Category Archives: Epic

“The Lion King” Movie Review

Okay, yes, I am writing a review for this movie because of the impending “live-action” remake next month. However, it also turns out that this movie is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. This beloved animated musical was originally released in theaters on June 15th, 1994, to overwhelming success. In its initial run, it managed to gross over $766 million at the worldwide box office, making it the most successful film of that year. It was later re-released in 3D in 2011, which brought its total intake to around $968 million. In addition, it remains the best-selling film of all time on home video and the highest-grossing film made from traditional animation. Co-directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, the story was first conceived in 1988 while Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy E. Disney were in Europe promoting Oliver and Company. With no less than 17 people credited for the story, original director and producer George Scribner and Thomas Schumacher left the project after constantly clashing visions with Disney. Their departure led to the story being greatly rewritten and reimagined as a musical. Although William Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a big inspiration for the story, it’s also worth noting that this was the first animated film under the Mouse House to be an entirely original property with no pre-existing source material. The classic story follows a young lion named Simba, voiced by Matthew Broderick, who’s destined to rule as King of the Pride Lands in Africa. After his father Mufasa is murdered by Simba’s paternal uncle Scar, he is manipulated and shamed into thinking that the death was his fault and runs away. Years later, Simba is all grownup, living with meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa, voiced by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, and is completely divorced from any sort of responsibility. But when he gets word of the horrible conditions under Scar’s tyranny, he must rise up to the challenge and reclaim his rightful place as King. This is a film that has been ingratiated into the minds of so many childhoods over the last two-and-a-half decades. If you grew up in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s, there is virtually no way that this movie wasn’t involved in your life. It’s very hard for me to remember a time in my early childhood when it wasn’t around; it just seemed like the movie was always being played in the house. All of that nostalgia initially had me a little hesitant to review the movie now as a fully grown adult. I was worried that it would cloud my judgement on seeing the film purely for its own merits; or worse, that it wouldn’t hold up as well as I remember it. And yet, even without any childhood bias, I can still confidently say that The Lion King is still the peak of the so-called Disney Renaissance. For those who don’t know, the Disney Renaissance was a period of time in which Walt Disney Animation Studios churned out one high-quality movie after another. Other films released during this time included Aladdin, Tarzan, Mulan, and The Little Mermaid, all of which allowed the studio to further establish its worldwide brand. And even since its conclusion, fans such as myself have constantly debated over which one was the best of the all. For me, as you may or not have figured out, it’s no competition; this film contains everything those other films had and more. Memorable musical numbers, awesome characters, fantastic animation, a great sense of humor and heart. If there’s a certain criteria you have for a capital “G” Great animated feature, The Lion King probably has all of it. Matthew Broderick may be best known for Ferris Bueller in the titular movie, but there’s a lot to like about him as Simba. While probably not the most nuanced or complex protagonist in the studio’s arsenal, his struggle to step up and take on a tremendous task is something nearly all viewers can relate to. Also, James Earl Jones is fantastic as Mufasa, Simba’s wise and stern father. A completely different father figure from his turn as Darth Vader, his deep voice resonates with audiences of any age with many sage monologues filled with wisdom. Jeremy Irons also impresses as the voice of Scar, hands down one of the best animated villains ever, Disney or otherwise. His regal voice is one that is built for chewing the scenery and the way his character’s movements are animated makes it seem like he’s acting it out in the recording booth. And of course, we have Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa, Simba’s laidback mentors. The comedic timing and slight immaturity in their voices sounds completely naturalistic in their hands, and their timeless number, “Hakuna Matata,” is one for the ages. Moira Kelly, Robert Guillaume, Madge Sinclair, Whoopi Goldberg, and Rowan Atkinson all provide their voices for various supporting roles. It’s quite hard to point out a real weak link in the cast here, as they all contribute something memorable. It’ll be interesting how the new version changes these characters, if at all. And as with most other films of its period, The Lion King still stands as a technical marvel in the genre. Like some of its peers, there are a handful of shots that seem to blend traditional animation with then-burgeoning CGI. And despite being released in 1994, this mixture is not obvious; quite the opposite. It makes for some truly cinematic shots in iconic scenes, such as the heart-stopping stampede scene relatively early on in the film. And even when it’s just purely traditional animation, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The use of colors like orange, yellow, and red is ingenious in creating the atmosphere for the Pride Lands. It helps to deepen the character of the setting and define the characters’ personalities. Every time I watch it, the visuals always pop out, right from the opening shot of the sunrise on the horizon. Hans Zimmer won an Oscar for a reason because his original score here is a true classic of cinema. The soundtrack is just as epic and exciting as the story, utilizing a wide range of instruments and vocals for different tracks. Whether it’s an exciting bit where characters are being chased by the hyenas or a moment where Simba realizes his destiny, Zimmer knows what to do. It goes from being filled with rapid percussion and strings to haunting vocals in an instant and somehow still feels organic. In addition, musician Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice composed several original songs together, many of which have earned a spot in the annals of Disney history. Whether it’s the attention-grabbing, nostalgia-inducing opening number “The Circle of Life” or the Oscar-winning ballad “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?,” those two really know how to play it right. But who are we kidding? The best one is obviously the villain song, “Be Prepared,” in which Scar lavishly talks about his planned coup for the throne. There’s honestly WAY more that I could say about this film. About how it essentially defined a whole generation, how nearly every family had it playing in the house at some point growing up, and son on and so forth. But I have a feeling that everyone reading this already knows that and so, I’m gonna leave it off here. The Lion King remains the undisputed chief of traditional animation and the king of Disney proper. Even with a lean runtime of 88 minutes, there’s so much packed into this film that’s literally impossible to not fall in love with every viewing. I have limited expectations for Jon Favreau’s reimagining next month, but we’ll always have the original. If you ask me, this film was, is, and probably always will be the absolute pinnacle of animated cinema.

