Monday, February 26, 2018

2018 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Live Action

DeKalb Elementary

Three of the shorts this year are not short on one thing, and that is tension. This film focuses on what is essentially a two person sequence that could easily have been a massive tragedy. A disturbed young man arrives at a school and a confrontation ensues with the school's receptionist playing mediator. This is apparently based on an actual 911 phone call, the two actors are excellent but special mention should be made of actress Tara Riggs who maintains a level of composure while also being frightened to death. Her character is the kind of everyday hero we hope is present in our lives somewhere. 

The recent shooting at a school in Florida will be on everyone's mind right now and the tie in to this movie is unavoidable. Because of the timeliness, I suspect this must be the film that will be favored for the award next Sunday.

The Silent Child

It turns out that this movie is basically a public service announcement, disguised as a drama. There is a disturbing phenomena among families with children who have special needs and the schools they attend. This is a British film so it may model the culture and schools there more than it does in the U.S. Here I see parents who are aggressively assertive in trying to care for their children's needs. Our school system creates an expectation that all are welcome. It was a little hard for me to believe the character of the mother in this story, although I am sure there are instances like this. In the U.S. the Social Worker would file a report that accuses the parents of neglect and the story would proceed in a very different manner. We are less polite. 

Because it seems so unique an anecdote, I don't know that it is as convincing as it wants to be. The special needs tutor and the little girl in the story are both very solid. I thought the child performance seemed really effective for the circumstances. Everyone else came across as a little too pat and almost caricatures of indifferent people.  

My Nephew Emmentt

This is another historical film based on an actual incident and it is one that most of us will have heard of. The murder of Emmentt Till, a young black man from Chicago who has moved in with his family in Mississippi is one of the turning points of the civil rights era. The facts that took place after his murder are not the subject of this startling film. Rather this story focuses on the sense of impending doom that a family could feel and do nothing to prevent.

For a short film, this one felt the most deliberate and slowest. The actor playing Mose Wright, the Uncle, looks dignified but also beaten down by time. He can sense doom coming but despite the nightmares and the reasoning, he ends up in a defensive position with survivor's guilt to come. This movie looks like it was shot through a bronze filter in some of the night time scenes. It is even more haunting as a result.  

The Eleven O'Clock

This was a straight out comedy. It feels so different in tone that you might wonder how it got nominated, but I can actually explain this pretty well. The actors have incredible timing and they play their parts to a tee. The script reminds you of a screwball comedy, with maybe Cary Grant and the Marx Brothers thrown in for good measure. It gets to the point and makes you laugh without having to have a lot of exposition. It is like a very well told joke, with just the right amount of detail thrown in to make it sparkle.

Mistaken identity plots have been around for as long as there have been movies, so you may be able to tell where this is going after a few short minutes. Don't worry, that will not detract from your enjoyment of the film at all. The escalating frustrations of the two main characters is simply great to soak up and laugh at. 

Watu Wote

This is another film that builds tension for it's whole duration. The story does have to rely on a series of title cards to set up the events we are going to witness. It is a harrowing trip being taken by people who just want to get on with their lives, but they live in a part of the world where bad things happen everyday and everywhere. This is also a film based on real events and to think that these things happen in the world we live in is frightening. The subject concerns conflicts between Islamist terrorists and Christians living in Kenya. 

A simple bus trip is never going to be simple in the part of the world where roads are not always paved, there may not be a hotel available, and you pray for an armed escort getting on the equivalent of a Greyhound. People with different faiths are all subject to risks in this world. One woman's experiences of tragedy sometimes blind her to the wellspring of human decency that can pop up anywhere. The film is dedicated to a man who stood up to oppression and represents the faith he adheres to in a most reasonable manner. If the Award is going to go to a politically and socially charged film, this could also be a dark horse.  

2018 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation

I did not make it to see the documentary shorts but I did see the animated films and the live action films. If you click on the link here, you can go to ShortsTV and find the films that are available on line or where they might be playing near you.

The Animated Shorts

"Dear Basketball" is the Kobe Bryant created film. There is some pushback from the #metoo movement because of Kobe's rape charge. This film however was directed by Glen Keane, an old hand at Disney. The music is from John Williams, so the film has a pedigree. Kobe narrates an ode to the sport that he loves and some lovely line and pencil animation accompanies his words. The simplest of the designs but still very effective. It is almost enough to make you like him if you did not already. 

"LOU" is the charming Pixar film that played in front of "Cars 3" last summer. It is a brilliant realization of how story can be told without dialogue and through character. There is a lot of humor but also a touching moment or two in the seven minutes that this runs. Because John Lassiter is currently in the dog house with #metoo, this film probably has a reduced chance at taking home the award.

