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Old 11-06-2016, 09:37 PM   #1
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Celluloid Critiques 2016

more pics and video on my blog: The Eagle Huntress Soars!

The Eagle Huntress


Recently, the United Nations picked a fictional character with a sketchy history, Wonder Woman, as an honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls. I say sketchy because decades prior to Lynda Carter bringing some much-needed gravitas to Princess Diana of Themyscira, the feminist superhero was sometimes portrayed in submissive bondage artwork. Certainly, society has come a long way. I have no doubt the upcoming Gal Gadot Wonder Woman movie will be one parents can, and should, take their daughters to see. However, for a real-life slice of girl power, if it’s playing anywhere near I would highly recommend that anybody take the young ladies in their life to see Otto Bell’s documentary The Eagle Huntress.

In the Altai mountains, 13-year old Mongolian Kazakh Aisholpan dreams of following in 12 generations of tradition by learning to hunt with golden eagles. Sounds like a great aspiration, except for one little detail…she lacks a Y chromosome. While her father Nurgaiv is willing to break the heterogametic homogeneity of eagle hunting, many of the elders do not share his progressive thought. More than that, they don’t share Nurgaiv’s boundless love for his daughter. At its core, this movie is not only about a young girl defying tradition. This movie is about a daughter who adores her father for all that he teaches her and a father who returns that adoration by passing down an ancient art, much to the chagrin of his peers. Young Aisholpan loves learning, whether it be getting straight A’s in school or acquiring the skills to hunt with an apex predator. Nurgaiv doesn’t see his daughter’s gender alone. He also sees her strong spirit. She isn’t the only girl capable of becoming an eagle hunter, but sometimes it takes a golden child to be the first to break through barriers.

Aisholpan and golden eagle


Not only is this documentary a wonderful story, it’s a wonder to behold. The cinematography is Oscar worthy. Sadly, as a small documentary The Eagle Huntress will probably come and go without enough people seeing it to cause the buzz needed to generate Academy Award buzz. Perhaps it will settle for a Best Documentary nomination. Some of the visuals in this movie caused audible gasps in the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas (NYC) crowd with which I saw it. Name any CGI-fest out there, and I love those kind of movies too, The Eagle Huntress dazzles just as much with its landscapes and the deft skills of cinematographer Simon Niblett.

Aisholpan


I can’t recommend The Eagle Huntress highly enough. Sadly, it’s limited release will mean only those in certain areas will have easy access to go see it. However, if you can’t see it in the theater, check it out later on Netflix, Google Play, Amazon, iTunes or whatever platform you prefer. If you do go to see it, and if you take young children with you, keep in mind that Aisholpan is training to hunt with golden eagles. The key word is hunt. While no eagles were shown harmed in the movie, the same cannot be said of the prey the eagles are trained to kill. This documentary is rated G, but keep in mind that the word “Huntress” is in the title. That said, The Eagle Huntress gets a rating of “EXCELLENT” from me…and I didn’t even get to mention until now that it has narration by Star Wars: The Force Awakens actress Daisy Ridley!

with family and director Otto Bell


with actress and narrator, Daisy Ridley
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Old 11-06-2016, 11:57 PM   #2
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more pics and video on my blog: Lupita Nyong’o Shines In Disney’s Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe


Unfortunately, this review of Disney’s Queen of Katwe comes as its theatrical run is ending. However, as I only just launched my movie review website with a review of Otto Bell’s documentary The Eagle Huntress, I thought it was fitting that I share my thoughts about another film brimming with girl power that I saw recently. Queen of Katwe is not a documentary, it is a scripted drama about the real-life rise of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi. The film stars newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Phiona and David Oyelowo (Selma, The Butler) as her chess coach Robert Katende. But it is the direction of Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding) and a bravura supporting performance by Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Phiona’s mother, Nakku Harriet, that uplifts the entire production.

