Friday, April 1, 2016

REVIEW: BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

It seems like people are always facing off in Zack Snyder films. With 300, it was the Spartans v. the Persians. With Watchmen it was a batch of old superheroes against the effects of time. With Man of Steel, he pitted Kal-El against the insanity of General Zod (though some could argue Michael Shannon didn't realize he was in a Superman movie and the cameras kept rolling). And with Batman v Superman, Snyder is dramatizing the ultimate battle: himself v. the source material v. the studios v. setting up a franchise v. fans' expectations v. making a coherent blockbuster (in March?!) that additionally serves as a sequel to Man of Steel v. establishing a new Batman. Oh and Wonder Woman's in it. And Lex Luthor. And Holly Hunter? Spoiler alert: I'm afraid Snyder lost this fight.

I was initially very disappointed walking out of the film, thinking of the things they could have cut, other heroes they could've introduced (how many times do we have to see Lex Luthor onscreen? How many times do we have to see Batman's parents get killed?). But after discussing it over with people and seeing different perspectives online, you can't not say that BvS lacks something that typically bad movies do: ambition. Even if it was stupid of execs to think that Snyder and his team could juggle ten bowling balls in the air so to speak, it certainly makes choices (not counting the last cop-out at the very end.) We're getting a different Batman here. He's reclusive like Bale's incarnation, but he's bitter. He's depressed. He's been here a long time, and he's got Joker-graffitied suits to prove it (Look for it!). His Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is a little more upgraded: the old butler's fairly high tech. In a clever move that visually still turned out way too 9/11 for me, Bruce Wayne sees the destruction Superman's fight with Zod wreaked, and views him as an alien threat. Clark Kent sees Batman as an impending threat. Lex Luthor Jr. (yeah, he's his son) sees ample opportunity to do damage.

So how does The Avengers franchise handle their superheroes so well and this film seem so bloated? Not only is is almost 10 minutes shorter, but you had Iron Man, Cap and Thor stand-alones before you had the 2012 film. We had Cavill's turn in Man of Steel, and now one movie has to have all this weight on its shoulders? It's unfair. With what we're giving though, I would not call Batman v. Superman a disaster. It does the opposite of Spider-Man 3, which in this case is not a good thing. It crams its running time with too many heroes, and one and a half (but Doomsday is a big half) villains.

Speaking of which: Lex Jr. There's been much talk about Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of yet another billionaire genius, this one highly more unstable. If people hate him, I understand. He was flittering around all the time, annoying, and his more menacing parts, like when he's intimidating Holly Hunter's Sen. Finch, come out as a little boy puffing out his chest to be a big man. However, I've talked to people who think this portrayal was phenomenal, that Eisenberg played up that psychopath persona, that he had the best dialogue and that the character was meant to frustrate and infuriate. Plus, this isn't Lex Luthor. This is his son. So I'm still on the fence about him, and another viewing a year or two down the road might make me see the light on Luthor. For now, I can concretely say one thing: he annoyed me.

In fact, several things did. Why so many dream sequences? One was explained to me, something that I can't put in a spoiler-free review, but it linked up to something later in the plot. Otherwise, they seemed like visually-appealing jump scares: one worked particularly well because it shocked me out of my hazy almost-sleeping state. But I was awake and aware just in time to see the excellent Batman fight that everyone highlights as one of the strongest points of the film (it's true), and Wonder Woman's entrance into the boy's club is pretty stunning. I have a feeling Gal Gadot and her upcoming stand-alone will continue to blow everyone away. As far as Snyder goes, he's still got two parts of a Justice League movie to film. If Dawn of Justice is any indication, I'm a little worried how he's going to handle even more heroes, and if he's going to have to need an intermission for either of them.

