Oscar Predictions of 2018

The 90th annual Academy Awards are coming up on March 4. For some, it’s another Hollywood gimmick to reel in viewers, and for others, it’s a show worth devoting their Sunday to.

Either way, 2017 started off with a bang, thanks to popular movies like “Get Out” and “Split,” and ended on a strong note with films like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “The Shape of Water” and “The Greatest Showman.” Over summer and autumn, blockbusters like “Dunkirk” and “It” raked in high box office revenues.

An alarming number of these films received awards and recognition from fans and critics. A few of these films will leave a mark in cinema history and many will stay close to our hearts.

Here are Oscar-winning predictions for fifteen categories, from “Best Picture” to “Best Original Screenplay.”

 

Best Picture:

  • Most likely — Lady Bird
  • Should be — Lady Bird

“Lady Bird” is a grungy, yet humor-induced coming-of-age film that captures the audience’s attention, with heart and soul poured into each character.

 

Best Director:

  • Most likely — Guillermo del Toro (Shape of Water)
  • Should be — Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)

Guillermo del Toro, the director of “Crimson Peak,” gained attention with “Shape of Water” in 2017 and won the Golden Globe for Best Director, but Christopher Nolan created a stellar film that left me in awe, with his beautiful screenplay that divides the story between land, sea and air.

 

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

  • Most likely — Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
  • Should be — Bruce Willis (Split)

Gary Oldman leaves a powerful impression with his role as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” but Bruce Willis has to get credit. He reveals 24 distinct personalities through the character of David Dunn in “Split!”

 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

  • Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Should be — Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes)

Woody Harrelson provides remarkable tension in the film as Chief Bill Willoughby, but my favorite was Steve Carell, who portrayed a sexist joker as Bobby Riggs in “Battle of the Sexes,” doing a phenomenal job integrating humor into the film.

 

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

  • Most likely — Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
  • Should be — Jennifer Lawrence (Mother!)

Saoirse Ronan won hearts this year in her role as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson and gained significant recognition from her fruitful expressions. Jennifer Lawrence, however, had a killer, raw performance in “Mother!” that brought me to tears and left me with goosebumps.

 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

  • Most likely — Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
  • Should be — Sarah Silverman (Battle of the Sexes)

Allison Janney nailed her role as LaVona Golden, an abusive skating mom who tears her daughter’s world apart, but Sarah Silverman’s role as a heavy-smoking manager cues laughter at the best times throughout the film.

 

Best Animated Feature:

  • Most likely — Coco
  • Should be — Coco

“Coco” accurately depicts Mexican heritage and culture, while kindling the importance of “familia” and “amor” with gorgeous animation by the one and only Walt Disney Animation Studios. “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” and “A Silent Voice” were runners-up, both produced by Japanese animation studios, but they lack the visual details “Coco” manages to implement.

 

Best Cinematography:

  • Most likely — Dunkirk
  • Should be — Dunkirk

“Dunkirk” is impactful. It is visually stunning and jaw-dropping, even though practically the only colors present in the film are hues of blue and brown.

 

Best Film Editing:

  • Most likely — Baby Driver
  • Should be — Baby Driver

The majority of the actions and movements in “Baby Driver” are aligned with the soundtrack. Walking, gun shooting, tapping … all of it.

 

Best Costume Design:

  • Most likely — Beauty and the Beast
  • Should be — The Beguiled

Belle’s vivid yellow dress is sure to win judge’s hearts, but “The Beguiled” is filled with marvelous cream-colored lace dresses.

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

  • Most likely — Wonder
  • Should be — The Mummy

“Wonder” accurately creates face deformity on ten year old August only using makeup. However, “The Mummy” introduces unique makeup techniques, utilizing black symbols and yellow double-iris contacts, that may change Hollywood standards.

 

Best Original Score:

  • Most likely — Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk)
  • Should be — Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk)

Hans Zimmer, the composer for big films like “The Lion King (1995)” and “Interstellar,” nails creating a dramatic score for “Dunkirk,” using a thrilling string orchestra.

 

Best Original Song:

  • Most likely — “This is Me” (The Greatest Showman)
  • Should be — “Remember Me” (Coco)

Though “The Greatest Showman” was entirely an impressionable musical, “Remember Me” in “Coco” infuses major scenes with warmth and heart.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • Most likely — Call Me By Your Name
  • Should be — My Friend Dahmer

“Call Me By Your Name,” an adaption of the novel written by Andre Aciman, is finished with magnificent cinematography and a beautiful screenplay, but “My Friend Dahmer,” adapted from the graphic novel written by Derk Backderf, wins it all with the character’s eerie movements.

