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Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi

A Soon-To-Be Controversial Product From the Disney Machine
Love or hate Disney and the direction they have taken with all of your beloved childhood favorites (or Lord, what are they going to do to The Simpsons?!?!!?), they are the company everyone else is looking up to. They have 5 of the 10 highest-grossing movies in cinema history, the highest-grossing American film of all-time, and in the year 2017 own 4 of the 10 most successful films globally-and this is with Star Wars and perhaps even Coco making its way towards the top. They have their crap figured out in an era where Hollywood is struggling to go up against indie cinema, Netflix, digital streaming, and the YouTube generation of sheer creativity, incredible access to the past, and overanalyzation.

Point is: Disney has a plan, they always have a plan to beat and defy the odds. Disney hardly missteps and when they do, it's because they become arrogant or take too big a risk. They are basically the Golden State Warriors of American entertainment, they are their own worst enemy. All this must be remembered when viewing The Last Jedi, because this film has Disney's psychotic blueprints all over it, even in the midst of all the risks they clearly take in the eighth installment of the beloved and slightly polarizing franchise. The Last Jedi is a visual feast, a dramatic work that will flood the fanbase with controversial decisions, and overall yet another step in the right direction for a franchise that was sputtering just a decade ago. Disney has indeed made treasure out of trash, and has given an intense breath of life to a series that has spanned five different decades-from film to comics and books.

This span hinders the current trilogy more than anything. In the real world, people age, people die (look at what happened to the Harry Potter and Matrix series after key actors passed), unexpected twists and turns occur, and screenplay decisions sometimes has to bounce off what is happening once the cameras stop rolling. The Last Jedi is most definitely affected by Carrie Fisher's passing, the aging of multiple actors, the sheer amount of time and scope since it all began, and of course a legion of hungry yet hesitant fans that have been collected in different generations, leading to differing views on where Star Wars has been and where it should go. This movie is great, yet polarizing. It will have its enemies and defectors, and Disney doesn't care.

To say I agree with all the events of The Last Jedi is inaccurate, but nonetheless within the 150+ minutes there's a passion, a magic that cannot be explained. The camerawork, the soundtrack, the visual effects are top-notch and keeps in line with the Star Wars look and feel. Rian Johnson's take on Star Wars mixes the same formula with a few unique quirks and some subtle and not-so-subtle contemporary commentary on the way the world (or in this case, universe) works. The dialogue isn't as wooden, and the characters aren't as one-dimensional as what we're used to in Star Wars. The original trilogy in the midst of all its greatness was pretty darn black-and-white. Just like in The Force Awakens and especially Rogue One, The Last Jedi doesn't operate this way. From Rey to Luke to Kylo Ren, their motives and emotions constantly shift and develop.

The story in the eighth installment is actually much more grounded than the previous films, as it mainly involves a race against time as the First Order is inches away from fully destroying a small Resistance group led by Leia that is desperately just trying to escape the clutches from the overpowering legion of enemy ships. At the same time, Rey is trying to figure out her place while also attempting to convince Luke Skywalker to join the tiring fight that seems to be tilting heavily towards the First Order. The Last Jedi is a mental and physical race, as everyone is running out of time, patience, options, and most importantly hope. The theme of hope in a cruel world is very much prevalent here, much like in Rogue One.

All your favorite characters from The Force Awakens returns, even though some are very short on screentime (because your entourage of questions and hunger for more content will lead to book sales for Disney; and yes they are evil). I assure you, some of you will walk out disappointed in the lack of focus on some. And yet no matter how lengthy the build-up feels, the payoffs were consistently gratifying, and then we have cameos left and right tossed in for good measure. There was plenty of action and different locales, but we needed more. There was plenty of interaction between the new school and the old school, but we needed more. The Last Jedi felt like a main course that was plentiful, yet left you hungry for more. And if you think this is an accident, then you are missing the entire picture.

Disney (once again) prevents one of their films from going truly mad and absolutely crazy, once again not all the cards are left on the table. This was the biggest problem with Force Awakens, and other massive Disney blockbuster movies like Age of Ultron, Civil War, and especially Dead Man's Chest (which just missed being an all-time blockbuster masterpiece)-just a cinematic tapping of the brakes. You see three movies making up a trilogy, Disney sees seven through nine as three episodes of a massive television series, each with their cliffhangers to keep you thirsty and desperate for resolution and answers.

Force Awakens was the salad and drink, just to start the process. The Last Jedi, as enjoyable as it was, definitely felt like the hearty appetizer leading to a (hopefully outstanding) main course that we won't receive until 2019. You can disagree with this direction, as even Empire Strikes Back didn't quite feel this empty by the final frame. But, this is the current system of Disney filmmaking and as long as they keep getting top-tier talent to produce top-quality content in a current age of cinema that can become frustratingly dry in large sections, this is a formula that will not change.

The Last Jedi is quality from a filmmaking and production standpoint. From music to cinematography to directing, this film is no slouch and is even deserving of some Oscar nominations (although lack of screentime really hurts the outstanding Adam Driver and even Mark Hamill from theirs). However, this movie will upset fans, especially some of the old-school fans guaranteed. Personally to me Star Wars has become so big that we each have our interpretation of the franchise. This is why only some love the prequels (those poor souls), why only some enjoy the Clone Wars series, only some enjoy the current films, and why only some will truly hate this film. Putting on the fandom hat, I definitely expected and hoped for something different, and might need a second viewing to digest it all. Taking off the fandom hat, I can't deny the fact that aspiring big budget filmmakers and movie studios need to see this as an example of great storytelling, pacing, and a genuine care of the main characters--exactly how Disney wanted.


The Powerful Sabor of Coco
Pixar has traveled through murky quality waters since arguably the greatest quality run in the history of filmmaking (2007-2010, research it), with Cars 3 sputtering earlier this summer. And with Lasseter shenanigans, lay offs, secret struggles with several projects, the once-invincible animation studio is beginning to show its wear and tear. Coco successfully rights the ship by offering a very engaging storyline that hits every emotion you can possibly fathom and even though its subject matter might scar and emotionally deteriorate some of the youngsters, the film overall is a superb work of detail, love, and a respect for the audience and the culture its representing.

The respect towards Mexican culture and folklore is the backbone and most crucial element in the film—messing it up ever so slightly would create all sorts of problems. Luckily despite the recent struggles Pixar remains the best and brightest of the animation studios in terms of sheer detail. From the visible damage on Wall-E to the "jail tattoos" on the Toy Story 3 cast, Pixar's history towards meticulous subtle touches keeps them above the competitors at all times. Coco's Mexico (dead and alive) is about as vibrant an atmosphere as you'll ever see in cinema. Animation allows for the scope to be infinitely larger than any live-action sequence, and the animators use every penny of budget and every fiber of talent to deliver two stark yet expansive environments linked together by the Dia De Los Muertos that operates as an extra character in the charming tale of a boy in an anti-musical family trying to follow his dream and become a musician—against the protests and warnings.

Whatever this movie lacks in humor (to be honest, it's hard to laugh when the pain is so damn deep) is recovered by the beautiful story and surrounding themes about family, forgiveness, sacrifice, death, and legacy. Being the black sheep of the family and potentially becoming that broken link in the family bond (which is a conflict that is by far stronger in Hispanic culture as compared to most others) is a conflict well-executed by Lee Unkrich and the entire writing team (how Pixar can churn out gems with four writers is a baffling mystery, while working on a script I argue with myself). Managing to find light in the darkness of a film centered around death is a tough task, and it can get quite heavy-handed.

The world of the deceased is one that was whimsical, creative, vibrantly colorful, and easily the strongest visual of Coco. I also wish it was explored a little more. At the same time, I would have also loved to see more of Pixar's Mexico, which perfectly nailed the Central American vibe within the opening frames. And at over 100 minutes, it's interesting how the film reveals so much, yet keeps you seeking more, similar to the settings created by Miyazaki. I'm not asking for an arsenal of irritating Frozen-sized featurettes surrounding the world of Coco (I went there, and I don't care), but Mexico and the Land of the Dead deserves some revisiting. The core of the film is the quest of the boy, and no time is wasted sending him on a seemingly impossible task of finding his inspiration to become a musician while running out of life, literally.

The secondary characters, the family on both sides of the fence, add a burst of life to an already-vibrant movie. This is supported by strong writing that guarantees no one-dimensional characters, and an excellent ensemble voice cast that deliver flawless performances (special nod to the singers of the spellbinding soundtrack) to help keep the heart of Coco very strong. And in keeping with recent Disney tradition, plot twists and surprising antagonists emerge towards the final act, which ironically gives it a slight twitch of predictability. But as the constant theme in this review, all flaws small and major are forgiven because of the personality and soul of Coco, which will make you smile and simultaneously break you.

Mexico was very well-represented to a point that I was secretly irrationally demanding more (the soundtrack should have been sung entirely and only in Spanish for example), but succeeds in not being a movie with Mexicans, but being a pure Mexican flavored film. Coco is one of the best films of the year, the best animated film of 2017 by a long shot, containing one of the best music scores in quite some time, and a delightful 100 minutes that you should spend with family and friends—-so you can all ugly cry together and see who looks the worst.

Original Blog: https://coffeeandscriptblog.wordpress.com/

Thor: Ragnarok

A Jarring Shift in Formula Gives us the Best Thor Movie Yet
I always sound like a broken record, but once again what Disney/Marvel continues to do in the film industry is unprecedented. To be able to pull off a dozen-plus movies and interweave them in the same exact universe (and then toss in television shows that link up) is unfathomably impressive to a point that we take it for granted. When Marvel was bought by Disney, it was a complete mess with their best IPs roaming all over the place and usually in the hands of Disney's very own competitors. What they were left with were properties that were well-known but were not the moneymakers of a Spider-Man or an X-Men. And Disney turned dirt into solid gold. And yes, I am certain I have written the likes of this before.

Thor is one of the best examples of a comic being a good supporter in the Marvel universe, but not popular enough to successfully lead an entire trilogy, let alone his own movie. Yet here we are, third film in, and by far the best of three cinematic trips to Asgard. After seeing the success and acceptance of the insanity surrounding the Guardians of the Galaxy, the madmen of Marvel decided to throw out the book of the previous Thor movies and delivered a chaotic experience that meshes mythological themes with Star Wars scope, material of previously made comic books (Planet Hulk has a strong influence here) and then showering it with the 80s Marvel flair that made Guardians so enjoyable in the first place.

