Category Archives: Blockbuster

“GoldenEye” Movie Review

Obviously, with 24 films in the bag already, I don’t have nearly enough time to review all of the James Bond movies in existence. But since No Time to Die is coming out in theaters soon, it seems only appropriate to go back and review a couple of Bond’s best.

This action spy film was originally released in theaters worldwide by MGM on November 17th, 1995, being released in the U.K. a week later. It managed to gross over $355 million at the global box office against a production budget of $60 million, far surpassing many of its predecessors without adjusting for inflation. This made it the highest-grossing film in the franchise since 1979’s Moonraker with Roger Moore. It also received some very positive reviews from critics and audiences, mainly for how it adapted to the modern world while remaining true to the past.

Directed by Martin Campbell, efforts to produce a new film were halted by legal and financial disputes within the studio, causing previous star Timothy Dalton to step down from the part. The end of the Cold War and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union led to numerous rewrites with completely different drafts one after another. The film was the first in the long-running series to not be based on any of Ian Fleming’s novels and to not be solely shot on the 007 sound stage. It was also the last film in the franchise with the involvement of longtime producer Albert Broccoli, who passed the torch onto his daughter Barbara and son Michael G. Wilson.

Pierce Brosnan makes his debut as James Bond, an MI6 officer and veteran of the Cold War. While on assignment investigating the Janus crime syndicate in Russia, a mysterious EMP goes off in a scientific base in Siberia destroying fighter aircraft and knocking out satellite systems in orbit. His newly appointed superior M, played by Judy Dench, orders him to get to the bottom of it, soon discovering a larger techno-conspiracy at play. Facing his former partner Alec Trevelyan, played by Sean Bean, Bond races against time to figure out his plan and stop it before it can be enacted.

The James Bond franchise is one that has consistently fluctuated in quality throughout the years for me. For every great movie in the franchise like Skyfall or Casino Royale, there’s always been a few that are mediocre or just straight up bad like Moonraker. In fairness, it’s a challenge for a character that’s over 50 years old to stay relevant in an ever-changing world, which leads to mixed results with each installment.

As such, I was curious to rewatch this particular entry after so many years away from it to see if my opinion had swayed at all with the times. Part of me was worried that its 90s style and setting would have aged badly by this point, not to mention whether its treatment of the main character would still fly in the modern era. Thankfully, GoldenEye still proves to be one of the franchises better entries and just a fun action movie in general.

It’s interesting to note how Martin Campbell is actually responsible for revitalizing the Bond franchise twice, first here and later with Casino Royale. (Whose own review will be coming soon) And both times, he found a way to make the character of James Bond grow and modernize without losing his essence. The Soviet Union is long gone by this point, so what use is an old-fashioned secret agent like him to the rest of the world?

Furthermore, GoldenEye manages to acknowledge Bond’s long history of womanizing and points out that it’s really immature and unprofessional of him. The most telling moment is when M tells 007 “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, and whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appeal to that young woman I sent to evaluate you.” And although the film ultimately can’t resist giving him an attractive female lead, (Or two) it makes up for it in various other departments.

In his first outing with the iconic role, Pierce Brosnan proves more than capable of putting his own unique spin on James Bond. Although he is surprisingly soft-spoken, he knows exactly how to use both words and weapons to turn control of the situation over to his hands throughout the film. He has a very clear way of keeping his composure under stressful situation, but it becomes tested when his connection to the main conflict suddenly becomes personal.

Also making her franchise debut, Dame Judi Dench is nothing short of impressive as the new version of M, Bond’s superior at the MI6. She’s highly determined and intelligent who fully understand the gravity of her new position, but never passes up the opportunity to break out some wit. Although she’s initially skeptical of 007’s capability as an agent, she begins to develop a grudging respect for him even if she strongly disapproves of his seductive methods.

Sean Bean also shouldn’t be overlooked as Alec Trevelyan, the primary antagonist of the film. While Bond villains are very inconsistent in terms of quality or intrigue, Bean is able to avoid these pitfalls by creating a personal connection with our hero and really represents what he could have become if he hadn’t maintained his loyalty to the United Kingdom. His effortless charisma and confidence makes him pretty intimidating, especially as he seems to know all of Bond’s weak points.

Izabella Scorupco, Famke Jenssen, Gottfried John, Alan Cumming, Robbie Coltrane, and Desmond Llewelyn round out the cast of new and returning supporters. Some of them definitely standout more than others, (I honestly thought Cumming was miscast) but they all play key roles in the grand scheme of things. Everyone knows that they’re in a James Bond movie and have no problem hamming it up for the crowd if the moment comes for it.

And from a technical perspective, GoldenEye marked an evolution behind the camera for the long-running franchise. Phil Méheux’s cinematography looks shiny for the most part but also manages to capture so many cool moments on-screen. Chief among them is the opening sequences when James dives off the top of the Contra Dam and the camera follows down with him. It’s an amazing stunt that immediately sets itself apart from all the previous entries in the series. There are also numerous points throughout where it uses numerous angles and long-takes for certain scenes. And the lighting is almost immaculate all the way through.

This works mostly in tandem with the editing job by Terry Rawlings. Every scene is carefully cut together so that the action can remain exciting but still intelligible for audiences. One particular moment near the end where Cumming’s character keeps frantically pushing on a pen creates a lot of unique tension as it builds towards a literally explosive climax. It also manages to blend the visual effects with practical in-camera tricks really well to where it looks mostly seamless.

Luc Besson’s frequent collaborator Éric Serra provides the instrumental film score here and to be honest, it’s entirely forgettable. The composition very much is inspired by contemporary 90’s music with an attempt to mix traditional orchestral sounds with more electronic rhythms. Unfortunately, the combo really doesn’t work as well as it should, and it honestly feels more like an afterthought than anything else.

Pop superstar Tina Turner gives us an original song for the requisite opening credits sequence titled the same as the film. As far as Bond songs go, it’s fine but not particularly memorable. Turner’s incredible vocals are always a delight to the ears but the rest of the track still leaves a lot to be desired.

GoldenEye is a welcome reinvention of a very archaic character. Martin Campbell is able to wrangle together a capable cast and great crew members to successfully bring James Bond into a post-Cold War world that proves to be just as great, if not more so, than its predecessors. Pierce Brosnan is more than willing to carry the iconic role forward with all of the wit, charm, and sophistication that we’ve all come to expect from 007.

