Friday, January 17, 2020

Crisis on Infinite Earths Parts 4-5

© The CW
A Brave New World!
by Brandon Coulson

Be sure to check out the Crisis on Infinite Earths Parts 1-3 recap!

Part 4

After a month long hiatus, The CW’s giant crossover event returned for a two-part one-night capper. Starting it off we got the origins of The Monitor ten thousand years ago on the planet Maltus. Finally seeing him as a person instead of a godlike being was interesting. It let us see the wife he lost and even had him comment on the suit design she chose for him and how ridiculous it looked. A scientist traveling back to the dawn of time to see creation but as these things do so often go wrong … yeah he unwittingly created the Anti-Monitor and started this whole mess to start with.

After that origin story we jump back to The Vanishing Point where our paragons have been trapped for months together, all except Barry who has been missing after running into the Speed Force. We get a quick update on how everyone has been coping through a nicely done montage that includes Kara paying tribute to the comic version's iconic dead Supergirl moment but with her holding her cousin's cape instead of Superman holding her.

But Barry soon returns and after his unnecessary exposition Oliver shows his ashen face now as The Spectre. It’s here that we get the main thrust of the episode in our heroes' last ditch effort to undo the end of all things in a two pronged attack. One team going to the dawn of time to fight the Anti-Monitor while Kara, Lex and Ryan go to Maltus and try to prevent The Monitor and his counterpart from ever being created.

© The CW
Getting to their destinations prove to be much harder than expected however as the gang gets lost in the Speed Force and Barry has to track them down using memories as connections and bonds. What this ends up meaning is a trip through the greatest hits, much like Avengers Endgame did but on a much smaller and cheaper scale.

During this little trip though we get the last and biggest cameo of the entire crossover - Ezra Miller’s Flash!! How in the world did they keep this one under wraps?! And the way it’s played, very simply, with the two Flashes face-to-face both shocked and then admiring each other's suits and their differences, a very funny and overdue acknowledgement of the shows by the film side in a way that even Marvel hasn’t done yet. Ezra fades away and the journey through crossovers past and pivotal show moments continues.

Ryan Choi is quickly becoming a fun new character for the CWU as he is being slowly set up to take Brandon Routh’s place as the new Atom on Legends of Tomorrow. When he arrives with Kara and Lex on Maltus, his remark about the alien forest not looking so alien was a very Legends type of line, calling out the budgetary restraints and most certainly just another Vancouver location. Soon after the inevitable happens as Lex double-crosses them intent on becoming the greatest power in the universe, he even gave himself powers with the Book of Destiny. This doesn’t do much as The Monitor has easily shown that Lex isn’t to be trusted. Thus The Monitor is convinced not to time travel and all should be well.

The build up of the two stories here felt a little bit like filler. The saving grace being the chemistry and nostalgia of the classic scenes revisited carrying it until the inevitable big fight in a rock quarry against the Anti-Monitor. Yes, even though the Monitor we’ve known never came to be, an alternate version somewhere still did and so we still have a big bad to deal with.

The fight looked silly and it's so obvious they're all fighting nothing on set. Even their directions and action seem like the director just said go fight the air however you want and we'll fix it in post. But after that silly display, Ollie and the Anti-Monitor face off, well basically just grapple, and Oliver gets one last catchphrase in as “You failed this Universe” might be one of the cringiest bad lines ever in the Arrowverse. But Ollie dies and a new Universe is born. Yay, but Ollie’s death feels a bit undercut as it’s really like the third time he’s died in this crossover. And what of this new Universe? That was all explained in...

© The CW
Part 5

Okay, so this episode had a lot of issues. It’s clunky and there are a ton of cheats. But I loved it! Kara and the other Paragons wake to find the world has no memory of what happened. This also means they don’t know about the massive changes to their world as they did the one thing every fan has been asking for: the CW heroes are all on the same Earth finally!

Yes, much like the comics version they used this to bring Kara and Black Lightning to Earth Prime as it’s now called, streamlining things but also raising a ton of questions. The set ups for all the shows moving forward have me super excited as big things are introduced.

Lex is good! Yes, in another Luthor like twist Lex used his influence to make the new world’s history look at him like a hero. What this does to the current story with Lena and Kara is anyone's guess but it lets the show do the classic dynamic of Lex being beloved while the Kryptonians know how terrible he truly is. Oh and that wink he gives Kara at the medal ceremony is just the right amount of smarmy. We even got a cameo from Marv Wolfman, one of the brains behind the 'Crisis' comics and countless other comic projects, as a rabid fanboy.

The cheat I mentioned was a sort of necessary but all too easy catch up from J’onn as he psychically fills in all the other heroes on what happened and what's changed. I get why that doesn’t mean it isn't cheap. Also speaking of cheap, J’onn shows off a new look as I’m guessing budget concerns have pushed them to let the human side of J’onn wear his Martian suit and fight now, cutting the CG bill in half, though he still changed to fly so we’ll have to see how much they use his new look.

The episode really felt like a victory lap, having Mick be at a book signing and bringing back giant Beebo however brief was very fan-servicey. This of course before we found out the Anti-Monitor is still alive and sends swarms of his ghouls to attack. This time though they have a plan to have him shrink supposedly forever into the Microverse also cementing Palmer and Choi’s bond before the hand-off hero duties later this season.

Kara got to be scary again as she did what looked like a death charge at the Anti-Monitor, before being told she throws like a girl, again a cheesy but oh so satisfying silly end to the whole crossover. It was the final moments that really showed how much has changed and how much got fixed. The big one, something that never sat right with me was after Flashpoint Diggle’s child went from a girl to a boy showing the timeline was altered. Now Diggle has both children fixing one of Barry’s biggest mistakes. Also Lois tells Clark their sons, plural, are with her. We’ll see how this shakes out especially as they got a series order. And in a big and final send off to Ollie (his eighth one by now), the President gives Oliver credit for saving the world … or actually worlds as we see that a new Multiverse is established, acknowledging the DC Universe shows including the upcoming Stargirl, Titans, Doom Patrol and what looks like a sneak peak at HBOMax’s Green Lantern project, ending the montage on a perfect note as Brandon Routh’s old, weary Superman lives and looks happy finally.

In an episode with what seems like every piece of fan service possible, we got another cherry on top as the hangar from the first big crossover is established as the base for this world’s Justice League and yes it is the Hall of Justice. We even get a hint at Fleek the super monkey being loose in the world, though I doubt we’ll see that pay off ever.

