by Philip Price
It's important to remember that each individual comes to a movie not only with certain expectations and preconceived notions, but a different life experience up until the point they view a movie that will inform how they respond to a given piece of entertainment. I'm a child of the '90s, a product of “Power Rangers” and Capri Suns; a time when what some would argue the best iteration of Bob Kane's Batman character would be brought to life. I'm, of course, referring to “Batman: The Animated Series,” which ran from 1992-1995, and more or less became the defining Batman in my life-the Batman all other Batman's would be chasing from that point on. Too young for Michael Keaton's movies and too juvenile to initially understand just how bad Joel Schumacher's films were, the animated series brought to life the most genuine and credible version of the superhero my generation (or any other up to that point) could imagine. I adore the Christopher Nolan trilogy and what he did for the genre as a whole. I will forever hold that trilogy in high regard and “The Dark Knight” as one of the single greatest theater-going experiences of my life. Eight years after the Nolan/Christian Bale epic that will go down in history as the best live action version of Batman thanks to the late Heath Ledger's performance we now have the next attempt to bring the caped crusader to life in what is more or less the sequel to 2013's “Man of Steel.” Jump-starting the DC Universe in an attempt to catch up with Marvel Studios, director Zack Snyder and his team have delivered a film that seems to want to bring the tone, artistic quality, and believe it or not...the fun of that nineties animated series to life on the big screen, extended universe and all. This is where I come at the movie from. A place of balance between what was my childhood Batman (never having a large affinity for Superman given he never had as influential an animated series) and what is my more mature, realistic Batman in the Nolan trilogy. It's a parallel that worked out well for my progression from child to adult and so, the big question was: where would “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” fit into this scheme and how would everything I've seen and read of these characters inform my response to Snyder's bringing together of these two icons on the big screen for the first time? For this particular viewer: I enjoyed the hell out of it.
I'm something of a Zack Snyder apologist without the necessary credentials of actually being so. It's been four or more years since I've seen “Dawn of the Dead” and even longer since I've re-visited “300” or “Sucker Punch” (and yes, I own “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole” on Blu-Ray along with the rest of the filmmaker’s filmography), though I pop in “Watchmen” every now and then if for nothing else the opening reel that looks and feels as epic as it's supposed to be. “Man of Steel” is a movie I have re-watched recently (with the director commentary no less) and saw multiple times in its theatrical run which forced me to feel like one of the few defenders of the film despite being able to consent to its problems. The thing is, Snyder has always had the same set of issues with his films and beginning with “Watchmen” they really began to suffocate him. Style over substance, bloated narratives he can't seem to convey in a cohesive manner, and an affinity for large scale damage and action sequences that, while looking amazing, carry little to no emotional weight with them. This is what detractors of the ‘BvS’ predecessor were so adamant about and will undoubtedly do so again here despite Snyder consistently throwing in lines of dialogue that clarify no civilians live in or around the areas where mass destruction is occurring. While I can understand these complaints and certainly see where people with opposing opinions are coming from I still have this natural inclination to believe that Snyder simply "gets it". We live in a world where Snyder has been presented with too much food for the small plate he's carrying. We live in a world that enables Snyder's larger issues to be amplified due to the climate in which motion pictures are made as large scale TV series, but at the very least one must admit that Snyder throws his own heroes as well as himself into this same world. Not unlike his situation, Snyder's versions of Superman and Batman do not live in an idealistic world where conveniences allow them to live by the codes they once represented in earlier incarnations, but rather they exist in a world where conflict and debate are real. They are not present in a world of absolutes where either are regarded as the out and out heroes. And it is out of this an interesting, more complex world is born in which we find and are given the proper justification to see two of the most iconic characters of the twentieth century come to blows.
Since the mixed reaction to “Watchmen” and certainly since the downright wall of hatred “Sucker Punch” ran into it seems there has been a large amount of contempt for Snyder's films and that will go unchanged with ‘BvS.’ The film has its issues, to be sure, chief among them being the editing and the shoe-horning in of other, larger universe aspects, but it also has so much going for it in terms of the story it's telling and how it visually conveys that story that it is impossible for me to ignore the beauty of it. Yes, enjoying the hell out of something and it legitimately resonating with me are two different things and I understand that, but to a certain extent I can't help but feel I'll be thinking about the film days and weeks down the line. I'll certainly be seeing it again and dissecting certain scenes, specific shot choices, and musical cues that stood out to me the first time around while attempting to better comprehend the scope of the narrative so as to bring into focus a more definitive feeling about the experience as a whole, but with all of these thoughts and feelings jumping around after only seeing the film once I have to believe that much of what I saw did resonate with me on one level or another. That I was simultaneously able to truly enjoy large parts of it only now seems like something of a miracle. There is so much to take in. So many visually stunning portraits to behold on the IMAX screen and certain ways in which Snyder presents things that one can almost see the wheels churning in his head and what glee being able to capture such an image will bring to him once he's completed it. In the same train of thought though, I'm also reminded of just how much the director relies on CGI to bring his action sequences to life or how easy it seems for him to lose control of a narrative that at once makes sense and the next moment can seem to hinge too greatly on chance to make any real sense. There are issues, I'm not saying ‘BvS’ is a perfect film, but I do see it as an admirable effort that succeeds more than it fails.
And so, what does succeed? What is it about this clashing of the titans that makes it so successful from my perspective? First, we have the pure vision of Snyder. As I've probably stated too many times in this review already, Snyder has a certain way of visually telling a story that is unlike any other director working today. His style is all his own and he can deliver such scenes as Bruce Wayne's parents being killed (a scene we've seen to the point of redundancy) with a fresh enough vision that it feels we're experiencing the ramifications of that event for the first time. One may not agree with his storytelling methods, but to deny there is genuine vision there is false. Next, and to somewhat stay in line with Snyder's visual prowess, is the cinematography by Larry Fong. The titular battle that was clearly shot in genuine IMAX is worth the price of admission alone and yet the smaller moments with Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in their apartment feel surprisingly intimate (as sparse as they may be). There is also a fair amount of fan service going on here. Though I'm not a reader of the comics and am unsure the numerous sources from which Snyder and screenwriters David Goyer and Chris Terrio are pulling from it is clear that much of the imagery and I'm sure a fair number of the plot points are meant to elicit some reference to a certain moment in our characters storied histories. This brings us around to the performances that are bringing these iconic characters to life and while we've had an entire film to see and be assured that Cavill is more than a fine enough Superman the trick was going to be convincing fans and audiences that Ben Affleck, the movie star, could transform himself into Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman. For some, Affleck's Batman might be the shining beacon of an otherwise too dark and too gritty project, but the level of brutality, integrity, and downright badassery that Affleck brings to his portrayal of the dark knight only compliments the larger picture. As an older, more seasoned and war torn Batman, Affleck gives both his Bruce Wayne and the man in the cape and cowl layers that represent what the years of picking weeds only to watch them grow back have done to him.
The next big question mark was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Again, not having a close relationship with the character of Superman growing up I of course didn't see what the big deal was about his arch nemesis given he seemed little more than a bald businessman with an evil agenda. How could a man of no super powers even hope to do battle with a God-like alien? Due to this I felt more open to whatever interpretation Eisenberg was willing to try out in this universe and though it takes a little getting used to, I ended up coming around to kind of love what the ever interesting actor does here. Not only is Eisenberg playing Luthor as something of a manic psychopath who seems to barely be holding it together by the time his teams have recovered Kryptonite from the alien wreckage left at the end of the first film and are bringing it to his doorstep, but he is so un-imposing, so non-threatening in his stature, and yet still so cunning in his delivery that one can't help but to be fascinated by the thought of what is going on under this facade of the hip, boy wonder CEO who has a basketball court in his main office. There are shades of The Joker within Eisenberg's Luthor as rather than offering different anecdotes about the origin of his scars this Luthor is prone to telling stories about his father and his father's influences on him that have more or less formed the ideals that push forward his hatred of Superman, his need to destroy Earth's boy scout, and the extent he is willing to go to and the money he is willing to spend to manipulate both Batman and the world into believing that it doesn't want or need this alien being around. While it will take a few re-watches to better understand if Luthor's plan was actually any good or if there were one too many holes that allowed it to too often rely on fate Eisenberg is such an inherently intelligent presence that the first time through one is able to buy into the validity of what he is doing without questioning it.
In all honesty the biggest detractor is that there is simply too much to go around. There are multiple films here and to have been able to see Snyder or any director with a unique sense of vision be able to flesh this universe out more and at something of a slower pace might end up being the route Warner Bros. wishes they would have taken. Within ‘BvS’ we first have the sequel to “Man of Steel” where the virtue of Superman is brought into question and brought in front of the senate to decide if what Superman is doing is what he should be doing. There is a montage of gorgeous heroics that is splattered over philosophical qualms and approvals over what Superman stands for, whether he is within the realm of human law, and whether or not he is no longer a metaphor for the Christ figure, but is indeed the second coming that only hints at what a true Man of Steel sequel could have been. There is the stand alone Batman movie that Ben Affleck could have made that would have established this new embodiment of the world's greatest detective allowing us to see more of the insane batcave this version beholds while delving deeper into how the tumultuous history of this version of Batman has informed who Affleck's Bruce Wayne has become. And then, on top of all of that, we have the eventual (and inevitable) team up of our two titular heroes and the spoiled baddie they must battle due to the egomaniac that could have plagued either one of their solo films. There is simply too much delivered in too short a time span to delve as deep into these characters within this context and so, while the film is two and a half hours, it still ends up feeling like an iceberg in that 90 percent of its mass remains under the surface as opposed to the mere 10% we are able to glimpse with our own eyes. This surface-level gleaming of elements is especially true when it comes to the inorganic ways in which Snyder, Terrio and Goyer chose to integrate the remaining members of The Justice League that should have been one of the first things to go if they couldn't find a better way to preview what we already know is coming anyway. Maybe this would have assisted in the multiple ending syndrome from which the film also suffers. As it is, the actual story the film is telling can become somewhat sporadic in its first half, but while I was concerned about all the parts in motion I was also relieved at how well they were ultimately able to bring all of these cogs together into one, well-oiled machine.
