drama

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Review

I wonder how long it’ll be until Marvel finally kills off some of its main characters.  Only at that point will their cinematic universe truly open to new stories.  I say this because the formulas for the modern superhero movie are slowly making each installment more predictable.  In the meantime, we have a film that screams “capitalization.”  Either that or it’s just a sequel that pales in comparison to its predecessor.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is written/directed by James Gunn.  Stars-Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper.  Premise-During one of their adventures (and getting into trouble at the same time), the Guardians learn more about their leader’s (Star-Lord) childhood.

The biggest problem with Guardians 2 is the writing.  No offense to Gunn (whose ideas started the trend of superhero movies having retro soundtracks), but this script needed another brain working on it.  Perhaps you see it differently, but this film felt really awkward to me.  Some of the jokes felt rushed or were not delivered well; especially whenever they try to use profanity (the PG-13 rating neuters some of these jokes).  It’s difficult to phrase, but the movie doesn’t have the flow of the original.  One thing that attributes to that is the terrible cutting.  I don’t know if it was written or edited this way, but there are many scenes that cut away at inopportune times.  For example, Star-Lord is about to learn something critical about his past, but the scene randomly cuts to the subplot involving Yondu.  I wouldn’t mind as much if this was a one-time thing, however, this occurs at least 3 times.  It kinda ruins the moment.  Still, the movie isn’t without its charm.

The cast may actually be better this time around.  That’s because they have much more development.  I don’t know why critics are saying the characters aren’t fleshed out; there are more character-focused scenes than actiony, space ones.  The first movie was similar to a television pilot in terms of character.  We got their backstories, personalities, and some interplay between them.  This movie bumps it up a notch.  The drama is outstandingly affective, and it kept the movie from getting boring.  Bautista, Rooker, and Cooper, especially get to shine with their material.  Which is great considering the action sequences and CGI are way too cartoony this time around (but the sets are fantastic).

Well, that was short.  Sorry if you were expecting 20 paragraphs of in-depth criticism, but that’s really all I have to say.  In essence, it’s not as good as the first one.  Heck, the soundtrack isn’t one-fifth as memorable as the first.  The best comparison I can come up with is the difference between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back movies.  The first was much more fun and action-packed, while the second was darker and focused on the characters.  That said, most people prefer Empire Strikes Back, so I’ll let you decide if time Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is worth your time.  But for me, it gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

“The Circle” Review

The Circle is directed by James Ponsoldt and written by James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers.  Stars-Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, and Bill Paxton.  Premise-A woman snags a job at the biggest company in the world (the Circle).  No sooner has one week passed and she can tell something is amiss about the bucolic establishment and its agendas.

Wow is this movie a backfire!  Not a misfire, a great-aim-but-blows-up-in-your-face backfire.  I may fly off the handle later in the review, but considering how serious the movie is taking itself, I’d say it is warranted.  The themes and issues the film talks about are very important, and the treatment they give it is nothing short of botched.  Let’s start with the presentation.

Try as the filmmakers might, they cannot achieve the level of suspense created by other films of the “sinister corporation investigated with a twenty-something intellect as the lead” genre.  While I could point out every single comparison to The Social Network (like the electronica score and a socially awkward young intellectual getting into a prestigious corporation), that would be too easy, instead, I’ll go over how The Circle (wow that’s a boring title) fails on its own merits.

To start, the performances are quite lackluster.  With the exception of Bill Paxton who plays Watson’s dad (who has multiple sclerosis) and does the part with sympathy, charm, and good humor, everyone is collecting a paycheck.  Watson is bland, Hanks is barley in the movie, and the supporting cast is extremely awkward.  Most of the movie follows the infamous “tell don’t show” style of filmmaking; that is, all exposition, no action.  Unfortunately, the film has no idea how to maintain, or create for that matter, suspense and the result is a painfully slow 110 minutes of bland characters talking.  This is only a fraction of The Circle’s failures.  The real badness lies in the message.

*Before I continue, let it be known that any plot points I bring up are in the trailers*  Basically, the entire goal of the Circle is to have universally access to everything happening at all times with everybody.  This is achieved via tiny cameras placed anywhere and everywhere.  There would be no more secrets, and the word “private” would be nonexistent.  Yeah, if your initial emotion is fear, then your second is confusion.  The biggest problem with this movie is how unbelievably unbelievable it is.  There could be some business practices that I’m not aware of, but there is no conceivable way that this companie’s plan could be carried out in any form of reality.  The film takes itself so dang seriously, but it fails to account for things like: religious/moral beliefs, the law, age, race, social status, and human nature!  The nail in the coffin is the fact that we just had a movie about how corporations spying on us are wrong.  I think it was based off a famous fugitive… a privileged intellectual who got into a super influential organization… I think it had social commentary as well… oh yeah!  It was Snowden in 2016.  That same year, Jason Bourne and Now You See Me 2 used that message as a subplot.  Answer me this, if this message has been universally written about and discussed (it’s still a hot-button topic today), how can so many people buy into the Circle’s idea of no personal freedom or privacy?  It’s based on a book.  Well, then the screenwriter should have adjusted for what changed in the world (as the novel was published in 2013), or *GASP* write an original movie!  I already have a premise, set the film after the plan for world transparency has been enforced, and go from there.  At the very least it would be something we’ve never seen before.

This script came from the back alleys of Tumblr, I just know it.  Not only can you predict every twist and turn of this plot, but the social commentary is extremely propagandized and over-the-top.  Instead of subtle storytelling and detailed exposition scenes, we get one-sided fallacies posing as intellectual arguments.  What makes it even worse is how PC the movie is.  I stated that this movie (whose only non-white main character has all of 5 minutes on-screen) ignores variables like race, laws, and whatnot.  Well, it’s also very ethnocentric.  I can imagine showing this movie to different cultures around the world and seeing them look at it with confused/unconcerned expressions.  I wouldn’t care so much about this if the movie didn’t constantly act like, “This could really happen!  Be scared!”  Obviously, our world ain’t perfect, and technology has been abused by many to gain access to other people’s information.  However, The Circle seems to forget, the generation it’s aiming for distrusts big businesses almost as much as the government.  What makes it worse is that the characters are too bland to be relatable.  Watson’s character can’t seem to decide if she’s for or against the Circle.  Her character arc is extremely rushed, most of the supporting cast is simply forgotten about, and the ending fails to conclude each  character’s story.  Oy, what a mess.

The most you’ll get out of this movie is a reminder to keep your computer’s security system up-to-date; and a bit of contempt for the careers of everyone involved with the film.  Except for Paxton of course; that man couldn’t give a bad performance if he tried.  The Circle gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D.

Ok, so where the heck have I been?  In short, I finished my final exams and the Top Ten Best Study Soundtracks list in the same week and it left me completely drained.  It took me some time to acknowledge it, but I needed a rest.  Not helping was trying to write this review in my exhausted state.  I scrapped at least 3 drafts of this review because I couldn’t get enough energy to complete it; the results were unsatisfying.  To remedy this, I took last week off.  Now I’m back to work and ready for action.  There is much more going on in my life, but that will have to wait for another post.  Also, I will get to reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as soon as I can.

