Reservoir Dogs – Tarantino’s Prelude

Quentin Tarantino is unabashedly my favorite filmmaker. Every one of his films have sparked strong reactions, both positive and negative, with his use of violence, strong language, use of music, and the occasional foot shot. Starting with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs to 2015’s The Hateful Eight, we see a man honing in his craft, resulting in some of cinema’s greatest delights, making every new Tarantino film an event.

It’s hard to think of a time before Quentin Tarantino was, well, Quentin Tarantino. Before Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction, he made his directorial debut with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, detailing the events before and after a botched bank robbery, but never showing the robbery itself. Initially, Dogs was meant with polarizing reviews. Some critics praised its style and performances from its ensemble cast, whereas others were vitriolic towards its violence and harsh tone. If you feel a sense of déjà vu towards those sentiments for a Tarantino film, good. It’s almost impossible to detach Reservoir Dogs from the rest of the director’s illustrious filmography. We see a Tarantino who hasn’t quite found his footing as a filmmaker, showing traits that we’ll later on get familiar with, and other techniques that haven’t seen the light of day since. His films have an affinity for chapters, so it’s a foregone conclusion to view his first film as a prelude, an overture to the next 25 years of cinematic insanity.

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Let me tell you what “Like a Virgin” is about. It’s all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The entire song. It’s a metaphor for big dicks.


Reservoir Dogs opens with the above line, said by Tarantino himself, as if he’s christening the film as his own. It makes it clear that this is his script, his vision you see on screen. This is a writer/director of the highest order, and Tarantino knew this from the very beginning. The sweeping shot of all the characters is another Tarantino staple. The camera is moves as people are simply talking in a diner about the most mundane and inconsequential of things. The subject of Madonna’s “purity” or the morality of tipping plays essentially zero consequence to the bigger picture, but adds personality and character to an enormous cast of unknown players. You don’t need a biography to get how a character ticks, and Tarantino knows this, so he lets the viewer meet these characters like a bystander would: through incessant dialogue. It’s a clever and effective way to get acquainted with these characters, and in a 90 minute film, timing is of the essence.

Throughout the film, scenes of action and violence are always superseded and bookended by, you guessed it, dialogue. Whether it be Harvey Keitel combing his hair in the warehouse or the iconic Mexican standoff, Tarantino gives the same amount of character information to the audience and the characters themselves. We know that Mr. Orange is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, but it’s meant to be a secret, so only we know. How Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde lines up with the rest of the crew is strictly known to the people involved in the flashback, with other characters made to draw their own conclusions. The climax and resolution of the film is ultimately tragic. Everyone dies, save for Mr. Pink, and Mr. White’s sense of trust is completely shattered by Orange’s confession, culminating in the most somber and quietest end of the director’s filmography. It’s a juggling act of information, with the viewer given all the pieces to complete the bigger picture.

Even the infancy of his career, Tarantino’s storytelling talent is put on full display, making a 99 minute heist film have almost nothing to do with the heist, and everything to do with characters, and how they grow to trust or distrust one another. It’s a mystery, a thriller, a whodunnit, but most importantly, it’s a film by Quentin Tarantino.


The MCU: Worst to Best

11 years, 21 films and enough quips to make The Three Stooges blush, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an absolute cinematic juggernaut unlike any other, spanning thousands of years and hundreds of characters. 2008’s Iron Man seems like a mere start-up in scope compared to the absolute insanity that would become the norm by the time Avengers: Infinity War rolled around. Though the mere existence of Infinity War and Endgame are to be achievements in their own rights, the MCU is not without their fair share of lowpoints and stumbles with each film being churned out like clockwork. Without further ado, let’s do something no one’s done before and talk about superheroes!

*Spoilers follow for all of these films*


21. Iron Man 2

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Nick Fury: Sir! I’m gonna have to ask you to exit the donut.


The follow up to 2008’s classic is a pretty drastic misfire. Everything I take away from Iron Man 2 is not the story, plot points, or even the action. This is less of a film and more of a set up for the first Avengers film: introducing Black Widow, introducing Nick Fury for those who didn’t stay after the credits of Iron Man (I was guilty of this), and Howard Stark (whose presence would play a huge role in future films). The content of the movie itself is drab, complete with a laughably bad villain played by Mickey “I want my BIRD” Rourke and ditches the (somewhat) realistic technology in place of bland, generic future tech that removes any uniqueness its predecessor had.


20. The Incredible Hulk

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HULK SMASH! (this film had the balls to use that line. Respect.)

The black sheep of the MCU, rightfully so: Universal still owns the rights to a solo Hulk film, explaining why Ragnarok will probably be the closest thing we’ll get, and of course, Edward Norton plays Bruce Banner. As a film, it’s not too bad, but as an MCU movie, it feels like it takes place in an alternate dimension, mostly in the worst way possible. Norton is a fantastic actor, but is much too serious and burdened than the perfect balance Mark Ruffalo is able to achieve.  It’s a standard superhero film that managed to be spoken in the same breath out of convenience rather than merit.


19. Thor

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Thor: I have no plans to die today.
Heimdall: None do.


This absolute pains me to rank it this low. I love Kenneth Branagh as a director (his Shakespeare stuff is magnificent) but his stab at a superhero film is a bore. Thor is filled with filled to the brim with outstanding talent behind and in front of the camera, and incorporates intimate, Shakespearean themes of family betrayal. However, the mere discussion of these themes are much more interesting than its execution. Branagh wants to make a family tragedy within the superhero realm, and it just didn’t work for me. More power to you if you loved it.


18. Thor: The Dark World

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Thor: If you betray me, I will kill you.
Sif: If you betray him, I will kill you.
Volstagg: If you betray him…
Loki: You’ll kill me? Evidently there will be a line.


This is often considered to be the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the MCU, and as a film, Thor 2 is practically the definition of mediocre. However, The Dark World manages to edge out the past entries by being a by-the-numbers MCU film, complete with the typical quips, generic music, out of place humor and stunning visuals we all come to expect by now. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston do their absolute best with the material given, resulting in an inoffensive, but bland affair.


17. Ant-Man and The Wasp

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Luis : So anyway, this guy gets out of jail and starts working for Hank. And that’s when he met Hope. And Hope’s all like, “I want nothing to do with you. Look at my hairdo. I’m all business.” And then Scotty’s like, “You know what, girl? My heart’s all broken, and I’ll probably never find love again. But damn, if I want to kiss you!” But then you fast-forward and they’re all like into each other, right? And then Scotty’s like, “You know what, I can’t tell you this, but I’m gonna go trashing the airport with Captain America!” Then she said, “I can’t believe you split like that! Smell you later, dummy!” So Scotty goes on house arrest, and he won’t admit it, but his heart’s all like, “Damn! I thought Hope could’ve been my new true partner. But I blew it!” But fate brought them back together, and then Hope’s heart is all, “I’m worried that I can’t trust him. And he’s gonna screw up again and ruin everything.” And in my heart, it’s all like, “That fancy raspberry filling represents the company’s rent. And we’re days away from going out of business! Oooh!”

The second Ant-Man film is a good time, pure and simple. Paul Rudd is effortlessly lovable as the one-half of the title characters, and Evangeline Lilly more than holds her own as The Wasp. It carries the same tone and feel of the original, which is welcome (especially Scott Lang’s group of bank robbers), and the action scenes are super fun given the character’s size dynamic, but I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the overall film. It’s very much a MCU film, and virtually nothing else, so for this to be the follow-up to the insanely epic Infinity War deflates whatever momentum it once had. Still a lot of fun, but just completely inconsequential (until the after-credits scene…).


16. Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Tony Stark: “Does anybody remember when I put a missile through a portal, in New York City? We were standing right under it. We’re the Avengers, we can bust weapons dealers the whole doo-da-day, but how do we cope with something like that?”

Steve Rogers: Together.

Tony Stark: We’ll lose.

Steve Rogers: We’ll do that together too.

By far the weakest of the Avengers films, though perhaps the one with the most distinct voice. Joss Whedon follows up his masterful 2012 juggling act with a far more ambitious, large scaled, more intimate, darker, funnier, light-hearted, action packed film. Age of Ultron is bigger than the original in just about every way, but is a far cry from the quality and brilliance of its predecessor. The word “more” is essentially the basis of this sequel, beginning with a huge battle, and ending with the Avengers fighting on what is basically a meteor. Whedon’s love of quips and one liners shine through, almost becoming a parody of himself at one point.

There is so much to love about Age of Ultron: the dynamic between all the characters are consistently entertaining, James Spader does the most he can as Ultron, a character ripe with menacing potential, and I personally love the sequence at Hawkeye’s home. It showcases character moments that hardly any other superhero film does nowadays, which is a nice break from the traditional formula. However, there is far too much fluff and oddly place humor in a film that wants to be The Empire Strikes Back and instead ends up like Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

15. Doctor Strange

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For the sake of transparency, I’ve never seen Doctor Strange, so its placement on this list was decided by an anonymous source who totally isn’t my brother. Though I do have one complaint: Benedict Cumberbatch is possibly my favorite actor working today, and doesn’t need to be burdened with an American accent. There I said it.


14. Captain Marvel

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Carol Danvers: You have three names. What do people call you?

Nick Fury: Fury.

Carol Danvers: Just Fury?

Nick Fury: Yep. Not Nicholas. Not Joseph. Just Fury.

Carol Danvers: What does your mother call you then?

Nick Fury: Fury.

Carol Danvers: What do your friends call you?

Nick Fury: Fury.

Carol Danvers: Kids?

Nick Fury: If I ever have them? Fury.

