I Love Vinnie


So, there is a grand ol’ two-prong consensus about the Polish animated Vincent Van Gogh crypto-biography Loving Vincent by this point that’s beaten me down since my initial enthusiasm after seeing it well back in October and it is this: On the first part, the movie is wonderfully gorgeous, absolutely miraculous to see on the big screen (and I pity those who will only have the opportunity to see it on a laptop or something at this point in their life). It has to be. For a long while it was anticipated by some (including yours truly) as a… not-revolutionary (despite the marketing’s insistence on Loving Vincent being the first of its kind) but highly unique animated experience on the basis of its craft.

Let me get the unpleasantness element out of the way first though, because the second part of that consensus deals with the content of the film and it’s an unfortunate blunt one: the script is bad. In this world of a narrative-focused cinematic experience, when you keep hearing that the script of a movie is bad, that’s a dealbreaker regardless of how brilliantly the craft is. My attitude of the script by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman & Jacek Dehnel (Kobiela & Welchman perform double duty as co-directors, Welchman TRIPLE as co-producer) is not nearly as damning, but it’s certainly not enthusiastic.


The concept of a Rashomon-esque attempt at individuals attempting to deal with the aftermath of a suicide and trying to rationalize why somebody so gifted would be brought to the point of killing himself, spurred on by the young Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) being tasked by his postman father (Chris O’Dowd) to deliver the painter’s (Robert Gulaczyk) last letter to the art dealer brother Theo van Gogh (Cezary Lukaszewicz), only to discover Theo himself had passed away suddenly in the wake of his brother. And in his waiting game, Armand begins to take an interest in the circumstances of Vincent’s last years in suspicion of the how he died.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel beaten down by the continuous pointing out that the script quickly de-evolves, despite its attempt at structual exercise, into a cyclical series of talking heads all coming to the same dead end in how the late 1800s had no understanding of clinical depression and how because of that repetition, every inch of the movie’s 95 minutes is felt. And I understand that but the one piece of the script that really irks me (other than its overbearing coda and garbage ending credits song very labored) is how it attempts to give a finite answer to the source of van Gogh’s desperate depression and is weirdly satisfied about that answer. Given the subject matter, it feels icky to me.

So there’s that. That’s the script. If you’re a content-over-form type of person, you will more likely than not hate Loving Vincent and I’m sorry that you would. I am not at all that type of person and I found myself totally wowed and affected by the execution of the film’s core style.


Directors Kobiela (a painter herself) & Welchmann overlooked 125 painters working on 65,000 frames intended to imitate the style of the legendary Dutch painter’s impressionistic oil works for its modern day, including pencil sketches for flashback sequences. A portion of these paintings are rotoscoped, but enough of them are from scratch to seriously impress upon anyone even slightly interested in the matter of fine art or even just the works of van Gogh (I can’t imagine how the two interests aren’t correlated though. Are there art hipsters?)

And maybe that might seem like a gimmick to some, but for someone like me who has never had the opportunity to witness any of Van Gogh’s works in person (but one dreams), seeing it on the big screen as opposed to a trailer on my computer makes me more aware of the physical element of the art short of actually reaching out and touching the thing (it’s something that makes me kind of wonder how the film would look in 3D, possibly akin to Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams). It’s impossible to ignore the inadvertent contours of the art, the gloopy swirls and strokes that maps all around the frames. Kobiela & Welchmann did very well with photographer Tristan Oliver to translate that beyond the flatness of the screen, they want you to feel the depth of the lines, like the landscapes extend beyond the frame, like the portraits betray the wear of the individual’s face.


And then there’s the fact that you’re witnessing this in motion. Very little of the shots are stilled in place, you are literally watching art’s textures move little by little. This is obvious in sequences where water is on-screen and most especially obvious in sequences with rain pattering on its steps. And because this isn’t really frames so much as flat-out paintings being presented as frames, you feel the shifts in colors (and idiosyncratic colors doesn’t seem to cut describing van Gogh’s works – he seems to have a dark earthy sensibility to the colors of the world and a lack of scrutiny in using different shades and the film captures that beautifully) and contours being presented more as a visual progression than standard animation’s necessity to turn movement fluid and seamless. It’s fascinating work and while I was just dismissing the marketing’s claims of it being the first of its kind, I can still happily claim that the movie is unlike anything I personally have ever experienced in a cinema.

So therein is a choice to be presented to the prospective viewer of Loving Vincent, one that certainly lives inside an audience member since they began watching movies: Are you looking for content or are you looking for form?* I mean, the answer is pretty obvious to me, given I had just recently defended Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, so it’s no surprise I pretty much loved Loving Vincent. Because if you’re there to see some out of the box storytelling and intelligent storytelling, Loving Vincent is incapable of making most people very happy on that end and I am sorry to say that you might be happier selecting another movie. But if you’re sitting in that theater seat** because you’re an animation or fine art enthusiast or scholar and you’re looking for something to change the way you look at the works of one of the most influential painters in history (excusing my admittedly limited knowledge of the art form), you’ve made the right choice.


*Ignoring the understanding that in a medium as aesthetically based as film and especially animation, content IS form sometimes.
**Assuming it will have a second-run thanks to its Oscar nominations pls

Nomination Predictions for the 90th Academy Awards – REDUXED WITH RESPONSE

Film Title: Get Out

What’s good? This coming Tuesday, 23 January, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is going to announce their nominees for the Oscars in March and so like last time I’m back on that fun guessing game about what movies are getting nominated based on how the air felt this past year, soon to be followed by my trying to desperately catch up with these nominations by supplying any missing reviews. Here’s my guesses with minimal commentary.

