Monthly Archives: June 2018

“Paddington 2” Movie Review

I feel like I’m a little late on this one, but I’m glad I got to check it out. Because, quite frankly, I really needed this movie today. And hopefully, everyone else feels the exact same way. This family adventure film was released in the U.K. on November 10th, 2017, before hitting the United States on January 12th, 2018. It grossed over $226 million, only slightly less than its predecessor, but went on to become the highest-rated film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes. (I’m not even making that up) Following the massive success of the first film in 2015, the sequel was set up for release at the Weinstein Company. Following the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, however, both producer David Heyman and British distributor Studio Canal looked for another American studio to handle a movie intended for children and families. Thankfully, Warner Bros. Pictures picked it up for $32 million and the film was officially saved. About a year after the previous installment, Paddington Bear, a kind-hearted anthropomorphic bear from Darkest Peru, has settled with the human Brown family in London. Approaching his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, he desires to get her an old and expensive pop-up book of London. However, the book is stolen by Phoenix Buchanan, a washed-up actor, and Paddington is subsequently framed and wrongfully thrown in prison for it. Now the Browns, Paddington, and his fellow inmates must find the book and clear the bear’s name in time for Aunt Lucy’s birthday. I only watched the first Paddington movie back in December, and I loved it. It was not only one of the biggest cinematic surprises I had in a long while but I genuine regretted missing it in theaters. Even though I wasn’t entirely familiar with the late Michael Bond’s hand-drawn children’s books, it wasn’t hard at all for me to connect with the raincoat-wearing bear who loves his marmalade. Yet again, I missed the opportunity to catch the sequel in January, only getting the opportunity to finally watch it on an international plane. And, hand to God, I totally feel bad about it. Because Paddington 2 is one of the best family films I have ever seen in my life. I’m being completely serious here. And maybe a lot of that has to do with the fantastic timing of this movie’s release. Under normal circumstances, a studio movie about a talking bear acting extremely British would have been simply seen as “cute” and “fun” before being indefinitely put to the cinematic sidelines. But because the last 18 months under a new leader of the free world have made so many ordinary people feel so miserable on the daily, (This critic included) director and co-writer Paul King could not have put this out into the world at a better point in time. We needed a piece of accessible media, cinema, to remind everyone that “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Granted, they couldn’t have known all of the horrible things that would have been done or said under the Trump administration, but that’s beside the point. It acts as a superpowered antidote to actions such as Brexit and the travel ban, as well as the xenophobia that inspired both. Administering said antidote is Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington Bear, whose charm will immediately win viewers over. Think of him like a British version of Mr. Rogers; he’s kind, well-behaved, gives everyone compliments, and never forgets to use his manners. While the two children of the Brown family aren’t particularly memorable, Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville do great work as the parents. Both have their own insecurities but are still caring and try to help guide Paddington through the real world at every turn. Peter Capaldi, Julia Walters, and Jim Broadbent all turn in fun supporting roles that give more perspective to the silly plot. But to me, the true scene-stealers are both Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles McGinty and Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, respectively. While Gleeson is a rough prison cook with a heart of gold, Grant gives arguably the best performance of his career as a selfish, washed up actor trying to respark his fame. You can tell he’s having an absolute blast hamming it up as the villain, and there’s chatter that he could break into Best Supporting Actor. That’s no joke. And from a pure filmmaking point of view, Paul King is inspired with the way he tells this story. The steady, fluid camerawork by Erik Wilson does excellent work following the ever-moving plot. In fact, some scenes are planted with unique symmetry to highlight what’s important for the moment. Combined with the vibrant and dynamic color scheme, and you’d easily be forgiven for thinking that Wes Anderson made this movie instead. It sure feels like one of his more tame, fast-paced comedies except much more family-friendly. Plus the editing by Mark Everson and Edgar Wright collaborator Jonathan Amos is frenetic but never disorienting. Each cut feels appropriately planned and some shots are even cut together to create a sort of long-take montage. It also helps that the CGI work brings Paddington to life so convincingly. Having been highly prolific yet underrated the last few years, Dario Marinelli comes in as the replacement for composing the musical score. His score is a diverse one, with several tracks that contrast each other nicely yet still retain the innocence of the tone. Case in point, the opening track, when we’re introduced to Windsor Garden, is jolly and filled with life. The composition has upbeat percussion such as xylophones and high-hats running well alongside the strings. Then, another theme is a more serene piano melody that’s calming and nice to listen to but feels less fun or jovial than other tracks. In keeping with the happy spirits of the film, the filmmakers decide to end the film creatively. While a wonderful hand-drawn animation plays over onscreen, Harry Belafonte’s song “Jump in the Line” can be heard and acts as a cute dance number. So yeah, all of that is one long way of saying that we needed this movie now more than ever. In a world where so many awful things are seen happening on the national news on a regular basis, here’s a little bubble of escapism and happiness that reminds everyone to look for the goodness in them. And somehow, it encourages us to find it. Knowing exactly what it needs to do and how to do it, Paddington 2 is a warm slice of feel-good, life-affirming cinema that all families must watch. In essence, this movie is a ginormous bear hug both for our bodies and our souls. We may not deserve it, but it’s what we all require right now, to let us know that it’s not the end of the world.