The most recent entry of the MCU adopts the formula to a tee, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Taking place in the 90’s, we get to see a few old favorite characters in a new light, primarily Nick Fury and the tragically underrated Agent Phil Coulson. Their buddy cop dynamic, as brief as it is, is a highlight for those who have been with these characters since the heyday of the first Iron Man film. Brie Larson is one of my favorite actors working today, but comes off as stiff and oddly one note as the title role, though she shines in the action scenes. The twist of having the Skrulls be the oppressed race of Aliens is quite clever, playing with the typical typecasting of Ben Mendelsohn (deploy them garrisons, son). Captain Marvel is a straight line, prototypical MCU film that is a genuinely good time, contrary to being the man hating romp that so many would have you believe.


13. Black Panther

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T’Challa: We can still heal you…

Erik Killmonger: Why, so you can lock me up? Nah. Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.

Black Panther has the distinction of being the first superhero film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Was is deserved? As a film, no. It’s still a good movie, though given the cast and the director, a “good” film is basically a given. There is so much to love about Black Panther. The world of Wakanda has the potential to be the next iconic cinema place, like Tattoine and Pandora. Michael B. Jordan is phenomenal as Killmonger, finally showing us a villain that has layers and legitimate motivations for his evil endeavors. The typical MCU humor is in full glory here, complete with a horrible WHAT ARE THOOOOSE joke. It was bad in 2018, it’s even worse just a year later. The special effects are oddly unpolished for a Marvel film and the score, which won an Oscar, is above average, a far cry from Ludwig Goransson’s brilliance in Creed. The cultural impact of this film outshines the quality of the film itself, as it’s a pretty good that could easily attain greatness if it just bothered to reach for it.


12. Ant-Man

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Luis: Yeah, this dude sounds like a bad-ass, man. Like he comes up to him and he says, y’know: I’m looking for this dude who’s mo’ unseen, who’s flashing this fresh tat, who’s got, like, bomb moves, right? Who you got? She’s like: Well, we got everything nowadays. We got a guy who jumps, we got a guy who swings, we got a guy who crawls up the walls, you gotta be more specific. And he’s like: I’m looking for a guy who shrinks. And I’m like: Daaamn! I got all nervous, ’cause I keep mad secrets for you, bro. So I asked Ignacio: Did bad-ass tell the stupid fine writer chick, to tell you, to tell me, because I’m tight with that man that he’s looking for him?

Scott Lang: And? What’d he say?

Luis: He said yes.

*roll credits*

We will never know what Edgar Wright’s version of Ant-Man would’ve been like. Though it is likely that this film will always be overshadowed with its directing drama, Peyton Reed does a more than acceptable job at the helm. Paul Rudd is picture perfect as Scott Lang, bringing his effortless charm and humor to Scott Lang. The heist aspect is well done, and offers a bevy of good comedy, especially from Michael Peña (still waiting for that MCU recap!). The visuals are cleverly done whenever Ant-Man shrinks, offering for so much well done humor and genuinely well thought out action sequences. Corey Stoll is such an uninteresting and cliched villain, which is the main fatal flaw to nearly all of these films. All in all, the first Ant-Man was a pleasant surprise, introducing us to an instant fan favorite, though what Edgar Wright would’ve done will always be in the back of my mind.


11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Yondu: He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy.

While not as memorable or fresh as its predecessor, the second Guardians film is a crazy, wildly entertaining ride that has a touch of darkness and melancholy. The central cast is better than ever in their now iconic roles, with Michael Rooker being the surprise MVP (you know why). The soundtrack, notably Groot dancing to “Mr. Blue Sky” is utterly fantastic and fun to a contagious degree, offering a nice audio backdrop to some of the most beautiful shots in the entire MCU. Kurt Russell plays a villain who is actually interesting and not generic as all hell. The humor is a bit excessive, deflating some of the more dramatic scenes’ potential (why would Peter morph into Pac-Man after learning that his dad killed his mom?) Also, the orchestral score done by Tyler Bates is incredibly generic and forgettable compared to the Awesome Mix. Guardians 2 is also tinged with sadness and so, so much grief within all these characters, exploring themes of family, depression and existentialism, culminating in the saddest ending to any of these films. Only James Gunn could pull this off, thank the good lord above he’s directing Vol. 3.


10. Captain America: The First Avenger

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Nick Fury: You gonna be okay?

Steve Rogers: Yeah. Yeah, I just… I had a date.

Cap’s trilogy is easily the most consistent and best among the original characters, with each entry getting better and better. The brilliance of The First Avenger is that it doesn’t really try to line with the tone and feel of the previous movies. Sure, there’s humor and crazy fantasy elements, but it is first and foremost a story about Steve Rogers, and how he comes into his own. The supporting cast of Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter and Tommy Lee Jones bring their collective A-game among the charming WWII aesthetic. Chris Evans is literally perfect as Steve Rogers, effortlessly bringing the likability, charm and insecurity of a man who just wants to do good. While the best action scenes are done in a montage, and the villain of Red Skull is a bit one note despite Hugo Weaving’s natural charisma, The First Avenger is the best Phase One film that doesn’t involve a tin man.


9. Iron Man 3

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Colonel James Rhodes: Are you okay?

Tony Stark: I broke the crayon.

Perhaps the most divisive film in the entire Marvel catalogue, the third (and I assume final) Iron Man film is a weird, offbeat, and surprisingly original effort by Shane Black. When I first saw this film back when it first premiered, I almost hated it. The Mandarin twist was jarring as it was also weirdly comedic, and with Ben Kingsley being the front man to nearly all the trailers, I felt duped. Watching this now, given the MCU’s tendency to deliver stale and overtly similar films, Iron Man 3 feels like a breath of fresh air. Robert Downey Jr. shows off an erratic and paranoid side of Tony Stark that is super compelling, and adds layers to the reluctant hero he has become. He spends the majority of the movie outside of the suit, having to resort to his ingenuity and genius to get him out of absurdly dangerous plights, just like the original. Though it doesn’t add much to the grand narrative of Phase 2 or the Infinity Saga, Iron Man 3 is perhaps the MCU’s diamond in the rough.


8. Iron Man

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Tony Stark: [reading the newspaper] Iron Man. That’s kind of catchy. It’s got a nice ring to it. I mean it’s not technically accurate. The suit’s a gold titanium alloy, but it’s kind of provocative, the imagery anyway.

Just like every single ranking you’ll find on the MCU, this is tHe OnE tHaT sTaRtEd iT aLl. Nearly everything about Iron Man was an insane, futile gamble: hiring the director of Elf and Swingers to the helm, starting a cinematic universe (which was unheard of) with one of the lesser known heroes in Marvel’s canon, and hiring recovering addict Robert Downey Jr. to the man the ship. Eleven years later, the gamble’s paid off, and it’s one of the most influential superhero films ever made. Almost every aspect of this film set precedence as to how later films would shape, and as its own film, it’s a hell of a time. Nearly everything holds up extremely well, with Tony Stark’s journey from brash, arrogant playboy to brash, arrogant hero being a thing of beauty. Robert Downey Jr. is picture perfect as Stark, in ways that have been said and repeated at nauseum. The only sore spot is the final act, which is a pretty common trait among these films, but other than that, Iron Man is still one of the most iconic and fun superhero films out there.


7. Thor: Ragnarok

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Bruce Banner: [on Loki] I was just talking to him just a couple minutes ago and he was totally ready to kill any of us.

Valkyrie: He did try to kill me.

Thor: Yes, me too. On many, many occasions. There was one time when we were children, he transformed himself into a snake, and he knows that I love snakes. So, I went to pick up the snake to admire it and he transformed back into himself and he was like, “Blergh, it’s me!”. And he stabbed me. We were eight at the time.

It took six years, and four films, but Thor FINALLY comes into his own in his third solo outing. Chris Hemsworth has made it public that he was growing tired playing Thor, mainly to how one dimensional his arcs had become. Ragnarok obliterates whatever’s expected of his character, ditching Shakespearean influence for straight up comedy. Thor is a straight up goofball, and with the help of Taika Watiti, it’s played off as legitimate instead of pure parody. The movie is so wildly different compared to the rest of the series, with gorgeous visuals and a color palette that feels otherworldly. The supporting cast is fantastic, with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki at an all time best, and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk portrays the character’s iconic temper fueled burden to perfection. With a killer soundtrack and well earned hilarity in nearly every scene, Ragnarok is the Thor film we’ve all been waiting for.


Immigrant Song, am I right?


6. Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Ms. Warren: [Finds Ned in the computer lab] What are you doing here? The dance is going on.

Ned Leeds: [Trying to come up with an excuse] Oh I was just, um… looking at… porn.

Now we get to the good stuff.

Spider-Man’s first solo outing in the MCU is the most sincere and true to heart portrayal of the character up to that point. It’s a high school comedy starring a kid who has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he always keeps his spirits up despite this. Tom Holland was fantastic in his brief stint in Civil War and is able to flex his acting chops here. He perfectly embodies the friendly neighborhood quality of Spider-Man and shows the warm optimism that makes Peter Parker such an iconic character. The high school tone is literal perfection, with jokes and teen drama that would make John Hughes blush. This is Spidey’s movie through and through, with the much advertised Tony Stark only taking up maybe 5-6 minutes of screentime. Michael Keaton (in another bird based role) is one of the best MCU villains, containing one of the absolute best twists in any superhero film. Homecoming is the best live action Spider-Man film to date, and is a much needed shift in pace and tone to a formula that was starting to get tired.


5. Guardians of the Galaxy

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[Groot grows a cocoon of branches to cover his friends]

Rocket Raccoon: No, Groot! You can’t! You’ll die! Why are you doing this? Why?

[Groot uses a thin branch to wipe away Rocket’s tears]

Groot: We are Groot.

This movie shouldn’t have worked. One of the most obscure and weird Marvel properties, with even weirder characters (a talking. Freakin. TREE voiced by Vin Diesel) directed by the insane mind behind Slither and Super. If you wanted any proof of Kevin Feige’s ability to pick the right people for the job, look no further. The oddball, sci-fi odyssey that is the first Guardians film is a phenomenal showcase as to what these films can be. From the legendary casting of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, to the beautifully different visual effects, to the amazing soundtrack known as the Awesome Mix, Guardians of the Galaxy is simply one of the greatest superhero films of all time, almost in spite of the traditions of the MCU.


