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7/10
A terrific creature feature!
3 February 2017
Honestly, with the onslaught of low budget horror flicks in the past few years - yes, even the good ones - rewatching JEEPERS CREEPERS 2 was a breath of fresh air. Simply put, they don't make 'em like they used to anymore. A mid-range budget ($19 million!) creature feature with fantastic practical effects, great lighting, above average cinematography, and it doesn't even take place in a house! You can feel a grand scale to this film, something that's uncommon in many modern horror movies these days.

It's also one of those rare action/horror pics that's equal parts exciting and scary. Obvious thought was put into the way the film's made and some of its more ingenious set pieces - like the Creeper's wing separating the bus in half - so yeah, I pretty much think JEEPERS CREEPERS 2 is incredibly fun and underrated as hell. And yes, it's superior to the first film in almost every way.
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Split (IX) (2016)
8/10
24 things you need to know about SPLIT
18 January 2017
1. Obviously, the first thing that should be mentioned is James McAvoy's amazing performance. He is genuinely good and convincing as he weaves in and out of vastly different personalities, sometimes in the same scene.

2. Anya Taylor-Joy is a joy to watch as well. Her character has quite a bit of depth than the trailer suggests.

3. Rejoice for Betty Buckley! Those who thought she was awful in THE HAPPENING will find her lovely in this film.

4. As for the other two girls in the film - Haley Lu Richardson (who was wonderful in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN) and Jessica Sula - are serviceable but not entirely memorable.

5. Special shoutout to Izzie Coffey. Shyamalan always has a knack for finding talented young actors.

6. My favorite personality? Hedwig. He is a delight every time he's on screen. Etcetera.

7. Barry comes a close second. Seeing McAvoy play a homosexual character is as wonderful as it sounds.

8. I would have liked to see more of Kevin himself.

9. And in that line of thought, I would have liked to see more of the other personalities as well.

10. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. Not a surprise since Mike Gioulakis shot IT FOLLOWS.

11. So is the score. This is Shyamalan's first parting from his go-to collaborator, James Newton Howard (unless you count Paul Cantelon's small contribution in THE VISIT). While a shame, West Dylan Thordson more than makes up for Newton Howard's absence, providing an atmospheric and surprisingly empathetic score in certain scenes.

12. Most inventive opening/closing credits ever? I think so.

**13. Don't let anyone spoil this movie for you. Just don't.**

14. I've already seen the film twice within 5 days of each other. I liked it more the second time.

15. But I still prefer THE VISIT. Some reasons:

16. The climax is really underwhelming. It works thematically/symbolically, but the payoff falls short.

17. On top of that, the third act itself could have been crazier.

18. The structure gets repetitive.

19. The runtime is a bit long as well.

20. As a matter of fact, the film has many problems.

21. But there are risks taken here, and SPLIT is admirable for that.

22. In fact, the film goes to some truly dark territory, especially for its PG-13 rating.

23. Overall thoughts? SPLIT is a really good January movie.

24. But I don't doubt that audiences will be split on the film.
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Arrival (II) (2016)
10/10
An Affecting Tale of Humanity and Compassion
16 November 2016
I've been looking forward to this film since I read Eric Heisserer's screenplay nearly four years ago, previously titled STORY OF YOUR LIFE and adapted from Ted Chiang's short story of the same name. It was the first time I ever cried while reading a script, so to say I was worried the film wouldn't surpass my highest expectations would be an understatement. As you can tell from my rating, I absolutely loved ARRIVAL. It's easily one of the best films of the year and one of the most affecting sci-fi films I've ever seen.

I've been a staunch supporter of Heisserer ever since I read his script, but back then, people only knew him for the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake, THE THING prequel, and (the surprisingly good) FINAL DESTINATION 5. Since then, he's proved himself of being a capable writer with HOURS and this year's LIGHTS OUT. But it's with ARRIVAL that shows how skillful Heisserer really is, and I think it's time we finally give him the credit he deserves... I guess having Denis Villeneuve direct your script and Amy Adams deliver a powerhouse performance doesn't hurt either.

With that said, I went into the film viewing it on a level most others wouldn't have until their second viewing. Despite knowing where the story was headed, the film remained compelling and emotionally involving throughout its runtime, and I cried buckets by the end of it. ARRIVAL is a thoughtful, poignant, and heady piece of work. It respects the audience's intelligence to put the pieces together themselves and involves themes regarding humanity and compassion that's very relevant, especially in the past few days. Overall, Denis Villeneuve continues to deliver stellar work, Amy Adams' subtle but captivating performance will move you, and Eric Heisserer proves to the world everyone should be paying attention to him.
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Scream (1996)
9/10
A Cut Above the Rest
26 October 2016
I've seen SCREAM many times over the years, but I'm now realizing for the first time just how amazing, clever, and tightly-plotted the third act is. The way screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven handles the various characters and where they're located with respect to each other while all hell breaks loose is like seeing a magical balancing act that could crash and burn at any time. After all, it's hard for anyone to die in a slasher if everyone sticks together in a big group, and it seems like having the third act take place at a big party is setting up the film for failure. But Williamson and Craven somehow finds reasonable avenues to break the characters away from each other instead of having them split up that's typical of these movies. Overall, it's easy to hate on SCREAM while watching it in today's climate, but the film is handled with a lot of class, intellect, and reverence that's still absent in many of today's horror flicks. Because of that, SCREAM remains, to this day, a cut above the rest.
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7/10
Flanagan delivers yet again
20 October 2016
How anyone can be surprised by how good this film turned out to be is beyond me. From OCULUS to HUSH to BEFORE I WAKE, director Mike Flanagan has proved time and time again that he knows how to make elevated horror films, and OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is no different. Flanagan's penchant to mix human drama with horror is present here and continues to be a winning formula. After all, caring about the characters is the basis of any good horror movie. The film also has a cast giving credible performances, well-timed jump scares, and a great retro style that hearkens back to horror films in the 1970s. For a Halloween flick, you can't ask for more, and in that front, this Ouija sequel delivers.
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Lion (2016)
9/10
Not just another Oscar bait movie
19 October 2016
Do you know the feeling you get when you go into a film with no expectations at all or thinking it might be decent, and the film turns out to not only be good, but blows you away by how amazing it ends up being? That's LION, and if you've been watching films for several years like me thinking you've seen everything committed to cinema, it's a fantastic feeling to be proved wrong.

