“Coco” Movie Review

This is just what I needed right before stuffing myself with with turkey at a table full of relatives who I only see a couple times a year. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family to death, but come on… it’s Pixar. This computer-animated fantasy musical premiered in Mexico on October 20th, 2017. Following its stateside release on November 22nd, it has grossed over $62 million, becoming the most successful film of all time in that country. Directed by Toy Story 3‘s Lee Unkrich, the story was supposedly developed over the course of several years of research. This included writers taking extensive field trips down to Mexico and taking notes from the entirely Hispanic cast. The PG-rated story follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel, whose passion for music is marred by his family’s generations old ban on it. Following a chain of events, Miguel finds that he has accidentally placed himself in the Land of the Dead. After a very unconventional family reunion, Miguel must travel across the underworld with the assistance of a hermit named Hector to find his musical idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, and return to the Land of the Living before the end of Dia de Los Muertos. It should be no surprise at this point that I’m a huge fan of Pixar Animation Studios, having produced a string of classics within a span of 15 years. And while they did stumble with the Cars franchise, they have created too many masterpieces to simply walk into a cinema with low expectations. And so I was very curious to see how they would tackle a subject like the Day of the Dead, the first time they focused on an ethnic holiday. Having seen the movie, (And suffered through an overlong Frozen short for it) I left with a big smile on my face. It’s clear that Unkrich and his co-director Adrian Molina did a lot of meticulous research for the project. I’m familiar with only a little bit of Mexican culture, but I am aware of some of the practices for Dia de Los Muertos. But the only way that the screenwriters could have done justice is if they took extensive field trips and consulted heritage experts such as Octavio Solis, who ultimately received a writing credit. And I can also tell you this movie is a leap ahead of 2014’s The Book of Life, another animated film dealing with this subject. There were concerns that this film would be too similar to that one. Not only did Coco begin pre-production before The Book of Life, it also highlights everything that the latter was missing. The respect for the Mexican culture extends to its cast, comprised almost entirely of Latin-American actors. Anthony Gonzalez may be young, but he imbues Miguel with all the naivete and wonder a child could ever possess. He represents the youth that so stubbornly believes that some family traditions are not worth keeping, a sad thing reflected in reality. By his side, Gael Garcia Bernal is excellent as Hector. His rickety movement and adventurous tone make him fun to watch. But underneath the ragged clothes and charisma lies a layered spirit fearful of being forgotten. Benjamin Bratt doesn’t appear for a large portion of the picture, but his performance as Ernesto de la Cruz is noteworthy. Without giving away much, his personality was an interesting one, seemingly bogged down by celebrity and the need to be remembered. The rest of the cast, including Renee Victor, Alanna Ulbach, Alfonso Arau, Selene Luna, Dyanna Ortelli, and Herbert Siguenza, do their parts well and contribute something interesting to the overall package. And it might seem a little cliche to say at this point with Pixar, but this movie is just absolutely gorgeous. The level of detail found in the background is astonishing, with one shot containing at least 8 and a half million lights. In particular, the film uses the colors red and orange to a great advantage, differentiating the various landscapes with a certain panache. Apparently, the skeleton characters had to be animated separately from the human ones since their bodily structure was drastically different. And that difference is seen in how the two groups move around differently. But those details really can’t be stressed enough. Every frame of the film looks as though a real photo was taken and animated characters were added over it. It’s that realistic. But it’s still imaginative in the vein of previous Pixar films. The musical score by Michael Giacchino affirms my statement about him being one of the best film composers of his generation. Beginning with a Mariachi variation on the Disney logo and containing little bits of guitar and piano throughout, it’s some beautiful stuff. It’s not his best score, but he does make the most of it. The soundtrack also has some a selection of original songs from Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the same duo behind Frozen. Of particular notion is the lullaby “Remember Me,” which perfectly encapsulates the film’s celebration of family and memory. Some other tunes are lesser in comparison, but can still admittedly initiate those man tears. And yes, this one knows exactly how to pull your heartstrings in a wholesome and natural way. It deals with some surprisingly dark themes like death and the danger of legacy. But that’s not what makes it so emotional. Rather, it’s the filmmakers’ examination of how infinitely life and death are interconnected that’s just so beautiful. The last 10 minutes of the film are particularly powerful as everything comes to a head and everything starts to make sense. I looked around in the theater and there was not a dry eye in the house. If for nothing else, kids will learn how to process death. I’d be willing to entertain arguments that this isn’t the studio’s best. It does follow familiar story beats pretty predictably. But Coco is a beautiful and respectful examination of the afterlife through another culture’s eyes. As soon as you’ve recovered from that Thanksgiving food coma, go out and head to the theater for this one. Pixar has done it again.

