“Magnolia” Movie Review

I speak absolutely no hyperbole when I say that that might have been one of the quickest 3-hour movies I’ve ever seen. As someone who lives and breathes off of long films like The Lord of the Rings and Lawrence of Arabia, take that as high praise.

This epic ensemble drama was originally released in theaters worldwide by New Line Cinema on December 17th, 1999. It got a much wider release about two weeks later on January 7th when it expanded to more cities. Although it managed to gross over $48.5 million at the global box office, it struggled to keep up with stiff competition, not to mention its production budget of $37 million. Even so, it garnered some extremely positive responses from critics and audiences, including a glowing reaction from filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. It also went on to win the top prize at the 50th Berlin International Film Festival the following year and was nominated for 3 Academy Awards, but didn’t win any.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film came along almost fully formed after the success of Anderson’s sophomore feature Boogie Nights. New Line Cinema and Michel De Luca told him he could make whatever he wanted next, and gave him final cut rights without even hearing a pitch. The director reportedly wrote several roles with their actors in mind, and even visited the set of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut to pitch it to one of them in person. Anderson also strongly disapproved of the studio’s marketing campaign, allegedly designing his own poster and cut together a brand new trailer for it.

Set in the then-present-day San Fernando Valley, the film is more of an ensemble piece rather than a focused narrative. Over the course of one day, we encounter the lives of over a dozen different characters- including a pick-up artist, a lonely police officer, a quiz show T.V. host and contestant, an ailing producer, and the kind nurse caring for him -who are interrelated in some ways. As strange and inexplicable things happen to all of them throughout the day, these men and women try to find a chance at love, forgiveness, and happiness, even if they may not deserve it.

Paul Thomas Anderson is a director whom I’ve run hot and cold on in the past, but overall I like his style. There Will Be Blood, The Master, Punch-Drunk Love, and Boogie Nights show that he has a unique view on human nature and behavior. From the extremely detailed characters he paints to the believable performances he draws out of his actors, he’s often overlooked in his generation of filmmakers.

Despite this, I had yet to watch his third feature, which many people I know consider to be his magnum opus. It being finally available on Netflix gave me an opportunity to watch it in no more than two sittings and see how it holds up against the rest of his filmography. Fortunately, Magnolia proves not only to be one of Anderson’s strongest directorial offerings yet but quite possibly one of the best films of the 1990s, period.

It’s quite clear from the history-heavy cold open of montages that Anderson has very sprawling yet specific plans of what to explore here. In another, less distinctive director’s hands, the synopsis given above could easily devolve into an overlong slog of schmaltz and syrupy sentimentality. And while there are a handful of sentimental moments here and there, there’s never a second of the film that feels cheesy or heavy-handed; it’s a fundamentally human story.

Perhaps the best compliment that I can give Magnolia is that while there are many characters to follow here, you become equally invested in almost all of them. They’re all broken in one way or another and want a chance at reconciliation and happiness, even if they don’t openly acknowledge it or even deserve it. And unlike Love, Actually or any of those stupid, overblown holiday movies with star-studded casts, each of them being connected by the slightest threads only makes revelations about their past all the more tragic and engaging.

In a massive ensemble stacked with talent one either side, perhaps the most underrated performer is Jeremy Blackman as Stanley Spector, a child prodigy competing on a popular quiz show. A precocious and extremely insightful young boy, he desperately wants the respect and approval of his adult peers, particularly his father. He appears to be wiser than many of the people surrounding him but feels eternally trapped in his position and doesn’t feel like he’ll amount to anything more than a has-been.

John C. Reilly is also completely brilliant and natural as Jim Kurring, a bumbling but well-meaning police officer. A sharp departure from his future roles in irreverent comedies, he tries to hide his crippling loneliness and apparent ineptitude as an officer to make it appear as though he is control of his life. When an opportunity arise for him to potentially finally find someone who loves him, he tries to put on his best show and even briefly forgets his own shortcomings.

Anderson works with an enormous troupe of actors in varying roles but manages to get the most out of them. Including *DEEP BREATH* Melora Walters, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Melinda Dillon, Alfred Molina, Philip Baker Hall, Ricky Jay, April Grace, Luiz Guzman, and Jason Robards in his final role before his death.

The most talked-about performer, though, is Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey, a popular and in-demand pickup artist for unconfident men. This might just be one of his best performances ever, as he uses his typical boyish charisma and charm to give way to a self-obsessed hypocrite. It soon becomes abundantly clear that he uses all of his sexist “self-help” methods and self-aggrandizing monologues as a tool to mask unresolved resentment towards his parents. The sheer range that Cruise demonstrates is a true antithesis to all of his haters, and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

And from a pure filmmaking perspective, Paul Thomas Anderson uses Magnolia to further define his cinematic voice. Shot by longtime collaborator Robert Elswit, the cinematography is almost always roving around from character to character, even using whip pans as a sneaky transition. Comparisons to Scorsese in the camerawork are apt, but it always keeps the action rolling during tense scenes. There are a number of push-ins and slow zooms for more dramatic moments, and even a brilliant tracking shot early on to capture the chaos of a show behind the scenes. A handful of primary colors such as red and blue are also used to help further establish the tone of each storyline.

This goes hand-in-hand with the editing job by Dylan Tichenor, which manages to seamlessly weave together each storyline. Often times, it’ll cute between multiple characters many times whenever it feels thematically appropriate. What’s even more impressive is how despite carrying the weight of multiple different characters and story threads, the tone is completely consistent with each scene. Some are darkly funny, some are sad, some are so uniquely emotional that it’s hard to describe in words.

Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann heavily contributes to the soundtrack of the film, both with recordings of old songs or her own batch of new ones. After the cold-open montage, a revamped version of the song “One” plays over the introduction to all of the main characters and their situations. It perfectly captures the tone of their loneliness and uncertainty while still being fast-paced. Another notable example is the song “Wise Up,” which manages to be sung by many of the actors at once, even though they’re all in different places. It’s a mesmerizing scene where most of them are at their rock-bottoms and try to cling on to anything to keep going on.

