Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, March 4, 2018


7:52 - Welcome Film Thoughts fans to my ninth annual live blog of the Academy Awards!

7: 55 - Nine years! Yes, that number surprised me too when I realized it. Time sure does fly. I'm happy to say that this year has been the most successful Oscar month for me. I watched over thirty movies this month, surpassing any previous number. It probably says a lot about me that I still wish I could have squeezed in more. But I'm happy to say I've seen all the Best Picture nominees, all the nominated films in the Acting, Director, Writing, Documentary, and Shorts categories. That's a pretty good spread, I think.

7:56 - As for the ceremony itself, I'm expecting a mediocre Jimmy Kimmel hosting job and lots of awkward attempts to acknowledge all the political turmoil in the last years.

All right, time for my first pee break of the night. Strap in. I've got a bottle of wine and some popcorn all ready.

8:00 - Here we go.

I like the idea of the retro opening but there's already a little too much crass humor here.

8:01 - Okay, the joke about Selma and the "Shape of Water" creature made me chuckle.

8:03 - Official drinking game: Every time the envelope screw-up from last year is mentioned, take a big ol' sip.

Annnd there's the first one.

8:05 - "State of limitation" made me chuckle. Oh shit, shots fired at Mel!

8:06 - Kind of impressed that Kimmel is going there as soon as he is.

All right, this opening monologue is killing me. Am I already drinking too much?

8:09 - Are Wahlberg and Michele Williams here? I'm really missing the awkward cutaways to their faces in the audience.

Ooh boy, that Trump joke landed with a thud. Don't say his name least you summon him, Jimmy!

8:10 - Christopher Plumber is great and are they really going to make him sit through this whole show?

8:11 - I'm really looking forward to some fish-fucking jokes tonight.

8:13 - I want del Toro to ride out of the theater on that jet ski.

8:14 - Best Supporting Actor is first. Rockwell will probably win. But I'm rooting for DaFoe.

8:16 - Is that his Vulko beard DaFoe is rocking? It's very regal.

8:17 - Jenkins was so fucking great in "The Shape of Water." If DaFoe can't take it, I'd go for him.

8:18 - I think Plummer got nominated mostly because of the reshoot hoopla. But he was genuinely great in that movie.

8:19 - I love Sam Rockwell but he's genuinely the weakest of this lot.

Rockwell's speech is genuinely pretty damn good. Love that anecdote about his dad.

8:23 - By the way, I also saw all the Documentary Short nominees. They were all pretty good. Heroin(e) was very powerful and Traffic Stop, my pick to win, filled me with so much righteous anger. (Knife Skills, also very touching, is my runner-up.) All the films are available on the internet and would definitely recommend checking them out.

8:24 - This gag is pretty weak but they get points for actually getting the actor from the movie.

I've got pretty much horse in the Best Make-Up race. I'm guessing Darkest Hour will get it?

8:27 - I like the noise Gal made as she opened the envelope.

8:28 - Awww, he thanked his cat.

8:29 - Saint's line about being older than the Academy was so sweet.

8:31 - "Phantom Thread" has gotta win Best Costume Design, right? It's a movie literally about costume design!


8:32 - PTA stealth rocking a great beard game.

8:37 - And we're back.

Jimmy, Marvel never gets nominated for anything outside the technical categories.

8:38 - Best Documentary Feature is a really strong category this year. "Faces Places" or "Last Men in Aleppo" would both be acceptable winners.

Greta and Laura are awwww-dorable here.

8:40 - Complete bullshit. You had four really good choices, Oscar! You fucked it up!

8:42 - I'm annoyed. Time to get sour-drunk.

8:44 - They are performing all the song nominees, right? It pisses me off when they skip any of them.

8:46 - I was digging this performance until she just started growling. That made me chuckle and I don't think that intentional.

I love how everyone stopped clapping because they thought the song was still going. That kind of shit is what live television is made for.

8:51 - Hey now, that's a "Frankenstein" reference and I dig it.

8:53 - Aw, they threw in Roger Ebert and now I'm sad.

8:55 - This montage started out as an A+ but kind of lost me in the middle but won me back with Leatherface.

8:56 - Okay, we get it, Jimmy. Christopher Plummer is old.

8:57 - "Baby Driver" has got these in the bag, right?

8:59 - Meh. I mean, sound editing is not my area of expertise so it's entirely possible "Dunkirk" was stronger in that category than "Baby Driver" but that's not what my heart says!

That guy wants a jet ski.

9:01 - I was really rooting for "Baby Driver" in the sound categories. Seemed like a sure shot. I hope this doesn't mean "Dunkirk" will sweep the other categories.

9:08 - Spielberg does look like a pot dealer.

Keyans in the house!

9:10 - I hope Beauty and the Beast doesn't win. Ugly, over-designed film.

Hopefully the first of several awards "The Shape of Water" will get tonight.

9:12 -  I like this guy's sunglasses.

9:14 - I'm really glad they went with a stripped-down version of this song.

Never mind. I take it back.

9:16 - I mean the dancing and fireworks and skulls are cool and all but this song would've benefited from a more personal performance.

9:20 - This jet ski thing is genuinely a pretty good running gag.

9:22 - Rita has style to spare.

I only got to see three of the Foreign Language film nominees. I'm rooting for "The Square" but am betting "A Fantastic Woman" gets it.

9:24 -  Yep, called it.

