Category Archives: Books

“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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“You Were Never Really Here” Movie Review

Never underestimate a film’s trailer when it stars Joaquin Phoenix. No matter how cool it looked it could have never prepared me for actually watching this film, just like you won’t be ready. Lynne Ramsay’s neo-noir crime thriller first premiered in the Official Competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Despite the fact that it was still a work in progress, it received an 8-minute standing ovation plus awards for Best Screenplay (Shared with The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and Best Actor. Strangely enough, Amazon Studios chose to skip awards season and instead released the film limited on April 6th, 2018. Thus far, aided by strong critical reviews, it has grossed over $3.4 million at the box office, becoming the director’s most commercially successful film to date. After dropping out of Gavin O’Connor’s Jane Got a Gun, Ramsay decided to lay low for a while until she came upon the source material. It is also her first full-length narrative feature in 7 years, her last one being the controversial We Need to Talk About Kevin. Based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Ames, Phoenix stars as Joe, a traumatized Gulf War veteran and former FBI agent now working as a contract killer. One day, New York state senator Albert Votto approaches him and begs Joe to save his teenage daughter Nina from prostitution. While Joe accepts it as a regular job, he uncovers a vast conspiracy web more complex and disturbing than he could have ever imagined. Just by giving that synopsis, the average reader might cast this film aside as yet another derivative crime thriller starring a big name actor. But if anyone has ever watched a film by Lynne Ramsay, then you should know that her films are not so easily pigeonholed. I have been looking forward to this movie ever since it premiered last year. Why Amazon Studios chose to forego a potential awards season run for the lead actor in the fall season and instead release in the spring is still something I’m trying to figure out. But please don’t let the familiar premise and all the “artsy-fartsy” festival buzz deter you; You Were Never Really Here is one of the finest crime thrillers I’ve seen in quite a while. And perhaps that has to do with its subversive take on a harsh topic such as child exploitation. Rather than create a semi-Romantic film that ironically glamorizes the profession of hitmen, Ramsay wisely makes the viewers observers. It’s arguably with this clinical, objective technique that she is able to fully explore the subject matter without fear of exploiting it. Imagine the most European arthouse version of Taken crossed with Martian Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and that’s about where the tone and style are at. But it never feels self-indulgent or overly obsessed with itself. It is able to find a beautiful balance between empathy for the characters and dispassion in the brutal violence. Joaquin Phoenix is an incredible method actor but, without a doubt, Joe is his best role to date. Imbuing an immense amount of humanity and confusion into the performance, we see just enough of his deeply troubling past to understand his motives and when Votto asks him if really is violent he replies, “I can be.” I will honestly be shocked if he isn’t at least considered for Best Actor this year, even if the film missed out last year. Opposite him is the young Ekaterina Samsonov as Nina Votto, who does a lot without speaking a lot of dialogue. While she sometimes feels more like a symbol than an actual character, hers is truly a breakout role since we can see so much pain and loss of innocence in her small eyes. The two of them are also supported by character actors like Alex Manette as the upset senator wanting his daughter back, John Doman as the hardened handler for Joe’s work, Judith Roberts as Joe’s helpless mother, Alessandro Nivola as the Governor with mysterious ties to the case, and Frank Pandro as a concerned middle man. They’re all great in their own way, but never even come close to Phoenix’s work. As for the filmmaking aspects of it all, Lynne Ramsay shows complete control with her own voice in nearly every department. Shot by underrated British cameraman Thomas Townend, the cinematography captures a seedy griminess to the story rarely found in New York-set cinema. There’s a constant contrast between steady, distant full shots of the scenes and close-ups where the actor might be looking directly into the camera. Not a single frame goes wasted or feels unnecessary, which gives us an opportunity to get to know the characters better without so much exposition. Also, frequent Werner Herzog collaborator knows exactly when to move between these haunting shots. There are a number of smash cuts between either the past, the present, or possible scenarios. This, along with the impressionistic and wholesome sound design, immerse the audience in a narrative that feels fractured, much like Joe’s state of mind. While his work has included both Paul Thomas Anderson and the band Radiohead, multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood has assembled his best work to date for the score. A highly dynamic soundtrack, the man often trades staccato strings and percussion with pieces on a dark-toned synthesizer. His side-job as a computer programmer and infrequent use of diegetic background noises in tracks helps to create a New York City that, much like Daniel Lopatin’s work on Good Time, feels so alien. There’s a beautiful scene near the climax of the film that combines all of the above mentioned techniques with an amazing piece composed by Greenwood. The mix of electric melodies and distant sounds create an emotional connection without trying to manipulate audiences. That being said, I feel like not a lot of people are going to watch this movie. The subject matter, and the manner in which the film deals with it, are so heavy that most mainstream audiences probably won’t even want to try it. Above all, it’s a sad film; these institutions do exist around the world and some of the most powerful men or women condone it. And while some of the characters here are truly despicable, the director rejects the want for them to get a real satisfying closure. Because of this, some may leave the theater wanting more in a bad way. However, I just grew to appreciate her restraint in this approach. You Were Never Really Here is a powerful sucker punch of intense brutality and emotions. One of the absolute best films of the year, I was totally riveted and glued to my seat for all 90 minutes of its runtime. It flies by, which for some may be a relief with its difficult and bold subject matter. This could be the future of action thrillers.

