MOVIE: Knives Out (2019)

Knives OutYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours One of the most under-utilized genres to date, a good mystery movie is hard to find these days. This is partly why Knives Out (2019) is such a joy to watch. With plenty of twists and turns—and a murderer that subverts all the numerous tropes of the genre—this film is almost on the edge of self-aware satire of mysteries on the whole. This is partly why I found Knives Out to be delightfully amusing: the absurd nature of some of the genre’s most tightly-held motifs were playfully subverted for a couple of genuine laughs. Of course, part of the problem of Knives Out being so self-aware is that it is inevitably predictable at several key moments. Depending on how far ahead a viewer can deduce the solution to a critical piece of evidence might determine how predictable it is for them. I did appreciate that there was always one piece of the puzzle...
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MOVIE: X-Men – Dark Phoenix (2019)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours I’m all for more faithful adaptations of stories into film. However, in long-running series like the X-Men franchise, I can’t help but wonder if efforts could have been spent on different storylines instead of trying to fix past mistakes. I know the “Dark Phoenix” saga is one of the best in the X-Men series, but after X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) tried to fill the gap of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) created by the ret-con in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), I can honestly say I preferred the version in The Last Stand. Up until now, I’ve been okay with the “First Class” set of prequels. They have taken an alternate history approach to lay out the lore of the X-Men, which I like. The problem with Dark Phoenix is that—after covering three decades in the last three films—the timeline finally caught up with the original trilogy. It was fun to...
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MOVIE: Star Wars – Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.37 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a die-hard Star Wars fan by any means. Sure, I like the original trilogy, but Return of the Jedi (1983) is my favorite of that set (take that how you will). In the end, I don’t look at this franchise through the lens of the expanded universe or all the lore tied to it. I just see them as movies. Are they entertaining? Sure, they have their moments. Are they groundbreaking? Not since A New Hope (1977), in my opinion. So, while The Force Awakens (2015) felt like a rehash/reboot, I did appreciate how The Last Jedi (2017) took some risks in terms of character development. So, how does The Rise of Skywalker (2019) fare? First of all, the plot moves at a hyperspace-clipped pace. There seemed to be so many loose ends to tie up and nostalgia to fit in that...
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MOVIE: An Education (2009)

An Education Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I’m not sure how I missed this film when it first came out. I suspect it was because I hadn’t started making a point to see all the Oscar-nominated films of that year—and 2009 bumped that number up significantly from five to ten. At any rate, I’m glad I eventually came around to it as it was a delightful—if not mostly generic—coming-of-age story. The only modern and recent example I can think of that equates to An Education (2009) is Lady Bird (2017), and I loved that film for similar reasons. As someone who generally grew up feeling “older” than his peers, I could relate to Jenny (Carey Mulligan, in her best Audrey Hepburn impersonation). There’s a point when some teenagers like Jenny think they’ve figured out the “rules” of life and are therefore ready to jump into adulthood with both feet. This is definitely where the titular “education” comes in. It's both...
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MOVIE: Hugo (2011)

Hugo Year: 2011 Rating: PG Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Enchanting. Charming. Magical. After re-watching this film again, I can still confirm Hugo (2011) legitimately earned all its technical Oscars, even if it didn’t end up winning Best Picture. Ironically enough, this American movie about the origins of French film lost out to a French movie about the origins of American talking pictures (i.e., The Artist (2011)). Of course, the more surprising aspect of this film was how Martin Scorsese was able to make such an entertaining (and family-friendly) film that didn’t involve the mafia at all. Personally, as an avid lover of classic films, I enjoyed the romanticism related to the earliest of film magicians. Scorsese’s love letter to the origins of cinema—and the masters of their craft like Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley)—is a stark reminder of how much we've lost of cinema’s heritage due to external events that forced the artistic community to abandon their art. The amount of experimentation and inventive...
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MOVIE: East of Eden (1955)

East of Eden Year: 1955 Rating: PG Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours East of Eden (1955) is one of those films that are famous only for who is in it and who originally wrote it. If this wasn’t one of the few roles James Dean had before his unfortunate death, I’m not sure I’d have watched it. Even if it’s based on a Steinbeck book, I think I’d prefer The Grapes of Wrath (1940) or Of Mice and Men (1939) to this. Still, there is some artistic merit to this film, even if it didn’t cover the entirety of the source material. It just goes to show how a movie can have staying power just from the people tied to it. Notably, I did enjoy pieces of the cinematography in East of Eden. In particular, when James Dean’s character is on the porch swing, that scene was shot in such a way that I haven’t seen done before or since. And while Dean’s performance...
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MOVIE: One Piece – Stampede (2019)

One Piece: Stampede Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s interesting how different Japanese franchises handle their 20th-anniversary movies. In the case of Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You (2017), a nostalgia tactic was used to bring in those viewers who might not have seen a Pokémon movie since the anime started airing back in 1997. Two years later, and another well-known anime (or at least it should be well known) has a movie that celebrates the 20th year of its animated series. One Piece: Stampede (2019) takes a somewhat different tactic here and embraces everything that turned it into what it is today. While anime movies rarely interact with the canon of the series they’re based on, it is essential to note that the author of the original manga did help create the story for Stampede. The reason why this is important is that this movie was able to bring together 20 years’ worth of extraordinarily overpowered and unique characters in a way...
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MOVIE: Hero (2002)

Hero Year: 2002 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours After the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) in most of the worldwide markets, it’s no wonder that a film like Hero (2002) would make an appearance. Capitalizing on the choreography and visuals that brought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon success, Hero takes these acrobatic battles to the next level, even to the point of them becoming ridiculous and semi-cartoonish. Add to this the deliberate color theming for each of the film’s different sections, and Hero almost becomes a piece of art in its own right. It’s almost a shame that there haven’t been more movies like this in the years since. While some of the CGI hasn’t aged well since 2002, and the acting can sometimes be too flat or too over the top, the story is still entertaining. The language barrier did make it slightly confusing at times, but the twists were top-notch. It did help to have the “framing” of the throne room to not only show the...
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MOVIE: Senna (2010)

Senna Year: 2010 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I’ve never been much of a fan of NASCAR racing, mostly because I knew that Formula-1 existed. While I haven’t paid much attention to Formula-1, it was interesting to watch the documentary on Ayrton Senna, especially with how it was put together. Most documentaries will intersperse interviews and other pieces of ancillary information to support the main narrative. Not Senna (2010). Consisting almost entirely of video clips recorded at the time he was racing, Senna is a fascinating look into this racer’s life that benefits from hindsight to piece the video clips together and the full story. The sheer amount of skill and mechanical prowess it takes to race Formula-1 cars at top speeds is what gives this film its initial entertainment value. Added to that, we have the charismatic personality of Ayrton Senna, whose whole goal in life was to be the fastest driver around. He didn’t care about the politics of the...
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MOVIE: The Current War – Director’s Cut (2017)

The Current War: Director’s Cut Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I’ve known for some time about the “war” between alternating and direct current. It was such an interesting battle of egos between some famous names that are still known today. Heck, I even included elements of it as a sub-plot in my second book. Of course, I always thought the conflict was between Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) and Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and not being mainly between Edison and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). At any rate, I found The Current War (2017) to be an entertaining examination of the events that led the world to finally accept one of these currents as the de-facto way to distribute electric power. Stepping back for a moment to the presentation of this movie, I appreciated the cinematography and the driving music that helped ratchet up the tension between these famous engineers and entrepreneurs. Additionally, the actors chosen to play their respective roles fit quite well....
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MOVIE: Blood Diamond (2006)

Blood Diamond Year: 2006 Rating: R Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours For years, I had heard about Blood Diamond (2006) from a variety of different viewpoints. Many friends would mention it about either Leonardo DiCaprio’s accent, the tense action, or the diamond industry as a whole. After a while, I made it a point to eventually see this film, even if I wasn’t sure when that would be. It took a while, but I did eventually have this chance, and I’m glad that I took it. Sure, Blood Diamond is a little difficult to watch in the sense that there are aspects of the African diamond industry that are straight-up human rights violations. However, it is important to know these things are going on to become informed about our world. The fact that there have been (and likely still are) child soldiers being brainwashed by ruthless rebels to overthrow the governments in Africa is a sobering thing to watch and a heartbreaking realization when you see how it...
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MOVIE: City of God (2002)

City of God Year: 2002 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours About a decade ago, I saw a clip from City of God (2002) in my Film Studies course at college. One of my classmates brought it to show everyone how realistic the acting appeared during a scene where young children were initiated into a gang. I had to admit that the acting seemed authentic. However, I didn’t consider it as part of the whole movie until recently, when I had a chance to sit down and watch the entire thing. While I’ll agree that this short clip was a good example of what the film had to offer, I was more in awe of plenty of other aspects it brought to the table. First off, the beginning of this movie wowed me with its cinematography. The whole “chicken chase” sequence is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen. City of God still manages to maintain some exquisite subtlety in showing the audience what it wants...
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MOVIE: Zombieland – Double Tap (2019)

Zombieland: Double Tap Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours It's a little weird to me that it's been a full decade since Zombieland (2009) came out. While I thought the original film was goofy and fun, it has since gained a bit of a cult following. What's weirder to me is how—in the years since the original—many of the cast of this franchise have gone on to be nominated for (and in some cases won) Oscars for their acting talent. It's no wonder the advertisements for Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) have picked up on this fact and used it to promote another ridiculous foray into the self-aware satire of zombie films. While I do admit that Zombieland: Double Tap does require having seen the first film to pick up on its numerous references, I also knew that its comedy would be as smart as its predecessor. I appreciated this wit, especially with a few literary references thrown in (like to Of...
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MOVIE: Yesterday (2019)

Yesterday Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours When I saw the first trailers for Yesterday (2019), I had some high hopes for this movie. The premise of only one person remembering The Beatles in a world where this famous band didn’t exist was intriguing enough by itself to warrant a watch. Plus, with Danny Boyle directing, I had perhaps anticipated more than what I actually got. It’s hard to hate a movie with such a great soundtrack full of Beatles songs, but the execution of the entire idea left me wanting a bit more and breaking my suspension of disbelief on more than one occasion. Back in high school, I had a history assignment to perform a thought experiment similar to Yesterday: what happens if The Beatles didn’t exist? Instead of just being a weird gap in the cultural zeitgeist, I think this movie would have done better to see the amount of influence the band had throughout the music industry. Sure, some moments...
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MOVIE: Joker (2019)

Joker Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours With the saturation of superhero movies between Marvel and DC at all-time highs, it was only a matter of time before a movie like Joker (2019) would come along. If anything, the current socio-political environment in the real world is ripe for this kind of story. While superhero films are appealing to show how individuals with exotic abilities can do battle in CGI-heavy fight sequences, there is a certain amount of horror involved with Joker in the sense that it could realistically happen. There aren’t any radioactive spiders. There isn’t any high-tech gadgetry. There’s only mental illness. I applaud the team behind Joker for not resorting to hackneyed comic book origin stories like chemical spills or “tit for tat” vendettas (even if we had to watch one of the same origin stories again near the end). The casting of Joaquin Phoenix was initially an odd choice, but he nails the role. His type of methodical acting almost humanizes one of...
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MOVIE: Ad Astra (2019)

Ad Astra Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with Ad Astra (2019). The trailers I had seen made it seem like it was an action-filled space adventure akin to Interstellar (2014) or Gravity (2013). While it did handle all the outer space issues in a somewhat scientifically accurate way, Ad Astra was a much slower movie than I thought it would be. In fact, I’d probably compare it more to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for its almost plodding pacing. The real trick is that the plot of Ad Astra is basically an outer space version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, of which Apocalypse Now! (1979) is perhaps the most notable movie adaptation. Ad Astra does get credit for the beauty of its outer space environment. The settings felt massive in scale and intimate in their proximity. Each portion and waypoint of the journey seemed precisely how I would picture them eventually occurring in our not-to-distant future. Even if some aspects of the film...
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MOVIE: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams Year: 2010 Rating: G Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Every once in a while, ideal conditions align to preserve a piece of ancient human history. Time and the march of civilization have destroyed plenty of important artifacts of our past, but occasionally something happens that protects this history for future generations to find. In Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), the audience gets a breathtaking look into an amazing discovery that has a cultural impact stretching back eons to the origins of our species. It’s a shame that most will never be able to visit this cave, but this documentary is practically the next best thing. Interspersing first footage and high-quality video of the cave, the music and narration in this film create a mesmerizing quality as we are introduced to cave drawings and other artifacts that haven’t been seen by human eyes in a very long time. The expansive nature of the art and the level of preservation are quite awe-inspiring. I...
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MOVIE: Secondhand Lions (2003)

Secondhand Lions Year: 2003 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours Making a family-friendly film is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in cinema. Not only does it have to appeal to children, but it also has to avoid plenty of material that might not be appropriate for younger audiences. If families can get a powerful life lesson out of it as well, all the better. While modern fare tends to resort to the crass and focuses on bathroom humor for laughs, there are those rare few films that manage to tell a tight story. With legitimate laughs and a heartfelt conclusion, Secondhand Lions (2003) is just such a movie. The two strengths that make this one of my favorite family-friendly films are its characters and its plot. All three of the main characters show some amount of significant character growth by the time the end credits roll. Besides, with acting talents like Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, and Haley Joel Osment, you really can’t miss...
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MOVIE: Chocolat (2000)

Chocolat Year: 2000 Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours Chocolat (2000) is one of those movies that I was aware of but hadn’t watched until recently. While it received a Best Picture nomination, I don’t think it was up to the level of the winner for that year, Gladiator (2000). Nevertheless, Chocolat is a charming story that lies somewhere between Footloose (1984), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), and Babette’s Feast (1987). What’s maybe a little odd to me about this movie is how I thought Johnny Depp would have a more prominent role in it, since he covers almost half the movie poster. Instead, it’s more a bit part that comes in about half-way through the film. While the conclusion of Chocolat is practically telegraphed from the start, it was still entertaining to watch the townspeople warm to the newly arrived chocolatier. Despite most of the characters might feeling a little one-dimensional, they are so fully fleshed out in the one or two qualities that make them distinguishable that you can’t help but enjoy...
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MOVIE: Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

Anvil! The Story of Anvil Year: 2008 Rating: Not Rated Length: 80 minutes / 1.33 hours Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) is one of those movies I sat down to watch because it’s on the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. Before watching this film, I honestly had never heard of this Canadian heavy metal band, and it soon became apparent why. What immediately struck me was how similar the premise was to the 1984 mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap. It was difficult to separate this real-life story of the rise and fall of a heavy metal band with the Rob Reiner comedy since so many of the beats of the plot seemed to match up. Still, it was somewhat engrossing to see how Anvil! followed the progression I’d already seen in Spinal Tap. At first, I thought, “Is this for real?” This was before I realized that perhaps the reason why Spinal Tap worked so well was because that’s just how the music industry functions and has functioned...
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MOVIE: Heat (1995)

Heat Year: 1995 Rating: R Length: 170 minutes / 2.83 hours It’s interesting to go back and watch something by Michael Mann after seeing his later work. I enjoyed Collateral (2004) and considered it to be a well-directed film. Of course, there’s deliberate pacing and acceleration of Collateral that drew me in. Unfortunately, this biased me somewhat when I sat down to watch Heat (1995). Stylistically, both are fairly similar and use similar locales. However, at almost three hours long, some of the pacing in Heat made me think that it could have used a bit of a trim in the first half. I understand the deliberate nature of the buildup of the first half, with each event introducing some core tenet of the main characters that come to fruition by the end of the film. It helps that there’s a good bit of action early on, but until the twist that happens about half-way through occurs, the comparison to the pacing of the second half makes the early part of this movie...
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MOVIE: As Good as it Gets (1997)

As Good as it Gets Year: 1997 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours I’m not sure how it’s taken me this long to sit down and finally watch this movie. I’ve enjoyed other films by James L. Brooks, like Terms of Endearment (1983) and Broadcast News (1987). If anything, As Good as it Gets (1997) is almost like the end of the trifecta of Brooks films, considering how well-received by critics they are. When it comes right down to it, the appeal of these movies is the characters. There’s a heart and realism rarely seen in comedies (most of which resort to stereotypes and fart jokes to get a laugh). As a more intellectual comedy, As Good as it Gets manages to bring together three unlikely people and push their boundaries to grow as characters. Of course, it’s somewhat easy to do this with abrasive characters like Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson). After all, actively trying not to be a jerk is great growth potential. Additionally, other characters grow through their...
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MOVIE: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours Quentin Tarantino has changed. While I loved Inglorious Basterds (2009) for its alternate history, and Django Unchained (2012) was another strong showing, it seems like he’s just getting out of his western phase. For his latest film, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019), Tarantino seems to have continued his trend of making very long movies but chose to condense his trademark graphic violence down into an intense sequence that only lasts a few minutes at most  (like The Hateful Eight (2015)). Perhaps he has matured as a director, but that’s what makes this film so jarring compared to his previous work. Anyone familiar with the Tarantino aesthetic knows that he’s particularly fond of the pop culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Consequently, it’s interesting to see how real he’s made this era feel on the big screen. That being said, some of the “fake” movies appearing in this film are...
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MOVIE: L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential Year: 1997 Rating: R Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours There are police dramas, and then there are police dramas set in Los Angeles. Something about this town makes the crimes that much more interesting. Maybe it’s the intersection of fame and criminal activity. Perhaps it’s that the crimes are so much more grandiose due to the wealth of the area. Whatever the reason, L.A. Confidential (1997) is a fantastic film that manages to show different perspectives of the seedy underbelly of the glamor and glitz that makes the town so successful. If it weren’t up against Titanic (1997), it probably would have won a lot more awards than it did. It’s almost surprising how many famous actors are in this film. Sure, some of them were unknowns at the time. Even within three years, we’d see Guy Pearce in Memento (2000) and Russell Crowe in Gladiator (2000), both rising into their stardom. This is not to mention the fantastic performances by Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, and Ron Rifkin....
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MOVIE: Spider-man: Far from Home (2019)

