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.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Movie Reviews: 'The Shape of Water' and 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' are exciting, lovable films

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, directed by Rian Johnson. U.S.A., English, Color, 152 minutes) Grab your lightsaber and favorite droid because you'll be in for a good time with the latest "Star Wars" movie. After dishing out a lot of fan service in "The Force Awakens", the seventh episode in the "Star Wars" franchise, "The Last Jedi" really opens up its potential with a methodical film that gives us deeper characters and emotions than its lighter predecessor. Now that audiences have been reacquainted with old friends and have welcomed new ones, we can get into the meat of this new trilogy. The First Order continues to drive out the Resistance as Rey tries to lure Luke Sykwalker to help with the cause and Finn and Poe try to keep ahead of the Order's trailing forces.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Movie Review: Important message outshines 'The Post'

20th Century Fox
The Post (2017, directed by Steven Spielberg. U.S.A., English, Color, 115 minutes) As a journalist I'm automatically bias toward films about my profession. I get wrapped up in watching the whole process of sourcing, interviewing, uncovering great secrets, the emotional attachment to the story; I love it all and "The Post" doesn't disappoint on that front.

Released at the most appropriate time when the press is constantly being discredited and attacked, "The Post" is a throwback to one of the defining journalism cases of the 20th century: The publication of the highly classified Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, "The Post" uses that watershed moment as nothing more than a platform for the filmmakers' own political message. This story deserved more than what Steven Spielberg rushed to get made.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Movie Review: 'Call Me By Your Name' is the ultimate love fantasy

Sony Pictures Classics
Call Me By Your Name (2017, directed by Luca Guadagnino. Italy/France, in English/Italian/French, Color, 132 minutes) "Call Me By Your Name" is the ultimate gay fantasy escapist film. It has a lush, sweeping romance playing out between two handsome guys against a gorgeous, foreign locale. Lazy summer days in Northern Italy where the sun kisses your face on leisurely bike rides with your crush seems like perfection, and a hyper-realized ideal that will have the gays (and anyone else, really) swooning. It is so stylized and precise that it makes you wish we could experience love in such a way. What could be better than beautiful people falling in love in a beautiful space? Not much. 

But does a beautiful setting make up for another run-of-the-mill love story?  No.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Movie Review: The 'Quest' for a better life starts with family

The Rainey family featured in "Quest": Daughter Patricia 'PJ' and her parents Christine'a 'Ma Quest' and Christopher.
First Run Features
Quest (2017, directed by Jonathan Olshefski. U.S.A., English, Color, 105 minutes) Living in the Philadelphia suburbs all of my life (save college) I've always had an idea of what neighborhoods in the city to avoid due to violence and safety concerns. My views have been shaped by what has been reported on the news, of course. But as I started my career in journalism here in the suburbs you go into neighborhoods you may not be familiar with and you see the potential there, a relic of what its former self used to be and should be again. "Quest" gave me that hope for North Philadelphia.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Movie Review: 'Three Billboards' is an aggressively funny, harsh look at society

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017, directed by Martin McDonagh. U.S.A., U.K. English, Color, 115 minutes) We cringe to think justice has not been served when a crime is committed against ourselves or loved ones and no one pays for it. It's no secret that the legal system can move at a glacial pace, with rigidity and luck to ensure that the perpetrator is rightfully convicted. Sometimes the cops can be lucky and find their suspect in a quick amount of time. Sometimes it can takes weeks, months, years, or even never. We don't like feeling wronged having someone get away with a crime.

This is the outline for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri", a universal tale about society's expectations for the police to do something when it seems like they're not trying at all. "Three Billboards" balances that drive between social justice and police capabilities with dangerously sharp quips that tackle the process and the emotional turmoils of dealing with it all. There's a stark humanism here that has you rooting for the civilians as much as the police in equal amounts of laughs and heartbreak. Needless to say, it's one of the most satisfying movie-going experiences of the year.

Monday, November 20, 2017

No, you 'Get Out!' Horror film on racism is gravely comedic

Universal Pictures

Imagine being a young black man whisked away to a hyper rich, affluent country suburb where your girlfriend's well-off white family resides. Her parents fully embrace you and boast about their admiration of America's first black president, Barack Obama, as if they're conforming to the politically correct social register of appeasing any black guest that walks through their door with  such an obvious plea that they are accepting of a black man courting their white daughter. Unfortunately, the Stepford persona of the family and their house staff, friends and other family members wears off in a situation that is so grim and fantastical you could never believe it was true if it weren't being told on the silver screen.