As for the remaining check marks one expects a review of this film to mark off I can say that yes, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is indeed pretty spectacular in the handful of scenes she is featured. Unlike the marketing made this out to be this is still very much a Batman/Superman movie with Diana Prince only popping up every once in a while to remind us there is more on the horizon (and I can't wait for it, so job well done on that front). The score from Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL is epic in the most epic of terms. Sure, the “Man of Steel” themes may have been used one too many times to try and elicit one too many artificial feels when Clark returns to gather advice from his earthly mother (Diane Lane) or runs into a ghost of Pa Kent (Kevin Costner), but the music largely only enhances the field on which ‘BvS’ is playing to a much grander one proving its worth to be almost invaluable. Yes, the marketing for the film gave too much away as Doomsday should have never seen the light of day until the first screenings on the 24th, but while the trailers and other promotional materials maybe showed us too many of the "moments" it never let on to how they each were connected and in that there was real satisfaction to be found in watching the story unfold. Yes, as I've said, there is definitely too much story here for even a two-and-a-half hour film, but unlike some Snyder films it feels as if the director at least has a grasp on what he is trying to accomplish with each section of his film rather than simply allowing it to fly off the rails as he has done in the past. Scoot McNairy should be mentioned for the minor, but interesting additions his character provides to the larger narrative as should Jeremy Irons and Holly Hunter. Irons is especially fun to watch play off of Affleck's stern Batman as his Alfred is more of a partner and companion to Wayne than in any of the other live action adaptations.
In the end, some will walk away disappointed the meeting of Superman and Batman on the big screen was not all they wanted it to be and others will walk away plenty pleased with what they were witness to wondering what more the film could have done to satisfy those angry fans and critics. It is in this aspect of the varied reactions that ‘BvS’ is most different from its Marvel counterparts to which it will inevitably and already is being compared. Marvel had both a large disadvantage and promising advantage when it came to setting up its cinematic universe due to the fact there were hardly any preconceived notions about the likes of Iron Man or Thor outside of the core fan base. And so, Marvel's biggest challenge was making these second tier comic characters appealing enough people would get on board for more movies. Having characters such as Batman and Superman, each who have been seen in various forms on the big screen before and each of which have a much larger fan bases in general, there are an abundance of preconceived notions that not only does any new iteration have to meet and/or exceed these, but they also have to convince all of these biased, prejudice, and many time bitter pre-determined notions that this latest version is indeed worth their time. To have properties such as Batman and Superman is both a blessing and a curse given their names alone strike up the most attention, but if done in a way the masses can't generally agree on the risk of loss is that much bigger. To further contrast, Marvel tends to make fun, serialized weekly specials (though it seems Civil War and to an extent, Ultron look to shake that up a bit) that I enjoy very much and most of the time have no issues with whatsoever (some of this due to a few entries being that vanilla), but with “Man of Steel” and ‘BvS’ Snyder has created something that feels operatic, feels grand, feels almost legendary on a scale where it's impossible to ignore the creativity, effort, and all-around investment that went into bringing this massive ship into port. This grand scale the film possesses is too big and too ambitious to be as easily dismissed as it has been. For me, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a feast for the eyes and a thoroughly entertaining piece of B-movie grandeur. I enjoyed the hell out of it.
by Philip Price
All comedies try to make us laugh. That's kind of the point. Still, there is a difference between trying to make audiences laugh by saying the unexpected out loud and those unexpected things actually being funny. In “The Bronze” Melissa Rauch, best known for her role on TV’s “The Big Bang Theory,” plays washed up gymnast Hope Annabelle Gregory who still managed to medal at the 2004 Rome Olympics after shattering her achilles during a routine. She became something of an American hero of those particular games, the athlete the media chose to heap large amounts of coverage on because of her narrative maybe more so than because of her actual talent. Hope says a lot of things that might not be considered polite or politically correct, but that doesn't make her funny. Sure, I understand that a fair amount of comedy can come from degrading someone, something, or even ourselves, but no matter how hard these demeaning jokes make us laugh (or don't) one thing remains to be true and that is the fact they come from a place of fear; we're attempting to distract ourselves from our own vulnerability. In short, we're trying to make ourselves feel better about our own lives. Hope does this consistently throughout “The Bronze” and while the juxtaposition of what we expect from polite society and what Hope delivers can be genuinely funny here and there the majority of the time the character simply comes across as self-centered, crass, and just plain nasty. Maybe this is because Hope is the only character the film cares to flesh out and so, while we somewhat get to know her father (Gary Cole), her new apprentice (Haley Lu Richardson), her love interest (Thomas Middleditch) and her arch nemesis (Sebastian Stan), because each of them are more or less targets for Hope to hurl her insults at rather than fully formed people it is nearly impossible for us to understand why she seems to naturally hate everyone. The only thing she clearly has an affinity for is herself and keeping her name and image at the height of its power in her hometown of Amherst, Ohio, but as these things go all of that is about to change.
In the opening scene of the film we are privy to the routine and the injury that made Hope something of a legend in Amherst before the camera pulls out revealing the footage to be that of a recording of the competition that Hope is still replaying twelve years later while pleasuring herself. It's a funny little gag right out of the gate that lets us know how much Hope gets off on her own glory. From here though, it is revealed that more than Hope simply being a disillusioned and sheltered child of an only father who was brought up knowing no other life than gymnastics which has now inadvertently crippled her development process she is instead just a disillusioned almost 30-year old who can't let go of the past, thinks the world owes her something and should bend to her every desire, and is little more than a spoiled brat. Had the script from Rauch and her husband Winston decided to explore more of the arrested development aspects of the character then we might have had something more interesting to explore, but as Rauch presents the character here we almost immediately dislike her. For the first half hour or so the film tends to feel rather aimless as we are shown Hope's tendency for breaking into her father's mail truck and scavenging for letters and cards filled with money so that she can go to the mall and spend it on worthless junk. She's a regular at the town mall as she knows every salesperson and regular customer by name. She also regulars the food court (getting Sbarro's for free) and local dairy bar eating more than it seems her tiny frame might be able to handle with no regards to keeping herself in shape despite her image being the only thing she clings to. It is when Hope's former coach, whom she had a severe falling out with, commits suicide and leaves her a letter instructing her that if she trains her latest protégé, Maggie (Richardson), and sees her through to the end of her campaign in the Toronto games that she will be granted an inheritance of half a million dollars. Game on.
The beats of the story are rather familiar and that the story ultimately turns into something of a redemption tale is only more disappointing. Once again, given the story commits to a certain type of character in Hope it kind of feels like her shift in attitude betrays the heart of the film. It isn't unbelievable that Hope would make the necessary strides to have the arc that she does in the film, but that it actually comes to fruition is largely discouraging due to its typical protocol and the fact they want us to believe a character who has been stuck in the same mindset for a decade or so would suddenly be willing to sacrifice her state of mind for a young upstart of a gymnast that threatens everything she lives and stands for. Hope wears her USA tracksuit every day because she says it is what heroes wear. She curses at her father for not understanding her need for a higher allowance than $500 a week and she constantly indulges in junk food to the point she should weigh about eight hundred pounds given we never see her perform gymnastics much less stretch, but are to believe she can keep up with Stan's gold medalist Lance when it comes to one of the weirdest, most aerobic sex scenes I've ever seen on film. Seriously, watching two gymnasts go at it was stranger than watching two puppets get their groove on. Still, despite the shortcomings of the actual plot and how it breeds more convention than not given the main character seeks to go against as much in every aspect of her life the development of Hope remains the focus throughout rather than shifting to Richardson's Maggie halfway through as it seemed it might. As Hope, Rauch clearly knows the character as the actress plays the character as if giving the audience a glimpse into a life of someone that has allowed themselves to be defined by one instance and one aspect of their lives. Never mind the sparse ideas the film has on finding minor celebrity or small town America, but rather it is Rauch's ability to somehow gain sympathy for this otherwise despicable character that is the highlight of the film. Though it's more pity sympathy than anything, we feel something nonetheless.
