Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

     The Magnificent Seven follows the story of a lone gunman named Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) who teams up with six other gunmen to take down a greedy tycoon (Peter Sarsgaard) who looks to dictate a poor village.

    What manages to make the film work so well is its actors and thankfully so because if their performances weren't up to task, the whole movie would fall apart. Denzel Washington was very good (Although when is he not good?) while Chris Pratt proves why he is destined to be a movie star because his energy and charm lights up each scene he is in. But two other standouts, in my opinion, were Ethan Hawke and Byung-Hun Lee as Goodnight Robicheaux and his partner, Billy Rocks, respectively. Even if their bond isn't dialogue driven, they still had good chemistry together.

    I also want to applaud the film for having such a diverse cast. Not only that but, minus a minor rape joke, I feel that these characters were treated with plenty of dignity. Even the lone female character played by Haley Bennett, who bands the Magnificent Seven, is given more dignity than most of the female characters in Suicide Squad who are either fetishized, abused, and unable to emote or speak without a male influence nearby.

    Even though the film doesn't have much action sequences, it is able to make up for that by not only focusing on the interactions between the characters but how they use their smarts and their wits in order to save the day. Ensemble action films could learn from this one and its focus on character.

    Oddly enough, as a result of the film not having much action, it allows the film to move at a slightly glacial pace, proving itself to be a blessing but also a curse.

     The plot is also a little too simple but thankfully, the film is aware that it's simply a fun action film and a throwback to old Westerns. Lastly, while I do applaud the film for having diverse characters, I still feel like I wanted to get to know them more.

     Overall, The Magnificent Seven is a rather simplistic Western actioner. But it makes up for its simplicity with its chemistry from the main cast and its simplicity also manages to make the film all the more enjoyable.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Oscar Watch: Fences (2016)

The Tony Award-winning play Fences by August Wilson finally makes its way to the big screen and stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis who previously won Tonys for the roles they are portraying. So we already know they are going to nail and inhabit their roles.

Judging by the trailer, I think this could be a strong Best Actor play for Denzel Washington. It looks to be a very bombastic and demonstrative performance from him which is the kind that voters often love. It also helps that Washington is a very beloved figure, having won 2 Oscars and been nominated a total of 6 times. Viola Davis is also very beloved, having won an Emmy, a Tony, and 4 SAG Awards. There should be an Oscar on her mantle somewhere.

A while ago, I did a post on the debacle of Viola Davis' category placement. But depending on the role she has, she could go Lead. The trailer doesn't focus as much on her as it does on Denzel. But she did go Lead for The Help even when she could've gone Supporting and ended up almost winning for The Help. So no matter where she goes, she could be very strong. Plus, going by the end of the trailer, she does have an emotional "scene."

The film in general looks like a strong acting showcase and is something that I'm pretty interested in. I love the two main actors and I do want to support whatever diverse stories there are out there. Stage to film adaptations tend to be pretty tricky so we'll see how the movie delivers. But regardless of the film's outcome, I think the actors will deliver.

What do you guys think? Do you think it looks like a legitimate Oscar contender and do you think it looks like a great film in general? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Oscar Watch: Passengers (2016)

 Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian have recently showed that the Academy has become willing to embrace sci-fi on a grand spectacle that it set in space. Even if Interstellar didn't get in Best Picture like the other two films did, it still landed 5 tech noms with a win for Best Visual Effects. Coming in December is another sci-fi film with Passengers starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.

 For all we know, the film could just be a case of populist science fiction that is a fun crowdpleaser for the holidays. But if it also gets good reviews, it doesn't mean it can't be both populist sci-fi and an awards contender. The Martian manages to achieve both. However, if voters are in a science fiction mood and want to go with something more intellectual and cerebral, they might lean towards Arrival which has a plot just as mysterious and despite having a budget of $50 million, feels smaller in terms of its scope.

  I wonder how it might do at the box office, though. Coming out around the same time is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which as we all know has a built-in fanbase while this one is an original idea and has a budget over $100 million. So this one can be seen as a big risk. But Jennifer Lawrence has proven herself bankable when she's not playing Katniss or Mystique. So she'll likely bring plenty of people in. But even though he's already pretty bankable, I think this'll also be a test to prove how bankable Chris Pratt is outside of Marvel and Jurassic World. 

