The 1st Annual Moore Review Awards

mr2017Welcome, to the first annual Moore Review Awards… or “The Brady’s” for short. There are tons of award shows out there, but few manage to encapsulate all of the film genres and show appreciation for the movie going public who can find enjoyment with the mindless action film as well as the thought provoking Oscar bate. That is what the Brady’s are for. Good performances don’t just come in dramas or period pieces, and my awards highlight all of the movies that make us laugh, cry, and sit on the edge of our seats. Quick side note before we get into the awards, films up for nomination had to have been released in 2016 (even if limited) to be considered. Also, as this is a recap of all of the films of last year, there is a SPOILER WARNING for this article. Now, without further ado… enjoy the first annual Moore Review Awards and feel free to comment and share.

BEST COMEDIC PERFORMANCE

Bronze: Zack Efron (Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates) – Efron is quickly becoming one of the best actors at comedic performances, and he managed to steal the show in this offbeat comedy.

Silver: Alan Tudyk (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) – The unfiltered droid, K2-SO,provided some of the best comic relief in the franchise’s history


Winner: Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) – C’mon. Was there any doubt? Deadpool was one of the best movies of 2016 mainly because it simply let Ryan Reynolds be Ryan Reynolds. And that’s almost always hilarious.

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Other nominees: Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence), Kevin Hart (What Now?), Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters)

 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Bronze: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – If the newer Star Wars films have taught us anything, it’s that for this franchise, practical effects work better than CGI.

Silver: The Jungle Book – Jon Favreau and company managed to make an entire jungle and talking animals look incredibly lifelike.

Winner: Doctor Strange – It wasn’t just cool CGI, but the use of it that made this film look mesmerizing. The added 3D effect really helped bring the psychedelic world to life like nothing we’d ever seen in a superhero film.doctorstrange_teaser_trailer

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Other nominees: Assassin’s Creed, Kubo & The Two Strings, Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them

BEST SOUNDTRACK

Bronze: Moana – Lin Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame, put his stamp on this Polynesian inspired soundtrack.

Silver: Suicide Squad – the plot may have been a mess, but the soundtrack was a perfect combination of old hits and new music that captured the essence of the ragtag characters.

Winner: La La Land – Old Hollywood musical meets new school Jazz. Even without seasoned vocalists, the music in this film was captivating from start to finish.

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Other nominees: Sing, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Kubo & The Two Strings

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE

Bronze: The Spanish Inquisition Chase Scene (Assassin’s Creed) – Not a lot to love about this movie, but the parkour chase/fight sequences were exhilarating.

Silver: Darth Vader fight scene (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) – In a matter of seconds, we got to see why Darth Vader is one of the most menacing villains in pop culture.

Winner: The Airport fight scene (Captain America: Civil War) – The most awesome scene in the history of comic book films. So many heroes doing so many cool things!5289551-3439904924-top-5

Other nominees: The Mirror Dimension fight (Doctor Strange), Batman rescues Martha Kent (Batman v Superman), Quicksilver mansion rescue (X-Men: Apocalypse)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Bronze: Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures) – The songstress played Mary Jackson with lovable spunk and a headstrong vigor that made her the woman you’d want to fall in love with.

Silver: Noami Harris (Moonlight) – While the drug addict mother is a bit of a cliché character, Harris played the role with gut wrenching intensity.

Winner: Viola Davis (Fences) – Davis somehow managed to out act Denzel Washington with a few monologues that had beautiful emotional execution.

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Other nominees: Viola Davis (Suicide Squad), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Gal Gadot (Batman v Superman)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Bronze: Robert Downey Jr. (Captain America: Civil War) – RDJ gave his best performance as Tony Stark yet, as a conflicted hero whose sense of retribution pit him against his closest friends.

Silver: John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane) – Goodman’s creepy performance was what made the simplistic film so suspenseful.

Winner: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) – An up-incoming actor who played the mentor role with perfection. The biggest flaw with Moonlight is that he isn’t in it enough.

