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Side-Quest: My journey to watch more movies in my free time

Over the past few years now I’ve come to the realization that no matter how many movies I see, I’ll always have more to discover. Or, on the flip side- I’ll never get past the horde of suggestions and “must-see” films. Those that have swept past you can serve to undercut your film cred instantly for some. Whether viewed as cinematic homework or film archaeology and study, I’ve got some viewing to do. However, simply recalling the last few years, or even the whole of the twenty-first century so far, isn’t enough. There’s another eighty years (roughly) of film to explore! So what have I missed?

Plenty. An awfully large amount. Too many. How many movies can one person digest? I recently finished Patton Oswalt’s book “Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film” and while I too have an addiction to viewing films, Oswalt took the concept of going to the movies to a whole new level. The comedian/author/actor meticulously planned out his fervent viewings from “Sunset Boulevard” and “Ace in the Hole” to “Casablanca” and “The Bicycle Thief” and everything inbetween. During this period of time Oswalt frequented the New Beverly Cinema ran by Sherman Torgan for thirty years before his death in 2007, Quentin Tarantino bought the legendary theater afterwards and still currently owns it. The book divulges his addiction’s highs and lows as he struggles to learn the comedy scene of late 1990’s LA while also consuming as much cinema as possible, a learning experience if you will. However nearing the book’s end he points out that while film is a wonderful experience, it should be comparable to wine. A portion of life that is to be enjoyed and beloved in a moderate sense. So, in order to curate a sense of balance in life I’ve come to the conclusion that when I can fit in a film or two to widen my breadth of film knowledge, I will.

The first admission I have to acknowledge is that I will never see every movie. That’s simply impossible. Every day another film is securing the greenlight and heading into or out of production. So what I can do is dig out the genres that I have neglected or the top essentials that most cite as being either necessary or noteworthy at the very least. There are an embarrassing amount of the classics that I haven’t gotten to yet. For while my father and I have marathon-ed the entirety of “The planet of the apes” (There are five of the original films from the 1970’s) movies over a weekend, I still have yet to see “The Godfather”. I know, I know. I’ll get to it eventually. It’s not out of any malice towards the classics mind you, it’s mostly that life takes time and sometimes you wanna see the Oscar nominations before the awards show, or that new mindless action flick just to pass a rainy day by.

Netflix makes this sense of filmic education much easier. In fact, modern technology in general makes the search and accumulation of hard to find films a thing of the past. “Kagemusha” for example, is the only film from the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa that’s currently available on Netflix. A Samurai epic doused in color and action that Kurosawa was only able to create with funding help from George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola in 1980 at the age of seventy. I will be checking that film out soon, as should you- the impact Kurosawa had on the film industry is massive and a study on his works is almost obligatory for all would-be cinephiles. In fact, foreign films in general should be consumed with just as much intensity and fervor as our own motion pictures. It can be hard to get past our obsession with our own creations, but those of other nations have a perspective that you won’t find in our own art. A difference of opinion and priorities in life is important to encounter, even if only in film (Although travel is a far more immersive and immediate way to do this if you have the means).

So you may see more “old school” reviews coming from this blog in the future. As I step into the past to learn something new I suggest joining me on this voyage of sorts. See something new and challenge yourself to embrace the variety of art that is available to us all. Just remember that life is out there waiting to be experienced-don’t stay behind that screen too long! If you have any suggestions, by all means comment below and list your favorites, or simply films that you believe to be important. Thanks, and see you at the movies!

 

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Movies of 2016

2016 may have been one of the most divisive years in recent memory, but when I looked back on the movies that came out I began to realize that while there were certainly big duds among the crowd there was an abundance of quality movies that came out last year. Below is the list of a majority of the films that came out last year with my thoughts on them. Enjoy!

The Good

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Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds gets a lot of credit for this one. He stuck around after his character’s horrific introduction and then incredible misuse in the first standalone Wolverine movie back in 2009 and kept pushing for this film to get greenlit. Self referential and winking at the screen knowingly, “Deadpool” is everything you want it to be if you know the crude character in the slightest. Violent, crass, and fourth wall breaking, this film is the best direct adaption of a comic character, possibly ever.

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Captain America 3: Civil War

Proving that you can take two characters with idealogical differences and pit them against each other and actually have the story work (Looking at you, Zack Synder), “Civil War” isn’t just one of the best Marvel movies, it’s one of the best Superhero movies ever made. Captain America and Iron Man take opposite sides of a government mandate and string up followers on each side to punch each other until you cry when it gets serious (You know what scene I’m talking about). Captain America 3 is one of the few exceptional blockbusters from this year!

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Dr. Strange

“Dr. Strange” continues to prove that Marvel can take any of their properties, no matter how Strange (Ba-dum-tss!), and make it work. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Strange, a brilliant Neurosurgeon that has his hands crippled in an auto accident and ends up traveling the world and spending his last dollar in search of a cure. Instead he meets the Sorcerer Supreme (Tilda Swinton) aka the Ancient One, and begins his path of mastering the mystic arts of sorcery and otherworldly magic. What sold me for this origin tale is the third act, and how Strange solves his own villain dilemma. No Sky beams. No faceless army to beat into submission. No, here lies a creative solution that I will not spoil, but it’s well worth the watch.

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Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson’s directorial return to cinema is not one to miss. Easily one of my favorite films of the year, this film changed my view on Andrew Garfield. The true story follows Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector in wartime to receive the medal of honor for saving 75 men in the battle of Hacksaw Ridge, in WW2, without a firearm. The first half follows Doss’ battle to stick to his beliefs and to train as a field medic, without holding a weapon, as it was his belief not to kill another man. The second half depicts the battle, and well, hold onto your butts because it is relentless in it’s violence and horror. Gibson deserves a best director nod at the very least.

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Star Wars: Rogue One

Who knew a film with a widely known ending could be this good? “Rogue One” is pure Star Wars fun. This film had a lot riding on it going into it’s opening. Would the first standalone Star Wars movie be a success? Would audiences care about a film with little to no recognizable faces throughout the runtime? As the first film in the franchise to focus more on the “war” than the “stars” Rogue One swiftly introduced us to a cast of rebels devoted to the cause. Jyn Erso leads the band of resistance as the daughter of the head engineer of the Death Star while the Empire puts the finishing touches on their shiny new superweapon. Each member of the team has notable moments throughout- Donnie Yen’s “Chirrut Imwe” is a blind, force sensitive, kung-fu martial artist with a deep belief in the power of the force- and an excellent example of this. The film goes to extreme lengths to recreate the dirty, lived-in world of the original series, from 3D printing toy model sections for digitally recreating star destroyers to the use of practical effects and some puppetry throughout. The film also breaks new special effects ground by reviving Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin not simply just for a cameo, but as a character that has several scenes and deliberately pushes the plot forward. The film adeptly handles the mythology with caring hands and even fills in former plot holes, such as the infamous womp-rat sized hole in the Death Star, while also taking new risks, like the ending. Which I won’t ruin just in case you haven’t caught this movie yet-somehow. Darth Vader also has one of his best scenes ever put to film near the ending-right before the reveal of a youthful CGI Princess Leia who, in a timely sense, reminds us to have Hope. Rest in Peace Carrie Fisher.

 

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Swiss Army Man

Easily the weirdest movie of the year, “Swiss Army Man” is an oddly beautiful one that combines emotional nuance.. with farts. I know, but trust me on this one. The best way I can describe this movie is that it’s about a suicidal man that teaches a dead guy that life is beautiful and worthwhile despite the hurdles of confusion and emotions that are thrown at us. Paul Dano’s character starts the film stranded on a small pacific island and is about to hang himself when he spots Daniel Radcliffe’s dead body wash ashore. He clambors down from his noose and inspects the corpse. He quickly finds that this void vessel is full of life, flatuence, and strange abilities-like farts powerful enough to propel him off his island. From there the film follows Hank (Dano) and Manny (Radcliffe) as they discuss life and its many complexities while they wander through the pacific northwest to try to find civilization. I know I’ll be on the lookout from anything that the Daniels (Directors & Writers of the film) make from now on, the special effects, soundtrack, and quirky nature of this flick was the strangest amalgamation put to film this last year and I can’t wait to see what they create next!

