MOVIE: Maestro (2023)

MaestroYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours There is nothing worse to me than a movie that tries too hard to be a good movie. Maestro (2023) was a film I looked forward to, but its execution left me sorely disappointed. Maybe it's my current distaste for biopics featuring famous men who cheat on their supporting wives—either with other women or, in this case, men. But this wasn't the whole problem. Like a reverse "Springtime for Hitler" from The Producers (1967), Maestro was trying so hard to be a good movie that just ended up being mediocre. I get the sense that Bradley Cooper is desperate to win an Oscar. He has directed a few films now that felt so needy for critical affirmation that they fail to miss the key tenet of actually being good. The question is whether he more desires the Best Director statue or the Best Actor one, and I think it's the latter. Ironically enough, if...
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MOVIE: American Fiction (2023)

American FictionYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours As an author and a creative, American Fiction (2023) spoke to me in ways that I have yet been able to put into words. Similar to how La La Land (2016) highlighted the sacrifices and compromises we must make to achieve our artistic dreams, American Fiction revealed the difference between high art and lowbrow entertainment. I feel the struggles and concerns of Thelonious "Monk" Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) are ultimately the same for any creative person who doesn't want to lower their standard just to be successful. While the plot about Monk being frustrated that the manuscript he wrote as a joke ended up being wildly successful is the focus of this movie, I can understand the need for other character development outside this main thread. It doesn't paint Monk as a likable character, which humanizes him and brings him down from the ivory tower of academic literature. Showing these interactions with those he...
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MOVIE: Wonka (2023)

WonkaYear: 2023Rating: PGLength: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours Wonka (2023) was one of those movies that I had low expectations for. A prequel to a well-known IP, there's only so much that can be done that's not just straight call-outs to the source material—and this includes knowing how things will end to set up films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Still, with these low expectations, I had quite a bit of fun watching Wonka. It's not extraordinary, but it delivers on most of its nostalgia factors in ways that are modern and entertaining. With the real world crumbling all around us, it was encouraging to see a movie like Wonka that embraced the grit needed to survive and thrive. The hope gained through forming a community and the endless optimism of Wonka (Timothee Chalamet) were contagious and uplifting. The creativity of the different candies and the funny running gags (like the bribed Chief of Police (Keegan-Michael Key)) helped with...
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MOVIE: Ferrari (2023)

FerrariYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Almost ten years after his previous film released, Michael Mann is back with a biopic about the private and public struggles of one of the greatest carmakers. The irony of Ferrari (2023) is that the women surrounding him seem much more interesting than the man himself. Even the fittingly named Adam Driver doesn’t seem to transform into Enzo Ferrari as much as just be Adam Driver with some extra makeup on and an Italian accent. To say that I was disappointed that there wasn’t more racing in a movie about Ferrari would be an understatement. Ferrari is yet another biopic that tries to show the struggles of a famous man whose extramarital affairs complicate things that otherwise wouldn’t be nearly as complicated. Perhaps this is why Penelope Cruz’s performance as Laura Ferrari was the standout role in this film, as she was the only one holding his empire together despite him having birthed an...
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MOVIE: Saltburn (2023)

SaltburnYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours Saltburn (2023) flew under my radar almost undetected until I learned it was by the same director who did Promising Young Woman (2020). Since the blunt themes Emerald Fennell used in her previous film stuck with me, I gave Saltburn a try. Unfortunately, the magic that had me riveted in Promising Young Woman mostly had me cringing in Saltburn. Sure, there were still those shocking twists, but everything else on top of that was just…ugh. And maybe those shocking moments were the whole point. The acting in this movie was superb, especially Barry Keoghan as Oliver. I’m going to try to not give anything away, but his whole character arc felt like what The Count of Monte Cristo would have been if Edmund was the villain. That he throws himself into these uncomfortable moments so easily really sells the commitment to the part that Keoghan had here. There were other standout performances like Jacob...
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MOVIE: Migration (2023)

MigrationYear: 2023Rating: PGLength: 83 minutes / 1.38 hours If there’s one thing I took away from Migration (2023), it’s that Illumination has finally matured as an animation studio. Sure, just like there’s a Disney/Pixar/DreamWorks “style,” Illumination has a look to the characters in their movies (especially the humans) that makes them immediately distinguishable. In Migration, there was less of that distinctive style, but the freedom to match what the movie needed to tell its original story about a family adventure. If this is what taking risks looks like, then I think it was a successful foray into more original fare. The voice acting was superb, mostly because there were only a few characters whose voices were immediately obvious who they were. I do wonder if director Benjamin Renner’s previous work, Ernest & Celestine (2012), helped shape some of the voice acting decisions, because they certainly fit the characters well. The animation also feeling closer to a 2D traditionally animated film while still...
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MOVIE: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023)

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & SnakesYear: 2023Rating: PG-13Length: 157 minutes / 2.61 hours I think it's hard to appreciate how The Hunger Games movies did a decent job of adapting the source material for the big screen while not evolving into a behemoth of a franchise. That Suzanne Collins made it clear that there was only the three books, and she didn't want to do anything else until she was ready was a welcome change from an entertainment industry that likes to squeeze as much money out of popular things as fast as possible. With this in mind, I can applaud The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023) for being respectful of the original trilogy while also trying to expand the narrative in prequel form. While not a completely necessary prequel, it was still interesting to see how early versions of the Hunger Games were run. Of course, our knowledge of how they eventually evolve into something worse is...
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MOVIE: The Marvels (2023)

The MarvelsYear: 2023Rating: PG-13Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours The problem with extremely critical and vocal reviews of a movie like The Marvels (2023) is that often the problem is the fans themselves. There's an amount of misogyny that's present in fans of comic books that is difficult to ignore here. And with so many people saying this movie is bad just because it's led by three women, it comes as a bit of a surprise when it's actually pretty passable. Granted, it still relies heavily on having seen almost everything else in the MCU, but we'll get to that in a second. While I'll admit that I'm still watching these movies because it's basically a sunk cost fallacy, I found The Marvels to be entertaining. It's maybe not as goofy as any of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but it has heart based on the characters' connections. It also has perhaps one of the most underappreciated twists that had me...
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MOVIE: The Boy and the Heron (2023)

The Boy and the HeronYear: 2023Rating: PG-13Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours Studio Ghibli films—specifically the ones directed by Hayao Miyazaki—are immensely beautiful and imaginative. The distinct visual style in movies like Castle in the Sky (1986), Princess Mononoke (1997), and Spirited Away (2001) is nothing but consistent. In the latest (and perhaps last) film by Miyazaki, The Boy and the Heron (2023) still maintains the beautiful 2D animation that everyone loves from this studio. The one trick with these films is that sometimes I feel the plot is a little lost in translation from Japanese to American audiences. This isn’t anyone’s fault, but it left me feeling a little lost. While I understood the major coming-of-age themes present in The Boy and the Heron, there were so many fantastical elements in it that I felt I may have missed something from one scene to the next. Perhaps I was too tired to give this movie the adequate attention it deserved, but...
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MOVIE: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 154 minutes / 2.57 hours If you want proof that Hollywood won’t let a good franchise die, look no further than Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023). The original 1980s trilogy stands pretty well by itself, but the first reboot, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) was so odd that it took almost another 20 years for the franchise to try anything else. Dial of Destiny merely exacerbates the problem of trying to resurrect this franchise by not transitioning off Harrison Ford (like it tried to do in Crystal Skull) but instead doubling down on de-aging technology and nostalgia. There’s a huge section in the first part of this movie that was so CGI heavy, I could have sworn I was watching a video game cut scene for 30 minutes. De-aging Harrison Ford still has the same issues that all other de-aging techniques seem to have (mainly,...
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MOVIE: Godzilla Minus One (2023)

Godzilla Minus One Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours While the original Godzilla franchise has been around for 70 years, I must admit that I’ve only ever seen the American versions of this Japanese monster. This includes the travesty that was Godzilla (1998), as well as the much better Monsterverse iterations like Godzilla (2012). Having never seen a Godzilla film in its original Japanese context, I was curious to try Godzilla Minus One (2023) for my first foray into the “official” Godzilla franchise. What I found here was better than I could have ever imagined—and for multiple reasons. Coming from decades-old movies that used people in rubber suits fighting among miniatures, Godzilla Minus One uses just enough special effects to make the scale of the monster believable. However, this version of Godzilla still looks a bit like the version that had a guy inside a rubber suit. Plot-wise, there are a few great sequences that make this an incredibly solid movie....
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MOVIE: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Year: 1954 Rating: Approved Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) is one of those musicals during the golden age of musicals that I was aware of but had only seen bits and pieces of. I found a DVD of it a while back and finally got around to watching it. As far as musicals go, it's colorful and has a few good songs that are sung well by the cast. Unfortunately, the content is dated and is almost cringeworthy by today's standards. I will give some leniency that this film represents an era that was not entirely enlightened when it came to women. The Wild West was about survival as much as it was about the loneliness that came with it. While I'm sure there were more men than women out in these regions, it doesn't excuse how these seven brothers went about obtaining their wives. That they'd even consider the plight of the...
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MOVIE: Creed III (2023)

Creed III Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours It's a little weird to me that each time the Rocky franchise gets further into its sequels, it ceases to understand what made the original work so well. People don't want to see someone living in opulence (or owning a robot butler) confronting the ghosts from their past. Instead, they want to see the underdog go the distance to show what they're made of. And while Creed III (2023) mostly falls into this trap, it has a few moments about fatherhood that shine through. After Creed (2015) and Creed II (2018) pulled out the biggest connections to the Rocky franchise with Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago, respectively, I wasn't sure where this franchise would go from there. It didn't feel narratively strong to look backward at Adonis' (Michael B. Jordan) past with Damian (Jonathan Majors) since any generic boxing film could have used those story beats. Sure, it makes it more personal and...
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MOVIE: Renfield (2023)

RenfieldYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours Sometimes, a movie comes along that has a fun concept and delivers on it. Renfield (2023) asks, “What if Dracula’s servant realizes his boss is toxic?” With all the modern progress that’s been made in worker’s rights, this ridiculous combination is just hilarious enough to work. There’s a lot of lore surrounding Dracula, so a story that’s set in the present time plays the contrasts for laughs. That this movie is even canonically connected to Dracula (1931) makes it feel like a heartfelt sequel to its almost 100-year-old predecessor. The two actors who make this movie work are none other than Nicholas Cage (Dracula) and Nicholas Hoult (Renfield). Cage basically (and almost literally) gnaws on the scenery as he’s allowed to ham it up as the iconic monster. Hoult has shown he has great acting talent in recent movies like The Favourite (2018) and The Menu (2022). Renfield shows he knows how to play...
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MOVIE: Napoleon (2023)

Napoleon Year: 2023 Rating: R Length: 158 minutes / 2.63 hours On paper, this movie had a lot going for it. Ridley Scott, partnering with Joaquin Phoenix again after the wildly successful Gladiator (2000) felt like this was a surefire entertaining film. Instead, the few scenes of military action were the only things that made this movie worth watching. Usually, when I watch a biopic about a famous individual like Napoleon Bonaparte, I’d expect something eyebrow raising that I didn’t know before. Napoleon is not that kind of film, as it is filled with history that I already knew, and I don’t consider myself a scholar of Napoleon. A lot of biopics tend to either show the genius of their titular character or cast light on their odd behavior (despite their angelic public persona). Napoleon has moments of both, each of which undercuts the effectiveness of the other. I can’t take his military success seriously when he has such peculiar bedroom habits, and I find...
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MOVIE: Leap! (2016)

Leap!Year: 2016Rating: PGLength: 89 minutes / 1.48 hours In searching for movies to watch with my daughter, I figured Leap! (2016) was a good fit since she is actively interested in dance/ballet. She seemed to enjoy it, but I wasn’t entirely impressed. I’m willing to give animated films a try when they aren’t from big studios with lots of gravitas, but this one felt just generic enough as to be almost indistinguishable from the swath of cheap direct-to-streaming fare that clogs these services. I will grant that the animation looks pretty good for 2016, but visuals aren’t the only thing that makes these kinds of movies tick. The story in Leap! is mostly your generic “follow your dreams” fare that most movies directed at kids have done before. Common tropes of persevering and working hard are here, as usual, but with the slightly more troubling trope of lying to catch a break. Sure, gatekeeping isn’t a great way to discover new talent,...
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MOVIE: Elemental (2023)

Elemental Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours I initially wasn’t too sold on the concept of Elemental (2023). The idea that elements live together in a city felt a bit too close to Zootopia (2016) to be truly original. However, Pixar (generally) has a good handle on stories, and I eventually gave this one a shot. I was surprised to find not only an approachable love story—which is rare for Pixar—but a touching look at expectations from immigrant parents and what it’s like to integrate into a society that isn’t made for you. As always, the visuals were striking, and the emotions were heartfelt. While the movie poked fun at certain human-based design decisions for the city (like when both main characters easily pass through a chain-link fence), the overall concept felt thought out enough to truly invoke the ethnic boroughs that many cities have for immigrants of similar ethnic backgrounds. Choosing the fire people to be the “odd element out”...
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MOVIE: The Shining (1980)

The Shining Year: 1980 Rating: R Length: 146 minutes / 2.43 hours Stanley Kubrick is one of those directors who can make a great movie in any genre. From science fiction like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to political satire in Dr. Strangelove (1964) to historic epics in Spartacus (1960), it's no wonder that he could excel in horror with The Shining (1980). The descent into madness in an isolated mountain hotel was done with such expert craft that this film stands as a pinnacle of the genre even today. It might not be an exact representation of the Stephen King novel, but it works well for the big screen. Kubrick succeeds in the emotions of unease here through clever application of cinematography and sound design. The audience gets the full experience. We're along for the ride down at Danny's (Danny Lloyd) level. We feel small and insignificant in the vast open spaces of the hotel and its nearby hedge maze. The building insanity in...
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MOVIE: Tangled (2010)

TangledYear: 2010Rating: PGLength: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours Tangled (2010) is one of those movies that hit me at a vulnerable time in my life. Shortly after I bought it on Blu-Ray, I ended up watching it at least once for ten days straight. I had the soundtrack memorized and I still cry at the pivotal scenes. I danced to the lantern song at my wedding as the first dance with my wife. Clearly, I'm going to give this movie full marks here, but even over a decade later, I think it holds up. After college, I moved out of my home state and was finally living on my own. Even with a good job and a handful of new friends, I related to Rapunzel's (Mandy Moore) first song of the movie: When Does My Life Begin? There were societal expectations that I didn't feel like I met, so seeing Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) grow to accept non-toxic masculine traits—thanks in part...
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MOVIE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Mutant Mayhem (2023)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours I don't have a lot of nostalgia for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sure, I played the arcade game quite a few times and saw some episodes of the original TV show—it just wasn't one of those franchises that stuck with me through the years. With this in mind, what made me watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023)? Honestly, I'm intrigued by the new wave of stylized animated films, and this movie fits the bill. I'm glad I gave it a chance. Of the four words that make up this franchise, the one I felt was never accurately represented was the first one: Teenage. Most of the iterations of these four mutated reptiles I've seen focus on the "Ninja" part of their background. Here, these characters truly feel like teenagers, and the choice to make them closer to 13 than 19 was a refreshing take on the franchise....
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MOVIE: Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Ocean's ElevenYear: 2001Rating: PG-13Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours While I usually agree with people who say that remakes are worse than the originals, Ocean's Eleven (2001) is an exception. Not only did it bring the same amount of star power that made the original stand out, but it had a heist that was much more entertaining and compelling than its predecessor. Having re-watched it recently, I found it still stands up over 20 years later, even if it's starting to show its early-2000 edges. I still think it's a classic that works because of its complexity and scale. It's impressive how there are so many big names in this movie, yet they all have their room to shine. There's a reason many of them are still making great movies today, and their talent is on full display here. And perhaps the collective charisma of this all-star cast makes the heist they pull off so thrilling. Sure, I already knew how they...
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MOVIE: Us (2019)

Us Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours I’ve been reluctant to jump on the Jordan Peele bandwagon. This has mostly been because I rarely watch horror films. What initially won me over was the social commentary Get Out (2017) provided. NOPE (2022) was an interesting take on alien films that spoke to the inherently violent nature of animals. With these two movies in mind, I finally filled in the gap and watched Us (2019). Unfortunately, my lack of desire to watch this film when it came out seems to have been justified as I ask, “What was the point?” I don’t want to spoil too much, but the twist was pretty easy to spot quite early on. Once the premise became clear, the movie seemed to be an excuse to just have the characters fight each other to the death—sometimes in the bloodiest way possible. Even the ending didn’t seem to be anything profound unless I’m missing something deeper that was...
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MOVIE: The Creator (2023)

The Creator Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Knowing how rare new science fiction movies are, I was interested to see what The Creator (2023) would say about artificial intelligence. Even if we’re currently seeing a rise in generative AI tools, the AI in The Creator are more like the replicants in Blade Runner (1982). And while Gareth Edwards hasn’t had a lot of movies under his belt, he’s proven that he can handle big franchises like Godzilla (2014) and Star Wars (with Rogue One (2016)). Unfortunately, this “original” film feels highly derivative of these previous movies in his filmography. Plot-wise, much of The Creator cribs from Rogue One. The big orbiting doomsday device that looms as a threat over key battle sequences gives off big Death Star vibes. That there’s a MacGuffin that’s supposed to save the world/universe which causes the main character to undergo great sacrifice is yet another parallel that’s hard to ignore. Granted, many consider Rogue One...
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MOVIE: Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours While I’ve never quite been fully on board with the works of Alex Garland, I recognize there’s something about his movies that makes me want to see them, eventually. I appreciated his approach to Artificial Intelligence in Ex Machina (2014), but it took a while for me to get around to his next work, Annihilation (2018). His style of science fiction borders on horror, but more importantly, it emphasizes one philosophical question in particular. What makes us human? Instead of exploring the Turing Test as he did in Ex Machina, Annihilation focuses on the larger scale of the universe to answer this question. Even if it takes a while to establish all the exposition, Annihilation does its best work in unraveling the mystery surrounding the return of Kane (Oscar Isaac). Most of this is done once the main character, Lena (Natalie Portman) arrives in the anomaly and can explore the bizarre alien effects on...
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MOVIE: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Castle in the Sky Year: 1986 Rating: PG Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours Having only seen a handful of Hayao Miyazaki films, I finally got around to some of his earlier works. Castle in the Sky (1986) might not seem special by today’s standards, but in the era when it was released, I’m sure it was quite a bold statement. As a steampunk-styled adventure, there’s a lot in this movie that has since been copied and adapted into other works (case in point, my younger brother noticed that it’s almost an identical plot to Mega Man Legends which came out a decade later). As Miyazaki’s third film, Castle in the Sky sees many of his established visual styles and themes (like flying girls) that he has used in many of his following projects. Even with a relatively simple plot, the gorgeous animated visuals are always a major draw for Miyazaki movies like this. There’s a charm that’s hard to describe, but it’s there in...
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MOVIE: The Patriot (2000)

