Tuesday, February 27, 2018


The real world activities of this month have definitely kept me busy to say the least, meaning that I think that I can get this next posting out to you just under the wire. In just a few days, my annual personal Superbowl will air once again for the 90th Academy Awards and now, I should toss out my Oscar predictions for you before the telecast itself is over and done for another year.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Mary J. Blige ("Mudbound"); Allison Janney ("I, Tonya"), Lesley Manville ("Phantom Thread"), Laurie Metcalf ("Lady Bird"), Octavia Spencer ('The Shape Of Water")
SHOULD WIN: Octavia Spencer
WILL WIN: Allison Janney
-In full disclosure, I have only seen three out of the five nominated performances and while the three I saw were all excellent, the one I responded to the most was Octavia Spencer's superb work in Guillermo del Toro's strangely beautiful adult fable. That being said, Allison Janney (whose work I have not seen) is seemingly the one to beat, as far as previous awards ceremonies have elapsed. So, I just think that Oscar will follow suit here.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Willem Dafoe ("The Florida Project"), Woody Harrelson ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), Richard Jenkins ("The Shape Of Water"), Christopher Plummer ("All The Money In The World"), Sam Rockwell ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri")
SHOULD WIN: Richard Jenkins
WILL WIN: Sam Rockwell
-Again, with the patterns already set in motion through the previous awards given this season, I think this is Sam Rockwell's category to lose. And while he did indeed give a fully commanding performance in an astoundingly ill conceived role, I would be thrilled if Richard Jenkins' beautiful performance would sneak away with the prize.

MERYL STREEP AND FOUR OTHER WOMEN: Sally Hawkins ("The Shape Of Water"), Frances McDormand ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), Margot Robbie ("I, Tonya"), Saoirse Ronan ("Lady Bird"), Meryl Streep ("The Post")
SHOULD WIN: Sally Hawkins
WILL WIN: Frances McDormand
-Well, at least Ms. Streep's obligatory nomination this year was justified in her richly nuanced, subtly powerful work in Steven Spielberg's "The Post," but no, she is not going to win again this year. As with the previous two categories, I do believe that this is Frances McDormand's category to lose, especially when you contrast her explosive work with that of Sally Hawkins' silent performance in "The Shape Of Water," something that would carry an extra weight in our #MeToo era--an unrepentant voice of rage compared with one that is m ore romantic and to that end, mute.

But trust me, dear readers. Silence does not equate itself with weakness in this case as Sally Hawkins' performance is resoundingly brilliant and so magically multi-layered as to display passion, fury, determination, courageousness, sexual desire and release, honor, sacrifice and a delirious romanticism, all without speaking one word...and yet, she is unquestionably heard from beginning to end. For me, no one else reached the heights of Hawkins' work, so I am rooting for her.

BEST ACTOR: Timothee Chalamet ("Call Me By Your Name"), Daniel Day-Lewis ("Phantom Thread"), Daniel Kaluuya ('Get Out"), Gary Oldman ("Darkest Hour"), Denzel Washington ("Roman J. Israel, Esq.")
SHOULD WIN: Daniel Kaluuya
WILL WIN: Gary Oldman
-Again, it feels as if this is Gary Oldman's category to lose and if he does, it is indeed stiff competition, especially from Chalamet, who deserves to be in this category just from his final scene in the film alone to the peerless Denzel Washington, who created another inimitable figure yet for a so-so movie, the equally peerless Day-Lewis in his final, fully three dimensional work, and most of all, Daniel Kaluuya, in a bone deep haunting performance in my favorite film of 2017.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green ("Logan"), James Ivory ("Call Me By Your Name"), Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber ("The Disaster Artist"), Aaron Sorkin ("Molly's Game"), Virgil Williams & Dee Rees ("Mudbound")
SHOULD WIN: James Ivory
WILL WIN: James Ivory
-For me, what James Ivory achieved in his screenplay was absolutely exquisite as he wrote a film that as much about language, time, Summer and memory as it does the various states of budding sexuality and the existential pain that arrives with the full coming of age.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird"), Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani, Martin McDonough ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), Jordan Peele ("Get Out"), Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa  Taylor ("The Shape Of Water")
SHOULD WIN: Jordan Peele
WILL WIN: Jordan Peele
-With all due respect to the writers of "The Shape Of Water" and especially, the astounding "The Big Sick," they key for me in this category has always been the word "original." And for me, the most original screenplay was what Jordan Peele conceived with "Get Out," a film the likes of which I have never seen before. There's no way "Get Out" will win Best Picture, but I think this will be the way to acknowledge its audaciousness and brilliance.

BEST DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson ("Phantom Thread"), Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird"), Christopher Nolan ("Dunkirk"), Jordan Peele ("Get Out"), Guillermo del Toro ("The Shape Of Water")
SHOULD WIN: Jordan Peele
WILL WIN: Guillermo del Toro
-Always the most ill conceived category because, and once more with feeling, I just think that if the film is nominated for Best Picture, then the Director should be nominated!  That said, it is what it is. Anywhoo, since my favorite film of the year is "Get Out," I'd be thrilled if Peele won. but, I do think that this is the chance for "The Shape Of Water" to take a giant prize.

BEST PICTURE: "Call Me By Your Name," "Darkest Hour," "Dunkirk," "Get Out," "Lady Bird," "Phantom Thread," "The Post," "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," "The Shape Of Water"
WILL WIN: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
-I really hope this does not happen and that "The Shape Of Water" grabs the top award.

As it stands, in the two movies that I have listed, the one that I would pick to win as it was my favorite film of 2017 and the other film, the one I proclaimed as my least favorite film of the year (yes, I hated that movie), we have the films that really seem to represent life in 21st century America if you really think about it. I realize that "Get Out" does not have a chance but it really feels as if the momentum is behind "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," which is a shame as it is a sloppily written and executed feature.

We shall see on Sunday, March 4th...stay tuned....

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

ALL HAIL THE KING!!: a review of "Black Panther"

Based upon the Marvel Comics series created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Screenplay Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole 
Directed by Ryan Coogler
**** (four stars)

I have said it before and I am more than compelled to say it again...representation means EVERYTHING!

To any of you dear readers out there who happen to be Caucasian, I sincerely ask of you to please do take a moment and just imagine a world that whenever you happened to watch a television program or attend a feature film, the faces that you happened to see most of the time for most of your lives looked absolutely nothing like your own, regardless of style, genre or even the era in which the art in question had been created.

Now, this is not to say that you never saw anyone that looked like yourself or that the art which did not feature representations of yourself were not of artistic or entertainment value but typically, and aside from existing as the best friend, supporting character, sidekick or most often as a form of villainous threat if at all, stories were not created necessarily for you, nor did they feature you or were even about you. Furthermore, the characters that did look like you were rarely featured within the same three dimensional canvas as those starring your racial counterparts. And so, to fit in whatsoever, you had to accept what was being given to you in order to try and assimilate into the art in question, in order to find some semblance of yourself somewhere, somehow, even though no one, absolutely no one looked like you.

As a film enthusiast of color, African-American specifically, I have had an entire lifetime of loving movies of all styles and genres, therefore gaining a passionate appreciation of cinema as art, all the while rarely seeing representations of myself, especially in the films that I loved the most. I was really nowhere to be seen in "The Wizard Of Oz" (1939) or "Flash Gordon" serials. I could not be found within "Charlie Brown" comic s trips or television specials aside from the rare appearances of Franklin. I was nowhere on the plethora of Saturday morning cartoons except for "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids."