Rating: 2/4 stars

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

REVIEW: DEADPOOL

What a way to ring in the cinematic new year. Last year the box-office phenomenon was American Sniper, which became the biggest domestic movie of 2014 (did you know that?! I didn't know that!!), won an Oscar, caused loads of controversy and beat every single Marvel movie that came out that year in the U.S.: that's right, The Winter Soldier, Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy couldn't top Chris Kyle's biography. Well, as a little slice of revenge, here's a Marvel movie that's posed to not only beat American Sniper, but to beat Jesus himself. Here's Deadpool.

That last comment wasn't irreverent sacrilege: Deadpool is poised to dethrone The Passion of the Christ as the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. Since 2004 that's made sense: naturally that film reaches an enormous built-in fan base. But a movie about sarcastic, antihero Deadpool, a relatively new comic book character (as opposed to say Batman and Superman, both 70-80 years old)? If I was a kid, the image of Deadpool himself would terrify me: a seemingly mouthless, red and black killer with no pupils visible in his mask. So how is this such a gargantuan phenomenon, already at about half a billion worldwide as of this post? Because it's not aimed at little 7 year old Travis. Adults will probably bring younger kids to the forthcoming Batman v. Superman, just because it's been marketed everywhere. But Deadpool has that  too, in fact some of the craftiest marking of a movie of all time. It knows exactly what it is, and it fearlessly delivers.

It's in the IMDb top 250 and people are giving it titles like "the best superhero movie transition from comic to screen of all time," but that will either fade or an immediate backlash will come like The Force Awakens received (See: "This needs to get nominated for Best Picture!" vs. "This is just a rehash of A New Hope"). Instead of holding it up on this pedestal, let's take it for what it is, because that's what the filmmakers have done. After two nightmares of mouthless Deadpool and a poor Green Lantern movie, Reynolds has finally found comfort in his own superhero skin. This project has always been highly important to him, and his devotion and dedication to sarcastic mercenary Wade Wilson shows off tremendously here. Supported by him are his love interest (at the core of a Deadpool movie is a love story, isn't that odd?) Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Their meet-cute is definitely not so traditionally cute, and I'll talk about that later. Then there's T.J. Miller's Weasel. T.J. Miller is like Seth Rogen in that he always seems to play the same character but we all never seem to mind. Holding up the rear is Colossus, in the best form you've ever seen him, and Brianna Hildebrand's Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Such a bizarre motley crew of characters until the merc with the mouth himself tells you that these are the only two X-Men Fox could afford. Classic.

So here's the only beef I have with Deadpool: it knows the movie it is, but sometimes it skips out on the most basic details. Deadpool's origin story of evolving from hideously scarred smart alec to red and black-clad antihero is so quick it's like the filmmakers knew you didn't want to see it. But I didn't know that much about Deadpool, and I would've liked to've seen the moments. Additionally, not every joke lands, but there's an upside to this. Deadpool is middle school bus ride jerk humor, and when it lands, boy it lands. But when it falls: yikes. The audience was very responsive and there were jokes in there no one even cracked a smile on. When you're dishing them out left and right however, there's going to be a certain success rate. I respect what they tried, but some were just offensive misfires.

But that really is just nitpicking. Even though the formula is clearly "superhero origin" and the British bad guy which they joke about in the opening credits isn't highly memorable, Tim Miller's Deadpool delivers exactly what the fans wanted, and I pity whoever makes the sequel because know it's going to have Dark Knight Rises syndrome: what do you do when people are calling your predecessor perfect? Let's just enjoy the very funny, raucously violent and extremely profane film we have in theaters now. I'm glad Reynolds finally became comfortable with the superhero skin he was in. I can't wait to see him don it again.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Sunday, February 28, 2016

OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2016!

