Report from the New York Film Festival (for Alternate Ending)

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As part of my work over at Alternate Ending, I’ve written some short reviews to some of the movies I saw at this year’s New York Film Festival. So if you’re interested in that kind of thing, hop over there and you’ll find reviews of…

The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) and starring Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman.

ROMA, the latest movie by Alfonso Cuarón (Oscar-winning director of Gravity).

If Beale Street Could TalkBarry Jenkins’s follow-up to his beloved Moonlight.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggswhich started as a Netflix series but became a movie in which the Coen Brothers explore the western.

Below is an excerpt from my review of ROMA, which was my favorite of the four, and one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.


The festival’s prestigious centerpiece spot was given to Roma, which sees director Alfonso Cuarón follow up his Oscar-winning work in Gravity with a much more personal story. To say that the movie is based on Cuarón’s upbringing in 1970s Mexico City would be technically correct, but a little misleading. Unlike most directors who make movies based on their childhood, Cuarón doesn’t center the story around a little boy who stand-ins for him, but chooses instead to focus on one of the maids who worked for his middle-class family. We first see Cleo, played beautifully by Yalitza Aparicio, washing a tile floor and performing other domestic duties as family life occurs around her. The children of the house adore her, partially because her job is to take care of them, while the mother -who is going through an emotional struggle of her own- oscillates between sympathetic and cruel. At first Cleo seems to be an entry point for the movie to dig deeper into the family, but it becomes apparent rather quickly that this is her story, and that that’s the point of the movie.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW

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What Will Be This Year’s Failed Oscarbait? (for Alternate Ending)

welcome_to_marwenI’m very happy to continue my stint as collaborator over at Alternate Ending, a very fine website with great film reviews and a delightful podcast. This time, I look at the upcoming awards season. Not to predict who will win the Oscar, but to predict which movies will end up as the big disappointments of the year. Below is an excerpt, with a link to the full article.


“Fall is the best season for movies” is a common notion informed by the belief that movie studios are saving their best movies for what we have come to know as “awards season.” Having a movie out in the weeks leading up to the Oscar nominations can help boost box office; with the condition, of course, that the movie in question gets nominated in the first place. We all know the truth about the Fall. Some of the best movies get released in the last few months of the year, but not every movie that gets released during these months is good. For every cinematic masterpiece, there is a bland piece of middle-brow entertainment that was created with the intention of winning some Oscars, but will most likely be forgotten before the season is over.

The fact that this kind of movie so nakedly search for validation in the form of awards makes the inevitable outcome all the more appealing. Movies that were once considered sure things but fail to get any nomination (like those classics Reservation RoadJ. Edgar, and Charlie Wilson’s War) feed the schadenfreude bug like no other kind of cinematic failure. That is why I’ve always found reading the tea leaves for what will fail to be as entertaining as predicting what will succeed. With all this in mind, I have some predictions for the movies that are most likely to end up the big failures of this upcoming awards season.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT WHAT THESE MOVIES ARE

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Keanu (for Alternate Ending)

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I’m very happy to continue my stint as collaborator over at Alternate Ending, a very fine website with great film reviews and a delightful podcast. This month, I tackle one of the great questions of our time: how did Keanu Reeves go from being considered a bad actor, to one of our most beloved movie stars? Below is an excerpt, and a link to the full article.


Point Break Live, the successful stage parody of Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 action classic Point Break, starts out with the audience deciding who will play the main character (undercover agent Johnny Utah, a role originated by Keanu Reeves). Audience members volunteer to play the role, while the other patrons clap for who they like best. The conceit of having an “average joe” play Utah is both fun and cruel. The implication here is that Keanu Reeves’s performance is so stiff and awkward that it would be best replicated by a non-professional pulled from the audience. Point Break Live opened in 2003, around the time I first learned who Keanu Reeves was, and when the popular opinion was that he was a bad actor.

That’s not the popular opinion any longer. My sense is that we are living in extremely pro-Keanu times. My Twitter feed loves Keanu: I see him in pictures, memes, and GIFs almost every day. Now, we all know Film Twitter is rarely representative of the world at large, but people have been shelling out good money to see Keanu Reeves lately, especially in the John Wick movies. The enthusiasm is there. So much so that the release of John Wick: Chapter 2 came with articles such as “Keanu Reeves is a perfect
action star” (from Vox) and “Why Keanu Reeves is Low-Key the Coolest Actor in Hollywood.” (from GQ) I think it’s safe to say the tide has turned in Keanu’s favor, but how did it happen?

