Category Archives: Crime

“Mute” Movie Review

Chasing your dream project for years on end can typically be a respectable endeavor. But when they result in something like this, maybe it wasn’t the best idea. This poorly conceived cyberpunk dystopian sci-fi drama was released by Netflix on February 23rd, 2018. Although its actual budget remains unknown at the moment, the film received a wave of negative reviews from critics. Written and directed by Duncan Jones, the same man behind Moon, Source Code, and (Unfortunately) Warcraft, the film is purported to be a passion project of his, with the earliest draft being written back in the 2000’s. Jones himself has described it as a spiritual sequel to Moon, and there’s even a scene with Sam Rockwell cameoing in his previous role. Set in a futuristic version of the city of Berlin, Alexander Skarsgård stars as a mute Amish bartender named Leo who struggles to stay in touch with the technological world around him. After a fateful night, his girlfriend Naadirah, who works at the same club as him, vanishes without a trace. As she is the only person who truly communicates with him, Leo follows a series of clues in Berlin that ropes him into a world of prostitutes, black market dealers, and two American army surgeons who seem to be the center of it all. To be upfront here, unlike many other critics that have reviewed this film, I have not seen any of Jones’ previous works. I do plan on watching Moon and Source Code soon, but Warcraft is one I’ve been hesitant on. Seeing all the bad press that that video game adaptation received, one would hope that he would be able to bounce back from it. And for a long while, this Netflix Original was one of my most anticipated movies of 2018. Even after reading some of the negative reviews, I figured this movie couldn’t possibly so terrible and unwatchable, right? Well… it’s pretty bad, guys. It’s also a damn tragedy for me to say this because Duncan Jones tried to get it off the ground for several years. The son of the late David Bowie (Who’s given a heartfelt tribute in the end credits) promoted it heavily on social media, sharing set photos and concept art almost daily. And that’s all great and dandy. Anyone who wants to make a lifelong passion project and share it with the world has already got my vote. Moreso than that, I always support anyone who wants to make an original science-fiction movie on a big studio budget. Netflix marketed this as their next big blockbuster, much like last year’s Bright. Also, like Bright, Mute fails at being either compelling or intriguing. Skarsgård has impressed me in past films with his performances, but something with Leo just felt off. I know it’s incredibly hard to act without any words, and he does a good job in some scenes, but most of the time he feels annoying and stupid. And that entire thread of him being an Amish man just feels tacked on. His girlfriend, Seyneb Saleh, isn’t any better and spends her spare moments whining and begging for a man. Ant-Man himself Paul Rudd is by far the best performer in the entire film as Cactus Bill, one of the American surgeons. Though his demeanor is uneven and acts like a conceded jerk, he clearly looks like he’s having the time of his life and is (mostly) able to power through the clunky dialogue. His best friend, played by Justin Theroux… is a pedophile. That’s not an exaggeration; Theroux’s character has a sexual attraction to young children in this movie. Admittedly, he does a fine job at being creepy and uncomfortable but the fact that it is played off like some sort of joke is wrong and honestly gross. As far as the technical aspects go, Mute doesn’t have too much going on that separates it from the cyberpunk noir genre. From the neon-soaked streets of night-time Berlin to the filthy interior buildings, the production designers try really hard to be like Blade Runner, a movie that will, unfortunately, get many comparisons to. The cinematography by Gary Shaw often opts for long wide shots, especially for some of the action sequences. Though it does provide a sense of character for the setting, showing as much of the world as possible without being too disorienting. Surprisingly, there’s a sparse amount of CGI used to create this futuristic setting, mostly relying on practical sets and oddball costumes to bring it to life. It definitely adds up to a grimy, lived-in feeling that it’s unfortunately unable to rise out of. Clint Mansell, one of the most versatile composers in the industry, gives us the musical score for this film. Taken as a whole, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a picture like this. The vast majority of the tracks consist heavily of synthesized beats and melodies, some of which seemingly go on indefinitely. On occasion, a new bit of percussion or strings were come in and reach for sentimentality in the story. Although that aspect failed, the soundtrack itself is actually pretty good to listen to and helps establish the somber tone of this world. But the film overall is wildly uneven in both pacing and tone. The first half is a slog to get through and even though it admittedly goes out on a high note, it would be perfectly reasonable if you turned it off by then. And the film seems unsure of whether it wants to be an all-in sci-fi extravaganza or a contemplative noir drama. Mute is a visually appealing busfire devoid of charm or pleasant characters. I could see why some people actually like Warcraft, but I have a hard time seeing anyone enjoying this Netflix Original. It makes me temper my expectations for all of their future content. And the saddest part of all is that, at the end of the day, Duncan Jones has nobody but himself to blame for this.

