Top 5 Favorite Movies of 2016

Foreward: I did not get to see all the movies I wanted to this year, or that many; however, there were several movies that garnered my attention and blew me away. P.S. top 5 “meh” movies will soon follow.

  • The Nice Guys – If Shane Black were to spend the rest of his career writing and directing increments and spin-offs of Lethal Weapon, it would not be the worst thing in the world. The mismatched duo of Gosling and Crowe, with the former’s slapstick antics and the latter’s swinging fists, the cacophony is on point. The execution of the fight sequences and shoot outs is reminiscent of a past time in action movies, more specifically when Russell Crowe fought Keith David; side note, this was the year I finally saw They Live, which added further meta-context for the Crowe/David fight. Alas, the ending up being a bit more, less than subtle with its message; the quirky hijinks involving the environment tickled me in the beginning, but intertwining it with the plot felt a bit forced and out of pace. Regardless, Shane Black knows his craft masterfully and can weave action, allure, and action movie tropes in a way that reminds me of Tarantino. And what better city to set a neo-noir, gumshoe tale than the overcrowded, smog ridden city of seventies Los Angeles as the aesthetics and tone of the setting enhances the narrative experience.
  • Green RoomGreen Room is one of those low-budget survival thriller movies where the sum of its parts align to a nigh perfect degree. The focus on claustrophobia and uncertainty around every corner brings the audience forward and right back down on their seats. An out of town band going to a remote location in the mountains, playing to a crowd of, to put it lightly, rowdy customers; witnesses a horrific event and are left in a compromising scenario. The main attraction, the burning question of this movie is: how are they getting out of this one?! The sheer will power to get from place to place when there is a gang the size of a small militia outside and in; all the while being completely cornered is feat in of itself. Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin provide a satisfying counterpoint to each other as predator and prey, pushing each other’s efforts to the brink; creating a shift that sways in both their favors. You cannot go wrong giving this movie a watch if you missed it in theaters.
  • Deadpool – What if I were to tell you, that the surprise hit of February, as well as 2016 was an insane superhero movie where are our main protagonist wore a mask, spat fourth-wall breaking one-liners, was nearly invincible, was played by a Canadian, and added with a twist of insanity? But enough about Jim Carrey in The Mask! Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool was a savior performance that purges any wrongdoings that were transgressed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He stepped back, and took the time to perfect his Deadpool schtick and show that given significant creative control he can add rejuvenation to the X-Men franchise. In return, this movie is by far 20th Century Fox’s best X-Men movie since First Class. The barrage of destruction brings an element of excitement and the meta-humor is so on point the line of parody is blurred. The plot is your average stand-alone mutant experimentation story, except that someone cranked Wade’s levels to eleven, leaving him in near constant state of insanity. The formula does stagnate in the villain department, and yet, this is specifically a Deadpool origin movie, most of the screen time is going to go towards his character development.
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane10 Cloverfield Lane is a prime example of how to accomplish a soft reboot/alternate story within a shared universe. The shock of a cataclysmic event is still felt within Mscene later, she is brought to the main area in which the film spends ninety eight percent of the movie. If you thought Green Room was claustrophobic, it looks like a massive church compared to 10 Cloverfield Lane. John Goodman puts on a stellar performance as a survivalist who has his fair share of issues exacerbated by recent events. As time progresses, the amount of cringe and paranoia can be measured in yards as Goodman’s unhinged tendencies burst from the seams. Goodman clearly wants to relive happier times, and where Winstead stands on this, calculating issue is irrelevant. It is bad enough that an alien invasion looms around the corner, but when we as people are forced to exist in compromising positions becomes a necessary evil.
  • Hail, Caesar! – May the Coen brothers continue to create their brand of philosophical, head-scratching comedy. The overall narrative led by Hollywood fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), is layered within the stars he manages, as well as the reporters who come to him for any semblance of sensational leads. George Clooney, Scarlet Johansson, and Channing Tatum round out a cast with all sorts of zany characters and familiar faces. Each thread begins as a particular issue in which Brolin’s firm, subtle touch is required, and ends in unpredictable outcomes. A characteristic of the Coen brothers’ formula are the numerous side characters and their agendas that give the plot its winding turns. Leading to calamitous conclusions and a story that is not bookend finished, rather allowing us to fill in the blanks and explore further ideas and concepts rooted within the movies’ narrative. All in all, the Coen brothers film catalogue has more memorable and irreverent selections; Hail, Caesar! stupendously passes the bar and lengthens the stride of the brothers’ output of extraordinary movies.
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“Don’t Breathe”

donttalkaboutmovies

Don’t breathe. Don’t move. Don’t speak. Don’t steal. Don’t fuck with a blind man.