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“Lagaan” Movie Review

Although I’ve reviewed a handful of foreign-language films before, it occurs to me that I’ve never reviewed a Bollywood movie. So what better way to resolve that checkbox than making it a part of my New Year’s resolution? This epic musical sports drama was originally released in theaters around the world on June 15th, 2001. However, per a promise, the producers arranged to have it premiere first in the ancient village of Bhuj where it was shot. Although it was produced on the then-unprecedented budget 250 million rupees, (Roughly $5.32 million in U.S. dollars) it managed to gross over 3 times that amount. It went on to become one of the highest-grossing films in the country at the time, and scored massive critical acclaim across the world. It also managed to become the third Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, the film was partially inspired by the 157 film Naya Daur starring Dilip Kumar. The filmmaker had an extremely difficult time finding funding for the project, so much so that the main star started his own production company just to get it off the ground. While Gowariker and Sanjay Daima came up with the overall story and English dialogue, the dialogues in Hindi and its various dialects were handled by K.P. Saxena. With a grueling schedule that included a year of pre-planning and 6 months of filming, the cast and crew have continually stated that it was one of the most physically challenging films they’ve ever done. Set in the small Indian town of Champaner in 1893, Aamir Khan stars as Bhuvan, a young man devoted to helping his poor village thrive. With the local British cantonment putting their boot further under the neck of the Raj, the cruel leader Captain Andrew Russell, played by Paul Blackthorne, orders the citizens to pay double the tax. However, he makes a deal with Bhuvan to cancel all taxes for the next 3 years if they win a game of cricket against him and his British soldiers. Bhuvan takes up the challenge and with help from Russell’s sister Elizabeth, played by Rachel Shelley, brings along 10 other men to learn the game within the course of 3 months. For years, I had heard raves about the Bollywood film industry, but never had the chance to watch one of its offspring. It wasn’t until a few years ago during a class that I finally managed to watch one; it was this movie. Since then, I’ve watched a handful of others in the genre, albeit more modern ones such as Queen and Dangal. But after discovering that this film, along with other films by Aamir Khan, were available in their entirety on Netflix, I decided to give it another go. Would it hold up on second viewing? And thankfully, as has been the pattern with my New Year’s resolution, Lagaan is still a wonderful movie and actually improves the second time. Don’t let the intimidating runtime of 3 hours and 43 minutes steer you away, though. This is rather typical of big Indian movies, often setting their stories against a massively epic canvas. I actually argue that this is one of the best primers for getting into Tollywood or Bollywood films, as it has all of the essential ingredients the genre has to offer. It really is a huge, old-school crowd-pleaser and it’s honestly refreshing that it does not care what its audience thinks of it. In that, some people might be quick to dismiss Lagaan (or Once Upon a Time in India in some territories) as being too predictable and easy-going, and they would be partially right. And yet, the film has such a strong and engrossing way of immersing you into its world that it’s almost impossible to escape from its orbit. Aamir Khan is one of India’s biggest movie stars (If not their biggest) for good reason; he’s perfect in the lead role. As Bhuvan, he exudes empathy and concern for the people in his village, recognizing both the oppression dealt out by the British regime and their own personal tensions. Opposite him, Gracy Singh is a true talent as Gauri, his longtime love. Not as thankless a role as it may sound, her singing and dancing skills are incredible, especially when she sings a melody about her seemingly unrequited love for the hero. Paul Blackthorne is also delightfully villainous as Captain Russell, without a doubt the main antagonist of the picture. Arrogant and stubborn to a fault, he has no problem making the villagers’ lives a living hell- or for that matter, infuriating his superior officers. The rest of the cast is rounded out by an impressive ensemble of actors with varying roles. There’s Rachel Kelley as Russell’s kindhearted and unassuming sister, Kulbhushan Kharbanda as the seemingly powerless Raja of the region, Yashpal Sharma as a woodcutter jealous of Bhuvan’s heroism, and Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Vivek, Akhilendra Mishra, Pradeep Rawat, and Aditya Lakhia as some of Bhuvan’s cricket teammates. While these men have many differences and doubts, (Lakhia plays an “untouchable”) the chemistry the hold is key to making the audience care about them. On the technical side of things, Lagaan has so many techniques worthy of the best epics in cinema. Anil Mehta’s sweeping cinematography is a thing to behold, capturing everyone and everything in every frame with perfection. The sweeping shots and predominant colors of yellow and brown help craft a look of a piece of history long forgotten. During musical numbers, like many Hollywood and Bollywood classics, the camera often moves flawlessly between different characters during the song. Meanwhile, Ballu Saluja’s editing job is able to keep the momentum consistently going for the mammoth runtime. His graceful scene transitions and patient cuts make sure nothing is too rushed or drawn-out. The climactic yet somewhat unorthodox showdown between the soldiers and the villagers is cut together in such an elegant and captivating manner that it’s hard to lose attention. And not to mention, his editing manages to do something remarkable: It made me sweat my palms during a cricket match, something that has never happened before. That, alone, is a noteworthy accomplishment. A.R. Rahman, one of the industry’s most celebrated composers, provides the instrumental film score here, which in my opinion is one of the most underrated ones in cinema. For all of the flare, there’s actually only two instrumental tracks on the soundtracks, but they both leave a huge impression. Crescendos aplenty can be heard in percussion and horns especially, and span various different musical styles. There are also six original songs that are a joy to listen to, with extravagant choreography and lyrics by Javed Akhtar. My personal favorite is actually the very first one, “Ghanan Ghanan,” performed by all of the villagers. Concerning their plight of a serious drought, it’s quite hard to get the central melody out of your head. It manages to perfectly illustrate what the movie is all about: unwavering optimism in the face of great trial and adversity. With an incredible soundtrack, characters worth rooting for, and palpable stakes in the rather simple plot, Lagaan is a sweeping musical triumph of epic proportions. Not only is it arguably the most accessible Bollywood movie for Western audiences, but it’s also officially my favorite sports movie of all time. The wonderful costumes, fantastic musical numbers, solid cast, and impeccable finale really help to put it over the top. Please do yourself a favor and seek this gem out on Netflix. And while you’re at it, go ahead and watch any other Bollywood movies in its catalogue.