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My Final Oscar Predictions

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony is nigh upon us and now every cinephile around the Internet are putting in their last predictions for the winners and losers. This is the first year that I’ve done this, as previous years have had me bogged down by busy work and unavailability for some of the nominees. However, I’ve seen more of the Oscar hopefuls this year than I thought, possibly because the race has been seriously unpredictable. After last year’s unprecedented Best Picture debacle, there’s no clear frontrunner for the biggest prize. That being said I would like to throw in some of my own predictions about what will, could, and should win in each major category. I also wanted to include some films or players whom I feel were snubbed and deserved some recognition. No matter what, we’ll all have the same answers on Sunday, March 4th.

Best Picture

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Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Get Out

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Mudbound


Best Director

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Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water

Could Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Should Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049


Best Actor

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Will Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Could Win: Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: Hugh Jackman in Logan


Best Actress

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Will Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water

Should Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Carla Gugino in Gerald’s Game


Best Supporting Actor

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Will Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project

Should Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Gil Birmingham in Wind River


Best Supporting Actress

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Will Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Could Win: Allison Janney in I, Tonya

Should Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: Holly Hunter in The Big Sick


Best Original Screenplay

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Will Win: Get Out

Could Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Get Out

Should Have Been Nominated: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)


Best Adapted Screenplay

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Will Win: Call Me By Your Name

Could Win: Mudbound

Should Win: Logan

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lost City of Z


Best Animated Feature Film

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Will Win: Coco

Could Win: Coco

Should Win: ONLY Coco

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lego Batman Movie


Best Foreign Language Film

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Will Win: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

Could Win: Loveless (Russia)

Should Win: The Square (Sweden)

Should Have Been Nominated: First They Killed My Father (Cambodia)


Best Documentary- Feature

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Will Win: Last Man in Aleppo

Could Win: Strong Island

Should Win: Icarus

Should Have Been Nominated: Jane or City of Ghosts


Best Documentary- Short Subject

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Will Win: Edith & Eddie

Could Win: Traffic Stop

Should Win: Heroin(e)

Should Have Been Nominated: Long Shot


Best Live-Action Short Film

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Will Win: DeKalb Elementary 

Could Win: My Nephew Emmett

Should Win: DeKalb Elementary

Should Have Been Nominated: Auditorium 6


Best Animated Short Film

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Will Win: Lou

Could Win: Negative Space

Should Win: Revolting Rhymes

Should Have Been Nominated: In a Heartbeat


Best Original Score

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Will Win: The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Could Win: Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer

Should Win: The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Should Have Been Nominated: Good Time by Daniel Lopatin


Best Original Song

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Will Win: “Remember Me” from Coco

Could Win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name

Should Have Been Nominated: “To Be Human” from Wonder Woman


Best Visual Effects

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Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Have Been Nominated: Okja


Best Cinematography

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Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: Dunkirk

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lost City of Z


Best Costume Design

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Will Win: Phantom Thread

Could Win: Beauty and the Beast

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Should Have Been Nominated: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi


Best Makeup and Hairstyle

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Will Win: Darkest Hour

Could Win: Wonder

Should Win: Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: The Shape of Water


Best Production Design

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Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Post


Best Film Editing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Get Out


Best Sound Mixing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: John Wick Chapter 2


Best Sound Editing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: John Wick Chapter 2


How say you? What film do you believe should, could, or will win the top prize? Be sure to leave you thoughts in the Comments, and as always if you want to see more interesting content like the one on this list, be sure to like and Follow my blog.

