Monday, February 29, 2016


Chris, you ROCKED it again!

While not nearly as fun as the telecast hosted by Ellen DeGeneres two years ago and rising significantly higher than last year's disastrous telecast hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, the 88th Academy Awards ceremony as hosted by Chris Rock found itself somewhere in the middle-ground, yet not conservatively so by any means. On the contrary, this year's Oscar telecast was decidedly sharper, pricklier, more turbulent and undeniably more sobering and rightfully politically charged, jointly due to the content of the nominated films themselves (and that even includes Director George Miller's highly celebrated and awarded "Mad Max: Fury Road") but also due to the controversy surrounding the awards themselves as the Academy's infamous exclusion of African-American nominees for the second year in a row prompted the #OscarsSoWhite protests.

The tenor of the evening in full arrived immediately as everything truly came down to Rock and how he would handle the proceedings during his opening monologue and for 10 blistering minutes, he did not disappoint in the least. Fearlessly, Chris Rock, whom I wondered was subversively dressed in a white tuxedo, went there, over and again, and often to the obvious discomfort of the audience, he nailed every aspect of the Oscar controversy with truth and soul and an unrepentant satirical bite that would have made the likes of George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce extremely proud.

Chris Rock's opening monologue was wide ranging yet intensely focused. Whether referring to the Oscars as the "White People's Choice Awards" or roasting Jada Pinkett Smith for boycotting an event she was never invited to attend, or speaking to a variety of aspects concerning Hollywood's lack of diversity to its more "sorority racist" attitudes to whether the lack of Black nominees is even a topic worthy of protest, especially considering that out of 88 years of Oscar, quite possibly there were "71 other times" Black actors were never nominated, Rock's jokes were more than funny. They drew blood.

None moreso than two bodyslammers in particular. One, during which he barbed that this year's In Memoriam section of the show would feature images of "black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies" and secondly and most savagely, the reason that there were no Oscar protests in the 1960's was because "We had real things to protest, you know? We're too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer. When your Grandmother's swinging from a tree, it's really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short." Chris Rock carpet bombed the stage all with his trademark smile and confidence that only seemed to build and become even more emboldened the more dangerous the material revealed itself to be. It was truly a provocative beginning to an evening that was filled with provocative moments, some more playful than others, but always thought provoking and often sobering.

Rock continued his specialized brand of comical socio-political commentary with some great pre-taped segments, including his interviews with patrons from a Compton, California movie theater, all of whom had all seen "Straight Outta Compton" but were unfamiliar with any other motion pictures, presumably due t the complete lack of prominent Black actors within those films (save for one young woman who enjoyed Angelina Jolie-Pitt's "By The Sea," to which Rock riffed that neither Jolie-Pitt nor her co-star/husband Brad Pitt had even seen that film themselves). And then, I enjoyed the segment during which the likes of Rock, Tracy Morgan and Leslie Jones were magically inserted into scenes from "The Martian," "The Danish Girl" and "The Revenant" to illustrate the lack of opportunities Black actors receive in major Hollywood and independent prestige films.

Beyond Rock, other comedic presenters added to the satirical mix like Kevin Hart and especially Louis CK, who brilliantly showcased the economic disparity between Oscar nominees seated within the same room by sharply exclaiming that a figure like Leonardo DiCaprio would still be a millionaire whether he won or lost but the winner of the Best Documentary Short Feature category would inevitably be driving home in a Honda Civic. No, not every moment worked, but the ones that did stuck terrifically and stung powerfully.

I do realize that for many viewers, they are fully put off when celebrities take what is essentially an entertainment show and utilize the platform to proselytize over one cause or another and I am certain those feelings have been echoed again. But for me, I have never had a problem with those moments as being actors, performers and creative artists does n tin any way detract from any of those individuals being human citizens of the world. Last night's telecast felt to be especially paramount to speeches and moments of a more political slant as the nominated films themselves all carried their own political agendas (once again, even "Mad Max: Fury Road"), so why shouldn't the actors expound upon their positions and beliefs? And honestly, how could one not be affected by the moment during Lady Gaga's vehemently emotional performance of the Oscar nominated song "'Til It Happens To You" from the campus rape documentary "The Hunting Ground," during which she was surrounded by survivors of sexual assault? Just unforgettable.

And yet for every moment of impassioned sincerity, there were several moments that felt so disingenuous and downright false, they threatened to negate all of the surrounding displays of honesty. Take the broadcast's opening montage of the films of 2015, which heavily featured clips from "Creed" starring the non-nominated Michael B. Jordan and most egregiously, clips from "Straight Outta Compton" starring the cast, all of whom were not even invited to attend the ceremony, was insulting to say the least. The house band's performance of Public Enemy's "Fight The Power" at the evening's conclusion was laughable. But, it was Academy President Cheryl Bone Isaacs' speech about the necessary changes Oscar is compelled to make from this point going forwards that rubbed me the wrong way. Invoking the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is almost a cliche regardless of the intent, a certain "Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free" card which is ultimately meaningless until results are actually seen--something which may not actually play out for a few years now due to when films were placed into production and then finally released. So, let's see where we are one year from now...

Even so, this is the Academy Awards and moments of fluff and levity were more than welcome, such as Chris Rock's shakedown of the audience to purchase his daughter's Girl Scout cookies (clearly an update of DeGeneres' pizza moment from her show) and I just fund it charming to see young Jacob Tremblay from "Room" nearly leap out of his seat to see C-3PO, R2D2 and BB-8 amble onto the stage for some Oscar banter.  

