Avengers: Infinity War (Spoiler Free) Review

The word ‘Ambitious’ isn’t quite enough to describe it. Marvel Studios Producer Kevin Feige probably couldn’t have imagined that this vast cinematic universe would become as successful as it is when Iron Man first released ten years ago. Along with a host of incredible directors and acting talent, he has carved out a collection of unique films that seamlessly blend into one cohesive story. It has all led to a film that holds no punches.

Avengers_Infinity_War_posterThanos (Josh Brolin), an intimidating force who has been pulling strings behind the scenes in several films, has finally come to the forefront. Hell bent on wiping out half of the universe to create balance, he along with his minions, are out to capture the Power, Space, Reality, Soul, Time, and Mind infinity stones. Standing in their way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Vision (Paul Bettany), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Braldey Cooper, Pom Klementieff, and Vin Diesel) along with a horde of supporting characters from the MCU (Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Letitia Wright, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba).

Anyone familiar with comics knows that you have to often suspend your notions of practicality to enjoy the overarching stories and their themes. Avengers: Infinity War is no different. The movie moves at a sometimes disorienting pace that will leave those who aren’t familiar with these types of films in the dust. There are so many characters, that the movie can’t help but feel complex and at times muddled. But after eighteen films of character building, Infinity War serves as a visual narrative treat to those who have been there every step of the way.

The vast collection of cast members intermingle with characters they’ve never been on screen alongside with an almost flawless chemistry. We get Thor teaming up with Rocket Raccoon and Groot, Iron Man with Dr. Strange, The Avengers with the army of Wakanda. When fan favorites arrive on the scene there’s a nostalgic sensation that is enough to make fans absolutely giddy. So even at its rare hokey moments (one character does something atypically stupid and a new character feels completely out of place), Infinity War revitalizes the same fun, awestricken feeling audiences got with the first Avengers movie.

The humor feels organic, but make no mistake, this movie raises the MCU stakes unlike any other. Thanos, off nothing more than sheer might, determination, and intimidation, manages to cement himself as one of cinema’s most daunting villains. The heart pounding climax of the film is sure to leave audiences frozen in their seats as the credits role. For a franchise whose biggest flaws have usually revolved around lack of strong antagonists and unwillingness to sacrifice major characters, the Russo Brothers (Captain America Winter Solider and Civil War) manage to create a film that serves as a middle finger to anyone who ever criticized. The result is a sometimes uneven, but overall shocking, emotional roller coaster that feels like the Empire Strikes Back of the superhero genre.

FINAL GRADE: B

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A Quiet Place (Full Review)

Silence is pretty terrifying when you think about it. Who hasn’t been alone in an empty home at night and been freaked out by a noise coming from an unknown place? Director John Krasinksi (The Office) takes that concept and adds elements of horror and science fiction to create a simplistic, but eerie thriller.

A_Quiet_Place_film_posterA Quiet Place is set in a world where most of humanity has been killed off by blind alien creatures that are attracted to any sound above a whisper.  Living on a farm with his pregnant wife (Emily Blunt), deaf daughter (Millicent Simmonds), and young son (Noah Jupe), Lee Abbott (Krazinksi) must find a way to protect his family from the deadly creatures while also carrying on day to day life in virtual silence.

As you might expect, the premise of the film can make for a slow burn at times. With limited dialogue and only a hand full of characters to focus on, things can feel a bit dull between the more suspenseful moments. But when those suspenseful sequences do come, they are ‘edge of your seat’ captivating like the raptor scene from Jurassic Park on steroids. And even through the film’s more sluggish moments, Krasinksi, who also wrote the film, does a wonderful job revealing important details and building character depth without the use of heavy dialogue or flashbacks.

The runtime isn’t dragged out and dedicates itself solely to its self contained story for better and worse. You may find yourself leaving the movie with questions about the film’s universe and character pasts. But such specifics aren’t the point of Krasinksi’s story. A Quiet Place is, above all, about family, sacrifice, and survival and with some classic monster movie elements, it carves out enough of a framework to make it both entertaining and memorable.

