Category Archives: Favorite

“The Defenders” T.V. Show Review

Talk about a one-off show that tries its most damn to be the best it can be. Some things worked and others didn’t. Let’s divulge it all. This highly anticipated crossover superhero T.V. show premiered all of its 8 episodes on Netflix on August 18th, 2017, receiving high viewership figures from the streaming services subscribers. But it was also followed by a historical drop in people watching it week-by-week. A culmination of the previous Marvel/Netflix collaborations, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, it’s believed that there won’t be a second season for it at least for a long time. And after watching the series, I can understand why. Following the events of each series, our titular protagonists are brought together by the secret organization known as The Hand. While dealing with their enigmatic leader, played by Sigourney Weaver, they must also investigate what their plan is for New York City. With the help of Stick and handful of side characters from the other shows, they must unite to stop evil from destroying their home. Daredevil season one, back in 2015, was, in my opinion, the best live-action superhero show ever made. And although I didn’t love season two as much, I still really enjoyed it for how it introduced The Punisher. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were equally amazing, giving us some relevant drama with intriguing action. And for those of you who hadn’t been Following my blog earlier this year, Iron Fist is one of the most disappointing T.V. shows I’ve ever seen in my life. A bland protagonist, underwhelming action sequences, a horribly unfocused story that went on for far too long, redeemed somewhat by good side characters. And after that trainwreck, I was actually really nervous about The Defenders series and if it would deliver. None of the advertisements really grabbed me like previous shows did and not enough compelling information was released in order for me to truly get invested in it. But alas, I’m a sucker for tempered expectations. Make no mistake, I have some legitimate issues with this series, but for the most part, it stuck the landing. Getting it out of the way, all four of the titular heroes work well together. I like how each one had their own motivation for joining the war on The Hand. Daredevil wants to quit his life of crime-fighting but feels compelled to help his old mentor. Luke Cage has an obligation to the people on the streets as their protector. Iron Fist believes it to be his destiny to take down The Hand. Jessica Jones only comes along because she’s on a case. Charlie Cox, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, and Kristen Ritter share convincing chemistry in their scenes together, especially the dramatic ones. Danny Rand still comes off as an annoying, whiny punk, but he’s given more to like about and is far less insufferable than he was before. Meanwhile, the inimitable Sigourney Weaver shines as the main antagonist of the series Alexandra. A mysterious, wealthy woman, she isn’t just some mean bitch or wants to destroy New York because she’s evil. She has a motivation, and you can see how desperate she is to keep her organization alive in the modern era. Her counterparts in the Hand are pretty uninteresting overall, but they were serviceable to keep the plot running. Action sequences have been a mixed bag for the Marvel/Netflix shows. Whereas Daredevil was lean and gritty, Luke Cage and Iron Fist were underwhelming. But for the most part, they keep it fair and balanced here, with the third and fifth episodes having great setpieces involving all four heroes. But it does fall into the trap of dark corridors with hyperactive editing to conceal obvious stunt doubles. That doesn’t happen often, though. Through the nice camerawork and some rousing music from John Paesano, we are thrown in and made to care for the people present. As far as the story goes, The Defenders is pretty inconsistent. It has the cliche of immediately trading off action sequences for extended scenes of exposition and backstory. Most of it is delivered through the character of Stick, played masterfully by Scott Glenn. As much of a badass as he is, I think he may have oversold the magnitude of their war against the Hand. Because in the last two episodes, when their true plan is revealed, it seems almost inconsequential to the rest of New York City. It felt as though the writers had bigger plans, but they had to find a way to condense it into 8 episodes in order to satisfy Marvel. Another thing of note: I understand that you want to bring over supporting players from the previous shows to have a big crossover effect. But that doesn’t change the fact that some of them were just flat-out useless here. Maybe they’re setting up for character arcs in later seasons of their respective shows, but for now, it felt distracting. Far from any television masterpiece but still entertaining enough to get you through to the end, The Defenders is a mostly satisfying blend of superheroes grounded in the urban streets. It still feels like a prelude to a bigger story, as each episode implies a bigger picture of what’s going on. But for now, it’s a bit of intriguing and fun entertainment. I cannot wait for The Punisher coming this Fall.

