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Directors with most films on the list:
Martin Scorsese - 11 Christopher Nolan - 7 Paul Thomas Anderson - 5 Stanley Kubrick - 5 Hayao Miyazaki - 5 Steven Spielberg - 5 Quentin Tarantino - 5
Train to Busan 2 (2020)
Decently fun first two acts profoundly crippled by terrible finale and ugly effects
Ugh, was this really the follow-up to Train to Busan?
Here's what I LIKED: Some great zombie action sequences, the way the John Wick-adjacent main character brings some serious edge every time he has to fight, a Mad Max Thunderdome style game that is quite exciting, and a Korean girl that drives better than every cast member from the Fast and Furious films.
What did I DISLIKE...
The CGI. It's ass-ugly, very cheap, and constantly relied on. The worst I've seen all year.
The lighting. I swear when it's nighttime and there's no natural lighting around, you can tell there are studio lights illuminating everything and it looks fake. What happens when there are lights present outside? It's a blinding bombardment of lens flares.
The moronic little villain character who by the end he's incredibly annoying.
And finally, the entire final 30 minutes, which takes all of these weaknesses, along with an extremely cheesy ending including constant crying, predictable plot beats and slow motion, that combines all of these poor elements like a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and utterly cripples what was before that a reasonably enjoyable zombie film. It's a B-movie with a seriously not so self-aware mentality that falls flat on its face right before the finish line.
Above the Shadows (2019)
Some of the corniest crap you'll watch all year
Came for Thad Castle and MMA fighting, stayed for the absolute tire fire of a story, direction and dialogue dedicated to every whiny middle child of the world. Takes itself WAY too seriously and has no self-awareness whatsoever.
The Main Event (2020)
Just because it's for kids doesn't give it an excuse to be so damn lazy
This was the last, and debatably worst, project I was in as a background actor. For 4 days, I filmed the climax cringing and shaking my head at every bit of this brutal sequence I was participating in. The filmmakers know their main audience is kids who are WWE fans, and if they fall for lame WWE narratives they can get away with an excruciatingly lazy story and forced conflict that does these actors no service. The obvious wire work on all the fighting was cheap and sucked too. Are we really this easy to please with a slapdash feature length WWE advertisement when we're 10 years old?
Amongst it all, I can safely say the hip, grandma character is the worst goddamn thing you'll have to sit through. "you just got Grandma'd" will go down as the single worst piece of dialogue of 2020. Thank you Ken Marino for giving us just one funny character amidst the cringe.
Anyways, don't watch this. Maybe this quarantine shutting down all film productions is exactly what this industry needs to get its head on straight.
Point Break (1991)
There's Simply Nothing Like it
Point Break is lightning in a bottle. It came at a time when the 80's cheese, rock and roll and corniness had evolved and remastered itself into an ultimate force for entertainment, and escapist entertainment is the code Point Break lives and dies by. There's unshakable drive to pull audiences out of their everyday routines and thrust them in the front row seat of an endlessly quotable wild ride that owns its clichés and refines them into pure gold. This film knows how to latch on and engage all of your most potent primordial senses.
With that, there's far more depth and purely refined philosophy than people give it credit for. Patrick Swayze as Bodhi is unstoppably enigmatic, and while you're not asked to sympathize with him and the difficult choices he makes, it nonetheless thrusts his thrill-seeking lifestyle on a pedastal to show the true depth of the human spirit. His "us against the system" speech is brimming with passion, and is so effective for how easily it can light a fire in your belly. He makes a perfect foil for Johnny Utah in an emotionally charged story of forbidden love. Never has Keanu Reeves gelled with anyone onscreen like this since.
(I so often roll my eyes at all of those one sentence letterboxd reviews that insist on secret gay romances between lead characters, but yes this movie is pretty gay)
You'd think the way it was directed that Point Break was helmed by some hotshot guy who was young, dumb and full of cum. Who'd have thought Kathryn Bigelow could capture the wild adrenaline and testosterone fueled bromance this movie needed better than any man ever could. The chases, surfing and skydiving are magnificent, keeping all of the action feeling fresh while capturing the sequences well enough to compel you to stop and stare in awe.
Tried as they have to replicate the magic of Point Break in spinoffs (The Fast & The Furious) and remakes (a certain soulsucking 2015 feature), no attempt has matched the symphony of people and elements that came together to produce a true 1990's action masterpiece.
