Bringing Up Baby (1938)

I have a very clear memory of watching this as a child. I absolutely loved it, and not just because I had a giant crush on Cary Grant. "Bringing Up Baby" made me laugh until I cried. There's something about being a child and letting such silliness take over your whole body, fully embracing the hilarity to where your belly aches. In many ways, screwball comedies such as this one are best viewed by a younger audience, an audience who isn't yet jaded by reality and responsibility - and even more importantly an audience not yet aware of what they should and shouldn't like.

Cary Grant plays David Huxley, a young paleontologist soon to be wed. He has painstakingly been preparing a full brontosaurus skeleton and is awaiting the final bone to make it complete. The day before his wedding, he meets Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), a free-spirited troublemaker who manages to entangle David into series of embarrassing incidents many of which involve a leopard named Baby. The slapstick comedy combines the perfect mix of hilarious elements as the eccentric characters seek a large sum of money, fumble over dangerous animals, steal cars, get in car accidents, gain and lose precious dinosaur bones, and all on the eve and day of a wedding.

Despite the hilarity of the situations the two leads find themselves in, it is a little painful to watch. There's a large amount of deliberate miscommunication and sabotage that leads to fully grown men coming out of the shower to don a frilly bath robe ("because I just went GAY all of a sudden!") - or worse, throwing rocks at important people. However, unlike other films of the same era, director Howard Hawks manages to make this succinct and cohesive. It doesn't have a dull moment or misstep. I find that many movies in the '30s and '40s tend to belabor plot points and spend too long in slow, uneventful conversation. "Bringing Up Baby" does no such thing.

Cary Grant exudes youth and age all at once with a dashingly handsome demeanor, school-boy giddiness, but an almost geriatric anxiety. His frantic shouts of "I'll be with you in a minute Mr. Peabody!" while whisked away on the sides of a car, or while escorting Susan Vance and her ripped dress out of the ballroom are delivered with comical exasperation. He commits with his entire body to his comedy with hilarious acrobatics in bursts of mania as well as blundering dialogue. He seems born for this role.

“Now it isn't that I don't like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I'm strangely drawn toward you, but—well, there haven't been any quiet moments.”

I have never been a big fan of Katharine Hepburn (I'm still not), and yet she and Cary Grant play off each other very well. The comedic timing and snappy dialogue is timeless. Katharine Hepburn has a voice that I famously despise, but still hearing her psycho-analyze David for "following her around and fighting with her" makes me crack a small smile. And, you know, annoying voice aside, Katharine Hepburn's wardrobe is killer.

"Bringing Up Baby" has spawned many grandchildren over the last 80 years of film-making. "What's Up Doc?" is an almost direct remake starring Barbra Streisand, Ryan O'Neal, and Madeline Kahn. It might be a stretch to call it a superior film (though I personally enjoy it more). But Baby's influence reaches far beyond to other silly comedies such as 1991's "The Freshman" (featuring a komodo dragon) or 2009's "The Hangover" (featuring 4 men and a tiger). Its influence on comedy is palpable - though none can quite compare to Hawks' masterful frantic, overlapping dialogue and sense of frantic hysteria. It's hard to believe that it wasn't a hit upon its release. Hawks, of course, went on to win an honorary Academy Award in 1974 for his creative efforts in the American film industry.

There are many hilarious moments, but maybe none more than Susan and David harmonizing "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" to a whining Baby stuck on a rooftop with confused onlooking homeowners. This is a small moment that captures the loud and vivacious hilarity of a pioneer comedy. 8/10

Other Notes:

Directed by Howard Hawks

Ranked #97 in AFI's Top 100 Years... 100 Films in 1998 and #88 in 2007

Eighth Grade (2018)

I remember Jr. High School. I remember how I used to dress with my flare jeans, flip flops, Aeropostale shirts, puka shell necklaces, no makeup and a low ponytail. I played soccer and basketball. I had friends, but I wasn't popular. I wasn't bullied, but I wasn't the epitome of hot like I sometimes wished I were. I pretended like I was confident, like no one's opinion mattered. Most of the time, it didn't. I did my own thing. But there were those moments, alone in my room, when I would look at myself in the mirror and see everything that I wasn't.

Middle-school student Kayla is on the brink of finishing eighth grade and entering high school. She has her own YouTube channel where she gives out sincere advice to growing kids trying to find their place in the world. She is labeled as the "most quiet" girl in her grade and aims to change people's perception of her by making more friends and becoming more confident.

"Eighth Grade" is one of the most painful movies I've ever watched because I could wholeheartedly relate to it. Literally middle and jr. high school is the worst. It's so hard to feel misunderstood and to not understand the world either. It's hard to have a changing body at the same time as your other peers have changing bodies. It's hard to have an excess of hormones and not know what to do with them. It's hard to not have money to dress cute or to have acne or to be quiet. It's hard not to know the right words to say to make a friend. It's just hard.

Writer/Director Bo Burnham, a YouTube star turned filmmaker, has managed to make this film incredibly accessible by bringing his gritty, DIY feel to the screen. Every shot of the school, Kayla's house, or the mall feels so completely ordinary that he could be filming my own life for all I know. But where he truly proves himself is in the way he has the characters interact one with another. The way how Kayla stutters over her words to an intimidating peer in one scene and mouths off to her father in the next is so completely real - complete with a poor father's faltering "what did I do?" face and hesitant laugh to desperately try to remind his daughter that he's on her side. Each scene's vibe perfectly matches the relationship the characters have with one another.

