Category Archives: Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2020

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

Honorable Mentions:

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

Now, let’s get on with it, shall we?

#10: “Soul” (Opens June 19th)

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

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

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

#8: “Mank” (TBA 2020)

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

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

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

#6: “Cherry” (TBA 2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2: “Tenet” (Opens July 17th)

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

#1: “Dune” (Opens December 18th)

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

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

“Parasite” Movie Review

Every now and then, I watch a movie that can be absolutely hilarious in one scene and then make you question why you’re laughing in the next. If that’s the kind thing that floats your boat, then you’re going to have a grand time here. This dark comedy-drama premiered in the Offical Competition section at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. It went on to win the prestigious Palme d’Or, making it the first Korean film to do so and the first one with a unanimous vote in 6 years. Although it was released in South Korea and other international territories in late May, Neon gave it a theatrical release in North America beginning October 18th, 2019. Made for the budget of roughly $11 million, it has thus far grossed over $127.4 million at the worldwide box office. This makes it one of the country’s highest-grossing features and it has the best-ever per-venue average for a foreign-language film. Directed by Bong Joon-ho, the idea for the film had been in his head for some time. He has repeatedly stated that he and co-writer Han Ji-won were inspired by several of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, incorporating some of his most common motifs. The house in the film was built completely from scratch by the production designers and was specifically designed to cast light in a certain way. Song Kang-ho stars as Kim Ki-taek, the patriarch of a low-income Korean family struggling to make ends meet. When all of them are on the verge of losing their jobs, the son Ki-woo, played by Choi Woo-shik, is bestowed a golden opportunity. Posing as a university student, he is hired as a tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family while his friend is studying abroad. As time goes along, each Kim family member slowly becomes ingratiated with the Parks, to the point where they barely recognize the life they’re living anymore. While I’ve admittedly yet to watch all of his films, I really like Bong Joon-ho’s filmography and personal style. He’s always able to blend the very absurd with the realistic in films like The Host and Okja, both of which are among the most underrated films of the century. Plus, his English-language debut Snowpiercer was actually one of the very first films I ever wrote a review for. Prior to actually seeing it, I had been advised by many sources to avoid all trailers and reviews for the film, only watching the trailer once during a screening for another film. Although I usually like learning about whatever film I’m about to watch, here, I decided it would probably be best to go in as cold as possible. And that decision has paid off in spades because Parasite isn’t only Bong Joon-ho’s best film to date, but it’s also now become one of my favorite foreign-language pictures of all time. Like many of the director’s other films, this movie is really about the intersection between class differences, capitalism, and circumstance in our modern world. Rather than giving an easy solution to income inequality, the film shows the nuance in a situation like this and throws unexpected curveballs now and again. The dichotomy in how the rich and the poor react to things so mundane as the rainfall is fascinating and a wonderful way to highlight the difference in their socioeconomic standings. And like I said at the beginning, Parasite is able to generate some laughs from uniquely hilarious moments. The first half of the movie plays out more like a dark comedy and just when the tone seems set in stone, it transforms