Instantly Classic Tarantino with a Side of Foot Fettish Overload
The anticipation for this film amongst zealous Tarantino fans seemed to hit new heights at several points through the timeline leading to its release. While the guy may strike many as an eccentric maniac, both from his splatterfest films and off-screen antics that potentially almost killed a few of his actresses, there's a settled maturity here that quietly sets itself to slowly canvassing out a fantastic film. With that, the fervent anticipation ends up being warranted, but also somewhat inappropriate. With that, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood carries itself as a top of the line film star constantly harassed by the paparazzi that ultimately wants you to quiet down and leave it alone.
There's a palpable lack of urgency that bled through in the trailer which ultimately portrays the film's intentions very honestly. It's gotten to the point where most mainstream films refuse to waste an ounce of celluloid by editing down and pushing and pushing the plot through without any breathing room, a style that conjures up an image of a woman forcing herself into pants that are two sizes too small. This is about living the world, being a ride-along buddy with these characters and enjoying the great times. It is an unapologetically vintage approach that, along with flawless set design, harkens back to a period obviously close to Tarantino's heart.
DiCaprio and Pitt look like they're having an absolute blast and it's incredibly infectious. DiCarprio especially appears a lock for an Oscar nomination; his comedy is riotously on point, but he can quite patiently and drastically manage to touch your heart. His character requires a deft balance between equal parts charming, tragic, talented and degenerate. He nails them all.
And yes, despite everything I've just described about a more leisurely and mature film, Tarantino is still secretly that little kid who loves nothing more to steal a box of fireworks and light the whole damn thing all at once. It sure as hell happens, and it's sure as hell glorious. I really loved this film, and I think about 50% of his hardcore fans will too, give or take.
Be sure to avoid the 1% that are there for QT's foot fettish tendencies because they will quite honesty blow a load. That's one part he hasn't changed.
Triple Frontier (2019)
Not a bad Narcos companion piece
J.C. Chandor dazzled me before with his nuanced crime drama A Most Violent Year. His next trick: pulling off an Expendables movie featuring five bonafide actors that either have played, or should have a crack at playing, Batman.
This version of course has two clear advantages; these actors don't belong in a retirement home, and the direction has a tangible IQ. It's disappointing that these guys are mostly relegated to stock military profiles, but the effort put into the action and technical work pays off. Where your enjoyment of this film may be tested is in the second half, where it becomes evident how this fell into the hands of Netflix over theater distribution.
A really expensive and visually stunning joke, which isn't entirely a bad thing
I have so many mixed feelings because Aquaman is honestly a complete farce but not in a miserable way like Justice League but in an actually funny way like grown men investing $160 million into a goofy Saturday morning cartoon about magical sea people with both insanely creative environments and occasionally atrocious green screen and editing and it takes itself super super cereal except when Jason Momoa tries to make jokes which are pathetic but then because they're pathetic they're funny and then this obnoxiously gigantic crab destroys EVERYTHING and I'm just left speechless because this is the most ridiculous thing I've seen in a long time.
Creed II (2018)
A very worthy sequel to Creed, and surprisingly deep for a Rocky IV follow-up
The one fight I was excited for this year more than Khabib vs. McGregor. Creed makes a triumphant return with nearly the same fireball energy of the first. I won't lie and say this film astounds you with a new and innovative spin on the main formula: the biggest twist in the film is that Dolph Lundgren CAN ACT?! Who knew? A lot of the over the top showmanship and bravado of Rocky IV makes a familiar return along with the Dragos, but the film makes a much more powerful impression with vastly superior acting and directing. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Michael B. Jordan is an absolute star and I could see him in just about anything. The subtraction of all that Cold War propaganda bullshit doesn't hurt either.
One of my biggest weaknesses a film can exploit is by having an epic training montage. This film has multiple and I was practically bursting out of my seat to drive straight to my gym as they pumped up my blood pressure to some moderately dangerous levels. Really all I wanted from Creed II was to revel in the excitement of drama and intensity cranked up to the max while feeling every hard hitting punch it threw. Thanks to the emotion oozing out of almost every scene, that's precisely what I got.
Eighth Grade (2018)
A Horror Film in Disguise
Painfully authentic viewing. I don't consider myself one that suffers from anxiety, but for 90 minutes there was an invisible iron grip on my stomach as one awkward venture after another progressed. Bo Burnham finds a way to transport you back to adolescent days with uncomfortable accuracy, and the film is all the more impactful for it. Even if you weren't spending hours on Instagram a day or dabbing when the feeling came, the pains and fears are universal to every generation.
Not all is doom and gloom however, as there's sporadic moments of hilarity and a father-daughter conversation as affecting as the ending monologue in Call Me By Your Name. This is certainly not a fun, casual watch I'll be revisiting anytime soon, but it'll be one I expect to be recommending to any friends of mine seeking an indie gem.
