Movie Review – “Gifted”

Get out and see one of 2017’s best acting performances from a girl who could wipe the chalkboard with Damon’s persona in “Good Will Hunting”.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

We’ve been awed by brilliant movie minds before, each attempting to cope with the deep personal pain their special brain powers often creates. Russell Crowe shocked us in “A Beautiful Mind” as a Nobel Laureate in Economics.  A young Stephen Hawking at Cambridge was superbly personified by Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne in 2014’s “The Theory of Everything”.  And nobody can forget Matt Damon’s 20-year-old character with the skyrocket IQ, sparring in verbal jujitsu opposite Robin Williams in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting”. But lacking from the annals of cinema history is the female child genius whose mind-blowing talents jolt theater audiences.  Until now.

“Gifted” introduces us to fast-thinking second-grader Mary Adler, a mathematics prodigy with a sharp mind and tongue. Being raised by a single guy named Frank (portrayed admirably by Marvel’s own Captain America Chris Evans), young Mary is quickly pulled in many directions by people espousing to know what’s best for her education and future.

In this year’s best young performance to date, Mckenna Grace as Mary completely sells this inspiring story.  The actress’ authentic mathematical vibe and convincing childish wit carries this movie from beginning to end.  Equally impressive is the subdued, down-to-Earth marine boat mechanic role of Frank–which Evans pulls off with ease.  The common denominator tying the film’s other characters all together, Evans effortlessly interchanges between guardian, neighbor, son, lover, greasy nailed mechanic, and owner of a scene-stealing, one-eyed cat named Fred.

Some might incorrectly characterize “Gifted” as a child-custody story, where Frank must defend his decisions regarding Mary’s education in Court to ward off the girl’s opportunistic grandmother.  But this plotline is much deeper than that when one looks for a common thread throughout.  “Gifted” is really about Mary’s mother and her childhood upbringing as she earned comparisons to physicists Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

“Gifted” is an electrifying journey that ponders how a remarkable, one-in-a-billion young mind should be raised.  Does each child deserve to be a kid?  Or does one’s potential to change the world demand that she leapfrogs age-appropriate education, or participation in kids’ sports, Girl Scouts, and other childhood experiences?

Sensational casting and a script that keeps the dialogue believable easily overcomes shaky camera work at times during the film.  Director Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) masterfully incorporates the slow reveal, concealing several scenes’ importance until the final shots surprise viewers. Get out and see one of 2017’s best acting performances from a girl who could wipe the chalkboard with Damon’s persona in “Good Will Hunting”.

Grade: A-

“Gifted” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, and some suggestive material.  Its running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.

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Movie Review – “The Case for Christ”

Attending my second faith-based film in as many weeks, the Christian sermons espoused in last week’s “The Shack” and now “The Case for Christ” are both profound and interesting, yet take starkly different paths towards one’s belief in Jesus Christ.  Whereas “The Shack” invoked an exuberating out-of-body experience that sparked a father’s mind and soul to change, “The Case for Christ” is a leaner, more methodical, and circumstantial investigation by a naysayer that culminates in his ability to believe, receive, and be with Christ.

Following the true-life story of investigative reporter Lee Strobel and his 1998 book by the same name, “The Case for Christ” examines the historical hard evidence left behind Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  A self-proclaimed and proud atheist working as a beat reporter at the Chicago Tribune, Strobel merrily assigns himself the task of disproving and debunking Christianity—all in the hopes of eye-poking his wife’s renewed faith and shutting down a coworker’s religion.

(Mike Vogal portrays Lee Strobel in THE CASE FOR CHRIST. Photo courtesy of Pure Flix Entertainment)

The film’s most intriguing parts are also the scenes which were skimmed over way too quickly.  Strobel’s interviews with experts on the manuscripts illustrating Jesus’ last few days is fascinating and compelling.  Likewise, the physical evidence presented on the medical front—which uses today’s medicine to help explain what witnesses described as Jesus was staked to the cross—marks the movie’s hardest-hitting moment.

