biography

My Thoughts On: “The Founder”

I can’t believe we’re still in January, because the movies that I’ve seen are surprisingly entertaining.  Today we have a film that takes us through the early days of Ray Kroc; entrepreneur/salesman who had a string of failures behind his 20+ years in the business.  When he comes across a small restaurant created/run by two brothers (Mike and Dick McDonald), Kroc instantly desires to be a part of it.  After much contemplation and pitching, he convinces the brothers to turn their very successful restaurant into a nationwide franchise.  After a while, Kroc begins to take over the business as he makes decisions that the brothers disagree with.

If you couldn’t tell, this is based on a true story, and a much more engrossing one than I initially thought.  The Founder blends rich American history with detailed explanations of how the industry functions to create a film that average audiences and business-minded people will enjoy.  There is actually a lot of wisdom and knowledge to take from this movie, but none of that would matter if the lead performance wasn’t up to snuff.

I’m glad Michael Keaton is continuing to pick scripts (Birdman, Spotlight) that are packed with potential, because he can sell almost any character.  Ray Kroc is a bit of an antihero.  He neglects his wife (played by Laura Dern), backstabs the brothers, and cares very little about other people’s opinions.  However, the writing for his character always keeps him likeable.  The movie makes it very clear that he has been suffering through his career for decades and he never caught a big break.  When something this promising finally comes into his life, he takes charge and diligently works.  He’s a little like Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network; even if you don’t like him, you have to admire his tenacity and cleverness.  Did he (I use this term for the purpose of making a point) basterdize the concept?  A little, but he kept goals in sight and stuck to the core message of the iconic chain.  What helps is Keaton’s passion and intimidation.  As the movie goes on, he becomes more and more cutthroat and determined (a lethal combination); it gets to the point where you could compare him to a mob boss in terms of inspiring fear.

Sure, the editing is unnecessarily quick, and the pacing is slow, but The Founder is an important film to see if you have ever partaken of the ubiquitous brand’s culinary delicacies.  Considering how many locations there are, the odds say you have.  The Founder gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

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My Thoughts On: “Hidden Figures”

First, off, sorry about the extreme lateness of this.  I was sick for most of last week, and the Mission to Mars review was the last thing I wrote before sick brain took over.  The Untouchables review was posted before this one in order to stay on schedule.  Since then, spring semester has started, and I have lots of work to do.

What makes Hidden Figures an interesting specimen is the tone.  The movie follows three black women who worked at NASA during the American/Russian battle for space control.  Because of these women, the U.S. was able to be the first global superpower to put a man into Earth’s orbit.  This took place well after the Civil War, but the tension of inequality is still present everywhere in this movie.  It could be because of the PG-13 rating, but this movie never gets really violent, profane, or gritty.  As a consequence, the dramatic heft is not nearly as impactful as other movies of this sort.  Initially I thought this was holding the movie back, but it actually works.  This movie doesn’t take place during a war like Glory, nor are its white characters as racist as the ones in The Help.  Instead, these women have to overcome prejudice in the workplace, at the school setting, and in being recognized.  Oh, there are “big” moments, and they are used at just the right times.  Honestly, I appreciate the way this movie was written.  As a positive guy, I don’t think every movie needs to have the heartbreaking dramatic heft of Glory (although we still need movies like that every now and then).

The fact that everyone was bringing their A game to this project helps quite a lot.  Every one of the actors has a unique role to play and a unique personality.  To me, the best performances come from Octavia Spencer (an overworked/underpaid leader of the “Negro computer team”), Jim Parsons (finally breaking type-casting as a prejudiced NASA manager), and Kevin Costner (the devoted director of the space project who doesn’t care about race or sex, only proficiency).  The work from these three is some of the best in their careers.  Hidden Figures is worth watching purely for the cast which also includes  Mahershala Ali, Kirsten Dunst, and Taraji P. Henson.

I didn’t like this movie as much as I wanted to.  It’s a fine biopic with a great score and more lighthearted direction than expected.  There were a few moments that dragged (to the point of feeling redundant), but I see the effort on and off-screen.  Considering how many black films we got last year, I’d say this was one of the best.  Hidden Figures gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

My Thoughts On: “Hacksaw Ridge”

Oh, hello Mel Gibson.  Fancy seeing you in the director’s chair once again.  What are you making this time?  A historical biopic about a soldier who never fired a bullet in combat?  You don’t say…

In all seriousness, Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best movies of 2016; I consider it on par with Saving Private Ryan.  What I find interesting is how every aspect of the movie complements each other.  There are few things that show up everything else.  You know how the best thing about Inception is the writing, or the best thing about Blood Diamond is Leonardo DiCaprio, or the best thing about God’s Not Dead 2 is that it’s better than the first?  In Hacksaw Ridge, everything is on the same level of greatness, but it is a pretty venerable level.  Some of these casting choices (particularly Vince Vaughn as a tough military sergeant) had me worried, but the performances are fantastic.  Andrew Garfield has to do a lot of smiling and pull of a thick southern accent, but I think this is his best work since The Social Network.

I said that every part of this movie compliments the next, but that doesn’t mean that there are no moments that stand out.  In fact, this movie only gets better as it goes on.  Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best titles I’ve ever come cross.  Hacksaw Ridge is where the last third of the film takes place, and every second of that act is amazing.  Essentially, the company Private Desmond Doss (played by Garfield) is a part of has to climb a ridge on the island of Okinawa in order to defeat the Japanese.  Even though most of the film is spent (wisely) building character, but the real trials occur on that “God-forsaken ridge.”  In fact, that is where this movie’s M.M.M is.  This scene is a montage of Doss finding wounded men and bringing them to safety.  If I tell you anything more about that scene, the impact will be sullied.  Just know that the music, Garfield’s performance, cinematography, and pure directing genius of Mel Gibson make this scene one of the most inspiring tearjerker moments in the history of cinema.  The movie says that he saved 75 men; Doss himself says it was 50, and fellow men in his company said it was 100, all I know is that this montage is incredible.

