Best Picture Countdown #4: Lady Bird

“The only thing exciting about 2002 is that it’s a palindrome.”Saorise Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, Lady Bird (2017)

Dir: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saorise Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, etc.
Runtime: 1hr33min
Rating: R

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age dramedy about a California teen in her senior year of high school in early post-9/11 America. As she endures the emotional turmoils and personal explorations that come with growing up and preparing to leave the nest, Lady Bird (Ronan) also must handle a rollercoaster relationship with her mother (Metcalf).

Lady_Bird_posterOverall, this film is a delightful look into the life of a teenage girl who is unsure of who she is at a pivotal time in her life, and desperately wants to find her place in the world – she wants to leave her hometown in order to do so, though other forces might compel her to stay. There are countless notable coming-of-age films already out there and more coming every year, but Lady Bird still feels fresh and original. It’s not afraid to let the heroine fail on occasion, make mistakes, or look foolish, and doesn’t sugarcoat painful realizations, but it’s still so easy to root for Lady Bird as she deals with the trials of falling in love, making new friends/potentially losing old ones, and waiting eagerly by the mailbox for college acceptance letters. Bu the film’s high point is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, Marian – it will make you want to call your mom and apologize for all the bullshit you put her through in your angsty teen years, and she might have some things to atone for, too. I mean, I saw it with my mom (who has, on more than one occasion, told me to stop dragging my feet) so I got to skip a step afterward… I just had to turn to my left and say, “sorry for not sleeping through my alarm and forcing you to drive me to school so often,” when the credits rolled.

Saorise Ronan masterfully delivers a moody, angst-filled, yet charming and hopeful performance as the titular character. I was once a teen girl myself and recognized a lot of my own “strife” in Lady Bird’s struggles and triumphs, and though her antics might be seen as silly at times or her behavior as irrational, Ronan’s genuine portrayal of a girl seeking her purpose and place in the world is undeniably grounded in reality. I’d love to see her take home the Oscar for Best Actress – been rooting for her since the Atonement days – but I’m not sure she can edge out one actress in particular. Metcalf also turns in a marvelous performance as Marian, Lady Bird’s mother, and their interactions with one another are so up-and-down, yet it’s clear how much they care for one another, even as they trade hurtful insults or are mired in tense silences. I found myself agreeing with her in some moments, yet decrying her passive aggressive comments in others – her nuanced performance is perfect for this role, and a wonderful complement to Ronan’s. In the continuous take where she’s driving off after taking her daughter to the airport, her face reveals a collage of raw, genuine emotion, and the transformation is simply spectacular. I’d love to hear her name read out on Sunday night for Supporting Actress.

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is visually stunning, poignant, full of heart, and well-balanced in its focus, but unless the del Toro train stops rolling, it’s doubtful she’ll take home the gold. Her screenplay is sharp, witty, laden with realistic conversations (Kyle’s dialogue is so convincing it’s almost painful to hear, because anyone who grew up in that era definitely knew a Kyle or two) but in such a close race, it’s difficult to predict who will emerge victorious on March 4th. I just know that no matter the result, I won’t be disappointed, and Gerwig is a personal favorite.

Lady Bird is an undeniable success and highly deserving of the accolades it has already received and the nominations still pending, but even though its wonderful, I’m not predicting a Best Picture victory on Sunday night. Regardless, this film should be celebrated and I am excited to see more storytelling and directing from Gerwig in the future.

Oscar Nominations
Best Director (Gerwig)
Best Original Screenplay (Gerwig)
Best Actress (Ronan)
Best Supporting Actress (Metcalf)
Best Film


Best Picture Countdown #7: Get Out

“I mean, I told you not to go in that house…”Lil Rel Howery as Rod Williams, Get Out (2017)

Dir: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener
Runtime: 1hr43min
Rating: R

Get Out follows black photographer Chris Washington (Kaluuya) as he goes on a weekend trip to meet the family of his white girlfriend, Rose (Williams). But as he spends time with her family and their affluent, somewhat bizarre friends, Chris discovers that this visit might involve more than he bargained for.

