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Quarantine 2020 Catch-Up — Rapid Fire Reviews #3 Politics and/or Absurdity

This edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews has got to be the weirdest assortment of films so far. In today’s day and age, politics has become a strange beast. So, it only makes sense to group the remaining stack of physical media I have left in one big, strange, mess. In the following films below you’ll find biopics of highly influential figures in American politics, stories about how the media has reacted to those figures and evolved over time, and a litany of abstract and absurd films that range from haunting and powerful to hilarious and ethereal. Hopefully you’ll find something worth watching in these strange times, good luck out there!

Nixon (The Director’s Cut)

Written by Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, and Oliver Stone, and directed by Stone, “Nixon” is a three hour plus political epic that follows Richard Nixon’s political career and life story. At least, Oliver Stone might describe it as an “epic” the way the film treats the source material and runtime. Personally, I felt a disconnect between what I imagine the filmmaker’s intentions were for the audience versus what I experienced. Since I was born twenty-six years after he resigned, I only know Nixon as the caricature that society has referenced him as since. There’s a sense that while the film doesn’t seem to condone Nixon’s actions, it maintains a sense of empathy for it’s subject while structuring itself as a ‘tragedy’. The film opens with the Watergate scandal fully underway and it slowly circles back around to Nixon’s eventual resignation. I found Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Nixon to be distracting at first, I could only see Hopkins’ acting, not the character he was supposed to be. However, after the film’s first hour had passed Hopkins began to melt away as Nixon emerged more prominently. The film goes through the highlights of every big Nixon related event that you might remember or were vaguely aware of; his awful performance in the first televised debate with John F. Kennedy, his meeting with Mao in China, his odd late night meeting with protesters at the Lincoln Memorial, they’re all there and executed fairly well. There was a lot of effort, it feels, put into an analysis of Nixon’s childhood to be able to understand the man he would become. His mother looms large in his life before and after her death, having put all of her expectations and guilt onto Richard after his two brothers died so early in life. Nixon is shown perhaps more meekly than he may have been at times, again, my knowledge of the man and his mannerisms is limited at best, but throughout the film there’s a melancholy note to the whole affair that posits that Nixon could have grasped greatness (see poster above), if only his own flaws hadn’t gotten in the way. The film is well cast, with standouts like Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger, Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover, and James Woods as Nixon’s Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman- all give excellent padding to a film that’s most chiefly concerned with its performances and larger-than-life characters.

Recommendation: If you enjoy Oliver Stone’s political works, this film is fairly entertaining and competently made. However, this one- especially the Director’s Cut- is L O N G and the pacing isn’t exactly perfect. If you’re into historical dramas, especially any involving politics, then I’d recommend it, but it won’t be for everyone.

All The President’s Men

Written by William Goldman and directed by Alan J. Pakula “All The President’s Men” is a political thriller adapted by the book following Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman). Admittedly, this is one of those classic films that I had previously just never gotten around to watching, but it fits perfectly after Oliver Stone’s “Nixon”, so, sometimes procrastination can yield unexpected benefits. This film is the very inverse of Stone’s “Nixon”. Stone’s film was heavily invested in Nixon and his inner circle making grandiose decisions in the spotlight of the world and trying to make sense of their process. This film, however, is about two ordinary men challenging power in the dead of night and shadows, it’s about hushed revelations and some dogged detective work. If you don’t know the story, the film is about the investigative reporting of Bernstein and Woodward who begin to tease out the hints and clues arising from the suspicious nature behind the Watergate scandal. Most of the film’s story is about ‘WoodStein’, as the duo are affectionately referred to at the Post, hunting down sources, pulling confirmations out of skittish witnesses, and those oh so infamous ‘Deep Throat’ scenes. There’s an infectious, almost manic, energy about the film, and a resilience that instills the film with a certain sense of hope that if you strive hard enough, put in the work, and keep the coffee brewing- that the juice will be worth the squeeze. My god, having faith in the system like that must have been encouraging…

Recommendation: This film is a classic, and it has most certainly earned its place in cinema’s history. Don’t wait forever to give it a watch like I did, besides, you’ve got Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman together here- what more could you ask for in a 1970’s political thriller?