FINAL GRADE: B

Ready Player One (Full Review)

Steven Spielberg knows how to make an adventure film. For decades he has created and adapted unique worlds for the big screen that have become iconic in pop culture. So there is perhaps no one more equipped to tackle Ready Player One, a 2011 novel written by Ernest Cline that is bursting at the seams with 80’s nostalgia and nerd culture.

Ready_Player_One_(film)Ready Player One takes place in the 2040’s where most of humanity spends there time engulfed in a virtual world known as the OASIS where they can be whoever they want and gamble away their money playing games. After the creator of the OASIS (Mark Rylance) dies, he hides an Easter Egg within the game that will make the finder the wealthy sole owner of the OASIS. Living in poverty with his aunt, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) joins forces with a group of other gamers (Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki) to find the egg before the greedy head of a rival company (Ben Mendelsohn) can.

This film celebrates nerd culture like nothing else, at times for better and worse. The character arcs get a bit cheesy at times and if you’re not into gaming, the whole experience might be overwhelming.  This movie is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for MMO players and the people who understand most of the references in Family Guy, but what makes it work well is the story it tells. Sure, the effects are breathtaking and the pop culture references are fun, but without an intriguing narrative, the film would be a bore.

Ready Player One manages to weave a likable tale with surprisingly heartfelt themes thanks in large part to Mark Rylance’s James Halliday. The brilliant, but socially awkward character uses the game as a means to teach an endearing lesson about connection and taking chances. Rylance’s quirky, loveable performance makes the overall journey one worth taking even if you aren’t a fan of video games or can name all of the characters that pop up in the background. Combined with thrilling visuals and some well timed humor, Spielberg’s latest film ends up being an absolutely blast for anyone who just enjoys a good treasure hunt.

FINAL GRADE: B

Love, Simon (Full Review)

It doesn’t matter who you are. High school is a whirlwind of angst and drama. Finding your individuality and navigating the awkward landscape of social interaction is something every American can identify with. This is why a well written teen comedy with endearing characters can be some of the most compelling cinema, and it’s why Love, Simon is one of the best films of 2018 so far.

Love,_Simon_posterSimon (Nick Robinson) is a high school senior with loving, successful parents (Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner), a little sister who is an aspiring chef (Talitha Eliana Bateman), and a loyal circle of best friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). He is also hiding his sexual orientation from all of them, afraid of how things might change if his peers know the truth. When an anonymous classmate posts on a blog that he too is gay and afraid to come out, Simon creates an alias and forms a romantic bond with the secret student via email. But after another, socially awkward, student (Logan Miller) stumbles upon his secret and threatens to blackmail him, Simon is forced to finally confront his frightening reality.

All great teen comedy/dramas have a main character that is charismatic and easy to route for. Love, Simon is no different. Nick Robinson’s emotionally earnest portrayal is absolutely magnetic. He brings quirky humor and tear jerking compassion that should make any person with an ounce of heart admire and gravitate toward his journey. The supporting players hold their weight as well. Each performance has depth that makes them feel real and not just characters in a story. Jennifer Garner and Jush Duhamel are specifically marvelous. The heartfelt scenes they share with their onscreen son after his inevitable coming out are nothing short of beautiful.

Love, Simon is the first major release that tackles such a pertinent subject matter and it explores its themes with sensational nuance. Robinson’s character does not exemplify many of the stereotypes associated with homosexuality which helps the film serve as education for viewers with misconceptions while also giving representation to an unfairly scrutinized community. It teaches us how to be tolerant and supportive of things we don’t identify with or understand. And even though it gets a little sappy, Love, Simon proves to be a transcendent love letter to everything that makes the genre emotionally captivating.

FINAL GRADE: A

Tomb Raider – 2018 (Full Review)

Let’s be honest. Video game movies are usually terrible. Not just bad… terrible. So terrible that even the best ones aren’t particularly memorable. Angelina Jolie’s 2001 and 2003 turn as beloved video game heroine Lara Croft didn’t do much to curb that notion. But in true Hollywood remake fashion, here we are again with another attempt at making Tomb Raider work for the big screen.

