THE GRINCH | Movie Review

The Grinch

by REGGIE WOLTZ

The Grinch’s 2018 comeback is to Christmas what Black Friday is to the holiday spirit: commercially perverted to the core. But what else should be expected from a family animated movie that has been promoting an updated Christmas staple since the early days of November?

Benedict Cumberbatch is the new voice of the ill-tempered but lonely Grinch, who lives a solitary life in his cave high atop a mountain that overlooks Whoville. The miserable green guy has only Max, his faithful dog and best friend, to keep him company and, other than occasional trips to Whoville to get food, has nothing to do with his neighbors in the valley.

It’s during one of his reluctant shopping trips that the Grinch encounters Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), a pig-tailed and fearless little girl with a precocious heart. For Christmas, she wants Santa to give her struggling single mother, Donna Lou Who (Rashida Jones), the break she needs and deserves. Only, Cindy Lou Who plans to trap Santa so that she can ask for her request in person.

Grinch, perturbed by family and friends gathering together to celebrate in Whoville, plans to dress up as a less-than-jolly Saint Nick to steal everything associated with the holiday and turn the town’s Christmas Day joy into grief.

In effect, our understanding of the Grinch’s motivations are the same and we get to see a little more into Cindy’s character. Sounds like a good way to add something late on so that the second half might not feel like retread! Unfortunately, albeit with a tad more set-up, the plot leads to the same Cindy and Grinch interaction and resulting events as the original version.

The Grinch does more than triple the running time of the original TV classic, which is to say this animated big-screen version is three times too long and ten times as unnecessary (much like Jim Carrey’s live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas from 2000).

Other than padding the plot, backstories for the main characters, and additional comedic relief, The Grinch is ultimately faithful to its source material. But it never improves upon it – for it may look better with more advanced animation but underneath the paint job is the same old overpacked sleigh.

Most disappointingly, the voicework, outside of Cumberbatch’s starring role, is unmemorable. Of the notable failures, Pharrell Williams replacing Boris Karloff as the story’s narrator and Tyler, the Creator’s update of Thurl Ravenscroft’s “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” amount to interesting choices by the filmmakers that, despite trying, cannot replace either of those iconic performances. The same could be said of this Grinch update itself.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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CREED II | Movie Review

CREED II

Reviewed by Reggie Woltz

While I’m still not sure Creed, with its 95 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was quite as good as everyone makes it out to be, it was certainly better than it had any right to be. What sounded like a joke—a spinoff of the Rocky series starring Apollo Creed’s son, (born out of wedlock), as he masters prizefighting under the tutelage of the Italian Stallion—was instead inventively filmed (the one-shot fight midway through the picture stands out as a brilliantly cinematic scene) and passionately performed.

Similarly, Creed II seemed like it would be a cash-in nostalgia play: newly crowned champion Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is challenged to a fight by Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and his hulking monster of a son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu). Ivan, of course, killed Adonis’s father in Rocky IV before losing to Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and losing the Cold War altogether.

Creed II could have been a silly rehash of Rocky III (a champ abandoned by his trainer because he’s unlikely to beat the physically imposing, impassioned challenger) and Rocky IV (the Russians: still bad all these years later!). But, like its predecessor, Creed II is much better than it has any right to be. And that’s almost entirely because of the work done by Lundgren and Munteanu, who make the Dragos not only sympathetic but kind of sad.

After Rocky’s humiliation of Ivan in front of the Soviet Politburo—during which the Soviet crowd literally started chanting Rocky’s name, recognizing America’s greatness and the implacability of its champions in a moment that signaled America would triumph in the Cold War once and for all—Drago was cast out of Russian society. His leaders shunned him; his people spit on him; his wife left him and Viktor. This isn’t a mission of revenge; it’s a mission of rehabilitation. Drago wants to reclaim the family name, restore their glory, and maybe even win back his wife.

