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Let’s Do It: My Favorite Movies #80-71

I’ve been busy as of late with various academic developments in my life. But now, while I still have the opportunity, I felt it was time to continue on with going through my Top 100 favorite movies of all time, starting with the next group of ten.

#80: “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (2015)

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It’s funny because while I actually do agree with most of the criticisms for The Force Awakens, I also really don’t care. I can still remember a time when we Star Wars fans all just accepted the fact that a new trilogy was never going to happen. And I also remember hearing for the first time years ago that Disney would continue making Star Wars films and J.J. Abrams would be spearheading the first of those pictures. For three years, I was hyped and that excitement transferred over to the theatrical experience. Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren all proved themselves to be complex characters worth caring for and seeing their arcs continue to grow is a thing of fascination.

#79: “The Prestige” (2006)

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Telling a nonlinear story is by no means a new or groundbreaking technique in cinema, but it takes a real storytelling genius to keep audiences invested from beginning to end. (Or end to beginning?) Few contemporary directors have achieved this as consistently as Christopher Nolan. You will most certainly find some of his other films later on this top 100, but The Prestige is perhaps his most underrated picture. All of his hijinks are on display here, and it’s utterly compelling. Nowhere else in movies will you get to watch a rivalry between two artists as abstract as magicians become so deadly and volatile.

#78: “The Shape of Water” (2017)

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A mute cleaning lady in the 1960’s falling for an ancient God-like Mer-Man? This has Guillermo del Toro fingerprints written all over it, and I mean that in the best sense possible. The Mexican auteur has always dabbled in the fantasy genre in various ways, but The Shape of Water was his first time telling a straight-up fairytale for grown-ups. And it was gorgeous to witness. It also helps that it has one of my favorite original scores of the last 10 years, thanks to Alexandre Desplat.

#77: “Gravity” (2013)

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Some will call Gravity for its numerous scientific inaccuracies. Others will dismiss it for being too “simplistic” of a movie. But on its own merits, as a low-sci-fi thriller about the need to carry on and survive in even the direst of circumstances, Alfonso Cuaron’s film is breathtakingly beautiful and unexpectedly moving. You’d be hard-pressed to find another film set in space that actually looks, feels, and sounds like the real thing.

#76: “Avatar” (2009)

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I’m not usually one to play the role of contrarian. Most of the time, I tend to fall under the same critical consensus as everyone else when it comes to opinions on popular films and I even agree with the Academy a lot of the time. Although I can’t quite explain it, there’s just something about Avatar, James Cameron’s much-maligned space epic, that just clicks with me. Sure, its storyline is extremely derivative and its overall messages may be too on the nose for some viewers. But in terms of visual storytelling and worldbuilding, the Na’vi stand almost peerless to this day. If for nothing else, it’s a perfect movie to get a Blu-Ray copy of and test your new T.V. I just happen to stay for the journey.

#75: “Being John Malkovich” (1999)

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By my estimation, Charlie Kaufman is the type of screenwriter who you either consider to be one of the most brilliant minds of the 21st century or a self-indulgent, pessimistic hack. And I believe that you would have a right to have either opinion on the matter. Admittedly, I’ve yet to watch some of his other films, but Being John Malkovich is honestly an underrated masterwork of creativity. Rarely will you ever watch a film so bizarre and original, especially one in this day and age. The whole concept of wanting to step into another person’s shoes, if only for 15 minutes, is actually quite sad but rings very true.

#74: “Metropolis” (1927)

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It truly astonishes me that this movie is 91 years old because it still feels so, so, SO pertinent in the modern era. Fritz Lang’s dystopian epic was decades ahead of its time and still holds up remarkably well to this day. Everything, from the otherworldly design of the iconic Maschinemensch to the palm-sweating finale, this stands proof that silent films can still be just as captivating as any “talkies that have come in since. There are only a handful of films that I’ve ever seen that I am willing to call “perfect” without any reservation. Metropolis is one of them.