Despite leaving viewers wanting a deeper dive into the physical and written evidence, or perhaps more testimony from those in authority, the film instead unleashes on Strobel’s other struggles; his marriage, a botched newspaper story, and his strained relationship with his father.  On each of these issues, Strobel comes up on the wrong end of the truth and compassion.  His 0-3 mean streak leaves him (and us) wondering if he’s also wrong about Christ?

“The Case for Christ” is a dialogue-heavy film that many will find a slow and arduous undertaking. More about the atheist than the Son of God. Believers will enjoy the medical research and written facts proclaiming Jesus’ surrender and resurrection.  The notion of people being in the right spot at the right time due to coincidence or something Higher is thought-provoking and something we can all relate to.

Skeptics will embrace Strobel’s initial edginess and disdain for Biblical explanations and readings.  Too many holes in Christianity’s historic timeline coupled with conflicting testimony by 500 witnesses leave swaths of wiggle-room for Strobel and moviegoers to hedge their bets on Jesus.  But to cover our eyes to the possibility is to shroud the facts from view.

In the end, all that’s left for us is faith.  Faith in something that allows us to replace coincidence with the idea of help from God. To believe enough to receive Him into our lives.  Lee Strobel’s story was meant for a larger audience than his newspaper.  He had a time and place to be elsewhere.  He had other things to do.  And people to reach.

Grade: B

“The Case for Christ” is rated PG for thematic elements, including medical descriptions of the crucifixion and incidental smoking.  Its running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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Movie Review – “The Shack”

“Viewers willing to accept the possibility of a higher God will feel this movie both emotionally and spiritually. The Shack unapologetically takes on anger, depression, and a pain that no parent should endure.  It moves the film’s characters and us in a direction of hope and peace. For that alone, go see this film.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

I’m not quite sure why faith-based films draw such skepticism and low marks from movie critics in general.  These reviewers can’t all be atheists or non-believers.  Perhaps many have difficulty wading into religious waters on company time.  Others might find it personally safer to judge a spiritual storyline harshly than to have one’s readers attack that newspaper columnist’s faith in a Holy Spirit.  I don’t know the true answer, but “The Shack” is getting crucified by critics while receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from theater-goers after two weeks in limited venues.  But having enjoyed 2015’s religious offerings of “Do You Believe?” and “Noble”, I was prepared and open-minded to let “The Shack” touch my soul. And indeed, it did.

Grounding this courageous and thought-provoking film is none other than Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (from 2011’s “The Help” and last year’s Best Picture nominated “Hidden Figures”).  Spencer’s plain-speaking and soothing character invokes peace, love and forgiveness upon a family tormented by the loss of their daughter/sister.

Based upon the New York Times’ best-selling 2007 novel by William P. Young, “The Shack” takes us on a journey of pain and grief through the feelings of Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington), the father and husband who bears the blame and guilt for his family’s loss.  Set in the wilderness of Oregon, the movie follows the loneliness and despair that Worthington’s strong-willed character must face head-on.  Along the way, coping mechanisms are brilliantly illustrated without conceding the tragedy or covering up the deep wounds to a father’s heart.  No miraculous healing overnight takes place in “The Shack”, just forgiveness and an understanding that none of us are ever truly alone in life.

Viewers willing to accept the possibility of a higher God will feel this movie both emotionally and spiritually.  Anyone who has experienced the sudden and violent loss of a loved one and wondered how God to could allow bad people to do such evil things, will find answers in “The Shack”.   Painful relationships clouded by blame or guilt can find peace over time through forgiveness.  It’s these powerful messages, along with a few surprising characters, that makes “The Shack” enjoyable and real.

Most movie reviews of “The Shack” will play down its emotional connection to moviegoers and surmise audiences won’t be impressed by the trifecta of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Despite a couple of slow scenes, this movie unapologetically takes on anger, depression, and a pain that no parent should endure.  It moves the film’s characters and us in a direction of hope and peace.  For that alone, go see this film.  You won’t be alone.