Also, Mann wrote and performed an Oscar-nominated original song called “Save Me,” which is saved for the very end. It’s just as melancholy and empathetic as the rest of her soundtrack and manages to bring nearly all of the storylines to a close. The lowkey instrumentation matches the longing of the lyrics and Mann’s supreme vocals and is arguably one of the most underrated songs ever written for a film.

Carrying the weight of multiple characters and story threads but never once feeling overblown in its ambitions, Magnolia is an emotionally resonant ballet of empathy and humanity. After careful consideration of his whole filmography, I feel comfortable enough to say that this might be Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece. Because not only does he handle a sprawling tale with such care and delicacy, but he also wrings incredible performances out of his massive ensemble cast.

Happiness and forgiveness are extremely difficult virtues to come by for many, especially in these scary times. And while there might not be raining frogs anytime soon, it is the humble opinion of this writer that everyone at least deserves a chance for the two.

“The Gentlemen” Movie Review

If this movie were any more British, you would need subtitles just to figure out what all of the characters were saying.

This crime black comedy was released in the UK on January 1st, 2020, after a surprise premiere in mid-December of 2019. It was later released to theaters in the rest of the world by STX Entertainment on January 24th. Made for the budget of $22 million, it has thus far grossed over $110.1 million at the worldwide box office. This ranks it among the young distributor’s biggest financial successes to date, in addition to some fairly positive responses from critics and audiences.

Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, the film marks a return to form for him after a string of so-so blockbusters. It was originally unveiled at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival under the title Toff Guys and then Bush, with Miramax essentially bankrolling it. There seemed to be have been so hot demand for it as distributor STX Entertainment reportedly acquired the rights from Miramax for $7 million. It was promised to be more tonally in line with the director’s earlier crime films such as Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Mickey Pearson, an American ex-pat living in London. Over the course of several years, he has built a highly profitable and powerful marijuana empire that even includes Royals in the mix. Now looking to retire peacefully with his wife Rosalind, played by Michelle Dockery, he approaches an Oklahoma billionaire with a proposition to buy out his business for $400 million. When word of the potential deal reaches the streets, all sorts of criminals and characters come for the throne in a series of blackmail, murder, and double-crossing.

I’ve been on-and-off about Guy Ritchie’s movies for a while now. He definitely has a distinct style that separates him from other filmmakers, but it’s not always suited to films like the live-action Aladdin or King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The type of fast-paced, immensely quirky works really well when he finds a story that suits that rhythm, which is why I’m a big fan of Snatch and his adaptation of Sherlock Holmes.

When I heard that he would be making a smaller-scaled, mid-budget caper, I became excited about what he could do. It’s always interesting when filmmakers try to return to their basic roots, and I was curious if his vision of unapologetically British criminals would translate well into the 21st century. And while it’s far from perfect, The Gentlemen is still fun and shows that Ritchie’s still got a lot of creative juice left in him.

It’s very clear from the opening sequence that Guy Ritchie is much more comfortable here than in the confines of major blockbusters. Credit where it’s due, he manages to successfully make the film have a modern setting and feel to it without feeling like an old man disgruntled over the new generation. It’s interesting to see how widespread the drug business is in this world, with even the press and Royal family members involved in some form or another.

However, it needs to be said that The Gentlemen can also come off as offensive to some viewers, as the characters frequently say casually racist or anti-Semitic things. I suppose it’s a way to make this world feel more natural and lived-in, but it becomes a little distracting when someone makes a huge point of the character’s ethnicity and it’s not in a positive light. It hardly takes over the whole film and eventually dissipates, but it is still worth mentioning and definitely takes me out of the movie a little.

Matthew McConaughey has made a lot interesting acting choices in recent years with varying degrees of success, but this might be one of his better ones. As Mickey Pearson, he’s his usual rugged and charismatic self, always assured of his dominance in the game. He manages to be quite ruthless and efficient as a crime lord, but prefers to settle all of his disputes with as little bloodshed as possible, having a soft spot for his wife and soldiers under his command.

By his side for much of the film is Charlie Hunnam as Raymond Smith, Mickey’s highly resourceful right-hand man. He’s extremely straightforward when it comes down to business, always having an ally or unseen source waiting in the wings for him. Despite this, he’s insecure about getting his own hands dirty and trys to avoid hurting anyone severely for whatever their istakes may be.

Hugh Grant continues his hot streak from Paddington 2 with his role as Fletcher, an unethical reporter and private investigator. He starts the whole film by breaking down everything he’s gathered so far, however inaccurate it may seem, often going on long unrelated tangents. His deadpan delivery of several lines helps amplify the dark humor of the film and he even adds his own mannerisms that make his character seem even more slimy and amoral.

Ritchie also gets ample performances out of his extensive supporting cast. This includes Colin Farrell as the wise coach of a group of underserved MMA fighters, Henry Golding as an arrogant underboss for a larger crime syndicate, Michelle Dockery as Pearson’s business-savy wife, Jeremy Strong as the peculiar billionaire Pearson tries to sell his empire to, Eddie Marsan as a loud-mouthed tabloid editor, and Eliot Sumner as a young heiress affected by the drug world.

And just looking at the technical aspects, The Gentlemen sees Guy Ritchie’s highly energetic style come to life once again. The cinematography by Alan Stewart balances conventional techniques with unique camera movements. This include sudden dollys and zooms on characters whenever something unorthodox is happening or being explained. The frame creates enough space between subjects to maintain a certain level of tension, such as when an unseen assailant walks up behind someone.

This matches up with the editing job by James Herbert, who works to align with the director’s unique vision. Multiple scenes have constant cuts between shots to illustrate the frenetic speed of the drug business, such as Mickey explaining his operations to a customer. Other times, it uses freezes frames for comedic effect or creates on-screen texts to explain local lingo. It can be a little distracting from what’s happening with the characters, but it definitely grabs your attention.

