And Freedom Tastes of Reality


So given how I rage-quit the dare my best friend and I made to read E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey books very early and thus never made it into its literary sequels, I can not tell you how much of the James’ screenwriter husband Niall Leonard retained into the script of Fifty Shades Freed, the third film in the main trilogy (a second trilogy of the story written by James from a different perspective existing). I am going to assume all the spousal disagreements that make up the early turbulence in protagonists Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey’s (Jamie Dornan) marriage and honeymoon, including Christian’s unambiguous possessive nature to Ana as his wife, most notably Grey’s frustration to the point of unprofessionally barging into her office to demand why the hell she didn’t take a new email address with his last name for the business. And if that IS the case, then I’m going to assume it is at worst Leonard’s writing or at best only James Foley’s mishandled directing that gives this less of and “this is something Christian has to grow up about” attitude and more of a “will she or won’t she” attitude which is absolutely troubling, since it is one of the areas where Christian has no grounds to be such a baby about it.

Not that he has as much of one over how he tries desperately to keep Ana locked away in their luxury condo (missing any ounce of character in how it was originally shot and designed in the first movie in this trilogy), but at least in that case, their lives are actually in danger as they are targeted and stalked by Ana’s former boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). Yes, indeedy, Fifty Shades Freed is one step closer to transforming its shoody material into good-bad movie territory now that it has that “returning antagonist comes back in psychotic supervillain” mode and Leonard’s screenplay is also – to its very little credit – significantly more focused on this prevalent threat on the characters’ lives, weaving well enough in between Hyde’s presence and the couple’s accommodation to newfound married life. Still it’s not quite there when Foley is still intent on turning this movie into an over-sincere delivery of issues that simply can’t be taken sincerely even by the author who acknowledged them as her “midlife crisis, writ large”.


Foley’s direction can be felt as unsmiling no matter how ridiculous the moment: the significant increase in amounts of sex scenes (which at least indicates that they finally get why the hell these stories sold, though the vanilla framing and cutting of it and even the easy “quick google search” version of the kinks they take part in like the ice cream scene keep it from being anywhere near arousing), the attempts at thrilling moments like the slowest and least exhilarating car chase scene I may have ever seen in a major motion picture. There is only so fast one can go in rush hour traffic but Foley and the editor has magically found a way to make it surpass that as its own form of suspended time and space where the only true adrenaline coming from the moment is Dakota Johnson childishly stating “I’m a race car driver”, one of the few moments where the fun actress seems to be having in the role leaks out into the role totally undeterred by the total creep she is trying to evade.

Ah yes, Johnson. This is once again a performance where she cracked the code of giving these movies a camp performance that can take everything happening to Ana and Christian here seriously enough to make them feel like stakes while still fully aware of how ridiculous the circumstances seem to be for this couple. She has less reinforcements this time around given that the majority of the screentime is between her, Dornan, or Johnson with occasional pop-ins by Luke Grimes as Christian’s younger brother or Arielle Kebbel as the architect hired to fix up the married couple’s new house. And by “fix up”, it apparently means “completely tear down the mansion and rebuild the glass house from House on Haunted Hill over its grave and also flirt openly with Christian to Ana’s consternation”. None of which seem to catch up with Johnson’s cue (Kebbel is close enough but her screentime doesn’t last too long).


Least of all, Dornan who seems to think the response to the material is to take only so much more seriously enough to demand he now have slightly more expressive faces from the fixed glares he began with and that’s… a choice. The night and day between the two lead performances get in the way of any possible chemistry they might have as screen partners. They’re simply not acting in the same movie, let alone being on the same page. Needless to say, I end up preferring the movie that Johnson is acting in.

No need to hold them too accountable because it seems like there was just never much space for the movie for anybody to act like people. The characters are just existent to facilitate the multiple sex scenes that Foley and company just seem utterly disinterested in (shall I state that the very last shot and cut is a door closing just as sexytimes is about to happen?) written as though Leonard is an alien trying to figure out the most literal inelegant way that they can move from “this issue popped up regarding this cute person who is smiling at you too much” to “well, I guess we can just sweep that quickly under the rug” with just dialogue and a scowl. That Hyde ends up the conflict with the most staying power seems to just be on account of that having more pieces moving (including – *le gasp* plot twists) than Ana being angry at Christian’s texts. The second most-present conflict enters deep enough in the movie to qualify as a spoiler, but suffice it to say, it only sticks around on account of the rich multi-billionaire who has enough money to buy ten lifetimes of Chipotle acting like his life is thoroughly ruined by this development and taking it out on Ana because if there’s one thing this series established, it’s that Christian only knows how to take out his frustrations on women.

It’s apparent by the finale montage of “highlights” in the entire trilogy that the film is convinced we were highly invested in the domestic happiness of a couple that can’t even decide on the exact type of house they want. I’m very certain for some audiences, they probably were. It is also my understanding that many members of the BDSM culture find it to be a harmful portrayal of their practices without a single thought to how trust takes part in it. I can’t say the Fifty Shades trilogy gave me much more than a downward spiral into the idea that sex can be utterly mundane if you try hard enough and there is no floor to that.



I Can’t Hear Myself Think


Film criticism – at least in the form of deciding on what a film does right or wrong, regardless of your admission to subjectivity – is an inherently narcissistic practice as is and when it comes down to deciding that the filmmaker in question really doesn’t get his own movie, that just makes things even more narcissistic no matter how subjective a work of art is and “la mort de l’auteur” aside on a work where you are decidedly not an authorial voice. And yet here I am, where my first thought about A Quiet Place every time it pops into my head is how director & co-writer John Krasinski (who also stars in it, lest we forget he’s an actor first and foremost; his fellow co-writers are Bryan Woods & Scott Beck) missed the extremely thin but notable line between making the film the simple yet effective monster movie thriller that it is and an exploration about the trespassing shock of noise in the midst of an atmosphere of silence.

That line is Marco Beltrami’s musical score.

It is not precisely a bad musical score, but it is not a very great one – resigning itself to telegraphing all the normal horror movie beats in unsubtle fashion – and I can imagine (and have encountered) those who have come out A Quiet Place finding it to be great in spite of that score, I can not imagine someone walking out finding it to be a strength or not thinking A Quiet Place would be better without it. It sucks away most of the tension like a vacuum that comes from the characters having to keep totally quiet, leaving only the basic literal tension of “most people if not all people do not want to get eaten by giant slimy CGI crab-monsters whose bodies are apparently made out of armored cochleas”. Which is still something, but a lot less experiential or immersive of an experience. And indeed, much of the praise for the film comes from the idea that it could immerse the audience into a conscious silence, but that was unfortunately not the entirety of my experience for the film (in fact, I’d say horror movies are exactly the kind that make audiences want to respond with “oh no” and audible gasps the moment something bad occurs. Which is exactly what went down in my theater, ignoring how the person I accompanied the theater with was trying to crack jokes and yeah I’m probably never watching a movie like this with him again).


Anyway, the way one gets that A Quiet Place wants to be that little “cut the silence with a knife” picture is how the sound mix consciously accentuates isolated elements of the sound as disruptive enough to make a fellow whose survival depends on it jolt just a little bit. You don’t make that kind of decision if you don’t want sound and its absence to matter in a picture like that and it’s impressively done outside of Beltrami busting in at often-unnecessary moments.

It also wants to be a movie about the importance of parental responsibility where hopelessness surrounds the world completely (as this is indeed a post-apocalyptic film where those monsters have consumed the apparent majority of the human population and establishes that with dry, desolate rural terrains) or the strength of a family in a time where guilt and finger-pointing seem to be the easiest paths to choose in a time, focusing on a nuclear family fluent in American Sign Language made up of engineer/farmer (maybe? this is a movie of ambiguous visual clues to tell us about the way life is here) Lee (Krasinski) and his wife Evelyn (Krasinski’s real-life wife Emily Blunt) and his three children Beau (Cade Woodward), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and their eldest and deaf daughter Regan (real-life deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, following her brilliant debut in the apparently underseen Wonderstruck) and their struggles to keep things together in the wake of an opening scene tragedy that sets up stakes in a violent manner (violent for a PG-13 film, you understand).


Such stakes that one would of course wonder what makes the decision for Evelyn’s apparently imminent pregnancy not look like a very very bad idea to the family* a little over a year after that opening scene (the movie takes place over two days after that scene), but nevertheless there they are preparing for the potentially noisy and definitely painful arrival of a baby into their “shut up or die” apocalypse world and it’s certainly something the actors prove to be qualified to portray with all the weight necessary to make this matter. Simmonds especially the resultant self-recrimination and frustrating lack of dialogue with his father without the slightest bit of overplaying it, given her knowledge on how to express her emotions without needing audible speech to do so.