9:26 - Final prediction for Best Supporting Actress: Janney will get it but Metcalf would be a pleasant surprise.

9:29 - I'm definitely a fan of Janney. First thing I noticed her in was "10 Things I Hate About You." I still think she's hilarious in that movie.

That bird did good work. Can't wait for the "Mom" advertisements to mention it stars an Oscar winner now.

9:31 - Is that how you say Sufjan's name?

9:35 - By the way, the new "Roseanne" looks fantastic.

9:36 - OH SHIT, BB-8!

9:37 - In Best Animated Short, I"m rooting for "Negative Space" but it won't win.

[sarcasm]Twitter is going to love Kobe winning this Oscar.[/sarcasm]

9:40 - I love these guys but they are not landing these jokes.

I mean, there was no question "Coco" was going to win Animated Feature but I'm still glad it did. I fucking loved that movie. Hugs for everyone!

9:43 - Good speech.

Give me that sweet Sufjan.

9:45 - That jacket Sufjan is wearing is glorious.

Great performance. That could've gone on a lot longer, in my opinion.

9:51 - Is this Overlook Hotel gag part of the show? Genuinely made me lol.

Tom Holland and Gina Rodriguez are super cute together. Would ship.

9:53 - Did not expect "Blade Runner" to win. It's a good choice though.

9:55 - So much for that promise not to play anyone off.

9:56 - Christ, "Dunkirk" is going to sweep the technical categories, isn't it?

9:59 - You're welcome, Jimmy Kimmel.

10:00 - I would probably be upset if someone interrupted my movie but I also really want to meet Guillermo del Toro sooo....

10:05 - What exactly is a hot dog cannon? It sounds dangerous. And messy.

10:08 - Everyone in that theater: "Who the fuck is Ansel Elgort?"

That bit was painful. Please get on with the award show now.

10:11 - Get Tiffany Haddish to host next year.

10:12 - All right, Best Documentary Short. I'm rooting for "Traffic Stop."

Okay, that's... Not the choice I would've made. "Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405" was quite good though.

10:15 - Rooting for "DeKalb Elementary" so hard.

Ugh. They picked the worst one in this category. This year's Oscars has been an emotional roller coaster ride.

10:17 - It seems the most maudlin, emotionally manipulative film usually wins Best Live Action short. Sigh.

10:19 - I'm fairly indifferent to this song but "Two time Oscar winner Common" has a nice ring to it.

10:21 - This performance is kind of overwhelmingly BIG for my taste.

10:25 - It's okay, Salma. You're still perfect.

10:29 - Including fish men in the diversity montage was an interesting choice.

10:31 - The fact that "Logan" even got nominated is insane to me. Five years ago, I never thought a superhero would receive an honor that big.

10:32 - I loved "Call Me By Your Name" and this will probably be its only win tonight, so that's nice.

10:35 - That was a nice speech. I also didn't know James Ivory was American.

10:36 - I'm prepping myself for anger now if "Three Billboards" wins in this category. Considering everything else in the category deserves it way more. (Well, maybe not "The Big Sick.")

10:37 - Or, you know, that works too. A horror movie just won Best Original Screenplay. What a time to be alive.

10:42 - Holy shit, it's Wes Studi!

10:45 - Oh my god, Jimmy, this Matt Damon gag is way worn out. The joke about cloning Barbara Streisand's dog was solid though.

10:47 - Is Sandra Bullock okay?

10:48 - Really looking forward to Roger Deakins loosing again.

Damn, I am eating a lot of crow tonight but in the best way! Long overdue.

10:50 - If this shitty fucking "Greatest Showman" song wins, Im'ma set some fires.

10:53 - Oh my fucking god, that was painful.

If that piece of garbage cat poster of a song win, it's yet another confirmation that the Academy frequently confuses "Best" with "Most."

10:57 - And, boom, out of nowhere, it's Christopher Walken!

I'm rooting for "The Shape of Water's" gorgeous score. If Zimmer wins, I'll be slightly annoyed. Not because the score is bad but because it's just so... Zimmer-y.

 Oh good. I am pleased.

11:01 - Okay, here comes the hurt. I am fully prepared to get angry. But here's hoping Sufjan or "Coco" gets it!

11:03 - Thank god it wasn't "This Was Me." "Remember Me" was fantastic! Would've preferred Sufjan but this is still very good.

11:04 - Mentioning a dead mom is apparently the easiest way to stop the orchestra from playing you off!

11:05 - So who's getting left out of the In Memoriam montage this year?

Robert Osbourn and Harry Dean. I miss both of them.

11:08 - So glad George Romero and Haruo Nakajima weren't left out.

11:13 - Emma looks stunning. "These four men and Greta Gerwig..." Oh snap!

Please, give it to del Toro!

11:14 - Yes!

11:16 - A romantic spin on "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" going this far at the Oscars is overwhelming for me.  I could not be happier about this. (Unless it wins Best Picture too, then I'll be happier.)

11:19 - Including Hannibal Lecter and Idi Amin in a montage of inspiring film characters was an... Interesting choice.

11:20 - Jane throwing out a "Barbarella" shout out!

11:22 - If anyone besides Gary Oldman wins, I'll be utterly shocked. I suppose Daniel Day-Lewis would probably be my choice?

11:25 - Yeah, no surprise there. I consider this a make-up award for "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."