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“Terminator 2: Judgement Day” Movie Review

According to the mythology of this movie, Judgement Day happened on August 29th, 1997. That happened exactly 20 years ago. And if you are reading this, that can only mean one thing: we have survived James Cameron’s prediction and can most certainly survive whatever happens with Donald Trump and North Korea. This science-fiction actioner was released in July of 1991 earned back over 5 times its $102 million budget. With the success of the first Terminator film, Cameron was able to produce a film and a world that he wanted to explore more of. It’s completely apparent because this film is ultimately bigger and more ambitious and more complicated than its predecessor. Approximately 10 years after the original concluded, a new Terminator, the T-1000, has been sent back to the past to kill a teenage John Connor in Los Angeles. However, in the future, the resistance has reprogrammed the T-800, the villainous robot from the last movie, and sent him this time to protect Connor from all danger. As the cat-and-mouse chase ensues, they uncover more about the bleak, impending future and comes to many realizations. I have a confession to make before going any further in this review: I had never seen Terminator 2: Judgement Day until earlier this year, around the end of May. Of all the films on my list of shame (Which also includes The Shawshank Redemption, Seven Samurai, Drive, and The Godfather Part II) I was most hungry to see this particular film. For one reason: One of my best friends consistently called it the greatest action movie ever made. And now, after purchasing the Blu-Ray and sitting down on my couch to watch it… I understand why. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reprise their roles as the T-800 and Sarah Connor, respectively. Schwarzenegger is given so much more to say and do this time around due to being a good guy, though most of his “dialogue” is reserved for either technical exposition or cheesy one-liners like “Hasta la vista, baby.” His deadpan delivery is an embodiment of everything that the body-builder turned-actor could do when given the right material. Hamilton is a little nuts in this follow-up. She has transitioned from a timid, plucky waitress to a badass warrior ready for the impending doom of man. But thankfully, it’s completely convincing, giving us arguably Cameron’s best character aside Ellen Ripley in Aliens. Edward Furlong plays a teenage John Connor who, despite being consistently annoying and whiny, is able to hold his own when the action is going down. It isn’t until the last act of the film that he really starts blossoming into the savior that humanity needs years from now. Robert Patrick, meanwhile, plays the role of the T-1000, a liquid-based assassin sent from the future. His cold delivery and unassuming stare make him one of the best and most menacing villains in cinematic history. Even more so than his counterpart in the original, it becomes apparent that this is an enemy that cannot be simply beaten. He can adapt to any environment and can take as many punches or bullets that come his way. As far as technical attributes go, this is one of the finest accomplishments of the last few decades in cinema. The sound design is one to really be appreciated on a 5.1 audio system, and I can only imagine what it would be like in the theater. It matches the beautiful editing job of Mark Goldblatt, Richard A. Harris, and Conrad Buff IV. Each scene flows seamlessly with the next one and never allows the pacing to let up. But the visual effects are what truly made this film then- and still to this day -an eyepopper. Provided by the legends at Industrial Lights and Magic, the effects in Terminator 2 were way ahead of their time and in some respects still look better than some of the CGI we’re getting today. The scene in which the T-1000 passes through a metal gate with ease is one of the most enduring images of 1990’s cinema. It also netted one of the film’s 4 Academy Award wins, which gives it the distinction of being the only sequel to win such an honor when its predecessor wasn’t even nominated. Brad Fiedel returns to compose the musical score, and what a soundtrack it is. With pulsated electronic drum beats punctuated by sharp strings elevate the intense action scenes. But it’s also the franchise’s main theme on the synthesizer that gives the film some emotional levity in its characters, who inherently are the focus of the 137 minute-long picture. But unlike most other sci-fi action films, (And arguably its own sequels/reboots) Terminator 2: Judgement Day understands the intelligence of its audience. Because of that, it is able to convey real themes about human nature and our destiny as a species. The T-800, as well as Sarah Connor, is trying to gain an understanding of the value of human life since all they see are bags of sentient meat waiting for their inevitable deaths. Similarly, the Connors are wrestling with the idea that no matter how hard they fight, the future depicted is already set. If you drop a stone into a rushing river, will the current simply course around as if the obstruction were never there? Or will it completely block the flow of water out, forcing it to find another path? These are the questions the film forces us to ask. As one character puts it, “There’s no fate but what we make.” There are admittedly some pacing issues in the middle act when it simmers down. Not a lot happens aside from world building, but it’s still pretty fascinating. Aside from that, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is the quintessential marriage between science-fiction and action, and one hell of a ride. I’m glad I got it off of my list of shame because it is now one of my all-time favorites. And don’t worry; I’ll be back.