"Negative Space" represents a claymodel approach to animation with a somber mediation on a father son relationship. The design is a bit odd but the story works and the payoff is a bit heartbreaking. It does however hold some very practical advice for packing your luggage, so if you are traveling, make sure to check it out.

"Revolting Rhymes"  Here is a twisted take on fairy tales that will give the little ones nightmares but offers a lot of humor that adults will appreciate. One of the voices was from Tasmin Greig, an actress that I know from the Showtime series "Episodes". Let's just say that Red Riding Hood and Snow White have more elaborate finishes to their stories than "Happily Ever After". 

"Garden Party" This short starts out as a frolicking nature film. It has distinctive animated animals as characters and there are several whimsical interludes. In the background however, we begin to see signs that things are not exactly as light as they may seem. The computer animation on this is gorgeous, it reminded me quite a bit of "Rango".  The last shot in the film also makes "Revolting Rhymes " only the second most gruesome of the five nominees. 

Because the animated films are all relatively short, the program included three additional and worthy Honorable mentions to go along with the nominees:

"Lost Property Office" is a cardboard and claymation film from Australia that focuses on a lonely man responsible for a lonely job in a lonely location. Everything turns out better than you might hope. Dialogue free and easy to underestimate.

"Weeds"  This is the little flower that could story that might be a little cloying but ultimately has it's heart in the right place. It is inspiring to kids but a nightmare for homeowners trying to keep a yard in ship shape. 

"Achoo" I was really surprised that this was not one of the nominees. The animation is excellent, it tells a cultural story and it is pretty funny as well. 

It's late, so I'll wait and do a second post on the live action shorts tomorrow. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

AMC Best Picture Showcase Day One

As is our custom , we visited the Best Picture Showcase to catch up on all the films nominated this year. Also as usual, we have already seen most of them so it is a revisit for some of these movies but each day of the showcase this year will feature a movie that is new to us. 

Phantom Thread was maybe the most divisive film my family seen this year.  My daughter loved it  and so did I. My wife hated it, she compared it to "The Tree of Life" a film that I personally also I hated.  The film is extremely funny but also extremely tight and I mean that in a literal sense. Daniel Day Lewis' character is so tightly wound that he could fracture at any moment, he makes Samuel Jackson in "Unbreakable" look positively rubber like.  I'm not sure if the film is supposed to be a comedy but it definitely played incredibly humorous.

The story is hard do explain. Reynolds Woodcock is a dress designer at the highest level of passion who has difficulty relating to anything except his own self interest. He finds a woman that he falls in love with for reasons that are hard to understand. Both he and his work are effected by her for her.  Everybody experiencing his personality would be incredibly frustrated and angry. If our partners behaved in the manner that either of these two engage in, the relationship would end, but somehow it brings them closer together. I thought that the whole point ultimately was for the film to show how meticulous they are in their relationship, in the same manner that he is meticulous in the dresses that he makes. I can see however why my wife found it frustrating be because it is incredibly slow moving and deliberately paced. 

Obviously the dress design are fantastic but the film barely lingers on them instead it focuses on the quirks and idiosyncrasy of Daniel Day Lewis' character and his relationship with Alma the woman that he may be in love with. It turns out to be one of the most amusing and twisted love stories you will ever see, and it is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who knows how to make even a slow moving train [of a gown] look compelling. 

Lady Bird  So I liked this film much better the second time then I did the first time I saw it.  I think I came in better prepared to appreciate the characters and since I knew what the story involved I could pay attention to the details of how main characters interacted instead of worrying about the plot. Both actresses are excellent and Laurie Metcalf especially impressed me more as her character truly does act in frustrating ways but also in very loving ways.  I do think that if I were Sacramento I'd be a little bummed out about the way I was referred to by Lady Bird. At the end of the film there is a nice pay off and maybe I could be more forgiving just as Julie is when Lady Bird returns to her and tries to renew their friendship.  

Once again my favorite scene in the movie remains the prom moment when the two girls re-established their friendship.  It felt real in very satisfying coming of age manner.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri   My level of respect for this film went up seeing it a second time and I already thought it was one of the better films at the last year. Francis McDormand is clearly the future Oscar winner. I think Sam Rockwell will definitely win this year is well,  which is too bad because his competition includes his costar Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is really excellent in this film and deserve the nomination. I also think that the theme of the movie is a little different on my second go round. While it may be hard to believe,  I do think that the movie has something to say about forgiveness.  There at least four major character who have to make a decision to forgive something. That act does not come for each character in the same place and for the same reasons but it is critical to appreciating the characters who are not all likable. 