Anyway, I guess my overall attitude on that family drama side of the material is likewise a “it’s not great, though it’s not bad either” element. Most of the emotional heavy-lifting has to be performed by its cast in the first place and it looks like at the very least Jupe is more interested into turning any moment of threatening danger into a moment of unmoving dread and fear (which he does very well). It’s perhaps the fact that the movie’s competent and frequently impressive thriller setpieces overwhelm the idea that it could ever be more than an early pre-summer thrillride and in a way, I don’t see why it should want to be more than that. I mean, even the complaint I had at the beginning of this review is more towards its function as a thriller than its possibility of elevating itself beyond genre cinema. And even with Beltrami as a handicap and a less-damaging-but-still-contrived series of character decisions and actions in the final act, A Quiet Place is directed very horror-movie-consciously in framing and pacing by Krasinski to pass itself as a worthy exemplar of popcorn cinema just before the season where we will get that dread-esque popcorn moviemaking by the dozen.

*I believe Demi Adejuyigbe said it best “why y’all fuckin during an apocalypse anyway“.



Three-Fifty Shades


So, like, when I talk about the movie WatchmenWatchmen, there’s a certain compliment I like to apply to a movie I otherwise dislike: the actors seem to be under the impression that they are in a very different movie than the director is making and they’re in a better movie. And I think that same compliment/observation can be applied mostly to Fifty Shades Darker, the second film in the Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation series based on E.L. James’ BDSM based Twilight-fan fiction. At least to the female actors – Dakota Johnson was already settled into realizing this character she’s playing is ripe for ridiculous overdramatics in the “romantic” side of things, Marcia Gay Harden rips into the material for her own character with fearless camp, and new entry into the franchise Kim Basinger doesn’t seem entirely aware of the quality of the material she’s playing, but she seems suspicious enough of it to apply the most 1980s seductive villainess you could give to a movie this otherwise sober-minded. The male actors – certainly Jamie Dornan, who plays mysterious BDSM billionaire Christian Grey – are not as lucky, probably less willing to jump into camp as they are to jump into a goddamn river. Bella Heathcote herself is somewhere in the middle, understanding that her character is feeling an amount of pain that nothing in the script seems aware of and turning a two-dimensional Fatal Attraction knock-off into a wounded soul.

There IS a compliment I pay to Watchmen as well that can not be remotely applied to Fifty Shades DarkerFifty Shades Darker doesn’t feel visually interesting or inspired. This is a shame because the first Fifty Shades of Grey, I am embarrassed to say, kind of was even despite being boring as all hell. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, director Sam Taylor-Johnson, and production designer David Wasco all figured on the cleanest coldest domain for Grey’s demons to reside in, utilizing his last name as visual motif the way you’d probably have to to get anything out of this material. All three of these figures are sadly replaced in Darker by John Schwartzman, James Foley, and Nelson Coates respectively (but not respectfully) and they shoot and design Fifty Shades Darker like an Ash Wednesday version of a Sears commercial, attempting to oversell the “dark” tone of the material as a make-up for no visual character at all. And this is already going to get hamstrung by the fact that most of the material isn’t residing in the shadowy chrome sharp corridors of Fifty Shades of Grey* is luxury porn scored by the happiest uncomplex pop song you could imagine Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik writing intercut with the occasional knowledge that screenwriter Niall Leonard just quickly wrapped up another conflict and they have a huge amount of movie left “so lemme try to figure out what to do with this here helicopter” or “wait a minute I just realized I named this white fuckboi Jack Hyde, lemme collect on that”.


Leonard, by the way, is notably the husband of James and so evidently more devoted to translating the very letter of his wife’s novel as sincere, straight-faced, and sober drama treating Grey’s sudden return into the life of Johnson’s publishing worker character Anastasia Steele as fiery romanticism when stalking you ex-lover and utilizing your financial power to buy her place of employment should be a red flag about the sort of toxically damaged individual you are. And again it’s not like it’s not a toxic workplace to begin with anyway when her creep supervisor is named Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). And credit where credit is due, Grey’s extensive amount of backstory exploring – rivaling that of, say, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – just how much loathing he appears to have towards his mother for not being sexually conservative and her personal struggles with drug abuse and all I can think of is if I can’t stand this sort of subtle slut-shaming in attempted trash like the Scream franchise (I’m gonna be honest and say if a movie is legit trashy in an enjoyable way, yeah, I’m probably gonna eat it up as silly junk, but neither Scream or Fifty Shades are that) what makes Leonard think I’m gonna go “poor baby” towards Grey for using that as the basis of a whole revolving door of pretty violent relationships that left enough scarring on an individual to make her an unfair secondary antagonist. I think it’s already been acknowledged by enough viewers how harmful this franchise has proven to be about portraying BDSM lifestyles and I can very much see why.

Aight, I’m getting heated. Lemme settle down a bit as I just turn this all around and wrap up my attitudes by reiterating. None of these unfortunate politics or dramatic self-tripping would bother me as much if the movie was maybe a little bit exciting to watch as a fabled “good bad movie” since the material is so askew to do it and God Bless Johnson and company for trying to herald its way into it, but Foley and Dornan and their departments clearly did not get the memo and have the more prevalent authorship in their self-serious treatment of the film. Most of all, Leonard’s inability to keep the juggling conflicts from braking the momentum of the plot and then inching forward and then braking back and forth unfortunately choke any possibility of making Fifty Shades Darker one entertaining experience.

*It’s insane how much hating Fifty Shades Darker is taking away an amount of my hatred of Fifty Shades of Grey. Still hate it, though.



September 21, 1945… That Was the Night I Died.

R.I.P. Takahata Isao
29 October 1935 – 5 April 2018

1988 – 30 years ago from this very day, Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli was not yet the worldwide phenomenon it has formerly grown to be but it was in the middle of significant success on the wings of co-founder Miyazaki Hayao’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (pre-emptively a Ghibli production before Ghibli even existed) and Castle in the Sky. 3 years after its inception in 1985, they were in the midst of releasing what the future would see as their flagship film – Miyazaki’s cuddly and fuzzy My Neighbor Totoro. And yet doubts were made unto the box office potential of the affable children’s film so the second of the co-founders Suzuki Toshio made the decision to attach it as a double feature to the adaptation being produced around the same time for publishing house Shinchosha on one of their novels by Nosaka Akiyuki.

That adaptation was written and directed by Ghibli’s third co-founder, veteran animation director Takahata Isao, and it was called Grave of the Fireflies. And side by side with My Neighbor Totoro, the two stand as not only the greatest films of a studio that seldom produced anything but great films, but among the greatest animated works of all time.

And despite this superlative, Suzuki’s tenure as in-house producer of Ghibli had a lot of brilliant ideas, but this was unfortunately not one of them. While the films did not end up box office failures outright, Fireflies received a chilly reception towards family audiences because it meant following up on the movie that stars a giant furry benign forest God with two young children suffering horrifying severe afflictions from the aftermath of World War II. Or not, depending on which order the uninstructed theaters played them, though I can’t imagine being in the mood for something as jovial and harmless as Totoro so soon after witnessing Fireflies either. And so while it remained praised by critics and made enough money that combined with Totoro’s exploding merchandising sales continued the sail of Ghibli, the uninhibited starkness of Grave of the Fireflies‘ material alongside the fact that it was one of the movies which Disney did not purchase North American rights en masse from Ghibli’s parent company Tokuma Shoten (who did not own the rights) left Grave of the Fireflies to fall not into obscurity but a state of being underseen nevertheless.


Those who did see it would begin faced with the image of a teenage boy in monochromatic reds and a baggy oversized military uniform facing the audience as his voice hovers over announcing his date of death before we watch him have to witness and relive that moment that his gaunt, broken body in rags collapsed in the middle of an apathetic and dismissive crowd in Sannomiya Station. His last words before his life leaving a corpse practically swept away by janitors is a name “Setsuko”.

Setsuko (Shiraishi Ayano), we will later learn, is the name of the young girl we meet quickly after in the same reddish sepia tone surrounded by the warming light of fireflies practically dancing to the first cue of Mamiya Michio’s delicate lullaby score, watching the boy’s death before being met by his spirit in an exuberant manner that implies long awaited reunion as we also learn that boy is her older brother Seita (Tatsumi Tsutomu).

This opening death of Seita is the most notable major liberty one can know taken by the novel’s author Nosaka in what was a semi-autobiography and self-condemnation of his inability to save his sister Keiko from dying of malnutrition in the wake of the Americans’ devastation of World War II and we watch Setsuko and Seita live out his story from the waning months of the war, starting out by their ill mother’s side* with their father absent fighting in the Imperial Navy afar. Having not read Nosaka’s novel, I cannot know the extent to which informs the writing of Seita as a well-meaning but irresponsible and unfairly unqualified guardian (there is a moment very early on where Seita attempts to cheer his sister through playing on playground bars foregrounded by Setsuko’s unbated tears that illustrates just what Seita is not prepared for), but it feels as though the literal directness of Seita’s failures are Nosaka’s blunt lack of forgiveness for himself while Takahata brings in a humane sympathy to Seita for trying to desperately make it out a situation he should never have been thrown into by a war he’s not very much involved in (though his father being in the war does give him investment and we do witness later in the film his response to the war’s results).