The movie focuses on a trio of burglars – Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). They receive a tip for the perfect job; a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) lives in a rundown neighborhood with few residents and has almost half a million dollars in his house. Sounds easy until they realize he’s not going to let them leave, and he has something sinister in his basement.

“Don’t Breathe” had me sold on its old school premise, a poster reminiscent of 70’s horror movies, and the new twist on the tiresome home invasion genre. It delivers for the most part, but writer/director Fede Alvarez (“Evil Dead” remake) should have quit while he was ahead.

SPOILER TERRITORY FROM HERE ON!

The first act does a great job establishing the setup and the characters…

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A Bourne Patriot?

Over time, I have surmised regarding the Bourne series, particularly the first trilogy, adults above the age of forty love it. Whenever I have brought it up in conversation, at some point they mention how much they like it, with a fit of gusto in their voice. A kind of nostalgia regarding the “adapted from a novel” approach that also applies to the Jack Ryan movies. Despite liberties taken with novel accuracy; the overall tone, the “good ol’ boy” charm of Matt Damon, and Bond-style exotic locations comprise a visual experience any action movie fan will enjoy.
The series as a whole has a unilateral narrative cycle akin to another Universal franchise: Fast & Furious; unilateral in the sense that both series know what they are, know their audience, and know that they’ll be making sequels regardless of critic reviews. Concerning the Bourne series, consistency has been their strong suit. Bourne has an unlimited well of skill, innovation, and timing that is impeccable. The car chases are short and sweet, in the most claustrophobic locations of the city. He uses information and anonymity as his main weapons in the finely crafted games of cat and mouse that ensue when he is on the espionage trail. The more secrets he uncovers the more the conspiracy unravels. The conspiracy unravels and more the story trails off into a barrage of political exposition dumps; shady characters and organizations are brought in and the rabbit hole keeps splintering. Can the narrative stay the course without getting bogged down in the exposition dumps packaged with each successing movie in the franchise?
Regardless, despite how critics view the movie, the fans will come and see it; this is another shared correlation with the Fast & Furious franchise. Granted, the Furious franchise retooled their formula between four and five, and have released movies on a more consistent basis. It is still quite the accomplishment to have a film franchise, let alone two, that have been commercially successful since 2001-2002. The audience’s perspective of these types of movies are lenient when it comes to real life accuracy, they came for the characters, the fights, the car chases in which both franchises have in spades. Jason Bourne, however homogenized it may be with Supremacy and Ultimatum, is familiar. The audience will get a kick out of seeing familiar faces and new faces as we continue the global trek of Bourne and his never ending quest to see HOW far the conspiracy unravels.

The Nice Guys

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     When the movie was over, I had a thought; perhaps the reboot culture we live in could benefit with a paradigm shift toward spiritual successors; the correlation in this instance being Lethal Weapon, The Nice Guys and Shane Black. There is enough aesthetic similarity between the two films – instead of bringing back Mel Gibson and Danny Glover or going through the recast shuffle – present the same grimy city element, push it back a decade, and have the main characters in less than reputable jobs. The shot in the beginning of The Nice Guys was a sublime call-back to Lethal Weapon; even the fights brought back comparisons to similar shots.