4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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[about to fight a squadron of black ops]

Steve Rogers: Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?

Directed by the Russo Brothers, Cap’s post Avengers adventure is a testament to the MCU’s ability to be more than typical superhero fare. This film is a political thriller, taking notes from Cold War era films that highlight The Winter Soldier’s ever-present theme of paranoia. Steve Rogers is still adjusting to modern life, worrying for what will come out of S.H.I.E.L.D’s increasingly shadowy tactics. The prototypical MCU structure is thrown for a loop when the agency turns out to be a front for Hydra, completely dismantling the status quo for Cap’s already tragic life, and actually bringing a sense of stakes and consequence to these films. The action scenes are still some of the most hard hitting and well made out there, especially the iconic tussle in the elevator. The Winter Soldier is really the first MCU film that brushes with the mortality of these larger-than-life characters, a trait that is the basis for these later entries.

3. Captain America: Civil War

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Hawkeye: I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m Clint.

Black Panther: I don’t care.

The start of Phase 3 was basically the Avengers movie that Age of Ultron should’ve been. Matching the intensity of The Winter Soldier, the Russo Brothers flex their storytelling muscles in a Marvel film that is familiar, yet thematically unique from the rest. Whether you side with Iron Man or Captain America, the conflict between these characters was captivating and surprisingly emotional, with me genuinely believing someone was going to die (turns out Rhodey just lost got paralyzed lol). Civil War is the first film that requires you having seen the other Marvel films, as pre-existing relationships and character dynamics are done with a break neck pace, using almost a decade’s worth of character investment to its advantage. This also saw the debuts of Black Panther and Spider-Man, who both steal the show whenever they’re on screen, with the Airport Battle being the MCU’s crowning achievement. Though it’s not as epic as The Avengers, Civil War works best in its more quiet and character driven moments, offering a conflict that’s intimate and methodical, with Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo being an understated, yet effecting villain. This is the beginning of the end; once Cap dropped his shield in front of Tony, the endgame truly began.


2. The Avengers

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Steve Rogers: Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?

Tony Stark: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.

Steve Rogers: I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I’ve seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.

Tony Stark: I think I would just cut the wire.

Steve Rogers: Always a way out… You know, you may not be a threat, but you better stop pretending to be a hero.

Tony Stark: A hero? Like you? You’re a lab rat, Rogers. Everything special about you came out of a bottle.

If Iron Man was a huge gamble, was the impossible payoff. Joss Whedon writes and directs one of the biggest cinematic experiments ever, weaving four years of characters and storylines in a juggling act for the ages. The first Avengers movie is true cinematic bliss, with an ever present tone and mood that makes you feel like you’re watching history in the making. Every single one of the performances are near career best, with each actor truly becoming in sync with their characters and co-stars. Character moments are the true highlight, with the movie being its absolute best when these characters are bickering with each other. Whedon has such an ear for dialogue, that nearly every piece of spoken word has his distinct style, but done in a way that is tailor made for each character.

“That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.”

The Battle of New York is one of cinema’s greatest third acts, with absurd action anchored by comedy that is done to perfection. If Justice League showed us anything, it’s that filmmakers need to earn those iconic moments, to take their time and care with these characters so the audience will actually care about them. When the Avengers finally assemble, with Alan Silvestri’s iconic score playing, the entire landscape of cinema changed forever.


1. Avengers: Infinity War

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Rocket Raccoon: You speak Groot?

Thor: Yes, they taught it on Asgard. It was an elective.

Every single film before Infinity War was made in service to it. Every character moment, post credits scene, Stan Lee cameo, the occasional reference to an Infinity Stone. This is less of a film, and more of an event. It’s the result of ten years of careful planning that was done so well, it looked easy. The film itself, is superhero perfection. It’s the most fun, epic, crowd-pleasing, anxiety inducing and darkest film of the entire MCU. As it progresses, the jokes fade away, the music dies down, and the sense of dread and defeat cloud our heroes. Thanos won, and the road that led to the Snap hear around the world is a testament to ten year’s worth of being with these characters. The 150 minute run time flies by with impeccable pacing and storytelling by the Russo Brothers, who have proven to be the golden boys for the MCU. It’s a legitimate anomaly how one film can perfectly encapsulate so many characters who were previously done by completely different people and ends up being perhaps the best representation of each one of these characters. Avengers: Infinity War is a cinematic achievement, the result of the experiment known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And that was just part 1…

iPhone Case Review: Keyway Designs’ “Cellular”

We’ve all seen it. It might have been your phone or a friend’s, but we’ve all been subject to seeing a caseless iPhone slipping out of one’s hand and landing screen first on the rough, unforgiving pavement. You reach to pick the phone back up, horrified of the damage dealt, and voila: your phone’s now a broken piece of glass.

Phone cases are an absolute necessity in order to truly preserve and protect the device that essentially holds the glossary to your everyday life, unless you’re willing to run the risk of destroying your display. If you’re on the market for an iPhone cases, and also want trusted durability with some style, Keyway Designs‘ cases are an absolute triumph.

*The design in question will be the “Cellular” case, though the shell itself are the same across the board. The design is the main point of variance.*



The “Cellular” design is perhaps the most visually ambitious and intriguing entry in Keyway’s catalogue, sporting a maple wooden, hexagonal pattern reminiscent of a beehive. The inlays feature a beautifully done mix of Wenge, Purpleheart, Padauk and Cherry, as which is said to be every type of wood Keyway uses. For those not well versed on various wood types, the visual aesthetic of the case is downright gorgeous to the untrained eye. The clash of these different wood types work harmoniously with one another, like a sort of controlled chaos in the best way possible. As you look closer, the texture each piece is beautifully detailed, which can easily lead you to study and appreciate each individual piece in all its splendor. Keyway’s website and social media outlets showcase their extensive production process, ranging from lasering each individual piece to succession, to piecing said pieces into every individual case by hand. The painstaking attention to detail featured in Keyway’s products are second to none, and their “Cellular” case epitomizes this.


The Case Itself

TPU/PC Sides of the Cellular Maple Wood iPhone XS Max Case by Keyway Designs

For all its visual splendor, the success of the “Cellular” would be futile if it were unable to protect the phone proper. Fortunately, Keyway provides exceptional protection for your device without sacrificing its aesthetic elegance. As is the case with all of the site’s phone cases, the “Cellular” is surrounded by Flexible Rubber as it wraps around the entire body of the phone, ensuring that, if dropped, any exposed part of the phone would not absorb the impact. The design guarantees to take the brunt of the fall, also covering the side buttons up, practically assuring you those faulty lock/volume buttons are a thing of the past. There are also bumps along the side of the case that give you a much more comfortable time gripping the phone after prolonged use, preventing the familiar slippery smudges that plague the modern-day smartphone.

This is a marked improvement over Keyway’s previous models, as they offered very little protection between the phone and just about any surface stronger than carpet. Now, every case that the site provides are considerably more durable and able to withstand considerable damage, providing as much appeal to the eyes as it does whenever a smartphone takes a long fall.



Keyway Designs have delivered on every single order that I have made with them, ranging from their bread and butter of phone cases, to experimenting with wooden cardholders. Each and every one of their products have been made with the utmost class and satisfaction. Their “Cellular” model is easily their most ambitious design, providing a showcase of their knack for stellar artistry. It also does a fantastic job protecting your smartphone from the tragically occasional drops and tumbles, without being overtly bulky. This is the pinnacle of wooden phone cases, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Rating: 5/5

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The 91st Oscars: Who Should and Will Win

The road to this year’s Academy Awards is primed to overshadow the show itself. Beginning from the tone deaf proposal of a “Best Popular Film” category, to the Kevin Hart hosting saga, and now the decision to air all of the categories live, it’s easy to forget that there are movies to talk about. The charm of every Oscars is predicting to whom that gold statue will belong to, based on not only merit, but also based on the Academy’s tastes. It’s a weird juggling act, but having watched each Oscars since 2013, one can infer the routes The Academy will take.

The categories covered are Cinematography, Screenplay (Adapted/Original), Supporting Actress/Actor, Lead Actress/Actor, Director and Best Picture



Cold War – Łukasz Żal

The Favourite – Robbie Ryan

Never Look Away – Caleb Deschanel

Roma – Alfonso Cuarón

A Star Is Born – Matthew Libatique

Should: Roma

Small shoutout to Cold War, though, for being a beautifully helmed black and white drama. The one man band that is Alfonso Cuaron’s stunning work on Roma is a film that can be admired through so many cinematic perspectives, and his role as cinematographer turns the quiet black and white tale into a gorgeously framed, lit foray into his memories. Black and white films can carry a stigma for looking “old” or “dated” but whether it’s the opening frame of f*cking floor tiles or a forest fire, the visual flair of Roma shines a light on normalcy, showcasing the tragic beauty of everyday life.

Will: Roma

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Cuaron’s got this in the bag. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Roma winning for all of its technical nominations (watching it on headphones or surround sound makes the viewing experience otherworldly).

Adapted Screenplay

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

BlacKkKlansman – Screenplay by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty

If Beale Street Could Talk – Screenplay by Barry Jenkins

A Star Is Born – Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters

Should: BlacKkKlansman

Part crime thriller, comedy, romance, historical drama, documentary and history lesson, Spike Lee’s latest is a return to form that masterfully juggles fusion of genres. The dialogue between characters is snappy, clever and perfectly suited for each character. The achievement here is its political commentary. While it’s clear the film is a response to the Trump presidency, it’s a drama first that cares about story progression and characters. And, it’s damn entertaining.

Will: A Star is Born

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While enjoying a colossal amount of nominations this award season, A Star is Born hasn’t won a ton. While I want BlacKkKlansman to take the award, I feel that the Academy will award the film here and for “Shallow”, since it’s such a crowd favorite. Wouldn’t be mad, though!