Here we are folks! Just a couple of days away from this year's Academy Awards. In the past few years I've tried to tell myself there was drama between the big category (Best Picture) to hype myself up for the show...but deep down I've pretty much known every year what was going to win, and which of my other movies in that category it would trump. The King's Speech quietly swept away Social Network's Oscar. The Artist silently pranced with jazz hands away with the top prize, leaving The Descendants in the dust. Last year Birdman swooped in and clutched it right out of Boyhood's fingers. But this year: I have an idea...but I am genuinely unsure of how things are going to play out. The way I see it, there are three contenders. There's The Revenant, The Big Short and Spotlight. And then there's the race of Supporting Actress: will Oscar veteran Kate Winslet scoop up her second trophy, or will breakout newcomer Alicia Vikander steal it with her stellar supporting performance in Ex Machina The Danish Girl? Will The Big Short shock us all like McKay shocked us with his dramatic directing chops and sweep the night? Read below to see my analysis!

Bold= will win
Red= should win

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Inside Out is of course my favorite of the year, but this category is full of creative choices. Spotlight will take it home because it has won the WGA and the Critic's Choice.
  • Inside Out
  • Ex Machina
  • Spotlight
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Bridge of Spies
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Anorthy worthy set of nominees, but anytime you can combine a scathing look at the events leading to the 2008 Recession and a certain celebrity enjoying a bubble bath, you're going to win. All signs point to Adam McKay and Randolph Scott's (difficult) but wonderful, wall-breaking script.
  • Room
  • The Big Short
  • The Martian
  • Carol
  • Brooklyn
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Once I see Creed I'm sure I'll be glad Sly is taking home Best Supporting Actor for his seventh turn as Rocky Balboa. Somehow this feels better than when older actors usually get "consolation" prizes for their long list of work. I heard nothing but great things about Stallone when Creed  premiered.
  • Sylvester Stallone- Creed
  • Mark Ruffalo- Spotlight
  • Tom Hardy- The Revenant
  • Christian Bale- The Big Short
  • Mark Rylance- Bridge of Spies
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: I haven't seen the bulk of these other nominees, but this is really a showdown between Winslet and Vikander. I'm giving the edge to the newbie, who has a slight advantage because from what I've heard her portrayal as artist Gerda Wegener is more of a lead role. Winslet won the Globe and the BAFTA's because they're both obsessed with her, but here in the States I'm giving it to Alicia. I would've loved to've seen Leigh take this home, for holding her own against some truly despicable  men.
  • Kate Winslet- Steve Jobs
  • Alicia Vikander- The Danish Girl
  • Rachel McAdams- Spotlight
  • Rooney Mara- Carol
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh- The Hateful Eight
BEST ACTOR: Yes, Internet. Leo will be finally getting his rightly deserved statue. Why didn't you make this big a deal when Peter O'Toole lost the Oscar eight times?!
  • Matt Damon- The Martian
  • Leonardo DiCaprio- The Revenant
  • Bryan Cranston- Trumbo
  • Eddie Redmayne- The Danish Girl
  • Michael Fassbender- Steve Jobs
BEST ACTRESS: This award was never any one else's. Unless Leo loses, this'll be the biggest shocker of the night if the award goes to anyone but Brie Larson.
  • Cate Blanchett- Carol
  • Brie Larson- Room
  • Saoirse Ronan- Brooklyn
  • Charlotte Rampling- 45 Years
  • Jennifer Lawrence- Joy
BEST ANIMATED FILM: What a bizarre assortment of nominees. There was some early doubt that Anamolisa could prove an upset, but now there seems no stopping Pixar's first offering of 2015 from taking home the gold.
  • When Marnie Was There
  • Anamolisa
  • Inside Out
  • Boy and the World
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
BEST DIRECTOR: This award has me so torn. What Iñárritu did, and what he went through is astonishing, and the movie is a spectacle. BUT SO WAS FURY ROAD! Miller's passionate project went through the Dante's Inferno equivalent of development hell, and it's been reported that every minute decision went through him. Miller's Critic's Choice win made me cross my fingers in hope, but the DGA win solidifies it. AGI is going to accomplish a rare feat, matched only by the iconic likes of John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz: back-to-back Best Director wins.
  • Tom McCarthy- Spotlight
  • George Miller- Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu- The Revenant
  • Adam McKay- The Big Short
  • Lenny Abramson- Room
BEST PICTURE: As I've said, I haven't been so unsure about a film winning Best Picture in a long time. With Leo, Iñárritu, and inevitably cinematographer Chivo's Oscars, I think four will be The Revenant's lucky number. As soon as I came out of the theaters in October 2012, I predicted in the parking lot Argo would deservedly take home Best Picture. I did the exact same thing after seeing Spotlight. Well, I was wrong. If my predictions are correct, Hugh Glass's tale of survival will join the leagues of Wings, Lawrence of Arabia and Titanic.
  • The Martian
  • Room
  • The Big Short
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Spotlight
  • The Revenant
  • Brooklyn
  • Bridge of Spies

