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More ‘Aliens’, Less ‘Prometheus’ please

Recently news broke on twitter by director Neil Blomkamp himself stating that he would be moving on to other projects for the moment as preproduction has been halted on his ‘Alien 5’ film to make room for Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ sequel. Personally I think this move is a mistake. I’m critically biased, though, in that I don’t necessarily love Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ and have a deep connection to his original ‘Alien’ and James Cameron’s fantastic sequel, ‘Aliens’. But my concern comes from more than just fanboy woes. This ‘universe’, if you will forgive the overused term, of Alien films seems to be at odds with each other as one film is fighting to reinstate the old nostalgia filled canon of yore, while the other wants to build a film series around looming existential questions within the world that the Alien films inhabit.

What excites me about Blomkamp’s installment in the Alien series is that it has the potential to put the spotlight back on the Xenomorphs and showcase just how much of a threat even one of those space raptors can be. I feel that the films that the Xenomorph has been a part of in the last decade (and its own sequels in the 90’s) have only weakened the monster’s image as a large hulking terror that thrives in the shadows (Something I believe the videogame ‘Alien: Isolation’ aesthetically nailed. Check it out!). Both of the ‘Alien vs Predator’ films portrayed the slimey villain in large numbers being taken out quickly by humans or Predators, which is hard to argue against at times as that IS what the predators are there to do. Simply having the two iconic sci-fi/horror villains on the same screen might be a problem of too much excess. An embarassment of riches if you will.

Blomkamp’s iteration was also rumored to be ignoring the events of ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection’ a wise choice. This would only solidify the series and reestablish tone that was lost in the transition from ‘Aliens’ to its much maligned sequel sisters of the 1990’s. Having the series revisited by an innovative filmmaker like Blomkamp, who is also a large fan of the series, is something that not only seems to be serving other studios interests well, (ie Marvel Studios with the Russo Brothers and Star Wars with JJ Abrams and Gareth Edwards to name a few) but will also inject a new style with a robust and clear love of the material as well.We also have to consider that Sigourney Weaver isn’t getting any younger. If we want a true sequel that continues with the character of Ripley then we ought to get moving, something the ‘Indiana Jones 5’ property is also likely dealing with considering Harrison Ford’s age as well.

Then there’s ‘Prometheus’. A film that asks many big questions, and answers none of them. A film that feels oddly out of place in the Alien canon it tries so hard to insert itself in. The film commits several sins throughout the runtime in its attempt to both connect itself and yet stand alone. *SPOILERS* The ending in particular is the most egregious error if memory serves correctly. In the final scenes the captain of the good ship Prometheus crashes the ship in an attempt to stop the engineer’s spacecraft to avoid the potential calamity of a biological weapon being released on Earth. This wouldn’t be so bad if this entire story took place on the moon from the original ‘Alien’ movie, but it does not. It takes place on an entirely different moon, which makes one wonder why the marketing sold the movie as a direct sequel setting up shots of the sideways fallen Engineer spacecraft that fell on its side in the exact same fashion that the one on a different moon in the future must have done(?). This wouldn’t have bothered me as much if it hadn’t been for the fact that the moon that Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley investigates in the first Alien movie is the one that the crashed ship ‘Prometheus’ distress signal is coming from! A fatal flaw in my mind, why would you go out of your way to contradict yourself and name the location of the events of ‘Prometheus’ as entirely different from ‘Alien’, since Ridley Scott made both films, I seriously question this obvious obstruction.

Even Scott himself has said that the movie only has strands of continuity relating to the Alien universe. I could go on, ‘Prometheus’ does some things very well, particularly Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of David the Android, but the film’s story feels muddled, stretched, lazy at times, and convoluted. The scene where the central character ‘Shaw’ has to cut a version of the alien out of herself is pretty intense and enthralling, but there are so many other parts of the film that just don’t coalesce. So, in my opinion, if Ridley Scott wanted to make a film about big existential questions set in space, why didn’t he just create a new property? This easily could have been it’s own film series,and that’s fine! There’s no need to force other intellectual properties to burden themselves with other sets of expectations and tone unnecessarily. Scott has even said his sequel might not even include any version of the eponymous Xenomorph at all! Which begs the question, why make a movie set in the Alien universe without including the famous baddie in some fashion? The current title for that project is “Alien: Paradise Lost” So hopefully they stick to their roots, we’ll just have to wait and see!