Tomb_Raider_(2018_film)This reboot reimagines Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) as a rebellious delivery girl whose father (Dominic West) disappeared while searching for mystical relics that could prove the existence of an afterlife. When she finally decides to accept her father’s inheritance and take ownership of his multimillion dollar company, Lara stumbles upon clues to his whereabouts. With the help of a drunken ship captain (Daniel Wu), Lara ventures to a treacherous, uncharted island where she encounters a secret organization that is using slave labor to uncover an ancient tomb.

I can count on one hand how many video game movies are watchable, and if you can name more than that then you will absolutely enjoy this reboot of Tomb Raider. The movie starts out slow. There are hokey jokes that don’t land and plot elements that don’t make an ounce of sense, but the adventurous tone and action sequences are right on the money.  Alicia Vikander brings some true grit and earnest heart to the lead role that makes her feel like a much more believable character than Angelina Jolie’s more cartoonish take.

The action is intense and the stakes are felt thanks to Vikander’s performance. Every other character will come off as forgettable, although Walton Goggins makes for a relatively intimidating villain. Truthfully, a Tomb Raider movie need only have a captivating Lara Croft and, more importantly, an enthralling motivation, for her to work. Recreating Lara as a brave and tough young woman grinding her way through perils to reconnect with her long lost father is enough to make this reboot worthwhile even for the casual moviegoer. Just don’t be that poor soul expecting something emotionally groundbreaking or overtly intelligent from a video game movie.

FINAL GRADE: B

Annihilation (Full Review)

Alex Garland emerged in a big way with 2014’s Ex_Machina. His directorial debut showed that he had the chops to make an intense science fiction thriller without big, bloated CGI effects. In his much anticipated follow up, Garland brings in an impressive cast to take on Jeff VanderMeer’s bestselling novel, Annihilation.

Annihilation_(film)Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a former soldier turned university professor of microbiology whose husband (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a year. When he mysteriously returns from a secret special ops mission, she discovers that he isn’t the same. Whisked away by a government agency, Lena discovers that her husband is the only person to return from an eerie glowing mass that is spreading along the western seaboard. Determined to understand her husband’s mission, Lena joins a team of scientists (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny) to explore the mass and uncover its interplanetary origins.

Steeped in stunning visual effects and eerie cinematography, Annihilation absolutely works as a tense thriller. Inside the mass, where the normal laws of nature have been twisted, the crew’s journey plays out like an intensely violent horror that tests the psyches of all who enter. Each member of the cast holds their own and adds depth to their damaged characters.

Things stumble a bit in the narrative, where flashbacks are interwoven into the story to dive into Lena’s past. The scenes add to her character motivations, but can often undermine the anxious tone. The non-linear style of storytelling also gives away early on that no one makes it out alive except for Lena, which somewhat kills some of the suspense. The ending also gets a bit weird if you’re not quite prepared for the truly bizarre, but overall Annihilation succeeds in being a more exciting version of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus films.

FINAL GRADE: B

2nd Annual Moore Review Awards (2018)

mr2017What are the Moore Review Awards? I’d like to think of them as something between the Oscars and the MTV Movie Awards. The MRA’s were conceived to show appreciation for all of the genres that make up a great year at the movies and not just the art films. Here, we recognize that the performances and stories told in comedies and superhero films can be just as gripping as the dramas and thrillers. The only stipulation is that the movie must have been released in the calendar year of 2017 to be considered. So without, further ado… here are the winners of the 2nd Annual Moore Review Awards! Feel free to share, like and comment your thoughts! SIDENOTE: SPOILERS ABOUND!

 

BEST COMEDIC PERFORMANCE

Bronze: Lil’ Rel Howley (Get Out) – Howley brought some well timed humor as the best friend we all dream of in this 2017 hit.

Silver: Kevin Hart (Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle) – Hart’s shtick might be getting a little old, but for whatever reason it worked wonderfully here as the jock turned vertically challenged video game sidekick.

Winner: Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip) – This one really wasn’t that close, to be honest. Haddish brought exuberance and sass in her breakout role and turned what was already a fun film into an absolute blast.

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Other nominees: Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), Sharlto Copley (Free Fire), Finn Wolfhard (It)

 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Bronze: Ghost in the Shell – The story didn’t exactly resonate, but the futuristic design was a perfect recreation of the anime source material.

