Category Archives: War

My Final Oscar Predictions

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony is nigh upon us and now every cinephile around the Internet are putting in their last predictions for the winners and losers. This is the first year that I’ve done this, as previous years have had me bogged down by busy work and unavailability for some of the nominees. However, I’ve seen more of the Oscar hopefuls this year than I thought, possibly because the race has been seriously unpredictable. After last year’s unprecedented Best Picture debacle, there’s no clear frontrunner for the biggest prize. That being said I would like to throw in some of my own predictions about what will, could, and should win in each major category. I also wanted to include some films or players whom I feel were snubbed and deserved some recognition. No matter what, we’ll all have the same answers on Sunday, March 4th.

Best Picture

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Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Get Out

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Mudbound


Best Director

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Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water

Could Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Should Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049


Best Actor

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Will Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Could Win: Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: Hugh Jackman in Logan


Best Actress

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Will Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water

Should Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Carla Gugino in Gerald’s Game


Best Supporting Actor

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Will Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project

Should Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Gil Birmingham in Wind River


Best Supporting Actress

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Will Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Could Win: Allison Janney in I, Tonya

Should Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: Holly Hunter in The Big Sick


Best Original Screenplay

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Will Win: Get Out

Could Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Get Out

Should Have Been Nominated: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)


Best Adapted Screenplay

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Will Win: Call Me By Your Name

Could Win: Mudbound

Should Win: Logan

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lost City of Z


Best Animated Feature Film

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Will Win: Coco

Could Win: Coco

Should Win: ONLY Coco

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lego Batman Movie


Best Foreign Language Film

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Will Win: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

Could Win: Loveless (Russia)

Should Win: The Square (Sweden)

Should Have Been Nominated: First They Killed My Father (Cambodia)


Best Documentary- Feature

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Will Win: Last Man in Aleppo

Could Win: Strong Island

Should Win: Icarus

Should Have Been Nominated: Jane or City of Ghosts


Best Documentary- Short Subject

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Will Win: Edith & Eddie

Could Win: Traffic Stop

Should Win: Heroin(e)

Should Have Been Nominated: Long Shot


Best Live-Action Short Film

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Will Win: DeKalb Elementary 

Could Win: My Nephew Emmett

Should Win: DeKalb Elementary

Should Have Been Nominated: Auditorium 6


Best Animated Short Film

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Will Win: Lou

Could Win: Negative Space

Should Win: Revolting Rhymes

Should Have Been Nominated: In a Heartbeat


Best Original Score

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Will Win: The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Could Win: Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer

Should Win: The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Should Have Been Nominated: Good Time by Daniel Lopatin


Best Original Song

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Will Win: “Remember Me” from Coco

Could Win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name

Should Have Been Nominated: “To Be Human” from Wonder Woman


Best Visual Effects

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Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Have Been Nominated: Okja


Best Cinematography

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Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: Dunkirk

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lost City of Z


Best Costume Design

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Will Win: Phantom Thread

Could Win: Beauty and the Beast

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Should Have Been Nominated: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi


Best Makeup and Hairstyle

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Will Win: Darkest Hour

Could Win: Wonder

Should Win: Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: The Shape of Water


Best Production Design

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Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Post


Best Film Editing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Get Out


Best Sound Mixing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: John Wick Chapter 2


Best Sound Editing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: John Wick Chapter 2


How say you? What film do you believe should, could, or will win the top prize? Be sure to leave you thoughts in the Comments, and as always if you want to see more interesting content like the one on this list, be sure to like and Follow my blog.