     The beats of the movie are consistent with past examples of noir/crime narrative flow: woman dies, we meet the protagonists in their environments, they cross to hilarious results, get to know each other, go on the trail, get in some fights, the plot unravels, lose the trail, have a break through, another fight, meet the big hoss, learn what is actually going on, have a final shoot out, and become an inseparable team; all within a grimy, polluted, dangerous, and retro set Los Angeles. The pace and flow of the movie is quick, akin to The Wolf of Wall Street; what feels like an hour and a half tops is closer to 2-3 hours of the actual movie time. Stories such as these benefit from a quickened pace as to match the erratic environment the cast occupies, that and to avoid inconsistencies within the narrative flow.

     The main inconsistency problem I had was with the third act. The whole “we’ll take them down with an experimental porno” arc put Gosling and Crowe in a no-win situation when it was revealed the antagonist that be was unbeatable by a P.I. and enforcer, even after factoring in the suspense of disbelief prior. Further more, the cheeky gag of how polluted Los Angeles was should have stayed that way; making it the main cause of the whole debacle sent the narrative flow on a preachy path. If the main plot traveled further down the path of investigating the porn industry, then, the recurring gag of pollution could still work as an analogy towards the excess of the industry. That, and we could have had some choice call-backs in the fashion of The Big Lebowski or Boogie Nights.

     Understandably, the box office return on The Nice Guys was stifled in the wake of movies such as Neighbors 2, X-Men: Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, and The Angry Birds Movie during opening weekend. I implore that as many people as possible see The Nice Guys if they desire a nutty, skimpy, irreverent tale in the vein of some mad concoction betweeen Pineapple Express and The Big Lebowski; where the wordplay is tight, the action is zany, the movie shot well, and the hijinks last for days. Inconsistencies aside, it is splendid to see that neo-noir is alive, the two protagonists were not totally inept, and that people like Shane Black are still working. Even though it may not make it’s budget back, it is nice to see a spiritual successor in a sea of sequels and reboots.

Killer Instinct (2013)

Benjamin Himes

This game is sublime! I’ve never taken to a fighting game quite like it. If it were music it would definitely fall into heavy metal. The pace is quick and the game is programmed to prevent spamming through the use of combo breakers. In the month and a half I’ve been playing I’ve had the pleasure of playing with three friends in a series of back and forth matches where the tides of battle can turn in a heartbeat. The momentum built up chaining combo moves has the effect of a kind of invincibility, an invincibility spawned from persistence and passion.
When I first started, the two characters I was advised to start with were Riptor and Sabrewulf, two characters whose hack and slash abilities were easy to understand and pick up. Eventually, logging in time with Thunder, Rash, and both iterations of Jago became essential in order to gain a wider perspective on how to play against them, and to play around with how they match up with the others. If I had to choose one character to master it would be Riptor, his attacks, combos, and throws are tasty and fun to watch.
One of my friends who plays is the one who owns the game and plays online regularly. One match we go over fairly consistently is Riptor versus Sabrewulf. These matches are tight, where not one of us gains a full head of steam when it comes to knocking off large chunks of health, gaining a combo-breaker, or trapping in the corner. Each match increasing in intensity, the anticipation for such a match is bewildering.
This is by far of the top fighting games I’ve played and I highly recommend it to any newcomers of fighting games.

