Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ernest Borgnine And Betsy Blair Provide Heartwarming Romantic Cinema With Marty

For my generation (read: anyone born after 1990), Ernest Borgnine is likely most recognizable for his work on SpongeBob SquarePants as Mermaid Man, a geriatric superhero the lead characters of that show adore. Borgnine did some terrifically humorous vocal work on that show as he fought the forces of E.V.I.L., so it's no wonder that he's so well-known for that role, but that was far from Borgnine's only work as an actor. The guy was working steadily as an actor from 1951 all the way up to the year of his death, 2012. His first major leading role in a motion picture, and perhaps his most iconic performance of all, came in the 1955 Best Picture winner Marty.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Annihilation Is A Well-Made Intentionally Disorienting Thriller

Alex Garland already had a solid foothold as a noteworthy name in American science-fiction cinema with his work as a writer on projects like Sunshine and Dredd, but with 2015's Ex Machina, he made a high-quality leap into the world of directing. His follow-up directorial effort to that feature is Annihilation, a feature film adaptation of a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, that allows Garland to expand his scope as a filmmaker without losing the contemplative nature of Ex Machina. Interestingly, despite having a larger canvas to work with this time, as well as a major studio footing the bill, Garland has written a film that engages in more unorthodox narrative techniques than Ex Machina, believe it or not.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mute Silences All of It's Potential

In their 28 month long period of doing feature films, Netflix has released a bunch of high-quality smaller-scale films like The 13th, Blue Jay and Mudbound that show the streaming service is quite capable of putting out some top-notch cinema. If only such quality extended to their attempts to release more high-profile blockbuster fare, as those (admittedly few) attempts have fared quite poorly. Bright was, of course, a disaster and now comes another subpar bigger-budgeted effort from the studio in the form of Mute, which hails from director Duncan Jones, a man responsible for two of the best science-fiction films (Moon and Source Code) of the last decade.

The Fun Vampire Action Film Blade Proved That Marvel Comics Characters Could Headline Enjoyable Movies

Though it may sound like total poppycock to in a day and age where Rocket Raccoon, Korg and M'Baku are beloved household names, there was a point in time where movies based on Marvel Comics characters were thought of as box office poison. Movies based on Howard the Duck, The Punisher and Captain America had been received with ridicule and dismal box office, the latter element occuring if such films received any kind of domestic theatrical release at all. Meanwhile, attempts to turn characters like Spider-Man into major motion pictures had been fraught with endless problems. In the mid-1990's, it looked like that Marvel Comics character may be doomed to never get proper theatrical movie adaptations.

Then Blade came along.

Black Panther Rules The Box Office With Second Best Second Weekend In History While Game Night Scores Minor Win And Annihilation Fails To Assimilate Audiences

Those thinking Black Panther would be a one-week wonder were proved wrong as the King of Wakanda continued to excel at the box office. Grossing $108 million this weekend, a small 46% drop from last weekend, the smallest second-weekend decline ever for a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, beating out the 47% drop of the first Thor movie for that honor. Grossing $400 million in ten days, this title is the third fastest movie to ever gross $400 million domestically, only Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World crossed that mark faster. It's apparent now that Black Panther is an outright box office phenomenon and it's going to be fascinating to see just how much it grosses in the next month. A domestic gross of at least $600 million, at the bare minimum, feels like a guarantee.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Gladiator Is Straightforward To A Fault

Aside from them both being Best Picture winners, it's doubtful anyone would ever think to compare Gladiator and Driving Miss Daisy, but that's just what I'm going to be doing today. Obviously, both films differ greatly in terms of story, tone and types of characters they explore, but both are feature films that I've watched for the first time recently that are amiable endeavors that also can't help but feel like they're a little basic, they stick to tried-and-true storytelling & characters too heavily and in the process feel like they're eschewing the chance to carve out their own identity, though at least Gladiator does have the distinction of reviving the swords-and-sandals genre in a big way at the dawn of the 21st century.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Driving Miss Daisy Is Hard To Hate But Is Also Hard To Get Wrapped Up In