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“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” Movie Review

It’s official. J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium is getting the full-series T.V. treatment from Amazon, a prequel to be exact. Personally, I would much rather they do an adaptation of The Silmarillion than even try to touch these movies. The middle entry of the extremely successful epic high fantasy saga saw a worldwide release on December 18th, 2002, grossing nearly 10 times its $94 million budget. Unlike most trilogies, all three movies of the Lord of the Rings were filmed back-to-back and were finished in the years of their individual release. This is rather smart as it allows for more time to be given to perfect everything going into the final product. Picking up right where Fellowship left off, Frodo and Sam make their way to Mount Doom on their own, gaining the unexpected help of a mysterious creature called Gollum. Meanwhile, Aragorn, the Elf Legolas, and the Dwarf Gimli are drawn to the horse kingdom of Rohan to help drive a corrupt power tearing the nation by war. And finally, Hobbits Merry and Pippin find themselves negotiating with a mythical taking tree called Treebeard about their mutual enemies. Many film buffs argue over whether or not The Two Towers is better, on-par with, or worse than The Fellowship of the Ring. I personally don’t have any interest in these types of arguments. (The answer is Fellowship, by the way) Assessing these films as standalone is difficult because they were all meant to be watched in one sitting. As soon as the final shot fades from the first installment, you’ll immediately want to watch what happens next. And when a 3-hour movie makes you want to watch another 3-hour movie afterward, that’s an impressive accomplishment. And that’s what The Two Towers does. But I’ve always been of the opinion that the Special Extended Editions of the trilogy on Blu-Ray is the one to go for. Each movie is given about 45-50 minutes worth of additional footage, giving greater context to situations or characters. Including bonus features and behind-the-scenes extras, the trilogy now spans approximately 12 hours- and I have no problem sitting through all of it multiple times. Most “director’s cut” or “extended editions” of movies I’m usually against as it really just pads out the runtime and adds unnecessary filler. I want you to find me a single scene like that in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Go ahead, I’ll wait. This time around, we get even more characters to care about in the cast. Chief among them is Bernard Hill’s commanding performance as Theoden, King of Rohan. Almost Shakespearean, he faces a constant moral struggle of what’s best for his people, with the wolves of Isengard never too far behind his party. David Wenham is convincing as Faramir, a Ranger come between a rock and a hard place. As you learn more about his character, you actually grow to empathize with his hardships. Someone who I didn’t talk about last time was Saruman the White, played masterfully by the late Sir Christopher Lee. Initially being the White Wizard, his throwing in with Sauron makes you long for his defeat. He’s essentially the central villain of this film. However, Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the creature Gollum is, both from a technical and acting standpoint, an absolute revelation. Essentially the drug addict of Middle-Earth, he is brought to life by brilliant work from Weta Workshop and Serkis’ own facial expressions translate directly to the final product. Despite his gross outward appearance, you can’t help but pity the poor thing. He represents a metaphor for the toll that the One Ring can take on someone, and also serves as a reminder for Frodo to get going to Mount Doom. His performance was so great, it has prompted serious arguments about whether or not motion-capture qualifies an actor for the Oscars. (It absolutely does) And this series continues to be a marvel in the technical department. All of the behind-the-scenes crew from the last movie carry over into the installment. I would say that the sound design is much more crisp and sharp this time around. Every time an Orc was slashed with a sword, you could the crunching of their bones and the squishing blood. All aspects of this department culminate in the famed Battle of Helm’s Deep, one of the greatest battle sequences ever put to the big screen. Pitting 300 Men and Elves against 10,000 Uruk-Hai, (Orcs beefed on steroids by Saruman) the fight lasts from the rainy evening until the morning. How it cut away from the action to the women and children hiding away in the caves gave it this extra humanity. Howard Shore continues to impress as the musical composer of the trilogy. Carrying over many of the same leitmotifs from the first film and creating some new ones, the “Uruk-Hai” track is considered to be the main theme song of the entire saga. This time around, he seems to favor harsh horns and pulsating percussion for the antagonists, especially as they march toward our heroes. Meanwhile, the country of Rohan gets its own theme, made of a solo, melancholic violin that illustrates a nation’s uncertain future. How he got the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play for him I don’t know, but I’m glad he did. And unlike many fans of Lord of the Rings, I like the risks that this second installment took. While the tone itself has become a little more somber, the intelligent dialogue is taken in a really funny direction. The rivalry between Legolas and Gimli produces some hilarious moments. And I actually like the Ents. Yes, Treebeard and all of his slow-moving friends didn’t annoy or bore me at all. Like its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a stunningly beautiful fantasy brought to life with feverish passion. While not quite my favorite of the trilogy, I will never disagree with anyone who loves it most. Featuring even more interesting characters and a fantastic ending battle scene, this sequel is definitely worth it.