If I had my way (Don’t we all wish for that?) I would simply switch the fate of these two films. ‘Prometheus’ didn’t wow me, but here’s hoping Blomkamp can go above and beyond the line of duty and revitalize a franchise both legendary, and a piece of film pop culture.

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Review: The Martian, Saving Private Ryan.. again… in space

*Warning, certain plot points pivotal to the movie explained here contain SPOILERS*

Ridley Scott’s new film ‘The Martian’ is a rousing realism bound sci-fi flick for our time. Its easily the best film Scott has made in the last decade and is thoroughly riveting. This does not mean, however, that it is not without flaws. The film rests the weight of its purpose on Matt Damon’s tried and true shoulders, and because of this, it soars. Damon embodies Mark Watney with a tremendous amount of humanity and heart, and it shows throughout the film’s runtime. And while the cast that lives and breathes on the outer edges of Watney’s story serves their purpose, some better than others, a few performances feel shoehorned in.

In case you didn’t know, Mark Watney’s tale is that of an interstellar castaway. In the midst of an unexpected superstorm on the red planet of Mars, Watney’s team moves to evacuate their base lest their ship topples and strands them there. During this trudge through the storm to the ship Watney is knocked away from the team by a piece of equipment and his captain, Jessica Chastain, makes a hard choice in leaving him behind, as they assume his death. Watney’s team ascend from the red planet and make way for home before he awakens the next day with fresh wounds and a short air supply. From there it is Watney’s perogative to stay alive at whatever the cost, even though he himself knows the almost innumerable odds he faces, ” If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab beaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen. I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.” This begins the movie with a tangible and tense sense of urgency.

The film does many things quite well, but every so often there is a hiccup that hinders the overall experience. The cinematography, for example, is top notch and really utilizes the landscape to the audience’s advantage. The pacing of the film is also great-most of the time. At times the weight of the two hour and twenty minute runtime can be felt as montages trod on, or when there is time for Watney and others to reflect. Basically, every time the tension is gone, so too does the focus of the film, if only for a scene or two. Which is probably why Watney is thrust into many situations that he must out-think to survive. There are some impeccable sequences in which Watney must react quickly, and intelligently, or he will cease to exist. In fact, the problems Watney frequently encounters are the core thrust of the film in my perspective. They define the film because it is the calm and collected strategy that Watney, and eventually NASA, approaches these problems with that should be hailed with praise. Maybe not for writing’s sake in terms of originality, but in the grand scheme of it all, that despite all odds, we continue. We continue to be, and to be human is to explore, to step out of the cave and do something with ourselves. Fear is crippling, and we shouldn’t let that stop us from advancing, and that is something this movie showcases tenfold. It is something I admire greatly about the film.

There’s also one key scene that reminded me that I was watching a movie rather than being involved in the experience of the movie. When the crew is discussing how to save their man left behind Kate Mara’s character rattles off a line or two that when thought about momentarily was complete movie science lingo garbage. Most of the film does not commit this sin, but that one was particularly brutal. Speaking of the crew, the rest of the cast is quite good. An excellent bunch of actors to be honest. The aforementioned Jessica Chastain gets a few moments, moments where she is referenced particularly by Watney about her mostly disco music selection, which is heartwarming at a time when Watney reflects on his lonliness. With the exception of Jeff Daniel’s CEO of NASA most everyone else is there for exposition, ‘My God!’ scientist scenes, or particularly one note performances. Donald Glover in particular felt especially shoved in, as if his character was from a different movie altogether, not that his performace was lacking, rather that he might not have been given the proper logistics as to what the tone of the film would be.

The moments that do lack however are small and fleeting as most of the movie is with Damon on the lonely red planet, and that’s where the film sizzles. Near the third act news of Watney’s isolation and rescue plan are released to the public and the effect of global teamwork and rallying around the cause of bringing our guy back home is enough to cheer for! Its inspiring and it makes you feel warm in all the right places when you see everyone come together, just to save one man on another planet, 140 million miles away.