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“2001: A Space Odyssey” Movie Review

Oh boy. It’s that time, ladies and gentlemen. This moment is one I’ve dreaded ever since starting my Blog on WordPress. The so-called “Sacred Cow” conversation of cinema simply cannot be avoided any further. And what better way to embrace it than in its 50th(!) anniversary? Stanley Kubrick’s epic science-fiction drama was originally released in the United States on April 3rd, 1968. While it turned out to be extremely profitable with a box office take of $190 million against a budget of $10.5 million, critics and audiences were entirely split on what to make of the film. While Roger Ebert hailed it as one of the greatest films of our time, others like Pauline Kael threw words such as “pretentious” and “boring” at it. Today, the consensus has generally fallen over to the positive side of reception. Co-written by the acclaimed sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, the movie was written in tandem with his titular novel. Kubrick was supposedly less interested in the book itself and instead drew from 6 other short stories by Clarke for inspiration. This is a commonality in his oeuvre,  as he really just wanted to explore the concept of extraterrestrial life and our relationship with the stars. The plot is very hard to explain without delving into speculation. On a literal level, the setting is the year 2001 where human beings have mastered both artificial intelligence and space travel. (Note: None of this came to life) After a mysterious black monolith is discovered buried on the Moon, two astronauts, Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole, are tasked with tracing its origins all the way to Jupiter. They are assisted by HAL 9000, the world’s most advanced computer, and unexpectedly embark on a journey concerning evolution and what it means to be human. I think. As said before, even trying to discuss this film is bound to be controversial. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “Sacred Cow” is an idiom usually referring to a piece of art that is held above criticism, sometimes to a ridiculously unreasonable level. There are many people who will likely murder me if I even dare to say anything negative about the film. In fact, I’m going to put something forth that may anger them even more- I’ve been somewhat lukewarm to most of Kubrick’s features. While I do “get” a lot of things he’s trying to say and absolutely understand his importance to cinema, most of his pictures are ones that I respect and appreciate more than I actually love. There are two exceptions to that rule, and the best one is 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the boldest films ever put on the silver screen. This is not going to be a review in which I try to analyze every frame of this movie trying to search for the hidden meaning. There are already plenty of essays, dissertations, and YouTube videos covering that area. Rather, I just wanted to break down the fact that this movie is so beloved for that exact reason. A whole lot of movies, whether they be effects-heavy blockbusters or ambitious indies, almost always try to relay information to the audience and leave little breathing room. It’s certainly common among today’s cinema but also prevalent in several films from years ago. The beauty about someone like Stanley Kubrick is that while his narratives are well-told and satisfying, it’s the themes that make him a true auteur. There are only a handful of living filmmakers that can reach that level of profundity and ambiguity. One thing a lot of people don’t really talk about when reviewing this film is the acting. Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood both do fine work in the roles of human doctors, Bowman and Poole. While the film is famously minimal on dialogue, the two of them are able to deliver the technobabble with a surprising sense of naturalism. But both of them are outdone by Douglas Rain, the voice of HAL 9000. Even with such a monotone voice, this robot is able to convey more emotion than either of his human colleagues during the entirety of their cosmic journey. Late in the plot, when he decides to defend himself against deactivation, he menacingly tells his creator, “I’m sorry, Dave; I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Aside from them, Daniel Richter is also notable as the chief of the man-apes in a surprisingly haunting prologue. Using nothing but a suit, primate vocal sounds, and a large bone at his disposal, he leaves a lasting impression for the remainder of the film. Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an unprecedented achievement even now. Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography does some incredible shots of both the African landscape in the prologue and of space itself. Kubrick’s signature tracking shots and static wides are all present here, and looks especially impressive if you can see it on 70 mm film. What’s really impressive is how scientifically accurate much of the film is, especially the scene set on a lunar base. The director spent months consulting with NASA to ensure that everything would be plausible, including his use of silence and slow movement in space travel. The sets and costume designs are all entirely practical, built with hands and shot with pure celluloid. Compare the effects, spaceships, and costumes with any sci-fi movie going into the early 2000’s- it really holds up. In fact, a lot of CGI fluff we’re getting today pales in comparison. Similar to most of Kubrick’s other works, this is not a film meant for everyone. While several film fans will be completely immersed in the glorious spectacle of it all, just as many will proclaim it to be the most boring motion picture of all time. There are no concrete answers to everything on-screen and moves at an unusually slow pace. Plus, it contains one of the most ambiguous, head-scratching, straight-up WTF endings in the history of cinema- even to this day. I totally get why I lot of people don’t like this movie, and it actually took a rewatch for me to truly appreciate it. But for those with the patience to go on the journey, those who will dare to keep an open mind to all that comes forth, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a peerless cinematic embodiment of sheer visual poetry. Every science-fiction film in the last 50 years has been influenced by it in one way or another. And hopefully, it will do so for at least 50 more.

