Archives for December 2015

Closing Out 2015

This has been an interesting year to say the least. While it might not have been reflected in my blog posts, I have in fact seen a lot of films. And that is what I want this, my last blog post for 2015 (New York Time) to be dedicated to … giving a shout out to a couple of films I saw (and enjoyed) but for whatever reason, failed to give just due to here on iluvcinema.

Miles Ahead. Saw this on Closing Night of 2015’s New York Film Festival. Written, directed (his debut) by and starring Don Cheadle, this Miles Davis story was definitely a passion project. In recounting the film, I refrain from using the term biopic because Miles Ahead takes a rather atypical look at the artist’s life. It is an entertaining combination of a “day in the life” narrative, mixed with expositional flashbacks, all delivered with humor, drama, imagination and, music (of course). Do not worry if you think you missed it, because you haven’t; you will get a chance to see this one in 2016 as it is scheduled for release on April 1st in the United States – no foolin’.

Image credit: New York Film Festival

Image credit: New York Film Festival

 

Macbeth. Directed by Australian director Justin Kurzel (who also is also at the helm of star Michael Fassbender’s forthcoming project Assassin’s Creed), Macbeth was an inventive and engaging take on the Shakespearean tragedy. The accents from the non-Scottish talent may have been amiss at times, but maybe it was my overly sensitive ears. In the end, it mattered little really. After I readjusted myself to the sounds and construction of Shakespeare’s English, I was totally taken in by the stunning performances of Macbeth (Fassbender) and his Lady (Marion Cotillard). This presentation of the time-honored tale of “bloody ambition run amuck” felt fresh and inspired – the quiet unraveling in the midst the chaos of murder, etc. was an interesting thing to watch unfold. Also, for various reasons of late, I have become a great admirer of the rugged, beautiful Scottish landscape. And this film only deepened that appreciation (in other words it was beautifully shot).

macbeth2

 

That’s all folks! Hope you had fun at the cinema in 2015. And here is hoping for more good times in 2016!

995575-cinema

 

 

Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Stays Woke

Usually I would not bother to flag this as a spoiler free post because I generally attempt to leave out major plot details in my reviews, but in this case, I guess I will.

If you have come this far and are still curious about my thoughts, just know that you are in a safe place here with i luv cinema. Granted, I cannot prevent your being spoiled from happening elsewhere (say in the Comments section of a totally unrelated ESPN.com article about LeBron James … yes this happened to someone I know).

But I digress – on with the show….

After a little over a day to compose my thoughts, I can easily say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens easily ranks among the top two for me in the whole Star Wars franchise (the other being The Empire Strikes Back).

Photo is property of Lucasfilm, Ltd.

Photo is property of Lucasfilm, Ltd.

Here are some reactions/observations in the aftermath of watching Episode 7, a film many a fan has waited over 30 years to see:

  • I legit cried AT LEAST 5 times. Yeah you read that correctly. ILC’s heart turned to pure mush during some key – and not so key – moments. A combination of nostalgia and excitement left my emotional compass all over the shop. In the midst of my teary spells there were moments of levity and cheeky humor to be had.
  • Let’s be real – whether we realized it then or admit to it now, many of us who loved Star Wars as children (and adults) certainly detected the intergalactic camp on display. In fact, that is part of the appeal of these original films, for me anyway. While Episode 7 is chiefly devoid of any egregious flights of fancy, there are a few developments that may leave you asking questions. Please don’t take this as a criticism, because it is not. Just keep in mind there is no greater realm for the suspension of disbelief than what science fiction has to offer. Just go with it! Heck, if we can deal with crossbow-wielding teddy bears dancing around in a forest, I think you will be good. And in case you are wondering, there is nothing along those lines in The Force Awakens.
  • Okay so maybe slightly spoilery, (maybe this is actually proving I have NO idea of the finer details of what constitutes a spoiler nowadays) but I genuinely felt a sense of peril for our heroes … When you are in a galaxy far, far away you always know that the conflict between the dark and light side of The Force to contend with, but there is always the hope that the good guys (our good guys) will come out on top. During key scenes when our protagonists were on the run, I really felt the sense of dread and doom. It was an exhilarating and fun thing to experience.
  • Who woulda thunk at the beginning of 2015 that two of my favorite films of the year would be science fiction films featuring Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson. A very satisfying observation. That is all.
  • Newcomers can get the job done. Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) are so cute as our lead pair. Outside of the film, I cannot imagine the mixed emotions Ridley and Boyega are experience being thrust into this whirlwind. But from what I can tell in interviews and various appearances, they have been managing it quite well. One thing that may work to their advantage is the production schedule for Episode 8 (scheduled for release in 2017). This means that soon, they will re-enter the protective bubble that filming a secretive project offers. Side Note: I had a weird moment wowza! when I realized that their character names were Rey and Finn. Totally, if only momentarily, this realization gave me some My Mad Fat Diary feels. If you know that show, I suggest you find a way to catch it … Side Side Note: A chemistry test that translated to the screen – yeah!
  • JJ Abrams is masterful with taking the franchises of his (and my) generation and tapping into a kind of retrospective zeitgeist that makes them accessible to our adult sensibilities as well as those for a new generation. THAT takes skill – bravo!