into something much more sinister. The transition between moods is so seamless and one of the many reasons why this film works so well. Another reason why is Song Kang-ho, who, in his 4th collaboration with the director, gives an incredible lead performance. As Kim Ki-taek, he always has the best interest of his family at heart even if it comes at the expense of others. He’s very thoughtful and quiet, making any sudden outbursts he has feel completely surprising and intimidating. His two children, meanwhile, are both played by Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam, who demonstrate immense range with their roles. Woo-shik acts kind of as the innocent, wide-eyed man who wants his family to benefit without harming the Parks. So-dam, meanwhile, is more a calculating mastermind who cares about her loved ones but is cynical about the rest of the world. Both of them bounce their ideas of deception off one another even if they disagree about how to go about it. Cho Yeo-jeong also definitely shouldn’t be overlooked as Yeon-gyo, the mother of the wealthy Park family. Although she means well and tries to treat those around her with kindness, it’s clear she is quite dim-witted and oblivious to the con being played. Her aloof attitude provides some of the biggest laughs in the film, and a welcome levity to the story. The rest of the supporting cast, while relatively small, bring a great sense of memorability to the film. This includes Lee Sun-kyun as the stern and stoic patriarch of the Park family, Lee Jung-eun as their loyal yet eccentric housekeeper, Chang Hyae-jin as the assertive mother of the Kims, and Park Seo-joon as a friend of the Kim son who sets them up in the first place. Each player works masterfully under the director’s guidance and finds a uniquely dramatic and comedic angle in every scene. And from a pure filmmaking perspective, Parasite finds Joon-ho working at the absolute peak of his powers. Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography is exquisitely detailed and mapped out in such a beautiful way in every scene. The camera movement and positioning are perfectly placed as they find the right amount of negative space for the action. It uses the lighting and production design to its advantage by always blocking the actors with precision. There’s a healthy amount of static wides throughout which equally help to create a sense of unnerving dread and deadpan humor. Yang Jin-mo’s editing job also does wonders for the structure and pacing of the film as it moves from one scene to another. No shot is ever too long or too short for its effect to take hold on audiences. The opening sequence perfectly sets up the characters and their environment, brilliantly showcasing their relevant surroundings. There are also a handful of mini-montages sprinkled throughout that showcase the gradual infiltration between the families. It really demonstrates how methodical and careful the Kims are with their plans. Jeong Jae-il provides the instrumental film score here, and although the Academy apparently disagrees, it’s one of the best of the year. The film opens with a solemn piano piece that immediately sets the mood and it only gets better from there. The soundtrack utilizes numerous different instruments to realize the attitude and position of the characters throughout. This includes plucked strings for more mischievous moments and a high-octave chorus to illustrate the more luxurious life of the Parks. The end credits also feature an original song called “Soju One Glass” written by Jae-il and sung by Choi Woo-shik. Although it starts off with a really mellow guitar melody, it soon shifts into something deceptively enticing. In that, it might just be the perfect tune to end the film on. With an excellent ensemble, tight direction, and one of the most biting screenplays in recent memory, Parasite is an utter masterclass on all filmmaking fronts with immense social consciousness. By tackling its subject matter head on but refusing to give easy answers, Bong Joon-ho has crafted not only of the year’s best films but also proven that he’s an artist that demands to be taken seriously. Its stunning and scathing critique of the effects of capitalism is absolutely incredible but also never forgets the specific cultural context. This also acts as a fantastic example of how to use the setting to help tell your story, and is honestly inspiring to me in this and many other ways.

