Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Derns, James Parks, Zoe Bell,  

Right after I finished watching The Hateful Eight, I immediately tried pinpointing the films that influenced Tarantino while writing this one. I mean, most of his films are a smorgasbord of other films put together and blended into Tarantino’s own brand of storytelling. So anyhow, I swear to god, the two films I mentioned to my friend were John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Tarantino’s own Reservoir Dogs (1992). I couldn’t see other influences other than those two. I mean, in general, sure The Hateful Eight is influenced by Sergio Leone’s westerns and also The Magnificent Seven (1960), but the two films that came to mind the most were The Thing and Reservoir Dogs. I haven’t seen enough Western’s to know exactly all of the films he was influenced by, but I’m sure there are a zillion of them. Funny how normally Tarantino borrows from other filmmakers to make up a new film, yet this time, he’s feeding on himself for inspiration! He’s turned into an Ouroboros, eating his own tail! But more on that later. 

While researching The Hateful Eight for this review I discovered that Tarantino himself quoted The Thing and Reservoir Dogs as his main source of inspiration. I think it’s so eclectic and fantastic, that Tarantino is inspired by a science fiction horror film to make his new Western! In fact, John Carpenter’s The Thing was the only film that Tarantino showed the cast and crew to give them an idea of the kind of isolation that he wanted to capture with The Hateful Eight. Tarantino loves The Thing so much that he cast Kurt Russell and had the musical score composed by Ennio Morricone! I love the fact that Tarantino recognizes the awesomeness of Carpenter’s The Thing; it’s always been a favorite of mine. What Tarantino distilled from that picture was that dreadful feeling that you're in the middle of nowhere and no one can save you. You can literally cut the tension in The Thing with a knife. I have to say Tarantino nailed it. During The Hateful Eight, you truly feel like you are in the middle of nowhere with these characters. Shooting the film in the middle of these lonely mountains, and having the story take place in the middle of a raging blizzard was a brilliant idea! It’s a successful setting for the sort of tension filled story Tarantino wanted to tell with this film. 

The Hateful Eight is all about this bounty hunter called John Ruth. He is on his way to a town called Red Wood, accompanied by his prisoner, an evil lady named Daisy Domergue. He’s taking her to town to collect his money and to see her hang. Unfortunately, on his way there, a raging blizzard makes him take refuge in a cottage called ‘Minnies Haberdashery’, a place where you could come in, warm yourself, get a drink and a bite to eat. When he gets there, the place is populated by a group of individuals apparently seeking refuge from the storm as well. Who wants to kill who and why? Will they all survive the blizzard?

Tarantino’s idea for this film was locking up a bunch of mean bastards in a cabin in the middle of a raging blizzard to see what sort of situation develops. This being a Tarantino film, you can bet your ass, whatever is going to happen is going to be some fucked up crazy ass shit. First things first my friends, when you go watch The Hateful Eight you have to be ready for a film that takes its time in setting up characters and situations, this film is in no hurry to end. But trust me, you can be assured all the set up will pay off by the time the film ends. You know how film critics are always bitching and moaning that there’s not enough character development in films today? Well, you don’t have to complain about that here because there’s plenty of it. In fact, every single character has a back story, and every single one gets their chance to tell it, with all the detail and set up in the world. So be ready for that. But trust me, once things get rolling, well there’s no stopping this gravy train. Things get bloody and nasty, quick! In fact, I know Kill Bill (2003) was practically filmed in blood, but damn, The Hateful Eight has to be one of Tarantino’s bloodiest affairs! It certainly is extremely graphic. Kudos to the guys at KNB Effects group for supplying that good old fashion gore! It blew my head clean off!