That is "Get Out" in a nutshell.

It is the incredibly relevant and popular story for the directorial debut of comic Jordan Peele who also penned the extremely creepy and  funny film that tackles the current social climate of racism. It was recently announced that "Get Out" was classified into the comedy/musical genre field for the 75th Golden Globe Awards in 2018 and drew criticism for deeming a satirically serious - an oxymoron? - film about race relations as being anything but dramatic. Some viewed it as white privilege laughing at racism. Given that the persons who award the Golden Globes are foreign journalists, I doubt many are of the Aryan brethren.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Movie Review: 'Lady Bird' and 'Last Flag Flying' soar high

"Last Flag Flying" and "Lady Bird" are two movies set in the few years proceeding 9/11 and how the social landscapes mold their varied and complicated characters. It's as much about these characters going through their own journeys as it is how we dealt with the greatest act of terrorism ever committed on our shores. Both films are pretty subtle about using that tragic event as a plot point instead opting to delve into the societal impact it had on our behaviors. These films are at times laugh out loud funny and equally heartbreaking. 

Lady Bird (2017, directed by Greta Gerwig. U.S.A., English, Color, 93 minutes) "Lady Bird" in its most basic form is a teenage coming-of-age film. It's a familiar subgenre, but some in the category are more interesting than others. This film, the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, combines the whipper-snapper appeal of "Juno" and "Ghost World" with just the slightest dash of "Napoleon Dynamite" to round it out. Saoirse Ronan is the titular character who is smarter beyond her years and yet just basic enough for her posh Sacramento Catholic School upbringing in 2002. She clashes with her opinionated mother (Laurie Metcalf) and is adored by her father (Tracy Letts) as she navigates her young life with confidence, with friends, some lovers and a wicked sense of humor.

Monday, October 30, 2017

26th Philadelphia Film Festival, Day 11: Final films, final thoughts

The lines for the Ritz East move behind the theater to keep patrons out of the rain before catching their last flicks.

It almost saddens me to write about the last day of the festival because it is over so quickly. At the start I look at the schedule and think about all of the possible scheduling scenarios to make up and how to fit the the features all in. There never seems to be enough time in the 11 days to get to everything you want to. In the blink of an eye its over and you wonder how you did it.

Granted, I only managed a measly 21 movies - 22 if I didn't walk out of "Under the Tree" - while others can easily do over 40 of the approximately 110 features on the schedule. I usually see around that many every year anyway, so I'm happy.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

26th Philadelphia Film Festival, Day 9: Festival winners and good picks

(Read about days 6 and 7 here)

The "closing night" of the festival is supposed to be the ending shebang on the ninth day. The one thing that always baffles me is why closing night festivities occur with two days left in the festival. It's not the last day of the festival so why market it as such? Maybe it's more fun to make the most of a Friday night instead of a Sunday night? At least they get the opening night right by putting it on the first day.

Anyway, winners were announced by the "jury" — the composition of which is never made public so I don't know who is selecting these winners — on "closing night" with documentaries cleaning up nicely. "Bobbi Jene" picked up the documentary feature prize with "At the Drive-In" winning the Pinkenson Award for local features and "Jane" claiming the student choice award.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

26th Philadelphia Film Festival, Days 6 and 7: Nice surprises, some bumps

(See my coverage of days 3 and 4 here)

I opted out of seeing anything on Monday (day 5) because I was just too darn tired after the weekend. Ten movies in three days may not be as much as others have seen in such a short period of time, but for me that was more than enough. You would be surprised how tiring it can be to go back-to-back-to-back watching movies all day for a few days in a row.

Come Tuesday and it was a rainy, gloomy morning. I was a little deterred by the thought of standing in the rain waiting outside theaters for screenings to start. Luckily, the sun started to peek out around 11 o'clock and stayed out for the rest of the day, score! With good weather embracing me I set out to the festival. But first I had to stop at the AC Moore in Center City and pick up some yarn to get me through 15 movies through Sunday. I picked me up five balls of Sugar 'N' Cream yarn and head out to the Ritz Five for "At the Drive-In".