Teaser_poster_for_2017_film_Get_OutJordan Peele impresses in his directorial debut – some shots and sequences in this film are downright Kubrickian in atmosphere and scope, especially the basement scenes. I felt tense just watching the interactions of the characters and the various uncomfortable and downright creepy situations. The screenplay is also unique and features an original plot with fresh twists; this doesn’t feel like a story that’s been told a thousand times, a pitfall that plagues so many films in the same genre. It features realistic horrors with a surreal twist, amplifying genuine situations through a horror-based lens, thus keeping the film grounded and making it feel real. Obviously, the film also contains a relevant and timely social commentary that feels both refreshing and necessary, especially for a film of this genre. It also is the type of film that keeps the viewer guessing; I kept trying to figure out how all the visual hints (deer antlers, anyone?) and the little cues in the dialogue were going to lead up to some kind of big reveal, and was not disappointed in the least as the plot fell into place.

The acting is great all around, but especially Kaluuya as Chris. The hypnotism scenes in particular, where he displays genuine terror and helplessness, make the stakes feel brutally intense. Overall, Kaluuya portrays the everyday sort of protagonist that is easy to root for and relate to, as he is refreshingly capable and reasonable – not the type of horror film character who makes stupid decisions and more or less deserves to be chainsawed in the face or whatever. I definitely wanted him to GET OUT, one might say – but, though his stellar performance earned an Oscar nod, I don’t think he’ll be able to edge out the competition. Allison Williams also turns in an excellent performance, and Lil Rel Howery, playing the most likable TSA agent of all time, supplies enough laughs to weave levity into the plot.

Admittedly, I’m not a horror person, so I likely wouldn’t have seen this film if it hadn’t been nominated for Best Picture. Keep your Jasons and your Michael Myerses and your Freddies away from me. But Get Out is horror done right, and done well – though if you seek out horror movies for outlandish scenarios, absurd monsters, and escapism, this isn’t the film for you. I did find myself wishing this film were a bit longer, with more layers to the characters and the story, and deeper exploration into the history of the Armitage family – but simultaneously, I think the lighter exposition is a strength, as it would be all too easy for the film to go overboard with the explanations and make the plot drag. The screenplay is a triumph; Get Out feels like an elongated Twilight Zone episode, with enough subtly terrifying moments and jarring twists that force the viewer to think through and analyze each instance of discomfort and fear.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Peele take home the gold for his screenplay or his directing, but the competition is going to be fierce, and the same goes for all the other awards this film is up for. But even if it doesn’t emerge victorious on March 4th, Get Out was a well-deserved success for all involved, and I look forward to seeing future projects from Kaluuya and Peele.

Oscar Nominations
Best Director (Peele)
Best Original Screenplay (Peele)
Best Actor (Kaluuya)
Best Picture 

Best Picture Countdown #9: The Post

If we don’t hold them accountable, who will?” – Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, The Post (2017)

Based on the true story of the controversial revelation and handling of the confidential Pentagon Papers, which detail the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, Steven Spielberg’s 2017 film The Post follows Washington Post heiress Katharine Graham as she grapples with the decision of whether or not to put her paper in the line of fire for the sake of journalistic integrity and truth, or preserve her friendships and relationships with those entwined with the Nixon administration.

On a surface level, political thriller The Post checks all the boxes. You’ve got Tom Hanks. You’ve got Meryl Streep. You’ve got Steven Spielberg. You’ve got John Williams. You’ve got early 70’s fashion. You’ve got a relevant message that rings true in today’s controversy-mired and volatile political system. And yet, even with such a stacked team of people working behind it, The Post is simply fine. It’s a thriller, but not an edge-of-your seat, suspense-laden thriller.

The_Post_(film).pngBut that’s not to say it is undeserving of the nominations and awards it has garnered thus far, or that because it checks off all those boxes, it automatically gets award nods. I found myself invested by the plot of this film, especially knowing that it is rooted in true events of American history. There was a lot about the history of this era that I was unaware of, as American History classes in high schools today tend to shy away from events that might skew perceptions of our government. Each member of the cast delivers capable, if not career best performances; Streep, Hanks, and Bob Odenkirk in particular nail their roles. For her role as Katharine Graham, Streep is also nominated for Best Actress, and though she certainly deserves recognition – her emotional turmoil and struggle to assert her leadership is convincing and, at times, heartbreaking – I think a couple of other names in the Best Actress category turned in stronger performances this year.

