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My Top Ten Favorite films of 2019

This was an excellent year for movies. There’s a few movies I have yet to see that may have knocked others off this list, but hey, there’s a lot of movies out there and this year I’ve watched an inordinate amount of old and foreign films thanks to the Criterion Channel streaming service (I highly recommend it!). There’s only so much time in a year, what can I say? The films listed below have some reviews all to themselves, but there’s also several here that I saw and loved but never got around to writing a review of it.

10 Joker

Joaquin Phoenix certainly committed to this role, and it paid off incredibly well. When I initially heard about the concept of Joker origin story with no Batman to counterbalance the chaos, I wasn’t interested. To the filmmakers’, and performers’, credit- I actually really dug what they were able to do with the premise. The world building was excellent, the brooding tension was palpable and damn near overwhelming at times, but the best part was Phoenix’s incredible descent into madness. He carried this film and should, at least, be nominated by the Academy for this role. He earned it.

9 Ad Astra

I did not expect to love this sci-fi adventure as much as I did. Brad Pitt’s performance as Roy McBride was one of my favorites of the year. This “Apocalypse Now” meets “2001 Space Odyssey” vibe worked insanely well in my opinion. The irony of an Astronaut traveling to the furthest reaches of the solar system to reach his father is a fascinating inward character drama for Pitt’s McBride. Usually heavy-handed narration could sink an otherwise decent film, but here it not only enhances the drama, it’s essential to understanding who Roy McBride is. This journey to Neptune was an evolving and engaging one that I really dug.

8 The Wretched

I caught this film at the Traverse City Film Festival over the summer and it was one of the best original horror films I’ve seen in years! Set in Northern Michigan, a teenager visiting his father for the summer notices his Dad’s neighbor is a bit… off. I don’t want to ruin anything about this movie, but just trust me on this one, go watch it! Smart characters, awesome practical effects, chilling sequences, and literal edge-of-your-seat intensity- this film knocked it out of the park for me and I highly encourage every horror fan to seek this one out!

7 Ford V Ferrari

I recently caught this one with my Dad, I mean it’s the perfect Dad movie and the marketing worked for me. What I didn’t expect was that this one would be one of the best damn movies of the year in every conceivable category. Acting. Pacing. Heart-pounding thrills. Funny, sad, and powerful. The story of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles working with Ford to beat Ferrari at the 1966 24-hour Le Mans race in France was compelling and once fully immersed, I didn’t want to exit the car when the credits rolled. It was incredible. They don’t make many movies like this anymore, check it out when you can!

6 Godzilla King of the Monsters

Look, I’m a sucker for giant monster movies, Godzilla especially. I grew up on those old Toho, man-in-a-suit, relics. I have a warm nostalgia and earnestness for these cheesy flicks, and this American sequel brought a lot of heart to some old favorites. The use of classic Toho movie monsters Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah were 100% on point for their larger than life personalities. This movie, correctly, recognized that the monsters are the stars, and the human cast is just there to react to their mayhem. Lots of solid throwbacks to the fifty plus year history of Godzilla. I wholeheartedly loved this movie.

5 Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Is it just me, or is Quentin Tarantino’s skill as a writer/director aging like a fine wine? While this isn’t my favorite outing from the filmmaker, it is an excellent film. This is Tarantino at his most relaxed and most meta, his love for Hollywood, filmmaking, and the people who made them is made crystal clear here (if you haven’t already noticed). Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio excel as stuntman, and eternally cool, Cliff Booth and the internally wrought actor Rick Dalton. This is a film that’s completely at ease with it’s characters and lackadaisical with it’s pacing- though I’d argue that the relaxed speed of the plot was finely tuned for maximum enjoyment. The two friends can feel their time passing them by, and their conflicts come with meditative questions about how to evolve with the transitioning film industry. How do they stay relevant? Does it matter? It’s all good man, just kick back and enjoy the ride with Cliff through the Hollywood Hills, it’ll all work out.

4 The Irishman

This decades long Gangster epic is one of the finest films from Martin Scorsese in the 21st century. Granted, he has consistently made challenging, intimate, bombastic, and truly cinematic work that will stand the test of time- but this one may be my favorite film of his since “Gangs of New York”. Getting Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci together for this beautifully tragic film was a true delight. This is a film, obviously, made by an aging master of the craft. His directorial touch in this film could only be informed by someone that’s made movies for thirty years or more. He doesn’t just love these characters, he has empathy for them, and it feels as though he may pity these characters and the power structures they live and breathe in. It may be three and a half hours long, but it’s well worth the time sink. Easily one of the best movies of the year.