As for my predictions...well...I made out quite well overall. While I did not write an official prediction posting this year, mostly out of protest, I had some ideas in my head and I mostly had them picked out aside from Kate Winslet not winning for "Steve Jobs" in the Best Supporting Actress category and unquestionably the stunning surprise of Sylvester Stallone not receiving the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for "Creed," something everyone felt was to be a shoo-in, especially considering that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the original "Rocky." While I would have loved for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" to have taken just one award, it was indeed wonderfully justified to see "Mad Max: Fury Road" essentially sweep the night with its heavy and extremely deserved award tally. And finally, "Spotlight" wining Best Picture of the year just does not sit well with me. Yes, it is a good film, a very good, solid film but I contend that it is indeed heavily over-rated and furthermore, I can easily name 10-20 films I saw in 2015 that I felt were even better and more deserving of this high level recognition.

And good Lord, doesn't Sam Smith's song from "Spectre" just suck!

But the show's greatest crime, each and every year, is the mammoth broadcast length to which they can never seem to trim the fat. Did we really need to see the Minions or better yet Woody and Buzz? The "pop-up" actor stats and the "Thank You Ticker Scroll" were decent ideas in theory but proved themselves to be distracting and certainly useless in keeping the show moving quickly. And didn't any of you also find it to be tasteless that the house band repeatedly used Wagner's "Ride Of The Valkyries" (!) as the music to usher Oscar winners from the podium????

This year, dear readers, I was actually not terribly enthused to watch the Oscar telecast due to the controversy as well as the nominations themselves generally. But as the show concluded with Chris Rock's open invitation for everyone to attend the BET Awards this summer and followed by a triumphant "Black Lives Matter!" I realized just how glad I was that I did watch.

With 2015 behind us, I look forward to what cinematic gifts 2016 will hopefully bring to me and to all of us!

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Dear readers, I could never really turn myself completely away but you know, this year, I have to say that I'm just not feeling it

Yes, my life long love, and sometimes hate, affair with the Academy Awards telecast will continue its turbulent dance this year on Sunday, February 28th, as the bloated, overlong, self-importance and surprisingly non-entertaining broadcast has deserved more than a few slings and arrows from me. But, I do have to say that the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, created in protest of the entire and sweeping lack of nominees of color for the second year in a row has been decidedly disheartening.

Again, this controversy is NOT about awarding individuals solely based upon color. This controversy is entirely about actors, writers, producers, and directors of color going wholly unrecognized, and therefore creating the perceptions that these individuals are not deserving of a nomination. Distributing a nomination to an actor of color has wrongly been attacked as something being taken away from a Causasian actor or the beyond short-sighted and idiotic response of, "Well...then, the 'BET AWARDS" are racist!! How would you feel if there happened to be a 'WHITE ENTERTAINMENT AWARDS' show?" Oh, we already have several of those and this one in particular is called the "Academy Awards." Mic drop! 

Even some of the actors who have commented or have even protested against the protests have been more than disturbing as well as sadly disappointing. Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling in particular has been awful. Even the great Helen Mirren has been tainted in my eyes as she attempted to justify the lack of nominees of color by explaining that while films like "Beasts Of No Nation" starring Idris Elba are well deserving, they unfortunately were hardly seen, so why nominate them. Riiiiiight! So explain the wide sweeping snubs against the box office and critical smash "Straight Outta Compton" where the only nominations for that film arrived for the White Screenwriters. And furthermore, like the queues are stretching around the block for the nominated "45 Years." Mic drop part two!!

So, with that, I have decided to eschew with my annual predictions this year. I won't waste my time over something that has upset and has even underwhelmed me so. Even so, I'll still watch the show, see what host Chris Rock has to say and I'll offer a post show recap/review and hope that 2016 proves to be more enlightened and fair minded.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Now, we have reached the pinnacle, the mountaintop, my favorite films of 2015!!! Now, this is indeed something for me to celebrate. As always, these are solely my opinions and I'll point you to where you are able to find the full reviews. Let's get crackin'!

10. "Inside Out" Directed by Pete Doctor
After nearly five years of uninspired sequels and prequels and one film that I felt to be their one and only disaster with "Brave" (2012), Director Pete Doctor and the wizards of Pixar Animation Studios came roaring back to life with their finest film to date. "Inside Out" is an impeccably conceived and produced experience that miraculously and magically finds the sweet spot between the arcane and the sublime, the complex and the highly accessible.

This story about an 11 year old girl undergoing the emotional rollercoaster that arrives with aging combined with the life change of her family's move from Minnesota to San Francisco and the collective of her emotions all rallying around inside of her is indeed a profoundly esoteric concept. I am simply dumbfounded as to  how Doctor and his team essentially delivered a film that exists as feelings about feelings while also presenting a straightforward narrative that contains belly laughs, tremendous pathos and is ultimately unafraid to express that Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) may sometimes be futile while Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith) is an essential feeling to open up a larger, emotional universe. Furthermore, Doctor has created a film that will alter as all of its viewers age, as the concepts will grow and change with our perceptions at 5, 15, 55, or 85. For a studio that has been chasing the dollar for far too long, this time, they chased the art and they grasped it magnificently.
(Originally reviewed June 2015)

9. "Steve Jobs" Directed by Danny Boyle
I'm telling you, there is not even one reason that anyone could give me for why this outstanding, smart, searing, brilliantly acted and directed film, which did receive rapturous reviews from critics , did not catch on at the box office. Boasting one of the year's finest screenplays, as written by Aaron Sorkin who was especially on fire, "Steve Jobs" is an electrifying, verbally rancorous drama that paints an unrepentantly brutal portrait of the inscrutable titular figure and extends even further to explore the nature of genius, the process of self-mythologizing as well as providing a cultural critique that explores our increased lack of humanity via the very technology that was designed to elevate humanity. With a rapacious leading performance by Michael Fassbender and supported superbly by the entire cast including Kate Winslet and a surprisingly strong Seth Rogen, "Steve Jobs" is a uniformly excellent interior drama.
(Originally reviewed November 2015)

