Friday, February 26, 2016

Paul's 2016 Academy Award Predictions

2016 academy awards

With the Academy Awards approaching, it is about that time again to go over my predictions for this years winners.

As I've said previously, 2015 was a wonderful year for cinema, and a fair amount of the best films this year got a lot of nominations. Personally, I would have liked to see a bit more diversity in other categories, but most of the nominated films do deserve to be in their respective categories.

To me, it looks like this year of the Academy Awards appear that they will be continuations from last year, and giving long-time artists their respect. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and "The Revenant" seem to be in position to dominate just like "Birdman" did last year, while Sylvester Stallone practically has the Best Supporting Actor award already. I'm looking forward to Best Original Score this year, because it comes down to two masters of their craft - Ennio Morricone and John Williams.

With all of that said, let's take a look at my predictions. As with the last few years, I'll be skipping documentaries, shorts and foreign film categories, since I know nothing about them. Although, it does sound like "Son Of Saul" will win Best Foreign Film based off of what I've heard.

Best Cinematography:
Who should win: "The Revenant"
Who will win: "The Revenant"
Who I want to win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

While I adored the cinematography in "Mad Max: Fury Road," there is no doubt that "The Revenant" was more impressive. The fight scene with the bear holds everything you need to know about why it has the best camera work of the year, as we watch this visceral and violent scene takes place, all without cutting away.

"The Revenant" is full of great examples like that, and like "Birdman" last year, this will help it achieve victory in this category.

Best Costume Design:
Who should win: "The Danish Girl"
Who will win: "Cinderella"
Who I want to win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Hard to say on this one, since I have not seen "The Danish Girl" or "Cinderella," but the Academy tends to love big period piece dramas like "Cinderella," especially when each character has their own unique dress in trying to show off the other. Plus, the level of extravagance is taken to a whole different level by adding director Kenneth Branagh, who takes the visual style of a Shakespeare play and amps it up to 11.

I predict that will be reflected in the Academy's decision.

Best Editing:
Who should win: "The Big Short"
Who will win: "The Big Short"
Who I want to win: "Spotlight"

To me, the editing was the best part of "The Big Short," and one of the standout examples of editing in 2015. "Spotlight" had some wonderful editing as well to keep everything contained so well, but "The Big Short" used editing to help advance the story. That gives it the win in my eyes.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
Who should win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Who will win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Who I want to win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

No one's ever heard of "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared" so it won't be winning this category. I can't recall that much of impressive makeup in "The Revenant," other than Leo being covered in blood and lots of hair. So, by default, "Mad Max: Fury Road" has this one sealed up.


Best Original Score:
Who should win: "The Hateful Eight"
Who will win: "The Hateful Eight"
Who I want to win: "The Hateful Eight"

This is the one that I'm really looking forward to. It will come down to two composers this year, Ennio Morricone for "The Hateful Eight" and John Williams for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Let that sink in for a minute.

This year, we are witnessing the composer of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," "Cinema Paradiso" and "The Thing," go up against the composer of "Jaws," the Indiana Jones movies, "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" and every Star Wars films. Morricone is back in the genre that he excels at - Westerns. While Williams is back to composing arguably his greatest score. We are watching two legends of film scoring going at it here, and it could go to either one.

I think it will go to Morricone, because of the legacy that he has left. The Academy loves to give it to very old people who have never won the award, or haven't won it in a long time. John Williams already has more Academy Awards than Meryl Streep, so to give it to an 87-year-old man whose career started in the early 1960s in Italy would be wonderful to see.

Best Original Song:
Who should win: "The Writing's On The Wall" by Sam Smith
Who will win: "The Writing's On The Wall" by Sam Smith
Who I want to win: "The Writing's On The Wall" by Sam Smith

I'm going with the song that I enjoy listening to. I've never heard of the other ones, so that might be swaying my vote. But Sam Smith is well-known now and everyone loves the Bond songs.

Best Production Design:
Who should win: "The Martian"
Who will win: "The Revenant"
Who I want to win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

For me, the film that ends up feeling the biggest with the most impressive size, scope and feel to it wins this category. I felt that, of these five films, "Mad Max: Fury Road" had that in spades, but I doubt the Academy agrees with me on that.

