“The Northman” Movie Review

“You must choose between kindness for your kin and hate for your enemies.”

As far as I can tell, I have never seen a true Viking movie in my life. I’ve seen films WITH Vikings, for sure, where they are a small factor of a larger setting. But anything where this time period or lifestyle are the main focus of a feature film has either been nonexistent or so obscure I can’t find it anywhere. I also have not seen the Vikings TV series, although I understand that it’s supposed to be very popular.

In any event, when Robert Eggers announced that his next film would be a film set in the world of Vikings, I became so ecstatic. Eggers’ previous two films, The Lighthouse and The Witch (Or The VVitch, if you prefer that), were so well-crafted and masterful that it’s almost infuriating. He has such an eye for period-accurate detail and ensuring that everything shown on-screen feels authentic, from the costumes to the dialects to the labor and ritualistic customs of the time. So seeing him apply that for a pre-Medieval setting was wildly exciting. And having seen The Northman, it’s clear that Eggers should be considered one of the greatest and most singular auteurs of his generation. It’s easily his most ambitious and sprawling movie to date.

Beginning in 895 AD, Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth, the warrior prince of a kingdom on the island of Hrafnsey. As a child, he idolized his father King Aurvandill War-Raven and his mother Queen Gudrún, played by Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman, respectively. However, after being officially made the heir to the kingdom, his uncle Fjölnir the Brotherless, played by Claes Bang, murders the king and takes both the throne and the Queen for himself, forcing Amleth into exile. Years later, Amleth, an experienced berserker, learns that Fjölnir has fatally weakened his position and is now living in relative seclusion. Seeing the opportunity, Amleth teams up with a Slavic sorceress named Olga, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, and sets out to avenge his father and fulfill his destiny.

Like his previous works, Eggers has a keen understanding of what the human condition entails. Primal instincts such as rage and violence are seen here not as “inhumane” but as a fundamental part of man’s nature, which is exacerbated by the time period in which it is set. This is an extremely brutal and unflinching story about a man who’s determined to get what he believes he’s fated to have. His actions are harsh and jaw-droppingly violent, and the film is smart enough to ask audience members the difficult question of whether what he does is ever justified. Especially since the film makes it clear just how much collateral damage and innocent blood is left in his wake on his path for vengeance. It’s perhaps not entirely surprising to learn that the legend of Amleth was a key inspiration for William Shakespeare to write his play Hamlet.

The Northman also does an astounding job of making the world of Vikings feel real and palpable. The film highlights not only the old rituals and traditions the citizens would often partake in, but it also shows the more fantastical elements of this angle. The Norse Gods are worshipped and referenced many times throughout and the way these characters talk about them make them sound almost like real people that they vigorously follow their lives by. One example is singer Björk, in her first narrative role in nearly 20 years, who plays a mysterious witch who gives Amleth his prophecy. Because of this, and the occasionally stilted dialogue that sounds meant for prose, those hoping for a more grounded, wholly realistic approach to this era may be disappointed. But the surprises help give a slight horror element to the story and are part of what makes it such a special and captivating experience.

I’ve seen Alexander Skarsgård in many projects over the years, but this is easily his best work as an actor. As Amleth, there is so much unkempt fury and brutality, and before he officially begins his quest against Fjölnir, he has an incredibly difficult time finding a right way to put it. There’s also a hint of sadness to him. He was robbed of a childhood and parental figures and has resented the world for it ever since. This mission is all he has thought about since he was forced to flee his home. It’s clear that until he comes across Olga, he has never opened up to anyone about his internal demons and is thoroughly convinced the gods have prepared a great destiny for him.

Speaking of Olga, Anya Taylor-Joy is an absolute showstopper in her second collaboration with Robert Eggers. A Slavic sorceress in the same slave troupe as Amleth, she is extremely intelligent and calculating in her decision-making. “Your strength breaks men’s bones. I have the cunning to break their minds,” she says to him after seeing a display of his brutish power. In many ways, her character is more justified and deserving of justice than Amleth is, as we see the hardships she faces as a slave of Fjölnir. Although their relationship initially starts as completely platonic and functionary, a genuine connection soon grows, and the mission becomes all the more personal.

Together, they are rounded out by an impressive ensemble of actors in parts large and small. This includes Nicole Kidman as the mysterious and ruthlessly cunning Queen Gudrún, Claes Bang as Amleth’s uncle Fjölnir who’s desperate to hold onto his power for as long as possible, Willem Dafoe as the unseemly and legitimately creepy jester of King Aurvandill’s court, Gustav Lindh as Fjölnir’s prideful and arrogant son, and Ethan Hawke as Amleth’s late royal father. Each one of them adds something unique to this story and makes it feel much richer. Bang is particularly attention-grabbing as Fjölnir, the antagonist who’s always on Amleth’s mind throughout the movie. What’s so compelling about him is that he’s not the moustache-twirling villain these types of stories usually call for. He’s legitimately tired and willing to do whatever it takes so that his line can continue long after he passes.

From a technical standpoint, The Northman shows that Eggers still has a firm grip on his voice even on a larger scale. His regular cinematographer Jarin Blaschke returns for their third collaboration and holy moly, it’s a doozy. While it trades in the boxed-in, black-and-white photography of The Lighthouse for more colorful fare, it’s no less intense or gruesome. Many moments are lit purely by firelight, which shows off the dirty, sweaty griminess of these characters. The film is filled with lengthy long takes, both of intense action scenes and more dramatic moments. The blocking within these shots is always clear and easy to follow, making it all the more riveting to watch. And of course, this being a historical epic, there are a number of impressive swooping establishing shots of the landscape.

This goes hand-in-hand with the editing job by Louise Ford, yet another of Eggers’ regular collaborators that makes a return. If there are cuts within any of the aforementioned long takes, they were hidden really, really well because they were all perfectly paced. But during moments where there are more frequent cuts, it’s handled beautifully and manages to keep you focused on what’s important in the scene. Even with a running time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, there’s very little fat on this picture. Every moment is edited with purpose and class.

The instrumental film score is a joint effort handled by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough and boy. do they deserve more recognition for their work here. Much like the film itself, it’s intense. Most of the tracks consist of deeply percussive elements such as drums and rattles, while also making room for strings. Although there’s not really a singular theme or leitmotif, it’s still easily identifiable in the war-like rhythms it creates for battle sequences. The strings also do a tremendous job at capturing not just the moments that feel closer in proximity to horror, but also in more somber, emotional moments. It’s a surprisingly diverse soundtrack that perfectly fits the era that it fits.

With a clear sense of personality, a daunting scope, and an unbelievably detailed world, The Northman is an authentically brutal and amazingly well-realized story of revenge. Robert Eggers has done it yet again and conquered one of the least-seen time periods in cinema with his own definite stamp on it. Armed with an incredibly committed cast and a phalanx of behind-the-scenes artists who are just as passionate as him, he has crafted a piece of epic filmmaking that both feels personal and mainstream at the same time, in the best way possible. This might easily be the greatest movie about Vikings ever made, as every single facet of what’s on-screen comes to life in such an organic and meaningful way. I can’t wait to see it again.

Final 2022 Oscar Predictions

Another spring, another year of cinema set to be celebrated by Hollywood. The 94th Academy Awards are upon us, which means every single trade and cinephile is throwing out their two cents for who their think is going to win what prizes Sunday night. Due to the pandemic, several highly anticipated films that were meant to be released in 2020 finally made a splash this past year, albeit with varying degrees of success. As with the previous years, I managed to watch a majority of the nominees this year and as such, have decided to put down my final predictions for each category. I’ll also be including films and artists that I felt were unjustly left out of the race this year, despite qualifying for their respective categories.