This crossover was a giant, ambitious, messy, cheesy, uneven, gloriously nerdy pile of callbacks and references that is as dorky as it is fun! I could have done with some better action sequences but it more than made up for that with the fun and chemistry from the cast. Well done! The aftershocks of this event will surely be felt in the seasons to come of all of the CW series and exciting things look to be on the horizon.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The 92nd Academy Awards Nominations

© AMPAS
It's a record setting year, but not without controversy
by Chuck Duncan

Probably the least interesting thing about this year's Oscars ceremony will be that for the second year in a row, there will be no traditional host. What should be of great interest is the completely open races there are in several categories, including Best Picture. The reason: this is the first time in Oscars history that FOUR films have earned ten or more nominations. That means four films will be duking it out for Best Picture with a possible fifth as a real spoiler. Among the Best Picture nominees, Joker scored 11 nominations while The Irishman, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood and 1917 racked up 10 each. Of course, nominations don't always matter. In 1977, Star Wars had 10 nominations including Best Picture, and Julia and The Turning Point scored 11 noms plus Best Picture. The winner was Annie Hall with just five nominations ... and four wins.

But in the Best Picture race, the nominees in the Editing category seem to predict what film will win Best Picture. Only ten films since 1934 have won Best Picture without winning in the Editing category, the most recent being 2014's Birdman, but that was promoted as a 'single-shot' movie so no Editing nomination was expected. The same holds for 1917, also billed as one continuous take. Before Birdman, Ordinary People in 1980 was the last Best Picture winner with no Editing nomination. And of the four top nominees, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood joins 1917 without an Editing nomination. The spoiler here could be Parasite, which is also up for Director, Original Screenplay and International Film as well as Editing. That film has been a critical darling, scooping up awards left and right, so it very well could go on to win both Best Picture and International Foreign Film and upset everyone. 1917's Golden Globe win for Best Picture - Drama is not a guarantee of an Oscar.

Where it gets a little less crazy is in the acting categories. You can almost bet on DiCaprio, Zellweger and Pitt to take their categories, and Laura Dern may have a lock on Supporting Actress.

Like it or not, Netflix is a major player this year with three Best Picture nominees -- The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes -- as well as two of the Animated Feature nominations for I Lost My Body and Klaus, icing out Disney's expected Frozen II nomination. The Mouse House scored just one in the category with Toy Story 4, only one of two sequels in the category.

Where the Academy stumbled this year was in its representation of women and diversity, at least in the major categories. Everyone held their breath during the Directing nominations, hoping to hear the name of at least one of the three women directors eligible in the category -- Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Lulu Wang (The Farewell) and Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim). Gerwig did get notice with an Adapted Screenplay nomination as well as Best Picture, but the directing omission that was carried over from the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs is causing some uproar. Cynthia Erivo represents the only real diversity in the major nominations with her Best Actress nod (as well as Best Song), while many expected and hoped Awkwafina would score for The Farewell, and Eddie Murphy would have seen a nomination for Dolemite Is My Name. One may think the Academy is still congratulating itself for egregiously awarding Green Book the Best Picture Oscar last year.

Say what you will, it should all make for a very interesting ceremony come February 9. Below is a complete list of this year's Oscar nominees. Did your favorites score or get snubbed?

BEST PICTURE

  • Ford v Ferrari
  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Joker
  • Little Women
  • Marriage Story
  • 1917
  • Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
  • Parasite

 

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
  • Adam Drive, Marriage Story
  • Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
  • Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

 

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
  • Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
  • Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
  • Charlize Theron, Bombshell
  • Renée Zellweger, Judy

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
  • Al Pacino, The Irishman
  • Joe Pesci, The Irishman
  • Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood

 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
  • Laura Dern, Marriage Story
  • Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
  • Florence Pugh, Little Women
  • Margot Robbie, Bombshell

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
  • I Lost My Body
  • Klaus
  • Missing Link
  • Toy Story 4

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • The Irishman
  • Joker
  • The Lighthouse
  • 1917
  • Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood

 

COSTUME DESIGN

  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Joker
  • Little Women
  • Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood

 

DIRECTING

  • Martin Scorses, The Irishman
  • Todd Phillips, Joker
  • Sam Mendes, 1917
  • Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
  • Bong Joon Ho, Parasite

 

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • American Factory
  • The Cave
  • The Edge of Democracy
  • For Sama
  • Honeyland

 

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

  • In the Absence
  • Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone
  • Life Overtakes Me
  • St. Louis Superman
  • Walk Run Cha-Cha

 

FILM EDITING

  • Ford v Ferrari
  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Joker
  • Parasite

 

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

  • Corpus Christi
  • Honeyland
  • Les Misérables
  • Pain and Glory
  • Parasite

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

  • Bombshell
  • Joker
  • Judy
  • Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
  • 1917

 

ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Hildur Guðnadóttir, Joker
  • Alexandre Desplat, Little Women
  • Randy Newman, Marriage Story
  • Thomas Newman, 1917
  • John Williams, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

 

ORIGINAL SONG

  • 'I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away', Toy Story 4
  • '(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again', Rocketman
  • 'I'm Standing With You', Breakthrough
  • 'Into the Unknown', Frozen II
  • 'Stand Up', Harriet

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • 1917
  • Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
  • Parasite

 

ANIMATED SHORT FILM

  • Dcera (Daughter)
  • Hair Love
  • Kitbull
  • Memorable
  • Sister

 

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

  • Brotherhood
  • Nefta Football Club
  • The Neighbors' Window
  • Saria
  • A Sister

 

SOUND EDITING

  • Ford v Ferrari
  • Joker
  • 1917
  • Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

 

SOUND MIXING

  • Ad Astra
  • Ford v Ferrari
  • Joker
  • 1917
  • Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Avengers: Endgame
  • The Irishman
  • The Lion King
  • 1917
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Joker
  • Little Women
  • The Two Popes

 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Knives Out
  • Marriage Story
  • 1917
  • Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
  • Parasite

Monday, January 6, 2020

Movie review: Chained for Life

© Flies Collective
Chained for Life takes a unique approach to define beauty
by Justin Moore

Chained for Life opens up with a quote from Pauline Kael that discusses how actors and actresses are more beautiful than ordinary people and how they have an advantage over everyone because everyone loves to look at beautiful people. This quote represents the film, directed by Aaron Schimberg, which offers a unique look at how actors and actresses with disabilities may be treated differently than others and what defines beauty. Chained for Life feels different than most movies that attempt to send a message like this. The film is about a German director (he may not be German and he may have been raised in a circus) who is shooting a horror film about a scientist who operates on disabled patients. One of the stars of the film is Mabel, who plays a young woman who is blind. She meets her co-star, the man she is supposed to be in love with in the film, Rosenthal, who is played by Adam Pearson. Pearson was born with neurofibromatosis, a condition that causes tumors to grow on his face. Mabel struggles with working with her co-star but opens up when Rosenthal asks her for acting lessons.