Spider-man: Far from Home Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours After the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), there were still plenty of questions that remained. While still part of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Spider-man: Far from Home (2019) attempts to grapple with the outcome of such a pivotal film in the superhero franchise. As was the case with its predecessor, Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), Far from Home shows the audience the impacts of the other films in the MCU in a way that’s personable and relatable. After all, it’s easier to connect with a “friendly neighborhood Spider-man” than with a multi-billion dollar playboy. I did appreciate the emotional depth of this movie, especially considering how Tom Holland handles the role of Peter Parker. From grieving over the losses of Endgame while also trying to move forward with his life, Peter has plenty of growth opportunities throughout this film. That being said, Far from Home seems to hit almost...
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MOVIE: Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 4 Year: 2019 Rating: G Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours After the Toy Story “trilogy” ended in 2010, I was honestly a little confused and irritated that Disney/Pixar would open up this franchise again for a fourth entry. That being said, I now see the entire “story” was not complete at that point. There was still some amount of finality that the franchise had not reached. Of course, now I’ll be mad if they decide to make a Toy Story 5 since Toy Story 4 (2019) wrapped everything up so nicely and conclusively. Then again, maybe the next entry in the series will finally explain the odd rules about toy sentience. By far, the most striking thing about Toy Story 4 is its visuals. I was ten years old when Toy Story (1995) came out. Even in the four years between it and Toy Story 2 (1999), I could see massive improvements in what computers could create in terms of CGI imagery. With Toy Story 3 (2010) having just over a decade to improve its visuals,...
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MOVIE: Aladdin (2019)

Aladdin Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours When the animated version of Aladdin came out in 1992, I was seven years old. As a young boy, I could finally relate to the titular character since the focus of this Disney film wasn’t as much on the “princess” as it was on “Prince Ali.” Consequently, this film has remained one of my favorite Disney films over the years and is one I have mostly memorized after repeated viewings in my childhood. As such, I was partly looking forward to this live-action adaptation due to my love of the original. The other part of my anticipation was because Guy Ritchie was directing it (and I’ve loved plenty of his earlier works). Having now seen this version of the rags-to-riches tale, I’m in this weird “uncanny valley” of storytelling. Because I have the original memorized, this version of the story was close enough to be predictable but not a word-for-word re-enactment, which is what I found...
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MOVIE: Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Captain Marvel (2019) fills this weird space that essentially exists between the “Part 1” of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). While Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) also explained some of the events and plot points that would need to happen before Endgame, Captain Marvel took a slightly different approach by essentially acting as an origin story and prequel for a lot of loose bits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Needless to say, I didn’t miss much by passing on this film and seeing Endgame first. I knew I was taking a risk with watching these movies out of order—especially considering how pivotal Black Panther (2018) was in setting the stage for Infinity War. However, there were key moments in this movie that made me go, “Huh. That explains that little bit from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).” The fact that Captain Marvel was...
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MOVIE: Shazam! (2019)

Shazam! Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours As far as self-aware movies go, I think Shazam! (2019) is the best example from the genre of comic book heroes. Deadpool (2016) might have been more “meta,” but Shazam! hits all the bits that make comic books popular to kids, especially young boys. As a fan of self-aware films, I would have seen this movie anyway. However, with Zachary Levi in the lead role, I absolutely had to see it. I’ve generally been a fan of his work from Chuck and Tangled (2010), so seeing that he still has his comedic timing in shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and movies like Shazam! is encouraging. In terms of plot, the premise is somewhat weak, but the pitch is something akin to “Big (1988), but as a superhero film like Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).” In fact, there’s at least one scene in a mall that winks so hard at this reference, I was afraid it...
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MOVIE: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Detective Pikachu Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours The transition of nostalgia into live action can be a tricky business. Plenty of franchises have faltered in this aspect, so it was interesting to see Pokémon approach it from a side angle. Instead of adapting the core series of games or anime to a live-action adaptation, they instead used a spinoff game as the framework to create this movie. Despite my initial skepticism, I can honestly say that Detective Pikachu (2019) works much better than any video game franchise adaptation before it. It’s not entirely perfect, but it came a lot closer than any of its predecessors. On the plus side, the “realistic” Pokémon were enthralling—if not wholly terrifying (I’m looking at you, Ludicolo)—to see in a real space interacting with humans. I already had a bit of a visceral reaction to seeing realistic fur, skin, and feathers on Pokémon when I played Pokken Tournament DX. At least they certainly seemed to be at...
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MOVIE: Missing Link (2019)

Missing Link Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours It’s been about a decade since I started loosely paying attention to the works of Laika Entertainment. With so few studios committing to stop-motion animation, I’m always intrigued by a movie that isn’t just straight up CGI animation. For the most part, Laika’s films have been entertaining, but not incredibly extraordinary. Movies like Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012) were certainly high points, but my personal favorite was definitely Kubo and the Two Strings (2016). Initially, when I saw advertising for Missing Link (2019), I didn’t realize it was a Laika film. Once I learned that it was, I made sure to see it. Unfortunately, while I would have liked another film along the lines of Kubo, Missing Link was more like The Boxtrolls (2014) in terms of its humor and presentation. I understand these films mostly target children, but the amount of crude humor mostly turned me off. That’s not to say that the technical achievements of Laika’s stop motion aren’t on full display here. With...
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MOVIE: How to Train Your Dragon – The Hidden World (2019)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours I haven’t always been a fan of DreamWorks movies, but the How to Train Your Dragon series is, in my opinion, perhaps the best they’ve ever created. Of course, I’m probably a little biased because each entry in the series came at a time in my life where I was reaching a milestone. How to Train Your Dragon (2010) came out as I was settling into my life as an independent adult. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) followed me from dating into marriage. Now, the final chapter in the series, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) is on the cusp of my transition into parenthood. Consequently, I had high expectations for the end of this trilogy. I wanted it to go out with a grand finale like Toy Story 3 (2010) did (before they even decided to make Toy Story 4 (2019), that is). Unfortunately, I did not find this to be the case....
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MOVIE: Avengers – Endgame (2019)

Avengers: Endgame Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 181 minutes / 3.02 hours With last year’s semi-cliffhanger, Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019) had a lot of ground to cover to reach a satisfying conclusion of over ten years of filmmaking. It’s no wonder that it’s just a smidge over three hours since there’s a lot of ground to cover here. I’ll admit that the only instantiations of these superheroes that I’m familiar with is via the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, it was probably better to go into the finale this way, having no preconceived notions of how the characters should act or the lore they’re connected to in the comic books. For a three-hour movie, Endgame moves at a steady pace that accelerates toward the inevitable conclusion. Following a standard three-act structure, Endgame benefited from bringing all the heroes together in Infinity War and establishing a baseline to work from and a goal to work toward. It was nice to see how each of these characters handled such a dramatic universal event. This is...
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BOOK: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2008)

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die: 5th Edition Year: 2008 Author: Steven Jay Schneider Length: 960 pages As a movie aficionado, it was only a matter of time before I picked up this book. At the time, the 5th edition covered most of the films that were out at the time, but I do realize there are more recent versions of this book that include some of the latest hits of the last decade. Not one to use this book as a simple desk reference, I took the time to sit down and read through the reviews of these 1,000+ movies. In the time since buying this book, I’ve managed to increase my percentage of films seen, but there’s still a long way to go. Even before I started reading this book, I had already seen a good portion of the movies mentioned, many of which won critical awards for their achievements. With a concerted effort, I’m now sitting at 42% of these 1001 movies...
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MOVIE: Isn’t it Romantic? (2019)

Isn’t It Romantic? Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 89 minutes / 1.48 hours I generally enjoy “self-aware” movies. Those films that know which genre they’re in and make fun of it the entire time. While it’s entertaining to see all the various tropes of a particular genre exposed in this method, these films still have to abide by these rules as well. This has been done to varying levels of success for action movies (Shoot ‘em Up (2007)), Disney movies (Enchanted (2007)), and superhero movies (Deadpool (2016)). Filling the hole of the self-aware romantic comedy is none other than Isn’t It Romantic? (2019). Despite not being terribly into romantic comedies, this self-aware film piqued my interest. Isn’t It Romantic? doesn’t necessarily fully commit to the self-aware theme. Instead, it encapsulates the ridiculous romantic comedy bit in the framing of a coma. The main problem I had with doing it this way was that Natalie—the main character played by Rebel Wilson—realizes she’s in a romantic comedy fairly quickly. However, she still seems...
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MOVIE: Vice (2018)

Vice Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours It’s a little weird to me how a director like Adam McKay has gone from directing movies like Anchorman (2004) and Talladega Nights (2006) to entertaining exposés like The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018). Sure, I can see how his comedy background could lead to the razor-sharp wit used to educate the movie-going public about the 2008 mortgage crisis and the former vice president, respectively. It’s evident the Academy likes his new style as well, as both The Big Short and Vice were nominated for Best Picture. While I liked The Big Short a lot, Vice certainly had its moments. I’ll give props to Christian Bale for his ability to mimic Dick Cheney’s mannerisms in this role. Sam Rockwell was also pretty great as George W. Bush, but I couldn’t get past Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. I also appreciated the tongue-in-cheek “false ending” in Vice, as it was probably one of the funniest moments in the film. Just like how learning about the mortgage crisis was...
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MOVIE: The LEGO Movie 2 – The Second Part (2019)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Back in 2014, children at heart everywhere were able to experience the world’s most successful building toy brand on the big screen via The LEGO Movie. With a catchy, Oscar-winning song, this Matrix-like movie was fun and self-aware. Fast forward five years, and the sequel, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) released with hardly the amount of fanfare and advertising that accompanied the original. I think this may have been in part due to how the formula the first movie used to great success has been done to death now. With spinoffs like The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) and The LEGO Ninjago Movie(2017) saturating the market, it's hard to capture the magic of the original. The real problem with The Second Part comes via the twist at the end of the first movie. Now that we know these toys merely exist in the imagination of a young boy, it’s hard to put that reveal back...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours There’s no hiding that Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. My reviews of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Venom (2018) say as much. I grew up watching the 1990s animated Spider-Man show, so when I saw early trailers for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), I half-thought it would be some direct-to-video movie. After all, everything up until now had been live-action. I was encouraged to learn that it would receive a theatrical release, especially when I started to see more footage of its unique artistic style. Not only does Into the Spider-Verse embrace its comic book origins, but it also does so with a flair and panache that I’d almost like to see in other superhero franchises. Over the years, I’d only loosely been paying attention to what was happening in the Spider-Man comics. Sure, I knew about Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) but more in the sense that they were departures from the white-male Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) that...
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MOVIE: Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours Now that Marvel’s 10-year behemoth of its cinematic universe is starting to pay off, it’s becoming more and more obvious that DC is trying desperately to catch up. There’s no doubt that DC has interesting characters, considering how often Superman has been rebooted and how successful Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was. Even Wonder Woman (2017) had its great moments, despite also feeling derivative influences from movies like Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Aquaman (2018) seems to continue this trend, despite again having a strong leading character (both physically and in backstory/lore). I will give DC credit for their casting decisions here. For decades, Aquaman has been the butt of the joke amongst many superhero aficionados. The fact that Jason Momoa is a badass, snarky, and overall entertaining actor to watch in the role speaks to their awareness of “image management.” Perhaps featuring him in previous films like Justice League (2017) also helped to get audiences interested in seeing this superhero in a standalone movie....
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MOVIE: Glass (2019)

Glass Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Much like Incredibles 2 (2018) felt like a movie that came out far too late, Glass (2019) caps a trilogy of films that technically started with Unbreakable (2000). Both the original Incredibles (2004) and Unbreakable were genre-defining movies for the practically non-existent superhero films that are all but ubiquitous today. The fact that they took more than a decade to capitalize on this phenomenon is part of the reason why both sequels feel somewhat dated. Sure, they recapture a bit of the charm of the originals, but that’s not enough to overcome what superhero films have evolved into since then. If anything, Glass owes a debt of gratitude to its predecessor, Split (2016). If it weren’t for James McAvoy’s expert transitions between a dozen different personalities, I wouldn’t have been particularly interested in this final chapter of the trilogy. While Split was a return to form for Shyamalan, Glass seems like a bit of a regression. Perhaps this is due to the heavy burden placed upon Glass to combine two tonally different movies...
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MOVIE: Roma (2018)

Roma Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours Don't get me wrong. I like Alfonso Cuarón's films. I liked his films before I even really knew who he was as a director. If anything, he's shown that he's the master of cinematography, especially in long takes that seem to pan through almost the entire film. He first showed this talent in Children of Men (2006) and continued to impress with this technique in Gravity (2013). While he's shown he has mastered the long take, his signature style is still on display in Roma (2018) through its numerous pans. That being said, I found the content of Children of Men and Gravity to be much more interesting than that of Roma. Cuarón pulls us into his Mexican roots in this film, choosing the early 1970s to set this "slice of life" tale. The problem is, while the film looks quite artistic, with the black-and-white aesthetic fusing nicely with the expert camera work (along...
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MOVIE: Alita – Battle Angel (2019)

Alita: Battle Angel Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours With the plethora of successes that the comic book movie has seen over the last decade, it’s a little disheartening to see the Japanese equivalent fail to make much headway. There are just as many interesting and action-packed stories from manga and anime that deserve the treatment given to comic book movies. Instead, busts like Dragonball: Evolution (2009) and Ghost in the Shell (2017) have shown that live-action adaptations are challenging, especially when there’s already an animated counterpart. This was why I was excited to see Alita: Battle Angel (2019). While many manga/anime film adaptations fail to grasp the feel of the source material, Alita appeared to be a passion project for James Cameron. The fact that Robert Rodriguez directed this movie helped as well, considering how well he brought the graphic novel Sin City to the screen in 2005. Of course, he also directed Spy Kids (2001), which was colorful and full of fun action. In the end, I found Alita to be somewhat...
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MOVIE: Bumblebee (2018)

Bumblebee Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours While I’m nowhere close to being a fan of the Transformers series, I’d occasionally watch the latest installment when it came to the cheap theater in town. I stopped doing this after the third film and only saw the fourth one on Redbox. I never even bothered with the most recent one. Then comes along this spinoff to the main storyline, Bumblebee (2018). For once, I was legitimately interested. The trailers made it seem like a cute little prequel/backstory for the practically mute robot in disguise. In the end, I was not disappointed, as Bumblebee was a fun and charming romp that showed what this franchise could have been like if Michael Bay didn’t direct. I appreciated how this movie essentially went full-in with its nostalgia. After all, since the Transformers originated in the 1980s, why couldn’t a film take advantage of this timeline to also reference lots of other 80s pop culture? Fortunately,...
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MOVIE: The Fate of the Furious (2017)

The Fate of the Furious Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours I’ll be honest and admit that this is the first movie in the Fast and the Furious franchise that I’ve ever seen. Sure, I’ve been aware of the franchise for years, but it never really appealed to me (I’m not much of a car guy after all). I got a free digital copy of this movie somewhere along the line and decided I might as well watch it since I own it. I had plenty of preconceived notions about this series based on little tidbits I’d picked up over the years, and pretty much every one of them was confirmed with this movie. I think this movie might be best summed up by one of the lines of dialogue. “What are you, 12?” A lot of the characters’ interactions and dialogue seemed like how a 12-year-old boy who was really into cars would write them. This was especially apparent during...
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MOVIE: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Ralph Breaks the Internet Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Back in 2012, I was impressed that a movie like Wreck-It Ralph could exist. The amount of licensing agreements needed to bring together so many recognizable characters from famous franchises was a daunting task the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). Similarly, the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) had the challenge of integrating so many brand names and websites into something that could work as a story without becoming too dated as time marches on. In both cases, I think the balance between brand-name recognition and original content helped to make for an entertaining film. In the lead-up to the release of Ralph Breaks the Internet, I was concerned that it was going to rely heavily on internet memes for its laughs—taking a somewhat similar tack from The Emoji Movie (2017). I also had concerns that this movie would also focus...
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MOVIE: A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours If this movie feels like the same old song and dance, it’s because it is. This film is the fourth iteration of the same plot that was nominated for Best Picture back in 1937. While it’s been over 20 years since its last incarnation in 1976, A Star is Born (2018) is surprisingly still relevant. While they’re somewhat touchy subjects, alcoholism and depression are still as alive and well today as they were just over 80 years ago. After all, you can’t be an entertainer without sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That being said, I do appreciate this movie’s overarching theme of “words have power.” I did find it hard to suspend my disbelief with the casting in this film, though. I mean, even if Lady Gaga is playing some nobody, it’s not like I have to stretch my imagination to think that her character would suddenly become a music...
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MOVIE: The Favourite (2018)

The Favourite Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours What. The. Favourite. For those of us watching all of this year’s Best Picture nominees, The Favourite (2018) is certainly the token “artsy” film of the set. It felt like it was following in the footsteps of last year’s Phantom Thread (2017) in that the set decoration and costume design were exquisite, despite the—let’s face it—weird characters. Regarding the plot, though, I did find The Favourite to parallel the events in the 1950 Best Picture winner, All About Eve. While its art is on full display for all to see, The Favourite is a bit more than how it looks. Aside from the aforementioned set decoration and costume design, I have to applaud this movie’s cinematography. I’d wager that it’ll win in these three categories, but the cinematography stands out because it’s so different from most films. Heavily utilizing wide-angle fisheye lenses, as well as copious amounts of natural light (perhaps as an aesthetic homage to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), which also shares a somewhat...
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MOVIE: Creed II (2018)

Creed II Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours While I have only ever seen the original Rocky (1976) and the spinoff/reboot Creed (2015), I’m still aware of some of the details of the Rocky franchise as a whole. I know who some of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) opponents were over the years, including James “Clubber” Lang (Mr. T) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Consequently, even though Creed felt like it took the franchise in a new direction by focusing on Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) son, its sequel, Creed II (2018) felt too steeped in the franchise’s history and nostalgia to be anything more than a rehash of Rocky IV (1985). If anything, having Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), face off against Ivan Drago’s son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), as a revenge match that followed the same plot points as its predecessor smacks of lazy and clichéd writing. I would have been much more interested in this film if, even despite all the training each son endured, the outcome would have been different...
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MOVIE: Green Book (2018)