I know some people don’t like this movie.  For some it could be too violent, one-sided in its portrayal of war (history is written by the victors people), or the acting doesn’t resonate.  Whatever the case, I think we can all agree that Private Desmond Doss is a true American hero.  Throughout the movie, he faces opposition with his family, romantic life, on the battlefield, and persecution with his own unit.  Despite this, Doss remains himself; he never loses his faith, nor his optimism.  Speaking of faith, I think we just found a good Christian movie.  The moral of the movie is not “be a Christian,” its “stay true to your beliefs,” and during a time in America where people have lost their hope (quite easily actually), it is inspiring to see someone stay rooted in their faith even when certain death is only a few yards away.  Hacksaw Ridge gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

“Queen of Katwe” Review

I’m going to save my opinion on 2016 and African-American movies for The Birth of a Nation (as I really want to talk about them), because there are so many morals and themes in Queen of Katwe that will take up enough of your precious reading time.  Let the review begin.

Queen of Katwe is directed by Mira Nair and written by William Wheeler.  Stars-Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and Madina Nalwanga.  Premise-A young Ugandan girl (Nalwanga) learns how to play chess in the slums of her town.  When her teacher (Oyelowo) notices her natural skills, he plans to train her to become one of the best chess players in the world, but her mother (Nyong’o) is not as supportive.

I’ve said before that Disney sucks at live-action, writing parents, and remakes.  What I consider to be the magnum opus of bland, dated, clichéd, Disney live-action is The Mighty Ducks trilogy.  Those movies aren’t the worst thing that Disney has made live-action wise (they are harmless films), but it didn’t give me any confidence that sports was a genre Disney could do competently.  Then they released McFarland USA in 2015, and Queen of Katwe a year later.  Both of these films dealt with racial issues with compelling performances and down-to-earth drama.  In McFarland USA, it was a white man in a Hispanic culture.  Queen of Katwe is not preachy in any way.  The problem is not racism, it is pride and arrogance.  This change of pace is very refreshing, and it gives us an insight to the life of a poor African lifestyle.

On a filmmaking level, it is a mixed bag.  The music is original, and sounds authentic, but there are many more problems with the production than there should be.  It could be because I just rewatched Slumdog Millionaire, but the camerawork in Queen of Katwe is very poor.  The camera is often close to the ground/too close up. There are also some very obvious audio quality shifts.  There may have been some post-production dubbing because the sound will randomly change.  These are issues that (while noticeable) are not deal-breaking.

By now, you’ve heard every critic praise Lupita Nyong’o’s performance.  Time to jump on the bandwagon!  In all seriousness, this movie reminded audiences of a serious problem, Lupita is too good of an actress to be given so little work in Hollywood!  After her Oscar-winning performance in 12 Years a Slave, she went on to play a flight attendant with no character in Non-Stop, and voiced a CGI yellow alien in The Force Awakens.  Thank God she persisted in her career, because her role as the mother in this movie is astounding.  She delivers the emotion, intensity, attention, love, passion, attitude, determination, concern, and likability of a real life single mother without fault.  When I came back from the theater, I hugged my mom with newfound appreciation.  On the surface, Queen of Katwe is a sports drama, but the real commentary and theme of the film (at least from my deductions) is moms.  If the real Nakku Harriet is anything like the Lupita’s portrayal, then she is the real MVP.  This movie is worth watching purely for Lupita’s acting and to witness the incredible sacrifices and love she displays.  She has to take care of three kids, a rebellious teenager, and pay the rent.  Not every single parent is like this, but I have untold amounts of respect for Harriet and those like her.

It is a bit of a shame that this movie is focused on the chess part of Phiona Mutesi’s (the girl) life because her mother is more interesting, and a better subject.  I don’t think it’s that bad, the actual sports part of this sports movie is good enough.  I think chess is one of the most boring activities ever created by man (no offense to chess-lovers), but if you could make a movie about the 2007 housing crisis funny and entertaining, anything is possible.  The story is about as predictable as the original Karate Kid, but it has just as much charm.  David Oyelowo provides a kind-hearted moral center, and the child ensemble is very likable.  When you get to the climax, know this, it would be a cliché if she wins or loses.  There have been so many underdog sports stories, I have accepted that winning/losing are equally predictable.

Queen of Katwe is not as well-written as Southside with You, nor as charming as Barbershop 3, but I think that it is well deserving of a view.  Sorry if I came across as preachy or sounded like I was gushing; we are studying race and ethnicity in my Sociology class this week (things don’t get very boring in that class!).  Queen of Katwe gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

Roots (1977 TV Mini-Series)

Roots had quite the impact on American culture after its release, as it showcased the really brutal side of what it felt like to be an African-American slave before the American Civil War. Alex Haley, the writer of the novel (and producer of the TV series), wanted to explore his ancestry and he recorded his findings and later published them as a novel titled “Roots.” The book was a major hit, gaining both critical praise, and winning the Pulitzer Prize. Haley’s combination of rich history and gripping storytelling caught the attention of ABC, who adapted it into a teleplay for a mini-series. A series that would get over 130 million views, one Golden Globe for Best Drama, and nine Emmys. Thirty-eight years later, a young film reviewer’s father would “ask” him to watch this series so that he might appreciate his ancestry a little more. While looking up the series on IMDb, that reviewer would notice that there was a continuation of the series in 1979, a TV movie in 1988, and a remake of the original series would be released in 2016. Figuring that he would have to see the remake, he might as well review the original series. This my friends, is that review.

