musical

Top Ten Study Soundtracks

I freaking love music!  I may not play any instruments, but there is nothing like plugging in my earbuds, lying back, and listening to one of the most emotionally powerful art forms out there.  My difference is that I prefer movie scores.  It’s impossible to express how much I love movie music; in some instances, music alone brings tears to my eyes, others bring chills to my skin, and many are just fun to listen to.  Not only will this post provide you (faithful reader), with some excellent background music to relieve your stress as you work, but it allows me to praise some of my favorite artists.  Final exams are approaching, and this list is gonna help with that.  Before we enter musical bliss, here are a few ground rules.

  1. I cannot include the same composer twice.
  2. This list is only counting musical scores, no lyrics. Soundtracks like Pulp Fiction, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Sing (although great in their own right) are excluded.
  3. The entries in this list are based off of my personal preference. This preference is decided by: overall quality, creativity/originality, genre, and repeatability.

#10 – Raiders of the Lost Ark composed by John Williams

Kicking off the list is the greatest film composer of all time, Mr. John Williams.  I love this guy too, so don’t get triggered over him being number 10.  This list was hard enough to rank, let alone choosing one score from this master.  There were so many candidates: Schindler’s List (somber, but I’d rather not think of Jewish genocide while writing a history essay), Star Wars (iconic, but I start daydreaming every time I listen to it), Home Alone (charming, but very seasonal), etc.  However, I think Raiders never gets too fast or too slow.  Like the film, it’s perfectly-paced and engaging.  Aside from the classic theme, my favorite tracks are: “The Map Room: Dawn” and “Desert Chase.”  If you want to turn homework into a fun adventure, cue this awesome score and let the work begin.

#9 – Dances with Wolves composed by John Barry

Of the many, many things director/actor Kevin Costner did right while making this monumental epic was hiring a composer whose music adds a grand scale to Mother Nature.  Dances with Wolves was a risky project, it was the beginning of the 90s, and Costner was well-established as an actor, not a director.  However, through incredibly delicate direction, top-notch production design, and empathetic performances, it stands as one of the most impactful/important movies of the decade.  Even if the writing doesn’t compel you, there is no denying that the film looks BEAUTIFUL.  From the opening sequence alone, you know that the combination of Barry’s deep score and cinematographer Dean Semler’s incredible use of landscape is worth the 3-hour runtime.  Two specific things make this music great studying material: the duration of the tracks, and how it sounds.  While Raiders of the Lost Ark (and another entry further down the list) have music that gets you pumped, every now and then you need a score that takes its time.  A score that tells its own story in a swooping way.  Also, the longer the score, the more work I can get out of it without having to click the “next” button.  Listen to the John Dunbar theme or “Two Socks” and you’ll see why I recommend it.

#8 – Ratatouille composed by Michael Giacchino

I love this movie!  The perfect animation, the smart writing, the fun characters, the amazing, wholly unique, inspired, beautifully composed music!  Leave it to Pixar veteran Brad Bird to write/direct a film that perfected nearly every single aspect.  What stood out to me in particular was the score.  Giacchino (with all due respect) makes a lot of music, but most of it either sounds the same or is forgettable.  However, his notable exceptions (which include The Incredibles, Cars 2, Inside Out, and Mission: Impossible III) are something to behold.  In the case of Ratatouille… I can’t even describe it; just listen to “Souped Up” or “End Creditouilles.”  Note how vibrant and fast-paced they are.  The movie is evenly-paced, alternating between sections of character development and entertaining sequences.  Bird specifically wanted Giacchino (who worked with him on The Incredibles 3 years prior) to do this score, and the result was a match made in heaven (the same heaven which combined Spielberg with Williams and Wes Anderson with Alexandre Desplat).  Most of the movie takes place in a kitchen and/or from the perspective of the rat’s (Remy) perspective.  Oh yeah, and it’s in France.  After listening to these tracks, answer me this.  Do the melodies sound authentically French?  Would you listen to this soundtrack while cooking?  Is that saxophone guy the best thing ever?  If the answer to any of those was yes, then buy this man’s music!  It’s great stuff!  That’s the primary reason why it’s good for studying.  The tempo is upbeat (providing energy to keep working), the mellifluous flow eases the stress, and it is “getting stuff done” music.  Nuff said.

#7 – The Grand Budapest Hotel composed by Alexandre Desplat

If there was any score that could beat Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar for the Oscar, it’s this jaunty, upbeat melody.  The Imitation Game (composed by Desplat in the same year) was my initial choice for this spot but after listening to Grand Budapest Hotel a few more times (while prepping for an exam no less), it won me over.   I have a soft spot for scores that have multiple instruments (each with their own standalone sound) going on at once; yet together create a one-of-a-kind style.  Examples of this would be Sherlock Holmes, The Untouchables, and The Adventures of Tintin (2011).  In the case of Desplat, he is a master of this genre.  I cannot choose a specific track because they’re all amazing!  Take for instance, “Criminal Camp Overture.”  It’s literally 11 seconds long, and yet it tells just as much of a story as “Mr. Moustafa.”  You’ll be happily tapping your foot while cramming for that presentation in style when you listen to this charming score.

