the film timeline is seriously wack, but this isn’t a movie aiming to garner a shelf full of top-tier awards. For what it is, and what it’s trying to do, it’s a total and absolute jam, and well worth the price of admission. Here We Go Again might not have been a necessary sequel, but it’s also not a shameless cash grab – it’s a great time, with a great cast, and great music, the perfect recipe for an entertaining summer flick.

Overall rating: 8/10

One Shot #1: The Searchers

Movies are, on a base level, a collection of scenes woven together by a narrative. Like a sweater, comprised of many stitches. Or a sandwich, composed of many layers. And when you break it down even more, and strip more elements away, a film can be reduced solely to images – and some images can remain burned into the eye of the viewer forever.

Take this image, from the final scene of the acclaimed 1956 western The Searchers.

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As I’ve admitted before, I’m not a big fan of westerns, and I’m even less a fan of John Wayne movies – but The Searchers is one of the few exceptions. As in, it’s on my all-time “greats” list, thanks to being forced to watch it in film class. And a huge portion of my admiration for this film is rooted in this one image.

The film features more than one threshold/doorway shot, though the final one is the most poignant. By showing several scenes framed in a doorway or through some kind of entrance, the film is allowing the viewer an inside look to see something that might not normally be seen – something that is behind closed doors, or cut off from the world. It is also showing a separation of the “inside world” and the “outside world” and the distinctions between the two.

That makes Ethan’s final scene significant – he is framed in the doorway, but does not go in. He is a creature of the “outside world” and does not belong in the “inside,” which is why he is not shown entering the house after the conflict is over, and ultimately walks away. If The Searchers was a stereotypical western, he probably would have entered the house and they would have had a big ol’ family dinner, and Ethan’s position as a “savior” would be solidified. But Ethan is wild and unpredictable like the rambling western landscape, a restless wanderer, and by going inside, he would be chained down – and he does not belong in a place like that. The “open door” also illustrates the moral ambiguity of the film overall, as Ethan’s reluctance to settle, and his inability to join that “inside” world, is an example of his conflicted “hero” status.

This final shot is the spine of the film – at least for me. A beleaguered man walking away from door, rejecting a fresh start, left to reflect on what he has done. A “hero” who does not get a celebration, because perhaps his deeds are just as bad as the “villain’s.” And that’s how this single image is so powerful – I still reference it whenever I spy a good threshold shot in a movie.

Any other shots from different films come to mind? One that can define the entire film as a whole? Let me know!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Dir: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Bobby Cannavale, Walton Goggins, Randall Park, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, etc.
Runtime: 1hr58min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light, some hints here and there. One tidbit beneath the read-more.

I am a big fan of 2015’s Ant-Man, to the point where it’s in my current Pantheon of great Marvel films, so I’ve been eager about the follow-up ever since the post-credits teaser of the original. Like its predecessor, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a departure from the typical superhero formula and the high-stakes, dire nature of most Marvel films, and the result is a humorous palate-cleanser and a much-needed dose of levity with just enough heart and conflict to connect it back to recent installments in the MCU.

Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_posterAnd-Man and the Wasp follows our hero Scott Lang (Rudd) who seeks to repair his fractured relationship with Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and Hank Pym (Douglas) as they team up once again in order to save Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife Janet (Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm while also fending off a mysterious enemy named Ghost (John-Kamen) who wants their technology for herself.

Overall, this film is a wild ride from start to finish – a well-balanced comedic action film that is relatively self-contained while also tying into the MCU as a whole. Folks might be quick to write off this film as “disposable,” since it doesn’t feature any of the “big,” Avengers, but I’ll attest that it’d be a crime to miss out on this little adventure, especially if you find yourself needing a laugh or two after Infinity War.

The cast turns in great performances all around, from returning crew and newcomers alike. Rudd and Lilly, our titular heroes, play off one another even better than the first film, with Hope’s more straight-laced nature providing a superb contrast to Rudd’s humor and allowing for memorable banter between the two. Lilly’s first official outing as the Wasp is also totally badass as the first officially “titled” female hero in the MCU. The two of them truly carry the film as equals, but the remaining roster isn’t slouching. John-Kamen is intriguing as Ghost, though the character doesn’t quite reach Vulture or Killmonger or Thanos level of development. Douglas is delightfully grumpy and gruff as Pym, Pfeiffer charms in her role as the long-missed Janet, and Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, and Abby Ryder-Forston are wonderful as Scott’s family and loyal support squad. Walton Goggins also appears as the skeevy secondary villain, who is essentially a hammed up version of his role in Tomb Raider.

The appeal of Rudd as Ant-Man is not only his stellar comedic skills, but also his relatability – Scott Lang is the best example in the entire MCU of what would happen if an ordinary man was suddenly thrust into the role of a hero. He messes up, he has real-life issues to deal with, he has a daughter he loves and doesn’t want to disappoint, he’s trying to pick his post-convict career off the ground, he doesn’t know what he’s doing about 48% of the time, and he wants to help the people he cares about save the life of someone they love. Though he pitched in to help Cap in 2016’s Civil War, this film never reaches “save the world” level stakes, but the film still resonates, which is proof that the MCU needs characters like Ant-Man to ground it, and to allow audiences some breathing room after watching characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor grapple with intergalactic threats who seek to bring doom upon the world.