It’s rare for the villains in these films to have interesting motivations. Usually they’re just guys to beat, obstacles to overcome. But the Dragos are interesting, they have a life and world all their own. And that helps Creed II transcend the sequel doldrums that afflict much of the rest of the film. Steven Caple Jr. has replaced Ryan Coogler behind the lens, and his work here is competent but not much more. Visually speaking, there’s nothing particularly compelling about the climactic fight, or anything else, really.

Michael B. Jordan remains charismatic and compelling, his expressive face and chiseled body dominating the screen. By film’s end he too is a father, worried about the world his daughter will face and the challenges she will have to overcome—and weighing what he owes to his father, the boxing great cut down by the hulking commie. Rocky, who probably gets a bit too much screen time, gumming up the momentum of the movie, is having dad problems all his own, trying to work up the courage to reconnect with his somewhat-estranged son.

Creed II sometimes barely feels like a boxing movie, and I mean that in the best way possible: It’s a film about what parents owe their children, and vice versa. The physical combat that frames these conflicts is little more than window dressing.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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FIRST MAN | Movie Reviews

FIRST MAN

by REGGIE WOLTZ

Director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash,” “La La Land”), reunites with Ryan Gosling in “First Man,” the story of Neil Armstrong. While almost everyone in the world knows of the moon landing and Armstrong’s poignant words while making history, most do not know the entire story — his tragic life and the failed missions before July 1969. “First Man” takes us on this nearly 10-year journey, allowing us into Armstrong’s private life and how this emotionally broken man could leave his mark on the world in spite of it.

We meet Armstrong in 1961 as a test pilot, skyrocketing out of the Earth’s atmosphere and back again as he narrowly escapes crashing into the peaks of mountains before skidding for miles in the Mojave Desert to a halt as he calmly radios in, “I’m down.” This, of course, elicits laughter from the audience, but this is just the first of many harrowing and stressful situations of the cool-as-a-cucumber pilot and astronaut.

What we quickly learn next is that his young daughter has a brain tumor. Her tragic death will forever change his emotional connection and fortitude. As the family moves on, with an older son and a new one on the way, Armstrong reaches for new accomplishments with NASA. He buries his feelings deep within, never addressing the elephant in the room, and plunges into his work becoming physically and emotionally absent from his wife and two sons.

The story bounces back and forth over the next several years from Armstrong’s personal life to the missions with which he is involved: the Gemini projects and then finally Apollo. The firsthand scenes are quickly paced, only portraying short pieces of their lives. We do understand Janet’s (Claire Foy) frustration and devotion, and get a glimpse into Armstrong’s guarded interactions with well-meaning colleagues attempting to be friendly.

Armstrong’s matter-of-fact personality is either very odd, or he is emotionally shut down because of the tragedy of his daughter as well as the many deaths of his co-workers. This is never really clear, and perhaps it is meant to allow you to draw your own conclusions about this man.

The film, from a technical perspective, is perfection. Chazelle draws you into the cockpit of the shuttles allowing you to feel the dizzying, confusing and breathtaking situations. He shuts us into these small spaces, eliciting a feeling of oxygen deprivation using extreme close-ups and camera angles filling the screen. These scenes, unlike the personal interactions, feel as if they take place in real time, not fast-forwarding in any way.

It might be the closest most of us get to being in an astronaut’s shoes … or should I say “boots.” And there’s a documentary, hand-held camera feel to the scenes in the shuttles, adding a layer of reality and timeliness to the film.

The technical perfection doesn’t stop with the cinematography. It is an example of precise balance in time, color and sound or lack thereof. Sound, music and silence are just as important in this film as the acting and camera work. Whether it’s background music or shockingly deafening silence, sound accentuates each and every scene. Even hearing the astronaut’s amplified, deep inhalations and exhalations, inadvertently forces you to match that rhythm, completely syncing you with the characters in the film.

We feel we are right there with Armstrong or Aldrin. We are pulled into the whir of the now-antiquated control board which is abruptly cut short as Armstrong opens the hatch to take in the enormity of the moonscape. Not a sound can be heard, and you are there with him, in a black and white vacuum, feeling small and in awe of what lies ahead.