Sunday, January 17, 2016

REVIEW: THE REVENANT

After cleaning up handsomely at the Golden Globes, and getting a whopping twelve nominations at the Academy Awards (with Mad Max: Fury Road coming in a close second place!), the casual moviegoer is probably becoming very intrigued with seeing Alejandro G. Innáritu's The Revenant. On paper it's maybe not such an easy sell: a man is left for dead by a greedy trapper and he has to fight is way back to exact revenge. That's it: a fairly simple plot. So is it worth your dollar?

Absolutely: if you don't mind a little blood. And by a little I mean one of the most violent movies I saw in the 2015 movie year, right behind The Hateful Eight but still well in front of Kingsman. It also has some shades of Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. If you hate Leonardo DiCaprio, see this movie, because you get to watch him suffer what regular people would break under: unendurable circumstances. When he's not almost mercy killed by his men he's getting buried alive. When he's not getting hurled through river rapids he's getting shot at. He is not assaulted by the Oscar-nominated (for special effects) bear named Judy, but it was one of the most intense sequences from last year's cinematic offerings. And if you like Leonardo DiCaprio, oh boy. This is one of his best roles to date.

With now six Oscar nominations under his belt, it's easy to see why we fan over DiCaprio like he's a movie god. He's not: is there such thing? But he's very selective (not Daniel Day-Lewis selective, but still) over his projects. Since the year 2000 he's worked with Eastwood, Tarantino, Scorsese, Nolan. You know why that's an impressive list? Those are all directors that you knew by just their last names. He can add another to that roster: Innáritu. Fresh off his triple-Oscar winning success of Birdman, AGI delivers another bonafide winner here. Again working with Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki on cinematography, the movie is one of the more beautifully filmed I've seen in a long time. Additionally, filmed only using natural light, it looks utterly realistic, and like Malcolm McDowell whose head was held inside a full bathtub for over a minute in A Clockwork Orange, you have to wonder how is it possible that DiCaprio was able to pull off these stunts. It's said the vegetarian actor ate a raw bison liver. Honestly, I believe it.

He is so utterly deserving of the Oscar he'll be receiving on February 28th. This isn't a lifetime achievement award like Christopher Plummer's for Beginners. This is merited. Though one of my strongest points is that we don't know a ton about Hugh Glass besides the fact that he can survive bear attacks and falling off cliffs and has Han Solo resourcefulness (think the Battle of Hoth), the physical acting in this film is indescribable. He is so convincing, so hateful and yet we get this great sensitive side to him: he truly loves his son. Countering him is the now finally Oscar-nominated Tom Hardy, playing the gruff, money-centric Fitzgerald, a key figure in the plan of leaving Glass for dead. With those eyes that can conjure up such soulless evil, Hardy uses his established movie star presence to not get us to totally despise Fitzgerald, and nearly gets us on his side before we realize how despicable he is. Domnhall Gleeson, who's been criminally overlooked this awards season for four stellar roles in three other Oscar contenders (Ex Machina, Brooklyn and The Force Awakens). He's never showy in any of these roles, but he's a welcome presence. Will Poulter is the last big name here, shedding his We're the Millers "aw shucks!" comedy persona. This kid and his eyebrows have a bright future ahead.