Their relationship builds on and off screen which features some charming moments amongst the two as well as some deep conversations. Rosenthal is very comfortable with himself, despite his condition, and considers himself shy even though he talks to everyone around him. Mabel is written as someone who worries about what other people say about her. Mabel is a beautiful actress and Pauline Kael would say that she landed her role because of her beauty. Rosenthal and Mabel are completely different characters and director Aaron Schimberg uses that to his advantage.

He is able to tell a story about how people with disabilities are treated while filming a movie or even out in public. The film the German director is shooting features other actors and actresses with disabilities and he makes them sleep in the hospital that they are filming the movie at while everyone else spends the night in a nice hotel. Schimberg uses subtle moments to capture how disabled people are treated poorly but making those moments feel heavy.

Towards the end of the film, it is hard to determine what is part of the movie being filmed or not. Many moments in Chained for Life has a scene starts off with intriguing dialogue that captures the viewers, but is quickly revealed to be a scene within their film. I found it frustrating at times because I found the scenes that were being filmed to be powerful, but it turned out to be part of a movie within a movie. This happens quite often at the end of the film with no transition into the crew getting together to set the scene.

One of my favorite aspects of the film is how often there are long conversations that are part of the horror movie that is being filmed as well as off-screen. There are a lot of conversations about beauty, dreams, and what people would do if they didn’t look like they did. Chained for Life had a lot to say about beauty and what defines it. Schimberg was able to convey his message well with a unique style of directing. Schimberg often utilizes long takes to allow for the actors and actresses to have deep meaningful conversations.

Chained for Life took a unique approach to tell its story. I loved Adam Schimberg’s directing as well as the message behind the film. I also would be interested in seeing the movie that was being filmed within Chained for Life. That seemed like a good movie too!

Chained for Life is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Kino Lorber on January 7, 2020. Click on the image below to order.

Chained for Life
 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Blu-ray review: Yesterday

© Universal Pictures
Yesterday brings the music of the Beatles home on Blu-ray
by Justin Moore

I saw Yesterday over the summer when it was released and enjoyed most of the film. The Danny Boyle directed film about a world without The Beatles was heartwarming and I couldn’t wait to explore it again on Blu-ray. Yesterday centers around Jack Malik, a struggling musician who wakes one day after a crash and learns that the Beatles were never a thing. He is the only one that knows who the Beatles are and uses that to his advantage to get popular. Himesh Patel stars as Jack who finally catches his big break after his crash. In a world of superhero movies, sequels, and remakes, it is nice for original films to come along and present an appealing story.

Review

Yesterday had such an interesting concept that made the film intriguing to watch. One of my issues the first time I saw it and it is still a gripe of mine the second time around is that Danny Boyle creates a generic film as it moves along. The movie explored what it is like to live a life of stardom and what you must give up for it. Lily James also stars in the film as Ellie Appleton. With having her in the film and exploring their relationship, the film unfortunately falls into the cliché moments despite having a unique plot. Every single time that Jack is performing a Beatles song, I loved it. The Beatles are a band that are widely popular, and the use of their songs makes the film fun to watch.

Video

The video presentation looks crisp and bright. The moments where Jack is performing live is stunning to look at with the large crowd. I was impressed with the presentation because it was a night concert, which could have been dark and hard to see, but it was presented clearly. All the settings that Jack visits throughout the movie capture stunning details and are colorful and warm.

Audio

The audio in Yesterday is superb. The musical moments feel grand, which works since a lot of those moments are presented in front of a large crowd. The smaller musical moments of Jack playing a guitar are clear and personal. The audio is the highlight of the film since it is a movie featuring the music of the Beatles and the Beatles deserve the best.

© Universal Pictures
Special Features
The Blu-ray release of Yesterday is packed with special features ranging from alternate endings, deleted scenes, and more. A DVD and digital copy are included in the Blu-ray release.

  • Alternate ending (3:10)
  • Deleted Scenes (23:29 Total runtime)
  • Live at Abbey Road Studios (9:50) -- Three songs that Himesh Patel sang at Abby Road Studios live.
  • Alternate Opening (4:47)
  • Gag Reel (2:04)
  • A Talented Duo (3:25) -- A look at the collaboration of director and writer.
  • Playing for Real (5:35) -- This offers an inside look at the casting choice for the film and what it was like for Himesh Patel to learn how to sing, play, and perform the Beatles songs.
  • Soul Mates (4:47) -- This special feature takes a closer look at the relationship between Jack and Ellie.
  • Ed Sheeran: From Stadium to Screen (3:09) -- A look at Ed Sheeran’s role in the film.
  • Agent of Comedy: Kate McKinnon (3:17) -- A look at Kate McKinnon’s performance in the movie.
  • A Conversation with Richard & Ed (3:22) -- The writer of Yesterday and Ed Sheeran talk about the film.
  • Audio Commentary – Director Danny Boyle and writer/producer Richard Curtis talk about the production of the film in depth.
Overview
Overall, I enjoy the premise of Yesterday and all the moments involving songs from the Beatles. You can tell that Jack really was into the Beatles and it was impressive that he was able to remember all their songs when no one else couldn’t. The film does feel a bit cliched at times, which is unfortunate, but I am able to look past that and enjoy the film for what it was.

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Yesterday - Target CD

Movie review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

© Sony Pictures
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood proves the necessity of Mr. Rogers even now
by Jeremy Fogelman

Of course I need to start with a confession: I never liked watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as a kid. Perhaps I was already too old by the time I was even watching TV at six years old, but I do remember Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow being my jam back then. Mr. Roger’s was pleasant but often too slow and I didn’t really appreciate the show. It’s easier to appreciate what he was in retrospect, especially after last year’s emotional documentary. But did we need a Mr. Rogers biopic? Not really, and thankfully that’s not what we got.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood comes from director Marielle Heller, written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, inspired by the real life article written by Esquire writer Tom Junod in 1998 called "Can You Say ... Hero?" I recommend the article as an interesting bit of context for the movie, although I wouldn’t read it until you’ve seen the movie. Some elements are explicitly connected to the film, others are invented wholecloth.

The movie is framed as though it’s an episode of the television show, with Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks at his most sincere yet) introducing us to the story of his friend Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), the Esquire writer loosely based on Tom Junod. As we cut between scenes in different cities, the movie cleverly shows us various cityscapes in model form like the credits of the show, lending a feeling of unreality to Lloyd’s journey.