Disney Remakes: and Their Effect on the Industry

“Really?  Another online millennial complaining about remakes?  Let me guess: he hates the Ghostbusters remake, lives in his parents’ basement, and thinks his opinion is the only correct one.”  Hey!  I’m moving into a dorm in August…  Anyway, let’s talk about something that has been punching my frontal lobe for over 2 years.  I kept my patience during Maleficent, I tolerated a remake that added just as many problems as it fixed (Cinderella 2015), I gave Jon Favreau the proper praise for his Jungle Book, and I’ve completely forgotten Pete’s Dragon (2016).  However, what I, and most others judging by the reactions, did not know was that Disney had been planning a massive “remake” franchise.  This very concept infuriates my creative core, and this post is essentially going to be an informal essay on why I believe so.  If anyone wants to challenge my undeniably logical arguments, then make your way to the comments, where I eagerly await to enter “YouTube comment debater” mode!  In all seriousness, I’d really appreciate your feedback with these projects; it’s one of the best ways to learn.  Rant time!

As we all know, Walt Disney was (among many things) a brilliant businessman.  While fighting his way through war, financial insecurity, securing the rights to stories he wanted to tell, and starting his business, Disney was diligently creating one of the world’s most diversified, universal, influential, powerful, profitable, and successful companies in the history of man.  However, the company had to start somewhere.  Before you think this post is a biography of Walt Disney, fear not.  This is only context for how we got to present day Disney, because the film portion of Disney Studios was based off of adapting previously published stories.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and many others were all books with similar settings.  All Disney did was adapt them into animated films for child audiences, but oh, did he do it well.  It took very little time for the business to launch, fast-forward about a century or so, and we are at present day.

Mickey Mouse is kicking butts and taking names.  After procuring Marvel and Lucasfilm, they’ve had an almost monopoly-like control over the box office.  If you add the box office gross of The Jungle Book (2016), Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and Zootopia, you get over 4.1 BILLION dollars!  Do you know how much money that is?  Disney certainly does, because they have greenlit over 5 completely unnecessary live-action remakes of their classic films.  Take note that only 1 out of those 4 movies was not based off a familiar product (Zootopia).  This brings me to my first argument (no, it’s not because these movies “ruined my childhood”); these remakes have no point.

To properly explain what makes a great remake, let’s talk about the greatest film remake of all time, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).  I read John W. Campbell Jr.’s Who Goes There? (the short story the movie is based on), I watched The Thing from Another World (1951), and I watched Carpenter’s 1982 remake, if there is anyone who understands this story, it’s me.  What I find fascinating is that Carpenter’s version is more faithful to the short story than the first film.  The Thing from Another World is passable, but it has many problems.  So, what does horror master Mr. Carpenter (hot off of Halloween and Escape from New York) do?  Take what made the original work, update the production design, add more character development, and pull no punches.  If you haven’t seen The Thing, please get yourself a copy and watch it because it’s one of the top ten best horror movies of all time.  This is because the material was updated for a newer audience, and the idea behind the remake wasn’t, “Hey, let’s capitalize on something we know made money before!”  The Thing (and others like Scarface, True Grit, and both Magnificent Seven films) proved that remakes can be even better than the original.  So why then is a company known for its creativity and creating warm childhood memories deciding to rehash those memories under the guise of calling them “reimaginings?”  The short answer is that guy in the title picture.  The long answer is more complicated.

In my minor experience, Hollywood likes to play it safe.  The pattern is so universal, audiences expect to see crap in January, blockbusters in the summer months, and Oscar-bait come September.  I somewhat understand this (school’s out in summer, take advantage of more people having more time), but at some point, it becomes a very dangerous tradition.  I’m sick of companies refusing new ideas in place of making money, especially if they have too much already (just think of the last production logo you saw on the big screen).  I want to show you this tweet by CinemaSins.  This is what ticks me off the most.  How many Pulp Fiction/La La Land/Inception scripts were rejected in place of giving us a remake that really has no purpose?  What about the next Steven Spielberg who was left in the waiting room?  Sheesh, The Blair Witch Project was made with sixty-thousand dollars, Star Wars cost $11 million, Hell or High Water required $12 million, and the list goes on.  At this point, “Hollywood is out of ideas” is a freaking punchline due to how many retreads we get.  However, there is hope, in the form of the person reading this post right now.

Check out this screenshot from Rotten Tomatoes (taken a month ago).

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The audience has a lot of control over what is made for them.  This is a no-brainer, you pay money for a certain thing, and more of that thing is made for you (supply and demand).  These companies are merely giving the people what they want.  In the case of positive feedback vs financial revenue, the greenbacks always win.  Because of this, the response is not the problem, that 98% is.  I’m not saying it’s your fault that these sterile remakes are popular (there are so many variables at play), but it is your responsibility to be a “smart shopper” as it were.  One of the main reasons I review movies is to help people decide if something is worth their valuable time and hard-earned money.  Some movies are torture for me to sit through (Vacation 2015), some are delights (Kung Fu Panda 3), and some are just bland and generic (most modern remakes), but the knowledge in knowing that someone is listening keeps me going.  As someone who writes proactively and wants to make movies, it pains me to see the same thing over and over.  What I’m talking about today may not be as horrid as Freddy Got Fingered or Norm of the North, but while those were original products that faded away because of their awfulness, these remakes are setting a trend that smaller, greedier executives will follow, and… it’s a dang shame.

In conclusion, I hope that you now have an understanding as to why I despise this business practice.  Throughout writing this, this thought never left my head, “Perhaps I’m just stating a clichéd criticism.  Maybe all of this will not change anyone’s mind.”  However, I don’t care.  It feels good to finally get my thoughts out there in a formal fashion.  Even if I have no impact, movies could be much, much worse.  At the end of the day, the audience decides what to spend money on.  I leave you with this, what film will you support?  A prettily-disguised cash grab, or a work of ambition that doesn’t fit into “the norm?”

“Fate of the Furious” Review

I have a confession to make: I haven’t seen: 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift, or the 2009 Fast & Furious.  I say this because Fate of the Furious is more continuity-heavy than Furious 7 (and because I’m honest with my audience).  In addition, Fate of the Furious is not as simply enjoyable as Furious 7.  Yeah, that’s a good intro.

Fate of the Furious is directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Chris Morgan.  Stars-Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Scott Eastwood, Tyrese Gibson, Charlize Theron, Chris Bridges, and Kurt Russell.  Premise-Dom’s crew must track down their leader after he goes rogue for a mysterious woman.

Yes, greedy Hollywood producers have predictably stomped on a dead actor’s grave while greenlighting 100 more unnecessary sequels.  Even though the tagline for the previous film was, “One last ride,” the plot wrapped up nearly every character’s arc, and the emotional ending that brought tears to audiences eyes were all clearly saying, “That’s all folks,” you cannot argue with the 1.5 BILLION dollars Furious 7 grossed.  Because of this, we have an action film that pushes the envelope in more ways than one.