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“The Terminator” Movie Review

Yeah, that’s right. Avatar isn’t the only Cameron flick we’re talking about in preparation for the re-release of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I’m going to be reviewing both of the first two Terminator movies (The only ones that matter), as well as possibly Titanic and Aliens. But for now, let’s talk about the movie that put this man on the cinematic map. This groundbreaking sci-fi action thriller from future Academy Award-winner James Cameron was released on October 26th, 1984, grossing over 11 times its small $7 million budget. Following his disastrous debut with Piranha II: The Spawning, Cameron apparently came up with the brilliant idea for this film in a dream. It’s also said that he sold the rights to producer and co-writer Gale Anne Hurd for just a single U.S. dollar, which included rights to a potential sequel. The now-iconic plot centers on a humanoid cyborg called a Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is sent from the bleak future of 2029. In that future, a man named John Connor is poised to save humanity from slavery or annihilation by the machines. The Terminator is sent to kill his mother, Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, in the 1980’s. However, John Connor also sent his soldier Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn, to stop this from happening, resulting in a tense cat-and-mouse chase. To say that The Terminator had a big impact on the film industry would be a severe understatement. Before it came out, lines of dialogue like, “I’ll be back” weren’t catchphrases, and Hollywood blockbusters were just burgeoning into existence. It also managed to launch the careers of every single person involved in the production and created many iconic images, not the least of which is the iconic design of the titular robotic exoskeleton. It began a trend of darker tones in science-fiction stories, not just limited to movies. Sure, not all of it has aged that well, but there’s still so much to like about this classic. Arnold Schwarzenegger may receive flak for his acting abilities, but the role that made him famous is quite impressive and brilliant. Speaking only 16 lines of dialogue total, his sheer physique and imposing relentlessness create one hell of a menacing villain. At least, for the first movie. Linda Hamilton, Cameron’s future wife, admittedly feels like she doesn’t have enough to say and do, but is still awesome as Sarah Connor. She comes with a very 80’s hairstyle and shows a pluckiness and resilience that wasn’t commonly found in female characters at the time, with the exception of Ellen Ripley. But she still shows that she is still susceptible to fear and terror as the titular threat is never more than a few hours behind. Michael Biehn may be there mostly just to give us the exposition on the future, but damn if it isn’t fascinating stuff. You get the idea that Kyle Reese has seen some dark days, especially in a flashforward (not flashback since it takes place in 2029) that shows what some Terminators did to his fellow soldiers. Other recognizable players include early performances from Lance Henriksen and the late Bill Paxton. On the technical side of things, even with a limited budget, it’s a pretty impressive movie. Adam Greenberg’s cinematography uses great examples of Steadicam with highly detailed close-up shots. This mixes beautifully with Mark Goldblatt’s careful editing job, contrasting with wider shots of the scene. This makes things easy to follow and creates an aurora of slow-building tension common in James Cameron’s films. But some of the stop-motion effects show the film’s age. Meanwhile, Brad Fiedel’s powerful musical score is perfectly symbolic of the pacing. It is heavily synthesized and often trades in with pulsating electric drums. This is truly evocative of the metallic killer’s presence no matter where our heroes are going. You may not agree with me here, but I firmly believe that The Terminator is a horror film. I mean, why not? It came out at the peak of the slasher genre’s popularity, and like some of those most popular films, this one was produced on a small budget. Plus, it has an unstoppable villain who, no matter how bullets hit him, refuses to die. He’s got Kyle Reese spooked, for sure. In a car after a getaway, Reese hastily tells a frightened Sarah Connor, “It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t know pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop.” Oh yeah, and the cherry on top? An explicit sex scene between our heroes late in the picture that felt completely out of place. Although it does make sense for the plot later on, for now, it just felt odd with the way the rest of the movie was playing out. But thankfully, the movie itself, overall, is such an original, thrilling film with 100 minutes not wasted once, that I can easily overlook this issue as trite and petty. Although it wasn’t quite as entertaining or game-changing as its sequel, The Terminator is a relentless piece of high concept thrills and an iconic premise. Watching it again recently, I found much more to appreciate about it than I did my first time. I feel like most people, at first glance, will dismiss it as another simple action film of its era. I urge you to give it a try at least once.