Tarantino has always made meaningful films with “something to say”, I kept wondering what The Hateful Eight was going to be really about. You know, in the midst of all the blood and guts, was it all going to be worth it in the end? Or was The Hateful Eight just going to be a lot of senseless violence for violence sake? Of course it was all going to mean something! Tarantino isn’t about making empty movies, I don’t think he’s ever been about that. When I go and watch a Tarantino movie I always expect them to be about meaningful subject matter or at the very least fun and entertaining. I mean, even Death Proof (2007), which seems like simple, yet fun homage to car movies from the 70’s said something about female empowerment. His earlier films had more of a fun vibe to them, but from Inglorious Bastards (2009) onward, his films have taken on an even more meaningful tone. On The Hateful Eight, Tarantino revisits his favorite theme, the theme that has reigned supreme throughout his entire career; that old demon humanity can’t seem to exorcise just yet: racism. I have to say that he does so in an indirect manner, it’s subtle. You’ll almost come away from the film thinking it was simply ‘a fucked up tale’, but it’s only after the film mulls inside your skull for a couple of days that you realize that racism is at the very core of the film! While many object to Tarantino’s repeated use of the word ‘nigger’, I think its honest filmmaking. What’s the problem with showing things they way they were? In fact, if it bothers you every time you hear the word or every time they treat a black person unjustly in his films, then I think Tarantino is doing his job right. It shocks you because it’s wrong, but it also shocks because there’s no denying these things happened and continue to happen in our world. So put that in your pipe and smoke it next time you want to criticize Tarantino for using the word nigger.

Technically speaking, this film is beautiful. It gets extra points for going the old fashion way of shooting on location! In fact, it gets bonus points for doing everything old fashion, like using actual film and shooting on 70 millimeter. Hell, it gets extra points for telling an intriguing yarn, filled with characters that seem alive, intense and raw. The drama is there, so much so that the film, much like Tarantino’s own Reservoir Dogs (1992), feels like a theater play. Most of the film takes place in one location, just like Reservoir Dogs, and both are about questioning loyalty and spilling your guts…both literally and metaphorically. This is not to say that The Hateful Eight is a carbon copy of Reservoir Dogs, but the similarities are there. But with the old, there’s something new and the new comes in the form of new actors appearing for their first time in a Tarantino film, for example, Jennifer Jason Leigh who just chews the film up. I loved her intensity, her craziness and her willingness to just go nuts with her character. She really chews up the screen, same as everyone involved. And wow, you'll love Walton Goggins after this movie. Kurt Russell works like magic here, he aint the good guy, in fact, nobody here is the good guy. Everybody is freaking despicable, hence the title.

Final words on the whole thing is that this is very much a Tarantino film, you’ll hear that dialog and you know it’s a Tarantino film, you’ll hear his voice both through his dialog and literally, because at one point Tarantion actually becomes the narrator of the film! Ha! Brilliant! I loved that! I love it when Tarantino breaks the rules! He’s like “I’m telling this story!” I’m glad that Samuel L. Jackson convinced Tarantino to make this film even though the script leaked before the film was made. You see, once upon a time Tarantino was furious that his script was out there for all to see before he had even shot the thing, so he swore he wouldn’t shoot the film. But his cast convinced him otherwise and voila! We got another masterpiece from good old QT. The thing about Tarantino is that he wants you to remember that cinema is a place to hear stories, to talk about ourselves, to get lost in the reflections of humanity. There’s no rush here. You came to the cinema? You dragged your ass out to the movies? Then here’s a film to make it worth your while. I will always love Tarantino for making films that you don’t immediately forget the minute you walk out of the theater, please, Mr. Tarantino, keep it going kind sir! Keep reminding us why films matter!  

