Review: Jackie

Let them see what they've done.

In the days after John F. Kennedy's assassination, we follow his widow Jackie (Natalie Portman) as she recounts her experiences to a journalist. (Billy Cudrup)

It's a simple story, but enhanced by brilliant performances and the best score out of any film this year. Jackie is simply enchanting. This wasn't the Jackie Kennedy I expected to see. I can't say I've ever given her a thought that was deeper than superficial. Seeing her poise on how she handled something so traumatic was admirable. From trying to plan the funeral with Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgard) to telling her young children what happened, to leaning on her assistant, Nancy. (Greta Gerwig)

What Portman does here is amazing. She tries so hard to hold her emotion back, only for strong waves of it to seep through occasionally. We see her as a First Lady who is nervous in front of a camera to one who wants to face it head on so she doesn't hide from the American people. Sarsgard is also very good as Bobby Kennedy, and Gerwig FINALLY plays someone that isn't Greta Gerwig.

The film is the perfect length for its subject matter, and like I mentioned earlier, the score is magical. You never feel it dragging.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A

Memorable Quote: "And I don't smoke." - Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman)

Review: Hidden Figures

Can a lady get some credit around here?

The United States is in a race against Russian to put a man on the moon. NASA hires a handful of African American women but no matter how hard they work, they're still stuck in the basement. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is a math genius who is given an assignment to work under Al Harrison. (Kevin Costner)  She's the smartest person in the room, but her white male colleagues give her zero credit and welcome her with a "colored coffee pot" instead when she dares use theirs. The man she works with the most, Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) frequently treats her like a secretary instead of an equal. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) works in engineering, but she doesn't get the title of an engineer because the courses she needs are only offered at an all white school. Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) does all the work of a supervisor without the title or the pay. We watch these extraordinary women defy the odds and triumph in a world that's stacked against them.

Hidden Figures is an appropriate title. It's embarrassing to say that I had never heard of their stories before seeing a preview for this film. This is yet another reason why I love movies. They shine light on important things that I've missed.

I found myself getting so irritated at everyone in this film that wasn't Doorthy, Mary, or Katherine. Every time a door is slammed in their face, or they were treated with the bare minimum of respect, or when they have to run half a mile to use "their" bathroom, my heart ached. Even knowing I would get that eventual happy ending watching the behavior of some of the characters in this film was just gross. Seriously, every time Jim Parson's character opened his mouth...

Taraji is a breathtaking lead. I wish more people were talking about her in the best actress race. Monae and Spencer also give excellent performances. Kevin Costner was actually tolerable and it's nice to see Parsons play someone very different from Sheldon Cooper. Mahershala Ali is also a welcomed presence in a small role. 

It's a very formulaic film, but backed with an amazing ensemble and a great message, Hidden Figures rises above the normal biopic standards. I wanted to cry tears of joy when it was over just seeing what these women accomplished. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A

Memorable Quote: "God forbid anyone get in the way of Mary Jackson's dreams, myself included." - Levi Jackson (Aldis Hodge)

Indie Gems: A Man Called Ove


Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is 59 years old and recently retired. His beloved wife passed away six months earlier, and he has plans to join her, but every time he attempts to end his life, something distracts him. Whether it be his neighbors annoying dog, who he must berate. Or someone driving down the path they're not supposed to in his housing complex. Ove spends most of his time being a grouch. Then he gets new neighbors. Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) is a friendly mother of soon to be three who seems to understand him a bit, and she and her family made it harder for Ove to end it all.

A Man Called Ove finds a perfect balance between humor, sadness, and warmth. Ove's blunt manner and insistence that his neighbor's chihuahua looks more like a slipper are endlessly amusing. When we flash back to Ove's early life and time with his wife, we see that he's always been a bit standoffish, but he's faced enough tragedy that his attitude isn't surprising. While it's plot is somewhat similar to A Single Man, I didn't find myself comparing the two at all. 

Lassgård give an absolutely amazing performance. I wish he was in the Best Actor race this year. While Ove spends a lot of time being grumpy, it's those moments when he cracks that Lassgård shines the most. Pars is also a wonderfully peaceful edition. She's so kind and patient it's easy to see why she and her family of all people were able to get to him. 

Grade: A-

Watched on: DVD

Memorable Quote: "Keep those bastards off our path." - Ove (Rolf Lassgård)

Thursday Movie Picks: The Fashion World

This week's theme from Wandering Through the Shelves makes my wallet hurt. I wish I could afford to dress in designer clothes and have a fancy job to show them off. Alas, I just get to watch movies about it. Here are my favorites.