That’s part of the ghostly element of Grave of the Fireflies: while we soon after witness the effects of war laid on undeserving lives, the fighting’s always at a distance and it makes the unnecessary element of the casualties we and the children witness wound us deeper. Even the early firebombing of their home in Kobe that opens the story proper violently (in more than a few ways, the film’s serene opening credits of the peaceful spirits on the train is interrupted by a smash to the loud American B-29s on their trail) is too oppressively one-sided with not a single Japanese shot fired on-screen back, just people running and hiding for their lives (there is one particular Japanese soldier who stands defiant shouting “Long Live the Emperor” that Takahata frames at a distance from heads keeping down from incineration and it only screws in Takahata’s vehement anti-war attitude in the film, portraying an action intended as defiant nobility to futile imbecility. That irony towards Japan’s doomed patriotism continues in a later Navy procession scene interrupting the children’s sleep.).

Amongst those casualties being their mother rendered in upsetting deep reds soaking over bandages dark enough to look dirty from the soot and smoke still suffered in an atmosphere of harsh browns and ash grays, a palette Grave of the Fireflies will visually maintain except in moments of peace like a major beach respite or a glowing yellow speckled image of fireflies comforting Setsuko in their . This death forces the two children into a hopeless situation of drifting over to an aunt that passive-aggressively points out the hardship of life after wartime being multiplied by mouths to feed, leading to the children’s departure into homelessness from their only possible shelter and their slow demise by malnutrition.


For the most part, this doesn’t sound like material that necessitates an animated production perhaps but Takahata is not just using animation because he happens to work in that field. Seita and Setsuko are generally defined cartoon children (with unmistakably young voices), barely enough to recognize them from a crowd of suffering and to facilitate any emotions of joy and sorrow the film needs to weave through (especially Setsuko’s design, whose tears are the glassiest out of fairly big baby eyes), moving through photorealistic landscapes, either ruinous or wild or industrial in dark tones that make it look like a Totoro nightmare. Those contradictory elements only make the danger to these characters who are easy to look at much more real and at least me as a viewer more anxious**. And it’s outright dreadful to witness them slowly develop coarse lines showing the toll the situation is taking on their bodies, in last cases accentuating their emaciation and only populating more and more of their designs until their basically the very shell we watched die at the beginning of the film.

No, it is very much because Grave of the Fireflies is animated that it feels so very devastating and heartbreaking as a picture, animation used to remind you of the fragility of its characters in the immediate knowledge of their fate. With all that deliberation in the visuals, it just makes moments like a group of girls in bright dresses laughing oblivious to a child mourning a heavy loss or a delirious moment of solid rocks being mistaken as rice cakes feel somewhat like redundancy to the anguish and sorrow the film puts us through, except in its final images and moments Takahata’s humanism takes a restorative turn to suggest a form of release from the suffering Seita, Setsuko, and their companion ghost fireflies faced and a sense of completion that while not optimistic maintains a peaceful sense of absolution to a story told by a man who could not find himself to get it from his confession.

So Takahata generously gave it to him by re-telling it.

*That is perhaps the most prevalent similarity between Fireflies and Totoro: Both of them focus to some degree on siblings dealing with the distressing state of health of their mothers, though I think one can easily guess that Totoro has a significantly happier ending about it.
**If I may lose some credibility with readers, I feel Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur (Pixar’s CCO John Lasseter is notably a Ghibli fan and possibly the biggest credit to their stateside exposure, though his creative input on the movie was probably not that much) attempts this as well and actually accomplishes it for the most part and I am as a result an inveterate apologist for it.



Cat People


It has been at once amusing and bemusing to see a lot of the critical praise go to Black Panther for being “different” from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If there’s anything admirable about Black Panther‘s storytelling, it’s that it accomplishes being a great popcorn movie while being very much the same as the rest of the MCU’s style and elements. And it’s also co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler with evidently very little corporate interference (As they’d kind of have to. It’s not the first MCU film directed by a person of color – Taika Waititi just preceded Coogler with Thor: Ragnarok – but it’s the one where the most attention was brought towards it being a person of color telling a story about people of color), whose previous (and still best) film Creed also dealt with similar thematic conceits (a character dealing with the trials of his rise adjacent to an absent father) and similar aesthetical conceits (taking the elements familiar to the home franchise and arranging them in a manner that evokes surprisingly new concepts and emotions from the story).

In general, it is a film that takes the two most recent handicaps of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and surpasses them: their fixation on daddy issues and their inability to craft great action setpieces with any director not named Gunn or Russo. I’d dare say in the case of the former, it’s an active strength by expanding on that singular issue to observe much larger social elements. In the case of the former, it’s just disappointing given that Creed revolved around incredibly well-shot and edited fight sequences while Black Panther‘s are often painfully underlit and a climax involving a mess of three-tier cross-cutting and carrying some very dubious CGI.

But enough of that, I come to praise Black Panther, not to bury it, and it is a very easy film to praise. It takes place not very long after the events of Captain America: Civil War (where the character made its big-screen debut and blew nearly every other character out of the water as a presence) and wisely establishes enough of what occurred there to make it unnecessary to watch Civil War to understand what’s going on: the former Black Panther and King Wakanda T’Chaka (John Kano) was killed in an attack in Vienna, leaving his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to take up both the throne and mantle of their symbolic superhero Black Panther with uncertainty on how to helm the responsibilities inherent in these seats of power towards the isolated African nation he rules, the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation in the world.


That sort of establishing of an African nation far more progressed than any other nation we can see in our real world (which Black Panther certainly wants us to bring Wakanda into and succeeds in making it convincingly grounded) allows for some visually rich designs in terms of production and costumes (provided by Hannah Beacher and Ruth Carter) indulging for possibly the first time in commercial cinema in the aesthetic of Afrofuturism which means exactly how it sounds: Black Panther is full of vibrant greens, reds, and blacks and especially blues bringing life to the East African biomes of grassplains and mountains and waterfalls, populating it with brilliant coded hierarchal robing and architecture that looks like the World Fair’s dreams. The design team wisely weave in between the two concepts by finding common ground in the generous usage of lines and fluid movement through hues they can utilize, most tremendously in sequences involving the ancestral plane certain characters visit – a dusky purple sky blanketing a serene serengeti landscape.

It’s quite possibly the MCU movie to date with the most visual personality and so soon after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But here I am, getting so dazzled by the designs of Black Panther that I interrupted my recap.

It is in fact insane that Boseman turned out to be possibly the best thing about Captain America: Civil War when he’s not even the best performance in his own movie and not for lack of trying. Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s screenplay toss T’Challa a barrel of new political pressures that popping up one by one and give Boseman leeway to construct them into a thoughtful arc where we can actually watch T’Challa’s stance go from point A to point B (and yes, this is a political film. Not a VERY political film because Disney is scared of politics*, but its themes take observation of the state of race relations in the world from its very first scene and an awareness of Africa’s history of colonization and applies them both to the current closed borders refugee matter).


The biggest of those pressures happens to be Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), an armed forces veteran from Oakland, starts making waves enough to challenge T’Challa’s claim to the throne and bring out very violent skeletons from the late T’Chaka’s actions that T’Challa must deal with in his father’s stead, taking a leaf out of Creed‘s book once again to explore a father-son conflict with an absent father. In fact, there are two of them as Killmonger reckons with the source of all his rightful anger and hate. I’ve heard it used as a criticism that Killmonger’s clearly Black-American urban style in costume, dialogue, and performance is a coding against the sort of young African-Americans that are most targeted by police brutality in America and I honestly think that’s ignoring how much Coogler (who shares Stevens’ cinematic Oakland origins and so probably imbued a lot of his background into the character) is possibly more generous to Killmonger’s point of view than T’Challa’s**. It’s not hard to figure why Jordan, Coogler’s regular weapon of choice actor, is cast as Killmonger (other than the fact that Black Panther is already cast) and with his powerful and aggressive performance comes a perspective of the marginalized individual outside of Wakanda’s borders begging for resolution (a perspective the film aligns with sympathetically) and a core of soulful hardness most prevalent in a late scene shared with the brilliant screen partner of Sterling K. Brown (my first time seeing him perform after hearing so much hype about the actor and the hype is founded in my opinion).

Jordan, Boseman, and Brown are of course only a few of a full-on cast of extraordinary performances acting as the leads to their own stories on the side: Forest Whitaker’s secret-holding priest, Daniel Kaluuya’s frustrated herder, Letitia Wright’s scene-stealing intellectual, Winston Duke’s charming rival, Danai Gurira’s strong-willed warrior, even Andy Serkis playing Mel Gibson all embody different strands of life for T’Challa to look over and consider in his arc. Which is probably the last and greatest credit I feel I can give to Black Panther, Coogler and Cole can facilitate the narrative and themes all day and Beacher and Carter can create this dimensional environment, but it’s the cast themselves that have to inhabit it and sell every inch of its liveliness, its stakes, and its humor and I don’t think the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever had an ensemble more qualified to provide that in spades.