Overall, “The Bronze” is fine if not becoming all it had the potential to be. It wants so desperately to be a dark comedy of degrees. It wants to touch on the underbelly of stage parents, of single parenting, of a female daughter growing up with only a father figure to guide her and a father figure dead set on raising an athlete at that. And that's just in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. From there, the film finds its crux in swaying audiences to wonder whether Hope will sabotage Maggie in her ascendance to the world stage or if she will learn to transition into the next stage of her own life and allow Maggie her designated time in the spotlight. This transition is aided by Middleditch's presence as Ben, a gymnastics coach at the local gym who has a romantic interest in Hope, while challenged by Lance who is seemingly as self-involved as Hope, but somewhat more perceptive given his continued success after competing. As her father, Cole is strangely heartwarming as his confidence in his daughter never wavers and his love for her remains strong despite the constant tests she provides for such feelings. It is he that built this machine of curse words and orange soda though, and so I expect he has no choice but to feel responsible for turning her life around rather than watching her waste away in the memories of what she once was. It's fine, but like its protagonist, it tries too hard. While mostly annoying the film can be sporadically charming. Hope acts like a grown-up, but has no real ambitions of being a mature adult and in the end, “The Bronze” can't get past its sophomoric attitude and outlook to allow its own self to grow. That and it lasts about two scenes too long and every time the soundtrack kicks in it sounded like a Backstreet Boys song was about to play in some un-ironic fashion. Directed by first time feature director Bryan Buckley the film, once again, is fine, but given the potential and the downright despicable capabilities of Hope it would have been really interesting to see what either Jared Hess or Jody Hill might have done with the material. Of course, one could just watch “The Foot Fist Way” again and probably have a good idea.
by Philip Price
I tried. I really did. I even read the first two books, but I knew it was a bad sign when it took me two tries to make it through the second novel in author Veronica Roth's dystopian young adult series, Insurgent. I didn't even bother to try and read the third and final novel in the series if that tells you anything about how much I cared about what happened to these characters and their overly complicated world. If nothing else, I thought not reading the source material might make the third film (which of course is part one of a two-part finale that splits the final book in half-the second of which doesn't arrive until next summer) more intriguing given I didn't know exactly where the story would be heading, but as with the two previous films while there is always stuff happening, the story doesn't necessarily move forward. This is the problem with the series as a whole never mind the individual films. There is even the idea there is too much going on as each character's dialogue is plagued by large portions consisting of pure exposition, but if we don't know what we need to know about this world by the third film there's simply too much and “Allegiant” suffers greatly from too much talking and not enough actually happening. The film seems a pristine example of taking two steps forward only to take three steps back. At the very least, we expect story tropes of the YA genre to be pushing the audience forward to some type of inevitable showdown between the exceptional protagonist and the jaded authority figure who doesn't believe in them, but the ‘Divergent’ series has repeated this so many times at this point that there is no tension left and worse, we can see where things are going given they've been telegraphed a handful of scenes prior. I'm sure Roth had interesting ideas she wanted to explore going into writing this franchise and some even start to peek through in certain moments here, but it seems like the filmmakers and crew are as tired of making these movies as audiences are of watching them and thus the cohesiveness of the actual story is the last thing on their minds making “Allegiant” go straight to the back of ours as soon as the credits begin to roll.
When we last left Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her love interest/bodyguard Four (Theo James) they'd dismantled the faction system (consisting of Dauntless, Amity, Erudite, Abnegation, and Candor) in the futuristic Chicago while Four's mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), had just taken out Erudite leader Janine (Kate Winslet). In truth, the series could have ended on some sort of satisfactory level with the second film, but of course these things have to at least be a trilogy and thus we now have the obligatory third chapter that essentially restarts the same conflict from the first film all over again with the added caveat of allowing our heroes over the sacred wall to discover yet another dysfunctional society that on the exterior seems to want to help our hero, but secretly has some diabolical plan to control every aspect of individuality. Tris and Four are on good terms, but Four continues to have issues with his factionless mother who seems to have rid the world of Janine just so she could take over the mantle. Evelyn is holding public trials for the remaining Erudite's which translates more to public executions as Octavia Spencer's Amity leader objects and forms her own group of fighters who take on the titular namesake. Meanwhile, Tris and Four along with Christina (Zoë Kravitz), Peter (Miles Teller), Tori (Maggie Q) and Tris' brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) decide they need to get the hell out of there and thus concoct a plan to scale the wall and explore the great unknown despite Evelyn having put the city on lockdown and given her most trusted henchmen, Edgar (Jonny Weston), the responsibility of not letting anyone outside the wall. Of course, our heroes make it over in one of the more redeeming action sequences in the film, but the characters seem to make such dumb decisions and the CGI looks so cheap at times that even such action beats can't be enjoyed due to how distracting these elements are. Once our heroes do make it over the wall they are welcomed with open arms into a futuristic society that has been watching Chicago for centuries, their leader David (Jeff Daniels) explaining how the city was an experiment to see if they could undo the unfortunate effects of man once again trying to play God in the past. As you might guess, while David and his shiny chrome world might at first seem pleasant and inviting they are not all they appear to be.
What is more confusing than anything about this series is how it has managed to attract such strong talent and yet has nothing to offer them in return. Forget the fact that the first two installments featured Winslet who more or less makes her home in Academy Award nominated films, but furthermore this third installment replaces her with a credible and well-respected talent like Daniels, not to mention the likes of Watts and Spencer still wandering around in the supporting cast. Even the likes of Teller and Woodley are too good for this type of material and have long since outgrown it while it seems James is becoming all the more anxious the closer this series comes to its conclusion. Kravitz feels like a franchise mainstay at this point having also popped up in an ‘X-Men’ movie and ‘Mad Max’ with her dad's role in the ‘Hunger Games’ franchise only making the actual distance between these two franchises that much further. Elgort actually gets the worst of it though, as he is tasked with reacting to nothing a lot of the time and trying to sell it as if his high-minded Caleb is truly astonished by the futuristic technology. Most of the time, the guy comes off like a doofus which is difficult given he was completely charming and authentic opposite Woodley in “The Fault in Our Stars.” Despite James having little to no career outside of this franchise his presence here is undeniable and kind of the only thing that keeps the silliness in check. His brooding, hulking manner hardly stands to elicit any sympathy, but that's largely due to the fact we know Four is going to get things done. His relationship with Woodley's Tris somehow feels natural at this point and Woodley is still doing all she can to make this franchise work. At a time when it might be easier to take a few steps back and re-evaluate how she's playing this part its clear Woodley still cares about Tris' plight and her attempts to save her world without becoming just another talking head. On the other end of the spectrum is Teller who has openly stated how he only took a role in this franchise for business reasons and as a result he no longer seems to care. Strangely enough, this lack of trying has allowed Teller's Peter to be a lot more fun as he provides some of the only genuine moments in the movie period.
To put it briefly, “Allegiant” is pure nonsense. This franchise, under the direction of Robert Schwentke for the previous installment as well as this one, looks for redeeming qualities not in its story beats or character traits (despite Teller having fun it's painfully obvious how little of an arc Peter has throughout the franchise), but rather in the action scenes and the production design of this futuristic world, but as I said earlier it all looks so cheap and feels so amateurish that it's impossible to take seriously. It's a shame, really, because Schwentke has displayed in past projects that he has a flair for visual storytelling and the ability to make mindless action and spectacle entertaining if nothing else, but even those skills can't transcend a series that has so buried itself in complex world building and unnecessary plot twists that it would be difficult for anyone to find a way to crawl out of such a deep hole. Lee Toland Krieger, who made last years underrated “Age of Adaline,” is already in pre-production on the final film in the series, Ascendant, so maybe this fresh perspective will bring new light and possibly even hope that the ‘Divergent’ series could go out on a high note, but I'm not holding my breath. Part of me even wants to try and read Roth's final book in the series just to see if it is indeed as bad as “Allegiant” has made it seem or if there have been significant changes. As this first part of the two-part finale came to a close my mind was boggled as to how they were going to come up with enough material, enough action even for these characters to participate in that might fill another two hours, but then I remembered there was a third ‘Hobbit’ movie and it all made sense. During one of the many (surprisingly brutal) action scenes in the film my friend turned to me and said, "In the future, there is no blood." It's true as far as “Allegiant” is concerned, but more for than the sake of a PG-13 rating it just feels lazy. Of course, this is just a minor complaint in the bigger picture of all that is wrong with “Allegiant,” but it is small details such as this or how a plot device about surveillance is set up so obviously that it's clearly just for the sake of allowing the story to get away with things much easier than it should. Everything about the film feels easy though, and while that may seem attractive on the surface everyone knows that's not what anyone really wants, not if they are looking for something to leave a lasting impression.
by Philip Price
Now more than ever Sacha Baron Cohen seems to be looked to for cheap comedy rather than the once prestigious, if not still outrageous version of comedy that he was known for. This transition seems to have largely occurred due to two factors in that 1) Cohen became too famous to fool the commoner, politicians or other celebrities into thinking his bits weren't bits and because 2) his targets haven't been as precise as they once were. “Borat” is now 10 years old and I can remember sitting in a packed theater opening night and experiencing more consistent laughter than I have maybe ever during a theatrical experience (“Step Brothers” is a close second), but last night I sat with only my friend at a 10:00 pm showing in an empty theater to watch the latest from Cohen and whether it was the atmosphere (or lack thereof) or the fact the movie really is as lackluster as it seemed one truth remains evident: for someone who has seemingly come so far Cohen has regressed more than anything. Sure, “The Brothers Grimsby” is a raunchy, over the top action comedy that pushes Cohen's comedy to even more ridiculous heights, but ultimately the film feels so slapdash and something of a mess that it is hard to take the jokes seriously. I realize that may sound contradictory, as in it doesn't make sense given that making jokes is the exact opposite of being serious, but what I mean to say is that there is hardly any substance left for Cohen to squander on his projects and rather than writing a story or coming up with a character in which the comedy naturally and inherently flows out of the comedian seems to have become more focused on coming up with gross out gags first and then going back to figuring out a story to work around them. I remain stern in my thought that “Borat” is one of the best comedies of the last 20 years (probably more than that even, but I won't test my limits) and hoped that “Bruno” was only something of a misstep, but while “The Dictator” was fine enough if not mostly forgettable “The Brothers Grimsby” once again skirts that line of being fine, but nothing special and nothing that will be remembered past this weekend no matter how ridiculous the stunts he pulls.
