Movies · Television · Uncategorized

The Best of 2020 in Entertainment

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Normally my lists for the year are about the movies that I was able to see in the theater, well we all know how that went in 2020, so this year, I am listing out the best things I saw that were released in 2020. 

Best Movies 

Tenet

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So thankful this was one of the few movies I was able to see on the big screen during the COVID season. It truly was meant to be experienced in the theater. In my opinion there is no greater filmmaker of our time than Christopher Nolan. This film is, in many ways. the culmination of all that he has been building on since Memento. The imagination at work in this movie is astounding. Some may have had trouble keeping up with the story but thankfully a lifetime of Star Trek and sci-fi allowed me to get what Nolan was doing. This is a movie I cannot wait to watch over and over, allowing me to pick up all the little connections placed throughout the film. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on this one! 

Soul

soul_ver3Pixar has brought our inner world to life with Inside Out and now they tackle the great beyond. What a perfect gift at the end of 2020, to be reminded of the beauty of life, even with all the bumps and bruises we acquire along the way. The movie smartly stays away from answering what lies beyond and its message about the souls we all have is one of the most pro-life messages I’ve seen. Don’t miss Soul on Disney+ and look for The 602 Club episode next week!

Fatman

fatman_ver3This was the perfect Christmas movie for 2020. So sad I was not able to see it on the big screen but it was something I’ll be returning to as a new Christmas classic every year. Mel Gibson is perfect as a Santa that has almost run out of holiday cheer and who’s being hunted by a hitman payed but the indefatigable Walter Goggins. Do yourself a favor and rent this! 

The Gentlemen

gentlemen_ver8This is a fantastic ride from start to finish. Every single actor is on top of their game. Hugh Grant is the standout and almost unrecognizable from his usual fair. Don’t sleep on this one if you missed it at the beginning of the year.

 

Hillbilly Elegy

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This might be a controversial pick but I found this movie to be a powerful depiction of a side of life many of us don’t even know exists. The performances are brilliant and Glenn Close is perfection as Mamaw. I’m honestly not sure why people have not responded better to this movie but it’s worth your time, as is the book it’s based off of. 

 

The Way Back

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In many ways this movie feels semi-autobiographical for its star Ben Affleck. He is so good as a man struggling to overcome is addiction to alcohol and find a way to rebuild his life. It feels like the kind of intimate storytelling that gets lost in the blockbuster shuffle but that 2020 has made more relevant since studios will be looking for ways to get people back into the theaters with films that don’t cost $300 million to make.  

Love and Monsters

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This movie was a complete surprise and one of the few I was able to see on the big screen during the COVID season. It has such heart and it’s message about not staying locked away because life can be dangerous was one of the most timely in 2020. My favorite quote from the movie, “There is a great big beautiful inspiring world out there. Crank open that hatch, breathe some fresh air, go live your life. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.” Worth checking out and enjoying with friends!

Greyhound

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I am so thankful that Apple+ picked this one up. The movie knew exactly what it was, an intense war thriller about the trials of a Captain trying to get as many ships safely to England in the middle of “Battle of the Atlantic”. It’s a story from WWII that is often overlooked and yet was one of the most pivotal. You really feel apart of the stress and worry these men went through as they knew that any minute could be their last. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode! 

Onward

onwardSuch a fun idea, a world where magic use to be a way of life and has now become mundane. It is a beautiful story about brotherhood, as well as the importance of good male role models in the life of a young boy. Pixar was on fire this year. Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories episodes! 

 

Wonder Woman 1984

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I’m positive this will be the most controversial pick of the list. I cannot get over how important the themes are in this movie, what it has to say about Truth is astounding. It was not as good as Wonder Woman, but it was a lot of fun and the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine is electric. Please don’t miss The 602 Club episode about this film, I’m so proud of the conversation we had about the movie. 

Best Shows

The Queen’s Gambit

iu-7Engrossing and utterly fascinating character study of a chess prodigy in the 1960s. Anya Taylor Joy is beyond brilliant as Beth Harmon, as is Isla Johnston who plays her as a young girl. This is a series you just have to watch. 

 

The Mandalorian: Season 2

EoVumzTVoAESrJcSeason one blew everyone away, season two left everyone speechless. Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau continue their resume for why they should be running creative for Star Wars at this point. The way they have been able to connect with the larger universe is excellent, while at the same time never losing sight of the story of The Mandalorian himself. Don’t miss The 602 Club conversation about the season!

