Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year-End 2016 Mini-Reviews

The year is finally at its ends, and as moviegoers now turn both to the influx of pre-Oscar awards groups and look ahead to the offerings of 2017, I'm once again back for my yearly tradition of jotting down my thoughts on smaller films that I've been able to catch up with on DVD or otherwise, even if the year proper is still not quite over for me. I hope you enjoy what I wrote, and I hope you'll check out some of these films as well. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2016

La La Land movie review.

Sharing something of the same trajectory as the Western, the Movie Musical was once one of the proudest genres Hollywood had to offer. Whether Gene Kelly was Singin' in the Rain, or Fred Astaire was dancing cheek to cheek, or Julie Andrews exclaimed precocious gibberish words, the enchanting and feathery-light genre was a beacon of spectacular entertainment for decades. But in later years, such popularity eventually waned, soon making way for the blockbuster fare that would become a staple of modern cinema.

In my opinion, the musical never truly "died" (just look at the Disney Renaissance), but not until Moulin Rouge! or Chicago did audiences begin taking more notice of the once proud "pure" musical. Which brings us to 2016, and the release of La La Land, an enchanting ode to that bygone era of 50's musicals, and as far as I'm concerned, the film likely to remain the very best of the year.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story movie review.

The beautiful thing about the Star Wars universe is that, in spite of the fact that we've rarely left the Skywalkers' sides in the movies, there is so much out there yet to be explored. New worlds, new species, new characters of both the Dark side and the Light. Until now, it was a side of the franchise we only glimpsed upon in film, with only tie-in novels and TV series to expand. But with ownership of the franchise now under the guidance of the Disney corporation, and The Force Awakens reawakening Star Wars in a big way, we knew it wouldn't be long until the studio got those side stories geared for the cinema.

These films allow for a greater sense of exploration into the rich history of the Star Wars mythos, able to craft unique stories in the timeline, whether they be based on past events and characters, or be conjured up entirely on the spot. In the first of these anthology films, here to tide us over until Rian Johnson's continuation of the main saga next December, is Rogue One, a prequel to the events of A New Hope directed by Gareth Edwards. While perhaps lacking the same epic touch that graced The Force Awakens, the film still makes for a thrilling, surprisingly gritty diversion for the saga.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective: In Conclusion.

And we've finally reached the end of the story. For over eight decades Disney Animation Studios has enchanted us and captivated us time and time again, and with their very busy 2016 now being over, we'll next be looking ahead to their offerings in the future.

So what more does the Disney Revival have in store. Sadly, they won't have any output ready in time for 2017, but the next year will be a different story. First we'll see Rich Moore returning to the universe of Wreck-It-Ralph with its awaited sequel, which I hope I'm less apathetic to than its predecessor. Then later that year, they'll be returning yet again to the musical mold with Gigantic, their new take on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, and will feature the returning talents of Frozen songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Ropert Lopez. After that, it's anybody's guess, with several planned films yet to be announced securing release dates, the upcoming sequel to Frozen, and if rumors are to be believed, a secret project pairing Zootopia director Byron Howard with Moana songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda (the latter being kept particularly busy by Disney).

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Brief thoughts on Loving.

Love is a very inexpiable feeling, taking on a wide array of various definitions and intentions, but is often best applied to that of romantic love. Itself one of the most powerful emotions to feel, as much as we may like to think we can, there's no explaining the very depths of it, or any use in restricting it. Yet that's precisely what the law tried to do for Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who were arrested and made pariahs for marrying each other, and subsequently took on the state of Virgina to legitimize their bond. It's a very modest story of accidental heroes who achieved greater things by small victories, and what makes their story in Loving such a compelling, reserved, deeply felt experience.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Top Ten Disney Animation Studios Films.

We've finally made it. It's been 9 months since I officially unveiled this retrospective, and I've examined every square inch of all 56 (57, unofficially) of Disney Animation Studios' films. And to put it in simple terms, theirs is the perfect catalog to make a retrospective of.
Love them, hate them, or be indifferent to them, there's no denying that their set of films are among some of the most unique, eclectic, and ambitious films in all of animation, venturing through various exotic settings, classic folklore and fairy tales, moving through varying peaks and dips in quality throughout their run, and always ready to rejuvenate and redefine their own medium in both style and presentation. From their music, to their characters, to their art design, to their iconic craft and techniques that fans of animation continue to copy to this day, they still continue to place viewers under their enchanting and whimsical spells to this very day. In fact, with such a vast and high quality batch of films to pick from, it makes forming a top ten list a fascinating experience, as no two lists are exactly alike. To say that a number of their films are the best would be no faint praise since they're chock full of great successes.

And so, as a way to bring this series to a close, I now give you my picks for The Top Ten Best Animated Disney Films. As such, this means that the only rule is that the selections must come exclusively from Disney's in-house animation studio, so Pixar films or other such animated Disney films (like Tim Burton's stop-motion flicks) do not count.

But because you know me, I'm not going to get into the top ten right away, so here are my top five honorable mentions (in descending order of number 11 to number 15). Just barely missing out was Lady and the Tramp, an interesting diversion from Disney's usual musical or fairy tale mold, that made great leaps and bounds in animation for animal characters, and showcased a believable, naturally budding romance from two socially opposite individuals. Sleeping Beauty remains one of the greatest achievements of Disney's animation staff, gorgeously and obsessively detailed and lush in both art-direction and character design, and featuring one of the greatest Disney villains of all time. Zootopia has proven to be one of the most rewatchable and rewarding Disney films, a clever and hilarious send-up of buddy cop comedies building a stellar world, as well as making for a layered and deeply mature examination of casual and hurtful prejudice and racism. The writing of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs may be dated and one-dimensional by today's standards, but still earns every praise that comes its way for its important innovations to cinema, and for setting up the classic mold of Disney as we know it. However, The Little Mermaid also deserves props for reinventing and rejuvenating that mold, setting the high standards of the animation studio's storytelling with great and memorable characters, and featured unforgettable songs by longtime collaborator Alan Menken.

It's time to wish upon a star, and spin a tale as old as time. I give you my top ten favorite animated Disney films.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Miss Sloane movie review.

Flashback to 2011, and you may recall a total of four (or was it six?) films come out that all had one thing in common, then up and coming film actress Jessica Chastain. Moving seamlessly between existential drama The Tree of Life, action vehicle The Debt, dramatic comedy The Help, and independent drama Take Shelter, the fiery and versatile redhead quickly grew more and more in popularity, earning two Oscar nominations within as many years, and continuing to be a valuable presence to almost every film she's in.

Five years later, we now see her teaming back up with her director of The Debt, John Madden. This time around, the duo have teamed up for political thriller Miss Sloane, a film based around the world of lobbyists and gun control, that I'm luckily among the first to see.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Top Ten Songs in Disney Animation.

If the animation, voice overs, and the unique storytelling of a Disney movie are its meat and bones, then the music of a Disney movie is most assuredly its nutrients. While the studio is often applauded for its revolutionary leaps and bounds in art-direction and character animation, one other area that has always seen Disney towering over other creative forces is in their music department.

Even when making their feature length entrance onto the scene amidst the gigantic early musical hits, at a time when Fred Astaire and Busby Berkeley dominated the market, Disney's unique musical talents were instantly distinguishable from their more established competitors. Even with Snow White having already laid the groundwork with its own lovely songs, I doubt anyone saw the studio becoming the powerhouse it is today, churning out film after film decade after decade of iconic and instantly catchy earworms. "From the Sherman Brothers to Kristen and Bobby Lopez, writing 'Let it Go', all these perfect musical moments." Just as their films have done, the music of Disney Animation has journeyed through endless and diverse styles of music, big and sweeping, fast-paced and vibrant, sinister and haunting, with the studio also trekking through various different genres, and enlisting an eclectic batch of musicians for every film. Whether it be Alan Menken, Elton John, Terry Gylkison, or more left-field like Sting, there's no denying that their songwriting branch and library of tunes is nothing short of untouchable. So, in celebration of my retrospective's closing, I'll be counting down my picks for The Top Ten Songs in Disney Animation.