Like Unbroken however, I had to wonder whether all of DiCaprio's suffering was essential to the film. Some of it, of course. Nearly an hour and a half of it? Not really. I would've loved to know more about Glass and Fitzgerald. But these are mostly nitpicks. I couldn't be more excited for AGI's new movie, though he says after the production hell he went through for this film, he's not planning on another one anytime soon. The man dreams in huge scope. I also watched Babel over my winter break, and it's my favorite film of his. It looks like he's got another Best Picture winner on his hands, and while my hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road driving off with it (though Sunday's 9 Critic's Choice wins including Best Director for Miller fan my hopes) are unrealistic, what a worthy adversary to lose to. Here's to Judy, and Innáritu, and Leo's first Oscar, for making one of the most harrowing dramas of last year so investing.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2016

The Oscar nominations are coming right around the corner! After a surprising Golden Globes, where The Revenant had a near sweep of three of the night's biggest awards, really anything could happen! Interestingly enough, Revenant isn't even up for a Best Cast nomination at the SAGs. No movie since the SAG's inception in 1995 (Braveheart) has won without a  Best Cast ensemble. Then again, eccentric choices like The Birdcage and The Full Monty have won, so it's anyone's guess. My choices for Best Picture are equally eccentric: you have fantastical blockbusters like Fury Road and Martian here, along with solid indies (Carol and Brooklyn) and movies with big stars and small-ish budgets (Spotlight and The Big Short). I lost my bananas last year when The Lego Movie only got a sole nomination for "Everything is Awesome!!!" I won't be that surprised if Inside Out doesn't make it with the big dogs, but I will lose what is left of my faith in the Oscars if they don't give IO at least a best animation nod. Enough of my grudges and blathering. Here are my choices for the wannabe candidates!