*I believe Carvell Wallace of the New York Times said it beautifully – “The film arrives as a corporate product, but we are using it for our own purposes.”
**This is also much more apparent in the official original soundtrack created by Kendrick Lamar, of which only two songs appear in the film itself so it’s slightly extraneous but still a good and illustrative work of how Black Panther grabs hold of Killmonger’s point of view and gives it a validity even despite being unambiguous about his villainy. It is also, because I’m sure certain people around these parts know I’m a Kendrick fan and so will probably ask me, a decent album though significantly less revelatory or engaging than anything else he made in his career.



2017 Wrap-Up

Alright, I’ve put this off long enough. I don’t want to linger any longer on a movie year that frankly felt so standstill and depressingly ordinary that I was very close to declaring the third season of Twin Peaks the best movie of 2017 and that is very pointedly not a movie.

But I may as well not linger on the numerous unimpressive and occasional bad of 2017 and celebrate the glimmers of wonder and hope of 2017.

Well, I can gripe a little bit.


The Killing of a Sacred Deer

WORST TITLE (and a funny story attached)

I was going to the library last summer in the self-checkout cause I’m thinking I’m enough in the mood to review it, but there was apparently an issue that demanded I take it to the front desk and I’d be fucking damned if I fucking lose my librarian’s respect when I walk over and check out a movie called The Bye Bye Man.


“Piss off, ghost!” -Korg (Taika Waititi) in Thor: Ragnarok (Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost)


“Fairy lives don’t matter today.” -Officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) in Bright (Written by Max Landis)


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is already a damn long title, but bruh Laureline’s name should be right up there next to him. This some John Carter shit.


Guy, it used “Black Skinhead” better than The Wolf of Wall Street‘s trailer and has plenty of reds and blues for days, yo this was so exciting.


It’s like it’s trying to sell itself as the “dark gritty reboot of God’s Not Dead” because that’s what the kids are into. Yeah, we got punches and shadows and shit. I’m dying, yo.


Alien: Covenant‘s orgy poster. Whatever else can be said about Covenant (and I’ve said more than a bit against it), it is designed nightmarishly well and sexual twisting and writhing of the violence witnessed in this poster gets right to the core of what makes Alien and H.R. Giger the sort of visual works they are (not to mention the painterly element of the monochrome presentation and the lighting).



Ready Player One‘s poster one. What the fuck did they do to that boy’s leg?



I forgot about this fuck-up job.



I understand Tonya Harding’s personal grievance with Sufjan Stevens’ song named after and about her, but it’s such a florid description of the figure skating form and a subtle criticism of celebrity culture and the phenomenon arc we go from praise to hate that I’m kind of disappointed the makers of I, Tonya didn’t jump on that song as an angle for them. Even if it doesn’t really fit the old-school rock schema of that movie’s needle drops.

Hell, it’s better than both of the songs Stevens wrote for an actual movie.


And yet still “Visions of Gideon”, in its relentless melancholic power, provides a heavy appeal to the heart dragging long after leaving the theater and reminding one of any heartbreak they’ve had to endure in learning that a former lover has moved on. Nothing against “Mystery of Love” (which is also fantastic), but it’s really crazy to me that this was the song from Call Me by Your Name that got the snub.

And I mean, this is just by the song in a vacuum. Added to the final shot of the movie like it did, it is devastating.


This is pretty damn tough to decide in a year between Atomic BlondeValerian and the City of a Thousand PlanetsHappy Death Day, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 but it’s also painfully obvious which one I’m gonna go for when there’s a movie that literally is about music energizing our lead character’s actions.


Who the fuck is responsible for letting Audra McDonald begin the final reprise of “Beauty and the Beast” at the end of that fiendish fucking remake and then having her interrupted by Emma Thompson’s warbling blender version of an Angela Lansbury impression? That’s some fucking disrespect to a legend, yo.


We have a whole Kong movie full of a grab bag of Vietnam cliché songs to desperately ape (pun intended) Apocalypse Now and yet the real disappointment is that First They Killed My Father is a great movie and should know better than to indulge in it from their very first (and only) misstep in the opening montage with “Sympathy for the Devil”.


Not to put doubt on the sincerity of any other movie’s usage of John Denver’s music in 2017 (especially not Okja or Kingsman: The Golden Circle), but I must say that Farrah Mackenzie singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” for her pageant in honor of her dad and getting the entire proud parents of Charlotte to sing along with her was the only usage of Denver’s music in a movie that actually moved me.


Another thing we’ve seen around these parts regularly – though I do have my particular gaps here, namely 1922 due to my allergies to Thomas Jane – and yet easily the best crafted of the bunch is the one that didn’t really get to have a theatrical release. Gerald’s Game had a role that gave itself over to the long overdue-in-recognition Carla Gugino exploring abuse and trauma and the small-scale interiority of the horror was something Mike Flanagan definitely knew his way around (in fact, the film feels weakest leaving the very house Gugino’s Jessie is trapped in).


I told my sister that Okja the super-pig reminds me of our dog, Bruno, in her floppy ears and soft snout and interminable appetite and total area destroying clumsiness and his belly fat. She thinks I’m wrong and that our dog looks like Dobby the House-Elf from Harry Potter. I don’t give a fuck, Okja still wins this round.

Big up to the cats of Kedi, though.


Am I gonna say The Boss Baby? Yeah, I’m gonna say The Boss Baby. It was smarter and funnier than it had any right to be with such a premise and somehow didn’t wallow in Dreamworks Animation’s worst tendencies, challenging it to aim higher in its animation styles. It deserved that Oscar nomination, fuck you.


You’d have to tell me that Rian Johnson was personally involved in the death of my grandmother to make me not excited for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A Rian Johnson Star Wars movie is a total dream come true, one of the most inventive American storytellers of the living.

And the movie we got wasn’t only uninventive, it made a point of calling attention to how uninventive it was – the lack of development in the plot, the sudden reliance on a plot full of idiot characters, the repeating of arcs some characters already went through except, as Han Solo once said, “so it’s bigger!” Anything in the script not involving Luke or Rey is a frustrating mess or waste of time. The one bit of solace being in how Johnson used his anime enthusiasm to craft some busy setpieces and dynamic images, but he still has that with one hand behind his back considering it is the bar-none worst special effects in the entire franchise.


Speaking of y’all being really wrong about The Boss Baby, you’re all also really fucking wrong about the overwhelming spacey spectacular eye candy adventure of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Stars.


I’m fucking serious about Valerian, y’all.


There is practically nothing good about The Greatest Showman, least of all its overproduced pop numbers or the juggling of several different plot intentions it can’t carry entirely in its hand. But goddamn, it’s got heart and passion and joie de vivre and I’m down with that way too much in any musical, good or bad.


The Bad Batch covers itself in nothing but world-building and attitude – no less than Amirpour’s superior debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – and while that strains the hell out of two hours, to the right sort of niche viewer that sort of material could be catnip.

I just don’t think I’m that viewer (or will ever be) as long as Jason Momoa’s Cuban impression makes me mad.


There’s an abundancy of surprisingly great cameos from 2017, I’ll give it that much. Given how I’m uncertain whether or not a certain appearance in John Wick: Chapter 2 truly gets to qualify since it was heavily featured in the marketing, let me take this moment to say something NICE about Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Veronica Ngo practically stars in the first 20 minutes of the movie – an isolated and desperate story of bravery and sacrifice in the midst of war and it’s the most resonant performance with barely a word leaving her lips.


Will Oldham being THAT FUCKING GUY at a party, but also being THAT FUCKING GUY for A Ghost Story, overelaborating on the very themes the movie has already done a great job communicating without him (also not happy with the idea that Casey Affleck may have been in the same room as Ke$ha).


I regret that I was so done with The Disaster Artist‘s bullshit that I left the theater the second the credits started and thus could only see Tommy Wiseau’s post-credits appearance AFTER the movie. Because maybe it was something to do with them both being over-labored anti-talents trying very hard to take control of the scene and move it somewhere (Tommy evidently wants more screentime and to make his character have a closer relationship), but they both make fascinating scene partners who gave that moment more energy than all the “let’s robotically recreate scenes from The Room” that otherwise energized the movie.


How the fuck does Miami, home of ArtBasel in the US, not have an actual installation of Manifesto? Had to see it in a theater like any other pleb.


There was no more gripping a moment in any film in 2017 than Kristen Stewart texting back and forth with an unknown entity in Personal Shopper in a casually invasive way towards her, especially in the heart-pounding hotel room sequence.