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“Knives Out” Movie Review

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

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“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” Movie Review

I’m not even lying when I tell you guys that The Pale Lady and The Jangly Man made me piss myself out of fear. And before anyone judges, I’m almost positive that everyone else in the theater had the exact same reaction as me. This youth-centered supernatural horror film was released in theaters worldwide by Lionsgate and CBS Films on August 9th, 2019. It has fare very well at the international box office, grossing over $93.5 million against a budget of roughly $23 million. Although it never attained the tope spot and didn’t even finish first its opening weekend, it still managed to attain relative success. It’s believed that much of its intake was due to decent word-of-mouth and nostalgia for the source material. Directed by André Øvredal, the film is based on the horror short story collection of the same name by Alvin Schwartz. The adaptation had long been a passion project of Guillermo del Toro, who also served as producer and story co-writer on the final product. Although there were virtually no connections between any of the stories in the original collection, the film ties all of them into the same narrative without using an anthological format. Set in 1968, the film follows a group of teenage outcast friends in a small rural Pennsylvania town. Led by amateur horror author Stella Nicholls, played by Zoe Colletti, on Halloween night the gang discovers an old book in a supposedly haunted mansion. They soon realize that the book writes horrific short stories about people that they know, which then come to life almost immediately. With their peers getting picked off one by one and the adults not willing to believe them, the group race to figure out the origins of the book and how to stop it. I can’t say I ever read Alvin Schwarz’s anthology books growing up or had too much familiarity with them. I only really became interested in this adaptation when I heard that Guillermo del Toro was instrumental in production. Not to mention, it’s always exciting to see a film of the genre focus more heavily on practical effects and makeup over CGI nonsense. The marketing campaign really played this one up as a sort of Goosebumps for teenagers, which I have some fond memories of. It’s PG-13 rating was encouraging that it was going to have a wider appeal but still have something in store for older viewers. And while Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark definitely has some stumbles in the road, it’s still worth a look. On the whole, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with wanting to make a horror film that’s geared for a younger audience. It’s a fun and overall harmless way to get them into the genre without having to necessarily traumatize their childhood. And as an added bonus, parents will also likely get a kick out of it with its atmosphere and generally toned down scares. This also happens to be Scary Stories‘ biggest flaw in that it often relegates itself to numerous horror clichés. Screenwriters Dan and Kevin Hageman seem interested in exploring the lore behind the book at the center of the plot, but also include far more jump-scares than is probably necessary. But again, that’s kind of par for the course in getting new viewers into the genre, and mostly redeems that with some pretty unsettling imagery throughout. In a genre notorious for bad child performances, the troupe of young lead actors here proves to hold their own quite well. They’re led by newcomer Zoe Colletti, who shows that she’s a capable lead in a genre film even at her young age. Like many of del Toro’s other films, there’s an enormous amount of empathy for her status as an outsider, as she’s dealing with an internal trauma that’s never been resolved or even addressed before now. Michael Garza also puts in some decent work as Ramón Morales, the second-in-command for the main group of friends. Although he’s new to town and harbors some mystery, he immediately becomes worth caring about as he puts his full foot forward to protect his newfound friends. Austin Abrams is also worth noting as Tommy Milner, the high school jock and frequent bully to the main group. His performance and attitude are reminiscent of bullies in several Stephen King stories, and while he may go a little too far in some scenes, it’s perfect for getting audiences to despise him. Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, and Natalie Ganzhorn round out the primary group of child friends while Dean Norris, Lorraine Toussaint, and Gill Bellows play some of the adults practically oblivious to the horrors their children are facing. Each one contributes something to the package, even if some of their characters are stuck in typical horror film archetypes. From a technical point of view, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark tries to distinguish itself from other films in the genre. Returning from their collaboration on The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the cinematography by Roman Osin has a sleek color palette throughout. The steady movements and angles make subtle callbacks to old-school Amblin features without dipping completely in nostalgia. Although much of the film takes place at night, it’s never too dark to tell what’s going on and keeps some of its best scares in the shadows. It makes excellent use of primary colors, particularly red, which at one point fills the screen as a character is faced with a terrifying monster. The editing job by Patrick Larsgaard, meanwhile, can be a bit of a mixed bag. While it’s mostly able to move between different shots and scenes fairly well, every now and then it feels like its waiting for the next jumpscare. There’s surprisingly a lot of room in some shots for the young actors to breathe and the camera usually cuts away to something vital to the plot. It works best when the stories themselves are being rad aloud while juxtaposing their actual coming to life. The biggest asset this film has going for it by far is its surprisingly heavy reliance on practical effects and makeup over CGI. This lends well to adding a sort of physicality and believability to the monsters the main children have to face. It also helps that the designs for these creatures, from Harold the scarecrow to the Jangly Man, are absolutely unsettling. It’s too rare in horror movies today, and it’s nice to see them in play here. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a fine and diverting entry-level horror film for burgeoning genre fans. Although it certainly leaves much to be desired, André Øvredal still manages to carve out the rare scary flick that can appeal to old and young audiences alike with surprising finesse. Ultimately, it’s Guillermo del Toro’s distinctive touch that makes this film work as well as it does.