“Birds of Prey” Movie Review

Although I could be wrong, this might be the first movie I’ve ever seen where two female characters exchange a hair tie on-screen. It’s a small moment, but it’s also something totally unique to mainstream films that doesn’t get enough recognition.

This superhero crime comedy film was released in theaters worldwide by Warner Bros. on February 7th, 2020. Made for the relatively small budget of around $82 million, it has gone one to gross just over $202 million at the global box office. While this is undoubtedly a big success and could see a sizable profit, it’s been on a slower role than expected. Following the relative underperformance of the opening weekend, the studio changed the film’s title to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey for some markets. In spite of that, it has amassed some very positive reviews from critics and audiences alike.

Directed by Cathy Yan, the film was one of several DC projects announced after the commercial success of Suicide Squad. The main actress set up her new production company, LuckyChap Entertainment, so that screenwriter Christina Hodson would have more creative freedom in pre-production. The studio had multiple different properties involving Harley Quinn in development, including Gotham City Sirens, but this was the only one with the main actress’s direct involvement. Yan’s hiring, only her second feature overall, also makes her the first female Asian director to helm a theatrical superhero movie.

Picking up a little while after the events of Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, a former psychiatrist turned violent criminal psychopath. After the Joker dumps her and ends any connection between the two, she goes on a citywide bender to keep the breakup a secret as it would remove any protections she has. Word of their breakup soon reaches Roman Sionis, played by Ewan McGregor, a ruthless Gotham crime lord in Gotham who goes by the name “Black Mask.” Harley eventually crosses paths with four other women on Sionis’ radar- mob daughter-turned vigilante Helena Bertinelli, burlesque singer Dinah Lance, alcoholic detective Renee Montoya, and street-wise thief Cassandra Cain -and soon find a way to team up and bring him down.

This was one of those potential superhero projects that I was skeptical about when it was first announced, as DC has had many films in and out of development. My best guess is that most of them are still being made but this one was simply the first one to make it out of the gate. But in any case, it’s finally here now, it’s out in the world, and it’s up to us to talk about the ultimate results of it.

Regardless of your opinions on the movie Suicide Squad, it’s hard to deny that Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was absolutely fantastic. And hearing that she was gonna headline an all-female team-up movie with various other heroines in an R-rated adventure sounded like a true breath of fresh air for the genre. And lo and behold, Birds of Prey is a really fun time at the movies that inverts a lot of classic superhero tropes.

Make no mistake, this is not a movie either to be seen with the whole family nor taken very seriously. Just the full title, And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, illustrates how irreverent it’s gonna get and, credit where its due, Hodson’s screenplay commits to it. The film fully utilizes its R-rating with numerous F-bombs and scenes of bloody violence without becoming immature; to be honest, I don’t know if it would have still worked if it were PG-13 instead.

However, after seeing Birds of Prey, it is fairly easy seeing why the studio changed the name in some markets. Harley Quinn is undoubtedly the protagonist of the story and the other four women are more or less just along for the ride. The script often has trouble finding a good balance between multiple storylines, constantly having to cut back to different timelines to keep the continuity flowing. It’s a little frustrating, but it’s hard to resist the charm of what Yan and company set out to do.

Margot Robbie is the definitive live-action version of Harley Quinn, and no recasting will ever change that. Here, she has her trademark sense of macabre humor and aloofness, more often than not unaware of how much destruction she’s leaving in her wake. While she clearly has zero interest in doing the right thing or helping people who need it, she’s desperate to find a sense of belonging after the only person she’s ever had a connection with has abandoned her.

Meanwhile, the other four “Birds” are absolutely fantastic and fun in their respective roles. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Rosie Perez, and newcomer Ella Jay Basco all fulfill their duties with flying colors and create different and interesting personalities. Basco is particularly excellent as Cassandra Cain, a highly resourceful petty thief who only wants to find a place of belonging, much like Harley.

Ewan McGregor is also fantastic and flamboyant as crime lord Roman Sionis, A.K.A. “Black Mask.” He’s a complete narcissist who has no qualms about torturing, killing, or humiliating others to get what he wants and always tries to become the center of attention iin the room. McGregor is clearly having a grand time in the role and while it may seem a bit over the top, it perfectly suits the villain’s personality.

The supporting cast is also great and isn’t afraid to ham it up to match the over-the-top nature of the film. This includes Ali Wong as Montoya’s ex-girlfriend of a district attorney, Chris Messina as Black Mask’s psychopathic killer and right-hand man, Steven Williams as the apathetic Captain at the GCPD, Dana Lee as a friendly restaurant owner in Harley’s building, and François Chau as a rival crime boss threatening Black Mask’s operations. All of them know exactly what to do with their respective roles and get one or two good lines in for good measure.

And from a technical perspective, Birds of Prey showcases a unique style that sets it apart from other films in the genre. Shot by the versatile Matthew Libatique, the cinematography is very colorful and saturated, perfectly in the right tone with its wild protagonist. The film makes use of many different techniques throughout, including sudden dolly-ins and roving swoops during action sequences. Numerous primary colors are enhanced to make Gotham feel like a twisted Wonderland playground for Harley and her friends to mess around in.

The editing job by Jay Cassidy and Evan Schiff is frenetic and highly reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s style. There are multiple freeze frames throughout the film so that Harley can wryly catch the audience up on a brand new plot point. And for the most part, during action scenes, it’s cut together in a way that’s easy enough to follow but still filled with enough style to feel unique.

Bolstered by committed performances and great visuals, Birds of Prey is a fun R-rated romp that can sometimes be too fluff and flair. Freed from the normal constraints of a franchise blockbuster, Cathy Yan is able to make an impressive studio debut that proves comic book movies have a future in going beyond what’s family-friendly. Even when the film gets bogged down by an unnecessarily complicated script, Margot Robbie and the rest of her crew are more than willing to hold it together with all the charm and charisma that can be afforded.

“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.

Image result for tron legacy poster

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.

“1917” Movie Review

Imagine crawling through No Man’s Land with just one companion by your side. No living person in this era could ever even comprehend having to do so, let alone see it up close. But now, as VR blurs the lines between reality and fiction ever so gradually, this film has come along to put us face first in the filth of it all. Now, this is what a call a “cinematic experience.”