Jurassic World (2015)
Delivers on thrills and visuals, but don't expect much more
Jurassic World, starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, comes approximately 14 years after the movie watching world gave up on ever getting a good Jurassic Park sequel. This time at least, we get a plotframe that is completely different from Jurssic Park 2 and 3. It's not greedy idiots sending lambs for slaughter to an island overrun by dinosaurs to be inevitably eaten. No, we actually have a functioning theme park! And people go there as a vacation now since it's "safe". What could possibly go wrong...?
Everything is the answer you're looking for, and no thankfully I'm not talking about the quality of the overall film. When buying a ticket with "Jurassic World" written on it, a set of expectations and visions form in your brain of how this movie is going to take shape. Whatever you imagined, I'm almost certain you're mostly right. Like me, you will likely be neither disappointed or surprised (or rather, disappointed you weren't surprised).
Whatever tales you may have heard about bad CGI are false. The park, the dinosaurs and the landscape look great. There's some minor enhancements to the dinosaur animatronix that some have complained don't look like real dinosaurs. If that's you, let me ask you this: have you ever actually seen a real dinosaur in person? Didn't think so.
Then of course there's our huge ensemble of characters. Jurassic Park had a small group of intermingled characters that worked very well off each other and really felt like they were united in the conflict together. In World, we get more characters, more plots, and sadly, a much more bloated feel to it as all of these separate plots make the movie feel disconnected. Half of these plots feel like obligatory clichès, and more focus on a few characters would've likely created an atmosphere closer to the heartiness and emotional gravitas of the original.
Jurassic World is primarily marketed as a kids movie, so I understood why they initially thought putting two kids as key characters may be a good idea. However, all they really contributed was an absolutely pointless family subplot, grungy and mopey child angst and about 20 minutes of the movie we didn't really need. Aside from the kids, the antagonists of the movie were essentially cartoons. Within the first 30 minutes, you were mentally pointing out which ones would die and what horrible death they would be subject to, most of the time with clairvoyant precision. I was really hoping to see some surprises here that defied the conventional blockbuster. Sadly, they didn't seem interested in showing up.
The only character you can truly care about here is Chris Pratt's Owen. He's for the most part, the moral center of the story, and easily has all the best action scenes. He has a very 80's action hero feel to him and Chris Pratt's charismatic, likable cockiness feels like a return from the decade. It's no wonder this guy is being fan cast for almost every action movie reboot or video game based movie in production, as there's no doubt after his Jurassic World outing he could pull off seemingly any of them.
Of course at the end of the day, the real stars are those ancient, scaly, rascals causing all the trouble. They're what get butts in the theater seats, and when they come to fight, it's a damn good time. A little more dino v. dino would've been great, but we get enough to satisfy our hunger.
Still praying for a hilarious Jeff Goldblum cameo in the sequel.
FINAL VERDICT: Jurassic World may suffer from bloatedness and predictability like any sequel is prone to do, but for a movie about dinosaurs wreaking havoc on a theme park, we get plenty of suspenseful thrills and exciting action scenes to satisfy our summer blockbuster craving.
The Future is Bright, Despite Some Annoyances
Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney and Britt Robertson, is the latest release by the titan of the movieverse, Disney. While based on a theme park ride, I still count this as an original idea, being one of those rare times when we see a screenplay not based as a sequel/prequel/reboot receive a huge budget and get the opportunity to stand on its own. For the most part, it was a worthy investment.
The director of Tomorrowland, Brad Bird, is currently on an enviable streak with smash hit after hit like Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and Mission Impossible 4. His latest outing demonstrates his command behind the camera again, taking (an honestly) unremarkable script and stretching it far past its potential using visual finesse to keep the plot moving at a bracingly energetic pace.
I think a better title for this movie would have been something resembling "Journey to Tomorrowland", because very little time is actually spent in Tomorrowland. Maybe it just made more sense for the script, or maybe they realized their CGI budget would have been catastrophically high, either way it's a tad misleading. When we are in Tomorrowland however, it's everything we could have hoped for creatively. My guess is whoever designed this place must be somewhere between a lego master builder, or one of the greatest minecraft players of all time, because this place is monumental, and littered with little brilliant inventions; my favourite being the multi-level swimming pool. It's the small things like these I can appreciate that show the people involved really do care about every tiny aspect of the film-goer experience.
