Let’s Do It: My Favorite Movies #100-91

Yep, we’re going there now. After nearly 4 years of slamming away aimless thoughts on movies on my keyboard, I decided to go through and rank my Top 100 favorite movies of all time. Due to the comprehensive nature of the rankings, I decided to split it up into ten lists of ten over a certain period of time. I figured it was probably best to throw this list together now at the beginning of the year as I don’t feel anything has yet threatened the competition. These are the movies that I have watched the most, cherished the most, quoted the most, and recommended the most to my friends, family, and fellow cinephiles. So let’s begin, shall we?

#100: “2001: A Space Oddysey” (1968)

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It seems like utter heresy to place such a highly regarded film on the lower end of my rankings, especially from an auteur such as Stanley Kubrick. But the truth of the matter is that, even though I absolutely respect his legacy and importance as a filmmaker, I have never truly liked many of his movies. However, I would be a stone-faced liar if I didn’t say that 2001: A Space Odyssey is nothing if not a sprawling, mesmerizing epic with groundbreaking visuals that still hold up 50 years later and a sweeping story that none of us will probably ever fully decipher. That’s alright, though.

#99: “Goodfellas” (1990)

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Ah, Martin Scorsese. One of the few remaining directors in Hollywood who can include both graphic violence and heinous profanity in his movies (in ample supply) yet still actually get away with it. An expansive look into the Italian Mafia told from the perspective of one of their biggest players back in the day, it really does better with each rewatch. Especially if you haven’t seen it in a long while.

#98: “It Follows” (2015)

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I remember there was a long point in time where I just didn’t like horror movies. At all. I thought they were all just the same thing recycled: tits, blood, and jump scares. However, it’s been in more recent years, in part because of my broadened tastes as well as the rise of the indie horror movie, that I began an appreciation for the genre. You’ll certainly some more on my countdown later on that I love the most. And David Robert Mitchell’s hypnotic, original, terror-inducing It Follows is one of the finest examples in modern cinema you’ll ever find.

#97: “Zodiac” (2007)

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David Fincher certainly has a penchant for serial killers and other psychologically disturbed individuals, as highlighted in his filmography. However, nowhere in his career has he done it better than with Zodiac, which, believe it or not, is based on a true story. That fact arguably makes this film even more terrifying than if it were just a piece of fiction. I’m glad this movie is finally getting the appreciation it deserves now because it still is better than a lot of murder mystery crap that comes to us today.

#96: “Fargo” (1996)

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Leave it to the Coen Brothers to find the most hilarious bits of comedy even in the darkest of places. They’ll have another film later on this 100, but Fargo is pretty much a perfect movie. Not a single misstep in the plot, not character that feels shoehorned or left out, no line of dialogue that feels like it’s out of place. Oh, and it features a legendary Oscar-winning performance from Joel’s wife Frances McDormand. It may seem like a “nothing” movie at first glance, but it warrants rewatchability.

#95: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003)

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I’ve always been a sucker for this franchise’s early installments, especially from a young age. Make no mistake, the Pirates of the Caribbean series got consistently worse as it just went on, but I enjoy watching the first three movies every now and again. The inaugural one, though, is essentially the template for a good Disney blockbuster. A quirky but likable lead character, inoffensive humor, great music from Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt and epic action sequences. Johnny Depp may have become a pin-up for domestic violence in recent years, but his performance as Jack Sparrow is so wholesome, unique and inimitable- even by the man himself later in his career.

#94: “Spirited Away” (2001)

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It wasn’t until recently, like in the past two or three years, that I truly began to appreciate anime films. I had seen some Studio Ghibli productions beforehand, like Ponyo or Howl’s Moving Castle, but it took me a while before realizing their brilliance. However, I automatically knew upon first viewing that Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away was a masterpiece, an astonishing work of the 2000’s. It’s not often that you get to watch a movie, let alone an animated one, that is so daring, original, and beautiful. Miyazaki was an absolute genius and he retired from the art too soon.