8. "The Revenant" Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu
With a back-breaking and almost wordless leading performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, stunningly rapturous cinematography, an eerily glacial film score and a revenge tale filtered through a multi-layered, hallucinogenic odyssey designed to mirror America's violent, intolerant, racist past with its violent, intolerant, racist present, Director Alejandro G. Inarritu has created another jaw dropping piece of high wire filmmaking and the result is absolutely fearless, uncompromising and pummeling. At this rate, I would be stunned if it did not walk away with numerous Oscars...especially one for the much and long deserving DiCaprio.
(Originally reviewed January 2016)

7. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Directed by George Miller
While nothing could fully compare to the very first time that I was introduced to the barbaric post-apocalyptic wastelands of Mad Max courtesy of George Miller's "The Road Warrior" (1981), "Mad: Max: Fury Road" is unquestionably Miller's finest entry in the series as well as being the finest action film of the year by a wide mile. It is astounding to me that for a film that possesses the barest bones of a plot and essentially begins as a chase and concludes as a race contains a veritable wellspring of meticulous detail and a rampaging feminist vision where Charlize Theron's character of Imperator Furiosa is the true engine that drives the film to glory amidst the visual orchestra of ultra violence, lush cinematography, beautifully choreographed stuns and practical special effects and a gorgeous visual palate that gives each section of the film its own identity while congealing into a sumptuous whole. With Tom Hardy easily stepping into the tile role from Mel Gibson and injecting a certain physical, psychological and existential anguish that I really have not experienced before within this series, "Mad Max: Fury Road" is George Miller's rampaging, relentless white line nightmare masterpiece.
(Originally reviewed May 2015)

6. "The Hateful Eight" Directed by Quentin Tarantino

It seems to be more than fitting to have this particular title fitting so closely with both "The Revenant" and "Mad Max: Fury Road" as they do seem to be something of a piece, as this is another film that explores violence, intolerance, humanity and morality in an unforgiving landscape and the turbulent time period of a few years after the Civil War. With "The Hateful Eight," Quentin Tarantino takes a blend of Hitchcock and Agatha Christie, his peerless brand of characterization and dialogue, a collective of top flight performances and his unforgiving HARD R RATED brutality and delivers his most theatrical film to date, which also contains his most overt political statements as he holds an especially vicious mirror up to ourselves to explore the roots of racism and our doomed future should we allow those roots to continue to strengthen. 

"The Hateful Eight" takes one long day and night with the titular cast of reprehensible characters trapped inside of a Haberdashery during a blizzard and subjects to a series of stories (that may or may not be true), with dubious and duplicitous identities, all combining to mounting intensity and exploding into a voluminous bloodbath. And over the course of the film's three hours, Tarantino delivers a gorgeous production that unfolds over the slow burn of six exquisite cinematic chapters and becomes simultaneously interior, excruciating, mesmerizing and towering.
(Originally reviewed January 2016)

5. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Directed by J.J. Abrams
Absolutely sensational and completely overwhelming, Director J. J. Abrams masterfully achieved the seemingly impossible. With "The Force Awakens," Abrams extended the "Star Wars" universe via "Episode VII" that fully adheres to the previous six films, completely honors the original vision, themes and concepts by series creator George Lucas, while also placing his own personal stamp over the proceedings with clear eyed passion, skill, grit, storytelling heft and the creation of excellent new characters to populate the galaxy far, far away. 

What else could I possibly say about the further adventures of Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and our favorite space smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) that you don't already know? What else can I say about the terrific new addition of desert planet scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), conflicted Stormtrooper turned Resistance fighter Finn (John Boyega), ace Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and the unhinged Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) that you don't already know? J.J. Abrams' "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" spectacularly delivered the nostalgic and plot driven echoes to the past while blazing the road ahead to its hopefully exciting future in high flying style and substance with an experience that often brought joyous tears to my eyes all three times I happened to see the film. I am simply unable to ask for anything more from this outstanding film than to just have the chance to see it all over again, as it has completely inspired me to salivate profusely in anticipation for "Episode VIII"!
(Originally reviewed December 2015) 

4. "Straight Outta Compton" Directed by F. Gary Gray
Extending and transcending far beyond the standard music biopic, Director F. Gary Gray's enormously entertaining and profoundly unflinching drama chronicling the rise and fall of the pioneering rap group N.W.A., works brilliantly as a coming of age film, a political film of righteous fury, an exploration of musical non-violent protest, as well as a celebration of artistic inspiration and creation. "Straight Outta Compton" is explosive cinema, a vehemently thrown cinematic brick through the window of hollow sequels, rampant cliches and an artistic and socio-political disregard to the lives of the Black communities of this nation, especially regarding police harassment and the violence committed against said communties. Furthermore, Gray's film is artfully multi-faceted and propulsively multi-layered making for an experience that is bountiful with its riches, especially with the Oscar worthy performances by both Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre and definitely, the excellent Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. Epic, sprawling, and truly incendiary.
(Originally reviewed August 2015)

3. "Me And Earl And The Dying Girl" Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
This film was a knockout and I already feel that it has become one of the most slept upon films of the year. With no disregard to 2014's "The Fault In Our Stars" (which I liked very much), Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's "Me And Earl And The Dying Girl Girl" proved itself to be a conceptually stronger, more visually inventive, and most importantly, an emotionally tougher, deeper, more powerful experience for me by a wide margin. The story of the introverted teenager Greg Gaines (played by Thomas Mann) and his tentative yet transformative friendship with his classmate and neighbor Rachel (played by Olivia Cooke), who has developed Stage 4 Leukemia, entirely circumvents any and all cliches, melodrama and easy sentiments that could have easily made this film yet another "disease of the week" feature. 