I know I’ll be called a hypocrite for thoroughly enjoying Furious 7 and then disliking the sequel (even though they are basically the same movie), but here is the game changer: the amount of drama.  In Furious 7, the most serious it got were those amnesia flashbacks.  However, things get really personal with Fate of the Furious.  Charlize Theron (collecting her paycheck while sporting a really stupid haircut) plays the villain whose entire character is written straight out of “Psychopathic Antagonist” Volume 1.  She speaks only in evil whispers, has a weird character design, and manipulates the main protagonist by using the most predictable cliché in the book (can’t say it because of spoilers, but you could probably guess what she does).  These movies are at their best when the drama is light and the over-the-top action is high.  Sadly, every scene with Theron is very hard to watch.  Not to say that what she does to Dom is a bad motivation; it’s because these movies should never be this depressing to watch.  Especially when these scenes are preceded/followed by the goofy characters joking around.  To be honest, I would have enjoyed the movie much more as a whole if these scenes were cut, because once my suspension of neutrality is broken, other problems stand out much more.  One of these problems is the clichés.  Unbelievable physics and invulnerable characters are acceptable (if you watch any of these movies expecting realism, show yourself out), but you can predict pretty much every scene, and that is a bore.

On the bright side, the action scenes are awesome!  If the previous film was too unbelievable for you, the races, chases, and shootouts are well-choreographed and fast-paced.  If you switch off your brain (a requirement at this point), these action sequences are a marvel.  Heck, the New York portion of the film is more over-the-top than any GTA 5 stunt video you’ll ever see.  Another notable scene takes place in a prison, and it gives The Rock his most awesome movie moment since the montage in The Rundown.  The rest of the cast is decent as well.  While Gibson and Bridges teeter on the edge of annoying and funny, Eastwood/Russell and Statham/Johnson have great chemistry, and the rest of the cast is fine.

Ultimately, this movie is exactly what you’d expect.  Transformers levels of stupidity, clichéd plotlines, and a whole lot of testosterone-fueled explosions.  If the filmmakers didn’t inappropriately try their hand at drama, then the film would require nothing from its audience.  After all, that’s why these movies are successes: dumb fun without the emotional connection.  Fate of the Furious gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

“Ghost in the Shell” (2017) Review

Originally, I was going to review The Boss Baby, but Murphy’s law wrecked my plans so here we are.  While this movie has been reviewed by freaking everybody, I think my point of view will provide a differing opinion to those who are familiar with the source material.  That’s right; I have not read or watched any of the original Ghost in the Shell manga (or anime, whatever).  That means I went into this movie with absolutely no idea what to expect (aside from the first teaser trailer).  Upon leaving the theater, this was my thought: “That was decent.”

Ghost in the Shell is directed by Rupert Sanders and written by: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger.  Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Peter Ferdinando, and Juliette Binoche.  Premise-After an accident, a woman’s brain is placed into a cybernetic body for the use of hunting down criminals.

Not to get ahead from myself, but this movie can be summed up as “an above-average action sci-fi flick.”  The manga may or may not be better than the film, but the general consensus does not like the live-action movie.  As we leaned with the Inferno movie, adaptations should be good in their own right.  Competent storytelling, compelling characters, and excellent visuals are not something that should not be difficult to recreate.  Luckily, GITS has the visual aspect in droves.  The costumes, designs, and color pallet are very interesting.  Stylization this intense is hard to come by nowadays, so I appreciate how they visualized the manga for the silver screen.  What’s even more impressive are the action sequences.  Slow-motion “bullet time” allows the impeccable F/X to impress, even in 2D.  To accompany every scene, we have one of the best movie scores of the 2010s.  If you love Vangelis’ Blade Runner music, Tangerine Dream, or electronica, then you will probably nerdgasm over this Lorne Balfe/Clint Mansell score.  I’m not even going to attempt to tell you how excellent it is, just watch the film (or buy the soundtrack when it’s released).

Despite the technical achievements, the problems of this movie lie entirely in the screenplay.  I don’t know (or care) how faithful it is to the manga, but it’s without a doubt, very clichéd.  We have: a bad guy who bears a shocking resemblance to Amon from The Legend of Korra, corrupted corporate officials, framed police officers, and a whole lot of copy-pasted “robotic sci-fi” genre clichés (like the scene where they wonder what it’s like to feel human).  There are a few scenes that should have been cut, the climax is not as big as it should be, and the symbolism is painfully obvious (what do you know, an American action film with all the subtly of a middle finger to the audience).

The actors are not much better.  Only the great Takeshi Kitano stands out because he takes command of every scene.  Sure, Johansson (btw, they do explain why she’s not Asian) looks pretty, but that does not translate to good acting.  Admittedly, she is mostly robotic, so I don’t expect Viola Davis levels of passion, but something other than “blank stare” would be nice.

There you are, one short and sweet review.  Despite the annoying faults, the entertainment value is pretty high.  There are enough interesting ideas and likable characters to turn this into a franchise.  After all, isn’t that what they wanted to do with it in the first place?  Ghost in the Shell (2017) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B-.

“Inferno” Review, Books vs. Movies, and The Robert Langdon Series

Prepare to be ripped apart you pathetic excuses for adaptations!  Back in February of 2016, I watched The Da Vinci Code on Netflix for no particular reason.  By the time it was over, my “Confusion-o-Meter” was off the charts.  I knew it was an adaptation (one with some interesting ideas), so I got my hands on the original novel by Dan Brown and gave it a shot.  Wow.  I couldn’t put that book down!  Interesting characters, great suspense, and a spiritual setting unlike any I’ve seen in a novel (the epilogue still gives me the chills).  What followed was a marathon of reading both the books in the series and watching their film adaptations.  I wanted to write this thing when the Inferno movie was released in theaters last year, but I hadn’t finished the book, and Ron Howard was NOT going to ruin another one of these incredible endings for me!  I finally got a copy and watched it… oh my gosh.  Had I seen it in time, this pile of cinematic waste would rank pretty dang high on my Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016 list.

Anyway, today we are doing something special.  In addition to reviewing Inferno, I’m going to throw my twenty-two cents (inflation) into the hat on the “books vs. movies” debate, as well as Dan Brown’s controversial books.  It’s gonna be awhile, so strap in and grab your popcorn because this is going to be a very emotional experience.

Inferno is directed by Ron Howard and written by David Koepp.  Stars-Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, and Irfan Khan.  Premise-After waking up in a hospital, with amnesia, in Italy, Professor Robert Langdon must elude a secret service agency whilst trying to recall what he was doing before he lost his memory.  All he knows is that whatever he was doing was worth a billionaire’s suicide, a strangely curious doctor’s assistance, and the lives of billions.

This is going to be a spoiler-filled hybrid review, but I am going to avoid spoiling the books as much as possible because you should read them regardless of how badly the movies basterdize them.  That said, they changed the second half of Inferno so much that you’d swear they adapted a different book!  The very first scene is only the beginning of the torrent of crappyness we are about to be subjected to.  Billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Foster) is being chased through the city of Florence, Italy (in a very poorly shot chase scene).  When he is cornered atop a tower, Zobrist intentionally falls off to his death.  We then cut to Langdon in a hospital where he is experiencing migraines and memory flashes.  Doctor Sienna Brooks (Jones) informs him that he was shot in the head and left with amnesia from the bullet (which grazed his skull).  After an assassin shows up (obviously for Robert) and shoots a supervising doctor, Brooks helps Langdon escape the hospital.

