based on a true story, drama, history, war

Hacksaw Ridge

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If you don’t like blood, slow-motion, or Vince Vaughn in a serious role, then you won’t like Hacksaw Ridge. It’s Mel Gibson’s first film since Apocalypto, and I’m not sure he even knew what he was making. It’s quite the war film in that its choreographed violence is impeccably bleak, while its moments of spirituality are brightly lit and sincere. Then you’ve got Private Private Parts, a naked guy going through basic training. What is happening?

The story is a true one, based on the early life and service of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an Army Medic in World War II who refused to carry a weapon. It’s disappointing the start of the film shows Doss in battle – it makes the “suspense” of his trials during basic training (literal and figurative) rather mute. But as we see him grow from a boy to a man, a boyfriend to a husband, and a trainee to a medic, we develop feelings for this conscientious objector and that helps make what seems too good to be true exciting to watch. The breathtakingly gruesome portion of the film portrays the Battle of Okinawa, which took place on Hacksaw Ridge (get it?) – essentially a cliff. After battle, American soldiers climbed down, but Doss stayed and saved 75 men. While in reality this heroic act led Doss to receive a Medal of Honor, a condensed film version showing Garfield dodging literally every bullet, grenade, and countless Japanese soldiers in a tunnel takes away from the awe of it all. I would’ve been thrilled to see just three lives miraculously saved by Doss, but Gibson seems to show all 75. Well, maybe 50. But the montage was a lot of the same, and I left feeling underwhelmed. It doesn’t help that we never see Doss train to be a medic (beyond reading a book on arteries and veins from his then-girlfriend Dorothy [Teresa Palmer]), and when he does save these men it always started with, “Put pressure on it!” Perhaps this is accurate but with the often corny creative liberties Gibson did take, why not add something Grey’s Anatomy worthy?

Ending with real footage alongside what can best be described as iMovie style, viewers are reminded of what an authentic story Ridge tells. At a time when emotions, beliefs, and opinions seem to be simultaneously more valued and divisive than ever, the tale of a man defending his conscious while supporting the greater good is interesting to watch. Because of this, and Garfield’s potential Oscar nom, see Ridge. Or skip the blood spewing and slow-mo fog and read up on Doss.

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awards show

2016 Academy Awards

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Best Picture nominees, via Mashable.

Before the best televised event of the year, Robin Roberts said to Leonardo DiCaprio, “Tonight the carpet is red, and the nominees… are dreaming in gold!” This year the Academy is really forcing that We All Dream in Gold line, but Roberts could have easily quipped, “Tonight the carpet is red, and the nominees… are white!” Chris Rock came onto the Oscar’s stage as host and owned it. He made every anticipated joke but in a way I rarely saw coming.  The #OscarsSoWhite controversy goes beyond zero black nominees, and while Rock (unfortunately) didn’t touch on that, overall he made the show feel personable and, consequently, inclusive. Unfortunately in its own attempt to be inclusive, the broadcast included strange pop-ups sharing “accomplishments” of presenters. The music included was also awful. But let’s focus on some positives, like Black History Minute and the clothes worn by Kerry Washington, Kevin Hart (“This is Dolce and Gabanna head to toe, and I’m shinin’!”), Charlize Theron, Lady Gaga, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams…

My Questions: Is Jacob Tremblay’s dad Juan Pablo? Who messed up the live camerawork during the monologue’s mention of Best Cinematographer? Coincidence? Who invited Stacey Dash? Did Jennifer Garner take a selfie with Common and, if so, can we see it? All that laughing during the Minions presenting was pity laughing, right? Why did Sacha Baron Cohen get to present the clip for Room? Who decided to move forward with those Kohl’s Drunk History ads?

The Highlights: Jacob Tremblay standing up for a better view of C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB8. Chris mentioned Girl Scout cookies the moment I began eating my Tagalongs – I absolutely would have bought cookies from those Girl Scouts. Let it be noted, Kate Winslet also began eating Tagalongs. The Weeknd has the greatest focus I may have ever seen, first performing on the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show runway and now surrounded by gymnasts (?) literally circling him. Mark Ruffalo WINKING into the camera, was he trying to kill me?  Lady Gaga proved once again that she’s one of the greatest, and most influential, performers of this decade. Sam Smith’s “Thank You Ticker” included “Barbara Broccoli,” and I hope she’s real. When J.J. Abrams had to stand by winner Alejandro González Iñárritu mid Best Director speech as he’s being cut off by the orchestra, who’s playing the Star Wars theme…

The Awards Themselves: I need to see The Danish Girl now, since apparently Alicia Vikander’s performance in that was award worthy (though she was unreal [ha, but truly] in Ex Machina and yet not nominated). “What another lovely day” was a perfect start coming from winner of Costume Design, Jenny Beavan. The clips prior to announcing Sound Editing were fantastic. Mark Rylance as Best Supporting Actor for Bridge of Spies made me so pleasantly surprised and his speech was the first that made me smile. Louis C.K. presenting an award deserved an award. I’m sorry, “Rehab” was played after Amy won Best Documentary? Not cool. I couldn’t help but wonder if The Academy has avoided giving Leo an Oscar because they didn’t want to hear him talk about global warming. Even after watching several films, including every Best Picture nominee, my ballot may not have been great, but Spotlight winning Best Picture made my night. My week! I know the week has just begun but… how do you top that moment?