Monday, October 23, 2017

Movie Review: 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer' is unsettling, addicting

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Ireland/U.K., English, Color, 121 minutes) Leading "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" are Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as the well-off married doctors who live in a pristine house with two beautiful kids. The family's stringent aura is broken by a teenager named Martin (played by Barry Keoghan), a young man who wants revenge after his dad died on Farrell's watch a few years prior. Who's to blame for the death? It's not clear. No matter, Martin will start to manipulate and taunt the family until they're on the verge of killing each other.

In an about-face from his raucously dark "The Lobster", Yorgos Lanthimos delves deeply into our own ethical and moral standards with this unsettling psychodrama. It's a stray from the warped settings of "Dogtooth" and "The Lobster" with a more precise, normal sense of place... and that makes this movie that much scarier. Nothing is scarier than realizing evil lurks in a place that could be our own community.

26th Philadelphia Film Festival, Days 3 and 4: Animals and art.

The third day of the festival — my second since I didn't attend opening night — was only a hair better than day two. My screenings for both days were equally awful. That's not to say that everything shown that day was bad, I just didn't choose correctly.

My day started off with this year's Golden Bear winner "On Body and Soul," a Hungarian film about two slaughterhouse workers who find a connection because of the synchronous dreams they share. Both young, baby-faced Maria and the older Endre dream that they are deer in a snow-covered forest and have the exact same dream each night. The two socially-awkward individuals become simple acquaintances over their nighttime visuals and we delve slowly into their eccentricities and personalities in this delicate feature.

Friday, October 20, 2017

26th Philadelphia Film Festival, Day 2: Film fest? More like snooze fest!

One of the most wonderful times of year is back: the Philadelphia Film Festival! With over 100 features playing in three theaters in Center City — the number of films and venues seems to be shrinking every year, doesn't it? —for 10 days there's never a shortfall of something new, or old, to see. This year I opted to stray for more below-the-line, less "flashy" titles in lieu of those that will get plenty of theatrical bookings in due time. And for an occasional film "critic" like myself, I know there will be plenty of free press screenings I could go to without paying $15 to $50 to see these titles at the festival. I wanted to seek out films that may not be seen in theaters again (for the most part).

With that said I skipped the opening night screenings of "I, Tonya". One, because I had class so I couldn't comfortably squeeze it in and two, it will be a big hit during its theatrical release late this year.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Movie Review: Unraveling the mystery of 'Blade Runner 2049'

Blade Runner 2049 (2017, directed by Denis Villeneuve. U.S.A., English, Color, 163 minutes) There's a lot I'm not allowed to say about the the long-awaited sequel to the acclaimed 1982 sci-fi staple "Blade Runner". Therefore, I will not. I can, however, talk about the film in broad strokes, and provide some notes about other random things related to the Blade Runner world.

First, this is a very attractive sci-fi film, perhaps more beautiful than the original. Set 30 years after the original the streets have been "cleaned up" a bit it seems, not so much the dingy apocalyptic setup we were accustomed to. Perhaps it's the advancement in technology that leads the original to have a really run down and dirty look when compared to this film. I did admire the production values of "Blade Runner 2049," it certainly made watching the film worthwhile.

'I, Tonya' and 'Three Billboards...' among films featured at 26th Philly Film Fest

Well over 100 films will play at the 26th Philadelphia Film Festival the Philadelphia Film Society announced Tuesday afternoon.

Craig Gillespi's "I, Tonya" will open the festival on Oct. 19 at the Prince Theater to kick off 11 days of marathon moviewatching for die-hard Philly cinephiles. The society also announced that Martin McDonagh’s "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" will close the festival on Oct. 27. The festival will showcase more than 110 feature length and short films. The festival line-up is curated by our programming committee who carefully selects each film from multiple international festivals throughout the year.

"Coming off our 25th anniversary, we entered this year with a certain amount of trepidation as to how we could match what was arguably our strongest Festival program ever built upon one of the best years for film in recent memory. After traveling the Festival circuit and watching a record number of submissions, we’re thrilled with this year’s line-up, which again represents the best of film from around the world,” said Executive Director, J. Andrew Greenblatt. 