Of course, every single scene is excruciatingly designed to strike painful empathy in the audience. Elsie Fisher plays the young, reticent middle-schooler whose performance is absolutely remarkable. Seeing her private life - her videos to remind herself of who she wants to be and her lists of "how to be more confident" - and her public life of painful dialogue and obvious sincere desire to have just one friend is so spot on the nose. Every other minute I was shaking my head exclaiming "oh, honey."

"You can't be brave without being scared," Kayla says in one of her YouTube videos. Fisher brings a perfectly painful subtlety to the growing pains we watch on screen. Her performance is a revelation. I don't think I have ever felt so seen. 9/10

Iron Man (2008)

Having seen this on many occasions, "Iron Man" holds a soft spot in my heart. It's still, in many ways, the standard to which I hold all other superhero movies in terms of humor, action, plot, believable (ha) conflict between hero and villain, and fun. Marvel is at its best when the films don't take themselves ~too seriously. What's the point of a billionaire building himself a race-car-colored suit that can fly and shoot people if it's not going to be fun?

I did not grow up knowing Marvel characters. Though their names were household, I knew nothing about their stories. While the Spider-Man and X-Men movies sparked an interest, it was really the MCU that reeled me, and many others, into the universe. Jon Favreau's "Iron Man" is the first film released from the MCU and this begs the question: where would Marvel be without such a knockout first film? It's the perfect springboard to the MCU's grand scheme of creating more than just a few superhero movies - but an entire universe of intertwining stories. Had it even launched with "The Incredible Hulk" (released just a month later) then I don't think audiences would be as captivated.

But "Iron Man" was special. It brought a trendy spark to a genre that can so often feel monosyllabic. Of course, this is all due to Robert Downey Jr., whose career came back from the literal dead with his knockout portrayal of billionaire philanthropist Tony Stark. He brings a charisma to the role that is charming, egotistical, self-deprecating, and funny. Not only that, but he is a character you can root for. When Tony Stark emerged from that cave as Iron Man, a born-again man, and saw his outlook change you wanted him to succeed for the good of his own soul, but also for the good of the world. Because while Iron Man is a superhero who can fly in a shiny red suit, more importantly he is a superhero with money and influence.

Watching this film ten years after its release, I am still impressed at the fun technology introduced. Society is, quite frankly, still catching up to the ideal smart technology that Stark Enterprises possesses. If only Siri and Alexa were as intuitive as Jarvis. It is also a refreshing change to see the rich playboy have brains. We watch him learn in the film about the scope of his influence and a little better how to run a business and please investors, but we don't have to watch him learn what he's capable of. He already knows he's smart.

"Iron Man" is also successful in large part to its supporting cast. Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow are all great. It's a shame Howard couldn't come back for more. I still rank Obadiah in my top five favorite MCU villains. He has a menacing yet familiar swagger in this friend to foe villain story. When Pepper is hurriedly trying to figure out Obadiah's secret off his computer, Obadiah startles her in the act of theft. The tension created in that scene from Jeff Bridges' manner of speaking and slow paces to where she is sitting is masterful. Jeff Bridges brings an intimacy to the villain - a quality that is sparse from many subsequent MCU villains.

The cherry on the top is, of course, the infamous ending where Tony Stark reveals that he is, indeed, Iron Man in a press conference. It doesn't seem fitting to call it a twist, but still this remarkably un-cliche moment is also the perfect launching pad to the future of the Avengers. It ~almost brings some realism to bring it that close to home - so close that the film's citizens could read about it in a newspaper. It's brilliant. 9/10

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

It's very strange to watch "The Incredible Hulk" in a post-Avengers world where Mark Ruffalo is our friendly neighborhood green monster. I always liked this movie, though. It was far superior to Eric Bana's "Hulk." Even if it doesn't fit nicely into the consistency of the other MCU films, it stands alone decent enough. I do, however, find it unfortunate for the Hulk franchise that there are so many competing faces for the role that make it difficult for fans to keep track of. 

It doesn't help, either, that this story starts in the middle of his origin story. It depends on audiences to pay close attention to the opening credits if they want to know how Hulk came to be. 

Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is living in Brazil seeking a cure to his ~unique condition (results from a gamma test gone wrong… he now turns into a giant green monster when his blood pressure gets too high). General Ross (William Hurt) is searching for him, believing him to be government property. Aaaaand so that he can create this super army. The best moments in the movie all involve the mysterious “Mr. Blue” (Nelson) though the CGI is also top-notch. Hulk is not my fav compared to most other super heroes out there (it’s not easy being green) but I thought this adaptation and a smaller green dude created life and emotion behind the monstrosity.  Norton was a perfect fit and gave a good performance.  6/10

On heroes and villains

It all started with a certain prequel trilogy for everyone’s beloved Star Wars. I was young, I was 9 when Phantom Menace was released. My opinion of the prequel trilogy wasn’t solidified until Attack of the Clones because even an 11-year-old could see right through that romance. It’s one thing to make some bad movies - we’ve all seen Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean 3. But this was a much more grievous (haha) sin. Because George Lucas - someone who gave us STAR WARS, one of the greatest works of fiction to grace this good earth - was the one ruining it all. That’s why it was hurtful: it was a betrayal.

(I’m not even going to mention the new Star Wars movies, I don’t feel like crying right now and that’s a different story entirely).