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“First They Killed My Father” Movie Review

Yeah… I can’t really think of any jokes right now. This biographical coming-of-age war drama premiered at the city of Siem Reap, eventually making to the fall festival circuit. It got a positive reception at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival before being released on the streaming giant Netflix on September 22nd. Although they don’t release the number of people watching, it’s believed that anticipation was building up as it was being marketed as Beasts of No Nation set in Cambodia. Produced and directed by Angelina Jolie, the film has been adapted from the memoir A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung, who also had a part in writing the screenplay. The story focuses on Loung Ung as a 5-year-old child in Cambodia, just as the United States Army pulled out of Vietnam. After the radical Khmer Rouge take over the country in 1975, she is trained as a child soldier while her family of 6 siblings and weary parents are forced out of their city home to live in a labor camp. Against her will, she is forced to take part in a 4-year regime that results in the death of over 2 million Cambodians. It’s clear how authentic Jolie wanted to be with this subject matter. There is not a single big name Hollywood star to be found on the casting list, nor is the film spoken in English for our own convenience. The film was shot on location where the co-writer had been to, all of the actors are real Cambodian citizens, and the film is spoken entirely in the Khmer Cambodian language. Relax, fellow Americans, it has been translated into English subtitles so that you can understand the plot. It’s pretty bold for someone as famous as Angelina Jolie to make a movie that rejects Hollywood conventions. She tried this previously with films like Unbroken and In the Land Of Blood and Honey. And while neither one is particularly amazing, this Netflix Original riveted me from scene one. Virtually unknown for the moment, I hope that young Sreymoch Sareum gets more recognition as a child actor. The entire film is told through her innocent eyes, unable to comprehend the true evil unfolding all around her. This arguably makes the tragedy of it all even more depressing. Looking over her shoulders for the first half of the picture is Kompheak Phoeungas and Socheta Sveng as Loung’s concerned father and mother, respectively. They present an interesting dichotomy, as the father is a disgraced army soldier hiding his loyalty, whereas the mother is miserable and depressed by their situation. Yet the two of them try their best to remain positive and hopeful for their children, the only logical thing to do in a situation like this. As mentioned earlier, there are no Hollywood big names filling out the rest of the cast. Every single actor, whether they are primary characters or one of hundreds of extras, was from Cambodia. And not a single line of dialogue is spoken in the English language, which is arguably even more impressive. Hopefully, this opens up a floodgate of possibilities for more chance of diversity in the film industry. But since this film was released on a streaming network, odds are that they’re probably not going to take it very seriously. But in a technical aspect, this film is quite accomplished. Anthony Dod Mantle frames the camerawork in a wholesome and naturalistic way for the scenes. Shot on location in various villages in Cambodia, the realistic lighting combined with the beautiful nature is something to behold. So that when some of these places start coming down, we feel even sadder and want Loung to get out of there even more. But since this is told entirely through her perspective, the film is edited by Xavier Box and Patricia Rommel to feel confusing to us viewers. We get strong implications of what is going on with the Khmer Rouge, but the film cuts away from explicitly showing us everything. In a way, this made things even more terrifying because, unless you’re already familiar with the story, it feels like anything could swoop in from out of the camera and take out our protagonist. Marco Beltrami is composing the musical score for this picture. While not necessarily his best soundtrack to date, it does feature his signature style of percussion like bass drums making a huge impact. Literally. At almost all times, there’s a hit that permeates in even some of the more quiet scenes. But he doesn’t succumb to emotionally manipulative strings common in films like these made by Hollywood. Instead, he brings out genuine feeling, even allowing us to tear up near the end when there might be light at the end of the tunnel. However, similar to Beasts of No Nation, I do not feel like this film is one that can be revisited more than once. I acknowledge this as one of the year’s best films, and will proudly tell anyone to watch it. But there are just too many scenes that are difficult to watch for me to recommend multiple viewings. The fact that this is based on a true story makes that pill even harder to swallow. Even so, First They Killed My Father is an empathetic look at evil through the eyes of innocence. Please seek this film out on Netflix and watch it. In this day and age, with atrocities regularly on the news, the subject matter has only become more pertinent. Mourning is the first step. Remembering is the next.