In the movies, I was not seen in George Lucas' "Star Wars" (1977) or Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" (1977). There were maybe scatterings of faces like mine in the rock musicals I loved but only Sidney Lumet's "The Wiz" (1978) vibrantly, enthusiastically showcased them from end to end exclusively. Moving into adolescence, what of my beloved John Hughes? Even Molly Ringwald herself, when I met her at a book tour signing years ago, asked me if the lack of representation in his films bothered me, especially since it bothered her as she was making those films. As a adult, and aside from Spike Lee's multi-layered, complex, defiantly artistic, unapologetically controversial filmography, where are more filmmakers of color who have had the opportunities to create as he has and also for his longevity of over 30 years? He is only one man and certainly cannot speak for us all, thus necessitating the need for more representation behind as well as in front of the camera. 

I think you get the picture.

Don't get me wrong. I firmly believe that artists should make their art in any way they wish to, especially filmmakers. I have no need for directors to place faces of color into their films out of any sense of obligation, because that level of in-authenticity would be obvious. That being said, I, and also for generations of people of color, show after show after show and film after film after film for year after year after year, we are misrepresented if we are even represented at all.

While one film could not possibly serve to correct every single wrong in this particular arena, the arrival of Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" could not be more paramount and thankfully, rapturously, the resulting film is an exceedingly great one. Essentially serving as the 18th feature in the expanding Marvel Comics Cinematic universe, Coogler has not only delivered its finest film to date without question, it is the first Marvel themed film to willingly and passionately shoulder itself with a greater purpose and artistry than just presenting another escapade of super heroes and villains. In short, this is really the first Marvel film that is about something and frankly, the level of representation concerning Black people, in and of itself, is simply the beginning in regards to the sheer excellence of this film.

I will keep my plot description as brief as possible as to not spoil. First introduced cinematically during Director Joe and Anthony Russo's "Captain America: Civil War" (2016), Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" stars Chadwick Boseman as the titular hero whose alter-ego is T'Challa, the new King of the African nation of Wakanda, an honor bestowed unto him after the assassination of his Father, T'Chaka (John Kani).

Wakanda, much like the magical world of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, is hidden from the remainder of the world, appearing only to outside eyes as an impoverished Third World nation. In actuality, Wakanda is an African locale of advanced technology superior to the rest of the world and powered by the metal vibranium, which first arrived to the nation centuries prior and giving origin to the first Black Panther, the guardian over Wakanda and its four tribes, excluding the isolationist Jabari tribe who reside within the Wakanda mountains.

At the start of the film, T'Challa returns home to reunite with his Mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his sassy technological wizard younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), best friend and leader of the Border Tribe, W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), the Wakandian special forces leader Okoye (Danai Gurira) and finally, the secret Wakandian spy as well as T'Challa's ex-lover Nakia (Lupita N'yongo).

As he assumes the Wakandian throne, a severe threat to his reign, the future of Wakanda and the world itself arrives in the form of Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (a sensational Michael B. Jordan), who clearly has his own ideas of how Wakanda has been and now, should be ruled.

Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" holds all of the high quality standards that we have now come to expect from any Marvel film, but this time, the state-of-the-art sleekness serves its characters and story as never before, as Coogler has armed the proceedings with a socio-political urgency and an  impassioned love of its people. In doing so, this film is the third triumph in a row for Coogler, after his outstanding "Fruitvale Station" (2013) and soul stirring "Creed" (2015) as he has ensured that "Black Panther" exists as a personal statement as well as existing as a first rate blockbuster that deeply deserves to be recognized this time next year during Oscar season.

Again working with his excellent collaborators, including Cinematographer Rachel Morrison and Composer Ludwig Goransson in particular, Coogler's vision of Wakanda is breathtaking, and to multi-purposed degrees. Initially, it does share a certain fantasy, dream world aesthetic as seen in George Lucas' "Star Wars" prequel trilogy (1999/2002/2005), which serves "Black Panther" brilliantly as Wakanda is indeed a fictional nation, an African dreamscape, so to speak. But here is just one of many areas where Coogler's socio-political vision speaks volumes.

It is clear that a filmmaker of Coogler's depth and skill is more than painfully aware of how Black people have been regarded upon the screen, in both television and film. To me, it is difficult for me to think of terribly many films where the lives and stories of the African-American experience take place without the prism of Black suffering, either in the distant or very recent past. It is as if, Jordan Peele's "Get Out" (2017) notwithstanding, that Hollywood is not interested in making films about Black people in the present, or that our stories should be relegated to the past. "Black Panther," by contrast, is a tale of Afro-futurism, a "What If?" scenario that speaks to the very core of the Black experience in America circa 2018.

Coogler has created an African vision within "Black Panther" that absolutely demands to be seen several times, if only just to regard the level of detail placed into the iconography contained in the film regarding symbols, clothing, music, languages, customs, tribal markings, rituals and dialects. Your senses will be luxuriously embraced from start to finish as this is a film resplendent to behold.  Most importantly, however, what we are witnessing in Wakanda is an African nation that has never been colonized, therefore, enslavement has not existed. Because of that specific element to the film, I found myself forced by Coogler to really think about what my race would have become if we had never been colonized, if we had not ever been stolen, enslaved, murdered or had our bloodlines diluted through rape. What would my race have been if we had not ever been stripped from our culture, and left in a world where we did not know our own ancestry, therefore we are unknowing of our own potential?

"Black Panther" is a film defiantly about Black excellence and nationalism, where the pride and inspiration of who we are as a race is found in a dream vision of our own ascension, which makes this a film of exceedingly crucial importance during a period where the vilification, dehumanization, and murder of Black people is paramount, where the self-explanatory statement of "Black Lives Matter" has the need to even be expressed at all, and yet it is still met with a derision that has extended itself to be compared to a terrorist organization. and the President of the United States himself recently referred to African nations as nothing less than "shithole countries." To be continuously beaten downwards and made to feel less than 3/5 of a human being, even in the 21st century, is defeating enough. So when, the ancestral vision of T'Chaka says sternly to his kneeling son T'Challa in an afterworld plane of existence, "Stand up!! You are a KING!" I spontaneously burst into tears.

What Ryan Coogler has accomplished with "Black Panther," and even through the lens of fantasy, is to deliver a vision that showcases the very best of ourselves to ourselves in a landscape that we can still try to make a reality because we are indeed a brilliant, beautiful people. To that end, I applaud Coogler for proudly challenging the Hollywood and cultural beauty stereotypes and standards by showcasing a collective of brilliant, beautiful, DARK skinned Black women in major roles, none of whom are sexually objectified and every single one of whom are extolled for their bravery, loyalty, intelligence and nobility.

Speaking of nobility, as T'Challa, the Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman exudes that specific quality effortlessly, therefore grounding the film with a level of strength that is undeniably graceful. Granted, T'Challa undergoes the mythological hero's journey, as we have seen time and again from King Arthur to Luke Skywalker and others. But aside from any conceptual similarities and despite all of the plentiful action sequences contained in the film, what I deeply appreciated was the thoughtful nature of T'Challa. Yes, he is a man of action. But he is a King of a nation first and foremost, with the safety and longevity of his homeland and people to think of and carry along with him, meaning that he must be more methodical in his pursuits. Coogler and Boseman inject a most cerebral quality to this character that elevates him from existing as a mere "superhero," and truth be told, he is more  James Bond than Superman anyway.

In an odd yet superbly satisfying way, the superheroics of the film might actually be the least interesting aspects it  has to offer, despite Coogler excellent presentation, for he has so much, much more on his mind than CGI bombast. Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther," among other issues, is the story of T'Challa not wondering if he should become King but rather devising precisely how he should reign as the King of Wakanda, whether as a humanitarian, isolationist, or even as a militant. Regarding his process, as witnessed through the relationships he holds with his closest compatriots, his family, his ancestors and his kingdom, is the true engine of the film, especially as the narrative grows to the largest quandary of whether Wakanda should remain isolated from the rest of the world or if they should fully reveal themselves, offering solidarity and companionship with European based societies, while elevating Black people around the world in the process.