And remember, no matter what any of us think of the nominees themselves or the films that got snubbed, we’ll all find out the results when the hybrid ceremony airs on ABC on Sunday, March 27th.

Best Picture

Will Win: The Power of the Dog

Could Win: CODA

Should Win: Dune

Should Have Been Nominated: The Tragedy of Macbeth

Best Director

Will Win: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog

Could Win: Kenneth Branagh for Belfast

Should Win: Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Denis Villeneuve for Dune

Best Actor

Will Win: Will Smith in King Richard

Could Win: Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog

Should Win: Andrew Garfield in Tick, Tick, BOOM!

Should Have Been Nominated: Nicolas Cage in Pig

Best Actress

Will Win: Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter

Could Win: Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos

Should Win: Kristen Stewart in Spencer

Should Have Been Nominated: Jodie Comer in The Last Duel

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog

Could Win: Troy Kotsur in CODA

Should Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog

Should Have Been Nominated: Colman Domingo in Zola

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Ariana DeBose in West Side Story

Could Win: Kirsten Dunst in The Power of the Dog

Should Win: Ariana DeBose in West Side Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Olga Merediz in In The Heights

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: The Power of the Dog

Could Win: Dune

Should Win: The Power of the Dog

Should Have Been Nominated: Zola

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Belfast

Could Win: Don’t Look Up

Should Win: Licorice Pizza

Should Have Been Nominated: Shiva Baby

Best Animated Feature

Will Win: Encanto

Could Win: Flee

Should Win: The Mitchells vs The Machines

Should Have Been Nominated: Belle

Best International Feature

Will Win: Drive My Car (Japan)

Could Win: The Worst Person in the World (Norway)

Should Win: Drive My Car (Japan)

Should Have Been Nominated: A Hero (Iran)

Best Documentary Feature

Will Win: Flee

Could Win: Summer of Soul

Should Win: Summer of Soul

Should Have Been Nominated: The Rescue

Best Documentary – Short Subject

Will Win: Lead Me Home

Could Win: The Queen of Basketball

Should Win: Audible

Should Have Been Nominated: Snowy

Best Live-Action Short

Will Win: The Long Goodbye

Could Win: On My Mind

Should Win: Ala Kachuu – Take and Run

Should Have Been Nominated: All Too Well

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Robin Robin

Could Win: The Windshield Wiper

Should Win: Robin Robin

Should Have Been Nominated: Us Again

Best Original Score

Will Win: Dune by Hans Zimmer

Could Win: The Power of the Dog by Johnny Greenwood

Should Win: Dune by Hans Zimmer

Should Have Been Nominated: Nightmare Alley by Nathan Johnson

Best Original Song

Will Win: “No Time to Die” from No Time to Die

Could Win: “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto

Should Win: “No Time to Die” from No Time to Die

Should Have Been Nominated: “So May We Start” from Annette

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: Dune

Could Win: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Should Win: Dune

Should Have Been Nominated: The Matrix Resurrections

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Dune

Could Win: The Power of the Dog

Should Win: West Side Story

Should Have Been Nominated: The Green Knight

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Cruella

Could Win: West Side Story

Should Win: Dune

Should Have Been Nominated: The Harder They Fall

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Will Win: House of Gucci

Could Win: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Should Win: Dune

Should Have Been Nominated: The Green Knight

Best Production Design

Will Win: Dune

Could Win: West Side Story

Should Win: Dune

Should Have Been Nominated: The Last Duel

Best Film Editing

Will Win: Dune

Could Win: Don’t Look Up

Should Win: Dune

Should Have Been Nominated: Nightmare Alley

Best Sound

Will Win: Dune

Could Win: West Side Story

Should Win: Dune

Should Have Been Nominated: A Quiet Place Part II

How say you? Do you have any hard or soft predictions of your own for Sunday night? What films do you believe could, should, and absolutely will win the top prize? Which ones do you think were snubbed this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts about in a Comment down below, and if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Follow my blog for more awesome movie content like this.

“The Batman” Movie Review

In my lifetime, there have been no less than 4 theatrically released versions of Batman. I was just old enough to see The Dark Knight Rises when it first came out, followed a few years later by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. That’s even including the dozens of video games, cartoons, and straight-to-video animated films starring or featuring the Caped Crusader. I’ve been to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Los Angeles where they have every generation of Batman on display, so it’s not surprising that he’s such an iconic and important character to the studio.

When the initial announcement was made that Ben Affleck was walking away from the role and director Matt Reeves would instead cast a younger actor for the part, two primary thoughts rolled through my brain. First, I was bummed out that we only got two movies of Batfleck; I really liked his more aggressive, scarred up take on the Dark Knight and was hoping to see him develop into the hero we all know. Second, I rolled my eyes because that meant that WB would be rebooting the franchise yet again instead of putting faith into more obscure, less-used characters in its DC arm. Don’t get me wrong: I love Batman. But surely, they must realize there are other characters in that universe than Bruce Wayne, right?

As a huge fan of Matt Reeves’ previous films, I was, at the very least, curious to see his sensibilities in a comic book superhero movie. Each addition to the cast and crew over time made me more and more optimistic to what the possibilities could be. $100 million+ superhero epics are absolutely nothing new (If anything, they’re oversaturated in our market), but there’s still room for some innovation, especially if more auteur-driven directors are given the freedom to do what they want. And that’s exactly what The Batman ends up being. It feels completely distinct from its predecessors in the franchise and the genre as a whole.

Set during Batman’s second year fighting crime, Robert Pattinson stars as Bruce Wayne, a reclusive billionaire and masked vigilante. On Halloween Night, the controversial mayor of Gotham City is murdered by a mysterious serial killer calling himself The Riddler, played by Paul Dano. Arriving at the crime scene, Batman and GCPD Lieutenant James Gordon, played by Jeffrey Wright, discover some clues and a cipher hinting at what’s to come. As his journey takes him through Gotham’s underworld and allies him with cat burglar Selina Kyle, played by Zoë Kravitz, Batman discovers a vast conspiracy implicating the city’s wealthy elite and sets out to expose The Riddler’s plans before it’s too late.

Out of the 10+ “Batman” movies released in theaters; this feels like the first one that really leans into the “World’s Greatest Detective” aspect of the character. Comparisons to films like Zodiac, Seven, and Chinatown are not unearned here. The opening scene legitimately feels like it’s pulled straight from a horror film, as it establishes the bleak tone right out of the gate. I was surprised at how complex and genuinely intriguing the riddles were and how they fit into a larger puzzle. Throughout the movie, you’re guessing as to where these clues are going, much like the main characters are. And when everything comes together in the final act, all of the different threads make perfect sense in the grand scheme of things.

Since 1966, there have been 9 actors who have portrayed the Caped Crusader on the big screen, two of whom were in animated form (Those being Mask of the Phantasm and The Lego Batman Movie). Each actor has managed to put their own personal stamp on the iconic character. I was one of the lucky ones, because I got to see Robert Pattinson in his other roles long before I watched the “Twilight” movies. Seeing him work with directors like The Safdie Brothers, Christopher Nolan, Claire Denis, Robert Eggers, David Cronenberg, and Antonio Campos made me easily see how great of an actor he is. So choosing him for arguably the most recognizable comic book character in America is an unexpected but wildly exciting decision.

And that’s paid off, because he’s nothing short of stunning in this movie. He’s not the Bruce Wayne we’re used to seeing. He’s not a playboy socialite buying hotels and feigning social ignorance. In fact, trying to tell where Batman ends and where Bruce Wayne begins is an extremely difficult task. He’s so reclusive that the mere act of going out in public as a civilian becomes a huge news story. This is also the first movie in the franchise that forces Bruce to question just his own legacy, but the legacy of his family. Thomas and Martha Wayne are not the perfect, benevolent angels he thought they were, and it was a refreshing spin on a well-known backstory.

