A fun little surprise. Artist and character designer @tad_lambert (who did the original 2D designs for our little short film DANNY AND THE WILD BUNCH) sent me a new drawing of Danny, inspired by the film’s upcoming trip to Europe in September. I think I’ll call it, “Danny auf dem Weg nach Zürich” (“Danny on his way to Zurich”) I think I got that right. ??
Ok, first — a huge CONGRATS to friend and writer @henrygayden on his new movie SHAZAM!
Unless you are one of those people who study movie credits, you might not notice that a good number of these superhero/comic book movies have four, six, sometimes eight or ten writers, with even more ghost-writing or script-doctoring. Which makes Henry’s accomplishment of ‘sole screenplay credit’ on this movie an unbelievable, almost unheard-of super-human/super-writer feat. What makes this even more impressive is how beloved this movie is by critics and audiences (92% / 90% on RT), how INCREDIBLY well it is doing at the box office ($53+ million opening weekend!!), and finally — how GOOD it is! “HOLY MOLY!” Is the movie silly? Yes. But I would argue that any movie were men and women are running around in colored spandex tights and capes fighting bad guys is silly. What SHAZAM! does differently is — it OWNS it. It knows exactly what it is. And it has a ton of fun with it. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny, with enough 80’s homages for us Amblin-kids, and best of all — it never takes itself too seriously.
I have sometimes posited that the best fifteen minutes of any superhero movie is the sequence in Sam Rami’s original SPIDER-MAN when Toby McGuire first acquires his spidey-powers and doesn’t know how to use them. SHAZAM! is like having a whole movie of that. In a really good way.
At this point you might be thinking — damn, is he just going to blow smoke up Henry’s ass throughout this entire post? Doesn’t the movie have any flaws? Sure. For one — it is yet ANOTHER superhero origin story. Also, the visual effects (specifically those CGI smoke-demon-monsters) are not great, and the movie does lean on some 80’s movies in a pretty “BIG” way. It’s also a tad too long (especially that end fight sequence). But none of that was enough to undercut the overwhelming buoyancy of this movie. It’s just too much fun! And funny! And sweet! And thematically on point! And everyone should go see it. And take your kids, they will love it! I know this kid did. #shazam#shazammovie
Let me start by saying, I am a fan of Jordan Peele’s GET OUT. I thought it had something to say and said it in a fun, fresh, and clever way. It surprised me and ended up being one of my top films of 2017.
But… with Peele’s new film, US, I feel like I just got sold a bill of goods. This has to be one of the most over-hyped movies of the last decade. With critics giving the movie a glowing 94% on RT and calling Peele “the next Hitchcock”, you would think his “new nightmare” about psychopathic doppelgängers was an undeniable masterpiece, a brilliant social commentary about humanity being forced to look at the dark side of ourselves. Right?
Yeah. It’s not. It’s not even a particularly great horror movie (like THE CONJURING or HEREDITARY). US is a messy story and oh so VERY random. And I like weird movies. But weird for weird sake is not clever or smart. It’s empty. The other problem is that US doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Is it a psychological puzzle or silly sketch comedy? There are so many places where the attempt at humor undercuts the tension or ruins a poignant moment that could have otherwise been scary or powerful.
What US is, however— is a GREAT marketing campaign. Those beautiful black faces with those creepy expressions on those clean dark backgrounds... and those fantastic gold scissors! It’s sharp (no pun intended.) It looks and feels like an elegant horror movie. Like a classic. But, unfortunately, it just isn’t.
Oh-kay… Maybe I’ve been too harsh. The movie is not entirely without its moments. One really great bit early in the movie when the family looks outside and sees their “bad” doppelgängers standing in the driveway is a BLAST!! But once the invading “bad guys” start talking, you realize — oh, this isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the further you fall down the “rabbit”-hole, the more incoherent it becomes, until finally, it devolves into one incredibly long and tedious monologue of exposition. But even then, I couldn’t make any sense of it.