Beautifully, Gomez-Rejon has delivered a story of highly articulate, verbose, intelligent teenagers armed with an acerbic and wholly unsentimental wit who happen to populate a film that is decidedly scruffier, more askew and consistently cinematically inventive. "Me And Earl And The Dying Girl," often non-linear, and containing abrupt shifts in tone which vary from laugh out loud hilarity to the emotionally pummeling is one of 2015's greatest antidotes to the lazy and empty hearted block buster that clog our screens from week to week. Gomez-Rejon has presented to us a work of a personal, heartfelt vision that is demanding the fullest of your attention and possessing the audacity to present teen aged characters as full, richly developed three dimensional human beings who deserve a story this artfully told. 
(Originally reviewed July 2015)

2. "Chi-Raq" Directed by Spike Lee
Speaking of audacious...

Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq," his most blistering narrative feature in 15 years without question, is a blitzkreig of an experience. As vital and vibrant as it is timely, "Chi-Raq" addressing the emergency status of our nation's gun violence epidemic via the unforgiving and passionate lens of satire as Lee has adapted Aristophanes' 411 B.C. play "Lysistrata" to weave the tale of  two warring Chicago gangs whose stray bullets have murder yet another innocent child. Lysistrata (played wonderfully by Teyonah Paris), in protest, organizes a sex strike to inspire all of the men to lay down their arms forever. 

As vibrantly narrated by the one man Greek chorus of Dolomdes (Samuel L. Jackson), and containing sequences of broad comedy, rich musical sections, a squadron of colorful characters and with dialogue spoken entirely in rhymed verse, "Chi-Raq," in no way, trivializes the effects of gun violence throughout the nation, and Chicago in particular. It amplifies the urgency triumphantly through every pulsating image and moment, always placing the tragedy of gun violence front and center in a demanding, rapacious, "in-your-face" style that is essential to the violent times in which we live. And special mention must be made in honor of John Cusack, who portrays a neighborhood Catholic Priest inspired by Chicago's own Father Michael Pfleger, who delivers a towering, extended sermon through a voice growing increasing hoarse with furious incredulity at a society that could continue to allow mass murders to increase at such an alarming rate without real consequence and with complete disrespect for the sanctity of human life. Cusack did his home city of Chicago proud with that sequence and with "Chi-Raq," Spike Lee has created a film that may not be what some of us want but it is unquestionably the film that we need. This is "WAKE UP!" cinema at its finest and most essential!
(Originally reviewed December 2015)

And now, my favorite film of 2015 is....
1. "Love And Mercy"  Directed by Bill Pohlad
A film of shattering beauty.

Director Bill Pohlad's imaginative, innovative, impressionistic portrait of The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson through two distinct period of Wilson's life in the mid/late 1960's (as represented by Paul Dano) and the late 1980's (as represented by John Cusack), was the year's finest, most glorious, downright heartbreaking and blissfully life affirming film. It is a film of tremendous artistry and bottomless empathy, much like the music and the creator it celebrates, and Pohlad has wonderfully ensured that his film transcends all of the trappings of the music bio-pic and even a certain musicology itself, in order to deliver a film that flies straight to the soul. 

One does not have to be a fan of  The Beach Boys to fully receive the gifts of this film. One also does not need to even know anything or have any pre-conceived knowledge or viewpoints about Brian Wilson either. It may assist but it is not necessary as Pohlad weaves a stunning cinematic tapestry that flows effortlessly between the delirious creative "Pet Sounds" period and Wilson psychological meltdown to the over-medicated, depressed and psychologically damaged Wilson's imprisonment and emancipation from the malevolent, controlling therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (an excellent Paul Giamatti), courtesy of a new and aching love affair begun with car saleswoman Melinda Leadbetter (Elizabeth Banks).

Paul Dano and John Cusack, who clearly do not resemble each other and also do not share any scenes together, create a perfect symmetry as they jointly create a character from two distinct life periods to seamless effect. Dano is perfect and sensational as he fully captures not only the physical resemblance to Wilson but most importantly, to his inner state which is restlessly creative to the point of genius and madness. And for me, John Cusack gave the performance of his career as it was so painfully unguarded, so wounded and broken yet possessed that glimmer of hope that light, love and deliverance will one day find him again.

Aided heroically by Cinematographer Robert Yeoman and the superior score and sound design by Composer Atticus Ross, who often makes you feel as if you are swimming inside of a Beach Boys' song to hallucinogenic and often harrowing effect, Bill Pohlad's "Love And Mercy" is a wave of emotion that flows from clarity to breakdown, inspiration to glory, imprisonment to empowerment, selfishness to selflessness, and the long ranging damages from psychological abuse to the healing powers of love and acceptance. 

It's all there in the film's own title and it is indeed my favorite film of 2015.
(Originally reviewed June 2015)

There you have it! Onto the Oscars, with predictions and wrap-ups, all coming soon!!!

Saturday, February 6, 2016


All things considered, for everything that I happened to see in 2015, there really was not that much that I really didn't like r even detested. In fact, for this section of my four art Savage Scorecard series, there are only eight titles and I would say that perhaps three of them are ones that were more of the disappointing variety rather than existing as bad films.