Silver: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – A lackluster narrative kept this film from being a classic, but the visuals and design of the futuristic worlds were absolutely stunning.

Winner: Star Wars: The Last Jedi – The climactic scene on the salt planet Crait alone is worthy of this film getting this award. Fans may be torn on the stories of these new films, but the visuals have been breathtaking.

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Other nominees: Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok

 

BEST SOUNDTRACK

Bronze: Star Wars: The Last Jedi – John Williams’ incredible score is once again timeless. The newer music created for the series has managed to feel like a welcomed addition alongside the music from the original trilogy.

Silver: Baby Driver – Edgar Wright’s brilliant screenplay was made all the more unique by a soundtrack that mixed several genres of music seamlessly with its fast paced narrative.

Winner: The Greatest Showman – The composers behind La La Land outdid themselves with this musical. With a mixture of gospel, pop, and R&B, they managed to create something unique and yet not out of place in the film’s early 1900’s setting.

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Other nominees: Blade Runner 2049, Ghost in the Shell, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

 

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE

Bronze: The Stairwell Fight Scene (Atomic Blonde) – The plot to this movie was all over the place, but the battle between Charlize Theron’s spy character and a horde of German henchmen was exhilaratingly brutal.

Silver: Kylo Ren and Ray team up (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) – This unorthodox lightsaber battle might be one of the best action scenes in franchise history. From the start, it feels like something we all wanted to happen from the conclusion of Episode VII.

Winner: The Opening Getaway (Baby Driver) – With style and some jaw dropping car stunts, the start of this movie sets the tone for one of the best films of the year.

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Other nominees: The Amazons vs. Steppenwolf (Justice League), Logan and X23’s limo escape (Logan), Keanu Reaves vs. Common (John Wick 2)

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Bronze: Hong Chau (Downsizing) – Her charismatic performance turned an otherwise boring film into something fairly heartwarming.

Silver: Silvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049) – She might not have been the primary villain of this noir thriller, but her stoic yet devious performance was one of the film’s most memorable.

Winner: Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip) – If you’ve seen this movie, this should be no surprise. Haddish was a scene stealer, managing to be the life of the party despite sharing the screen with three A-listers.

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Other nominees: Elizabeth Olsen (Ingrid Goes West), Zendaya (The Greatest Showman), Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Bronze: R.J. Cyler (Power Rangers) – Whatever this adaptation of the 90’s television hit lacked in action, it made up for in character development. And no character shined like Billy. They took a risk giving the character high functioning autism, but it paid off as Cyler’s performance was the glue that made the team feel genuine.

Silver: Mark Hamill (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) – In his return to the role that made him famous, Hamill brought surprising emotional depth without managing to lose the wit and boyish charm that made Luke Skywalker a classic character forty years ago.

Winner: Patrick Stewart (Logan) – We’d never seen Professor X like this before. Stewart was absolutely brilliant as the withered old former mentor of the X-Men, giving the character some edge in this ‘R’ rated film without compromising the fatherly nature of the character.

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Other nominees: Dave Franco (The Disaster Artist), Armie Hammer (Free Fire), Tom Hanks (The Post)

 

BEST ADAPTATION

Bronze: Power Rangers – Say what you want about the lack of action. If it bothers you that much, just go watch Pacific Rim. What made this sequel a blast for any child of the 90’s was how wonderfully they adapted and updated the team of heroes. Here’s hoping they’re able to get a sequel off the ground.

Silver: Wonder Woman – Comic book nerds complain all the time about minor changes to film adaptations, but here there should be nothing to nitpick about. From the plot, to the supporting cast to the leading lady, this was the film the most popular female superhero in history deserved.

Winner: It – With an exuberant cast of charismatic youngsters and a wickedly creepy performance by Bill Skargard, this movie ended up being a perfect recreation of both the Stephen King novel and the 80’s television min-series.

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Other nominees: Beauty and the Beast, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder

 

BEST ONSCREEN ROMANCE

Bronze: Ansel Egort and Lily James (Baby Driver) – With great music to bridge their relationship, these two ended up being an adorable couple with some ‘high school sweetheart’ style charm.