The Patriot Year: 2000 Rating: R Length: 165 minutes / 2.75 hours Over the years, I’ve seen most of The Patriot (2000). Having now purposely sat through the entire thing (and the Extended Cut, no less), I can see parts of its appeal. Now, I’m not going to watch a Roland Emmerich movie for any kind of historical accuracy. That Emmerich set The Patriot during the Revolutionary War is merely a backdrop for over-the-top action sequences. Some of its political statements are cringeworthy now, but there’s an amount of entertainment here that is hard to ignore. And that’s what this movie is: entertainment. The star power in The Patriot is hard to ignore. Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, Chris Cooper, and Tom Wilkinson all deliver outstanding performances. In particular, the “win at all costs” Colonel William Tavington (Jason Isaacs) was a great motivator and foil for Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) to avenge the losses he endured during the film. This subplot comes off as...
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MOVIE: White Noise (2022)

White Noise Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 136 minutes / 2.27 hours It's funny how I've always heard Noah Baumbach's name in discussions revolving around directors I appreciate. Usually, when the conversation of scripts comes up with directors like Wes Anderson or Greta Gerwig, Baumbach gets a mention. While I couldn't name a film of his that I had seen, his name was recognizable enough that I felt I had to give White Noise (2022) a try. After wishing I had those 2+ hours back, I realized I had seen one of his movies, Marriage Story (2019), which I also didn't particularly care for. Now I know. Granted, White Noise has some interesting bits. However, it never sticks with them long enough to fully conclude them. Instead, it flits from idea to idea, mostly making no sense at all (hence the title of the film, I suppose). There's a lot of talking in this movie, but most of it feels so random that I wonder...
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MOVIE: Disenchanted (2022)

Disenchanted Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours It’s interesting how the “direct-to-video” sequel has changed now that streaming is the ubiquitous delivery method. Movies that studios still want to capitalize on but don’t want to spend money on putting in theaters. Disney has taken this route with many of its animated films in the 1990s, releasing multiple sequels to beloved classics. Even The Disney Channel used to be a place for them to put cheap movies. Now, with Disney+, we see movies like Disenchanted (2022) filling the space that used to be occupied by VHS releases. It’s unfortunate because these sequels could be much better than they are. I loved the self-aware nature of Enchanted (2007). That Disenchanted held most of the same cast was encouraging, but clearly not the magic needed to recreate the energy of the original. The parody (and adherence to) traditional Disney princess stories in Enchanted made it a fun tongue-in-cheek film to watch. This sequel felt...
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MOVIE: The Whale (2022)

The Whale Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours Darren Aronofsky is the kind of director who makes movies that have moments that are hard to watch but you must see at least once. With his style established in such films as Pi (1998) and Requiem for a Dream (2000), he has continued with this over the decades with varying levels of intensity. The Whale (2022) is the latest film to conform to Aronofsky’s early directorial oeuvre. It’s a simple film—which happens when adapting a stage play—but with heart-wrenching depth. That it works so well in an on-screen format is a testament to Aronofsky’s talents. Brendan Fraser’s performance of Charlie carries this film. There’s not a lot of representation of morbidly obese people, but Fraser makes it seem realistic. Granted, Aronofsky also makes it gross quite a few times, but that’s to be expected. That Charlie seems to always be in the frame, as if Aronofsky gravitationally locked the camera to him...
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MOVIE: Barbie (2023)

Barbie Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours I’ll admit that the only reason I watched Barbie (2023) was because Greta Gerwig directed it. I loved her style in Lady Bird (2017) and Little Women (2019). Going into Barbie, I was prepared for a full commentary on feminism, especially through the lens of the “perfect woman” that so many girls grew up with. And while the casting was flawless, there still felt like moments where Barbie could have gone deeper with the subject matter but declined due to pressure from Mattel. Its writing was smart and snappy, but it’s also a movie about a beloved childhood toy. Of course, a lot of Barbie wouldn’t work if the cast was different. Margot Robbie is the epitome of the classic Barbie look. Ryan Gosling gnaws on the scenery and almost steals the show (thus enforcing the patriarchy, ironically enough). Other standout performances go to Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, and America Ferrera. That there are...
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MOVIE: Air (2023)

AirYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours As a child of the 90s, I never gave much thought to Nike shoes. They were always this popular brand that—in my child-like brain—would make me run faster and jump higher. I had no idea that the singular reason they were so ubiquitous in my childhood came down to one incredibly risky decision to bet the entire company's future on a single athlete. That this athlete was Michael Jordan is what made this deal as historic as it was. Air (2023) does a great job of giving the audience a look behind that fateful curtain. It's fascinating to me how a third-tier company like Nike used to be below shoe producers like Adidas and Converse. I also had no idea these other companies had the foreign commitment to excellence (Adidas) or star power (Converse) to place them above a company mostly known for jogging activewear. Despite these obvious choices, Air really tells the story...
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MOVIE: Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning (Part 1) (2023)

Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning (Part 1) Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 163 minutes / 2.72 hours When it comes to the Mission: Impossible movies, you know what you’re going to get. Tense countdowns. Action set-pieces. Tom Cruise running. Even though the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) has overcome many obstacles in the past, there’s always a question of whether this latest mission will be too much for them. With Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning (Part 1) (2023), the threat is so large that this movie only covers half of it. As long as you’re OK with not having a conclusion to the full plot, this movie is fun and full of action. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) being a current hot topic, using it as the antagonist of this film felt like it fit right into the cultural zeitgeist. Not that AI has been a new villain by any means (as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) has shown). Considering the (fictional) power of this AI, the Maguffin of the two-piece...
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MOVIE: RRR (2022)

RRR Year: 2022 Rating: Not Rated Length: 182 minutes / 3.03 hours While I have watched some of the “classics” of Indian cinema, I haven’t kept up to date on this brand of foreign cinema. Nothing stood out enough for me to seek it out and watch it. That was until a friend of mine suggested I watch RRR (2022). He described it as the most “anime-style live-action movie” he’d ever seen. This intrigued me, so I watched it. He wasn’t wrong. It oozes machismo while also telling a compelling story about fighting against British occupation. And just to make sure that you know it’s an Indian film, there’s a great song and dance sequence that won an Oscar for Best Original Song. RRR reads a bit more like an American action film, especially in how ridiculous it is. Of course, that’s part of the reason I really love this movie. Sure, there’s a lot of violence, but the creative ways that it’s used made...
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MOVIE: The Sea Beast (2022)

The Sea BeastYear: 2022Rating: PGLength: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours It’s weird how there’s been such a shift in CG animated films that something like The Sea Beast (2022) feels like they made it years ago. The realism in CGI has reached a point where movies from studios that aren’t Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks look gorgeous. Since there’s been a leveling of what animated films can look like, the plot has become more important to these kinds of films. Unfortunately, while The Sea Beast looks great, its plot feels derivative of How to Train Your Dragon (2010), just with pirate-like characters instead of Vikings. That there aren’t a ton of sea-faring stories out there, let alone animated ones, makes The Sea Beast a unique setting. With so many fantasy worlds set in medieval Europe, basing one off the slightly more modern sailing age feels fresh. I’m a little surprised that there weren’t more inventive uses of the technology of that era, since...
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MOVIE: Puss in Boots – The Last Wish (2022)

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours It's honestly been so long since there have been any movies from the Shrek franchise. I had almost forgotten Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) was a sequel to a spinoff that came out 11 years ago. Animation has changed a lot in that time, and this movie shows that traditional CGI animated fare is now following a much different look. Even with the change in animation style, The Last Wish excels at the thing that made the Shrek movies great: unique takes on well-known fairy tales. It surprised me how dark parts of this film were, considering its target audience. When the titular character has to come to terms with his own mortality in the form of death as a deadly sickle-wielding wolf, it gets perhaps a bit too scary for younger children. Sure, there are comic relief characters like Perrito (Harvey Guillén) to lighten the mood....
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MOVIE: Nimona (2023)

Nimona Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It's funny how I initially read about Nimona (2023) as an upcoming animated film on Netflix, which inspired me to read the graphic novel, which itself made me watch the animated film when it came out. And while the movie was good, it was missing some of what made the graphic novel great. But that's always going to be the challenge of adapting a book into a movie. Using the source material as inspiration helped make this film a tight story that works for the medium. Sure, I would have liked to have seen an animated film in the distinctive style of the graphic novel. The emotions and climax didn't have enough time to get deep enough—like they did on the printed page. Still, I can accept that movies like The Shining (1980), Ready Player One (2018), and Nimona are distinct and different, but just as good as the books they're based on. An...
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MOVIE: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty Year: 2012 Rating: R Length: 157 minutes / 2.62 hours There are a few key moments from cinema that stick with me, even years after watching them for the first time. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is a little frustrating to watch, but I suppose that's the whole point. Maya Harris (Jessica Chastain) had to deal with excessive government bureaucracy to avenge the United States after September 11th. That the last 30 minutes of this movie is the most gripping sequence I've ever seen is a testament to the payoff for two hours of buildup. What strikes me with this film is how raw it feels. It's unflinching in its depiction of torture. It doesn't hesitate to show that the U.S. would do anything to get back at those who killed so many on American soil. The problem is that it seems to insinuate that continuing in this extreme manner would have brought the eventual result a lot sooner. These red tape holdups...
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MOVIE: Oppenheimer (2023)

OppenheimerYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 180 minutes / 3.00 hours Christopher Nolan's filmography has been building to this movie. Over decades, Nolan has had gimmicks in his films that make them stand out. Oppenheimer (2023) uses many of them to create a compelling story that's half scientific discovery and half political drama. That a movie like this—about unleashing the Pandora's box of nuclear weapons—hadn't been made like this before is perhaps the more impressive feat. The way Nolan weaves the two halves of the story together is masterful. However, the actors definitely do a lot of heavy lifting here. It took me a second viewing to piece together that the black-and-white segments followed Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) while the color segments focused on J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy). This visual stylization hearkened back to the way Nolan made Memento (2000) unique. The shifted timelines between the black-and-white/color segments evoked Dunkirk (2017)., I'm just glad that I could actually understand what everyone was saying,...
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MOVIE: Asteroid City (2023)

Asteroid City Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours At this point, when I see a Wes Anderson film, I know what I'm getting. Not just the visual aesthetic or the almost monotone line delivery from every actor. Instead, there's a framing that either brings the disparate narrative together (like in The French Dispatch (2021)) or acts as a lens (like in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)). Now that we're almost 10 years into this phase of narrative framing (with a few exceptions like Isle of Dogs (2018)), it's finally gotten to the point of being distracting. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the base story that's being told in Asteroid City (2023). It hearkens back to some of Anderson's earlier works that dealt with the death of a loved one (a la The Darjeeling Limited (2007)). The science fair subplot was fun, and the whole military lockdown of the second half was entertaining. Just by itself, the core plot of...
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MOVIE: Borat (2006)

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Year: 2006 Rating: R Length: 84 minutes / 1.40 hours As far as mockumentary films go, Borat (2006) is at least in the top five. It may have not been as groundbreaking as This Is Spinal Tap (1984), but its use of real people's reactions to a parody of Eastern European stereotypes still shocks today. Perhaps having experienced some of the American sub-cultures that were mocked is what makes those parts of this film funny to me. It certainly has its gross-out moments, but Sacha Baron Cohen's performance is iconic. I think what makes Borat one of the best mockumentary films is its unscripted nature. Sure, they wrote Borat's dialogue in such a way as to provoke people (or get them to open up about their own racism/sexism/homophobia). However, the responses from these people feel completely genuine. The ones who accept Sacha Baron Cohen's bit and try to play their part straight are...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – Across the Spider-Verse (2023)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 140 minutes / 2.33 hours Without fail, I have watched wildly successful movies gain sequels that were too big for just one movie. The latest entry in this Trilogy Conundrum is none other than the animated Spider-Verse series. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) was a stylish and refreshing animated film that won the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Its sequel, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023), is equally good in both storytelling and animation. However, the size of such a story being stretched over two films affected some of this movie's pacing. I am increasingly becoming a fan of the "stylized" animated movies like Into the Spider-Verse and Across the Spider-Verse. Pixar can show how realistic CGI animation can be, but I found truly creative CGI animation in other studios like this one. This "cartoony" style lends itself to the humor of the fight between Miles (Shameik Moore) and Spot (Jason Schwartzman). It's also versatile enough to be...
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 (2023)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 150 minutes / 2.50 hours Ever since the original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), it felt like this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was left to do its own thing. These movies didn't have many cameos or connections to the larger MCU except for introducing characters who fought in the Avengers films. Perhaps because of this level of separation from the core MCU, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies have felt more stable tonally than the rest of the MCU films. You can probably thank James Gunn for that. While I consider the first Guardians movie to be one of the best superhero (or even sci-fi) films ever made, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) diving into Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) origins wasn't quite up to snuff. And while Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 (2023) is another origin story, it felt more impactful than its predecessor. After all, the one...
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MOVIE: Cocaine Bear (2023)

Cocaine BearYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours Back when I was in college, the most ridiculous concept for a movie was none other than Snakes on a Plane (2006). Now, almost 20 years later, the only movie that comes close to that level of ridiculous plot is Cocaine Bear (2023). Of course, being a ridiculous premise doesn't make it a good movie by any means. Not even the fact that it's loosely based on true events can help its lack of plot. But how much plot can you really fit into "bear snorts a ton of cocaine"? Part of the problem with Cocaine Bear is that it doesn't quite lean into the ridiculousness. There are too many moments that try to play the situation as seriously as possible. Despite all the stupid death scenes, there weren't nearly as many knowing winks toward the camera to make it into a violent dark comedy. Instead, Cocaine Bear sits in this weird limbo...
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MOVIE: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

The Super Mario Bros. Movie Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours I’ll admit that I was skeptical about this movie going in. Some of the casting decisions were questionable, but I also knew Nintendo would have a much tighter hold on their intellectual property after Super Mario Bros. (1993). An animated take on a simple video game concept was the better way to go, but I also know Illumination has a reputation for somewhat “cheap” CGI movies. All this being said—nostalgia is a heck of a drug. The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) is bright, colorful, and a lot of fun to watch. I felt like the character designs were definitely on-point—which wasn’t hard to do when Nintendo already has 3D models of almost every character that appeared in this movie (something the previous attempt at this movie did not have). While the plot was simple, it’s not like a game from 1985 really had that much plot to go off,...
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MOVIE: Léon – The Professional (1994)

Léon: The ProfessionalYear: 1994Rating: RLength: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours There’s something oddly satisfying about watching a professional do their job. The ease with which these people do the thing they’ve trained extensively to do is almost mesmerizing. While this usually applies to creative types, with Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional (1994), a skilled assassin is equally fun to observe. What makes this movie endearing is the simple life that the titular Léon (Jean Reno) lives. Additionally, the performances by Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman shine through here in some uncomfortable ways that make this movie both timeless and of its time. While the action sequences in Léon: The Professional are top-notch, the characters make the movie so much better. Since most people never encounter a professional assassin, there’s just this assumption that they’re always out killing people. Instead, there’s understandable caution and an almost savant level of adherence to rules that keep these professional killers alive to cash in on the...
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MOVIE: Tetris (2023)

TetrisYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Every time I hear a movie is being made based on a video game that doesn’t have any story, I always wonder what those movies are going to be about. With Tetris (2023), the plot centers on the distribution rights for the titular puzzle game. While it’s interesting to see what happened to bring Tetris to its status as a worldwide cultural icon in gaming, the film really just boils down to the legal and international gymnastics that needed to occur. The Cold War setting did much of the heavy lifting for the suspense, but we already know how things turned out. I’m still confused about who this film was for. It seemed like they were trying to appeal to gamers by showing the history of one of the founding games of the industry. However, providing little pixel art cuts to explain how distribution rights for a video game were different between the arcade...
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MOVIE: Dungeons & Dragons – Honor Among Thieves (2023)

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among ThievesYear: 2023Rating: PG-13Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours I have a lot of hobbies and interests that are considered “nerdy.” Partly because of this, I have avoided Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) so that I am not fully subsumed by the culture. Despite this evasion, I have still picked up enough lingo and understanding of D&D to not be completely lost when watching Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023). I think, even without this loose knowledge of the tabletop role-playing game, this movie is a great heist film with a fantasy setting that should appeal to most people who have never encountered D&D before. What helps make this movie approachable is how it doesn’t seem to take itself seriously. You can almost imagine the individuals around the table making their decisions and dice rolls as the dungeon master throws ridiculous situations at them. Chris Pine’s performance anchors the humor. His bard character was easily riffed on by...
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MOVIE: The Northman (2022)

The NorthmanYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Robert Eggers doesn’t have many films under his belt, but he already has a bit of a cult following for his bizarre movies. Films like The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019) are distinct by themselves. However, these movies certainly have a psychological aspect that might leave certain viewers scratching their heads. Taking a more traditional storytelling approach, The Northman (2022) still has elements that make it distinctly a Robert Eggers film. It leans heavily on a plot that’s familiar to most high school English students, however. While it’s certainly less thought-provoking than his previous works, it’s perhaps what makes The Northman the most approachable of his filmography. Disguised behind the Norse setting, The Northman is basically Hamlet. Most of the story beats are similar to the Shakespearean play. That is, except that the duel between a man and his usurping and murdering uncle was much more epic in this movie. Considering the...
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MOVIE: John Wick – Chapter 4 (2023)