Winning the Best Picture Oscar is typically akin to winning American Idol; such an ostensibly prestigious victory that should result in an avalanche of good news usually invites more scorn than admiration. Though plenty of exceptions like Casablanca, No Country For Old Men and Schindler's List exist, a large number of Best Picture winners are only known by the general public in the years afterward for beating out a movie they vastly preferred for the victory. That strikes me as unfair to hold against a movie since it's the voters for the Academy Award that designate a certain movie should win Best Picture, not the movie itself.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Remarkably Transfixing The Florida Project Is A Masterful Exercise In Humanization

There are two worlds constantly at war with each other in The Florida Project. The first of these worlds is that of the world of childhood, the other is the world of adulthood. In the world of childhood, especially in the summertime period of the year that The Florida Project takes place in, the greatest concern a child has is what exactly kind of fun they can get into next. The residents of the world of adulthood try their hardest to shield the children from fully grasping all of the horrors in our world. Though exceptions exist, young children only get the faintest glimpses of the financial struggles and other problems their parents go through to ensure they have basic necessities like a roof over their head.

Black Panther Becomes A Box Office Juggernaut With Record-Breaking Opening Weekend

"You will not be able to stay home brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and drop out
Because the revolution will not be televised
The revolution will be no re-run brothers
The revolution will be live" - Gil Scott Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised 

After years of anticipation, a Black Panther movie is finally here and it surpassed even the biggest expectations this weekend. With $192 million this weekend, the Ryan Coogler directed motion picture had the second biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe opening weekend in history (only The Avengers had a bigger bow), the biggest February opening weekend of all-time and the fifth biggest opening weekend in history. Furthermore, this was the biggest opening weekend to ever occur in the first four months of any given year while, on its opening day, Black Panther surpassed the $67 million haul of Insidious: The Last Key to become the biggest movie of 2018 so far and the project became only the second MCU title to score an A+ CinemaScore rating from moviegoers. People are loving this movie and it's pretty much a guarantee that it's going to be around in the marketplace for a good while.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Phenomenal Feature Black Panther Is A One-of-A-Kind Thoughtful Superhero Feature

Back in 2013, I had two separate screenings of then-new theatrical movies that introduced me to talent I'd never seen before. One of these films was 42, the first starring role for Chadwick Boseman, while the other motion picture in question was Fruitvale Station, the feature film directorial debut of Ryan Coogler. Boseman immediately stepped onto my radar with his performance as Jackie Robinson while Coogler showed an adept hand at depicting everyday life brought to a tragically early end in his inaugural directorial effort. Leaving both individual movies, I hoped I would see further work from both Boseman and Coogler in the near future.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Good Actors Try To Work With An Uneven Script In The Biopic Drama Marshall

Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, finally got a biopic movie to headline. Instead of chronicling him being chosen for the Supreme Court, the movie Marshall concentrates on a 1940 court case that Thurgood Marshall (played by Chadwick Boseman here) served as a lawyer in. This court case involved Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) being accused of raping a wealthy socialite, Elanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), a court case that seems to have the odds stacked against it, especially when Marshall, being an out of state lawyer dispatched by the NAACP, is forbidden from speaking during the trial, leaving all the in-court defense to Sam Friedman (Josh Gad).

In Laman's Terms: Does A Best Picture Nomination Guarantee Big Box Office?

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

The first four Best Picture winners of the 21st century grossed over $150 million each. Those films in question were Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago and The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King. Meanwhile, of the last four Best Picture winners, only one (12 Years A Slave) has managed to crack the $50 million mark at the domestic box office and that one topped out at $56.6 million domestically. Looking at a broader picture, from 2000-2009, only three eventual Best Picture winners grossed under $100 million (those three were Crash, No Country For Old Men and The Hurt Locker for the record), while from 2010-2016, only two Best Picture Winners (The King's Speech and Argo) have managed to crack $100 million.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story Hits A High Note For Outlandish Satire