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“Upstream Color” Movie Review

This film has been on my mind way too much for me to not write a full-length review of it. I’ll try my best, but I doubt I’ll get anywhere on the right track. Premiering as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the Sundance Film Festival, this experimental science-fiction drama was released on April 5th, 2013. Made for just the mere budget of $50,000, it went on to earn back over 11 times that amount during its theatrical run. This is the second feature film from writer-director/everything else Shane Carruth, 9 years after his debut Primer. The story follows a young woman played by Amy Seimetz who is trapped in a cycle by a complex parasite. During her torment, she meets and subsequently falls in love with a man in a similar condition, played by Carruth himself. As they try to put together the fragments of their past lives, they also try to find where it all started and break free. To say anything further would ruin the surprises of the story. It’s not like the movie lives or dies off of these twists and turns, but it goes in some very unexpected directions. And for that, I will remain silent. It has been a long time since I was unable to form a real opinion on a film after the first viewing, but that’s just the case with Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. In fact, it’s so different and organic that I feel like calling it a “film” or a “movie” would do it an injustice. This was an experience. Now to let you know off the bat, I have not seen his debut feature Primer. For some reason, that one has been unavailable to me through the resources at my disposal. So as my first time with Carruth, I approached this one with a completely open mind because the synopsis was extremely vague and the trailer even more so. None of the reviews would tell me a single thing about it, and I’m glad they didn’t. Going into it cold without much prior knowledge was probably the best way for me to absorb this movie. That being said, I do feel like I should watch this movie a few more times to truly absorb everything that they were trying to say here. The film feels like a 96 minute-long metaphysical poem about the tests of love and dedication. At its most basic, Upstream Color is a romance story with characters who have been emotionally fractured and are trying to put the pieces back together. Even the parasite was replaced with something else like, say, a prescribed medicine, the message would still make sense. But this approach allows the story to become far more universal and abstract. It’s also a gorgeous movie to look at. Carruth is one of those “one-man-show” types of filmmakers, as he completed virtually every aspect of production himself. In a way, that allows his own unique voice to resonate with all departments of the filmmaking process. This includes cinematographer, where he crushes many different colors under a hazy palette. The bokeh-like photography is enhanced by David Lowery’s editing techniques alongside Carruth which cut away with many shots. There isn’t a single shot in the movie that feels misplaced. Every frame has a purpose for the story or its message. Carruth also tries his hand at composing the musical score, which feels right out of a film from the 80’s. Primarily made up of droning synthesizers with different sounds it helped add an ambiance and atmosphere that felt appropriate to the surprisingly melancholic mood. There’s one track, in particular, played near the end, that I keep looping on YouTube as a way of keeping me calm and relaxed. It doesn’t swell with big horns and strings. It just keeps the emotional undercurrent flowing throughout the runtime. However, this film is not made for everyone. I feel like I should inform you of that right now. It breaks many different conventions of storytelling and standard structure. The way the arcs unfold over the course of the movie don’t feel forced or contrived. It takes its time to show (and rarely tell) these two’s story go about. It demands the audience to remain completely engaged. Otherwise, not everything will make sense to them. I had to watch this film twice (back-to-back viewings, in fact) in one day to get a better understanding of it all. This isn’t your typical romantic drama or science-fiction movie. Upstream Color is a wholly original and challenging film that represents the power of singular filmmaking. Shane Carruth is a newfound treasure of American cinema and we shouldn’t lose him anytime soon. At the very least, I want to see what he can come up with in The Modern Ocean.