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Other nominees: Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Jai Courtney (Suicide Squad), Chiwtel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange)

 

BEST ADAPTATION

Bronze: Captain America: Civil War – While it was a watered down version of the comic mini-series, the film succeeded in giving a ton of a heroes reason to be onscreen together and come into conflict with each other.

Silver: Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly’s historical account was well crafted into a heartwarming story about African American women overcoming prejudice.

Winner: Deadpool – No comic film has been adapted as perfectly as this film was. They kept the violence, humor, and fourth wall breaks intact without compromising the endearment of the characters.

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Other nominees: Fences, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

 

BEST ONSCREEN ROMANCE

Bronze: Ryan Reynolds & Morena Baccarin (Deadpool) – Even with all of the violence and humor, the chemistry between these two is what gave the film its heart.

Silver: Multiple actors who played Black & Kevin (Moonlight) – Same sex relationships are rarely shown on screen, even fewer between men. This film’s portrayal of such a relationship was both groundbreaking and emotionally captivating.

Winner: Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling (La La Land) – The two actors are insanely likable apart, and their chemistry in this film helped drive an already interesting narrative.

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Other nominees: Matthew McConaughey & Charlize Theron (Kubo & The Two Strings), Seth Rogen & Kristen Wiig (Sausage Party), Lamorne Morris & Margot Bingham (Barbershop: The Next Cut)

BEST ONSCREEN TEAM

Bronze: Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones (Ghostbusters) – Despite the unfair comparisons to their male predecessors, this group of female comedians had a fun dynamic onscreen and each had a moment to shine.

Silver: Team Cap (Captain America: Civil War) – Unlike Team Iron Man, this team was cohesive and got a surprising MVP performance from Ant-Man.

Winner: The Rebels (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) – This team provided a great blend of different characters from noble Chirrut Inwe to snarky K2-SO. Despite their wide range of personalities, they all had a likable trait and they meshed beautifully in accomplishing their ill-fated mission.

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Other nominees: Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone (La La Land), The magnificent seven (The Magnificent Seven), Jonah Hill & Miles Teller (War Dogs)

BEST VILLAIN

Bronze: Oscar Isaac (X-Men: Apocalypse) – Sure, the Apocalypse character was a bit too cliché megalomaniac. But Isaac brought great charisma and a deviously regal aura to the role.

Silver: Stephen Lang (Don’t Breathe) – Creepy, intimidating, and arguably not a villain. Lang’s eerie blind man made this suspense thriller a must see.

Winner: John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane) – Goodman’s character might’ve been the only one creepier than the Blind Man. The fact that this murderous, kidnapping, conspiracy theorist turned out to be less crazy than we thought just makes the character even more frightening.

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Other nominees: Ed Skrein (Deadpool), Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), The Shark (The Shallows)

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Bronze: La La Land – An endearing idea of molding classic Hollywood musicals with modern jazz as the backdrop to a love story where both characters  are struggling to follow their dreams.

Silver: Moonlight – It’s often amazing how few films there are about same sex relationships. Combining that concept with the element of a character’s childhood, adolescents, and adulthood help add to the splendor of this thought provoking film.

Winner: 10 Cloverfield Lane – Making a movie where virtually all of the scenes take place in two rooms between three characters isn’t easy, but to make one as suspenseful as this one is a testament to a sensational script.

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Other nominees: Zootopia, The Nice Guys, Don’t Breathe

 

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Bronze: Kubo & The Two Strings – Gorgeously animated, stylish, exciting and clever with a wonderful cast of characters.

Silver: Finding Dory – A sequel as good or better than its predecessor. This movie gave us a tear jerking story and a host of wonderful new characters to go along with the ones we loved from Finding Nemo.

Winner: Zootopia – Smart, funny, and incredibly socially relevant for a children’s film. Zootopia is a modern Disney classic.

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Other nominees – Sing, Moana, The Secret Life of Pets

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Bronze: Denis Villenueve (Arrival) – Breathtaking cinematography and brilliant non-linear framing helped make this thinking man’s sci-fi film into one of the most beautiful film’s of the year.

Silver: Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe) – This movie was proof that good direction can make or break any film. Claustrophobic camera angles and an eerie score helped make Don’t Breathe a memorable slasher/thriller film.