Lloyd is a new father, raising his son Gavin with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), and a writer for Esquire magazine. His typical articles are take-downs of public figures and celebrities, but that leaves him unpopular with potential interviewees. He also has a fraught relationship (or lack thereof) with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), who abandoned Lloyd and his mother. Jerry shows up at Lloyd’s sister’s wedding, and it doesn’t go well. Lloyd is completely uninterested in Jerry’s requests for forgiveness or insistence that he’s changed after a long term relationship.

© Sony Pictures
Then Lloyd gets a writing assignment to interview Fred Rogers, and there is a concern that the grim, cynical writer will “ruin people’s childhoods”, including his wife’s. Over the course of the movie, Lloyd’s continued interview and conversations with Mr. Rogers digs deeper and deeper into the lessons that are difficult to hear. Lloyd has difficulty believing that anyone can be so nice, but the movie reveals that it is and isn’t that simple.

The lesson here is that Mr. Rogers wasn’t a saint, but someone that worked to push back on his negative emotions and temper, and tried to spread good lessons to people, mainly children. Eventually in a scene of real emotional depth that is a truly wonderful moment of acting and directing, things begin to sink in.

The movie is unafraid to get weird, delving into hallucinatory images as Lloyd’s mind tries to get a hold of itself. Here Matthew Rhys, late of The Americans, shows off his perfect hangdog emotional complication, the self-proclaimed broken man that has an arc of healing. Chris Cooper is great like he always is in these problematic older man roles, while Susan Kelechi Watson gives depth to the “supportive partner” character type. And of course, Tom Hanks is wonderful, the driver of the movie but not the star, embodying Mr. Rogers in style and feeling without aping or impersonating him.

Ultimately this is a movie uninterested in hagiography of person but romanticism of personality. The lessons of Mr. Rogers sound so treacly and childish when you’re not in the right space to hear it, but he was always so connected to empathy and effortlessly communicative. It shows a way for anyone to get better, if they try, and that’s radical enough to praise in the slew of feel bad movies we’re getting these days.

Pre-order A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood today from FandangoNow!

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - FandangoNow
 

Monday, December 23, 2019

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Friday, December 20, 2019

Blu-ray review: Blinded By the Light

© Warner Bros. Pictures
Blinded by the Light is for any fans of The Boss
by Justin Moore

Blinded by the Light was released in theaters over the summer and was met with positive reviews. I missed the movie then, but thanks to Warner Bros., the Blu-ray copy they sent me to review will allow me to finally see what people were so excited about over the summer. Blinded by the Light was directed by Gurinder Chadha, who directed the 2000 sports film Bend it Like Beckham. This is inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his love for Bruce Springsteen. The film stars Viveik Kalra as Javed, a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager whose life is changed after he discovers the music of The Boss. The movie also stars Haley Atwell as a creative writing teacher, who pushes Javed to continue writing. Javed feels out of place at his new school. He struggles in his writing class and is rejected from the school’s writing paper. He feels that he is going nowhere with his writing, but once he discovers Springsteen, everything changes. Blinded by the Light takes a deep look at the power of music. When someone discovers an artist, they start to relate to them and it's all they think about. Viveik Kalra gives a fantastic performance as someone who struggles with the fact that they may not be the best writer they can be. The beginning of the film offers a realistic look at that struggle, but the film picks up and becomes jubilant once he discovers Springsteen. He starts to feel better about life, asks a girl out, starts writing more and everything just seems to fall in place for him. Music has that power on one’s life and Blinded by the Light and Kalra capture that well.

Video

One of the things I found most impressive about Blinded by the Light and its presentation was the use of shadows. When Javed first listens to the Boss and runs outside, the use of shadows behind him provide excellent detail and offer a nice bonus to the movie. Chadha also utilizes lyrics on the screen, which has become popular lately, but they were done in an effective way that captured the lyrics that resonated with Javed.

Audio

This is a movie where the audio needs to shine. If the audio wasn’t at least decent, we wouldn’t be able to feel Springsteen’s lyrics the same way that Javed felt about them. Luckily, Warner Bros. put a lot of effort into this release. The moments with Springsteen’s music feel grand and the pop music soundtrack sounds so clear

Special Features

  • Memoir to Movie (6:09) – Blinded by the Light was adapted from 'Greetings from Bury Park – Race, Religion, Rock n Roll' by Sarfraz Manzoor (who also co-wrote the screenplay). This special feature takes an inside look at adapting the source material as well as shooting in Luton.
  • The Most Crazy Thing (6:54) – Sarfraz Manzoor talks about his love for Bruce Springsteen, writing his memoir, and what it was like to have the film approved by Bruce Springsteen himself.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (9:19)- There are two deleted scenes provided for the film as well as one extended scene.
  • Digital Copy – A digital copy code is provided with the movie to download on Movies Anywhere.

Overall

Blinded by the Light was a very surprising film. I enjoyed how heartfelt it was. Springsteen’s music was powerful within the movie and the use of the lyrics on the screen were able to capture how Javed felt. At its core, it is a film about how an artist can change someone’s life and if anyone listens to music, they can relate to this movie. I also fell in love with Bruce Springsteen a little more with this movie!

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment generously provided Hotchka with a Blu-ray version of the film for reviewing purposes.

Blinded by the Light is available on Blu-ray/DVD from Target.com and the WBShop.com and on Digital from FandangoNow. Make any purchase through the links and help support Hotchka!

Blinded By the Light BD - TargetBlinded By the Light DVD - Target

Blinded By the Light - FandangoNowBlinded By the Light BD - WBShop

Blinded By the Light soundtrack available from Target.com.

Blinded By the Light CD - Target

Greetings from Bury Park – Race, Religion, Rock n Roll by Sarfraz Manzoor available from BN.com.

Greetings from Bury Park - B&N


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Movie review: The Report

© Amazon Studios
I don’t care for political movies, but I liked The Report
by Justin Moore

I’m not one for political movies. I mostly ignore politics, which is hard nowadays since it is all over social media. Whenever there is a new political movie, I often skip it, but I wanted to check out The Report solely because of Adam Driver. Driver has three films coming out in the span of a month. His two films in December (Marriage Story and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) are a perfect way to cap off the year.

Adam Driver stars as Daniel Jones, an FBI agent who is tasked with investigating the CIA’s use of torture on suspected terrorists. After the 9/11 attacks, the CIA adopted new interrogation techniques. With not paying too much attention to politics, I was not too familiar with this report and investigation, so I went into the movie with an open mind.

The movie presented the argument of why the report needed to be made and why it should be destroyed. Throughout the film, many people were trying to convince Daniel Jones that his report should be destroyed since the CIA was trying to stop future attacks by interrogating suspected terrorists. On Daniel Jones side, he believes that no human should be interrogating people the way the CIA was. By having both arguments present, it makes the report more urgent and the film more gripping.