He’s flanked by a great cast of actors in supporting roles. There’s Jeffrey Wright and Andy Serkis as allies James Gordon and the ever-wise Alfred Pennyworth, Zoë Kravitz as the unpredictably sly Catwoman, Colin Farrell as the Penguin mobster who chews the scenery as if it were a delicious meal, Jayme Lawson as a mayoral candidate who might actually bring hope and guidance to the city, and finally Paul Dano as the elusive killer The Riddler. Dano, even though he’s not on-screen very often, is a menacing presence throughout. His introduction is a genuinely creepy scene and every scene with him afterwards is riveting. The Riddler has always been one of my favorite villains of the comics, and this movie finally did the character justice.

And from a technical standpoint, The Batman is, of course, a visually and audibly stunning picture. Greig Fraser’s cinematography is sleek and slick, mixing dark hues of various different colors such as orange and green. This specific palette highlights the griminess of the city and feels accurate to the stylized artwork from the best comics, particularly Jeph Loeb’s “The Long Halloween.” While the movie primarily takes place during the nighttime, the action on-screen is still clearly visible and beautifully framed. Most fight scenes are depicted in anamorphic wide shots that capture both the complex blocking of scenes and the scope of it all.

This is not to say that the editing job by William Hoy and Tyler Nelson isn’t worthy of praise. Quite the opposite, actually. The cuts flow between scenes beautifully as the characters move from location to location around Gotham. The transitions between shots during action sequences, particularly one set during a funeral, are exquisite. It’s also a testament to the editors that the pacing feels just right. The movie has a runtime of 2 hours and 56 minutes, the longest for a Batman movie. How they managed to make a nearly 3 hour-long film feel like just 2 and still keep the slow-burn of the mystery intact is incredible.

The ever versatile and prolific Michael Giacchino provides the instrumental film score. Continuing the long tradition of Batman not having a bad theme song, the main motif here is a repetitive riff of two notes that gradually crescendos and explodes into an orchestral flurry. But he doesn’t just stop there. Utilizing an arsenal of diverse instruments, from saxophones to strings to the glockenspiel, he creates several leitmotifs for many of the characters, each of which perfectly fits the horror-noir tone the film is going for. Sans the film’s title, you’d be forgiven for thinking that these tracks belong in other films of completely different genres.

The song “Something in the Way” by Nirvana is featured to bookend the film. It’s a perfect mood-setter for the story, a musical glimpse into Bruce Wayne’s headspace as he heads out into the night. It also serves a deeper indication of the themes, as this iteration of Batman is much more akin to Kurt Cobain than to someone like Elon Musk. It may as well serve as the theme song for most of the characters. However Reeves came up with the idea of using it in the film, it worked like gangbusters.

The delays this movie suffered due to the pandemic were upsetting to say the least. The first teaser trailer released all the way back in 2020 was a phenomenal piece of marketing, even more impressive when you consider it was cobbled together when only a quarter of the movie was shot at the time. And now that it’s out in the world, it feels even more like a gift.

With just as much dedication to its cast as to its craft, The Batman is a rivetingly modern yet faithful update on an overdone character. Matt Reeves has crafted not just one of the better depictions of the Caped Crusader but also outdone most other superhero movies of the last few years. Featuring an amazing lead performance from Robert Pattinson along with his co-stars, a fantastic musical score, and one of the scariest villains the genre has seen in quite some time, this is truly a thrilling ride, one best experienced in a theater. There is so much meticulous care and passion that has gone into the making of this film, and the best part is that it all looks so easy.

My Thoughts on “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

“Make your own future. Make your own past. It’s all right now.”

I never actually saw Justice League when it originally came out in theaters. I instead saw it for the first time on an overnight plane ride months later. It was colorful, chaotic, and felt like the complete opposite of what had previously been shown in the trailers. Instead of being an epic crossover event on par with what Marvel was putting out, it was a frustratingly rote affair and felt far too safe for its own good. Since it came out, it was believed that Joss Whedon and the studio took advantage of Zack Snyder’s tragic exit and cut his original vision to ribbons. That is extremely apparent in the version we got. It was way too quippy and aloof for its own good, and almost none of the exciting material that had been teased to us ended up in the final product.

When the so-called “Snyder Cut” started trending on social media, I’ll admit that I was really skeptical. I thought it was just another example of entitled fans demanding something that didn’t even exist to begin with. But as I saw more and more members of the film’s cast and crew supporting the movement (And blasting Joss Whedon’s on-set behavior as an added bonus), it became apparent that there WAS something more after all. And before the official announcement last year, I never thought it would actually happen. Even after it was released, it still boggles my mind that Warner Bros. and DC willing agreed to give Snyder $70 million to finish what’s essentially a director’s cut of a movie that technically already exists.

The differences between the two versions of the film couldn’t be more obvious. It genuinely feels like a completely different movie. The new, longer cut is similar to Joss Whedon’s theatrical version in basic construction only. Everything else- composition, direction, context, tone, pacing, performance -feels much more deliberate, thought-out, and comprehensive. Just compare the opening scene in both versions and it becomes very apparent that Snyder had something darker and more emotional in mind. Whether it’s the fight in the tunnel or Superman’s resurrection, there’s a weight to every scene and it keeps you fully engaged. Despite that, it’s not the grim movie people believed it would be; it has a much more natural sense of humor and even a beam of hope by the end.

Steppenwolf goes from being a forgettable villain with an awful costume to a very interesting antagonist with an actual arc. The Flash is no longer cracking wise but is a young and confident man wanting to do right by the world. Superman becomes the classic embodiment of the hero he is meant to be (And this time, there’s no struggle to hide a moustache). And then there’s Cyborg. The beating heart of the film, the one whose arc is the one we follow the closest. Ray Fisher gives an incredible performance, and the fact that Whedon pushed him to the background and Fisher is being punished for speaking out about it is nothing short of a tragedy.

Say what you will about the quality of his films, very few filmmakers understand how to translate comic book moments into the medium like Zack Snyder. There are so many deliberate framing choices throughout the picture that feel like it was ripped from an actual comic. Especially ones with The Flash. Snyder does love slow-motion in his films and he finds a way to actually make us feel like we’re following the Fastest Man Alive in real time. His Speed Force scene near the end of the film might be one of the greatest superhero moments I’ve ever witnessed. As a lifelong comic book reader, I never thought a scene like that would be properly captured on film. But it was, and it was accompanied by Tom Holkenborg’s epic score to boot.

This does not mean, however, that it’s a perfect film. Far from it. Snyder draws his scenes out and takes his time setting up every sequence. This is one instance where shaving the runtime would be perfectly acceptable. And the added scenes at the end with The Joker and Martian Manhunter are wholly unnecessary. Although Jared Leto and Ben Affleck trade some pretty great and mature dialogue, the whole sequence just feels cruel. Like Snyder giving us a teaser for something that will most likely never see a payoff. The same thing goes for Martian Manhunter’s cameo at the very end. He’s one of my favorite DC characters and while I hope we get to see him in live-action again soon, his appearance here was forced and contrived. The film did not need one week of additional footage shot; it felt more like Snyder being unable to find a place to stop.

I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of grief and pain that Snyder went through regarding his daughter Autumn. No parent should ever have to bury their own child. And from what I understand, he’s spent a considerable amount of time the last few years raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention. It’s apparent in almost every frame of this film that he dedicated it to her, as she was evidently a highly creative person. Finally getting to complete this film on his own terms must have been the biggest emotional catharsis he’s ever experienced.