Roots was created by Alex Haley and adapted by: William Blinn, M. Charles Cohen, Alex Haley, Ernest Kinoy, and James Lee. Stars: LeVar Burton, Olivia Cole, John Amos, Leslie Uggams, and Ben Vereen. Premise-Alex Haley recounts the life of one of his earliest ancestors: Kunta Kinte (and his descendants), an African boy who was taken from his home to the newly colonized United States of America to become a slave.

I might as well address this before I say anything else. This series is very brutal, disgustingly accurate, and doesn’t hold back. By that I mean that you see the violence, racism, and gritty drama that once was accepted in this country. If you are squeamish when it comes to violence, don’t like racial mistreatment, or are easily offended, then you will probably want to steer clear of this series. Even I have to admit that I found many of the episodes to be unbearably depressing and brutal, which is a testament to how well this series tells its story.

The first things I have to mention are the technical aspects. The camerawork, lighting, set design, costumes, makeup, and sound mixing are top notch. I hear that the budget was over 6 million dollars, and that greatly befitted the production, especially the cinematography, which looks beautiful. They were also able to hire pitch-perfect actors for their respective roles. There is not a single lackluster performance in this mini-series. There are even a few entertaining cameos every now and then (Charles Cyphers, O.J. Simpson, Cicely Tyson, Burl Ives, and Ian McShane to name a few).

As far as storytelling goes, it is pretty rock solid. Haley combined factual history and fictional conflicts and characters to make Roots all the more powerful. Granted, some may think a character or two is over-the-top or unrealistic, but that didn’t bother me. What did bother me was how depressing the tone could get! Seriously, even when a happy moment shows up in this series, something terrible will happen and ruin the moment. If you ask me, this happens too often to be considered realistic, or tolerable. Other than that, the only thing that bothered me was the (often) slow pacing.

I know, I don’t have that much to say about the series itself, but to state the truth, the legacy and impact of this mini-series is more interesting than the series itself! What else is there to say? Roots is a great accomplishment on many levels and receives Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

Top Ten BEST Movies of 2015

I’m very excited to go over the best last year had to offer in terms of movies with you guys! I’m going to need this release after the pure horror I had to endure to create my Top Ten Worst Movies list. When I wrote down the options for this countdown, they outnumbered the amount of options I had for the worst list by quite a bit. I would say that equals a pretty good year with movies! This list is definitely going to contain a whole lot of geeking out, so if your inner 9 year old is still in touch with you, then you’ll enjoy this countdown.

Much like my first list, I am only counting movies which aren’t straight-to-video, movies which I have seen start-to-finish, and the way in which I rank these movies will not be ranked by the grades I gave them. This list is based off of my personal bias, and some of those opinions may have changed a bit over time.

 

 

#10 – It Follows

Yeah, this movie was technically released in 2014, but it got a wide release in 2015 so I say it counts. Anyway, this movie is sublime! The camerawork is surprisingly impressive for an indie horror, the music is atmospheric, the suspense is terrifying, and the story would make Wes Craven rise from his grave just so he could applaud David Robert Mitchell (and tell Freddy Krueger to murder all the studio executives who keep pointlessly remaking horror classics). As a lover of horror, it makes me glad that someone (an unprofessional no less) could craft a slasher of such high quality in this day and age. Sure, it has its potholes, a subpar actor or two, the fact that it’s hardly scary, and the unnecessary ambiguous ending (that’s just a bit too 80’s slasherish for my taste), but if you like horror, then check this movie out.

 

#9 – Kingsman: The Secret Service

This movie is unique, sleek, and entertaining as heck! Sure, it uses (and parodies) the spy genre and its tropes for most of the plot, but thanks to Matthew Vaughn’s brilliant style and talent infused into every scene, the movie managed to be one of the most enjoyable action films I have seen this year! That is saying quite a lot when you consider what other films are on this list. I may have been a bit too harsh on this movie for its poor use of drama (although I still stand by what I said in my review), but that is the only major problem I had with this movie. Everything is stylistic and creative: the acting, the special effects, camerawork, action, dialog, and writing are all creatively exciting. This is the perfect movie to watch with your friends, (assuming you’re a guy) if you want a good laugh and some violently awesome spy entertainment.

 

#8 – Spectre

Ok, critics of the world, Spectre isn’t that bad just because it relies on the classic Bond formula, a 64% rating is far too low for an enjoyable action movie such as Spectre. I get the feeling that since both critics and audiences alike were expecting Casino Royale or Skyfall all over again, and that raised their expectations to unreachable heights. The fact is that this movie is exceptional! Well-shot action sequences, quirky acting, a very interesting premise, Thomas Newman’s score, and the impeccable sound design/mixing make Spectre one of the more competently structured Bond films out there. Aside from Léa Seydoux’s acting (and awkward relationship with Bond), the only thing that annoyed me were a few ungodly stupid character decisions and the omnipresent familiarity of the plot, and even that doesn’t hurt the movie too much. It will do you no harm to watch this movie if you are a fan of the franchise, and take it from me, it is just as thrilling as any Bond film.