The Gentlemen is a scrappy yet somewhat problematic return to form for the director. Guy Ritchie, despite making some questionable choices with the story and characters, shows he’s still got a lot of juice left in him after dabbling in Hollywood blockbuster for the last decade. He’s also able to get some pretty fun performances out a well-organized cast that looks hungry for great lines and moments.

“The Rhythm Section” Movie Review

If you suddenly had the chance to get back at the people who wronged you and your loved ones, would you? Regardless of what the collateral damage might look like?

After numerous delays, this action drama was released in theaters worldwide by Paramount Pictures on January 31st, 2020. Made for the budget of $50 million, it has drastically underperformed and only grossed about $6 million worldwide thus far. This is far below several predicted metrics, making it the worst opening weekend ever for a film released in over 3000 theaters. And in addition to losing the studio roughly $40 million, it hasn’t been graced with the best of critical reviews.

Directed by Reed Morano, the film is adapted from the novel of the same name by Mark Burnell, who also wrote the screenplay. The product apparently was so attention-grabbing that James Bond franchise showrunners Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson hopped on-board as producers. During production, the main star suffered a pretty serious physical injury that set the schedule back by almost six months while she recovered.

Blake Lively stars as Stephanie Patrick, a young woman in London still reeling from a terrible loss. Three years earlier, her whole family was killed in an international plane crash over the Atlantic and has since spiraled into drugs and prostitution to cope with the tragedy. However, she is recently told by journalist Keith Proctor, played by Raza Jeffrey, that the crash wasn’t an accident but in fact part of a larger terrorist plot. Over the course of the next several months, she begins developing fighting skills so that she can hunt down and kill every person responsible for the death of her family.

I had been somewhat intrigued by this film all the way through the various hiccups and delays. I’ve been a fan of Blake Lively as an actress for a long time, and in 2018, we got to see her give some really awesome work in Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor. The idea of her doing an international action flick from the same people behind the James Bond franchise sounded like an amazing proposition.

Although I haven’t seen her two previous features, I thought Reed Morano’s work on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale was really impressive. And despite all the bad reception it was getting, I had hopes that she and Lively would be able to conjure something that was at least interesting. And in all seriousness, The Rhythm Section isn’t nearly as bad as some people say it is; there is some enjoyment to found here.

The story presented here practically begs to become a female version of James Bond, with the CIA and MI6 thrown in for good measure. However, perhaps the best thing about this film is that it avoids that temptation and becomes way more interested in looking at the weight of grief and futility of revenge. Stephanie isn’t a very competent spy, but that makes her feel all the more human as she tries to learn from her mistakes and break the barriers around her.

I think where The Rhythm Section loses a lot of people is that its style is very unconventional for a studio blockbuster. It occasionally moves back and forth between different points in time for Stephanie, which can make it a little frustrating to follow her journey. It’s easy to see why this movie hasn’t fare well at all with critics or audiences, but I definitely at least appreciate it for trying to subvert the norms of a traditional blockbuster, especially since it doesn’t seem interested in starting a franchise.

Blake Lively has been on a role in recent years, and it’s exicitng to see her branch out even further here. As Stephanie Patrick, she is a messy, broken woman who gave up trying to get closure for her family’s death a long time ago. When she gets caught up in a newfound conspiracy web, she becomes desperate to find out the truth and despite knowing she’s in over her head, she’s come too far just to turn around and leave.

Jude Law makes a similar impression as Iain Boyd, a retired MI6 operative who reluctantly helps train her. It’s clear that he wants absolutely nothing to do with the world of espionage anymore and only agrees to help Stephanie due to a personal connection with her case. He’s particularly unremorseful with her, having been desensitized to the worst humanity has to offer, and the secrets he carries make him intriguing.

Aside from these two, the supporting cast is made up of various actors who give hit-or-miss performances. This includes Sterling K. Brown as a highly resourceful information broker, Raza Jeffrey as the determined journalist who gives Stephanie a purpose again, Richard Brake as an infamous international gangster, Tawfeek Barhom as a potential suspect, and Max Casella as the man bank-rolling the antagonist’s plans. Each player has varying amounts of screentime and some leave more of an impression than others.

And looking the technical aspects, The Rhythm Section sees Morano still trying to find her own voice. The cinematography by Sean Bobbit opts for a more handheld, cinéma vérité style to capture the messy and frenetic nature of the protagonist’s situation. Stephanie is in nearly every shot of the film, putting us practically in her shoes as she goes on her bloodthirsty quest. There are many close-up shots and rack focuses, which does a decent job at capturing her state of mind as we learn about the truth as she does.

Joan Sobel’s editing job mostly serves this style well as it tries to keep up with everything happening on-screen. There are a handful of action scenes where it can be hard to tell what’s going on at first, but it soon comes into focus. There’s also a Terrence Malick-esque choice to occasionally cut back to snapshots of Stephanie’s life with her family, using a much brighter color palette. This might be one of the better stylistic choices the film makes, as it illustrates everything that was taken away from her.

Relative industry newcomer Steve Mazzaro provides the instrumental film score here. Like the rest of the film, it tries to provide something unique and different than most mainstream films offer in the genre. The majority of tracks use jagged, staccato violins and other strings to highlight the frantic pacing of the story. Alternatively, this primary sound is often manipulated either into a scene that’s very exciting or deeply somber. What really separates the two is the occasional inclusion of mild percussion or woodwinds sounds.

Taken as a whole, The Rhythm Section is a wonky but determined antithesis to traditional Hollywood spy films. It is far from perfect or even great, but Reed Morano still shows she’s got a lot of potential as a filmmaker who wants to stand toe-to-toe with the other major blockbuster directors of her generation. And Blake Lively proves why she’s completely deserving of a real franchise to lead and manages to deliver one of her most complex roles to date.

When it’s all said and done, I’ve got to give credit to Paramount and Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson for trying to create a unique counterpart to James Bond. It’s a bummer that it’s mostly likely going to get overlooked by most audiences, but hopefully that doesn’t deter studios from make more (And better) action dramas geared towards adults.