Let me explain to you exactly what I experienced while watching LION: Almost half of the film is in Hindi, which lends incredible authenticity to the story, not that BS where they have actors in which English is their second language speak English for the sake of sparing the American audience from reading subtitles (I'm looking at you, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, and every other Hollywood movie ever made). In fact, the entire first act takes place in India, where about 40 minutes of the film rides on the shoulders of a first time child actor – played by the wonderful Sunny Pawar – and it's one of the best first acts I've seen in years. Think of it like the silent first act of Wall-E; it feels like it can be its own film, yet the filmmakers do a great job connecting the story once Dev Patel comes on screen.

On top of that, the filmmaking is impressive. The script is fantastic, the cinematography is lush, the soundtrack complements the film really nicely, and the pacing is on point where it rarely feels like it's dragging, despite the story taking place over the course of 25 years. Every actor in here is also terrific in their roles. As stated earlier, Sunny Pawar makes a compelling lead for the first third of the film. If Oscars were given to kid actors, he would have a damn good chance at winning one. For the last two thirds, Dev Patel more than carries the rest of the film, giving an emotionally naked performance worthy enough to top his role in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Finally, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, and David Wenham are ace, despite all of them having limited screen time.

In a time where diversity is being talked about more in the film industry, LION makes a compelling case for having diversity in storytelling. It's not about a guy meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time. It's not about a group of friends going in a cabin in the woods. It's not even about a guy/girl struggling with the death of his/her father/mother/son/daughter/dog. No, LION is a personal story unique to South Asians growing up in India, and it's refreshing and easily one of the best films the year has to offer. Don't dismiss this as yet another Oscar bait movie put out by the Weinstein Company – it probably is one. But the film is much more than that. With a distinct vision from director Garth Davis, LION offers an enthralling story that deserves to be seen by everyone.
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The Shallows (2016)
7/10
A solid B-movie
15 September 2016
People often underestimate or under-appreciate the ability to produce a genuinely good B-movie. There's Renny Harlin on one end of the spectrum, making crap like The Legend of Hercules, 12 Rounds, and The Covenant. But then you have someone like Jaume Collet-Serra, who knows a thing or two about framing a scene, getting good performances from his actors, and above all, making an entertaining movie.

The Shallows could have been an otherwise conventional and forgettable thriller without Collet-Serra's strong and stylish direction. For example, the scene when Blake Lively's character first gets attacked by the shark is beautifully composed - in one unbroken take, no less - and legitimately nightmarish, with the red blood slowly overtaking the blue screen. It also doesn't hurt that Lively successfully carries the entire film on her shoulders, giving what is arguably the best performance in her career to date. There's a quiet fierceness and admirability to her character that makes it easy to root for her survival.

Overall, there's a lot to like about The Shallows. It's gorgeously shot, suspenseful, emotionally gratifying, and entirely successful on what it sets out to be - a solid B-movie, and it takes skill to pull that off. Sure, it doesn't match the heights of either Gravity or The Martian, but then again, its budget is a mere fraction of what those films cost.
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7/10
A comedy of this time
24 May 2016
Neighbors 2 is the most progressive comedy I've ever seen. Like who knew sororities couldn't throw parties while frats could? I sure as hell didn't, and it's messed up when you think about it! Of course, being progressive does not a good movie make (see: John Q.), but Neighbors 2 also happens to be very funny...because of its progressiveness. In fact, some of the best jokes here are ones in which the film highlights the ridiculous sexism in our society. Sure, there are moments where the film is a little too on the nose or moments where it gets a little too real (surprisingly) - but it's mostly an entertaining comedy...with something to say.

On top of that, the film gets brownie points for featuring a diverse array of supporting characters - gay, fat, black, Asian - i.e. characters the filmmakers could have easily given to another white man or woman. But the fact that the diversity isn't pointed out or made into a big deal makes it even better. Does that make any sense? Anyways, I digress. Overall, Neighbors 2 is a good sequel because it's actually a really funny movie with a great cast. However, its desire to tackle modern issues is like the cherry on top. Let me make this clear: The film didn't need to be progressive to be good...but it certainly does separate itself from every other comedy ever made, and that's never a bad thing.
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6/10
No, "Civil War" isn't the Best Marvel Movie Ever Made
12 May 2016
When early word had it that Captain America: Civil War was the best film Marvel's done to date, I should have known better. I guess having the privilege to see big blockbusters in advance does make one want to overpraise them into oblivion, even if it's something like Batman v Superman. But don't worry. Civil War is at least better than that, but it's certainly not the best Marvel film to date. Far from it.