I only have two rules for this list:
1) The song must have originated strictly from Disney's own Classics banner, so Pixar films such as Toy Story, or other Disney films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, do not count.
2) I will be limiting each selection to only one song per film. The reason I'm doing this is because if I didn't, 1 or 2 films would dominate 8 or 9 spots, so I've done this in order to diversify my choices. 


And before we begin, some honorable mentions:
15. "I See the Light" - Tangled
The standout moment of a gentle and heartfelt piece of comfort food viewing, and while Glenn Slater's lyricism still needs work, the accompaniment of Menken's music more than makes up for it.
14. "Bella Notte" - Lady and the Tramp
For one of the less musical-ly Silver Age Disney films, this elegant love song is beautiful both as a flawless piece of storytelling, but just as lovely a standalone listen.
13. "I'm Still Here" - Treasure Planet
Such an atypical trip into new musical roots for the studio, the risk definitely pays off with John Rzeznik's deeply felt and grungy character piece, standing out during the film's best sequence.
12. "My Funny Friend & Me" - The Emperor's New Groove
A late composition from Sting after his original songs were scrapped, this end credits tune is a fantastic and beautiful summation of the friendship between its lead characters. I especially love the epic Gospel choir that comes in near the end.
11. "Colors of the Wind" - Pocahontas
Some would criticize the song for its air of preachiness, but there's still just a powerful and affecting subtext and subtlety hidden beneath its lyrics, terrifically laid out by new Menken collaborator Stephen Schwartz.

So with those out of the way, let's get into the real top ten...

Monday, November 28, 2016

Brief thoughts on Arrival.

What would first contact be like for us? If aliens exist, what would they think of us? How would they react? Would they invade us, or seek to co-exist with us? Would we even want them? Would we learn from them? Would we fear them? We never really know how humanity would react to a situation like that unless we were actually facing it, but along comes Denis Villeneuve, with his fourth English language film Arrival, to try his hands at addressing all of these issues posed before us, and much more. Taking great influences from films such as Close Encounters and Contact, as well as being Villeneuve's answer to Spielberg, Arrival is not just a fantastic film, but I dare say a film that we absolutely needed at this moment.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Moana movie review.

56 movies and eight decades in, Disney Animation Studios continues to remain the world's most famous and beloved animation powerhouse. But once upon a time, their future looked bleak. With the disastrous Black Cauldron having nearly cratered them, the studio needed a new mega-hit to bring them back to life. Four years later, their salvation came in The Little Mermaid, a movie that rejuvenated and remodified the company back to its former glory, perfecting the now tried and true Disney Renaissance formula.

Since then, the film's directors, John Musker and Ron Clements, have remained active contributors within the mouse house's walls, having later helmed zany comedy hits Aladdin and Hercules, and even attempting to recreate their Mermaid success with The Princess and the Frog. In the second of Disney's two big animated releases this year after Zootopia, the duo make their grand entrance into the realm of computer animation with the Polynesian themed Moana. But can it be their CG answer to their original trend-setter?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #54-55: BH6, Zootopia.

And now to finish off my marathon of the Disney Animation Studios filmography, let's revisit the latest two Disney Revival entries, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie review.

It only feels like yesterday when we discovered the enchanting mysticism of the Wizarding World, when we first joined young Harry Potter and his yearly adventures and lessons within Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Originally brought to life by author J.K. Rowling, herself the figure of a rags to riches tale creating a defining series of modern literature, the enchanting whimsy and epic fantasy of the universe at hand kept us engaged and enthralled all the way up to its bittersweet finale.

And yet at the same time, one thing that was very clear was that Rowling's fantastical world was bigger than her British homeland. There was surely some untapped potential to expand on the universe in more ways, perhaps even create origin tales and move to more culturally different settings. In her first screenwriting venture, that's exactly what she does with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and while she has a long way to go in the jump between mediums, her magical and enchanting touch is still felt all throughout her new spin-off.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Doctor Strange movie review.

Doctor Steven Strange, The Sorcerer Supreme, is one of the most out there comic book creations in Marvel's storied history. Often very much a psychedelic product of his 60's creation, the character's mastery of the metaphysical and mystic manipulation has always made for a tricky transition from the panels to the screen, which is really saying something when that same universe was occupied by men with spider powers and vampire hunters.

Yet in the midst of the now ongoing and wildly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, wherein the studio had managed to craft an interconnected continuity where intergalactic mercenaries and the Norse god of thunder now co-exist alongside Iron Man, it seemed as appropriate a time as any to finally reintroduce the Master of the Mystic to the silver screen. At once trippy, philosophical, and entertaining (if somewhat predictable), Doctor Strange is another rock solid entry within the MCU.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #49-51: Princess/Frog, Tangled, Pooh 2.

After the fallout of the initial death of Disney's hand-drawn division, numerous in-house employees, devoted audiences, as well as Disney's own brethren at Pixar felt some bitterness over the greedy moves made by Michael Eisner. Pixar in particular, despite their welcome creative partnership with the studio, felt tensions heat up having blame for Disney's traditional efforts floundering placed at their feet, but even more hurt by the studio's decision to take away Pixar's own IP's, and create new direct-to-video sequels (seemingly the only thing at the time that was keeping them afloat) under their Circle 7 branch. It was clear that the once innovative studio was now a toxic workplace of backhanded deception and business decisions.

At least, that's the way it looked to be going, until a corporate shake-up within the Walt Disney Company led to Michael Eisner's resignation as CEO. In his place came businessman Bob Iger, who looked to turn the studio's grim fortunes around, and restore it back to its former glory. One of these very first key decisions was in repairing the fractured relationship with Pixar, with both companies realizing that they were too important to each other to throw away their years of collaboration. Disney later purchased Pixar for a total of over 4 billion dollars, making the studio a permanent staple of the mouse-house's castle. But that's not where it stopped, for Disney's animation branch still needed a new CCO to turn things around. Iger knew that there was only one choice...

Enter John Lasseter. An ambitious former animator from Disney's 80's age turned one of the initial founders of Pixar, and by far the most important voice in getting the studio to become the powerhouse it is today, Lasseter has often proved himself reliable and deft at being able to shape endearing and fantastic stories, and to give his knowledge to young up-and-coming future directors, bringing out the utmost potential in those uncertain in their own abilities. In many ways, Lasseter has proven himself to be the modern day answer and heir to Walt's creative legacy, filed with just as much wonderment and limitless imagination as the studio's fearless founder, and now dividing his time equally between his Pixar kin and his new Disney family, he's proven himself one of the most vital and unique voices in the studio's history. His appointment would soon lead to Disney's next great era of films, the Disney Revival, and after overseeing Meet the Robinsons and Bolt, his first greenlit project would be a return to Disney's hand-drawn roots. It was a film that generated tremendous hype among Disney's enthusiasts, and to start off this next great age of animated features, Lasseter would be turning once more to the very voices who had propelled Disney back to its glory days just twenty years earlier...

Monday, October 10, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #44-46: Bear, Range, Chicken Little.

With computer animation quickly on the rise, and audience turnout waning in the 2000's, the answer that Disney saw as obvious at the time was this; the art of hand-drawn animation was now passe, and viewers wanted something else. In hindsight, this simply isn't true, as the answers lie less with that and more with Disney's out of touch marketing campaigns and inconsistent ability to greenlight good projects, with Lilo & Stitch being the only fluke among that contemporary lineup. But in the Michael Eisner held belief of "fast and cheap", story clearly was less important to what was hip at the time, and so with only a few hand-drawn films yet to be released, the company announced that all future animated features were to be made by computer.