3 John Wick 3

The John Wick movies just keep getting crazier and more intense and I’m here for that. Keanu Reeves has helped to turn the tide of action movies away from shaky-cam noise and darkly lit confusing brawls into an evolution of clean wide shots with well choreographed, but not defined by dance or ballet, action. This is a film series enamored with the history of action shown onscreen, and I fucking love that. The story may be simple, John Wick is out for revenge against the dirty bastards that ruined his retirement, but the devotion to grisly, eclectic, and unnerving violence is admirable to say the least. This film cracked open the underworld of John Wick’s assassin’s guild and expanded the lore in a few really cool ways. Also, that knife fight will go down as one of the best fight sequences in modern film history.

2 The Lighthouse

Yet another film has confirmed the manic brilliance of the A24 film studio. I will watch every and any film that comes from A24. I didn’t think Robert Eggers could top his first feature, “The Witch”, but this film took huge, gigantic, creative swings and for me, it worked wonders. “The Lighthouse” is a miracle film in my opinion. Not that it’s “so good it’s miraculous” but rather, it’s a miracle that it got funded and made at all. A black and white film shot in an ancient 1.19:1 aspect ratio with a clear and unavoidable admiration for turn of the century silent film work- I mean, this is a film for film nerds if there ever was one. The performances by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe were both exquisite and legitimate tour de forces- and I don’t take that term lightly. They employ the grand range of expression in their descent into madness. This is one of the standout films I will remember fondly when thinking back on this year’s creative output.

1 Avengers Endgame

What can I say about this film that hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseam? It sits atop the box office throne, and it earned that spot. I’ve always been a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe- since Tony Stark himself was tagged by shrapnel from his own bombs, I’ve been there. I grew up reading a wide variety of the Marvel comic book characters, and the sheer devotion that this studio has had in crafting incredibly accurate adaptions of their superheros has been downright amazing. These films work because of the focus on the characters themselves, about what motivates them, who they are as people rather than what they can do with their various “science gone wrong” superpowers. Endgame is my favorite movie of the year because it paid attention to every detail about their string of movies past and present, and they kept evolving their characters over time. Sure, the world saving stuff is bound to be fun, but I’m more fascinated with who these larger than life characters are and how their heroics, or failures, effect them. Besides, I will never get over the fact that the biggest movie of all time features Captain America, with Thor’s Hammer in hand, saying “Avengers Assemble”. As a longtime comic-book nerd, I will always cherish that very silly and quite amazing moment.

*Films I missed, but wanted to see: Uncut Gems, Knives Out, Parasite, Marriage Story, 1917, The Good Liar, Motherless Brooklyn, Honey Boy, Dark Waters, The Farewell, Midsommar, Rocketman, Shazam, Us, The Dead Don’t Die, Always be My Maybe, Aladdin, Yesterday, Missing Link, Rambo Last Blood, Dolemite is My Name, The Peanut Butter Falcon, The King, and El Camino.

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Review: Godzilla King of The Monsters (2019)

Written by Zach Shields, Max Borenstein, and Michael Dougherty, and directed by Dougherty, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is the sequel to the 2014 American reboot of the Godzilla property and the third movie in Legendary’s Monsterverse (Which includes Kong: Skull Island). Fast forward five years after the events of the first film, in which San Francisco was obliterated by Godzilla’s fight with the MUTOs, and we have the MONARCH organization keeping tabs on all potential “Titans” both known, and unknown. Returning are the MONARCH agents Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), but the focus this time around is on the Russell family. Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) a leading MONARCH scientist, Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) her separated and disillusioned husband, and Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) their daughter.