David Oyelowo and Madina Nalwanga


If there is a line of dialogue to remember from Queen of Katwe, it’s the one that appears in the trailer, “…in chess, the small one can become the big one…” In the beginning, young Phiona Mutesi is but a pawn, a young girl with few options in her slum of Katwe, Uganda. However, like many living in poverty her problem is not lack of ability. It is lack of opportunity. With the proper guidance, in the person of Robert Katende, this diamond in the rough can realize her potential and grow from a pawn to a queen. Keep in mind that while Phiona is the best player among her Katwe peers, she is not the only one with skill. Don’t let the brightest diamond blind you from finding other gems. The work that Robert Katende is doing in Katwe for so many children is invaluable.

Madina Nalwanga and Lupita Nyong'o


One of the interesting storylines in Queen of Katwe revolves around developing the potential of those children past a point where their parents were able to reach. Phiona’s widowed mother is rightly occupied with the survival of her children. Played superbly by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, you can see the wisdom and natural intellect she possesses. Life has taken her in a direction for which she was never prepared. Her problem in life wasn’t lack of ability. Again, it was lack of opportunity. Phiona has the ability and also opportunity. There is a tension in the movie as a mother wants every good for her daughter but also watches as her child in many ways quickly surpasses her. More than a Rocky meets chess story, Queen of Katwe offers an illustration of how having a mentor who can teach you and open doors for you can transform a life. I keep coming back to the same word, but it rings true. This isn’t simply a movie about a chess prodigy. It a movie about the transformative power of opportunity.

Madina Nalwanga


Like The Eagle Huntress, I recommend Queen of Katwe very highly, especially if you have young girls in your life. Based on a true story, it is an inspiring tale of empowerment. Let me also say two last things. I know different people have reactions to seeing Disney above the title. I assure you this is no saccharin sweet story. There are real life consequences of extreme poverty that are dealt with in a serious, adult manner. Also, while I am very pleased to see a movie with a majority black cast that excludes the white hero coming in to save the day, this is not a movie to be enjoyed solely by minority audiences. I saw this movie with a predominantly white crowd that gave a long applause at the film’s end. Queen of Katwe is an EXCELLENT movie for all.

QUEEN OF KATWE (Rated PG)

MIRA NAIR, Director

WILLIAM WHEELER, Adapted Screenplay

ALEX HEFFRES, Music

SEAN BOBBITT, Cinematography

Starring

MADINA NALWANGA as Phiona Mutesi

DAVID OYELOWO as Robert Katende

LUPITA NYONG’O as Nakku Harriet







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Old 11-20-2016, 03:29 AM   #3
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more pics and video on my blog: Arrival Takes Its Place Among The Best Alien First Contact Movies

Arrival Poster


There are languages that do not commonly use the words “right or left” to describe direction, instead relying on words we might translate as north, south, east, west, northeast, southwest, etc. In some of those cases, those societies can accurately convey directional meaning using landmarks, such as a large mountain to the north, as a reference for everything else. However, there exists those who seemingly can orient themselves to tell where north, south, east and west are even without visual cues. This is an ability that we, as humans, thought only certain animals such as birds and ants possessed, and then only due to biological adaptations. But what if communicating using directional words associated with compass directions shapes a person’s ability to hone in on which direction to go when you ask them to move a chair to the west of a table? Some linguists suggest that the words of a language color how its speakers perceive reality. This linguistic relativity extends not only to direction, but also to concepts of space and time. It is this last concept that is essential to the theme of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival.

The Heptapods Communicate


Arrival is based on “Story of Your Life”, a short story by Ted Chiang. By trade, Chiang is a technical writer for Microsoft. His job is to take very complex computer nomenclature and make it accessible to those who would otherwise struggle with the technical jargon, much less what the language was conceptualizing. He is the perfect choice to write an alien first contact story. When the aliens (in the movie referred to as heptapods…no pod people jokes, please…because they have 7 limbs) arrive, before we can ask them about faster than light travel, why are they here or any other question, we first have to learn how to say hello. That is complicated if the life form is nothing like us. If the aliens in question are so unlike us that neither side could possibly verbally reproduce the other’s spoken language (if both sides even have a spoken language), then another way will need to be found. That is the task assigned to Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist with high level military security clearance played superbly by Amy Adams.

