[REVIEW] ‘Swallow’ or Stop Eating That!

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While most of us are stuck inside and the cinemas are closed there is definitely a dearth of new movies to watch. However, there are some films available VOD and on streaming services and today I had the chance to look at the strange psychological thriller Swallow which can be rented on any streaming service. It’s definitely not a movie for everyone and I had mixed feelings about it but if you are in the mood for something different it definitely delivers

Swallow is directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis and stars Haley Bennett in an outstanding performance as a woman who develops a habit of pica or eating non-edible items. The idea is she is a trophy wife who isn’t given much to do besides prepare a proper house for her husband. Once she becomes pregnant she feels a need for control over her body and starts eating items like marbles and tacks until she has to have surgery to remove them.

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I will admit the visual of her eating all of this stuff is pretty gross and hard to stomach but it is nonetheless compelling because of the great performance from Bennett. Swallow is also beautifully filmed, mostly in one house. The way the director uses color and lighting builds up a chilling and effective atmosphere. This helps make the character’s choices feel more valid because the room is such a strange red color. Crazy house= crazy behavior.

Where the film doesn’t work is the last section. They try to give a backstory for why she is compelled towards this addiction, and I really didn’t like what they came up with. I liked it much better when her motivation was simply feeling awkward and out of control with a baby inside her. That was much more interesting than the revenge angle they took.

Swallow reminded me a lot of Todd Haynes’ film SAFE (which I love). Both films are about housewives who become obsessed with some aspect of their health. We then follow where the psychosis takes the lead characters. Because of the ending SAFE is more effective but they are similar in tone and style.

I debated whether to go fresh or rotten on Swallow because the ending was a bummer, but I still think Bennett’s performance is so  strong and the movie is well made enough to recommend it. If the concept intrigues you give it a rental. Like I said: It’s definitely not for everyone!

5.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘McMillions’: Oh What an Entertaining Web we Weave

 

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So you might not have heard but recently I’ve found myself with a little bit of time on my hands. The movie theaters are closed, screenings are cancelled and most films are postponed, so what’s an aspiring film critic supposed to do with herself? Well, I have a lot of fun stuff planned but to begin with I watched the new documentary series on HBO called McMillions and boy is it entertaining!

McMillions follows the $24 million fraud perpetuated behind the McDonald’s Monopoly game sweepstakes between 1989 and 2001. The story has almost nothing to do with McDonalds but it is a many tangled web of all kinds of characters who become involved: ‘from Mobsters to Mormons’ as the ads promise.

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Even the agents investigating prove to be very entertaining. This is especially true for agent Doug Mathews who was born to be on television. He is funny, charismatic and probably a little bit nuts but it makes for great TV. In fact, the series suffers a bit when it goes to long without him. What makes him so appealing is his innocent enthusiasm for every part of the investigation. He doesn’t want those boring old cases. No way! He wants to be where things are happening and he can go undercover and do crazy things. It’s the best.

Aside from Matthews there are a ton of different personalities on both the investigator and criminal side and the scheme is very well executed. In fact, it may have never come to light if there wasn’t a mysterious informant who tipped off the FBI. It brings up the interesting question if someone came up to you and offered you a million and all you had to do was turn in a game piece that you didn’t organically find would you do it? I think a lot of us would.

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Also in the end who is really hurt in this whole scam? McDonald’s isn’t. They would have given the money out regardless of who won. The American public? I guess they had no chance to really win but the chance was so small to begin with that it is hardly a large wound. The marketing firm went under after it was revealed one of their employees did this but that’s about the worst it got. Is it a victimless crime?

I suppose that is for the courts to decide and not me but I do know this documentary series was very entertaining especially agent Matthews who should totally have his own show. He’s got that secret sauce for television you don’t see every day. So fun!

Have you seen McMillions? What did you think? I would love to hear in the comments section.

Even though this is on HBO it’s pretty clean minus some language.