Now, to be completely clear, I am one hundred percent biased in this review. The Toho Godzilla movie series is a beloved thing in my household, even though there are a few misses in it’s sixty-five year history (I’m looking at you “Son of Godzilla”). From the 1954 original down through the goofy “Showa” series, and my personal favorite era; the Heisei films released in the mid 80’s through the mid 90’s, the big G has been many things to many people. Destroyer, savior, hero, or villain, Godzilla has always been entertaining, and never one to be trifled with. The practical effects and sci-fi B-movie goodness of these movies have always held a special place in my movie loving heart. Which is why this newest entry in the longest running film series had me excited for it’s potential Monster mash-up goodness. Though to be fair, I was wary coming into this film, the previous film in this latest American reboot of the property was more frustrating than anything else. There were some good things in Godzilla (2014) for sure, but I honestly couldn’t stand the lead character portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He was so wooden and seemingly unaffected by everything happening around him, he had no sense of wonder, or terror, fear, joy etc, he felt muted and blank. Which was in stark contrast to Bryan Cranston’s character who was animated and motivated, propelled by heart and determination. Clearly, they had killed off the wrong character in my opinion. Those character choices combined with the head scratching decision to cut away from almost all of the Monster action left me in a daze walking out of the theater in 2014- everyone around me was proclaiming how great this new Godzilla movie was, but I felt none of their joy. Was I just getting too old for these things? Had I fallen out of touch with what made a good monster movie? What happened?

Which brings me back to “King of the Monsters”. This movie is an extreme departure from it’s predecessor, and it is a very welcome departure indeed. This is wholeheartedly a true Godzilla movie in every sense. Is it perfect? No, no it definitely is not- but did I have a great time watching it? Yes, I loved this film and it’s the only legitimately great American Godzilla movie in my opinion. This is clearly a movie made by people that love and respect the source material. Okay, so what makes it a great monster movie? Let’s break it down:

The Redesign of Godzilla

“King of the Monsters” came with a few changes to Godzilla, and they were all a move in the right direction. Not only was Godzilla slimmer for the sequel, but his spines that run along his back and tail were reverted back to the traditional shape that defined his look since the original. His spines now sport grooves that illuminate like the veins of a leaf before he bellows out his iconic blue beam of irradiated fire. However, most importantly, he sounded much closer to what he’s consistently sounded like for decades.

The Sound Design

Godzilla’s iconic roar may not have been as direct a translation to his Toho past as say “Shin Godzilla” was, but the filmmakers here clearly tried to infuse the roar that he had in the 2014 version with a more classic sounding undertone. In fact all of the main Toho monsters making appearances here sounded exactly like, if not very close to, their traditional sounds. Rodan’s titanic squawks were familiar, but Mothra’s chirps were pitch perfect and instantly recognizable. King Ghidorah’s gravity beams may not have had their static-y tones exactly, but everything else about his design and depiction was so good that it was easy to miss and forgive. The best aspect of the sound design and scoring of the film, in my opinion though, were the themes of each monster. Mothra’s theme was reassuring and gratifying, but the cream of the crop was Godzilla’s theme. Granted, it was the composer’s spin on his theme, but I was amazed we got that to be honest and it took place during the best rallying point in the movie- all was forgiven for that scene alone.

The Monsters and their Personalities

These giant beings have certain personalities attached to their grandeur, and the fact that each depiction of the four main Kaiju, err.. I mean Titans, was consistent with Toho’s canon was a dream come true. Godzilla’s dominance, King Ghidorah’s (or Monster Zero if you prefer, both titles are in the film) intense ferocity, Rodan’s eternal frenemy status with Godzilla, and Mothra’s divine benevolence all felt familiar and true to their usual character. All four Monsters were designed and showcased in grand fashion, and I’d be willing to bet that the latest renditions of these characters will be fondly remembered and beloved for some time.

The MONARCH organization Redesign and human cast in general

In the five years since the devastation of San Francisco, MONARCH must have been given a blank check from the government because they now have a multitude of worldwide bases and installations. They even have a giant airship that’s a combination between the imagery of the infamous US stealth bomber and the functionality of the “Super X” aircraft used in “Godzilla: 1985”. As for the human cast, they’re leagues above the last film. Dr. Serizawa has more to do in this film, notably I adored the fact that this film mirrors his actions in the original 1954 film, which both include the oxygen destroyer. Vera Farmiga’s wide-eyed desperation is serviceable and Kyle Chandler’s reserved hammy deliberations were appreciated- though I would have had him notch it up a peg or two. Admittedly Millie Bobby Brown’s character didn’t have anything particularly important to do other than be the emotional motivator for her parents and the rational actor in several scenes, but it wasn’t offputting either- just a bit underwhelming. My favorite human character (besides Serizawa) was Bradley Whitford’s Dr. Rick Stanton. Whitford’s dialogue was extremely hammy and it could most definitely be classified as overacting, but I loved every second of it. Some of you may deem it cringe-worthy, but in a giant monster movie- it works! I also thoroughly enjoyed Charles Dance’s no nonsense militarized villain of the film, he raised the threat level of every scene he was in- which is impressive given that he’s in a Godzilla movie.