The Storm with Jurassic Noises

     OK, I need to get this out of the way, why did the wife in the beginning of the movie decide to not help the husband close the door? I understand the need for urgency in the scene and that having one of the parents die creates a sense of purpose for Jo (Helen Hunt) later to track the F5, but still!
     Twister, ooh-da-lolly this was a treat to watch! The whole cast save Helen Hunt at the time, was a myriad of character actors thrusted into the position of an ensemble cast; it is a glorious site. The five people I noticed right away who fit into the “oh it’s that one guy” category include Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes, Alan Ruck, Zack Grenier, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. All people you have seen before that fill these roles nicely.
     Phillip Seymour Hoffman in particular, ol’ Dusty himself, at this point in time garners the highest name recognition in regards to the rest of the crew. He low-key stole the show with his wacky antics and characterization of a minor character, if it were a lesser actor portraying Dusty, the movie would lack accordingly. There is a charisma, a presence that unexpectedly made this movie hilarious whenever he would show up on screen. His yearning and excitement was contagious during the hunt and during their down-time. If nothing else, this movie was a preview for the next two decades of what we could expect from Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
     Speaking of iconic names, Steven Spielberg makes an appearance as an executive producer; as well as his production company Amblin Entertainment. Then we have Michael Crichton, the man who wrote the books Jurassic Park and Congo, has a credit as a producer and writer. If I did not know any better, I would say they were making the Jurassic Park of disaster movies. During certain scenes when Bill and friends are out chasing tornadoes, the tornadoes themselves have the unmistakable sounds that resemble a vicious beast. Better not mess with them or they will eat you alive! I enjoyed that, even though tornadoes are not dinosaurs, the sounds gave them a coherent characterization. It works on a level where the tornadoes are the ‘bad guys’, a malevolent force who impose the immediate danger our protagonists are more than eager to traverse. Having Spielberg attached to this movie was essential; the look, movement, and dedication to the tornadoes is spectacular, watching Twister to this day I am awestruck at how phenomenal they look. Though the same cannot be said regarding the satellite at the beginning or the ridiculous CGI explosion when Cary Elwes and Zack Grenier drove into the F5. Those however, are not essential to the overall arc and experience to the movie, but if there was anything for me to nit-pick effects-wise, those examples stand out ostentatiously.
     On the topic of nit-picking, the development and arc of the love triangle between Bill, Jo, and Melissa left me flabbergasted. He brings Melissa along to get the divorce papers signed, but – and this is the best part – is engaged to Melissa before it has become a past tense event. I am curious of this time scale between divorce and engagement.
     Regardless, this is first and foremost a disaster movie; despite any narrative confusion or shortcomings that occur within the interludes of the tornado scenes are not what we came to see, we know what we came to see and it was immaculate.

Swordfishin’

Benjamin Himes

          A year removed from Gone in 60 Seconds, director Dominic Sena takes his kinetic-aesthetic in the world of shadow government agencies with a touch of technology a la Hackers; in the form of the 2001 film Swordfish, starring John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, and Don Cheadle. If Gone in 60 Seconds is The Fast and the Furious with Nicolas Cage, then Swordfish is The Bourne Identity with John Travolta. These films have that certain texture and vibe where you know not to take the film seriously, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The narrative is as intriguing as one would expect from an action film of this time. Maybe it has not has as well as a fine wine, as fine as the wine Scott (Jackman) searches for as he pre-maturely stumbles upon the film’s twist out of context. The film’s narrative resonated as a mix between Hackers and The Bourne Identity. Elements of Hackers come up when Scott does his hacker thing, side note, Hugh Jackman as hacker is about as believable as Chris Hemsworth in Blackhat; the challenges presented to Scott throughout the hacking scenes had that sense of ‘me vs. The Man’ feel as he does what he does to make the uppity government look like fools when compared to his ‘top notch skills.’ The Bourne Identity side of the resonance comes from the power plays and espionage carried out by Gabriel (Travolta) and Ginger (Berry), wheeling and dealing secret alliances and sabotage in order to keep all sides guessing until the third act.

The lack of believability keeps this film from traversing into Zack Snyder territory in that it is a hokey film that does not take itself too seriously, there is something about the way John Travolta and Halle Berry play off one another and the rest of the cast that gives it a zany feel. This is the bread and butter of a narrative cooked up to stimulate the adrenal glands. The creators’ of the film knew what their audience would expect: a semi-serious plot with ludicrous delivery that creates a package when, executed correctly, would undoubtedly garner positive word of mouth despite what critics and ratings might entail. Definitively, this is not a film that needs to thrive off of all that, if an audience member likes this film, they will tell everyone they know who has a penchant for action movies that this one will meet their fix.

The tone of Swordfish, while based in something as serious as armed robbery and government collusion, is off set by the performances of Travolta, Berry, Jackman, and Cheadle; which often times come off as exaggerated, do not distract from the overall experience, but enhances it. The tone is perfect for Swordfish, not as serious as The Bourne Identity yet not as silly as Face/Off, a popcorn flick that is not meant to garner deep thoughts. It is eye-candy, a fulfillment of a desire to escape to a world that does not have to make sense at certain points, where the action pulls us in and never lets us go!

