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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2018 Oscars Reaction!

Pre-Show (I missed like, ten minutes because I was heating up my lo mein, apologies)

CHADWICK!!! He is styling tonight! What a nice suit.
Kelly-Marie!! She is so sweet.
Jordan Peele is a snazzy dresser, too.
Daniel Kaluuya’s jacket is SHARP.
Margot Robbie could make a burlap sack look good, but the top of her dress looks like a parade float.
Judd and Sorvino make a formidable team.
Thank you, technical difficulties, for depriving me of a montage. I LOVE MONTAGES, HOW EVER DARE YOU.
I wish I’d had time to see I, Tonya, simply because I love Allison Janney. It only played for like, 5 days in my town.
God, Jennifer Garner is gorgeous. Her dress is stunning!
GUILLERMO!!!!!
TIMMY!!!!!! He looks incredibly nervous, bless him. Also, white works for him. I want him to win so badly!
Saorise!!! Setting the facts straight, lol. I adore her.
HOLY CRAP I love Sandra Bullock’s dress.
Everyone is so sparkly!!!!
SINCE WHEN IS AMERICAN IDOL COMING BACK? Do I live under a rock?
Greta is great. Would love for her to win tonight.
I love Gary Oldman. Won’t be mad if he wins… but still rooting for Timmy.
There is something so suave about a nice suede/velvet suit jacket. I do my best to sell them at work but no one wants to buy them!
Mood; Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman casually catching up during an interview. But dear God, that bow on Kidman’s dress is awful.
Um… we never got the Allison Janney interview, Michael!!!!!

Monologue
Old-timey. I dig it.
Does Meryl Streep have a seat with her name engraved on it?
Thrilled that Kimmel is hosting again. Let the Matt Damon jokes commence!!!
ARMIE!
A JET-SKI????? And Helen Mirren? Oh, she’s not included. Damn.

Best Supporting Actor
It’s gotta be Sam Rockwell, right?
Wish I’d seen The Florida Project though…
YAYYYY! Well-deserved. I called it back when I saw the film in December.

Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer? Could there BE a better looking presenting pair?

Please… please let someone have their speech go too long. Please. I want a “GET OUT!!!”

Hair and Make-up
Will Darkest Hour take it home? That Churchill transformation was something else.
Marvelous! Oldman’s been thanking them in every speech, too. Nice to see their work rewarded.

Costume Design
Phantom Thread‘s got this in the bag, I think. But there might be a sneaky upset in here from The Shape of Water or Beauty and the Beast.
The dresses in PT were gorgeous. Made me want to binge Project Runway.
Oooh, have we got a Jet-ski contender?

Best Documentary
My resolution for next year is to watch the nominated documentaries. That’s my goal every year, but this year I really mean it.
It’s so nice to see the winners so happy!!!

I meant to watch Mudbound Friday night and straight-up forgot, but it’s my next Netflix watch for sure.
Mary J. Blige killing it, as usual.

I get choked up during the film montage EVERY YEAR. EVERY. YEAR. There is nothing quite like a great montage.

Best Sound Mixing/Editing
Gotta be Dunkirk for both. The sound was phenomenal, especially in IMAX.
YAY!!! Glad Dunkirk got some hardware! Even at the expense of Star Wars
Side-note… is that Kobe Bryant behind my man Chris Nolan?

Best Production Design
Lupita is STUNNING. And Kumail Nanjiani is hilarious.
Pretty sure The Shape of Water will take this one, but would love an upset by any of the others. All really visually-striking films.
That man’s sleeves are too short… or is that, like, a menswear trend I am unaware of?

Coco! I thought “Remember Me” would be usurped by “This is Me”, but it’s got a good shot, I’ll bet. That performance was BEAUTIFUL.

Best Foreign Language Film
I really want to see A Fantastic Woman, which I saw a trailer for before Call Me By Your Name a couple months ago. With that win, it might make it’s way here after all! I want to see The Square too, I’ve heard good things about both,

Best Supporting Actress
In a race that likely comes down in a battle of the moms, I’m betting on Janney, but I’m secretly rooting for a Laurie Metcalf victory.
I mean… you can’t be mad about Allison Janney. She is a freaking TREASURE. And also not winning a jet-ski, but hey, if you’ve got the stage, go for it.