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Set in New Zealand, this film follows defiant city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) as he is placed into his newest foster care home to be raised by the jovial Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and grumbly Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). Written and directed by Taika Waititi (Helming the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok) this film is an excellent example of his ability to juggle wildly different tones with impeccable skill. The film ends up becoming a buddy roadtrip comedy, in a sense, between Ricky and Hec as they are chased in a manhunt throughout the wilds of the New Zealand bush that is in parts hilarious but also a touching and heartfelt showcase of friendship, family, and how to deal with loss. Between this and Waititi’s last film “What we do in the shadows” he has become one of my favorite directors to keep in mind. Seek this one out, you won’t be disappointed.

 

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The Jungle Book

The latest adaption of Rudyard Kipling’s 1893 literary allegory of anthropomorphic animals was released by Disney last year in groundbreaking fashion. This was one of the rare times when a reboot or reimagining of a property gave new life to the material and improved upon various versions of the story. This iteration, directed masterfully by Jon Favreau, combined some of the most cherished musical numbers from Disney’s earlier animated classic with a dash of the darker nature and tone that came from the original tale. Photorealistic computer generated imagery breathes new spectacle into the century plus old story, each of the animals move and react in a beautifully realized digital jungle with a human actor as Mowgli (Neel Sethi) that physically interacts with the imagined world around him. Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention the stellar voiceover cast with the likes of Christopher Walken as King Louie, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, and of course-the perfect casting choice, Bill Murray as Baloo.

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Star Trek Beyond

The third movie in Star Trek’s newest revival of sci-fi films, “Beyond”, is a smaller film in terms of the scope of the adventure and thus feels more like a true ‘Trek’ episode than the previous films. While there is much to enjoy here, my only nitpick was some of the editing and cinematography choices during the action sequences, it was a departure from the sweeping glides of JJ Abrams whereas this seemed a bit clunkier and rife with shaky cam. The newest story takes place while the crew is on their five year deep space mission when they get stranded on an alien planet, the enterprize gets destroyed again, and thus the team is fractured into pairs where they must all work together to strive against the might of Krall, played effectively by Idris Elba. Simon Pegg pens the script here and you can feel his influence throughout in the playful pairings of the crew, Spock and Bones in particular was a great choice. The film leans a bit into nostalgia, and the revival series has earned it’s place among the canon to do so. It’s a bright future for the franchise and I can’t wait to see what they do next in “Infinity”… I mean, it might not be called that, but if they don’t name it “Infinity” they clearly missed an opportunity.

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Kubo and the Two Strings

This stop motion animated epic from Laika Studios is one of their very finest work.Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, & Matthew McConaughey throw their talent behind the voices of Monkey, the Moon King, and Beetle respectively and much of it works to great effect. Kubo (Art Parkinson from Game of Thrones) is our hero who must retrieve his lost father’s armor and weapons to defeat the evil Moon King once his hiding place is discovered. Akin to a Legend of Zelda set up, this adventure wisely relies on wit and humor with crazily intricate fight sequences throughout to craft an entertaining and solid flick for children and adults.

 

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Snowden

Oliver Stone’s newest film tackles the recent international affairs of Edward Snowden, the name known the world over for unleashing news of America’s sweeping surveillance program put in place by the NSA. These revelations that our government was spying, not just on other nations, but on our own citizens has changed the course of history and will have a lasting effect on policy and politics. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt effectively portrays the title character in a very true to life scenario. Shailene Woodley also stars as Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, and injects an authentic charm into the film, which is a role that I believe will net her more projects in the future. The film may lag in spots because of it’s devotion to reality, but it doesn’t make this tale any less fascinating or important.

 

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La La Land

Combining a love and devotion to Golden age Hollywood Musicals with modern sensibilities and new age ability “La La Land” is easily one of my favorite films of 2016. This is a film that was made by somebody that had something to say, and that is powerful. When a crew this dedicated to perfection comes together-it’s palpable. The amount of pure determination showcased in this film with all of the choreography, the dancing, the music, the acting, the lighting, it’s astounding how it all works! This film is about the push and pull of love of art versus the art of love, but more than anything else, it’s about hope and the pursuit of happiness. If you’re a creative person at all (and that can be applied to many, many, many variations) you will likely love this film. If you love film, you may even adore it. Even more importantly than that-you should see this movie, challenge yourself if you’re not a musical person, these are extremely human characters telling an incredibly relatable tale. This is masterclass filmmaking at it’s finest, so much so that Damien Chazelle will likely become a household name after this, and he’s earned it!

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The Nice Guys

Critically underwatched, “The Nice Guys” is definitely one of my favorites of the year! Set in 1970’s L.A. Gosling is an alcoholic Private-Eye who ends up teaming with Crowe’s burly muscle with a heart of gold when they stumble upon a sprawling conspiracy while investigating the alleged suicide of a famous female porn star. This is hands-down the best script of the year and possibly the hardest I laughed at a movie all year, although “the Hunt for the Wilderpeople” gives that title serious competition. Directed by Shane Black in brilliant fashion, “The Nice Guys” harbours hilarity, a snappy script, and unlimited charisma between the leads to combine into a new classic.

 

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Sing Street

As the second musically themed movie on this list, “Sing Street” shares similarities about love and risk, but it is also about family and brothers. Set in the 1980’s in Dublin, Ireland the story centers on Conor, a 14 year old boy that’s strained by the familial stress at home from his parents’ arguments about love and money after he’s sent to a rough-and-tough inner city public school. He eventually finds a cool girl named Raphina whom he invites to be in a music video for his band. Then he sets out to create said band. The film is full of optimistic heart and catchy tunes from the era as Conor and his newfound friends play music, engage in youthful rebellion, and fall in love. “Sing Street” shows us that music has the power to sweep us away from the turmoil of everyday life and transform us into something far greater.

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Zootopia

Proving to be smarter than your average anthropomorphized animation, Disney’s “Zootopia” is a well crafted tale with timely lessons held within it. The story is about assumptions based on appearances, and how we (or in this case the animals of Zootopia) should approach diversity and challenge our reactions. The film follows Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin), a small town bunny with big city aspirations. She desperately wants to be a police officer, which would make her Zootopia’s first bunny cop. Right away she is placed on meter maid duty but stumbles upon a case much bigger than expected by association of Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), a sly Fox that she encounters on her first day as an officer. From there the two reluctantly work together to follow the scent of foul play afoot. This is a wildly entertaining movie by Disney that has enough humor and stylish zany cartoon antics to keep children appeased with a story that adults can also appreciate. Also starring in the film as various animals are J.K. Simmons, Idris Elba, Kristen Bell, Alan Tudyk, Tommy Chong, and Shakira. Definitely check this one out if you missed it!

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Shin Godzilla

Toho Studios revived their radioactive giant once more last summer in Japan to soaring review scores while also becoming a box office home-run. This is a smart monster flick that utilizes the current political landscape in Japan as a foundation for tension as well as mindful social commentary. There is camp and visceral destruction to be had of course but, the film also deftly uses Godzilla as an opportunity to decide whether or not to use force when the country effectively has no military. The film casts a wide net on the scope of the film by showcasing how Godzilla’s very presence effects the lives of the people in Tokyo and surrounding areas. This does a lot to present the audience with an effective grasp on just how many moving parts would have to come into play under such an event. There are many conversations between leading personnel about the streams of red tape and hurdles they have to jump through just to get anything done. A lot of the plot rests on these debates. The film carefully considers the weight of taking action, of following procedures, and whether or not to choose independently. As an added plus this new Godzilla has a ridiculous range of destruction rendering abilities.