“The Shawshank Redemption” Movie Review

If 2017 proved anything to us, it’s that people really love a good Stephen King adaptation. Now let’s travel back in time to a film that didn’t get the recognition it deserved until years later. This highly beloved prison drama from writer-director Frank Darabont was originally released on September 23rd, 1994. Despite receiving generally favorable reviews as well as 7 Academy Award nominations, the film only barely made back twice its $25 million budget. However, it became the most successful home media release of 1995 and has been re-run on cable T.V. endlessly. Legend has it that Darabont was able to purchase the rights for less than $10,000, but sat on it for nearly 5 years. The film finally came to fruition after a lengthy casting process was done, including some changes to the story that we’ll mention in a little bit. Based on the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, the 142 minute-long story follows Tim Robbins who plays Andy Dufresne, an intelligent banker who is wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover. He is sentenced to life at the Shawshank State Penitentiary, where he is subject to the brutality of both sadistic prisoners and opportunistic guards. Soon, he befriends a fellow prisoner/contraband smuggler Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman. Over the next two decades, they and a handful of others have to deal with various developments, such as the Warden’s money laundering scheme and struggle to hold onto the hope of making it to being free once more. How on Earth am I supposed to review a movie that is so obviously revered by many and has been reviewed/praised to death? Is there really anything left I can say that no one else has already added? I sincerely doubt it. Well, I’ll admit this much: in preparation for my new year’s resolution, there were two movies I had to erase from my “list of shame.” The Shawshank Redemption was one of those. And as with Terminator 2: Judgement Day last year, I feel like such an idiot for having waited so long to actually act on it. Frank Darabont may have gone on to other projects over the years- including The Green MileThe Mist, and The Walking Dead T.V. show -but this remains not only the best film of his career but one of the best ever made, period. The sad truth, however, is that this film’s beloved status came at the burgeoning as well as the growth of the Internet fanbase. More particularly, it currently stands as the highest rated film of all time on the website IMDb, followed closely only by The Godfather. But the inherent problem with that is that many people will suddenly want to play the contrarian and repeatedly call this film “overrated.” The only film that rivals it in that certain regard is Orson Welles’ feature, Citizen Kane. (Which I still haven’t seen) Don’t let any of those fools let you sway from the inevitable. While we could argue about how it ranks among the best, there’s no denying its beauty and power. Tim Robbins is excellent as Andy Dufresne, a man who is established as innocent from the get-go but still gets his life ruined. Despite the hellish nature of the prison, he’s highly resourceful and soon grows respect and admiration from his peers. A particular scene where he offers to handle a guard’s financial problems in exchange for