This brings me to my first of far too many issues with Inferno; Robert Langdon is a freaking moron!  Never once does he question why a seemingly random doctor keeps helping him on his quest to find out why he’s being hunted.  I can buy her taking him out of harm’s way, but she takes him to her apartment, gives him some clothes (that fit too perfectly), and when he produces a biotube from his bag she helps him decipher it.  At some point, any human with half a wit would ask, “Why the heck are you joining me on this quest across Europe to find a secret cave?  Especially when I’m being pursued by secret service agents, and my only lead is a map of Dante’s Inferno (the first third of poet Dante Alighieri’s ‘The Divine Comedy’)?”  In case you’re wondering, amnesia doesn’t take away the ability to ask basic questions.

Robert Langdon may not be a superhero, or a historical revolutionary, but he is one of my favorite literary protagonists.  I’m not saying anything groundbreaking when I say that Brown’s novels demand quite a lot of suspension of disbelief, as well as faith and focus.  There are MAAAAANY people who dislike these stories because of their “impossible premises.”  Either that or easily enraged immature audiences who claim these books are “anti-religious propaganda” or that all seculars/atheists are idiots.  Both of these arguments are ridiculous and invalidated by Langdon alone.  He is a Harvard symbology professor with an incredibly likable personality.  As you would expect, he’s a bit of a skeptic.  Not against the idea of religion, but his intellectual mind doesn’t “allow” him to believe in such things (if you want to hear some mind-blowing debate on science vs. God, read Angels & Demons).  A quote from Langdon himself, “Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.”  It is Langdon’s down-to-earth views that make him an excellent character to follow on these, admittedly improbable, adventures.  He’s kinda like Dan Fogler in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, only Langdon is brought along because he can decipher cryptic clues and, well, he is the central hero.  The books are worth reading purely for this well-written character.

Back to Inferno, we get some *ahem* “disturbing” imagery that is taken right out of Dante’s Map of Hell.  Only problem is, they CGI’d the heck out of it, and the result looks horrible!  If the crazy editing wasn’t annoying enough, we get at least a dozen mini-flashbacks from Langdon’s fragmented memory.  Half of those flashbacks contain these ugly looking effects that come right the heck out of nowhere.  Despite how bad What Dreams May Come is; at the very least they nailed the set design and visuals.  Inferno looks cheap as heck.  I considered going through as much of the story as possible, but then I realized that most of it was pure exposition.  That’s another problem; this movie treats its audience like children.  In addition to dialogue that only exists to explain the plot, there are a few instances where text on the screen will be spoken by a character. As if to say, “We [the filmmakers] don’t think you have the brain capacity to read, or recall information.  Have a nice day, and thanks for your money, we’ll use it to fund the remake of To Kill a Mockingbird starring Dwayne Johnson.”  While I would be satisfied with giving this film two “birds,” I’d like to point out that these novels are not for younger audiences.  If the religious and historical themes aren’t enough, we also have issues like international terrorism, insanity, and mass genocide in the plot!  In addition, this movie was directed by the guy who made: Parenthood, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, and A Beautiful Mind (which won him two Oscars!).  Each of these dealt with adult themes and complex issues with grace and maturity, you’d think he could use some of the ol’ talent with a series that he apparently loves.  The final nail in the proverbial coffin would be the writer, David Koepp who penned: Snake Eyes, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible, Premium Rush, and Jurassic Park!  You’d think he could craft an entertaining thriller!

If you were wondering why they didn’t adapt The Lost Symbol book before Inferno, then ask Ron Howard who replied with, “We didn’t know how to make something that would really feel fresh and exciting, on a cinematic level for audiences.”  I don’t buy that.  You guys adapted the first two, why was The Lost Symbol so difficult?  Also, you’re one of Hollywood’s most famous/best actors-turned-directors.  Your movies have collectively grossed over 3.3 billion dollars, and you beat Peter Jackson, Robert Altman, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch for Best Director.  I’m pretty sure you can take on a historical thriller set in Washington D.C.  Barring that, we all know the real reason why they skipped The Lost Symbol, it wasn’t as big of a success as the previous two books.  There is no amount of well-researched rhetoric that can convince me that the producers weren’t drooling over the sales of The Da Vinci Code in theaters (as it was #1 in the box office opening weekend and made over $700 million worldwide).  What I am saying is, Howard, you’re better than this.

Inferno reeks of laziness.  I don’t know how they managed to convolute the plot even more than they did with The Da Vinci Code.  That movie’s biggest problem was how boring it was.  Angels & Demons’ biggest problem was how forgettable it was.  Inferno’s biggest problem is EVERYTHING.  Ron Howard’s only Razzie nomination was for The Da Vinci Code (in all seriousness, the lackluster direction led to most of the issues), but the amount of failure present in Inferno rivals that of Miracles from Heaven.  If you want a perfect example, Langdon’s amnesia is wildly inconsistent.  In two separate scenes, Langdon states that he cannot remember his middle name, and what coffee is (it is explicitly stated that his memory is short-term, those two things should not be affected).  All this does is embarrass Tom Hanks, who has to spend most of the movie with this ridiculous expression on his face (and needs to fire his agent).  The performances can’t save this picture either.  Hanks is stumbling his way through every scene (at least they got rid of his stupid haircut from the first two films), Foster doesn’t have enough screentime to shine, and Jones is atrocious!  Again, Howard’s direction was probably a hindrance on the set rather than a help because these actors are not trying.

In keeping with being unfaithful to the source material, literally NONE of the characters are the same as they are in the novel.  I’d use that old critic saying, “I know it’s an adaptation, obviously some things have to be changed” but that is both obvious and kinda giving the filmmakers an excuse to change something that’s already perfect.  I will admit that these particular books would be difficult to adapt to the big screen, but that’s why you have to try.  Especially if these are not studio mandated projects as Howard claims.  The movie has no concept of logic or pacing.  It’s even more difficult to get pacing right in books because everyone reads at their own pace as opposed to everyone watching the same screen in real time.  While the adaptations of Angels & Demons and Inferno are mercifully fast-paced, they cut out the best things in each book.  With Angels & Demons, they took away all the great humor and character moments, neutered the villain, and brushed over the incredible religious/political/scientific/cultural commentary.  In the case of Inferno, it barely resembles the novel.  Let’s get back to the movie.

After completely cutting out one of the most suspenseful scenes in the book and replacing it with, “Hey look, there’s the way out,” Langdon and Brooks learn what is going on.  To sum it up: Zobrist was a transhumanist, someone who believes that humans can evolve through the use of technology, who’s strongest belief was that the human race will destroy itself if overpopulation continues to inflate.  After being ignored by the world’s top scientific minds (and most of the public), Zobrist went into hiding through the use of an organization called The Consortium.   After committing suicide, he left cryptic clues as to where his genetically created “inferno” (that he states will solve the humanity problem for good) is located.  Yes, we have yet another bad guy who hates humans and whose master plan is to kill a bunch of ’em (you may recall this unique-but-tired plot in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Kingsman: The Secret Service).  This isn’t the movie’s fault-just like the fact that it’s an amnesia storyline-the book used these clichés first.  Despite that, the movie made some major deviations from the character arcs.  The climax particularly is beyond infuriating, especially to someone who loves the novels.

