Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (2019) – Movie Review

***SPOILER WARNING***

When asked in an interview what genre his film “Inglourious Basterds” falls under, director Quentin Tarantino said he believes it is acceptable to view his work as a sort of fairy tale since the story takes place within actual events, but fictional characters transform the outcome and create an alternate history of sorts. With “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” Tarantino similarly creates a fairy tale of Hollywood’s Golden Age centered around the young up-and-coming actress, Sharon Tate; the aging star trying to adjust through the times before he is forgotten, Rick Dalton; and the controversial stunt man who has worn out his welcome in the industry, Cliff Booth. Lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio described the film as 2 ½ days in Hollywood in 1969 with characters, both fictional and real, interwoven within the fabric of major events of history, creating a never-before-told version of life in a time we thought we were familiar with.

When the film was announced, there was a reasonable concern that this film would glorify the Manson Family as Tarantino films are usually saturated with gratuitous violence. The Manson Family is tied in with the story, but it is not what the story is about. Tarantino writes a tale that is very respectful to the human element of the tragic real-life events. In fact, Charles Manson is only on screen for roughly one minute in total. As out of character as it sounds for one of his films, I wouldn’t describe it even as a violent flick. Although there are isolated moments of violence, the main attraction is the characters, dialogue, and environments, which are outstanding.

DiCaprio, as the film’s lead, Rick Dalton, absolutely thrives. As a popular western television star in the late 50s, Rick tried and failed to make the transition from TV to film, and is now a has-been. He sees himself as one tough casting decision away from being Steve McQueen, an A-lister who was the lead in the hit film “The Great Escape”. After a healthy dose of self-loathing and alcoholism, Rick learns to take pride in his craft as an actor, but not without first being upstaged by a little girl and forgetting his lines amid an intense day of filming to catalyze the process. Although it takes some time for him to realize it, his director keenly pointed out to him, “I hired you to be an actor, not a tv cowboy”, and perhaps it is this epiphany that can provide his fading stardom a jumpstart. This role is reminiscent of many of DiCaprio’s performances from the 2000s, where his flamboyant personality is saturated within every action of his character, as compared to his most recent stoic turn in “The Revenant”. Rick Dalton will likely go down as one of Tarantino’s more memorable character and I predict Leo easily will be nominated for an Oscar for his performance.

Brad Pitt is exceptional too as Rick’s best friend, former stunt-double, and current gofer, Cliff Booth. His role is not as challenging, in comparison to his co-star’s, but it is exceptionally entertaining, providing for many of the film’s more humorous moments. I would describe him as a combination of the real-life cowboy that Rick plays on TV and a smooth bastard out of the mold of Matthew McConaughey. He has tremendous chemistry with DiCaprio, which more than anything, makes me feel cheated that this is only the first time the two superstars have ever worked on a film with each other. The boat scene with Cliff, which alludes to the nonfictional death of actress Natalie Wood allegedly at the hands of her husband Robert Wagner, is a pivotal and subjective scene that allows the audience to choose for themselves how they view Cliff as a human. Since we do not see if he actually killed his wife, his actions remain purely speculative and his morals ambiguous. This ultimately defines his character on a case-by-case basis, as he could be an innocent man or he could be a violent man depending on how you saw it.

Of the Big-3 in the cast, Margot Robbie is the only one who has the burden of portraying a person who really existed. She is tasked with presenting the legacy of the late Sharon Tate while balancing her noticeably limited dialogue with a decent amount of total screen time. In what is more attuned to a “show me, don’t me” performance, her presence on screen is carried by her outward demeanor more than her words. She portrays Sharon’s optimistic nature very well, as well as a display of her talents, which is exemplified by her training in martial arts with Bruce Lee for her fight scene in “The Wrecking Crew”. The relationships she forms with people is just as important as the words she says. She does not get a hearty monologue like Leo but still fulfills her role admirably, which is to serve as a stark contrast to the fading star of Rick Dalton. Seeing Sharon enjoy her early successes and be stunned to see her name on movie posters is the perfect display of the dreams that Hollywood’s Golden Age could inspire. As negative as certain aspects of the industry are, Sharon’s experiences in the film show that there is a lot to enjoy about making a career in Hollywood. While Robbie is an actress that could have no doubt handled more complex dialogue, it should not take away from the great performance that she does deliver.

And what is a fairy tale without a Happily Ever After? Tarantino delivers a brilliantly positive ending for his film. Cliff, having killed the Manson Family invaders, helps save his loved ones’ lives and arguably redeems himself. Sharon is not the victim of the murders and instead gets to continue her life and her career as well as give birth to her baby. And after Rick proves himself relevant again with his successes in Italy as well as surviving a murder attempt, Sharon finally invites him to his neighbor Roman Polanski’s house, something that he long believed would help his career revive itself.

Many of the film’s minor characters stand out too, even with their very limited screen time. Mike Moh as Bruce Lee has one of the most entertaining scenes in the film where Cliff fights him because he was bragging that he could cripple Cassius Clay (who later changed his name to Mohammad Ali). He delivers this monologue with such passion and charisma, you cannot help but love his portrayal, while the brawl displays well-choreographed martial arts and perfectly shows why Cliff is not welcomed in Hollywood with open arms. Julia Butters as a young 8-year-old actress who outclasses Rick and shares a touching moment of growth with him was amazing. She is a child but is very dedicated to her craft and takes her job very seriously. Leo went on to compare Butters to a young Meryl Streep, which is the highest compliment that can be paid to an actor. Dakota Fanning also gets the most out of her few minutes on screen, as Squeaky Fromme. She is abrasive, confrontational, manipulative and is totally believable as one of the leaders of the Manson family.

