The Oscars (93rd Academy Awards) Winners

After a crazy year with movies being released in streaming and hybrid formats, the Oscars have finally happened, this time in late April! In case you missed it but want to find out who won, here you go:

Best Picture: Nomadland
Best Director: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland
Best Actor: Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Best Actress: Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Supporting Actress: Youn Yuh-jung – Minari
Best Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Father
Best Animated Feature: Soul
Best Original Score: Soul
Best Original Song: “Fight for You” (from Judas and the Black Messiah)
Best Cinematography: Mank
Best Film Editing: Sound of Metal
Best Production Design: Mank
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Animated Short: If Anything Happens I Love You
Best Visual Effects: Tenet
Best Sound: Sound of Metal
Best Foreign Language Film: Another Round (from Denmark)
Best Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher
Best Live-Action Short: Two Distant Strangers

I think for what they were given, the Oscars did a good job creating an interesting show with a more intimate space and less people than the Dolby Theater. There were a lot of great winners and milestones, including Chloe Zhao as the 1st woman of color to win Best Director and the 2nd woman to win the category. My favorite win of the night was Daniel Kaluuya who I’ve been a fan of since Get Out, and blew me away as Chairman Fred Hampton. However, I was susprised by the winners for Best Actor and Actress. The expected winners were Chadwick Boseman and Carey Mulligan who I was rooting for. Boseman delivered a magnificent final performance and not only was it my favorite lead performance, it would’ve been a terrific way to honor his legacy. Mulligan was also brilliant in the provocative and unforgettable Promising Young Woman, and I would’ve awarded her — it also wasn’t so long since Frances won in that category for the fantastic Three Billboards in 2017. McDormand has now won 3 times in that category, but won an additional time this year for producing Nomadland, a unique film experience that won the biggest award of the night! Another Round is an excellent Danish film and the director Thomas Vinterburg’s speech was the most moving of the night. However, I have to give a special shoutout to the award-winning short films — Two Distant Strangers (live-action) and If Anything Happens I Love You (animated) are available on Netflix and tackle grounded issues, but I should warn you that they are guaranteed heartbreaks and both took my breath away with their creativity and messages. My Octopus Teacher is also a wonderful documentary, and this comes from someone who normally isn’t into nature docs but this one really moved me, find it on Netflix too. Many of these terrific films that won are available on streaming services including Netflix, Amazon, HBOMax and Hulu, and I beg you not to sleep on them. Seeing new entertainment releases helped me get through this unusual time without theaters — which we’ll hopefully see the return of soon!

Academy Reveals Poster Art for 93rd Oscars - Awardsdaily - The Oscars, the  Films and everything in between.

Godzilla vs Kong

The culmination of the 4-film MonsterVerse franchise pits two of the greatest icons in motion picture history against one another – the fearsome Godzilla and the mighty Kong – with humanity caught in the balance.

This massively awaited film had plenty of promise, but ended up being a disappointment for me. What should’ve been a visually enthralling epic turned out to be a cartoonish WWE smackdown with sloppy direction and editing, and the worst writing in the franchise. The visual depth and feeling of actual destruction and danger from Godzilla: King of the Monsters is completely gone, and the visual style here is a lot less nuanced. While the storyboarding of this film must have been incredible, the CGI itself in some parts could have used some improvement to seem more seamless and epic, and a little less digital, which is odd because it had 2 years in post-production, less than its better-looking predecessor. Some cool visual moments are often ruined with silly editing choices like slo-mo and weird cuts, as well as some randomly placed rock songs that couldn’t have felt less fitting. The movie has a lighter tone than its predecessor, but unfortunately the messy editing and lackluster story aren’t willing to support that vision and maintain a style that consistently delivers.

