‘Coco’: Pixar’s Latest Is Magical, Rebellious & Subversive [Review]

When it comes to Pixar Animation Studios, it’s not just enough for them to come up with charming, low-impact confections like this summer’s “Cars 3;” animation aficionados and casual viewers demand to be transported. And it’s true, the best Pixar films are the ones that whisk you away – to a romanticized Paris where food is the ultimate currency (“Ratatouille“) or onboard a planetary spaceship inhabited by personable robots (“Wall-E“) or inside the human mind (“Inside Out“). Thankfully, “Coco,” Pixar’s latest original work and one of their very best, truly does transport you. The results are magical and feel somewhat rebellious given the current political climate, which makes the film feel even more special.

“Coco” centers on young Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), a twelve-year-old boy who dreams of becoming a musician like his idol, the long dead and Elvis Presley-like Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). The only problem is that his family has strictly outlawed music, thanks to the transgressions of a family patriarch a generation before. (This somewhat complicated back-story is effectively told through a series of cutouts.) Still, Miguel is determined to be a musician. He has made a makeshift studio for himself above the modest shoe factory, where he can practice and watch old movies of his hero. And on Dia de Muertos, the annual Day of the Dead, there’s a talent contest where he can make his big break. The only problem is that his guitar was destroyed and nobody will offer a replacement. So he sneaks into de la Cruz’s crypt and “borrows” his guitar. Only instead of granting him some newfound musical prowess, it sends him into a ghostly plane of existence.

From there, he travels to the colorful Land of the Dead, teams up with a fast-talking huckster named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) and (wait for it) learns a valuable lesson about idol worship and what is really important in life. This is one of those Pixar movies where, the less you know the better. It’s not terribly burdened by an abundance of plot but there are some great twists and turns, some genuinely shocking revelations, and, of course, a third act that will leave you crying big, unsightly tears.

If this general concept sounds risky, that’s because it is. One of the biggest surprises contained within “Coco,” and one that it’s okay to freely discuss, is how historically and culturally specific this movie is. There are whole swaths of dialogue in Spanish, sometimes without subtitles. Cultural and historical figures from Latin culture appear or are brought up; esoteric folkloric talismans become magical spirit guides (and major characters). It never feels, while you’re watching the film, like anything was watered down or simplified to appeal to a mass audience. Instead, it boldly revels in its very Mexican-ness.

And that’s part of what makes it so thrilling.

This is a movie that, while it was in production many years ago, feels like a bold opposition to what is going on politically and culturally right now. A foolhardy President who wants to build a wall between Mexico and the United States and who tweets out his appreciation for Hispanic culture by eating a taco salad is leading us. And it’s into this environment that Pixar, known for their peerless track record, unleashes a glorious celebration of all things Mexico, bolstered by the unstoppable might of the Walt Disney Company. Yes, it’s a big, populist piece of entertainment, beautifully told and sensationally rendered, but in the current political climate it feels like something more subversive and powerful.

Of course, the other thing that makes “Coco” such a kick to watch is how it looks. The artists and craftspeople at Pixar have always reveled in building these new worlds and it’s no different here. The Land of the Dead is a vast megalopolis; a colorful urban sprawl populated by skeletons that are decorated like sugar cookies and wear wigs to approximate their old selves. This isn’t some creepy underworld, but a vibrant, ramshackle world where alebrijes (brightly colored spirit animals) fly and race around and skeletal celebrities play giant concerts on the morning after Dia de Muertos. This being Pixar, there’s a story to everything you see, from the way that the houses are built into giant towers, starting with Mayan temples at the bottom and concluding with modern steel skyscrapers at the top, to the way that Miguel, after being trapped in the Land of the Dead, starts to disappear like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future.”

Instead of going with the super-photo-real aesthetic of “The Good Dinosaur” or portions of “Cars 3,” “Coco” fully leans into the surrealistic possibilities of animation. Everyone involved in the film is fully aware of the legacy of animated skeletons (from Walt Disney‘s “The Skeleton Dance” to the various stop motion works of Tim Burton) and are committed to adding to that legacy in new and exciting ways – with the painterly embroidery on the skulls to the wigs that the skeletons wear. It’s not just enough to top what has come before but, in keeping with the movie’s many themes, to contribute thoughtfully to what came before.

If director Lee Unkrich and co-director Adrian Molina understand one thing, it’s that as amazing as the visuals can be, it doesn’t matter if you don’t feel anything. And, true to form, they come through in a big way. This is Pixar at its most nakedly emotional – not sentimental or saccharine – but heartfelt in a way that feels profoundly personal and also universal. They have dramatized an internal struggle faced by most families, blow it up to insane proportions, and then scaled it back to resonate in the most impactful way possible. In the past Pixar has found ways of making toys and fish and garbage robots bring tears to your eyes. Now they’ve done it with skeletons. [A]

  • Pandabucks

    What an idiotic review. There is nothing “anti-Mexican” about securing the American border, you twit–and there is nothing anti-Trump about telling a terrific Mexican tale.

    Try leaving politics out of reviewing films having nothing to do with politics, ‘kay? In other words, try treating ALL your readers with some modicum of respect.

Finally. ‘The Punisher’ Is Marvel’s Best Netflix Show [Bingeworthy™ Breakdown]

The Bingeworthy Breakdown™ is back and this time we’re looking at Netflix’sMarvel’s “The Punisher,” the fourth iteration of the character following three rather unremarkable, unsuccessful films occurring before the days of Marvel Studios. Showrun by Steven Lightfoot, a writer and producer on “Hannibal,” “The Punisher” stars Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, an ex-special forces soldier who becomes a vigilante fighting crime after his family is brutally murdered. And the series picks up after the introduction of the character is season two of “Daredevil,” arguably Marvel’s best up to that point thanks to the inclusion of the Castle character. “The Punisher” was actually supposed to come out last month, closer to Halloween, but the rather violent show was delayed because of the tragic shooting massacre in Las Vegas. What did we think?

