Paul’s 2018 Academy Award Predictions

 

 

It’s that time of year again, where Oscar season is upon us and everyone is guessing who they think will be taking home the big awards this year. As I recall, last year I got most of my predictions right, although I’m still blown away how the awards ended last year with the mix up on Best Picture. I want to say that this year doesn’t have as many obvious picks for awards as last year, where many were guaranteed their award before the show even started. This year, it honestly feels like many of these awards deserve to go to many of the nominees.

But let’s see if I can get as many right this year as I did last year. As always, I’m skipping the Shorts, Documentaries and Foreign Film awards, since I’ve never seen any of those nominees, so my predictions would just be a random guess.

Best Visual Effects:

Who Should Win: “Blade Runner 2049”

Who I Want to Win: “Kong: Skull Island”

Who Will Win: “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Lots of monkeys and apes in the visual effects category this year. The most visually stunning film of the year was certainly “Blade Runner,” but in terms of effects created for the screen, it’s hard to go against the one that made an entire army and civilization of apes. This award usually goes to the film that creates an entire world out of CGI, and even though I didn’t care for the film, the one that did this the best this year was “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

Best Costume Design:

Who Should Win: “Phantom Thread”

Who I Want to Win: “Phantom Thread”

Who Will Win: “Phantom Thread”

I feel like this one is a given. The whole film is based around costumes and clothes, so of course it has to have the best design award locked up. Even though I don’t know the first thing about fashion, I do know that if this award goes to any film other than “Phantom Thread,” it’ll be a travesty.

Best Makeup and Hair:

Who Should Win: “Darkest Hour”

Who I Want to Win: “Darkest Hour”

Who Will Win: “Darkest Hour”

Another given. Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill wouldn’t have been half as good if the make-up on him wasn’t convincing. He disappeared in that role, and a lot of that is thanks to the make-up.

 

 

Best Original Song:

Who Should Win: “Remember Me” from “Coco”

Who I Want to Win: “Remember Me” from “Coco”

Who Will Win: “Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall”

“Remember Me” is the song I heard in a movie in 2017 that really stood out to me, and it really left an emotional impact every time it was used in “Coco,” so I honestly hope that it wins this award. That being said, they really love to give this award to big-name musicians and Common wrote “Stand Up for Something,” so I can see it winning this award.

Best Original Score:

Who Should Win: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Who I Want to Win: “The Shape of Water”

Who Will Win: “Dunkirk”

This one is a bit trickier than I thought. One the one hand, the scores of “Three Billboard” and “Shape of Water” truly compliment the actions and mood of the film perfectly, but “Dunkirk”‘s score added the emotional and dramatic punch that the otherwise silent film needed. “Dunkirk” wouldn’t have been half as powerful if the score wasn’t there to amplify the visuals. So, for me at least, I think that’ll give “Dunkirk” the win here.

Best Production Design:

Who Should Win: “Blade Runner 2049”

Who I Want to Win: “The Shape of Water”

Who Will Win: “Blade Runner 2049”

I honestly want “Shape of Water” to win everything that it’s nominated for, but there’s no doubt in my mind that “Blade Runner” will walk away with this one, for making an fully convincing depiction of the future in all of lavish and grotesque details.

Best Sound Mixing:

Who Should Win: “Dunkirk”

Who I Want to Win: “Baby Driver”

Who Will Win: “Blade Runner 2049”

For the award given to the best creation of its sound effects, I would love to see “Baby Driver” walk away with some kind of award after how well it used its sound effects. But I can see “Blade Runner” winning many, if not all, of the technical awards this year much like “Mad Max: Fury Road” did a few years ago.

Best Sound Editing:

Who Should Win: “Dunkirk”

Who I Want to Win: “The Shape of Water”

Who Will Win: “Blade Runner 2049”

As for the best use of merging those sound effects into a convincing and artistic film, I stick with what I said above and say that “Blade Runner” will win this one as well. Although, I would like to think that “Dunkirk” has a better chance of winning this award than Sound Mixing.