Green Book Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along that has the right balance of themes and execution to make it into an instant classic. When I first saw trailers for Green Book (2018), I initially thought it was just going to be an inverse of Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Instead, what I got was so much more than that. Green Book tackles the difficult task of presenting a harsh mirror on our past, with a knowing wink that some of these challenges are still present today. It is more subtle than BlacKkKlansman (2018), but the message still gets across in a heartwarming and wholesome way. What makes Green Book so engaging is the simplicity that it approaches such a nuanced and complex approach to the topic of racism. The irony that rich white people in the south would hold Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) in such high regard as a musician but treat him as less-than-human the second he is not performing...
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MOVIE: Mortal Engines (2018)

Mortal Engines Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours If I were to look at Mortal Engines (2018) critically, I’d notice a number of flaws. From fairly flat characters to a string of movies and directors that it tries to imitate, this film should be terrible. And yet, given that I’d already suspended my disbelief by entertaining the idea that an apocalypse would result in cities mounting up on enormous machines and scavenging smaller towns for fuel, I found this movie incredibly entertaining. Perhaps the base plot isn’t too original, but the execution felt fresh and new. Somehow, I was able to turn off my critical brain and just enjoy this movie for what it is: pure, unadulterated fun. As someone who appreciates film as an art form, there is plenty of it on display here. The look, feel, and aesthetic of Mortal Engines is so bold and consistent that the core concept of the plot naturally follows. The visuals and soundtrack merely accentuate the action...
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MOVIE: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

BlacKkKlansman Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours The idea that an African American could become a member of the Ku Klux Klan is silly enough that it became a joke on Dave Chapelle’s television show. Of course, this movie isn’t a comedy sketch, as it is based on true events. Obviously, there were plenty of elements in this film that were likely fictionalized to make the story more “Hollywood,” but it’s still an interesting story, nonetheless. Part of the trick of this movie, though, is that it treats itself almost like a half-modern documentary of the KKK as well, which makes it seem like there wasn’t enough source material to make an engaging plot. Another part of me was interested in this movie for its setting. Living in Colorado Springs, it was interesting to me that certain landmarks and places in town were referenced, which merely added realism to the story as it was presented. From NORAD and Fort Carson to...
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MOVIE: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Bohemian Rhapsody Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours It's difficult to hate a film that's filled with so many great songs. Fortunately for Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), almost all of Queen's greatest hits are pulled out and strung together to cover a rather large timeframe of 15 years. Of course, like most musical biopics, it does tend to hit the same notes as predecessors before it. Perhaps this is merely due to the "rock and roll" lifestyle, but I couldn't help but see similar situations in films like De-Lovely (2004), Ray (2004), and Walk the Line (2005). While the cultural landscape has changed a lot from the 1970s and 1980s until now, some of the film's "reveals" that would have been a little more shocking (i.e. Freddie's homosexuality) were perhaps lessened due to the fairly famous end of this talented singer. That being said, some of the lyrics of these well-known songs take on a strikingly more poignant context during the recreated Live Aid concert in...
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MOVIE: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 133 minutes / 2.21 hours The Coen Brothers have a curiously innate ability to be able to create stories that can one moment be comedic and laugh-out-loud funny before taking a dark turn into tragic territory. While their latest work, the Netflix film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), looks like it would trend more toward comedy, it basically spends most of its time in the realm of violence and tragedy. Now don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. In fact, once the first few “comedic” pieces conclude, the movie really gets into some fantastic stories. Arranged as a series of six vignettes, the main star of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the setting. Filmed on location in a variety of western locales, the beauty of the scenery is on full display in each of the six stories (even if in lesser amounts in the last piece). The cinematography is superb, only barely outperformed...
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MOVIE: Venom (2018)

Venom Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 112 minutes / 1.87 hours If I haven’t said it before in my review of Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), I’ll repeat it here: I grew up watching the 1990s animated Spider-man series, which makes the Spider-man franchise one of my favorite. Consequently, most of my knowledge of the franchise comes from the show. In my mind, the symbiote storyline that introduced Venom was one of the best in the series, and I was disappointed when Spider-man 3 (2007) woefully miscast Eddie Brock with Topher Grace. Flash forward a decade later, and the big screen is taking another crack at the Venom storyline in a standalone film…but without Spider-man. As a long-time fan, I appreciated the mostly faithful origin story in Venom (2018), with a few minor and vital details still retained to make it close to what actually happened. This time around, Tom Hardy was a much better choice for the titular role, even if his mumbling accent was a little distracting at times. While the physique was a match,...
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MOVIE: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours Growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I did spend a fair amount of time watching PBS. From Sesame Street to Bill Nye, one of the shows I would frequently watch was Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Plenty of friends had raved about this documentary, so I finally decided to sit down and watch it. Let me state that most people will probably cry at one point during this movie. After all, there was so much heart present in Fred Roger’s life and profession that you can’t help but be touched by his ministry. This documentary was a little eye-opening in the sense that it took something from my nostalgia and made me realize how groundbreaking it was. I don’t recall the more “serious” episodes, but watching clips where subjects like assassination, racism, and war are all presented in a fashion that children can understand them is astounding. Fred never...
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MOVIE: First Man (2018)

First Man Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours I’ll admit: I’m already a fan of Damien Chazelle. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s only a few months older than I am, or if it’s how I can personally relate to the subjects of his films. I understand the obsession he covered in Whiplash (2014). I can relate to the dreams of creative individuals he brought to light in La La Land (2016). Now, Chazelle has used his filmmaking talent to cover another topic I have a great interest in: space. First Man (2018) feels like a film that’s been waiting for the right director to come along, and Damien Chazelle hit it out of the park. Lying somewhere between The Right Stuff (1983) and Apollo 13 (1995), with a little bit of Interstellar (2014) thrown in as well for style, First Man does a fantastic job of showing how dangerous the missions that landed us on the moon really were. There seemed to be an adherence to realism in this film that helped to...
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MOVIE: The Accountant (2016)

The Accountant Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours When this movie came out a few years ago, I missed watching it because it seemed like just another generic action-spy film. Sure, the main character might be smart, leading to his professional “skills” (in more than one realm), but the trailers never really hinted at the reason for this attention to detail. Having now seen it, The Accountant takes an interesting approach to the action-spy genre while also including a number of twists that were as satisfying to figure out ahead of time as they were to see revealed on the screen. I will say that the plot of The Accountant was sometimes confusing, but only because I felt like they glossed over some plot holes and leaps in logic. Even if I was asking myself, “Hey, what about . . . ?” I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. The somewhat frenetic pacing of the movie helped to push the plot forward to...
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MOVIE: Christopher Robin (2018)

Christopher Robin Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a child from a famous story grows up into a businessman who doesn’t have time for his family but eventually comes to face his lack of work/life balance by revisiting the fantastical world of his childhood. If you thought this was the plot of Hook (1991), you’d be right. Unfortunately, it is also the almost-identical plot to the Winnie the Pooh sequel, Christopher Robin (2018). I’d forgive its unoriginality only if I knew who the audience for it was. Is it a morality tale for overworked parents? Is it a lesson for kids to never take work seriously? I honestly don’t know. I will say that Disney did a good job bringing the stuffed animals of the original story to life in this live-action adaptation, except that I was pretty shocked to find out that Rabbit (Peter Capaldi) and Owl (Toby Jones) were actual animals, and not of the stuffed variety....
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MOVIE: Kingsman – The Golden Circle (2017)

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours Back when I saw Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I was familiar with Matthew Vaughn's previous directorial work (like Kick-Ass (2010)), so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at how much sex and graphic violence was involved. I was quite impressed by the church fight sequence, but everything felt so over-the-top and ridiculous that I couldn't take it seriously. Flash forward to its sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017). This time, I came in with a slightly different understanding that made me enjoy this movie quite a bit more than its predecessor. I think the fact that The Secret Service was somewhat derivative of the "coming of age" stories in films like Men in Black (1997) and Ender's Game (2013) was why I wasn't necessarily wowed by it. However, with the origin story out of the way, The Golden Circle managed to hit the ground...
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MOVIE: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours It's a little weird to think that we're already on the sixth Mission: Impossible movie, especially considering how far the franchise has come since (what I consider) its revival in Mission: Impossible III (2006). Since then, the action has been consistently impressive and the stunts mind-bogglingly intense. Fallout continues to provide on this franchise's promise of high-octane action and neat spy tech, even if the latter doesn't seem to be nearly as impressive as in its previous installments. Ironically enough, one of the problems I had with this movie was how it tried to interweave plot from previous films in the franchise. I'll be honest and say that I don't watch these movies for the plot. Sure, I'll follow along to see how the team has to accomplish the "impossible" in the form of setting up a ridiculous stunt. From scaling tall buildings in Dubai, accessing computer servers underwater, and hanging above...
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MOVIE: Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2 Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Before we start, I have to say that The Incredibles (2004) is perhaps my favorite Pixar film. Back when superhero films were starting to become successful (albeit, not nearly as lucratively successful as the Marvel Cinematic Universe), The Incredibles artfully blended a superhero film with a family/midlife crisis plot that worked on so many levels. It is then no surprise that I was truly looking forward to its sequel, Incredibles 2 (2018). In the back of my head, I knew that most of Pixar's talent had switched over to Disney about eight years ago, but I hoped enough of the original team would be around to make this sequel something special. Unfortunately, time seems to have worked against Incredibles 2. If this had come out ten years ago, it would have enjoyed some of the originality that comes with beating the Marvel behemoth out of the gate. As it is now, I'm not sure if Incredibles 2...
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MOVIE: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Ant-Man and the Wasp Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours I'll be the first to defend Ant-Man (2015) from its detractors. Once I realized it was supposed to be a comedy (mostly due to Edgar Wright's early involvement), I knew the superhero aspect would take a back seat to the laughs. That being said, I cannot defend the honor of its sequel. Sure, a lot of the elements that made Ant-Man entertaining are still present in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), but it's really more of a standard superhero film that's meant to answer questions brought up in previous films. While this film picks up well after the events of this first film and Captain America: Civil War (2016), not a lot has changed. The main characters are all there, but now Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) also has a shrinking suit. This is no surprise, considering the after-credits scene from the first movie, so it was nice to see her get into...
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MOVIE: Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours While I have loved the original Jurassic Park (1993) for its ingenious special effects, taut and thrilling plot, and entertaining characters, none of the sequels have been able to live up to its high standard. Sure, all the same elements of the first film are usually present in each subsequent movie, but the magic seems to have been all used up in the first go. Each version is only a slight variation to a story that never ends well. Now in the fifth installment of this franchise, I'm a little surprised that this storyline hadn't appeared yet. Sure, we had dinosaurs making their way to the mainland in The Lost World (1997), which was probably why Jeff Goldblum had an extremely minor (and entirely unnecessary) cameo in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) to act as a framing bookend to the film. Sadly, many of the mostly hidden weaknesses in Jurassic World (2015) came...
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MOVIE: Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours What happens when you genetically splice together a reboot and a sequel? This film. It's interesting to find a franchise that's willing to recognize the past material and build upon it, while also adding slightly new elements to it. The idea of training dinosaurs just like pets was undoubtedly the strongest element of this movie, even if the result was the same as it's ever been. Part of the problem with this reboot, however, is that the characters don't seem to click, even to the point of the relationships feeling forced. While there were plentiful nods to the first film that started off the franchise, the plot seemed almost identical to the 1993 classic, but with plenty of cliches and hokey lines to go around. I think sequels like this recognize the elements that made the original great, but almost spend too much time overanalyzing to try and recreate the magic. These films ultimately fall short,...
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MOVIE: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 169 minutes / 2.82 hours The first time I saw this film, I was speechless. I knew what to expect from Christopher Nolan, who had been steadily increasing his repertoire for almost two decades. Each of his films outdid the last and built on the already mind-blowing pieces that have gone before them. From The Following (1998) to Memento (2000) to The Prestige (2006) to Inception (2010), I wondered how he could outdo himself with his first foray into hard science fiction. Needless to say, I was impressed by Interstellar (2014) and Nolan’s ability to bring the theoretical and incredible ideas of interstellar travel into an entirely plausible setup. As was the case with his previous films, Nolan manages to bring together almost disjointed moments into a cyclical narrative. Much like Memento, I wanted to sit down and watch the whole thing again immediately after viewing it for the first time, so that I could catch all the little things that lead to the major reveal at the end. Even...
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MOVIE: Alpha (2018)

Alpha Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours I’m not sure what surprises me more about this movie: that nobody had made a film about the domestication of the wolf or that anyone needed to make that film at all. Consequently, Alpha (2018) seems a little unnecessary and highly predictable as the “hero’s journey” plays out. The trailer doesn’t leave much for the imagination, as a lot of the events in this film don’t have any significant twists that the astute viewer wouldn’t see coming. And maybe I’m biased because I’d be more of a cat person than a dog person—despite being allergic to both. Visually, though, Alpha does provide some fantastic shots of wilderness that one can only find in places like Canada and Iceland. Plenty of the flat silhouette shots of characters traversing huge distances and the stylized slow-motion events made this movie feel a bit like 300 (2006), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The real trouble is that it takes these characters so long...
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MOVIE: Ocean’s Eight (2018)

Ocean’s Eight Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours As the gender-swapped spin-off of a remake, Ocean’s Eight (2018) feels convoluted merely based on its heritage. While I love the Ocean’s Eleven (2001) remake, I was curious to see what would make Ocean’s Eight something that would distinctly empower women (which I’m assuming was the point). In the end, it seems like Ocean’s Eight merely highlights the 72% wage disparity when compared to Ocean’s Eleven since most of the tropes and clichés almost felt like they were pandering to the very audience they were trying to lift up. While I will praise Ocean’s Eight for its ability to be a passable heist film, both with main and “twist” heists, that’s mostly where my adoration ends. Sure, I get the need to move the setting to New York to better align with fashion and other women’s interests, and part of Sandra Bullock’s character introduction after being released from prison was fun, but there were so many problems with the plot and characters that I’m still...
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MOVIE: Solo – A Star Wars Story (2018)

Solo: A Star Wars Story Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours Most superhero franchises start with an origin story. Sure, sometimes the franchise gets to this foundational plot after its first set of films (a la X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)), but these movies are usually pretty rare. Unfortunately, they’re also hampered by the source material that preceded them. While not necessarily “prequels,” these films need to fit within the canon of the franchise while also telling a story that expands the canon as well. Star Wars is not a superhero franchise, but it has its fair share of prequels and origin stories. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is the first to focus on a specific character, though. With Han Solo being such an iconic and fan-favorite character, there was plenty to pull from to expand out his backstory. Unfortunately, most people will only recognize Harrison Ford as the “true” Han Solo, and this film gives them some ammunition for that. Sure, Alden Ehrenreich does a...
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MOVIE: Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours A few years ago, I got on a Wes Anderson kick. I practically watched his entire filmography to that point in one long binge-worthy day. After catching up, I felt I truly appreciated his quirky, orthogonal cinematography and deeply complex characters. I’ve essentially been a fan of his since Moonrise Kingdom (2012), so I was looking forward to his latest work, Isle of Dogs(2018). After all, he had proven his skill at stop-motion animation with The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and had received nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) since then. Unfortunately, while Isle of Dogs carries Anderson’s distinct style and charm, it felt a little watered down. Sure, the shots were full of their beauty and symmetry, and the story had its cute moments, but it mostly felt like he was on autopilot. Maybe the PG-13 rating was holding him back? I don’t know. In most fiction, there is a suspension of disbelief,...
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MOVIE: Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2 Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours At what point does the fourth wall stop? I only ask this because there’s a point where an audience member will have to know not only the plot of the film that started the franchise, but the subsequent reactions to the film, the complete history of comic books, and the entirety of the lyrics to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Major-General’s Song” to understand the references. While Deadpool (2016) maintained that sly balance between knowing winks to the superhero genre as a whole and being an actual superhero film, Deadpool 2 (2018) almost went toward both extreme ends in order to maintain its balance. There were plenty of references and little sight gags that will leave true fans of the franchise pausing their Blu-rays for years to come, and I certainly did appreciate some of the meta-humor, but only to a point. Strangely enough, Deadpool 2 felt more like a superhero film than its predecessor, which seems odd as it...
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MOVIE: Rampage (2018)

Rampage Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours I didn’t go into this movie expecting much, and it still disappointed me. Seems like every time some Hollywood studio gets their hands on a video game franchise and decides to turn it into a movie, this is the kind of thing we get. I wouldn’t be so mad about it except that nothing in this film seems anywhere close to original at all. In fact, it seems to be cobbled together from summer movie blockbuster clichés and tropes, almost like a CGI-heavy Frankenstein. What’s probably worse is that it could have been somewhat passable if it held to the source material. There’s a weird kind of disconnect when a movie like Rampage (2018) has an actual arcade cabinet of the game it’s based on in the background of the corporate penthouse suite. Like, did they do this genetic-engineering research and name it “Rampage,” fully knowing that they’d create the exact creatures from the game? In any case,...
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MOVIE: The Disaster Artist (2017)