“From crowd pleasers like our Opening Night film 'I, Tonya' to award contenders like Closing Night film 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'; from thought-provoking documentaries like The New Radical to cutting edge foreign films like 'The Square' and experimental indies like 'Flesh and Blood' from Philly-born director Mark Webber, there’s something for everyone in this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival.”

The film society had previously announced a retrospective called "Demme in Philly" featuring projects of recently-passed director Jonathan Demme which includes "Philadelphia" and "Beloved."

The festival runs from Oct. 19 to Oct. 29.

Here is the full festival line-up:

Opening Night Film
·         I, Tonya, Director Craig Gillespie. 2017, USA.

Closing Night Film
·         Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Director Martin McDonagh. 2017, USA.

Centerpiece Screenings
·         Darkest Hour, Director Joe Wright. 2017, UK.
·         The Florida Project, Director Sean Baker. 2017, USA.
·         Lady Bird, Director Greta Gerwig. 2017, USA.
·         Last Flag Flying, Director Richard Linklater. 2017, USA.

Movie Review: 'The Florida Project' is one of the year's best


The Florida Project (2017, directed by Sean Baker. U.S.A., English, Color, 115 minutes)
I went into "The Florida Project" completely blind. I had not read a single review, didn't watch any trailers, didn't even really know much on the story. The best perk about going into a movie blind is that you have no expectations about it. It's when the film is over and you realize you saw something great that makes it all worthwhile. "The Florida Project" surprised me immensely, and I loved it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Movie Review: 'Wonderstruck' left me wonderstruck

Julianne Moore portrays older Rose in "Wonderstruck". Roadside Attractions

(2017, directed by Todd Haynes. U.S.A., English, Color/B&W, 117 minutes) The misconception about children being the main focus of a film can be that it will be written off as a kids film. Well, that's not always true (e.g. "It"). Todd Haynes' "Wonderstruck" has two kids as the protagonists in a film that is a little more deep than what could be considered kid-friendly. Haynes brings as much love and compassion to his young lead actors as he did in the forbidden love story of his last feature, "Carol", without dumbing down the characters to draw in the "Despicable Me" audience.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Movie Review: Scary is not what 'It' is

Warner Bros.
It (2017, directed by Andy Muschietti. U.S.A., English, Color, 135 minutes) Imagine planning a party for someone. You get all of the close friends and family together for months to prepare for a great memory for everyone. It's been promoted all over social media while people gab with each other in special messaging sessions and event walls to get everything ready. The day of the event is here and everyone is waiting for that special honoree, the space overflowing with excitement in anticipation of the big "SURPRISE!" burst to greet them. When the honoree comes, they say "you took me away from my day for this shit?"

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Movie Review: 'Victoria & Abdul' keeps it short and sweet

Focus Features

Victoria & Abdul (2017, directed by Stephen Frears. England, English, Color, 112 minutes) It has been 20 years since Judi Dench last played Queen Victoria in "Mrs. Brown", and what a perfect way to return to the role that earned her her first Oscar nomination than with a story that takes place in about the same timeframe where that film left off? Like in "Mrs. Brown", the matriarch finds herself enamored with a younger man, but this time it's a young Indian, Muslim servant named Abdul. It's a timely story about cross-cultural interactions among people, but it never has that heft that makes it anything more than a lighthearted piece of social commentary.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Theater Review: Regional debut of 'Hunchback' rings triumphant

Pat Walsh as Quasimodo in Upper Darby Performing Arts Center's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" Rachel Lombardo
The Upper Darby Performing Arts Center production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" this weekend has prompted a couple of firsts: one, it was the first performance I've ever seen at the PAC, and second, this was the first regional production of the stage version off-shoot of the 1996 Disney animated musical. After the first "Hunchback" performance on July 28, I asked myself in amazement why I hadn't been to shows at the PAC before, then I wondered why more theaters weren't putting on this gorgeous, grandiose show. I couldn't answer the former, but the enormity of the production answers the latter.