First Contact


I won’t cover everything that happens from this point, because to explain certain themes I would have to walk the razor’s edge with spoilers. However, this much I can say. The heptapods use nonlinear orthography. That is to say, their system of writing is not right to left, backward to forward, top to bottom or any other system that flows in a linear way. They use very complex circular symbols that express many levels of thought all at once. And this touches on linguistic relativity. As I said, their language is very complex…and so are the concepts they are able to grasp. They actually struggle with basic algebra, but excel with more advanced computation. But this is not limited to numbers. Their very grasp of spacetime seems to be much more fluid than ours. We experience the world in a linear way. The past moves into the present into the future. What if it’s our language, our perception of reality that holds us back from unlocking spacetime? Needless to say, as Dr. Banks is trying to untie this knot, governments around the world are justifiably concerned at the potential threat the heptapods represent.

Forest Whitaker, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner


Just as some tribes and societies lack words that directly translate to other languages, the heptapods have words that mean one thing to them but another to us. Unfortunately, for the guys in camouflage, this threatens to lead to war. While Dr. Banks is trying to reason with military officials, she is also becoming fully immersed in the heptapod language, even her dreams. Or are they dreams? And what is the significance of the visions of her daughter? Well, you’ll have to go see the movie. I will say there is a theory that when you fully immerse yourself in a foreign language, it rewires your perception. If that’s true, then imagine what immersing yourself in a nonlinear alien language might do. Here is a great little video that explains many of the concepts in Arrival.

Amy Adams


Arrival is an EXCELLENT film that belongs alongside Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Contact as one of the smartest yet wholly entertaining alien first contact movies. Amy Adams is a magnetic presence throughout the movie. The supporting cast which includes Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner is solid, but is mostly there to support her performance. If you enjoy a sci-fi movie where scientists are the heroes without weapons, you will like Arrival. Ok, I misspoke. Louise has a weapon. Weapon? Wait, is that really the word I should use here? Go see the movie and you can tell me.

ARRIVAL (Rated PG-13)

DENIS VILLANEUVE, Director

ERIC HEISSERER, Adapted Screenplay

JOHAN JOHANNSSON, Music

BRADFORD YOUNG, Cinematography

Starring

AMY ADAMS as Dr. Louise Banks

JEREMY RENNER as Dr. Ian Donnelly

FOREST WHITAKER, Colonel Weber

TZI MA, General Shang





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Old 12-04-2016, 01:50 PM   #4
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more pics and video on my blog: Loving (2016)



They say Virginia is for lovers. Well, at one time it wasn’t for the Lovings. Knowing anti-miscegenation laws in 1958 Virginia prevented Richard Loving from marrying his pregnant girlfriend Mildred Jeter, the two traveled out-of-state to Washington D.C. to have their nuptials. The consequences of that action, which eventually led to the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia, form the plot of Jeff Nichols’ (Mud, Midnight Special) biopic Loving.

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga


I have to speak about anti-miscegenation laws first. Specifically, the Lovings broke Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act. Like other similar laws in the United States, it separated white people from everybody else. It defined “whites” and “colored” (which included everybody who wasn’t white) as the only two distinctions. Relying heavily on the pseudo-science of eugenics, there were provisions introduced such as the “one-drop” rule, meaning if a person had any non-white blood in their family tree, they were considered colored, and sterilization, so if the state deemed it, a person with “undesirable” traits could be sterilized. Interracial marriage was ruled a criminal act. But anti-miscegenation laws date back to the colonies, even before we as a country were “united.” All of these laws, which not only were the rule of the South, but the plains and western states as well, prohibited cohabitation and sexual relations between whites and non-whites, but in some cases between other races also. Almost all of them criminalized relations between people of African descent and those not of African heritage. Clearly, these laws were squarely aimed at black people.