And so to that, enter Killmonger.   

The character of Erik "Killmonger" Stevens is easily the best, most complex, and again, multi-layered villain to date in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and even so, it could be vehemently argued if he is even truly a villain at all (that is aside from the fascistic tendencies and plans of mass genocide). If the nation of Wakanda represents the dream of an un-colonized African landscape, fully independent of the outside world, culturally, financially, politically and through technological superiority, then, as played to searing perfection by Michael B. Jordan, Killmonger fully represents a painful reality of the Black experience, including the divide between Black Africans and Black Americans.

Without producing spoilers, Killmonger is the embodiment of the Black American experience that has been removed from its own culture through the very colonization, enslavement and eradication that Wakanda has never experienced, therefore his fury is as self-righteous as it is rightful. His first scene in the film, set within a London museum as he verbally spars with a White, British archaeological expert is indeed a blistering critique of cultural appropriation and the lies continuously told in order to keep Black people cut off from our own history and ancestral legacy. W hat is he supposed to make of T'Challa and the homeland of Wakanda, of which he has been denied in its fullness? Killmonger is the full representation of the hurt, anguish, loss from being unable to access what is his ancestral birthright, unlike his racial counterparts and the Wakandians, therefore, fueling his malevolence as well as his militancy. 

On a strictly comic book level, one could compare the dichotomy of T'Challa and Killmonger to that of the polar opposites of "The Uncanny X-Men" in the characters of Professor X and Magneto. Yet again, Ryan Coogler delves deeper and ensures that his representations of T'Challa and Killmonger represents differing ideological viewpoints regarding the future of Black existence. In fact, what I thought of the most were the two opposing quotations attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, which concluded Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing" (1989).

And just as the real world figures of Dr. King and Malcolm X were exceedingly more complex than soundbites portray as Dr. King was very much a radical and Malcolm X embraced a certain universality later in life, Ryan Coogler gives that same level of complexity to both T'Challa and Killmonger, and both Chadwick Boseman and especially ichael B. Jordan are equal to every grand gesture as well as intense nuance. Believe me, Jordan's final line of dialogue as Killmonger in the film will reverberate LONG after the end credits, and after you return home from the theater, only complicating this figure even moreso. 

Even further that what is precisely upon the screen, there is indeed the matter of the representation behind the camera in the person of Ryan Coogler himself, for being a Black filmmaker given the opportunity to command a motion picture of this scale and with a budget of this size, is a rarity to say the least. I am writing this posting just five days after the film has been released in theaters and has already amassed a box office haul that was reportedly double than its projected take. The critical response has been high and the audience's approval perhaps even moreso. And with this success for him, it represents another source of inspiration and representation for what we as Black people can achieve if we are given the means to believe. Director Ava DuVernay is just about to enter this specific arena with her adaptation of "A Wrinkle In Time," and if she succeeds as well, I can only imagine what it could possibly mean for Black filmmakers and hopefully for female directors and filmmakers of additional ethnicities. 

Now, I know. We have been here before. The cynical side of me tells myself that this song and dance of a "Black Film Renaissance" has been uttered time and again to no avail and perhaps, we are just at this moment again. But, I sincerely hope not and I wonder if possibly, this time might be different. Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" has powerfully set itself apart from the remainder of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's characters and films simply by existing as something that transcends its own world of super powers, heroes and villains. This is a film about cultures, real and imagined, lost and found, subjugated, humiliated, desecrated and yet, maintained, sustained and poised for the fullness of ascension formulated through a reciprocal connection between individuals and their families, tribes and ancestors. Coogler has created a superhero film where the least powerful aspects of the film rest within the superheroics.

Where "Black Panther" succeeds at its greatest beyond being a superlative slice of pop entertainment is how Ryan Coogler has helmed a soul stirring epic where the odyssey of T'Challa, Killmonger, their families, friends and enemies represents considerably more than a simple battle between good and evil. It is a story of the Black experience itself and how we view ourselves to ourselves, and how only then will we be able to fully connect with our pasts as we navigate towards our future. And still we rise...

Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" is a triumph and to think, the first major release of 2018 is already one of the very best!!

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Here we are, at the top of my personal movie mountain regarding the films of 2017.

This was a year that, for me, found filmmakers, both new and veteran, pushing themselves to  tremendous artistic heights heights, often taking well worn film styles and genres and injecting such powerfully vibrant new life into their respective films that it often felt as if I was seeing those aforementioned styles and genres for the first time, therefore making for cinema that was so often enthralling. Beyond the aesthetics and approaches, as I regard the films I loved the most in 2017, I have noticed common threads and themes that run through (nearly) all of the films: the themes of representation and resistance.

Let's get to the list and check it all out, shall we...

10. "THE POST" Directed by Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg's best film in years arrived with a most impassioned roar as he utilized historical drama to again challenge us to see and make the crucial connections from the past and the present. In the case of "The Post," Spielberg takes us back to 1971 for the true story of how The Washington Post obtained and published "The Pentagon Papers," a collection of classified documents detailing the United States government's three decade involvement with the Vietnam War, thus revealing all of the lies told to the American populace about winning a war that was already known to be unwinnable.

Lean, taut, briskly paced and exceedingly well acted (as expected) by Tom Hanks, the film's MVP Bob Odenkirk and the powerfully subtle work of Meryl Streep, "The Post" succeeded greatly as a journalistic thriller which emphatically demonstrated the urgent necessity of having a free press, and backed by our First Amendment Rights to free speech, to always speak truth to power. Additionally,  Spielberg also weaved in the equally urgent story of female empowerment, where the representation of even just one could possibly lead to a place where women would not only find a seat in the room where the biggest decisions are made, but one day OWN the room itself.
(Originally reviewed January 2018)

9. "THE SHAPE OF WATER" Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro returned with his very best film since the shattering "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006), a blissfully strange, oddly beautiful adult fable starring an otherworldly Sally Hawkins as a mute cleaning woman for a secret government laboratory whose mundane existence is transformed by her connection with a captured amphibious humanoid creature.

In addition to the glorious visual presentation, the deliriously emotional leaps and peaks, and performances from the entire cast that range from dazzling,  heartbreaking and terrifying (Hawkins is so effective that I often forgot that she never spoke one word, Richard Jenkins reminds us once again of what an acting treasure he is and Michael Shannon unearths a level of malevolence that was more than disturbing to behold  but impossible to turn away from), del Toro utilizes his film to juxtapose our notions of what constitutes normalcy or monstrous. Even further, this story set during the 1950's certainly is forged as a mirror to life in the 21st century as a story of marginalized individuals straining to stake their respective claims, and ultimately survive, in a cruelly intolerant world.
(Originally reviewed December 2017)

8. "WONDER WOMAN" Directed by Patty Jenkins
In a genre that is more than over-represented, as well as one that I have shown considerable sings of fatigue with, Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" was a flat-out winner. Not only the very best film by a clear mile in the building DC Comics cinematic universe, this film gave me emotions that I really have not felt in a superhero/comic book themed film since Richard Donner's "Superman-The Movie" (1978).

Yes, Patty Jenkins, is beautiful collaboration with a terrific, full, rich performance from Gal Godot right at the very center, helmed the first superhero epic in quite some time that was just plain fun, displayed a certain innocence and playfulness rather than one of mounting doom and CGI apocalyptic bombast and seamlessly merged elements of mythology, espionage and war films, and classic romantic comedy with the modern superhero epic.