#73: “Apollo 13” (1995)

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I was just raving about Gravity a few films up, but it probably wouldn’t have happened without Apollo 13. Ron Howard has a penchant for telling stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and it’s no different with this historical drama. If you have no idea what Apollo 13 was or who was involved, go into this movie with that lack of knowledge. It’s arguably the best way to experience it, coupled with the realistic visuals and believable performances. Smart people doing smart things to get themselves out of a stupid problem. This is definitely my kind of movie.

#72: “Moonlight” (2016)

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The weirdest thing is that despite Moonlight‘s current place among my favorite movies, I initially had no interest in watching it. However, it was only after it started getting all of its well-deserved awards buzz that I began paying attention. Setting aside one of the most unprecedented Best Picture debacles in Oscars history, what Barry Jenkins accomplished here is a rarity of empathy for a kid growing up in a neighborhood that doesn’t quite understand him. It all comes from a deeply personal place, putting the audience in the middle of the world. Mark my words, its relevance will never go away.

#71: “No Country For Old Men” (2007)

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Joel Coen and Ethan Coen are both geniuses and No Country For Old Men is a stone-cold masterpiece. There’s just no way working around that sentiment for me, not when a scene like the one depicted in the image above exists for me to watch. Granted, a story by author Cormac McCarthy is certainly not going to appeal to everyone. But when you have Javier Bardem in your movie to play one of the most terrifying villains in movies ever, well, you’ve already won me over. What’s so scary about him is that he has so few words, but his presence is still felt. And I just love the ending simply because it wants to inspire discourse among film lovers.


The Weinstein Effect- And Why We All Need to Stand Together

*Disclaimer: If, at any point, it sounds as though this post is condescending or misguided on the issue, please let me know. It was never my intention to be either of those two. I just wanted my thoughts on this whole ordeal to be known.*

You know, I thought for a long time that I could continue my Blog without really addressing this issue. At first, like many people, I thought that this was just a case of a few rotten apples on the tree of Hollywood. But God Almighty, was I wrong. And now, especially after the 75th Golden Globes ceremony, I can’t resist the urge to write about it anymore. I simply can’t shake the feeling that if I don’t put this out there, I’ll feel ashamed within a few weeks. Before proceeding any further, I have to assume that there are a handful of readers out there that are confused about the situation. Long story short, in October 2017, Ronan Farrow published a lengthy investigative piece for The New Yorker. In this piece, he detailed decades worth of sexual misconduct committed by Harvey Weinstein- including harassment, assault, and even rape. Since then, nearly 100 women have come forward with their own stories, and have even started criminal investigations in at least three cities. Weinstein, the head and co-founder of the studios Miramax and the Weinstein Company, was then stripped of all of his honors and membership. His reign was over, no doubt. But soon after his downfall, other stories began popping up around the industry of men abusing their power. This has been dubbed by many observers as “The Weinstein Effect.” Among the many people accused of abuse or harassment were Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Andy Signore, Harry Knowles, Brett Ratner, James Toback, Andrew Keisberg, Russell Simmons, Dustin Hoffman, and John Lasseter. And it’s not just in Hollywood. This controversy has become so widespread that it has reached into politics, journalism, and even across international waters. A number of these accusers have already faced consequences; Louis C.K.’s newest film I Love You, Daddy was dropped the week before release and Spacey wasn’t only fired from House of Cards but completely cut from his film, All the Money in the World. The optimist in me wants to say that this whole thing is finally over and we can move forward. But the cynic in me is telling me something else, which I’m more inclined to believe: This controversy has revealed the systemic network of abuse and cover-ups prevalent in any industry within our world. It’s not like Ronan Farrow wrote the cataclysmic article over the course of one weekend. No, he probably spent many months putting this piece together, years even. If one of those women came forward by herself, Weinstein could have used his powers as a wealthy man to silence her. But since all of them came forward at once, it has opened a floodgate of shocking, disturbing truths. Not since The Boston Globe‘s look into the Catholic Church in 2001 has a sexual abuse scandal been so widespread among the public and so earth-shattering. Sadly, one of the fallouts of this exposure is that many people within the industry have started pointing fingers at each other. Not necessarily accusing them of abuse, but stating how they knew of Weinstein or any of the other culprits and did nothing about it. Quentin Tarantino has specifically apologized for having done nothing in the way of bringing their actions to justice. (Weinstein produced and distributed all of his films up to that point) Now, did everyone in Hollywood know about these accusations prior to his ousting? Maybe, maybe not. But yelling at them on Twitter or in the streets isn’t going to make anything better. So then why am I typing an entire post on this debacle? Because I’m fed up. I’m mad, dumbfounded, tired, heartbroken. Some people that I really admired were among the accused but I can’t force myself to stand with them anymore. And we can make the argument of “Separating the art from the artist” all day long, something I generally am okay with. In fact, a number of these social pariahs have put out revered works over the years. To this day, people such as myself are still rewatching films like The Usual Suspects, Se7en, and Pulp Fiction. And we probably still will for years to come, with the controversies being put into the back-burner of our minds. Regardless how much it bothers some people, that’s the reality. I really wish I could give you a concrete answer to that problem, but there’s nothing I can say or do that will keep you from swaying to one side or the other. That’s up to the individual Instead, I wanted to let people know that I stand in solidarity with the survivors. I have had friends who’ve gone through similar experiences as the victims. It was unacceptable then, and it’s unacceptable now. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to stay quiet on this issue. Speaking up is the first part of change, and the only way that this decadence can be addressed is if we all sound off our voices together. To quote Oprah Winfrey in her acceptance speech, “I want all the girls watching here to know, that a new day is on the horizon.” Indeed. And may that day be bright and full of beauty and hope.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” Movie Review