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“Ready Player One” Movie Review

Y’all are talking about all of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references abound in this movie, but NONE of them made me feel more warm or nostalgic than seeing the Amblin Entertainment logo at the beginning. Only a true follower of 80’s pop culture like Halliday would probably get that same feeling. This dystopian sci-fi adventure from director Steven Spielberg held a surprise premiere at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival, where it debuted to positive critical response. Originally scheduled release in theaters on March 30th, the producers saw the potential of the Good Friday weekend and it arrived a day early. Raking in over $109 million worldwide in the first few days, it is now projected to become the director’s highest-grossing film in years. Based on Ernest Cline’s book of the same name, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the adaptation wallowed in development hell for a few years primarily due to securing rights to all of the references in the book. After Spielberg came aboard, it was only a matter of how many they could actually keep, with his public proclamation that many of his own movies would be avoided- with a few exceptions. The 2-hour and 20 minute-long story takes place in the dystopian future of 2045 when reality has become such a resource-depleted place that most of them retreat to a virtual reality called The OASIS. One of those people is Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan, whose avatar Parzival is something of a loser obsessed with pop culture from the 1980’s. When the creator James Halliday dies with no heirs, he creates a contest: Whoever can find an Easter Egg in his game first will inherit his entire fortune and control of The OASIS. Soon, Parzival grabs the first clue and finds himself thrust into a situation rife with allies and players who are literally willing to kill to get the Egg, all while learning the difference between the real world and the virtual one. Full disclosure before going on further: I’ve read the book by Ernest Cline numerous times before they even announced the cast. While the plot sometimes felt overwhelmed by the nostalgia and references, I was constantly wowed by the epic adventure. Hearing that Steven Spielberg, the man behind many of the book’s influences, would be directing the adaptation felt like a cinephile’s wet dream, especially after the epic first trailer. While news that the movie deviated heavily from the source material created great skepticism among many, I still remained the optimist. That optimism paid off dearly because Ready Player One was a blast for me to watch. I can see, however, that a lot of people are going to be turned off by the wave of pop culture references. In fact, the amount that can be found in the movie is practically exhausting. To me, this wasn’t really window-dressing so much as a look into someone like Wade, whose fanboyism has almost divorced him from the real world. Honestly, it could have gone a little more in-depth about the subject, but for the most part, the movie is able to walk the line. It’s not really about condemning or advocating fandoms of any kind, but rather asking what they do for the individual and where they lead to. The cast is well-aware that they’re in a Spielbergian adventure and are reveling in every moment of it. Tye Sheridan plays the part of Wade Watts like a classic hero as if he were convinced that he was a lovechild between a superhero and a John Hughes protagonist. While some of the dialogue is corny and exposition-heavy, he convincingly plays a kid struggling with identity. Opposite him are Lena Waithe and Olivia Cooke as Aech and Artemis. They both elevate beyond the archetypes of “best friend” or “love interest” and are given full personalities and concerns. Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg play James Halliday and Ogden Morrow, the two creators of The OASIS. While their screentime is limited, we get to see both ends of the VR argument; Morrow is concerned about the substitute for reality while Halliday just never fits in anywhere else. Other supporters like Philip Zhao, Hannah John-Kamen, Win Morisaki, and T.J. Miller add interesting extras to the package but aren’t given a whole lot of room to develop into full, interesting characters. Biggest surprise goes to Ben Mendohlson as Nolan Sorrento, head of the nefarious corporation I.O.I. While he initially seems like a generic big-suit bad guy, we later get to see how little value he sees in The OASIS beyond money. The fact that his avatar is completely uninspired is a rich rip on his lack of imagination in a world full of it. And the director proves once again that even 32 feature films into his career, he’s still got it behind the camera. Most of his regular collaborators return with him. Janus Kaminski’s fluid camera movements? Check. Michael Kahn’s clever editing between both reality and The OASIS? Check. Adam Stockhausen’s brilliant, grungy production design of the Stacks and other places? Check. The big winner here, though, is Industrial Lights & Magic with their glorious visual effects. Even with nearly 317 movies under their belt, the motion capture work done to bring The OASIS to life is magnificent, some of the best done in the movies yet. Each avatar and location is crafted with care and craft. The climactic battle sequence is one of the largest-in-scale I’ve ever seen in a movie theater, but nothing felt hard to follow in the slightest. The amount of references they were able to pack in here warrants a rewatch alone. This is one of the only Spielberg films in which John Williams did not compose the musical score, instead taken care of by Alan Silvestri. And he does a fantastic job, giving us a soundtrack worthy of the films that it wants to pay homage to. The main theme is like a clever homage to several “heroic” musical themes of the past such as Indiana Jones, employing all sorts of different classic styles. You’ve got your Williams with piercing horns, James Horner with epic accompanying vocals, a bit of dynamic percussion like Jerry Goldsmith, and beautiful swelling strings like Silvestri himself. They all come together to create an eclectic and genuinely original soundtrack, on top of some of the most recognizable songs from 1980’s played just for keeps. At this point in his career, I don’t think it’s possible for the director to make a terrible movie. Not even if he tried. There are definitely quite a few people who aren’t going to be won over by this one, either because of its overwhelming nostalgia, strong deviations from the book, or clear messages. Though its character development leaves something to be desired, for me, Ready Player One is a really fun adventure with loving homages to its influences. It’s certainly no masterpiece, but beyond anything, it shows that the 71-year-old still knows how to craft an enthralling adventure, even if it feels like cruise-control sometimes. Doubting Steven Spielberg’s ability to entertain audiences always makes you look like an idiot, even if the results aren’t always amazing.