For instance, my most recent review was for Directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's "Anomalisa" (Originally reviewed January 2016), their bold, inventive, visually lush, R rated animated feature. This film was not a bad film whatsoever. Just one that was perhaps more shallow than I had anticipated and truthfully, I have barely given the film much thought since finishing that review.
"The D Train" (Originally reviewed May 2015), the debut feature from Directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel was another near miss for me as it was indeed a queasily effective little drama about mounting feelings of inadequacy as we reach middle age plus the insidious nature of popularity and the power one can wield over another. It featured yet another strong dramatic stretch from Jack Black and the film did contain one truly audacious moment that did make this otherwise sleepy film spring to life, But that said, it too tended to be a tad shallow, even though it did exist as a dark, tragic comedy.
Writer/Producer/Director Cameron Crowe's "Aloha" (Originally reviewed June 2015) was a film that broke my heart. While not the disaster that many would lead you to believe, it is unquestionably Crowe's weakest film by a mile, something that really hurt to write as Crowe has been, and will remain, one of my longtime heroes. That said, I calls them as I sees them and "Aloha" was a big disappointment. But first, I feel the need to again debunk the major criticism launched against the film about Crowe's supposed "whitewashing" with the casting of Emma Stone as an Asian character. Again, and with emphatic feeling, the character of Allison Ng IS NOT 100% Asian. This character is 1/4 Hawaiian from a Father who is 1/2 Asian and a Mother who is not. Furthermore, Ng is based upon a real, red-headed, Caucasian appearing Hawaiian woman of this very heritage that Crowe encountered. To me, any sense of racism lies within audiences perceptions of what they feel individuals should look like rather than the wide sweeping realities. This was nothing I felt that Crowe or Stone had to apologize for, although they did and eloquently so.

While the film thematically fits very snuggly with the remainder of Crowe's past work and it has much more on its mind than just existing as a standard romantic comedy, the problems with "Aloha" are considerable. First of all, the romantic comedy element of the film was Crowe's least convincing cinematic romance to date, a surprising flaw considering how beautifully he has mined the highs and lows of the human heart in the past. Returning to Emma Stone, her actual performance felt awkward and unconvincing, a rarity for an actress so solid. Mostly, it felt as if the studio re-edited the film to death, thus sucking any life out of the proceedings because for all of the story threads and themes, "Aloha"  truly felt as if there was a greater, longer film within the material presented. But beyond any possible studio tampering, it was just a film that endured a painful, lengthy gestation and perhaps the stars simply were not aligned for this project. Very sad, since it felt to be as passionately pursued as anything Crowe has ever done before.

But then there are the bad ones, the ones that really let me down, from the ones that could have had some potential but failed to the ones that just need to have the stuffing beaten out of them one last time.

5. "Rock The Kasbah" Directed by Barry Levinson
Legendary filmmaker Barry Levinson found himself a looooong way from the heights set by his own past work which includes nothing less than than the likes of "Diner" (1982), "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987), and "Wag The Dog" (1997), with this surprisingly laconic, plodding and toothless satire that completely wastes the talents of Bill Murray, who delivers a fully committed performance and is seemingly straining to carry the entire film upon his back from beginning to end. This story about a down and almost out rock music manager stranded in Afghanistan who miraculously discovers his meal ticket: a teenage girl with a golden voice who dreams to be the first woman to compete on the Middle East's version of "American Idol" is a concept just screaming for potent comedic launches against the music business, as well as existing as a striking feminist drama. Frankly, it is a film that is screaming for anarchy. But somehow, the film is afraid to dig deep as it just tosses good ideas aside with paper thin characters and dry as the desert direction.
(Originally reviewed October 2015)

4. "Spectre" Directed by Sam Mendes
Speaking of dry as the desert, what happened to James Bond????? After the spectacular heights set by Director Sam Mendes' "Skyfall" (2012), honestly the very best James Bond film that I have seen in my entire life, my hopes were indeed sky high for this next installment, which found Mendes back in the director's chair. Yet, after a stunning opening pre-credit sequence and a few intermittent scenes here and there, "Spectre" was a torpid, terrible follow-up, complete with a negligible romance, a painfully loquacious villain (Christoph Waltz), and an overall experience that was drained of all energy, excitement, and even entertainment. Even 007 himself, Daniel Craig, looked as if he would rather be anywhere else other than on a James Bond film set even one more blasted time. And if Bond doesn't wish to be present, then why should we?
(Originally reviewed November 2015)

3. "Mistress America" Directed by Noah Baumbach
All of the good will Noah Baumbach recaptured with me after viewing "While We're Young" early in the year was copiously wasted and depleted by the later half of the year after I saw his other 2015 effort, the frustrating, self-congratulatory, odiously smug "Mistress America," starring the irritating, insufferable, insistently cloying Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote this plastic, insipid tripe with Baumbach. While this film shares themes with Baumbach's past films, essentially literate, highly educated, urban, young and not-so-young characters all attempting to determine their respective places within the world, it remains stunning to me how Baumbach can again fall into such pathetic traps where pseudo intelligence, a series of non-sequiturs, and hipster driven ironic distance rule the film and completely undercuts any sense of truth. Worst of all is Gerwig, who again flails around, mugging endlessly, and so obviously in love with her meager talent that she comes off as the most ungifted kid in the school play but has somehow convinced herself that she is a Shakesperian trained actress...and she'll never let you forget it. It is precisely the very type of indie film that people who hate indie films would point to as to why they hate indie films.
(Originally reviewed September 2015)

2. "Ricki And The Flash" Directed by Jonathan Demme
Even Meryl Streep's most passionate fans would not be able to find anything to defend about this one. "Ricki And The Flash," in which Streep portrays a boozy, belligerent, blowhard leader/singer/guitarist of a Texarkana, California bar band, is a massive failure, a tonal disaster and completely unbelievable that Writer Diablo Cody and Director Jonathan Demme had anything to do with it as it is also a film about a large, dysfunctional family that seems to not understand even one thing about how real world families work, live, breathe, operate, implode and restructure themselves. The drama is non-existent, the supposed comedy is even worse and all of the characterizations have been created in the broadest possible strokes making every moment within the film blatantly insincere. And sitting at the core is Meryl Streep's painfully contrived, giant salted HAM of a performance that contains not even a shred of authenticity. She is downright horrific to regard this time is the film as a whole. Don't say that I didn't warn you.
Originally reviewed August 2015)

And for me, the worst film of 2015 was...