Winner: Damien Chazelle (La La Land) – There were so many memorable scenes that stand out in this film. The musical numbers were sensational and the ending montage was the cherry on top of a well crafted, enjoyable film from beginning to end.

Director Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone on the set of LA LA LAND.

Other Nominees: Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures), Travis Knight (Kubo & The Two Strings), Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book)

 

BEST ACTRESS

Bronze: Emma Stone (La La Land) – Stone’s performance was both charming and soulful and had audiences rooting for the struggling actress from her first audition.

Silver: Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) – The sensational depths of her performance as Katherine Johnson can be  summed up in her powerful monologue after having to run in the rain to the ‘colored’ restroom.

Winner: Amy Adams (Arrival) – A movie with such a somber tone has to have a solid leading lady to keep things flowing. Adams is both clever, headstrong and endearingly vulnerable in her performance as Louise Banks.

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Other nominees: Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad), Emily Blunt (Girl on the Train)

 

BEST ACTOR

Bronze: Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) – All of the people who played Chiron were great, but Sanders’ performance as the teenage boy struggling with his sexuality was easily the most incredible. Sanders’ portrayal helped illustrate the boy’s transition from meager bullied kid into a tough and relentless man.

Silver: Denzel Washington (Fences) – Denzel will always deliver. In Fences he had one gripping monologue after another and helped carry a narrative that might’ve dragged without his (and Viola Davis’) performance.

Winner: Ryan Gosling (La La Land) – Sauve, charismatic, and intensely soulful. Gosling made the character of Sebastian easily the most fun and likable character on screen in 2016. He also gets extra credit for actually learning how to tap dance and play the piano for the role.

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Other nominees: Tom Hanks (Sully), Will Smith (Suicide Squad), Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool)

 

2016 MOVIE OF THE YEAR

Bronze: Deadpool – Making a unique superhero film in this day and age is not easy. And yet, Deadpool manages to be a satire of the genre while also providing intense action and a charming romantic subplot.

Silver: Zootopia – Pertinent to the point that it should be required viewing in schools, Disney’s masterpiece also manages to be heartwarming and incredibly funny for a film with such a thought provoking subject matter.

Winner: La La Land – Fun, beautifully filmed, smart, soulful, and lead by two actors with infectious charm this musical reminded us of what was so wonderful about old school Hollywood filmmaking.

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Other nominees: Arrival, Hidden Figures, Captain America: Civil War, Sully, Finding Dory

There you have it ladies and gents. The first annual MooreReview.com Awards is in the books. Thanks for reading and I look forward to 2017’s nominees. Please like/share and feel free to comment who you think the winners should’ve been. As for the 2016 Academy Awards, expect films like La La LandMoonlight, and Fences to rack up.

Moonlight (Full Review)

It’s always nice when a film explores seldom acknowledged and often completely untouched subject matters. The best films and the best actors aren’t afraid to enlighten. Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, is as unique a coming of age story that can be found in cinema. Exploring themes such as homophobia, bullying, and existentialism, it is undoubtedly a story that has power and value.

moonlight_2016_filmThe film tells the story of a boy, who becomes a teen, and then a man. The boy (Alex R. Hibbert) is a quiet child who is struggling with being bullied and whose mother (Naomie Harris) is a drug addict. He is eventually taken in by a caring drug dealer (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend (Janelle Monae) who become his mentors. By the time he becomes a teen (Ashton Sanders), his social issues have only compounded as he continues to battle with his sexuality and his relationship to his more popular best friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). By the time he has reconnected with Kevin as a man (Trevante Rhodes), he has become a drug dealer himself and is still attempting to come to terms with his own identity.

Every performance in Moonlight is transcendent. The three actors who portray  the lead character, Chiron, do so with poetic, yet gut wrenching depth that makes the character both endearing and heroic. Mahershala Ali brings soul and a calming, nuanced wisdom as Chiron’s young mentor, Juan. Naomi Harris is equally brilliant as Chiron’s emotionally abusive mother although the character does feel a bit like a drama film cliche.