This movie represents the best type of advertisement out there: Get up off your butts and go make a difference. This darkly comic crime drama won the top prize of People’s Choice Award at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival back in September. Following a relatively limited released on November 10th, the film has already made back its $12 million budget and will no doubt continue a strong run thanks to strong word-of-mouth and rave reviews from critics. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the playwright behind the films In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, the screenplay was reportedly conceived back in the early 2000’s when he saw billboards similar to the ones in this movie while traveling through America. He apparently shaped the story around the question of “Who would put up something like that?” Set in the titular small town, Frances McDormand stars as Mildred Hayes, a woman whose daughter was raped and murdered 7 months prior. Frustrated with the lack of progress on the case, she rents three billboards just outside of her town condemning the police department. This leads to a war with the cops, particularly the chief and one racist officer, several townsfolk, and her own family. But hopefully, this can get them to find a new suspect and bring it all to a close. No, I have not yet seen the director’s debut feature In Bruges, though it is high on my watchlist. But I have seen, and enjoyed, Seven Psychopaths, an underrated black comedy with Tarantino-esque dialogue and circumstances. So in that, I knew I had to keep an eye on Martin McDonagh and the projects he’d potentially undertake. And when I first heard about this movie, two thoughts ran through my head. First, this is ridiculously relevant to the current anti-police climate being felt in many areas of the country. Second, how did he come up with such a cool concept? I wanted to see how he’d approach the subject matter. And he has come up with one of the year’s best films. What I appreciated most about the film is how realistic it was. One of my complaints about Seven Psychopaths was that the story felt too ludicrous at times and sometimes felt like style over substance. Three Billboards is almost as if McDonagh heard those responses and decided to get down and dirty in this small town. The dialogue is once again brilliantly written and endlessly profane. The characters have no problem saying some really inappropriate things to each other, some on a regular basis. Virtually every single swear word that you can think of is probably said in this movie, but not in a gratuitous way. It feels like this is as close to reality as could be done if a situation like this were to actually occur. It was unexpectedly funny and, at times, sobering. Frances McDormand is already a legend for movies like Fargo, but she honestly gives the best performance of her career in this film. She curses like a sailor, smokes like a dealer, and is mean to everyone who opposes her actions, but still incredibly thoughtful and deeply troubled. My favorite scene is when a priest asks her to take down the billboards and she goes on a diatribe about how gang laws passed in the 80’s related to priests who are “culpable” to abuse. A pointed, if cynical observation. Woody Harrelson portrays the irritated yet sincere Chief Willoughby, a man who clearly wants to do some justice, but has to deal with rotten apples. One of those apples is Sam Rockwell, who turns in a brilliant role of a racist, drunken cop. Though the character could be easy to write off, Rockwell gives him shades of pity and foolishness as we see he’s nothing more than a product of his environment. And while the rest of the cast, especially Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s troubled son and Peter Dinklage as a funny yet insecure townsmen, do a great job, it’s these 3 actors that are at the forefront of the drama. Let’s take a minute to discuss the technical attributes of the film. Previously a favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, cinematographer Ben Davis uses natural lighting and washed colors to get the accurate look of a small town. Whether we’re on the side of the freeway with the titular billboards or inside neon-lit bar with the characters, we’re always there in the moment. McDonagh’s background as a playwright means that single-location scenes are always engaging, but he makes sure that something else happens to keep the audience’s attention. The edits by Jon Gregory between stuffy indoor rooms and open-air environs outside is rather clever. One of the most memorable sequences is when one character goes on a full rampage, and it’s all taken on a single, handheld shot. I wouldn’t necessarily call this an “action scene,” but it definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. The soundtrack is brought to us by Coen brothers collaborator Carter Burwell. (Which is fitting since this feels like a film they would make together) Compared to most other musical scores this year, it’s a rather simplistic one, but undeniably effective. Most of the tracks consist of the rhytmic blues-like beat of a guitar and hand percussion, giving off the effect of armies marching to war. It also contains real-world songs of country or rock in the background, but their names aren’t coming back to me right now. And in some instances, there is no music. This, I feel, allowed some of the more powerful scenes to breathe. My major issue is about the ending. It made sense for the sake of the story and ended on an unconventional note. But you’ve just spent 115 minutes with this town, and it felt stretched out a little. I’d have liked to watch at least one more scene. In any case, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri finds its outstanding cast reveling in searing comedy. The perfect blend of pitch-black humor and frighteningly real drama.