#93: “Finding Nemo” (2003)

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Back-to-back animated films on this list, but no less an achievement. Finding Nemo is simply one of Pixar’s best films, and you will definitely see more of their works on the Top 100 to come. For now, though, Andrew Stanton crafted a gorgeous ode to the troubles of parenthood cleverly disguised as an underwater road trip adventure with talking fish. Kids will be awed by the vibrant visuals and sight gags while adults will be moved by the strong, stirring look at responsibility in the vast world. In hindsight, the enormous ocean is a brilliant metaphor for the big wide world all around us.

#92: “Serenity” (2005)

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I am a huge fan of the T.V. show Firefly. Of all the one-season wonders in the history of television, nothing is more painful than the fact that Fox canceled this show for no concrete reason. So color me ecstatic when I found out that the story wrapped up in a theatrical movie written and directed by Joss Whedon. For all intents and purposes, Serenity shouldn’t even exist. But the power of fandom succeeds and whenever I feel bored and trapped at home, I think about just getting back together with some of my favorite characters ever in sci-fi. Ugh, I wish there was more of it.

#91: “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)

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You either love Paul Greengrass’ shaky, vérité style of action filmmaking or you don’t. Considering that The Bourne Ultimatum ended up on my list, I guess you can figure out where I stand on that argument. The over-the-shoulder angle of the action sequences can certainly be disorienting for some, but for others, like me, it provides an unnatural realism to a genre that seems reliant on ridiculousness. It also has a subtly great performance from Matt Damon and an intricate storyline to boot, bringing the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. And it features one of the best one-on-one knife fights in movie history, which is depicted in the image above.

There’s the first list of ten. I’ll be back soon with the next batch. In the meantime, please be sure to like this post and Follow my Blog.


“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.