It’s weird that a CGI giant gorilla has more emotional connection with the audience in this movie than the human characters, because that’s how I felt with Kong versus the humans in this film. And writing great characters has been a challenge for this saga before. Alexander Skarsgard is just there, and Rebecca Hall does well but her story wouldn’t have worked without her connection with this young deaf girl who communicates with Kong. Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison are solid but their story is very uninteresting. Demian Bichir plays maybe the worst character in the entire franchise, who is incredibly bland and predictable from the moment he appears. Eiza Gonzalez’s character is also very generic. While Kyle Chandler was the lead in the last film, he gets nothing to do here — he didn’t need to be a large part again, but this just adds to the underwhelming nature of the cast of great actors in this film. The one cast member who was utilized well and perfectly cast was Brian Tyree Henry, who elevates his character’s so-so writing with great comedic relief and energy. The story itself that surrounds the human and monster characters is often frustratingly cliché, with big companies conspiring around these monsters with heroes with nonexistent character development and some laughable lines of dialogue. While this is supposed to be the biggest of the franchise, it’s ironically the shortest. At only 113 minutes, it suffers from a very rushed pace that never lets the film breathe and build atmosphere and adventure. It could’ve used another 15-30 minutes. The titular fights themselves are awesome, and the choreography when Godzilla and Kong fight is very memorable. However, by the time it gets really good it feels like too little, too late, and is also short-lived because of an underwhelming and predictable climax that goes for the least emotionally rewarding or daring conclusion possible. The end of the last film also set up the idea of monsters living among humans, but that’s completely tossed aside here for far inferior storylines that have been used in so many films before. There’s also no tension present, because although there are large, exciting monster fights, the spectacle isn’t treated with enough care to build a true epic, instead feeling like a rushed cartoon that doesn’t care much about all it has to offer besides the fighting. While it may entertain those simply looking for some fulfillment on the title, it’s sad how much more this could’ve been had the movie understood the full potential it held at hand.

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Raya and the Last Dragon

Centuries after the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity in a war, Raya sets out to unite the human tribes of Kumandra once again and stop an old threat, with the help of the last dragon Sisu.

It’s easy to wonder why Disney would waste time with an easy cash-grab sequel like Frozen 2 when tasked with original films, they knock it out of the park. Raya and the Last Dragon proves so with stunning images and settings, and an engrossing adventure that, although I wish I had seen in theaters (which wasn’t possible due to the film not having a wide release, although it is available on Disney+), makes a story that would otherwise be familiar feel inviting and visually memorable. For those seeing it on the big screen, it’ll be surely unforgettable. The mythical settings and journeys to different corners of Kumandra make this feel like a more epic journey than any of Disney’s live-action films, and the skies, buildings, lights, and natural world that the characters interact with make this another achievement when it comes to animation, and its no less than another such adventure film on Disney’s resume, Moana. Kelly Marie Tran brings a complex voice character who displays optimism, empathy, bravery, rage, and determination in many stages of the film, bringing a flawed hero but one that fits perfectly into Disney’s roster of strong animated heroes. Awkwafina is a joy as Sisu and brings much needed comedic relief and enjoyment to an already great movie. Ever since her amazing performance in The Farewell, the actress/comedian has proven to be a treasure in Hollywood. She was such an inspired and wholesome choice to voice the charismatic dragon who, although 500 years old, has a youthful energy to her as she is figuring out how to be a hero as much as Raya. Benedict Wong is also excellent as a supporting hero. While there are no one-sided villains, Gemma Chan certainly plays a standout character, and Sandra Oh and Daniel Dae Kim are great too as the parents of Chan and Tran’s characters, respectively.

The chemistry between Tran and Awkwafina’s characters, the breathtaking animation, and the large scale are the binding elements of what make this movie another instant classic. The imaginative worlds and challenges the leads face through new settings, as well as the colorful and lively action sequences, felt as exciting to me as it would to child audiences. While the film’s emotional core and themes aren’t as moving as Soul‘s, which I think had some of the strongest messages in animation lately, the movie does have touching messages that will definitely work especially for younger audiences, and serve the story well enough, about choosing trust and empathy over greed and fighting. It’s only unfortunate that Disney didn’t wait for everyone to experience this film theatrically, as it’s one of their most visually imaginative films in years. But that’s another story. Whether you do seek it out in a theater near you or stream it on Disney+, watch it with your family and loved ones.

