2017 Oscar Predictions

The Oscars are this upcoming Sunday, and some of the categories will be closely contested while some are apparent landslides.  How many will awards will “La La Land” win and will “Moonlight” get any serious recognition? For this article, I go through some of the major categories and make predictions for who will win and who should win in.  I’ve given explanation for the big five categories, but just gave simple predictions for the lesser categories that the casual audience may not pay as much attention to.

Best Picture:

Nominations: Arrival; Fences; Hacksaw Ridge; Hell or High Water; Hidden Figures; La La Land; Lion; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: Moonlight

For the most part, I agree with the nominations for this category. I think “Hidden Figures” and “Lion” were lucky to sneak in here ahead of films such as “Loving” and “American Honey” and “I, Daniel Blake.” At this point, I would be very surprised if the Academy gave the award to a film that wasn’t “La La Land” or “Moonlight,” with “La La Land” being the favorite because it’s the type of film that the Oscars love to award. It pays homage to great musicals of past and is wonderfully directed, but it’s not a better film than “Moonlight” so I think there’s still a chance that “Moonlight” might rightfully snatch the win.

Best Director:

Nominations: Arrival; Hacksaw Ridge; La La Land; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: La La Land

While I think “Moonlight” is a superior film to “La La Land,” it is impossible to deny the great job that Damien Chazelle did with “La La Land” and he should be rightfully recognized for his great direction. Again, there is a slight chance that Barry Jenkins of “Moonlight” might slip in with the win but I don’t foresee that happening. I don’t understand Mel Gibson being nominated here for “Hacksaw Ridge.” It’s a good movie but Denzel Washington would have been a better nomination for his work with directing “Fences.”

Best Actor:

Nominations: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea; Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge; Ryan Gosling, La La Land; Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic; Denzel Washington, Fences

Who Will Win: Denzel Washington, Fences

Who Should Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

It’s a complete joke that Ryan Gosling is in this list of nominees quite frankly. His performance was the most significant fault in “La La Land” and almost ruined the movie for me. I will be beyond angry if he somehow wins. But this is actually an interesting race. Casey Affleck is the clear winner to me, but Washington picked up the SAG award and 18 of the last 22 SAG winners have gone on to win the Oscar.

Best Actress:

Nominations: Isabelle Huppert, Elle; Ruth Negga, Loving; Natalie Portman, Jackie; Emma Stone, La La Land; Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Who Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land

Who Should Win: Natalie Portman, Jackie

I would like to preface this by saying this is one of the best collections of actresses we’ve had in this category for some time so I would like to commend everyone on this list. The academy is going to give as much as they can to “La La Land” this year and I won’t be entirely disappointed if Emma Stone wins. I think she did a much better job than I anticipated of her and think she is a deserving winner. But Natalie Portman should be the winning her second Oscar this year for her amazing work in “Jackie.” The movie would have been very lackluster without her, similar to Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady” and I would love to see her pick up her second Oscar win after winning for “Black Swan” in 2010.

Best Supporting Actor:

Nominations: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight; Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water; Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea; Dev Patel, Lion; Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Ali was amazing in “Moonlight” and had un-matched charisma on screen that helped get the movie flowing in the opening third. While I loved Jeff Bridges’s character in “Hell or High Water” I don’t foresee him winning. The only role that could challenge Ali would be Dev Patel from “Lion,” but I think that the Academy will want to make up for snubbing “Moonlight” of Best Picture by giving Ali a golden statue.

Best Supporting Actress:

Nominations: Viola Davis, Fences; Naomie Harris, Moonlight; Nicole Kidman, Lion; Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures; Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Who Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences

Who Should Win: Viola Davis, Fences

Viola Davis is an acting tour de force and will win this category with ease. She remains one of my favorite actresses in Hollywood right now and she rightfully deserves to win this category by a landslide.