 

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Silence

Ending an incredibly long creative journey for legendary film director Martin Scorsese, “Silence” is a long and thought provoking summation on religion, faith, and to what lengths two men of faith will go to spread the teachings of their religion. Set in the 1640’s this is the story of two Portuguese Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver respectively) who travel to Japan to retrieve their former mentor (Liam Neeson) who had been reported as denouncing his faith in public. Scorsese is one of the last great American film directors from an age when films took their time to tell you their story. Patience is important regarding “Silence”, but while it has a long runtime, the film rewards you with visual cinematic beauty. This is not in reference to any special effects, but rather classical imagery evocative of renaissance paintings, for much of the movie regards framing, movement, and staging in this manner. Andrew Garfield will find similar themes and ideas here in comparison to his most recent role in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge”. However while Gibson’s  film had Garfield’s character utilizing his faith as a source of power-as the solution to his problems- the same cannot be said for Scorsese’s epic where Garfield’s character has to ponder whether or not his religious convictions are causing his problems. Adam Driver, still riding high from his villainous role in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, encounters a supporting role that isn’t quite as involved as Garfield’s, but is meaty with the themes that weigh on the shoulders of the story nonetheless. This a beautifully realized film, however you should measure your expectations for the type of story you’ll be encountering. If you are appreciative of the visual arts or the art of cinematography and directing in film then this is something you’ll likely enjoy.

 

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*A Monster Calls

Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, and Liam Neeson (as the Monster) surround Lewis Macdougall as Conor, a young boy dealing with familial illness, schoolyard bullies, and the trials of youth. This is an engrossing coming-of-age story that is awash in vibrant color, brilliant special effects, and dark themes that the film boldly never shies away from. The film seems to be partly fantastical in it’s cinematography and art direction while deftly weaving in a teary-eyed story of loss and growth. Keep an eye out for this one.

 

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*Hell or High Water

A modern day Western in the skin of a bank heist thriller, “Hell or High Water” offers a tried and true formula that is ultimately satisfying on multiple levels.  Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are two renegade brothers that start running multiple bank heists and subsequently getting rid of the evidence, then starting up the cycle again constantly keeping the cops at bay. That is, until Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Briudges) arrives on the scene looking for one last grand pursuit before retirement becomes his reality. The efficient pacing and solid character work here elevates this above mindless popcorn gunplay, comparisons have even been made to a more bombastic “No Country for Old Men”. If you enjoy the Western genre or a solid cat and mouse heist thriller; you’ll likely find much to enjoy here!

 

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*Nocturnal Animals

Written and directed by Tom Ford (a well established American fashion designer, this is his second film), “Nocturnal Animals”follows Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal as a divorced couple that get caught up in a haunting romance thriller. The film begins with a passion-lost Amy Adams owning an art gallery and living in a mansion in L.A. while her current husband (Armie Hammer) flubs their planned vacation and she ends up reading a book sent to her that was written by her former husband, Jake Gyllenhaal. This opens up the story contained within the book, a film within a film if you will, in which Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-johnson also star as side characters. Eventually the book melds with elements of the modern day storyline to form a violent and dark thriller that has a mixture of revenge, love, cowardice, and art all intertwined together.

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*The Edge of Seventeen

Not just another coming-of-age movie, “The Edge of Seventeen” wisely plays on the humor and emotional trauma of what it’s like to be a young woman in today’s world. The plot centers around Nadine, played with appropriate angst that endears sympathy by Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), as her popular older brother starts dating her best friend. Ouch. That’s prime awkward Teen comedy/growth material. Woody Harrelson is also a supporting character here portraying Nadine’s History teacher who becomes a sort of venting partner/mentor throughout the film. A step above many in this genre; “The Edge of Seventeen” effectively reminds us of classics like “The Breakfast club”, “Sixteen Candles” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” particularly because it doesn’t hold back its punches and inserts some well respected honesty into the story.

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*Arrival

Hailed as one of the most memorable performances from Amy Adams in a leading role, “Arrival” is the thinking man’s (Or woman’s!) science fiction film. This alien invasion starts the film as an elite team is brought in by the government to try to understand this possibly invading force. Adam’s character, Dr. Louise Banks, is a superb linguist joined by a welcoming physicist Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner) as agents of the military, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and others, inform them with what they know. There are eleven other gigantic alien crafts besides the one floating out in the wilderness of Montana, the alien spaceships reside in plain view as solitary stone-like structures in Shanghai, Siberia, Sudan, and Sierre Leone to name a few. Their mission is multifacted. They must open a line of communication with the aliens quickly, before the Russians or Chinese do, while yet learning more about them than what they can learn of us, the military influence pressures this with overbearing intent. This film is delibreate, cerebral, mysterious, and tension permeates the dialogue throughout. Another exceptional entry from Denis Villeneuve, who also directed Sicario, cementing yet another director to keep an eye out for!

 

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*Manchester by the Sea

After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him the sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the sea” has been bandied about as the character piece that will likely skyrocket Casey Affleck to the top of many Oscar contenders lists. This is a painful yet powerful tale of the tragedies of life along with the nuances that accompany it. There is a palpable sadness that is true to life, it makes the experience fuller, and richer with humanity than it would have been without. This seems to be among the top awards contenders, showcasing unchained acting that feels authentic beyond measure.

 

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*Green Room

Posing as a genre B-movie thriller, yet proving to be much more, “Green Room” offers an offbeat and intelligent addition to the horror/thriller genre. Punk rock band, “The Ain’t rights” are roughing it out, low on money, gas, and energy when they hear of an odd opportunity in the backwoods of Oregon- playing a show for Neo-Nazis. Reluctantly they accept but end up accidentally witnessing a brutally violent act. The club’s owner, played with a fiendishly fun and elegantly evil performance by Sir Patrick Stewart, quickly mobilizes his cronies to get rid of the outsiders. The rest of the film delves into murderous fun full of dark humor, expertly crafted tension, and a wicked good time. With the exception of his role as Chekov in “Star Trek Beyond” this is Anton Yelchin’s last starring role, and its one that’s worth watching if you’ve been craving a unique and violent genre flick.

 

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*The Lobster

Requiring an acutely acquired taste, “The Lobster” will most undoubtedly be a rare viewing opportunity for most. Despite its drab color scheme, muted and bleak, or the nature of its droll adaption of society, this film creates a truly unique effort. In the near future being single has been outlawed. If found to be single, you’re quickly transferred to a prison/hotel of sorts, with strictly enforced rules, where you must meet another single participant and become a couple within forty-five days or you’ll be transformed into an animal of your choosing. The film isn’t a straight up comedy, but there are many moments throughout that elicit laughter, particularly for the absurdity of the scene itself. It acts as a social commentary on how society can pressure people into finding soulmates so much that it leads to reckless choices, however the film flips this ideology by applying this radical treatment to people who are happy being single. The films stars Colin Farrell in the lead role (an uncharacteristically oddball choice for the actor), and Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Angeliki Papoulia as supporting characters.

 

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*Paterson

The latest film from Jim Jarmusch “Paterson” is about Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives and works as a bus driver and would-be poet, with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) in the town of Paterson, New Jersey. If you’ve never seen a Jim Jarmusch film, you might say, “Wow, not a lot happens in this movie”, welcome to his style. This is, much like his filmography suggests, a repetitive rumination with beauty and comedy meshed in-but here it excels beyond previous efforts because of the performances and the ideology of the story. Paterson is about everyday life and trying to create art inbetween shifts at work, and the different ways people approach this. His girlfriend Laura, for example, treats every day as a new art project and switches from country music singing to another skillset or genre altogether. Paterson writes art, but Laura lives it. Jarmusch doesn’t play favorites with each character’s personal style either, both are presented as different approaches from different perspectives, no right or wrong here. Charmingly mundane, “Paterson” is a collection of very human moments, where Paterson will overhear bus passengers tell tales, catch up on the love lives of the barflies at the local bar he frequents, banter with bartenders, and passes by a late-night laundromat where Method Man (as himself) is rapping about the 19th-century black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. It’ a pretty Zen film and a lovely change of pace, check it out for something new!