Adam Driver has shown throughout the years that he is a talented actor. He can balance comedic and dramatic roles. He is very believable in his role and truly is invested in his character. The report Jones is writing up is a very long document, which requires hours and hours of hard work, and Driver easily convinces the audience that Jones was motivated to finish the report.

I was surprised with the large cast that is in this movie. The cast includes Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, Michael C. Hall, and Maura Tierney. Everyone has an important role in the film, big or small, and makes the report feel important all the way till the last few minutes when Senator John McCain read the report.

Scott Z. Burns hasn’t directed a movie since 2006 but has spent most of career writing films that are directed by Steven Soderbergh, who also serves as the producer for The Report. He keeps the movie feeling quick and rarely slows down. As someone who isn’t into politics, I appreciated the quick pace for the film since I always remained interested.

I was surprised with how much I liked The Report. If I scrolled through my favorite films of recent years, there wouldn’t be a political thriller in there. The Report won’t crack my top ten of the year, but I am glad I sat down and watched it. And hey, I learned things about the CIA and FBI!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Movie review: Honey Boy

© Amazon Studios
Honey Boy is the most daring film of 2019
by Justin Moore

Shia LaBeouf has enjoyed a lengthy career since his days on the Disney Channel show Even Stevens in the early 2000s to his most recent summer movie, The Peanut Butter Falcon. I think Shia LaBeouf is an underrated actor and most of his recent films have great performances from him. His newest film, Honey Boy, which he also writes, is probably his best performance ever and a daring film as well.

Honey Boy is inspired by Shia LaBeouf’s upbringings with his father and his childhood fame. Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges both play Otis, who is essentially LaBeouf and Shia LaBeouf plays his own dad, whose real name is Jefferey, but goes by James in the film. There aren’t many movies that have an actor play their father in a film. Straight Outta Compton had O’Shea Jackson Jr. play his father in the movie. It is a unique approach that can bring authenticity to the role. Shia LaBeouf witnessed first-hand how his father treated him, so he is able to bring a realistic performance to the movie.

LaBeouf easily could have written his father as a disgusting human, but he decided to mix what he loved about his father and what he hated. LaBeouf has described his father as a “tough as nails kind of person” but he loved his father and his father loved him. He brought heartwarming moments to the role of his father, but also presented moments that made LaBeouf’s life so hard. We get to see the effects his father had on him as an adult, played by Lucas Hedges. Both Jupe and Hedges give such a surreal performance as the same character, who is struggling to connect with his father. Lucas Hedges picks his roles wisely and only appears in films when it is award season. Besides appearing in Honey Boy this year, he will also be starring in Waves later this year. With films like Lady Bird, Manchester by the Sea, and Boy Erased, Hedges is proving to be strong presence in Hollywood.

At times this movie is heartwarming when you are witnessing Otis interacting with his father and how he is helping him, but as the movie progresses we witness a harsher side to Otis’ father. The film quickly becomes a devastating, heartbreaking film that shows how a father can affect your life for the good or bad. The film started off with an older Otis as he was filming a movie, and during breaks drank alcohol and was constantly putting himself and others in harm. As the movie jumps back and forth between an older and younger Otis, we get to witness why he acts the way he does.

Honey Boy is a film that is daring but paid off in the end. The idea of this movie first threw me off, but it ended up being a powerful film with strong performances. A lot of people don’t like to talk about their childhood if they had one similar to LaBeouf’s but I thought it was brave of him to write a screenplay that put all of his hard upbringings on the screen for everyone to witness. At times he can make this film relatable with how his father is treating him, which makes the film realistic, even if Otis is a childhood star.

Honey Boy trailer
© Amazon Studios

Movie review: Waves


© A24
Waves comes crashing in and leaves me wrecked
by Justin Moore

Trey Edwards Shults has only directed three films since directing Krisha back in 2015. His follow up to Krisha, It Comes at Night, was a polarizing horror film that was met with mixed reviews. His latest film Waves is by far his best film. The film stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell, and Lucas Hedges and centers on a suburban family as they navigate love, forgiveness and coming together in the wake of a loss.

Shults is an impressive director. His directing style always feels like it is in a constant motion. Early on in the movie, Shults shows off his directing style by moving the camera in a circle to showcase the characters and their surroundings. He often resorts to that style, but it always remains unique. Even when the characters are still, the camera is always moving.

This is a simple film about family, love, loss, and forgiveness. For the first 30 minutes or so, I didn’t see what the draw to this movie was. It seemed to have no focus or structure but as the film progressed, I understood the core of the film. The family consists of four members and the younger son and daughter get most of the screen time. Kelvin Harrison Jr., who shined in Luce earlier this year, stars as Tyler, a popular high school senior on the wrestling team. He often parties with his friends. After hurting his shoulder during wrestling, he becomes addicted to painkillers. This is where the film takes a turn and becomes devastating. The film's theme of loss and love hit hard. There are so many heartbreaking moments within the second act of the film as we see Tyler become more distant from his family and more aggressive with his girlfriend. The film focused a lot on Tyler and I thought the movie was going to stay focused on him but the third act of the movie focuses on his younger sister Emily.

The film remains emotional once Emily is the center of the movie, but it manages to add some lovely moments. She connects with Luke, played by Lucas Hedges, who is one of Tyler’s teammates. As Emily is dealing with shame and rage from her brother’s actions, she lets Luke into her life, and together they enjoy themselves amidst a time that is hard for her. Taylor Russell was fantastic in her role. The moments where she is thinking about her brother’s actions are heavy and believable, so when Luke makes her happy, the smile on Emily’s face says a lot.

Waves is an emotional rollercoaster. At times I felt pure joy as Emily and Luke were building a genuine connection but I also felt completely wrecked by watching Tyler’s storyline. At the end of the film, I just sat there and watched the credits roll and thought about what I just saw. 2019 has offered plenty of great films, most coming within the last month or so, and Waves is one of the best.

Waves trailer
© A24

Crisis on Infinite Earths Parts 1-3

© The CW
It’s here!
by Brandon Coulson

Part 1

Crisis started with a lot of fan service but done in a pretty interesting way. To establish just how widespread the destruction was we got a quick series of scenes on multiple Earths all about to be destroyed. Robert Wuhl’s Knox character from the 1989 Batman, DC Universe’s Titans, even original Robin Burt Ward all made quick cameos and as far as we know were wiped out by the wave of antimatter destroying the multiverse.

Even Super nerd Will Wheaton makes a cameo as an end of the world nut job. The pace of the first episode of the crossover was almost exhausting the way it ping-ponged from character to character, desperate to set up so many threads and give those in the audience unfamiliar with any one of the five main shows some semblance of understanding. The main takeaway is just about everyone who watches this is going to be lost at some point about something, so you just gotta go with the flow.