Network

Written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, “Network” follows the story of Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the evening News Anchor of UBS, the imagined TV Network alongside the big three; ABC, NBC, and CBS. At the beginning of the film, Howard learns that he has just two weeks left at UBS due to poor ratings. So, as is appropriate in these sorts of situations, Howard and his longtime friend in upper management Max Schumacher (William Holden) get properly drunk and lament the state of News Broadcasting. The next night on the air, Beale ends his program by announcing that he’s going to blow his brains out the following Tuesday night on the air. This prompts the studio heads to fire Beale but Schumacher steps in to allow Beale one last broadcast so that he may go out on his own terms. However, Beale uses his opportunity to speak freely to his audience and he goes into an entire rant about life being bullshit which unexpectedly turns into a ratings hit. The studio executives decide to cynically rehire Beale and run with his “Angry Man” routine for awhile until they hit another slump in ratings after the novelty wore away. This prompts Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) to convince Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall), the studio manager, to allow her to run a new program entirely with Beale’s “Angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times..” bit at the center stage. Schumacher initially objects to the studio exploiting his friend’s emotional and mental breakdown for profits, but even he cannot stop the flow of money and attention towards UBS by way of Howard Beale. Diana and Schumacher eventually have an affair that runs alongside Beale’s popularity, but eventually the old school romantic that Schumacher is at his core cannot abide by Diana’s way of life. In a fantastic teardown of her shallow character and morality Schumacher tells her, “You are television incarnate, Diana. Indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality.” After some time, the inevitable divergence between an angry populist prophet preaching about the evils of the modern world and the amoral intentions of a profit seeking national television conglomerate would come to an impasse. Beale comes to discover that the studio is in talks to be bought out by an even bigger international conglomerate run by the Saudi Arabians. Which leads Beale to rail against the gigantic merger that would hurt the majority of the company’s working class employees in favor of stupendously big payouts for the corporate board members. When push came to shove between Beale and the executives, they couldn’t let that golden goose get away at the expense of one lousy angry prophet. I’d like to take a moment to argue that while this film does not immediately concern itself with politics, it does focus on the massive transition of the American Media machine during the 1970’s that transformed the old Newsman persona from Edward R. Murrow to the imminent 24-hour News Network style Pat Buchanan. It’s a far cry from the infamous News Anchors, and characters, of today like Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones- but this story is part of the path that news media took from objectivity to subjectivity. In the highly polarizing political world of today News is not, and cannot be, unrelated to current politics. You know how it is.

Recommendation: This was an excellent film! I’ve seen a handful of Sidney Lumet’s films before and I consider him to be one of the best American film directors of his time. “Network” is a sharp satire that pits people against each other for profit and popularity, it sets it’s eyes on an unyielding sensationalism over morality and truth. Not to mention the writing! This is the first film I’ve watched in a good while where the writing itself stood out as exemplary and admirable! The film won several academy awards, and Best Original Screenplay was among them! Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, and Beatrice Straight all won in their respective acting categories as well. I highly recommend this one!

Vice

Written and directed by Adam McKay, “Vice” is the political biopic of Dick Cheney, the 46th Vice President of America and one of the most dangerous men to hold power in American history. At least, that’s the angle that the film posits, and for my money, it makes a damn good case for that statement. Similarly to “Nixon”, this biopic tries to understand the man behind the podium- but as the film tells us right from the opening, Dick Cheney was, and remains, one of the most secretive men to hold political office in the nation’s history. The similarities between this film and Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” biopic end there however. There is no wistful nature or wide-eyed optimism that suggests that maybe the man was simply misunderstood. No, this film has a very clear bias against Dick Cheney, but it’s up front with you about that throughout the film. From drunken beginnings in Wyoming through his handling of affairs during, and in the wake of, 9/11 and all the way to the end of the Bush administration, “Vice” attempts to sum up the character of Dick Cheney. Cheney was an intern in the Nixon administration working under Donald Rumsfeld, who played an integral role in shaping the political mind of Cheney. The film suggests that one of the more consequential aspects of Cheney being in the Nixon administration was that one day the impressionable intern overheard Nixon and Kissinger discussing the secret bombings of Cambodia. This eureka moment gave Cheney the dawning realization of the executive branch’s true power. This would later lead Cheney to be, among other things, a huge proponent of “the unitary executive theory” which theorizes that the constitution could be interpreted such that the President possesses the power to control the entire executive branch. Fast forward twenty-five years and we have Dick Cheney being asked to join George W. Bush’s presidential ticket, after years of being out of the limelight with public family stresses and work in the energy sector, Cheney saw opportunity where others could not. If anything the film does give the sense that Cheney was no fool, he was a cold, calculating, and brutal man that would change the course of American History more than any other Vice President before, and likely after. However the film is also very concerned with the consequences of the actions of those in power. Edits of decisions made in the White House cut together with drone bombings, amid a litany of other violent outcomes, litter the film’s runtime. We even have a narrator, Kurt (Jesse Plemons), who is remote from the rest of the action taking place within the film- if Kurt would stop to explain something more in-depth, we’d cut to him raising his kid, going to war in Irag/Afghanistan, mowing the lawn etc.. while he assists in his duties as narrator. It’s not until far later in the film when Kurt returns on a jog one morning only to get hit by a car unceremoniously. After we follow Kurt’s dead body we’re quick to find that Kurt was the heart donor for Dick Cheney’s 2012 heart transplant. It was a smart move to make us comfortable with Kurt’s presence, which only makes the film’s main theory that much stronger. Dick Cheney’s actions had horrific consequences. I have to take a moment to praise the acting performances in the film, everyone was stellar in their roles, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld was immaculate, Sam Rockwell was the PERFECT George W. Bush, and Christian Bale was outstanding as Cheney. His physical and vocal transformation was haunting and exacting! Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney was also quite commendable!