Okay. So. CAPTAIN MARVEL is good. It’s not great. But for some reason, these superhero movies keep doing really, REALLY well at the box office. Audiences keep showing up. Maybe it’s something about us as human beings feeling powerless to effect significant change in our day-to-day lives… But I digress.
This particular superhero movie has the additional significance of being the first female lead in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And for the most part, it delivers on its “girl-power” messaging without alienating young boys in the audience. It knows what it is trying to say and it says it effectively, in a way that speaks to female empowerment while also remaining relevant to the rest of us: Resilience is power. I like that.
However, overall, the movie just feels a bit flat. Maybe because we have seen all this stuff before… and better. There are funnier aliens in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and THOR: RAGNARÖK, more exciting flying sequences in the IRON MAN and AVENGERS movies, and funnier “too-cool-for-school” quips from your friendly neighborhood SPIDER-MAN. It’s not that this one is bad, it’s that it’s getting really hard for Marvel to out-Marvel Marvel.
Another disadvantage CAPTAIN MARVEL has is that it is yet another origin story, complete with the obligatory how-she-got-her-superpowers/supersuit moments, as well as a trying-way-too-hard-to-be-clever explanation for how she got… not one, but BOTH of her new names!
However, despite all the tropes that we have come to expect from these movies, this one has some pretty fun twists in the story (if not wholly surprising, at least mildly satisfying) that makes the back-half of the movie infinitely more watchable.
But the really amazing thing is — Samuel Jackson. Not his performance, but rather the de-aging visual effects they used to make him look twenty years younger. It’s UNREAL! And not just for a few shots. Young Samuel Jackson is in almost every scene. And it isn’t really that distracting. It doesn’t completely make up for some of the same ‘ol-same ol’ dullness of yet another superhero origin story… but it helps. #captainmarvel
Fantastic. Breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. Blah blah blah. We’ve overused these descriptive words (in situations that probably did not merit them) and now they don’t really have the same impact they once did. Which is a shame, because this is one of those moments where it would be particularly handy to have some really good words. Because, I’m going to have trouble expressing just how FANTASTIC Todd Douglas Miller’s APOLLO 11 documentary is. Go see it. And please, PLEASE see it in the theater.
I know. I can hear y’all now: “Yeah, yeah. We’ve seen the moon landing before. Boooooring.” And I’m sure that most of you have also seen some behind-the-scenes footage of Mission Control or the famous words of Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon, etc.
THIS IS NOT THAT. APOLLO 11 is a true marvel in that it takes a moment in history that we have all be inundated with since we were in grade school and shows it to us in a completely new light. It is genuinely thrilling. Like watching a landmark in human history happen right now and in real time. Prepare to be awestruck. The crispness and color of the restored film footage alone is mesmerizing. Close to 50% of the movie is footage never seen before — restored from vintage 16, 35, (vintage) 65 and 70mm reels recently uncovered in the National Archives. But it’s not just the restoration that makes this documentary stand out. It is emotional. You FEEL it. It is that good. From the subtle but powerful score… to the truly remarkable sound design that brings this 50 year old footage to life… to the near-perfect use of clean and simple motion graphics… to the brilliant editing (and I never use those two words together) that builds tension and allows for grand moments of awe and wonder, while also keeping the story clipping along at a pace that brings it all in at just over 90 minutes. There is no fluff. This thing is tight.
It is also wonderfully nostalgic, a story of people coming together to accomplish the impossible. A moment that united not just the country, but the entire world. And, in today’s polarized global landscape, doesn’t that sound worth the ticket price? #apollo11 #apollo11documentary
There are some beautifully crafted things about IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, especially the score by Nicolas Britell. In fact, when I saw it (a few days prior to the Academy Awards) I genuinely thought the score had a good chance of taking home the Oscar. It’s lovely. Regina King’s win for Best Supporting Actress is also well-deserved. But if I am being really honest, the movie is a slog to get through. Sure, there are some powerful moments, and it’s chocked full of social commentary (if you go in for that sort of thing), and it’s clear that director Barry Jenkins (MOONLIGHT) has real passion for the original material. But it is SLOOOW. (I feel like a broken record with this, but—) The movie suffers from the same problems plaguing SO MANY movies this year — it is based on a book… and it feels like it. There has been little to no effort made to take the original material and rework it AS A MOVIE. It just feels like scenes from the book filmed. Which is not what a movie is. Which means it is episodic in the worst possible way, with the screenplay only making use of the most important, most dramatic, most urgent scenes from the book. The result is a movie made up of nothing but super-important, super-dramatic, super-urgent scenes. One after the other. Which makes for a relentless and exhausting experience. When everything is of the utmost importance, nothing is.