 

#7 – Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

This movie is far from the quality of the original trilogy, it is also far from creatively written, but it is a good movie. The story is the weakest element for sure. The entire plot is ripped-off from A New Hope, there are a dozen plotholes (and no, fans and theorists are not supposed to be the ones to explain everything in a movie, that’s the movie’s job), there were many scenes that could have been cut completely, and many character decisions make no sense. If you know about me and the art of storytelling, then you can see why I care so much about this! However, if The Force Awakens proved one thing, it’s that we will never get a Star Wars movie as perfect as one from the original trilogy, and we will never get a Star Wars movie as painfully horrible as one of the prequels. I am perfectly content with that because The Force Awakens is a well-acted, exciting, comical, and beautiful looking experience which everyone should see. I was hesitant to say this before the release of this movie, but now I can say with absolute certainty that J.J. Abrams is the new Martin Campbell. If you don’t know, director Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale, and Goldeneye) is often called “the savior of franchises.” However, I am ready to say that J.J. has officially taken his place. Not only has he revived three mega franchises financially (Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, and now Star Wars), but he also managed to please both audiences and critics with those revitalizations. I think we can all agree that the person who successfully makes The Force Awakens a hit as big as it is, deserves recognition, especially when you consider the other talented directors which studio executives asked to direct (Brad Bird, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, and many others) The Force Awakens. If you invested even the tiniest bit of your time/effort into Star Wars, then watch The Force Awakens, it’s a fun addition to this culture-changing franchise.

 

#6 – The Martian

I was initially too harsh on this movie; this was mostly due to the fact that everyone was saying that The Martian was better than Interstellar (one of my favorite movies of all time) or that it was over-hyped as the best movie of the year. While I still believe that neither of those statements are true, The Martian is still one of the best films of the year. The performances (especially Matt Damon and Jeff Daniels) are outstanding, the F/X are scintillating, the story is incredibly solid (and will definitely get Drew Goddard an Oscar nod), and Ridley Scott’s masterful direction brings it all together. Fun fact: I’m all about positivity, so, when I noticed that this movie’s protagonist was a joke-making, tenacious, “pick yourself up and keep fighting” kind of character, I was instantly hooked by his character progression. Mark Watney is definitely the best part of the movie, and because the slightly humorous atmosphere is consistent with the more dramatic moments, it created a consistently even tone which I have not seen in recent memory. The Martian is one of the best “stranded” films we have, and one of the best space movies of all time.

 

#5 – The Visit

I believe that to this day, The Visit is extremely underrated. It’s gotten to the point where I can confidently say that no film critic loves this movie more than me. The Visit is: one of the best movies of Shyamalan’s career, one of the best horror films I have seen, and one of the best films of 2015. The writing is well thought out, the actors (save for Kathryn Hann) give career-creating performances, the scares are tense and suspenseful, and the surprisingly funny jokes are hilarious! I knew Shyamalan sort of evolved from one of the best filmmakers out there, into a living punchline over the years, but I need to make a stand for this movie. It truly is a legitimately excellent film! Is it as perfect as The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable? No. Is it as perplexingly awful as The Last Airbender or The Happening? Certainly not! I am just glad that The Visit is as impressive as it is (admittedly I may love the movie more because it proved my prediction). This movie’s climax is one of the best I have ever seen. It’s scary, well-acted, funny, dramatic, suspenseful, and even uses gross-out humor the right way. Shyamalan learned from his mistakes, and picked up some techniques from working on Wayward Pines. Those two elements combined have resurrected M. Night’s career with sparkling success.

 

#4 – Mad Max: Fury Road

One of the best action movies ever made, Fury Road is expertly filmed with some (if not the best) stunt work ever put to film. I really hope George Miller gets a Best Director nomination, and doesn’t get snuffed by the Oscars like Christopher Nolan for Inception and Interstellar. The Academy seems to forget that directors are involved at every stage of production and they supervise every aspect of making the film (filming, editing, sound, post-production, etc.). Directing doesn’t just mean having the best camerawork; they are the ones who put everything together. The amount of stunt coordination and practical effects used in this movie must have been ridiculously challenging to work with, but, Miller is a master in that aspect. The cinematography is astounding, the choreography is spot on, and the special effects (the few that they use) can’t be beat. If you haven’t watched Fury Road (or any of the Mad Max movies) then you are seriously missing out on one of the best adrenaline thrill rides ever put to film.

 

#3 – The Revenant

This movie is one of the most hardcore and brutally realistic movies ever made! The cinematography is extraordinary, Alejandro’s direction is even better here than it was in Birdman, and the acting is extraordinary! I meant what I said in my The Revenant review; Leonardo DiCaprio really does deserve the Leading Actor Oscar as he was able to shed his entire personality and charm to create the best performance of his career. I will be extremely ticked off if he doesn’t win the Oscar. This isn’t just me being a Leo DiCaprio fanatic as he has given subpar performances in the past (The Beach), but this is the best performance I have ever seen from him, period! Even the story (the aspect of filmmaking I care about the most) is pretty investing. Besides going on a bit too long, the story has action sequences littered throughout to keep the audience’s attention, and the sheer amount of turmoil that Hugh Glass had to go through kept me invested in his character. This is one of the most competently made movies of the year, and well deserves the #3 spot on this list.

 

#2 – Spotlight

I had no idea that this movie existed until I started to hear the critics buzz that it was outstanding. I waited with bated breath, and HOLY CRAP did this movie blow my mind! By the time I saw it, it was close to being pulled from theatres, so reviewing it would be mostly pointless, in any case, Spotlight truly is a work of art, and I’ll go over why.

I have to start with the performances, because this movie has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time! Two-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo, Oscar nominee Michael Keaton, four-time Golden Globe nominee Liev Schreiber, Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci, four-time Emmy nominee John Slattery, and Rachael McAdams! Ruffalo and Tucci are the best in my opinion, but the whole cast is on their absolute A+ game! I think this is Ruffalo’s best performance in his career because (like I said in my The Revenant review) he transformed into Mike Rezendes, and even though it seems like you won’t like his acting at the start of the movie, you (like me) will quickly be corrected. I give props to the makeup and hairstyling department because these characters look, well it’s hard to describe, but the characters look just like I’d expect them to look in real life. Speaking of real life, this movie is so well conveyed to look realistic, that I honestly forgot I was watching a movie! However, what is the most surprisingly impressive thing about Spotlight is the screenplay and direction. Spotlight was directed and partially written by Tom McCarthy (aka that jerk step-husband from 2012). The last film he directed was The Cobbler, one of the lowest rated and laziest Adam Sandler films of all time! One of the major reasons I love this movie is because it is tangible proof that with effort, passion, and talent, anyone can make something admirable, thought-provoking, and informatively entertaining. You have no excuse Happy Madison! McCarthy’s camerawork and direction of his cast is brilliant (he uses tracking shots very well), and the script is: detailed, informational, surprising, subtle, tense, and interesting as heck! I expect many awards (wins or nominations for this movie, and it rightfully deserves them. I give Spotlight an A+.