Gosling shines as the reserved, emotionally broken and guarded American hero. He creates the man who changed history but did so with tunnel vision. It’s a complex and subdued role of great importance, one that requires subtlety and skill. While Gosling expertly portrays Armstrong, it is Foy’s portrayal as his wife, Janet, that shines. She’s strong, independent and understanding, yet she’s simultaneously shattered and in need of her husband’s absent strength and love.

Unfortunately, Armstrong’s personality is rather flat, and it is Aldrin (Corey Stoll) who enjoys the limelight and has a sense of humor, something the story truly needs.

“First Man” gives us all the back stories of the lives lost during the race to the moon. There are political statements, small pieces of information shared, opening our eyes to the past’s turmoil. It is a spectacular feat in retelling history and the journey of getting to the moon. We learn of the men who paved that path, some by laying down their own lives to make it possible. Armstrong’s story is real, if at times uninteresting and emotionally disconnected (just like the man itself), and Chazelle does his best to turn that story in to over two hours of entertainment. The film requires patience of its audience and, considering the level of dedication it took to make the real-life events happen, that is only appropriate. While we don’t get the feeling of being the first human to set foot on the moon, our experience in looking through the eyes of the actual first man is a reward unto itself. 

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.

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5G & Net Neutrality | The Future

Spaceship interior with view on the planet Earth 3D rendering el

“There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.” ~ Robert Kennedy

The midterm election on November 6, 2018 is about positioning America for the future. Our bright horizon is wide open. Real leadership will guide us onward and upward.

Trump has spent two years outlining an agenda that indicates his goal is to do a u-turn and steer America back to the 20th Century. He feels very safe in the past. His sense of security appears to be rooted in the methods that ensured his survival during the Mafia-controlled construction and development boom of the 80’s and 90’s in New York City, during which Trump’s Terminator Roy Cohn kept Trump out of jail.

But Roy Cohn is long gone. The Mafia in New York City has been sidelined. And 21st century technology changes everything. So does social media. And so will 5G.

Preparation for the 5G wave begins right now.

What is 5G? 5G (5th Generation Wireless Network) is an ultra fast and stable wireless connection to the internet with massive band widths that will remarkably lower energy consumption. This will transform home, banking, energy, transportation, entertainment, and office management capabilities…to name but a few industries. It has the potential to significantly improve the cost and effectiveness of local, state and federal governments. It will transform public education.

According to Lifewire, AT&T has tested 5G in Austin TX, Waco TX, Kalamazoo MI, and South Bend IN. AT&T and Verizon will continue their trials during the summer of 2018. 5G will expand across the country in major city by major city in 2019, and then by 2020 is expected to be available everywhere in the United States. Simultaneously, it looks like China, Japan and South Korea will be testing their 5G networks during the summer of 2018 as well. Vodafone in the UK began testing its 5G network two months ago.

The 5G rollout will launch an amazing array of new gadgets and products that will WOW American consumers and change the way we do things. Tech giants are expected to rake in billions, possibly trillions, with the 5G global transformation. Without Net Neutrality, American consumers will get the short end of the stick, paying far more for 5G and it’s services than otherwise.

Net Neutrality – an essential consumer protection in this new tech age – was wiped away by Trump and the GOP as of June 12, 2018. Consumers are now very vulnerable. So, as we head to the voting booth on November 6, 2018, it’s imperative that we understand that 5G is an “all day/ everyday” issue. It should be at the top of our list of important drivers that are compelling us to get out and vote on November 6, 2018. 5G will be the backbone of our everyday family life. Without Net Neutrality, our disposable income will be eaten up by unprecedented monthly 5G charges, or we’ll have to go without the myriad of new gadgets that will begin flooding the markets very soon.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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Of Course Trump Knew! Bank On It | Perspective

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On May 8, 2018 , stunning news broke of Michael Cohen’s shell company Essential Consultants LLC receiving millions of dollars from major US Companies, along with Russian Oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. It was apparently from these millions that Stormy Daniel’s $130,000 hush payment was made, just before the 2016 election.