Opening with R. Kelly's "Bump N' Grind" one can immediately guess the quality of humor they are going to receive in the film which then goes on to hit a punch line that has already been spoiled in the trailers. I'll admit, for a fair amount of time in the opening half hour of the film I was prepared to really dislike the film. Hate it even. I always have high hopes for anything Cohen sets his sights on as there is something exciting and strangely inviting about seeing just how much he can actually get away with, but as “The Brothers Grimsby” hurdles forward the editing is so patchy, the jokes so clunky, and the idea that Mark Strong would agree to this so odd that nothing about it seems to be working. It is once Cohen's Nobby and Strong's Sebastian get past the expository niceties necessary to set up the plot that things begin to gel and the pacing of the film actually finds a groove. The story goes something along the lines of brothers Nobby and Sebastian were once inseparable, growing up together in an orphanage in the town of Grimsby, England. When a nice, upper class couple wants to adopt only one of the brothers they are split up, Sebastian being taken in while Nobby left to toil away in the foster system. Forcing Nobby to spend the next twenty-eight years looking for his baby brother with little to no hope. Nobby remains in the seaport town that is Grimsby and becomes an English football supporter with nine children and the most attractive girlfriend in northern England (Rebel Wilson). In short, it's all a man from Grimsby could want. On the other side of the things, Sebastian has become MI6's top assassin who hasn't thought about his brother since the day he left Grimsby. It is through some unclear set of circumstances that Nobby finds out that Sebastian will be attending a "posh event" and somehow scores a ticket and so he sets off to reunite with his brother. Of course, not only does Nobby find his brother, but he also happens to uncover a plot that puts the world in danger. The two are inevitably forced to go on the run together with Sebastian realizing along the way the merit that family holds.
At first glance it would seem there would be no redeeming qualities to this sparse, 83-minute comedy besides the fact that it only ran 83 minutes, but much to my surprise the thing that was most lacking in the early parts of the film came full circle to support the outlandish antics Cohen has put together. It isn't much, mind you-but there is something on Cohen's mind that he'd like to discuss and he explores it by pairing two different men from either side of the tracks in order to express just how much both need one another despite not wanting to admit such reliance. In short, there is this idea of population control that is brought up by philanthropist Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) and how certain areas of the poorer population need to be extinguished due to their lack of contributions to the world. At the beginning of the film the character of Sebastian would have been hard-pressed to disagree with this point of view, but through getting to know his grown-up older brother and admiring the love he has for his (rather delinquent) children and crass wife it becomes clear to even him that there is value in what those unlike himself might bring to the worlds culture at large. It's an interesting stance for Cohen to take given one presumes his status is that of a rather wealthy one, but the comedian has always likened himself as something of a voice for the people and in that regard, “The Brothers Grimsby” is very much in line with his past work. Furthermore, there have to be those who slip through the cracks of societies expected ladder rungs otherwise we wouldn't have those who do the jobs nobody else wants to do. If this divide doesn't occur the likes of Sebastian and his girlfriend Jodie (Isla Fisher) have no one like Banu (Gabourey Sidibe) to clean their hotel rooms or Tabansi (Barkhad Abdi) to provide them heroin, and while “The Brothers Grimsby” wastes a rather strong supporting cast to make such observations the point is one that is still being made. There may be a lot of scum in this world, but you can't wash away all of it and worse is that if someone were to try, the existing systems would fail without such individuals. The backbone, after all.
I don't want to act like “The Brothers Grimsby” is making some grand statement because it certainly isn't as more times than not we're balking at either just how much Cohen and his cohorts were able to get into an R-rating and/or that they were somehow still able to get Mark Strong do some of the things they have him do. Most of the time the film is vulgar to the point of no effect and the centerpiece of all this vulgarity (the scene Cohen brought to Jimmy Kimmel's studio audience that they couldn't televise) is shock for the sake of shock that bears no weight on the plot and plays no role within the intricacies of the story. There is an attempt to bring said sight gag back around for some type of justification during the films denouement, but it ends up feeling little more than stupid and desperate. As do the majority of the jokes in the film. While there is an especially funny segment where Cohen's Nobby accidentally stumbles into a spa without knowing he's in a spa the majority of these big set-ups can be seen coming from a mile away and thus render the jokes unfunny due to their obviousness. It is when Cohen allows the moment to breathe and will deliver a line with a certain cadence or put in a solid if not necessary jab at someone (here's looking at you, Daniel Radcliffe and Donald Trump) that the jokes land. Not to say too much, but there is something of a running joke where Nobby is compelled to do his best impression of Sean Connery as James Bond and it is in these lower-key moments of intended funny that Cohen actually comes across as humorous rather than someone who is trying so hard to make everyone laugh at him. Cohen enlisted director Louis Letterrier to give the film a sense of scope and authentic action while allowing himself the ability to do whatever he pleased when it came to the comedy and more than not the direction fulfills its duties. In the end, the film is short and concise enough to be entertaining and doesn't bother with anything resembling legit emotion or substance to actually bother or offend anyone who doesn't already know what to expect. And so, if you know what to expect you'll probably find something to like about it. I kind of did, but at the same time can acknowledge how terrible it is as well.
by Philip Price
I feel deeply conflicted after walking out of “10 Cloverfield Lane” largely due to the fact it doesn't seem to need the word ‘Cloverfield’ in the title. The fact this "distant relative" of a sequel to the 2008 monster movie came out of circumstances that didn't necessarily create it for the purposes of being what it has become a bigger deal the further one gets into the experience of watching the film and the further it gets away from being anything having to do with “Cloverfield.” If anything, this film is more of a pseudo sequel if you're a fan of the original and go in hoping for more of the same. Rather, gone is the handheld technique that defined the first film and gone are the monsters (for the most part) that made the film and that handheld technique so noteworthy. Instead, what we are given here is a different type of monster movie; one that excels and propels itself forward based solely on the character interactions and lack of awareness from the circumstances in which these characters come. It is the peeling back of these layers that not only reveal to the audience who each of the three main characters might be, but also the revealing of each's true agenda to one another that makes the proceedings completely enrapturing. “10 Cloverfield Lane” sustains such momentum for much of its 100-minute running time due to the fact it is a generally great piece of tension-filled filmmaking that elicits grand gestures of horror and the types of thoughts that come with finding one's self in such situations as typically presented in the thriller/horror genre. It is in the last act, the last 15 minutes or so that the film stumbles in attempting to connect the dots and make this little film about three separate individuals more than it needed to be. Maybe I'm simply not satisfied by the answers the film chooses to provide for all of the mysteries that were laid out from the get-go and yet the answers provided in the more contained spaces of the film felt satisfactory whereas when the film attempted to expand its horizons things didn't feel as natural as they should. There was certainly a better way to create reason for having the word ‘Cloverfield’ in the title, but it is this inorganic last act that knocks “10 Cloverfield Lane” down from something great to a cog in the franchise machine, if not a shiny cog at the very least.
Directed by first time feature director Dan Trachtenberg the film begins with a somewhat surprising shot given the type of consistency we get in franchise films these days. I took away from the first film that it happened in a 2008 reality so when this new film opens in a bright and bustling 2016 I immediately wondered where this would be taking place geographically and how might this make sense in the grander scheme of things if everyone had recovered and rebuilt from the initial attacks eight years earlier. We learn rather quickly that the environment we've entered is in the southern region of the U.S. and that the film really has no regard or any desire to acknowledge any past events of any sort, much less Matt Reeves 2008 film and thus the event that forces Howard (John Goodman), Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) together in this doomsday bunker may or may not have anything to do with the monsters that invaded New York. The beauty of the film though is that whether the justification for these three individuals being forced into this situation is connected or not it really doesn't matter by the time we become entrenched in the situation at hand because all we come to care about are the true intentions of our core trio. “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a claustrophobic film, one that gets in so close with not only its individuals, but its setting and thus hones our attention in on one specific aspect or detail to the point that when something disrupts such focus it genuinely shakes us. Yes, “10 Cloverfield Lane” might technically be classified as some type of mystery/horror film, but it never uses these guidelines to sink to jump scare tactics or mystery for mystery's sake. There are substantial answers to be found and ones that make sense within the reasoning and tone of the film and there are certainly times where my body physically reacted to the material, jolting me to the edge of my seat. All of this, accompanied by the terrific soundtrack from Bear McCreary and cinematography from Jeff Cutter that's clearly inspired by the eighties golden age of horror makes for a complete package whose quality is only heightened by Trachtenberg's clear craft and the actors flawless performances.