Despite its flaws, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is probably the most ambitious superhero movies of our time, and its existence almost didn’t happen. Simply writing about this film feels surreal to me, like a dream that was never meant to come true. Did it need to be just over four hours long? No it did not. But it is a vast improvement on the Frankensteined mess that arrived in theaters almost four years ago, in nearly every single department. It gives the titular team the epic treatment they deserve, one where it somehow balances them all very well and gives each member a moment or two to shine. And it makes me want to see the DC Extended Universe become an interconnected story again.

Perhaps the upcoming The Flash will spark this possibility once more. Create a roadmap for these characters to join together on-screen again. But for now, I am simply grateful that DC, Warner Bros., and HBO Max allowed Zack Snyder to finish this project his way after everything he went through.

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Final 2021 Oscar Predictions

The time is here. After a deeply bizarre and unusual year for cinema, the 93rd Academy Awards are nigh upon us. In some ways, this last year has been a bit of a blessing, as many of the nominees most likely wouldn’t have been recognized if the major releases hadn’t been pushed back so far. And giving the deadline until the end of February also allowed for more options for people to see the potential nominees. As with the previous years, I managed to watch a majority of the nominees this year and as such, have decided to put down my final predictions for each category. I’ll also be including films and artists that I felt were unjustly left out of the race this year, despite qualifying.

And remember, no matter what any of us think of the nominees themselves or the films that got snubbed, we’ll all find out the results when the hybrid ceremony airs on ABC on Sunday, April 25th.

Best Picture

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Will Win: Nomadland

Could Win: Minari

Should Win: Judas and the Black Messiah

Should Have Been Nominated: Da 5 Bloods

Best Director

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Will Win: Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Could Win: David Fincher for Mank

Should Win: Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Should Have Been Nominated: Regina King for One Night in Miami

Best Actor

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Will Win: Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Could Win: Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Should Win: Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Should Have Been Nominated: Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Best Actress

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Will Win: Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Could Win: Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

Should Win: Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Should Have Been Nominated: Sidney Flanagan in Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Best Supporting Actor

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Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah

Could Win: Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah

Should Have Been Nominated: Arliss Howard in Mank

Best Supporting Actress

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Will Win: Yuh-jung Youn in Minari

Could Win: Maria Bakolova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Should Win: Yuh-jung Youn in Minari

Should Have Been Nominated: Ellen Burstyn in Pieces of a Woman

Best Original Screenplay

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Will Win: Promising Young Woman

Could Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Should Win: Judas and the Black Messiah

Should Have Been Nominated: Palm Springs

Best Adapted Screenplay

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Will Win: Nomadland

Could Win: The Father

Should Win: Nomadland

Should Have Been Nominated: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Best Animated Film

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Will Win: Soul

Could Win: Wolfwalkers

Should Win: Soul

Should Have Been Nominated: The Willoughbys

Best International Feature

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Will Win: Another Round (Denmark)

Could Win: Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Should Win: Another Round (Denmark)

Should Have Been Nominated: The Life Ahead (Italy)

Best Documentary Feature

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Will Win: My Octopus Teacher

Could Win: Crip Camp

Should Win: Time

Should Have Been Nominated: Dick Johnson is Dead

Best Documentary- Short Subject

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Will Win: A Concerto is a Conversation

Could Win: A Love Song For Latasha

Should Win: A Concerto is a Conversation

Should Have Been Nominated: The Speed Cubers

Best Live-Action Short

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Will Win: Two Distant Strangers

Could Win: Feeling Through

Should Win: Two Distant Strangers

Should Have Been Nominated: The Human Voice

Best Animated Short

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Will Win: If Anything Happens I Love You

Could Win: Burrow

Should Win: If Anything Happens I Love You

Should Have Been Nominated: Loop

Best Original Score

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Will Win: Soul by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste

Could Win: Mank by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Should Win: Soul by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste

Should Have Been Nominated: Tenet by Ludwig Göransson

Best Original Song

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Will Win: “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami

Could Win: “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Should Win: “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Should Have Been Nominated: “Turntables” from All In: The Fight For Democracy

Best Visual Effects

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Will Win: Tenet

Could Win: The Midnight Sky

Should Win: Tenet

Should Have Been Nominated: The Invisible Man

Best Cinematography

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Will Win: Nomadland

Could Win: Mank

Should Win: Nomadland

Should Have Been Nominated: Tenet

Best Costume Design

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Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Could Win: Emma.

Should Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Should Have Been Nominated: The Personal History of David Copperfield

Best Makeup and Hairstyle

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Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Could Win: Mank

Should Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Should Have Been Nominated: Promising Young Woman

Best Production Design

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Will Win: Mank

Could Win: News of the World

Should Win: Mank

Should Have Been Nominated: Enola Holmes

Best Film Editing

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Will Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Could Win: Sound of Metal

Should Win: Sound of Metal

Should Have Been Nominated: Tenet

Best Sound

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Will Win: Sound of Metal

Could Win: Mank

Should Win: Sound of Metal

Should Have Been Nominated: Run

How say you? Do you have any hard or soft predictions of your own for Sunday night? What films do you believe could, should, and absolutely will win the top prize? Which ones do you think were snubbed this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts about in a Comment down below, and if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Follow my blog for more awesome movie content like this.

“Gladiator” Movie Review

This year officially marks the 20th anniversary of this classic, even though it’s fallen somewhat in reputation. What better way to celebrate than to look back and review it?

This epic historical action drama was originally released in theaters worldwide by DreamWorks and Universal Pictures on May 5th, 2000. It was a commercial smash, grossing over $460.5 million at the global box office against a production budget of $103 million. This made it the second-most successful film of the entire year, in addition to the wave of positive responses from both critics and audiences. The film also managed to surprise everyone in the industry when awards season came around, collecting a total of 5 Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Picture, and led to renewed popularity in the sword-and-sandal genre.

Directed by Ridley Scott, the film was originally pitched by screenwriter David Franzoni, who was partially inspired by Daniel P. Mannix’s 1958 novel Those About to Die. Two weeks before filming was supposed to start, writers William Nicholson and John Logan were brought in to help flesh out the characters, in addition to Scott’s extensive storyboards. However, the production was forced to film without a completely script and a handful of cast members ended up writing their own lines and speeches. Before filming wrapped, actor Oliver Reed died of a heart attack in Malta, and the producers were forced to scramble and adjust his role with body doubles and CGI.

Russell Crowe stars as Maximus Decimus Meridius, a highly respected Hispano-Roman general who successfully leads the army to crush the Germanic tribes. Deeply impressed by his leadership and care for the men under his command, he is told by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, played by Richard Harris, that he will rule as regent to help end corruption. When he catches wind of this, Marcus’ unstable son Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, kills him and then immediately takes power and slaughters Maximus’ family. Now finding himself as a slave, Maximus attempts to rise through the ranks of the gladiator ring so he can find Commodus and exact his revenge.

Regardless of what you think of his style and consistency in quality, it’s hard to deny that Ridley Scott is at least an interesting filmmaker. He hasn’t been afraid to dip his toe in multiple different genres over his decades-long career, whether it be a science-fiction adventure or a period drama thriller. While he doesn’t always succeed at this gamble, when he hits it out of the park, he can make absolute classics such as Alien, Matchstick Men, and Thelma and Louise that still hold up today.