But Moonlight is not without its flaws. As a narrative, it never quite flows. The film is constructed into segments centered on each stage in Chiron’s life, but in doing so, a lot gets left off the table in its overall presentation. The segment about his childhood feels like it ends too soon, while the climactic scenes about his adulthood feel like an overall footnote. As a result, sensational characters like Mahershala Ali’s Juan are underutilized and many experiences that could help shape the character once we’ve seen him mold into an adult are left to quick exposition or mere speculation.

The performances allow us to see where Chrion’s journey takes him, but because of the abrupt shifts in narrative, we never truly experience it. The exception is the middle segment which easily feels like a story which has a beginning middle and end, but the rest feels like a television season where we’re missing episodes. It doesn’t take much away from an overall splendid film with wonderful acting and beautiful cinematography, but it did leave me wanting just a little more from its compelling story.

FINAL GRADE: B

Hidden Figures (Full Review)

History lessons can often be a bore. That is, unless you’re being taught something generally interesting that has significance to your own life. As Americans, the 1960’s space race is something that is ingrained in our history. And thanks to the phenomenal research of author Margot Lee Shetterly, we now have a new wrinkle to a familiar story that should inspire us all.

the_official_poster_for_the_film_hidden_figures_2016Hidden Figures tells the real life story of three African American women who overcame racial prejudice to help pioneer the first American space mission. Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine G. Johnson, a mathematical genius who works under Space Task Group Director, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), to plot the successful trajectory of the first American orbit around the Earth. Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughn, a NASA mathematician and natural born leader fighting for a much deserved promotion with her white supervisor (Kirsten Dunst). Lastly, Janelle Monae portrays Mary Jackson, a brilliant woman seeking to become NASA’s first African American female engineer.

The problem that plagues most biographical films is pacing. Even a phenomenal film like Selma had its occasional slow moments, but Hidden Figures manages to avoid these narrative lulls. The movie juggles its subplots beautifully, and smartly puts most of its focus on Katherine and her struggles to traverse a hostile environment along with her romance to a military colonel (Mahershala Ali).

The other women get their time to shine, but it is ultimately Katherine’s story that provides the most powerful moments. From an immensely powerful scene involving segregated bathrooms to all of the endearing dialogue shared between Henson and Costner, Katherine Johnson’s story becomes the epitome of the struggle between race relations as well as the ultimate theme of accomplishing goals through unification.

The film is filled with the uncomfortably unsubtle prejudices of our past, but by the end every heinous character has experienced growth. In the month when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and just before Black History Month, a film that reminds us that we can only progress if we are unified against our worst natures is incredibly pertinent. Having a magnetic cast of actresses and actors capable of bringing charm and fervor to their roles is certainly a plus too.

FINAL GRADE: A, a must see

Fences (Full Review)

Denzel Washington. There are very few people in existence who can give a monologue like him. But he might have met his match, at least for this film, in the form of fellow Oscar winning actress Viola Davis. Like Denzel, Viola can shine even in mediocre films. The two sensational performers join forces as Denzel steps behind the director’s chair to adapt August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.

fences_filmFences stars Denzel as Troy, a 53 year old former Negro League baseball player struggling to make ends meet as a garbage man with his wife, Rose (Davis), in 1950’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Together, they navigate Troy’s struggles with his mentally handicapped brother (Mykelti Williamson) and his rocky relationship with their teenage, athlete son (Jovan Adepo) and Troy’s illegitimate, musician oldest son (Russell Hornsby). As an original play, the film is low on thrills, but heavy on drama and emotion. The movie itself feels very much like a play and with that comes the pros and cons of most stage play to movie adaptations. The movie is long and very slow, but dragging moments are lifted by the sheer power of the two leads.

To no surprise, Washington and Davis are both brilliant in their performances. Washington is both charismatic and emotionally jarring. His scenes with Jovan Adepo provide some of the best dialogue on film. But when the real drama sets in toward the end of the film, Viola Davis takes the lead as the most magnetic person on screen. Her portrayal is filled with the soulfully endearing passion that makes her the hero of the entire narrative.