Documentaries

The Social Dilemma

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We tweet, we like, and we share— but what are the consequences of our growing dependence on social media? This documentary-drama hybrid reveals how social media is reprogramming civilization with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.

This is what The Social Dilemma looks to answer. This documentary from Netflix explores, in depth, how social media, technology and smart devices are reshaping the human race. To do this Tristan Harris, former Google design ethicist and the co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology has gathered experts from all over social media and technology to talk about the dangers they see in their own creations. 

This panel of experts breaks down the ways in which technology is dangerous. They help explain the ways in which social media is addictive by describing the algorithms behind these platforms and the ways they are meant to keep people engaged, even tempt people to become engaged when they are not actively using them. 

They also dive into the ways in which fake news has rapidly spread on these networks and the way in which people can fall down the “rabbit hole” very quickly. These “rabbit holes” are the ways people can become radicalized because they only see one side of an issue because algorithms suggest new content based on what you’ve previously watched.

Each of these experts also confesses that this is all driven by profit, the more you scroll, watch, like, stream, the more they make on advertising. For them it’s about keeping you engaged. They never had any thought as to how this would impact the lives of kids. Therefore entire generations are the test subjects for the impact of these devices and platforms. We’re only now realizing what these things are doing to our children and to ourselves. It is interesting to note that none of these experts allow their children time on social media or much time with the technology they helped create, says a lot. 

With all this said, I would recommend spending the hour and a half to watch this, watch it with your teens and talk about the impact these things are having on their lives and your family.  This may just be the most important thing to come out of 2020, don’t miss it.

The Last Dance

iu-8There are very few teams as storied as the Chicago Bulls from the 90s and this documentary shows why. A look inside the dynasty that defined a generation as well as reminder of who the true GOAT of basketball is. The series will have you binging for sure. 

 

The Worst

There are a few movies this year that belong on this list. Ava and The New Mutants were absolutely dreadful, avoid them. 

Film · Movies · Star Wars · Star Wars Rebels · The Clone Wars · The Force Awakens · The Last Jedi · The Rise of Skywalker · Uncategorized

How ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ Helped Me Make Peace With the Sequel Trilogy: A Personal Journey

d0108c1956418882012 was a difficult year for me as a Star Wars fan. Disney bought Lucasfilm from George Lucas and the very first thing they did was cancel a show I was in love with. The Clone Wars had burst on to the big screen in 2008 and immediately captured my heart. The animation would get better as the series continued on the the small screen, but the heart of Star Wars was evident from the beginning. But with one swift stroke of its corporate might, Disney cut it down before The Clone Wars had a chance to properly wrap itself up.

In my mind this was the worst way Disney could introduce themselves as new owners of a franchise I’ve loved since I was 6. It was my birthday the first time I saw the Original Trilogy. We rented the Saga on VHS and my friends and I devoured all three films in one night. In the middle of the night I awoke, popped The Empire Strikes Back, back in the VCR and my journey toward being a fan was complete.

As 2014 rolled around, Disney released it’s first major addition to the Star Wars universe, Star Wars Rebels. I’ll admit that the first season was not it’s best. I had a hard time connecting with what felt like the Disney-ification of the Star Wars (Thankfully the series would grow and become of of my favorite things in the Saga). Which, as I looked towards the upcoming movie, The Force Awakens, didn’t engender a lot of hope.

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterChristmas of 2015 arrives and so does the first film to continue the Skywalker Saga. There is an awakening of Star Wars mania, the likes that had not been seen since 1999. As the world revels in this new Episode, I struggle. I said then in my review,  “The movie is clearly more worried about appeasing fanboys than truly inspiring the next generation of fans.” I saw the movie 6 times, as I wrestled with how I felt about it and it just never settled for me. From the first viewing, to the last, I was never able to find my peace with the movie. Yet there was always hope, there were more movies to come in the new Trilogy and luckily there were also other Star Wars movies coming in-between Episodes VII and VIII.

The teaser trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out in April of 2016 and my first reaction was not great. You can ask my friends, my first thought was, “This looks like Hunger Games in Star Wars.” I’ve never been so thankful to be proven wrong. Rogue One became one of my favorite Star Wars movies of all time. And in that, hope was kindled that Episode VIII would follow in its footsteps.

