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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, or “Space Avengers.. Again!”

Written and directed by James Gunn once more, “The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” brings us back into the fold of the galaxy’s most ragtag team of cackling thieves, opportunistic miscreants, and charming rogues. Proving to be Marvel’s riskiest property yet, the sequel delves deeper into the past and motivations for more of the characters while also aiming to be as filled with comedy as it is with tragedy. After all, isn’t that the age old recipe of a good story?

Set two months after the events of the first film, we find our heroes doing a job protecting powerful batteries from the onslaught of a tentacle wielding and fanged-tooth monster of inter-dimensional origins. After the beast is slain, in one of the best opening credit sequences since “Deadpool”, we’re swiftly introduced to the people of the planet Sovereign, a golden colored species that hired the team because of their well known status after the events of the first film. The people of the Sovereign are easily offended and typically issue death penalties for transgressions against them. So of course Rocket Raccoon maligns them of being considered “douchebags” offhandedly. He also steals from them, as he is wont to do. This kicks the thrust of the film into motion and we’re off! I won’t tread into spoiler territory here, but rather instead focus on what the film did right in my opinion. This is a much more character driven film than the first. That one had its moments and particular storythreads that were serviced quite well, but the sequel dives deeper, especially into characters that you would not expect to get meaningful exposition from.

There is a great effort here to build the world of the MCU’s Cosmic side, and I think this film handles that aspect exceedingly well. Not just in a sense of there being many inhabitable star systems, but even in the size ratios of spaceships. The look of this movie is a fine example of a beautifully chaotic color palette. Neon colors and vibrant hues fill the screen one moment just before another psychedelic barrage pours onto the silver screen as characters bounce across the galaxy, fire their blasters, or leap into danger with their blades drawn. I can’t understate how impressed I was with the framing and the cinematography on display, it was a visual feast to behold.

This film delivers on all fronts for me personally. The threat of the film has increased exponentially since the initial story, and they balance it all with a style of humor that is perfect for this series. Dave Bautista’s Drax has some of the very best comedic lines and jokes throughout the film, but everyone gets their fair share of comedic timing. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon has a memorable riff on the mutinous ravager known as “Taserface”. It’s a great bit and it works on every beat. Of course Kurt Russell’s character of “Ego” is a joy to behold in his performance. If you thought it was a weird choice to have a film where two of your main characters are a wise cracking Raccoon and a Tree alien who can only communicate with a single phrase, then buckle up because this film outdoes these notions with strange but fascinating creative choices.

If you enjoyed the first Guardians, I suspect you’ll get a real kick out of the sequel. Personally, this is one of the most satisfying sequels I’ve seen from Marvel Studios and it gives me nothing but boundless hope for “Infinity War” and the rest of this universe unfolding before our eyes. Oh, and Stan Lee’s cameo for this film is a great example of the lengths the studio will go in dredging through the many many characters in their lore, I loved it, and you just may too!

Final Score: 300 songs (There’s even a Zune joke thrown in for good measure!)

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Old School Review: Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

Occasionally in history what was once old can become new again. I’ve been revisiting older films as of late and I’ve found several to be incredibly relevant in their stories when compared to the headlines of today. One such story is “Dr. Strangelove (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb)” by legendary film director Stanley Kubrick in 1964. “Dr. Strangelove” is a black comedy that satirizes the rampant paranoia of the cold war conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On a lone military base United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper issues orders to his subordinate Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British Royal Air Force officer, to put the base on alert. He then issues an order for an unauthorized first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union and locks down the base. “Wing Attack Plan R” is received by the airmen in their bombers and they go about their orders utilizing their CRM 114 discriminator, a device that is programmed to only accept communications from general Jack D. Ripper in the form of a secret three letter code, also known only to the general. From there the film follows the President of the United States, his advisers, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as they try to recall the bombers and prevent a nuclear apocalypse.