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The 78th Golden Globe Awards

Last night, the Golden Globes honored a hectic year of movies and television. Here are the winners in the film categories:

Best Picture – Drama: Nomadland

Best Picture – Musical or Comedy: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Director: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Best Actor – Drama: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actress – Drama: Andra Day – The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Best Actor – Musical or Comedy: Sacha Baron Cohen – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Actress – Musical or Comedy: Rosamund Pike – I Care a Lot

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Foster – The Mauritanian

Best Screenplay: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Original Score: Soul

Best Original Song: “Io Si (Seen)” from The Life Ahead

Best Animated Feature: Soul

Best Foreign Language Film: Minari (USA)

I was mostly satisfied by the winners, even though the presentation was far from perfect with the hybrid in-person/virtual format. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did their best but clearly they thrive best with a full audience and even though they tried to stick it to the HFPA’s controversies, Ricky Gervais did a much better job last year. The nominees were also far from perfect — Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods was completely shut out. Minari won Best Foreign Language Film because it is mostly in Korean, but sparked controversy because it was produced in America, so why not let it qualify for Best Drama? In my opinion, cinema is cinema and the boundary of subtitles is simply an addition to watching a film when it’s in a different language, not an obstacle. Sia’s directioral debut Music was nominated despite apparently having an offensive representation of autism, and Hamilton, while culturally resonant, was a filmed musical, not really a movie. So in that weak comedy category, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was the only decent one in my opinion (but still not excellent), while Emma, On the Rocks, and The King of Staten Island would’ve made for great nominees over Hamilton, Music, and The Prom. There was also the controversy coming up of the lack of black members in the HFPA. While this was addressed and needs to continue to be addressed, a large number of black artists did also win awards during the ceremony, including the incredible Daniel Kaluuya who took my breath away as Fred Hampton. Another deserving win was the late Chadwick Boseman, who delivered one of the best performances of the year and his wife paid touching tribute to the legend as he won posthumously. Chloe Zhao became the first woman of color to win Best Director for her unique work in Nomadland, and there was a record number of female director nominees, including Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman and Regina King for One Night in Miami — all three were deserving of a nomination to me. However, the one win I disagree with was Andra Day — she was amazing in her debut role, but having seen all 5 of the films in her category, I think all 4 of the other performances were superior. Carey Mulligan and Vanessa Kirby were groundbreaking in their respective films, and I wish one of them had won. Jane Fonda also won a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in films, TV, and activism throughout the decades.

2021 Golden Globe Nominations: See the Full List | Entertainment Tonight

Soul

In Pixar’s latest film, which after delays from theaters, is now out on Disney+, Joe Gardner is a music teacher who aspires to make it big as a jazz pianist. However, on a big day where his dreams start to get closer, he gets into an accident that separates his soul from his body, bringing him to the You Seminar, a limbo where souls are prepared to start a life on Earth. He goes on an existential journey through New York with another soul and learns the true purpose of life.

Soul brings no less to the screen than the lively, all-ages-friendly adventures that Pixar has made us used to. Director Pete Docter, who has brought to life Pixar classics like Monsters Inc. and Up, brings the same wondrous animation and spirit to Soul that he brought to Inside Out. The streets of New York are depicted with such realism and beautiful, diverse energy. The You Seminar is also portrayed vividly although not difficult to compare to the animated corners of Riley’s brain in Inside Out. Within the first few seconds, Jamie Foxx proves to be perfectly cast as Joe Gardner, who aspires to become a famous musician while teaching middle school and living up to the expectations of his mother, also perfectly played by Phylicia Rashad (who you may know as the titular character’s mother in Creed and its sequel). Tina Fey delivers a great voice performance as Soul 22, a both unenthusiastic and curious/energetic soul who has her reservations about starting a full life on Earth. Graham Norton, in what I believe is his first film role outside of himself in Eurovision Song Contest, is funny and entertaining in a supporting role. However, an absolute standout for me was Angela Bassett, whose immediately recognizable voice brings ferocity and status, exactly what was needed for her part — Dorothea Williams, a respected jazz musician and sax player whose band Joe hopes to join.

With every following year, I realize more and more how intricately mature Pixar’s films are to not just appeal to kids, but also tug on the heartstrings of adult audiences, and never compromise the entertainment for any age group, even with a film like this that has some physical comedy. Like I said, the lovely animation is hard not to appreciate — even small details like cars passing by feel rhythmic. At first I was surprised by how quickly the story gets going but as the film progresses, it develops Joe even more with his decisions in and out of his body. The plot also manages to play with concepts about life, history, and souls in believable and fun ways. It’s easy to notice borrowed elements from Inside Out and Coco, though, especially the visual tones of the former and the afterlife aspect of the latter. The writing is also a little all over the place in a few moments, but ultimately nails its themes. It’s a film that reminds you to live in the moment and amount life not just to our goals, but to every cherished memory we have with our world, ourselves, and our loved ones. Viewers will be able to connect as the film emphasizes the passions we all chase and can’t live without, and stresses the importance of those things that “bring out the real you”, but reminds you to embrace every minute of life on the way.