  If it has the box office and the reviews to go all the way, it'll at least be a tech player. Best Actress may become too packed for Jennifer Lawrence to make a dent in the race despite her becoming a perennial favorite since we have other sights unseen like Annette Bening, Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, and Emily Blunt. I'd still keep an eye on her but I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't in the conversation this year. Best Actor is looking weaker so maybe Chris Pratt could achieve a "Will Smith/Harrison Ford-type" nomination where they're like "You're a charismatic movie star yet you also have prestige" and like how Ford and Smith were when they were nominated, he's currently in his prime.

  As for how the film looks in general, I am actually very excited about it. I was a little unsure how I would feel before I saw the trailer because not a whole lot of details about the film's plot were given beforehand. I still don't know a whole lot about the story but that is still something I appreciate about it. They look to be selling it with its action sequences which isn't surprising because audiences do love films with a greater spectacle and that are action packed.

   What do you guys think? Do you think it looks like a legitimate Oscar contender and do you think it looks like a great film in general? Please be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!


Monday, September 19, 2016

Oscar Watch: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Fashion designer Tom Ford made quite an arrival into the film world with 2009's A Single Man which helped land Colin Firth his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor.  Now, he has made his return to film after seven years of hibernation with Nocturnal Animals starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, and Isla Fisher.

First off, the movie does boast a terrific cast. I absolutely adore Amy Adams and I think Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favorite actors. Also, the film looks very luscious and has images that are so captivating that you can hardly look away. Except I think the Academy might look away from this. It may look intriguing and mysterious, but I think there might be too much mystery for voters to try and wrap their heads around what the film is and what it's about. Even if it has an awards-friendly cast and has a hypnotizing look to it, it doesn't always translate to awards success. Just ask the people who made Carol. 

The film is being handled by Focus Features who already has both Loving and A Monster Calls on their plate. However, both Loving and Nocturnal Animals do feature Michael Shannon so at the very least, it could be a Supporting Actor play for Shannon. The Supporting Actor category is looking very vapid with the frontrunner being Liam Neeson for Silence and that film doesn't even have a release date yet. Plus, Shannon has been getting standout mentions on reviews for this film and he's been on the cusp of a 2nd nomination, having been in the conversation for Take Shelter and 99 Homes last year where he had to have been at least 7th in the Supporting Actor rankings, having been nominated at Critics Choice, the Globes, and the SAG Awards. Actors do love Michael Shannon as he's already been Oscar nominated for Revolutionary Road, has won a few SAG Ensemble Awards for Boardwalk Empire, and he's even a Tony nominee. So he's very beloved.

The film could even compete for tech categories like Costume Design, Cinematography, Score, and maybe even Makeup. I don't know if it'll conjure up enough passion for Best Picture. But it'll at the very least be a tech player.

But what do you guys think? Do you think it looks like a legitimate Oscar contender and do you think it looks like a great film in general? Please be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Topic Of The Day: Paramount On The 'Fence' About Viola's Category Placement?

So far, the movie Fences hasn't been screened yet and in fact wrapped shooting not too long ago. So we don't know whether the film delivers or not quite yet. But it looks like Paramount Pictures could already be caught up in a dilemma of whether or not Viola Davis will be campaigned for Best Lead or Supporting Actress.

I've been reading think pieces on the possibility of Davis going Supporting and in fact, Davis' role itself has had wiggle room in the past with Davis winning the Tony for Best Lead Actress while Mary Alice Smith, who originated Davis' role won the Tony for Best Featured Actress (their version of Supporting).

But in my opinion, if Davis' role is expanded upon, then they should push her for Best Lead Actress. I'm not just saying that because I absolutely despise category fraud. But I think she should be placed in Best Lead Actress because of its significance.

By pushing Davis in Supporting, it is not only an easier way for her to win, but it would be a case of yet another African-American actress winning in Supporting, essentially being put in the sidelines, while only one in its 88 year history has won Best Actress. Davis would have a chance at winning Lead due to her strong overdue narrative and the likely strength of the performance alone so they should seize it.