If you go in knowing that the film will be methodical then the sluggish pacing won’t be nearly as off-putting. Filled with magnetic monologues from not just Davis and Washington, but every major player, Fences is a movingly poignant story of African American culture in the 1950’s that is beautiful to witness. And I can die happy knowing that two of the best in the business were able to bring it to life.

FINAL GRADE: A-

My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2016

Another year is in the books and with it comes another year of ranking my Top 10 movies. It’s almost impossible to say that one movie is actually the best, so these are simply my favorites; i.e. the movies that I had the most enjoyable experience watching in 2016. Click on each title to read the full review. Thanks to everyone who read, shared, commented, or liked any of my posts this year and I look forward to bringing more insight in 2017. Happy New Year everyone!

10. SING 

While it didn’t break any new narrative ground, Sing capped off one of the best years ever for animated movies. A great cast of characters and wonderful music made this film a fun, heartwarming holiday film for the whole family.

9. DOCTOR STRANGE

Marvel does it again. Even if it wasn’t part of a larger film franchise, it would’ve been an awesome film to watch thanks to a great cast and utterly stunning visuals.

8. MOANA

The animated masterpieces keep on coming. This film gave us two great lead characters that are sure to become Disney classics. A few wonderful songs composed by musical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda was the icing on the cake for this fun, stylistically unique adventure.

7. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

Capitalizing on the success of The Force Awakens, this film manages to heighten the Star Wars mythos while providing some great original characters and one of the most invigorating final acts of any movie this year.

6. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

Whether you side with Captain America or not, it’s hard to argue that the character has produced some of the best super hero films to date. This one was a well crafted thriller that successfully pitted heroes vs. heroes and produced some great action and surprisingly deep emotional moments.

5. ARRIVAL

A great think peace with splendid acting. Arrival was a well crafted narrative with a beautiful message and ending.

4. DEADPOOL

The funniest movie of the year. Ryan Reynolds was at his best and helped deliver a tongue and check, violently awesome take on the superhero genre.

3. LA LA LAND

A gorgeous throwback to old Hollywood musicals that gave us one of the best on screen duos of the year. From start to finish this movie is magically endearing.

2. FINDING DORY

One of the best sequels to date. This movie added fun and interesting characters to go along with one of the best animated characters to ever be onscreen. Chocked full of hilarious moments and enough emotion to make even the toughest person tear up, Finding Dory proved that Pixar is still the best at crafting smart, funny, and touching animated films.

1. ZOOTOPIA

Not only was this movie beautifully animated and filled with some great puns and sight gags, but it also delivered on a story that is incredibly pertinent. Zootopia is an intelligent, emotional guide to humanity disguised as a funny family cartoon and it is a much watch for everyone both young and old.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Jungle Book, Sully, The Secret Life of Pets, X-Men: Apocalypse,  The Nice Guys, Sausage Party, 10 Cloverfield Lane

La La Land (Full Review)

There’s something about old Hollywood films that feels wholesome and fun. These nostalgic films are what birthed the modern film industry, and although musicals are still relatively prevalent, films like Singin’ In the Rain (or any film starring Gene Kelly) have essentially died off. La La Land, directed and written by Damien Chazelle, is a gorgeous modern day throw back to those vibrant musicals of old.

la_la_landThe film follows a pair of struggling artists in Los Angeles; Mia (Emma Stone) a barista who is an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a pianist who dreams of opening his own jazz bar. After a few chance meetings, the two begin a fun and exciting romance that is tested as they chase their lofty career goals.

There is so much to not just like, but love about La La Land. For starters, any musical needs to have good music. And the music in this film is energetic and infused with soulful jazz and wonderful choreography. This should come as no surprise if you’ve ever seen Damien Chazelle’s directorial debut, Whiplash. The wonderful array of music is aided by colorful scenery and well maneuvered cinematography that make the film feel like a Broadway show.

The two lead actors are both sensational. Emma Stone is loveable and earnest throughout while Ryan Gosling’s signature passion and charisma shines through every scene. The two are so good and their chemistry so electric, that you can easily forgive their descent, but not great vocal performances.