Recommendation: In the vein of “Nixon” but with none of the wistful “What could have been?” suppositions, “Vice” takes a more cutthroat tone with it’s titular subject. The film is worth a watch purely for the performances alone but as a whole “Vice” was a very well crafted biopic combining its narrative strengths with a darkly comic tint. If you enjoyed McKay’s “The Big Short”, then you’ll probably find a lot to like here as well.

A Glimpse inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Written and directed by Roman Coppola, “A glimpse inside the mind of Charles Swan III” is an abstract and self indulgent meandering waste of time. Usually, I leave my opinion out until the end of a review, but I’m fairly certain that this film is objectively… uninteresting. Charlie Sheen stars as Charles Swan III, a middle-aged graphic designer in southern California who’s used his connections and visual art talent to set up an easy and comfortable life. The film centers on Swan’s relationship woes with Ivana (Katheryn Winnick). She breaks off their relationship at the beginning of the film when she finds nude Polaroids of her casually tossed into the same drawer with various other pictures of women that Swan’s slept with over the years. Sheen’s Swan doesn’t understand her problem with this and the rest of the film is a mishmash of shitty fantasy sequences in random assortments where Swan seems stuck on his central thesis; Can you really hate someone that you love? There’s some random flashbacks and meetings with the people in his life like his sister Izzy (Patricia Arquette), his business manager Saul (Bill Murray), and his best friend and comedian Kirby (Jason Schwartzman). Swan is a hollow character who’s an obvious riff on Sheen’s real life persona post “Tiger Blood” fiasco, and for all the title’s inference that Charles Swan’s Mind MUST be something worth getting a glimpse of… well, I actually might prefer watching paint dry. Mercifully, the film is less than an hour and a half long.

Recommendation: The only reason I can possibly give for anyone to watch this movie is for Bill Murray’s scenes. He’s always great, even in shitty movies! This is easily the worst movie I have seen from studio A24, you’ve been warned…

Under The Skin

Written by Walter Campbell and Jonathan Glazer and directed by Glazer, “Under The Skin” is a sci-fi/horror unlike any other. This is a film that I feel is best left unexplained and most enjoyed under the most basic of synopses. Set in modern day Scotland, the film opens with a mysterious motorcyclist carrying a woman up from a roadside ditch and drops off the woman in the back of our lead’s white van. Scarlett Johansson stars as our protagonist (of sorts) as she takes the woman’s clothes, Terminator style, and begins her hunt. The movie, from what I can gather, is about the nature between predator and prey. The film covers a lot of ground in that psychology, but a lot of the subject involves an eerie eroticism as Scar-Jo uses her human form to attract men and tease the life right out of them until she has a change of heart mid-film. Interestingly, a lot of the film was shot in secrecy with hidden cameras as to obtain realistic reactions and performances from random men out on the street. I suggest taking a look into how the film was made after you’ve given it a watch, it was pretty interesting. I really can’t underestimate just how little information is necessary before giving this one a watch, some things are best discovered on their own.

Recommendation: This is definitely in the running for “The Most Abstract Movie I own”. I’m not sure if I would call this film a masterpiece as I have seen others do so, but it IS one of the strangest I’ve seen, and I respect that. If you have the patience for slow films that don’t give you answers, then I recommend this one! However, that being said, this is a weird art film and it is definitely not going to be for everyone.