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“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” Movie Review

If this movie proves anything in life, it’s this: Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was not the only awesome film to come out of New Zealand. This adventure comedy-drama landed a limited release in North America on June 24th, 2016, following a lengthy festival run after its premiere at Sundance. It has since gone on to become the highest-grossing native film in New Zealand, with a box office take of about $23 million. Based in part on Barry Crump’s book Wild Pork and Watercress, the story is set against the extensive wild bush of New Zealand and follows a juvenile delinquent named Ricky Baker, who has recently been adopted by a farmer couple. After a tragic happening, Ricky resolves to run away from his home into the bush, only to be found by his foster uncle Hector. When a nationwide manhunt ensues, they reluctantly have to work together to survive the wilderness. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is brought to us by writer-director Taika Waititi, who also gave us hidden gems such as the moving drama Boy and the hilarious mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. He will also be moving to the Hollywood blockbuster environment this November with Thor: Ragnarok so it would be wise to keep tabs on this one. His trademark quirkiness for characters and dialogue is ever-present in this latest effort, which may be his best work yet. His script is injected with immense heart and poignancy, contrasted by scenarios so absurd that it’s almost impossible to not laugh out loud. During one particular scene, the situation was mirrored to and alludes to The Fellowship of the Ring, something even the characters address. As a fan of the series, this made me chuckle. As for the cast, veteran Irish character actor Sam Neill gives us a performance unto itself completely different from his stint as a paleontologist in Jurassic Park. He’s gruff and occasionally closed off but shows a tremendous capability for compassion and care as a father figure. By his side is a breakout performance from the newcomer, native New Zealander Julian Dennison as Ricky. Even at the age of 14, this kid does a fantastic job with his lovable, yet deeply troubled character. You get the idea that Ricky has had a rough life up to this point, and it also becomes clear at a point that he wouldn’t last 2 seconds out in the wilderness without Hector. These two bounce off of each other with ease, as their relationship is a very believable one. Hector has to show Ricky various tactics for survival, such as building fires and hunting for food with a rifle. But it’s also their less stressful and quieter situations that make for some of the most human moments. Whether it’s when they’re both sitting by the campfire sharing their own painful pasts, or when they’re quietly sitting in the woods looking at a thought-to-be-extinct bird, it’s actually quite impressive how well these scenes were put together. However, we can’t talk about any movie set in the wilderness without discussing the look and aesthetic of it all. In a sense, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has the feel of a modern sitcom because it was almost entirely shot on a single camera. Even with that, the locations in the film look absolutely beautiful. There are so many aerial view shots of the lush green landscape that are immediately edited into quick cuts across the dense forest. This gives the film a feeling that puts it on level ground with the characters. Of all the places in the world that I would like to visit before I die, New Zealand is at the top of that list. This is the final proof of that goal. Commentary should also be given to the music. There is a very minimalist score from Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde, mostly just background guitars. The soundtrack itself is comprised mostly of folk songs, all of which perfectly match the tone of the story. And now for the big negative of the movie: Regret. I regret not seeing this film in theaters in 2016 because it would have easily appeared somewhere on my Top 10 List by the end of the year. So please don’t let its seemingly foreign nature dissuade you; Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an irresistibly quirky and touching dramedy about the sacred bond between father and son. (Or in this case, uncle and nephew) A poignant yet hilarious showcase for great, lesser-known actors, it’s appropriately restrained in its direction. And for that, Hunt of the Wilder people absolutely deserves more recognition from American audiences.