 

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*The Witch

One of the freshest horror films to come out this year, “The Witch” delivers it’s scares with proper skill and serious commitment. In a dread filled, puritan embellished flick set in New England in the 1600’s, this film has an unreal amount of dedication to the correct period piece way of life. Not only does the film boast proper spoken English for the period, it is also regionally specific to that time, with Carolinian prose for these Calvinist settlers. Realism is key in this setting, because in this world, the supernatural does exist. There really is a witch out in the woods plaguing the town, and how the film builds tension versus how it unravels it’s secrets will grip you until the credits.

 

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*Moonlight

“Moonlight” acts as a series of one act plays all centering on a character in three specific periods of his life: as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult. Accordingly, three different actors perform as Chiron during these eras of his life (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes). This all makes sense as it is an adaption of the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Told in these particularly powerful stanzas is the story of Chiron and his path in life as he attempts to understand society and more closely, himself. Witnessing Chiron’s progress is both thrilling and agonizing as he tackles manhood and the issues he faces because of his sexuality. Being his second film, Barry Jenkins crafts a story that is very specific yet it has an inclusive nature of universality among its scenes without ever weakening the value of whose story is being told. The nature and meaning of manhood is the most primed focus here. How tough are you supposed to be? How cruel, or tender? How brave? And how are you supposed to learn? These are all pondered on and exemplified throughout the film. As powerful and challenging a look at life as you will ever come across, “Moonlight” is more than deserving of its award season buzz.

 

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*Fences

Starring, and directed by Denzel Washington “Fences” is an adaption of the 1987 Pulitzer prize-winning play by August Wilson. This isn’t the first time Washington has played around with the material though as both he and Viola Davis, also starring in the film adaption, were awarded Tonys for their 2010 revival of the Broadway play. The film, set in the mid 1950’s, is about Troy (Washington) and the inner workings of his family, through thick and thin. There may be temptation to limit Troy to his outwardly friendly demeanor at first, however upon peeling back the layers we see a man who is far more complex than is first realized. Bitter that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier years after he was able to play on the national stage, Troy barks harshly at his children who dream of being musicians and college football players undercutting their hopes with a dark realism that the world has not changed as ideally as they would like to believe. Troy’s wife Rose (Davis) battles him verbally as the film progresses and enters into a monologue at the end that will ensure her name in the best supporting actress nomination. Intense and raw acting paired with brilliantly impactful dialogue, this is definitely among the best performances from this year.

 

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*The Founder

The story of Ray Croc, founder of the franchised McDonalds, is a story-as the trailers say- of persistence. Michael Keaton looks to soar in this grimy power grab of a film about the rise of McDonalds through shear determination.. and slimy business tactics. This is the tale of how a wily businessman took an idea and made into one of the most profitable and globally recognized property of the twentieth century. The supporting cast is also excellently rounded out by Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, and Patrick Wilson.

The Bad

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Independence Day 2: Resurgence

This sequel tries so very hard to outdo it’s much loved predecessor, and fails in alomst every regard in that attempt. It’s worth a watch just for Jeff Goldblum’s antics, but make no mistake, much of this film was a mistake. The biggest issue, it seems to me, is that the film tries to balance two very different tones that don’t mesh well. While attempting to recreate that 1990’s big budget take on Sci-Fi and Aliens in all it’s explosive glory, the film wanders near that attitude, but then veers into our post “Dark Knight” world where dark and brooding close-ups reign in measured and overly serious bits. I say, if you’re going to do weird, go full weird. Don’t wander between tones like that, it shows indecision based on fear and profit margins, not the inherent joy of fighting off an alien invasion that we should be getting from this movie. Honestly, with “Collateral Beauty” and “Suicide Squad” now on Will Smith’s filmography, he’s shown a willingness to take on terrible films. He could have done something this film- and it would have benefited greatly from his presence just as “Suicide Squad” did.

 

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Sausage Party

The idea here is somewhat brilliant, take an animated Disney style 3D animation focused on food products-but show them swearing constantly and point out all the sexual innuendos possible. There are enough puns here to sink a ship, and some of that is acceptable and pretty funny at times, however the problem with this flick is that it’s overly excessive with this idea. A swearing hot-dog can only induce so many giggles after all. That and there is some heavy handed themes against the ideas of the most popular religions, which I get-but again, it was a bit excessive.

 

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Alice Through the Looking Glass

Through the studio inspired paradigm of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, “Alice through the Looking Glass” is jam packed with colorful candy cane vomit. Decent visual effects can’t cover up a general lack of comittment to the characters and plot because it seems they have forgotten how to focus on telling a good and whimsical tale. From the opening Alice is now a swashbuckling adventuress that returns to feminist-viewpoint-squashing victorian era London to shove aside a former admirer before jumping through a mirror to land back in Wonderland. There’s something wrong with the Mad Hatter (who seems to have overgrown his original place in Carroll’s stories to appease fans of Depp’s first outing as the character.) and Alice strives to help him sort it all out. While the pace seems to want to rush along a breakneck pace to keep you from noticing the near underserving of the well known characters, you can’t help but become aware of this as the runtime wanes on. Even a time travel sequence can’t hide the workman like response to try and recreate Tim Burton’s first take on the world, and his missing presence can be felt.

 

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Passengers

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in this futuristic sci-fi romance as two passengers on an intergalactic voyage that are awakened 90 years too early. There are aspects about this flick to be admired, it’s not downright bad, it’s just lackluster. There is a twist that is revealed way too early in the film that could have been played for far more benefit if certain elements had simply been told in a different order. Other than that both Pratt and Lawrence are fine in their roles but they were clearly not challenged by the director to dig deeper or find the center of these characters because both seem to act exactly how you would expect either celebrity to act, they played into their own archetypes and the romance never feels fully developed, there is a false charm to it. Personally, I believe this is one of the few movies that I would have preferred as a book where the author could have the time to develop the characters better.

 

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*Gods of Egypt

While this whitewashed take on Egyptian mythology is saturated in bad CGI and immense overacting-It can be a good time in the right setting. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) as Horus, Gerard Butler as Set, & Brenton Thwaites as ‘mere mortal’ Bek play as the lead characters in which Set usurps Horus’ rise to power among the Gods. Horus then unites with Bek to undo Set’s ravenous power grab. Although, admittedly the story doesn’t really matter here as this movie doubles down on the ridiculous aspects as much as possible. For example, the Gods are physically much larger than mortals, but not to a gigantic amount, reaching roughly around ten feet tall making pairings of the mismatched characters outright silly from the beginning. Geoffrey Rush, Chadwick Boseman, & Elodie Yung also all star in this film. This is unequivocally the best “so bad it’s good” movie of the year.

 

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*Ghostbusters

It’s a credit to this film’s creative team that this wasn’t down in the “Ugly” section of films that came out this year, it wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t all that great. Pitched as a female led revival of the Ghostbusters franchise, this straight up recycle of the first Ghostbusters was largely just “okay”. The worst I heard about the film was just that it wasn’t really quite as good as the first and that some of the jokes fell flat. Now, just because something isn’t as good as we would have liked doesn’t mean it deserves the hate it got. Personally, I say if Paul Feig wants to make a sequel, let him-he might be able improve upon the franchise now that they’ve wandered knee deep into the material and know what works and what doesn’t. They should probably ditch the “Answer the call” tagline though, doesn’t seem to make much sense.

 

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*Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows

While the sequel quelled some of the problems with the initial outing, these corrections and changes were not enough to make the “Michael Bay-ification” of the turtles worthwhile. The additions of Bebop and Rocksteady alone will assuage nostalgia for some older fans of the material though it cannot cover the sugar coated glean of issues plaguing most of the film. Movies like this can be fun and intelligently made, just look at any Marvel Studios movie, this one just lacks enough wit and charm to merit any further iterations, although we’ll probably get one anyway.