John Wick: Chapter 4Year: 2023Rating: RLength: 169 minutes / 2.17 hours One thing I can appreciate with a franchise like John Wick is how it knew when and how to end. Some franchises seem to think that they have something significant to add even if the ninth entry in their long-running universe was the same plot as the previous eight. And while I had lost some of my faith in the John Wick franchise as it became more ridiculous with each iteration, perhaps my low standards made this last entry in the franchise that much better. John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) was a fitting and classy end to a set of movies that re-defined the action genre. I loved the simplicity and steady, fast-paced choreography of John Wick (2014), but the world-building in John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) and John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) started adding too many things that complicated the base elements of what made the first movie...
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MOVIE: Glass Onion (2022)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out MysteryYear: 2022Rating: PG-13Length: 139 minutes / 2.31 hours Hollywood has woefully underutilized the mystery genre for some time. It probably doesn’t help that there aren’t a lot of mysteries being written that have been adapted to the big screen. The two modern examples that come to mind are Gone Girl (2014) and The Girl on the Train (2016) but they’re darker than the classic mysteries by Agatha Christie. That Hollywood is still releasing movies based on Christie’s works (like Murder on the Orient Express (2017)) or Christie-adjacent works (like See How They Run (2022)) shows there’s a desire for ensemble-based mysteries. Glass Onion (2022) is the breath of fresh air in this somewhat stagnant genre. I’m glad that Knives Out (2019) did well enough to warrant a sequel with Daniel Craig’s fantastic character, Benoit Blanc. Glass Onion takes that same humor and applies it in a biting satire against the hyper-wealthy and “influencer” types that all need...
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MOVIE: Triangle of Sadness (2022)

Triangle of Sadness Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours It speaks to the state of current society when 2022 churned out not one, but three films that focus on the absurdity of the rich. While The Menu (2022) focused on the "foodie" culture that surrounds so many wealthy individuals, Glass Onion (2022) highlighted those "influencers" who try to disrupt industries. The one film I feel best captured the satire of the ultra-wealthy was definitely Triangle of Sadness (2022). The humor was the darkest of all three, but it went further than the other two in exposing the uselessness of the rich. The first act sets up all the ridiculous things that rich people do. From absurd reasons to dump a romantic interest to how little money they actually have on hand, the audience gets a glimpse into their absurd world of opulence. Once the yacht enters the picture in the second act, we see all the different varieties of rich and...
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MOVIE: Women Talking (2022)

Women Talking Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Some conversations are difficult. Things that people in power want to be covered up are often the conversations that need to happen the most. And while revealing these topics to the public is a great way to raise awareness, sometimes the most impactful way to effect change is to band together. A unified front against an egregious sin does more than merely asking those in power to stop. Women Talking (2022) takes on the heavy topic of sexual assault and makes it a not-so-simple conversation about what to do in a helpless situation. While I feel She Said (2022) received more visibility, the heaviness of the circumstances of these Mennonite women hit significantly harder. Granted, neither film really captured the tension the way Spotlight (2015) did. It's great that movies like this are coming out, despite being heavy topics that require introspection into the systems that enable them. Heck, even Promising Young Woman...
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MOVIE: Tár (2022)

Tár Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 158 minutes / 2.63 hours I hate to say that Tár (2022) is what's wrong with Oscar nominees, but it's really what's wrong with Oscar nominees. I had only seen a trailer for this movie once and it was a vague two minutes of Cate Blanchett blowing smoke, followed by her briefly conducting an orchestra. There was nothing to indicate to me what this movie was about. Then it was released on the coasts, never making it to the Colorado Springs cinemas until it was nominated for Best Picture and I was given the chance to watch it. Tár is weird. It's psychological and unapologetic about never explaining itself. I get that it's intended as an almost "out of body" experience following the titular character around. The "artsy" aspects of Tár's clearly untreated mental illness left me scratching my head more often than not. Still, I enjoy classical music and attending the Philharmonic, so it was interesting to see...
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MOVIE: Ant-Man and the Wasp – Quantumania (2023)

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.06 hours I'm not sure how much more of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) I can take. After a lackluster Phase 4, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) is what they chose to kick off Phase 5? Don't get me wrong, I truly enjoyed the first Ant-Man (2015). However, this was because I saw it more as a comedy heist film than as an action-packed superhero film. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) initially indicated this shift for me, but now Quantumania has cemented the averageness of Marvel movies in my mind. The part that hurts most is that they could have leaned more into the comedy. They tried with M.O.D.O.K. (who had a fantastic comedy spin-off TV show before being in the MCU) but most of those jokes were childish at best. I have to give them props for making this bizarre character make sense in the greater scheme of MCU continuity....
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MOVIE: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

All Quiet on the Western FrontYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 148 minutes / 2.46 hours There has been a trend in recent years of remaking films that had previously been nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. Movies like A Star is Born (2018) didn't win the highest prize in previous years like West Side Story (2021) did in 1961. The latest in these remakes is All Quiet on the Western Front (2022), a German-language film based on the 1929 book of the same name that had a Best Picture-winning adaptation in 1930. And while visually beautiful, I think this new version misses parts of what made the 1930 version stand out. I'll admit that I haven't read the book these movies were adapting. However, there was a powerful message that the 1930 version conveyed that was missing in this newer version. Both successfully showed that war is hell and completely pointless for those fighting on the front lines. And while the 2022 adaptation...
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MOVIE: M3GAN (2023)

M3GAN Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I'm not usually one to watch "horror" films, so I was going to pass on M3GAN (2023) until a friend requested to see it together. By genre standards, this PG-13 cross between Child's Play (1988) and The Terminator (1984) was light on blood and gore that could have bumped it up to an R rating if they showed more of it. Perhaps this was intentional to emphasize the horrors of Artificial Intelligence (AI) overall. Because we all know unchecked machine learning algorithms will always lean toward some kind of murder. I think if you go into this movie understanding that it'll be goofy, then you can munch on your popcorn as it hits all the standard tropes. It's not quite funny enough to be part comedy, but there are some chuckle-worthy scenes sprinkled throughout. From a sci-fi perspective, though, any robotics or AI rules that you'd usually see in these scenarios were mysteriously absent....
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MOVIE: NOPE (2022)

NOPE Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours I don't know why I'm so skeptical of watching Jordan Peele's horror films. Once I got around to seeing Get Out (2017), it blew me away with how strong its premise challenged normal horror tropes. And while I haven't seen Us (2019) yet, I didn't need nearly as much convincing to give NOPE (2022) a try. I feel alien-themed horror is a bit of a niche genre with sci-fi entries like Alien (1979) being more prevalent than Earth-centric invasion movies like Signs (2002). NOPE (which can be interpreted as an acronym for "Not Of Planet Earth") definitely falls into the latter category. Overall, I appreciated the slow build-up to the alien reveal. Leaving hints about the cause of various strange events was a great way to add suspense until we finally got to see the alien in question. The alien itself was also a fantastic deviation from the standard "little green men" that usually...
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MOVIE: Cars 2 (2011)

Cars 2Year: 2011Rating: GLength: 106 minutes / 1.35 hours If anyone asks me for my unpopular movie opinion, they're likely going to hear that I think Cars 2 (2011) is the best entry in the Cars trilogy. While it still doesn't hold a candle to the superior works that Pixar released before it, Cars 2 took a risk by adapting the spy genre to its kid-friendly films. I was never much of a fan of NASCAR-style racing, so pushing these characters into worldwide Grand Prix races felt much more exciting to me. Still, I can see why some didn't like this pivot. As with most of the Cars movies, I never cared much for Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). The forced comedic relief always felt like it was based on how cringe-worthy they could make the character. Unfortunately, Mater had a much larger role in this movie, which only marginally worked because of how it felt like The Man Who Knew Too...
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MOVIE: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

The Banshees of Inisherin Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours After the masterpiece that was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), I was ready for the next film from Martin McDonagh. I appreciated the dark sense of humor he had in Seven Psychopaths (2012) and I understood his bizarre fascination with "boring" from In Bruges (2008), but for some reason, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) didn't quite hit for me. It's likely because the premise is a metaphor for something I don't entirely understand. On a second watch, I did laugh at the jokes more and I always thought the setting was pretty, but it still didn't click. Going in without completely understanding what this movie was about, it immediately struck me how stupid the prime conflict is. It felt like Colm (Brendan Gleeson) took far too long to admit why he didn't want to be friends with Pádraic (Colin Ferrell) anymore, and his reason was quite stupid. I can't stand...
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MOVIE: Avatar – The Way of Water (2022)

Avatar: The Way of Water Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 192 minutes / 3.20 hours It's weird to me to see so many "science fiction" fans bash the Avatar franchise and then in the next breath complain that there aren't any new intellectual properties in the genre. Considering how recently these movies came out when compared to franchises like Star Wars, the Avatar films are the new intellectual properties in the genre. That there seems to be an overarching plan for the franchise gives me hope that James Cameron knows what he's doing. If Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) is any indication, he's done his homework with its world-building. I know people complain about the weak plot of these movies; but maybe with the state of the world, we need to reiterate stories about the harmful effects of colonialism and capitalism. As always, the visual spectacle of The Way of Water is on par with—if not significantly better than—Avatar (2009). A lot of what...
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MOVIE: Spectre (2015)

Spectre Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 148 minutes / 2.47 hours After the practically perfect Skyfall (2012), my expectations for what a Bond film should be were considerably heightened. And while Spectre (2015) still contained some elements that made me enjoy Skyfall, it missed that small little “aha!” moment that brought everything together for me. Sure, Spectre was directed by Sam Mendes, brought back franchise-famous villain Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), and had characters with emotional connections to Bond (Daniel Craig) that spanned across movies in Craig’s tenure, but it lacked the spark to make it fully work. Perhaps it was just abiding by the idiom that lightning can’t strike twice. That’s not to say that Spectre is a bad Bond movie, it just has a lot to compare against. The modern style and action that Craig’s Bond has are still better than some of the sillier entries in the long-running franchise. There’s a drag in the second act that probably could have been tightened up with...
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MOVIE: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours Disney has dominated the fairy tale adaptation for so long that it’s refreshing to see something like Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022) take a different approach to the story of Pinocchio instead of merely copying the 1940 version. Fittingly enough, using stop-motion for this movie was a great way to be creative as well as align with the whole “talking wooden puppet” motif. And while the time jump into World War II Italy obviously doesn’t make this a faithful adaptation of the original work, it’s at least grittier than the more colorful animated versions have come to represent. I appreciate all the work that goes into stop-motion animated movies. I enjoyed Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), so it’s nice to see other animation companies like ShadowMachine enter the feature-length movie realm with their work. That being said, the...
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MOVIE: Babylon (2022)

Babylon Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 189 minutes / 3.15 hours If there’s one thing in common with Damien Chazelle’s films, it’s how they center on the sacrifices people endure to pursue their dreams. Whiplash (2014) focused on the physical limits someone might endure to become a successful drummer. La La Land (2016) highlighted how relationships and careers might need to take a second seat to pursuing a dream. First Man (2018) showed how a family might suffer to pursue something greater. Following this trend, Babylon (2022) gives light to the inability of some who have attained their dream—sometimes at great personal cost—to keep it in an ever-changing world. I can succinctly state the problem with Babylon as “I didn’t need to see that.” Clocking in at over three hours long, there were plenty of storylines that could have been cut. For instance, we’ve already seen Brad Pitt’s story of a famed silent film star struggling to find relevance in the talkies through the Best...
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MOVIE: The Menu (2022)

The Menu Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours I want to chastise the advertisers of The Menu (2022) for making me almost miss this gem of a movie. I usually pass on horror films, so the ads for this one made me think that the “twist” would be something more like Soylent Green (1973). Instead, I was given the treat of a wildly dark comedy that plays off all the prestige and pompousness of foodies and high-concept restaurants. Sure, some moments are horrific during their brief appearances, but I would hardly put this movie in the horror category. The Menu has something to say and is actually quite funny about how it does it. What makes The Menu work is definitely because of the performances of its top-billed actors. Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Nicholas Hoult all act their hearts out, likely adding to how funny this satirical take on foodie culture ended up being. Almost as a bonus, this film...
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MOVIE: Toy Story (1995)

Toy StoryYear: 1995Rating: GLength: 81 minutes / 1.35 hours One benefit of having children is revisiting movies from my youth. I saw Toy Story (1995) in theaters and was immediately struck by how amazing it was that they made the entire film with computers. While this is no longer something that causes awe, there is something about the first movie to make this leap. Almost 30 years later, Toy Story shows its age in some of its visual aspects. However, the cinematography and storytelling here are top-notch and often made me ignore the CGI which is comparatively less polished than today’s effects. To Pixar’s credit, they did the best they could by focusing on slightly easier-to-animate characters than humans or animals. The people and pets in Toy Story look horrific (sometimes on purpose) but there has to be grace for the limitations of the time. Still, with the immense flexibility of the digital camera, some shots in Toy Story that would have...
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MOVIE: Skyfall (2012)

SkyfallYear: 2012Rating: PG-13Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours To me, one weakness of the James Bond franchise has always been the detached nature of the timeless character of James Bond (Daniel Craig) to anything from his past. He'd go off on some globetrotting mission to save the world while never having the stakes come anywhere close to where he lived—whether currently or when he was growing up. As such, the character of James Bond always felt like a caricature. An invincible man who always packed his plot armor before jetting off to a tropical paradise to deal with some megalomaniacal genius. I feel Skyfall (2012) is the absolute pinnacle of Bond films because it makes the main character human. The brilliant way Sam Mendes used Javier Bardem as the antithesis to Craig's Bond to highlight how loyalty is a two-way street is such a chef's kiss that I can't even begin to explain how it broke the mold for Bond villains. Visually,...
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MOVIE: The Expendables 3 (2014)

The Expendables 3 Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours When the first Expendables movie came out, the premise of a ton of washed-out action stars coming together in a single film amused me. It wasn't that great, mostly because I thought to myself, "These are the only guys they could get?" Partly because of this, my standards had been lowered for the second film in the franchise and I found it was an absolute blast with a lot of big names that the first movie was missing. Then they made a third one and ran out of names. What set the first two Expendables movies apart was the 80s action film machismo that made the concept of bringing these actors together so amusing. Now? It seems like they're reaching the bottom of the bucket for these types of actors—mostly because I don't consider them as the over-the-top action stars that the rest of the crew is. I mean, Kelsey Grammer? Really?...
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MOVIE: The Fabelmans (2022)

The Fabelmans Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 151 minutes / 2.52 hours Steven Spielberg has been directing films for so many decades that it’s actually a little surprising that the semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans (2022) took this long to materialize. Because of his years of success as a filmmaker, I already knew some details of Spielberg’s rise to the successful director that he is today. Granted, I’m not sure how much of the family drama in The Fabelmans is a direct influence on Spielberg’s life or if he manufactured it for the movie itself. Still, it is interesting to see the early budding talent presented in this movie and be able to extrapolate to movies like Jaws (1975), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and Schindler’s List (1993). Perhaps my one qualm with this movie is that it’s a bit too long. I understand the desire to show the entire life of Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) to understand the context of the origins of his filmmaking passion, but...
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MOVIE: Little Boy (2015)

Little Boy Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours When it comes to movies with strong Christian messages, often the resulting movie is weak for a variety of other reasons. This might be because of poorly written characters, plot holes, or an overall lack of cinematic quality in the movie itself. This is why I absolutely adore Little Boy (2015). There are many great Christian values presented here, including faith and accepting others. However, the little twists put in the plot of this World War II story make it just that much better than a generic Christian film. If only more Christian movies were made like this, then maybe the (valid) stigma against Christian media might be reduced. Perhaps the one aspect of Little Boy that strikes me as the most unique is the xenophobia against Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). There have been plenty of movies about World War II, but you don’t see many of them addressing the racism against the Japanese...
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MOVIE: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Quantum of Solace Year: 2008 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours Ever since the turn of the millennium, many film franchises have taken to starting over; reinventing themselves for this modern era. From superheroes like Batman and Superman to age-old classics such as Rocky and Rambo, these franchises have been going back to the drawing board in order to pull in ticket sales. The James Bond franchise is no different. In 2006, the ranks of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan gained Daniel Craig as the new James Bond. Quantum of Solace is a rather rare Bond film as it actually has a connection to its predecessor, Casino Royale (2006). It also has all the elements of the franchise. There are the spectacular opening credits, Bond girls, fancy car chases, and gunfights. Somewhat missing from the mix is the legendary set of gadgets, which was also missing from Casino Royale. Instead, an impressive graphical user interface on all the computers and cell...
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MOVIE: Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale Year: 2006 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.40 hours For almost 40 years, the adaptation of the first book in Ian Flemming's James Bond franchise was a parody of the action movie the Bond films had become. Even with only four movies in the Bond franchise released at the time, Casino Royale (1967) made fun of all the goofy gadgets, girls, and guns that were staples of Flemming's works. Fortunately, when it was time to reboot the character with Daniel Craig, Casino Royale (2006) received the remake it truly deserved. Cut down to its base elements and filmed in a more modern style, Casino Royale is a much grittier take on the Bond franchise that lets the action set-pieces and skillful spy-craft take center stage. Sure, there are still Bond girls here, but this time there's a deeper connection with characters like Eva Green's Vesper Lynd (which you can take much more seriously than characters named "Pussy Galore"). It then comes as...
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MOVIE: She Said (2022)

She Said Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours After the gripping Best Picture winner Spotlight (2015) brought to light the struggles of journalists to expose systemic sexual abuse in our society, it's a little sad that the somewhat similar She Said (2022) hasn't gotten the same amount of attention. And perhaps that's just highlighting the continuation of the issue at hand: sexual assault rampant throughout the Hollywood film industry. One wonders if this introspective piece would have done better without Spotlight's shadow looming over it or the movie industry wanting to continue to silence the voice of these women. She Said has plenty of gripping moments where women put their entire careers on the line to become named sources to out the deplorable practices of producers like Harvey Weinstein. The trouble is, the whole movie plays out quite similarly to how Spotlight did seven years ago. If you want to see more thrilling investigative journalism that brings to light the abuse...
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MOVIE: Weird – The Al Yankovic Story (2022)