“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” Movie Review

This is the first “Original Film” by Netflix that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in an actual movie theater. I’m not quite sure yet if I’m “excited” to see it happen more with their forthcoming projects but a film like this definitely deserves the theatrical experience. This neo-western crime drama was released on the streaming service Netflix on October 11th, 2019. It also had a concurrent theatrical run in limited venues for one weekend only, presumably to qualify for awards season. Although it reportedly only made about $40,000, some sources have indicated that it likely would have recuperated its $6 million budget if it had a wide theatrical release. It’s also on track to air once again on AMC, the show’s original T.V. network, sometime next year. Written and directed by Vince Gilligan, the idea for the film had been in his mind for many years and didn’t share with anyone for a long time. It initially was thought of as a simple 10-minute short film and later evolved and grew into a two-hour feature project. Around the time that the 10th anniversary for Breaking Bad rolled around, he approached the former star about the concept, who immediately took to the idea. The project was put together and filmed in almost complete secrecy, with rumors about its existence only really popping up near the end of production. Picking up a few moments after the series finale “Felina,” Aaron Paul returns as Jesse Pinkman, a former meth cook turned fugitive. Having recently escaped from his neo-Nazi captors, he struggles to find a place to hunker down in and evade both the law and other interest parties. With a newfound drive for freedom, he sets out to take care of some unfinished business while also trying to escape his violent past once and for all. Let’s get one thing straight here: Breaking Bad is one of the greatest T.V. shows of all time, full stop. From beginning to end, it’s an absolutely incredible character study with a delicate balance of realism and emotional involvement. Better Call Saul was a worthy prequel/spin-off for this universe, but it just can’t get to heights of Vince Gilligan’s original masterpiece. Like many fans, I was always curious to know what happened to Jesse Pinkman after he blasts through that gate in “Felina.” I was a little worried that I wouldn’t want to see what would happen because that sort of slight ambiguity seemed perfect at the time. And while we could debate about it being essential or not, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie definitely proves to be a worthy continuation of this world and its characters. This movie acts more like an extended epilogue to the series rather than a real sequel to it. Whereas “Felina” acted as the conclusion to Walter White’s story, this film focuses almost entirely on Jesse’s last attempt at gaining real freedom. This forces him to reckon with his past, the people he has done wrong to, and whether he can rectify everything he wants to before it’s too late. And while it’s undoubtedly an exciting movie to watch , El Camino only really appeals to established fans of the show. Unless you’ve seen all five seasons of Breaking Bad from beginning to end, you’ll most likely lack the emotional connection to the characters and story, especially as it makes numerous callbacks to various episodes. But unlike a lot of other cinematic continuations of beloved T.V. shows, what might be considered “fan service” here also works in service to Jesse’s journey. I do hope, however, that newcomers can still enjoy it as a tense neo-western thriller on its own terms. Aaron Paul hasn’t missed a single beat since the end of “Felina,” as the character of Jesse Pinkman is still wholly his own. With a new added sense of maturity and world-weariness, his quietly brilliant turn is equal parts riveting and tragic. He has seen so much over the course of the story that at this point, he’s essentially desensitized to all of  it. We also see him in flashbacks with