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Best of Film 2018

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This is my list, based on what I was able to see in theaters and streaming.

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I will confess that I am not a horror fan at all, but the reviews and the cast helped sell this movie to me and I’m so glad that I saw it. Krasinski’s directorial debut is a masterpiece of suspense, ambiance and tension. I’ve seen this a couple times now and it holds up so well. Of all the movies this year, this might have been the biggest surprise since I wasn’t expecting to like it. Don’t miss the Cinema Stories review.

 

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I loved Diablo Cody’s first film Juno, but nothing till Tully has held my interest and actually got me to the theater to see it. This is a brave movie that shows just how important it is to ask for help when we are having a hard time. I loved the relationship the married couple, Marlo and Drew. It’s modern but so loving and in the end it’s that love that saves the day.

 

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From my original review, “I grew up on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child. In fact, my mother is fond of reminding me that my love for the cardigan can be directly linked to the show and asking for the Mr. Rogers type of sweater when we were shopping. I loved this show as a child. The trolly, the props he used as representations of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, the puppets and the man himself. I remember getting a lump in my throat the first time I saw the trailer for Won’t You Be My Neighboras memories of watching the show flooded back, so I was keen to see the film as soon as I could. I’ll say right up front, it’s brilliant. I may be slightly biased, growing up loving this man and his show, but I don’t think I am. I think this is exactly the kind of movie we need at this point in time.”

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From my original review, ” if someone had told you 22 years ago when the first Mission Impossible film was released that the sixth installment would still be staring Tom Cruise at the age of 56 and that it would be the best in the series, people would have laughed in your face. Yet against all odds, this is exactly what Christopher McQuarrie has pulled off with Fallout. It is truly one of the rare sequels that not only lives up to the hype but surpasses it.” Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

 

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There is so much more I could say about this movie. What I’m left with is just how much fun I had. I left the theater buzzing and wearing the same goofy grin as Solo himself. Do yourself a favor, grab some friends and see this movie! This movie is everything Star Wars fans never knew, they always wanted! Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories reviews!

 

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From my original review, “If you are someone that works with youth, if you are a parent, if you have children this age or will have, this movie is one you should see. In fact, if you have children this age, you should see this movie with them and talk about it together. This is an important film that takes seriously the ways in which our changing world is impacting the coming generations. It’s painful to watch sometimes, but ultimately rewarding.”

 

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From my original review, “Cooper’s debut as director is authentic and real. The film feels as raw as it is characters, which is exactly what is needed. The performances are stellar. Cooper and Gaga shine in their roles. Cooper has always found ways to disappear into his performance, but it is Gaga that truly transcends. Her persona of Lady Gaga is hard to forget, but her performance here makes you forget all of that and see only the character of Ally. Sam Elliott as Cooper’s brother is perfect casting.”

“Bradley Cooper has created a wonderful remake, showing that you can bring something fresh and timely to old material if one pours their heart and soul into it. The film is affecting, with resonant themes, incredible performances, great music and will leave you with a melancholy that’s hard to shake.

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This was one of the most visceral experiences I had this year at the movies. Neil was not a man loquacious or expressive person and the movie shows this perfectly. This film is a character study as opposed to a story about the space program. I liked that, there are excellent movies about the space race, but the more personal take resonated well with me. No one is perfect and Neil exemplifies that even heroes have flaws. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

 

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Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical movie follows the help at his childhood home as her struggles mirror the struggle her employer is going through. This film is gorgeously shot and it’s presentation in black and white was a perfect choice. The movie is slightly self indulgent but worth the watch.

 

 

MV5BOTk5ODg0OTU5M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDQ3MDY3NjM@._V1_From my original review, “James Wan has created the most comic book, comic book movie ever. Everything about Aquaman is fantastical and completely out of this world which he embraces with loving arms. Instead of shying away from the weird, Wan just goes for it in a way that’s always a sight to behold.  It’s Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, Godzilla and Star Wars, all in one.” Along with Solo, this is the most fun I had in the theater this year. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

 

2ARGTCAGBBHHFEHFVCCUJDLP5QPeter Jackson’s masterpiece is one of the most important films of the year. He brings the First World War to life through the magic of technology, reviving 100 year old footage and colorizing it to let us see the war the way the soldiers of that time did. He also allows the men to speak for themselves so that the story told is their story. I cannot recommend this enough.