My initial reaction to seeing this film was “Oh, that was not what I was expecting, but it was very entertaining”. For me personally, I knew I needed a second viewing to fully grasp all that was put into this film, but maybe you won’t. I had at first perceived the film as oddly paced and unfocused, yet amazingly acted. But this was due to a misconception was that I had thought the film was trying to achieve something that it never sought out to do. I, like many others, thought this was going to be a film about the Manson Family, which it is not. A film should not be penalized for a viewer having poorly aimed expectations before viewing. In my subsequent viewing, was fully able to appreciate the painstaking detail that went into crafting each scene with a better understanding of what its purpose was. This is just my personal experience and yours could very well differ from mine. While some have called this film a love letter to Hollywood, it is unfair to claim that it is nothing more than a stylized montage of 1969’s greatest hits. I say this because I have noticed that some opinions on the internet seem to share my original sentiment and perhaps, they too were a result of the film not trying to be the film they were expecting.

I have given this careful thought over the past few days, and I am ready to proclaim this the 2nd best film of the year so far. But as my dad said to me “What does 2nd best get you?” and that is an excellent point. Considering my personal frontrunner is “Avengers: Endgame” and it is a comic book movie, rather than a “sophisticated”, award-friendly movie, “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” could be potentially lined up to score big at award season at the end of the year. Only time will tell.

I give “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” a tremendous 9.2 out of 10

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Margaret Qualley, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Emile Hirsch, Julia Butters, Dakota Fanning, Austin Butler
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 41 Minutes

“The Lion King” Sucks… and it made $185 Million Opening Weekend…

You people are the worst types of scumbags. Here I am, speaking the truth and how do you repay me? By giving Disney all your money anyway. The arrogance. Frankly, I have no idea how your parents can even muster up the courage to tell people that you are their spawn. “The Lion King” has stolen $185 Million in its opening weekend despite a 52% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Now, I am not an idiot like you people are. I know that Rotten Tomatoes is not the gospel for what is considered quality cinema (just see how “Midsommar” is 82% Fresh), but I do know something is wrong when a film is rated so poorly and still makes all the money in the world.

Disney monopolizing the Top 3

Crazy enough, it seemed as though the masses on Twitter actually saw through the charade this time. Everyone and their mothers seemingly called out Disney for making a soulless remake as nothing more than an easy cash-grab. I encourage everyone to see the side-by-side comparisons of the original to the remake and I DARE YOU TO TELL ME THAT THIS NEW ONE IS BETTER. The photorealism takes away so much of the expressive natures of the characters that we all loved so much about the original and replaced it with a nightmarish National Geographic special where actual animals sing and dance and say Shakespearean one-liners as they betray their brothers for power.

Which version of Scar looks more expressive to you?

I need to say it again since clearly, no one heard me last time. THE MOVIE ALREADY EXISTS! Frame-for-frame, scene-for-scene, song-for-song. IT IS THE SAME MOVIE. It is unethical, nay, MORALLY REPREHENSIBLE to say anything positive about this movie that regards anything other than the change in visuals and voices. Oh, you liked the story? Shut your stupid mouth! It is the same story as the original. You really like the film released in 1994 and this one is the kid who sat behind it on exam day and cheated on their test. Do you praise the kid who got an A on a test by cheating? If you say “yes”, that’s because you were the one cheating.  And before you give me the whole “Well, actually, ‘The Lion King’ is just ‘Hamlett’” routine that I know is brewing up in your simple, stupid minds, just stop before I expatriate you from Earth. They are not the same thing. “The Lion King” (1994) is a creative take on an old story, but it is not the literal same exact story.

All of you and all of your terrible, objectively wrong opinions are giving me Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I hope you are proud of yourselves. You are just mindless drones flocking to give Disney your money for doing nothing but making a lesser version of what they have already sold you. My brain cannot cope with this logic. Perhaps the most amazing part of this is that if they changed the movie up a bit, I would not be nearly as irate. But it is the exact same film and you assholes can’t seem to get enough of it. Maybe Thanos was onto something…

Crawl (2019) – Movie Review

If you were to ask me a month ago if I ever had any intentions of seeing this movie, I would have laughed derisively in your face and possibly even spit on you. How dare you insult me by wasting my time with a question like that? The film looked stupid and was a rather easy decision for me to place on my “Skip” list. But then, earlier this week, a friend of mine, who I disagree with on 136% of his opinions, saw it and said he wasn’t too impressed and that the only thing he liked was the University of Florida references in the first few minutes. With my natural hatred for the University of Florida activated, I quickly deduced that if he hated the rest of the film, that maybe I, an intellectual, would appreciate it. After doing a quick Google search to discover that Rotten Tomatoes scored it 87% with critics and a fairly beefy 78% with fans, I knew something was afoot. And so, I journeyed onwards into the theater to see what all the hoopla was about.

The concept is a simple one: Florida. Need I say more? (Only if I want you to understand.) In probably the most accurate physical description of the state in which I currently reside, we see Florida as the torrential hellscape it is. They have everything down perfectly, with the only notable admission was that there were no crackheads (at least that I could see) trying to overthrow the US government with their arsenal of weaponized chewing tobacco. There are even teenaged looters who ignore the dangers of a direct hit from a category 5 hurricane to steal some hotdogs from a gas station. And our two main characters, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and Dave (Barry Pepper) need to survive a hurricane, hordes of vicious alligators, and rising floodwaters in a claustrophobic thriller that is surprisingly executed far more effectively than its Florida-based premise would suggest.

As a Floridian, I know first hand how destructive a hurricane can be. Having said that, there is not a person in Florida that even flinches at the idea of one of those storms. It’s just a day off of school and work for us. So, to sell the horror aspect of the film, the script correctly depicts the numerous gigantic alligators as the real threat and uses the storm to exacerbate their power. Then trap everybody in a crawl space under a house with the beasts and watch them try to escape before they drown in rising floodwaters. I can say that the formula they execute works. The audience can struggle to breathe with Haley and Dave, and they understand the fear of not knowing where the next gator is at any given point.