So, I’ve been following your work?

Oh, yeah? Wow, thanks.

No, I mean, I see you’re not a huge fan of the Marvel shows on Netflix.

Oh.

BIASED MEDIA!

Well, no, it’s just my opinion that they’re generally not very good. But I’m happy to report I’m singing a different tune this time.

READ MORE: The Essentials: Ranking Every Netflix Original Series So Far

Go on…

Casting is everything. Every filmmaker in the world has basically said that at one point in their lives and let’s put it this way: you have Jon Bernthal on one side of the room and then, sorry, Charlie Cox, Finn Jones, Mike Colter and to a much lesser extent Krysten Ritter, who’s pretty good, on the other side. But honestly? There’s no contest. Marvel shows suffer from their mediocre casting (especially Jones and Colter, both of whom are awful). Bernthal is in another class. It’s like Marvel movie casting vs. Marvel TV casting which across the board, ABC shows included, are pretty bad. I don’t know what it is. With the rise of PeakTV and streaming shows, the quality of TV has obviously skyrocketed to the point that it’s very easy to attract A-list talent to excellent long form series. Matthew McConaughey in “True Detective,” the cast of “Westworld,” “Big Little Lies,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” etc. etc. I’m not telling you anything new, but man, Marvel has a serious casting problem on their hand, which is why you’re never going to see Marvel TV and Marvel films crossover. In short, Bernthal is next level.

READ MORE: The 25 Best TV Shows Of 2017 So Far

So, you’re saying, he’s good and therefore the show is good.

Pretty much. Even when the writing is iffy, he sells it. That’s good casting; an actor that is utterly convincing as the character. The rest follows suit.

The PunisherLet’s talk the super hero-yness of the show. I’m curious.

Well, you nail it right there. That’s what so great, or at least what makes it stand head and shoulders above all Netflix Marvel shows. This isn’t a hero or a reluctant hero trying to save New York. “The Punisher” is an anti-hero show and I mean, anti. He has no qualms about killing people and doing so in brutal, bloody fashion; the show doesn’t pull its punches and certainly fans who want to see violence, fighting and blood splatter will be happy. He’s a vigilante straight up, but the character still traffics in shades of moral grey.

What do you mean?

Well, the Punisher’s got a code even if it’s a warped one no other person could understand unless they’re a sociopath. He’s doing awful things, but he’s doing them for what he believes are the right reasons. He’s constructed his own moral compass and believes some people need to pay for their sins and wrongdoing and bad people often have to die if they’re going to hurt those he deems are worthy, good people.

Subjective, judge, jury and executioner.

Exactly, but that’s what makes him interesting. He’s, dare I say, a complicated character. He’s also a character motivated by revenge, loss, grief and trauma. Not the lame PTSD most super hero characters deal with. Castle had his family slaughtered in front of his own eyes. It’s beyond traumatizing. And while I’m not a huge fan of the trauma flashbacks because I’m just not really a fan of triggering flashbacks, period, they’re rooted in an emotional tragedy anyone can relate to. And again, Bernthal convinces. Back to the super hero thing? Castle isn’t trying to save anyone, he doesn’t know how to save himself. He’s living day by day and when people cross his path watch out.

  • AnonymityIsOverrated

    I don’t think Daredevil’s fault is in the casting, but rather in the writing. Season 2 took a nosedive with all the ninjas and stuff. I’d say Iron Fist is part writing and a big part casting, for sure.

  • max

    Charlie Cox and Ritter are both great in their roles. And colter is far from awful

  • Lamashtar

    Deborah Woll is decent, but hardly the “next best”. Both Ritter and Dawson are better actresses.

  • brothernamederised

    Krysten Ritter, Charlie Cox, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Sigourney Weaver, David Tennant, Mahershala Ali, and Alfre Woodard all do very strong work in their respective shows. If anything, it’s Woll’s weepy performance that belongs in the other side of the room, alongside Finn Jones and Mike Colter.

  • David Beard

    one word. Awesome. Thanks Netflix.

  • Ryan Robinson

    This format is tacky as hell. Your writing is not funny, but it still drips with with self-satisfaction. Will avoid anything written by you in the future.

‘Justice League’: Overworked, Exhausting Superhero Spectacle Never Comes Together [Review]

There is a moment in “Justice League” when one of the assembled heroes exclaims “Booyah!” to celebrate the satisfactory conclusion of a particularly gruelling action sequence. Until that point, the film simply runs numbingly on the low end of the DC Films bell curve — not as offensively awful as “Suicide Squad,” but not quite reaching the functional incompetence of “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” — but the utterance of the sassy, outdated, nearly anachronistic zinger suddenly crystalizes just how desperate “Justice League” is to please.

While producers understandably don’t want audiences to “think about how this movie was made,” and forget about the beleaguered production which included extensive reshoots and rewrites, eventually it’s simply hard to ignore. Everything is thrown at the wall here — armloads of cornball one-liners; rock ‘n roll character introductions; quiet, dramatic passages; overdriven CGI spectacle — but, ironically for a superhero team-up movie, none of it hangs together.