I honestly went into this not expecting to find a new favorite, but it became one nonetheless. It’s a brilliant ploy on the insane paranoia that the fear of the cold war instilled in people. In fact, I find it increasingly relevant in today’s world. The inherent insanity of our own headlines reflect what was once fantasy or farce into reality, I mean, we did elect a reality TV show host as the President. But anyhow, I do love the performances here, especially of George C. Scott (famously known for his role as infamous WW2 general George S. Patton) as general Buck Turgidson who tries to explain the practices of the military in such situations to the president. As he fumbles through, making jokes and getting caught up in his own bravado I couldn’t help but be tickled by the absurdity of it all. Nuclear holocaust being a possibility in real life is terrifying enough, but put the lens of satire on it and it becomes a brilliant sort of laugh factory. Peter Sellers also does a lot to play into the humor here as he plays three characters throughout the film; Lionel Mandrake, the RAF officer that tries to talk down the out-of-his-mind general Ripper, President Merkin Muffley, who has my favorite line in the movie “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the war room!”, and Dr. Strangelove himself, the wheelchair bound nuclear war expert and ex-nazi scientist who has a case of diagnostic apraxia aka alien hand syndrome in which his lame limb lapses into the Nazi salute. Brilliant.

So if you’re looking to fill out your Stanley Kubrick flicks, or just hankering for a comedy satire that plays with real world issues, give this one a watch, it’s worth your time.

Final Score: 31 seats at the war room table (give or take)

*Check out this video on the history of the making of “Dr. Strangelove” on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ6BiRtGTAk

 

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Review: Free Fire, “Slapstick gunplay meets Reservoir Dogs’ style genre flick”

A24 is the new studio to beat lately. With plenty of oddball flicks like “Swiss Army Man” and “Spring Breakers” or genre infused flicks like “Under the Skin”, “Slow West”, “Green Room” “The Lobster” and ‘Ex-Machina”-they’ve always made curiously unique choices when choosing the films that would fall under their umbrella. They also happened to work with the recent underdog best picture winner “Moonlight”. So with that repertoire behind their filmography I went into “Free Fire” expecting to find another unique flick.

“Free Fire” is a one location story about an arms deal gone wrong in an abandoned warehouse, in 1978 Boston. The wrong guns are brought to the deal, and plenty of high strung emotions as well. Tempers flare when enemies recognize each other and all sense gets thrown out the window. Cillian Murphy leads a band of IRA (Irish Republican Army) members and hired help to purchase a heap of guns, while Sharlto Copley heads a coy operation of arms dealers looking to sell. In between the group mechanics, the side characters emerge loudly and with gusto. This movie is essentially all second act, which clips by at a swift hour and thirty minutes. The tension is kept alive as the characters get clipped by bullets, writhe in the dirt and broken glass of the warehouse floor, and crawl about looking for potential enemies and blindly shooting with the crack shot skill of a storm trooper in a looney-tunes cartoon. Combining slapstick gunplay humor with murderous intent and Tarantino-esque handling of dialogue, “Free Fire” aims to be a bloody good time at the theater.

The best part about this genre flick is the cast. Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer, as Vernon and Ord respectively, steal every scene that they’re in. Brie Larson also pulls a gem of a performance out of “Justine”, the intermediary of the deal. All of the smaller characters that impact the story, like Jack Reynor’s Harry or Sam Riley’s Stevo, are boisterous and big in nature as well, cackling above the crackle of gunfire amidst the chaos. Michael Smiley’s Frank and Babou Ceesay’s Martin also play integral roles even though they may be the quieter parts of the whole.

“Free Fire” wasn’t pretending to be more than what it presented itself as, and that’s part of what made it so damn fun. I enjoyed my time with it, and if you give it a look, I think you might too!

Final Score: 7000 bullets (How many they used in making the film! Check out link below)

Brie Larson and Armie Hammer’s ‘Free Fire’ used 7,000 bullets during production

“Free Fire” is rated R and opened for wide release in the US on 4/21/17

 

 

 

 

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Movie Pitch: A course correction for the “Alien Versus Predator” film series

I don’t know about you, but I found both of the “Alien vs Predator” movies to be rather lacking in quality. Which is a massive disappointment considering both sci-fi/horror icons come from series that are pillars of the modern genres that they helped to pioneer. That’s not to say I didn’t find aspects of both films that were entertaining, but the initial flick was rated PG-13 and didn’t do enough with either property- while the sequel was drowned in darkness and went way too over the top to amend the misgivings of the first. Probably shouldn’t have opened the sequel with a child getting a heart to heart with a squirmy facehugger. So, I’m going to offer a few ideas as to how I would make a third entry into the series and revive the respective space aliens and their age old struggle.

