Film Review: Captain Marvel (2018)

Dir: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Chan, etc.
Runtime: 2hr4min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Anything major will be marked under a ‘Read more’!

Captain Marvel, the latest origin story in the extensive Marvel Cinematic Universe, follows the titular heroine (Larson) in the pre-Thanos snap world as she confronts her mysterious past and attempts to save countless lives from a danger that threatens more than one world.

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The last few Marvel films we’ve gotten – Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp – have all subverted genre tropes in an effort to stave off fatigue and prevent audiences from getting bored. Following these films, while also being the prelude to the hotly-anticipated Avengers: Endgame, is no easy feat, and makes it difficult to impress the folks who expect these films to keep getting bigger and better. Captain Marvel treads familiar ground and largely sticks to a known formula, but offers up a couple of surprises and manages to give a fresh, 90’s-infused twist to the standard superhero origin story as we are introduced to the fearless heroine who might hold the future of the Avengers in her fire-shootin’ hands.

This film starts off a little slow, in large part thanks to some info-dumping that drags the opening out a bit – but it levels out once the focus is centered on “Vers,” as our butt-kicking former pilot and current badass is known. It might be tough for some audience members to connect with Captain Marvel at first, since her introduction comes a few weeks before the most anticipated film in the MCU’s history, and this installment takes us back to an era before Nick Fury’s eyepatch instead of moving the overall narrative ahead. It does reference other Marvel films, but thankfully avoids obnoxious fan-service levels of pandering. The frequent 90’s references, nods to a bygone era that fans my age know so well from our own childhoods, do start to feel a little tired at times. Blockbuster and slow loading screens were a nice touch and hit some comedic notes, but once I saw Troll dolls and a Koosh ball, it got old.

Larson plays the role of Carol with an affable charm, tossing out jokes in the heat of battle one moment, then slamming enemies into walls with her photon rays the next. But there’s also a softness to her, especially when it comes to her lost past; she may be a great fighter, but she has demons to face, though she manages to avoid drowning in the same angst that many an Avenger has succumbed to. Her personality slides easily into a rapport with a young Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, as the two team up to keep power from falling into the hands of a dangerous foe. The de-aging used on the actors (both Jackson and Clark Gregg) in order to make them fit into the timeline isn’t a major distraction except for a couple of dodgy moments, which is a credit to both the makeup and special effects teams. The cast overall is great, both lead and supporting – and a couple of familiar faces pop up, who viewers might not have expected to see.

The narrative hits familiar beats – a hero struggling with her identity, a villain who seeks retribution, intergalactic battles, blue people, you know, the usual standard fare – but just when it seems that it’s going to be the same-old, same-old, a wrench gets thrown into the mix that makes the story veer off onto a new track. The fight scenes are cool, the drama compelling, and the pacing smooths out after the first half hour or so. So while there might be some turbulence at the start of the film, it doesn’t last long, and Captain Marvel transforms into a thrilling ride that aims to add another vital piece to the puzzle that is the MCU.

As a female who has seen just about every Marvel film on premiere night since 2010, and who wrote one of her film class final papers on Black Widow in The Avengers – I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing a strong woman kick ass on the silver screen. And Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel can duke it out with the best of them. All that remains is to see what part she plays in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame – and I’m confident she will be a shining torch of hope for the future of the MCU.

Overall rating: 8/10

SPOILERS BELOW, BEWARE!

Continue reading “Film Review: Captain Marvel (2018)”

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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 

 

 

Best Picture Countdown #2: BlackKklansman

“I just want to leave you, sisters and brothers, with these last words. If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself alone, who am I? If not now, when? And if not you, who? We need an undying love for black people, wherever we may be. All power to all the people.”Corey Hawkins as Kwame Ture in BlackKklansman (2018)

Based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, Spike Lee’s comedy-drama BlackKklansman follows an African-American police officer who infiltrates and exposes the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK in the 1970’s. Though some artistic liberties are taken with the true story – timelines skewed, characters created, and events swapped around to enhance drama – this film provides valuable insight into race relations in the 1970’s and ties it in with social and political issues that continue to this day.

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The writing – which won the BAFTA for Adapted Screenplay – features witty, cutting dialogue, moments of genuine humor and arm-gripping terror, relevant real-world situations, and excellent rapport between the two leads, John David Washington as Stallworth and Adam Driver as his partner, Flip. Though Driver is the sole acting nominee for the film, and faces the likely insurmountable task of toppling Mahershala Ali for the Best Supporting Actor award, the entire cast turns in exceptional performances. Even Topher Grace, as KKK leader David Duke, is thrilling to watch. BlackKklansmen kept me engaged and invested from the first minute to the last, and it helps that every character has clear motivations and personalities that clash and meld in compelling ways.