Best Animated Short/Feature
STAR WARS!!!!!! I will never not love hearing that music.
Ohhhhhh that’s why Kobe is there. IT ALL MAKES SENSE. He’s so well-spoken! A+ speech.
As for feature… Coco, I’m guessing? It better not be Boss Baby. Bleurgh.
YAY! For the first time ever, I only saw one of the animated noms. Gotta work on that for next year, get back to my roots.

Daniela Vega’s dress is so lovely!
Sufjan! Call Me By Your Name! Finally! I am here for this. Also here for that suit.
I mean… it’s not going to beat Coco or The Greatest Showman but a girl can dream.

If it’s even possible, I care less about American Idol now than I did the first round.

Best Visual Effects
SPIDER-MAN!!!
I’m betting on Blade Runner, but maybe a sneaky Star Wars win?
I know I need to watch Blade Runner 2049. I have to watch the original Blade Runner first though, because I haven’t actually seen it. *cringes in shame*

I am 1000% here for men who wear jackets that are not the same color as their pants. That is my aesthetic, as long as they complement one another.

Best Film Editing
Can Dunkirk pull out a third?
YASSSS!!!!!!

I have guessed every one right so far. This has never happened! All that remains to be seen is how and when I’ll fuck it up.

If that troupe of people walked into a movie theater I was sitting in I would LOSE MY MIND. Wonder Woman AND Luke Skywalker?!?

I’m sorry… a HOT DOG CANNON? Why on earth would you want a HOT DOG CANNON? Hot dogs are disgusting. Unless they are encased in a soft pretzel, only then are they acceptable.

Best Documentary Short / Live-Action Short
I KNOW NOTHING!!!! I am uncultured swine.

Marshall was a great film! Highly recommend, especially if you love Chadwick Boseman… as you should.

Does Common ever not totally crush it onstage? He is an amazing performer.

Best Original Screenplay / Adapted Screenplay
Adapted has GOT to be Call Me By Your Name, or I will riot. Unless it’s Logan. Then I will riot slightly less.
Can everyone please take a moment to appreciate James Ivory’s amazing shirt? I love a well-dressed man, and a well-deserved win.
Original is tougher… would love The Big Sick, but I’m thinking Get Out or Three Billboards.
AW YEAH!!!! Jordan Peele! That’s the first one I officially picked incorrectly, but I’m SOOO happy to be wrong!

I knew there’d be a Matt Damon joke in here somewhere. I’m actually surprised it took this long to get one.

Also, I think Bullock’s dress is my favorite of the night.

Best Cinematography
I am secretly pulling for Darkest Hour or Dunkirk, but it will probably be Blade Runner.
And I was right, again! If I go through this and only have one wrong I will be extremely upset. But then I’ll be over it by tomorrow, so whatever.

Didn’t see The Greatest Showman and don’t really care to, but this song is a JAM.

Best Original Score
I LOVE THEM ALL. Don’t make me pick.
…It’ll probably be The Shape of Water.
Oh, look at that! The music really did suit the movie perfectly, though. Delightfully weird!

Best Original Song
Coco!!!! I loved “Remember Me.” Though even now, however many years later, I still HATE Let it Go.

Best Director
Will there be an upset, or will Guillermo cap off awards season with a win?
Look at his face, he’s so happy! Hats off to Guillermo – he directed a beautiful monster of a film and he so, so deserves this.
I maintain that Luca Guadagnino should have been nominated though… just saying…

Best Actor
It’s going to be Oldman. I so badly want Chalamet to win, but the Oldman train seems like it’s prime to keep on rolling, and I’m not gonna bet against Churchill…
DDL looks like he will straight-up murder whoever wins, if it isn’t him. I know he won’t, he’s just giving those vibes…
YAY, Gary! I do love him, and it’s so great to see him finally win one. He was brilliant in this film, and easily the best part of it.