Grade: B+

“The Shack” is rated PG-13 for thematic material, including some violence.  Its running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Life”

“Life” gives us the pulse-racing space terror of 1979’s “Alien” and the suspense-filled isolation found in John Carpenter’s Antarctic in “The Thing” (1982). Make no mistake, the real star is the alien creature whom we learn as much about as any other character in the film.  And that’s the way it should be.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

No Oscars are awarded to movies released in the calendar months of March and April.  These two months are reserved for only fodder films–appetizers if you will–for huge blockbuster summer action adventures kicking off on Memorial Day weekend and lasting until “Back to School” commercials swarm us around Labor Day.  Right now, most audiences are hitting theaters to check out the Academy Award winners announced last month. So, to find an entertaining and very watchable (and scary) new release just as Spring is upon us, is as refreshing as landing your feet on a shady spot of sand on a hot Florida beach.

“Life” quickly takes us aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and introduces viewers to a six-person crew of astronauts and one menacing lifeform gathered up from the soil of Mars.  In a deadly orbital game of Hide and Seek, the alien creature dubbed “Calvin” emerges hell-bent on using humans as its new food source.

A shocking and gruesome horror flick taking place just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, “Life” masterfully accomplishes the two tasks all successful cult-alien space stories must achieve: Create a formidable, smart creature and, secondly, provide us viewers with constant, unrelenting tense, scary moments.  It sells this instant alien classic with the genuine feeling of isolation and loneliness in space, using mostly incommunicado with Earth and an orchestrated weightlessness of bodies and liquids throughout the ISS.

Wisely the film’s energy on character development is expended mostly on the elusive alien monster.  Yes, the bromance witnessed during December’s Golden Globe awards show between Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”) and Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool”) continues in “Life”.  It’s interesting to see these two Hollywood heavyweights costar in roles that so underutilized their overall acting chops. Obviously headlining “Life” for box office appeal, the duo capably bookend the film as a record-setting space junkie and the space station’s Mr. Fix It engineer, respectively.

Beside the familiar Gyllenhaal and Reynolds, is a quartet of faces more remembered by their country’s flag displayed on the spacesuit sleeves than any character names.  All six crew members and a stereotypical lab rat pose as alien bait for an extraterrestrial species that adapts and changes to its surroundings at the same rate it multiplies in size.

“Life” gives us the pulse-racing space terror of 1979’s “Alien” and the suspense-filled isolation found in John Carpenter’s Antarctic in “The Thing” (1982). Make no mistake, the real star is the alien creature whom we learn as much about as any other character in the film.  And that’s the way it should be.  After all, better movies are coming from Gyllenhaal and Reynolds later this year in “Stronger” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”. For now, just enjoy “Life”.

Grade: B

“Life” is rated R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror.  Its running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Beauty and the Beast”

Using the most impressive animation features I’ve ever seen on film, “Beauty and the Beast” lavishly ties the Disney spirit with the eye-raising brilliance of a Broadway production.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

In the best opening weekend for the month of March ever, Disney’s live-action movie “Beauty and the Beast” hauled in a record-breaking $170 million in the U.S. alone.  The wholesome love story also flexed its animation muscle globally, taking in a record $350 million worldwide—making it the biggest PG-rated film opening in North American history and the 7th best grossing weekend of all-time.

Using the most impressive animation features I’ve ever seen on film, “Beauty and the Beast” seamlessly blends its charismatic Disney characters amongst some of Hollywood’s biggest names.  Academy Award-winner Bill Condon (“Gods and Monsters”) directs a talent-rich cast that includes Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson.

Although easily predictable, the lone letdown in the film is the performance by leading lady Watson.  The “Harry Potter” veteran is the movie’s weakest link–both in her acting and singing.  Watson’s tentative and lackluster showing as Belle gets magnified opposite a stellar job from Dan Stevens as the cursed prince and Beast. Likewise, a superb supporting castle crew invokes charm and laughter amidst a handful of dangerous, uncertain moments.