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action, drama, thriller

The Revenant

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The Revenant, 2015

It’s a 2015 film set in the 1800’s. It’s beautifully shot on location (a grueling shoot, we get it), it’s got plenty of snow and blood, there’s lots of focus on a beverage container, and a man loses his, uh, assets. This is The Hateful Eight… but also The Revenant. The difference is that while Tarantino’s eighth film is laced with his infamous quick-wit dialogue, the script for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s latest is mostly a wheezing Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a member of a hunting team who, after being mauled by a bear, is essentially abandoned by his fellow frontiersmen. It’s an extended episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive, with Glass somehow surviving attacks from Native Americans and Frenchmen, free falling, infections from that bear attack, and so forth. By his fifth miraculous moment I was over it, and yet, Iñárritu keeps one hooked through over 2 hours of this. While the score is predictable and occasionally clunky, the sound mixing is unbelievable. I’m not one to necessarily notice the surround sound in a theatre, but Revenant makes one feel as if he or she is in the middle of the frontier, whether it be a quiet nature scene or an attack. The attacks are definitely brutal but perhaps the second best part of the film, as they are intricately choreographed and shot with an energy hard to put into words. Just watch the first five minutes and you’ll understand.

The locations, as mentioned above, are undoubtedly beautiful; however, Iñárritu can try too hard, namely the desktop screensaver-esque images between scenes. Seriously, that northern lights shot was laughable. In these moments of too-good-to-be-true shots and CGI bison, what keeps the film grounded is its performances. Tom Hardy is insanely good as Fitzgerald, and seeing Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter were pleasant surprises. DiCaprio, our five-time Oscar nominee with zero wins, could win this year. At first I wanted to be mad about this, thinking it could be a win long overdue and consequently not based on the film. Glass experiences dreams of dead wife, but so did DiCaprio’s Cobb in Inception. DiCaprio ate raw fish (and bison liver), but so did Taran Killam in Hobbit Office and he didn’t get any praise (only somewhat kidding here). But… looking at his competition, and remembering Revenant‘s final shot, it’s easy to imagine Leo receiving a standing ovation as he accepts the award.

A coworker has repeatedly called The Revenant “the perfect man movie,” and while it’s far from perfect and isn’t a “man movie,” is is a very good revenge movie. Seeing it without the Academy Awards so close would’ve been a completely different experience, but alas, it’s the time of year where films fight to the death. Revenant is pretty good at that.

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awards show

2015 Academy Awards

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) winning Best Picture 2015

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) winning Best Picture 2015

It’s the most wonderful time of the year– the suspense, movie marathons, and popcorn binges cease for the night that awards many of the best films from the past year. It’s my Christmas morning, my Super Bowl, my whatever-is-wildly-interesting-and-important-to-you. It’s the Academy Awards. This year, there was plenty to anticipate, and like any good show, there were ups, downs, and lots of sparkle and fake smiles. Here are my sporadic thoughts, somewhat categorized, on the Oscars.

My Questions: The show immediately began with a voiceover saying, “Live at the Oscars,” and then host Neil Patrick Harris referred to the show countless times as Oscars, not Academy Awards. Are we witnessing an identity crisis here? How much eye liner was presenter Channing Tatum wearing? Who wrote Shirley MacLaine’s bit to introduce The Theory of Everything, which included a portion saying it taught viewers about enduring love? Why does Oprah seem to be shown more than anyone else from Selma?

The Live Performances: MVP Award from the opening number was earned by Jack Black (screens in our jeans!). During Maroon 5’s performance of “Lost Stars” from Begin Again, the cameras seemed to intentionally avoid showing Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, as if in hopes of making viewers forget those current Oscar nominees starred in such a lackluster film within the same year. Jennifer Hudson performed during the In Memoriam portion, and co-viewer Trent and I fondly remembered when she placed 7th in American Idol. John Legend and Common’s performance of “Glory” was a powerhouse, and Legend’s voice is the equivalent of taking the first dip into a jar of Nutella– so rich, so smooth. Scarlett Johansson reminded us that The Sound of Music turned 50 this year, so naturally Lady Gaga performed a tribute and (perhaps surprisingly) crushed it. JLo had a seat front and center, and I was a little jealous. What started with “The Hills are Alive” became a full-blown medley of perfection, and somewhere Carrie Underwood had to have been crying. Then Julie Andrews stepped on stage and what I thought was perfect became, somehow, more perfect.