Best Cinematography:

Nominations: Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, Silence

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: Arrival

Best Animated Feature:

Nominatons: Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, Zootopia

Who Will Win: Zootopia

Who Should Win: Kubo and the Two Strings

Best Costume Design:

Nominations: Allied, Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them, Florence Foster Jenkins, Jackie, La La Land

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: La La Land

Best Documentary (Feature):

Nominations: Fire at Sea; I Am Not Your Negro; Life, Animated; O.J.: Made in America; 13th

Who Will Win: O.J.: Made in America

Who Should Win: 13th

Achievement in Visual Effects:

Nominations: Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Rogue One

Who Will Win: The Jungle Book

Who Should Win: The Jungle Book

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Nominations: Arrival; Fences; Hidden Figures; Lion; Moonlight

Who Will Win: Fences

Who Should Win: Moonlight

Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

Nominations: Hell or High Water; La La Land; The Lobster; Manchester by the Sea; 20th Century Women

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: La La Land

“Don’t Breathe” Review

There’s been a resurgence of quality horror/thriller films in recent years, despite the general quality of the film industry appearing to fade. Films like “The Witch,” “It Follows,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and “The Babadook” have all taken tradition horror themes and adapted with innovative storytelling, subsequently creating an atmosphere of modern horror that we haven’t seen much before.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t still bad horror films out there, because there are many rotten eggs still floating around. The recent film “Rings” was so underwhelming I don’t even want to write a review for it (consider this my warning to stay away from it). I don’t normally love horror films as a whole, but even I have to admit there has been some quality products in the past couple years that I recommend every give a chance. But the one area we haven’t really gotten a chance to explore in a while is the home invasion film.

Growing up the first real thriller film I watched was Shia LaBeouf’s “Disturbia,” a film about a young man on home arrest who thinks his neighbor is a murderer and breaks into his home to find out. It wasn’t the most amazing cinema of all time, but it was definitely above average and will always hold a special place in my heart, as I’m sure it does for other viewers around my age. But since then, the only major home invasion films we’ve had are “The Strangers” (which was average) and “You’re Next” (which was decent but had it’s faults).

With “Don’t Breath,” though, we finally get a home invasion film that stands up the quality of other recent American horror/thrillers. “Don’t Breathe” focuses around a group of three friends who decide to rob a man who lives on a quiet street, and go in with confidence based on the knowledge that the owner of the house is blind and aging.

After assuming they had used gas to make the unnamed “Blind Man” unconscious, the three aren’t as concerned with being quiet, but carelessly wake the Blind Man up. After tragic events occur, we realize just how dangerous and crazy this Blind Man is, and the hunt begins.

This film adds interesting elements to the home invasion genre with its heightened sense of suspense. Having a character that can hear you but cannot see you adds drawn out suspense to shots you wouldn’t be able to have under certain circumstances. In other home invasion films, the main character spends their time hiding, but in this film, the characters often share the same room as the Blind Man and the question of whether or not they will be noticed is dragged out in heart-pulsing fashion.

At the core it’s a very innovative storyline, but I was concerned that it would develop into a repetitive routine of try to escape, get found, tension, survive (or not), repeat but this film’s story has a surprisingly level of depth. Twists you don’t expect and added complications give this film a far more satisfying story arc that easily holds the audience engaged for entire run time. Plus there’s actually some life written in these characters as well, which is more than can be said for many horror films.

It’s creative, engaging, and shot with the perfect amount of lingering shots to build up tension without making the movie feel as if it’s moving too slowly. Your heart is pumping the entire time and the story knows not to overstay it’s welcome. “Don’t Breathe” is a modern American horror classic and is able to compete with “It Follows,” “The Witch,” and “The Babadook” for the title of best horror film in recent years.