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

Support the Girls is an American Masterpiece

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Andrew Bujalski’s new movie, Support the Girls, is an American masterpiece. If you think this notion sounds ridiculous considering this is a low-budget comedy about the waitresses of a Hooters knock-off, you are forgiven. However, I can’t promise you’ll be able to forgive yourself if you pass up the opportunity to watch this excellent movie. Most of Support the Girls takes place over 24 hours and in one location. It’s a tiny movie, but it feels gigantic. It has enormous things to say about women, labor, race, class, and humanity. It moved me in a profound way, the way only one or two movies do every year. It is also hilarious.

The movie stars Regina Hall, who’s been excellent for many years and is finally getting a stab at lead roles, such as her radiant turn in last year’s Girls Trip. This time around, she plays Lisa, the general manager of “Double Whammies,” the kind of sports bar where the waitresses wear short shorts and reveal a lot of cleavage. This type of restaurant proves to be a setting ripe for exploration, and positioning Lisa as the central character gets rid of the sleazy male gaze that usually comes with movies about scantily clad women. As manager Lisa is the bridge between business owner and workers, and as a woman she is the safety net between working girls and the charged, potentially dangerous, gaze of the clients.

Lisa is good at her job. She is resourceful. We mostly follow her during one eventful day, in which she is faced with one problem after another, and never fails to find quick and viable solutions. One of the girls says Lisa is “married to this job.”She’d be the perfect manager, except that she cares. She cares about the girls that work for her, and that’s not great for business. She knows what it’s like to be one of these young women and wants to protect and guide them as much as possible. Despite a million things going wrong on this fateful day, trying to help one of her girls is what gets her in trouble with her manager. Being a human and running a business are simply not compatible.

This divide between professionalism and empathy is what makes Lisa such a unique and fascinating character. Manager characters are usually portrayed as ass-kissing weasels who want nothing more than to climb the professional ladder. Their desire to move up in the workplace is usually a sign that they have betrayed the ground-level workers, especially if they started out as one. But Lisa cares. She is a multi-dimensional human with real world problems and the movie is right there with her. There are no p.o.v. shots or surreal touches that get us inside Lisa’s head or anything like that, but Bujalski very explicitly chooses to share the camera with his protagonist. A telling moment comes early in the film: It’s already been a stressful morning when Lisa steps out of the restaurant and enjoys a moment of calm. She takes a deep breath, and the hand-held camera moves up and down very slightly, as if it was breathing with her.It’s a significant touch. One that signals not only toward Bujalski’s commitment to his main character, but to the movie’s overall commitment to empathy and being willing to share in the lives of other humans.

This is a very clear strength when it comes to the girls. You have Danyelle (Shayna McHale), who’s good at her job despite pretty much hating it. There’s new hire Jennelle (Dylan Gelula), a marketing major with a lot of ideas. And above all, there’s eternally peppy Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), the only girl who seems to actually enjoy working at “Double Whammies.” Thanks to this commitment to empathy, the girls are both hilarious and poignant, and the actors who play them are able to make up the best ensemble of the year.

What’s so effective about Support the Girls is that its characters are not helpless, or dumb, or caricatures. They have agency, dimension, initiative. They make choices, they collaborate, they try to get ahead. Some of their decisions are questionable, but we see where they’re coming from. The movie argues that these women have a right to have principles other than those dictated by society, and allowed to make mistakes while trying to live up to them. Lisa says as much during an emotional argument with her husband: “I can take fucking up all day long, but I can’t take not trying.”

Support the Girls positions daily life in the context of an America that keeps on moving despite its deep problems. It casts a light on the people who refuse to lose their humanity just because they have to go along and make it work. Anyone who’s worked a shitty job will immediately relate. Bujalski has pulled a magnificent move, in which he’s couched something profound inside a seemingly unassuming movie. His final trick is closing his movie by echoing the last scene of indie black sheep Garden State, only this time the loud screams into the void ring with the power of America’s working women.