It is undeniable that Spike Lee, as a director, never shies away from making a point, no matter how many feathers it will ruffle – AND he always does it with his signature fearless style. BlackKklansman is the only film this year that left me in utter shock and in tears at the end, jaw hanging open and mind reeling. This film packs an emotional wallop and is bound to stir some discomfort from those who do not like admitting to negativity and problematic issues in America’s history, and it affected me more than any other film this year, particularly because it is interspersed with themes, elements, and scenes that apply to society as it is today. Lee is my personal favorite in the Best Director race for his masterful and engrossing vision, but Alfonso Cuarón is a formidable opponent who is most likely to continue his hot streak come Oscar night. Film Editing is a toss-up, and though my personal favorite is Vice, I wouldn’t be surprised if BlackKklansman overtakes it.

A big triumph for this film is found in Terence Blanchard’s score, which is also nominated. Though I was also a big fan of fellow nominee Alexandre Desplat’s Isle of Dogs score, my favorite from this past year is easily Blanchard’s. It lends itself to the film’s overall tone and assists in creating that distinct 70’s vibe. Plus, it’s the only score among all the nominees that I can recall from memory without having to look it up for a refresher, as it stuck in my mind long after the film was over. Considering Golden Globe-winner Justin Hurwitz was somehow NOT EVEN NOMINATED for his stellar First Man score, a victory for Blanchard would be phenomenal to see.

Though BlackKlansman impressed critics and audiences with its “all the power to all the people” message and themes that fit seamlessly into the current state of the world, it’s a bit of an underdog for the Best Picture race and unlikely to take home the ultimate prize. But if this film somehow slipped past your notice when it hit the big screen this past summer, I highly recommend you see it – even if you’re unfamiliar with Spike Lee’s work or the true events behind this “crazy, outrageous, incredible” story. Overall, I am predicting that BlackKlansman will go 2 for 6 on the night.

Oscar Nominations: 6
Best Picture
Best Supporting Actor (Driver)
Best Director
Best Original Score
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Film Editing

Best Picture Countdown #6: Green Book

“You never win with violence. You only win when you maintain your dignity.”Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley in Green Book (2018)

Several of this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees have endured significant scrutiny and controversy, and the Peter Farrelly helmed Green Book, which depicts the relationship between African American pianist Don Shirley and his driver Tony Vallelonga as they tour the deep south in 1962, is not exempt. But while critics clash over just how accurate the “based on true events” tagline is – resulting in valid criticism being levied at the film- this comedy-drama has been racking up a fair amount of awards this season.

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Much like Vice, this film, while it might not depict 100% true-as-they-happened events, contains elements of truth that shine through to deliver a valuable message. Green Book is carried by the powerful chemistry between the leading actors, Viggo Mortensen as crude, but affable Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as poised yet conflicted Don Shirley. As I’ve said many times before, I could watch Viggo Mortenson spew obscenities and eat fried chicken for two hours and not be bored, and Mahershala Ali is utterly entrancing in every role he’s in. Two actors with boundless talent placed opposite one another in the same movie is basically a recipe for success, but while Ali is clear-cut favorite for the Best Supporting Actor award, my man Viggo, as much as I adore him, will likely have to wait a bit longer for Best Actor Gold. Still, the duo is so effective it makes me wonder if this film would have garnered so much praise without them on the cast. I remember seeing the trailer for the first time, and, as soon as I saw their names attached to it, my reaction was, “SIGN ME UP,” and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

The screenplay – which is more or less a letter of admiration from a son to his father – is a strong contender for Best Original Screenplay, though the category is a tough one this year, and Film Editing is up in the air. But really, Green Book‘s strength is in the relationship depicted between Ali and and Mortensen’s characters. Watching their connection to one another evolve from begrudging partnership to genuine, if unlikely friendship in an era of tenuous race relations is the heart of this film, and likely the reason it has resonated with so many people. At times both humorous and heartwarming, there’s plenty of drama to combat the levity, and an earnestness to the film that keeps it from straying into “sappy” territory.

As much as I personally enjoyed this film, the controversy swarming it’s validity and the overwhelming competition will almost certainly keep it from securing the ultimate prize on Oscar night. Regardless, I am predicting that Green Book will go 2/5 on the night, and do recommend that skeptics at least see the film before forming opinions about it.