In 2007, Judd Apatow seemed to have garnered the Midas Touch in that every comedic project he touched as a producer was generating massive box office. Most notably, Knocked Up and Superbad had been back-to-back box office hits in the summer of 2007 that ushered in a new age of American comedy and he would follow those two up with more box office hits like Step Brothers and Pineapple Express the subsequent year. But even in a year as golden as 2007, not everything can be a hit and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story ended up being the Judd Apatow produced comedy to be a box office dud despite opening just a few months after Superbad.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Climax Comes For Fifty Shades Freed As Series Ends On Solid Box Office Note While Peter Rabbit Hops To Good Debut And 15:17 To Paris Underwhelms Financially

The time has come for the Fifty Shades of Grey movies to follow Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight into the popular book adaptations goodnight. Such a conclusion came in the form of Fifty Shades Freed, which opened to a decent $38.6 million. That's 15% below the opening weekend of Fifty Shades Darker and about 54% below the opening weekend of the very first Fifty Shades of Grey movie, but that's still a decent bow for a movie that cost only $55 million to make. The trilogy itself has now crossed $1 billion in worldwide box office grosses, making this quite the impressive moneymaker for Universal. Now to see if this new Fifty Shades movie manages to crack $100 million. If it holds like it's predecessor, it'll narrowly miss it but don't count out Anastasia Steele and co. yet.

The 15:17 To Paris Goes Off The Rails In Thoroughly Lifeless Ways

On August 21, 2015, an extraordinary event happened on a train departing from Amsterdam and heading to Paris, France. As a man got his gun ready and planned to commit an act of terrorism, three ordinary Americans, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone leaped into action and took down the man before he could actually execute his plan.  The trio subsequently became heavily publicized heroes with their actions resulting in a book chronicling that fateful day as well as a film adaptation of that fateful day entitled The 15:17 To Paris starring the three men as themselves. While the actions of this trio were incredibly noble and admirable, tragically, the film adaptation of those actions is all around dismal.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Step Has Got Impressive Dance Moves And Emotionally Resonant Sequences To Spare

How was Step not a bigger deal in its theatrical release back in August 2017? I know documentaries typically struggle to garner mainstream approval at the domestic box office but the film itself is like the coolest inspirational sports movie premise that actually happened! One gets to witness real people struggle in their pursuit of an education and then find varying individual forms of triumph! It's a fascinating feel-good piece of cinema that totally feels like it could have been a major word-of-mouth phenomenon with the proper marketing. Even if it didn't get the reception it should have received in its theatrical release, I am here to tell you today that Step is indeed an awesome uplifting movie.

Den of Thieves Is The High School Musical Of Heist Movies

In the eleven years since 300 made Gerard Butler a superstar complete with an iconic catchphrase ("THIS! IS! SPARTA!"), I've never found him to be a particularly memorable actor. I don't mean this as a slight against Butler as a person (he seems friendly enough in interviews, never heard of any scandals associated with him), but as an actor, he always comes off as generic and wooden. Sans his surprisingly effective voicework in the How To Train Your Dragons movies, there's no trace of personality or energy to be found in his turns in movies like Olympus Has Fallen, Geostorm or Gods of Egypt. With all that in mind, imagine my shock upon watching Den of Thieves and thoroughly enjoying his manic turn as a bad cop who seems to have always just come back from snorting immense amounts of cocaine.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Process of Cristian Mungiu's Graduation Is Not Without Dire Consequences

How far would you go to help your child? It's a moral quandary that comes up a lot in movies, but typically such movies face that question in the form of a thriller or an action movie (the latter type of presentation typically stars Liam Neeson). For Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's newest movie Graduation, he decides to explore this question in the confines of a grim drama, one that's heavy on realistic conversations and bleak storytelling. Graduation follows the lengths a father will go to in order to help his child not by showing the father fighting off an army of kidnappers but rather by trying to get his child into a good college so that she can have a better future.