The Rhythm Section Poster #1

“Tron: Legacy” Movie Review

Imagine being trapped inside a computer programming of your own creation for the better part of 30 years. With absolutely no knowledge of any of the politics, crimes, misery, or troubles of the real world. I kind of envy that.

This techno-influenced science-fiction action drama initially had its world premiere in Tokyo on November 30th, 2010. It was later released in theaters worldwide by Disney over two weeks later on December 17th to high anticipation. Made for the budget of $170 million, it went on to gross just over $400 million at the global box office. Although it managed to break even, it didn’t meet the studio’s big expectations for the long-awaited sequel. The financial disappointment and mixed critical reception put plans for a new franchise on hold, with talks of a new installment coming and going with each passing year.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski in his feature debut, rumors of a sequel to the 1982 original had been in circulation for a long time. Although Pixar was supposedly interested in continuing the story in 1999, it was only around 2005 that Disney began serious development of the project. Kosinski rejected the studio’s idea of drawing visual and narrative inspiration from The Matrix, and instead used money that producer Sean Bailey lent him for concept footage of the style and tone. An architecture student, he also used chroma keying and various other unconventional techniques to give as much creative room for the effects as possible.

Picking up 27 years after the original, Garret Hedlund stars as Sam Flynn, the primary shareholder of the tech company ENCOM International. For the past two decades, he has been investigating the disappearance of his father Kevin, played by original star Jeff Bridges. One night, Sam’s investigation leads him to an arcade that unintentionally transports him to The Grid, an independent virtual reality system. While he reunites with his father, he must contend with a corrupted version of him named Clu and figure out a way to get back to the real world.

It has been many years since I last watched this film, and I only had vague memories of liking it. On the off chance that I would miss something, I made sure to watch the original Tron first to try and understand the lore a little better. And it was a highly impressive and stylistic technical achievement, but was extremely confusing from a story standpoint.

I was hopeful to see what, if any, lessons this long-belated sequel could take from the first go-around. It’s supposed to be so different from almost all of Disney’s other live-action films recently and I wondered if this was as much of a cult hit as a lot of people have made it out to be. And Tron: Legacy is undeniably entertaining and aesthetically unique, but the story at the center is rather simplistic.

This is exactly the kind of film I think Disney should try investing more stock in making. No “live-action” remakes of animated classics, but something that looks and feels totally different than what’s usually on the market. The film is always at its best when its pushing the boundaries of family-friendly entertainment and ponders if it’s worth sacrificing fatherhood for something truly revolutionary.

But beyond the gorgeous visuals (Which still hold up quite nicely) and these brief moments of contemplation, Tron: Legacy falters to create a very meaningful or engaging story. While there is some pretty cool worldbuilding throughout and the majority of the film’s 2-hour and 5-minute runtime are spent inside The Grid, there’s not much of an emotional pull beyond the father-son thread. Still, it’s cool to watch and this is one IP I hope Disney considers revisiting in the future.

Garret Hedlund has always been a “good-not-great” actor and his performance here epitomizes that pretty well. As Sam Flynn, he constantly does immature and rash things in the real world, likely to cope with the lack of a real father figure for the past 20 years. It’s apparent that The Grid gives him an opportunity not only to make up for lost time with his father but to thrive in a world that doesn’t even exist.

In a dual role as both Kevin Flynn and his evil counterpart Clu, Jeff Bridges returns to the franchise with lots of gusto. With Flynn, he feels much more mature and wise than the previous film, optimistic for the future of humanity but still feeling guilty about his lackluster job as a father. On the opposite end, he’s intimidating and relentless as the villain Clu, even though the then-burgeoning effort of de-aging technology doesn’t quite work for him.

Olivia Wilde is also worth mentioning as Quorra, a uniquely programmed warrior who serve’s as Kevin’s only ally in The Grid. She’s extremely adept at fighting and even steals the show in a handful of action scenes because of her wicked skills. However, she’s also deeply curious about what the real world is like, as reading endless amounts of literature and asking questions isn’t enough to quench her thirst to witness a real sunrise.

And while there are some familiar faces that pop up in the supporting cast, it’s Michael Sheen’s turn as Castor, a flamboyant nightclub owner. Although he doesn’t appear until the second act, he absolutely steals the show from under the protagonists and clearly relishes the role. Sheen’s bright personality and fantastic wardrobe are also heavily reminiscent of David Bowie’s early years, which makes him by far the most interesting character in the whole movie.

And from a purely technical point of view, Tron: Legacy is a major step forward for the studio and shows Kosinski knows what he’s doing. Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is extremely noteworthy for its smooth movements and slick framing. The Grid heavily relies on the opposing colors of orange and blue while scenes in the real world are relatively muted. This is one of the best examples of 3D filmmaking as the cameras capture everything, from light cycle battles to one-on-one duels, with great precision.

James Haygood’s editing job goes hand-in-hand with the visuals, knowing when to leave a shot lingering or keep the action flowing. There are enough cuts during action sequences to keep the momentum up and never makes it confusing or hard to follow. It’s a testament to the editing crew that the flow between CGI shots and practical actors or sets is mostly seamless. Plus, the sound design is stellar, ensuring that every scene can be heard just as well as seen. It’s actually one of the most satisfying sound designs of the last decade.

Speaking of sound, French music duo Daft Punk provide their first and thus far only score for a film. I hope they decide to do more soundtracks because it’s an absolute thing of beauty and innovation. Like the rest of their work, the score is heavy on electronics across the board, which is appropriate for the unique world here. However, much of the soundtrack avoids being just dubstep and uses synthesizers, low strings, and percussion beats to create an emotional connection to the storyline. At times, it’s warm, harsh, and always attention-grabbing, making for one of the most underrated film scores in recent years.

Pushing the boundaries of filmmaking technology in exciting ways but lacking a real human pull for it, Tron: Legacy is a visually and audibly stunning adventure with a rather unaffecting story. At the end of the day Joseph Kosinski and Disney have made a really impressive tech demo that’s more like candy for the eyes and ears than anything else. It’s fun to see Jeff Bridges return to the saga and his new cast members are welcome as well, but their characters aren’t the most compelling to watch.