 

 

Best Editing:

Who Should Win: “Baby Driver”

Who I Want to Win: “The Shape of Water”

Who Will Win: “Dunkirk”

This might be the one I’ve hard the hardest time deciding, because I can’t think of a whole of outstanding achievements in editing this year. “Baby Driver” does come to mind, but I don’t think it was popular enough to get the win here. If I had to pick one though, I do think “Dunkirk” would be the hardest of the nominated films to edit, so I’ll pick that to win.

Best Cinematography:

Who Should Win: “Blade Runner 2049”

Who I Want to Win: “The Shape of Water”

Who Will Win: “Blade Runner 2049”

Roger Deakens finally wins the award for Best Cinematography on his most visually stunning film to date. The award has alluded him after creating visual masterpieces like “No Country For Old Men” and “Skyfall,” but there’s no doubt in my mind that “Blade Runner 2049” is the most visually pleasing film of 2017 and that he deserves to win this award.

Best Original Screenplay:

Who Should Win: “Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Who I Want to Win: “The Shape of Water”

Who Will Win: “Lady Bird”

Tons of great original ideas and screenplays in 2017, with just about all of them being true stand outs, which makes it hard to pick just one. My gut is telling me to stick with “Lady Bird” though, since it felt the most authentic and natural of all the nominees, especially when it came to the dialogue.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Who Should Win: “Logan”

Who I Want to Win: “The Disaster Artist”

Who Will Win: “Molly’s Game”

I’m not entirely sure about this one. I really want “The Disaster Artist” to walk away with the award, especially since this is its only nomination, but its not mainstream enough to get it. The voters will immediately be against “Logan” for being a super hero movie, so it won’t win. That leads me to believe that Aaron Sorkin will get the award again for “Molly’s Game.”

 

 

Best Animated Feature:

Who Should Win: “Coco”

Who I Want to Win: “Coco”

Who Will Win: “Coco”

It’s Pixar…and one of the few good animated films of the year…and I’m upset that “The Lego Batman Movie” didn’t get nominated for this one. Does the Academy just despise these Lego movies, or do they just not see them as animation?

Best Director:

Who Should Win: Greta Gerwig for “Lady Bird”

Who I Want to Win: Guillermo del Toro for “The Shape of Water”

Who Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for “The Shape of Water”

And so we come the biggest awards of the night. Best Director really comes down to either Greta Gerwig or Guillermo del Toro, for different reasons. This is Gerwig’s directorial debut and she really knocked it out of the park on this one. While del Toro created this stunning fantasy exactly the way that he wanted to make it. I will say that I’ve read articles about how everyone’s convinced that del Toro is going to win this award, mostly for being snubbed back when “Pan’s Labyrinth” came out, so it makes me very happy to say that I think Guillermo will win this one.

Best Supporting Actress:

Who Should Win: Laurie Metcalf for “Lady Bird”

Who I Want to Win: Laurie Metcalf for “Lady Bird”

Who Will Win: Laurie Metcalf for “Lady Bird”

Really the only obvious choice out of the acting categories this year. While I think there’s a slight chance that Allison Janney for “I, Tonya” could win this award, Laurie Metcalf was the stand out performance in a film full of stand out performances. She wins from sheer honesty alone.

Best Supporting Actor:

Who Should Win: Christopher Plummer for “All the Money in the World”

Who I Want to Win: Sam Rockwell for “Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Who Will Win: Sam Rockwell for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Sam Rockwell is one of the most underrated yet passionate actors in Hollywood and I would love for him to keep getting more recognition. His performance in “Three Billboard” was one of the most mesmerizing roles I’ve ever seen, simultaneously making me love and hate this man. That is an unbelievable accomplishment, and he deserves the award for that alone.

Best Actress:

Who Should Win: Frances McDormand for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Who I Want to Win: Sally Hawkins for “The Shape of Water”

Who Will Win: Frances McDormand for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

This is the most difficult award for me to pick for this year’s Oscars, because I want Sally Hawkins to win with every fiber of my being. Everything is telling me that she deserves to win for giving honestly the best performance I’ve seen in the last five years from anybody. I would love it if she won…but I don’t think she will, not when Frances McDormand is her competition. I think it’ll come down to those two, but in the end, McDormand’s role speaks to the current state of our world and that’s going to play a big factor for the voters.