The Lobster

Written by Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos and directed by Lanthimos, “The Lobster” is a very peculiar, absurdist, black comedy set in a world where relationships are keenly monitored and tabulated. If one is to be found without a partner, they are shipped off to a large hotel that has a program in which the participants must find a romantic partner within forty-five days or they shall be transformed into an animal of their choosing. David (Colin Farrell) is brought to the hotel as his wife had recently left him for another man. In the beginning David makes a couple of friends with John (Ben Whishaw), who has a limp, and Robert (John C. Reilly) who has a lisp. Almost everyone in the film is defined by a singular trait, like having uncontrollable nosebleeds, or being shortsighted, and most of the people in the film seem to agree that for any relationship to work out in the long-run the two involved must each have at least one easily identifiable trait that they share. David has come to the hotel with a dog in tow, his brother, who had unsuccessfully gone through the program a couple of years before. According to the hotel manager (Olivia Colman) most people have no imagination and choose cats or dogs as their animal avatar of choice, and is pleased to hear that David has chosen a Lobster should he be unsuccessful in finding love. As the days go by David takes increasingly riskier moves to find a partner, eventually choosing the most heartless and brutal woman in the building (Angeliki Papoulia). You see, one can extend their deadline for transformation by capturing the escaped “loners” hiding out in the nearby forest, and the woman David was trying to woo held the record for most captured “loners”. When she believes David to be as heartless as her, having no emotions whatsoever no matter the actions taking place, she agrees to be his partner and they move into a double room at the hotel. The following morning she commits an unspeakable act that drives David to tears revealing him to be an unfit match. After this things escalate drastically and David eventually finds himself in the woods with the “loners” who also have their own set of harsh rules to follow strictly. So, this film is an odd one to say the least. Between the awkward and stilted language choices paired with most characters’ blank, expressionless performances, “The Lobster” is a very strange film, and is most certainly not for everyone (There is some unsettling violence speckled throughout the film as well), however, it’s uniqueness alone may be enough to merit a watch for some.

Recommendation: I’ve only seen one other film from Yorgos Lanthimos, and that was “Dogtooth”. I didn’t particularly enjoy that film, but this one I found this one to be far more digestible and weirdly fascinating. Based off of this one, I may have to look into Lanthimos’ other more recent films in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “The Favourite”. I found “The Lobster” to be oddly hilarious at times, strangely charming in its performances, and almost haunting in its portrayal of a world with strictly enforced laws concerning relationships. If you’re willing to take a narrative chance, I’d recommend this one.

Colossal

Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, “Colossal” is a dark comedy about Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a self-destructive alcoholic who returns to her small town home from New York City after her boyfriend ends their relationship and sends her packing. When Gloria moves back into her parents old home in upstate New York, she’s met by Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend that grew up and inherited his father’s bar in town. In the interest of helping an old friend out Oscar offers her a job at the bar, and since the desperate, yet nonchalant, Gloria is broke and not addressing her drinking problem- she accepts. After a night of heavy drinking with Oscar and his friends, Gloria awakens the next day to news of a Kaiju (a giant monster akin to “Godzilla”) attacking Seoul, South Korea. Eventually she discovers that the giant monster isn’t from another planet or one that crawled out of the ocean- but that it’s her! Gloria tries to convince Oscar and the guys that she’s not crazy and that every day, at the same time in a children’s park, she’ll manifest the giant Kaiju in Seoul as it mimics her actions exactly. The balance that this film strikes is somewhat brilliant in my opinion, as it uses genre conventions to play out a mature exploration of toxic friendships and how to be realistic about our own problems and what it takes to alleviate them. This is a film that you’ll need to enter with a heavy suspension of disbelief to enjoy as there is no clear answer to the sci-fi issues at the core of the movie. The monster involved is more of a projection of Gloria’s issues than an international threat to be resolved, and you’re just going to have to accept the tone of the movie without getting lost in the details for it to work.

Recommendation: This film was an unexpected delight! Its charming, clever, and whimsical with it’s subject matter- but the film never shies away from Gloria’s problems, in fact, the whole story is about how people can be monstrous to each other. Addiction, loneliness, selfishness, all of these things can make a person into a monster if not dealt with accordingly. I definitely suggest seeking this one out!

