Sunday, March 10, 2024

2024 Oscar Predications


I haven't done this in a few years but I figured it would be fun to make my predictions for the major categories for tonight's 96th Annual Academy Awards telecast tonight. So, without further ado, here is how I'm thinking it will go:

Best Picture

This years spread of movies is a really strong one and I genuinely loved each one of them which is a rarity for me. It makes it hard to choose but I genuinely think it will go to Oppenheimer. It was a fantastic film that kept me riveted throughout it's three hour runtime. The direction from Christopher Nolan is magnificent and it has a stellar cast that is acting their socks off. I could see there being an upset for Killers of the Flower Moon but I'm nearly certain it will be Oppenheimer

Best Director

Much like Best Picture, I feel like this one is going to go to Christopher Nolan. Oppenheimer is a magnificent piece of filmmaking and he did a great job telling that story and tapping into his titular subject. Again, I could see it possibly going to Martin Scorsese too in an upset, but I'm pretty sure this is going to be Nolan's year. 

Best Actor

I'm nearly positive it will go to Cillian Murphy for Oppenheimer. So much of the movie rested on his shoulders and he rose to the challenge wonderfully, crafting a riveting and revealing performance that, no pun intended, blew me away. I could see an upset and it going to Paul Giamatti for The Holdovers, which would thrill me as I adored that performance too, but I'm pretty sure it's going to Cillian Murphy. 

Best Actress

This needs to go to Lily Gladstone for her performance in Killers of the Flower Moon. She outshone Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro with a dynamite performance that made the film for me. Her character goes through a lot through the film's three and a half hour runtime and throughout her performance was flawless. I loved it and I am convinced she will win. 

Best Supporting Actor

Ever since I first saw the movie last July I knew this was going to be Robert Downey Jr.'s year. He was fantastic as Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer and I honestly can't see anyone else winning the award. It's Downey's year and I have no doubt about it. 

Best Supporting Actress:

Honestly, if it isn't Da'Vine Joy Randolph for her fantastic and empathetic performance in The Holdovers I will be shocked. From the moment I saw the film, I knew she had to win for that performance. It's such a beautiful and touching performance in a truly wonderful film. 

Best Animated Feature Film:  

I'm nearly positive this one will go to the fantastic Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which features stunning animation coupled with a great story and a smart story. I could see an upset going to The Boy and the Heron, but I'm feeling pretty confident with this one. 

Best International Feature Film

I feel confident that this one will go to the powerful and haunting Holocaust film The Zone of Interest. Focused on the commander of Auschwitz Concentration Camp and his family, the film is a searing look at the banality of evil. This one easily outshines the other films. I wouldn't mind seeing an upset for the equally riveting Society of the Snow, but I'm confident this one will go to The Zone of Interest. 

Best Cinematography

I'm calling this one for Hoyte van Hoytema for Oppenheimer. He did a fantastic job shooting this film and among all the other things I could say about the film, it looked stunning as well. I'm confident this one is locked up for Oppenheimer. 

Costume Design

I'm going to be bold and call this one for Jacqueline Durran for Barbie. She did a magnificent job crafting the style and fashion of Barbie world and all the various different Barbies and Kens with real style and humor that fits the film perfectly. If nothing else, the fact that everyone wanted that I Am Kenough sweatshirt speaks for itself. The Academy could be boring and give it to the latest costume drama, but I really think it deserves to go to Barbie.

Best Original Screenplay

I am really hoping this one goes to David Hemingson for his heartfelt, touching and quite funny script for The Holdovers. I adored this film and the writing is a big part of it. I would love for it to get some Oscar love tonight and I think this will be one of the categories where it will win. 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Once again, I see this one going to Christopher Nolan for Oppenheimer. Trying to adapt the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb as well as it's aftermath, but he managed to do it with a precise and riveting approach that made for a memorable viewing experience. 

Best Original Song

I really want it to go to I'm Just Ken for just being the fantastic little earworm that it is. That's the one I'm rooting for but I'd be shocked if it actually won. But hey, Ryan Gosling is performing it live at the Oscars so either way, we win. 

Best Original Score

Once again, I think it's going to go to Oppenheimer. Ludwig Göransson's score for that film is a large part of that film and fit the film perfectly. I can't see any of the other nominations winning. 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

This one I am not sure of, but I'm going with Poor Things. Nadia Stacey, Mark Coulier and Josh Weston crafted a unique vision and makeup design for a very memorable film that plays like a fever dream spin on the Frankenstein tale. 