"The Martian" should win because it felt like it was taking place on different planet, while still feeling down to Earth. The production design was simple, yet effective. But I think it'll go to "The Revenant" for the vast distance that the film covered and making it feel like a vast untamed wilderness.

Best Sound Editing:
Who should win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Who will win: "The Revenant"
Who I want to win: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Before I go into my predictions, I feel like this needs to be addressed - What is the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing? Over the past few years, I've seen this question come up a lot and people asking why they don't just combine the two awards together.

Here's the difference between the two. Sound Editing is the creation of all the sound effects for a movie, outside of the music, including additional dialogue recording, or ADR for short. Sound Mixing is combining all the sounds of the film, sound effects, music, dialogue, etc., into one solid coherent piece. In other words, the editing is about the guys who make the sounds, while the mixing is for those that put it all together.

Anyway, I would love to see "Star Wars" win this one, for recreating all the classic sounds of Star Wars while updating it. But it will probably go to "The Revenant" because duplicating the noises of the wild tends to rather difficult, especially when you're trying to recreate a wilderness that hasn't existed for hundreds of years.

Best Sound Mixing:
Who should win: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
Who will win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Who I want to win: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Again, with the distinction between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing in mind, I have to give this to the film that made its sound as amazing to listen to as the visuals were thrilling, "Mad Max: Fury Road." As great as the sound was for "Star Wars," the sound of "Mad Max" has grown on me and has stuck with me as long as the everything else about this masterpiece has.


Best Visual Effects:
Who should win: "Ex Machina"
Who will win: "The Revenant"
Who I want to win: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

The bear will give "The Revenant" the win on this one.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Who should win: "Room"
Who will win: "Room"
Who I want to win: "The Martian"

And now we begin to come down to the final categories, starting with the screenplay awards.
"Room" will take this one due to Emma Donoghue, who wrote the novel, returning to write the screenplay. That is a big deal, since nothing would be lost in the adaptation. This one comes down to how faithful the screenplay is to the source material, and "Room" will get extra points by getting the same writer as the novel.

Best Original Screenplay:
Who should win: "Spotlight"
Who will win: "Spotlight"
Who I want to win: "Spotlight"

I know this may look like it comes easy for "Spotlight" but this one was tricky.

There are a lot of well-written original films this year, including "Inside Out' and "Ex Machina"'s dialogue. But "Spotlight" took years of material from the Boston Globe, took everything to heart, and did there best to stay accurate to reality without diluting the story and message. It is original, yet at the same time, it is an adaptation of reality.

Best Animated Feature:
Who should win: "Inside Out"
Who will win: "Inside Out"
Who I want to win: "Inside Out"

This is the no-brainer pick this year. While "Inside Out" will face competition from "Anomalisa," this is Pixar doing what they do best. Pixar always has this category wrapped up, and this year will be no different.


Best Directing:
Who should win: Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight"
Who will win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for "The Revenant"
Who I want to win: Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight"

And now the big ones. This year, most of the awards are pretty difficult (aside from one). There are many nominees that are worthy of winning, and it can be difficult if the Academy wants to give it to those that deserve it or those that they know about.

With that said, Tom McCarthy should be the favorite to win this award, by making a film that feels less like trying to recreate reality and more like actual reality. But Inarritu is the favorite to win this award, as I'm sure the Academy would like to give the award to someone two years in a row.

Best Supporting Actress:
Who should win: Kate Winslet from "Steve Jobs"
Who will win: Kate Winslet from "Steve Jobs"
Who I want to win: Jennifer Jason Leigh from "The Hateful Eight"

This one is hard, because of all the nominees, I've only seen three of them - Rachel McAdams, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Jason Leigh. McAdams was good, but nothing spectacular, I don't see "Spotlight" winning any of the acting awards. Jason Leigh was amazing to watch as she seemed to love playing the bad guy and took delight in making someone's life a living hell.

But Kate Winslet gave that movie the necessary heart that it needed, as she kept Steve Jobs in check. If it weren't for her, Fassbender's performance would have been too sharp and unforgiving. I'm giving it to Winslet.

Best Supporting Actor:
Who should win: Sylvester Stallone from "Creed"
Who will win: Sylvester Stallone from "Creed"
Who I want to win: Sylvester Stallone from "Creed"

When it was announced that Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, at an event that is normally very quiet and very reserved, the crowd erupted in a standing ovation. If that isn't a give away clue that Stallone will win this award, I don't know what is.