11:27 - I liked the shout-out to his mom but that was a bit long winded, don't you think?

11:29 - Oh great, another acknowledgement that shitty "Blind Side" movie won something.

Is Jodie okay? Is she just really short or is Jennifer Lawrence really tall?

11:31 - Frances McDormand gave a thunderous performance that I'll be fine with winning but I'm rooting for Sally.

11:34 - Frances deserves an Oscar for that opening line there.

11:36 - Frances is so wonderfully genuine. This has made the whole night worth it.

11:37 - All right, guys, we're just about out of the woods here.

11:40 - There was no way Kimmel wasn't sneaking in another joke about last year.

11:42 - The wave of applause that greeted "Darkest Hour" was surprising.

11:44 - Here's another reminder about what a strong crop of films this is, comparatively.

11:45 - If the fish-fucking movie wins, I won't forgive Oscar for everything they did wrong. But it would make up for a lot.

11:46 - A great end to a great awards season.

11:47 - Such a sincere, beautiful homage to monsters and fantasy winning the top film prize of the year is just outstanding to me.

11:49 - Someone getting cut off at he last minute is a much smaller screw-up than getting Best Picture wrong, that's for sure.

11:50 - That was a pretty good ceremony! Didn't drag too much. Lots of great speeches. Only a few of the gags didn't work and I laughed much more than expected. Dare I say, Kimmel actually did a pretty good job. Moreover, most of the winners actually deserved it.

11:51 - Thanks to everyone who joined me or glanced at this live blog. It was a really good Oscar season! 

11:52 - I'm going to take the rest of the week off but you'll see me again soon, faithful Film Thoughts readers. Thank you so much. Good luck and good night.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

OSCARS 2018: The 2018 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

Last year's Oscar marathon was a mess for me. I didn't get to watch nearly as much as I wanted to and was struggling to keep up all month. Part of what made last year a disaster was how I didn't get a chance to see any of the nominated shorts. Luckily, not only has this year been by-far my most successful Oscar marathon, I was able to watch both the Animated and Live Action shorts. Here's my thoughts on the animated shorts, all of which are pretty good this year.


Some times it feels like Pixar and Disney are single-handedly keeping the animated short as a concept alive in the public's mind. While Pixar's superior 2017 film, “Coco,” was hassled theatrically with that awful “Olaf” thing, their far less important 2017 release, “Cars 3,” was proceeded by the very cute “Lou.” Set on a grade school playground, the short's titular character is an entity made up of the items left in the school lost-and-found bin. Lou delights in spreading lost toys and goods back to their owners. That's when he spies a schoolyard bully stealing the items away from the kids. Lou decides to teach him a lesson.

“Lou” shows a mastery of tone, despite only being a seven minute long short. It begins as a whimsical bit of slapstick. Lou is an interesting character, his form constantly shifting as the objects he's made of move around. This leads to amusing sights, like his slinky and jump-rope arms shooting through a net. Or the bully tripping over the marbles Lou spills over the ground. Yet the mad-cap humor soon segues into something more touching. Lou realizes the a stuffed puppy in his position used to belong to the bully. That the kid was himself bullied when he was younger. Soon enough, the child learns the joys of giving, in ways both cute and sweet. “Lou” is funny and touching in the Pixar tradition. [8/10]

Dear Basketball

Aside from Pixar's "Lou," "Dear Basketballl" is the nominated Animated Short to get the most attention this year. Probably because of its association with a popular athlete. The film is a love letter to the sport of basketball written and narrated by Kobe Bryant in his retiring year. Bryant's personal anecdotes, of being a kid and dunking his dad's rolled-up socks into a trash can, are charming. (Kobe as a kid is depicted in a vaguely Disney-esque, super cutesy fashion.) The way he waxes nostalgically on the purpose the sport gave him, as a poor child growing up, is nice.

Legendary Disney animator Glen Keane directs the film and he provides a sketchy, loose, mostly black-and-white art style that is likable and eye-catching. The musical score, from no one less than John Williams, is big and emotional and maybe pushes a bit too hard. It's easy to read "Dear Basketball" as an ego trip from Bryant, the athlete paying homage to his own success, especially once he starts to talk about how his mind and spirit wanted to keep going but his body wouldn't let him. And maybe it is. However, the short is nice to look and summons some genuine emotion, which is pretty good for something that's only six minutes long. [7/10]

Negative Space

"Negative Space" comes from French filmmakers Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter. It details a father and son relationship. The two would bond over packing luggage, the father teaching the boy to fold everything in a specific way. This is depicted via some slightly surreal flights of fancy, such as the teeth of a zipper becoming a road and the zipper pull becoming a car. Or, my favorite part of the film, the boy getting washed away into an ocean composed entirely of clothing, with socks as coral, belts as eels, watches as crabs, and underwear as jelly fish.

The short is primarily about how, more often than not, we relate to our loved ones through the little things. Though the act of packing a suitcase is simple enough, something that doesn't mean much to most, it meant a lot to this boy and his father. From the past tense the narrator uses, it's easy to guess the ending. That doesn't stop it from giving meaning and context to the rest of the short. The animation style, computer generated but meant to invoke stop motion, is quirky and home spun, the characters looking a bit like they've been knitted. It suits a short that is funny and whimsical but ultimately rooted in a need to understand and work through loss. [8/10]

Garden Party

Narratively, "Garden Party" is pretty simple. It's set in a fancy house that is strangely empty for reasons that will soon be revealed. In the absence of people, the home has become occupied by new residents: Frogs. Though light on story, "Garden Party" features a lot of personality. The little froggy protagonists occupy themselves in various amusing ways. Like chasing a bug across a parked sports car, trying to get the last bit of food out of a jar, or pursuing a mate in an opulent bed. The way the short slowly but gently reveals the nature of its setting is really well done. Small details appear in the foreground and background that let you know what happened to the home's very famous former resident.