Shout out to Jeffrey Wells’ dumb ass for asking for an answer to who it was at the Cannes Press Conference.


“Somebody stop this fucking subway, I swear to God”, me during the subway scene of Darkest Hour where Winston Churchill listens to a little girl give him his “fight in the shores” speech and treats the black passenger with so much more respect than Churchill probably would have thought he deserved.


The title says it all. Dern and Kidman have gone hella above and beyond killing it in 2017 in their respective filmographies, frequently giving interesting or at least grounded performances in the likes of The Last JediDownsizing, and Twin Peaks: The Return in Dern’s case – Twin Peaks potentially is the best performance of her career – and The Killing of a Sacred DeerThe Beguiled, and Top of the Lake in Kidman’s case.

And I haven’t even seen Big Little Lies, with both of them, yet.


  1. The Emoji Movie
  2. The Bye Bye Man
  3. Tom and Jerry Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
  4. The Book of Henry
  5. Beauty and the Beast

Listen, I don’t wanna say no more about these movies. I’m astonished they fucking exist enough without having spend more energy on them.

And now… let’s really wrap this up with my favorite movies of the 2017…

Not necessarily movies that would find their way into my top ten, but ones that I really enjoyed and probably wouldn’t hesitate in recommending to folks depending on what they’re looking for.

Atomic Blonde – Cold War nihilism turned punk rock
The Beguiled
– surpasses the original as an isolated tale of malaise turned curdled
The Big Sick
– an effortlessly amiable cast of characters guiding us through a sympathetically stressful moment.
The Boss Baby
– Dreamworks Animation breaking away from their house style to augment and illustrate the imaginations of young boys and their anxieties about sibling responsibilities.
The Breadwinner
– A serious concern about the stifling patriarchy and wartorn fatigue of the Middle East handled delicately enough to function as children’s fable.
Coco – Pixar still maintains it knows just how to manipulate the fuck out of your tearducts, whether with a warm story of memory and loss or an inhumanly gorgeous ghost metropolis lit by warm oranges.
Contemporary Color
– David Byrne’s still got it.
A Cure for Wellness
 – I wish trash would be this pretty.
Happy Death Day – Jessica Rothe made this better than it should be and she’s gonna fix movies forever.
Félicité – Gomis crafts a giant nightmare around a lovely performance.
In This Corner of the World – Katabuchi sneaks a broken dream within the visual language of a war tragedy.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
– Lanthimos gets meaner than he’s ever been before.
Logan Lucky – Homegrown small-town heist moviemaking.
Lost in Paris
– Physical comedy of the purest form.
– Bong’s on the same old living political cartoons he loves making.
The Ornithologist
– sexy man vs. wild
Marjorie Prime
Black Mirror now on stage.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower
– Studio Ponoc promises to live up to the reputation of its predecessor through an exciting anti-chosen one narrative.
A Quiet Passion
– Terrence Davies makes Emily Dickinson answer to death with dry wit.
– Sexual awakening is bloody messy.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
– I’m fucking serious about this.
The Villainess
– Makes the double crossing spy work of Atomic Blonde look like desk work.
The Void
– Small-scale locked house style horror turned to fear of the unknown.
War for the Planet of the Apes
– All the emotions the prequel trilogy worked to gather in its audience brought to a jailbreak climax.
Wonder Woman – The DCEU gets it together and does not become less interesting for it.



10. First They Killed My Father (dir. Angelina Jolie, Cambodia/USA)

Angelina Jolie and company stream together like a river pieces of memories of Loung Ung watching her home country Cambodia fall apart. A human being in the middle of such an affecting and transforming moment bravely reliving their experiences (Ung was the co-writer) is already interesting to me, but the decision to firmly plant itself in her perspective towards and thereby looking at it from an undivorced upper angle of a child.

I don’t know, it’s Oscarbait but it is my kind of Oscarbait, so very conscious about its craft and letting it work for the material.


9. Blade of the Immortal (dir. Miike Takashi, Japan)

Japanese legend Miike Takashi made it to the big 100 of his feature films and he pays that off by hearkening back to both his identity when he’s at his most restrained and silently revisionist about the state of the jidaigeki picture (as some of his recent works showed interest in, such as 13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri, both of them remakes… this one adapted from a graphic novel) in a relationship surprisingly earned when it could have easily dipped into shallow cliché AND the unhinged ridiculous gorehound Miike happily taking advantage of the material’s comic book roots to bring out cartoonesque fight choreography and weapons, most especially in the gleeful gushiness of the film’s bloodworms and how it allows Miike to constantly subject the game Kimura Takuya to constant dismemberment.

The result is Miike’s reflection on genre, tradition (both in Japanese history and filmmaking), and his own output. He picked his 100th for a reason.


8. Mudbound (dir. Dee Rees, USA)

It’s like a new Great American Novel for this decade, Dee Rees expanding the scope of her storytelling ambitions and nailing her observations in a way few directors can accomplish. I don’t remember if I’ve said it before on this site but at this point, Rees can and should be able to make whatever movie she wants now that she’s proven her versatility in themes and film vocabulary. And I certainly can’t let that alone without acknowledging the dedicated cast at the center of this film, all of them so lived-in within their characters as to know they’re each the star of the movie but measured well enough to give the scene to certain arrangements and perspectives.


7. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)

Alas, Anderson has given us another one of his stuffy films of my often boredom and yet Phantom Thread is not that. It’s not just gleefully ravishing for a narrative hungry boy such as myself, it’s hilarious to boot with three world-class performances right there at the center of it all. A fine final note for Daniel Day-Lewis playing a petulant manchild completely collapsing in front of the transformation of Vicky Krieps from essentially one role at the beginning to another.

And you noticed how I praised this very obviously “crafted” picture without talking one bit about its aesthetic? You must know how the phantom cinematography and sound design gives such visual tactility to the one-of-a-kind costumes by Mark Bridges, you can practically feel it in your cheek and lull yourself to the score.


6. The Human Surge (dir. Eduardo Williams, Argentina/Brazil/Portugal)

Even when it’s very obvious where Williams is going with all these observations about industrialization and the media’s distancing of humanity, the movie is in no rush or urgency about what it’s saying because it wants to say those things right. Nor does he take a straight line to that observation, taking detours on how the different societies The Human Surge focuses on respond to this dramatic imposing of modernization in their lives and its inability to totally remove the issues before it.


5. John Wick: Chapter Two (dir. Chad Stahelski, USA)

When I first watched it, I was looking for something similar to the first John Wick – emotionally direct movie that was. I was disappointed because I was looking for something different.

Now, it’s very clear between this, Atomic Blonde, and the first John Wick that the 87Eleven Action Design folk have actually found different storytelling usages of violence and aggression to communicate shockingly distinct dramatic cores. And John Wick Chapter 2 finds its way at the top of the three because it’s just so sleek and slick, I love looking at it just as much as I love watching the universe it’s in grow further internationally.

(I should not be as excited for Deadpool 2 as I am).


4. Personal Shopper (dir. Olivier Assayas, France/Germany/Czech Republic)

Speaking of style expressing emptiness of character, Personal Shopper is a lot more complex and significantly less shallow than John Wick but nevertheless it taps into the same issue: a person’s complete inability to deal with loss. And Assayas is impressively on the pulse of today’s young culture and what about our mentality makes grief so tough to process.

This same sort of self-stifling attitude leads to Assayas’ smart subversion of our expectations of genre within the film – a movie that very clearly wants us to want it to be a ghost story and refuses – and that sort of challenging usage of film conventions to pull the rug out from under us while succeeding at keeping us on edge just reminds me why I love Assayas in the first place.


3. The Girl Without Hands (dir. Sèbastien Laudenbach, France)

A one-man show basically, accomplishing that with a minimalistic style to begin with that it gets to cover itself on by using computers and yet it still remains one of the most visually impressive works I’ve seen all year, completely redefining the concept of space and color while knowing well enough how to use both of these just enough that the viewer doesn’t have to work to recognize characters or moods. Brilliant experimentation to kick off on an olden fairy tale with.

I literally waited until I had the Blu-Ray of this movie arrive on my doorstep to write this list because no way did I feel complete without it and it did not disappoint.


2. Faces Places (dir. Agnés Varda & JR, France)

A two-person film that feels totally collaborative with JR’s engaging and good-natured art style making up the base for Varda’s own self-musings about all the things we expect her to muse on: life, community, age… her own coming death, all things she’s better to speak on than most other filmmakers. And that collaboration only would get to spark if the two people in the middle of it were already in the middle of a very genuine and heartwarming friendship, one that spills over onto the work and takes over the film giving us a third act that melts away every ounce of cynicism in me from the year.

