Friday, February 15, 2019

The LAMB Devours The Oscars: A Star Is Born As Best Picture

After eighty-four years, it might be time to let A Star Is Born die. The story of an ingénue rising to the top of the music (or film) industry while falling in love with a veteran spiraling out of control has been told since 1937 (and again in 1954, and then 1975). Now with the massive success of the latest version by director Bradley Cooper and co-star Lady Gaga, there's no doubt that the saga can go out on a high, if also bittersweet, note.

When the production of this musical-drama started coming together in 2016, most people were left scratching their heads: the remake of A Star Is Born had been circulating for years, rumored to star everyone from Beyonce to Leonardo DiCaprio, with director Clint Eastwood, until Bradley Cooper finally signed on to helm the project and Lady Gaga to make her debut in a leading role. Many suspected in the film's earlier days that it would garner the worst the industry has to offer known as the Razzies versus reaching the pinnacle of film-making at the Oscars. As possibly the only other rendition that rivals the most popular 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason, everything that didn’t sound good through the grapevine managed to pull the film through to critical acclaim, memorable chemistry between its leads, and crowd-pleasing tunes.

The film follows aspiring singer Ally Campana (Lady Gaga) who falls in love Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a country-rock musician plagued by substance abuse. While her career takes off with the help of his belief in her talent, his begins to fall apart. Out of their attempts to love each other in the midst of fame comes a movie where almost every production element is the star.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Serenity (2019) Delivers Justice to The Hype Train


Promo tours often limit actors from not leaking intricate or even obtuse details about their upcoming highly-anticipated films. Persuading audiences to see their project based on a trailer, the director's skills, and chemistry between the leading stars is a tricky sell, and not something I envy. This marketing spin, usually left up to Big Important Movies like action flicks and superhero sagas, has surprisingly worked for Serenity - an independent film with big names and an even bigger plot twist that's proving sometimes not shouting the story from the rooftops is worth its weight in tuna - I mean, gold.

Everyone on Plymouth knows everyone else’s business. There’s no hiding who is sleeping with who, the gossip between tourists and locals, and if someone’s venture immediately starts to flail. Plymouth is claustrophobic, to say the least, for Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) -  a washed-out fishermen obsessed with catching tuna, drowning in the memories of his son and struggling to make ends meet. When his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) comes into town offering him $10 million dollars to kill her current abusive husban , Baker must be led away from a tempting payday that could push him further into madness.

The magic about Serenity is that, like a lot of action flicks and franchise players, it’s best to not know a lot about it. Director Steven Knight, either by pure happenstance or sheer insanity, wrote a script that has a lot of things going for it – both good and bad. Namely, the story starts off relatively simple – a hardknocks guy trapped on a tropical island where everything should be easy breezy, and it’s not. Like the insufferable heat, Baker is suffocating in "paradise" where every day becomes more lucid than the last. It's within the film's most normal moments that the tension builds as Knight implores  the cinematography and mood into a modern noir.

And, then eventually the plot grows out of control to instill the twist that has everyone talking. The plot’s swerve, in all honesty, is not that hard to miss. As Baker howls, shrieks and wallows in his sorrows and obsessions, Knight slides in clues and even straight-out tells you where the story is heading. Every shot aims towards growing intrigue (okay, maybe not the ones of McConaughey in the nude but still there's something to take away from those too) and holds the promise that if the audience just stays with it a little longer, they're in for a surprise. Thus, audiences shouldn't feel shocked from a film that is blaring what is going to happen, but all that suspense transforming into true hard facts is a real mind-boggler. It’s a storytelling switch so audacious that one is left not only trailing the breadcrumbs to assess everything the film had laid out before, but also coercing you to pull back the layers of a very surreal onion that only increases the confusion and captivation.

If the film is stripped of the plot twist, Serenity contains a level of tremendous detail by its head honcho in Knight as well as genuine commitment by the cast. Between Baker falling apart over mysterious visions about his son to Knight's tonal shifts with Plymouth's idyllic aesthetic, the film makes for an adequate drama on its own. In particular, McConaughey and Hathaway give performances that reaches varied levels of Nic Cage’s looniest cinematic moments as well as their career bests. Other supporting stars have more trouble finding their place in the story as they only make-up parts of the whole and nothing more. The film has its own set of ambitions to be "a serious film to be taken seriously", but also seems to confuse authentic mystery with being over-the-top.

To be honest, Serenity could've become a drop in the ocean of bargain bin movies – it has all the right elements of a convincing contemporary noir and then it becomes something else entirely. It's hard to think about its stylistic intentions without feeling like some parts of it was a massive prank the audience stumbled upon. Without the instant-reactions of social media, there's a true chance this might've not gained its notoriety so quickly and for its cult potential to live on. And that’s sort of the blessing and crux. Knight worked some kind of vision into his idea that might be worthy of watching once and forgetting about, or revisiting in five years with the sense that this movement of enthusiasm for the film was fun to be apart of. It breaks the rules and defies expectations in the most unexpected ways, leaving 2019 into a rocky but awesome start.