Original Screenplay

The Favourite – Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara

First Reformed – Written by Paul Schrader

Green Book – Written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie and Peter Farrelly

Roma – Written by Alfonso Cuarón

Vice – Written by Adam McKay

Should: The Favourite

There’s a reason this is my third favorite film of the year. The Favourite is a tour de force of acting, writing and directing. It’s as if Yorgos Lathimos heard some people complain about the writing in The Lobster and challenged himself to direct a story with a script that is overflowing with wit cleverness. The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara is air tight endlessly enjoyable to hear. With some minor tweaks, it could work as an audio book.

Will: First Reformed

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I’m going with my gut here, willing to bet that Paul Schrader will finally get his first and long overdue Oscar, and it doesn’t hurt that First Reformed  might be the best faith based film ever made. Not too shabby.


Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali – Green Book as Don Shirley

Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman as Philip “Flip” Zimmerman

Sam Elliott – A Star Is Born as Bobby Maine

Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me? as Jack Hock

Sam Rockwell – Vice as George W. Bush

Should: Sam Elliott

It’s hard to make a unique or defining role out of such a recognizable figure, but Sam Elliott’s turn as Jackson Maine’s oddly older brother is a career highlight. The way he deals with Maine’s quirks as mere formality, before reaching a breaking point is a true sight to behold. Also, how can one man make backing out of the driveway so heartbreaking?

Will: Mahershala Ali

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I regretfully haven’t seen Green Book, but Ali’s been racking up this Award Season, making it hard to see anyone else win in this category; one of the few locks of this year’s Oscar.


Supporting Actress

Amy Adams – Vice as Lynne Cheney

Marina de Tavira – Roma as Sofía

Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk as Sharon Rivers

Emma Stone – The Favourite as Abigail Masham

Rachel Weisz – The Favourite as Sarah Churchill

Should: Rachel Weisz/Emma Stone

Two of the very best performances you’ll find this year. Weisz and Stone act off their jealousy of one another to such a perfect degree, I’d be happy with either of them winning the award.

Will: Regina King

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King is an odds-on favorite, having won the Golden Globes and Critic’s Choice Award for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk. Though I didn’t find myself particularly enthralled by her performance, I’d still be happy to see her win nevertheless.


Lead Actress

Yalitza Aparicio – Roma as Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez

Glenn Close – The Wife as Joan Castleman

Olivia Colman – The Favourite as Anne, Queen of Great Britain

Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born as Ally Maine

Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me? as Lee Israel

Should: Olivia Colman

I sadly haven’t seen The Wife, so I’ll have to make do with Olivia Colman’s star making performance as Queen Anne. Though she’s certainly well known (Hot Fuzz, Broadchurch), Colman finally gets her public due in a role of a lifetime. The range of emotions that she conveys, sometimes within the same scene, is insane as well as a glory to behold. A helpless, lonely, comedically clumsy Queen rooted in tragedy, Olivia Colman shines in a film that is already filled to the brim with the brilliance of her fellow thespians.

Will: Glenn Close

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And it’s about damn time, too!


Lead Actor

Christian Bale – Vice as Dick Cheney

Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born as Jackson “Jack” Maine

Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate as Vincent van Gogh

Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody as Freddie Mercury

Viggo Mortensen – Green Book as Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga

Should: Christian Bale

Though I adore Rami Malek’s role in Bohemian Rhapsody (it’s the only good part of the movie), Christian Bale’s turn as Dick Cheney is not only insane from a visual front, but is a performance that elevates the material of Vice. Had the role been played by a lesser actor, I feel the rest of the film wouldn’t be as effective as it was. Bale captures the mannerisms, famously monotonous manner of the former VP to the absolute tee, in a juggling act that doesn’t glorify or outright condemn the man himself, but helps us see things through his deranged eyes.

Will: Rami Malek

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Rami’s been sweeping this award’s season, and I don’t see the Oscars having it any other way. Also, it helps that the Academy loves biopics and the acting roles in those biopics, bonus points if it’s about a musician.



Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman

Paweł Pawlikowski – Cold War

Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite

Alfonso Cuarón – Roma

Adam McKay – Vice

Should: Alfonso Cuaron

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To some, the pacing and direction of Roma is weightless and, for a lack of a better term, boring. I hate to get on my high horse, but as someone who studies film and artistic intent, Cuaron’s direction in Roma is a masterclass in intimate and emotional filmmaking. Every tilt or pan of the camera, every second of another expertly done long take, and the bluntness in which he displays the film’s emotional turmoil is astonishing. The award for Best Director should go to a film that, had it been directed by someone else, the movie would be fatally worse for it. Alfonso Cuaron is the only man who could’ve directed Roma, because it’s his story, his brainchild, his memories, and we’re all the better for watching it.


Cuaron, although Spike Lee has a real chance at an upset.


Best Picture

A Brief Rundown of the Nominees:

Black Panther ­– pretty good, just shy of greatness.

BlacKkKlansman – fantastic tale of the past that mirrors the present.

Bohemian Rhapsody – bland, unoriginal biopic that’s boosted by its music.

The Favourite – brilliantly crafted, well acted, deliciously twisted.

Green Book – trailer looks dope.

Roma – exercise in personal filmmaking. Alienating for some, beautifully open for others

A Star is Born – familiar story elevated by top form directing and acting.

Vice – off the wall, uneven yet endlessly intriguing political biopic with a legendary performance.

Should: The Favourite

I’ve written about why I love The Favourite in past posts, but I cannot sing this film’s praises enough. Yorgos Lathimos channels his inner Kubrick and makes a spellbinding picture that’s to be admired for its entertainment value as well as its top tier craftsmanship. It’s the sharpest film of the year, and for a film about love, betrayal, and the surprising similarities between the two, I’d say that’s fitting.


Will: Roma

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Still, this is the year of Roma, and I do not see any other film winning Best Picture. The Academy loves historical dramas, and have already honored Cuaron for Gravity. Like Birdman and The Shape of Water before it, this year’s Best Picture is being awarded to a film by one of the Three Amigos of Cinema.

The Best Films of 2018

After watching yesterday’s Oscar nominations, I’d realized that I neglected to write a list of my favorite films from 2018. Ironically enough, my new year’s resolution is to be more punctual. Nevertheless, different from years’ past, instead of doing a traditional Top 10 list, I’ve elected to just highlight films that I flat out love, in no particular order, culminating in a Top 5 list. Without further ado, let’s get started.



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Josie Radek: Imagine dying frightened and in pain and having that as the only part of you which survives.

Following up his 2015 tech marvel Ex Machina, Alex Garland goes in head first within sci-fi horror. The end result is a weird, confusing, but endlessly fascinating breach into the unknown reminiscent of Alien. The storytelling techniques can easily surprise and even turn people off from the film, but what’s found here is a gloriously original and unapologetically fearless science fiction odyssey that cements Alex Garland as a director to look out for.


Isle of Dogs

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Nutmeg: Will you help him, the little pilot?

Chief: Why should I?

Nutmeg: Because he’s a twelve year old boy, dogs love those.

The first truly great film of 2018. Wes Anderson has always been a delight of a filmmaker to watch, constantly coming up with new and inventive ways to tell his stories. Isle of Dogs is Anderson at top form, following each wondrous scene with something new and endlessly evocative. Stop motion animation feels tailor made to the man’s style, long, symmetrical shots that can easily be a beautiful desktop wallpaper. Armed with his trademark quirk, humor, and comically illustrious cast, Isle of Dogs is yet another stroke of genius from a man who makes it look easy.


Avengers: Infinity War


Thanos: I know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail nonetheless. It’s frightening, turns the legs to jelly. I ask you to what end? Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same. And now it’s here. Or should I say, I am.

The idea and possibility of superhero fatigue will always persist, but for a fleeting moment, I can honestly say Avengers: Infinity War made such an idea nonexistent. The ten year experiment known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be one, colossal failure if this movie didn’t work. The Russo Brothers are to be applauded for their expert management of ten years worth of movie lore and countless superhero icons that constantly fill the screen. The two hour, twenty minute run time goes by like a Saturday morning cartoon, always delivering information and surprises that makes Infinity War not only one of the best MCU films ever, but one of the most eventful, spectacular moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had.



First Reformed

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Reverend Ernst Toller: Will God forgive us for what we’re doing to his creation?

For all intents and purposes, I can say with confidence that First Reformed could very well be the greatest faith based film of the decade. What is known as “Christian Cinema” is typically filled with shallow, pandering and emotionally manipulative movies that hardly serve any purpose other than to preach to the choir of its audience. To tell a story of one’s faith and their struggles keeping it can be endlessly interesting and profound, and Paul Schrader knows this. The man behind Taxi Driver dives deep into the psyche of a Priest who finds himself in extreme conflict with the world around him, and the very God he swears by. This is a slow burn in every sense of the word, and can be seen as boring, or uneventful, but what draws me to First Reformed is Ethan Hawke’s understated but virtuous performance, and the methodical approach of storytelling Schrader adopts to tell a story that’s dependent on faith, and the psychological and emotional toll it can bring.


Sorry to Bother You

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Cassius Green: This place is fucking nuts.

Steve Lift: Thank you for the backhanded compliment.

The true WTF film of the year, and I mean it in the best way possible. Boots Riley creates a satire that is outrageously hyperbolic but feels like a legit vision of the future if we play our cards wrong. The comedy can be subtle to in your face in mere moments without losing any momentum. The less said about the plot, the better, as there are legitimate surprises and moments of batsh*t ingenuity. Just know that Sorry to Bother You is a wholly original meditation of what it means to live the American Dream, and how it could be one’s paradise whilst being another’s hell.



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If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself alone, who am I? If not now, when? And if not you, who?