I think there’s a lot of potential in this franchise for Disney to explore, and this film seems to indicate they have an idea of where it would go. I just wish Kosinski was just as good with his actors as he was with her camera and effects.

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“Rain Man” Movie Review

Welcome back, one and all, to my New Year’s Resolution! It’s been a great way for me to finally watch films I’ve always wanted to and look back on old favorites. The rules are the same as the have been for the past two years, and it’s time for me to start by scratch a major film off my watchlist.

This road-trip dramedy was originally released in theaters worldwide by MGM on December 16th, 1988. Made for the middling budget of $25 million, it went on to gross over $354.8 million at the box office. This made it the highest-grossing U.S. film of that year, despite competition from the likes of Die Hard and Twins. Critically acclaimed, it went on to win and be nominated for several year-end accolades, including top honors at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival. It also managed to win 4 Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Picture, out of 8 total nominations.

Directed by Barry Levinson, the Oscar-winning screenplay was originally written by Barry Marrow before being polished by Ronald Bass. The characters and story were inspired by Kim Peek and Bill Sackter, two real-life savants who Marrow met by chance. The final draft was delivered a few hours before the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike started, preventing any further rewrites during filming. There was also a controversy when 15 major airlines omitted a pivotal scene from the film, except for the Australian based Qantas whose safety records become more well-known afterwards.

Tom Cruise stars as Charlie Babbitt, a selfish young wheeler-dealer who tries importing cars against the EPA’s rules. When his estranged father dies, he travels to Cincinnati to hear the will reading and presumably inherit his vast amount of money and assets. However, he learns that his father’s entire fortune has been bequeathed to his older brother Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, who’s lived much of his life in a group home due to his autism and savant syndrome. Together, they embark on a cross-country roadtrip to change the legal status of their inheritance and form an unusual bond along the way.

Full disclosure for everyone reading this: I am an adult male diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. I have been on the spectrum for as long as I can remember and it has been a major defining part of my life and personality. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve truly become interested in researching the topic and I’d even go as far as to say that it has helped shape my passion for movies and storytelling. It’s something I’ve become comfortable with, and I’m proud of the resilience it has given me over time.

Despite this, with a few exceptions, I have rarely seen a portrayal of the condition in mainstream media. Shows and films such as Atypical, The Accountant, and Barfi have attempted to normalize it for neurotypical people in recent years, but I had never seen the one that had put it on the map for more people. As a serious depiction of autism, I have a couple of issues with it. But as a film on its own, Rain Man is still a pretty engaging and entertaining road movie to watch after 32 years.

The way they handle Raymond’s condition was much more sensitive than I had anticipated and it definitely gets a lot of things right. Many of his on-screen mannerisms, such as talking to himself and frequent panic attacks or outbursts, are remarkably accurate to the general symptoms of autism. It also gets points for showing how Charlie, a cold and selfish person, initially tries to manipulate Raymond for his own purposes before gradually changing his mind; that really hit close to home for me.

Where Rain Man falters here, aside from just being a typical roadtrip movie, is that it almost implies that all people on the spectrum are savants who are cut off from normal human emotions. This makes Raymond seem almost robotic during his time on-screen, and it feels way too simplified to have a full impact. But at the same time, I have to give Levinson and Co. some credit for at least trying to do something realistic with it, especially for the time it was made in.

In one of the earlier roles of his storied career, Tom Cruise delivers the goods here as Charlie Babbitt. At the beginning of the film, he’s a callous and narcissistic older brother who wants no responsibility that doesn’t result in his own personal gain. And while he tries to use Raymond’s incredible mathematic skills for his benefits, he soon comes to realize that having a relationship with his brother is far more important.

Valeria Golino is also worth mentioning as Susanna, Charlie’s level-headed girlfriend and business partner. She constantly tries to put Charlie on the right path and often tries to shoot down some of his schemes when they clearly only benefit him. As the film goes along, she starts to see his softer side as the influence of Raymond begins to show on the both of them.

And then, we have Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, the role that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. It’s easy to see why his performance was so acclaimed at the time of release and why it’s so controversial now. As mentioned earlier, Hoffman plays the role rather robotically, only showing real emotion during big outbursts. A huge part of me really wishes that had actually cast someone on the spectrum for the role rather than a neurotypical actor, but then again, the film might not have gotten made.

That being said, Hoffman does a pretty good job at showing his character’s insecurity when things don’t go according to his routine. It may seem a little childish at first, but it soon becomes clear that this is the only way that Raymond can cope with the real world, which he has never lived in as an adult. Seeing the way average people dismiss him because of his behavior is heartbreaking, especially since he can’t really express himself or his feelings in a “normal” way.

And from a technical perspective, Rain Man fits right into the pack of late 80s movies. John Seale’s cinematography tries to capture the sense of a sprawling road trip, with sweeping shots across the countryside. Being shot on location helps make it feel like an authentic look through a part of Americana. There are also a number of medium close-ups to help get intimate with the characters in small moments.

This works decently with the editing job by Stu Linder. It’s a very straightforward and unpretentious method he uses to cut the film together. There are only cuts whenever there need to be for the story or for when the emotions start running high, instead opting mostly for longer takes. The lack of flare allows for the characters to take center stage here.

In one of his earliest works in Hollywood, Hans Zimmer provides the instrumental film score. It essentially serves as a guideline for all his scores to come because it is a genuinely good, if not quite memorable one. You can hear his signature style of blending electronic sounds with that of a more traditional orchestral sound. The main theme is an interesting theme that doesn’t really feel sentimental but still feels appropriate for what Charlie and Raymond go through. The trademark 80s synthesizer and percussion is ever present throughout as it sets the tone for the adventure to come.