Best Actor:

Who Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya for “Get Out”

Who I Want to Win: Gary Oldman for “Darkest Hour”

Who Will Win: Gary Oldman for “Darkest Hour”

Much like what Eddie Redmayne did in “The Theory of Everything,” Gary Oldman disappeared in his performance as he portrayed one of the most famous and well-known Englishman of the all time. While I think Daniel Kaluuya and Daniel Day-Lewis have a chance to win, it’s going to be very hard to compete against Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill.

 

 

Best Picture:

Who Should Win: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Who I Want to Win: “The Shape of Water”

Who Will Win: “Lady Bird”

And so we come to the biggest award of the night…hopefully there isn’t another screw up like last years’ awards.

Honestly, there are plenty of reasons to say why films like “Call Me by Your Name,” “Dunkirk,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards” should walk away with Best Picture, so that makes picking a clear winner very difficult.

I’ll start by saying films like “Darkest Hour,” “The Post” and “Phantom Thread” are just happy to be included. I don’t think any of those three have a chance at winning Best Picture.

“Call Me by Your Name” is vastly different from any other film nominated as well as any other coming-of-age tale I’ve ever seen. It has a chance, but a slim one, since I don’t think the Academy would have two films about homosexuality win Best Picture in back-to-back years (since “Moonlight” won last year).

Everyone loves a good war film, and “Dunkirk” might be the best war film since “Apocalypse Now.” But the Academy has yet to recognize Christopher Nolan as anything more than a big-budget popcorn filmmaker, so I think that’ll hurt “Dunkirk” for this award.

While I think “The Shape of Water” is the best film of the year and one of the best theatrical releases in many years, I don’t think the Academy shares my enthusiasm. The Academy rarely goes for fantasies, and it’s even rarer when they go for a horror film. So one that combines those two genres is even less likely to win. It would be stellar if it won, and I would be cheering all year if it did, but I just don’t see it happening.

“Get Out” has a real chance of winning this award and it would not surprise me if it did. But if there’s any mark against “Get Out,” it is the February release. If “Get Out” came out in October or November of 2017, I think it would absolutely win Best Picture. But because it was released in February of last year, most of the voters will have forgotten about it by now. I think it has the best chance of any of the films I’ve covered so far, but it’s just barely edged out by the final two films – “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

“Lady Bird” is here because it is the most authentic, honest and respectful film of 2017, while “Three Billboards” is a fiery passion piece that, at times, reflects the mood and anger many people in this country have right now against their freedom of speech and law enforcement. That makes this a very difficult choice between the two. I can see both of them winning Best Picture over the other, but my gut is telling me that “Three Billboards” might have rubbed some people the wrong way and that might hurt its chances. Therefore, I think this years’ winner for Best Picture will be “Lady Bird.”

Honestly, this has been one of the better years for cinema in a while and many of the films nominated for these awards absolutely deserve to win, which makes the competition for these awards to great this year. I eagerly wait for this years’ Academy Awards and can’t wait to see how my picks and predictions compare to what actually happens. Here’s hoping that the ceremony itself is as memorable as last years’, just not quite in the same way.

 

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Movie Review – “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (2017)

 

 

I’m not entirely sure if I should consider “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” as being nostalgic or not. While it is a sequel to the 1995 film with Robin Williams, outside of a few minor references here and there, it doesn’t really feel like a sequel since it takes everything in a vastly different direction. The original film brought the game to the real world and treated its massive epic scale as if it had no consequences. The new film is less about the game and more about trying to turn make a video game story into a movie plot.

Strangely enough, I remember watching “Jumanji” plenty of times when I was a kid, but never really liking it. The film was just something that could be put on in the background and was sometimes enjoyable because of Robin Williams, but that was about it. So even if you could consider this movie nostalgic, it didn’t work on me at all. “Welcome to the Jungle” did not make me pin for the old movie, nor did it harken back to my childhood, because both films don’t feel connected at all.