Rating: 5 out of 5         


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Best and Worst of 2015

An interesting turn of events has been occurring in the past few years. Like a perfect storm, slowly developing into a deadly juggernaut, Disney is now reigning king as the most successful movie studio in history. It all started with the deadly double knock out of acquiring both Marvel and Star Wars! All of the sudden, boom, they’ve made some of the most successful films ever, actually, scratch that, with The Force Awakens, they’ve produced what will apparently turn into THE most successful movie of all time. And it doesn’t look like they’ll be stopping any time soon; audiences are devouring everything that Disney is producing! And their slate of films for the coming years promises to keep them on top for the foreseeable future. All other movie studios better shape up! In terms of commercial films, Disney is gobbling you guys up like yesterdays leftovers! That’s right my friends, all other studios are playing catch up to the house that Mickey built. This does not mean that other studios aren’t producing quality stuff; it just means that Disney is good at marketing. They also have the money to not only make the most expensive films out there; they can also amass the most talented group of filmmakers. It will be interesting to see other studios step it up. One thing is for sure, they have very stiff competition! So anyways, here’s my list of best and worst of 2015, I haven’t seen everything, so obviously, some really good ones aren’t on this list yet. But of the ones that I have seen this past year, these were the ones I loved and hated the most, enjoy! I’ve divided this article into three parts, 'The Worst of the Year', the ones that were 'Not Bad But Not Great' and finally, 'The Best of the Year'. Let’s start off with the worst shall we?  


Comments: Quite possibly the Fiasco of the year, Fantastic Four was doomed from the get go thanks to all the shenanigans that were going on behind the scenes. First off, this was a 20th Century Fox film and nowadays, audiences only want their Marvel films to be made entirely by Marvel, anything else gets  suspected of being crap. To make matters worse, Josh Trank, this films director, had a dark tone in mind for this Fantastic Four film while the studio wanted something lighter, as a result the studio took the film from Trank and did it their way. As most film buffs know this is never ever a good thing on any production. Sure I've seen far worse films in my life time, but the final results with this particular film are hard to ignore. It was too violent for kids but with dialog that was too silly for adults. The story felt choppy, like a rushed job. The studio tried to cover the mess with a bunch of visual effects in the films finale, but by then the damage had spread too far and the resulting Fantastic Four movie we got was a huge messy thing, enjoyable at times, but ultimately unable to deliver the truly satisfying Fantastic Four film we all yearn for.

Quote: “We are not gods, just people. And we are stronger together than we are apart.”

Insurgent (2015)

Comments: I halfway enjoyed the first one, which is why I gave this second one a chance. But damn, this second one was just so boring, so blah, that I didn’t even feel the need to write a review for it. There’s that and then there’s the fact that this whole teenagers against the system sub-genre has worn its welcome a long time ago. Please just stop making all these movies, they all feel the same! To make matters worse, we have to see good actors shaming themselves by appearing on these crappy movies and saying this inane dialog. I mean, how sad is it to see Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet on this thing?

Quote: “You can take the girl out of abnegation, but you can’t take abnegation out of the girl.”

Comments: The Wachowski brothers downward spiral continues, ever downward! So sad because at one point, these two directors were considered cutting edge! Now they are considered makers of want to be science fiction operas. Jupiter Ascending suffered from some really bad miscasting, mainly that of Mila Kunis in the role of the worker bee who ends up becoming the Queen of the Universe. Kunis isn’t a bad actress, I’ve seen her do good in films like Black Swan (2010), but here, she just didn’t feel like a Queen, like someone who would command an entire society. Her journey from janitor, to queen of the galaxy was too quick. We never saw her go through a process, therefore it’s all a bit hard to swallow, even for a science fiction film. To top things off, the visual effects were too messy visually speaking. Will the Wachowski’s ever make a comeback to good science fiction cinema?  

Quote: “A dream is the only way any of this makes sense.”

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Comments: Here’s a movie I hate with all my heart, and ladies, don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t mind sexy thrillers, but this one is just a freaking fantasy. I mean, sure there are maybe one or two guys out there in the world this film was made for. But for the 98% of out there, this movie was made so our girlfriends would hate us. I mean, who can live up to the standards set by the gazillionaire on this film? Basically, this movie was made for the common woman out there to float on a nimbus cloud for two hours, so then they can come down to the reality of the poor schmuck they have for a boyfriend and think “why am I with this loser?” So yeah, this is a fantasy for the ladies, I just hope they realize that in the real world, most of us poor schmoes don’t have our own private helicopters or jet planes.