The story, thankfully, is at least fairly straightforward. Following Superman’s death, the Hope that the world once shared has been overtaken by Fear (these themes are very important, even if they’re penciled into the script with all the grace of an oversized crayon) providing the perfect breeding ground for Steppenwolf (Ciarin Hinds) and his legion of Parademons to try and turn Earth into a “primordial hellscape,” as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) puts it. If you know about motherboxes and who Darkseid is, you’ll get a few bonus points. If you don’t, you’ll still be just fine. Essentially, a Big Scary God Demon is coming to destroy the planet.

Realizing that his big bank account and gadgets won’t be able to cut it on their own in the fight to save the globe, Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) finds Wonder Woman and together they — you guessed it — assemble a team. Loner Barry Allen aka The Flash (Ezra Miller) is eager to have friends and a purpose, and readily signs up. Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) are initially reluctant, but it doesn’t take too long for them to come around. However, there’s one more person they’ll need — a hero who literally wears Hope on his chest — but whether or not he can return, and if he’ll even be the same person if he does, is uncertain.

Mandated to run no longer than two hours, you certainly won’t feel the length of “Justice League,” but the narrative winds up having no room to breathe, and the characters little space to define themselves as the story races by. However, the most unfortunate and noticeable consequence of the storytelling parameters is that the film’s tonal incongruity becomes all the more pronounced.

While it’s never quite oil and water, there is a distinct disconnect between Zack Snyder’s muscular style of filmmaking, and the lighter touch generally employed by Joss Whedon (who was brought into write additional scenes and direct the reshoots on the film). The thuddingly unfunny jokes and gags — inserted to try and achieve a Marvel-esque balance of action and levity — jar against the loud, clanging setpieces. Most curiously, however, while “Justice League” doesn’t feel like a seamless combination of Snyder and Whedon’s visions, the fingerprints of either director also seem missing. No matter where you stand on Snyder as a filmmaker, his style is instantly recognizable, yet the film might be the most anonymous yet to bear his credit. Meanwhile, Whedon-ites will find little to cling to here. “Justice League” winds up watering down the trademarks of both directors into a bland blockbuster soup.

When it comes to spectacle, however, it’s not for lack of trying to wow. Just like the DCEU pictures before it, the movie suffers from an overblown, third act finale that overstays its welcome, and burdens the viewer with a mess of poorly executed and badly choreographed visuals which mistakes busyness for coherence. When not assaulting the senses, “Justice League” plays catch-up with other franchises, particularly a couple sequences involving The Flash that don’t hide their debt to Fox’s famous Quicksilver centerpiece scenes in the X-Men movies. But there is one undeniably strong standout sequence — that I can’t really go into without spoilers — that for several minutes is the perfect marriage of Snyder’s ambition and Whedon’s care for character detail. It’s what “Justice League” could’ve been, but aside from that moment, never becomes.

It all makes you feel a bit sorry for the cast, who do their best to carry a movie that’s obviously been haphazardly cut and reconfigured around them. Ben Affleck gets to shed the all-consuming anger of Bruce Wayne from ‘Batman v Superman,’ with the wealthy hero (mostly) happily playing with others and even getting to smile. It’s a welcome change. Jason Momoa brings some enjoyable charisma to Aquaman, and gets the biggest (and arguably only) laugh of the movie in an unexpected monologue. Gal Gadot continues her solid work from “Wonder Woman,” Ray Fisher is serviceable as Cyborg, but the one member of the ensemble who simply doesn’t gel is Ezra Miller. The actor mugs for the camera with every line delivery, bringing the movie to a stop with each deadweight quip. The Flash is constantly, aggravatingly on; there is rarely any respite from the character’s need to make his presence felt at any available opportunity, but the humor is rarely organic and consistently labored, and more than anything else in the movie, feels like the most fussed upon element as DC Films pivots their brand to sunnier territory.

On the technical end, “Justice League” fails to deliver the way a film of this size and expectation should. Cinematographer Fabien Wagner makes his first real blockbuster outing here (we’ll kindly overlook “Victor Frankenstein”) but he can’t shake his TV roots. The interiors and exteriors that were clearly shot on soundstages feel extra artificial in IMAX, and Wagner is simply adrift in action scenes that are often more pixels than anything flesh and blood. The digital effects here are particularly slapdash, the green screen renderings often look cheap, and as for the computer assisted removal of Henry Cavill’s moustache in the reshot scenes with Superman aka Clark Kent (yes, he’s back, and you’ll wonder why Warner Bros. kept it a big secret in the marketing materials) you’ll be able to tell which ones they are. It’s amusingly awful work.

By time “Justice League” gets to the finish line and credits — stick around, there is an abysmal mid-credits scene, and a decent enough post-credits scene — exhaustion has long set in. Witnessing the seams and stitches where Warner Bros. and DC tried so very hard to make “Justice League” work becomes wearying with each unsuccessful attempt to land a joke, and action scene that fails to engage. Coupled with endless, dry exposition about the dangers the superhero team will face (the first half of the movie is particularly thick with it), the movie accumulates into a wave of bad decisions that are taxing to endure. This isn’t the worst movie you’ll see this year, but it’s by far the most worked over, which makes “Justice League” belong in an undistinguished category all its own. [C-]

  • Stana Lee

    It was a bad movie,to be honest.

  • Bruna Figueiredo

    you only mentioned gal gadot once

  • Pedro

    I love Suicide Squad, Viola Davis was note perfect. I don’t get the hate.

‘Call Me By Your Name,’ ‘Lady Bird,’ ‘Get Out’ Lead 2018 Independent Spirit Awards Nominations

The nominations for the 2018 Independent Spirit Awards were announced on Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. Tessa Thompson and Lily Collins revealed this years honorees, which were lead by “Call Me By Your Name,” “Get Out,” “Good Time,” “The Rider” and “Lady Bird.”