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Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman’s next big screen adventure finds her in 1984 facing two all-new foes: Max Lord and The Cheetah. This highly anticipated sequel was finally released simultaneously in theaters and streaming at home on HBOMax.

The first film inspired many viewers with its hopeful messages and the fierce, courageous hero played by Gal Gadot, whose performance became a symbol of female empowerment in thru superhero genre and all around the world. The charm, optimism, and tone that made the first film special are still here, and director Patty Jenkins still does a good job bringing the gigantic action to the screen, with better visual effects than its predecessor. From the exciting opening scene in Themyscira, you are reminded as to why this corner of the DC Extended Universe is one of the most notable. Gadot again brings genuine humanity and morality to Diana, inspiring us all to work together and see the beauty in the world. Her chemistry with Chris Pine is again great, although his death in the previous film makes his appearance here a little less welcoming, as he doesn’t feel as adventurous and memorable. However, the movie handles emotional moments between them really well, and their coupling still helps drive the film forward. Kristen Wiig, beloved for comedies like Bridesmaids and SNL, does really well as Barbara Minerva, who is very humanized through her performance and introduction. However, her character’s drastic transformation is when her writing became insufficient and unbelievable, and feels like a wasted opportunity that deserved much better. Pedro Pascal is now highly popular with TV audiences, not only as the titular Mandalorian but also for fans of Narcos and Game of Thrones, as well as with action movie fans for Kingsman and Triple Frontier. For those reasons, I was very excited about his casting, but his performance is such a huge step down from his famed presence in other franchises — his silly character is made worse with awful dialogue and a villain plot that I can only compare to Jafar from Aladdin. And because the conflict isn’t that great, that really hurts the movie. This makes a lot of the script feel over-the-top, including the objective feeling very cartoonish and the messages becoming muddled.

The pacing isn’t as slow as another lengthy DCEU movie, Batman v Superman, was, but still felt like an issue; the first one at 141 minutes seemed to pace itself well and fly by briskly, but at one point during WW84‘s 151-minute runtime, I was starting to feel like the story should jump to the action quicker. Much of the buildup entertaining, but in some instances I was hoping for the film to pick up and get to the point more speedily. This is by no means a film that’s hard to get through; like I said, the tone is still fun and heartfelt, and the action is really good, with some good set pieces like a mall fight, and other strong settings where the fights take place, as well as Wonder Woman getting to show off some new powers. The set design that reminisces the 80s feels lively and great, although it takes advantage of the time period less than expected (I can’t help but compare that Stranger Things utilized its 80s setting in a more memorable manner). Even though the backdrop for the final act is excellent, it ultimately feels wasted (both Wonder Woman movies have had a villain reciting a terrible evil monologue and I don’t know why the writers felt the need to keep it). There’s also themes about women dealing with catcalling and insecurities about their looks that feel underdeveloped, or needless as not much is done with that. The first movie’s simplicity helped it work better, but the goals and messages here start to feel overcomplicated to the point where I wish the film had stuck to the simple ideas that made the first movie more thoughtful and inspiring. The layout for the hero’s journey is there; Diana has wants that don’t quite coincide with her needs and the greater good, and so a choice must be made. But the film isn’t strongest when dealing with humanity’s greed and desire for self-interests, it’s when it deals with the love, unity, and heroism we should all see in ourselves and others. This sense of inspiration and optimism is the golden strength of both Wonder Woman films, but I wish the road to get there was less long and windy, and a little more fresh. Also, don’t get up quite yet when the credits start; there’s a cameo that will get all generations of audiences to feel excited. In summary, this is a sequel that retains many great elements from its predecessor and will satisfy comic book fans and those who were moved by the first, but the weak conflict and subpar writing hurt the film and make it, while entertaining, less than wonder-ful. The one thing that’s always consistent is Gadot’s acting and the heart she gives to the titular heroine we all love.