“Welcome to the Jungle” picks up right where the first “Jumanji” left off, as someone discovers the haunted board game on the beach. The father gives the game to his son Alex, but is turned off by it being a board game and not a video game. But it turns out Jumanji is a vengeful and all-knowing piece of wood and magically turns itself into a video game cartridge that sucks Alex inside the game.

Cut to present day when four vastly different teenagers are sent to detention and find the Jumanji video game. Not knowing what awaits them, they all select their avatars and get sucked inside as well, turning into their selected characters, including the muscle-head Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), the tiny yet intelligent Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), the cartographer Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) and the commando dance fighter Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Together, these four have to overcome their differences and personal problems to make it out of the video game before they lose their three lives and get a game over.

 

 

The best part of this movie is watching actors like Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black act like teenagers in their own bodies, always astounded at the things they can or cannot do. In the real world, Dwayne Johnson’s player is a guy afraid of everything, always letting that fear consume him. So it’s pretty good seeing someone the size of the Rock always acting like the tiniest animal is a tiger ready to pounce. But the best one of these is Jack Black, whose player is a self-centered teenage girl. Not only is it hilarious to see Jack Black acting like a girl who loves her body, but this leads to some of the best jokes when she has to learn to go to the bathroom as a man. She also goes through the most personal growth, learning that life shouldn’t just be about looking beautiful and her phone, so that’s a big plus as well.

Other than that, “Welcome to the Jungle” is all about mocking and adapting to the many tropes of video games. From in-game cut scenes, to extra lives, to character attributes and weaknesses, to everything being broken up into separate missions and the non-playable characters only having a few dialogue options, this movie goes all in on video games. Though I do find this odd, considering that the Jumanji cartridge was untouched since 1995 when the most complex games were “Super Mario 64” and “Street Fighter II,” yet this game has as many intricate parts and choices as games like “Skyrim” and “Grand Theft Auto V.”

 

 

And if that last paragraph scared you off with all my video game lingo, then just know that “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” certainly isn’t for you.

In any case, this film is a fine piece of dumb mindless action with some decent comedy mixed in. It really isn’t anything special, but I don’t regret seeing it. The film looks nice with its jungle backdrop and makes you feel like you’re going along on this video game adventure. The character development for these teens feels natural and the whole body swap angle is used well throughout the film, especially with the teenage girl being in the body of Jack Black. This was a fun ride, but probably not one I’ll be checking out again any time soon.

Final Grade: C+

 

Movie Review – “The Shape of Water” (2017)

 

 

One of the reasons I adore cinema so much is because filmmakers can use it as a platform to say anything they want about the world. Whether they want to talk about how the world needs journalism in “The Post,” make a statement about growing up in a Post-9/11 world in “Lady Bird,” or something as simple and relatable as growing out of adolescence and discovering yourself in “Call Me by Your Name,” film can be a gateway into our society as much as it is into our hearts and souls. But with all of these profound statements and new perspectives on life, we so often forget just how beautiful and joyous film can be at its most basic and simple level.

Sometimes you don’t need to remind the audience of the world we live in or our dilemmas. There are times when the most powerful films are the ones that remind us that there is magic and wonders in this world, and we’re watching one of those right now.

For this reason, I have no problem saying that Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is not only the best film of the year, but one of the greatest fantasies of all time. This is a film built on passion and raw unbridled love for movies in its purest form. Every shot of this film is gorgeous, perfectly thought-out to the point of being visual poetry. The music is phenomenal as it adds an even bigger emotional weight to the story, which is where fantasy and reality blend together flawlessly in a way that only del Toro can. Even performances that range from stellar to some of the most emotionally captivating I’ve ever seen. “The Shape of Water” is an excellent example of why we adore cinema.

The film follows Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute who works as a janitor at a secret government lab in Baltimore. Even though she doesn’t have the most glamorous life, she still makes the most of it, living above a movie theater while spending time with her elderly neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) as they watch classic movies and television, and enjoying her conversations with co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) while trying to master the dance moves she sees on television.

But her life becomes very difference when the very controlling Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a top secret specimen into the lab that he’s brought all the way from South America. Elisa quickly finds out this specimen is alive and intelligent, and she develops a close friendship with the creature (Doug Jones) despite the watchful menacing eye of Colonel Strickland.