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“The Dark Tower” Movie Review

Well, isn’t this just the year of Stephen King adaptations? Unfortunately, not all of them can be a hit. This science fantasy western from director Nikolaj Arcel was released worldwide on August 4th, 2017, earning back less than half of its $60 million budget. The film was in development hell for many years, with directors like J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard attached as director at one point in time. Howard stayed on as a producer, while Arcel was hired to take his spot. Then the cast was officially announced in March of 2016, and the product was finally moving forward. Based on the titular series of novels, the 95-minute story follows a young kid from New York named Jake Chambers, played by Tom Taylor. He dreams of another world other than this one where an order of peacekeepers called the Gunslingers are trying to protect a mythical Dark Tower and is accidentally brought into it. Becoming the apprentice of the last Gunslinger Roland Deschain, played by Idris Elba, the boy and Roland must trek across Mid-World to protect the center of the multiverse, the Dark Tower, from the evil Man in Black. Look, I fully know about the depths of crap this movie has been dragged through over the course of the last year. Before the marketing campaign even started, it already went through a laundry list of production problems and setbacks. The trailers were pretty bad, there wasn’t a huge leadup to the release, and King himself oscillated between supporting the film and maligning it. But, as a big fan of the books, essentially the series that got me into the author in the first place, I remained ever the optimist. Now to start out, The Dark Tower is not as awful as some critics would lead you to believe. There are some moments that are genuinely entertaining. And I was actually okay with the announcement that this would be a sequel to the first novel rather than a full-on adaptation. The book is so massive and complex that adapting it is virtually impossible. But it also took elements from the third and fourth novels and threw them in an hour-and-a-half blender. And the resulting product we’ve been given is barely coherent at all and hardly does justice to King’s source material. Former Luther star Idris Elba plays Roland Deschain and does pretty well on his part. He’s not in the film as much as you might think, but he turns out to be a badass shooter. A training scene where he recites his order’s Creed is rather inspiring. The real star is newcomer Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers, who honestly carries the film on his back. You can actually care for his problems and pulls off some real emotion during some scenes. He comes off as annoying sometimes, but he’s not the problem. The problem lies with Matthew McConaughey’s performance as the Man in Black. A recurring villain in most of the author’s work, he is supposed to be this frightening yet charismatic trickster who’s wholly unpredictable. In this movie, he’s been reduced to an omnipotent wizard acting like Grand Moff Tarkin. I honestly can’t tell if McConaughey didn’t care about his character or if he got bad direction from Arcel. And while Arcel is clearly a great director of dramas given his filmography, he needs to learn how to film action scenes better. The editing job from Dan Zimmerman and Alan Edward Bell is very choppy, even during some of the tamest scenes. Sometimes, it seemed like it was trying to hide the bad CGI. Other times, it looked like they were under pressure from the studio to keep it at a PG-13 rating. It also doesn’t help that the cinematography by Rasmus Videbæk is too washed-out and murky to appreciate the fascinating world on display here. There are endless landscapes in this place, but they look so dull that you’d never want to see it again. The musical score by Tom Holkenborg A.K.A. Junkie XL, is a decent but ultimately forgettable one. And similar to a few other movies released in 2017, The Dark Tower is desperate to launch a shared-universe franchise. For those unfamiliar with Stephen King, virtually all of his stories take place in the same universe with little Easter Eggs hidden in them. This movie tries to take advantage of that but forcefully shoves in references to The Shining and IT. That is, of course, when things are actually happeningA story like this deserves a serious treatment with a runtime of at least 2 hours and 15 minutes. Instead, Columbia Pictures took what’s essentially The Lord of the Rings set in the brutal Wild West and turned it into a half-baked action movie served cold for the slump of August. While there are some nice moments, The Dark Tower wastes a powerful story in favor of incomprehensible action and bloated franchise-building. It’s too incoherent for newcomers and it’s too simplistically far-off for established fans. Here’s hoping that someone can actually take this failure away and do the books justice in the future. Now that’s a reboot I’d pay to see. But until then, any man (or woman) who defiles this series has forgotten the face of their father.