You see, Sienna Brooks was apparently Zobrist’s lover, and she has been leading Robert on the whole trip so she could ensure his device will be undisturbed.  She betrays him back in Italy and he is captured by his pursuers.  These enemies turn out to be an organization (that I’m not going to spoil) that denounced Zobrist’s overpopulation concerns.  They quickly explain why they were after him, and what is at stake.  An hour of exposition later, they fly to Istanbul where Zobrist’s “inferno” is going to be released, the Basilica Cistern specifically, which would make a great breeding ground for a deadly plague. After a horribly choreographed fight scene involving Irfan Khan (director of The Consortium), 2 random stuntmen henchmen, and Felicity Jones phoning it in (which is hilarious because her character is a thespian in the book), Brooks pulls the pin on a grenade in an attempt to rupture the bag that “inferno” is contained in.  She kills herself in the process and fails to release the plague.  Oh boy, time to go on a rant!

First of all, Sienna does not kill herself in the book, nor is “inferno” a plague.  Of all the characters in the movie, she was the one they changed the most.  In the book, she is: calculated, sympathetic, extremely resourceful, quick-thinking, blonde, and a great character.  In the film, she’s: a brunette, doesn’t contribute much, and everything interesting about her was completely written-out.  Considering that 2016 was the year of the feminist agenda, I’m amazed that so little fuss was made over the butchering of Sienna Brooks’ character.  It could have something to do with the pitiful $34 million it made domestically, but still.  Inferno isn’t the best book in the series, but it has the best female protagonist out of them.  Pretty much all the intelligence and maturity from the book was replaced with cheap thrills and action movie clichés that is the intellectual equivalent to junk food for the mind.  When you read the climax of the novel, it will leave you speechless.  It’s so monumental that it will take a few minutes for your mind to process it.  Ok, I can’t take any more, let’s wrap this up.

Typically, when one reviews an adaptation, they cannot compare it to the original source material.  An adaptation can be reviewed by someone who has seen the original, and someone who has not seen the original.  The only difference is opinion.  I wanted to write this because these great literary works have been thoroughly ruined 3 times too many.  The only thing that remained decent in all three films is Hans Zimmer’s music (for reference, listen to the buildup in this, the intensity of this, and the mystery of this) which provided me with a much needed reminder that even the worst films can contain a diamond in the rough.  When all is over and done with, the sacred novels are still here, and still awesome.  But for now, Inferno gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an F.

This was the first of many projects I have planned for 2017.  Yep, the fun/experimentation didn’t stop with Brian De Palma Month, we have many more to go.  Comment and tell me what you thought of this post.  Or say nothing and let me pretend that I did a good job.  Thank you.

The Robert Langdon Series Ranked

Angels & Demons (2000 Novel)-A+

A perfect mix of action, science, historical art, religious commentary, character, humor, and pacing make this book one of the best I have ever read.  It remains timeless/relevant to this day, and I recommend that everyone should read it.  Also, the villains in Angels & Demons are frighteningly effective.

The Da Vinci Code (2003 Novel)-A-

It’s more subtle (i.e. slower and more detailed) than Angels & Demons, but still thrilling and creative.

The Da Vinci Code (2006 Film)-D

This movie is ungodly boring!  The (seemingly perfect) cast is wasted, the screenplay is lifeless, and it’s shot like garbage.

Angels & Demons (2009 Film)-C-

The only reason this movie is better than the predecessor is the faster pace.  Otherwise, the villains are underdeveloped, the suspense is weak, and the commentary is ground-level easy.

The Lost Symbol (2009 Novel)-B-

Removing the religious elements from this one lowered the stakes/interest, but on its own, The Lost Symbol is a decent mystery that takes full advantage of the setting, (and a shocking twist).

Inferno (2013 Novel)-A-

The amnesia cliché and pre-established formula hold it back, but the urgency, art references, and amazing ending make it more than just a simple action thriller.

Inferno (2016 Film)-F

Did you not read the review?

“Logan” Review

It’s about dang time I reviewed an X-Men movie huh?  There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this: I don’t care about the X-Men (the comics, the characters, and the films).  Ok, “don’t care” is a bit much.  For what they’re worth, these characters have a huge following, and their films (which range wildly in quality) have started many careers and had a major influence on the superhero industry.  They maintained a darker tone than most other superhero flicks (largely due to complex characters and clever social commentary), and they persisted through many ups and downs in the genre.  However, I was never that engaged with the films, especially the horrid ones.  For me, the tone isn’t dark enough (like The Dark Knight or Watchmen) to dive into the really gritty stuff; or it was never lighthearted enough to be an enjoyable action flick (Doctor Strange or Captain America: Civil War).  Considering that this is Hugh Jackman’s final outing as the character, they have to do something phenomenal.  Something that will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.  Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Logan; one of the best superhero movies of the 2010s.

Logan is directed by James Mangold and written by: James Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green.  Stars-Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, and Boyed Holbrook.  Premise-Set a couple decades in the future, an aging Logan is trying to take care of a crazed professor X in the Mexican border.  By a twist of fate, he finds a young mutant running from unknown evil who desperately needs his help.

James Mangold also directed The Wolverine, which was a major improvement over its predecessor, but I can’t help but think he was held back by studio demands.  One of those demands being a PG-13 rating.  The first thing I have to bring up is the: tough, no holds barred, brutal, not at all for kids, R rating.  Thank you Deadpool for being a faithful adaptation that grossed over $700 million.  Companies are finally growing a pair and can bring us proper portrayals of comic book violence without the fear of poor box office returns (note, I am aware Deadpool is not the first R rated comic book film).  It only took 17 years for us to see the Wolverine chopping up people with the realistic amount of gore and blood.  Yes, the action scenes in Logan are incredible.  Flawless stunts, kinetic (without being annoyingly shaky) cinematography, gruesome sound design, and violence that makes Deadpool look tame.  One scene in particular… oh my gosh.  It takes place in a hotel and is a Triple M.  Basically, I have not come across a scene that kept me suspended in anticipation for over 3 minutes!  You’ll be able to tell what scene I’m talking about by the editing, sound, and Marco Beltrami’s awesome score.  By the time it was over, I didn’t notice I was holding my breath!  That never happens!  This movie is worth watching, twice, for the action alone.  Not to say that the story is lacking.

There is a surprisingly large amount of emotional depth in Logan.  It’s no secret that this character is the most developed out of all the movies, is the most popular, and has been a major source of drama for the franchise.  I’m impressed with how personal this movie gets with the character.  This may be Hugh Jackman’s best performance as Wolverine since the first two films.  There are many scenes with no dialogue, just Logan.  We see the wear and tear on his body and how emotionally conflicted he is.  It makes for one heck of a protagonist I’ll tell ya.  The supporting cast also shines.  This is Keen’s first film, and she’s fantastic.  Most of the time, she doesn’t speak, and she has great chemistry with Jackman and Stewart (who is also top notch).  This is probably the best child performance I’ve seen since Raffey Cassidy in Tomorrowland (hey look at that, strong female characters that are not remakes, who’d have thunk it?).  Sadly, this film is not perfect.