While both Winstead and Gallagher Jr. do fine work here, in fact they both do some rather exceptional stuff with their looks and sideways glances given the subtlety they must apply in the given situation, it is Goodman that comes away leaving the biggest impression. As Howard, the veteran actor turns in yet another what is sure to be under appreciated performance. Reminding audiences of just how versatile a persona he can not only create, but fully embrace Goodman indisputably steals this show. We see Goodman in so many films that it's easy to take him for granted, but if one looks at his filmography it's easy to realize many of his films stand out not just for their title or cultural relevance, but because of what Goodman brought to that film-a lot of the time his role being more memorable than the movie itself. With “10 Cloverfield Lane,” Goodman is given the chance to do something he doesn't often get and that is to play the lead. While we are delivered the story from the perspective of Michelle it is Howard who is clearly in charge and the one who will guide most of the action that will inevitably take place in this tight environment. Without going into too much about the particulars of the plot or specific character traits we meet Howard only after Michelle wakes up from having been in a car accident and is now chained to a pipe in a room akin to a prison cell. We come to learn that Howard apparently rescued Michelle from the aftermath of her wreck and brought her down into his bunker to save her life. Given the odd position this puts both characters in coupled by the fact we don't know who to trust given we know little to nothing about either of them both Trachtenberg and the script from Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle use this set-up to test our allegiances while inherently attempting to sway them towards Michelle's side. Goodman brings a sense of hostility to Howard that puts everyone on edge, but the beauty of the performance is that it's impossible to tell if this hostility is due to the character’s insecurities about trusting these strangers just as they are him or if it's something more? Something a little crazier? It's interesting, for despite the fact Howard clearly loathes Emmett there is a kindness of sorts to the way he treats Michelle that makes one want to trust and believe that he's not a complete psycho.
I understand the benefits of the film being labeled with the ‘Cloverfield’ title given many more people will likely now see this expertly crafted thriller due to its supposed connection to a hit film than if it were just another small scale March release with an impressive cast. Being able to ride the wave of being another in the canon of J.J. Abrams produced "mystery box" movies will undoubtedly prove to be beneficial not only for the films box office returns, but for the rookie talent behind the camera as well. In the larger sense of how today's movie industry works this plan completely makes sense, but my point is that the film doesn't need the attachment to an already established franchise to be an interesting movie. In fact, it is this strained connection that detracts from what might have been a more satisfying conclusion were it not trying to fulfill a kind of unnecessary need. Regardless of the context from which the idea came to make this film a successor to “Cloverfield” though, this is still very much a film I really enjoyed and borderline loved. The pacing is damn near perfect with the first 45 minutes or so defining each of the characters and dolling out details around the reasoning each have come to be in the bunker. The set decoration of the bunker is especially spectacular with the countless food stocked and variations on how Howard has chosen to contain it, the plant life in small, discreet spots throughout and even down to the pillows on the small couches in the living room-it's all expertly done to accentuate the necessary tone of a forced fantasy. As the final hour of the film begins the necessary turns and reveals are made to keep the narrative moving forward without ever feeling like the film is purposefully holding out because it's not sure what to do with itself. Rather, the film and specifically the character of Michelle push the story forward forcing both Emmett and especially Howard to come to terms with the type of people they are. Through these moments of insight there comes to be a theme of regret in our protagonist that proves her to not only be the necessary amount of resourceful, but also to give her the emotional confidence to go through with what she has to do. I have to wonder if Trachtenberg will one-day regret making his rather stellar debut part of the ongoing machine that might better be remembered more for its place in Abrams filmography of surprises rather than for the solid content it actually provides, but given the opportunities he will likely gain for doing so I doubt regret will be in the cards. And with that, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a gold medal-level film that ultimately is only able to win the bronze.
by Philip Price
More and more Terrence Malick's films are becoming a collection of interesting images and random thoughts more than anything resembling coherence. The dialogue is sparse, the music more integral than ever, and yet rather than getting better at telling stories through these tools it seems the auteur peaked with his first attempt at such a loose narrative in his masterpiece “The Tree of Life.” Much like the more in tune with itself “To the Wonder,” Malick directs “Knight of Cups” as if he is writing a poem. And by doing so he continues to stray further and further from conventional methods despite exploring themes we've seen touched upon many times before. Of course, one can't dock a filmmaker for being unoriginal in this day and age as it is the way in which they explore these emotions that really counts. The approach is clearly what is to be appreciated here while it is the ability to actually convey the sense of emotion and conflict that Malick is exploring that is coming up short. Once again the director is touching upon something of a "meaning of life" quest though this time through the eyes of a Hollywood writer rather than a Southern family in 1950s Texas or a woeful couple and pastor in the open planes of Oklahoma. We enter this indulgent environment through the guise of Christian Bale. I say guise for despite the fact we see the physical representation of this well-known actor there isn't much to suggest the true nature of who this character he's playing is much less what his journey might be about. Rather, it seems Bale has been left to figure out as much about his character of "Rick" as we have. While such methods as giving your actors only a character description instead of a fully formed script might help in capturing the natural development of said character's state of mind, for the viewers this doesn't remain consistently engaging enough for us to care what journey these characters are going on. Even worse is the fact that Malick is using such storytelling techniques in order to elicit more emotion from his actors and in turn his audience, but with “Knight of Cups” these attempts feel emptier than ever. Whereas ‘Tree of Life’ really transcended the large themes the director was tackling through his pure filmmaking artistry, “Knight of Cups” feels as numb as the Hollywood lifestyle it looks to comment upon.
The film opens with narration from Ben Kingsley that quotes John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. Bunyan's work was written as he laid in prison in 1675-1677 and tells of the adventures that a devout Christian might meet in trying to save his soul by setting out on a pilgrimage to Heaven. “Knight of Cups” is clearly about a pilgrimage of sorts as well and its always been clear Malick enjoys drawing from and speculating on religious material which then leads to Brian Dennehy's (who has some powerful segments with Wes Bentley) voice over that talks of a "young prince whose father, the king of the East, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl." The story goes on to say that, "when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl and fell into a deep sleep." What this could be in reference to is anyone's guess, but a little Google searching and it seems this short anecdote draws its inspiration from a passage in the Acts of Thomas from New Testament apocrypha or biblical writings that the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches do not view as part of the Bible. So, much like with “The Tree of Life” where Malick opens with a quote from the book of Job and then ties the main idea brought forth from that quote through to the themes of the film and arguably mimics the beats of the bible story to get at the heart of humans never being able to fully comprehend the vastness and beauty of the beginning of time and life it seems he is again taking a similar starting point here. By taking this perspective on “Knight of Cups” it is easy to draw the correlations between Thomas and Rick. Rick became a man who would ultimately end up venturing into a land where he was seduced to the point he forgets his origins and his family until a letter is sent in the form of what is seemingly the death of his brother. Whatever this death awakens in Rick it seems he no longer knows who he is or what his course in life should be. He begins to find distraction and solace in the company of different women, but the film is not about these distractions, but more the pilgrimage to restore his soul and to find his own pearl.
I'm not going to pretend to be even half as intellectual or insightful as Malick as the guy clearly has a wealth of knowledge from which he pulls and that informs his ideas and storytelling, but while I can't argue the degree of substance that is contained within Malick's latest work I feel I can make something of an argument for how far removed the filmmaker has become to the point his points are no longer connecting with large portions of his audience. I appreciate a director who doesn't spell everything out for their audience, but Malick is so far removed from even this type of filmmaker that what he's trying to say gets lost in the shuffle of his own countless ideas and ideologies that he throws into his films. I think Malick himself has a clear focus and direct objective for what he wants to convey after having gathered all of the necessary references from these manuscripts and ancient texts that form his pool of knowledge, but I don't know that he cuts them down enough in scope to form a film that could be perceived as coherent when only running for two hours. It is admirable that Malick envisions telling these types of stories that contain certain conventions as if poetry has been incarnated on film. Malick is not just poetic in highlighting these immensely emotional highs and lows of his characters' lives though, but also by being largely metaphorical and as a result the finished product ends up being so open for interpretation that there is no one solid aspect that sticks with you. Hell, maybe that's the point. Either way-this leaves nothing for an audience to connect with and for a director who seems to want nothing more than for his audience to leave the theater feeling something this ends up being more a failure than a triumph.
That said, “Knight of Cups” does naturally contain some interesting aspects as we see all these recognizable images of this world the director has seemed to so greatly avoid throughout his career. In many ways the film feels like something of a satire of not only Hollywood, but of what the world has become in general. We see all of these recognizable images that relay the banality of life as Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki especially focus on the many advertisements that flood our environments. The futility of our day to day lives and what might ever come of these meaningless efforts are used over and over again to make the larger points Rick is chasing about his (and our) existence and its meaning. And yet, despite Malick's reliable aesthetic and Lubezki's clear skill the imagery here is less majestic than in previous efforts. The same could be said for the music as it is obviously critical to the intended emotional state the film is meant to put the viewer in at any given moment and yet Hanan Towndshend's score can hardly compare to that of Alexandre Desplat's efforts on “The Tree of Life.” Even Antonio Banderas' character says at one point in the film that, "the music is very important," and that it tells him when to fall in love, but we don't feel that. We don't grasp it with the same passion in which Banderas describes it. From here, the character goes on to compare love to that of the same type of love we feel with food rather than another person. We feel the need for different flavors as it were. This leads into the parade of women Rick allows into his life including Della (Imogen Poots); Nancy (Cate Blanchett), a physician he was once married to; a model named Helen (Freida Pinto); Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a married woman who becomes pregnant with his child; a stripper named Karen (Teresa Palmer); and Isabel (Isabel Lucas) a young woman who helps him to see his way forward. It would seem these multiple women represent different emotions our core character is feeling at any given time and that they have something to do with tarot cards that are prominently featured in one section of the film and also used to break the film up into chapters, but I would sound completely out of my element trying to even guess what Malick might be implying with these details.