 

Honorable Mentions

One of the better Melissa McCarthy comedies out there, Spy uses the tropes of the genre to its advantage and creates an entertaining, and hilarious film that is well worth your time and money.

 

  • Ex Machina

Showcasing some of the best CGI you will ever see in a movie, Ex Machina is filled with standup performances, creative cinematography, outstanding set design, and an interestingly philosophical plot. It is only weighed down by the ending, which comes across as pretentious/stupid.

 

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron

In some respects (action and comedy included) better than its predecessor, Age of Ultron combines mind-blowing effects, and some unexpected character development. However, most of the story is pretty cliché, and some of the subplots don’t make any sense. It is still a fun film to watch though.

 

  • The Gift

Relentlessly suspenseful, filled with intense performances and taking one of the most overdone plots in the history of storytelling and turning into something fresh and creative, Joel Edgerton has proven to be a vastly talented person, as he wrote, directed, and acted in this movie.

 

Well shot, superbly acted (especially Mark Rylance), and interesting, Bridge of Spies is a satisfactory (but not as outstanding as it could have been) Steven Spielberg film with style.

 

Faithful, energetically animated, well-written, and full of charm, The Peanuts Movie stands out as one of the best in a year where so many hyped-up films were based off of a continuation of a familiar product.

 

  • The Hateful Eight

It may not be as stylistic as Kill Bill, as action packed as Django Unchained, or as well-written as Reservoir Dogs, but The Hateful Eight proves that Quentin Tarantino is still one of the best filmmakers out there. The movie also benefits from an Oscar worthy score from Ennio Morricone, some of the best hairstyling and character designs I’ve seen this year, an ensemble cast of Tarantino favorites, and Robert Richardson’s brilliant cinematography.

 

What made me decide which of the two movies should be #1 was how “relevant” both films would be in a decade. While Spotlight is amazing in every aspect, it will not be that important down-the-line. The film I have chosen for my #1 will (like so many films from these same filmmakers) never be dated.

#1 – Inside Out

After putting much more thought into this movie, I can finally say that Inside Out is my third favorite Disney movie (and second favorite Pixar film). Only The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Incredibles beat it, and that is an incredibly difficult thing to pull off! Inside Out is: charming, funny, heartwarming, insightful, clever, unique, perfectly voice acted, meaningful, timeless, heartbreaking, emotional, and the best movie of 2015! Whenever I feel down in the dumps, I think of this movie and I am cheered up soon after that. Every now and then, I listen to Michael Giacchino’s subtle and moving score when I write. Inside Out is near-perfect, and I am overjoyed that we are still receiving films as original and creative as this movie is.

 

P.S. I wrote this before the Oscar nominations were announced.

Top Ten WORST Movies of 2015

So, 2015 is finally over. Looking back, it wasn’t that bad of a year. We (or at least I) did have “The summer of disappointments” but overall, the year wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. Then again, that could have just been my impossibly high expectations. Either way, this year actually added a lot of culture to cinema. We got 5 films which entered IMDb’s Top 250 Movies, and we also got 5 films (of widely varying quality) which grossed over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office (that’s a record)! Sadly, we were treated to a superfluous amount of sequels, remakes, spin-offs, and borderline stupid movies throughout the year, and it is my job (and decision more importantly) to go over the worst this year has to offer (yay…). Before I begin, I have to acknowledge that some of my opinions/views on many of the movies that came out earlier last year have changed a bit (opinions can change when you throw months of contemplation into the mix).

First, some ground rules.

  • The movies that appear on this list must have had a theatrical release (at least in the U.S.); it must not be a straight to video movie (so no Outcast, The Ridiculous 6, etc.).
  • Only movies which I have seen start to finish can be on this list.
  • The movies on this list will not be ranked by the grades I gave them in their reviews. I have taken the movies I believe to be the worst of the worst and compared the heck out of them; the order of which these films descend is the result of those comparisons.
  • This list relies much on my personal bias and opinions. This isn’t a review; it’s a countdown of what I thought to be the worst of the year.

Alright, let’s get this over with.

 

#10 – Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

I’m going to be frank here, I am extraordinarily glad that the “young adult vs. evil corporation/government genre” is finally starting to die. Granted, we did get a few good gems here and there, The Maze Runner is one of them. Of course it had its flaws (doesn’t every movie?), but the action, intrigue, and set pieces kept my interest and even managed to earn a respectable B+ grade from me (more like a B- now, but whatever). Too bad the dang sequel had absolutely none of that! Seriously, this movie is boring! The CGI is even worse than the first movie, the characters are forgettable, and the redundancy of the action scenes really becomes a problem after the first 30 minutes. Just watch the first movie instead.