Then followed Peter Jackson. He adapted a universally beloved book series and (arguably) even improved upon it. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is so close to perfect. I don’t care how many endings Return of the King has, I still sob through that whole movie. You can fight me on this: LOTR is LYFE. But Peter Jackson didn't stop there. Then came The Hobbit movies. And for some reason, Jackson had the brilliant idea to adapt another universally loved book into not one, not two, but THREE MOVIES? Tell me how this makes sense.

Both of these fine gentlemen perhaps should have heeded Uncle Ben's cheesy saying "with great power comes great responsibility." Because when you create something like Star Wars or bring the world of Middle Earth to the big screen it becomes something much bigger than you. You are then tied to an important responsibility to your fans.

Throughout all of this, I always thought I would be safe with my other love: Harry Potter. I truly, truly thought that JK Rowling was going to be better.

I recently saw the new "Wizarding World" film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I did not hate it. But I definitely didn't love it, either. Mostly because it got me feeling sad. Sad at what is becoming of my beloved Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter is a brilliant, masterfully crafted, meticulously thought out book series. Part of its universal appeal is how deep you have to look for plot holes and inconsistencies. It is clear that this was JK Rowling’s baby and she raised it with care. And we loved her for it.

I have not been impressed with these Fantastic Beasts movies so far. Here are the reasons why, and obviously spoilers lie ahead.

From the woman who brought us the perfect book series, I sincerely thought sloppiness was never going to be an adjective I’d use to describe a work of hers. But these movies - particularly the latest installment, feel half-assed. They feel like a last-ditch effort to make more money with superfluous click-baity plot twists and name-drops.

Sadly, this day has been building over the period of a few years. A Pottermore post here, a tweet there and JK Rowling is slowly piecing her doom together one mistake at a time. I first started feeling apprehensive about her mental clarity when she announced that she thought Hermione should have ended up with Harry. I will not fight this take right now (it is wrong) but I then based my Advanced English class research paper on the very topic of an author’s responsibility to stick to canon and not contradict rules that were previously established. Yes, I was that student. Sure, she may have announced Dumbledore’s homosexuality in a lame attempt to prove she was woke for the LGBTQ+ community, but at the very least it did not contradict anything previously established about Dumbledore’s character. She spent 7 books building up sexual tension for Hermione and Ron, she can’t go back and say that it was wrong.

So far, the Fantastic Beasts movies have not gone so far as to give Princess Leia magical fly-through-space force powers, but dammit she is getting dangerously close. Did she really think her fans wouldn’t be acutely aware of the established birthdate for Professor McGonagall? She is very clearly not a contemporary of Dumbledore’s young dashing Jude Law days. Like? Is she trying to pull a fast one on us? I heard that and half-choked on my Dr. Pepper in the theater it perplexed me so. The Crimes of Grindelwald are full of small things like this that forcibly remove me from the world I want to be immersed in and question everything I ever learned about the Wizarding World.

Special effects matter more than established magical rules? It’s a small thing, but it still seems like a sacrifice to make and break magical rules of magic by not using wands or creating magic without incantations, or needing every magical encounter to be bigger and better than the previous instance. Newt’s detective charm - while a very cool concept - seems like something a little beyond him. Almost 100% of the mysteries introduced in the Harry Potter series could have been solved with such a charm.

Newt Scamander is actually more than just a zoologist? He’s involved in a big magical war? Something tells me that when JK Rowling came up with the book title for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them back in Sorcerer’s Stone she didn’t also think that Oh! This author is also a key player in the war against Grindelwald! Someday I will make a five-movie series about Newt Scamander and how he was much more than a zoologist! 9/10 fans would have preferred a movie that was actually about Newt Scamander and his magical adventures with magical creatures. Is that not enough of a plot for you?

Nagini is actually a Korean performer with a blood curse? Interesting, I don’t hate it, but don’t you pretend that you had this planned all along and not that you’re just throwing in some diversity to appease your world-wide audience. We all know how desperate to prove how liberal you are. But I’d bet money that this was not a “secret you’ve been hiding for 20 years.”

Dumbledore is a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher now? What ever happened to Transfiguration? Sure, maybe there’s a reason for the transition, but it seems like such a small thing that would have been easy to stick to?

We can apparate to Hogwarts school grounds now?

Last but not least Dumbledore has a brother?
Literally of all the characters to choose to throw in a lineage surprise, why tf would you choose Albus Dumbledore. His family history was written out pretty clearly in Deathly Hallows. There’s no wiggle room, here. Dumbledore’s father died in Azkaban, and his mom died when he was 17 or so. Credence is about 20 years younger so something doesn’t add up.
You can go onto any other article about this to see the various fan theories. The three that make the most sense are 1) Credence is, in fact, not a Dumbledore, but the “brother” is Ariana’s obscurius who has found a new host in Credence. This doesn’t explain the name Grindelwald bestowed of Aurelius Dumbledore, but it’s a theory. 2) Aurelius is a half brother of Albus’s and Percival Dumbledore did not, in fact, die in Azkaban but escaped unbeknownst to Albus. Also unlikely and doesn’t explain why this fact would not be mentioned in the obituary. 3) Grindelwald is lying to get Credence to go against Dumbledore since Grindelwald cannot himself. I tend to lean more to this theory (I also am banking on Kylo Ren lying to Rey about her heritage) but this theory does not explain why the Phoenix would come to Credence if he were not a true Dumbledore.

Either way this bombshell just made me feel extremely frustrated. Yes, maybe Rowling has it all figured out and it will be explained adequately in a subsequent movie. But because this idea currently makes no sense to the established canon, we literally have nothing to do but wait. And that’s where I felt frustrated. It’s just clickbait. And Harry Potter was never clickbait.