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“Henry V” Movie Review

Time for me to tackle the granddaddy of all modern literature and storytelling: William Shakespeare. But where to go? The overly stylized dreg of Baz Luhrmann or the dated drama of Lawrence Olivier? My favorite comes somewhere in between. This British historical medieval drama was originally released in the U.K. on October 6th, 1989, coming stateside a little later. The film managed to just barely make back its $9 million budget, supported by some of the best reviews from that year. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who had built a reputation in British theatre, the adaptation had been something of a passion project for him. Despite him having no previous experience with cinema, producer Bruce Sharman and the BBC agreed to back it for at least £3 million to start. In addition to the titular play, he also included elements from both parts of its predecessor Henry IV. Based on the stage play of the same name by William Shakespeare, Branagh stars as Henry V, the newly appointed King of England. Set in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War, Henry and his court are in bloody conflict with the French royalty for the sovereign throne of both England and France. With a rough but loyal army that’s a mere fraction of their enemy’s forces, the King sets off on a campaign through the Fench countryside in an effort to defy all the odds and show his worth. Here’s a confession for everybody: I’m a big fan of Shakespeare’s work, always have been. So whenever a filmmaker wants to adapt one of his plays into a movie, I get a little excited but also cautious. Not all of his works have made for great movies, and the upcoming Ophelia, a version of Hamlet from the perspective of the main female character, looks like it’s trying too hard. And it’s pretty clear that some of Lawrence Olivier’s films from the 1940’s and 1950’s have not aged well. That being said, I’ve always had an affinity for Kenneth Branagh’s attempts at the source material, this being the first of 5 adaptations from the enigmatic playwright. And Henry V isn’t just my favorite of his, but quite possibly my favorite Shakespeare play of all time. What I love about it isn’t just the amazing dialogue that should come to be expected of this man’s work. It’s the simple, effective idea that Branagh understands both this story and the titular character so well, you’d swear Shakespeare’s ghost reached out and whispered to him. In any other director’s hands, we’d probably have gotten a film that lionizes Henry whilst ignoring the carnage and conquest left in his wake. And although it does portray him in a mostly positive light, we also see the internal struggle for respect among his peers and the immense weight this war carries on his shoulders. He has to be careful not to give privilege to men he once was friends with. One great moment sees the King sneakily investigating the state of his soldiers and contemplating all of the burdens he must carry. Sure, he had to fight for his right to the throne, but he also has to prove himself as just a man, and that’s the most human thing anyone can do. Kenneth Branagh has had a lot of interesting roles over his career, but he came swinging out of the gate with his Oscar-nominated lead performance here. With a powerful voice that carries across fields, he delivers an innumerable amount of monologues and dialogue exchanges with complete control. And he doesn’t mess around; when the French court sends a herald demanding surrender, he proclaims, “I pray thee take my former answer back. Bid them achieve me than sell my bones!” Another standout would be his ex-wife Emma Thompson as Katherine, the French King’s daughter. The scenes in which she attempts to learn English provide a nice bit of comedy to ease the tension, in true Shakespeare fashion. He also collects a great ensemble to assist him, many of whom have a background in Shakspearean theatre. These include Dame Judi Dench as a distressed common innkeeper, a young Christian Bale as a luggage boy in battle, Sir Drek Jacobi as the narrating Chorus, Ian Holm as a moralistic Welsh officer in Henry’s army, Brian Blessed as the King’s rousing and loyal uncle, and Paul Scofield as the weary King of France. Meanwhile, Branagh also proves to be incredibly skilled and distinctive behind the camera as in front. With the help of cinematographer Kenneth MacMillan, we are able to see the full scale of the King’s European campaign. Many scenes are done on static long takes, especially one near the end of the film that really captures the powerful consequences of conquest. We can see the gritty style of the film come through in the hazy mud and faces soaked with blood. Michael Bradsell’s editing is smart, knowing exactly when to cut and where to give pause. However, one of the biggest stars of the film has to be Phyllis Dalton, whose costume design deservedly won her an Academy Award. Like her work on Lawrence of Arabia, it’s range is wide, it’s period-accurate and detailed to a fault. Combined with the wonderful production design, it really does feel like we’ve arrived in Medieval Europe. In the first of their many fruitful collaborations, Patrick Doyle composes and the epic musical score for Henry V. The first Shakespeare film to recorded using Dolby Audio, the score is performed by the City of Birmingham  Symphony Orchestra. The vast majority of tracks consist of strings, often moving between being intense for conflict, melancholic for more sobering moments, or rousing for ones of hope. There are also a number of woodwind pipes that infect certain moments, undercutting the serious tone for something far more subdued. There’s also a beautiful rendition of the Latin song Non nobis sung at the end of the Battle of Agincourt, hands down one of the best medieval battle sequences put to film. It is sung by Doyle himself and gradually evolves into a massive choir while a 4-minute tracking shot highlights the aftermath of the carnage. It still kind of amazes me that Kenneth Branagh was able to make this movie despite having zero prior expertise or experience. Most filmmakers may wait after a few projects to tackle a medieval epic, let alone one from the mind of William Shakespeare. But he went right in and, much like Henry himself, proved his worth to everyone around him. The BBC more or less blindly trusted his vision, and that trust has paid off. Henry V is a captivating literary tale of loyalty, victory, and conquest. It still boggles me that Branagh only 5 Shakespeare adaptations, and then went on to do other things. A part of me really wishes he could return to it while his career is still going, get back to his roots. Until that happens, I’m perfectly content with watching this film again, a completely underrated masterpiece.