 

#9 – Minions

I had a really difficult time deciding which movie deserved this spot on the list: Pan or Minions. I went with Minions because although Pan is (for the most part) bad, it was at least perplexingly bad (Blackbeard singing Nirvana? What?) and that led to some unintentional laughs and entertainment (even if it’s for the wrong reason, and that kept it off of this list). Minions was bad, but annoyingly so. The characters are forgettable or one-note, and the story (surprisingly) had some potential, but was instead just used as a contrived screenwriting device to get the minions from place to place. I can’t believe so many professional companies are making the mistake of putting the comic relief in the spotlight: Nickelodeon with Planet Sheen, Pixar with Cars 2, Netflix with All Hail King Julien, and now Illumination Entertainment with Minions. The one thing all of these products have in common is the poor quality. Sure, the animation is pretty, but that’s about the only creative thing about Minions. Watch one of the Despicable Me movies if you want both entertainment and substance. On a side note, this movie is one of the highest grossing films of this year (it’s over 1 billion and still rising) so this will tell all the greedy executives that they can get away with making these kinds of products for cheap and still make a profit.

 

#8 – Poltergeist

Pan may be stupid, but hardly ever did it insult/offend me or anything else connected to it (save for the story of Peter Pan itself). The COMPLETELY unnecessary Poltergeist remake did insult my intelligence (and the original film), multiple times! Here’s how bad this movie is. If the original Poltergeist never existed and the remake was completely original, it would still be a horrible film! The scares are cheap, the characters are clichéd, the F/X are obvious, and the story is basic. The original was a major influence on the horror genre because it knew how to set up an environment which the audience could easily relate to and add a supernatural element which could interest (not just scare) both the likeable characters and the audience. The remake uses overdone tropes and clichés in hopes of making a quick buck off of a familiar product (aka every remake ever pretty much). That being said, this movie is “A” worthy compared to the crap on the rest of this list. Like….

 

#7 – Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

Truth be told, I had no idea this movie existed until I saw the Rotten Tomatoes rating (which is currently at 5%) which was not pleasant. Let me tell you, this movie sucks. It is: mean-spirited, poorly acted, clichéd, completely forgettable, and worst of all, not funny. What else is there to say that I haven’t already stated in my review? Don’t watch this movie! Adam Sandler produced 5 movies this year, only one of which was good (Hotel Transylvania 2), Paul Blart 2 was the first, and pretty close to the worst.

#6 – Taken 3 (which I don’t have a review for)

If Olivier Megaton ever makes another action film, I think the art of cinema itself will cry out in agony! I love Taken, I love Liam Neeson, I love action films, I FREAKING HATE the Taken sequels! While most of the blame should definitely go to Megaton, the story, acting, and editing is just as horrid. While Taken 2’s biggest problem was the stupid writing, Taken 3’s biggest problem was the hyperactive, quick-cut, eyesight-ruining editing! Seriously, the editing in this movie is the worst editing I have seen in a movie, ever! There is a scene where Bryan talks to Lenore in a kitchen. Sounds like a quiet scene right? No explosions, villains, or any of that, the scene was supposed to develop the characters. However, (and this scene is when I noticed how bad the editing was) the cuts were just as quick and shaky as they are in the rest of the movie! I kid you not, this movie cuts every two seconds, sometimes in even less time than that! I watched this film on DVD with my Dad (because we knew this movie was gonna suck) and he quit watching it after the first 40 minutes. I had to pause the movie multiple times so I could rest my eyes! I received two headaches that required aspirin to fix! The editors of this movie (who have only edited appalling action movies) should be blacklisted and kicked out of the cinema industry for good. Oh, but that’s not the only problem with this movie. Here’s a question for you, “What the heck is Oscar winner Forest Whitaker doing in this pile of garbage?!” What a sad, disappointing waste of talent. We all love Taken, so let’s do it a favor and forget the sequels were ever made.

 

#5 – Pixels

Some critics were personally insulted by this movie much more than I was because they are retro gamers, but I was insulted nonetheless because the art of cinema was butchered with this movie! The visuals are Oscar worthy, but that is literally the only redeeming thing about this entire movie! The acting is lazy, the writing is lazy, the jokes are lazy, and the climax is filled with so many plot holes, that you could filter seawater into clean drinking water with it! Seen any lazy Adam Sandler movies in the last decade and a half? If so, then you have seen Pixels. Besides the premise and F/X, every lazy joke and character can be found in: Grown Ups, Click, Eight Crazy Nights, etc. Avoid this waste of time at all costs!

 

#4 – Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (that person is currently having a very bad day)

For the love of all things holy in this world, can we please stop making these stupid, clichéd, annoying, movies based off of a franchise that should have died 20 years ago! Good freaking gosh, this movie was annoying! Again, not the worst film in this *shudders in disgust* quadrilogy, but certainly not a decent film either! If you guys wanted to know what a bad day for a film critic looks like, it would be the day I had to watch and review this stinker. Do you know the worst thing about this movie? It was supposed to be released on Christmas day, but they decided to move up the release date to the day The Force Awakens was released. Yes, the freaking chipmunks had the gall to be released not just on the same day as a Star Wars movie, but what is probably the most anticipated movie of all time!!! Now I can add “pretentious” to the egregious list of problems in this movie.

 

#3 – Fantastic Four

You know what? I don’t give a crap whose fault it was that made this movie so bad: Josh Trank, the writers, the nonexistent chemistry between the actors, or the producers putting pressure on Trank. What matters is that EVERYBODY dropped the ball on this one, that’s for sure! What’s funny is that the behind-the-scenes drama is not an excuse because Jaws had just as many off-screen issues and yet it managed to be both a critical and box office hit. Fantastic Four is the most boring superhero movie in existence (and if you say Unbreakable is, I’m going to punch you). That is a major problem because it’s a superhero movie man! It also came out during the comic book movie renaissance no less! I guess no one can give this blue clad group of heroes the film they really deserve.