This movie is action-packed, full of surprises, and has about as much humor as the best of comedies this decade. The storyline nonetheless is a lot more serious than the resulting tone and pace, as we see Thor stuck on a violent distant planet trying to escape and return to his homeland of Asgard and take on the Goddess of Death and prevent the end of his planet. And yes, the Goddess of Death is quite angry for many reasons. Unlike previous Thor flicks though, we have plenty of Marvel characters to see, including Hulk, Doctor Strange, Loki (I point this out because there wasn't enough Loki in The Dark World), and even some memorable new ones like Valkyrie and Korg.

Ragnarok fixes all the issues of previous Thor movies and improves upon the elements that worked. For starters, Natalie Portman is gone. Let's toss this out of the way, that woman is a fine actress but was so disinterested in Marvel it shows in her performances. We have a deeper roster of characters, and see more time given to some of the better supporting characters (Once again, Loki). Chris Hemsworth is given more room to be humorous, and this pays off significantly as we are treated with a hilarious performance that is also full of heart and sheer confidence. The casting is excellent, with Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum also providing excellent performances of MCU villains that are actually decent.

The biggest and most obvious difference between the MCU and the always-inconsistent DCEU is the cinematic package of each installment. Disney and Marvel have gone to great lengths to make sure none of their blockbuster films ever gets too dreary, too predictable, or too dark. Notice they usually change up directors whenever they feel that the particular series needs a shakeup, resulting in a quirky director from New Zealand providing his talents for Ragnarok. The MCU always tries to blend comic book glee with comedy, some drama and sentimental value, and of course an arsenal of likable characters to always root for. Up until Wonder Woman, DCEU kept the tone somber, kept the tone gloomy, and just piles on the depression while failing to deliver decent characters or a wholesome experience that gives you a variety of emotions.

Batman AND Superman lack the heroic flavor of previous generations and this is why Wonder Woman (who has the best actress/writing/directing combo) became the new face of DC---whether they like it or not. You will never see a DC movie get drizzled with 80s flair to lessen the tension and allow you to just enjoy the ride. And it's that 80s flair I keep praising, the zany humor, and the fast-paced directing gives Thor: Ragnarok a feeling of freshness you usually wouldn't expect from third installments of any trilogy. The creative freedom obviously given to the staff (even the musical score ditches the epic sound for a more synth-friendly barrage of tunes) allows for them to make wild series-changing decisions. The final act especially goes off the rails and opens up new doors for new story lines in the near future.

Disney and Marvel's big advantage over all the "universes" is its ability to link up all the films tightly and be willing to fearlessly expand their horizons for the future. Ragnarok's horizons and overall scope was bursting through the screen, which allowed to see many fun action pieces, delightful cinematography, multiple foes and obstacles, and just relentless top-notch entertainment. The MCU may have had its slight difficulties in the beginning but have quickly emerged into achieving Pixarish levels of expected quality. In a blockbuster film environment that has been sputtering lately, Marvel and Disney continues to shine above the gunk.

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Atomic Blonde

A delightful cocktail of female Bond, crazy violence, and cool 80s vibes
If Bond had a spiked martini with ecstasy in an 80s European nightclub, the result would be Atomic Blonde.

After years of having to catch up to Indonesia (The Raid/Raid 2—still the best action movies this entire decade), England (Kingsman) and Australia (Mad Max: Fury Road) on the action cinema landscape, it's nice to see Hollywood getting slightly closer to the mountaintop of quality action filmmaking. Between the surprise-surprise John Wick flicks and now the stylishly sinister Atomic Blonde, America now has a team learning from the mistakes of the blockbusters and the disappointments. Being an action movie fan, it's good to be in this era.

Charlize Theron has become an underrated action goddess over the years with an intriguing display of action flicks ranging from the forgotten (Aeon Flux) to the underrated (Italian Job) to the spectacular (Once again, Mad Max). Although being considered a female Bond is a bit of a stretch, Atomic Blonde seizes the opportunity to take advantage of Theron's skillset of physical toughness combined with the ability to display emotion whether there is tons of dialogue or no dialogue at all. Similar to how it's impossible to separate Bruce Willis' performance from Die Hard, it's impossible to deny Theron any sort of credit to the film's overall enjoyment.

Based off a graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde is an espionage flick with an abundance of twists and turns, which under the right writing/directing combo could have made for intriguing look at the spy life during a lesser-explored timeline in global history. But the John Wick crew isn't fully interested in the story, and treats it mainly like a backdrop while delivering a fistful of action sequences that ranges from short and exciting, to the downright intense and breathtaking—including an insane tracking shot that delivers the best hallway fight since the epic hallway showdowns from The Raid. This is where the movie falters and shines, the see saw here is completely uneven, so if you are here for good storytelling move on. Otherwise, stay put, and watch some of the best action all year.

Atomic Blonde also carries a cool 80s aesthetic that you never see in a Bond film, another reason why the comparison is inaccurate, even if it was meant to be a compliment. Between the Cold War setting, the killer Vice City-like soundtrack, the surprisingly-good costume design, and the muted tone, Atomic Blonde looks and feels like an expensive hipster film made in the basement of a Euro-techno nightclub. Theron might run the show, but the background work is stellar, and gives the film a different tone you generally don't see outside spoofs of 80s culture. And everyone is in on the Raegan-era glee, including James Mcavoy who gives yet another understated performance, this time as Lorraine's partner/mysterious renegade, in his remarkably hype-free career.

Carrying the typical clichés of your normal actionaire, Atomic Blonde is a bit lacking in character development and storyline. So usually, you need to recover with ridiculous action, and enough popcorn entertainment to disguise the screenplay shortcomings. Thanks to the amazing Charlize Theron, David Leitch, and the John Wick stunt team, you won't leave this movie disappointed even if you might be confused at the twists and revelations.

Wonder Woman

DC Finding Its Groove Back, Wonder Woman is propelled by great direction and Gal Gadot
I have been a vocal critic of the Warner Brothers/DC array of entertainment since Dark Knight Rises disappointed me immensely during that one fateful night. And for years after that I have been led down a dark path of pure disillusionment that ranges from the frustrating Snyder saga that gets nearly everything wrong, the unforgivable Teen Titans reboot, the strange cartoons we've seen of Batman, and of course the fiasco involving the animated adaptation of Killing Joke's abysmal first act. It's reached a point in which I was accused of just hating DC altogether. But I have finally seen a good side of DC cinematically, and it's in the shape of Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman isn't perfect, but is hands-down the best product from the DC/Warner Brothers spectrum since The Dark Knight ignited and changed the film industry back in 2008. Whatever issues you can dig up in the movie will be eradicated by a superb cast, great amount of respect for the source material, and an entertaining flick with a nice blend of action, comedy, drama, and comic book flair. The film doesn't try too hard to win you over, as it paces nicely to allow you to warm up to our newest Wonder Woman and her allies.

Damaging some of the momentum of Wonder Woman has nothing to do with the movie, but its actually the timing. If this had been made and released before Batman vs. Superman and the revelation of Justice League it could have had a deeper impact to the DCEU; similar to when the original Iron Man jump-started the ultra-successful Marvel series of films. Wonder Woman sets the correct tone and mood for the DCEU and is the first of the modern DC properties to successfully establish the direction the comic book company was engaging in. It's dark, its gritty, doesn't have much time for jokes, even if we saw plenty of them in the first two acts.

Gal Gadot is absolutely perfect as Wonder Woman. Whatever complaints you may have had about her should be diminished off of the face of the earth because she gave the role life, personality, a sense of wonderment, a layer of feminist power, and the exotic flavor to truly separate her from the rest of the characters in World War 1 Europe. She has great chemistry with everyone around her, especially Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, the WW1 spy that accidentally stumbles upon the hidden world of Themyscira. Trevor's initial appearance allows the plot to move from Diana's hometown to wartorn England, where she wants to find the source of the war and end it as soon as possible using her warrior skillset, determination, and desire to make the world good again. Of course, with war, there is no easy answer, there is no person to point to, which contradicts Princess Diana's viewpoints of the way the world works.

Not sure how Patty Jenkins, a great but quiet director, wound up with the director's chair since she isn't as big a name in Hollywood. Nonetheless, she does a great job with Wonder Woman by spending time with the characters, allowing us to get to know everyone, and showcasing the horrors and consequences of war to complicate a simple plot. Then we have the feminist empowerment imagery and the well-designed action sequences that make up for the budget that isn't quite as high as that of the Marvel blockbusters. The village battle sequence especially is a delight. The final act however behaves a bit much like Marvel when it could have behaved more like the grounded Dark Knight in terms of content and execution (the villain should have been handled differently, common theme in recent comic book films), but it won't ruin the overall experience in the least bit.

Wonder Woman connects better with the audience than the modern Batman and modern Superman. Chalk that up to Snyder and the subpar writing team, but Wonder Woman just might wind up being the new face of the DCEU because of Gadot and the way she has handled the character. This is the one branch of the franchise that needs to be protected from weak sequels and weak decision-making towards the character's future. They have something great here, about as strong as Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man portrayal. I beg they don't mess this up, as Wonder Woman is the best-written and performed cinematic female superhero since Elastigirl from The Incredibles.

We finally have a DC movie on par with Marvel. Even though Wonder Woman imitated Marvel a bit too much in the climax, this is still a step in the right direction. Jenkins, Gadot (especially), Pine, Allen Heinberg (wrote the script), and the rest of the cast should be proud for striking the right combination between comic book mayhem and great emotional depth to allow us to care for the cast. I am silently begging that DC and Snyder doesn't mess this up, even though the track record would say otherwise. Wonder Woman is a long-awaited empowering delight, and hopefully a sign of more great DC-related works to come.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

The Two Hour Continuity Error
The Pirates franchise has been a bit of a doozy since it's shocking box office success way back in 2003. Curse of the Black Pearl was never meant to house a sequel, as it was an open-and-shut swashbuckler flick that was heavy on energy, action, humor, and blockbuster soul. It garnished tons of Oscar nominations (and money), upped Johnny Depp's persona several notches, and helped give Disney the box office crown in 2003. 14 years later we see the fifth installment, with the second consecutive attempt at creating a new Will/Elizabeth love story, the second consecutive attempt to replace the underrated director of the original trilogy Gore Verbinski, and once again taking the crown as arguably the most expensive film shoot in cinematic history.