“The Hurt Locker” Movie Review

One of the most common adages of modern writing or storytelling is that “War is Hell.” This movie takes that concept and inverts it into something completely different and unexpected. This independently produced contemporary war thriller premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2008. However, it wasn’t distributed in American theaters until the following July. It went on to win 6 Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture prize. And yet, it’s the lowest grossing film ever to win the award, with a worldwide intake of $49.2 million against a $15 million budget. Directed by Katherine Bigelow, the first (And thus far, only) woman to ever win the Oscar for Best Director, the film is believed to be loosely based on screenwriter Mark Boal’s personal experiences. A former war journalist, he was embedded with several military task forces during the early stages of what seems to be a contrived, drawn-out war. Set primarily around 2003 and 2004, the film focuses on an Iraq War bomb disposal team, initially composed of Sergeant J.T. Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge. Following a freak accident, a new member, Staff Sergeant William James, joins their operations in places like Baghdad and brings an incredibly reckless yet dedicated behavior to the team. The film traces the squad’s actions during their tour throughout various parts of Iraq and Afghanistan, some able to deal with the stress of combat better than others. It seems impossible these days to make a contemporary war film, let along talk about one, without the possibility of controversy. Some get accused of glorifying the United States’ wartime actions, others are called out for demonizing enemy nations, and the rest are criticized for so-called cowardice in addressing the subject matter. Films like American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty, Thank You For Your Service, 13 Hours, 12 Strong, and just recently The 15:17 to Paris have all fallen under this controversy and some of it is justified. Now, is Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker the early 21st-century masterpiece everyone is touting it as? Probably not. However, I won’t deny that it is a great film worth watching. Interestingly enough, this movie did receive some controversy, but not the kind you would expect. Some of the most pointed critiques come from veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other embedded journalists. Many of them claim that the film is not a realistic or accurate depiction of wartime conditions. Having read them, a number of them are just technical absurdities that only they would be able to notice- such as wrong uniforms or unbelievable weapon range. But they do have a point in criticizing the team’s misbehavior as being very irrational and reckless; to the best of my knowledge, no soldier would ever make decisions like the ones in this movie. At times, it can be as frustrating as watching dumb characters in a horror movie. But I’ll admit that it didn’t detract from the sheer relentlessness of certain scenes, especially when a bomb may potentially be involved. I’ve been a fan of Jeremy Renner for a while now, but this Oscar-nominated role may be his best performance to date. As James, he’s incredibly off the hook yet brilliant when the moment calls for it, perhaps the only one who truly knows how war works. Future Avengers co-star Anthony Mackie also does great work as his level-headed superior Sgt. Sanborn. His headbutting with James is essentially the story’s backbone, with his by-the-numbers input is nearly thrown out the window on numerous occasions in favor of improvisation. Meanwhile, Brian Geraghty is arguably the most “natural” is his role as Eldridge, an insecure but well-meaning teammate. Other actors, like Ralph Fiennes as the profane leader of a British PMC group and Guy Pearce as another bomb disposal guy, do excellent work and leave nothing to complain about. On the technical side of things, it becomes clear why this one was an awards season favorite. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd opts for a handheld style that almost imitates a documentary, similar to his work on United 93. In fact, the way it constantly moves and zooms in makes it feel incredibly immersive in a raw setting like the Middle East. Several scenes were filmed with multiple cameras at the same time, which allows for new perspectives to be found in each moment. But the editing job by Chris Innis and Bob Murawski is what truly sets the picture apart. Putting together hours of footage from Super 16 mm film is no easy task, but add the asymmetrical structure of the script and things seem almost impossible. During an early bomb sequence, the film breaks out into slow-motion and cuts constantly between the explosion itself and the impact it has on various surrounding surfaces. The musical score here is composed and conducted by both Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. While not one of the 21st century’s best, it’s still a pretty memorable soundtrack. The tracks are largely made up of electric guitars on constant riffs and melodies. Instrumental in building all of the tension and anxiety in the film, it often sounded like a neverending crescendo. It also features some choir-like voices which help to provide a great background for the cacophony of war. But both Bigelow and Boal’s greatest accomplishment with this film is its examination of how these soldiers react differently to the Iraq War. While most war films spend their time showing us that “War is Hell,” the team behind The Hurt Locker find it to be something else: an addiction. A potent drug, even. The main character is essentially an adrenaline junky, always searching for the next bomb to defuse. That was by far the most interesting thing this film had to offer. Whenever it goes off into something else, it just feels like nothing is happening. The Hurt Locker is a marvel of technical realism and character frustration. A tense and unpredictable war thriller, I appreciated the unique approach it took to the perspective of war while being annoyed by some other decisions. Nevertheless, it’s a truly great film, if not a particularly rewatchable one.