Weirdly, the film vehemently insists on pushing a narrative about family that does not affect our investment in the story whatsoever. Dave is Haley’s father who divorced her mother (for reasons unknown) and their family never recovered since. Understandably, the filmmakers tried to humanize the characters, but the idea that Haley was trying to rescue her father was enough to make the situation believable as it was. And considering the final resolution of the film had nothing to do with family, rather than just believing in one’s self, it seems like the whole subplot was unnecessary. Let us not kid ourselves, we only care about the gators and if they can survive.

What makes “Crawl” stand out to me, especially among the myriad of horror films that have already been released this year, is that it chooses to present a means of victory for the characters. In films like “Brightburn” and “Midsommar”, there really is no way for the characters to survive the horror that hunts them, and so, it feels as though there is no reason to believe anything but horrible things can happen to anybody. Essentially, we are just watching whatever force is causing the horror to go on an uninterrupted rampage, which could be entertaining, but doesn’t make for a compelling story. But “Crawl” establishes a way for them to survive, while still maintaining that it is unlikely to do so. The fact that we always know survival to be a possibility allows us, as the viewers, to be more invested in what is playing out on screen.

I would say that I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I won’t pretend we have the next “Citizen Kane” on our hands here but it would be a lie to say that it is a bad film. A problem that “Crawl” will have though is that it still feels like a skippable outing, even after seeing it. Despite it being a decently made slasher/horror, the subject matter just feels like a B-movie, which it probably is if we are being honest. The concept is reminiscent of the direct-to-DVD discount bin you can find at Walmart. It is like a good-but-not-great minor league ballplayer. No one would say that they are bad, but in the grand scheme, they might not be all that significant.

I give “Crawl” a decent 6.5 out of 10

Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 27 Minutes

When Harry Met Sally (1989) – Movie Review

Very seldom do I stray into the realm of romantic comedies. I have nothing against them, but as a red-bearded human being with an awkward disposition and little hopes of ever attracting a mate, despite how handsome my mother claims I am, I just find the stories to exist on the periphery of my reality. It feels disingenuous to offer my thoughts on situations that are out of my area of knowledgeability, yet, after an emphatic recommendation from a trusted source that, in retrospect could just be one of the many voices in my head, I have decided to sell out my principals and force-feed you my opinions on one anyways! Open up because here comes the airplane!

“When Harry Met Sally” is a film that has existed since the late 80s, and to date, is the oldest film that I have chosen to give a full review to. Before I watched it yesterday, my only impression of this movie was just the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene where Sally loudly fakes an orgasm in a diner to prove just to prove a point to Harry. And while that moment is legendary, for a film to still have legs 30 years after its release, it has to present more than just a story with just one scene that could easily get lost among the myriad of other films of the genre. And what makes this film last the test of time is because it is a film that asks a question that I am sure we have all had to entertain at one point or another: Can men and women really be actual friends? Go ahead and ask all of your friends, and I am sure you will hear a multitude of reasonings for why or why not.

Allow me to be pretentious for a moment. Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” and while I am about 63% sure she was not referring to filmmaking when she said that, I believe the message is transferable to film as well. Romantic comedies that discuss specific people in a relationship or two people that met at a New Year’s Eve party are a dime a dozen. Films like that are so narrowly focused on their tale that there is nothing beyond the film to think about. “When Harry Met Sally” is about an idea that is relatable to almost every person and that each person watching can have a slightly different take on due to their own experiences.

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal play the title characters, and aside from their respective best friends, Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby), essentially no one else in the film says or does anything. The reason this works is that the dialogue is so poignant and crisp between each character as they present their own ever-growing philosophy on love. Sally, on the surface, is a positive person, but after watching the totality of her character, I would say she is more of a cautious optimist type, perhaps using her positivity as a defense mechanism about her own insecurity about finding the right person. Harry is a cynical man who thinks he has life and love figured out from the moment he is introduced as a new college graduate. He has all these rules about men and women and how they are all looking for one thing, despite what they might actually tell each other. As they mature, they meet each other again at varying points in their respective love lives and a unique relationship develops that tests Harry’s thesis that men and women cannot be friends because one will always be thinking about sex with the other.

Having such an intimate story with so few characters means the film relies heavily on the chemistry between actors to sell believable relationships. Sally and Harry are genuine from start to finish. They have conflicting personalities when they first meet and as a result, they actually do not like each other for a few years. With their changing experiences and heartbreaks, they both soften towards each other and develop a real friendship that is realistic, understanding that they actually have far more in common than their younger selves would let themselves realize. It is the ever-changing nature of their dynamic that gives the film its life.

As the story presents itself as a social experiment of sorts, it is only natural that we as an audience perform the same action as a thought experiment. How many of us genuinely have friends of the opposite sex that we look for companionship from and sex is never a factor? From experience, I have several but I also vicariously see that many of my friends have difficulty doing the same. I can only conclude that this is the case because we are all different, and despite what a young Harry is so sure he knows, not everyone seeks the same things out of every relationship. But, to his credit, he was right about communication and honesty is key when establishing relationships of that nature, and too often we are either not honest with each other or ourselves about what we are looking for. However, this is just my take on the matter, and I am willing to bet that your own experiences will give you an altered view on the question, just as Harry and Sally have different ways of looking at it at different stages of their own lives.

If you are not a fan of Romantic Comedies, this next part is for you. I will not pretend that everyone who watches this movie will love it, but I do believe that everyone who watches it should acknowledge its quality. It is a genre film that may not be widely appealing to everyone, and that is ok. Having tastes that differ from one another does not mean that a movie that appeals to someone else but not you is a bad film. You may not like a vegetable but that does not make them bad food. As a narrative and a discussion of an idea, the film does its job well, and undoubtedly has its charm, even if it is not meant for you.