Don’t Breathe (2016): 3.5/4 stars

Hidden Meaning of Inception’s Ending

*Spoiler’s ahead*

Inception was one of the most popular films to come from 2010, which makes sense given the overwhelmingly popular cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Paige, Tom Hardy and director Christopher Nolan fresh off his Batman trilogy success. The film’s fame is also helped with the unique and infamously complicated plotline involving entering the dreams of those they wish to steal from. Throw in the fact that Leo’s character, Dom, is banned from the United States because of a framed murder and you have a storyline that resonates with a variety of audiences.

But despite all these fame-inducing components, one of the standout moments from the film is the ambiguous film ending thrown in unexpectedly by Nolan. Throughout the film, characters use “totems” or various items that help them identify when they’re in a dream or not. Dom’s totem is a spinning top that never falls whenever he is a dream state. At the end of the film, the last shot lingers on the spinning top and as it seemingly begins to falter, the screen cuts to black and we never get to see whether or not it actually falls. This obviously drove audiences mad as they began to debate whether or not Dom was actually able to return to his children in the end of the film or if it was all actually a dream.

I was recently in a film class where we discussed this film as a whole, and the conversation naturally gravitated to this particular moment due to it’s controversial nature. The classroom was split with each person giving out his or her own opinions on if it was a dream at the end or not.

But for me, whether or not Dom is in a dream state at the end isn’t the point of the spinning top as the final shot. Nolan definitely wanted to put this ending in because he thought that it would cause controversy, something that he loves to include in his films over his career. But enticing this argument is not the primary job of this shot.

Throughout the film, Dom is plagued with the inability to realize when he is in a dream and when he is in the real world since he has been in so many different dream states and broken some unspoken rules about creation in dreams. There are scenes when he is drenched in cold sweats desperately reaching for his totem to remind himself of where he actually is. This paranoia haunts his character for the entirety of the film.

This last shot of the totem spinning is intended to display Dom’s closure within himself rather than let the audience know if what is happening is real. Immediately after spinning the top, he walks away from it and doesn’t bother to make sure it falls before moving on to see his children. This disregard for the outcome of the totem shows that Dom doesn’t care whether or not he is in a dream at that given time. All he cares about is that he is finally happy and at peace with himself and his life, whether it be in a dream or in reality. The paranoia that tormented him throughout the film has been dispelled and he can finally get along with his life and start to defy the demons of his past.

I don’t doubt that Nolan intended to create controversy, but this ensuing discussion amongst audience members only distracts from the real meaning by the ending of film. While it appears to have surface-level ambiguity, it actually delves much deeper than that.

Find Dory Review

For over two centuries now, Pixar Animation Studios has been the leading force in creative animated filmmaking by churning a multitude of captivating storylines and uniquely engaging characters. One of the best films to have come out of this production studio is undoubtedly “Finding Nemo,” a film that rose to critical and commercial acclaim due to its colorful animation and the diverse group of characters and clever puns that have become expected of Pixar over the years.

In the early 2010s though, after the release of “Toy Story 3,” it seemed that Pixar was starting to run out of ideas with the releases of more somewhat unwarranted sequels (Cars 2), prequels (Monster’s University) and less powerful film entries (Brave). In 2015 Pixar made a bounce back with their release of the masterpiece “Inside Out,” which is easily one of their best entries of all time, rivaling the likes of “Toy Story,” “Wall-e,” and “Up.” In 2016, they attempted to continue that form and build on the success of “Finding Nemo” with their latest release: “Finding Dory.”

“Finding Dory” was unfairly brought into the cinematic world at a time when it was set up for disappointment. Not only did it have to contend with being the sequel to “Finding Nemo” but it also had to follow “Inside Out,” so the expectations were higher than for your average Pixar release. I was nervous going into this film because of these high expectations and wasn’t sure how Pixar would handle them. Thankfully, they came through with another solid film.

I am a firm believer that it is nearly impossible to create a sequel that will surpass the original, so sequels need to be taken with that in mind (the only better sequels that initially come to mind are “Aliens,” “Terminator 2,” and “The Dark Knight”). This rule is important to acknowledge when watching this film because it definitely falls short of the bar set by its predecessor, but that shouldn’t take away from the overall quality of this wonderful adventure.

