Saturday, December 16, 2017

The 15:17 to Paris and Annihilation Trailers

While footage is available for the rest of 2017's slate of end-of-year releases, we're starting to get a look into what the early months of 2018 have to offer. Usually marked with awards season release dates, director Clint Eastwood finds his newest work hitting theaters in February. The 15:17 to Paris tells the heroic true story of American soldiers on board a train to Paris who find themselves in the midst of a terrorist plot. Eastwood also uses the actual real life soldiers to play themselves in the film, a daring move that will interesting to see on the big screen. Check out the first official trailer for The 15:17 to Paris below.

Alex Garland put his versatility on full display when the renowned screenwriter took a seat in the director's chair for his 2014 debut film, Ex Machina. Critics and audiences alike provided overwhelming praises for the effort and the film's success paved the way for Garland's follow-up feature, Annihilation. Natalie Portman stars as an army-trained biologist who ventures into an environmental anomaly in hopes of finding a way to save her husband (Oscar Issac) who got deathly ill following his mission into the same disaster zone. Annihilation also arrives in theaters this February and you can catch the film's new official trailer below.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Golden Globe and SAG Nominations: Snubs and Surprises

What a busy week it's been in Hollywood. From the red carpet premiere of The Last Jedi to the combination of Monday's Golden Globe and Wednesday's Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Nominations, there is no shortage of storylines floating around the left coast. But before I discuss the biggest snubs and surprises from this week's nominations, you can find complete lists of the nominees below:


While the Golden Globe Awards span far more nominees, with their drama and basically non-drama distinctions for all acting categories, I view it as more substantial and telling when a performer misses out on a SAG Nomination. One of the biggest surprises comes from the Supporting Actor race where Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) was surprisingly left out of the top five. Hammer did earn a Globe Nomination, but with SAG's wider overlap of voting members with the Oscars, this SAG omission hurts Hammer's cause far more than the Globe recognition helps him. His status changes from "safe nominee" to a fringe-player in the category.

I was extremely shocked to find Jake Gyllenhaal's phenomenal work in the drama Stronger was left on the outside looking in from both awards ceremonies. I knew Gyllenhaal was a borderline selection with SAG, yet even the Globes couldn't find room for such an emotional performance. I also had hopes of his co-star Tatiana Malsany sneaking into the mix, but she's less of a surprising snub since she was a long-shot from the start.

What happened to Steven Spielberg's The Post? SAG completely shut out the film, which includes it's legendary leads Meryl Streep (Best Actress) and Tom Hanks (Best Actor) who both earned Globe Nominations. While this type of blind omission for a film may spell trouble for its Oscar chances, Spielberg's film screened extremely late and many voters may note have seen it yet. If not, then The Post is in trouble with the Academy Awards, but I doubt that's the case.

Kumail Nanjiani's semi-autobiographical comedy The Big Sick went overlooked by the Globes, only to find redemption shortly after with a huge SAG inclusion. As clearly one of the year's most thoughtful and hilarious comedies, The Big Sick was left out of the Best Picture - Comedy/Musical, Best Screenplay (where many believe it could earn an Oscar nom) and Best Supporting Actress (where Holly Hunter has a fighting chance to make the final cut) races. Surprisingly, Nanjiani and the rest of the cast landed in a SAG Best Ensemble nod, over Guillermo del Toro's beloved The Shape of Water, and Hunter captured a nomination in her race.


Get Out shockingly stole a Best Ensemble nomination from the field, a big win for the film as it wasn't expected at all, and the Best Actor race also got very interesting as the movie's lead, Daniel Kaluuya, scored an acting nod from both the Globes and SAG. While his surge is quite impressive, I'm not sold on its sustainability. Category rivals Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), James Franco (The Disaster Artist) and Oscar veteran Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) feel like safer selections from the Academy. 

Steve Carell boosted his Oscar hopes, seemingly, but not for the movie we all expected. Oscar chatter regarding Carell's quiet and nuanced performance in Last Flag Flying has all but passed, especially after Carell garnered recognition from both the Hollywood Foreign Press and SAG for his role as tennis star Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes. Oddly enough, Carell's pair of nominations also came in very different categories (Best Actor Comedy/Musical with the Globes and Best Supporting Actor with the Scren Actors Guild). Clearly his role is of the supporting variety, so if the Oscars do go that way, that's where he'll land. 