Quote: “I don’t make love. I fuck…HARD!”

John Wick (2015)

Comments: Here’s a film that didn’t impress me at all, yet a lot of people seemed to like. Maybe I need to give it a re-watch? I mean, this is one by the numbers, been there done that affair. There’s nothing original about it, nothing moves the movie forward, and the so called “style”, I’m sorry I just didn’t see it. They killed he’s dog and he has to kill every Russian he sees because of this? Wow. Amazing. Please, shoot ME! I don’t mind stylish empty violence, but hey, I’d like to see some actually trickery with the camera to keep things interesting, not a cgi bullet ballad with no blood or gore. Where’s the real freaking violence? This is so pg-13 it’s nauseating! They are actually making a sequel, let’s hope they can inject some sense and meaning into the film this time around, because this one was an empty shell, with no style, no guts and in my book, no freaking glory.

Quote: “In a bar, I once saw him kill three men, with a pencil. A fucking pencil!”

Maggie (2015)

Comments: Zombies and Arnold Schwarzenegger, sounds like a winning combination right? Well, yeah, unless you're talking about a film called Maggie (2015), then you're talking about a borefest. Man, I was expecting one thing and got another. I was expecting Arnold blowing up zombie heads, instead I got Arnie attempting a melodrama. I'm sorry, I tried liking this one but it was just too damn slow and not in a good way. I mean, I don't mind dramas, I don't even mind slow zombie movies, but this one was just so uneventful.

Quote: "Dad, you've protected me all your life. Now it's my turn to protect you. There is life with you not with me."

Comments: Pixels was a low blow to my nostalgia. It got me by flashing all those old video game characters on the screen during its trailer, but once I was in the theater I was like “what is this shit?” Adam Sandler has totally lost my respect, I mean, what the hell man, you aren’t even trying. You don’t care about making movies, or cinema, you just care about the dough. So yeah, it’s safe to say that Sandler has completely lost my respect. Simply having old video game characters in your film will not make it a good film, you have to have a gripping story and least of all, a bit of sense. This was a half assed effort from a crew that should’ve known better. I mean, come on, this piece of crap came from the guy who wrote Gremlins (1984) and The Goonies (1985)? Really?

Quote: “Pac Man’s a bad guy?”

American Ultra (2015)

Comments: Wow, what a waste of celluloid. First up, I went into this film with high expectations because of the creative team behind it, namely, writer Max Landis, a writer who has rarely let me down. I loved his Victor Frankenstein (2015) and loved the hell out of Chronicle (2012). The concept for this film was an interesting one, though not entirely original. We’ve seen the secret agent who doesn’t know he’s a secret agent until he is activated routine before in films like The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Salt (2010). The original element on this film is that the oblivious secret agent is a stoner who works in a convenience store. He has panic attacks whenever he tries to leave the United States. He doesn’t have a whole lot of ambitions in life, he’s happy with his contempt life. But his secret agent past is catching up to him. Sadly, while that does sound like an interesting concept, the way it is told is just so been there done that. Around the halfway point, this movie felt so boring and un-original that to finish it was torture. The films only saving grace? John Leguizamo as a cocaine snorting drug dealer.    

Quote: “Something very weird is happening to me…I keep killing people! There’s a chance I may be a robot!”  


Comments: Okay, of course this one was poised to get hatred from people. It’s the remake of a beloved horror classic from the 80’s, but I always give remakes the benefit of the doubt. This one didn’t totally disappoint because it had decent visual effects and a couple of innovative concepts, like sending a drone with a camera to the other side. But when measured up against the awesomeness of the original, this one was missing some gravitas, mainly; the horror element was brought down a couple of notches. Suddenly this film was no longer scary; suddenly the spectacle is no longer there. When you watch the original, you feel like the filmmakers wanted to wow us. When you watch this remake, you’ll feel no such passion. Even the ’Freaky Freelings’  are less charismatic this time around. You feel the film is pretty much “by the numbers” and decidedly less scary. Which sucks, I mean, what’s the point in making a horror film less horrifying? You’re supposed to up the ante, not bring it down people!  