I have so many thoughts regarding this film that it would be too much to write out in a review, so I'll boil it down to this: Marvel will be Marvel, and that's what kept Civil War from being great. Like most of their films, Civil War follows a certain formula that we've come to expect from Marvel flicks, and it doesn't stray away from that path. Its unwillingness to take risks is ultimately disappointing but not all that surprising. While the trailers for Civil War promised something dark, serious, and challenging, where lives and relationships between the characters we love are at stake, the film is anything but. In fact, Civil War has a surprising amount of humor, so much so that it severely undercuts the tension and central conflict between Iron Man and Captain America. Why call it a CIVIL WAR when there are one-liners and quips spoken every minute? Since when were Falcon and Bucky buddy-buddy towards each other? Their scenes, among many others, felt like something out of a freaking sitcom. Despite the many flaws BvS suffered from, the film at least had a consistent tone and the climactic battle itself felt significant and crucial to a point where someone could die.

That's the biggest weakness of this film. Everything felt so trivial and inconsequential. Calling it a Civil War is an overstatement when the war itself never amounts to anything more than a bunch of kids fighting together on a playground. There are no real casualties in this film, despite the fact that the film tries so very hard to convince you otherwise. "You've caused so many civilian casualties!" our heroes are told, but just wait until the next scene when there are some jokes thrown in to lighten up the mood, because you know, talking about endangering lives and having security vs. freedom shouldn't be *too* serious a discussion. You can't have your cake and eat it too, Marvel, and that's exactly what Civil War wanted: to be sincere about the very real and relevant issues it's tackling but also make it fun and entertaining for the whole family to enjoy - because more $$$. Even during the climax when motivations and reveals come into play and you feel like someone could die, it ends in such a whimper that you feel what occurred won't have any meaningful effect in future films.

And that's just it. Civil War is entertaining and watchable for what it is - and again, a whole lot better than BvS - but it could have been so much more.
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Don't Breathe (2016)
9/10
An incredibly intense thriller
17 March 2016
Fede Alvarez just gave Green Room a run for its money with Don't Breathe, an incredibly intense film and glorious exercise in suspense. It's one of the best studio-produced thrillers I've seen in years. The premise is simple: A group of teens plans to break into a blind man's house to steal his money. Only thing, the old man is more adept than they realize. While the setup is a little too pedestrian, albeit economical, once the story gets rolling, the film doesn't let up, running at a lean 88 minutes. Other than that, Don't Breathe is best viewed going in knowing as little as possible.

This is Alvarez's first film in three years since his violent and solid remake of Evil Dead, and it is with this sophomoric debut that solidifies the genre filmmaker as someone with obvious talent. Inspirations are drawn from the best - Hitchcock, Fincher, and Wait Until Dark are a few - but Alvarez provides his own unique vision that truly makes the film his own. Like the masters before him, Don't Breathe is purely cinematic, relying less on dialogue and more on visual storytelling and sound to drive the film. The cinematography is amazing as well as the creative sound design, so much so they are characters within the film themselves.

The cast, while small, is great too, including Jane Levy, who can pretty much be titled this generation's scream queen after this and Evil Dead. Dylan Minnette is good in his role as well, providing enough sympathy for his character. Both young actors are put through hell, and their physical performances sell their tumultuous ordeal convincingly. However, it is Stephen Lang who is the film's shining beacon. As the antagonist, Lang is instantly memorable and frightening, an intimidating force that permeates throughout the film even in scenes without his presence.

If there's one gripe about the film, there's a plot twist that doesn't quite work, but that itself is a minor complaint compared to the many things the film gets right and does so well. I won't say more. Don't Breathe is a technical achievement, the rare studio film that actually pushes what film can do as a medium. However, like with Green Room, try not to get caught up in the hype, even with my glowing review. Set your expectations appropriately, and remember to avoid watching the trailer.
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Deadpool (2016)
8/10
This is what it looks like when filmmakers take risks
15 February 2016
Deadpool is a triumph of artistic vision over studio interference. Little credit should be given to 20th Century Fox, as they had zero faith in the success of a Deadpool movie. To put things into perspective, Ryan Reynolds fought for this film back in 2004 when Blade: Trinity was released. Reynolds and co. went to shoot test footage that was then leaked online by Reynolds because Fox had no intentions to release it to the public. Finally, after years and years of BEGGING to the studio and the overwhelming positive responses of the test footage from the public, Fox didn't even tell Reynolds and co. that the film was greenlit. They had to find out online like the rest of us plebeians. If that sounds bad, Fox even cut their budget by $7 million AT THE LAST MINUTE, which caused the writers to scratch some action sequences that I'm sure would've been great to see.

Deadpool now has the biggest opening weekend in the month of February (surpassing Fifty Shades of Grey), the biggest opening weekend for 20th Century Fox (surpassing all the X-Men films), and the biggest opening weekend for an R rated film EVER (surpassing The Matrix: Reloaded). With all that being said, Deadpool is a hilariously entertaining film that works mainly because of Reynolds himself. His comedic skills pay off gloriously as the titular character, who gives so many quips in one instance that some jokes will be missed. Of course, credit should be given to the writers too (AKA: The Real Heroes Here), and it's impressive that this is Tim Miller's directorial debut. The action sequences and pacing are so good that you'd think this came from a veteran director.

