Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Movie Review: A Wrinkle In Time (PG – 109 minutes)

The book, A Wrinkle in Time, was write by Madeleine L’Engle, and was first published in 1962.  I remember reading it when I was in middle school, but honestly, I don’t remember much about the story, other than it was a little confusing.  It was adapted for a made for TV movie in 2003, which L'Engle was displeased with as it removed her overtones about Christianity. 

This version is directed by Ava DuVernay.  The story starts with young Meg, studying with her scientist father as he explains various frequencies.  Mr. and Mrs. Murray are both scientists, and are studying…well, I’m not entirely sure what they are studying. Frequencies, space-time, folds, the ability to travel light years in seconds using your mind, etc.  Mr. Murray is talking with Meg, and talking to her about the arrival of her new baby brother, who is about to be adopted. We flash forward several years, to the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Mr. Murray. 
Meg is now struggling in school, and her younger brother, Charles Wallace, is extraordinarily intelligent, so he’s being bullied.  And because Meg is now sad and withdrawn, she’s being bullied – so it’s just bad for everyone.  Apparently Mr. Murray vanished after he and his wife gave a talk at a science symposium of some sort, and he went a little off-topic insisting that traveling through these ‘space-time wrinkles’ or ‘tesseracts’ was possible.  Immediately thereafter, he successfully ‘tessered’ and disappeared.  Four years later, Charles Wallace has been talking with Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which.  The Mrs.s are three celestial being who have heard a call for help across the universe, and come to Charles Wallace, Meg, and her random friend Calvin, to come assist find their father, who they believe made the call. 

This leads to a cross-universe adventure during which the children successfully tesser with the Mrs.s to several planets, and finally find out that their father is on Camazotz, which is the center/home base of all darkness in the universe.  Meg has to battle her own lack of confidence to save her father and bring light back to the universe.
Ava DuVernay has done an incredible job with the look of this movie. It is stunning and luminous.  The story is a little confusing, but I think that has more to do with adapting a confusing book than with the movie itself.  Apparently she chose to remove some major pieces of the book, including Meg's other siblings, and the Christian tones.  I did want a little more explanation of the details and the science to what was happening - incidentally, the trailer above has a whole explanation that was not in the final movie! How exactly do you 'tesser'? Why is Meg looking like she is drowning in white sheets in the beginning, but by the end is surrounded by lustrous CGI ribbons? Again, it’s a kids story/book so that’s not as important. Along with the visuals, the costumes on the three Mrs.s are fantastic.  They are outrageous and beautiful, and change with just about every scene. The casting is divine, everyone is perfect for their roles.
  • Storm Reid plays Meg, and she is going to have an incredible career. She’s so charming and genuine, and when she is down and getting bullied at the beginning of the movie, her performance was heartbreaking. Also, on importance of representation – as a nerdy biracial girl who wears glasses – the lead of this movie being a nerdy biracial girl in glasses resulted in me crying through the first several minutes of this movie.  

  • Oprah Winfrey plays Mrs. Which, a very Oprah-like celestial being who seems to be either super large, or regular size, and offers advice and guidance to Meg.

  • Reese Witherspoon plays Mrs. Whatsit, the celestial being who first shows up to get Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin started on their adventure.  She seems unconvinced of Meg’s potential at first.

  • Mindy Kaling plays Mrs. Who, a celestial being who has evolved past language so only speaks in quotes, until she doesn’t anymore.

  • Levi Miller plays Calvin, and after showing up abruptly, is super supportive of Meg on the trip, even if not super helpful. Also – He looks enough like a young Ashmore that I had to double check the credits to see if the Ashmore twins have a younger brother. Apparently not.

  • Deric McCabe plays Charles Wallace, and while he was charming and precocious, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him once (SPOILER ALERT) he gets possessed by the IT, but I did enjoy that the love between he and Meg was what saved him.

  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Dr. Kate Murry, and she has little to do, but manages to do a wonderful job with what she has – conveying how much she loves and misses her husband when explaining to Calvin what happened.

  • Chris Pine plays Dr. Alex Murry, and again, not a ton to do but get annoyed that no one believes his theories, then get scared as he proves himself right.

  • Zach Galifianakis plays the Happy Medium, who the travelers visit to get some guidance on their journey. He helps Meg begin to realize that she can overcome her own self-consciousness to accept her own strength and succeed.  At least, I think that’s what he was doing.  He was also functioning as some comedy relief.

Overall, the movie was just fine.  The pacing was a little strange – at some points it felt like it was moving too fast, and at others, too slow.  There’s little to no explanation given for anything, again – I suppose that’s fine for a kids story, but I could have used a little more information here and there. Since a lot of the marketing embraced the "Be A Warrior!" part, I was expecting more battling/warring to be done.  I'm not sure that campaign made much sense. Meg is a 'warrior' in the sense that she does fight the darkness to bring back the light, but mainly within herself.  The movie looks lovely, and the overall message seems to be that everyone is worthy of love, and that love and light will heal the universe, so hey – I can definitely get behind that.

6 out of 10 – Gained points for Michael Pena! Lost points for not enough Michael Pena.
The trailer for the 2003 version - with Alfre Woodard!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Movie Review: Game Night (R – 100 minutes)

In 1997, there was a Michael Douglas movie called The Game, in which Douglas’s character is given a birthday gift by his younger brother, played by Sean Penn.  The gift is a game that basically ends up being life or death.  Why bring that up?  That movie kept popping into my head while watching Game Night.  This movie is from the same production team behind Horrible Bosses, which is hilarious and worth a watch if you haven’t. 