Most importantly, representation means absolutely everything as "Wonder Woman" proved itself to being urgently inspirational as we witnessed the full, complete arc of our favorite Amazonian warrior with such joy and enriching purposefulness. For as when she is amazed with what she discovers of herself, we are amazed right along with her as we are therefore pushed to discover the wondrous abilities we all possess that could possibly help to change the world for the better. I also applaud Patty Jenkins for delivering the iconic comic book heroine with such purity, respect and clear eyed direction as Gal Godot is never objectified for even one moment, especially when a male director might otherwise have the camera linger gratuitously over areas that have nothing to do with the content of her character. The soul of Wonder Woman does not rest in her outfit, golden lasso of truth or those bracelets that can stop a bullet cold. It is found in her virtuousness, honor, duty, empathy and yeah...she can throw a tank with her bare hands too! I'd follow her anywhere and this film flies through the clouds. 
(Originally reviewed June 2017)

7. "DIVIDED WE FALL" Directed by Katherine M. Acosta
This stunning, sobering documentary hit extremely close to home for me, especially as the film takes place within my city and I was indeed present for quite of a bit of the events as depicted within. Yet, aside from my personal connections to the material, Director Katherine M. Acosta's presentation of the rise and fall of the historic Wisconsin Uprising protests of 2011 not only performed the meticulous task of chronicling the movement through invigorating sequences of resistance to the divide and conquer policies of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker without any sense of manufactured hyperbole or feigned heroism, she also detailed precisely how grass roots movements are born as well as serving as a corrective document to the misrepresentations presented by the local and cable news media and most importantly, an urgently solemn warning against the politics of self-preservation from those who are fighting upon the same ideological sides, therefore causing the fight to be ultimately lost.

Over 90 briskly paced yet voluminously detailed minutes, Acosta has created a vibrant, compulsively watchable experience designed to inspire as well as outrage as she greatly places her razor sharp focus upon a collective of everyday individuals who somehow found the impetus within themselves to rise, speak truth to power and in doing so, they have become Civil Rights heroes. May the stories and lessons contained within this film serve as a powerful guide and course of action as we move forwards in Wisconsin as well as our entire country. This film is a remarkably impassioned piece of journalism merged with an unmistakably powerful history lesson.
(Originally reviewed March 2017)

6. "DUNKIRK" Directed by Christopher Nolan
Leave it to Christopher Nolan to essentially re-invent the war film as "Dunkirk" was not only his tightest, tautest, and propulsive to the point of being near anxiety inducing, but it was possibly his most esoteric and experimental film to date as his WWII epic was not a film based within its characters, especially as it featured the least amount of actual dialogue in his filmography, making the film function almost as a silent movie. 

What we were given was an exquisitely filmed visual feast that regarded the events of the Dunkirk evacuation on three fronts (the beach, the sea, and an aerial dogfight) and three distinct spans of time itself (one week, one day, and one hour, respectively), making the experience as a whole transcendent of its specific war to serve as a metaphor for all wars and the randomness of violence, resistance,  survival and death from the primal to the existential. Furiously paced and filled with awe, terror, reverence and a stunning, often exhilarating and horrifying velocity, Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk" is a masterful achievement that cuts down to the bone artfully, skillfully and triumphantly.       
(Originally reviewed July 2017)

5. "BABY DRIVER" Directed by Edgar Wright
Leave it to Edgar Wright to re-invent the car chase/heist film!! Trust me, I am one who absolutely never needs to see a car chase in a film ever again but with the extraordinary, ingenious "Baby Driver," Wright made me feel as if I was seeing car chases for the very first time with his delirious innovation and bottomless creativity.

Wright's action film dream of the young savant, ear bud wearing getaway driver dynamo as the music he listens to provides him with the ultimate driving soundtrack, allowed this film to simultaneously function as a lavish rock and roll musical, a ferocious action film and also as another entry in Wright's consistent theme of arrested development. Gloriously filmed and enriched with spectacular audio/visual aesthetics, performances from the entire cast and an unquestionably killer soundtrack, Edgar Wright's "Baby Driver" is essentially the cinematic love child of John Woo and Buzby Berkeley. 
(Originally reviewed July 2017)

4. "THE BIG SICK" Directed by Michael Showalter
The romantic comedy genre was completely resuscitated with this film, co-written by real world married couple Emily V. Gordon and leading actor Kumail Nanjiani, who stars in the film as himself in a chronicle of his real life love story with Emily (played by Zoe Kazan), a Caucasian woman with whom Kumail, a Muslim-American whose family continues the tradition of arranged marriages, falls in love with only to nearly lose her as she falls ill and into a coma.

"The Big Sick" is precisely what romantic comedies, of the era of Woody Allen's' "Annie Hall" (1977) used to be: films about real people with real emotions living within a real world dealing with their romantic issues realistically, with the comedy and romance arriving from the persons with whom the story surrounds. What was delivered was not simply a good romantic comedy but a GREAT one, truly one of the most effective that I have ever seen. In addition to the love story itself, which was presented earnestly and urgently, this was the kind of film where every single character was deserving of their own film, from Kumail's parents (beautifully played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) and Emily's parents (the great Holly Hunter and the heartbreakingly wonderful Ray Romano), to Kumail's brother (Adeel Akhtar) and his arranged marriage wife (Shenaz Treasury). And in turn, all of these characters beautifully served a breezy yet aching and complex narrative that also included explorations of the stand-up comedy world, existential issues of life and death plus the themes of inter-racial dating and perhaps most importantly, the matter-of-fact depiction of modern day, 21st century life of Muslim-American families.  

The love story of Kumail and Emily is a rare cinematic pairing that we honestly root for and "The Big Sick," with all areas of its greatness, is a marvelous work of tremendous warmth, honest humor and sincerely earned poignancy.
(Originally reviewed July 2017)

3. "STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI" Directed by Rian Johnson
Who could have possibly known that the latest episode in the on-going "Star Wars" saga was prove to be it most controversial to the point of being polarizing?  In many ways, I still cannot believe the excessive vitriol, as what filmmaker Rian Johnson delivered to me was the finest "Star Wars" feature that I have seen ever since George Lucas' original 1977 film.

For me, the especially exquisitely filmed "The Last Jedi" was the full culmination of all we have ever experienced with the story of the Skywalker family over these past 40 years and by the film's end, I wanted for absolutely nothing as Johnson's vision was as wholly enrapturing as it was complete. Taking Lucas' original aesthetic of discovering the sweet spot between Wagner and "Flash Gordon," Johnson honored everything that had been set before while also upending the proceedings, therefore making a "Star Wars" film that offered a level of surprise unlike any of the other films since perhaps "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980). 

Thankfully and rightfully, Johnson also paid no attention to the desires of the fan base and their internet theories because once the fans are catered to, there is no reason to watch these films anymore. Where revelations about Rey's (Daisy Ridley) lineage, the fate Supreme Leader Snoke's (Andy Serkis) and the trajectory of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill in his career best performance), disappointed and angered fans, I found the creative risks completely invigorating. Where a side story to a casino planet felt superfluous to some viewers, I was enraptured as again, I was surprised and given sights within that galaxy far, far away that I had never seen before--therefore making that galaxy far, far away open itself up even wider. Even the nature of The Force itself evolved in ways we hadn't seen before...and why not? Had we learned everything about The Force in prior installments? Of course not. Essentially, Johnson's "The Last Jedi" is a film about resistance, survival and the audacity of hope within a brutal universe and it gave me a a journey to the "Star Wars" universe so unexpected and filled with so many dazzling sights and emotions so rapturous that the film brought me to tears, raising the bar to a level where the this story's final installment of "Episode IX" feels as if ANYTHING could happen...and THAT makes for exciting cinema.