From the ingenious opening credits to the subversive ending, Deadpool constantly upends clichés and tropes you're used to seeing in superhero flicks in the past few years. What's great here is the filmmakers had something weird and perverse and just went with it. Jokes about pedophilia, pegging, and sex run rampant, but it's never really dark, despite the mature subject matter. On top of that, it's also very refreshing to see a pansexual superhero in such a big studio film. It's unheard of these days. Fox and other studios, learn from this success. It's not the fact that a hard R-rated film can do well, it's that Deadpool also happens to be very good, most likely because you, Fox, actually gave the filmmakers the creative freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted.
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9/10
Michael Moore takes America to task for our own good
10 February 2016
I'm not going to hide the fact that I'm extremely biased when it comes to Michael Moore. I love all his documentaries, and his liberal views closely align with mine, so I just want to say Where To Invade Next is amazing, emotionally moving, and Moore's most positively infectious film. For the doc, he covers a wide range of issues that is plaguing the US, including paid time off for work (or lack thereof), school lunches, women's rights, abortion, not being able to acknowledge our dark history by sugarcoating things in classes, college debt and rising tuition, the education system as a whole, the prison system, the incarceration of black men, the death penalty, the war on drugs, among others I'm sure I missed. And if it seems that Moore is taking a dump on America, he isn't. Despite taking the US to task, Moore believes we have the power to change things if we care enough to (like the countries he visits in the film), and that's the positive takeaway of Where to Invade Next. Overall, I think it's an important documentary, and if any of these issues relate to you (which of course they do), I urge you to go seek it out.
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7/10
It's a lot of fun!
29 October 2015
If there's one horror movie you need to see in theaters this Halloween weekend, make it Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Sure, the film won't win any awards for a great screenplay or nuanced performances, but sometimes you need to watch a movie that you can just sit down and enjoy. In that regard, Scouts delivers. It's totally over-the-top and ridiculously entertaining and the closest version of an American Shaun of the Dead there will ever be. I mean, if the zombie cats in the trailer didn't pull you in, then you're probably not the intended audience for this film. While there are some adolescent gags that don't quite work, most of the jokes are quite funny, some even inspired. There are things in this film that you've never seen in a zombie flick before, and considering the lack of originality in recent zombie fare in film and TV, that's quite an accomplishment. There's also an endearing quality to this film through the three boy scouts relationship that ground the film emotionally. Underneath all the gore and gross out gags, Scouts is a coming-of-age comedy with heart, and while it might not work for everyone, this viewer had a blast.
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2/10
This time, you will see the activity. And the lazy writing. And the cheap 3D gimmick.
23 October 2015
Remember Saw? Remember what happened to that franchise? After becoming a Halloween staple, it was immediately overshadowed by the newer, fresher Paranormal Activity series, with the last Saw using 3D as a final resort to churn out one more film from the dying franchise. Now, we're seeing the same thing from Paranormal Activity. In fact, the desperation to milk one last film is apparent, and it's sad. Alas, this is the cycle every horror franchise goes through. I have to admit, I personally enjoyed this series longer than I would expect. To call PA4 disappointing is an understatement, but The Marked Ones made up for it and surprised the hell out of me.

However, TGD is easily the worst film in the series, one of the worst films of the year, and a sad, cynical, soulless attempt to salvage whatever is left from this franchise. There's literally nothing memorable here, nothing iconic. It's all so generic and inept, from the constant jump scares, to the forgettable actors, to the 3D, which is used in the most clichéd way possible. The story doesn't make a lick of sense compared to all the buildup in the previous films, most likely due to the noticeable absence of Christopher Landon, who wrote all the sequels up until this point. And why the hell did it take two years for four writers to write the script? Was that really necessary? Overall, there's not much to be said about TGD because there's not much to actually talk about. By the time of writing this review, I've already forgotten about 90% of the movie, and you will too. So don't watch it. You don't need to see the activity. Whatever you come up with in your imagination is probably far scarier than this movie would ever dream to achieve.
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Steve Jobs (2015)
10/10
Simply Masterful
14 October 2015
Is Steve Jobs the movie of the year? Obviously. Clearly. The first 30 minutes of the film itself is so well constructed from the writing, directing, performances, pacing, soundtrack, and editing that you are witnessing masters do what they do best. With the names of Boyle, Sorkin, Fassbender, and Winslet, would anyone expect less? No, I'm not saying these things because I love Apple products or I think Steve Jobs himself was a genius, a visionary. It's just the simple fact that the film is masterful in nearly every way. It puts to shame almost every film released this year and the previous ten years. It's that good.

Running at about two hours, the film feels like one, which is impressive considering it's essentially a bunch of scenes of people talking to each other. The film rarely feels slow and remains compelling to the very end, moving at an incredibly brisk pace. Not even The Social Network could pull that off. Then again, Steve Jobs is an entirely different beast, with the only similarities being their Sorkin-ess scripts. Everything else is unalike because Danny Boyle is a completely different director from David Fincher. Yeah, it would have been cool to see a Social Network reunion, but it's just as great to witness Boyle's distinct style overtake the screenplay. Again, these are masters who know their craft.