Rating: ★
a gold star for trying
Have you seen Serenity? What did you think?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

2018 in Review: Movies

2019 swooped in a lot faster than I anticipated. To be honest, I have a lot of catching up to do with movies released in 2018 (Aquaman, Hereditary...just so many movies), but I'm pretty happy with what I saw last year. Before we get too far into the new year, I thought now is as good of a time as any to finally post the best and worst picks of what I enjoyed and disliked last year. Hope you enjoy!

This post contains slight spoilers for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Avengers: Infinity War, and Annihilation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Top Nomination Picks for The 91st Academy Awards

For the past several ceremonies, the films and talent nominated for the Academy Awards have passed by without a hitch. Leading up to this year’s prestigious award show, multiple nominees have received praise and acclaim from critics and fans as well as harsh criticism and become the face of dangerous allegations. This has been one of the closest races for nominees so far. The growing anticipation and excitement has made us wonder who will win or walk away empty-handed this year. I thought it'd be fun to share my top picks of everything from Best Music to Best Picture. Who do you hope will win at the 91st Academy Awards? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Monday (2018) Packs A Big Punch For The Short Film Circuit

Sometimes it's not the budget that makes a short film good, it's the production team rallying behind it that counts. Following in director Robert Rodriguez's footsteps, independent filmmaker Alejandro Montoya Marin participated on El Rey's network show Rebel Without A Crew where creators banded together to create an original film. Armed with $7,000, no crew, two days to prep and fourteen days to film his project, Marin creates a fun action movie reminiscent of today's blockbusters.

Jim (Jamie H. Jung)'s life is about to change in the worst ways when he loses his job and his girlfriend gives up on their relationship. Caught in the crossfire of two hit women aiming to take down a drug cartel, Jim is on the run for his life and standing up for himself once and for all.

As the story counts down Jim's day starting off as bad as it can be and only getting more bleak and chaotic from there, what Martin and the cast were able to put together in such a short amount of time shines. Each actor has a fitting on-screen presence for their characters and working well as an ensemble. It's difficult to single out any singular actor in particular, but Kenneth McGlothin exudes a perfect big personality as Jim's friend Paul and Anna Schatte/Sofia Embid have a commanding, intimidating bad-ass presence as the hit women at odds with each other's plans. But the entire cast has good comedic timing and offers solid reminders of similar action-comedies like Horrible BossesThe Other Guys or 21 Jump Street . It's also worth it to stay through the end credits for bloopers and a post-story catch-up with Jim's old business acquaintance.

Monday showcases a lot of potential for Marin as a filmmaker. The story trails in the footsteps of comedies and action movies that you would see today with leading stars like The Rock or Kevin Hart. His direction is seamless, especially with the sound editing adding clever bytes for specific lines of dialogue and an energetic soundtrack. As the writer of the film too, there's a real sense of love for film-making with Marin's clever dialogue and nods to pop culture. The only slight stumbles are a few one-liners that feel random and out of place. However, it's tough to imagine how much of a rush the production must have been to work together, but the limitations doesn't show in the slightest. For a film that only runs an hour long, there's a lot to unpack and it makes for a fun Friday night short film to check out. Hopefully it's the start of bigger and better films to come for everyone.

Please Note: I was provided with a screener of this movie in exchange for an honest review. Monday premieres on the El Rey network on Feb 18 at 10 EST and will be available video-on-demand. You can currently watch Rebel Without A Crew on El Rey and Alejandro is getting ready for his next project on IndieGogo.

Rating: ★★☆

Monday, January 14, 2019

Let's Go To There: Bubba Gump Shrimp Co

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co
Forrest Gump has always been one of my favorite movies. When I was a kid, I used to sit in front of the television and watch it religiously. While my fangirling for Tom Hanks has only grown stronger as my love for the movie quieted down a little bit, I can readily admit that one of my dreams was go to to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co - a local restaurant that is themed after the movie. Recently, my family  tried out the restaurant for the first time, and let's just say: dreams come true ya'll. My inner eight year old would be so proud right now. It's probably one of my all-time favorite movie-related places in the world.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Favourite (2018) Is Capable of Much Pleasantness

The Favourite movie review
With some directors, you never know what you’re going to get. As familiar as you may be with their past projects, they always manage to create something within their own style and also completely off the beaten track. Director Yorgos Lanthimos is easily one of those type of directors today. Every film he produces from The Lobster and The Killing of A Sacred Deer, Lanthimos stand out from even his own work. This is easily the biggest, perhaps the best way, to describe his latest film The Favourite.

Set in early 18th century, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) has become set in her ways with her loving yet tumultuous relationship to Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). And then her cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) arrives on their castle's doorstep and finds an opportunity to make a name for herself. The two vie for the attention of the Queen and security for themselves as Britain braces itself in a war against France.