The movie’s biggest flaw, a relatively cliché love story, is even rectified with a beautifully crafted ending that feels both happy and heartbreakingly real. With liveliness and magnetic performances, La La Land manages to be an homage and a revitalization of Old Hollywood filmmaking. Flowing with romance, comedy and soulful music from start to finish, it is a triumph and one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

FINAL GRADE: A

 

 

Sing (Full Review)

It’s been quite the year for animated movies. Disney set the bar high with three fantastic films in Zootopia, Finding Dory, and Moana. But Illumination (the folks behind the Despicable Me franchise) showed that they could create a fun film without minions with this summer’s Secret Life of Pets. Now they close out the year with Sing, an exciting concept aided by a stellar voice cast.

sing_2016_film_posterSing is the simple story of Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a down on his luck koala bear whose rundown theater is about to be taken due to bankruptcy. His last ditch effort is to have a singing competition with a collection of vocally talented locals. There’s Johnny (Taron Egerton), the gorilla son of an unsupportive gangster father, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) a stressed pig housewife with 25 kids, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a teenage porcupine who is chosen for the competition over her jealous guitar playing boyfriend, Mike (Seth McFarlane) a rude crooning street rat, Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with a massive case of stage fright, and a confidently flamboyant German pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll). With a talented group, Buster is poised to prove his sheep best friend (John C. Reilly) wrong, if only his elderly iguana secretary (Garth Jennings) hadn’t accidentally put a $100,000 reward on the audition flyers.

The movie breaks no new narrative ground, but that isn’t the purpose of Sing. Instead, it’s a thoroughly wonderful experience because of the different characters and their arcs. They are all interesting, funny, and loveable. And the music is sensational. If you aren’t familiar with the vocal splendor of Tori Kelly, then you’ll be in for a marvelous surprise. Her voice is angelic and her shy, wholesome character is the heart and soul of a film filled with soulful characters.

The holidays should be about family and fun, and for that reason Sing manages to be a triumph without any fresh twists or turns. It delivers what it promises and gives some hefty laughs and heartwarming moments along the way. So while it might not be Academy award worthy, anyone who comes out of Sing without a smile on their face went in for the wrong reasons.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Full Review)

Even if you like the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it’s hard to ignore why many don’t. The characters were never as charismatic or likeable as the ones from the original films and the overkill on CGI made the universe feel less tangible. But never fear prequel haters, now Disney is in charge of Lucasfilm and their here to right the wrongs in the form of spinoff films like Rogue One.

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterRogue One focuses on the events leading up to the very first Star Wars film (Episode IV: A New Hope). The Evil Empire has just finished their planet destroying super weapon known as The Death Star with the forced aid of a brilliant engineer named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Little do they know, Galen has created a weakness in the Death Star and has sent message to his long lost daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), on how to access it. Now, the rebellion’s only hope lies in Jyn and a motley crew of rebels to steal the schematics before an Imperial General (Ben Mendelsohn) can track them down.

Rogue One does in two hours what the prequels failed to do in three movies. It perfectly molds an intricate yet acutely focused plot seamlessly into the overall Star Wars mythos while also delivering characters that are memorable and endearing. The evenly paced story is perhaps the most well written since The Empire Strikes Back. From a blind warrior fateful to the force (Donnie Yen) to a rebel assassin (Diego Luna), to an Imperial deserter looking for redemption (Riz Ahmed), each character is well rounded and poignant. Alan Tudyk’s performance as K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid, brings excellent comedic timing and a dry wit that rivals only R2-D2 in loveable Star Wars lore.

There is plenty of fan service to go around too. The film is packed with several cameos and easter eggs as well as a brief but memorable scene that exemplifies why Darth Vader is such an imposing character. But most importantly, despite piggy backing on the original Star Wars several times, it manages to feels like it’s own film. If the primary films are considered a space opera, then Rogue One puts the ‘War’ in Star Wars. The thrilling final act feels like Saving Private Ryan in a galaxy far far away.

I enjoyed The Force Awakens, but even I had to admit that it’s story arc felt too much like a retread. But Rogue One delivers  something original and gripping while still feeling like a missing piece of a larger whole. With a fantastic cast of characters, gorgeous scenery, and riveting action sequences in droves, Rogue One succeeds in being the prequel Star Wars film diehard fans have been waiting for as well as an entertaining ride for anyone who enjoys a good war epic.