A24 dominated the nominations with 17 followed by Sony Pictures Classics with 13 and upstart NEON earning 7. ‘Call Me’ can claim the most honors with six followed by “Get Out” and “Good Time,” which both took five (the latter being something of a surprise). “Lady Bird” and the unreleased “The Rider,” which qualified by screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, both earned four while “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” took three. “The Florida Project” earned key Best Feature and Best Director nods, but was somehow overlooked in subsequent categories.

Overall, the nominations should solidify the Best Picture campaigns for “Call Me,” “Lady Bird,” “The Florida Project” and “Get Out.” The fact Fox Searchlight’s “The Shape of Water” was snubbed completely may have more to do with the fact it looks more like a larger studio film than it’s qualifying budget. The same could be said of Sofia Coppola‘s “The Beguiled” which also qualified with just a $10 million production budget, but came away empty handed.

The 33rd Film Independent Spirit Awards will be hosted for the second year in a row by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney and will take place on Saturday, March 3, 2018.

The complete list of nominees along with analysis for each major category is as follows:

Best Feature

“Call Me by Your Name”

Producers: Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, Rodrigo Teixeira, Marco Morabito, James Ivory, Howard Rosenman

“The Florida Project”

Producers: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Francesca Silvestri, Shih-Ching Tsou

“Get Out”

Producers: Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr., Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele

“Lady Bird”

Producers: Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neill, Scott Rudin

“The Rider”

Producers: Mollye Asher, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche, Chloé Zhao

Lowdown: Hard to argue with this group, but “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” or “The Shape of Water” not being part of this group is questionable. You could argue they “look” too studio, but “Get Out” has more of a commercial sheen than either of them. Should “The Rider” have been qualified for 2018? Possibly, but Spirit Awards committees are gonna do what Spirit Award committees are gonna do.

Best First Feature

“Columbus”

Director: Kogonada

Producers: Danielle Renfrew Behrens, Aaron Boyd, Giulia Caruso, Ki Jin Kim, Andrew Miano, Chris Weitz

“Ingrid Goes West”

Director: Matt Spicer

Producers: Jared Ian Goldman, Adam Mirels, Robert Mirels, Aubrey Plaza, Tim White, Trevor White

“Menashe”

Director/Producer: Joshua Z. Weinstein

Producers: Yoni Brook, Traci Carlson, Daniel Finkelman, Alex Lipschultz

“Oh Lucy!”

Director/Producer: Atsuko Hirayanagi

Producers: Jessica Elbaum, Yukie Kito, Han West

“Patti Cake$”

Director: Geremy Jasper

Producers: Chris Columbus, Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Noah Stahl, Rodrigo Teixeira

Lowdown: Thrilled “Ingrid Goes West,” one of the most underrated movies of the year, made the cut. The critically acclaimed “Columbus” probably has the edge when it comes to Spirit voters, however. Maybe.

Best Director

Sean Baker, “The Florida Project”

Jonas Carpignano, “A Ciambra”

Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me by Your Name”

Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, “Good Time”

Chloé Zhao, “The Rider”

Lowdown:Greta Gerwig, Martin McDonagh, Dee Rees and Guillermo del Toro were obviously snubbed here. Carpignano is an “indie cred” for the Spirits nomination. Overall, though, this is an interesting race. I expect either Peele or Guadagnino to win, but because of “Get Out’s” popularity Peele has the edge (no. 1 rule of Spirit voting predictions is the biggest hit usually wins).

Best Screenplay

Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”

Azazel Jacobs, “The Lovers”

Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

Mike White, “Beatriz at Dinner”

Lowdown: This is a fine group of nominees even without del Toro’s superb “Shape” screenplay in the mix. This may be the category where Gerwig and “Lady Bird” find the most love.

Best First Screenplay

Kris Avedisian, Story By: Kyle Espeleta, Jesse Wakeman, “Donald Cried”

Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani, “The Big Sick”

Ingrid Jungermann, “Women Who Kill”

Kogonada, “Columbus:

David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer, “Ingrid Goes West”

Lowdown: You can pretty much book this to Gordon and Nanjiani for “The Big Sick.”

Best Cinematography

Thimios Bakatakis, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

Elisha Christian, “Columbus”

Hélène Louvart, “Beach Rats”

Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, “Call Me by Your Name”

Joshua James Richards, “The Rider”

Lowdown: Happy to debate anyone who thinks Louvart’s work in “Rats” is superior to Alexis Zabe’s in “The Florida Project.” Mukdeeprom will likely win this for “Call Me.”

Best Editing

Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie, “Good Time”

Walter Fasano, “Call Me by Your Name”

Alex O’Flinn, “The Rider”

Gregory Plotkin, “Get Out”

Tatiana S. Riegel, “I, Tonya”

Lowdown: Interesting field spreading the love with “Three Billboards,” “Florida Project” and “Lady Bird” not making the cut. Plotkin likely takes it unless “I, Tonya” becomes a big hit before the voting deadline.

Best Female Lead

Salma Hayek, “Beatriz at Dinner”

Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”

Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”

Shinobu Terajima, “Oh Lucy!”

Regina Williams, “Life and nothing more”

Lowdown: I simply cannot fathom why Sally Hawkins did not make the cut here although thrilled for Hayek‘s recognition. It’s between McDormand and Ronan for the win.