#6 – Take Shelter composed by David Wingo

Just like the film, Wingo’s score is subtle, suspenseful, and leaves an impression.  Most of the tracks in this score are under 2 minutes, but none of them are bland.  I’m likely to review Take Shelter one of these days because it’s one of the best examples of subtlety and character in recent memory.  As for the music, David Wingo (who also worked with Jeff Nichols on Mud, Loving, and Midnight Special) provides an eerie, often unsettling tone to every scene.  If you want to see how applicable this score is, try playing Halo 3: ODST (during night in the barren streets) with “Storm Shelter” as the background music (prepare to be creeped out).  If you prefer a quieter, but still powerful piece, check out Wingo’s creation.

#5 – Tomorrow Never Dies composed by David Arnold

Aw yeah, you knew there had to be a James Bond score on this list!  Over the 50 years and 24 movies, we’ve had John Barry, Marvin Hamlisch, Thomas Newman, and David Arnold make music for the franchise.  What’s that?  You don’t know who he is?  Well, he may not be Oscar-nominated (like the others in that list), but his filmography is pretty underrated.  While his Television scores (Sherlock, Stargate SG-1) are impressive, his film music is even more so.  He hasn’t composed for many films, but his James Bond scores always deliver.  Tomorrow Never Dies is a ridiculously over-the-top action flick that tries to sound intelligent, but looks even more ridiculous because of it (ah, the 90s): and I love it.  However, the one part of this movie that stands among some of the best the franchise has to offer is David Arnold’s compositions.  Most know him for Casino Royale (2006), but he started with Tomorrow Never Dies, and I think it’s his best of all.  He incorporated the rockish punch of the decade with Bond’s signature tunes to create a fast, action-packed symphony that makes the movie 50 times better.  There are 5, or 8, or 37 action scenes in the movie, some of which are very standard, but Arnold’s music alone makes them extremely exciting.  The best track is “Backseat Driver.”  Each tune is equivalent to a cup of black coffee injected straight into your bloodstream.  Needless to say, you’ll get a lot finished with this stuff coursing through your ears.

#4 – Nocturnal Animals composed by Abel Korzeniowski

If there was ever a score that encompassed the word “beauty,” it’s this melody of perfection.  I’ll be honest, I went to see this movie on a whim after realizing that La La Land was sold out, and thank God for that!  I was treated to a slow-building, complex thriller that left me thinking weeks after seeing it.  In addition to Tom Ford’s brilliant direction, Nocturnal Animals achieved a masterful tone because of the score.  I don’t often complain about the Oscars in these posts (all bets are off in person), but the snubbing of this score is unforgivable.  The range of emotions the soundtrack covers in the span of 45 minutes (enough time to write a short essay) is incredible.  “Off the Road” is intense, “The Field” is crushingly sad, and “Wayward Sisters” is freaking awesome.  I can’t really specify what makes this applicable to schoolwork, but I can tell you that I’ve written over 10 reviews with Korzeniowski’s talents as my background inspiration.  Try it out, and you’ll be rewarded.

#3 – Risky Business composed by Tangerine Dream

Little did I know that when I watched the dramedy that gave Tom Cruise his career, I would be treated to one of the best movie soundtracks of all time.  Electronica (whether you like it or not) has quite an interesting history with movies.  You probably don’t know how many familiar films have scores done with synthesizers: Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner, Midnight Express, Iron Man, etc.  In my opinion, the king of electronica movie scores is Giorgio Moroder, but a close second is the revolutionary band, Tangerine Dream (whose music has been featured in Mr. Robot, Louder than Bombs, and Stranger Things).  Their compositions for Firestarter and Sorcerer are excellent, but only one score has the catchiness that makes studying a joyful experience.  Please do yourself a favor and listen to “The Dream is Always the Same” or “Love on a Real Train.”  Don’t they sound wonderful?  Kinda whimsical, but the beats are fast and flow perfectly.  There are many remixes, rerecordings, and extended mixes, that you could get a full hour of this (originally 30-minute) score to equal half of a 20 page book report and it would never grow old on you.  What else can I say?  It’s catchy, creative, and comes in quite handy when that book report is due tomorrow and you need something soothing to ease the stress.