“Game of Thrones” Series Finale Review

All good things must eventually come to an end, whether the corporate overlords like it or not. So if you haven’t yet figured it out from the title, this post is going to be filled to the brim with spoilers for the 73rd and final episode for Game of Thrones. If you are not yet caught up on the show, (Or simply don’t care) do NOT read this any further. Seriously, just stop where you are. Now I won’t hesitate to admit that I came relatively late to the hit HBO show. I had definitely heard about it beforehand, including some major events like the infamous Red Wedding, but I didn’t full jump onboard until about mid-2014. First, I made it a goal to read the existing books in A Song of Ice and Fire, then played catchup with the show itself. And first things first: for the most part, I’m okay with the changes that have been made to the onscreen adaptation. While I think some fans are justified in their frustration with the abbreviation of some storylines, (I really wish they had done Euron Greyjoy faithfully) ultimately the books are the books and the show is the show. And there are some plot points in these last few seasons that I could definitely see happening in The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. Now onto “The Iron Throne,” the last episode of Game of Thrones proper that we’ll ever get. While I could talk about the eighth season as a whole, particularly waxing lyrical about the sheer magnitude of the Battle of Winterfell in “The Long Night,” this last episode is all I really have time to discuss. First and foremost, I was surprised by how quiet the episode itself actually was. I had expected something of a calm after the destruction of King’s Landing, but the overall lack of dialogue made a certain impact as the surviving characters wandered the ruins. Which reminds me, say what you want about these last 6 episodes, the production value and filmmaking techniques have been so amazing. Whether it’s Ramin Djawadi’s immaculate score or the incredible production design, the below-the-line crew almost never missed a beat. The shot of Daenerys walking down the steps of the Red Keep as Drogon spread his wings was especially beautiful and symbolic. And when she throws Tyrion Lannister in the dungeons, he urges Jon to see what the Mother of Dragons has become and to do something about it. Now for the past three weeks, my friends and I have debated whether it would ultimately be Arya Stark or Jon Snow to deliver the final blow to Dany. Turns out, it was the former; Jon stabbed his love/aunt in the heart with a dagger, both swimming in tears. What really got me emotional in this scene was Drogon’s shrieks; they legitimately hurt and felt like they were in grieving for a mother. Then came something I wasn’t expecting: Drogon not only spares Jon’s life, but he completely melts down the Iron Throne in flames. If Dany couldn’t be able to sit on it, then nobody else could. Now that she was gone, who would rule the Seven Kingdoms? Should they even have a ruler? Well, as Tyrion points out to the remaining lords and ladies of the land, no one is qualified for the job other than Bran Stark. Because he’s essentially the living embodiment of Westeros’ memories, his stories of the past and present may give a good precedent for the future; and who better to serve as his Hand than Tyrion himself? But before any of it becomes set in stone, Sansa Stark asks for the North to become independent once more, thus making her brother Ruler of the Six Kingdoms for the first time in history. And with the brand new Small Council assembled, newly appointed Grandmaester Samwell Tarly presents A Song of Ice and Fire, a text documenting the events of the series in its entirety. Sidenote: I think it’s kind of hilarious that the maesters managed to finish writing A Song of Ice and Fire before George R.R. Martin managed to. We also get to see Sansa being crowned as Queen of the North, with the Lords and Ladies giving her a similar appraisal as they did Jon Snow. The biggest part of the finale I wasn’t too sure of was Arya’s resolution. She decided to give up her lands and titles to go exploring whatever’s west of Westeros, accompanied by a small crew and loads of maps. I don’t know why, but that felt the most abrupt of all the storyline conclusions here. And ultimately, the show ends in the same place where it begins: beyond the Wall. Since they can neither execute him nor let him go for killing Dany, Jon is sent to the Night’s Watch for the rest of his days. After an awesome reunion with Ghost, he, Tormund, and the last of the Wildlings leave for the woods beyond the Wall, presumably to settle back in after all of the commotions the last couple of seasons. And that’s it. 9 years, 8 seasons, 73 episodes, hundreds of hours, all come to a close here in “The Iron Throne.” From what I’ve read, I think one of the biggest reasons why fans are upset about it is because this is ultimately all we get. The HBO bosses have already confirmed that sequel shows are off the table, and I doubt the upcoming prequel show with Naomi Watts will really fill some holes that fans perceive. Personally, I do think that this season was rushed and could have benefited from having a couple more episodes to really wrap some things up. Weiss and Benioff claim to have known the ending for about 5 years now, so they at least seem to know what they’re doing. But I’m sorry, that petition to remake Season 8 is one of the stupidest fan campaigns I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some really dumb ones in my time. If you genuinely don’t like the last season, that’s perfectly understandable and I get a lot of the hate, but in what realm of reality are fans entitled to dictate how a story should be told? To quote Martin himself, “Art is not a democracy,” so if you don’t like that Azzhor Ahai or Bran warging into Drogon didn’t pan out how you wanted, that’s your own problem to deal with. I don’t run this show and neither do you. And to be honest with you, I was mostly satisfied with where everything and everyone turned out in this last episode. There were a handful of outcomes that I didn’t quite see coming, the biggest of which for me was when Drogon utterly melted the Iron Throne. My favorite development, though, is undoubtedly when Brienne of Tarth became the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. She has completely and 100% earned it after everything she’s gone through, I’m so proud of her. And if we’re being honest, the overall outcome doesn’t sound too far-fetched from what has been intended by the author. I am genuinely curious to see how different the ending is when and/or IF The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring come out. Regardless of what you thought of this last episode or season, there’s no denying the fundamental impact that Game of Thrones has had on the television landscape. And I think it’ll be a very long time before any show reaches the scope and scale of this magnitude ever again. To quote one of my favorite characters in the show: Valar Morghulis.

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“Avengers: Endgame” Movie Review

**While this review will be completely spoiler-free, I’m going to be under the assumption that everyone reading it has already seen Infinity War. Proceed at your own discretion.**

And to think, 11 years ago, this entire saga started in a cave, with a box of scraps. It’s truly jaw-dropping to see how far it’s come since then. But I’m extremely glad to have seen it all the way through. This epic superhero film was released in theaters around the world on April 26th, 2019, a week ahead of its previously scheduled release date. Within its first couple of weeks, it has already grossed over $2.189 billion at the global box office, and is very likely to make it as the highest grossing movie of all time. It’s broken a handful of box office records and is sure on its way to shatter some more in the coming weeks. Numerous movie ticket websites such as Fandango and Atom Tickets consistently struggled to keep their servers operating, and ended up selling the most amount of pre-release tickets for a film within a few hours. Once again directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the film was shot back-to-back with its predecessor Infinity War. This marks the 22nd overall installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and has been promised to be even more of a culmination than its predecessors. While most all of the MCU films have maintained a certain level of secrecy about the plot, the producers and marketing team for this one went extremely far out of their way to ensure nothing got out. This included filming fake scenes that were purely used for trailers, a practice which some took issue with. According to numerous sources, only one member of the principal cast was given the entire screenplay to read. Picking up 23 days after the end of Infinity War, the remaining heroes of the Avengers are still reeling from the destructive victory of Thanos. Soon, they realize that they might have a legitimate chance to undo the damage done by his snap, which ended half of all life across the known universe. So they set out on a quest to recover the Infinity Stones to hopefully bring their loved ones back. And… that’s it. That’s quite literally all I can get into here without spoiling anything else about the plot. The Russo Brothers actually sent out a joint letter on Instagram asking fans to ruin anything for the people who haven’t seen the movie and out of respect for them, I won’t say another word about the actual plot. Obviously, like so many other fans and cinephiles, I was wondering how Marvel and the Russos could possibly follow up Infinity War, a film I found highly entertaining despite feeling a little unsatisfying. This would arguably become an even bigger culmination than that film, the sum of 22 films over the past 11 years. No other film in history has had such a Herculean task to achieve, let alone take on. Would it reach the stars or crumble in our hands? The simple answer is yes, yes it can; Avengers: Endgame exceeds all expectations one could possibly hold for it. The best way I can describe it is that this feels like the series finale for a T.V. show that I’ve been watching for the last decade. It has a certain sense of finality that most superhero films don’t have, really bringing a lot of character arcs to a strong thematic close. If I were given the job of writing the screenplay, I couldn’t possibly have done a better job at wrapping it all up. Of course, Disney and Marvel still have numerous projects coming down the pipe in the coming years. But as the wrap-up to 11 years worth of stories and characters, Endgame couldn’t have been more fulfilling and awesome. The Marvel mountain will never peak this high ever again. Quite literally everyone who’s ever been in an MCU film to date appears in this movie one way or another. All of them have grown immensely comfortable in their roles to the point where it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing them. Of particular note are the Original Six Avengers- Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner. All of them have gone through incredible journeys since the first installment and getting to see them all reunited is so emotional. The end credits even include the actors’ signatures next to their names. Downey Jr. and Evans are especially amazing as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America, respectively. As the defacto leaders of the team, both feel a deep shame from having failed the people they love and struggle to reconcile with the new world. And despite the faith-shattering fallout the two of them had in Civil War, they realize that their mission goes beyond any hard feelings they harbor for one another. Also noteworthy is Karen Gillan as Thanos’ cyborg daughter Nebula. In the previous films, she had never really impressed me or stood out as a character very much. But here, she’s given a full, interesting arc where we get to witness her reckon with past misdeeds and how to try and redeem herself. And at this point, there’s no real need to espouse how Avengers: Endgame is because all parties involved know exactly what they’re doing. Whether it’s lighting, sound design, art direction, or costumes, quite literally everything here works. The visual effects especially, as it took nearly 10 different companies- from Industrial Lights & Magic to Framestore -to bring the complex visuals to life. They’ve already accomplished making a fully CG character like Thanos look photorealistic, but adding more to that and keeping all of the realistic detail is unparalleled. It also has some of the best editing in the franchise done by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt. When the mission becomes split up, we are able to cut between multiple scenes of the heroes working on their parts. This keeps the pacing aloft without having to getting muddled by exposition or constant action scenes. But when there are action scenes, they are so beautifully crafted and fluid that you can tell everything that’s happening. Without any. Rapid. Cuts. Once again reprising duties from Infinity War, Alan Silvestri provides perhaps one of the best superhero scores of the last to decades. By calling back to various themes and motifs from throughout the MCU, it feels like it’s really bringing everything full circle. The use of massive choirs, brass, and strings for new tracks is enough to induce goosebumps in any viewer. Of particular mention is the track titled “Portals,” which blends the classic Avengers theme song from the first movie with an exciting intro and outro. I’ve given the MCU heat for not having lots of memorable music, but this soundtrack truly feels like a fitting culmination to everything that’s come before in this franchise. In all seriousness, there is so much more I could write about this movie, that I WANT to write about this movie. But for now, this spoiler-free take is all that’s going to out right now. I’ll wait a little bit longer to write a spoilery review with my thoughts on various scenes or things that happened. Somehow bringing together 11 years and 22 movies worth of stories and making it all meaningful, Avengers: Endgame is an emotionally resonant journey, and one of the most satisfying feature films I have ever seen. This was the epic payoff to an unprecedented cinematic gamble that will rarely, if ever, find its equal. The Russo Brothers truly did the impossible and brought Stan Lee’s unbridled vision to life on the big screen. My only wish is that he had stayed alive long enough for it to come before his eyes like the rest of us. If this truly the endgame for most of this universe, than I am so happy to have taken this road, even through the bumpier installments. I love it, 3000.