Also, a Davis win in Lead would prove that not just African-American women can win such a prestigious honor, but dark skinned women as well since they aren't given the same kind of opportunities as women with lighter skin. Look at Lupita Nyong'o. She wins an Oscar and is named People's Most Beautiful Woman yet in her post-Oscar projects, we've heard her more than we've seen her. So for Davis to be the 2nd woman of color to win Best Actress and the first dark-skinned actress to do so, it would be a huge and progressive step. Even if it wouldn't fix Hollywood's diversity problem the following day, it'd be a step in the right direction.

So those are my thoughts on the whole debacle on Viola Davis going Supporting and why I think they should follow through on a Lead Actress campaign if the role is sizable enough. Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Oscars 2017: The State Of The Best Actress Race

Much like last year, Best Actress is looking to be the most exciting acting race. There are plenty of dynamic performances from actresses that have been seen so far this year yet there are still some sights unseen looking to make a dent in the race as well. I'll start off with my predicted Top 5:

1. Emma Stone, La La Land: La La Land is getting nearly unanimous praise wherever it goes from Telluride to Toronto to Venice where it won Best Actress for Emma Stone. Stone is coming off a previous nomination for Birdman and has a role that looks to play all of her best skills: She sings, she dances, she gets to be dramatic and possibly comical as well. 

2. Natalie Portman, Jackie: But Jackie which just got picked up by Fox Searchlight for a December release date also got raves at Venice Film Festival. What makes Portman such a big threat to Stone is that she's playing a real-life person, Jackie Kennedy, and while Stone may be sharing the screen with Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Portman IS her movie since she's the title character and reviews suggest that it's a strong showcase for Portman and is strong in other areas as well (Picture, Directing, Screenplay, Score, etc.). Some may feel she might be handicapped by the fact she's already won. But as previous two-time winners in this category like Hilary Swank, Jodie Foster, and of course Sally Field have shown us, when they like you, they really, really like you!

3. Viola Davis, Fences: Davis is one of the few sights unseen. If the movie delivers, then it'll easily be a Stone v. Portman v. Davis race. Mainly because Davis has something that is always a key factor: Narrative. Davis has the narrative of being overdue for an Oscar win after nearly beating Meryl Streep for Best Actress for The Help and the standing ovation she received when she won Best Actress at the SAG Awards that year shows how beloved she is by her peers and that they're aching to see her be rewarded. Also, she's playing a role she already won a Tony for on stage and when she gives interviews about her role in the film, she's talking about how she's in practically every scene, getting a head start on her campaign. She's got a lot going for her but the movie just has to deliver.

4. Amy Adams, Arrival: Amy Adams is also sadly overdue and is building a case for a 6th nomination with Arrival. While the film may be handicapped by the fact that it's a science fiction film, reviews do say that it is an emotional showcase for Adams who is said to carry the entire picture and she also has Nocturnal Animals coming out around the same time to boost her profile. 

5. Isabelle Huppert, Elle: Considered a legend and the Meryl Streep of France, Isabelle Huppert doesn't have an Oscar nomination to show for it. But that could change with Elle. Lately, we've seen a foreign language or at least Francophile contingent that got Emmanuelle Riva for Amour and Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night in this category. Also, she has Sony Pictures Classics, which was behind two of the last three Best Actress winners, at her corner and she has two other films, Things To Come and Souvenir, hitting the festival circuit. Lastly, since she is the title character, her performance IS the movie. Usually, the acting branch likes films that hinge entirely on an actor's performance. So I think she will be this year's Charlotte Rampling. 

Dark Horses:

6. Ruth Negga, Loving: The buzz on her film has been rather quiet but she has gotten standout mentions from those that have seen the movie. Also, they do like to occasionally honor a discovery in this category (Carey Mulligan, Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone, Ellen Page, Catalina Sandino Moreno, etc.).

7. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women: Yet another overdue actress, Bening has been inches away from a win before with Boys Don't Cry and The Kids Are All Right. This would be her 5th nomination but the film itself is a bit of a mystery so we don't know what kind of role she has. But she is building an overdue narrative and she is Hollywood royalty since she's married to famed legend Warren Beatty. Never discount those within the "In" crowd.

8. Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures: The film recently screened 30 minutes of footage with such positive praise that Oscar pundits like Scott Feinberg from The Hollywood Reporter have it predicted to compete for Best Picture. That could easily bode well for Taraji P. Henson who is a previous nominee for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and is on a bit of a hot streak thanks to TV's Empire. Also, it's based on a true story and has drawn comparisons to The Help which was a strong acting play with Viola Davis nearly winning Best Actress and Octavia Spencer winning Best Supporting Actress. I'd say keep an eye on her.

9. Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins: Whenever Meryl has a movie out, we sort of have to talk about her being in the Oscar conversation. I'm not as high on Streep as other pundits are because Best Actress is looking so competitive and the film itself kind of came and went. So it hasn't stuck around long enough to build any buzz. But this is Meryl Streep we're talking about here. They even nominated her for her divisive work in August: Osage County and The Iron Lady which she won her 3rd Oscar for. No doubt she is adored.

10. Emily Blunt, The Girl On The Train: Now onto someone who's been on the cusp of her first nomination. She's been in the mix before with The Devil Wears Prada, The Young Victoria, Into The Woods, and even Sicario. Yet no such luck. But this looks like a role to really sink her acting teeth into. It's certainly a very baity role as she plays a woman suffering alcoholism whle downplaying her natural beauty. But due to the film's pulpy nature, it'll need strong box office AND positive word of mouth to overcome its genre limitations like Gone Girl did. If it can achieve those, Blunt may finally be all aboard to the Dolby Theater.

Keep An Eye On These Five:

11. Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane: Already a 2-time nominee, Chastain is clearly beloved by the AMPAS. The film also has timely subject matter and judging by the title, it looks like it'll revolve solely around her character. The character might seem too cold and unsympathetic for voters to embrace but her character in Zero Dark Thirty was quite unsentimental and she still was a strong competitor for Lead Actress. So Chastain might overcome the cold factor.

12. Sally Field, Hello, My Name Is Doris: A likely play at the Golden Globes for Best Actress-Musical Or Comedy but still a reminder of how good she is in this sleeper indie hit that came out early this year. The fact she's already a 2-time winner in this category doesn't hurt.

13. Marion Cotillard, Allied: A previous Oscar winner who could be in play for her first nomination for an English language picture. The film is also set in WWII which is one of Oscar's favorite subjects. She could end up being pushed in Supporting but we shall see.

14. Jennifer Lawrence, Passengers: The film could end up just being populist sci-fi. But J-Law does have her fans in the AMPAS, having almost won a second Oscar in a row for American Hustle and scoring a 4th nomination for the divisive Joy. Her overall hot streak likely hasn't cooled off yet.

15. Rebecca Hall, Christine: Her distributor, The Orchard, may be too small and the film in general may be too dark. But she is playing a real-life person (something voters often recognize) and we've seen performances in films by small distributors appear in certain precursors (Brie Larson in Short Term 12 landing Critics Choice, Sarah Silverman in I Smile Back landing SAG, etc.). So I think she'll likely be in the mix somewhere.

What do you guys think of this amazingly competitive Best Actress race? Is there anyone you think I've missed or would like to see be in the conversation? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Oscar Watch: Miss Sloane (2016)

    Gun control is a topic running rampant in our country. Especially this year with the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the cases of innocent African-American people getting shot by the cops, and the shooting of the Voice contestant Christina Grimmie. So Miss Sloane could not have come out at a better time. You can watch the trailer here.

    Because the film seems to focus entirely on Chastain's character and how she is looking to enforce stricter gun control, I do wonder if the film will be very one-sided. I myself am in favor of stricter gun control and strongly believe that there should be background checks on ALL gun purchases. So I will probably find myself on Miss Sloane's side even if the other characters wonder if she's crossing the line.

     Since the film is so timely and it looks to be the Chastain show, Chastain could be a dark horse for Best Actress. She already has Oscar pedigree, having been nominated for The Help and Zero Dark Thirty. Also, the film has a December 9th release date. So if the film delivers, she could make the race even more competitive than it already is.

     Also, I just want to say that even though she has third billing in the trailer, I do fear that Gugu Mbatha-Raw will once again see her talents go underutilized like in Concussion and Jupiter Ascending. I do hope that I'm wrong and she has a bigger role than the trailer suggests. But we shall see. She had a stunning breakthrough in 2014 with Belle and Beyond The Lights so I'm anxious to see her get more amazing lead roles.