Well, enough of that… let’s see how wrong I was and what a surprise the nominees were! Blue is what I guessed and red is what I guessed wrong (dashes mean they were not nominated, clear means I didn’t guess them)

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

Non-binding Prediction: The Shape of Water
My Pick: Phantom Thread

I only think there’s a chance in hell for these seven and NOTHING ELSE. Every one of them has snatched their own precursor awards except for the timely Spielberg Post and, well, Hollywood loves a political statement. Also, some dude challenged me to bet money that The Disaster Artist wasn’t gonna get a Best Picture nomination and then chickened out. Boy would it have been satisfying for him to take that bet he tried to propose.

Nine fucking nominees! I would have sooner guessed SIX nominees than nine, I didn’t think enthusiasm for 2017’s films was that high. And I especially would not have guessed Phantom Thread would suddenly swoop in to steal a slot. Ah, it feels good to have a movie on my top ten show up in the slate (and from one of my former nemeses of cinema). Still would have liked Mudbound to show up but hey!

Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo Del Toro – The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig –
Lady Bird
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out

Prediction: Guillermo Del Toro
My Pick: Paul Thomas Anderson

DGA seems to get it right, although I could see Gerwig being ousted for somebody else (either Paul Thomas Anderson or Steven Spielberg).

Well, there we are again. McDonagh is pushed out by Phantom Thread sudden clout and it feels soooooooo good to have that happen. I’m not entirely with the nominations of Del Toro or Gerwig, but at least we have people of color and women in the slate. I’m just saying… could have been Dee Rees if Oscars didn’t suck.

In any case, this is still a fine slate and I think with McDonagh’s shove, The Shape of Water is clear to take the gold away (though I would not say that Three Billboards is completely out for the count if we consider Argo‘s past win without Director nomination).

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

Prediction: Frances McDormand
My Pick: Frances McDormand

Pretty straightforward. Only possibly spoiler is Judi Dench taking over for Streep, but AMPAS is like… the biggest Streep fanclub in the world and The Post is her first great performance in a while.

Cool, I got all of them in a row.


Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
James Franco – The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Prediction: Gary Oldman
My Pick: Daniel Day-Lewis (I have not seen Roman J. Israel, Esq. yet)

A month ago, I’d have called my hopes for Kaluuya’s nomination to be nothing but a pipe dream. Now with all of these accolades on his back, I’m excited. Head and shoulders above every nominee that’s not DDL.

Also, remember when I said some guy tried to bet me that The Disaster Artist would get a Best Picture nomination? That money would have come in handy now that I’m gonna owe a Mr. J.B. money after betting him that the movie would get NO nominations. And man, that performance is not a good ‘un.

Nah nah nahhhhh nah. Nah nah nahhhhhh nah. Hey heyyyyyyy, goodbye.

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Tiffany Haddish – Girls Trip

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

I call to mind Melissa McCarthy’s sudden Oscar nomination for breaking out in Bridesmaids way back and see all the awards for Haddish and think to myself “Well, Hunter hasn’t been talked about in a long while unfortunately”.

I think any Mudbound nomination is on shaky ground, but if it can’t grab this, that’ll be the killing blow to any Netflix film’s Oscar chances until they change up their release plan.

Mudbound is running strong. Not strong enough to make me happy, but this nomination was the litmus test on whether or not Netflix finally broke through to the Academy and it’s not like there was a dearth of contenders here.

Anyway, Octavia Spencer deserves so much better and another pop up Phantom Thread nomination. Sorry, Holly, you should be here instead of Janney.

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
Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me by Your Name

Prediction: Sam Rockwell
My Pick: Christopher Plummer

Frankly slim pickings, though Stuhlbarg has his “Big Awards Clip” moment and he excels at it (honestly any of his three appearances in a Best Picture contender have great moments… ok, maybe not The Post). There was also a bit of a kerfuffle in wondering which would get the coveted double nomination here – Harrelson/Rockwell, Stuhlbarg/Hammer, or with less likelihood Jenkins/Shannon. I think Billboards‘ continuous snatching of awards secures it here.

Call Me by Your Name got shut the fuck out, hot damn. Not a single nomination in this category. Plummer is an absolute fascination in his performance (one of only two reasons to watch All the Money in the World beyond morbid curiosity) and it’s a pleasant surprise to see him here, even at the cost of well deserving performances. The Three Billboards could have gone down and we know it.


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

Prediction: Greta Gerwig
My Pick: Jordan Peele

Yeeesh. Lemme tell you, if I’m right then anybody winning other than Peele is gonna make me fucking mad.

I love The Big Sick a lot and do think its screenplay is better than, like, most of these nominees. But like this was not an impressive slate to begin with and I don’t think its script would be half as good without its cast.

Steve Conrad & Jack Thorne – Wonder
Scott Frank, James Mangold, & Michael Green – Logan
Matt Greenhaigh – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Dee Rees & Virgil Williams – Mudbound

Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game

Prediction: James Ivory
My Pick: Dee Rees & Virgil Williams

“Not today, Satan!” -me about any potential nominations for The Disaster Artist (though truth be told, I think it’s a safer prediction than Mudbound – which frightens me – but hope springs eternal).

And then Satan responded “yes, today!” and laughed. And I was sooooooo close to winning my bet with J.B.