Animation wise, "Garden Party" is even more impressive. The detail is incredible, as the frogs and their surroundings look almost photo-realistic. However, there's just enough of a cartoon edge, allowing for a little more expression in the amphibians' faces. This allows for some likable character designs, like the bloated toad in the kitchen or the small pink frog leaping around. Though "Garden Party" may not be much more then a simple, somewhat morbid joke, it's beautifully brought to life, with fantastic animation and an impressive attention to detail. [8/10]

Revolting Rhymes: Part 1

“Revolting Rhymes: Part 1” sticks out a bit among this year's animated short nominees. It's the first half of a two part, hour long special based on poems by Roald Dahl. Both halves aired on British television in 2016, so I'm not sure why it was under consideration by the Academy in 2017. The special weaves together subversive, comedic variations on three classic fairy tales: Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and the Three Little Pigs. These tellings re-imagine Red Riding Hood as a ruthless wolf slayer, the seven dwarves as gambling-addicted jockeys, and the Third Pig as a banker, among other differences. The stories are told, in rhyming verse, by a talking wolf to a curious older woman in a dinner.

I'm not sure why the Academy singled out part one of “Revolting Rhymes,” instead of the whole thing. The total run time of both parts is an hour, which still qualifies it for the short category I believe. Either way, it's pretty charming. The animation is cute, the CGI characters having a lot of quirky appeal. Some of the riffs on the familiar tales, which include Snow White's step mother eating a heart and Little Red Riding Hood making the wolf skin's into her new jackets, are nicely morbid. The verse, well read by Dominic West, is catchy and amusing. The short's comedic energy is a bit manic and takes some getting used to. It's cute and funny enough that I had to watch the second half immediately afterwards. It's odd that half of a year old television special got nominated but it's still pretty good. [7/10]

Friday, March 2, 2018

OSCARS 2018: The 2018 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts

Last year, I ran out of time and didn't have a chance to watch the Oscar nominated short films. This really bummed me out. The shorts are, by far, the most overlooked and underseen of all the nominees. These filmmakers deserve to have their hard work seen and appreciated. Luckily, this year I'm back on the ball and was able to see the nominated shorts. Here are my thoughts below.

DeKalb Elementary

"DeKalb Elementary" begins with a young white man entering a predominately black elementary school and pulling out an assault rifle. After that, things do not progress the way they often do in real life. Instead of firing, he clears out the office and tells the receptionist to call the police. He intends to open fire on the cops as soon as they arrive. The receptionist talks to the boy, quickly deducing that he's depressed and wants to end his own life. An odd relationship forms between the two, as the woman talks the boy through the day's events.

Considering the grim place "DeKalb Elementary" starts in, it ends up becoming a surprisingly touching film. Director Reed Van Dyk's presentation is stripped down and simple, rarely leaving the office and focusing on the two characters. This is primarily a two-hander. Bo Mitchell makes it clear that the shooter is emotionally frazzled, accurately depicting a scattered mind uncertain of his actions. Tarra Riggs, as the receptionist, beautifully brings to life an exceptionally compassionate person. The ability to extend love and understanding to other people is the main theme of the film and one it conveys powerfully. It's a tense film, due the threat of potential violence never being far off, and one that pays off in a touching way. The film is based on a true story but, in the wake of yet another mass shooting, plays out like a rather fantastical story: One where communication and compassion is stronger than anger, hate, and random violence. [9/10]

The Silent Child

Chris Overton's "The Silent Child" follows Jo, a social worker invited by a rural English family to help their deaf daughter, Libby. Libby, who refuses to wear a hearing aid and can only partially read lips, observes her family silently and can not truly communicate with them. Jo teaches Libby sign language, the girl picking up on it quickly. The two form a bond soon enough. However, no one in the family understands sign language and are uncertain if this is a route worth exploring.

As a closing wall of text makes clear, "The Silent Child" is an issues movie. In this case, the issue is spreading awareness about sign language and the deaf. There's one really powerful shot in the film. From Libby's perspective, we see the girl looking at her family, living in a world of silence, distant from them and unable to communicate. Sadly, this is the only time "The Silent Child" takes us inside the girl's head. The relationship between Libby and her caretaker, though sweet and bolstered by strong performances from Rachel Shenton and Maisie Sly, always feels too manipulative. The parents' decision to discontinue their daughter's lessons strains believably, making mom and dad seem like clueless and abusive assholes for no reason. Though associated with a good cause, "The Silent Child" never makes the audience care about its characters, causing it to come off as an overly sappy heart-string tugger that doesn't earn the emotion it aims for. [5/10]

My Nephew Emmett

Race isn't just a reoccurring theme in the Best Picture race. "My Nephew Emmett" is inspired by the real life murder of Emmett Till. In 1950s Mississippi, elderly black man Moses Wright discovers that his fourteen year old nephew Emmett wolf-whistled at a white woman. In the middle of the night, two armed white men appear on Moses' door step. They enter the house and demand to take Emmett outside. The whole household is threatened with violence when Moses refuses to cooperate but the men soon find what they came for.