The Lovings get married


Let me be extremely frank and say these laws were about a lot more than racism. They were about racism and commerce. If a black man was found to have relations with a white woman, in some states he would be lucky to make it see a judge and end up imprisoned rather than becoming strange fruit hanging from a noose on a tree branch. My point is that they really didn’t need laws preventing that kind of interracial coupling. Mob “justice” would take care of that…and that is exactly what happened to many black men who dared to cross that line. What the powers that be needed were laws to ensure that slave owners could…and I have to be frank here…rape their female slaves and have none of their offspring be legitimate. And in the event that the white slave owner fell in love and married a former slave, their wife and any potential children would have no right to any inherited property, money or anything else left by the husband. Even when the husband was living, they had no right to what was afforded to white wives and children. Those states considered the black woman a ***** and the children bastards. After a series of events, including twice being arrested and moving out of Virginia, when the Lovings’ case went to the Supreme Court, part of the state of Virginia’s case was that Richard and Mildred had no right to bring interracial children into the world and in fact were harming their own children by forever making them bastards (their words, not mine).

The Lovings welcome their first child


One of the dangers of this kind of biopic is that it becomes overly melodramatic. Characters start giving MLK-style speeches, music starts swelling, a single tear runs down somebody’s face, etc. Not under the direction of Jeff Nichols or the superb acting performances from Ruth Negga (Breakfast on Pluto, Agents of Shield) and Joel Edgerton (Black Mass, The Gift). They never try to push easy buttons. Instead, it’s a fairly straightforward…dare I say simple…movie about regular people in extraordinary circumstances. Edgerton and Negga could chew the furniture, but never do. That makes those moments when a pregnant Mildred is thrown in jail or one of their children has a misfortune or when a co-worker makes an implied threat all the more poignant. Because real people are easier to relate to in film, it made what was happening to them more visceral.



I’ve been a fan of Ruth Negga from Breakfast on Pluto to more recent roles such as Raina on Agents of Shield. I don’t know if she will receive recognition for her performance as Mildred Loving when awards season rolls around, but she is worthy. This entire production is worthy of viewing and I highly recommend Loving to anybody. Just understand that this is a movie that eschews a bunch of emotional overindulgence and runs at its own pace. It’s an important movie to see in these times. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that the last anti-miscegenation laws were struck down in Alabama, despite the 1967 Supreme Court ruling. In Alabama, that was put up to a vote and in 2000…not 1957…in 2000, despite the law being voted down over half a million people voted to keep interracial marriage illegal. In 2009…2009 (!!)…a justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to marry an interracial couple. I am the result of an interracial marriage with an African-American father and Thai mother. This movie and these issues have a special resonance with me. But even if that is not the case with others, it is still worth it to find time, either in theaters or whenever it hits cable or Netflix, to see Loving.

LOVING (Rated PG-13)

JEFF NICHOLS, Director, Screenplay

ADAM STONE, Cinematography

DAVID WINGO, Music

STARRING

RUTH NEGGA, Mildred Loving

JOEL EDGERTON, Richard Loving

MARTIN CSOKAS, Sheriff Brooks

BILL CAMP, Frank Beazley

WILL DALTON, Virgil

TERRI ABNEY, Garnet

NICK KROLL, Bernard Cohen

JON BASS, Phil Hirschkop

at Cannes





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Last edited by bangkokbobby; 12-04-2016 at 01:53 PM.
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Old 12-25-2016, 03:11 PM   #5
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more pics and video on my blog: Review: Rogue One (2016)

Rogue One


Creating a new movie in the Star Wars franchise is a tougher assignment than one might think. Sure, it can further elevate a director’s visibility and reputation if the film satisfies the legion of fans and army of critics, as J. J. Abrams did with The Force Awakens. However, those fans and critics by and large vehemently voiced their displeasure even with George Lucas himself for his prequel trilogy (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith), which many did not feel lived up to the lofty standards of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The problem for any new director is trying to give fans what they expect, while trying to tell a unique story. Although a success, one criticism of The Force Awakens was that it too closely followed the blueprint of A New Hope. Say what you will about the prequel trilogies, and they are flawed, at least Lucas deviated from storylines that worked before while trying to create fantastic new worlds. It’s just that nobody goes to a Star Wars movies to watch Senate speeches. Parts of the prequel trilogy felt like C-Span in space. Oh, and Jar Jar. The less said about Jar Jar, the better, although he was only a dominant part of The Phantom Menace. So the challenge for Gareth Edwards, he of Godzilla and Monsters directing fame, was to create a movie that has enough callbacks to prior movies to satisfy the rabid Star Wars fans while speaking its own language, having its own tone. The first in the standalone Star Wars Anthology films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the most important Star Wars movie since the original, in the sense that if it fails, if Gareth Edwards directs a flop, it could make Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm rethink the standalone films and focus only on the Episode installments.