So, if I had any drawbacks in the film, they would pale in comparison to the good things I have to say about it. For example, Rodan’s entrance in the movie is an exhilarating edge-of-your-seat sequence. His wings cause city destroying blasts of wind, he screams across the sky with his lava tipped wings grazing the ocean and destroys a multitude of military aircraft. Later in the film however, his power levels seem to be lowered, and he doesn’t feel as much of a threat as when he erupted out of a volcano. To be honest though, there’s not a lot of negative things I have to say about the movie. This film won’t be for everyone, and that’s okay, but if you enjoy big, loud, and fun summer blockbusters- then I’d be willing to bet you’ll have some fun with this one. I, for one, am amazed that this sort of film had a budget this size and was fairly true to the source material. Great job!

Final Score: 1 King to rule them all!

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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

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Rant Time: Moments don’t make the movie

Over the last few years there has been a common concern between fellow filmgoing friends and myself. Mainly that while popular films might have incredible moments sparsed throughout their runtimes, those moments don’t represent quality storytelling overall and that spectacle drives ticket sales while cinematically speaking some films have been lacking. I know there comes a time to debate what type of film deserves what level of expectation, but this has happened enough, even discounting blockbuster carnage a la ‘Transformers’ aside, that it is a legitimate concern.

This was most recently brought back into the forefront of our minds upon an initial viewing of ‘The Amazing Spiderman 2’. Yes, a bit late, but none of us had been particularly enthused with the first outing with Andrew Garfield’s attempt at the character, so it took awhile before any of us were that excited to see the sequel that ruined Sony’s Spiderverse anyways. This film is a prime example of what I’m talking about. Many, but not all, of theĀ Spiderman scenes in the film were fun and more accurate to the character than the initial film, bombastic, aerial, slow-mo fun. That being said, those were almost entirely the only points of the film that either made sense (When did Peter Parker become so whiny and quote “Edgy” anyways?) or were even all that engaging. I could probably cut twenty minutes of the film where Garfield is simply staring open mouthed like an idiot for no reason at all. Admittedly, I am biased here, this film is not my cup of tea, or my Spiderman to be honest. There are fleeting moments when Garfield pulls off aspects of the character wonderfully, but they are tarnished by its overlong runtime, questionable tonal shifts, and musical score throughout.

Godzilla was another hit that confounded me entirely. Let me say first however that I do have a love for monster movies, particularly for ‘The King of Monsters’ himself. Gareth Edwards adaption’s popularity is so very odd to me in that it A) killed off the only compelling character in the first twenty minutes, B) focused on easily the most useless and uninteresting protagonist I’ve seen onscreen in years, and C) ignored its title character for most of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are awesome moments here and there, but the film denies us several fight sequences, tries desperately to get us to care about a character that doesn’t even seem to want to be involved in the story much less lead us through the plot, and wastes the few good actors they do have in its ranks, namely Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, and Elizabeth Olsen. If only they had killed off Aaron-Taylor Johnson instead, the film would have been far better.

James Bond returned this year in ‘Spectre’ which brought Bond back to the Whiz-Bang adventure stylings that would be more fitting for Pierce Brosnan’s Bond than Daniel Craig’s. While there are indeed moments of excellence, that opening sequence alone was worth the price of admission, they cannot mend serious flaws that hurt the film otherwise. What’s particularly disapointing here though is that the last James Bond film ‘SkyFall’ had been a profound story for the character, questioning whether or not He is still needed, the film challenged the audience to rethink what Bond meant to them and his relevancy in the medium, ‘Spectre’, on the other hand, nestled back into the tired tropes of the double O agent and neglected to challenge the character, or audience, hardly at all. Relying on a formula that’s been done time and again can only do so much, especially when the shadow of the previous film stands as tall as ‘Skyfall’ does. Audiences’ memories aren’t that bad.

So, we should come to expect more from our films given how many we churn out each year, right? As an informed audience, we should want our art to challenge us, ask us the hard questions, show us the hard truths, and be better than we expect. Not all movies have to go through the gauntlet because of audience demands though, and I get that, but shouldn’t we want more substance out of our stories than just being entertained? Some films are simply pure entertainment, and that’s fine! However we shouldn’t let this permeate a majority of the movies being made. A variety throughout the cinematic landscape is certainly wanted, and needed! Personally, I want to see more films that inspire people, make emotional connections, and showcase ourselves onscreen in the best light.