 

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*The BFG

An adaption of Roald Dahl’s literary children’s classic “The BFG” sits on the bad list not because it is necessarily terrible, it’s here because Steven Spielberg made it-and it’s somewhat lackluster. The story is about a small girl and a giant (Mark Rylance) who set out to stop evil man eating giants that have begun to invade the human world. The visual effects are efficient, and there is some merit to the film, but when Steven Spielberg steps up to the camera we’ve all come to expect the cinematic “magic” that is so often associated with his work, and there isn’t much to feel here.

 

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*X-men: Apocalypse

Sequel/prequel/threequel “Xmen: Apocalypse” unfortunately fell from the heights that “Days of Future Past” set it up for. The film is overloaded with an over reliance on special effects, to the point that it’s trying to cover for a weak and baseless villain who unfortunately falls prey to cliche. However the film isn’t straight up awful, there is fun to be had here at times, but the shortcomings outweigh the few strengths available to them. Which is a shame, because the cast is great, they were simply under-served by the film around them. Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) story is really the only one that has good motivation, everyone else’s is either sub-par or passable. However the biggest failure is most definitely the wasted opportunity of Oscar Issac as En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse. He is resurrected and begins his world domination with a fairly poor plan and almost no characterization. Besides the multitude of characters (which can be done intelligently ie Civil War), weak excuses for destruction, and lack of reasoning as to why killing off humanity would make the world a better place-the film has entertaining moments, but they’re simply not enough. To quote Jean Grey (Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones) after viewing “Return of the Jedi” in the movie, “The third ones always suck”.

 

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*Jason Bourne

What do you do with a character whose former motivation was regaining his memory, now that he remembers everything? Well, you end up with “Jason Bourne”. This is a film that has a magnetic lead in Matt Damon, and an effective director in Paul Greengrass, but it cannot shake the fact that they are working with seriously thin material. More of the same and yet nothing new. This latest Bourne flick has him chasing down the mystery behind his father’s association with the Black Ops Treadstone program. The typical character archetypes of past Bourne iterations are present; the shifty middle-aged intelligence chief, the female CIA agent who eventually believes Bourne’s actually a good guy, and a fierce opposing assassin. The shaky cam fight sequences are back too, which isn’t a good thing in my opinion, especially while shot in the dark. There might be a good fight scene happening, but the audience is just listening to two guys trying to kill each other in the dark. This is passable summer diversion, just don’t reflect too long on the films that came before this one, lest you realize this lesser Bourne for what it is.

 

 

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*Legend of Tarzan

Another year and another reboot of an ages old property. Granted this Tarzan adaption attempts to be weightier than most of its predecessors, it doesn’t do much else to warrant this revival. With a capable cast and hints of Tarantino glory, this is a reteaming of Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson after all, the film begins with Tarzan returning to the Congo after having lived in London for some time as John Clayton III aka Lord Greystroke. His reason for returning to the jungles of the Congo? He’s told of a Belgian plot, led by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), to conquer the land and subjugate it’s people. This news comes to him by way of American diplomat George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), and it isn’t long before they travel, along with Tarzan’s Wife (Margot Robbie), to the African continent together to foil it. David Yates attempts to distance this film from some of the more unsavory aspects of the character’s past, ie being a white savior to the African countries and peoples along with the way Jane is typically presented, and he succeeds on some parts. Particularly when Jane is captive and spits in Rom’s face upon him mocking her and attempting to stir a scream, when she responds fiercely “Like a Damsel?”. There are fun aspects to the film, however it’s hard to get past the past when it comes to transforming Tarzan into an eighteenth century superhero of the jungle.

 

The Ugly

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Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Two of the most iconic superheroes of all time come together in a fury of fisticuffs. Sounds like fun right? Wrong. Long, muddled, and a flawed understanding of the characters leads this film straight to the dump. At least the ultimate edition straightened out that Lois Lane scene at the beginning of the film. #Martha

 

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Suicide Squad

With a tagline like “Worst. Hereos. Ever.” you’d think this film would have a fun edge with a sassy commentary on the tropes and themes of modern superhero flicks. Wrong again. 1 & 1/2 acts of introducing characters set to outrageously overplayed hits, the only saving grace here is that Will Smith and Margot Robbie make the film worth a watch, but not much more.

 

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Assassin’s Creed

There was a hope among many that “Assassin’s Creed” could break the video game to film adaption curse. It most definitely did not. This film is overly loud and so frantic you can barely tell what’s going on at times. The hyper fast editing style also didn’t help, there may be good choreography in this film but you wouldn’t know it as the camera cuts away from the action so many times to get sweeping location shots that add nothing but more confusion. Michael Fassbender is an extraordinary actor but maybe he should choose his projects more carefully after this because his “I’m Crazy” sequence alone was so over the top and out of place I literally mouthed “What the hell is going on?” in the theater. The story only takes a barebones structure of narrative from the games and dashes the rest of the rich stories available to them. Particularly curious was the choice to make Fassbender’s ancestor a near mute, with “devoted to the cause” being his only character trait and motivation. Ezio Auditore had charisma, layers, and purpose. No one in this film came close. Oh Ubisoft, maybe next time?

 

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*Ben Hur

A remake of one of Hollywood’s golden age classics is already enough to boil some viewer’s minds just at the thought. A couple of visually interesting scenes cannot save this trainwreck from the graveyard. Morgan Freeman’s dreadlocks and an overly butterflys-and-cake-frosting ending send this movie into the abyss of unwatchables.

 

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*Zoolander 2

Not only did this sequel not need to happen (Nor was anyone clamoring for it), it retroactively makes the first movie worse. The comedy sensibilities of the first film do not work 16 years later, and it shows. The first movie worked for its time, but it’s a different world now. Cringeworthy at best, Ben Stiller- what happened?

 

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*Max Steel

A half baked and eye rollingly bad cash grab for an action figure with no notable name recognition (At least for me, and I grew up in the 1990’s!), “Max Steel” isn’t even “laughably bad”-good, it’s just bad.

 

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*Nine Lives

Who knew Kevin Spacey needed money this bad? At least, that’s the theory I have for why this movie even exists. Kevin Spacey stars as a daredevil businessman who rushes to get a cat (which he hates) for his daughter for her birthday, and is thus somehow turned into that very cat. This is an entirely forgettable, debasing, poorly written, with hamfisted acting abound, slog of a movie. Please, for your own good, do not waste your time on this one.

 

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*The Fifth Wave

Generic and middling in plot with forgettable tropes that are overly familiar to this sub-genre of films, “The Fifth Wave” is another bad effects and teenage-love-triangle-riddled bland movie. Maybe this film will be the end of the Young Adult (YA) dystopian films. We can only hope for so much.

 

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*Collateral Beauty

While some of the performances here are fine, Will Smith in particular, this film resides on the ugly list for how it was marketed versus what the story actually is. I won’t ruin it for you, but just know that the story is morally deficient and that there’s a reason it was buried under the latest Star Wars film.

 

*For one reason or another I did not get to see this film (yet), or simply wasn’t all that interested but thought it was worth mentioning. I have collected a general sense of the film through the marketing, reviews in video or written form, and the general consensus from word-of-mouth experiences through secondhand accounts. Some of these may receive individual reviews if I find them interesting enough to write about after an initial viewing.

 

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Twelve Days of Christmas movies

This year has been unnaturally awful, particularly in America, but the world over as well it seems. From Brexit to Harambe and from politics to the losses of some of our most beloved entertainers like David Bowie and Alan Rickman, it seems pretty clear across the board: 2016 has just been the worst. I say, let’s end it all… with Christmas cheer! What follows is not all an “All Time” or “Top Ten” Christmas movie list, but rather what I will be watching in the twelve days preceding the 25th in order to wipe the last 11 & 1/2 months from my mind. Some are age old classics, others are purely what I enjoy. Maybe you’ll find something old to cherish, or something new to love. Or maybe not, either way; chill out, and lets just watch movies.