Rian Johnson's "The Last Jedi" is the "Star Wars" film that serves as its own world of self-reflection. Will these stories advance or will they just continue to mine the original trilogy ad infinitum. If they are going to be worth watching at all, they have to evolve and to me, Rian Johnson gave the series the enormous push that it needed with this masterful achievement.  
(Originally reviewed December 2017)

2. "CALL ME BY YOUR NAME" Directed by Luco Guadagnino
This lyrical, poetic ode to summer's long gone, with an urgent, illicit romance at the core between a 24-year-old grad student (a wonderful Armie Hammer) and the 17-year-old son of a Professor (Timothee Chalamet) vacationing with his family somewhere in Northern Italy, is essential, sublime, transportive viewing. 

Guadagnino has created a languid, beautiful film that serves as a coming-of-age tale certainly but it is furthermore an experience that celebrates memory, meticulously delves into the romantic/sexual themes of repression, confusion, exuberance, concealment, self-denial and self-acceptance and anxiety, all the while burrowing into the existential themes of discovering the truth of oneself and whether to live by that truth or sacrifice onself to the lie that is contained within a level of socio-political tolerance. 

Addition ally, Guadagnino's film serves as a tribute to spoken and unspoken language in the more analog era of 1983 as he delivers a world where cellphones and computers are nowhere to be seen, television is rarely viewed and even cars are barely visible.  This world is a timeless locale so luxuriously presented that you can practically smell the freshness of the summer season and the slowness of time itself emanate from the screen while we gradually dive deeper into the central romance, all the way to the film's quietly devastating monologue given by a fantastic Michael Stuhlbarg which snaps all of the seemingly disparate moments contained in the film into sharp focus. 

One of the year's highest achievements unquestionably.
(Originally reviewed January 2018)  

1. "GET OUT" Directed by Jordan Peele
The best film of 2017 was one of the very first I saw and looking back, it feels as if its audaciousness set the stage for all of the great films to follow within the year. But this film was indeed the cinematic BIG BANG!!!

Writer/Director Jordan Peele's "Get Out," the story of Black Photographer Chris Washington (a beautifully haunted Daniel Kaluuya) and his nightmarishly fateful weekend trip to his White girlfriend's (Allison Williams) parents home was precisely the film that I have NEVER seen before within my entire lifetime of watching movies. Utilizing and then upending and transcending the horror film genre, Peele unapologetically explored 21st century American race relations, most especially, the lie of  "post-racial America," with a depth and skill that has made me repeatedly question just how many times did Peele write and re-write his story to ensure all of his points and conceptual multi-layers were expressed as brilliantly and as ingeniously as they were. I have seen the film over five times now and still, I am amazed with Peele's superlative focus, in his filmmaking debut feature no less, as "Get Out" works brilliantly as a horror film in which the audience cannot only yell at the screen but also fully understand exactly why  our hero remains in this house of horrors in the first place. 

That aspect of the film is the true nightmare, the nightmare that all African-Americans live day-by-day to varying degrees within White society, especially within liberal White society where micro-aggressions are subtly prevalent to always create the sense of paranoia, as well as the rise of overt and rampant racism and the realities of police brutality to the open season styled murders of Black people by Whites who "feel threatened" that truly exacerbate the fear, inciting the necessity for resistance and survival, whether by fighting or succumbing into "The Sunken Place." 

Even when the film flies into the surreal in its viscious climax, the subject of race remains the engine propelling all of the material and characters, all the way to the film's final frames. With the concepts of White privilege, cultural appropriation, enslavement, eradication and emancipation, Jordan Peele's "Get Out" is an honest, unmercifully creative work of supreme moral outrage and catharsis that in ferociously inventive, rapaciously satirical, often laugh out loud funny while sending chills up and down my spine that are uncomfortably familiar to just living life in the real world. 
(Originally reviewed March 2017)

And there you have it...my favorite films of 2017. And now, bring on the movies of 2018!!!!

Monday, February 12, 2018


Here we are once again, the time when I take my last licks at my least favorite films of 2017. Now, in all honesty, I actually struggled with coming up with a list for much of this year for two reasons:  most of what I saw I liked or loved to varying degrees and secondly, I really just did not see that many movies in the year that would lead me to write a negative review.

Remember, I am not a film critic. I have no connections whatsoever to Hollywood or to the movie industry. So, with that, I am precisely as you: I pay to see every movie I attend with my own money and precious time. I have no assignments and if I chose to not see something, I do not have to. So, in that respect, there were so many movies that I did not see (umm..."CHIPS," "Baywatch"...etc...) and would not have seen even if you had paid me to do so...life is too short to waste on that kind of garbage.

Even so, there were some that rubbed me the wrong way...

Regarding the ones that simply disappointed me, I turn to Writer/Director Nacho Vigalondo's indie comedy/science fiction hybrid "Colossal" (Originally reviewed April 2017) starring a refreshingly loose Anne Hathaway as a social trainwreck and unemployed writer who magically discovers that her actions and moods in an unnamed Midwestern small town are somehow controlling a giant monster currently terrorizing the citizens of Seoul. A completely oddball and wholly original idea certainly, but the execution was considerably messy and did not add up to terribly much once it was all said and done. But even so, it got points from me for trying.
As for Writer/Director James Gunn's "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2" (Originally reviewed May 2017), I remain underwhelmed and unimpressed. A gain, I don't feel that this is a bad movie but it was one where I was bored to tears as the vibrant sound and light show did not hing to correct the fact that this so-called "irreverent" space gang are just not terribly interesting characters. OK... yeah, Dave Bautista as the deadpan Drax is fun but I'm sorry, Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana are as numbingly bland as the villains as well as the painfully obvious attempts to try and become "Star Wars" where every character is Han Solo. Yet, in this case of Vol. 2, and with all of the themes of family, Gunn was now trying to become "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980)...where everyone was still trying to be Han Solo. I know you love these films but for me, these are the Marvel movies weakest characters and films. Yawn...  