At this point, the countless interior monologues and shots of water with every character walking on the beach at least once make it obvious that Malick doesn't care about capturing exposition or highly dramatic scenes to tell of his drama, but that the importance instead rests on how such images are pieced together. Of course, when taken as a piece of entertainment and given how many times the director relies on such imagery in “Knight of Cups” it seems he is getting closer and closer to self-parody than anything resembling an epiphany or emotional clarity. I also understand Malick probably shouldn't be taken simply as "entertainment", but rather that his films are more like orchestral movements than motion pictures. Still, while this is certainly an engaging approach I can't help but feel that the further Malick tends to move away from even his most loyal of fans that they will only tend to do the same with him.
by Philip Price
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have carved out something of a niche for themselves by making high-brow, star-centric, concept dramedies that one can't help but to be interested in if over a certain age. With “Crazy Stupid Love” being something of a breakout after their underrated 2009 debut in “I Love You Phillip Morris” the co-directors collaborated on writing and directing the stylish if not overly convoluted Will Smith caper last winter in “Focus” and have now moved on to collaborate with Tina Fey and long time writing partner Robert Carlock for this adaptation of newspaper reporter Kim Barker's memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While I haven't read Barker's book this is one of the few stories I almost feel compelled to go back and read after having seen the movie version. Typically, I like to read any type of source material prior to seeing a film adaptation due simply to knowing where the idea for the film came from and what/why certain changes might have been made to better adapt the material to a different art form, but “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (why they didn't keep the more engaging title of the book for the movie is something of a mystery, especially given I don't recall there being a title card in the film) is something of an aberration in the sense that the film itself is not necessarily what we might expect from a seeming comedy, that somehow was able to get away with an R-rating, and stars one of the more agreeable celebrities of our time. Fey is someone even the most cynical among us can't seem to dislike and so to pair her with directors who have somehow managed to secure solid budgets on thoughtful, adult fare such as this is inspiring and thankfully, worth the endeavor as the resulting product is a well-constructed, nicely measured bit of insight into a set of circumstances not many can identify with making this inside look and the general proceedings all the more engaging and interesting.
Barker now has one less letter in her last name as Fey plays a version of the real-life reporter named Kim Baker who volunteered out of a handful of colleagues who also had no spouses and no children to go as a war correspondent to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2003. Initially intended to be a short, three month stay the film actually begins in 2006 where we are privy to a seasoned Baker who has seamlessly integrated herself into the culture of the area and the small, but loyal group of journalists, reporters, photographers, and security personnel that make up the small compound of non-natives chasing interesting aspects of the ongoing conflicts in the country. Fey's Baker largely commits to such a drastic change due to her dissatisfaction with her life in general. As a transcript writer who occasionally takes on low-profile stories who's in a relationship with a semi-serious boyfriend (Josh Charles) that seems to be heading nowhere her life has stalled. And so, change is needed, but as Baker's time in Afghanistan continues to be extended she comes to experience new insights and realizations about not only the American presence in the area, but herself and the type of role these experiences will play in shaping the person she is still becoming. There are a host of crucial elements involved in lending the film and its protagonist such insights though, the most critical of which being the people that welcome Baker into their humble abode and give her a VIP tour of what life is like for those who don't mind putting their lives on the line for a little bit of airtime. Most significant are noted Australian correspondent Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), Scottish freelance photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman) and Afghan government figure Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina). Almost of more interest though are the relationships Baker develops with her "fixer" of sorts in Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott) and an American Marine General (Billy Bob Thornton) that influence both her personal and professional perspective on the present situation she has placed herself in.
It is in these relationships that “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” finds its heart. Otherwise, there is hardly a driving plot device other than the one that is abruptly introduced in the third act and is resolved just as promptly for what seems to be no other reason than to create a little bit of tension for the film to resolve before committing to its denouement. Still, this is more than enough to sustain the film as it has plenty to say given the characteristics of its main players and the backdrop of their story that provides ample commentary and plenty of amusing conversations. Given Fey is a woman who has always been passionate about giving women a strong voice in an industry dominated by Caucasian males one of the clearer objectives here for the producer/actor and likely for the real Barker as well was to highlight the status of women in such regions of the world. Giving a voice to the voiceless, if you will. The first of many challenges in adapting to her new surroundings comes in dealing with the societal expectations of women in Afghanistan. Baker's status as a woman presents many restrictions while also giving way to a few advantages especially in gaining access to women in a village where a US-built well is consistently being damaged the reasoning to which is ultimately unveiled to Baker in a memorable scene that breaks a barrier for both the native women and this unique aspect from which she might approach her stories from. A scene where Fey's Baker hides a camera under a burqa to record an Al-Qaeda-like demonstration is another that illustrates not only how the character utilizes her role as a woman, but also further clarifies how much of a drug the dangerous environment can be. Baker begins to depend on the rush that comes with such attempts to find a good story that her perception of normal begins to warp as well. It is through this conflict that her relationship with Abbott's Fahim takes a turn from someone she works with to someone who truly means something in her life. As Fahim, Abbott is incredibly compassionate with his facial expressions communicating much of the sympathy he garners from the audience. While Fey and Freeman are ultimately the ones who end up in a charming romance, it is the relationship between Kim and Fahim that was giving me all the feels.
Sure, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” suffers from being a little too long, some of which is spent meandering and some of which is spent trying to shoehorn in that unnecessary conflict and its resolution, but overall the film works due to its larger purpose of painting a fascinating portrait of a set of circumstances most would never dare allow themselves to be found in. More than this, it pulls out the bigger themes of these individuals' lives and the lessons they learn from being on the ground in Afghanistan at that point in time and applying those to the film rather than attempting to reach for something bigger in hopes of making some grand political statement. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a small, but effective feature and while it deals in big issues of the real world, the issues it brings to the forefront are those of the same qualities that describe the film. On the terms of being more of a character study the film inadvertently breaks down the evolving psyche of a character who goes from one seeming normality to another that includes the conflicting ideologies within her that argue over what exactly "normal" means eventually forcing her to face what she sees and evaluates as true happiness and success and setting her sights on those goals so that her ambitions might eventually become a "normal" she's secure in. Ficarra and Requa never state outright how they intend to get at certain themes or ideas, but rather they simply allow the material to breathe and it is from this sense of looseness and freedom that we come to recognize such motifs. Yes, Margot Robbie is nice to look at, but more importantly she further solidifies herself as pure movie star material as her charisma is off the charts here. Yes, you'll surely recognize Tall Brian (Nicholas Braun) from a number of other movies you can't put your finger on and yes you'll likely Google Evan Jonigkeit afterward to see what else the likable, modest actor has been in, but this is Fey's movie and she owns every shot of it from the unsuspecting opening all the way through to the unexpectedly weighty conclusion.
by Philip Price
There is nothing more pleasing than a product (or an individual for that matter) that is completely self-aware. It just makes everything less awkward when the fated time comes where one must be honest and up front about things. This is what makes both “London Has Fallen” and its predecessor, “Olympus Has Fallen,” so easy to like and enjoy. Both films know exactly what they are and strive to be nothing more (or so I thought given the idea of a sequel to such a film would presumably follow the same pattern). As a blatant “Die Hard” rip-off that means to entertain a certain type of audience primed for a certain type of entertainment “London Has Fallen” mostly fulfills that quota. Are either of these films necessarily good? No, not really. The dialogue is cheesy, the CGI is cheap, and the plot is almost completely nonsensical, but to say they're not at least a good bit of fun would be a lie. Gerard Butler (bouncing back somewhat from last week's truly terrible “Gods of Egypt”) is charismatic enough to lead the charge in this kind of film while the four-man screenwriting team has upped Aaron Eckhart's presidential role considerably so that there is something of a buddy cop dynamic to the proceedings. Oddly enough, while ‘Olympus’ made $161 million worldwide on $70m the budget for this sequel apparently went up by $35m, but looks a fair amount cheaper. Iranian director Babak Najafi takes over for original helmer Antoine Fuqua and despite having more money, but a broader canvas on which to paint this inevitable, but costly sequel ends up feeling like more of a laborious effort than its rather elementary predecessor. In short, there are times when “London Has Fallen” does unfortunately forget what it needs to be (a wall-to-wall actioner) and instead gets too wrapped up in the politics of the plot resulting in a film that's all the more ludicrous while also slowing what should be a breakneck pace. It is when Najafi sticks to what this franchise is known for rather than attempting to broaden its horizons that audiences get what they paid to see. There's a line in the film, some words of wisdom, that go, "never criticize, only encourage," and while this may not apply to film criticism given "critic" is the root word of the job title if I were to have encouraged “London Has Fallen” to do anything it would have been to stay more true to itself and not try to be more than what it was always destined to be: a painless cash grab.