1: Set the film in space

The initial flaw of the first two films, in my opinion, was that they followed the structure put in place of the Predator flicks by setting the stories on modern day Earth. For the third entry, I would flip that idea and set the films in deep space. Put the Predators in the world of “Aliens”. In fact, I would take inspiration from the video game “Alien: Isolation” by placing the story in a gigantic space station that has been taken over by a nest of Xenomorphs.

2: The timeline should be post “Aliens”/in the future

I would set the film after the events of “Aliens”, not being directly related to that film, but taking place after that film in the timeline. In order for the humans to have any kind of impact I would give them the benefit of this time jump when we have superior weapons and technology. I would also keep the world tactile and retain that “lived in” sensation partly by keeping the eighties technology, something that looks old and outdated-but is actually futuristic in its ability. As a side note, I would embrace practical filmmaking practices as much as possible. Real, large, sets built from scratch, costumes, animatronics, and slimy oozing gore.

3: Make the Xenomorphs great again

Okay, ignore the political subtext, it simply made me chuckle. Now, one of my favorite aspects of “Alien” and its sequel are the fact that these creatures are horrifying. They’re essentially space raptors. We should treat them as such. Show that they are capable of being an intelligent species-not purely a source of fodder for the predators’, or humans’, weapons. Maybe have them trick the humans into falling into a trap, much like coyotes or wolves operate with a pack mentality.

4: Have the Predators pull the strings

As the galactic hunters that they are, the Predators should be the driving force behind the plot’s movement, even if the viewers are unaware of this as its happening. In this story I would set up the Predators as a small group of elite hunters tasked with eliminating this alien nest. We could play with the possibility of this being a sort of “last stand” scenario for the aliens in this section of space? Or the Predators motivation could be that they don’t like the idea of a space station filled with Xenomorphs so close to their own planet? There are a few different ways this could go, however I do enjoy the idea of the Predators subtly manipulating the space marines into checking out this station. Or, another possibility is that the space marines were sent there independently, as a response to a distress signal, but the Predators use the marines to their advantage when they discover humans also milling about the derelict space station. Either way, I think the Predators using the humans as bait to bring out the queen they intend to kill would be a great deal of fun.

5: Humans storyline should be military based

The human element of the story should be present and at the center of the film. However, we are not the stars of the movie, the warring alien factions are. So, through this effort I believe creating bombastic characters from a military squad akin to the one in “Aliens” would benefit this story greatly. We cannot simply slavishly recreate those characters or scenes though. No one can take “Game over man!” from Bill Paxton, R.I.P. I would view this as a monster movie, set in space, with a horror aesthetic permeating it. We can meet new characters as the film progresses, survivors on the station etc. Obviously somebody also has to be an android in hiding.

Those are my ideas for a possible third entry in the “Alien vs Predator” series of films. I think this would be an excellent return to form if handled with care, and more than anything else- it’s a movie I want to watch. Maybe some day we’ll get something along these lines. So, what do you think? Comment below with any ideas you have for another film in this series or let me know what you thought of my rendition. Thanks for reading!

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Review: Kong Skull Island, or “Hold onto your butts… again!”

As the second entry in Legendary’s newly established Monsterverse, “Kong: Skull Island” revives one of cinema’s oldest icons in a colossal way. The film begins with two pilots, one American and one Japanese, crash landing on the beaches of Skull Island near the end of World War Two. They fight, chase, and scrap their way into the jungle and are quickly met by the giant ape himself. Fast Forward to 1973, just as the Vietnam war is coming to a close, and we’re met with an introduction to the Monarch corporation as it tries to secure funding for one last venture into the mists of the unknown, a journey to the fabled Skull Island. “A place where God never finished creation” is how John Goodman’s Bill Randa explains it in his pitch, however it’s his associate Houston Brooks, played by Corey Hawkins, that sells the idea to the gatekeeper by suggesting that the Russians and Chinese will have the same data they do soon enough, and if there is something to benefit from, shouldn’t America be the first ones there?