Stallone easily has this one for giving the best performance out of anybody this year.

Best Actress:
Who should win: Brie Larson from "Room"
Who will win: Brie Larson from "Room"
Who I want to win: Brie Larson from "Room"

Like with Best Original Screenplay, this is not an easy pick, but Brie Larson will win this award.
This year, it comes down between Larson and Cate Blanchett. What gives Larson the advantage is that Blanchett won the award two years ago for "Blue Jasmine," so that might sway some voters. Same with Jennifer Lawrence for her role in "Silver Linings Playbook," and Charlotte Rampling and Saoirse Ronan are a little too low-profile to win this award. Larson has won several awards for her performance already, so I think that helps out as well.

Best Actor:
Who should win: Leonardo DiCaprio from "The Revenant"
Who will win: Leonardo DiCaprio from "The Revenant"
Who I want to win: Matt Damon from "The Martian"

Finally, Leo will win one!

At this point, the voters feel sorry for Leonardo DiCaprio. Six times he has been nominated for Best Actor, and he has never won. While "The Revenant" was not his best performance in recent memory, it was still a captivating performance that had little to no dialogue from him. He will get this one more out of sympathy and not earning it.

best picture nominees

Best Picture:
Who should win: "Spotlight"
Who will win: "The Revenant"
Who I want to win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

And so we come to the biggest award of the night. With eight nominees, this year it comes down to two films - "Spotlight" and "The Revenant."

As much as I would love "Mad Max: Fury Road" to win the award this year, the Academy is probably turned off by it being one extended car chase sequence through a post-apocalyptic future. It is the one of the most technologically impressive films this year, but it will not win Best Picture.

"The Martian" has some tough competition, having a similar plot to "The Revenant" but that western survival tale still being fresh in people's memories. This one could be sneak up on other awards, but not here.

"Room" is certainly the indie darling this year, but I don't think the Academy will look at it beyond its screenplay and Brie Larson's performance. It is the underdog nominee in this case, but its chances are slim.

"The Big Short," "Brooklyn" and "Bridge Of Spies" are just happy to be here.

That leaves us with the final two, and I'm still unsure about who is going to win. My gut reaction is to say that "Spotlight" should win Best Picture for being the most respected and well-put together film of 2015.

But, the Academy is still high on Inarritu winning everything for "Birdman" last year, and to be able to come out with another high-profile film so quickly. The Academy is going to eat up Leonardo DiCaprio and the cinematography is impressive, to say the least.

Therefore, I believe that "The Revenant" will win Best Picture for 2015. I will have my fingers crossed in the hopes that either "Spotlight" or "Mad Max: Fury Road" can win the award, but the Academy is too much in love with Inarritu for the film to fail.

But we will find out very soon if my predictions are accurate. Because on Sunday, the 88th Academy Awards will take place and the best that cinema has to offer will be crowned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mini-Review - "Family Plot" (1976)


For being the final Alfred Hitchcock outing, this was a fine way to go out.

"Family Plot" follows a "median" and her taxi-driver boyfriend, who scam widows and old ladies by claiming to talk to dead relatives so that they can be at peace. One of their most recent clients was a woman who offered to give the couple $10,000 if they found the long-lost heir to her families fortune. For a while, all of their sources turn up that this man, Edward Shoebridge, has been dead for over 15 years, until they find out that his grave has no body inside and that he doesn't have a death certificate. What they find out does seem to get the attention of a local thief and his accomplice though, who think the median is trying to stop their crime spree.

"Family Plot" is a serviceable film. It is captivating from the beginning, with its intriguing plot of a couple of actors who pretend to be psychic so that they don't go hungry, while also having the plot of the thieves that keep outwitting the cops. However, the characters aren't exactly memorable and don't do anything too spectacular that I can recall. I was invested in all the characters' struggles, but what they did was very by-the-numbers.

It has many of the classic Hitchcock tropes, but they're played down here. The suspense kicks up during the second half of the film once the thieves start to catch on and try to stop the other couple. This leads to an exciting sequence where the couple are returning from the top of a mountain, only to find out quickly that their brakes are broken and begin to speed up down the mountain.