Beginning with an epilogue of sorts that sets up the reasons why our antagonist (Alon Aboutboul) feels the need to seek revenge we are then quickly delivered back to Washington D.C. where the head of the Secret Service, Mike Banning (Butler), is once again training the President, Benjamin Asher (Eckhart), though this time they are simply taking a jog rather than going toe to toe in the boxing ring. There are quick exchanges of terrible dialogue that have the President asking Banning what he's made of given his apparent peak physical condition while Butler's alpha male responds sarcastically with the line, "bourbon and poor choices." We are then delivered into the Banning household where it is revealed that Mrs. Banning (Radha Mitchell) is expecting and that Mike is considering retiring from the Secret Service so that he might be able to spend more time with his growing family. Of course, this is all exposition so that we might feel an internal conflict of sorts in Banning when the Prime Minister of England suddenly dies and he is summoned to protect the President as they travel to London for the funeral. While this would seem to create a more layered character, with the protagonist having something legitimate on the line and something more to live for, Butler's character essentially forgets all of this the moment shots are fired. Of course, Aboutboul's terrorist, Aamir Barkawi, has somehow crafted a plan so elaborate and so finely tuned that his men have infiltrated numerous British authoritative organizations and are thus able to burn the capital city to the ground from the inside out. As his plan is to kill all of the world's leaders in one foul swoop I'm sure you can guess who gets away and whose job it is to make sure he stays alive while at the same time attempting to find an escape route. All of the old players return as Morgan Freeman's Trumbull has been bumped up to Vice President with Angela Basset, Melissa Leo, Sean O'Bryan and Robert Forster all returning in their high ranking government roles with Jackie Earle Haley thrown in this time around for good measure.
There are a fair amount of theories about where the popular nursery rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down," came from, but no matter where the song originated the fact of the matter is that London bridges do indeed come crashing down in “London Has Fallen” and no one takes advantage of such an opportunity. In my mind this is prime real estate for the type of film “London Has Fallen” should be, but instead the film gets its inspiration for one liners out of situations that have Asher popping out of a closet at the last second to shoot a guy that's about to kill Banning and Banning thanking him with the remark, "I was wondering when you were gonna come out of the closet." It's not that a movie like “London Has Fallen” needs to be concerned with political correctness or not being offensive because no one should be taking a movie such as this seriously enough to be offended, but one would hope the writers would acknowledge the right cheap shots instead of simply conjuring up the cheapest shots. This is where the film runs into its biggest problem in that it just isn't enough of what it should be. At a brisk hour and 40 minutes “London Has Fallen” should feel as if it hits the necessary beats while shoehorning in a subplot or two all of which are nicely resolved in a single climax with plenty of one liners and ridiculous actions sequences along the way. First of all, there are nowhere near enough one liners as Butler is more about making questionable choices that would definitely come back to bite him later were he not made to be even more of a super hero this time around. As for the action scenes, they become all the more lackadaisical and messy as the film goes on. An initial car chase through the streets of London that has Banning swinging out of windows and doors in order to take out his opponents is the films best example of a finely choreographed sequence that stands to hold some tension and emotional resonance, but by the time we reach the point where Banning has to infiltrate an abandoned building that serves as the headquarters for the enemy he is basically just yelling incoherently and firing his gun at random in hopes of hitting anything or anyone. Sure, that may be a bit of a generalization given there is some notable hand to hand combat in that final sequence, but Najafi captures it with such dimly lit and unfocused enthusiasm that it hardly feels worth paying attention to.
Furthermore, “London Has Fallen” makes a point of being both the most American movie one can imagine in the sense Najafi is almost overcompensating to the point he wants to really stick it to Michael Bay while at the same time attempting to do justice to his own nationality by giving the familiar terrorist antagonists a justification for their actions; a perspective that strives to tell audiences they're not so different from you or I, but simply acting in their own defense given their skewed version of us is likely just as skewed as ours is of them. It's an interesting line for the film to walk, but ultimately it doesn't commit deeply enough to any one thought to explore it sufficiently and instead resorts to the expected name calling and short sided reasoning that make us feel better about the violent actions we're taking. This is somewhat reinforced by the way President Asher is constantly questioning Banning's choices throughout despite our knowledge that Banning's stubborn and sometimes sadistic methods will inevitably set both men free without consequences. And so, what else is there to say about a film that knows not to take itself too seriously, but can't help but dip into a deeper conversation every now and then? Not much, because as you're experiencing the film you're hoping it eventually decides what type of movie it wants to be and sticks with it rather than swerving back and forth between tones while trying desperately to strike a balance. “London Has Fallen” was meant to be little more than a numbingly entertaining action flick that delivered to audiences more of the same and for the most part, it does just that. Neither I nor the movie are completely convinced that's all it wants or should be though. The truth is that there is no need for any lessons or larger ideas because one can only go to a certain depth before everything begins to get questioned and “London Has Fallen” simply doesn't have enough depth throughout to dip your toes in much less to go fishing for some kind of grand notion. Though “London Has Fallen” might actually be trying to say something about the eventual and inevitable collapse of all systems including our governments all that comes across on screen is boom and kapow.
by Philip Price
“Zootopia” is something of a combination of an analogy for our real world and the hopes and dreams of where we might one day end up-a utopia if you will. In “Zootopia” everything is indeed perfect and as animals have risen up to become responsible citizens of the planet it is of course, imagined. Still, this world is portrayed as a place where animals have evolved to the point there is no dividing line between the once vicious predators and the meek prey they once hunted, but rather both groups have moved beyond these primitive ways to conduct a society where everyone has the same opportunities and where all species get along with one another no problem. Of course, there are minor cracks of prejudice between certain sects of animals, but these seem to only be apparent in some of the more backward thinking individuals who still hold old traditions to be of an absolute truth. Sound familiar? Disney seems to be making no qualms about drawing the parallels between this imagined world where cute, animated creatures roam free and our own society where we too have trouble letting go of lessons drawn from a world of different circumstance and experience and not applying them to our current cultural landscape. That “Zootopia” is willing to display such faults is telling in the first place, but that it goes so far to make this desire to return to the old ways of thinking and ultimately existing by some tells even more. With a group of five writers and directors the film is primed to start many discussions after viewing it as the film itself seems to have naturally come out of many long conversations between its creators and their staff. If you're one who doesn't care to have your animated films relevant or culturally-charged rest assured the final product is still very much in the vein of what most parents and families will be expecting from the film, but with the added weight of such apt comparisons and broad resolutions of love and equality with acknowledged caveats to each situation there is certainly an added layer of meaning to the proceedings if you care to look.
We begin with a brief history of how “Zootopia” came to be via a stage play put on by a few young, fuzzy mammals which inevitably introduces the audience to our unofficial mascot of the city and protagonist Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin). Judy is a bunny who dreams of making the already utopic Zootopia an even better place. Of course, the titular city can't exactly be a utopia in the traditional sense if there is need for a police force, but they at least uphold the city to as close to the given title as they can and Judy wants to carry on that tradition by becoming the first bunny cop. Her parents (Don Lake and Bonnie Hunt) aren't too sure of this life choice telling Judy that the beauty of complacency is that never having to try anything new means she'll never fail. This outlook simply doesn't line up with Judy's way of thinking though for despite there never having been another bunny cop Judy's only reaction is that she will then be the first one. If this all sounds rather juvenile it seems to be intentionally so if only to deceive unsuspecting audiences more when the underlying themes and main idea become more evident. We are ushered through Judy's training at the police academy and the knowledge that Zootopia is more or less the beacon of change for all the areas surrounding it including the small town where Judy hails from. We also learn that Zootopia is broken down into 12 unique ecosystems within its city limits including Tundratown, Sahara Square and the Rain Forest District to name a few. While Judy follows her dreams and indeed becomes the first bunny cop this is not the end of the challenges she must overcome as her arrival in Zootopia marks the entrance of an indifferent Chief (Idris Elba) who puts her on parking meter duty that only leads the inquisitive and proactive Judy to team up with a con artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to uncover a city-wide conspiracy.
While the added substance of the ideas and lessons the film is attempting to convey is certainly appreciated what I enjoyed most about the film was that I had no idea what it was about or where the story and plot would be taking me due to the fact the marketing only introduced audiences to this inviting, colorful world. The surprise of seeing Judy navigate her way through the dynamics and politics of this fresh and fully realized environment is only the tip of the iceberg though, as it quickly becomes clear that we'll be getting to the core of what makes the city of Zootopia tick via a plot device that will not only add interest and intrigue to the obligatory adventure these characters must go on, but also preach its message of dignity without being...well, preachy. Through this conglomerate of ideas and near flawless execution I was enthralled from the get-go. Goodwin makes a bubbly, reliable hero for whom you never doubt Judy's genuine nature while Bateman couldn't be a more perfect foil for which to spoil the grand, pristine picture of what an outsider like Judy expects Zootopia to be. As Wilde, Bateman's character design looks remarkably similar to Disney's 1973 version of Robin Hood (who was also a fox), but who rather than stealing from the rich to give to the poor is all about making money for himself and getting the most personal gain out of any situation he might find himself in. Through a series of fortunate or unfortunate events depending on whose perspective you view them from (Judy or Nick's) the two end up on the trail of a missing Otter who is part of a larger problem that has up to 14 animals missing (all of which are predators) with no trace as to where they might have disappeared to. It is here the film finds its ability to really cast a spell though as it is in these moments, during Judy and Nick's investigation, that the film is allowed to show its high level of creativity, humor, and inherent ability to explore something complicated with little more than harmless-looking animals.