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

Prediction: Dan Laustsen
My Pick: Bruno Delbonnel

Over/under on Deakins finally winning this year? I’d honestly claim he’s second-best here behind Delbonnel, but he did make the (barely) better movie.

I think Deakins might have a shot but I’m still scared right now. Meanwhile, it’s great to see the Oscars reward Mudbound some more, even if the cinematography was not really a reason why I think it’s great. Yo, first woman nominee!


Paul Austerberry – The Shape of Water
Rick Carter – The Post

Dennis Crowley – Dunkirk
Dennis Gassner – Blade Runner 2049
Sarah Greenwood – Beauty and the Beast
Sarah Greenwood – Darkest Hour

Prediction: Paul Austerberry
My Pick: Dennis Gassner

Oh my god, I’m not prepared to fucking call Beauty and the Beast an Academy Award nominee and it looks like it will be, somebody halp pls!

Sarah Greenwood snatching nominees like hellfire. The one time I’m on Blade Runner 2049‘s side. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, let’s do it.

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

Ellen Mirojnick – The Greatest Showman
Ann Roth – The Post

Prediction: Mark Bridges
My Pick: Mark Bridges

If the Oscars could ignore the hell out of the Halloween costumes in Beauty and the Beast (sorry Durran, I still love ya) and give it to I, Tonya where the costumes are LITERALLY PLOT POINTS, I’d be ever so grateful.

Jacqueline Durran also catching nominations like Pokémon. But nah, I ain’t celebrating them cause Beauty and the Beast and Darkest Hour is bad (Darkest Hour kind of looks good, though so maybe). All I will say is, it will be really stupid of a decision if the movie literally about clothes doesn’t win.

Carter Burwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
Johnny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
Dario Marianelli –
Darkest Hour
John Williams – The
John Williams – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Hans Zimmer – Blade Runner 2049
Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk

Prediction: Alexandre Desplat
My Pick: Alexandre Desplat

Round up the usual suspects.

Y’know… I just like to think best of my fellow man. So What. The. Fuck. are the worst of the two scores apiece that Carter Burwell, John Williams, and Hans Zimmer doing on this slate?! WHY?! Fucking hell, if Dunkirk or The Last Jedi win… oof.

I mean, The Post and Blade Runner 2049 weren’t really good scores, but what the hell?


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

MY PICK: Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss

The most editing out of my expected Best Pictures, plus Baby Driver because if Baby Driver doesn’t get nominated a lot of people are gonna have hissy fits.

I wanted to pull the trigger on Wolinsky’s possible win in a streak for The Shape of Water, but I can’t bring myself to do it with a Best Picture that has the kind of show-offy editing as Dunkirk. I mean, this category loves its war films, doesn’t it? Meanwhile… I, Tonya is nominated here. Was it the badly superimposed skating shots that did it? (I like I, Tonya, I swear)

The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Despicable Me 3
Loving Vincent

Prediction: Coco
My Pick: The Boss Baby

Yep, that’s a pretty good lineu– WHAT THE FUCK IS DESPICABLE ME DOING THERE?!

I’m not quite sure that I would not have preferred Despicable Me 3 back on this slate.

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
Foxtrot (Israel)
In the Fade

The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

PREDICTION: A Fantastic Woman
MY PICK: I’ve only seen literally one movie but it’s The Square and I sure hope it doesn’t win.

Only the loudest ones since I’ve heard nary a peep about the rest of the shortlist (which is a shame, Félicité is wonderful.

Well, I’m kind of surprised to see Foxtrot and In the Fade get booted (and I can think of somebody I know disappointed at Foxtrot‘s lack of nomination).


Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Last Man in Alleppo

Strong Island

Prediction: Last Man in Alleppo
My Pick: I’ve only seen one but a movie would have to be real damn good for me to love it more than Faces Places.

Well, if they made appearances on the awards road, I put them down.

Excuse me as I pick up my jaw from the fact that Jane got knocked the fuck out.

Darkest Hour
Victoria & Abdul

Prediction: Darkest Hour
Pick: Darkest Hour

Who’s ready for Mudbound to get nothing and Bright to take its place as Netflix’s awards contender of 2017?

Swapped one shitty movie for another shitty movie and at least the previous shitty movie actually had interesting makeup. More than Suicide Squad, I’d say.

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

Prediction: “Remember Me”
Pick: “Remember Me” (I have not heard “Stand Up for Something”)

Globes, yo.

I’m damned if I can remember most of these songs anyway. I’m trying REALLY hard to remember “Mystery of Love”, but I just like “Visions of Gideon” more.


Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Wonder Woman

Prediction: Dunkirk
My Pick: Baby Driver

Yo, war movies are clear for this, right? Besides which Dunkirk had great sound mixing as long as you don’t like dialogue.

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

Prediction: Dunkirk
Pick: Dunkirk

Playing it by ear, just picking Baby Driver for both.

I hate dialogue.

Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

Prediction: War for the Planet of the Apes
Pick: War for the Planet of the Apes

Ya always gotta have a Star Wars on the slate, even when that Star Wars has the poopiest effects in the franchise. Ya always gotta have a Planet of the Apes on your slate or imma cri mane (and I’m definitely ready to cry when it doesn’t win, probably to Dunkirk). Blade Runner 2049 is called out for being pretty af and two Best Picture nominees are extremely safe bets though I would not be blindsided by a Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 nomination in place of Water.

