Live Action (Short Subject) Nominees
The Brand New Testament

Live Action (Short Subject) Nominees

This is also a hard category, because the films are all so different, and the art of telling a story in a short time without either rushing it or shortchanging the narrative creates its own sort of film making. There’s dancing, and singing, and interrogation, and infatuation, and this year’s theme of the Islamic immigrant/refugee is included. They’re funny and romantic and sad and surprising. It’s really a great bunch of shorts. I am sure they will land their filmmakers a meeting or two with people who can help them and their careers along. See them if you can. They’re in theaters now and will certainly be streaming later. And once more I will plead with theaters to start showing shorts before the features. Please!

(Trailers for all the films below.)

Logan

Logan could be one of the most divisive Marvel movies of all time. Hardcore fans of the Wolverine mythology may appreciate this dark, R-rated send-off to the most iconic and sardonic of the X-Men superheroes. But I was not prepared for, and did not enjoy, the grim final farewell (or so it appears) to Logan/Wolverine, portrayed for nearly 20 years by the multi-talented and seemingly ageless Hugh Jackman. I’m not a huge X-Men fan (I prefer the Avengers), but I’ve always had a soft spot for the bitter, sexy, ripped, self-healing Wolverine who was blessed and cursed with immortality and killer claws. This Wolverine is different. He’s bitter, aging, self-loathing, and just no fun at all. Apparently, that’s what the filmmakers were going for. And that’s what some film critics and fanboys are raving about. But I don’t like hyper-violent, bloody, raw, and depressing. Especially in my Marvel movies. Deadpool earned its R-rating with unexpectedly entertaining raunchiness and wit. Logan gets its R-rating from a string of curse words and a very high body count. Heads will roll… literally.

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: The Great Wall; A Cure for Wellness

This is a really great week to catch up on one (or more) of those Oscar-nominated movies that are still in theaters or available on DVD or VOD. Why? Because, comparatively speaking, the new releases are rather dismal. Granted, I didn’t have a chance to see the new Ice Cube/Charlie Day comedy Fist Fight, about a couple of high school teachers engaging in a good ol’ fashioned afterschool throw-down. But I’m going to go out on a limb and surmise that you can save that one for a rainy day or a plane ride. It’s probably mindlessly entertaining. Can’t really say the same about The Great Wall or A Cure for Wellness. But if I had to pick among those two, I’d definitely go with The Great Wall because at least it’s got Matt Damon (Jason Bourne, The Martian) — and cool views of one of the great wonders of the ancient world.

John Wick: Chapter 2

He’s back! And he’s still a bad ass killer. I called the original John Wick stylishly violent, and this one takes it up another notch, both on the style and the violence. But it’s still the story of a sad and weary hit man who’s brought back in to the violent world he’s trying to leave behind. Keanu Reeves stars as Wick and he’s just as fun to watch as the last time.

Animation (Short Subject) Nominees

The Animated shorts category is always a hard one for me to judge. Will the Academy members go with the best, most amazing animation, or will it be about telling a great story? Since I don’t really know how hard it is to create these films (I’m assuming it ain’t easy), I’m going with the power of story to keep my attention. Without doubt all the films’ nominees this year are fabulous animators.  Since one of them is from Pixar, that is a given. But are the stories worthy of the animation? Or are these animators using their films as calling cards, looking for a step up to features?  I don’t have a clue, but here are my takes on the nominees for the 2017 Oscar.

Fifty Shades Darker

Defending this movie is like Donald Trump defending one of his executive orders. The built-in base will eat it up. Others will accept it, with reservations. And everyone else will run for the cinematic equivalent of Canada. So the bottom line is this: If you’ve read the books (as I have) and were at least okay with the first film (as I was), then you may feel compelled to escape back into the unconventional romantic fantasyland that is Fifty Shades Darker. It’s not a must-see now, unless you’re into instant gratification, but it is essential to the climax of the film adaptation of the steamy story arc detailed in the best-selling trilogy by E.L. James. Part three, Fifty Shades Freed, has already been shot and is scheduled for release next Valentine’s Day, 2018. So you have a year to debate your inner goddess (as Anastasia would say) on the merits of seeing this relationship through to its happily-ever-after. This is, after all, nothing more than a risqué fairytale written –without apology– in the vein of Twilight fan-fiction. Shakespeare it aint. But it is a very lucrative enterprise. So somebody’s making out.

Documentary (Short Subject) nominees

This has got to be the toughest group of the shorts to watch. They’re usually a lot more diverse, but this year, with one feel-good exception, they are all about people suffering. Three are about the War in Syria and it’s effects on the people there, and sadly none of them points a way forward to peace. But they give you a front row seat to the horrifying toll of the war there on real Syrians trying to cope with the day to day, and the reason so many are fleeing their homes. All of these films are very deserving of their nominations.

Below are brief reviews and the trailers, and for a couple of them, the whole film is available here. I highly recommend watching them all.

BRING PLENTY OF TISSUES!

The LEGO Batman Movie

“You can’t be a hero if you only care about yourself.” – Gotham City Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon to the self-absorbed, caped-crusading loner, [LEGO] Batman.

That sentiment forms the foundation – the building bricks as it were– of the new LEGO Batman Movie, a spin-off of the 2014 animated gem in which Batman delivered some of the greatest zingers in toy superhero movie history. This time around, Batman aka Bruce Wayne is front and center, voiced once again by Will Arnett (Arrested Development) with a perfect blend of snark, self-awareness, and vulnerability. The LEGO Batman Movie doesn’t quite rise to the level of its predecessor, but it’s still pretty darn entertaining – especially for the grown-ups.

I Am Not Your Negro

This brilliant documentary walks its audience through the Civil Rights era with undoubtedly the most articulate and engaged guide possible – James Baldwin, writer (The Fire Next Time, Notes of a Native Son, Go Tell It on the Mountain), intellectual and social critic. Using archival footage from his many speaking engagements on television and at key locations during the Civil Rights fight, along with voice-over from a book that Baldwin never finished (read by a very reverential Samuel L Jackson), the film is told entirely in his words. And his thoughts about the state of the black life in America in the 60s sadly still apply today.

The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us is a hot mess of a sci-fi drama about a boy who was born on Mars after his astronaut mother, Sarah, apparently failed to take an Early Pregnancy Test before setting off on a super-long shuttle mission to colonize the Red Planet. In a sad twist of events, Sarah discovers shortly after take-off that she’s pregnant, and then dies from complications during childbirth. That’s not a spoiler. It’s in the trailer, and sets up the rest of the story about the life and times of Gardner Elliott, an extremely bright but socially-awkward kid who grows weary of life in a Martian bubble. As puberty hits, Gardner gets rebellious and decides to visit his home planet Earth – to meet a cool girl he’s met online, and maybe even find his mysterious, unidentified father. (Sadly, it’s not Matt “The Martian” Damon.)