And with the 20th anniversary approaching for this epic, I was curious to see Scott’s cinematic vision of Ancient Rome was as great as I remembered it being. The period hadn’t really been given the big-screen treatment since at least the early 1960s and while numerous studios afterwards tried to recreate both it and Medieval times, I specifically wanted to see if the film that rekindled interest was still worthy. And thankfully, Gladiator turns out not just to be just as captivating as ever, but it still holds the spot as my personal favorite film of Scott’s, which is a big accomplishment.

Yes, it is a rather simple story of revenge and redemption, but whatever clichés there might be in the narrative are made up for by Scott’s incredible ambition and attention to detail in everything else. The script packs in a bunch of different, interesting characters that allow us to see Rome from different viewpoints, whether it’s the power-hungry politicians in the Roman Senate or the slaves forced to fight for people’s entertainment. There’s an emotional core to the film that’s hard to shake as we witness Maximus trying to regain his lost honor against a mad ruler that destroyed his life, especially as he has very little left to lose.

Something I truly appreciated about Gladiator on this rewatch is how despite a handful of subplots to follow and a runtime of 2 hours and 35 minutes, the film is perfectly paced. The way the film brings Ancient Rome to life in such a vivid and lived-in manner makes it easy to remain focused on what’s happening on-screen, even if it’s just a few characters talking quietly. And of course, it backs these moments up with some truly epic set pieces that are still a delight to watch even after all these years, making this a near-complete package for almost any film fan.

Winning the Academy Award for Best Actor here, this is arguably Russell Crowe’s most iconic film role to date, and it’s easy to see why. As Maximus Decimus Meridius, he’s sharp-witted, resourceful, and completely ruthless on the battlefield, much preferring to stay on the countryside instead of the political halls of Rome. Despite his outwardly masculine exterior, he’s incredibly soft-spoken and humble in private conversations, and is gradually better at winning over both the colosseum crowds and his new comrades in arms.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Joaquin Phoenix is riveting and despicable as Commodus, the nefarious son of the current Caesar. From the very beginning, it’s abundantly clear that he is only concerned about himself and the power he can gain, unafraid to get rid of anyone he thinks are even considering turning against him. Phoenix plays up his sickening behavior remarkably, adding a quivering lip and emotional unpredictability to a villain that is meant to be liked by no one.

And in his last film role, Oliver Reed is excellent as Antonious Proximo, a seasoned trainer who buys Maximus in North Africa. As the film goes along, he starts to take a liking to Maximus and begins shedding his world-weary thoughts and emotions. Acutely aware of how the world works, he trains him and the rest of the gladiators how to survive, saying, “I wasn’t the best because I killed quickly; I was the best because the crowd loved me.” Although he died before finishing his scenes, it’s kind of the perfect role for Reed to end his career on.

The supporting cast is equally impressive and wide-ranging in a variety of roles. This includes Djimon Hounsou and Ralf Möller as two gladiators Maximus forms a bond with, Derek Jakobi as the one Roman senator wanting to improve the system, Tomas Arana as a conflicted former legatus in the army, Connie Nielsen as Commodus’ unhappy sister, and Richard Harris as the ailing Caesar Marcus Aurelius. Everyone is able to bring unique dimensions to their characters and make the drama feel more tangible.

And from a technical perspective, Gladiator is an extraordinary accomplishment that sees Scott pushing his boundaries even further. Shot by John Mathieson, the cinematography is gritty and robust, always willing to get down in the dirt with the protagonists. The film features many tracking shots as the character traverse the vast landscapes and battlefields of millennia past. The colors are relatively muted, giving it a grainier, classical touch that’s frequently missing in blockbusters.

This also works in tandem with the editing job by Pietro Scalia, who finds a delicate balance between drama and action. During the fantastic and riveting battle sequences, there are a number of cuts but not too much to the point where it becomes incomprehensible. It manages to keep clever special effects tricks just out of sight while still showcasing some truly incredible blocking and stunt work. And during the quieter moments, the camera wisely shifts perspectives whenever a certain character is given more priority in a given moment.

Musical god Hans Zimmer composes and conducts the instrumental film score, and much like other iconic soundtracks, it’s a total work of genius. The score features a huge diversity of instruments and sounds, ranging from ominous strings to triumphant brass to heavenly choral voices. Through each track, he expertly weaves these sounds together in an organic way that feels appropriate for the scale and time period, calling back to Gustav Holst’s “Mars”. In fact, it’s practically the blueprint for his score in the later Pirates of the Caribbean film series, mixing both exciting battle tunes with more haunting tracks.

With interesting characters, immortal quotes, fantastic action scenes, and a solid emotional throughline, Gladiator is a brilliant old-school epic tailor-made for the 21st century. Ridley Scott shows us all that he’s capable of turning a relatively simplistic narrative into a captivating masterwork of giant proportions. Armed with a highly resourceful cast of willing actors, he’s able to bring Ancient Rome to life in a way few filmmakers had before or have since.

This is the kind of big blockbuster that Hollywood doesn’t really make anymore and that’s a damn shame because there’s so much more potential to explore now. Whether or not Scott actually follows through on plans for a sequel, there will always be an audience for this film, in this life or the next.

“The Invisible Man” Movie Review

You wanna know how effective the scares were here? Thanks to this movie, if I’m ever in a room alone again, I’m going to look at empty couches and chairs very differently.

This science-fiction horror film was released in theaters worldwide by Universal Pictures on February 28th, 2020, having been moved up two weeks. Made for the budget of $7 million, it managed to gross over $134.3 million at the global box office before moving to premium VOD due to the coronavirus. And yet, it has still managed to stay relatively popular at homes around the world. Not to mention, the film has garnered some of the best reviews of any film this year and has even been predicted by some outlets to make rounds whenever awards season comes.

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, this is a modern adaptation of H.G. Wells’ science-fiction novel of the same name. Universal had originally approached David S. Goyer to write the script but departed after about 4 years of no serious development. It was then pitched as part of the studio’s “Dark Universe” franchise with Johnny Depp in the title role but scrapped all plans after the disappointment of 2017’s The Mummy. Producer Jason Blum instead decided to pursue the project as a standalone horror movie and hired Whannell for the job on the strength of his previous feature, Upgrade.

Elizabeth Moss stars as Cecilia Kass, a young architect trapped in a violent and controlling relationship. With help from her sister and childhood friend, she escapes in the dead of night from her unstable boyfriend Adrian Griffin, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, a wealthy tech genius in the field of optics. Two weeks after running away and laying low in hiding, it is discovered that Adrian has apparently committed suicide and has left her with $5 million. However, Cecilia quickly becomes convinced that he faked his own death and has found a way to torment her invisibly, and desperately tries to find a way to prove her experience to others around her.

Leigh Whannell is someone who I’ve only become aware of recently, but thus far, I really like his approach to filmmaking. He wrote and starred in the first Saw movie, (The only good installment of the series, in my opinion) and also created the criminally overlooked sci-fi body horror Upgrade. The latter film, in particular, really showcased his ability to handle high-concept films with a relatively limited budget and squeeze believable performances out of his cast.

So when it was announced that he would be writing and directing a new take on this character with Elizabeth Moss, I was cautiously optimistic for it. I was still feeling the sour taste of the colossal failure of the “Dark Universe” a few years ago and was unsure if the studio could really recover and find a way to put these classic monsters into the modern era. But not only does The Invisible Man surpass my expectations as an interpretation of the iconic character, it’s a fantastic horror film on its own merits.

In hindsight, the idea of telling the story of this iconic character from another character’s perspective was a bit of genius on Whannell’s part. By rearranging the story and putting it into a MeToo context, we get to see a unique film about domestic abuse and the emotional consequences fallen upon the victim. The real horror of the story comes not from Adrian using his powers to wreak havoc on mankind at large but from causing so much torment for Celia and no one believing her.

