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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