The Highlights: Meryl Streep sitting next to Jennifer Hudson. David Oyelowo’s fierce red tux. Several of the commercials this year were wonderful, but the Comcast “Emily’s Oz,” which I had watched online days before, made me cry, again. NPH’s Birdman spoof complete with Miles Teller playing drums was one of his few comedic high notes of the evening, second to his introduction of Josh Hutcherson: “Here’s the Peeta who won’t throw paint on you.” JLo and Chris Pine walking to present to an instrumental version of “You Sexy Thing.”

Special highlight shout-out to “Everything is Awesome” because that did not disappoint. With The Lego Movie’s controversial Best Animated Film snub, it’s as if all the last minute campaigning/bribing money went to this live performance, filled with countless dancers, Oscar statues made of Legos, and an Awesome Possum whom I hope to be when I grow up. Best of all, even several commercial breaks after the performance, pieces of confetti could be seen fluttering about. It was, you better believe it, awesome.

The Awards Themselves: The delightful The Grand Budapest Hotel won four awards, and with each “thank you” to director Wes Anderson I may or may not have squealed. The music seemed to be intentionally cutting off speeches at the worst times, so when Ida‘s director Pawel Pawlikowski simply kept going, I was thrilled. I’d love to know how many people Googled “Lonnie Lynn” after “Glory” won for Best Original Song. Graham Moore’s speech after winning Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game ended beautifully, and Eddie Redmayne’s win for Best Actor (The Theory of Everything) was such a classic celebratory speech I’m gonna watch on a bad day. He legitimately said, “I will be its custodian” while gazing at the Oscar. And cheers to Birdman for winning Best Picture! With several reviews already posted here, I won’t go into detail regarding coulda-shoulda-woulda. I scored a 63% prediction rate and ate a pint of gelato, so now it’s off to bed, dreaming until next year’s awards season.

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comedy, drama

Birdman

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014

First things first, I need to admit that before this weekend, the only film I’d ever seen Michael Keaton in was Beetlejuice. That admittedly/ashamedly impacts my viewing of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) since it tells the story of an actor, famous for playing a beloved superhero, trying to make a comeback– to anyone who knows Keaton’s work as Batman, this is much more compelling. That being said, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is immediately gripping, and doesn’t let go. Riggan, played by Keaton, is a few preview shows away from his Broadway debut– an adaptation of a play he has to decided to star in, produce, and direct. Things aren’t going well. As he tries to ignore the voice (of Birdman, who sounds like Christian Bale’s Batman) in his head and be a present father to troubled daughter Sam (Emma Stone), each preview seems worst than the last. Will the show, and Riggan, be a hit? More importantly, will the show, and Riggan, be able to shake off the pressure and image that is Birdman?

Birdman is a blast to watch, for a variety of reasons. The cast is on point, with every role performed with a seeming ease– there’s a reason this film has three Academy Award acting nominations to its name. Better yet, each character is not only well acted, but fleshed out. Each person, from the play’s cast (Keaton with Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, and Andrea Riseborough) to Sam and her mother (Amy Ryan) and Riggan’s assistant (Zach Galifianakis), has a story to tell, and we as an audience are fortunate to hear so much more than many movies allow of an entire cast. The script is rich with dialogue that makes one laugh, wince, question, and think– it is a film built to tear so much down, and the demolition is a beautiful mess to watch.

While the script certainly keeps the film’s tempo quick, the drum score is a treat I found myself missing when it wasn’t used in a scene, but what ultimately gives Birdman its rush is the illusion that the film is one continuous take— it never stops moving. At times, this filming technique is disorienting, but it emulates the vibes of a production hitting the fan, and makes a person feel so involved in the story. It is thrilling to watch, and many argue they haven’t seen anything like it– well, they haven’t seen one of my favorite films of all time. In 1948, Alfred Hitchcock premiered quite the leap of faith– it was his first color film, first comedy (though, naturally, dark), and he wanted to make it feel like, you guessed it, one continuous take. His cuts in Rope are much like those in Birdman, subtle, meditated, producing a frantic feeling. Granted, Birdman‘s pace is much faster, and is a far prettier film, so I am not trying to take away its cool factor. Just know that I left Birdman simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated and craving Rope.

I thought the film had ended 20 minutes before it did, so while I may have been distracted thinking of “my ending,” the last 20 are satisfying, and I was sad to leave my seat. See Birdman before the Academy Awards if you can. Anyone who has is bound to be excited, and/or devastated, by the winners announced, since Birdman is up for nine, and may be worthy of them all.

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