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1 Scrooged

Set in 1980’s New York Bill Murray stars as Frank Cross in this modern retelling of Charles Dicken’s literary classic, “A Christmas Carol”. Cross is a massively successful television executive whose particularly curmudgeonly behavior drove away his one time love Claire Phillips (Karen Allen). The story follows as you might expect this being one of many “Carol” modernizations and remakes over the years. Cross fires an employee (Bobcat Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve and is then met by an old ghostly friend warning him of his wrongdoings, and subsequently met by three Christmas Ghosts. Bill Murray is great as always, the excess of the eighties is ever present, and there’s plenty of dark humor to go around.

2 How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Live Action + Animated)

One of my personal favorites, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is one of Dr. Suess’ most infamous creations. Here I am counting both versions as one as they are both classic and entertaining in their own right. With rhymes and whimsy abound in every which way, this tale is about a Grinch who decided he had something to say, he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming, “I MUST find some way to stop Christmas from coming!” From then on songs and antics abide by the festive nature until the Grinch has a change of heart when learning that the whos, thus having their christmas stuff swiped from them, stood together in song and celebration. Proving a timeless classic to remind us that the flair and advertising associated with Christmas can be fine, but it isn’t the point, the meaning of Christmas is more than just the gifts found under the tree, as the Grinch came to realize, “It came with out ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!” Don’t get caught up in the hype just let it be, and if you can, go forth and enjoy some who-pudding and rare who-roast beast!

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3 Elf

Will Ferrell embodies the pure Joy that children experience around Christmas in “Elf”. When Buddy (Ferrell) is accidentally transported to the north pole as a baby he is raised by the elves of Santa’s workshop. As Buddy grows to be a man he increasingly finds himself ostracized by the other elves and feelings of not fitting in begin to flourish. Eventually he is told the truth and he sets out to New York City to find his real father. Walter Hobbs (James Caan), is a cynical New York businessman that ends up harboring his chaotic new son after confirmation via blood test. “Elf” quickly became a christmas classic from the early 2000’s as it earned its place among the numerous Christmas movies by leaning on Ferrell’s bombastic performance, but also from having a solid director in the form of Jon Favreau with a stellar cast on the sidelines. Ed Asner plays Santa, Zooey Deschanel plays Jovie (Buddy’s love interest), There’s also Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Artie Lange, and Ray Harryhausen in a voiceover role. Unless you’re a complete Scrooge or a total Grinch you’ll likely find something to love here.

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4 Jingle All The Way

Perfectly mimicking the real life toy craze of the “tickle-me-Elmo” toy at the time “Jingle All The Way” follows Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad playing two desperate fathers racing around town attempting to buy their sons the last of the popular Turbo Man toy. This slapstick favorite mirrors a popular christmas tale theme of materialism and to what length we will go to find that perfect gifts for our families. If you wanted Christmas, Comedy, and Arnold Schwarzenegger along with Sinbad.. well actually that’s a pretty specific “want”, and I’m pretty sure this is the only film to include all of that. Anyways, it’s a fun, mindless, Christmas comedy, enjoy!

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5 The Night Before

This treat of a Holiday comedy came out last year and is an excellent mixture of modern comedy and the Christmas season. Starring an unexpected triad of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, and Seth Rogen “The Night Before” focuses on the three lifelong friends as they set out to find the Nutcracka ball, a Holy Grail among Christmas parties. As the three find that they’re entering adulthood, their longstanding tradition is coming to an end thus making this a last ditch effort to make the night as memorable as possible. Plenty of laughs and a good hearted spirit to it all, this is Rogen’s best appearance in a film over the last few years. If you found “The Interview” or “This is The End” to be somewhat lacking I suggest this flick, it should raise your barometer for modern comedies.

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6 Die Hard

Not just one of the greatest Action movies of all time, “Die Hard” also happens to take place on Christmas. I know, a bit of a cheat, but it’s something I’ll be watching. Plus it’s good to remember a time when Bruce Willis actually wanted to be in movies instead of begrudgingly waiting for his check to clear. It’s also especially nostalgia filled nowadays with our recent loss of the endlessly talented Alan Rickman. “Die Hard” is one of the best films to come out of the 1980’s and it still holds up to this day. As an added bonus you get to introduce younger family members to the wellspring of 1980’s action at its best. Merry Christmas indeed.

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7 Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Okay, okay, so it’s two cheats in a row. Shane Black has a tendency to set his films during the wintry holiday, but I promise you- this one is worth the watch. It’s a wonderful treat to see Robert Downey Jr. pre-Iron Man, as thief-mistaken-as-an-actor Harry Lockhart. The story follows Lockhart as he winds up embroiled in a complicated murder mystery with Val Kilmer as private-eye Gay Perry and Michelle Monaghan as struggling actress Harmony Faith Lane. It’s a wonderfully entertaining flick and one of Shane Black’s best works.

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8 Tree Man

This documentary follows Francois, the infamous “Tree Man” from Quebec that travels down to New York City each November to stay for a month and sell many New York natives their Christmas trees. This was a relative break from the rest of the films on this list as it examines how the season of joy effects those in the business of making their livelihood from it. The Doc begins and ends with Francois but once he arrives in New York the film meets and follows many of the other tree sellers in the community. As it goes on you begin to see the ripple effect of how the arrival of the tree man brings the anticipation of tradition and the warmth of community, even on the corner of Broadway and 102nd street in Manhattan.

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9 The Ref

Are you one of those people that may enjoy the holiday, but hate having to spend it with your relatives? Then “The Ref” might just be the Christmas movie for you. The film stars Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey as Caroline and Lloyd, a particularly argumentative married couple with Denis Leary as Gus, a thief on the run from the cops. We start the film with Gus in the middle of an affluent suburban heist when his getaway driver leaves him stranded when the cops show up. Gus manages to escape and bumps into Caroline and Lloyd in a convenience store on their way home from marriage counseling. From there the film takes the hostage situation to a comedic gold mine as Caroline and Lloyd happen to be expecting guests for their Christmas dinner. Full of neverending bickering from every family member the film eventually descends into dragging every character’s flaws, excuses, and past mistakes out into the open as Gus pretends to be their marriage counselor while crafting an escape plan. It’s a dark but hilarious jab at familial controversy (for the early 1990’s anyway) and the facade people create for their families- but especially the in-laws.

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10 A Muppet Christmas Carol

Honestly this is a fairly straight up rendition of “A Christmas Carol”, but with the Muppets! This is my favorite version of the Carol story, not simply because of the practical effects of the puppetry (Although I do appreciate it), nor the warm and wintry feelings associated with this tale, but rather the whimsical nature of the late Jim Henson’s creations. There is a certain goodness among the characters that permeates their productions. Henson worked hard to avoid the easy route of cynicism and anger, and it shows even in the works his crew and family took on after his passing. This is the time of year when that attitude is needed most, to get through whatever bombardment life throws at you. Take time to thank those who have helped you, meditate on your place in the world, make an effort to be more humble, and take the spite out of your mouth. The world has enough of that as it is. That’s why I included a muppet entry, not simply because I enjoy it, but because I mightily respect the creators of these appropriately childish affairs.

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11 It’s a Wonderful Life

Possibly the most replayed Christmas movie of all time, besides “A Christmas Story”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my all time favorite Christmas movies. Growing up I never saw this film, somehow unknowingly avoiding this decades old classic, but a few years ago I wandered upon it late at night on Christmas eve. As someone that lives in a small town and frequently dreams of moving away and traveling the world (Some of this I had already done before this viewing), I could relate to George Bailey’s plight. As someone always willing to help, George’s circumstances in life always ended up preventing him from seeing those dreams come to fruition. He sacrificed his own education for his brother’s, kept the family savings and loan afloat, protected the town from the avarice of the greedy banker Mr. Potter, and married his childhood sweetheart. However when things turn fiscally dark for George Bailey he contemplates suicide as an option to give his family something to live off of. Just then, an Angel appears, not in traditional heavenly garb though, and intervenes to show George Bailey what life would have become for the residents of Bedford Falls if he had never lived. It’s a timeless classic and I highly recommend giving it a watch if you, like me, had never stumbled upon it until recently.