“Annihilation” Movie Review

I almost don’t know what to say. I just… I… Words are escaping me now. Well, I guess structural integrity is the way to go. Here goes nothing. This trippy science-fiction horror marks the second directorial effort of Alex Garland, following his massively acclaimed debut Ex Machina in 2015. Produced on a budget of around $40 million, the film has thus far earned back over $11 million following its stateside release on February 23rd, 2018. I suspect that a large portion of its profit will come from the United States, as international audiences won’t get to see it in a conventional manner. That’s something that I’ll explain more on in a little bit. Though it’s adapted from the first part in a literary trilogy, Alex Garland has said that he approached the source material as its own story, which he took from and morphed freely. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a cellular biologist hired by a mysterious program called the Southern Reach. Following her thought-to-be deceased husband Kane’s sudden reappearance, she learns of a quarantined zone called The Shimmer that has been cut off from the rest of civilization. She then agrees to go out into the Shimmer with four other female experts and hopes to find new evidence of what happened to Kane and just what the heck is going on here. I loved Ex Machina, Garland’s debut feature. In an age where we’re practically surrounded by rip-offs and reboots and sequels that decades late, the screenwriter behind 28 Days Later and Sunshine created an original breath of fresh sci-fi that leaned more on speculative ideas than spectacle. And in anticipation for his new release, I read the VanderMeer novel, and can tell you two things. First, it’s one of the weirdest and boldest stories in recent fiction. Second, the film adaptation took massive liberties with the source material yet found ways to make its ideas still profound and complex. Hands down, either Annihilation will be the best movie I’ll see this year or 2018 is going to be an incredible year for cinema. It’s sad, however, that not everyone in the world will get to experience it in a traditional sense. Apparently, an executive from Paramount Pictures demanded that changes be made both to the ending and the main character, sighting it as “too intellectual” or “too complicated” for a wide audience. In response, producer Scott Rudin, who retains rights to the final cut, took Garland’s side and refused any notes or changes. As a result, while folks in the U.S. and China will get to see it in theaters, international audiences will have a chance to watch it 17 days later… premiering on Netflix. While I’m not necessarily opposed to Netflix picking up distribution rights for a film, this decision makes me really upset. No matter how large you 4K television is and even if you can watch it on the go, nothing will compare to sitting down in a dark theater and soaking it all in. The lengthy discourse I had with a handful of strangers after it finished is proof enough. Over the last few years, Natalie Portman has consistently proven to be one of my favorite actresses working today. Her performance here is a truly versatile one, bouncing between traumatized and tough-as-nails with ease. A damaged soul, some may find her character to be unlikable, but it’s honestly refreshing to watch a sci-fi movie where the female lead isn’t just a damsel in distress or a love interest. And she’s surrounded by Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny as her teammates. You get a glimpse of each of their individual personalities and every decision they made in the Shimmer was intelligent and reasonable. Oscar Isaac also does great work as Kane, subverting the traditional idea of a traumatized soldier. He initially gives a very wooden performance, but the reasons for it become clear later on. Meanwhile, on a technical scale, this film is nothing short of astounding. The visual effects inside of The Shimmer are something to behold, rarely have on-screen visuals been so simultaneously beautiful yet also terrifying. I won’t actually describe any of them for you so that you can be as surprised as I was watching it. But Garland managed to pull off a number of creature designs from the book I thought would have been impossible to visualize. The lush green landscapes and unique animals can be noticeably CGI, but the fantastic production design and ethereal lighting make it all the more pleasant to look at. Meanwhile, the cinematography by Rob Hardy feels like something straight out of a John Carpenter film. Wonderful, steady wideshots of both the Southern Reach outpost and the landscapes inside The Shimmer feel lucid and almost dreamlike. The widescreen format and excellent lighting allows for an intense, immersive atmosphere that feels so lacking in other horror films. Composers Ban Salisbury and Geoff Barrow both provide the musical score, which perfectly fits the surreal tone of the film. In some of the more mundane scenes, it just consists of an acoustic guitar getting plucked with some accompanying percussion. But during some of the more fantastical moments, it shifts into an ambient mix of synthesizers and suppressed strings. Interestingly, this dichotomy works perfectly to explore the duality of the characters’ situation and bring out a genuine reaction from the audience. The last 15 minutes of the movie are almost dialogue-free, save for that powerful music. As a result, my jaw just dropped. However, I can appreciate that this movie is not for everyone. Like the novel, this movie is like a modern-day H.P. Lovecraft story. For those unfamiliar, H.P. Lovecraft was one of the fathers of horror fiction, creating the myth of Cthulu. In all of his stories, as well as ones that imitated them, the main theme involved ordinary characters trying (And failing) to make sense of the impossible. If you’re unable to accept that from the beginning, then you’ll just be left behind. For those with the fortitude to wait it out and really soak it all in, Annihilation is a stunning, psychedelic piece of science-fiction cinema. Whether you love it or hate it, this is a movie that is going to stick with you long after the credits start rolling. Luckily for people like me, that’s a feeling that I cherish these days with the current studio system.