 

#2 – Terminator Genisys

I had a difficult time deciding if Fantastic Four should go here or Genisys. Here’s what made the decision for me: Fantastic Four didn’t have much to compare to as all of the Fantastic Four films which preceded it were awful. On the other hand, Terminator Genisys had two of the best action movies of all time to live up to (cinematic milestones as well). Not only did it fail at that, but it straight up insults the originals, and by extension: the audience, fans of the franchise, and cinema itself! Chris Nashawaty (someone I hardly ever agree with) stated in his review of Genisys, “Since then [the release of Terminator 2], the series has been on a steady decline with 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and 2009’s Terminator Salvation—two sequels which had no real reason to exist other than as brand-awareness cash grabs.” I couldn’t agree with him more. What makes Genisys worse than the Rise of the Machines or Salvation, is the fact that it intentionally screwed up the near perfect story in the first two by trying to re-write something that should have been left alone. There’s a popular saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This movie has provided the best proof that this saying is indeed, valid. The negatives don’t end there though! The acting is abysmal (also, they completely wasted J.K. Simmons), the effects are average, the action is forgettable, and the freaking trailer ruined the only interesting moments in the whole dang movie! Much like Taken 3, let us forget this movie ever existed and let it fade into oblivion.
Dishonorable Mentions (to “borrow” a phrase from WatchMojo)

 

This movie is produced by Michael Bay, do you need any more information? In all seriousness, this movie has its moments. Some of the effects are impressive, and certain parts of the story are very interesting, but that’s about all you will find in this average production.

Here is a sci-fi movie which blatantly rips off other (better) science fiction forms of media. Accompanied by poor characters, and subpar acting, Chappie is a visually dazzling, but substance lacking waste of time.

A blemish on DreamWorks Animation’s impressive record would perfectly describe this dated, but harmless child marketed film.

As I said above, Pan is a stupid, obnoxious, CGI-induced failure of a fantasy film. It’s not over-the-top enough to be entertaining through and through (like Pirates of the Caribbean) and it’s not dramatic, or written well enough to build a personal connection to (like The Lord of the Rings). However, it’s at least enjoyable to poke fun at.

Depressing and uninteresting from start to finish, Joy is not worth having your emotions wrung through a wringer just so David O. Russel can win an Oscar. It does have its moments, but they are very few and far between.
I had my thoughts that this movie would be #1 since the start of the list, but I also had my doubts. After considering what other options I had, I knew it would come down to this. Thinking about this movie even today, the rage and pain resurfaces within me. The absolute WORST movie released in 2015 (that I have seen) was the stupid, cheap, immature, lazily-written, insulting, pretentious, poorly acted, potential-wasting, four-flushing, vulgar, talent-sucking, dirt-eating, cringe-inducing, crap generating, ignorant, rip-offish, obnoxious, pile of monkey s*** remake/sequel,

#1 – Vacation

Films on this list may have depressed me, exhausted me, bored me, and gotten me riled up a bit, but no film last year has enraged me as much as this witless remake did. In my review, I was going to talk about John Hughes at some point, but I decided to talk about him before I said anything else, otherwise I ran the risk of making the whole review just me shouting obscenities and run-on sentences (can’t have that). Sure, everyone has their bias. Personally I haven’t met anyone who loves the classic works of John Hughes more than I do, so it would only make sense that a movie which disgraces one of Hughes’ best to such a devastating degree would tick me off more than the next guy. However, this movie would tick off anyone! It has out-of-nowhere gore, stereotypes, gross-out, cheap sex puns and references, vulgarity up the yin yang, and not a trace of the charm of the original. What’s really shocking is how many talented people they had in this movie! I won’t go over them again, but I wasn’t lying when I said in the review that everyone’s talents were wasted in this pointless movie! I despise this movie with a burning passion, and I hope that I will never have to get this angry ever again, although given the tendencies of Hollywood that’s not likely.

 

Holy heck that was difficult! Thank you all for staying with me for such a long amount of time. It means quite a lot to me, because when I have to stomach heinous films like the ones on this list, I remind myself that you enjoy my content and that helps to keep me going. What did you guys think about this list? Happy New Year everyone, and I will have my Top Ten Best Films of 2015 out soon.

 

*EDIT* I don’t know what happened with my Project Almanac and Poltergeist (2015) reviews. I believe I posted those reviews early in 2015, but something must have gone wrong with WordPress. This shouldn’t happen again, in the meantime, the reposts are up (you’ll need them as reference points for this list).

My Thoughts On: Steve Jobs

This week, we got yet another film which has an all-star crew working on it.  Oscar winning director: Danny Boyle, Oscar winning writer: Aaron Sorkin, and Oscar nominated Michael Fassbender playing one of the individuals who shaped the modern world into what it is today.

I will admit this is not one of the movies I was dying to see this year, however I am glad that I did see it.  The directing and cinematography are solid, the supporting cast (particularly Jeff Daniels) is excellent, and as for the writing, well it is respectable (also the lighting in this movie is some of the best I have ever seen).  Here is the thing, I think Aaron Sorkin was the perfect choice to write this movie, after all, he did win an Oscar for The Social Network (one of the best movies I have ever seen).  However, Steve Jobs, whilst admirable, is not nearly as thrilling as The Social Network.  Admittedly, this could be the result of Steve Jobs not benefiting from David Fincher’s unbeatable direction and a suspenseful score, even if that is the case, there are certain aspects of the story which are pretty sub par.  While the depiction of Steve Jobs himself is interesting, none of the other characters are that interesting.  However, the biggest problem with the story is that we never get to see some of Jobs’ legendary speeches.  That is extremely disappointing, because things he has said in the past have influenced and inspired people for years.  Most of the movie looks at the behind-the-scenes aspects of his life, which is not bad, but before the 70 minute mark shows up, the film is a bit boring.