 

Best Original Screenplay:

  • Most likely — Shape of Water
  • Should be — Get Out

“Shape of Water” redefines “beauty and the beast” romance, but “Get Out” creatively tackles racial inequality within the film by incorporating horror and hilarity into the screenplay.

‘The Post’ lacks depth and candid perspective

Photo by 20th Century Fox
Documentation of the Pentagon Papers revealing the unscrupulousness of the Vietnam War, Steven Spielberg tackles overwhelming themes of feminism, morality and holding government in contempt.

“The Post” is everything that we have seen in Steven Spielberg’s previous works, however the film lacks a consistent theme.

This film depicts when New York Times first got ahold of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, assessments that would reveal an entire lineage of presidents that knew the war was a lost cause.

The Washington Post, a small local newspaper, led by publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), would get ahold of the same documents and be faced with the difficult choice to publish them or not.

Spielberg attempts to integrate a feminist theme into the film, by showing that Graham, publisher by inheritance and not choice, found empowerment through her decision to publish the Pentagon Papers at the risk of going to jail.

However, the weaknesses in this argument can be found through Spielberg’s determination to stick to historical fact. Instead of stretching how Graham used her executive power elsewhere, he advertised the fact that her only real contribution to releasing the Pentagon Papers was saying the word. It was unclear whether she was motivated by upholding freedom of the press, or she was simply rebelling against her oppressive, but knowledgeable board.

In the very scenes where Graham expresses how oppressed she feels as a woman in a man’s world, the dialogue is lengthy and unnatural. Spielberg tried to dive into the female perspective, but failed because he is not a female director.

Through this failed theme, he also aims to present the importance of freedom of the press, which although displayed abundantly, is overshadowed by the abrupt ending right after the Supreme Court ruling denounced barring the press with the Espionage Act.

Another significant theme that was expected about such an obscure war as Vietnam, was the morality of the politics being executed at the time.

With the opening scene of the Vietnamese war zone, that was all too similar to “Saving Private Ryan,” the audience only gets a glimpse at the lives being put in jeopardy and ultimately served as the purpose for the Pentagon Papers being released in the first place.

To add insult to injury, the veteran cast did little to improve the realism of the film. Streep and Hanks had a very awkward dynamic that fails to mirror Graham and Bradlee’s real-life relationship. This inaccuracy is shown in Spielberg creating a power balance between the two characters in the movie, when in actuality, Bradlee clearly had more authority than Graham. With its preachy morals and agonizing two-hour run time, “The Post” is nothing more than a typical Spielberg movie.

‘Justice League’ heroically fails

G oing into “Justice League,” I set my bar lower than I’ve ever set any of my previous movie expectations.

Beforehand, I certainly felt that at least “Justice League” couldn’t reach as low as “Batman vs Superman.” Thankfully I was right. It was definitely more watchable, which is assuming your standards are just plainly watchable. If not, there are plenty of reasons why this film crashed before it even lifted off.

Let’s start with the most simple component an action movie must have: special effects. Overall, the movie had standard slow motion sequences and cliche fight scenes on a roof, things that are basically required for a superhero movie. The problem is how those scenes looked aesthetically. Gotham City was very obviously created with a green screen and Themyscira, the island of the Amazon women, looked completely different than it did in “Wonder Woman.” It didn’t help that the majority of the dialogue was masked by loud and typical superhero music.

Another major detail that “Justice League” couldn’t seem to get right was the plot. Scenes lacked transitions and there was no explanation to the characters’ thought processes and decisions. The antagonist, Steppenwolf, seemed out of place and I didn’t even know his name until I left the theater since the abundance of different accents in the whole movie masked the pronunciation of his name.

Speaking of the characters, the introductions were lengthy and unoriginal. Three new characters had to be explained within the movie, which is technically doable since Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” had done the same with Spider Man and the Black Panther. However, it took until the end of the first major fight for me to catch on to the origin of the new characters.

This movie does have positive attributes though. Gal Gadot’s depiction of Wonder Woman was consistent with her first movie, a fierce and powerful woman in the midst of a male cast. Her scenes  almost embody the same passion that Patty Jenkins gave Wonder Woman. Newcomer Ezra Miller brings a new feeling of brightness in the midst of dark scenes. Miller mirrors Barry Allen’s awkwardness and unintentional humor, making the it one of the only times the audience laughed.

Perhaps director Zack Snyder was aiming for a dark and cryptic vibe intentionally. Unfortunately, the movie only provided a feeling of “cool,” rather than “wow” or even “interesting.” If they were going for that, then congratulations, it worked.

Personally, this movie wasn’t worth my attention of two hours and a $13 ticket. Though there were times where I found myself entranced by the slow motion and laughing at Miller’s performance as the Flash, I realized I was more confused than anything.

Spend your holidays watching something that is more thought provoking and, frankly, interesting, because if you’re looking for these things, “Justice League” is not the way to go.