Production hell doesn't begin to describe the attempts to create the fifth movie, even though On Stranger Tides was met with very poor reviews. Johnny Depp refused the original idea, which would have featured a female villain for the first time. Johnny Depp was going through a nasty divorce and got injured, delaying the shoot even longer. Disney and Bruckheimer were arguing about costs, and the script itself (which is a disaster we can describe later) was undergoing changes and multiple hands. And I'll still never understand how the writer of Rush Hour 3, Speed 2, and Tower Heist managed to get his hands on such a big film. Oh Hollywood… The only company willing to cling on to a sinking ship of a film is Disney, simply because their patience constantly gets rewarded, and it's impossible to discontinue a franchise that has earned them a nasty 3.8 billion within only four films. So after epic struggling for many years, we finally see Dead Men Tell No Tales gracing the screen.

Not going to lie, this film is an entertaining mess, and part of the wave of recent sequels/prequels that went through similar production issues which affected the final product. Alien: Covenant went through tons of trouble, and then we see Fate of the Furious have to find a way to edit out the obvious tension between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel. But the Pirates franchise is more than just a cluster of movies, its part of the Disney fandom culture, it has a life of its own through video games, books, and mysteries and intrigue surrounding it all. So copying, abandoning and contradicting plot elements of the original trilogy gives this movie a layer of frustration we didn't need, and we definitely don't deserve after such a long wait. Even after the entertaining first half, it all gets damaged by the unmet potential and by the awkward familiarity of the plot. And this comes from the Disney Company, a film studio notorious for being vigorously detailed with all of its IPs, from Marvel to (especially) Star Wars.

Another curse that doesn't allow the cursed to touch land? Sounds familiar. Woman who doesn't believe in the oceanic supernatural mumbo-jumbo? Sounds familiar. A person who denounces pirates suddenly becomes one? Also sounds familiar. British navy trying to conquer the seas from the pirates? Heh, okay. The entire plot line felt very similar to Curse of the Black Pearl, yet this installment felt like it was tapping the brakes far too much. This watered down and clownish Jack Sparrow didn't perform any swordplay once, he didn't trick anyone a single time, I don't think he even delivered any clever quips of any kind. The villain didn't have a final showdown against Jack, as we witness a CGI-laden chase as our climax, a far cry from the dizzying mayhem during the big showdown in Dead Man's Chest. Worst of all, we didn't get the dramatic showdown between the enemy ships and the Flying Dutchman, the ship that you know, controls the damn seas, and has a captain that's related to someone that is in danger throughout the film!

The potential was there, and wasn't met. From script to direction to storytelling decisions, Dead Men Tells No Tales has us wishing for the original writing team and the original director to somehow bring this franchise back to decent waters. This film only further enhances At World's End and Dead Man's Chest—two films that were met with ho-hum reviews but have honestly aged well and remain better than most of your modern-day blockbusters. The script here opens the door for many intriguing scenes, and they didn't deliver. We could have explored Jack Sparrow's aging and increasing alcoholism, Barbossa's past, the Flying Dutchman/Salazar curse connection, the fallout of the elongated separation of Will and Elizabeth, and the series-shifting scene of breaking every curse. And after seeing this, I don't have much hope in the eventual sixth installment touching these story lines either.

The Pirates of the Caribbean series now looks like its more interested in the international box office receipts and just keeping people entertained above keeping the flavor of the franchise and keeping a continuity between each chapter. On Stranger Tides, despite the mediocrity, had interesting unresolved story lines that were completely neglected here. The original trilogy's details don't match up with the backstory of Jack Sparrow in Dead Men Tell No Tales.

You will see some high-budget fun, comical mayhem, a good performance by Javier Bardiem, but it all gets evaporated when we reach the series-changing yet series-contradicting final act. The franchise is far from being dead, but boy it might be time to let this ship disappear out into the horizons unless we get a superior cast writing and filming it. Jack Sparrow and all his fans deserve much better.

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John Wick: Chapter 2

In action, more is good. John Wick Chapter Two is much, much, much more
Whether you love or hate Matrix Reloaded, the film wrote the modern successful blockbuster sequel rules:

1) Bring back everybody, add a few new faces 2) Jack up the stakes of the conflict 3) Increase the scope 4) Expand the universe and the origin story 5) Go absolutely crazy on the second half 6) Leave the audience asking for more, while promising more

The Matrix Reloaded has more action, more insanity, and more juicy content than the original. It may not be overall superior to the 1999 sci-fi masterpiece, but it wasn't for lack of trying. We were still thrilled (The Highway Scene remains an incredible work of cinema) and were left begging for more from the franchise. Matrix Revolutions was an utter disaster, but that's another story.

Hardly are action sequels better than the original, even the good ones struggle matching up to the film its following. John Wick: Chapter Two however is not only better than the first, but is the best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road. Chapter Two takes the excellent stuntwork and camera-work of the original and turns it up a few notches with a better budget, larger run time, and oh so much more carnage.

Part of the glee and joy of the original surprise-surprise hit was the intriguing premise being intertwined with well-directed and choreographed action. Assassins having this special code and hidden locations where one can interact and be safely tucked away from violence was a fresh spin on an otherwise stale concept of secret assassins existing all over the world. Chapter Two explores this further by expanding past the United States and digging into foreign locale. Although the scope is larger, the movie actually suffers slightly from having to explain the rules and regulations to its audience before unleashing all the mayhem.

Action movies struggle the most in balancing content and story, because we see action movies not for the story but for what can be delivered within the script. Chapter Two's opening half is entirely plot-driven except for the sequence preceding the opening credits. Take the entertaining car fight away, and you wouldn't get a gun battle until 45 minutes in. But The Raid 2 also has a slow opening third before delivering some of the best action ever put to celluloid, so the ticking time bomb formula works as long as you fully commit to the chaos. Chapter Two is saved because the twist halfway unveils a dilemma that guarantees a relentless outpouring of action. And boy did they deliver.

Once the true conflict actually arises from seemingly out of nowhere, we are treated to a beefy stew of gun fights, hand-to-hand combat, cleverly drawn-out showdowns, and even an Enter the Dragon-like climax towards the end. Just like in the original, Chad Stahelski uses his skills as a stunt coordinator and experience in the action film industry to carve out some killer sequences where the body count is high, the action is easy and clear to see, the sound mixing is top-notch, and lastly the camera-work rivals that of your best sweeping epics. The pacing is consistent, the special effects is kept to a minimum to focus more on stunts, and the violence is gritty and organic. The variety is also great, as we have a concert shootout, a subway battle, a museum chase, and an exchange of bullets and punches in the historical parts of Rome.

Keanu Reeves may not win any acting Oscars, but his approach to action movies deserves some mention. In here he does nearly all his own stunts (driving and gun battling included) and garners sympathy as a man that clearly wants to leave his old life while grieving over his loss. Adding to the fun is a good cast of minor characters each with their moment to shine, each with their vital role in the doozy of a flick. Lastly, we are left wanting more, even you though you have to feel for the obviously crappy month John Wick is experiencing.

John Wick Chapter Two won't change cinema like The Raid nor will it set a benchmark like Mad Max: Fury Road. Nonetheless it improves upon the original flaws and all because you get a healthier dosage of action-packed fun that is full of variety, creativity, and superb intense precision. If you like your action bloody and raw like the best we've seen this decade (Raid, Raid 2, Mad Max) then you will not be disappointed in the least bit here. Between this and the upcoming Atomic Blonde, it's good to see American filmmakers finally stepping up on their uncut action skills.

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An extremely impressive wrap-up to the Wolverine trilogy, Logan is leagues above the other X-Men films
Logan might become the first film to truly force the Academy to rethink its opinion on comic book films since 2008, when The Dark Knight forced the committee to expand its Best Picture yearly lineup. Yes, it is that good. And yes, it's the best superhero film in nearly two decades. Yes, I am pitting this above The Dark Knight. Stop shaking your head.

What is a masterful blend of action, drama, and comic book flair, Logan is perfectly executed from beginning to end even though it will tear your heart apart as if Wolverine himself is coming at you in the midst of his infamous berserker rage. Even if you secretly and calmly knew the results of this film, considering that Jackman won't be reprising his role and considering the obviously bleak tone, you still won't be ready for the heartbreak. This dramatic style of comic book cinema is what DC has never fully been able to pull off (especially recently, I'm looking at you Batman vs. Superman) and Disney's Marvel has always refused to aim towards (Because Disney enjoys Marvel following the Pixar formula). It is a fitting end and an excellent finale to a rather clunky spin-off trilogy that is embedded amongst a plethora of other films.

I don't use the term Oscar-worthy very often, especially in the comic book realm. However from the cinematography to the acting many elements of Logan deserves extra praise and an abundance of attention. We can start with James Mangold, whose writing and directing skills here have hit peak momentum. With an interestingly diverse career that spans from Kate and Leopold to Walk the Line to Knight and Day (huh?), Mangold and friends concoct a deep script that remains very much grounded even if the concept involves X-Men and superheroes. In here we see a much older and dying Wolverine and Professor X trying to help a young mutant reach the northern border for safety before the evil company that created her catch up and grab her. The emotions of a difficult life are explored far more than the whimsical events that usually follow comic books that we've read over the years. From the music to the cinematography, every element of Logan points to presenting a story that forces you to reflect on a life you've lived.

Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have always been the best parts of the entire Fox X-Men franchise (which has more mediocre films than good, I must add), and seeing them working together here in such a dramatic picture continues to showcase their range and phenomenal talent. As Logan and Charles as opposed to Wolverine and Professor X, we see them stripped down of their power and youth and witness a severely condensed version of what they used to be. It hurts to watch, but we maintain engaged and begging for them to just survive the day. They both deserve some Oscar buzz, I am deathly serious. And serious extra points to Stephen Merchant and newbie Dafne Keen for their remarkable performances. The cast was overwhelmingly stellar and made the film tougher to witness as the stakes are raised and you know death is imminent.

I avoided this movie longer than I should have not because I was afraid of DC-like disappointment, but more because I knew it was the end of an era of films I grew up with, and I knew deep down that it was going to be a difficult watch. Much like us (most of us) as we grow older, the X-Men films have indeed matured, especially in the Wolverine timeline. Logan is nonetheless entertaining indeed, with the dizzying violent action and impressive visuals that compliments a story that feels like a grim western. The production value was top-notch, considering the smaller budget (for a film of its caliber and genre anyway) and considering the fact that the comic book visuals were mostly taking a backseat while allowing the story to organically grow and advance.

It doesn't feel like a comic book movie because it hits so close to home. Logan is a punch to the gut, but a mesmerizing film that is hands-down among the all-time best of the genre. Whether you enjoy comic book movies or not, this is required viewing.