Final Score: 8/10

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Review: Bridge of Spies, Spielberg almost does it again

‘Bridge of Spies’ is a movie that doesn’t seem to quite know what it wants to be. As many have undoubtedly already stated this movie is expertly crafted, no doubt about it, but when the name Spielberg is at the forefront, people come to the cinema with weighty expectations. The film has this disjointed feeling from start to finish, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t a well made movie, just that there clear stylistic choices that are somewhat at odds with each other. Perhaps the silver screen pairing of the Coen Brothers on the screenplay and Spielberg’s direction tendencies just weren’t quite the match made in movie heaven that some thought it would end up being.

The film centers around the true life events of James Donovan, an American insurance lawyer in 1957 that ends up being selected to defend a recently captured Soviet spy, Rudolph Abel, acted quite well by Mark Rylance. As this is happening an American pilot is captured across the Soviet border while on a reconnaissance mission to gain precious info on the Russians. This time it is the CIA that comes to Donovan to get him to negotiate their spy for ours. Thus begins the heart of the movie. I will say there are plenty of great choices in the film. Obviously Hanks does a stellar job, but curiously in a handful of scenes it almost seems as if even Hanks is almost going through the motions of the film. His scenes with Russian spy Abel are always on point though. There is visually clever editing throughout, and the production team that designed the sets used deserve applause because never once do you feel as if the characters are not in the year 1957.

Lets get to the meat of it though. It feels as though Spielberg wasn’t sure if he wanted to create something more in line with his more serious films like ‘Lincoln’ or ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or his popcorn flicks like ‘Jaws’, ‘Jurassic Park’, or even ‘Catch me if you can’. The film is chock full of idealistic speeches given by Tom Hanks’ character James Donovan. It’s also sprinkled throughout with moments of dynamic tension concerning foot chases, aerial action, and terse negotiating. This wouldn’t be so bad if these same things weren’t also happening in other areas of the film as a whole. This is firstly evident in the writing. Now, this film is very well written, that’s not the issue here. The Issue is that the Coen brothers’ style, which can be felt whenever a character opens their mouth, seems to be running at a different pace than the action, acting, or plot. For example, its often repeated for the main character to ‘be careful’ as danger is afoot, in fact danger is frequently mentioned, but you never quite feel as if anyone you care about in the movie is in any palpable danger at all. It never fully feels as though the two ends of the spectrum are in tandem with each other. They’re both good and well in execution, they just feel out of sync with each other.

There is however one obviously glaring omission in this Spielberg flick. No John Williams. Which is a bit of a let down because the composer and director have come to be recognized with one another after all this time. This is only the second film that Spielberg has not collaborated with Williams on for the score. And you can tell. It almost seems as if Spielberg had a conversation with composer Thomas Newman asking him to “Just try and do what John Williams would do” because the score consistently tries to reach the heights of the legendary composer while only getting to some knockoff version that sounds like Danny Elfman trying to do John Williams instead.

Let it be known however that none of this means that the film is not good or entertaining, it is. We as moviegoers have simply come to expect a more complete package from Steven Spielberg at this point. The movie has heart, a whole lot of it, and at the end you’ll probably leave with slightly warm feelings about it, but I doubt the film ‘WOW’ed anyone at all. When you begin to be associated with wowing people, they will come to expect it. Maybe next time Spielberg. We still love you.

Final Score: 8/10

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Review: ‘Crimson Peak’ a beautiful, yet predictable tale

I firmly believe the number one issue with ‘Crimson Peak’ was how it was marketed. Universal chose to sell the film as a horror feature filled with ghastly ghouls and scares aplenty. This however does not do justice to the film’s actual genre, which is more of a gothic-romance mystery with some ghosts involved. In fact the scriptwriters tell us several times, “It’s not a ghost story, more of a story with ghosts in it.” which is far more accurate. To be fair the film is not a bad one by any measure, it is simply not the one I, nor likely many other moviegoers, expected.