Now for the films that were just plain bad, I give you Director Colin Trevorrow's "The Book Of Henry" (Originally reviewed January 2018), a film so off-the-rails that I would almost recommend that you actually see it just so you can regard how some films essentially lose their minds, and in the case of this film, its entire "and then this happened" aesthetic makes for one hell of a howler!  It would be more than enough if the film were simply about a precocious, savant middle schooler who suspects that the girl next door is being abused by her stepfather but oh no, Trevorrow decided to make his precocious, savant middle schooler wise to the point of being clairvoyant as well as a financial wizard. But that is nothing to say of the plot which also includes a terminal illness, sibling rivalry, a suicide, a school talent show, an assassination plot, a dance routine, and Sarah Silverman who clearly stumbled onto the set from a completely different movie and Trevorrow just decided to keep the cameras rolling. No wonder he was booted from directing "Star Wars Episode IX"...we're better for it.
"The Dark Tower" (Originally reviewed November 2017), Director Nikolaj Arcel's completely unimaginative, anemic and again here's that word, bland, adaptation of Stephen King's much heralded fantasy series concerning itself with the eternal battle between The Gunslinger (Idris Elba) and the Satanic Man In Black (Matthew McConnaughey). While both leading actors are compelling to watch, neither of them really have much to do in a film that seemed to wrestle every nugget of story from the proceedings leaving only special effects, chase scenes and endless shootouts which are kind of fun to watch as they happen but they are instantly forgettable once the sequences end. For fans of the book series, I can fully understand your immense disappointment as the filmmakers took a multi-book series and whittled everything down to a puff piece of 90 minutes. This movie was the equivalent of junk food. I barely remember that I even saw it. 
I never reviewed Director Luis Prieto's "Kidnap" and since the film runs only 80 minutes, why spend more time writing the review than I did to even watch it? Oh people, of course there was no reason to expect anything good from this as a still slumming Halle Berry portrays a Mom who WILL DO ANYTHING to rescue her son who was kidnapped from her while at a park. Now I guess a good movie could have been made from material like this a la Director Ron Howard's relentless "Ransom" (1996), but this movie's ambitions were never that high.  think its ambitions were to get scenes filmed before the production company knew what they were up to and pulled the plug! Nope, it's all just Berry in full hysterical mode (inexplicably taking off and putting back on to only take off her jacket over and again) yet steely enough to instantly become the best stunt driver this side of "Baby Driver" and Mad Max.  You know, as I watched this movie, I had though to my self that any review I wrote woud carry the title of "MAD MOM"...and then,  I never wrote the review until now. So, there...title used.
In the above photo, poor Kate Winslet and Idris Elba (clearly not having a good cinematic year) are gazing into the distance in the hopes of finding their respective agents so they can throttle them for convincing them both to sign on for this terrible movie. Oh people, Director Hany Abu-Assad's "The Mountain Between Us" (Originally reviewed January 2018) is a disaster on all counts as a survival movie, a love story and even as a fantasy for us movie goers because I am certain that there are more than a few of us who have harbored some images of being stranded somewhere with either of these undeniably stunning and charismatic leading actors. And  yet, Abu-Assad found a way to make a mockery of every single moment that could have conveyed any sense of intensity, whether survivalist or sexual or both, through a barrage of awful writing, contrived situations, inconsistent behaviors and an implausibly and deliriously happy dog, who disappears and returns to the movie on a complete whim, thus undercutting any sense of belivability that Winslet and Elba are fighting the elements for their survival.

And now for the bottom two...the worst of them all...
"LIFE" Directed by Daniel Espinsosa
It's one thing when films try and fail--essentially all of the other films on this list (as horrible as "The Book Of Henry" is, it certainly tried)--but when films do not even try at all, that is when I find myself getting angry. In the case of this film, what we have is yet another "Alien" wanna-be, a copycat film to the point of plagiarism culminating in a utterly joyless, often incoherent, and self-congratulatory journey into the heart of prefabricated darkness complete with an utterly stupid "twist" ending that made me want to stone the screen.

This is a film that contains not even one original idea or moment and fro t hat matter, it is a horror film with not even one thrill, fright or scare as what we have is another installment of stupid people doing stupid things to only get themselves dismembered...and to keep the plot wheels spinning. And what a shame as the film houses a handsome production as well as some good performances throughout, yet all of them are wasted ina film that contains nothing to hold onto.

Daniel Epinosa's"Life" is essentially the equivalent of a White Castle slider. It's in. It's out. That's all.
(Originally reviewed June 2017) 


This may surprise you but I have to say that the more I think about this movie, the more I hate it and I am stunned that so many have embraced it so powerfully as, for me, it really is a sloppily written and directed feature that is not at all what it professes to be about and what it truly is about is something that is profoundly irresponsible. 

Look, the core of the film is deeply compelling and truthfully, it is the only good material within the film. The story of Mildred Hayes, a Mother feverishly wanting justice for the unsolved rape/murder of her daughter so much that she publicly shames the local police department with the erection of three billboards outside of town is immensely powerful, blistering material and more than deserving of a film that is the equal to its own concept.

Unfortunately Martin McDonagh clearly chose to not make that film as his leading actress Frances McDormand, who does elicit a riveting performance of equal parts wrath, rage, grief, mourning and even a bit of mounting mental instability, is shuffled off to the sidelines and often forgotten altogether in favor of the the film's male characters: most notably, two racist police officers within a historically racist police department, both of whom through the convenience of McDonagh's heavy, manipulative and again, sloppy storytelling hand uses cheap tricks to manufacture some sense of prefabricated redemption and empathy, none of which is ever truly earned.

For those who do love the film and to some of those very people who have disagreed with my assessment of the film by explaining that "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is indeed "messy" because life itself is "messy," plus the idea that I may be missing the point that sometimes simple solutions don't exist, the film is purposefully uncomfortable and that the characters are multi-dimensional and through all their dimensions we discover a sense of empathy in the process even though so many of the film's characters are irredeemable.


Yes, life is messy and the film attempts to reflect that very messiness. But to me, it completely failed on that account because so much of the film was so clearly prefabricated, in intent and execution. Yes, people are multi-dimensional but again, McDonagh failed at demonstrating that fact of life with his own characters. Having irredeemable characters performing irredeemable acts and somehow, we, as viewers, are not able to turn ourselves away is nothing new and certainly nothing McDonagh invented--especially as cable television is loaded end-to-end with all manner of anti-heroes and despicable characters that we either love to loathe or are so enraptured with that we would follow their descents or redemption absolutely anywhere.

But in doing so, it all comes down to excellent writing, which McDonagh failed at by injecting elements that are as cheap as they come when trying to elicit sympathy from your audience. And in doing so by forcing us to spend so much time with these men, they TAKE AWAY the film from Frances McDormand's character, the entire reason we're even watching this film in the first place. If the writing happened to be as good as some feel that it is, then I believe that all of those themes the film's supporters have professed to would understand that they are already contained in McDormand's character and therefore, we don't need any of the superfluous material. If only McDonagh realized that and just stuck to what he already had, we would have an infinitely better and more honest film.

By taking the film away from Frances McDormand's character, what we are left with is a film unnecessarily saddled with the subject of race and racism, topics this film did not need and topics McDonagh is clearly unable or unwilling to honestly tackle. Yes, any film about racism should be uncomfortable but in the case of this film, racism cannot be waved away through underdeveloped and marginalized to nearly non-existent African-American characters in favor of the supposed "good hearts" of the racist cops themselves. Very much like Director Kathryn Bigelow's disturbing for the wrong reasons docudrama "Detroit" (2017), I found myself asking the question: "Just who is this movie for?"

Because honestly, why should I care for police characters who have either abused and tortured Black people or were complicit in the abuse and torture of Black people just because they love their Mamas, have pretty wives and adorable children and are afflicted with certain spoilers I will not reveal but only exist because Martin McDonagh could not devise of any real ways to make his characters three dimensional rather than props being held up by more props that are only present to keep the plot wheels spinning. To ask that much of me is insulting to say the least and downright irresponsible at worst.

And then, add to this needlessly over-stuffed experience the tacked on presence of Peter Dinklage, completely wasted in a role that offers him or us absolutely nothing, a flashback sequence that is painfully obvious in its faux irony, the marginalization of essentially ALL of the film's female characters, badly presented tonal changes and a final scene of so-called profound ambiguity but is, in actuality, another piece of prefabricated pap that unearth some troubling concepts that McDonagh clearly just did not wish to involve himself with...so, just end the movie and roll credits. 

"Deliberately messy"? Really?! Martin McDonagh's "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is a mess due to its own incoherence, plastic emotions and its adherence to upholding White male authority figures as "good people" regardless of their unspeakable actions and at the expense of a woman undergoing an unspeakable loss.

This move had better not win the Oscar for Best Picture!


Sunday, February 11, 2018


And now, dear readers, it is finally time to reveal to you my complete countdown of the films I loved and loathed and loved even more in the year 2017. Now, as with years past, I will begin with my personal HONOR ROLL and then move onwards to what I like to call "NUMBER 11," the films that were just this close to being a part of my Top Ten Favorite Films of the year.