I give “When Harry Met Sally” a thoughtful 8.6 out of 10

Directed by: Rob Reiner
Starring: Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 35 Minutes

Django Unchained (2012) – Movie Review

A question I am sure everyone has asked themselves at least once in their life is “What do you get when you mix slavery, violence, and an effeminate yet sinister southern charmer as a villain?”. It is a perfectly reasonable question, so don’t act like it hasn’t crossed your mind before. Well, the answer is obviously the abomination unto the Lord that is “Wild Wild West”. In retrospect, the fact that this combination was actually a rather risky proposition for film studios is just an incredible testament to how bad of a film that was. Enter Quentin Tarantino and one of the most prolific ensemble casts imaginable, and all of the sudden we move from whatever Will Smith tried to do in 1999 to arguably the best modern Western of this century… Just as the prophecy foretold!

Tarantino films are always stylized and “Django” is no exception. Similar to the “Kill Bill” films, “Django Unchained” resembles a comic book or graphic novel. The film delivers the typical Tarantino-style bloodshed, intricate dialogue, and most notably an eclectic soundtrack of absolute bangers. From the opening credits, we hear a riveting theme song for Jamie Foxx’s Django, playing, complete with colorful text and emphatic whip-cracking that seemingly punctuate each verse, like a “Pow!” panel. The music adds so much personality to a film already bursting at the seams with dynamism.

What makes this film exceptional is not necessarily the messaging behind the story, but the unique characters and how they are depicted. Django, as a character, in comic book fashion, follows the typical path of comic book hero: forged by a tragic origin and fostered by an older mentor, all to overcome an antagonist that is antithetical to everything he represents. And while the route Django takes resembles many of the tropes that we are familiar with, his personality and style are all his own, resulting in a character that is far deeper than the film’s violent, revenge-driven premise would suggest.

He begins as a former slave fully embracing the idea of being paid to enact vengeance against white people, but when he is forced to present himself as a black slaver and an expert on Mandingo slave fighting, Django becomes an evil he never thought he would sink to in order to be the hero that Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) needs him to be. He is wholly not heroic, often berating slaves and claiming to be “worse than any of these white boys”. Nevertheless, he commits to being a monster in order to be what the situation calls for, fully embracing the fabled “One in 10,000” designation that Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) bestows upon him. Django’s cerebral quality is what allows him to be so lethal with his gun, and the juxtaposition of his beginnings in the film to his conclusion display his capabilities as a chameleon, and skills beyond simple violence. In fact, it is his brain, not his gun, that is the ultimate reason for his triumph in the end.

The story is about Django and his journey, but Christoph Waltz’s Dr. King Shultz and DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie provide much of the flare along the way. It seems that many of the elements of Shultz as a character were written the way it was to incorporate Waltz into the film. You know the saying “They were born for this role”? Well, this role was likely born for him. The fact that he is a German character seemed like an unnecessary addition if not to just fully utilize Waltz’s unique language skills and make the white character more likable considering the era the story takes place within. I have no issue with Tarantino creating a role specifically for an actor, especially since Waltz won an Oscar in his film “Inglourious Basterds” a few years prior, but I should note that it does feel mildly forced, even if the final product is exceptional. Having said that, Shultz is a charming, albeit violent hero that often provides some of the cheekier moments with his exceptional wit. And his being German allows for a much more personal connection to form between him, Django, and Broomhilda. Waltz in the role is without question one of the most essential elements of making the film as revered as it is. And as Django’s gets a personal theme song can easily get stuck in your head, as it has with mine, Shultz also receives this treatment, which further solidifying the duo’s certified badassery.

Monsieur Calvin Candie is a lot of fun as a fictional antagonist. I am aware that there were many slave owners in history who resemble him and the violent racial atrocities he gleefully commits and my admiration for him as a character is not an endorsement of his or their actions. But as a fictional character, he has more charisma than any person on the face of the planet and draws all eyes to him like a magnet. For this role, DiCaprio strays into the unchartered waters of both a villain and a supporting character, in what is a rather unusual move for him, especially at this junction in his career. But, despite not being in his comfort zone, he absolutely thrives as the grandiose plantation owner, delivering superb monologues and displays of flamboyant pageantry worthy of regale in the annals of cinema history.

The only character who I feel like was underutilized was Broomhilda. Kerry Washington is a very talented actress but she is seemingly used as nothing more than a prop or a plot point to motivate Django and Shultz.  In the brief instances of screen time she receives, she speaks dialogue in German and undergoes brutal torture, showcasing the potential to be a character of real depth and charisma. But alas, not enough time is given to her personally and she is delegated to throwing on a stoic face while every other (male) character exchanges bombastic edicts and white-hot lead. It would have been more satisfying to see her be a part of the ultimate resolution of the film, displaying some act of chemistry with Django himself, especially after she was freed, instead of just being an admiring onlooker and damsel in distress. Perhaps cut out some of Django’s and Shultz’s early work together to make time for this since Broomhilda is so important to the narrative.

Although “Django Unchained” is a simpler, more linear narrative than some of Tarantino’s other works, it is still a masterclass in filmmaking and storytelling. Like anything in life, it is objectively not perfect, but having room for improvement is just a badge we all must carry, and if that is really the sharpest criticism I can offer, then we can sleep easy tonight. If you are not a fan of violence or profanity in excess, then I can understand why you might feel drawn to his films, but there is no denying that he creates films that are uniquely his own. It is the personality of this film that separates it from other films of the genre. It cannot be replicated or counterfeited, and that is the legacy of this film.

I give “Django Unchained” a bounty of 9.0 out of 10

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 45 Minutes

Midsommar (2019) – Movie Review

I hope everyone is prepared for a good old-fashioned rant because the juices are flowing and we are rolling downhill. I just got out of the theater where I viewed “Midsommar”, a film that was marketed beautifully. I was convinced that this would be some mind-melting, artistic, philosophical horror spectacular. Even the great Jordan Peele, director and writer of modern horror classics “Get Out” and “Us”, hailed it as one of the best horror films he has ever seen. Needless to say, I was situated comfortably aboard this film’s hype train. Yet, here I am, violently thrashing against my keyboard, spewing the excrement that seeps from my brain into your eyeholes. There is a fire burning within me so strong that it could only be forged in the nuclear furnaces of betrayal. Why has it come to this? What could possibly compel me to feel things? Why?