The performances are top notch, but of course they are. Michael Fassbender is a chameleon, transforming into the titular role of Steve Jobs. Sure, he doesn't look like Jobs but does it even matter when he's this good? Kate Winslet is alongside Fassbender through most of the film, and while her European accent comes in and out for a few scenes, she's fantastic. Other supporting roles range from good to great, including Michael Stuhlbarg and even Seth Rogen, but it is Perla Haney-Jardine who stands out as Jobs' daughter. She's in a small but nevertheless important section of the film and becomes instantly memorable in her limited screen time.

The success of the film isn't that it's about Jobs himself or the products that he made. In fact, Sorkin cleverly ditches the cradle to the grave biopic we've seen too many times and instead, focuses on Jobs' relationship with his daughter. It's an affecting storyline, tapping into the universal themes of family, love, wanting to be loved or, at the very least, acknowledged. It's the beating heart of Steve Jobs, the thing that keeps the film alive, and don't be surprised when you're crying by the end because you will. That, perhaps, might be the most surprising aspect of the film of all.
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Green Room (2015)
8/10
This Review is going to be Short and Sweet
1 October 2015
Don't let ANYONE spoil you ANYTHING about the film.

Don't see the trailer when it comes out.

Avoid clips and any promo materials they may release in the future.

Go in knowing as little as possible.

Just know that watching Green Room is like getting a shot of adrenaline that doesn't let up until the very end.

It's fantastic, tense, and entertaining.

Take my word for it.

But also...

Don't get too caught up in the hype.

See the film when it comes out.

You'll be glad you did.

P.S. Jeremy Saulnier is definitely someone to look out for.
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The Visit (I) (2015)
8/10
M. Night is Back, Baby!
2 September 2015
It's hard to talk about any M. Night films these days without discussing his career trajectory, how he started off incredibly strong with a triple knockout of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, only to have his potential squandered, or at least questioned, with films like The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. As a fan of Shyamalan myself, even I had to admit that he may have lost his luster. With that being said, I'm overjoyed and elated to say that The Visit is Shyamalan's best film since The Village over 10 years ago (my personal favorite). And it's not so bad it's good. The Visit is a legitimately good film, with great performances, terrific setups and even better payoffs, and an overall simple but satisfying story, which is all Shyamalan needs right now.

It's difficult to say much about the story without revealing too much, because The Visit is essentially the type of film where it's better the less you know going in. It's not to say the film is filled with plot twists left and right, but how cleverly it subverts expectations, especially based on the film's misleading marketing campaign. Let this be known: The Visit is a horror AND comedy. It's downright hilarious (intentionally so) during a majority of the film but also equally scary and creepy, which is what M. Night is known for. I was laughing hysterically and screaming, sometimes at the same time! The success of the film is how effectively it jumps in between the two genres and frequently on the dime. The third act showcases this in the best possible way and in full Shyamalan fashion.

Though there are plenty of laughs and screams to be had, The Visit is also filled with surprising moments of drama. There are, at the very least, three genuinely beautiful scenes. One of those involves a zoom in of a certain character, and it's utterly heartbreaking. Credit must be given to Shyamalan who manages to get great performances from his actors, a welcome change after the stilted and wooden performances in his last few films. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould play the leads, and they're completely likable in their roles. Oxenbould, in particular, steals every scene he's in, providing many of the film's biggest laughs. Seriously, the jokes in here are funnier than most comedies released these days. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are also rightfully creepy as the kids' offbeat grandparents. Last but not least, Kathryn Hahn leaves a great impression, despite the limited screen time she has. She's truly wonderful here.

Overall, The Visit is ridiculously entertaining and a total crowd pleaser. It's the film we were all hoping for Shyamalan to make to get him out of the slump. No, it's not as great as his first four films, but it's a step towards the right direction. Recently, it's been revealed that he'll reunite with producer Jason Blum and Joaquin Phoenix for a new project. If it's another low budget feature like The Visit, which it most likely will be, we might be witnessing an era of Shyamalascance. After all, going back to basics is his greatest asset right now. Who says horror/comedy can't work?

UPDATE: The film is even better the second time around, and I noticed a lot of details I missed during the first viewing. There's even clever meta humor sprinkled throughout that might not be apparent at first. Additionally, I'd like to put a spotlight on Deanna Dunagan, who I didn't give enough credit to beforehand. She was fantastic. How great and fulfilling it is for an actress her age to have a role that is complicated and complex as is the character of Nana, to be sweet and motherly in one scene only to switch (convincingly) to creepy and insane the next. In one especially dramatic scene, you will even ache for her. Only if you stop to think will you notice the many layers Dunagan has to play with, and for that reason, she should be praised.
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The Ring (2002)
7/10
Still Scary After All These Years
10 August 2015
It's been 13 years since The Ring was released, and yet, somehow, the film holds up incredibly well. Maybe not in terms of technology, but in terms of scares, it's one of the best out there. I remember watching the film as a teen and immediately regretting my poor decision. Having recently rewatched it, the film still managed to get under my skin, and for good reason: The atmosphere is palpable, and a sense of dread is consistently sustained from the first scene through the end credits. And let's talk about that first scene featuring a young Amber Tamblyn who, nowadays, is instantly recognizable. What a scene to grab an audience's attention! Haunting and unpredictable, it's no surprise The Ring's opening is considered to be one of horror's best, easily as good as the ones from Scream and Jaws.