I can seldom consider a movie to be “important”, but the very basis of art is self-expression in the context of the here and now. Spike Lee’s latest joint is a glorious return to form for the filmmaker. Telling the true story of a black police officer (a star-making performance from John David Washington) secretly infiltrating the KKK is an outrageous premise, but turns out to be one of the most relevant and outspoken pieces of cinema in quite some time. As mentioned before, Washington (son of Denzel) is electric as the lead, and Adam Driver is hilarious as Washington’s partner aiding operation. Topher Grace is terrifyingly charismatic and down to earth as David Duke, showing how a likability and niceness can erase any true notion of prejudice and evil. What makes BlackKklansman special is context. The political fever pitch we constantly reside is the DNA of this film, a comedy, drama, thriller, blaxpoitation tribute, history lesson and PSA the evils of today, making us wonder how did we end up here.


Eighth Grade

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Eighth grade is the worst.

Written and directed by Bo Burnham, the one word I think of when Eighth Grade comes to mind is “genuine”. His depiction of late middle school life is sharply well done, complete with dialogue consisting of ramblings, stuttering and hilariously accurate use of “like”. Far too many teen films paint a glossy, glitzed up portrait of adolescence, with perfect hair and makeup being the name of the game. Elsie Fisher is terrifically vulnerable and achingly convincing as Kayla as she clumsily maneuvers her way through the labyrinthian maze of adolescence, making Eighth Grade a brush of youthful brilliance.


A Star is Born

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Jack talked about how music is essentially twelve notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes.

“Feels” is the name of the game for A Star is Born. This is a picture that expresses joy, love, lament, anger, regret and pure bliss in a constant, brisk basis, thanks to Bradley Cooper’s directing talent. Many expressed surprise that Cooper was such a capable filmmaker, but take a look at his line of work and the directors he’s worked with (David O’Russell, Clint Eastwood and Derek Cianfrance) and it becomes a no brainer. The film is, like La La Land, a testament to the artistic spirits of people who fear to have their voices heard, in fear of judgement or ridicule. For Mia, it was to cheer “the fools who dream”, and for Lady Gaga’s Ally, it was to sing her heart out in front of thousands in “Shallow”. The timidity slowly turning into inescapable conviction is near biblical in its execution and emotional value. A Star is Born is an emotional piece of cinema, but is never pandering or manipulative, as Bradley Cooper mans the ship of a familiar yet resonant story with career best performances from himself, Lady Gaga and the mythically awesome Sam Elliott (how can someone make backing out of a driveway so heartbreaking?).


First Man

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Pete Conrad: Neil, I was sorry to hear about your daughter.

Neil Armstrong: I’m sorry, is there a question?

Pete Conrad: What I… What I mean is… Do you think it’ll have an effect?

Neil Armstrong: I think it would be unreasonable to assume that it wouldn’t have some effect.

I’ve reviewed First Man already, and also highlighting Ryan Gosling’s performance, so I’ll make this brief. Damien Chazelle is a filmmaking maestro, making 3 films that are brilliant in their own, unique ways. Though it doesn’t reach the highs of his predecessors, lightning never strikes twice, let alone thrice. First Man is a personal tale about the man himself, culminating in a finale that is visually spectacular and emotionally poetic.


Free Solo

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Let’s hope for a low-gravity day.

The all too true tale of Alex Honnold’s journey to climb “El Capitan” is the subject of Free Solo. The world of free solo climbing is an obscure one as well as an insane one. Just one slight misstep can spell sudden death for the climber, and having seen the film without knowing the outcome of Honnold’s big climb, the 90 minute runtime was one of, if not the most suspenseful, intense, anxiety inducing experiences I’ve ever had in the cinema. You catch a glimpse of Honnold’s everyday life, ranging from daily exercises to personal quirks that make him such an interesting protagonist. The climbing sequences are spectacularly well done as it captures the patience testing aspect of the climb while showing the personally sky high stakes within the same frame. If you don’t mind your palms to sweat a gallon’s worth, then Free Solo is absolutely worth viewing.



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Love and manipulation, they share houses very often. They are frequent bedfellows.

Call me squeamish, but I was so, so close at walking out early on my viewing of the Suspiria remake. The inciting incident (I dare not spoil it) made my stomach churn in a way I’d hardly experience before. Luckily I trudged through, loving nearly every minute afterwards. Luca Guadagnino crafts a film that harkens back to the low budget horror cinema of old, using film grain, crash zooms and framing that just screams “throwback”. This is one of the films that I’d advise to watch without knowing much about it, as every surprise and bit of story progression was done to perfection. Dakota Johnson turns in a performance that is terrific, and Tilda Swinton gives off serious Lancaster Dodd vibes, once again showing her incomparable range as an actor. Being one of the most polarizing films of 2018, I found myself in love with Suspiria, an unapologetically horrific and ambitious picture that’s unbound by convention.



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Veronica: [to her gang] Now the best thing we have going for us, is being who we are.

Alice: Why ?

Veronica: Because no-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.

 Steve McQueen follows up Oscar glory with a heist film that actually cares about filmmaking and has actual regard for storytelling. He uses an all star cast to full effect in a tale of twists, turns and character. The use of long takes is a staple for McQueen, and his use here, whether it’s one featuring a car ride, or a scene stealing Daniel Kaluuya in a basketball court, what elevates a familiar premise is Gillian Flynn’s brilliant screenplay and the director’s brilliance as a filmmaker. His use of music, particularly a scene featuring Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind” works graciously, is done to great satisfaction. Widows reaches the highs that Ocean’s 8 merely dreamed of, showcasing that the heist film can still have some tricks up its sleeve.


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Sra. Sofía: We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.

Netflix has a true award caliber film in Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. I primarily mention directors when talking about a given film, since its their vision that the audience sees. Not only does Cuaron work as writer/director, but handles the cinematography and even serves as editor, truly making this film his very own. With that being said, Roma is receiving unanimous acclaim, and I feel that anyone watching it can very well psyche themselves out, expecting the film to be in a certain way, being underwhelmed by the final product.

For me, Roma is an absolute triumph of film. Cuaron helms an intimate, painfully personal look into the life of a housemaid as she experiences various hardships. The presentation lacks closeups or swelling music to highlight the more somber moments. Characters don’t scream at the top of their lungs, and the camera doesn’t intrude the character’s personal space. Cuaron presents a window into another life, one filled with inner turmoil and burdened with truths that she should’ve never known about. It’s up to you whether you want to take a peek.

Paddington 2

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Aunt Lucy said, if we’re kind and polite the world will be right.

The fact that Paddington 2 has been essentially absent awards wise is downright sickening. In a time of perpetual bleakness and cynicism, this marmalade loving bear is a damn ray of sunshine, evoking the best out of everyone he meets. Beyond being a feelgood film, Paddington 2 is a fantastically well made film, featuring top notch comedy bits and an animated sequence that rivals the creativity of some of the very best animated films today. Lovingly made by Paul King, the themes of family are the hearbeat of this film, being one of the most heartwarming and wholesome pictures of recent memory. This bear will change your life (probably).



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I will not apologize for keeping your family safe. And I will not apologize for doing what needed to be done so that your loved ones could sleep peacefully at night. It has been my honor to be your servant.

The political spectrum is one currently paved in outraged immediacy, and Adam McKay is fully aware of it. Vice is said to be a biopic of Dick Cheney and his ascendance up the Washington ladder, and while it very much is, it shows the groundwork and foundation of what has made our political climate so toxic and morally decadent. McKay is at his most meta, breaking fourth walls seamlessly without halting the pacing of his picture, honing his style that The Big Short made famous. Christian Bale is award worthy as Cheney, unsurprisingly immersing himself in the role to the point where he’s unrecognizable. Vice has understandably been met with polarizing opinions, as politics inherently make a divide. McKay’s thesis doesn’t consist of condemning or endorsing the former Vice President, but shows his actions as a way to ask a question all countrymen need to confront: “Do we draw a line in our love of country?”


And now, my Top 5:


  1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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Delivery Man: Fate whispers to the warrior.

Ethan Hunt: A storm is coming.

Delivery Man: And the warrior whispers back.

Ethan Hunt: I am the storm.

Being a lifelong fan of the M:I franchise, I find myself stunned that nearly a quarter decade after the first entry, the series has never been more renowned and prevalent than now. We’re talking six movies in a series that honestly could’ve been shelved with how bad the second one was. Fallout is not only the best installment of the Mission series, but stands as one of the greatest action films ever made. Every composite of an action scene is done harmoniously with every preceding scene, resulting in an action spectacle second to none. Whether it’s Ethan Hunt riding a motorcycle into oncoming traffic with the music amped to 11, or a brutal fight in a restroom accompanied by nothing but punches, grunts and razor sharp intensity, the film is a pure action bliss. Tom Cruise is on top form, climbing mountains, jumping out of helicopters, and even flying a helicopter, sparing no expense to ensure that the audience gets the best experience possible. What can’t be overstated,, however, is Christopher McQuarrie’s efforts as a writer and director. His near orchestral conduction of story and spectacle is a stroke of pure genius, challenging an entire genre of film and saying “checkmate”.


  1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.

The task of every film is to entertain, inform and, well, justify its own existence. Some films exist to entertain, and others elect to lecture. The beauty of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the entertainment value is seamlessly woven with its information. The documentary is about Mr. Rodgers as it is also about one’s capacity to do good, and be a beacon of positivity. Learning about the man’s personal demons not only recontextualizes certain aspects of his show, but also showcases how one decides to tackle their demons. It’s truly inspiring to see a man handle his inner plight by preaching love and patient understanding. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is truly essential viewing, as it reminds us that nobody is above lending a helping hand: now more than ever, we need one.


  1. The Favourite

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Abigail: My dear friend and cousin, how good to see you’ve returned from…

Lady Sarah: Hell. I’m sure you shall pass through it one day.