Best Actress
Money’s on Frances McDormand. Haven’t even seen her tonight…
Wouldn’t mind a Sally Hawkins win, though. She is adorable. Or Saorise Ronan. Let’s just give them all an Oscar, okay?
HOW TALL IS JENNIFER LAWRENCE? Or HOW SHORT IS JODIE FOSTER?
No surprise!
Frances McDormand is a goddamn prize. Also, Joel Cohen looks so unimpressed, lol.
Sally looks genuinely happy for Frances, it’s heartwarming!

Best Picture
The odds are stacked against my personal fave (Call Me By Your Name) but IT SHOULD WIN, DAMMIT. However, it’s shaping up to be a The Shape of Water or Three Billboards victory, both of which rightfully deserve it as well.
Honestly, though, this category is full of worthy films. It could be a surprise, especially if the vote splits. Might get a cheeky Get Out or sneaky Dunkirk victory.
OH MY GOD THEY BROUGHT THEM BACK.
Please no replay of last year’s debacle…
Well, that’s the second one I picked wrong – I officially picked Three Billboards. But I can’t be disappointed that such a lovely film won!
I hope Mark Bridges enjoys his jet ski.

Best Picture Countdown #8: Darkest Hour

“Nations which go down fighting rise again, and those that surrender tamely are finished.” – Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, 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

Darkest Hour is an exploration into the life of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Oldman) during the tension-filled and controversial first few weeks of his tenure, as he takes office with the threat of Germany and the Axis Powers staring down Britain’s thought-impenetrable shores. As World War II rages on, Churchill faces opposition within his own country and outside of it.

dhYou cannot talk about how great this film is without first mentioning Gary Oldman’s performance as the notable British icon. He is the pounding heart of this film, providing the right amount of bluster, confidence, vulnerability, and cantankerousness, delivering Churchill’s famous speeches – most notably, his “Never surrender!” one – with aplomb. There are moments where his outbursts make you laugh, some where you shake your head in disbelief, and others where you might feel the urge to nod sagely in agreement. For his transformation, I’m fully expecting Gary Oldman to win Best Actor – and, truthfully, he 1000% deserves it. I’m stunned he hasn’t won an Oscar before – the man’s a chameleon and immensely talented. But, I’ll admit… he’s not my favorite to win; I’ve got one name ranked above him, though the race is very close. But if his name is read out on Oscar night, I’ll still be clapping ardently from my couch.

This film features brilliant performances – not just from Oldman, but the supporting cast as well – and is compelling from start to finish. It’s a visual treat with memorable dialogue and a score that has been unjustly underrated all awards season. I would have ranked this film above the other WWII-centered film nominated for Best Picture, but in reading up on both films since my initial viewings, Darkest Hour lost the edge for the historical inaccuracies. I understand the need for artistic liberties in historical films because no one can take history and transplant it directly onto the screen in 100% truth, but it’s a case-by-case basis; Imitation Game is one example of a movie that I soured on after reading up on the actual events, but I don’t mind the fictions in Saving Private Ryan one bit. Again, this is ALL personal preference. Playing with real events is tough, and Darkest Hour largely does a great job of showing both positives and negatives of such a critical time in history and it presents a mostly balanced narrative, but when the fiction outweighs history – the subway scene in this film is entirely fictional, for example – then my personal admiration starts to wane. If you’re interested in reading more on the fact vs. the fiction of this film, check out this article from the Slate: HERE!

That said, this is a gorgeous film to look at. I’m actually pulling for it to win the close race for Best Cinematography. There is a scene in this film where Churchill is alone in an elevator, surrounding by empty space, and it might be the most brilliant and symbolic sequence I’ve seen all year. Absolutely phenomenal. It’s an underdog in that contest, but I’d love to see Bruno Delbonnel take it. As far as the other awards go, Darkest Hour is a shoo-in for Makeup and Hairstyling, and rightfully so, considering Oldman’s physical transformation. His performance wouldn’t have been the same without that team turning him into Churchill. When it comes to Costume and Production Design, however, I doubt Darkest Hour will rise above the competition.

Though this film is not likely to take home the gold for Best Picture, Darkest Hour might be Oldman’s finest. If you’re a fan of war films, it’s worth seeing just for his performance and the cinematography alone.

Oscar Nominations
Best Actor (Oldman)
Best Cinematography
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Best Picture

For my full review of Darkest Hour from earlier this year, click HERE.

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.