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“Stranger Things” Season 2 T.V. Show Review

*Fair warning: This review contains some spoilers from the end of the first season.  Please catch up so I don’t have to be the asshole who ruins it for you.

Since the creators of this show are treating this second season as more of a sequel rather than a straight-up continuation of the series, I will approach it in a similar fashion. With as much objectivity as a reviewer that I can muster, of course. The second season of this science-fiction coming-of-age horror series premiered all 9 of its episodes on October 27th, 2017, generating high ratings and a feverish anticipation. Following the surprisingly massive success of the first season from last year, the creators, the Duffer Brothers, stated that writing a followup was the hardest thing of their dual career. Set about a year after the first season wrapped up, we pick back up with the characters in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. Will Byers has escaped the Upside Down, but still is affected deeply by the experience, as are his friends and family. New faces come into town, and the gang tries to return to normalcy in time for Halloween of 1984. But there might be a brand new threat waiting for them in both the Upside Down and the government laboratory. Following up an impressive first season is difficult enough. But when that first season is for a show that has so gradually gained a rabid fanbase like Stranger Things, that’s even more difficult because you have to live up to the expectations of your fans. But the Duffer Brothers said this season acts more like a blockbuster sequel than a continuation of a television series. And that’s completely apparent because almost everything this time around is bigger and, in some ways, better than the first season. What I appreciated most about this season is that it dared to try different things than last time. The most obvious of these is the highly controversial 7th episode, which sees one of the characters take a detour away from the main action. Many fans hated it, saying it was unnecessary and pure filler. Personally, I thought it was delivering vital information and character development needed for that person, and in a way shows that there is a bigger picture outside of Hawkins. Could it have been done better? For sure. But the fact that they were willing to do the episode suggests new territory for them to travel through in the coming seasons. They tried something new and original, and for that alone, they deserve praise. By this point in time, all of the regular cast members have grown comfortable in their roles. Noah Schnapp is especially impressive as Will, always looking over his shoulder to make sure that the Demagorgon is never behind him. His personal arc is one of overcoming trauma and the repercussions of growing up afterward. David Harbour is great once again as Chief Hopper, this time more world-weary and cautious of his actions. He arguably has the best dynamic with most of the characters, particularly when he cares for Joyce Byers and a preteen Eleven, to whom he’s a close father figure. Some of the new characters were a mixed bag. 80’s stars Paul Reiser and Sean Astin were great additions, but Max and Billy felt a little out of place. Sadie Sink played Max well enough, but the way she was written felt like a typical young girl with unusual angst. Dacre Montgomery’s portrayal of Billy bordered on the edge of parody with a seemingly stereotypical high school bully. But the show-stealers this season have undoubtedly been Joe Keery and Gaten Matarazzo as Steve and Dustin. Their bromance was awesome and by far the most watchable part of the season. Meanwhile, this show continues to be a technical marvel. The steady camerawork by Tim Ives and Tod Campbell emulates films made by John Carpenter from the 1980’s. Not one single aspect of any scene is left unfocused or obscured by a shaky cam. Instead, it sustains a heavy and consistent atmosphere that this series has built so well. Also, the visual effects have been upgraded quite a bit. With the expansion of the world and the benefit of a larger budget, the Duffer Brothers got to be more creative. Some constraints are still noticeable, (This is a T.V. show after all) but the design for the new villain is utterly fascinating. Like if the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft had inhabited the mind and body of Stephen King and wrote a screenplay centered on a new monster in his universe. As with last time, the musical score for all 9 episodes is composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, also going by the band Survive. They continue to eschew the cliches of big boisterous orchestras in favor of synthesized melodies and beats. When it comes to the action scenes, they’re heightened and intense. But in the slower character-driven moments, it’s more emotional and subtle. At all times though, it feels like the unofficial soundtrack for a horror movie. Guys, it’s the same thing as last time. Stranger Things 2 is a worthy sophomore outing with an intriguing story and likable characters. Although I ultimately like the first season a little more, this followup is definitely worth a marathon or two on Netflix. I’m eagerly awaiting where this series goes in the future.