Ridley Scott (All the Money in the World) continues his dominance with the Globes as he supplants the consensus pick, Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), in the Best Director category. Furthermore, Scott's leading lady Michelle Williams earned a nod, as did late addition to the film, Christopher Plummer (Best Supporting Actor). Plummer's nomination is particularly surprising considering he was brought on board nearly a month before the film's release to replace Kevin Spacey following some shocking sexual harassment allegations. Best Supporting Actor is typically a crowded field, but Plummer catapulted his way up the ranks with the inclusion.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Rapid Reviews: The Shape of Water and The Disaster Artist

While I've longed respected the career work of Pan's Labyrinth director, Guillermo del Toro, somehow his films have always failed to resonate with me. But after catching an early screening for the filmmaker's new Oscar-bound fantasy-romance, The Shape of Water, those sentiments no longer ring true. Welcome to my heart, Mr. del Toro.

Set during the early 60s, in the midst of America's tenuous Cold War with the Soviet Union, Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa, a mute cleaning lady who works alongside her chatty friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) in a high-security government laboratory. Caught in the monotony of her safe and low-key daily routine, Elisa stumbles across a new living and breathing "asset" that's been brought to the facility where she cleans. And as Elisa sneaks behind the backs of everyone in the lab to forge a deep-rooted connection with the beast, she also learns of a sinister government agent's (Michael Shannon) plan to kill terminate the creature.

Often referred to as a master of storytelling, Guillermo del Toro  establishes a daring tale of romance that hurdles the traditional love story. But even more absorbing than the magical fantasy he creates, it's Sally Hawkins who steals the spotlight with an absolutely majestic performance, one that could very well top my annual list for lead actresses. Her work doesn't grab you with a loud and verbal demanding of your attention like awards season rival Margot Robbie in I, Tonya. Instead Hawkins lures the viewer using an earnest an wholesome charm that feels so sadly unfamiliar nowadays. She tap-dances her way into your heart and catapults an odd and profound romantic affair that straddles the line between derivative and innovative remarkably well. The Shape of Water also comes with a wide range of engaging subplots and co-starring talent. While my personal taste navigates a preference towards the supporting work of Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer, both Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg prove invaluable to the film as well. Any of them are fair game for awards season success, further validating how well-rounded of a movie del Toro has created. Everything from Alexandre Desplat's enchanting score to del Toro's sleek and calculated direction, there's hardly a blemish to be found. The Shape of Water is beautifully filmed, superbly acted, boldly told and without a doubt my favorite film of 2017 so far.

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: A-

James Franco's intimate examination of a talent-less auteur-turned-cult legend debuted as a "work in progress" selection at this year's SXSW Festival. And although I avoided the screening while there, mostly due to the fact that I had never seen The Room before, as rumblings of its sharp-comedic effectiveness grew, so did my anticipation for the film's release. The Disaster Artist has found its way to select screens, and while the effort is certainly a solid watch, it's also a far cry from the comedic gold we've come to expect from Franco and his crew of usual suspects.

When a shy and timid actor named Greg (Dave Franco) stumbles across the fearless performer Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in an acting class, he immediately reaches out to him in hopes of doing a scene together for class. Yet, as their bond grows, Greg learns of Tommy's mysterious financial security and they venture to L.A. together with visions of making it big. But as the harsh realities of Tinseltown begin to set in, Tommy and Greg quickly discover that, if they want to be in a "real Hollywood movie", they'll have to make it themselves.