Game Night follows the story of Max and Annie, a couple drawn together because of their furious competitiveness playing various board games.  The movie begins with a montage showing how they met and got married intermingled with various game nights.  We then jump to present day, where Max and Annie are prepping for a game night and attempting to avoid their creepy police officer neighbor Gary.  When Gary was still married to his wife, Debbie, they came to game night. However, they have since divorced, and Gary hasn’t exactly taken it well, so Max and Annie spend a lot of time avoiding him.  They are also meeting with a fertility doctor as they are trying to have a baby.  The doctor seems to pin down that Max’s sperm isn’t great as a result of his stress about his brother coming into town to visit.  His brother, Brooks, has always been more popular, more charismatic, more successful, etc.  And now he’s coming to game night.

Max and Annie invite their friends, Kevin and Michelle (a married couple who were each other’s childhood sweethearts), and Ryan, who brings a new friend from work, Sarah.  Brooks eventually shows loudly arrives in a fancy new car, which draws Gary’s attention, ruining their plans to not let him know they were having a party.  After an evening in which Brooks humiliates Max in front of everyone – he insists on hosting game night at his house next week, promising something above and beyond.

The next week, everyone arrives at Brooks’s giant house, and he sets up a murder mystery game night.  Telling the group this ahead of time, they don’t react when some burly guys come in and kidnap Brooks.  Then an ‘FBI Agent’ comes in to give them files to help them solve the case.  Eventually they begin to realize that Brooks was really taken, and the rest of the night becomes a mess of trying to figure out what is real, what is fake, and what needs to be done to rescue Brooks.  Spoiler alert – it all has a happy ending.

The movie is directed by John Francis Daley (yes, from Freaks and Geeks and Bones) and Jonathan Goldstein.  It’s well-paced, and each character has just enough development that you are interested in them, without pulling focus from the two leads. The strength of the movie is absolutely the cast and the way they play off each other.

  • Jason Bateman plays Max, and honestly, if you like Jason Bateman – you’ll love him in this. He excels at “sarcastic straight man” in a comedy – something he perfected on Arrested Development and it fits perfectly here.  The subplot about him being stressed, and maybe not really wanting to have a baby felt a little forced, but ended up not overpowering the story, just another piece of the character. 

  • Rachel McAdams plays Annie, and I was a little surprised by how well she handled the comedy.  The age difference between her and Bateman felt noticeable, but they did pair well, and the chemistry of two really competitive people was believable.

  • Kyle Chandler plays Brooks, and was charming and popular, right up until he wasn’t anymore. It’s not a shift that is surprising, because you can see it coming, but he still manages to play that well.

  • Billy Magnussen plays Ryan, one of Max and Annie’s friends who keeps bringing over dumb ‘instagram model’ types to the game night montage.  He plays the pretty and dumb guy – but not dumb enough to be annoying, just clueless enough to be funny, and still genuinely concerned about his friends.
  • Sharon Horgan plays Sarah – Ryan’s Irish guest, who proves to be a breath of fresh air from his typical date night guests.  She is a co-worker of his, and while it seems that he originally brought her to win the game, the two begin to form a genuine bond over the course of the evening.

  • Lamorne Morris plays Kevin, and Kylie Bunbury plays Michelle – they have been a couple since grade school, and always come to Max and Annie’s game nights.  Their side plot is that during the course of preliminary games, Michelle lets it slip that she one time slept with a celebrity, even though they’ve been together forever, so the rest of their evening is them attempting to solve the game, while also solving how they both feel about that event.  It could have gotten painful or forced, but again, it manages to stay an interesting subplot – with a hilarious pay off.

  • Jesse Plemons plays Gary, the next door neighbor police officer, who is so creepy that he is no longer invited to game night after his divorce.  The lengths that Max and Annie go to prevent him from finding out they are hosting are really funny.  He steals every scene he’s in by just being creepy enough to not make you hate him, but almost make you feel for him – it’s a really fine line, and Plemons walks it well!

  • Michael C. Hall shows up briefly as the Bulgarian, an international criminal after a Fabrege Egg. Danny Huston shows up even more briefly as Donald Anderton, the current possessor of said Egg.
  • Chelsea Peretti plays Glenda, the secretary of the murder-mystery game night company, while an uncredited Jeffery Wright plays the “FBI Agent” working for the company.

Overall, the movie is short, simple, and entertaining. The cast elevates the material to make for a fun outing.  It’s worth a watch, but not necessarily at the theater.
7 out of 10 – Also, rewatch The Game, which is not nearly as entertaining, but is definitely way more creepy.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Movie Review: Black Panther (PG13 – 134 minutes)

In Marvel comics, Black Panther first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 in July of 1966 (predating the creation of the Black Panther political party by about three months).  He was the first black superhero leading his own line of comics.