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When it comes to biopics, there seems to be a natural attraction to musicians. The rise from obscurity into the descent of the artist via "sex, drugs, and rock & roll" is so ubiquitous, the script practically writes itself. We've seen it time and time again with such movies as Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), Rocketman (2019), and Elvis (2022). Because of this (or possibly in spite of it), the parody biopic of "Weird" Al Yankovic, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022) hits all the notes you'd expect of these kinds of films, but in a way that's so tongue-in-cheek, it's basically poking out the other side. Having been a fan of Weird Al for some time now (and recalling his first movie, UHF (1989)), it is amusing to see how some elements of truth shine through in this mock-u-drama. Some of the casting choices were quite hilarious, including the cameos played...
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MOVIE: Black Panther – Wakanda Forever (2022)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours As the last film in the fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) proves that there was no plan for this phase other than to clean up the remains of the Infinity War saga. To its credit, though, Wakanda Forever was burdened with finding an in-universe replacement for the titular Black Panther after the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman. However, considering how most of Phase 4 was passing the mantle from one hero to the next generation, it fits well within this theming. There's a line in Avengers: Endgame (2019) where Naka (Lupita Nyong'o) states that Wakanda is aware of an anomaly on the ocean floor near their country and that they were handling it. This throwaway line was likely played for laughs, but it's peculiar how Wakanda was woefully unprepared for the invasion of their land by underwater enemies, even though they clearly knew...
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MOVIE: One Piece Film – Red (2022)

One Piece Film: RedYear: 2022Rating: PG-13Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours One challenge of making movies for such a long-running anime series like One Piece is that there are so many characters and aspects of the canon that it's hard to make a film that includes fan-favorite characters in a way that makes sense with the overall story. With Eiichiro Oda on board for One Piece Film: Red (2022), we finally have a movie that could easily be part of the canon for the series while also having stakes high enough to warrant the characters who appear to save the world. While I definitely enjoy One Piece movies that string together powerful moves from the best characters, like Stampede (2019) did, most of the time the villains for these movies are so separated from the series as to be completely inconsequential. For Red, including Shanks' family was a smart way to make the story relevant to the wider One Piece world without...
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MOVIE: Black Adam (2022)

Black Adam Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours I find it somewhat bizarre that DC released a successful movie with Shazam! (2019) only to follow it up with this spinoff that didn't seem to add anything to the DC Extended Universe other than to do a quick introduction of other characters. Other characters, mind you, who were much more interesting than the titular Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson). Instead of letting individual characters have room to build their own lore, this just felt rushed—a common trait of most DCEU movies, to be honest. As far as the action goes, there are a few really well-done set pieces that are visually entertaining. It's always fun to watch an overpowered superhero use the full extent of their powers. The real trick, though, is that you'd likely get a similar Marvel movie with The Falcon, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange as the hero team sent to stop Captain Marvel. This is why DC really needs to...
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MOVIE: Amsterdam (2022)

Amsterdam Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Ever since I saw Silver Linings Playbook (2012), it convinced me that David O. Russell's films were good. When American Hustle (2013) and Joy (2015) didn't quite live up to my expectations, I figured it was a fluke. They were OK movies, just not to the caliber I had expected. I was cautiously optimistic about Amsterdam (2022) since it advertised such an all-star cast. Then again, the other movies also had all-star casts as well. Let's just say that this movie was probably my third strike against seeing any more David O. Russell films. Now, don't get me wrong—the acting in Amsterdam was great. These interesting characters were fun to watch, and it's clear that Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington are all talented actors (along with the many other actors involved, which would take too much space to list them all). The angle of injured military veterans was another element that...
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MOVIE: Minions – The Rise of Gru (2022)

Minions: The Rise of Gru Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 87 minutes / 1.45 hours It always felt weird to me that the prequel spinoff series to Despicable Me started with Minions (2015), set well before these yellow tic-tac creatures even met their eventual boss. As a true prequel to the main series, Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) was the movie the previous Minions movie should have been. And while it definitely lives up to the somewhat immature nature of these films from Illumination, I am constantly in awe of how visually impressive these movies look despite not coming from Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks. While definitely still geared toward children, Minions: The Rise of Gru definitely has its moments that parents forced to watch along with their kids will chuckle at. In particular, the names of the villains are puns well above little ones' heads but are quite amusing for the adults who know (Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless) being my favorite). I mean, they even...
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MOVIE: See How They Run (2022)

See How They Run Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours When it comes to certain actors, I've enjoyed their previous work enough that I'll watch them in anything now. Since Iron Man 2 (2010), I've liked what Sam Rockwell has done, whereas Lady Bird (2017) felt like Saoirse Ronan's breakout role for me. Having both these actors together in the same movie was a guarantee that I'd want to see it. Considering how the trailers made See How They Run (2022) look like a fun little whodunnit comedy, I was looking forward to how these actors would play off each other. Ronan's earnest police detective paired with Rockwell's hardened investigator was a fun match-up for this movie. It's not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, but it's cute when it's amusing. That the "lessons" Rockwell's character inadvertently gives to Ronan's up-and-comer end up being the key to solving the case just makes it that much more fun. The other actors that surround this investigative...
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MOVIE: Interceptor (2022)

InterceptorYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours I heard about this movie from some co-workers and I decided to turn my mind off for a night and watch it. I'm glad that it was on Netflix because I would not have paid money to see this generic action thriller. It felt to me like someone was perusing the internet, trying to find interesting military resources to integrate into an action film. Then they found SBX. While this floating military asset is an interesting place to set an action film, there's nothing special in the plot to really demand it. A few things I couldn't get past in this movie were the motivations of the villains and the accent of the main character, Captain Joanna Collins (Elsa Pataky). I had trouble believing a Captain with such a strong eastern-European accent would be as successful in the United States military as she was. Then there are these random scenes with Chris Hemsworth working...
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MOVIE: The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022)

The Bob's Burgers Movie Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours Let a television show get popular enough, and eventually, you'll see a movie get made of it. This is true for older shows like Get Smart (2008) as well as modern shows like Bob's Burgers. It seems that animated shows have finally "made it" when they get their first animated movie. South Park, The Simpsons, and SpongeBob SquarePants are among the ranks of well-known animated sitcoms that made the leap to the big screen. Now Bob's Burgers joins their ranks with The Bob's Burgers Movie (2022). The challenge for a 30-minute animated show expanding to a feature-length movie has always been the strength of its intertwining plotlines. For this movie, introducing an enormous sinkhole that's blocking the entrance to the restaurant ups the scale of normal shenanigans, especially on the first day of summer when people are ready to go out to eat. Add to this a murder mystery that the...
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MOVIE: Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

Three Thousand Years of Longing Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When I saw the posters for Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022) at my local movie theater, I couldn't easily figure out what it was about. A while later, I saw an article headline that told me that George Miller directed it, so I figured I'd give it a chance. I had seen no trailers or ads for it, but I figured the director of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Happy Feet (2006) would have something interesting for me to see. I found it a little ironic that this movie about storytelling was meandering with its own storytelling. Granted, it had three millennia to cover in less than two hours, but the framing of it felt a little odd. There are so many in-between moments in the hotel room that could have been used to intersperse modern life with ancient tales. I will give credit here to the somewhat...
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MOVIE: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket Year: 1987 Rating: R Length: 159 minutes / 2.65 hours As a self-proclaimed film buff, I have to admit that it's almost criminal that I've gone this long without fully watching Full Metal Jacket (1987). After all, I have seen most of Stanley Kubrick's filmography and I understand the importance of his oeuvre. I think my hesitation is that I've already seen most of this film just through the memes that it eventually spawned. That, and doing more of a "straight" take on a war movie after the perfect satire that is Dr. Strangelove (1964) felt like a disservice. Even though this movie is almost three hours long, it really feels like two completely separate films smashed together. I don't believe any other film before or since has quite captured that "boot camp" feel that the first half of this movie does. It's spawned so many quotable lines that it stands on its own without a need to follow up. Then we...
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MOVIE: Stan & Ollie (2018)

Stan & Ollie Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours The duo of Laurel & Hardy is one of those classic acts that seems to come up when people talk about comedy. I'd certainly heard of them before, but I would be hard-pressed to tell you what one of their famous bits was. On the flip side, most people know the "who's on first" bit from Abbott & Costello. Sure, Laurel & Hardy's comedy was mostly physical, so there's not a lot of clever wordplay to remember or easily recreate. Until I watched Stan & Ollie (2018), I never knew how hard they really had it. Focusing on the two comedians trying to gain traction after determining that they were being screwed by the big production companies, Stan & Ollie is funny when these two men (aptly performed by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly) are in their element. The problem is, it's heartbreaking to see them try so hard and struggle...
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MOVIE: Bullet Train (2022)

Bullet Train Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 127 minutes / 2.11 hours There's something inherently exciting about being trapped on a train with a murderer. It's why Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express has done so well for almost 100 years. In this more modern take, Bullet Train (2022) fills this titular high-speed form of transportation with a half-dozen unique killers with ties to a mob boss known as "The White Death." Ridiculous at times, Bullet Train is fun and full of action while also being the repeated poster child for the literary concept of Chekhov's Gun. With Brad Pitt in the leading role as the "unlucky" assassin with the codename "Ladybug," a lot of the comedy comes from the coincidental alignment of particular circumstances that pull Ladybug further into the conflict. There are almost Mr. Bean levels of close calls for Pitt's character as he finds himself tangled up in the parallel plans of his fellow assassins. Of course, the number of mistaken identity...
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MOVIE: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021)

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On Year: 2021 Rating: PG Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours The documentary format is so ingrained as a genre of film that it can be quite easy to take the same visual style and plot structure and apply it to something that doesn't actually exist. In the case of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021), the audience gets a glimpse into this peculiar little creature named Marcel (Jenny Slate) who lives in an Airbnb with his grandmother—both of which are shells that have shoes and can talk. Equally charming and meta, this film is a cute piece of fluff. While I never saw the short films this movie was based on, they must have been significant enough at the time (roughly a decade ago) for me to feel like this was a familiar piece of media that I had somehow missed from my childhood. The stop-motion style of these small creatures helps to show the challenges they face...
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MOVIE: Thor – Love and Thunder (2022)

Thor: Love and Thunder Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours As someone who has not read the comics these superhero movies are based on, it's interesting how I picked up plot points from some of the recent comic arcs prior to their cinematic debut. Case in point, I knew for a while that Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) became Thor for a while for medical reasons. In Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), this somewhat recent plot line from the comics combines with the modus operandi of Phase 4 of the MCU: wrapping up the loose ends from Phase 3 of the MCU. Doing a victory lap after his well-received Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Taika Waititi still brought his trademark comedic sensibilities to this movie but seemed to falter a bit with the much heavier themes of the God Killer (Christian Bale). In fact, I was expecting a bit more out of Bale, considering how dedicated he is to his roles. Don't get me...
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MOVIE: Elvis (2022)

Elvis Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 159 minutes / 2.65 hours Elvis Presley is one of those notable public figures that I couldn't quite wrap my head around. How could this singer not only cause teenage girls to lose their minds when he shook his hips but also have a military career while making Holywood movies, only to end up performing in Las Vegas until he died? It almost seemed like these were three separate individuals when, in reality, Elvis really did it all. I wasn't aware of the unfortunate relationship he had with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), but Elvis (2022) helped piece all the parts of Elvis' life together in an entertaining package. I don't think there is any director who was better suited to bring this story to the big screen than Baz Luhrmann. His tendency to create musical mashups blended so well with Elvis' background in both Gospel and Blues. Seeing this popular white man using his clout to...
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MOVIE: Enemy (2013)

Enemy Year: 2013 Rating: R Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours My first introduction to Denis Villeneuve was Prisoners (2013). This was an intense film, but even after seeing Sicario (2015), I didn't get hooked on his directing until Arrival (2016). What's interesting is that another Villeneuve film from 2013 evaded my radar until now. My film-loving friends made me aware of Enemy (2013), but I didn't get around to watching it until now. I'm glad I did. Seeing Villeneuve in the early stages of defining his style is fascinating, and Enemy certainly is more stylistic than Prisoners ever was, even if it felt like a student film at times. Of course, being one of Villeneuve's earlier films, Enemy has some rough edges. It's difficult to tell whether the source material influenced some of this film's weird choices, but it's the one thing that really prevents me from giving it a perfect score. Maybe cutting out the spider bits would have made Enemy more cohesive,...
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MOVIE: Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin Year: 2013 Rating: R Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When someone describes an "artistic" film, what comes to mind? For me, minimalism is often an easy way to identify a movie with the "artistic" descriptor. Under the Skin (2013) is perhaps the most minimalist movie I have ever seen. Minimal dialogue. Minimal plot. Minimal clothes. It's a bit of a rough watch, but I still consider Under the Skin one of those movies you have to see at least once. You know, for its minimalist artistic qualities. I always appreciate it when a movie can tell a story with minimal dialogue. While not nearly as impressive as the 3.5-hour long Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), there's an unsettling amount of plot that was communicated in this movie without speaking a word. Chalk it up to Scarlett Johansson's stoic performance, but these moments of no dialogue really highlighted what makes us human. Choosing not to talk or not...
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MOVIE: Jurassic World – Dominion (2022)

Jurassic World: Dominion Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours It's amusing to me that Director Colin Trevorrow thinks that there should have only been one Jurassic Park (1993), even after directing two of the sequels in the Jurassic World franchise. I mean, he's not wrong. Spielberg's film is a perfect blend of practical effects that helped bring the horror of rampaging dinosaurs to life. I'd forgive any of the sequels if they actually did anything interesting with the concept past what the original did. As it stands, even bringing back three members of the original cast for Jurassic World: Dominion (2022) just highlighted how repetitive this franchise has become. At the end of Fallen Kingdom (2018), there was a whole wide world of dinosaurs to explore, but the Park and World crews instead team up to go to yet another island filled with resurrected dinosaurs. Sure, some of them have feathers this time around, and we get a few "new" dinosaurs...
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VIDEO GAME: The LEGO Movie Videogame (2014)

The LEGO Movie Videogame Year: 2014 Rating: E10+ Time Played: ~10 hours Growing up with Legos, I definitely enjoyed The LEGO Movie (2014) when it came to theaters. Sure, it may have just been a knock-off of The Matrix (1999), but there were enough humorous bits and meta references for me to enjoy myself. Considering how Lego had been adapting several film franchises into Lego-themed video games for quite a few years prior to this movie's release, it just made sense that they would then turn their first arrival on the big screen into a Lego video game as well. Of course, by now the "Lego video game" had become somewhat of a tired formula. Even if I could play through the events of the movie, the almost mind-numbing action wasn't much different from any of the other Lego video games I had already played. It's no wonder that I felt burned out from these games after playing through this one. You definitely get the...
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MOVIE: Lightyear (2022)

Lightyear Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours One of my favorite bits from the Toy Story saga was the opening sequence from Toy Story 2 (1999). Seeing Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) in his element, fighting to save the galaxy, was an exciting start to one of the best Pixar films to hit the big screen. I have some strong nostalgia for the characters from Toy Story, which is why I had high hopes for the Lightyear (2022) spinoff. After all, Pixar rarely does science fiction—with WALL-E (2008) being the most notable example of what they can do with the genre—so I can appreciate them adding more sci-fi to their filmography. As a sci-fi movie, Lightyear is fine. It hits a lot of good tropes that are common to the genre. Visually, the efforts of Pixar look stunning as always. The problem I have here is with the characters and the plotline surrounding Buzz Lightyear's (Chris Evans) stubbornness. It's exhausting to watch...
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MOVIE: Cars (2006)

Cars Year: 2006 Rating: G Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours In terms of early Pixar films, I always felt Cars (2006) was a bit of a step backward for the animation company. I've never been much of a "car guy" and I find NASCAR racing a bit silly. Still, Pixar's focus on the story helped make this a solid sports movie. After all, the timeless "mentor teaching a cocky up-and-comer" narrative works for a reason. And while I'd love to see other Pixar franchises get as much love as this one, I can see why it's done so well for its target demographic. Cars is an excellent movie for freeze-frame analysis for the number of puns and visual gags alone. Granted, there are also a lot of disturbing extrapolations if you spend a significant amount of time thinking about this universe of sentient vehicles. Still, the growth of these characters helps make this movie into something more than just a vehicle (har har) for...
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MOVIE: Top Gun – Maverick (2022)

Top Gun: Maverick Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours The COVID pandemic delayed the release of Top Gun: Maverick (2022) for a few years. Having only watched the original a few days prior to seeing this in the theaters, it was definitely worth the wait to see something like this on the big screen. The trailers only hinted at the spectacle that could be achieved over 35 years after the original wowed audiences with great fighter jet footage. That's not to say that this film doesn't lean heavily on its nostalgia—or plots that come strikingly close to other famous franchises. Part of the appeal of Top Gun (1986) was all the footage of fighter jet acrobatics. Most civilians never get to see these things outside an occasional air show, so there's an amount of awe involved when seeing what these marvels of modern engineering can do. Over three decades of advancements in cinematography allowed this sequel to surpass the original. Cockpit...
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MOVIE: Top Gun (1986)

Top GunYear: 1986Rating: PGLength: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours Top Gun (1986) was one of those movies I actively avoided watching for years. I've never been too keen on the military, and this movie just screamed military propaganda to me. Sure, there were enough memes spawned from this movie (before memes were really a thing) that I felt I understood the movie well enough without having seen it. When the sequel came out this year, I figured it was probably time I give the original a chance before I went to the theater to see the summer blockbuster of 2022. For its time, Top Gun certainly used the best special effects it could to make it seem like Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Edwards were actually flying these fighter jets. These effects stand up pretty well to time, but mostly because the cuts where we see the actors are so close in that you can't even tell what's going on around...
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MOVIE: Chip ‘n Dale – Rescue Rangers (2022)

Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 97 minutes / 1.61 hours Nostalgia can be tricky to balance. There's nostalgia that feels pandering, even to the demographic it's aimed at. Then there's nostalgia that's so meta that only those deep scholars of the source material would get the inside jokes. As a Millennial, I found Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022) scratched an itch for balanced nostalgia I didn't even know I had. It's a shame that Disney tossed it onto Disney+ instead of getting a wider theatrical release because the comedy in this movie was top-notch. This movie was so smartly written that I laughed out loud more often than not. All the brief references it hid in plain view, but without drawing a cringey, eye-winking nod to it, was a welcome change to how most movies handle nostalgia reboots. Even modern references like Ugly Sonic were hilarious, mostly because they "went there." Of course, the movie still brought attention to...
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MOVIE: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