This period war thriller was given a limited, awards-qualifying theatrical release by Universal Pictures on Christmas Day, 2019. It was then released to a much wider audience two weeks later on January 10th, 2020. After doing exceptionally well in specialty theaters originally, it has since gone on to gross over $147.5 million at the worldwide box office. Against a production budget of around $90 million, this could put it in position as one of the highest grossing films of its genre if it continues its streak. It also helps that it has been given some of the best critical reviews of the year and numerous accolades and nominations, including for 10 Academy Awards.

Directed by Sam Mendes, the film marks his feature screenwriting debut alongside co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The duo had previously attempted to get two other projects off the ground before Amblin Partners and Steven Spielberg gave the script the greenlight. The story was inspired in part by memories told to him by his grandfather, Lance Corporal Alfred P. Mendes. During filming, conservationists expressed concern for the trenches and sets being built, a warning signs had to be posted to hikers that any bodies they saw were just mannequins.

Set on April 5th of its titular year, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman star as William Schofield and Thomas Blake, two British Lance Corporals in France during World War I. The Germans have just made a tactical withdrawal from the Western Front and are planning to ambush an impending British attack the next morning. Blake and Schofield are assigned by the General to carry a message beyond the Hindenburg Line that would stop the attack and save the lives of over 1,600 men, including Blake’s older brother. With time running out, the two soldiers hasten to deliver the message and stop their forces from sustaining heavy casualties.

Overall, I like Sam Mendes as a director. He has a great style that’s really slick, realistic, and in-control of everything that’s happening on-screen. He directed Skyfall, which is my personal favorite James Bond movie, and I also was impressed by his smaller-scale drama Revolutionary Road. Hearing news that he would be returning behind the camera for a huge film like this felt almost like an event.

The fact that he would be covering a movie about World War I was already enough to gain my attention, as there are relatively few films about the conflict. Seeing all of the incredible hype and buzz it was getting left and right in the industry, not to mention crashing the Oscar race last-minute, made me even more excited. But that still didn’t prepare me because 1917 exceeded my expectations and is easily one of the best war films of the last decade.

Contrary to what some people may tell you, the main stylistic choice of this film- presenting the whole story as if it were a single continuous shot -isn’t just a showy gimmick. Yes, it’s very stylish and attention–grabbing, but it only serves a way to drive the story forward, spend time with the two main protagonists. We’re with Blake and Schofield every step of the way as the traverse the mud and blood left behind by men they’re hesitant to even call the enemy.

It’s also a big testament to the film that 1917 never once even thinks about glorifying the conflict that they’re in. World War I was an utterly pointless conflict where millions of people died over petty aristocratic squabbles, and the film shows the immense cost that comes with. The characters are witnesses and party to many horrendous things in the trenches, but as long as the army advances forward the higher ups see it as an absolute victory. By keep the focus on just two small soldiers, the real perspective hammers home; there’s not much time for big heroics but even minor acts of courage count.

George MacKay has been building his repertoir over the last few years and he finally gets a real breakout here. As Schofield, he’s fairly quiet and unassuming, prefering to keep his head down than answer directly the big call. Going on this huge trek forces him to confront anxieties he’s been running away from, including long-repressed feelings about potentially going home and being given a medal for something he says as arbitrary.

Opposite him for almost the entire journey, Dean-Charles Chapman is excellent as Blake, the defacto leader of the duo. He’s much more chatty than Schofield, often reminiscing on stories from home or camp to lighten the mood. The enormity of the mission at hand is never lost on him, desperate to see his older brother again but not foolhardy enough to dive headlong into a worthless firefight with the Germans.

These two men have wonderful chemistry together and are the primary reason why the film works. Refusing to cast world-famous stars in the lead roles is a stroke of genius so that the audience can find more relatability in their struggle. We learn just enough about their personal backgrounds over the course of the film to become invested and believe the reliability they have on each other, even if they’re not best friends.

They’re both flanked by respected thespians in small roles and cameos throughout. These include Colin Firth as the General who gives their mission in the first place, Andrew Scott as a drunken and cynical Lieutenant providing their equipment, Benedict Cumberbatch as the stubborn Colonel wishing to push forward no matter what, and Claire Duburq as a lonely French woman hiding out in the ruins of a village. None of these actors stay on-screen for very long, but they each provide a different perspective on the war and its purpose- or lack thereof.

And just looking at the technical aspects, 1917 is an absolutely stunning landmark in big-budget filmmaking. The inimitable Roger Deakins provides the cinematography and it’s some of his best work yet. The aforementioned single-shot look is breathtaking to say the least and always has a fluid motion throughout the whole movie. The realistic colors and gorgeous natural lighting help to create a strong atmosphere of a country that has been torn asunder many times over. It roves over many impressive sets, never once losing focus and makes us feel like observers.

This works perfectly in sync with the editing job by Lee Smith, who helps to make the whole thing seamless. With one very brief exception about halfway through the film, every take looks perfectly stitched together from the first frame to the last. The occasional CGI structure or enterting of interiors is the closest I can tell to when the takes end and start. How Smith managed to make a transition from a window into a fiery village during the nighttime look seamless is beyond me.

With a long career trailing him, Thomas Newman reunites with Mendes to provide perhaps his finest score ever put to film. Much like Hans Zimmer’s work on Dunkirk, it avoids the sweeping orchestral notes of typical war films and instead builds many tracks as a never-ending crescendo. The soundtrack mixes traditional instruments with some light electronics to create a unique sound that’s hard to shake.

One track, in particular, is more mystifying than the rest, as it uses light strings and glockenspiel to illustrate a mysterious environment. Another one near the end is a 6-minute epic as the tension builds towards a massive payoff on-screen. Although they both sound vastly different, they each encapsulate exactly the film is about. The immediacy of the score somehow matches that of what’s happening in the film, and that alone is enough.

With brilliant performances, unforgettable set pieces, and a stylistic choice that actually serves the story, 1917 is an astonishing and fully immersive achievement of modern cinema. Sam Mendes completely tops himself by delivering easily one of the best films about World War I ever made. With the help of Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Roger Deakins, and a willing ensemble of capable actors, he manages to craft a thrilling piece of film that celebrates the small acts of courage while condemning the machinations of war.

Whether or not you agree with its presentation, it’s almost impossible to shake this one off after the credits roll. It’s the rare kind of event film that just demands to be seen on the big screen rather than at home, which further catapults its impact.

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“Frozen II” Movie Review

The lengths I would go to protect my sister.