FINAL GRADE: A

Moana (Full Review)

Back in 2010 Disney’s Tangled wound up being a surprise hit and thankfully resurrected the animated musical. Then in 2013, Frozen took the world by storm and fully solidified the return of the genre. Now that the animated musical’s swagger is back, the family juggernaut that is Disney is free to explore realms outside of the common fairy tale, like the story of a Polynesian princess for instance.

moana_teaser_posterMoana tells the story of the young daughter of an island chief. While her father wants her to accept the structured lifestyle of a future leader, Moana (voiced by newcomer Auil’i Cravalho) just wants to explore the wonders of the sea. When darkness starts to fall on their island, killing vegetation and scaring away their supply of fish, Moana’s quirky grandmother (Rachel House) inspires her to follow her dreams and search for the shapeshifting demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who they believe can restore a magic gem to a legendary island and save their home.

The films features all of the things we’ve come to love about the best Disney films. The characters are all memorable and magnificent. Though not much different from other female Disney heroines in story arc, Moana is a loveable and feisty lead who still holds a warm vulnerability that makes her relatable to audiences. Dwayne Johnson’s Maui is a perfect counterpart. The character has a comedic brashness accentuated by a funny sentient upper body tattoo. Even minor characters, like Moana’s Grandma Tala and a dimwitted chicken are wonderful every second they are on screen.

The music, which was written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, is mostly solid. The opening song is a catchy and beautiful chorus that sets the bar high but by the end some songs, like one performed by a giant hording crab (Jemaine Clement), are a bit forgettable. Nevertheless, the movie makes up for any lagging music or cliche story elements with dazzling animation and captivating visuals that perfectly capture the unique world and rich culture of Polynesia.

But what makes Moana the most unique are its endearing characters each with amiable flaws that allow for growth and great chemistry. Carried by strong voice acting and a fun story filled with humor and adventure, Disney has once again created another classic. It’s been a strong year for animated family films, maybe the strongest ever, and Moana manages to put itself on par with the best of the best.

FINAL GRADE: A

Arrival (Full Review)

There are a ton of movies about alien invasions. All of them deal with how humanity reacts to the revelation that they are no longer alone in the universe. But none have ever truly grasped the psychology of such a scenario outside of expressing the more apocalyptic side of things … until now. Arrival is a different type of sci-fi film. And it is undoubtedly the most cerebral to ever enter the genre.

arrival_movie_posterAmy Adams stars as Louise, an expert in linguistics who is recruited by a U.S. military colonel (Forest Whitaker) when one of twelve monolith-like UFOs lands in rural Montana. Along with a scientist named Ian (Jeremy Renner), Louise must find a way to communicate with the aliens to learn their intentions, before the worst nature of humanity kicks in and insights war with the alien visitors.

From the opening sequence, it’s clear that this film is one bathed in subtlety and intense realism rather than CGI action sequences. Most of the film is spent with Louise and Ian attempting to communicate with the aliens by teaching them the basic foundations of language. And even though we are walked through elementary levels of teaching, director Denis Villeneuve paces the film beautifully with breathtaking cinematography and a soothing score. Despite a relatively melancholy tone, intrigue is kept throughout thanks to interesting insights into the fundamentals of communication and how it shapes our view of reality.

Amy Adams’ earnest and emotionally gripping performance is also a driving force. Her character deals with loss and a genuine hope of connecting with creatures that many have already deemed hostile due to humanity’s innate nature to be afraid of what we don’t understand. Several references are made to moments in human history where communication was used for malevolent purposes, and thus even though we never feel threatened by the aliens, we can’t help but understand the sides that do.

But through Louise’s journey, Arrival manages to present an inherently beautiful message. Through language and the perilous effort to understand and survive, the movie creates a sense of both hope and genuine love even if a terrifying outcome seems inevitable. There are so many nuances to unpeel about this film that can’t truly be touched on without giving away the film’s ending, but know that although the film is even more complex than Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, the themes of connection, time, and the beauty of life are all evenly felt.

FINAL GRADE: A