In the MCU (the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Black Panther first appeared two years ago in Captain America: Civil War on team Iron Man, not because he was all that supportive of Iron Man’s point of view, but because he believed the Winter Soldier killed his father, and the Winter Soldier was on Team Captain America.  Eventually he learned the truth (that Helmut Zemo killed his father) and ended up taking Bucky back to Wakanda at the end of that movie for mental reconditioning, healing, and recovery, because let’s face it – Bucky was a mess. 
This movie begins with a pre-credit sequence detailing the history of Wakanda in a story told from father to son illustrated by what I would call Vibranium smart-sand, which pops up again and again in the movie.  Wakanda was founded by five tribes over and around a Vibranium meteorite crash site.  Originally the tribes were at war, but a member of the Golden Tribe had a vision visit from the Panther goddess Bast, who told him to eat the heart-shaped herb and be infused with panther powers – he became the first king of Wakanda and unified the tribes, all except a sixth tribe called the Jabari, who moved out to the mountains, uninterested in being ruled. 

The story then picks up almost immediately after the end of Civil War as T’Challa is heading back home for his own coronation, and stops along the way to pick up his ex, Nakia.  Nakia is a Wakandan “war-dog”, one of the spies they send out into the world.  She is mid-mission, infiltrating a group that seems to be kidnapping young girls.  T’Challa interrupts, and asks her to come home with him, much to the amusement of Okoye, the general of the Dora Milaje (the all-female warriors that protect the king and family.  They head back home, and we get our first glorious look at all of Wakanda.
After meeting with his mother, Queen Ramonda, and his sister, Shuri - T’Challa goes through the ritual of being stripped of his powers by his advisor Zuri to welcome any challenges from any of the other tribes (River, Merchant, Mining, or Border – he’s from the Golden Tribe).  None of them want to challenge, but the Jabari tribe comes down out of the mountains, and their leader, M’Baku challenges.

Okay – from here on – spoiler alert, I will not ruin anything major, but just be forewarned.

After forcing M’Baku to yield, T’Challa gets to ingest more of the heart-shaped herb to get back his panther powers and visit the ancestral plane to have a chat with his dead father about how best to be king.  The conversation isn’t all that helpful, but the plane is beautiful.  T’Challa also gets to walk around Wakanda, trying to talk Nakia into staying with him and potentially being his queen (she’s not interested - she loves him, but knows that she can do more to help people outside the very closed borders of Wakanda), as well as visit with his best friend W’Kabi, who is leading the Border Tribe warriors and helping raise their war rhinos.  Yes – war rhinos.  Okoye gives everyone the heads-up that Ulysses Klaue has resurfaced to sell some Vibranium he pulled out of a British museum with the help of mercenary Erik Stevens.  After picking up some awesome new tech from Shuri (who on top of being the princess is also a genius inventor) T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye head to Bosun in South Korea to interrupt the sale of the Vibranium from Klaue to Everett Ross, undercover CIA guy.  Recognizing each other, T’Challa and Ross first try to convince each other to back down, then help each other out. After an incredible action sequence, Klaue is rescued by Stevens, and T’Challa has to make some decisions as to what step to take next and what kind of king to be, whether to continue to keep Wakanda isolated and alone as they have been in the past, or to reach out and assist those struggling in other parts of the world.

From this point forward, I’m not going to say anything else about the plot – you need to see it. Director Ryan Coogler has assembled a powerhouse of a movie that is absolutely a Marvel comic movie, but is also something else.  The story is compelling, the characters are interesting, and I was surprised at how great the action was! Coogler helmed Fruitvale Station and Creed prior to this, both of which are excellent dramas with tremendous performances, but neither has what I would call typical action sequences.  Black Panther has an incredible small battle in the beginning, an amazing fight sequence followed by a car chase in South Korea, multiple wonderful hand to hand combat pieces, and a giant final action set piece that is astounding, even if it has a touch too much CGI.  I really enjoyed all of the characters, and Coogler outdid himself by assembling one of the greatest casts ever.

  • Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa, and really does provide the calm, stoic, heart to this movie.  His performance is understated when compared to some others, but that fits with the character as T’Challa struggles with his new role.  The one scene he really gets to let go and show some emotion is in his second visit to the ancestral plane, when he confronts his father about a lie, and error he made.  T’Challa realizes that his father is not flawless, and simply following that lead as king is perhaps not the best path.  At that point he truly decides to be his own type of king, and really shines from that moment on.  Boseman is exceptional, and has signed a five-movie deal with Marvel, so I cannot wait to see him in Infinity War, and the next Black Panther movie.

  • Michael B. Jordan plays Erik Killmonger (Stevens), and by now you’ve heard that he is one of the most compelling Marvel villains to date.  He’s compelling because while he seems fueled by rage and hate, the cause of that rage and hate is completely understandable.  His goal to arm oppressed people of color everywhere with Wakandan Vibranium weapons makes sense when you consider where he came from, and what he has had to overcome.  Encountering his anger allows T’Challa to revisit his father’s policy of isolation, and formulate a path that incorporates some compromise between the two viewpoints.

  • Lupita Nyong’o plays Nakia, who is very clear on the fact that she believes Wakanda should be doing more to help people all over the world.  She is refusing to stay and be T’Challa’s queen because she knows how useful she can be in other places.  It will be interesting to see what happens with her character as she does become a bit of a villain in the comics.

  • Danai Gurira plays Okoye, and she stole every scene she was in.  Those who watch The Walking Dead know she is completely badass as Michonne, even when stuck under a terrible wig.  Here, unburdened by terrible wigs except in one scene (which is brilliant), she is phenomenal.  She absolutely is the greatest warrior in Wakanda, something that is never in question, and her devotion to the throne is stunning, even when she herself wants to question it.  Her non-verbals are the best part of her performance, not just in the hand to hand action sequences, but in the side-eye and glances she gives to other characters.  She’s exceptional.