There were some parts of the movie that I truly loved. Leta Lestrange’s story was well done yet it felt rushed and that was disappointing. That 15-minute segment at Hogwarts was brilliant and I loved feeling like I was going home. Jude Law was a good choice for Dumbledore and Johnny Depp, however much I may hate him, did fine. Perhaps Rowling just isn’t cut out to be a screenwriter: many of these ideas would have benefited from a novel format.

Nevertheless, I feel sad. It is very difficult to interpret making a five-movie franchise from 1 “textbook” and 1 famous battle against an evil wizard as anything more than a money grab. Especially when the first Fantastic Beasts movie felt so much more contained. These additional 4 movies seem to be nothing more than milking its fans for all they’re worth.

"You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain." - Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight

90th Oscar Picks and Predictions

Did this feel like an odd year for movies for anyone else? I'm not sure why it seemed so strange, but even so there were a lot of great movies to choose from this year alongside some strange ones. I got around to seeing most of the movies I wanted to prior to the big show and I feel inspired to be as spirited as Lady Bird and as badass as Mildred Hayes.

PICTURE: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Loved this movie. I must say, however, that my popular pick of the year was probably Get Out and I would ~love if that would surprise everyone

DIRECTOR: Jordan Peele - Get Out
I'll admit this is a wishful prediction but I just want him to win so bad! And I genuinely think it was the best directed. Guillermo del Toro could win, though, and he's just not my dude

ACTOR: Gary Oldman - The Darkest Hour
A very convincing performance from a longtime fav of mine

 ACTRESS: Frances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
What a woman.

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sam Rockwell - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
His speech at the Indies was so great! I'm so happy for his (almost) win

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Allison Janney - I, Tonya
It's almost a sure thing that she's coming home with the prize, but my pick would have been Laurie Metcalf for Ladybird.

FOREIGN FILM: A Fantastic Woman
SONG: "Remember Me" from Coco
SCORE: Shape of Water
ANIMATED SHORT: Negative Space (I refuse to predict Kobe Bryant's short)
LIVE SHORT: Dekalb Elementary
COSTUME DESIGN: Phantom Thread
MAKEUP: Darkest Hour

Thor (2011)

My first association with Thor came when I was just a kid. My comic-book loving brother had Marvel characters galore coating his walls and I used to stare at them with no comprehension of who they all really were. The first time I could put a name to a face, though, came from "Adventures in Babysitting" - a classic of our times - while little Sara wore a Thor helmet and mistook a car dealer for her hero.
I remember very well when this movie was released. I was working full-time at my college bookstore. There were two TVs behind our desk that would generally play ads for my school, and the occasional BYU-appropriate trailer. I watched the trailer for "Thor" over a dozen times before I saw it that summer. I pretentiously talked to my coworkers about Kenneth Branagh and how excited I was to see what the distinguished English actor/director of Henry V would bring to the table. I didn't know much then, and I don't know much now but I sure enjoyed pretending to know more about movies than my peers. I remember loving it the first time I saw it and I was very curious to see how the movie would hold up seeing it 6 years later.
Thor is the god of thunder. The son of Odin, king of Asgard, a land somewhere lost in time and space.  Once upon a time, Asgard and the Frost Giants were at war where the blue, snowy creatures wanted dominion over the nine realms, including our blessed Earth. When Asgard blew them over,  the Asgardians took their little ice trophy, the Casket of Ancient Winters.
In the present, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is about to assume the throne over his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Those same frozen creatures come and ruin his big day by trying to steal back their casket. Thor throws a whiny tantrum, thinks he’s king already, and decides to take matters into his own hands and starts up some war again with their frosty neighbors. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) realizes that Thor is acting like a child and unfit for the throne. So Thor is banished to Earth without powers or the ability to wield his hammer. Things get worse upstairs when Odin has some kind of stressed-induced heart attack and falls into his get-better “Odinsleep.” Loki takes over as king and he wants to run things a little differently. Thor meets a woman, is confronted with war again and must face his brother to save everyone from war. Or something.

This story is passable, but I don't think it's terribly strong.
It is not an easy task to melange with Norse mythology - if only because the characters are inherently uninteresting. Thor has no notable personality traits and it seems like a stretch for this distant war to come to such a front in rural New Mexico. It also seems unlikely that Thor would magically grow up and turn into a suitable king over night because he met some ~nice people and a pretty lady. I can see what they were going for, but I'm not convinced. Maybe I'm just not buying the changed-by-a-woman-I-just-met-yesterday plot device any longer. Hemsworth brings a sort of suave charm to the character that is delightful, but it feels like something is lacking in the middle in order for us to appreciate the leader he becomes.
Loki, on the other hand, was the best developed out of anyone else in the ensemble. His disturbed countenance and spark of evil are well portrayed by Hiddleston, and his deep confusion and eagerness to please no matter the cost are tragically relatable. He's compelling because of the evident inner sadness that any sibling living in shadow can understand. 