In the eleven days that have followed, numerous outlets have traced the money and learned that Cohen reached out to major US companies, suggesting it would be very wise for them to drop their current consultants and replace with Essential Consultants. Cohen convinced many corporate contacts that he had the closest ties to President Trump.

Now the big question everyone is asking is whether Trump knew about Cohen’s solicitations and receipt of the millions, particularly Russian Oligarch Vkselberg, who’s on the US sanctions list. Cohen claims “No.” Giuliani asserts “No.” Trump emphatically states “No, I knew nothing.”

Mueller’s investigators are certainly way out in front on this; they’ve likely been tracing the money for six months, and must have an abundance of documentation that when lined up, can divulge answers.

When Mueller’s investigators kicked off this phase of their investigation though, they had to begin with a reasonable hypothesis, which is preceded by a pointed question: Did Trump know what Michael Cohen was doing? (Simple YES or NO; I say YES). Better yet, was Trump the one who suggested Cohen set-up Essential Consultants LLC to raise easy money that would keep Trump financed/protected from all the people he’d wronged? (Simple YES or NO; I say YES).

My certainty that Trump knew is based on the pre-release leaked excerpts of James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty.

“Flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.” ~ James Comey, ‘A Higher Loyalty’

I believe the pre-release excerpts of Comey’s A Higher Loyalty are the equivalent of bolding and underlining the most significant passages in the book, indicating that Trump uses similar techniques, and has similar behaviors, as a Mob Boss.

Can anyone picture a Mob Boss not knowing what his underlings were doing, especially when it’s a matter of hustling for staggering sums of cash all because of a close personal connection to the Mob Boss? Seems pretty clear that if the “Head of the Family” wasn’t aware, and then found out after the fact, the hustler would be annihilated.

Ergo, Trump knew. Investigators can bank on it. And when they do, they’ll most assuredly find a rich trail of proof.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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Is Trump Plotting Blue Wave Upset By Lobbying For Nobel Prize? | Perspective

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The Greatest Con Man on earth is the master of smoke and mirrors. He invented some of the most bewildering tricks in the book. The Art of the Deal outlines a whole series of Trump’s trademark schemes that stun and amaze. Making a $150 million net worth  appear to be $5 billion. Disappearing tax returns so roving eyes can’t question Trump’s financial connections to Russian oligarchs.

On Tuesday May 8, 2018, as voters headed to the polls in three states to cast ballots in the primary election, Paul Ryan made a panicked announcement from the mountain top, warning that if the GOP loses the House on November 6, 2018, the Democrats will come in and remove Trump from office.

Exactly!

Trump is in panic mode. He’s combing through his massive collection of effective stunts, that have worked wonders for five decades, and is fine-tuning his timeline to November 6th.

It appears Trump’s been laying the groundwork for what he hopes will be the Nobel Peace Prize, to be announced in October 2018, just prior to the midterm elections. He envisions (and thus plots) that winning the Nobel Peace Prize a few weeks before election day will upset the BLUE WAVE that is projected to sweep the GOP majority out of Congress, and Trump fears…. land him in jail.

The Greatest Con Man on earth isn’t going to let that happen. He has to plot BIG! His grandiose solution is to win the Nobel Peace prize.