Best Production Design

I have to give this one to Barbie for the way it brought Barbie World to life in a way that made it so real and tangible. I think it deserves the win for that alone.   

That's it for me folks, there are a few other categories that I simply don't have predictions for. I haven't seen any of the short films or the documentaries so I don't really have any predictions there. We'll just have to see how right I turn out to be in a couple hours! 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Red, White and Royal Blue


When it was first announced that there was going to be a movie made from Casey McQuiston's novel, Red, White and Royal Blue, I was ecstatic. I had devoured the book over my summer vacation back in 2019 and was eager to see the film adaptation, hoping it held up to the highly enjoyable novel. I am pleased to be able to report it is as the film was one of the better romantic comedies I have seen in recent memory. 

Alex Claremont-Diaz (played by Taylor Zakhar Perez) is the son of United States President Ellen Claremont (played by Uma Thurman). He is sent to attend a Royal Wedding alongside his friend, and granddaughter of the Vice President, Nora Holleran (played by Rachel Hilson). During the reception, he gets into an argument with Prince Henry (played by Nicholas Galitzine) that results in them accidentally knocking over the towering wedding cake on top of the both of them. The incident is heavily photographed and makes headlines across the globe. Both Governments, fearing bad publicity, decide the best course of action is forcing Alex and Henry to pretend to be friends through a series of press interviews. After getting a chance to talk a bit, Alex and Henry are able to make peace over past perceived slights between the two and actually become friends for real. The two continue to bond over texts and emails between one another. While attending Alex's annual New Year's Eve party, it becomes clear to Henry that he likes Alex as more than a friend and makes a move to Alex's surprise. Initially surprised, Alex comes to realize he likes Henry as more than a friend too. As the romance grows between the two men as they meet up in secret, they find themselves realizing that the will need to figure out what they really mean to each other since both live extraordinarily public lives as well as what the consequences could be for those they care about, chiefly the British Crown and Alex's mom's re-election campaign.   

The film was directed by Matthew Lopez from a script he co-wrote with Ted Malawer. The film remains reasonably faithful to the source novel, with some understandable omissions to allow the film to fit neatly into a 120 minute runtime. They keep the film moving at a brisk pace as the romance between Henry and Alex front and center. The tone remains light and humorous through much of the film, with just enough sexiness to give the film a little edge (it certainly does earn its R rating, after all). Still, they do an adequate job of giving some real stakes to Alex and Henry's relationship and the obstacles they have to overcome in order to be together. The film boasts some gorgeous cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt to support the film. 

The cast is fantastic, starting with our two leads Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine. They have undeniable chemistry with each other that is palpable throughout the film. Perez does a great job capturing Alex's ambition and desires to be taken seriously by his mother's campaign staff. He also capture's Alex uncertainty as well as his recklessness and obliviousness when it comes to his relationship with Henry. Likewise, Galitzine does a great job conveying Henry's internal conflict between his love and desire to be with Alex and the duty he feels to the Crown. Sarah Shahi low-key steals the show as Zahra Bankston, Ellen's much put-upon Deputy Chief of Staff who finds it falls to her to fix the P.R disaster Alex and Henry create, as well as everything that comes from that. Rachel Hilson does well as Nora, Alex's best friend, and is a solid support for him. Uma Thurman is great as Ellen Claremont, capturing the more commanding side as someone who is President as well as the more maternal side when it's just her and Alex in the more heartfelt moments, all the while really sinking her teeth into a Texas accent the whole time. Stephen Fry does the most with one single scene as King James III, injecting some warmth and humanity into what could have been a very one note character in lesser hands.  

Overall, Red, White, and Royal Blue is one of the more delightful romantic comedies to come out in quite some time. The two leads have undeniable chemistry, the film is genuinely romantic and frequently very funny. Like any good Rom-Com, this will undoubtedly be one I watch many, many more times and honestly I can't think of higher praise for a movie than that.      

Friday, March 31, 2023

Favorite Movies of 2022

It's that time once again as I look back on the past year and reflect on the films I saw in the past year and determine which ones are my favorites. I don't do a Best Of List because that can be such a subjective term. Instead, I'm calling this list what it is: a list of movies that I genuinely loved that all came out in 2022 in no particular order. 