Best Male Lead

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”

Harris Dickinson, “Beach Rats”

James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”

Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”

Robert Pattinson, “Good Time”

Lowdown: This is a very wide open field with every nominee outside of Dickinson having a shot to take the honor.

Best Supporting Female

Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”

Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”

Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”

Lois Smith, “Marjorie Prime”

Taliah Lennice Webster, “Good Time”

Lowdown: Should “The Florida Project’s” Brooklynn Prince be here? Should she have been in Female Lead? Should Kirsten Dunst have received a nod for her wonderfully subtle work in “The Beguiled”? Should Nicole Kidman earned a nominations for “Killing of a Sacreed Deer”? Should Melissa Leo be here for “Novitiate“? Ponder.

Best Supporting Male

Nnamdi Asomugha, “Crown Heights”

Armie Hammer, “Call Me by Your Name”

Barry Keoghan, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Benny Safdie, “Good Time”

Lowdown: A huge, head scratching snub for “Florida Project‘s” Willem Dafoe here although it’s great to see ‘Killing‘s” Keoghan getting some well deserved recognition. If Rockwell wins the SAG Awards, this is likely his. If not, Hammer could surprise.

Robert Altman Award – Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast

“Mudbound”

Director: Dee Rees

Casting Directors: Billy Hopkins, Ashley Ingram

Ensemble Cast: Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Carey Mulligan

Lowdown: This is a nice honor for the critically acclaimed Netflix acquisition (“Moonlight” won it last year), but individual nominations for Blige and Mitchell would have helped more in the long run.

Best Documentary (Award given to the director and producer)

“The Departure,” Director/Producer: Lana Wilson

“Faces Places,” Directors: Agnés Varda, JR, Producer: Rosalie Varda

“Last Men in Aleppo,” Director: Feras Fayyad, Producers: Kareem Abeed, Søeren Steen Jespersen, Stefan Kloos

“Motherland,” Director/Producer: Ramona S. Diaz, Producer: Rey Cuerdo

“Quest,” Director: Jonathan Olshefski, Producer: Sabrina Schmidt Gordon

Lowdown: Many people in Los Angeles are going to be excited by the prospect of Varda returning to Hollywood after her triumphant honorary Oscar run earlier this month. “Last Men in Aleppo” will probably get the win, however.

Best International Film (Award given to the director)

“BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (France), Director: Robin Campillo

“A Fantastic Woman,” (Chile), Director: Sebastián Lelio

“I Am Not a Witch,” (Zambia), Director: Rungano Nyoni

“Lady Macbeth,” (U.K.), Director: William Oldroyd

“Loveless,” (Russia), Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Lowdown:The Square” snub is interesting, but “A Fantastic Woman” was and still is the frontrunner here. “BPM” gets some much needed love after a disastrous release campaign last month.

Bonnie Award – Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo joined American Airlines in 1973 at age 24, becoming the first female pilot to fly for a major U.S. airline. In her honor, the inaugural Bonnie Award will recognize a mid-career female director with a $50,000 unrestricted grant.

So Yong Kim

Lynn Shelton

Chloé Zhao

Truer Than Fiction – The 23rd annual Truer Than Fiction Award is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant.

Shevaun Mizrahi, Director of “Distant Constellation”

Jonathan Olshefski, Director of “Quest”

Jeff Unay, Director of “The Cage Fighter”

Someone to Watch – The 24th annual Someone to Watch Award recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant.

Amman Abbasi, Director of “Dayveon”

Justin Chon, Director of “Gook”

Kevin Phillips, Director of “Super Dark Times”

Producers Award – The 21st annual Producers Award honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality, independent films. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant.

Giulia Caruso & Ki Jin Kim

Ben LeClair

Summer Shelton

  • Footlight Movement

    why does Good Time not in Best Feature !!!

2018 Independent Spirit Awards Nominations: Snubs & Surprises

The 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations were unveiled today, and as it always goes, there were some surprises and snubs. However, before I get too far along, here’s quick reminder about one of the official eligibility requirements for the competing movies. It will be useful information for one of the biggest snubs that people are talking about:

…we are only considering films that are made with lower budgets, ranging from microbudgets up to $20 million. Second, ‘economy of means’ means that, whatever their budget, the filmmakers stretched every dollar and used every resource at their disposal to make the best and most ambitious film they possibly could.

Snub:The Shape Of Water

Indeed, Guillermo del Toro‘s beloved merman romance was left out in the cold by the Indie Spirits. So, what gives? The film’s budget — somewhere between $18-20 million — fell into the acceptable range, but the critically acclaimed movie, widely viewed as an Oscar favorite, got nothing. My guess is that the ambitious fantasy simply didn’t feel indie enough to voters. The film’s budget was still astronomical compared to its competitors, and it will be getting a wide release that most of the other Indie Spirit movies won’t. There is plenty of room in this awards season for “The Shape Of Water” to get love elsewhere, and it’ll certainly happen, but the light at the Indie Spirits was focused on giving shine to smaller movies with less resources to get in the world than del Toro’s Fox Searchlight-backed movie.

Snub:Wind River

Another widely acclaimed film, and a sleeper box office hit, there is one simple reason why Taylor Sheridan‘s directorial debut got shut out: Harvey Weinstein. As much as the producers and filmmakers put a concerted effort to scrub the disgraced mogul’s name from the film, I suppose there was still discomfort in voting for a movie with his fingerprints on it. Even if they were erased.

Surprise: A24

The indie distributor isn’t even five years old yet, but they have become one of the industry’s premiere tastemakers. They lead the Indie Spirits this year with 17 nominations. Sorry Hollywood, their Best Picture win at the Oscar last year with “Moonlight” was no fluke. They are a force to be reckoned with.