BEST PICTURE: I largely underestimated the power of American Sniper last year, but I think this is a fairly air-tight choice for the nominees. The only wild card: how many there'll be. My guess is going to be 9. Or they could, you know, reward the brilliant movies of 2015 with all of their eligible slots, but that'd make too much sense, right? 
  • Inside Out
  • Carol
  • Spotlight
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Room
  • Brooklyn
  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Big Short
BEST ACTOR: After the Fruitvale Station snub, I wouldn't be surprised if the Academy doesn't recognize Michael B. Jordan in Creed. However, after Sly's standing O at the Globes the other night, he's my pick to win the whole thing in Supporting Actor. Don't be surprised if Whitey Bulger reincarnate Johnny Depp is able to win voters for his triumphant critically acclaimed turn in Black Mass.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio- The Revenant
  • Matt Damon- The Martian
  • Bryan Cranston- Trumbo
  • Eddie Redmayne- The Danish Girl
  • Michael Fassbender- Steve Jobs
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: I was not expecting Kate Winslet to take the Globe for her turn in Steve Jobs, a movie that's still eluded me. All the critic's buzz has been aimed at Vikander. Speaking of the breakthrough actress, I think Danish Girl will prove to be too Oscar-baity to refuse, and though I'm 99.9% sure she's getting nominated for something, I don't think it'll be for her graceful turn in Ex Machina.
  • Helen Mirren- Trumbo
  • Alicia Vikander- The Danish Girl
  • Rooney Mara- Carol
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh-  The Hateful Eight
  • Kate Winslet- Steve Jobs
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: This category is WIDE open. Any of the boys from Hateful 8 could pull a surprise nomination (namely Kurt Russell) and Paul Dano could be seeing his first nomination for Love and Mercy. But Oscar has been kind to Mark Ruffalo twice, and I think he'll get a second consecutive nomination in this category after last year's Foxcatcher. Including Elba is a bit of a gamble, but Shannon, Sly and Rylance are surefire nominees.
  • Mark Rylance- Bridge of Spies
  • Idris Elba- Beasts of No Nation
  • Mark Ruffalo- Spotlight
  • Michael Shannon- 99 Homes
  • Sylvester Stallone- Creed
BEST ACTRESS: I think the Academy is going to play nice and let Vikander and Mara be considered supporting actresses, leaving this field ready for Cate Blanchett to not have to compete against her co-star of Carol. No one's seen 45 Years, but it's a huge indie critical darling, and like last year with Marion Cotillard's French performance in Two Days, One Night, expect people all over Twitter to be hash-tagging #whoisthisoldwoman. Joy is a meh movie, but after her Globe win and the fact she's been nominated thrice before, I think J-Law's great role as Joy not-Mangano-Mangano will be enough to have her recognized. She's got no chance though: this is Brie Larson's year. Room, please come to Virginia!
  • Cate Blanchett- Carol
  • Brie Larson- Room
  • Saoirse Ronan- Brooklyn
  • Charlotte Rampling- 45 Years
  • Jennifer Lawrence- Joy
BEST DIRECTOR: The Director's Guild Awards just came out: George Miller is all but guaranteed a spot for Fury Road!!! My fanboy-ing aside, the only real threat here I see is Adam McKay for The Big Short. He was up for the BAFTA as well as the DGA, and I wouldn't be one bit sad. The Big Short had star power but it was his movie. Oscar likes to play it safe though, and Todd Haynes has been nominated before for writing Far from Heaven. Will Iñárritu pull a Tom Hanks and win back to back? If the Globes are any indication: maybe.
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu- The Revenant
  • Tom McCarthy- Spotlight
  • Todd Haynes- Carol
  • George Miller- Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Ridley Scott- The Martian
BEST ANIMATED FILM: Pixar's second offering of '15 The Good Dinosaur got good-not-great reviews, and Oscar for some reason loves to be weird with this category. Expect the left-field animated movie with a big voice cast The Prophet to pick up a weird nomination. The rest are in the bag.
  • The Peanuts Movie
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • Inside Out
  • The Prophet
  • Anomalisa
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Tarantino's script is wonderful, but it's just not his year again. This is either going to Spotlight or by some small chance Inside Out, just because of it's mind-twisting premise. Ex Machina won't get the volume of respect it deserves, but expect to see it represented here.
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Spotlight
  • Ex Machina
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Inside Out
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Steve Jobs is fresh off its Globe win, and I think it's safe to say scribe Aaron Sorkin will be making his second trip up to the Oscar podium. But do not be surprised if The Big Short doesn't sneak up and take it. It was a huge undertaking: making this repellant financial jargon appealing to a general audience, and then adding all the fun, faux-documentary quirks that resulted in an extremely well-crafted film.
  • Room
  • The Martian
  • The Big Short
  • Carol
  • Steve Jobs

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

REVIEW: THE HATEFUL EIGHT

"I've never heard someone be called the N-word as much as I have in this movie." This is a quote from a friend of mine who saw The Hateful Eight, and boy is it accurate. Quentin Tarantino, along with, you know, changing the movie landscape and all that, is a fan of gratuitousness. His first two films (Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) clock in, according to Wikipedia, at 534 f-words combine, and you can guess it's not "falafel." The first Kill Bill movie has Uma Thurman chopping off dozens of samurai limbs, and Django Unchained  had...everything. The lover of everything B-cinema loves to meld genres, tropes and character archetypes together to give you an X-rated smorgasbord for movie fans and casual watchers alike. It almost seems like a burden to have that much of a crammed imagination.

I've yet to see Jackie Brown and his Grindhouse collaboration with Robert Rodriguez, but otherwise I'm happy to report I've seen Tarantino's entire directorial filmography. I'm also here to report The Hateful Eight, at least in my opinion, is his most violent movie, and the first shot isn't even fired until halfway through. In fact this is one of the more violent films I've ever seen. But with all this blood comes a bloody good story. Before I proceed it's just nice to know that, in a cinematic world full of disappointments, you know Tarantino's got you. The man says he's only going to make 2 more movies because he knows he has such a good winning streak. So when the movie started I just had the satisfaction of knowing that I was in for a good time, and once Samuel L. Jackson's character Major Warren is able to climb aboard Kurt Russell's character John "The Hangman" Ruth's stagecoach, I was hooked. Though I have some problems with the film, like it's unnecessarily lengthy shots (I know it's an epic, but still!), the story still manages to shine through. Two Oscars don't lie!