The Nutcracker and the Four RealmsYear: 2018Rating: PGLength: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours A staple of the Christmas season, The Nutcracker is recognizable in many formats. Whether it's the ballet, the music, or just the story itself, most people have probably encountered a portion of The Nutcracker at some point in their lives. While most of these recognizable bits are classic representations of this work, these are the bare minimum used in crafting the Disney adaptation, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018). And I use "adaptation" fairly loosely here. Some things remain untouched, like a girl named Clara (Mackenzie Foy) being transported to a magical realm filled with toy soldiers, rats, and fairies. The trouble is that someone at Disney churned this familiar story through a "YA filter" that makes the whole thing feel like a generic adventure. Sure, there's some great visual storytelling in these four magical realms, but the narrative mostly follows the same "fight villain to learn about...
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MOVIE: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessYear: 2022Rating: PG-13Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours It's a sobering thought that Spider-Man (2002) came out 20 years ago, cementing the age of the superhero movie in a time before the Marvel Cinematic Universe even existed. Sam Raimi's distinctive visual style worked for that movie and its two sequels (Spider-Man 2 (2004) of course being one of the best ever made). This is what makes Raimi's return to the superhero genre exciting in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). Nostalgia is a heck of a drug, after all. What was interesting with this Doctor Strange (2016) sequel was how Marvel allowed Raimi to connect to more of his roots in the horror genre. The scariest scene in the original Spider-Man trilogy was in the operating room with Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). In contrast, the amount of horrific things shown in this movie creeps closer to his Evil Dead trilogy. Nothing so bad as...
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MOVIE: The Bad Guys (2022)

The Bad Guys Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I honestly love that computer technology has improved so much that animated movies like The Bad Guys (2022) don't have to use super-realistic visuals and can instead have a stylized animation that gives it a lot of personality. What's a little astonishing to me is how this film is the first animated movie I can think of that takes the "heist" genre and runs with it. I love a good heist, after all. And while the twists are a bit obvious and the moral is a bit hokey, The Bad Guys is still a lot of fun. There's no reason to blame The Bad Guys for making a movie that children can figure out. It's loosely based on a series of children's books, so I get that some twists are going to be obvious to the adults in the audience. The thing that strikes me weird is that all the characters that...
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MOVIE: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours It's amazing to me that the original Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) movie pulled out a passable film despite decades of sub-par video game movie adaptations. While it didn't dive into much of the lore other than the conflict between Sonic (Ben Schwartz) and Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey), it set the stage for something better in its sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022). With nostalgia being a huge factor in this franchise, it pleasantly surprised me that this film knew which moments would achieve that intended effect. At first, I was worried that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was lumping too much new material together with the introduction of both Tails (Colleen O'Shaughnessey) and Knuckles (Idris Elba). Still, the combo—along with Robotnik's traditional video game look—really gave the impression that this movie cared about its source material. The huge action set pieces were the highlights of this film and I was grinning from...
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MOVIE: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours One of the best bits in the television show Community was Abed's exploration of Nicolas Cage's career. Is he a genius? Is he a hack? There is an almost equal amount of evidence to suggest either side. When I first saw the trailers for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022), I thought the meta take on Nicolas Cage's career would be a fun trip. However, which version of the actor would we get? Genius or hack? The fundamental problem with The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is that it doesn't go far enough into the meta. It felt like someone just opened up IMDb and chose the top ten Nicolas Cage blockbusters to name-drop throughout the movie. We don't get Moonstruck (1987). We don't get Leaving Las Vegas (1995). We don't get Adaptation. (2001). As a result, this film mostly focuses on his action-oriented movies, which typically aren't...
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MOVIE: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Everything Everywhere All at OnceYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours Multiverse stories are all the rage right now. While most of them seem to be relegated to comic book adaptations (like Loki, Spider-man: No Way Home (2021), and Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (2022)), by far the best one to emerge from this pile of parallel universes is Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). It is the most bizarrely funny movie I've seen in some time, which just goes to show how films released by A24 are of a higher caliber than anything else. Most multiverse movies play it pretty safe when exploring branching paths of the known universe. Everything Everywhere All at Once throws literally everything at the audience, and the result is hilarious. Office equipment mechas, Human Ratatouilles, Rocks, Bagels. I honestly can't come close to describing the rapid-fire series of absurdist realities. Some moments were straight laugh-out-loud funny to me, and others were...a bit more adult...
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MOVIE: Turning Red (2022)

Turning Red Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I'll give Pixar credit for taking on a challenging subject like puberty. Of course, they also played it safe by making it modern enough that there are computers and cell phones, but not so modern that social media is a big issue. Oh, to long for that early 2000s nostalgia. While I couldn't relate to the gender issues presented in this movie, I definitely experienced late puberty around the film's timeframe. And perhaps that's why I found Turning Red (2021) so funny: they nailed a lot of the popular cultural elements. Also, as a guy, I actually found a lot of the "period humor" to be hilarious as well. Perhaps because it's somewhat embarrassing, but also a totally natural part of growing up, these jokes had me laughing out loud. Or, maybe my humor is just a bizarre combination of memes and puns. Probably the latter (gotta love all the multiple meanings of...
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MOVIE: Redline (2009)

Redline Year: 2009 Rating: Not Rated Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours Redline (2009) is one of those films that I saw a few clips of and decided it looked interesting enough to sit down and actually watch the whole thing. After all, I enjoy a good anime, and if I don't have to get invested in a multi-season show, all the better. Of course, anime can also be quite weird. As long as it looks cool, though, it doesn't really matter. Sometimes, the more stylized an anime movie is, the more entertaining it is to watch. And Redline is certainly a stylized anime. Produced by Madhouse, Redline has a distinct visual style that aligns with their other works. I'd probably say it's closest to Trigun in terms of overall feel, but that's likely because Trigun was one of the first anime I watched while growing up. There's an almost manga-like quality to the visuals here. Plenty of hard black outlines and shadows, but with...
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MOVIE: The Batman (2022)

The Batman Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 176 minutes / 2.93 hours I am glad that society has reached the point where every new reboot of a comic book franchise does not require repeatedly rehashing the same origin story. Spider-man: Homecoming (2017) did this, and now The Batman (2022) can join its ranks. It's a good thing, too. At almost three hours long, The Batman takes its time exploring a side of Batman we rarely see: the detective. Perhaps now that he's solved this case, he can figure out where all the lights in Gotham City went? Either way, the aesthetic and style of this Matt Reeves reboot had me skeptical at first, but won me over by the end. After rolling my eyes at yet another reboot of a comic franchise that has seen five reboots since I've been born, I have to admit that this film felt the closest to being realistically feasible. The characters (brilliantly acted by Robert Pattinson, Jeffrey Wright, Colin...
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MOVIE: Ghostbusters – Afterlife (2021)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours Hollywood nostalgia is a huge moneymaker for my generation. Movies we grew up loving like Star Wars (1977), Jurassic Park (1993), and Ghostbusters (1984) have all received "requels" in The Force Awakens (2015), Jurassic World (2015), and Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021). These movies act as sequels, reboots, and remakes that take advantage of years of movie-making technology that weren't available when the originals came out (even if the originals created amazing spectacles without excessive CGI). The question is: are these requels still entertaining? For Ghostbusters: Afterlife, I think it certainly did a better job than Ghostbusters (2016) did. While these types of films rely heavily on call-backs and recycled plots from the movies that came before them, that's part of what makes them fun nostalgia-fueled flicks. New characters can give a spark of something different, even if the story beats are still the same as before. Case in point: I absolutely loved Paul Rudd's...
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MOVIE: Nightmare Alley (2021)

Nightmare AlleyYear: 2021Rating: RLength: 150 minutes / 2.50 hours I appreciate Guillermo del Toro for his sense of artistic style. His genius usually comes out in movies set in the 1940s and 1950s, with such hits as Pan's Labyrinth (2005) and The Shape of Water (2017). And while there are fun popcorn flicks of his that I enjoy (like Hellboy (2004) and Pacific Rim (2013)), I feel Nightmare Alley (2021) is my favorite work he has done to date. After all, his best work comes from showing the audience that humans are the actual monsters of the story. A story told in a solid three acts, Nightmare Alley is a beautiful uroboros of fame and hubris. The all-star casting of Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, and Willem Dafoe helped to sell the story of a grifter who gets too greedy for his own good. The twists and turns are exciting, if not wholly predictable, but that's part of the fun of...
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MOVIE: Drive My Car (2021)

Drive My CarYear: 2021Rating: UnratedLength: 179 minutes / 2.98 hours There are movies made to be entertaining, then there are movies that gaze into the soul of human existence and dare us to blink. Drive My Car (2021) is the latter. Grief is such a complex topic that few have successfully tackled it meaningfully or with the depth that this film does. It's slow, steady, and meandering through various subplots, but it eventually gets its point across in the most stoic ways possible. After all, it's challenging to grieve for someone who you know has wronged you. I am no stranger to three-hour-long foreign films, but even this one pushed my limits. The problem is, I'm not entirely sure what I would have cut from it to make it any shorter (although, they probably could have ended this film a little earlier since the last scene made little sense to me). All the subplots combine to make a meaningful statement of the...
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MOVIE: Eternals (2021)

Eternals Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 156 minutes / 2.60 hours With two competing comic book companies making movies, it's interesting to see how a movie like The Avengers (2012) works, but Justice League (2017) doesn't. You would think that Marvel would have the wisdom to learn from DC's mistakes, but instead, we see many of these same errors cropping up in Eternals (2021). Perhaps this is a side-effect of an extremely intertwined cinematic universe that requires each player in a larger multi-movie arc to receive an "origin story" movie before being brought into a larger cast of characters (much like Shang-chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)). Part of what made Justice League fail was how it introduced too many characters at once. In Eternals, there's a group of superheroes whose numbers rival later Avengers casts, but with no time to get to know any of them significantly well in an already long runtime. That the Snyder cut of Justice League spent...
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MOVIE: King Richard (2021)

King Richard Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.40 hours It's a little surprising to see two critically acclaimed movies about talented children released in the same year. While CODA (2021) shows us what it's like to have a family who doesn't initially support a child's talents, King Richard (2021) highlights the amount of effort and sacrifice that dedicated parents give to their children when they recognize their talent early on. Granted, not every talented child with parental backing grows up to be extremely successful, let alone having this happen twice. And yet, Venus and Serena Williams are proof that it can happen. I found it odd how a movie that follows the early success of the Williams sisters focused so much on their father, Richard Williams (Will Smith), who made it happen by sheer determination and will. It makes sense considering how young these two prodigies were, but there's still a little sour taste to it, considering how their success was always...
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MOVIE: Ron’s Gone Wrong (2021)

Ron's Gone Wrong Year: 2021 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Let's face it: social media is a challenge for parents trying to raise kids in an increasingly tech-savvy world. Adults all know the dangers of it because we were the test subjects. Now it's exposing our children to the addicting and potentially dangerous concept of trying to "go viral" by any means possible. While documentaries like The Social Dilemma (2020) reveal how these dark systems work, there aren't many movies directed toward kids that show these dangers in a way they can understand. Ron's Gone Wrong (2021) attempts to fill this gap. The problem with how this movie goes about teaching its lesson is that the premise requires a large amount of suspension of disbelief. In this universe, parents are completely oblivious to the dangers of giving their children AI robots who act as their gateway into social media via pranking videos or TicTok beauty clips that get tons of likes. Sure, there...
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MOVIE: Belfast (2021)

Belfast Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours It seems a little odd to me that there are so many films that focus on historic events, but this is the first one I've seen about "The Troubles" in Ireland. I was loosely aware of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in late-1960s Ireland, but Belfast (2021) felt like the first time anyone brought this topic to the big screen. It's clearly a personal story for director Kenneth Branagh, which is likely how it gained its notoriety in the lead-up to awards season. The problem with Belfast, though, lies in some of its inconsistencies. I understand that Schindler's List (1993) can get away with incorporating moments of color in an otherwise black-and-white film. However, when it happened in Belfast, it completely pulled me out of the story. It would have been much better to just keep the monochromatic aesthetic throughout instead of trying to be artistically edgy. I don't consider 1969 as a...
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MOVIE: Licorice Pizza (2021)

Licorice Pizza Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Paul Thomas Anderson is an acquired taste. Unfortunately, I don't think I've completely acquired it yet. I absolutely loved There Will Be Blood (2007), which was my first exposure to this director. I saw The Master (2012) after that and was so confused that I stayed away from Inherent Vice (2014). Maybe the magic came with Daniel Day-Lewis, which is why I gave Phantom Thread (2017) a shot. Still weird. With Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, Licorice Pizza (2021), the odd name prepared me for more weird, which it delivered. By "weird" I don't mean something filled with bizarre drug-induced visuals. It's more like the setting and plot ground it to reality, but the characters act strangely throughout. They're almost illogical. Luckily, most of these "weird" characters (like the ones portrayed by Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper) are minor distractions from the primary plot of the film. Still, having a child star who is...
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MOVIE: CODA (2021)

CODAYear: 2021Rating: PG-13Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along that's surprisingly unique. Like, you would have thought such a plot would have existed a dozen times already, but Hollywood has only remade it once from a version that was initially in French. CODA (2021) is such a film. Sure, it has elements that are common to other dramatic films—like fishers, singers, and family dynamics. The combination of these things makes CODA stand out as unique to me. Not only does its double-meaning title elevate it above other movies, but its heartfelt content is something we need more of in this depressing world. CODA's take on the "my family doesn't understand my talent and is holding me back" cliche hits differently in this scenario. It's not that Ruby (Emilia Jones) has a family that ignores her obvious talent for singing, it's that they literally cannot understand how much better she is at singing than the...
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MOVIE: West Side Story (2021)

West Side Story Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 156 minutes / 2.60 hours I absolutely adore West Side Story (1961). When I heard it was being remade 60 years after it dominated the Academy Awards, I was skeptical. Why mess with perfection? Even with Steven Spielberg directing, I had my doubts. Then I watched the first trailer and had chills of nostalgia. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad as I thought. After finally watching West Side Story (2021), I had to admit that this remake mostly recaptured most of the magic of the original. It even had some improvements, which I appreciated. The qualms I had with this version of the hit Broadway musical were relatively minor. First, Spielberg has a visual style that sometimes went a little overboard on the lens flare. We aren't talking J. J. Abrams-levels of lens flare, but it was enough to be distracting. Second, the choice to have more of the Puerto Rican characters speak Spanish really helped sell...
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MOVIE: Last Night in Soho (2021)

Last Night in Soho Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours In the last five years, it's been interesting to see director Edgar Wright move further from the comedies that helped put his name on the cinematic map. Most know him for his British comedies like Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), but stylistically I don't think you can go wrong with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). This kind of cinematography drew me to his more serious film, Baby Driver (2017), and the even more serious Last Night in Soho (2021). It is a little odd to see Wright step out from his comfort zone just because he's so good at comedic writing (having also written Ant-Man (2015)). While I liked the music-themed mayhem in Baby Driver, there wasn't much in Last Night in Soho that was artistically interesting. Sure, the whole mirror-image special effects were neat and occasionally a little mind-blowing, but the biggest problem with Last...
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MOVIE: The Power of the Dog (2021)

The Power of the Dog Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along and gets a lot of award buzz. Often, these movies exhibit some traits of highly lauded films that came before them. Critics often think these latter films can "make up" for snubs of previous movies that they think should have won awards but did not. The Power of the Dog (2021) seems to fit this bill as the spiritual successor to Brokeback Mountain (2005) with its heavy tones of homosexuality in the lonely and harsh setting of the west. The problem I have with The Power of the Dog is how the main character, Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a prime example of toxic masculinity—to the point where it's almost parody. Sure, the audience wants to see him get what's coming to him, but we also have to sit through two hours of him being an incredibly manipulative and abusive person...
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MOVIE: Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island Year: 2010 Rating: R Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours Over time, it becomes difficult to avoid spoilers for twist endings in movies. While it took me over a decade to watch Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010), I had already heard about the twist a few times and had prepared myself for it. Of course, only the best films like Shutter Island can have this twist spoiled and still provide enough subterfuge to hide this revelation for most of its runtime. I knew it was coming, and it still blindsided me. Of course, knowing the twist of Shutter Island made me watch it with a modicum of awareness as I tried to spot the cracks in the narrative that would hint at this revelation. Part of how this film expertly hides this twist is by following Edward "Teddy" Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and showing the audience what he thinks is happening. It's not until near the end of the film that we get a...
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MOVIE: Tick, Tick…Boom! (2021)

Tick, Tick...Boom!Year: 2021Rating: PG-13Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours I have never seen Rent. I'm loosely aware of what it's about, and I know it's one of the most highly regarded musicals to have ever been created, but I've never seen it. In fact, I don't think I could tell you the title of any song from Rent. Before I watched Tick, Tick...Boom! (2021), which seems to align with Rent's 25th anniversary, I was loosely aware that this movie was about the creation of this iconic musical. Except, that's the thing: it's not. Perhaps I was expecting a musical-style Shakespeare in Love (1998) that puts Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) through the story beats to create Rent. Instead, there are only hints of Rent in this movie that focuses on Larson's desire to create something important before he's 30 (as a 36-year-old, may I say..."ouch"). Sure, there are musical bits in this movie, but another thing I was unaware of with Rent is...
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MOVIE: The French Dispatch (2021)

The French Dispatch Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Wes Anderson's films are immediately recognizable for their aesthetic, pacing, and ensemble casts. The dark subject matter of these movies is often glossed over through the application of bright colors, symmetry, and ho-hum characters. The French Dispatch (2021) is basically a "greatest hits" of Wes Anderson's oeuvre, both in its stylistic visual choices and its vast cast of common collaborators. There's not enough content for a full movie here, so instead, we get a glimpse into four shorter films tied together via the eponymous "French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun." Over the last few decades, Wes Anderson has explored a variety of different film techniques through his movies. From stop-motion (like in Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Isle of Dogs (2018)) to small-scale models (like in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)), Anderson builds upon his distinctive style with each successive project in his filmography. Perhaps this is what is a...
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MOVIE: Don’t Look Up (2021)

Don't Look Up Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours I've only recently come to appreciate Adam McKay's films. Granted, this is a statement about the movies he's made after 2014—mainly, The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018). His cynical and satirical take on complex topics like the 2008 mortgage crisis or former vice-president Dick Cheney positioned him for the "fictional" dark comedy of Don't Look Up (2021). This pointed examination of an apocalypse scenario is strangely possible despite all the bizarre turns the plot ultimately takes. While I can understand how this movie is polarizing, I am in the camp who thought it was one of the best expressions of our current global situation. As a Millennial, Don't Look Up speaks to the frustration many of us have with the current political and societal system. We can't change anything in United States politics because politicians surround themselves with nepotism and sniveling "yes men" who made significant donations to the politicians' campaigns....
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MOVIE: The King’s Man (2021)