The characters aren’t quite as well written, the adventure isn’t as vast, and the dialogue could be improved in comparison to the original, but it still does better than most animated films in these departments. The story relies more on themes of self-belief, family inclusion, and the importance of home being with those who you love. These themes ring true in the first film, but are on display in a much more obvious and well-constructed manner in this sequel.

The plotline is still strong and engaging, invoking a similar level of emotional resonance as most Pixar films do, and the characters are still funny and unique in their own ways. Also, as always, the animation quality is top notch. Any person who is a fan of Pixar films won’t be disappointed by this entry into their ever-growing list of animated gems.

Is it as good as “Finding Nemo”? No. Is it still a good film worth seeing? Of course. It’s a quaint, pleasant film that’s great for passing the time and will still warm the hearts of many audiences.

Finding Dory (2016): 3/4 stars

“Doctor Strange” Review

We’re at a point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where most of the characters have been established and the production company of Marvel Studios is now in cruise control with tossing out new movies every summer while working on finding the best way to combine their seemingly infinite amount of characters into a variety of films in order to raise more ticket stubs. And props to Marvel because they are by far the best at getting people to show up again and again to see their movies because, for the most, they do a decent job of making superhero films.

Of all the superhero films I’ve seen (excluding “The Dark Knight”), I have liked Marvel films the most. The first “Iron Man” film engrossed me when it came out and I fell in love with Tony Stark as a sort of anti-hero that progressed into a semi-anti-hero by the end of the film. I enjoyed the visual wonder of Thor and think that the second Captain America film is one of few sequels that actually manages to surpass the original. But over the years, I’ve grown tired of superhero films.

Many superhero films follow the same exact plotlines, have similar stories, and lack a sort of originality to them that would you find in most other genres of cinema (most being the key word; I’m looking at you horror films). After the release of the first Avenger’s film, I haven’t enjoyed a Marvel film besides “Captain America: Civil War.” The other films I find to be mundane repeats of the same exact thing over and over again and lacking in any new sense of excitement, which is why I was very excited to check out this new Doctor Strange film.

Doctor Strange had a lot of potential to be different for me. Instead of being some person who was born with superpowers or lived in a different realm, he was a regular person who had his life turned upside by a car accident and was forced on this path of self-exploration to give meaning to his life (kind of sounds like Batman doesn’t it?).   While most of the Marvel films deal with the physical world, “Doctor Strange” prides itself on dealing with the unseen world to most humans, working in separate dimensions and involving people casting spells and whatnot. While it may sound kind of silly, I’m not against it because at least it’s something different.

And working with these differing dimensions and laws of physics leads way to some of the most wonderful visuals I’ve seen on a modern film. It takes notes from Inception in the way that it bends buildings as if in a dream like state, with characters adapting to changes in gravity faster than the eye can follow. There’s a multitude of beautiful colors and images that are glorious to look at and make the movie worth seeing all on its own. I can’t give the visuals enough praise.

Sadly though, that’s about where my praises for this film stop. While I love the idea of an anti-hero and think that the arrogant Dr. Strange does have that potential to him, he consistently felt like a poor man’s Tony Stark with his exotic house and fancy playboy lifestyle. Tony Stark is a far superior version of Stephen Strange.

Secondly, despite the film being innovative and mainly working in different dimensions, the film follows the same painfully dull and generic path that every recent Marvel film follows and that makes the film quite boring in places. You know exactly what will happen before it happens and that ruins all of the fun. Also it falls in the typical Marvel pitfall of wanting to be too preachy, specifically about the whole “the world doesn’t revolve around you and saving lives is important” theme. It’s hammered into the audience’s mind again and again by various characters to the point where I want to smash my head against a wall in a similarly repetitive fashion.