“Beauty and the Beast” sells its heartwarming romance tale through sheer compassion and straightforward storytelling.  Nicely sidestepping too graphic altercation scenes, the movie promotes goodness from within its varied animated souls.  Racing against time, Belle and Co. are challenged to save others…beginning with her father.

This invigorating love story gets stronger in its pointed message and comedic delivery as the film gallops forward.  It lavishly ties the Disney spirit with the eye-raising brilliance of a Broadway production. Even Watson’s underwhelming song and act routines can’t dull a likable Beast and magical cast. In the second strongest, non-summer opening weekend ever, “Beauty and the Beast” shines bright.  Very bright.  Take the entire family and enjoy!

Grade: A

“Beauty and the Beast” is rated PG for some action, violence, peril and frightening images.  Its running time is 2 hours and 9 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Kong: Skull Island”

 

 

“Aside from the film’s spectacular cinematography and CGI realism, this film smartly brings two dozen expendable roles to keep the beast fed.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

As we enter the annual post-Oscars drought season of movies that will be deemed unworthy of awards consideration come December, theater expectations must be lowered accordingly.  Lest viewers feel cheated on memorable acting performances and classic narratives destined to become part of our pop culture, films hitting the big-screen through summer pose as mere appetizers to bigger, more jarring movie experiences later in 2017. No cinema screening could usher or epitomize these waning months more than “Kong: Skull Island”, an over-hyped throwback with A-list actors caught in an average movie.

Erase the weak and convoluted first two dozen minutes of “Kong: Skull Island” and we’re left with a satisfying beginning to the mediocre movie stretch of 2017.  This gorilla story reboot takes us back to the introduction of King Kong, joining the original stop-motion great ape film from 1933 and its remakes in 1976 and 2005.

“Kong: Skull Island” dramatically captures the discovery and dangers of a new island through its camera lens.  It’s an eye-pleasing experience of special effects but gets watered down with a nuanced cast of forgettable characters and names.  Seeing such a deep, rich talent pool, including Academy Award-winner Brie Larson (“Room”), get hamstrung by a bland script lacking any emotional tie with the audience is unfortunate.

Aside from the film’s spectacular cinematography and CGI realism, this film smartly brings two dozen expendable roles to keep the beast fed.  I always tip my hat to storytellers who can sacrifice their lead performers mid-movie to impart shock upon the audience. If that character isn’t safe, no one is.  In “Kong” we care little for any of the human hunters, but do wonder who will be left standing in the end?

The island faceoff between gorilla and man exposes more than just fiery personalities.  Poor decisions resulting in even worse outcomes gets repeated enough times to almost incite laugher aloud.  Alpha males demonstrate inept skills to their followers, each of whom elects to continue along the bad karma cycle of rinse and repeat.  Thankfully, enough surprises emerge on the island to keep us guessing as to who will die next and how?

Post-Oscars doldrums pose a challenge to avid movie-goers.  Expectations must be tempered and kept in check, replaced by the escapism from reality that theaters afford us.  The time now is for thoughtless action, followed by reboots (“CHiPs”, “Baywatch”), comic book adventures (“Wonder Woman”, “Spider-Man”) and highly anticipated Star-Lord comedy (“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”).

Until the Academy Award-worthy World War II true story of Operation Dynamo hits theaters as the film “Dunkirk” in July, we must sit-back and enjoy these types of popcorn movies.

Grade: C

“Kong: Skull Island” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.  Its running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Logan”

 

“Logan” offers plenty of entertainment to X-Men purists… Others, though, seeking to continue the outlandish fun and lightheartedness of 2016’s “Deadpool” formula will find “Logan” missing one-liners and playful banter towards the audience.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

With DC Comics and Marvel adventures spurning film releases at nearly the rate of presidential tweets, these filmmakers must strive for freshness on-screen that goes beyond only well-choreographed action sequences. These studios must balance staying accurate to their comic book inspired storylines while eliciting excitement for continual rollouts of new big-screen superheroes. 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has easily overmatched DC Comics in this difficult task, mostly by infusing well-liked and funny characters as the foundation for their narratives.  From snarky “Iron Man” Tony Stark, the quintet of laughable rogues in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, to Paul Rudd’s “Ant-Man”, Marvel has mastered the successful 3-part ingredients of action, drama, and stand-up comedy.  But that successful recipe hasn’t always been followed by Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox’s release of their X-Men franchise since 2000.