Easily the best acted film of the year. The trifecta of Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are an a force to be reckoned with, emoting with the greatest of ease while delivering dialogue as sharp as a double-edged sword. The production and costume design are insanely authentic and detailed, blurring the lines of a film set into 18th century Britain. Yorgos Lathimos is certainly a required taste, with nearly all his films meeting a polarizing response. Though he’s not a writer here, The Favourite has his trademarks all over it, an edgy, darkly hilarious, gorgeously twisted tale of attempted superiority.


  1. Hereditary

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Charlie: Who’s gonna take care of me?

Annie: Uh, excuse me? You don’t think I’m gonna take care of you?

Charlie: But when you die?

Never being one for horror films, going into watch Hereditary was purely incidental. I didn’t watch any trailers, read any review, knowing absolutely nothing about it apart from the poster showing the character of Charlie. Two hours later, I was stunned in silence over what I’d seen. Hereditary is a modern day horror masterpiece, cementing its quality of terror alongside true horror classics from before. What is so affecting about the movie is the constant, yet subdued sense of dread in the beginning, hinting to the audience that the worst will inevitably come. When it comes, the rest is history. Toni Collette is wondrous as Annie, a tour de force that was shamelessly and stupidly snubbed by this year’s Oscars. Time will be kinder to Hereditary, though. Ari Aster has gone on record saying that he wanted the movie to feel “evil”, an experience that was truly terrifying. He’s done it, as Hereditary is a grim, stressful and sinister picture that checkmates what a modern day horror movie could and should be.


  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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*excerpt from screenplay*


“When do I know I’m Spider-Man?”

BACK ON MILES– Moving closer and closer to the edge.

PETER (V.O.)“You won’t. That’s all it is, Miles… a leap of faith.”

Miles walks to the edge of the roof, the wind buffeting…

and LEAPS! The camera is UPSIDE DOWN. Miles isn’t falling

through frame. He’s RISING.


Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired and replaced from a well known project, and went on to produce and help write another movie. The film they were booted from became the first Star Wars flop, and the film they helped make changed the superhero genre forever.

What a year for Spider-Man. After being a huge highlight in Infinity War (“I don’t feel so good) and being part of one of the best superhero games ever made, the true crowning achievement for the character, and for superhero films in general, is found Into the Spider-Verse. Apart from the visual glory (that I detailed in my review) and the pitch perfect comedy, this is a deconstruction yet celebration of Stan Lee’s greatest creation. We’re constantly reminded why we love the character of Spider-Man, not only as children, but now as adults who need to take that “leap of faith”. Miles Morales’ arc is the thing of legend. His plight of finding his true potential, to find that spark of greatness, culminating in him jumping off that building, stands as the most satisfying and awe inspiring moment of 2018. Where countless comic book films try to be the next Dark Knight, what makes a great film great is pure ingenuity, the illusion that what you see on screen isn’t predetermined or predictable, as if you’re watching events as they happen. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a hectic, melodic (that soundtrack!), fever dream of a film that stands as the very best that cinema can offer in 2018.





The Most Surprising Movies of 2018

As one very intelligent philosopher said, expectations are a devil, aren’t they? It’s so easy to overhype a film from a two minute trailer, only to have that hype squandered with the final product. However, it’s even easier to be a cynic in this day and age, watching a two minute trailer and thinking “that’s got to be a terrible movie.” Surprisingly though, there are a number of films that were seemingly destined to fail, and miraculously ended up being quality films.


Crazy Rich Asians

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God forbid we lose the ancient Chinese tradition of guilting your children.

The trailer for Crazy Rich Asians did absolutely nothing to convince me that it was going to be nothing more than a dopey, melodramatic affair. Upon watching it, however, I can honestly say I had a legitimately good time. The character of Rachel Chu and her determination to have the approval of her boyfriend’s very protective mother is the heart of the film, complete with great performances across the board. The surprising standout is Akwafina, who delivers some of the very best laughs in the entire film. Her comedic timing is razor sharp, enough to make haters into fans, myself included. Though it isn’t groundbreaking, Crazy Rich Asians is a cultural milestone that is respectful of its heritage yet lucid to the ever changing times that heed a response. Also, it has what could be the most beautiful wedding ever put on film.



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Grey Trace: See, you thought I was a cripple but you didn’t know that I’m a ninja.

Stem: While I am state of the art, I am not a ninja.

I somewhat expected Upgrade to be a tolerable film, but MAN OH MAN did I not see this coming. It’s a Rated R retelling of Ratatouille, and this time, he’s serving up kills.

I’ll see myself out.

Still, Leigh Whannell’s futuristic revenge tale is everything that Venom should have been: Violent, creative in its shocking violence, a reluctant hero, and a lurid sense of fun. The future aesthetic feels as though it takes place in the Blade Runner universe but still feels like Whannell’s brainchild with its soaring creativity. Upgrade is an insane piece of cinema, unbridled and uncompromised by convention, delivering a refreshingly original and at times innovative sci-fi film.


Sicario: Day of the Soldado

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Matt Graver: You gonna help us start a war.

Alejandro: With who?

Matt Graver: Everyone.           

Well what do ya know, this didn’t suck. I can’t say that after watching the first Sicario, I thought to myself “Oh boy, we need a cinematic universe of this!”. Though not directed by Denis Villeneuve, Day of the Soldado is once again written by Taylor Sheridan, who’s been proving to be a great writer/director in his own right, so the tone and feel of the original is very much intact. Stefano Sollima is at the helm and, though he does do a brilliant job as director, it pales in comparison to Villeneuve’s masterful direction that made the original an modern classic. Fortunately, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin are the main focuses this time around, and they are in top form. Day of the Soldado is a perfectly fine companion piece to the 2015 original, developing del Toro’s already-iconic character of Alejandro even further, and actually having me want there to be a third film. Here’s hoping!



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Laurie Strode: I always knew he’d come back. In this town, Michael Myers is a myth. He’s the Boogeyman. A ghost story to scare kids. But this Boogeyman is real. An evil like his never stops, it just grows older. Darker. More determined. Forty years ago, he came to my home to kill. He killed my friends, and now he’s back to finish what he started, with me. The one person who’s ready to stop him.

It’s incredible that it took four decades, but we finally got a good Halloween sequel. Having spent the summer prior watching every film in the series, I had zero expectations for this new installment. The lore of the Halloween series is downright comedic, and it was an act of wisdom that David Gordon-Green and co. decided to retcon all of the sequels, leaving this and the 1978 original canon. The end result is something surprisingly well done. To me, what made Michael Myers the quintessential horror icon is the lack of information. We don’t know what motivates him to kill, or if he even gets pleasure from it. He is the embodiment of pure evil, and that’s reason enough to be frightened. Halloween 2018 knows this, and delivers the most satisfying portrayal of Michael Myers to date. The tracking shot of Michael Myers going from house to house is worth the price of admission. Though there’s some questionable comedy (“I got peanut butter on my penis!”), and some truly baffling character decisions that grinds the film to a complete halt at one point, Jamie Lee Curtis’ homecoming to the series breathes new life into the once dead franchise, with a phenomenal score by series creator John Carpenter to boot.



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Agent Burns: [to Charlie and Bumblebee] Don’t run. Do *not* run.

[Bumblebee runs off, carrying Charlie]

Agent Burns: She ran.

After twelve years and five horrifically dated films, the Transformers series finally netted a good, at times great entry. Being notorious for its portrayal of its women and the damsels they play, the inclusion of Hailee Steinfeld as the lead Charlie is more-than-welcome change of pace. It’s quite the testament to this film for being able to stand on its own, while belittling the crass humor and racist undertones that Michael Bay’s films ravished in. Steinfeld is typically fantastic, playing a wide range of emotion to perfection, once again showing us that she’s an actress to look out for. John Cena is reliably charismatic, though a little offputting in the more serious scenes with his character, which is ironic considering the sheer mass of the man. The title character is done lovingly, with director Travis Knight conducting a Transformer story that actually does the original cartoon justice, implementing a tone that evokes adolescent wonder reminiscent of ET (to a certain fault). In the end, though it’s not as flashy or explosion filled as its predecessors, Bumblebee has its feet on the grown, delivering a down-to-earth film that isn’t focused on its ludicrous action, and instead acts as a much needed breath of fresh air for the series.


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David Kim: I didn’t know her. I didn’t know my daughter.

A huge temptation when making a movie is to end up being preachy. Every film has a message, an intention, sure, but that message is almost always conveyed best when its conveyed with subtlety. Searching is very much a cautionary tale concerning social media and the prevalent and constant dangers it can produce with ease. However, there was no point where the message overwhelmed or stole the narrative’s momentum, telling a story of a father desperately looking for his missing daughter. John Cho delivers a career best performance, perfectly invoking the confusion, uncertainty, anger, anguish that his character is burdened with throughout the film. The main surprise here is the near perfect and terrifying portrayal of social media websites and the dreadful trends we all see on our feed. This isn’t pandering, though it easily could’ve been, and instead portrays those trends and regularities with the terror and oddness that, deep down inside, we all know it to be.


The Most Disappointing Movies of 2018

Expectations are a devil, aren’t they? As moviegoers, we should be trained and privy to how a movie can disappoint us, no matter how much we want it to be good. Whether it’s a new entry to a famed franchise, or a new film from an acclaimed filmmaker, I found myself disappointed from more films in 2018 than previous years. In any event, though, here’s some films that could have been so much, much more.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

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Moment of Cringe: Charlie Day given way more material than anyone asked for; the “TROLLOLOL” song plays as a way to calm one of the characters; the terrible YouTube ads featuring a stupidly mixed Tupac song.

I didn’t even love Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 original, but it delivered in being an overtop, adrenaline pumping epic that’s fluent in spectacle. Uprising, however, from the very first frame, loses any and all sense of adventure that the original had. I wanted to root for this film, since I never even thought a sequel to Pacific Rim would be in the cards, but with a terrible script, huge disregard for returning characters, and a lack of ingenuity, Pacific Rim: Uprising truly makes you wish Idris Elba never canceled the Apocalypse in the first place.