Quote: “They’re here…”

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Comments: Of course I didn’t hate this one; it had Hulk going up against Iron Man! But can I pin point what I didn’t like about this film? I still can’t quite figure it out. I think it was the overdose of computer generated effects. I think nothing feels real anymore, I know that what we’re looking at was never filmed; it was rendered in a computer. People are no longer wowed by a legion of evil robots because we know actors are fighting against nothing, standing in front of a green screen. But there was something else wasn’t it? Could it be that these stories are getting too big for their own good? If you save the world on this one what do you save on the next one? The Universe? And then what? God? Speaking of which…that is exactly what the Avengers are going to be going up against soon, Thanos becomes a God, so my assumptions aren’t that far from the truth! Here’s hoping they manage to make these movies heartfelt and tangible, because effects for effects sake can have a numbing effect. Goddamit, the trick is to make me care for what is happening! Put some feeling and intensity into it or else my brain just registers it as an empty spectacle as heartless as the robots in your movie.

Quote: “The city is flying and we’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. 
Nothing makes sense.”

Comments: This franchise keeps jumping from production company to production company ever since Linda Hamilton sold the rights to the franchise with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003). Since then, each sequel that has followed has been made by a different production company, the result is a very uneven franchise, with each production company changing things just a bit while retaining the franchises strongest selling point: Arnold Schwarzenegger. The filmmakers behind this one decided to wipe out everything that had been done before in order to make a brand new mess of their own. The film went with the current Hollywood formula of giving us a bit of the original with a bit of the new, this is why we go back to 1984, and that fateful first try at eliminating John Connor before he was born. Unfortunately, no sequel after Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992) has been able to surpass what Cameron did with that film. It is my personal belief that only when the rights revert back to Cameron and he himself directs a Terminator film, will we get a good Terminator film.

Quote: “If we die tonight, mankind dies with us.”

PAN (2015)

Comments: What went wrong with this new take on Peter Pan? Well, even though the film flopped at the box office in a huge way, I pretty much enjoyed this one. I mean, we get the Pan, we get the flying pirate boats, we get the pixie dust. Could it be that what people really missed was Captain Hook? Truth be told, good old Captain Hook is a huge part of the Peter Pan equation, and not giving him to us the way we know and love him, with his huge mustache, his hook and his fear for giant crocodiles, well, that only leaves us with half of the Pan equation. I think the film was entertaining, but without Hook it was only half of what it could have been. And Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, just wasn’t Hook. I get that they wanted to eventually give us the full blown version of Hook in future films of this planned franchise, but since this first film flopped so hard, well, I guess we’ll never see it.  

Quote: “I am going to tell you a story about a boy who would never grow up.”

Comments: Krampus is Michael Dougherty applying the formula he used on Trick R’ Treat (2007), but with Christmas. Basically the formula says if you don’t celebrate the holiday, then you’re going to die! On this one we meet a family that hates each other, so much so that one of the kids in the family wishes they would all die! In comes Krampus, a demon who is basically the reverse of Santa Claus. He doesn’t bring toys to little boys and girls, he takes little boys and girls! So basically, everything that’s jolly and beautiful and merry in X-Mas, gets turned spooky and horrifying. The whole film takes place during a blizzard, which makes everything scarier. I mean, this movie is extremely atmospheric which I loved. My only fault with the film is that I wish it had been gorier, because I was expecting a full blown Christmas horror film, and not a kiddie version of it.

Quote: “Saint Nicholas isn’t coming this year, instead, a much darker ancient spirit. His name is Krampus.He and his helpers did not come to give, but to take. He is the shadow of Saint Nicholas.”