Clint Eastwoods Deconstructs The Very Genre That Launched Him To Stardom In Unforgiven

James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have cited many movies that carried a large influence over the creation of their 2017 X-Men feature Logan and it's no surprise to hear that Unforgiven was one particular movie Jackman saw as a guiding light for that final Wolverine movie (The Wrestler was another, similar unsurprising, point of inspiration for Jackman). Both Unforgiven and Logan star actors who play older weary versions of iconic stock characters they became famous for playing inhabiting a more realistic world low on hope and high on danger. Because Logan is dealing with an ex-superhero, the movie is able to end, after an entire film of bleak nastiness, on a note of hopefulness that the heroics Logan once committed will inspire a new generation to rise up and become beacons of hope in their own right. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Step Into The Ring With An Emotionally Powerful Feature Like Million Dollar Baby

Ever since Rocky delivered knockout box officer numbers over forty years ago, the boxing drama subgenre has been a prominent fixture of cinema all over the world. It's one that's reliable both in terms of drawing a crowd for studio and plucking at the heartstring of audiences. Plenty of duds exist in this cinematic niche (remember Southpaw or Grudge Match?), but when done well, like with Creed, the creative apex of this entire subgenre, there's really nothing quite like it. Clint Eastwood's 2004 directorial effort Million Dollar Baby is no Creed, but few movies are. Positive marks are in order for a movie like this one that rides on traditional storytelling to mask how crafty it is at knowing just when to strategically get the viewer wrapped up in a blanket made of emotions.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

In Laman's Terms: The Future of Star Wars Seeks To Avoid Some Mistakes of The Past

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

So yesterday Disney announced that Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were going to producing and writing a new trilogy of stand-alone Star Wars movies. Making sure that the first post-Game of Thrones job for Benioff and Weiss was having such a major role in a new batch of Star Wars movies seemed like the kind of headline designed to appease fanboy sites across the internet by basically saying "The people behind one of your favorite brands is now doing something with another one of your favorite brands!" Cutesy quotes on official Disney or Star Wars social media feeds declaring "Send a raven..." (Hey! That's a reference to a thing I know!) seemed to solidify that this was news designed to make geek sectors of social media light up with enthusiastic responses.

A Wistful Take On Life Is Beautifully Realized In Lucky

Some of my favorite movies ever are simply laid-back movies following a normal human being going about their lives over the course of a few days. When you do those type of films right, you get something just so riveting, a cinematic replication of either the world we live in everyday or a glimpse into an authentic portrait of a world we're unfamiliar with. Want a great recent example of this strain of cinema done well? Look at Lucky, a small-scale dialogue-driven drama that serves as both a star vehicle for the late great character actor Harry Dean Stanton as well as the directorial debut for John Carroll Lynch.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Good Ideas For Character Backstories Get Lost In The Vacuum of Bad Writing That Is The Cloverfield Paradox

For the longest time, third movies were considered to be the place where movie franchises hit their creative low, likely inspired by how Return of The Jedi was considered such a step down from its predecessor back in the early 1980's and not helped by early 21st century third entries in blockbuster franchises like Spider-Man 3, Shrek The Third and X-Men: The Last Stand. Of course, this is a silly misconception on the most basic level, third movies in a series aren't inherently going to be worse than any other type of movie, it's the elements you use to tell that third movie that matter. Of course, those who believe third movies are destined to be the nadir of their respective franchises will have a new go-to example to utilize for their arguments with the release of The Cloverfield Paradox.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Sequences Set In The Past Work Better For Wonderstruck Than Ones Set In 1977

For years, the norm was that books adapted into movies were typically brought to the silver screen with minimal, if there was any at all, assistance from the author of the original text. Perhaps because of long-time dissatisfaction with how these works were adapted or perhaps as a way to mimic the success Marvel Comics had with taking control of film adaptations of their own characters, authors like Mark Millar, Seth Grahame-Smith and especially Patrick Ness (who adapted his own books A Monster Calls and Chaos Walking for the big screen) have recently become more involved in how their works become translated to the world of cinema.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Jumanji Returns To The Top of The Box Office Over Quiet Super Bowl Weekend