 

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I’ve never been the biggest Spider-Man fan and so when the trailer was released for this, it didn’t move the needle for me. But, as so often happens, at least once each year, there is a movie that garners incredible world of mouth and reviews that forces me into the theaters. Luckily this time I was so glad that I went to see this. It’s inventive, fun, emotional and a visual feast. It feels like a comic come to life! I’m honestly shocked that studios have not tried more animation with superheroes. I hope they continue this series and that there are more high-quality animated superhero friends.

Honorable Mentions. Christopher Robin, Bad Times and the El Royale, Isle of DogsOutlaw King and Black Panther.

Worst of the year. A Wrinkle in Time, Annihilation, Ready Player One, Ocean’s 8, Venom and A Simple Favor.

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Aquaman – Review

77149c934692204Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

I love being an Amazon Prime member and was rewarded with a very special perk this week, getting to see Aquaman, five days early! Director James Wan, known for his horror films, as well as the very successful Furious 7 has taken on the titanic challenge of bringing to life the superhero that’s been the butt of every joke possible. The question on everyone’s mind has been, “Can he take that hero that talks to fish and make him cool?”. The answer, you’re darn right he can.

Wan has created the most comic book, comic book movie ever. Everything about Aquaman is fantastical and completely out of this world which he embraces with loving arms. Instead of shying away from the weird, Wan just goes for it in a way that’s always a sight to behold.  It’s Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, Godzilla and Star Wars, all in one.

The movie rides comfortably on Jason Momoa’s shoulders. His swagger is absolutely what this movie needs, but it’s his ability to find the small moments that makes you believe. Amber Heard as Mera is awesome. Her powers look incredible and you’ll be left wanting more. Patrick Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II serve up delicious turns as villains, yet Black Manta steals the show. The rest of the cast is great, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren all bring just the right amount to the roles, adding the weight and gravitas needed.

The effects are excellent. The imagination on display is incredible. The movie is helped by it taking place in a world you don’t know what it should look like so what fills the screen is beautifully breathtaking in scope and scale. It’s fun, vibrant and exactly the kind of thing we love about going to the movies, being awed.

There’s more to say, but with the movie not out for another week, no spoilers, suffice to say, it’s the perfect movie for the family this holiday season! 4 1/2 out of 5 stars for the sheer, uncompromising audacity and joy of it all.

 

Obliviate: Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts and Fan’s Selective Memory

harry_potter_and_fantastic_beasts_4dx_textless_by_mintmovi3-dajxg1p copyJ.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was released in the UK in 1997 and created a phenomenon that has lead to the sale of over 500 million books, in the 7 book series. Going back to the beginning, Rowling sells the rights to the series in 1999 for a mere £1 million. By the time that the first movie is released in 2001, there are 4 of the books in the series have already been released and in fact, every movie released will have the next book in the series already out. This means, for every Harry Potter film, there is never a time when people watching them, either don’t already know what happened, because they’d read the books or they could easily go and read online what they missed.

This gives the Harry Potter filmmakers a lot of freedom. If you’ve read the books and seen the movies,  you know how much of the story is left out. Especially as you get to  Prisoner of Azkaban and beyond, whole storylines are absent from the films and even what’s there is rushed for time since they didn’t seem to want  every movie be 3 hours long. Quick example, the end of Order of the Phoenix, and one of the most important chapters in the book is The Lost Prophecy. It’s arguably the most important chapter in the series as it’s finally the place where Harry truly understands his connection with Voldemort and what is to come, “…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…“. Yet the movie only gives about a minute to a minute and a half to this pivotal moment. The filmmakers rely heavily on the audience to fill in the gaps with their preexisting knowledge from the books or leave it open for them to look online for answers. The movies, for all their visual wonder are truncated versions of Rowling’s epic.

Why do I bring all of this up?

When the first Fantastic Beasts movie came out, I began to hear rumblings in the fandom that Rowling had lost her touch. It’s a criticism that has only gotten louder in some corners of the fandom with the release of Crimes Of Grindelwald. And one of the reasons why I think this is happening is because we’ve forgotten what it was like to be in Rowling’s world and not already have all the answers.

I started reading the books just as the fourth one was released, so I was part of that long wait for the fifth, sixth and seventh books. Like most fans, I was part of the midnight parties, waiting in line for the book, taking it home and devouring it as quickly as possible so I could then talk to my friends and those online about what I thought it all meant and speculate where it would all go next. It was half the fun of the series.

