30000101

Dream Log

VICE
2018 | Dir. Adam McKay | 132 Minutes
3 out of 5
Adam McKay's follow-up to The Big Short is an entertaining but wildly meandering evisceration of W's enigmatic and ruthless VP. Creative narrative structure, clever asides, and key bits of exposition delivered through fun featured cameos only carry the picture so far as it loses a considerable amount of steam during its final stretch. Christian Bale's Dick Cheney impression is uncanny, and Amy Adams is ever the force to be reckoned with as Cheney's headstrong wife and prime motivator Lynne.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS
2018 | Dir. Rob Marshall | 130 Minutes
4 out of 5
It's a quality long gap sequel to an untouchable Disney classic. Emily Blunt's take on the magical nanny is somewhat sterner than Julie Andrews' but she absolutely shines and is overall a terrific fit for the role. Lin-Manuel Miranda is impressive as the lamplighter Jack, essentially filling in for Dick Van Dyke's Bert, complete with ridiculous cockney accent (and yet in her featured cameo, Meryl Streep's got him beat on totally off-kilter accents!). More plot-driven than the original film, the stakes are decidedly higher with the Banks family fallen on hard times and an evil banker, Colin Firth going full Colin Firth, determined to repossess their house. The musical numbers are consistently delightful though not really memorable. The sequence blending live action actors with animation (within a Royal Doulton Bowl instead of pavement art this time) is a real highlight.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
2018 | Dir. Barry Jenkins | 117 Minutes
5 out of 5
Engaging, beautiful, breathtaking, and heartbreaking, Barry Jenkins' adaptation of James Baldwin's novel presents a touching romance under constant threat from ever-prevalent social injustice. Jenkins continues to evoke strong Wong-Kar-Wai-esque vibes as he continues to improve as a filmmaker, perfectly capturing the complex inner lives of his characters through skillful use of close-ups, insightful interior monologue, and special attention paid to small day-to-day moments. Simply put, it's a gorgeous-looking film with a powerful emotional core.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
2018 | Dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman | 117 Minutes
4 out of 5
Features unique dazzling visuals with a whole lot of humor and heart. Would have liked more screentime for some of the parallel Spider-People (Nic Cage's Spider-Man Noir is a total riot), but the core dynamic shared between Miles Morales and a down-in-the-dumps washed-up Peter Parker is simply delightful. Plus, Gwen Stacy absolutely rocks. Though not a prerequisite, the movie finds clever ways to reward familiarity with the extended Spidey mythos.

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS
2018 | Dir. Josie Rourke | 125 Minutes
3 out of 5
A fairly standard historical drama framed in a feminist perspective. Though told with a rather progressive disposition (notably some interestingly historically inaccurate, though not unwelcome, casting choices), the narrative is invariably a muddled stew of political struggles for power and succession. Thankfully, the film is elevated (though not quite saved) by two engaging performances from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, both bringing intimacy and humanity to the larger-than-life monarchs they portray. It's musing to see David Tenant play a one-note religious leader preaching hateful rhetoric to his flock, though that shtick quickly becomes tiresome.

20181121

Creed II

CREED II
2018 | Dir. Steven Caple Jr. | 130 Minutes

"Are you here to prove something to other people, or prove something to yourself?"


Viktor Drago, son of disgraced Russian boxer Ivan Drago, challenges Adonis Creed's claim to the world heavyweight title in a bid to repair his family's tarnished reputation. When his beloved mentor Rocky Balboa refuses to train him to fight his dangerously desperate opponent, Donnie nearly loses everything dear to him. Guided by Rocky's wisdom, Donnie finds true motivation to confront the shadow of the past and face the future with a renewed sense of purpose.

Helmed by up-and-coming director Steven Caple Jr., Creed II is a satisfying second act to the story of Adonis Creed. Though the plot follows story beats that mirror the original Rocky sequels, the major events of Donnie's life are handled with a much more nuance and thematic gravity, exploring the pressure to meet expectations, and the burden of maintaining a lasting legacy made more poignant with the concept of fatherhood playing a key role.

