Category Archives: Thriller

“Mute” Movie Review

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

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“Annihilation” Movie Review

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

“The Hurt Locker” Movie Review

One of the most common adages of modern writing or storytelling is that “War is Hell.” This movie takes that concept and inverts it into something completely different and unexpected. This independently produced contemporary war thriller premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2008. However, it wasn’t distributed in American theaters until the following July. It went on to win 6 Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture prize. And yet, it’s the lowest grossing film ever to win the award, with a worldwide intake of $49.2 million against a $15 million budget. Directed by Katherine Bigelow, the first (And thus far, only) woman to ever win the Oscar for Best Director, the film is believed to be loosely based on screenwriter Mark Boal’s personal experiences. A former war journalist, he was embedded with several military task forces during the early stages of what seems to be a contrived, drawn-out war. Set primarily around 2003 and 2004, the film focuses on an Iraq War bomb disposal team, initially composed of Sergeant J.T. Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge. Following a freak accident, a new member, Staff Sergeant William James, joins their operations in places like Baghdad and brings an incredibly reckless yet dedicated behavior to the team. The film traces the squad’s actions during their tour throughout various parts of Iraq and Afghanistan, some able to deal with the stress of combat better than others. It seems impossible these days to make a contemporary war film, let along talk about one, without the possibility of controversy. Some get accused of glorifying the United States’ wartime actions, others are called out for demonizing enemy nations, and the rest are criticized for so-called cowardice in addressing the subject matter. Films like American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty, Thank You For Your Service, 13 Hours, 12 Strong, and just recently The 15:17 to Paris have all fallen under this controversy and some of it is justified. Now, is Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker the early 21st-century masterpiece everyone is touting it as? Probably not. However, I won’t deny that it is a great film worth watching. Interestingly enough, this movie did receive some controversy, but not the kind you would expect. Some of the most pointed critiques come from veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other embedded journalists. Many of them claim that the film is not a realistic or accurate depiction of wartime conditions. Having read them, a number of them are just technical absurdities that only they would be able to notice- such as wrong uniforms or unbelievable weapon range. But they do have a point in criticizing the team’s misbehavior as being very irrational and reckless; to the best of my knowledge, no soldier would ever make decisions like the ones in this movie. At times, it can be as frustrating as watching dumb characters in a horror movie. But I’ll admit that it didn’t detract from the sheer relentlessness of certain scenes, especially when a bomb may potentially be involved. I’ve been a fan of Jeremy Renner for a while now, but this Oscar-nominated role may be his best performance to date. As James, he’s incredibly off the hook yet brilliant when the moment calls for it, perhaps the only one who truly knows how war works. Future Avengers co-star Anthony Mackie also does great work as his level-headed superior Sgt. Sanborn. His headbutting with James is essentially the story’s backbone, with his by-the-numbers input is nearly thrown out the window on numerous occasions in favor of improvisation. Meanwhile, Brian Geraghty is arguably the most “natural” is his role as Eldridge, an insecure but well-meaning teammate. Other actors, like Ralph Fiennes as the profane leader of a British PMC group and Guy Pearce as another bomb disposal guy, do excellent work and leave nothing to complain about. On the technical side of things, it becomes clear why this one was an awards season favorite. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd opts for a handheld style that almost imitates a documentary, similar to his work on United 93. In fact, the way it constantly moves and zooms in makes it feel incredibly immersive in a raw setting like the Middle East. Several scenes were filmed with multiple cameras at the same time, which allows for new perspectives to be found in each moment. But the editing job by Chris Innis and Bob Murawski is what truly sets the picture apart. Putting together hours of footage from Super 16 mm film is no easy task, but add the asymmetrical structure of the script and things seem almost impossible. During an early bomb sequence, the film breaks out into slow-motion and cuts constantly between the explosion itself and the impact it has on various surrounding surfaces. The musical score here is composed and conducted by both Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. While not one of the 21st century’s best, it’s still a pretty memorable soundtrack. The tracks are largely made up of electric guitars on constant riffs and melodies. Instrumental in building all of the tension and anxiety in the film, it often sounded like a neverending crescendo. It also features some choir-like voices which help to provide a great background for the cacophony of war. But both Bigelow and Boal’s greatest accomplishment with this film is its examination of how these soldiers react differently to the Iraq War. While most war films spend their time showing us that “War is Hell,” the team behind The Hurt Locker find it to be something else: an addiction. A potent drug, even. The main character is essentially an adrenaline junky, always searching for the next bomb to defuse. That was by far the most interesting thing this film had to offer. Whenever it goes off into something else, it just feels like nothing is happening. The Hurt Locker is a marvel of technical realism and character frustration. A tense and unpredictable war thriller, I appreciated the unique approach it took to the perspective of war while being annoyed by some other decisions. Nevertheless, it’s a truly great film, if not a particularly rewatchable one.