Blind Spot 51: ‘Goodfellas’

When I set up my 2020 Blind Spot list I knew immediately I wanted to include something from director Martin Scorsese. He not only caused a lot of ruckus with his ridiculous and out of touch comments about superhero movies not being ‘cinema’ last year but then he achieved great critical acclaim with his film The Irishman.  I famously did not care for this Oscar nominated film, and I also hated his film before that Silence, so I began to wonder if maybe the famous director and I simply don’t mix very well (I did like Hugo and The Aviator so there’s that)?

Anyway, I knew I wanted to give his other mobster movie, Goodfellas, a shot this year to see what I thought. Now I have seen it, and I’m happy to say I liked it. It’s not a top-tier film for me but definitely entertaining and far better than The Irishman in every way. I still prefer the gravitas and messaging of The Godfather over this film but I can see why it has its ardent fans.

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Goodfellas tells the story of Henry Hill a real life mobster in 70s and 80s who works and serves the family despite not being a full-Italian ‘made’ member. We start out the film with Henry as a teenager dazzled by the lifestyle and family-connection of organized crime. He gets taken under the wing by a caporegime named Paulie played by Paul Servino. Joe Pesci plays a violent and erratic man named Tommy Devito and Robert De Niro plays a leader of the group named Jimmy Conway.

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The reason I liked this so much better than The Irishman is the characters are all more dynamic. My problem with Robert De Niro’s character in The Irishman is his come to Jesus moments come too late in the narrative. For 80% of the movie he is perfectly happy being a soldier for the mafia and someone who simply follows orders isn’t interesting for a film, especially a long film.

In contrast, Henry has many moments where he bucks against the system, especially in the 2nd half where it becomes more of a heist movie than a mafia film. He even challenges orders in his personal life with wife Karen and mistress Janice/Sandy. This makes him an interesting character. We want to root for him because he is our protagonist, but he’s such a sleazy guy that it becomes difficult. Such conflict is cinematic and entertaining. It also doesn’t hurt that Ray Liotta does a very good job playing Henry so you both want to hang out with and smack him at the same time.

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Unlike The Godfather, Goodfellas doesn’t attempt to teach us lessons through the insular society of the mob. It’s not an allegory to society at large or a treatise on group behavior and loyalty. It’s just Henry’s story- a biopic if you will, with all the highs and lows we expect from that genre. It is greatly aided by witty and engaging dialogue by screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi. It clips along and stays free from both exposition or over-narration.

As far as flaws it still feels self-indulgent at times. Scenes are stretched out longer than they need to be and certain sequences are repeated that provide no real addition to the plot. For example, we see multiple scenes with them laughing it up at the comedy club in the beginning of the film. One scene is fine and establishes the juvenile nature of these men; however, I didn’t need to see it again and again. Same with scenes with the drug-trade later in the movie. We get the idea the first time. We don’t need scene after scene of them getting blow. It’s almost like Scorsese lacks confidence in his scenes so he has to repeat them again. (Come to think of it one of the things I hated in Silence was the repeated torture. He would literally show a scene of torture and show that exact same scene again in case we didn’t get it the first time. No thank you!).

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Goodfellas is also very well edited and the production values are all top rate. It doesn’t feel dated in any way. It could be released now and hold up (honestly better than The Irishman with its distracting special effects). I also enjoyed the cinematography and music choices throughout.

If you can handle a hard R rated film for violence and language I recommend giving Goodfellas a watch. If you do, you will find a well-told story about a complex character in the form of Henry Hill. It’s got a sharp script and good performances all around, which makes it very entertaining. I can definitely see why it is a favorite of those who love the gangster genre.

What do you think of Goodfellas? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments section

7.5 out of 10

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On another note I can see why so many compared Hustlers to Goodfellas. They have a very similar structure especially in the last half of the film and have the same type of repetition and character beats.

 

[REVIEW] ‘The Invisible Man’ (Spoiler Free)

If you have been following my site for any amount of time you know the horror genre is one of my least favorites. That doesn’t mean there can’t be gems which I enjoy. I especially like creature scares movies like last year’s Crawl or the classic Jaws. I also enjoy a tight thriller like 10 Cloverfield Lane or a Hitchcock film like Vertigo. However, it is in general a tough genre to win me over to.