Reed masterfully maintains a swift pace (when was the last time a Marvel movie was under 2 hours?) throughout this film without dropping the ball on either humor and action – in fact, the elements of both genres are seamlessly intertwined thanks to the performances of the actors and the nature of the size-changing hijinks that occur throughout the film. No matter the context, a giant Hello Kitty pez dispenser taking out a bad guy on a motorcycle is hysterical. And even though it relies a lot on comedy, there’s plenty of emotion to be found, especially in the way the film portrays familial relationships, such as the father/daughter bonds between both Hank/Hope and Scott/Cassie (and perhaps another similar bond between two others, though I won’t spoil that). Though the action and fight scenes are great, I will say that a significant portion of them are featured in the trailers, so that was a little disappointing. Maybe they should have saved the giant salt-shaker for the film instead of revealing it beforehand, but regardless, the stunts are just as brilliant as the epic Thomas the Tank Engine scene from the first film.

Arguably, this film feels more “comic-book”-y than lots of the other Marvel titles, due to a combination of a fitting score, jokes and silliness aplenty, unbelievable science, insane stunts, and larger than life characters. Neither Ant-Man nor the Wasp are trying to save the world – nothing as big as that – but the conflicts they face are that much more easy to relate to because of it. Scott doesn’t want to disappoint those he loves, Hope wants to rescue her mom – and even the villain motivations are not as lofty as other MCU baddies. And this film totally delivers on the comedic front, especially thanks to Rudd, Peña’s return as Scott’s best pal and quick-tongued, loose-lipped business partner Luis, and Park’s performance as FBI agent Jimmy Woo, who desperately wants to catch Scott violating the terms of his house-arrest.

Ant-Man might not be the most thrilling hero to grace the silver screen, and, in the wake of April’s Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp seems downright unimportant in the grand scheme of the MCU. However, much like the MCU needs characters like Ant-Man, the MCU needs films like Ant-Man and the Wasp to provide audiences a break from such drastic peril and potentially world-ending battles. Sure, this film might be relatively small in scale, comparatively speaking… but that’s exactly why it packs such a big punch.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

Continue reading “Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)”

The Weight of the Name

In the world of cinema, folks see a certain name tacked onto a film poster, or a particular face in a trailer, and, regardless of anything else, think, “Oh, so-and-so is in this!” and immediately decide to see it. I’ve got a few of those myself – actors and actresses whose body of work is so impressive to me and I trust their acting ability enough to see a film solely because they are attached to it. That’s not to say that I see every single movie they are in, but usually, certain names are enough to lure me in to the theater above all else, and they are –

1.) Christian Bale
This is coming from someone who saw Terminator: Salvation in theaters simply because Bale was in it. After his turn as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, Christian Bale quickly became my favorite actor, and a name that will instantly grab my attention even if the content of a film doesn’t immediately appeal to me. It doesn’t hurt that he’s no slouch at his craft, either, and seems to put the same amount of effort into every role, no matter how small – I mainly saw Hostiles earlier this year because he was in it, since I’m not big on Westerns, and was blown away by his performance and the film overall.

2.) Jessica Chastain
After watching her mesmerizing and powerful performance in Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain became a trusted name in my book. She has the ability to carry a film on her shoulders and disappear completely into a role, which makes her acting all the more appealing. Her recent appearances in The Zookeeper’s Wife and Molly’s Game are proof of that.

3.) Dev Patel
Back in 2010, Dev Patel was the sole reason I went to see The Last Airbender, especially after the (well-deserved) audience backlash. Sadly, he couldn’t save that film, but ever since his brilliant breakthrough performance in Slumdog Millionaire, I’m easily lured in by a film bearing his name. I mainly went to see Lion last year because he was in it, and it’s a good thing, too – it was one of my favorites from the Oscar race that year.

4.) Emily Blunt
From the very moment I saw her in The Devil Wears Prada, I was a fan of Blunt’s work – and I’ve never been disappointed as a fan by any role she’s done. She’s another actress who can easily make a role her own and seems to put in significant effort to do so, whether the role is supporting or main. I can say, with almost 100% certainty, that Blunt is the driving force behind me being willing to see the upcoming Mary Poppins movie, because I’m not even a fan of the first one. And yes, I know that’s blasphemous.

5.) Domhnall Gleeson
If I see his face in a trailer, I immediately and gleefully say – either to myself or to whoever I’m with – “Oh, Domhnall Gleeson!” and typically resolve to see the film. It doesn’t hurt that he’s my celebrity crush, too, but back in 2015/2016, there was a string of four movies I went to see that he was in – Star Wars: TFA twice, Brooklyn, and The Revenant – and I was impressed by each performance, and have been impressed by all of his performances since. I am super stoked whenever I see his name attached to a project because I know he’ll give a nuanced and enthralling performance. I even went to see Peter Rabbit, folks – and I’m 26 years old.