This computer-animated family fantasy film was released in theaters worldwide by Disney on November 22nd, 2019. Following the biggest opening weekend of all time for an animated feature, it has gone on to gross over $1.268 billion at the global box office thus far. This almost puts it financially up to par with its predecessor in a shorter amount of time. With a little more time, it has managed to become the most successful animated film ever released, in addition to the positive attention it’s gotten from fans and critics.

Once again co-directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, the filmmakers and studio had constantly talked about a sequel to the 2013 hit for a couple years before officially moving forward. Lee worked on several different drafts alongside Allison Schroeder, although the latter ended up not getting a real credit for the screenplay. The actors’ recording for dialogue and songs supposedly began as early as late 2016, though the veracity of these claims is disputable. The studio also worked in close collaboration with various experts and representatives of the Saami people to get some story elements culturally accurate.

Set 3 years after the first film, Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell return as Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, who have managed to keep the kingdom of Arendelle in prosperity. One night, Elsa begins hearing a strange voice singing repetitive notes to her and drawing her away into a mystical forest. There, the two of them alongside Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven- voiced respectively by Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad -travel there and discover a deeply rooted conflict between their kingdom and the natives of the land. Wanting to mend things before it’s too late, they also find that their journey may bring them closer to what happened to their parents.

The original Frozen, when it first came out in 2013, was a hugely pleasant surprise for me. It had all of the elements of a classic Disney movie (Memorable songs and heartwarming characters) while also finding interesting ways to invert the traditional format of the past. It was also an indisputably gorgeous movie with some of the best animation of its time and still looks stunning to this day.

It being far more successful than anyone had anticipated, a sequel to the film was pretty much inevitable. I was extremely curious to see how Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee would be able to continue the story, especially since Lee has been made the new head of Disney Animation following John Lasseter’s unfortunate exit. And while Frozen II is certainly a step down from the first installment, it’s still a great time at the movies with the whole family.

Just like last time, this movie is at its best when its questioning the usual tropes of a typical adventure story. Despite what the people around her seem to think, Elsa is neither a villain nor a damsel in distress; she’s just unsure of how to rule a kingdom and manage her mysterious powers at the same time. Similarly, Anna wants to be the princess who falls in love and gets married, but she also learns how to retain her own agency and doesn’t want to be defined either by her sister’s status or her romantic relationship with Kristoff.

Where Frozen II starts to falter is that, while it acknowledges change as something inevitable and even positive, it still doesn’t quite make enough narrative progress to be fully satisfying. It’s undeniably cool to see this world grow beyond the kingdom of Arendelle and even see the potential origins of magic in this universe. Still, by the end, you can’t help but feel that they played a little too safe for its own good, particularly because of how it teased something that could have been much more.

Idina Menzel is still just as iconic as she was in the first go-around, and cements Elsa as one of the most interesting monarchs in Disney’s library. Still unsure of her capability as a leader, she strives to find a balance between the powerful and humble, thinking distance is the safest option for her loved ones. Her voice is still a powerhouse as always and she releases all of her worries and troubles into song whenever possible.

Also, Kristen Bell is charming and delightful as ever as she returns to the role of Anna. Her own sense of confidence and self-worth have grown immensely since the previous film, but she still cares deeply about the fate of her sister, willing to do whatever it takes to keep her happy.

Josh Gad also makes a return as Olaf, the magical talking snowman. He proves to be much more fun and likable as a side character than a protagonist, and brings out some of the biggest laughs of the whole movie. He also has a newfound sense of wisdom and maturity in this film; although much of it proves to be him misunderstanding its true meaning for comic effect, it still creates an interesting dynamic with the others.

Jonathan Groff, Alan Tudyk, and Ciarán Hinds all reprise their respective roles from the first installment while Alfred Molina, Evan Rachel Wood, Sterling K. Brown, Martha Plimpton, and Norwegian singer Aurora come in new ones. All of them bring different weight and while not all of them get a chance to sing, they’re memorable for the most part. Woods and Brown were particularly interesting and I was hoping to see more from their parts than we ultimately did.

And from a technical point of view, Frozen II proves that even after 58 animated features, Disney is still able to make some real surprises. The animation in this movie is somehow even more stunning and rich than the previous one, utilizing 3D animation to its full potential. The stupid amount of detail in everything in every frame, even the hair or fabric of a character’s wardrobe, is jaw-dropping. Not to mention the remarkable physics being displayed on-screen throughout.

There’s a heavy emphasis on the colors blue and orange. We see all different shades of blue in the film, from the ice emitting from Elsa’s powers to the deep blue of the ocean. For orange, it’s mainly an autumnal look from fall leaves and even Anna’s brunette hair has a bit of orange in it. It plays up a nice contrast in the visual composition, representing the contrast between the life the main characters want to live versus the adventure they’ve embarked on.

Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez return from the first film to provide a whole new soundtrack here. And with the help of composer Christophe Beck, they’re able to create a bounty of memorable new songs. The big one is obviously “Into the Unknown,” a powerful ballad that allows Idina Menzel’s powerhouse vocals to work magic. It uses the motif of light and uncertainty to a great advantage as it builds and builds, much like Elsa’s confidence.

But for me, the best song of the film is “Show Yourself,” which comes in the latter half of the story. The natural culmination of all the elements that have come before it, it’s a true showstopper as Elsa finally comes to terms with her abilities and their implications. It also features the vocals of Evan Rachel Wood, who proves to a worthy song partner as their voices collide. The animation of the scene that song plays in is some of the best in the whole movie, and both come together to create something special.

More safe and fun than forward-thinking, Frozen II is a perfectly fine family-friendly romp with gorgeous animation and great music. While it doesn’t take as many risks as it probably should, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are still able to deliver a fun sequel to its immensely successful predecessor. The vocals of the cast are all still excellent and the Lopez’ give them new tunes worthy of the gold voices singing them.

I think part of what made the first Frozen so surprising and special is that it defied expectations and subverted several of the classic Disney tropes. This sequel still understands those tropes exist, but is more content to coast on the comfort of the characters from last time. Even if it means it has to miss out on what could have been some truly exciting storytelling opportunities here.

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“Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” Movie Review

**Out of respect for the fans and viewers who wish to go into this film as cold as possible, I’ll only be giving the baseline premise for everything. Read at your own discretion.**

2019, as a whole, really has been a year of ending for a lot of pop culture things. Avengers, Game of Thrones, The Good Place, Mr. Robot, Toy Story, How To Train Your Dragon all seeing their narratives come to a close. But perhaps none were quite as anticipated or high-profile as this one, so let’s dive right in.