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“Black Panther” Movie Review

Give more power to the people. Or to filmmakers. Or to filmmakers who are from a people that aren’t nearly as represented as they should be. That’s the biggest takeaway from Black Panther. This superhero/sci-fi picture hybrid, the eighteenth (!) overall in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, was released on February 16th, 2018. Produced on a budget of nearly $200 million, the film is projected to earn all of that back and break a number of other records within the first weekend alone. Several celebrities and local charities have partaken in a challenge to give disadvantaged children of color around the world a chance to see the movie, which could set a new precedent in moviegoing attendance. The first-ever major black superhero in comic books, Blade actor Wesley Snipes attempted to get an adaptation off of the ground as early as 1992, but all potential iterations ended in turnaround. John Singleton seemed poised for the director’s chair at one point, but it eventually went to Ryan Coogler of Fruitvale Station and Creed. Set after the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to Wakanda, his home country in Africa which is isolated from the rest of the world. Following the death of his father, he is crowned the new king and also inherits the persona of the Black Panther warrior, infused with high-tech gear from an extremely rare metal called vibranium. However, his sovereignty is challenged by a new mercenary named Erik Killmonger, aided by an enemy of the state Ulysses Klaue, and must now become involved in a potential global conflict. To say that this movie was a long time coming would be an understatement. Black Panther, no relation to the political party from the early 1970’s, is an important symbol for many reasons. And the Black Panther Challenge, started by a local from Harlem, is a beautiful opportunity for expanding this movie to people that need to be represented. I remember in the weeks before watching it seeing a viral video of an economically underserved school’s ecstatic reaction to the news that they were all going to see the movie together. I was already excited for the movie because I adored Creed from 2015, but that video only amped up the excitement. And I can say positively that this is one of the best MCU movies yet, as well as one of the boldest. There was a story not too long ago that said an alt-right Facebook group planned on bombing the movie with negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Those are nothing more than a collection of fools scared that they’re moving from a majority to a minority. Indeed, there will inevitably be a crowd of folks who decry this movie for being “too political.” There is some truth to that charge; not all movies released have to tackle relevant issues. But on the flip side, there’s also the baffling belief that art wasn’t inherently political, to begin with. And a movie like this, written by, directed by, and largely starring black artists, deserves to have a message that the world can hear. Is it flawless? No. But there’s still so much to chew down on here. I feel like I don’t harp on how amazing it is that a big-budget studio film gets to have an almost all-black cast. Chadwick Boseman did a great job in Civil War, but now that he’s front and center, we get to see all his charisma and majesty in full display. With an authentic African accent and a calm demeanor, he gives us a royal figure who has to prove himself a man first, juggling all sorts of responsibilities and weight on his shoulders. The female characters were completely badass, thanks in no small part to the all-women king’s guard Dora Milaje. The Walking Dead‘s Danai Gurira shines as the general Okoye, who particularly stands out in a casino brawl where she goes to town on men in a striking red dress. Lupita N’Yongo also does great work as Nakia, a love interest who’s not just a love interest. She’s capable in a fight and extremely resourceful. The standout for the ladies is Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s teenage sister who’s one of the smartest people in the world. But the true scene-stealer in this crowd is Coogler’s regular collaborator Michael B. Jordan as the main antagonist Erik Killmonger, who finally breaks the mold of bad Marvel villains. Though it can become clear early on what his motivations are, they’re no less impactful and sympathetic. When he finally makes his beliefs and intents be known to his adversaries, you immediately understand where he’s coming from. It’s easy to say that an MCU movie looks stunning, but the technical aspects of Black Panther are simply stellar. Mudbound nominee Rachel Morrison gives Wakanda a distinctly alien yet human feel like it belongs in the real world. She captures in every frame the beauty and vastness of Wakanda, a welcome departure from the war-torn continent we’re used to seeing. One sequence that stands tall is when our heroes take on mercenaries in a Korean casino and it’s all filmed on a single take. Though, the editing by Michael P. Shawver and Claudia Costello can admittedly get jerky and borders on cut-to-shit sometimes. However, that’s completely made up for with the outstanding production design and costumes, which are beautifully exotic. And of course, the visual effects are awesome. Ludwig Goransson composes the musical score for this film, and it’s by far Marvel’s best one. Yes, it does feature tracks of sweeping orchestral beats common in these blockbusters, which could be forgettable. But what really makes it stand out is its creative fusion with African percussion and drums along with a beautiful vocal chorus. On top of that, rapper Kendrick Lamar curates some original songs for the soundtrack. Of particular note are “All the Stars,” which plays over the end credits, and “Pray for Me” during the casino scene. In fact, it could be argued that the movie is a cinematic version of a new Kendrick Lamar album. The movie does ultimately succumb to some of Marvel’s tired template rules. Namely, the ending felt a tad cliche and the film ran for about 20 minutes longer than it should have. And while it did lean a little too heavily into the Lexa product placement, Black Panther is a socially conscious superhero adventure that shows the power and importance of representation. Ryan Coogler has crafted a new kind of superhero story with the scars of colonialism and black culture well on its mind. Here’s hoping this paves the way for more inclusion in Hollywood in the future.