I suppose the key problem with the film would have to be, well, Disney. It was very obvious at times where the narrative direction and certain plot points were constricted by the Disney-esque formula most of their movies adhere to. This was most apparent in the final act because of the way the movie felt rushed into resolving its conflict neatly and quickly, making for an ending which felt a bit too clean. We're also subjected to a fairly preachy expositionfest, with a theme that was WAY too on the nose. Some subtlety wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing
Finally, we also get to witness two star making performances. While Clooney is predictably solid, he's often outshone by his younger co- stars. One being Britt Robertson, who should see many more lead roles come her way in the future. The other, being the very young Raffey Cassidy, who plays a character that would sound extremely irritating on paper, but is played with a dominant presence well beyond the actress's years.
FINAL VERDICT: While it hits a few too many familiar points and beats you over the head with its moral, Tomorrowland is still a well directed adventure whose mystery is a pleasure to unravel until a convoluted end.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey: potentially one of the greatest cinema experiences you will ever have
2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films ever created. 2 years ago, during my first viewing, I was dumbstruck by the idea. Here was a movie with little to no dialogue, shrouded in ambiguity and pacing comparable to watching grass grow. Having watched the film again, I can say that all of these comments still hold true. However, I can now say that these aspects of the film, and many more, are what in fact make this such a rewarding viewing. This is not just a film, but so much more. This is Kubrick's meticulously crafted work of art.
So many movies rely on what they have to say in order to create the most effective and fulfilling experience for the audience. 2001 is the complete opposite, it's what isn't said that's the key. Kubrick's use of visuals and music to evoke desired feelings is a rare gift very few filmmakers are capable of. In his long docking shots, he uses just the right score to demonstrate its elegance like a slow, graceful dance. During times when the astronauts are outside in space, all we can hear is the sounds of their muffled heavy breathing, emphasizing man's vulnerability and creating a tense atmosphere where anything can go wrong at any moment. Using silence to create tension is also a very difficult task, but Kubrick's camera techniques and sudden cuts in the score make them equally spine tingling as the best of the thriller genre.
The movie is broken down into 3 parts, each shedding light on man's slow evolution from mastering themselves, to mastering the earth, and finally, mastering space and beyond. While there can really be no concrete explanation for the events on screen, the visual splendour, juxtapositions, and symbolism paint a picture that can leave our imaginations running wild, while not being too confusing and bizarre.
For those drawn to ambitious sci-fi films such as this, I would first recommend reading the novel in order to avoid being lost the entire time. The novel and movie couple well together since the movie provides the visual, musical and thematic experience while the book can provide very helpful explanations on plot points otherwise not mentioned.
In the current movie industry, where big, loud blockbusters, sequels and remakes are dominant, films like 2001: A Space Odyssey demonstrate exactly what most of the new releases are lacking: originality, elegance, and boundary pushing film techniques. Stanley Kubrick attempted this in almost every film he created, with 2001 being his crowning achievement.
FINAL VERDICT: While undeniably not for everyone, those that can appreciate a visually thrilling, beautifully scored and radically ambitious film will find 2001: A Space Odyssey to be one of the single greatest cinematic experiences of their lifetime.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max Fury Road: A statement to embarrass and destroy all other movies in the action genre
Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, is George Miller's attempt to reignite his long dormant Mad Max franchise...and my god does he ever. For the past decade or so, with exceptions such as John Wick, The Bourne Trilogy, and The Raid, action movies seem to be struggling to capture the excitement and enjoyment the genre once held; a tenacity that classics from the 80's and 90's had in spades. George Miller single handedly delivers our saving grace with Fury Road on the back of a spike covered oil rig with a blind zombie playing a fire breathing electric guitar.
Max is a man of few words, but Tom Hardy's talent for portraying strong, silent characters shines through in a gruff but sympathetic performance. He teams up with Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa to save the last 5 hot women in the world from the leader of a powerful cult with a terrifying breathing mask inspired by the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. From there, the chase is on.
Using this simple plot as the setting, we are able to bear witness to one of the most beautifully shot films in years. The world of Mad Max looks absolutely gorgeous, combining awe-inspiring practical effects and landscapes with bold colours brimming from all edges of the frame. These are of course just bonuses in enhancing the primary reason people will love this film, the action itself. I'm happy to report these action sequences are damn near flawless. No shaky cam, barely a hint of CGI, and scenes where we actually feel like our characters are in danger (yes Furious 7 I'm calling you out). Total chaos relentlessly ensues for the majority of the film, but it's chaos you can follow clearly and marvel at. Whether it's one of the explosive car sequences, or one of the smaller emotional moments, Mad Max: Fury Road refuses to let up on tension for one second.