Despite its scares, The Ring is also a surprisingly beautiful looking film, and with a $48 million price tag, it should be. Unlike most horror films these days, cinematographer Bojan Bazelli provides some amazing compositions and frames every scene with unexpected allure, even though the film is filled with plenty of disturbing imagery. Of course, director Gore Verbinski should also be given credit for the film's success. Rarely have I seen a horror film in which all of its moving parts worked together so well. From the production design, performances, the aforementioned cinematography, editing, and soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, it's like witnessing a master who actually understands the language of film.

As for the screenplay, writer Ehren Kruger of... (wait for it) the Transformers films, gives time for the story to breathe and build, an uncommon characteristic for a horror flick. Kruger also cleverly writes in an familial subplot that provides an emotional underpinning for its characters. What people tend to forget about The Ring is that even though it's about a journalist trying to solve the mystery behind a cursed tape, it's also about a broken up family that slowly comes together in the wake of a crisis. Because of that, I will say that the ending is unnecessarily cruel and unearned, providing a twist that pulls the rug from under the audience just for the sake of doing so.

Still, lead Naomi Watts is able to carry the film on her shoulders through and through. In spite of not being a notable actress at the time, her impressive performance as the strong-willed Rachel quickly put Watts in the mainstream spotlight. Martin Henderson and David Dorfman also provide memorable performances as the remaining members of the family, though it's disappointing to see Henderson has yet to reach A-list status as Watts did. He provides the charisma, charm, and humor required for the role. Cameos from veteran actors Brian Cox and Jane Alexander also raise the film to another level, and both are terrific in their limited screen time. Overall, The Ring is an unnerving yet gorgeous film, supported by an assured direction from Gore Verbinski and a breakthrough performance from Naomi Watts. Who says PG-13 horror can't be scary and well made?
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The Gift (VI) (2015)
8/10
The movie you didn't know you had to see this summer
31 July 2015
Here's a surprise: The Gift is a mature thriller that's more complex and classy than the trailers suggest. I don't know what caused the marketing department to make the film look like such a second-rate, cheap, predictable thriller that somehow had gotten ahold of talented actors, but now we know the truth. As Joel Edgerton's directorial debut, it's impressive, considering the sense of craft going on behind the camera. The cinematography is gorgeous and the pacing is that of a slow burn, but it's never dull. The premise is also deceptively simple, turning more intricate and involving as the film progresses.

Edgerton, who also wrote the screenplay, refuses to adhere to genre conventions, constantly subverting audience's expectations on how the story plays out. Red herrings, plot twists, shifting perspectives, and moral ambiguity ensue, but they never feel cheap. Like the best thrillers, The Gift evolves naturally and realistically. Edgerton and Rebecca Hall are great, but it is Jason Bateman who impresses. As a natural comedian actor, he plays one of his rare, serious roles to terrific effect. But I digress. You should go into this film with a clean slate, but know that it is a rare, intelligent thriller that doesn't cheat or spoonfeed its audience. And in that regard, Joel Edgerton has given us a gift, indeed.
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The Cell (2000)
10/10
A Retrospective: Ahead of its time
31 July 2015
Let's just get this out of the way: I absolutely loved The Cell. I loved it in my first viewing and have continued to love it in subsequent viewings. Why? Well, visually speaking, it was ahead of its time, and by today's standards, its imagery has remained unmatched. A film like this would have never been able to get made today, one in which a studio would put millions of dollars into an R rated film that could turn the audience off due to its perverse visuals. Only Tarsem Singh could have created such beauty and disturbing imagery in a directorial debut. But what about the story, you might ask. Yes, I have to admit the story may be secondary, reminding one of The Silence of the Lambs, but remember, this film did dream heists before Inception did.

With all this talk about the film's visual execution, some may say that The Cell is merely style over substance. However, I'd argue the style *is* the substance. The film is like an empty canvas where we can witness Tarsem's crazy and absolutely beautiful imagination. Still 15 years later, the visuals hold up incredibly well, provided without some dated CGI, but those are easily forgiven with the many things the film gets right with visual storytelling. Even scenes that take place outside the dream world are shot meticulously, every frame a painting (thanks Tony Zhou for the phrase). The film's cinematographer, Paul Laufer, should be given some recognition as well, providing some of the film's unconventional camera movements. It's a surprise to learn Laufer hasn't shot a film since The Cell, only working on music videos. Sadly, he's a talent untapped by Hollywood.

The soundtrack by Howard Shore nicely complements the look of the film, providing a necessary momentum that slowly builds towards an explosive finale that is emotionally compelling as much as it is visually stunning. Despite the flack she gets, Jennifer Lopez is quite good in the film, who gives her character enough layers to be engaging. A young Vince Vaughn is also very good in his role as the FBI agent with an intriguing past the film doesn't delve too deep into. Lastly, Vincent D'Onofrio is outstanding as the film's complex antagonist, effectively playing the different facets of what could have been a forgettable, two dimensional villain. Overall, The Cell is an incredible film, unforgettable in its visual execution. Although the story is familiar, it is nonetheless involving with good performances from the actors who carry it. One wonders whether the film would work better today due to the vast progress of technology, but for now, The Cell is irreplaceable, with no other films that can rival it. At least, visually speaking.
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8/10
Summer Movie Done Right
31 July 2015
The Mission: Impossible franchise is a lot like the Fast and Furious, in that the later sequels are better and more entertaining than the early installments. MI3 is my personal favorite in the series, which I think is vastly underrated and pretty much the quintessential action movie. Ghost Protocol, while not as amazing, was still pretty great, with Brad Bird bringing his own charm and sensibilities to the franchise. Rogue Nation continues this trend with some of the best set pieces in the entire series. You'll be glad to know the plane heist, which has been promoted to death in the trailers and poster, is actually the first scene in the film, proving director Christopher McQuarrie has more up his sleeve. And that he does. I don't want to spoil them, but the action scenes are so creative and executed extremely well, you'd be fascinated to wonder what went on in the head of McQuarrie when he had to come up with them.