Blog: https://coffeeandscriptblog.wordpress.com/

Bad Moms

The True Feminism Film of Summer 2016
Ghostbusters was slaughtered and fed to the wolves in terms of box office because the feminist twang to the franchise was not well-received in the least bit. Some complained it was pointless, some complained it was just milking a franchise that is heavy in nostalgia, and others complained that it was pandering to the female-driven audience as opposed to the fanbase that had supported the franchise in the first place. Despite the good critic reviews, it became a major loss for Sony, and killed any hopes for a sequel.

Bad Moms on the other hand is the little summer film that could, taking a $20 million budget and already matching that amount after the first weekend. And with strong word-of-mouth and good reviews it continues to make decent money in a crowded summer schedule. This film also has a heavy feminism touch, yet hasn't received the male-bashing you've been seeing from Ghostbusters. And that's because the film from the ground up was made for moms, made for female millennials, and doesn't hold anything back and keeps the focus on the ladies.

Led by the screen writing duo that penned the clever original Hangover flick, Bad Moms is a cinematic stress ball for mothers around the world. It follows a trio of ladies fed up with their stressful lives and start rebelling against the norm. It starts a revolution amongst the community which counters the strict clockwork ways of the PTA---leading to a culture clash against its leader. The plot isn't anything drastically revolutionary, but it has a lot to say about modern society's difficult expectations for mothers.

With the plot being slightly thin, it gives plenty of room for the main cast to go vulgar, go nuts, go raw, before ultimately getting the point across. And Kunis, Kristin Bell, and especially Kathryn Hahn knocks it out of the park with timing, delivery, and a good range of emotions to boot. Mila Kunis' character rises from humble soccer mom into a wild force of nature that results in crazy parties, rebellion against her children and deadbeat husband, and even nachos for breakfast (my hero). Step aside men as most of the focus was on the relationships between mother and child, with men popping in only once in a while. Then toss several funny scenarios, a wild cheap wine scene, and a couple fun cameos, and you'll be seldom bored at the chaos that emerges once the second act rolls in.

This movie definitely isn't perfect. The tone gets slightly uneven, the soundtrack is overindulgent, and the final moments doesn't quite match the comedic wrecking ball of the second half, but if you are a mother this is your guilty pleasure. The cast is too fun, the movie doesn't slow down, and it gets unapologetically vulgar and uncut and doesn't let go.

Mothers: Bad Moms tailors to you, speaks to you, represents you, and challenges societal beliefs held against you. And prepare for the final scene once the credits roll in---it wraps up the motherhood themes perfectly. You can't just switch genders on a film and try to staple a feminism theme and expect it to work---you need to fully commit to your audience and also explain what your 21st century movement is all about. Otherwise it feels like a gimmick. Ghostbusters was simply trying to ride the wave of feminism. Bad Moms actually has something to say, which is why ultimately amongst the flaws and hard-R rating it actually works.

Captain America: Civil War

The Hulk of the MCU, Civil War is a relentless powerhouse that entertains once the wheels start turning
The cinematic equivalent to tossing dozens of awesome comic books in a blender with a heavy budget and pouring it out into celluloid, Civil War is not only a superb sequel and improvement to the Avengers films, but just might actually become the best MCU flick yet. And yes, the movie is extremely bloated. Yes, the movie becomes a bit of a downer especially after funnier offerings like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. But once the wheels start turning and the conflict shifts into the second act you will be enthusiastically entertained up until the final scene.

Civil War is honestly Avengers 2.5, but the half is only in terms of chronological order. In the third Captain America installment, the events from past Marvel offerings has the world afraid of the superheroes, and over a hundred nations want to be able to monitor and control where the Avengers goes and what they should do after an espionage mission gone wrong. This creates a rift between all the heroes, especially with Winter Soldier being a fugitive and another threat lurking within; and differing opinions on how to handle the situation. Civil War's biggest strength is the sheer amount of characters; as they bring back all the Avengers, and then threw in some new additions.

Black Panther was flawless in performance, visuals, and execution. Second-billing favorites like Ant-Man, Falcon, Black Widow (who deserves her own movie) and Hawkeye make an appearance and also greatly deliver. Lastly, Spider-Man undoubtedly steals the show and he barely makes an appearance here. After 14 years of cinematic Spider-Man appearances, Marvel truly gets it right this time. Unlike what happened with Age of Ultron (entertaining yet forgettable), you will be excited for future features based off the new characters you meet within the 150 minute timeframe----especially Spider-Man. Sadly not all the Marvel personas get enough screen time, but it's part of the sacrifices made when there is such a long guest list to the motion picture party.

The chemistry within the MCU is off the charts, and Civil War raises the bar even higher. What DC films are missing is this key element; mostly because we barely see any character development and consistent cast from sequel to sequel. The interactions between each of the heroes is what really allows this movie to go to the top tier of comic book mayhem, as even Bucky has his moments when involved with the others, especially (surprisingly) Falcon. The complicated relationship between Iron Man and Captain America is front and center, and both deliver spectacular performances as two guilt-ridden heroes desperately trying to avoid conflict even though all signs point to a clash.

Helping Civil War maintain its bite is a strong (and rather gloomy) script and flawless direction from the Russo Brothers, who have impressed mightily since their debut with The Winter Soldier. The film honestly has it all: deep themes, lots of loss, plenty of surprises, tons of drama, tons of action, controversial decisions, and a good amount of humor to mix it all together---even though we really could have used more jokes in the first act. The action scenes range from clever to intense to downright entertaining. The Airport Battle will become a part of Marvel movie history, I promise you. The scene will be embedded in your memory if you are a fan of the comics. Then there's the incredible Bucharest Chase that's the best chase since Raid 2. At the same time, the final fight will break your heart.

Painstaking amount of effort is given to not only making these characters come to life, but also making them likable and relatable. Marvel does a fantastic job picking the right staff behind the scenes, and does even better picking the actors and actresses to represent the MCU. Combine that with a proper budget and an extremely tight structure that connects all the films together and always leaves room for the upcoming sequels and you have a systematic series of films that resonates with the worldwide audience. Captain America: Civil War is now the peak result of this formula, as this is the first mega Marvel film since the original Avengers to appear to not pull any punches and maximize the content with the pieces allotted.

As a comic book fan, there's no way you can walk out disappointed. And as a summer blockbuster fan, you will also have a lot of fun while simultaneously think about the events that occurred long after the final punch is thrown. Civil War is absolutely fantastic, and among the best comic book movies of all-time. DC, you need to watch this and take notes.


Delicious dark chocolate, Zootopia looks colorful, tastes dark, but will be among the best films of 2016
Some movies perfectly personifies the past (Saving Private Ryan), some movies predict the future (Fight Club), and some (like this one) perfectly nail the current issues so accurately you feel like they financed, wrote, and filmed the movie yesterday. Read the following sentence slowly because you might not believe it the first time you glance through it: Zootopia is the best film under the Walt Disney Animation Studios banner since Emperor's New Groove, and is arguably the most important animated film since Princess and the Frog. Yes, the clock has to reach back 16 years before you can find a Disney Studios animated film as strong as this one. Between the layers of intense subject matter and a surprisingly strong mystery plot lies a beautiful message for the kids and tweens that needs to be heard, especially today.

Nothing on the surface can actually prepare you for what happens once you enter the setting of Zootopia. However, the surface is quite delightful to look at. The animation is spectacularly detailed and contributes mightily to the storyline about animals living together. The main city itself branches off into several subdivisions, each with its own distinctive personality. Unlike most Disney films, Zootopia itself is so massive its practically begging for continuations through film and television. It's an expansive visual feast of colors and colorful characters, similar to the creative world of Wreck-It Ralph. However, once the movie gets going you will quickly realize that although it is a children's movie, there is plenty for teenagers and even adults to laugh at and to be moved by. The mystery is slightly more mature than what is expected, and we even reach quite dark territory once the second half kicks into play. This is a children's movie, but has an incredible script full of heart, soul, drama, and necessary comedy to offset the bleakness. Using Pixar's collective creativity technique (which has been rusting lately), we have three directors and nearly a dozen writing credits attached (two wrote the screenplay, many others contributed to the story). It is a miracle that so many contributors to a single script made a film that flowed so well.

Disney and Pixar are the best at coming up with the required vocal talents to bring the animated films to life, and this is no exception. Jennifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman are absolutely perfect for each other and play to their strengths: Goodwin with her charming all-American bubbliness and Bateman's sly hustling ways. They dominate the film but luckily you'll learn to love them immediately through their strengths and their flaws. And in keeping with recent tradition, you won't know who the true villain is until later as the stakes start getting higher.

Rich Moore (most experienced of the three-director team) should be a bigger name because his directing credits includes the early 90s Simpsons and some of Futurama's greatest episodes. What those shows and this film has in common is the electric mix of well-paced story, strong characters, and shades of drama and commentary that speaks to the current issues. Zootopia explores racism, sexism, classism, and diversity fears better than any of the trailblazing Disney animated films before it. That being said, it's not a knock on Princess and the Frog, Mulan, or Hunchback of Notre Dame---the truth is Zootopia would have never been fully greenlit by Disney in the 90s, and perhaps even the 2000s.

Disney has gotten gutsier and ballsier in recent years with the Too Big to Fail attitude; and although the company definitely remains officially mum on the current political turmoil, Zootopia can and should be its resume and cover letter concerning what side of the fight they are on. Zootopia is a daring animated film that will frighten you (especially the youngsters), will emotionally hurt you, and will leave you thinking long after Shakira's gazelle character lets out her final note. It's the perfect concoction of mystery, comedy, action, and social commentary that not only allows it to become an early entry for Best Animated Feature, but (dare I say it), a Best Picture nomination.

Zootopia on the surface, beneath the surface, and everywhere in between is essentially flawless. It has something for everyone, although the youngest ones will struggle as it gets darker. Through its importance as well as the engaging, ever-revolving plot, I give this film the highest marks. Zootopia will stand as one of the best in all of 2016, and among the best works of animation this entire decade. Disney has unveiled its stance through adorable animals while simultaneously proving that it remains the animation king of the world.


Cinematic Redemption: Deadpool gets the restart we all deserve, despite the limitations
Finally we have a decent X-Men origin story with plenty of heart, spirit, chemistry, and good connections with the original source. The baffling thing is that we receive this gift in the form of the most incoherent and random Marvel character in the entire universe. The character that least requires an explanation gets the most structured and most engaging Fox Marvel film since X-Men 2. But of course, the behind-the-scenes licensing drama and the infuriatingly small budget (compared to what the storyline demands) entangle the film quite a bit.

