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Logan–No Spoiler Review

logan2Last night we watched Logan. We made a horrible mistake by watching the late showing because the theater was filled with rude teenagers. I need to watch my movies when the other old people watch them–in daylight hours!

The movie was very good. In trying to organize my thoughts, it is perhaps best that I just make a list.

1. The movie earned its “R” rating.

The violence is brutal. In other X-Men movies Wolverine tends to go for chest kills, but I’d say ninety percent of his kills here are either decapitations or head shots. The violence is comparable to a slasher horror film or the first thirty minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Seeing young children engage in violent activity was also disturbing to me.

The language is also strong. I think this is one of the weakest points of the film. The writers use F-bombs galore to communicate despair, anger, disappointment, and power. Smarter writing could have done that without resorting to this tactic. By contrast, other X-Men films have used strong language sparingly, which makes it more effective. The movie also has a rather gratuitous flashing of boobies.

2. The movie is not a super-hero movie.

If you come into this film expecting typical superhero fare, you’ll leave disappointed (like I think most of the teenagers we saw it with) because it is not that kind of movie. It is not about saving the world or even saving the day. The movie is about aging, dying, and the pain of regret as a person works through the knowledge they are past their prime. Logan’s character moves from one who has given up to one is faced with continuing to despair or to make a difference.

3. I loved the homages.

There are two specific homages that caught my attention. First, the use of X-Men comic books as as storyline was brilliant. These are not real world comics, but invented comics (as I understand it) for the movie universe. That X-Men comics exist in the X-Men universe is awesome. I perceive it to be a stand in for all the previous movies, with the hint that those stories were glamorized versions of what ‘really’ happened. This movie pretends to let us behind the curtain to see the nitty gritty of who these characters really are, the price they paid, and the tragedy of their existence.

The second homage is to the old western “Shane.” In fact, there are several scenes that reminds me of that old movie, besides the two overt references. One is a precious seen midway through the movie in a hotel room and the other is at the very end. I remember watching that movie with my grandmother many years ago, and I am remember showing it my daughters. They argued with me for days as to whether or not Shane died as he rode away. Of course he did.

4. The religious imagery is off the charts.

Despite its well earned “R” rating, the movie has intense spiritual references and imagery. In many ways Logan’s character is one who has lost his faith, and Professor X is the one who, despite his own difficulties, has been tasked with helping him on that journey. Woven into this tapestry of faith questions is the lingering mutant question–have human beings tampered with God’s creation so much that we have negated something he intended? In this scenario, mutants perhaps stand in as a metaphor for diversity and pluralism whereas corporations and governments seek to enforce uniformity and conformity.

Part of this is the title credits. Hang out and listen to the Johnny Cash song “The Man Comes Around” which is a very Christian song about the apocalypse. I expected the other Johnny Cash song, “Hurt” based on the trailer (which I have embedded below) but this was even more delightful.

5. Patrick Stewart might be nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this role.

Stewart is like wine and cheese. He gets better with age. To me he will always be Captain Picard. His best turn ever is The Inner Light, but here he is amazing. Uncanny, even.

6. There are may themes buried into this movie.

Look for generational change, cultural degradation,lawlessness, corporate oligarchy, immigration, lost childhood, genetic testing, GMO, and child exploitation. There are others, but these stand out. Usually in a movie this many subplots is pollution on the brain, but in Logan it works.

I think there is at least one more theme in addition to these. That theme is reconciliation. Logan must reconcile–with Charles, with himself, with the X-Men, and with his fate.

Oscar Predictions 2017

Oscar is fickle, and famously difficult to predict. But that will not stop me from trying, anyway. mv5bmzuzndm2nzm2mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntm3ntg4ote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_


Best Picture

The nominees are Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, Hell or High Water, La La Land, Lion, Manchester By The Sea, and Moonlight.