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Let’s Do It: My Favorite Movies #50-41

Right. I’ve been away from this Blog for far too long the past month or so. I had to deal with an academic transition in my life and also had to contend with a family trip out of the country. But now, I’m ready to continue this countdown of my favorite films of all time, starting with the second half.

#50: “Arrival” (2016)

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In case you haven’t figured it out yet by my Top 100 picks thus far, I’m an enormous fan of the science-fiction genre. And while I do love me a good actioner, every now and then it’s wonderful to see a filmmaker stretch the genre to its limits in terms of storytelling and thematic ambition. One such filmmaker who proves this is Denis Villeneuve, whose Arrival is so profound and meditative that it leans more into speculative fiction. Anchored by a performance by Amy Adams that was completely snubbed, the film puts humanity and the concept of language under such a brilliant microscope through the lens of extraterrestrial life. a haunting atmosphere, an emotional finale, and so much more make this intelligent drama so great.

#49: “Cloud Atlas” (2012)

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Often times when I feel down or hopeless, I like to think that all of life- past, present, and future -is interconnected somehow. Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis explore this concept beautifully in Cloud Atlas, a criminally underrated film that I believe is a masterpiece. From the bottom deck of a slave ship in the 1840’s to a mountainous village in a primal post-apocalyptic world, we get to see how 6 different stories are bound together either by time, by fate, or by mere chance. It is the type of film that shows the pure, unadulterated potential that the medium has to offer that no other form of art can come close to conjuring up.

#48: “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)

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Jonathan Demme was a director who really could do anything and last year, we lost him far too soon. His Oscar-winning horror thriller The Silence of the Lambs proves as much, as it is far more invested in the interesting characters than any type of gore. While that is still present throughout, the real tension and fascination come whenever Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling are onscreen together.

#47: “The Princess Bride” (1987)

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This is just one of those films that I like to put on whenever I’m bored or want to get cozy during the late night or a rainstorm. Rob Reiner’s loving mishmash of different genres can be a bit jarring, but the fact that it does it all so well has to be commended. All of these quotes and locations are permanently ingrained into my memory that I can’t help but do-everything-along if it’s playing in a nearby vicinity. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched The Princess Bride all the way through, but I hope I can watch it at least 20 more times in my lifetime.

#46: “Logan” (2017)

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This is not just a “comic book superhero movie.” This is a gritty, harsh, unflinchingly hyperviolent neo-Western drama that just happens to have comic book characters roaming about in the story. I feel like that’s been said already so much, but it’s absolutely true. How they managed to get away with making it from 20th Century Fox is still something that baffles me. What James Mangold and Hugh Jackman accomplished here is all-too-rare an achievement in the genre and, despite barely being a year old, Logan has somehow managed to stand head and shoulders above the classics in its category.

#45: “Boyhood” (2014)

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Given the nature and themes of Boyhood, it’s actually quite ironic that the movie is already almost 4 years old. Richard Linklater’s wholly unique coming-of-age drama is a sprawling, earnest, and naturalistic look at the effects of adolescence. How it comes to affect not just the brilliant Ellar Coltrane, who aged in real time, but also his divorced parents, his older sister, his friends old and new. I’m still in awe of how they were able to capture that inevitable phenomenon so completely, in all of its messiness and awkwardness and joyfulness. And I feel like I can safely say that it will age very well.