Solo: A Star Wars Story

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Moment of Cringe: Having an Imperial Officer name Han “Solo”, as if we needed that explanation.

While Solo has grown on me through repeat viewings, it’s still impossible to think of what the film could’ve been if all of those directorial conflicts were avoided. Ron Howard directs a fairly well made film in the span of six months, which is nothing to short change. However, knowing that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were originally slated to bring Han Solo back to his former glory, Solo feels like a missed opportunity, a competently done film that nobody asked for in the first place. At least we know Han speaks Wookie, I guess.


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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Moment of Cringe: Chris Pratt running away from a meteor shower; Bryce Dallas Howard bringing the most unqualified people possible to the island, “Oh you’re a computer guy? Help me man the Jurassic World security system!”; The New Dinosaur follows laser pointers; the guy with a dinosaur tooth fetish; the use of Jeff Goldblum.

I’ve never considered myself to be much of a Jurassic Park fan. The films were oddly absent throughout my childhood, and I’d only seen the original the day before I saw the first Jurassic World. Though Fallen Kingdom is helmed by JA Bayona, giving the film a darker, more horror-twist to the increasingly stale series, any sliver of innovation on his part is floundered and essentially invalidated by the horrendous screenplay. The idea of destroying Isla Nublar is an admittedly ballsy one, and the same could be said for having the film take place in a large mansion, but any potential this change of pace is floundered from a lack of focus for the passage of events and the delusion that we actually care about these characters.

Bohemian Rhapsody

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Moment of Cringe: Nothing, really. Just underwhelming.

Apart from the showstealing Live Aid performance and Rami Malek’s incredible transformation as Freddie Mercury, Bohemian Rhapsody barely scratches the surface in regards to its subject. Strip away the music and the amazing lead performance, and you get a by the numbers biopic that isn’t interested in giving a compelling narrative so much as it wants to remind you of Queen’s iconic discography by just playing Under Pressure in the background. Rhapsody is also notable for its well documented directorial troubles, culminating in a film that is oddly timid to take any real chances, something Freddie Mercury encouraged on the daily.


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Moment of Cringe: Just about everything.

The character of Venom is my favorite Spider-Man villain, so the idea of a Venom movie WITHOUT Spider-Man was odd to say the very least. Apart from Tom Hardy’s performance as Eddie Brock and even voicing Venom, the film is just stale. Venom feels like a film stuck in time, feeling like it’d be better suited to be released in the early 2000’s than in the current highs of the superhero genre. The character of Eddie Brock is nobody to root for, but the movie insists upon it, completely missing the mark as to what made the character great. Oh, and Woody Harrelson’s wig is atrocious.

Welcome to Marwen

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Moment of Cringe: Zemeckis doing a self parody

Robert Zemeckis is one of the most innovative and prolific filmmakers in history, constantly pushing the boundaries of what a movie can show and be. The man has always flirted with technology, delivering all time classics such as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Forrest Gump. His latest, Welcome to Marwen, is a misfire from almost every direction. While the concept of blending animation and live action is certainly clever, especially when taking into account the real life subject, the execution is somewhat unsettling. The predominant theme is trauma, as we follow Mark Hogancamp’s struggle with everyday life after suffering a vicious assault. The idea of incorporating Hogancamp’s use of dolls into the story sounds profound and tailormade to the kind of emotion Zemeckis is known for, but Welcome to Marwen has no idea of what it wants to be: an action blockbuster? A romance? A comedy? A PTSD drama? The end result is a sad, disappointing mess.

The Predator

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Moment of Cringe: Existing

I really don’t know who to blame for this film being such a letdown. I don’t know if Shane Black is to blame, or 20th Century Fox for ordering extensive reshoots, or God himself for allowing this movie to be made. The 1987 original Predator is an action/horror masterpiece, being a masterclass in suspense filmmaking while containing quite possibly the most masculine and testosterone fueled cast of brawny men in history. It’s a classic in every sense of the word, and I have always found myself waiting for a new entry to live up to the quality of the original. I held out hope for The Predator because of Shane Black, a filmmaker known to deliver layered, thoughtful and subversive comedies (Iron Man 3 is way better than you remember). Hell, Black was in the original film, playing the vulgar Hawkins. The miscalculation of The Predator is so large and monumental that a simple journal entry can’t do it justice. This is the epitome of what’s wrong with the filmmaking industry: cash grabs done with the wrong people, both in front of the camera and behind it. There is not a single moment of ingenuity or innovation that justifies its existence, than being a hollow, sad shell of a franchise that once had potential. The Predator is, as Arnold said “one ugly motherf***er”.

My Favorite Performances of 2018

I have seen an absurd amount of movies over the last calendar year, and with my financial detriment in the form of movie tickets comes the amazing chance to witness fantastic performances on the silver screen. This isn’t a Top 10 list, nor is the placement of any of these performances comprehensive (except for the last one), so without further ado, here’s to my favorite performances of 2018:

Joaquin Phoenix You Were Never Really Here

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As more time passes by, and as he widens his filmography, the more I begin to recognize how much of an underappreciated acting juggernaut Joaquin Phoenix is. You Were Never Really Here finds Phoenix as a Travis Bickle-type hitman who rescues kidnapped little girls. Burdened by PTSD from his time in the military and FBI, the character of Joe is a physical embodiment volatility: a man who wants to do good but is constantly pushed to the edge by his psyche. Phoenix sinks his teeth into the role, once again showcasing his incredible range and ability as an actor, being the true highlight of an equally stellar and offbeat film.

Josh Brolin –Avengers: Infinity War

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Perhaps the most common criticism of the MCU is the shortage of truly memorable villains. The more recent films have actually drastically improved this glaring flaw (see Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther) but any improvement would be moot if the franchise big bad was anything less than stellar. Luckily enough, Josh Brolin’s Thanos was damn good. Though done entirely through motion capture, Brolin brings an unexpected humanity that actually makes you identify with the Titan hellbent on genocide. The very success of Infinity War was riding on Thanos. Never before has a MCU villain been as hyped up and mythologized as he, with several characters speaking of him through hushed tones and discomfort. Brolin plays Thanos to absolute perfection, capping off the ten year experiment known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe . Also, if your character is given the meme treatment, you’ve done something right.

Mackenzie Davis – Tully

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I feel Tully flew under the radar, hardly reaching anyone’s best of lists. Nevertheless, the picture features two of the best performances of 2018. It’s no surprise that Charlize Theron delivers a stunning portrayal of a mother of 3 (she gained about 50 pounds for the role), but what was truly the gem of Tully was Mackenzie Davis’ turn as the title character. Her likability, laid back nature and energy was what Theron’s character had essentially forgotten. Her twenty-something naivete and optimism is absolutely contagious to not only the character, but to the viewer. Up to that point, Theron was a punching bag in every aspect of her life, as a mother and a wife. Davis’ inclusion to the film lightens the character’s load, and brings a calmness and comfort to the rest of the film that works in spades due to the actor’s charisma. With Blade Runner 2049 and now Tully, Mackenzie Davis is truly one to look out for.

Ethan Hawke – First Reformed

Related imageFirst Reformed is religious film done right, and Ethan Hawke is frighteningly terrific as a Priest of a failing church who is trying to prevent a tragedy in other’s lives. The synopsis given was a vague one, and rightfully so. First Reformed is less about the passage of events and more of the emotional impact that these events bring. Hawke plays a man of conviction, who has been labored by personal tragedy. His subtlety and down to earth nature is not a performance of indifference, but rather one of an attempt to keep emotions at bay amidst turmoil.

Tom Cruise – M:I – Fallout

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Say what you will about the man, but the actor by the name of Tom Cruise is the definition of a movie star. Charismatic, likable, charming and eager to take on new challenges, perhaps his best work could be found in the latest Mission: Impossible film. Once again performing his own stunts (the man flies a helicopter AND ride a motorcycle through oncoming traffic), Cruise’s dedication to the craft of acting and the filmmaking process is something to marvel. He knows the character of Ethan Hunt like the back of his hand, giving an all time great Mission performance, whether it be in the air, or in the ground.

Ryan Gosling – First Man

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Ryan Gosling’s turn as Neil Armstrong was a polarizing one, displaying a stoic and distant man, a far cry from the American hero that pop culture loves to paint. First Man is about Armstrong’s humanity amidst accomplishing the greatest human achievement in history, and Gosling delivers a performance that perfectly compliments this narrative subversion. Quiet, calculating, and burdened by tragedy, the Neil Armstrong brought to life by Ryan Gosling is less about a man sticking an American flag on the moon, but rather a character study of a man overcoming his personal demons amongst impossibly historic circumstances

Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody

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Bohemian Rhapsody is a textbook example of how an actor can elevate the material. The film’s writing, character development and creative liberties make up a mostly mediocre and by the numbers biopic, but Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury is a pure delight. Malek’s mannerisms, walking, talking and overall demeanor as the Queen front man is on point, being less of an imitation of the man and more of a physical manifestation of the man. Malek has gone on record as to the extensive research he’d undertaken for the part, and every bit of it shows and shines beautifully, even if the rest of the movie doesn’t.

Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz – The Favourite

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More so than any of the films, I couldn’t decide which performance to single out than in The Favourite. All three of these actresses come in with their A game from the opening moments of the film to the moments the credits start rolling. Every bit of humor, spite, jealousy and envy found in these characters are perfectly captured and expressed by this trio, delivering three of my top three favorite performances of the year. The Favourite could very well be my favorite film of 2018, with the efforts of Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz delivering a pure masterclass of the art of acting.