This epic space opera was released in theaters worldwide by Disney and Lucasfilm on December 20th, 2019, having previously been scheduled for May. After making a cool $40 million from Thursday night previews, it has gone on to gross over $927.5 million worldwide against a budget of $275 million. While that’s undoubtedly impressive, it’s a dip down from the intake of its two mainline predecessors. Not to mention, it has managed to split both fans and critics down the middle on its overall quality and effect.

Directed by J.J. Abrams, the third and final installment in the sequel trilogy under Disney was originally meant to be helmed by Jurassic World director Collin Trevorrow. After he departed due to “creative differences,” Abrams came back with co-writer Chris Terrio in tow to basically start over from scratch. There was also an incident months after production wrapped where one of the actor’s scripts accidentally got put up on eBay and a studio employee spent at least 5 figures to take it back. And in addition to the main characters returning here, this film has repeatedly been stated by the cast and crew to definitively be the final installment of the Skywalker Saga.

Picking up roughly a year after the events of The Last Jedi, Daisy Ridley returns as Rey, a young woman training to become a Jedi. During her journey, she and The Resistance discover that The First Order is about to make their final move in an attempt to control the galaxy once and for all. With time running out, Rey and her friends Poe Dameron and Finn, played by Oscar Isaac and John Boyega, set out on a quest to figure out the enemy’s plan before they can enact it. And it proves difficult when the malicious and power-hungry Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, tries to beat them to the punch all the while coming to terms with his own sins.

Although it hasn’t always been great, overall I’ve been happy with the Star Wars content Disney has been putting out in the last decade. I still and always will maintain that The Last Jedi is the best film in the saga in many, many years and I am eager to see what they do with The Mandalorian and season 7 of The Clone Wars. And hearing repeated vows that they would finally bring the nine-film Skywalker Saga to a big close made me excited.

As the hype built towards its release, I remained cautiously optimistic about what the results would be. I had hoped that there would be enough resolution for the characters and storyline to satisfy even fans who haven’t been on-board with the newer entries. And while The Rise of Skywalker is undeniably entertaining, there is so much it leaves to be desired from a thematic and story standpoint.

I don’t envy Abrams or Terrio because of the enormity of their task, (Concluding the mainline story for the biggest movie franchise of all time) but it can’t be denied they took the easiest possible route here. While it doesn’t completely retcon the choices made in The Last Jedi, it repurposes them into something that tries to bring all nine main films into play. But by trying to bring in a big picture, which can be admittedly admirable in concept, it’s unable to find enough satisfaction with the current narrative.

Despite this, there is still a lot of emotional weight that The Rise of Skywalker carries that, admittedly, can often be affecting. The character arcs of this new trilogy have arguably been some of the most interesting in the whole franchise and seeing them come to a head, regardless of the method, is a big event. And obviously, Disney and Lucasfilm have more films coming down the pipe, but it’s nice that they committed to wrapping up this particular narrative.

Daisy Ridley proves for the third time in a row why she was perfectly cast for the lead role of Rey. She has so much emotional baggage being carried, some of it for years on end, and the pressure of trying to bring back the Jedi is clearly weighing her down. All she wants to do is bring light and goodness to the galaxy, which is difficult with the consequences of the on-going war.

Opposite her, Adam Driver still proves why he’s one of the best actors of his generation thanks to his role as Kylo Ren. Still as deeply conflicted as always, his internal struggle comes to a dramatic head as his journey nears its end. He’s equal parts desperate, powerful, and pathetic here as he still struggles to figure out what exactly he desires and what path is he to take.

John Boyega also continues to be golden as Finn, one of the more interesting side characters of the franchise. His comedic timing is still impeccable as always and while he isn’t given as much to do as the last two films, his presence is always a welcome one. Seeing him come this far after having defected from the First Order is one of the more satisfying story threads in the film to be sure.

Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels, Domnhall Glesson, Joonas Suotamo, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, and the late great Carrie Fisher (Who appears through unused footage from the last two films) all reprise their respective iconic roles from previous installments. Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant, Dominic Monaghan, Shirley Henderson and Naomi Ackie also make impressions as new characters in this story. Everyone onscreen is reveling in the fact that they’re in a Star Wars movie.

Meanwhile, The Rise of Skywalker is nothing short of a technical marvel. Abrams’ regular cinematographer Dan Mindel handles the camerawork once again here and it’s just as energetic as their previous efforts. The widescreen camera constantly roves around the action to keep up the momentum, even in smaller dialogue-driven moments. The use of primary colors, especially red and blue, are frequently saturated to highlight the constant battle between good and evil.

Maryann Brandon and Stefan Grube’s joint editing job is mostly a success, considering they had to edit some of it on-set. At 2 hours and 21 minutes, it’s one of the longest films in the saga, but this film really *moves.* Mile-a-minute pacing is the name of the game, as the main group of characters move around from one cool-looking world to the next as the adventure moves along. All of the action is cut together very well and comprehensively, even during some of the more extravagant sequences.

For his 9th and final Star Wars movie, the inimitable John Williams returns to provide the instrumental film score. It’s almost as magical as his previous efforts in the franchise, combining themes and motifs from all of the collective soundtracks into one while coming up with a couple of new ones. The woodwinds, brass, and strings all come together in the composer’s trademark sound of an emotional epic. He also brings in an ominous choir for the villain’s main theme, which encapsulates both the mystique of Kylo Ren’s morality and the somber road he’s taken thus far. The use of percussion like timpanis and bells also deserves to be noted, making it feel truly mysterious and adventurous.

Bringing the nine-film Skywalker Saga to a close and doing whatever it takes to get there, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is an enjoyable but narratively frustrating end to a truly epic cinematic story. J.J. Abrams sets out to finish the trilogy that he started and while it’s far from being worthy of getting thrown in the trash compactor, it still shows that he’s looking too much towards the past. All of the cast members do a great job to bring their characters’ arcs to a close and Williams’ final score for the franchise is undeniably excellent, even when it’s retreading old territory.

A part of me almost admires Abrams to sticking with his gut and ending the story on his own terms, but the choices he makes along the way are often ill-advised. Regardless of what you may think of how the Star Wars saga under the Disney banner has gone, it’s hard to argue that this final chapter could have been so much more.