I can distinctly remember waiting for what would be called, Half-Blood Prince, talking with fans who were just sure it would be call, The Pillars of Storgé. Of course they were wrong, but the conversations had between fans then, was all about their favorite series and the speculation happened because we couldn’t wait to find out what Rowling had in store for Harry and his friends. Most importantly, we trusted Rowling as a writer. She’d already shown us her ability to weave a narrative, as well as truly surprise us.

13669129_10157190743835075_291675916011469870_nSo, what’s changed? Why are people so angry at Rowling and what she’s doing with Fantastic Beasts? Why have we forgotten the fun of eagerly waiting for the next installment of her work, all while having the time of our lives trying to figure out, from the breadcrumbs she’s laid, where the story goes next? We know she is a master at using the tiniest detail to create something completely unexpected and wonderful. I mean,  Deathly Hallows the is the proof. If you look at the structure of her screenplays, it’s very similar to how she wrote her books. You can feel the structure with the way she creates mystery, places people and things in the movies that might not be as important yet, but will play a larger role later. Then, she throws you for a loop by upending the mystery, explaining how what you thought was happening wasn’t quite right.

So what’s changed? I think the answer is that we’re spoiled. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to wait for things. We live in a binge culture. In fact, many people actually wait for a series to be over so they can start them and not have to wait. But this has hurt our ability to just enjoy what’s been given to us and wait for what comes next.

Secondly, the binge culture has also lead to the rise of militant fandoms who obsess about everything and begin to place themselves as gatekeepers over franchises and gods of the created universes they didn’t create. In fact it’s become common place to see people demean someone like Rowling or Lucas for “messing something up” in THEIR universes. Can you imagine Tolkien in the age of social media? He’d be crucified for retconning The Hobbit so that it fit better with Lord of the Rings. I mean the guy literally rewrote parts of his previous book to work with his larger mythology.

tumblr_nhm36njqle1rc13aso1_1280This sense of entitlement and peevishness is destroying our ability to enjoy things. As creators continue on in their creations, there may be things that change over time, but shouldn’t they be given the freedom to do that? It is their work after all. So what if Rowling has decided that McGonagall is older than we thought, does that really hurt anything? If she expands on what we know of boggarts, the Mirror of Erised or anything else, what’s wrong with that? Why do we think that just because we know something about a part of Rowling’s universe that we know everything? She’s continued to reveal things she knows about her creation that we do not and telling the creator they are wrong or have messed something up is the height of arrogance. In many ways, we’ve forgotten how to be okay with not knowing everything and having someone, other than ourselves be the arbiter of what’s “canon”.

The act of creating mythology, universes and stories is one that’s always evolving. As much as Rowling knows about her universe, and from all reports, in every interview with the other people involved in both film series I’ve seen or read, she knows almost everything, down to the smallest detail but she’s also still human. Like every author and creator, there will be things she’ll discover about her world as she expands it and she should be given the freedom to do so. Creation is a shear act of will, it’s been said, but it’s never been said to be perfect (unless you’re God), so maybe we can remember that as we wait for the next film in the Fantastic Beasts series. She has 3 more movies to answer our questions, therefore we cannot expect to have all the answers now, especially when we don’t have books to pull off our shelves to “spoil” the end.

Look for reviews of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on The 602 Club and Cinema Stories podcasts.

A Star is Born – Review

MV5BMjE3MDQ0MTA3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDMwNDY2NTM@._V1_Bradley Cooper has established himself as one of the best actors in Hollywood, versatile and adaptable, he’s made a name for himself in his serious dramatic roles, as well as comedy. Now Cooper is flexing a different muscle, as his directorial debut A Star is Born drops and it has garnered significant critical praise, with the talk of Academy Awards swirling around the film like a cyclone.

Something’s Missing

Cooper’s deft direction brings out the authenticity of the life of a star, one that has everything, yet still finds themselves feeling hollow without the means to fill the void. There is a moment, early in the movie where Cooper’s Jack is playing a song for just a few people as he waits for Gaga’s Ally to get ready. The lyrics to the first verse are,

Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
It takes a lot to change a man
Hell, it takes a lot to try
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die

It’s a clear admission from the character that what he’s doing in life is not working, but that the road of change, even trying to change is hard. It takes everything in us as humans to make that 180, especially when we find ourselves so addicted to and wrapped up in things that it becomes almost impossible for us to see ourselves without those vices.

The theme is further accentuated when Ally shares the lyrics of a song she’s been writing with Jack in a parking lot and they capture the essence of the problem perfectly.