While the featured boxing sequences are competently executed, and occasionally downright brutal, they are the least impressive parts of the film, constructed and paced with noticeably less flair than Coogler's exemplary work featured in the first film. The sportscaster commentary running through the key fights is overwrought and distractingly melodramatic at times. Caple's style is up-close-and-personal, and is decidedly the picture's biggest strength, perfect for quiet moments of intimate human drama, drawing excellent performances from the cast particularly in tender scenes centered on Donnie and Bianca.

Through his consistently magnificent performance, Michael B. Jordan handles Donnie's struggle with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt with sensitivity and considerable skill. Sequences covering Donnie's pain and frustration during the low points of his story are at least as powerful as the obligatory training montages leading up to the climatic fight. As Bianca, Tessa Thompson is once again absolutely magnetic, showcasing her phenomenal range of talent as an actress and as a singer. The chemistry shared between Jordan and Thompson is palpable and, like the first film, this sequel just wouldn't work without this onscreen couple.

Not simply a one-dimensional opponent to pit against Donnie, Viktor Drago's motivation is relatively grounded, slightly complex, and emotionally poignant. Florian "Big Nasty" Munteanu brings Viktor to life with a surprising amount of pathos, establishing the formidable contender as a truly suitable foil to Donnie. Dolph Lundgren reprises his star-making role as Ivan Drago, an exponentially more experienced actor than he was when he initially played the character over thirty years ago, bringing gravitas (and a larger vocabulary) to the part. Munteanu and Lundgren are very convincing portraying an obsessively driven son and his vengeful overbearing father.

Slightly older, slightly wiser, but just as endearingly clumsy with his words and sentiments, Sylvester Stallone comfortably slips back into the role of his best character, albeit with a smaller, less pressing story to tell in this installment. Returning as Mary Anne Creed, Phylicia Rashād is particularly wonderful during an amusing dinner scene shared with Donnie and Bianca early in the film and remains a strong and warm presence throughout. Wood Harris also returns as trainer Tony "Little Duke" Evers in a larger role with more opportunities to demonstrate his seemingly effortless charisma. Though he does his best playing the part of the manipulative fight promoter Buddy Marcelle, Russell Hornsby is somewhat underutilized in the paper-thin role.

While Creed II doesn't reinvent the classic underdog narrative, it offers a familiar uplifting experience like the most nourishing comfort food. Fans of the original Creed and the Rocky series as a whole will find it to be an excellent natural addition to the saga of cinema's most iconic heavyweight boxing heroes.


FRAGMENTS
- Brigitte Nielsen returns very briefly as Ludmilla Drago from Rocky IV, serving as more of a concept than a full character

- In a touching cameo appearance, Milo Ventimiglia reprises the role of Rocky's son Robert last seen in Rocky Balboa

- To claim the title of World Heavyweight Champion, Donnie soundly defeats Danny "Stuntman" Wheeler once again played by real-life boxer Andre Ward returning from Creed

- Ludwig Göransson's excellent musical score builds upon themes he established in Creed and continues to use Bill Conti's Rocky themes in thoughtful and powerful ways; although understandable, it's slightly disappointing that Göransson did not use any of Vince DiCola's music from Rocky IV for the Ivan Drago


RELATED EPHEMERA
- Video: Creed II - Shea Butter Baby Teaser with Ari Lennox


THE WIRE CONNECTIONS
- Michael B. Jordan (Wallace)

- Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale)


007 CONNECTIONS
- Dolph Lundgren (Venz in A View To A Kill)


MCU CONNECTIONS
- Wood Harris (Officer Gale in Ant-Man)

- Sylvester Stallone (Stakar in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)

- Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok)

- Michael B. Jordan (Erik Killmonger in Black Panther)

20180706

Ant-Man and the Wasp

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
2018 | Dir. Peyton Reed | 118 Minutes

"Maybe you just need someone watching your back, like a partner."