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12 A Very Murray Christmas

Might as well end the marathon the way we started it, with Bill Murray. Harkoning back to the variety shows of old Murray, in a traditionally meta wink to audiences, is throwing a christmas special but is down on his luck when he realizes that a heavy snowstorm will prevent his guests from arriving in time. His in-show special falls to pieces and he ends up heading to the bar where more showtunes with celebrities and bands continue to appear as the night progresses. The special includes the likes of George Clooney, Paul Shaffer, Amy Poehler, Julie White, Dimitri Dimitrov, Michael Cera, Chris Rock, David Johansen, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Jenny Lewis, Rashida Jones, Miley Cyrus, and the band Phoenix. As a plus, the special is directed by Sofia Coppola-look her up if you don’t know who she is.

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Review: Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers

This week filmmaker Kevin Smith’s latest movie hit Netflix, so out of curiosity’s sake and general admiration for the man’s previous works, I figured I’d give it a shot. “Yoga Hosers” is the second film in Smith’s latest creative endeavor, the True North Trilogy, with “Tusk” being the first iteration and concluding with “Moose Jaws” sometime over the next couple of years. This Canadian flavored monster themed series is definitely an odd one, but one where Kevin Smith’s creative flow goes any-which he wants. As someone interested in filmmaing, I can relate. However, I suspect the fans of this film will end up being very niche indeed.

Granted, I am not the target audience for this flick, Smith said as much himself over the course of many interviews, podcasts, and on Twitter as he promoted the film. He is very self aware that this film is not for everybody and he’s okay with that. Be that as it may there is an innate sweetness to this flick, the man did make a movie with his teenage daughter and her best friend after all. What other teenager gets to be one of the leads in a film directed by their father and co-starring their best friend? Between the bad CGI, silly monster make-up/costumes, and litany of Canada based puns (buckle your seat belts, there’s a lot of them) lies a silly shlock fest, albeit with some cringeworthy portions.

The story centers on the two young female leads, Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp as the “Colleen Coalition”, two tenth year highschoolers that sing in their makeshift band while angstily working at the “Eh-2-Zed” convience store seen in “Tusk”. In a convenient History class the two smartphone obsessed girls learn of the few Canadian Nazis that had risen up during World War Two and gleefully awaited Hitler’s takeover of the great white north. When this didn’t happen one particular indoctrinated mad scientist went into hiding. Fast Forward seventy years and you get tiny sausage based Nazis (called “Bratzis” in the film) portrayed by Kevin Smith himself no less, who kill indiscriminately. That’s not even the weirdest part. Anyways-The girls get invited to a party hosted by older students and end up being conscripted into work on that very night to their dismay. From there it gets sillier and sillier, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion, if you’re going to be weird, go full weird. Everyone can tell if you only went half weird. So, at least they stuck to that commitment. I won’t spoil the rest of the film, but the third act features Ralph Garman in a super, super, cheesy villainous role. I actually loved his bits, as a fan of the Hollywood Babble-on podcast (Seek out at your own risk), it was a joy seeing some of those shenanigans play out here. Johnny Depp also returns as “Guy Lapointe” in one of his more offbeat roles as a manhunter/detective/Canadian Batman of sorts. It’s a role that’s fittingly just as odd as the rest of the film but his quirks help mold the film further. For fun, keep an eye on his mole/s as they move around his face from scene to scene, it got me, I laughed.

In all honesty, this is not my favorite Smith flick by a longshot (That title goes to “Dogma”), but with the runtime hovering around the hour and a half mark, it does its thing and doesn’t overstay its welcome. This is not a film for everyone, but for the ones that do enjoy it, I’m sure they got a kick out of it. Personally, I’m just waiting out the last entry of the True North Trilogy, “Moose Jaws”.

Final Score: 12 Canadian Puns

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Ratings, Awards, and Scores

Recently I’ve spent a lot of thought on the idea of giving a score, or a number to represent the quality of a film. Obviously I understand the need, or want, to associate a numeric value to a film to understand a generic amount of value or scorn this may elicit, but we are all beasts of arbitrary association and we all (humans) like to know which subjects are the “winners” and which are the “losers” even when such a dichotomy is fruitless in the end. Everyone has films, music, paintings, architechture, etc etc that they prefer over others’ preferences. Recognizing skill and artistic expressions is great, and important culturally. However stating that one may be better or worse truly depends on who you are as a person, your own background, family’s impressions upon you, and essentially your taste.

Awards also fall under this category for they are ultimately arbitrary when it comes to art in my opinion. While I do love the fanfare and pizzazz that comes with the Oscars, it’s not the award that gives meaning to art, it is the celebration of the creation of art that has meaning here. Plus who doesn’t love a good show? It is part of being involved in film, in theatre, we love putting on a good show. The Oscars don’t always hold that notion close to their hearts, but it is there for better or worse. I’d like to entertain the notion that such an idea shouldn’t be about receiving an award, but of giving recognition to a piece of art that has enough of a consensus to have earned such notoriety.

My conclusion being that since this is such a meaningless task in the end my reviews from this point on will focus more on the merits and failures of any specific film as far as my perspective can facilitate such a conversation. In the wake of a score I will implement more of a whimsical idea in that my “Final Scores” will be as meaningless as any such label. An example of this might be “Fifty-two surfboards for Keanu Reeve’s ‘Point Break'” or “One Thousand and Eight Bullet casings for Mel Gibson’s ‘Hacksaw Ridge'”. Not only can this be a fun button to put at the end of each review, I believe it helps to cement the ideology of “One man’s trash being another’s treasure”. I know, as well as you do, that some people actively seek out films disregarded as “Trash” or simply “bad” intentionally or otherwise purely because of it’s perceived “badness”.

My intent is facilitate thought and discussion about film and the people involved in creating it. Losing the focus of scorekeeping levels the field and diverts thoughts back to what makes or breaks a production. Was the editing too fast and muddled? Or did the cinematography move and flow in a way that moved you? Were the performances impeccable? Or did it seem like the actor was holding back? Not pushing him or herself the distance? Maybe it was the atmosphere on set that created this? Or something in their personal lives that could be felt onscreen in some mystifying way? Obviously some of these unknowns will always be speculation, but that’s part of the fun isn’t it?

One final thought. If you find yourself disgusted, maddened, or simply unentertained by someone else’s art, then by all means express your opinion, it is our right after all, but there is no reason to spew misplaced and confused hatred into the world because you were bothered by a piece of art, film or otherwise. I’m not suggesting the silence of discussion by any means, this whole piece is about the broadening of thoughtful and engaging communication between others. I simply believe that you shouldn’t need, or feel the need, to go out of your way to spread vitriole and division. We here in the United States of America have enough of that going around as is, and in light of the holidays approaching: go forth and talk, write, or type about a film that you love. Show it to others. Have discussions about it with them and if you don’t particularly enjoy something that someone else loves, then let them have it. This is supposed to be entertainment after all.

 

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Review: Hacksaw Ridge

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is the true story of Desmond T. Doss’ actions during World War Two in which he volunteered for duty as a conscientious objector to serve as a medic on the battlefield. Doss was a seventh-day Adventist that held to his strong beliefs, particularly “Thou shalt not kill” and throughout the film we’re given context as to why someone that won’t even touch a rifle signed up for war. It essentially comes down to Doss’ unbreakable conviction, strong beliefs, and his downright Captain America-esque sense of duty.