There's a reason this movie is sitting at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is an action movie that will set a precedent for years to come, roaring ferociously at all who may challenge it. Hopefully, this is only the beginning of a genre revolution early in the making.
FINAL VERDICT: Mad Max: Fury Road is a beautifully chaotic display of masterfully executed action sequences with a strong emotional core, and a raw energy unmatched by nearly all of its action genre competition.
Transformers 4: The day I lost faith in humanity
Transformers: Age of Extinction, starring some actors standing as a cliffnote to the Michael Bay extravaganza, was one of the highest grossing movies of 2014. It's facts like this that is the reason I occasionally lose faith in the human race.
I do have a small confession to make before continuing, I actually did enjoy the first Transformers movie. Hell, even the third one has its moments where Michael Bay seems to calm down and try to film some coherent action with reasonably interesting plot developments. In this fourth instalment, that's all gone. This one is essentially a 3-hour promotion for over 20 international corporations (I lost count after that), filled with fireworks, flying scrap metal, awkward attempts at comedy and a touch or racism. At one point, there's a 40 second portion dedicated entirely to Bumblebee's transformation into the latest Chevy Camaro. We now have commercials built into movies, it could only be you Michael Bay.
Let's talk about the main characters of this movie. No, I don't mean Mark Whalberg's character, who just so happens to be completely wasted in this. I actually mean the products of Bay's special effects team. Despite this being the latest entry in the franchise, the special effects are arguably the worst they've been, with action scenes so disorienting and mindless they resemble fights I created when I was 6 with my action figures by smashing them together in mid-air. All of it is utterly pointless and contributes nothing, with the only mercy being the pauses in between as the actors try desperately to sap some comedy out of their pathetic script material. The lesser of the two evils I suppose.
I could almost forgive some of these problems if this trainwreck wasn't almost 3 HOURS LONG. A large fight at the hour and a half point of the film seemed to signify some sort of conclusion, until I realized in horror we were only halfway done before turning to an entirely new location and introducing a new plot thread. At this point, I was already checked out and waiting in misery for the end.
I can't think of a single reason in favour of watching this movie. It's way too long, it fails in all of its 'comedic moments', it has no plot, and its action scenes are seizure inducing nonsense. My advice, go find a copy of The Rock and enjoy a movie from a time when Michael Bay was a competent filmmaker.
FINAL VERDICT: Transformers: Age of Extinction is a desperate attempt at an action movie that is unbearably long and mind-numbingly dumb.
Top Five (2014)
Top Five: The best we've seen Chris Rock in over a decade
Top Five, starring Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson, sees Chris Rock writing, starring in, and directing what appears to be a passion project he has wanted to do for a very long time. Playing second fiddle in an endless stream of terrible Adam Sandler movies seems to have sparked Rock to finally find his own groove again. After years of under using the vast amount of talent he has, Top Five is finally the vehicle Chris Rock needed to break free and unleash the comedic prowess that made him famous all those years ago; a vehicle only he himself could have constructed.
Chris Rock's Andre Allen is taking a gamble with his career, veering off of his well worn comedic path into what is sure to be a disastrous turn to serious film making in the form of his B-movie version of 12 Years a Slave. He also has a chronic drinking problem, an upcoming reality TV marriage, and a giant ego. Yes, he's essentially Lindsey Lohan, the Kardashians and Kanye West all rolled into one, but he's certainly not without his charm. When he finally accepts an interview with the New York Times to dig deep into the inner mechanisms of his life, we as the audience brace ourselves for a fascinating adventure into the harsh realities of the entertainment business and inside the mind of a comedian who is feeling anything but comedic.
While Rock's performance alone is the perfect match to his very edgy script, it's his chemistry and effortless back and forth with Rosario Dawson that really is the heart of this movie. They are often talking through very long camera takes at a time, demonstrating a great rapport and comfort with each other. Their character relationship take us through a series of raunchy, wild flashbacks that really toe the line of potentially being overly crude, but generate enough laughs keep us a heartbeat away from cringing in horror. The overall plot follows a fairly predictable trajectory, but it's peppered with touching and memorable moments, some excellent cracks at the entertainment industry and a brilliant Kevin Hart cameo that all keep the movie vibrantly engaging and fresh. We can only hope that Rock will follow the advise of his own real life parallels he shows in the film by continuing to make quality comedic movies that are more than just a pay check role. He can start by turning down Grown Ups 3.
FINAL VERDICT: Chris Rock's insightful and witty script, as well as effortless chemistry with Rosario Dawson lifts a somewhat basic plot structure to new comedic heights in what is hopefully the start of his film career comeback.