Saturday, July 15, 2017

Hidden No More.

It seems these days I review more mediocre and bad films than anything else, but every now and then I come across something that is truly well done and good, and I mean that in the truest nature of the word. In a world of film and television that is becoming increasingly filled with anti-heroes and dark, morally questionable characters, it's a breath of fresh air to have truly good characters with a moral compass that point north. Hidden Figures (based on a book) is populated with such people, although given the times the story takes place during there are also a fair share of dunderheads which I suppose could be labeled as the antagonists. The film is about the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States of America and the individuals who made it possible for the U.S. to launch a man in space and bring him safely back. Specifically about three black colored women who rise from their status against all odds to see the space program succeed and excel not just during the space race but beyond that as well. If it isn't obvious yet, I really enjoyed and loved this film. Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine G. Johnson the main character of the film, and she does so with energy, confidence, and such serene humility where it doesn't come off cheesy or with an air of predictability. Somehow she wasn't nominated for an Academy Award, which irks me to no end, as her performance was far more deserving than Emma Stone's. Octavia Spencer plays another of the three women, Dorothy Vaughan, and my goodness she is such a talented woman to watch perform (although her performance and character in the Insurgent series was not so good). She was able to pull off being humorous and serious with such credible deftness that it increased the depth of the performance of her character. Lastly, Janelle Monae played the character Mary Jackson who was fearless and bold, but not preachy and obnoxious about how she went about it; such an amazing character and great performance. Definitely deserved an Oscar nomination like Octavia Spencer, but I think her work speaks for itself. Kevin Costner played Al Harrison the chief of either the space program or NASA, I can't recall which, or maybe it was neither. He was great, although he possessed a rather static character most of the time. The same thing goes for Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford), Kirsten Dunst (Vivian Mitchell), and Mahershala Ali (Colonel Jim Johnson). All three of those individuals did great, but their characters were rather static and definitely not the main attraction. I would like to give a shout out to Glen Powell who played John Glenn; I'm not certain if that was how the man was really like, but he gave an amazing, although rather brief, performance of a great American hero. Olek Krupa played Karl Zielinski, an apparently brilliant scientist who was working on the design of the space craft; he had another brief but fantastic role. Overall the entire cast was great, but those three women are the main attraction for sure.
The director who also helped write the film, Theodore Melfi, is fairly unknown, but he did quite an amazing job with this film, which should have gotten more acclaim and attention than it did. That man man can certainly be proud for decades to come of his work on this film, because as summer blockbusters come and go, films like this will remain timeless. Allison Schroeder who also helped write the screenplay deserves a lot of the credit for shaping what I think could be called the heartbeat of a film. It was nominated for an Academy Award for best Adapted Screenplay but lost to Moonlight for some odd reason, considering the writing in that film was nowhere near on the same level as Hidden Figures. Apparently three people were responsible for the music in this film: Benjamin Wallfisch, Pharrell Williams, and Hans Zimmer. I honestly cannot recall anything from the score, other than that it wasn't terrible, but definitely forgettable. The cinematography by Mandy Walker was incredibly linear and boring; it wasn't bad, but there was nothing exceptional about it. All in all it was an incredible film, and I definitely suggest it for everyone to watch, I definitely will be watching it again and again in the future, which I personally is one of the best measures of a great or good film...how much people re-watch it. I would like to take this opportunity to say something about the Academy Awards. I used to think that they were amazing, and were the one televised event that I looked forward to watching each year, but not anymore. I skipped this year's ceremony and spent time with my family instead which was far better. One thing that I seem to be more aware of with each passing year is that the Academy Awards do not award the best and finest in the categories, but rather for political and personal reasons. It seems to be a case of "it's not what you know, it's who you know." Therefore, I believe the Academy Awards are irrelevant and no longer necessary to define how artistically successful or brilliant those who work on films are. I would encourage everyone else to consider with great introspection that same notion. The same goes for most other awards shows as well: Golden Globes, SAG's, or Emmy's. Because it's like one of my former supervisors said about a program director where I was previously working at, how she was able to keep her job as she performed so poorly; she was sleeping with the CEO. Same philosophy probably is true here in getting jobs and awards in Hollywood land; nothing or very little to do with actual talent or skill.

