Friday, February 24, 2017

Hey Kids! Funtime 2017 Oscar Predictions!



Yep, it’s that time of year again. The 89th Academy Awards ceremony, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, is on Sunday night so it’s time to pony up some predictions for the event. This year, it seems like people are going to tune in more to see what anti-Trump stuff is said, than for who wins what, and it’s looking like a LA LA LAND sweep is brewing, but whatever the case I’ll be watching the broadcast at the Rialto Theater in Raleigh, and hoping I get more right than last year (2016 was my worst score in five years: 16 out of 24).

So here are my predictions:

1. BEST PICTURE: LA LA LAND


I’d prefer MOONLIGHT as it was my favorite film of 2016, but I’m betting on the sunny fantastical love letter to Los Angeles, movies, and love itself to take home the gold on Sunday night. I did really enjoy LA LA LAND, so I won’t be unhappy if it wins, but an upset in this department would be fun to witness.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle for LA LA LAND

3. BEST ACTOR: Casey Affleck. A lot of critics are saying Denzel Washington, for his role in FENCES, might come out ahead here. I personally liked Washington’s work better in this category, but Affleck, despite the resurfacing of past allegations of sexual harassment, just feels like a lock here.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Emma Stone. The wild card is Isabelle Hubbert for ELLE, which I haven’t seen.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali for MOONLIGHT

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis for FENCES.

And the rest:

7. PRODUCTION DESIGN: LA LA LAND

8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: LA LA LAND

9. COSTUME DESIGN: JACKIE

10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: O.J. MADE IN AMERICA

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: JOE’S VIOLIN

12. FILM EDITING: LA LA LAND

13. MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: STAR TREK BEYOND

14. VISUAL EFFECTS: THE JUNGLE BOOK

15. ORIGINAL SCORE: Justin Hurwitz for LA LA LAND

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “City of Stars” from LA LA LAND

17. ANIMATED SHORT: PIPER

18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: ENNEMIS INTÉRIEURS

19. SOUND EDITING:
HACKSAW RIDGE

20. SOUND MIXING: LA LA LAND

21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Kenneth Lonergan for MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Barry Jenkins for MOONLIGHT

23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: ZOOTOPIA

24. BEST FOREIGN FILM: THE SALESMAN

As I always say, tune in Monday to see how many I got wrong.

This Oscar predictions post is sponsored by USB Memory Direct, my recommended promotional flash drive supplier.


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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February Film Babble: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 & FIST FIGHT

And now, a few new movies that I saw a bit back but am only getting around to babbling about now:

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

(Dir. Chad Stahelski, 2017)



I was among those who were surprised at how much they liked the first JOHN WICK. I didn’t have any expectations going in, but found it to be thrilling, funny piece of high octane action cinema. Now Keanu Reeves, and stuntman turned director Chad Stahelski, are back for a second round of frenetically edited sequences crammed with gunshots to the heads of countless attackers.

As it begins right after the previous entry ended, with Reeves’ Wick tracking down his ‘69 Mustang coupe at a chop shop owned by Peter Stormare as the brother of the mob boss villain from the first one, it feels as much like an extention as it is a sequel. That’s fine by me as Stahelski, working with returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad, keep the original’s dark humor and ultra violent vibe going smashingly.

Sure, the plot is contrived – Wick retires from the assassin’s life for a second time, even reburying his weapons, but when he refuses a new job from a dapper Italian gangster Riccardo Scamarcio) his house gets blown up (luckily his new dog, the pittbull he got in his first film, doesn’t get killed) and he’s pulled back into the criminal underworld game – but I was highly entertained throughout by how far the filmmakers stretched the limits of their stylized stunt choreography scene after scene.

And, sure, it doesn’t have the freshness of the first, but in Common as the bodyguard of Wick’s mark (Claudia Gerini), it has a worthy foe for our hero to fight, which a killer set-piece at the Rome Continental proves punch after powerful punch. It’s also a bit of a kick to have Reeves re-united with his MATRIX co-star Laurence Fishburne, as a brutal crime lord named The Bowery King, who comes to Wick’s aid.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is a solid follow-up that, for the most part, soaringly transcends its status as being a retread. It’s also a much better example of the form than how the Tom Cruise/JACK REACHER franchise is unfolding. Now there’s crossover mash-up I’d like to see: Wick vs. Reacher. But, of course, only if Wick wins, which, for sure, would be the only way it could really go down.

FIST FIGHT (Dir. Richie Keen, 2017)


Walking out of the screening for this film, I heard somebody say “I’m surprised this isn’t a summer release!” I chuckled to myself because I found the slapdash comedy, FIST FIGHT, to be a perfect release for the dumping ground season of February.

It’s got a slight premise –Ice Cube as an angry history teacher challenges Charlie Day as a meek English teacher to a fight on the last day of school – a B-list cast (no offense to Tracy Morgan, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, and Jillian Bell, but c’mon, who we kidding?), and a sloppy screenplay by first timers Van Robichaux and Evan Susser, so its slotting this season is dead on.

That said, I laughed more than I thought I would. Much like last December’s OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY, there are too many funny people on screen for there not to be a least some hilarious hi-jinks.