I swear to God, the Oscars ain’t shit if they don’t finally award War for the Planet of the Apes here. And it’s kind of a nuisance to recognize that the nominations Star Wars: The Last Jedi are receiving is for the exact things that make me really disappointed with it (I mean, other than the script).


I’m going to be very transparent about my shorts predications being essentially the same as Nathaniel’s on the Film Experience because I’m too winded by my grief at World of Tomorrow Episode 2‘s knockout of the shortlist to bother putting thought into it.

Dear Basketball
Garden Party
In a Heartbeat
Life Smartphone

Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

Prediction: Dear Basketball
Pick: I have only seen Lou and Dear Basketball

Academy Award nominee Kobe Bryant, ladies and gentlemen.

Dekalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
Lost Face
My Nephew Emmett
Rise of a Star
The Silent Child
Watu Wote/All of Us

Prediction: I dunno.
Pick: I ain’t seent them.

I’m so bad at this!

Edith + Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Kayayo – The Living Shopping Baskets
Knife Skills
Ram Dass, Going Home
Ten Meter Tower
Traffic Stop

Prediction: I don’t know.
Pick: I have seen none of these.

Whelp, Ten Meter Tower is great.

The best joke of the morning was Tiffany Haddish’s response to these nomination titles.


Well, cool cool cool, let’s see what happens.

You Think This Is a Game?


I didn’t get to review Central Intelligence from 2016 before and that’s a hell of a shame. Because it was, not shitting you, my most-watched movie of 2016 by a lot. And this isn’t some “Oh my god, I can’t escape it” or “man, this movie won’t stop being on tv all the time” (although most of my watches of that movie were impromptu on HBO). No, Central Intelligence was a movie I fucking loved, warts and all. I left it with an unhidden appreciation for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who I already was in love with since I was a kid) and Kevin Hart (who I always suspected since Think Like a Man had a knack of comedy as a straight man foil, but never had much area to impress me until Central Intelligence). Central Intelligence was hella casual comfort food for me during a mostly blegh and uncertain year so I might be biased on that front, but it also helped me recognize a dynamic sort of friendly chemistry between the two actors I would not have expected and got me ready to appreciate whatever was next for their careers.

If my unapologetic love for Central Intelligence is the decision that causes anybody who reads this blog to decide I don’t know shit about movies, so be it. I promise I didn’t open with this to weed out my enemies about this film. Instead, I wanted to just establish that if there’s any such audience for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – the 2017 sleeper hit sequel to the 1995 original, once again co-starring The Rock and Hart – I’m it. I sat my ass right down on this seat because I was looking forward to another screwball go ’round between those two actors. What a pleasant surprise to me when it turns out that they are outstaged by Jack Black and Karen Gillan in the movie, but to explain that, I may as well outline the plot first from Chris McKenna’s script.


Like the last film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle opens with salvaging itself from cries of blasphemy in having the famed decrepit board game be retconned into a video game… it actually transformed into one. After a teenager named Alex (Mason Guccione – and while I don’t think who plays him as an adult is eventful to be a surprise, it certainly surprised me. All I will note is that I love how Alex’s visual admiration for Metallica was a cue for our identification of the character and, lest you forget what is the namesake of this blog to begin with, it got a lot of points by me) in the late 1990s declares board games to be no longer cool and the sentient game thereby turns itself into something to accommodate Alex’s tastes and lure him into a disappearance.

20 years later in 2016, four stereotypical teenagers straight out of a low-effort high school picture all find themselves in detention for cheating in the case of the bookish nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff, man those Naked Brothers are sticking around, aren’t they?) and his former friend and now uncertain jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), mouthing off to her gym teacher in outsider Martha’s case (Morgan Turner), or just taking a phone conversation in the middle of her class in superficial popular girl Bethany’s (Madison Iseman). And lo and behold, the very Jumanji game is located in the school basement which their detention takes place and they unwisely turn it on, ending up sucked into the game like Alan Parish in the last film, but this time we actually see the world of the game. And as a new twist, they have been embodied by their avatars. And my interest in the movie is in the reverse order.


For, you see, The Rock, Hart, Black, and Gillan are those avatars – Spencer has become the brawny explorer Professor Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Fridge his meek zoologist valet Dr. Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Hart), Martha has turned into the gorgeous combat-ready Ruby Roudhouse (Gillan), and Bethany into the obese cartographer Professor Shelly Oberon (Black). And in addition to all of the actors having something of a blast in their respective Republic Adventure Serial role, all of them are able to embody some form of their younger counterpart’s personalities so as to be recognizable to us: Johnson’s boyish anxiety at his predicament and wonder at the things he’s capable of doing in Bravestone’s body, Hart’s grasping at confidence even despite the good height advantage Johnson has over him, Gillan’s adolescent surliness (as well as a hilarious montage in which she has to practice the most ridiculous sexy strut to show how ridiculous she feels trying to fit into a gender role), and Black’s, like, everything. Black is ridiculously brilliant at playing femininity frequently and turning that into self-deprecating horror at the middle-aged man Bethany has become and the uninhibited infatuation she has with Bravestone or later the already-taken fifth avatar of Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonagh (Nick Jonas – so we have TWO alumni from young boy bands in the 2000s and yet nobody thought to put him in the same scene as Wolff). Guess who that one is?