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“Kingsman: The Secret Service” Movie Review

I’ve come to the conclusion that this movie and its upcoming sequel are both more British than James Bond. And that’s saying something. This zany spy action-comedy from Kick-Ass director Mathew Vaughn held a surprise premiere at Austin’s Butt-Numb-Athon! event in December of 2014, before being released internationally on Valentine’s Day weekend of the following year. After that, it earned over $414 million worldwide against a ~$90 million, which is rather big for this kind of movie. Even though it’s based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the plot and characters are almost totally different than the source material. Think of it as one of those adaptations that use the original as a springboard for the opportunity to create something on their own. Taron Egerton stars as Eggsy, a troubled British youth leading a seemingly aimless life with his poor mother and abusive stepfather. One day, Colin Firth comes to his doorstep and invites him to join the Kingsman, a secret spy organization who Eggsy’s father was a member of. Following a grueling recruitment process, he joins a mission on stopping a wealthy megalomaniac, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Earlier this year, I reviewed the movie Atomic Blonde, a relatively enjoyable movie that suffered from a generic plot. And from the way that I just described the synopsis for Kingsman: The Secret Service, it sounds like it’s going to be another run-of-the-mill spy thriller that’s trying to copy James Bond, with just a dash of Men in Black. My friends, that is so far from the truth. This movie is anything but conventional for the genre. In fact, it goes so far out of its way to belittle cliches of the genre that you forget it’s trying to subvert them. There are many moments in the film where the characters specifically reference plot points from older Bond films like Thunderball and Goldfinger as comparisons for current happenings. As one person remarks, “This ain’t that kind of movie, bro.” It’s essentially the Scream of spy movies. I will say that sometimes, the film felt like it was a little too self-aware for its own good. But just the way it opens- “Money For Nothing” by the Dire Straits playing as a Middle Eastern compound is destroyed which inventively creates the title cards -lets you know that you’re watching a movie with a definite personality. As far as the performances go, this movie is filled with actors who surprisingly bring their A-game. Taron Egerton may be a newcomer, but damn if he isn’t one of the most promising ones to come along. You learn everything about his troubled past and the payoff for his training and hard work is so rewarding. Complete with a thick accent and endless charm, you’ll be rooting for him all the way through this 2 hour and 9 minute-long feature. Sofia Boutella, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson and even a cameo by Mark Hamill elevate their small characters to have a certain human quality about them. Samuel L. Jackson, meanwhile, overshadows all of them with his mere presence in each scene. His character has a weird lisp that can be kind of annoying, but the fact that he can’t stand the sight of blood makes him even more interesting and makes for some darkly comedic moments. Oscar-winner Colin Firth proves his worth as an action hero with the role of a mentor who teaches Eggsy how to be both a gentleman and a super-spy. According to IMDb, he performed approximately 80% of his own stunts, which makes him even more fun to watch. The film is also technically proficient, showcasing some excellent editing by Jon Harris and Eddie Hamilton through brutal and fast-paced action sequences. The camera work by George Richmond does fall into shaky cam at times, but to the point where you can’t tell what’s going on. The camera is constantly following whoever is the focus of the fight scene, including one particular sequence that I’ll discuss shortly. Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson provide the musical score which perfectly accompanies the crazy scenes. They seem to take some inspiration from both Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry, with high strings and bellowing horns overtaking big set pieces. But it’s not just original music, also some real-world songs that match the tone of the moments perfectly. One of those moments, the most discussed of the entire film, is when Colin Firth goes to a version of the Westboro Baptist Church and starts uncontrollably killing everyone inside. In fact, everyone starts killing each other, all of it going down to the guitar solo of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” So, in case you had any ideas about watching this movie with your young children, keep in mind that Kingsman is very much rated R. A plethora of F-bombs and other British slang I’m not even going to explain already populated the screen, but there are also many violent sequences and a final anal sex gag that cements its homage to the James Bond franchise. For some, these moments are too over the top or off-putting to be enjoyable, and I understand that. Although its mature content will definitely not win over everyone, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an extremely fun time that never takes itself too seriously. I’m still in shock at how they were allowed to get away making this romp. I’m very much excited for the sequel, The Golden Circle, coming this September, and am generally happy that we have a new spy series to get invested in.