1. Twin Peaks: The Return (dir. David Lynch, USA)


1. World of Tomorrow – Episode 2: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts (dir. Don Hertzfeldt, USA)

You really want to talk about structure and visuals and artist’s identities informing the mood and narrative? Don Hertzfeldt possibly doesn’t have a ne plus ultra in his career, given how Episode 2 builds on the sort of exploring with digital animation for his primitivism that he engaged in with Episode 1 back in 2015 and we have some of the most persuasive imagery-as-emotion you can get from 2017. Or anti-imagery in fact, with its backgrounds fracturing and breaking apart, characters glitching as they pronounce slow amnesia or pain, and frustrating vortexes that aren’t the least bit subtle about mental conflict or anxiety and yet totally affecting. It’s completely funny like all other Hertzfeldt but its also distressing stuff…

… and then beautiful catharsis comes in the forms of new shapes and bright colors and a soundtrack drop that compels us to dance along with its characters.

Let me put it this way, it was the last movie I saw of the year, changed the absolute game, and I watched it no less than 7 fucking times during my vimeo rental of it. I’m probably not done with it by a damn sight.

But I am done with 2017 now, bring on the new fucking year.


Ah, What a Day for Inisfree!


One of the undiluted pleasures of cinema to me is its transportive value, especially when the sense of setting is so powerful a movie makes me absolutely dream of one day finding and living in the place it takes place in. The Irish town of Inisfree, where the 1952 romance The Quiet Man, is not a real place except in the dreams of the filmmaker* but the Irish counties of Mayo and Galway where it was shot certainly are real and The Quiet Man certainly made me desire to one day witness the beautiful lush seemingly endless landscapes of brilliant lively greens in every possible shade met by an unblemished cool blue sky as cinematographer Winton Hoch captured in loud Technicolor. Nor of his serene and wonderfully sleepy view of the streets and churches and fishing holes and all the other domesticities of the town proper, designed and shot with a rustic adoration and intimate amiability.

Yep, you’d have to expect whoever the hell directed a movie that lays its eyes on the Irish lands with clear-eyed endearment with the island. One might even suspect that director to be Irish himself and would be pretty right that there is Irish in the blood of a man who swears his name to be Sean Aloysius O’Fearna or O’Feeney, though we better know him as the All-American director of mostly John Wayne Western vehicles, Mr. John Ford. Which would make it no surprise as well that he brought along Wayne to star this particular film, as the American returning to his birthplace Sean Thornton. What brings Thornton to his old family farm is matter screenwriter Frank S. Nugent leaves to mystery for most of the movie, but in a remarkably unstressed way that doesn’t stop it from striking the film as such an easy comic work where Thornton tries to adapt to the new culture he’s now living within, standing out in his being played by John Wayne, an actor as broadly American from his amused observations to his tall but slightly lazy gait about a land he hasn’t travelled since he was a child.


Absolutely soon as Thornton steps foot into the green glades of his new home, he’s rapt with attention at the young woman wearing cool blue shirt to offset her blazing red hair and skirt shepherding the sheep and who takes immediate moves to avert his gaze. We later learn her to be Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara) and even without Thornton’s courting of her, Mary Kate’s eldest brother and the man of the Danaher house Squire “Red” Will (Victor McLaglen, another Ford collaborator who gives a performance as red-faced and sputtering in its mask as in his Oscar-winning turn in The Informer) has his own grievance to hold against Thornton. Squire Danaher had his eyes on White O’Morn, the cottage of Thornton’s birthright residing right in view of the Danaher house, for purchase. Thornton’s return and easy friendship with every town in contrast to Red’s tolerated but undangerous antagony makes it sure quick for Thornton to take back his spot.

Tradition favors the way that Squire Danaher imposes between Thornton and Mary Kate unless Thornton takes up his fists to defend the honor of their courtship and yet Thornton refuses to indulge in that sort of violence, for reasons related to his escape to Ireland. The movie is generous to two separate points of view: the reasons of Thornton’s refusal to fight Squire Danaher are completely understandable and so the issue is not that Thornton refuses to fight a man, but that he doesn’t seem to take Mary Kate’s dignity seriously enough to fight for it in anyway, particularly once they’re married and her brother refuses to the dowry.

This is the least of the places where The Quiet Man could afford Mary Kate some dignity. Nothing really knocks off O’Hara’s proud and fiery approach the character as a woman of her own strong wills, but we may as well identify now that The Quiet Man‘s gender politics are more than a bit regressive when there’s the matter of how one of the movie’s famous kisses is essentially by force. And yet, I can’t help my male privilege showing by getting intoxicated and swooned by how the power of that kiss, not just because of Wayne and O’Hara’s posture as she collapses in his strong arms, but the force within the wind itself blasting into the room from the open doors and windows, threatening to extinguish any flames except their own body heat, practically pushing the two of them together. It’s only one moment of the high-charged eroticism in that restrained 50s visual vocabulary that gives the The Quiet Man the excitement it demands (and it’s not even my favorite – rainy scenes and cemetery scenes are my personal catnip and that particular kiss also has the benefit of not being as manhandling, just so much more tender) and I think that O’Hara and Wayne are able to accomplish that is what makes me move past what is understandably non-preferable material.


And nothing really gets me past the fact that the movie has an extended sequence in the third act where the butt of the joke is “John Wayne drags Maureen O’Hara uncomfortably across a field”. It’s my least favorite moment in the whole film. And yet The Quiet Man doesn’t find Mary Kate contemptible and finds her grievances with Sean’s lack of action the most valid thing, finding her victory even in that dragging scene when it culminates with Sean and the Squire go head-to-head and insisting that the way of life in Inisfree is certainly more pleasant and preferable and possibly even more dignified to Sean’s rigid Americanism.

And what a brilliant fight that is, extended and exaggerated and full of barreling throws and close-ups of Wayne and McLaglen’s faces taking a wallop and wondering what just happened, rolling in lakes and hay and grassy hills. The traveling manner of the fight and the way that practically every single male figure in the vicinity has to involve themselves and exclaim and cheer (including a very wonderful moment involving a man on his very deathbed) just piles on the good humor and nature of this conflict so much so we can’t imagine Sean and the Squire coming out of this with any more bad feelings for each other.

Early in the film, the Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick) who sells Sean his home mutters “Inisfree is far from heaven”, but Ford absolutely does not believe that and spends the whole movie proving her wrong with a joyous eye for picturesque locations with sequences indicating the idyllic aspect of living in this Island, like a rousing horse race on the shores of Lettergesh or the quiet fishing hole which the easy-going Father Lonergan (Ward Bond, another Ford mainstay) could be found praying for a bite, all blanketed by Victor Young’s arrangement of Irish airs and bouncy slights. And the cast populates it all in unsubtle Irish caricatures full of personality and bouyancy in joy, most of all in the small impish and grinning Barry Fitzgerald’s turn as jaunting car driver Michaeleen “Óg” Flynn. Nothing about the high-spirited sense of humor feels spiteful, it’s just in service to accenting how colorful this community Ford and Nugent and company wanted to erect as a grand collection of all the things that make Ireland great in their eyes.

That’s what animates The Quiet Man, nothing but love from Ford. Love for a people and a land that Ford is aware he comes from turning over into love for a place and characters that he invented, thereby making that love impossibly infectious to leave the movie without. Every inch of Ford’s directorial ability is spent trying to turn Inisfree into a complete wonderland of color and wind, earning him his fourth (and last) Best Director Oscar and making two hours in the most low-key lovely place feel like such a rush that I can’t wait for the next time I go back.

*There IS an island called Innisfree but it’s not the same place.



Ocean Man


There’s gonna be something weird about finally writing about The Shape of Water after it had won its Oscar, as though I’m raining on somebody else’s celebration since I don’t have much happy things to say. But, I plan to eventually review every Best Picture winner and I need to get this out of eventually. And I may as well be happy that Guillermo Del Toro, decidedly one of my favorite filmmakers working today, is finally receiving the recognition he deserves. It’s just not for a movie I have much love for and I’d argue it’s his most ordinary movie yet, which is a hell of a claim for a Gill-Man romance.

Besides Terry Gilliam, nobody stacks up rejected projects like Del Toro. The man collects them like Pokémon. And while the scrapping of Silent Hills and At the Mountains of Madness certainly hurt more, the hurt for his proposed romantic Creature from the Black Lagoon remake is still searing right there in my heart, so when the trailer for The Shape of Water came out earlier in 2017, I was pretty much giddier for the project than I’ve ever been for a Guillermo Del Toro film in my life. And then when it was announced at the Venice Film Festival that it won the Golden Lion, I was even more sold than I’ve ever been. “They gave their top prize to the movie where Sally Hawkins fucks the gill-man?!” I exclaimed to my friend in excitement when I found out.


So, when I walked out of the movie nowhere near as ecstatic as the folks I saw the movie with, it may very well be a part of my expectations not exactly being met (FULL DISCLOSURE: It may also be that I was suffering a numbing amount of after-work migraines in the film and chose unwisely to join them at a 10:10 pm screening), but I hope I can express well enough – against the tide of praise – why The Shape of Water only occurs to me as fine rather than great. I mean, fine should not be the way I feel after I got my romantic Creature from the Black Lagoon remake that I’ve been wanting for so damn long.