the prisoners to get cold beer is a great example of this. Clancy Brown and Bob Gunton do great work as the pious Warden and captain of the prison guards, respectively. The two of them are incredibly unlikable, but both of these actors inject a certain humanity that makes you understand their positions, despite all of the abuse they use in their power. But the obvious scene-stealer is none other than Morgan Freeman as Red, perhaps the great prison character brought to the celluloid. Although he was originally written as a white Irishman in the novella, his race literally doesn’t matter here. Freeman’s natural, fundamentally human performances deservedly nabbed him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. It also (For better or worse) established him as the quintessential voice-over actor thanks to his brilliant and sometimes-haunted narration of the story. And although it deceptively looks like a simple picture, The Shawshank Redemption is also a great technical triumph. Ever the master of photography, this is arguably the film that launched Roger Deakins into stardom. Each shot feels meticulously crafted, helping to establish Deakins’ love of contrasting harsh, realistic lighting with beautiful shadows. It works both to capture the monotonous daily life of prison work and find the right emotion of each scene; dark shadows dominate moments of despair and sorrow while more light-hearted ones find a particular gleam of light. Meanwhile, Richard Francis-Bruce’s editing job is splendidly fluid with the natural progression of the plot. No period of time feels like it takes priority over the other, as age and time come at a steady pace throughout the story. One minute, we’re starting out in the 40’s. Next thing you know, we’re finishing off in the 1960’s just before America sends its men up to the Moon. Honestly, it’s a crime that Thomas Newman has yet to receive his Oscar for Best Original Score. Nowhere is that more especially tragic than for his score in this movie. Heavy on strings more than anything else, the soundtrack matches beautifully with each of the characters and their various arcs. The main theme features a gorgeous crescendo from an oboe into a full orchestral sound, which is paramount to establishing the tone of the film. It also works in swelling up emotions during particular sequences. This includes the final 10 minutes of the movie, which is one of the most powerful in 20th-century cinema. And yeah, from all the descriptions about prison and wrongful conviction, one might think that this film is a depressing, misery-laden wasteland of pessimism. Don’t be taken the wrong way. While it certainly doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of incarceration- including an attempted prison rape -Frank Darabont ultimately tells the story to give the audience a sense of hope and wanting of freedom. Its entire message can be summed up in the tagline: Fear can hold you prisoner, Hope can set you free. Cheesy? Possibly. But the “feel-good” elements are nuanced enough to make me overlook that. The Shawshank Redemption is an incredible, uplifting triumph of pitch-perfect filmmaking. Of all of the Stephen King adaptations to ever come out, this has got to be my favorite. And I sincerely hope that it connects with everyone just as it did me. A timeless, phenomenal masterpiece.