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“Jaws” Movie Review

So it occurs to me that I can make a blog post about whatever I want, no matter how irrelevant it may seem. But I recently rewatched Jaws for the first time in many years on a format unlike any other out there. So let’s talk about it. This iconic action-horror-thriller was initially released on June 20th, 1975, where it grossed over $470 million worldwide against a small budget of $9 million. This made it the highest grossing movie of all time in the U.S. until George Lucas showed up 2 years later with Star Wars. Based on the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, which was said to be loosely inspired by real events, the story stars Roy Scheider as Martin Brody, the newly appointed police chief of an island town. During the town’s most lucrative time frame, the 4th of July weekend, they find themselves being terrorized and harassed by a great white shark intent on munching down on all of them. Brody, with the help of oceanographer Matt Hooper and local shark hunter Captain Quint, sets out on a quest to stop the sea creature once and for all. What is it about Jaws that it so well-respected and acclaimed from scholars and fans? Well, for one, it began the term “blockbuster” because, at the time of its release, there were so many people lined up around the street corners under the hot summer sun just so they could see it. It also became infamous for starting the trend of “high-concept” films, which allowed for big-budget Hollywood affairs with a simple premise that was easy to market and didn’t retain much below the surface. However, what sets this film apart from so many others is that there is so much to appreciate beneath simply what you see; because it’s often what you don’t see. One of the most celebrated aspects of Jaws is the fact that the young director Steven Spielberg chose not to show the shark Bruce, which was nicknamed after his lawyer. Adopting the “less is more” mindset from Alfred Hitchcock, he works with his cinematographer Bill Butler to create off-kilter camera angles from both underwater and above the surface. The Master of Suspense even praised the film for paying homage to his style. Even though the shark is known to be the threat of the movie and makes an impact on the characters, it doesn’t even make an appearance until nearly two-thirds into the 124 minute-long running time. In their defense, the shark itself did look pretty fake, but it did produce one of my favorite reaction scenes ever, when Brody quietly tells the Captain the iconic catchphrase, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” But the reason why the big bad beast is sparsely seen is that the production was hard for all parties involved. In fact, all accounts say that Jaws was a NIGHTMARE to make. The cast had a really contentious relationship with one another, probably due to the lack of a finished script. Meanwhile, the shark was initially supposed to appear more often but before filming began, the wiring and mechanisms broke. The lesson from all of this? It is extremely hard to shoot a movie out on the water. But it also teaches us that sometimes, similar to the original Star Wars, a movie will come out best when the odds are seemingly stacked against you. Of course, one cannot simply talk about Jaws without talking about the Oscar-winning score. Before Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., or Schindler’s List, John Williams composed the music for this monster movie and became endlessly iconic. During the more suspenseful moments, he’ll resort to low toned horns and strings repeating two notes. As the tension grows, the notes will be faster and faster and gain more volume as the climax reaches. Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw portray the three men on the boat in the final act of the movie. They do a terrific job with excellent chemistry and surprisingly engaging dialogue that keeps their characters relatively grounded. They needed to work well together, otherwise, this implausible story would sink like a rock. Luckily, they spearhead the rest of the cast and provide a certain humanity missing from most movies in the genre. But let’s face it; there’s no shark that would ever rationally behave like Bruce. This movie could probably never happen in real life, and the events that the book was based were likely exaggerated in order to create more drama. But still, I have not one single problem with this movie. Jaws is a magnificent and compelling thriller that catapulted the Hollywood blockbuster to fame. I saw this again at the “Jaws on the Water” special event hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and it was a total blast. If it’s available, I encourage you to see the movie this way, no matter how scary it may seem. But no matter what, just see it at twice in your life.