Finally, given all the potential for really cool fight scenes that are exemplified through the main arc of the film, the finale is supremely underwhelming. The villain is too one-dimensional of a character for us to have any interest in; we legitimately know nothing about him. Maybe if they had bothered to spend more money on a better screenwriter and less on the visuals we might have had a halfway decent villain and the film would have been more interesting as a result. The run time doesn’t reach over two hours, so there’s more than enough room to add extra dialogue or backstory for characters without risking the film being too long.

Now granted, I will give Marvel credit for also giving us good background knowledge about their main characters and developing evolutionary based arcs for their journeys, which is the primary fault of every DC film since the turn of the century that hasn’t been directed by Christopher Nolan. They do make origin stories at least somewhat interesting, but they are a slave to the box office and their own precious formula, which has become overworked and mundane by this point. While the visuals are masterful to say the least, the story proves to be just too boring at this point in time and Marvel needs to learn to break the rules and be more adventurous if they want to stay relevant in years to come.

Doctor Strange (2016): 2/4 stars

Captain American: Civil War Review

For anybody who’s been hanging around me recently, or reads a majority of my reviews, it’s not secret that I’ve become tired of superhero movies, especially Marvel films. Every superhero movie is the same basic storyline but with a different superpower, seemingly indestructible character, or obscene villain. Marvel are the worst because every one of their superhero movies is covered with a sugar coating and takes no risks in challenging conventional superhero movie themes or even attempts to make a film that discusses deep emotional topics in any depth. Granted there are few superhero movies that can achieve this feat, with “The Dark Knight” being the only one that is able to be a crime noir and superhero movie simultaneously. Marvel films tend to be entertaining but have no emotional substance that sticks with you after the movie and follow a basic formula that makes money but creates nothing new or innovative. Marvel’s idea of innovation is “how many different superheroes can we put in one movie to get the most money.” “The Avengers” was not innovative in the slightest, and actually had annoyingly dull plot for any person that could get past seeing the plethora of action heroes on the screen fighting side by side.

“Captain America: Civil War” didn’t start well. The opening action sequence had all the major pitfalls that modern summer blockbusters have in the fact that there was just too much going on, and some of the characters that have no powers seem to be immortal. I can’t imagine Scarlett Johansson can slide off a motorcycle and just move straight into a sprint. She has to have a least some skid marks on her legs and maybe she’s more badass than I am but I would need to take at least a two minute breather after having that happen to me. I was worried this was going to be another movie that was all about action and seeing heroes fighting each other without having any relevant story, but I was wrong.

This movie has the strongest plotline of any Marvel Cinematic Universe film since “Iron Man” (excluding the X-men films). There are discussions of terrorism, public hysteria, accountability, family, betrayal, and difference in views on justice. It took the accountability discussion that “Batman V Superman” started and advanced it further, which wasn’t exactly a difficult task to accomplish. At the end, though, I was still annoyed. This movie has a two and half hour run time and it asked all these tough questions, but was scared to answer them. Instead of expanding and finding an array of answers for the themes it discusses, such as family, friendship, and betrayal, it decided to waste about forty-five minutes of run time on actions sequences that would bring in large audiences and cash the checks.

That disappoints me. We’ve all seen these actions sequences before and they rarely change from movie to movie. What we haven’t seen is an in depth analysis of the relationship between these characters, and we almost had it in this movie. Yet, we didn’t. Marvel is clearly a studio that cares more about making money than making anything of substance. “The Dark Knight” sticks with people after they watch it, but no Marvel film has done that with me except for the first “Iron Man.” I would love to see what would happen if they gave this story over to an independent studio that wasn’t concerned with making money or breaking box office records because I think we would have a much better story than what we were given. The movie is at its best when the characters are interacting with dialogue about their responsibility and place in the world, but we just don’t get enough to make this movie an incredibly worthwhile experience for me. I wasn’t upset that I saw this movie and it definitely wasn’t a waste of money, but I have no desire to see it again and I will view it as a great opportunity missed. It provides moments of good entertainment and there are strong sequences when the focus is on the dialogue, but it has too many pitfalls for me to fully enjoy it.