Overall, The Post is a film worth watching and is one of the most socially and politically poignant films to come along in recent years, but in the race for Best Picture, it falls a little shy of the competition. Of all the nominees, I’d rank The Post the least likely to take home the gold on March 4th, but it’s still a solid entry and one of the top films of 2017.

Oscar Nominations:
Best Picture
Best Actress (Streep)

One and Done

In my experience as an avid movie watcher, I’ve seen several films that lack the rewatch-ability factor, which means (at least personally) they aren’t films that seem meant to be watched more than once. Of course, this varies by person, but here’s a list of films that I’ve only seen once and have 0% desire to see again, and my reasons why.

1.) Saving Private Ryan (1998)
This is a phenomenal film about the experience of WWII and a band of determined American soldiers who are attempting to find Private Ryan, the last remaining of four brothers, and send him home. This film is brilliant and was totally robbed of the Best Picture Oscar, but it isn’t an easy watch – the opening half-hour is especially gut-churning and difficult to watch for its graphic depiction of the events at Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion. I was too young to see this film in theaters and can’t imagine how hard it must have been for people to witness on the big screen, especially for veterans who were there during the actual events. The film is widely lauded as being accurate in its portrayal of violence and warfare, and though it is a memorable and marvelous work of film-making, and well-deserving of its enduring reputation, one viewing was enough for me.

2.) A Clockwork Orange (1971)
I was subjected to Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel in a film class. It is a dark exploration into the idea of “ultra-violence” with an utterly baffling sociopathic protagonist who is involved in a variety of horrendous crimes, and is later subjected to horrendous punishments. But just because a number of bad things are depicted by this film does not mean it is a bad film. For the record, this film – as a work of art – is great. The acting is astounding, the depiction of society is thought-provoking, the imagery is stunning, and there are countless shocking and horrid moments that linger in the mind long after the film is done. It deserves the notoriety it garnered and the controversy it kicked up and remains a powerful film so many years later. I am glad to have seen it. But it is not enjoyable. And a lot of horrible things happen in it that I never want to see again. But man, it is a spectacle. If you are easily upset by violence, DO NOT WATCH.

3.) Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Yeah… there’s a Kubrickian theme to this list. To be fair, he is one of my favorite directors, and there are many Kubrick films that I have seen/would see again, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Dr. Strangelove.  But Eyes Wide Shut, an erotic drama/thriller that features a sex cult, orgies, and young women being sold into prostitution was just too… bizarre, for me. Which is saying a lot, because I like weird films. It’s got great performances, and I have since enjoyed mocking the “I’M A DOCTOR!” line from Tom Cruise in my everyday life, but by the end of this film I was just… confused. I didn’t get what the film was trying to do, and, as a result, didn’t much like it or appreciate it, even though some critics lauded it as Kubrick’s best (to which I ask, have you ever seen 2001?). It’s one of Kubrick’s works that didn’t land for me, and I didn’t find that much to enjoy about it or glean from it. It didn’t help that I had to watch it in a class of my college peers, which was pretty uncomfortable (I’m fairly sure it was the uncut version, as well), and truth be told, though it has its merits, I am 100% happy to never watch this movie ever again, purely for the fact that I didn’t like it.

4.) Borat (2006)
I was actually forced to watch this film as a final for my Documentary film class in college, and I hated every single second of it. I do like Sacha Baron Cohen as an actor, but some of his roles are simply not my brand of humor. I’m sure some folks could watch Borat’s exploits in his green mankini and his generally offensive, occasionally racist, and always inappropriate humor over and over again and always find it funny, but I am not one of those folks, so Borat was definitely a one and done for me.