This is a tale more Bronte than brutal. Don’t let me fool you though, blood is everywhere in this movie. The scares just aren’t. The movie is more atmospheric and moody than frightening and adrenaline fueled. Edith, Mia Wasikowska, is our heroine in this tale. The story begins as she is given a graven warning from her ghostly deceased mother, “Beware the Crimson Peak!”. From there Edith grows into a young woman with a penchant for the written word trying to sell one of her manuscripts. The film quickly, and wisely, introduces us to the most compelling character in the story, Sir Thomas Sharpe, in a scene stealing performance by Tom Hiddleston (Loki from ‘The Avengers’, if you were unaware). Sharpe is visiting America from England with his piano playing sister Lucille, portrayed by an intense Jessica Chastain. Together they are searching for funding for Sir Thomas’ invention that digs up the red clay from his English estate so that they may take it and use the unusually crimson muck for building material and other such uses. At least, that’s what they tell everyone. The film tries to invoke a level of secrecy into the plot at this point with quick edits and quiet lines of dialogue between the brother and sister that imply greatly sinister proceedings, a sure danger for our Edith later on. That’s just the problem though, while the film builds in intensity, the ending, while disturbing, never quite lives up to what is implied throughout.

I don’t hate this movie, not by a long shot. I am just disappointed by it. There are great things in it however. Tom Hiddleston’s acting is superb throughout, able to communicate sorrow, treachery, sadness, and heart with barely a look. The man can act, and act well. The best thing about the film though has to be production design. Crimson Peak itself might make a top ten list for haunted houses in the future. It feels as old and decrepit as the characters say it is, and the house itself provides the eerie sensation that permeates most of the film. As the manor is slowly sinking into the red clay beneath there is often red goo pulsating out of the cracks and oozing through the floorboards. It is certainly creepy. The sad part about all of this is that that sole factor makes the cgi ghosts that much more troubling. As good as the cgi is at times, it just doesn’t feel as though the ghosts are actually interacting with the world we are supposed to believe they inhabit. The house looks too real for the ghosts. My other issue here is that the script gives away the plot in spades, what the writer might have thought were subtle nods are downright spoilers in my mind. While this might not be true for every viewer, it did not further the experience, but rather detracted from it, in my opinion.

Again, I do appreciate that this movie exists though. It is a wonderful contrast to the other cinematic options that are available. It also doesn’t rely on the male characters for the meat of the story. Yes Sir Sharpe is an important player in the film, but it is the two female leads that are the center focus of the tale. Oh, and Charlie Hunnam is also in the film, and he serves his purpose well, but his part is entirely knowable from the moment you meet him essentially. So, while I respect this film for purely existing, that is not enough to make it a great film. Hopefully this doesn’t mean Guillermo Del Toro’s other passion projects are pushed to the side after this.

Final Score: 7/10

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Heroes: JJ Abrams

Might as well get this one out of the way before Star Wars hits when everyone and their mother has an opinion on JJ Abrams. JJ Abrams is one of my favorite new ‘Big’ directors to emerge out of the 21st century thus far. He’s taken Science Fiction in bold new directions, revitalized Tom Cruise’s spy Ethan Hunt, and he hasn’t forgotten to bring a bit of heart to everything he’s done.

Abrams has been touted as the ‘New Spielberg’ and that’s a title I certainly wouldn’t mind endorsing. This is most apparent in his 70’s era sci-fi throwback, “Super 8”. I absolutely love this movie. The film centers on a small group of elementary school friends on the verge of adulthood as they try to complete their own zombie horror flick. In doing so they witness a colossal train wreck and investigate its mysterious source as the film continues. The film’s lead character is Joe Lamb, a boy whose mother’s death begins the film and grounds us in his grief as he tries to connect with his father in understanding this tragedy. Joe then meets Alice, daughter of a family from ‘the other side of the tracks’ whose father works at the very same factory that Joe’s mother lost her life in. This budding attraction in the two leads is charming and wholesome despite the eventual upheaval around them as something lurks in the outer edges of town. Filled with intense moments, I adore this film because it treats the younger characters with an earnest seriousness that isn’t overplayed, or downplayed for that matter. The whole film is nostalgic in its visuals and performances, which isn’t all that surprising as Spielberg himself was an ‘on set’ producer for the flick. Seriously check this one out if you get the chance!

