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 excoriating 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 in it 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 Joins Elite Club of Oscar Nominees with 20th bid

Streep's leading turn as the titular "Florence Foster Jenkins" could reap her a record-setting 20th Oscar nomination for acting.

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 20 nominations for acting, the most for any thespian. 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 50 nominations, receiving his latest nomination last year for his original score for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

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 this 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"