Silver: Aubrey Plaza and O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ingrid Goes West) – If you haven’t seen this movie, you should definitely check it out. The chemistry between these two unlikely lovers ended up being this movie’s most endearing quality.

Winner: Ryan Gosling and Ana De Armas (Blade Runner 2049) – Who knew a relationship between an artificial human and an artificial intelligence could be this likable. The chemistry and homely charm between these two made the movie’s tragic tone even more captivating.

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Other nominees: Zac Efron and Zendaya (The Greatest Showman), Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones (The Shape of Water), Gal Gadot and Chris Pine (Wonder Woman)

 

BEST ONSCREEN TEAM

Bronze: Dacre Montgomery, R.J. Cyler, Naomi Scott, Becky G, Ludi Lin (Power Rangers) – They did the original 90’s group of teenagers with attitude justice. Not only did they have great chemistry that was well constructed throughout the narrative, but they each had interesting backgrounds and character motivations that made them feel relatable to a modern audience.

Silver: Dwyane Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillian (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) – Hilarious doesn’t begin to describe this group. Their different styles of comedic timing played well off of each other and helped this movie become a surprise sensation.

Winner: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen (Logan) – The fun and emotionally dysfunctional family dynamic of these three is what turned Logan from an exciting action film into one of the best comic book movies of all time.

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Other nominees: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa (Justice League), Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith (Girls Trip), The Losers (It)

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Bronze: Split – M. Night Shyamalan had been in my doghouse for years, but making a horror thriller where a group of teens are held captive by a man with multiple personality disorder is pretty intriguing stuff. The fact that it also ended up being a quasi-sequel to Unbreakable was also pretty brilliant.

Silver: Baby Driver – Car chases, unique characters, an endearing lead, and a rhythmic soundtrack. Edgar Wright has some great films but this is arguably his best.

Winner: Get Out – Every scene is pertinent. This intense, racially charged script is an absolute marvel that turns the genre on its head.

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Other nominees: The Shape of Water, Coco, Free Fire

 

BEST VILLAIN

Bronze: Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water) – Shannon’s calculatingly methodical performance made this unhinged character steal the show in Guillermo Del Toro’s bizarre romantic drama.

Silver: Bill Skarsgard (It) – From the mannerisms to the voice, Skarsgard’s turn as Pennywise the dancing clown was the gripping centerpiece of 2017’s best horror film.

Winner: Jamie Foxx (Baby Driver) – With style, loads of charisma, and some witty one liners, Foxx’s performance as Bats was one of the many memorable pieces to this exhilarating thriller.

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Other nominees: Charlize Theron (Fate of the Furious), Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming), James McAvoy (Split)

 

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Bronze: Despicable Me 3 – The plot might not have been up to par with its predecessors, but Illumination Studios managed to create a heartfelt family movie that was a massive upgrade from 2015’s Minions.

Silver: The Lego Batman Movie – This goofy but endearing movie is proof that the Dark Knight can still be cool and fun even with loads of campiness.

Winner: Coco – Pixar strikes again with a movie that is undeniably brilliant from its breathtaking animation to its tear inducing story. It also deserves tons of credit for its beautiful portrayal of Mexican culture. Representation matters.

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Other nominee – Cars 3

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Bronze: Denis Villenueve (Blade Runner 2049) – Villenueve lands in this spot for the 2nd straight year. This sequel to the 80’s cult sci-fi noir classic improves on the stunning visuals and soundtrack with a script that is intensely captivating.

Silver: Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) – Stylish and intense from beginning to end. The charismatic characters and use of music to enhance the narrative are why this film is an instant classic.

Winner: Jordan Peele (Get Out) – Move over Alfred Hitchcock. Peele’s directorial debut was a masterpiece of filmmaking. Every shot and every single scene from the camera work to the meticulous dialogue holds purpose and meaning.

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Other Nominees: James Franco (The Disaster Artist), Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water), Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman)

 

BEST ACTRESS

Bronze: Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid Goes West) – Plaza’s pertinent performance as the social media stalker in this indi-film was both humorously awkward and beautifully tragic.

Silver: Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) – Building on her fantastic cameo in the otherwise dull Batman v Superman, Gadot brought toughness, charm, and grace to the role as the iconic Amazonian warrior.