Furious 7 (2015)

Comments: Well, what can I say, it was a brainless action film all the way. It had nifty action sequences, same as in the whole series, in a phrase, it was entertaining. This production was struck by tragedy because as we all know, Paul Walker died mid-production. This made the whole affair more sentimental, many an audience member shed a tear or at the very least got watery eyed. The film itself was fun, with action sequences getting more and more unrealistic as the franchise progresses, as I said in my review for it, I half way expect the crew to be sent into space for the next film. But apparently they wont go that far, I hear the next one takes place in Cuba. This franchise has become a guilty pleasure of mine, can't call them "good" films perse, but I can't deny I have a blast every time I go see them. This one was no exception.

Quote: "No matter where you are, whether its a quarter of a mile a way, or half a world away, you'll always be with me and you'll always be my brother. " 


Comments: When it comes to modern horror films, most of the time the good ones don’t even get a big theatrical release. This is something that doesn’t register with me because the horror that does get released theatrically is just abysmally bad.  It Follows, though not a perfect horror film, is effectively creepy. It  even manages to make scenes that take place on a beach, during the day, scary. Kudos to first time director David Robert Mitchell for knocking it out of the park early in his career, I hope he doesn’t give up on making horror.

Quote: “Like I told you, all you can do is pass it on to someone else.”   

Comments: Chappie was like taking Robocop and Robocop 2 and mixing it with Short Circuit (1986) and Short Circuit 2 (1987). Basically, a scientist creates a robot that thinks on its own, against the wishes of the robot manufacturing company he works for. When “Chappie” the robot becomes sentient, he’s like a little baby, lost in the world and ready to be taken advantage of. This one has Neil Blomkamp’s trademark skinny robots, which he has been using since his first short films ‘Yellow’ and ‘Tempbot’. Though this film has elements from the films I mentioned earlier, it also ends up going into completely original territory, especially towards its final act. It even gets existential, toying with themes of god and questioning our reasons for living.

 Quote: “Remember, no matter what happens, you were made for good.”

Comments: Another amazing horror film from a new filmmaker, Jennifer Kent. This film is all about a spooky children’s book that once you read it, it gets in your head and doesn’t get out! A single mother must protect her son from the creature called ‘The Babadook’. The scares creep up on you, it’s a slow burner, but when it gets you it gets you! It is an extremely atmospheric film. It brought to mind films like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), with its female protagonist going nuts in her own home. Turn out the lights, snuggle in your couch and don’t watch it alone!

Quote: “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.”

SPY (2015)

My introduction to Melissa McCarthy was this awful film she made with Susan Sarandon called Tammy (2014). I started watching that one and just couldn’t finish it. I was not impressed I tell ya. I was like this is the big deal? Good word of mouth on Spy made me curious for it. I mean, how bad can it be if everyone is praising it so much? Then I saw a scene in which Jude Law accidentally kills a bad guy because he sneezes while pointing at him with a gun and I laughed my ass off so I decided to give Spy the benefit of the doubt. I’m glad I did, this movie had me laughing all the way through! It’s an excellent James Bond spoof! I think McCarthy works best when in collaboration with director Paul Feig. Spy was so funny that it made me want to check out another Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy collaboration called The Heat (2013). Also, I feel very optimistic about Feig and McCarthy’s upcoming collaboration: Ghostbusters (2016), something tells me that one is going to work out well.

Quote: “I drove a car off a freeway, on top of a train, while it was on fire. Not the car, I was on fire!”   