Last year’s Oscar-deserving X-Men spinoff “Deadpool” celebrated the series’ best reception to date.  Now, however, comes the third and final “Wolverine” saga starring Hugh Jackman as Logan. Reprising his role as the mutant with his trademark claws, Jackman’s Logan finds himself working as a chauffeur along the Mexican border before trouble meets up with him.

Related image

Joining Jackman’s Logan is the X-Men leader, Professor X, portrayed by Patrick Stewart and albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant).  The trio do an excellent job bringing viewers up to speed on the fallout from the mad science experiments found in 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and 2013’s “The Wolverine”.  With fewer mutants in existence, Logan must leave semi-retirement to protect those closest to him.

“Logan” offers plenty of entertainment to X-Men purists.  Those avid followers will enjoy the action drama and further developments of this “Wolverine” finale by Jackman.  Others, though, seeking to continue the outlandish fun and lightheartedness of 2016’s “Deadpool” formula will find “Logan” missing one-liners and playful banter towards the audience.  Still more watchable than any recent offerings by DC Comics, “Logan” straight-forward connection of dots minus any plot surprises or cliffhanger ending.

This film provides us and Jackman with a solid final Wolverine chapter that encompasses the usual action-packed dramatic fighting between superhero and a group of villains still wishing harm to others.  Be prepared for less humor, a few slow movie scenes, and more reluctance by Logan to draw out his claws.  There’s no typical Marvel post-credit movie spoilers after “Logan”.  But be sure to be in your seats for the film’s beginning to see a hilarious short skit performed by Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool character. 

Grade: B-

“Logan” is rated R for strong, brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity.  Its running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.

 

 

 

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My Top 5 Oscar Moments of All-Time List

5. Cuba Gooding Jr. back in 1997.

Lots of talk about what to expect from Hollywood’s acceptance speeches this Sunday at The Oscars. Here’s how it’s done.

 

4. Charlie Chaplin receiving his honorary award in 1972.

His name is synonymous with the word film. His fingerprints remain on every movie made since he arrived on the world stage 100 years ago.

 

3.  Italian Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful” wins Best Foreign Language Film in 1999.

I had the same reaction in high school when I passed the SAT.

 

2.  John Wayne accepts the Best Actor award in 1970 for his performance in “True Grit”.

It was The Duke’s first and only Oscar win after 3 nominations.  But John Wayne also earned the two highest civilian decorations in the United States, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 

1.  Matthew McConaughey’s Best Actor win in 2014 for “Dallas Buyers Club”. 

Who is your hero?

Alright, alright, alright…

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My 2017 Oscar Picks!

And the Winner is…

This Sunday night’s 89th Academy Awards show on ABC is one of the most uncertain and open races in recent years.  First-time Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel kicks off the telecast at 5 pm, Arizona time.  Despite La La Land netting a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations (joining Titanic and All About Eve for the most ever), Oscar Night always manages to entertain and surprise viewers.  Expect the Hollywood love story to get stiff competition from Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight for the 8 ½ pound golden statuettes.

Here are my selections for who’ll win this year’s Academy Awards, honoring the highest achievements in filmmaking:

 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Despite not being enthralled with either Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea, both films provided exceptional performances from their talented casts.  My vote would easily go to Viola Davis in FencesLion and Hidden Figures are the best movies on this 5-picture list, but Kidman and Spencer face an uphill battle.  And Williams?  Come on, she was barely in Manchester by the Sea…but her one memorable scene may be enough to sway Oscar voters.