“Kong: Skull Island” quickly introduces us to the remaining heavy hitters in the cast’s lineup. There’s former British SAS tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) who’s recruited after showcasing his barroom brawling skills, Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver as the anti-war Vietnam photographer, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Preston Packard- a discouraged Vietnam Army officer that leads the military helicopter escort to the island. Once assembled they fly into the storm forever swirling around the eponymous island. Once there they quickly begin dropping bombs to survey the land and retrieve the seismic data. This immediately triggers the first large scale set piece wherein Kong smashes the entire fleet of helicopters like the annoying gnats they are to him.

So let’s talk about what the film does right. From my perspective, this film adequately does what a giant monster movie should do. It focuses on the monsters. It keeps the pace breezy and yet tense. The film gets its tone right. Most importantly though, Kong is a constant force throughout the film. Kong’s motivation was also clearer than that of say, Godzilla in Gareth Edwards 2014 iteration. Kong is the protector of the island, he respects nature and those who care for it, and he chooses peace over violence unless provoked. In Godzilla’s case, it seemed to simply be his need to challenge and reign supreme over the M.U.T.O.s? Or to align some monster’s code of balance?

Anyhow, back to Kong. I loved Sam Jackson’s revenge storyline with Kong, he went full Ahab and Kong was his white whale. Though admittedly I never tire of Jackson’s Shtick, it just works for me. John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, was also incredibly noteworthy. He gets the most complete storyline, and while he provides some comic relief, he never wanders into any zany or out-of-place performances. His character retains the heart of the flick, and it shows in palpable ways throughout the runtime. He’s also the connection to the natives of the island, which were represented not as savage tribesmen, but as a small peaceful community trying to survive in this hellish environment.

Speaking of the cast, I know the film has been steamrolled at times for “wasting” such a talented cast. However I don’t think they were wasted in the least to be honest. It’s a giant monster movie with “B-genre” aspects throughout it. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t expect any Oscar nominations to come from a King Kong movie, and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be the most fleshed out and layered monster movie-Godzilla certainly wasn’t with Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character, not to mention that film actually wasted Bryan Cranston. To that end, story and background information can be told in ways other than dialogue. The sets, locations, subtle acting, and even over-the-top acting all combine to tell a story. Sometimes it feels as though people simply watch films to point out as many problems and issues with a performance or story as possible, and that’s a shame. When did we all become so consistently cynical? Honestly, if you don’t love something, that’s okay-not everyone has to enjoy everything.

In the end I had a ton of fun with “Kong: Skull Island”. I loved the shameless “Apocalypse Now” influences. I thoroughly enjoyed the chaos, the variety of monsters, the fight sequences, and of course the king himself, Kong.

Final Score: Two Kong-sized thumbs up

 

 

 

 

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Review: Logan or “Old Man learns new Snikt”

Finally, after 17 years we’re getting a ‘rated R’ Wolverine movie. However, the real question we should be asking ourselves is; is it any good? Rest assured comic fans, and western fans for that matter, because this Wolverine solo flick is leagues ahead of the notoriously awful “X-men Origins”, but it’s not necessarily perfect.

The year is 2029, and the mutants have all but disappeared.”Logan” begins with a ragged and hungover Wolverine waking to a bunch of thieves trying to steal parts from the limo he drives for petty cash. This bloody scene brilliantly sets the stage for the rest of the story that is about to unfold. This Wolverine is tired, he heals slower, he drinks away his days making ends meet while he hides an increasingly sick and potentially dangerous Professor X south of the border in Mexico. Eventually they become entangled with a new young mutant, Laura. Perhaps better known as X-23, young Laura is a feral and mostly mute ball of fury from the moment she enters the screen. Thankfully she develops beyond this stage later in the film. Such is the state of old man Logan’s life when the picture begins.