It’s a huge testament to Whannell and Blumhouse that The Invisible Man brings a lot of specificity to this serious issue in order to avoid making broad statements about it. Celia is desperate to find a way to live life on her own terms for the first time in a long while, but her relationship with Adrian still haunts her (Both literally and figuratively) and not even those closest to her really understand her trauma. The analogy of people being reluctant to believe Celia’s story is infuriating and true to life, making me glad that the initial plans for the “Dark Universe” were completely scrapped.

Elizabeth Moss has always been an incredibly capable and versatile actress, and this role might be her best work yet. As Cecilia Kass, she’s absolutely riveting as a woman trying to regain her agency after being gaslighted and manipulated for such a long time. While she wants to come back into the larger world, she’s still deeply aware of the influence Adrian has over her, remarking, “He said that wherever I went, he would find me, walk right up to me, and I wouldn’t be able to see him.”

By her side for much of the film is Aldis Hodge as James Lanier, a San Francisco detective and Celia’s childhood friend. Even though he clearly cares about her and wants to protect her, he’s highly skeptical about her claims of Adrian still being alive and tormenting her. When the vicious mind games start involving him and his own daughter, he starts taking it more seriously, despite also believing Celia to be somewhat unstable.

Harriet Dyer also deserves to be mentioned as Emily, Celia’s headstrong and loving sister. Unlike James, she’s able to more clearly see the psychological hold that Adrian has over her and tries to understand her claims, even if they don’t sound plausible. You can see just from her subtle facial expressions the disgust and terror of having to witness her own flesh and blood survive through someone that monstrous.

The supporting cast is filled out by Storm Reid as James’ curious daughter trying to cheer Celia up, Michael Dorman as Adrian’s submissive brother and attorney representing his vast estate, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Adrian Griffin himself. Jackson-Cohen only appears in a handful of scenes throughout the film, but he makes sure that his presence is known and felt. Every time he smiled, every time he opens his mouth, there’s just a horrifying feeling of what might happen.

And just from a filmmaking perspective, The Invisible Man showcases Leigh Whannell has a firm grasp on dynamic visual storytelling. Shot by Stefan Duscio, the cinematography is slick, controlled, and intensely atmospheric. For many sequences, the camera will sit still at the corner of the room when Celia or another character walk out. Sometimes, we see something moving around invisibly, other times, it’s just meant to bring out dread in the audience. And when the camera does start roving around in beautifully constructed long takes, it begins to feel like a character all its own.

The editing job by Andy Danny compliments this perfectly, splicing together shots into longer scenes. It plays a lot with the feeling of perspective, as there might be something we the audience see that no one else does and cuts between angles when needed. This is exemplified in the fantastic opening sequence, which sees Celia trying to quietly escape the house and the camera cuts between different shots just in case a sound might be set off. We’re watching every corner of the frame.

Rising star composer Benjamin Wallifisch gives us the instrumental film score here, and much like the film, it’s intense and utterly brilliant. The majority of tracks use a mixture of distorted electronic sounds to bring a sense of unease out of the viewer. They simultaneously sound like cries for help choked by vocoders and unseen forces punching you out of nowhere. It also hides subtle bits of strings and piano to bring up the inherently tragic elements of the story and even for moments of catharsis.

With a clear eye on the subject matter and a genuinely terrifying approach to its story, The Invisible Man is a hauntingly bleak portrayal of a truly disturbing monster. More stressful than fun to watch, Leigh Whannell has crafted one of the best and most inventive entries of the horror genre and further proves his mastery behind the camera. Anchored by a stunning lead performance from Elizabeth Moss, all parties involved make sure that you won’t forget this film any time soon.

If this is the route that the studio wants to go for their Universal Monster properties in the future, then I’m absolutely here for it. Whannell and Blumhouse knew exactly what they were doing here and I can’t wait to see anything else they make together down the road.

“Collateral” Movie Review

It only takes one special night to either derail all of your aspirations or make you more passionate than ever about them.

This crime thriller was released in theaters worldwide by Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures on August 6th, 2004. Made for the budget of $65 million, it went on to gross over $220.9 million at the global box office, split almost exactly even between domestic and international markets. The film actually debuted at the top of the box office its opening weekend, and remained strong for its whole theatrical run. It also garnered many positive reviews among critics and audiences and managed to receive two Academy Award nominations.

Directed and produced by Michael Mann, the screenplay by Stuart Beatie was inspired a cab trip when he was 17 years old and imagined an assassin in the backseat. Originally a two-page treatment called “The Last Domino,” the final product bears little resemblance to what was first written and went through many different casting options, including Robert De Niro, Russell Crowe, and Adam Sandler at one point. Co-producer Julie Richardson became interested in the project and initially tried to make it as a low-budget movie for HBO. Although he’s the only credited screenwriter on the film, it’s generally accepted that Mann and Frank Darabont performed uncredited rewrites to finalize the script.

Jamie Foxx stars as Max, a highly efficient cab driver in Los Angeles who dreams of opening his own limousine business. One night, a mysterious man named Vincent, played by Tom Cruise, enters his cab and soon becomes a backseat driver of sorts. Impressed by Max’s knowledge and meticulous way of getting around the city, Vincent offers an exorbitant amount of cash to be transported to three more destintions. Initially drawn by the money, Max soon realizes that Vincent is a hitman on his way to different targets and forms a unique relationship with him as the night goes on.

Even though I haven’t watched most of his movies, Michael Mann’s cinematic style is one that, thus far, just clicks with me somehow. The way he’s able to film believable action sequences and balance it out with interesting characters and themes is really compelling and fascinating. That’s one of the big reasons why his 90’s crime film Heat is a masterpiece, in my opinion, along with his uniquely captivating and picturesque take on the West Coast.

But about a year before I originally watched Heat, this film was the first of Mann’s that I ever laid eyes on. I decided to give it a revisit as part of my New Year’s resolution and see if it still holds up well enough and gives me the same tense adrenaline rush that I felt the first time watching it. And while it still suffers from the same issues I have with the third act, Collateral still proves to be highly engaging and riveting.

Much like his earlier work in films like Heat and Manhunter, this film does an interesting job at portraying two men at point in life where they feel disenfranchised by society. Whereas Vincent is a cold, distant man who sees every target of his as just another statistic, Max is a goodhearted person who can’t quite seem to convince anyone on his dream even though he feels strongly about it. This fateful night gives an opportunity for the two of them to meet each other, as they are essentially polar opposites of one another and are forced to confront the unconventional nature of their professions.

The fact that Collateral takes place over one night just makes these themes feel even more immediate and poignant. It’s not a particularly funny movie, (Michael Mann doesn’t really do well with humor) but the film creates a warm feeling of tension and anxiety as there’s this sense of a ticking clock as the night goes on. Even if it loses a lot of luster by the time the third act rolls around, it’s hard to shake the full grip the film has on you for the whole film prior.

Long before he made himself a bonafide star with Django Unchained, Jamie Foxx put himself on the map with his riveting Oscar-nominated lead performance here. As Max, he’s a typical everyman who wants to do good and make his peers happy, even when he has to deal with disrespectful passengers and unforgiving superiors. Although he begins as rather timid and submissive, he gradually grows into someone more keenly aware of the situation as things continuously go from bad to worse.

Also, Jada Pinkett Smith is captivating as Annie Farrell, a federal prosecutor in the state of California. While she only appears in a handful of scenes, she leaves an impression as one of the few passengers who actually treats Max with dignity and respect, and even encourages him to open up his business. She later turns out to have a key role in Vincent’s murderous rampage around LA and proves to be capable in stressful circumstances.