This was a decision that obviously, justifiably infuriated multiple parties. Party A - The casual moviegoing audience that had every right to feel insulted by these superficially motivated money-leeching tactics, and to whom the company was proving unable to appeal to. Party B - The numerous animators who had been cornerstones within the company for decades, now being evicted from their desks and paintbrushes like garbage, as if their hard work and high standard of quality meant nothing. And Party C - Disney's own cousins at Pixar had not taken kindly to the dubiousness of these executive decisions. With their contract expiration date slowly approaching, this made the relationship between the two feel very testy and heated, certainly not helped by Eisner's arrogance and carelessness as CEO, as well as the outrageous and controversial announcement that Pixar's original IP's were now going to see direct to video sequels under a new branch called Circle 7. These were the type of business practices that proved Disney to no longer be the once proud innovators they once were, but was now instead a toxic and cynical workplace. Ironically enough, even when getting in with what was hip by making their first computer animated effort, that did nothing to improve their terrible marketing and lackluster storytelling of the time, here in the age of Disney's official transition...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Brief Thoughts on Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

A little kookiness never hurt anyone. In fact, some visionaries have been able to use a signature kookiness to create an entire career for themselves, with today's case in point being Tim Burton, whose Gothic atmosphere and macabre invention have led to wholly original and fantastic films the likes of Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish. In spite of that pedigree, Burton has found himself in something of a slump for ten years now, giving us lifeless underperformers such as Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, with only Sweeney Todd to break up the monotony.

Monday, October 3, 2016

True Story Double Feature: Queen of Katwe & Deepwater Horizon.

We hear the words "Based on a true story" quite a bit. With 2016 being no exception, we've received more than our fair share of films recounting unbelievable or inspiring events and giving them a dramatic narrative format, and a lot of times, given the impossible odds of the scenarios they portray, you can see exactly why studios would think them great choices. However, like any formula, it isn't faultless, as while many of these stories may indeed be incredible, they don't necessarily need these movies to properly honor them, nor do they translate well from book/headline to the screen (ie. Sully).

However, the two films I'm about to talk about today are not among those cases, one being Disney's latest live-action offering, Queen of Katwe about village girl turned chess champion Phiona Mutesi, the other being the latest thriller from Lone Survivor's Peter Berg, Deepwater Horizon about the crew who escaped from the titular oil rig that suffered a catastrophic oil spill and fiery eruption. Both movies are very different in how they approach their respective tales, but both of them are also of considerable quality and dramatic flair, and I hope you'll take the time to give both your attention soon.

Friday, September 30, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #41-43: Atlantis, Lilo/Stitch, Treasure Planet.

In the early 2000's, it became very apparent that the hand-drawn animation format was slowly starting to wain in popularity. It was a pivotal moment in cinema that many often debate as to when their actual downfall started, and I think I can point to the exact day.

June 16th, 2000. The day that Titan AE premiered...

Of course, just talking about the film is one thing, seeing legendary animator Don Bluth, best known for The Secret of NIMH and The Land Before Time, following up his surprise hit Anastasia with an outdated and paper thin slog. I could go on all day ranting about its gaping plot holes, stiff and lifeless characters, terribly outdated blend of 2D and 3D, tensionless action and shoddy writing, and filling itself with truly juvenile humor even for Bluth at his worst, but here's the thing... The film's performance speaks it for me. Not only was it a disappointment among critics and audiences, but despite being produced at a now tame budget of $70 million dollars, the film bombed so harshly that it ultimately led to Fox's animation studio closing its doors for good, and to this day remains Don Bluth's final directed film.

If anything, I think Titan AE signifies a great deal everything that was wrong with hand-drawn animation at the time. With the release of films such as Shrek, Ice Age, as well as several big films from Disney's own cousins at Pixar, computer animation quickly rose to prominence, and analysts and executives were starting to subscribe to the line of thinking that the new medium was now a foolproof formula for box office popularity, with even Disney themselves experiencing more success from Dinosaur than films like Atlantis. Of course, leave it to those same executives to not realize that this alone was not the issue, or to acknowledge that their stories probably weren't all that great to begin with, but the new quickly overtook the old-fashioned, with Disney's competitors at Dreamworks closing their hand-drawn department after 2003's Sinbad. With times like this, the early 2000's saw Disney experiencing some of the most inconsistent years they'd experienced since the 70's to the 80's, with some of the widest range in quality their legacy had ever seen. Welcome to the Transitional Era...

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Magnificent Seven movie review.

Once upon a time, the Hollywood western was one of the most popular and celebrated genres of all time, but following its heyday in the 50's and 60's, it later began to fade in popularity. Despite a solid resurgence in the early 90's with films such as Unforgiven and Tombstone, it later would mainly find life either in independent fare, or in a revisionist form such as the recent Tarantino filmography.

One of the most notable examples of them was the John Sturges directed The Magnificent Seven, itself a remake of the Akira Kurosawa directed Seven Samurai. Fondly remembered for its eclectic assembly of talent, rousing Elmer Bernstein score, and its epic gunslinging action, it has since inspired several sequels and numerous pop culture allusions, culminating in the 2016 remake by Training Day director Antoine Fuqua. So the question is, can it rejuvenate the Hollywood western in this era of blockbusters?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Brief thoughts on Sully.

The world watched in stunned silence when Captain Chesley Sullenberger successfully landed a plane on the Hudson River, having suffered loss of altitude from bird strikes, and performed emergency procedures that saved the lives of 155 crew and passengers. People around the world were quick to label "Sully" a hero, a title that he was quick to shrug away, that he was simply doing his job. Obviously the story felt prime for a true life story based film, brought to us now by Clint Eastwood, that details the harrowing effects of his landing, and the thorough cross-examinations that followed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #38-40: Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, Groove.

Welcome back, and now that we enter the 21st Century, we'll finally be taking a look through Disney's Transitional era, starting with the company's very busy 2000...

Monday, August 29, 2016

Brief thoughts on Kubo and the Two Strings.

"If you must blink, do it now", so says young Kubo before he tells a story through rapid guitar strumming and origami brought literally to life. When these words are spoken, it's clear to the viewer that our child narrator and artist is going to take us on the most epic and arresting journey one can imagine. At the same time, it's as if these words are stop-motion studio Laika bracing the viewer for the majestic journey that is to unfold, one that they know will leave us in breathless awe and wonderment by the time the final page has reached its last sentence. Enchant and astound they do, as Kubo and the Two Strings serves as not only their finest film both in craft and substance, but an enviable benchmark for any remaining animated release in 2016, all while taking its sub-medium of animation to spectacular new heights.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #32: The Lion King.

When it comes to Disney Animation, everyone is inevitably going to have a favorite among their lineup. For some it's Beauty and the Beast, for some it's Fantasia, for others - including myself, it's The Lion King. Yet despite that now iconic status that it has earned, it didn't initially start out that way. When the film went into production, it was initially seen as the B-picture alongside what was seen as Disney's more prestigious production, Pocahontas. Given the choice between the two films, many of Disney's most talented crew members and story-men jumped ship to the flashier subject matter, while others decided to take on the seemingly lesser entry as a chance to prove their abilities.

To everyone's surprise, especially the executives of the studio, not only was the film a gargantuan success - essentially becoming the Frozen of its day, it far eclipsed Pocahontas in critical word and audience appreciation, and remains the much more fondly remembered film, as well as one of the greatest success stories in Disney's legacy, as well as one of their most epic and sweeping emotional spectacles.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #30-31: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin.