  • Daniel Kaluuya plays W’Kabi, and he does a great job, but he’s just a little too understated for his character’s (spoiler alert) loyalty flip.  Klaue killed his parents, and he’s been after him for thirty years, and when T’Challa fails to bring Klaue back, W’Kabi seems disappointed – and I think a little more anger would have helped to make his sudden association with Killmonger later on feel less sudden. 

  • Angela Basset plays Ramonda and is every bit the Queen you expect her to be.  Proud of her son, then terrified when Killmonger drags her husband’s past errors back home with him. 

  • Letitia Wright plays Shuri, and every scene that Gurira has not already stolen, she steals.  She is absolutely one of, if not the, best parts of the movie.  She is completely natural and believable as the younger sister of the king, who is absolutely the smartest person in the kingdom, responsible for all the tech, weapons, transportation, and all other devices used by everyone.  She is very much the “Q” of Wakanda, but so much more in that she also will not hesitate to join a battle when necessary.  She is absolutely the star of this movie, and that becomes even more important when considering all the little girls who will see this movie and want to be like her.  In the comics, she eventually becomes Black Panther for a while – I really hope she gets to do that in the movies as well.

  • Florence Kasumba plays Ayo, and she’s the one Dora Milaje who was featured in Civil War (“Move. Or you will be moved.”).  Here, she’s number two to Okoye, and is striking and proficient in battle.  She also has some interesting story lines in the comics that they may bring into later movies.

  • Winston Duke plays M’Baku, and at no point is he called Man-Ape, as he is in the comics – which was a good choice on their part. He’s large, imposing, and after losing his challenge in the beginning, comes back to help save T’Challa after his loss to Killmonger. At no point was I ready for M’Baku to be hilarious, helpful, and one of the most enjoyable parts of the movie!

  • Forest Whitaker plays Zuri, royal advisor, and heart-shaped-herb grower.  Eventually he has to tell T’Challa about his role in the whole N’Joba/Killmonger backstory, which he really regrets. 

  • Martin Freeman plays Everett Ross, and provides just the right amount of comic relief in some tense sequences.  I found him completely believable as a quiet company man who is used to being the smartest man in the room, but can also adjust when he learns he is not. 

  • Sterling K. Brown plays N’Jobu, King T’Chaka’s brother who in the early 90s was stationed as a war dog in America when they were both younger.  He becomes angry and sad at race relations in Oakland, where he is located, and he first comes up with the plan to give Wakandan weapons to oppressed people.  However, he makes the mistake of partnering up with Klaue to steal the vibranium from Wakanda – trusting Klaue was a mistake, as he blew up a bomb at the border, killing many people.
  • Andy Serkis plays Ulysses Klaue, and (spoiler alert) he doesn’t make it through this movie, which is really too bad, because he is really entertaining.  He gets to be huge and over-the-top with his performance because those around him have to be more stoic. He’s an out and out moustache-twirling bad guy, but the performance elevates would could have been simply cookie cutter.

  • John Kani plays T’Chaka, and while he plays him only on the ancestral plane, that’s important, because that’s where he gives T’Challa advice, or just tries to defend his choices.  And the reason the younger version of him in the flashback sequences looks so much like him is that is John’s son. 

It is also worth mentioning the costumes, music, and look of this movie.  Kendrick Lamar created some really great songs that punctuate different points of the story, and the drums and African-style beats to the score help to round out the feel of the film.  The costumes in particular are incredible.  Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter ensured that each tribe is given their own trademark color and look, based on traditional African tribal characteristics.  My favorite of those was the Lesotho style blankets that the border tribe wear.  They are beautiful, but their true purpose is demonstrated once they step into battle – they are actually shield projectors!  Every detail of this movie is striking like that and in a really smart play, the movie basically requires multiple viewings so that you can take it all in! 

And yes, let’s mention the cultural significance.  Similar to Wonder Woman’s significance last year, this movie has the incredible fortune and burden of being ‘just another comic book movie’ - but also the incredibly important first depiction of a black superhero in his own mainstream movie.  I love Blade, and those movies were awesome, but I wouldn’t necessarily refer to them as mainstream – and besides, all rated R, so definitely not for kids.  Blade curses a lot.  Representation matters, and now little kids of all races get to see a non-white hero – and in particular little kids who are black get to see a hero that looks like them in the Cinematic Universe they love.  Not only Black Panther himself, but there is a wealth of incredible female roles in this movie for little girls to look up to and admire.  They span aspirational aspects from Queen, to Warrior, to Scientist, each more well-rounded and defined than the next.  These characters and this movie are incredibly important and overwhelming when you think about it in that light.  In fact, the one moment of the move that really made me tear up was the very end, when a little boy walks up to T’Challa, looks at him in amazement, and says, “Who are you?!?”  It’s a simple moment, but it’s also incredibly powerful.

10 out of 10 – go see it. If you’re already seen it, go see it again.  No, it’s not flawless (there’s a little too much CGI in the end battle, and a couple of beats that don’t flow as smoothly as others), but the few flaws are easily overpowered by the parts that are just incredible.