 

I would describe “The Shape of Water” as “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” meets “Edward Scissorhands,” with Guillermo del Toro’s unique film style for blending reality and fantasy in a fairy tale-like way. The film harkens back to a time long since passed, admiring some aspects like the simplicity of the time, without shying away from some of the harsher uglier parts of the early 1960s. While at other times, there are moments of true horror that one can only get from a monster movie, blurring the line between whether the true monster is man or creature. All the while never losing its love and passion for movies and its style.

The main reason I think “The Shape of Water” works is due to Sally Hawkins’ performance as Elisa and how she gives the most emotionally gripping and raw performance I’ve ever seen. Every scene Hawkins is in, she is acting her heart out and without ever saying a word. It feels like a silent film performance but with far more emotional weight than any silent role I can remember. There were at least three scenes that almost made me cry in this film, and it was always because of Sally Hawkins breath-taking job as showing us a woman that just wants to have her chance at happiness. Whether she’s bursting with joy, upset beyond all reason, or wallowing in despair, Hawkins gives this role everything she has.

Then again, every single performance in “The Shape of Water” is a standout. Richard Jenkins is lovable in his attempt at trying to find some sort of meaning in his old age, Octavia Spencer gives us her usual fiery attitude that I can’t help but love, even Michael Stuhlbarg plays a scientist who wants to protect the creature and he has a great duality to his character.

 

 

But the two other stand outs are Michael Shannon and Doug Jones. Shannon is ruthless, selfish and completely absorbed in his own ego that it makes his evil actions just as entertaining to watch as Hawkins’ performance. Strickland is one of the best villains I’ve seen in a long time and is the slimy glue that holds this film together. Jones plays the creature and adds a charm to the character that this story truly needed. Even under all of that makeup and latex, Jones creates something that is both imposing and surprisingly kind.

Overall, I love every second of “The Shape of Water.” It is bursting with vibrant and colorful storytelling that blends together fantasy, horror and reality in a way that leaves me speechless. The film is ruthless and gross at times, but packs just enough of an emotional punch to make those moments stand out even more. These are all some of the best performances I’ve seen all year and they make this story of love and passion in the face of a ruthless world so much more powerful than it already was. While this may not be a film for everyone, there’s no denying that “The Shape of Water” passion for filmmaking will leave an impression on most audiences as it did with me.

 

 

Final Grade: A+

 

Movie Review – “Call Me by Your Name” (2017)

 

 

I have never seen something quite like “Call Me by Your Name” before that made it hard to turn away from. While there have been plenty of coming-of-age tales and movies that depict a summer romance, “Call Me by Your Name” not only goes all-in on the lust and passion these characters feel for each other, but I’ve honestly never seen something like that done with a homosexual relationship. This might turn some people away, but for those who want to see a film give us every bit of love and desire it can muster then this film will not disappoint.

 

Set in Northern Italy in 1983, the film follows 17-year old Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) on summer vacation with his parents out in the country. Elio’s father is a professor of archaeology and invites American graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) to live with them for the summer and help with the professor’s work. Elio and Oliver initally butt heads due to their vastly different personalities, but eventually develop a solid friendship that very quickly becomes much more than that.

 

If there is one word that describes “Call Me by Your Name” it would be desire. While Elio is an introvert and Oliver is extreme extrovert, it is clear that both of them want more out of life and are looking for the opportunity to explore everything that it has to offer. And once they’ve had a taste of passion and lust, they can hardly contain themselves. They treat life like it’s one big firework and give it everything they have, even if it all explodes at once. These characters are curious and horny, which makes their quiet and tender scenes so fascinating to observe.

 

 

 

I have never seen romance done quite like this before in a movie, where so much heat and appetite is on display, but they’re so gentle with each other. We all have an idea of what love looks like in the movies, and “Call Me by Your Name” turns that on its head in more ways than one. From the way Elio and Oliver talk about classical music and what they want to do with the summer to the kind way they touch and hold one another, this is not what you would expect out of an Italian romance.