    Anyhow, I think the film looks promising. But what do you guys think? Do you think it looks like a legitimate Oscar contender and do you think it looks like a great film in general? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Oscar Watch: Christine (2016)


  Rebecca Hall is an underappreciated actress I have championed to break out since I saw her lovely turn in The Town as Ben Affleck's love interest. She continues to impress yet has never really caught the public's eye. Christine, which is a rare lead role for her, looks like it'll go under the radar because of its small distributor, The Orchard, but I think could still have a slight awards run. You can watch the trailer here.

  Christine is based on a true story about an anchorwoman named Christine Chubbuck who tragically committed suicide while on the air. Voters do love it when actors portray real people but Best Actress is looking super competitive at the moment with names like Emma Stone, Amy Adams, and now Natalie Portman entering the fray. Although judging from the trailer, it looks like a strong emotional showcase for Hall and she does have a big Oscar "scene." That's something voters often look for. It's usually when an actor gives a big monologue or a hysterical plate breaking or crying scene and Hall looks like she has that.

  Regardless of its awards chances, I think it looks like a great film in general. I like how Rebecca Hall is getting more lead roles that allow her to show what she is made of and I'm a sucker for films set in the 70's. At the very least, Hall could have a "Sarah Silverman in I Smile Back" type run and make it in SAG and possibly the Gothams and Spirit Awards. But I would still see it.

  What do you guys think? Do you think that Rebecca Hall could be a dark horse for Best Actress and do you think it looks like a great film in general? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

52 Films By Women: After The Wedding (2006)

   After The Wedding follows the story of a man named Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) who helps run an orphanage in India but is called up to negotiate with a businessman in Denmark named Jorgen (Rolf Lassgaard). During his stay, Jacob becomes a guest at Jorgen's daughter's wedding and when he runs into Jorgen's wife (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a labyrinth of secrets and lies becomes revealed.

   I love how director Susanne Bier chose to have the film be shot on hand held, giving it a very authentic and documentary feel. It also helps brings back the Dogme 95 movement initiated by Danish filmmakers where they established certain rules to make a film feel closer to real life without the heavy use of special effects or technical gimmicks in order to emphasize on performance and storytelling.

   There are key scenes where Bier is able to let the camera and the fast editing do a lot of the talking. One is a scene in the wedding where as the bride is making a toast and a secret becomes inadvertently revealed, the camera quickly cuts back and forth from Mikkelsen to Knudsen. So we are able to realize the twist but we don't need much dialogue to do so. I applaud Bier for not trusting her audience and hardly ever resorting to exposition to explain the ongoing storyline.

   I also want to give credit to the main actors. Mads Mikkelsen is a master at playing people who are refined in the face of chaos like in The Hunt and Casino Royale where he plays the main villain Le Chiffre. Here his refined portrayal is just as masterful. Rolfe Lassgaard to me is a scene stealer as Jorgen, a man who appears well-meaning and has a laid back feel but plays with other people as if they are his puppets. I also want to give a shoutout to Stine Fischer Christensen who plays Jorgen's daughter. In a film about a web of lies and shady secrets, Christensen brings a tremendous amount of heart and honesty.


   Overall, After The Wedding is a masterful throwback to an older filmmaking movement that understands the importance of what helps make a movie work so well. In a day and age full of redundant tentpole sequels and unneeded reboots, it is movies like this which give me hope that there are great stories out there waiting to be told.

Grade: A

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Oscar Watch: Collateral Beauty (2016)

After Concussion came and went in theaters without much awards traction, Will Smith looks like he is looking to throw his hat back in the awards race with the upcoming ensemble drama Collateral Beauty where he plays a man who becomes depressed after his life takes a downward spiral while his peers try to help him get back on his feet. You can click on the link to the trailer here.

First off, I just want to say, wow, what a cast! You have Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Pena, Kate Winslet, Naomie Harris, and Helen Mirren. Most of them have plenty of awards pedigree and with both this and Moonlight, that could bolster Naomie Harris' chances at getting nominated for Best Supporting Actress, finally joining the Oscar club. Hopefully, Michael Pena has plenty of material to work with because he is somebody whose talent has constantly gone unrecognized.

Even if this film doesn't perform well on Oscar Nomination Day, I think this might do very well at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. It has quite a starry cast and each member has a previous history with the SAG Awards. Even Michael Pena has won two Best Ensemble awards for Crash and American Hustle. 