What can be said about The Disaster Artist's source material, The Room, that hasn't been said already? The king of the "so bad it's good" genre, Tommy Wiseau's hysterically awful production proves to be a worthwhile central focus for director/actor James Franco. He tackles the strange and mysterious aura of Wiseau with immaculate precision. You can sense his passion and commitment for the project, which should be fully appreciated, but Franco's performance also suffers from his usual bouts with hyperbole, even when portraying someone as outrageous as Wiseau. In fact, there were a few moments throughout the film where I caught myself favoring James' brother, Dave Franco's, onscreen work over his own Golden Globe nominated performance. And from a pure story standpoint, The Disaster Artist struggles to get off the ground running. You're forced to wallow through a stale first act before they finally jack-up the energy with the behind-the-scenes filming of The Room. To the movie's credit, however, it does improve with every passing minute and concludes in a truly satisfying fashion. The Disaster Artist isn't nearly as funny as I had hoped, but it's still a strong and respectful homage to an unskilled visionary who somehow made cinematic history.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (NEW) and You Were Never Really Here Trailers

Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World devoured the competition at the box office, becoming 2015's second-ranked film in ticket sales behind only The Force Awakens. Just three short years later and Trevorrow leaves his imprint on the franchise's upcoming sequel, Fallen Kingdom, as a credited screenwriter, but J.A. Bayona (The Impossible and A Monster Calls) takes over directing duties and it has me even more excited this time around. Little is known about the film's plot, as details will surely unveil themselves as we approach its June 2018 release date, yet Fallen Kingdom's first-look footage leaves nothing to be desired. Catch the debut trailer for one of the summer's biggest blockbusters below.

Lynne Ramsay first caught my attention with her dark and hypnotic tale of a high school massacre, We Need to Talk About Kevin. Odd circumstances had her on the set of the western Jane's Got A Gun, only to walk off mid-production, completely unhappy with the project. Now she finally returns since her last masterpiece with the Cannes selection, You Were Never Really Here. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Joe, a brutal enforcer who goes in search of a missing teenage girl only to discover a much deeper secret. You Were Never Really Here is said to include an enormous amount of insanely graphic violence with it's brisk gut-wrenching sub 90-minute running time. Primed to hit theaters in April 2018, check out the first official trailer for the film below.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Oscar Talk - December 7th, 2017

Since our last break-down of the upcoming awards season in mid-November, Steven Spielberg's The Post debuted to a standing ovation and has completely changed the landscape in nearly all the major categories. Let's revisit the current state of these races just days before Golden Globe Nominations (Monday 12/11) and SAG Nominations (Wednesday 12/13) are announced.

Best Picture

Safe Bets: Thanks to Hollywood's tenuous relationship with the current administration, The Post and it's timely story which chronicles a newspaper's Supreme Court battle with the government, clearly signals a new frontrunner has arrived. Other films that feel all but assured entry into the final dance include the fast-rising contender Lady BirdThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water.

Other Potential Nominees: Joe Wright's Darkest Hour has been on the decline, but there will still be a devout faction of voters showing support for the film. Holding steady as strong possibilities for nominations are Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name. Finally, I, Tonya is being carried by the film studio NEON, which doesn't possess the experience of touting a Best picture contender, which could ultimately hurt its chances.

Dark Horse Contenders: I still expect one of either Get Out or Mudbound to make the cut, due to the somewhat recent backlash of #OscarsSoWhite, but I'm not sure which one it will be. Lastly, a few long-shots remain with Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, Linklater's Last Flag Flying and festival darling The Florida Project.

Best Director

Safe Bets: Iconic filmmaker Steven Spielberg tackles a timely issue with The Post and that could prove to be a lethal combination for the rest of the pack. Often times, when momentum starts to build in December, it's difficult to derail a frontrunner. Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) will certainly land in the final five but I'm not sure anyone else feels guaranteed of a spot at this point. Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) would probably be the next closest.

Other Potential Nominees: Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird continues to rise among the ranks in all categories, making her a strong contender here as well, while Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards) and Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) hope to ride the wave of possible Best Picture selections. Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) is always a threat in the Best Director category and, while Joe Wright's Darkest Hour appears to be on a downward trajectory, it's still hanging on at the moment.

Dark Horse Contenders: I keep hearing Dee Rees' (Mudbound) name thrown around, but as an inexperienced Netflix film, I'm not quite sold on her chances yet. The Academy has shown copious amount of love for Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) in the past and I, Tonya is a strong enough film to still keep Craig Gillespie in the conversation.