Six movies have managed to open to over $20 million with no problem in the last decade (seven movies have done that in history). That doesn't make Super Bowl weekend the equivalent of Christmas weekend in terms of being the optimal place to launch major moneymakers, but movies can make notable box office grosses here which makes it insane how studios have basically abandoned this weekend in the five years since Warm Bodies grossed $20.3 million in February 2013. Since then, only two movies (Hail, Caesar! and Rings, making this the only time in history those two movies will ever be connected) have grossed over $10 million over Super Bowl weekend thanks to studios using it as a dumping ground for a horde of unappealing titles. Why not try to launch something that actually stands a chance at making money here instead of just letting the box office go into a lull like it did this weekend? The likes of Taken, Chronicle and Dear John have shown that it's more than possible to make cash here. Oh well, there's always 2019, which currently doesn't have a thing scheduled for it's Super Bowl weekend.

An Inability To Be More Introspective Hinders Darkest Hour Greatly

Winston Churchill certainly has been a popular figure in pop culture lately, hasn't he? The likes of Michael Gambon, Brian Cox and John Lithgow have all portrayed him in major roles on various film and television programs over the last two years. Add the Joe Wright-directed Darkest Hour as the newest piece of evidence that Winston Churchill is having a resurgence in his modern-day pop culture presence as Gary Oldman, with the aid of extensive makeup work, becomes the newest actor to portray this former British Prime Minister who played a crucial role in a number of events during World War II.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Killing of a Sacred Deer Slaughters Normalcy With It's Depraved Farcical Storytelling. That's A Compliment.

If you saw 2016's excellent dark comedy The Lobster, then you're fully aware how much writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos loves to weave tales heavy on weirdness and people committing ever-escalating acts of depravity in the service of an extended metaphor. He keeps that spirit very much alive for his newest movie The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which is akin to The Lobster as well as last year's The Square in terms of being a dark comedy that keeps daring the audience to look away from the various hideous acts occuring on-screen. So utterly unconventional is The Killing of a Sacred Deer that I imagine writers Yorgo Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou started their first writing session with this simple statement:

Friday, February 2, 2018

Bill Morrison Makes A Captivating Portrait of The Past With Dawson City: Frozen Time

As a lover of film, the lack of care that was given by early 20th century individuals into preserving many of the earliest pieces of cinema is utterly heartbreaking. A number of motion pictures that were immensely popular in their day and age have been lost to the ravages of time thanks to the carelessness of the people handling them (the fact that such films were exhibited on easily flammable film didn't help matters of course). So much of the earliest history of cinema has been lost, a devastating occurrence that Bill Morrison's documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time chronicles by taking the viewer on an extensive voyage to Canada in the last few years of the 19th century. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Liam Neeson's Newest Thriller Is Best When It's Restrained

Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), the lead character of the thriller The Commuter, is a man of routine. Each day, he gets up to the tune of his alarm clock blaring a local radio station and then he's off to get himself ready for the day ahead. Some chit-chat with his son (who's headed off to college in the Fall) and his wife, Karne (Elizabeth McGovern) before he goes off to the train ride he takes to work. He does his eight-ish hours at work then it's back on the train to take him home. Day in, day out, this is his routine and it's one that's realized in a well-edited opening montage demonstrating both how long Michael has been going through this daily regimen and that Michael has a good relationship with both his wife and son.

A Fun Horror Movie Homage Awaits In The Void

It's good for an artist to know where the strengths in their work are. You need to be cognizant of the flaws too, obviously, but once you recognize what traits you're really excelling at, you can polish those specific traits into tip-top shape and try to orient yourself in the direction of those areas where you manage to work so well in. For The Void, a Canadian indie horror film financed through an IndieGoGo page, it knows right off the bat that it's greatest strengths lie in it's macabre creature designs and the practical effects used to bring those designs to life. Thus, those are the two facets of it's production that receive the greatest emphasis and the feature is all the better for it.