The King's ManYear: 2021Rating: RLength: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours One benefit of the rise of superhero movies over the years is the adaptation of other comic books to the big screen. Some are serious examinations of society, like V for Vendetta (2005), but others often keep the silly action-packed novelty of their comic origins, like The Losers (2010). Considering Matthew Vaughn's previous works like Kick-Ass (2010), the Kingsman franchise easily falls into the second category of comic book adaptations. The latest in this series, The King's Man (2021) has some fun with history while still keeping the flashy action sequences that made its predecessors successful. I love a good alternate history. They might be campy, but films like Inglorious Basterds (2009), Watchmen (2009), or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) are more fun to watch because they take a basic knowledge of common historical figures and events and spins them into an entertaining alternate explanation of what really happened. In The King's...
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MOVIE: Encanto (2021)

Encanto Year: 2021 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours As Disney hits all the cultural checkboxes across the globe, Encanto (2021) follows in the footsteps of Moana (2016) and Coco (2017) to expose audiences to the culture of Columbia. With catchy songs by Lin Manuel-Miranda, Encanto is full of fun and color in a way that doesn't seem disrespectful to the culture it's representing. And while I know little about Columbian culture, I know enough about Latin America to realize that the foundational lesson in Encanto is important for everyone, regardless of their culture of origin. On its surface, Encanto is about a family with magic powers that live in a magic house. Everyone in the family except Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). Normally, the story about Mirabel trying to figure out why she didn't receive magic powers would be enough for this kind of movie. Encanto, however, digs deeper and addresses the significant pressure that can come from an individual's family to live up...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – No Way Home (2021)

Spider-Man: No Way Home Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 148 minutes / 2.47 hours First off, if you haven't seen this movie yet, I want to warn you that there are spoilers in this review. There's no way I can talk about this movie freely without divulging key plot points. With this out of the way, I want to recognize that nostalgia played a big part in the hype for this third entry in the Tom Holland Spider-Man series. No Way Home is the kind of film that I figured could never be made due to all the different rights needed (much like Ready Player One (2018) and all its nerdy references). That Marvel and Sony pulled this off is testament to their ability to make the impossible happen. I was glad that this latest reboot of the Spider-Man franchise forewent the "origin story" in Homecoming (2017). Little did I know, they'd pull the same trick that Skyfall (2012) did with the James Bond franchise...
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MOVIE: The Summit of the Gods (2021)

The Summit of the GodsYear: 2021Rating: PGLength: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours As the tallest mountain in the world, there are more movies about Everest than any other mountain in existence. A good chunk of these movies are documentaries, and even the "Hollywood" movies are about actual events (like Everest (2015)). From my own experiences climbing mountains, there comes a point where movies about mountain climbers end up all looking the same...especially when the mountain they're climbing is the same. Fortunately, The Summit of the Gods (2021) takes a novel approach to this repetitive type of story: by using animation. Based on the manga of the same name, The Summit of the Gods has a story to tell that's much more interesting than the adrenaline junkies who feature in other mountain climbing movies like Meru (2015). Sure, there's still the link to actual people and events, but The Summit of the Gods uses animation to its advantage to tell a story that...
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MOVIE: Dune – Part One (2021)

Dune: Part One Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 155 minutes / 2.58 hours Adaptations of beloved books can be a challenging endeavor. It's not impossible, as we've seen with The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), Harry Potter (2001-2011), or The Hunger Games (2011-2015) but there are certain traps that can doom a film version of a story to be hated by the community that loves the book. While Dune (1984) attempted to give this story life on the big screen, the special effects at the time and your opinion of David Lynch's filmmaking may have tainted an otherwise "impossible" adaptation. When a new adaptation of Dune came along with Denis Villeneuve as its director, I had hope that he would honor the source material. Villeneuve has proven himself to be a fantastic sci-fi director. From Arrival (2016) to Blade Runner: 2049 (2017), he has shown that he understands stories as much as aesthetics. The best way to honor Frank Herbert's legacy in this adaptation of...
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MOVIE: Finch (2021)

Finch Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours As time goes on, one starts to wonder if all the best post-apocalyptic stories have already been told. With the current state of the world looking more depressing with each passing year, many visions of dystopia from years past are coming true, while stories of our near future are looking a lot more post-apocalyptic. Finch (2021) fits into this latter category but only has a few newer twists to this common problem: how do humans survive on a planet that is no longer hospitable toward life? Visually, I was most impressed by "Jeff" (Caleb Landry Jones), the humanoid robot Finch (Tom Hanks) builds to ensure his dog Goodyear has a caretaker. Of course, movies like Chappie (2015) have shown that CG artists figured out how to do this well over five years ago. Regardless, it's still a visual feat and treat to see realistic-looking CG robots in movies like this. I can also appreciate...
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MOVIE: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours With the end of the Infinity Saga in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is a lot of room for new franchises to fill in the gaps left by the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. However, this means lesser-known properties like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) get their chance to shine. And while lesser-known franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy are now household names, I think it remains to be seen if Shang-Chi can truly develop its own integrated identity within the MCU. Having somewhat botched the introduction of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) in Iron Man 3 (2013), Shang-Chi attempts to ret-con this by insisting that the Ten Rings organization is a genuine threat to world peace. However, Marvel wants to have its cake and eat it too by including the "Mandarin" in this film. There are a few other loose connections...
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MOVIE: Mulan (2020)

Mulan Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours In Disney's ever-ouroboros-like handling of its back catalog, the continuation of live-action adaptations of its animated classics claims another victim. This time, Mulan (2020) seems to miss the point of what made the original so beloved. Of course, you can probably say that about other live-action adaptations as well (especially The Lion King (2019)). If anything, Mulan is a parody of its source material and Chinese culture overall. Everything about this adaptation felt flat and uninspired—like Disney is just running all their previous animated classics through the live-action machine to see if anything good comes out the other side. Don't get me wrong; I think Disney has had a few live-action successes. I think The Jungle Book (2016) improves on its source material. It's just when you adjust the way you tell a certain story too much, it no longer contains the elements that made the original fun and exciting. By making Mulan (Yifei Liu)...
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MOVIE: Venom – Let There Be Carnage (2021)

Venom: Let There Be Carnage Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes / 1.61 hours A lot of critics of the superhero genre say these movies contain no substance. They claim that there's nothing in them other than quippy one-liners and hard-to-follow action. Most days, I might defend the superhero genre for its flashy set pieces or subtle character development. After seeing Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021), I cannot hold the same defense against the critics here. It is unfortunate that such a good villain from the Spider-man franchise would be in such an awful movie. The first Venom (2018) movie was tolerable, if for the only reason that Spider-man 3 (2007) botched the casting of Eddie Brock so badly. Tom Hardy certainly has a better physique for the role, and the original Venom film had some fairly decent "buddy dialogue" between Brock and Venom that made it entertaining. Flash forward to the sequel, and these two characters need couples' therapy like nothing else....
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MOVIE: Old (2021)

OldYear: 2021Rating: PG-13Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours Say what you will about M. Night Shyamalan's films, but I think he's truly returned to form since 2016's Split. And while Glass (2019)—the conclusion of the Unbreakable trilogy—was a little unsatisfactory, his latest film, Old (2021), is another win in my book. I appreciate when filmmakers fully explore an idea in their movies, and Old is precisely that. Shyamalan imagines all the different permutations of the concept of rapid aging and fits them into a scenario and his trademark plot twist that works incredibly well. Part of the fun of Old is how the characters slowly discover that they are trapped on a beach where time moves much more rapidly than they are used to. The problem-solving and conflicts that arise from this unsuspecting group of victims are fun to watch as they realize that their lifespans are a ticking clock that limits how long they can stay there. I appreciate that most...
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MOVIE: Evangelion – 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time (2021)

Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 154 minutes / 2.57 hours One of the classic series of anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is both exceptional spectacle and moments of "WTF?" It balances the line between post-apocalyptic survival and psychological horror. While it's always exciting to see large "robots" fighting alien creatures, a lot of Evangelion's appeal comes from the struggles of its characters. Sure, there's plenty of fan service (which is a staple of the series), but there is also an equal amount of philosophy that makes you question what it means to be human. Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time (2021) is the last movie in the Rebuild of Evangelion series. This series has attempted to bring the flashy 1990s action anime into stunning HD while also attempting to fix some of the original's more confusing aspects. It's difficult to pin down Evangelion's "true" version. Still, I think the Rebuild series does a fine job of maintaining some of the...
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MOVIE: Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)

Die Hard with a Vengeance Year: 1995 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours It's interesting to go back and see certain points in a movie franchise where you could tell that they were already running out of ideas. I still think Die Hard (1988) is a fantastic action movie, and it's almost its own genre of action films. Movies falling into the "Die Hard on a/in a [BLANK]" category have since cemented its cultural significance. As of right now, the only Die Hard I haven't seen is Die Hard 2 (1990), but Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) marks where the franchise departs from its roots. I will say that the casting for this movie was quite delightful, with excellent performances by Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jeremy Irons. I can also appreciate how this film tried to tie back to the original by using the original director and the fantastic work of Irons' antagonist. Action-wise, it's what you'd expect from a...
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MOVIE: John Wick – Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours When the first John Wick (2014) came out, I thought it was just another action movie and paid it no attention. After a friend finally convinced me to see it, I was in awe of the "gun-fu" action sequences. Having a steady camera with amazing choreography made this series stand out enough that I saw the sequel in theaters. Unfortunately, I wasn't as impressed with Chapter 2 (2017), as it leaned heavily on developing the lore of The Continental. To add insult to injury, it also fell into the Trilogy Conundrum: a fantastic standalone movie with a sequel that requires the third installment to wrap up the plot (e.g., The Matrix (1999)). While I praise the simplicity of the first movie in this series, things have gotten ridiculous by Chapter 3 (2021). Yes, there are still some action sequences that maintain some of that excellent choreography. However, there were...
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MOVIE: No Time to Die (2021)

No Time to DieYear: 2021Rating: PG-13Length: 163 minutes / 2.72 hours Daniel Craig is my James Bond. I was too young for the Pierce Brosnan version of the secret agent, so when a re-do of Casino Royale (2006) came out, I was impressed that this decades-old franchise could take some cues from recent successful action films like The Bourne Identity (2002). Having seen a smattering of other Bond films over the years, the five-movie quintet that ended with No Time to Die (2021) felt bittersweet. Even if there were constant rumors that Daniel Craig was done with the role after Spectre (2015), I'm glad he stuck the landing with this movie. Now, I'm fairly biased when it comes to Bond films. I think Skyfall (2012) is the peak of the franchise. Not only did it cover Bond's backstory, but it also pulled a huge twist right at the end to connect it to every previous Bond film, which had me exclaiming in...
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MOVIE: Cruella (2021)

Cruella Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours It seems the latest trend in the last few years is to take well-known villains and make them relatable through tragic backstories. While Maleficent (2014) seems to have started this string of villain-centric movies, Cruella (2021) does an adequate job of showing this villain's transformation while also making you want to root for her. However, the problem with idolizing someone like Cruella De Vil (Emma Stone) is that her eventual crime against the 101 Dalmatians (1961) is the desire to kill every single one of them in the name of fashion. While the plot pulls elements from Oliver Twist and All About Eve (1950), there are enough twists at the end of this film that make it worth the watch. Even if one of these moments had me laughing at how ridiculous it was, it all paid off because of Emma Stone's excellent acting throughout. Of course, it also helped that the flamboyant fashion...
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MOVIE: Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours Much like The Lighthouse (2019), Uncut Gems (2019) was one of those films that gained a lot of buzz around the award season for the performances of their lead actors. However, neither of these films was nominated for Best Picture, and now I understand why. It's nice to see Sandler branch out from his standard comedy niche, but ultimately it didn't feel like he was "acting" that much by being a Jewish jeweler with a gambling problem since being Jewish is often a part of his schtick. I wanted to like this film more, but many things just annoyed me about it. I can understand the desire to create "realism" in the dialogue by having twenty people yell over each other. Still, it mostly just made it hard to understand anything that any individual said. It's the same reason I don't care for the films of John Cassavetes. On top of this, Howard...
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MOVIE: Army of the Dead (2021)

Army of the Dead Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 148 minutes / 2.46 hours Some of the most original movies I've seen have mixed genres to create something new. Movies like Cowboys & Aliens (2011) combine the western and sci-fi genres, while movies like Army of the Dead (2021) work by fusing zombie movies with heist films. The tropes of these genres can often accentuate each other and can fuel character development or drive the plot. The premise of Army of the Dead might be a weak reason to motivate the characters to risk their lives in the first place, but as long as the result is a Las Vegas-themed zombie apocalypse, it works. While I'm not generally a fan of "serious" zombie films, I can appreciate the level of depth put into the undead in this movie. Generally, "smart" zombies are much more interesting than those that mindlessly wander around and wait for someone to make a noise. I also loved the tongue-in-cheek use...
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MOVIE: Free Guy (2021)

Free Guy Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours This pandemic has messed with my sense of time. I could have sworn that Free Guy (2021) had already come out, but it had just been endlessly delayed until this year. As someone who enjoys video games, I was hesitant to watch this movie because it could be filled with too many references that would immediately date it. Fortunately, I was surprised by the few glimpses of a deeper plot hidden behind Free Guy's goofy exterior. Of course, Ryan Reynolds makes this movie work with his best PG-13 Deadpool impression. Within the first three minutes of this film, I thought to myself, "Oh, this is just The LEGO Movie (2014)." A non-player character (NPC) named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) breaks out of the mundanity of his existence to go on a great video game adventure. It wasn't until much later in the film that I realized the major plot points of The Truman Show...
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MOVIE: Over the Moon (2020)

Over the Moon Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours Over the Moon (2020) snuck under my radar until it was nominated for Best Animated Feature. At that point, I figured I had to check it out. I appreciate that there is enough room in the entertainment industry for CGI animated films not made by Disney/Pixar, Dreamworks, or *shudder* Illumination. Over the Moon is certainly unique, even if it's geared toward Asian cultures that I know little about. And perhaps that's my issue with this film: I'm not its target audience. While Disney wrote the book on adapting Euro-centric fairy tales into animated films, there are plenty of other cultures in this world that have their own rich lore from which we can extract interesting stories. However, because I haven't grown up hearing these stories, their adaptations seem strange to me when they're in a modern context like Over the Moon. What's worse is that some elements I know about Chinese culture...
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MOVIE: The Suicide Squad (2021)

The Suicide Squad Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours I don't mind superhero films. I think they're fun and flashy, and I can turn my mind off for an hour or two. What I do mind is endless reboots of franchises. The fact that I saw three separate Spider-Man reboots in 15 years accentuates my point. Now, I understand that The Suicide Squad (2021) is allegedly a sequel to Suicide Squad (2016). Still, it felt more like a reboot since Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) were the only recurring characters. And, let's be honest, they can't cast Harley Quinn with anyone other than Margot Robbie now. For those who thought that having a great director like James Gunn on board would make this film better than its predecessor, you're partly right. Sure, there's a bit of his style of humor that is on display. Still, it's essentially the same plot as the previous...
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MOVIE: The Social Dilemma (2020)

The Social Dilemma Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours I joined Facebook in 2005. Before that, I was on MySpace. As someone who started heavily using the internet when the concept of social media started taking off, I honestly feel that I managed to avoid a lot of its pitfalls. My introverted self loved getting updates on people's lives without having to cultivate all those relationships intentionally. Of course, the system only works if people post updates of their lives. What The Social Dilemma (2020) brings to light is that programs meant to keep us connected have since been tainted by dangerous technology that keeps us coming back for more and getting little in return. While The Social Dilemma is inherently about how damaging social media can be, the greater lesson here is how artificial intelligence was created to handle these enormous datasets. Unfortunately, because these AIs were created to maximize ad revenue, they break us down to our psychological building...
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MOVIE: Mr. Right (2015)

Mr. Right Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours When Mr. Right (2015) came out, it looked like a fun little action rom-com film. I was interested in seeing it because I had found Sam Rockwell's performances in Iron Man 2 (2010) and Seven Psychopaths (2012) to be quite engaging. Plus, Anna Kendrick is cute in a "doesn't really smile" kind of way. For whatever reason, I never got around to seeing Mr. Right when it was released six years ago. After finally sitting down and watching it on Netflix, I'm kind of glad I saved the money. It was clear to me almost from the start that Rockwell was phoning it in on this movie. Sure, he was charismatic as an assassin who kills the people who hire him to kill other people. The fact that he doesn't lie about his lifestyle to Martha (Anna Kendrick) made him amusing if only for the fact that after the third or fourth time,...
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MOVIE: Wrath of Man (2021)

Wrath of Man Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours Back in the early 2010s, I found myself drawn to Guy Ritchie's films. Lately, though, I've been disappointed in what I've gotten. I can probably pinpoint the downturn with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017). While Aladdin (2019) mostly worked due to its source material, films like The Gentlemen (2020) felt off. There's a visual charm to a Guy Ritchie film that has been missing as of late. Of course, visuals are only half of what made his early films great. It's that "can't take yourself too seriously" attitude that seems to have been lost since then. While it's great to see Ritchie working with long-time collaborator Jason Statham again, I had the distinct feeling that I had seen Wrath of Man (2021) before when I rented it from Redbox. When the first 30 minutes of the film can be succinctly captured by a 2-minute trailer, then we have a problem....
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MOVIE: Luca (2021)

LucaYear: 2021Rating: PGLength: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours It's interesting how computers continue to become more powerful, just so they can make 3D CGI look more like traditional 2-D animation. Granted, this usually applies to the characters, as textures and settings are becoming so realistic as to be nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. While I'm sure we could probably jump the uncanny valley by now, Pixar chooses to play to its more "cartoony" roots in perhaps the most charming way possible. Their latest film, Luca (2021), oozes charm in a way that a small story like this can only achieve. Set in what appears to be early to mid-1960s (at least by the movie posters hung on the town's walls), Luca is another coming-of-age tale like Onward (2020) but with less emphasis on family bonds and more emphasis on personal independence. And while I appreciated the "big brother" narrative of Onward, I think Luca's format worked a little better since not...
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MOVIE: The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Big Lebowski Year: 1998 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours In the last year or so, I've tried to watch a few cult classics that had escaped my purview. I'm familiar with their cultural significance, and I can understand why they are beloved by many, but they aren't necessarily perfect films by any means. Movies like The Goonies (1985) and Mean Girls (2004) are mostly known via their memeable moments. This was why I already understood the gist of these movies before actually sitting down and watching them. The Big Lebowski (1998) was yet another cult classic that had these same strengths and weaknesses. First off, Jeff Bridges is "The Dude." If he didn't provide such a solid performance, I doubt this movie would have become nearly as memorable. However, what people might forget about this film is how weird it is. Many sequences left me scratching my head and wondering what the heck was going on. And perhaps it's this kind...
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MOVIE: Black Widow (2021)