Bonus – the behind the scenes featurettes that were released did an amazing job of really pulling in an audience before the movie was released, check them out. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Movie Review: I, Tonya (R – 120 minutes)

Tonya Harding was well known as a champion figure skater, and as someone who would often come up against the “establishment” in figure skating – she was more rough around the edges, unlike the classically trained women in the sport prior to her arrival. An ‘incident’ prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics where her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was bashed in the knee by an assailant became the defining moment of Tonya’s career, for better or worse.  The degree to which Tonya was involved in the incident has been widely disputed.  This movie takes the story, and tells it in a ‘documentary’ style using interviews with the actors in character, as well as some fourth-wall breaking by characters during the scenes. 

The story starts in 1970s Portland, Oregon where four year old ‘white trash’ Tonya is living with her abusive mother, LaVona, when her father leaves them.  The only thing she is good at is figure skating, so her mother pulls her out of school and she begins to train with coach Diane Rawlinson. Tonya has incredible natural skill, and rises quickly through the ranks, but never quite reaches the top.  Her homemade costumes, exceptionally difficult attitude, and questionable choice in performance music holds her back. 

At 15, Tonya meets and starts dating 18 year old Jeff Gillooly.  Despite LaVona being against the relationship – they eventually get married so that she can get away from her mother.  In Tonya’s interviews, she states that Jeff started beating her right away, in his interviews, he denies that.  Eventually, Tonya becomes the first female skater to complete a triple axel jump in competition.  She has a falling out with her coach, who she fires, and moves on to coach Dody Teachman to prepare for the 1992 Winter Olympics. At the Olympics, rattled after attempting to leave Jeff, she misses most of her jumps and finishes fourth. 

Distraught, Tonya heads home and becomes a waitress.  Diane shows up to tell her that the Winter Olympics are shifting so that the Winter and Summer games will no longer be in the same year, so the next games are in 1994, instead of 1996, and she wants to train her.  Tonya, reinvigorated, starts training.  During a training session, she receives a death threat.  Jeff, and his moronic friend Shawn Eckhardt, consire to hire two complete idiots to attack Nancy Kerrigan, thinking that will throw her off her game, and Tonya will have a better chance.  Tonya seems to agree with the plan when she thinks it is just sending Kerrigan a ‘death threat’ in a letter format.  Jeff also seems to think it is just letters – but the two idiots go after her with a metal baton, bashing her knee.

Eckhardt brags about the event, swiftly getting busted by the FBI – he blames Jeff, who claims he knew nothing about it, but is also questioned by the FBI.  Tonya finally leaves Jeff for good – claiming she knew nothing about it, and having qualified for the Olympic team.
Tonya comes in 8th at the 1994 Olympics after some issues with her skate laces.  Kerrigan wins the silver medal.  Jeff, Eckhardt and the henchmen all get jail sentences, and Tonya gets booted from figure skating for life.  Tonya becomes a professional boxer for a while, eventually remarrying and settling down with her son and husband.

The story is insane, even more so because it is true.  I absolutely remember all of the ‘incident’ when it first happened and the incredible scandal it caused in the community.  This movie manages to be funny and creepy at the same time.  It does have a strange problem in that all of the characters are horrible, so there’s no “hero” to the story. The movie tries to get Tonya some redemption, but it fails because she is complicit with the attack plan on Nancy – even if she claims she only knew about letters, and refuses to acknowledge any blame.  I enjoyed the fake documentary style – and I was grateful that they included some of the real interviews over the end credits.

  • Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding, and did train for four months to do as much of the skating as she could. However, the skating scenes are a little off, because you can tell when it’s not her, but overall, she does an amazing job of giving some humanity to this person who everyone has written off as a media creation.

  • Sebastian Stan plays Jeff Gillooly, who in the interview portions presents himself as calm, collected, and misrepresented.  In the scenes based on Tonya’s interviews, he’s a violent and angry loose cannon who blames her for everything and beats her for no reason.  It’s a difficult role, and he plays both sides in a creepily good fashion.

  • Paul Walter Hauser plays Shawn Eckhardt, and he is irritatingly hilarious. He has somehow convinced himself that he is an internationally-trained special operative and bodyguard. He’s the “brains” behind the plan, and by brains, I definitely mean lack-thereof.
  • Allison Janney plays LaVona Fay Golden, and she is exceptionally horrible.  She treats Tonya terribly, all the way through to the very end. Even the one moment of niceness she has turns out to be trying to take advantage of Tonya for a story. It’s a great role for Janney, and she does an amazing job.

  • Julianne Nicholson plays Diane Rawlinson, and does an amazing job of trying to simply be a calm trainer at the center of Tonya’s storm.  She is really interesting as someone who does believe in Tonya’s skating skill and wanting to help that come to the forefront.

  • Caitlin Carver plays Nancy Kerrigan – she has very little to do as this story is not really about her, just about events that happen around her.

  • Bojana Novakovic plays Dody Teachman, Tonya’s second coach, the movie spends very little time with her, and she disappears when Diane comes back into Tonya’s life.
  • Bobby Cannavale plays martin Maddox – a Hard Copy producer – who seems to have all the details that the characters cannot provide.  His hair cracked me up – I’m sure it is true to the character, but it’s hilarious.

Overall, the movie was entertaining, and perplexing – in a good way, if that makes sense.  Every character is completely despicable, but I really enjoyed the interview style, as it allowed each character to have a difference viewpoint of the situation.  

6 out of 10 – interesting, and well done with some great performances, but left me with the same creeped-out feeling I get when I watch anything in which I hate every character.