And the story is nothing complicated, no Pulp Fiction web of interweaving tales. The Hangman is escorting Daisy Domergue (the rightly Golden Globe-nominated Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a town called Red Rock to be executed. Along with the aforementioned Maj. Warren, alleged sheriff Chris Mannix tags along, to the Hangman's reluctance. They travel to a log cabin called Minnie's Haberdashery, where an old Confederate general (Bruce Dern), a Mexican (Demián Bichir), a peppy British fellow (Tim Roth) and a scraggly cowpoke (Michael Madsen, making a triumphant Tarantino return to form) all await for the blizzard to blow over. Only the Hangman suspects that Daisy has a friend amidst the bunch...

This whodunit meets western meets stage play meets exploitation film captivated me the entire time. My last review, on the movie Joy, serves as an interesting sort of counterpart on what to do/what not to do when writing unlikable characters. That film featured one likable protagonist, and a gaggle of annoying supporting characters who virtually fought to drag her down. Here in Hateful 8, you kinda despise everyone. Jackson's Warren is the "main" character because he's on the longest and you sympathize with him the most (largely because of what my friend mentioned), but he's not the "hero." Nobody's the hero, here. 80% of what comes out of Daisy's mouth is vile. There are racists, misogynists, bounty hunters, soldiers, all under one roof that no one wants to be under. So how do you end up enjoying yourself amidst all of these creeps. I'm going to use my favorite character of the movie, Walton Goggins' Mannix. He's a Confederate soldier, with an irritatingly hick accent who openly spews racial epithets and calls it "talking politics." So why do we invest in him? Because, without giving much away, he experiences an arc. He's not a static character, and even though his past remains the same he changes. No one changes in Joy. Robert De Niro actually says "I shouldn't've given her the confidence to think...she could be more than a housewife." Father of the year right here.

When I say Tarantino can't make a bad movie, I don't mean the man is incapable of producing bad material. Anyone can. But even after the script of this movie leaked, and his controversial police comments provoking possible boycotts, he still saw the potential in this film and put forward his best foot. Is he in love with himself when he makes movies? Sure. Two Oscars and nonstop critical lauding will do that to you. But his movies are such safe bets, and take so long in-between that you know he's nurtured them until he feels ready to release to the public. With the cinematography, gorgeous spaghetti-western score by veteran Ennio Morricone, fantastic ensemble where you wouldn't be surprised if any of the titular eight got recognized, all melding together in one ultra violent cauldron, it's fairly easy to forgive the movie's flaws. I don't care if he only makes two more movies in his lifetime. Just keep makin' 'em.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Monday, January 4, 2016

MY TOP 5 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2015!

Holy smokes do I have a lot of reading to do. All of the biggest movies of 2016 are comic book films, from Valentine's Day's Deadpool, to March's Batman v. Superman and the summer's Captain America: Civil War. 2016 looks like an incredible year for the movies, but don't be afraid to get nostalgic about the year that's passed us! For someone who champions original filming, I can't believe two sequels rest in my top five list (and maybe a comic book movie is sneakily hiding somewhere in this post). Being in college ate up most of my time this year, but I was still able to watch 22 candidates for my top spot, including Mission: Impossible 5, Kingsman, Ant-Man and Crimson Peak. All (mostly action) movies I really enjoyed but couldn't find a place for. Maybe in a weaker year. Since I'm anal about only counting movies released in 2015 that I saw from 1/1/15-12/31/15, movies I missed like Room, Anomalisa, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant and the one I'm most upset about, The Martian (I only have 2 chapters left in the book!) will not be here. Instead expect to see them at the Oscars next month, which I'll be covering plentifully. And as always, keep in mind that these are simply my favorite films of 2015. Not the ones I think are made the best, but the ones I saw that captured my imagination, swept me away into science fiction worlds and reminded me of the darkness of today's world. Enjoy!