5.) The Revenant (2015)
I loved this movie when I saw it in theaters, and consider this unconventional western about survival and vengeance in an unexplored frontier one of the most impressive films in recent memory. The cinematography is stunning, the cast is amazing (Tom Hardy is so immersed he’s unrecognizable, and Leo got his long-deserved Oscar for his role) and the plot is engrossing, but it is a slog. The film feels as exhausting and grueling to the viewer as Hugh Glass’s journey through the wilderness is portrayed, from the bear attack to the self-soldering to the final showdown in the snow. That’s not a bad thing – if anything, it’s only more indicative of brilliant film-making – but it is not a film I have any desire to see again, because, as the title implies, the film remains with the viewer long after the credits have rolled, and I don’t need to see it again to remember how much of an impact it had on me. I can still recall the opening shot – that long, continuous take – fairly vividly, proof of just how powerful the film is and how it sticks in your memory.

6.) Grave of the Fireflies (1998)
UGH, the tears. I watched this film on a portable DVD player in the car on a 6 hour road trip, and I started ugly-crying in an Arby’s drive-thru when I got to the end. Easily one of the most powerful war-themed movies I’ve ever seen, and one of Studio Ghibli’s finest, Grave of the Fireflies shows the impact of WWII on a pair of young Japanese children, Seita and Setsuko. This movie is not for the faint of heart; the animation is beautiful, the story is equal parts moving and haunting, it wrenches the heartstrings in uncomfortable, yet important ways, and it shows a perspective of war that is far different from films that focus on valor and victory and rising against the odds to defeat the “bad guy.”  It’s difficult to imagine, after seeing both, that another film on this list (Saving Private Ryan) and this film technically take place during the same war. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in the various perspectives on war and WWII in particular, but it’s definitely not one that I intend to watch over and over again.

7.) Un Chien Andalou (Andalusian Dog) (1929)
Look, an obscure title! I am a snob!
Anyway, I probably would watch this surrealist film again, but not in its entirety. As in, I never, ever want to see the eyeball cutting scene ever again. Ever. It is one of the worst things I have ever seen onscreen. The rest of it is worth examining again, though, because it’s really f*cking weird and it provokes a lot of thought. There’s a ton of artistic imagery and unique ideas presented in this film that are very cool and wonderfully bizarre, like a trip into some twisted version of the Twilight Zone. But if I ever do see it again, I am skipping the eyeball scene. Just trust me on this – if you are squeamish, DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM.

8.) Le Sang des bêtes (Blood of the Beasts) (1949)
Look! Another obscure film!
This film, which is an artistic exploration into the contrast between idyllic Parisian life and what happens within the walls of slaughterhouses is the main impetus behind my decision to convert to pescatarianism in 2013. I am no longer a pescatarian for health reasons, but the image of a cow being killed is forever imprinted in my brain thanks to this film. It’s a unique, 20-minute long juxtaposition of surrealist and realist imagery and seeing it left a profound impact on me. I’m glad I saw it, but never, ever want to see it again.



Film Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Dir. Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr 5min
Spoiler level: Minor

The moment I saw a screenshot of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill some months ago, I knew I was going to see this movie. I had to travel an hour away to do it (drawbacks of small-town living) but Oldman’s Golden Globe win last Sunday solidified that his turn in Darkest Hour was a performance I didn’t want to miss on the big screen. Also, The Shape of Water isn’t playing within 50 miles of me, so…

dhFollowing Winston Churchill (Oldman) as he takes the mantle of Prime Minister in May 1940 with World War II brewing ominously on the mainland, Darkest Hour offers insight (both in public and behind closed doors) into Churchill’s first tenuous/strenuous days in office as he faces opposition and doubt from his fellow party members, the crown, and himself.