#44: “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977)

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Star Wars has always been an extremely important part of my life for a multitude of reasons. For one, it showed me the power of imagination and adventure that could be found in a place as abstract as a galaxy far, far away. Say what you want about the prequel or sequel trilogies, but it’s really hard to deny what George Lucas accomplished with the original. The far-reaching impact this series has had on future generations on cinema and pop culture, in general, is impossible to overstate. And to this very day, it’s still a total blast to watch anytime all the same.

#43: “Get Out” (2017)

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One half of the comedic Key and Peele duo writing and directing a Blumhouse horror film that addresses relevant social issues? No way this film was going to be great, let alone appear on my all-time favorite films list. And yet, against all odds, Jordan Peele crafted one of the most original, thought-provoking, and terrifying films of the last several years or so. The way in which he and Daniel Kaluuya tackle race relations is neither covert nor overt; it just is shown in a wholly unique way. Plus, the first time I watched it in theaters was a great experience- one of the few times I have actually gotten up and cheered with the rest of the audience.

#42: “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” (1982)

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Nothing like some good ol’ fashioned Spielberg movie magic, am I right? Anyone who has seen it at some point in their lives will not hesitate to agree. If, for some strange and unknown reason, you have not yet seen E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, please find the time to do so as soon as possible. Even the most heartless and cynical human being will be completely swept away by the timeless adventure.

#41: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)

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It’s hard to think of a more subjective or personal genre, aside from horror, than comedy. For this reason, unless you’re entering with the right mindset, I’m unsure that you’ll be able to laugh as hard as I did watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest the first time around. Like most of the late, great Miloš Forman’s work, this is a film loaded with pitch-black humor, wrapped in some angrily relevant social commentary. With its depiction of authority, mental illness, and will to live freely, no wonder it caused such a stir with society back in the day- and it still hasn’t lost its touch. There are a couple moments I absolutely hate myself for laughing at, but that just means the film is all the more effective.

“Deadpool 2” Movie Review

Just reading the synopsis that 20th Century Fox put for this movie reaffirmed my faith in the project overall. Seriously, before even seeing a single frame of any of the trailers, I laughed my ass off so hard from just a few lines of description for “plot.” That is definitely a first for me. This *extremely* self-aware superhero comedy was released nationwide on May 18th, 2018. Originally scheduled for release on June 1st, the unexpected push-up for Avengers: Infinity War allowed it to have the more traditional early summer breakout. And thus far, it’s paid off; the film has grossed over $709 million worldwide and some of the better reviews for a superhero film this year. Following the humongous success of the first film from 2016, director Tim Miller dropped out early on due to “creative differences.” In his stead, former stuntman and John Wick co-director David Leitch makes his second solo round after last year’s Atomic Blonde. And in addition to starring in and producing the movie, Ryan Reynolds also receives his first official screenwriting credit on this film. Reynolds returns once again as Wade Wilson, a mercenary-turned costumed anti-hero with a love for chimichangas. Following an unexpected turn of events, Wilson finds himself in the company and (Initially unwanted) friendship of a young, powerful mutant runaway named Russell, played by Julian Dennison. Unfortunately, Russell is being hunted down by a grizzled mutant soldier from the future named Cable, played by Josh Brolin, who claims that the child is destined to become a mass murderer. Seeking to redeem himself, Deadpool must confront his own demons by assembling a niche superhero team of his own and save Russell from certain death. The original Deadpool, when it first came out, was one of my favorite superhero films I had seen in a very long while. It was hilarious, self-referential, and a breath of fresh, R-rated air in a dominant, almost exhausting genre. Upon further rewatches, I still really like it, but can appreciate why a lot of people were not fans of it. I was