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R.I.P. Carrie Fisher

Just when we thought we were in the clear, the evil gods behind 2016 pulled the rug from under us and laughed. So if you haven’t heard by now, actress and philanthropist Carrie Fisher died on December 27 of cardiac arrest. There had been conflicting reports of her status in the days leading up to it. She had been hospitalized, following a heart problem on an airplane, and then the diagnosis stated that she had been put into stable condition. But 2 mornings ago, I learned that those rumors of her pulling through were examples of false hope. And so now, I take my time to reflect my thoughts on this terrible tragedy for Star Wars fans. “But, Cade, you still have a bunch of movies from 2016 you haven’t reviewed yet. You need to get on those, pronto!” Stop that noise. Those movies will have their time to shine when it comes down to it. I literally dropped EVERYTHING else that I’m working on to bring you the feelings I’m going through in the wake of Carrie Fisher’s death. If by chance, you don’t know have the slightest clue Fisher is or who she’s played in her career, that’s weird but I’ll explain. It was this little movie franchise called Star Wars. Who did she play? Princess Leia Organa of the planet Alderaan, leader of the Rebel Alliance, and feminist icon for generations. Okay, confession time. I did have a little celebrity crush on her when I was but a child, especially after Return of Jedi. As adolescence wore on, I matured as a person and found there were other things worth getting invested in rather than what actor or actress you have a crush on. However, her personal life story is arguably even more fascinating than her professional one. The first daughter of actors and singers Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, she spent much of her adult life suffering from bipolar disorder. She wished to cope this with severe episodes of drug addiction and alcoholism. In fact, it’s believed that she may have been stoned for a good chunk of filming The Empire Strikes Back. She spent her subsequent years as a novelist, play-write, and activist in rehabilitation and female power. So if anyone on Earth could survive a heart attack, it had to be her. Just goes to show that you can’t always get what you want. Funnily enough, her mother passed away a day later, supposedly from grief. Like mother, like daughter. Fisher’s death also has me wondering about the implications of Leia’s role in the next few Star Wars movies. It’s been confirmed that she has completed work on Episode VIII, which she may have a larger role in than The Force Awakens. But that still leaves the question open to what her character’s fate will be in Episode XI. Will she be written out like Spock Prime and Pavel Chekov in Star Trek Beyond? If so, they would have to include deeply emotional tributes to her, like we saw this past summer. Then again, they could potentially go the path that Rogue One took? (Spoiler Alert) In Rogue One, Grand Moff Tarkin and young Princess Leia were recreated with different actors, but their faces were digitally structured to look like them through the use of CGI. That’s been the biggest point of contention for this year’s entry in the series, and there’s speculation that Lucasfilm might use that strategy in the future. I could imagine the fans in an uproar at that prospect, but we’ll have to wait until Kathleen Kennedy says anything. I’m willing to bet my money, however, that they’ll wait a few years to announce a coming-of-age movie starring young Leia, a la Han Solo. In any case, those are my thoughts on this whole ordeal. When I discovered the news, I screamed out my frustration and sadness. What a way to cap off a year chock full of celebrity deaths. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher. You will be missed in the future. Thanks for everything.