#2 – The Social Network composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

If there was ever a perfect combination of energy, calculation, seriousness, and tone, it’s this electronica score for David Fincher’s excellent depiction of social media and American college life.  Last semester, I had a particularly difficult Business Final.  Not only was there the usual test, but we had to create a three-part business plan that included: creating a feasible idea, writing up a 30 page plan (complete with legal documents), and then doing a 20-minute presentation in class.  I put over 70 hours into this final alone and I needed something special to listen to for all that time.  Surprise, surprise, a score that plays while Mark Zuckerberg (one of Gen Y’s biggest influences) creates Facebook works very well.  The film is a masterclass of suspense and intrigue, elevated by fast performances and serious emotional depth.  Each track adds so much more to each scene, and the proof is obvious.  “In Motion” is synonymous with Zuckerberg hacking into Harvard’s photo directory and catching the eye of the Winklevoss twins.  “Intriguing Possibilities” makes you feel like a high-profile businessman.  “In the Hall of the Mountain King” made a bunch of dudes rowing in tank tops feel awesome.  As for “Hand Covers Bruise” well, you could listen to that while walking around campus and whatever you were going to do now has a deeper meaning.  It’s the perfect college soundtrack, and a dang good tune for studying.

Honorable Mentions

Just when you thought we couldn’t get any more amazing space soundtracks in a row (Gravity in 2013, Interstellar in 2014, The Force Awakens in 2015), enter the incomparable Thomas Newman providing instrumentals with more intelligence than the actual movie.

This is a double because The Hateful Eight used a few tracks from The Thing.  Morricone has so many outstanding scores to his name, but this combo has gotten the most mileage in terms of studying (probably because they don’t grow old on you).

  • For Your Eyes Only composed by Bill Conti

Don’t get outraged because the Rocky score didn’t make it.  Even so, admit it, everyone only remembers the kick-a** themeFor Your Eyes Only is what happens when you combine the rock of the 70s with the upcoming electronica of the 80s, and its epic!  It’s difficult not to start humming “Runaway” or “A Drive in the Country,” which was probably what Conti was going for.

  • Midnight Express composed by Giorgio Moroder

As great as this score is, only “Chase” and the instrumental theme stand out.  I also considered his rock-heavy work on American Gigolo (which has one of the best movie themes of all time) purely because of how strong the instrumental is, but I’m content with recommending this master’s work.  He’s 77, and still creating amazing sounds.  Just look at what he did with his first videogame job!

Horner along with Desplat have composed many soundtracks that were born for studying.  Horner has Field of Dreams, Legends of the Fall, Glory, The Magnificent Seven, Avatar, Apollo 13, etc.  However, A Beautiful Mind is based around mental illness, so Horner created a somber tune that I instantly associate with a math genius writing a complex formula out on a chalkboard.  The piano is wonderfully utilized in this astute soundtrack.

  • Warcraft composed by Ramin Djawadi

One of the coolest movie scores is from the original Conan the Barbarian.  It saddens me to know that the adventure epic genre (along with its equally epic music) is all but gone, incomes Duncan Jones with his stylish film adaptation of one of the most famous RPG videogames of all time.  With that is one of the awesome opening themes in recent memory.  Sadly, the other 95% is the music isn’t as spectacular.

Number 1 is simply one of the best movie soundtracks of all time.  The tone is perfectly captured, the instruments used sound beautiful, and… it’s…it’s…

#1 – Interstellar composed by Hans Zimmer

I really don’t like my review of this movie.  Obviously, I was much younger and less eloquent/experienced, but there was so much more I should have given praise to.  The biggest of those uncredited things was Hans Florian Zimmer’s beautiful, sweeping, original, breathtaking, inspiring, adventurous, terrifying, emotional score that ranks among the top ten best movie scores of all time, no doubt.

Zimmer is my favorite movie composer.  His filmography is beyond impressive.  His style is inventive, brash, and deep.  However, his best work comes whenever he works with master storyteller Christopher Nolan.  In addition to The Dark Knight trilogy, he bought us one of the most intense scores with Inception (that barely lost to Interstellar).  I spent 10 minutes staring at the wall while trying to decide number 1.  It came down to which one helped me more while working.  Simply put, I cannot fully describe how extraordinary Interstellar’s music is.  When approached by Nolan (who brought Zimmer one page of dialog as “the starting point”), Zimmer created a few notes that’s called “Day One” in the soundtrack and went with a church organ as the main instrument.  Have I mentioned that I love orchestral choirs and church pipe organs more than my own blog?  When used by a master composer, we get The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Interstellar, and a bit of The Grand Budapest Hotel (you’re not beating Zimmer this time Desplat!).  Despite this, I can’t think of many times they are used for movies, which is a dang shame because “S.T.A.Y.” is an emotional masterpiece!

I’ll unashamedly admit that I cried a waterfall when I first saw the “Message from Home” scene, and again with “Quantifiable Connection.”  Though the film’s narrative is really sciency, the real focus in on relationships (a Nolan staple if you pay attention).  Fathers and daughters, the possibility of love millions of miles away from home: only someone as talented as Zimmer could have turned a piano, a choir, and an organ into this terrifying piece.  This is one of the few soundtracks that I bought on CD, and I recommend that you check it out.  There are so many remixes, covers, and edits that keep the essential sound, but keep the sound from getting stale.  Check out Yourfavoratemusic’s YouTube playlist of Interstellar edits (I recommend, “Landing in Tesseract” and “Quantifiable Connection”).  By now you should realize that I listen to this a lot, and it has reminded me why I am answering Geometry questions that I know will never be useful in my life.  I have to pass this class, to get the degree, to get a job suited for what I want to do, and eventually that job will allow me to make my own movie… or at least shake Hans Zimmer’s hand, I’d settle for that.