With time has brought age to the CGI and no it isn't like cheese or wine. 6 years doesn't sit well with a land exclusively built in developing technology. Asgard - while well designed and well thought-out - looks now like a video game tutorial with the audience searching for Mario to cross the treacherous Rainbow Road. It has the air of a heavenly setting, but it looks like something I would see in Hyrule, not in Norse mythology.
While the fish out of water story isn't new by any means, I do find myself highly entertained watching Chris Hemsworth down like 20 pop tarts. This whole section of the movie is fun and light and brought the best moments for the popcorn. The lovely Natalie Portman plays the storm-chasing researcher Jane Foster and she's fine, as always. I quite liked her, even if their romance feels contrived.
We’ve also got things to get us more pumped for "The Avengers"  – Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) plays a bigger role than in previous Avenger-precursors. S.H.I.E.L.D. is all over the place trying to figure out that damn hammer, stuck in the ground like Excalibur. The intrigue ever-builds for the mega-mashup coming the following year and watching these again later does lose some of that edge, but it's an entertaining film nonetheless.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) just wants to heed the plea of Uncle Sam and join the United States Army to fight Nazis in World War II. Due to his frail body, he is rejected at every enlistment camp he goes to until he is eventually recruited as part of a super-soldier experiment. As a result of the serum, Steve Rogers is transformed into Captain America - a perfect specimen in both mind and body - in the best glow-up since Princess Diaries. Captain America goes on to fight the Third Reich, take down terrorists and inspire millions of Americans to fight for what they believe in.

This movie was met with a lot of excitement as the buildup for the Avengers was going down. It was a great strategy by Marvel - all of the after-credits scenes, all of the anticipation leading up to the big meet & greet where these iconic superheroes could join forces against greater evils.

I loved being a part of the anticipation. I loved seeing the pieces come together while the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe was unfolded. Captain America was fun because it gave a precedent - a backstory to not just the hero himself but to the entire Marvel story. It was the last released before "The Avengers" but chronologically it comes far before the others. Seeing him interact with Howard Stark and watching his frozen body be uncovered by S.H.I.E.L.D. brought an "a-ha!" to tip over the filling cup of Avengers anticipation.

While watching a superhero fight Nazis provides for an interesting backdrop - a nice break from the usual New York City Skyline - I find that the sense of urgency ranks very low when we all know that the world is still okay 60 years later. Watching it again, I found it a little boring and a little slow. In fact, in many ways it feels like an extended promo for "The Avengers." The name suggests, after all, that as "the First Avenger" Captain America would set the tone for the super-group with his unfaltering sense of duty & leadership. As the last origin film released, he is deemed to be the glue that will bond them all together.

A superhero film is only as good as its villain and in this case, I am unimpressed. Perhaps I'm playing too much to my preferences but I just ~don't like Red Skull very much. Hugo Weaving plays him very menacingly with a kind of cartoonish side to his devilry. It's a trope, however, that I don't find very compelling. He's evil, of course, but his story lacks depth and emotion which prevents me from connecting to the action. Too much to ask for in a superhero movie? Perhaps. But if it wants to rank up there with "Spiderman 2" or "The Dark Knight" then certainly it's possible.
These things do not make this movie bad. It's still a better film in many ways than "Thor" or "The Incredible Hulk" (though not "Iron Man" - never "Iron Man"). Chris Evans brings an earnestness to the Captain that makes him feel like a real American hero with a heart. He has integrity and loyalty and he exudes these wonderful qualities that everyone is looking for in the super-leader of the free world. His character arc only grows in subsequent movies, but this is a great beginning to his story.

Where some other superhero movies lack focus and a contained story, "Captain America" does not falter. Director Joe Johnston ("October Sky," "Jumanji") makes it a cohesive story which plays on the war-time patriotism and includes some vibrant side characters such as the gung-ho Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), the curious scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), Captain's best friend and soldier Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), and the beautiful but serious officer Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell). These characters are all likable and add something tangible and relatable where Red Skull brings only over-exaggerated villainy. The film feels complete.

Overall, "The First Avenger" is the weakest of the Captain America films being less enjoyable the second or third time around, but it is not a bad film. It brought a great hero back to the screen and propelled him to prominence in the hearts of all watching. 7/10

This is a part of a series as Lauren takes on the MCU 2k17

10 Movies that Should Have Won Best Picture

I'm sure we'll be talking about Oscars 2k17 for a very, very long time. Poor Warren Beatty just looks at the camera like plz help me when given the wrong envelope & La La Land was announced instead of the rightful winner Moonlight. It's one of the most devastating, embarrassing and awkward moments on live tv that I've about ever seen. I had very strong opinions on both movies: I thought Moonlight was nothing special and I thought La La Land was very special. I appear to be in the minority on this, but you can fight me: I still think La La Land should have won. I don't think that Moonlight is an awful movie, I just think that there are more flaws than I'd consider for a best picture winner.

As I thought over how sad I was that the movie I wanted lost, I thought of ten other movies I wish had won in other years.

What was nominated: Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, Shawshank Redemption
What won: Forrest Gump
What should have won: Shawshank Redemption

I cannot describe how strongly I feel about this. I have never been a huge fan of Forrest Gump (despite how much I like Tom Hanks) and this one tops the overrated charts for me especially when it's paired against Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction - two of the greatest films ever. I would still choose Shawshank as the number one slot for its incredible story.

What was nominated: Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Driving Miss Daisy, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot
What won: Driving Miss Daisy
What should have won: Dead Poets Society

I'm going to pull the shelf life card on this one: Driving Miss Daisy was basically forgotten the second the awards were over. Dead Poets Society is deep, emotional, and inspirational. It will be a long time more before we are forgetting Robin Williams' "seize the day" attitude that changed us all.

What was nominated: Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare in Love, The Thin Red Line
What won: Shakespeare In Love
What should have won: Saving Private Ryan

I also feel very strongly about how much I hate Shakespeare in Love. It's just so lame. Saving Private Ryan may be the best war movie ever made and ain't nobody watching that without crying.

