Monday, May 21, 2018

Movie Review: 'Solo' doesn't fly well in his own film

Lucasfilm/Walt Disney
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, directed by Ron Howard. USA, English, Color, 135 minutes) When you thought the Star Wars franchise was heading up from a forgetful opening trilogy that set up the backstory to the landmark space opera, "Solo" brings it right back down to the level of the first three episodes we wish we could forget. 

Because "Star Wars" is so well known studios can make any film they want that is based on the original trilogy so long as the Star Wars tag is attached to it. It's a full-proof way to make money without guaranteeing that the quality will be there. The problem with that is there is no mystery left to anything; we are force fed explanations behind characters and stories that sometimes aren't warranted just so the studio can make a few bucks. Han Solo was such a cool, rogue character in the fight against the empire that I never really cared to know his origins, and why do you need to? He's a standalone icon in cinema who should have been left on his own and not used for a cheap plot that was ruffled together for this film. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Movie Review: 'RBG' offers a softer, less "notorious" side of noted SCOTUS justice

Family time between Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her granddaughter in a scene from 'RBG.' 
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
RBG (2018, directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen. USA, English, Color, 97 minutes) I had only seen Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once in person. It was during a session of the Supreme Court in May 2017 and I was gitty sitting from the press box anticipating her entrance from the black curtains all of the justices appear from to take their seats for the day's events. I eventually saw her from her seat a good 50 feet away. She wouldn't have known me from a can of paint, but knowing I was in her presence was just as exciting as fans who get to see her speak during official visits to universities and other institutions. 

United States Supreme Court justices are not thought of as celebrities. Hell, not even a majority of people even remember that the Supreme Court is part of the judicial branch of the federal government, or even know some of its basic functions in rendering decisions. I'm sure the Supreme Court comes off to many as an institution that appears to work like the wizard behind the curtain, an unknown identity whose main job is to divide the country on topics like abortion, naming a president and ruling on same-sex marriage. Obviously, the scope of their work goes beyond these socially volatile areas, but how many know that?

And then comes along Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 85-year-old Brooklynite who has been given "notorious" distinction, a nod to the rapper Notorious BIG, for her legal persona that demands social justice for all and who is not afraid to admit that drinking a little too much wine has caused her to fall asleep during the president's State of the Union addresses. She hasn't missed a day on the bench through two different bouts of cancer and the passing of her husband. Her candid reflections of those events prove she's the OG of the court. Ginsburg's the focus of many fan-based books, websites, clothing merchandise, tattoos and as a wild interpretation of being a party animal by Kate McKinnon on "Saturday Night Live." An official documentary on her life seemed inevitable.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Bruno Mars sweeps the 60th Annual Grammy Awards

Getty Images

Bruno Mars was the biggest winner at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards hosted this year at Madison Square Garden in New York City winning in all six categories he contended.
He swept the general field categories with "24K Magic" winning album of the year, "That's What I like" taking song of the year with his album's title track claiming record of the year. He won three awards at the premiere ceremony before the main telecast- best R&B album for "24K Magic" and R&B performance and R&B song for "That's What I Like."

"24K Magic" also won the best engineered album, non-classical award (but Mars was not a credited engineer on the album).

Another big winner was Kendrick Lamar claiming five out of seven of his races. He won three prizes at the premiere ceremony  for rap song, rap performance and music video, all for "HUMBLE." His collaboration with Rihanna, "LOYALTY." won best rap/sung performance and his "DAMN." won best rap album on the main telecast.

Country star Chris Stapleton swept the country categories by taking album ("From a Room: Volume 1"), song ("Broken Halos") and solo performance ("Either Way"). Little Big Town collected the country genre's only other award for duo/group performance.

Other notable multiple winners include Ed Sheeran who picked up Grammys in the only two categories he was nominated: pop solo performance ("Shape of You") and pop vocal album ("Divide"). Double winners were seen at the premiere ceremony across the many genre fields including CeCe Winans in the gospel field, Jason Isbell in the american roots categories, Jennifer Hidgon in classical and Justin Hurwitz in visual media.

Jay-Z led with eight nominations this year, but was shutout completely

Album Of The Year
Awaken, My Love! — Childish Gambino
4:44 — JAY-Z
DAMN. — Kendrick Lamar
Melodrama — Lorde
24K Magic — Bruno Mars
Record Of The Year
“Redbone” — Childish Gambino
“Despacito” — Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber
“The Story Of O.J.” — JAY-Z
“HUMBLE.” — Kendrick Lamar
“24K Magic” — Bruno Mars
Song Of The Year
“Despacito” — Ramón Ayala, Justin Bieber, Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton, songwriters (Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber)
“4:44” — Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson, songwriters (JAY-Z)
“Issues” — Benny Blanco, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Julia Michaels & Justin Drew Tranter, songwriters (Julia Michaels)
“1-800-273-8255” — Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury, Khalid Robinson, songwriters (Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid)
“That’s What I Like” — Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters (Bruno Mars)
Best New Artist
Alessia Cara
Lil Uzi Vert
Julia Michaels

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

My fearless 2017 Oscar Nomination Predictions

Expect "The Shape of Water" to claim the most Oscar nominations.