Bonus – Cast Interviews:

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

2017 Year in Review

Oscar nominations were released on January 23rd, and that’s always the perfect time for me to use my love of Excel Pivot Tables to tell you which movies the Academy thinks you should see, based on number of nominations. And then counter that list with the movies I think you should see, based solely on my opinions.  I felt like the nominations for Best Picture this year was one of the more tolerable lists in recent years.  Usually there are several that I will just flat out refuse to see, this year, there seems to be only one (I don’t care what you tell me about Phantom Thread, I’m not interested).

In any case, enjoy the below lists – because everybody loves lists – I hope it helps you decide what to stream (I used to say ‘rent’ – we’re in the future!).  As always, I’ve added Honest Trailers by Screen Junkies and Sins videos from Cinema Sins whenever possible, be sure to ‘like and subscribe’ for both of those, because they do some great work. Also – the descriptions in italics are from IMDB, because they can often summarize faster than I can.

The Academy’s List:
1.       The Shape of Water (13 nominations): At a top secret research facility in the 1950s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity. Tying the Return of the King record for most nominations, The Shape of Water has really solidified itself as the leading contender.  It’s another beautifully weird and haunting Guillermo del Toro adult fairy tale.  Stunningly acted, and extremely well crafted, all the pieces of the production come together to create a beautiful film.  I definitely enjoyed it, perhaps not as much as some other del Toro movies, but it was lovely (and weird, really weird).

2.       Dunkirk (8 nominations) Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surround by the German Army, and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.  A Christopher Nolan movie telling a tale from 1940 in World War II, this movie should win some technical awards – including the sound editing and mixing.
3.       Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (7 nominations) A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.  This movie is not based on a true story, instead it uses some reality-based tinges to tell a story about middle-America prejudices and maternal determination.
4.       Darkest Hour (6 nominations) During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.  This covers some of the same time as Dunkirk, and you have to set aside what you know about some of the horrible things Churchill did in other places at other times to see him as the hero of this story.  Gary Oldman is probably a lock for the best actor award.
5.       Phantom Thread (6 nominations) Set in 1950s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.  This is what I would call a typical Oscar-type movie, and sounds horrifically boring on almost every level.  Daniel Day Lewis has stated he is now retired from acting, so this might be the last time you see him, so if you love Daniel Day Lewis - or sewing - see this!

6.       Blade Runner 2049 (5 nominations) A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.  A beautiful looking movie that stays true to the original while extending the story in an interesting way. It’s too long, and drags a bit, but visually is amazing and does have some great action.
7.       Lady Bird (5 nominations) In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California.  No Oscar season would be complete without a pretentious coming of age story, and here’s the one for this year.  This is an unpopular opinion, but I personally did not care for it.  Now, that is not to say that it is not exceptionally well crafted. Greata Gerwig wrote a semi-autobiographical story, and directed it herself. This allows it to stay very true to its origins.  It has a great performance by Saorise Ronan, and an even better performance by Laurie Metcalf.  It’s just not in my wheelhouse, and I found all the characters annoying.

8.       Call Me By Your Name (4 nominations). In Northern Italy in 1983, seventeen year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father’s research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.  Here’s another very typical Oscar-y movie. Stunningly shot, and beautifully acted, it’s the second punch in the Timothee Chalamet combo this year (he’s also in Lady Bird).
9.       Get Out (4 nominations) It’s time for a young African-American to meet with his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend at their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambience will give way to a nightmare.  By now, you really should have seen this movie. It’s a fantastic social thriller by Jordan Peele, and has some classic horror elements, with some additional social awkwardness.  The performances are all exceptional, and the story is fantastic. 

10.   Mudbound (4 nominations) Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.  This is a Netflix movie that has been recognized with the bigger studio pictures, so it is absolutely another step in redefining where you can get your movies.  With amazing performances from Mary J. Blige and Jason Mitchell, it’s a tough story, but wonderfully done.
11.   Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (4 nominations) Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares for battle with the first order.  Since I enjoyed the Force Awakens, and loved Rogue One, I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this movie – but it really blew me away.  The performances are amazing, including Mark Hamill taking my breath away as a Luke who goes from hopeless to a source of hope for others.  Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Leia is quietly powerful, and the new crew of Resistance fighters led by John Boyega and Daisey Ridley makes me excited for whatever is coming next. Wide, sweeping shots of several new planets also take the look of this movie a step above.

12.   Baby Driver (3 nominations) After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.  Here is another one that I can agree was expertly crafted, but that I did not particularly care for. The way the music Baby is obsessed with lines up with the action is amazing, and the car chases are exceptional, I wasn’t blown away by the performances, plus it does have the extra burden of Kevin Spacey, and this one did not choose to replace him with Christopher Plummer – although thinking about that now, it would have been interesting for this movie!

13.   I, Tonya (3 nominations) Competitive figure skater Tonya Harding rises amoungst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.  A really interesting take on the “incident” focusing on Tonya’s rise in the figure skating community and battle with the status quo. The movie is shot documentary style, with each of the characters in interview settings with the scenes played out in between – with several characters stating that what was just shown was not true. It’s an interesting take on this story of a bunch of idiots.