Scenes like that are why I had fun with "Family Plot," but there were only so many of them. This is a one-time watch film to save for a rainy day. It certainly was not bad, but there was nothing too spectacular about it either.

Final Grade: B-

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mini-Review - "Sergeant York" (1941)


This is a case of a film not being captivating until the halfway mark. At over two hours long, "Sergeant York" did not entrance me until its main character, Alvin York (Gary Cooper), learns the error of his ways and begins to realize that there is more to the world than just himself.

Up until the point, however, the first hour is spent on York making selfish decisions, drinking, and getting into as many fights as he can. All while religion is force upon him, and us, and that he can only be saved by accepting God into his life. This goes on far longer than it should have, as we watch every instant of York getting into trouble from the time World War I is announced to the moment he lets God into his heart.

But once the film gets passed that point, Gary Cooper turns on the charm and becomes a man who sees himself as part of a loving community that is greater than himself, apologizing for all of his wrong-doings and is more than willing to make up for it.

And as enlistment comes, York initially rejects the offer, due to his new-found religious beliefs, but realizes that he can do a lot more good in Europe than he could at home.

Perhaps the reason "Sergeant York" has stuck around as long as it has is because of what York discovers while at war - That he did not need God to save him in the first place, but compassion and care for his fellow-man. The defining moment in the film comes when York sees a machine gun mowing down American troops, and uses his knowledge of hunting to outwit the Germans and save possibly thousands of people. At that point, he was no longer bound by religion or God, but a desire to see suffering and torment end.

We watch as this one man goes from a punk to a man obsessed with religion to a pacifist to a hero. As a result, "Sergeant York" has one of the greatest character transformations I can think of. It takes a while to get there, but the result does make the first hour worth sitting through.

Final Grade: B

Monday, February 22, 2016

Mini-Review - "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996)


This is an instance of a tale of two movies, where plots that have nothing to do with one another, usually from vastly different genres, come together into one off-kilter film.

"From Dusk Till Dawn" is the second film I've recently seen by Robert Rodriguez, and at times it does have a similar feel to "El Mariachi," as a loner (or in this case, loners) is outnumbered and possibly outgunned, but uses his resourcefulness to outwit the vastly superior group. The difference this time around is that that is only the focus for the second half of the film.

The first half focuses on a couple of dysfunctional brothers (played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) running from police and the Texas Rangers after breaking one of the brothers out of jail, robbing a bank, and killing roughly ten people. Tarantino's character lives in his head, where he thinks he hears women telling him to do sexual activities to them, and is constantly screwed over by his short temper and itchy-tigger finger. While Clooney, in his first starring role, plays the cool one of the group, who makes all the plans and does his best to keep his head around his temperamental brother.

This makes the first half of "From Dusk Till Dawn" the best part of the film, as they make their way from the middle of Texas to the Mexican border, while evading police and causing even more unnecessary trouble. This gives us some great moments between Clooney and Tarantino that shows they're both messed up in the head and just want the best for one another, despite screwing themselves other at every turn.

But the second half takes not just a U-Turn on the plot, but the car turns into a rocket and shoots right at the moon.

Suddenly, there's a plot about vampires taking over a bar in the middle of Mexico, and now the brothers (along with their captives, one being played by Harvey Keitel) have to survive the night without being killed or turned into a child of the night.

This plot turn is not bad, nor is the make-up on the vampires and the creative ways they must fight off the vampires. But it is so jarring to go from a family crime plot with plenty of suspense, to a vampire shoot-em-up story that practically drops everything in favor of its new story.

Overall, "From Dusk Till Dawn" is a fun ride with two different halves that don't mold together. I preferred Clooney and Tarantino arguing about how crazy the other one is while the cops are hot on their tale, but watching a kid turn a Nerf squirt gun into a vampire killing machine is also enjoyable to watch.

Final Grade: B

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Movie Review - "Deadpool" (2016)

Your love or hate for this film depends entirely on how you feel about violence, nudity, obscure movie references, and breaking the fourth wall. If any of that sounds appealing to you, "Deadpool" is a firecracker wrapped inside of the best four-dollar taco you’ve ever had. If any of that turns you off, go see "The Revenant" again for a bit less obscene…

…oh wait…

I had a blast watching "Deadpool" because it is the perfect solution to the many trends and themes that have popped up in Marvel movies over the last few years. At times, this film feels like it is kindred spirits with "Guardians Of The Galaxy," and then it kicks Star Lord in the nards while gleefully laughing about how fat Chris Pratt was.

Of course, watching Ryan Reynolds rip apart his own movies, especially "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and "Green Lantern," is its own reward for sitting through those painful experiences.

Like its titular character, "Deadpool" seems self-aware and completely self-absorbed, down to its opening credit sequence showing title cards like "A Hot Chick" and "Some British Asshole" instead of the actors names. As if this movie was made by Deadpool, a character who not only thinks the sun revolves around him but that he created the sun and faked the moon landing for good measure.

The best way I can describe Deadpool is Bugs Bunny, if Bugs decided to become a mercenary that loved to carve up his victims like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Overall, "Deadpool" is exactly what I expected it to be An R-rated superhero film that took every opportunity to either break the fourth wall and address the audience directly or to overindulge itself in its violent behavior. The film never took itself seriously and never skipped a beat when it came to the comedy, and chose to have fun with a superhero that goes by the nickname of "The Merc With The Mouth."

Final Grade: B+

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Movie Review - "Hail, Caesar!" (2016)


I feel like this is a movie tailor-made for me.

Like the Coen Brothers picked my brain, found the things that I love about cinema, all the idiosyncracies that I cannot get enough of, crammed in as many jokes and references that I get, and made a movie that serves as a nod to classic movies and how much Hollywood has changed over the years.

But for other people who aren't into classic cinema, most of "Hail, Caesar!" will go over their heads. Folks who don't know who Esther Williams was, who have never seen a Gene Kelley musical, and have no clue what being blacklisted in Hollywood means, are going to be lost from the first scene.
For those that do appreciate all of this, "Hail, Caesar!" is a treat to watch.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a fixer for Capitol Pictures, as he works 25 hours a day to make sure the many celebrities under the company's spotlight stay out of trouble and not make their way into the gossip columns. Eddie has to deal with swimming beauty DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) and her pregnancy with a man she doesn't love, country bumpkin Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) being forced to improve his image by performing in a sophisticated picture directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Finnes), and the completion of the studios' biggest picture of the year, starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), who goes missing during filming. All the while, Eddie has been offered a high executive position at an airline production company, and is unsure about taking the job, especially when a ransom note arrives saying someone has kidnapped Baird Whitlock.


It should be noted that most of these performances are glorified cameos. Actors like Ralph Finnes, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand and Channing Tatum are in the film for one or two scenes and are never heard from again. In fact, Hill and McDormand have less than five shared lines of dialogue.

That being said, "Hail, Caesar!" does so many things that you don't see in any films nowadays, with extensive and elaborate sequences that involve massive choreography and timing. The first is DeeAnna Moran's swimming scene that involves about two dozen swimming beauties to synchronize swim while a live band plays in the background. Their swim suits are multi-colored so even the twists of their torsos must match as their dance takes on a kaleidoscope-feel.


But the scene I'll always remember about "Hail, Caesar!" is the tribute to Gene Kelley and Donald O'Connor, where a group of sailors about to go out to sea sing and dance about being away from beautiful gals for so long. They tap dance on top of tables, swing from the sign of "The Swingin' Dingy" and do all sorts of things that no musical has done since the 1960s. The Coen Brothers had to call in a Broadway choreographer for that sequence, since no one in Hollywood knew how to make a dance number like that. And all while making not-so-casual innuendos about the sailors and their orientation.

Part of the reason I enjoyed "Hail, Caesar!" so much is the light-hearted atmosphere throughout the picture. Although there is a kidnapping and a Communist-related plot, the film never takes itself too seriously.

This film has fun with its premise by covering as many genres of 1950s Hollywood as it can, and turning them on their heads. Watching the simple-minded and kind Hobie Doyle interact with the high-minded Laurence Laurentz, who keeps switching his first and last name, as they attempt and fail to make a sophisticated scene work, was both hilarious and reminiscent of classic Hollywood trying to reinvent the wheel.


It paints of picture of why people loved to go to the movies. One character in the film comments about television taking away Hollywood's business and how cinema would go the way of the dinosaur in a few years. But we watch as this community comes together to create, not just entertainment, but art. Through persistence, passion and timing, we see a group of misfits and alcoholics make something that will last for generations.