Except I only got it after sitting through an hour of Guillermo Del Toro’s Crash. I mean, it’s a significantly better version of Crash as directed and co-written by an actual talent and it’s theses about race and society are not as patronizing as Paul Haggis’. But they’re arguably as shallow and distanced, with little interiority afforded by Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay to some characters (ie. Octavia Spencer once again having to do the heavylifting for his character with a pretty much one-sided portrayal of a dead marriage displayed 90% via monologue) and used mostly as just more window-dressing to setting the film in the racially, gender-wise, and diplomatically messy time of America on the verge of the Civil Rights. And while the argument could be made that The Shape of Water is in the end not really about these observations, it doesn’t really assuage me when Del Toro and Taylor devote more screentime to these surface level themes than the “fish-fucking” that people like to praise the movie for. And I know Del Toro is intelligent enough to work with these concepts.

That’s a lot of talking about the script without actually establishing what The Shape of Water‘s story is. The straightforward premise of The Shape of Water is how Elisa Esposito (Hawkins, a Mike Leigh alum who I’m always ecstatic to see in movies), a mute janitor for the US government-contracted Occam Laboratories, witnesses them bringing in a mysterious monster (Doug Jones, Del Toro’s reliable monster man) at the height of the Cold War insisting its danger and the potentials of winning the space race from studying the creature. And how after a time, Esposito and the Asset (as it is referred to in the film and credits) come to fall in love to the point that when the authority on the research of the Asset, Col. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon playing an unchallenging part he can do in his sleep, though that doesn’t detract from how far he excels at it), eventually orders its death for dissection, Elisa and her friends craft up a plan to rescue and release the Asset.


It’s pretty much fairytale stuff here and Del Toro is more than aware of that in Paul D. Austerberry’s production design of the early 1960s as a drowned-in green caricature of urban and domestic ghosts left over from the likes of American Graffiti which feels like the least creative design of Del Toro’s career since Hellboy, frankly mundane and even within the transparently sinister laboratories and the unglamorous period settings – or in the very calm and paternal delivery of the narration like lulling somebody to sleep by Richard Jenkins’ character, Elisa’s best friend and closeted advertising artist Giles (who is both the best performance in the film and the most shaded of all the characters arguably, given his very own subplot in regards to an infatuation he has and the depression brought about by the state of his career).

And yet The Shape of Water takes its sweet time trying to correct its course on tone between self-conscious social commentary, government thriller, monster movie, or broad romance and Del Toro for the first time can’t perform this function without every scene transition feeling thudded and sudden (including a huge gap in the developing relationship between Elisa and The Asset that feels rushed because of how overstuffed the social commentary makes The Shape of Water), which is why it’s no surprise that when the movie finally dedicates itself fully to thriller once Elisa and her friends decide to take action for The Asset’s survival. It’s much more focused and tighter at that point and even does more to earn the swooning final beat of the whole film than any of the slightness that inhabited the first half of the movie.

That The Shape of Water catches its footing the more it progresses as a narrative is a good portion of why it doesn’t distress me as much that I came away kind of disappointed. There are more than a few inspired elements within the film even before I feel it sticks the landing, like Alexandre Desplat’s tender score inputting delicate passions and vulnerabilities to underscore the characters’ living situations, the way that Giles is an unabashed movie fanatic which can’t help feeling informed by how much of a cinephile Del Toro is (sure, it’s part of what makes the movie overstuffed but it at least feels… real), and of course to say nothing of the wonderful texture and sleekness (slimy but not disgusting) of the monster suit Jones dons as The Asset, living and breathing and moving on its own terms and brought to life even further by post-production effects that surge lights through its body to shape a divinity into the creature and make him fascinating and scene-stealing with big round cutesy eyes to sell it as… well, a fish out of water while Jones moves with apprehensiveness and curiosity at the world around him.

It’s not a total loss, that’s just a fact. But I’d rather had a wholly great film like Del Toro has often given me than a halfway good movie. Still in the end, Del Toro will be ok and will hardly care what I think about the movie that got him two Oscars, the success of which probably ensures less adversity in his developing projects as he had faced all throughout his career. And he’s had more than enough great movies not to lose an ounce of good will from me just on account of The Shape of Water. Most of all, there’s no real context by which I could claim Del Toro was really… uninspired. The man loves making movies and feels like everything he makes comes from a labor of love. Just sometimes that doesn’t result in something every single one of his fans dig and that’s a-ok. We could do worse with our passion projects sometimes*.

*I say as I side-eye Mute.



Capsules – The Oscar Nominees I Haven’t Come Around to Reviewing

So… in the immediate future is definitely The Shape of Water (now that it fa sho won) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (ideally leading up to that Han Solo movie nobody asked for) but in the meanwhile there are definitely some of the other Oscar nominees that I totally have words for but don’t feel like writing a whole review for because it’s fucking March and the only 2018 movie I reviewed so far is fucking Maze Runner. I gotta move on (and get my Year-End post in soon)

I’m sure there’s eventually going to be a context where I can provide full reviews for most of these movies (like I will not die before reviewing every Spielberg movie for example), but in the meantime… here’s my capsule thoughts on particular Oscar nominees:


Call Me by Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino, Italy/USA/Brazil/France)

It’s cut like hell. Like, “I need to use up different takes of the same shot and so lemme try to paste them together with this cross for 3 seconds” hell. OK, got that out of the way.

It’s also no less sensual a film than any of Guadagnino’s other pictures, aided by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s soft humid summer photography and the relaxed staging of every character to malaise us enough that gives us patience through the slow simmer of the central romance and follows up by making every moment of extreme passion feel like a punctuation to a wonderfully lazy summer film. Definitely in the upper tier of the Best Picture nominees.

I am not at all qualified to talk about the age gap controversy.


Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig, USA)

An explicit lesson in how movies can totally not be for me, like independent coming-of-age movies with ordinary aesthetical decisions usually are, and still be a fine movie without any real deficit to its existence. I’d definitely the lion’s share of that credit to the cast and their ability to live-in the characters Gerwig drafts out of her clearly autobiographical script. I’m especially annoyed Metcalf had to lose against Janney (Manville moreso but she didn’t really have a chance and Metcalf had such a good shot and gave such a great performance).

Also fuck Kyle and also Julie is fucking MVP.


Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)

(This one I kind of want to write a full-length review for soon, but if I can’t find the time…)

I’m still kind of shocked that Paul Thomas Anderson made one of the few movies here I was rooting hella for during the Oscars, but it does help that he has three superlative possibly career-best (albeit Krieps is just starting) performances at the center of it and he developed… actually no, I don’t wanna say he developed a sense of humor because his movies kind of always had that, but Phantom Thread‘s sense of humor is so much more on my wavelength than anything else he made. It’s probably not better than There Will Be Blood, but I wonder if it’s not better-made if you understand what I’m saying: it’s a movie so self-consciously aware of its own craft and the payoff is that the craft is in and of itself impressive. Such would have to be the case when your art is about artists.


The Post (dir. Steven Spielberg, USA)

I think we can all agree that Spielberg got to a point where he stopped trying with every project he made and just made movies because it’s the only way he can breathe, but even when he’s absolutely not giving a real damn about the project except as something to keep him busy in the middle of the damn video game movie, The Post is still mostly tight.

I mean, mostly.

And like Lady Bird, it also has a cast that is so much more dedicated than the script asks them too, including Bob Odenkirk starring in his own personal little thriller within the movie and Meryl Streep giving her best performance in a long time drowning in expectations and uncertainties.


I, Tonya (dir. Craig Gillespie, USA)

This industry isn’t really doing right by Margot Robbie when she’s able to knock out performances like this often for whatever slumming picture she’s in (and I, Tonya is absolutely not slumming… Gillespie has seen Goodfellas and gotten all the right lessons from it) and she’s still not Le Movie Star right here right now.


All the Money in the World (dir. Ridley Scott, USA)

This movie was not worth salvaging but at least we got another great Christopher Plummer performance out of it.


The Disaster Artist (dir. James Franco, USA)

That this was ever in consideration for the big Oscars still makes my brain hurt. It has such contradictory problems: it’s devoted to providing a dumbass “follow your dreams” narrative for a man who is a monster that the movie isn’t nearly as incisive and indicting towards yet still wants to treat as a fucking alien for cheap giggles. It’s sloppy in the way only a filmmaker like Franco who thinks himself a higher artist than he actually is could make.

It’s also self-congratulatory in every unbearable manner, especially in the fact that it only exists to show off James Franco’s bland Tommy Wiseau impression.


Coco (dir. Lee Unkrich, USA)

Like Spielberg, there definitely came a point where Pixar stopped trying and like Spielberg, they’re still kind of nailing it. Coco isn’t necessarily revelatory in any narrative sense, but it’s still effective as tearjerker (especially since I saw it days after my grandmother passed away) and eyewatering as spectacle based in festive oranges and blues.