After violating the Sokovia Accords, Scott Lang is under house arrest while his allies Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne are forced into hiding. During the final days of his two-year sentence, Scott is begrudgingly recruited by Pym and Hope to embark on a rescue mission. Standing in their way are the FBI, a ruthless illegal tech dealer and his thugs, and a mysterious wraith-like combatant.

Director Peyton Reed delivers a brisk superhero comedy that improves on nearly every aspect of his initial Ant-Man film. Plenty of fun and laughs are to be had from Scott's scale-shifting antics courtesy of a malfunctioning "work-in-progress" suit and Paul Rudd's natural charisma. Hope suits up as the Wasp and is clearly a more capable fighter than Scott, allowing Evangeline Lilly to really shine as the de facto action star of the picture. Together with Michael Douglas' perpetually grumpy Hank Pym, their excellent chemistry carries the wholesome narrative centered on the value of family topped with several layers of humor and semi-nonsensical sci-fi jargon.

Michael Peña, Tip "T.I." Harris, and David Dastmalchian return respectively as chatterbox Luis and his associates Dave and Kurt who've since started a security company perhaps inadvisably named X-Con. While Peña is granted additional screen-time, his comedic stylings are somewhat more tiresome this time around with the notable exception of an extended truth-serum-induced rant. Also returning are Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale as Maggie and Paxton in much smaller roles. Conversely,  Abby Ryder Fortson's Cassie plays a much bigger role, sharing some of the film's most funny and touching scenes with Paul Rudd's Scott.

Though her character is slightly underdeveloped, Hannah John-Kamen does an admirable job as Ava Starr, the tormented Ghost on a desperate mission. As Bill Foster, Laurence Fishburne is underutilized as Ava's surrogate father and voice of reason. Randall Park is perfectly cast as the slightly dopey FBI Agent Jimmy Woo as is character actor Walton Goggins as the slimy Sonny Burch. Michelle Pfeiffer is absolutely radiant in her brief appearance as Janet van Dyne.

All-around, the visual effects are excellent. Ghost has a unique and inspired look as the surrounding translucent images of her waver between the immediate past and present. The prologue of the film and several flashback scenes feature Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, and Laurence Fishburne convincingly de-aged digitally. The scale-changing action is taken to an entertaining new level during the climatic chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco as Pym's modified cars shrink and grow to dodge and disable enemy vehicles in addition to the titular heroes' constant size shifts. Though brief, the deep-dive into the Quantum Realm is appropriately trippy.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a light zippy visually-exciting adventure with real heart. Its loose, fast-paced plot is elevated by a fantastic cast and inspired action. Fans of the the first Ant-Man movie, and followers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, should find this sequel to be more than a worthy continuation of the smaller and larger narrative.


MID-CREDITS STINGER
The Pyms send Scott into the Quantum Realm to collect energy particles but leave him stranded there when they unexpectedly...


POST-CREDITS STINGER
Arthropod drum solo during a state of emergency.


STAN LEE CAMEO
Stan the Man's car is destroyed as he reflects on the 60s.


FRAGMENTS
- Bill Foster mentions working on a project called "Goliath" with Hank Pym, a reference to Foster's superhero alter ego in the original Marvel Comics

- Ghost and Sonny Burch are Iron Man foes in the original Marvel Comics

20180615

Incredibles 2

INCREDIBLES 2
2018 | Dir. Brad Bird | 118 Minutes


"Done properly, parenting is a heroic act... Done properly!"


In an effort to repeal superhero prohibition, telecommunications mogul and superhero fan Winston Deavor approaches Elastigirl with an offer to improve public perception on supers. Mr. Incredible begrudgingly takes on the role of stay-at-home dad while Elastigirl tracks a mysterious mind-controlling villain. Meanwhile, Baby Jack-Jack's unpredictable powers develop at a hilariously alarming rate.