always excited for the sequel no matter what, even though the hiccup in early production seemed to indicate nothing good. Especially because, while I loved John Wick, I didn’t care for Atomic Blonde. What made it even more sensational was the fact that Joi “SJ” Harris, a motorcycle stuntwoman, accidentally died while filming. Now expectations were mounting, and the marketing team specifically poked fun at that. And personally, I’m not as big a fan as the first one, but it’s definitely just as fun and arguably more accessible for more audiences. Once again, you can expect a nice, healthy dose of self-aware humor to populate the majority of the film. For those unfamiliar with the titular character, Deadpool is actually aware that he is inside a comic book or movie or video game. His ability to break the fourth wall provides some hilarious moments of genre mockery. “We need ’em tough, morally flexible, and young enough so they can carry this franchise for 10 to 12 years,” he says after deciding to build the X-Force team from scratch. That being said, the tonal shift between these moments and the character’s serious story arc feel jarring and almost conflicting. It’s always a bit odd, if not frustrating, to see a movie conceding to the tropes that it so openly makes fun of for most of its 119 minute-long runtime. The movie is also bafflingly cynical in many areas, which could, yet again, understandably push some people away. But there is still enough in here, humor and storywise, to keep me interested until the end. Ryan Reynolds owns the persona of Wade Wilson, short and simple. Vulgar, whiny, sex-obsessed, and totally unpredictable, watching this well-trained assassin deliver kills while still cracking jokes is pretty funny and meta beyond comprehension. Also worth noting is Julain Dennison’s performance as Russell. I loved Dennison in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and he shows a lot of the same characteristics here; a lost kid with the need for a family.  Josh Brolin appears in his second Marvel this year as Cable. This time, unlike Thanos, he’s practical, mean-spirited, and ready to kill with a Terminator-like determination. Meanwhile, Atlanta veteran star Zazie Beetz is simply delightful and fun to watch as the mutant Domino. With Luck as her superpower, there are some really creative ways in which the writers are able to show off her marksman abilities. With a bigger budget this time around, Deadpool 2 is now able to show off a lot of its fancy filmmaking techniques. David Leitch brings a lot of his regular collaborators from Atomic Blonde and John Wick onboard, which allows his skill for directing action scenes to come through above all else. One of them is cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who gives the screen a slightly dark shade to illustrate the moral ambiguity of many of the characters. He comes up with some pretty creative shots throughout the film, and each scene is given a unique color palette, whether it was the moody future Cable hails from or the relatively bright red blood of bad guys during fight sequences. Meanwhile, the editing is done quite well by Dirk Westervelt, Craig Alpert, and Elizabet Ronaldsdóttir. None of the action scenes are cut to shit, allowing the audience to clearly register what’s going on. It also cuts abruptly in certain moments to elicit sudden, serious laughter, which worked a few times. With Tom Holkenborg, AKA Junkie XL, sitting this sequel out, action movie man Tyler Bates steps in to compose the musical score. While most of the tracks are your typical bits of big orchestral strings, the best and most memorable ones come in as distorted guitar melodies. This works surprisingly well to help create a feeling of unease and relentlessness as if Cable just can’t be stopped. There’s also an original song composed for the film called “Ashes” by Céline Dion, which provides a nice emotional through-line for the story. Other songs used on the soundtrack include a hilarious opening montage with Dolly Parton’s “9-to-5,” Electronica DJ Skrillex’s “Bangarang” during an exciting highway chase sequence, and an acoustic rendition of “Take on Me” by a-Ha. The latter may be my favorite, but none compare to the brilliant James Bond-style opening credits with an overly dramatic song setting the mood. With just enough jokes and fun moments to overcome its flaws, Deadpool 2 is an endlessly meta romp that takes no prisoners. It may take me another rewatch to really love it as much as the original, but as it is, this sequel is pretty entertaining and filled to the brim with references for fans to catch. While it certainly may not be a family movie like the title character says, beneath all of its cynicism, there is a heart to the story about family and loved ones looking after one another. P.S. It might just have the great post-credit scene of any film that I’ve ever seen.

