12 Years a Slave is easily the toughest Best Picture winner to watch. I don’t think anything will ever top it. For the end of Black History Month, I thought it was appropriate to review the first film by a black director (Steve McQueen) to win the highest honor at the Oscars. 12 Years a Slave is a tough watch because it deals with slavery. One of the darkest periods in American history. Part of the reason we have Black History Month. Solomon Northup was a free African American violinist with a family in 1841 New York. As recounted in his memoir, Solomon was deceived by two white men into becoming a slave in the deep south. Where he endured 12 horrific years of hard work, torture, and humiliation until he found a way to get out. Chiwetel Ejiofor has done many films beforehand, but this was really the role that made him a household name. Along with Lupita Nyong’o, who received a lot more attention playing a slave named Patsey. A role that earned the first time actress a much deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The abuse that she suffered is what makes 12 Years a Slave particularly brutal to watch. Even worse when the despicable acts are being done by so many well-known actors. While very emotional, I found myself to be more angry than anything. Knowing that everything they could depict actually happened (and more than likely happened to my ancestors). I couldn’t help but cheer when Solomon did fight back in one scene. The subject matter is difficult, but important to know. Making 12 Years a Slave a mandatory Best Picture winner I could only get through once.
Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult is the thirty-third installment in the Naked Gun series. The 30 other sequels aren’t worth talking about. In comparison to the previous two movies, Naked Gun 33⅓ doesn’t get brought up all that often (I almost considered skipping it). Even though it has a few set pieces that make it stand out. Specifically a prison and the Academy Awards. Leslie Nielsen returns for the third and final insult as Lt. Frank Drebin. Who is now married to his love interest Jane. Although Anna Nicole Smith is given a bit more attention. This is also notably O.J. Simpson’s last acting role before you-know-what happened. Frank comes out of retirement to stop a plot to blow up the Oscars. Leading to far more celebrity cameos than before, like the great Weird Al Yankovic. They continue to parody more pop cultural stuff as well. One of my main criticisms is the sequels reliance on raunchier jokes. Some that are a bit more eye roll inducing than others. Not to say it isn’t just as funny as before. Joking about the Oscars is a clever idea since there’s a lot to make fun of. Naked Gun 33⅓ is a worthy end to this delightfully screwball parody trilogy.
Preceded by: The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear
The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear is the oddly titled sequel to The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! Since the first movie was such a success, it only made sense that they’d do another one. Even though most comedy sequels don’t perform as well as the original. While some people have called The Naked Gun 2½ better than the original, it’s hard to say that it is. The Naked Gun 2½ now focuses on a plot to gain control of the nation’s energy. They even work in a parody of President George H. W. Bush. They do put a humorous spin on the idea, but the subject of fossil fuels is still pretty boring even in a comedy. At the same time Lt. Frank Drebin is reunited with his love interest from the first movie played by Priscilla Presley. Leslie Nielsen is at his usual comedic best and O.J. Simpson’s role is still awkward. Unlike the original though, The Naked Gun 2½ works in a lot more pop culture parodies. Like the pottery scene from Ghost, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s arrest, the North by Northwest sex innuendo, or the moon from E.T. There are some good original jokes like the dinner scene, but overall the delivery seems a bit off. More than likely you’ll enjoy The Naked Gun 2½ either twice or half as much.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! cemented Leslie Nielsen’s status as the king of parody movies. Since he did nothing but comedy/parody roles after the movie came out. His deadpan sincerity made him the perfect lead in a comedy. The Naked Gun is based on a very short lived TV series (only 6 episodes) called Police Squad! From the same three guys who directed Airplane! So you know to expect some of the most hilarious comedy in any parody movie. The Naked Gun parodies cop movies and shows in particular. With plenty of off the wall gags in between. Leslie Nielsen plays Lt. Frank Drebin. The bumbling police lieutenant tasked with uncovering the mystery behind his injured partner Det. Nordberg. Played by “this didn’t age well” O.J. Simpson. Despite that, the ways he gets injured are hilarious. At the same time, Police Squad also protects the Queen of England from a plot to hypnotize people into killing eachother. The Naked Gun was always a comedy my parents called one of the funniest they’ve ever seen. It’s not hard to see why. Since it’s full of memorably funny moments. The opening with the car in various places, the overly happy date, the student driver car chase, the fight with the terrorists, the failed interrogation, wreaking the apartment, and the classic “beaver” line. Everyone should see The Naked Gun, since it doesn’t parody anything in particular. As long as you have a basic understanding of cop procedurals you’ll enjoy it.