Celebration Orlando, 2017 was a difficult time for me. It was not the experience I hoped it would be. I missed out on all the exclusives I wanted as well as most of the panels I wanted to be in. The main hall was so small and because of that I would experience the Episode VIII trailer in the overflow room.  But something happened in that room, a small flame was lit, The Last Jedi looked different from The Force Awakens. It actually looked like it was going to do something new, something different! The teaser trailer made me hopeful that this new Episode would be better than VII. I believed that Rian Johnson’s indie background would be a benefit to the story by helping him do something to move the Saga from nostalgia to new territory.

I’ve never been so wrong in my life. VIII made VII look like a masterpiece to me. J.J. Abrams in a recent interview found a way to sum up my feelings perfectly when he told the New York Times, “On the other hand,” he added, “it’s a bit of a meta approach to the story. I don’t think that people go to ‘Star Wars’ to be told, ‘This doesn’t matter.’”

ILMVFX_2017-Oct-09The Last Jedi had taken all the story points from The Force Awakens and told us they were not important. Snoke – you don’t need to know about him. The mystery of who Rey is – not important. The villains like Hux that were so scary in the first movie – actually they are incompetent boobs. Luke Skywalker – not the hero you thought, actually he’s a failure who seems to have learned nothing from his experiences in The Empire Strikes Back and more importantly, The Return of the Jedi. I was devastated. My first viewing’s feelings were only confirmed with each new viewing.

Now, some of these issues were not just the problem of the filmmakers, but they’d started behind the scenes from the moment Disney bought the franchise. They had fast-tracked Episode VII but had never sat down and mapped out where they wanted this new trilogy to go. They had been given outlines from George Lucas but decided that they wanted to move in their own direction. The problem was, they didn’t really know what that direction was, (this is also exemplified in the problems they had with other Star Wars projects and the difficulty of hanging on to directors) other than wanting to recapture the “magic” of the Original Trilogy. There was no consistent creative vision behind the new movies and that became evident with The Last Jedi. With everyone trying to do their own thing, the new trilogy lacked cohesion, leaving Episode IX with the massive task of not only wrapping up this trilogy but the Saga as a whole.

In 2018, Solo: A Star Wars Story was released in theaters. It’s path had been anything but easy. It’s original directors had been fired mid-way through filming, with Ron Howard replacing them. Tasked with bringing the movie in on time, since Bob Iger refused to movie the release date, even though Kathleen Kennedy had asked, Howard pulled off a miracle. Solo was a fantastic movie, but it was not a success. Released a few short months after the divisive Episode VIII, Solo suffered. There was no marketing for the movie, not the kind we’ve come to expect for a Star Wars movie and because of the money that had been spent on extensive reshoots, Solo would be seen as a failure.

RegalMovies_2018-Apr-08Regardless of its “failure” status, Solo was a home run for me. From the moment the movie began, I had a smile on my face that never left. Not only was the movie fun, but it felt like Star Wars. It also did something that I did not think possible, it gave us new things, while at the same time respecting the past. I fell in love with Alden Ehrenreich as Han, yet more importantly, I also fell for the new characters. Qi’ra and Enfys Nest were awesome. The addition of Crimson Dawn to the underworld and the reveal of its leader, left me wanting more of this story. But it also gave me hope. The use of Maul seemed to indicate that the Star Wars films might start to embrace the larger universe as well as reward fans for their loyalty to all Star Wars had to offer. (I’m still hoping Disney will #MakeSolo2Happen)

All of this preamble, to arrive at The Rise of Skywalker. J.J. Abrams was tasked with the impossible, bring the Skywalker Saga to a satisfactory end. He’d not planned on returning, but with the loss of Colin Trevorrow, who was never able to satisfy Lucasfilm with his story ideas, Abrams became the last hope. Abrams had always hinted that he’d had ideas for where he would take the story if he had continued it. The Force Awakens itself was proof that he did, the questions the movie had asked were still waiting to be answered and now he’d been given his shot. He explained his approach well in Vanity Fair, “It felt slightly more renegade; it felt slightly more like, you know, F*%$ it, I’m going to do the thing that feels right because it does, not because it adheres to something.”