Best Actor

Safe Bets: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) remains the frontrunner until he isn't, but that doesn't mean Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) will go down without a fight. Especially considering this is "supposedly" Day-Lewis' final film. Two-time Oscar Winner Tom Hanks should benefit from the overall affection of The Post, even if the Academy hasn't been too kind to him in recent memory (Sully and Saving Mr. Banks).

Other Potential Nominees: Jake Gyllenhaal remains a quiet but worthy selection for his role in Stronger, and James Franco continues to receive an outpouring of adoration for The Disaster Artist that should linger throughout the awards season, even though it's difficult to make the cut in a comedy. A name you'll want to keep an eye on is Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), who's rather young for a Best Actor nod, but who also continues to hold strong at this stage of the game. Also, a storied favorite of the Academy, Christian Bale has solidified himself as a worthy contender for Scott Cooper's Hostiles.

Dark Horse Contenders: Sadly, Andrew Garfield's (Breathe) stock is plummeting. Mild expectations left me surprisingly satisfied with the film and especially his work, but he's quickly falling out of contention. Finally, Steve Carell (Last Flag Flying) has enjoyed recent Oscar recognition, yet the film seems to be slipping in all categories.

Best Actress

Safe Bets: In one of the most crowded categories of the year, it's really a toss-up as to who's atop the leader-board at this stage of the game. Lady Bird's slow-mounting ascension up the ranks places Saoirse Ronan in an interesting position. She made the but lost for her terrific turn in Brooklyn recently, so perhaps she garners the redemption vote? However, the Oscar queen Meryl Streep muscles her way past the competition with the head of steam backing The Post, and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) also stands a serious contender for the win. Three Billboards should end up a finalist for Best Picture and it would be expected that leading star Frances McDormand receives a nod as well. The same logic applies for Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) but it's dangerous to feel too content with a predetermined top five this early in the process.

Other Potential Nominees: As we saw with Amy Adams (Arrival) last year, no one is safe from exclusion. Despite the five actress mentioned above feeling like a strong group of finalists, Jessica Chastain (Molly's Game) has a long history of success with the Academy. The same can be said with Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel) who provides a phenomenal turn in Woody Allen's latest, and Allen has a track record of success for his leading ladies.

Dark Horse Contenders: Early word says rising star Vicky Krieps stands toe-to-toe with the great Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, so don't count her out quite yet. Also, foreign-film stars have a history of faring well in the Best Actress category, making Diane Kruger's highly-regarded work for In the Fade a silent, but deadly, player.

Best Supporting Actor

Safe Bets: Until the bitter end I plan to stand with my overwhelming choice for Best Supporting Actor, and that would be Sam Rockwell's transcending turn in Three Billboards. While I'm extremely confident he'll get in, his chance at a win doesn't feel as strong as it once was. Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) may be his fiercest competition, but it would also be unwise to disregard Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) in this race as well. 

Other Potential Nominees: Outside of the Big Three listed above, the last two spots are wide open at this point. Bryan Cranston once felt like a safe bet for his hilarious work in Last Flag Flying, but he may be forced to give way to votes thanks to co-star Laurence Fishbourne. The same applies to Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards) who may end up on the outside looking in when all is said and done. This could free up room for recent Oscar Winner Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) to make it into the top five, as it would be odd for a Best Picture Nominee to NOT have an actor nominated. Jason Mitchell's work in Mudbound is quite good, and he's got the fear of #OscarsSoWhite in his favor, but Richard Jenkins has also received a heap of praise for his performance in The Shape of Water.

Dark Horse Contenders: Much deeper down the list we have the longest of shots with Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name) and Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), each of whom will struggle to earn votes because of internal competition from their films as well.