1. "Jurassic World" Directed by Colin Trevorrow
You may have heard about an internet petition that has been created in support of George Lucas returning to the "Star Wars" franchise to direct "Episode "IX" instead of Director Colin Trevorrow. Based upon the steaming pile that is "Jurassic World," I am nearly inclined to sign such a petition.

Dear readers, I know that you have seen it,  perhaps several times. I also know that many of you have loved the film but even while it is a glistening production, visually seamless and so sleek that it could nearly pass for one of Executive Producer Steven Spielberg's own directorial efforts, such a shame it is that the movie is actually terrible. I hated "Jurassic World" so passionately because it only confirmed my worst fears about it before seeing it: that there is no reason for the film to exist...other than to cash in upon nostalgia. It is, simply put, a stupid film about stupid people who do stupid things just to get themselves chomped by rampaging dinosaurs.

I know that having strong human characters has never been the strongest suit of this series and that the dinosaurs are the real stars but Chris Pratt, the improbably high-heeled Bryce Dallas Howard and everyone else are completely wasted in an effort that has seemingly pretends that the other three films in the series don't exist (while also serving nostalgic nods to the original 1993 film) and so, we witness human characters making the same stupid mistakes over and over again. Therefore, we have a film where there are no real thrills, excitement, awe, terror, thrills or anything that would make us give a damn about anything that ever happens within the film.

Vaguely sexist, gratuitously violent (the extended, mean spirited and unnecessary dinosaur killing of a minor female supporting character was truly the year's ugliest sight to me) and again, without even one brain cell in its pretty head, "Jurassic World" was definitely bigger and louder than ever before. But it was so big and so loud that it stomped out any sense of creativity and imagination altogether.
(Originally reviewed July 2015)


Wednesday, February 3, 2016


For Part Two of my Savage Scorecard series, I now turn to a collection of films that received my highest rating of four stars but unfortunately, did not reach my final Top Ten Favorites Films Of 2015 list. Additionally, there are a couple of films in this section that did receive my three and a half star rating but were so strong that I felt the need to include them here. So, in those cases, why not just think of those films as having received three and three quarter star ratings if you must.

Just as before, these are only my opinions, they are listed in alphabetical order and I will indicate where you can find the full reviews.

1. "Ant-Man" Directed by Peyton Reed
For a film that I was not at all terribly interested in seeing due to lack of interest as well as superhero movie fatigue, I was happily stunned with "Ant-Man," the most entertaining film from the Marvel Comics canon in years. Director Peyton Reed, taking over for Writer/Director Edgar Wright who departed the project due to those pesky "creative differences," delivered the latest Marvel film that was refreshingly light upon its feet, conceptually as well as with its overall execution. Relieved of the increasingly darker and ponderous tone of most superhero films as of late, Reed, with his terrific leading man Paul Rudd in the titular role plus a hilariously scene stealing Michael Pena, presented a deceptively unassuming story where the storytelling, clever word play and consistently inventive and playful visual gags congealed beautifully.Fleet of foot and smaller scaled, Peyton Reed's "Ant-Man" yielded great results and even rejuvenated my interest in the next wave of Marvel feature films,  
(Originally reviewed July 2015)

2. "Creed" Directed by Ryan Coogler
Outstanding!! I've said it before...after 40 years, there really is not any reason to have another "Rocky" anything in the world but clearly if the cinematic series felt any need to continue, it just needed a fresh pair of eyes to approach the material. With "Creed," Director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan, who last collaborated with the searing drama "Fruitvale Station" (2013), have accomplished a spectacular feat, a "Rocky" spin-off feature focusing upon boxing upstart Adonis Creed, the illegitimate child of the deceased Apollo Creed. Under Coogler's authentic and simultaneously gritty and graceful direction, "Creed" is a perceptive, primal, kinetic, poignant, enormously entertaining and undeniably moving motion picture that proves itself to be the finest entry in the "Rocky" series since 1979. Sylvester Stallone, who reprises his most beloved character, turns in his most relaxed, genuine and heartfelt performance in over thirty years and he was more than deserving of receiving an Oscar nomination. But, "Creed" firmly belongs to Michael B. Jordan, whose imposing physicality and coiled force houses a palpable vulnerability in this story of a young man attempting to claim his own name and place within boxing and the world at large.   
(Originally reviewed December 2015)

3. "Dope" Directed by Rick Famuyiwa
One of 2015's sharpest and most original comedies, Writer/Director Rick Famuyiwa's "Dope" is a social satire that effortlessly merges the coming of age film, a screwball comedy of errors, a caper comedy, and a celebration of hip-hop's golden age with a provocative exploration of racial identity and perceptions, congealing into a fast paced and exceedingly well acted summertime romp. Shameik Moore, in a terrific leading performance, stars as Inglewood, California resident Malcolm, an A student, '90s hip-hop obsessed, self described geek who also fronts a punk rock band with his geeky best friends and houses aspiration to attend Harvard University. When Malcolm inadvertently ends up in possession of a back pack containing the gun and drug supply of a local drug dealer, he makes a feverish attempt to rid himself of the contraband while dodging neighborhood gang bangers, and a duplicitous college admissions director and also dealing with SAT exams, a viral rock concert and maybe even a date to the prom. While "Dope" is often outrageous, Famuyiwa ensures the film maintains its serious core regarding racial identity, either accurate or perceived, plus the violence and pain of the inner city. How refreshing and even radical it was to see a young Black male trying desperately to think his way out of this pretzel like predicament while also trying to circumvent any and all ghetto cliches.  
(Originally reviewed June 2015) 