I still think the film is about the rage Francis McDormand's character goes through passions that are conveyed in her eyes and vocal tone.  The film does have redemptive arcs but they do not attempt to whitewash the negative characters but rather they are presented as much more complex than we might have thought. "Three Billboards"  remains a film that goes in directions that you never expect.

The Shape of Water  I suspect this will be the eventual Best Picture Winner. I say that not as an advocate of the film itself but rather as an analyst of Academy tendencies. This fairy tale, told with extreme moments of unpleasantness interspersed with moments of great beauty has the qualities the Academy will want to award. It has a director with a background in foreign films and independent movies, who also happens to not be the least preferred heritage of the moment. 

There are several heavy handed moments and a very clunky musical interlude that detracts from the tone the film developed. The imaginary oppression in this film is a surrogate and companion for actual oppression that is shown in the movie. The actors are all very good but their parts are a little too on the nose when it comes to the themes. The production design is really top notch and the movie looks great. If there is a film that will deny Roger Deakins his Oscar, it will be this movie for the work of Dan Laustsen. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Black Panther

We can be honest with each other right? You are going to see this movie regardless of what my comments on it happen to be. Hell, everyone seems to be on their way to see this. There is a huge anticipation that it will set new box office records for an opening weekend and the early reports are promising so it's likely you don't need my perspective. As friends though [even if it is just virtually] it is right to spend some time talking about our impressions of the movie and maybe providing a more tempered view or an alternative perspective. That is essentially what this is going to be. I liked the film quite well and there are characters and aspects that are very rewarding and nicely put together. It is however not the second coming, not a cultural revolution and not the best film in the MCU.

Chadwick Boseman is an actor that I have raved about for a couple of years now. I thought he was great in '42 and while "Get On Up" had some issues, he was a perfect James Brown. I missed "Marshall" last year but I certainly hope that while he might be good in it, he needs to be careful about getting pigeon holed as the go to guy for black biopics. These days you need to be able to do a lot of different things to keep a career going and too many checks in one column might make you seem limited. His being cast in "Captain America: Civil War" as T'Challa, King of Wakanda and the hero known as Black Panther is a great opportunity for him. He can build some action credentials to go along with his chameleon impersonations. This film however took a while to get his character in sync. The story calls for him to be a bit tentative taking on the role of his late father, but he still needs that persona to shine through and it does not really happen until the third act. For the first two thirds of the movie he is overshadowed by the antagonist, who has far less screen time than Boseman does.

The reason that it takes so long for us to see the true hero that Black Panther should be is that the villain of the piece is played by Michael B. Jordan, an actor who is rapidly turning his charisma into big screen gold. He may not be Johnny Storm but he is definitely Adonis Creed. He dances through an opening heist like the featured player, although in this scene he is mostly a by-stander. When he makes his way to Wakanda, he struts in like Errol Flynn with a deer over his shoulders and drops a big dead bird on the party. By the time we notice that his personality and goals are warped, we are more than halfway to agreeing with him in his assessment of T'Challa as King. The part is written well and he runs with it.

Another reason this film succeeds is that the supporting cast is composed primarily of women who strike the right note of independence but also partnership with the nation. Wakanda has it's own version of the C.I.A. running ops in Africa, that spy may be the future Queen. . The General of the capital army is an Amazon style warrior who would fit right in on Themyscira with Diana Prince and her family of warrior women. T'Challa's little sister is basically the Wakanda version of MI6 Q Branch. All of these characters and more are part of elaborate rituals, cultural practices and grand battles that climax the film.

So, having said that about the characters in the film, let's talk about the world building of this culture. One of the reasons that this movie is being touted as a cultural touchstone is it's emphasis on strong African characters who define the world in which they exist without conceding to the non-African world. Director and co-screenwriter Ryan Coogler is attempting something admirable with this film, but he fails in a couple of important elements.Excuse me for pointing out a stereotype of these communities in films made by non-Africans in the past, does an African kingdom really need to pass it's royal heritage from one group to the next through mortal combat? This sounds like the Lions in "The Lion King" or Celtic clans from a millennia ago. It does not seem like a system that would still be followed by a society capable of the technological advances this film gives to them. Maybe part of the story is to confront the tribes that make up the kingdom that "Game of Thrones" style succession is perhaps past its' time.

I'm also a bit flummoxed by all the technology and cultural magic standing side by side. Shuri, T'Challa's sister and the chief engineer of the hidden society, pooh poohs  the suggestion that magic had anything to do with the recovery of a C.I.A. operative from a near fatal wound. She proudly proclaims that Wakanda is built on technology. At the same time, people are commiserating with the dead over the past and the future of the country. The spirit of the Black Panther is added and removed through rituals that certainly are not technological in their presentation. I like the idea that the people of this nation are spiritual, but to try to play both sides without acknowledging an inconsistency seems like a story weakness to me.