Snub: Greta Gerwig

One of the best reviewed, commercially performing arthouse movies of the year, “Lady Bird” is a sensation. However, while the movie managed four nominations, and Gerwig got Best Screenplay, it’s a bit baffling she wasn’t recognized in the Best Director category.

Snub: Brooklynn Prince and Willem Dafoe for “The Florida Project”

With nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, did everyone forget the two magical elements that made the movie soar? Brooklynn Prince and Willem Dafoe each deserved a nomination for their work.

Surprise: All the “Good Time” love

Frankly, we kinda thought we were the only ones who remembered just how great the Safdies‘ little thriller was. We figured the film’s $2 million gross would ensure it was overlooked. But wowsers, the movie managed some key nods, and we’re pretty excited to see Benny Safdie recognized for his outstanding performance as Robert Pattinson‘s mentally disabled brother, and star-in-the-making Taliah Lennice Webster honored for her terrific supporting work.

Snub: “The Beguiled”

Okay, Sofia Coppola‘s latest was a long shot for any nominations, but it would’ve been nice to see the hilarious and uneasy drama/comedy of manners and sexual repression get recongnized for something. Cinematography? Best Supporting Actress for Kirsten Dunst? Anyway, if you haven’t seen “The Beguiled,” don’t forget about it….

Surprise: “The Rider”

…speaking of which, we really need to catch up with Chloé Zhao‘s film, which is clearly resonating in all the right places. For whatever reason, we just kept missing it on the festival circuit. Hey, Sony Pictures Classics, help us out?

Surprise: “Columbus”

We’re absolutely tickled to see Kogonada‘s “Columbus” get some love with three nominations. It’s a lovely, gorgeously made little drama that deserves all the attention it can get.

Snub: “The Square”

Ruben Ostlund‘s Palme d’Or winner was the talk of the Cannes Film Festival, and considered a frontrunner in the Best Foreign Film Oscar race, but the dramedy missed with voters here. It certainly raises some eyebrows given the sharp satiric bite of the film, and big ideas it brings to the table.

The Indie Spirit awards will be handed out on Saturday, March 3, 2018.

  • Michael Patterson

    Thought we might see Harry Dean Stanton’s name in the Best Male Lead category.

Spike Lee’s ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ Can’t Charm Its Way Out Of Its Flaws [Review]

In 1986, Spike Lee wowed the world with “She’s Gotta Have It,” an homage to black female sexuality. With its jazzy score, sumptuous visuals, and a frank attitude toward sex, the film perfectly combined arthouse innovation and contemporary cool. Its characters were unique without seeming overwrought, and its story was fresh without seeming too precocious.

Over 30 years later, Lee and Netflix have attempted to revive that classic by adapting it into a miniseries. And while the 2017 “She’s Gotta Have It” is more socially conscious than its predecessor, the series ends up a structural failure. With one-dimensional characters and a runaway train of a script, Netflix’s “She’s Gotta Have It” fails to do justice to Lee’s exemplary film.

The series follows Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise), a Brooklyn native and aspiring artist. A “sex positive, polyamorous pansexual,” Nola’s chief most struggle is her inability to juggle three men: hipster photographer Greer (Cleo Anthony), boyish cyclist Mars (Anthony Ramos), and married investment banker Jamie (Lyriq Bent). Her friends Shemekka (Chyna Layne) and Clorinda (Margot Bingham) bear witness to her shenanigans, and support her when things get tough.

Things get tough pretty quickly. The pilot culminates in a street harassment-turned-assault that deeply unsettles Nola. This trauma propels her forward in the series as she begins a street art campaign against things shouted her way on the streets of BK. It’s refreshing to see misogynistic violence treated so seriously onscreen. The show doesn’t dwell too long on this, though, and soon dovetails into several nonsensical subplots.

There are episodes that focus on the men’s backstories, Nola’s friends, or Nola’s inability to pay her rent. Often these plot threads are stacked atop one another, with little rhyme or reason. If an episode begins with a solo monologue from Mars, for example, that doesn’t mean he’ll play a major part in the episode. Characters spring into the foreground out of nowhere, give moving monologues, and then retreat. De’Adre Aziza shines as the stern Raqueletta Moss, but her childhood sexual assault backstory feels forced coming from a tertiary character.

Raqueletta, like nearly all the other characters, is fueled by a gimmick. She is not so much a person as she is a quirky trait backed up by a discordant history. Such is also the case with Onyx, a graffiti artist who is mentioned often but matters little, and Shemekka’s deplorable strip club boss. Mars, Greer, and Jamie all begin the show as caricatures, but develop more over time. Jamie is disproportionately fleshed out, though, while Mars and Greer are reduced to their obnoxiousness. It’s odd to see Jamie afforded the most nuance, as he is Nola’s worst suitor by far. It feels like Mars and Greer deserve more attention, simply by virtue of not being condescending manipulators.

Though the show talks a big feminist game, Nola is hardly empowered. The protagonist reads more like an airhead than an idealist. She is adamant about being independent and morally opposed to Jamie’s infidelity, yet she lives off his money. She doesn’t want a day job and doesn’t pay her rent. She’s vexed by her rent in general, somehow convinced that she has to stay in her enormous studio apartment sans roommate or leave Brooklyn altogether. She isn’t honest with the men in her life, and thinks that’s feminist instead of childish. Whatever reality Nola lives in, I want a first-class ticket. I could afford it in such an alternate universe where dog-walking and art lessons pay enough for Brooklyn rent, a chic wardrobe, and giant canvases.