4. "The End Of The Tour" Directed by James Ponsoldt
Fueled by an excellent leading performance by Jesse Eisenberg and a game changing dramatic performance by Jason Segel as the late celebrated author David Foster Wallace, Director James Ponsoldt's "The End Of The Tour" is a compelling, engrossing and captivating interior drama that crystallizes a specific place and time (small town Illinois in the Winter) while also existing as a film about ideas as much as it is about the film's two leading characters. For as much as the film's characters discuss and debate each other about topics as varied as dogs, women, high art vs. low art, loneliness, jealousy, adoration, isolation, self-identity vs. the perception others have of you, and the pressures of fame and celebrity, we are splendidly drawn into the film's conversation: the one between the characters and the one the film is having with us in the audience. 
(Originally reviewed September 2015)

5. "Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation" Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
By this point, this franchise's fifth film, we should be experiencing more than a bit of fatigue with the entire enterprise. Astoundingly, Tom Cruise's signature series, this time helmed by Christopher McQuarrie, has only improved with each new entry, making "Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation" the finest entry to date. With a series of sensational, beautifully choreographed and executed action set pieces and all at the service of a crisp, clean plot and a wonderful performance by Rebecca Ferguson (who is truly this film's driving engine), McQuarrie's installment in the on-going globe trotting adventures of superspy Ethan Hunt is intelligent, wildly visceral and filled with an emotional realism that leaves both 007 and Jason Bourne far away in the dust!  
(Originally reviewed August 2015)

6. "Room" Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
This one really hurts to leave off of the final Top Ten list but I just needed to make some room. If you have read the original Emma Donoghue novel from which this wrenching film is based or haven't seen the aforementioned wrenching film itself, this one will indeed knock you sideways as its quiet power packs a tremendous punch, especially during its excruciating first half. A sensational Brie Larson and the beautifully naturalistic Jacob Tremblay, portray a Mother and son who undergo an unspeakable ordeal that often exists within a living nightmare but becomes a story of survival, healing, the protection and cultivation of innocence, and the resiliency of the human spirit, especially the spirit contained within a child. Director Lenny Abrahamson had made this emotionally grueling experience so wisely poetic as we in the audience are indeed forced to view the world through the severely compromised vision of the film's child's point of view, therefore again forcing us to philosophically take in the seemingly mundane sights of the world around us to view it fully anew.
(Originally reviewed November 2015) 

7. "The Walk" Directed by Robert Zemeckis
This one also hurt very much to leave off of the final list and even moreso, I cannot think of any reason why audiences did not flock in droves to see what is one of Director Robert Zemeckis' most magical, and supremely filmed efforts in his lengthy, legendary career. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, in a thrilling, agile performance stars in the real life story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit as he prepares for what he feels to be his destiny: to perform his now historical (and illegal) walk on a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 New York City--rapturously depicted in an awesome, dazzling, virtuoso 20 minute sequence. "The Walk" is unquestionably a feast for the eyes, with the special effects blending so seamlessly within the real world surroundings and actors that you will believe the sights that you are viewing so breathlessly and completely. But beyond the visual spectacle, Zemeckis has fashioned "The Walk" to not only serve as a celebration of human collaboration and cooperation but also as a metaphor to the life experience with all of its unpredictability and the need to take risks in order to experience the life force to the fullest. This is a deliriously entertaining, exciting, wonderful film.
(Originally reviewed October 2015)

8. "While We're Young" Directed by Noah Baumbach
After a lengthy period of less than stellar efforts, Writer/Director Noah Baumbach bounced back triumphantly with his acerbic, perceptive, uncharacteristically warm and rightfully bitter "While We're Young," his finest feature in 10 years. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star as a fortysomething couple caught in a rut who become friends with Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, a charming, open and endlessly eager twentysomething couple. Baumbach presents a film that is so in tune with both generations by not falling into the cliches but by actually upending them. He displays the similarities and deep differences that inspires an especially challenging conflict between the generations that ultimately makes for a decidedly pointed social commentary while also being engrossing and entertaining while questioning what indeed are the ideals and morals that ultimately shape who we become as adults.
(Originally reviewed April 2015)

STAY TUNED for PART THREE where I give one last bashing to the disappointments and especially the films I hated in 2015!

Monday, February 1, 2016


For me, 2015 was kind of an odd movie year, and therefore, I would suppose, one that was a little more unpredictable. As I have previously stated upon this site, while there were many films that received very high to my highest ratings throughout the year, there were also several films that others highly celebrated that I was rather soft upon in comparison and there were also many films released during the year that I chose not to see at all!

For this, the first installment of my annual four part Savage Scorecard series, I bring you the Honor Roll, a collection of films that received the three and a half star rating from me, the films that I felt to be strong entries released in the year and more than worthy of your time. As always, these are just my opinions and should just be taken as such as I did not see every film released in '15. All films are listed in alphabetical order and I will also direct you to where you can find the original, full reviews upon this site as well.

Let's get rolling!