Understanding my bias, one of my goals for 2020 is to try and expand my palate in the horror genre. This will hopefully make my portfolio of reviews stronger and open a new world of moviemaking to me. Unfortunately most of the horror movies so far this year have looked atrocious, so I didn’t see any of them. That changed with this week’s release entitled The Invisible Man.

Very loosely based on the original 1933 Universal Monster movie and the novel by H.G. Wells, this contemporary adaptation is directed by Leigh Whannell and stars Elizabeth Moss. I don’t know if it is her role on The Handmaid’s Tale that is to blame but Moss has become a pro at playing the battered, tortured woman and her performance is the strength of this film. She commits to every scene and you feel invested in her character throughout.

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While the movie is focusing on her paranoia caused by her abusive husband it is very effective and chilling. I won’t give any details away but suffice it to say he has been so controlling that when she starts to sense his presence it isn’t entirely clear whether she has gone into full mania or is actually sensing his spirit (or an invisible man…).

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Unfortunately the last act of the film abandons this initial premise and becomes more of a generic monster/ghost movie and that interested me a lot less. Everything that was unknown and hidden becomes obvious and as a result a lot less scary. It honestly became kind of corny with over-the-top kills and cheesy set pieces.

However, I can still recommend The Invisible Man, especially for horror buffs. Moss is very good and there are enough scares in the first half to be entertained. Just manage your expectations. Some of the hyperbole has been a little nuts on this film. In fact, I’m not sure why this film is getting so much more praise than last year’s Greta? They are both about lonely women who get pushed to the breaking point by a megalomaniac who is stalking them, and they both have slightly cheesy finales. Who knows? All that matters is I found them both entertaining enough to recommend.

If you get to see The Invisible Man let me know what you think. It is rated R for “strong bloody violence and language” and especially at the beginning it earns its scares.

6.5 out of 10

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Current Mini Reviews (Zombies 2, Shaun the Sheep 2, The Photograph, The Call of the Wild)

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I have been busy as usual but still have managed to see 4 films I wanted to report here on the blog. It’s an interesting bunch so you will have to share with me what you thought if you get to see any of them. Sure love ya!

Zombies 2

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A lot of people are really tough on the Disney Channel original musicals but I’ve enjoyed almost all of them. With the exception of Freaky Friday I’ve had fun with the energetic dance numbers and positive messages for teens they all offer. Now we have Zombies 2 and it is another entertaining entry.

Meg Donnelly and Milo Manheim are both charismatic actors and good singers that solidly lead the film and the new crew of werewolves in town have a cool slick style to them. Unfortunately they just recycled the message of the first movie again but it’s an important message of tolerance so I give them a little bit of a pass. However, Zombies 3 needs to be something different!

All that said, if you enjoyed the first Zombies film you will enjoy this.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Photograph

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I really enjoyed director Stella Meghie’s last film Everything Everything. I felt she took a basic sick teen love story and elevated it with sincere performances and a clever atmosphere. So naturally I was excited to see her new film The Photograph which Universal decided to bury for some reason over the Valentines weekend.

I don’t know why they hid The Photograph from critics because I really liked it. If you are looking for a romance directed with tons of style it is the film for you. Stars Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae have wonderful chemistry together and Maghie does such a good job creating palatable romantic tension between our two leads.

The flashbacks telling the story of Rae’s parents isn’t as compelling but it’s still serviceable. If you are into romances The Photograph is a well executed film I definitely recommend. For the record, it is pretty steamy for a pg13 so you’ve been warned.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

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It seems like I have been waiting for the sequel to the delightful The Shaun the Sheep Movie from 2015 for forever. We heard about it getting developed for several years and then last year it opened in England to acclaim only to be relegated to Netflix here in the States in 2020. Hopefully on Netflix will allow more people to see the film as it is a sweet and funny comedy for the entire family.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon reunites us with our rascal sheep at Mossy Bottom Farm in England. Shaun and his friends are bored and making life difficult for the farm watchdog Bitzer. Then one day an alien arrives named Lu-La and all sorts of mischief occurs.