Ryan Reynolds might be the only man in the history of film to totally mess up a cinematic character, and then get a second chance at getting it right by starting entirely from scratch. With the rated R guaranteed and a looser approach to Deadpool, Reynolds knocks it out of the park with a much more accurate performance, and one with plenty of depth and sympathetic pull. His chemistry with the rest of the cast reminds you why he's much better unhinged and uncut (Waiting, Adventureland).

Reynolds has actually been the main catalyst at making sure that he helped right the wrongs caused by X-Men Origins. He helped fight to keep the R rating, helped increase the (already small) budget to make this a reality, and has helped craft the flood of social media hype. The hard R rating was the biggest requirement in making this film work; the story and mannerisms of Deadpool are not for the faint of heart. Deadpool is far more in the realm of Spawn as opposed to Fantastic Four in terms of adult content.

The script is formulaic in nature, but fresh with crisp dialogue, great one-liners, constant shifts in timeline, and plenty of fun sidekicks to be entertained by. Sadly, because of obvious budget constraints, we are treated to only two major action sequences (the first one overshadows the finale by a long shot), not a single major X-Men cameo, throwaway villains, and most of the time being spent on the creating of Deadpool as opposed to the anarchy that follows. 10 years of production hell and dozens of re-writes could doom most screenplays, but Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick do a great job saving whatever was left.

The biggest achievement of Deadpool is how closely it resembles the source material and personality despite getting less money. If you enjoy Deadpool in the comics, you'll enjoy him here as well---even if the eccentricity is toned down just slightly enough to keep the plot structured. The action is intense, the injuries are gruesome, the humor is dark and crude, and the movie never really takes itself seriously. Fourth walls go down, it reveals its own production setbacks within the film, and it has this kinetic comic book flavored energy that hardly ever slows.

It might be a case of less money = more freedom, but the lack of funding really tarnishes the movie. Part of the glee of Deadpool in the Marvel universe is his wild interactions with other characters, especially the X-Men. But to put Deadpool in the same supposed Marvel universe as the X-Men and then refuse to have any of the popular characters join in on the fun is baffling and infuriating. Even worse is that we have long-unused X-Men like Gambit (especially) and Cable available. In a tragic case of the production team having more faith than the studio itself, the limitations aren't obvious but become apparent once the final act rolls in and you are left desiring more Deadpool chaos.

As a risqué, adult version of The Little Engine That Could, this was a comic book film that was supposedly doomed, expected to fail, and was released with minimal hope---only to be saved because of the strength of the Marvel brand, the incredible online/Reynolds marketing campaign, and a legitimate effort to stay true to the source. Great cast, great energy, and great humor is restricted because of Fox and the ridiculous guidelines everyone has been forced to follow since Disney purchased the property. Deadpool can become a successful franchise as long as they are willing to tie him closer to the rest of the X-Men and Marvel movies---and as long as we keep the same dedicated staff. Don't expect pure unadulterated crazy here; but do expect a great blend of crazy, heart, and entertainment---wrapped together in a limited budget.

Most importantly, this is much, much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

The Hateful Eight

Well-Directed but Poorly Written, Hateful Eight is a Tarantino pound cake--thick but not fully satisfying
Kendrick Lamar was the best live performance I've ever seen. April 2014, he rocked UCF. However, we had to endure two hours of mediocre rappers before getting to the main event. By the time we got to the very good part of the night, we were emotionally, physically drained. Lamar did his best, but Orlando struggled to maintain the energy. This is Hateful Eight in a nutshell.

It is extremely hard to get mad at Tarantino and the Hateful Eight project as they went through extreme lengths to ensure that it felt, sounded, and looked like a Western straight out of the 1960s. From getting Ennio Morricone to compose the soundtrack to using the same cameras used to film Charlton Heston, Tarantino and friends reached far back into cinematic history and moved it to present day. This alone propels the movie to become a unique experience, as there is actually an overture and then an intermission about halfway into the film.

But leading up to that intermission is where the film really struggles. Throughout his career, the better Tarantino's script is, the better the movie will become—regardless of all the other intangibles. Death Proof's climax rivals as one of the best in the past decade, but the ho-hum dialogue and unlikable first round of characters prevented us from truly enjoying it. In the meantime, Reservoir Dogs is one of the rare movies in which literally every word said is important, making it one of the best indie films you'll ever see.

There is a lot of what I like to call abe dialogue (already been established) in Hateful Eight—leading to a lot of repetitive dialogue, repetitive conversations, and verbal revelations that we had already encountered. As a matter of fact, you could have cut the first third of the movie because the facts and characterizations created were re-created once the movie's setting becomes more claustrophobic and remains in the cabin. Part of Tarantino's magic was his ability to create awesome characters without revealing too much about them. Sadly we don't get much of this in Hateful Eight.

The Tarantinoisms (good music, sharp imagery, inventive directing) start taking off once intermission ends and the intriguing mystery begins, as the tension suddenly revs up. In the second half is when things become interesting and the actors (and lone main actress) can start chewing at the scenery. The words suddenly become important, the details become more prevalent, and the audience has become much more engaged. In spite of this, the length of the film and the over-indulgence of throwaway dialogue weighs down on you and never allows for Hateful Eight to really reach the quality lengths of Tarantino's other hybrid westerns like Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds.

Hateful Eight is like a large fluffy pound cake, a lot of density but lacking in flavor and substance. Tarantino directed this with his usual precision and quirkiness, however it lacks an outstanding moment, it lacks an outstanding character, and with the climax being delayed in favor of displaying past events it's hard to find the pulse of this irregular heartbeat.

In order for lengthy movies to maintain interest you have to cover a lot of ground in terms of whether years or space. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly covers an insane amount of Western territory, leading to every minute being required. Shawshank Redemption covers over two decades of prison life, so it too needed every minute. Hateful Eight is a cinematic bottle episode that could have been much shorter, much tighter, and with that each detail and word being much more vital.

Somewhere in that cabin lies a good story, and overall a good movie. You just have to get past the thicket of words to find it.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

A New Hope for the franchise, The Force Awakens brings Star Wars back to quality form
Let's get one thing clear: there is absolutely no way in the modern economic structure of filmmaking and Hollywood are we ever going to get a sci-fi trifecta as good as the original Star Wars trilogy. Just ask Indiana Jones what happens when you try to revive a severely beloved franchise in a new era decades later (*screams in agony*). And with the Disney Regime having their fingerprints all over the product you know there will be limitations, there will be questionable decisions, and the eggs will never be in the same basket.

However, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not just a step in the right direction; its many many steps in the right direction. Despite the impossible odds to live up to the Original Three, The Force Awakens delivers an exhilarating experience that will revitalize your love for the franchise, and will give you strong anticipation for what the future holds within the LucasFilm universe. Although the movie definitely scales back some of the plot for future installments, it is still chock full of surprises, lovable characters, and the Star Wars magic that we haven't experienced in a very long time.

J.J. Abrams revs up the nostalgic factor by not only doing several callbacks to the original trilogy, but but by crafting a storyline that builds and evolves in similar fashion to the original 1977 masterpiece. Without spoiling too much secrets are being pursued, rising evil is threatening the galaxy, and we see heroes coming from unexpected sources--these are all factors coming into play in Episode VII. Force Awakens actually takes off a lot quicker than Episode IV, but the difference is the 2015 revival slows down slightly to allow for more story lines to build (and not always necessarily conclude within the two hour timeframe). Don't let George Lucas fool you—there were no plans for a sequel back then as A New Hope tossed the entire kitchen sink in terms of budget to give you the most complete riveting experience possible.

The Star Wars tropes are all far too present, and some with upgraded elements: our villain is quite menacing, there is a great cast of characters we wish we could spend more time with, the robotic creatures are lovable every second they are on screen, and of course there is the underrated variety of vehicles and weapons and creatures that we see in the Star Wars universe. Those expecting or hoping for a big deviation might be slightly disappointed. The production value of The Force Awakens was mesmerizing, from the battles to the outstanding cinematography supported by the booming John Williams score. Complementing the art direction is the CGI being kept to an absolute minimum (although the film really should have taken a page from Return of the Jedi and reached out to the Jim Henson Company for a few scenes).

It paces like Star Wars, it looks like Star Wars, and it definitely feels like Star Wars. The Force Awakens has a major element preventing it from becoming the cinematic game-changer Star Wars was back in the 70s: the planned structure technique of Disney. The 1977 gem was layers ahead of the next best-looking film while simultaneously nearly bankrupting everyone around them. It would change the way we see, experience, and film special and visual effects. It was also a fresh new concept that had a wide open door of possibilities—leading to all the extra books and media filling in the structural blanks. Disney is going on a schedule, is going on strict guidelines (More money was spent on budgeting then the film itself if that's saying anything), leading to less power to the fans (we won't be seeing dozens of Star Wars books like in the past) and less attempts to ever fully finish the story. Love or hate Disney, they know how to keep a property from becoming stale but profitable.

Can The Force Awakens be a better film? Of course, with more time, less limitations, more actually-completed story lines, and a lack of planning of milking the franchise. But Abrams and company still gives us a very entertaining film that begs multiple viewings to witness the new coming, and skim through all the details and potential clues to where the franchise is heading. Star Wars fans should not be disappointed, especially after what we witnessed during the darkest of times being a fan (The Prequel Trilogy).

The Force Awakens is a dazzling blend of old-school Star Wars magic with new-school thrills and fresh blood that will revitalize the brand throughout the upcoming trilogy and all the spin-offs that follow. Thank you Abrams, thank you Disney, and thanks to all the participated: Star Wars is back and has removed all the stench of the past couple decades.

The Peanuts Movie

Light as a feather, but enough charm to destroy all your negativity
The Peanuts Movie is just like a puppy: adorable, irresistible, charming, and absolutely worthy despite any flaws it may or may not present. This extremely well-made movie does exactly what adaptations should do: be very faithful regardless of current audience, keep it very close to the source, don't try to spice it up with unnecessary additions, and do plenty of callbacks to the original work. Blue Sky does an absolutely phenomenal job transforming the world of Schultz into the computer-animated-obsessed cinematic world we see today. This is the best Blue Sky has released since the also-faithful Horton Hears a Who and one of the best films of the entire year. Seriously.