There are a few “characters on the run” clichés that take you out of the experience.  Particularly a decision (an obviously dumb one) that happens during the second act that you can predict the end result of.  It’s a shame because that is a seriously important/dramatic part of the movie, but they used a boring cliché (one that was used in X-Men Origins!) to set it up.  The next problem the sheer amount of question marks I had when I left the theater.  There’s about 29 unexplained plot points (regarding the past, supposed atrocities characters committed, secret locations) that I’m sure will be explained in future installments.  But, I’m left clueless as to what is going on for most of the time.  Honestly, I’d prefer if they left all the details to the wayside so they could focus on one specific conflict rather than try to tell 15 stories at once (looking at you Apocalypse).  The biggest problem is the villain(s).  There are two of them, and they are both clichés.  I’d tell you what tropes they are, but that would spoil the film.  Just know that these guys are forgettable and largely unimportant.

There is no doubt about it; Logan is not to be missed.  If you want action, it’s here, if you want character development, it’s here, if you want a dang good cinematic experience, it’s here.  Logan gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.  On a side note, I may not be producing as much content for the next month or so.  Basically, I have some major college decisions to make this month, and my emotions are in utter turmoil trying to figure it out.  I’ll still be getting at least one review published a week (as doing this allows my mind to focus), but the projects that I wanted to finish last month are being delayed so I can sort other things out.  Thank you.

Check my Twitter for updates.

 

X-Men Movies Ranked

X-Men (2000-B+

X2 (2003)-B

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)-B-

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)-D-

X-Men: First Class (2011)-B

The Wolverine (2013)-C+

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)-B+

Deadpool (the X-Men contribute enough to the story to be called an X-Man film) (2016)-A-

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)-C+

Logan (2017)-A-

“A Cure for Wellness” Review

Oh boy, it’s time to talk about arthouse films.  Since I never got around to reviewing The Lobster or Swiss Army Man, it looks like A Cure for Wellness is going to be the first “different” movie that I’ve reviewed.  This movie is definitely one of my most anticipated releases of 2017, and a film from Gore Verbinski is almost always a treat.  Let’s get to it.

A Cure for Wellness is directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Justin Haythe and Gore Verbinski.  Stars-Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, and Harry Groener.   Premise-An American businessman (DeHaan) is sent to the Swiss Alps to find his CEO (Groener) who left suddenly after leaving a note stating that he was looking “for the cure,” that can only be found at a mysterious facility in the mountains.

Mr. Verbinski has established himself to be a versatile director.  From unique comedies like Mousehunt and The Weather Man, to the terrifying Ringu remake (The Ring), to the incredibly successful Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, to the Best Animated Feature-winning Rango; his films have left their mark on cinema.  However, one of his biggest criticisms is making movies that think they’re “bigger” than they actually are.  For example, the Pirates sequels tried to be grandiose and stupendous, even though audiences love the first because of its lighthearted action.  Another would be Rango, which was filled with morals and social commentary (although I think the story is sublime) despite being an animated Disney film.  Try as I have to counteract that argument, it has never been more prevalent than with A Cure for Wellness, that cannot (for the life of itself), figure out what it wants to say.  I opened by mentioning arthouse films because this movie makes the tiresome trek across that genre’s many possibilities and somehow came out with incoherence and pretention.

The very first thing I have to acknowledge is the style of this film.  It looks spectacular.  Verbinski has a great eye for framing a shot (check out Mousehunt for some really cool camerawork).  A Cure for Wellness is a picturesque film, and you can see some of this beauty on the official website.  The set design and color-correction give it a very eerie tone, one that effectively brings chills at times.  The score is equally entrancing, adding atmosphere at very precise moments.  On a visual level, it can’t be beat, but that is sadly the most impressive thing about A Cure for Wellness.

The movie actually starts out pretty strong.  We get some intriguing visual foreshadowing and insightful social commentary (the only commentary in the movie that makes sense).  You’ll quickly realize that A Cure for Wellness decides to spend most of its time getting high rather than making sense.  After some exposition (including DeHaan’s character motivation), he makes the trip to the treatment center.  The first act does a great job of creeping you out while setting up the rest of the story.  But you’ll quickly realize that the movie is a downward spiral after the “car scene.”  The pacing is slower than a Smart Fortwo, and instead of explaining what is going on, Verbinski decides to show you his “artistic vision.”  Yes, the movie looks incredible, but it (being a pretentious arthouse film) throws a bunch of disturbing/confusing imagery at you.  Some of these visuals are creative, and some will wreck your suspension of disbelief.  While I’m at it, let’s talk about the torture scenes!  Remember that disgusting “turkey baster” thing in Don’t Breathe?  Imagine four of those scenes in one movie, which go on for five minutes each, are even nastier, and go all the way with their detail.  I overacted with my reaction to Don’t Breathe; after all, they didn’t go all the way with what was going to happen.  I can name at least two movies (The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film) that are more shocking than A Cure for Wellness.  That said, there are numerous things in this movie that will trigger many.  Animal abuse, extensive gore, and lots of naked old people.  My philosophy is, “If it has a point, go for it.”  Most of the disturbing imagery we see after the boring first half is unexplained and has little story impact.  I’d like there to be a reason behind making me vomit.

The actual narrative is even less impressive by comparison.  There are a whole lot of genre clichés (you could see half of them in the trailers), the continuity is abysmal, and I left the theater asking, “What the heck was the point of all that?”  Usually, you can tell that an artsy-fartsy movie wants to say something.  In the case of A Cure for Wellness, I have no idea what they were going for.  The actors (especially DeHaan) are trying their best, but the script is harder to decipher than The Da Vinci Code!  This brings me to my last point; A Cure for Wellness would make an excellent videogame.  I mean it.  A first-person horror survival set in a mysterious health facility with a dark past.  The philosophy, odd characters, and brutality would work better in a game than a 150 minute film.   Imagine Outlast combined with Silent Hill; now that would be awesome!

I will say that I’m glad this movie was made, for all of its mistakes; more “different” films need to be mass released.  Despite all of its flaws, there is a thought-provoking psychological thriller hidden in the shadows.  The movie already has a Lilliputian cult following, and inspiration is much more powerful than entertainment, which the movie failed to provide.  A Cure for Wellness gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

“The Lego Batman Movie” Review

You all know the story of a certain animated masterpiece about Legos, how great it is, and how the Academy, in one of their dumbest moves yet, snubbed it for Best Animated Feature in 2015.  The writing was clichéd, but creative, the voice-actors’ personalities shined, and the animation is some of the best you’ll ever see.  It proved many naysayers wrong, and reminded us that movies based on toys don’t always have to suck.  This film paved the way for toy-based movies to make a comeback.  Sadly we got Trolls, Max Steel, and Monster Trucks.  Looks like Hollywood needs a refresher on how to do it right, and there’s no better candidate than the one we’re going over now.