“The Princess Bride” Movie Review

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year than by rejoicing in one of my favorite romance movies of all time? Seriously, is there any other way to go about it? For cinephiles like this one, certainly not. Rob Reiner’s fantasy rom-com initially saw a release on September 25th, 1987, where it received positive responses from audiences. However, the film was surprisingly dry at the box office, only managing to bring in about $30 million against a $16 million budget. Fortunately, thanks to the rise of the Internet and the expansion of the home media market, the film has found an enormous cult following around the world, including from this reviewer here. Adapted from the William Goldman novel of the same name, who also wrote the screenplay, the film is a rarity in the art in how much it cuts off. Goldman apparently wrote the treatment as one for his relatives and cut out various longer sequences, such as war room discussions. Frankly, that’s a miracle. The movie creatively uses a sick-in-bed preteen boy as the framing device for the entire story, which his grandfather reads in a storybook. In a fictional medieval country of Florin, a farm boy named Westley is willing to do anything to win the hand of the girl of his dreams, Buttercup. Since she’s engaged to marry the sadistic Prince Humperdinck, there’s only so much time to get her back from a forced bond. He recruits the help of various colorful characters, including Inigo Montoya and Fezzik, to go on this perilous adventure to rescue true love. I’m going to be completely honest with everyone here: there’s almost no real point in me writing a full-length review for The Princess Bride. I’m serious, it’s extremely hard, second only Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz in terms of movies that are hard to review objectively. If I were to do that, it would ultimately turn into a long-winded, misty-eyed essay rife with nostalgia on why it’s so foundational to the memories of my childhood. However, I’m under obligation from my New Year’s Resolution to actually go through with this, so why not? One thing I would like to focus on in this “review” is how the film blends a variety of genres together. A sweeping romance story? Check. Swashbuckling adventure epic? Check. Hilarious and self-referential comedy with memorable jokes? Double Check. And yet what Rob Reiner does is that he brings all of these seemingly disparate genres together so effortlessly in a way that still works out for the story. Interestingly, the end result turns out to be something of a loving satire of them all, producing possibly one of the best Frankenstein scripts ever written. And the most impressive part? The movie only runs at 98 minutes, yet everything packed into it feels so like it’s so natural or flows so well. The entire cast is perfect with their deadpan delivery of idiosyncratic lines of dialogue. Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes are especially terrific as Inigo Montoya and Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts, respectively. Patinkin shares a story of his longing for revenge early on and constantly tells how he plans to introduce himself to his future victim: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Lines like that, as well as Wallace Shawn’s delivery of “Inconceivable!” have become permanently ingrained into pop culture status. For me, though the best performer is the late wrestler Andre the Giant as the huge muscle man Fezzik. He uses surprisingly great comedic timing blended well with physical humor to great avail. Though he’s definitely not the brightest of the bunch, you can’t help but love the big guy as he tumbles through the land. On the technical side of things, Reiner does enough stuff that’s interesting to warrant your attention. The various locations in obscure parts of England and Ireland make for beautiful backdrops in the story, such as the Cliffs of Insanity or the Fire Swamp. The camerawork by Adrian Biddle is simplistic and uses many instances of sweeping pans, which is appropriate for the sweeping tale of true love. All of the gorgeous costumes and outstanding production design are brought to life in glorious colors. I shudder to imagine how much time was spent to build that many sets and seams, especially with the complete lack of CGI or even blue screen. The editing job by Robert Leighton also deserves some commentary, as it breathlessly moves between the layers of the story. It goes from the boy in his bed to the kingdom of Florin, over to the green countryside, and back to the sick boy and his grandfather. This was perhaps the most important aspect to keep the film from collapsing in on itself. Meanwhile, Mark Knopfler of the Dire Straits gives us a musical score worthy of a classical romance. The composition is actually quite simple, mostly consisting of plucked guitar strings or mushy strings. This ironically stands in direct contrast to the satirical nature of the film but works all the better for it. Knopfler also wrote an original theme song called “Storybook Love,” which plays over the ending credits. It sounds just like any love ballad you’ve heard from the 80’s but is no less appropriate for the story. It truly is a storybook romance. Timeless, warm-hearted, comforting, sweet, and endlessly appealing, The Princess Bride is a wondrous adventure that leaves the rest of the genre all behind. This really was Rob Reiner in his peak, and I’m so glad that this movie has found appreciation over the years. If you saw me quote this movie word for word, you’d more than likely be scared. If your desire is for me to keep reviewing movies, to that I say “As you wish.”

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“The Shawshank Redemption” Movie Review

If 2017 proved anything to us, it’s that people really love a good Stephen King adaptation. Now let’s travel back in time to a film that didn’t get the recognition it deserved until years later. This highly beloved prison drama from writer-director Frank Darabont was originally released on September 23rd, 1994. Despite receiving generally favorable reviews as well as 7 Academy Award nominations, the film only barely made back twice its $25 million budget. However, it became the most successful home media release of 1995 and has been re-run on cable T.V. endlessly. Legend has it that Darabont was able to purchase the rights for less than $10,000, but sat on it for nearly 5 years. The film finally came to fruition after a lengthy casting process was done, including some changes to the story that we’ll mention in a little bit. Based on the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, the 142 minute-long story follows Tim Robbins who plays Andy Dufresne, an intelligent banker who is wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover. He is sentenced to life at the Shawshank State Penitentiary, where he is subject to the brutality of both sadistic prisoners and opportunistic guards. Soon, he befriends a fellow prisoner/contraband smuggler Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman. Over the next two decades, they and a handful of others have to deal with various developments, such as the Warden’s money laundering scheme and struggle to hold onto the hope of making it to being free once more. How on Earth am I supposed to review a movie that is so obviously revered by many and has been reviewed/praised to death? Is there really anything left I can say that no one else has already added? I sincerely doubt it. Well, I’ll admit this much: in preparation for my new year’s resolution, there were two movies I had to erase from my “list of shame.” The Shawshank Redemption was one of those. And as with Terminator 2: Judgement Day last year, I feel like such an idiot for having waited so long to actually act on it. Frank Darabont may have gone on to other projects over the years- including The Green MileThe Mist, and The Walking Dead T.V. show -but this remains not only the best film of his career but one of the best ever made, period. The sad truth, however, is that this film’s beloved status came at the burgeoning as well as the growth of the Internet fanbase. More particularly, it currently stands as the highest rated film of all time on the website IMDb, followed closely only by The Godfather. But the inherent problem with that is that many people will suddenly want to play the contrarian and repeatedly call this film “overrated.” The only film that rivals it in that certain regard is Orson Welles’ feature, Citizen Kane. (Which I still haven’t seen) Don’t let any of those fools let you sway from the inevitable. While we could argue about how it ranks among the best, there’s no denying its beauty and power. Tim Robbins is excellent as Andy Dufresne, a man who is established as innocent from the get-go but still gets his life ruined. Despite the hellish nature of the prison, he’s highly resourceful and soon grows respect and admiration from his peers. A particular scene where he offers to handle a guard’s financial problems in exchange for the prisoners to get cold beer is a great example of this. Clancy Brown and Bob Gunton do great work as the pious Warden and captain of the prison guards, respectively. The two of them are incredibly unlikable, but both of these actors inject a certain humanity that makes you understand their positions, despite all of the abuse they use in their power. But the obvious scene-stealer is none other than Morgan Freeman as Red, perhaps the great prison character brought to the celluloid. Although he was originally written as a white Irishman in the novella, his race literally doesn’t matter here. Freeman’s natural, fundamentally human performances deservedly nabbed him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. It also (For better or worse) established him as the quintessential voice-over actor thanks to his brilliant and sometimes-haunted narration of the story. And although it deceptively looks like a simple picture, The Shawshank Redemption is also a great technical triumph. Ever the master of photography, this is arguably the film that launched Roger Deakins into stardom. Each shot feels meticulously crafted, helping to establish Deakins’ love of contrasting harsh, realistic lighting with beautiful shadows. It works both to capture the monotonous daily life of prison work and find the right emotion of each scene; dark shadows dominate moments of despair and sorrow while more light-hearted ones find a particular gleam of light. Meanwhile, Richard Francis-Bruce’s editing job is splendidly fluid with the natural progression of the plot. No period of time feels like it takes priority over the other, as age and time come at a steady pace throughout the story. One minute, we’re starting out in the 40’s. Next thing you know, we’re finishing off in the 1960’s just before America sends its men up to the Moon. Honestly, it’s a crime that Thomas Newman has yet to receive his Oscar for Best Original Score. Nowhere is that more especially tragic than for his score in this movie. Heavy on strings more than anything else, the soundtrack matches beautifully with each of the characters and their various arcs. The main theme features a gorgeous crescendo from an oboe into a full orchestral sound, which is paramount to establishing the tone of the film. It also works in swelling up emotions during particular sequences. This includes the final 10 minutes of the movie, which is one of the most powerful in 20th-century cinema. And yeah, from all the descriptions about prison and wrongful conviction, one might think that this film is a depressing, misery-laden wasteland of pessimism. Don’t be taken the wrong way. While it certainly doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of incarceration- including an attempted prison rape -Frank Darabont ultimately tells the story to give the audience a sense of hope and wanting of freedom. Its entire message can be summed up in the tagline: Fear can hold you prisoner, Hope can set you free. Cheesy? Possibly. But the “feel-good” elements are nuanced enough to make me overlook that. The Shawshank Redemption is an incredible, uplifting triumph of pitch-perfect filmmaking. Of all of the Stephen King adaptations to ever come out, this has got to be my favorite. And I sincerely hope that it connects with everyone just as it did me. A timeless, phenomenal masterpiece.

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“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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