Hidden Figures trailer

Hidden Figures clip

A Wrinkle in Time trailer (looks somewhat interesting, but we shall see).

Friday, July 14, 2017

"My Turn......"

Five seasons later House of Cards is still around....somehow. Clearly there is at least going to be a season six, but beyond that who knows. I'm just going to come right out and say it; after season two, the series has been in a steady decline with season three being the lowest point of the show's five season run thus far. I have a sneaking suspicion their reason for delaying the show's premiere to May from typically when seasons 1-4 were released in February was because they wanted to re-shoot, or change certain things to reflect President Trump's election. I don't like it when daily national politics gets mixed into my entertainment; I like them to be separate as one is a form of escapism while another one is sometimes a cold reminder of harsh realities. Regardless. Frank and Claire were hanging onto an election where it seemed likely they were bound to lose and season 5 picks up towards the end of the campaign, then the election happens and because no candidate wins an electoral victory the election goes to Congress for a while and then....well, I won't reveal the plot point, but the show gets a little convoluted at this point. Eventually the Underwoods become President and Vice-President, and then Congress begins investigating certain aspects of the Underwood administration, leaks are coming from the administration (sound familiar yet), and then it all comes to a head with.....well, I suppose I won't give that away, but let's just say that I was surprised. Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood was great, although I have to say that his performance in season two was the finest, and season one pulling in second place. In season five I did not like where the character was going or what was happening to him. Robin Wright as Claire is of course brilliant, but I haven't cared for where her character has been going since season three. In season five the viewers got a couple of good surprises from her which was great, but that was all. I didn't like her relationship with the character Tom Yates (played by Paul Sparks), mainly because I thought it weakened her and I didn't care for his character whatsoever; he came off as obnoxious. Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper was boring and uneventful; honestly I never cared for his character and was majorly bummed when he didn't die at the end of season two. Jayne Atkinson as Catherine Durant (Secretary of State) is a delight, but she was not put to good use in season 5 unfortunately after four seasons of absolute brilliance. Neve Campbell as Leann Harvey was awesome; such a great character that I thought would be going to great heights in the show....but then the writers completely messed it up. There were three new faces in season five that added some great stuff to the show. Campbell Scott as Mark Usher playing a political strategist was awesome; truly well written, fantastically acted, and was a breath of fresh air for what the show used to be like in seasons 1-2; filled with indomitable characters. Patricia Clarkson as Jane Davis is another one of those indomitable political characters that popped in season five, and I'm still not certain what her function is, or what she wants, but she's a smart, crafty woman who knows what she wants. Those two were the best parts of this season. Korey Jackson as Sean Jeffries (a reporter) played another one of those characters that knows what he wants and went after it; he did a great job, and I think he's going to be even bigger in season six, just like the other two aforementioned individuals. That's about it for the cast.
Season Five was....tolerable and in some spots very good, but overall definitely pales in comparison to seasons 1-2. Claire and Frank were at their finest when they were working together in concert to bring their enemies down, which they always did with utter ruthless pragmatism. Ever since Season Three though, their characters have been floundering and seemingly always at odds with each other irritatingly enough. This I believe completely and utterly weakens the characters, and thus the core of the show, which is why the series has been in a downward spiral since Season Three. Honestly, the writers need to be dragged out into the proverbial streets and beaten with rods for destroying such an amazing show. I'm certain that the producers and directors also share some of the blame as well; as everyone has a thought about what they want to see have happen to the progression of the show and its characters and plot. One of the several things that made the first two seasons so great was that Claire and Frank were indomitable, and then they were made weak and constantly playing defense instead of offense. Also, what didn't help was insertion of mediocre characters like Tom Yates, and mediocre side stories like Doug Stamper's. Honestly, if you haven't started watching the show, just watch seasons 1-2 and then read about the rest of the seasons. It would be better to end on a high note than a low one, which is where I feel this show is going. In other news and events; North Korea is acquiring better missile technology, China is enabling North Korea, the Syrian civil war continues to rage on, Venezuela is unraveling and burning towards utter destruction with each passing day, and DAESH continues to threaten the world with its terrorist activities. The good news seems to be that Iraq has pretty much taken the majority of its territory back from DAESH, so now it just has to govern effectively to preventing something similar from happening again. I really wish there was simply more good news in the world, or that the media would try to report more on the good news. Take care everyone.