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso


Star Wars fans rejoice! Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the film you’ve been looking for. It has a great mix of original trilogy callbacks…even blue milk…while having a tone unlike any other franchise movie. Sure, it’s been said that this is the first Star Wars film that could actually be called a war movie. That’s true. But it’s what goes along with being a war movie that is important here. Unlike a war movie where the good guys always do good and the bad guys always do bad, there are characters in Rogue One who do terrible things ostensibly for the greater good. That is real war. Soldiers feet are on slippery slopes. Lines get crossed. In Rogue One, one main character asks another main character if means justifies the end reasoning makes that person no better than a stormtrooper. Whom you consider a hero in war can often depend on which side you are fighting. That Rogue One doesn’t simply adhere to light side/dark side, black & white categorization to me makes characters more real.

K-2SO and Jyn Erso


That realness isn’t limited to humans in Rogue One. My second favorite character is my new favorite droid, K-2SO. He doesn’t have the cuteness of BB-8 or R2-D2. He more closely is like C-3PO. However, while C-3PO’s complaining is by design written to be grating and annoying to other characters, K-2SO is more snarky and sarcastic. Voiced brilliantly by Alan Tudyk, this is not some silly sidekick like Jar Jar Binks. K-2SO is almost more human than a few of the actual human characters. By deep into the film, he engenders real caring from the audience. While it’s possible to overdo the screen time for C-3PO, BB-8 and even R2-D2, at the end of Rogue One I wished for more K-2SO.

Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe


My favorite character from Rogue One is Chirrut Imwe, played by Donnie Yen. A superstar in Asian martial arts movies, Yen plays Chirrut Imwe as a spiritual warrior who, while not a Jedi, has a deep connection to the Force. It is Jyn Erso who gives the speeches and stirs other characters into action, but I would argue that Chirrut Imwe is the moral soul and center of Rogue One, and has the kind of wushu moves we haven’t seen in a Star Wars movie since Ray Park as Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. He is also the most obvious light side connection to the Force, which brings me to one of the greatest triumphs of this installment in the Star Wars saga. Lucasfilm and Disney took a chance by making a movie with no Jedi (at this point Darth Vader is a Sith lord, no longer a Jedi), where the focus of the movie was not either a Skywalker or the search for a missing Skywalker. It worked. Rogue One is a very good movie. It builds slowly into a third act that rivals any in the saga for action and excitement. We see Vader in his most frightening film portrayal yet near the end. We see the consequences of heroism. We even see characters from 40 years ago brought back through CGI. I know there has been some talk about the ethics of doing that and I agree there are concerns. I know the estate of one actor who has passed away agreed to have him brought back. Still, there was some uneasiness for me knowing about it going in. However, by the end of the movie it was so well done I must applaud the skill and technical wizardry of the filmmakers. I am the kind of moviegoer that sees films I like more than once while they are still in the theater. I’ve seen Rogue One 4 times. I plan to see it again in the theater. That is as good an endorsement as I can give for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (PG-13)

GARETH EDWARDS, Director

GREIG FRASER, Cinematography

MICHAEL GIACCHINO, Music

STARRING

FELICITY JONES, Jyn Erso

DIEGO LUNA, Cassian Andor

BEN MENDELSOHN, Orson Krennic

DONNIE YEN, Chirrut Imwe

MADS MIKKELSEN, Galen Erso

ALAN TUDYK, K-2SO

RIZ AHMED, Bodhi Rook

JIANG WEN, Baze Malbus

FOREST WHITAKER, Saw Gerrera

JIMMY SMITS, Bail Organa

GENEVIEVE O’REILLY, Mon Mothma

VALENE KANE, Lyra Erso

HOLLYWOOD PREMIERE






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