There is some superb acting in Hugh Jackman’s performance. He feels more human and yet more calloused as he tries to keep everything from falling apart. His claws don’t always fully protrude, having to pull them into place at times, he limps after skirmishes, he is flawed here. There is a great sadness in Logan’s eyes and it is palpable. Professor Xavier on the other hand isn’t faring much better, in fact he is definitely in a worse condition. His seizures cause quite the chaos and he seems to go in and out of fully realizing his surroundings. They both live and strive together with Caliban, an albino mutant that can sense other mutants, he helps to keep the professor medicated while Logan finds and funds the aging Xavier’s medication.

From a filmmaking perspective, there is an ubiquitous western influence throughout the film. They even go so far as to point this out by having the characters watch “Shane”, the hugely influential 1953 western. “Logan” borrows and pays homage to this through it’s cinematography, emphasizing scale and embracing the ominous landscape backgrounds of “the old west”. The score itself was adequate, but it never felt bombastic or powerful. It was happy to match the movement and run parallel to the story, but it was never noticeable or standout. The incredible action sequences are well choreographed and nothing ever feels too ridiculous. It doesn’t feel like the characters are swinging from wires like in “X-men Origins”, however there is one scene where Logan is a bit exaggerated in his leaping ability, but it was an emotionally charged sequence so I’ll let it slide.

The film attempts to balance the somber and melancholy aspects of its characters and setting by counteracting it with a gratuitous helping of extra bloody violence. For me, personally, it was a joy to see Wolverine hack and saw through bad guys like a child attacks a birthday cake, but just as with cake, eventually it can be a bit too much. I feel this is what threw the film off for me at times. An excessive amount of gusto for the R rating they finally achieved is admirable, but sometimes it clashes with character. For example, having Professor X drop a F-bomb once or twice would set the tone and be incredibly funny or deadly serious depending on the scene, but having him do so as much as he did in the film felt over-excessive, it didn’t feel in tune with his character. The reveal of X-24 speaks directly to this issue. That whole “character” and how he was utilized was a disappointment in my eyes. I understand the obvious thematic ideas behind it, but there wasn’t enough done to differentiate it/him, or to make it any more useful than say “something to fight Logan”. I can only speak for myself, but sometimes the film went a little overboard. Hey, a few claws directly in the face of several bad guys-that’s cool and shocking, but over fifty incredibly gory stabs directly into people’s faces and heads.. it can get away from itself at times.

In the end this is the best Wolverine solo movie out of the three we got and it will likely be remembered for how well executed it was. X-23, or Laura, was an excellent addition to the film and it will be interesting to see if anything is ever done with the character again. If you’ve been hankering for a bloody western starring Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, you’re in luck, this one’s worth the price of admission.

Final Score: Six razor sharp SNIKTS!

 

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Mystery Blogger Award!

The Vern’s Video Vortex (a pretty cool movie blog you should check out, link posted below) recently nominated me for the mystery blogger award (A Thousand Thank yous!)! The fact that anyone reads my articulate nonsense is great to hear. So, here I am to respond and nominate others in turn.

All acknowledgements/shout-outs go to Okoto Enigma for creating this award. It’s an excellent way to connect bloggers!

The rules of the tag/award are:

  • Put the award logo/image on your blog.
  • List the rules.
  • Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Mention the creator of the award.
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
  • Nominate 10 – 20 people.
  • Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog.
  • Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question.
  • Share a link to your best post(s).

THREE THINGS ABOUT ME:

1 While I am not directly involved in any filmmaking in a profitable sense, it is my goal in life to make movies. I’m moving forward in the most shoestring budget of ways to obtain gear and write out ideas for shorts and features. Somehow, someway, I will be involved in the filmmaking process.

2 In high-school I was voted most likely to write a book and get it published. I intend to do that at some point. Film is my favorite medium of storytelling, but authors do have an advantage over directors and cinematographers; imagination doesn’t have budget restrictions.