The first few steps of Trump’s timeline are already underway:

  • January 11 , 2018, trump stated, “The United States needs more immigrants from Norway, not s**thole countries like Haiti.” The Nobel Office is in Oslo, Noway. Trump is trying to butter up to Norway the day after he met with Norway’s Prime Minister in Washington.
  • North Korea and Russia are allies. The only person more afraid of the Blue Wave than Trump… is Putin. Putin knows how to “inspire” an evil ally like Kim Jong-Un into playing along with this charade for a good cause, that of maintaining Putin’s iron grip on America.
  • Putin, Trump and Kim Jong-Un will win an Academy Award for this blockbuster performance that will take place in Singapore in June. Stay tuned…

Meanwhile, the one most deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 is France’s Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron. He’s been a noble and heroic leader, working round the clock with all the US allies to maintain stability in the world while Trump is in overdrive maliciously working to destabilize the globe.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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Black Panther | DoubleTake by REGGIE WOLTZ

Not Another Superhero Movie

by REGGIE WOLTZ

The Black Panther is not a movie so much as it is a statement. Released in the dead of Black History Month with mountains of hype and molehills of controversy, nothing surrounding it happened by coincidence. At a time when racial and political tensions have hit fever pitches, there are few occasions for synthesis between opposing mindsets as enjoyable as this film. Whether it will succeed in bringing people together is the only question.

If there are any serious issues with this movie, they are more endemic to its genre than anything. Up to this point in its cinematic universe, Marvel Studios has released 17 films. After so many origin stories and sequels, it would seem impossible for its eighteenth to present its viewers with anything they haven’t seen before. And while this film is essentially a retread of Hamlet’s plot, it executes its trajectory with enough style and substance to allow the audience to see past its predictability. In any case, I’d rather be introduced to a new character by a version of Hamlet and The Lion King over another Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor-style backstory.

The style that makes The Black Panther so striking is perhaps director Ryan Coogler’s most outstanding achievement. The soundtrack indicatively switches between vibrant streaks of African tribal music and American hip hop as its central characters rise to prominence; and even combines the two in the heat of their climactic battle.

As much as the auditory elements play into the story, the visual components are what truly stand out. Afrofuturism is on heavy display, from smaller artistic choices in costumes and sets to more easily apparent influences in the Vibranium technology and insanely detailed capital city of Wakanda. Certain scenes in the movie feel like small celebrations of African culture, and the blend between tribal ways of life and science fiction creates a feel for the movie that is wholly unique unto itself. The style ends up seeming like Blade Runner, but with more soul and less bleakness. Considering how Blade Runner set trends for the cyberpunk aesthetic, hopefully this movie inspires more Afrofuturism in subsequent films.

Beyond the style that Coogler sets out to create, The Black Panther also benefits from characterization that one wouldn’t expect from a Marvel movie. Aside from its stars, the supporting cast is deep and talented. Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Angela Bassett form a quartet of powerful women that give tinges of feminine triumph to the film. Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke and Sterling K. Brown give quietly colorful performances as characters that are far more complex than their limited screen time lets on.  Martin Freeman does well as the lost CIA agent, constantly getting one-upped by Wright’s character to humorous effect, and even gets us to care for his starkly contrasted character as he finds redemption in the final act. The most impactful supporting performance, however, belongs to Andy Serkis’s villain who is equal parts manic, threatening, and pure fun to watch.

This movie succeeds on so many levels, but the real heart of it is its leading actors, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan. Boseman is unassuming as the eponymous Black Panther a.k.a. King T’Challa, feeling like someone who hasn’t truly found his identity after the death of his father. As the film goes on and T’Challa comes to grips with the reality that his isolationist nation and imperfect father has set upon him, this identity convincingly develops into that of a confident and beneficent ruler. The conflict within Wakanda’s king is one of the movie’s most fascinating subplots, creating a personal burden of both country and race that presents an impossible choice.

The character that represents the flip side to the noble king is Michael B. Jordan’s cocksure villain, Erik Killmonger. Very seldom do movies give true justifications for the actions of its villain, but The Black Panther instead revels in relaying such complexity at the center of its plot. In effect, Killmonger only seems like the bad guy to T’Challa’s good guy the way Malcom X is against Martin Luther King, Jr. The parallels are definite: Malcom X and Killmonger both seek to stand up and retaliate against their people’s oppression while King, Jr. and T’Challa prefer a more peaceful and patient approach. Nobody is actually right or wrong here. The wrongs have already been done and these two characters simply have different approaches to dealing with them.