Released over a decade after The Incredibles, Brad Bird's long-awaited sequel is a serviceable superhero movie that's funny and full of heart, but it doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of its predecessor. Helen's solo adventures feature several breathtaking set pieces and action beats, most notably a high-speed chase sequence featuring a custom-built motorcycle tailored to her unique powers and a close-quarters brawl in a cage fashioned with bright mesmerizing strobe lights. However, while there are a couple of neat set-ups involving portal-hopping courtesy of the fresh-faced superhero Void, the climatic set piece aboard a massive speeding ship falls a bit flat.

Bob's character arc taking care of the children is much more captivating than the mystery at the center of Helen's story. The struggling, sleep-deprived father does everything he can to be a good dad to a temperamental teenage daughter, a hyperactive son, and a baby developing new and wild abilities - a situation that is naturally comedic. Jack-Jack's nighttime battle with a raccoon in the backyard is epic and absolutely hysterical.

Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, and director Brad Bird reprise their roles without missing a step. Character actor Bob Odenkirk is effortlessly enthusiastic as Winston Deavor while Catherine Keener brings a natural charming and relaxed nature to the role of Deavor's tech genius sister Evelyn. Sophia Bush doesn't leave much of an impression as Void.

Incredibles 2 is a delightful action-packed sequel that works much better as family comedy than as a superhero movie. It just doesn't quite maintain the magical balance achieved by the original picture. All in all, it is a worthy continuation that should please both fans of the genre and fans of Pixar films.


JOHN RATZENBERGER AS...
- The Underminer


A113
- The movie Violet and Tony go to see is "Dementia 113" (a reference to Francis Ford Coppola's Dementia 13), the letters and numbers for A 113 on the right-facing movie theater marquee are red instead of black


PIXAR INTERCONNECTIVITY
- The ball from 1986 Pixar animated short Luxo, Jr. is painted on a piece of furniture in Jack-Jack's Room


FRAGMENTS
- Brad Bird reportedly threw out three scripts for a sequel to The Incredibles before committing to this one

- Actors Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks (who replaces the late Bud Luckey as government agent Rick Dicker) appeared together on the critically-acclaimed television series Breaking Bad and its spin-off series Better Call Saul


MCU CONNECTIONS
- Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War, and on Agents of SHIELD)

20180427

Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
2018 | Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo | 149 Minutes

"Perfectly balanced, as all things should be."


Intergalactic warlord Thanos is determined to collect all six Infinity Stones. A defeated Thor teams up with unlikely allies to forge a new weapon to slay Thanos. Stranded in space with company he does not care for, Tony Stark formulates a desperate plan against the unstoppable enemy. To prevent Thanos' invading forces from taking the Mind Stone, Steve Rogers and Earth's mightiest heroes seek aid from King T'Challa and the warriors of Wakanda.

Immediately following the events of Thor: Ragnarok, and picking up the storythreads from all previous MCU movies, Avengers: Infinity War jumps right into the action, offering virtually nothing in the way of exposition. Its biggest flaw as a film is that it simply doesn't work as a stand alone story, but this is hardly a problem for viewers who are already deeply invested in Marvel Studio's shared-universe saga, as this latest chapter of the series was definitely crafted just for such viewers. Taking an astonishing and surprisingly compelling narrative choice, the filmmakers place the heart of the movie in Thanos and his belief that his motivations are purely altruistic, convinced that he is saving the universe in his quest to wipe out half of its population. After only briefly appearing as a vague threat to the heroes for years since the first Avengers movie, this picture is undeniably Thanos' story. While it isn't necessarily the most thought-provoking plot, there's a certain tragic quality to it even taking into consideration the cruel and violent actions taken by him and his underlings. The heaviest theme of this installment as a whole is sacrifice, a theme that is highlighted many times over.