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Mulan (2020)

Like the animated musical that inspired it, Disney’s live-action Mulan is based on an ancient legend of a young warrior who defies gender norms in an act of courage to protect her family and home land.

Last year, the shot-for-shot replicas of Aladdin and The Lion King made more money than amazing movies like 1917 and Parasite due to pure audience nostalgia, and that says everything about today’s movie demographics and Disney’s future priorities. However, unlike those other remakes, I had much to look forward to with Mulan as it seemed like a less cartoonish, fantasy-driven take on a tale that wasn’t even so Disney-like to start with. Mulan is a movie that’s definitely on the higher end of the remake spectrum — definitely below The Jungle Book but probably at the same level as Beauty and the Beast. This isn’t a difficult movie to enjoy — the scenery is lively, the acting is solid, and the story is easy to follow especially when you know what it’s going for. So while I appreciate the attempt to make something somewhat different, Disney was unable to step out of the previous film’s shadow without removing the heart that the original had. I don’t care about talking dragons or bursting into song, but even an empowering movie like this somehow felt devoid of emotional connection due to lack of character. It’s very much confusing as to whether it’s trying to still be a charming kid’s movie or a serious war movie. On one hand, you have the childish elements removed, and a PG-13 rating to focus on action scenes, but then you have a witch who can turn into a bird and Mulan basically fighting with… the Force? I’m not one to nitpick about “How could this possibly work in real life?” when I watch a movie, let alone a Disney fantasy film, but she does so many stunts that seem physically implausible and only make sense if you’re some sort of Jedi or one of the heroes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There isn’t even a throwaway line about Mulan maybe having a strong connection to nature or her physical side, she just magically is the greatest acrobat and fighter in the world and we don’t even see her develop these abilities like the rest of the soldiers, which pushes us even farther from our iconic hero.

Liu Yifei does well as the titular character with what she’s given, but I wish the director and writers showed her emotional journey more, as her entire development feels defined only by the “woman defying gender norms” and “Loyal Brave and True” mottos. The rest of the cast feels underutilized especially Donnie Yen, an acclaimed performer who’s already proven himself to film lovers in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as well as the Ip Man movies. Instead of seeing an interesting teacher-student relationship between Commander Tung and Mulan, he only serves for one scene of dramatic irony and one trust/distrust contrast moment. Tzi Ma does an excellent job as Mulan’s father, and her mother’s actress is also good, but we don’t see much of them either — same goes for Jet Li who is really great as the Emperor. There’s also a character who befriends Mulan and is the first one to really trust in her but the connection feels oddly one-sided. And the villains are awful, both the cartoonish Bori Khan and the equally pointless and emotionless shapeshifting witch. The visuals are very creative, especially the lovely scenery used for wide shots and battle sequences. The standouts include an amazing shot of a fight scene on a geyser, and the sequences in the Imperial City, that I could even see scoring the film an Oscar nomination for Production Design. The story is entertaining again to follow, especially when you remember the spirit of the story you already know, and when you follow conversations between the young soldiers, as well as the training montage where you can’t help but recall the awesome song that’s originally thee in the animation. The final battle is especially cool, but the film is greatly hurt — this may even be the film’s greatest flaw — by the horrendous editing. The random moments of slo-mo, as well as rushing through sequences in a montage fashion, is especially what hurt important character and scene-building moments, and letting the action play out for longer would’ve strengthened the spectacle. So while I did enjoy Mulan for the most part and had a positive impression of it when it ended (speaking of which, the end credits are gorgeous), something felt missing throughout which is that charm and energy that’s present in most terrific family films. It isn’t fully felt until a touching final scene where the messages unify and become clearer and more impactful to the plot. It’s a fun family watch, an important story about breaking down stereotypes and who “can” and “can’t” fulfill certain duties, but an extra 10-20 minutes of runtime, as well as stronger utilization of the cast and a more consistent emotional pull not just to the empowerment theme but also to the characters and world of the story, would’ve made this a more satisfying and excellent remake like we hoped for.