 

Captain America: Civil War (2016): 2.5/4 stars

Underlying Message in “The Jungle Book”

Growing up as a young child, I had a select set of movies that I loved to watch. “Toy Story,” “Lion King,” “Hercules,” “Bug’s Life,” and the timeless “The Jungle Book.” When I found out that there was going to be a live action remake of the film, I could hardly contain my joy and anticipation to see this film. I saw the film this weekend and it met all of my expectations; it was beautifully made with seamless incorporation of special effects and live-action acting. The voice cast is abundantly brilliant: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, and Idris Elba- who just might have the most immaculate voice to ever come from the British Isles. The sounds, the sights, and the excitement were all there, and “The Jungle Book” has become one of my favorite films of 2016 so far.

The movie is phenomenal in its ability to bring me back to childhood- that sense of innocence and joy. I fell in love with the marvelous array of characters for the first time and there is so much more to this movie than what is on the surface of the screen. This film is so much more than a remake of a timeless classic, more than just a way to help young adults relive their childhoods, and more than just a showcase of special effects brilliance. This film has an underlying message about what it truly means to be a person and humans are capable of. For those that have not seen the remake yet, the film focuses more on the protagonist, Mowgli, than the adventure and the music that is synonymous with the original. While these two elements play a key role in the movie, watching Mowgli grow as an individual is the most prominent story arc, a stark difference from the animated original. Mowgli has lived his entire life in the jungle trying to fit in. He has ideas, creativity levels, and ingenuity is not found in the jungle and is not expressed by the animal species that he calls his family. Throughout the entirety of the film, Mowgli is told by a majority of the characters that he cannot use the tools and inventions he makes because they simply are not made for animals to use. Man’s inventions led to fire, which is a prominent form of destruction and concern for the animal species living in the jungle. Mowgli is encouraged to suppress his ingenuity in order to fit in better with those around him. In the end, however, it is this inventiveness that becomes the tool that allows him to be the strong protagonist the film needs.

Watching this film reminded me a lot about our current situation. We have the ability to create so many amazing things. We can go to the moon, travel internationally without difficulty, create these brilliant works of architecture, and erect cities that seemingly defy logic. But, we also have the potential to cause massive harm to the world around us. Just as the fire can destroy the jungle in the film, our inventions can and have had drastic impacts on the world. We are reaching a point of desperation in terms of salvaging the health of the natural world because of our ignorance and desire to keep creating more. Despite this fact, this film serves as a timely reminder that while we may be prone to causing harm to the world around us, we have the capability to make things right again. With our creativity, unique sense of innovation, and necessary tools we can right the wrongs that we have caused and create a world in which we live in harmony with the natural species around us. We are special because we have the ability to create so much good in our lives. If Mowgli was able to create a way to save the jungle, we as a people can come together to create a way that will save our planet. This film, on the surface, may be a simple remake of a beloved animated film, but it has so much more to say in the way of showing us our true potential as human beings. And I think we can do right by that message.

Full Review of the movie to come later

Batman V Superman Review

It baffles me that Zack Snyder keeps getting paid to direct these potentially successful movies because he has proved to us time and time again that he simply doesn’t know how to direct a movie. He has no concept of pacing, can’t handle combining tones in any way, and seems to think that you can solve an issue by adding in an over extravagant action sequence or a different villain to the plotline. The only somewhat decent movie he has made is “Watchmen,” which in retrospect was only vaguely interesting due to the brilliance of the source material. “300,” “Sucker Punch,” and “Man of Steel” are all wastes of time for anybody that wants to be entertained by a movie, and “Batman V Superman” is no different. All the things that are wrong with Zack Snyder’s directorial tendencies are present in full force for this overlong, boring, and completely irrelevant superhero spectacle.