With all of the upheaval from 2012 to December 2019, I sat in the theater with absolute trepidation. Would this movie work? Would I like it or would it be another Last Jedi? To my utter surprise, I liked it, from start to finish. It did something I never expected it to be able to, it not only made me like The Force Awakens more, it actually utilized plot elements from The Last Jedi in a way that almost redeemed them in my eyes. It also found a way to bring the Skywalker Saga to a satisfactory close for me.

This last point was the one I had been the most worried about. The story for the Skywalkers seemed to have had the perfect end in The Return of the Jedi, so how could this add anything to that without ruining it?

Abrams and his writing partner, Chris Terrio found their answer in the idea of the Dyad. Rey and Ben Solo being the two that are one really resonates with the rest of the Star Wars canon. It brings to mind the Mortis Arc from The Clone Wars, the daughter and son, as well as the mural on the floor of the first Jedi Temple on Ahch-To, of Jedi Prime. It also made sense in my mind with the prophesy of the Chosen One.

Anakin was the prophesied “Chosen One”, Lucas himself had confirmed that. But was he able to fully complete the mission? I found my in. I contend that his rejection of the call on Mortis and his betrayal of the Jedi allow his sacrifice to bring balance to the Force, but not lasting balance. Now, we know that Anakin was a vergence in the Force, created by the Force itself. Whether Palpatine had anything to do with this is still a question, but we know Palpatine had a child of his own. These two powerful families in the Force destinies became intertwined.

Now without the sacrifice of the Chosen One, all would have been lost, but with his act he enables the Force to continue its work. George Lucas said of Star Wars,

Star Wars has always struck a cord with people. There are issues of loyalty, of friendship, of good and evil…I mean, there’s a reason this film is so popular. It’s not that I’m giving out propaganda nobody wants to hear…Knowing that the film was made for a younger audience, I was trying to say, in a simple way, that there is a God and that there is both a good and bad side. You have a choice between them, but the world works much better if you’re on the good side.”

Choices in Star Wars have always mattered. The choice between a selfish life and that of selflessness are at the core. Anakin’s selfless act at the end of his life continues the thread of the Jedi. That thread of selflessness runs through his son Luke, his daughter Leia and through the son of Palpatine as well. Both sides of the Dyad are drenched in selflessness and compassion. In fact, they are the very thing that the Jedi lost sight of by the time of the Republic’s end, unconditional love. Fear seems to have lead the Jedi to ban attachment. Attachment can lead to jealousy and greed, but it doesn’t have to. Anakin, Luke, Leia, Palpatine’s son, they all show the importance and triumph of unconditional, sacrificial love.

the-art-of-star-wars-the-rise-of-skywalker-kylo-renThe Sith longed to find the way to everlasting life, yet they were always doomed to fail because of their selfishness. The only way to save someone from death is to give up one’s own life. There is always a cost to one’s self to save someone or something else. Rey shows that when she heals the snake, Leia shows that when she uses the last of her life to bring her son back from the dark and Ben does so when he brings Rey back from the brink of death. There is a real beauty to the fact that Ben does the very thing Anakin desired in his fall, bring back the one he loved from the dead. Rey and Ben become one, the light and the dark together, fulfilling the call of the Chosen One to fully bring balance to the Force. Ben finishes what his grandfather began and again, sacrificial love wins.

This was my in. This is the way The Rise of Skywalker helped me find peace with the Sequel Trilogy, because of the way, I feel, it honors what came before, but also adds something new. It stays true to the most important theme of the Star Wars saga and the thing Lucas instilled in it from the beginning, a life of selflessness is better than a life of selfishness. Abrams and Terrio were able to use the questions raised in The Force Awakens and plot points from The Last Jedi to create something that left me satisfied and for that I’ll forever be a grateful fan.

Faith · Movie Review · Movies · Star Wars · The Rise of Skywalker · Uncategorized

Best Movies of 2019 + The Best of the Decade

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These are a list of the best movies that I saw in the theater in 2019.

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From my original review, “The Kid Who Would be King is the perfect movie for families to share together. It brings back the adventure and fun without neglecting important themes that parents and kids can discuss long after the film is over. Movies like this need your support, so take friends and family and enjoy.”

 

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From my original review, “Shazam! is bewitching. It feels like the type of superhero movie that Steven Spielberg might have made in the 80s. The movie’s greatest strength is its stars. Asher Angel as the young Billy Batson, Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman and Zachary Levi as Billy/Shazam, make this movie work. They are the heart of the film, in a movie that’s just as much about family, as it is about being a superhero.”