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Tenet

Whenever auteur Christopher Nolan makes a movie, he makes it impossible for it to disappear in the crowd of films being made. His approach to making and presenting films transcend being just a movie, he always crafts an experience. A Christopher Nolan movie is an event, and for years his audiences have craved not only his strong writing and style, but his ability to immerse the viewer in the plot through practicality, tension, and premium formats like IMAX, and challenge them with nail-biting questions and inventive concepts. Tenet is an experience, and a marvelous one for that matter. From the opening moments my jaw dropped as the clock immediately starts ticking with an unpredictable action sequence. The loud sound effects engulfed my ears and the realistically crafted action glued my eyes to the screen, in an unparalleled fashion. Nolan’s partner for 3 films, Hoyte van Hoytema, handles the cinematography beautifully, whether it’s for making the real action feel present or having incredible shots of locations such as the Italian Amalfi Coast and the streets of London. The director’s commitment to practicality makes for more urgent, nail-biting action and of course appeals to the eye. 

John David Washington portrays an action hero whose grace feels reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s performance in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Robert Pattinson is also great as Washington’s partner, delivering charm and fun as opposed to his darker performances in Good Time and The Lighthouse. Elizabeth Debicki delivers a lot of heart and soul to the film and Kenneth Branagh is also memorable as her husband, though it’s hard to be surprised when Branagh does something praiseworthy — at this point, he’s done it all! Dimple Kapadia also delivers a nuanced performance, and Michael Caine also makes a welcome appearance, as he has in nearly every Nolan film! However, I would argue that some of the younger famous talents, such as Himesh Patel, Clemence Poesy, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson were underutilized considering their remarkable past performances and their intriguing small roles here.


Like I said, Nolan’s grand and large-scale approach to everything he makes pays off with Hoyte van Hoytema’s gorgeous camerawork, and the booming sound effects and music by Ludwig Goransson (Oscar winner for Black Panther), whose inspired work seamlessly follows in the footsteps of Nolan’s past collaborations with Hans Zimmer while leaving enough room for himself to invent. However, the loud sound and music does sometimes overshadow dialogue which is a slight issue at times. The other important point is the script’s complexity. Nolan invents new concepts involving time, physics, and science and expresses them in a way that some may find hard to follow or lament as confusing. I personally found myself lost at times because a lot of exposition is spoken very quickly by the characters, and this is problematic when you have a lot of rules and objectives that you’re hearing about for the first time. This movie even outdoes Inception and Interstellar for how complex these themes and ideas are — and for some, confusing. Even those two aforementioned films have a lot of complex new ideas as well, they felt more accessible than the way the exposition is delivered here. And of course, that always means more rewatches are warranted which is also fun, but it’s also okay to admit that there could’ve been a clearer way to help audiences follow, even to Nolan fans like myself who love the intricacies that the filmmaker invented in those other films (which for the record aren’t also easy to comprehend in one viewing). This doesn’t take away from the spectacle and excitement that is to behold in many of the sequences that are unlike any action set pieces ever put to film. But the film did occasionally lose me in a few fast-talking scenes that clouded some of my understanding of some later scenes’ objectives and motives.

Christopher Nolan is also known for having big endings, and while some massive things do happen and get revealed (don’t worry, I won’t commit the movie sin of spoiling a Nolan movie’s plot), there’s some reward left to be wished for when compared to the “totem question” of Inception, or the resolution of Cooper and his daughter’s storyline in Interstellar. There still is so much to be discovered under the surface which is always a lovely thing, but I think the moments of revelation, tension, and mystery in the final sequences needed more catharsis to get a stronger reaction. Only time will tell how much this film’s mysteries linger with us audiences — looking back and discovering new things afterwards is always a perk of Nolan’s adventures.

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Onward

Set in a suburban fantasy world, Disney/Pixar’s Onward introduces two teenage elf brothers who embark on an extraordinary quest to discover if there is still a little magic left out there in order to bring back their deceased father for one day.

Onward is everything viewers will hope it’ll be with an original and exciting premise supported by mature and heartfelt themes. The movie does an excellent job at world-building and atmosphere; this suburban version of Lord of the Rings is brought to life with so much creativity and we get to see plenty of corners in this new, fascinating world. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt’s roles fit like a glove — their already known personalities wonderfully amplify the characters that felt like they could’ve been written just for these specific performers. The fact that Holland and Pratt have already shared the screen before in Avengers: Infinity War just makes it even more entertaining, but it’s also the writing for Ian and Barley that makes their brotherhood the anchor of the film. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is also great their badass mom, but Octavia Spencer is a standout as the Manticore — a mystical beast who now runs a restaurant and misses the glory days of magic, fighting, and flight. Not only is the character brilliant but Spencer makes the role of a “scary on the outside, soft on the inside” character feel fun and fresh.