Tell me something boy
Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?
Or do you need more
Ain’t it hard keepin’ it so hardcore?

And the later they sing the song together and the first first verse completes the theme,

Tell me somethin’ girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?

r0rtbf8blilknpm8m8xuAll the fame, money, sex, drugs, things, even people, cannot fill the hole that burns so brightly inside of us. We, like Jack are left trying everything under the sun and yet left wanting. Like Solomon in Ecclesiastes you can almost hear the characters in the movie saying, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity….What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

What is fascinating is that the answer to this problem is actually found in the song that Jack sings in the bar as he waits for Ally, sadly, that verse is never sung except on the soundtrack. It goes,

Nobody speaks to God these days
Nobody speaks to God these days
I’d like to think he’s lookin’ down and laughin’ at our ways
Nobody speaks to God these days.

It’s there, the answer to the longing and searching. God. He waits for us to speak to him, to look to him for the fulfillment that can only come from him. Yet he doesn’t laugh at our ways, he cries. Jesus did,  “’O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate.'” 

The movie paints the portrait of a life spent in the futility of longing and it is heartbreaking.

The Movie

Cooper’s debut as director is authentic and real. The film feels as raw as it is characters, which is exactly what is needed. The performances are stellar. Cooper and Gaga shine in their roles. Cooper has always found ways to disappear into his performance, but it is Gaga that truly transcends. Her persona of Lady Gaga is hard to forget, but her performance here makes you forget all of that and see only the character of Ally. Sam Elliott as Cooper’s brother is perfect casting.

Bradley Cooper has created a wonderful remake, showing that you can bring something fresh and timely to old material if one pours their heart and soul into it. The film is affecting, with resonant themes, incredible performances, great music and will leave you with a melancholy that’s hard to shake. A Star is Born is rated 4.25 out of 5 stars.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story Novelization – Revew

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This review was originally seen on The Star Wars Report.

It’s been a good year for Star Wars books. Most Wanted, Thrawn: Alliances, and The Mighty Chewbacca and the Forest of Fear are just a few examples of the good stories that have been released. This month Del Rey released the novelization of Solo and, like they did with The Last Jedi, it’s an “Expanded Edition.” An “Expanded Edition” means it contains deleted scenes incorporated back into the story, as well as extensions to existing material seen in the film. This tactic worked well for The Last Jedi, whose novelization was better than its source material.

So the question is, does it work again with Solo? Thankfully the answer is a resounding yes!

Murr Lafferty has seamlessly integrated the new material with what was seen in the movie to create something truly special. She masterfully takes what was there and accentuates everything you wanted to know more about while watching the film. Han, Qi’ra, Beckett, Chewie, L3, Enfys Nest, and almost every other character in the film benefit from added time spent with them, as well as the added bonus of being privy to their thoughts. It cannot be overstated just how much fun it is to be back in this story with new material that adds to the depth and richness of the Solo part of the Star Wars galaxy.

The rest of this review could spend the next few paragraphs laying out all the additions the novelization has, but there would be no fun in that. Part of the joy of reading this book is the delight in not knowing exactly what has been expanded. The highest praise this book could be given is how deftly it shows the fertile playground the underworld is in the Star Wars universe. It’ll leave readers longing to watch Solo again and to see more Solo films that continue the story. Solo is a must read and is rated 4.75 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Solo: A Star Wars Story provided by Del Rey.

Eighth Grade – Review

EG_final-onlineBo Burnham’s directorial debut Eighth Grade is the most uncomfortable, real and important movie of the summer. The film follows Kayla Day as eighth grade comes to a close and life is on the brink of another titanic shift from middle school to high school. What follows is an intimate look at the life of kids today, who must navigate the digital deluge all while trying to figure out who they are and who they’ll be.

All Too Real

Eighth Grade is a raw movie. It offers an uncompromising and unflattering look at the state of adolescence in the United States in the 2010s. These are the children of the digital revolution, with iDevices in their hands before they can walk. For them there has never been a moment without some form of entertainment at their fingertips. Constantly inundated with images and messages, their perceptions of reality are filtered through Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook. The struggle to be “cool”, with its ever-changing standard, is real. The digital domain is pervasive, so that even when these kids are hanging out with each other, it’s usually half-heartedly, lest they miss something coming in from the never-ending stream of social media conscientiousness. It’s a lonely way to live, constantly being reminded that you’re never going to be good enough, skinny enough, funny, hip or cool enough.