Black Widow Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours After the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), it was difficult to perceive where a Black Widow movie would fit in the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fortunately, even though there are over 20 films in this cinematic juggernaut, there is still room to fill gaps in the overall story. Taking place after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Black Widow (2021) follows Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) as she takes some "personal time" to put to bed the demons from her past. It's a little weird to have such a standalone film in the MCU, but it's the only way something like this could work. Almost a decade after the "Budapest" incident was first mentioned in an offhand remark in The Avengers (2012), Black Widow finally shows us the details of this significant event—even if it was played as a joke in previous films. Natasha's past was brought up in other parts of...
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MOVIE: El Camino (2019)

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours While the television show Community always joked about getting "six seasons and a movie, Breaking Bad actually accomplished the feat with only five seasons of the best heart-pounding drama ever to be seen on the small screen. As an epilogue to this fantastic series, El Camino (2019) wraps up the one remaining loose end that remained from the series finale: what happened to Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul)? While El Camino is basically two episodes of Breaking Bad used to tie everything up into a nice little bow, it was nice to finally have that final bit of closure. As is the case with a lot of Breaking Bad's best episodes, there are moments in El Camino that are hard to watch. Jesse's slavery really hits home in this film as the viewer grapples with the intense psychological punishment that can break down a man and steal his motivation to...
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MOVIE: The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours When Oscar season rolled around a few years ago, I heard a lot of buzz about an artsy film known as The Lighthouse (2019). Years later, I finally found the time to sit down and watch it on Amazon Prime. Now I understand why the Academy didn't nominate this film for Best Picture. It's weird. I legitimately tried to figure out what was going on but gave up when things just spiraled into chaos. I have a suspicion that a key moment in the film resulted in a character's death and that the remainder all takes place in some sort of purgatory, but that's the best explanation I can give at the moment. For a film that features two actors for almost the entire runtime, I have to say that Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson make this movie something to see at least once. In fact, I'm still half-certain that Willem Dafoe wasn't...
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MOVIE: Song of Love (1947)

Song of Love Year: 1947 Rating: Approved Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with me will know that I absolutely love the story of Clara and Robert Schumann. She was such an inspiring woman and well ahead of her time in terms of her independence. In researching her life for a future historical fiction novel I plan to write, I found that Katharine Hepburn had portrayed Clara Schumann in Song of Love (1947). I already knew the story beats of the life of Robert and Clara (with some of the drama Johannes Brahms (Robert Walker) introduced), but Song of Love misses the point almost entirely. While there were some scenes in this movie that spoke to the situation of Robert and Clara's tragic love story, they were completely lost in what I can only describe as "1940s sitcom schtick." These scenes added nothing to the narrative of the implied love triangle between Clara, Robert, and Johannes....
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MOVIE: A Quiet Place Part II (2021)

A Quiet Place Part IIYear: 2021Rating: PG-13Length: 97 minutes / 1.61 hours I'm not usually a fan of horror films, so when A Quiet Place (2018) came out, it was a unique enough concept to pique my interest. While I appreciated the original concept, which played off the audio-visual nature of movies, the cliffhanger ending left me wanting more. Fast forward three years, and I finally got to see the sequel. It was...disappointing. I think I had gotten my hopes up after the first movie wowed me with its suspense and PG-13-level horror but A Quiet Place Part II (2021) was basically just more of the same. What's perhaps the most frustrating thing about both these movies is that they could have easily been combined both films and still kept the run-time below three hours. With each movie being around 90 minutes long, there could have been a tighter story between the two entities if some repetitive scenes were cut out of...
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MOVIE: Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon Year: 2021 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours For a studio that built itself on Euro-centric fairy tales and stories, I can appreciate how Disney is (finally) trying to make movies that explore other cultures of the world. While not necessarily based in any lore from Asian countries, Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) pulls enough aesthetic influence from these cultures to be a nice homage. As always, I’m stunned at the visuals Disney can produce with CGI, and Raya and the Last Dragon is no exception to this rule. Add to this the incredibly well-choreographed fight sequences, and this film certainly had its moments. However, what’s weird about Raya and the Last Dragon is how parts of it felt done before. Kung Fu Panda (2008) might not have had realistic humans using martial arts techniques. Still, the choreography for this kind of animated movie was already there more than a decade before Raya came along. Similarly, the “collect...
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MOVIE: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Mortal Kombat Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours In the last few years, it feels like Hollywood has finally come to grips with adapting video games into movies. There has been such a sour taste from the initial wave of video game-inspired movies from the mid-90s that it’s taken 25 years to finally delve into this genre again. As these movie franchises are being rebooted, it’s nice to see that the writers and directors (mostly) understand the appeal of the source material and can translate it to the big screen. It also helps that CGI technology has advanced to the point where the special effects in these films aren’t nearly as campy. While the original movie version of Mortal Kombat (1995) was OK, there were definitely a few odd choices in its production (inducing casting and some script issues). For the reboot, I felt Mortal Kombat (2021) nailed the aesthetic and the characters with just enough plot to make the reason...
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MOVIE: Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Godzilla vs. Kong Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours When the theaters were opening again, I knew this was one of the movies I wanted to see on the big screen. I had missed Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)—having watched it at home well after it had come out—and wanted to be sure that I experienced all this movie had to offer. And while I waited a little too long and was spoiled a little before going to finally see it, Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) delivered on its promise to show me two large animals fighting. The trouble with the MonsterVerse franchise is that ultimately, the humans surrounding these titans are insignificant. Sure, they may drive some plot here and there, but mostly they're present for exposition as to why these giants are even fighting in the first place. In previous entries, I usually let it slide. However, I found the addition of conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry)...
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MOVIE: Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Wonder Woman 1984 Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 151 minutes / 2.52 hours 1980s nostalgia is hot right now, which is likely why this movie exists. After all, most Millennials are now earning enough to be the target demographic for Hollywood. The success of Stranger Things and other '80s throwbacks makes this decade overdone at this point. And while Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) doesn't really lean in too much to the '80s—other than some jokes and fashion choices—the fact that this movie could have taken place in any decade is testament to its generic feel. When I saw the first trailers, I had no idea how they could bring back Chris Pine's character, after his fate in Wonder Woman (2017) was pretty final. I didn't particularly like how they brought him back in this film, other than to have him play off Gal Gadot's titular superhero. In fact, I felt the whole "Diana is lonely" plotline was a bit overdramatic considering she had 40+ years...
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MOVIE: Escape Room (2019)

Escape Room Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours For all the Young Adult clones that The Hunger Games (2012) spawned in Hollywood, it's interesting to see something that takes the elaborate death traps present in that series and applies them to the horror genre. While I'm sure the Saw series likely did this kind of thing already, I haven't seen any of those films to know (too bloody for my tastes). This is where Escape Room (2019) takes an interesting premise and makes it feel like a generic Hunger Games knock-off while remaining a PG-13 horror film. At first glance, Escape Room is a smart thriller that forces its "players" to solve these rooms and eventually escape alive. Some of these set pieces are quite well done, including an oven and an upside-down bar. The reason these people were trapped in a series of escape rooms was also somewhat interesting, even if it wasn't explained very well. However, as is the...
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MOVIE: Wolfwalkers (2020)

WolfwalkersYear: 2020Rating: PGLength: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours I wasn't sure what to expect when I sat down to watch the third installment in Tomm Moore's "Irish Folklore Trilogy." The Secret of Kells (2009) was a unique animation style that also carried over to Song of the Sea (2014). Wolfwalkers (2020) continues this "rough" visual style but perhaps has the strongest story of all three films. That's not to say its predecessors don't have interesting stories, it's more that Wolfwalkers builds upon the foundations established by these previous entries of this loose trilogy. As is the case with these films, Wolfwalkers follows a young girl (Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey)) who encounters the fantasy of the world adjacent to her own. Shapeshifting wolves and disappearing forests are more complex than she first realizes. Many stories based on ancient lore are meant to teach lessons to children, and this movie is no different. Granted, there are quite a few cliches in how the plot progresses,...
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MOVIE: The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

The Mitchells vs. the MachinesYear: 2021Rating: PGLength: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours After Sony Pictures Animation released the visually stunning, Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), I awaited their next project with great interest. Eventually, they put out a trailer for a movie titled Connected, which seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Then the pandemic hit. Netflix grabbed the rights, renamed the film, and released The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021). Ultimately, it was a fun movie, even if it followed many tropes of the family road trip. Visually, I'm finding the new style of 3-D animated movies that look closer to the traditional 2-D animated films to be an intriguing middle ground. There are benefits from both styles, and this movie takes advantage of them. Ultimately, though, I think this kind of movie knows its demographic is millennials and does its best to pander to some of our absurd humor (like a fantastic scene with Furbies) as we...
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MOVIE: Hamilton (2020)

Hamilton Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 160 minutes / 2.67 hours I'll admit I'm late to the game on this musical. Luckily, Disney+ helped give me the option of seeing this modern masterpiece. Granted, I know it's not the same experience as seeing it in the theatre (aside from the modifications to allow it on Disney+), but I'm glad I had the opportunity to see it nonetheless. While Hamilton (2020) is not the first musical about the early United States I've heard, it certainly taught me way more about this time period than I had previously thought possible. A word to the wise: be prepared for almost three hours of fast-talking politicians. Subtitles might help, but it's awe-inspiring to hear these rhymes fly through the air at a frenetic pace. I was a little exhausted after I finished watching this since I felt it crammed a six-hour history lecture into less than half the time. It helped that the artistic license Lin-Manuel Miranda had with...
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MOVIE: My Octopus Teacher (2020)

My Octopus TeacherYear: 2020Rating: RLength: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours Nature documentaries are perhaps some of the most educational movies ever made. Sure, there are documentaries about extreme sports (like Senna (2010)), historical events (like The Look of Silence (2014)) or people (like Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)) but nature documentaries usually leave me with a sense of awe. This feeling comes from learning something about Earth that has been that way for millennia and will continue to be that way for millennia to come. There are so many amazing things to learn from nature that I can’t help but be amazed by it. My Octopus Teacher (2020) is just the latest in a long line of nature documentaries that have wowed me with the new knowledge I gained. Being from a landlocked state, I don’t have a lot of experience with aquatic life. I’ve occasionally seen something about octopuses being a little peculiar but never fully understood the full extent...
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MOVIE: Icarus (2017)

Icarus Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 120 minutes / 2.00 hours Some things in this world don't really need an explanation. If you've been around long enough, you can be fairly certain some things are true without requiring evidence. After all, we can usually extrapolate a reason for something if we know how the systems around it work. Even if there are barriers to keep these things from happening, we always have a hunch they're happening. For example, Icarus (2017) exposes the doping of Russian athletes for basically the entire time that Russian athletes have existed. This, of course, is not a surprise to anyone. While we can certainly blame the Cold War for Russia's obsession with winning at sports (and especially the Olympic Games), it is a little unsettling how far and how thoroughly the Russian government went to make sure their athletes were the best. The exposé Icarus provides is enthralling as it is revealed just how far up the oligarchy this conspiracy...
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MOVIE: Flora & Ulysses (2021)

Flora & UlyssesYear: 2021Rating: PGLength: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours After months of holding out, I finally managed to gain a Disney+ subscription. While this has allowed me to watch plenty of excellent original content like The Mandalorian, I also have options like Flora & Ulysses (2021). I never paid for cable before, so I missed out on a lot of Disney Channel original movies, which now inhabit a section of Disney+ that I don't think I'll be revisiting any time soon. Of course, I realize this movie wasn't made for me, but that doesn't excuse many of its flaws. It's a little weird to me that after decades of the same type of after-school specials, the plots haven't changed that much. Sure, Flora & Ulysses was originally a book, which doesn't excuse its treatment here as just another story about a child coping with their parents' separation through some fantastical element (in this case, a "superpowered" squirrel). The fact that the squirrel...
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MOVIE: Happy Feet (2006)

Happy Feet Year: 2006 Rating: PG Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours Very few movies have pivoted so hard on me like Happy Feet (2006). I vaguely remembered the trailers for this film back in the day but wasn't too interested in it because it wasn't from Disney or Pixar (I might have also confused it with Surf's Up (2007)). However, the fact that it won Best Animated Picture for that year should have told me there was something special here. However, my expectations for Happy Feet were much different than the plot twist that I hadn't seen coming. Since I was coming in cold to this film (har har), I had expected it to be the standard "individual is unique, but doesn't fit in with the status quo" type plot. After all, the main character (voiced by Elijah Wood) is the odd-one-out in a community of penguins by being unable to sing. However, this inability to sing is overshadowed by Mumble's extraordinary ability to...
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MOVIE: Capone (2020)

Capone Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours To give you a sense of the quality of this movie, I received a copy to own Capone (2020) for free from Redbox. The fact that Redbox was the distributor for this movie should have been the first indication of how bad it was going to be. At first, I figured, "Oh, a movie about Al Capone. That should be interesting, right? And Tom Hardy is in it? He's done some great stuff." How wrong I was. Now it's my job to warn you about it. Perhaps the director, Josh Trank, was to blame for this mess of a movie. Sure, his first film, Chronicle (2012), was pretty good, but Fantastic Four (2015) showed this to be a fluke, and Capone put the last nail in the coffin for his career. I mean, how can you take such an interesting historical figure like Al Capone (Tom Hardy) and focus on all the wrong parts...
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MOVIE: Oldboy (2003)

OldboyYear: 2003Rating: RLength: 120 minutes / 2.00 hours Some storylines are so timeless; they can't help to be made into something modern—thus becoming timeless in the process. Oldboy (2003) can easily draw comparisons to The Count of Monte Cristo in its structure but adds depth and layers to a wild ride that unfortunately could not be even closely matched in its American remake in 2013. As it stands, Oldboy is one of the pillars that shows how culturally significant South Korean cinema has been and how its predecessors like Parasite (2019) and Minari (2020) stood on its shoulders to achieve greatness. Oldboy is a lot like Memento (2000) in that it demands a second viewing, often right after reaching the end credits. Many of the plot's twists and turns readjust the viewer's understanding of previous events—to the point where you'll have to watch it again with this new knowledge fresh in your mind, thus opening up a whole new experience to the...
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MOVIE: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Judas and the Black MessiahYear: 2021Rating: RLength: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Isn't it funny how I only had a passing understanding of the Black Panther party until this last year, when it featured in two Oscar-nominated movies? Granted, it was more of a secondary plot point in The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), so the movie where it was the star of the show was none other than Judas and the Black Messiah (2021). But, regardless of the coincidence, I did learn a lot about the Black Panther party through this movie and continue to hate the past that straight white males have created for others. Judas and the Black Messiah's title is quite fitting considering the unification that Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) managed to create in Chicago in the late '60s. I was shocked to see some of the groups of people he managed to bring together, even if it made sense for them to rise up against the...
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MOVIE: Minari (2020)

Minari Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours One has to wonder if last year's Best Picture, Parasite (2019), helped pave the way for Minari (2020). While both are quite different films, the acceptance of South Korean cinema has been a long time coming. However, one thing both films share is their sense of foreshadowing. The subtle phrasings and actions of the characters seem inconsequential at first but evolve into hard-hitting plot points as the movie progresses. These story beats hit hard even with a relatively simple plot and left me emotionally devastated with each twist and turn. Set in 1980s America, Minari speaks into the evolution (or, some would say, death) of the American Dream. The belief that anyone from anywhere can come to this land of opportunity and make a living doing what they want to do is the strongest in the immigrants who came here hoping to capitalize on the United States' freedom. But, unfortunately, it's not as easy...
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MOVIE: Promising Young Woman (2020)

Promising Young Woman Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours There was a time when a movie like Promising Young Woman (2020) couldn't be made because it deals with a difficult subject. However, in the wake of the #metoo movement, the narrative has shifted and allowed space for this eye-opening masterpiece to exist. Rape is never an easy topic to cover, but Promising Young Woman handles it with such blunt-force precision as to make itself required viewing, despite being difficult to watch. If it makes you mad, you should check to make sure it's making you mad for the right reasons. Of course, this film wouldn't work were it not for the excellent performance of Carey Mulligan. Mulligan has come a long way as an actress since An Education (2009). Her worn-out and tired portrayal of Cassie Thomas captures the essence of a woman who has made it her personal mission to teach men everywhere about consent. Equally strong performances from Bo...
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MOVIE: Sound of Metal (2020)

Sound of MetalYear: 2020Rating: RLength: 120 minutes / 2.00 hours Movies have the power to give a perspective we might have no ability to understand. Much like the fantastic The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) gave viewers a chance to experience life through the eye of a paralyzed man, Sound of Metal (2020) was a revelation into the life of a musician who suddenly goes deaf. There are so many aspects to sudden deafness that Sound of Metal provided insight to that opened my eyes to the struggles of this particular disability. Of course, while this is the obvious takeaway from this film, the meaning is much deeper than that. Ultimately, the twist Sound of Metal gives to the deafness narrative is the power of addiction. It's encouraging to see positive handling of previous addiction through accountability, but it's even more striking to see how addictions can take many different forms. Whatever gives us dopamine, we can become addicted to. While...
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MOVIE: Nomadland (2020)

Nomadland Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychological structure that explains how people will obtain their basic needs before attempting to fill psychological and self-fulfillment needs. In the current American culture, these basic needs of food, water, warmth, rest, and safety are usually met by living in a house. Of course, there are plenty of strings attached to household living—such as a steady income through employment. While this is the most common way to reach self-fulfillment, people out there manage to achieve it without living as part of the standard American structure. Nomadland (2020) is an intimate look into the society of people who—for lack of a better term—are houseless. Part of me was jealous of the amount of freedom these people have to live the lives they want, experiencing much of the natural beauty of the middle of the United States. Much in the same way that Nebraska (2013) captured the realities of the...
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MOVIE: The Father (2020)