The Disaster Artist Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Having seen a few snippets of The Room (2003) via reactionary and review videos, I have become somewhat familiar with how bad the film is without having to sit through all of it. In The Disaster Artist (2017), we get to see what led to this “worst movie ever made.” There’s a lot of lore and memes that have come out of The Room over the years, but the simple fact of the matter is that most serious Hollywood types probably couldn’t create a movie this bad if they had tried (and many certainly do so unwittingly every year). While James Franco is almost eerily on-point of his portrayal of director/writer/actor Johnny Wiseau, the recreation of specific scenes and setups from The Room isn’t nearly as impressive as I think the makers of The Disaster Artist realize. The side-to-side comparison during the credits was startling in the amount of accuracy, but it’s also not too challenging to recreate a film that seemed...
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MOVIE: Jack Reacher – Never Go Back (2016)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours The follow-up sequel to Jack Reacher (2012), Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) is almost a warning to the audience in the title alone. I understand how a long-running book series like the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child is advantageous for the author by allowing the reader to pick up any book in the series and not need the background of the previous titles. However, with these self-encapsulated scenarios, Jack Reacher is probably better aligned with a television series than a series of movies. Not everyone can be the James Bond series, which has been able to get away with this for as long as it has. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original Jack Reacher movie, as it seemed to channel the “man with no name” / high-plains drifter / Ronin style that was prevalent in Westerns and Samurai films. His skills and calm demeanor unquestionably imply military...
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MOVIE: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours Look, I'm all for giving women a shot in traditionally male-focused franchises, but when all it boils down to is an application of "Rule 63," then I don't think we're doing these women justice. In this remake/reboot, the visuals and weapons get an upgrade, and that's about it. If they truly wanted to make a "Ghostbusters with women," then the characters shouldn't have been so interchangeable with the originals. I understand the need to maintain the parallels to the original, but these characters come off more like men in women's bodies than women who have their own, unique challenges and approaches to solving problems. If anything, Ghostbusters (2016) shows how extraordinary the comedy and special effects of the original Ghostbusters (1984) were. While the original usually earned its laughs with a wink, this remake had jokes that mostly relied upon awkward and uncomfortable situations or faux pas. I get that sometimes the improvisational nature of comedy can work for...
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MOVIE: A Quiet Place (2018)

A Quiet Place Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours I’m not a fan of horror. In recent decades, the “gorenography” surrounding the genre seemed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Jump scares and excessive on-screen violence were the norms. It seems that films like Get Out (2017) have changed that, judging by how expertly A Quiet Place (2018) still holds to some of the horror tropes but tells a story that’s much more thrilling than seeing a group of people gored to death one-by-one. In the end, A Quiet Place is expert storytelling at its finest, based partly on how adeptly it uses the medium of film to convey its horror. While there seemed to be a few minor plot holes and curious decisions on the part of the characters, I’m just going to chalk them up to “horror logic” and move on to why I think this film is required viewing, even for people who hate horror movies. What...
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MOVIE: Ready Player One (2018)

Ready Player One Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 140 minutes / 2.33 hours Ready Player One (2018) is a rare film for me, mostly because I had read the book well before the movie came out. In fact, I read the book shortly after it was released, and was impressed by the sheer volume of pop culture references. Consequently, I figured such a film could never be made. Just based on the incredible amount of coordination it would take to get rights approvals from so many different places, the legal side of such a film would be a nightmare. If it was made into a film, I imagined it would certainly be a fun and flashy romp through cyberspace. The film version, while not entirely faithful to its source material, certainly lives up to my imagination. While the book spends paragraphs describing all the pop culture references, the movie does it one better and gives quick, flashing glances of something that fans of pop culture will...
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MOVIE: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

A Wrinkle in Time Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours While plenty of children's books are imaginative, no amount of CGI can cover up the fact that a faithful adaptation to the source material should be the highest priority. Unfortunately, due to the heavy Christian undertones in the original story, an anti-Christian Hollywood managed to churn out this loose adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time that doesn't do much more than waste a few hours of your time. Sure, there are hints to such important ideas as faith, but they're lost in lackluster character development that tries to "modernize" something that has been timeless for decades. Each of the sequences in this film merely seems like an excuse for gorgeous set design. If anything, the alien worlds and settings are neat to look at, but they don't do much to distract from the events that just happen without much explanation as to why, or what purpose they serve. For instance, the scene...
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MOVIE: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

(500) Days of Summer Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours I’ll be the first to admit that I’m biased when it comes to this film. In 2009, I experienced my first ever relationship. I also experienced a breakup from said relationship in the same year. Consequently, I can relate to the main character, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and his rise and fall brought about by Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Like Tom, I too held the romantic belief of “the one,” based mostly on the movies, books, TV shows, and music that touted this magical someone who would fill the hole in our souls. What (500) Days of Summer emphasizes is certainly closer to reality: not every story has a happy ending. As for the way the movie is presented, I must applaud the ingenious and artful direction of Marc Webb, this being his directorial debut after years of working on music videos. His previous experience certainly comes through in the music chosen for...
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MOVIE: Pacific Rim – Uprising (2018)

Pacific Rim: Uprising Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours I think the trouble with some sequels, no matter how much I loved the original films, is that there's almost an unspoken meshing of elements that made the first movie enjoyable but can be hard to reproduce a second time. That being said, Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) does a pretty good job of continuing the story that came to a mostly definitive end in Pacific Rim (2013). Unfortunately, it looks like they also took a play out of Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) and have teased at a further sequel past Uprising. I will admit that some sequels like Pacific Rim: Uprising have an easier time advancing the plot of the story since most of the exposition has been covered in the previous movie. There was certainly a creative and natural twist that helped bring back the Kaiju so that audiences could see giant robots fight them again. It was also fun to watch these...
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MOVIE: Avengers – Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Infinity War Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 149 minutes / 2.48 hours It’s difficult to codify something like Avengers: Infinity War (2018) without including everything that led up to it. In reality, it’s probably more along the lines of the 19th episode of a television series that’s taken ten years to realize fully. Because of the interconnected nature of these previous movies, it’s difficult to view it alone without the backstory tied to it. However, there are enough brief moments of exposition to help most people fill in the gaps as to what is happening. Still, as is the case with many finales for television shows, the epic nature of Infinity War is at a level all its own. The scale of such an endeavor is daunting, but with as little backstory as possible holding it back, Infinity War moves at a pretty good pace, jumping between a couple of groups of Avengers. Of course, we can’t just directly jump to fighting the main villain, so the “lesser” bad guys stand...
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MOVIE: Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Anymore, superhero films are a dime a dozen. I get that they’re adding up to a greater narrative for Avengers: Infinity War (2018), but a lot of them seem almost indistinguishable from each other. Enter Black Panther (2018). Not only is this superhero not white, but almost all the action takes place somewhere other than New York City. There are a lot of strengths in Black Panther that make it feel like a cut above the rest. From the set design and aesthetic of Wakanda to the well-developed characters (including women warriors and women scientists), Black Panther shows how a superhero movie should be made. Despite its strengths, there are still a few, minor weaknesses in this film. First, some of the CGI felt a little off in the sense that my mind rejected it when I saw it. These moments were usually pretty rare but were unquestionably obvious. Secondly, one of the tenets of the superhero genre is the action/fight sequences. While...
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MOVIE: The Greatest Showman (2017)

The Greatest Showman Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours I can honestly say there aren’t nearly enough musicals in Hollywood anymore. The Greatest Showman (2017) certainly helps to fill in the gaps between these occurrences, and with a subject that easily lends itself to the musical format. I really enjoyed the songs and choreography, as well as its message of inclusion and being unashamed of who we are. All that being said, there was still something a little off when infusing pop music and modern dance moves with the 1800’s. It kind of works, but it also doesn’t immerse the audience in the historical aesthetic. While the story of P.T. Barnum’s (Hugh Jackman) rise to wealth and fame (or infamy, depending on the viewpoint) was entertaining enough, so much of its presentation seemed to have the “Hollywood coincidence” to it. Events lined up in such a way that I wondered if they really happened or if it was artistic license. This is also...
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MOVIE: Logan Lucky (2017)

Logan Lucky Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours I enjoy a good heist film. No heist is ever a straightforward “grab and dash” situation. When overcoming the barriers for the heist one-by-one, I can appreciate the interlocking elements of the robbery. Since one of my favorite heist films, Ocean’s Eleven (2001), was directed by Steven Soderbergh, I looked forward to his latest heist, Logan Lucky (2017). The trailers made it look like a fun film, and it was, but at the expense of all the best parts being conveyed in the trailer. About the only thing you don’t see in the trailer is the twist at the end, which is to be expected. When it comes to the setting, I’m not entirely sure if Logan Lucky is embracing or parodying the hillbilly stereotype. From beauty pageants for children to NASCAR races, this film has all the trappings of a West Virginia based on cultural perception instead of actual reality. At any...
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MOVIE: Pokémon the Movie – I Choose You! (2017)

Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours Over 20 years after its debut, it seems that Pokémon is not a fad and will be here to stay for the long haul. Of course, considering the mania surrounding the first games in the series back in the mid-1990’s, by now enough time has passed for nostalgia to be a contributing factor to the franchise’s continued success. The children who grew up with Pokémon are now adults in their late-20’s and early-30’s (i.e., “millennials”). In an attempt to cash in on this nostalgia, Pokémon’s latest movie, I Choose You! recounts some of the memorable first moments of the anime, but with a slightly different storyline. Initially, I was worried that this plot would be a pared-down selection of key moments from the anime, much like what has been done with other anime movies like One Piece’s The Desert Princess and the Pirates (2007) and Episode of Chopper Plus(2008). Fortunately, this film managed to...
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MOVIE: Darkest Hour (2017)

Darkest Hour Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours There are plenty of films out there that claim to be “art” by pushing the boundaries of the medium. These movies often come off as just plain weird. Darkest Hour (2017) is an artfully crafted masterpiece, even if it seems to be a biopic about Winston Churchill at first glance. All the individual elements that go into a fantastic film are in top form here, as we see how lighting, cinematography, music, plot, and acting combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Darkest Hour doesn’t have one element that makes it stand out as an incredible movie; it uses all facets of its production to create a masterpiece of art. The look of this film is incredible. From the overhead shots of battlegrounds seamlessly transitioning into the carnage of war to the heavy contrast of light and shadow emphasizing the “darkness” of the “darkest hour,” the visual spectacle of Churchill’s unconventional rise to...
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MOVIE: Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Call Me by Your Name Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours Call Me by Your Name (2017) is the latest in a string of LGBTQ+ films nominated for Best Picture. Each year, we seem to see one of these LGBTQ+ films nominated for the highest award, but this year there’s a much more fundamental problem with it. Around the time the definition of marriage was changed by the U.S. Government, many opponents warned of a slippery slope that would lead to acceptance of lifestyles that are currently illegal. Call Me by Your Name is proof that we have proceeded down this slope. I understand that the themes of “first love” are what draw people to this film, and I’d be OK with that if the theme never entered sexual territory. As it is, this movie glamorizes sexual relations with a minor. This is statutory rape, which is illegal. Even if the parties involved were heterosexual, this would still be wrong. Unfortunately, I think it’s...
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MOVIE: Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours It’s weird to think that 2003 was 15 years ago. As someone who graduated high school in 2004, Lady Bird (2017) hit me right in the nostalgia. While there have been plenty of coming-of-age films over the years, Lady Bird simplifies the experience to a quick-paced trot through the senior year of high school for the titular character (portrayed to great effect by Saoirse Ronan). All the trappings of the coming-of-age story are there, including experimentation with drugs, sex, and alcohol, but done in a way that is still innocent and child-like. In the end, Lady Bird is about independence and defining who we are as individuals. What really hits home in the narrative of this film is the things we do to make ourselves stand out. From declaring that our name is different from the one our parents gave us to choosing which friends we spend our time with, we inevitably realize that we’re seeking approval and acceptance...
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MOVIE: Coco (2017)

Coco Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours In the never-ending string of incredible visuals brought to life by Pixar, Coco (2017) continues this trend into the afterlife. At this point, I’m convinced Pixar could just go ahead and shoot live video and put their animated characters in the scene and I’d still think the whole thing was animated. The interplay of color, light, and shadow really come out in this celebration of Mexican culture. All spectacular visuals aside, Pixar again delivers on an emotional impact that left me crying, as always. When it comes to new ideas, Pixar certainly still knows how to create a visually-compelling story. While Coco has a lot going for it, there are a few weaknesses, some of which are my own opinion based on my likes and dislikes. I know the film mostly targets children (and older children at that), but the plot was just a smidge too predictable. Sure, it was enjoyable to see my...
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MOVIE: Justice League (2017)

Justice League Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes / 2.00 hours While it can be difficult to separate comparisons of DC’s Justice League (2017) with Marvel’s The Avengers (2010), there are plenty of parallels and similarities between the two. That’s not to say this is a bad thing, as fans of comic book heroes will always love to see their favorite characters team up to take on evil forces almost as much as they want to see these bastions of justice duke it out. Justice League certainly delivers on this, but in a way that felt uninteresting and lacking the serious consequences to the world at large. Concerning the characters themselves, Justice League succeeds in creating a unique team with some interesting heroes. Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) success in her standalone film could be seen in one of the first (and possibly best) sequences of the film. Additionally, The Flash (Ezra Miller) was a constant source of entertainment as the comic relief. Most importantly, Justice League succeeded in making Aquaman (Jason Momoa) an absolute...
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MOVIE: Thor – Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours At this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I feel these movies are practically on autopilot. Because Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) were absent from Captain America: Civil War (2016), there had to be a movie to explain what they were doing during that timeframe. Consequently, while Civil War had great conflict and an epic battle sequence, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) feels . . . less necessary. This being said, I do think that Ragnarok explores the Thor universe better than Thor: The Dark World (2013) did, thus making me wonder if Dark World was truly the unnecessary film. Sure, there are little snippets here and there in these films that set up other parts of the franchise (mainly, the Infinity Stones that will lead to Avengers: The Infinity War (2018)), as well as minor cameos that are fun, if not wholly filler (Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the case of Ragnarok). All Ragnarok seems to do is set the stage for the next big film in...
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MOVIE: Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Much like The Post (2017), Phantom Thread (2017) has a director/actor combination that just begs for an Oscar nomination. It seems that a decade after the last Paul Thomas Anderson/Daniel Day-Lewis collaboration, There Will Be Blood (2007), the Academy might want to pull their “should have won” trick and give the Best Picture Oscar to Phantom Thread. After seeing this film, though, I have changed my initial assessment. Sure, it’s good and has certain artistic elements that make it culturally significant, but other parts of it are just kind of . . . weird. First, the good. Daniel Day-Lewis, in his last role as an actor, unquestionably shows how good he is at his craft. I wouldn’t doubt that he has a good shot at earning his historic fourth Best Actor Oscar. The costume design and cinematography are noteworthy, but the best part of this film is a little more subtle: the music. The score for this movie permeates the...
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MOVIE: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours The first film by Martin McDonagh I saw was Seven Psychopaths (2012). I enjoyed how he was able to take the audience through many entertaining twists and turns. For his follow-up film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), McDonagh has improved on the twists, as well as the darkness of the comedy contained therein. In fact, the comedy is so dark that at times it was almost uncomfortable to laugh. All this being said, the two areas that make this a standout film are the characters and its complexity. Let’s start with the characters. Almost every single character is introduced in a way that the audience wants to dislike them. And yet, over the course of the film, the significant amount of character development makes the audience root for people who threw individuals out of second-story windows or chucked Molotov cocktails at a police station. Part of what helps in these character developments...
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MOVIE: In Bruges (2008)

In Bruges Year: 2008 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours It’s interesting to see Martin McDonagh’s first film with the hindsight of his two other movies. While I missed In Bruges (2008) back when it came out, I have recently enjoyed Seven Psychopaths (2012) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). Having now seen all three of McDonagh’s films, I see the themes and motifs he uses throughout his directing. I already had hints of these common elements; it’s just that seeing In Bruges for the first time has cemented them. From using short people to drug use to some uncomfortable violence, McDonagh has a style all his own, and it clearly shows in his breakout film. I think what draws me to McDonagh’s films is his expert use of multiple “Chekov’s Guns” as well as tying all these various foreshadowings together in a satisfying way. Whether it’s a fat American, spare change, or the untimely death of a child, each part of In Bruges was included for a purpose that becomes evident...
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MOVIE: Downsizing (2017)

Downsizing Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours In the last decade, I’ve come to appreciate Alexander Payne’s films. From The Descendants (2011) to Nebraska (2013), it was clear he was improving as a director. I had high hopes for his latest work, Downsizing (2017) since the premise seemed interesting and ripe for social satire like his previous films. For a movie about becoming small, Downsizing certainly had big ambitions. Unfortunately, it means that this film was kind of all over the place. Sure, there was a somewhat logical progression of events, but even the main character was flabbergasted at the coincidence of it all. While I would fault the movie for Hong Chau’s clipped English, as it almost seemed culturally insensitive at first, eventually the character grows on the viewer. This leads to a very touching ending. Instead, I will fault the science behind this science fiction. I was half-expecting a lot of sight gags on how ordinary objects are much bigger with shrunken humans (a la The Borrowers), which Downsizing delivered...
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MOVIE: Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours In the never-ending array of superheroes feeding into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to support such franchises like Captain America and The Avengers, it can be difficult to make some of the B-tier and C-tier heroes seem interesting enough to devote a whole movie to them. To ensure each movie feels different from its predecessors, certain unique attributes must be applied. Whether it’s the sci-fi-themed Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or the mind-bending visuals of Doctor Strange (2016), each film requires a gimmick to make it work. For Ant-Man (2015), it’s comedy. If you approach Ant-Man as a standard superhero film, you’re likely to be disappointed. There are almost too many off-hand references to much of the MCU to make anyone not familiar with the vast array of movies lost and confused. Plus, the hero’s “origin story” in Ant-Man is almost par for the course. However, if you watch this film with the understanding that it’s more similar to comedy/caper/heist films than a superhero film, you’re likely...
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MOVIE: The Post (2017)

The Post Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours At this point, I just wonder if every movie Steven Spielberg makes that has anything to do with war (Schindler’s List (1994), Saving Private Ryan (1999), War Horse (2012), Lincoln (2013), Bridge of Spies (2015)) is just automatically given a Best Picture nomination. Don’t get me wrong, Spielberg has made a lot of quality movies that should be recognized and awarded. The question is more about the state of Hollywood films. Is there nothing else out there by up-and-coming filmmakers that would supplant a Spielberg film in the nominee list? Don’t even get me started on Meryl Streep’s nominations, either. Of course, in part due to the all-star power of Spielberg, and the leading roles filled by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, The Post (2017) is a movie that builds its tension right until the very end. Despite a somewhat slow start, the stakes are never higher when the ambiguity of publishing classified documents is taken all the way to its logical conclusion. The...
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MOVIE: Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours For many years, the running joke about the movies that have won the Best Picture Oscar is that they only won because another film should have won years prior. Spotlight (2015) is this generation's All the President's Men (1976) in that it is an excellent film about investigative journalism that broke open a huge cover-up, changing the world forever. Both films deserved to be Best Picture, but Spotlight manages to take an uncomfortable subject and be frank and open about the problems that we still see in today's society. Since most of the movie is comprised of uncovering the truth behind the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, it's surprising how gripping and well-paced the film ends up being. Part of the genius of this film is the high-energy dedication these four journalists have in uncovering the terrifying truths that had been lurking in the shadows for decades. While such a subject could easily create a...
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MOVIE: The Shape of Water (2017)