Now onto how it looks as a film in general. I do like everybody involved and it seems like a decent type of movie to release around Christmas time since it's about a group of people trying to lift somebody's spirits. I'll probably see it because of the cast even if it doesn't become a major awards player. Whether it is a player is still up in the air. But it does look like a very emotional showcase for some of its actors and I especially applaud Will Smith for aiming for more challenging material. It seems like a good time in his career to do so and I also love seeing people like Edward Norton and Keira Knightley, who have gone off the radar for quite some time, back in the acting game again.

What do you guys think? Do you think it looks like a legitimate awards contender and do you think it looks like a great film in general? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Topic Of The Day: Movies Are Dead?

The other day, I read an article by Ty Burr from The Boston Globe where he asks whether movies have died this year because we're having such an underwhelming year for big movies.

In my opinion, even though it has been a poor year for blockbusters, it doesn't mean that movies overall have died and it definitely doesn't mean Hollywood movies have died. A lot of the best reviewed movies so far this year have been on a much smaller scale and were like diamonds that you had to dig for. It has worked on some level with films like Hell Or High Water and Love and Friendship breaking into the top 10 at the box office.

So there is an audience for original non-tentpole properties. It's just that Hollywood doesn't seem to be listening. Because it is always movies like Jason Bourne, Suicide Squad, and X-Men: Apocalypse that have big openings at number one, the message that Hollywood gets is go keep making more of them. They don't care that the formula is the same. All they want is to make their money back. They don't care if a movie is inventive. Just whether or not it makes a profit and tentpole movies are what really drive the box office.

But if you really are tired of redundant tentpole sequels, reboots, etc., my advice to you is to not see them. There is original and diverse content out there like jewels and you just have to enter the mine to dig them out. I know it can be hard sometimes because films like The Lobster and Eye In The Sky probably won't be heading to your local multiplex. But in the end, it'll be worth the search. Plus, if an original studio film does hit your local multiplex, go and see that.

In Hollywood, the top two languages are English and dollar bills. When we speak with the latter, we are sending a message of what movies we want to see. So let them know you want more original movies.

So I disagree with the notion that movies are dying just because it's mostly been a crap year for bigger Hollywood movies. Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

52 Films By Women: Frozen River (2008)

    Frozen River follows the story of a working class mother named Ray (Melissa Leo) who can barely make ends meet: Her absent husband is a compulsive gambler, she works part time as a store clerk, and her children live off of popcorn and Tang for food. But when Ray meets Lila (Misty Upham) who smuggles illegals to the U.S. from the Canada to the New York border, she begins to find the journey to keep her head up above frozen waters to be treacherous.

  The film's greatest strength lies in its two main performances. Melissa Leo gives perhaps the best performance of her rather eclectic career as Ray, a loving mother who sees her morality become corrupted yet not once does Leo dwell on the melodrama or beg for out forgiveness. Misty Upham is a scene stealer as Lila, an indigenous smuggler who seems like a perfect match for Ray because she is just as hard nosed and refuses to be a pity figure. However, because Lila is already involved in the smuggling business when we first meet her, her moral conscience slowly awakens once the film progresses. Exemplary performance by a gifted actress who tragically left us too soon. Misty Upham, you will be missed.

  I also want to give a shoutout to Charlie McDermott as Ray's eldest son T.J.. I thought both he and Melissa Leo had a very interesting dynamic as while both their characters love each other, they're still at odds with one another. In fact, T.J. would occasionally prod at Ray's guilty conscience.

  One thing about the screenplay by writer/director Courtney Hunt is the opening scene. We see the poor living conditions of Ray and her family while they mention Ray's husband being absent. Right at the beginning, Hunt sets the dreary tone that becomes present throughout the picture.

  Another thing about the film that I really liked is the cinematography by Reed Morano. It was neat how she would occasionally film short sequences of the scenery ranging from the leaveless trees and the empty roads to the ice on the ground. It not only captures the feel of the setting but the film's chilly tone and atmosphere which is one of the film's greatest strengths: Acting and atmosphere.


   Overall, Frozen River is a haunting and atmospheric portrait of small town America that features extremely well-acted performances by Melissa Leo and Misty Upham. Even if this film doesn't have a Hollywood plot about the pursuit of the American Dream, it still portrays the everyday struggle to get by and the dark turns people take to do so.