Newest movie is truly a ‘Wonder’

A few months back, I stumbled upon a random movie trailer on Instagram as most of us do. After finding myself an emotional mess from only watching the trailer, I knew I had to see the full film.

“Wonder”, released on Nov. 17, bases its story on a boy named Auggie Pullman, played by Jacob Tremblay, and all the people involved in his life. Auggie was born with problems concerning his hearing, vision and normal facial features. As a result, he underwent a multitude of surgeries and was left with a face full of scars and a unique physical appearance. The movie details his struggles facing the norms and expectations of society as he enters public school for the first time.

This film took characterization to an entirely new level. I originally thought that the plot would only follow Auggie’s story. However, I was completely wrong.

“Wonder” told the stories of many other characters and applied equal if not more emphasis on their journeys compared to Auggie’s. The audience was taken into the lives of Auggie’s sister, fellow classmates and parents. We were pushed to see everyone’s perspectives and experiences, in order to understand that although Auggie faced major conflicts, he wasn’t the only one with problems.

The theater echoed with laughter and then complete silence as the film took the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions through witty comments made by Auggie and serious occasions addressing bullying.

Although the popular actors including Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson starring as Auggie’s parents might have triggered the attention of the film before release, the impeccable acting, significant themes and heartwarming story of “Wonder” are what makes the film truly inspiring.

Engaging, but not a ‘runaway’ hit

A girl faces the wall in her parents’ garage, her back to the van behind her. Her outfit is a dedicated shrine to bubblegum innocence: there’s a little cat-shaped clip in her wavy hair, pastel dinosaurs on her pink shirt, purple speckles on her leggings and chunky magenta bracelets around her wrists.

The van starts rolling down towards her. She whips around and pushes it back with her bare hands, eyes flashing bright gold.

If there’s anything to be said about Marvel’s “Runaways”, which premiered Nov. 21 exclusively on Hulu Plus  and is based off a comic of the same name, it’s that its characters are more dimensional than the writing appears to be able to handle.

From Molly (Allegra Acosta), the aforementioned super-strong “baby” of the teenage team, to Alex (Rhenzy Feliz), a nerd who just wants to unite his friends again,  the first episode alone hooks the audience by offering  quick glimpses into each character’s life. But with over a dozen main characters — parents along with the teens — the followup to that hook suffers in trying to live up to and maintain that potential.

In fairness, the plot is a lot to juggle. Episode one begins innocently enough: with a “Riverdale”-esque vibe of underlying menace, the teenagers go about their vastly different lives, having grown apart after the death of one of their friends. In the meantime, Alex windmills desperately in the background trying to reunite the six. It’s relatable in a quietly sad way — how many teens have seen their friends drift apart, maybe not because of something as morbid as a death, but because of diverging interests?

But soon (although not quickly — the show takes much too long to set up background details), that relative normalcy is shredded apart with the discovery that their parents may or may not be part of an evil supernatural cult. It’s one thing to call your mom evil for grounding you, but it’s another to call her evil after seeing her go about nefarious deeds in sinister red robes.

So that’s new.

Or rather, what’s new is how “Runaways” handles this dilemma. Again, in keeping with the “Riverdale” comparison, the show takes a magnifying glass to the parents’ lives as well, going so far as to turn the second episode into a retelling of the first one from the adults’ perspective.

The pacing, once more, suffers because of this, as the cliffhanger in the first episode is only returned to after 40 minutes of the second one, but it does give some much-needed time to flesh out the gargantuan list of characters.

So, the plot takes its time developing. The questions outnumber the answers. Everyone has weirdly nice houses where they can throw outrageous parties.

At the surface level, “Runaways” is much less in the vein of the recent, more lighthearted Marvel movies, and more like every “edgy” teen show you’ve ever seen, complete with a host of characters all unrealistically capable of popcorn-worthy snark like “Great party! Thanks for all the pizza and sadness.”

Yet, under all the formula, “Runaways” has heart inherent in its characters. So long as it chooses to focus on the teens it’s telling a story about rather than just the shiny technology and glowy magic, it compels you to watch more.

 

Genre: Sci-fi, Action/Adventure

Release date: Nov. 21, 2017

Available on: Hulu Plus

Rating: 3.5 stars

The second can be as bad as the first

“Boo 2! A Madea Halloween” is the second Halloween special that director Tyler Perry has done. The characters in this movie are the same as the last Madea movie.

The movie mainly focused on how Tiffany is going to a halloween party that her dad doesn’t want her to go.

It was generally very funny. Perry played the role of as three characters himself: Madea, her brother Joe and Joe’s son Brian. Because Perry was three characters, the camera men did not show his body, only his face, to keep the audience from knowing he was all three.