Additionally, the films are listed in alphabetical order and I will also place a reference to where you can find the full review upon this blogsite. In doing so, you will see that I have awarded these films from between three and a half to four stars. Just note that I feel that star ratings are more than arbitrary as well as the fact that all three and a half star films are not all the same and definitely not all four star films. Just take it all in as these being solely my opinions and nothing more than that.

So now then...

"ALIEN: COVENANT" Directed by Ridley Scott
Nearly 40 years into the "Alien" franchise, Ridley Scott's second entry in his prequel series left audiences mostly underwhelmed yet again, but for me, I found myself again enraptured in his on-going nihilistic interstellar nightmare. Yes, scientists are still more than a little stupid (but I do think that Scott smoothed that quality over in better fashion this time around), but Scott has continued to present his simultaneously elegant and brutal series to high quality as he has seemingly found somewhat of an overall purpose to the films as a whole rather than yet another round of face huggers and chest bursters. With the triptych of the titular creatures, the humans and artificial intelligence (in two representations by an excellent Michael Fassbender) all battling for survival, Ridley Scott has not only managed an even more urgent ode to the end of human existence by our own arrogant hands, he has even conceptualized what I think is actually a link to his cinematic "Blade Runner" series with the rise of the synthetic as a potentially dominant species with an even hungrier taste for existential permanence.
(Originally reviewed May 2017)

"THE BEGUILED" Directed by Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola's dark, atmospheric remake of the 1971 Don Seigel directed and Clint Eastwood starring film is a Southern Gothic battle of the sexes made for a strong addition to her filmography as she once again tackled themes of female isolation and imprisonment, whether self-imposed or otherwise, when come in contact with an uninvited male presence.

Set at an increasingly vacant girls school three years into the Civil War, "The Beguiled" stars Nicole Kidman as the pragmatic headmistress and Colin Farrell as an injured Union soldier reluctantly taken in by Kidman and her skeleton crew of teachers and students, often to their accelerating curiosity and attraction until tension slowly begin to boil over. Coppola has created a grim chamber piece as well as a slowly burning thriller that contains an especially meticulous gaze into aspects of male and female vanity, the respective balances of power and an especially singular artistic view into another world of Coppola's trademark "butterflies under glass."
(Originally reviewed July 2017)

"THE CIRCLE" Directed by James Ponsoldt
Here's another film that completely underwhelmed audiences and yet, I found myself enjoying quite a bit. James Ponsoldt's "The Circle," I felt was a meditative and even creepy thriller about not simply the rise of technology and our dependence upon it, but how that very same human/technological dichotomy provides an insidiously interpersonal detachment as we end up creating our own increasingly Orwellian existence which we seem to be more than happy to subscribe to. More thoughtful than I had expected and perhaps the film failed to ignite much interest was how Ponsoldt never shied away from addressing our own complicity in our potential downfall as well as our advances.
(Originally reviewed May 2017)

"THE FOREIGNER" Directed by Martin Campbell
I actually have not provided you with a full review of this film as it was a bit lost in my end of 2017 shuffle. But with that in mind and if you need a break from catching all of the serious, Oscar hopefuls for something more immediate and definitely more two-fisted, but still one that would not leave you feeling ashamed in the early morning after, I think I have just the one for you.

"The Foreigner," from Director Martin Campbell, the filmmaker behind two of the higher quality James Bond adventures over the last 25 years including "Goldeneye" (1995) and the particularly outstanding "Casino Royale" (2006), is a solid action thriller but one that is indeed refreshingly adult in its intent as well as with its themes of political espionage and radical terrorism, which I felt to be handled intelligently and not with the full cartoonish vibe that we typically witness. Furthermore, it was indeed a treat to see the film stars, Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan, subvert their screen personas, each eliciting performances and creating characters that became more compelling than they ever needed to be. Trust me, check out "The Foreigner." You may just be as surprised as I was with its grim effectiveness.

"The Foreigner" stars Jackie Chan in a rare to these shores dramatic role as Ngoc Minh Quan, a seemingly gentle, reticent owner of a Chinese restaurant in London. When his teenaged daughter Fan (Katie Leung) is killed in a bombing claimed by the fringe terrorist group calling themselves, the "Authentic IRA," Quan, consumed with grief, is determined to find justice, and soon, revenge. Pierce Brosnan stars as Liam Hennesy, Northern Ireland deputy first minister as well as former leader within the IRA who finds himself at the receiving end of Quan's quiet, relentless fury.

While we do receive more than enough bang for our collective bucks, "The Foreigner" is not a film about mindless carnage and easy thrills. I was surprised to find a film that was, again, more thoughtful is its espionage certainly but mostly, for the themes of grief, mourning and how the actions of our past may sometimes never quite relinquish their holds. And then, there's Jackie Chan himself who never for an instant channels the humorous persona of the action comedies he co-starred in with the likes of Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson, respectively. Yes, he still performs his own stunts but there is now a haunted quality, filled as much with hunger and regret as well as vengeance.

"LADY BIRD" Directed by Greta Gerwig
One of the most highly received films of the year and definitely an awards season favorite, is one that I am considerably much softer on. In fact, I do think that the film is even more than a little over-rated and quite possibly falls into that "cult of Gerwig" faction of film-goers and critics. But that being said, Greta Gerwig's directorial debut is an exceedingly well crafted and acted coming of age tale about a most precocious girl's restless final year of high school before her hopeful departure from Sacramento for the shinier, more culturally interesting and exciting locale of New York City with a turbulent Mother/daughter conflict sitting uncomfortably at its core.

For an actress who has represented nothing more than self-congratulatory indie film hipster quirk to me, I deeply appreciated how all of the faux irony I typically connect with Gerwig was stripped away in favor of sheer honesty and authenticity, making for an experience that was undeniably more surprising and moving than I ever thought that it would be.
(Originally reviewed December 2017)

"LOGAN" Directed by James Mangold
In a performance of blistering, existential outrage, Hugh Jackman hangs up the adamantium claws for good in James Mangold's ferocious, brutally elegiac "Logan," the final entry in the solo film series starring Marvel Comics' favorite rampaging Canadian from the X-Men. While the film has no shortage whatsoever of bone crunching action, Mangold has ensured that his superhero epic remains firmly grounded and unapologetically gritty. In fact, "Logan" feels more like an urban Western anchored superbly with a roaring "dying against the light" narrative that features our hero rapaciously facing down his impending mortality. 
(Originally reviewed March 2017)

"mother!" Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Easily the most controversial film upon my list and truth be told, this is a film I appreciated more than I actually liked...and furthermore, I don't really see myself putting myself through this particular wringer again. Even so, Darren Aronofsky and Jennifer Lawrence have made an unrepentantly uncommercial film, which seems to function as a psychological thriller but in actuality--I think--the film is entirely a  metaphor, a Biblical allegory filled end-to-end with all manner of religious themes and concepts from Old Testament to New, in an urgent plea to care for the longevity of our planet. To me, it felt that Lawrence is essentially Mother Earth or Mother Nature while her husband, played by Javier Bardem, is...well...when he identifies himself as "I am I," you can gather what he is supposed to be, I would imagine.