“Boogie Nights” Movie Review

If the porn industry was anything like what this movie depicted, I can’t even imagine how much more chaotic Hollywood proper must have been at the time. This ensemble drama initially premiered at the 1997 Toronto International Film Festival, where it tied with L.A. Confidential for the Metro Media Award. It was later released in two theaters by New Line Cinema on October 10th, 1997, and gradually expanded in the ensuing weeks. It managed to gross around $43.1 million against a $15 million budget, with nearly half of that coming from foreign markets. It also received some of the best reviews from that year and earned several awards and nominations, including three Academy Award nominations. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film was inspired by a mockumentary short he made in high school called The Dirk Diggler Story. Several of the director’s first choices for roles had to turn it down for various reasons, and blindly cast for others. He also frequently butted heads with producer Michael De Luca during post-production, specifically over the epic runtime and original desire for an NC-17 rating. And according to most parties, the director got into nasty clashes with one of its stars throughout filming, and they were caught in the middle. Set in Los Angeles in 1977, Mark Wahlberg stars as Eddie Adams, a young high school dropout working as a nightclub dishwasher. one night, he meets legendary pornographic filmmaker Jack Horner, played by Burt Reynolds, and successfully auditions for one of his new projects. Over the next few years, we witness his meteoric rise as a star in the industry, as well as the lives of other production crew members during the so-called “Golden Age” of Porn. Paul Thomas Anderson is obviously a beloved auteur of cinema, with many films on his resume that cinephiles everywhere dissect each day. Whether it’s a sprawling epic like Magnolia or a lofty drama like Phantom Thread, his unique style is always present. There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love remain my favorites of his, but I can still appreciate how cinephiles may adore his other works more. For whatever reason, his first three films have managed to consistently avoid my grasp for quite some time. His sophomore effort, in particular, constantly came and left Netflix or Amazon Prime before I could decide to watch it. Well, I finally sat down and watched it last year, and have seen it again in the context of my New Year’s Cinematic Resolution. And I gotta say, Boogie Nights may just be the director’s most accessible film to date- which, admittedly, isn’t saying very much. But let’s make something abundantly clear right now: This film is not really just about porn. While there is considerable nudity, sex, and ungodly amounts of cocaine on-screen, PTA couldn’t be less interested in this sort of exploitation. He seems far more intent on exploring both the art form of something like this industry, the effects fame has on the characters, and their sexuality. At 2 hours and 35 minutes, Anderson doesn’t waste a whole lot of time on fat, developing each individual character and seamlessly weaving them into the overall narrative. And as the film starts diving into the 1980s, it manages to move into some seriously dark territory with surprising ease. Think if Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese did a collaboration together, and that’s about what Boogie Nights looks like. Prior to this film, Mark Wahlberg was the frontman for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, but his role as Eddie/Dirk rightly established him as a bankable star. This might be my favorite performance of his, as he convincingly gives off the impression of a pathetic man desperate to find something big to latch onto. Julianne Moore is also noteworthy as Amber Waves, one of Dirk’s most frequent porn co-stars. While she is beautiful, behind all the makeup is a woman with so much of her personal life in shambles. The film also features a very impressive and sprawling ensemble cast, most of whom integrate into the narrative well. These include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Luiz Guzman, Thomas Jane, Philip Baker Hall, and John C. Reilly. However, none of them quite live up to the late great Burt Reynolds’ supporting performance as Jack Horner. Although he and Anderson consistently clashed on set, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the part. Despite the exploitative nature of the industry he works in, he takes his craft very seriously and does his best to treat his cast and crew as equals. In fact, at one point he refuses to start shooting on video tape by proclaiming, “I’m a filmmaker. And that’s why I will NEVER make a film on tape.” Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Boogie Nights show that Anderson has no problem flaunting his influences while still trying to make it his own. This was the second of numerous collaborations the director had with cinematographer Robert Elswit and it was a great step forward for both of their careers. The camera is almost always roving around each scene, trying to capture as much action as possible. It makes use of a number of big zooms and whip pans to draw attention from one part of the ensemble to the next. The most impressive bout was a 3 minute-long shot following a character inside a chaotic New Year’s Eve party. It should also be noted that the editing by Dylan Tichenor, who also collaborated with Anderson on later projects, is very riveting and just as fast as the cinematography. It often blends new shots in with movements like the aforementioned whip pan, among others. There are a handful of montages that fuse together different parts of the narrative, such as Dirk Diggler’s meteoric rise to porn stardom. It also cuts between different scenes to help build tension, especially one sequence in the third act when petty much all of the characters are in a rut. There is a brief musical score here provided by Michael Penn, whose career afterward has been hit or miss. There’s really only one big memorable track, a four-and-a-half minute piece that has all the whimsy of a circus show and melancholy of a tragedy. With its contrasting strings and whistles, that arguably sums up the movie’s tone pretty effectively. The actual soundtrack itself is composed of various disco and rock songs from the 1970s, curated mostly by the director himself. They’re all extremely appropriate in finding the carefree feel and the excess of the era. Boogie Nights is a uniquely entertaining and frank look at the world of exploitation. Despite its somewhat touchy subject matter, I still profess that this is one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most accessible films to date. This can also serve as a good template for how to make an ensemble picture right, a feat which seems really hard to pull off.