The Shape of Water Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours The modern master of the monster movie, Guillermo del Toro is at it again with The Shape of Water (2017). Much like the Universal Studios monster classics, del Toro has created a career around directing films about how humans interact with these monsters. From building giant robots to fight giant monsters in Pacific Rim (2013) to hiring monsters to kill other monsters in Hellboy (2004), del Toro has also occasionally shown the more human side of monsters. Or, more accurately, he has shown how monster-like humans can become. Previous films by Guillermo del Toro, like Cronos (1993) and Pan's Labyrinth (2006) have highlighted the negative qualities of man while infusing these films with a sense of fantasy that can often border on straight-up fairy tales. The Shape of Water certainly falls into the "man is the real monster" category of del Toro's movies, but it kind of beats you over the head...
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MOVIE: Get Out (2017)

Get Out Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours I'll admit that I'm not a fan of horror films. The fact that Get Out (2017) was released in that weird, "horror month" of February that merely exists so people trying to catch up on their Oscar nominations don't have to watch anything new meant that it mostly passed under my radar. When buzz about the movie continued for the rest of the year, I was still skeptical as horror has been known for its cheap tricks and gratuitous violence, both of which I don't particularly care for. The trick is, Get Out is certainly a horror film, but with the minimum required trappings to be considered one. With a few jump scares and a violent and bloody ending, Get Out works on a level that's best described as "blatantly subtle." It's not so much that it screams about the racial differences between black people and white people, but that it does so...
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MOVIE: The Shack (2017)

The Shack Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours When I saw the trailers for this film, I had no idea what it was about. It seemed to be part magical and part depressing, never really covering what the movie’s content was. For anyone who is curious, it’s about a meeting with the Holy Trinity. Consequently, while most “Christian” films are almost cringe-worthy, this one wasn’t half bad. Of course, there are still elements of it that made me roll my eyes, but these scenes were mere bookends to a great theological discussion-starter. In fact, I would almost prefer this film without the framing, since most people would probably relate to the main character, regardless. The trouble with the framing device used for the conversation with God is that it doesn’t feel natural. There’s a forced quality that pushes the main character into the situation where he encounters God, merely contrived so that he is near rock bottom when God appears. I will...
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MOVIE: Blade Runner – 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner: 2049 Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 164 minutes / 2.73 hours Back when I first heard about a Blade Runner (1982) sequel, I was skeptical about its quality. Sure, the ending was a little open-ended, but it stood by itself quite well. A Blade Runner sequel coming out mere years away from the original’s futuristic timeline of 2019 seemed just as ridiculous. The one redeeming factor that eventually led me to think this sequel would be any good was that Denis Villeneuve was tapped to direct it. While I’ve liked Villeneuve’s films as far back as Prisoners (2013), I’ve really become a fan since his Best Picture-nominated Arrival (2016) revealed how well he can do science fiction. Of course, Blade Runner isn’t really science fiction. Sure, it has the trappings of a futuristic society, but at its core, the movie is a noir. The plot and aesthetic of noir is considerably different than that of sci-fi, but Villeneuve manages to merge the two...
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MOVIE: Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner Year: 1982 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours When I first saw Blade Runner (1982) many years ago, I understood that it was the quintessential, if not the defining, cyberpunk film. Since I was used to the more modern cyberpunk at the time (a la The Matrix (1999)), I felt the slow unfolding of exposition wasn't nearly as action-driven as I had hoped it would be. Of course, at the time, I might not have been watching the "Director's Cut" version of Blade Runner, which was what I watched this time around. Needless to say, it's a much better movie than I initially remembered. I think part of my improved assessment of this film came from a realization that it wasn't intrinsically a science fiction film. Sure, it is based on a story by Philip K. Dick, it is set in a fast-approaching and somewhat inaccurate representation of the future, and it has the trappings of a sci-fi film (i.e., androids,...
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MOVIE: The Princess Bride (1987)

The Princess Bride Year: 1987 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours The Princess Bride (1987) is a movie that defies genres. It’s an adventure film with swashbuckling pirates. It’s a fantasy film with giants and six-fingered men. It’s a comedy with numerous quotable lines. It’s a family film about storytelling. It’s all these things, and more, which is part of its appeal (even if it makes the whole movie difficult to classify or market). The real trick with The Princess Bride is that it is subtle with its self-awareness. While other films may go so far self-aware that they’d break the fourth wall (a la Deadpool (2016)), The Princess Bride manages to poke fun at these classic genres with a knowing wink to the audience. Of course, this is part of its appeal. Many self-aware films make overt references to other big-hitters in their genre, thus relying on the audience who has done their homework to understand the joke. In The Princess Bride, there are no references to The Lord of the...
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MOVIE: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours After the success of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), director Rian Johnson had to strike a fine balance in the following sequel, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017). Since The Force Awakens was essentially a flashy, rehash of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), The Last Jedi needed to separate itself from the predictable path already laid out in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Unfortunately, the formula employed in Empire Strikes Back has become so integral to sequels that deviating from it could prove to be disastrous. While I’m curious where Episode IX will go from here, I hope it builds upon what Johnson has done here. The tensions of war helped drive the characters into interesting moments of growth, defiance, and desperation, but much of the story was well wrapped up by the time the credits rolled. The real balance of this film came from paying homage...
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MOVIE: Loving Vincent (2017)

Loving Vincent Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours Animation has become somewhat easier since the days when every frame was drawn out by hand. This change has been mostly due to the use of computers to simplify the animation process. And yet, there are still those who want to embrace the painstaking process of manual animation, mostly for the artistic merit that it gives the film. Usually, this is done in short form, like the stop-motion film, Fresh Guacamole (2012) by PES, or the paint-on-glass animated short, The Old Man and the Sea (1999). Both of these short films were nominated for the Animated Short Oscar, with the latter winning the prize. With Loving Vincent (2017), we now have a feature-length (albeit at a short 94 minutes) animated feature that took the time to recreate the aesthetic of Van Gough’s paintings via a plentitude of hand-painted oil paintings that comprised the individual frames of the film. If awards are given for artistic merit alone, Loving Vincent deserves to win...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Of all the superheroes in their respective comic universes, the one I grew up with was Spider-Man. I watched the animated 1990’s television show, and I loved when this relatable superhero made his way to the big screen in Spider-Man (2002). I was even more pleased when Spider-Man 2 (2004) set the tone for future superhero franchises. The first film is the origin film so the second film can dispense with the best villain and not spend all its time in exposition. Unfortunately, I ended up being disappointed by the third entry in this original Spider-Man trilogy, which was a rare miss in my book. Fast forward to 2012, when Spider-Man was rebooted with Andrew Garfield in the title role. Having to sit through the origin story again, but with a different, green-colored villain as the antagonist seemed like it wasn’t exploring anything new. Around the same time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was...
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MOVIE: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours As someone who never fully immersed themselves in the Harry Potter fandom, this spin-off wasn't high on my "to watch" list. Sure, I liked the movies well enough for the continual narrative they provided (still haven't gotten to the books yet), and I understand that this parallel universe full of magic is a unique idea that hasn't been explored in this fashion, but this just seems like a tag-along to capitalize on a successful franchise. That's not to say that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) isn't good, it's just that it does require a bit of background knowledge in order to fully "get it." Partly because seeing wizardry and magic in the modern era might still seem odd, this throwback to the past is only made better by placing it in the United States. Both of these settings differ from the main Harry Potter franchise enough...
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MOVIE: Despicable Me 3 (2017)

Despicable Me 3 Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Sometimes I wonder how this franchise became so popular. Perhaps this perception is due to the oversaturation of the annoying little “Minions” that seem to pervade every corner of social media. And yet, when I go to see a movie like this, I am soon reminded that there are relatable and underappreciated storylines and plot points contained within this silliness. I have rarely seen a better “adoption” storyline than the one presented in Despicable Me (2010). Of course, Despicable Me 2 (2013) took the natural next step and provided a “single dad looking for a wife” storyline that also is rarely seen in animation. With Despicable Me 3 (2017), the franchise transitions more into a series of vignettes better suited for a television show than a feature-length film. It was a little hard to tell which storyline was the main one for the film, even if they were all intertwined in some...
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MOVIE: The Dark Tower (2017)

The Dark Tower Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours Like many “best-selling” books and book series made into movies, I don’t have the time to sit down and read them all before their film adaptations are released. The Dark Tower (2017) is no different. In fact, I was only made aware of the Dark Tower series shortly before the movie was announced. Therefore, unlike the diehard fans of the series, I had no expectations for the film other than the understanding that there would be some interesting fantasy/sci-fi elements presented on the big screen. Unfortunately, at a measly 93 minutes of runtime, The Dark Tower felt a little . . . light. Sure, all the essential elements of the story were there: the gunslinger protagonist (Idris Elba), the magical “Man in Black” antagonist (Matthew McConaughey), and the conflict of good vs. evil. And yet, so much of the plot seemed glossed over that the entire movie felt like a trailer for...
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MOVIE: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

War for the Planet of the Apes Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 140 minutes / 2.33 hours There’s something special about the final film in a “prequel trilogy” that almost defies explanation. It acts as a springboard to the original content while also tying up all the loose ends that presented themselves in the previous installments of the trilogy. Since the source material is well-known, a viewer can deduce how it will end, but not necessarily how it will get there. In this sense, movies like Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) share a common theme as links between the new and the old. Similar in tone to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), War continues the escalating conflict between the titular apes and the now-endangered humans. Unfortunately, because it places Caesar (Andy Serkis) as the primary protagonist of the whole trilogy, the “savior” parallels are a little too heavy-handed here. Heck, they should have titled it Passion of...
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MOVIE: Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 112 minutes / 1.87 hours There are so many “heist” films nowadays that it’s practically its own genre, with all the tropes and clichés that go with it. Consequently, when I learned that Edgar Wright had directed a heist film, my interest was piqued. Best known for his parody comedies, Shaun of the Dead(2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013), the film of his I have enjoyed the most is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). His style is distinct throughout these films, which is what I was hoping for in Baby Driver (2017). While Wright’s visual style is present in Baby Driver, it is muted, almost in the background of the standard heist framework. With an almost 1980’s undertone, Baby Driver takes many cues from its predecessor, Drive (2011). Both feature an almost silent heist driver as the main character and plenty of entertaining driving sequences that are practically ballet on the boulevards. Fortunately, both films also focus on the characters, and not so much on the heist, giving...
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MOVIE: Noah (2014)

Noah Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours If there’s any filmmaker more controversial than Darren Aronofsky, I’m not sure who it would be at this point. Interestingly enough, while most of his films are rated “R” (or higher, like the uncut Requiem for a Dream (2000)), I think Noah (2014) is the first time one of his films has been at the PG-13 rating. Since most of the controversy of his movies comes via the content that would make it R-rated, it’s interesting that the controversy with Noah is more along the lines of how Aronofsky filled in the gaps and created a dramatic narrative inside the Biblical story of Noah. As is always the case with an Aronofsky film, Noah is a beautiful spectacle of filmmaking. Even if the landscapes of Iceland helped create this stunning setting, certain dream-like sequences and moments speak to the art that Aronofsky can evoke on the screen. The setting of the pre-flood world is believable, and most of the costumes...
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MOVIE: Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours Wonder Woman (2017) is a triumphant movie that shows the comic book genre doesn’t have to be dominated by men. Unfortunately, because it took so long getting here, I can’t help but draw comparisons to other works that came before it, making Wonder Woman seem derivative. In fact, had this movie come out eight years ago, it would have made Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Thor (2011) look like they were copying it. As it stands, though, Wonder Woman feels formulaic, even if the superhero is a woman instead of a man. I will grant that some of the jokes come at the expense of the “fish out of water” character of Diana (Gal Gadot), playing on her naïveté of the “modern world” for laughs (a la Thor) but with a more sexualized context because she’s a woman. There were a few missed opportunities to add depth to the character via these circumstances, the interaction with Chief Napi (Eugene Brave Rock)...
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MOVIE: Dekalog (1989)

Dekalog Year: 1989 Rating: TV-MA Length: 572 minutes / 9.53 hours Dekalog almost defies categorization. While you could say it’s a TV show, the only recurring “character” is the apartment complex where many of the characters of the different “episodes” happen to live. If it’s a movie, it’s a very long one comprised of ten one-hour short films. Therefore, Dekalog is probably best defined as a TV mini-series. But, don’t let that label fool you: each one of these ten short films packs a huge punch individually, but produce a well-rounded examination of humanity in their entirety. Perhaps we should consider Dekalog as an anthology of the human condition. Life and death. Love and hate. Gain and loss. It’s all there in Dekalog. What hits you first with Dekalog is the depth of the plots. Most of the episodes have some ethical dilemma that drives their characters. From a man questioning his faith in science to a woman who is pregnant with a bastard child while her husband is dying in a hospital,...
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MOVIE: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours If there was one thing this movie excelled in, it was the advertising leading up to its release. I saw video ads on Facebook, trailers on television, and all sorts of viral marketing. Consequently, while the film looked neat, I didn't really know what it was about. Fast forward to months later when it arrived at the cheap theater in town and I decided to go see it. Within the first few minutes, I was somewhat surprised to learn that this movie was based on an obscure comic book series. Not that this really surprises me any longer. Sure, the superhero comics are bringing in big money at the box office, but the more "adult" comics (also sometimes known as "graphic novels") have been seeping in over the years as well, in part due to adaptations like V for Vendetta (2005) and Watchmen (2009). Even in this year alone, we've seen Valerian and Laureline adapted...
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MOVIE: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours When it comes to the films of Luc Besson, it’s often hit or miss. Sure, he’s directed many successful films, like Nikita (1990) and Léon: The Professional (1994), but some of his recent fare like The Family (2013) have left me disappointed. One of his best films is the sci-fi space opera (literally, even), The Fifth Element (1997). When I learned that he would be returning to this genre with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), I certainly had high hopes for it. After viewing it for the first time, I can unquestionably say that my expectations were certainly met. Because Valerian has a French comic book series as its source, some of my qualms with this film might lie with the source material, and not the director. Some may recall the originality that came from another French comic book adaptation in the form of...
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MOVIE: Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Part of me wishes that the title of this film were true. What I wouldn’t give to have these dead men not tell their tale of revenge. That being said, I had some hopes that this movie would help redeem the franchise after the lackluster On Stranger Tides (2011). After all, Javier Bardem has proven to be an effective villain in such films as No Country for Old Men (2007) and Skyfall (2012), so I thought he could help carry this movie as a solid antagonist. Unfortunately, even he could not save this sinking ship of a franchise. The main problem with Dead Men Tell No Tales is that it feels rote and uninspired. Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow feels more lucky than actually talented at pirating. Granted, that was some of his charm in the previous films, but not all of it. Add to this a...
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MOVIE: Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours Almost like clockwork, Christopher Nolan has directed a masterpiece of filmmaking every two-to-three years since the start of the millennium. While his prior work is certainly entertaining, most of it was set in a fictional environment that allowed him to play with the format of nonlinear storytelling. When I first heard that Nolan would be directing a film about the World War II retreat from Dunkirk, I was skeptical at first. I mean, while he's great at action movies like The Dark Knight (2010), mind-benders like Memento (2000), or even science fiction epics like Interstellar (2014), his only foray into the "historical" was via The Prestige (2006), and even that was mostly made up. What I did not realize going into Dunkirk (2017), was Nolan's ability to create art without the need for fancy camera tricks or mind-blowing plot twists. The simplicity of Dunkirk merely emphasizes the mastery of cinematography and directing that Christopher Nolan can...
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes / 2.27 hours I sometimes wonder if the strength of the first film in a series dooms the following films to a condition I refer to as “the trilogy conundrum.” If a single film is original and has a strong story that stands by itself, it almost requires the following films to be weaker in comparison, each sequel needing another sequel to tell a complete story. Films like Back to the Future (1985), The Matrix (1999), and Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) are fantastic films that defined their generation, but their sequels were highly dependent on a follow-on sequel, thus making the trilogy complete, but lacking the strength of the initial film. I hate to say it, but Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) falls into this “trilogy conundrum.” The original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was a fun and meaningful departure from its Marvel comic book brethren. This sequel, however,...
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours It is comforting to know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe includes the universe. While most films in this ever-expanding movie multiverse take place on Earth, a few like Thor (2011) and Doctor Strange (2016) explore different realms but still tie back to Earth. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is different in that, almost immediately, Earth is left far behind in favor of alien worlds filled with fantastical creatures. Consequently, this film feels more like a sci-fi movie than a comic book flick. Considering how stagnant the superhero formula has become, this is a good thing. With almost no earthly constraints on it, Guardians of the Galaxy is practically indescribable, probably because it has everything. Comedy. Action. A talking raccoon. With a reasonably well-paced plot, this film excels in developing its diverse cast. These main characters each have their unique traits and little quirks that almost immediately made them amusing and endearing....
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MOVIE: Get Low (2009)

Get Low Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 103 minutes / 1.71 hours Despite its PG-13 rating, Get Low (2009) is about as wholesome a movie as there ever was. Loosely based on a true story of a man who wanted to have his funeral before he died so he could hear what people would say about him, the simplicity of this classic plot relies heavily on the characters within it. From the crotchety hermit to the struggling funeral parlor owner to a town full of rumors and gossip, the implication that Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) has done something terrible drives the narrative forward to its logical conclusion. The two standout performances in this movie come from Robert Duvall and Bill Murray. Duvall’s Felix Bush is as cantankerous and stubborn as they come, and he fully plays up the fact that nobody likes him. Of course, it makes sense that 40 years of carrying the burden Felix has carried would affect a man like that. On the other...
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MOVIE: Frozen (2013)