The visualization of the hidden nation of Wakanda is another thing that bothers me about the film. Take away the dirt streets and the graffiti, and the capital city of the country could be Asgard, home of Thor and his family. It is as if everyone in the comic book world looked at pictures of modern London, superimposed a cultural patina over it and then laid on some technology that works for no apparent reason. I know these are comic book films, but there needs to be a bit more grounding to reality. Billionaire genius Tony Stark, or Bruce Wayne have nothing on King T'Challa, except that they do have limitations of science holding them back. All the magic that Dr. Strange, Loki and the Scarlet Witch are bringing in to the universe is beginning to make it a little less urgent. This movie is pushing for the same kind of agenda. I know that when the Infinity  War gets here, something needs to give our planet an edge, I just what something more tangible than a miracle tool that is going to show up in the last minute. The  Rube Goldberg look of the cities of the world remind me of several scenes from the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, and I don't mean that as a compliment. Maybe a little less "Wow" factor in the home-worlds would help make us care about them more.

I hope this has not rained on anyone's enjoyment of the film too much. I like the character of Black Panther and I like his people. The part of the world they live in is so beautiful that it seems a shame to try and top that with some CGI polish. The film is a juggernaut that earns some respect for trying to expand the horizons of the comic book universe it occupies. Let's just not pretend that it is perfect simply because of those aspirations.  

Friday, February 9, 2018

50 Shades Freed

I'm sure your mother told you at some time or other, "if you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing at all".

OK, made you look.

There are a couple of nice things to say about this film, although they are not really compliments on the cinema of the story. "Fifty Shades Freed" is bookened with two quite lovely montages. The opening of the film sweeps us through a wedding and honeymoon that could only exist in the rarefied world of billionaires with too much time on their hands. Anastasia and Christian fly on his private jet to European romance spots and ride bicycles, eat at cafes and run through the rain. Then they jet off to a tropical local and spend time on a gigantic yacht and topless beach. An environment that brings out the puritan in our perverted hero. He feels uncomfortable with his bodyguard and chauffeur being able to ogle his new brides boobs.

Then we get an hour and a half of domestic adjustment, bondage, and a kidnapping plot that feels as if it was transplanted onto this story from another film.

At the climax of the movie [we will talk about the marketing tag line in a moment], there is another montage, but this time of events that took place in all three films. These sequences include some spectacular shots of yachts, gliders and more BDSM. The depth of these characters and the story could be covered quite easily with a PowerPoint slide show of their vacations and sex play. There is literally nothing more interesting in any of the three movies. OK, that's not quite true, there is one car chase sequence that was nicely staged in this film, although it makes no sense at all.

There, having said something nice, I feel free to say some other things that are not so nice. This movie is boring. There are a half dozen sex scenes, a couple of violent moments and the aforementioned car chase, and still it is dull as can be. The plot is creaky and would probably have seemed old fashioned in 1958 much less sixty years later. It basically involves two people who are fairly selfish, learning to think more of their partner than themselves, and one way to do that is to throw in a random revenge plot. The antagonist is a character who was in the first movie for all of a minute and a half. I don't think there was a mention of him in the second film at all. In this movie he seems at first to be a criminal mastermind who has somehow outwitted the security of the "Grey" Corporation. Then he turns into a salivating maniac who basically makes every stupid mistake possible at the culmination of his plan. Oh, and by the way, the character who is kidnapped is not the female lead, but a secondary character who was in the second film for maybe a minute and then this one for two minutes before the big plan is sprung. It's barely clear that she is the other of the two other female characters that have more than thirty seconds on screen.

Admittedly most people are not coming to these films for the plot. They are here for the sex. The problem is that for the most part it is joyless and non erotic. In spite of all the handcuffs and special whips and chains, most of what happens just looks like people playing at enjoying sex. The closest the two leads come to having a truly erotic moment comes when they share a midnight snack of ice cream in a kitchen. Unfortunately, instead of sustaining the long build up to a moment of arousal, the director lets them jump quickly back to the old in out and then on to the next scene.

The first of these films was not any great experience, but it was not nearly as bad as so many people said. " Fifty Shades Darker" is mostly just not memorable. This film tries to titillate us in the marketing with a catch phrase designed to appeal to the prurient interests of the series fans. " Don't Miss the Climax". Sorry to disappoint all of you fans of the Mommy porn. This movie is limp. Drop a Viagra and move on to something else. There was a trailer for a film clearly aimed at an older audience that played before this screening. "Book Club" features a plot involving older women reading "Fifty Shades of Grey". It looks much more entertaining than this movie was, and it doesn't look good.