Don’t miss The 602 Club review as well!

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From my original review, “With the three hour run time and the contrivances to overcome Thanos, there are some issues. The movie does feel a bit long, but it also plays out better than Infinity War. Where that movie left you feeling unable to focus because there were so many characters and not a moments rest, Endgame is able to take its time. This may be it’s greatest strength, that you don’t feel rushed, you’re allowed the opportunity to care about what’s happening because you’re not being whiplashed between stories every other minute. For my book, Endgame is the poignantly satisfying conclusion to this part of the Marvel saga I wanted. It is not the perfect movie but it’s the one we deserve.”

Don’t miss The 602 Club review as well!

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Tarantino has crafted a love letter to the 70s as his alternate history version of Sharon Tate’s fate will captivate you from frame one. Leonardo Dicaprio and Brad Pitt give the performances of their careers in this film. This is a long movie, but I was never bored. Tarantino has created something special here, make sure you don’t miss it.

 

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I fell in love with this movie. This film is based on the life of Sarfraz Manzoor and how his love of Bruce Springsteen’s music helped change his life. Set in the middle of the 80s, Javed Khan is the son of Pakistani immigrants, in a small town outside of London, struggling to find his place in the world, when a friend introduces him to the music of The Boss and it completely changes his perspective. It’s one of the best “feel good” movies of the year.

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The hidden gem of the year. The movie is loosely based on Zack Gottsagen’s desire to become an actor, which for the film has been changed to wrestler. Gottsagen shines and Shia LaBeouf is outstanding. This is absolutely a joy to watch and should not be missed. Poignant and funny, make sure you see this movie!

 

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Joker is a staggering work. This movie transcends the comic book genre completely. Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of brilliant in the title role. He gives the best performance of the year as a man who descends further into the depths insane clarity, leading him to become the most iconic villain of all time, or does he? One of the very best movies of the year.

Don’t miss The 602 Club review as well!

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This is the incredible true story of the Ford Motor Company’s challenge of Ferrari at Le Mans to try to become the first American car company to win the iconic 24 hour race. Matt Damon and Christian Bale are spectacular as Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. This is one of the best movies about racing I’ve seen and another one of this year’s very best films.

 

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Frozen II is the better of the Frozen films. The movie tackles what it means to grow up, find your place in the world and doing the next right thing. The music is not quite as good as the first movie, but the themes and the animation more than make up for it. This movie is perfect for families and will leave them plenty to talk about once it’s over.

Don’t miss the Cinema Stories and The 602 Club review!

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This is the best film of the year in my book. The movie is inspired by the 1998 article “Can You Say … Hero?” by Tom Junod. It tells the story of journalist Lloyd Vogal who is tasked with profiling Fred Rogers. Through his interactions and conversations with Fred, his eyes are opened to the ways in which his life is broken and his relationships are fractured. The messages in this movie show just how timeless the ideas of Mr. Rogers are and just how much they are needed in our very broken world. Make sure you watch with plenty of Kleenex.

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The first sequel to Jumanji was a complete surprise and thankfully, The Next Level is as well. A rare continuation of a series that is just as good as the previous entry. Honestly that all comes down to the writing which allows for the story to evolve the characters and teach them new lessons and not just feel like a bigger, louder remake. The perfect movie for fun with friends and family!

Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

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This will probably be the most controversial choice on this list, but honestly, I really like this movie. I think what astounds me the most is the way Abrams was able to take elements from The Last Jedi, The Force Awakens as well as ideas from the previous two trilogies and wrap it all up. The movie does suffer from the problems that have plagued the sequels from the beginning, in that there was not a plan in place before they began, so this film has a lot of heavy lifting to do. Because of this, it should have been 3 hours or possibly 2 movies. In the end, I’m happy with it, I have found my “in” for the film and truly enjoyed my time with these characters. I’m thankful that I’ll enjoy Abrams’ sequels as a duology for years to come.

Don’t miss The 602 Club and Aggressive Negotiations‘ reviews!

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For me, this is Eastwood’s best film since Gran Torino. This is one of the most timely movies of the year. Watching the media convict someone in the court of public opinion, highlights what has sadly become common place in today’s society. Paul Walter Hauser and Sam Rockwell give phenomenal performances and this may be the best I have ever seen from Olivia Wilde. This is an important movie that should not be missed.