The feature is an action-packed visual smorgasbord. Its lead character, the giant menacing CGI-rendered Thanos built around Josh Brolin's brilliant voice over and motion capture work, struggles to suppress his emotions in order to do what he believes needs to be done. Thanos shows off the unique powers of each Infinity Stone in some truly flashy ways. Though thin in characterization, Thanos' four children voiced are visually distinct and extremely exciting to watch in action as they take on the Avengers and their allies. The creepy Ebony Maw played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Proxima Midnight played by Carrie Coon are particularly notable. Traversing more worlds than any single Marvel Studios picture before, the feature truly feels like a universe-spanning story. The plentiful fight sequences throughout the movie are expertly choreographed, escalating the stakes to near-unbearable levels. The massive multi-front climactic battle, intercutting between several far-off locations, is particularly breathtaking.

Tonally, the picture demonstrates the full range of Marvel Studios' entire eclectic catalogue, occasionally shifting gears rather rapidly. From the first scene and onwards, Thor's journey in this movie is utterly heartbreaking and yet he spends much of his screen time humorously interacting with Rocket and Groot. Tony Stark's frustration in dealing with tag-along Peter Parker, the no-nonsense Doctor Strange, and the all-nonsense Peter Quill undercuts the astronomically high odds against them as they prepare to face the most powerful being in the universe. The tension remains high but the quips and one-liners seldom let up. This may possibly be jarring to some viewers, but it's perfectly consistent with the shared universe's bathos-laden storytelling.

Above all, the filmmakers impressively balance and shuffle the sizable cast of characters. Each hero not only gets their own opportunities to shine but they interact with each other in amusing and surprising ways, too. In no universe would Tony Stark and Stephen Strange ever get along. Peter Quill's intesne jealously over his crew fawning over pirate-angel Thor is priceless. When Shuri meets Bruce Banner, she immediately demonstrates that she is brighter than him and all his PhDs. Bucky teaming up with Rocket is a surefire recipe for laughs. Natasha, Okoye, and Wanda form a magnificently formidable trio. While most of the heroes aren't afforded complete character arcs - the story for this one remains focused on Thanos after all - these moments are pure magic just as they were in the first Avengers film.

Epic. There is no other word that adequately describes it. Culminating ten years of multiple shared-universe storylines, Avengers: Infinity War is Marvel Studios' biggest, most ambitious movie yet. It should prove to be an extremely rewarding experience for all longtime fans of the massive multi-picture ongoing cinematic narrative -- and absolutely confounding to everyone else.


POST-CREDITS STINGER
In a moment of desperation, a hero is paged.


STAN LEE CAMEO
Stan the Man is a school bus driver.


FRAGMENTS
- A blue Tobias Fünke from Arrested Development appears in Taneleer Tivan's collection

- Ludwig Göransson’s Black Panther theme plays when we first see Wakanda in this film


THE WIRE CONNECTIONS
- Idris Elba (Stringer Bell)

20180225

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
2017 | Dir. Martin McDonagh | 115 Minutes

"She got killed, still no arrest. How come, I wonder. Because there ain't no God, and the whole world's empty, and it doesn't matter what we do to each other? I hope not."



Furious mother Mildred Hayes buys ad space in a remote location in the small town of Ebbing, Missouri, to chastise the local sheriff for his inability to solve the case of her teenage daughter's brutal rape and murder. Public opinion quickly turns against Mildred due to the open secret of the sheriff's failing health. As the situation escalates, Mildred acts on her worst impulses, and the most unlikely person in town discovers a potential lead on the case.

Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a powerful drama about one mother's absolute refusal to let go as she lives in the unbearable aftermath of an unspeakable crime. While there are comedic moments in the film, the majority of any humor to be had is morbid, and the violence perpetrated in the narrative is sudden and shocking. While Mildred's anger is undoubtedly righteous, the story is one of displaced and misplaced rage, of the products of domestic abuse, and of people uniting under a dubious cause for dubious reasons. The film plays out like a true crime story in which events unfold in an unpredictable manner and easy solutions are nowhere to be found.