Starting in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, Disney Animation Studios entered a glorious Renaissance era recalling the success of their golden age, taking the experience of both their hits and their failures to heart, and returning to their fairy tale musical roots. It was arguably the best years that the studio ever had, influencing and inspiring audiences and industry insiders so much that these films have become iconic childhood fixtures, and numerous competitors from Dreamworks to Warner Brothers recreated their formula to gain the same level of success, sometimes quite successfully. The days of being second to Don Bluth were over.

And it's no surprise that I decided to dedicate isolated posts specifically to their output from 1991 to 1994, as I consider the next three films I'm going to cover my absolute favorite animated Disney films (Pixar notwithstanding). Enjoy reading, everybody, because I certainly enjoy these films the more and more they age.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Pete's Dragon movie review.

Following the exciting and visually stunning The Jungle Book, and the thoroughly underwhelming Alice Through the Looking Glass, Disney's train of remaking their animated classics as live-action reimaginings continues to roll on, and serving as a warm-up to Beauty and the Beast in March 2017, comes Pete's Dragon, a remake based on a movie I struggle to define as a classic with a serious face.

The original Pete's Dragon - a blend of live action and traditional animation - is not a very fondly remembered film, impressive for its animation at the time, but nevertheless a dated and overly corny film that not many people remember. At first glance, it makes for an odd film to to adapt to the modern day, but when digging deeper, given the flaws and the potential of the original, this also made it a prime, viable candidate to improve upon and do great things with. It's sources may be obvious, but this newly updated rendition still resonates with a beautiful sense of originality, feeling both different and familiar to traditional Disney roots.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Suicide Squad movie review.

Ever so ready to take on Marvel at their own game, Warner Brothers continue to place big hopes on the shoulders of their DC Extended Universe. Since Man of Steel's 2013 bow, WB have been quick to catch up with their rivals, albeit with far less success. The disastrous performance of Batman v Superman certainly signified one thing, that in an attempt to copy Marvel's moves, they forgot to give any sense of coherence to their game plan, or to pay proper respect to their source material.

For these reasons, much hope was placed in their second 2016 feature, Suicide Squad, to turn things around. With consistently good trailers buzzing around, a reportedly more fun tone, and a change of pace from Zack Snyder, it almost seemed like a surefire third time's the charm.

So being that I was quite excited to see it, it pains me to say that the drought continues, as Suicide Squad is not the charm, but the death knell for the DCEU; a seemingly fun and stylish idea that translates to a gaudy and undisciplined end product.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - 28-29: Mermaid, Rescuers 2.

Despite finding some financial success in the darkest years of their career, the output of Disney's Animation branch had stopped being the critical darlings they once were, and as time went on, their word of mouth started becoming more and more muted. In recent years, stiff competition had slowly begun rising, with one of the more prominent ones being that of their own, former in-house animator Don Bluth. Having left the company of his own free will, he eventually branched out to create his own studio alongside Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy, soon turning in great films such as The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time.

Wishing to make a comeback in the animation circuit after the disastrous debut of The Black Cauldron, several factors that included the recent success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the talent of the new directors they'd enlisted, and some newfound confidence in their abilities led the studio to bet their chips on a return to their fairy tale roots, and return to releasing not only more films on an annual basis, but better ones. It was all thanks to one film performing so well, and becoming so beloved that it would single-handedly inspire one of the greatest runs in Disney's long history...

Monday, July 25, 2016

Nerve movie review.

How much of a risk taker are you? Are you one to contently sit and watch others perform the most insane daredevilry stunts imaginable, or are you one to perform those stunts yourself to earn cash? Whichever side you pick, get ready to test your Nerve.

Reclusive and nervous, Venus Delmonaco (Emma Roberts) takes very little risk in her personal life, afraid to speak to her high school crush, and reluctant to accept a position in CalArts. One day when her frustrations and peer-pressure get the better of her, she signs up for a popular online game called Nerve, in which viewers give players like her a series of escalating dares in exchange for payment. After performing her first dare in which she meets fellow player Ian (Dave Franco), viewers appear to love the chemistry between the two, leading them to perform numerous tasks together, but when tasks become more dangerous, and intentions become more sinister, the two are soon forced to find a way to escape the game, or else become prisoners of it.

Nerve is directed by found footage directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who move on from their box office successes Catfish and the Paranormal Activity sequels, and now make their first foray into traditional narrative filmmaking... unfortunately it's not a transition for the better.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #25-27: Cauldron, Mouse Detective, Oliver/Co.

Even with the looming shadow of the studio's fearless leader having died still hanging over them, with the aid of many of his closest friends and collaborators, the same spark of creativity was still there, even if the filmmaker's doubt and uncertainty in their abilities couldn't be easily shaken. Many of Walt's original team, nicknamed the Nine Old Men, were there to give guidance to newcomers to the studio, which included now famed Disney icons such as Glen Keane and Don Hahn, and animation graduates who would go on to become great directors in their own right such as Tim Burton and John Lasseter.

However, the Nine Old Men knew that their time at the studio was coming to an end, with longtime director Wolfgang Reitherman realizing after The Fox and the Hound that it was best to pass the torch over to the next generation. The Fox and the Hound marked the last film to feature involvement from these legends, and now was the time for the younger generation to make a name for themselves, and tell their own stories. In a few years time, this is exactly what they would manage to achieve, but their first actual film strictly to themselves proved a rocky foundation. Not only that, but one of their own, Don Bluth, had decided to strike out on his own and start his own animation company. His first film came in the form of 1982's The Secret of NIMH, which established his studio as a new force to be reckoned with, and would later gain the attention and guidance of Steven Spielberg. Indeed, the very model of Disney Animation Studios that we know and love today might never have been what it is had they not learned from the mistakes and successes of one film...

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets movie review.

Our pets. They're so sweet, so huggable, so... occasionally quite destructive. They brighten up our day, they're always there for us when we need to have a second to have fun, and they're loyal to the very end. But one must wonder, what on earth do they do while we're gone?

It's this very question that the minds at Illumination Entertainment answer in The Secret Life of Pets, a film that's been so hyped this summer that teasers for the film have been circulating since last summer. That said, I've never been very excited for it, given my very subpar feelings on Universal's flagship animation studio as a whole. I think the fact that this is their best film so far speaks volumes about the middling quality of their films thus far, but at least the film proves to be a fun and brisk, if not overly memorable diversion.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The BFG movie review.

With E.T. and Jurassic Park under his belt, as well as countless production credits under his Amblin banner, Steven Spielberg has crafted some of the most beloved, endearing, and memorable family adventure films of all time. Similarly, the late author Roald Dahl has been behind some of the most fondly remembered children's books ever written, with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox. And then Disney... well, you need no introduction there.

To think of these three famous icons coming together sounds like a dream come true, coming in the form of Spielberg's epic live-action reimagining of Dahl's The BFG. A scrumdiddlyumptious concept on paper, how does the end result turn out? Are we witness to the joyous and shiny enchantment of a Golden Phizzwizard, or are we to endure a mixture as angry as a nasty Trogglehumper? I'm sure the answer is obvious, but let's take a look.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #22-24: Adventures/Pooh, Rescuers, Fox/Hound.

Part 2 of my June reviews.

Special Review: Jurassic Park - The Game.

In preparation for Steven Spielberg's The BFG this Friday, I decided to revisit my beloved Jurassic Park in the interactive format.

For whatever reason that I can't think of, until now, I had never heard of Jurassic Park - The Game. Sure, I've played several retro Nintendo and Genesis games, but for some reason, this one, which essentially serves as a direct sequel to the original Jurassic Park but with a different cast, completely slipped my mind. Seeing that it was produced by the developers of Telltale Games, best known for their Walking Dead series, and given that Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time, I thought it sounded promising enough to give it my attention. I really am just a sucker for novelty like that, but even novelty and fond nostalgia can only go so far in masking a product's flaws. Thank goodness that I still have Jurassic World to look fondly at, because Jurassic Park - The Game is just as weak and ridiculous as either of Jurassic Park's two immediate sequels.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Finding Dory movie review.