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Like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Little Women is a joyous, heartfelt, sublime film. It’s message of “Do it for someone else” as well as it’s reinforcement that we are not meant to go through life as lone rangers is absolutely perfect. The cast is outstanding and Greta Gerwig has cemented herself as one of the foremost directors in Hollywood. This is in my top three of the year.

Honorable mentions: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Late Night, Toy Story 4.

My list for best of the decade.

  1. Blade Runner 2049
  2. Interstellar
  3. Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition 
  4. Skyfall
  5. Mad Max: Fury Road
  6. Inception 
  7. The Descendants 
  8. The Dark Knight Rises
  9. Mission Impossible: Fallout
  10. Joker
  11. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  12. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  13. Logan
  14. Man of Steel
  15. A Quiet Place
  16. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  17. The Spectacular Now
  18. Tron Legacy
  19. Moonrise Kingdom
  20. Hell or High Water
  21. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  22. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  23. Captain America: Winter Soldier
  24. The Social Network
  25. The Man from UNCLE
Film · Movie Review · Movies · Podcasts · Star Wars · The Rise of Skywalker · Uncategorized

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Review

I have thought about writing a written review for this, but there is so much to talk about that I am not sure I would do it the justice I have on the podcasts I’ve recorded. I may still sit down and write something, possibly a series, focused on key areas, but until then, please enjoy my thoughts on Aggressive Negotiations and The 602 Club!

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Issue 192: Skywalker Risen.

A long time have they waited…and you have too. It’s the inevitable reaction show to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker from the Jedi Masters themselves.

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The 602 Club 263: The Power of Sacrifice

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

The wait is over, the final film in the Skywalker saga is here, again (for those that are old enough to remember the last time it was here with Revenge of the Sith) and JJ Abrams is back to wrap up this Sequel Trilogy that he began in 2015 with The Force Awakens.

In this episode of The 602 Club hosts Matthew Rushing and Christy Morris welcome Bruce Gibson to talk about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. We discuss leaving the theater, Rey’s answers, the Dyad, Bendemption, confronting fear, the rise of Palpatine…again, new and old characters, the Sith, The First Order, The Final Order, too many reversals, old friends return, the final score and our ratings.

Avengers · Faith · Marvel · MCU · Movie Review · Movies · The 602 Club · Uncategorized

Avengers: Endgame – Review

avengers_endgame_ver44_xxlgThis is a tricky one to write when many people have still not seen the film, so no worries if you are reading this, there will be no spoilers. Look for the spoilers on The 602 Club podcast next Tuesday. If you listen to my podcasts or have read this blog, you know I am not afraid to be critical of Marvel movies when I feel it is warranted. Case in point, I felt like Infinity War was, “ a mixed bag that has the effect of one being served a gourmet burger and then only being given a minute to eat it. There is so much happening, yet there’s so little pay off, leaving the audience unfulfilled, wanting a better movie and resolution. We all know the conclusion is coming in 2019, so now that the compulsory is over, we wait and wait and wait.” It was frustrating to feel this way, specifically since I just didn’t feel much about the movie, other than ambivalence and this left me trepidatious for Endgame.

So with that preamble, I know you are are all waiting eagerly for my thoughts on the end of the Infinity Stone Saga…. it is satisfying. That’s really what we want after this twenty-one film, eleven year investment, right? We want to be satisfied emotionally and thankfully Endgame is everything Infinity War was not in that department. The movie will capture you from start to finish. Personally I am happy with where my favorite characters are at the end and that is enough.

With the three hour run time and the contrivances to overcome Thanos, there are some issues. The movie does feel a bit long, but it also plays out better than Infinity War. Where that movie left you feeling unable to focus because there were so many characters and not a moments rest, Endgame is able to take its time. This may be it’s greatest strength, that you don’t feel rushed, you’re allowed the opportunity to care about what’s happening because you’re not being whiplashed between stories every other minute. For my book, Endgame is the poignantly satisfying conclusion to this part of the Marvel saga I wanted. It is not the perfect movie but it’s the one we deserve. Endgame is rate 4 out of 5 Cap Shields.