Anyway, while those five are indeed the most enjoyable and entertaining of the bunch, the cast of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is still filled with the sort of pop-up appearances that would only amuse me in something this frothy like Rhys Darby, Bobby Cannavale, or William Tokarsky popping in as extremely novel Non-Playable Characters (Darby especially is phenomenal at the rigidity and looped enthusiasm that makes his character feel like a program rather than a person, Tokarsky is just right at home with other exotic or dangerous looking mugs in a bazaar).

Of course, that’s the cast and they’re doing heavy lifting to provide a movie more fun than the rest of it allows. All my apologies to the usually extremely talented director Jake Kasdan, but the adventure movie he’s intent on crafting all around these performances doesn’t feel nearly as propulsive or engaging as one would hope. This is especially going to be the case when your cards are against you in structure (once again, the high school drama framing the video game narrative is kind of unfortunate, though at least it’s not as overstuffed as its predecessor film) and visual effects (which the previous film beats this sequel at and you will remember that I used those special effects AGAINST Johnson’s film). There’s obviously a possible argument that the effects are supposed to be unconvincing and cartoonish and not grounded and that just doesn’t stop these hippos and elephants and bugs from making my eyes water (the bugs though – at the control of Cannavale’s updated hunter villain Van Pelt – get to feel crawly enough to be effective).

So, fuck the adventure. Don’t come for the adventure, it’s episodic and you can feel each story beat thud in how it’s put together and the characters’ development in their personalities is shoehorned in. Come to hang out with four extremely funny personalities bounce off of each other while meeting with the demand of having to play young again and having a joy doing it. And I know I’ll be back the next time any of these four decide to collaborate once again. Maybe the Rock can bring them all back in his inevitable Fast and Furious spin-off.


In the Jungle, the Miny Jungle


It’s been a little over 3 years now, but I don’t think we as a film culture have ever healed from the shock of Robin Williams’ suicide and I don’t think we ever will frankly. And the reasons why are as clear as the nose on our face. Not only was it upsetting to discover how Williams was suffering in such a sudden fashion, but it was the suffering of a man whose constant animated mugging and heavy warmth moved an entire generation of young filmgoers in a sentimental manner away from a similarly manic but not nearly as heartfelt a contemporary as Jim Carrey. And I am sorry to say that, despite growing up right in the middle of that generation (Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire having come out around my first year on Earth and being inescapable), I am not one of those people as an adult. As a child, it was probably easier for me to enjoy but as an adult, I just don’t think the mugging and tenderness mix very well, though I think Williams pulled it off wayyyyyyy better than somebody like Roberto Benigni.

Let this often be a lesson in how heartless and muted from nostalgia I am as a human being.

Joe Johnston’s 1995 adventure children’s book adaptation Jumanji has more than enough mediocre elements in it that I don’t really have to talk about Williams any more once I get started than to say that while there are moments where he is definitely selling the manchild aspect of his character of Alan Parrish (most particularly his anxious body language in a scene where he avoids kissing Bonnie Hunt’s love interest Sarah), this is a frustratingly sedate performance that doesn’t nearly make good on the promise of a wild man emerging out of the jungle biome of the titular cursed board game, Jumanji, an admittedly interesting piece of lived-in production design that feels carved and otherworldly. At the center of that board game is a supernatural looking orb that feels like it’s just full of darkness.


How Parrish ends up trapped in that board game to begin with is of the interest of the first scene set in 1969 as the adolescent Alan (Adam Hann-Byrd) and Sarah (Laura Bell Bundy) deal with Alan’s troubles with his wealthy and overbearing father (Jonathan Hyde), bullying from Sarah’s boyfriend, and guilt from costing one of his only friends Carl (David Alan Grier) his job by playing Jumanji and ending up with Sarah traumatized by watching Alan get sucked in and then getting run out by a bunch of bats.

Fast forward 26 years and now the board game has fallen into the hands of newly orphaned siblings Judy and Peter Shepherd (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce, respectively), who begin playing it after moving into the Parrish home and finding themselves in peril as the board game unleashes a jungle into the house and with it eventually an adult Alan (Williams). Finding out soon enough that they cannot undo all this damage to the house until they complete the game AND that they cannot progress in the game without the now adult Sarah (played now by Hunt), they begin tunneling their way through warning rhymes of a new beast prowling amongst them that they must dodge or incapacitate as vines and trees and rain and other environmental elements begin covering up the Parrish home.


Now, essentially this is just a platform for setpiece after setpiece of our characters versus Giant Venus Flytraps and Crocodiles and Lions and all until the in-game hunter Van Pelt (Also played by Hyde, probably to represent Alan’s unwillingness to grow up in a very shallow way, but Hyde’s clearly having fun with it) breaks out and the mayhem spills into suburbia. And the unfortunate thing is that these are… bad setpieces. Forgettable and flat, with terrible CGI (though I doubt this bothered me in the 1990s, but the monkeys especially look bad. The best looking monkey is a makeup job.) and a lack of urgency in the way they’re cut at all.

Joe Johnston is mostly hit or miss with me as a filmmaker, but I get the feeling that Johnston is so much stronger when he gets to work in period pieces like the previous Rocketeer and the later Captain America: The First Avenger. And Jumanji is not not that, given that the “young Alan in the 60s” scenes take up a frustrating amount of runtime but they’re shot in the most default Rockwellian aesthetic that would have been the laziest thing I’ve ever seen Johnston do if it wasn’t for the carwreck that’s The Wolfman. And that’s the closest to inspired he ever feels, for when it gets to the modern world… everything’s so bland and uninteresting to look at, especially in a very central chase through a department store where any energy comes from a clamorously percussive score by James Horner and a completely uncertain sense of cutting by Robert Dalva. Neither of these things give the movie a manic chaotic sense of fun, it’s just tiring in a nauseating way. The jungle scenes in the mansion at least want to have some sense of atmosphere but they’re so clearly colored in a funereal manner that dampens any sense of fun and lit like an amusement park’s promotional material. It’s unable to match up to Jumanji‘s goal of being an answer to the earlier Jurassic Park – a family oriented hit about a dysfunctionally put-together “family” trying to survive the savagest elements of nature.