Oscar Nominations: 5
Best Picture
Best Actor (Mortensen)
Best Supporting Actor (Ali)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Film Editing

Best Picture Countdown #7: Vice

“I can feel your recriminations and your judgment, and I am fine with that. You want to be loved, go be a movie star. The world is as you find it. You got to deal with that reality, and there are monsters in this world.”Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Vice (2018)

 Of all the films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, Vice, directed by Adam McKay, might be the most divisive. Depicting the rise to power of former Vice President Dick Cheney and his involvement in several critical moments in American political history, this film is at parts an illuminating look into the elusive “perhaps this happened” and also a bleak, almost nihilistic approach to exposing corruption of power when it is placed in the hands of a “monster.”

Vice_(2018_film_poster).png I personally went into Vice not expecting to see “true events” depicted verbatim, especially considering the film is classified as a “dramedy,” not a straight-up biopic. Treading the line between fiction and reality is precarious for filmmakers, and that seems to be what much of the criticism of this film is based on. Obviously, since Cheney himself was not involved in the making of the film, the audience needs to take it with a grain of salt and an open mind, regardless of political affiliation. But watching it, I found parts of it eerily compelling in the same vein as a car wreck – because, although we may never know exactly what went on behind closed doors, the very possibility is terrifying. I might dare to suggest many elements came across as plausible, though that might just be a testament to McKay’s writing, which is deservedly nominated. Films do not need to be “accurate” to be “true.” And maybe, some folks don’t like exploring the mere possibility that our elected officials have hidden agendas. But, I don’t want this to turn into a political tirade, so…

Much like Bohemian Rhapsody, this film is buoyed by a transformative performance by leading man Christian Bale, who is at times utterly unrecognizable as Cheney, with no small thanks to the makeup and hairstyling team, which are a front-runner for the Oscar. It looks to be a two-horse race between Malek and Bale for the Best Actor gold, with Bradley Cooper a semi-distant dark horse, but I won’t be disappointed by either result. Amy Adams turns in a sharp performance as Lynne Cheney, but, as much as I’d love to see her take home a victory for Supporting Actress, I think the odds are stacked against her this year. Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush is riveting (and almost cartoonish) to watch, but it is not likely enough to elevate him above the fierce competition in the supporting actor category.

Now, the real strength of Vice shines in the editing. Some critics may not agree, but Hank Corwin masterfully maneuvers this film through rapid switches in tone (there’s a Shakespearean exchange between the Cheneys, a marvelous scene where political officials are ordering “dinner,” and important conversations inter-cut with scenes of Cheney fishing) in order to keep the film from flying off the rails. Precise editing also prevents the film from losing the messages it’s trying to deliver, and when placed in conjunction with McKay’s writing, the combination makes the editing a standout. It’s already gotten a BAFTA for editing, so that momentum might carry over to the big night.

As much as I personally enjoyed Vice, as a critique, an exploration, and an artistic approach to uncovering “truth,” I won’t deny that it is problematic for valid reasons, and, as a result, I doubt it will take home the ultimate prize come Oscar night. However, I am predicting Vice will take home two awards, and end up going 2/8.

Oscar Nominations: 8
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor (Bale)
Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell)
Best Supporting Actress (Adams)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Film Editing
Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Best Picture Countdown #8: Bohemian Rhapsody

This is when the operatic section comes in.” – Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

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Bringing up the rear in my Best Picture countdown is the Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by *redacted* and Dexter Fletcher. It’s earned a boatload of money all over the world and is both a visual and auditory spectacle, but when stacked against the other nominees in this category, this film strikes a bit of a sour note.

Of course, the major highlight of this film is Rami Malek’s eclectic and electric performance as Mercury. It’s clear in every nuanced look, flamboyant movement, and subtle – or not so subtle – gesture that Malek poured his heart and soul into this role, and his Oscar nomination is no great surprise. At this point, it seems to be a two-horse race between Malek and Christian Bale, with dark horse Bradley Cooper not far behind. It’s only a shame that the overall film – despite excellent supporting performances and brilliant editing, and, I’m sure, no thanks to production issues – does not quite elevate itself to the same level.