First things first; the cast is superb. Kristin Scott Thomas is great as Clementine Churchill, as she conveys the inner and outer struggle of a wife and her efforts to support her husband as he endures such intense scrutiny. Ben Mendelsohn (who I didn’t even recognize, a total fail on my part) does an excellent job expressing the turmoil of King George VI, who grapples with his opinion of Churchill and what is best for the nation as a whole as it faces the possibility of invasion. Lily James turns in a nuanced performance as Churchill’s personal secretary, Elizabeth Layton, and Stannis Baratheon Stephen Dillane’s determined and frustrated Halifax stands toe to toe with Oldman’s Churchill as he argues for appeasement over war. But obviously, the film is carried by Oldman, who delivers Churchill’s famous speeches with passion and fire, but also shows vulnerability as he is assailed by doubt and criticism from all sides, not to mention the looming war with the Axis Powers on the horizon. He plays off of the other key characters with aplomb, as the chemistry Oldman shares with Scott Thomas, while only shown in a few scenes, is an inspiring look into the strengths and strains of an enduring marriage, while Oldman’s scenes with Mendelsohn evolve over the course of the film as their interactions go from tension-riddled and uncertain to tempered hostility to grudging respect and beyond. Hearing the “We shall fight them on the beaches,” speech coming from Oldman is electrifying, as his words build in intensity and fervor and serve as a contrast to those poignant flickers of uncertainty and wavering confidence he suffers while debating whether or not to enter peace negotiations with the monster threatening to invade and conquer.

One of the film’s main strengths is that it isn’t a wide-spanning look at Churchill’s life and career, sprawling over the course of several years; it’s a snapshot centered on Churchill’s earliest days in office, which encompasses only a few weeks and culminates in the evacuation at Dunkirk. This lends the film a greater sense of focus and a deeper look into Churchill’s mindset and emotional state, and permits a greater exploration into the opinions of those around him, particularly Halifax and Chamberlain. It doesn’t seek to show Churchill’s entire legacy in two hours, and the result is a more intimate film with a greater focus on the gravity of his decisions and their possible consequences, rather than a blustering epic about his greatness with no time to breathe in-between scenes. The pacing is a bit dodgy at times, but the film also strives to show the criticism that Churchill faced during his tenure and references some of his more controversial actions, including the Gallipoli Campaign, which provides a somewhat more “balanced” portrayal of the historical icon, rather than a 2-hour lovefest.

Darkest Hour also shines on a technical level, as the cinematography, lighting, sound (including Dario Marianelli’s score) and direction are stellar, and all components function together to make a visually (and audibly) beautiful film. Certain shots and sequences are framed and shot in such a evocative, visceral way, it gives even more weight to whatever is happening onscreen at the time. Lots of great “hallway” shots and tracking shots, and one particular shot of Churchill in an elevator shows the perfect image of a man who feels utterly “alone” not only physically, but in his convictions. Plus, I’d be shocked if Tsuji and team don’t win the Oscar for Makeup and Hairstyling (Sorry, Beauty & The Beast), as Gary Oldman’s galvanizing performance is enhanced by the amazing physical transformation he undergoes to become one of the most well-known and revered figures in British history.

One of Darkest Hour‘s taglines is also one of Churchill’s most famous phrases, “Never surrender.” And though those famous words have been heard countless times, and WWII has been depicted repeatedly on screens of all sizes, Darkest Hour is a semi-unconventional “war” film that brings something fresh and new to the table in offering a closer look into Winston Churchill’s life and legacy, his personal and professional relationships, and his unwillingness to give in, even when facing such grave odds and innumerable doubts.

P.S. I might suggest this film and Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk as a double feature, though viewing both films back-to-back could be pretty draining… though you could start off with Tom Hooper’s 2010 Oscar-winner The King’s Speech, for a bit of levity.


Film Review: Justice League (2017)

Dir. Zack Snyder / Joss Whedon (uncredited)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons, and Ciaran Hinds.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr
Spoiler level: MAJOR.


This review will be a bit more rant-y and personal opinion based, so the thoughts expressed might contain some bias.

MV5BYWVhZjZkYTItOGIwYS00NmRkLWJlYjctMWM0ZjFmMDU4ZjEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Coming on the heels of 2016’s Batman V Superman and Superman’s demise, Justice League follows Batman (Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gadot) as they attempt to recruit new heroes and “unite the league” against the threat of Steppenwolf and his parademons. Though they attempt to convince Aquaman (Momoa), The Flash (Miller), and Cyborg (Fisher) to go all in and save the world, simply coming together might not be enough to prevent the doom of the planet.