Everything Everywhere All At Once

This is one of the most inventive films I think I have ever seen. I was a fan of the directors Daniels from their previous film, Swiss Army Man, so I had high hopes for this one and they more than delivered. The film manages to mix genuine heartfelt drama with absurdist comedy perfectly while boasting some genuine and inventive creativity. The film also boasts a fantastic cast with great performances from Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, and Jamie Lee Curtis. 

The Menu

This film proved to be an expertly crafted, pitch black satire of haute cuisine and pretentious foodie culture. Ralph Fiennes gives a magnificent performance as Chef Julian Slowik who has prepared a memorable multi-course dinner for a group of select guests that grows more sinister as it goes on. With a plot filled with surprising twists, this film was a wild ride that I couldn't wait to experience again. 

The Fabelmans

It could be assumed that I would love Steven Spielberg's latest, but I was surprised just how much I adored this autobiographical film focusing on his family and youth as he first became interested in filmmaking. The resulting film is both heartfelt and perhaps more surprising, frequently pretty funny too. I was also not prepared on how much I would relate to this one, proving to be a rather emotional viewing for me. It's another one I am anxious to revisit. With great performances from a fantastic cast that includes Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Gabriel LaBelle, Seth Rogen and Judd Hirsch this was one I fell absolutely in love with. 

Glass Onion

Rian Johnson's follow up to Knives Out crafts a whole new mystery for his intrepid detective, Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig), to solve. Taking cues from Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun with a sun drenched beach side location and an all star cast that include the likes of Edward Norton, Janelle Monae, Kate Hudson, Jessica Henwicke, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom, Jr, and Kathryn Hahn having a blast playing an assortment of colorful characters that gather for a weekend Murder Mystery party that Benoit Blanc also gets an invitation to, a party that turns out to become all too deadly in real life. This one was a blast to watch from beginning to end with enough twists and turns to keep even the most jaded whodunnit fan entertained. 


I continue to be impressed by the films of Jordan Peele. His films are at once imaginative and entertaining while also provoking deep thoughts too. His latest is no different, taking a very unique spin on the UFO genre, focusing on a brother and sister OJ and Em Haywood (played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) as they set out to capture photographic evidence of the UFO they have seen flying over their horse ranch outside Los Angeles, as well as the neighboring Wild West theme park run by former child star Ricky "Jupe" Park (played by Steven Yuen). Filled with humor and thrills, this one had me riveted to the screen from beginning to end. 

The Banshees of Inisherin

Easily one of the more unique movies of 2022 was this darkly comedic gem from Martin McDonagh that reunites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who starred together previously in McDonagh's In Bruges. When folk musician Colm (played by Gleeson) decides he no longer wishes to be friends with Padraic (played by Farrell), this leaves Padraic devastated and confused. When he continues to pester his friend, Colm tells him that if Padraic doesn't leave him alone, he will cut off one of his fingers every time he bothers him and give it to him. With fantastic performances from Gleeson, Farrell and co-star Barry Keoghan, this was a unique and memorable film, beautifully shot against the gorgeous landscapes of Ireland. 

All Quiet on the Western Front

The latest adaptation of the classic novel by Erich Maria Remarque from director Edward Berger is one of the most intense, uncompromising, and devastating portraits of war I've seen. It also remains largely faithful to the source novel as it adheres to the themes of the futility of war, even as it expands on the novel by including the armistice efforts to end the war led by Matthias Erzberger (played by Daniel Bruhl) and therefore diverging from the central narrative following a young soldier, Paul (played by Felix Kammerer), as he goes from an idealistic young recruit to shattered and traumatized man just trying to survive the war. It also is, as near as I can tell, the only adaptation made in German with German filmmakers and a German cast, which just adds another layer of authenticity to the film.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

This one had a careful balancing act that it managed to pull off beautifully as it was at once both a loving tribute to Chadwick Boseman while also moving the story forward in an interesting and compelling way. The film has a real emotional weight to it as director Ryan Coogler and his cast lean into the very real grief they were no doubt really feeling at Boseman's tragic passing, weaving it throughout the film in a meaningful way. With great performances from Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett, as well as newcomer Tenoch Huerta as antagonist Namor, this one was one of the more satisfying Marvel movies in awhile.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Only someone like "Weird" Al Yankovic would make a movie about his life story that ends up being more of a parody of musical biopics. With a hilarious performance from Daniel Radcliffe in the title role, with Evan Rachel Wood equally hilarious as Madonna, this one diverges from the facts pretty quickly as it expertly parodies the various tropes of the genre. This one had plenty of hearty laughs from beginning to end. One demerit though for premiering on The Roku Channel and therefore being awkwardly broken up by several annoying commercial breaks. 