This movie is adorable. That’s all there is to say about it. Every minute on screen is super cute and I had a smile on my face. If you don’t think Shaun and his friends antics are funny it won’t be for you but I loved it. It has an old school silent movie appeal to it I really loved and kids will adore it. It’s a great film to watch as a family and everyone will laugh and enjoy the cuteness together. And of course the claymation animation is so well executed.

After a bit of a mistep with Early Man Aardman Animation is back with a real winner in Farmageddon.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Call of the Wild

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Our last film is the new adaptation of the Jack London novel The Call of the Wild. I know I have read the novel but it has been a few years and I must admit I sometimes get it and London’s other popular novel White Fang confused. That said, I do think this version stays pretty close to the book, so that should make literary fans happy.

This version stars Harrison Ford as an adventurer who finds a dog named Buck who has seen many owners before landing on him (Ford isn’t in the movie much for the first 45 minutes). The only catch is this version of Buck is an all CGI dog instead of a regular dog and it arrives with mixed results.

Ford does a good job and the spirit of adventure throughout is compelling. There’s something old fashioned about this storytelling without wasted time on romances or unnecessary melodrama. The beautiful cinematography of the Yukon is also gorgeous and immersive.

However, the CGI dog is distracting especially when he is surrounded by other dogs (or any kind of group shot to be honest). Close up he fairs a little bit better but it is not a convincing visual. It’s especially a problem when we just got Togo from Disney Plus, which is also about a heroic dog in the Klondike and was soooo much better.

The other problem I had with The Call of the Wild was a very cringe-worthy performance by the usually reliable Dan Stevens. He plays an over-the-top bad guy named Hal who has a grudge against Ford’s John Thornton for the weakest of reasons. I am sure he was just doing what he was told but his insane bad-guy did not fit in with the leisurely paced choices in the rest of the film. It was really bad.

The Call of the Wild is also pretty scary for small children and I don’t know if the story will interest older kids. When it comes to Disney Plus it could be a nice way to introduce kids to the book but I don’t think I can recommend it in the theaters. It’s not awful but too uneven to spend the big dollars on.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Quezon’s Game’

Sometimes it seems like every story about WWII has been told. It’s a particularly cinematic war because the heroes and villains are easy to separate (or at least on the surface it is). Nevertheless, I am always amazed to find new movies about the conflict, with new and fresh takes. Such is the case with the film Quezon’s Game, which is getting a US release starting this Friday. The film has problems but overall it’s a moving piece of history I was unfamiliar with.

When watching Quezon’s Game it is important to remember it was made on a tiny budget. As a result, it has the feel of a TV movie and not even a high budget Hallmark TV movie. (Quezon’s budget is $500,000 US where a typical Hallmark movie is around $2 million). It will be up to individual viewers whether the admittedly cheap looking production values keep them from enjoying the story but as I am quite accustomed to TV movies it didn’t bother me.

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The story is what I found compelling. Quezon’s Game tells the true tale of Philippine President Manuel L Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing). In 1938 he was presented with an opportunity to help 1200 Jewish refugees trying to escape the impending horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. This was a difficult decision for Quezon because the Phillipines had not gained independence from The United States at that point  the US had already refused to take in refugees.

President Quezon is definitely presented here as a hero and the Philippines as a country is shown in bold nationalistic strokes but I was fine with that. I enjoy heroic, inspirational stories and figure every nationality and culture deserves to have their historical heroics portrayed from time to time on the big screen. The main lead performances of Bagatsing as Manuel and Rachel Alejandro as his wife work quite well. You can see him wanting to be a better man but worrying about the consequences. Of course, this makes his eventual triumph all the more meaningful because he had doubts.

Unfortunately, most of the supporting performances stand out and not in a good way. Many of the line readings come off as clunky and inauthentic. Again, it feels more like a TV movie instead of a feature film and that’s a problem. The film is also too long and could benefit from at least 20 minutes being hacked out.