"Hail, Caesar!" is not just a love letter to 1950s Hollywood, but a reminder of how powerful movies can be.

Final Grade: A-

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mini-Review - "Mad Max" (1979)


It is fascinating watching the beginning of an apocalypse unfold. Watching our world first give into greed and savagery, while the good people do their best to cope with the destruction and are either slayed or give into the madness, but all too soon the chaos becomes too much and society is overrun by the crazies, to the point that "society" and "normality" are but a myth.

Watching a film like "Mad Max," knowing what will happen to this world in the future with "Mad Max: Fury Road," we begin to see the wheels turning, both physically and metaphorically, of how the world will meet its end. Gasoline is scarce, people are becoming terrified of roaming gangs looking for a good time, the police is constantly overrun with crimes being called that they could never hope to answer, and everyone is holding onto something they hold dearly as tightly as they can.

The apocalypse may not have happened yet, but it is looming on the horizon, like an approaching storm.

"Mad Max," primarily focuses on the titular character (Mel Gibson) as he attempts to maintain order in the world by stopping biker gangs. As he fails to stop more of these terrorizing thugs, and watches the world around him fall apart, his sense of purpose and belonging turns into vengeance. Max tries his best not to become like the people he hunts, but is starting to go crazy like everyone else.

Admittedly, "Mad Max" can be slow, even after a heart-pounding beginning chase sequence on a country road. The film takes its sweet time on scenes with Max interacting with his wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and their vacation out in the middle of nowhere. While a nice bit to show these two desperately clinging to anything they have left, these scenes drag when there is so much high-octane action throughout.

Overall, "Mad Max" is compelling to watch as the end of humanity draws near and we are powerless to stop it. There is a sense of dread throughout, yet also a theme of acceptance from Max. The beginning and final act are intense and set the standards for what we would expect from future installments. This one might seem slow and tame compared to what would come next, but it is certainly worth a watch.

Final Grade: B

Friday, February 5, 2016

Movie Review - "Kung Fu Panda 3" (2016) - Panda Express


Quite a bit different from the first film I reviewed in 2015, "Jupiter Ascending," we have the first great film of 2016 with "Kung Fu Panda 3." I know, I'm as surprised as you are.

What I have loved about the "Kung Fu Panda" franchise is how it sneaks up on me and pulls off the unexpected - By taking laughable and ludicrous ideas, like animated animals performing kung-fu and having the lead character be voiced by Jack Black, and turns it around to make a film that is visually pleasing, consistently funny, full of well-coreographed action sequences, surprisingly complex writing, and morals that stay true to their martial art roots while still being important in the real world.

This franchise is the definition of not judging a book by its cover. I would even dare to say that "Kung Fu Panda 2" is one of the greatest animated films in recent memory, and certainly the best animated sequel, as it improves upon the characters and mythology of the first film to give us an emotional tale of learning from the past and the chaotic consequences that come with it.

Which brings us to the most recent entry in this series, after a five-year absence. And while the final product seems rushed at times and lacking in the character department, especially after the last film, there is no denying that it was a blast to watch and is everything I've come to expect from these films.

The Dragon Warrior, Po (Jack Black), and the Furious Five, are given their most recent assignment, when Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) announces that he will not longer be teaching them, and that this duty will be handed over to Po. The panda is surprised by this, as is everyone else, but Shifu says there is a lot more hidden potential within Po that being a teacher would bring out of him. This takes a backseat though when Po's father, Li (Bryan Cranston), shows up and offers to take Po to the hidden village of Pandas.

But a new threat appears in the form of the Spirit-Warrior, Kai (J.K. Simmons), having returned from the spirit world by collecting the chi of every kung-fu master, including Shifu's mentor, Oogway. Kai is intent on gathering the chi of the Dragon Warrior and ruling over China, using his jade minions in the shape of each animal martial arts master.


To be honest, "Kung Fu Panda 3" has the weakest story of the trilogy. While the earlier two films focused on the evolution of Po, from a lowly character lacking self-confidence into someone who had mastered inner peace, this film follows Po's journey passing that knowledge onto others, in particular other pandas who have never seen society before. Most of the new characters are not given much screen time, aside from Li, but we're still given distinct character traits for most of them, like the pandas that love to roll or the ribbon dancer (voiced by Kate Hudson).