The setting was at a lake where murders have taken place before. And the people who supposedly done the murders were thought to be dead.

The movie portrayed the cliche creepy lake: abandoned and people have been killed there before. Madea hears that Tiffany’s mom is letting her go to the party and tells Brian put his foot down on his ex wife.

Madea goes to get Tiffany from the lake. Conveniently, the party dies down and it’s only Tiffany and her friends. That’s when the “murders” start to pick off them by couples.

It usually just uses the typical type of teenager Halloween specials. The kids got scared and started to run and hide, while the same thing happened to Madea and her friends who were just trying to help Tiffany. They finally run into each other while running away from the “murderers,” and try to escape.

In the end they all find out that Brian and his friend were pranking all of them, to teach Tiffany and her friends the lesson of listening to your parents and not lying to them as well.

This movie can be compared to a “Scooby-Doo” episode, because the people who come and try to help the people who are getting scared, then get scared themselves. At the end they all find out it was someone they knew who was trying to teach the people a lesson.

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman”: a total lie

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman,” released on Oct. 13, arrives only five months after the box-office success of  “Wonder Woman.”

Rather than being about the superwoman though, this movie focuses on the inspiration and personal lives of her creators: Professor William Marston, Elizabeth Marston and Olive Bryne.

According to the movie, Bryne is not only a student of Mr. and Mrs. Marston’s psychology class, but eventually an addition to their three-way relationship. The story follows the trio as they hide their unconventional liaison from the public, develop the lie detector (an invention not many would connect to a comic book author) and formulate their beloved Marvel character, Wonder Woman.

This film has many flaws, including a momentous, glaring issue that discredits the entire story. It’s one positive characteristic is its veteran actors, who give passionate performances. Other than that, it fails in everything else.

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman” spreads itself too thin, taking on the topics of a three-way relationship of the characters, feminism and Wonder Woman. It fails to have a proper insight or compelling depiction of any of these subjects, but acts as if these characters and their melodramatic conversations provide a wealth of wisdom on the issues.

Despite being centered on a relationship amongst the characters, their interactions feel ham-fisted and rushed. One minute, they’re irritated and baffled by each other. The next, they’re feverishly confessing their love.

Of the three, Bryne is the most annoying. She’s a bland, shallow character, who we’re expected to believe has any chemistry with the loud, brazen and analytical Marstons. Even more baffling is the flippancy of her character. She switches from a quiet, shy girl to a ridiculously impulsive seductress. Her naivety and quiet nature was clearly intended to make her seem innocent and sweet. Instead, she’s just irrelevant.

For a movie supposedly focused on Wonder Woman’s origins, she is barely mentioned. The story instead deciding that melodramatic conversations and awkward sex scenes take precedence over our iconic Marvel character.

However, none of these things compare in terribleness to the actual main issue of “Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman,” which is the total lack of historical accuracy.

The film begins with a black screen and large words saying “A true story.” This is a total lie. It is not true in the slightest.

Angela Robinson, the director of “Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman,” made zero effort to keep any realism, choosing not to contact the family and instead label her own “interpretation” as fact.

“Yeah. I didn’t actually talk to … It was a conscious choice because I really just wanted to have my own interpretation of the story,” Robinson said.

Making such assumptions didn’t go unnoticed by the Marston family. Christian Marston, granddaughter of the Marstons and close friend of Bryne, has been vocal about her rejection of the movie.

“This film has no relationship to Wonder Woman, other than using the name to sell to the public. They are riding the coattails of the very successful Wonder Woman movie — even to the point of copying the promo posters,” Marston said in an interview with Big Fanboy.

The main inaccuracies of this movie often connect to Bryne. Unsurprising really, as she’s the most unbelievable and thinnest of the characters. Robinson not only decided to make a movie about a relationship she knew nothing about, but also focused specifically on the fabricated romance of Elizabeth and Bryne. However, there is no evidence that the two women shared any attraction at all.

Gram (Elizabeth Marston) and Dots (Olive) were as sisters. This, by the way, is not from a child’s point of view; I was very close to Gram as an adult. My grandfather died before I was born, so I only know him through family stories. No love triangle ever even hinted at —-and Gram was very broad-minded and very open, so if it existed, she had no reason to hide it — especially from me … we discussed all aspects of life and human psychology,” Marston said to Big Fanboy.

During the movie, there’s a dramatic breakup that occurs between the Marstons and Bryne , who’s sent away with the children she’s had with the professor. Despite this being the climax of the story, this also never actually occurred.

“Hollywood drama. At that point in time there were four children, and Dots (Olive) sure as hell did not take off and abandon them!” Marston said to Big Fanboy.