The show justifies its sketchy protagonist by making her a mouthpiece for progressive politics. But such activism can only go so far, especially in a show that preaches black female sexual liberation and then delights in acrobatic sex scenes and a grotesque butt injection subplot. Lee lends a much-needed perspective to issues of gentrification, police violence, and post-Trump racism. He has little to add to conversations on female empowerment.

The director happily plays with form. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The Subtitles And Text Messages All Look Like This. Weird camera angles and jarring edits abound. Subtitled song lyrics float through the scenes. Album art follows some soundtrack songs, but not others. There are tracking shots coupled with to-camera dialogue. It’s all mostly charming (I especially like those last two), but layered on top of a show that already has so much going on, it can feel like clutter. It’s like Spike Lee tried to direct a glossy, overproduced TV show. Probably because that’s what happened.

There are other bright spots in this inscrutable series. It is well-acted, with each player doing their best with their patchy role. Wise is particularly strong during Nola’s to-camera monologues. Opal, the wolfish lesbian from the original film, has been upgraded to a serene botanist — though Ilfenesh Hadera is hardly granola. Lee’s love of Brooklyn shines in every outdoor scene, particularly a charming graveyard sequence. The film’s rape scene is blessedly absent. The finale is fantastic.

Just like Nola can’t juggle three men, the show can’t juggle activism, experimentalism, and cohesive storytelling. It isn’t a bad series, but with Spike Lee at the helm, Netflix’s high production standards, and near-perfect source material, it’s disappointing to see the show go astray. Though it’s certainly unique, “She’s Gotta Have It” can’t charm its way out of its flaws, making it an ultimately exasperating watch. [C+]

James Franco Shot 25 Minutes Of Recreated Scenes From ‘The Room’

The canon of movies about passionate, yet awful filmmakers isn’t very large, but Tim Burton‘s terrific “Ed Wood” is about to be joined by James Franco‘s “The Disaster Artist.” The story about the making of Tommy Wiseau‘s cult favorite “The Room” is both hilarious and heartbreaking, with Franco going full Franco, not only directing the movie, but taking the lead role. Over the film’s credits, audiences are treated to side-by-side scenes of Franco’s recreated sequences from “The Room” and the actual segments from Wiseau’s movie. They are eerily and strikingly similar and the good news is that there’s a lot more where that came from.

Franco recently hit the “Kernels” podcast with his brother Dave Franco (who also stars in “The Disaster Artist”), where they revealed they shot nearly a half-hour of recreated scenes from “The Room.” And the good news is that there are plans to release them. Here’s what they had to say:

Kernels: ‘How much of The Room did you actually remake in the end?’

J. Franco: ‘I think we might have about 20 to 25 minutes of recreated Room scenes.’

D. Franco: ‘Beat-for-beat, move-for-move, oh yeah!’

Kernels: ‘You should get that out there at some point.’

J. Franco: ‘I know! I’m sure that’ll be on the DVD, yeah.’

That’s actually going to be a pretty terrific extra for a film that successfully rides the line of paying tribute to “The Room,” without overly mocking the movie or the man who made it.

“The Disaster Artist” opens on December 8th. Listen to the full podcast talk below.

Jude Law Joins ‘Captain Marvel’

It’s not often that single character from a TV series becomes a meme, but Jude Law‘s titular “The Young Pope” enjoyed a brief life on the Twittersphere earlier this year. Cinephiles in particular were charmed by the eccentric character. And while that probably had little bearing on Marvel‘s decision to recruit the actor for their cinematic universe, it does remind us that the only superhero we want Law to play is The Young Pope.

Anyway, I digress — Jude Law has been cast in “Captain Marvel.” Of course, there are no details about his role being revealed at the moment, except that he’ll be mentor of sorts to Brie Larson‘s Carol Danvers. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson,” “Mississippi Grind“) are directing the movie, Marvel’s first standalone film led by a female superhero. Intriguingly, it will be set during the ’90s, and Samuel L. Jackson is expected to return as Nick Fury.

Production on “Captain Marvel” begins next year and it will open on March 8, 2019. [Variety]

  • Henry

    aw shucks, I was hoping Law might play Dr. Doom or Brainiac.

Noël Wells’ ‘Mr. Roosevelt’ Is An Original, Endearing First Feature [Review]

It’s no secret that the film industry is dominated by men. Even the indie game mostly touts male-led films by male directors. As a result, there are a lot of slice-of-life films out there that bravely explore what a bummer it is to be a white dude with depression. While I adore some of those movies, they can be petri dishes for poorly-written women, as the aforementioned dudes usually relearn the value of life from Manic Pixie Dream Girls. So dubbed by Nathan Rabin of The AV Club, these women are more like sexy children. Cast to do little more than reignite the male protagonist’s sense of wonder, they make up for their lack of backstory with feminine wiles.

Though recently identified, these big-eyed ingenues have flitted through indie cinema for decades. And while some directors have challenged the trope, there are very few female perspectives on it. Enter “Master of None” star Noël Wells and her directorial debut “Mr. Roosevelt.” This offbeat, engrossing film explores what happens when a supposed Manic Pixie Dream Girl is actually the one finding herself.

“Mr. Roosevelt” centers on Emily Martin (Noël Wells), a creative postgrad drowning in her own self-doubt. She wants to be a comedian, and she’s got the chops — in the film’s opening scene, Wells shows off an impressive Holly Hunter impression — but she can’t seem to charm any casting directors. As she half-asses an editing job and sleeps with insufferable comedy bros, it’s clear Emily feels unfulfilled. She is a modest YouTube success, with a viral video that’s racked up millions of views, but she sees herself as decidedly unsuccessful. And that feeling only becomes more pronounced after an impromptu visit to her former home.