"Hunchback" is an elaborate and big musical based on the Victor Hugo novel about the grotesque Quasimodo that takes place on a single 30-foot tall cathedral set that houses a 30-member chorus, features a stain glass impression and is decorated with large bells, kind of like the real Notre Dame in Paris.  At the helm for the Philadelphia-area premiere is the PAC's own Jeff Dietzler who is graced with having such a large venue to host the massive production and having all of the talent needed on- and off-stage to tackle the epic production.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Movie Review: 'Detroit' burns down with its message

Detroit (2017, directed by Kathryn Bigelow. U.S.A., English, Color, 143 minutes) The most important thing about a society steeped in the arts and culture is the ability to observe our own behavior. Every form of media can be used to deliver a message about who we are, or who we have been, as a civilized group of people. In the history of American cinema we have seen film used to glorify the KKK ("The Birth of a Nation") and even excoriate a presidency ("Fahrenheit 9/11"). Needless to say, it's one of the most powerful and controversial mediums in the world for the stories it tells. "Detroit" is a movie presented as a contemporary art piece that exploits extremely raw emotions of modern events to create a telling of a previous heinous event in our history. The film is as empty, shallow and void of feeling as the society we live in.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Movie Review: 'Dunkirk' is an intense, beautiful film

Dunkirk (2017, directed by Christopher Nolan. U.S.A./U.K., English, Color, 106 minutes) In the realm of war movies, the most memorable one of recent years is 1998's "Saving Private Ryan" - even though "The Hurt Locker" is better. It's violent, it's bloody, there's a human interest aspect to it, and it has pretty boys acting out a young man's fantasy of shooting guns and fighting off the Nazis.

Almost 20 years later and Christopher Nolan releases "Dunkirk", a film with a keen eye for suspense and storytelling that it easily eclipses Spielberg's one-trick pony of a film.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Movie Review: Emotions sink like a stone in dried up 'Wind River'

The Weinstein Company
Wind River (2017, directed by Taylor Sheridan. U.S.A., English, Color, 111 minutes) In his directorial debut following his Oscar nomination for writing last year's "Hell or High Water", Taylor Sheridan continues his passion for crime with "Wind River", the incredibly mean-spirited and drab story about a young girl found frozen to death in the middle of a Wyoming Indian reservation. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen team up as the Fish and Wildlife Service officer and FBI agent, respectively, tasked with combating personal conflicts and cultural differences to solve the crime in the barren, frozen lands.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Movie Review: 'Lady Macbeth' is a powerful masterclass

Lady Macbeth (2017, directed by William Oldroyd. England, English, Color, 89 minutes) Lady Macbeth is a memorable figure in Shakespeare's epic tragedy "Macbeth," but the film "Lady Macbeth", an ode to the manipulative wife of the titular character, is not the main character of this film. Instead, a young bride named Catherine is the driving force of this morbid story set in mid-19th century rural England, but her affects are reminiscent to those of the Lady herself. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Movie Review: Simmering tension ignites 'The Beguiled'

Courtesy of Focus Features
The Beguiled (2017, directed by Sofia Coppola. U.S.A, English, Color, 94 minutes) A group of young women, their teacher and the headmistress are confronted with a shocking reality that has yet to fall before them. A wounded Union soldier is brought to them in to their Virginia school during the thick of the Civil War. But it's not the war lying right there at their doorstep that's intrusive for them. Oh no. It's the ruggedly handsome soldier who inflames repressed sexual tension among the women, and it fills the screen with an intensity that slowly explodes over the course of 90 minutes.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Media Film Festival Returns Tonight!

Grab the popcorn and the quarters for the parking meters because the Media Film Festival is back.

The homegrown festival dedicated to local and international short films returns for its 10th outing on April 7 and 8 with a lineup of 36 films that include student-produced narratives, world premiere showings and a block of horror films.

“It just gets to be more and more fun every year,” said the festival’s marketing director Emily Scheivert. “It’s wonderful, so much fun to put together.”

To find selections for the fest, a dozen members of a screening jury watched 100 submissions to weed out the best, the worst and those in the middle. It was mathematical, for the most part, to pick this year’s selections.

“While the scoring, the balloting is important there is sometimes a bit of subjectivity in that middle area …. Sometimes you go back to judgment night (when final selections are chosen) and then pick who they like best,” said Scheivert.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The 59th Annual Grammy Winners

Winners in over 80 categories in the fields of pop, rap, classical and music video and so many more were announced during the 59th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday. The bulk of the winners were announced during the premiere ceremony before the main telecast. 

Beyoncé led the slate with nine nominations this year picking up best music video at the premiere ceremony and then best contemporary album for "Lemonade".