According to The Verge, various other plot points that moved things along also never happened. The film shows Professor Marston making a lie-detector machine that is regularly used throughout the story. In reality, the machine he created never actually work, but inspired the basic idea of a polygraph. The entire story is told through flashbacks as Professor Marston tries to defend his comic book to the Child Study Association of America (CSAA). In actuality, Wonder Woman was far too popular for any of its critics to have much power or influence. There was no hysterical burning of Wonder Woman comics and there was no involvement from the CSAA.  

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman” is a deceptive movie that twists the stories of real people into melodramatic events for its own benefit. Yet such lies couldn’t save the film from it’s own bland dialogue and cliche story.

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman (2017)”

Genre: Drama

Rating: R

Release Date: October 13, 2017

Director: Angela Robinson

Stars: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall

Another typical horror film hits millions in box office

stuck-up sorority girls and generic Hollywood humor litter in director Christopher B. Landon’s recent work, “Happy Death Day.”

The “Groundhog Day” inspired film earned $26.5 million in box office over the first weekend and that number continues to rise, surpassing “Blade Runner 2049.”

Unfortunately, “Happy Death Day” is as forgettable as it sounds. It’s your run-of-the-mill horror flick, snuck in with some cheesy dorm room love and a predictable ending — which I undoubtedly called in the beginning.

On a numbered scale, “Happy Death Day” would be smacked down in the middle. The “jump scares” wear out after Tree dies her umpteenth time, but the comedy and thriller blend has a hearty early-2000’s approach to the horror genre.

The minor plot twists in the film added dimension. Although it can’t fulfill past “just alright,” it managed to add grip and escape a few gasps out of fellow audience members around me.

Some may disagree: “trashy characters tossing around smutty punch-lines to wind down to some unthoughtful moral? Possibly the worst.” I beg to differ though; nothing is worse than “Flatliners.”

Maybe invite a few friends over. Order a couple of boxes of cheese pizza and cookie dough ice cream while you’re at it. Select this as your choice of dumb-fun horror flick for the night.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Similar to another Marvel movie

In this third installation of the Thor movie series, “Thor Ragnarok” takes a less serious angle than in the past movies.

Throughout the whole entire movie it felt as if the movie had a “Guardians of the Galaxy” feel to it. The vibe that “Guardians of the Galaxy” brings it bright, flashy, funny, spontaneous and a startrekish feel. That is exactly how “Thor Ragnarok” felt.

Even though this Thor movie is different than the other ones, it brought a new view of Marvel characters such as: Thor, Hulk, Dr. Strange, Loki and Heimdall.

New characters Valkyrie and Korg brought the funny and “Guardians of the Galaxy” component to the movie.

The movie followed all of the other Thor movies in that with every problem Thor faces it always deals with families problems, and how his family squabbles affect other people and worlds.

In this Thor movie the family problem was that Thor’s unknown older sister was out to kill Asgard and every other world.

However in “Thor Ragnarok,” the characters lightened the mood whenever the family issue arose, by saying or doing something that was funny.

The comedy in this movie was present in every scene which made it so good. I would die of laughter whenever Korg or Hulk died because they always said something stupid but it was always funny.

I would recommend that if you want to see a funny movie and have watched previous Marvel movies that to go see the movie as soon as possible, it’s a great laugh.

Horror movie roundup

Muschietti makes a riveting adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic novel  

Amazing acting and incredible visuals define this popular horror film


As many know, “It” was originally created by the popular horror novelist Stephen King in 1986. The plot was centered on a group of outcasted children being terrorized by Pennywise, a sinister shape-shifting clown that takes the form of his victim’s worst fears.

Being one of his most famous works, the popular thriller novel was adapted into a miniseries four years after its publication. Unfortunately, this 1990 adaption of the book would fail to impress many, earning a 57% on Rotten Tomatoes with critics claiming its only remarkable quality was Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise.

However, the newest version of “It”, released on September 8, 2017, not only has a notably sensational portrayal of Pennywise by Swedish actor and model, Bill Skarsgård, but also incredible child actors, a good atmosphere, creative scares and an excellent soundtrack.

The incredibly adept cast of child actors give a genuine depiction of childhood grief and isolation while showing as much skill as educated professionals. At no point throughout the film did poor acting or stunted dialogue pull me out of the story, and I found myself truly becoming attached even to characters who only appeared for short amounts of screen times

The fine-tuned details seen throughout “It” only increased my appreciation for the movie. Amongst the background, eagle-eyed viewers could find a deadly easter egg hunt, creepy library patrons skulking in the background and a motif of lurking red balloons.

It’s clear this film was made with painstaking focus on the visuals, every scene using lighting, proper set decor and a detailed costumes to create an atmosphere that emotionally adds to the situation and characters.