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“Zodiac” Movie Review

New year, new me. Well, sort of. As part of my New Year’s resolution, I’m going to review at least two “classic” movies every month. Now into February, I have to play catch-up. A moderate financial success, this historical mystery-thriller was released to critical acclaim in March of 2007. Helmed by David Fincher, the film was a collaboration between Paramount and Warner Bros., a rarity for major studios in Hollywood. Although it was originally scheduled for release in awards season of 2006, tensions over the runtime caused the film to be pushed back. Fincher had rights to the final cut, but he eventually reached an agreement with the studio to trim it down just a little bit. Beginning in 1969, a serial killer known as the Zodiac terrorizes the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s so confident in his abilities that he sends letters to the various news outlets, including The San Francisco Chronicle, taunting about his murders and even including ciphers that contain his real identity. The case becomes an obsession for four men- two Inspectors, a reporter, and a political cartoonist -who are willing to ruin their lives over the course of nearly 15 years. Most films centered on serial killers are terrifying for their brutal subject matter and disturbed antagonists. But for the majority of those pictures, we can take comfort in the idea that they’re fictional stories and relax a little bit in the escapism of it all. On the other hand, what makes Zodiac such a frightening movie, more than most films of its kind out there, is that it’s based on true events. Nearly everything shown in the narrative happened in real life, which arguably makes the concept of a serial killer even harder to comprehend. This is just one of the many things that makes Fincher’s film so damn compelling and engrossing. What this film did for me the first time I watched it, as well as on a recent rewatch, was how obsessed it made me with the case. Screenwriter James Vanderbilt does an excellent job at immersing the audience in this real-life story and its crazy developments. Like the main protagonists, we come along for the ride, aching for even the slightest ounce of new information on the subject matter. One could argue that it’s a serial killer rendition of All the President’s Men, another fantastic film focused on the frustrations of journalism and justice. When a film makes me want to research the actual case for any recent updates as soon as the credits role, that’s when you know the filmmakers have done their job well. As always is the case with David Fincher, the cast is filled with great actors who know what they’re doing. On the reporters’ end, Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal do magic as Paul Avery and Robert Graysmith, respectively. They provide a great contrast for perspectives on the case; Downey as a cynical chainsmoking journalist and Gyllenhaal as an idealistic cartoonist who tries to navigate a violent world with Boy Scout honor. Then, we have Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards as Inspectors David Toschi and William Armstrong. The world-weary duo are terrific as they become increasingly disturbed with their findings and look at as many leads as possible. In supporting roles, Brian Cox is a steadfast defense attorney whom the Zodiac contacts, Elias Koteas as a Sergeant central to the case, and John Carroll Lynch is quiet as one of the primary suspects. And since this is David Fincher, you know the technical aspects are going to be impressive. The first of his films to be shot on digital camera, the work done with the late cinematographer Harris Savides is impressive. The wide-screen format allows for the viewer to keep their eyes focused on what’s happening. Very little camera movement is done in scenes, with the occasional tilt or pan thrown in to liven things up. They also use the Thomas Viper for good measure in bringing 1970’s Los Angeles to life with a bevy of special effects. Like the opening shot, which foregoes the Golden Gate Bridge and instead digitally recreates the Los Angeles skyline that no longer exists. It still shocks me that much photography was done in front of bluescreens. Other than that, the costumes and hairstyles are all appropriate to the period as the plot proceeds across two decades. I’m telling you, Fincher’s attention to detail is so insane that only Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Peter Jackson rival him. I can understand if this movie does not appeal to everyone, though. For one, movies centered on catching a serial killer could prove too stressful for some viewers. Although, I would like to point out that, in the runtime of 2 hours and 37 minutes, the Zodiac only strikes 3 or 4 times. But for others, it could prove to be a rather anticlimactic affair. I know it’s based on true events, but in case you don’t know how the case came to an end, I won’t give anything away. I’ll just note that the film builds and builds in tension and anxiety, but not necessarily a big dramatic climax. Regardless of your feelings on that, Zodiac is a stunning piece of obsession, told with imposing artistry. I don’t feel like I could have kicked my New Year’s resolution off with a better film. I would argue that it’s David Fincher’s masterpiece, and I really hope that you can appreciate and love it as much as I do.