 

For this reason, I would certainly recommend “Call Me by Your Name.” It respects the different ways these characters show their affection for each other. It also gives us some great acting from Armie Hammer and a breakthrough role for Timothee Chalamet as a confused quiet boy who goes through one of the most difficult and painful paths a teenager can take and comes out of it a much stronger man. I respect “Call Me by Your Name” for the many chances it takes and its approach to the Hollywood romance, and this is certainly a film worth your time.

 

Final Grade: B

Movie Review – “Phantom Thread” (2017)

 

 

This is one of the few times I went into a movie knowing absolutely nothing about it. All I knew was that Paul Thomas Anderson, the mind behind “There Will Be Blood,” “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia,” directed it and that this is supposedly Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film role. What I got out of this was a film that didn’t immediately seem attractive to me by setting it in the world of women’s dressmaking (if there’s one thing in this world I don’t care to learn about, it is fashion), yet “Phantom Thread” takes a strange psychological thriller turn that almost feels like a dark modern fairy tale.

In a odd way, you have to respect “Phantom Thread” for taking a subject that would turn most people away and making it into a film that’s hard to take your eyes off of. P.T. Anderson does this by creating an unsettling atmosphere and giving the film a meticulously slow pace, almost like we can see the rusty gears in these characters heads turning methodically. It also helps that Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance adds a layer of quiet class, while still coming off as questionably creepy when left to his own devices. In fact, that’s the word I would use to describe “Phantom Thread” – creepy.

Set in 1950s England, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is one of the most prestigious dress makers in the world, crafting all sorts of gorgeous ball gowns and wedding dresses for the most elegant women around the globe. Reynolds is a skilled designer who likes to keep to himself and his work, but is also very controlling and set in his ways. He keeps having dreams about his mother watching over him from heaven, causing him to lose focus on his work. His equally controlling sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) orders him to take a break and stay out in their old home on the country side, which he does and has a chance encounter with a waitress at the local restaurant, Alma (Vicky Krieps). The two hit it off, even after he introduces her to the world of fashion, but things very quickly become tense and awkward as their lives become more and more integrated.

 

 

A lot of the power in “Phantom Thread” comes from what isn’t said or addressed, or rather what is said through the fashion and the quiet distance between these characters. Reynolds and Alma’s relationship is one built on passion and admiration, but at the same time they hardly address the hidden contempt they feel for each other outside of the dresses and garments.

But the strangest relationship of all is between Reynolds and his sister Cyril and how it comes across like they share the same mind at times. How there’s this undeniable love and trust between the two of them, built on years of growth and business, yet at the same time an undertone that there might be something more than that, which goes unaddressed, only adding to the creepy factor as Cyril looks at Alma like she’s contemplating how to kill her.

Oddly enough, the main reason “Phantom Thread” works as a strange eerie thriller is because of P.T. Anderson’s direction. Even though he’s never made a film quite like this, only he could handle this subject with such personal passion and yet a flawed hubris.

 

 

He always paints his characters in such a selfish light that makes it hard to root for them, like Daniel Planview in “There Will Be Blood” or Frank Mackey in “Magnolia,” but at the same time there’s an undeniable strive for greatness in all his characters that make them so human. Reynolds Woodcock and Alma are the essence of that, set in a cutthroat world while the two make that world more difficult for the other.

Overall, “Phantom Thread” was not at all what I expected it to be, but was enthralling nonetheless. The atmosphere is toxic and unnerving, and the slow pacing only makes the mood more unsettling. The three lead performances are subtle when they need to be, and over-the-top to make the more dramatic moments stand out. Anderson’s direction is the icing on the cake to make this the best thriller in recent memory. Even if you know nothing about this movie like I did, or turned away because of the subject matter, I would suggest giving “Phantom Thread” another chance to impress you.

 

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “Darkest Hour” (2017)

 

 

I get a similar feeling about “Darkest Hour” as I did with “The Theory of Everything” – a historical biopic about one of the most fascinating men in the history of modern society that is held together almost entirely by one stellar performance and is otherwise an above-average movie-going experience. Like with the tale of Stephen Hawking’s youth and journey through science and faith being bound by Eddie Redmayne’s performance, “Darkest Hour” gives us a bleak tale about Winston Churchill’s struggle to keep the British empire together when it needs hope the most and its biggest claim to fame is Gary Oldman’s role as Churchill and how he practically disappears in Churchill’s enormously impressive shoes.