Even when the movie finally gets everything wrapped up neat and tidy in the 90s storyline, there is still no less than 15 minutes left to go as it tries to solve all of Alan’s childhood dilemmas in one swing and even when it’s nowhere near as long, it’s reminiscent to me of the feeling I had with the multiple endings of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I had a desire for things to just stop and fade eventually for I did learn or gain anything from watching Jumanji and could feel the time slipping out from under me like Alan’s fingers slipping into the board game.


Stop Making That Big Face!


Faces Places sounds weirdly like exactly the sort of documentary that I would normally be averse to. On the surface of it is just a couple of artists trying to document their artistic project. Which is hardly a terrible concept (though still sounding self-congratulatory), especially when you see how it affects the witness to that art (which is obviously also documented) and they’re all emotional and receiving the nice and warm fuzzies from the way in which they are artistically immortalized: the artists in question take photos of their face, print them into blowouts, and paste them against large flat surfaces that usually mean a lot to the person whose face it is showing up in (not entirely immortalized, one of the artists mentions that the pastings have a finite lifespan and there is a scene where one of their works ends up not lasting until the next morning). But it’s something that I’d much rather experience or witness on my own, like most fine art. You can’t really get the full power of the work from watching a movie about it, frankly*.

The way Faces Places gets to circumvent around this for me is the fact that it is the latest film by French New Wave legend Agnès Varda, one of the brains behind this artistic project, the other one being photographer and graffiti artist JR, who Varda shares credit with. This sharing of credit is not for anything: JR and Varda remark early on about how it took them so long to meet each other (after a hilarious and disarming montage of “what if?” scenarios behind their fateful meeting – the one that brings the biggest smile to my face is the quaint little comedy about JR wanting to buy chocolate éclairs and losing them to Varda), having long had admiration for each others work, and sharing wonderful chemistry together as dear friends and as collaborators. They are of similar spirit and soul – socially conscious, approachable, curious, extremely stylish and photogenic in an unassuming way. Indeed, the charm behind Varda’s presence was definitely the first reason this movie was on my radar. I did not expect Faces Places would have the lovely opportunity to introduce me to another personality that would make for a charismatic screen companion to her and now I’m totally following JR for the rest of his career.


If Varda gets to take over on the cinematic front, JR is the specialist in the form of flyposting murals as art (both are photographers) and he seems so much more confident in performing the labor and verbalizing the project and ideas to any subjects that would like to be photographed. Varda however proves to be just as creative in ideas for this new medium as she did in cinema back in the 50s and 60s, especially since many of the areas they visit and work in have some memorial attachment to Varda. There is one point where they discuss Varda’s past relationship with the late photographer Guy Bourdin (who modeled for Varda) and it becomes the basis of an attempted tribute to his memory. This particular flypost is also the one that seems most collaborative at heart for Varda and JR, both of whom have a particular history with the area of the Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer beach of Normandy. JR, for instance, is the one who discovers the fallen German bunker where they perform the tribute.

Another thing that makes Faces Places‘ status as an Agnès Varda project much more attractive to me is how, like Varda’s most notable works of the 21st Century The Gleaners and I and The Beaches of Agnès, it functions as autobiography and reflection of her current age. Constantly, Varda can not help but remark and sometimes interpret otherwise harmless statements by JR as commentary on the fact that she is 88 years old and losing her sight. Which is probably what makes her so eager to immortalize several people by this project, her coming knowledge that nobody in this world will last and that it’s important to leave a big imprint.

And certainly the director of La Pointe-Courte would know better than anybody else how everyone has their story in the world and they’re equally as important as the latest Star Wars picture. With each stop, we are privy to the lives and history of the area we watch transform before us – a row of abandoned houses left to decay before being brought to life by the neighboring community in a festive celebration. An industrial plant given a mural within a trench illuminating the hard teamwork and collaboration of two different shifts that otherwise don’t really interact. Three women working the docks of Le Havre being able to tower over the men in their field by stacks of shipping containers, before eventually sitting in the spot that their own hearts would inhabit. We meet these faces and learn what the interior lives behind these faces are. The visual results of Varda and JR’s work are wonderfully modern and moving, looking like splashes on a usually dull concrete surfaces despite only being in newspaper blacks and whites and greys.


In any case, that project is once again only what Faces Places appears to be in the surface and as we watch JR’s wonderful SLR-camera-looking van drive down the road to affable music by Matthieu “M” Chedid, the more obviously it peels back to look at Agnès awareness that she can’t see or move the way she once did and what does that mean for her artwork. Which is why it’s extremely touching to see her interact with JR, who tries to respond to her bubbly statements and imaginations with his own bouncy and spontaneous postures and movements without seeming like a cartoon (during a late-in-the-film tribute to one of my favorite movie moments JR suddenly jumps up mid-run into a crazy perpendicular legs-up-in-the-air pose and I thought he was the coolest guy in the world for that).