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“The Incredibles” Movie Review

I’m seriously considering extending this New Year’s resolution over to next year because it lets me rewatch movies I love and then gives me an excuse to review them. Well, that and the long-awaited sequel is finally out in theaters so there’s little point in resisting the urge any longer. This computer-animated superhero film, the 6th overall feature produced by Pixar Animation Studios, was the closing night selection for the 2004 BFI London Film Festival before releasing in theaters on November 5th of that year. It proved a massive critical and commercial success, grossing nearly 7 times its $92 million budget worldwide along with 2 Academy Awards and 2 further nominations. This makes it the studio’s first animated feature to win 2 awards for one movie, soon to be followed in the years afterward. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the concept for the film first came up in the mid-90’s when he was struggling to break into the business after the commercial failure of his underrated The Iron Giant. The filmmaker was the first one not in Pixar’s initial core creative group to break into making an animated movie, only getting by on an old college friend named John Lasseter. This meant he had to hire his own team from scratch, which arguably gave him more artistic freedom. During the animation process, Studio Ghibli legend Hayao Miyazaki made a visit and voiced his support, as it was something he had never seen in an American animated film. Taking place in an alternate 1962, the story centers on a dysfunctional family of superpowered individuals named the Parrs. Following a number of lawsuits resulting from the collateral damage caused by their work, all of the living “supers” in the world are forced into retirement or hiding. The patriarch of the Parr family, Bob, formally the incredibly strong Mr. Incredible, is bored by his new life as an insurance adjuster and becomes excited when a mysterious woman named Mirage comes to him with an offer to use his powers again. But something doesn’t sit right with his housewife Helen, formerly the wide-stretching Elastigirl, and soon both she and her children are drawn into the job. If there are just 2 things I love watching consistently, it’s superheroes and Pixar. Put the both of them together, and you already have a recipe to make me at least moderately interested or entertained. I have seen The Incredibles more times than I can count over the years. In fact, I’m fairly positive that it was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Depending on my mood, this usually switches places with the first Toy Story as my all-time favorite Pixar movie. And now that long-awaited and demanded sequel is FINALLY coming out, it seemed like a prime opportunity to give this modern classic a proper review. And once again, doing so has reaffirmed my love for it. Perhaps the thing I appreciate most about this film, more so than the extravagant action scenes, is the loving homages. Whilst the film was released right before the big boom of superhero movies, it functions more like a combination of old 1960’s spy thrillers and serial comic book adaptations from the 1940’s. Case in point, the heroes can only be recognized if they wear their secretive masks, not just their costumes. The fascinating thing is just how prescient Brad Bird was about superhero movie tropes, and how they would go on  in future genre films. Edna, the Incredibles’ main costume designer, constantly berates them on why it’s terrible to swear capes on the job. And the villain mocks his adversary, “You sly dog! You got me monologuing!” Bird may not have made a genre film before, but he understands it so well, giving him n edge over most live-action superhero operas. Let’s talk about the voice acting; everyone involved gives it their A-game and feels natural in their roles. Without Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Incredible or Elastigirl being as relatable as they are. Their chemistry is on point, from the overt sexual attraction they share to the nasty parental fights that their children are witnesses to. Speaking of children, Sarah Vowell and Spencer Fox do great work as Dash and Violet, respectively. One is an insecure teenage girl with the ability to turn invisible and create force fields while the other is a young boy with the gift of super-speed. My favorite of the bunch might be Samuel L. Jackson as the ice-powered Lucius Best/Frozone. A far cry from his more vulgar live-action roles, the actor still gets to show off his effortless charisma through expert delivery of the fantastic dialogue. And then, there’s Jason Lee as the main villain Syndrome. We learn his motivations early on, and are able to inkle the slightest bit of sympathy for his ultimate game plan. And as far as the technical aspects go, The Incredibles is just such delightful pleasure to the eyes. This was the first Pixar film where all of the primary characters were human beings, as opposed to toys or underwater fish or extra-dimensional monsters. So there was a bit of challenge to adapting the computer-animated elements to something more tangible. Thankfully, the new technology they developed worked with flying colors, capturing the subtle dynamics in facial expressions and hair movements. The animation is also able to capture the diverse environments that the story takes us to. Whether it’s the dull color palette of the suburbs or the lush forest and shoreline of a mysterious island, nothing looks out of place. The way camera is able to fluidly follow moving bodies during the exciting action scenes is really marvelous. Capping it all off is Michael Giacchino’s amazing musical score, one of the best from cinema in the 2000’s. His first of 7 collaborations with the studio, the film was mostly recorded using old-fashioned analogue tapes, the same used back in the 1960’s. Utilizing a full symphonic orchestra, the brass section, especially the trumpet, is given main priority on the title tracks. The way they pierce sounds like an improvisational riff, made up as the adventure goes along. As chaotic as that may sound, it actually fits perfectly into the dynamic, near-unpredictable story that has been constructed. Also accompanying it is jazzy saxophones, which allow the two to feed off each other’s energy like the title superhero team. With an actual family at the heart and center of the film, there’s plenty to enjoy on both ends of the genetic spectrum. Kids will be entertained by all of the action and visuals, while adults will find appeal in its clever jokes and jabs at genre conventions. The Incredibles is matched in gorgeous animation only by its blazing originality. The more times I watch this movie, the more I’m convinced that it might be Pixar’s magnum opus. It’s so complete and breezily lightfooted that one can’t help but fall in love with the world that Brad Bird has created. 14 years onward and very few superhero movies I can think of have even come close to touching it. And it’s not even based on a comic book.