The premise of this film revolves around the fallout of two superheroes after the events that transpired in “Man of Steel.” The movie actually does a decent job of posing some strong argumentative questions in regards to Superman in a modern context. Who does he answer to? Is he too powerful to be trusted? What are we to do if he turns against us? All of these questions match the security driven paranoia of modern America that has arisen from the increased threat of terrorism. But the movie only asks these questions; it never bothers to attempt to answer them in anyway throughout the film. A gigantic opportunity missed with that one there. The story even has some interesting elements to it, but it never finishes half of the plotlines it creates and decides in the end to drop all reason for the sake of an action filled finale. Just as in “Man of Steel,” mass destruction in the final half an hour is considered to be a key point of entertainment, but all it does is make the first two hours of this film feel completely pointless. Nothing of any real significance happens for the first two hours and then the last half an hour tries to erase the boredom with excess action that turns out to be more frustrating than invigorating.

No character gets any justice in regards to development, especially Lex Luther. Luther is a character that was played rather well in my opinion by Jessie Eisenberg, but was one that was always there rather than one that was able to develop. Another big opportunity missed. The mood is completely wrong as well. A movie that contains Superman and Batman should be one that is at least somewhat fun and happy, just like Whedon did with “The Avengers.” I want to have fun when I go see a movie containing two of the biggest superheroes of all time, not depressed by the gravity of sullen cloud cast over every shot. Because Snyder is completely incompetent at combining seriousness with light-hearted moments of comic relief, we are given a two and a half hour long film that is filled with nothing but bleak moments that depress and bore the audience to the point where all interest is lost. It’s as if it tried to have the deep, complex emotions that Nolan was able to produce in his Dark Knight trilogy but tried to replicate it to such an extreme that it failed miserably.

There are some decent moments in the film, I will admit. The way they introduced the new characters for the upcoming Justice League film was well done. Again, Eisenberg was entertaining as Lex Luther, I didn’t entirely hate the older and grittier Batman that Affleck was portraying, and I thought this version of Alfred did a strong job of following the great performance from Michael Caine in the Dark Knight trilogy. Still these are trivial up sides for a film that clocks in at two and half hours in length and has so many things wrong with it. Maybe if Snyder learns how to mix various moods and figures out that the answer to solving an issue with the plot isn’t by adding another villain or twist situation, then this movie could have been somewhat enjoyable. The superhero movie genre is on the decline and this utter failure was a massive setback for an industry that is struggling to remain original.

batman-v-superman

Batman V Superman (2016): 1/4 stars

City of God Review

Whenever it comes to cinema entertainment, the American public has an obsession with drug related crime dramas.   Movies like “Goodfellas,” “Traffic,” and “Scarface” all owe at least some of their commercial success to the appeal that is the drug industry in movies. Many people rarely feel the effects of crime and gangs in their every day lives, so being able to see it on a movie screen makes it all the more interesting to the viewer. “City of God” is another movie that has its entertainment factor increased by this allure brought about by the topic of drugs and gang violence. Instead of taking place in America, however, this film takes place in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The other main difference between this film and other films that pertain to the drug trade is that this film doesn’t glorify that particular industry as much. Yes, the film is entertaining in its brutality, but none of the characters are driving fancy cars and living in large mansions such as in “Scarface.” It is a means of survival and a way to obtain a sense of respect, rather than to rise to the upper echelons of society’s elite.

While drugs are the center theme upon which this film revolves, there are many other underlying themes of power, respect, maturity, and friendship scattered throughout an extremely layered plot, which, while complicated, is never overwritten. While the entertainment comes from the violence and unique setting of the film, what truly makes this film great are all the individuals stories of the various characters and being able to watch as each character grows and evolves with his surroundings. How each character interacts with power with which they have been given and the rise or decline in morality that comes with an increase in power makes for an extremely riveting character study.