Frozen Year: 2013 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours It's hard to deny the worldwide phenomenon that is this movie. While I'm sure parents now twitch any time "Let it Go" comes on, the fact of the matter is many factors led to the success of this film. Starting in the mid-2000's, Disney saw they had a problem and set about trying to fix it. By rehauling how they told stories, and how they approached the characters in these stories, they soon were back on top of the animation industry (while Pixar continues to be content pumping out Cars sequels). Stunning visuals can only get you so far in a Disney movie, and Frozen (2013) certainly takes the cake when it comes to visualizing snow and ice through computers. What makes Frozen work as a story is its complexity. No one character is completely good or completely bad, each having their faults and limitations, as well as their good intentions and personal desires. This...
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MOVIE: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

T2 Trainspotting Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 In the vein of successful and groundbreaking films receiving sequels two decades after the fact (I'm looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)), director Danny Boyle is at it again with T2 Trainspotting (2017). While the original Trainspotting (1996) was a fun bit of cinema that used a unique visual style to emulate the sensations of the highs (and lows) of drug use, the ending was pretty definitive. Still, because drug use can have long-lasting effects, the Trainspotting sequel is an important part of the whole narrative. Unfortunately, as is the case with these types of sequels, the story didn't change at all. After all, if it worked once, what's to say it won't work again. T2 Trainspotting continues to glamorize the party lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in a visual style that's fun to watch. Of course, what was a little interesting about this sequel is that it was almost self-aware of...
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MOVIE: Trainspotting (1996)

Trainspotting Year: 1996 Rating: R Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours As someone who has never done drugs, I have no way to know what the experience of being high on heroin or cocaine is like. Fortunately, I don't have to do these drugs to get an understanding of the sensation. In the early years of film, most movies about drugs were usually cautionary tales (as was the case for Reefer Madness (1936)). By the "free-loving" decades of the 1960's and 1970's, drugs were more acceptable but often were seen in a comedic context (a la "Cheech & Chong"). The societal excess of the 1980's and 1990's beget an epedemic of harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. Consequently, we started to see more films that would glamorize drug use, but would still show the consequences of extended use of these harder drugs. Perhaps the most famous film that fits in this category is the hard-to-watch Requiem for a Dream (2000), which really played up the "consequences" part. A few...
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MOVIE: King Arthur – Legend of the Sword (2017)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 126 minutes / 2.1 hours Years ago, I watched Guy Ritchie's first film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). I thoroughly enjoyed the comedic repartee, well-paced action, and simple heist scenario. Afterward, I decided to watch the rest of his films (omitting Swept Away (2002) for obvious reasons). Films like Snatch (2000) and RocknRolla (2008) held very similar premises, but even in his other films like Revolver (2005), you could see the distinctive style Ritchie has when he shoots his films. In hindsight, not all of these films are great, but they were certainly entertaining for me. Enter Sherlock Holmes (2009), and this big-budget film gave Guy Ritchie a bit more mainstream attention, as it also sported Robert Downey Jr. on a career hot streak. The striking visual style remained, which also helped in the sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). Because I also enjoyed the 60's period piece, The Man...
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MOVIE: Hardcore Henry (2015)

Hardcore Henry Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours When the trailer for this movie came out, I had high hopes for this “conceptual” idea. With the increased popularity and proliferation of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, I could see a film like this doing well in an immersive environment like VR. After all, the whole film is from the first-person Point of View (POV), so anyone wearing the VR headset would feel almost as if they were experiencing the movie from the main character’s perspective. Granted, this film was not created for VR headsets, and after seeing it, I’m kind of glad that it wasn’t. Hopefully, future filmmakers can take the lessons from this film and create better movies that could use the format to its best advantage. Up until now, the only time you’d see something in a first-person POV is in a video game. In fact, most “first-person shooters” (FPS) are “filmed” in this fashion to immerse the player in the...
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MOVIE: Time Bandits (1981)

Time Bandits Year: 1981 Rating: PG Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours If there’s one thing Terry Gilliam’s films are known for, it’s their imaginative visuals. In a time before CGI was prevalent, the practical and model effects certainly made his films distinctive, especially in the fantasy genre. That being said, one of his earliest films, Time Bandits (1981) was quickly outclassed, not only by Gilliam himself but by other films as well. While Time Bandits is a cute little story about traveling through time, it is precisely that: little story. Even with the spectacular visuals, the plot seemed to be quite lacking, almost as an afterthought to how many interesting set pieces could cram into one film. I will admit that Time Bandits was ahead of its time, but I wouldn’t consider it better than films that came after it. If you want plenty of imaginative fantasy effects, look no further than Labyrinth (1986). A series of time-travel vignettes? Then Bill and Ted’s Excellent...
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MOVIE: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours When it comes to the Disney live-action remakes, there are a few things to consider. While some plots are drastically different from their originals, like in Maleficent (2014), others gained plots that were light or non-existent, like in The Jungle Book (2016). When it comes to adapting Beauty and the Beast (1991), the fact that it received a nomination for the Best Picture Oscar speaks volumes of the story that already existed. Consequently, little has changed with the general thrust of the live-action remake, but it added many details that helped to round out the plot. Not only was Belle’s (Emma Watson) past explained a little better, but the turning point in her relationship with Beast (Dan Stevens) was much more natural than it was in its predecessor. I will also admit that the ending, while still the same outcome, carried a much larger emotional impact (something closer to that of...
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MOVIE: The Circle (2017)

The Circle Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours In an ever-increasingly digital world, practically everyone online is concerned with privacy. Of course, we are willing to give up this privacy to make our lives more convenient. In The Circle (2017), the eponymous corporation is merely a stand-in for Google/Facebook/Amazon/Apple and is essentially a conglomeration of sorts of these tech companies. Of course, just like that antiquated operating system you’ve meant to update, The Circle contains a premise about five years too late. When the book this movie was based on came out, I’m sure it was thought-provoking; now it’s more a matter of “Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this already.” Part of what strikes me about this film is that several segments of it probably worked better in the book. When I’m watching characters explain “mandatory fun” I can’t help but cringe and wonder if it reads better than the performance I saw. Granted, there are segments which are better on the...
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MOVIE: Kong – Skull Island (2017)

Kong: Skull Island Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Given how incredibly groundbreaking the special effects in the original King Kong (1933) were, I can understand why they keep re-using this character. Of course, while King Kong (1976) was mislabeled as “original” in its advertising, the advancements in CGI made King Kong (2005) at least as visually stunning as its 1933 predecessor. Still, the story has remained the same: humans visit Skull Island, humans find Kong, humans bring Kong to New York, Kong climbs the tallest building, and humans kill Kong. Consequently, I didn’t have much of an expectation of Kong: Skull Island (2017), since I thought I knew what the plot would be. I can honestly say that Kong: Skull Island is the best adaptation of this character since 1933. A few choices helped to create an original story that deviated from the norm. Sure, humans go to Skull Island to find Kong, but the other creatures they find there...
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MOVIE: Aliens (1986)

Aliens Year: 1986 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours While I’m sure a Ridley Scott sequel to his smash-hit, Alien (1979), would be fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, the choice to go with similarly-successful James Cameron in the director’s seat helped to keep the franchise from becoming too stale. Of course, with a sequel appearing seven years after the original, Alien had plenty of time to rest on its laurels before the follow-on film came along. Watching Aliens (1986) with the knowledge of James Cameron’s other work, it soon becomes apparent that this movie is all his own. After all, if I told you there’s a James Cameron film about space marines invading an alien world to eliminate an alien threat, many of you would think I’m referring to Avatar (2009) and not Aliens (1986). In the original Alien, much of the focus of the film is on survival, let alone how to defeat such an unstoppable creature. For Aliens, the...
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MOVIE: Alien (1979)

Alien Year: 1979 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours Science fiction in film has faced an uphill battle in terms of being taken seriously. Up until the late 1960’s, most sci-fi was low-budget, B-movie schlock more likely to be Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fodder than Oscar potential. This all changed in 1968 with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now that sci-fi could be considered art it took almost a decade for other films to capitalize on Kubrick’s groundbreaking work. Star Wars (1977) expanded on the special effects and made sci-fi a fun, action-filled ride. Regarding the horror aspect of sci-fi, Alien (1979) remains the founding film of these combined genres. Not only does Ridley Scott do a fantastic job directing this movie, in particular through the use of elaborate sets, puppetry, and just plain spectacular cinematography; but the fact that Alien has an incredibly strong female protagonist (Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley) puts it leagues ahead of its time in terms of character-driven plot....
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MOVIE: Power Rangers (2017)

Power Rangers Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.06 hours In one of the many gritty reboots of a nostalgic 1990’s franchise, I didn’t have much expectation for Power Rangers (2017). The original show was pretty campy, with a tried-and-true plot structure that didn’t change much from episode to episode. In fact, I probably couldn’t tell you the specific plot of any of the episodes. They’d usually follow this format: the main villain would go about trying to obtain some goal via their minions/henchmen, the Power Rangers would morph and fight the minions/henchmen, the minions/henchmen would grow large and start destroying everything, the Power Rangers would call their Zords out to battle, and (finally) the Zords would combine into the Megazord and the foe would be vanquished. While Power Rangers did follow some of the structure of the television show format, it also managed to create characters with some depth and background to them. From a disgraced football star to an autistic teen...
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MOVIE: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Having only seen the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) film (and its 2008 remake), and not having read the manga on which it was based, most of my comparisons of the 2017 live-action adaptation are from the anime film adaptations that came before it. For its time, the original Ghost in the Shell movie was revolutionary. Along with similarly violent anime films like Akira (1988), Ghost in the Shell showed the world that animation wasn’t just for kids. The adult and more psychological aspects of these films are what helped set them apart as some of the groundbreaking films in the anime genre. Regarding the live-action remake, I think it honestly took too long to get here. The concepts of cybernetically enhanced humans are surprisingly close to realized technology today. Given that these ideas seemed quite futuristic in the early 1990’s, the fact that they are plausible within the next...
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MOVIE: Split (2016)

Split Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours For many years, M. Night Shyamalan’s directing career has been in continual decline. Many people, myself included, felt his groundbreaking work with The Sixth Sense (1999) was the peak of what he had to offer. Sure, Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002) were good movies that had their moments, but from that point onward, the films he made just got worse and worse. Although I have not seen it, 2015’s The Visit seemed to be a return to form for Shyamalan, indicating that his directing was no longer washed up. In Split (2017), we see that Shyamalan has been able to recapture the magic that made his previous films so memorable. The first thing I noticed in Split was the cinematography. The camera lets the audience see just enough to let them know that something is amiss, often preparing the viewer for an occasional jump scare. Secondly, James McAvoy’s performance was impeccable. Taking on the...
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MOVIE: Logan (2017)

Logan Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours I'm not sure I know what to think about this movie. I mean, I wanted to like it inasmuch as I like a lot of the action-filled superhero movies that preceded it. However, the plot felt like it had less to do with these fantastic mutant abilities and more about just living life as normal people. Don't get me wrong: there are plenty of mutant abilities on display in this film, it's just that they weren't necessarily the focus of it. In fact, if you took away the fact that this was based on comic book characters, you'd still have a film about a father trying to care for a daughter he never knew he had. Almost sounds cliche to me. Regarding the Wolverine spinoff series, Logan (2017), is a strong finish after the abysmal Wolverine: Origins (2009) and slightly improved The Wolverine (2013). I did appreciate the finality of it, especially considering the whole X-Men...
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MOVIE: The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

The LEGO Batman Movie Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours While The LEGO Movie (2014) did a good job of initially not making its universe seem like it was just in the imagination of a 10-year-old child, The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) dispenses with that illusion and goes full-bore into the child-like mind. From the dialogue to the wide variety of licensed characters to the regular “pew, pew pew” sounds made when guns and lasers are fired, The LEGO Batman Movie steps right into what you’d expect a movie about a children’s building toy would be. Of course, with Batman being one of the best characters from The LEGO Movie, it’s no wonder why he was first to get a spinoff film. Regarding plot, it was simplistic. Kids would certainly be able to “get” that family matters, even if they aren’t biologically related. But fear not adults, there’s plenty for you in this film as well. Perhaps the best mark of...
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MOVIE: John Wick – Chapter 2 (2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours As far as sequels go, I was looking forward to the second installment of the John Wick franchise, mostly because I was interested to see how it would take the genre-defying changes it made in the first film and expound upon them. While you don't need to know much of the plot of the first movie, other than knowing John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was the best professional killer ever, and now he’s trying to live a peaceful life in retirement, one could almost wonder if the first film was even necessary. Plot-wise, John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) provides a much more interesting storyline instead of just an accidental mistake made by a stupid kid of a mob boss. Unfortunately, while the plot is much improved, the action seems a little stale. Sure, Wick’s “dance of death” remains an impressive sight to behold, but now the camera is starting to trend back...
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MOVIE: John Wick (2014)

John Wick Year: 2014 Rating: R Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours I’ll be honest and say that I initially thought this film was just another action movie. Of all the action movies that come out these days, there wasn’t much that intrigued me enough to spend the time with this particular one. However, after some of my friends were raving about it and I saw a few YouTube videos describing why it was so great, I decided to give John Wick (2014) a chance. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. This film was not just another action movie. In fact, it was quite exemplary in its breaking of traditional action movie tropes. The most noticeable difference this movie has compared to other action films is its camerawork. Ever since The Bourne Identity (2001) changed the action movie genre, the cameras have been quite shaky, and the action is, therefore (increasingly) hard to follow. Not so with John Wick. The smooth and...
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MOVIE: Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Based on the surprise win of Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, I had high expectations for Moonlight (2016). There were some fantastic, motivational, and inspirational films in the running for this award, including the “follow your dreams” story of La La Land (2016), the “communication is key” story of Arrival (2016), and the “overcoming adversity” story of Hidden Figures (2016). So, what did Moonlight have to offer? In my opinion, not much; but maybe that was because I’m a straight white (you could argue, privileged) male and there was little to relate to in this film. Sure, the cinematography was impressive at times, but there wasn’t any story that I felt was impactful enough to warrant its award. I will give credit to Mahershala Ali, as his performance was certainly deserving of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. So, what lessons does Moonlight give us? Do we need to find good mentors in life?...
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MOVIE: Fences (2016)

Fences Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours Before going into this film, I knew it was based on a play of the same name. Of course, even if I didn't know this, I could have told you it was based on a play. Perhaps that's what kept bugging me throughout this movie: it was clearly a play. I could see in my mind's eye how it would look on the stage, which wasn't helped by the actors' cadence and almost continual monologues. If I wanted to see this as a play, I'd see it as a play; I watch a movie to get a more well-rounded experience. So, aside from this film being an almost direct adaptation of the play it's based on, the next thing that caught my attention was how many tropes were contained in the plot. Honestly, with topics like mental health, marital infidelity, inter-generational conflict, and death, the plot didn't seem that original to me at all....
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MOVIE: Matchstick Men (2003)

Matchstick Men Year: 2003 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours One of the lesser-known Ridley Scott films, Matchstick Men (2003) could have been just another heist film, and in some senses, it is. Upon watching the film again, one can easily pick up exactly when the "long con" starts up and which events lead toward the inevitable conclusion. So, perhaps it doesn't have the ability to demand repeat watchings (past about two) on its heist aspects. However, I believe the characters are what give this movie most of its charm. After all, characters make a story, and this one has some good ones. In one of his best "crazy person" roles, Nicholas Cage does an incredible job portraying Roy, a con-artist with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. His performance is often difficult to watch and is cringe-worthy in the opening act. If this is what it's truly like living with OCD, I never want to joke about having it . . . ever. I'm almost...
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MOVIE: Passengers (2016)

Passengers Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours I have to admit that the plot presented in the trailers of this movie intrigued me. However, in its execution, Passengers (2016) left much to be desired. Of course, this was mostly due to the film using just enough “physics speak” to be partially accurate, but incredibly wrong. Those parts stuck out to me in this movie and I kept scratching my head while watching it and saying, “Wait a minute . . .” That being said, not all of Passengers was bad, just a pretty big chunk of it. I did appreciate the moral conundrum that Jim (Chris Pratt) encountered in the movie’s first act. It did add a bit of predictable drama to the characters, but depicting his struggle highlighted his humanity. In this plot with a clear three-act structure, this first act was the highlight that eventually devolved into a ridiculous setup for the final reveal. With each new character introduced,...
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MOVIE: Moana (2016)

Moana Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Let's get one thing straight: computers are incredible. Each successive year that passes, I find my eyes blown away at the amazing capabilities of computers to create the kind of imagery found in movies like this. From hair and water effects to some of the more supernatural aspects, the visuals of this film are quite commendable. Sure, Zootopia (2016) looked good too, but since its characters weren't human or in a "human" environment, it was difficult to see just how amazing the visuals could be. But this was likely due to Zootopia having more focus on an interesting plot instead of stunning effects. I am impressed that Disney has taken the leap to another non-white "princess" with Moana, but much of the cliche trappings of this type of film are out in full force. If I were to tell you Disney made a coming-of-age movie featuring the main character with an animal sidekick, a mute...
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MOVIE: Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Part of the trouble with the reputation of a film preceding it is the film rarely lives up to the hype. At least, that has been my experience. If I go into a movie with my own idea of what it will be and the movie delivers, I feel it is a good movie. However, if my idea of the movie is skewed based on what I’ve heard about it, then I might be disappointed if it doesn’t match what I was expecting. This is why I’ll likely watch a trailer for a film, but I won’t read any reviews of it until I’ve already seen it. For Amazon’s successful foray into filmmaking, part of me expected a lot out of Manchester by the Sea (2016). After all, they don’t necessarily have to ascribe to the same processes and procedures that hold down other production companies. Add to this my impression...
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MOVIE: Hell or High Water (2016)

Hell or High Water Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours It's interesting to me to see how the current social climate in this country can mold a film into a Best Picture Oscar nominee. I've probably seen this same scenario a number of different times, but the reasoning behind it is what brings Hell or High Water (2016) into a different category. There have been tons of heist films, and often the robbers have a tight connection, like that of brothers. Heck, The Blues Brothers (1980) essentially did the same basic plot but with "putting the band back together" as their way of "saving the ranch." Partly because this film seemed so quintessentially Texas, I couldn't help thinking it was a toned down version of another Best Picture Oscar winner No Country for Old Men (2007). With last year's Best Picture Oscar nominee, The Big Short (2015), showing how many honest Americans were swindled by the greed of banks, it's no wonder that...
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MOVIE: Lion (2016)