On a more positive note, the filmmaker’s use of historic photography to depict the time period is a stroke of genius. And that is why it is important to see these types of “awards movies” (even if they can be a chore sometimes). Because regardless of whether you love or hate the end result, there is a filmmaker with a vision behind the lens, and that is almost always rewarding to see.
So, this is unexpected... Our little-short-film-that-could, DANNY AND THE WILD BUNCH (link in bio), has been selected by the Zurich Film Festival to be featured in their FILM MUSIC COMPETITION, in which they challenge up-and-coming film composers to create and submit a new score for the chosen short. The entries will then be judged by several members of the festival, myself, and @brooksball (the composer of the original score). The winner will then be performed LIVE by Zurich’s renowned Tonhalle Orchestra to the projection of the film during the festival in September! Excited to be taking part! DANNY UND DER WILDE BÜNDEL!! (*image is a composite from last year’s event :)) #dannyandthewildbunch
Will Win: ROMA
Should Win: GREEN BOOK
Missing: FIRST MAN
Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón, ROMA
Should Win: Spike Lee, BLACKKKLANSMAN
Missing: Bradley Cooper, A STAR IS BORN
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Will Win: Rami Malek, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Should Win: Rami Malek, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Missing: Ethan Hawke, FIRST REFORMED
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Will Win: Glenn Close, THE WIFE
Should Win: Lady Gaga, A STAR IS BORN
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Will Win: Mahershala Ali, GREEN BOOK
Should Win: Mahershala Ali, GREEN BOOK
Missing: Michael B. Jordan, BLACK PANTHER
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Will Win: Regina King, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Should Win: Rachel Weisz, THE FAVOURITE
Will Win: GREEN BOOK
Should Win: GREEN BOOK
Will Win: BLACKKKLANSMAN
Should Win: BLACKKKLANSMAN
Will Win: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Should Win: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Will Win: RBG
Should Win: FREE SOLO
Missing: WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Will Win: ROMA (Mexico)
Should Win: COLD WAR (Poland)
Will Win: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Should Win: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Missing: FIRST MAN
Will Win: “Shallow”, A STAR IS BORN
Should Win: “Shallow”, A STAR IS BORN
Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Should Win: A QUIET PLACE
Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Should Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Will Win: VICE
Should Win: VICE
Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
Should Win: THE FAVOURITE
Will Win: ROMA
Should Win: ROMA
Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
Should Win: FIRST MAN
Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Should Win: GREEN BOOK
Will Win: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
Should Win: FIRST MAN
DOCUMENTARY, SHORT SUBJECT
Will Win: NA
Should Win: NA
SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION
Will Win: NA
Should Win: NA
SHORT FILM, ANIMATED
Will Win: BAO
Should Win: ONE SMALL STEP
Despite an impassioned Oscar-nominated performance by Willem Defoe, Julian Schnabel’s film about Vincent Van Gogh, AT ETERNITY’S GATE, is hard to get through. In splashy-catch-phrase-buzzword-obsessed Hollywood, the film is being called an “unconventional biopic.” And it is unconventional. But I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Because it also feels a bit like a glorified film-school project.