There you have it, ten incredible compositions that I am 100% percent sure will help you along with that homework/cramming.  I’m sure some of you have your own favorite study soundtrack, so tell me what it is in the comments.  In terms of enjoyment, this was one my favorite posts to write, and I hope you all find at least one of these masterpieces enjoyable as well.

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Disney Remakes: 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?”

“Beauty and the Beast” (2017) Review

You know, I really can’t take any more of these freaking live-action remakes.  Don’t give me that look.  You and I both know that they are unnecessary cash grabs that (for some reason) keep making money and stopping new scripts from being produced in the process.  I am not one of these people who complain that these movies ruined my childhood (the Internet did that long before mainstream media did), nor am I one of those people who believe that all movies that get a remake are the worst thing ever.  One of my top 15 favorite movies of all time is John Carpenter’s The Thing; a remake made by an artist who loved the original and improved upon it.  Today we have a remake that doesn’t take any risks, and amazingly it left me just as annoyed as I was with Ghostbusters (2016).

Beauty and the Beast is directed by Bill Condon and written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky.  Stars-Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, and Kevin Kline.  Premise-When her father is taken prisoner by a ferocious beast, the young, kind, and beautiful Belle takes his place and quickly discovers that her captor may be much more than his outward appearance.

Before we continue, allow me to tick off some 90s kids; I am not that big a fan of the original Beauty and the Beast.  Of course it is one of the best films in the Disney renaissance.  Of course the animation is gorgeous.  And of course the natural romantic progression rivals that of a Richard Linklater film.  The soundtrack is tops, Gaston is the most hateably fun alpha-male in film history, and it has stood the test of time better than most kid-friendly romances.  However, I feel little personal connection with it.  It could be that I’ve never been in a romantic relationship before (maybe there were too many contrivances or silly moments in the movie), but it’s not a movie that I’d buy on Blu-Ray, cry while watching, or gush about.  It’s an excellent film, but not one of my favorites.  Hmm.  It appears that this paragraph has fallen on deaf ears.  I currently have 20 enraged Tumblr fanboys brandishing pitchforks outside my house.  Well, better get on with this review.

While Cinderella (2015) added just as many problems as it removed, and The Jungle Book (2016) improved upon the original (slightly), this Beauty and the Beast remake is content to change absolutely nothing.  I’m sure they made minor revisions here and there, but I am not employed by Screen Junkies, so it’s not my job to nitpick.  Seriously, this movie is almost scene-for-scene like the original.  I’m not racist, but it’s telling when the thing that stood out to me the most was the addition of black side-characters.  Ok, that’s not the only change that I noticed.  The best change is with LeFou’s character.  Not only does he have more dimension, but Josh Gad plays him extremely well.  He does begin as the “idiot best friend” cliché, but he has the funniest lines in the film, and his energy brightens any scene with him in it.  Other than that, everything is almost exactly the same, and that is a problem.

There are two ways to do remakes now (at least according to Hollywood): change very little and go the safe route, or change everything and act like the original doesn’t exist (or worse, disrespect the original).  Vacation (2015) and Ghostbusters (2016) obviously fall into the latter category due to their insulting writing and arrogant marketing.  Beauty and the Beast (2017) is worse than the original because the live-action CGI cannot compare to the extremely talented 2D animation of the biggest animation company of all time (to be fair, the F/X, costumes, music, and sets are pretty impressive).  Not helping the film is the cast.  Aside from Josh Gad, everyone is at a similar level of awkward.  Luke Evans can’t match the “charm” of the original Gaston, Emma Watson needs to be more expressive (in one musical scene, she stops in one spot with her arms against her sides while staring at a green screen), Dan Stevens can’t sing, especially with his distorted Beast voice, and the townspeople are all very passive-aggressive for some reason.  As far as story goes, mostly everything is the same.

Well that was a short review!  I’ll say it again, because this movie is so unnecessarily familiar, and my passive opinion of the original, I can’t muster up the rage to care, nor was there much substance in the first place.  If you were surprised to see the end of the review so soon, now you know how I felt when I first realized that I had very little to say about another dang remake that stingy executives threw money at instead of original ideas.  Beauty and the Beast (2017) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B-.

P.S-A very special “Thank You” to everyone who read and liked my “Inferno” post.  I put quite a bit of work into it, and even though it is the first special project I have done, I’m pleased with the results.  I now have much more confidence to start writing the next one.  Here’s a little teaser for you: it has something to do with Disney.