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“Brawl in Cell Block 99” Movie Review

Another S. Craig Zahler film has come our way. Another instance of me wincing at the horrific violence on-screen. And yet another time when I can’t look away from it and actually have fun with it. This director knows just how to mess with me. This gritty action drama thriller first premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on September 2nd, 2017. After subsequent screenings at both TIFF and Fantastic Fest, it was released in select theaters on October 6th, 2017. While actual box office numbers are uncertain, because it premiered on VOD platforms a week later, it’s believed to have sold quite well. Having previously won success with his Western horror Bone Tomahawk, writer-director Zahler apparently knew exactly the type of movie he wanted to make next. After a series of unfortunate circumstances, drug courier Bradley Thomas, played by Vince Vaughn, is sent to prison where he immediately becomes undesirable. Soon, he’s informed that he is forced to kill a fellow inmate in Cell Block 99 in order to save his pregnant wife. Just as with his debut feature Bone Tomahawk, this plot can be easily summarized in two sentences, which I love. S. Craig Zahler proves to be the rare writer-director in this day and age who truly understands the power of simplicity. And because this story is simple, he’s able to find a way to punch through and get to the entertainment value with ease. Sure, it takes a while to get to that point, but the wait is well worth it. The biggest audience that he’s going to rouse up are fans of the Grindhouse Era. For those who want to know, “Grindhouse” refers to a specific type of action movie, typically coming from the 1970’s. They were all dealing with dark, brutal subject matter in badass yet playful ways. And yet most of them were made in poor quality and covered up that fact by showing multiple releases back-to-back. In some cases, it bordered on exploitation. Zahler seems to have an affinity for these so-called “cult classics,” as Brawl in Cell Block 99 dons the coat of an intense prison drama yet revels in all the genre violence fans could want. There’s a guy whose face is de-gloved when being pushed against the concrete floor. If that sounds like too much for you, don’t bother with this one. For anyone else, you’re going to fall in love. Vince Vaughn has proven himself in both comedies and dramas, but this is easily the best work of his career. No one else could have played this stone-cold man who hides his emotions very well, but still shows us how tortured he is in moments of quiet. When asked by a counselor whether or not doing time would do him any good, he sarcastically remarks, “Prison will give me plenty of time to look at guys I don’t like.” Former Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter is also quite good as his pregnant wife Lauren. She manages to break out of the simple archetype and never loses her wits, even when the bad guys have taken her. Meanwhile, the two villains are portrayed by Udo Kier and former Miami Vice star Don Johnson, who do malevolently excellent work. Both are comfortable veterans of this genre, and just as with the Troglodytes in Bone Tomahawk, you really grow to hate them both. And for a movie homaging trash cinema from the 1970’s, there’s a surprising strength in the technical aspects. The production design lends itself well to the brutal environment of prison, which becomes more decadent as the story moves along. This along with the simplistic costumes add a lived-in feeling to the world. Cinematographer Benji Bakshi frames all of the scenes with beautiful, elongated wides capturing everything on-screen. A scene where Bradley tears his car apart with his bare hands in just a few different takes is as riveting as it is terrifying. The sound design is equally effective. Depending on what speaker you have, you’ll be able to hear every bone crunch and every punch land on the flesh. Stylistically, it’s fairly similar to John Wick. But whereas that neo-noir actioner had a lot of precise choreography, this one is really about a big dude pummeling his way through anyone standing in his way. What enhances the intensity even more is the fact that during these sequences, there is no music playing. No original score, nothing sentimental. But in other instances, the soundtrack will play off of some funky big band tune from the 70’s or 80’s. In a way, this choice further reinforced its simplistic, understated style. They were fun to listen to at the moment, but I’d be lying if I said I remember the names of the artists. As with Bone Tomahawk, the biggest issue facing this film is the pacing. It spent a surprising amount of time in the first half setting up its characters and story. That was all fine and dandy for making me care about Bradley Thomas, but with all the long takes, I feel like it went on a little too long. Some fat could have been trimmed in the editing. And there is one shot of what is clearly a mannequin standing in for a human being near the end. You could argue that it was to further homage the cheap nature of the Grindhouse Era. But to me, it just became rather glaring. Despite some uneven pacing, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is still a gritty, badass slice of pulp entertainment anchored by an incredible lead performance. 100% unapologetic for its brutality and finding veils of light beneath the dark subject matter, it’s not for the faint of heart. But for those wanting something outside the box of the industry, you’re going to have a total blast with this movie. S. Craig Zahler was already a talent to watch, but now he has my attention for any of his future projects.