As with Schnabel’s own personal art, the movie is impressionistic, gestural, attempting to capture the “feeling of Van Gogh”, more so than a factual portrayal or a particular moment from the artist’s life. It’s a swirl of scenes captured with manic, hand-held “shakey-cam”, then put together in a cinematic jump-cut blender. Everything is built to feel spontaneous and in the moment. And sure, that can be interesting at times. But when you constantly find yourself thinking about the filmmaker or the technical aspects of a particular shot and not the character or the story… that is bad.
There is also no real narrative here to hold on to. It’s just fleeting moments of madness. And maybe that was the point. Maybe Schnabel wants us to feel the insanity of his main character. Okay. I get that. That’s interesting. But I’d rather he tell us a really good story. It doesn’t have to be a “conventional” story. Tell me something I don’t know about Van Gogh, in a way I’ve never seen before. That would be fantastic. But tell me a story. There are BEAUTIFUL moments in the film where the natural landscape fills the screen and the light envelops the lens, or where we get to see Willem Defoe paint as Van Gogh! Those moments are mesmerizing. But it’s still NOT a story. And (for me) story is everything. So, then, because there is no narrative storyline to speak of, the film drags, like plodding through molasses. It’s beautiful, sun-kissed, shallow-depth-of-field molasses, but it’s still molasses.
FIRST REFORMED is bleak, stark, brooding, and ultimately pretty damn depressing, but it is also smart, well-written, and beautifully made. I don’t typically go in for these types of “heavy” movies, and I am not particularly a fan of writer/director Paul Schrader (although he did write TAXI DRIVER). But Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of a priest in the midst of a spiritual crisis/breakdown had me hooked from the very first line. Hawke is SO good in this. Why he wasn’t nominated is beyond me.
To be clear, the movie is hard to watch. It is existential in its themes, heavy-handed in its politics (we get it: Global Warming is bad.) and it almost always goes too far in an attempt to shock you (as Schrader often does). But it’s also a very thoughtful, compelling, and at times, genuinely surprising (in a good way) discourse about faith... and anger. This is a filmmaker with something to say and who knows exactly how he wants to say it. Every frame of the movie is calculated, deliberate. Every location, every camera move, every angle, every lens, chosen for a reason. And in a world of “spray the scene” and “we’ll build it later in post”, that is refreshing to see. You may not like what he is saying (or even how he is saying it), but by the time the credits roll you will have definitely heard what he has to say. #firstreformed
Okay, finally getting around to seeing the last few Oscar nominees on the list.
So, let’s just get this out of the way. MARY POPPINS RETURNS is not the original MARY POPPINS. Not even close. HOWEVER, it actually won me over. I am a huge fan of the original and was dreading this one. In fact, if it had not been nominated for multiple Oscars I might not have gone to see it at all. But, I’m actually really glad I did.
Is it a perfect movie? No. It has problems. A lot of problems. It’s too long, some of the performances are pretty stilted (Lin Manuel Miranda. Yikes.), and its far too slow getting going, but it makes up for a good many of its missteps by being wildly effervescent and refreshingly uncynical. It feels like a movie from a bygone era… and yet because of that, it also feels a bit old fashioned. And that is both a strength and a weakness. It has the spirit of the original, down to its lively musical numbers and brilliantly executed animated/hybrid sequence, but it also borrows a bit too much from the original. At times, it feels more like a remake than a sequel (in much the same way that FORCE AWAKENS feels a bit too much like a STAR WARS greatest hits.) There are moments (the wonderfully weird Meryl Streep “Topsy” sequence) that feel a bit too similar to sequences from the original (remember the “I Love to Laugh” sequence with Ed Wynn, Dick Van Dyke where they are floating around the room?) The gaslighting scenes are just a little too close to the original chimney sweep scenes. It doesn’t bringing enough new to the table to justify its existence.
And lastly — While Emily Blunt will never be Julie Andrews, I was pleasantly surprised by how wonderful Blunt is in this role. These were impossibly HUGE shoes to fill.