1) The Devil Wears Prada

I'm sure this one will be popular. I never expected to like a film like this. It looked so "meh" to me then I ended up absolutely loving it. Hathaway, Streep, and Blunt were so amusing during awards season too. I'll never forget them wondering aloud at the Oscars whether someone got Streep a latte or not.

2) The Bling Ring

The true story of some fashion obsessed teens that actually had the balls to rob celebrity houses. I watched the reality show Pretty Wild, which starred two of the people in the Bling Ring. It was trashy fun. 

3) Funny Face

A bookstore worker meets a photographer who makes her into a model. A fun film with the charming Audrey Hepburn. 

Review: La La Land

Here's to the dreamers.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress working as a barista on a studio lot. By chance, she keeps running into Sebastian, (Ryan Gosling) a jazz pianist who dreams of owning his own club, but is stuck in the past music wise. This musical follows their relationship as artists in LA.

Despite a few questionable camera techniques, La La Land is beautiful to look at. It's bright and sunny even when our characters are at their worst. I loved everything from the places they shot to the outfits they worse. (Seriously, can I have Mia's wardrobe?) The musical numbers are a joy to watch and are very reminiscent of old Hollywood. I love anything that throws in a tap(ish) routine.

Stone gives the performance of her career in this role. It's hard not to love Mia, she's funny and charming and you can't help but get angry for her when she's shut down while giving a good audition. Gosling is good as well, and he and Stone have wonderful chemistry. As far as the singing, neither actor is a very strong vocalist.

The story itself, aside from the musical aspect is very generic and fairly predictable, which brings me to awards season. Without the music, I don't think we would be talking about this as a Best Picture front runner. I couldn't help but be reminded of The Artist while I watched it. This is a film that's gimmick is going to take it straight to the top. But is it going to be remembered the same way The Artist is now? With somewhat of a "ehh" years later? I can't help but feel a little weird about this, despite liking it so much. Arrival and Moonlight are better films in my opinion, but they're not flashy. I can't even get behind that it was a risk making this film because look at how the Academy ate up The Artist? This isn't a risk, they love it.

I don't want to sound like I'm hating on this, because I loved it, truly. Not as much as I have loved other films this year, but I had to bring this up somewhere.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A-

Memorable Quote: "Did you just say 'serious musician?'" - Mia (Emma Stone)

2017 BAFTA Nominations

What I love about the BAFTAS is they always seem to nominate a few things outside of the norm. I never predict these ones myself because I don't live in England, so I have no idea what's eligible. Below are the nominees, there's a few nice surprises.

Best film
I, Daniel Blake
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
I don't know what I, Daniel Blake is. Seeing Nocturnal Animals in a few other places makes me bummed it missed. I thought Fences wasn't eligible but apparently it is, that's another glaring miss.  

Outstanding British film
American Honey
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I, Daniel Blake
Notes on Blindness
Under the Shadow
I just got American Honey from Netflix, but I haven't gotten to watch it yet. I want to see Under The Shadow and Denial too. I've only seen Fantastic Beasts out of this bunch.

Denis Villeneuve - Arrival
Ken Loach - I, Daniel Blake
Damien Chazelle - La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea
Tom Ford - Nocturnal Animals
Barry Jenkins missing out for Moonlight is ridiculous. 

Leading Actress
Amy Adams - Arrival
Emily Blunt - The Girl on the Train
Emma Stone - La La Land
Meryl Streep - Florence Foster Jenkins
Natalie Portman - Jackie
I guess Emily Blunt for SAG wasn't a fluke? BAFTA loved her too. She still has no change for Oscar though.

Leading Actor
Andrew Garfield - Hacksaw Ridge
Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea
Jake Gyllenhaal - Nocturnal Animals
Ryan Gosling - La La Land
Viggo Mortensen - Captain Fantastic
I LOVE that Jake Gyllenhaal is finally getting some love for Nocturnal Animals. he deserves it. 

Supporting Actress
Hayley Squires - I, Daniel Blake
Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea
Naomie Harris - Moonlight
Nicole Kidman - Lion
Viola Davis - Fences
I guess they couldn't decide on who to nominate from Hidden Figures? Either way, all except Hayley Squires will repeat for Oscar, I think. 

Supporting Actor
Aaron Taylor-Johnson - Nocturnal Animals
Dev Patel - Lion
Hugh Grant - Florence Foster Jenkins
Jeff Bridges - Hell or High Water
Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
Another nod for Aaron Taylor-Johnson, maybe his Oscar campaign does have some legs? I was hoping BAFTA would go rogue and nominate Ben Foster over Bridges, but I'll never get so lucky. It's too bad Michael Shannon can't get some of this Nocturnal Animals love. 

Original Screenplay
Hell or High Water - Taylor Sheridan
I, Daniel Blake - Paul Laverty
La La Land - Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth Lonergan
Moonlight - Barry Jenkins
Stop giving La La Land screenplay nominations. It's a great film but it's screenplay is so by the book. 

Adapted Screenplay
Arrival - Eric Heisserer
Hacksaw Ridge - Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight
Hidden Figures - Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder
Lion - Luke Davies
Nocturnal Animals - Tom Ford

Outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer
The Girl with All the Gifts - Mike Carey (writer), Camille Gatin (producer)
The Hard Stop - George Amponsah (writer/director/producer), Dionne Walker (writer/producer)
Notes on Blindness - Peter Middleton (writer/director/producer), James Spinney (writer/director), Jo-Jo Ellison (producer)
The Pass - John Donnelly (writer), Ben A William (director)
Under the Shadow - Babak Anvari (writer/director), Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill, Lucan Toh (producers)

Film not in the English language
Son of Saul 
Toni Erdmann 
I love Mustang. Son of Saul was very depressing. I haven't seen the rest. 

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years
The Eagle Huntress
Notes on Blindness

Animated Film
Finding Dory
Kubo and the Two Strings

Original Music
Arrival - Johann Johannsson
Jackie - Mica Levi
La La Land - Justin Hurwitz
Lion - Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka
Nocturnal Animals - Abel Korzeniowski
I love these though I wish Moonlight would gotten a score nomination as well.

Arrival - Bradford Young
Hell or High Water - Giles Nuttgens
La La Land - Linus Sandgren
Lion - Greig Fraser
Nocturnal Animals - Seamus McGarvey

Arrival - Joe Walker
Hacksaw Ridge - John Gilbert
La La Land - Tom Cross
Manchester by the Sea - Jennifer Lame
Nocturnal Animals - Joan Sobel

Production Design
Doctor Strange - John Bush, Charles Wood
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock
Hail, Caesar! - Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
La La Land - Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, David Wasco
Nocturnal Animals - Shane Valentino, Meg Everist
This is a pretty cool nomination for Doctor Strange. I hated Hail, Caesar so my bias doesn't allow me to appreciate that one.

Costume Design
Allied - Joanna Johnston
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Colleen Atwood
Florence Foster Jenkins - Consolata Boyle
Jackie - Madeline Fontaine
La La Land - Mary Zophres

Make-up and Hair
Doctor Strange - Jeremy Woodhead
Florence Foster Jenkins - J Roy Helland, Daniel Phillips
Hacksaw Ridge - Shane Thomas
Nocturnal Animals - Donald Mowat, Yolanda Toussieng
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Nominees to be confirmed

Deepwater Horizon
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hacksaw Ridge 
La La Land 

Special Visual Effects
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I wish Captain America: Civil War would get a visual effects nomination. Just look at Vision. 

British Short Animation
The Alan Dimension 
A Love Story 

British Short Film
Mouth of Hell 

EE Rising Star Award (voted for by the public)
Anya Taylor-Joy
Laia Costa
Lucas Hedges
Ruth Negga
Tom Holland

Review: The Handmaiden

Who's watching who?

Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) is a pick pocket hired to pretend to be the handmaiden of a Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) by a swindler. Count Fujiwara (Jung-Woo Ha) He intends to make her fall in love with him so he can marry her and steal her riches. She's currently betrothed to and confined by her creepy uncle, Kouzuki.(Jin-Woong Jo) Sook-Hee must plant the seeds in Lady Hideko's head to fall for the Count, but when she develops feelings for Lady Hideko, things get complicated.  

The editors are kind enough to have different colored subtitles when characters are speaking Japanese vs Korean. It's little touches like that which make me appreciate the film even more. It's very well made, the cinematography is among the most stunning I've seen all year. The most amazing thing about the film though, is how laugh out loud funny it was at times. This is a heavy story, you're constantly falling into a deeper pit of deceit and to put it bluntly; shit gets really weird later on. I never expected to have so many strong laughs laced throughout. They're welcome additions and don't remove you from the film at all. 

Tae-ri Kim and Min-Hee Kim have amazing chemistry, Tae-ri plays Sook-hee with intriguing naivety and Min-Hee handles Lady Hideko with child like poise. Watching them play off each other is incredible. They tend to overshadow their male co-stars a bit, which I was fine with considering the story.

The NC-17 rating might be a turn off for some, or it will make it harder to see theatrically with the restrictions big theater chains put on them. But should The Handmaiden come to a theater near you, it's 100% worth seeing. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A

Memorable Quote: "Don't ever put my hand on that tiny joke of a cock of yours again." - Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim)