Review: The Post

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock over the last year is well aware that journalism has been under fire in this country. As a fan of journalism movies, I was extremely excited for Steven Spielberg’s new movie, The Post. Set in 1971 it tells the true story of the leaked documents detailing the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war and what the government knew and didn’t know as well as what they failed to tell the American people. The New York Times ran a story featuring based on information they received from the whistleblower. The struggling Washington Post then obtained all 4000 pages of the report and was stuck in a moral and legal dilemma as whether or not to release the information to the country. Feeling bound by their journalistic obligations they soon decided that releasing the documents was more important than the legal ramifications that could come their way.

The film has a true all-star cast led by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep with great supporting roles at every turn. Tom Hanks plays the famous editor Ben Bradlee Sr. who was also played wonderfully by Jason Robards in the 1976 masterpiece, All The Presidents Men. Meryl Streep plays Fay Graham the owner of the paper who’s family has owned the paper for decades. Doing her best to keep the paper afloat all while trying to keep its integrity and relevance. She is on the verge of taking the paper public on the stock exchange when the documents find their way into the hands of the newsroom. After combing the damning documents the quick decision must be made ultimately by Graham as for whether or not to publish. she is conflicted because of not only the legal backlash but how it could ultimately be the end of the paper if mishandled in any way.

Spielberg has done a fine job capturing the quick pace that journalists work at as well as the enormous pressure they can be under in a time factor as well as morally. He shows the tension so well that we as the viewers can feel it at every level. As good as Hanks and Streep are, and they are great, the film is really carried by its supporting cast. The pace of the film is so quick it will be a movie that needs multiple viewings to absorb all the information that is given in rapid-fire succession.

Two years ago I reviewed the Oscar-winning film Spotlight (review can be found here) and I mentioned how the death of great journalism is slowly happening in this digital age. Once again a film shows the power of true journalism and how it can’t go away or be taken away no matter how ugly what is reported is. It is the last line of defense to hold ANYONE in power accountable, not just in government but in any daily situation. The Post talks about how newspapers fledgling and that is so much truer today, yet even in times like those, great things happened and they still can.

Spielberg pulls no punches and shows the truth behind everything that went into informing the public about the disaster that was Vietnam. As bad as everyone knew the war was for so many years, they had no idea how deeply and just how bad it really was. These papers tarnished legacies such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy just 11 years after his assassination. Richard Nixon undoubtedly took the brunt of the heat at the time leading him to wage war on the Washington Post (sound familiar?). The paper survived and ultimately took the president down a couple years later with the Watergate scandal.

There is no question that Spielberg had the current times on his mind while making the movie but he did not let that change the way the story was told. He didn’t have to change things to make a point about today. The story itself is the message of journalism and the power it has. There is a saying that the pen is mightier than the sword and when you realize that right to a free press was an amendment to the constitution before the right to bear arms, it shows that the founding fathers knew this well over 200 years ago. The Post will leave in awe as well as having you thinking deeply about today’s political climate. It will rank with great films such as Spotlight and All The Presidents Men and is one many people need to see.

Review: The Shape Of Water

Two and half years ago I wrote a post about how the creativity in the movie industry seems to be all but dead. I still wholeheartedly believe that but, like I said before there are some exceptions to this. Guillermo del Toro is maybe the leader of the original filmmakers in Hollywood. His 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth was one of the most creative films to hit cinemas in quite some time. He then brought the futuristic sci-fi action movie, Pacific Rim to theaters. This year he gave us yet another truly original story to life with The Shape Of Water. With an all-star cast including a slew of Oscar nominees, Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer he brings his monsters back to life in beautiful style.

Set in the 1950s cold war in a highly secret government facility a mute cleaning woman who lives a small life who’s only friends are a fellow cleaning woman who looks out for her played by Octavia Spencer and her artist neighbor played by Richard Jenkins. When a secret project is brought into the facility by the nearly sadistic leader played by Michael Shannon. When Elisa (Hawkins) looks into the project too closely and discovers an amphibious creature which appears to be half man she finds herself unusually drawn to him and forms a friendship in secret. When the Russians begin trying to capture the creature she forms a plan with her friends to take him out of the facility and bring him home to keep him from being experimented on. They soon pull off an unlikely heist which brings the creature to her home and has the government on a search to bring him back to the facility and keep him out of Russian hands. Elisa soon forms an even deeper bond with the creature that leads them to attempt to flee from everyone they know.