"My Nephew Emmett" is set in the same state as "Mudbound," similarly depicting a family torn apart by racism and violence. It's an intense twenty minutes. The short focuses on silence and darkness, as Moses waits for the men he knows are coming to appear. The confrontation between the racist killers and the peaceful black family is a queasy experience, racial epithets flying freely and the threat of violence always hanging in the air. Sadly, "My Nephew Emmett" is a bit undone by its short length. We only have a little bit of time to get to know the family, Moses and his nephew coming off more as thin sketches than fully fleshed out characters. Also do to being a short, the eventual outcome of the incident doesn't have much room to land before the end credits roll. Though well acted and effectively constructed, the film is not as powerful as its filmmakers clearly hoped it would be. [7/10]

The Eleven O'Clock

An Australian short, "The Eleven O'Clock" begins with a rather amusing set-up. A psychologist waits for his eleven o'clock patient to arrive. The patient is a man with delusions of grandeur who believes himself to be a psychologist. As he arrives in the office, a game of wits quickly begins to play out. The doctor and the patient have an argumentative back-and-forth, as each believes the other to be delusional.

It's pretty easy to figure out "The Eleven O'Clock's" twist ending. From the minute the premise is introduced, the audience is expecting the reveal. However, getting there is still a lot of fun. John Lawson, who also wrote the short, is really funny as the stuffy shrink. Damon Herriman, as his patient, is contrastingly absent-minded. Seeing the two play off each other produces plenty of laughter. Lawson's frustration at Herriman explaining simple concepts to him is amusing. A word association test quickly becomes a highly circular argument. The secretary's increasingly baffled reaction to everything that's happening got me chuckling. Though fairly simple in execution, "The Eleven O'Clock" is still a really funny thirteen minutes that I would recommend checking out. [7/10]

Watu Wote: All of Us

It seems like every year, there's at least one live action short about an African country torn apart by violence and war. "Watu Wote" is set on the border between Kenya and Somelia. Al-Shabaab, a Muslim terrorist sect, terrorizes and attacks Kenya's Christian population. The film follows a Christian woman who witnessed her husband and child murdered by the same terrorists. She boards a bus ride out of the country, driven by a Muslim. On the way out of Kenya, the bus is attacked by a group of Al-Shabaab terrorists. The woman is shocked to find the Muslim driver and passengers protecting her and the other Christian on-board.

I was happy to see"Watu Wote" is not self-serving misery porn like 2013's "That Wasn't Me." Instead, it's commanding piece of work against prejudice and persecution. It's refreshing to see a movie about Islamic terrorism that intentionally points out that extremist like Al-Shabaab are a minority. Watching the bus driver and passengers stand up for their fellow humans - a Muslim woman quickly placing the Christian in a burka, the driver questioning the attackers and pointing out that the Q'uran does not stand for thsi kind of violence - is genuinely touching. "Watu Wote" is well directed, full of tense direction and strong performances. It sets up the story, makes it important point, and then wraps up quickly. [7/10]

Thursday, March 1, 2018

OSCARS 2018: All the Money in the World (2017)

From the moment it was announced, “All the Money in the World” was an Oscar contender. Ridley Scott's movies don't always attract award attention but, when he's on-the-ball, they tend to. Adapting a stranger-than-fiction true story, about crime and money and fame, certainly seemed to bring out the best of him. Yet “All the Money in the World” ended up drawing attention for entirely different reasons. You know the story. Thanks to Kevin Spacey's public shaming as a huge creep, Ridley Scott made the drastic decision to recast Spacey with Christopher Plummer and perform extensive reshoots, just a few weeks before the film's release date. He pulled it off, because Scott is a fantastic lunatic, and Plummer got nominated. This incident will likely define “All the Money in the World's” place cinematic history so... Is the movie worth considering beyond that?

You may be familiar with the real story. J. Paul Getty brought the oil industry to the Middle East and made himself the richest private citizen in the world, a billionaire in the 1950s. At one point, Getty was close to his son, John Paul Jr., and his grandson, John Paul III. However, after his son fell into drug addiction, and his wife passed up a massive divorce settlement in return for sole custody of their son, J. Paul Getty would largely disown them. In 1973, while in Italy, John Paul Getty III is kidnapped by a circle of professional criminals. They demand 17 million in ransom money. Due to passing on the settlement, mom Gail does not have this kind of cash. She's forced to ask Getty for the money. The billionaire, however, refuses to pay. Tense negotiations ensue.

I'm happy to say “All the Money in the World” is pretty good! It's a well-balanced movie all about power plays. Getty refuses to pay his grandson's ransom because he doesn't want all his grandkids to become targets of ransom. What follows is a back-and-forth between Gail, Getty, and intermediate Fletcher Chase. Gail will demand one thing, Chase will take the demand back to Getty, and he'll inevitably deny it. Meanwhile, the criminals who have kidnapped John Paul are pulling their own power plays. The boy is traded between petty crooks and organized mobsters, who try methods both subtle and brutal. Gail, finally, has to try her own schemes to save her son, eventually realizing shame is her greatest weapon. It's an interesting dynamic, the powerful and the powerless jockeying for control.