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“Captain America: Civil War” Movie Review

I know what you’re thinking:”Cade, I’m growing tired of superhero movies. They’re all the same thing, just repackaged.” That’s what I thought before Civil War. This politically-charged superhero action-adventure released nationwide on May 6th, 2016, having released in other countries over a week beforehand. It has nearly tripled its $275 million budget in the first opening weekend alone. Relax, this review is completely spoiler-free. Will I do spoiler-filled post? You bet. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, who were also at the helm of 2014’s The Winter Soldier, this film is inspired in part by the limited comic book crossover series of the same name by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, and is set one year after the events of Age of Ultron. Bucky Barnes, A.K.A. the Winter Soldier, is wanted by the U.N. for a variety of terrorist acts. His actions along with all the collateral damage the Avengers have caused in the past few years prompt the government to create the Sokovia Accords, a document that, if signed, would require all superhumans in the world to either register their identity to the government or just retire from being a superhero. Iron Man/Tony Stark is pro-registration, stating that the Avengers need to be put check, otherwise there’s no difference between them and the villains that they fight. On the opposite side, Captain America/Steven Rogers says they shouldn’t become the government’s personal play toys, and a few other points not to be spoiled here. These are two completely ideologies clashing, and several superheroes and agents have to choose sides. But I feel obligated to let you know that, first and foremost, this a personal sequel to The Winter Soldier, because it focuses a lot on the relationship between Captain America and the Winter Soldier. Ultimately, the Civil War storyline is interesting, but it’s a byproduct of that relationship. Black Panther is really given a chance to shine in this movie. Chadwick Boseman portrays him so well, displaying a balance between being regal, ferocious, intelligent, and rash. He did a great job crafting a Wakandan accent, sounding like a mixture of African and French. But folks, let’s get right into it; the airport battle. The single greatest all-star royal throwdown I have ever seen in any film. It’s so much bigger than we have seen in any of the trailers. The special effects were impressive, the dialogue was funny, the sound design was superb, and each hero was given a chance to show off their talent. Ant-Man, played again hilariously by Paul Rudd, shows us how powerful he’s capable of being. And then there’s Spider Man. Oh my God, guys. That has got to be the greatest incarnation I’ve seen of Spider Man and Peter Parker I have seen on-screen to date. Tom Holland did a terrific job as him, even if he was in the movie for only 15 minutes tops. He alone makes the movie worth seeing. And now for the one thing that brings the film down: the villain. He’s a completely useless and irrelevant weasel that is only in it for the sake of their being a bad guy. It would have been great to just see either Cap or Iron Man as villains, but nope; the writers had to shoehorn in Helmut Zemo. His plot did make sense, but ultimately irrelevant, and honestly opens a few plot holes that screw up continuity. Even with that rather large setback, Captain America: Civil War is still one of the best superhero movies ever put to film, with great characters, excellent writing, and a stunning cast. It surprisingly maintains equal balance between both Iron Man and Captain America’s points of view, so there are no obvious politics. I cannot wait to see what happens next with Tom Holland’s Spider Man.