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“The Post” Movie Review

Alright, so the sole reason I have yet to give my readers a definitive Best of the Year list is that there was just one more movie that I wanted to catch in theaters before Oscar season came to a close. And I’m glad that I’ve held it off thus far. This historical drama from legendary director Steven Spielberg was released in a wide amount of theaters on January 12th, 2018. But thanks to the sneaky practice of a limited release back in late December, the 20th Century Fox production was able to qualify for Academy Award consideration. Having already earned back its $50 million budget, the original screenplay by Liz Hannah was a part of the 2016 Black List. Realizing the potential for timely commentary, Spielberg and Co. scrambled to get this movie made as soon as possible. According to the director, the time between when he first read the script and finished the post-production was a hasty 9 months. Based on the true story, Kay Graham, played by Meryl Streep, is struggling to retain ownership of her family’s newspaper The Washington Post. In 1971, it’s discovered that a classified document called The Pentagon Papers contains 7,000 pages worth detailing how the U.S. government had systematically lied to the public about the Vietnam War over the course of 4 presidencies. The New York Times is the first one to scoop up the story, but the administration of Richard Nixon levies an injunction against them and makes it clear to the rest of the press that publishing any more pages would be equivalent to treason. Seeing this as an unconstitutional attack, Graham is persuaded by her editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, to run the story and see her newspaper grow into a national institution. Honestly, it’s not that hard at all to get me excited about a new movie from Steven Spielberg. Doesn’t matter if it’s great or crap, if Spielberg’s name is attached to it I’ll always be there to support him. Plus, this has the always-added benefit of two of the best actors working today in the lead roles. Throw in some not-too-distant history as the backdrop, and we already have a recipe for classic Oscar Bait. Sure, there are some inaccuracies abound for the sake of the story, but is The Post entertaining? You bet your flat bottom it is. Do I really need to explain how great Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are in this movie? It seems like a redundant statement, but they’re both genuinely great in their roles. But this is clearly Graham’s story, as we see how disrespectfully men on the company board treat her. At one point she states, “This is not my father’s company. It’s not my husband’s company. This is my company, and anyone who thinks otherwise, I feel, is not fit to be on the board.” Of course, Spielberg went all Lincoln and gives us a massive supporting cast of great names. T.V. stars like Bob Odenkirk and Matthew Rhys are perhaps the most important with their roles, but nearly every scene has someone you love. Whoa, Michael Stuhlbarg’s in ANOTHER movie from 2017? Bradley Whitford and Bruce Greenwood in more White House drama! There’s Jesse Plemons and Zac Woods as attorneys more scared than they should be! No one told me Allison Brie and Sarah Paulson were gonna be in this movie! You’ll practically be exclaiming, I promise. And the director may be pushing 71, but he still knows how to keep the film in his own signature style. With cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, he frames it all like a classic Hollywood picture with long still shots focused on characters. Sometimes, we follow the reporters in tracking shots as we get to see what their workspace is like. On rare occasions, it will switch to handheld in order to let the audience know how little time is left. Harsh white light is often shown blasting through windows which give a sense of the black-and-white story. Longtime editor Michael Kahn teams up with Sarah Broshar to masterfully cut together scenes of investigation with employees hurrying to print it out. This added a sense of urgency and ultimately made the experience a little more exhilarating. But of course, what’s a Steven Spielberg movie without John Williams composing the musical score? Certainly better than his work on The Last Jedi, there’s that classic sharp horns and strings that add a good sentiment to the story. But Williams understands better than to manipulate us. He also trades in some noteworthy riffs on the electric guitar along with light trills on woodwinds. The back and forth between these various instruments makes for a particularly riveting score. Even at the age of 85, it’s still remarkable that this man is pumping out new melodies for cinema. And of course, The Post has a message. Despite the impressive setting of 1971, it’s quite clear that this story is meant to act as a reflection of the current U.S. presidency with Donald Trump. It’s considered a miracle if he goes a whole day without complaining about “Fake News” on Twitter. In fact, a study not too long ago showed that maybe 27% of Americans actually trust newspapers anymore. This movie rebukes the idea that (most of) the press has an agenda to follow, opting instead to show how seriously everyone in journalism takes their jobs. Can it seemed forced or bash its message over the head of the viewer? Sometimes. But if any director has a right to do it, it is Spielberg. With relevant drama, gorgeous sets and costumes, an epic cast, and powerful analogies to today, The Post is a riveting historical caricature of modern America. Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks all excel at giving us a story that needs to be told now but they’re never smug about it. They spin an op-ed worthy of being published.