However, while what scares someone is different for all individuals, I personally found the jumps in “It” to be predictable and cheesy, with an overuse of imagery that was noticeably computer generated. The film’s noticeable lack of any ambiguity or suspense also ruined the scariness of the story.

Pennywise defies the common trend in horror films of keeping the main monster a mystery in appearance. Most of it’s entrances are rather extravagant ordeals (Pennywise even frantically dancing in one of them) that ruin all chance of tension.

Though “It” is full of creepy, innovative visuals, it doesn’t have an eerie tone or any real terrors to make this a truly frightful movie. Honestly, “It” fits in more of a coming-of-age, fantasy genre due to the film’s occasionally choppy comedic exchanges, focus on childhood drama, extravagant visuals and ultimately heart-warming ending.

However, these flaws don’t make “It” any less of a well-done, intriguing movie. Even with a running time of of two hours and 15 minutes, it’s impossible not to be hooked on this adrenaline-rushing, surprisingly poignant film.


A prequel that upstages its predecessor

Despite “Annabelle”’s flaws, its prequel, “Annabelle: Creation”, is a riveting watch.


“Annabelle,” a branch of “The Conjuring” franchise, was the over-hyped horror movie of 2014 that was expected to be as well-done and original as it’s companion films. Ultimately, it failed to meet such hopes due to its dullness, predictability and lack of genuine frights.

Despite such poor reviews, the financial success resulted in an initially unwanted prequel: “Annabelle: Creation,” which most expected to be just as unoriginal and boring as its predecessor.

“Creation” focuses on a nun and six orphaned girls being housed by a former toy-making couple who’ve lost their six-year-old daughter, Annabelle.

To everyone’s shock, “Annabelle: Creation” proved itself to be an incredibly frightful film, full of intense and creative jumpscares.

However, this movie certainly isn’t intellectually or emotionally profound. It’s not going to make you contemplate any philosophical issue, but innovative scares make up for all of the film’s flaws. The director of the movie, David F. Sandberg, is merciless in his attempts to terrify you.

By not holding back on suspense, and cunningly using common fears, such as the dark, scarecrows and creepy dolls, he delivers a petrifying film.

Fans of the “Conjuring” series will definitely enjoy this latest installment, which features several easter eggs. Some of them including Valek (the malevolent villain of “The Conjuring 2”), a brief appearance of the original Annabelle doll that the movie is based off of, multiple post-credits scenes and an ending that cleverly ties in with the original film.

“Annabelle: Creation” is a worthy prequel and a frightful delight for both regular viewers and fans of “The Conjuring” series that I would thoroughly recommend for anyone hoping to be scared out of their mind.


Madness Condensed Into One Movie

Mother! delivers a high-intensity, fast paced thriller, feeding fans satisfaction


Gut-wrenching barely scratches the surface for “Mother!” as it displays gunshots of sickening emotions and a whole new definition of violence.

The film features two nameless couples, the first played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, and the second being two strangers played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris. Their meeting triggers a massive wave of commotion that spirals out of control.

I’ve waited for this film for months. Director Darren Aronofsky managed to gorge out every bit of sanity my mind was capable of holding in “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Black Swan” and I did not expect any less from “Mother!”.

Though I have to admit, this film left me confused when I first stumbled out of the theater. Copious amounts of vague symbolism were smashed into this two-hour flick and it left me with a sense of hesitation towards “Mother!” and regretfully, Aronofsky.

After putting more thought into the movie and digesting explanations from Aronofsky, I realize that this film isn’t meant to be simple at all. This is very complicated, very deranged and very outstanding.

The biggest highlight from the film was Jennifer Lawrence’s exceptional performance. She illustrated a radiating goddess on one end and a hysteric slasher soaked in blood on the other end.

This paired with the “soundtrack” really hit the spot for me. One Skeeter Davis cover of “The End of The World” by Patti Smith was layered on top of the ending credits, but no other soundtrack was present throughout the film.

What they did instead was exaggerate every sound in the film; the fly buzzing outside, Lawrence picking up a glass of water, sliding her hands against the table. All emphasized more than it needs to, luring the audience in and forcing them to pay closer to details. The lack of any soundtrack was almost a soundtrack itself.

I personally highly appreciated “Mother!” from beginning to end, but the movie isn’t for everyone. It’s difficult to recommend this to all, because it can really twist your emotional and mental limits. But if you’re seeking for something to stir and crush you inside out while being able to stomach gore, this might be the film you’ve been looking for.


Oplev’s Downfall

Horror film remake brings disappointment to the table


Nials Arden Oplev, genius creator of film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Dead Man Down,” etches disappointment into the audiences’ minds with his recent remake of “Flatliners.” Pointless and monotonous, “Flatliners” was able to do just one thing: flatline me to boredom.