JR may be the young person in the duo, but Varda’s still a child at heart and the real conflict seems to be how Varda knows her body isn’t going to be able to follow her soul. It’s the source of some amount of tension: particularly in the metaphorical usage of her eyesight and JR’s trademarked sunglasses that he’s never seen without and which Varda attempts to pester him into removing, while also reminding her of her friend and the only other living French New Wave titan Jean-Luc Godard. And all three of these things – her eyesight, his sunglasses, and Godard himself end up orbiting the content of the final third of Faces Places, combining together for an ending to their voyage that feels at first cruel and cold until JR decides to help Varda re-author it through his generosity into a moment of serenity between two good friends.

JR and Varda will certainly not last together as a pairing for longer than the end of this decade. It feels blunt but fair to recognize that Varda will probably not live much longer than the next 3 years. And yet the most powerful thing I can’t help leaving Faces Places with is the inability to picture one of them without the other – and I’ve been a long time fan of Varda’s without even knowing who the hell JR is – and the knowledge that even while I consider that maybe more than a few of their “storyline” in this documentary is “staged” (I’m just that distrustful of documentaries, especially documentaries by narrative filmmakers centering on themselves), few relationships in this world are probably as pure, artistically charged, and loving without being romantic as Varda and JR.


*NB Dec 2018: I have now been lucky to witness one of JR’s artworks in person. Bless up!

What a Happy Day It Is


I’m going to spend almost the entirety of this post gushing over what I consider to be THE cinematic achievement of 2017 (and arguably the last movie I saw that year if you live in a timezone that is not mine), so I think I can be forgiven for identifying the most frequent criticism I hear on animator Don Hertzfeldt’s last-second released* short sequel to glorious and wonderful World of Tomorrow, this one titled World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts. That criticism is essentially “it does not hold up outside of the context of World of Tomorrow, more particularly it does not hold up without watching World of Tomorrow immediately before it.”

Now, identifying that criticism does not mean I agree with it. Certainly, people would enjoy World of Tomorrow better with the knowledge of having seen Episode Two and it’s probably a lot easier to catch all the neat continuations of World of Tomorrow‘s visual anchors with the first short film fresh in your head, but Episode Two is certainly its own standalone story with its own insights on humanity and its own abstractions of those emotions into gorgeous technicolor seas washing together to fill the screen and sharp digital lines of various forms.

That said, Episode Two is soooooooo very much rewarding with the context of its predecessor in many ways. For one, much as Hertzfeldt made clear how tough it was to craft a new narrative from the new audio recordings he took out of his 5-year-old niece Winona Mae, there’s not only a challenging yet coherent narrative out of Episode Two, there’s also an evident growth from the last time we saw Mae’s character Emily Prime, rendered as a stick figure like every other character Hertzfeldt ever animated who isn’t a Simpson. There’s a lot of room for a little maturity and confidence between ages four and five, as Emily will indicate when a new adult clone of Emily (animator Julia Pott again) with a 6 on her forehead and a clangy metallic machine on her back suddenly barges into the child’s peaceful drawing time with a lot more urgency behind her “HELLO EMILY” (or is that just the fact that every line Pott delivers from this heavily damaged being is so loud and heavy? She still retains her mostly emotionally stilted line readings like before, still a huge strength) and Prime responds to her presence with a frank “you have to sit down, okay?”.

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I don’t want to go to far into what follows that introduction of Episode Two on a narrative sense (I will try to keep things thematic instead) because it’s so eventful and full of wonderful surprises, but I will explain how the middle ground into the same arresting colorful backdrops of dynamically undefinable computer generated shapes comes from ours and Prime’s entry into the mind of the clone. And if you thought the universe Hertzfeldt gave us in World of Tomorrow was dysfunctional, at least that one had real-world logic to it so we could recognize a rock when we see it or what part is the ground. Here, Hertzfeldt takes advantage of the opportunity to frequently glitch (both in on-screen and on the soundtrack) and leave remnants of visuals well after it’s communicated that the character or object is not there anymore to establish the fragile and impaired state of the being whose memories and emotions we are exploring.

And those memories and emotions are the product of a feeling of incompletion and dishonesty to one’s identity (indeed Emily Six’s existence as a clone/storage unit to Emily’s experiences is what gives her the titular “Burden of Other People’s Thoughts”), visually represented by backgrounds with gaping angular holes in them either interrupting an otherwise colorful scene with big spots of empty black or cracking a monochrome shot with chaos underneath it all. The uncertainty of our character at one point causes the colors to bleed in an artificial and digital way and it is the moment when it is clear Hertzfeldt has now mastered the usage of computers for his animation style. The force with which he deconstructs already unstable settings with dissolves and superimpositions** and aggressive revolutions of vertical smoke and clouds in dark tones of purple and red (Taylor Barron is credited for those clouds and, man, the movie would not nearly feel as urgent without them) is reminiscent in my mind of “Part 8” in this year’s return of Twin Peaks***, a rivaling attempt to translate intangible interior sensations such as depression and pain and loneliness into pure stimuli for the viewer. It is then no wonder “Part 8” and World of Tomorrow Episode II are the only competitors for the Best. Damned. Thing. I. Watched. in. 2017. The difference, other than moods since Hertzfeldt has never been as dark as David Lynch, is that Twin Peaks‘ anchor is the context of the TV series itself and Episode 2‘s anchor are distinct character presences. We’re here not only to sink into the mindframes the visuals lull us into, but in turn to recognize how that is the way the apparently blank Emily Clone 6 feels before we dig into the why.