Thirteen years ago, Pixar introduced us to one of their most beloved and iconic characters, Dory. Since her debut in their fifth feature length film, Finding Nemo, her extremely forgetful and precocious, but lovable and unshakably loyal character has captured the hearts of all animation fans. But one must often wonder, what *was* she doing before she ran into Marlin?

Flash forward to now, and director Andrew Stanton intends to take us back and answer that very question in the character's own adventure, Finding Dory. One may be forgiven for assuming the film to be a rotten idea, what with Pixar growing more franchise heavy in recent years, and the last sequel where they pulled a protagonist switch - Cars 2 - backfiring tremendously. So I'm thankful to report that the effort and potential was not wasted, as it not only lives up to its predecessor and justifies its existence, but arguably stands alongside Toy Story 3 as their best sequel.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ranking the Pixar films - Part 2.

Welcome back, everyone. If you're reading this, chances are you've already read part 1 of my Pixar movie rankings, so without further ado, let's get into the top 8, starting with...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #19-21: Jungle Book, Aristocats, Robin Hood.

Who knows exactly how far Walt's reach across the globe would have extended were he to live any longer? With cinematic successes from both his animated and live-action branches, his theme parks that quickly grew in attendance, and an ambitious plan to create a futuristic time share community out in Florida, he could have possibly gone further. He could have taken over the whole world, for all we know. His pioneering feats were just so good, and his ideas so massive in scale, that the potential was limitless. Sadly, none of those potential ideas would ever be realized.

On December 15th, 1966, just days after his 65th birthday, Walt passed away after a battle with lung cancer, a condition caused by Walt's chainsmoking habits all his adult life. The news devastated the entire world, major news outlets mourned the passing of one of history's most defining and essential figures, and with the damaging effect cigarettes had on Walt's health, the studio later instituted a strict non-smoking policy in their films, even playing PSA's on Blu-Ray and DVD before movies where their characters casually smoked.

This later began a transitional period where the employees of the studios were clearly less confident in their abilities, and didn't manage to get their groove back for over a decade. These were the dark ages...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ranking the Pixar Films - Part 1.

Only five days remain until we'll be able to revisit our favorite animated talking fish in Finding Dory, so what better way to celebrate the occasion than to look back at the preceding history of its creators at Pixar Animation Studios...
 
Since its initial inception in 1986, the Emeryville based production company has continually pushed the boundaries for what can be achieved both in groundbreaking animation, and in deeper storytelling equally appealing to both children and adults. Initially specializing in short films, much like Walt himself, co-founder and former Disney animator John Lasseter's ambitions stretched far beyond five minute shorts based on animate unicycles and dime-store knick-knacks, and instead looked towards pushing their young technology to its limits by creating the world's first fully computer-animated feature film. Some called them mad, some predicted that it would bankrupt the studio and end careers (sound familiar?), but no matter how many executives warned them against it, they pressed forward to the march of their own beat.

The result of their hard work was Toy Story, and I think the rest from that point is history. With a total now of seventeen films, some of the most beloved animated movies ever produced, and both children and adults having been captivated by the magic of their original and endearing worlds, Pixar has stood right alongside Disney and Ghibli as the greatest name in all of animation, even overtaking their older sibling for years with their output. While eventually hitting their first true dud in 2011, and falling into a slump before gaining back their mojo with Inside Out, that still wasn't enough to taint the fond memories and powerful feelings that their films had stirred up in viewers before. The crews spare no expense in animation and art-direction, their stories are enchanting and heartbreaking, and as new creative forces begin making their mark within the studio, their variety of output promises to be no less engaging as ever. So in hope that their latest will be just as terrific, today I'll start ranking all of Pixar's films from worst to best. It's especially tough to form given that their portfolio includes countless great movies that I could switch around on any given day, and as always, I hope you enjoy reading and will feel free to leave your own rankings.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass movie review.

Within the last three years, we've seen Disney consecutively tackle their animated classics such as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book, reinventing those classic films as live-action reimaginings. It's a trend that looks geared to indefinitely run, with August's Pete's Dragon, and Beauty and the Beast in March being the first of possibly many more. While it may end up fatiguing audiences soon, their great box office success and enthusiastic word of mouth signal that Disney is clearly hitting its marks in all the right areas.

But all that wouldn't be were it not for one film with both great successes and great mistakes to inform their future output: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. While a mixed bag for critics that was as much criticized for being dull as it was praised for its visuals, it was a film that benefited from a perfect release date, winning over a sizable audience while also making impressive figures thanks in large part to the post-Avatar 3D boom. That being said, I doubt that even fans of the first film were starving for it to receive a sequel, but leave it to Disney to milk their Johnny Depp cash cow for all it was worth, at a time when the actor is not the once bankable draw he used to be.

So it shouldn't be surprising that with the 3D novelty dying down, opening alongside X-Men, and sour aftertaste of the original lingering that Alice Through the Looking Glass has failed to find the same success, both fixing original flaws while adding onto them with brand new ones.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End video game review.

"Sic Parvis Magna." In English, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake's motto translated to "Greatness from Small Beginnings", eventually becoming a calling card for supposed descendant Nathan Drake. Once a novice fortune hunter and delinquent, the wise-cracking and lovable everyman has fought, traversed, and leaped his way through countless lost civilizations (that he would accidentally destroy), soon becoming a legend in his own time with each journey.

But the motto does more than relate solely to him. Moving away from system defining platformers like Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter in favor of an epic, pulpy adventure in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was a fantastic system seller combining the mile a minute thrills in gameplay with the great characterization and wit of a summer blockbuster, with the sequel Among Thieves raising the stakes and entertainment value while giving the characters deeper development, on its way to becoming one of the greatest video games of all time.

But following the also epic third entry, Drake's Deception, Naughty Dog were interested in more things than just treasure hunting. Taking a break from Nate's daredevilry, first time director Neil Druckmann led his team at the company through a very bleak post-apocalypse with The Last of Us, merging spectacular, subtle storytelling with deep and intense gameplay, proving that they had earned Drake's motto. Now armed with the experience of both franchises, the studio returns for one last adventure to give their star player a satisfying send-off. The result is as deeply affecting as it is heart-pounding, with Uncharted 4: A Thief's End combining the best of both worlds, while cementing Naughty Dog as the best game developer currently working.

Friday, May 27, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse movie review.

Of all the continuous superhero franchises in the world, none have proven more resilient than the X-Men films. With the dust having settled after the catastrophic failure of Batman and Robin, director Bryan Singer took it upon himself to bring the iconic residents of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters to the big screen. Essentially serving as the template for all modern superhero films to follow like Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, X-Men and its sequel X2 skillfully introduced and fleshed out the iconic characters, telling great standalone stories while also building to greater things in the future.

But like any series, it reached its low point with the incredibly disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand, and only adding insult to injury was the much maligned error of judgment X-Men: Origins, which many assumed would be the death of the franchise. Flash forward to 2011, where Matthew Vaughn took the reigns and restored the series' goodwill balancing seamlessly between thrills and character drama, while Days of Future Past blended both the past and present cast members together in a spectacular crossover/reboot. Now serving as director for the fourth time, Singer returns to complete the retooled trilogy with X-Men: Apocalypse, but will history repeat itself again?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brief thoughts on Captain America: Civil War.

It's actually been over two weeks since I first saw this movie, but I never really got around to forming a write-up on it. Blame a severe recent bout of writer's block on that one... that, and most of my free time has been dominated by Uncharted 4. I figure I might as well come up with something short for this one, so better late than never.