Winner: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) – She managed to be endearing, witty, and headstrong in a role that required her to use only sign language. If that isn’t great acting then I don’t know what is.

THE SHAPE OF WATER

Other nominees: Brie Larson (Free Fire), Meryl Streep (The Post), Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

 

BEST ACTOR

Bronze: James Franco (The Disaster Artist) – Franco absolutely embodied the personality of the Tommy Wisseau, from the awkward mannerisms and accent to the childish charm.

Silver: Hugh Jackman (Logan) – At this point, it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever playing the grizzled comic hero. In what was likely his last portrayal of the character, Jackman brought more intensity and emotion than ever before.

Winner: James McAvoy (Split) – This felt like a no-brainer to me. McAvoy’s performance as a man with multiple personalities was one of the most captivating I’ve ever seen. Portraying a woman, a pervert, a child, and a gay artist in one movie and making it feel like they’re all genuine personas is nothing short of incredible.

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Other nominees: Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Jacob Tremblay (Wonder)

 

BEST MOVIE

Bronze: Coco – A beautiful story about family and supporting dreams, trademark perfect animation from Pixar, fun characters, and a radiant homage to a rich culture. There’s nothing to dislike about this animated classic.

Silver: Logan – Gritty and exciting from start to finish, Logan was more than just a comic book film. It took established characters and brought them even more nuance with an endearing story that felt ever more tangible with the western noir style of filmmaking.

Winner: Baby Driver – With originality and undeniable flare, this movie never stopped flowing. It had every element of what makes a movie memorable and exciting.

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Other nominees: Blade Runner 2049, Free Fire, The Disaster Artist, Get Out, Wonder

 

Did I forget anything? If I did, it’s probably because I didn’t see the movie (Sorry, Lady Bird). Thanks for another year of likes, shares, and comments! Here’s to another fun year of great performances and stories at the movies!

Den of Thieves (Full Review)

Den of Thieves is a high stakes thriller with a band of ruthless cops facing off against a team of convicts. It’s Ocean’s 11 meets Training Day. Well… at least that’s what they were probably going for. If you’re going to make a movie like this, you’d better cover all ground, or else you’ll risk being an occasionally fun movie with enough holes to drive an armored truck through.

Den_of_Thieves_posterO’Shea Jackson Jr.  stars as Donnie, an ex-con who is recruited to join a group of former soldiers led by Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) and Enson (Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson). After a plot to steal an armored truck turns violent, they catch the attention of a team of vicious L.A. officers led by degenerate Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler). Despite the police being on their tales, the crew of thieves prepares for an intricate plan to steal millions of dollars from the Federal Reserve.

There are moments in Den of Thieves that are truly intense and exciting. The cat and mouse game between Schreiber’s Merrimen and Butler’s ‘Big Nick’ O’Brien is fun to watch. Despite being a police officer, O’Brien is a demon of a character who cheats on his wife and breaks protocol at the drop of a hat with deadly consequences. This creates a film where there are no good or bad guys, but a bunch of characters with their own intriguing motivations.

But for all of the action and cheap thrills, this actually ends up being an egregiously faulty movie. The federal reserve heist, which starts off as an ingenious plan, unravels as it goes. The plan bounces from crafty to outright ridiculous and ends with several instances of poor planning that make you wonder how in the world they ever thought it could work. For instance, the thieves manage to brilliantly distract the entire L.A. police force and sneak into a heavily guarded bank but don’t account for traffic?

As a narrative, things get flimsy too often. There is far too much screen time attributed to O’Brien’s atrocious personal life. It’s necessary for character development to have a moment showing his failing marriage, but do we have to get several scenes reinforcing the fact? O’Shea’s Donnie is also recruited to be a Vin Diesel-esque getaway driver, but the skill is virtually unrelated to the overall plot. Then there’s ’50 Cent’s’ character. Placed in top billing, the character barely speaks and has an utterly irrelevant scene that is ripped straight out of Bad Boys II. A solid ending twist will help you enjoy Den of Thieves if you put forth minimal thought, just don’t expect anything groundbreaking from this one.