As a big JL and general DC fan, I’ll start with what I liked, then go into a bit more detail. I will say, though, that I did enjoy the film, and I think it is a better film than the RT score would indicate. No matter what the reviews say, it is worth seeing, especially because the divisive reception makes it all the more important for people/fans to forge their own opinions about it before taking someone else’s interpretation as law.

*Ezra Miller’s version of Barry Allen / The Flash. He injected some much-needed comedy and I enjoyed his running scenes.
*The new cast-members are all great, as are the returning cast.
*The humor in general was a VAST improvement over previous films. Aquaman sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso was especially hilarious.
* Seeing the team together, onscreen, and with such an amazing cast, is a big thrill, and they have a great team vibe.
*Hearkening back to the “Lois is the key!” Flash scene from BVS. I’m pretty sure that’s what was implied, anyway.
* Green Lantern Corps Easter Egg!
*Both post-credits scenes. I am sooooo ready for Deathstroke.

I think it is important for me to admit that Zack Snyder is one of my favorite directors due to his incredible vision, his great passion for his projects, and the fact that he always seems to want to do justice to the material he is adapting while also inserting his own ideas. His visual style is absolutely stunning, he knows how to frame a shot, and I always enjoy the color choices for his films. Though he does over-rely on slo-mo, his style is incredibly distinct, so it’s also clear (to me, at least) that both Whedon and Snyder had a hand in the final result of this film, and the contrast in style led to a disjointed tone throughout. The scenes between the two directorial styles weren’t seamless, and if two folks are going to be behind the camera, it shouldn’t feel like there are differing visions grappling for screen time. That said, I completely understand and support Snyder’s decision to leave the project, and I have nothing but respect for him for doing so, but it does make me wonder what a total Snyder film would have looked like. I think, watching the finished project, that it’s pretty obvious that there were issues during post-production and after the re-shoots. The CGI is just one example –  I’m usually pretty forgiving, but it’s jarring in some scenes.

Fortunately, Whedon inserted some much-needed humor into the film, which helped lift the grim tone of its predecessors and present more lighthearted, enjoyable moments into what has been a fairly bleak series thus far. Humor, and coherency, are the two things the DCEU films seem to be lacking the most (with the exception of WW) and while JL picks up some laughs, the plot is still thin. Also, the dialogue in general comes off as so clunky to me a lot of the time; I had the same issue with BVS. A lot of “comic-booky” dialogue does not sound good when voiced aloud, even though it is passable in speech bubbles on a page. Some of the one-liners in this film are a total “cheese-fest” and made me think, “Oh…. no.”

I’ll also admit, as blasphemous as it is, that I am one of the folks who prefers Snyder/Cavill’s portrayal of Superman. I like the dark tone, the disconnect/conflict with humanity, and the fact that he doesn’t always pull punches. I enjoyed Man of Steel quite a lot (except the final fight with Zod was WAY too long) though I wish he’d had more screen time in BVS. But in JL, the only Superman scene that stood out to me was after his reawakening, when he forgot who he was and attacked the JL members. That was excellent. But the CGI mouth was atrocious, and it was present in nearly all of his scenes, which means that most, if not all, of his spoken scenes were from re-shoots. Most of his dialogue (especially in the field with Lois) was cringey and uninspired, and very different from his previous appearances. I did like him coming in to save the day at the end, as predicable as it was, and enjoyed his new rapport with The Flash, but could have done without the “I’m a big fan of justice” bit. It’s like Superman came back to life with a sudden 180-turn in sense of humor and demeanor, and although he might be more like how Superman is “supposed to be,” he doesn’t feel like the version from this universe, and the change is too abrupt. I’m okay with the changes in general, and I look forward to future Superman appearances to see where his character goes, but I think it comes off as a total upheaval instead of a gradual shift. Then again, he probably should have had another solo film before all of this, to allow his personality to develop more, and shoving his resurrection into a 2 hour movie made it feel rushed and lacking in emotional depth.