Kicking off the third phase of Marvel's ongoing universe, Captain America: Civil War concludes the first Avenger's ongoing trilogy, pitting him against Iron Man in a struggle over whether the heroes should have their ongoing actions monitored by the government, all the while a sinister new force begins to rise. The film had a lot of promise to live up to after The Winter Soldier's success, and in short, the movie's very good. In fact, having come out only weeks after Batman v Superman, it succeeds in every single area where that movie failed.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Nice Guys movie review.

The buddy cop subgenre was once one of the most popular trends in cinema, often allowing a film to be a great deal of fun due in no small part to the pairing up of two oddball personalities clashing with each other, and would tend to lead to hilarity because of it. For years, however, the mold has slowed down considerably in favor of superpowered heroics and the like, and aside from exceptions like 21 Jump Street has not been given much exposure beyond cute callbacks.

One of the key figures who helped define the mold was writer Shane Black, best known for jump starting the Lethal Weapon franchise, and who later turned to directing his own scripts with the 2005 cult hit Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a movie that I admittedly would not consider myself a fan of. However, it did showcase a particularly unique directorial vision that could have paid off with stronger execution, and I'm happy to say that his latest feature, The Nice Guys, does exactly that, perfecting all of Black's most notable stylistics as a writer and establishing himself as a comedic talent to be reckoned with.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #13-15: Alice, Peter Pan, Lady/Tramp.


With the government relinquishing control back to Disney, and restrictions having been lifted as to what Walt could make, he soon turned his attention away from package films such as Make Mine Music and Melody Time, and returned the studio back to its whimsical, fairy tale roots with Cinderella. Still considered one of the crowning achievements of Walt’s time at the studio, it ushered in a new age of continuous successes. This gave Walt the opportunity to make the films he’d planned to make since teasing them in Pinocchio, which included Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Even when Walt found himself drifting away from the feature film market to focus on his theme parks, and the planned EPCOT (which became its own theme park after his death), his presence was still felt in every film the company released.

Monday, May 9, 2016

My Top Ten Favorite Video Games of All Time...

Tomorrow will see the highly anticipated release of Naughty Dog's fourth Uncharted entry, so I thought now would be an appropriate time to say...

I love video games!
There's not a moment I can remember when I wasn't a gamer. Ever since my early days playing my SNES, I've played through multiple generations of games, played on a great number of shiny new systems, stared in awe at new technological innovations, watched the rise and fall of many prominent developers both mainstream and independent, and I've loved every minute of it.

The medium has come a very long way in its evolution, growing from the bare bones story of a plumber jumping over an ape's barrels, and hostile marketing campaigns where Sega took shots at former competitor Nintendo, mocking the SNES with the "Blast Processing" of the Genesis, and more and more the medium has crafted epic and cinematic tales that rival even Hollywood. It's actually funny how industry insiders and fans across the world try to debate whether cinema or television is the dominant artform, as I feel video games have managed to overtake both. This is largely due to one reason; the choice that games offer, and the further investment. It's one thing to watch a great movie or TV show and feel powerful emotions onscreen, but it's another thing entirely to take those same emotional responses, and enhance them by allowing you control of the situation, letting you experience all of those grand moments right alongside the playable characters.

But even then, the medium still has a long way to go. In recent years, a fierce debate has stirred up over whether video games can be considered high art. While many have embraced them for their powerful innovations and growing emphasis on thematics, others still see them as little more than time wasters. Or there are those who take all of the wrong examples from what the medium can do, and blow it out of proportion. Series like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty in particular have become all too easy targets to attack whenever fierce anti-gaming activists (including disgraced former lawyer Jack Thompson) need an example of how poisonous the medium is, and the violence they instill in youths. Right, because movies or TV or even the actions of older generations wouldn't have the same exact impact, and series like GTA and COD are only small pieces of the medium's bigger picture, which has developed into more thoughtful and powerful directions than those people would give it credit for.

The format may not always be perfect, and much like movies and TV shows, it will always have its share of utter failures and condescending efforts aimed at the lowest common denominator, but just like movies and TV shows, the good of what it can do will always outweigh the bad. The format continues to evolve every day, with more and more games paying greater attention to deep storytelling with great commentary. Whether or not you think video games are high art, take your side because the argument isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

And so, with all that addressed, I'm going to count down my favorite video games of all time. It's quite a hard list to narrow down considering all of the fantastic games that are out there, and some reportedly excellent titles that I sadly haven't gotten around to yet. There's more that I'm likely to discover that may make it on this list someday, but as it is right now, this is as confident as I'll ever be. But before we get to the main event, here are my top 10 honorable mentions.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Huntsman: Winter's War movie review.

When Alice in Wonderland became a worldwide box office success, it set into motion the brief fad where classic fairy tales and literature were given largely revisionist treatments, giving the source material a darker edge. One of the most obvious examples was Universal's Snow White & the Huntsman, the second of the competing Snow White adaptations of 2012 (the other being Mirror Mirror). Though not a runaway success, Snow White was the more generally successful movie.

Much like Alice, it took the originally lighter and whimsical story and gave it a more Gothic edge. Much like Alice, its reception was generally mixed, though it was praised for its impressive technical pedigree. Also like Alice, in 2016, it sees the release of a sequel that absolutely no one was asking for, but we're getting it anyway. In other words, it's no surprise that The Huntsman: Winter's War turns out to be absolutely irrelevant by the end.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Jungle Book movie review.

Another year, another live-action Disney offering remaking one of their classic animated features. Ever since Alice in Wonderland's success (with a sequel releasing in just over a month), the trend of remaking their most famous animated features as live-action reimaginings has quickly become ubiquitous under the house of mouse, and one that shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

One would be justified in growing annoyed by Disney's gung-ho attitude to keep going forward with it, but at least they seem to be learning from their previous mistakes, with 2015's Cinderella actually being a marked improvement over its animated counterpart. It was a start, that's for sure, and did manage to muster up some hope for Jon Favreau's retelling of Disney's retelling of Rudyard Kipling's original Mowgli stories... and if The Jungle Book is anything to go by, if Disney is to continue this trend indefinitely, let it be to this same level of quality, as this is by far their best foray into that realm yet.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #7-9: 3 Caballeros, Music, Fun/Fancy Free.

With Snow White and Pinocchio making great success critically and commercially, Disney Animation Studios went from carton powerhouse to overall studio powerhouse. However, when World War II began, the studios finances weren't as high, one reason owed to decreasing sales in then Nazi occupied Europe. With animators within the company going on strike at the time, and others being drafted to serve in the war, the government later took hold, and required Walt to focus more on short films for the soldiers to watch, or if not shorts, package films that could be cut down into their individual segments.

Even after the government's hold on the company faded, and the war came to an end, Walt's finances had already been hit so hard that for the next few years, the only thing he had money to produce was more package films, and it wasn't until 1950 when he finally decided to risk it all on one ambitious project returning to the company's fairy tale roots.

Monday, March 28, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #1-3: Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia.

After a string of successful animated shorts that included Steamboat Willie (which pioneered the age of synchronized sound in motion pictures), and Flowers and Trees (which did the same thing for color in film), Walt Disney quickly became a prolific name in the medium, but his ambitions stretched further than any 7 minute constraints. He had the idea of creating an animated film just as long as any of the eighty minute golden age classics at the time. It was a brilliant idea in hindsight that, nevertheless, made everyone, including friends and family, fear that this would be the downfall of the entire studio once and for all. Little did the skeptics at the time know that Walt would set into motion not only a studio that would still be enchanting audiences eighty years later, but forever revolutionized filmmaking in general.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice movie review.