This film is BORING! There, I said it. No amount of “well it got good reviews” tomfoolery will ever convince me otherwise. The runtime of this film is 2 hours and 21 minutes but I swear I entered the theater 3 weeks ago. In all my years of watching films, I doubt I have ever encountered a film that consistently stays at a pace this slow and still has the testicular fortitude to market itself as a suspenseful horror film. Sometimes a film will be so ambitious that it throws everything at you at once, and you could easily be overwhelmed. This is the polar opposite of that experience. This film is so ambitious that it doesn’t do anything ever and the horror and suspense elements that they advertise are derived solely from audiences’ expectations that something will happen eventually.

Do you want to know what the film is about? Of course, you do, you sheep. The film is about drugs, sustained awkward silences, and brightly lit, perfectly symmetrical landscape shots. It looks really good, and if there is any positive to be drawn here is that its cinematography is top-notch. But other than how it looks, they really only talk about the most loveless relationship ever portrayed in film, the occasional drug use, and just how odd Sweden is. I was expecting a deeper concept to be explored or even touched on in some capacity, but alas, it seems I asked for too much.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying the Swedish cult isn’t weird, unsettling, or even sinister, because that would be a lie. Aesthetically, they check off every single box. But aside from maybe 2-3 instances, most of their horror is present only because we are given zero exposition of the rituals we are witnessing, and an outlandish culture is just alien to us. They do cross a line, which is promised in the trailers, so don’t think I am saying they are all smoke and mirrors, but the threatening aspect of their festivals is really only explored at the very end, despite the ominous tone trying to convince you that it is happening throughout the film. Even the “Cliff scene”, which is the first act of horror in the film and takes place a cool hour or so into the runtime, is still explained as a willing cultural tradition and viewed as just a barbaric way of celebrating life. Even most of the main characters seem to shake it off as just a weird way of doing things, sickening though it may be.

That brings me to my next point: all the characters suck. Christian (Jack Reynor) is the epitome of unlikable. He steals his friend’s thesis and tries to blame the theft of a cultural artifact on him. He also seemingly hates Dani (Florence Pugh), his girlfriend of 4 years, but keeps stringing her along. He even forgets her birthday. Dani’s lone trait is that she is sad a lot and knows that everybody else knows she is sad. Her family dies in the first few minutes in possibly the single most inconsequential deaths in cinema history. The purpose of that moment is just to send her to Sweden with the group of guys that seemingly hate her. Yeah, she is still sad throughout because of it, but it never contributes to any action she undertakes and is treated as more of a fun-fact about her life. The only character I found remotely entertaining was the eyebrows kid from “We are the Millers” (Will Poulter). He has one descriptive feature and that is he has a penis and will use it. That is right! He is horny and pees on a tree. Utterly brilliant.

“Midsommar” just feels pretentious. It masquerades about as this deeply intelligent thriller, relying on its bombastic visuals to create a compelling narrative with stakes, and in doing so, totally forgets to tell a worthy story. With a total lack of compelling characters or exposition, everything is dependent on just how creeped out we feel by observing a foreign culture, which would work so much better if (A) they did threatening acts more frequently, (B) the boring relationship dynamics are totally ignored, and (C) the victims are even remotely sympathetic or relatable.

I am truly baffled by the positive response to the film at this point, but I hope that some of you actually end up liking it and can share with me why you feel that way. I will warn any casual viewer of movies that you will absolutely be bored watching this movie. Some of you may appreciate the technical achievements that are certainly noteworthy, but I highly doubt people will actually be entertained throughout the film.

I give “Midsommar” a disappointing 4.5 out of 10

Directed by: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomberg, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 27 Minutes

MCU Phase-by-Phase Recap

Now that Marvel has put a nice ribbon on Phase 3 of their Cinematic Leviathan, I thought it would be prudent to go back and relive all the highs and lows of the journey that brought us here. We have grown so much from our humble beginnings crawling out of that cave with Tony. Now we look back at how difficult it was for Iron Man to learn to fly with laughter while we flash our time travel watches that Tony invented in one day after one single trial. And maybe, just maybe, we have learned a little something about ourselves along the way.

PHASE 1:

In the beginning, the Lord gave us our core Avengers… and it was good. This was a simple time. A time without Disney or Spider-Man. I know it is hard to remember now, but this was the time before the MCU was a safe bet. Oh, how the times have changed.

High Point – Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man is where it all began. It came out the same year as “The Dark Knight” and somehow managed to standout. Considering how difficult it seems to be to consistently make solid origin films, this shouldn’t go unrecognized. “The Avengers” is also a noteworthy addition but without “Iron Man”, we would have nothing!

Low Point – The Incredible Hulk (2008)

You know it is a low point when the lead actor doesn’t return and they never make another Hulk movie again. How many of you remember any other character’s name besides Bruce Banner without giving the old Google machine a visit? Marvel is trying its very best to pretend this film never happened, which is fine because most of us forget about it anyway.

Underrated Film – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

It is really not great. Stacked up against the entire franchise’s library, it is in the lower tiers. But the Red Skull is a very interesting villain that somehow still exists currently at the end of Phase 3, and we are introduced to our first Infinity Stone. Also, beating the shit out of Nazis is always a positive thing to be celebrated. Phase 1 is pretty bottom-heavy but this one is the most ok of the bunch.

Best Villain – Loki (“Thor” and “The Avengers”)

Loki is the MCU’s first reoccurring villain and certainly the first one that has become a true fan-favorite. With a mix of charming British pipes, luscious flowing locks, and a dubious smirk that will make you melt, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is an MCU character that has undergone multiple arcs and is as important to the franchise as any of the core Avengers.