The Lego Batman Movie is directed by Chris McKay and written by: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington.  Stars-Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, and Zach Galifianakis.  Premise-A spin-off of The Lego Movie, Bruce Wayne/Batman must face his fear of relationships while ensuring the safety of Gotham.

Before we get into anything major it would be apparent to say that this movie is not nearly as amazing as the first one.  That doesn’t mean The Lego Batman Movie isn’t without its charms.  Honestly, if you want to sum up this movie’s humor, I would call it a kid-friendly version of Deadpool.  There are so many fourth wall jokes, jabs at the clichés of superhero movies, and CinemaSins-style (those guys have no idea how much they’ve influenced cinema) self-awareness gags.  Basically, this movie makes fun of anything having to do with the Batman character from the 60s to the 2010s (I honestly think it was funnier than Deadpool).  That is where the humor shines.   There is some quirky wordplay, but the parody factor is what delivers.  The animation compliments it very well.  Surely it doesn’t need to be stated that the animation in these Lego films is in the Top Ten of Forever/All Time?  I don’t have to say much, just check out the trailers, or the first movie, or this movie, and ye shall be rewarded (the music is pretty cool as well).

Unfortunately, Lego Batman suffers from something that many parodies can’t escape… using the clichés they make fun of.  Doing this is necessary to a certain point (how could Scream be a 90s horror movie if there were no teens getting murdered?), but Lego Batman uses many comic book movie clichés to build the story.  This would have been fine if the writing was as solid as it was in The Lego Movie (whose entire message and lead character was a trope as old as storytelling itself), but there are quite a few plotholes and they don’t reach the amount of dramatic heft they were going for.

The main conflict is Batman’s refusal to allow others into his life, which is definitely enough to carry a movie.  My problem is how they execute it.  Batman is flanderized quite a bit.  I know that this is a tongue-in-cheek animated Lego flick (an extremely over-the-top one), but Batman is annoyingly hard-headed and egotistical during most of his screen time.  I could excuse it in The Dark Knight because his character was very complicated, but it takes way too long for Lego Batman to learn this simple lesson.  Also, this thing about Batman’s character that they are debunking; it’s been a major part of Bruce Wayne’s core character since the comics.  That’s what makes him Batman.  If you want to satirize how the movies have taken it too far (Batman v Superman, Dark Knight Rises) or not cared at all (Batman and Robin) fine, but questioning Bruce Wayne’s loner personality is like complaining about Superman’s alien origin.

The last few script problems are minor, but distracting.  For one, I have no idea when this story takes place.  I know it’s a spin-off, but they mention “master building” once or twice and they show a clip from the first movie.  Continuity is important, regardless of what character arc you’re focusing on.  Also, the climax is pretty cheesy.  Actually, it’s cheesy, predictable, and makes no sense.  Is it bad to say that the Portal Ex Machina from The Lego Movie was more believable than what happens in Lego Batman?  Again, these are minor problems; there is plenty of good to make up for it (including the energetic voice-acting).

I hope you’ve ascertained two things from this review: 1-The Lego Batman Movie is not as good as its predecessor, 2-you should see it right now.  If not for the humor, then maybe for the spectacle.  This movie is truly wonderful to look at.  I was scared to write notes should I miss some scintillating imagery.  This is one of the best animated spin-offs of all time, and it rightfully deserves Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

 

Batman Movies Ranked

Batman: The Movie (1966) – N/A

Batman (1989) – A

Batman Returns (1992) – C+

Batman Forever (1995) – B-

Batman and Robin (1997) – F

Batman Begins (2005) – A-

The Dark Knight (2008) – A

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – C

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – C-

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) – C-

The Lego Batman Movie (2017) – B+

Top Ten Best Movies of 2016

I don’t know what to write here, so let’s just talk about some dang good movies!

 

Rules: This list contains movies from 2016 that I have watched in their entirety.  Whether I reviewed them or not doesn’t matter (links to the movies I have written about will be provided).  Only theatrical releases can be on this list.  The grades I gave them in their reviews do not matter; it is a comparison of the best movies form last year that I saw.  Finally, this is my list, with my opinions, and my praise, so enjoy!

 

#10 – Zootopia

Yes, that “rules” paragraph was copy-pasted from my other list (problem?), but here is a movie without a shred of redundancy.  My opinion has wavered over how rock solid the commentary is, but one thing is certain, Zootopia is a clever look at society with the charm and likability of a Disney renaissance film.  The characters (if they are not a stereotype) are brimming with personality, the voice acting is amiable, and the animation is some of the best 3D has to offer.  Zootopia is overrated, but for very good reason.

#9 – The Lobster/Swiss Army Man

What is dis?  Two movies for one spot?  How dare I!  It’s my list, so roll with it.  I was in a major state of hopelessness before I watched these movies.  I really needed to see something original to combat the slew of pandering garbage.  I was excited and apprehensive to see both of these films because their trailers left much to the imagination.  I’ve been meaning to talk about both of these movies since I first watched the last year, but other things took priority.  By now, you probably know the plots of these movies, and you should watch them if not.  What’s fascinating is how eerily similar they are.  Both are love stories, they each have fantasy elements, they both have a 7.1 IMDb rating, neither of them follow “traditional” writing, and they were both incredible refreshers in a crappy film year.  The casts are given a lot to work with, the soundtracks are magnificent, and the oddball humor almost always hits it’s mark.  Most critics prefer The Lobster and most audiences prefer Swiss Army Man, but as far as this Internet nobody is concerned, they are equally original, equally entertaining, and equally important.

#8 – The Magnificent Seven

Many a time has passed when I fantasize about Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne entering reality, hunting down the people who gave this movie a poor rating, and asking them in a half-friendly tone (while brandishing an axe), “Now why did y’all have to do that?”  Is that normal?  Can you blame me?  The Magnificent Seven is one of the best action movies of last year, but it is quite possibly the most underrated gem of that year.  The performances are memorable, the action is brutal, the score is incredible, the cinematography is resplendent, and the mere fact that this movie is not only the rare, “remake of a remake,” but one that manages to be good as well… it’s awesome!  This is Antoine Fuqua’s best film since Shooter in 2007.  And yet, people still call it a worse remake than Ghostbusters 2016.  For those of you who believe that, refer to this list, then this review, then get your brain checked out.  Don’t give me that look; this is a list of movies that I love.  Of course I’m going to defend them!  You get the point, you’re in for some great action when you watch this movie.

#7 – Kung Fu Panda 3

I spent at least 30 minutes debating the order of this movie and the next one on the list.  After re-reading the reviews, thus recalling why I love both of them, I still can’t decide.  I’d put them both in the same spot, but I already did that with The Lobster/Swiss Army Man, and I don’t want to annoy you that much.  Let’s just say that #7 and #6 are interchangeable.