Onward is the kind of film where the quality increases as the runtime progresses — the objective is creative and every obstacle, physical or emotional, is exciting to watch and our heroes’ quest never feels dull. Not to mention the plot is more mature than most family-aimed films — even for a Pixar movie. When it comes to down to the true emotion of the film, it lands at all the right moments and manages to craft a realistic representation of sibling-hood and family, even if the main characters happen to be elves. The film is very much mystical yet its roots lies in the real world — it’s based on director Dan Scanlon’s real-life experiences as he lost his father at a young age, meaning it may especially reach viewers who have lost a parent. In my case, this movie did get me emotional but for a much different reason — as an older brother, watching Barley play older brother/mentor to Ian made me reflect on my own experiences with brotherhood (in only positive ways, don’t worry). This is the power of family films — to tell stories about family. While I felt Frozen 2 was lacking of that sort of merit, this proves that may have only been a one-time miss for Disney, and while Onward might not be able to reach Nemo or WALL-E levels of classic — and maybe not better than some of their recent hits like Inside Out and Coco — I can say it’s as great as I was wishing it would be, and certainly has potential to hold up among the rest of Pixar’s library, but only time can tell. Pixar has held a special place in my heart for a reason, and Onward once again proves their strengths in delivering stories that audiences can cherish and grow up with, regardless of age.

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Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

After saving the world in Suicide Squad, and fresh off her break-up with the Joker, Harley Quinn finds herself a target after crossing paths with Roman Sionis, who’s in pursuit of a valuable diamond, and must team up with Dinah Lance (AKA Black Canary), Helena Bertinelli (AKA Huntress), Cassandra Cain, and Renee Montoya, in order to stop him.

Birds of Prey takes some major steps in the right direction after the mess that was Suicide Squad, in which Robbie was really the only relieving aspect. This film is a complete departure from everything its predecessor was — this one’s an irreverent, R-rated crime comedy that looks like a comic book come to life, in the best way. The film feels ready to take risks, go all-out with the humor and raunchiness, tell non-linear stories that don’t progress quickly, and freely create a new mood that doesn’t feel like anything else in the DC Extended Universe. Instead of floating portals and ancient demons, the action is — still cartoonish, yet very street-level, with the villains being your average asshole criminals who want glory, money, and to torture and kill people. Perhaps the villains are the film’s weakest part — Ewan McGregor gets very over-the-top and annoying as Roman Sionis/Black Mask, who does bad things because he’s bad and evil… never seen that before! But he’s more than redeemed for by the heroes. Margot Robbie is perfect as Harley Quinn, she completely owns not only the role but the image of Quinn, not only because she’s the first live-action portrayal of the character but because she’ll be the ideal one for generations to come. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is a breakout here as Dinah Lance, we spend plenty of time with her and are able to feel engaged with her performance and progression throughout. Perhaps we needed more of Mary Elizabeth Winstead… for such a talented actress, she’s barely in the film and her character has plenty of potential that wasn’t utilized as well as Harley and Canary. Perhaps there’ll still be a chance for Huntress to shine soon?

For all its attempts at humor, some of the jokes and dialogue will miss, too, like some unsubtle messages, some “funny” or “deep” moments that don’t always land, and some weird soundtrack choices, including an odd Marilyn Monroe reenactment-montage that’s quickly skipped on instead of being utilized as a crazy-fun moment. Other than that, Birds of Prey definitely knows when not to take itself seriously, and the story-driven rather than character driven approach actually works when your characters are supposed to be very over-the-top and morally ambiguous and your style is all out with time jumps, visual humor, insanely fun action, and narration (although there’s certainly a bit much of Harley’s narration over scenes). Maybe it doesn’t feel as fresh as the Deadpool films did, especially when the first film was the first in its genre to be so crude and self-aware, and in such an unapologetic way. However, Birds of Prey utilizes its cast of characters and script in unexpected and welcome ways, and enough of a hilarious, engaging, and refreshing run-time to make up for some weak antagonists and a few minor but certainly forgivable missteps in dialogue and soundtrack choices.

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