If it isn’t what Killmonger represents that makes him such an important character and the Marvel Universe’s best villain, it’s what the movie itself illustrates. This isn’t a superhero movie. It’s a hypothetical situation regarding how an oppressed race could better itself if given the resources to do so. The protagonist takes the high road and the antagonist takes the same road that the ones who transgressed in the first place took. By creating this disparity and placing the binary star system that is Boseman and Jordan in the middle of it, The Black Panther transcends what a superhero movie, or even a film in general, can be and asks the audience this impossible question. That it looks like a superhero movie is only so that lots of people can watch it and have this question asked to them. The underlying reality exists after leaving the theater, even if the solution to it (still waiting on that Vibranium meteorite) does not.

The Black Panther certainly stands apart from rest the Marvel Universe, which is infused with attempts to fill our eyes while leaving our stomachs empty. The Black Panther gives us a balanced diet of eye candy and food for thought, enough to leave you satisfied well after your two-and-a-half hours in the theater are up. As a result, the only thing I want more than for Wakanda to actually exist is for future movies to follow suit and realize that pleasing the masses doesn’t have to be an exercise in killing brain cells.

Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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The Shape of Water | DoubleTake by REGGIE WOLTZ

The Shape of Water
by REGGIE WOLTZ

A Study in Teal

Movies can be used to tell all kinds of stories. From realist dramas to fantastical science fiction, the versatility of the medium is well-documented. Usually a certain genre prescribes a set of expectations to its plot. Romantic comedies have two people fall in and out of love, only to come back together in the end. Film noir sees its heroic detective tempted by a femme fatale in the midst of a tense investigation. Villains in horror movies kill the black guy first.  Oftentimes, filmmakers can blend genres to create their own presence, separating themselves from any expectations the audience might have.

Guillermo del Toro’s films exist on an entirely different plane. His movies don’t just blend genres, they redefine them. The best descriptor for his movies that I can come up with is “fairy tale filmmaking.” Now, these aren’t original projects so much as they are a unique spin on classic stories about things that go bump in the night. The Devil’s Backbone and Crimson Peak are del Toro’s modern retellings of ghost stories, Pacific Rim is his idea of a monster flick, and Pan’s Labyrinth is basically Alice in Wonderland, just set during the Spanish Civil War. To the naked eye, these films may seem just like the dozens of horror and fantasy movies that come out every year. But, beyond that, there is a depth to del Toro’s work that other filmmakers seldom, if ever, are able to match.

So what is the element in these movies that separate them from their counterparts? Well, it’s actually two elements: aesthetic and heart. Horror movies can scare your pants off just fine. We watch them for the same reason that we ride roller coasters, to get the adrenaline pumping and feel a sense of controlled terror that we can’t get from our daily lives.  Sure, del Toro can pull this off effectively, but he is ultimately interested in a more meaningful experience. He would rather draw us into a vibrant world with characters that are complex and worth rooting for, while delivering a moral for us to take home.

The Shape of Water is the epitome of these intentions. At its core, this movie is Beauty and the Beast with protagonists that can’t speak. However, the lush appearance of its setting, the personalities of its characters, and the incredible amount of heart behind it make the film so much more.

Just as Guillermo del Toro is an anomaly of a film maker, his characters in Shape of Water are also misfits. The magnetic Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute janitor in a secret government lab, where she meets, falls in love with, and attempts to save a humanoid amphibian known only as “The Asset.” She is unable to connect with others to a large degree, making the relationships that she does have incredibly fascinating. Particularly her interactions with the Asset are little experiences of their own, culminating in a number of evocative scenes that are heartening and eye-catching in equal measures.

The dynamic between these two is an anomaly in its own right. Whereas most movies that center on a relationship will temper the beauty of love with the inevitable struggles that come with it, del Toro leaves his film’s romance pure and uncut. Rather than seeming unrealistic, this has the effect of allowing his film to remain emotionally potent throughout. Of course, if the two characters would have been able to talk, they would have broken up after three months of arguing over what kind of food to get for dinner. But that’s another story.