If there's one lesson to take away form “All the Money in the World,” it's that rich people are really fucking petty. The film paints Getty's refusal to pay the ransom, and how that plays out, as one long excuse to get back at Gail. When she foregoes a settlement in favor of simply taking her son back, the billionaire is insulted. He sees his grandson's imperiled life as a way to punish his former daughter-in-law. Furthermore, Getty is exceedingly frugal for the richest man in the world. He hordes priceless paintings, sculptures, and historical artifacts. Yet he insists on doing his own laundry, instead of paying a cleaning service. Getty seemingly thinks only of money, actually saying his fortune is unavailable due to the shifts in the market at one point. It's true now as it was in 1973: Nobody gets rich by giving their money away. And people who think like that are usually assholes.

“All the Money in the World” is almost a movie split in two. While one half focuses on the negotiations with the eldest Getty, the other details on the youngest Getty's kidnapping. This part of the film functions like an especially grim thriller. John is put through hell. He's kidnapped, chained up, and threatened. He witnesses one of his kidnappers getting shot right in front of him. His health deteriorates and he's traded back and forth by various criminals. You really feel sorry for the kid, played well by the ironically named Charlie Plummer. This part of the film peaks with several key scenes. Getty nearly escapes, running to a near-by home, before his captors catch up with him. Even after his ransom is paid, he feels like he has to run. Yet the grim highlight of “All the Money in the World” is when John Paul's ear is cut off, a grisly sight that Ridley Scott exploits for all its intense power.

At first, I thought Christopher Plummer got an Oscar nomination for this, strictly to acknowledge the crazy feat of pulling off those reshoots so quickly. That was likely a factor but Plummer is genuinely great here. He exudes a sense of power, biting into every petty line with a delightful glee. The other performances in the film are impressive, if somewhat mannered. Watching Michelle Williams confront this frightening man, eventually defeating him, is entertaining. Williams is very good, even if she puts on an odd accent. Mark Wahlberg, as Fletcher, is pretty good. However, it's hard for Wahlberg to let go off his typical macho bluster, which doesn't always work for the movie. When Fletcher finally confronts J. Paul Getty, this becomes especially obvious.

It's hard to say where “All the Money in the World” will fall within Ridley Scott's overall career. He's made so many films and continues to work insanely hard, despite now being in his eighties. He uses an odd color-coding in the movie, an overall green color that is slightly off-putting. However, while perhaps a bit minor, “All the Money in the World” is a real solid one. The performances are strong, Plummer especially. The script unfolds in a satisfying manner. The true story is related in an interesting way. Oscar worthy? Who's to say? But it's certainly worth a watch or two. [7/10]

OSCARS 2018: Logan (2017)

It's rather astonishing that “Logan” exists at all. Eighteen years ago, a movie about the X-Men – one of comics' most popular superhero teams – was a risky proposition. Only after those films became record-breaking successes, ushering in the modern age of superhero movies, was Wolverine granted two (rather mediocre) spin-off adventures. Only after superheroes became the defining blockbuster style of our time did Fox decide to make an R-rated X-Men movie. And only after “Deadpool” was also a huge hit did they dare to give Wolverine the same leeway. That's a lot of variables. Yet “Logan” did get made, becoming a commercial success and a huge critical hit. Now the film is nominated for an Oscar, during a time when the Academy is still reluctant to nominate superhero movies for anything.

In the near future, America has become a mini-dystopia, where the rich are richer, the poor are poorer, corporations and the military run unchecked, and border walls surround the country. The X-Men are dead. Mutants are practically extinct. The only surviving members of the team are Logan, formally known as Wolverine, and Professor X. Logan is slowly being poisoned by the adamentium that coats his skeleton, his healing factor getting weaker every day. Charles Xavier's hyper-telepathic mind is falling to dementia. Into this enters Laura, a genetically engineered female clone of Wolverine. Logan is talked into rescuing the girl, pursued by the ruthless corporation that created her, taking her and Xavier on a cross-country trip to a fabled mutant sanctuary.

Making an R-rated Wolverine movie didn't just allow us to finally see the famous mutant use his signature claws (and his favorite swear word) without hasty censoring or clever editing. James Mangold's film has the “X-Men” franchise reaching for previously unseen ambitions. Freed from regular continuity, Mangold can get as dark as he wants. Presumably every other X-Men has been violently killed off-screen. These iconic characters, gods among regular men, are reduced to a very sad state indeed. Charles Xavier is a ranting mental patient who needs help going to the bathroom. Logan is sick, loosing his healing factor, and has erectile dysfunction of the claws. Seeing such exaggerated characters in such a pathetic, humanized condition is startling and powerful. “Logan” features the genre's excesses, like cyborgs, silly code names, and evil clones. It's also a surprisingly sad, melancholic movie, dealing with issues of obsolescence, mortality, and the cost of heroics. It's not just an entry in a big budget, popcorn muncher franchise. It's a serious motion picture about serious things, as well as sci-fi superheroes having crazy adventures.

Mangold is upfront about his influence. “Shane” is featured in the movie and quoted extensively. By setting the movie around Texas and the America mid-west, the western element becomes obvious. Though partially inspired by Mark Millar's “Old Man Logan” – thankfully minus the inbred hillbilly hulk clan – the movie draws more from something like “Unforgiven.” Logan is a mutant at the end of his rope. He's a suicidal alcoholic, torn apart by pain both physical and mental. He has many, many regrets and the weight of them is crushing. Laura isn't just a daughter of sorts, she's a chance for Logan to make a stand for something again, after too many years of running away and hiding. It's a story of a cynic, somewhat reluctantly, using the only thing he has to make one last difference.

