Live Action (Short Subject) Nominees

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.)

A Dog’s Purpose

From the opening notes of the cinematic score (think: Nicolas Sparks movie) to the first frame of video, A Dog’s Purpose is designed to tug at the heartstrings and manipulate emotions. And for the most part, it succeeds. Puppies!!! Awwwwwwwww. I mean, c’mon, who can resist a movie that literally gives voice (Josh Gad, Frozen’s Olaf) to the innermost thoughts of man’s – and woman’s – best friend? Here’s the gist of the sweet and sappy tale: A dog is reincarnated several times and discovers new purpose with each new life and owner, beginning with a kid named Ethan. The boy and his dog (Bailey) share a bond that can’t be broken, like, ever. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say this movie could easily pass for a very special episode of Touched By an Angel (Dog) or the TV Movie of the Week on Disney Channel, Hallmark or Lifetime. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Those movies have a purpose too (pun intended) and a target demographic. A Dog’s Purpose will surely resonate with dog lovers everywhere. Not a dog person? Then skip it.

Cinema Clash: Split; xXx: Return of Xander Cage; The Founder

Mainstream Chick faces off with her cinematic nemesis Charlie over: M. Night Shyamalan’s creepy psychological thriller Split starring James McAvoy as a guy with 24 alternate personalities who kidnaps three teenage girls; xXx: Return of Xander Cage, an action movie starring Vin Diesel in the second sequel of a franchise I’d never heard of. It’s pure camp. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!; and The Founder, a not-so-feel-good biopic starring Michael Keaton as McDonald’s “founder” Ray Kroc.