The mind of del Toro is something of people like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George Lucas (early Lucas) and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, in our own time. It has been recognized by critics and award committees and fans worldwide. He has used the film medium to bring his creatures, or as he refers to them, monsters, to life. What makes it wonderful to experience is not just his creativity but the beauty in which he makes his worlds come to life. He is not just creative but he is a great filmmaker and has a unique vision. He has a great sense of character and emotion that all great filmmakers have, which is what makes them great. His mind and worlds can captivate every cinephile and bring them into a new place which is what movies are all about. The Shape Of Water is rightfully being recognized all over this year as one of the years best movies and rightfully so. While his style and worlds may not be for everyone, those with a desire for originality will find The Shape Of Water a refreshing new find. We can only wait for his next creation to be taken away to another fascinating world and time.

2018 Golden Globes Predictions

Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of The Golden Globes, Hollywood’s biggest party of the year and I am here once again to lay out my predictions. There are very few heavy front runners if any in any category.

Best Screenplay
This the category that could set the tone for a lot of the movie side of awards night. I expect this to come down to two films and these two films will be scooping up a lot of awards this season. It’s very tight between Lady Bird and Three Billboards but I expect Lady Bird to begin its strong run with a win here.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Shape Of Water
Lady Bird
The Post
Molly’s Game

Best Supporting Actress Motion Picture
This is the one category I’m most excited for and once again it’s very tight between two nominees. Allison Janney has her 6th nomination and is looking for her first win as Tonya Harding’s mother LaVona. Laurie Metcalf has her 3rd nomination also looking for her first win as the over bearing mother Marion in Lady Bird. I may be a little biased by my fandom but I’m looking at Allison Janney to walk away with gold here.

Allison Janney – I,Tonya
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape Of Water
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Mary J. Blige – Mudbound

Best Supporting Actor Motion Picture
Once again it looks to be a two horse race, this time between Christopher Plummer in his brilliant last minute performance as J. Paul Getty and Sam Rockwell as a bigoted local police officer in Three Billboards. I think that Sam Rockwell will finally get some hardware to take home.

Armie Hammer – Call Me By Your Name
Richard Jenkins – The Shape Of Water
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Christopher Plummer – All The Money In The World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actress Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
It’s becoming a broken record but it once again appears to be between two nominations in Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird and Margot Robbie in I, Tonya. If they end up tying for this I wouldn’t be happier. But since the likelihood of that happening is very slim I have to give the advantage to Saoirse Ronan although I genuinely feel that one isn’t better than the other.

Emma Stone – Battle Of The Sexes
Judi Dench – Victoria And Abdul
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Helen Mirren – The Leisure Seeker
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya

Best Actor Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
This category is pretty clear cut I believe with James Franco being the clear front runner for his portrayal of the very odd and eccentric Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist. My one problem here is Daniel Kaluuya being nominated in the musical/comedy category. Get Out was a very good movie but unless I completely misread the whole film, it was in no way a comedy.

Ansel Elgort – Baby Driver
Hugh Jackman – The Greatest Showman
Steve Carell – Battle Of The Sexes
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
James Franco – The Disaster Artist

Best Actress Motion Picture Drama
This is again a very exciting category with very deserving winners. There is the perennial nominee Meryl Streep and other multiple nominees and winners. I am having a hard time seeing anyone besides Frances McDormand or Michelle Williams NOT winning this. With that said nothing would surprise me but I think Frances McDormand will take home her second award and I really love her but I’m really hoping to see Michelle Williams up on stage

Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep – The Post
Sally Hawkins – The Shape Of Water
Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game
Michelle Williams – All The Money In The World

Best Actor Motion Picture Drama
This is the one category I’m completely out of my element with because I have yet to see any of the performance nominated. Based on what I’ve heard and from the little I’ve seen I would have to give the advantage to Gary Oldman. This is a category of all heavyweights and one new comer so it’s anyone’s guess.

Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Tom Hanks – The Post
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name

Best Director
I have been on the Dunkirk bandwagon since the summer and I don’t see any reason to abandon that now. I really like Christopher Nolan to finally get his just reward Sunday night for his brilliant work with Dunkirk.

Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Steven Spielberg – The Post
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water
Ridley Scott – All The Money In The World

Best Picture Musical or Comedy
As I said earlier I don’t understand Get Out being in this category even though I understand the HFPA wanting to recognize it in some way. I like Lady Bird to win here and keep its momentum going right into the Oscar race.