Top Gun: Maverick

Rumors of a sequel to the iconic 1986 film had swirled around for ages but never come to fruition until this past year. Made with care, this follow-up is every bit as good, if not better, than the original film as Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (played by Tom Cruise) is called back to Top Gun to train a group of recruits for an extremely dangerous and nearly impossible mission (no pun intended) and in the process coming face to face with Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller), the son of his late best friend, Goose. With stunning aerial photography and an emotionally resonate and suspenseful story, this one was superior blockbuster entertainment. I loved every minute, not realizing until then how much I had missed these sorts of action movies.  


The latest from filmmaker Damien Chazelle is definitely not going to be for everyone. Chronicling the decadence and debauchery of the Golden Age of Hollywood leading up to the advent of "talkies." Moving at a breakneck pace as it tracks the lives of rising star Nellie LaRoy (played by Margot Robbie), Manny Torres (played by Diego Calva), movie star Jack Conrad (played by Brad Pitt), Lady Fay Zhu (played by Li Jun Li) and Jazz musician Sidney Palmer (played by Jovan Adepo) throughout this tumultuous time in Hollywood history, the film hardly stops to breathe as it blasts through it's three hour runtime. It is definitely one of the most memorable cinematic experiences in recent memory for me. 


This romantic comedy from writer/star Billy Eichner was a frequently hilarious and at times surprisingly heartfelt romantic comedy focusing on the opposites attract couple Bobby Lieber (played by Eichner) and Aaron Shepard (played by Luke Macfarlane). Filled with countless witty observations and genuinely funny scenes make this a refreshingly entertaining romantic comedy that I thoroughly enjoyed with a stacked cast made up almost entirely of LGBTQ actors.  

The Black Phone

The latest from from Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill was a fantastic adaptation of the short story of the same name by Joe Hill which they do a marvelous job of bringing to the screen. The film has style and atmosphere to spare as it centers on young teen Finney (played by Mason Thames) who has been kidnapped by a child murderer known as the Grabber (played by Ethan Hawke). He finds help from an unexpected source, the ghosts of his past victims, communicating with him through a old, broken kitchen phone that hangs on the wall in the basement he's being kept in. It was a memorable scary movie with thrills and real emotional gravitas, anchored by a great performance from Mason Thames and a genuinely scary turn from Ethan Hawke. 

Bullet Train

This movie was easily some of the most fun I had in the theater all year. The film follows an assortment of colorful characters, each an assassin on a different mission that intersect in unexpected ways on one particularly chaotic ride on the titular train. Filled with fantastic comedic flourishes and a great cast that includes Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joey King, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Logan Lerman, Sandra Bullock, and Michael Shannon. This one was a blast from beginning to end. 

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

As a longtime fan of Nicolas Cage, I had a lot of fun with this one. There are not many actors a film like this would work with, but it certainly did with Cage, gamely playing an exaggerated version of himself who takes a gig to attend a rich fan's birthday party. He pairs well with Pedro Pascal, who fills his character with this warm, if slightly naïve, charm playing the aforementioned fan, Javi. Filled with meta humor about the mythos of Nicolas Cage and impressive action made this for one of the more unique movies of 2022.  

Friday, December 2, 2022

The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg has always attested there was a personal element to all of his films, even if they were filled with popcorn movie spectacle as well. However, with The Fabelmans, Spielberg digs deep into his own unique and tumultuous childhood to craft his most personal film yet. Despite it being described as semi-autobiographical, the film digs deep into Spielberg's relationships with his family, especially his parents, as well as how his ongoing love for filmmaking began and developed. 