“The Last Jedi” Spoilers- Where They’ll Go From Here

*For some supplementary reading, please check out Haleigh Foutch’s excellent article which provides some great insight into my points here.*

Alright, I think enough time has passed for me to get into the thick juicy meat of the new entry of the Skywalker Saga. Obviously, here’s a big fat spoiler warning. If you have not yet seen Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, rectify that situation quickly. Now, I’m not going to be able to cover everything in this movie, but I just wanted to go more in-depth in certain areas. Specifically, the Canto Bight storyline. A lot of fans are not happy with this arc for Finn and Rose, and I can see why. While Kelly Marie Tran does great work as Rose, I just didn’t really care about her character. Especially when she tried to express her love for Finn later on in the final battle. I get that there was some build-up with the death of her sister, and especially that she was super idealistic about the Resistance. She asks Finn some questions that would seem like legitimate ones for people who’ve grown up just hearing the stories of heroism. And while she and Finn do get to play around with Benicio del Toro’s character DJ, who feels a little shoehorned, again, I didn’t really care for her. Truth be told, the prospect of visiting a planet full of gamblers and intergalactic racketeers feels a bit like an opportunity wasted. But whatever shortcomings that plot thread brought about is almost wiped away by the arc involving Kylo Ren, Rey, and Luke. As I said in my review, Luke is not the whiny kids we first met on the moister farm back on Tatooine staring at the Binary Sunset. (More on that later) In fact, the reason he keeps pushing Rey away- as well as why he came to the island in the first place- is simple: he wants to die. And with him, the Jedi Order. As he tells Rey, the Jedi were overly romanticised by several generations as these untouchable guardian angels. When in reality, they were filled with hubris and hypocrisy and allowed their greatest pupil to destroy them from the inside out. And when he saw a great darkness in Kylo Ren, he almost killed him out of impulse- a mistake that led to the death of all of his other Jedi disciples. A lot of fans were unsatisfied with the way that Luke was portrayed, a gnarly and cynical old man. Even Mark Hamill publicly stated he had disagreements with Rian Johnson on the direction of the character. Honestly, who was actually expecting him to accept Rey with open arms upon first meeting? And remember, he went to this place because he was too ashamed to face his own problems. Plus the scene he had with ghost Yoda was aces. With Frank Oz returning with puppetry, everything felt right and funny. “Page turners, they were not.” And now onto Rey and Ren. First things first, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, shirtless Adam Driver is one of the sexiest images in the Saga thus far. Joking aside, I absolutely loved the Force communication that these two used. Like every Star Wars movie