14.   Coco (2 nominations) Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.  I didn’t see this because it felt like it was almost exactly the same as The Book Of Life (which I loved) which was released a few years ago.  I’ve been told it’s a bit different and worth a look, so who knows, maybe I’ll get around to it.
15.   The Post (2 nominations) A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government.  With a timely story and an incredible pedigree (Spielberg directed with Hanks and Streep!), you would have thought this would have way more nominations. 
16.   Victoria & Abdul (2 nominations) Queen Victoria strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim.  Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria for the umpteenth time in this story about one of her friendships.

17.   Dear Basketball (1 nomination) An animated telling of Kobe Bryant’s poem, “Dear Basketball”.  From this point down, we’re into the single nominations, and there are many more, but I wanted to keep this to a top 20, so the rest are ones I saw, enjoyed, and will recommend. This one I’m including because it means that Kobe Bryant is now an Oscar nominee, and because the poem is lovely, and the animation beautiful.  If he wins, he’ll have exactly the same amount of Oscars as Suicide Squad

18.   Molly’s Game (1 nomination) The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.  I really enjoyed this movie.  It’s written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, which means there is a lot of standing around and talking, but it’s really fast-paced and interesting.  The story is really surprising as Molly accidentally falls into a position of running these crazy high stakes games.  I also felt like Kevin Costner deserved a nomination for his supporting role as her father. He is shockingly good with very little screen time.

19.   Kong: Skull Island (1 nomination) A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden. Another one I really enjoyed – a group of soldiers on the way home from the end of the Vietnam war has to escort these scientists to a place no one should go.  With the biggest screen Kong to date, this movie really sets up what should be an epic Godzilla/Kong fight. Plus, Samuel L. Jackson.

20.   Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (1 nomination) The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage.  Easily one of the best of the year, this movie manages to be simultaneously hilarious, charming, touching, action-packed, and downright entertaining.  The performances are lovely, especially the team as they grow closer together.

My List – out of 44 seen and reviewed this year, here is what I thought was best.  And of course, by best – I mean what I found the most enjoyable, not at all speaking to quality or execution here:

1.       Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – One and Two on this list are super close for me, but The Last Jedi really closed out the year on a high note for me.  I loved the transition of Luke’s character from grumpy and hopeless former Jedi on self-imposed exile (what is with Jedis and self-imposed exiles?) to the cocky Jedi Master we saw challenge Jabba the Hutt is fantastic. I loved the development of Rey’s character – and the idea of her coming from nothing, and having developing power without owing anything to a bloodline or someone else really won me over.

2.       Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 – Again, just pure cinematic joy. I know some felt it was too long, the villain was weak, and the final battle was the same as the previous movie.  Yes, it was long, but I actually liked Kurt Russel’s version of Ego, and while the final battle was similar, that last scene between Yondo and Peter was fantastic.  Plus, let’s not even get started about Baby Groot, and how wonderful he was – especially the scene where he explains why he doesn’t like hats!  I can’t wait for the next go-round with the Guardians.

3.       Thor Ragnarok: Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally.  Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.  I loved this movie. Taika Watiti managed to completely revitalize Thor and give him what was almost a complete action-comedy.  Including several new characters, and some interesting previous characters – with the best bits of Dr. Strange so far – I really enjoyed this immensely.

4.       The Big Sick: Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gardner fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, his family’s expectations, and his true feelings.  I have no idea why this wasn’t nominated for Oscars all over the place.  It got nominated for writing, but both Ray Romano and Holly Hunter could have been nominated, as well as Kumail himself. The story is simple and straightforward, but elevated by the performances of everyone in it.

5.       Spiderman Homecoming: Peter Parker balances his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens with his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man, and finds himself on the trail of a new menace prowling the skies of New York City. This movie caught me by surprise – Tom Holland is easily the best SpiderMan we’ve had, and he has such charm and genuine-ness.  The John Hughes-ness of the high school bits of this story make sense, and Michael Keaton is fantastic as the Vulture, a character I for sure thought would never make it to a movie screen. 

6.       Girls Trip: When four lifelong friends travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling, and romancing to make the Big Easy blush.  This movie made me laugh so hard!  Yes, it’s predictable, and yes, all the drama could have been solved by better communication, but it’s the performances from the four leads that take the standard fare and elevate it into something truly special.

7.       Get Out: Again, see this movie. But, if you have the chance (they are re-releasing it to the theaters for Oscar hype) go see it in the theater. It really does make a difference to see this movie with an audience.  It really heightens the experience as everyone begins to share the lead’s discoveries that the house he is staying in is not quite what he thought it was!
8.       Kong: Skull Island: Every once in a while, you need a big, loud, creature-feature, and this one is better than most.  Kong is absolutely the king of his domain, and it was refreshing to see him just kick ass on his own island instead of being bullied, captured, and forced into a city. 

9.       The Shape of Water: This is another one on which you can believe the hype.  It’s weirdly elegant and hauntingly beautiful. Check it out, it’s really unlike anything else this past year – and who would have thought something that outside-the-box would get the most nominations? Spoiler alert - a mute lady has sex with a fish guy! And it was nominated more than any other movie! 
10.   Wonder Woman:  When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, Diana, an Amazonian warrior in training, leaves home to fight a war, discovering her full powers and true destiny.  How did this get zero nominations? If not for Patty Jenkins’s direction (which was fantastic), then at least costuming, sound editing, effects, or any other technical award that they begrudgingly give to the big blockbusters?  The movie is good – it is not flawless, it for sure has too much Zack Snyder on it, but it was entertaining, and Gal Gadot was a shining light as Diana.