Like I said, the novelty of seeing a Wolverine that can actually tear people apart and drop plenty of fuck-bombs isn't the only reason for “Logan” to exist. Yet it's certainly a contributing factor. The action in “Logan” is visceral and brutal. Logan shoves his claws through heads, faces, eyes, arms, and legs. Limbs are cleaved away. Heads are chopped off. Bodies are blown apart by bullets and buckshot. Logan goes into a full-on berserker rage at the end, decimating an army with his claws. It's pretty fucking gnarly. Mangold's film orchestrates some impressive action in general. A car chase, which takes place around a fence and a roaring train, is easily a stand-out sequence. X-23's acrobatic stunts also prove impressive. Mangold's direction is, in general, excellent. The black-and-white “Noir” version on the Blu-Ray further draws attention to how measured each image in the movie is.

The real heart of “Logan” resides in the trio of fantastic performances at its center. Hugh Jackman has played this character for nearly two decades. Here, he brings an incredible weight to the part. His weary, worn-out, but still driven by a sense of personal duty. It's by-far Jackman's best performance to date. Patrick Stewart, as a senile Professor X, is allowed to shed his ever-present gravitas. Instead, he gets to play an ailing old man, uncertain of his own body and mind but allowed to appreciate the finer things he still has. A dinner scene with Logan and a kindly family is an absolute delight. Lastly, newcomer Dafne Keen plays Laura, otherwise known as X-23. Keen is mostly silent, instead screaming with an animal fury. Amusingly, the film still allows this pint-sized killing machine to be a little girl, showing an affection for horses and gaudy sunglasses. Keen shows an incredible power in her tiny frame. The interplay between this trio grounds “Logan” further, truly making the audience care.

Considering Disney's recent buy-out of 20th Century Fox and the uncertain future of their “X-Men” films, “Logan” couldn't have come at a better time. It puts a definitive end on this chapter of the characters' history. (Though I certainly hope that rumored X-23 solo movie materializes.) Considering franchises are rarely allowed to truly end, that in-and-of-itself is an impressive feat. Working fantastically as a stand alone film, it also shows the places the superhero genre can be pushed by a daring filmmaker. It's a bloody film in its violence that's also raw in its emotions, bringing Wolverine's story to a suitably epic conclusion. [9/10]

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

OSCARS 2018: The Square (2017)

Boy, people sure like to name motion pictures after the geometrical shape composed of four straight lines. When I say “The Square,” what movie am I talking about? Am I referring to the underseen and underrated Australian thriller from 2008? Am I talking about the 2013 Egyptian documentary, which was also nominated for an Oscar back in 2014? Am I referring to at least two other documentaries that exist with the same name? Or am I discussing the 2017 Swedish film that is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars? In this case, I'm discussing the latter most movie. Gee, who would've thought that a square, perhaps the simplest shape anyone could draw, would inspire so many filmmakers?

This particular “Square” is set at the X-Royal art museum in Stockholm, housed within the former Royal Palace. The film follows Christian, the museum's troubled curator. Christian does not have an easy job. He struggles to find ways to keep the museum's artwork relevant in a fast paced, ADHD-afflicted world. He struggles as a single father to two rambunctious young girls. His sex life and the egotistic artists he deals with are also sources of frustration. Mostly, the museum's latest star attraction is what's causing him the most grief. A simple square painted onto the ground, the artist set out to make a symbol of altruism and giving. The advertising company the museum hired produced a sensationalist YouTube video that has become a meme, attracting attention and controversy to the museum.

When you look at the films usually nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, you do not usually see an upbeat collection of movies. Just due to the nature of the beast, the films that get attention usually deal with weighty or difficult topics. “The Square” does, in its way, tackle heavy issues. Yet it's also a really funny film. Much of “The Square” deals with contrasting the world of pretentious, high art with more earthly manners. A wordy interview with an artist is interrupted by an audience member who claims to have Tourettes, filling the quiet conference room with shouted profanity. The artist's display is piles of dirt and gravel laid out in a room. At one point, a janitor nearly vacuums up the artwork. Later, the female journalist Christian had a one-night stand with attempts to talk to him while an odd art piece – a pile of chairs, that wavers back and forth and makes a loud, mechanical noise – repeatedly interrupts them. Christian goes from the high class world of the museum to slam-dancing in a noisy club. A cellphone rings during another artistic display. In “The Square,” heady, thoughtful ideas are constantly being derailed by lower instincts.

Pretty much any movie about art or a museum has to tackle the same concept: What role does art play in our modern lives? “The Square” deals with this too, though it ties in with the movie's comedic instincts as well. The main plot, of the museum trying to sell abstract art to the world, directly grapples with this. The weird, quiet art displays are outright compared with other displays, like the flashy cheerleader competition Christian's daughters run through. There's also the question of what the boundaries of art are. By seeing stuff like piles of dirt or chairs presented as art, the audience questions what art even is. “The Square” also questions the limits of art. In a key scene, a shirtless performance artist walks through a dining room and acts like a wild chimpanzee. Eventually, the act gets violent. It's a darkly hilarious and unforgettable scene, inspired by a real stunt and starring one of the performers from the modern “Planet of the Apes” series.