before it, it expanded the Force in new, unseen ways and we may not have even seen its full potential. Can someone physically reach out from the Force and interact from far away? One thing’s for sure, though: Supreme Leader Snoke is dead. I kind of knew that Kylo Ren was going to help Rey in that scene, but slicing his own mentor in half with a lightsaber? And then taking his place? Not only did this lead to a beautifully done battle with the Praetorian Guard, but it also leads to the reveal we’ve been waiting for two years. Rey’s parents. Who are they? Han Solo and Princess Leia? Luke Skywalker? Nope, according to Kylo Ren, they’re nobodies. Junk traders who sold her for beer money. Yet again, this entire sequence angered a lot of fans, primarily because of how it dealt with the death of Snoke and Rey’s lineage. But the problem with that criticism is that fans somehow believe that Star Wars is a guessing game; whoever can get their half-baked theories proven correct is the king of online fandom. Why does it matter if Snoke is Darth Plagueis the Wise or Rey is the next Skywalker? It shouldn’t. In fact, that moment when Rey’s parents are revealed is important, but not for the reasons you’d expect. For better or worse, the Star Wars Saga has been built on the idea of “The Chosen One.” Unfortunately, that made the character of Anakin Skywalker much more distant from the audience. But with The Last Jedi, it’s out with the old and in with the new. In the words of Kylo Ren, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. It’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.” After Rey refuses, we head down to the salt planet of Crait- following one of the most memorable moments of self-sacrifice in the series’ history -where the Resistance makes a hopeless last stand against the First Order. But Luke Skywalker comes to provide them time to escape- or does he? Through the use of Force visions, he projects himself and “faces” Kylo Ren before everyone gets off the planet on the Falcon. And after he disappears, we find him on the island, dying happy with his legacy. And the best part is that it was in front of a Binary Sunset, the image setting off his iconic journey. The last shot is a small kid looking up at the stars, implied that he is Force-sensitive. Now, I genuinely don’t know what Episode IX is going to do. With Carrie Fisher dead, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen with Princess Leia other than saying “She’s dead” in the opening crawl. We know by now that Kylo Ren is a lost cause but what’s his ultimate game plan? How is the Resistance going to rebuild itself? So many questions left for us to contemplate, so much time to speculate. And that’s The Last Jedi. A massively-scaled yet thoroughly entrancing indictment of the legacy one leaves behind and how that can affect those who follow. This movie will continue to be either loved or hated by fans for that, and I completely understand why. But regardless of your opinion, the Force is with all of us. And it will continue to be with us in the years to come.