What was nominated: E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Gandhi, Missing, Tootsie, The Verdict
What won: Gandhi
What should have won: E.T.

Have you seen Gandhi? Did you stay awake? It's a long, long drawn-out historical epic that has a very short shelf life after the Oscars. Of the movies nominated, I would have chosen literally any of the other movies but E.T. is and always will be my very favorite Spielberg. 

What was nominated: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich
What won: Crash
What should have won: Brokeback Mountain

I feel like after Crash won people started to scrutinize the Academy a lot more because really, Crash is a solidly mediocre movie that pretty much no one cares about. There may have been a bunch of stars in it and its racially driven plot is sort of memorable but Brokeback Mountain was incredible on so many levels. Ang Lee's beautiful direction, a sweeping love story, and the unforgettable "I wish I knew how to quit you."

What was nominated: Apollo 13, Babe, Braveheart, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility
What won: Braveheart
What should have won: Apollo 13

Apollo 13 is a smart movie about a dramatic event in US History. It's an incredible story with excellent acting and writing. Braveheart is just really overrated.

What was nominated: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
What won: Birdman
What should have won: Boyhood

Twelve years. TWELVE. That's how much time and effort went into this perfectly realistic coming of age story. If nothing else, his hard work deserved a nomination but the finished product also equals the time spent. I've never been a huge fan of Birdman for no real reason. It's a good movie. Boyhood was just better.

What was nominated: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, Warhorse
What won: The Artist
What should have won: Midnight in Paris

I'm not as bitter about its Best Picture win as I am that Jean Dujardin won over George Clooney. But when all is said and done, I would watch Midnight in Paris 100 times over the Artist's single viewing.

What was nominated: The Greatest Show on Earth, High Noon, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, The Quiet Man
What won: The Greatest Show on Earth
What should have won: Singin' in the Rain

How sad is it that Singing in the Rain wasn't even nominated? 

What was nominated: The English Patient, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine
What won: The English Patient
What should have won: Fargo

The English Patient is a good movie. Fargo is a better, more memorable movie with perfect performances from Francis McDormand and William H. Macy.

Honorable Mentions:
Citizen Kane (1941)
Psycho (1960)
The Graduate (1967)
Broadcast News (1987)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Goodfellas (1990)
The Social Network (2010)

Arrival (2016)

*major spoilers lie ahead

Denis Villeneuve, the bright director who brought us "Sicario" and "Prisoners," now delivers a mysterious alien visitation movie. He has a brilliant way of bringing a new twist to an old genre and "Arrival" is no exception.

One day on our blessed Planet Earth, 12 daunting spacecrafts appear out of thin air at 12 different cities. The lens-like obelisks just float there, taunting their viewers with the big questions: What do they want? Why are they here? Where did they come from?

The U.S. Military recruits linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to investigate and determine the giant squid-aliens' intentions. Through a series of charades and drawings, they begin to learn the beautiful loopty loop language that seemingly inks into the air as though it came out of a wizard wand. Louise explains to those who employed her (and the audience) how teaching and understanding the basics of language - things like pronouns and requests - they will eventually get to the bottom line: what's their deal.

The big story is interspersed with flashes of Banks' memories of her dying child, and a husband who left her. We are drawn in to her story and just as mystified by what haunts her. She performs her work with an air of sadness and burden but effectively connects with the aliens.

In the middle, things get chaotic. A message from the aliens is possibly misinterpreted as an attack and suddenly things start ~happening. Decisions are being made by people that are somehow important, communications are stopped (why?) and some rogue soldiers try to blow up the alien spacecraft that defies physics with a little bit of C4? A lot happens at once and I'll admit I was losing it a little then.

While everyone is running around like chickens with their heads cut off, Louise has a chat with our squid friends. Now, it isn't often that I am blown away by a plot twist, and maybe it's embarrassing how I didn't see it coming? But my whole opinion changed with the reveal.

Just like that, the past is the future, the present is the past, and the future is in her hands. With everything in perspective she is given the great gift of understanding and experiences the full breadth of her life in a single moment. Not only does she take charge of the alien situation at hand, but she makes decisions about herself. She chooses a life where she knows her daughter would die and somehow that's just amazing to me. She chooses the tragic, because she knew sweet moments would accompany it. How is that not empowering?

In one scene, she explains to her daughter that her name, Hannah, is a palindrome. This is also the key to the film structure. At the beginning, what we think is the past, is also the ending. It's a paradox and also very confusing but very powerful.

The acting lacked in some areas. Jeremy Renner didn't do much for me. I have never found him a very versatile or empathetic actor and he doesn't stand out in any way in this film either. He's a physicist but doesn't seem to do any physics or contribute anything at all. Forrest Whitaker also had a supporting role and seemed nothing more than a stereotype to fit.

None of that bothered me, though, with how fantastic Amy Adams was. She is a wonderfully diverse actress and this subtle, empathetic performance is one of her best. In many ways, this movie is all her. There are more close ups of her face than close examinations of the extra terrestrials; her reactions and wide eyes provide the insights we need to these other worldly visitors. The Academy sorely missed a nomination for her.

The best science fiction movies are deeply human at their core. This is a movie that gives its main character a powerful sense of free will and love and though "Arrival" struggles with some confusion in the second act the rest is so intriguing and mystifying that it doesn't matter. 8/10

Moonlight (2016)

In this intense coming of age story, "Moonlight" takes the story of Chiron in three stages. We watch him grow from "Little," a shy child neglected by his crack-addict mother, to a teenager struggling to find his sexual identity who is picked on and bullied, to a post-juvie drug dealer called "Black." Living on the streets of Miami can be hard and unforgiving. He is influenced throughout it his life by his mom Paula (Naomie Harris), a neighbor drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Kevin - with whom he shares his first kiss.