My Top 10 Comic Book Superhero Movies of All Time

In recent cinematic history, there is perhaps no genre of film as popular or lucrative as the comic book superhero adaptation. Not even the Westerns of the Golden Age of Hollywood could match the critical, let alone commercial, success of the many franchises that have begun, died, grown, and been revived in the last two decades. And with Avengers: Infinity War fast approaching theaters, I felt that now was as good a time as ever to look back on my favorites of the genre. Barring anything miraculous happening, like Aquaman or Ant-Man and the Wasp blowing me away, this list of ten will not change. However, I’d like to emphasize that all of the films on this list are based on an existing source material. I LOVE Brad Bird’s The Incredibles and am completely excited for the upcoming sequel, but that’s going to have to be some other list for another day. That being said, here are a few films that just missed the cut.

Honorable Mentions:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Lego Batman Movie, Spider-Man, Thor: Ragnarok, Blade II, Batman

Setting aside all potential controversy and fanboy outrage, here we go:

#10: “Xmen: Days of Future Past” (2014)

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“Please… We need you to hope again.” It’s the conversation depicted in the image above, but it’s also the film’s plea for human kind’s optimism. Bryan Singer returns to the director’s chair to unite the cast of the franchise he started with the players of the First Class generation in an emotionally fulfilling time-travel epic about legacy and regret. The plot may borrow elements from the Terminator franchise, but it’s the rich characters and thrilling action sequences that set it apart. Unlike previous films that mainly deal with the mutant perspective on prejudice, this story shows the effects (or lack thereof) of worthless fighting and speciesism. Also, the kitchen scene with Quicksilver is nothing short of badass and one of my favorite superhero moments in general.

#9: “Wonder Woman” (2017)

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Yeah, it may have only come out last year, but the impact and importance of director Patty Jenkins’ female-led superhero film cannot be understated. In a genre and industry dominated by masculinity and “boys with their toys” mentality, both she and star Gal Gadot show us the power of women, a sentiment much needed in this age. Also needed in this age is its fierce rejection of any cynicism, looking hard and critically at the flaws of man while celebrating their most redeemable qualities. The DC Extended Universe has been fumbling as of late, but hopefully, the masterminds get the lesson from this film to work in more optimistic fields where their directors have total freedom.

#8: “Iron Man” (2008)

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Here it is, folks. The film that started it all. The movie that defied everyone’s negative expectations and started an unprecedented, impossibly successful new model for franchise filmmaking. It was only in the early 2000’s that Marvel Entertainment managed to assemble the rights to many of their major characters, and realized that they had a great opportunity on their hands. Jon Favreau’s partially-improvised Iron Man was the first one in that plan, and they couldn’t have picked a better running start. Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark/Iron Man with his sarcastic wit and beautiful ability to read lines at a fast pace. Endlessly rewatchable, especially because many of the effects are practical.

#7: “Batman Begins” (2005)

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Spoiler Alert: This may not be the last time you see a movie starring the Caped Crusader on this list. Following the atrocity of Batman & Robin, it’s truly a wonder that Christopher Nolan got to make this movie the way that he did. Not only did it revive and change the landscape of superhero movies, but cinema in general. From Christian Bale’s throat cancer-laden interpretation of the titular crime fighter to the seedy underbelly of Gotham City, this felt both realistic and right. For the first time, I actually cared about both Bruce Wayne and Batman. The 2000’s saw a lot of gritty reboots of beloved or lighthearted franchises, but Batman Begins stood head and shoulders above the rest of them.