House of Cards Season 5 interviews

Dunkirk trailer (looks pretty good)

Friday, July 7, 2017

La, La, La, La, La.

Actually if you substitute some letters in the title, it would more accurately describe my opinion of the film (blah, blah, blah, blah, blah). I guess that gives it way that I did not care for this film, La La Land, whatsoever. I went in believing that it was going to be quite good, but as soon as the opening number started I began to dislike it and my dislike of the film only increased as it progressed. The story is actually quite boring and pretty standard for Hollywood; a young struggling actress is trying to make it in L.A. as well as a young struggling musician who loves jazz. I'm not certain why this film plot seems to familiar, but since it is used a lot I would be surprised if it didn't seem somewhat familiar. Emma Stone plays Mia, the struggling actress, and Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, the struggling musician. Basically they meet and begin to fall in love, and after they fall in love they continue to try and pursue their dreams. And that's about it. Oh, and there's music along the way, which I will get into later since being a musical the lyrics and music play a huge part in the film. Emma Stone is a very talented actress and her performance in this film as Mia was done very, very well, and thus she earned an Oscar for her hard work. Ryan Gosling likewise is very talented and his performance of Sebastian was good, but not entirely different from some other roles I've seen him in, but he was nominated at least for an Oscar. And that's about it, the entire film almost featured these two alone most of the time. John Legend had a very small role as a musical producer and band leader of sorts, but I didn't care for him at all. There isn't much one can really say about the supporting cast because they didn't do much but speak here and there and do singing and dancing in large numbers.
Damien Chazelle won the Oscar for Best Director (youngest ever apparently) and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay; he did a good job with the visual direction of the film, and how he directed Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, but that's about where the good things in the film disappear for me. Altogether the film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won 6: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song and Best Production Design. Needless to say I heavily disagreed with the Academy this year on many things, and their showering this film accolades was one of them. The screenplay by Mr. Chazelle was okay, but honestly nothing overly groundbreaking, interesting or thought provoking; for example, consider the screenplay of Lincoln or The Help those two screenplays were truly award deserving, La La Land was not. Linus Sandgren won the Oscar for Cinematography, and I have to say that was the one excellent element of the film that really stood out to me; this film was beautifully filmed, and I remember thinking that as I watched the movie. David Wasco and his production design won an Oscar as well, and I have to say it was quite stunning and well done most of the time, if not entirely. Now, Justin Hurwitz composed the music and won an Oscar for it as was as the Oscar for Best Original Song. He's a fairly new film composer with Whiplash being the only major feature under his belt (the music from that film was also jazz). The music for this film was boring, and poorly composed; his inexperience radiated on every song and nearly every note. There wasn't any complexity to the music or depth; it was very simplistic in how it was arranged and composed. There were really no notable motifs (which is a must in great musicals) or even notable songs for that matter. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling can act, but they cannot sing, and the dreadful songs were made even more dreadful by their vocal performances. I have nothing good to say about the music whatsoever; hands down it was bad, and this was a terrible musical. So there you have it, I did not like this film at all and I was actually bored essentially the entire time I was watching it. I wouldn't encourage anyone to watch it; trust me you aren't missing anything. Oh, let's not also forget that for a few moments La La Land won the Oscar for Best Picture before people realized their mistake that it was actually Moonlight. A nice humorous moment. So this film was a big disappointment, but I guess I'm not surprised; Hollywood does like making and awarding films about itself.