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

My Thoughts On: “La La Land”

*Sigh*  I can’t wait until I get to the point in my career when I get invited to AFI and I can see these movies before anyone else.  Then I don’t have to wait to see it at a theater in a different city that has a limited showing… in January.  That same theater that takes over 20 minutes to get through a line of 15 people and causes you to miss the supposedly “jaw-dropping opening musical number.”  Grrr.

Just like Manchester by the Sea, the positive reaction to this movie was overwhelming.  As such, it is impossible to go into the movie without having some expectations (though I keep mine in check as best as possible).  So did the movie impress me?  With the exception of the screenplay, everything is aces.

As far as musicals go, this has got to be one of the best of recent years.  The “animated musical” genre is still going strong (Frozen and Sing being two of the most popular).  However, the genre that includes Singin’ in the Rain, The Sound of Music, and The Wizard of Oz has been all but forgotten.  More “trendy” movies like Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods could be considered a subgenre of the classic musical, but they don’t come anywhere near the quality of La La Land.  Since you most likely know the plot of this movie, I’ll just get to the criticism.

There is not a word for how impressive this direction is.  Director/writer Damien Chazelle brings his passion project to life with the detail of a Kubrick film.  The tracking shots in this movie rival that of The Revenant, the performances ooze with energy and talent, the sets capture the tone and time period with panache, and the lighting/use of color is scintillating.  Not to mention the soundtrack.  Oh my gosh, the music in La La Land is amazing!  The dance sequences are perfectly choreographed, and the score elevates each frame with ease.  If you play an instrument, you’ll probably love this movie.  On a presentation level, you could mistake it for the juiciest steak from the most refined restaurant in the richest part of New York City.  Sadly, on a story level, it’s got as much substance as a Big Mac.

I like this style and I like these actors, but the script is quite clichéd.  This could be from the fact that this genre doesn’t focus on story.  Which is fine, but when you don’t care about the script at all, we get Mamma Mia! and Flashdance (forgettable characters and over-the-top scenarios serve as filler to the musical numbers).  Thankfully, La La Land has more to offer than those films.  However, there are more clichés than I’d like.  The “starving artist” the “naive/hopeful new star” the “boss of the protagonist who doesn’t like their creativity,” and the “bubbly upbeat friends of the protagonist.”  There are a 1001 different things going on with the two main characters, but I didn’t get very engaged because they didn’t stand out as much as the movie’s style does.  I could have accepted this issue, if it weren’t for the climax.

Without spoiling anything, this (mostly linear) story randomly does a few loop de loops, then goes backwards, then skips forwards, and left me utterly disappointed.  I really don’t know what is going on when this part of the story was written, but it certainly wasn’t helpful!  I spent two hours with these characters only to have some out of left field thing make all that character development seem pointless (no, nobody dies).  It also reminded me that almost every supporting character in this movie is either a hindrance or a jerk to the main characters.  I’ve never said this before, but it would have been better if the story stayed on its predictable path instead of what actually happens.

Of course I enjoyed this movie, but I do not love it (even though I really wanted to).  It is worth seeing just because more movies like this need to be made, but the story needed a rewrite or two.  La La Land gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

“Sing” Review

I just realized how many Illuminati jokes I have been missing out on with Illumination Entertainment.  After all, they created the biggest child-pandering gimmick (the Minions) this side of Disney princesses.  And after the useless trash that is The Secret Life of Pets, It wouldn’t surprise me if they are trying to create a new revolution of animation that is nothing but pandering.  That is… until I watched Sing.

Sing is directed by Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet and written by Garth Jennings.  Stars-Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth McFarlane, John C. Reilly, Scarlett Johannsen, and Taron Edgerton.  Premise- Buster Moon (McConaughey) is a koala whose Broadway-style musical theater is nearly out of business.  His plan is to find new talent and bring back his audience.  Problem is, he only has $1,000 to his name.  Undaunted, he decides to use that as prize money for a singing competition.

You have no idea how much this movie surprised me.  By now you know that I despise the approach to filmmaking that this production company has.  However, Sing is simply one of the most enjoyable movies I have seen from them.  This is because it was a passion project from the directors, and that really shows in the concept.

The concept is like a kid-friendly version of Birdman with a bit of High School Musical thrown in.  I love the tributes to cinema they make throughout the movie (the main character is partially named after Buster Keaton, they explain the different revolutions the industry has gone through, and the overall style of the movie feels like a behind-the-scenes documentary).  However, this concept needed much better execution.