FINAL GRADE: C

The Post (Full Review)

Contrary to what some might have you believe these days, the purpose of the news media has always been to serve as a check on those in power. Never was that purpose more evident than in the early 1970’s in the midst of the controversial Vietnam War. Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post tells the story of the battle to uphold that right during the height of the newspaper industry.

The_Post_(film)Meryl Streep portrays Washington Post owner Katherine Graham who is thrust into the leadership role after her husband’s untimely suicide. Her high class social life of dining with politicians is threatened when a whistleblower reveals years of documents proving that several U.S. Presidents had been lying to the American people about the lack of success during the Vietnam War. After President Richard Nixon leads the charge for a court order forbidding the New York Times from publishing the documents, fiery Washington Post editor and chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) decides to challenge the court’s rulings by publishing the documents under the guise of Freedom of the Press. But to do so, he’ll need Graham’s permission.

The movie certainly drags for its first third as it sets up all of the need to know details of the classified documents and attempts to establish many of its dry characters. But once it zeroes in on its main topic, The Post finds its footing and becomes an intensely gripping film. Unsurprisingly, Streep and Hanks are homeruns in their roles. Streep is compelling in the role of Graham, who navigates her difficult position of a woman in power in the 1970’s to become an iconic figure for Women’s rights. Hanks is equally brilliant and manages to brings necessary wit and drive to a film that might be a bit dull without him.

If you can make it through the sluggish beginning, The Post pays off with a smart, passionate rendering of its necessary subject matter. Like many Oscar-bate biographical films, it can feel like a drag to those who want their movies to be more entertaining than informative. But even if it does come off as something that should be shown in high school history classes, anyone watching it should come away with a greater appreciation for the media and its necessary role in our society.

FINAL GRADE: B

My Least Favorite Films of 2017

Each year I sort of change the nature of this list. That’s mostly due to the fact that there are so many universally panned movies that I never get around to watching. So instead of calling this the Worst Movies of 2017, I’ll stick to calling it my least favorite movies of the year. 2017 threw a lot of lousy, unnecessary films our way, and here are ten that each made me cringe in their own special way. To see the full review, click on the title and feel free to let me know which movies made your worst list for 2017.

10. Baywatch

“The film wants to be an action movie just as much as it wants to be a comedy and seems to operate as if its sequences are actually intensely thrilling. But the entire time it just feels like you’re being told a boring story that might be more interesting if you were a lifeguard.”

9. Pitch Perfect 3

“The plot to this film is scraping the bottom of the barrel so much that they’re getting nothing but wooden shards. None of it is interesting or compelling.”

8. A Bad Mom’s Christmas

“… seems like it was filmed in a day, with the story following a predictable arc and many of the scenes being nonsensical filler.”

7. The Mummy

“… this Mummy reboot is just a soulless attempt to cash in on the hottest Hollywood trend without actually doing anything to make you care about any of it.”

6. Rough Night

“What starts off as a pretty basic story really goes all over the place as the story goes along. And not in the ‘so random its hilarious’ way, but in the ‘why is all of this happening’ way.”

5. Flatliners

The movie spends half of its time introducing the characters who are mostly insufferable… when things go south, you almost want all of them to get offed.”

4. The Emoji Movie

“Filled with enough bad puns to make a 90’s action movie director cringe, The Emoji Movie is relatively short on laughs… When it isn’t failing at puns and sight gags, the movie is trying its best to make social commentary that also falls flat.”

3. The Circle

“Emma Watson gives her worst performance since childhood as she spends most of the movie poorly hiding her accent and trying to find the correct emotional footing through an uneven script… The Circle ends up like an uneven equation. It raises questions then responds with an answer to one that was never asked.”

2. Unforgettable

“Another film about a crazy love triangle that ends in a same sex brawl at the end… the movie plays out exactly how you’d expect it without a single thread veering into anything truly suspenseful all the way into a laughable ending.”

1. Transformers: The Last Knight

“At this point, Michael Bay directing Transformers films is like that friend of yours at the party who was drunk hours ago but keeps tossing back shots… At a certain point, there isn’t any reason to care about any of the story… by the time you actually get through the two hours of bull crap and get to the climactic battle, you just feel exhausted.”

Dishonorable Mention: The Lego Ninjago Movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword