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Jon Lamoreaux
Attended Florida State University
Lives in Atlanta, GA, United States
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CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have come a long way and excised themselves quite nicely here from their 2006 comedy You, Me and Dupree. I couldn't rightfully say that with their previous Captain America outing, Captain America: Winter Soldier. But with CACW they and a few choice superhero stalwarts put Marvel back on the entertainment map.

The Story: Members of The Avengers—excluding The Hulk, and Thor—find themselves answering to the world for their actions. Casualties of war and loss of lives fighting Ultron in Sokovia, for the most part, but also Hydra in Washington D.C. and in this film Nigeria, force the U.N. to draft an Act, a treaty of sorts, for The Avengers to sign allowing the U.N. to mediate and dictate what our heroes can and cannot do in future turmoil. The team is divided and it forces discord of sorts between our heroes though they are still friends. Sparking further division is Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. The Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan, who folks believe still terrorizes peace initiatives. Steve Rogers, Captain America as we know him, played again by Chris Evans, believes otherwise and recently conscience-grown souls like Tony Stark / Iron Man, played by Oscar nominated Robert Downey, Jr. think Cap should stand down. When the straight-laced, honest soldier doesn’t Tony recruits a team of like-minded heroes to help contain the Captain, who likewise gathers his own spectacular team.

The Goods: These “teams” drive much of the second act of the film. With Winter Soldier on the loose and Captain America seemingly a traitor, to some, you know it will take an army to bring him—and Bucky—in. There are some new recruits in this “civil war.” Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) who is a new peace keeper on a mission, favors the idea of jailing Bucky and whoever stands in his way; same goes for War Machine, or Roadie, played by Don Cheadle who is Iron Man’s wing man. Cap has a wing man too in Falcon, a.k.a. Sam played by Anthony Mackie (one of my favorite actors in the bunch), and the list goes on.

This gives the film paths and framework that help build plot and move us forward, ultimately delivering a sort of joy we find in origin films…that sense of discovery does exist outside of seeing a superhero’s birth, take note Sony for all of your Spider-Man reboots. Sony, who retain the movie rights for Spider-Man, do surprisingly allow Disney to borrow him here, played by Tom Holland—that when two superheroes meet, when two good guys meet, or even when two bad guys meet, the spectacle of seeing them out-muscle each other, or even out jaw each other in conversation, it reveals inherent properties of character that are otherwise and often lost in just simple clichéd knock down drag out fist fights. Had Batman sat down over coffee with Superman in Batman v Superman, to discuss and marvel at one another’s feats of super-manliness, and share stories of exploits in each other’s respective cities, we’d have a completely different and more entertaining film.

That that is the key in Captain American: Civil War that makes much of this enjoyable, much more so in my opinion than the other Captain American films. Taking that “origins feel” up a notch then is the superhero, or heroes, wowed by another superhero. And I’ll just throw Ant-Man out there while I’m discussing this since the lovable “average Joe,” Scott Lang (played by every-man actor Paul Rudd) is a fan of all these guys…he gushes when he meets Captain America, rightfully so, whose side he aligns with. Playing off of our expectation too is the superhero who surprises us with tricks they’ve not quite expressed in their other films. And when successful we are giddy all over again.

The other good of this film is the theme. That our heroes express a conscience toward the loss of lives and that they genuinely feel sorrow for what has transpired as a result of friendly fire on the battle field makes them all more rounded than they usually are. This adds a rich dimension to the film that motivates many of them to find justice and try to prevent as much loss of innocent lives as possible. After all this is what makes superheroes super.

The Flaws: It can be a flaw too when the character that most of the film, and plot, hinges upon does not show the kind of full array of emotions, or personality continuum that some of our other favorable characters do. What makes Tony Stark stand out in CACW—and what probably sold Downey on reprising his role once again—is that his character goes through an entire arc and appears in the end multi-dimensional and round. He more than any character is sort of at the heart of the film too and his character is the through line of the entire film. You need that when telling a story.

Black Panther and Scarlet Witch, a.k.a. Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and Spider-Man all sort of have complete mini movies. Whereas Bucky, who yes as Winter Soldier has done some heinous things, doesn’t come around as fully developed as we’d like. Yes there’s humor built around his friendship with Rogers, and new acquaintance with Falcon—Bucky, as you recall, is a good guy at heart—but he still in the end is sort of two dimensional. Maybe in the next film we’ll get more? At least that’s kind of the way Marvel likes to keep things sometimes. I hope not, because by the end of CACW I’m done with Bucky as Winter Soldier and expect us all to move on.

I’ll say this too, binge watching comes to the multiplex. It’s as if at times in CACW I feel we are watching episodic TV. Because there are so many characters, and a rather complex plot—which I like—when we transition or end with one sequence we get a very pronounced dramatic exit by way of musical score. It’s so heavy and palpable it feel just like ‘70’s and ‘80’s TV action shows like The Fall Guy, MacGuyver, The A-Team…do you remember that twinkling, progressive musical transition in Charlie’s Angels? That’s kind of what you get here, though not as bright. Even the old ‘60’s Batman show where we leave our heroes with a cliffhanger, that’s the way most of the “episodes” end in CACW. Cliffhanger 101. Going way back to 1930’s serial reels at the movies. It’s a distraction to me even if Disney does this on purpose to somehow sync their Netflix originals to the big screen. While I do enjoy quality TV I say try to avoid any hint of TV in your movies when you’re selling tickets for popcorn and theater seats.

The Call: Spend the ten. There is a ton of superhero spectacle to gaze at here and some laughs to accompany conflict, which always makes for better escape at the movies. The theme too of superheroes who really do see, and are affected by, the consequences of fighting for peace and freedom makes the film more eligible for younger audiences than I might otherwise recommend.

Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem. Running time is a long 2 hours and 26 minutes.
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OSCARS 2016

Once again we find ourselves with more than a necessary bunch of films in the Best Picture category.  Maybe three deserve to be here. The rest, like BROOKLYN, are just pretty After School Specials you’d find on TV in the ‘80’s.
 
None of these films have a real wow factor, as whole films.  Sure, bits and pieces are stunning.  ROOM is one of the better films, so is THE BIG SHORT.  MAD MAX: FURY ROAD has so much George Miller bravado in terms of film form that it deserves to be here.  It’s like a CITIZEN KANE in it’s camera movement and placement.  It’s not just a cars and chase film.  You can see this year’s FAST AND FURIOUS 7 for that.  

Same goes for lack of representation, as we all know, as the Oscars continue to be more exclusive rather than inclusive, i.e. a Best Stunts category, or #OscarsSoWhite .  Let’s hope host Chris Rock is able to entertain us in a way we forget all that’s limited with the Oscars televised movie showcase, starting this Sunday, February 28th at 8PM. 

Working with what the Academy has begat us then (or is it beget), in terms of nominations, here are my picks for 2016.



Best Picture
THE BIG SHORT

Best Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu, THE REVENANT

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio, THE REVENANT 

Best Actress
Brie Larson, ROOM 

Best Actor In A Supporting Role
Sylvester Stallone, CREED 

Best Actress In A Supporting Role
Kate Winslet, STEVE JOBS

Best Writing Original Screenplay
SPOTLIGHT

Best Writing Adapted Screenplay
THE BIG SHORT 

Best Foreign Film
SON OF SAUL

Best Documentary Feature
AMY 

Best Documentary Short Subject
BODY TEAM 12 

Best Animated Feature
INSIDE OUT

Best Film Editing
THE BIG SHORT 

Best Visual Effects
THE REVENANT 

Best Cinematography
THE REVENANT

Best Costume Design
CAROL

Best Makeup and Hair
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Best Production Design
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD 

Best Sound Editing
THE REVENANT

Best Sound Mixing
THE REVENANT 

Best Short Film, Live Action
STUTTERER

Best Short Film, Animated
WORLD OF TOMORROW

Best Song
'TIL IT HAPPENS TO YOU, The Hunting Ground

Best Original Score
THE HATEFUL EIGHT


#Oscars   #OscarPredictions   #oscars2016     #thebigshort    #syntheticcdos
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THE REVENANT

This could be Leonardo DiCaprio’s year at the 2016 Oscars, though he should have won it for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), and maybe for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Either way, The Oscars can be cold to true talent as we all know, and so can this pre-Civil War wilderness revenge film from Oscar winning director Alejandro Inarritu.

The Story: Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is a hired hand in 1922 mid-west America, along with several other men, for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company led by Captain Andrew Henry (Dohmnall Gleeson). When Glass, who leads the group with his exceptional tracking skills, is attacked by a bear and nearly dies, it takes the entire group to gurney him back to base. The inclement weather, treacherous terrain and French settlers and their scalp-ripping partners from the Arikara Native American tribe, along with strong dissent from crew member Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), make it exceptionally difficult for Glass who finds he needs to survive and heal himself in order to exact revenge on a deceitful, murderous Fitzgerald.

The Goods: That bear attack, the one Jonah Hill appeared as at this year’s Golden Globes, and the bear everyone who sees this film seems to be discussing, is genius, in the sense it is definitely without a doubt all computer animated. The scene looks, feels and sounds as real as anything you might suspect could happen when a strange man happens upon a Grizzly’s cubs, which Glass does by accident. The fur, the voice, the breath of the animal is all created from computers and their artists and the movie magic is sick, as the kids say. Sick. It’s real, though it’s not real, and the scene which covers the entire attack, is recorded as if it’s all one take, one long recorded shot–as most cell phone videos are one take–captured in nature by Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and Industrial Light & Magic CGI team comprised of nominees Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer. That’s two more Oscars there, for Cinematography and Visual Effects, and it should be noted this will be a hat trick for Lubezki who won for Gravity in 2013 and Birdman in 2014. An amazing feat in itself.

The other part of The Revenant’s magic is that Inarritu loves these long takes (what seems like long takes as cheated in Birdman, which was seemingly one long shot the entire film). That style of letting the camera capture and not interrupt the action seals the film in this realm of surreal realism, surreal because we are there in the cold, winter, icy mountains or forest or riverside watching the action unfold like a documentary. The limitation on cuts and edits keeps the film as seemingly pure as possible. And Lubezki filmed all this without lights, without the normal studio grip, electric and gaffing support the camera department requires. What the camera records then is even more pure and real and that natural lighting is stunning. I mean, it makes sense to film it this way due to the harsh conditions. But it doesn’t look like crap. The film celluloid, not digital video, sucks it in and renders it all crystal clear with sharp blacks and contrast. There is nothing muddy or grainy about any lack of light the situation may have presented. Instead, the photography will win an Oscar.

One thing you’ll notice is the eyes of characters, like Fitzgerald and Glass, glow and glisten with the natural reflection of light bouncing off of the snow and frozen tundra. It captures extra intensity in the characters and gives them superhuman traits of sort, the kind of subliminal aura an extra’s zombie eye contacts can do for a horror film. At times it’s as if you can see into their souls, and some, like Fitzgerald, seem soulless.

Hardy, too, needs an Oscar for this role. He exudes country frontiersman, self serving, wild and conniving, where the yellow of cowardice is disguised by the strength of confidence behind knives and guns, and the language of dumb men taught by the dumb, Neanderthal men before them. Hardy’s Fitzgerald tells a story about his father and how he came to learn reason from his father’s atheistic discovery of God. The telling is so enriched, and matter of fact, coming on the heals of steely killings that you might think Fitzgerald himself has discovered the secrets of survival. He has actually, but his secrets are gothic, campfire scary, and just as American as the ones learned by Glass.

And let us not forget that we need to include an actor’s interaction with CGI objects and characters today when we consider their performances which, in addition to the extraordinary survival mechanics and real life events DiCaprio endured to make this film, he also leads us to really believe he is mauled by a bear.

The Flaws: My problem with the film however is it’s all too familiar, having grown up seeing and being fascinated by survival and Native American relations in Jeremiah Johnson (1972) and The Mountain Men (1980) amongst other, long man-vs-nature films. I don’t think it’s enough to showcase America in all its natural, wild glory, in terms of exploring and settling the West; the majesty of flowing rivers against pastel winter sunsets and golden reeds against the shoreline, contrasted with the violence of men trampling over men to take what they want, to divide and conquer and to massacre, red blood on white snow, when its been done in countless movies.

What is it that sets The Revenant apart from other films? Is it only that it’s DiCaprio cutting open a horse in a snow storm and finding warmth inside its dead cavity? Or is it the spectacle of seeing his character attacked by a bear? Or, like in a Charles Bronson film from the ‘70’s and '80’s, is it revenge in what is ultimately a revenge film? To me none of that warrants “best picture,” and if it weren’t for the director and cinematographer I doubt I would actively seek out and watch this film. Because it certainly is not entertaining outside of these spectacles–the greatest of which, again, is the fantastic capturing of sun, light and nature in America’s wintery heartland.

And ultimately, what really saddens me about all of this, is the undoing of all that hard work by these talented people in the single handed choice to end the film in the way Inarritu does. The last shot, which I can only equate to the Native American crying on the side of the road in that famous anti-pollution ad from the '70’s, destroys this nearly three hour film in a matter of seconds.

The Call: I say the big screen has the advantage here and you owe it to the crew, and yourself, to see The Revenant on the biggest screen you can. But other than for photography, I’d say stow the dough. Stay inside, keep yourself warm.

Rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity. Running time is 2 hour and 36 minutes.
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SPECTRE

The 24th Bond film, and the fourth for Daniel Craig, introduces the British spy to the franchise’s oldest and most familiar villain.

The Story: James Bond has a new boss—M, played by Ralph Fiennes—and the whole double-o program is on the verge of being replaced by a mega-surveillance platform. As M says to his MI5 counterpart, C, played by Andrew Scott, “You’re George Orwell’s worst nightmare.” Indeed Big Brother watches all but somehow Bond manages to go rogue and follow up on a mysterious tip from the past that leads him to SPECTRE—a group of global pimps, thieves and wise guys, hence the acronym, Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. SPECTRE is led by what will eventually become (if we’re still thinking of the Daniel Craig Bond films as prequels) Bond’s biggest nemesis, one Ernst Stavo Blofeld, played here by Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. This marks Blofeld’s seventh Bond appearance, making this 007 episode a sort of origins story for the bad guy.

The Goods: Let me throw one more set of numbers out there: this is the second Bond film for Sam Mendes who has directed two of my favorite films, American Beauty (1999) and Road to Perdition (2002). Like he did with Skyfall (2012), Mendes sticks with dark shadows and film noir elements that keep the spy genre intact…more so than any Bond film prior. A use of tight quarters—as seen in the tunnels, narrow hallways and secret passages in Skyfall—mirrored Bond’s psychology, of a green agent once full of piss and malt vinegar and his new assassin
world falling in around him. That space expands in SPECTRE as a more comfortable and confident Bond appears in wide open spaces more footloose and fancy.

It’s also a Bond I think we all wanted to see when Casino Royale (2006) was released. One where Q comes in all serious trying to show Bond the latest spy gadgets and Bond refuses to listen setting off guns and bombs by accident much to Q’s chastising. The Q here as in Skyfall is once again played by Ben Whishaw, originally played by Desmond Llewelyn, then John Cleese, both older, wiser, dryer, funnier seasoned professionals than Whishaw though Whishaw’s youth shakes things up. It’s a Bond tradition, that reprieve from the action to see some neat stuff and get a laugh or two before traveling on to distant, exotic locations to use our new found tools of the trade. But the Broccoli family—Albert Broccoli and then later his daughter Barbara—who adapted and produced nearly all of the Ian Fleming Bond books, and non-Fleming stories, seemed to have liked the idea of keeping Craig’s Bond more grounded, more real; a man who uses his brains and fists before using toys. And thus the traditions went away…at least the gadget ones did.

Craig’s Bond has stayed consistent through all of the films making his dramatic, smoldering, psychologically affected inner conflicted self something of an anomaly for the character. And it’s something fans grew to like. It’s what has set Craig apart from Connery, Moore and Brosnan. Mendes who draws out the best “off broadway” moments in characters came in at the right time on Skyfall to define Craig’s Bond as one of the greatest of all time. Craig helps in that matter delivering the best acting of any Bond actor and I use every weird, fight, dying, torture scene of Casino Royale as proof. And it’s Mendes’ use of cinema—not high-key comedic lighting and neat spy games—that brought respect back to the character.

The Flaws: So while Craig is still Bond why not give us a little of what we’ve traditionally liked about the James Bond movies, like I mentioned above. Tradition. Let’s see how the “new” Bond does with these familiar situations. Can he fight a metal-toothed heavy nicknamed “Jaws” like Roger Moore did in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)? On a moving train no less. Or can he resist a blade infused top hat like that worn by Oddjob in Goldfinger (1964)? Follow Goldfinger’s ’37 Rolls Royce Phantom like a spy, in his ’63 Aston Martin DB5 with the ejector seat, machine guns in the headlights, bullet proof wall in the trunk and oil spewing tail lights and then use it to escape? Somehow all of that—and the cool watches—come to mind here even if it’s not in this movie (even the subtle nod to Jaws the shark movie when beer kegs take the place of buoys in a key SPECTRE fight scene can say to the audience, “Look, it’s Jaws!”). It’s a bold move by Mendes and writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth all of whom have written previous Bond scripts except Butterworth, to dip into the doodad and reference world, i.e. fandom, of older Bond films when there really hasn’t been any of that in all of Craig’s films.

And the first hour of SPECTRE works great. It all goes off extremely well and I’m thinking I’m seeing the best Bond film yet. Overconfident and comfortable Bond knows how good he is and after a few action-packed and stunt crazy scenarios he waltzes in (no pun intended) to overwhelming circumstances he’s not quite ready for. There’s a quick escape, and a car chase—with the kind of cars you’d expect, beside the latest Aston Martin a Jaguar C-X75…real cars we’ve never seen before. And it’s all masterfully done, all of it, even the overly familiar parts, until we meet Blofeld.

The idea generally is you ratchet up the conflicts and escapes and massage the audience with that ebb and flow of plot but here it fails. I blame the writing for one because the writers are delivering an origins story for Blofeld but they never quite find that arc, or the sympathy with the audience, or even an inkling of care for the villain that would pull us in, make us believe.

Instead, venturing into the familiar territory of past Bond gadgets and superhero feats we get moments of implausibility and failure to suspend disbelief. That’s only in the second half of the film mind you. What we get is a sort of anticlimactic race to a finish replete with ticking clock scenarios not unlike Bond diffusing bombs in any number of films, including Goldfinger specifically. To make matters worse, Waltz as a bad guy did better in The Green Hornet (2011). Remember, I’m just talking about the second half of the movie where it looks like they ran out of time and money. Waltz in the first half, in shadows, as a mysterious leader of SPECTRE, is superb. Breathtaking.

I often look to find solutions in a film that develops a sinkhole mid way. That’s the first sign that it has failed. I always say too that in situations like this that my post will be the shortest I’ve written. Never is the case. And the reason why is I go into all these counter stories, or alternatives that in my head somehow right the film. They say to learn to write a good script you should study bad ones. True. In this situation there’s a lovely opportunity to take James Bond, one we’ve not quite known before, with Craig as this latest Bond that he is, in the sort of origins path we’ve been led down, to shake things up a little in terms of story. Like if all the change, including physical change, revolved around setting up shop, learning to do reports for someone who is usually in the field, to creating this through-line theme of change to upend the whole Bond story and take our characters into new territories; to juxtapose the office life of a double-o spy due to changing times to one where the hero escapes at night to track down mysteries, while that sounds like The Incredibles (2004), it can be the spark of something magnificently different. Sure, give us the Bond we expect but break up that expectation a little, make us work for it. Treat the double-o program like a corporation that has all the mechanisms of today’s work place, having to deal with budgets and politics, staff meetings and one-on-one management meetings with the new boss, M, and his new position; paper pushing, word processors, fax machines, adding paper to the copier, mover guys putting in cubes, tearing down walls…for Bond to say, “I need to get out of here.”

The bad guy then, you see, is the one who saves the day in that scenario. Not destroys the film.

The Call: Stow the dough. It’s a tough call only because the first hour is rock solid. But by dipping into familiar territory (see secluded Alpine hideout on top of a snow covered mountain, a’ la On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), or even For Your Eyes Only (1981)) SPECTRE becomes less of a nostalgic film, certainly not a reboot, but more like a game of “can you guess the James Bond film being referenced.” A slippery slope they should have never started down. Instead, give us something completely different, fish out of water, and throw Bond and his gadgets into that unfamiliar territory—say Wall Street. What would that be like? Ninety-nine percent better.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language. Running time is 2 hours and 28 minutes. Don’t get me started on Lea Seydoux. Eva Green as Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale and Carol Bouquet as Melina Havelock from For Your Eyes Only ruined the spot of Bond girl for all others, because they were so good, but especially for Lea Seydoux whose character here has all the personality of a turtle.

#spectre #movie #review #james bond #007
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And the nominees for the "Best Car Movie of All Time" are . . . #Oscars
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The #Oscars air tonight, and the show couldn't go on without a lot of hard work from a lot of special people. Take a peek behind the scenes at the +Oscars #throughglass.
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BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

In this sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel, two-time Oscar winner Ben Affleck gets a turn at playing Batman in what is additionally a ramp-up of DC Comics’ Justice League. This will be Warner Brothers’ attempt to cash in on a live action Avengers-type franchise that will create additional stand-alone superhero movies. The real hero here however is Henry Cavill who solidifies the big screen Superman role left hollow for decades after Christopher Reeve’s portrayal.

The Story: Bruce Wayne (Affleck) is there the day Superman battles General Zod in Metropolis, at the height of conflict in the film Man of Steel. Or the city could be Gotham. They are twin cities apparently, like Minneapolis-Saint Paul, but either way the city’s destruction that Wayne sees infuriates him since after his parents’ death at the hands of a criminal he has taken on vigilantism as a dark crusader dressed like a bat—Batman as we all know him—to seek out, capture and punish all who break the law. Including God-like aliens wreaking havoc on the city.

Wayne’s obsession with demolishing Superman (Cavill), and Clark Kent, a.k.a. Superman’s obsession with catching Batman keep the duo distracted enough to allow for master criminal Lex Luther, played with sort of a Joker-esq craziness by Jesse Eisenberg, to make his big criminal mark on the world.

The Goods: This is director Zack Snyder’s (Man of Steel, 300, Sucker Punch, Watchmen) interpretation of Batman, the first since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. And while this caped crusader, the one in black not red, is played by an entirely different actor, one that may take some getting used to mostly because he’s so recognizable as an Oscar winning screenwriter (Goodwill Hunting) and director (Argo, won Best Picture), and actor in big Hollywood films, it’s his Bruce Wayne that makes a difference.

Portrayed more as a James Bond playboy than a successful entrepreneur, with a Batmobile by night (that looks to sit on a Corvette frame), and a vintage 1957 Aston Martin MK III by day, he is bigger, taller and bulkier than all previous Waynes. Not that Batman has ever been portrayed as a hulking figure, outside of Frank Miller’s comic book version from the ‘80’s, and the subsequent animated series, which Affleck most resembles. But that he is so here makes a difference since we’re getting a new interpretation prior to rushing into this Justice League DC subsidiary venture. And Wayne is angrier than we’ve ever seen him, thanks to Affleck’s delivery of angry, rich, orphaned kid panache that Snyder does a decent job introducing us to via flashbacks to Wayne’s boyhood memories of his parents’ homicide.

Though fans of Batman have seen this back story several times, Snyder uses it here to give us a dark, devil’s contrast to Superman’s God-like imagery…that imagery is probably the best “art” in the film that carries over from the alien introduction in Man of Steel. Angel and God iconography is scattered throughout Batman V Superman giving it something that goes beyond your average superhero film. It is a reminder in many ways to Snyder’s graphic novel film Watchmen (for which The Comedian in that film, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, here, also plays Wayne’s father, no relation).

It’s not just Batman and Superman, either, as the title suggests…let us not forget the Dawn of Justice part, which becomes Justice League, or as some know it, The Justice League of America…first found in DC All Star Comics Winter Issue Number 3 (1940-1941) as Justice Society of America and included (The) Hawkman, The Atom, The Specter, The Flash, Dr. Fate, The Sandman, (The) Green Lantern and The Hour Man. While Warner Brothers may not use all of these characters, they will however roll these stand alone and ensemble films out indefinitely just as Disney gives us the Marvel and Star Wars films. In Batman V Superman though we are introduced to Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, played by Gal Godot (Fast and Furious, Fast Five and Fast and Furious 6), with a smattering of Aqua Man, played by Jason Momoa, The Flash, played by Ezra Miller, and Cyborg played by Ray Fisher, which are all introduced in a disappointingly undeveloped short aside—from a flash drive file by way of email scene—but introduced to us nonetheless.

The Flaws: There are many flaws, most of which I can’t possible cover in detail here: story predictability, shallow character development, nonsensical dream sequences and clichéd monster effects, weak, network TV, non-event introduction of Justice League characters, and what I perceive to be rushed and faulty photography and production design choices due to budget and time constraints. It’s the latter of all these where I think most of the blame of “what went wrong” in Batman V Superman can be assigned, what I call two steps forward for Snyder with Man of Steel and one step back with this film.

Man of Steel had a distinctively mature look and feel to it compared to Snyder’s other films; brighter, shot mostly in day light, seamless visual effects because of that higher key lighting, and a poetic touch not seen in Snyder’s other films…softer ancillary shots of door knobs and screen doors, wheat growing in fields, porch swings and emotional moments in Clark Kent’s memories of an American childhood in Smallville that was photographed and lit in ways we don’t see in Batman V Superman. In contrast, Bruce Wayne’s story and his memories here are darker, granted, due to the childhood trauma he experienced. But his past visual imagery is filtered, like with filters on the camera lens or effects added in post production, that muddy the film, in addition to darker lighting in general and tighter, night-time photography that is a stark difference to what cinematographer Amir Mokri did for Man of Steel.

What cinematographer Larry Fong, and production designer Patrick Tatopoulos’, do in Batman V Superman is take us back to Snyder’s heavier, flaw-laden visual effect films Sucker Punch and Watchmen, where content and substance tack a back seat to Snyder’s MTV music video style, a director’s vision that inevitably involves extreme slow motion in intense action sequences, mostly with David versus Goliath character situations, i.e. 300. We have that here in buckets, but also extreme shaky hand held and tight camera movement in such darkly swathed lighting that we are so visually impaired we can’t really enjoy the nuances of fight scenes or action sequences. Compare that with Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and the shadowy precision, “glowing,” see-through-the-dark-obscurity of Oscar winning cinematographer Wally Pfister (Inception).

Chris Nolan produced this film, as he did Man of Steel, and I’m glad he’s executively helming this franchise. Many of the other key players from Man of Steel are the same as well: editing by David Brenner, music by Hans Zimmer (though convoluted and leading plot development like bad soap opera television), and writer David Goyer. But cinematographer and production designer are different and the film is lesser because of it.

Lesser than what? Man of Steel for one, Nolan’s Batman films, two. But ultimately it’s a budget choice that can’t be solely rested on Fong and Tatopoulos, maybe not even Snyder; that we have more actors we need to pay now because of the superhero ensemble, and because each requires a decent origin/introduction, that we need to have visual effects to stay competitive leads us to make choices fenced by the amount of money we have to spend. Which is ultimately why I think Batman V Superman is palpably dark (studio and green screen effects are easier with a night setting) and shaky visually to hide possible production flaws.

Speedy studio vs. location shooting production like this helps too if you’re making several movies at once which I believe is also what is happening here; Wonder Woman is in production, as is Cyborg, Flash, Aqua Man and a Ben Affleck Batman series. All are currently in production. It’s smart, if you’re looking to release one film a year, but I think ultimately it will hurt the integrity of what Chris Nolan has done; everyone will compare and the comparisons will fail. Until Nolan does one himself.

Maybe Fong works faster than Mokri; maybe Mokri and Snyder don’t get along; maybe Mokri is busy on Michael Bay’s next Transformer film. The excuses are endless. But I do believe, based on what I’ve studied and seen in scrutinizing art in film is that who does what in these big budget, big screen, big hype films is crucial to their success.

Films that pit previously known stand alone characters against one another, even for the film’s title alone, are indicative of less significant, schlocky B films from the 40’s and 50’s. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Alien vs. Predator, Freddy vs. Jason…are exemplary of studios trying to suck the last morsels of life from dying franchises. I don’t think the title Batman V Superman sits well for audiences. It’s confusing. But in the comic book world it happens all the time. And I think Warner’s research showed that calling the film Justice League, or Dawn of Justice League, without the kind of end credit build-up Marvel gave The Avengers, would not sell as many tickets. Putting Batman in the title, and Superman, however, does.

The Call: Spend the ten. Though it’s predictable, too dark to really enjoy the visual details of, and reminiscent of lesser big adventure visual effects films like Clash of the Titans, Batman V Superman is a Superman movie with a strong Superman through-line which includes Superman’s familiar, Man of Steel friends Lois Lane played once again by Oscar winner Amy Adams, and an enhanced, comedic performance by Laurence Fishburn as Daily Planet newspaper editor Perry White. Kent’s parents played again by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane also return. And it introduces us to Wonder Woman. A first for big screen live action DC films.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality. Running time is an absurd 2 hours and 31 minutes.
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Jon Lamoreaux

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OSCARS 2016

Once again we find ourselves with more than a necessary bunch of films in the Best Picture category.  Maybe three deserve to be here. The rest, like BROOKLYN, are just pretty After School Specials you’d find on TV in the ‘80’s.
 
None of these films have a real wow factor, as whole films.  Sure, bits and pieces are stunning.  ROOM is one of the better films, so is THE BIG SHORT.  MAD MAX: FURY ROAD has so much George Miller bravado in terms of film form that it deserves to be here.  It’s like a CITIZEN KANE in it’s camera movement and placement.  It’s not just a cars and chase film.  You can see this year’s FAST AND FURIOUS 7 for that.  

Same goes for lack of representation, as we all know, as the Oscars continue to be more exclusive rather than inclusive, i.e. a Best Stunts category, or #OscarsSoWhite .  Let’s hope host Chris Rock is able to entertain us in a way we forget all that’s limited with the Oscars televised movie showcase, starting this Sunday, February 28th at 8PM. 

Working with what the Academy has begat us then (or is it beget), in terms of nominations, here are my picks for 2016.



Best Picture
THE BIG SHORT

Best Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu, THE REVENANT

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio, THE REVENANT 

Best Actress
Brie Larson, ROOM 

Best Actor In A Supporting Role
Sylvester Stallone, CREED 

Best Actress In A Supporting Role
Kate Winslet, STEVE JOBS

Best Writing Original Screenplay
SPOTLIGHT

Best Writing Adapted Screenplay
THE BIG SHORT 

Best Foreign Film
SON OF SAUL

Best Documentary Feature
AMY 

Best Documentary Short Subject
BODY TEAM 12 

Best Animated Feature
INSIDE OUT

Best Film Editing
THE BIG SHORT 

Best Visual Effects
THE REVENANT 

Best Cinematography
THE REVENANT

Best Costume Design
CAROL

Best Makeup and Hair
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Best Production Design
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD 

Best Sound Editing
THE REVENANT

Best Sound Mixing
THE REVENANT 

Best Short Film, Live Action
STUTTERER

Best Short Film, Animated
WORLD OF TOMORROW

Best Song
'TIL IT HAPPENS TO YOU, The Hunting Ground

Best Original Score
THE HATEFUL EIGHT


#Oscars   #OscarPredictions   #oscars2016     #thebigshort    #syntheticcdos
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THE REVENANT

This could be Leonardo DiCaprio’s year at the 2016 Oscars, though he should have won it for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), and maybe for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Either way, The Oscars can be cold to true talent as we all know, and so can this pre-Civil War wilderness revenge film from Oscar winning director Alejandro Inarritu.

The Story: Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is a hired hand in 1922 mid-west America, along with several other men, for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company led by Captain Andrew Henry (Dohmnall Gleeson). When Glass, who leads the group with his exceptional tracking skills, is attacked by a bear and nearly dies, it takes the entire group to gurney him back to base. The inclement weather, treacherous terrain and French settlers and their scalp-ripping partners from the Arikara Native American tribe, along with strong dissent from crew member Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), make it exceptionally difficult for Glass who finds he needs to survive and heal himself in order to exact revenge on a deceitful, murderous Fitzgerald.

The Goods: That bear attack, the one Jonah Hill appeared as at this year’s Golden Globes, and the bear everyone who sees this film seems to be discussing, is genius, in the sense it is definitely without a doubt all computer animated. The scene looks, feels and sounds as real as anything you might suspect could happen when a strange man happens upon a Grizzly’s cubs, which Glass does by accident. The fur, the voice, the breath of the animal is all created from computers and their artists and the movie magic is sick, as the kids say. Sick. It’s real, though it’s not real, and the scene which covers the entire attack, is recorded as if it’s all one take, one long recorded shot–as most cell phone videos are one take–captured in nature by Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and Industrial Light & Magic CGI team comprised of nominees Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer. That’s two more Oscars there, for Cinematography and Visual Effects, and it should be noted this will be a hat trick for Lubezki who won for Gravity in 2013 and Birdman in 2014. An amazing feat in itself.

The other part of The Revenant’s magic is that Inarritu loves these long takes (what seems like long takes as cheated in Birdman, which was seemingly one long shot the entire film). That style of letting the camera capture and not interrupt the action seals the film in this realm of surreal realism, surreal because we are there in the cold, winter, icy mountains or forest or riverside watching the action unfold like a documentary. The limitation on cuts and edits keeps the film as seemingly pure as possible. And Lubezki filmed all this without lights, without the normal studio grip, electric and gaffing support the camera department requires. What the camera records then is even more pure and real and that natural lighting is stunning. I mean, it makes sense to film it this way due to the harsh conditions. But it doesn’t look like crap. The film celluloid, not digital video, sucks it in and renders it all crystal clear with sharp blacks and contrast. There is nothing muddy or grainy about any lack of light the situation may have presented. Instead, the photography will win an Oscar.

One thing you’ll notice is the eyes of characters, like Fitzgerald and Glass, glow and glisten with the natural reflection of light bouncing off of the snow and frozen tundra. It captures extra intensity in the characters and gives them superhuman traits of sort, the kind of subliminal aura an extra’s zombie eye contacts can do for a horror film. At times it’s as if you can see into their souls, and some, like Fitzgerald, seem soulless.

Hardy, too, needs an Oscar for this role. He exudes country frontiersman, self serving, wild and conniving, where the yellow of cowardice is disguised by the strength of confidence behind knives and guns, and the language of dumb men taught by the dumb, Neanderthal men before them. Hardy’s Fitzgerald tells a story about his father and how he came to learn reason from his father’s atheistic discovery of God. The telling is so enriched, and matter of fact, coming on the heals of steely killings that you might think Fitzgerald himself has discovered the secrets of survival. He has actually, but his secrets are gothic, campfire scary, and just as American as the ones learned by Glass.

And let us not forget that we need to include an actor’s interaction with CGI objects and characters today when we consider their performances which, in addition to the extraordinary survival mechanics and real life events DiCaprio endured to make this film, he also leads us to really believe he is mauled by a bear.

The Flaws: My problem with the film however is it’s all too familiar, having grown up seeing and being fascinated by survival and Native American relations in Jeremiah Johnson (1972) and The Mountain Men (1980) amongst other, long man-vs-nature films. I don’t think it’s enough to showcase America in all its natural, wild glory, in terms of exploring and settling the West; the majesty of flowing rivers against pastel winter sunsets and golden reeds against the shoreline, contrasted with the violence of men trampling over men to take what they want, to divide and conquer and to massacre, red blood on white snow, when its been done in countless movies.

What is it that sets The Revenant apart from other films? Is it only that it’s DiCaprio cutting open a horse in a snow storm and finding warmth inside its dead cavity? Or is it the spectacle of seeing his character attacked by a bear? Or, like in a Charles Bronson film from the ‘70’s and '80’s, is it revenge in what is ultimately a revenge film? To me none of that warrants “best picture,” and if it weren’t for the director and cinematographer I doubt I would actively seek out and watch this film. Because it certainly is not entertaining outside of these spectacles–the greatest of which, again, is the fantastic capturing of sun, light and nature in America’s wintery heartland.

And ultimately, what really saddens me about all of this, is the undoing of all that hard work by these talented people in the single handed choice to end the film in the way Inarritu does. The last shot, which I can only equate to the Native American crying on the side of the road in that famous anti-pollution ad from the '70’s, destroys this nearly three hour film in a matter of seconds.

The Call: I say the big screen has the advantage here and you owe it to the crew, and yourself, to see The Revenant on the biggest screen you can. But other than for photography, I’d say stow the dough. Stay inside, keep yourself warm.

Rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity. Running time is 2 hour and 36 minutes.
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Hattie McDaniel, First African American to Get an Oscar, Makes a Moving Speech at Academy Awards (1940). Video http://cultr.me/1fYOSZ1
In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award, taking home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as Mammy in Gone with the Wind.
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Who do you want to win Best Picture tonight at the Oscars?
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#Oscars Sunday is tomorrow! Try these 8 Award-Winning Popcorn #Recipes Worthy of The Red Carpet ➜ http://goo.gl/tD2bzs #AcademyAwards
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