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Enjoyment of Quezon’s Game will depend a lot on your tolerance for its level of production design and acting. I am someone who cares most about story so I found myself more than willing to forgive the problems. You can probably wait and rent it but if you want to learn more about a fascinating piece of WW2 history give this a watch.

6 out of 10

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Blind Spot 49: ‘Spartacus’

Happy January! I am so excited to be starting my 5th year doing the Blind Spot project. I can hardly believe I have been keeping it up that long, month by month. So, it seemed appropriate to celebrate this accomplishment by looking at an epic film and few films are more epic than the 1960 historical drama Spartacus.

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The biggest thing Spartacus has going for it is how big it is. Particularly the war scenes are truly epic. In a world where we are used to battles populated by cgi soldiers it is refreshing to see so many extras that it looks like ants moving on the hillsides towards each other rather than humans. The scope of every scene and attention to detail really is tremendous and worthy of praise.

Also the acting is top rate. I particularly enjoyed Peter Ustinov as a cold yet jolly Roman leader named Batiatus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ustinov in a role that he didn’t shine and bring whatever funny he could to the part. All the other acting is great including Sir Laurence Olivier as Marcus Licnius Crassus and Tony Curtis as Antoninus.

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However, that’s where my praise of Spartacus must end. This film is a really long movie to not connect with any of the characters. While the acting is great, the writing and story is pretty bland. I was not drawn into the journey of Spartacus played by Kirk Douglas and found his performance the one miss of the film. I didn’t feel like I got to know him very well, and I wasn’t rooting for him the way that I should for this kind of narrative. Unfortunately, he felt miscast in the role.

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The only female of note in the film is Varinia played by Jean Simmons, and I didn’t think she and Douglas had any chemistry. Her story is as bland as Spartacus and despite some daring scenes she just wasn’t interesting to me (the film as a whole is pretty R rated both in violence and sensuality).

It’s hard to completely skunk a movie as handsomely mounted as Spartacus but when I compare it to other epics of its time like Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia or The 10 Commandments it doesn’t hold a candle to those films. Those films had compelling characters, terrific action and epic set pieces. I love those films. Spartacus? Not so much.

5 out of 10

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Thoughts on the Oscar Best Picture Nominees

This Monday January 13th movie fans held their breath in excitement as the nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced in Hollywood. One can certainly argue that too much time and energy is put into the Oscars but it is also a nice way to look back at the year in film and hopefully honor some of the strong films released by both big and small studios. This year I have actually seen all of the nominees for Best Picture, so I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on each film and what chances each film has to win.

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Ford v Ferrari

I am thrilled to see an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser like Ford v Ferrari get nominated for Best Picture. What’s great about Ford v Ferrari is that it is not just an underdog racing movie (which is a genre I LOVE!) but it is also a wonderful movie about friendship. Christian Bale is excellent as Ken Miles and Matt Damon is great as his bewildered colleague Carroll Shelby. I loved all the supporting cast especially Noah Jupe and Caitriona Balfe as Bales’ son and wife respectfully. The film is a little too long but it’s a highly entertaining watch. I do think it is a long shot to win and comes in at 9th place in my prediction ranking.

Little Women

This new version of Little Women has become quite a part of my life lately. I have seen it twice, written my review, and then been on 2 separate podcasts where I discussed and ranked it. I really enjoyed this take on the classic story of Little Women. In particular the non-linear storytelling (which I usually hate) really worked to help make each sisters choices more valid especially Amy and Laurie. I loved all the performances and filmmaking choices like costumes, production design etc. The script got a little too cute at times and I would have preferred they used 2 Amys but it is still one of my favorites films of the year. Unfortunately with Greta Gerwig getting snubbed for Best Director the odds for it winning Best Picture are small and it is at 8th place in my prediction ranking.

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JoJo Rabbit-

Writing satire is probably the most difficult type of screenwriting. The line between clever skewering of society and an unfunny piece in poor taste is incredibly difficult. Director and writer Taika Waititi managed to do just that with his film JoJo Rabbit where we learn that even the worst of ideologies can be driven out of someone (especially a child) by the power of human connection. I laughed. I cried. I was delighted and I recommend anyone watch it and experience something unique at the theater. However, because the subject matter and approach is not for everyone it is unlikely to win and gets 7th place in my prediction rating.

The Irishman-

Upon its release I was one of the few detractors on Martin Scorsese’s epic mob film The Irishman. There is much to admire in the film especially the terrific period detail and performances. My issue is the story and characters. The lead character Frank Sheeran is an admitted soldier for the mafia, meaning he doesn’t have a lot of moral questioning of what he is asked to do. He dutifully follows orders. It isn’t until the last 30 minutes of a very long movie that introspection happens and things become interesting. It was too little too late and the ponderous pacing made it a tough watch. As far as predictions, The Irishman was a clear favorite back in November, but with the length being a factor, DeNiro not getting nominated, and a general overall lack of awards season buzz all make it an unlikely winner and ultimately 6th place in my prediction ranking.

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Marriage Story-

I must admit I put off watching the new drama Marriage Story from writer/director Noah Baumbach. The idea of seeing a couple go through something as horrible as divorce for 2 hours sounded very unpleasant especially during the holidays. However, I finally watched it and it’s very well done. The writing feels authentic to the characters and I appreciate the script doesn’t pick sides for the male or the female. The acting is tremendous; although, I’m a bit baffled at the awards love being shown to Laura Dern who is fine but nothing extraordinary if you ask me. I think the movie is just too small in scope to win the big prize without a surprise win like Moonlight had a few years ago so it is 5th place in my prediction ranking.

Joker-

Another movie I put off watching is Todd Phillips origin story of Joker. I was pretty sure with the tone and violence it wouldn’t be my taste and after what happened with Shazam I wasn’t interested in facing the angry mob unless I had to for having an opinion. Once it got nominated I watched it and it’s not for me. Basically the Arthur of the film lives in a dystopian where everyone is underhanded, unkind, cruel and bitter. His story wasn’t interesting to me because there never was a valid option for him to chose a different path. Of course he is going to become a supervillain if everyone treats him like complete garbage. This is not a world I connect with or agree with but I’m not a cynical person. Nevertheless, many do seem to enjoy the film and it got the most nominations, so it could win. However, there’s enough backlash and enough comicbook/blockbuster stigma to prevent it. I have it at 4th place in my prediction ranking.

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Parasite-

If I was going to predict a surprise win it would be Parasite. The South Korean thriller by director Bong Joon Ho is the consensus favorite for almost everyone I know. Whether film snob on twitter or everyday moviegoer, we all seem to love Parasite and that’s because it’s a great film. It is entertaining, enlightening, surprising and has something to say without beating you over the head with it. I also think the preferential voting system of the Oscars could help Parasite out the most because even if some don’t have it first almost everyone will have in their top 3. It could be the Green Book of 2020. The downside is some may feel a win in International Film is enough for it and a subtitled film has never won Best Picture before and that is a barrier for some voters. This is why I have it at 3rd place in my prediction ranking.

1917-

These last 2 are very tough to decide between when it comes to predictions. 1917 is an incredible, immersive experience telling the story of 2 soldiers in World War 1 as they attempt to deliver a message across the trenches. It is set up like one take and you really feel like you are there with the soldiers which I found emotionally exhausting and moving. I highly recommend seeing it in the theater if at all possible. It just won the Golden Globe so if it wins Best Picture I won’t be surprised at all but I think the Academy voters are just narcissistic enough to pick the movie which is all about them instead. That makes 1917 in 2nd place in my prediction ranking.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-

In director Quentin Tarantino’s latest film he does a lot of things right to peak Oscar interest. First of all, he gets a top notch cast with Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. Then he has the film set in Hollywood and it be an alternate history of the life of a tragic figure Sharon Tate. You portray the struggle of being famous and a washed up star, which Hollywood loves (hello Birdman...). You have enough gratuitous violence and humor while showing off Los Angeles in 1969, you’ve got yourself a Best Picture winner. I enjoyed the film well enough but thought it was quite self indulgent especially in the long, excessive driving scenes that went nowhere. This isn’t the best film of the year in my opinion but I think it strokes all of the voters ego enough to win Best Picture and it is my top prediction!