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“Inception” Movie Review

Ever wondered what it would be like if a traditional Hollywood blockbuster were to be combined with avant-garde or art-house movies? This movie should hopefully satisfy your search. Christopher Nolan’s complex science-fiction heist thriller debuted in late July of 2010, earning excellent reviews and over $825 million worldwide. This was probably due to the serious lack of entertaining movies that summer. The script, initially a treatment for a horror film, floated and developed around the film industry as early as 2002, with many tweaks and adjustments added over the years. The plot centers on Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a thief who specializes in corporate espionage of the mind. He and his associates use advanced technology to enter the subconscious of their targets to extract an idea and give it to whoever hired them. But now, in order to clear his criminal record and return home to his family, Cobb must perform “inception”; going deep into the subconscious to plant an idea in someone’s brain. That already sounds like a mouthful, but trust me. The story is much thicker and more nuanced than that. And while I’m honestly tempted to spend this whole post explaining every nook and cranny of this film’s lore, I’ll just skip right ahead and tell something you should have already guessed. Inception is a brilliant, downright amazing movie that every film fan should see. In fact, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe that this film is Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus. You could argue for days on Memento or The Dark Knight, and both are fantastic in their own right. But those films were based on pre-existing material, Memento being a short story written by his brother Jonathan and The Dark Knight an adaptation of the DC Comics character. This, however, is a wholly original film with no ties to any other franchise materials and only takes mere influences from previous classics of the genre. That is SO rare in Hollywood; if you can make a big-budget feature as original as Inception, consider yourself having taken the right path. Leonardo DiCaprio leads an all-star cast with some fine charisma and physicality. But he brings even more to the dramatic scenes, where his past life is slowly revealed. Like Nolan’s previous protagonists, this is an emotionally tormented man who struggles to move on from his past, which is almost suffocating him. The ensemble cast includes A-List talent such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page as the vocal reminders for Cobb to retain his humanity, Michael Caine as yet another elderly mentor, Ken Watanabe as the benefactor of this entire heist, Cillian Murphy and Peter Postlewaite as the targets of the mental infiltration, and Marion Cotillard as Cobb’s mysterious deceased wife obsessed with haunting him on the job. But let’s be real; the real show-stealer, here, is Tom Hardy as Eames. The British man is a straight-up action hero in this film and his lines of dialogue provided some great moments of humor. That being said, much of the dialogue early on is reserved almost exclusively for exposition. For the first half, practically everything to know about this universe is told to us through character interactions. It doesn’t quite feel forced, but it does require the audience to pay close attention to everything that is spoken. It can almost be exhausting. But in the latter half, as we now understand almost everything about the movie, it truly reveals itself as a slick mix of both heist crime thriller and science-fiction spectacle. The incredible production design and editing by Lee Smith create dreams that are both very elaborate and yet still grounded and believable. One of the most thrilling sequences in the whole movie comes when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fighting antagonistic projections in a hallway that keeps on turning and changing gravity. There’s no CGI or greenscreen whatsoever in this segment, hell not even wires. Instead, it was on an actual rotating set that took nearly two weeks to film. And several more of the action scenes are extremely well thought out and mix gritty realism with creativity. You want to get a large gun in the middle of a shootout? All it takes is your imagination. Hans Zimmer composes the music for Inception as part of the third collaboration between him and the director. Robbed of an Academy Award, the score is a unique mixture of orchestral and electronic sounds. Many of the tracks feature a steady guitar, reminiscent of the films of Ennio Morricone. The final track “Time,” in particular, is one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of film score ever written, perfectly capturing a balance between heartbreak and nostalgia. And then there’s that ending. Holy crap, THAT ENDING. One of the most ambiguous final scenes in recent cinema, up there with films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner. I refuse to discuss it and spoil it on the off-chance that you haven’t seen this movie. But keeping it vague, it uses a certain device in the plot that we are familiar with by that point and leaves off on a big tease if ever I’ve seen one. Even though it’s been nearly 7 years since the movie was released, this ending is still intensely debated among film buffs to this day, with some creating their own alternative fan theories explaining everything. I don’t mean to disarm you with this, though. Inception is a stimulating labyrinth of ideas and action that is startlingly original and captivating. Touching on some existential and philosophical themes, this is a modern classic, one of my all-time favorites, and the best movie this decade has offered so far. You have to see it to believe it.