For example, there's a stunning set piece in an opera house, which brings to mind the climax of Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) in the best possible way. In the sequence, McQuarrie has to juggle a lot of variables, but he pulls it off masterfully. And in my favorite action scene, there's an underwater set piece that could have been taken directly from Gravity. By the time the film has reached its ending, you can't help but feel exhausted. If there's one thing to complain about of the film, it's that it succumbs to the pitfall of being too long. The film didn't really need to be 131 minutes, and part of that has to do with the overlong and slightly disappointing third act. The plot is also a little convoluted for its own good, with a few too many reveals and reversals.

Nevertheless, the ever reliable Tom Cruise brings his A game, reminding audiences why we loved him in the first place. He's the heart and soul of the Mission: Impossible franchise, and fortunately, he hasn't lost his luster yet. Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames return for this installment, but apart from Pegg, Renner and Rhames are mostly in the background. Rhames, in particular, is resorted to saying witty one-liners, and that's about it. However, it's Rebecca Ferguson who shines. This is the first thing I've seen her in, and she's right there alongside Cruise the whole way through. Sean Harris is unrecognizable as the film's villain and he gives a good performance, but like most of the villains in the series, he merely gets the job done. Regardless of its shortcomings, Rogue Nation is consistently good with the rest of the franchise, only ranking behind parts 3 and 4 for me. It's an enormously entertaining summer flick that contains some of the best action scenes the year has to offer so far.
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Wayward Pines (2015– )
6/10
Episode 10 Review
28 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I was on board with Wayward Pines from episode 1. I loved the weird and darkly humorous tone of the show, and that all star cast is just the cherry on top. Sure, the show isn't on par with Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, but it was surprisingly entertaining for a limited summer series. Then the mystery was revealed in episode 5, and my jaw dropped. What a ballsy and unique way to structure a story, to pull back the curtain halfway through the show! Of course, showrunner Chad Hodge has a lot to owe to Blake Crouch, the writer of the novels in which the show is adapted from. On top of that, the fact that Hodge went into this knowing he only had ten episodes to tell this story, from beginning, middle, and end, provided a bright light at the end of the tunnel that most mystery-based shows, like Lost, did not. As the audience, we knew we weren't going to have to wait 5+ seasons for the jaw- dropping reveal only to have the show try to answer every other question we may have along the way.

Fast-forward to episode 10. To say that the finale was a huge disappointment is an understatement. I got to speak to Chad Hodge after viewing episode 5, praising him on how fantastic it was. Yes, the episode was filled with exposition, but the way the episode cut between the three Burke family members learning different facets of the truth was clever writing on Hodge's part. He seemed to be overjoyed with what he pulled off, and he should be. But what conjured Hodge to end the show the way that he did is a bit of a mystery itself. There wasn't a worse ending for the show. To have the First Generation kids take over the town and make WP the way that it was from episode 1 seemed like a slap in the face. I felt cheated. The idea behind it makes sense: The kids were put on a pedestal, and they felt empowered by Pilcher to run the town the way he did before he was killed off. Narratively speaking, however, it makes little sense to end the show in such a bleak and contrived way.

First of all, the whole First Generation thing wasn't developed enough for it to be plausible for a bunch of kids to overtake the adults. So you're telling me these frat guys managed to take over Theresa and Pam's intelligence, on top of all the security guards they had? Yeah, right. Additionally, to have Jason survive the gunshot from episode 9 was ridiculous. Overall, there weren't enough setups or foreshadowing that pointed to an unhappy ending for WP. Secondly, the show, from episode 1, built towards hope. It built towards Ethan and the town overcoming Pilcher's oppression to build a better future for WP. Why, after all that, end the show with the town getting back to the way it started? Why spend 10 weeks watching the show only to have us go back to square one? Why did Hodge decide to end the show in such an underwhelming and unsatisfying way after weeks of consistently good episodes? That, perhaps, is a mystery that will never be explained.

Show: 6/10, Episode 10: 4/10
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Wayward Pines: Cycle (2015)
Season 1, Episode 10
4/10
A Huge Disappointment
28 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I was on board with Wayward Pines from episode 1. I loved the weird and darkly humorous tone of the show, and that all star cast is just the cherry on top. Sure, the show isn't on par with Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, but it was surprisingly entertaining for a limited summer series. Then the mystery was revealed in episode 5, and my jaw dropped. What a ballsy and unique way to structure a story, to pull back the curtain halfway through the show! Of course, showrunner Chad Hodge has a lot to owe to Blake Crouch, the writer of the novels in which the show is adapted from. On top of that, the fact that Hodge went into this knowing he only had ten episodes to tell this story, from beginning, middle, and end, provided a bright light at the end of the tunnel that most mystery-based shows, like Lost, did not. As the audience, we knew we weren't going to have to wait 5+ seasons for the jaw-dropping reveal only to have the show try to answer every other question we may have along the way.