In 1952, young Sammy Fabelman (played by Mateo Zoryon Francis DeFord) is being taken to his first movie by his parents, Mitzi and Burt (played by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano), to his first movie. That movie is, of course, The Greatest Show on Earth and Sammy finds himself enraptured and thrilled by the images on the screen. Yet, he is haunted by the massive train crash set piece in the film. He even goes so far to ask for a train set for Hanukkah and proceeds to crash the train over and over again in an attempt to recreate what he saw in the movie. Soon, his mom suggests Sammy film crashing the train set and then he can watch that over and over again and therefore not risk permanently ruining his train set, which was a concern his father had. The results ignite something in young Sammy as he starts making other movies around the house, frequently casting his younger sisters in various roles. When his father gets a new job opportunity, the family winds up moving to Phoenix, Arizona along with family friend "Uncle" Bennie Loewy (played by Seth Rogen). As the years pass, Sammy (now played by Gabriel LaBelle), continues with his filmmaking passions, often incorporating family members and even fellow members of his boy scout troop into the productions and even beginning to experiment with special effects. He also begins to notice a growing attraction between his mother and Bennie, something that would dramatically change his relationship with both his parents as well as his family going forward.  

Steven Spielberg directed the film with a script he co-wrote with Tony Kushner. The resulting film is one he calls semi-autobiographical, but based on what is known about his childhood and his family, it seems to play closer to fact than many biopics I have seen. The film is perhaps a bit more fair to both of his parents that Spielberg probably was as a kid as his rocky relationship with his father is well documented as he had incorrectly blamed him for his parents divorce. The bulk of the film does focus on that chapter of his life, as well as balancing his growing passion for film with his family life, while also dealing with the turmoil of moving and growing up in areas without a large Jewish population that leads to some Anti-Semitic bullying. Yet, he does a wonderful job highlighting the two distinct sides of his family, with both his far more free-spirited mother on one side and his more analytical, technical minded father on the other and how both sides had their own impacts and helped form the person he would become. The film is beautifully shot by Janusz Kaminski with exquisite period detail from production designer Rick Carter. Throughout the film we see recreations of the short films Spielberg made as a kid and they are wonderfully reproduced and a joy to see the ingenuity he used with those films to simulate explosions or gunfire with simple effects, even if Spielberg couldn't help but occasionally improve on what he made before with better camera angles, etc.       

The film has a magnificent cast, led by Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy. LaBelle gives such a empathetic performance as his character goes through the various ups and downs of childhood as he works to make his dreams come true, even as his home life crumbles around him. There is a moment that sticks out to me, when Sammy is editing the home movies from the camping trip the family takes and as he watches the footage he sees the growing attraction between his mother and Bennie and LaBelle conveys so much without any dialogue at all. Michelle Williams has a tricky role as Mitzi Fabelman in that Mitzi is such a free spirit of a character, who can be impulsive and tend towards mood swings. Yet, Williams plays the role with real grace and emotion as a woman who finds herself caught between two men she loves and trying to figure out what she wants as well as how to keep her family together. She is also a colorful character, prone to doing such wild things as getting a pet monkey because she needed a laugh. Paul Dano has an interesting task at playing Burt, someone who is in many ways the opposite of Mitzi. He is far more technical, academic and scientific minded. When young Sammy is nervous about seeing his first movie, Burt breaks down how a movie works in very technical terms, that it's all just an optical illusion as opposed to Mitzi's far more poetic explanation. Still, Dano gives a real warmth to his character and it's clear he loves his family, even if he doesn't show it in the best ways. Seth Rogen makes a rare dramatic turn as Bennie Loewy and does a great job in the role. Some of the humor he is known for comes through in the role and he makes his character easy to love, but he also handles heavier dramatic moments quite well, especially a heart to heart talk with Sammy late in the movie. Judd Hirsch shows up in a small but pivotal role as Mitzi's eccentric Uncle Boris and absolutely nails his big scene when he gives young Sammy an impassioned speech about what it means to be an artist, drawing from his own past working in the film industry as well as with the Circus. 

The Fabelmans is easily one of the best movies of the year for me. He tells a deeply personal story of the formative years of his life with plenty of warmth and heart while, not unlike Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous before it, fictionalizing it somewhat in an effort to create a streamlined and satisfying film. It's a film he could probably only tell now with a certain sense of maturity and understanding required. I was also surprised by just how much I related to the film and the character of Sammy (and I suppose by extension, Steven himself). I won't get into the nitty gritty of it, but it certainly did bring back a number of memories for me of my own childhood. But then again, I suppose the themes of family, growing up and coming of age can be truly universal in their own ways.          