Best Moment – “I am Iron Man” (Iron Man)

This moment was so impactful that it ended up being recreated for the singular climax for the entire Infinity Saga. It started it all and it ended it all. Nothing more needs to be said.

PHASE 2:

Now we are up to the middle child. This is the one no one loves because it is not the classics that make us feel safe from the ever-changing world, and it is not the modern, most ambitious group. It is a sad in-between to find yourself in but there are some real diamonds in the rough here. Let’s take the time to fully appreciate what Phase 2 has to offer.

High Point – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) / Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Yeah, I know it is lazy to have a tie but this is my world and I make the rules. “The Winter Soldier” is just an incredibly solid spy/thriller that is one of the finest films in the entire franchise. “Guardians of the Galaxy” was such an unexpected surprise, blending science fiction, comedy, and adventure in such a perfect way. Both of these films deserve to be mentioned here.

Low Point – Thor: The Dark World (2013)

This will forever be known as the film where Natalie Portman phoned it in, but this goes beyond that. I saw this one once and then never felt the need to revisit it ever again. It is a boring blob of dull grays and browns with one of the least interesting villains the human mind could conceive of. I don’t think I have ever met a person who thinks this film is a positive entry in the franchise.

Underrated Film – Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

It feels sacrilegious to say an Avengers film is underrated but here we are. “Age of Ultron” is definitely the runt of the Avengers litter, and because of that, fans sometimes think it is a bad film. But it is a competently made film with lasting consequences in the franchise and a charismatic villain to go with it. Maybe it is not the best ever, but it is far from a bad film.

Best Villain – Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron)

After looking at the pool to choose from, I realize Phase 2 is lacking in quality villains. Ultron is actually really fun to watch, and James Spader does not get enough credit for giving a hive-minded android a personality. Bucky could be here but he is really part of HYDRA and they have become irrelevant in recent films so that’s a no-go from me.

Best Moment – The Dance Off (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Tell me I am wrong. The best moment of Phase 2 is easily when Ronan: The Accuser was defeated by the power of 80s dancing. I really shouldn’t need to defend this because it is so obviously correct.

PHASE 3:

This is where Marvel really puts it all together and kicks it into high gear. Phase 3 is the largest phase in the franchise and the one that delivers the most consistent quality. The truest testament to it is that this is where the MCU leapfrogged Star Wars in the all-time rankings. “Which rankings?” you might be asking yourself. My rankings, of course. Those are the only ones that matter.

High Point – Avengers: Infinity War (2018) / Avengers: Endgame (2019)

This one doesn’t feel as cheap as the last tie because this is basically Part I and Part II to the same story; the Infinity Saga. These films have the most consequences that Marvel has ever put in their films. They were willing to push boundaries that they were afraid of earlier on and created possibly the greatest cinematic experience ever.  

Low Point – None

Fight me. There are no bad films in Phase 3. Look at all of them and tell me I am wrong. If you say “Ant-Man and the Wasp” then you clearly have not seen it and I simply do not respect you as a person. Even at its lowest, Phase 3 is still in the good-great range, and I will not slander a movie that is quality just to have an answer to this question.

Underrated Film – Doctor Strange (2016)

Again, none of the films are bad so ipso-facto they are all good, and it seems disingenuous to say that any of them are underrated. But “Doctor Strange” is trippy and for that, I put it on here. The visuals in this film can explode a lesser person’s mind. The character Doctor Strange is among the most powerful introduced in the entire franchise and having Benedict Cumberbatch is something I will not take for granted.  

Best Villain – Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War / Avengers: Endgame)

I mean, duh… Thanos went from a random comic book villain to a legitimate cultural icon. He destroyed half of all life and actually won. This is no contest to the farthest extent. I should mention that Dormamu, Ego, and Hela are also crazy powerful and if any of them teamed up even one time, there isn’t an army of superheroes who could do anything about it. Killmonger and Zemo were good, intimate villains too, but you’re out of your damn mind if you think anybody but Thanos takes this.

Best Moment – The Snaps (Avengers: Infinity War / Avengers: Endgame)

The moment that Thanos instantaneously wiped out half of all life in the universe then got away might have been the singular biggest gut-punch in any superhero film. We would have to wait over a year, and over 5 years of in-universe time, to see how a loss of this magnitude could ever be redeemed. Little did we know that it would permanently cost the lives of Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff. When Professor Hulk reversed the snap to undo the decimation and Tony used the Infinity Stones to defeat Thanos, it was the ultimate victory for our heroes that we spent over 10 years growing with. Their sacrifice is their legacy, and it is one that will likely never be topped.


So now you have heard my mighty opinions, but I would love to hear yours! What were your highlights and lowlights of each of Marvel’s Phases? Did I miss anything significant to you? Let’s discuss!

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) – Movie Review

At long last, Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now complete, and what a doozie that was! After “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” blew our tiny little minds, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is here to essentially serve as an epilogue to the most ambitious chapter this franchise has produced so far. Consider it to be the punctuation mark at the end of a sentence. Early-viewing feedback of “Far from Home” would have you believe that somehow this film has exceeded the quality of “Endgame” and I want to extinguish that flame immediately. “Far from Home” is a quality film within the mythos, but “Endgame” was a force of nature. Let us not waste time and energy facing those two against each other. What is important is that this film is very entertaining, with great characters and a unique, charismatic villain.

To start, I should admit that I have a major gripe with this film’s marketing. They began advertising its release with actual footage from the movie months before “Avengers: Endgame” was released in theaters, which is a problem when two of the most prominent characters shown in the trailers were currently snapped out of existence. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to realize that Peter Parker and Nick Furry were going to return after “Endgame” somehow but I really wish that Marvel and Disney would have at least played along with its own charade and humored us with the possibility that Thanos’s snap might have been permanent. Apologists will say that it was common knowledge that those characters were going to survive but I simply wish that there was no physical evidence of that before we saw exactly how it happened in a separate film. Obvious or not, it does detract from the viewing experience in some capacity. But alas, what is done is done.