Did I not mention this movie is funny? I promise it is, even despite what I just described.

Indeed, the more time we spend within the clone’s mind, the more we realize “oh this piece of scenery is her memory” and the clearer it is what the elements on her person, like the “6” and the bracelet across her wrist are AND what they happen to mean to her, neither of which are very happy answers. I don’t have trouble guessing that the way Hertzfeldt tried to cheat his way around Mae’s mostly unconnected lines is by crafting the true crux of the narrative around Emily Six (indeed, there is a span of time where Pott is the only voice in the film and it’s the most structurally clean moment in the film, though it also contains the broadest humor in the work – which is still hilarious if not very surprising – rather than the joyous randomness of Mae’s presence) and it means that we’re privy to more sadness surrounding the first 2/3 of Episode 2‘s 22 minutes.

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The last third, though, oh my Odin. Let me count the ways in which it accelerates World of Tomorrow Episode 2 into my heart as a wonderful blanket for the soul. First, we witness the full clout Mae gets over Hertzfeldt’s story in two moments (one of which preceeds that last third, mind you) where she ends up giving resolutions we would expect to this dense and dark depth into questions about existence we never want to ask. And in the way that only a five-year-old child could possibly do. Second, by that hand, Hertzfeldt indulges in simple yet bright and playful (and so much cleaner) designs full of cotton-candy-colored energy and life while retaining the still-impeachable logic that the setting would need, acting a foil to all of the fearfulness we saw before (it also is maybe the most rewarding sort of callback to the first World of Tomorrow and I feel like even being vague about how is kind of a spoiler). And third is by a lovely sequence of fluid movement and animation lifted up by The Nutcracker‘s compositions, not only surprising for a stick figure, but particularly for Hertzfeldt who has never in his career given us anything to imply he could make his characters so graceful and flowing as he does within the last few minutes of Episode 2 and probably could not have done so if he hadn’t finally mastered the digital technology with which he now animates.

It’s at once a shining moment of unexpected versatility on Hertzfeldt’s part but a beautiful tear-welling moment of catharsis after an exhausting 22 minute journey. It’s not often that you see an artist who will bravely dive deep into the sort of melancholy and gloom that Hertzfeldt is more than familiar with at this point and still rise effortlessly back up into unabashed optimism and inner peace. It’s possible that he couldn’t do it without the help of the innocence of his niece’s imagination and that is kind of one of the conclusions The Burden of Other People‘s Thoughts lands on: that while it doesn’t do to live in the past, even when it hurts us, there is still a solace in our childhood we ought to embrace and remember. But that is only ONE conclusion of many The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts holds in its treasure trove and here’s hoping more can be pulled out before the next Hertzfeldt comes to surprisingly top this one (I didn’t think World of Tomorrow could be topped and yet here we are). I have only scratched the surface in my first two viewings.

Oh, I watched it twice. Did I mention that? On the same day.

*A last second release that probably cost it a spot on the shortlist for The Academy Award for Best Short Film, Animated and that shit is GOING TO STING for the rest of my life.
**Again, Hertzfeldt’s usual M.O.
***For those who read this asking when I will return to my David Lynch retrospective, STinG is not here at the moment but if you leave a message, I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you, bye bye.

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My Favorite Self-Writings of 2017

Anton Ego

Happy New Year everybody!

I highly suspect 2017 was the year I did the most filmwriting in, like… ever. And that’s surprising because it was a film year I wasn’t very impressed by, but still that puts me in a good damn position to lay out my favorite film writings of the year (including the ones as part of my new tenure on The Film Experience) as we’re moving beyond.

Living for the City – In which I diverge from my short-lived attempt at reviewing every Best Picture Oscar winner in a row to vouch for the unjustly snubbed by Academy history Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.

Relationship Goals – In which I list my favorite couples in movies and still miss more than a few that would have made the list (like Morticia and Gomez Addams). Maybe this coming Valentine’s Day I can fix that.

The Heart of the World – In which I try to mention a history of women in cinema.

In Which I Push Myself to Acknowledge Inspiration – In which I talk about my artistic inspirations in writing, music, and film.

Little Green Planet – In which I provide just a little gallery for Earth Day.

Be Our Pest, Be Our Pest… Put My Patience to the Test – In which I am so exasperated by my hate for Beauty and the Beast that I opt out of a proper review and just list the (numerous) things I hated and the (few) things I didn’t.

25 for 25 Epilogue – In which I sum up my 25 for 25 review series (my suggestions for any readers would be Night of the Living Dead, Close-Up, Seven Samurai, Repo Man, Stop Making Sense, or Begone Dull Care)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – In which I give a passionate defense for the dismissals of Atomic Blonde as a superficial film.

Resident Evil: A Bloody Valentine – In which I wax rhapsodic over the collaborate power of Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson and how it provided one of my favorite horror movie presences of all time.

This Is Halloween – In which I describe what Halloween looks, sounds, and feels like to me and how that translates to movies.

Salim Gives Thanks – In which I give my Thanksgiving thanks about certain things in pop culture.

Rian Johnson: A Star Wars Story – In which l excitedly lay out the rise of Rian Johnson to the position of directing and writing a Star Wars film (boy was that excitement turned into disappointment)

Christmastime Is Here – In which I lovingly explain what makes A Charlie Brown Christmas an annual tradition for me.