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“Die Hard” Movie Review

There are two types of people in this world: Those who believe that Die Hard is a Christmas movie and those who do not. I’ll let you decipher which camp I fall under. This holiday-themed action classic was released on July 15th, 1988, and went on to earn back over 10 times its $28 million budget at the box office. A critical success, the film spawned a lucrative franchise including 4 sequels and 6 video games. Directed by John McTiernan, the same man behind the original Predator and The Hunt For Red October,  the script was shopped around to various established action stars. After they all turned it down, then-comedian Bruce Willis took it up for a surprising salary, changing the entire course of his career. Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, the superbly simple story follows an NYPD cop named John McClane who travels to Los Angeles to be with his family for Christmas. In a last-ditch attempt to save his marriage with Holly Gennaro, he goes to her company’s Christmas Eve party at the Nakatomi Plaza when, all of a sudden, a team of German terrorists led by Hans Gruber takes over the entire building. Managing to slip away, McClane must fight off the assailants to save everyone inside and also get help from the authorities. Everyone, no matter who you are or what your tastes may be, has a movie that they like to watch every holiday season. Maybe it’s something you like to sit down with your family to enjoy or perhaps a guilty pleasure that you want to hide from loved ones. It doesn’t matter as long as you have that one special picture. And while I could go on about my love for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Gremlins, nothing will beat watching Die Hard before unwrapping the presents underneath that big green tree. What makes it a Christmas movie, though? Yes, it’s not traditional in that the characters don’t scramble to get each other presents the night before it all. But, in the most unconventional yet entertaining way ever conceived, we get to witness the true spirit of Christmas come into play with the plot. To me, it evokes the importance of being together with the ones you love even in the most bizarre and incomprehensible situation possible. Does it shake things up with bullets and guns? Yep. And glass. Lots and lots of glass. There are only a handful of actors who were born to play certain roles; Bruce Willis as John McClane is among those titans. Despite his badass nature, he gives the character shades of relatability with a sarcastic wit and a genuine desire to reunite with his family. Opposite him is the late Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, who subverts the typical action movie bad guy who’s simply villainous for its own sake. His sarcasm and intelligence bounce off of that of Willis perfectly, making for one of the truly great cinematic duos of hero and villain. But that’s not to discredit everyone else by their side, who make do great in what have since become genre archetypes. Cops trying to figure out what’s going on from the outside? We have The Breakfast Club‘s Paul Gleason and Reginald VelJohnson as the Deputy Chief and a bumbling-yet-lovable Sargeant, respectively. How about the menacing right-hand man of our main antagonist? Alexander Godunov covers that basis as Karl. Hell, do we want a snobby reporter making things worse just to have headlines? William Atherton basically reprises Walter Peck from Ghostbusters. As far as technicality goes, the team behind the scenes lend some extra helping hands. Jan de Bont’s fluid camerawork is an antithesis to the shaky, cut-to-shit style of most genre movies in recent years. We see everything that is necessary to know in a scene at any given time. And his use of lighting is damn-near haunting, especially in the second half when the hay really hits the fan. But the real miracle workers here are both John F. Link Frank J. Urioste with their immaculate editing. The precise cuts and movements between smart angles keep the story advancing constantly for the 131-minute runtime. The way it cuts back between the intense shootouts indoors with the red tape-laden politics of the law enforcement outside increases the stakes without ever losing what makes it personal. There are copious amounts of blood, and the two of them never shy away from it or any of its R-rating. And because of these characters and scenarios, screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza have crafted an absolutely iconic action movie template. If it were to come out today, critics and audiences would label it as unoriginal and watered down. That should give some great context to its impact. Many action movies afterward (Including some of its sequels) mimicked its style. Olympus Has Fallen? Die Hard in the White House. Air Force One? Die Hard on a plane. Escape from New York? Die Hard in a dystopian city. (Okay that one’s pushing it, but you get the point) But unlike almost all of those imitators, there’s almost nothing trite or dumb about this movie. The script is tightly focused on one location, the characters are always given something to do, and there are virtually no gaps in logic. In other words, this movie is pretty much perfect. Following an unpredictable screenplay with fully realized characters and boasting a decades-defining premise, Die Hard is a true genre original with plenty of holiday cheer. It has since become one of my premier traditions this time of year and perhaps my favorite. Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie of all time and no one can change that. Yippee-ki-yay to one and all, and to all a good night.