I won’t lie ; the mid-summer release of the first trailer snapped my attention with an intriguing concept: medical students playing with science and temporarily stopping beating hearts to see what’s beyond death.

Ellen Page’s appearance as Courtney definitely contributed to my decision to watch this film. Her performance in “Juno” was in-character and left me in silent awe. I was a little skeptical on this one though —  “Flatliners” would be too serious for her usual childish and reckless personality in movies.

I was right. Page’s acting fell short but didn’t lack as much as the other major roles in the film. Kiersey Clemons (as Sophia) and James Norton (as Jamie) were exceptionally forgettable characters, bundled there to only exaggerate the plotline. Nina Dobrev (as Marlo) was also extremely unnecessary, with facial expression fruitless as ever.  Page just shouldn’t work for thriller films.

That wasn’t the tipping point for me though. What really irked me was the amateurish editing and the choppy transitions.

The messy color gradation and the absent blend between computer graphics and actor was simply rushed and unprofessional. Careless, silly plot holes were peppered throughout the film. Unfitting soundtracks were dispersed in the worst possible moments. Their $19 million budget could’ve gone to much better use.

Ben Ripley, writer of “Flatliners,” is clearly ill-knowledgeable in comedy and romance. Even the serious romantic wedge of the film was utterly spoiled by a dialogue between Ray (played by Diego Luna) and Marlo: “What do you see in me?” “You’re hot.” Try going on a date or two, Ripley.

Plain and simple: “Flatliners” is merely about oblivious rich kids that open unnecessary amounts of bottled wine and are too self-centered for their greater good to mourn for their friend’s death, all accompanied by one-toned jump scares. Cheap and pathetic, “Flatliners”  deserves the 2 percent it got on Rotten Tomatoes.


 

The Reel: Why “The Lion King” is the greatest animated film of all time

My all-time favorite movie (yes, my favorite movie ever) is the 1994 Disney animation and now-classic “The Lion King,” written by Irene Mecchi & Jonathan Roberts and directed by Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, with an iconic score by Hans Zimmer & Elton John.

“The Lion King” features a zootopic recreation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” in which the king’s brother murders his Majesty for the throne and the son of the King comes back and takes the throne back, modeling the story structure of the age old tale of King Arthur. Starting at the dramatic and powerful opening in front of a song glorifying life and the vastness of Mother Nature (which is, in my opinion, the greatest opening to a film ever), it’s clear that this movie has its priorities straight: ruling a kingdom of such delicate structure requires wisdom. However, above all, it’s a responsibility, which serves as the central theme to the story.

With the opening scene also comes the exposition, first and foremost establishing that the king Mufasa and his wife Sarabi have produced an heir to the throne in the most legendary way possible: having a wise, old baboon hold him over the ledge of a giant rock. After all, the heir will be king someday, introducing the main plot through only fabulous visuals and song. The screenplay then places forth the vibrant overconfidence and young prince Simba in the following scenes, and also establishing the jealousy of Mufasa’s dark younger brother, Scar. Funnily enough, both are done mainly through song. Scar’s solo in the cave with the hyenas is actually where I first learned the word “meticulous.”

Despite being conventional in its exposition, “The Lion King” manages to add a darker spice to it, going for a nonconventional and adolescent style, which works magnificently in adding to the conflict and driving a character arc.

Next comes Mufasa’s death, (which, I would like to add, is incredibly adventurous of Disney to do in a movie built for kids) a perfectly-fitting and dramatic spin on the banal timeline thus far. I remember crying my eyes out as a six-year-old when Simba asks “Dad, we have to go home.” I’m even getting a little chokey as I write this column. But here’s the thing about Mufasa’s death: it happens fairly late into the movie. It’s not part of the exposition, but it’s not part of the rising action either. In a normal film, this option would be risky for the screenwriter. But here, it works brilliantly for two reasons:

First, it allows time for the Mufasa character to develop and form an obvious effect on Simba, and in turn, on us, the audience. As Scar continues to plan his ascension to the throne, we don’t know entirely how the movie’s going to work, because it seems that Mufasa is tough enough (he beat up a bunch of hyenas in a prior scene and Scar mocked him for his “brute strength” in previous scenes) to handle himself, which brings me to the second reason: it fits with the plot. Allowing Scar to win the throne significantly raises the stakes of Simba’s return to Pride Rock, driving forward the plot with an urgency and underlying tick-tocking. We care about Mufasa, we care about Pride Rock, we care about the kingdom, thanks to the elongated exposition time covered in reason #1.

Finally, we have the rising action, or Simba’s hang out with Timon and Pumba, two of the most memorable characters in recent film history. The famous meerkat and warthog represent the other side of the story that is both undesirable yet tempting. The movie suggests that being happy and having a responsibility can merge, which is a good thing (although misleading in my experience). The more time Simba spends away from home, the louder the tick-tocking gets.