Get Out
Lady Bird
The Greatest Showman
I, Tonya
The Disaster Artist

Best Picture Drama
While Three Billboards is more deserving to be in the comedy category than Get Out it is in the drama category and that is deserving as well. The trouble there is that I’m sticking with my initial pick for Dunkirk to win the big prize on Sunday.

Call Me By Your Name
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dunkirk
The Shape Of Water

Top 10 Movies Of 2017

10.  Wonder Woman

One of the biggest movies of the year finally showed that it’s possible for DC to match Marvel in the movie industry. Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins make a foremost female team and it could not have come at a better time. Women are primed to take control of many things in 2018 and the Amazon warrior is their ultimate symbol, especially in the industry that women have really blown the doors off of. Full review here

9.  The Glass Castle

This is the movie based on Jeanette Walls autobiography in which she is played beautifully by Oscar winner Brie Larson, chronicles her childhood with parents who lived a rather gypsy like existence always on the run from debts and the government leaving them in poverty. As she gets older, Jeanette begins to resent her parents for the life they have given her and her siblings. Woody Harrelson plays her alcoholic father who struggles with his addiction and life. Her always optimistic mother is played by Naomi Watts.

8.  Wind River

One of my favorite movies last year was Hell Or High Water which was written by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan is a writer AND director for the first time with Wind River. With two great leads by Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen it tells the story of a murder on an Indian reservation and the FBI agent (Olsen) and the local official from Fish and Game (Renner) who discovered the body. The wild search lands them in an unlikely situation that may get them killed as well.

7.  Blade Runner 2049

Set 30 years after the original sci-fi classic, Ryan Gosling plays K a blade runner tracking down replicants who need to be put out of commission. After one such event he begins discovering things that lead him on a stranger path and meet him up with Rick Deckard once again played by Harrison Ford. What made this sequel so great was that the tone and vision of Ridley Scott’s original are kept perfectly intact by the visionary Denis Villeneuve. It is without question one of the best sequels in years.

6.  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand gives yet another powerful performance alongside Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. The story of a woman tired of there being no progress in her daughters murder case she takes an unusual course of action by renting 3 billboards on the edge of town calling out the local police department and its chief played by Harrelson. With great performances all around it has been a big player on the awards scene. Full review here

5.  The Disaster Artist

If there is one movie I was very surprised by it was The Disaster Artist. There are many reasons for this surprise one being that I’m not at all a big James Franco fan, I feel he tends to over act a lot of the time. Another reason is all the praise it was getting considering its subject. I just had a hard time believing that a movie about the making of possibly the worst movie of all time would have a hard time being good. I’m happy to say I was dead wrong on all fronts. I laughed and laughed hard and thought it was an all around very good movie.

4.  All The Money In The World

One of the most talked about movies of the year not only because of how fine of a film it is but because of the re-casting and reshoot all within a month of its release. After sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey emerged, director Ridley Scott decided to save his movie instead of scraping it and he cast Christopher Plummer in Spacey’s place. Everything worked out and for what seems like for the better. Plummer has earned himself a Golden Globe nomination and along with Michelle Williams, steals the movie. Full review here

3.  I, Tonya

Prepare for a trip back to the mid 90’s when big hair and figure skating were all the craze. Even before “the incident” figure skating was at one of its all time highs in popularity. Throw in America’s sweetheart and her rival America’s redneck and you have the ultimate drama. Lucky for us the rednecks story is fascinating from beginning to end. With stand out performances by Margot Robbie who plays the infamous Tonya Harding and Allison Janney as her mother it truly is one of the, can’t miss movies of the year. Full review here

2.  Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan proved that a modern day war picture doesn’t have to be violently graphic to be a great film or to convey the terror and impact of war for those involved. It is truly one of, if not, best picture of the year and perhaps of Nolan’s career (the dark knight is tough to top though). This has most definitely been one of the best war pictures in the last 20 years or so. Look for many accolades to come there way this awards season. Full review here

  1.  Lady Bird

I can’t say enough great things about Greta Gerwig’s movie about a teen girl and her struggle to navigate a difficult time in her life along with an overbearing mother who doesn’t know how to connect with or give her daughter what she needs. Saorsie Ronan is emerging as one of the great actresses out there right now and is charging headfirst into her third Oscar nomination and quite possibly her first win. Full review here

Review: Wonder Wheel

Nobody makes a film that oozes nostalgia better than Woody Allen. Despite what opinions people hold about Allen, especially in this very polarizing time within the industry and the world in general, he is truly one of the greatest American filmmakers ever. Woody has always had a way of making 20th century period pieces that make the viewer long for a time that they may not have even lived in.