The Father Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours The failing mental health of an elderly parent is a perennial topic for critically-acclaimed movies. Most of the time, the focus is on how their supportive family watches them steadily deteriorate until they can do nothing else. The Father (2020) is one such film, but with a unique twist that makes it hit a lot harder than the standard Alzheimers fare. While attempting to present this disease from the aging parent's perspective is a bold choice, The Father leans into some radically artistic choices that might leave some viewers more confused than enlightened. I'm trying to avoid discussing the avant-garde method The Father uses to induce the kind of confusion that comes with Alzheimer's, mostly because I don't want to spoil the effect for anyone who hasn't seen this film yet. Needless to say, things make sense...eventually. The point isn't to understand it; it's to empathize with the main character. Of course, with...
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MOVIE: The Prom (2020)

The Prom Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours I enjoy a good musical like the rare heterosexual man I am (played in the movie by Keegan-Michael Key), and The Prom (2020) scratched that itch for me this year. I enjoyed its self-aware first act, even if the overall plot seemed like it was about 10 years too late to be relevant. And while many of the story beats were either predictable or cliche, there were a few moments of rare depth that felt genuine, even if they broke the facade of the whimsical characters that had filled the first two acts. There's something about narcissistic Broadway types having to interact with the midwest that was entertaining to me. Much of this film's humor revolves around how out-of-step with the rest of the country these east coast elites are—even if it's far from realistic (I hope). Of note, a few of the songs are quite exceptional, including "It's Not About Me" and...
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MOVIE: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours For decades, Aaron Sorkin has written some of the best films ever created. Classics like A Few Good Men (1992) still stand up, and modern masterpieces like The Social Network (2010) and Moneyball (2011) are starting to become timeless as well. And while he's mostly been the writer of these films, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is his sophomore effort as a director. Somehow, the ability to accurately translate his words into the actors' performances created—in my opinion—the best film of 2020. It's clear Sorkin cut his teeth long ago with courtroom dramas, but this movie is by far the most intricately-crafted exposé of the corruption of the American justice system I've ever seen. The fact that the parallels to 50-years later are shockingly similar actually makes me sick, but that's perhaps why this film works so well right now. It doesn't give me hope that these...
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MOVIE: Mank (2020)

Mank Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours When I first saw the trailers for Mank (2020), the premise intrigued me. As a "behind the scenes" look at the screenwriter for Citizen Kane (1941), I was interested to see his process in penning one of the most famous screenplays of all time. On top of that, I've generally enjoyed David Fincher's work and wanted to see this movie based on this fact alone. However, despite all it had going for it, I was ultimately disappointed in what Mank had to offer. Perhaps the most jarring part of this movie was how it tried to emulate the style of the films from the 1940s while also using more modern cinematography techniques to tell its story. At times, this juxtaposition made me wonder if this was filmed in the '40s or if it was merely a black-and-white modern film. Additionally, there's a particular visual style for Fincher's films distinctly lacking here—which may have been...
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MOVIE: Godzilla – King of the Monsters (2019)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours Despite the cult following of the original Godzilla films, the special effects were definitely limited at the time. While the American version of Godzilla (1999) had too many flaws to be noteworthy, the recent reboot of Godzilla (2014) into its own cinematic universe with King Kong is something I look forward to, if for no other reason than huge monsters dueling it out on the big screen. I’d be over the moon if it ever combined with the Pacific Rim (2013) franchise, but that’s probably asking for too much. As it stands, though, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is a great sequel that amps up the action. When I go to see a Godzilla movie, one thing I want to see is large monsters. King of the Monsters has these in spades. Even if you have a passing knowledge of Godzilla monsters, you’ll likely recognize names like Rodan, Ghidorah, and Mothra. While the plot is a little lacking in why these monsters are fighting, the result...
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MOVIE: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours After enjoying films like Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Jojo Rabbit (2019), I decided to watch some of director Taika Waititi’s previous films. First up is Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), a humorous outdoor adventure that doesn’t hide many of its influences, which ends up being a good thing. The plot and style are somewhat reminiscent of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) but takes advantage of New Zealand's wilderness to tell its own story. There is plenty of character development, and the two leads—played by Sam Neill and Julian Dennison—work well together to create a meaningful connection. Anyone who has seen other New Zealand comedies are likely to enjoy the specific cultural brand of humor here that feels like an evolved version of the classic British humor of the 1960s. Hunt for the Wilderpeople uses its minor characters to deliver its humor, with Rhys Darby carrying an exceptionally funny sequence. It’s this irreverent humor that hints at what Waititi’s future...
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MOVIE: Hello, Dolly! (1969)

Hello, Dolly! Year: 1969 Rating: G Length: 146 minutes / 2.43 hours In WALL-E (2008), the one surviving movie in this post-apocalyptic future was a VHS version of Hello, Dolly! (1969). Does this mean Hello, Dolly! is any good? Hardly. It’s merely the only movie to survive. If anything, Hello, Dolly! is your standard 1960s musical. There are many superior musicals from this decade, and it’s clear that this one is on the tailing end of the fad. Sure, it has its moments, but it’s so cookie-cutter in its plot that the only thing special about it is Barbra Streisand’s performance. It’s no surprise that the few musical numbers that made it into WALL-E were some of the better ones in this movie. “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” is endlessly catchy, even if “Love is Only Love” is your standard love song. Of course, the title song, “Hello, Dolly!” works and is a bit of a bookend to the musical's start with “Call on Dolly.” As I mentioned before, Streisand’s performance in...
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MOVIE: Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours For a movie with "fantastic" in its title, it's anything but. It's difficult to make a movie that's worse than the original that was released a decade earlier, but here we are. I understand the need to reboot a franchise so the owners of the rights can continue to hold onto those rights, but this is just a sad excuse for a movie. I only hope—now that Disney owns this franchise—that the next reboot of the Fantastic Four doesn't spend any time on its origin story (which we've seen twice now). While the casting for the main characters was technically proficient, if not a little young, I was stunned to see such wooden and emotionless acting from absolutely every actor on the screen. If I didn't know any better, they replaced these actors with CGI robots who state their lines instead of, you know, acting. Additionally, there didn't seem to be any stakes...
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MOVIE: Cars 3 (2017)

CarsYear: 2017Rating: GLength: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I'm usually a huge fan of Pixar films. However, I'm not wild about the Cars franchise. Something about these anthropomorphized vehicles is a little too cartoonish for me. Granted, the first movie in the series was the only film to make me care about the outcome of a NASCAR-type race. While the visuals are definitely improved in the 11 years since the original film came out, this end cap of the trilogy feels like a rehash of what worked before. Distancing itself from the trilogy's black sheep, Cars 2 (2011), this third part of the trilogy felt all too similar to the plot of Cars (2006). Sure, some of the roles were swapped around to show the "full circle" narrative from student to mentor. Still, ultimately it was about a car finding its racing mojo and utilizing well-known driving techniques to defeat its opponents. Ultimately, though, I don't care for the main character. Lightning...
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MOVIE: Meru (2015)

Meru Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Having done my fair share of hiking in the Colorado mountains, I know how deadly these rocky monuments can be. Meru (2015) highlights this in spades as it documents the conquering of one of the last untouched routes in professional mountain climbing. It's no wonder such a daunting spire of rock remained un-summited from this approach, and this film highlights all the challenges that combine to make Meru as difficult as it is. Of course, because it's a mountain climbing documentary, it follows most of the tropes and cliches common in the genre. One of my biggest qualms with the mountain climbing genre of documentaries is how they all tend to be about the same progression of events. There's always some storm that prevents the team from summiting. Somebody always gets injured. Success is always just out of reach. It also doesn't help that there's no way for the uneducated viewer to tell this...
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MOVIE: Artemis Fowl (2020)

Artemis Fowl Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours When I first saw the trailers for Artemis Fowl (2020), I was intrigued enough to pick up the book and read it. With its continual delays, I was able to also read through the first five books in the series. This may have helped me understand what Disney was trying to do with this, but it doesn't excuse their butchering of the source material. I can only imagine how confused people who hadn't read a single word of the books would be, and I was right on the verge with them. What gets me is that, as a fairly short book, Disney could have made a perfect adaptation in a scant two hours. Instead, they decided to cram so much "sequel potential" into 95 minutes to lose focus on any of the stories they were trying to adapt simultaneously. I also understand how the movie version is inclusive of all races and genders,...
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MOVIE: Soul (2020)

Soul Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I'll give Pixar credit: they know how to make trailers that give away almost nothing about what the plot is. Sure, I could roughly gauge what Soul (2020) was about, but I could never have guessed it would be this deep. Of course, when dealing with concepts as heady as the afterlife, Pixar had to really balance the line between adhering to any particular religious belief. Be prepared to tear up at least a few times because Soul can hit hard when it comes to life itself. As is the case with any Pixar film, I usually watch for CGI modeling/technology advancements. In Soul, they took the time to perfect the look of some of the most difficult hair to animate, and it shows. This isn't to say that we're getting closer to jumping the uncanny valley (of which they can probably do by now) because this would also ignore the mind-bending "architects" who...
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MOVIE: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

I'm Thinking of Ending Things Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Perhaps I should have learned my lesson from when I watched Synecdoche, New York (2008). I have appreciated plenty of Charlie Kaufman's films, but only when he's the writer. Not the director. Or maybe this is a more recent change, as some of my favorite Kaufman films were released before 2005. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Being John Malkovich (1999) are some of my favorite films, with Adaptation. (2002) being at least something that I understood (despite its extremely meta nature). I'll admit that I thought I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020) was initially about suicide by its title. As I started to watch, I thought I would be getting a thoughtful look at the midwest's mundane nature (a la Nebraska (2013)). Then a bandage switched sides on a character's forehead. From that point, everything became much more bizarre—to the point where I stopped even trying to...
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MOVIE: Barry Lyndon (1975)

Barry Lyndon Year: 1975 Rating: PG Length: 185 minutes / 3.08 hours As someone who appreciates classic films, perhaps I had my hopes set a little too high for Barry Lyndon (1975). Going in, I already knew the technical challenges director Stanley Kubrick had to overcome to film indoors and by candlelight with no extra lighting. Of course, if that was the main thing I knew about this film before I actually sat down and watched it, that should have told me something about how boring the plot would be. Then again, even a master of cinema like Kubrick can only do so much with mediocre material. I will give some credit where it's due, though. Most of this movie did contribute to the tension of the climax. If certain events hadn't transpired in the way they did, Barry's (Ryan O'Neal) life would have been much different. Then again, the whole "rags to riches" storyline seemed overdone, even for the mid-1970s. And sure, duels can...
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MOVIE: Song of the Sea (2014)

Song of the Sea Year: 2014 Rating: PG Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours In perusing Netflix a while ago, I came across Song of the Sea (2014), a nominee for the Best Animated Feature Oscar that had completely gone under my radar. At first glance, this film seemed to be by the same people who had done The Secret of Kells (2009). I appreciated the 2D style of the animation from Kells and looked forward to additional stories that could be told in that style. I was not disappointed in the visuals, but I was confused, perhaps more than I should have been with the plot. Don't get me wrong: the plot is pretty simple. I certainly was able to understand the story of a brother and his mystical mother and sister. Some of the plot points seemed pretty cliche, all things considered. What I had trouble with was some of the Irish folklore that ran throughout this movie. Perhaps it was all part...
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MOVIE: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours Over the years, I've found two types of people: those offended by the original Borat (2006) film and those who find it funny. I'm probably in the latter camp, mostly because I can appreciate how politically incorrect comedy can be "safely" created by introducing a cultural/language barrier. 14 years later, and I'm certain that the people who didn't find the original Borat funny won't find the humor in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020). As an American, it's amusing to see our foibles pulled out as the butt of the joke in this film, especially after we've made fools of ourselves through the last decade of partisan politics and recent refusal of science and common sense. And while Borat Subsequent Moviefilm still relies on physical and sexual humor that is awkward to watch, there are moments of pure genius...
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MOVIE: Guns Akimbo (2019)

Guns Akimbo Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours Perhaps you've seen the meme? Daniel Radcliffe is out in public in his boxers and a robe and gesticulating wildly with two pistols in his hands. That meme comes from this movie. Guns Akimbo (2019) is the kind of movie you think it is: ridiculous and gratuitous. Going in, I knew I couldn't take this film seriously, and it certainly didn't disappoint. I was expecting something along the lines of Shoot 'em Up (2006) and got what I wanted out of it. Sure, the premise is flimsy, and the characters are one-dimensional, but I came to have fun, and I certainly laughed quite a few times during this movie's short runtime. I think if this film took itself more seriously, it wouldn't have been the fun popcorn flick it turned out to be. That being said, I can appreciate how it is self-aware enough to recognize some of the challenges of having two...
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MOVIE: Klaus (2019)

KlausYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours It’s weird to me how many Christmas movies there are out there, and how few of them are any good. Fortunately, we now have a little gem with Klaus (2019). Animated in a beautiful 2D-esque style that uses 3D CGI as its base, Klaus works backward from what we understand as the current lore surrounding Santa Claus and develops a heartwarming story to explain all the little impossibilities that tie to the Yule tradition. And while it hits mostly predictable story beats, certain moments had me tearing up. What makes Klaus different from the rest of the Christmas-themed animated fare is that there seems to have been plenty of care devoted to the artistry of the visuals. It seems like most modern animated Christmas movies skimp on quality just to get something out to cash in on the holiday. The characters and character designs are unique and fitting to the story this movie is...
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MOVIE: Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Bill & Ted Face the Music Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours One thing I hate about trilogies is that sometimes movies don't need to be trilogies. If everything has been covered in the previous two movies (or even the first movie), the only reason for any additional films in the franchise seems to be for the sole purpose of making money. What's worse is franchises that release their third movie long enough after the first two that it's more of a nostalgia trip/reboot than anything that adds significantly to the lore. What's perhaps most disappointing about Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020) is how I had high hopes for it. Granted, my nostalgia for Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bogus Journey (1991) mean that I hoped there would be a significant shift in Face the Music that would explore something new that might have developed in the last 30 years. Instead, Face the Music treads all the same territory from...
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MOVIE: Mewtwo Strikes Back—Evolution (2019)

Mewtwo Strikes Back: EvolutionYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours Growing up with the Pokémon franchise during the peak of its fervor, I definitely remember going to see the first movie when it came out in theaters. Consequently, there is an amount of nostalgia that I associate with this first forray of the franchise onto the big screen. When I saw that Netflix had recreated the 2D anime of my childhood with their style of CGI animation, I was intrigued enough to check it out. Much like in the recent CGI version of The Lion King (2019), just because a movie was faithfully recreated using newer animation technology does not make it a better movie. Additionally, I believe the fact that I had aged since I first watched this movie made it so I could see it through a more objective lens. What I found was that the story was incredibly light, and the only thing that made it worth watching...
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MOVIE: The Lion King (2019)

The Lion KingYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Many years ago, I learned that The Lion King (1994) was basically the plot of Hamlet reenacted with animals. And while many people consider the original 2D animated version of this story to be one of the greatest Disney movies ever created, I never really cared that much for it. Fast forward to 2019, and the new "live-action" version of The Lion King is released. Again, I wasn't really wowed by anything in it because I was ambivalent to the whole story anyway. I did find it odd that they marketed it as "live-action" when it was completely CGI. It was an animated remake of an animated movie. Perhaps my biggest issue with this new version of The Lion King was that they didn't really change anything. It felt like the 1998 version of Psycho (1960) that recreated the whole movie shot-for-shot in color. While it was technically as close to the...
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MOVIE: Enola Holmes (2020)

Enola Holmes Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours When a character like Sherlock Holmes is already written, you do the next best thing: write fanfiction. Enola Holmes (2020) feels like an author-insert fanfiction of the famous detective stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While this would be a mark against any other story, it works here and creates an amusing plot that was fun to watch. Sure, the mystery wasn't at the level Sherlock Holmes would normally solve, but Enola isn't necessarily Sherlock. Of course, I don't know if this story would have worked as well if there wasn't the tie-in to Sherlock Holmes. As for the actors, no doubt on retainer from their other Netflix projects, Henry Cavill (The Witcher) is a passable Sherlock but wasn't given quite enough screen time to really show his talents. The star of the show is definitely Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), who has certainly shown that she's not only good at playing...
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MOVIE: Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Sonic the Hedgehog Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours As someone who grew up with the original Sonic video games, I was highly skeptical of this film adaptation. There's not much plot behind a game that's basically: move right as fast as possible and defeat a robot-making madman. Granted, Sonic has developed a little more depth to its lore over the years...but not much. The appeal of the character in the '90s was his attitude, and I have to admit that his movie does capture that attitude quite well. For a video game adaptation, Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) isn't terrible, which is saying something. I can only imagine the nightmare-inducing original design for Sonic, though. However, it's still not the greatest movie ever for the genre of video game adaptations. I did appreciate the little "slow-motion" moments, as well as the practical use of the rings as teleportation devices. Jim Carrey's Dr. Robotnik was passable, if not a little too goofy/sinister...
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MOVIE: Birds of Prey (2020)

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours I will admit: Margot Robbie is perfectly cast as Harley Quinn. The fact that she even got her own movie after her debut in Suicide Squad (2016) is a testament to this. That being said, she's a bit of a shallow character past being "Joker's girlfriend." Look no further than Birds of Prey (2020) to see what I mean. If it were truly a Harley Quinn standalone film, it wouldn't have needed the sub-plots of a handful of other characters to make the running time long enough. As it stands, Birds of Prey is meant as a sort of "origin story" for this titular team of female heroes. The fact that it needed Harley Quinn to make it marketable is a bit of a disappointment in the ability of the writers to create a story that would give these women agency without resorting to...
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MOVIE: V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta Year: 2005 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours It's a little weird watching a dystopian movie like V for Vendetta (2005) in 2020. I watched this film each year around the 5th of November, but life eventually got in the way and made it difficult to continue the tradition. At the time, I enjoyed the "underdog" of V (Hugo Weaving) protecting art and freedom of thought from the tyranny of an oppressive government. Having gone back and re-watched it in the current global climate, I'm honestly shocked at how prescient it was in predicting a lot of our future. Hopefully, things don't become worse to the point of completely fulfilling this prophecy. I think part of the reason this film remains timeless—other than the flawless performances of Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving—is how it shows the amount of freedom people in society give up in the name of "safety." Fear-mongering is a common political tactic to get individuals to vote...
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MOVIE: Poltergeist (1982)

PoltergeistYear: 1982Rating: PGLength: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours Some movies have spoilers, and then some movies have so deeply-ingrained themselves in the popular culture zeitgeist that it’s nearly impossible to not have some knowledge of them before actually sitting down and watching the film itself. Poltergeist (1982) is just