© The CW
There were some clumsy and frustrating fakeouts early on in the destruction of Argo and the supposed death of Superman and Lois Lane. While the scene of them shooting their son off in a rocket both mirrored Superman's origins, even some of Marlon Brando’s dialogue, as well as Alexander Luthor’s from the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” comics the crossover is based on. Later having Clark and Lois teleported away at the last minute with their son lost seemed unnecessary in an already overstuffed special. Even more pointless was the journey to the alternate future to save the child and give us another look at old Ollie for pretty much no reason. Frankly, aside from the gray hair he looks just like the main Oliver and it brought things to a screeching halt. Yes, it did fix a plot hole in having a future Oliver even though he is supposed to be dead but really, who cares?

There were some very sweet moments as well though, from the heart-to-heart with Kara to Mia getting her own Green Arrow suit, the heart was there. The fights with the Antimonitor’s blue meanies however was the worst kind of CG mess while those poor actors kicked and punched into nothingness.

Part 1 does end on quite a surprise though as the Monitor is shown to not know everything. After saying Ollie would die well into the final confrontation, he ends up dying saving billions from Kara’s Earth. Poor Stephen Amell did his best here but we all know his looks were always his strongest skill way ahead of his acting, and the death scene just felt awkward. What it did do was establish that anything can happen and The Monitor’s omnipotence is no longer a thing. This all brought us to…

© The CW
Part 2

Now Part 2 was both incredibly satisfying and an incredible gut punch. With the team mourning Oliver’s death, things went into some very unexpected directions, good and bad.

The whole thing about promising the Legends no more crossovers made me sad as it meant half of the legends were absent from the crossover. I don’t know if this was budget or scheduling, or perhaps to not address the big changes from last season's end. However they did cheat and grab Mick from another Earth with a Waverider equipped with a Captain Cold AI. Pretty brilliant and very enjoyable.

The sequence with baby Jonathan crying, continually interrupting the Monitor, was very cute as he gets traded from person to person ending up with Mick. The whole paragon thing seemed a bit forced to me, especially seeing as all but one ended up being from established CW series, but it did provide room for plenty of fake outs.

As they started looking for the paragons, Luthor went on a Superman massacre. These two storylines led us to the two most anticipated cameos of the crossover by far. As we got to Gotham and that old animated series theme started up I got goosebumps. The man who has been Batman’s voice for almost thirty years finally got to be the Bat in the flesh. Kevin Conroy and his assistant, a very ripped Luke Fox, got face time with Kate and Kara. Oh boy, these showrunners are gonna get some hate mail as Conroy’s Batman ends up being a bitter and murderous version. But it was so fun seeing him take that character he’s played so long to such a dark place … and then die on screen! Jesus, I did not see that coming!

Luthor’s trip gave us a dead hero as well as we got a brief glimpse of one version of Superman he murdered, just to give us an homage to the nineties "Death of Superman" comics. But the big payoff was his next victim in Smallville, Kansas as Tom Welling returned! The scene and Tom specifically played things kind of odd and aloof, almost awkwardly so. But the reveal that he no longer is affected by Kryptonite because he gave up his powers to have a family, such a nice button on that story and seeing Erica Durance back with Tom just gave me a smile.

Of course we eventually got to see Brandon Routh back in the red and blue and again, just fantastic both in fan service and letting Routh just go for it, even interacting with his Legends character. Using the classic Superman theme during Routh’s scenes also gave things that extra air of gravitas.

My only real gripe with Part 2 is the immediate journey to use a Lazarus pit to resurrect Oliver felt like it completely undercut the death. More on that in a bit but seeing as it gave reason to bring Constantine in, one of my favorites, I’ll allow it. All that and a tease of Lyla with the Anti-Monitor and we got to…

© The CW
Part 3

So lets be honest, that Birds of Prey cameo, that’s for like the four people who watched that series right? Cause I am a DC super nerd and never had one iota of interest in that series.

But Part 3 has to be my favorite of the three episodes so far, just ever so slightly over Part 2 and miles ahead of Part 1. We meet Ryan Choi who is a paragon as well as heavily rumored to be the new Atom as Brandon Routh has announced he’s leaving the CW. Cisco was back to his old self, both as Vibe thanks to the Monitor as well as the amount of shade he was throwing at the Anti’s moniker and Pariah’s suit.

The most shocking cameo of the crossover came from the journey to purgatory for Oliver’s soul as on Earth 666 we met Lucifer, yeah, like the Fox to Netflix series! Unexpected, crazy and kinda perfect. Following that the actual finding and reminding Oliver who he is happened way too easy and then suddenly the Spectre showed up seemingly to make Oliver the new Spectre. For those who don’t know, The Spectre is God’s Spirit of Vengeance and an incredibly powerful character in the comics. I’m betting Oliver as The Spectre is what brings back everyone who was killed in Crisis.

Speaking of killed, that brings us to the Flash and his big sacrifice. Not so fast Barry cause other Barry has some thoughts on that. Yes, the big showdown this episode was at a treadmill powered by John Wesley Shipp’s Flash. After a bunch of exposition and rolling Black Lightning into the mix, Earth 1’s Barry is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, until Shipp steals his speed and his place. I gotta say I knew they wouldn’t kill the primary Barry but this whole swapping out of Flashes felt kind of cheap to me. What redeemed it was having Shipp disintegrate in the iconic crisis manner and even tossing a flashback to his series.

The banter and heart-to-heart moments really made this part special. Kate and Kara had a very nice moment, their friendship is being built up as a new cornerstone to the CWverse or whatever they will call it once Arrow is gone. Also I really liked Black Lightning and Barry’s conversation on loss and moving forward. All while the multiverse was getting wiped out.

Yeah, Marvel had a cliffhanger with half the universe being wiped out, but DC left us with all of existence save a handful of heroes whisked off to the Vanishing Point ready to make one last stand against the Anti-Monitor... in a  month! Of course one last twist came as Routh’s Superman had one more loss as he gets swapped with Lex Luthor officially taking the one and only non-CW character out of the final battle. One little Easter egg was that Luthor shows up, not with the Book of Destiny but “The Count of Monte Cristo”. A book about a man who is wrongly imprisoned and escapes to wreak vengeance on those who did him wrong. Surely just how Luthor sees himself. Cryer has absolutely killed it as Luthor, so seeing him go on to the final showdown should be quite entertaining.