The picture's fantastic cast is led by the ever-brilliant Frances McDormand as Mildred, absolutely personifying a thirst for vengeance that severely compromises all logical judgement. Playing a racist, violent, and incompetent white trash deputy who may not be beyond redemption (the unequivocal heart of controversy for the film), Sam Rockwell gives the performance of his career. The cast also features excellent performances from a selection of some of the best character actors available including Woody Harrelson as the dying Sheriff Willoughby, Lucas Hedges as Mildred's wary son, Caleb Landry Jones as the dopey owner of the billboards, Peter Dinklage as a local with an unrequited crush on Mildred, John Hawkes as Mildred's abusive ex-husband, and Clarke Peters as the new sheriff and sole voice of reason.

Grim, funny, often upsetting, but always captivating, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a story of misguided anger and the search for justice and meaning, a search that may never end. The film is challenging, thematically rich, hopeless to a certain degree but hopeful in other ways, and hands down one of the best films of 2017.


FRAGMENTS
- Caleb Landry Jones appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Get Out

- Lucas Hedges appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Lady Bird

- Kathryn Newton appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Lady Bird

- I was particularly thrilled with Clarke Peters' reassuring presence as a straight-shooting lawman, not too far removed from his iconic role as Lester Freamon on The Wire


MCU CONNECTIONS
- Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2 and Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King)

- Kerry Condon (FRIDAY in Avengers: Age of UltronCaptain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War)

- Peter Dinklage (Eitri in Avengers: Infinity War)


THE WIRE CONNECTIONS
- Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon)

20180224

The Shape of Water

THE SHAPE OF WATER
2017 | Dir. Guillermo del Toro | 123 Minutes

"When he looks at me, the way he looks at me, he does not know what I lack or how I am incomplete. He sees me, for what I am, as I am. He's happy to see me every time, every day."


In Cold War era Baltimore, Maryland, a mute woman named Elisa works as a janitor at a secret government facility. Elisa falls in love with an aquatic humanoid creature held captive in the lab, but as their romance blossoms she catches the attention of the sadistic colonel who captured the creature. With the creature's life on the line, Elisa helps the creature escape with the help of her friends.

The Shape of Water is a creature feature with a romantic heart beating at its core. Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro's fondness for monsters and old Hollywood colors every frame of the film. The audience is quickly introduced to Alisa who lives alone in a creaky apartment above an old movie theater through her day-to-day routine down to the most honest and intimate detail. As Alisa's relationship with the creature develops, rather than shy away from depicting the physical act of love, del Toro fully embraces the moment as one of romantic beauty and triumph. The supporting characters populating the relatively simple narrative are also nuanced and human to a fault, from Alisa's awkward neighbor who has a shy crush on the server at the local cafe to the villainous colonel who suffers from intense feelings of inadequacy.

As the mute heroine Elisa, Sally Hawkins is simply lovely and undeniably magnetic, carrying the film with genuine strength and grace. Doug Jones, the Boris Karloff of our time (and director Guillermo del Toro's regular ace in the hole), delivers yet another brilliant and affecting performance as the meticulously-realized fishman - here's hoping the Academy honors him with a statue some day if they're ever less stuffy about recognizing genre films. Character actor Michael Shannon at his most volatile raises the dramatic stakes considerably as the colonel, and leads a fantastic supporting cast featuring Octavia Spencer as Elisa's unhappily wed friend from work, Richard Jenkins as her kindly gay neighbor, and Michael Stuhlbarg as a conscientious soviet spy.

An artful and truly unique blend of pure romance and monster movie, The Shape of Water is a heartfelt tribute to those who feel unloved, and the fulfillment one may find in unexpected places. The film ranks among Guillermo del Toro's finest works, and it's without a doubt one of the best motion pictures of the year.


FRAGMENTS
- Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro reportedly asked for assistance from female members of his family and female friends to design the shape of the creature's butt to ensure that it was pleasing to the eye

- Doug Jones previously appeared in Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army based on Mike Mignola's comic book series as Abe Sapien, a similar amphibious humanoid creature

- Michael Stuhlbarg appears in three Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post


MCU CONNECTIONS
- Michael Stuhlbarg (Nicodemus West in Doctor Strange)

20180223

The Post

THE POST
2017 | Dir. Steven Spielberg | 116 Minutes

"We can't hold them accountable if we don't have a newspaper."