5. SPOTLIGHT
Yet another Keaton movie in my #5 spot that's destined towards Oscar glory. Even though this movie doesn't have the re-watchability of any of the other movies on this list, I'd go as far as to say it's probably the most well-made of any of these five. Following the Boston Globe's investigation into an enormous exposure of pedophile Catholic priests, Tom McCarthy films the movie like a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism piece: with nothing but the facts. It's a straightforward procedural that'll anger you, and make you cheer, if only for a fleeting moment, and gets solid, earnest performances out of Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton.

4. EX MACHINA
Who would've thought a movie about two dudes and a robot would become the indie breakout hit of 2015? In the hands of brand new director Alex Garland, who also penned the highly original script, you get a dark, atmospheric cautionary tale about the dangers of technology becoming too real, and what it means to be human. Alicia Vikander is surely going to be up for Oscar gold, whether it's this or The Danish Girl. I'm hoping it's for her turn as Ava the A.I. For a fake person she sure does convey a wide spectrum of human emotions. And that pulsating electronic score is the finest I've heard since The Social Network. I just want to listen to it, taking a bath, away from all other technology.

3. STAR WARS: EPISODE VII- THE FORCE AWAKENS
Even after a second viewing (in 3-D!) this was the most fun I had in a theater all year. I'm not accounting for when people cheered at the iconic logo, the applause of Han and Chewie's entrance and the giddy laughter over a BB-8 sight gag. The movie was just a complete blast. Is it too much like A New Hope? Who cares?! If you're gonna steal, steal from the best! Introducing a new cast newbies and diehard Jedis alike can sink their teeth into and invest in, along with the old characters who made us fall in love with the franchise to begin with, J.J. Abrams and his practical effects and his breakthrough actress (the lovely Daisy Ridley) won (a lot of) the audience. He had a Herculean task on his back, and he pulled it off like gangbusters.

2. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
With a little more insight on Max and maybe just a little better plot, this would've been easily the top movie of the year. After hearing it was a critical darling and seeing those mind-blowing trailers, my fingers were gripping my seat before the movie even started! I can best describe the movie as a visual assault on all fronts. I've never seen Tom Hardy in a bad role (that's because I've never seen This Means War) and he continues his winning streak as Mad Max. His Max is the quietest and most John Wayne-mysterious of the other three Mel Gibson movies, but we all know who this picture belongs to: Charlize Theron's Furiosa. She's been called the most exciting character of the year, a feminist icon, and a complete scene-stealer. All apply. In his 70's, George Miller shows a veracity and ferocious love of action movies filmmakers half his age should take note on. It's a gonzo ballet that's...essentially a car chase. Well, Fury Road is hard to put into the words. That's why it demands to be seen!

1. INSIDE OUT
So how did little Joy and her ragtag team of emotions trump the likes of Furiosa, Han Solo and Oscar Isaac's Ex Machina beard for the top spot on my year-end list? I'm not a teenage girl like our avatar Riley is. I won't even be a teenager for that long as of this post. But this movie spoke to my inner-child and my present-adult. It worked on every single level a movie should. Breathtaking animation (the worlds inside Riley's head were astonishing), hilarious voice work, deep psychological analysis of the pre-pubescent mi...wait what? This is Pixar right? And it is. Only they could pull off a movie of such startling depth. In fact this is their most adult picture yet. Putting aside the Bing-Bong-shaped hole in my heart, this is Pixar's best since Toy Story 3. It resonates with all of us, and the creative idea that emotions take turn piloting our heads takes a backseat to the idea that without all emotions at work we wouldn't be who we are. For a movie whose most sympathetic character is an anthropomorphic teardrop, Inside Out is surely one of the most human stories I saw all year, and my personal pick for 2015's finest.

Click on to see the movies that just teetered on making my list, and the others that left me tottering out of the theater disappointed!