This is a small film. It's not very long. It's got a very simple plot. It's low-budget. There aren't any top-billed stars to rack in the attention. It's impossible to depict in just one film what it's like to be black (or gay, or black and gay) in America today but this attempts to provide a window on one particular experience in this character study. It's a movie that functions on observations, not words or action. 

To be honest, it's just kind of okay. I know it's been critically acclaimed but I feel like it's an emperor's new clothes type of situation. I didn't really enjoy watching it, and this isn't an uplifting story. I didn't feel moved or emotionally spent, just tired and a little bored.

Now, there were some good things.

The supporting characters leave lasting impressions despite their short screen-time. This is particularly true of Mahershala Ali. I was a big fan of his character on "House of Cards" and he stands out as the drug-dealer-with-a-heart-of-gold role. We've seen this kind of character before, but there was something striking about his eyes and expression when Chiron confronts him about dealing drugs to his mom - you could sense his hurt and disappointment and shame in himself.

At first it bothered me that I couldn't relate to this at all but I guess that gives "Moonlight" its own unique, gritty edge. "Boyhood" similarly told a coming of age story with different splices of a boy's life displayed in sequences and while I enjoyed that more (and find it a superior movie), this film still has something honest, and raw to offer.

I'm not sure how they managed to find three actors to play Chiron with consistency but color me impressed. Unlike "Boyhood" where the same kid literally grew up on the screen, "Moonlight" features three separate actors: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes. All three have the same level of shyness, wonder, and also hardness. 

However, though the three actors were consistent, the character itself just isn't anything very memorable. My qualm with his arc is that I feel like there's nothing more to his story than the summation of his interactions with others. There was hardly anything to suggest what he really thought of himself, what he thought of his life, what he loved or hated or what his hobbies were or who he really was on the inside. He's gay, he's black, he's got it rough, but who really is he?

The third act takes on a two-person narrative that, though emotional in part is weak and concludes abruptly. It feels a little unfinished, and sad with no catharsis. Chapter One's abrupt conclusion to Juan's story also feels incomplete and want of questions. 

Director Barry Jenkins' sophomore film seems like it wants to be more than it is: a simple story without a compelling hook. It's nothing to write home about.  5/10

89th Oscar Picks and Predictions

I saw almost every single summer blockbuster in theaters before our son was born and then didn't see a single nominated movie until this month. This is extremely unusual for me, as the late fall/winter movies are always my favorite. Babies change things, or whatever. Anyway, even though I only got around to seeing 6/9 movies nominated for best picture prior to now, I'm still as stoked as ever for the movie Super Bowl and all the snacks I'm going to eat.

Moonlight could sneak in here, honestly, but I still predict (and pick) this

DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle - La La Land 

ACTOR: Denzel Washington - Fences
I haven't gotten around to Fences yet, and although Casey Affleck was getting the buzz for a while, I think Denzel is going to come out with his third statue. In other news, I think Tom Hanks should have been nominated for Sully.

ACTRESS: Emma Stone - La La Land
I so wish that Amy Adams would have been nominated for Arrival, but this is still my pick.

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
A short but very impressionable performance

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis - Fences
It's about time

ANIMATED: Zootopia
DOCUMENTARY: OJ: Made in America
MAKEUP AND HAIR: Suicide Squad
MUSIC: La La Land
SONG: "City of Stars" from La La Land
LIVE SHORT: Ennemis Intérieurs
SOUND EDITING: Hacksaw Ridge
SOUND MIXING: Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land (2016)

"Here's to the ones who dream,  foolish as they may seem. Here's to the hearts that ache. Here's to the mess we make."

Since I recently had a baby, I haven't been out to the theater much. I saw this movie long after everyone else and I must admit I came into the movie expecting to love it.

And I did.

Biased or not, critically acclaimed or not, I loved every second of this movie. I won't say it's void of all flaws because that isn't true, but it's rare to experience something as sensational as this. It's the perfect blend of "Singin' in the Rain" and "Casablanca" - a treat at the movies. From the moment everyone was dancing on their cars in the opening act to the closing emotional montage in the club this was a whimsical ride.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress. She auditions tirelessly hoping for her big break but as each audition is interrupted by phone calls and disinterested judges, it seems as though the closest she will ever come to stardom is serving coffee to celebrities on a studio film lot. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is an aspiring jazz pianist. He wants nothing more than to own his own club to preserve the sanctity of jazz music.

Through a series of happenstance meetings, the two fall in love and help each other pursue their passions. They feel like they can conquer the world when they're together and for a while they do. Mia writes a one-woman play and encourages Sebastian to change the name of his future club to "Seb's" instead of "Chicken on a Stick." Their relationship is met with obstacles, however, as Sebastian gets distracted with an offer to tour with an electronic jazz band (sounds really weird but strangely works?) and misses her play that only runs for one night. It seems that as hard as they fight for their love things still work against them.

There are so many things to say about "La La Land." But it would take a long time and a very good memory to make a comprehensive list of everything that makes this movie special. Director Damien Chazelle is so attentive to the small things and his affection for the material makes it all the more lovable. It's amazing that the 31-year-old director had the confidence to take on something so big and execute it to such perfection. While there are many things to say, I have listed four things that stood out to me upon first viewing.