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“Darkest Hour” Movie Review

I know that the advertisements for Darkest Hour sell it as the newest completely generic Oscar-bait biopic about the life of yet another highly revered historical figure. And while it’s tempting to make such a write-off, please give Darkest Hour some benefit of the doubt. This historical war drama premiered at the Telluride Film Festival at the beginning of September of 2017. Following another screening at TIFF 10 days later, it received a limited release on November 22nd, 2017. After it went wide a full month later, it has struggled to make back its $30 million budget. Directed by Joe Wright, after it was announced, half of the cast had to be replaced; namely, the late John Hurt. But Oldman was always the choice to play the central character. Set in May of 1940, the early days of Britain’s involvement in World War II come to a head when Nazi Germany shockingly encroaches in on their position. After Nevel Chamberlain is proven to be incompetent in wartime, Winston Churchill is appointed the new Prime Minister. Facing opposition from within his own party to surrender to Hitler’s regime, he must overcome the odds of politics and unite the nation against their enemy. If this had come out in 1999, this movie would have already been the clearest contender for Best Picture. But now after the Academy went through drastic changes following this year’s Best Picture debacle, many are looking at movies like this and scoffing with pride. “That’s just old-fashioned hagiographic garbage” they might say, and they’d be forgiven for saying so. Studios are afraid to make these kinds of movies anymore. Especially if they’re World War II movies, then they have to REALLY work hard to get some recognition from just beyond the middle-aged white man. However, I’m here to tell you that Darkest Hour is worth a recommendation to general audiences. What makes it so enticing is its handling of the famed Operation Dynamo, where 400,000 soldiers were to be rescued from the beaches in France. That rescue was the centerpiece of another excellent war movie from earlier this year, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The two make a perfect companion piece, quite possibly the best one in years. But whereas Nolan’s film was an experimental and neverending barrage of intensity, this movie shows the machinations and how Dynamo came to be. We see the surprising amount of opposition to continuing war against Hitler, despite Churchill having warned the country about him decades earlier. As the man himself puts it, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” Speaking of Churchill, the rumors are indeed true: Gary Oldman’s performance is something stunning to behold. Behind the thick makeup job and cloud of smoke from Cuban cigars, he gives us a man put into the right position at the wrong time. Energized by a ticking clock of Britain’s doom, a powerful orator is unveiled who is never afraid to speak his mind with an extensive vocabulary. But we’re still given a human being who is terribly conflicted on his job and has problems socializing with other people; the first time we meet him, he’s in a thin bathrobe in his bed. If Oldman doesn’t get a nomination for Best Actor come January, I will be very surprised. In fact, he’s so good that he almost overshadows the rest of the great cast. Although she isn’t given too many scenes, Kristen Scott Thomas does great work as Winston’s wife Clementine. A strong-willed woman, she is always at her husband’s side even as he fumbles in politics. Game of Thrones alum Stephen Dillane is given a lot to do as Foreign Secretary Lord Hallifax. Despite initial support for Churchill, his paranoia gets the better of him as his party seeks the agenda of peace talks. Ben Mendohlson is restrained and nuanced as the terrified King George VI, while the young and beautiful Lily James provides a nice surrogate for introducing us to the world of this man. As much of a showcasing for top-notch acting, Darkest Hour excels in its technical aspects. Previously nominated for work such as Amelie and Inside Llewyn Davis, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel plants us in the middle of these stuffy cabinet room meetings. Underneath a distinctive film grain, we see many colors desaturated into murkier shades of grey or white. This permeates the feeling of hopelessness felt in many during the time of this terrifying war. Most of the compositions are of close-ups, which makes sense since most of the movie is just talking heads trying to figure out what to do. But he makes sure to keep the audience on their toes as he never loses sight of the urgency of the story. While it’s all of Steadicam, there are many quick cutaways between conversations which makes it more riveting. Meanwhile, Dario Marinelli brings us a musical score that matches the grand urgency of the situation. With help from pianist Vikingur Olafsson, he crafts a slew of memorable melodies. The piano is almost always contrasted by swift strings or bouncing percussion such as the timpani. I definitely think that it shouldn’t be overlooked by the Academy in Best Original Score. Carried by the best male lead performance of the year and featuring some desperately needed speeches in these dire times, Darkest Hour is a rousing and energetic look at a powerful figure in history. Gary Oldman will most likely get a nomination and may even win, but it’s Joe Wright’s brilliant direction that brings the whole thing together.

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“Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” Movie Review