I would like for Arrival, Lion, Hacksaw Ridge, or Hidden Figures to win. I don’t think any of them will. Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight are the arthousish favorites, but I don’t think those will win either. Hollywood loves itself more than anything else, and that is why La La Land will win. I am four of the last five on this, with the only recent year I was wrong being the dreaded Birdman year. I am still angry that Birdman won.  For a complete summary of my take on all the best picture nominees, click here.

Lead Actor

The nominees are Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), and Denzel Washington (Fences).

Let’s narrow this down. Gosling can’t win because Emma Stone upstaged him in every scene they were in. Casey Affleck can’t win because his character was not that complicated. Viggo Mortensen–just no. No.  So that leaves Garfield and Washington (sounds like a Presidential election, doesn’t it?) to consider. I think Garfield has a punchers chance, but Denzel Washington wins this one.

Lead Actress

The nominees are Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Ruth Negga (Loving), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Emma Stone (La La Land), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins).

Disclaimer–I didn’t seen Elle. I can’t find it anywhere. That doesn’t keep me from saying Ruth Negga should win this award, hands down. Her work in Loving was beyond superlatives. Portman and Streep were great in their movies, but not even in the same universe as Negga. Emma Stone could win, because La La Land is so beloved and Emma Stone did a great job in that movie, but I think it should go to Negga because of the beautiful way she played such a complicated character.

Supporting Actor

The nominees are Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea), Dev Patel (Lion), and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals).

Disclaimer: I didn’t see Nocturnal Animals.

I’d like Jeff Bridges to win, just because he plays a Texas Ranger so well, but I don’t think he will. I think this award goes to Mahershala Ali, and that is okay with me because he did a fantastic job in Moonlight.

Supporting Actress

The nominees are Viola Davis (Fences), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), and Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea).

First, Nicole Kidman doesn’t belong on this list. Second, Oscar got the wrong woman from Hidden Figures. It should have been Taraji P. Henson who got the nomination. Third, Viola Davis should be nominated for lead actress, not supporting actress.

The winner should be Viola Davis, without any other discussion.

Director

Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival), Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Damien Chazelle (La La Land) Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight).

The big story here is Mel Gibson. It seems like his time in exile might be over. He will not win, though. I would give the award to Villeneuve for Arrival, but the winner will be Chazelle for La La Land.


Okay, those are my picks for the big categories. You know I’ll have the popcorn popped and the red Kool-Aid a plenty Sunday night.

 

 

Oscar Themes-2017

One of my favorite things to do is watch the best picture nominees and see what themes emerge from the collective whole of the movies. For me, as one who is a social commentator, it gives powerful insight into the things our society is thinking as a group. This year was no different.


Theme One: The Distressed Mother

It is easier to find which movie doesn’t have a distressed mother figure. La La Land is too self absorbed to care about family, but aside from that, every film has it. Arrival is probably the best look at it, but Moonlight, Fences, Lion, and certainly Manchester By The Sea feature this concept of a mother in some level of distress attempting to make things right or fix things.370c71c900000578-3732122-image-m-106_1470775629369

Theme Two: The Boy Looking For Himself

imagesAnd yeah, this theme is integrally connected to Theme One. This years Oscars could be called “Mother and Son” year. Specifically, on the boys side, is the two brothers in Hell or High Water, the uncle and nephew in Manchester, Moonlight is all about a man’s self discovery from childhood, and Hacksaw Ridge is the main characters intense guilt over his childhood, and the fight to be both like his dad but not like his dad.

Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud.