It's been no secret that since their rise to power thanks to their ambitiously interconnected universe, studios have attempted to greedily copy Marvel Studios' success. Imitators included Sony, who attempted to expand their newly rebooted Spider-Man franchise by eventually working in the Sinister Six (didn't work out), and now want to create an expanded universe for Ghostbusters (won't work).

The most obvious came from Marvel's longtime rival DC Comics, who made their intentions to build a similar universe very clear. Problem is, DC has always had trouble getting any non-Batman franchise off the ground, leading to outright failures like Green Lantern, and even Man of Steel being a severely polarizing movie. Batman V Superman is intended to be the main foundation for the rest of the franchise to follow, introducing the individual pieces of the Justice League for future entries, and getting two of America's most iconic superheros into an epic match-up. That's just the problem with the film, though, is that too many cooks are crowding into the kitchen, leading said foundation to be incredibly rickety.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Divergent Series: Allegiant movie review.

Trends are known to come and go, as when a particular film of any mold becomes popular, it will inevitably have numerous copycats and cash ins attempting to steal its thunder. After the success of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, studios soon started getting their own adaptations of fantastical book series off the ground, some successfully like The Chronicles of Narnia, while others like Eragon flopped miserably.

The latest trend setter came in the form of the adaptation of The Hunger Games trilogy, whose own success led to studios creating their own adaptations of Young Adult action novels set in dystopian futures. One of these comes in the form of Divergent, based on the books by Victoria Roth, a film franchise that even "fans" of the source material acknowledge isn't very good, and if anything, the fact that it's made it to three feature films with a fourth on the way already is a testament more to apathetic obligation than passionate commitment. Not only fans, but it seems even the cast and crew have left any and all enthusiasm at the door by this point.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Zootopia movie review.

We live in very shaky and uncertain times right now. It only feels like yesterday that social media vented its outrage over the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of the diversity-lacking slate of nominees. The Academy have made it clear that they intend to take great steps to remedy this unfortunate situation, but here's the thing: These are only symptoms of much bigger problems going on.

Not only in Hollywood, but racial, class, and gender-specific prejudices have seen non-negligible societal issues spike in attention and coverage, leading to rising tensions and mean-spirited stereotyping and paranoia. It's in these times that the first of Disney's two major 2016 releases, Zootopia from Wreck it Ralph director Rich Moore, chimes in with an optimistic, but no less thoughtful commentary on these topics.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective: Introduction.

Ask anybody on the street what the first word they think of is when you say "Animation". More often than not, the one word they will immediately answer with is Disney...

Friday, February 26, 2016

My official predictions for the 88th annual Academy Awards.

This weekend, all eyes will be turned towards the 88th annual Academy Awards ceremony, but maybe not for all of the usual reasons. This year's Oscar race has been one of the most controversial, but rather than it being for the Oscars shunning populist entertainment, for the second year in a row, this year's acting categories have featured a strictly white slate of nominees, continuing last year's #OscarsSoWhite outcry. It's the kind of event that has led the Academy to make drastic changes within it's branches, even if it's only a symptom of much larger problems within the diversity-lacking Hollywood system, but that's a discussion for another time. It certainly doesn't help that the Academy's decision to feature performances from three of the five Original Song nominees means transgender nominee Antony won't be able to perform her song "Manta Ray", but at least these boneheaded decisions should give host Chris Rock some excellent comedic material.

As for the likely winners... that's a conundrum all its own, with frontrunners in several categories having shifted back and forth for months. However, this late in the game, it's still much easier to call many of these categories than it has in some recent years, and while anticipation on the big night likely won't be a big surprise, the build up has been a truly wild ride.

So like in previous years, I'm going to list out all of my predictions for the winners of all 24 categories. As always, some of these aren't in 100% confidence, but they're as good as I'll get. Let's begin.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Deadpool movie review.

Valentine's Day has come and gone, and loving couples around the world celebrated in the usual ways: Gifts, parties, and romantic dinners... or maybe their tastes were more specific, geared towards the violent and the vulgar. In which case, Deadpool ticked those boxes off one by one.

A fan favorite in Marvel's legendary roster, the crude and meta-satirical "merc with a mouth" had previously appeared in the now non-canon X-Men Origins: Wolverine, played by Ryan Reynolds, and bearing little resemblance to the character comic book fans had fallen in love with, what with his mouth being sewed shut and being equipped with Adamantium blade arms.

For years, fans had waited anxiously for the character to receive his own film, with star and producer Ryan Reynolds fighting hard to get one off the ground. Flashforward to February 2016, and fans get the movie they always wanted: A hard R, rapid fire laugh-a-minute and brutally violent thrill ride that, despite its issues, gives its lead the movie he deserves.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My top 15 most anticipated films 0f 2016...

About a week ago, I kicked off 2016 when I went to see Dreamworks' Kung Fu Panda 3, which was already a pleasant surprise in the traditional January dumping ground, and hopefully bodes well for the rest of the year that follows. With the nostalgic reinvention of 2015 finally past us, this now gives way to another potentially exciting year in cinema.

Outside of the traditional epic blockbusters around the year, it should be a year that sees some refreshing experimentalism and intriguing prestige pictures, with everything from dazzling fantasies and jazzy musicals, to powerful dramas and not one, but two animated offerings from Disney's animation branch. Just like last year, it ended up becoming such a competitive list that once again, I found myself forming a list of my top fiften most anticipated films rather than a traditional top ten, with ten additional honorable mentions, and that still wasn't covering every new film I was excited about.

As always, forming this list came with a set number of rules. As always, I'm mainly sticking with films that have a guaranteed release date set for this year, but I am going to allow for a bit more speculation regarding some films, even if I'm not entirely sure some will even be released this year. Another new stipulation I've decided to add on is that if the film made the list last year, but didn't get a proper release until this year (such as Gavin O'Connor's Jane Got a Gun), it won't be included on this list. Also, this list is purely in the moment, and is likely not going to be set in stone as I discover more and more smaller films coming out.

And as always, this list is mainly catered to my personal tastes, so if a film you're anticipated isn't on here, I probably haven't heard of it, I am looking forward to it, but not enough to crack the list, or I may not be looking forward to it at all. In other words, Assassin's Creed and Passengers won't be on here.

Now with all of this established, first let's look at what just missed out on the main 15.

 Honorable Mentions include:
25. Suicide Squad

24. The Zookeeper’s Wife

23. Christine

22. Doctor Strange

21. Untitled Terrence Malick Austin Music Scene Project

20. The Story of Your Life

19. Finding Dory

18. The Seagull

17. X-Men: Apocalypse

16. The Discovery

And now on to the rest...

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Top Ten Best Films of 2015...

With all the negativity of last week's 10 worst films of the year out of the way, let's get to the top 10 best films of the year, because despite the fact that I saw plenty of bad films to go around, the good was absolutely great.

That said, there were a lot of films that struggled to get noticed with how competitive (though not always) the yearly slate was. This was a year firmly built on the grounds of old-fashioned nostalgia being reinvigorated by new blood, as was made very evident when Jurassic World claimed the new world record for highest domestic box office opening. However, even World (as well as Mad Max and Creed) were also feeling pressure, as 2015 was dominated by two words... Star Wars. Unsurprisingly, it was a gargantuan success, besting the domestic opening weekend record, and shattering Avatar's domestic intake total. Even as I write this, it shows no signs of slowing down.

On top of that, we saw the action genre get reinvigorated in a big way with the release of George Miller's continuation of Mad Max, Pixar returned to their former glory with Inside Out, and even the Oscars are the hardest they've been to call in recent memory, with spectacular films the like of The Revenant and Mad Max, as well as smaller scale gems like Room and Brooklyn, all competing against each other. I've loved quite a number of movies this year, and I look forward to watching some of the higher profile titles I've missed (like Son of Saul) in the near future. So with all that addressed, it's time for my best films of the year list.

As always, let's start things off with some honorable mentions. Just missing out was Todd Haynes' Carol, which was a refreshingly subdued and naturalistic look at the once frowned upon idea of a Lesbian relationship that doesn't disservice it by playing it as overly fantasized, but would be nothing without Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett's powerful performances. Spotlight was a suitably naturalistic look at modern history, covering its topics of Catholic Church sexual abuse and elaborate conspiracies with disturbing detail, and made great use of a stellar ensemble cast. The Martian was an atypical return to form for director Ridley Scott, featuring one of Matt Damon's most charismatic and witty performances yet, and owing much of its thanks to Drew Goddard's hilarious and lovably geeky script. Upon reflection, I actually realized I loved Amy the more and more I thought about it, making for a powerful sit thanks to its seamless editing skills and fine soundtrack choices, as well as Asif Kapadia's superb emotional beats. Beasts of No Nation saw Cary Joji Fukunaga tackling the very heavy and gruesome transformation of an innocent young village boy be molded into a merciless killer with haunting effect, and featured Idris Elba in one of the year's most terrifying turns.
But above all else, while I technically consider it a 2009 release, the fact remains that About Elly was the best movie that I saw all year, immediately skyrocketing its way into my top ten favorite films of all time. From the moment that it began, I was entranced by its atmosphere, and every moment of Asghar Farhadi's masterpiece roped me into its emotional experience. It features more of Farhadi's signature themes of familial conflicts and life shattering secrets, but manages to blend them with the analysis of hypocrisy, with much accusations being thrown around an individual most of the characters don't even know, and actually going so far as to paint themselves as more vile people than the one they insult by their own selfish needs for self-preservation. Such things are showcased in morally gray areas with no clear cut answer, and the film is also blessed with some of the finest acting I've seen in any movie ever. The moment that it ended, I immediately jumped right back into it to experience it again. So if you still haven't seen this movie, why is it taking you so long?! Stop reading, go watch it on Netflix Instant, and then come back to this list.

And now the moment we've all been waiting for. These are my choices for the 10 best films of the year.

OH, WHAT A LIST! WHAT A LOVELY LIST!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Brief Thoughts on Kung Fu Panda 3.

A good movie opened in January? Is the fabric of the space-time continuum being shattered?

Actually, no. Despite January often being seen as a dumping ground acting as whiplash to the Oscar contenders that finally make their way stateside around that time, Kung Fu Panda 3 is most certainly not one of those awful slot fillers that so many movies making their official wide releases are. Much like it's rock solid 2008 first installment and its 2011 predecessor (which is greater than you remember it being), Kung Fu Panda 3 is equally thrilling, touching, and hilarious, even if it falls back on familiar cliches.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Top Ten Worst Films of 2015...

Here we are once again, folks. 2015 has ended, and now we look ahead to 2016. Who's to say what the new year will bestow on us, or in Norm of the North's case, inflict on us. But one thing's for sure, there will be a lot of exciting titles coming up. I don't know about you, but I am hyped to see Hail, Caesar next Friday.

But first, it's time to take a look back at both the highlights and low points of the previous year. Having seen a total of a little over ninety movies from that year, my thoughts on it were similar to those of 2014, in that it was a good year with great films, but had some scattershot selections that didn't help it hit the heights of 2013. Granted, this might be owed to the fact that, while the year's movies were probably no worse than usual, I ended up seeing a bit more of them, from full fledged disappointments to agonizing tests of endurance. In fact, it was so competitive that even Fifty Shades of Grey didn't hit the top ten.

Granted, that still doesn't mean I actively sought out every bad movie I've heard about, with titles that include The Ridiculous 6, War Room, United Passions, Hitman: Agent 47, Aloha, Hot Pursuit, and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. Even for guys like me, there are limits to the pain someone can endure, so these are only going to be limited to my personal experiences.

As always, let's get some dishonorable mentions out of the way. Lost River was a very beautifully photographed directing debut for Ryan Gosling, but he seems to have taken all the wrong cues from Nicolas Winding Refn, stringing together sequences at complete random with little to no context, including several minutes of awkwardly dancing Ben Mendelsohn. For the first time in my list's history, a YA novel adaptation didn't make it into the top ten, but The Divergent Series: Insurgent's blend of incomprehensible plotting and faux-psychological action nearly secured it a spot, despite the most committed efforts of Shailene Woodley. Fifty Shades of Grey could have made for a so-bad-it's-good mockery of its infamous source material, but instead takes it so seriously and brooding that it isn't even ironically entertaining, and though the production values are top notch, it's so dull that even its target audience will be turned away by its passionless love scenes. Having finally watched all three Insidious movies this year, I can safely say that Insidious: Chapter 3 is easily the worst entry in the series, with Leigh Whannell seemingly forgetting everything that made the previous two films the successes that they were, and forsaking its subtle terror in favor of cheap jump scare factories. Jupiter Ascending from the Wachowski siblings did have fabulous visuals and sound work, but squandered it all (as well as a hefty budget) on a plot so unintelligible that it feels like a TV show's first season condensed down to two hours, and featured some of the year's worst performances, including a mumbled and monotone Eddie Redmayne who looks like he's counting the days before he can star in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Alright, with that out of the way, IT'S CLOBBERING TIME!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Brief thoughts on Room.

When first we meet young Jack Newsome (played by remarkable newcomer Jacob Tremblay), we see him excitedly kicking off his fifth birthday wishing all the inanimate objects in his glorified prison (nicknamed “Room”) a good morning. For such a young boy who has never experienced the wonders of the outside world, who doesn’t even comprehend that outside this little prison is a much bigger world waiting for him to discover, it’s a very bittersweet, but meaningful action that feels like it blurs the line between the normal and the strange, with this little boy not knowing any better than what he’s been raised in. For reasons like that and more, it’s appropriate that Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is one of the most bittersweet theater experiences I’ve had in recent memory.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Revenant movie review.

There’s a reason that the Western genre was once one of the most popular (and to an extant still is) film genres of all time, as the very frontier provides quite a versatile canvas for some of the greatest filmmakers of all time. While many of them included the adventurous journeys of John Ford, more often than not they were used to enhance grittier, bleaker stories, such as Sergio Leone’s intense Man with No Name trilogy, and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, using them to enhance the horrifying actions and deadly consequences that came with the territory. Even Quentin Tarantino, despite his comical indulgences, has used it well to enhance the vilest characteristics of humanity.

For all these reasons, it seemed only natural for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – fresh off a Best Picture Oscar win for last year’s Birdman – to adapt to the setting with The Revenant, as such a setting seems to fall perfectly into his earlier portfolio. If The Hateful Eight was an examination of the most evil side of human beings, than The Revenant is like a haunting trip through Hell itself.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Hateful Eight movie review.

Since his entrance on the scene in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino has established himself as one of the most distinctive voices in all of cinema, often referred to as “the king of dialogue”, in no small part because of his usage of lengthy, verbose conversations between characters.

Since 2009, his films have taken on both a very different and very familiar style of filmmaking, with him venturing into the territory of spaghetti Western meets historical revisionism popularized by Inglourious Basterds. This has produced a particularly dividing effect for mainstream audiences as to whether he’s improved as a filmmaker, or if his indulgence has actually made him worse.

The same dividing effect can be applied to his most recent release, The Hateful Eight, a movie which has become something of a theater going event due to its unique 70mm roadshow release, which is the version I’ll be reviewing today. Blending all of Tarantino’s most famous tricks and stylistics into one beautifully twisted package, it continues to see Tarantino evolve as a craftsman, but perhaps take a small misstep as a storyteller. But I do mean only a *small* misstep, as the film still remains as engrossing as we’ve come to expect of the man.