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“Baby Driver” Movie Review

Alright, hands up if your jaw was dropped at those incredible car stunts throughout. Now put your hand back down if you were thinking that I’m at least two weeks late on this review. That should account for both of us, and I apologize. This stylish crime comedy-drama from writer-director Edgar Wright opened worldwide on June 28th, 2017, following its critically acclaimed premiere at South By Southwest. It has since grossed over $72 million at the box office, becoming one of Wright’s highest-grossing projects to date. After his unexpected exit from Ant-Man, he went ahead with his second American production to date, his first one being 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The plot stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, the greatest getaway driver in the world who loves listening to music. The mob boss he works for, Kevin Spacey, organizes new crews and bank robbery jobs every week, with one more before Baby can escape from this criminal life. His passion for leaving is only fueled when he falls in love with a diner waitress named Debora, which attracts the unwanted ire of some of the bank robbers. Getting it out of the way right now, I love Wright’s work, especially his Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy. Hot Fuzz, in particular, is one of my all-time favorite comedies and made me start to love British humor. But this is definitely an American movie, with several jokes poking fun at its infrastructure and culture. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t any less welcome. Quite the opposite, in fact; Baby Driver is one of the best works of his career. In particular, the entire first act of this picture is essentially perfection from both a filmmaking and enjoyment standpoint. The trademarks of his filmography are all there, not the least of which is the kinetic camerawork of Bill Pope. After the brilliant cold open, the beginning scene consists of a single tracking shot of Baby walking around the streets of Atlanta. Getting some coffee, jamming out to songs on his iPod, interacting with some street folk. It’s actually quite inspired. What’s more inspired is the equally kinetic editing job of Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos, which brings some really swift cuts of fast-paced scenes. This is common in many Hollywood productions, but the difference is that you can actually track everything in the action perfectly here. Ansel Elgort is endearing as the titular protagonist, keeping his wits and dignity about him. Although I was initially cautious with him when I saw him in both The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent, he shows here that he can truly act and make the audience empathize with him. Kevin Spacey may be the obvious choice to play an elderly but powerful man with a firm grip over everyone, but damn if he isn’t great at it. He exhibits all the greed of Frank Underwood in House of Cards, but still brings enough humor and care to make him a complete human. “Don’t feed me anymore lines from Monsters Inc. It pisses me off!” he says after getting tired of excuses. Jamie Foxx, Elza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, and Jon Hamm play the quirky gang of bank robbers, and each contributes a bit of something unique. Hamm particularly surprises as a violent criminal bent on killing those who get in his path. Meanwhile, Lily James as Debora has been the biggest point of contention for many reviewers that makes or breaks the film. Some say she was a great addition, others felt she was totally unnecessary. I’m somewhere in the middle of it all. While I did think the love story between her and Baby was sweet, it definitely felt forced and tacked on, especially near the end of the movie. If they had decided to cut her out of the movie entirely, I don’t think the plot would have changed too much. But rest assured, the whole rest of Baby Driver is absolutely awesome. One of Wright’s biggest things is how much he loves older films and even integrates elements of them into his movies. Whereas Hot Fuzz was a tribute to old action movies, this is clearly an homage to old-school heist movies like The Italian Job. But he packs in so much energy and charisma that it still feels fresh and original. And of course, what’s there to talk about this movie without the much talked-about soundtrack? They must have meticulously planned every song because they all fit so perfectly into each scene that is appropriate. In fact, most of the action sequences are tuned to the beat of a particular track. One such scene involves a shootout in which “Tequila” by The Button Down Brass is playing in perfect form, and many notes are topped by shots of gunfire. This was absolutely brilliant. (Appropriate use since the director is British) However, I do want to say that you shouldn’t walk into the movie expecting only a bunch of stomach-hurting humor. This is not a total laughing riot like his previous films and is instead arguably the most serious and grounded entry from his filmography. But it doesn’t take itself seriously just enough for it to still be a great blast. Expertly helmed but maybe 10 minutes too long, Baby Driver is a stylized opera of music and guns that is gloriously entertaining. This is by far Edgar Wright’s best American movie, and one I will have no trouble coming back to on multiple repeat viewings.

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