La La Land trailer

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling interview

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Wonderful.....Wonder?

It seems like either Hollywood is a giant snowball going down a mountain gathering speed and mass with comic book based films with each one that is released and then scheduled to be released and eventually it will crash, or it will just go on successfully forever; not certain how that analogy will end. Or, maybe this golden age of comic book films will only get better and never end. Who knows. Until then, the movies are being released non-stop. Wonder Woman was honestly one of those comic book characters that I thought would never ever work well on-screen, and I thought an entire film about the character would be disastrous. Once again I am proved quite capably wrong. It's hard to nail down specifically why the film was so good and well done; I would point to a number of factors rather than just one singular point. The movie follows the character of Diana of the Amazons or later it is discovered she is something else entirely. She rescues a pilot during WWI and together they return to Europe to fight the Germans and end the war, although she is seeking to find and destroy Aries, the god of war whom she believes is responsible for all the evils of mankind. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince was perfect; it's hard to gauge how good of an actress she is as I've only seen her in this, and a bit here and there in Batman vs. Superman, but she was confident, interesting, dynamic, and the audience could empathize with her. Chris Pine plays Captain Steve Trevor (very ironic how even the DC universe has a Captain Steve like Marvel's Captain Steve who is Captain America). Mr. Pine plays himself; the difference between his character in this film and Captain Kirk in Star Trek are merely the setting and the individual differences. He was good in the film, but nothing remarkable. Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta the Amazon Queen was perfection; that woman can act (she had a very notable role in Gladiator). Robin Wright played Antiope the best Amazon warrior who trained Diana, and she was awesome; I wish her role had been larger, and the same as Connie Nielsen. Then there were the sidekicks: Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). All three men performed fantastically, but I especially liked the characters Sameer and Charlie, both of whom had the most depth and likability. Danny Huston cast as German General Ludendorff was horribly miscast, and that character wasn't very well written either; seemed to be more of an afterthought than anything. Elena Anaya played Dr. Maru the "mad scientist" and she performed brilliantly and should have been more of the central villain rather than an afterthought as well. David Thewlis played a small role as a British politician, Sir Patrick, but he was utterly and horribly miscast as well; once you've seen the film, you'll totally understand why I think that. Overall the casting wasn't too bad, but like Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, you watch this movie to see Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.
Patty Jenkins directed the film and was perhaps one of the big reasons it was well done and has been quite successful and well received. She did a fine job on her first big film Monster, and I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future. Allan Heinberg wrote the screenplay and I have to say that he did a rather good job with the material he had; I think a few changes and tweaks here and there would have enhanced it even more, but you can never have everything.....at least most of the time. I would also like to point out again as I did in Suicide Squad the current U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin was an executive producer. Rupert Gregson-Williams composed the music for the film, and well....it was okay, but the only thing I remember well enough is her theme which wasn't even composed by him. Why are so many film composers writing blah music for films; it's very frustrating, especially for someone who enjoys that kind of music. The cinematography by Matthew Jensen was pretty good for a comic book film, and costume design by Lindy Hemming wasn't too bad either. The action in the film was okay; there were times when it worked really well, and times when it didn't. One big complaint I have was with the slow motion; there was too much of it and it was in random places, and the fight choreography wasn't consistently good either. Did I like it? Yes I did; Wonder Woman was a good film and I'd watch it again. It was definitely entertaining and had some good ideas and thoughts in it, but it wasn't great. I honestly would rather watch Batman vs. Superman as I really like Zack Snyder. There were at times during the film moments that seemed too....naive and trite, and that bothers me. But, it was very well put together, although I was not a fan of the last action sequence whatsoever. Wonder Woman was a good entertaining summer diversion, so if that's all you want, then this movie is perfect for you. Lord knows we're all in need of that.

Wonder Woman documentary

Wonder Woman preview

Justice League trailer

Valerian trailer (It looks interesting at least)