Peanuts has been so embedded in American society that we forget how groundbreaking and how seriously funny the original comic strip was. What Winnie the Pooh is to Disney, Peanuts was to the newspaper---a reliable source of entertainment and harmless beauty. Side-Note: Disney's 2011 Winnie the Pooh revival was criminally underrated. Transforming Peanuts successfully requires tons of research and special care since Schultz and most of the magical staff behind the specials and movies are no longer with us unfortunately.

The details is what makes The Peanuts Movie phenomenal. The more you loved the comic strips, the more you'll appreciate the effort. From the art style to the running jokes (Curse you Red Baron!!!) to the fact that the Red-Haired Girl never reveals her name so we can all relate to our childhood crushes, to even the fact that they recycled the sound clips of Snoopy, Steve Martino (delicately directing this with lots of care) and company continue carrying the torch behind one of the most beloved groups of children in the history of cartoons. Peanuts Movie also doesn't even try to sneak in any adult humor: it sticks to the kids and the kids-at-heart, as well as those that grew up watching the delightful specials. The art style alone throws you right back to the first time you saw A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Charlie Brown is still a wonderful relatable boy, despite his social insecurities and bad luck. Snoopy is still that trustworthy best friend despite his eccentricity. Linus, Sally, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, Woodstock, and the rest of the gang all don't skip a beat despite it being nearly four decades since the last movie, and years since the last special. The plot never thickens or gets deep, it never outstays its welcome, and never loses the tight focus on Charlie Brown/Snoopy while simultaneously giving the other kids their moments to shine. It's a miracle that they found a cast that matched the voices of the predecessors so well. The fact that there is not a single adult seen (or coherently heard) is a perfectly executed idea that adds to the childhood innocence tone of the film.

You can nitpick and (try to) find some flaws, but I was far too busy smiling at the perfect art style and the light humor that decorated the carefree 88 minutes. I was far too busy rooting for Charlie Brown to finally have his moment. And lastly, I was far too busy enjoying the wild imagination of Snoopy and Woodstock as they take on their version of World War I. Fast, yet harmless and irresistible, The Peanuts Movie will appeal, delight, entertain, and cheer up anybody that decides to give it a chance.

Charles M. Schultz would be extremely proud.


After this entry, its time to shake the Bond franchise, not just stir it.
James Bond suffers from the Simpsons Syndrome: its biggest enemy is its collectively stellar past, and its refusal to attempt to shake things up often (ironically, the beginning of the end of the Simpsons was a poorly-done shakeup involving the death of Maude Flanders). Bond has been exploring beautiful places and wooing beautiful women for decades, so when the formula gets stale it really meanders deep into the production. However when the franchise flips the switch and alters things while still sticking to the roots, we get cinematic gold. Goldeneye, Casino Royale, and Skyfall are the best of Bond within the past 25 years, and it's for those reasons. Spectre unfortunately fails to attempt anything groundbreaking.

Daniel Craig is still fantastic. The cinematography is still top-notch. The directing (when the budget and script allows) is quite good. Waltz and Bautista were great adversaries (but with very little material). But underneath that, we have a Bond movie that struggles to live up to recent adventures. We have a Bond villain that doesn't quite match up to sinister folks of the past. We have a series of locales that had been explored before. And lastly, the producers should have known better then to not bring back Adele after her Skyfall song became the best Bond theme since the 70s. Sam Smith had no chance.

What hurts even more is that the beginning was phenomenal, from the opening shot to the opening action sequence that follows. And just like Skyfall, it was so good that the rest of the movie struggled to truly catch up. What instead follows is a more realistic and grounded approach to the expected and familiar Bond formula; and to be honest it used to be effective but the competition of your exotic action movies in European territory has increased significantly---Jason Bourne, Mission: Impossible, and even the revived Fast and the Furious series. Making the movie a rough 150 minutes doesn't help at all either; it even felt like the budget ran out towards the end.

The grounded formula was a shake-up to the Bond clichés, but by the end of all this you'll be clamoring to bring these clichés back. You want the entourage of gorgeous vehicles back (as opposed to several helicopter scenes), you want the outlandish villain back (Give me more 1960s Spectre please), and you want the clever gadgets back. As a matter of fact, I want the cool and calm spy back. In Spectre, they cringingly kept referring to him as an assassin—never a spy. It's a slight dialogue mishap but it speaks layers as to what we are currently seeing from MGM's final moneymaker. Remove Bond from the equation and you have a decent summer assassin flick. But as a Bond movie that has seen so many precious films and delightful moments---the past harms the quality.

This is the weakest Bond since Die Another Day, another Bond movie that was ruined because it became too formulaic and frayed far from what we saw in the first act. The movie isn't a dismal failure, nor is it a total sequel disaster to the likes of Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Yep, went there). The Bond recipe is all here, but it's been diluted by too much filler and not enough flavor. Trying to connect the recent Bond movies together also didn't help its chances---James Bond wasn't meant for continuity because they can never add up no matter how hard you try. Spectre went through four writers, and the result was still messy.

Don't expect peak Connery/Craig Bond, expect more along the lines of late 70s Roger Moore Bond---when it was obvious that change was needed. Perhaps they've run out of ideas with Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes. Perhaps more time is needed between Bond movies (the three great Bond flicks I mentioned had many years between installments). It might be time for that shake-up again. I wonder if Tarantino is still interested…

Children of Men

Technically brilliant, Children of Men is a visceral thrill ride that clutches your breath
If you are an aspiring director, then this is your film to watch and take notes.

Children of Men is an exercise in precise and flawless filmmaking, from the positioning of the shots to the kinetic movement of the shots. Alfonso Curason takes a high-budget idea with a minimal budget (for its genre anyway) and manages to pierce together an intense relentless experience that pulls no punches, and practically throws you in the exact center of the action. In usual science fiction and action movies you are an observer from a distance; with Children of Men you practically become an unwilling participant. You can smell the chaos, feel the blood (and at some points see it spilled on the camera), and sense the grimness that swallows the decaying environment of England.

In one of the best-directed flicks in the past several decades, we follow an everyman (Clive Owen) get caught up in an extremely dangerous mission to transport an important woman out of the country during a time when children cannot be born—leading to panic and apocalyptic results. The cast is small but very effective, from the reliable Clive Owen to the always-entertaining Michael Caine in a small but poignant role. Not to knock the actors or the writing staff (which also includes Clive Owen), but the biggest strength of this movie are the visuals. We'll get to that soon.

Themes of immigration, faith, motherhood, and fate are mixed together in this hearty soup of a script that raises important questions, parallels important issues that have taken place in modern day society, and also dwells into religious tropes. There is a lot of beauty that looms under the shadows of extreme violence and mayhem that will keep you riveted and afraid for what happens next, even if some of the post-apocalyptic clichés pop up in the final act. Children of Men establishes the issues plaguing the society and the characters in the first act, and the film takes off like a lightning bolt starting from the first cleverly-staged action sequence.

This film belongs to Curason and Emmanuel Lubezki, the directing/cinematography duo that have worked well together before (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and since (the also-visually stimulating Gravity). Here they make beautiful dark music together, as they flawlessly and seamlessly shove the camera in the direct center of all the conflicts, and you watch the action and startling images emerge from all different angles as the scene unfolds and becomes lengthier. Why neither got Oscar wins (let alone nominations) remains a major travesty, and same goes with the editing. This was 2006's most impressive technical cinematic work---and don't anybody mention Pan's Labyrinth.

Children of Men is a dizzying action-packed journey worthy of multiple viewings, worthy of many awards that it inexplicably never won, and worthy of being one of the better science-fiction thrillers this entire generation. It is the complete package of a great soundtrack, slick editing, good script unveiled well by a wonderful cast, and then a directing effort that certifies Curason as among the best in the business. Dim the lights, rev up the sound, and prepare for a hell of a trip.

Straight Outta Compton

This film has got somethin' to say
This movie would not have been greenlit 15 years ago.

And this movie took a decade to finally receive the full backing it needed to fully produce the story behind the rap group that started it all.

Perfect timing too.

Straight Outta Compton a surprisingly powerful and deep film that looks into the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of the three main men behind N.W.A.; a group that fueled a short-lived but powerful revolutionary run of success with its urban attitude, strong lyrics, and absolutely biting commentary on devastating realities that music had never dealt with up to that point. N.W.A. became notorious for bringing light to living in the deepest parts of California while dealing with a society that constantly makes it difficult for them to branch out. This film doesn't just highlight their beginnings and eventual rise to success, it also deals with the outcome of their decisions and what happens when the wrong people are mixed in.

Some have argued that the aftermath bogs down the movie, that the third act becomes a slight drag. But truth be told, no storm literally or figuratively is at its strongest in the aftermath, but at the point of impact. From the first tense scene on, Straight Outta Compton holds very little back in terms of the lyrical content, the violence, the drugs, and the disturbing environment they have to survive in as they fight for a way out. Gang members pleading for the next generation to stick to their books, cops destroying houses they believe might have drugs, and a systematic cycle of violence and grimness that comes with the impoverished life. The script gives light on the good, the bad, and the ugly part of representing the hood culture that N.W.A. managed to (slightly) escape with their bittersweet poetry.

Movies representing this lifestyle and the people in it hardly get a good budget and good production value to back them up. But thanks to the powerhouse moneymakers that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have become, it is now a hell of a lot easier for them to tell their story: and they got a great writing cast, great production team, and a superb director (F. Gary Gary has Friday and Italian Job in his resume) to back them up. Back then you couldn't have dreamed of an N.W.A. movie containing great cinematography, wonderful editing, and fantastic musical score (outside the source material) to follow a talented young cast that emulates the men behind the group perfectly. The movie is sleek, crisp, and sounds better than most of your biggest blockbusters.

There is no scaling back the content and the lifestyles during Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Easy-E's rise to the top. Some of what you see is concerning and slightly paints some ugly on their personalities, and that's why the third act albeit not as energetic is required. Consequences are indeed dished out, people are lost, friendships and partnerships are tested, and devils left and right challenge the foundation and wellbeing of our main cast. The story is never pretty, whether they are buying a new house or losing it. This is why Straight Outta Compton succeeds as a film, very little sugarcoating while giving each character their good side as well as their dark side.

The sugarcoating does exist though. With Ice Cube and Dr. Dre producing, I'm sure there were some skeletons in their closet that were not going to be revealed; especially when it involves the N.W.A. tours, the nasty rap beefs that followed (back when rap beefs had some actual meat), and especially during the darkest days of Death Row Records (led by rap music villain Suge Knight). Reputation is key, and I'm sure that Cube and Dre want to avoid any further controversies as their market value remains strong. They are now businessmen far removed from the dirty days of mixing records and avoiding arrest for being black. But hey, it's their money, so it's their story.