While these characters aren’t awful, they are all clichés or stereotypes.  The angsty teenage girl, the passionate son with a disapproving father, the overworked/underappreciated housewife, the old lady who forgets things, the pretentious musician (Seth McFarlane was a perfect casting choice for this one), the shy girl with the voice of gold, etc.  You’ve seen all these stereotypes a million times, and sadly, they do little to change up these clichés, aside from given them some funny lines.  The problem that comes with these overdone characters is overdone character arcs.  You can probably predict that the jerk will get corrected, the shy girl will blow everyone away, and so on.  To be honest, that didn’t bother me too much, what did bother me was the main character’s arc.  Guess what?  It’s the “liar revealed” plotline.  Aside from being annoyingly overused, it is incredibly predictable.  There are no spoilers in my reviews, or in the premise.  You can predict that his lie (regarding the prize money) is going to lead to a whole lot of “drama” and a whole lot of wasted time that we (as an audience) know will be resolved because it always is with this stupid cliché!  Sorry, I really wish that cliché wasn’t here because “producer” character type has a lot of creative ideas around it (again, Birdman).

The biggest concern has yet to be stated: why is this thing animated with anthropomorphic animals?  I know why, animated films with animals are more profitable now than they have ever been, but there was really no need.  The gimmick of elephants and three inch tall mice singing wears off after a while and they do so little with the whole “animals take the place of humans” thing.  After Zootopia (which brilliant used it’s animal setting), I cannot let this slide anymore.  It makes just about as much sense as writing a kid-friendly New York mob tale with fish and sharks, oh wait…

That considered, the animation in this movie is breathtaking.  There will be one or two odd close-up shots here and there, but I gotta say, this stuff needs to be seen.  The character movement, the designs, the use of color, the kinetic editing, and the detail (if you look for detail in this animation, you will be greatly rewarded) in every frame is 3D at its best.

The only thing more impressive is the soundtrack and singing.  Are there over 100 pre-existing songs in this movie?  I dunno, I didn’t count.  What I do know is that, while there are many pre-existing songs in this movie, they are used to introduce us to the characters’ personalities and the songs are almost never played start-to-finish.  Unlike in Trolls, the songs actually serve a purpose and the music goes through many different genres.  This movie’s title is generic and obvious (kinda like Brave, or Frozen, or Tangled, or Hop, or Cars), but man these people can sing!  You have to sit through a lot of predictable junk in the second act, but the third act is a beautiful combination of drama, outstanding choreography and lighting, and top-notch vocal talent.  You will be just as blown away as the characters in the movie.

It ticks me off that this movie is both making less money than The Secret Life of Pets, and has a less positive critical response than that movie.  There was clearly more effort on a story level in Sing than there was in that Toy Story rip-off.  One of my notes was “I’m actually impressed” because this movie’s commercials really didn’t interest me, and with my aforementioned hatred of IE, I wasn’t expecting much (maybe that’s why I like it more than other critics).  That aside, as far as 2016 movies go, this is one of the most harmlessly fun ones out there.  Sing gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

My Thoughts On: “Moana”

Remember the critics’ reactions to Storks and The Secret Life of Pets (“It’s ok.”)?  Well, that is about all I have to say about Moana.

Despite the fact that it is finals week, that had very little to do with my feelings to this movie.  Also, I was not as impressed with this movie’s cultural setting as much as everyone else.  You can attribute that to the fact that Lilo and Stitch (to me) is a much better film and was released in 2002.  Not to say that Moana doesn’t have its redeemable qualities.  The voice acting is earnest, the animation is some of the best of 2016, and the music/songs are amazing.  Sadly, this movie feels like your typical Disney princess fairy tale cleverly disguised with different cultures and fantasy elements.

Supposedly, this movie was going to be entirely about Maui, a demigod voiced by Dwayne Johnson (who is the best thing about the movie).  For some reason, they decided to add a princess (Moana) and make her the main character.  Why?  Either Disney executives made this decision because it would be more marketable, or because directors Ron Clements/John Musker brought us Princess Ariel, Princess Jasmine, and Princess Tiana (old habits).  Whatever the reason, Moana is way too familiar on a story level, especially with the characters.  For example, Moana herself is unhappy with her royal position in society, she desires to explore nations outside of her home, and she has a marketably adorable pet.  If even one of those traits reminds you of another Disney movie, then you have seen this character before, and since the movie wants you to care about here (like, reeeeealy care about her), it is very difficult.

By no means do I think this is a bad movie, but more effort needed to be put into the writing.  The humor was not nearly as good as it should have been, the climax is cheesy, and the second act “adventure” part of the movie didn’t feel that epic.  Even though Moana and Maui’s fun interactions kept me interested, it is not enough to make up for a copy-paste formula.  Moana gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

“Trolls” Review

I am sorry about the serious lateness of this review.  Believe me I do want to review this movie, but other things take priority.  To be honest, the thing I hate most about this movie is how bland it is.  Despite being marketed as “the happiest movie of the year” and boasting some of the most (literally) colorful animation in DreamWorks history, it managed to become yet another child-pandering mess.

Trolls is directed by Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn and written by: Erica Rivinoja, Jonathan Aibel, and Glenn Berger.  Stars-Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deshanel, Russell Brand, Christine Baranski, and Gwen Stefani.  Premise-Based of the iconic (and creepy) toy line, Trolls follows the titular creatures as they try to avoid being eaten by Bergens (cruel/unhappy giants that eat Trolls to feel happy).  When some of the Trolls are taken prisoner, it is up to Poppy (the princess of the Trolls) and her cantankerous friend Branch to save them.