Adele was the biggest winner of the night winning in all five categories she was nominated for: album of the year and pop vocal album for "25" and record of the year, song of the year and best pop solo performance for "Hello".

Drake, Rihanna and Kanye West earned eight nominations each this year, but only Drake was able to earn wins winning best rap song and rap/sung performance for "Hotline Bling."

David Bowie earned four posthumous Grammys winning best alternative album and best engineered album, non-classical for "Blackstar," and earning a rock performance and rock song win for the title track. "Blackstar" also won best recording package for its art director. He won his first Grammy in 1985 for best short form music video.

Chance the Rapper won best rap performance at the premiere ceremony before claiming the primetime telecast's first award of the night, best new artist and, later, best rap album over album of the year nominee "Views".

Winners will be posted live throughout the afternoon and evening.

Record of the Year- "Hello," Adele.

Album of the Year- "25," Adele.

Song of the Year- "Hello," Adele Adkins and Greg Kurstin, songwriters. (Adele)

Best New Artist- Chance the Rapper


Best Pop Solo Performance- "Hello," Adele.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance- "Stressed Out," Twenty One Pilots

Best Pop Album- "25," Adele.

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album- "Summertime; Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin," Willie Nelson.


Best Dance/Electronica Album- "Skin," Flume

Best Dance Recording- "Don't Let me Down," The Chainsmokers featuring Daya

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Movie Review: 'A Cure for Wellness' Full of Campy Wonders

A Cure for Wellness (2017, directed by Gore Verbinski. U.S.A./Germany, English, Color, 146 minutes) Reading the synopsis for Gore Verbinski's new mind-bending thriller "A Cure for Wellness" I was prepared for a very cliché story à la "Shutter Island" where the supposedly "normal" protagonist was actually a resident of the asylum the story takes place. It's such a predictable outcome yet is a favorite twist for audiences to uncover.

"A Cure for Wellness" is not that type of movie (thankfully?). 

Going back to the creepy, beautifully macabre supernatural story like the one in the "The Ring" that put him on the spot in 2002, Verbinski takes those elements and presents a story that is equal parts disturbing and deliciously campy. 

At the edge of the Swiss Alps above a German village is an elaborate castle housing a sanitarium (wellness center) where rich old people go to luxuriate in its various aquaponic delights to treat any illnesses. Saunas, water aerobics, steam chambers, full-body rinses, swimming. It's all there. No one seems to be sick since they have all been cured, yet they don't leave. They stay to play croquet, badminton, fly a kite, or even play table games with each other on the precisely trimmed front lawn. It's a perfect life there, almost Stepford-like.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

'La La Land" Leads 89th Academy Award Nominations

Courtesy of AMPAS

The musical "La La Land" earned a record-tying 14 mentions when nominations for the 89th Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning, earning bids in a bulk of the top categories (picture, director, actor, actress, original screenplay) and all of the technical categories (save visual effects). The Hollywood-set love letter to classic musicals recently earned a record-setting seven wins at the Golden Globes earlier this month.

Competing against it for best picture include "Arrival" and "Moonlight" which received eight nominations each, followed up by "Hacksaw Ridge", "Lion" and "Manchester by the Sea", all of which have six nods a piece. All of the aforementioned are in the running for best director (save for "Lion").

Rounding out the best picture slate are "Fences" and "Hell or High Water" with four nominations each and "Hidden Figures" with three mentions.

In talks of records, Meryl Streep earned her 20th acting nomination for her leading turn in "Florence Foster Jenkins" and sound mixer Kevin O'Connell received his 21st nomination for his work on "Hacksaw Ridge". O'Connell has yet to win an Academy Award in his 35 years of work in the industry.

In the animated feature race, the second highest-grossing film at the box office this year, "Finding Dory", was excluded from the slate in favor of "Kubo and the Two Strings," "Moana," "My Life as a Zucchini", "The Red Turtle" and "Zootopia". "Kubo" was also nominated for best visual effects, and "Moana" picked up an original song bid.