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Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2020

Welcome to the new year! Welcome to the new DECADE! As the last one passes on by, the next one comes in with an embarrassment of promising cinematic riches. Some of the films on this list have been on my radar for quite a while, others have only recently come to my attention. In any case, these are the 10 feature films that I’m most excited for coming out in the year 2020. I’d like to start off, however, by labeling some honorable mentions for other films that look pretty promising.

Honorable Mentions:

Artemis Fowl, The Way Back, West Side Story, The Prom, Free Guy, Saint Maud, Halloween Kills, The Eternals, Birds of Prey, Onward, Next Goal Wins, The Rhythm Section, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Witches, Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow

Now, let’s get on with it, shall we?

#10: “Soul” (Opens June 19th)

After a couple of long in-development sequels to beloved classics of theirs, Pixar is finally making the return to original filmmaking in 2020. Onward also looks interesting, but it’s Pete Docter’s newest film that has my attention the most. Early impressions seem to give off the feeling that this is yet another creative and heartfelt creation from the animation studio. The animation looks unsurprisingly vibrant and the integration of jazz music into the narrative has me giddy for whatever kind of personality it has in store- especially because Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are handling the score. And given the recent shakeup in leadership at Disney’s animation branch, if Soul ends up being Docter’s swansong, it looks like a big way to go out.

#9: “The Gentlemen” (Opens January 24th)

Many filmmakers are able to sustain their careers by stretching out into different genres. Guy Ritchie isn’t really one of those directors, as his personal style never quite fit into a live-action Disney musical or a fantasy epic. However, his next movie The Gentlemen feels like a return to form for him, similar to Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. With an all-star cast at his disposal, all of whom seem to be having the time of their lives, it looks like Ritchie has found his comfort zone again. Let’s hope it’ll be genuinely fun and not just two hours of him trying desperately to relive his glory days.

#8: “Mank” (TBA 2020)

David Fincher finally making another feature film is enough reason for me to become excited about the project. But hearing that it was written by his late father Jack makes it sound much more personal for him, even with the near-mythical subject matter. It promises to be a movie about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who fought with Orson Welles to attain a writing credit on the film Citizen Kane. Seeing talent like Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, and Charles Dance among the cast members makes it seem like this could be a major awards contender for Netflix next fall. Fingers crossed Mank won’t get buried in their catalogue.

#7: “Last Night in Soho” (Opens September 25th)

After the success of Baby Driver, Edgar Wright could have done anything he wanted for is project. Rather than choosing something obvious or right up his alley, he’s doing a non-comedic horror movie with Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, and Thomasin McKenzie. The first image above teases something genuinely creepy and stylistic that he’s created alongside rising co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns. We still don’t know exactly the story might entail, but it sounds like it will be his rendition of psychological thrillers from the 1970’s. That alone is enough for me to be at least intrigued for whatever Wright and company have cooked up for next fall.

#6: “Cherry” (TBA 2020)

It’s always an exciting prospect when established blockbuster filmmakers move away to something smaller and more personal. Cherry sounds like such a prospect, as it finds the Russo Brothers reuniting with Tom Holland on a true-story drama that’s, unfortunately, only increased in its relevance. The tale of Nico Walker, a PTSD-ridden soldier who becomes addicted to opioids, is one that begs to be told. I’m eager to see how all parties involved can get a film made that doesn’t have to be defined by the constraints of a traditional Hollywood blockbuster like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although it technically doesn’t have a 2020 release date or distribution deal set just yet, I really hope the major studios will at least try to give it some attention when the time comes.

#5: “The Invisible Man” (Opens February 28th)

I’m still recovering from the spectacularly failed promise of the “Dark Universe” 3 years ago. It pretty much convinced me that none of the classic Universal Monsters could be properly adapted to the modern age. However, it looks like Leigh Whannell and Blumhouse have managed to find a new and relevant angle on The Invisible Man. It looks like it will be taking a MeToo approach, using the titular character as a way of relating society’s absurd reluctance to listen to women’s stories of abuse even though they can’t really see it. Add in Elizabeth Moss as the lead, and this looks like it could become a real word-of-mouth hit in February.

#4: “No Time to Die” (Opens April 8th)

The James Bond franchise has, by and large, been hit or miss for me over the years. Skyfall still remains my favorite one, and Daniel Craig’s version of the character has been remarkable, but there have been a number of stinkers every now and then. However, his 5th and supposedly last outing as 007 looks intriguing as hell. After a troubled early production history, No Time to Die looks like it’s on the right track based on what we’ve seen thus far. Cary Joji Fukunaga making the transition to big blockbuster filmmaking is incredibly interesting, especially when you consider how gorgeous the film looks visually. And of course, Rami Malek as the main villain sounds really exciting, and I can’t wait to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing come to light after a hyper-successful rise with Fleabag and Killing Eve.

#3: “In the Heights” (Opens June 26th)

Of the high-profile Broadway adaptations coming to theaters this year- the others being Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Spielberg’s spin on West Side Story -it’s In the Heights I’m the most pumped for. I’ll admit to having only become a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the past few years because of Hamilton, but his first musical is still a joy to listen to. The first trailer showcased exactly what I was hoping to see from the film, and seeing Anthony Ramos in a huge leading role, not to mention the whole ensemble surrounding him, makes me so pumped.

#2: “Tenet” (Opens July 17th)

Christopher Nolan might be one of the last filmmakers who’s able to let a major studio allow him to make a completely original blockbuster on a massive budget. And after finally getting an Oscar nod for Dunkirk, I knew that whatever he did next would be unique. And seeing him recruit John David Washington and Robert Pattinson for a huge action epic, alongside a wildly exciting crew, makes it sound amazing. As for what Tenet’s plot seems to be? Even after watching the glorious first trailer, I probably still won’t know what the film is actually about until I see in theaters. And I absolutely love that.

#1: “Dune” (Opens December 18th)

Denis Villeneuve was, unquestionably, the breakout director of the last decade. Blade Runner 2049 is one of the best films of all time, Prisoners is an underrated masterpiece, and Arrival is a modern sci-fi classic. So it’s only fitting that his newest project is an adaptation of one of the biggest and most influential science-fiction novels ever written. It feels almost like the type of film that he’s been building his whole career towards, especially with all of the support involved. He also has an enormously talented ensemble at his disposal, from Timothée Chalamet to Jason Momoa to Stellan Skarsgård bound to bring their all to the table. In short, Dune is shaping up to be a true sci-fi epic that could hopefully define cinema of the coming decade.