On a more positive note, Tom Holland, once again proves that he was perhaps born to play Peter Parker by delivering a performance that is so close to the source material, you would be excused if you believed he is just a living incarnation of a comic book. His mannerisms and chemistry with every character, especially with Zendaya’s MJ, are exactly what you would hope for from a socially awkward nerd who is coping with the balance between doing the right thing and trying to live a life of his own. His arc is about growth and maturity. He is trying to live up to the expectations of his late mentor, Tony Stark, while understanding that doesn’t mean he isn’t allowed to fail, just as long as he learns from his mistakes to better himself. I would have preferred the writing to have a greater focus on the responsibility aspect of his character, however. It seemed throughout the film, characters wanted to tell Peter than he needs to be 100% committed to his role as a hero even at the expense of his own social life, but no one really musters up the words, and so you feel like it was a lesson he ignored in favor of simple growth. Perhaps this will be addressed in future installments.

An issue for debate that I noticed is fairly common amongst fans is that Peter’s growth in the MCU is different than that of the comic books and the other movie iterations we have seen in the 21st century. This Peter has a similar personality but he has close friends who he allows in on his secret, whereas Sam Raimi’s version was forced to isolate himself and sacrifice his personal life in order to fully commit to being the hero he knew he needed to be. Some may argue that the MCU is not true to the character of Spider-Man because he is so well supported by others, but to that I just note how this is a different version of the character. Just because all the versions are portraying the same character does not mean the character has to be the same for all versions. This Peter makes sense within the context of his environment and I hope people who have an issue with it can grow to accept these differences, rather than pout. And for the life of me, I cannot understand why everyone would want to see the exact same thing we have already seen multiple times in favor of a different take.

As for Jake Gyllenhaal, he has always been unfairly criticized by me throughout his career. I have no idea why he always faces my scorn, especially since most of his films are actually pretty good, but he has found himself on the wrong end of my sword for years now. After seeing him play Mysterio, I think I have finally let down my walls and allowed myself to love him. He was incredibly charismatic, portraying a very unique character, that despite a so-obvious-it-hurts turn to the dark side and cliché motivations for doing so, he might be the reason this film will stand out amongst the metric tons of Spider-Man movies we have the past few decades. The visuals in this film are also noteworthy. Because Mysterio is so prominent in the story, the use of special effects and trippy mind games are essential to making the character work. There are multiple sequences where the special effects are so effective that you feel lost in the chaos of it all with Peter. Come award season, I would not be surprised if this film takes home a gold statue for its work in this area.

I personally believe that the most impactful aspect of this film would be the two credit scenes, which establish Spider-Man’s trajectory into the upcoming Phase 4, as well as a total change in the status quo for other main characters. The film itself is a good story, but it is these two extra scenes that hit the hardest. No spoilers, but I promise your mouths will be left agape as you try to process what just happened so quickly and how you will have to wait about a year for the MCU to make another film to receive any answers.

Compared to the early feedback you might have heard on Twitter, anything less than a 10 out of 10 might feel like a disappointment, but it is not the film’s fault that it was overhyped. It is actually a very fun film that serves its purpose in the grand scheme very well. The action is thrilling, the comedy is plentiful, and the story portrays a different sort of threat that we have not yet seen in a franchise that now exceeds 20 films before it. I personally still believe “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “Spider-Man 2” (2004) are better films than this, but “Far from Home” is just below their tier of Spider-Man films, and there is no shame in that.

I would give “Spider-Man: Far from Home” a reasonable 8.2 out of 10.

Directed by: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Jon Favreau
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 9 Minutes

5 Things I Would Put in My Star Wars

I feel like I have not created any content recently that was truly interactive. This page is still young and most of you guys seem a bit shy about commenting or interacting, so I suppose it is about time I begin to address the matter. I almost didn’t make a post today but at around 3pm, this idea hit me so I am going to run with it. Consider yourselves blessed. Well, as it was, I was doing a little reading up on how to develop this site and it occurred to me that I should be more personal with my posts. I know sometimes I ramble on or write like I am trying to impress your average 9th Grade English Lit teacher, so I hope this one feels more personable.

Star Wars. I love it. Everyone who knows anything about me knows I love it. By pure coincidence, I happen to be wearing a Star Wars T-shirt as I write this. I also say that no one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans, and it is no secret that I have been fairly critical of plenty of the recent Star Wars projects pioneered by Disney. But I am tired of being so critical and I want to be totally constructive for a change. So, instead of saying where I believe Star Wars has gone wrong in the past, I made this list to discuss what I would add to Star Wars, if I were the one creating it, to make it better!

I would really like to get some interaction on this post, so after you give it a read, why not respond with your own personal thoughts about this. Anyway, I have bored you enough with this introduction so let us begin.


A Villain motivated by something other than power or conquering the galaxy

I don’t mean simplifying it to something as general, like being motivated by money or having them be bullied as a child and now they are nuts. Revenge is a played-out concept, especially in blockbuster films. I want something creative and genuine. I get that rage and greed are easy ideas to express to large audiences, but I have never understood the idea that audiences can’t handle ideas that rise above the lowest common denominator. The most popular films always have something that makes them stand above the herd. Why not explore a primary antagonist that has something else in mind besides being the ruler of everything everywhere? Maybe I am naïve but I am fairly sure there are more than one or two ways to be a threat or opposition.

New planets

And for the love of everything sacred, stop with the desert worlds! I saw a picture on Instagram a few weeks ago that showed that Star Wars live-action movies, including the upcoming Rise of Skywalker, will feature 6 or 7 different desert planets. Honestly, that is absurd. This is not exclusively Disney’s fault either since Tatooine and Geonosis already existed before they took over, but they haven’t helped with the additions of Jakku, Jeddah, Savareen, and Pasaana just since 2015. I really just wish for better world-building so I have new places to go when I daydream. Disney has been fairly decent at this, although it seems their main objective every film is to recreate the “magic” of the Mos Eisley cantina with practical aliens and sets. Let us be creative. There is near limitless possibilities of worlds, cultures, aliens to create. My Star Wars will not be constrained by the familiar and won’t be afraid to make a planet with CGI!