A clear product of its time, Rain Man is a somewhat problematic mishmash of genuinely good intentions. Barrys Levinson and Marrow do work within the confines of a traditional road trip movie but still put forth a lot of effort to take its subject matter seriously. It’s also a great showcase for a pre-action Tom Cruise and a performance from Dustin Hoffman that, for better or worse, has made its way into film history.

As someone on the spectrum, I’m still trying to work out my exact feelings on how it treats autism. I can definitely respect the attempts the filmmakers made at painting a more accurate picture of the condition, but there’s still a long way to go.

The Top 20 Most Underrated and Overlooked Films of the Decade

The 2010s are officially (And finally) over. There was an enormous range of cinema that came and went throughout the years. Some became major box office juggernauts, others made huge waves during their respective awards seasons. And then there were many that were just forgotten to time by everyone. And I’m here to try and rectify that.

The following list is compiled of the 20 films from this past decade I thought were overlooked or underrated. To be clear, this means theatrically released (Or limited/VOD) features that were largely ignored or forgotten by the greater populace not long after release. But they still deserve recognition and love. Of course, there were many that couldn’t make the cut so let’s give a quick shoutout to some other gems.

Honorable Mentions:

Cold in July, Bad Times at the El Royale, The Accountant, Swiss Army Man, Edge of Tomorrow, Silence, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, The Art of Self Defense, Edge of Tomorrow, The Endless, Never Let Me Go, Mother!, Lincoln

Now let’s get this show on the road.

#20: “Beasts of No Nation” (2015)

I feel like its appropriate to start this list with a film that completely changed how films were distributed and marketed. As the first film ever backed and released by Netflix, it really ushered in a brand new age of filmmaking that forced people to reconsider what we like to think of as “cinema.” By this point, the streamer had already put some great original T.V. shows, but Cary Joji Fukunaga’s heartbreaking anti-war drama Beasts of No Nation centered on an unwitting child soldier really showed that they wanted to be taken seriously as an entertainment distributor. Abraham Attah is a breakout talent here and Idris Elba gives an incredible turn as a psychopathic warlord with no line he won’t cross. It’s hard to recommend but essential for things to come with the streaming platform.

#19: “Chef” (2014)

I’ll admit that I have a bit of a personal connection with this film because it was partly filmed in my hometown of Austin, Texas. But thankfully, that’s not all Chef has going for it. Stepping away from big blockbusters, Jon Favreau channels his own personal troubles into a delightful, feel-good movie. The cast is earnest, the locations are authentic, and the script is so hilarious and insightful into something specific like food culture. It’s the type of movie that, after you’re finished watching, leaves you feeling hungry- both for the delicious food on-screen and for more movies like it.

#18: “The Lost City of Z” (2017)

There’s something really classical yet brand new about the way that James Gray makes movies. Whether it’s a slow sci-fi epic like Ad Astra or a gritty cop drama in We Own the Night, he really likes to toy with different genre conventions. With The Lost City of Z, he takes a swing at old Hollywood epics in the vein of David Lean and William Wyler, and what a swing it is. More psychadelic and contemplative than sweeping and grand, Gray, assisted by Charlie Hunnam’s best performance to date, examines the somber and alienating side of exploration and colonialism. It can occasionally feel stuffy and drawn out, but there’s a lot to think about by the time the credits role.

#17: “Rust and Bone” (2012)

Although I’ve only seen a handful of his work, it’s clear that director Jacques Audiard doesn’t really make movies that are easy for audiences. Rust and Bone is no exception, as it deals with two broken people who try to help each other find some sort of redemption or second chance. It’s a very emotionally heavy film and at times feels almost difficult to watch, but never falls into manipulation. The performances by Maria Cotillard and Matthias Schoenarts are gripping and completely believable as they try and navigate a world that’s practically indifferent to their personal suffering. It’s a “talky” film to be sure, but Rust and Bone always puts the humanity of the characters first and presents a different yet refreshing kind of love story.

#16: “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” (2011)

David Fincher is a master of cinematic darkness. Not just because of the sleek color palette for the majority of them, but because he’s not afraid to dig deep into the parts of humanity that are, quite frankly, ugly and disgusting. Perhaps none of his films emulate that more than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the second live-action adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel. It’s just as sleek and slick as the rest of his filmography but feels a bit more “commercial” with an intriguing mystery that twists and turns in smart ways. Which makes its relative obscurity all the more puzzling for me.

#15: “Upstream Color” (2013)

If you’ve ever wondered what the love child of David Lynch and Terrence Malick would look like, this is a really close answer. The best thing I can say about Upstream Color is that it made me watch it all over again immediately after the first viewing. That rarely- if ever -happens with me, but Shane Carruth’s sophomore feature isn’t just any film. I remember someone describing it as a feature-length, metaphysical love poem and I couldn’t agree more. There’s an unmistakable sci-fi element to this story, but Carruth and Amy Seimetz’s tragic-yet-beautiful romance is what really sells it here. Unlike his debut Primer, this film is more based on emotional logic rather than complicated storytelling and pushes its ambitions beyond the constraints of its ultra-low budget. It’s a wholly original film that’s completely different from everything else out there in so many ways, and that alone is enough to land itself on this list.

#14: “The Breadwinner” (2017)

All of the attention was centered on Coco when the Academy Awards came around, and justifiably so. But The Breadwinner still deserves recognition because it might just be the most underappreciated animated film of the entire decade, and it was great time for the genre. Even though it’s only the third movie under their belt, Cartoon Saloon catapults themselves into the same leagues as Pixar, Dreamworks, and Laika with one master stroke. Telling the story of a young girl forced to provide for her family in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan, the film gracefully avoids any and all potential stereotypes to instead weave a tale of love and empathy. Parvana is quite possibly one of the best protagonists in any films from the last decade, live-action or animated.

#13: “Hunt For the Wilderpeople” (2016)

Filmmaker Taika Waititi has been making such huge strides in Hollywood recently with movies like Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit that it can admittedly be easy to forget his unapologetically Kiwi roots. I was tempted to include What We Do in the Shadows on here, but I decided to give the slight edge to 2016’s Hunt For the Wilderpeople. It has all of the eccentric, quirky humor you’ve come to expect from Taika’s films while also being remarkably big-hearted in emotion. The adventure at the center of the movie is mature yet kid-like in nature and makes an utter breakout star out of Julian Dennison.