So with the first three of five down what do we think so far? Cheesy? Yes. Was it mostly fan service? You Betcha! Were the limits of a TV budget painfully on display? Whoa boy, they certainly were! But was it fun? Let me say as a lifelong comic fan I was and am giddy to see such a ridiculous and iconic story brought to life.  My biggest hope is coming out of the Crisis and let's be honest, when everyone save three or four characters gets brought back to life, that the CW uses this the same way DC did - to clean up continuity. Fold these worlds together, make things simpler, aside from that let’s go full steam ahead, January can’t come soon enough!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Movie review: Marriage Story

© Netflix

Marriage Story breaks and warms the heart in a story about people losing each other
by Jeremy Fogelman

A lot of movies have an autobiographical vibe to them, sometimes subtle or subconscious, sometimes obvious and intentional like Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. Obviously all of Woody Allen’s movies are that sort of nonsense, but I think that usually adding more of a layer between fiction and reality often works better. And the emotions can still be truth.

Marriage Story comes from director/writer Noah Baumbach, inspired by his own separation from Jennifer Jason Leigh a few years ago. Here we follow a couple at the end of their marriage as they try to figure out how to handle the new trauma of divorce. Scarlett Johansson plays Nicole the wife, an actor who was known for a hit college movie when she was younger and is now mainly working in the theater in New York City where they leave. Her frequent collaborator and director is Charlie (Adam Driver), the husband, who has his own issues.

Although the two start off thinking that they’ll handle it all easily and without lawyers, things change when Nicole moves back to Los Angeles with their son Henry to accept a new, exciting acting opportunity and where all of her family lives. Although Charlie often visits, and gets along with his soon to be ex for the most part, he gets served papers from Nicole in an awkward, amusing scene, as Nicole has decided to get a lawyer after all.

This is Nora (Laura Dern), and she presents a more potentially acrimonious and destructive side that gets mirrored when Charlie considers a lawyer of his own, first the equally harsh Jay (Ray Liotta) but then later the milder, less intense Bert (Alan Alda). As the two battle back and forth in ways small and large, old pains and arguments arise and things get inevitably worse. There’s an underlying theme and questions of LA vs NY, a fight of exaggeration and the secrets only someone who was truly close could say.

© Netflix
The couple isn’t simply hateful and angry, they still have something there between them, even if it isn’t romance any longer. Neither is a cliché or caricature, both seem like real people, caught up in the drama of the divorce but mainly wanting not to lose their son entirely. The movie builds and builds until it explodes, but it feels so real.

This a movie built on naturalistic dialogue with a hint of romanticism, impeccably acted by two attractive people fallen out of love with each other. Adam Driver plays his role as a man trying to balance precariously without falling over, always with a hint or patina of fear below his actions. I’ve been a fan of the dude for a while, and he’s someone who’s always had a great sense of his own physicality and how to channel emotion through it.

Scarlett Johansson continues her year of great performances (after Avengers: Endgame and Jojo Rabbit) with a wholly different role but one with significant emotional depth. Her loyalty to Woody Allen is really the only thing that I can possibly say against her favor, because she’s such an underrated talent, dramatically and comedically.

The movie skips along with an excellent pace despite being over two hours; this is easily my favorite of Noah Baumbach’s movies (I sometimes have found them a bit pretentious at times), but this feels the least cruel, cold, or hipster. This is a movie where you can’t help but root for two people that are fighting each other because they have no other idea what to do.

This is that time of year where there’s an awful lot of good movies coming our, and Marriage Story is definitely a good one to see. It may hurt at first, but it won’t leave you that way. 

Marriage Story has a run time of 2 hours 16 minutes and has is rated R for language throughout and sexual references. Click on the image below to view the trailer.

Marriage Story trailer
 

Monday, December 2, 2019

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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Movie Review - Away

© Subliminal Films
'Away' offers a minimalistic, immersive adventure in an escape from reality
by Jeremy Fogelman

Some movies are stuffed with too much plot to even preview in a review, but others have so little or are so basic that it’s basically a sentence or more to explain what it’s all about. The entire nature of a filmmaker being involved with a film often involves many layers between them and their final output, the various producers, studio notes, etc. There is something a bit different when the vision is an elevated student film.

Away comes from director Gints Zilbalodis, who also wrote and animated it. The style of the animation is all colors and no lines, although it’s not particularly impressionistic. There is no dialogue, only mild sound effects and an ever-present score. The movie follows a young boy crash landed (or so it seems) on a mysterious island by himself and with little help. In the style of a classic video game, he finds useful tools like a water canteen and a small motorbike, and the movie also switches between “stages” in a similar way.

You see all biomes here, desert and forest, jungle and mountain, snow and plains. Thus the feeling of showing off a different style of overcoming obstacles and solving puzzles. With a stark note of empathy, the boy rescues a small yellow bird, which is something to clearly pay dividends later. But as he explores, he sees a mysterious dark giant, shadowed and with two enormous white eyes, heading towards him.

It’s obvious that it’s something sinister or dangerous, or so it seems. The ultimate “point” or meaning behind the giant is a bit muddled, simplified to an extreme design and nature, assisted by the occasionally creepy score. Just like a game, the boy passes through various circular gates of stone, symbolic of the new places he must visit, with title cards to indicate the newest adventure or puzzle to be overcome.

The movie isn’t very long at all, more impressive as a feat of coherent story together than anything like a wonderful feat of animation and meaning since it came from one person. To me, the fact that there is a particular vibe and energy to the movie speaks well to the creator, a sort of sleepy, heightened reality of mysterious circumstances.

There’s a lot of design choices that remind me of all the various mysterious islands I’ve seen over the years, but this movie is more interested in trying to get you to empathize with the boy with no name who never speaks. For the most part, this is successful, even if some of the weird parts don’t quite work; they are often too weird or not weird enough.

Still, I think the ambience flows well and the movie isn’t boring, leaving an impression of something with mild substance if not depth. I think it bodes well for the future of the animator/director/creator.