It should also be noted that this is by no means to say that we don’t have nuanced and complex films solely relying on spectacle. This year alone has had many worthy additions, ‘Mad Max’, ‘Inside Out’, & ‘Creed’ are all magnificient in their own rights and are only a fraction of the quality content out there. So, my point is get out and see a film outside of your comfort zone, it might challenge you in a way you never thought possible! See something new!

 

 

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Rant Time: Godzilla better hit the Gym to prep for Kong

The Summer of 2014’s blockbuster season opened with a bang in the form of Legendary studio’s re-imagining of the King of all monsters, “Godzilla”. The film soared to new and exciting heights for the big budget monster mash with word of mouth and generally favorable reviews helping to boost its solid earnings. As a self proclaimed lover of the giant monster sub genre of B movies I understand the love of a cheesy monster romp and I adore some of the old Gojira classics, even some Gamera flicks have won my heart in years past. However, I did not particularly love this new iteration of the famed atomic fire breathing baddie/hero/savior/destroyer.

My issues lie in the fact that the movie is incredibly slow for a towering slamfest between monolithic legends, er or at least one legend. I can handle slow movies, (there’s a special place in my heart for “The Good The Bad and The Ugly”) that’s not my personal issue, it’s that if the human melodrama had been compelling in any sense of the word then I would have been fine. The subpar, disinterested, and wooden acting from Aaron Taylor-Johnson was borderline unbearable though. He is the most useless character I have seen in a movie in a long time. He frequently mentions his character’s purpose of disarming, or arming I forget, EODs (bombs) but never once utilizes this skill and somehow gets close to some of the monsters for money shots, but that is the breadth of his character’s usefulness, getting a good shot down. It’s a real shame they wasted Bryan Cranston here as well because while he was onscreen, he was brilliant. Quite a shame. There were several outstanding moments of action that were phenomenal, but an entire movie can’t ride on “That one awesome scene”. And I will give credit where credit is due in that the visual homages to Toho’s Godzilla flicks over the decades of their work was right on the money, specifically in the colorization.

I bring all of this up because recently it was rumored, then confirmed, that Legendary studios will be utilizing their new King Kong feature as an eventual set up for another clash between cinema’s greatest monsters of all time. This is worth getting excited about if you love the genre and the B movie mayhem that flows through the vein of these movies. I certainly do! But my concern here is that if we’re going to have this film exist, then we must at least try and make it compelling when the titular beasts are not onscreen, right? If we’re taking a moment to harken back to the last Kong movie as well and compare it to this latest Godzilla flick, well, I’d have to give it to Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” as the better movie overall. It’s, simply put, a more entertaining film. and structurally I believe it is superior, especially when concerning pacing.

My point being that if this new “Godzilla VS King Kong” movie is to be any good then we have to reassess what makes a monster movie good. There will be several movies before the big showdown between the two heavyweights however so there is plenty of time to prep and train. Godzilla will be getting a sequel in which he will be taking on both the continually underestimated Mothra and the immense brutality of the space dragon known as King Ghidorah as well, that should be a blast. Kong will also be making his debut (again) in a period piece that takes place before the events of last year’s Godzilla flick, along the lines of how Captain America’s origin tale fit within the Marvel Studios universe at the time. At one point both Michael keaton and J.K. Simmons were attached to roles within this film and I am deeply saddened that they will reportedly not be in the flick if reports and rumors are to be believed. This movie can be both bombastic AND compelling if the people involved are willing to learn from their (granted they are “perceived”) mistakes and transcend the expectations of the genre to create something grand. or just fun, as long as it’s good ole escapist fun I will be sated and drunk with happiness.

In today’s world of filmmaking the threat of spectacle may be overwhelming to some, but I say there is room for all types of movies to coexist and this is one I’d gladly see right alongside Spielberg’s upcoming cold war drama “Bridge of Spies”, different stories come with different rules and expectations. Such is the rich world of cinema we find ourselves in today, we can go out and see Danny Boyle’s cold and calculating “Steve Jobs” biopic, or the next offering from Marvel Studio’s pantheon of morality tales. it’s all up to choice at this point, and the future is what we make of it. Hopefully that is a future in which I will not be groaning in the theater at the sight of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s unmotivated face again but one where I am awash in the glory of giant fisticuffs soaring through skyscrapers with at least an ounce of acting charm thrown in for good measure.