Monday, November 28, 2022

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

One of my favorite movies of 2019 was Rian Johnson's inventive and fun twist on the murder mystery Knives Out. So, naturally, I was very excited for the follow-up to arrive with a new case for that film's detective to solve with a whole new cast of colorful characters. The resulting film, Glass Onion, more than delivers with a follow-up every bit as good and fun as the original film. 

It's May 2020 and a group of five friends each receive an elaborate puzzle box from their longtime friend Miles Bron (played by Edward Norton), a billionaire and CEO of the tech company Alpha Industries. The folks getting the box include Claire Debella (played by Kathryn Hahn), Lionel Toussant (played by Leslie Odom, Jr.), Birdie Jay (played by Kate Hudson), Duke Cody (played by Dave Bautista) and Cassandra "Andi" Brand (played by Janelle Monae). Also receiving a box is renowned detective Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig). Inside of each box is an invitation to a weekend retreat to Miles's private island to participate in a Murder Mystery game. Also arriving on the island is Birdie's personal assistant, Peg (played by Jessica Henwick) and Duke's girlfriend, Whiskey (played by Madelyn Cline). Upon their arrival, they are greeted by Miles who welcomes them all. However, he takes Benoit aside after and admits to being confused as to why he is there and he was not invited to the party. Miles quickly deduces that someone re-sent one of their boxes to him. But the question remains who invited him and why. Especially as secrets and animosities among this group of mismatched friends begin bubbling to the surface and it becomes clear someone really does want Miles dead. 

The film was written and directed by Rian Johnson who manages to craft another unique and thrilling mystery that is at once a traditional murder mystery while also playing with our expectations of the genre in deliciously unique ways. I want to try and preserve as many of the film's surprises as possible as there are a number of fun twists. There is also more humor in the film coming from it's array of colorful characters. Johnson is clearly taking inspiration from the Poirot movies from the late 70's-Early 80's, especially Evil Under the Sun, for this film from both the choice of location and overall mood. The production design of the film is incredible in terms of Miles' sprawling mansion that is the film's primary location, including the titular "Glass Onion", a large glass dome structure that is the centerpiece of the estate and also the location where the various layers of this group's pasts are revealed. 

Much like the first film, this one has assembled a fantastic cast led by Daniel Craig returning as Benoit Blanc. We learn a little bit more about him this time around, including getting a look into his home life, his partner, as well as how he copes when he doesn't have a case to solve. Craig is clearly having a blast with the role as he chews on that Southern accent while trying to solve a very unique and perplexing mystery. Edward Norton is a joy to watch as Miles Bron, the eccentric and potentially reckless Tech Billionaire. He does well portraying a character who has clearly bought into all their press and has an inflated ego as a result. Yet he also gives the character a lot of charm and personality that makes the character a delight to watch. Kathryn Hahn is a hoot as Claire Debella, current Governor of Connecticut and preparing to run for the Senate, a fact that drives her actions throughout the movie. Kate Hudson is hilarious online influencer Birdie Jay who says so many controversial and politically incorrect things online her assistant has confiscated her phone and refuses to give it back. Jessica Henwick plays off this wonderfully as her put upon assistant Peg. Dave Bautista is quite the character as Twitch streamer and Men's Rights activist Duke Cody, who has gained quite the following for his toxic masculine personality and goes nowhere without a pistol strapped to himself. Leslie Odom Jr. does well as the rare voice of reason in this group, as the brilliant mind behind many of the innovations Miles has taken credit for, creating some justified animosity between the two. Last but certainly not least is Janelle Monae as the cool and standoffish Cassandra "Andi" Brand, who has her own issues with Miles that are revealed as the movie goes on. She is fantastic in the role and how her character changes as more about her past and the relationships with others come to light. There is a lot with her character and I don't want to give anything away, so I will just leave it as she's awesome.                

Overall, Glass Onion is a worthy follow-up to Knives Out with another fantastic cast and a twisty mystery at it's core that at once both adheres to and subverts the tropes of the mystery genre. The set up of the film all feels familiar in that great way we all expect but then the film keeps going in other directions and really kept me on my toes throughout. I'd love to elaborate on what I mean by that but I would hate to spoil all the surprises the film has. It's a bummer that the film is only getting a one week, limited release as it is a movie that plays great with a large audience. I saw it in a packed theater over Thanksgiving weekend and had a blast with it. If you don't get a chance to see it in the theater, never fear as it will be premiering on Netflix starting December 23rd. 