Plus, hey, it’s fantastic to me how positive about death the movie is as a result of its respect for Mexican culture. And I don’t need to mention the positives of Latin representation, which makes me very very happy Coco won its Oscar.

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour (dir. Joe Wright, UK/USA)

Hahahahahaha who the fuck thought this Seth MacFarlane workplace comedy was a good fucking movie? Is it just because Bruno Delbonnel can never not make movies look so fucking gorgeous?


Predictions for the 90th Academy Awards

You know how it is, let’s do this.


  • Call Me by Your Name
  • Darkest Hour
  • Dunkirk
  • Get Out
  • Lady Bird
  • Phantom Thread
  • The Post
  • The Shape of Water
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTION: The Shape of Water
MY PICK: Phantom Thread

There’s still talk of it being a five-horse race or something and I just don’t see it happening at all. The only two horses I see battling in this is Shape of Water and Three Billboards, with the momentum highly in Shape of Water‘s failure while Billboards is tripped up by its lack of Director nomination. The only possible thing in Shape of Water‘s way at this point is the blunt fact that it’s a movie about fucking a fish, but c’mon… my mom loves the fish-fucking movie. My mom is not the sort of person who’d love a fish-fucking movie. The fish-fucking movie is taking it.


  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
  • Guillermo Del Toro – The Shape of Water
  • Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
  • Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
  • Jordan Peele – Get Out

PREDICTION: Guillermo Del Toro
MY PICK: Paul Thomas Anderson

If I had time-travelled four years into the past to let past me know that I was going to be rooting for Paul Thomas Anderson to win over Guillermo Del Toro, Past Me would have shot Future Me thinking he was an imposter. And yet here we are and while Del Toro is possibly my least favorite entry in this slate (I’m honestly not too fond of Gerwig’s direction myself), I’m still more than ready to see a filmmaker I adore who has an open heart for cinema win his Oscar. I’ll pretend it’s for The Devil’s Backbone or Cronos instead, but just because he made one movie I’m not a fan of doesn’t mean I stop being a Del Toro fan by any means.


  • 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


Have we ever had another Oscar Season where every single one of the categories felt as locked as they do here? I mean, the Actor category is a bit shaky but I’ll get to that in a moment. Meanwhile, Frances is on her way to a second Oscar and boy would it have been great to see her give Casey Affleck an earful if he hadn’t chickened out.


  • Timothée 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.

MY PICK: Having not seen Washington’s performance, I’m going with Daniel Day-Lewis. I’m also giving longing looks to Kaluuya.

So, do we think the Oscars give a damn enough about Oldman being a dick to not give him his career Oscar? I don’t.


  • Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
  • Allison Janney – I, Tonya
  • Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
  • Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
  • Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

PREDICTION: Allison Janney
MY PICK: Lesley Manville

*shrug* I can see Metcalf maybe inching in, but Janney seems set on that award.


  • 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

PREDICTION: Same Rockwell
MY PICK: Willem Dafoe

*shrug* lock.


  • Guillermo Del Toro & Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
  • Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
  • Kumail Nanjiani & Emily V. Gordon – The Big Sick
  • Jordan Peele – Get Out
  • Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTION: Martin McDonagh
MY PICK: Jordan Peele

This is kind of anybody’s call. But I can’t see Three Billboards only winning acting Oscars, even if this is possibly the only place we can also expect Gerwig and Peele to take things home.


  • Scott Frank, James Mangold, & Michael Green – Logan
  • James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name
  • Scott Nuestadter & Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
  • Dee Rees & Virgil Williams – Mudbound
  • Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game

MY PICK: Dee Rees & Virgil Williams

The one best Picture nominee here versus a not-that-well-celebrated Sorkin and three other nominees just lucky to be there? I mean, come on.


  • The Boss Baby
  • The Breadwinner
  • Coco
  • Ferdinand
  • Loving Vincent

MY PICK: Loving Vincent



  • A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
  • The Insult (Lebanon)
  • Loveless (Russia)
  • On Body and Soul (Hungary)
  • The Square (Sweden)

PREDICTION: A Fantastic Woman
I have no pick because I saw less than half of these movies.

It would probably feel like an insult to invite the star of A Fantastic Woman to present without giving her the aware in consideration of the distance she’s traveling and the politics. It’s also just the most beloved of the nominees by a lot. I could see The Square – with its Palme d’Or mileage – taking it, but pls no.


  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
  • Faces Places
  • Icarus
  • Last Men in Aleppo
  • Strong Island

PREDICTION: Faces Places
MY PICK: Faces Places

I have too much hope and maybe my head is just so much in the sand, but like… Faces Places is so likable. The only weird thing is the idea of her winning an Honorary Oscar AND a competitive Oscar in the same ceremony, but I dream for the best nominee in the whole ceremony.


  • Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
  • Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour
  • Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
  • Dan Laustsen – The Shape of Water
  • Rachel Morrison – Mudbound

PREDICTION: Dan Laustsen
MY PICK: Bruno Delbonnel

This feels a lot more open game than you’d expect, which should be promising to Deakins except he’s also Deakins and he’s going up against three Best Picture nominees. I picked the one certain to win Best Picture just to pad its numbers up a bit even though I’m not convinced it ain’t the worst looking of these nominees.


  • Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau, & Jeff Melvin – The Shape of Water
  • Nathan Crowley & Gary Fettis – Dunkirk
  • Dennis Gassner & Alessandra Querzola – Blade Runner 2049
  • Sarah Greenwood & Katie Spencer – Beauty and the Beast
  • Sarah Greenwood & Katie Spencer – Darkest Hour

PREDICTION: Paul Austerberry, Shane Vieau, & Jeff Melvin
MY PICK: Dennis Gassner & Alessandra Querzola

The Shape of Water gotta rolling up them Oscars like Pokémon if it wanna win the big boy awards. Gotta flex.


  • Consolata Boyle – Victoria & Abdul
  • Mark Bridges – Phantom Thread
  • Jacqueline Durran – Beauty and the Beast
  • Jacqueline Durran – Darkest Hour
  • Luis Sequera – The Shape of Water

PREDICTION: Mark Bridges
MY PICK: Mark Bridges

I’m going by the logic that the Academy has eyes, but they did fucking nominate Beauty and the Beast.


  • Jon Gregory – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Paul Machliss & Jonathan Amos – Baby Driver
  • Tatiana S. Riegel – I, Tonya
  • Lee Smith – Dunkirk
  • Sidney Wolinsky – The Shape of Water

MY PICK: Paul Machliss & Jonathan Amos

War film that’s also a Best Picture nominee and an structural experiment? It’s pretty damn obvious.


  • Carter Burwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
  • Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
  • John Williams – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk

PREDICTION: Alexandre Desplat
MY PICK: Alexandre Desplat

I still throw up a bit in my mouth looking at this slate and so I had to pick one of the two nominees that don’t give me hives to maintain my sanity.


  • Darkest Hour
  • Victoria & Abdul
  • Wonder

PREDICTION: Darkest Hour
MY PICK: I’m good, fam.



  • Baby Driver
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Dunkirk
  • The Shape of Water
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

MY PICK: Dunkirk


  • Baby Driver
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Dunkirk
  • The Shape of Water
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

MY PICK: Dunkirk

War! Huh! Yeah! What is it good for? Sounding real fucking good!


  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
  • Kong: Skull Island
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • War for the Planet of the Apes

PREDICTION: Blade Runner 2049
MY PICK: War for the Planet of the Apes

Man, this is way impossible to take a shot at and I’m just really hoping Star Wars doesn’t get it because if there’s a reason The Last Jedi disappointed me, it’s in the effects.


  • “Mighty River” – Mudbound
  • “Mystery of Love” – Call Me by Your Name
  • “Remember Me” – Coco
  • “Stand Up for Something” – Marshall
  • “This Is Me” – The Greatest Showman

PREDICTION: “Remember Me”
MY PICK: I’m good, fam.

“This Is Me” is kind of treated as a joke, isn’t it? It’s the only one that can possibly knock off Coco, but I’ve never heard somebody say something nice about that song.


  • Dekalb Elementary
  • The Eleven O’Clock
  • My Nephew Emmett
  • The Silent Child
  • Watu Wote/All of Us

PREDICTION: Dekalb Elementary


  • Dear Basketball
  • Garden Party
  • Lou
  • Negative Space
  • Revolting Rhymes

PREDICTION: Negative Space


  • Edith+Eddie
  • Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405
  • Heroin(e)
  • Knife Skills
  • Traffic Stop


As always, I am approaching the short films from an angle of “I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT I’M DOING”. I just picked Dekalb and Heroin(e) out of “Importance” as a rubric. I mean, Traffic Stop could still clear that rubric too but from what I heard, it doesn’t have much else going for it, so…