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REVIEW – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Directed by: Ron Howard
Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanuel
Written by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Edited by: Pietro Scalia
Cinematography by: Bradford Young
Music by: John Powell, John Williams (theme)
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, Erin Kellyman
Year: 2018

 

So… this movie was probably one of the most troubled of the recent Star Wars movies – if not any of them. Infamously dealt a blow when original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired late in production for problems behind the scenes that have still not been made entirely clear, the buzz surrounding Disney’s second “anthology” film began to turn sour in the minds of many fans anticipating its release, with many of them also taking issue with the fact that Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo just wasn’t going to measure up to the iconic performance we got from Harrison Ford – in the original trilogy and then reminding us how great he was just a couple years ago by also returning to the role in The Force Awakens. The hiring of Ron Howard, an overall reliable director with an old school sensibility and even experience working with Lucasfilm in the past (Willow) did seem to lift some spirits, but right up until Solo’s release (and particularly in the wake of the backlash that the ambitious and apparently heretical The Last Jedi received) it seems like everyone – fans both hardcore and casual – were preparing for this one to be a complete disaster.

Not me, though! I thought it looked damn fun. And, you know what? It really is! Read more…

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REVIEW: Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

December 17, 2015 2 comments
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)Directed by: Ron Howard
Produced by: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard
Screenplay by: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Edited by: Dan Hanley, Mike Hill
Cinematography by: Donald Peterman
Music by: James Horner
Original song by: Mariah Carey, James Horner, Will Jennings, performed by Faith Hill
Starring: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Josh Ryan Evans, Clint Howard, Anthony Hopkins (voice)
Based on the book by Dr. Seuss
Year: 2000

 

I’m not really certain what makes studios think that live action adaptations of things that belong in animation are good ideas, but if I had to make a guess, I’d say it’s because they make money. Obviously, that trumps artistic expression, more often than not. And that’s how you end up with things like The Cat in the Hat starring Mike Myers. These movies are at least technical marvels, when sufficient effort is put into them, and the environments in How the Grinch Stole Christmas are really quite incredible and well realized. The makeup effects are also mostly impressive, too. That being said, I’ve only once ever seen a live action adaptation or extension of a property that I ended up liking more than the original, and that was this year’s live action Cinderella. Still, that’s one exception, and none of this can overshadow the fact that Dr. Seuss’ book was already perfectly adapted decades ago by Chuck Jones in the 26-minute-long, 1967 animated TV special, complete with the perfect look and tone, and, best of all, with absolutely zero filler to pad out the original book. The same cannot be said about Ron Howard’s admirable but misguided adaptation. Read more…

2013 IN REVIEW: My Top Films of the Year

February 16, 2014 1 comment

Rush - Chris Hemsworth

FINALLY! The moment I’ve been building up to for far too long! It’s been a busy month… and a half… for me, but I’m finally done, and this is my last of my 2013 in Review articles! (Consequently, while none of these are exactly final reviews, many of them may as well be and portions of what is stated here may show up in a future review. For the sake of my sanity and my time, however, I’ve decided to present what I felt the need to write without very many edits!)

The format I’ve chosen for my annual Year in Review articles is a bit insane, I know, but while it’s time consuming, its also quite fun, and it’s just as much about sharing all the films released in the last year (or at least most, as I probably missed some in the sections where I went over films I didn’t get around to seeing) as it is about me locating films that you and I have both overlooked, which is also why a lot of the films I didn’t see this year made repeat appearances, as I couldn’t resist the urge to watch them, and it’s not like I’d be able to do another year in review for them, too, you know? This year, one of those movies I didn’t see at first but did during my writing these articles even made it onto this list, My Top Films of the Year!

The Wolf of Wall Street - Jonah Hill, Marching Band

So why don’t I call it “The Best Films of the Year”? It’s simple, really – it’s subjective, yes, but it’s also because even I switch around the order at times. I guarantee you that at some point in the past and future, I might have ordered these films differently. It took some time and thought, and this is ultimately what I felt comfortable enough with to publish, but I’ll tell you that this was a hard process, particularly in the top 10.

All of this year’s Best Picture Academy Award nominees are on this list. Seriously – I’ve even decided to mark the Oscar nominations this year. They were all very good and justifiably nominated, and while I might have my preferences as to who should win, they’re all remarkable, worthwhile films if you should ever consider watching them. Some of the other movies on this list, however, are also quite awesome, some of which I like better than the films that were nominated, and one of which I’m still very annoyed didn’t at least get the tenth vacant slot in their nominees list, just out of principle for how awesome it was. (I’m just going to tell you now, that movie is Inside Llewyn Davis.) How annoying!