Pre-Fast, Pre-Furious

Benjamin Himes

          How did it come this? What was the catalyst that kick started the trend of hyper-kinetic action films with an emphasis on vehicles, heists, a diverse crew, explosions, and plenty of snap-cuts? Wait, was it Michael Bay? Was this not a thing that happened in the nineties when he was picking up steam? Absolutely, yet his narratives in films such as Bad Boys and The Rock focus more or less on the side of law; after a while, narratives went the opposite direction. Films such as Point Break showed that a narrative could enlighten us on empathizing with the villains/criminals, that they are not one-dimensional characters who ONLY care about the money. This is where the turning point comes in, in the form of Gone in 60 Seconds.

Released in 2000, Gone in 60 Seconds marks an interesting turning point, five years removed from Heat and four years ahead of Collateral; this point in time was ripe for directors such as Antoine Fuqua, Dominic Sena, and Andrzej Bartkowiak to express their flashy directing styles; with films that had a penchant for crime, and may hold a special place in our millennial hearts for films that fall under ‘so bad it’s good.’

The former criminal at play, Memphis Raines portrayed by Nicolas Cage, is a prime example of how the hero/villain dynamic had changed. Had this film come out at a time when action films to an extent, did not delve into the villains/criminals the way heroes/police/the man were given camera time and reinforced narrative structure. By switching the script and portraying Memphis (Cage) the reluctant criminal and protagonist of the film, the narrative focuses on the heist rather than preventing it.

Memphis’ main goal throughout the film is to steal 50 cars for Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston), to finish a job his brother Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) fudged up by playing it fast and loose; getting tangled with the cops narrowly escaping with his freedom, but for how long? Memphis, at the heart of the issue, wants to keep his promise to his mother to keep his brother in check; to look out for family above all else, a motif revisited multiple times in a future series that involves cars, a crew, explosions, and game of cat and mouse between criminals and law enforcement.

Through this, Memphis goes back to doing what he does best, and while at first it seems as though he is reluctant to go back to burgling cars, we the audience know full well that he enjoys it. The thrill of the steal, the satisfaction of beating the cops, and putting together the crew. With familiar faces such as Chi McBride, Vinnie Jones, Scott Caan, Timothy Oliphant as one part of the cops hot the trail of Memphis and crew, and lastly, a blonde-haired, dreadlocked Angelina Jolie, yes, you heard me correct. The antics with these never-ending chases and stake-outs fall between silly and meh. Yet, who IS the shadowy crime boss pulling the strings? No really, who? The only times Calitri appears within the film are in the beginning and the end; I understand the main focus is on the mission Memphis and company must go on in order to make the drop and appease Calitri. However, he never lives up to the dangerous reputation Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall) mentions earlier in the film; he comes and goes as he pleases, the sense of urgency is often lost, if this were such an important drop why wouldn’t he keep tabs on Memphis with an accelerated frequency?

Other than the lack of a memorable villain, Gone in 60 Seconds will no doubt be a treat for action movie fanatics with a nostalgic gleam in their eyes for that era in the early 2000’s.

The ‘90’s Time Capsule

hackers-1995-hack-the-planet

Benjamin Himes

      Imagine a film, which combined the aesthetics and intricacies of plot from Tron and The Matrix, then covered it in a paint that consisted of ‘90’s culture, and you have assembled the 1995 film Hackers. Oh lord is this film hokey, filled to the brim with techno-babble, skateboards, roller blades, clothing that screams ‘90’s, and sardonic, slacker, and silly attitude. This is a film, when regarding all the sins that are encapsulated within its runtime, add that extra spice where counting sins is not a bad thing; instead, it enhances those endearing tropes and tidbits that created such a fascinating and kitschy world in which anyone who remembers the ‘90’s when they were at a ripe age would go; “Oh yeah, that WAS a thing.”