Nomination will be announced on Jan. 23; These are just guesses.

Best Picture
Call Me By Your Name
Get Out
I, Tonya
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro, "The Shape of Water"
Luca Guadagnino, "Call Me By Your Name"
Martin McDonagh, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
Christopher Nolan, "Dunkirk"
Jordan Peele, "Get Out"

Best Actor
Timothee Chalamet "Call Me By Your Name"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Phantom Thread"
James Franco, "The Disaster Artist"
Daniel Kaluuya, "Get Out"
Gary Oldman, "Darkest Hour"

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, "Molly's Game"
Sally Hawkins, "The Shape of Water"
Frances McDormand, "Three Billboards Ouside Ebbing, Missouri"
Margot Robbie, "I, Tonya"
Saoirse Ronan, "Lady Bird"

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Movie Review: A 'Happy End' to Haneke's Latest? Yes.

Sony Pictures Classics
Happy End (2017, directed by Michael Haneke. France/Germany/Austria, French/English with subtitles, Color, 107 minutes) Michael Haneke's newest film opens and closes with moments recorded on a character's cell phone. I felt this was appropriate considering society's dependence on the device, especially in movie theaters where people are on them until the film starts, and they whip them out when the end credits roll. It's a subtle note Haneke makes about society in "Happy End", the auteur's first film in five years that takes a step back to his earlier works of observing people and cultures without a clear narrative. It was definitely a "happy end"-ing.

True to Haneke form, the film revolves around the Laurent family with an all-star cast who play the characters of construction firm owner Anne (Isabelle Huppert), her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovtiz) and their father Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as the fractured leads of an emotionally broke family. The film is a quilt of slightly loose pieces, both structurally and emotionally, that form together a coherent story about their troubles to realize lethal realities and the changing social climate around them. Anne is dealing with a construction site accident, and her equally unstable son, while her father tries to fight off dementia with several failed suicide attempts. Meanwhile, Thomas deals with multiple lovers and his emotionally distant teenage daughter who knows everything about his salacious encounters. 

Haneke has (had) a way of forming loose parts into a coherent narrative. That has been seen with his own "71 Fragments" and "Code Unknown"; "Happy End" is no different. Intricately weaved into a lot of static shots and long takes, sometimes both, is a story about really naive characters who don't realize the realities around them. The smartest characters are Georges and his granddaughter, Eve, who are both fascinated by death that they connect on a level of empathy that no one else has yet to realize because of all of the distractions around them. The dichotomy between the oldest and youngest characters who seem to realize the most around them is a revelation. No one else understands life more than these two. There is a scene late in the movie where they express their unhappiness with others. An over 70-year age difference and yet these two people have the most true relationship than anyone else in the film. 

"Happy End" focuses on our obsession with the things we can control versus the things we have no control, yet are responsible for. Why? Because it's convenient of course. That's what Haneke has usually focused on, and "Happy End" harbors that energy into a more subtle picture about current political/social norms. Going into a Haneke picture you should expect a very bland, stark level of audience integration. His films are made for audiences to observe the characters' actions and to make interpretations about things we see. "Happy End" lacks a true emotional connection to some in its plot points, even though they're acted at the highest caliber, but it drives home the ideas that people can actually be so oblivious to the real problems that surround them. "Happy End" is a welcome return to the Haneke who could reflect upon us the realest reactions to the social problems around us. He uses the bourgeois setting to show how detached all people can be to the events that truly matter.

Rating: B+

Sunday, December 31, 2017

'The Florida Project', 'Three Billboards' among 2017's best films

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri/Fox Searchlight
And another year comes to a close. Inner turmoil about the state of the country and the values and norms we have long held have been thrown into chaos by a never stopping whirling dervish we call America. It was a strong year that had us more engaged - maybe too much? - as a society and more stubbornly steadfast. A more defined understanding of what we want our world to be was never made more clear until 2017 and it appeared on silver screens, and computer screens, all over the world.

The first movie to hold up a mirror to make us reflect on who we are was February's "Get Out", that awesome horror comedy film from first-time director Jordan Peele who created a crazy original story about racism in America. It opened the floodgates for a lot of films to tackle pertinent issues, and it wasn't confined to documentaries- just look at Steven Spielberg's star-studded "The Post" as a big F-you to the Trump Administration and Fatih Akin's overbearingly trite hate crime film "In The Fade".

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Movie Review: 'Ex Libris' proves libraries are the greatest community centers on earth

Ex Libris- The New York Public Library (2017, directed by Frederick Wiseman. U.S.A., English, Color, 197 minutes) "Ex Libris- The New York Public Library" is one of, if not the most important films in years. This over three-hour examination of the largest library system in the country reinforces the crucial role that a library serves to a community. With approximately 90 branches serving millions in the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island from all walks of life we see that people rely on their local library for all sorts of things. It's a safe haven from the outside troubles; it's a learning center for children; it's a job resource center for the unemployed; it's a building that records all levels of history; it's one of the great cultural institutions that costs next to nothing for the public to use. Libraries are the greatest things in the world and "Ex Libris" reminds us of that.