“Monty Python’s Life of Brian” Movie Review

Not going to lie, after watching this movie, I’m genuinely considering changing my name to Biggus Dickus just for laughs. This historical comedy film was originally released in U.S. theaters on August 17th, 1979, followed by a U.K release 3 months later. While it grossed over 5 times its $4 million budget and became one of the year’s highest grossing films, its religious themes courted massive controversy in major countries and was banned for years in places like Ireland and Norway. It also led to a highly anticipated and publicized T.V. interview between two of the stars, conservative radio host Malcolm Muggeridge, and Mervyn Stockwood the Bishop of Southwark. Despite all of this, it generally received positive reviews from most publications, and has been retroactively named one of the funniest films ever made. Directed by Terry Jones, this marks the third feature-length effort of the Monty Python comedy group, after The Holy Grail. Days before production was originally supposed to begin, the studio EMI Films backed out due to being scared by the controversial script. Eventually former Beatles member George Harrison created his own production company, HandMade Films, and funded the project in its entirety. Set in Roman-occupied Judea during biblical times, Graham Chapman stars as Brian Cohen, a young Jewish man born on the same day and vicinity as Jesus Christ. Through a series of ridiculous circumstances, including getting involved with Pontius Pilate, he becomes mistaken for a prophet by the locals. Without much choice at all and little clue for how to advance, he takes on the persona of a reluctant Messiah for wary travelers and a radical anti-Roman political organization. I’ve been a really huge fan of the Monty Python troupe for quite some time now. To this day, 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail still remains my favorite comedy film of all time, and one I quote on a daily basis. I also think that their sketch comedy show, The Flying Circus, is a template for all sketchy comedy today, even if some of their humor hasn’t aged all that well. But for some reason, I had not yet seen their follow-up feature or their later effort, the sketch film The Meaning of Life. And since it was finally made available on Netflix the past few months, I figured this would be as good a time as any to review it and include it as part of my New Year’s resolution. In the end, I ultimately prefer Holy Grail to this film, but I still recognize that Monty Python’s Life of Brian is just as hilarious and witty as I would expect from these comedians. I will say that I think this film is ultimately more focused and brainier than I normally find the troupe to be. Holy Grail was a lot broader with different areas or themes to explore such as politics, death, and what actually qualifies as bravery, but more often than not felt like a series of sewn-together sketches that were too high-budgeted for the show. Life of Brian on the other hand, tries to take on a more coherent look at religious attitudes from different groups (Rather than organized religion itself) as well as the hypocrisy of left-wing organizations in Europe during the 1970’s. That being said, there is still some humor that just doesn’t hold up very well by today’s standards. The very first scene in the entire film involves brief but wholly unnecessary blackface for one of the actors. Not only that, but there are a handful of somewhat transphobic gags throughout the film, some definitely more noticeable than others. But if you’re able to get past that, (And again, most of it is pretty brief) the second half of this movie is pure gold. The 6 members of the Monty Python troupe all return here, each playing various characters from scene to scene. Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and Eric Idle all inhabit each character they play with surprising ease and versatility. Chapman is mostly resigned to playing Brian, and he’s a far cry from his role as King Arthur. Easily confused and hopelessly romantic, he wants nothing to do with any of his followers and brilliantly stumbles from one place to the next. Pailn and Cleese also regularly impress with the amount they do. For Cleese, his turn as the leader of a fractious anti-Roman group who talks more than he acts has incredible deadpan delivery and timing in every written line. Palin also deserves attention for his turn as the Roman politician Pontius Pilate, whose unexpected speech impediment and higher-pitched voice makes for one truly side-splitting scene when he berates a group of centurions. Meanwhile, with a higher budget than they’ve previously worked with, the technical aspects of Monty Python’s Life of Brian manage to impress regularly. The second feature-length film shot by Peter Biziou, there are many grand, sweeping shots meant to imitate biblical epics of previous decades. The frequent use of zooms and pans also help to reveal ridiculous little details in numerous scenes, such as various anachronisms. Everything is well-lit so that the reactions of various actors to certain situations can be captured- and more often than not, they’re resisting the urge to burst out laughing. It matches up well with the editing by Julian Doyle, who would go on to collaborate extensively with Terry Gilliam. For most of the scenes, there are few cuts, drawing out the irony and sarcasm of their absolutely savage lines. This is particularly great considering a number of scenes were cut at nearly the last minute. And like much of the troupe’s work, there are a couple of animated sequences edited in here and there, allowing even more absurd humor to come in. In his first (And most notable) film credit, Geoffrey Burgon composes and conducts the instrumental film score. Many of the tracks consist of sweeping strings and brass, befitting of a Charlton Heston epic from the Golden Age of Hollywood. But as usual, the soundtrack’s biggest draw are a handful of silly songs written and performed by the core 6 comedians themselves. This includes a fantastic opening song that parodies James Bond songs with glorious vocals and orchestration. The most popular one, though, is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” performed by Eric Idle at the end. It’s simple in composition and rather uplifting in tone; no wonder it’s the most requested funeral song in Britain. Like most of the troupe’s work, this might just be too silly for some viewers out there to enjoy. I know a handful of people who don’t like Holy Grail or The Flying Circus at all because they’re so weird and unusual. I do think they’ll have a better chance of getting into this film because it is ultimately more focused. As long as they can move passed some of the outdated gags. Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a scathingly funny satire of biblical proportions. Although Holy Grail is still my favorite that they’ve created, there’s little denying the Monty Python’s accomplishment here. And despite its controversy, it proves to be supremely hilarious and insightful into religious attitudes. Any film that can manage to get banned from Ireland AND Norway is automatically worth turning heads.