11.   Molly’s Game: There is a surprising amount of crossover between my selections and the Academy’s selections this year, that may be unprecedented.  I really enjoyed this one. With exceptional performances from Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain, it was fascinating to see this woman of constant drive shift that drive from Olympic Moguls skiing to high-stakes poker. I also enjoyed doing a little digging to see who the players she didn’t mention might be, and let me tell you – if I didn’t like Toby Macguire before (I didn’t), I really don’t now.
12.   Fate of the Furious: When a mysterious woman seduces Dom inot the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.  Yes, indeed – what happens when Dom is forced to betray his family and their Coronas? Well, huge car chases and spectacular action sequences while Tyrese wise-cracks, obviously.  This one is not nearly as good as some of the previous installments, but it is entertaining enough – I enjoyed Charlize Theron chewing the scenery as a whispering cyber-terrorist, and Helen Mirren as Jason Statham and Luke Evans’s mom, and man oh man, the chemistry between Statham and the Rock?  I really want that spin-off, whether or not Vin Diesel wants to allow it!

13.   The Foreigner: A humble businessman with a buried past seeks justice when his daughter is killed in an act of Terrorism. A cat-and-mouse conflict ensues with a government official, whose past may hold clues to the killers’ identities.  This was a bit of a surprise to me, It was a little uneven, but I really enjoyed Jackie Chan’s step into a more serious role as a father who will go to great lengths for justice for his daughter and Pierce Brosnan as a shady official with a shadier past who seems to be running a shady organization, thinking he’s doing good by controlling bad.  But, as you know, you can’t control bad.

14.   The Disaster Artist: When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.  James Franco’s ongoing skeeziness notwithstanding, this movie manages to be a surprisingly genuine tale about following through on your dreams and the inspiration of true friendship.  It’s hilarious and charming, and worth a watch.
15.   John Wick Chapter 2: After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life.  Man, I really wanted to see John Wick get to go back to his quiet retirement with his new dog.  But after a former contact demands he deliver on a favor, he breaks a rule and everyone is after him.  Keanu is again amazing as John Wick, and while this one is not as good as the first, it’s still non-stop action all the way through, with the fascinating Continental playing a little less of a role.  The new dog makes it through this one.

And of course, just for fun – my personal list of the worst movies of last year.  Or, more accurately, the movies I enjoyed the least, again, not commenting on quality here.

1.       The Circle: A woman lands a dream job at a powerful tech company called The Circle, only to uncover an agenda that will affect the lives of all humanity.  Okay – this was easily the worst movie of the year for me, and I saw Resident Evil 5, or was it 6?  The extremely over-rated Emma Watson is flat and unrelatable in this story where she takes a job with a company that is pioneering the ability to watch everyone all the time, and as opposed to how you think the story is going to go (she realizes this is a terrible blow to personal freedom and takes them down from within), instead she takes down the two in charge, but works with the company to expand their surveillance even more.  Tom Hanks has almost nothing to do, Patton Oswalt tries, but has little screen time, Karen Gillan is good, but wasted, John Boyega is interesting but disappears quickly.  The story makes no sense, the acting is not great, and the movie is shot weird too.  All-around, not great.   

2.       Justice League: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.  Sloppy and uneven, this is just not my Justice League, and that would be fine if the movie was better.  Batman would never assemble the league, Superman just needs to be left out in the yellow sun if injured that badly, and Wonder Woman should have more to do.  As opposed to Man of Steel and BvS, there were parts of this I liked: I am intrigued by this Aquaman, and am looking forward to his stand-alone. I enjoyed some of the humor they tried to incorporate. I enjoyed the more action-packed Alfred, and the introduction of Cyborg.  And Superman, near the end of this (in the Joss Whedon portions) finally gets closer to being the Superman I am familiar with.  The rest of it is sluggish, confusing, bleak, and why is the villain all CG, why not cast a big dude in a suit?  The Snyder-verse continues to make one bad decision after another. 

3.       The Great Wall: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.  I will say that I did enjoy a lot of this movie – it needed to do away with the “European mercenaries” entirely and just be a Chinese epic historical fantasy movie set in medieval China. I liked the creature design, and the way the soldiers were designated by color and role, but every time Matt Damon was on screen, it just pulled me right out of the story.

4.       Geostorm: When the network of satellites designed to control the global climate starts to attack Earth, it’s a race against the clock for its creator to uncover the real threat before a worldwide Geostorm wipes out everything and everyone.  Sometimes movies like this are so bad they are good – this one is just so bad.  Gerard Butler tries his best, but honestly, there’s no way I buy him as a brilliant scientist responsible for weather controlling satellites.  The movie is rough, but it’s almost worth sitting through it for the final confrontation between Ed Harris and Andy Garcia. 

5.       Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand different planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.  I really loved The Fifth Element, and was looking forward to a return to Luc Besson’s weird view of future-space.  This is just a beautiful mess.  Some of it looks great, but the story makes no sense, and the two leads are incredibly unlikeable.  I do wonder what it could have been with some tighter editing and different leads – I suppose we’ll never know!

There were others last year that I also did not enjoy (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Kingsman 2, The Mummy, etc.), but we’ll keep it to five.  Overall, a pretty great year movie-wise, and like I said – I don’t know that I have ever had so many in my top list cross over with the academy’s list. Hopefully that’s a trend that continues, if the academy can continue to broaden its definitions of what is Oscar-worthy!