In the mid 1960s, an embittered military analyst leaks classified reports documenting the extensive secret history of the ongoing Vietnam War that was hidden from the American public to various news outlets. It is a race against the clock for the reporters of the financially fragile Washington Post to obtain the documents to beat other publications to press time, but when the Nixon Administration bars the New York Times from publishing the classified information, Katharine Graham, the reluctant owner of the Washington Post, must choose between protecting the integrity of her politician friends and the stability of her business, or serving the American people by exposing the truth.

Steven Spielberg's latest film is a relatively standard, competently-constructed drama elevated by its magnificent cast. The picture's captivating narrative surrounding the Washington Post's decision to publish the Pentagon Papers unfolds in a deliberate fashion that is at times frustrating and at times exhilarating. The focus of the feature shifts between the drama surrounding Graham (and the men who both support and subvert her leadership) and the revelation of the shocking truths behind the Vietnam War. The very best sequence of the film involves the leadership of the Washington Post on multiple telephones sharing one phone line, arguing over whether or not their Pentagon Papers story should be published with press time just hours away.

While Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are at the top of their respective games, they do not deliver their very best work. Streep is perfectly regal and relatable as Katharine Graham, but while Graham faces a significant personal dilemma, the role ultimately does not require much range. The same can be said of Hanks' part as Ben Bradlee, with Hanks once again doing a fine job taking on his bread and butter role of the standard everyman, this time in the form of the impassioned newspaper editor-in-chief with little to no respect for authority. The supporting cast is packed with a variety of talent featuring Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Zach Woods, and Michael Stuhlbarg all in key roles.

The true story of the Washington Post's decision to report on the Pentagon Papers, and subsequently provoke the wrath of the Nixon administration, already a story worth telling and retelling, is all the more relevant now considering the current presidential administration's disdain for the press. However, Spielberg's narrative unfolds in an almost painfully procedural way. The Post is without a doubt an important film, but its greatest flaw is that it is just a good movie but not a great one.


FRAGMENTS
- Bradley Whitford appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Get Out

- Tracy Letts appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Lady Bird

- Michael Stuhlbarg appears in three Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film, Call Me By Your Name, and The Shape of Water

- Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemons, Carrie Coon, and Michael Stuhlbarg were all featured in the acclaimed Fargo television series

- It's incredibly gratifying to Bob Odenkrik and his comedy partner David Cross, the creators/stars of Mr. Show, featured so prominently together on screen in a Steven Spielberg film


MCU CONNECTIONS
- Michael Stuhlbarg (Nicodemus West in Doctor Strange)

- Carrie Coon (Proxima Midnight in Avengers: Infinity War)

20180222

Phantom Thread

PHANTOM THREAD
2017 | Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson | 130 Minutes

"You're not going to die. You might wish you're going to die, but you're not going to."


Renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock is a confirmed bachelor, completely dedicated to his work, and reluctant to maintain any meaningful emotional relationships. One day, a waitress named Alma captures Woodcock's attention and quickly becomes his live-in muse and lover. The pair struggle to love and understand one another as their contrasting personalities alternate between melding and clashing. After their relationship is damaged through several difficult episodes, fearing that she would lose Woodcock, Alma makes a drastic decision.

A tale mad love in the world of 1950s London high fashion, director Paul Thomas Anderson latest film is an aesthetically-rich finely-crafted picture. While every detail in the production design of the feature is lovely, not least of which the real artistic work behind the lavish tailored gowns, Anderson juxtaposes the beauty with a quiet sense of dread. The tension between Woodcock and Alma, accentuated by Jonny Greenwood's brilliant musical score, is palpable and a feeling of discomfort permeates the entire picture.