Best Picture
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester By the Sea

Best Director
Damien Chazelle, "La La Land"
Mel Gibson, "Hacksaw Ridge"
Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester By the Sea"
Denis Villeneuve, "Arrival"

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, "Manchester By the Sea"
Andrew Garfield, "Hacksaw Ridge"
Ryan Gosling, "La La Land"
Viggo Mortenson, "Captain Fantastic"
Denzel Washington, "Fences"

Best Actress
Isabelle Huppert, "Elle"
Ruth Negga, "Loving"
Natalie Portman, "Jackie"
Emma Stone, "La La Land"
Meryl Streep, "Florence Foster Jenkins"

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"
Jeff Bridges, "Hell or High Water"
Lucas Hedges, "Manchester By the Sea"
Dev Patel, "Lion"
Michael Shannon, "Nocturnal Animals"

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, "Fences"
Naomie Harris, "Moonlight"
Nicole Kidman, "Lion"
Octavia Spencer, "Hidden Figures"
Michelle Williams, "Manchester By the Sea"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Meryl Streep continues racking up Oscar records with 21st acting nomination

20th Century Fox

(UPDATE: Story originally posted on 1/19/2017 and has been updated to reflect additional nomination tallies)

An Oscar nomination is the ultimate distinction for achievement in film anyone would love to earn. It's not unusual to see people get two Oscar nominations in one year, sometimes, for the true auteur, even three.

Over the first nine decades of its award ceremonies dozens of records and milestones have been made in regard to wins and nominations, one of the most noticeable is Meryl Streep earning 21 nominations for acting, the most for any thespian. She claimed her 20th in 2016 for "Florence Foster Jenkins" and adds another nomination plaque for her leading turn in 2017's "The Post". Her three wins - best actress in 1982 and 2011 and supporting actress in 1979 - ties her among a handful of other performers with three acting wins, but one less than was earned by the ultimate acting winner Katharine Hepburn.

With her 20th nomination for "Florence Foster Jenkins" this year, she joins an elite list of people who have earned 20 or more Oscar nominations. Streep, however, would not be the first woman to chalk up that many nominations. Edith Head earned 35 nominations and eight wins for her costume designs from 1948 to 1977.

Walt Disney is the person who has earn the most wins and nominations of any person in history: 59 nominations and 22 wins. Disney's wins were stretched among animated films and documentary subjects. The runner up is composer John Williams with five wins from 51 nominations, receiving his latest nomination in 2017 year for his original score for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

While everyone who has earned at least 20 nominations has earned, at minimum, three wins, for their efforts, sound mixer Kevin O'Connell and composer Victor Young only won one time each. Connell's luck changed last year after winning on his 21st nod for his sound mixing efforts on "Hacksaw Ridge". Young's win came posthumously with his 1956 score for "Around the World in 80 Days." He was also nominated that year for the original titular song to "Written on the Wind."

Check out who else has earned 20 or more Oscar nominations below. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

My Bold Predictions for 2016 Oscar Nominations

Of course, "La La Land" has been having a great sweep of wins from critic and professional groups, including a historic clean sweep of its seven nominations from The Golden Globes on Jan. 8. "Moonlight" and "Manchester By the Sea" have also been given its fair share of love from a plethora of organizations.

Things seem to get a little interesting in a few races like, will Meryl Streep earn her record-extending 20th Oscar nomination for "Florence Foster Jenkins"? Will her co-star Hugh Grant earn his first nod for the film? Can Isabelle Huppert finally break into the Oscar race for her leading turn in the French film "Elle"? Will "Nocturnal Animals" be more of a contender than we thought?

My predictions for the highest award in the film world are based on the usually tea leaves of accolades presented so far, and some "Gotcha!" nominations that usually sneak in.

Nomination will be announced on Jan. 24, and in a new format, no less!

Best Picture
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Jackie Hidden Figures (added 1/20)
La La Land
Manchester By the Sea
Nocturnal Animals

Best Director
Damien Chazelle, "La La Land"
Mel Gibson, "Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester By the Sea"
Denis Villeneuve, "Arrival"

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, "Manchester By the Sea"
Andrew Garfield, "Hacksaw Ridge"
Ryan Gosling, "La La Land"
Viggo Mortenson, "Captain Fantastic"
Denzel Washington, "Fences"

Best Actress
Amy Adams, "Arrival"
Isabelle Huppert, "Elle"
Natalie Portman, "Jackie"
Emma Stone, "La La Land"
Meryl Streep, "Florence Foster Jenkins"