Followed by: The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear
Wings is the first film to win Best Picture. Being a film buff, I’ve known this fact for many years. Only now have I decided to see the legendary winner for the first time. Since I don’t normally gravitate towards silent films. The very first Academy Awards presentation was held in the year 1927. When they were still fine-tuning the show. Not many people know why the ceremony was created. Most people assume the sole reason was to honor the best in cinema, but there’s a slightly less glamorous reason.
The other reason was to essentially bribe filmmakers with a trophy provided they continue to make high quality films. Whatever the reason, Wings set the standard for decades to come. Wings tells the story of two young men who enlist in the Air Force during World War I. Jack and David go through training and eventually experience combat. Wings features highly impressive aerial plane stunts for the time. Though the real star of the movie is “It” girl Clara Bow. She was the biggest sex symbol of the roaring 20’s. Her role as Mary, a woman in love with Jack who helps in the war, is very unforgettable.
Wings is full of firsts. It’s the first and only film of the Silent Era to win Best Picture. It was the first (but definitely not the last) war film to win an Oscar. Being a pre-Code Hollywood film, it does feature an early nude scene from Bow. It might even surprise you to know that it features the very first same-sex kiss in any movie. Luckily the film was recovered and fully restored. Though some people might have a hard time finding it. Wings is nearly a century old, but it still managed to elicit strong emotions from me and most importantly, remind me why I love cinema.
Isn’t it Romantic flips the romantic comedy genre on its head. Like the director’s previous effort, The Final Girls, it humorously picks apart a certain genre. While also leaving room for story. Being a hopeless romantic myself, I’ve seen many iconic love stories. Although I’ve never gone to the theater to see one, Isn’t it Romantic looked hilarious the second I happened upon the trailer. Some people claimed it looked too similar to I Feel Pretty, but I like Rebel Wilson (and her Pitch Perfect co-star Adam DeVine) way more than Amy Schumer. Natalie is a plus-size architect who’s grown to resent how unrealistic romantic movies are. After getting knocked out, she finds that her life has been transformed into one. Isn’t it Romantic pokes fun at just about every rom-com cliché and character. A flower filled New York setting, a lead with fabulous outfits, a nice apartment, a flamboyant gay sidekick, a rival co-worker, a philosophically charming love interest, an obvious true love best friend who’s dating an insanely hot woman, out of nowhere musical numbers for catchy pop songs, and stopping a wedding. The fact that it’s PG-13 is also mocked. What I like most is how they embrace the clichés as much as they mock them. Isn’t it Romantic is a rom-com that’s fun to laugh at, but easy to love.
Alita: Battle Angel is a film 16 years in the making. Based on a manga titled Gunnm or Battle Angel Alita in America. 9 mature volumes that were surprisingly never adapted into an anime series. Only receiving an OVA (original video animation) which consisted of two 30 minute episodes. It turns out James Cameron was a big fan of the story who wanted to get a Hollywood movie made for a long time. Since Avatar seems to be the only thing he wants to do now, he tapped Robert Rodriguez to direct it. An odd combination, but you can see both sides. The first trailer definitely took me off guard. With its use of big anime eyes for Alita. I never lost interest though. I read the first 4 volumes and watched the OVA. Becoming an instant fan of the sci-fi story. Despite several push backs I remained confidante, but my reaction turned out to be more mixed than I thought. Battle Angel Alita has a strange yet engrossing story that begins with her recovery in the junkyard of Iron City. Her cyborg body is rebuilt by Ido, she learns to fit in, becomes a Hunter-Warrior, falls in love, and eventually plays Motorball. All of which are separated by volume. The movie just sort of mixes things up. Making it difficult to get invested in a story that never officially ends. The dialogue is a little clunky too and the PG-13 rating only sort of worked for me. On the other hand, the fluid fast-paced CGI fight sequences (especially Motorball) bring anime to life. She may not be Asian, but Rosa Salazar captures Alita’s innocent fighter’s spirit. Making the eyes less distracting than you might think. Alita: Battle Angel is as close to a good manga adaptation as you can get.