Give the Force some nuance

I am talking about actually exploring the philosophical differences between the light and the dark, beyond just anger and compassion. This is a concept that has plenty of legs in most of the expansive materials in Star Wars, both old and new, but for some reason, we have not gotten a real good look at what each side stands for beyond a few buzzwords like “power”, and “darkness”. Allow the dark to be a champion of individuality. Make it more than just about being powerful because there is more to it. Let there be a bad guy who wants what is best for other people. Let us discuss how the Jedi teach you not to love, or how they actually take Force-sensitive children from their parents. And maybe discuss the fact that just because one side is wrong about an issue doesn’t mean the other side is right. When the Force was first conceived by George Lucas, it was supposed to be simple. But after more than 30 years, it is time to grow up.

Expand the lore and history

Remember the awe we all felt the first time Obi-Wan explained what the Jedi and Force are “Before the Dark Times… Before the Empire”? How about when Luke made reference to The Clone Wars (Something that was totally offscreen until 2002) in the 1977 Original? The universe of Star Wars seemed so vast and unexplored. There were mysteries yet to be unraveled and worlds with stories that had already been told. Let’s bring this back! So far, the only canonical events of Star Wars take place within 60 years or so, with only a few mentions of any event that took place prior to The Phantom Menace in the timeline. I want to talk about the ancient Jedi and Sith. Learn about the events that shaped the Galaxy into what it is at the time of the stories we’ve come to know and love.

A goddamned Jedi War

WHY HASN’T THIS HAPPENED YET? I don’t care if it is Jedi vs Sith, Sith vs Sith, or Jedi vs Jedi, or some other group.  Let us finally have our large-scale battle between multiple Force users in live-action. Give us that hardcore lightsaber-on-lightsaber action. We have the budget and technology to make something of this scale a reality. I am tired of these stupid one-on-one fights between amateurs! I thought this was the Major Leagues?! Or maybe, at the very least, have a Star Wars version of John Wick and have one man systematically dismantle an entire army. Either is good for me.


Well, what does everybody else think? Do you agree with my thoughts or is there something else that you would really like to see in Star Wars? Please comment on your thoughts and I’d love to discuss them with you!

Toy Story 4 (2019) – Movie Review

EMOTIONS! Yes, Pixar is back on their bullshit again, and you better believe you will cry or you will die trying. “Toy Story 4”, or what I have dubbed “Toy Story IV: The Quest for Peace”, is the fourth time Pixar has hit us with this story about the life of toys, a journey of self-realization, and their struggle to come to grips with their place in a world that considers them lifeless husks of plastic, all while ignoring the fact that iPads exist and kids now have electronics to have imaginations for them. But instead of giving fan favorites Jessie and Buzz much to do, this story is about Woody (Tom Hanks), the homicidal control-freak from the original, and his sole responsibility of keeping Forky (Tony Hale) from committing suicide by constantly jumping out of moving vehicles. You know, a kids’ movie.

Forky is a toy made by Bonnie in the first day of kindergarten out of someone else’s chewed gum and used spork. Through the power of a child’s wondrous imagination, life is breathed into his inanimate corpse and he rises into the world of the living only to discover that his life is suffering because he rightly believes himself to be disposable trash. I actually found him hilarious as a character. His constant craving for death and is nativity are ripe for a brilliant wit that spawns plenty of laughs throughout the film. But his presence raises a bevy of questions that can melt your brain, primarily: if Forky is only alive because he is considered a toy, then can’t anything and everything be alive as well? He is literally living garbage. Just draw a face on a gun and now we have a problem. And what about toys of the adult variety? I bet they’ve seen some shit… Thanks for that Pixar.

Maybe I have taken too deep of a dive into the implications of the film and the philosophical impact it would have on our reality. I have been known to treat whimsical subjects a bit too seriously from time to time. But I do not see how a question can be raised and I am not expected to create a “Beautiful Mind” conspiracy theory board of newspaper cutouts and string. Frankly, I think it is Pixar’s fault to assume that lunatics like me would not take the time to explore these questions. But anyway, I digress…

Like Forky, there are several other new characters that command most of the screen time. Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) continues the franchise’s trend of antagonists that have an unfair existence and sympathetic motivations. Bunny and Ducky give us some great Key & Peele banter, especially when they are interacting with Buzz. But the greatest new character is Duke Caboom: Canada’s Greatest Stuntman, played by the breathtaking Keanu Reeves. He is just such a ridiculous character, simultaneously going through traumatic episodes of PTSD and Canadian patriotism. His encouraging motto of “Yes I Canada!” should be put on the Canadian dollar bill.

When it comes down to it, these films are really about Woody first and foremost, and a major focal point of the film is Woody’s relationship with Bo Peep (Annie Potts). This is a dynamic that has been teased since the original film but now it has become a central focus. Bo has grown vastly more independent since the early days of the franchise and she shepherds Woody along this journey. While the idea of two toys sharing a mutual romantic interest in one another is certainly progressive, I found Bo’s mentorship to Woody to be way more impactful. She is the catalyst that helps his character grow and fosters a major change in the status quo.

“Toy Story 4” is a quality film that delivers on humor and emotions, and will be enjoyed by children and adults. Having said that, I felt that mildly underwhelmed at times, likely as a result of fatigue from the franchise. There is nothing specifically I can point to that makes this movie lesser or greater than any of its predecessors, and if you are one who does not feel any drag from seeing yet another “Toy Story” movie, then more power to you. It is another good, solid movie in a franchise that consistently delivers a quality product.

I give “Toy Story 4” a solid yet familiar 8.5 out of 10

Directed by: Josh Cooley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves
Rated: G
Runtime: 1 Hour and 40 Minutes

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