Before Abrams became this omnipresent wizard of science fiction, he dabbled in Monster movies, not in direction, but in producing. ‘Cloverfield’ was a fun perspective on the monster movie genre and one of the few, in my opinion, good found footage films. He also took on the Spy genre with Mission Impossible three from the Director’s chair, reigning the series back in from the less than stellar sequel. What’s clear here is that he isn’t opposed to jumping film flavors and getting his feet wet in other oceans of possibilities. I doubt anyone could have predicted his jump to warp speed when his ‘Star Trek’ revival came out back in 2009. Personally I was never a huge trekkie, always on the side of the force in that argument, but no sci-fi nerd can deny that Abrams’ two Trek films aren’t fantastic. I mean, they will, sci-fi nerds tend to do that, but both films were obviously good enough to get him the new Star Wars gig over at Disney, and that’s good enough for me. Those films got me into the entire canon of Star Trek and I’ve enjoyed that perspective on space ever since.

Perhaps the thing I admire most about JJ Abrams is that he doesn’t deviate from the idea that secrecy to serve the movie-going experience is important. In a world of instant gratification and constant advertising and marketing at work, school, and home- it’s refreshing to see somebody make the world realize that patience is a virtue, and that it will only better serve you the viewer in the end. Sure, you can have your cake and eat it too, just don’t be upset when the diabetes kicks in.

Star Wars Episode 7 excites me like no other, and I can’t wait until it releases this Christmas, but I’m happy to wait. I look forward to seeing how the galaxy far far away has fared in the last thirty years.I’m also vastly intrigued by what Mr.Abrams will do after Star Wars. Maybe it’ll be another original film like ‘Super 8’, hell maybe even ‘Mission Impossible 6’, that would make him the only returning director of the series. Hopefully taking on such a monumental project hasn’t broken him quite like ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ broke Joss Whedon. If I were him, I’d take all those Disney dollars and just enjoy life for a year before diving back into the next passion project.

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Marvel Team Ups: Why they should happen more often

In recent news it was confirmed that Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk would be joining Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in his third solo movie subtitled ‘Ragnarok’. This is excellent news for any and all comic book fans, and most cinema goers are probably down for the added Avenger in ‘Ragnarok’ as well. In my opinion this is representative of the change Marvel Studios is going to need to keep up with as their movies keep coming out. Soon it won’t be enough to have just one character in any given movie anymore. You can’t go around saying ‘everything is connected’ when it seems that the solo movies barely have any reprecussions or connective tissue to the larger ‘Avengers’ model (With the exception of Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, but only because of the much hyped Infinity stone focus in the latter). They’ve already *SPOILERS* given us a taste of this in ‘Ant Man’ with Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang running into Anthony Mackie’s Falcon during a raid Ant Man does on the new Avengers Facility seen at the end of ‘Age of Ultron’. This is a great first step towards making the solo films feel more integrated into the series as a whole. Although, admittedly, it must be quite the series of flaming hoops for the creative teams that are routinely swapped in and out of each film. There is a difference between setting up multiple storylines to pay off in another movie altogether and having a fan favorite  character depict a smart and sensible cameo a la ‘Ant Man’ though.

Possibly more important though is the inclusion of characters from both the television side of Marvel and their big cinema brothers. This is especially true for the Netflix shows that Marvel has begun to roll out. The addition of the Punisher to Daredevil season two is a slam dunk in this ideology of connectedness. Hopefully this is what will happen with other similar heroes that typically fall under the Marvel ‘Knights’  paradigm. Blade, Ghost Rider, and Moon Knight in particular could all benefit whatever series they are introduced in, just as long as it makes sense in service to the story being told. That was intrinsically the best aspect to this new iteration of Daredevil, the story. It was well written and heavily relied on dialouge with crushingly violent and dark sequences spattered throughout to avoid lag or boredom in the script machinations. As long as we aren’t simply tossing in cameos for no good reason.