“Throne of Blood” Movie Review

Aaanndd, we’re back with my New Year’s Resolution, ladies and gentlemen. Same rules from last year apply here, (Check out my Letterboxd account if you want more details) and I decided to start with something really daring. This black-and-white samurai drama was originally released in Japan on January 15th, 1957, and was a major commercial success for Toho Studios. It didn’t arrive in the United States until November of 1961, where it enjoyed similar acclaim to the filmmaker’s other works. It later found even more success when, in 2014, the Criterion Collection added it to their library and made a brand new restoration on home video. Co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, the film is a very loose adaptation of the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, one of several the Japanese auteur made in his lifetime. He waited a few years to go forward with it until after Orson Welles made his own cinematic interpretation of The Bard’s story, and was only initially attached as a producer. There was something of a hurdle when the crew attempted to build the castle set on the slope of Mount Fuji and had to enlist troops at a nearby Marine Corps base to help build it from the ground up. Set in feudal Japan, the film follows a samurai warrior and commander named Taketoki Washizu, played by Toshirō Mifune. He and his close friend Miki Yoshiteru, played by Akira Kobo, encounter a spirit in a thick forest who prophesizes their respective futures and rewards. When the first part comes true, Washizu’s scheming wife Lady Asaji, played by Isuzu Yamada, urges him to murder their liege lord and take his place. The two subsequently become gradually insane and drunk with power as the consequences for their actions begin unraveling. Confession time: This is the first feature-length Akira Kurosawa film that I’ve both watched and finished all the way through! As a devoted cinephile, I understand that saying this is a downright travesty; to some, it might even be treasonous. But for whatever reason, for the longest time, I was unable to get my hands on any of his films, especially his supposed masterpiece Seven Samurai. But I was finally able to get the Criterion DVD for this particular film over the holiday season, and thought it would make a great addition to my 2019 New Year’s resolution. I have read that Throne of Blood is not as impressive as the director’s other works. But in my opinion, this is one of the best adaptations of Shakespeare’s work that I have seen in cinematic form yet. Like Kenneth Branagh, Kurosawa has a deep understanding of the story that many other directors seem to miss. By taking the barebones story of a traitorous and power-hungry noble and applying it to the world of Medieval Japan, Macbeth no longer becomes beholden to the barrier of language. What makes Throne of Blood so fascinating to watch is that it ultimately doesn’t need the extravagant poetry and monologues that Shakespeare puts in his works to get to the point or themes of the story. We still have staples such as the sorcerer, Lady Macbeth, et. al., but the new setting makes it feel so unique and memorable. In one of just 16 feature films films they worked on together, Toshirō Mifune is incredible as Washizu. It’s so easy to see why the director constantly wanted to work with him, as he full commits to playing a man slowly losing his grip on reality. This performance is especially impressive during his scenes in the last act of the movie, when his sanity just completely collapses. Opposite him is Isuzu Yamada as his wife Asaji, who’s arguably even more ruthless and cunning than he is. Her small and seemingly quiet demeanor are a perfect cover for a cutthroat and callous woman who simply wants as much power in the land as possible, no matter who suffers. Also, Akira Kobo does great work as Washizu’s former friend turned-enemy Miki, who apparently is inspired by Banquo. While he initially does have decent intentions, as soon as its clear he’s a threat to his old comrade, all bets are off. As far as technical aspects go, Throne of Blood sees Kurosawa taking full command of his voice and surroundings once more. It sees him working with many of his regular collaborators, including Asakazu Nakai for the cinematography. There are many static wide shots and sweeping landscapes used in the film, which creates an incredible use of negative space. Kurosawa also edited the film himself, provide a healthy amount of variety for shots in scenes. For example, a sudden zoom-in or a character in a room will suddenly be intercut with close-ups and the like. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Yoshirô Muraki’s incredible production and costume design. It’s so amazing that the Castle of Spider’s Web was made from scratch as it looks so authentic and real. Not to mention that numerous extras were used to film large battle scenes and, of course, the fog. It adds such a brilliant atmosphere to the film as a whole, and frequently is used to throw audiences off from reality. Masaru Satô composed and conducted the instrumental film score, and it’s highly dynamic and unconventional. Rather than give a straightforward melody to serve as the backbone for the whole soundtrack, Satô uses sparse tracks in an attempt to capture what’s going on inside Washizu’s headspace. With the possible exception of the opening title track, nearly every single piece is cacophonous and chaotic. There’s a consistent percussive sound beating around violently, as well as high notes from wooden flutes to create something truly baffling but memorable. I think if for nothing else, this film would be a great introduction into classic Japanese cinema for more mainstream audiences. Yes, it’s black-and-white and subtitled, (With two different versions on the Criterion DVD) something that can turn some people off. But it’s surprisingly accessible in its narrative and style. Not to mention, it has one of the most jaw-dropping final scenes I’ve watched in quite some time. Throne of Blood is an extremely thematic and riveting tale of power and tragedy. Not only does it so expertly adapt one of Shakespeare’s mot revered plays while retaining its spirit, but it’s arguably the perfect launching pint for my exploration of Akira Kurosawa. I’m mighty hungry to see his other adaptations of The Bard, and the rest of his filmography in general.

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“Mary Queen of Scots” Movie Review

I mean, I guess. There were a ton of other routes they could have taken with this story, but this one seemed like it was already on autopilot. This historical drama initially premiered as the closing night selection for the 2018 AFI Fest in mid-November of 2018. It was then released in U.S. theaters by Focus Features on December 7th, 2018, and has struggled to gross much more than $7.2 million at the box office against a budget of $25 million. It has also received mixed critical reviews along with numerous critiques for its apparent historical inaccuracies. The film marks the feature directorial debut of Josie Rourke, a highly prolific stage director with an extensive background in British theatre. Written by Beau Willimon, creator and longtime showrunner of the Netflix drama House of Cards, the film is loosely based on the book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy. It had originally been in production with Scarlett Johannson attached to star as far back as 2007 but soon languished in development hell. It then achingly started gearing up for commencement once more over the last, very slow 6 years. Set in Scotland circa 1569, Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular Mary Stuart, a young woman claiming to have legitimacy not only to the Scottish throne but to the whole of the United Kingdom. She challenges her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England, played by Margot Robbie, a virgin who cannot have any children or heirs. However, their mutual steadfast refusal to marry politically or heed word from their male-dominated councils puts them into a tricky position for their respective peoples, who begin to see both Queens as unfit to rule. This is a film that feels like something right out of Miramax’s awards season playbook from the late 1990s. Take from that what you will, but to me, large budget costume dramas like these haven’t had a major hit in a long time. I can’t really say that I’m a fan of House of Cards, but I do love the two main actresses and will seek out whatever they’re in. And this is a sect of history that I’m really not that familiar with, so I was curious to see what this sort of conflict would look like for these people. Unfortunately, Mary Queen of Scots succumbs to many of the same problems historical movies have always had. When it comes down to it, this is ultimately a case of a great burgeoning director fighting against a weak screenplay. Based on the few episodes I’ve seen from House of Cards, I can tell that Beau Willimon is definitely interested in politics and their machinations. But, also like that Netflix show, it seems like he doesn’t have a clear understanding of how politics works, no matter what era. To him, it’s just a bunch of cruel and selfish people destroying anyone in their way in their quest to the top of the throne room; the lack of any further nuance or insight makes this angle and the characters one-dimensional and uninteresting. This stands in contrast to Josie Rourke’s direction, which highlights an excellent knack for staging. She does her best working with the material she’s given, and it makes me interested in what she does for the future. But there are some things in it that she simply doesn’t seem equipped to overcome, as there are a number of instances that stretch both its historical accuracy and believability. For what it’s worth, though, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie do good work in their respective roles. Although it feels cliché and unbelievable to position Mary as an underdog, Ronan is uncompromising and fierce as the Scottish Queen. Robbie also manages to be strong-willed and determined, despite her sad circumstances with no hope of reprieve. Interestingly, there’s only one scene in the entire film where they share the screen together, but their chemistry in that one moment was dynamite and empathetic. In comparison to these two, most of the other actors fall short. Gemma Chan and Guy Pearce look a tad uncomfortable in their roles as two of Elizabeth’s advisors, while Jack Lowden and James McArdle portray Mary’s second husband and traitorous brother, respectively. They all remain confined to their archetypal roles, and in a few instances change their attitudes or traits in such a fast and unbelievable manner. The only other player here who leaves something of an impression is former Doctor Who David Tennant as John Knox, a thick-bearded Protestant cleric. Proclaiming that a woman sitting on the throne is an affront to God’s will, he is frequently seen delivering fiery sermons to the Scottish people in an effort to turn them against their Queen. He acts and speaks like a 16th Century version of Fred Phelps, which in some instances pulled me out of the movie, and in others kept me engaged. The technical aspects of Mary Queen of Scots, are very inconsistent, being great in parts but never as a whole. Ridley Scott’s frequent cinematographer John Mathieson captures both kingdoms in gloomy, washed out colors primarily. While the beautiful Scottish countryside is used for great background, both it and the almost-solely castle-set England feel a little too monochromatic. Thankfully, the controlled and focused movements and angles capture good lighting throughout the councils’ various quarrels. Chris Dickens edits the film in an intriguing way, albeit one that’s occasionally choppy or unbalanced. During verbal arguments, it frequently intercuts with other scenes to add more momentum to whatever is going on on-screen. The film runs at 2 hours and 5 minutes, but it often feels like it was originally a 3 hour-long epic cut down for commercial purposes. The best aspects of the film are undoubtedly Alexandra Byrnes’ elegant costumes, Jenny Shircore’s wide-ranging makeup and hairstyling, and James Merifield’s excellent production design. Without these 3 elements, late Medieval Great Britain would have felt far more staid and lifeless. The highly prolific and talented composer Max Richter provides the instrumental film score. In some ways, it feels similar to much of his regular work, and in other instances, it doesn’t. With his traditional backing of string instruments, there are a handful of melancholy tracks for some of the characters and their fates. There are also some rather rousing and exciting tracks using booming percussion instruments and occasionally something like subtle flutes and oboes. I can’t say that I’d necessarily pick it up on Apple Music, but it definitely fit for the context of the film. Neither remarkably awful nor astoundingly great, Mary Queen of Scots is a deeply conflicted portrait of two strong women wrestling with royalty and privilege. Again, Josie Rourke shows some considerable talent behind the camera and the two leading ladies are quite appealing in their roles. The bummer is that the supporting cast and script surrounding them just don’t really ever measure up to them.