Kai is certainly a down-grade in terms of villainy. Admittedly, it would have been impossible to top Gary Oldman's manacle yet elegant Lord Shen from "Kung Fu Panda 2," but Kai is only interested in one thing - power. At least Tai Lung from the first film did everything out of a sense of revenge and showed the depth of Master Shifu's character, while Shen was so blinded by making his own future that he couldn't see his own demise coming. But Kai just wants to rule China because that sounds good to him.

Still, "Kung Fu Panda 3" gives us just enough characterization out of new characters like the pandas and Kai that Po's struggle between finding out who he truly is and where he belongs is an enjoyable ride.


The best character development in this film is, believe it or not, Po's adopted father Mr. Ping (James Hong), who is angered and upset over the arrival of Po's biological father, to the point that he hides in his son's food on his journey to the panda village. But by the end, Mr. Ping realizes that he isn't losing Po, but allowing Po to share his love with Li, who had lost everything he ever cared about and now clings to the hope that his son is alive.

Part of me feels like the minimal characterization does not mean much, since I got exactly what I wanted out of this film either way - Beautiful and fluid martial arts fights set over the colorful China landscape, with enough humor and heart to make the kid and adult in me happy. Like the previous films, this one is visually pleasing from start to finish. From the renovated Jade Palace and its vast halls full of ancient kung-fu artifacts, to the decay spirit realm, to the hidden panda village that lies floating in the mist.


My only other complaint is that the film moves too fast at times. Just when we start to know these new characters, we're thrown right into the final battle with Kai, only a few moments after Kai's last attack. Part of this might be the short hour-and-a-half runtime, but I would have liked to see a bit more of the Panda village and watching Po and Tigress (Angelina Jolie) getting ready for a fight they feel they cannot win. Maybe if the film was 20 or 30 minutes longer, giving more time for atmosphere and tension to build up, that could have been fixed.

Overall, "Kung Fu Panda 3" might have been a downgrade from the previous installments, but this was still a blast to watch. It has everything you've come to expect from this franchise in spades. Every scene has something memorable about it, ranging from the animation, to humor, to character development and fast-paced action sequences. If you liked the first two "Kung Fu Panda" films, then you'll love this one too.

Final Grade: B+

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mini-Review - "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" (1966)


Imagine a film like "My Dinner With Andre," except instead of two old friends catching up over dinner, it is a bitter old married couple drinking all night and slowly loosing their minds. Or perhaps they had lost their minds a long time ago, and are just playing games with each other, the couple their sharing the evening with, and themselves.

"Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" might be the most uncomfortable movie I've had sat through, as two people who clearly loved each other at one time, and still seem to care for one another, deconstruct and demolish one another with bombardments of insults, blaming all of their problems and terrible and seemingly misguided lives on the other. And yet, they both come across as enjoying it. Like this is the only thing that will bring them true joy any more - insulting their other half in front of people who didn't ask for this.

We watch as this nasty and disrespectful couple become monsters in the blink of an eye. Their own need for satisfaction and self-loathing consumes them, to the point that their "game" is all that matters.

This film is driven by the performances of George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), who were married at the time this film was made and come across as letting off some personal anger on camera. George is quiet at first and intelligent about his word choice, but becomes insistent on ruining the lives of both Martha and the couple they're with as the evening wears on. As if he feels the world would explode if he didn't.

Elizabeth Taylor won her second Academy Award for her performance in this film, as she plays Martha as a woman who has had many regrets in her past and has promised to live life without any more. She refuses to let anything tie her down, including her husband, father and her previous decisions. But she is still haunted by those regrets, those choices that have ruined her life. In her eyes, most of those choices were not her doing. And that is what angers her the most.

Together, these two give a spectacle that is unsettling to watch, but I couldn't take my eyes off of it.
While "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" was originally a play, you couldn't tell by watching this, as the camera movement plays with perspective as well as any other movie out at the time. Normally, cinematography and editing is unimpressive in play-to-film adaptations, but here the black-and-white cinematography adds a creepy and unnatural atmosphere, as if we're watching an old Universal horror film.

"Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" is a mesmerizing horror-film that doesn't claim to be a horror-film. We watch as a marriage is torn to shreds, not with knives or bullets, but with insults, games and repartee. This is unlike anything I have seen before, and probably never will see anything like it again.

Final Grade: A-