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“Bright” Movie Review

I have come up with the best summary imaginable for this movie: Imagine if the son of Bad Boys became best friends with Harry Potter, spent an entire afternoon vaping some Old Toby in a bong, and then proceeded to binge-play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim before finishing up the night by writing some Warhammer fanfiction. That is probably the best (And most accurate) idea of how this movie came to be. This fantasy action crime thriller from director David Ayer was released on Netflix on December 22nd, 2017. Although the streaming service never reveals their viewership figures, it’s estimated to have been produced for a whopping $90 million. In fact, the media giant purchased the spec script from Max Landis for $3.5 million alone, on top of its big-ticket cast. Having gained traction at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International, this is officially Netflix’ first original blockbuster film. And they’ve even greenlit a sequel already. Starring Will Smith, the story is set in an alternate present-day where humans and various mythical creatures have lived side-by-side forever. Daryl Ward, a tough-as-nails LAPD cop, is partnered up with Nick Jakoby, the world’s first-ever Orc police officer. Though they share social tensions, they must learn to put aside their differences to solve a crime involving a powerful Wand, a lot of corrupt parties, and potentially the end of the world at the hands of some renegade Elves. If you’ve been following my Blog for the past few months, you already know that Netflix has been steam-rolling a seemingly endless supply of original content. Some were smaller indies picked up at film festivals, others were produced by the company from the very beginning. And of the ones I’ve seen this year, I was perhaps most excited to see Bright. Not just because of its great cast of actors but also because I’m a gigantic fan of fantasy stories and was interested to see if Netflix could actually do a blockbuster. So you can conjure up the feeling of disappointment that I was left with after the credits rolled. Sadly, Bright represents two sides of the exact same coin. On the one hand, it’s an answer to the masses begging Hollywood to give more original screenplays a chance to have large budgets and total artistic freedom. But then on the flipside, it also represents the inherent problems which come when a director and writer have virtually no leash holding them back. Netflix can literally do whatever it wants right now. Letting their filmmakers have unprecedented control isn’t a problem for them, but the results are rather dull and, for the most part, uninteresting. It isn’t without compelling lore, but it appears that David Ayer loves bullets more than magic. Will Smith is Will Smith in this movie and there’s no changing that formula. He’s snarky, likable, and never ceases give street-wise commentary on the situation. His Orc partner, meanwhile, is far more noteworthy thanks to Joel Edgerton. Beneath the gruff voice and chipped-off teeth, we see a person who’s caught between two worlds as the LAPD’s “diversity hire.” The supporting cast is filled out with the likes of Edgar Ramirez and Happy Anderson as a secretive Elf and human both working for the FBI; Ike Barinholtz as a quirky corrupt human cop; Brad William Henke as the feisty leader of an underground Orc gang; and Noomi Rapace as the antagonistic dark elf stalking our protagonists. Meanwhile, Lucy Fry isn’t given much to say but less to do as the fearful Elf who sets the whole plot in motion. As a piece of technicality, there are a number of hands who try their best to make it worthwhile. Chief among them is the makeup and hairstyle crew, who go to some lengths exploring this oddball world. Although the designs for the individual species are what you would expect out of a typical film of this genre, for an urban fantasy set in LA, it was pretty nice. The Elves are lush and elegant while the Orcs and Faeries are ugly and unappealing to most people. Edgerton himself was unrecognizable as Jakoby with a skin color that rashed between green and yellow. And while the editing could have definitely used more fine tuning in the action scenes, the color palettes of the various races were interesting. Light blue teal for the Elves, murky grey for the humans and a mixture of everything for everyone else. The soundtrack is composed by David Sardy. While it consists of the big, sweeping orchestras typical for a fantasy epic, it’s entirely forgettable. Instead, the main draw of the soundtrack are the many different tunes from hip-hop or pop artists. This gave it a feeling of reality and placed the audience on the rough streets of LA. There are also heavy rock songs that apparently Orcs love to listen to. In a comical scene, Jakoby turns a death metal song on the radio and refers to it as “one of the greatest love songs ever written.” It was a clever moment that actually produced a good chuckle out of me. But aside from that, most of the worldbuilding consists of boilerplate “Chosen One” prophecies with verbal exposition out the wazoo. Despite the runtime of 117 minutes, Landis really tries to punch in a ton of material, like he’s practically begging to make sequels, prequels, and spinoffs. There’s a great opening title sequence that informs us of the world’s story simply through street graffiti. After that, much of the story, as well as the hamfisted social commentary, is given to us via conversations and monologues. I get where Landis and Ayer were going with the idea of racial discrimination with the placement of Orcs in place of minorities, but it was so obvious. Though it boasts some decent visuals and an interesting setting, Bright traps a fascinating world inside of a generic story. I’m interested to see where they go with a potential sequel on the future, but for now, I wouldn’t really recommend this. Easily the most disappointing film of the year, I hope Netflix takes cues from this reception. Probably not.

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