This is also one of few Snyder films that I think would have benefited majorly from about 20 extra minutes, at least. Back when BVS came out and viewers got their first glimpse of Wonder Woman, her brief appearance did an excellent job of setting up and building interest in her solo film, which went on to be both a critical and commercial success. Unfortunately, JL introduces three new characters, and that feeling of “gosh, I can’t wait to see more of *character*!” is also colored with a feeling of “I wish we’d seen more of ‘so-and-so’ before this.” While I’m excited for Aquaman next year, and am doubly excited for a Flash solo outing after Miller’s stellar portrayal, I think Cyborg’s development suffered from being crammed into a movie with 2 other newbies. Ray Fisher was great as Victor, but trying to shove three new characters with elaborate backstories into a 2 hour film does not work and did Cyborg no favors. Aquaman also suffered a bit – the Atlantis reveal is kind of underwhelming, and Aquaman has few opportunities to really show off his water-based skills. Ultimately, it leaves more unanswered questions and rushed exposition instead of creating intrigue, which is a shame because although the glimpses we got of these new additions were good, they were not fulfilling. I almost wish we’d gotten at least a couple more of the solo movies out before this, so the exposition and setup could have been trimmed down for this film, as audiences would already be more familiar with these characters. The only character who really didn’t need a solo film prior to JL is Batman, and I think Affleck has performed the role extremely well thus far. Apparently the strict time restriction is due to studio interference, and this time around, I genuinely believe it was a misstep. However, a 2-hour runtime would have likely worked had we been introduced to all (or most) of the major players before this film. Also, some big names (J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Jeremy Irons as Alfred) are given virtually NOTHING to do but be around for a couple of scenes, and it’s a damn shame. In trying to do too much on restricted time, the film ended up doing too little.

Though I’ve seen a lot of criticism levied at the villain, I didn’t mind Steppenwolf that much. Critics and reviews made him out to be the worst CBM villain of all time, and he certainly wasn’t great, but I’d rank him above a few of Marvel’s more forgettable villains. Justin Hammer, anyone? Malekith? Ultron? CGI dodginess aside, Steppenwolf, his massive hammer/axe, and his dramatic monologues were par for the course, and no worse than the underdeveloped baddies from other films. However, I do love Ciaran Hinds, so maybe that’s my bias speaking.

In additional terms of directing, I’m not sure who we have to thank for the upskirt shots of Wonder Woman (I have my theories), but they were about 10000% unnecessary, considering her outfit is plenty short already. An absolute disservice to the character and her solo film. On the other hand, I don’t think the Amazon midriff outfits were nearly as bad as social media made them out to be, though the way they were shot was pretty pervy. Several had armor similar to their attire in WW, though the more revealing versions are definitely deserving of some side-eye. You could play devil’s advocate and say that Momoa as Aquaman fought Steppenwolf shirtless, which is equally as impractical. I, for one, was certainly looking forward to shirtless Momoa, and was not disappointed.

Unfortunately, the first phase of the rushed DCEU has tried too hard to keep up with Marvel instead of establishing itself as it’s own universe and has fallen short of the finish line. Though I enjoyed several moments of Justice League, the disappointing aspects ultimately left this viewer with a longing for “what could have been,” though a flicker of optimism remains for the future of the franchise. If you want these films to succeed, go and give JL a shot in theaters – it has a lot of box office ground to make up. I do have faith that the DCEU can turn it around, and I’m still “all in” if it means we get to see these compelling heroes onscreen for future movies. I just hope that the ensuing installments can do these characters and their evolving personalities the justice they deserve with more well-developed plots and compelling narratives.


Overall Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Dir. Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Karl Urban, and Idris Elba
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr10m
Spoiler level: Light, some mention of plot points but no end spoilers.

Of all the MCU major Avenger film trilogies, I have generally considered the Thor films to be the weakest, so I went into the third installment, Thor: Ragnarok, with tempered expectations. Two hours later, I came out of the theater with sore cheeks from laughing so hard and my expectations thoroughly blown away, as if by the sheer force of Hela’s wrath, Hulk’s incredible smash, or Thor’s lightning prowess.