Fast-forward to episode 10. To say that the finale was a huge disappointment is an understatement. I got to speak to Chad Hodge after viewing episode 5, praising him on how fantastic it was. Yes, the episode was filled with exposition, but the way the episode cut between the three Burke family members learning different facets of the truth was clever writing on Hodge's part. He seemed to be overjoyed with what he pulled off, and he should be. But what conjured Hodge to end the show the way that he did is a bit of a mystery itself. There wasn't a worse ending for the show. To have the First Generation kids take over the town and make WP the way that it was from episode 1 seemed like a slap in the face. I felt cheated. The idea behind it makes sense: The kids were put on a pedestal, and they felt empowered by Pilcher to run the town the way he did before he was killed off. Narratively speaking, however, it makes little sense to end the show in such a bleak and contrived way.

First of all, the whole First Generation thing wasn't developed enough for it to be plausible for a bunch of kids to overtake the adults. So you're telling me these frat guys managed to take over Theresa and Pam's intelligence, on top of all the security guards they had? Yeah, right. Additionally, to have Jason survive the gunshot from episode 9 was ridiculous. Overall, there weren't enough setups or foreshadowing that pointed to an unhappy ending for WP. Secondly, the show, from episode 1, built towards hope. It built towards Ethan and the town overcoming Pilcher's oppression to build a better future for WP. Why, after all that, end the show with the town getting back to the way it started? Why spend 10 weeks watching the show only to have us go back to square one? Why did Hodge decide to end the show in such an underwhelming and unsatisfying way after weeks of consistently good episodes? That, perhaps, is a mystery that will never be explained.
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Trainwreck (2015)
9/10
A star on the rise
21 July 2015
When you team up Judd Apatow, one of the best comedy directors working today, with Amy Schumer, one of the best comedians working today, you've struck gold. TRAINWRECK subverts the rom-com genre because of its unlikely protagonist, Amy, a woman who doesn't look perfect and is totally likable because of that. At the same time, the film's biggest flaw is how much it adheres to the rom-com formula, but it doesn't detract from the quality overall. TRAINWRECK essentially is a showcase of the many talents Schumer has to offer. It's a vehicle for her to tell the world, hey look, here's someone that you should be paying attention to. Additionally, it happens to be semi-autobiographical, and while often hilarious, it's also honest and heartfelt. In one surprisingly moving monologue, she gets to show a vulnerable side of herself, which you never get to see on her show.

In addition to Schumer, everyone else is pretty much perfect. Bill Hader, playing the love interest, is reliable as always. Brie Larson is also very good as Schumer's sister, reminding everyone the world's greatest mystery: why isn't she in more films?! However, John Cena surprises with a supporting role filled with hysterical one liners. On top of that, he has great comedic timing! Lastly, Tilda Swinton is flat out great and unrecognizable and even LeBron James manages to be quite funny. Sure, there are some scenes that fall flat, one of which involves Matthew Broderick and some sport announcers(?), making you question why the scene wasn't cut in the first place. Despite those minor bumps, TRAINWRECK is a hit. It's a hit for Apatow, and it's a hit for Schumer. Overall, TRAINWRECK is easily the best comedy of the year so far and solidifies Amy Schumer as a talent to watch.
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8/10
Everyone needs some Magic Mike in their life
1 July 2015
Now here comes a film whose only intentions are to entertain and make people smile, and it's the purity of these intentions that makes this film such a knockout. In fact, Magic Mike XXL is so infectiously positive, only the heartless, prudish, and close-minded will be left without a smile. How refreshing it is to see a film that doesn't judge or criticize its audience and celebrates sexuality as something that one shouldn't be ashamed of. On top of that, the film makes a point about treating everyone equally and with respect, regardless of race, sex, sexuality, and size. In that regard, the film is revolutionary. For example, Jada Pinkett Smith plays a character who refers to women as "queens" and men as "kings." Additionally, the climax features a dance number where Channing Tatum and Stephen Boss (aka: Twitch) mirror dance moves to their respective attendees, despite their difference in skin color. Our male comrades also find themselves vogueing in a drag show. A DRAG SHOW. If you were wondering why gay people weren't included in the first film, well, they fixed it here. Also, I had no idea what vogueing meant, but I do now.

But let's not get bogged down in the subtext. Magic Mike XXL is completely different from the first film, yet it's almost as good as it, with terrific performances from everyone. The side characters from the first film are fleshed out here, with each member of the Kings of Tampa getting their chance to shine. Apart from Tatum, the most notable of the bunch is Joe Manganiello, who appears in a dance routine involving Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way." ...as you can imagine, it's one of the best scenes in the film. Oh, and you get to hear Matt Bomer sing...twice. There are also a few new castmembers, including the aforementioned Jada Pinkett Smith. She steals every single scene she's in as Rome, the feisty and commanding ringleader of her own club, as well as a past lover of Mike. On top of that, Donald Glover, Andie MacDowell, and Elizabeth Banks are very memorable in their limited roles. Literally everyone is good in it. By the time the credits rolled, I exhaled deeply with a stupid grin on my face, having gone through a joyous experience. Sure, Magic Mike XXL doesn't have that much to offer in terms of plot or stakes, but it is the most unabashedly entertaining movie of the year so far. Whether you're male or female, gay or straight, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more feel-good movie this summer.
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