DC Comics · Faith · Movie Review · Movies · Shazam · Uncategorized

Shazam! – Review

MV5BMjIyNTkwODY1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUyMTA5NjM@._V1_DC Comics saw its last movie, Aquaman obliterate expectations and it all began with doing early screenings for fans. Now with Shazam!, two weeks away and garnering strong, early buzz, they’re hoping to repeat that success by giving fans the opportunity to see their latest movie. I was lucky enough to see it durning one of these screenings and the question is, ” Is the magic strong with Shazam! or does it fizzle out?”.

Shazam! is bewitching. It feels like the type of superhero movie that Steven Spielberg might have made in the 80s. The movie’s greatest strength is its stars. Asher Angel as the young Billy Batson, Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman and Zachary Levi as Billy/Shazam, make this movie work. They are the heart of the film, in a movie that’s just as much about family, as it is about being a superhero.

Like all good 80s movies, this one does not shy away from the PG-13 label, in fact there are a few moments that it leans into it harder than one might expect, with some truly scary moments that might be too much for an audience that is much younger than the label.

Because the movie is not out till April 5th, this review is brief and vague but don’t let that fool you, DC Comics and Warner Brothers have a hit on their hands. Shazam! charts its own course and while rooted in the DCEU with wonderful references, at the same time, it’s completely its own. David Sandberg knew exactly how to take the source material and bring it to life in a way that feels fresh, fun and yet grounded in heart the whole time. Shazam! is rated 4 out of 5 stars!

Captain Marvel · Film · Marvel · MCU · Movie Review · Movies · Uncategorized

Captain Marvel – Review

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In the eleven years since Iron Man hit the big screen to spawning Marvel’s cinematic comic universe, the the call for a female lead movie has increased as its popularity has grown. That time is now, as Marvel introduces Captain Marvel, their most powerful hero, on the brink of Avengers: Endgame.

The movie opens with Vers, a member of the Kree Starforce. She’s plagued by dreams of another life, one that seems familiar, but she cannot place. He mentor Yon-Rogg, continually lectures her about her emotional state and how her emotions and memories are holding back her true power. The Supreme Intelligence (an artificial intelligence for the Kree people that is a collection of all their greatest minds) reminds Vers of this same thing, her power can be taken away, just as it was given, if she does not learn to fall in line, control her emotions and follow orders. On top of all of this, there are the shapeshifting Skrulls, the sworn enemies of the Kree who are seen as terrorists, infiltrating planets clandestinely to turn them against the Kree.

If all of this seems like a lot, it is. The beginning of the movie is disjointed and disorienting. It takes a while to catch everything that is happening, who is who and how it all fits together. It’s also not helped by flashbacks to Veers previous life on Earth. This is the single biggest problem with the movie. The prehistory of Vers (Carol Danvers), is one of immense hardship, a bad family, constantly being told she’s not good enough or will never make it, always being put down. Her past life is struggle.

The issue is, that this theme of struggle seems incongruous with what we see in the present. There is never a situation that Carol is in, that she cannot handle. In fact, it’s all pretty easy for her. Even when her powers are taken away, she is able to beat up everyone in the room.

Q7ZGDNHQCRF4RAI4YNGUNV344EHer struggle for identity is also a frustration. This should be the core of the movie, the question of, “who am I.” She’s a woman without a past, that is tortured with memories that don’t make sense, yet you never feel that. Honestly Veers and Danvers are pretty much the same. There is not a shift in characterization or tone, it is all one note and that note is, “I’m too cool for school.” In the end, the lead character ends up being the least interesting person on screen.

This is accentuated but the fact that she is surrounded by good actors on every side. Samuel L. Jackson is back as a younger Fury and he’s great. You truly believe this is a man that’s confronted with his first alien encounter, that this is his first step into a much larger world. Ben Mendelsohn steals the show as the Skrull Talos. Every time he is on screen, he’s electric. Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau is the surprise scene-stealer. Her portrayal of Danvers’ best friend is heartfelt and emotional..

Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, both are de-aged in the film. At first, it is off-putting, as it does not look completely believable. Gregg unfortunately will never look right, but Jackson does begin to look better throughout the film and some scenes are better than others. Unfortunately the inconsistency draws your attention to something the filmmakers want you to be able to forget, but never can.

Captain Marvel never reaches the heights of Marvel’s best. There aren’t stand out action moments that you’ll walk out of the theater talking about. The lack of narrative and thematic cohesion, plus the lack of a strong arc for the main character put the movie firmly in middle of the Marvel pack, it’s neither a train wreck or a stand out, it’s just kinda there. What’s most disappointing is not feeling like Carol Danvers is anything other than a powerful pawn being placed on the Marvel board for a movie that’s not her’s. Carol Danvers deserved better. Captain Marvel is rated 3 out 5 stars.