I saw this in an IMAX presentation, and I really hoped there would be 3D glasses involved. That might have added something to the experience that would make it more memorable. Here at the end, that probably would not have helped. There is one last good thing about "Fifty Shades Freed".  We are now Freed from ever having to think of this film series again.  

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The LAMB Devours the Oscars 2018: Best Picture Nominee: Dunkirk

Once again, I have made a contribution to the LAMB Devours the Oscars series over on the Large Association of Movie Blogs. I was lucky enough to get my favorite film of the year to write about. You can check out the results in the link below.

The LAMB Devours the Oscars 2018: Best Picture Nominee: Dunkirk: Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far: Today, Richard Kirkham from Kirk…

Saturday, February 3, 2018

60 Years of Watching Movies

This site is always personal. I inventory every film I see in a theater, I share my history with films, and every review is always based on MY reaction, and expressed in my voice. So having achieved the milestone of reaching six decades of life, I want to share a little nostalgia from sitting in a movie theater. I had a different plan originally, but I chose to tighten it up, which may sound odd when you see what comes.

Scary Movies

I am a horror fan, though maybe not deeply enough for all those Gallo fans out there. The first time I remember being scared at a movie was seeing "The Time Machine".  My Mom's friend that we always called Aunt Ginny, took us to a summer series of films at the Rialto in South Pasadena, maybe four blocks from where I lived at the time. Morlocks gave me nightmares.

The scariest movie I ever saw however, continues to this day to be the Exorcist. I was fifteen when it came out and I wanted to see it because my Dad and his adult friend Rusty had gone to see it, and Rusty was so freaked out about it that he stayed at our house that night and slept on the couch. He actually took me to see it and I remember feeling the sweat on my back as the tension built up. Every time they went up to that bedroom, I sank into my seat a little more.


I miss the genre as a regular theme at the movies. When I was a kid, there were Westerns everywhere. Now, we get them only occasionally. I sat through several Sergio Leone films. I remember seeing "Duck You Sucker" at the El Rey in Alhambra. John Wayne is the ultimate western hero, but I grew up in the age of Clint. My Dad took me for one of my Birthdays to see "Two Mules for Sister Sara". I still stop and watch "Unforgiven" whenever I run across it. 

And of course if it has this guy in it, that is almost certainly going to be a great western. 


Who doesn't love to laugh? Over the years I have been entertained by a series of movies that I would recommend to tickle the funny bone. Not all are politically correct or family friendly but you will enjoy yourself anyway. 

Absolutely the funniest film I ever saw was "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", it is also one of the film moments that I shared with my father, that I would never have expected and tells you why I love movies. You can read about it by clicking the title in the above sentence.

The Seventies

I grew up in the sixties and seventies. The period between 1967 and 1977 is often referred to as the second golden age of movies. If you have been a reader here before, you know this project started as an examination of that time. The original project ran for a hundred and five days and if you go to the archives, look up the posts from 2010 and enjoy.

I'm going to give you a few links to some of my favorite films of that era below. I hope you can take some time to look around and see what I thought of these classics.

Favorite Films

Everyone always asks you what your favorite movie is. I have a link on the page to tell you that, but I have never compiled a top ten list. It would be hard to do, making tough choices and always remembering something later and needing to adjust. So instead of such a list, here is a grab bag of the films I would probably put on the list. I'm sure there are a couple that have momentarily slipped my aging mind, but if any of these was on right now, I'd watch in an instant. 

James Bond

If there is a drug that I am addicted to, it is 007. I can't get enough. I even re-watch the ones that are outright bad. If you look on the site, there is plenty of 007 content. So I'll just give you the theme songs from my three favorites. Listen in good health, maybe while sipping a martini, made with Vodka of course.

Guilty Pleasures

They say you should not feel guilty about what you enjoy, and that may be true but people still judge you for those things. Blogging is an act of self disclosure. You willingly let people know your thoughts, and some of those thoughts may be odd, counter intuitive or off putting to others. 

Here are some bits to let you know things that might leave you less impressed with me as a person.

The violence is brutal, and Kick Ass celebrates it, as do I.

Sharon Stone in a Western, yeah, I love it. 

Bad Movie but great two hours. Drive Angry

NSFW.  Watch the language

Ok, I'm going to hit a stop for now. I may make my 60th an ongoing list of posts. For now, this is what I felt like celebrating today.