#12: “The Guest” (2014)

Think old-school John Carpenter horror crossed with Nicolas Wending Refn’s Drive and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of movie you’re watching here. And thankfully, that combination is just as amazing as it sounds because Adam Wingard’s The Guest is a total blast from start to finish. The stakes are appropriately lowkey, but still feel immediate and makes my palms sweat while watching it. It has a very unique feel because even though it’s set in the modern era, there’s something unmistakably old-school about it. The atmosphere, the score, the Steadicam of it all. It’s all oh so delicious, and while it may feel like style over substance at times, it’s hard not to be seduced by Dan Stevens’ excellent lead performance.

#11: “Midnight Special” (2016)

Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special almost feels like a gift from the past, the type of film that studios just don’t make anymore. Telling a singular, original sci-fi story with a big budget is no small ask these days, but the film is able to balance genre spectacle with palpable human emotion. It feels both like a callback to the old Amblin adventures of Spielberg’s heyday and also like a genuinely engaging modern thriller. And a lot of that has to do with the powerful father-son dynamic between Jaeden Martell and Nichol’s regular collaborator Michael Shannon at the center of the film. Even without the sci-fi element, their chemistry and core storyline is still compelling enough to keep people invested.

#10: “Dangal” (2016)

Really any Bollywood movie from the decade could’ve taken this spot on the list, including Queen and Barfi. But I’d argue that of the ones that I did get a chance to watch, Dangal was the most enjoyable and accessible. The story, which is apparently based on true events, finds the inimitable movie star Aamir Khan as a man trying to raise his daughters to become the best wrestlers in India and the world at large. While it follows the same sort of feel-good structure as most films of the genre, it’s still incredibly fun and interesting to watch as the dysfunctional family finds themselves more and more immersed in the world of professional wrestling. It’s also a testament to the movie’s quality that it manages to fly by even with a whopping 2 hour and 41 minute-long runtime.

#9: “Snowpiercer” (2013)

Bong Joon-ho is hardly the first foreign filmmaker this decade to make the transition to Hollywood-esque filmmaking, but there’s something truly unique about Snowpiercer. It’s vision of the future, in which the remnants of humanity are piled into a never-ending train that glides around a frozen Earth, is bleak yet compelling. It’s style and visual aesthetic help to set it apart from other films in the genre and comes complete with a devastating final act that showcases Chris Evans beyond the constraints of Captain America. If for nothing else, Snowpiercer is a perfect segue into Joon-ho’s other work and how he makes movies; entertaining yet biting. It was also one of the very first reviews I ever posted on this blog, which I don’t particularly feel proud of, but helped inspire me to share my opinions publicly.

#8: “The Master” (2012)

In general, I’ve run hot and cold on Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography, but when he gets it right he hits it out of the park. And while some may point to Phantom Thread, I believe that this film is his most overlooked by far. The Master has many of his regular themes and ideas and puts them into the mindset of a perpetually drunk man who’s desperate to find belonging and meaning. With an authentic backdrop of post-World War II America and some of the best cinematography you’ll see this decade, there’s something that feels both old-fashioned yet totally modern about this historical drama. Oh, and Joaquin Phoenix is an absolute beast here. That scene of him and the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman in the jail cell was one of the most intense and gripping I had watched in quite a while.

#7: “Sorry to Bother You” (2018)

It’s hard for me to think of another feature debut from the last decade that swung for the fence as hard and as ballsy as Sorry to Bother You did. Boots Riley has a lot to say about the current state of white corporatism, but he’s able to channel it into a highly entertaining sci-fi comedy. It takes an absurdist approach to its subject matter- a black man in telemarketing using a “white voice” to become successful -and uses it to look at how capitalism and race intertwine in devastating ways. And the end results of it are equally hilarious and unnervingly real as Lakeith Stanfield (In his best role to date) navigates the highs and lows of privilege.

#6: “Raw” (2017)

This is one of the most gruesome coming-of-age stories I’ve seen recently that also happens to be a bit of body horror madness. I had heard tales of how gruesome it was, but all the blood and guts comes secondary to Julie Ducournau’s killer direction of the story. (Side note: This is also Ducournau’s feature debut) It’s a fascinating tale as we watch a young woman gradually lose her grip on reality as things in her life begin to spiral out of control. What makes Raw so compelling is that it teeters on the edge between being an all-out horror romp and a parable about a young woman’s awakening. Yes, there is plenty of gore shown throughout, but it never feels excessive and even thematically helps the story of the film. It might just be one of the best films t come out of France in a long while.

#5: “You Were Never Really Here” (2018)

Lynne Ramsay should be allowed to make more movies because if You Were Never Really Here is any indication, she’s one of the true cinematic geniuses of our time. Calling it a modern-day Taxi Driver is a bit of a reduction to its quality. While it isn’t quite as political as that Scorsese classic, it has so much bite and razor sharp ideas on trauma, stability, and the comfort of a corrupt system. The film foregoes showcasing brutal action and violence on-screen and instead is way more interested in looking at the effects it has on people after the fact. And it’s all hammered home by arguably the best work of Joaquin Phoenix’s career and a haunting score from Johnny Greenwood.

#4: “The Nice Guys” (2016)

Whatever happened to the buddy-cop crime genre? Movies like The Nice Guys make me wonder this frequently, as it proves the genre still has plenty of creative life left in it. It features one of the best screenplays of the entire decade from Shane Black with some crackling dialogue and a great mystery that twists and turns gleefully. It feels like a throwback to a time when studios were eager to let their filmmakers try something different and fun. It also features some of the best work from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, and easily their funniest to date. Their chemistry is an enormous reason why this film holds up and deserves a whole franchise of its own.