1. "AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON" Directed by Joss Whedon
Probing psychologically deeper and becoming more intimate and surprisingly humane while simultaneously delivering the bombastic comic book goods and the some, Joss Whedon's sequel comes just this close to matching the spectacular heights of his first "Avengers" feature in 2012. But this adventure is a decidedly darker affair as Tony Stark's (now Robert Downey Jr's signature role) deepest fears and unquestionable hubris give rise to the film's titular villain, malevolently played by James Spader (sort of making this film a "Less Than Zero" reunion/rematch--ha ha). With greater emotional stakes, multiple storylines and an ever expanding cast of costumed characters, you can feel Whedon beginning to buckle under the strain of trying to keep so many plates spinning in mid air. Even so, "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" remained mighty enough to keep me engaged for the upcoming changes and conflicts within the Marvel cinematic universe.
(Originally reviewed May 2015) 

2. "THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY-PART 2" Directed by Francis Lawrence
After a wheel-spinning third installment, "The Hunger Games" series draws to a rightfully grim and bleak close with our heroine Katniss Everdeen engulfed in the grueling war in Panem inch-by-treacherous-inch. Jennifer Lawrence again elicits a performance of depth and command within a film that is much more thoughtful and reverential than it has any need to be. Director Francis Lawrence (no relation) could have easily made the series and this film in particular a mindless thrill ride. But, wisely, he adheres closely to the dark themes of Suzanne Collins' original novels as entrusts us to think seriously about the concepts and consequences of war, totalitarianism, rebellion, revolution, fascism and even the costs necessary to obtain any sense of peace. The tragedy contains potent weight and the end result is powerfully sobering.
(Originally reviewed January 2016)

3. "JOY" Directed by David O. Russell
Re-teaming with Director David O. Russell for the third time, Jennifer Lawrence again commands the screen in this sprawling comedy-drama loosely based upon the life of Miracle Mop inventor/entrepreneur Joy Mangano. While there are stretches that perhaps meander and drag more than necessary, "Joy" does ultimately deliver a well earned emotional payoff as we regard the titular character on her road to independence and empowerment via an odyssey that packs in twists, pitfalls and struggles as if she is trapped inside of a personal soap opera.
(Originally reviewed January 2016)

4. "THE MARTIAN" Directed by Ridley Scott
This was one of the films I saw this year that I admired more than I liked or loved. In fact, I do think the film is a tad over-rated. That being said, Director Ridley Scott has created one of the most entertaining films of his long career and additionally, for a film that contains so much isolation, it is also surprisingly inclusive as it embraced a poignant display of humanity and what can be achieved by working together. Matt Damon delivered an excellent leading performance as the astronaut trapped and possibly doomed to die on Mars unless he is able to "Science" his way out of his dire predicament. And that is where I felt that Scott's film succeeded best, as this was a film that emphatically exclaimed that "Science Is Real!" and the drama of the piece did to arrive from how many items were demolished but through the process of thinking, problem solving and collaborating in order to achieve a common goal.
(Originally reviewed October 2015)

5. "SPOTLIGHT" Directed by Tom McCarthy
This was another film that I felt to be a highly noble effort but one that I admired and appreciated more than I liked. I also felt this film to be more than a tad over-rated as well. but that being said, Director Tom McCarthy has made a strong, smart adult film, with across the board solid performances, that exists as a solemn ode to journalism as well as a lament for the victims of systematic abuse within the Catholic church. Yes, this film exists as more of a procedural where we are allowed a glimpse into a time when the importance of investigative journalism involved getting all of the details right as opposed to releasing the information first. And I did also greatly appreciate that McCarthy never allowed his film to fall into any sense of histrionics or false melodrama. Even so, the entire film felt to be a bit dry to me and it lacked a sense of palpable urgency that I felt was inherent to the overall subject matter, therefore undercutting the film's overall power and weight. Otherwise, a solid effort.
(Originally reviewed November 2015)

6. "TRAINWRECK" Directed by Judd Apatow
While I am not entirely sold on the comedy of Amy Schumer, her talent and cultural reach is undeniable. "Trainwreck," her feature film debut, which she also wrote, was a definite winner. Director Judd Apatow, helming the first screenplay that he did not write himself, has created what I felt to be essentially an emotionally turbulent drama that just happened to have very funny sections. I deeply appreciated how he and Schumer were unafraid to make their leading heroine fly in the face of the standard leading romantic comedy heroine as Schumer portrays an extremely difficult, often unlikable, selfish, rude, acerbic, and wholly narcissistic individual while also being hilarious, intelligent and certainly possessing a certain sexual allure. While she is someone I would think many of us would try to avoid, Schumer and Apatow transform what could have been a standard romantic comedy into a perceptive character study of a not-so-young woman who exists as a promiscuous alcoholic and feels destined to essentially become a new version of her promiscuous, alcoholic and now ailing Father (played wonderfully by Colin Quinn). This is where "Trainwreck" succeeded greatly for me, by creating a leading character who firmly exists as the film's title describes, finds herself at an existential crossroads and begins to discover her own sense of self-worth and even true empowerment for the first time in her life.
(Originally reviewed July 2015)



Savage Cinema is going to receive an especially rigorous workout this month!

It is indeed that time again, dear readers. With the Academy Awards scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday, February 28th, I need to get my official four part Savage Scorecard series, where I compile all of the films that I saw in 2015, underway and completed. And then, there are also the Oscar predictions and wrap-up as well to contend with. Good gracious!!!

And then, there are two new 2016 films that just may hit town that I am ready to see as well.

1. "Hail, Caesar!" Anytime the fraternal filmmaking team of Joel and Ethan Coen return with a new film, ti is time to pay attention.  What else can I say than I'll be there opening weekend!
2. Controversial filmmaking provocateur Michael Moore returns to the screen with his latest socio/political/satirical excursion this month and he always captures my attention as well.

And with that, the month of Savage Cinema is more than FULL! Wish me luck and as always...

...I'll see you when the house lights go down!!!