Well, Star Wars fans, here we are. After The Force Awakens, we all begged for Lucasfilm to make a more original movie that didn’t mimic the same story beats as the Original Trilogy. And now we have this movie to unpack, so let’s dig in. The 8th main installment of this epic space opera series was released worldwide on December 15th, 2017. Having already accumulated the second-biggest opening weekend of all time domestically, the film is well on its way to breaking the $2 billion mark given the time. While critics have given strong reviews to writer-director Rian Johnson’s new entry, fans have been more mixed in their opinions. Admittedly, there’s a lot of density here in terms of storytelling and themes. And don’t worry, there are absolutely no spoilers to be found in this review. Picking up right after The Force Awakens, the Resistance is on the run after striking a victory against the First Order. Meanwhile, the scavenger Rey goes to an island on a distant planet to learn the ways of the Force from the last living Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker. All of this is happening as the young Kylo Ren continues to struggle with his allegiance to either the Dark or Light Side and his mentor Supreme Leader Snoke is hounding his every move. Like I said, this movie doesn’t follow the beats of the Original Trilogy. Whereas The Force Awakens had to play it safe in order to properly set up the new characters and put the plot on a path, The Last Jedi tosses franchise conventions out of the damn window to go in new, uncharted territory. Some fans may hate it for that, and I understand why. But to me, the second installment of this sequel trilogy had to shake things up in order to propel this series forward. And not only did it shake things up, it took the established structure of a Star Wars movie and threw it in a blender. That’s a long analogy of saying… I freaking loved it all. Rarely has there been an entry in a blockbuster franchise, especially one so beloved and iconic as Star Wars, that has felt this fearless and ambitious. It has no qualms about pushing the boundaries for the characters and turning the wheels off the main road. In that, a lot of fans may not like this movie because of what it does to certain arcs. One story involving Finn and a new girl named Rose dragged in the middle act, but I don’t want to delve into that. As a huge fan of Rian Johnson’s previous film Looper, it was very exciting to see him abscond with $200~ million of Disney’s money to make his own movie with his own voice. And that voice has a lot to say. Virtually all of the cast members from the previous film return here and they have all grown comfortable. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are particularly great as Rey and Kylo Ren, by far my favorite arc in the entire movie. Their dynamic dances back and forth like a ballet, playing off of each other’s conflicts and desires. In her last-ever film role, Carrie Fisher is as witty and charming as she always was as Princess Leia Organa. Though she’s bright with hope and optimism, it was difficult watching her scenes knowing her real-life fate. But the scene-stealer here is undoubtedly Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker in easily his best performance to date. Gone is the idealistic farm boy from Tatooine who wants to get power converters from Toshi Station. This is a tired, embittered old man who wants nothing more to do with the conflict of good and evil. In many ways, Rey has swapped roles with him as he’s hesitant to pass down the torch of the Jedi Order. On the directing side of the camera, The Last Jedi sings its singular vision with spades. As always, the visuals are astounding, switching (mostly) seamlessly from practical to CGI effects in one scene. Johnson’s collaborating cinematographer Steve Yedlin also makes sure to use a wide color palette, particularly that of red. The red throne room of Snoke, the red Praetorian Guard, red salt from the planet Crait. They take what’s normally a symbol of evil or wrong and make it beautiful. Along with Bob Duscay’s slick editing job, we get some of the best action sequences in the franchise. The lightsaber battles have never looked more precise and elegant than here with wide shots and fluid movement. And thanks to Industrial Lights & Magic, all of the computer-animated characters look like tangible beings. In a career spanning over 6o years and over 100 film scores, the legendary John Williams brings out his finest soundtrack since at least Raiders. Though he does recycle leitmotifs such as “Rey’s Theme” or “The Force” multiple times, he brings a harsh yet controlled sound to layer on top. Of particular note is one of the final tracks, “The Spark,” which is essentially a heroic riff on the Imperial March. Williams’ trademark of piercing horns and buoyant percussion are all here. But it’s the new concertos of low-strings that help elevate this to some of his best work. More than ever, The Last Jedi is concerned with exploring the themes commonplace in Star Wars; good vs evil, living up to a legacy, the courage to become a hero. But what if that legacy was overly romanticized by the ages? What if your hero was falsely judged by history? These are the questions the movie’s interested in asking. Luke spends so much time running away from his own legend, that he leaves his admirer choking on deceit. At 2 hours and 32 minutes, it’s the longest in the series yet, taking its time to unfold these ideas gradually. But with the way the story progresses, time is virtually nonexistent to me and it just flies by. I want to go more in-depth but I’ll wait for you to see the movie yourself. Though it has some pacing issues and one arc that could have been tweaked, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is a boldly dense and deeply satisfying emotional adventure. By far the best Star Wars movie under the Disney banner, it’s also my favorite one since The Empire Strikes Back. Thematically rich and bursting with memorable characters, this is a movie I can’t wait to experience on the big screen again and again.