The use of over dramatic music to enforce the severity of Ice Cube’s threat to Day is a great gag at first, but like every other running joke – the drawing dicks on everything shenanigans of “Prank Day,” Day’s constant attempts to weasel out of the showdown (hard to root for him when he plants drugs on Ice Cube to frame him), and the creepiness of Bell’s character wanting to sleep with her students – it wears thin really fast.

FIST FIGHT is something that I’ve deemed many a movie that’s dropping during these off seasons – a throwaway matinee at best. With this one though, only check it out if you’ve seen absolutely everything else at the multiplex. Otherwise, stay home and watch some random episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia, that’s where Day and director Keen have put in much, much funnier work together.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at a multiplex near you (sheesh, it's at 22 theaters in my area):

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE
(Dir. Chris McKay, 2017)


Will Arnett’s Batman stole 2014’s funniest film, THE LEGO MOVIE, fair and square, so here’s his highly anticipated spin-off, and I’m happy to report that it’s just as funny.

Maybe even funnier, as it insanely packs its one hour, 44 minute running time with as many gags as the filmmakers can stuff into it. And amazingly, just about every one of them land hilariously.

While THE LEGO MOVIE writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are on board only as executive producers, the screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers Jared Stern, and John Whittington (all animation comedy veterans) retains their ultra meta sensibility which kicks in from the get go with Arnett’s gravelly voice-over: “All important movies start with a black screen.”

After Arnett’s supremely self-absorbed, cocky, and forever brooding Dark Knight talks us through the studio logos, and opening titles, rivaling DEADPOOL’s laugh-every-few-seconds opening sequence, the film gives us Zach Galifianakis as the Joker hijacking a plane full of explosives. The plane’s pilot, for McGuffin Airlines, mind you, isn’t appropriately scared and reminds the Joker of the many times his evil plans were thwarted by Batman including “that time with the parade and the Prince music.”

This alludes to the movie’s best and most successful idea: to riff on the entire history of Batman. Arnett’s Batman back story calls upon every incarnation of the classic character from last year’s BATMAN V. SUPERMAN back through Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy, the Joel Schumacher and Tim Burton versions from ’89 to ‘97, the silly ‘60s TV show (yep, there’s clips of Adam West doing the Batusi), and even the old black and white ‘40s serials. There’s even a can of Bat Shark Repellent from BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)!

Batman does indeed thwart the Joker’s latest attempt to destroy Gotham City, who it’s amusing to hear speak in Galifianakis’ Southern accent, but, worse, he hurts his long-time foe’s feelings by telling him that he doesn’t consider him his greatest enemy and that they aren’t “a thing.” This relationship talk satire makes for another great running joke (Batman: “I like to fight around”).

So The Joker devises a new plan involving getting banished into the Phantom Zone so that he can unleash an army of seemingly every D.C. comics villain ever, and many recognizable evil entities such as Gremlins, King Kong, Jaws, and the Daleks (Joker: “British robots – ask your geek friends!”) and take over Gotham City.

Meanwhile, Batman is feeling pretty down and lonely (“One is the Loniest Number” is on the soundtrack) in his big empty Wayne Manor mansion which is on an isolated island, and it doesn’t help that the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) wants him to do away with his lone vigilante standing and team up with the police.

Smitten with Barbara, who history tells us will become Batgirl, Arnett’s Bruce Wayne unknowingly agrees to adopt orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who, of course, will become Robin. Arnett and Cera together makes for a nifty Arrested Development reunion, and they play off each other wonderfully, especially when it comes to how much Batman hates Robin
s short shorts.

Reluctantly, because he’s a loner who doesn’t want to get close to anybody due to how he lost his parents (something every Batman movie has to touch on), our tiny plastic Dark Knight teams up with Barbara, Robin, and his trusty Butler Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) to save the day.

That involves a trip to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude (cue: John Williams’ score from SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE) where Batman finds out that all the Justice League crew including Channing Tatum as the Man of Steel, Jonah Hill as Green Lantern, and Adam DeVine as The Flash, are having a party that he wasn’t invited to.

The plot is fairly routine, but that’s sort of the point as the whole enterprise is a spirited take down of tropes that are in every superhero movie, and D.C.’s own troubled attempt to form an interlocking cinematic universe aping Marvel’s business model.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE’s digs at the failings of MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and SUICIDE SQUAD (Jenny Slate contributes a mean Harley Quinn here) are a boon to the film’s smart self awareness.

Even as a comic variation on the character, Arnett’s alternative fact Batman is up there with Michael Keaton and Christian Bale’s interpretations. He’s certainly preferable to Ben Affleck’s take, which is really getting off to a really shaky start (his solo Batman movie seems to be stuck in development hell, with him stepping down as director if you haven’t heard).

A complete success as a wide-ranging parody of the entire Batman movie mythos, and as one of the funniest films in recent memory, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is one to take both your kids and your parents to.


For with its intoxicating visuals, and non stop, over-the-top joke assault, it’s the perfect escapism from how surreal the world feels right now. It’s got a great message too, about how we can all overcome evil by clicking together. Something like that, anyway, I was laughing too much throughout to really care about any moral.

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