#6: “Spider-Man 2” (2004)

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In contrast to the previous film, how about we move and look at a movie filled with innocence and earnestness? While Sam Raimi’s first foray into everyone’s Friendly Neighborhood Web-Slinger was a joyous ride, the sequel ramped up both the stakes and the emotional involvement. By wisely putting character development at the heart of the narrative rather than action spectacle, Toby Maguire is given a chance to flex his muscles as Peter Parker AND Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 also gave us a great villain in Alfred Molina’s Dr. Octopus, who borders on misunderstood tragedy. And its message couldn’t be more uplifting: There’s a hero in all of us.

#5: “Deadpool” (2016)

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Now we’ve come into the first R-rated entry in the superhero genre, and my goodness does it earn it. We all knew that Ryan Reynolds was a good choice for the titular role of the Merc with a Mouth, even if that mouth was sewn shut the first time around. But one reel of leaked test footage later, and both 20th Century Fox and Tim Miller gave us a raunchy, self-deprecating round of profane glory. Deadpool may lean heavily into dick jokes, but in a genre where most movies are seemingly following the same template over and over again, it’s both refreshing and hilarious to see some filmmakers push the boundaries with their knowledge of the source material.

#4: “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)

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I am Groot. This movie, if for nothing else, is proof positive that audiences will watch literally anything if you slap the word MARVEL in front of it. By taking a Z-list comic book team whom very few people were familiar with and turning it into an action buddy sci-fi comedy, James Gunn lifted everyone’s fears that this would be the MCU’s first big bomb. Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista basically cemented their names with this movie, full of vibrant colors and a killer soundtrack. Who knew a CGI raccoon and a talking tree would make me laugh? Guardians of the Galaxy, apparently.

#3: “Logan” (2017)

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Shh. Do you hear that? That soft, wordless sound? That’s me crying my eyes out in the theater during Logan. Less a superhero movie and more a like a sober, powerful examination of the violent legacy of an iconic character, director James Mangold foregoes the need to save the world or get the girl at the end. He presents Logan, formally Wolverine, as an old, bitter, tired mutant who’s seen enough of the world to want to drink himself to death. Both Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart are honestly Oscar-worthy in their performances as two lost souls sticking together as an obligation rather than a wish. A hard-R, intimately human portrayal of nobility in a terrible world.

#2: “The Avengers” (2012)

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Sneaking out of school to catch The Avengers on opening day is one of the most fun experiences I had at a movie theater. What Joss Whedon managed here should have, by all accounts, been a complete and utter disaster. But not only did he manage to cap off Marvel’s 5-year plan, he did it in an extremely satisfying and entertaining way. All of the characters were juggled around in relevant ways while Tom Hiddleston gives us the best Marvel villain by an ocean length with Loki. In terms of pure and unadulterated fun, The Avengers may be my favorite movie on this list. And yet, it’s still not the best…

#1: “The Dark Knight” (2008)

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Honestly, what else were you expecting to top this list? Don’t let anyone convince you that director Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is just a “comic book superhero movie.” That would a gross simplification of what actually amounts to a gritty, complex, unpredictable crime epic that deconstructs the mythology of vigilantism. Where should a hero draw a line in the sand? They either die a hero or live long enough to see themselves become a villain. Speaking of villains, Heath Ledger genuinely gives one of the best performances in cinematic history as The Joker. It’s not just because of his death everyone thinks he’s good; he’s really THAT good. The Dark Knight isn’t just the best superhero movie ever made, not just one of the greatest sequels ever made, but one of the greatest films of all time.

Well, there it is. Do you agree with my picks? What’s your favorite superhero movie of all time? Please leave your thoughts in the comments, and if you’re interested to see more content like this, be sure to like this Post and Follow my Blog.