Straight Outta Compton is a big budget biography that hits all the right notes, even though it doesn't aim to tell the entire story. But there's a lot that needs to be said, and plenty was unveiled within the 140 minutes of great acting, superb writing, and tight direction. It is a rags-to-riches story, except for the fact that the rags followed them long after the riches came pouring in. If you think it's just a simple movie glamorizing the gangster life then you aren't seeing this with an open mind and both eyes open. The story took a while to be displayed on screen, but thankfully the moment has finally come, and it definitely doesn't disappoint.


Ant-Man is a surprisingly entertaining romp with a stellar script and stellar cast
In the midst of all the behind-the-scenes chaos, what we see here is quite possibly Marvel's best film since the original Iron Man. Containing the extremely-loose approach of the Phase 1 Marvel flicks, the delightful quirks and details from Edgar Wright's script, and the carefree fun of Paul Rudd (Role Models) and Adam McKay (Will Ferrell's best work), Ant-Man is comic book brilliance that substitutes style for wonderful characters and plenty of content to chew at. Of course let's not forget the slew of Marvel surprises that we honestly didn't see enough of in Age of Ultron. Thanks to the strict organized approach from Disney, it is safe to say that Marvel is still leagues ahead of the competition in terms of comic book and summer blockbuster films.

The staff is incredible, and must have made the director's job quite easy. Starting with the always-reliable Paul Rudd and the silently-efficient Evangeline Lilly, we have an excellent entourage bringing what is a relatively unknown comic book to life. Rounding out the staff is the very serious and engaging Michael Douglas, an unexpected addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The themes presented in Ant-Man are a bit more personal than your usual blockbuster fare, with plots involving redemption, forgiveness, and father/sibling relationships all blending in together---and this requires better performances from even your villains. From our villain (Corey Stoll bringing some depth to our mad scientist) to our father figure right down to the partner-in-crime (Michael Pena, also excellent) Ant-Man boasts one of the strongest lineups in all of 2015. Honestly though, what's with Disney and fathers?

Usually creative differences from the writing squadron in the midst of filming will result in mixed content throughout the finished product. Disney's very own Brave is one of the better recent examples, with the first and second half of the movie being extremely different in tone, pace, and even character. Quite miraculously, you don't get this sensation in Ant-Man, from the first act origin story right down to the exciting climax that delivers enough action to cover the extensive prologue. It has obvious touches of Edgar Wright's quick-paced humor and character depth, but has Rudd's clever subtle comic timing and McKay's humorous mayhem. A four-team staff complied the script, and what could have been a disaster actually results in a complete screenplay with a little bit of everything: humor, heart, action, and tons of connections to other Marvel properties.

Peyton Reed has a resume that could raise some eyebrows (sneaky-fun Bring it On, could-be-better Yes Man), but doesn't disappoint here. Although he has far less action to work with, he manages to keep Ant-Man fun, grounded, and simple. It has its share of emotion, but it never drags too far or mucks up the blockbuster glee. He treats it like a heist film, with unique circumstances. Under the hook/line/sinker approach, the biggest sequence is saved for last and will keep you on your toes, while also laughing along the way thanks to the sprinkles of humor flung in for good measure.

Similar to the equally-unique Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man is enjoyable because it never feels like its holding back any punches to save for the next (obviously going to happen) installment. Unlike Age of Ultron and Thor: The Dark World, it feels like a complete story, and will keep you asking for more---especially after the post-credits sequences. It fires on all cylinders with the permission of Marvel and the Disney Marketing Machine, and despite not having the previous popularity credentials of a Batman or a Spider-Man, Ant-Man leaves a nice footprint in the cinematic comic book universe. Don't let the slightly campy outlook of Ant-Man fool you, this is a seriously entertaining picture worth a thousand words of praise.


Despite the usual Apatow frustrations, Amy Schumer rises above the flaws to deliver a great debut
Continuing the fantastic Summer season for females (Charlize Theron, Melissa McCarthy, Anna Kendrick) we have Amy Schumer branching off from her stand-up and television success (Comedy Central: Still Trying to Replace Dave Chappelle) to deliver a fine performance in an Apatow movie that has all the typical Apatow strengths and weaknesses. Just like Apatow's best, we have a delightful staff delivering the laughs and the dramatic undertones to make up for sloppy directing and loose editing that we've seen far too many times from the Team Apatow comedy circle.

We've seen this movie before, and we know the destination. Regardless of how raunchy or how off the PG-13 spectrum, romance movies carry the same formula and usually produce the same results (With 500 Days of Summer and Before Midnight being notable recent exceptions). We continue watching these because of the joy of said journey. Amy's voyage as she tries to shed her provocative past to become happy is a lengthy yet enjoyable watch, mostly because of her slick and slightly jagged sense of humor. This is her script and it has her brand of comedy sprinkled all over the place. Expect off-the-cusp movie references, uncomfortable content, good raw emotion, bite of New York flavor, and even some MacFarlane-like unpredictability.

Schumer has the comedic chops, and will earn your attention even when she is at her least charming. Helping the movie is Bill Hader, who played the perfect straight man getting caught up in Amy's whirlwind of a life. Although the cameos are a bit distracting (This Family Guy-like technique dates the movie slightly), LeBron James, John Cena, and a few others provided a surprising amount of laughs, with Cena being especially impressive in a short yet pivotal scene.

Apatow still lacks the ability to chop the movie to a more acceptable length. This has killed/damaged his recent efforts like This is 40 and Funny People (especially). Trainwreck once again has that slowdown period that has people checking their phones and watches, which especially hurts after a strong first half. And as previously stated, we know the destination, the journey has to maintain its interest. Despite the strongest efforts from everyone involved, it gets a little tiresome before the heartwarming finale. Unless the movie spans decades, no romantic comedy should run past two hours. All of the best romantic movies (Princess Bride, Eternal Sunshine, Beauty and the Beast, Before Sunset/Sunrise) run under two hours.

Yes, I know the gem Love Actually breaks the rule I just placed. Moving on....

Despite the flaws of time and distractions, Schumer does a great job in her debut cinematic vehicle. I can see a good future with her as long as she works with the right people and expands her range. She's funny, fearless, and has a nice dosage of New York charm. All of those ingredients make this an entertaining viewing and far better than Apatow's previous flicks. It won't shatter the movie industry or alter your perception of her or the genre, but it won't be a total disaster sitting through this---you'll find plenty to laugh and be shocked at.

Inside Out

Inventive, Engaging, and Funny, Inside Out has the Peak-Pixar Flavor We Haven't Seen in Years
20 years in the film business, Pixar has given us masterpiece after masterpiece even if its best days are probably behind them. They know how to toy with your emotions, add depth to their characters, and best of all know how to deliver very unique stories in very unique perspectives. Director Pete Doctor's previous movie Up is a grandiose example of being an excellent film despite being far off the norm. Inside Out is no exception as it tackles a very complicated yet creative concept of exploring the emotions of a person while giving personalities to emotions---which is no easy task.

Inside Out being made into a feasible family movie is quite the accomplishment. Even if the deeper emotional moments and better jokes will be lost on the children, this film has something for everybody to see, from the visuals to the creative stylings of the human mind. Combine that with the perfect (Its honestly flawless) voice cast and a well-rounded script, you have Pixar's best since Toy Story 3.

Joy (The perfect Amy Poehler) leads the cast as she attempts to dominate the mind of an 11-year-old and keep the other emotions (Anger, Disgust, Fear, and especially Sadness) in check---especially once the family relocates across the entire country. The conflict arises once Joy becomes unable to run Riley's emotions, leading to a lot of problems inside the mind and outside. Although Pixar runs in the Disney family and you secretly know how it will all pan out, the adventure and discoveries leading up to the inevitable conclusion is what keeps you engaged. There will be the classic Pixar mix of laughter, tears, and surprises throughout the quest to save Riley.

Establishing the universe is essential in movies like these, where environments carry its distinctive logic, its distinctive gravity. Inside Out starts out slow so it can mesh out the characters and give us a good idea as to how to approach the world of the mind. By the time you reach the dramatic conclusion, you would have witnessed Riley's imaginative world, her abstract world, her dream machine, as well as her biggest fears. The journey is far from predictable, as Inside Out explores a concept rarely executed (save for a 90s cartoon and a hilarious Spongebob bit).

Pixar has had a rough run lately, with delays and disappointing movies mixing together this decade. Inside Out is a step in the right direction thanks to a great script, delightful originality, and the great mix of great animation, laughs and heartfelt moments that we last experienced in the epic Pixar run of 2007-2010 (Ratatouille, Up, Wall-E, Toy Story 3, etc.). It might be slower or more bizarre then what you are used to seeing in animation and blockbuster season, but this film is a fresh visual treat from start to finish.


We Have Seen Peak McCarthy, And It Is Quite a Thrill
Similar to us seeing peak Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber or seeing peak Will Ferrell in Anchorman, we have seen peak Melissa McCarthy and it is glorious. Spy is a cluttered, ridiculous spoof action comedy that doesn't quite set a consistent tone but gives McCarthy the role of a lifetime, and in return we get the performance of a lifetime. Even though you never quite know if you should ever take any part of Spy seriously, the movie entertains, thrills, and has a shocking amount of gruesome action to coincide with the plethora of jokes flying left and right throughout the two hours.

Under the helm of Paul Feig (which has McCarthy as his muse ala Woody Allen with Diane Keaton) providing the writing and directing, Spy is a wildly violent and relentless sendup on action movies of all types, from spy movies to the physics-ignorant Statham flicks that we've seen in the past decade. What starts off as a where-is-the-bomb plot dwells deeper with twists and turns and has the mild-manned Susan Cooper (usually working behind a desk) traveling to Europe to complete the mission.

The cast is what ultimately delivers and carries this movie past any potential setbacks. Melissa McCarthy is phenomenal as her blend of sarcasm, physical comedy, and biting insults with perfect timing works perfectly here. Unlike most of her previous work, she was not just the overweight woman in an unlikely situation, there is much more to her personality in Spy that makes her much more likable, and much easier for us to root for her. We see much more of her when compared to Bridesmaids and The Heat and it gives her a chance to truly stand out and shine---and she does not disappoint.