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“Aliens” Movie Review

Last time, we had to deal with the “perfect organism,” and now we must contend with an army of predatory bugs. And to be perfectly honest, it’s hard to tell which one would be the better one to face. This sci-fi action horror film was released in mid-July of 1986, grossing over $183 million worldwide. Despite the hype and acclaim of the original 7 years earlier, the film managed to garner some of the best reviews of the 1980’s, including 7 Academy Award nominations. With Ridley Scott out of the picture, the producers approached Gale Anne Hurd and James Cameron to write and direct the sequel, having been impressed with The Terminator. Initially, it seemed as though 20th Century Fox was going to butcher it due to the proposed exclusion of Sigourney Weaver’s character. But Cameron pushed onward, and despite having a troubled shoot that caused most of the crew members to walk out, he managed to deliver the final product on time to Fox. Weaver returns as Ellen Ripley, the flight officer who awakes from stasis 57 years after the events of the original film. Doubtful of her alleged experiences on the Nostromo, the dominant Weyland-Yutani Corporation orders her back to the exomoon LV-426, which is now becoming a terraforming colony. With a company representative and a unit of space marines, they are tasked with investigating a disturbance on the colony, which turns out to have been overrun by a horde of Xenomorphs, the creatures from the last movie. Now Ripley, the marines, and a surviving girl named Newt must fight the extraterrestrials and find a way off of the planet. Rule of thumb in cinema: Doubting either James Cameron or Steven Spielberg makes you look stupid, no matter how off-putting or unappealing the product may seem in marketing. Doesn’t really matter how cold or distant you may be from any of their films, but the fact that they can defy expectations among film lovers time and again is worth their career reputations alone. In this case, Cameron had the heavy duty of following up on Ridley Scott’s original classic, which is nearly perfect in many aspects. Why bother making a sequel to Alien when the first one is amazing as it is? And yet, as has been proven with most of his career, the director proved everyone wrong and made a movie that was just as fantastic and exciting as the original. In fact, I love it even more than the first one. In cinema, there are really only a handful of sequels or prequels or spinoffs that can prove to be at least half as great as the first go-round. There are less in existence that can actually fully live up to the standards of that first installment and even less that manage to ever surpass or improve upon it. Depending on who you ask, Aliens is either just as good as the original film, falls short of it, or is simply better in almost every way. Consider me to be in the camp of the latter. Granted, it’s hard to compare the two since they have very different tones and styles. While Alien was firmly a horror picture, this one leans more heavily into action territory. That’s not to say that it’s totally devoid of the darkness; the idea of soldiers blindly going to battle in an unfamiliar terrain is a melancholy reminder of the Vietnam War. In the midst of this war, Sigourney Weaver still comes through as the heart and soul of the series. Now more world-weary and intelligent than she was before, she is by far the only one in the crew who understands the true threat of the Xenomorphs and is especially distrusting of androids. Weaver also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, a landmark moment in science-fiction films gaining serious recognition in the industry. Also great are Lance Henriksen as the android Bishop and the late Bill Paxton as Private Hudson. They honestly might be my favorite characters in the whole series and provide an interesting Star Trek-like dichotomy to the situation. One is logical and thinks of all the best options, the other is highly emotional and fueled by testosterone. And then there’s actress-turned teacher Carrie Henn as Newt, the sole human survivor from the colony. Despite her small stature, there’s a courage and wisdom found in her that just resonates deeply. And from a technical standpoint, like its predecessor, Aliens is superbly crafted and handsomely produced. In his first credited work as a cinematographer, the late Adrian Biddle helps create a sustained atmosphere on LV-426, whether out in the open or inside the colony corridors. We get a lot of shots tracking the soldiers down dark passages, without a whole lot of cuts between angles. Combined with the expert backlighting and production design, this only further increased the amount of dread felt while still keeping things fun and exciting. Meanwhile, the editing by Ray Lovejoy, most famous for 2001: A Space Odyssey, is very deliberate yet enthralling. He knows exactly when to turn away from the bug army to keep a fear running through and also when to show us their brute numbers. The action scenes are particularly well-crafted, combining all of the aforementioned techniques with slick writing and strong direction. The musical score is written and conducted by the late, great James Horner, who would go on to collaborate with Cameron on two more films. (Titanic and Avatar) The score appropriately employs military-style drum beats on the snare, which drive the action tone pretty hard. Other bits of percussion includes a metallic slap that punctuates the urgency along with highly dynamic strings and horns that feel perfectly married together. Fragmented crescendos and truncated sections make the scenes it is used to feel all the more engrossing. Interestingly, the composer had such a hard time during production that he was convinced he would never work with the director again. Considering Horner only had 6 weeks to put the whole soundtrack together, it is highly impressive and certainly one of the more memorable ones for a sci-fi action movie. Practically nothing beats this movie nowadays. Sure, there are a couple issues with pacing, mostly with the intense final act. But when measured against nearly all other films of its genre that have come out since then, it really does stand head-and-shoulders above the normal fare. Aliens is a highly satisfying and enthralling example of masterful genre-blending. James Cameron is a cinematic genius and I’m thoroughly convinced that not everyone will be able to realize that until long after he’s gone. He’s made not one but TWO of the best sequels ever made in the span of 5 years. There’s plenty to enjoy here on multiple repeat viewings and I can’t wait for more to experience and appreciate it the same way that I did.