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Menu

I had been completely unaware of The Menu until I first saw the initial teaser trailer but was immediately intrigued by the story of the film. Then the second trailer played in front of almost every movie my friend and I would see. It got to the point where we could quote along with it (and did, to our own amusement). So, naturally, when we got the chance to see it early we pounced. Thankfully, the film itself is quite good, filled with some of the best pitch black comedy mixed with unique thriller elements to make for a very memorable film. 

Hawthorne restaurant is a very exclusive dining experience located on a isolated island only accessible by boat. It is overseen by celebrity Chef Julian Slowik. The restaurant only welcomes 12 guests a night, at $1250 a head. Among the guests are obsessive foodie Tyler (played by Nicholas Hoult) and his date, Margo (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), food critic Lillian Bloom (played by Janet McTeer) and her editor, Ted (played by Paul Adelstein), wealthy couple Richard and Anne Liebbrandt (played by Reed Birney and Judith Light), a famous movie star George Diaz (played by John Leguizamo) and his assistant Shah (played by Ali Asghar Shah), and a trio of wealthy investment bankers, Soren (played by Arturo Castro), Dave (played by Mark St. Cyr) and Bryce (played by Rob Yang). They are given a tour of the facility by the Maître D' Elsa (played by Hong Chau), as she shows how they cultivate the food they serve and even have their own smokehouse. As they are seated for dinner, each course is served with disciplined precision and introduced by Chef Slowik starting with a loud clap of the hands. Each course is presented like a piece of conceptual art as part of an overarching theme that won't become clear until the end. As the evening proceeds, and each increasingly ostentatious course is presented, the night takes on a far more sinister tone as the guests realize they may be in the process of eating their last meal.

The film was directed by Mark Mylod from a script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy. The film is an amusing and unique blend of haute cuisine satire and an at times shocking thriller. Yet, the film balances these elements quite well. I appreciated the way the film reveals their character's layers and secrets with each passing course, generating some genuine surprises along the way. As the film goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that Chef Slowik knows exactly who his guests are and that they are all there for a reason. All of this is paired quite well with some wonderfully savage humor as the movie takes some well pointed jabs at celebrity chef culture and gourmet dining, as well as foodie culture and even class warfare. Of course, with this being a movie about dining, the film boasts plenty of exquisite and tantalizing shots of the various dishes served throughout the film, each one crafted with artistic precision to ensure the audience is left wishing they could take a bite. Even the production design of the restaurant and surrounding island is a marvel to look at, with a décor that is minimalist and complements the natural environment it was built in that contrasts with the well stocked and impressive professional kitchen that is wide open and in view at all times by the guests. 

The film boasts an impressive cast led by Ralph Fiennes, who makes Chef Slowik an enticing enigma of a character. He takes cooking very seriously as each dish is prepared by his crew with utmost precision. He plays the character with a soft spoken seriousness that is often intimidating and occasionally hilarious and the way he can hit both notes with ease is impressive. Anya Taylor-Joy has a tricky role as Margo, the only character who isn't really enthused to be there and feels the whole affair is a bit ridiculous. In a role that could easily be a bit of a whiny wet blanket, she keeps the character likable and one to root for as she is clearly the odd one out in the group, especially as she tries to figure out just what is going on and what Chef Slowik's true intentions are. Being the only one not really into this exclusive event also makes her more keenly aware that something is not quite right about the situation. Nicholas Hoult is a hoot as Tyler, who is an obsessive foodie and ardent fan of Chef Slowik, savoring every course while remaining keenly and strangely unfazed as things take a darker turn. Hong Chau is memorable as Elsa, the Maître D who runs the front of house with the same seriousness and precision as Chef Slowik runs the kitchen. She portrays her character's dedication to Chef Slowik so well and makes her character both compelling and a bit intimidating herself. John Leguizamo plays Georgie Diaz and has fun with the role playing an actor who is trying to overcome a career slump after a few bad movies. Janet McTeer and Paul Adelstein are a hoot as food critic Lillian Bloom and her editor Ted and their ridiculously pretentious banter about each course.