Grade: A

52 Films By Women: An Education (2009)

     An Education follows the story of a student named Jenny (Carey Mulligan) who is on her way to becoming a student at Oxford to please her family and her peers. But she starts to find her future uncertain when she becomes swept off her feet by an older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard). As she grows closer to David and his special band of friends, she begins to have a different kind of education.

    The film is carried successfully and with absolute precision by Carey Mulligan's performance. Whether she's singing along to a French record or standing in the rain with her cello, you cannot help but fall in love with her all the way through. You laugh with her, you want her to persevere, and most importantly, your heart breaks with her. THIS is what a "star is born" moment feels like.

   Mulligan is also surrounded by an amazing ensemble cast. Alfred Molina brings a very stern warmth to the role of Jenny's father who tries to disapprove of Jenny's lifestyle choices yet still wants to give her more freedom. I also enjoyed Rosamund Pike who plays Helen, a socialite that's a part of David's gang. Pike provides comic relief as a woman who is rather naive yet sort of takes Jenny under her wing. This is a complete 360 from her Amazing Amy in Gone Girl. The other cast members, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Olivia Williams, and Emma Thompson, are all aces as well.

   One thing that I took away from the film's title is that it has a double meaning. Jenny gets an education from school and when she's exposed to the higher class lifestyle that David enjoys, she's getting a real world education without the use of books and papers. By deciding whether she wants to stay in school or spend more time with her newfound love, Jenny is basically deciding what kind of education she wants to receive: Be bored with books in a contained, collegiate environment or be more adventurous in the real world while becoming exposed to its harsher truths.

    This is something that college students like myself can identify with because as you become hit with long paper assignments and heavy books semester after semester, you just want to go out and experience the real world even if life there is harder than in college. Despite the film being set in the early 60's, its themes are still prevalent today.


    Overall, An Education is a film with a perfectly good title about the purpose of an education and what kind we may choose to receive. It is also packed with both charm and depth thanks to its flawless lead performance by Carey Mulligan.

Grade: A+


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Topic Of The Day: What Makes A Movie Star?

A while ago, I read a very interesting article on Variety called "Movie Stars Do Matter" which talks about how the underperformance of Ben-Hur this weekend and the importance of the movie star. That article brought up very interesting points about how Hollywood shouldn't waste away $100 million on a non-tentpole with an unknown actor as the star which is what happened with Ben-Hur as it rested on the shoulders of Jack Huston who's a talented actor but is not well-known to the moviegoing public.

That article had me wondering to myself: What DOES make a movie star? As I thought about it, and it may be difficult to explain, but a movie star always has to have that "something" that holds people's attention. Whether it'd be a special trademark that an actor has on screen like Julia Roberts' smile and laugh or the way Jennifer Lawrence photobombs other celebrities on the red carpet, a star always has some type of charisma that captures the public eye.

Even if you look like a movie star, it doesn't automatically mean you are one. Take, for example, someone like Chris Hemsworth who definitely has leading man looks and is a solid actor. But on and off screen, he doesn't have the same kind of easy-going accessibility as someone like Chris Pratt who is someone that women think is sexy and seems like the kind of guy men would want to grab a beer with.

Another factor in being a movie star is making even the most mundane film you're in better. For example, even though Lucy received middling reviews, leading actress Scarlett Johansson was still singled out for her performance and she successfully carried the film to a $43m opening and then it eventually made over $400m worldwide.

Also, Joy was a complete misfire but one thing that critics and audiences agree on is that Jennifer Lawrence saved the entire picture. I remember talking to a fellow critic who said that if it weren't for Jennifer Lawrence, Joy would've been one of the worst movies of the year. While it made only $100m against a $60m budget, it's still impressive considering the dismal reviews and even its premise about the inventor of a mop.

Lastly, one thing that makes a true movie star is adapting to different genres. If one can pull off being an action star, a romantic leading man or woman, and a dramatic thespian, then you've achieved box office gold because it shows that audiences will follow you anywhere regardless of the genre or a film's premise.

So those are what I think movie star qualities are: Versatility, Accessibility, and getting audiences through the Mundanity. Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!