“The Jungle Book” Movie Review

I went into this movie thinking I would not enjoy it as much as the original. But I did. This 3D fantasy adventure film open worldwide on April 15th, 2016, since then more than tripling it’s staggering $175 million budget. As part of Disney’s new plan of live-action adaptations for their classic animations, we follow a young boy named Mowgli who is being raised as a “man-cub” in a pack of wolves led by Raksha and Akela. During a particularly dry rain season, a temporary truce has been called between all the animals of the Jungle. But the powerful tiger, Shere Khan, has a great hatred for man, and announces that once it starts raining again and the truce is over, Mowgli dies. So now, Bagheera, the black panther who brought Mowgli into the Jungle in the first place, is escorting him to the nearest man village for safety, meeting a cast of colorful characters along the way. This may surprise some fans of classic Disney, but it takes cues from both the old 1967 film and the original writings of author Rudyard Kipling. Only two of the songs from the original movie’s soundtrack composed by Louis Armstrong appear in this movie. “Bear Necessities” is played up from banter between Mowgli and the bear Baloo, while “I Wanna Be Like You” sung by King Louie seemingly comes out of nowhere. It felt like director Jon Favreau shoehorned these songs into the movie for the sake of, “If a Jungle Book didn’t have any of the songs in it, that would be strange.” And this is just me being petty, but the actor who plays Mowgli simply can’t sing. But thankfully there are many other things he can do. He is literally talking and acting in front of nothing, and I have seen adult actors do worse at that than him. Quote me on this: Neel Sethi is going to be getting a ton of work and movie roles offered to him in the not-so distant future. The entire voice cast is also worth noting. Sir Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray share great chemistry as two protectors of Mowgli who have very different ideals and methods for how to operate in the Jungle. I view this movie as a return to form for Murray, who cracks many funny jokes with appropriately snappy dialogue. If we want to talk about supporting characters stealing the show, Christopher Walken deserves recognition as the orangutan King Louie. More or less he plays what Christopher Walken usually plays: a big, creepy weirdo who likes to assert authority over others and is a goner before the movie is over. That’s what I can say about this film in general, is that it’s a lot darker and more scary than the animated Jungle Book. Despite it’s PG rating, strong caution is advised for any parent who plans on taking their young children to see the movie. the snake Kaa, voiced by the versatile Scarlet Johansson, has gone from a silly animal to a terrifying beast. In King Louie’s temple, the monkeys all acted and sounded frightening; not cute and fuzzy as we are used to knowing. Got to talk about Shere Khan, though; HO-LY SHIT! He was so intimidating. I’m going to remember this tiger for the rest of my existence. I love how his personality was made for the movie; he’s ferocious, articulate, menacing, dominating, intelligent, stubborn. Voiced by Idris Elba, who sounds so natural that it seems he’s been do voice-over work for years. What truly drove this movie home for me is how it showed that the Jungle has a system. Each species must bow in respect to the elephants, the wolves are responsible for their own pack, fire is commonly referred to as the “red flower,” and all animals have their own specific territories within the Jungle. In the end, The Jungle Book was exactly what I wanted it to be. A great cast, wonderful characters, fantastic visuals that rival that of Gravity and Avatar, and ultimately serves as a loving tribute to it’s predecessor that doesn’t betray its legacy. Easily one of the best movies of 2016 by far, I am now eagerly awaiting a live-action Mulan. You know you want it, too.