Allen’s latest effort is set against the backdrop of post-war New York on the famous Coney Island. Known for its famous rides (such as the cyclone and the famous Ferris wheel, Wonder Wheel) and famous Nathan’s hot dogs, it was a magical place for anyone growing up in such a time and place. Kate Winslet leads an all-star cast as she plays Ginny, a middle-aged woman, and mother on her second marriage to a carousel operator who has a difficult time laying off the bottle. Ginny is stuck in a rut as her young son has become a pyromaniac and can’t stop setting fires all over. She is a waitress who feels like life is keeping her down as it passes her by when she meets Mickey, a young, good-looking, educated lifeguard. Ginny and Mickey soon strike up an affair when Ginny’s stepdaughter Carolina drops in out of nowhere on the run from her mobster husband who is looking to have her bumped off. After eventually making up with her father Humpty, she slowly begins to make a life for herself while working as a waitress with Ginny and going to night school. Carolina soon meets Mickey and somewhat of a love triangle begins. While Ginny is falling hard for Mickey, his eyes begin to draw towards Carolina. It isn’t long before mobsters find their way to Coney Island looking for Carolina.

Starring alongside Winslet is Jim Belushi as her somewhat buffoonish husband Humpty, Juno Temple as the young and troubled Carolina and Justin Timberlake as the dashing and smart lifeguard Mickey. The cast is very solid with excellent actors all around, but this is one of the only times I can think of where Woody may have gotten some casting wrong. Justin Timberlake has turned

WA16_D06_0156.ARW

into quite a good actor but his casting here felt a bit off. He still feels too contemporary to play a young veteran in the 1950’s despite having the right look, his performance didn’t quite seem to match the theme. Despite Timberlake (who still does a fine job acting) the rest of the cast is spot on as usual for a Woody Allen movie. Belushi is absolutely perfect as the somewhat slobbish yet hardworking, blue-collar husband who just wants to fish and have his wife around with him. Juno Temple is so great as the seemingly innocent young girl on the run yet still hoping to find love despite her current predicament. That leaves Kate Winslet. When I first heard she was going to finally be in a Woody Allen film I could not wait for the release, and she doesn’t disappoint. She conveys the neurotic and frazzled mind that Allen has so often written for his protagonist in so many of his films. You can feel the stress mount on top of her as she falls deeper into her affair along with struggling to be a parent and wife along with having to look over her shoulder for the mafia.

While Wonder Wheel has a great storyline along with a picturesque setting, it is not one of Woody’s best. While to say the film is bad or not good is not at all accurate either, it just felt like something was off. Winslet is without a doubt the films saving grace and really exudes the emotion of the character so well. This is in no way a negative review of the movie. Allen writes AND directs a movie a year all at the age of 82 so its fair to say not every film is going to be Annie Hall or Midnight In Paris, we have just come to have such sky high expectations of him. Wonder Wheel is a beautiful look at a time in life when things didn’t seem so complicated and a time which people seem to long for. One of the things we see though is that, things were complicated even then, despite what we think or remember.

Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand has quietly become one of the most reliable actresses working today. I would dare say her consistency is above even Meryl Streep. She doesn’t churn out movie after movie. She isn’t exactly a marquee draw, but every time she makes a movie she MAKES the movie. She has four Oscar nominations to her name and one win for her brilliant turn in Fargo. She is clearly on her way to her fifth nomination and very possibly her second win. Despite being married to one of the brilliant Coen brothers and often being in their films, she has no reason to think that is the reason for the respect she receives.

McDormand’s latest film is no exception to her long list of great performances. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an emotional yet tender and real look at personal tragedy and loss. McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mother who lost her daughter to rape and murder just seven months prior to the start of the film. Fed up with the lack of progress in her daughter’s case with the local police, she rents three billboards on the edge of town and leaves a message for everyone to read and especially Chief of police played by Woody Harrelson. When the town is somewhat divided on her methods she is unwavering in pushing things to the limit to get the results she needs for closure. Mildred is still dealing with an abusive ex husband played by the highly underrated John Hawkes. With a hotheaded police officer played by the ALSO underrated Sam Rockwell, with a tarnished record harassing her at every turn, she seems to be fighting everyone to get closure on the death of her daughter. Mildred goes through a series of events that increase the resistance she is facing even from her own son, only to find help from the least likely of people.

