If you want the gravy…

…You've got to get the biscuits!


BLADE RUNNER 2049 Review – ****


Orange and teal. Human and replicant. Real and unreal.

Coming out of Blade Runner 2049 a second time, I felt assured in saying what I had initially hesitated to claim: that this is a great film, a true epic, a sequel which can hold its own against a formidable forebear, and which stands on its own as a most impressive piece of entertainment, and one of the year’s best films.

As promised, I will echo my response to Mad Max: Fury Road and interweave my present thoughts on the film with my initial impressions. But I think there was a greater leap in my estimation of the film in question with Fury Road than with 2049; there, I hadn’t fully grasped that I was indeed dealing with a masterpiece, while here, I suspected – I wanted badly to believe – that I was, and the second viewing confirmed that.

As before, I will do my best to avoid spoilers, but if you wish to go into the film knowing as little as possible, and I strongly recommend you do, now is the time to leave.

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SICARIO Review – ***½


Take your pick, they’re both good posters. Better than the movie, even.

After impressing me greatly with the haunting Prisoners and the marvelously maddening Enemy, I was eager to see what Denis Villeneuve would do next. Then, this opened at Cannes, to solid but not outstanding reviews, and the trailers failed to truly excite me. So my level of anticipation dropped accordingly. Then subsequent reviews proved more favorable, so much so that it now sits at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes–and I thought Villeneuve might have done it again after all.

I should have trusted my initial reaction. While not a bad film by any means, Sicario lacks a real reason for existing, and fails to say much about cartels or the War on Drugs that hasn’t been said before, nor does it feature such compelling characters or such dazzling craftsmanship as would compensate. It’s well done in most every aspect, but never takes that vital leap into being something special.

(NOTE: I also saw The Martian this weekend, and quite liked it, but I’d like to see it again before writing my review.)

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We all knew this would be a major Oscar contender from the outset. Last year’s winner for Director (and Picture, and Screenplay) teams up with a cinematographer who’s just won back-to-back Oscars, a star who’s widely considered damnably overdue, a co-star who’s very hot at the moment (and has two other major films this year), and a strong up-and-comer (Domhnall Gleeson). They shoot on location in Canada in the dead of winter, and planned to shoot in sequence (apparently, they weren’t able to), and release the film right in the thick of December.

They know what they’re doing.

And, while I really need to see this trailer in a theater to get the maximum effect, I won’t lie; my interest is being maintained. I could see this being overwrought and too self-serious, but I could also see it being surreal and haunting. It’s a little hard to tell just how good a performance DiCaprio is giving, but I doubt he’ll disappoint. Hopefully future trailers will show more of the rest of the cast, but for now we’ve got Lubezki’s incredible cinematography and Iñárritu’s vivid direction to whet our appetites. The mountain of skulls in particular could be one of the year’s defining images.

I’m predicting many nominations, with Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Editing, Makeup/Hairstyling, Score, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing being the strongest possibilities.

And here we’ve got the latest from my nemesis…David O. fucking Russell. Read on:

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UNBROKEN Review – ***

Not the most widely used poster, but perhaps the most evocative one. (Source)

Not the most widely used poster, but perhaps the most evocative one. (Source)

To see the mixed-to-negative critical response to Unbroken is to be reminded that expectations are brutal, and in less than two weeks, we’ll see if we’re reminded that the lure of Oscar-bait transcends even bad reviews. On the surface, Unbroken would seem to be a sure bet, telling the story of an authentic American legend who was an Olympic athlete, then a solider in WWII, then a POW, and finally a forgiver. Directed by a star making her first foray into epic-scale filmmaking, a script by four renowned writers, and the resources of a major studio–plus a promising young actor in the lead–how could it miss?

By curtailing the full scope of its protagonist’s journey. By not depicting his personal growth, but simply the trials he endured. By failing to embrace the spiritual themes which so clearly run through it.

Unbroken is far from a bad film. But it’s not too close to being a great one, either.

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Oscar Wrap-Up

The moment of triumph.

Well, let’s look and see what went down, shall we?

Best Picture – 12 Years a Slave

Absolutely spot-on. The best of the nominees, basically the best film of the year, an important milestone in Academy history…there was some speculation that Gravity might take this at the last minute, and reports of Academy members who found the film too painful to watch gave cause for concern, but really…doesn’t this feel like the best choice? It does to me. It did to them. Plus, I got to see Steve McQueen literally jump with joy. Perfection.

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Some last-minute Oscar thoughts:

You can get this one right, Academy. Don’t be foolish, now.

Best Picture:

  • American Hustle: Not a bad movie–a pretty good one, to be honest–but it’s “edgy” and “wacky” only by the most white-bread metrics. This winning might be worse than Argo winning, and that was a ridiculous choice.
  • Captain Phillips: A fine thriller. Would’ve actually been a decent contender had they given Greengrass the nomination. But I’m glad it got in.
  • Dallas Buyers Club: Easily the weak link in this category for me. I wasn’t in love with Inside Llewyn Davis, but it should’ve gotten this slot instead.
  • Gravity: I still say it’s basically a theme-park ride classed up a little, but I won’t deny how well-made it was. So I can let it slide.
  • Her: There was actually some concern this wouldn’t make it on. But thankfully, this was one of those years where the best films were so obvious even the Academy couldn’t fuck it up too badly. So they gave this lovely film some attention. Already, with two **** films in the lineup, this year is as good as 2011 and 2012 put together.
  • Nebraska: And baby makes three. After a rough start, it becomes a funny, deeply touching allegory for the death of the small-town Midwest, and a fine showcase for Bruce Dern.
  • Philomena: What seemed on the outside to be a trifle meant to showcase a cutesy Judi Dench performance instead was an effective true story of a woman trying to right a long-buried wrong. It should never win, but I’m cool with it being here.
  • 12 Years a Slave: This is the film that should win. Why? Because it’s the best.
  • The Wolf of Wall Street: Another film that some people thought wouldn’t make it, because it was “too much” for the older members of the Academy (or, really, anyone who liked American Hustle). Thank God it did, though, because it’s vintage Scorsese–and, if you ask me, much better than Hugo. I just wish it had a little more of a chance to win.

5 **** films in one lineup. That’s pretty damn good. And really, as long as American Hustle doesn’t win (or Dallas Buyers Club, but that’s incredibly unlikely), I could live with any outcome. But they really should take 12 Years.

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Longlists to Nominees: Cinematography

It’s time to look at some pretty pictures.

  • All is Lost
  • Computer Chess
  • 47 Ronin
  • The Great Beauty
  • Her
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Prisoners
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • Spring Breakers
  • To the Wonder
  • A Touch of Sin
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Upstream Color

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