Bohemian Rhapsody is not a bad film – but, it’s not what I’d call great. While Queen’s music and Freddie Mercury’s legacy have endured for decades, this film is, by contrast, almost forgettable. It doesn’t even play like a biopic because it glosses over and adds a saccharine, almost stereotypical sheen to several of the depicted events, which makes it feel fictional and disingenuous. There are times where the film feels raw, and intense – the Live Aid performance in particular, which is also an astounding accomplishment in editing – but at other points, it feels… fake. Fudging dates and swapping facts might come across to some as taking creative license, but, it can also read more as an attempt to revise history, and inject needless drama into what is already a compelling story.

Beneath the flashy costumes, legendary music, and Malek’s incredible performance, this tale of a band’s turbulent rise to stardom fails to dig as deep as it should. Historical inaccuracies and director controversy aside, I will be stunned if it takes home the gold on the 24th. A win for Malek, though, would be well-deserved. All in all, I’m predicting Bohemian Rhapsody won’t go home empty-handed, and will go 1/5 on the night.

Oscar Nominations:
Best Picture
Best Actor (Malek)
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Film Editing

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?

Favorite Books and Films 2018 Edition!

Favorite books (in no particular order!)

1.) Nine Coaches WaitingMary Stewart
I cannot believe I knew nothing about Mary Stewart until this year. Set in the late 1950’s, this particular tale is about a sharp young governess named Linda who must protect the life of her charge Philippe, and how she becomes entangled in the dark secrets of an affluent family. Stewart is the master of the romantic mystery and this story is packed with suspense that kept the pages turning. I was engrossed in The Moon Spinners and The Ivy Tree, also.

2.) My Best Friend’s ExorcismGrady Hendrix
I… honestly, don’t even know how to describe this book except that it’s NUTS in the best way possible, so you should absolutely read it. Need something totally off the wall? Read it. Horror touched with drama touched with comedy? Read it. Frequent 80’s references? Read it. Just read it, okay?

3.) EligibleCurtis Sittenfeld
Of all the Pride and Prejudice re-tellings I’ve read – and there are many – this is my favorite. It gives the timelessness of the Darcy/Elizabeth relationship a unique, modern twist, though the development of their feelings for one other feels just like it does in the original, which is why it held such charm for me. It captures the same feel and hits the same important beats, just in a different setting and time period.

4.) The Black WitchLaurie Forest
I’m a sucker for a unique, fleshed-out fantasy world with believable characters and fresh ideas. And this series has all of that, plus some cool ideas about religion, faith, and race relations. You get fantasy, prophecies, and mystical beasts with a side of realistic, timely issues. What more could a reader want?

5.) NoteworthyRiley Redgate
This books is about a girl who masquerades as a boy in order to infiltrate an all-male acapella group at her boarding school. And it is fantastic. Unique characters with strong personalities, friendships and relationships you want to root for, an awesome and totally likable protagonist… this book is a whole lot of fun, and it explores interesting questions about gender and sexuality in a way I’ve not read before.

6.) The Midnight DanceNikki Katz
This book – about dancers caught in a wicked web, and a brave girl who wants to free herself from it – feels like a fairy-tale. It’s equal parts creepy, charming, compelling, and harrowing, and the protagonist, Penny, overcomes a lot of doubt and fear to uncover the mystery behind the boarding school she attends. I got sucked into this story quickly, and almost couldn’t put it down.

7.) The Walls Around UsNova Ren Suma
Another book that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let it go. Ghosts, delinquents, ballerinas, murder, psychedelic plants… and a twist ending that I did not see coming. If you need the taste of a little something different, I highly recommend this book. The writing is gorgeous and I read the last half of it in a straight-shot, I was so involved.

8.) Mortal EnginesPhilip Reeve
So… obviously, I was late to this party. But this story – about a futuristic world where cities move and devour one another – was a fantastic read. The characters are a high point, as they are well-developed in both their flaws and their strengths, and the adventure is exciting and unique. I live for a nice steampunk-esque tale with high stakes, high drama, and robotic bounty hunters.

9.) Radio SilenceAlice Oseman
A quirky contemporary YA tale that explores sexuality, friendships, loss, doubt, and the various trials of teen angst… all centered around a podcast. I hardly ever listen to podcasts, and yet, I was utterly charmed by this novel. Nuanced characters, clever dialogue, and timely messages.

10.) The Princess Diaries SeriesMeg Cabot
Again… late to the party. Especially considering Meg Cabot is one of my all-time favorites! I can’t believe I waited so long to read this series, because it is so, so good. Reading Mia’s story from beginning to end, all her angst, her triumphs, her spectacular wins and crushing failures, was the most rewarding reading experience of the year, for sure. Cabot’s writing is sharp, witty, evocative, and charming, as usual. I was genuinely emotional when I finished the last book; sad the story was over, but thrilled that I finally read it.