The film opens on a highway traffic jam. Everyone is listening to their own music in their respective cars until one girl starts singing. She comes out of the car in a bright yellow dress and begins to dance. Soon, in true musical fashion, she is joined by all of the other drivers dancing atop their cars. Of course the grandiose nature of the number is great in its own right but it's the colors that stood out the most to me. In most scenes, there are vibrant reds, blues, greens, and yellows. These bright, pure colors - shot in Cinemascope - capture the optimistic tone of the whole film and emanate passion and excitement. Even though things aren't always happy in the movie, the colors capture the optimism harbored by the main characters.

"La La Land" is a musical. In many ways, it is like all of the other musicals you and I are accustomed to with frequent (sometimes long) song and dance numbers. There's even a weird flying dream sequence kind of like those in "An American in Paris" and "Singin' in the Rain" (though this one wasn't as long and boring, in my opinion). Nevertheless, the choreography is fantastic. In one scene Mia and Sebastian are strolling down the street with a purple-lit sunset for a backdrop. Since they both *happen to bring tap shoes along with them, they engage in a delightful little tap number on and around the street bench. It's cute and silly. The choreography isn't too over-the-top nor is it too simplistic and it's one of the best scenes in the movie.

The music is equally wonderful. The piano motif that accompanies most of the major events in the film is simple and lovely as is "City of Stars," a recurring song. Other good numbers include "Another Day of Sun," "A Lovely Night" and Mia's audition "The Fools Who Dream." At first I thought Emma Stone's voice wasn't that great, but that audition scene perfectly matched her range and captured her strengths as a singer. Though they're not the strongest of singers, their talents still fit the bill.

I mean this in that the characters themselves are great but also that this film has got ~character. It's full of life and pizazz and has a spice to it that is sometimes hard to find in film. It feels fresh and hopeful. The feel of the movie along with a great cast and fun characters add depth. The characters are unique and relatable. The leads are accompanied by a good supporting cast including JK Simmons, John Legend, and Tom Everett Scott (my man from "That Thing You Do!") But this film is nothing without our two stars.

Emma Stone is a solid actress. She exudes confidence but also vulnerability. The plot mirrors Stone's own story to stardom in some ways and that's a neat lens through which to view her performance. She's delightful, likable, witty and charismatic. Gosling, too is perfect for this role bringing the perfect mix of irritable and lovable. Their chemistry brought a realism to the sweeping romance.

The bittersweet end is what turns "La La Land" from a good movie to a great one. The thing is some times things just don't work out the way you want them to. The last City of Stars montage depicts a bright future for the two if only Sebastian had done things differently. It's as if he is singing of his regret and relives the choices and pivotal moments that would have allowed them to be together. It's incredibly emotional and bittersweet, but isn't that how life is?

I know this might not be your ~thing. I've always loved musicals and maybe you hate them. But if there's a musical that's worth it, it's this one. It can restore your faith in the power of cinema. It's magical, it's heartwarming. I loved it and I think you can too. 9/10

Spotlight (2015)

In 2001 the "spotlight" team at The Boston Globe comprised of editor Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton), and reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James). This small group of investigative reporters would usually spend over a year on stories which require extra digging, in depth analysis, or extensive research. They work together like detectives putting together puzzles and bouncing ideas off of each other while tossing a tennis ball against the wall and eating leftover pizza. These are the kinds of stories that win awards, the kinds that change the world.

They begin investigating sexual abuse trends from Catholic priests in Boston. They interview a few victims, meet with a few experts and soon what starts as a seemingly small albeit horrific issue turns into a much bigger problem. There could be as many as 87 priests in Boston alone. They see that the roots go deeper than just a few bad seeds. It's a booming psychological phenomenon that spreads from the Vatican to all across the world.

But, like any good mystery, when they start getting closer they are met with more and more obstacles to overcome. They face pushback from the church, uncooperative sources, and run-ins with lawyers. And then there is a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the spotlight reporters are pulled to work on 9/11 reports. It takes a long time for them to get the story right because they know if they don't get it ~right then it will just be buried or overlooked.

They deal with this sensitive material with kindness but also straightforwardness. Their interviews are done as any journalist would - to get to the bottom line. In one interview one of them asks "Did you ever think about telling anyone?" He responds, "Like who, a priest?" These are awful, painful stories about people who were taken advantage of and deeply affected. In the end, it gets to the reporters too. There are some striking emotional scenes where they express the unfairness of the situation and the dire need to tell the public what was going on.

Through the tenacity, the long hours, and the brilliance of this team of reporters, one of the biggest scandals was uncovered and released to the public. The last scene is so emotionally overwhelming and yet also wonderfully understated. When the story is released, the phones at Spotlight are ringing off the hook almost exclusively with victims wanting their story to be told and heard. This is important.

It's a film that ranks alongside the gold standard of journalism films, "All the President's Men." It depicts the journalistic process without glamorizing: it's tough work. Those journalists are out on the streets, going door to door, rummaging through old boxes in libraries and courthouses day in and day out. But through their rigorous work, people who were afraid can have a voice. Their story can be told.

It's a movie about a team and a team made this movie. If the Oscars were to give an award for best performance from a group, this movie would deserve it. No one actor stands out, but they all do their job and get the job done. Other performances include Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, and Liev Shreiber. The many supporting acts come together to build this masterpiece.

Perhaps even more credit is due to director Tom McCarthy who didn't glorify the abuse but didn't minimize the damage. He paced it perfectly and created an intense drama even when the audience knows the outcome. This is one of the best - if not the very best - films of the year. 10/10