MV5BMjMyNDkzMzI1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODcxODg5MjI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_.jpgThor: Ragnarok follows the titular hero (Hemsworth) as he strives to free Asgard from the chaotic rule of his previously exiled elder sister, Hela, Goddess of Death (Blanchett). In an effort to prevent Ragnarok, Thor must endure capture by an outcast Valkyrie (Thompson), forced combat with the Hulk (Ruffalo), continuing sibling strife with adopted brother Loki (Hiddleston), and the loss of his beloved Mjolnir.

I’ve always thought that, when in the presence of the other Avengers, Thor’s character tends to get overshadowed, but Hemsworth nailed it in his third solo outing and has officially proven that Thor can hold his own against the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. He rocked the heroic moments and his humor was on point – Thor’s otherwordly humor has always been a highlight of his character, and it’s dialed up to ten for this film with hilarious results. The “Get help” bit had me laughing so hard I was afraid the woman behind me was going to ask me to get a grip. Hemsworth’s chemistry with Hiddleston as Loki is also stellar, and Hiddleston continues to ooze both charm and deception in what is likely his last outing as the semi-sympathetic villain, and stands as possibly the most well-developed menace of the entire MCU. Blanchett is delightful as the near-unstoppable Hela, and shows what might have happened had Galadriel become a queen as great and terrible as the dawn. Ruffalo returns as Bruce Banner/the Hulk, and his rapport with Hemsworth is a highlight along with Hulk’s overall development, as he now carries conversations and doesn’t devolve into smash mode on a constant basis. The introduction of Valkyrie is a pleasant one, as her complex history and abilities as a fighter prove her to be an excellent ally for the Asgardian hero. Hopkins also briefly returns as Odin, and though his appearance is short, it makes an impression. Idris Elba as Heimdall and Karl Urban as Hela’s conflicted henchman Skurge are both great in supporting roles. And how could I leave out Jeff Goldbum, as Grandmaster? All I can say is… he’s Jeff Goldblum. And it’s fantastic.

The cameos are enjoyable, with a peek at one of 2016’s breakout heroes Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and three surprise cameos (I won’t spoil them) during an early scene on Asgard. It’s a “Is that really __________?” moment, thrice over, and done very well. Sad we didn’t get to see Sif this time around, but honestly, the film is enjoyable enough that I didn’t even feel her absence, and I didn’t feel the loss of Jane Foster one bit (I do love Natalie Portman though, for the record, and Jamie Alexander as well). I didn’t even miss Thor’s hair! Additionally, the music is great, the colors are fun and bright, which creates a much more visually-pleasing aesthetic than some of the previous films, which have a darker, more serious atmosphere.

The strength of this film is easily the humor and more lighthearted nature, as the film-makers perhaps looked to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy for what tone and direction to take, and it certainly pays off. I laughed out loud several times, and just started giggling again thinking of a particular joke. Though, that’s not to say that the action doesn’t deliver, because it does; the battles are all vivid and engrossing and none of the action sequences feel dragged out or too long. The overall pacing is done well, and though it seems as though the plot starts to meander a bit in the middle, the jokes and the character interactions keep it from feeling drawn out, and the final battle does not feel rushed and crammed into the end. The narrative is balanced between action with dire consequences, focus on the lead character and his inner conflict, and all of the external conflicts going on at the same time, with Hela’s wrath being unleashed upon Asgard, the Grandmaster’s gladiatorial games, and Thor’s efforts to wrangle a new team to assist him with saving the realm(s). With so many players on the field and such a stacked cast, it would be so easy for this film to devolve into a muddles mess with several personalities vying for screen time, but each plot point gets a decent amount of attention and no character feels like they got left to the wayside. And, though it might just be my inability to pay attention to detail, I didn’t really predict how the final conflict was going to play out, and there were enough surprises throughout the film to keep me on the edge of my seat.

After the lackluster Thor: The Dark World, I wasn’t looking forward to Ragnarok as much I was some of the other MCU installments, but the third Thor outing definitely stands as one of the best, might be a top contender for the funniest, and has made me even more excited to see our favorite golden-haired Asgardian prince in action during Infinity War next year.

Overall Rating: 9/10