Viola Davis (Fences) – Winner

Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

Nicole Kidman (Lion)

Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)

Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Never one to underestimate “The Rock”, I would be surprised if Moana mounted a serious enough challenge to Zootopia.  In fact, I’d place Kubo and the Two Strings slightly ahead of the Baywatch lifeguard.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Moana

My Life As A Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia – Winner

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The best early indicators as to which film will take the Best Picture award is usually found in the winner’s circle of the acting, directing and cinematography categories. Without Amy Adams (Arrival) in the running for Best Actress, the edge here goes to La La Land, Moonlight, and Lion—in that order.

Arrival

La La Land – Winner

Lion

Moonlight

Silence

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

Although Doctor Strange didn’t gain tons of critical acclaim from either movie reviewers or audience members, everyone agreed that it look phenomenal on the big-screen.  The Doctor’s closest competitor is The Jungle Book, which I wouldn’t mind watching it take a well-deserved Oscar in this category.

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange – Winner

The Jungle Book

Kubo and the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

 

COSTUME DESIGN

Early favorite Jackie still poses the greatest threat to Fantastic Beasts, followed by Florence Foster Jenkins.

(PHOTO: Russell Crowe in “The Nice Guys”.  Not nominated for any Oscars.)

 Allied

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Winner

Florence Foster Jenkins

Jackie

La La Land

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

If you’re going to live long and prosper in the future, you need to look good doing it.  Mr. Scott, one golden statute to beam up.

A Man Called Ove

Star Trek Beyond – Winner

Suicide Squad

(PHOTO: Chris Pine, Sofia Boutella, and the late Anton Yelchin in “Star Trek Beyond”)

 

SOUND MIXING

If Hacksaw Ridge has any hope of scoring gold in the telecast’s last hour, the World War 2 true story will need to mount a serious charge to this objective. Doubtful, but the spirit of Desmond Doss can’t be ignored or downplayed entirely.

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land – Winner

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

 

SOUND EDITING

Most winners in the Sound Mixing category run the table and take this Oscar too.  I’m counting on it.

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

 La La Land – Winner

Sully

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

If Bridges doesn’t walk out with the Oscar in his hands, I’m going be unearthing some west Texas oil lands to find out who stole it! The scene near the end of Hell or High Water–where Bridges takes a rancher’s rifle into his own hands—should be studied in acting classes.  His range of emotions as grief, shock, elation, and back to sadness overwhelm him is fascinating to see unfold.  In the end, though, I think Academy scorecards give Ali the win with a TKO decision.

Mahershalia Ali (Moonlight) – Winner

Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)

Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)

Dev Patel (Lion)

Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

 

FILM EDITING

So far, La La Land has been dominating Oscar Night.  This category will let us know which film has the best chance at taking the night’s top prize –Best Picture. La La Land is the heavy favorite in this category, but don’t discard Moonlight too quickly.  Outside shot…Arrival.

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

 La La Land – Winner

Moonlight

 

 

 

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

La La Land will withstand the test of time.  An instant classic that will continue to gain popularity in the next few decades a la Titanic.  Long shot is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar!

 La La Land – Winner

Passengers

 

ORIGINAL SCORE

This one feels like a no-brainer.  If the popular musical can’t take the top prize in this category, they’re going to have a bad night.  A very bad night.

Jackie

La La Land – Winner

Lion

Moonlight

Passengers

 

ORIGINAL SONG

Again, this should be an easy-peasy victory for the song and dance number from director Damien Chazelle. But from here on out, La La Land will have a serious fight on its hands in the acting, directing and best picture categories.

Audition – The Fools Who Dream (La La Land) – Winner

Can’t Stop The Feeling (Trolls)

City of Stars (La La Land)

The Empty Chair (Jim: The James Foley Story)

How Far I’ll Go (Moana)

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

I initially had given this one to Hidden Figures. But that was my heart talking, telling me that a win by the feel-good NASA true story would make Oscar’s trajectory all good in the world.  Or, perhaps, 2016’s most emotional film—Lion.  Unfortunately, the crack-addition narrative Moonlight makes her move here.

Arrival

Fences

Hidden Figures

Lion

Moonlight – Winner

 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

I’m hoping to see some west Texas justice for Hell or High Water, but think that it may actually come to Manchester by the Sea, which steals an Oscar from the City of Stars.