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“Solo: A Star Wars Story” Movie Review

After 3 movies in a row released during the Christmas season, the Star Wars Saga finally sees its return to the more traditional summer movie season. Whether or not that’s an especially great thing is entirely up for debate, my friends. This space-western, marking the 10th live-action feature in the iconic franchise, premiered out of competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival before releasing in theaters worldwide on May 25th. While it has made over $345 million at the box office, the film was still produced on a budget of $275 million. With a historic drop in attendance during the second weekend, it’s estimated to become the first Star Wars movie to lose money. Co-written by franchise veteran Lawrence Kasdan, who announced that this would likely be his last gig with the long-running series, the film was first put under the directorial hands of duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. However, two weeks before filming could finish, the two were fired due to Lucasfilms’ disapproval of their more comedic, improv-heavy style. Ron Howard, who had previously been offered the chair for The Phantom Menace, was brought in to finish it and pull off extensive reshoots in a stupidly quick time. It has been reported that 70% of the finished film is of his own doing. Set many years before the events of the original trilogy, the story- as the title suggests -follows Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo, a cocky smuggler with no real allegiance. Following a series of unwanted circumstances, Han, his new Wookie partner Chewbacca, and newly found mentor Tobias Beckett find themselves in the debt of renowned Outer Rim crime lord Dryden Vos. The team soon become involved in an intergalactic heist where, along the way, they meet Lando Calrissian and the Corellian spacecraft the Millenium Falcon. Since this project was first announced a few years ago, I’ve had… mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was excited to see more new Star Wars stories from different angles to get away from the somewhat tiring Skywalker Saga. There are simply so many fascinating worlds and species and characters worth exploring outside of the main storyline that can add more intrigue to the still-burgeoning Disney canon. On the opposite side of that coin, though, there was the burning feeling that we didn’t need or want to know the origins of arguably the most beloved character in the whole franchise. That it would become the beginning of the House of Mouse turning something dearly, intensely loved into a corporate brand. (Those who tell you The Last Jedi started it are wrong) So how does Solo: A Star Wars Story turn out to be? Well, it’s… fine, I guess. To be fair, the production process was far more hellish and dreary than it should have been in the first place. Considering the fact that Ron Howard only had a few weeks to finish the job AND have it ready in time for a late May release is honestly astounding. One has to give Disney some stones for not simply pushing it back to the holidays like the previous 3 movies under their banner. With all of that taken into consideration, the movie actually turned out far better and more entertaining than had been anticipated. Yet at the same time, it just doesn’t feel like it’s trying hard enough to distinguish itself from other entries in the series. Howard is great with some of the more heartfelt, character-centric moments, but the action sequences feel almost void of personality or unique style. Alden Ehrenreich is certainly on his way to becoming a household name thanks to his performance in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! and this film, and rightfully so. He has just the right amount of charisma and rugged charm to fit into the character’s shoes and shares great chemistry with Chewie on nearly every occasion. The standouts for me were Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s motion-capture turn as the droid companion L3-37 and, of course, Donald Glover as Lando. While she is a radical, free-thinking robot who wants to challenge her people’s place in the galaxy, he is a wildly charismatic smuggler who steals every scene of the movie. Other actors in the ensemble like Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, and Game of Thrones alum Emilia Clarke, aren’t given much to say or do to leave a lasting impression. As always with the series, if for nothing else, you can count on Solo to deliver a technically riveting experience. Cinematographer Bradford Young, fresh off his nomination for his amazing work for Arrival, does a fairly good job at shooting the seedy underbelly of the galaxy. However, it seems like it took him a little while to get comfortable with the style and texture of the inimitable world. Much of the first act is very dimly lit and, with the constant shift from steady to handheld shots, it can be hard to discern what’s going on. The sound design and CGI is impeccable (For the most part) as both come together for some gritty action sequences. One particular battle early on involving the Empire makes for some riveting stuff; it’s also the point in the movie when I really started getting interested in the movie. As was the case with Rogue One, veteran composer John Williams sat out on scoring the soundtrack for this spinoff. However, he did contribute to writing and composing the main theme, which combines two unused tracks from previous films into one song that does a fair job at capturing the adventurous tone. For the rest of it, John Powell takes over duties and actually produces some memorable pieces, all of which have that classic Star Wars tinge. From the beginning, the classic opening crawl and blasting theme music is instead replaced with fading text describing the galaxy’s state. This is accompanied by menacing strings that are soon joined by dynamic percussion and skipping horn beats. It just feels so weird reviewing this movie. Normally, I’m excited to get my opinion on the newest installment from one of my favorite franchises out into the world. But I saw this movie nearly a month ago, and have been struggling with how to properly approach it. I didn’t hate it, but there’s also just not enough about it that’s remarkable enough to count among the “great” entries of the Saga. Then again, I had never really expected it to and it didn’t seem like it wanted to be. While your viewing experiences may differ, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable, uninspired space adventure starring amazing heroes. If you go into this movie just wanting to watch a fun, loose Western in a fantastical version of space, then it’ll be a blast. Expect anything earth-shattering or nostalgia-inducing and you’re bound to be disappointed. Either way, this movie has witty quips and obscure fan service for days- for better or for worse.

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