Before I conclude, I have to talk about the two best parts of this movie.  Michael Fassbender’s performance and one particular scene.  The scene I am speaking of takes place at about the hour mark.  The whole scene (which goes on for about 3 minutes) is about Jobs arguing with John Sculley (played by Daniels), and it is incredibly well shot, acted, and the score adds the intensity to make this scene the best one in the entire movie.  Michael Fassbender, my googly gosh he is fantastic!  Steve is a major jerk in this movie, but Fassbender’s irresistible charm make his character likable despite how badly he treats his friends.  I honestly think he deserves the Leading Actor Oscar more than any other actor this year so far.

If you’re wondering why I did a “My Thoughts On” for this movie, it’s because I have a lot of schoolwork this week, but don’t fret, something very special will come out on Wednesday.  In the meantime, Steve Jobs gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

My Thoughts On: Bridge Of Spies

I was excited like never before to see this movie!  Why?  Because we have an all-star crew working on this movie.  With Steven Spielberg directing, the Coen Brothers writing, and Tom Hanks in the lead role, how can this movie possibly bomb?

Well, it didn’t bomb, but it didn’t satisfy either.  The camerawork is pretty good, and the cinematography (by Janusz Kaminski) is stunning.  The acting is decent (but not Oscar worthy), Thomas Newman’s score is OK, and there are even some funny jokes scattered throughout the movie.  There aren’t many objectively bad things about this movie, it just didn’t carry the emotional impact or thrills that it should have.  I would place the blame on the screenplay (also written by Matt Charman).  I will admit that I do not know as much about the Coen’s as I probably should, but what I do know is that most of their films involve gritty suspense, action, and the occasional dose of black comedy.  When they took up writing a “based on a true story,” war (Unbroken) the results were less than positive.  The same can be said for this movie.  My Dad (who is an avid follower of the Coen’s works) explained to me that they were, “out of their element” while writing this movie.  Sadly, that really shows.  There have been movies that were mostly just characters talking (Se7en, The Social Network, 12 Angry Men), but what this movie does not have in common with those other films, is a constant state of tension.  Sure, every now and then we get a thrilling scene, but most of the movie is really flat.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a fine movie, but it is not as good as it could have been, and from the man who directed Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, that is a bit of a disappointment.  It is completely up to you if you want to see this movie because the general consensus is that most people love this movie, but (obviously) I disagree.  Bridge of Spies gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review

I was pumped to see this movie like nothing else. How could I not be? After the cinematic fail that was Noah, I needed a breath of fresh air. It’s directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Prometheus), starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, and John Turturro. Best of all, the story is an adaptation of one of the most powerful, thought-provoking, and monumental stories ever told, the story of Moses. With all these geniuses coming together, how can this film possibly mess-up?

I’ll begin with the positives.   To start, the effects, sets, props, and cinematography are all spectacular (minus Ridley’s occasional shaky-cam). Egypt looks grand, and the third act is a marvel to watch. Another highlight would be the ensemble cast. Everyone performs like I’d expect them to. Christian is serious but not without emotion (unlike Russell Crowe). Joel is great as Ramses. Kingsley (although not having much of a character) is brilliant. And both Aaron and John shine. Lastly, the story. I will give this movie credit for being mostly faithful to the Bible. However, there are a few moments where the writers shoot themselves in the foot, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Alright, now the lowlights (aka why Ridley Scott is not in my Top Ten Favorite Directors). To start, the pacing is way too slow. I understand that the Book of Exodus contains a lot of information, but this film is focusing only on the stories of Moses and Ramses simultaneously. Sadly, this gives us about 30 minutes of boring filler which could have been used on the climax. Speaking of which, when the plagues arrive, the whole sequence lasts about twenty minutes. That may sound like awhile, but after building up to it and waiting so long, it feels rushed. Now I’m not saying this is very bad, it just could (and should) have been much more powerful. Back to the characters: Ramses and Seti are almost exactly how they were in the book. Unfortunately, Joshua, Aaron, and Nun are all done terribly. Nun exists to spew exposition and does nothing else. Joshua gets one pretty awesome moment, but he gets just two lines otherwise. Aaron also does nothing. Remember how in the book Aaron was necessary to the freeing of the slaves? Well here, he shouts at Moses a couple times, but that’s it. Finally, the character of Moses. He’s kind of a mixed bag for me. The first act does him justice and you begin to feel a connection, however as the film goes on, I lost almost all of my emotions for him. In the Bible, he was a man of faith, resourceful, diligent, and ready to make a sacrifice if necessary. Here, he hardly listens to and or trusts God to deliver his people. Not the best way to make me like a character writers.

As I was saying, one other boil this movie leaves me with is how whiny Moses is, and how little he actually does. In the book, it was him who conducted the power of God to bring about the plagues. In this version, he just stands by and watches, never turning his staff into a snake, never turning the Nile to blood, the best he does is say “Let My people go!” once and warn everyone of the Passover. The hammer in the coffin however is the iconic, parting of the Red Sea. It’s supposed to demonstrate the power man has through God. In this film, Moses picks up a sword he threw into the sea out of frustration and then all the water recedes to one side. Wait, what! All the water recedes to one side?! Yeah, remember when the trailers made the Red Sea scene look so awesome? There is literally, NO payoff. The CGI is cool, but it’s so underutilized here. I understand this is an adaptation (not to mention there have been other movies about Moses) and you can change things, but when you have a setup this glorious you WILL USE IT correctly and not just waste our time.

This movie has me conflicted. For every bright side, there is a dark side (obvious Star Wars joke is obvious). This is far better than Noah, and it even has a few hilarious jokes, but this could never stand a chance against true greats like: The Prince of Egypt, The Passion, or Veggie Tales’: Moe and the Big Exit. This gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D.