Yalitza Aparicio – Roma

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The name of the game for Roma is realism. Director Alfonso Cuaron writes and directs a story told from the deep recesses of his memory as a child. A near masterpiece in filmmaking, the true heart and soul lies within Yalitza Aparicio’s take as a housemaid to a Mexican family. The hardships and trauma, whether it be physical or emotional, understandably hit Cleo like a ton of bricks. However, where a lesser film resorts to insert sad music or have the character deliver a monologue only seen on the silver screen, we find characters and emotions that are deeply personal and intimate, and Aparicio, a real life school teacher, captures emotional turmoil only truly felt within life itself.

Christian Bale – Vice

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Famously known to go insanely deep for his roles, Christian Bale does no different in Vice as former Vice President Dick Cheney. Gaining more than forty pounds and wearing a fair amount of prosthetics, the British Oscar winner brings one of the most polarizing and vilified political figures to life. Bale perfectly captures the rugged, famously monotonous nature of Cheney to full force, bringing an attention to detail seen in only Daniel Day-Lewis films. Vice has garnered sharply divided responses across the cinematic and political spectrums, but Bale’s turn as the title character is truly something to behold: a talent who shows no sign of slowing down.

Toni Collette – Hereditary

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Just the mere thought of Hereditary brings a sense of discomfort. It’s a modern horror classic with a downright amazing performance by Toni Collette. Say what you will about Hereditary, but a common consensus among virtually all reviews was that of Collette’s performance. Playing a mother reeling off the death of her children’s grandmother, Collette is a damn acting heavyweight in every scene that requires her brilliance. Her character of Annie experiences enough tragedy and trauma to cover the entire family ten fold and she delivers such a convincing and emotionally powerful masterclass. It is a long shot, with it being a horror film, but an Oscar nomination and win is more than deserving here, my favorite acting performance of 2018.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse – Movie Review

3E47320A-3EAC-485C-83D8-3B3F1C4A6E64Hard to believe that just four short years ago, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 acted as a second nail in the cinematic coffin for the webslinger. After the film’s loathsome critical reception tagged with a high, but supposedly disappointing box office return, Sony buckled down and granted Marvel Studios to welcome the character home in the MCU. Ever since 2016’s brilliant Captain America: Civil War, the character of Spider-Man has once again become a fan favorite, whether it be in part to Tom Holland’s pitch perfect portrayal, or the wondrous highs that the PS4 game had in mass abundance. Now, in the twilight of 2018, Sony once again takes another crack at making a Spidey picture. This time, with the help of Sony Animation, the final result is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a weird, offbeat and gloriously entertaining odyssey that perfectly captures the essence of the title character in ways never seen before. Sony has finally struck gold.

Into The Spider-Verse is the first film to center on fan favorite Miles Morales. The film follows his all too relatable high school days, as he maneuvers through one awkward encounter after another. Complete with a conflicted family life at home, we can truly see Miles’ emotional plight that is tailor made for Spider-Man. Before we know it, multi-dimensional elements hit the normalcy of his life like a train, leading him to meet Peter Parker, albeit an older (and fatter) iteration. Before you know it, a slew of (mainly) unknown and obscure versions of Spider-Man pop up, including Spider-Noir, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, a pig version of the character (Homer Simpson would be so proud), and an anime inspired take called Peni Parker.

The synopsis given may be seen as vague, and rightfully so. Movies are to be cherished and met with a sense of mystery and discovery, and Into the Spider-Verse has this in mass abundance. The visual palette is something to fall head over heels for. Take a comic film like Watchmen, which was touted as a comic film brought to life, perfectly realizing the moody visual aesthetic of its source material, working as a perfect cinematic translation of Alan Moore’s original. Nearly ten years later, here we have a film that practically transports the audience into the comic book panels, delivering the most comic book-y film ever put on screen. The animation uses this to its full advantage, with Sony Animation delivering an innovative and at times groundbreaking view of what a superhero movie could and should be. Speech/thought bubbles are used to great comedic effect, giving the film a spontaneous feel with an urgency that only some of the best comedic films achieve. The use of color and lighting are something to behold, possibly offering the most visually appealing film of the year. A recent gripe that I’ve had with many MCU films is the at-times lifeless direction given to scenes that don’t involve action. Too often does the camera do the bear minimum to show that two characters are having a conversation. In the case of Into the Spider-Verse, the visuals only heighten and amplify any and all emotional heft provided within these characters.

What makes Spider-Man such a beloved character is his optimism, his will to keep moving forward despite being dealt with a bad hand. Even given all the adversity that one could possibly endure, both physical and emotional, the character of Spider-Man finds a way to progress, to outdo and grow from the present danger. This film perfectly encapsulates this characteristic. No matter how dire things seem for Miles Morales, his first instinct is to think how he can make things right, when a lesser person would submit to the pain. By the end of this, Miles Morales becomes a beloved addition to the vast Marvel cinematic landscape, proving to be more than worthy to earn the name Spider-Man.

In a year of true superhero triumphs, whether it be the cultural shockwave of Black Panther or the cosmic juggling act that was Infinity War, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stands out by being a visually intoxicating odyssey compared to the normalcy of the two aforementioned films. It’s clear from the get-go that the filmmakers are crafting this movie with love, knowing full well what makes the character so special and Stan Lee’s greatest creation.

Final Grade: A+Spider-Man.(Character).full.2232897

First Man: Movie Review

“We need to fail. We need to fail down here so we don’t fail up there.”

In the span of four years, Damien Chazelle has gone from a wunderkind to a legitimate force to be reckoned with. His last two features Whiplash and La La Land are masterful cinematic works that fully realize the potential of their topics, themes, and characters. With both of these films being my favorite of their respective years, I was instantly on board for whatever Chazelle would do next. Would he make another musical? Go back to the jazz scene? Will JK Simmons destroy the moral and dreams of the main character? In short, the answer is no. First Man is Chazelle’s follow up to his Oscar-winning La La Land, on the spectrum of variety, it seems that he has no intent on slowing down. He has given us a picture that shares completely different DNA from what has come before, delivering an intensely intimate, personal and melancholy character study of Neil Armstrong.

First Man depicts the life and times of Neil Armstrong, beginning from 1961, culminating into the fateful Apollo 11 moon landing. We follow Armstrong through every mountainous high along with every devastating low. First Man very much lives up to its title as it almost focuses solely on the trials and tribulations Armstrong had to endure, as well as his then-wife Janet getting the brunt of it.  Some viewers may expect the film to center around the Apollo crew or NASA as they prepare to take on an immensely dangerous space mission, and those viewers may end up disappointed. This isn’t a modern telling of Apollo 13 or an ensemble piece of the crew. The film focuses on the man, and the turbulent journey he took to be the first man to ever walk on the moon.

In spite of a laser sharp focus, the same cannot be said for its storytelling. First Man takes place over the span of eight years, and despite a lengthy 140 minute run time, the passage of time isn’t done with the care and focus that other aspects of the film are given. There are time stamps that give the audience an idea over how much time has passed since the prior scene, but hardly anything else is done to show how the characters have changed in the span of that time. That certainly may have been the intention given Armstrong’s perceived indifference to the world around him, but the execution can hinder the film’s pacing; and for a near two and a half hour film, that can be severely damaging.

With the narrative focusing primarily on one character, it is imperative to have an actor who can not only be compelling enough to justify their being there, but also bring humanity to a person who has always been described as a reluctant celebrity. Ryan Gosling shines as Neil Armstrong, bringing his trademarked stoicism and quietly fierce demeanor to the role. First Man does not paint Armstrong as an overtly patriotic or grandiose presence. There is a subtlety to Gosling’s performance that brings awareness and attention to whatever is happening to him at a given moment, but also an odd emotional detachment from the rest of the cast that can be initially frustrating for the viewer, but later becomes one of the Armstrong’s defining features. The lack of explosive acting is not to be confused with disinterest or indifference. This is a damaged and emotionally torn man who is tasked with completing what is arguably the greatest human achievement in history. There has to be some sort of reservation within the man.

As expected, Damien Chazelle directs this film with the confidence and prudence that has won over a legion of moviegoers. Stylistically, First Man is head-to-toes different from anything in his filmography. Music is hardly the focus this time around, and on top of this being a biopic, anyone hoping for an encore of Whiplash or La La Land will be left as cold as the blackness of space. There is a handheld, documentarian feel to the movie that legitimately feels like we are watching archive footage from Neil Armstrong’s life. The constant use of closeups, crash zooms and purposeful shaky cam over its grainy color palette ensures a level of realism and intimacy that is lacking in even some of the best biopics. Also, it is nearly impossible to tell what effects were practical or digitally done. The crashes, the soaring of the spaceships, and the lighting transitions from Earth’s blue to the blackness of space is immensely well done and seamless. This is less a cinematic presentation as it is a recreation of what it would actually feel like to be in what is essentially a metal trash can being launched into space. The launch scenes can range from being awe-inspiring to suspenseful to nausea inducing to absolutely terrifying. There is a large abundance of spontaneity and unpredictability to these scenes, which is quite an achievement since this is one of the most documented events in human history.

The moon landing itself, done with IMAX cameras is the true selling point of the film. Gone are the grainy and amateur feel of old. I dare not go into detail as to what happens during the sequence, but it acts as a beautifully done and powerful payoff to the film’s central arc. The omission of an American flag being planted into the moon’s surface has been absolutely blown out of proportion in favor of political speak and the need for a headline. In the context of the film, and the storytelling that is in effect, every shot, cut, use of silence and sway of the camera is done to absolute perfection. In a visual perspective, and as well as a narrative conclusion, the lunar sequence is a near-perfect and satisfying culmination of this incredibly personal story.

First Man is not anti-American. It does not paint a liberal’s paradise or is overtly politically correct. Director Damien Chazelle showcases the humanity and internal conflict of the man who is centered around the moon landing. It is so easy, tempting even, to fall into the media wonderland that was present in covering this event. Political ideologies and patriotism could have easily drowned out the human component of this story. Though not as finely tuned as his prior work, Chazelle has once again given us an experience so special and engrossing, bringing a mastery and wisdom to his craft well beyond his years.

Final Grade: A-