Yes, those (Aibel/Berger) are the writers of Kung Fu Panda 3, a legitimately excellent, funny, and emotional DreamWorks film, and the director of ChipwreckedTrolls is the newest entry into the “pastel-colored, trendy, stupid, animated, children’s films” category that includes: The Secret Life of Pets, The Angry Birds Movie, Home, Storks, and Minions.  Needless to say I hate this approach to children’s entertainment, especially when companies that have set the standards for children’s animation backtrack for the sake of profits.  Let’s be honest, why the heck would anyone make a movie based off of a toy other than to make profits?  Oh yeah, it’s called The Lego Movie!  That is one of the best animated movies of the 2010’s because it had passion, good humor, stylistic animation, and a story that actually had a creative moral.  And after Inside Out, I expect better from Disney’s main competition.

I’m stalling again aren’t I?  In all honestly, Trolls isn’t horrible, at the very lease it tells its own story.  The trailers really set my expectations low (can you blame me?), but the plot is somewhat creative.  We see the difference between the world of the Trolls and the word of the Bergens and all of their tonal parallels.  The sense of adventure is fun (especially when it is told from the perspective of 3 inch creatures), and a few of the characters are likable.  Those characters would be Timberlake’s Branch, who is the one Troll who is not all smiles and sunshine (thank God), and Bridget (a young Bergen with a crush on the equally young Bergen king).  Even though I am a positive person (my favorite character from Inside Out is Joy for Pete’s sake), the amount of sickly sweet these Trolls excrete is exhausting!  Branch represents every film critic watching the movie; annoyed, pointing out the flaws of a happy-go-lucky society, and muttering sarcastic remarks with a deadpan expression.  To be fair, Branch is the best part of this movie because his straight man personality works really well off of the goofy world he lives in, and that is where the movie’s humor shines.  The problem is that nearly every other character is one-note or just exists to spout memes “OMG, Oh Snap, etc.”  With the exception of Bridget (voiced by Zooey Deschanel) and Branch, the characters are pretty interchangeable/forgettable.

As for the animation, it’s fine.  I feel like 3D was invented purely to be abused (kinda like Flash animation).  The best animated movies that used 3D are the ones that use it artfully.  How to Train Your Dragon used it to get audiences in on the action and experience of flight, The Lego Movie used it to perfectly replicate the look of Lego figures, Wreck-It-Ralph used it to emulate the videogame atmosphere, and Toy Story, well they pioneered it.  Movies like Home and The Secret Life of Pets used it to appeal to children because “Kids luv colors!”  Trolls has more style to it than either of those movies, and it does make sense that the world these toy-based products come from would be bright and shiny.

What disappoints me the most about this movie is the soundtrack.  Keeping in line with that aforementioned thought-process, Trolls’ soundtrack consists mostly of pop song remixes a la Alvin and the Chipmunks.  C’mon man!  You have Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick, two very successful and talented artists, and you go the cheap route with the soundtrack!?  There are one or two original songs, but it is largely remixes (which are awful) including some rap… no.  Although, there is some pretty good acapella here and there.

DreamWorks is going to sell a lot of toys off of this one.  If the cuteness factor (which needs to die) wasn’t enough, there is even a Troll character that speaks in auto tune!  The plot is just clichéd enough to warrant the moral of “happiness is inside of you, you just need to find it.”  Which is definitely a moral geared towards the privileged children whose parents have the $25 to spend on watching this movie, but not too many others.  We need morals like the ones presented in Inside Out rather than something as basic as “be happy” because not everyone gets a happy ending.

In the end, I have seen worse, but from the same company that created The Prince of Egypt, Shrek, and the Kung Fu Panda trilogy, I expect more effort.  Don’t be Illumination Entertainment, be the company that proved the “don’t judge a book by its cover” belief incorrect multiple times.  Trolls gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