But kudos to everyone else, especially Rose Byrne as one of the antagonists and Jason Statham as a spoof of himself. A good comedy relies more on chemistry and talent level on screen above the script, despite that breaking most screen writing rules in the spectrum. Spy has the Caddyshack syndrome; whenever the storyline starts to drag at the slightest (the movie does get unnecessarily complex) you have the cast keep you engaged and entertained.

What sets Spy apart from the spoofs is the surprising amount of action. We are treated to car chases, brutal fights, shootouts, and even a big final rousing sequence---albeit having an unexpected ending. What also allows Spy to stand out is the abundance of strong powerful women; from Susan Cooper herself to her co-workers, her boss, and even her adversary. It is a welcoming change and a drift from the norm in this genre of film---even though Mad Max Fury Road may have stolen some of its feminist thunder.

This is Paul Feig's best work, McCarthy's best performance, and one of the best movies of the year. Funnier than you'd expect, more action-packed than you would anticipate, and then throw in Jason Statham tossing some of the most astonishingly hilarious work out of any non-comedic actor I've ever seen. This film is a hoot plain and simple, and should finally allow us to take McCarthy much more seriously.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Explosive whirlwind of entertainment, no action fan will leave this film disappointed
So this is what happens when you give George Miller a good budget.

Completing a recent trifecta of spectacular world cinema in the action category (The Raid 1 and 2), Mad Max Fury Road not only easily becomes among the top movies of 2015, but arguably amongst the best action movies this century. Two hours of absolute post-apocalyptic mayhem, this is one of the rare sequels that not only stands tall with the originals, but actually surpasses them. What used to slightly restrict the previous Mad Max movies were budget and technical limitations. But in the 21st century, with more money involved, and more resources to tap into, George Miller's decade-in-the-making vision comes to life in the most entertaining and thrilling way.

Fury Road may have the Mad Max tag, but his story is just one of many that roam around. The most impressive amongst the cast (Tom Hardy as Max really didn't have much to do outside participation in the carnage) is definitely Charlize Theron, who plays the tough-as-nails woman that jump-starts the action that will preside over the last 100 minutes of the film. Without mentioning too much, Theron (has there been a quieter action career than Theron?) as Furiosa steals a massive armored rig and raises absolute hell as she tries to make it to her childhood homeland with other prisoners. Crossing paths with her is Max, a loner with recovering from his past who also has been taken prisoner. Even though plot isn't usually a focus point in action movies of this caliber, there is plenty of social commentary and feminist themes to stir the pot.

While the verbal and storyline aspects are nothing to scoff at, the technical details of this movie is the headlining show here. Nearly flawless, from the art direction to the cinematography to the editing, the apocalypse has never looked so beautiful. The colors pop out at you, and the camera-work isn't shy of displaying the miles upon miles of nothingness that surrounds the characters. It truly feels like the end of the world as you see the small shadowy figures of vehicles maneuver through the layers of sand or see dark blue darkness when the sun mercifully comes down. And then you have the wide array of visually unique characters that look straight out of your pulp comic books (Yes, the guitar-playing fiend deserves his own story). It's a hauntingly beautiful ride.

Miller's directing is what makes the movie stand out. The action sequences are intense, relentless, and done with so much precision and attention to detail; you cannot look away from the screen a millisecond as you see the next round of carnage take place. This movie tries excruciatingly hard to separate itself from the pack of normal summer blockbusters, and it succeeds by pacing like a video game; continuously escalating and topping the previous action sequence.

The Raid movies also notoriously saved their best tricks for last. And my friends, even if you might be the slightest bit underwhelmed just wait until the final 30 minutes. Be prepared for some of the tightest and well-choreographed action since the criminally underrated Adventures of Tintin (The "Opera Chase" deserves much more love). The mix of special and practical effects blends in so well you swear you can smell the burning tires. The movie is one big long vehicular chase, and one that never starts feeling stale.

Summer may have peaked extremely early, because it will be very difficult to top the vicious joyride of Fury Road. From start to finish, from the top-tier acting right down to the sound effects, this Mad Max installment is the best hands-down, even though Hardy is no vintage Mel Gibson. Not sure what happened to American action filmmaking, but now Australia and Indonesia own the right to claim their country has produced the finest action flicks this decade. If you are in the mood for a highly entertaining yet original action extravaganza, look no further. By the time 2015 finishes, I can guarantee you that Mad Max Fury Road will remain as one of the best movies in the entire year.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

The train of joy coming from the MCU continues to deliver, but its starting to run out of steam
I'd hate to spoil the party, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is starting to run out of trick cards.

Criticizing Avengers: Age of Ultron is the equivalent of being one of those prick judges on Cutthroat Kitchen, insulting a cook for making a mediocre pasta when all they had was marinara sauce and expired noodles. Joss Whedon and friends pulled out all the necessary mayhem, entertainment, and joy of your usual MCU flick, so let's mention this before this turns into a massive review of disappointment. However it's becoming a bit more apparent that the intangibles holding back Marvel and Disney's potential is hindering the quality of the movies. It hurts to point out the elephant in the room, but after seeing the final scene you can't help but realize that clearly Hollywood and the Copyright shenanigans is hampering the franchise as a whole.

For those not truly knowledgeable of the subject, Marvel and Disney are restricted on who they can show (and for how long) and who can get their own spin-off movie. As of now, the true-true Avengers team assembling on screen is literally impossible. Fox, Sony, and Universal own cinematic Marvel properties and unless every film studio in California decide to drop the competition and hold hands, Whedon will be restricted on his vision of the Avengers and the current Marvel universe. He even has to change the origin stories of some of the characters because certain words can't even be used in this franchise of movies. Like a production version of mineweeper, you can avoid mines for only so long before you notice you're running out of space.

The production value, writing, acting, humor, action, and attention to each of the characters has been spot-on lately, and Avengers: Age of Ultron is no exception. All the characters are back, and they remain just as entertaining and engaging as the original Avengers movie that overwhelmed audiences back in 2012. Iron Man and Hawkeye have all the great lines, Hulk and Thor has all the awesome kinetic energy, and Captain America remains our lovable heroic leader. Of course, a few other characters make nice cameo appearances, and others...well, we didn't really need them (one hero in particular was bizarrely underwhelming). Lastly, Ultron was quite a formidable foe, perfectly portrayed by James Spader.


There are no stakes to be raised. We all know the upcoming Marvel lineup for the next several years. We all know of their limited amount of cinematic resources. So with that we are presented with less surprises, less suspense, and less of the unpredictability factor that had been a major source of fun during the first phase of Marvel movies. The movie took off immediately without any sort of build-up because it knows why we are there: entertainment of the highest summer degree. But with sequel after sequel planned, the audience pretty much knows who is going to make it. What would keep us engaged would be if we saw any major left field surprises or unexpected turns. Because of the restrictions and because of the required schedule, there honestly was very little to be shocked at. It didn't have the ballsy shakeup of The Winter Soldier.

No movie built to predate upcoming chapters has ever felt complete (Dead Man's Chest anyone?). Avengers: Age of Ultron tries its best to disguise this but the inevitable is clear: punches were held back because they need to be saved for later installments. Marvel has to keep whatever remaining limited cards it has on its deck. Unlike DC which pretty much has all its eggs on the same basket, Marvel has to make incredible omelets using less eggs. And although you will enjoy this satisfying meal of comic book action, you'll notice the kitchen staff starting to sweat.

Furious Seven

Bloated but still fun, Furious 7 is brain-eliminating popcorn entertainment with nice dramatic touches
Imagine your favorite food. Let's use pizza, because 99% of the world loves pizza. Imagine a nice big pepperoni pizza. Always a good decision right? The cheese, fresh sauce, crisp pepperoni, nice crust. Now imagine that you pile nine pounds of pepperoni on top of the pizza. The ingredients are still good, these are still your favorite toppings, but the result remains overkill. That is Furious 7 in a nutshell: way too much of a good thing that results in the most ridiculousness and implausibility in the entire franchise. And yes it is indeed entertaining but for the first time we are seeing special effects totally overpower practical effects and the result is a movie that comes straight out of summer blockbusters as opposed to being a gritty and stunt-filled extravaganza like what we have been seeing in previous installments.

If you are a fan of the recent string of franchise-altering movies, then you will be entertained here. Just know that Fast and the Furious peaked with the killer bank vault scene from Fast Five. Within the two hours of Furious 7 there will be elongated fights, massive car chases, and purely insane action sequences that forces you to remove your brain temporarily. Mixed in nicely with the carnage are the consistent themes of family and love---plus the now-famous final scene that will trigger emotions that Fast and Furious had never dealt with before. Paul Walker's passing gives this movie a haunting edge, as even some of the costume choices and dialogue ironically singled out Walker long before his actual untimely death.

The cast is mostly back, although I do find myself missing the Don Omar/Tego Calderon combination. Vin Diesel and The Rock are at their toughest, Paul Walker is the perfect partner, Michelle Rodriguez continues that tough chick streak, and of course there's Ludicrous and Tyrese (whom we forget are music artists) working their comedic magic. We have now three villains they have to look out for (remember my comment about overkill?) but Jason Statham is the one that delivers the strongest punch as he mixes espionage with muscle.

The movie paces and runs like a music video: combining gorgeous women (to a point of pure misogyny), gorgeous cars, lots of speed, plenty of quick cuts, and lots of slow-motion shots. James Wan quickly developed a knack of combining music video eye candy material with an abundance of testosterone-laden carnage seamlessly. He is far removed from his low-budget horror days. However this day and age when action buffs have become accustomed to Gareth Evans (*raises hand*), it's slightly tougher to digest the fights and chases that occur here without feeling the slightest bit underwhelmed.

Furious 7 is more of the same, except so much more it really doesn't leave much for the eighth installment. After parachuting from a plane while inside a car, what on earth is there else to do? Fast and Furious has had a fantastic run but with each installment trying to top itself every time it will reach a point in which every scene becomes laughable. When the audience is chuckling and giggling during a serious action sequence, it's not the right reaction, even if the audience won't regret the money spent to get in.

If you are fine with the Fast and Furious series drifting farther and farther away from the lower-key, more urban original flick that started it all, then Furious 7 will entertain you, thrill you, and leave you smiling. If you are looking more for a return to roots, a more realistic approach to vehicular action, run away from this movie. Furious 7 isn't the best, but it's definitely the biggest, and definitely the most emotional of them all. The stuntwork (when actually used) is fantastic, the directing is slick, and it accomplishes what it's set out to do. And lastly, Paul Walker despite his untimely departure cinematically gets to leave in the perfect time.

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