We know that Scar has control of the throne, we know that he is wrecking havoc, and what does Simba do? He eats bugs and has fun all day. This makes us anxious, this makes us want to say to Simba: “go home, idiot. Save your kingdom.” And of course, the fun onscreen distracts from the real plot of the movie, which I see as a good thing, because technically Simba is also being distracted from the drama going on at home. Therefore, the first portion of the rising action is underlying, until we arrive at a nighttime scene in which Timon, Pumba and Simba stare into the sky and reminisce at the stars. Timon accidentally reminds Simba about a remark Mufasa had made to his son in an earlier scene about how the ancestors of kings watch over everything. Simba leaves the party and passes out in guilty frustration.

The audience’s thoughts are conveyed through the character of Nala, Simba’s childhood friend, who arrives at Pumbaa & Timon’s home to hunt. Go home, she says, take back the throne because it’s your responsibility. Simba becomes increasingly conflicted, which builds and builds until the wise Baboon Rafiki (mentioned earlier) leads him into a confrontation with Mufasa, who comes entirely from Simba himself. He imagines a conversation with his deceased father before arriving at a conclusion, ending the beautiful and well-written character arc in a series of Hans Zimmer’s orchestral tones. “The Lion King” suggests that outside forces can never make decisions for another to take on a responsibility; Simba is the rightful king, and therefore he can be the only one who can decide his fate.

Simba defeats Scar in a red and orange blaze of glory that is the climax, for which the audience has been waiting for over an hour. They will not disappointed. For a 1990s animated film made by a generally G-rated entertainment studio, the action scenes are amazing. The resolution comes with a wash of rain (water represents change) over the burning savannah, and Simba roaring into the night sky in triumph. I still get chills when I watch it, and I’ve watched the movie well over 50 times.

“The Lion King” is one of the greatest written, directed, scored and animated movies there has been. The implications of the beautifully-crafted character arc and underlying theme of responsibility and choice are timely and will always be. The music is fantastic, the animation quality was definitely ahead of its time, the plot is dramatic and appropriate and the emotion throughout is variable and effective in establishing both a character and story arc: proud, dramatic, sad, happy, comedic, angry, relief, then back to proud. Like I said, a masterpiece.

And now, I’m going to watch it again.

 

The Reel is a weekly column that publishes entertainment pieces on films, the film industry, analysis of movie structure, film creativity and film reviews.

The Reel: Poetic storytelling should not be celebrated for being poetic

A while ago, I saw “Moonlight,” a film that I commended for its screenplay craftsmanship in another column. Despite being ambitious and beautifully-shot, it lacks the essential quality of entertainment: substance. Of course, it conveys principles much needed for today’s changing times, but would it have hurt at all to add a visible storyline?

I loved “Moonlight.” But as I watched it with my family, ranting at times about how the breeze was brilliantly symbolic of internal friction or how the swimming scene was filmed so that the camera went unsubmerged and submerged just like Chiron, or how beautiful the colors were, I realized something. It was beautiful, of course, but it lacked a story. Instead, it dove headfirst into its moral with most of the attention going to a character arc that arguably isn’t even the center of the story.

And then about a month ago, I saw the 2008 movie  “No Country For Old Men” for the first time. I might be called racist for saying this, but the Coen brothers can craft a balance between story and spectacle far better than Barry Jenkins can. The plot is entertaining and gripping, and the poetic ideals conveyed manage to engage the viewer long after the film is over. Not to mention, the theme conveyed by “No Country For Old Men” is far more sophisticated and ambiguous than that of “Moonlight,” a movie whose adapted title “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” itself literally conveys all there is to come out of the film.

Both movies seek to present an idea, but only “No Country For Old Men” can do it through an entertaining movie. Nobody enjoyed the beach scene in “Moonlight,” because there was no context, the connection between the two characters was pointless, but hey, the breeze is symbolic, right?

Mahershala Ali, who happens to be one of my favorite actors ever, drove the film forward because his words had substance in them; his acting style and his dialogue were the only pillars supporting a structure whose purpose was probably 90 percent  made of A24 wanting to grab some quick cash without spending too much. Ali’s character was the reason I enjoyed the film. Other than him, the film loses its philosophical support and despite being filmed in bright, cold colors, never regains that spirit. The second and third acts are boring, pointless, and amount to almost nothing until little Chiron turns to the camera in the final shot of the film.

Movies should not be appreciated for being unique, they should be appreciated for being good. Altered timelines are fine; look at Tarantino films. Spectacle is fine; look at Christopher Nolan.

“Moonlight” is a beautiful movie, and it’s an important movie. But it’s not a good movie.