The World's End - Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan - beer

So what of the rankings? Lists like these tend to demand them, so I include them, and I do think they are helpful in making priorities in our very busy lives as to what to see first and give preference to. Since the rankings are so subjective and sometimes even arbitrary, my main rule is to go with my gut on these things. Seriously. That’s what it boils down to. It’s a mixture of favoritism, enjoyment, entertainment, and, yes, the actual skill behind the scenes and within them. As such, films that were without a doubt brilliant masterpieces that will go on to receive tons of accolades and be remembered forever may be outranked by flash-in-the-pan popcorn films that have very little to say except, “Hey, look at this awesome thing we did!” but were also very skilled at doing so and are films that I will revisit time and time again whenever I want to be entertained. It’s hard to rank films of these sorts against one another, and if I felt that I could be that much more objective about these things and take out the entertainment factor, I would probably top load this list with all the heavyweight dramas and such. But I don’t think I can, so I don’t put up any airs of being able to do so.

But, you know, I think that’s alright. Variety is the spice of life, you know, and to say that dramas should be exalted at all times above the comedies and action films is, I think, false doctrine when it comes to film criticism and lessens the true value of joy and wonderment that isn’t always found in those serious dramas – so long as that joy and wonderment is done very well, of course.

So, with that all in mind, I feel I’ve prepared you for this eclectic list of my picks for not just the best films of the year, but also the ones that are my favorites, the ones I find most enjoyable, and the ones that blew me away with their spectacle. Read more…

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REVIEW: From Up on Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から)

November 13, 2013 1 comment
From Up on Poppy HillDirected by: Goro Miyazaki
Produced by: Toshio Suzuki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa (screenplay)
Edited by: Takeshi Seyama
Cinematography by: Atsuhi Okui
Music by: Satoshi Takebe
Starring: Masami Nagasawa, Sarah Bolger, Junichi Okada, Anton Yelchin, Keiko Takeshita, Christina Hendricks, Jun Fubuki, Jamie Lee Curtis, Yuriko Ishida, Gillian Anderson, Takashi Naito, Bruce Dern, Shunsuke Kazama, Charlie Saxton, Teruyuki Kagawa, Beau Bridges, Rumi HIiragi, Aubrey Plaza, Emily Osment, Goro Miyazaki, Ronan Farrow, Ron Howard
Based on the manga by Tetsuro Sayama and Chiziru Takahasi
Year: 2011 (Japan), 2013 (US)

 

A friend of mine pointed out soon after he read this review that it’s important that I specify that I watched the English dub — not due to the dub’s inherent inferiority (it is very good), but due to a stylistic choice in the English dub’s voice casting of a character during a pivotal dream sequence. I will not spoil it here, but after having this brought to light, I feel it is necessary that I point this out. I actually really like the thematic depth the English dub adds, whereas he did not. Either way, my rating stands.

I’m normally an admirer of his reviews, but I must say that it’s a shame that Roger Ebert regarded From Up on Poppy Hill as a disappointment, especially as he was such a notable fan of Studio Ghibli’s, and this would, sadly, be the last film of theirs that he would ever review. While it may not reach the same sort of visual spectacle of the studio’s more fantastic and popular films – Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind among the studio’s most notable – From Up on Poppy Hill is no less a visual masterpiece and is one of the more touching, quieter films that have come out of the studio. It may not go on to be their most memorable or most favorited film among the studio’s throngs of fans, but as director Goro Miyazaki’s second film after the disappointing Tales from Earthsea, which actually was more like what you would expect from an anime studio, to criticize this dramatically superior but more intimate film for being something that it never aspired to be in the first place feels like doing the film a disservice. Read more…

2011 in Review: Notable Films I Managed to Avoid, For Better or For Worse, January – April 2011

January 5, 2012 157 comments

A lot of people will say that 2011 was a dull year for film. Unlike previous years, there haven’t been very many huge Oscar-worthy films this year that I, personally can think of. Though The King’s Speech saw its wide release in 2011 (and I even saw it in theatres this past year), it was ultimately a film from 2010 and had, by this year’s Oscars, already won several Oscars and other accolades in the year prior, so it was no longer a contender for this spot.

Of course, 2011 had its share of noteworthy films, such as Moneyball and The Tree of  Life, both fo which I still have yet to see but hear fantastic things about. And there’s Hugo, which is a wonderful family film from Martin Scorsese and my top pick for the year. But 2011 was largely a year of recycling. Sequels aplenty, some great, some good, and some completely awful, with plenty of expected and unexpected revivals of old franchises, many of which were completely unnecessary and, yes, unwanted.  (Yes, I’m thinking of The Smurfs.)

2011 also saw the end of a few eras in film history, as well. The final Harry Potter released this year to high critical acclaim. For the time being, we’ve also gotten what is intended to be the final film in the Transformers trilogy (until Michael Bay decides he wants to have more money and toss in Jason Statham, who has been rumored to be taking over the lead human role for quite a while now). And we also saw Pixar release their first widely derided film ever in the admittedly-watchable-but-ultimately-thoroughly-mediocre Cars 2.

I went to the theaters plenty of times this year. Most of the films I did see were quite good, if at least enjoyable. A couple were quite bad. But there were still plenty of notable films that were released throughout the year that I didn’t see, neither in theatres nor in my own home. Before I tell you what were my least and most favorite of the year, I thought I’d go through the daunting task of a quick rundown of each notable film released in 2011 that I, for one reason or another, for better or for worse, did not see in theatres or get around to watching on home release. Read more…

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