Hell or High Water

La La Land

The Lobster

Manchester by the Sea – Winner

20th Century Women

 

DIRECTING

As the youngest director to ever be nominated for an Academy Award, the now 32-year old Chazelle is the heavy favorite.  Moonlight’s leader Barry Jenkins is a close second. Outlier: Lonergan for his Manchester by the Sea.

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)

Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson)

La La Land (Damien Chazelle) – Winner

Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

 

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

If were based solely on an actor’s ability to carry a film, Denzel Washington wins this easily.  Packing a stronger storyline with a larger supporting cast, Affleck’s distraught uncle character in Manchester by the Sea outshined Washington’s Pittsburgh garbage collector.

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) – Winner

Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)

Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

Denzel Washington (Fences)

 

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

One of the night’s biggest upsets could happen here.  Huppert’s portrayal of a rape victim in Elle has earned her numerous awards late last year and into 2017.  This remains, though, Stone’s Oscar to lose.

Isabelle Huppert (Elle)

Ruth Negga (Loving)

Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Emma Stone (La La Land) – Winner

Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

 

BEST PICTURE

I only gave 3 films in 2016 an A+ letter grade—Hell or High Water, Lion, and La La Land.  But 3 of these nine nominees didn’t even make my Top 20 List for last year (Arrival, Fences, and Moonlight). Deservedly, Hidden Figures has gained momentum in recent months. Enough to earn the top award?  Probably not.  This one comes down to Moonlight and La La Land.

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

 La La Land – Winner

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

Congratulations to all the winners!

 

 

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Movie Review – “Fifty Shades Darker”

Great (ben wa) balls of fire!  “Fifty Shades Darker” contains exactly one titillating (and humorous) string of events that quickly escalates from foreplay to masquerade dinner, before climaxing into mattress mayhem. 

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Once again, the month of February has drawn upon us and a handful of friends sheepishly asked if I were going to see this second erotic rollout based upon best-selling author E.L. James’ trilogy collection?  Yes, I unabashedly responded.  And, no, like most book-to-film endeavors, I haven’t read any of the James’ three “Shades” smut novels.

These questions point to the fact that sex fantasy films generate a whole different theater vibe and allure for viewers than a typical movie due to their more graphic sexual and kinky content. Such soft-porn movies create the need to review both the overall storyline and the over-publicized sordid sex scenes.

Great (ben wa) balls of fire!  “Fifty Shades Darker” contains exactly one titillating (and humorous) string of events that quickly escalates from foreplay to masquerade dinner, before climaxing into mattress mayhem.  Young Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) resumes his control freak persona into Anastasia Steele’s personal and professional life. This time, however, we find Dakota Johnson’s Miss Steele character never taken aback by her former lover… a more willing accomplice to Grey’s dominance between his 1800 thread count bed sheets.

Christian Grey is the same helicopter boyfriend who never allows his possessions or women to stray far outside of his arm’s reach. Everything must be available at his disposal to provide immediate gratification and stimulation. In a subtle scene as the always working Anastasia, Dakota Johnson pays a small on-screen tribute to her true-life mother, Melanie Griffith, and 1988’s “Working Girl”.

Unfortunately, this film’s story is not nearly as entertaining as last year’s predecessor, “Fifty Shades of Grey” — which I gave a B+ letter grade.  Little heartache or convincing is required of Christian Grey to pursue and compel the younger Anastasia to recommence her submissive afterhours sexual prowess.  The true culprit for the movie’s less satisfying plot resides in its lack of depth given to several competing, smaller sub-stories…none of which spurns any excitement, interest, or suspense for viewers in this installment.

While “Fifty Shades Darker” is a major drop-off from the series’ original bedroom punisher, it does faithfully accomplish its main goal of creating the potential for a thrilling finale in 2018.  Unapologetically, I will be there to review it.

Grade: C

“Fifty Shades Darker” is rated R for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity and language.  Its running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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Copyright 2017 REEL BRIEF


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