So there you have it!  What do you think of the 9 nominees? Have you seen them? Do you think they are worthy choices or do you feel something better was left out? Let me know and what would you prediction ranking be for the winner? Let me know in the comments!

 

Current Mini Reviews

Hello readers! I hope you are  all having a better start to the new year than I am. Unfortunately today I am sick with a wicked case of a sinus infection/virus. In fact, I didn’t get to go to the Doctor Dolittle screening this morning because I was so worried I would fall asleep/cough throughout the film. Nevertheless, I have 3 recent films I need to update you all on my thoughts so here goes.

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Like a Boss

Hollywood sure seems to struggle in understanding women. So much of what they make for female audiences feels out of touch with any kind of women I know or interact with. For example, so many seem to suggest women spend way more time worrying about their makeup than most do. Most women have a makeup routine and every once in a while try something new and that’s it.

I was one of the only people who liked 2018’s I Feel Pretty (also set in the world of cosmetics and beauty) because at least it had a little bit of a whimsy which appealed to me. But even I will admit the parts involving the beauty industry and supposed female empowerment fell very flat.

Now we have the latest entry, Like a Boss, starring Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish who run (you guessed it) a makeup company. I actually didn’t hate this movie. It had some laughs with Haddish and Byrne hanging out with their girlfriends  (an authentic relatable situation and probably helped by improv).

However, all the elements involving business fell flat especially Salma Hayek as an over-the-top beauty mogul. It is not surprising this film is written and directed by men because the complexities of the female experience in business as presented are so reductive and cringe-worthy. I’m not saying a movie like this needs to be realistic but come on? They can do better than this.

Even though I did laugh at the friends scenes in Like A Boss, I can’t recommend you spend the big bucks to go see it in the theater. Go see one of the awards caliber films in theaters instead.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Underwater

Next up we have another movie I didn’t hate but was pretty meh on: Underwater. This has its fair share of positives including a good performance by Kristen Stewart. They also do a great job in creating atmosphere with cool production and sound design. Everything felt on the same level as Ad Astra last year in that regard. I also liked that the action gets going right away without feeling a need for backstory or exposition to set up the world.

The problem with Underwater is it felt uneven in the storytelling. One minute the creatures would be attacking and then the next they’d be more quiet and observant. One minute Kristen Stewart would be fighting for her life and the next she’d be back on the ship looking through a locker. It felt like some needed transitions were cut in the editing room.

It is also a very derivative film of movies like Alien which takes some of the edge off of certain scenes. There’s definitely a feeling of ‘we’ve been there done all this before and better’.

Still if you see this airing on cable it’s not a terrible watch but I don’t think I can recommend watching it on the big screen. (Also the excuses they have to get Kristen Stewart in her bra and panties for long segments feels a little gratuitous and absurd).

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Marriage Story

To be perfectly frank I have been putting off seeing the critically acclaimed film Marriage Story despite it being available to watch for several months. Especially at Christmas time the idea of watching a film about divorce did not sound appealing at all.

Well, now I have seen the film and while it isn’t my type of movie it is worthy of praise. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both excellent as our feuding couple and the script doesn’t pick sides on the divorce. They are both petty and passionate all at the same time.

I’m a little confused at the high praise being given to Laura Dern for her performance as Scarlett’s attorney. She was perfectly fine in the role, but I didn’t see anything outstanding or Oscar-worthy but that’s just me. I do think it would be interesting to see this story from the perspective of people who can’t afford $25,000 retainers for their attorneys. Like what about a divorce between a couple who run a failing convenience story or are both teachers? That might be easier to relate with than these directors/actors.

But nevertheless, it’s a good film. I particularly liked Adam Driver singing ‘Being Alive’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Company both because I love that song but also I had no idea he could sing (what can’t the man do?).

I am sure if you have been through a divorce Marriage Story will have more emotional resonance. As for me it is good, just not a favorite or something I will ever watch again.

7 out of 10

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