Who’s the Next Meryl? (for Alternate Ending)

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I am very happy to announce that the folks over at Alternate Ending, who run a fine website and an equally fine podcast, have asked me to become a contributor. So if you’re  weirdo who wishes I wrote more often on this blog, you will be glad to know I’ll be publishing monthly articles for them. Below is a little taste of my first piece: Who is the Next Meryl? 


It’s a hard truth but I gotta tell it: one day, there’ll be no Meryl Streep. This day will hopefully not come until many, many years from now, but I can’t help but worry. My cinephilia is strongly linked to my predilection for actresses, and there is no one who represents contemporary Great Acting like her.

If you’re reading this, you already know who she is. Widely considered the best actress of her generation, she is also one of the few performers who can still open a medium-budget drama based solely on the fact that people will be interested in seeing her act. She is, basically, the acting queen. I worry because at some point in the future Meryl’s star will set for good, and we will have to turn to another lady to take her crown. I’m sure Meryl has many years of great performances ahead of her, but we have to start looking at some point, don’t we?

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE.

 

Best Movies of 2008

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Have been posting supremely scarcely for a variety of reasons (work, personal, you name it). These days you have a better chance of catching up with my film viewing either on Twitter or on my Letterboxd. But since I’ve been away for so long, I thought I’d share a conversation I had with my good friend Rachel Wagner about our favorite movies from ten years ago. Last year, we recorded a podcast with our top ten movies from 2007, and this year we’ve kept up the tradition by tackling 2008.

You can subscribe to Rachel’s podcast Rachel’s Reviews on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. Or you can listen to our conversation below on Soundcloud or Youtube. Hope you enjoy!

2018 Summer Box Office Predictions

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Of all the yearly traditions on this blog, this might be the most futile. This is the one in which I try (and invariably fail) to predict which movies will end up as the top ten hits of the U.S. box office. To be fair, I didn’t do too badly last year. I predicted nine out of the ten movies that ended up in the top ten, even if I predicted them all in the wrong order. I had this hunch that Wonder Woman might be the biggest hit of the summer, but foolish me chickened out and went the “safe” route, thinking Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a sure-bet for the top spot. Twelve months later, I don’t need to tell you Wonder Woman was the movie of the summer, though I might have to remind you that a Guardians sequel did in fact play in theaters last year. Being wrong! It’s fun!

Blow are my predictions for which will be the ten most “successful” movies at the box office this summer, with a big caveat. Some of these franchise movies are so impossible expensive to make that ending up in the top ten, and making hundreds of millions of dollars, doesn’t guarantee they will make a profit. There are a lot of those this summer. Just take a look at my list below, and realize that absolutely none of the movies I’m predicting are an original property. They are all part of an established franchise. I mean, a couple of them look good, and there’s also other smaller movies being released in the following months; but it will be a long summer for big Hollywood movies.

Before we get into it, however, let me inform you I recorded a podcast on this very topic with my good friend Rachel Wagner. This is the second year in which we try to predict the summer box office, so give it a listen if you want to listen to me make a fool of myself instead of merely reading it. I’ve linked to the podcast at the end of this post. It is also available both on Soundcloud and as a Youtube video.

1. The Incredibles 2 
Release Date: June 15
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 500 Million
I might phoning it in a little bit with this choice for number one, but I just can’t predict another Marvel movie to be at the top of the summer box office! For three in years in a row, I’ve predicted Marvel to come out on top, and for three years I’ve been wrong. This year, Marvel is bringing out the big guns, but I just can’t predict them again. I just can’t. So I’ve decided to go with The Incredibles 2, thinking that the movie could pull-off a run similar to Finding Dory, which dominated the summer two years ago.

2. Avengers: Infinity Wars
Release Date: April 27
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 450 Million
This is Marvel’s big play of the summer, the movie that will bring a thousand characters together and (presumably) pay off with the big battle the superhero franchise has been building up to for ten years. Early ticket sales for the movie have been huge, and Marvel is coming off the gigantic success of Black Panther, which can’t help. This movie, by all counts, has everything it needs to be the biggest hit of the summer and I’m probably a dumb idiot for not putting it at number one. Maybe the superhero fatigue will finally set in? Maybe the movie will disappoint fans in a big way? Or maybe I’m just being too personal, thinking audiences getting as tired of the Marvel movies as I am.

3. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Release Date: May 25
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 350 Million
Number three is nothing to sneeze at, but number three of the year (let alone the summer!) for a Star Wars movie is kind of a disaster. The franchise has ended at the top of the yearly box office for three years in a row now, so how could a movie that centers on one of its most beloved characters not be the biggest hit of the year? Well, the whole “young Han Solo” thing has met a lot of skepticism, pair that with the fact that we just got a (pretty divisive) Star Wars movie a mere five months ago and you are left with less enthusiasm than usual. Every Star Wars movie can’t be gigantic in a world in which we get a new one every year… can it?

4. Deadpool 2
Release Date: May 8
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Predicted Box Office: 290 Million
The first Deadpool was a surprise hit, earning 336 million dollars in the U.S. and coming embarrassingly close of a Best Picture nomination. But that movie came out in the (still but every year less so) doldrums of February. This time, the most obnoxious superhero of them all is playing in the big leagues of summer. People seem to like the rancid first movie, so I expect the sequel to make decent business (though not as well as its predecesor) despite being sandwiched between Avengers and Star Wars. 

5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom 
Release Date: June 22
Studio: Universal
Predicted Box Office: 225 Million
Jurassic World dominated the box office back in 2015, becoming the third highest grossing movie in U.S. history (at the time), but is there anyone who actually likes that movie? Or that remembers it fondly? I might be in too deep into the world of Film Twitter, but I get the feeling that nobody is excited about this movie, which looks like it’s going to be about dinosaurs fighting a volcano? 225 Million is a fortune, but would be a huge disappointment for a sequel to a movie that made 652.

6. Mission Impossible: Fallout 
Release Date: July 27
Studio: Paramount
Predicted Box Office: 190 Million
Not unlike the Fast and Furious saga (but with less gigantic grosses), the Mission: Impossible movies found a winning formula well into the series. It all changed when Tom Cruise climbed up the tallest building in the world. Suddenly, we had found the perfect way to capitalize on the actor’s crazy star persona. The trailer for this latest entry devotes its last few seconds to a medley of Cruise stunts in which he falls out of many high-speeding vehicles. I don’t see a reason why people won’t show up for this. I know I will.

7. Ant-Man and the Wasp 
Release Date: July 6
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 185 Million
A miniature adventure such as this one (pun fully intended) might feel anti-climatic after the bloat of the Infinity Wars, but one would have to be truly foolish to bet on a Marvel movie not making money. Still, I wouldn’t expect this one to break any records. Falling somewhere along the lines of the first Ant-Man movie (180 million) seems most likely.

8. Ocean’s Eight 
Release Date: June 8
Studio: Warner Bros.
Predicted Box Office: 150 Million
This is movie on this list that I’m most excited to see. Actually, it’s the only movie that I’m truly excited to see (I’m being cautious about getting too excited for Incredibles 2 given Pixar’s recent track record). Anyway, a female version of Ocean’s Eleven? With this cast? Bullock. Blanchett. Paulson. Rihanna! I’m hoping general audiences are as excited for this movie as I am, because I will take all-female versions of beloved movies over exploding franchises all year long.

9. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
Release Date: July 13
Studio: Sony
Predicted Box Office: 145 Million
How many Hotel Transylvania movies will we have to endure until animator Genndy Tartakovsky finally gets to make an original movie of his own. The franchise does reliably well for Sony Pictures Animation in the Fall, so there’s the question of whether it will survive in the big leagues of summer. This isn’t a super crowded year in the animation front, so I expect this to do perfectly fine.

10. Disney’s Christopher Robin 
Release Date: August 3
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 130 Million
This one’s a bit of a question mark for me. The Disney remakes make a hell of a lot of money. The latest entry, Beauty and the Beast, was the second highest movie of last year with a 504 million haul. But this isn’t strictly a remake, and Winnie the Pooh isn’t hit the Millennial nostalgia sweet-spot quite as hard (or quite as precisely) as Beauty and the Beast. I don’t think there’s a world in which this movie is an outright flop, but how far can it actually go? I’m genuinely curious to know.