Source Code

Written by Ben Ripley and directed by Duncan Jones, “Source Code” is a sci-fi thriller in which the Military utilizes experimental technology to stop a terrorist from detonating a bomb on a Chicago commuter train. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is abruptly woken on that same train by Christina (Michelle Monaghan), a woman he doesn’t know, and as he staggers to find a mirror- he realizes that he’s in a body he doesn’t recognize either. Colter tries to make sense of the situation he’s in, remembering that he’s a soldier who was just in a firefight in Afghanistan and doesn’t remember how he got here, or what his mission is. After eight minutes, the train explodes and Colter is brought back to reality in a small room where he’s strapped to a machine with a nearby screen that blinks to life. On the screen is Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who explains the situation to both Colter and the audience. The small operation utilizes highly advanced technology in secrecy that allows the Military to send soldiers’ consciousness into a matching civilian near their targeted objective who takes control of that body for a limited time. Goodwin re-establishes Colter on his mission, stressing the importance of him stopping the terrorist as the commuter train was only the first attack in a series of coordinated bomb detonations throughout downtown Chicago. If he can find and stop the terrorist in time, Colter can save thousands of lives. The rest of the film follows Colter through many attempts with a variety of different outcomes as he hunts down the terrorist.

Recommendation: Intense and an entertaining ride, “Source Code” may not be the most revelatory film you see, but it’s a sufficient thriller with a fun sci-fi twist thrown in for good measure. Perfect for a rainy afternoon, I give it a solid recommendation.

Lost in Translation

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, “Lost in Translation” is a quiet little film about a middle aged actor and a young disillusioned wife sharing their insomnia and anxieties together in Tokyo. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is in Tokyo to shoot some Whiskey commercials, but he’s also going through a mid-life crisis and unsure of his marriage’s future. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is a recent college graduate who’s traveling with her husband as he’s in Tokyo for his video production work. She’s beginning to see a gap between their relationship and isn’t sure there’s still a connection there. Both Bob and Charlotte are staying at the same hotel and after a few chance encounters in the lobby they share a drink and some conversation at the bar. The next day Charlotte invites Bob to a night out with a few new friends, they bond over language translation issues, culture differences, and generally sharing in each other’s melancholy and sensation of emptiness. There’s tension found in their fondness of each other, but it never gets too strained or upsetting. This is a slower and mellower story whose focus lies in a shared connection between two lost souls for a brief period of time. It’s charming, fairly funny at times, and a story with sadness built into it’s foundation. Not a lot happens in this one, but its melodic in it’s melancholy, and if you’re willing to come along for the ride, the film will reward you for your patience (at least, that’s how I felt by the time the credits rolled).

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a slower and more relaxed lite romance, then this one will do. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson have excellent chemistry between each other and they put a lot of good character work into this charming little movie. If you’ve ever felt lost in this world, you may find a lot to love about this one. Highly recommended.

NEXT TIME ON RAPID FIRE REVIEWS:

The next series of films I plan on writing about will fall under the category of Netflix Gems. There are a LOT of films that have debuted on the streaming giant over the last few years that I haven’t gotten to yet and I plan on tending to the neglected king of digitally distributed films. I won’t give away any of the titles I plan on focusing on, but I will tell you that I won’t be covering “Tiger King” just because it’s been trending. I’ve successfully avoided that dumpster fire for now, besides, I’ve got much better media to catch up on. See you then!

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

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

The Good

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Deadpool

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

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Captain America 3: Civil War

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

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Dr. Strange

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

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Hacksaw Ridge

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

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Star Wars: Rogue One

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

 

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Swiss Army Man

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

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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

 

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The Jungle Book

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

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Star Trek Beyond

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

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Kubo and the Two Strings

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

 

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Snowden

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

 

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La La Land

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

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The Nice Guys

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

 

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Sing Street

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

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Zootopia

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

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Shin Godzilla

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

 

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Silence

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

 

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*A Monster Calls

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

 

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*Hell or High Water

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

 

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*Nocturnal Animals

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

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*The Edge of Seventeen

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

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*Arrival

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

 

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*Manchester by the Sea

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

 

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*Green Room

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

 

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*The Lobster

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

 

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*Paterson

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

 

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*The Witch

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

 

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*Moonlight

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

 

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*Fences

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

 

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*The Founder

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

The Bad

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Independence Day 2: Resurgence

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

 

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Sausage Party

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

 

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Alice Through the Looking Glass

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

 

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Passengers

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

 

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*Gods of Egypt

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

 

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*Ghostbusters

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

 

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*Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows

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

 

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*The BFG

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

 

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*X-men: Apocalypse

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

 

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*Jason Bourne

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

 

 

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*Legend of Tarzan

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

 

The Ugly

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Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

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

 

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Suicide Squad

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

 

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Assassin’s Creed

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

 

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*Ben Hur

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

 

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*Zoolander 2

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

 

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*Max Steel

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

 

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*Nine Lives

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

 

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*The Fifth Wave

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

 

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*Collateral Beauty

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

 

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