But beyond the puzzling nature of the film and how it just may infuriate some (if not, many) of you, please do consider this: to me Darren Aronofsky's "mother!" is representative of the very type of filmmaking that has arrived in increasingly short supply as the sequels, prequels, re-imaginings, comic book characters, franchises and remakes, and reboots have taken over over cinemas and multi-plexes. We need to have motion pictures that function solely as artistic statements, box office be damned just as much as we do need films that can shake us out of any sense of movie-going complacency and challenge us, as art does not always exist to make us feel comfortable. On that level, this film is a success as "mother!" is a supremely disquieting, demanding and disturbing film that was unlike anything else I saw all year long.
(Originally reviewed September 2017)

"PHANTOM THREAD" Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
The latest film from PTA, and starring Daniel Day-Lewis in what is reportedly his final film role, is a Kubrickian study of a meticulous, fastidious fashion designer in 1950's post war London who has seemingly met his match in the form of his artistic muse, lover and wife, portrayed by Vicky Krieps. While visually resplendent and filled with a surprisingly hilarious comedy of manners, "Phantom Thread" is a chilly affair, exceedingly more cerebral then visceral, yet is unquestionably single-minded in its uncompromising artistic vision that it just may be one of those types of films that may not fully resonate in just one viewing but in several subsequent viewings over time. With that, Anderson and Day-Lewis have given us more than enough to ruminate over.
(Originally reviewed January 2018)

"SPLIT" Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan's complete return to form arrived with this intensely scrappy, sometimes nasty, often surprising (that fantastic ending!!!!) psychological thriller starring James McAvoy in a full throttle, off-the-chain performance as an individual overtaken by 23 different personalities (and with a terrifying 24th ready to fully emerge) who has imprisoned three teenage girls in his underground lair. Taking material that would be more than tasteless and somehow making the proceedings simultaneously elegant and harrowing, and armed with sequences that prowl with superb menace and explode into flights of madness and lunacy, Shyamalan is clearly having a blast after a lengthy rough patch creatively. He clearly has re-gained his groove and here's hoping that his follow-up, due in 2019, will raise that bar further.
(Originally reviewed January 2017)

"THOR: RAGNAROK" Directed by Taika Waititi
This is the movie James Gunn's "Guardians Of The Galaxy" series wished that they could have been. Easily arriving in his very best solo film outing to date, "Thor: Ragnaork" finds the Norse God Of Thunder (again portrayed by Chris Hemsworth in his loosest performance) propelled through a psychedelic adventure that reunites him with The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), forms an uneasy alliance with his duplicitous half brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a new ally in the hard drinking, winged horse riding, scene stealing warrior Valkyrie (a stunning Tessa Thompson) as he attempts t save his home of Asgard from annihilation from the hands of his own sister Hela, the Goddess of Death (never did I think that I needed to see Cate Blanchett appear as she does in this film but now that I have...).

I honestly do not know how Waititi kept all of his spinning plates in the air but miraculously, he weaved Thor's latest adventure through an astoundingly glorious sound and light show, sincere pathos and storytelling heft, some serious creative risks (Thor loses both his trusty hammer and much of his long flowing blonde locks, for instance) and unprecedented display of humor so goofy that the film comes dangerously close to unraveling entirely only to snap itself back into place perfectly. It is as if Waititi created the film version of Queen's iconic "Bohemian Rhapsody," as "Thor: Ragnarok" is by turns hysterical, ridiculous, epic, bombastic, stunning, hilarious, and beautiful. This film is a paintbox come to life with rock and roll energy and comedian's expert sense of timing.
(Originally reviewed November 2017)


"BLADE RUNNER 2049" Directed by Denis Villeneuve
This visually astonishing, sonically powerful and creatively enthralling sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 original film is a more than worthy successor that fully immerses itself in all that we have seen and know from this dark future and increasingly synthetic society featuring replicants existing among humans and extends even further into a universe where humans may not even exist anymore yet the quest and quandaries of humanity are still at the forefront of our collective existential journey.

Ryan Gosling elicits an appropriately cold performance as the titular Blade Runner who falls into the aforementioned existential rabbit hole at which Harrison Ford, returning as detective Rick Deckard, sits at the core. Certainly a film of this sort (one that runs nearly three hours and is deliberately paced), one that celebrates the arcane and esoteric rather than thrills and excitement, would be a polarizing one and how could it not as the original film, to this day is essentially a cult film, albeit one whose cultural influence has cast an immense shadow over the science-fiction and fantasy genre. In fact, "Blade Runner 2049" often feels like those dreams of electric sheep that series inspiration Philip K. Dick wrote about, an approach that certainly lends itself to the film's languid approach.

Now there has been some criticism towards the film for its barrage of misogynistic imagery and characters. Certainly, but I felt those images and characters were key to Villeneuve's vision as misogynistic imagery does not necessarily mean that we are seeing a misogynistic movie, especially one whose primary themes of enslavement and emancipation are paramount. Villeneuve has created a sumptuous production, a voluminous experience designed to enthrall, disturb, provoke, challenge, arouse, and overwhelm.
(Originally reviewed October 2017)

"IT" Directed by Andy Muschietti
Easily one of the very best cinematic adaptations of a Stephen King novel to date, "It" starring the shape shifting horror of Pennywise the Clown who terrorizes a collective of misfit kids in small town Maine during the summer of 1989 is a perceptive, empathetic ode to the dark side of childhood as we witness how the young persevere in a decidedly cruel adult world.

How easy it would have been for the filmmakers to create a series of tasteless shock value driven sequences of children in peril, and yet, for all of the intense scares, the heart of Muschietti's film remains within the tender bonds made between the children, suggesting a film that owes considerably more to Rob Reiner's "Stand By Me" (1986) than Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" (1980).  Let's hope the same attention to character continues in the film's second chapter due to arrive in 2019.
(Originally reviewed September 2017)

"THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER" Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
This enthralling bad dream of a film is a superb follow up from the director of one of this decade's most audacious, astounding films which is "The Lobster" (2016). Lanthimos, again working with Colin Farrell, weaves the grim parable about a heart surgeon (played ny Farrell) caught in a macabre battle of wills with a teenager (Barry Keoghan) and with the lives of the surgeon's family, including wife Nicole Kidman, all hanging in a precarious balance of which retribution will be achieved and no escape hatch exists.

Lanthimos has created a strenuously tight, vice grip of psychological horror where its languid, insistent pacing pulls you slowly into its quicksand. Again, we have a feature that is uncompromising to the degree that some viewers may find it to being morally repugnant. To that end, I think that Lanthmos has fashioned an experience that delves entirely into the themes of self-perception and how one's personal sense of morality can clash with another's, and in the case of this film, to a terrifying degree filled with a relentlessly mounting doom and devastating, inescapable consequences.   
(Originally reviewed November 2017)

"WONDER" Directed by Stephen Chbosky
This one truly hurt to keep off of my Top Ten list, so much so that if I were to have a category called "NUMBER 10.5," this film would sit there proudly.

In a year filled with all manner of darkly themed films (several of them are on this list), I felt this achingly beautiful adaptation of the stunning R.J. Palacio children's novel to be of equal importance as a reflection as well as navigating tool in our turbulent 21st century. "Wonder" tells the tale of Auggie Pullman (a terrific Jacob Tremblay), a facially disfigured boy with whom we experience his year of 5th grade, the first time he has attended school outside of his home and with children his own age.

The magic of this film is its adherence to the concept of kindness, which Chbosky achieves through giving ample screen time to the lives of Auggie's parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), his sister (a lovely Izabella Vidovic), her boyfriend and estranged best friend plus Auggie's classmates as well. Instead of a film that could have easily gone the route of something you might see on Lifetime, Chbosy has ensured that every character is presented honestly and lovingly, giving us all an opportunity to take time to walk in their respective shoes, as well as Auggie's, giving us a larger understanding of all of the characters. In doing so, we explicitly witness how everyone, from the characters on screen to all of us in the audience, are waging some internal battle and what a better world we could have if we all just took the time to just choose kindness rather than anger, recrimination, fear, and hatred.

Never is there a moment that smacked of false sentiment or cheap manipulation. "Wonder" is a film of startling tenderness and tremendous empathy where every single tear shed has been rightfully earned.
(Originally reviewed November 2017)