But outside of Oldman’s performance, there really isn’t much to “Darkest Hour.” While the atmosphere is heavy and filled with a sense of looming dread and the dialogue can be fun and inventive, the cinematography is drab, the pacing is tedious, and the acting outside of Oldman ranges from okay to passable. The main reason to watch “Darkest Hour” is to see just how Gary Oldman was able to pull this performance off and to hear all the witty and intelligent dialogue he has.

Set in May 1940 as the Nazis take hold over France and begin to take over Western Europe, the British Parliament grows more worried every day that their current prime minister is unfit to lead when war is on its way and demand that he resign so they can choose a new prime minister. After much deliberation, Parliament reluctantly chooses Winston Churchill (Oldman) to be the new prime minister, because he’s the only one the opposition would approve of. Churchill, being a difficult, stubborn man who does everything mostly for himself and his pride, does not want to be prime minister, especially during a time of war. But, with no other choice and England running out of time, Winston agrees despite not having the support he truly needs to succeed.

 

 

Oldman is brilliant as Winston Churchill, practically disappearing into his role and showing us a man who was far more than just inspirational quotes. I will give the movie credit for taking a difficult man who refuses to change and turning him into such a likable, relatable character, and I feel like we can thank Oldman’s subtle gestures and fiery moments for that. Even if I wasn’t able to understand every mumbly word he said, the passion in the way he talked and the emotions on his face conveyed everything he was trying to say, from anger and heartbreak to compassion and trust.

There is certainly a quiet power to “Darkest Hour” and how it perfectly reflected the mood and atmosphere of England at that time, while also showing what Winston Churchill brought to that mood. Some of the better moments in this movie are shots and scenes of average people walking in the street and seeing how they’re taking this news, to see how the war is affecting the homeland and its people, wondering if they’ll even have a homeland soon enough. Churchill’s secretary, Ms. Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) adds a breath of fresh air to the film by keeping it grounded in reality, reminding us that there is more at stake here than just faceless soldiers and one man’s pride.

 

 

However, the pacing does really bring “Darkest Hour” down, as it slows some scenes down to a crawl. Some scenes go on far longer than need to, like many of the encounters with the former prime minister, while others repeat many of the same beats that make the film feel repetitive at times. While the pacing starts out nicely, building up Churchill’s reveal and his rise to power, it does get steadily worse as the film goes on.

Overall, “Darkest Hour” is an above-average war film that analyzes the political and domestic effect WWII had on Britain, bolstered by a top-class performance from Gary Oldman. Even at its worst, the film is still serviceable as a bio-pic of Winston Churchill. While it can be bleak and unforgiving at times, it offers a harsh look at Britain that is often overlooked, which makes this one worth seeing.

Final Grade: C+

 

Movie Review – “Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters” (2017)

 

 

So yeah, there’s a new Godzilla movie out on Netflix. Not only that, it is the first animated Godzilla film and it is the first part in a trilogy of movies that takes a drastically different turn with the series.

So why do I feel like the first installment, “Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters,” was a bit of a disappointment? Well, more accurately, the word I would use to describe this film is “underwhelming.”

As the first part of a trilogy, it does its job of setting up this whole new world of monsters and the conflict our characters face. But it does everything so by the numbers that it doesn’t feel like it has any life to it, especially from these dull and rather emotionless characters. And then there’s Godzilla, who doesn’t really do anything Godzilla-related other than be big and imposing. They could have literally removed the word “Godzilla” from this movie and nothing would have been lost, which is extremely disappointing after “Shin Godzilla” breathed new life into the franchise.

In the late 20th century, the planet is overrun with giant monsters (all of which are Toho monsters from other films including “Godzilla 2000” and “Dogora”), causing the governments of the world to throw everything they have to defeat these monsters. Eventually though, they’re all defeated by the most powerful monster of all – Godzilla. In a desperate attempt to stop the final monster, the world leaders unleash everything they have at Godzilla, launching nearly 200 nuclear missiles at him – they don’t even leave a scratch on him.