Do you agree with my picks? What movie are you most excited to see come out in 2020? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a Comment below. And for more awesome content like this, be sure to leave a like and Follow my Blog. Happy New Year, everyone!

“Knives Out” Movie Review

Every time I see an author in a film or show, I almost always want their fictional work to be real so I can read it. Even if their in-universe bibliography is extensive, I just want to get my hands on it, however possible. This darkly comedic murder-mystery premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival to a rapturous response. After closing out Fantastic Fest, it was released in theaters worldwide by Lionsgate on November 27th, 2019. Having already made over $167.5 million against a $40 million, it should have no problem becoming a box office hit over the holidays. depending on how strong word of mouth ends up being, it could end up becoming one of the year’s most profitable films. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the filmmaker had wanted to make a murder mystery for a while. He had originally planned on making it his fourth feature after finishing Looper but made Star Wars: The Last Jedi instead. It’s said to have been inspired by numerous Agatha Christie novels and films like Clue and Gosford Park. The film came together very quickly, with the cast and crew being announced within a month of its initial announcement. Daniel Craig stars as Detective Benoit Blanc, a well-renowned Southern private investigator. On the night of his 85th birthday, wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey, played by Christopher Plummer, dies of apparent suicide. Suspecting foul play, Blanc is brought in to help question Harlan’s deeply dysfunctional family, including his South American caretaker Marta Cabrera, played by Ana de Armas. It soon becomes clear that everyone in the family is lying and all of them seem to have reasonable motives. I love a good murder mystery story every now and then and there aren’t enough movies these days in the genre. I’ve been a fan of Rian Johnson’s work for a while, from his perfectly directed episodes of Breaking Bad to the original sci-fi flick Looper and The Last Jedi, which I maintain is a genuinely great movie. Hearing news that he would be tackling a Christie-esque whodunnit set in the modern era made me practically giddy with excitement. As each player in the massively impressive ensemble signed on for the project, my excitement for it only grew exponentially. And hearing that it would be releasing over the long Thanksgiving weekend made me think it was going to become a real populist hit. And that’s just the case because Knives Out is an absolute delight of a film that is sure to become a huge crowd pleaser. From it’s very first scene, it’s perfectly clear that this is a film that understands its own genre and seeks to upend it in exciting ways. By focusing on a highly rich crime novelist, it’s able to examine greed, privilege, and entitlement in a way that bites hard. It’s evident that the majority of Harlan’s family members only care about getting in the will and how much they get, regardless if they actually deserve or earned it. But rather than being bitter and pessimistic, Knives Out also benefits from a darkly hilarious screenplay. Watching the various members of the Thrombrey clan obviously lie about the night of his death, plus how they all savagely treat each other provides some great laughs. And the dim-witted local authorities musing over missing clues, including a particularly convoluted metaphor about donut holes from the main protagonist, seal the deal for this original package of a movie. Daniel Craig takes a break from his tenure as James Bond for Detective Benoit Blanc, the eccentric private eye with a penchant for wordplay and cigars. With a thick Southern accent and loads of swagger, he quickly shakes off any imitations of Hercule Poirot as he gets right down to the case. Although we don’t get to know much about him personally, Craig’s subtle mannerisms and delivery of lines like “I suspect foul play, and I have eliminated no suspects” add so much to him. After a series of small supporting roles, Ana de Armas gets the breakout she really deserves with her performance here. As Marta Cabrera, she’s so pure-hearted and clearly has no interest in material wealth like the rest of the Thrombrey clan, who patronize her about her nationality. During the second act, she becomes the unexpected hero of the story as things shake up and she’s forced to confront things she’d rather have no business dealing with. Her facial cues and silence tell a lot about her character and just knowing she’ll be a big star is already exciting to me. Chris Evans also manages to surprise as Ransom Thrombrey-Drysdale, Harlan’s spoiled and narcissistic grandson. A total departure from his years-long MCU tenure, he goes to a lot of effort making his character a selfish bastard who never has any interest in being likable to those around him. Things take a turn, however, when he unexpectedly makes a change about halfway through where he admits to feeling vain and empty from the material life he’s lived. And Rian Johnson has managed to put together one of the best ensembles this side of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The family members consist of Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Katherine Langford, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, K Callan, and Christopher Plummer, while Lakeith Stanfield, Frank Oz, and Edi Patterson fill out smaller but equally important roles. Each player clearly looks like they’re having a blast as everyone clearly knows something the rest don’t, and their interplay with one another is aces. Meanwhile, from a filmmaking perspective, Knives Out sees Rian Johnson working in tip-top formation. Steve Yedlin, the director’s regular cinematographer, captures the picture in exquisite detail and precision. The opening scene features multiple shots of the Thrombrey mansion, clearly establishing the layout of the home and the legacy of the victim. There are some pretty creative shots that play with the visual composition of the characters and creates a great amount of negative space. We also get to see some amazing movements and techniques such as a dramatic dolly during an epiphany or a slow tilt for a revelation. This matches up quite well with the editing job by Bob Duscay, which keeps the pacing up despite a runtime of 2 hours and 10 minutes. In the first 20-30 minutes, we get a brisk montage of the police interviewing every member of the family as they give their of the story. Watching it cut back and forth between each of them is a great way to get insight into their characters and find new details that the others may be hiding. It also cuts to an occasional flashback to the night of Harlan’s death and shows it from multiple perspectives, adding to the mystery. The director’s cousin Nathan Johnson provides the instrumental film score here, and their fourth collaboration is absolutely brilliant. It has a certain jangly sound and rhythm to it as it utilizes plucked strings and percussion to build the suspense and intrigue. A handful of tracks also use a full symphonic orchestra in a sort of homage to old-school whodunnits Hollywood used to be obsessed with. The implementation of woodwinds and double reed instruments also creates a feeling of modernity to the story. There’s a certain underlying dread and melancholy to the tracks that by turns can be both tragic and ironic. The film ends with the song “Sweet Virginia” by the Rolling Stones, which perfectly fits the mood of the final moments. The lyrics and instrumentation surmises the themes and ideas of the film as a whole, and leaves on one of the best final shots in the last couple of years. Loaded with charm and personality and riding off of a killer script, Knives Out is an enormously satisfying crowd-pleaser with a fantastically committed ensemble. By prodding at the conventions of its dusty genre, Rian Johnson is able to craft a loving and pointed murder mystery with tons of social bite. The whole cast of veterans and stars give it their all and Ana de Armas is finally given a proper chance to shine in the spotlight. In an age where IPs are rampant in the market, this is one film that I wouldn’t mind becoming a new franchise. Even if it’s less shocking than it is clever, it practically begs to be seen with a big crowd and rewatched for a long time to come.