In the backseat for the majority of the film is none other than Tom Cruise as Vincent, the calculating hitman with a gun pointed at the driver. In contrast to his more heroic and easy-to-root-for lead roles of the past, Cruise surprises by making no attempt to be likable and adopts a passive sense of nihilism. He’s calm, ruthless, and utterly indifferent to the loss of life at his own hands, and whenever he isn’t killing his marks, he justifies it to Max and even mocks him for his empathy. To this day, I’m convinced that this is Cruise’s best work as an actor.

And from a technical perspective, Collateral see Michael Mann taking full control of the screen in glorious fashion. The film was the first one in Hollywood to be shot on low-light digital cameras and cinematographer Dion Beebe utilizes it to effect. The film is mostly shot in a handheld fashion, which helps to provide a sense of immediacy and realism to the story. The low-lighting also allows the filmmakers to capture things that would otherwise be unattainable, such as a scene where a pack of coyotes cross the road. The colorful nightlife of LA looks both gorgeous and ominous as the cab cruises through the streets.

This works in tandem with the editing job by Jim Miller and Paul Rubell, which cuts together the film very well. In quieter moments where Vincent and Max are arguing in the cab, the camera cuts between the both of them in a really natural manner so we can both hear their comments and see their reactions. And during action scenes, it knows when to either cut to a different angle or sit tight and let the actors breathe. Even though it’s primarily handheld, you can still tell everything that’s going on.

These elements, combined with the fantastic sound design, come together for the epic nightclub sequence. Swapping digital for 35mm, this whole scene is a masterclass in blocking, editing, and keeping the audience on their toes. It’s at this point in the movie that we finally see why Vincent is a force to be reckoned with as he takes on several adversaries from multiple different parties. It’s one of the finest action sequences of the 21st century, and it wouldn’t be matched until years later when John Wick arrived on the scene.

Relentless and captivating, Collateral is a tense and tightly wound thriller elevated by two magnetic performances. Although it’s not quite on par with his previous crime film Heat, Michael Mann still proves that he knows how to put together a frenetic story with some interesting observations on the world. And thanks to the talents of Jamie Foxx and a career-best Tom Cruise, he’s able to take this high-concept, unconventional setup and make it feel believable and urgent.

“The Matrix” Movie Review

I unfortunately missed the opportunity to review this last year in honor of its 20th anniversary. But since Lana Wachowski and the studio are officially making a fourth installment due in theaters in two years time, the time finally came to go down the rabbit hole once more.

This science-fiction action film was originally released in theaters worldwide by Warner Bros. on March 31st, 1999. Made for the budget of $63 million, it went on to gross over $465.6 million at the global box office, developing extreme popularity through word of mouth among audiences. Its success later led to two sequels shot back-to-back, increased use of CGI in blockbuster films, and even a new school of thought. The film itself also garnered numerous positive reviews from critics and went on to win 4 Academy Awards, particularly for its groundbreaking visual effects.

Written and directed by The Wachowskis, the film was originally packaged into a two-picture deal with the studio after executive Lorenzo di Bonaventura was impressed with their debut screenplay Assassins. In order to lower Warner Bros. Pictures’ fears of the big investment, the siblings hired underground a pair of comic book artists to help create a 600-page storyboard visualization, which finally granted them the full budget needed. Prior to filming, The Wachowskis mandated the cast and crew read numerous philosophical books to understand the themes, including Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, and took heavy inspiration from Hong Kong action films. The “green rain code” was specifically created for the film using a mix of Latin characters and mirror images of katakana characters to create the aesthetic.

Keanu Reeves stars as Thomas A. Anderson, a low-level software programmer who moonlights as a hacker nicknamed Neo. As he increasingly begins to suspect that something is not right with the world around him, another hacker named Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, approaches him with a unique opportunity. Serving under the infamous hacker fugitive known as Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishbourne, they reveal to him that the world he’s known all his life is a virtual lie- and that he might be “The One” to save humanity. Now tailed by seemingly superpowered men led by Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving, Neo and his new cohorts race to get to the truth of what’s going on in the world.

It’s kind of hard for a person of my generation to imagine just how different the world of sci-fi action movies was before this film came out. Nowadays, its influence can clearly be seen across many different forms of media, from its revolutionary bullet time effects to its philosophical ideas. But back when it came out, it completely changed the game in so many unexpected ways that it’s almost impossible now to imagine what the world would be like if it had never been made.

As such, it’s relatively hard to watch the film from an objective perspective because of how it’s fundamentally integrated into pop culture. Every time I watch it again, I initially get a little worried that I will finally get worn out from it because of some outdated aspect or that it would somehow feel immature. But as usual, The Matrix still proves to be an absolutely mind-bending and highly satisfying film for fans of all genres to watch no matter the occasion.

What has always sold this movie for me was never actually the groundbreaking visual effects or the incredibly filmed action sequences, but the philosophical themes and discussions the story provoked. Its meditations on the straddled line between reality and simulation are arguably the driving force for the whole series, as the Wachowskis confront how many people would rather live in a comfortable lie than face the harsh truth. The great thing about the red pill/blue pill analogy is that it can be applied to many different scenarios, including the directors’ coming out experience as transgender women.

At this point, it seems almost like a cliché to say that The Matrix is just a story that can be boiled down to “What is real? How do you define real?” But as you watch the film and its sequels, (Which I personally find to be very underrated movies) it becomes apparent that those ideas are explored in a really unique and unexpectedly meaningful way, and several characters have their own monologues on the subject. While the technology shown in the movie hasn’t aged particularly well, it’s ultimately the musings on the existence of spoons and prophecies that keep me coming back time and time again.

This was the role that launched Keanu Reeves into superstardom and all these years later, it’s still his most iconic one to date. As Thomas A. Anderson, he feels lost in a repetitive and boring world and longs for a greater purpose in life beyond his office job. As the film goes along, we watch him gradually transform into and accept the fact that he is Neo, “The One” who will supposedly help free humanity from its virtual shackles; and thankfully, the “reluctant hero” trope works here.

By his side for much of the film, Carrie-Anne Moss also excels as the hacker Trinity, who draws Neo into the larger world of the film. She’s deeply intelligent and highly resourceful in most combat scenarios and carries her own personal thoughts on the ideas of destiny and free thought. There’s a personal stake for her in this conflict, one which we don’t learn of until late in the film and helps make her role even more impactful.

Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne are equally captivating as Morpheus and Agent Smith, the main mentor and antagonist of the film, respectively. Each one represents a different side of the central fight, Smith being obsessed with order and control while Morpheus seeks an open world of freedom and critical thought. As it happens, both are also quite intimidating when it goes to hand-to-hand combat and tactical fighting, being exceptionally trained in multiple fighting styles. For much of the film, they both remain stoic until the real costs come into sight..

The impressive supporting cast consists of Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Anthony Ray Parker, Julian Arahanga, Belinda McClory, Matt Coran, and Gloria Foster. While Foster and Pantoliano are easily the most memorable and important of the bunch, everyone has a good part to play here and helps flesh out the world.

And just from a technical point-of-view, The Matrix is a remarkable cinematic accomplishment for the ages. Shot by the incomparable Bill Pope, the cinematography adopts a highly unique aesthetic that’s come to define the visual language of the Wachowskis’ work. The camera roams around the whole set in many action sequences to give a sense of disorientation and to know what’s going on. Many scenes are filtered with a subtle green hue to signify the carefully coded reality many people are living under.

This matches up with the work done by Zach Staenberg, who won an Oscar for his editing job here. The film knows exactly when to cut to different shots for dramatic or visual effectiveness. Speaking of which, it often times lingers to make room for the special effects, which remarkably still hold up to this day. Whether it’s the opening scene of Trinity freeing time to take down police forces or when the now-iconic “bullet time” segment begins, the editing does wonders to blend it in with real shots.