Favorite films (in order from least to greatest!)

*I am not including the first 6 films I saw, because one was included on my 2017 list (I saw TLJ twice) and the last five were all Oscar films that I saw too early into 2018. However, if they were included, Call Me By Your Name would still be the top!*

Honorable mentions: Eighth Grade, A Quiet Place, Christopher Robin, Annihilation, and Love, Simon.

10.) Hereditary
THIS IS HORROR DONE RIGHT, PEOPLE. I went into this film expecting it to be centered around symbolic, more realism-based horror, but… well… I don’t want to spoil it, but the premise blew my expectations out of the water, then beat them with a baseball bat, then set them on fire. This film subverts genre expectations and kept me on the edge of my seat. Toni Collette’s performance as a struggling matriarch is absolutely brilliant and I am really pulling for a Best Actress nom come Oscar season.

9.) A Star is Born
I went into this drama flick with fresh eyes, because I haven’t seen any of the previous incarnations. And I came out of it with teary eyes. Gaga and Bradley Cooper turn in stellar performances and manage to make a tired and overdone plot seem bright and new and full of emotion. And the new songs are fantastic – the reason I had misty eyes at the end is because of Gaga’s final song.

8.) Black Panther
Black Panther flipped the script on many a superhero trope and breathed new life and energy into Marvel this past year, and added major hype to Infinity War, which came out soon after. This film gave us Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye, three of the most badass Marvel women. Plus, it delivered the most impressive MCU villain to date in Killmonger, with the possible exception of Thanos himself. Wakanda Forever!

7.) BlackKklansman
I’ve been a fan of Spike Lee since Do The Right Thing, so I wasn’t about to miss this film when it was released this summer. This film is not only a stylistic triumph with an incredible soundtrack and brilliant performances, it is also able to blend the true story of Ron Stallworth – a black police officer who infiltrated the KKK in the early 1970’s – with themes that still exist in the world today. Lee is not afraid to make a point, and this film certainly proves that.

6.) First Man
I always appreciate a good biopic that doesn’t rely on sugarcoating and looks at all the tough parts of a person’s life instead of just the triumphs. First Man is a look into all the factors that made Neil Armstrong’s first miraculous step onto the moon possible, and an exploration of his occasionally turbulent personal life as he sought to touch the stars. The cinematography is striking – especially near the end of the film – and the performances are powerful.

5.) Ant-Man and the Wasp
I JUST REALLY LOVE ANT-MAN, OKAY? These are, without a doubt, the most underrated films in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. And now I love Wasp, too – she is so, so cool and I want to see her more in future films. This film harnesses the ridiculous, over-the-top fun of comics with the dramatic high-stakes that has come to define the MCU. And the giant Hello Kitty pez dispenser will never not be funny to me.

4.) Green Book
Based on the true story of an unlikely friendship, Green Book is an emotional, though at times humorous and heartwarming, exploration of race relations in the 1960’s. Though some might contend that the levity in this film is ill-placed when discussing such a serious topic and part of history, but there’s plenty of drama to balance it out, and an honesty to the film that keeps it from teetering too far in either direction. It helps that the two lead actors – Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali – have a fantastic chemistry when onscreen together. I could watch Viggo eat friend chicken and spew obscenities all day long.

3.) Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s style isn’t for everyone, but it sure works for me! A creative look at a future where dogs are exiled to an island of a trash, and the story of a young boy who wants to find his beloved friend, stop-motion adventure Isle of Dogs shouldn’t be flying under anyone’s radar. It’s funny, original, and gorgeous to look at. Though, if you aren’t a fan of quirky films, you might want to skip it.

2.) Aquaman
I am a big sucker for fantastic visuals… and damn, this film was gorgeous to look at, especially in IMAX 3D. Overall, this film was a cross between Tron: Legacy, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, The Little Mermaid, and Pacific Rim. Black Manta is so cool and I now want a Mera/Diana team up movie to happen. Though some of the plot gets muddled by too-lofty ambitions and the humor is hit or miss (bro humor and one-liners fall flat, at times) Aquaman is a wild ride and will hopefully play a key role in steering the DC universe back on track. And, no spoilers, but the final showdown is phenomenal! And if anyone was going to make Aquaman cool again, it was definitely Jason Momoa.

1.) Avengers: Infinity War
I mean…obviously.

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!

pocahontas_2.jpg
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?

 

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