Hawkins is backed up by fantastic supporting performances from Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Stuhlbarg. These characters really drive home the point of misfits trying to make their way through life.

Jenkins portrays an aged gay man in the Cold War-era United States, when alternative sexuality wasn’t exactly an accepted concept. Spencer plays a coworker of Esposito’s that serves as her sign language translator and treats her as a therapist, constantly talking Elisa’s ear off about her loveless marriage. Stuhlbarg plays a scientist in the government lab who works as a secret operative for the Russians but whose true allegiances lay in trying to learn from and protect his pet project at a time when everything must be done for the good of his nation and not himself. These characters are all oddities, stuck in a time that does not support their unique ideals, and yet they come together to create a happy ending for Elisa.

The holistic dedication to this theme is the true core of this film and the emotional satisfaction that comes thanks to del Toro’s efforts is what will stick with you after leaving the theater. But that is not to say that sensory experience of the film is any less effective.

The combination of Baltimore and the Cold War as a setting is not one that brings to mind a gorgeous atmosphere. And yet, del Toro creates just that through his imaginative use of colors (you have never seen teal like this before) and camera work. In a film where words are at somewhat of a premium, The Shape of Water’s visually storytelling picks up the slack and then some. The audience is hypnotically drawn in and carried on the shoulders of its characters all the way from the underground laboratory to the docks of Baltimore’s harbor until we are baptized in the beauty of the film’s conclusion.

Despite the brilliance of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s real magnum opus is The Shape of Water. It perfects what del Toro has been honing for years, telling a fantastical story with stunning visuals and enough heart to cause cardiac arrhythmia. Despite the predictability of its plot, you feel for its characters and are easily swept up in its visual splendor. It is a more beautiful and beastly Beauty and the Beast, and yet stands alone as utterly unique—just like the masterful filmmaker behind it.

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Three Billboards | DoubleTake by REGGIE WOLTZ

Reality Show

by REGGIE WOLTZ

The idea that art imitates life is a fairly simple concept. Artists seek to express themselves and their creativity, doing so comes as a reflection of their internal uniqueness and external environment.  Whether it’s a love song, Shakespearean tragedy, or landscape painting, art is a peek at the world through the eyes of its maker.

Movies have enormous potential in their capability to imitate life. The experience, being both visual and auditory, allows the viewer to more completely immerse themselves in the world of the filmmaker. As a result, many films are made as an escape from our real lives into a new reality with different possibilities. The popularity of superhero franchises, space operas, and animated films is an open-armed acceptance of this. While the widespread propensity to spend more time escaping reality than examining it is slightly unsettling, these movies are still tethered to real life by having characters with human qualities, just with their limitations removed.

And then we have Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, whose intention isn’t to fly you to another universe, but rather to bring you back down to Earth so hard that you’ll end up in the planet’s core.  The events of the film are essentially the continued aftermath of a rape and murder that has gone unsolved for six months. There’s no true conflict here, all villains are temporary, and the ending resolves to leave it all unresolved. In fact, the true journey of this film is the development of the characters as they live out their screen time.

Much of what makes this movie feel so genuine is its emotional impact. The character performances are beautifully entertaining and allow the movie to switch between equally effective streaks of comedy and tragedy. The tonal shifts between being light- and heavy-hearted were striking, culminating in certain scenes that hit like that of being thrown out of a second story window.

The remainder of Three Billboards’ effectiveness comes from the lives and personalities of its characters. Even extremely minor parts are given unique material from an outstanding script that also paints all of its leads in multiple dimensions. This film intentionally sacrifices having a tight focus with its themes to create the best portrayal of real life as it can. Reality is an open-ended flow of chaotic cause and effect, full of unique people experiencing joy and pain. That is also exactly what this movie is.