Happy Death Day 2U is a serious case of déjà vu. With a really clever title. Since the sequel to Edge of Tomorrow seems to be on an indefinite hold, Happy Death Day is the first time loop movie to get a sequel. Something I had no idea how to react to the first time I heard about it. I loved the first movie, but I certainly wasn’t thinking it would get a sequel. How do you make a time loop sequel without repeating yourself? Well this is what Happy Death Day 2U does. It takes place right where the first movie left off. Only this time from the perspective of the roommate that walks in on Tree and Carter. It turns out he is now experiencing the time loop. Where an unexpected new Babyface killer is after him. Once Tree is made aware of what’s happening, she discovers what was causing the loop in the first place. Let’s just say the explanation is present in the first movie. Tree winds up back in the loop herself and must now figure out a way to get back while also avoiding another new Babyface killer. The spoilerific first trailer made Happy Death Day 2U look absolutely ridiculous. With even sillier death scenes than before. As it turns out, the stronger focus on comedy and romance is perfectly balanced with its horror. Along with the inclusion of science fiction elements. Jessica Rothe gives another great performance and so do the minor characters that are given way more screen time. Happy Death Day 2U convinced me that sequels to time loop movies don’t have to be repetitive.
Preceded by: Happy Death Day
Get Him to the Greek is a comedy I would never have seen if I didn’t know it was connected to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Since the character Aldous Snow was such a stand out, they decided to make an entire movie centered around him. I said before that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Russell Brand (I found him a bit annoying), however both films made me like him a bit more. Since his long hair and unusual personality fits a rock star like this. His songs may be exaggerated, but they could totally work in the real world. After a controversial song and break up drives Aldous Snow back to drinking, a talent scout makes it his mission to get him a comeback performance at the Greek Theatre. Despite appearing as a huge fan of Snow’s in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jonah Hill actually plays a new character. Aaron Green, who has to put up with his shenanigans while traveling from London to L.A. Although I definitely wasn’t crazy about every raunchy joke (some of it goes too far for my taste). There are a few good standouts. Like the furry walls drug freak out, the happy Jonah Hill meme, or most of what P. Diddy does. While it may be a spin-off, Get Him to the Greek is still a rockin’ fun Judd Apatow production on its own.
Spin-off of: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Forgetting Sarah Marshall is all about trying to move on from your ex. Something most people can relate to. Unless your ex just so happens to be a famous TV star. Forgetting Sarah Marshall was always a comedy I was more curious about then others. Even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Judd Apatow productions or Russell Brand. Whether it was the intriguing premise or the lovely Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis. I just knew I wanted to check it out. Forgetting Sarah Marshall makes use of its R rating immediately. When Sarah Marshall breaks up with her composer boyfriend Peter played by a full frontally naked Jason Segel. His dream is to make a Dracula themed rock opera starring puppets (what is it with Segel and puppets?). Sarah Marshall is known for her role on a terrible show called Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. Rather then continue his downward spiral, Peter instead retreats to Hawaii. Where he meets new girl Rachel working at the resort and Sarah Marshall also happens to be there. The movie makes great use of its beautiful tropical setting. While the humor is mostly derived from cutaway gags. Along with the usual Apatow staples like Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, and Kristen Wiig in the unrated version. The biggest stand out character is easily Aldous Snow. A rock star guru Sarah marshall is dating. In the end, Forgetting Sarah Marshall turns out to be a lovable raunchy take on love loss and love again.