I believe this to also be true for the upcoming ‘Jessica Jones’ series. Since she is mostly unknown (in the real and print world of comics) she would benefit from the inclusion of a character or two dropping by. Who wouldn’t be pleased as punch to see Paul Rudd’s Ant Man in an episode? Even a simple Foggy, from Daredevil, cameo would blow people’s minds. There’s also a rumor, with a heaping pile of salt, going around about the possibility of Spiderman making an appearance in the second season of Daredevil, which would make all the sense in the world. Spiderman and Daredevil have collided and teamed up previously many times in the past several decades of comics, why not use Tom Holland while we’ve got him? This would also highly benefit Sony, the more people come to recognize this new Actor as THE new Spiderman that gets to interact with all of Marvel Studio’s properties, the more money comes back to them when his solo movie opens. It’s a win-win for everyone barring this kid doesn’t become the new Hayden Christensen.. he’d have to try pretty hard to commit to that level of terrible though. There’s also the circulating rumor that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange will appear in the ‘Defenders’ show once that hits, which is appropriate in my mind as Doctor Strange doesn’t show up all that much, but when he does, it’s usually a big deal, this would only serve to bolster whatever threat level has been introduced to the street level heroes of New York City.

It’s this type of interconnectedness that’s so exciting about what Marvel is doing. In the comics when Spiderman shows up out of nowhere in a Punisher storyline, or Black Panther in an Iron Man book, it’s exciting, scintillating, thrilling. Seeing these characters interact with each other is the basis of why the comics are so fun to begin with because the storytelling options can be endless. It doesn’t always work out, some will be destined to fail by their very nature, but what in God’s name is the point of having Avengers movies and tie ins if you aren’t going to utilize the characters you have access to? This was the downfall to phase two of Marvel Studios’ films in my opinion. I enjoyed those films, but why wouldn’t Tony Stark call for some sort of help when the President of the United States is in Danger? Or any of the scenarios that took place in these films? I understand, that’s part of the allure, an eventual collection of heroes in a “One Shot Annual”, but at least if we’re going to do that, can we make the sparing team ups of a revered quality? Age of Ultron was entertaining and did some things very well, but ultimately failed because of its weighty ambitions (Setting up multiple storylines to pay off in another movie altogether, clear marketing decisions etc). My point being, yes, we should definitely get more team ups, but lets give the creative teams some time, quality is important.

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Top Six Movies we don’t need, but are getting anyway…

Inspired by the news that the next “Die Hard” installment will be a prequel, procured here is a list of several other films that we also do not need. Enjoy, or well, try to. I mean, if we wanted to kill off the “Die Hard” Series the easiest way would be to let Bruce Willis continue making horrible horrible installments in this once great franchise.

Point Break Remake

In one of the most uninsipiring trailers in a long time “Point Break”, the remake, tries to channel all of the intense action sequences of the original with varying impromptu Keanu impersonations while hoping to gode a few “Fast & Furious” fans away from “Star Wars” this December. The only thing here that’s gonna break is Keanu Reeve’s heart.

Scarface remake

Is no ground sacred? Are no legends beyond reproach? While Scarface might not be the pinnacle of filmmaking, how can they beat that Al Pacino performance? It’s what made the film! Sheesh, what’s next Ben Hur?

Ben Hur Remake

……………… I’m at a loss. This is literally Film Legend. Why?

Transformers Sequels

This may shock you reader, but I have enjoyed some of the Transformers movies (1 was fun and 3 was entertaining) but after that last one. Wow. I mean, again, not the pinnacle of filmmaking ( AT ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL) but wow, that one hurt. A lot. Do we really need ’10 more years’ of Transformers?

Jumangi Remake

This one is complete heresy. I’m amazed they’re moving forward with this production at all, especially so soon after Robin Williams untimely death. He was the heart of that movie and I can’t really think of any other actor that could appeal to so many, and earn so much laughter in the classiest of ways. Without Williams this is basically just Indiana Jones: The Board Game..movie.

The Newest Friday the 13th reboot/remake

This one is less heresy and blasphemy, but it is a personal grievance. I get that Slasher movies will be made until the end of time, especially when concerning Jason Voorhes, but, why in God’s name does it have to be a ‘found footage’ film? Oh its produced by Michael Bay? This will clearly be the definitive installment then………