Frequent Wachowskis collaborator Don Davis provides the instrumental film score here, which perfectly fits the mood. The soundtrack is a fascinating blend of traditional orchestral work with more electronic-driven tracks. The film makes constant uses of strings, brass, and percussion to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and tension as our heroes try to enact a plan of action while on the run from Agents. Meanwhile, the synthesizers and droning beats help the techno-underworld feel more alive.

Packed with memorable quotes, incredible special effects, fantastic action, and stimulating conversations on simulation, The Matrix is a mind-bending treat for the eyes and the mind. The Wachowskis not only created one of the most iconic built-from-scratch franchises of all time, but they completely changed the way that films could be made and shown in the modern era. The entire cast help to bring to life these beloved characters, and fully trust the filmmakers’ vision the whole way through.

I have no idea what Lana Wachowski and Co. have in store for the fourth installment, but no matter what, she and her sister Lilly undoubtedly showed us what was possible with cinema. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries; a world where anything is possible.

“Onward” Movie Review

The bond of a brother can accomplish wonders that few relationships can.

This computer-animated urban fantasy film from Pixar Animation Studios premiered out of competition at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival. It was then released in theaters worldwide by Walt Disney Studios on March 6th, 2020. Produced for the budget of around $175 million, the film unfortunately never made a real profit in theaters. It topped off at about $106.1 million at the worldwide box office before the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to drop out early and land on the streaming service Disney+. It is currently scheduled to release in foreign countries when it’s deemed safe enough to return to theaters but in the meantime, has produced positive responses from fans and audiences.

Directed by Dan Scanlon in his second feature-length film, the story was inspired when he heard an audio clip of his late father, who passed away when he was very young. After coming up the plot and setting for the film, Jason Headley and Keith Bunin were brought onboard to perform rewrites on the script. The film got into some legal trouble when San Francisco tattoo artist Sweet Cecily Daniher alleged that the studio copied art designs in the film from her vehicle “The Vanicorn” after renting it for a single-day festival. The film also faced bans and censorship in Russia and various Arab countries for the inclusion of an LGBT character, the first such one in a Pixar film.

The film is set in a fictional world where magic used to exist and classic mythical creatures exist in suburban environments. On his 16th birthday, nerdy elven high schooler Ian Lightfoot, played by Tom Holland, receives a staff from his late father along with instructions for a spell that can bring him back to life for one full day. However, midway through the spell, Ian and his fantasy-loving older brother Barley, voiced by Chris Pratt, accidentally destroy the required gem, leaving only their father’s pants and shoes. With only 24 hours left, they set off on a quest to find a new gem to complete the spell and bring him back to life in the full.

Even with 22 feature films in the can and counting, there’s a certain level of anticipation that comes with a brand new Pixar film. They are undoubtedly a collection of some of the most creative storytellers and animators in the entire medium, but the quality of their films has been rather inconsistent as of late. Part of the issue is that they struck out with so many masterpieces in a row during their heyday that they’ve set the bar a little too high for themselves, which often results in their newer films being disappointing.

I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to make of this new entry in their long-running catalogue when I saw all of the marketing material. I was definitely interested since the studio promised that it would be the first of a new slate of original films instead of another Toy Story or Cars sequel but wasn’t really convinced of the traditional fantasy concept. And yes, Onward doesn’t really measure up to Pixar’s best work, but I still think it’s a fun movie to watch with the family with worthwhile themes.

If you’re as involved with these movies like I am, after a while, you’ll start to notice similar themes and ideas come up. Like most of the studio’s oeuvre, this is another film focused on a buddy relationship and uses the backdrop of a fantastical adventure to help the main characters come to terms with long overdue issues. In this case, Barley is learning how to finally grow up and Ian finds a way to step out of his comfort zone and go on an adventure, which has always given him anxiety.

Also like many of Pixar’s finest entries, Onward does an pretty good job at fleshing out the world around the characters in a natural way. The way it utilizes many classic fantasy creatures like elves, manticores, centaurs, and unicorns is really clever in how they’re all contextualized in a modern-era world while still feeling like a bunch of wholly unique species. The central story itself is somewhat hit-or-miss, but the worldbuilding is one of the big reasons this adventure remains memorable.

Another big reason is the voice cast, which is filled top to bottom with great actors inhabiting their characters. At the forefront are Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as the brothers Lightfoot, Ian and Barley, who genuinely feel and sound like lifelong pals and blood relatives. They contrast each other very well, with Ian being the more introverted and skeptical of the two while Barley is obsessed with fantasy lore and hanging onto the past. Their equally boyish charms do wonders for selling their chemistry, especially as they start to realize the deep bond they share.

Also, Julia Louis-Dreyfus lends her comic voice to great effect as Laurel, the Lightfoot brothers’ headstrong and determined mother. Strong-willed and pragmatic to a fault, she has little belief that the spell can actually work and bring her late husband back but still wants to find a way for her sons to bond in a healthy way. Without hesitation or much forethought, she chases after the boys when they set off on their quest and follows any lead that she can pick up along the way.

Octavia Spencer also deserves some recognition as Corey, a cantankerous manticore who runs a popular restaurant. Despite her cheery outward personality, there’s a lot of deeply repressed strength and rage when she finally comes to realize how much she’s missed going out on adventures in the days of old. Every moment that she appears onscreen, she suddenly radiates with a certain energy and sense of fun that is sometimes missing in the rest of the film.

Mel Rodriguez, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, Grey Griffin, and Tracey Ullman all round out the well-chosen supporting voice cast here. Each actor does well with their respective characters, even if some of them deserve more screen time than others. Almost all of them portray different species within this world and they all help subvert the classic tropes of fantasy and what’s often associated with centaurs and dragons and so on.

And from a technical perspective, Onward sees Pixar pushing their limits even further in the field of animation. Replacing mythical creatures with humans and real-life animals, every frame is able to capture the movements and physics so beautifully and with exquisite detail at that. There’s a vast array of colors for all of the races and landscapes and even magical items, especially in various hues of blue and purple.

Even the facial expressions of characters and the fabric of their clothes and equipment is shown in a stupidly amazing fashion. Whether it’s the subtle flick of an ear to something coming, the stretch of wings not flown in many a year, or even the faded paint on the film’s central van, it’s really a sight to enjoy. The visual references to fantasy tales of old are woven in now and again, which further makes the world feel alive.

Appropriately, the instrumental film score here is provided to us by two brothers, Jeff and Mychael Danna. The score they bring unto us is befitting of both a typical Pixar adventure and an old-school fantasy story. The film mixes strings and woodwinds in an excellent way, often times used to help create an atmosphere of mystery and the unknown. Other times, during the quieter moments, the music will swell in an emotional, yet non-manipulative way that keeps everyone engaged.

The film also includes an original song that plays during the end credits called “Carried Me With You” by Brandi Carlile. Although it’s folk-pop sound feels a bit jarring compared to the rest of the film, it actually works in relation to its themes of a roadtrip adventure and close friendship. Carlile’s lovely vocals mixed with the acoustic guitar and full band sound is a satisfying way to close off the story.

Wonderfully animated and told with sincerity, Onward is a fun and heartfelt, if somewhat lower-tier, adventure for the whole family. While it stumbles to find its footing and simply can’t compete with the rest of their filmography, Dan Scanlon is still able to provide a magical journey that marks Pixar’s return to original filmmaking. Topped off by a willing voice cast and fantastic visuals, there’s a lot to chew on here, even when it feels like its full potential isn’t reached.