Theme Three: People of Color

In case you didn’t know it, Oscar has had a problem the last few years with the accusations of being too “white” in the nominations. It was a legitimate complaint and I have noted it in the past. This year compensates. Somewhat. Of the nine films nominated, four feature people of color exclusively. Add “Loving” in the mix, and you get five major Oscar films that are ethnically diverse.unknown

The problem I have, is that with the exception of Moonlight and Lion, all of these movies are ‘historical dramas’ that limit black people to portrayals of the past in the limited role of fighting racism and prejudice. Moonlight alone seems to avoid this trap, where the only roles black people have are those of history. I mean, would Manchester By The Sea be nominated if the actors were black? Hell or High Water would not have been nominated had it been two black brothers on the run from the cops. You and I both know it is true. Why wasn’t the linguist in Arrival a Middle- Eastern woman, since it was her work on Farsi that supposedly got the government’s attention? I think Oscar, and Hollywood, still has a prejudice.

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They really cast her as a Native Hawaiian (part Chinese, part Hawaiian) in the movie Aloha, opposite Bradley Cooper
Remember when Emma Stone played a native Hawaiian. Yeah, me too.

Theme Four:  A Rebuttal of Technology

Or at least modernity, perhaps. Even in the sci-fi film Arrival, technology is downplayed. It is almost eschewed with disdain in La La Land. Hidden Figures seems to go out of its way to show how great chalkboards are. Hell or High Water is a tale almost devoid of any technology. Manchester By The Sea even has a scene where the Affleck character can’t find where he is going because he doesn’t have a proper GPS. A parallel to this is the fixation with older cars. I think most of these movies have characters driving around in twenty year old cars (or older). In fact, in La La Land, I’m pretty sure in Goslings old car, he is listening to a cassette tape. ryan-gosling-rides-classic-car-in-la-la-land-set


I am sure I could find more themes if I sat here all day, but these are the concepts and schemes that jumped off the screen at me. Enjoy the movies.

Oscars Best Picture Nominations 2017

unknownIt has taken me a while, but I have finally been able to see all nine of the films nominated for best picture this year. Before I begin my brief, NO SPOILER reviews for each, let me give some general impressions. First, this is an outstanding batch of films. As a group, it might be the best overall nominees I have ever seen. In any other year, each film could be a winner. Second, the variations in types of movies is impressive. Some are arthouse films like Moonlight but then there are car chases like Hell or High Water, then La La Land is a musical, and let us not forget the scifi awesomeness of Arrival. There is something here for everyone. Third, as a whole, the films are less graphic and more normal. Although some of the films earned their R rating, none of them are needlessly gratuitous (I’m looking at you 2014) and some, like Hidden Figures, could be on the Hallmark Channel tonight unedited. If you liked movies, this is your year.

Later this week I will post about the themes of the movies and who I think the likely winners might be. I am listing them here in alphabetical order.

Arrival

Science fiction is at its best when it uses the template to ask big questions. That is exactly what this movie does–it asks big questions. The first five minutes of the movie are more important than you might think, so pay attention. I loved Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner together, but didn’t care for the stereotyping negative portrayal of the military. It borrows a lot of plot devices from other films, like Contact, Close Encounters, The Day the Earth Stood Still and so on, but it does in a super awesome way.

Chances of Winning: More likely that aliens land this week. Oscar hates scifi.

Fences

This movie is a play. I don’t mean that it is adapted from a play, but it is a play. I think there are only about four sets, with the majority of the movie taking place in the backyard. The strength of the film is the acting. Every single actor in this movie should win an Oscar.  Every. Single. One. You watch the movie, and you’re thinking it is primarily social commentary on Black families who migrated north in the 1950s. But as you watch, you realize that is only backstory. This is really a story about any family with a hard personality, played superbly by Denzel Washington as the husband/father, who is at the same time both beloved and hated. This is the movie you’ll be talking about three days after you saw it.

Chances of Winning: Slim. Probably a strike-out.

Hacksaw Ridge

I learned after watching this film that my grandfather was at Okinawa. I am glad I didn’t know that before, because I would have watched it differently. The movie primarily focuses upon that battle, but it asks bigger questions about religious liberty, war, and the machinations of the military. I really loved this movie and find it an amazing counter-type of what you’d expect from a war movie. Somehow it finds a way to honor everyone. Vince Vaughn was outstanding. The one weird part I didn’t care for was the almost racist portrayal of the Japanese at the end of the film. It didn’t fit and seemed oddly self-serving.