Best supporting Actress

Safe Bets: A pair of TV actresses headline the competition in this race, either of which have a strong chance at winning their first Oscar statue. Allison Janney (I, Tonya) delivers a louder, more attention-grabbing performance, while Laurie Metcalf's work in Lady Bird is a bit more subtle. Either would be a fine choice by my standards, but after it's nothing but murky waters in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Other Potential Nominees: Oscar Winner Melissa Leo has scratched and clawed her way into the discussion with her work in Novitiate, and Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread) is also garnering high praises. I haven't seen either film, but both are immediately on my end of the year radar. Moreover, Mudbound's Mary J. Blige gives an impressive turn, making her another strong contender from a film that will most likely find a nomination somewhere. Oscar Winner Octavia Spencer's (The Shape of Water) name also carries some clout and her work in one of the year's most well-regarded films could land her in the final discussion as well.

Dark Horse Contenders: Downsizing's Hong Chau continues to have her name thrown around, as both her and Girl's Trip co-star Tiffany Haddish captured nominations from The Critics' Choice Awards. As for Haddish, comedies are a tough sell with the Academy, but it's been done before (i.e. Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids). 

*** Keep checking back as we continue to monitor the ever-changing landscape of the major Oscar races ***

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

DVD Outlook: December 2017

What's been a surprisingly slow transition from the fall to winter months is sure to pick up in theaters with Oscar players like The Shape of Water and Spielberg's The Post joining what may end up being this year's box office champion in The Last Jedi arriving shortly. However, in the meantime, there are a few notable films finding a December release on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming that you may want to consider adding to your Christmas or holiday gift list (November's suggestions). So here's a look at what's new this December.

Dunkirk - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Christopher Nolan's hypnotizing and intense war epic, Dunkirk, may not carry the same bravado as it does in a big-theater IMAX setting, yet that won't stop it from remaining as one of the year's finest achievements and a strong Best Picture candidate when all is said and done. Nolan's film highlights three phases of war, namely on the ground, in the air and by the sea, as everything must come together perfectly in order to rescue the hundreds of thousands of soldiers pushed to the shorelines of Dunkirk, France by German forces during the early stages of World War II. This tense journey sadly misses out completely on profound elements character building, but it does paint a harrowing picture of the true atrocities of war that many everyday people take for granted. Dunkirk is a clear testament to Nolan's towering directorial efforts and is an experience like none other. (December 19th)

Stronger - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Where Nolan's Dunkirk completely ignores character development, David Gordon Green flips the script completely and almost solely relies on that element of storytelling in his extremely well made drama, Stronger. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff Bauman, a severely injured bystander from the tragic 2013 Boston Marathon bombing who lost both of his legs and experienced immense psychological anguish in the aftermath as he was heralded as a hero despite feeling otherwise. Gyllenhaal's superb on-screen work brandishes a deep and layered character who's both heartbreaking and fascinating. And while Gyllenhaal's talents have been long documented by a career filled with exceptional performances, he's equally matched by the outstanding supporting turn from co-star Tatiana Maslany. Stronger is worthy of a viewing for its acting alone, as evident by Gyllenhaal's presumed awards season recognition in the near future, but the film offers so much more than just great performances. (December 19th)

Detroit - Not Rated - (No review available)

It's a rarity, but occasionally I'm forced to toss a movie I haven't seen myself into my top suggestions of the month. While a few of the honorable mention picks listed below may feel more appealing to you, whether it be for political reasons or just personal taste, it's difficult to ignore a critically acclaimed film by an Oscar winning director. Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit tells the controversial true story of a 1967 violent and deadly police raid that resulted in one of the largest riots in U.S. history. While the work has been self-labeled as "fact-based", it's important to recognize this as a dramatized interpretation of historical events. Yet, no matter where you views and opinions reside on this matter, Detroit has clearly been lauded for its entertaining and compelling story that's won over audiences and critics alike. This is one film I plan to check out once it becomes available on Blu-Ray. (December 12th)

Honorable Mention: Along with Detroit (mentioned above), there are a few other movies I'm interested in finally seeing like the sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle (12/12), historical drama Victoria and Abdul (12/19), and holiday horror flick Better Watch Out (12/5). Family films Despicable Me 3 (12/5) and The LEGO Ninjago Movie (12/19) are also available this December. Finally, survival flick The Mountain Between Us (12/26), Reese Witherspoon comedy Home Again (12/12) and Darren Aronofsky's insanely polarizing work Mother! (12/19) round out this month's list of new arrivals.