Lion Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Of this year's Best Picture Nominees, Lion (2016) is certainly one of the more . . . artistic ones. Heck, the title of the film wasn't clear until directly before the credits. In part due to the subject matter and the culture in which it takes place, this film can be hard to watch at times. The audience has to come to grips with the poverty and difficult living conditions present in India not only 25 years ago, but today as well. Perhaps it's my need to watch movies that help me to escape from these realities, but it was challenging to be shown such a stark view of another country's reality. While I understand that the larger, overarching message of the film is to bring to light the social issue of lost children in India, the more inspiring subplot had to do with adoption. Many couples have a lot of different reasons for...
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MOVIE: Arrival (2016)

Arrival Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours Despite all the mindless action and sex that hits the big screen every year, every once in a while there comes a film that's a little more . . . cerebral. Arrival (2016) certainly fits this category. Not only do you really have to pay attention to what's happening in this film, it makes you question how we perceive our world as it is right now. Never before have I seen the topic of encountering alien life forms approached from such a realistic and logical way. It makes sense that we wouldn't be able to understand them, so the first step in establishing an understanding is to establish communication. Much like Christopher Nolan, who has done a number of great, "cerebral" films including Memento (2000), Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014), I have recently come to appreciate the directorial talents of Denis Villeneuve. From his previous films like Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), I've seen him deliver...
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MOVIE: Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours See if you can guess this movie: goatee'd egomaniac finds himself in a life-changing situation in a foreign land that makes him question everything he's ever stood for and become a superhero in the process. If you guessed Iron Man (2008), you'd certainly be close. No, this familiar plot is none other than the visually extreme Doctor Strange. I understand Marvel has a bigger plot in mind when they do these lesser-known heroes; but lately, it almost seems like they're just phoning it in. Doctor Strange merely feels like filler to get to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). I will give Marvel this much: they do know how to cast a film. Benedict Cumberbatch does a superb job at portraying the eponymous Dr. Strange, fused with enough gravitas and humor to make watching him a joy. And while many will question Tilda Swinton's role as The Ancient One, especially considering...
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MOVIE: La La Land (2016)

La La Land Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours In a world where people worship everything and value nothing, I have found that I value the many messages present within La La Land (2016). While simultaneously shining a harsh light on the hypocrisy of Hollywood and showing how our dreams and passions move us to make tough life decisions, I found myself deeply moved by the narrative presented within this film, not only as a lover of movies but as a creative artist myself. This film is for the dreamers. It's for the people who never give up in pursuing what they want out of life. It's for those who have a talent screaming to be noticed by others. Aside from literally being the best musical I've seen in nearly more than a decade (Chicago (2002) is the only recent one that comes to mind), what I found most impressive about this film is that it is only the second directed by Damien...
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MOVIE: The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

The Young Girls of Rochefort Year: 1967 Rating: G Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours I've seen quite a few musicals over the years, but practically all of them have been in English. That was until I saw The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) (AKA Les Demoiselles de Rochefort in its native French). It's interesting to watch something with subtitles and hear how the songs rhyme in their native tongue. Partly because of this, I have quickly come to the realization that this film is an instant favorite of mine. I mean, who could blame me with the catchy tunes and upbeat jazz stylings of this musical? Of course, in a musical like this, the colorful and fun festival atmosphere was merely accentuated by the continuous singing and dancing. It's almost ridiculous how much dancing there is in this film. Even the background characters are dancing when there's simple dialogue being spoken in the foreground. Perhaps the style of the late 1960's is partly to blame for the...
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MOVIE: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours For many years, Mel Gibson has been at the center of controversies and other unwelcome attention-grabbing incidents. While this normally kills any actor's chances of reviving their careers, Gibson has instead managed to remain somewhat unscathed by retreating into his other skill: directing. As we've seen from some of his other directorial efforts, he is skilled behind the lens, even if many themes remain the same. From Braveheart (1995) to The Passion of the Christ (2004), Gibson has a tendency to be pretty brutal in the imagery he brings to the screen. Granted, this is partly due to the semi-factual source material. In his latest work after a long hiatus, Gibson brings us the brutality that is World War II. Hacksaw Ridge takes some time to get to its emotional center, but the unfortunate side effect of this is a series of characters that feel almost comical in their exaggerations. From Andrew Garfield's goofily...
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MOVIE: Avatar (2009)

Avatar Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 162 minutes / 2.7 hours For being 10 times the amount of money I would normally spend on a movie, I had hoped that this would be worth it. As per my previous stance on 3-D, I was hesitant on going to this film when it first came out. However, since I did some reading up on what forces went on behind this film, I decided to give the 3-D experience a try. What an experience it was! I can see why the film industry was really pushing for more movies to be in 3-D because it is spectacular. The glasses weren't uncomfortable, and if you took them off for a second, it wasn't a terrible color-shifted image, it was just slightly blurry. Although, one thing that 3-D cinema is going to have to fix is to have more things in focus. You can't rely on previous film-making techniques here. At any rate, if you can get over the blatantly...
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MOVIE: Daredevil (Director’s Cut) (2003)

Daredevil (Director’s Cut) Year: 2003 Rating: R Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Back in the early days of the rising popularity of the superhero movie, long before cinematic universes and multi-film crossovers, there were a handful of films that brought these comic book characters to the big screen. From Spider-Man (2002) to X-Men (2000) to The Punisher (2004), one of these films was none other than Daredevil (2003). For many years, I had seen these films, even going so far as having seen Hulk (2003). The one I had not seen was Daredevil, mostly because I had heard it was so bad. I had seen Hulk, so I knew how bad they could be. Now that a Director’s Cut of Daredevil was available, I heard it improved on the original and decided to just skip the original cut entirely. With no understanding of what the film used to be, I can say that the Director’s Cut isn’t completely terrible. Sure, some of the lines...
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MOVIE: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil Year: 2010 Rating: R Length: 89 minutes / 1.48 hours I'm not really a fan of the horror genre. Mostly, I feel the plots are contrived, the characters are downright idiotic, and the violence is over-the-top. Of course, when I heard about Tucker and Dale vs. Evil years ago, I said, "pass." The friend who suggested I see it assured me that it wasn't like all the other horror films. The fact is, it is exactly like all the other horror films, but it is self-aware of this fact. Because the film is self-aware, it recognizes every single horror genre trope and makes fun of it. As time went by, more people suggested I see this film, so I finally caved during a slow weekend at home. Being the self-aware film that it is, the plot is simple and the production values are limited, at best. What really makes the film enjoyable to watch is the fact that the whole...
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MOVIE: Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours I often jokingly refer to my job as being a "rocket scientist." While it does involve rockets and space, it isn't nearly as "down in the numbers" as the jobs portrayed in this film were. I've worked with a lot of people over the years in this technical field, and my opinion has always been that, if somebody is competent enough to do the job, we should hire the most competent people to do said job. Even though this is a statement against nepotism and just knowing the right people in the right places, what this film has shown me is that it's not nearly that simple. In terms of competency, I will not judge you by your gender or your race, as long as you show you can do the work and not be a burden on the team. However, even though people are highly qualified, they have had the deck stacked against...
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MOVIE: Jaws (1975)

Jaws Year: 1975 Rating: PG Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours Back when I first saw this film as a child, it scared me quite a bit. Later, when I watched it again for the first time in a while, it didn’t scare me as much, but it certainly was thrilling. Now, having read the book it was based on, I have a fuller and more in-depth understanding and appreciation of all sides of this classic story. With the knowledge of what was missing in the movie from the book, I thought it would detract from the viewing experience. Instead, I found that the book and the film covered two very different aspects of the story, each expertly done for the utilized medium. In the book (which was released a year before the film), we find that the shark hunt is not only a matter of public safety but also infused with the politics of the island of Amity and the personal drama of a cuckolded...
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MOVIE: Rogue One (2016)

Rogue One Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Years ago, when Disney acquired Lucasfilm, I had worried that they would ruin one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises ever to grace the big screen. That being said, Lucasfilm’s prequel trilogy showed us all how it could happen. Around the same time, I started to notice the quality of Disney’s animated fare was drastically improving, even outpacing Pixar. The proof to finally win me over was the way they have expertly handled the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With all this in mind, I was curious how this side-story to the main Star Wars saga would play out. First off, anyone worth their salt in nerd-cred knows that the original Star Wars is based off samurai films. Gareth Edwards (who directed the Godzilla (2014) reboot) certainly made this influence obvious in Rouge One, especially in the opening sequence and with the inclusion of a Zatoichi-like blind swordsman. At this point, all he needed was...
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MOVIE: Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians Year: 2012 Rating: PG Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours While the idea of the holidays being connected isn't a new idea (see The Nightmare Before Chrismas (1993) for another take on it), there is something intrinsically interesting with making the respective figureheads of their representative mythos come together in an Avenger-esque fashion against a common enemy. Rise of the Guardians (2012) certainly does a good job of this, even if only two of its characters have anything to do with holidays at all. In its essence, the fanciful characters from our childhood banding together to fight evil personified is based on the belief that we all have something to believe in. What I particularly like about Rise of the Guardians is the surprising depth of the characters chosen to fight for the belief of all children around the world. From a Russian-themed Santa Claus to the Australian Easter Bunny (expertly voiced by Alec Baldwin and Hugh Jackman, respectively), these added details...
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MOVIE: Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim Year: 2013 Rating: PG-13 Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours When I first saw the trailer for this film, I became really excited. One of the staples of anime is the "giant robot" subgenre, of which Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gurren Lagann are certainly the classics. And while Pacific Rim (2013) wasn't an adaptation of an anime, it got my hopes up that it could be done well enough that we could see live action versions of these aforementioned anime. After all, adaptations to live-action from anything animated tend to be very difficult, so this would be a step in the right direction. I do have to say that this movie delivered what it promised. Something like a mix between Godzilla (1999) and Real Steel (2011), the premise was a little bit closer to Independence Day (1996) than I initially thought it would be. The visuals were stunning and the fight sequences were both immense and intense, never letting up with the action as...
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MOVIE: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo and the Two Strings Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours We live in the future, and it is incredible. I’ve found stop-motion animation to be a fascinating medium, not only for its “dirtiness” when compared to CGI, but also because of the painstaking care it takes to produce a full-length feature with this process. Animation studios like Aardman and Laika are really starting to take advantage of all the tools at their disposal to create some awesome stop-motion movies. We’ve come a long way since the films of Henry Selick, the most famous one being The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Through Selick, we now have a handful of fantastic films through the Laika brand. While their previous work, The Boxtrolls (2014) had started the trend away from more morbid themes and plots, Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) shows just how capable the stop-motion medium is to tell a fantastic story. With an origami motif existing throughout, Kubo and the...
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MOVIE: Jason Bourne (2016)

Jason Bourne Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Back in 2002, The Bourne Identity redefined not only the action film aesthetic but the modern spy thriller as well. While some elements of the Bourne films have been good for action films, others are now trite and cliché. If you were to break down the “Bourne formula”, these four elements could be used to make any action film in the “Bourne-style”: Car chases with spectacular driving in “common” vehicles Brutal hand-to-hand combat using everyday items Shaky camera movement during action sequences “The chase” where eventually the protagonist gets away, achieves his objective and escapes into the shadows once again Because the Bourne films are so formulaic, I found Jason Bourne (2016) to be no different. That being said, the film was still a fun and intense ride to watch. Now nine years later from the last in the “true” Bourne storyline (we’ll just forget that The Bourne Legacy (2012) happened), technology has vastly improved, making this film seem...
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MOVIE: Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Perhaps the most controversial film of this summer, Suicide Squad (2016) tells a story that is necessary to highlight the eventual superhero team of the Justice League (2017). While I am aware of the real-life drama surrounding the film, including Jared Leto's method acting, director David Ayer's uncouth comments, and the fandom's revulsion of its negative critical reception, I will try and give an unbiased review here. After all, sometimes the greatest art can stand apart from the artists who create it. Decades from now, most will have forgotten the controversy, resorting to Wikipedia for a reminder. In the realm of superhero films, the motif has always been a dichotomy of extremes. Good vs. evil. In reality, things aren't nearly as clear-cut as this. Sure, there are those who do wrong and those who do right, but each side will have their own motivations. What Suicide Squad does is break down the stereotype of the...
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MOVIE: 42 (2013)

42 Year: 2013 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours In today's charged racial climate, it seems that we haven't come that far from the 1940's. All the barriers that have been broken to allow equal opportunities to everyone don't seem to matter if the heart of the people has not been changed. Needless to say, several films have been made in the last few years which have highlighted the racial struggles of the pioneers in their respective professions. Initially, I was skeptical that 42 (2013) would devolve into your standard "fight against racism" story, but the expert camerawork, peppy pacing, and superb casting really made this movie for me. Having played baseball myself up through my senior year in high school, the appeal of a story about the game is what initially piqued my interest. The fact that this is a story about one of the most recognizable names in baseball was merely icing on the cake. There have been a number of...
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MOVIE: Paint Your Wagon (1969)

Paint Your Wagon Year: 1969 Rating: PG-13 Length: 166 minutes / 2.77 hours My first exposure to the musical western that is Paint Your Wagon (1969) was from the 9th season clip show of The Simpsons entitled "All Singing, All Dancing." In the episode, Bart and Homer are looking forward to a shoot-'em-up western with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. Instead, they are shocked to find that the film is actually a musical. While the actual film itself did not contain any of the bits from The Simpsons, part of me wished it did . . . or at least an explanation as to why the title is Paint Your Wagon. Needless to say, I knew going into this film that it was going to be a musical, and I was prepared for that. One does wonder if the musical hides topics and themes that aren't really that appropriate in a non-musical setting. I'm not sure this film was comedic enough to have polygamy, greed,...
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MOVIE: Superman Returns (2006)

Superman Returns Year: 2006 Rating: PG-13 Length: 154 minutes / 2.57 hours Technically the fifth in the Superman franchise that started in the late 1970's, Superman Returns feels a bit like the black sheep of the bunch. There's a sense that it's just tacked on to try and capitalize on some of the popularity of superhero films, in part because of the director's previous successes with other superheroes. Part of me thinks that Bryan Singer should have directed the third X-Men film instead of this movie; since he clearly knew what he was doing with that Marvel property. But what really gets me about this film is the way it "plays to the audience." If you ask diehard fans of two of the most iconic fandoms what their absolute least favorite film is in their canon, you'll get some telling answers. For Star Wars fans, it's Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and for Star Trek fans, it's Into Darkness (2013). But why do they hate...
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MOVIE: Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Dory Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours As is the case with the rest of Hollywood right now, Pixar is cashing in on the nostalgia factor of their previous films. Just like Monsters University (2013) before it, Finding Dory (2016) brings together the same team of voice actors who brought their respective originals to life more than a decade ago. And while this sequel was more akin to the likes of Toy Story 2 (1999), the amount of time between the two films really gives Pixar the chance to show off how much the power of computers has advanced in that time. Unfortunately, while the visual style has been drastically updated, the plot has not. In its purest essence, Finding Dory is just like Finding Nemo (2003): a fish separated from its parent tries to find their way back home while the parent does everything in their power to find their child. I would have liked a bit more originality from...
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MOVIE: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Year: 2013 Rating: PG Length: 114 minutes / 1.9 hours Let me start by saying that I was skeptical to go see this film, mainly because it starred Ben Stiller. Given his track record of “comedies,” I found myself avoiding his films just because I knew that they’d be crude and not the type of comedy I would enjoy. Much in the same way I was surprised by Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction (2006), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) was a pleasant surprise. I don’t know if it’s because he also directed this film, but I truly enjoyed it on many levels, both as a lover of movies and a lover of photography. The strength of this film lies in its imagery and presentation. The beauty of our world and the way it’s captured in the travels of a man coming out of his shell is truly inspiring. I can honestly say I haven’t seen a...
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MOVIE: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Hail, Caesar! Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I like movies as much as the next connoisseur of film, but clearly the Coen Brothers like them more than I do. Specifically, they like the films made during the “golden age” of Hollywood: the 1950’s. From action-packed westerns, to Biblical epics, to underwater choreography, to big-budget musicals, these films exemplified a Hollywood that was on top of its game. Unfortunately, as is the case with any great success, it can be hard to maintain over time. In what could be considered a “love letter” to a Hollywood of the past, the Coen Brothers bring all these films together in Hail, Caesar! (2016). While I could appreciate the references made throughout this film, many of them felt quite disjointed. Sure, there’s the tie-in to real-life Hollywood fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), but he merely acts as a link between scenes of grandeur meant to show how well the Coen Brothers can follow...
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MOVIE: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours First off, I want to admit that I am more of a Star Wars fan than a Star Trek fan. As a result, I have enjoyed the first two of the Star Trek reboot titles because they are structured more like a Star Wars film than a Star Trek one. Of course, this may also be due to my bias toward J.J. Abrams and everything that he directs. For this third installment in the reboot series, we no longer have Abrams, but rather Justin Lin (known for the Fast & Furious franchise). Maybe because of this, I didn't really think this film stood up to the previous two. Sure, there were segments that I thought were interesting and deep, but they were merely bookends in a confusing hodgepodge of action and "buddy up" subplots. I appreciated the beginning, with its humanizing narrative that made sense for the captain's current state of affairs....
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MOVIE: Limelight (1952)

Limelight Year: 1952 Rating: Approved Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours While it is rare to find a film by/starring Charlie Chaplin that isn't uproariously funny, the depth of the drama of this piece certainly shows the range everyone's favorite silent actor could perform. Chaplin will always have the little idiosyncracies in the way he moves, but when they're applied to a washed-up drunk, suddenly they take a much more serious turn. Films like The Dictator (1940) and Monsieur Verdoux (1947) certainly have their amusing moments, but work better as social commentaries, or at least are more direct about their message than the earlier films like The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), and Modern Times (1936). What's really interesting about Limelight is it feels almost as autobiographical as it does groundbreaking. I mean, if we were to name one famous actor who excelled at playing a "tramp", Chaplin is the only one who would come to mind (although Buster Keaton, who also appears in the...
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MOVIE: The Martian (2015)