6.) Meryl Streep
Um, hello? SHE’S MERYL STREEP. Enough said.

7.) Tom Hanks
Um, hello? HE’S TOM HANKS. Enough said.

8.) Saorise Ronan
From Atonement to Lady Bird, Saorise Ronan always delivers a memorable performance. I mean, look at all the award nominations she’s had, and at so young an age – that speaks for itself. I even went to see The Host solely because she was in it.

9.) Chris Pine
Of all the famous Chrises, Evans is actually my favorite – but Pine is more likely to get my butt in a reclining theater seat. He’s got stellar range, from Steve Trevor, to Captain Kirk, to Cinderella’s Prince, to Nicholas Devereaux, he’s never let me down! My favorite all time Chris Pine scene is when he has to take a comically large bicycle to chase down Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries 2. No, I’m not kidding.

10.) Octavia Spencer
Ever since I saw her prolific performance in The Help, Spencer’s name has been enough to intrigue me when I hear she’s attached to a project. That “Eat. My. Shit.” line shall be forever emblazoned in my memory, and I’m happy with that. And she’s hilarious – if anything, her performances never disappoint me, even if other parts of a film do.

11.) Christoph Waltz
He is the main, if not only, reason I went to see Spectre, the latest James Bond film – quite a feat, considering I don’t like James Bond films. And I didn’t like his performance in that film, but I’ll still see any film that he’s attached to, even if the subject matter doesn’t necessarily appeal to me. Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained were what drew me in, and if I end up seeing Alita: Battle Angel, it will ONLY be because of him, because that trailer was a steaming pile of NOPE.

12.) Amy Adams
She was equally as convincing and memorable as Giselle in Enchanted and as Louise in arrival, though they were drastically different roles. She is a true chameleon, from serious to comical roles, and makes it seem so effortless. I’ve never, not once, been disappointed by her, and can’t wait for her upcoming limited series on HBO.

 

Honorable Mentions: Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Helen Mirren, Peter Dinklage, Frances McDormand, Henry Cavill, Cate Blanchett, Timothee Chalamet, Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Sally Field, Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens, Armie Hammer, Jason Momoa, Lily James, Anne Hathaway, Harvey Keitel, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Zhang Ziyi, Wes Studi, Ken Watanabe, Marian Cotillard, Tom Hardy.

The Spark

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I generally attribute my love and appreciation for film to my decision to minor in film during my college years, since I got to experience a broad spectrum of different genres and styles from a multitude of different directors and eras.

Prior to that, I didn’t go to the movies all that much – at least, not as often as I would have liked. Now, I try to go once a week or every couple of weeks, and sometimes I go three times in one week, it all depends on what’s showing at the two theaters in my tiny backwoods town. I also get my friends saying things like, “Please tell me you didn’t go to see Pete’s Dragon by yourself,” like it’s a bad thing to take in a 10AM Saturday show solo to enjoy a nice Disney flick with some gummy bears.

But there is one film that I consider to be my “aha!” moment – the one that opened my eyes to how beautiful, compelling, and powerful cinema can be. And that film is Chris Nolan’s 2008 genre-breaking superhero flick, The Dark Knight.

MV5BMTMxNTMwODM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODAyMTk2Mw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_This was before the days of assigned (and reclining) movie theater seating, so my parents and my best friend and I showed up an hour early in order to ensure we got the best seats in the house. As a massive Batman fan, I was psyched to see the Caped Crusader take on the newest iteration of his arch-nemesis, the menacing Joker. As the film unfurled onscreen, I was totally blown away. The music, Heath Ledger’s unforgettable performance, and the more grounded version of Gotham and Batman that Nolan crafted quickly became one of my all-time favorites, and I left the theater already yearning to see it again… which I did. Twice more, including a one hour trip to see it in IMAX with my dad. To this day, I have a huge movie poster of the Joker hanging over my bed; the first film poster I ever bought for myself. Now, many others have joined the ranks. I will still see any film that Christian Bale is in, regardless of ratings, will always spy a bit of Commissioner Gordon in any Gary Oldman performance, and will forever contend that The Dark Knight was robbed of a Best Picture nom at the Oscars.

As such, I consider The Dark Knight to be “the spark” that ignited my adoration of the cinema, the first film that made me think about how movies work and how all the parts come together to make one solid, functional piece of art capable of wowing and moving audiences. It opened the door to a whole new world, for me – and it didn’t even require a death-defying magic carpet ride to get there. Sure, I loved other movies before that, but The Dark Knight is special for me, and it always will be. Now, I’m one of those obnoxious people who love to talk about mise-en-scene and cinema verite and the male gaze and all that jazz, and I have a comic book movie to thank for that.

If any one else reading this has had a similar experience, what was your “spark?”

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