The acting may not be superb, but it has a realistic amateurism to it that makes the film more relatable and that much more human in a sense. Having non-professional actors can sometimes put more heart and soul into a film, and “City of God” is a prime example of that effect working to full force. The film is also shot in a very unique way, with every shot seemingly filtered with a variety of orange or blue that adds to the almost surrealist feeling surrounding the characters and the city in which they reside. This lifestyle is foreign to us, and the production enhances that feeling even more. The production also makes it more fun and puts a slightly lighthearted atmosphere on a rather serious and emotionally brutal film that leaves little room for hope and a true sense of happiness.

The film aligns rather well with the themes of classic Italian neorealism in the sense that the events portrayed on screen are not sugar coated in anyway. The film is harsh, realistic, and extremely violent because it portrays what life in a drug-trapped world of Brazilian slums would feel like. This isn’t a movie that was made purely for entertainment purposes, but rather, it was to show the world what the conditions of some of the people, especially children, living in Brazil have to deal with each and every day. It is a vicious cycle of poverty and violence that is even more difficult to escape with the false promise that drug lords and gang members can provide to a young adolescent that has yet to fully experience being a mature adult. Being able to kill another person doesn’t make you mature, yet some of the characters in this film falsely prophesize that notion.

For criticisms sake, the movie does feel like it runs just a tiny bit longer than it should, although none of the events in the script ever feel forced. It is filled with so much horror and disturbing content that it can be tough to take much away from the film other than the brutality of it all since most of the other emotions tend to be completely overrun by the feeling of shock that is experienced. Despite this though, the film is incredibly realistic and makes it a movie that, while painful to watch, is always engaging and feels much more relatable than other drug crime dramas that have been released in recent years.

City of God photo

City of God (2001): 4/4 stars

Reflection on Amelie

When watching most films that are produced in Hollywood today, they all follow a similar formula: introduce the characters, follow a linear plot line, climax, and ending. Some films can stray away from this linear trend; “Memento,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “Atonement” all had disjointed methods of telling their story in terms of events happening chronologically, but in the end they all make sense and come together when the credits roll. We don’t see as much abstract filmmaking anymore. It’s hard to find events happening for no reason with any explanation, simply because the director wants something to happen. There are hints of this lost surrealist and impressionist magic that used to be so prevalent in French cinema while watching “Amelie.” While it does still follow a relatively understandable story, there are certain events and moments in the film that feel as if what we are watching what could be a dream, something that doesn’t quite make sense but still connects to the context of the film enough for it to make sense and be accepted by a somewhat general audience.

I rather enjoy this method of filmmaking because for me, watching movies serves as an escape from the real world. Just as falling asleep into a dream can be an escape for some, becoming consumed by a particular world created on a screen is a relaxing escape for me. When watching surrealist influenced cinema, this feeling is enhanced further, and a sort of magic that only comes about from movies begins to take shape. Most modern movies have lost that sense of magic in my mind, which is a shame because I can’t see it ever making a comeback with the mindset that the current public has towards films and the economic forces driving the American film industry. These various creative techniques aren’t fully utilized by modern directors for fear that general audiences will reject the concepts and images as not mainstream enough to be successful in a film industry that is controlled so much by economic success.

As much as I love this abstract and unique way of making films, there is a pitfall in the removal of a more relatable human element because all art, including cinema, should be created to tell a story or portray a human emotion that puts the human experience into a personified form. By creating these events that have no relation to or distract from the center story piece of the film, it can create this sense of a false reality that ultimately takes away a human element from the heart of the film. It becomes harder to relate to the characters on an emotional level when they are viewed as a figment of a dream rather than a real person that can form a connection with a general audience. This film brings about some conflict for me because it reminds me how I enjoy both of these somewhat different elements of cinema and how hard it is to combine the two. While this film does a relatively good job of combining these two ideals, repeating this is no easy feat and is one of the reasons why this movie is so brilliant in my mind. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing a slight return to prominence for surrealist film techniques in modern cinema.