© Subliminal Films

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Dancing With the Stars S28E10: Semi-Finals

© ABC
DWTS Semi-Finals Night Was Redemption Night for Front-Runners
By Kim Krober

It was Semi-Finals Night on Dancing with the Stars. The first round was the Redemption Round, during which each couple was given the chance to redeem a previous dance the judges felt could have benefited from more precision or traditional dance content. The second round was a regular round of competition. Rather than experiencing the usual pang of sadness, I'm almost relieved that the competition will be over next week, as this season has felt exhausting to rally behind at times. Let's see how your favorites did during this tenth week of competition:

© ABC
Lauren Alaina & Gleb Savchenko, Paso Doble
Lauren and Gleb were tasked by Len to redeem their Paso Doble. Set to Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger", their redemption Paso Doble was full of attack. Len felt it had a lovely mix of expression and aggression with improved shaping. Bruno admired the way Lauren handled all of the men in the routine, saying she looked more centered and so much stronger than the last time. Carrie Ann could tell how far she has come, saying she commands the dance floor now. Erin Andrews complimented her for owning her black velvet outfit, to which I would have to agree.
Score: 27

© ABC
Kel Mitchell & Witney Carson, Tango
Kel and Witney were asked by Bruno to redeem their Tango to The Temptations' "Get Ready". I didn't care for the disjarring way Kel kept changing facial expressions between intense and fun-loving Kel. Bruno was proud of him though, saying he delivered on everything he asked, praising him for ejecting his personality into the dance. Carrie Ann admired the way he's become more refined in his movements and how he applies every criticism into making  improvements. Len said it had an intensity he liked and he complimented Kel for really attacking the dance.
Score: 27

© ABC
Ally Brooke & Sasha Farber, Viennese Waltz
Ally and Sasha were asked by Len to improve their turns in the Viennese Waltz. Set to Ed Sheeran's "Perfect", it looked pretty perfect to me. Len thought it was wonderful with a lovely gentleness and better technique, saying she went from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Bruno enjoyed the emotion, saying it was a joy to watch. Carrie Ann commended her ability to convey so much emotion in the dance. It earned her two 10's and a 9 from Len.
Score: 29

© ABC
Hannah Brown & Alan Bersten, Rumba
Carrie Ann challenged Hannah and Alan to redeem their Rumba from Week Three, which failed to show enough hip action. I could appreciate how Hannah felt about the judges personally attacking her week after week. At times, their critiques did feel a bit harsh this season. Set to Sam Smith and Normani's "Dancing with a Stranger", it sparkled beyond just their outfits, as Hannah proved she has earned her spot in the Semi-Finals. Carrie Ann appreciated seeing Hannah's journey, saying she was more noticeably open in her movements. Len thought she married the hip and arm actions perfectly. Bruno said it worked for her, praising the serious body motion. It was another trio of 9's.
Score: 27

© ABC
James Van Der Beek & Emma Slater, Cha-Cha
Len tasked James and Emma to improve their Cha-Cha from Week Two, which marked his lowest score of the competition. Len told him to cut out the gimmicks and concentrate on the dance moves. Set to "Canned Heat" from Jamiroquai, James' redemption Cha-Cha was a lot of fun with a disco vibe. Len didn't seem to love the routine ... he apparently felt it still had too many gimmicks. Bruno called it a disco Cha-Cha extravaganza, but he noticed James was off the beat. Carrie Ann felt it was entertaining, although she thought his posture was broken during the dance. Why did the judges suddenly throw a trio of 8's at the show's clear front-runner?
Score: 24

Round Two

© ABC
Lauren Alaina & Gleb Savchenko, Viennese Waltz
Set to "Humble and Kind" by Tim McGraw, Lauren's Viennese Waltz illustrated why she deserves to be in the Semi-Finals. Her pink dress and movements were absolutely gorgeous. Len thought it was elegant and graceful, while Bruno called it classy and sophisticated with a sizzling chemistry. Carrie Ann said they had become one and admired Lauren for growing up and blossoming in this competition.
Score: 27

© ABC
Kel Mitchell & Witney Carson, Contemporary
Set to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You", Kel's Contemporary was dedicated to the memory of one of his close childhood friends whose life was cut short by gun violence. Contemporary dances are always full of raw energy and emotion, and Kel did not disappoint. Bruno called it pure art with fluid lifts and a sincerity about it. Carrie Ann was brought to tears by the riveting storytelling. Len did something truly surprising and gave Kel a standing ovation without any words. Unsurprisingly, he earned a perfect score for his Contemporary.
Score: 30

© ABC
Ally Brooke & Sasha Farber, Charleston
Set to "Sing, Sing, Sing" by Benny Goodman, Ally and Sasha's Charleston was full of swing. I'll never understand why she's been in the bottom two so many times this season, as she's clearly one of the best dancers on the show. Carrie Ann praised it for being an in-sync show-stopper, while Len said it was fun, fabulous, and joyful with lots of Charleston references. Bruno called it a tonic for the spirit with elements of swing, Lindy Hop, and classic Hollywood musicals. It was another amazing bit of choreography on Sasha's part and another perfect score from the judges.
Score: 30

© ABC
James Van Der Beek & Emma Slater, Foxtrot
I had a feeling James' bad news was going to be that he and his wife, Kimberly, lost the baby they were expecting, but it didn't stop my heart from pouring out tears on his behalf after they confirmed that suspicion in his package. Dancing a Foxtrot to "Take Me to Church" by Hozier, James dedicated his dance to his wife for pushing him out on the dance floor this week, saying, "When there are no words, you dance." Len admired his ability to come out and dance with so much feeling, with Bruno echoing the sentiment and praising his flow and lines. Carrie Ann said she felt silly for talking about his posture after everything he was going through but wanted to compliment him for it anyway. He may not have been at the top of his game, but I still think he has the heart of a champion. He didn't deserve to be at the bottom of the leader board this week.
Score: 27

© ABC
Hannah Brown & Alan Bersten, Contemporary
Dancing a Contemporary routine to "Lose You to Love Me" by Selena Gomez, Hannah was able to channel a lot of emotion for one of her best dances this season. Bruno liked the wonderful dynamic with the lifts and drops. Carrie Ann loved seeing the trust between Hannah and her partner. Len admitted he doesn't normally like Contemporary dances, but he felt this was a great dance with a real connection between the couple. It was a great end - or maybe a beginning - to her journey.
Score: 27

© ABC
With five deserving couples remaining, I knew this was going to be the toughest elimination yet (although I didn't know just how tough). It was revealed that Ally & Sasha and James & Emma were in the bottom two. Carrie Ann and Bruno both voted to save Ally and Sasha (Len chimed in he also would have saved Ally and Sasha for the record). In one of the most noble and sincere gestures I've ever witnessed on the program, a visibly shaken Ally kept asking if she could go home instead of James, but of course that isn't allowed (not that James would take that honor away from her anyway).

Ally earned her spot in the Finals so I'm not upset by the judges' decision, but James also deserved to be there. He may not have had the best week, but he was dealt some of the most heartbreaking news a person can be given and still came out and gave it his all. No disrespect to any of the other couples, but this was the final straw that broke the camel's back. I think I need a break from this show. I'm torn between rooting for Kel & Witney and rooting for Ally & Sasha next week, but in my heart of hearts, James & Emma deserved to be in that third spot duking it out for the Mirror Ball Trophy and you're never going to convince me otherwise. Any win is going to feel a bit empty now.