Despite its unconventional title, Three Billboards is a masterfully crafted story clearly lead by its incredible cast and script. The pacing of the movie is only one of its many great aspects. The humor that accompanies it is not out of place by any means and does not at all diminish the seriousness of the central theme of the story. Writer/Director Martin McDonagh has a history of mixing these qualities together well with past films such as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths (also with the great Sam Rockwell). One of the great things about Three Billboards is seeing a director come into his own and get such top performances out of his cast. Highly overlooked in the cast is Game Of Thrones star Peter Dinklage’s performance. Although a fairly minor role he plays the part of a somewhat outcast just trying to fit in and express to Mildred that he has feelings for her and even understands her anger and bitterness at the world, something she never really recognizes in him.

Three Billboards is a movie that demands more than one viewing, not because of missed details, but because of the different emotions one feels during a viewing that it takes more than one watch to be able to ingest all of it. The film has already garnered six Golden Globe nominations and be prepared for it to grab just as many Academy Award nominations and don’t at all be surprised to see McDormand and/or Rockwell accept gold that night. McDormand will have serious competition from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie but make no mistake she is as deserving as any one of them to take the prize. At this point the only competition Rockwell faces in my opinion is Christopher Plummer for All The Money In The World and Plummer’s ability to pull off what he did in the amount of time that he did is what gives him the advantage but I would love to see Rockwell win and I’d be very curious to see the reception he would get, being as liked and respected as he is. It would make for a wonderful moment for him.

Review: I, Tonya

While I am in no way an expert or historian of figure skating, but I figure it would be safe to say that the sport was never as popular as it was going into the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. The buzz was loud surrounding it even before the infamous crack on Nancy Kerrigan’s knee, that just made it, even more, rock and roll. I mean Kerrigan would go on to host an episode of Saturday Night Live!

The United States had some of the best skaters in the world with Kristi Yamaguchi, Nancy Kerrigan and the rebel outsider, Tonya Harding. Harding’s white trash upbringing and lifestyle made her a natural rival to America’s sweetheart Nancy Kerrigan. The rivalry was so much more than fans choosing sides, there was genuine envy. Harding seemed to be envious of what appeared to be the perfect poster child for good clean American living and felt she was discriminated against because of her background and lack of money. She felt her talent was as good as anyone out there, but no one could look past her brash demeanor. This would go on to be the struggle of her entire life even after her skating career was finished.

If the story of the competition between Kerrigan and Harding is going to be told, it has to be told from Tonya’s point of view. She was the one with the roller-coaster life and the one who had a variety of colorful characters surrounding her.

Tonya grew up in a poor section of Portland, Oregon and had only one love and one noticeable talent which her less-than-caring mother quickly decided to exploit. LaVona Harding was a chain-smoking waitress who was bitter at the world for dealing her a raw hand. She sank everything she could into Tonya and trying to get her to the top level of the figure skating world. Her overbearing and highly critical ways are what ultimately drove her and Tonya apart and pushed Tonya into the hands of her future husband and accomplice, Jeff Gillooly.

Tony Harding was determined to be the best skater she could be, it was the competition part she didn’t like because she was convinced she was getting overlooked. It was these feelings and frustrations that would ultimately lead to her downfall.

The new film I, Tonya shows her life and rise and fall in the skating community in the best possible way. This story had to be told in a darkly comical way and director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers found the perfect way to show some of the worst moments and make us laugh and empathize at the same time. This story is almost so sad and depressing from Tonya’s viewpoint that if you don’t tell it in a comical way it would be unbearable to watch. These people became such parodies of themselves, it’s hard to believe that 23 years ago all of this was real and that it WASN’T a movie.

The film is clearly driven by Margot Robbie’s complete and perfect transformation into Harding and Allison Janney’s pitch-perfect performance as her dreadful mother. These two together have you transfixed on these two people and the downtrodden life they both lead. Robbie has so many of Harding’s mannerisms and her voice is spot on (google some video interviews of Tonya and you will be amazed). We catch a glimpse of LaVona at the end of the movie and it becomes scary how well Janney did at depicting her every move.

As a whole, the movie captured the time period of the very bland mid 90’s in an excellent way and brings us into Tonya’s life in a very real and intimate way that you at times forget you are watching a movie and not reliving the whole time period again. Robbie and Janney steal the movie, but it’s Tonya’s life story that keeps you fixated on the movie as a whole.

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