This point is perfectly exemplified in the film’s final moments. We get Frances McDormand’s Mildred and Sam Rockwell’s Dixon driving off to serve some sweet vigilante justice to a guy who definitely raped and murdered someone, although the crime was unrelated to what happened to Mildred’s daughter. The scene cuts after they admit their uncertainty about hurting someone and before any action is taken. The two characters are trying to give themselves a significant action to deal with their problems, but the real resolution is each of them finding someone to share those problems with.

Three Billboards is a great film because of how well it captures the essence of life. Everyone has their own pain and tribulations to go through. They come into conflict or harmony based on this, often in momentary interactions that transform each individual as time passes. The movie doesn’t seek to answer any deep questions up front, but does so between the lines. So, the ultimate question is: if art imitates life, what do we call something that virtually is life?

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.

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Get Out | DoubleTake by REGGIE WOLTZ

The Risen Place

by REGGIE WOLTZ

*SPOILERS*

When you have seen enough movies, it gets easier to tell the difference between gold and pyrite. Sure, the quality of a film is hard to define from the ground-up. Because of the bevy of base components that movies have to work with (from sensory elements like visuals and audio to more cerebral tools such as story complexity, character performance and development, and creative narrative devices), they do not always operate on the same plane. But there has to be a way to equalize these works despite their differences in material and style. One of the methods that I use to achieve this end is to judge the intentionality in the films that I watch.

Get Out is an incredibly intentional movie. It has a sense of being obsessively well thought out thanks to the ample servings of detail in each scene. The re-watchable factor is strong here; the twists in the story beg you to go back and analyze the characters in a new light that completely transforms entire portions of the film.

Perhaps the best focal point for the second time around is Allison Williams’ Rose Armitage. She is the physical embodiment of a plot twist, so all of her scenes in the first half of the film become inherently significant. One example is when she stops the policeman from looking at her boyfriend’s I.D.—she isn’t doing it to stick up for him, but rather so that there would be no trail of evidence. It is little scenes like this, with definable double meanings, that elevate the story beyond the linear and noncreative narratives of its counterparts.

The fact that this movie holds up to reexamination without creating plot holes is great, but Get Out doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t want to be watched just twice, but as many times as possible before you start to feel like you’ve entered the sunken place. What keeps you coming back for that third time is the real strength of this film, its allegorical focus and clarity.

Director Jordan Peele isn’t exactly subtle in his approach to tackling the issue of race. He sets his tone from the opening scene, in which he turns what would be an innocuous setting for many viewers, an affluent suburb, into an unsettling labyrinth where only white people are safe. It is also here that he sets up his most potent thematic element with the diegetic song, “Run Rabbit Run.”

With the overhanging discomfort that comes from the interaction between Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose’s family and friends, it could be hard to create an undercurrent that deals with the race more poignantly. And yet, Peele does exactly this by juxtaposing the idea that black people are nothing but wild game to the whites with Chris’s sense of guilt over his inaction with the death of his mother.

This interplay is evident in a number of scenes, the most obvious of them being when Chris empathizes with the dying deer, the surgery pre-op, and when Chris hits the family maid (Rose’s grandmother) with a car and then decides to save her. These scenes ground Chris in the reality that the Armitages see him as prey, which he then transcends by dealing with his internal problems and finding the resolve to both kill and save—proving he is more than an animal. As such, Get Out gives proper trajectories to both the theme and Chris’s character and allows itself to end with a more direct message than just “White people are f****** crazy!”

For any director, let alone a first-timer, what Peele has pulled off is remarkable. Cutting through all of the noise with a definitive point is something that few movies attempt and even fewer accomplish. Furthermore, there are so many Easter eggs and smaller motifs in the movie that a viewer will be able to pick up on new things even after having seen it three times.

I really can’t say enough about this movie. Get Out blends suspense, comedy, and horror like none other. Peele gives his actors and actresses plenty to work with and draws great performances from each of them. The story is tight and yet filled with enough detail to make you actually want to re-watch it. And while the film may not have done much to reconcile the complex relationship between blacks and whites in America, it still did the impossible: gave us a reason to like TSA agents.

 

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.

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