“The Princess Bride” Movie Review

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year than by rejoicing in one of my favorite romance movies of all time? Seriously, is there any other way to go about it? For cinephiles like this one, certainly not. Rob Reiner’s fantasy rom-com initially saw a release on September 25th, 1987, where it received positive responses from audiences. However, the film was surprisingly dry at the box office, only managing to bring in about $30 million against a $16 million budget. Fortunately, thanks to the rise of the Internet and the expansion of the home media market, the film has found an enormous cult following around the world, including from this reviewer here. Adapted from the William Goldman novel of the same name, who also wrote the screenplay, the film is a rarity in the art in how much it cuts off. Goldman apparently wrote the treatment as one for his relatives and cut out various longer sequences, such as war room discussions. Frankly, that’s a miracle. The movie creatively uses a sick-in-bed preteen boy as the framing device for the entire story, which his grandfather reads in a storybook. In a fictional medieval country of Florin, a farm boy named Westley is willing to do anything to win the hand of the girl of his dreams, Buttercup. Since she’s engaged to marry the sadistic Prince Humperdinck, there’s only so much time to get her back from a forced bond. He recruits the help of various colorful characters, including Inigo Montoya and Fezzik, to go on this perilous adventure to rescue true love. I’m going to be completely honest with everyone here: there’s almost no real point in me writing a full-length review for The Princess Bride. I’m serious, it’s extremely hard, second only Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz in terms of movies that are hard to review objectively. If I were to do that, it would ultimately turn into a long-winded, misty-eyed essay rife with nostalgia on why it’s so foundational to the memories of my childhood. However, I’m under obligation from my New Year’s Resolution to actually go through with this, so why not? One thing I would like to focus on in this “review” is how the film blends a variety of genres together. A sweeping romance story? Check. Swashbuckling adventure epic? Check. Hilarious and self-referential comedy with memorable jokes? Double Check. And yet what Rob Reiner does is that he brings all of these seemingly disparate genres together so effortlessly in a way that still works out for the story. Interestingly, the end result turns out to be something of a loving satire of them all, producing possibly one of the best Frankenstein scripts ever written. And the most impressive part? The movie only runs at 98 minutes, yet everything packed into it feels so like it’s so natural or flows so well. The entire cast is perfect with their deadpan delivery of idiosyncratic lines of dialogue. Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes are especially terrific as Inigo Montoya and Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts, respectively. Patinkin shares a story of his longing for revenge early on and constantly tells how he plans to introduce himself to his future victim: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Lines like that, as well as Wallace Shawn’s delivery of “Inconceivable!” have become permanently ingrained into pop culture status. For me, though the best performer is the late wrestler Andre the Giant as the huge muscle man Fezzik. He uses surprisingly great comedic timing blended well with physical humor to great avail. Though he’s definitely not the brightest of the bunch, you can’t help but love the big guy as he tumbles through the land. On the technical side of things, Reiner does enough stuff that’s interesting to warrant your attention. The various locations in obscure parts of England and Ireland make for beautiful backdrops in the story, such as the Cliffs of Insanity or the Fire Swamp. The camerawork by Adrian Biddle is simplistic and uses many instances of sweeping pans, which is appropriate for the sweeping tale of true love. All of the gorgeous costumes and outstanding production design are brought to life in glorious colors. I shudder to imagine how much time was spent to build that many sets and seams, especially with the complete lack of CGI or even blue screen. The editing job by Robert Leighton also deserves some commentary, as it breathlessly moves between the layers of the story. It goes from the boy in his bed to the kingdom of Florin, over to the green countryside, and back to the sick boy and his grandfather. This was perhaps the most important aspect to keep the film from collapsing in on itself. Meanwhile, Mark Knopfler of the Dire Straits gives us a musical score worthy of a classical romance. The composition is actually quite simple, mostly consisting of plucked guitar strings or mushy strings. This ironically stands in direct contrast to the satirical nature of the film but works all the better for it. Knopfler also wrote an original theme song called “Storybook Love,” which plays over the ending credits. It sounds just like any love ballad you’ve heard from the 80’s but is no less appropriate for the story. It truly is a storybook romance. Timeless, warm-hearted, comforting, sweet, and endlessly appealing, The Princess Bride is a wondrous adventure that leaves the rest of the genre all behind. This really was Rob Reiner in his peak, and I’m so glad that this movie has found appreciation over the years. If you saw me quote this movie word for word, you’d more than likely be scared. If your desire is for me to keep reviewing movies, to that I say “As you wish.”

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