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“Highlander” Movie Review

After watching and reviewing a slew of critically acclaimed “classics” for My New Year’s resolution, I decided to have a bit of a change of pace. And I honestly couldn’t be prouder of the decision. This fantasy adventure film was originally released in U.S. theaters by 20th Century Fox on March 7th, 1986. It was eventually brought to theaters in the U.K. about 5 months later on August 29th of that year by the now-defunct EMI Films. Made for the budget of around $19 million, it failed to recuperate that with a final box office intake of just $12.9 million. It also didn’t help that critical reviews for the film at the time ranged from dismissive to outright panning it. Despite this, it later found some newfound success when it was released on home media, becoming something of a gem with a huge worldwide cult following. It also, for some reason, spawned a franchise that included four sequels, an animated film, and a T.V. spinoff. Directed by Russell Mulcahy, the screenplay was originally written while screenwriter Gregory Widen was an undergrad student at UCLA, and sold it for $200,000. The original concept was apparently much darker and more violent but was watered down after the studio brought Larry Ferguson and Peter Bellwood to rewrite several drafts. Filming was apparently a grueling process for all involved, particularly with getting locations figured out and the logistics of certain shots. Beginning in Scotland 1536, Christopher Lambert stars as Conor MacLeod, a warrior and patron of his family clan. After apparently dying on the field of battle, he discovers that he is one of a group of immortals that can only be killed by decapitation. Fast forward to 1985, Conor is living in New York City under the alias Russell Nash and learns that his lifelong enemy The Kurgan, played by Clancy Brown, has found him. Knowing that their confrontation could decide the fate of the universe, Conor remembers all his teachings and prepares for the final battle. If that premise alone doesn’t automatically scream the 1980s, then I honestly don’t know what does. It was a time when the industry, while heavily commercialized and influenced by the Reagan Era, still churned out original blockbusters at a steady rate. Even if all of the movies from that decade weren’t great or even good, it’s cool to see something so admittedly bonkers get bankrolled by a major studio at the time. This was one of those movies that I had always heard a weird response about, with just as many people proclaiming it a genre classic as there were those who denounced it completely. It had been in my Blu-Ray collection for many years, but now I finally had the chance to sit down and watch it myself. Make absolutely no mistake; Highlander is objectively a bad movie on several fronts, but I just couldn’t help but be totally entertained by it. In my personal experience, there are two different types of “guilty pleasure” movies to watch. There are the ones that are so atrocious that they’re hilariously fun to watch with a crowd, and then those that you love even with the full knowledge that it’s not good at all.  The 80s had plenty of both types, and I consider this film to be among the latter category. I also feel like Highlander is a movie that could only really have worked if it were made in this specific time frame. If they had made it today, (And apparently, there are efforts to try and reboot it) it would have taken everything way too seriously and tried to find some sort of thematic resonance. And while there is a glimpse of looking at immortals cursed to walk the Earth forever, it’s really the zany silliness that makes the movie what it is. Christopher Lambert is not a good actor and his performance as Conor MacLeod in this film is iconic in a different way. As stoic as a statue of William Wallace, he can either go too far into a scene or not far enough depending on the emotional requirements. It’s also arguable that no other actor could’ve portrayed him like this, especially with all of that luscious hair. In more positive notes, Clancy Brown seems to be having the time of his life playing The Kurgan in this film. The future voice actor for Mr. Krabs chews up how overtly villainous and contemptible his character is, covered in many scars and undesirable clothing. Aside from an epic voice and a litany of swear words, he also gets credit for uttering the film’s most iconic line, “There can be only one!” Sir Sean Connery is also noteworthy as Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, Conor’s immortal mentor during his early days. The only one in the film with a convincing Scottish accent, it’s both perplexing and amusing trying to figure out what background his character is supposed to be. As he rides through the gorgeous hills with a flamboyant costume in tow, he espouses some observations on the values of love for men like them and just hams it up the best he can. Roxanne Hart, Beatie Edney, Alan North, Jon Polito, Sheila Gish, and Hugh Quarshie round out the relevant players in the supporting cast. There’s a decent variety of performance here, with some playing it straight and others going all-or-nothing. I wouldn’t put these actors up as the most memorable roles of the decade or even their careers, but for what it is, they do a fine job. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Highlander are a mixed bag, ranging from good to jarring. The cinematography by Gerry Fisher bares a sort of sheen of plasticity found in many films from the era. Many colors are weirdly washed out, but come bursting out in bits and pieces such as Juan’s extravagant outfits. It often trades big, swooping landscape shots for many intimate medium or close-ups to try and bring it back to the characters. With only one exception relatively early on, most of the shots are consistent in style and quality as it moves from scene to scene. Speaking of which, the editing job by Peter Hoeness can be highly inconsistent. The transitions from scenes in the present day to 16th-century Scotland are pretty clever and subtle for the most part. But during the fight sequences, the cuts between multiple, drastically different shots is bizarre at best and incomprehensible at worst. A couple of battles even take place mostly in dark shadows as if to hide the stunt doubles, which is a shame because a number of them are decently choreographed. But the incorporation of practical sets and effects is mighty cool and at least feels like an attempt at authenticity. The soundtrack is noteworthy because it reeks of the 1980s in the best way possible. Immortal British rock band Queen write a handful of songs for the film, which eventually were composited into their album Kind of Magic. The two most notable songs they contributed are “Princes of the Universe” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” Both feature the band’s typical, synth-heavy sound from the decade, while Freddie Mercury’s inimitable vocals fit perfectly for the grand scope of the adventure. Although the former song discuss the cosmic implications of the main story and characters, the latter is more of a somber love ballad for Conor’s doomed attempts at mortal romance. Iconic in ways both genuine and ironic, Highlander is a shamelessly cheesy adventure with entertaining yet unreached potential. Although it definitely leaves much to be desired and could easily find more meat with its premise, Russell Mulcahy and Gregory Widen still managed to create an original mythology that finds a great place in its crowded era. Christopher Lambert may not be able to act well, (Or at all, really) but Conor MacLeod is a hero worth rooting for who gets the chance to go head-to-head in a swordfight against Mr. Krabs. I mean, is there anything else you could possibly ask for?