The idiosyncratic world of Hackers, as well as the pure ‘90’s aesthetic of this film takes the audience to a world that existed not that long ago. Where people of a certain age group reminisce of a time when obscure band shirts, jolt cola, and technology of the time collide, bringing forth a wave of nostalgia that oh-so few things can recreate. If anyone were to have questions regarding the ‘90’s, simply showing them this film would be enough, I cannot stress that any further. While the techno-jargon could be summed up as flashy, Hollywood-isms to make everything the hackers say sound cool to us technologically-impaired movie-goers, the director Iain Softley and writer Rafael Moreau knew precisely what they were doing when making this film; it was not to make an exact replica of the world of hackers, but rather to create a narrative, to make all the sum of the whole look fantastic and bring the audience into a world and ideas that would be further explored in The Matrix.

Let us move on to the cast, a who’s who of actors which consists of Johnny Lee Miller of Trainspotting fame, Angelina Jolie (who needs no introduction), Matthew Lillard who in every sense of the word IS Shaggy if he were a ‘hacker’, Laurence Mason that silly scoundrel who played ‘Tin-Tin’ in The Crow, Wendell Pierce the ‘Bunk’ himself from The Wire, and, oh, let us put him on the list, Marc Anthony as a flunky agent who I almost mistook as John Leguizamo; actually, he would have been gosh darn fantastic! These loveable cast of characters, while a bit stock in their roles at times, do a sublime job of keeping up the ‘wow’ factor and entertain even the most downtrodden curmudgeons.

The film tackles themes of isolation, a sense of community within a core group of outcasts and weirdos, a look into how the world runs around them, and where they fit in regarding their place and how society imprints them within certain social stigmas that, again are reminiscent of films such as The Matrix, Fight Club and Clerks. The theme of postmodernism, changing times in lieu of the new millennium create a narrative of paranoia, a near fascist interest group hell-bent on eradicating this off-shoot of technological communism in the sphere of a capitalistic society that would love to write these kids off as nothing more than slackers and criminals.

Looking for corny flick? A time capsule which, may not hold up as well when regarding themes and motifs in other ‘90’s films that have in a sense been done with greater urgency and critical acclaim, are not a fun as this piece of eye-candy, may elicit feelings of extreme nostalgia and a joy that comes with knowing that while this film may not be a masterpiece, is a sure-fire good time and one that is WORTH that one hour and forty seven minute run time that this film can accommodate.

P.S. You know it is a ‘90’s PG-13 film when the one obligatory f-bomb is dropped at what should be the most dramatic and urgent of time.

Sources:

“Hackers”. IMDb. Amazon. 2/23/16

Hackers. Dir. Iain Softley. Perf. Johnny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco, Matthew Lillard, Jesse Bradford. United Artists. 1995. Netflix.

 

A Pre-Sequel Worth Discovering – Shadows of the Empire

Benjamin Himes

        Back in the day, oh, sometime in the year 1996, was the year when I was shown the Star Wars trilogy by my parents; and so began what would become a still-burning passion that has delved into many a medium that incorporated film, books, video games, essentially anything that had the Star Wars logo on it immediately caught my eye.

Fast forward a year, when Christmas 1997 rolled around, an N64 came to our house; and my passion for video games went from occasional fidgeting’s of Game Boy and NES bouts to a full-fledged obsession for everything our N64 had to offer; that and frequent trips to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. One in particular that had my cross-hairs was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, at this point in time the original trilogy was fresh in my mind. What could be better than a middle story that improved upon Empire and Jedi, and the fact that we were treated to a new set of characters ingrained within the universe that were joined seamlessly with the stories of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and the rest of the Rebel Alliance vs. The Empire.

A defining characteristic of this tale was the fact that it was it’s own thing; despite taking place during and after the events of Empire, we were intrigued and invested in the adventures that Dash Render and Leebo were getting into that would eventually set up the events of Jedi. This was not a tale deliberately shoe-horned in for the sake of merchandising opportunities, although I will admit that was an end goal with the creation of this side story. What makes it work is that the creators took their time in realizing this narrative, which it did not have to fit precisely into the narrative weave of Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia, and Lando. Rather, they were accessories to a story that was consolidated exclusively around the side-dealings that involved Dash Rendar and Prince Xizor. A story and characters that give context to the overall narrative that takes place within the trilogy without feeling and playing-out as just another slapped-on side mission.