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Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2019

Welcome to to the year 2019, readers! Every year brings a new crop of movies that get my blood pumping for one reason or another. This year is no different, as there are a number of high-profile (And smaller indie) releases that have been holding my attention for months on end now. As per usual, there are so many coming out within the next 12 months that it was kind of hard to narrow down into a ranked list. I could only include 10 on this list, though, so here are several honorable mentions that are also on my watchlist for the year.

Honorable Mentions:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Shazam!, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, It Chapter Two, Artemis Fowl, The Kid Who Would Be King, Missing Link, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Captive State, Aladdin, The Lion King, Alita: Battle Angel, High Life, Velvet Buzzsaw

Let’s see what’s coming out, now.

#10: “The Irishman” (TBA 2019)

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If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that Netflix really wants to be taken seriously in the filmmaking industry. While there are still several directors and producers who are cynical about the streaming service’s merits, they have managed to attract numerous high-profile auteurs due to their emphasis on creative and artistic freedom. One of those auteurs is Martin Scorsese, whose long-gestating project The Irishman was finally given the green light once it got to Netflix. While it technically doesn’t have an official release date yet, most sources seem to indicate that it’s going to be released sometime in 2019. And with the recent theatrical success of Roma, I can easily see this as a window for them to open more of their films in theaters. If for nothing else, I just want to see Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci (In his first role in nearly a decade) work together on-screen.

#9: “Joker” (Opens October 4th)

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I can’t quite explain why, but Todd Phillips’ Joker movie has my interest piqued more than any other comic book adaptation coming out next year. Obviously, I’m looking forward to Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and Shazam!, but this just seems really different from those other films in so many aspects. Based on many accounts I’ve read, Warner Bros. is gunning for a more character-driven, smaller-scale film. Rumor has it that they’ll let get an R-rating, and may even put it into a fall festival next year! Joaquin Phoenix seems like a natural fit for the titular part, reportedly having been terrified by the script he read. And if the set videos prove anything, it’s definitely going to be fast-paced.

#8: “Glass” (Opens January 18th)

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19 years it’s been since Unbreakable first came onto the scene as a brand new superhero movie, but the world was sadly not ready. Now, with a surprise twist at the end of Split, M. Night Shyamalan is officially bringing the story to a conclusion, albeit in a drastically different world than the one it was when it began. Superheroes have absolutely flooded the market in the last 10 years, and it’s both great that Glass is coming out at the genre’s peak, and sad that it took this long. Regardless, it looks like a really cool and intense showdown between the three super-powered beings we’ve come to know, all while wearing its love of comic books proudly on its sleeves. And its use of color looks genius.

#7: “Midsommar” (Opens August 9th)

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It’s honestly kind of problematic for me to say that I’m “excited” for a new movie by the same guy who made Hereditary. I honestly couldn’t blame anyone who still hasn’t recovered from that feverish nightmare, but writer-director Ari Aster already has another film coming down the pipe. This time, it involves a violent pagan cult in Amsterdam. Described as an “apocalyptic breakup movie,” A24 has reportedly constructed a 15-building village to bring his twisted vision to life, so it’s definitely worth keeping tabs on for the end of the summer.

#6: “John Wick 3: Parabellum” (Opens May 17th)

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The set photo above is easily enough to have me already pumped to the max about the supposed trilogy capper for Lionsgate’s surprise action franchise. I’ve absolutely loved these movies not just for their incredibly well-choreographed and shot action scenes but also for the unique world that has been built. John Wick 3: Parabellum seemingly promises to further blossom that world as we getting to see not only more assassins, but also introduces a society of NINJAS. Need I say more?

#5: “Us” (Opens March 15th)

It’s safe to say that after the phenomenal success of Get Out, including an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay, Jordan Peele knows exactly what he wants to do and how to do it. He’s lined up quite a few projects as a producer with power that it’s somewhat easy to forget he’s stepping behind the camera once more next year for a new horror movie. The trailer for Us looks incredibly enticing, as it sees him tackling more high-concept material with a larger budget this time around, along with some impressive casting choices. I’m curious to see what sociopolitical topic Peele will be satirizing this time, but based on the imagery shown thus far, he’s cooked up yet another original triumph.

#4: “Ad Astra” (Opens May 24th)

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Having seen We Own the Night, The Immigrant, and The Lost City of Z, I’m now convinced that James Gray is one of the most underrated filmmakers working in America. He has a certain classical touch that seems to permeate across multiple genres. I’m incredibly curious to see what he has cooked up for Ad Astra, an original sci-fi epic apparently inspired by the novel Heart of Darkness. It centers on a slightly autistic Army engineer who goes on a space voyage to find his father, who was last heard heading for Neptune about 25 years earlier. Not only does boast stars like Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, but also Christopher Nolan’s recent muse Hoyte Van Hoytema is handling the cinematography.