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“Mudbound” Movie Review

I’m crazy behind on writing movie reviews. I’ve effectively canceled plans to review The Phantom Menace to get more out there. Let’s start with one of the most triumphant. This historical period drama made a splash at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival when it premiered to critical acclaim. Following an intense bidding war, Netflix landed the distribution deal at a whopping $12.5 million. It was widely released on the streaming giant on November 17th alongside a limited theatrical run. So if there’s any movie this year that Netflix is gunning for Oscar consideration, it’s going to be this one. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, the story follows two families- the white McAllans and the black Jacksons -who are forced to live and work together on a cotton farm in rural Mississippi. When their two eldest sons Jamie and Henry return from World War II, tensions rise as serious ethical and moral questions are brought up. They must wrestle with poverty, racism, love, and loyalty in a Deep South that doesn’t seem to want either of them. I know what you must be thinking from that short synopsis: This is yet another movie existing solely to make white people feel guilty about their past, yet in the end, lets them know that prejudice is a thing that has long since ended. My friends, please wash that thought out because this film is far more than something so simple as that. I had heard lots of buzz from this picture ever since it premiered back in January. Whispers that Netflix may finally have a major contender for the Academy Awards on their hands. One might easily scoff at that idea, but those whispers were true. Director Dee Rees’ Mudbound is a huge step forward for the service. As you may recall from a previous review, it’s been reported that Netflix is currently $20 billion in debt from all of the original content they’ve been putting out. In fact, there was another report a month or so ago saying that they want to produce and distribute as many as 80 films next year. In my humble opinion, that’s not a good idea for them. If anything, they should become more selective of their library of content. Films like this and Okja have the potential to set them up as one of the great Hollywood studios, and indeed, this film’s Oscar chances may send more filmmakers flocking towards them. The whole cast does a fantastic job here, but this is clearly a show for the matriarchs of the family. Carey Mulligan’s role as the wife Laura defies period stereotypes by being neither a White Savior or a racist plantation wife. Instead, she is a headstrong woman stuck in a household run by masculinity. Mirroring her is singer Mary J. Blige as the concerned Florence Jackson, who easily trumps everyone else in the film. Despite having the best of intentions, her world is constantly swirling as the families clash and reconcile. Garret Hedlund and Jason Mitchell play the two prodigal sons with excellent chemistry. The scenes of their bonding and sharing stories from the War give the audience hope that everything will be okay. The one character who’s not shades of gray is Pappy, played well by Jonathan Banks. A virulent racist, most of the families’ problems stem from him, and I didn’t like watching his scenes. Mudbound isn’t just a showcase of pure acting, as the technical aspects are very accomplished. Rachel Morrison’s cinematography reflects the dirty world the characters have to live in. It’s a rich and down-to-earth aesthetic that perfectly captures the scope of the story. The shots of vast fields and open land are contrasted by the small houses the McAllans and Jacksons are trapped in. There’s also some visceral editing from Mako Kamitsuna with near-perfect cutaways in every instance. Two particular examples standout. The first is when Jamie and Henry are losing friends in combat over at Europe while a Gospel service begins singing heavenly tunes. The other is a disgusting act of violence committed near the end of the film that moves away enough for the viewer to see with their imagination. Both were powerful and unveiled a bigger picture than just this farm. The musical score is composed by artist Tamar-Kali Brown. He manages to bring an Americana voice to this story, fitting since it’s a Southern drama. Most of the tracks mix together sorrowful low strings with a soulful African-American chorus. Some other tunes sound like bits and pieces of rhythm and blues music from the early part of the century were mixed together in a melting pot. Blige also contributes her beautiful voice for an original ballad called “Mighty River” that plays over the ending credits. Much like the message of the film itself, it’s lyrics are clear: we’re not so different from each other. And we need to clean our wounds of the past. Which brings me to the thing binding this film together: hatred. Both of the families have it in them, and even give it out in small doses. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that racism is far from over. Yes, we have come a long way since the days of both slavery and Jim Crow laws were considered societal norms. But Dee Rees understands how deeply rooted and complex of a problem this topic is and even makes a case that may never evaporate from the land of America. That’s not to say that the film is misery porn with no hope for humanity. Instead, it presents the parasite of prejudice as it is, and even ends on a note of love. Although it occasionally feels like there are too many characters at once, Mudbound is a sprawlingly relevant Southern triumph of character and melodrama. It’s one of the most essential films of the year, with a heavily involving story and shaded individuals with humanity to spare. It gives me hope for the future of Netflix originals. Please set aside 2 hours and 15 minutes to watch this movie, and you’ll feel the same way.