Oops, almost forgot to talk about Kung Fu Panda 3.  I still stand by what I said in the review, “Kung Fu Panda is one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time!”  I cannot think of a film trilogy that improved each time.  Return of the Jedi isn’t as good as its predecessors, nor was Temple of Doom or Dark Knight Rises, and the individual films in the Toy Story and Lord of the Rings trilogies are equally great (at least to me).  I am thoroughly triggered over the Oscar snubbery of this film.  There was not an animated film that looked more beautiful than this one.  Nobody will agree with me, but while Kubo and the Two Strings was detailed, Sing was colorful, and Zootopia was wonderfully designed, the visual appeal in Kung Fu Panda 3 (especially during the spirit world sequences) is not to be missed.  The animation is backed by likable characters, progressive writing, and upbeat humor.  I don’t know what they’ll do with the next movie but I have confidence in this team.  Their effort shows through the finished product, which is entertainment with a big heart.

#6 – Doctor Strange

Superhero movies cannot grow old as long as Marvel keeps churning out exceptional stuff like Doctor Strange!  From the acrobatic choreography, to the charming cast, to the philosophy, to the incredible production quality (i.e. makeup, F/X, costumes, and sets), everything is impressive.  You’ll notice that there are many movies on this list that could be considered “basic entertainment,” but that is perfectly acceptable.  There seems to be two radical thoughts on how “deep” movies can be.  Either “every movie is mindless entertainment,” or “everything has to be Manchester by the Sea levels of emotionally complicated.”  There is such a thing as a lighthearted action flick with some character or moral depth.  There can also be a serious movie with a decent helping of fun action/comedy.  One of the finest examples of this is Raiders of the Lost Ark.  If you think about it, the whole point of the movie was to stop the Nazis (the freaking Nazis!) from getting their hands on a weapon that would allow them to take over the world.  Clever writing and Steven Spielberg’s direction gave the movie more of a “fun adventure” tone, despite the many aspects of it that are not meant for kids.  On the surface, Doctor Strange is a thrilling spectacle of magic, but the developed characters all have very adult reasons for what they believe in.  Bottom line, if you want a superhero flick with the excitement of a summer blockbuster but with the attention to detail of a character piece, Doctor Strange is your movie.  After all, there will be plenty of mature movies now that we are in the top 5.

#5 – La La Land

We wanted a movie with style.  We wanted a movie with originality.  We wanted a movie with effort.  In response, we got La La Land, a beautiful throwback to the musicals of the past.  I never explained how bad of an experience I had at the theater when I watched the movie.  It was… very unpleasant.  After watching more reviews, clips from the film, and listening to the soundtrack on repeat, I’ve grown to like it more.  I still don’t think that “fantasy” thing near the end should have happened, but La La Land is still a feel-good musical with irresistible actors and a soundtrack that is just as great as everyone says.  It’s a movie that sparkles with style, delivers pure entertainment, and radiates passion/effort.

#4 – Hidden Figures

This one has grown on me over time.  The cast brims with talent, every character’s dialogue is intelligent, the score is wonderful, and the pacing is really good.  It felt like I had endured the amount of time the women in the movie did.  When justice is served, it felt earned.  The lighthearted tone mirrors the movie’s most valuable asset… a sense of hope.

#3 – Captain America: Civil War

In a world when audiences across the world are massively disappointed by one of 2016’s biggest misfires (Batman v Superman), Marvel will release a film (no, an event) that will remind us that superhero movies can have compelling story arcs, characters with character, mind-blowing visuals, incredible fight choreography, and a perfect balance of comedy and drama.  To those who have been picking apart every single word in the script, aren’t you taking this superhero movie (that doesn’t’ take itself that seriously) too seriously?  I really like Daniel Brühl’s villain, he had a plan that is legitimately intelligent.  The tension between the 10+ main characters (I’m still amazed at how well they wrote everyone) created more suspense than waiting for the airport scene (that takes really competent direction), and of course, the freaking battle sequences alone make life worth living.

#2 – Hacksaw Ridge

It came down to a tough decision between this move and number 1.  Hacksaw Ridge is one of the two movies of 2016 that drove me to tears (the other was Patriots Day, specifically the ending).  There are so many things this war drama does right… only the direction of Mel Gibson could have done it.  Andrew Garfield shines (as does the rest of the cast), the character’s actions support the message, the technical aspects are a spectacle, and that M.M.M montage cannot be forgotten.  This movie spends it’s time setting up the compelling characters before throwing them into the horrors of Hacksaw Ridge.  It is very hard to watch this movie, but the amount of care and respect that went into it is awe-inspiring.

 

Honorable Mentions

A sequel that ups the characters as much as the production quality, The Conjuring 2 has the dramatic heft to support the terrifying story.

Why wasn’t this nominated for any Oscars?  Seriously, Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter are spot on, their relationship progression felt natural, the time period is captured very well, and the movie doesn’t focus purely on politics.  As far as romances go, it’s one of the best.

After Barbershop 2: Back in Business, this movie had very little to live up to.  But under the competent direction of Malcom D. Lee, a fully-utilized cast, fast-paced humor, relatable characters, and engaging social commentary, The Next Cut became the best film in the trilogy.

  • Arrival

I never got around to reviewing this one because I couldn’t’ form an actual opinion.  One (or four) thing’s for sure, the story is original, the visuals can’t be beat, the score is chilling, and it requires you to use your brain.

  • Nocturnal Animals

This is one of the most elegant movies I have ever seen.  The score (especially “Wayward Sisters”) is beautiful, Tom Ford’s vision is remarkable, the performances (especially Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon) are excellent, and the story is intriguing.  Nocturnal Animals is one experience you won’t soon forget.

  • Loving

It suffers from Jeff Nichols trademarked slow pacing, but Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga’s performances are unbelievably endearing.

Top notch technicals are really second to the incredibly respectful direction, intense acting, and genuine drama.

It has plenty of issues, but the climax is awesome, the characters are likable, and the presentation is amazing.

This movie wasn’t meant for me, but I still appreciate what it accomplished.  It’s a superbly acted drama about regular people (something we don’t get enough of).

  • Lion

The first third is quite boring, but the second Dev Patel (congrats on the Oscar nomination man, you deserve it) arrives on screen, the movie gets better and better.  Not to mention Nicole Kidman’s heartbreaking acting and a tear-jerking climax.

Sing is one of the most innocently enjoyable films I’ve seen in quite some time.  Energetic animation backs up extremely likable (and perfectly casted) characters, completed with a terrific soundtrack.

 

#1 – Hell or High Water

While Hacksaw Ridge was tear-jerkingly dramatic, Hell or High Water is a slow-building, character-driven film about family, banks, old age, regret, and morality.  I can’t describe how detailed the screenplay is.  I’m’ looking forward to Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River because this guy knows what makes any compelling movie… characters.  In Hell or High Water, there is the black and white law, but there are also desperate people who have to break that law to survive.  None of the awards for this movie truly tell you how exceptional the cast is.  Chris Pine and Ben Foster have incredible chemistry, as do Jeff Bridges and Gil Bermingham.  There is such an attention to character in this movie, it is amazing.  This is the type of mature, important film that was so sorely needed in a year of “junk food movies.”

 

There you have it.  We went through a crappy film year, but made it out (as we always do).  I appreciate each and every one of your viewership.  There was more than one personal challenge for me last year, but when I get notified that “X liked your post,” it tells me that someone listened, and it motivates me to work harder.  – Erick