The Martian Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours I, for one, am excited that space travel is now a topic regularly covered on the big screen. If the general public becomes even a little bit more interested in interplanetary travel, perhaps I can see man stand on the surface of Mars in my lifetime. The Martian (2015) is merely the latest in a string of space-themed sci-fi movies that brings the excitement of outer space to theaters. While not nearly as continually intense as Gravity (2013), or as epic as Interstellar (2014), what The Martian does right is give a sense of scale to the challenge of returning to Earth from being abandoned on Mars. Gripping and just humorous enough to keep it from being dour, director Ridely Scott uses many cinematic techniques, including several montages, to tell the story many have already read from Andy Weir's novel of the same name. While many sequences and scientific explanations were obviously cut for...
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MOVIE: Dirty Harry (1971)

Dirty Harry Year: 1971 Rating: R Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours What makes an iconic film? Is it something that has memorable moments and catch phrases? Is it something that stands up against the test of time? Is it something that resonates with us on a deeper level? Whatever it is, I feel Dirty Harry (1971) is certainly an iconic film. Let's take a look at why this is the case. First off, there's the famous monologue about counting. "Do you feel lucky?" completes a tense moment that merely started with a detective's intuition that something was about to go down. But what make this early scene that much greater is the bookend it creates with the film's antagonist, Scorpio (Andy Robinson). This isn't even the only bookend this film has to offer, as the two deaths at either end of the movie end up being submerged in water. Secondly, while the 1970's seem quite different to our modern styles, something about the culture...
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MOVIE: Get Smart (2008)

Get Smart Year: 2008 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours While film adaptations of television shows aren't new, Get Smart (2008) was certainly in the era when the idea to do so had become popular (even if we're still trying to forget Bewitched (2005)). What's nice about Get Smart is that it falls into that "self-aware" category, mainly because the source material (i.e. the 1960's TV show of the same name) was already self-aware when it came to the "spy" genre made popular by James Bond. Of course, it's no wonder that the king of parody, Mel Brooks was involved in both the TV show and this film adaptation. Of course, while the humor was more bathroom-oriented than witty, many of Carell's lines played off of the amusing nature of taking everything literally. Also, the bumbling nature of his new field agent character, Maxwell Smart, was certainly entertaining (as it is clearly Carell's forté), even if it was abandoned at times to advance the plot through...
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MOVIE: Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Now You See Me 2 Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Sometimes the enjoyment of a particular film almost guarantees I’ll go to see the sequel. Now You See Me 2 (2016) is no exception. I really liked Now You See Me (2013) because the genres of “magic” and “heist” merge so easily together. Now three years later, and I certainly looked forward to this sequel, despite not knowing how the plot could advance any further than it had at the end of the first film. While the sequel did not disappoint, with numerous illusions, plenty of action, and loads of comedy, it felt like it was the same old gimmick as the original. Sure, there was a little more exploration into “the Eye”, but most of the plot of the second film centered on the consequences of the robberies from the first film (almost weighing it down, in my opinion). The addition of Daniel Radcliffe as a winking nod to...
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MOVIE: Now You See Me (2013)

Now You See Me Year: 2013 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours The key to a great heist film comes in three stages: the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. Wait, that’s the key to a great magician’s illusion. Actually, here’s the real trick: both are very similar in structure. Each requires a setup of events which lead to an amazing reveal, followed by an explanation of how the heist/illusion was performed. In Now You See Me (2013), both the heist and magician genres are found to be so closely related that it was nice to see them meld together so well. In a page ripped straight from Robin Hood, the main characters justify their thievery by stating that their actions are to right the wrongs done to the general public. Of course, when a movie uses CGI to enhance the magic of the actors, it’s just that much more fun to see how they are able to pull off each heist using...
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MOVIE: The Legend of Tarzan® (2016)

The Legend of Tarzan® Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours After watching The Legend of Tarzan®, the one unanswered question I had was, “Why was this film even made?” If this was to cash in on the plethora of live-action reinterpretations of Disney animated films, it might have held closer to that story. If this was to make a point about racism, it was making the wrong point. If this was because it’s a recognizable name with a hunky-looking protagonist, then I think they probably hit the mark. While the scenery is certainly immersive in this adaptation of an Edgar Rice Burroughs character, much of this film pulled me out of the illusion of the African jungle. Right off the bat, the “registered trademark” that appears after in the title reminds you that there is already plenty of media about Tarzan, and another movie probably doesn’t add to it. Secondly, while a star-studded cast is a good way to get audiences...
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MOVIE: Road to Morocco (1942)

Road to Morocco Year: 1942 Rating: Not Rated Length: 82 minutes / 1.37 hours It’s unfortunate that many people who might be familiar with this film only know it through the homage done on Family Guy. The unfortunate part of this is that most wouldn’t recognize the origin of the bit and go watch the reference material, which is much funnier than Family Guy could make it. Buddy films have been around for a long time, so it’s nice to see how one of the founding films of this comedy sub-genre succeeded at it. The success of a Buddy film comes from the talent of its two main characters. In this case, Orville "Turkey" Jackson (Bob Hope) is the lovably dim partner to Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby), the snarky singer and brains of the operation. Those who might be looking for a pure slapstick comedy are bound to be slightly disappointed, because the gold of this film is in its repartee. Verbal jabs, wordplay, and double entendre...
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MOVIE: Ernest & Celestine (2012)

Ernest & Celestine Year: 2012 Rating: PG Length: 80 minutes / 1.33 hours While the visuals of CGI-animated films can be quite realistic and stunning, there’s something to the simple, drawn lines of a classically animated piece. Often, the realism of CGI is actually a bit of a detriment as any human characters will start to fall into the “uncanny valley”, wherein our minds reject the characters because they’re close to being human, but there are still elements that can’t be captured and our minds pick up on these flaws. Granted, I will admit that the classical look can still be obtained with computers, but it’s nice to see every once in a while, especially with the proliferation of new animation studios. Part of the challenge of standing out amongst the large number of animated films comes in the visual style used in the animation. With Ernest & Celestine (2012), the visual style doesn’t try to imitate any successful studio (like Disney), but instead attempts to recapture...
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MOVIE: The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours If there’s any more proof there aren’t any new ideas in Hollywood, it’s the fact that beloved animated classics are being remade as live-action films. Sometimes this works, but more often than not, the ploy to attract those nostalgic feelings from the audience fails, thus leaving the viewer with the sense that their childhood is ruined. I’m generally pretty hesitant of these types of films, mainly because part of me doesn’t want to admit that the original films sometimes weren’t that great. That being said, the latest in these adaptations, The Jungle Book (2016) certainly surprised me. Unlike some films like Maleficent (2014), which takes a different point of view from the main story of Sleeping Beauty (1959), and more like Cinderella (2015), which covers the same material as its predecessor, Cinderella (1950), The Jungle Book takes the main ideas from Rudyard Kipling’s book, via the animated interpretation of The Jungle Book...
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MOVIE: Captain America – Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours When it comes to sequels, I fell very few film franchises do their predecessors justice. In my opinion, a great sequel requires a simple formula: cause and effect. The "cause" should be in the form of the first (or in this case, previous) movie(s). Whatever happens before a sequel should drive the plot of the following movie. This is the "effect." While it wasn't nearly as good as this effort, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) followed the same formula. Cause: Superman destroying most of Metropolis in Man of Steel (2013). Effect: Batman and Lex Luthor wanting to hold Superman accountable. See? Simple as that. What perhaps makes Captain America: Civil War such a great film is the amount of "cause" that led to its "effect." The driving plot of this film was in direct response to the destruction and mayhem brought about by the Avengers trying to save the...
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MOVIE: Independence Day – Resurgence (2016)

Independence Day: Resurgence Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours Can we just be real for a second? Is the nostalgia factor so strong in Hollywood these days that anything coming upon its 20th anniversary is re-made, rebooted, and sequeled to death? Certainly, this is a pretty good marketing strategy, since last year's Jurassic World (2015) was such a huge financial success, even though it was essentially the exact same plot as the original Jurassic Park (1993). Clearly, the millennials who grew up with these films want to see them on the big screen again, 20+ years later with newer and flashier special effects. After all, Moore's Law implicates the visual style should be more than 1,000 times better than its predecessor. Here's the problem I have with this re-quel that seems to be going around: it doesn't give us anything new. Take Independence Day (1996) for example. This film was a great action film filled with plenty of interesting sci-fi, memorable characters,...
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MOVIE: Independence Day (1996)

Independence Day Year: 1996 Rating: PG-13 Length: 145 minutes / 2.41 hours While most people just roll their eyes at the mention of Roland Emmerich as a director, many forget that he essentially started the revival of the "destructive action" film. What used to be common in the seventies, with movies like The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Towering Inferno (1974), films showing catastrophes had taken a bit of a back seat until Independence Day. This revival on a globally-catastrophic scale brought about such films as Armageddon (1998) and Deep Impact (1998). Granted, Emmerich continued to make world destruction a part of his directing career, which is why films like this almost seem hokey today. Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 2012 (2009), and White House Down (2013) haven't been the most critically-acclaimed films of all time, but they certainly carry Emmerich's penchant for demolishing cultural landmarks. One does wonder why Independence Day stands out amongst his other films, almost as an anomaly. While later films by...
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MOVIE: X-Men – Apocalypse (2016)

X-Men: Apocalypse Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours I’ll admit that I was excited for this film, mostly because I was somewhat familiar with its premise. I grew up on the X-Men: Evolution TV show, so I knew that the defining arc of that series was none other than the Apocalypse arc. This may have actually spoiled the movie for me, because it wasn’t quite in line with the plot I knew. Sure, Bryan Singer returned to direct this penultimate piece of the X-Men franchise, but there were just a few things that bugged me about this movie. First off, one of the elements of the previous prequel films I liked and appreciated was the inclusion of historical events and people into the storyline. This way it felt like an alternate reality not so far removed from our own. While there were loose elements of this present, it wasn’t nearly as integrated as it had been done in the past. Add...
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MOVIE: X-Men – Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours One of the more difficult plots to pull off in a film is that of the simultaneous prequel/sequel. Perhaps the most famous of this plotline is The Godfather: Part II (1974). However, I would argue that X-Men: Days of Future Past perfected it. Just like X-Men: First Class (2011) before it, Days of Future Past takes the retro stylings of its decade (this time the 1970’s) and places a plot intertwined with the well-known figures and events of the time. It also simultaneously puts the X-Men in a dire and hopeless situation in a distant future, thus driving the need to go into the past to fix the initial conditions that got them into this quandary. Plus, most of the film is driven by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), which just shows how vital he is to the series. In a return to form that was sorely missing in the previous two...
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MOVIE: X-Men – First Class (2011)

X-Men: First Class Year: 2011 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours While prequels always hold the distinction of being the one type of movie that you know how it will end, seeing how they get there is certainly entertaining. Much like the Star Wars prequels gave us a point before the original trilogy to learn more about the background of the characters, the X-Men prequels manage to do this, but with a much better result. My only major qualm with prequel trilogies is that, while the mainstays of the franchise were there in terms of characters, the only ones who maintained their actor from the first set of movies were relegated to cameo appearances. This is only heightened by my opinion that the original X-Men trilogy’s cast was perfect in almost every way. That being said, with the prequel trilogy now complete, the younger cast has definitely grown on me as well, James McAvoy’s Xavier being my favorite of the prequel group. Because X-Men: First...
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MOVIE: X2 (2003)

X2 Year: 2003 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours I’ve often held that the sequel of a superhero film is better than the original. Most superhero film franchises start out with an origin story, so by the time the second film comes around, all the “exposition” is out of the way and the heroes can really take on some powerful villains. However, since X-Men (2000) didn’t have much of an origin story, its sequel, X2 is almost relegated to the fate of a “flashback” sequel. Still, the darker tone does help set it apart from its predecessor, which is nice. Granted, the choice of exploring Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) past was a good one, considering the strength of the character. Heck, he got two more movies outside the main X-Men saga, so clearly he’s a fan favorite. What’s nice about the superhero sequel is that most comic book story arcs are short enough that they can be incorporated into a single film. In this...
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MOVIE: X-Men (2000)

X-Men Year: 2000 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Up until the 21st Century, DC had dominated the comic book adaptations on the big screen. Film franchises like Superman and Batman were essentially the only acts in town. Of course, by the time the year 2000 rolled around, Superman hadn’t been in theaters for more than a decade, and Batman had become almost as campy and goofy as its 1960’s counterpart. This was now Marvel’s time to shine. Partly due to a large cast of recognizable characters, X-Men was the right choice to reboot the comic book adaptation film franchise. Even though X-Men set the standard pretty high for comic book adaptations, very few have followed in its stead. Where most first films in a hero franchise focus on the origins of the main character, the X-Men spans such an enormous timeframe, with characters coming in and out of relevance, that it would be difficult to give all of their origins at once. Instead,...
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MOVIE: Allegiant (2016)

Allegiant Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours For those following along at home, Allegiant is the third film based on the third book in the Divergent series. As I have made comparisons to The Hunger Games in each installment of these reviews, I will continue to not disappoint. Seems to me that the trend of splitting the last book of a literary series into two movies is annoyingly out of hand. Sure, having written the end of my own trilogies, I know there's a lot of plot and sub-plots to bring to a conclusion. I also know that much of the Divergent series didn't feel like it really did or said anything. Sure, there's the nod to some political statement or worldview that's relevant today, but honestly I want something that only the survivors of a post-apocalyptic future should have to solve. Where the previous two films in this series really excelled in their portrayal of "simulations", this film had absolutely none of...
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MOVIE: Insurgent (2015)

Insurgent Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours If The Hunger Games has given us anything from this uprising of Young Adult film adaptations, it's that each successive film is released in each successive year. There's no waiting for years for the next part of the trilogy to come out, only to have characters cast differently. The Divergent series is no different, but still stands in the shadow of its Hunger Games predecessor. This time around, we get the pleasure of Robert Schwentke directing the post-apocalyptic action. With his previous films like RED (2010) and The Time Traveler's Wife (2009), it's clear he can handle action as much as he can romance. While the action is excellent, the romance seemed to be a little lacking. Having read this book after watching the film, the plots start to diverge a bit (ha ha, get it?) almost in part due to the removal of the more sexually-charged relationship between Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James). Since the...
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MOVIE: Divergent (2014)

Divergent Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.31 hours While The Hunger Games really cornered the market in the "young adult dystopian future" category, many authors jumped on the bandwagon to cash in on this phenomenon. I'll admit that many of these series that got movie adaptations I had never heard of before and likely will not see/read. The Divergent series, though did stand out as the top of "the rest". It can be difficult to create a dystopian world, especially one that's at least somewhat set in our current one. The CGI-modified Chicago looks pretty good for a city that's been through what it has, but where the computer imagery really comes to shine is in the dream sequences. I would have liked them to be a little more obvious so the audience isn't always guessing if it's a dream or not, but that's part of the charm, I suppose. Having since read the book this was based on, I do have to say that the director...
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MOVIE: The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours I'll be honest that the trailer for this film is the main reason I went to go see it. The few bits revealed in it definitely painted a picture of a smart and funny film. The pairing of Ryan Gosling with Russell Crowe was an interesting one, but definitely works on the "buddy cop" adventure level. While Gosling had almost every funny line, the action brought to the film via Crowe's slightly heavier form really helped to balance things out. The full film definitely delivered on what the trailer had to offer. With dialogue that comes fast and full of quips, I was laughing throughout most of this film. It almost has a "self-aware" feel to it, as each failed piece of the investigation would have normally led to the next logical step. As it is rated R, it unfortunately has an incredible amount of questionable material, including plenty of nudity (as...
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MOVIE: Collateral (2004)

Collateral Year: 2004 Rating: R Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours Having seen this film many years ago when it came out, a recent re-watching of the Blu-ray at home with my wife has cemented itself as a tight and well-done film. While most action films like to confuse the audience with shaky cameras and quick cuts, this one starts calm and builds to an exciting conclusion. Of course, it's not just a steady and methodical thriller, it loops back on itself, tying up all loose ends and bookending the whole plot in a neat little package. Each of the segments where they drive to the next destination gives a chance for excellent character building as well as giving the audience a break from the brief moments of action (which steadily get longer and more intense as the film progresses). Along with the overhead tracking shots and expert use of depth of field, this film almost borders on art. These are what good action films should be. What's...
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MOVIE: Miracles from Heaven (2016)

Miracles from Heaven Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.81 hours Normally, I'm pretty hesitant to watch any movie that's overtly marketed as "Christian." The truth of the matter is, while I'm a Christian myself, these types of movies normally make me cringe at how cliche they are. When their message is continually shoved down our throats, it's hard to focus on anything else. I am all for inspiring stories of faith, but when the main thrust of your plot feels like a poorly written after-school special, it's hard to take seriously. Case in point: I really didn't like War Room (2015) not only because of the aforementioned qualms with the genre as a whole, but also because the characters and their actions felt completely unbelievable (and for a film about belief, this was a big no-no). Now, as you're aware of my stance on these types of movies, please note that I prefaced this with "normally". There are some films in this...
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MOVIE: Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours Let me just start by saying that I've really become a fan of Disney's animation since about 2010. Before then, I was wild for Pixar, but around the time Tangled (2010) came out, Pixar hadn't been making the quality films I had become used to. Instead, Disney was now churning out great films like Tangled (2010), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), and Big Hero 6 (2014). Their latest film, Zootopia (2016), certainly upholds the level of quality expected of this animation studio. Not only were the visuals stunning (as always), but the plot and characters were all on-point. As is almost expected of a film meant for children, but made with adults in mind, there were a number of popular culture references that I found myself laughing uproariously for while the rest of the audience missed the joke. From slight alterations to animal-themed products (i.e. "Cub Soda"), to jokes pertaining to certain animal characteristics...
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