Chances of Winning: Average. War movies have a a tough go at awards, then there is the Mel Gibson factor. 

Hell or High Water

This movie looks, feels, smells, and acts just like West Texas. It is the anomaly of the group, though. If this were the SAT’s, then this movie would be the answer to the question, “Which one of these is not like the other.” Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are so fun and amazing in the movie that they make up for a plot that you can see coming from the opening credits. You’ll like this movie if you like No Country For Old Men, Fargo, and Bonnie and Clyde. It’s kind of the same idea.

Chances of Winning: None. Dare I say, “Not a chance in hell.” 

Hidden Figures

How much do I like this movie? I think it should be shown to every fourth grade student in America. Seriously, it inspires, teaches, rebukes, and entertains all at the same time. I know that racism and prejudice is the backdrop of the film, but as a father of daughters, I love the aspect of the movie that encourages girls that they can do science and math and achieve great things. This movie also has the best line of any film in years. “At NASA we all pee the same color. Yellow.” The problem with this film is that it forces a romance that is unnecessary and loses narrative focus by trying to cover too much.

Chances of Winning: Astronomically small.

La La Land

If you like dreamy-eyed musicals, this is your movie. To say that La La Land is dreamy is not an exaggeration. I literally can’t tell if the whole thing is a dream sequence or not, and I am still debating as to how the end fit everything. The way the characters dress, the cars they drive, the way they speak, everything about the movie screams that it is an out-of-place jumble of Hollywood from about the 1920’s until the present time. The music in the movie is good, but not outstanding, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are wonderful but the rest of the cast is either flat or non-existent, the editing is sloppy, and the sound mixing is awkward. But the dialogue and screenplay–that is off the charts.

Chances of Winning: Likely. For proof, see Birdman.

Lion

This is my favorite movie you’ll probably never watch. I particularly enjoyed the little boy who played the main character. He is the one who should have been nominated for best actor. The scenery is sunny and the cinematography is worth the price of the ticket. The film lags at times with lots of close up shots of Saroo, the main character, looking into the camera or wistfully away trying to figure out who he is. That didn’t work for me so much, but the overall story is so strong I can forgive that. The dialogue is tight, efficient, and meaningful. Nothing is wasted. This is the one you’ll be tempted to skip. Don’t.

Chances of Winning: Average. This is the film most likely to ‘roar’ an upset.

Manchester By The Sea

In my opinion, this was the worst movie of the batch. It is not an awful movie en toto, but it is the least deserving of these nine. The movie has major problems. The abuse of the flashback is one. The flashbacks come so fast to explain major plot moments that it is difficult to tell what is present and what is past. I could have gotten beyond that, but I can’t get by the characters in the movie. It feels like the makers of this movie decided their goal was to make a movie about the biggest jerks in the world going through a major grief crisis. It didn’t work for me.

Chances of Winning: Marginal. The Academy sometimes likes movies like this because they are edgy. 

Moonlight

I have to confess something. I can’t tell if Moonlight is brilliant commentary on the contemporary pressures of people living in ethnic communities in large cities or if it is just one cliche after another. I am being serious. It is either one or the other. I am, at present, leaning toward the latter rather than the former. It feels like cliche that wants to be pretentious. That doesn’t mean the film is not important, but it feels like too much. Poverty. Check. Inner city. Check. Confused sexuality. Check. Personality disorder. Check. Bullying. Check. Abusive family. Check. Crack mom. Check. Drug dealer. Check. Prison. Check. Gangster motifs. Check. It just feels like a little much for me.

Chances of Winning: Average. It all depends on how Oscar answers the “social commentary or cliche” question.

Thanks for reading my summaries. Be on the look out for Oscar predictions tomorrow.