#3: “Prisoners” (2013)

For me, Denis Villeneuve is THE breakout director of the decade, but for some reason, people continue to miss or ignore his English-language debut. That’s a damn shame because Prisoners is an honest to God masterclass of modern filmmaking. Despite its relatively simple premise, it proves that simplicity is still a thing of beauty as it’s told in such an engrossing and original way. You’re pulled in not just by the amazing performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, but also by the palpable emotional stakes of two young girls kidnapped in a small Pennsylvania town. The complexity of the situation, from how the desperate parents handle it to the frustration of the police over a lack of leads, bears down on you like an anvil. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the inimitable Roger Deakins provides some truly incredible cinematography for such a small story.

#2: “Hugo” (2011)

Family-friendly movies have always been a tough nut to crack and this decade saw several ups and downs in the genre. It kind of baffles me that Hugo, one of the best in many years, was not only a commercial disappointment but has largely been forgotten by time. I would not only count it among the most overlooked films of the decade but also as one Martin Scorsese’s best works in years. Being set in early 20th-century France creates an ambience of nostalgia that thankfully doesn’t crush the rest of the film. It has a warmhearted innocence that’s been missing from the genre in recent times and a genuinely touching tribute to the world of cinema as a whole. Scorsese’s background as a film historian really lends itself well to the story and he gets really great performances out of Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz.

#1: “Cloud Atlas” (2012)

Cloud Atlas is the type of film that comes along every once in a while that makes you wonder, “Why aren’t more people talking about this?” Everything about this David Mitchell adaptation feels like the type of ambitious, sweeping epic Hollywood used to love making eons ago. But now with modern technology and broadened storytelling horizons, the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer are able to create a film that floods with intriguing stories across many centuries. From the core cast members who play different roles over various timelines to the beautiful score that ties many of the themes together, it’s almost impossible to avoid getting wrapped up in what the directing trio set out to do. Saying that all life is interconnected somehow may sound cheap, but Cloud Atlas earns the emotional payoff as all the threads come together. I only hope that other cinephiles and casual viewers down the road will share the same enthusiasm for it.

Do you agree with my picks? What do you think was the most underrated or overlooked film of the past decade? Leave a comment below on your thoughts, and if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Follow my blog for more movie-related content.

Final 2020 Oscar Predictions

It’s that time of year again, folks. The 92nd Academy Awards are nigh upon us, and much sooner than usually expected. Unlike last year, the lead up to the ceremony itself has been relatively quiet, save for the occasionally befuddling snub or surprise. And just like the last two years, I have managed to watch the majority of the big nominees and contenders and have decided to put down my own predictions for who I think will or should win. In addition, I’ll be including films or artists who I felt should have been recognized but were ultimately left out of the bunch.

And no matter what you think of the nominees or the ones that were snubbed, we’ll all find out the results when the ceremony airs on ABC this Sunday, February 9th.

Best Picture

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lighthouse

 

Best Director

Will Win: Sam Mendes for 1917

Could Win: Bong Joon-ho for Parasite

Should Win: Bong Joon-ho for Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: Greta Gerwig for Little Women

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

Could Win: Adam Driver in Marriage Story

Should Win: Adam Driver in Marriage Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Renée Zellweger in Judy

Could Win: Scarlett Johannsson in Marriage Story

Should Win: Scarlett Johannsson in Marriage Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Awkwafina from The Farewell, Lupita Nyong’o from Us

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: Joe Pesci in The Irishman

Should Win: Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Have Been Nominated: Song Kang-ho in Parasite

 

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Laura Dern in Marriage Story

Could Win: Florence Pugh in Little Women

Should Win: Laura Dern in Marriage Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Parasite

Could Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Knives Out

Should Have Been Nominated: Booksmart

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: Little Women

Could Win: Jojo Rabbit

Should Win: Little Women

Should Have Been Nominated: Just Mercy

 

Best Animated Film

Will Win: Toy Story 4

Could Win: Klaus

Should Win: I Lost My Body

Should Have Been Nominated: Weathering With You

 

Best International Feature Film

Will Win: Parasite (South Korea)

Could Win: Pain and Glory (Spain)

Should Win: Parasite (South Korea)

Should Have Been Nominated: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (France)

 

Best Documentary- Feature

Will Win: American Factory

Could Win: For Sama

Should Win: For Sama

Should Have Been Nominated: Apollo 11

 

Best Documentary- Short Subject

Will Win: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

Could Win: Life Overtakes Me

Should Win: In the Absence

Should Have Been Nominated: Birders

 

Best Live-Action Short

Will Win: Brotherhood

Could Win: The Neighbor’s Window

Should Win: Brotherhood

Should Have Been Nominated: Anima

 

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Hair Love

Could Win: Kitbull

Should Win: Hair Love

Should Have Been Nominated: Best Friend

 

Best Original Score

Will Win: Joker by Hildur Guðnadóttir

Could Win: 1917 by Thomas Newman

Should Win: Joker by Hildur Guðnadóttir

Should Have Been Nominated: Us by Michael Abels

 

Best Original Song

Will Win: “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II

Could Win: “Stand Up” from Harriet

Should Win: “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II

Should Have Been Nominated: “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” from Wild Rose

 

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: The Irishman

Could Win: 1917

Should Win: The Irishman

Should Have Been Nominated: Ad Astra

 

Best Cinematography

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: 1917

Should Have Been Nominated: A Hidden Life

 

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Little Women

Could Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Little Women

Should Have Been Nominated: Dolemite Is My Name

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyle

Will Win: Bombshell

Could Win: Judy

Should Win: Joker

Should Have Been Nominated: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

 

Best Production Design

Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: 1917

Should Win: Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lighthouse

 

Best Film Editing

Will Win: The Irishman

Could Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: Rocketman

 

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Have Been Nominated: Alita: Battle Angel

 

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: 1917

Should Have Been Nominated: Alita: Battle Angel

 

Do you have any thoughts or predictions of your own? Which films do you think will, could, or should take home the prize in each category? What are some that you felt were snubbed by the Oscars? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a Comment below, and if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Follow my blog for more movie-heavy stuff.