Announced as Daniel Day-Lewis' final film performance, Phantom Thread is an appropriately fitting send-off for the accomplished method actor. Woodcock is equal parts charming, insufferable, attentive, and cruel, and Daniel Day-Lewis completely disappears into the persona once again demonstrating his ever-impressive talent. Vicky Krieps perfectly complements Daniel Day Lewis' eccentric particularity as the unapologetically headstrong Alma, revealed to be harboring a vengeful mean streak of her own. The feature is driven by the pair's excellent chemistry and by their endlessly entertaining verbal sparring matches courtesy of Anderson's razor-sharp screenplay. Lesley Manville deserves special notice as Woodcock's no-nonsense sister Cyril, effortlessly embodying the protective but wary sibling who knows and has lived with her brother's moods and eccentricities all her life.

Phantom Thread is as visually pleasing as Woodcock's dresses and as emotionally complex as a love laced with poison. Excellent performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps elevate the picture to astounding heights. While the romantic narrative leads to a dark and sinister place that may be surprising and disturbing, it is absolutely captivating.


FRAGMENTS
- Reynolds Woodcock is loosely based on British fashion designer Charles James

- To prepare for the role of Reynold Woodcock, Daniel Day-Lewis designed and crafted a Balenciaga dress from scratch

- Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson states that there is no official credit for the cinematography for the film, and that it was a "collaborative effort"

20180221

Lady Bird

LADY BIRD
2017 | Dir. Greta Gerwig | 93 Minutes

"The only thing exciting about 2002 is that it's a palindrome."


Catholic high school senior Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson and her mother Marion are at odds about Lady Bird's desire to attend college away from her hometown. Leading up to graduation, Lady Bird openly defies authority, falls for boys who are not good for her, and briefly abandons her best friend to socialize with the popular kids. Meanwhile, Lady Bird's middle class family struggles through tough financial challenges.

Greta Gerwig's directorial debut is a funny true-to-life coming-of-age story with a screenplay by Gerwig that accurately portrays the life of a high school senior without sugarcoating or over-dramatizing the very real emotions experienced by youth on the cusp of adulthood. From Lady Bird's sometimes clever, sometimes clumsy mannerisms to the questionable social decisions she makes throughout the picture, there is a captivating inevitability in the way Gerwig's narrative unfolds. The early 2000's setting is authentically captured from the haircuts to the music to the truly dumb and naive things teenagers said and believed at the time. The denouement fizzles out slightly, but I guess that's realistic, too.

Saoirse Ronan is fantastic as the titular rebellious teenager, perfectly capturing the spirit and the awkwardness without turning the role into a caricature. Laurie Metcalf matches Ronan's energy as Lady Bird's mother, playing to perfection the headstrong woman who hides her own vulnerability behind a barrier of strict, no-room-for-argument parenting. Conversely, Tracy Letts is lovable as Lady Bird's seemingly perpetually laidback father who is revealed to be struggling with depression unbeknownst to his daughter. Playing the boys Lady Bird fall for, Lucas Hedges excels in a relatively small but rich role as a closeted gay Catholic, while Timothée Chalamet is hilariously believable as the detached teen in a band who believes in wild conspiracy theories and can’t be bothered. Scene-stealer Beanie Feldstein is absolutely adorable as Lady Bird's best friend Julie, quietly playing out a heartbreaking subplot in which Julie has an inadvisable crush on her math teacher.

With nuanced natural dialogue, carried by brilliant performances from its cast, Greta Gerwig crafted an instant-classic in Lady Bird. The attention to detail paid to establish the characters and the setting is remarkable. Most importantly, the themes and ideas at the very heart of the film ring true.


FRAGMENTS
- Tracy Letts appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and The Post

- Lucas Hedges appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

- Timothée Chalamet appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Call Me By Your Name

- Kathryn Newton appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

- To this day, I adamantly loathe the Dave Matthews Band song "Crash Into Me" but the director Greta Gerwig utilizes the song in a surprisingly funny and emotionally touching way