various characters, which really helps illustrate how far both the character himself and Paul’s performance as him has come. Charles Baker and Matt Jones return as Jesse’s best friends, Skinny Pete and Badger Mayhew, respectively. Although they’re not very bright and are quite oblivious to the full scale of his struggle, they’re also extremely loyal to him and won’t hesitate to help him in a tricky spot. These two are arguably the only real friends that Jesses had throughout the whole series, and seeing them give him support without batting an eye was heartwarming. In flashback form, Jesse Plemons reprises his role as Todd Alquist, Jesse’s captor and forceful boss. He’s as despicable and creepy as ever, which contrasts greatly with his polite and patient demeanor shown while keeping Jesse hostage. Watching what he makes Jesse do in these flashbacks is abominable, and makes his fate in the T.V. show all the more satisfying. Other supporting characters include Larry Hankin as an elderly junkyard owner always willing to help criminals, Tess Harper and Michael Bofshever as Jesse’s concerned parents begging for his surrender, Scott McArthur as a criminal welder Pinkman comes across on his journey, and Robert Forster as a vacuum salesman who specializes in making people disappear. Each one somehow plays a part in Jesse’s torment, salvation, or fugitive status and leaves an impression to be sure. Forster is particularly notable in his last film role before his death, which was sadly the same day as its release. Although he only has a couple scenes, there’s a wisdom and grace to his character’s understanding of the criminal underworld. And it’s clear that even though his calm and collected, he knows exactly what’s going on and how to deal with it. From a filmmaking perspective, El Camino highlights Vince Gilligan developing a distinct cinematic voice. Marshall Adams’ cinematography is as focused and tight as it was in Better Call Saul, with an added cinematic tinge. The steely color palette is perfect for the gritty and seedy nature of the environment Jesse must overcome to survive. There are numerous clever movements with the camera, such as when it rotates 360 degrees to show his confused and desperate mindset. This matches the editing job by Skip Macdonald, who cuts together scenes with a nice balance of grace and force. Several scenes feature long takes to give the actors room to breathe in their performances. Often times, it will feature a hard cut from the present day to a flashback or vice versa, and it works to grab the audience’s attention. Other instances are more subtle, possibly to show how much this particular event or exchange influences his decisions now. Dave Porter returns from the show to provide the instrumental film score, and his partnership Gilligan was sorely missed. Like the show, much of the soundtrack consists of dark electronic sounds and percussion. It’s very psychological and accurately represents the frantic pace with which Jesse’s escape represents. A couple of tracks even escalate like a tightening string on a guitar, waiting for something to snap. But as it goes along, it starts calming down a little, providing room for more contemplative tracks. The film also includes the song “Static On The Radio” by Jim White, which plays over the end credits. While at first it seems unusual, as it plays out it suddenly fits the tone and mood of the ending. Like Breaking Bad, it’s a relatively obscure song that fits perfectly in the story and demands to be heard more afterwards. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is an excellent coda to an already perfect story. While it’s not necessarily essential to the experience, Vince Gilligan managed to craft an ending that still honors the show’s timeless legacy. Aaron Paul shows that he’s still got it as Jesse Pinkman in his (Supposedly) final outing with the character, and it was nice to see Robert Forster one last time. Even if he moves away from the Breaking Bad universe, I’m excited to see whatever Vince Gilligan makes next.