It’s said that information is power, yet this generation has all the information of the world in the palm of their hands but lacks the wisdom or experience to use it well. They know way to much, way too early and are in turn forced to think about and deal with things they are just not mature enough to handle. This 24/7 marination in pop culture  makes it difficult for anything else to impact them on the same level. How can parents hope to have anywhere close to the same influence when time is not on their side? The movie does not have many answers, but it does shine a light on something parents are going to have to start addressing as the film shows just how harmful these devices of unlimited potential can be on children.

Unconditional Love

Throughout the film Kayla makes YouTube videos. They are little vignettes of advice on all the things she portrays herself to be an expert on, yet the rest of the film shows she’s anything but. She’s constantly being told that she should be all of these different things through social media and, consequently, she is lost. She has no idea who she is or wants to be beyond what she’s told is “cool”. So each day she works to earn the friendship and respect of others based on what she thinks people want. It’s exhausting for her.

Throughout the film, the one person who’s tried to truly interact with Kayla has been her father. He tries to talk to her and get to know who she is, but she constantly rejects his help and love until the end of the film. When Kayla finds herself at the end of her rope, she finally asks for her father’s help to burn something in the back yard. As they sit there, watching her sixth grade time capsule burn, he asks her what they are doing. She answers that she’s burning her hopes and dreams. She then asks him if he is sad to have her as a daughter. It’s a powerful moment as he begins to tell her how much joy she brings him, how unconditionally she is loved and that he’s always been honored to have her as his daughter. In that moment she climbs into his lap and is held in the arms of love. This moment brings a change in Kayla. She lets go of her videos and the need to be “cool”. It’s almost as if her father’s words of acceptance have nestled into her heart and freed her from the need to earn the acceptance of others.

There is a bit of beautiful Biblical truth in this scene. Isaiah reminds us that all of us, like sheep have gone astray, we’ve searched for everything under the sun to fulfill us and make us whole. Yet there is only one thing that can and because of this God has laid on Christ, the sin of us all, to allow us the opportunity, like prodigals to run back into his arms. Kayla’s rejection of “cool” and acceptance of love brings to mind Psalm 139, we are wonderfully made by a heavenly Father to be something unique, fully known and fully loved by the creator of the universe. Truth and reality are not defined by the forever-changing concept of “cool” but by God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever and his love never ends.

Conclusion

If you are someone that works with youth, if you are a parent, if you have children this age or will have, this movie is one you should see. In fact, if you have children this age, you should see this movie with them and talk about it together. This is an important film that takes seriously the ways in which our changing world is impacting the coming generations. It’s painful to watch sometimes, but ultimately rewarding. Eighth Grade is rated 4.5 out of 5.

 

Mission Impossible: Fallout – Review

mission-impossible-6-posterDon’t miss The 602 Club review!

In a world inundated by franchise films, many of them failing to live up to the hype or even their predecessors, it is truly rare that a sixth movie in a series could be a contender for the of best in the series. It’s not completely unprecedented Star Trek VI is argued by many to be the best as is Revenge of the Sith, but these films are outliers in the malaise of mediocrity that is franchise filmmaking. With this in mind, if someone had told you 22 years ago when the first Mission Impossible film was released that the sixth installment would still be staring Tom Cruise at the age of 56 and that it would be the best in the series, people would have laughed in your face. Yet against all odds, this is exactly what Christopher McQuarrie has pulled off with Fallout. It is truly one of the rare sequels that not only lives up to the hype but surpasses it.

The cast is outstanding. McQuarrie has found a way to have every character in this film have a purpose, no one here is just for fan service. On top of this, Tom Cruise is like a fine wine that’s been aged perfectly, it’s hard to oversell just how good he is in this role. Plus, his stunt work is mind-blowing. His chemistry with Rebecca Ferguson is electric and she, in her own right, nails everything she does in this film. Newcomers Henry Cavill and Vanessa Kirby are outstanding. Cavill is making his case, along with his portrayal in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., for the next Bond. Kirby is delightful as the “White Widow” and worth addition to the Mission Impossible universe. In fact her scene with Cruise is one of the best of the film.

There is so much that could be said about this film, but it’s best experienced on the biggest screen you can find. Mission Impossible: Fallout is a true edge-of-the-seat triller, that will have you guessing, clenching the arm rests and feeling exhilarated as you exit the theater. Go see this movie, in the theater. Fallout is rated 5 out of 5 stars.