A major subplot in “The Square” involves someone stealing Christian's cellphone and cuff links. The phone's built-in GPS reveals that it's located at a local apartment building. An assistant convinces Christian to mail an accusing, threatening letter to every tenant in the building, hoping to find the thief. This backfires in ways both hilarious and tense. Homeless people constantly appear at the margins of the film's stories. All of this feeds back to the titular art pieces, a simple square on the floor that encourages people to be kind to each other. It's a simple honorable message that nearly everyone in the movie ignores. (Including the museum, who sells the art piece with a video of a child exploding.) “The Square,” using humor and biting satire, asks us why such a simple idea is so difficult to adhere by.

Much of “The Square's” humor comes from its great lead performance. Claes Bang effortlessly switches back and forth between English and Swedish, showing nary an accent. Christian is a man constantly thrust into awkward situations. Whether its his daughters slamming a door, a poor kid confronting him, a tense press conference, or an awkward post-sex conversation with an ill-advised hook-up,  Christian responses with stuttering, self-deflating clumsiness. Bang is hilarious in the part. Elisabeth Moss also appears the journalist Bang's sleeps with. Aside from the surprisingly frank and genuinely erotic sex scene, Moss shows a lot of fine comedic talent in her handful of scenes.

“The Square” is one of the longest films I've watched for this year's Oscar marathon, playing over two and a half hours. Compared to the some of the other long films I've watched this month, “The Square” just breezes by, making me laugh and making my jaw drop. It's a frequently hilarious film that conveys some heavy ideas with humor and striking images. Out of the Foreign Language Film nominees I've seen, they've all been really good. However, this one might be the closest to a straight-up masterpiece, a daring and amusing movie that lingers in the memory and makes you laugh and think. [9/10]

OSCARS 2018: A Fantastic Woman (2017)

When it comes to the different categories, I’m going to say some are more widely watched by Academy voters than others. I would wager the shorts are the least watched, just do to a lack of interest. It seems a lot of Academy voters don’t take animation very seriously, so the Animated Features don’t get too much attention. Lastly, the Foreign Language films probably get overlooked a lot, simply do to the lack of well-known movie stars or flashy awards campaigns. (The same can likely be said of the Documentary nominees.) For me, this year, most of the Foreign Language film nominees were sadly not available. Luckily, I was able to see “A Fantastic Woman” in the theater, so that’s cool.

Marina is a trans-woman living in modern day Chile. She works as a waitress during the week and sings in bars on the weekend. Currently, Marina is dating and living with an older man named Orlando. After a romantic night, Orlando awakes feeling unwell. As Marina rushes him to the hospital, Orlando tumbles down the stairs and hits his head. Shortly after arriving, Orlando dies of an aneurysm. Orlando's family, who did not approve of his relationship with Marina and refuses to understand the woman's condition, do everything they can to exclude Marina from the grieving period. She struggles to express herself in this situation.

“A Fantastic Woman” is one of those movies that introduces a likable, nice lead character then does a bunch of shitty things to them. Much of the movie is devoted to Marina enduring one humiliation after another. The world refuses to let her process the trauma of her dear lover dying suddenly. Minutes after Orlando dies, a police officer questions Marina like she's a potential murderer and then misgenders her. An investigator bothers her at work, alternating between accusing her of being a murderer or a victim. Orlando's family treats her the worst. The son shows up at the apartment, says a bunch of insulting shit, and then threatens to steal her dog and kick her out. The family refuses to let her attend the funeral. Eventually, the son and his friends abduct Marina, wrap tape around her face, and drop her in an alley. Marina, who is always a pleasant and kind person, has done nothing to deserve this. Which makes “A Fantastic Woman” a somewhat downbeat, frequently uncomfortable viewing.

I can only assume director Sebastian Leilo did this intentionally, as “A Fantastic Woman” is partially a film about the difficulties transgender people experience in the modern world. Occasionally, Leilo's symbolism is a little too astute. Such as a dream where Marina, who is seemingly being attacked by the whole world, walks against an increasingly strong wind. Over all, Leilo's direction is strong. He opens the film with bright colors, warm blues and purples flashing across the screen. There are other expressive flourishes, such as a slow zoom into an empty locker. Or a sudden song and dance fantasy sequence inside a gay bar, one of the few times Marina as a character is allowed a moment of pure joy. It's a really nice looking film.

Usually, Leilo trusts his actors to do good work. The film stars trans-actress and opera singer Daniela Vega. Vega's performance is raw and vulnerable without making the character seem weak. In fact, Marina is very strong. She constantly faces humiliation and scrutiny but keeps her composure. It's not until the very end that Marina's frustration finally boils over, allowing a moment of cathartic action. Even then, her pain and grief must quickly be turned inward again. The film ends with a stunning musical display from Vega, Marina taking her pain and fear and transforming it into a pure expression of song. It's a star-making performance and hopefully Vega will get more roles.

“A Fantastic Woman” is an emotionally complex but eventually touching film, showing someone going through a hard time in a world that refuses to accept them for who they are. It features an impressive performance from Daniela Vega and is generally pretty to look at. Some are saying its the front runner to win the Oscar. I still haven't seen enough of the nominees in that category to say for sure. There are others I enjoyed more but this would be a bold, powerful choice for the award. [7/10]