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My Top 10 Comic Book Superhero Movies of All Time

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

Honorable Mentions:

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

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

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

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

#9: “Wonder Woman” (2017)

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

#8: “Iron Man” (2008)

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

#7: “Batman Begins” (2005)

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

#6: “Spider-Man 2” (2004)

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

#5: “Deadpool” (2016)

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

#4: “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)

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

#3: “Logan” (2017)

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

#2: “The Avengers” (2012)

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

#1: “The Dark Knight” (2008)

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

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


“Zodiac” Movie Review

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

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“The Cloverfield Paradox” Movie Review

Here we are, the first new release review of 2018! What better way to kick off the year than with a movie that dropped its announcement completely last-minute before premiering on a streaming service where it’s bound to get lost in the shuffle? In other words, just another one to add to the pile. Produced by J.J. Abrams, this sci-fi horror thriller had a surprise release on February 4th, 2018, dropping immediately after the end of the Super Bowl LII. That’s not a hyperbole; Netflix actually released this Bad Robot production 2 hours after putting a 30-second teaser on during the game. Paramount Pictures was set to distribute it, as they have both previous Cloverfield movies. But following a massive shift in leadership, and the budget ballooning from $5 million to $45 million, post-production was repeatedly pushed back for nearly two years. According to several sources, at a point, they basically just gave up and let Netflix take care of the rest. Directed by first-timer Julius Onah, Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Ava Hamilton, one of a handful of astronauts on an international space station. In the near future when many countries are on the brink of war due to an energy crisis, the world’s space agencies launch the Cloverfield Station, which houses a powerful particle accelerator. The mission goes terribly wrong and the team discovers that the Earth has completely disappeared, igniting a fight for survival and a perilous search for the way home. It should be no surprise that I loved both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane a lot. While many people were not happy with the ending for Lane, I saw it as a great springboard for a potential franchise. And up until this one’s release, I had assumed that it would just take the form of an anthology series, akin to Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone. But this new film, previously title God Particle, attempts to put in more references and tie-ins to the 2008 found-footage original than is probably necessary. And because of this, The Cloverfield Paradox ends up being a monumental disappointment, the first one of 2018. Let me be clear: I have no problem with a movie that wants to crossover with other installments of its franchise. Anything that wants to bring the whole thing full circle in a literal sense is perfectly fine by me, as long as it’s done in a way that’s not contrived or shoehorned. Unfortunately, the references in this movie are just that; contrived and shoehorned. If you want to watch this movie, I won’t spoil anything for you. It’s seriously available on Netflix right now, go ahead if you wish. But the more I think about some of the connections to its two predecessors, the less sense it starts to make. Come to think of it, the whole idea of this being a Cloverfield sequel/spinoff feels more like an afterthought than anything else. The stacked cast, for the material they’re all given here, does try her best in the lead role. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, previously impressing with the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero,” does pretty good work as the lead Hamilton. You can tell the personal torment in her character that she tries to overcome. Chris O’Dowd was one of the biggest saving graces of the film, providing the right amounts of levity and sly timing. Even when the comedy elements feel really forced, O’Dowd is there to give a crack at it and delivers in most areas. Selma actor David Oyelowo gives his role as the crew’s captain as much command and wisdom as he can. Though it somewhat felt like he was confused whether to impersonate Captain Kirk or reenact MLK in space. Daniel Bruhl, Zhang Ziyi, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, and John Ortiz fill out the rest of the station’s crew. Again, they all try their best, but it doesn’t always work out very well. Technically speaking, this is a very mixed bag of a picture. Dan Mindel’s cinematography is decent enough and captures both the look and feel of a J.J. Abrams production without the overuse of lens flares. Of particular note is a scene when Mbatha-Raw is sitting up against a windshield with space on the other side. A simple moment that at least tries to showcase the scope of the story. The set designs are also fairly impressive and, although nowhere detailed as the sci-fi films it wants to pay homage to, do a good job at bringing the titular space station to life. Metal hallways are filled up with contrasting colors, which were visually appealing. However, one of the biggest areas of issue concerns the editing. So many sequences are chopped together like they were edited by 5 different people in post-production (3 are actually credited) And rushed the dailies in to get the finished print out in time. Bear McCreary is one of the most underrated film composers working in Hollywood today, but it’s nice to see Bad Robot giving him some recognition here. The score here is surprisingly passable, all things considered. Whenever we’re in the claustrophobic halls, we get low-octave, moody tracks to set the horror movie tone. But whenever the action decides to move outside into space, we get bigger, more exhilarating songs. You know the type, large orchestral tracks with pulsating percussion and quick strings. But all of it honestly feels like leftovers from a better score by McCreary. As a derivative, low-key sci-fi horror flick found on a streaming service, this movie actually works a lot better for rainy late-night viewings. As a “continuation” of a big-budget franchise, however, The Cloverfield Paradox is an unholy slapdash of last-minute ideas and dumb decisions. While I give Netflix credit for releasing it completely out of the blue, it’s now clear why Paramount didn’t really want it. If rumors are true, then Overlord will redeem this series later in the year. A shameless Alien rip-off or a new installment of an unexpected franchise. You ultimately can’t have both.

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