Whether it be Jenny Slate's assistant mayor Bellweather, Tommy Chong's Yax who is of course a Yak, or even Flash (voice of Raymond Persi) the sloth prominently featured in the DMV trailer, there are moments of strong comedy and equally strong subtext throughout. Each of these are meant to elicit a type of caricature of sorts audience members might have come across at one point or another in our lives. While humorous their purpose in the bigger scope of Judy and Nick's objective is to provide color and flesh out the world we have come to inhabit while simultaneously being used as statements that deal in the bigotry towards different ethnicity's, homosexuals, those that have dealt with gender stereotypes, as well as not so hot topics like friendship and relationships not simply with a romantic partner, but within families and communities. Needless to say, “Zootopia” has a lot going on and it is able to contain these socially conscious themes and then convey them through nothing more than strong storytelling. If there's one thing that drew my attention away from the admirable message the film is touting it's that it ends up playing into stereotypes itself in certain instances. For example, in the opening moments where Judy is bullied by a fox whose parents’ ignorant views have clearly informed his level of intelligence said fox is blatantly made to resemble a backwoods Southerner who takes offense to any notion of change and fights back against anyone adamant for such variations on the traditional. While it is understandable why this character choice was made so as to get the film’s point across in a brisk fashion this still feels as if it's going against the films own progressive mentality. This becomes clearer when a stereotypical character voiced by Nate Torrence acknowledges as much about himself in an attempt by the movie to further illustrate how we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. This is a minor quibble in an otherwise laudable film that remains relentlessly entertaining, looks breathtaking on the big screen, and highlights why it is our differences that not only make us interesting, but beautiful.
by Julian Spivey
If you’ve ever wondered why so many conservatives hate Hollywood or as they like to call it “Hollyweird” (yet they have Donald Trump as their front-runner) than look no further than Sunday night’s telecast of the 88th annual Academy Awards. With the running theme of the night being to call out the Academy’s lack of diversity, along with acceptance speeches calling out politicians, warning of continued climate change, being proud of one’s homosexuality and the biggest award of the night going to a film that calls out a religion’s refusal to do anything about the sexual abuse of children the night seemed to definitely have a liberal-bent to it. This is quite surprising from a ceremony that had been controversial going in for its lack of diversity.
Let’s get one thing straight before I continue – I don’t care if others found the show to be controversial or if they were irritated by aspects of it. I found the production from top-to-bottom to be one of the best Oscars telecasts I’ve seen and Chris Rock’s hosting and primarily his monologue instantly became one of the best emceeing jobs in the history of hosting award shows.
We all knew what was coming as far as Rock’s monologue and the likely lambasting of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that has been the talk of the Oscars for two consecutive years without a single minority actor being nominated for an acting performance either year. Because of this the Academy took the rightful step in trying to diversify its voting body. Now, I should note that I thought the #OscarsSoWhite controversy was mostly much ado about nothing, because I believe the 20 acting nominations should go to those most deserving, regardless of race, and believe the Academy mostly gets things right, if you’re matching their nominations up with critical consensus of performances and films. I even wrote an article for this website after the nominations were announced discussing how I believed the controversy to be an overreaction. But, I still greatly anticipated Rock’s monologue, because I knew he would have some important points to make (despite not having a problem with a second straight year of nothing but white nominees I do see that Hollywood has a diversity problem when it comes to numbers of roles for minorities, among other things) and most importantly I knew Rock would be hilarious (which is often hit or miss with hosts of the ceremony).
Rock’s monologue was the most anticipated award show monologue ever and he didn’t disappoint. He was hilarious, truthful, edgy and controversial – the things that have always made him one of America’s finest stand-up comedians. Tina Fey, a brilliant comedian in her own right, said during a red carpet interview before the show that Rock was maybe “the greatest living stand-up right now” and he proved why during his monologue.
Rock came out swinging for the fences on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy with his very first joke being “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage,” after the ceremony opened with a montage highlighting the year in film. Rock continued, “I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards. If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. Neil Patrick Harris would be hosting.”
Rock’s edgiest jokes were his best and most humorous, because they hit on some important truths. I’m sure these are the jokes that probably made some watching from home instantaneously switch off their televisions because they couldn’t handle the truth (to quote a former Best Picture nominee). Rock mentioning why the lack of diversity in film is being brought up today and not, say, the ‘60s said: “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematography. When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary, Foreign Short.” Later on he said the In Memoriam segment would “just be black people who were shot by cops on their way to the movies.”
Rock did a marvelous job mixing important takes on diversity in Hollywood with humor and came out entertaining those of us at home, while also making some in the audience at the Oscars, and the industry in general, uncomfortable. In this facet, he actually outdid Ricky Gervais’ running hosting stints at the Golden Globe Awards, where the British comedian does the same. The only difference between the two being Gervais never cares about anything and Rock seemed to care – at least on Sunday night – a great deal, as well he should have. He had an entire nation, and especially an entire race of people, watching him, depending on him and he knocked it out of the park.
The night’s theme of lack of black nominees came up again time and again throughout the night, including the hilarious segment where Whoopi Goldberg played a maid on the set of “Joy,” Tracy Morgan was “The Danish Girl” and Leslie Jones played the bear that mauls Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant.” Some of these segments didn’t work as well as others like when Rock went to a movie theater in Compton in which his interviewees didn’t seem to know any of the nominees. This hit at a point that it seems people of different races sometimes seem to mostly watch movies that star people who look like them, which makes no sense to me.
Kevin Hart also hit home the point of lack of diversity before introducing something or another (it’s a long telecast and I forgot) by congratulating all of the minority performers of the year who gave great performances, but weren’t honored. It was a nice moment, but kind of unnecessary given the terrific job Rock had done earlier. But, it had the feel of “if I’m going to be here, I’m going to give my two cents too,” which is understandable.
It wasn’t just the #OscarsSoWhite talk that I’m sure riled up the conservatives watching – the few who might have stayed tuned in following the opening – but periodically throughout the night came moments like when director/writer Adam McKay while accepting the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Big Short” called out the Koch Brothers, among others, by saying, “If you don’t want big money to control government don’t vote for candidates who take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires.” This might seem off-topic to some, but those people apparently didn’t watch “The Big Short,” about the financial crisis of 2008.
By the time, the show ended almost three hours later, though, McKay’s line was probably long forgotten and replaced by the more political tone of DiCaprio’s Best Actor acceptance speech for his performance in “The Revenant.” DiCaprio warned of continued climate change and the dangers of it for the future of our planet saying that “2015 was the warmest year ever recorded.” He ended by saying, “I feel so overwhelmed with gratitude, but there is a ticking clock out there and a sense of urgency. If you do not believe in climate change you do not believe in scientists and you will be on the wrong side of history.”
When he was finished I didn’t know whether or not he had just accepted an Oscar or declared his candidacy for President of the United States. I’m sure his taking the opportunity to take a stance on a political issue during his award acceptance led to groans from some, but ultimately it’s his night and he has the right to do what he wants with his time.
Then there was Sam Smith’s surprising win for Best Original Song for “Writing’s on the Wall” from the most recent James Bond film “SPECTRE” over Lady Gaga’s “Till It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground” where Smith erroneously claimed to be the first openly gay man to accept an Oscar saying that he read a quote from actor Ian McKellan saying no openly gay man had ever won. McKellan was referring to acting categories, as “Milk” screenwriter and openly gay man Dustin Lance Black won an Oscar in 2009.
In a moment that may have riled up particularly hateful and bigoted viewers Smith said, “I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community all around the world. I stand here tonight as a proud gay man, and I hope we can all stand together as equals one day.”
The top honor of the night, Best Picture, went to Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” the true story of investigative journalists from Boston who broke the story of Catholic priests sexually abusing young people and how the Church covered it up. Going into the night “Spotlight” was one of the front-runners, but having only won one previous honor all night, for Original Screenplay, it may have come as a slight shocker that it beat out “The Revenant” for the top honor. With all of the other liberal moments throughout the night it probably didn’t bother people too much that a movie that somewhat takes on religion, even in a true story, won the night’s biggest award.
The only moment of the entire telecast that was really strange was the choice to play Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” during the show’s end credits. It was even a choice that confused Public Enemy emcee Chuck D, who tweeted shortly after the telecast, “The song Fight the Power is beyond me & the crew. The point of the song is a call to making change eventually, not just applauding the thought.” It seemed to be one last point proving message by the producers of the show, but it didn’t really fit with the entire night, in which performances from movies were played by the orchestra. However, had they chosen a performance from N.W.A., subject of one of last year’s most watched films “Straight Outta Compton,” and at the center of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy by only receiving a nomination for Best Original Screenplay (which was actually written by multiple white people), it would’ve seemed fitting and would’ve made a point – albeit maybe a subtler one than “Fight the Power.”
This country is likely at the most political it’s ever been and certainly at its most politically divisive since at least the Civil Rights Movement and possibly going back even as far as the Civil War. It shouldn’t be surprising that Hollywood’s biggest night decided to take stances, but for some in this country taking stances against what they view as normal is a controversial thing to do. I bet Fox News is going to be talking way more about the Oscars on Monday than it ever has before.