Children · Family · Film · Movie Review · Movies · Uncategorized

The Kid Who Would be King – Review

the-kid-who-would-be-king-new-film-posterIt’s been ten years since Joe Cornish has directed a film and let’s hope that after this we will not have to wait ten more for another. His latest movie, The Kid Who Would be King is an utterly delightful retelling of the Arthurian legend in a modern setting. This film feels like the Amblin films from the 80s, full of heart but with a poignant message to boot.

Men Without Chests 

Morgana, Arthur’s half sister, who was banished to the bowls of the earth has awoken and makes ready her return to rule the surface world. It seems the hollow, selfish, greedy society that we’ve fostered are the antidote to the magical bonds that have bound her for thousands of years. The word hollow is used to describe us a few times in the film and it brought to mind C.S. Lewis’s, The Abolition of Man and his worry that we are creating, what he dubbed, men without chests.

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

We’ve raised a few generations and asked them to forgo the ideas of good an evil as too simplistic. All foundations of virtue and chivalry are gone. In their place we extol  meaningless celebrity, praise virtueless virtue-signaling and honor the honor-less. Our world has hollowed out and we wonder why it’s on the verge of collapse.

The beauty of this film is that it reminds us of what true virtue actually looks like. Merlin tells kids the code of Chivalry that all knights live by,

  1. Honor those you love
  2. Refrain from wanton offense
  3. Speak the Truth at all times
  4. Persevere in any enterprise until the end

Alex, from the beginning of the movie embodies these ideals. He’s already living them out. Like the Arthur of legend, he brings those that were enemies together, making them allies in a noble cause. It’s not because of his bloodline or birthright, but because of his choices. His dedication to the code, even before he knew the code is what has made him worthy of Excalibur. The Kid Who Would be King reminds us all that there are principles of righteousness to live by and that to save ourselves, we need to remember that before it’s too late.

The Existence of Evil

Merlin has another great line in the movie about evil and how it tricks us into hating each other, so that we’re too busy fighting each other to fight it. This brings to mind Charles Baudelaire’s quote, “…the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.” Leave it to a children’s movie to remind us of one of the biggest problems of our time, we believe in no absolutes, therefore the foundations for virtue are gone and so is our ability to recognize true evil. Morgana’s awakening has actually happened because of this very thing. The greed, self-obsession and pride has lead humankind to embrace vices as virtues and evil as good and they are what she feeds on. The world is topsy-turvy. The movie’s answer is to return to following the code, a code that recognizes the absolutes of good and evil, because without them it’s difficult to recognize one from the other.

The movie paints a picture of our world that feels very much like what the Apostle Paul describes in Romans chapter 1. Paul talks about the way we ought to live and the film mirrors in some ways his answer. “The righteous shall live by faith.” The code of chivalry is but a small part of this, but it’s pointing in the right direction.

The Movie

A movie with kids is always a toss-up if it will be good. It can be difficult to find a group of child actors that can all deliver well, consistently. Each of the young actors here is actually good. They will remind you of the young Harry Potter cast, which is a compliment. Rebecca Ferguson does not have a lot of time on screen as Morgana, but she is very effective in the one’s she has, at least until she becomes the CGI monster. Patrick Stewart yields most of his time as Merlin to Angus Imrie, who plays the younger version of the character. They work in concert to bring to life one of the most famous wizards of all time with a fresh, new take.

Joe Cornish has crafted a movie that does truly brings to mind the films of the 80s but with the effects of modern times. In fact, the only real let down in the movie, effects wise, is the Morgana creature at the end and by that point it’s too late for it to truly impact the film negatively. The one thing the movie is missing is a John Williams’ style soundtrack. If this movie had, had that, it would have been the cherry on top of an already tasty sundae.

The Kid Who Would be King is the perfect movie for families to share together. It brings back the adventure and fun without neglecting important themes that parents and kids can discuss long after the film is over. Movies like this need your support, so take friends and family and enjoy. This movie is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

 

Aquaman · Film · Movie Review · Movies · Uncategorized

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.

Aquaman · Comics · DC Comics · Film · Movie Review · Movies · Uncategorized

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.