 

 

Since their last hope failed, Godzilla now roams the planet unopposed, destroying everything in his path without remorse or concern. With the after effects of 200 nuclear missiles looming in the atmosphere and no chance of defeating Godzilla, the human race flees the Earth in a desperate attempt to locate a suitable planet elsewhere, leaving Godzilla the lone ruler of Earth.

All of this is told to us through flashbacks in the first few minutes of the movie, along with humans getting aid from alien races that also want to call Earth their home and want to fight Godzilla. Honestly, this is the most interesting part of the movie – simply hearing about how the human race collapsed in the face of giant monsters and their impossible fight against Godzilla. I want to see that as the movie, at least then we’d get to see Godzilla fight monsters like Dogora and Dagarha from “Rebirth of Mothra II.”

Instead, what we get is a hard cut to 20 years in the future, when the surviving human race makes it to a planet they always thought was going to be their new home, only to find out the surface of this planet is uninhabitable. With the ship running low on supplies and fuel, the leaders calculate that it would be impossible to find another suitable planet before they all died from starvation or running out of oxygen. They come to one conclusion – return to Earth via a subspace warp jump and hope that conditions have returned to normal and that Godzilla is long gone.

So now Godzilla is taking technology directly from Star Trek? I’m surprisingly okay with this development.

As it turns out, the scientists miscalculated how much time would have passed while they were in subspace. They thought only 1,000 years would pass, but it ends up being around 20,000 years and the Earth has changed significantly. The surface is still inhabitable, but it is covered in a thick fog (that turns out to be plant spores that release radiation into the atmosphere) and Godzilla-like dragons fly throughout the skies.

 

 

The whole idea of this trilogy seems to be that, while leaving Godzilla unattended on Earth for 20,000 years, he has become the top of the food chain and now the planet bends to his presence. An interesting concept that the film tries to explore, especially when we learn more about how Godzilla has changed the course of the planet and what that has done to him. But they don’t put a big focus on this, instead going for the humans’ struggle to retake the planet and their battle plan against Godzilla.

Everything about these characters feels utterly generic that it feels forced. Our protagonist is an angsty young man that wants revenge against Godzilla for killing his parents and constantly makes dumb speeches about how humanity needs to fight Godzilla to get our home back.

Great, another young adult main character that exists only to even the score against a giant fire-breathing monster! It’s not like that’s exactly the same motivation for most protagonists in the Heisei and Millennium series. Oh wait…

I’m also not a fan of the animation style at all. Everything about it feels block and unnatural, like everyone is a computer with very robotic unrealistic movements. It’s like I’m watching old PlayStation 1 video game cut scenes, not an animated film that came out in 2017. I realize this CG-style is faster and cheaper than hand-drawn animation, but this style has no polish or life to it. None of this film looks good, it is an ugly CG-filled mess.

Now that I’ve officially looked at every Godzilla film and ranked them from best to worst, you’re probably wondering where I would rank “Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.” Well, after watching this film only once, I would say this film is probably somewhere in the mid-20s, right around “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla” and “Godzilla 2000.” It is not the worst thing that involves Godzilla, certainly not insultingly bad like the 1998 American film or “Godzilla: Final Wars,” but it is so bland and uninspired that I can’t say this is a good Godzilla film either.

 

 

Granted, this is just the first installment in a trilogy that tells one continuous story, so we’ve only seen a third of the full picture. For the time being, I’ll cut “Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters” some slack, especially with a reveal at the end that was genuinely shocking, and wait patiently for the final two installments. However, I still feel like the opening flashback was the best part of the film and that should have been the focus of this first entry.

My biggest complaint is that it doesn’t seem to care about what made the Godzilla franchise so endearing and memorable, for-going most monster interactions and instead tell a forgettable story told in the most unimaginative ways using piss-poor animation. If you’re a long time Godzilla fan like me, or even a casual fan of monsters or Godzilla, you probably won’t care for “Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.” Here’s hoping the rest of the trilogy gets better.

Final Grade: C-