Oh, and it was a bit disappointing to see the BALLOON LADY character (first introduced in the Mary Poppins sequel book “Mary Poppins Comes Back” by P.L. Travers) played by Angela Lansbury instead of who the cameo role was actually written for… Julie Andrews! #marypoppinsreturns
Let’s start with the obvious: RBG is about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and with that comes a certain level of filmmakers “preaching to the choir.” However, politics aside, the Oscar-nominated documentary is pretty straight-forward, informative, and surprisingly upbeat, especially considering its 85-year-old subject matter. But let’s be honest, this is no ordinary octogenarian. Regardless of where you lean politically, you have to admit, this grandma is a force to be reckoned with! From her obsession with Opera to sleeping less than two hours a night to her fancy-as-hell jabot collection (those are those collars judges wear) to laughing at Kate McKinnon’s ridiculous SNL impression of her, the Notorious R.B.G. is fascinating to watch.
I also found myself appreciating the documentary’s interviews with prominent conservative politicians like Orrin Hatch and Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, who (while he vehemently disagreed with Ginsburg’s political views) saw her as an equal and a friend.
But what might be the most important part of this documentary is how it highlights Ginsburg’s unprecedented law career and her tireless campaign for EQUALITY. One minute she is fighting for women’s rights, the next, she is taking on a case about discrimination against men in the workplace. Because… how smart is that? And with our current obsession with trial by social media, it is nice to be reminded how real judges in real courts prepare and present cases.
In conclusion, I don’t think you have to go to theater to see this one, but if you get a chance, rent it, stream it. It’s worth checking out. However, when it comes to the Oscar… it’s never going to beat FREE SOLO. :) #rbg
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? almost succeeds in doing the impossible: to take a truly vile unlikable human being and turn them into a movie protagonist that an audience can care about and root for. Almost. Both the Oscar-nominated performances by Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant are terrific and, with the help of some really great writing, transform this “based on a true story”, which for all practical purposes could have been a painful experience, into a pretty darn good movie. And before you say “Oh, this is just a comedy actor taking a pay cut to play a serious role in hopes of awards credibility” — it’s actually really funny (in an off-beat, dark wit sort of way).
However… the film ultimately suffers from problems all-to-common in the “true story” genre. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Life isn’t tidy, and true stories rarely have closure in the same way movies do (and should), which rarely makes for a satisfying third act. The same is true for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? The movie sets up things beautifully, escalates effortlessly through the second act, but then falls short of delivering a satisfying payoff in the end. And the attempt to shoe-horn one in (that last scene in the bar) feels far too much like a writer’s contrivance that an organic conclusion. Hell, even if it’s true and it really did happen that way, it still doesn’t feel like it.
So, in conclusion, I thought the movie was good. Not “98% on RT” good, but good, and definitely worth watching if you can stomach the horror-show that is Lee Israel.
There are two black-and-white foreign films nominated for Oscars in the Best Director category this year: Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA and Paweł Pawlikowski’s COLD WAR. For me, COLD WAR is by far the better film. The story is tight and lean without feeling rushed or thin, the old school black-and-white 4:3 (almost square) cinematography is beautiful and purposeful, and the storytelling (“like a rock skipping across the water”) is as poetic as it is efficient. In short — it’s pretty sexy stuff. But what really made this movie for me was the smoldering performance by Joanna Kulig. Wow. She steals every scene. While she looks a bit like Jennifer Lawrence mixed with Jessica Chastain, all I could think of was Lauren Bacall (you know... THE BIG SLEEP. If you haven’t seen it, stop what you are doing right now and go watch it. You will thank me). And yes, COLD WAR is a love story between a young girl and an older man, but it never gets bogged down in Lolita-esque morality questions or sappy melodrama, and it moves with precision, building to an ending that is as poignant as it is inevitable.
That said, the movie is not without its missteps, and in hindsight, some questionable character motivations, but it was never enough to pull me out of the story.