Breaking Bad Movie El Camino Poster

“It Chapter Two” Movie Review

Imagine having to fight a literal interdimensional monster with only your middle-school friends by your side. Now that is pretty scary, not gonna lie. This supernatural horror movie was released in theaters by Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema on September 6th, 2019. After accumulating the second-biggest Thursday night preview earnings for a September release, (Behind its predecessor) it has gone on to gross over $457.4 million at the worldwide box office. While this is obviously enormous for a horror film, it is considered to be on a slower role than the first film. This is likely to due mixed reviews from audiences and critics, as well as the epic runtime which has curbed runtimes. Once again directed by Andy Muschietti, this sequel adapts the adult portion of Stephen King’s huge novel of the same name. Announced almost immediately after the massive success of the first film, production was stalled in order for all of the ideal cast members to be available. Muschietti has expressed interest in creating a supercut version combining both parts into one continuous film, as some unused scenes from the first were brought in for the second. It also contains a scene reportedly featuring the most amount of blood in film, with over 5,000 gallons worth of fake blood used. Picking up 27 years after the events of It, the Losers Club members have all gone their separate ways as adults. When a young man is found brutally murdered in the town of Derry, Maine, librarian Mike Hanlon, played by Isaiah Mustafa, believes the being Pennywise the Dancing Clown is behind it, despite having defeated him as children. Mike contacts his old friends- Bill, Richie, Beverly, Ben, Eddie, and Stanley -and convinces them all to return to Derry. Confronted by their own traumas of years past, the Losers band together to face Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård, one last time and end him for good. I was a really big fan of the first part of Stephen King’s It when it was released back in 2017. As a huge admirer of King’s enormous library of literary work, it was exciting to see one of his most famous books turned into a film that felt faithful to the source material. Plus, we’ve now seen a whole wash of different adaptations of his work in the last two years, including Gerald’s Game and the upcoming Doctor Sleep. With the talented adult cast that was assembled, there was a definite possibility for this second and final installment to be even better. And well, It: Chapter Two isn’t, but there’s still some meaty stuff to latch onto here. For a book this sprawling and massive, it is forgivable for the producers to split it into two separate movies. But the main issue here is that there is some material that probably was better left on the cutting room floor. At 2 hours and 49 minutes, it often feels like its repeating itself to pad out the runtime, especially during the second act. However, It: Chapter Two is able to redeem itself by the end, because it is a pretty satisfying wrap-up. It’s thematic ideas of lost innocence, childhood trauma, and facing a bizarre fear are part and parcel for Stephen King stories, but they’re all brought to an ambitious head here. In a world where franchises and IPs are seemingly neverending, it’s refreshing that the studio and filmmakers were committed to letting this saga be two parts and nothing more. Easily the biggest attribute to this film’s success is its cast of adult actors, all of whom commit very nicely in their roles. Played by James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bear, they all perfectly pick up where their child counterparts left off last time. McAvoy and Chastain are clearly the leads here and their portrayals of both Bill and Beverly feel right. Like their friends, there’s clearly a lot of unresolved trauma from their younger years that they try and reckon with. Bill Skarsgård returns as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and still has all of his swagger and terror intact. When he isn’t acting like a terryfing interdimensional being, he’s condescending the Losers or anyone else in his path for their fears. His contorted body movement and deeply unsettling clown voice are also back, and are even given more context when we learn a little bit about his potential backstory. But the real star, as you may have heard, is undoubtedly Bill Hader as the loud-mouthed Richie Tozier. Carrying all of the comedic and dramatic heft from his turn on HBO’s Barry, he is extremely convincing as a man confronting the anxieties he had as a child and are still carrying as an adult. He delivers some of the film’s funniest lines, but as we learn more about him, it’s clear he uses them as a way to shield off deep insecurities and shame. And from a technical point of view, It: Chapter Two continues the streak from the previous film, if not quite as refined. Checco Varese’s cinematography isn’t quite as atmospheric or memorable as Chung Chung-hoon, but it still captures the unique world of Derry. Big wide shots and slow tracking shots help to establish the scope of the story and try to instill a sense of dread and uncertainty in the Losers. In general, the visual palette is intentionally dull to show the dreary and unhappy state of the character’s adult lives. The color red is especially highlighted, whether it be a scene filled with blood or highlighting the red balloons signifying Pennywise’s presence. On the other hand, Jason Ballantine’s editing job somewhat reflects the convoluted nature of the film as a whole. The film often cuts back between the present day and when the Losers were still children, which hampers down the pacing and makes some scenes feel repetitive. The film tries its best to cut enough to keep tension alive in several scenes, with varying degrees of success. The cut between Steadicam shots and low-angle Dutch shots adds a feeling of paranoia and fear necessary. Benjamin Wallfisch returns to provide the instrumental score, and while it’s more of the same it’s still welcome. Several of the leitmotifs used from the first film are brought back and some of them are still quite effective. The use of flutes and piano help create a sense of twisted nostalgia as the Losers reckon with their past and present demons. Yes, some parts are classic strings building up to a big jumpscare, but that’s thankfully not all it has. Some tracks are surprisingly emotional, utilizing subtle strings and guitar riffs to recall the group’s unbreakable bond as kids now tested as grown-ups. Proving that bigger doesn’t necessarily always mean better, It: Chapter Two is a messy and rambling wrap-up made gratifying by its supreme cast. While it frequently stumbles to get to the finish line and feels heavily weighed down in the second act, Andy Muschietti still gives fans an entertaining closing chapter to this Stephen King adaptation. Getting to see all of the actors, particularly Bill Hader and James Ransone, stretch their muscles from funny to terrified to emotionally disturbed is also a treat and is easily the best thing it has going for it. It’s overlong, bloated, and often feels repetitive but compared to most studio horror sequels, it’s quite entertaining and rewarding. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask of a horror film.