So yeah I really, really liked Star Wars: Episode 7 (The Force Awakens). I hope that is endorsement enough.

Have you seen it? Let me know what you think!

The Runaway Success of the Ava DuVernay Barbie (& Why It’s So Important)

ava duvernay barbie

This is about as close I (and many) will be getting to this doll….

Earlier this year when Mattel launched their Sheroes one-off doll series, made to celebrate Variety Magazine’s Power of Women Luncheon honorees, a lot of buzz was generated around the inclusion of filmmaker Ava DuVernay (director of indie gem Middle of Nowhere and 2014’s critically-acclaimed but awards overlooked Selma).  Along with Trisha Yearwood, Sydney “Mayhem” Keiser, Emmy Rossum, Kristin Chenoweth and Eva Chen, the dolls were created to raise money for various charities.

When word got out about the dolls and Ms DuVernay’s likeness being captured in particular, consumers took to social media, demanding that the doll be made available for public purchase. Well, fast forward almost eight months later and a sign that Mattel heard the roar of the masses – yesterday the company announced that the doll would be available for sale on Monday (today) through their website: barbiecollection.com, with the proceeds going to charity.

Well here on the East Coast, Monday has come and nearly gone and well, so has the Ava DuVernay Barbie doll. After a prompt from my college roommate, I slunk away and attempted to pre-order first on the aforementioned Barbie website and then on Amazon.com, only to get shunted on both counts. I investigated and the doll was, in fact, completely sold out. And I could not be happier.

Although sales have declined in recent years, for many women my age (high, low and in-between), Barbie is a well-remembered part of our childhood.  For better or worse, Barbie did symbolize a sort of rite of passage for me anyway. That said, among the chief complaints about the dolls concerns their fetishization, exaggeration and misrepresentation of the female form and the product line’s lack of diversity.

As someone who has collected select Barbie dolls over the years, I generally follow the development of new lines and dolls as they come in. To their credit, it seems that Mattel has attempted to address some of these criticisms, all in an effort to keep up with the times, and by consequence, keep its place on shelves in doll sections around the world.

Enter Ava DuVernay. Flush off the success of Selma and with rumors swirling about her involvement in a Marvel MCU franchise (Black Panther), her profile has surely been raised in 2015. But neither Mattel nor I could have predicted that the demand would be so great. But what does this mean?

Simply stated – Representation Matters.  Of course there are those professional collectors who see this most limited of editions as a gold mine – but they have always been here and will continue to seize any new opportunity. However I suspect a larger portion of those who laid down their $65.00 today are people like me and my friend, women of color who are over the moon to see a creative powerhouse like DuVernay getting her just due and consider getting the doll as a way of celebrating her accomplishments and showing our support. We also recognize and understand how much of an inspiration she can be for young girls who will now know who she is and hopefully see a new world of possibilities open up to them.

Mattel and Barbie have been moving forward and made it their mission to expand Barbie’s world and imbue her with the traits and characteristics that will serve to inspire girls who play with the dolls to someday aim high.

This is an excellent step in that direction.

 

 

Trailer Trash (Talking) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

So yeah I watched this trailer. My initial thoughts?

  1. Well, I did not laugh this time – that is definitely a plus. When I saw the teaser that was released earlier this year before a film I do not even recall now (maybe Age of Ultron?), was left in tears. The trailer was dark, the voices were mumbled and I had not a clue what was going on.
  2. At least I know what the story is about vaguely. Yeah I know teasers are just that – their objective is to tantalize you enough that you want to know more. But as I stated in item #1 the teaser did not do anything for me.  In fact it initially left me confused. I was like, Where is Lex Luthor? Thankfully this fuller trailer answered that for me.
  3. Why so dark? Again, fully aware that DC’s comic universe is definitely a little bleaker than Marvel-land. Seems like that trend of contrasting styles is continuing in each respective cinematic universe. Side note: kind of funny these dissimilar styles especially when one considers that on television/Netflix the reverse is true with Marvel seemingly going shades darker with programming such as Jessica Jones and Daredevil while DC has gone the CW route with family-friendly Arrow and The Flash.
  4. Wonder … Wonder Woman. Have not been following this production schedule so don’t really know how big a role Wonder Woman actually has in film. There seems to be a lot of ground that needs to be covered in the whole Superman v Batman squaring off, and that says nothing about the insertion of Mr LOOTOUR into the fray.
  5. What is Batman thinking? I get it. You are mad at the damage caused by Superman vs General Zod. But really? Squaring off against an alien? Am curious to see how that works out for him. But it does seem like, according to the trailer, Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is telling him he needs to stop and think for a precious moment.

Ultimately still up in the air about whether or not I am going to see it in the theater …

BMvSM

Who am I fooling? Sure I am gonna catch this, even if I am bracing for disappointment.

So what are your thoughts?

Slightly Incongruous Thoughts on TWD 6A

Editor’s note: Although I have had occasion to wax un-poetically about some of the television I enjoy, the original plan was not to post this review here on my main blog. However, as I started to write, it became a little longer than I had planned so please indulge me and hopefully enjoy my take on season 6A of The Walking Dead.

walkers on parade

Walkers on Parade. Photo credit: AMC Networks.