Also, a final thought: Both ROMA and COLD WAR use sound design in powerful, meaningful ways, carefully contrasting silence/soft, quiet moments with more jarring, loud moments. Maybe American filmmakers should take notice. #coldwarfilm #coldwarmovie
Truthfully, I have never been a huge Springsteen fan. Sure, “Born to Run”, “Thunder Road”, even some lesser known tracks like “Nothing Man” occasionally make the rotation, but I’ve never been diehard. However... SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY is terrific. It might be one of the best examples of true storytelling I’ve seen all year. It’s intimate, disarmingly honest, and absolutely riveting. With only a guitar, harmonica, and piano, The Boss reminds us (yet again) that he is a master at spinning a yarn. The show is funny, poignant, and heartbreaking, with a powerfully nostalgic look back on a remarkable life and the wisdom that comes from living it. Thanks for sharing, Bruce @springsteen. #springsteenonbroadway#springsteenbroadway
Which to watch? FYRE or FYRE FRAUD? The answer is... Both. The Netflix doc is by far the better crafted documentary, but it is produced by the very agency that promoted the festival in the first place, so it’s obviously skewed. However, it does a great job of revealing just how awful EVERYONE involved is (even the young rich assholes who are being scammed). The Hulu doc is a bit less engaging but it follows the fraud more closely and the one-on-one interview with Billy McFarland is as telling (as it is painful to watch). Regardless, watch one of them. The Fyre Festival debacle is a train wreck mixed with a dumpster fire, the perfect storm of everything wrong with today’s online “influencer” culture. I think the last line of the Hulu doc sums it up best: “It’s a great time to be a con artist in America.” #fyrefestival #fyrefraud #fyrenetflix #icouldbewrongbut
There is nothing particularly wrong with Gary Ross’s OCEANS 8, but there is nothing particularly right about it either. It’s a very middle-of-the-road heist movie. Regardless, the cast is charming, the plot works, and Anne Hathaway is really fun in this role. But at the end of the day, it’s pretty forgettable (especially when compared to the original or the original remake (OCEAN’S ELEVEN). I’d even watch OCEAN’S 13 over this one, but NOT OCEAN’S 12. Ugh.) #oceans8#oceans8movie
As a Southerner, these movies are always hard for me. Hollywood is typically either too heavy-handed or too candy-coated on the topic of racism. But this one surprised me. Sure there are a couple of missteps (and some bad Southern accents - “gosh y’all”) along the way, but all-in-all, I thought this was one of the best movies of the year. It’s charming, funny, and ultimately really sweet. I wish Hollywood made more movies like this. The two lead performances are fantastic, and the writing is top notch. So far, it’s my pick for best original screenplay. Now, I know there has been a lot of “controversy” surrounding this one lately, but try and ignore it (everyone is upset about something these days) and go check it out... in a theater. I think you’ll like it. #greenbook #greenbookmovie
I know this is going to be a terribly unpopular opinion, but here it goes... Alphonso Cuaron’s ROMA is gorgeous, lovingly handled... and boring. Don’t get me wrong: there is a master filmmaker at work here. Every sequence is deliberate, carefully constructed, the sound design is immaculate, and (mmmm) the black and white cinematography is just downright yummy. In addition, there are sequences that are truly inspired (the riot, the delivery room, and the beach to name a few). BUT the story (is there one?) is far FAR too thin for my taste, and set to a pace so unbearably slow, I found myself wanting it to end. I know I am clearly in the minority on this one, but give me A STAR IS BORN or FIRST MAN or BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS any day.
I didn’t hate WELCOME TO MARWEN. And it’s far better than the 29% on RT would lead you believe. But it is odd. Really odd. If you watched the trailer and thought, “That looks odd.” You don’t know the half of it. There’s also a flying witch with a magic glove and a time machine. Yep. You read that right — a time machine (and a not-so-subtle nod to BACK TO THE FUTURE). It also suffers from being a true story, and as I’ve mentioned before, real life doesn’t always play out the way a great story should. However, despite all of that, I still found myself engaged in it, and sometimes even enjoying this bizarre movie. Robert Zemeckis is a solid filmmaker and there are inspired moments here (Steve Carell is particularly good), but buckle up... ‘cause it gonna get weird. #welcometomarwen