#3: “Knives Out” (Opens November 27th)

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With nary a poster, trailer, first-look image, or even proper synopsis in sight, it says a lot that I’m putting Knives Out this high on the list. It has been described by several sources as writer-director Rian Johnson’s modern-day take on a classic Agatha Christie whodunit murder mystery. It’s far too rare that we can get a movie as simple as that these days. Not to mention, it has a stacked cast including Daniel Craig, Lakeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, and even Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s really intriguing to see what Johnson has in store for a smaller-scale story like this after helming a huge blockbuster like The Last Jedi. Speaking of which…

#2: “Star Wars Episode IX” (Opens December 20th)

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It feels super lazy for me to include a Star Wars movie on a list like this, but I just can’t help it. As per usual, any and all details of what might be going on in this sequel trilogy capper are being kept under lock and key. We do know that newcomers include Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell have joined the cast, Billy Dee Williams is reprising his role as Lando Calrissian, and the plot will take place one year after The Last Jedi, perhaps one of the most divisive films of the decade. What makes it all the more enticing is that it is planned to be the final installment of the Skywalker Saga, which has spanned decades now. Of course, Disney has more Star Wars material planned to come down the pipe, but to see the story finally reaching a real conclusion is kind of like taking one last trip to your old hometown before saying goodbye.

#1: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Opens July 26th)

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You’re going to have to work extremely hard to make me not feel excited for a new movie written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. While he has gone through some pretty rough patches recently- severing ties with Harvey Weinstein, the Roman Polanski audio, Uma Thurman’s revelatory Kill Bill story -the auteur still has plans and has no intention of slowing them down. His 9th feature film- and supposedly his penultimate one, if what he says is true -legitimately sounds like a passion project he’s been working towards his whole career. It’s going to be set in Hollywood 1969 as a Western T.V. actor and his longtime stunt double struggle to make it in a changing film landscape, and also happens to involve the infamous Manson Murders. Featuring an absolutely sprawling ensemble cast packed with movie stars and said to be close in style to Pulp Fiction, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood sounds like an epic in the making.

Do you agree with my picks? What are your most anticipated films coming out later this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comment section, and as always, if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Following my Blog for similar content. Happy New Year, everybody!

“Outlaw King” Movie Review

I have some bad news for anyone who wants to watch this movie because they heard Chris Pine shows his full-frontal genitalia; it’s a very quick shot, practically blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. Most people will stay for the movie itself. This epic historical action drama premiered as the opening night feature for the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. After a mixed-to negative reception from critics and industry insiders, two weeks later the director announced he was shaving nearly 23 minutes off the picture. It was then released in a condensed format in select theaters and on the streaming service Netflix on November 9th, 2018, finished on a budget of $120 million. Directed and co-written by David Mackenzie, who also helmed the 2016 neo-Western Hell of High Water, the film was a passion project of his that took over five years to develop. Initially undertaken with extensive research and a couple of playwrights by his side, the completed screenplay was credited to as many as five different writers. He was apparently dismayed by the reaction at TIFF, but felt relieved when the distributor gave him a chance to fix his errors. Set in Scotland in 1304, Chris Pine stars as Robert the Bruce, a well-regarded man with a legitimate claim to his country’s throne. Following the near-crushing defeat of their Rebellion a few years prior led by William Wallace, the remaining Scottish nobility reluctantly swear fealty to King Edward I of England, played by Stephen Dillane, in order to keep their lands intact. Civil unrest and terrible circumstances force Robert to be crowned King of Scotland, triggering an all-out guerilla war against the much larger English army. I absolutely adored Mackenzie’s previous directorial effort, Hell or High Water, released back in 2016. Although I haven’t yet seen any of his other works, that one was such a smart, understated, and beautifully simple character piece with incredible performances out its three main leads. Hearing the director was developing a Medieval epic with one of those leads returning (Pine) for Netflix was enticing, especially after hearing about its emphasis on historical accuracy. Because while I really love Braveheart, it’s really hard for me to overlook the laughable inaccuracies shown throughout. And honestly, even after all of the critical hullabaloo that this film has been through, I found Outlaw King to be a surprisingly entertaining and engaging film. Now, I’m not saying that it’s an amazing movie by any means. While I’ve heard that the cut on Netflix is a major improvement over its TIFF screening, the pacing felt a bit uneven. Even though its runtime now only clocks in right at 2 hours and 1 minute, it feels like it drags in some of the more dramatic moments, as it’s clearly meant to be more of an action-oriented film. Plus, it still feels as though most of the supporting characters from either side of the conflict weren’t fleshed out enough to bring the stakes up higher. Chris Pine does a surprisingly good job as Robert the Bruce, a proud man left with an intensely unhappy country to tend to. His Scottish accent was a bit dodgy at first, but it seemed like he got more into it as it went along. Despite the brutal violence he and his followers commit, he still shows a tenderness towards his people and his family. Game of Thrones alum Stephen Dillane plays King Edward I, and he seems quite comfortable in the role. Channeling bits of Stannis Baratheon, he does a great job internalizing his frustration with trying to control Scotland consistently and is unafraid to kill hundreds to get to Robert. Despite this, he’s not completely heartless and would much rather negotiate peace, telling Robert early on, “You had the courage to stand up to me, and the wisdom to step down.” And while other actors do great such as Aaron Johnson as the unpredictable Black Douglas, Billy Howle as the deranged Prince of Wales, Tony Curran as a feisty loyalist to Robert, and more, the only one who really leaves an impression is Florence Pugh as Elizabeth de Burgh, the Bruce’s English wife. Her journey from meek observer to staunch supporting of Scottish independence is a tad jarring at first, but she never loses sight of her strength and compassion. She does her best making decisions based on SHE wants- not her powerful parents, not her outlaw husband, no one. I’m genuinely eager to see her in more films, and her slate this upcoming year will hopefully satisfy that palette. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Outlaw King make it pretty clear where that massive budget went to. Shot by Barry Ackroyd, a regular Ken Loach and Paul Greengrass collaborator, he surprisingly restrains his documentarian, cinéma vérité style in favor of something more controlled. The film opens with a stunning, 8 minute-long take that follows the Scottish nobility at their surrender to King Edward I with amazing fluidity. Even during the impressively staged action scenes, the camera remains steady and focused on its subjects. There are also, of course, obligatory swooping shots, which reveal the gorgeous landscape of Scotland. It goes nicely with the editing by Jake Roberts, who cuts each scene together without losing sight of what’s important. It doesn’t particularly feel choppy, despite the near-last-minute trimming of the film, and allows the audience to see the action, especially the glorious, muddy final battle, in full form. Bringing home the historical accuracy is the fantastic sets and the costume designs by Jane Petrie. With rough chainmail, dirty armor patches, and nary a kilt or drop of blue face paint in sight, it feels incredibly lived-in and realistic. The musical score is composed by Tony Doogan and Lucie Treacher, and it’s more or less what I expected to hear. There are a number of tracks filled with sorrowful strings and ghostly hymnal choirs, almost prophesizing the death toll this war will take on Scotland. While it’s great to listen to, it’s not very memorable. There is an original song called “Land O the Leal” by Grey Dogs that plays over the end credits. Featuring the fair voice of Kathryn Joseph, it’s a melancholy piano ballad lamenting on the bloodied homeland of Robert the Bruce. It’s a nice song, but hardly one worth listening to more than a few times. Well-meaning but often misguided in its vision, Outlaw King is a flawed epic celebrating both spectacle and a truly noble man. Maybe I’m a bit fickle and old, but I’d be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t entertained throughout this movie. David Mackenzie gets to show off his Scottish pride with great commitment while Chris Pine plays a classical Medieval hero and Florence Pugh emerges as a talent to watch. Hopefully, it will find a new appreciation and audience, in spite of what happened behind the scenes.