It's always a joy to watch a movie where I have no idea where the story is going and any outcome seems possible and The Menu would be exactly that type of movie. With a unique blend of dark satirical comedy and genuine thriller elements is a combination that perhaps shouldn't work but the film finds the right balance between the two to create a deliciously twisted film. With each passing course, I was riveted to the screen to see there this movie was going to go and I was not disappointed. In fact, I look forward to a second helping in the future.               

Monday, November 7, 2022

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Like many people roughly my age, I grew up with "Weird Al" Yankovic. His oddball sense of humor always appealed to me as he continuously skewered Pop music. His music videos were always hilarious and on point. His first film, UHF, has garnered a devoted cult following. It was only natural that eventually his life would be depicted in his own bio-pic. In true Weird Al fashion, the resulting film is a hilarious satire of bio-pics.

As a young kid, Al (played by Daniel Radcliffe) developed an interest in the accordion only to be repeatedly discouraged from playing the instrument by his father, Nick (played by Toby Huss). Growing estranged from his parents as a result, he eventually moves in with his three friends, Steve (played by Spencer Treat Clark), Jay (played by Jack Lancaster) and Bermuda (played by Tommy O'Brien). After being rejected from yet another band not wanting an accordion player, he admits he just wants to make parodies of famous songs by changing the lyrics. Encouraging him, his friends turn on the radio while he fixes some sandwiches. As My Sharona by The Knack and immediately comes up with the song "My Bologna." They decide to record the song, settling on a nearby public bathroom due to the ideal acoustics. He sends in a copy to a local radio station where it gets played and becomes an instant success (literally the same afternoon he mails it). Soon, he's playing his first concert at a biker bar in front of a "Whiskey and heroin crowd" with his friends stepping in as his bandmates. He also attracts the attention of Dr. Demento (played by Rainn Wilson) who offers to mentor the up and coming musician. Soon enough, he's signed to the Scotti Bros. Record label and his first record goes multi-platinum. When it's discovered that sales go up for the original albums once Weird Al does a parody of one of the songs, Madonna (played by Evan Rachel Wood) starts courting Weird Al to do a parody of one of her songs, setting off a truly weird series of events for "Weird Al" Yankovic         

The film started out as a a mock trailer made for the site Funny or Die parodying the sort of Oscar Bait musician biopics that had been coming out. Based on the continued positive response to it, director Eric Appel and "Weird Al" Yankovic decided to expand it to a feature. As they watched the movies they were parodying and realized each one took plenty of dramatic license, they felt they could stray from real life as freely as they wanted, leading to some hilarious and unexpected turns in the film, especially in the second half of the film as Al begins drinking heavily, taking drugs, and becoming increasingly belligerent as his ego swings wildly out of control (all the funnier if you're familiar with Weird Al's history as a very clean cut musician whose career has been strangely free of controversy). The jokes come fast and often as it covers Al's life when he was a child through his rise to fame in the 80s. Aspects of Al's life are frequently exaggerated to great comedic effect even as the actors play the scenes deadly serious in the tradition of the best parodies. 

The film has a magnificent cast with Daniel Radcliffe nailing the lead role of "Weird Al" Yankovic. He plays the role with such deadpan serious in the face of such ridiculous events. Radcliffe really gives his all to the role even as the events around him grow more and more ridiculous. Rainn Wilson is a hoot in the role of Dr. Demento giving a very amusing performance as acts as something of a De-Mentor to Weird Al, although how good of an influence he proves to be is debatable. Evan Rachel Wood is clearly having a lot of fun playing Madonna, especially as the character becomes more exaggerated as the film goes on. Toby Huss does well satirizing the role of the disapproving and/or neglectful father that has itself become a well worn trope of these types of films. Much like the rest of the cast, he really nails playing the absurdity with deadly seriousness that makes the jokes land. The film also has a parade of cameos that I will not elaborate on because I don't want to ruin the surprises, but I have to say I enjoyed each one. 

Overall, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a hilarious satire of the music biopic genre, as well as offering a few kernels of truth about Weird Al himself even if the movie is 98% fiction. The majority of the jokes land with a talented cast that is 100% committed to the bit. The only downside of the movie is that because it is exclusively available on the Roku Channel, it is frequently interrupted by commercials. Here's hoping it eventually scores a Blu-Ray release as it is one I would love to add to my collection.