Emily is called back to Austin when her cat, the titular Mr. Roosevelt, falls ill and dies. She plans to stay with her ex, Eric (Nick Thune), while awaiting Mr. Roosevelt’s ashes, but is disturbed to find he has a live-in girlfriend, Celeste (Britt Lower). Celeste, who Emily describes as “a Pinterest board come to life,” is poised and pretty. She’s also interloping on Emily’s entire life. Celeste assumed ownership of Mr. Roosevelt after Emily left Eric, and has moved into the house Emily and Eric used to share. Emily is immediately threatened — not because she has a right to be, as the woman who dumped Eric over the phone, but because Celeste represents everything she lacks.

To avoid being in her former house, Emily takes up with Jen (Daniella Pineda), a gorgeous waitress-slash-drummer with a party girl vibe. She is perhaps the real MPDG of the film, and not just because she has romantic chemistry with the protagonist. Jen has a zest for life and sexy self-confidence that Emily longs to emulate, and, in a sequence midway through the film involving topless sunbathing and cell phone destruction, she does. Letting loose has its consequences, though, and Emily find herself coming up short against Celeste yet again.

Things come to a head when Celeste throws a burial brunch for Mr. Roosevelt. A drunk Emily lets her insecurity get the best of her and ends up making some cringeworthy decisions (while wearing a great romper). “You’re a good person with really bad execution,” Jen reassures her in the aftermath. The film wraps up neatly as our protagonist returns to LA, humbled and hopeful. Her future is still uncertain, but at least she’s done being an asshole.

Much like Wells herself, the film — shot in 35mm and focused on Austin — has a hipster vibe that borders on twee. Wells owns that as a director, though, while pushing back against her own archetype. After a guy calls her “quirky,” Emily points out that that word “recognizes [a girl’s] uniqueness but at the same time devalues her intelligence.” Wells, perhaps best known for playing the unpredictable, delightful Rachel in “Master of None,” is clearly no stranger to the adjective. And while this film is undeniably eccentric, it’s also got heart and humor, with immortal one-liners (“It’s a bralette, it’s like a training bra for adults”) and an interesting take on the stuck-in-life narrative.

“Mr. Roosevelt” isn’t perfect. Celeste is fairly one-dimensional, and the climactic brunch scene fails to find its comedic or dramatic rhythm. But like its protagonist, “Mr. Roosevelt” makes up for its imperfections with originality and endearment. Triple-threat Wells deserves a crack at a second feature, not just to learn from her mistakes in “Mr. Roosevelt,” but to build on its multitudinous strengths as well. This film might not blow you away, but it is unique, and it will make you laugh. And ultimately, that’s all you really need from an indie comedy. [B]

Quentin Tarantino Talks Netflix And Why He Doesn’t Like It

It’s no secret that dedicated cinephile and 70mm advocate Quentin Tarantino is not a fan of Netflix. After all, this is a director who still watches VHS and tapes things off television. However, Tarantino’s resistance to the digital future isn’t simply borne from an irrational nostalgia to the past. Instead, the former video store employee believes that Netflix has created in audiences an unwillingness to take a chance on something completely unknown to them and stick with it to the end, instead of tuning out if it doesn’t grab their attention immediately.

Yellow King Film Boy has unearthed an interview excerpt with Tarantino, where he elaborates his feelings about Netflix, and reminisces about the sense of discovery that accompanied browsing the aisles of the video store. Here’s what he had to say:

It’s very sad to me. It’s very, very sad to me. And I’m a little surprised how quickly it happened, and I’m a little surprised at how the public has moved on, and no one’s looking back, and they don’t really care. And it’s not just out of the nostalgia. I’m not on Netflix so I can’t even tell you exactly how that works. Even if you just have all the movie channels in your [cable] package, and that’s something I do have, you hit the guide, and you go down the list and you…watch something or you tape something and maybe you never get around to watching it or you actually do watch it, and then maybe you watch it for ten minutes or twenty minutes, and maybe you start doing something else, and [you decide], ‘Nah, I’m not really into this. That’s kind of where we’ve fallen into.

However, there was a different quality to the video store. You looked around, you picked up boxes, you read the back of the boxes. You made a choice, and maybe you talked to the guy behind the counter, and maybe he pointed you toward something. And he didn’t just put something in your hand, he gave you a little bit of a sales pitch on it to some degree or another. And so the point being is, you were kind of invested, in a way that you’re not invested with electronic technology when it comes to the movies. Now, of course, we all rented three movies and didn’t get around to watching the third one, but there was more of a commitment to what you ended up getting. And maybe you went down to the store to get “Top Gun,” and that’s what you wanted, and you got “Top Gun,” but then you picked up something you never heard about before, just because you wanted something more than “Top Gun.” And maybe it’s something that caught your eye, you didn’t know anything about it, and you took a chance. But you rented it, so you actually wanted to try and watch it some degree or another. And that’s what’s really lost — in a weird way, what’s lost is commitment.

I understand Tarantino’s sentiment, but it’s not like VHS prevented people from stopping a movie halfway through if they didn’t like it. Granted, it is true that during that era, you didn’t have a zillion other options to choose from, so sometimes you powered through a mediocre movie simply because it was all you had to watch. Some might argue more choice is a good thing, but Tarantino seems to believe that people simply wind up gravitating to things they know they’ll enjoy rather than rolling the dice. Perhaps there’s some truth in that.

Thoughts? Hit up the comments section.