Hail, Caesar! Review

So I finally got around to watching a few more of the Coen brother’s films. I learned that they are very talented people! They can do gritty drama very well (No Country for Old Men) and they can do lighthearted comedy very well (O Brother, Where Art Thou?). However, as of late, their quality has been dropping in the movies they write (at least I think so). With 2014’s boringly slow, Unbroken, last year’s slightly disappointing Bridge of Spies, and now… oh boy. We’ve got an interesting one today. Hail, Caesar! is directed and written by Joel and Ethan Coen. Stars-Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum. Premise-A Hollywood studio manager (Brolin) struggles to keep the actors of his newest epic film in check, which will prove very difficult when his leading star (Clooney) disappears.
Look, if you like this movie, enjoy it, you have a right to do so. However, if you ask me, I’d give it a pass. There are so many better options out there, especially from the Coen’s. Just keep two things in mind. First, you have to go into this movie knowing that it takes place in the 1950’s, and second, I don’t dislike the movie just because it’s a subpar film from the highly acclaimed Coen Brothers.
I must acknowledge that Hail, Caesar! looks astounding. The lighting, cinematography, set design, and costumes really give the movie the necessary atmosphere. The acting is fine, with Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, and Ralph Finnes standing out as the most entertaining, and some of the jokes are well-timed and hilarious.
If you are surprised at how I could fit all of the positives into a paragraph with less than 50 words, than that means we’re in the same boat. Man, does this movie have problems! For one, this movie wasted its powerhouse cast! There are so many acting giants in this movie (among the previously listed, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Ralph Finnes, and more), and so many of them get 3 minutes or less of screen time. Instead, that time goes to this new kid Alden Ehrenreich, who is not a pleasant actor. Whether or not he was directed to act as awkward as he did doesn’t matter because he’s not entertaining to watch. It doesn’t help when most of the jokes are not very funny. The biggest problem is that so many of the jokes consist of a single joke that continually drags on. For example, there is a scene where this guy who can’t act has to be constantly corrected by the impatient director. This scene goes on for at least 3 minutes (it felt like 10), and it became boring very quickly. Speaking of dragging on, the movie’s pace is unacceptably slow! It’s runtime is 20 minutes longer than it should be. Entire scenes should have been cut. There are two musical numbers, and while they look and sound nice, they contribute next to nothing for the plot. Musical numbers are supposed to do something that benefits the story! While the second musical does introduce a certain character, it does next to nothing to establish that character (which would have made the story much stronger). The rest of the writing is just about as concrete. There is a narrator who does nothing but state information that we already know, and when they ultimately reveal the bad guy, boy does it make no sense whatsoever. This character had no development, so it confused the heck out of me when they revealed it. There is a line of dialog that explains it, but it is so forced, so expositional, and so out-of-the-ordinary, that I swear it was written in at the last second just to clarify the story to the audience.
This movie is not funny enough to be worth watching, and it’s not smart enough to be worth intelligently discussing. With that said, I know a large amount of the general audience enjoyed this movie, and that’s perfectly fine. However, if you ask me, I’d rather watch Kung Fu Panda 3. Hail, Caesar! gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

Pitch Perfect 2 Review

I hardly considered Pitch Perfect to be a good enough movie to deserve a sequel; ‘mediocre at best’ would be a more accurate description. To its credit it did have great singing, cinematography, one unique character (Jesse) and fine camerawork. However, poor characters, unfunny jokes, and an avalanche of clichés made that film a forgettable pile of average. The completely pointless sequel was….. about the same thing as the first.

This is directed by Elizabeth Banks, written by Kay Cannon and Mickey Rapkin, and stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Haliee Stienfeld, Brittany Snow, Katey Sagal, Ester Dean, Adam DeVine, John Michael Higgins, and Elizabeth Banks. The Bella’s are more popular than ever and are performing for a very important public figure. However, a colossal mistake ruins the whole performance and the Bella’s career is now in jeopardy. In order to reclaim everyone’s respect, they have to win an international a cappella competition. I will begin with the positives. For one, this movie has some funny moments. The main reason the jokes were not funny in the first film was because they were not given enough direction in their acting. In Pitch Perfect 2, their expressions and reactions are over-the-top and well timed (for the most part) and because of this, many of the jokes surprisingly got me laughing. The musical numbers are amped-up to the max and provide visual experiences to behold, and the a cappella itself is beautiful. Oh, by the way, Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele) is in this movie and he delivers the funniest lines in the whole film.

I gave both Pitch Perfect films a 5 rating on IMDb because for every positive aspect, there is an equally negative moment. In this movie, the characters (with the exceptions of Keegan and Anna Kendrick’s characters) are bland, stereotypical, or just have one trait so you can tell them apart from a piece of wood. Heck, two of the Bella’s hardly have a line or personality in the entire movie. But the two worst characters in the entire movie would be Higgins and Banks’ characters. They make the worst jokes and flat-out offended me a few times. That may sound a bit histrionic, but they say things like, “This is what happens when you send women to college.” all the time! I’m not that sensitive, but these jokes went a bit too far if you ask me, and I’m a guy! There is also a new member of the Bella’s who is Guatemalan, and they make EVERY Central-American stereotype joke in the book, one of which was actually funny, but the rest can be seen as ‘very offensive’. The story is just copy-pasted from every other high school drama movie ever made, and although this is not the worst example of this overdone plotline that I’ve seen (that would be Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, blah, blah, blah, you know how much I hate that movie).

It is truly a marvel as to how both Pitch Perfect movies have opposite points. The comedy is funnier in the second, while the characters are better in the first. The musical numbers are more powerful in the second, but the direction is stronger in the first. And the story is average for both films. What I’m getting at is that neither movie is better or worse than the other. Although, both movies should be avoided. This gets Guy’s Guru Grade of C.