This film comes to us from the original Mad Max himself, Mel Gibson. In truth this film is the perfect fertile ground for Gibson and a comeback to Hollywood barring his interest and acceptance back into the fold. Here is a tale that is an excellent example of the duopoly of American thought that Gibson himself exemplifies in his own work. It is a love affair between religious idealism and gratuitious violence in all its glory. Of the thrill of battle, and yet the horrors of war. Gibson’s film repertoire shows this in spades, from ‘Braveheart’ to ‘The Passion of The Christ’, to ‘The Patriot’ and back again Gibson loves to focus on characters that stick to their foundations- no matter the trials they are set to endure. This film is one where Gibson gets to have his cake and eat it too. There is a clear and foreboding sense of intensity from the first sequence shown so that we know beforehand of the terror our plucky protagonist will go through, whereby staying true to his convictions, salvation awaits on the battlefield as they say. While this film deserves at least an academy nomination, possibly even best picture or best director material, I’d be surprised if it came to pass as Gibson remains on Hollywood’s hit list for his sins of the past.

While the initial build up to the second half of the film, the part Gibson gleefully awaits, can be a bit “Aw Shucks” in its 1950’s idealism at times, the simmering underbelly of humanity’s capability of grisly horror lies consistently below that veneer. Although the film wanders close to cliche in certain moments the character of Doss is the anchor of the film, portrayed earnestly by Andrew Garfield, as his character grows on you with his insistence and true to himself charm. There are, however, moments when you’re left wanting just a little more to each character and the intracacies suggested within them. Doss’ courtship of Dorothy is almost too straightforward in its portrayal, this being the bit where the film wants you to become attached to our weaponless warrior, and for the most part- it works. The film doesn’t weigh itself down by doing so though as the American scenes of the film help to ground the audience for the hellfire that is to come.

The acting throughout the film was surprising, humorous, powerful, and well executed. Andrew Garfield surprised the hell out of me personally, I wasn’t the biggest fan of his Peter Parker portrayal in the last set of ‘Spiderman’ films, but here Garfield can lean into that wide eyed enthusiam and benefit from those experiences as he never spreads it so thick that it becomes unwatchable, or even uninteresting. What sets his performance out here is his consistency throughout the film. The Character never breaks from what we would expect from him. It is an impressive role for the young actor and if he doesn’t get the oscar nod for this film he may be getting another shot with Scorsese’s upcoming ‘Silence’ as well. Hugo Weaving, as the father of Doss, wallows drunkenly in the cemetary of his long lost brothers in arms, and scours among his family with his own buried sorrow that came from his war. He is the source of Desmond’s deep seated morals against violence that we see in several flashbacks (including a fight between brothers that turns dark quickly) to give Desmond’s firm decisions context. Once we get to the bootcamp sequences the film opens up in scope as we’re introduced to his fellow soldiers to be. Sergeant, ‘Sarge’, Howell surprisingly portrayed by Vince Vaughn (An odd, but impressively solid choice for the character) doles out nicknames, barks orders through training sessions, and gives Desmond Hell once our protagonist is outed as a conscientious objector. The whole cast of Doss’ fellow soldiers are well rounded and feel realistic, a few of these men will likely get more roles off of their appearance here. Lastly Sam Worthington rounds out the cast with his performance as Captain Glover, a stern and unyielding leader who sometimes sounds a wee bit Australian. In all seriousness though his presence is a nice edge to compliment Vaughn’s marginally softer authority role.

Once the cast reaches the shores of Okinawa the film gears up for the slaughter to come. Save for ‘Saving Private Ryan’ this is likely the most brutal and unforgiving set of war sequences put on film. This half of the movie is where the film shines brightest. Throughout the chaos of battle, and the quiet moments of horror sparsed inbetween, Doss serves as a field medic and narrowly avoids the carnage sweeping around him as he hauls wounded soldiers to makeshift operating tables in the dirt. Here we find an unflinching look at war and what it can do to a man, how it scatters a team, how fear can grasp once proud men and shatter them to pieces. It is a stark and bleak view that may halt a few moviegoers considering signing up for duty. Once the need for a retreat is obvious the group climbs back down the shear cliff of Hacksaw Ridge we find our hero Doss alone and finally asking of God “What do you want of me?” and in turn a wounded soldier cries out for a medic from the smoke and fog of war. Once Doss has his mission he brazenly runs back into the hellfire of falling bombs and missiles to drag his men to the cliff and then lower them with a makeshift rope and pulley system. In the end he saved roughly 75 men by himself. After rejoining with the survivors Doss and company raid the Ridge in one last glorious romp through the trenches. Here Gibson make use of unique camera shots and choices that revel in the glory of battle as kinetic energy sweeps across the screen while the men fight on to take Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa Japan.

In the end this a solid war film with a lot going for it. While there is clearly a religious influence inert in the main characters motivations it is never pressed upon to the point of revulsion for anyone not agreeing with the notion. It is a respectful motivation that is just as earnest as Doss himself was. Everything from the pace to the color palette is well considered and contemplated. The action is expertly directed and shot. All in all, if this sort of movie appeals to you, you’ll likely fall in love with this flick.

Final Score: 4.8/5

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Shin Godzilla/Resurgence or “The King, has returned”

The King of all monsters returned to the silver screen this summer in Japan by way of Toho studios and it made a huge impact at the box office. Just this week, at the time of writing, the monster’s rampage crashes into American cinemas for a one week release. Growing up during the Heisei period of Toho’s productions I have a fondness and nostalgia for the giant lizard anti-hero and his destructive ways. Pitched as a force of nature that man must struggle against, with the occasional bout with giant other otherwordly forces, Godzilla was a serious threat that allowed for dramatic conversations about humanity’s own issues. “Shin Godzilla” does this particularly well. While there is camp and visceral destruction to be had, the film also uses Godzilla as an opportunity for social commentary on Japan’s status in international politics and how to decide whether or not to use force when the country effectively has no military.

In the initial stages of Godzilla’s wake of destruction the monster hasn’t quite evolved enough to become the towering colossus we all know him to be. No, at first he simply slithers and plods along a riverbed on his stomach looking quite silly and odd. Because of his size even at this stage he still does an awful lot of damage but eventually falls back into the sea to evolve further. Eventually he returns in style with an appropriately creepy look about him this time around. Then does exactly what you would expect him to do, follow the scent of radiation and plod towards it, menacingly. Throughout these sequences the story is driven by a large and ever changing cast of characters in the government and military personnel.

The film casts a wide net on the scope of the film by showcasing how Godzilla’s very presence effects the lives of the people in Tokyo and surrounding areas. This does a lot to present the audience with an effective grasp on just how many moving parts would have to come into play under such an event. There are many conversations between leading personnel about the streams of red tape and hurdles they have to jump through just to get anything done. A lot of the plot rests on these debates. The film carefully considers the weight of taking action, of following procedures, and whether or not to choose independently. Also I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Godzilla movie where “The Americans” were such a force in the background, they increasingly effect the story and try to control Japan’s situation for them as the runtime goes on.

This film does an impeccable job pulling everything together, the terror of the monster himself, the belowing and immense score-yes it’s got the classic tune that was missing from Legendary’s production, and even the cinematography and editing help to keep the pace taut when Godzilla isn’t onscreen, although his prescence can be felt throughout. Inbetween the rampages the film wisely takes a sort of CSI vibe as specialists attempt to learn as much as possible about the beast to form possible retaliations. Sweeping camera movements and quick-snap editing keep the atmosphere tense throughout while injecting moments of humanity and humor when appropriately needed.

All in all this entry in the longest continuously running movie franchise has everything that makes Godzilla great. Symbolism of Japan’s current psyche on popular and important issues. Stellar amounts of Godzilla destruction. Heck, they even throw in a nod that basically boils down to “The Americans call it Godzilla, so we’ll just go with that… but really it’s Gojira… *sigh* Americans” which personally made me crack a smile. Honestly this is a better film than our last attempt at adapting the King of monsters, so hopefully we’ll learn something from the originators of the property. Long Live the King.

 

 

Final Score: 5/5