Well it is early December and we are at the midday point of the sixth season of The Walking Dead.

At this point in the season and the show at large, folks like me will begin to Monday quarterback what we have seen over the past eight weeks, casting a critical eye and waiting with bated breath for the first signs of fatigue for a show that for the last few years appeared to show no signs of slowing down; a challenge with this or any show that has had a decent run, is to keep the stories and characters fresh. This keeps the audience on their toes, begging for more and wanting to see what is in store for the not-so-merry band of zombie apocalypse survivors.

Onto my thoughts. While it definitely had its noteworthy moments and really good episodes, overall season 6A definitely tested the limits of my patience when watching a show live week-to-week. The pacing and plotting was a bit up and down and I felt like we spent an unnecessary amount of time with people (read most of the Alexandrians) whose collective fate I was not all that concerned about (sorry).

Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

And then there was the whole ‘Glenn Death’ thing, which I will not delve into simply because a large part of the fumble with this story arc would us meta*, and I just want to stick with the narrative as I saw it occur on my screen.

Allow me a sec to jump back before I move forward onto the episode that wrapped up the first eight episodes, Start to Finish. As you watched the episode, you were certain to pick up the title being said in dialogue (by a dying Deanna Monroe, played by force of nature Tovah Feldshuh), but for the general population, the title may have also incorrectly signaled a conclusion to this chapter of the story, kind of the way that Coda from last season did. Fast forward to a year later and that is not exactly how it played out here. By the end of the 43-minute run time, we were left with poor, ill-fated Sam calling out to his seemingly unaware mother, “Mom. Mom. Mom.” And then … fade to black! Wait, what? That’s it? Yes indeed, that was it.

Now I will say that this was not a bad episode by any stretch; it was a pretty solid one with a cliffhanger. But it was not what we have come to expect in our “midseason finale.”  And therein lies the problem.

The way the television universe currently operates, we as an audience are hungry for the next earth-shattering “OMG” moment/water cooler conversation talking points (usually triggered by the demise of a major character). Actually this is not so different than in times past – but the proliferation of social media highlights and magnifies the audience’s reaction and engagement with what they are consuming. When we get that moment, great, when we are less than satisfied with the payoff or lack thereof, cue the rotten tomatoes. Add to this the contrivance known as the midseason hiatus and you have the potential recipe for a momentum killer.

Because of this weeks/months long break within a season, we for all intents and purposes now have TWO seasons, which for me, sets an expectation of each part being neatly book-ended as much as possible – not necessarily a full conclusion, but more like we have a nice balance of resolution in some areas and a few breadcrumbs that will leave us curious enough to come back for more. Did 6A do that for me? Read on to the end to find out. But before that …

… here are a couple of other points worth mentioning. They serve as counterpoints to my argument presented above and I hope offer some perspective:

1) Giving You (TWD) the Benefit of the Doubt. Hell, the show is in its 6th season, has redunkulous ratings, a loyal, passionate fanbase and makes tons of money for AMC. That is a lot of televisual capital in the bank. So maybe, just maybe the creatives can be given some leeway to spend some of that goodwill in trying out new ways to entertain the audience? Say spend seven of the first eight episodes looking at 24-36 hr window from multiple perspectives? It is definitely ambitious storytelling to be sure. But a key is to make sure it is tight. In this instance, as I watched and re-watched it felt like a case of being locked in and committed to a storytelling device to the point where it may be a liability to the actual story. We won’t know for sure until late March/early April 2016, which leads to my next point ….

2) The Long Run. Right now, I am confident that by episode 16 (yeah I know), there will be a narrative payoff that will present a completely satisfying picture at the end. I do feel like the ability to effectively implement this “long game” approach to storytelling is a clear advantage a pay cable show such as Game of Thrones has in creating its arcs for a season. Not only are the producer given essentially a full hour (usually falls in the 50-55 minute range), but the show runs for a consecutive 10 weeks (give or take a holiday). So even while the season is shorter, GoT is able to get through its story without the concern of going on an overly long hiatus. Unfortunately, when you try a similar format on a show with a pretty long hiatus, the result is well, TWD 6A.

Enough of that; now onto 6B. Simply stated, I am really looking forward to the back half. I have a vague understanding of what may lie ahead and as I said above; with it comes the promise of a narrative payoff in both the short and long term. Beyond that, I am so invested in the characters it would take a whole hell of a lot to get me to turn away and not look back.

In other words, that means come Valentine’s Day, you will know where to find me … nestled comfortably in my bed, hot cocoa at the ready, and tuned into AMC.

Finally a Valentine's Day to look forward to. (Photo Credit: AMC Networks)

Finally a Valentine’s Day to look forward to.(Photo Credit: AMC Networks)

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* Speaking of meta, there was also the prologue for 6B that inconveniently aired during the first ad break of AMC’s latest venture, Into the Badlands. I think if the scene aired post credits (like most of these have done in the past) it would have worked to the episode’s favor. But again this is kinda meta, but it is something worth thinking about.