3 I will literally watch any movie at least once. I feel I can’t rant or rave about a flick until I’ve seen it completely. I’ve seen a great many awful, yet oddly entertaining, horror movies because of this. See: ThanksKilling, Carver, I spit on your grave (either version), Black Christmas, Scanners, Exorcist 2: The Heretic, and many, many others. Also, Hellride. That’s not a horror movie, well, it IS a horrific movie-It’s a direct to video flick about warring biker gangs with some of the most awful (yet hilarious) dialogue and line delivery you’ll ever find. I don’t recommend it. See this link for more details: https://spacecortezwrites.com/2015/09/03/rant-time-hell-ride/

THE VERN’S TOP 5 QUESTIONS:

1 Q: ScreenTrax(screentrax.net) is a new podcast I’m starting that reviews movies and the soundtrack that goes with them.  What is your favorite Movie Soundtrack?

A: Currently, it’s “La La Land”, but that should come as no surprise. Of all time though? There are so many to consider! “O’ brother where art thou?” comes to mind, certainly “Moonlight”‘s score was powerful as well. I think I’d have to settle on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” though as my final choice among favorites.

2 Q: If you had the chance to live inside the world of one movie for a year.  Which one would it be?

A: I’d have to go with “The Lord of the Rings” (specifically Fellowship). I enjoy nature quite a bit and it would be both challenging and rewarding to live and move around that universe, carefully avoiding places like Mirkwood forest and any treacherous caverns or caves. And, as great as modern technology is, it would be refreshing to have to live without having to be constantly “plugged in” for a bit.

3 Q: What do you find frustrating about the status of movie criticism and blogging?

A: The process of attributing scores and points to film, or art in general, seems to me, to be problematic at its core. I understand that we all want to know the status of “Who’s winning at the Box office?” Or “What’s their score on rotten tomatoes?” but the focus should be aimed more at meaningful conversations about the merits, or perceived failures of any such film. Some do this, quite well even, but all art is subjective in the end and the scores don’t really matter. If you loved a movie that’s hated unanimously, or despise one that’s universally loved, well- that’s your opinion and you’re totally allowed to have it. I don’t generally approve of going out of your way to crap on any one movie-unless it’s funny. I’ve been relying mostly on ‘youtubers’ for film reviews lately and most seem to understand the idea of having a conversation about film-rather than racing to the scoreboard.

4 Q: What do you find rewarding about being a  movie critic or blogger?

A: I just love talking about movies. Another medium to feed into this love (obsession?) is always welcome! Some day I’ll get around to making one!

5 Q: (Funny One/ Weird One)  You have 45 days to find a partner.  Otherwise you will be turned into an animal of your choice.  Which animal do you pick?

A: I’d choose the Southern Royal Albatross, it’s a large seabird that lives mostly around New Zealand and the average lifespan is 58 years!

MY NOMINEES:

dbmoviesblog  https://dbmoviesblog.wordpress.com/

Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)  https://jordanandeddie.wordpress.com/

Geekritique  https://geekritique.net/

Dan The Man’s Movie reviews  https://dtmmr.com/

Honoring the Heroines  https://swanpride.wordpress.com/

Zen Ron’s The Most Enjoyable Day  https://themostenjoyableday.wordpress.com/

Film The Madman  https://filmlefou.com/

Cine Muse Films  https://cinemusefilms.com/

CFY Movie News and Reviews  https://contentforyoublog.wordpress.com/

Cinetactic  https://cinetactic.com/

MY BEST WORK:

I’m rather proud of my movie pitch for an adaption of Ernest Shackleton’s “Endurance”. It took me awhile to consider who would be involved, and who could make interesting or clever choices with the material, after all acting is all about making choices. Mostly though, I just want to watch this movie!

https://spacecortezwrites.com/2016/09/22/movie-pitch-adaption-of-endurance-ernest-shackeltons-fated-antarctic-voyage/

SPACECORTEZ’S TOP FIVE QUESTIONS:

1 If you could remake a film, how would you change it? Anything goes.

2 Who is your most admired person in the film industry? This could be anyone involved in the process, director, writer, actors, even editors- they need love too!

3 What’s your favorite black and white film? What makes it your favorite?

4 What is your favorite movie that has come out since 2000, and why?

5 (Funny/Weird one) If you had to occupy the headspace of any one film character and act as a sort of conscience, a disembodied consciousness that said character would be able to hear perfectly, who would you pick?

The VERN’S VIDEO VORTEX link below:

https://videovortex.wordpress.com/