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“Wish Upon” Movie Review

This film is brought to us by John R. Leonetti, the director of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, The Butterfly Effect 2, and most recently Annabelle. That’s all of the information you need to know right there. This teen horror flick was released on July 14th, 2017, earning back $20.7 million against a $12 million budget. According to some sources, the script by Barbara Marshall was voted to the 2015 Black List. That means it was selected as one of the best-unproduced scripts in all of Hollywood. It also means that there is the foundation for a good movie somewhere in the plot. A young unpopular girl named Clare in high school is haunted years after her mother committed suicide. One day, she receives a Chinese wishing box from her father’s dumpster diving affairs. After using it on a girl bullying her who gets necrotizing fasciitis, she has 6 wishes left in the box. But each one must come with a new victim. So how does this movie fare against other schlock of its kind? Well, let me go ahead and get the positives right out of the way: Wish Upon is a marginally more enjoyable horror movie than this year’s The Bye Bye Man. But that’s like saying watching a Shakespearean actor fail hilariously onstage is more tolerable than a standup comic giving a painfully unfunny routine. Aside from that… yeah, this movie’s really terrible. Just its own concept feels an idea that’s been used countless times before. But in this particular case, it feels rehashed by emerging film students with the budget of an entire grocery aisle worth of Ramen Noodles. I really thought we were past the time where we got truly atrocious teen horror movies. That films like It Follows and The VVitch had taught genre enthusiasts to get back on track. That the era of 2000’s splatter garbage was officially over. Make no mistake; while this one doesn’t star Paris Hilton, it’s still just as bad. How about that acting? Hoo boy. I’m sure that Joey King is a nice young woman in real life, but she is so lifeless as the main protagonist. In fact, she actually comes off as unlikable because even though bodies consistently pile up, she still wishes for more. Not far behind her is Josephine Langford as the popular girl who constantly teases Clare. Everything that comes out of her mouth sounds like it was written for ABC Family back in 2000. (Okay, if I’m being generous it was 2005) Ki Hong Lee and Ryan Philippe are by far the best performers here as her crush and father, respectively. But sadly, neither of them can save this mess. Similar to The Bye Bye Man, this movie is incompetent from a technical standpoint alone. The editing for every death scene is so horrendous and chopped up. It felt like Peck Prior was forced to cut many corners in order to stick to a PG-13 rating. Other times, it elongates a scene to draw out the tension, Final Destination style. But it ended up being hilarious in every possible way. There is an overhead shot of the city our characters inhabit. It was so fuzzy, like 480p-level bad, that it looked like a video game level from a pre-alpha Resident Evil 6. And just like some the worst horror films out there today, there virtually is no real score here. Almost all of the tracks are stock songs. They’re all composed of simple violins and other strings meant to make the audience jolt when a jump scare happens. Nearly everything else that plays in the background is some sort of 2010’s pop song meant to advance the teenage girl drama that we all SURELY relate to. Who doesn’t think of bubblegum pop at a friend’s party? All that being said… Wish Upon entertained me. But not at all in the way the filmmakers had intended. Whether it was from one of the awfully stupid deaths or from a horrendous line of dialogue, I had a hard time resisting the urge to laugh my ass off. I firmly believe that this is one of the funniest movies to come out all year. If you get some friends to all come over to your house at night with the drinks and snacks, you’re going to have an awesome time. That’s what I should have done. But taken as a whole, there are so many absurdities and leaps in logic for a movie that takes itself way too seriously that it can be seen as anything but a roast session. When you have Barb from Stranger Things and she can’t save your movie, that’s when you know you’re in trouble. Wish Upon is a pittance of ironic enjoyment mired in utter shit. While it was unintentionally fun for me, I cannot in good conscience encourage you to watch this as a film critic. One of the funniest movies of the year and simultaneously one of the worst.

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