Comments: This was not the most original film in the world; actually, it did exactly what J.J. Abrams did with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), it gave us more of the same. I guess Hollywood’s new formula is “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, basically, they are giving us more of what we loved the first time out; they want to make the best out of our nostalgia for the movies we grew up with, which is why like The Force Awakens, Jurassic Park feels like a remake of Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1992). But I guess this is okay as long as it’s done in an entertaining manner. Audiences sure didn’t mind because they made Jurassic World one of the biggest money makers of the year, breaking all kinds of records, which then The Force Awakens went on to break. This formula Hollywood is milking for all its work includes one interesting clause, with every retread of an old action sequence we get new elements that open the door for new sequels and so at least we finally get to see the park open its doors to the public and we get a couple of new dinosaurs to look at. Also, Chris Pratt showed us he has what it takes to be the next Indiana Jones.

Quote: “Maybe you should include that in the brochure…that eventually one of these things will eat someone.”

Comments: Another great surprise that nobody went to see, primarily because some genius over at 20th Century Fox decided to release it close to the release of a little film called The Force Awakens and so, guess who lost that little war? The Force Awakens was sucking money out of people’s pockets months before it was even released, and so, none of that money went to Victor Frankenstein, which died a quick death at the box office, a pity because Victor Frankenstein was actually a really fun take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Of course we’ve seen Frankenstein’s tale told time and time again, but this time the film focuses on telling the story from Igor’s point of view. The filmmakers decided that Igor needed an update, so on this one, Igor isn’t in “Yes, Master!” mode, he’s actually an important part of the experiments that bring the dead back to life. This was a fast paced, atmospheric film that you should give a chance to once it reaches home video.

Quote: “It’s alive!”

Comments: Guillermo del Toro movies are a gift from the movie gods, so of course I was excited to see this, primarily because Guillermo del Toro is a real horror film connoisseur. I’ve heard him wax poetic about horror films, and the guy goes in deep. He’s one of the few directors out there who has a true appreciation for horror. This isn’t just some director making a horror film, this ghost story comes from a lover of the genre, and to top things off, he’s one of the best genre directors out there. Not everyone who makes a horror movie is a real, true blue, nitty gritty, horror buff. Del Toro is! In line with this, Crimson Peak is an amalgamation of atmosphere and situations gathered from a zillion horror films. The influences on this one are many, among them Roger Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) and Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), so it’s old school, atmospheric scares, the kind that slowly creep up on you. At heart it’s a tragic love story, but with ghosts. Very gothic, very atmospheric, this is a beautiful film to look at with an amazing color palette (a del Toro signature) and amazing, jaw dropping art direction.  

Quote: “Where I come from, ghosts are not be taken lightly.”

Comments: Here’s a movie that went down the toilet as soon as it premiered. No one went to see it for whatever the reason. It became a huge box office failure for director Brad Bird, a director who is usually associated with successful family films like Ratatouille (2007) and The Incredibles (2004). Tomorrowland’s downfall is a shame because not only is it extremely fun, it also sends an extremely positive message. We live in a world in which we are always being told that things suck, that things are bad and that they are only going to get worse. What this movie proposes is that we stop talking about how bad things are and that we start talking about how we can improve them. It asks all those creative, intelligent minds out there to rise up and make the world a better place. Tomorrowland sends this message out there in a very entertaining and fun manner, with the aid of some excellent special effects. This was one of the best surprises of the year; it’s the coolest movie you never saw. What this film connoisseur proposes is that you give it a chance. You might discover a film that touches your soul and brings a tear to your eye.

Quote: “Dreamers need to stick together, it’s not programming, it’s personal.”

Comments: Ex-Machine is Alex Garland’s first stab at directing a feature film. Normally Garland is on the writing part of the filmmaking equation. He’s responsible for the scripts for films like 28 Days Later (2002) and Dredd (2012), but for Ex-Machina, he got behind the cameras. Sometimes when a writers decides they want to direct a film, the results aren’t always great, but not on this occasion. Ex-Machina was an excellent slice of science fiction! It’s an intriguing film that will keep you on your toes. Oscar Isaac plays the inventor behind a new form of cyborg, but before he puts it out on the market he wants to test it, see how it reacts to questions, how it thinks. The film goes into existential territory by asking questions like do we make our own choices? Are we being watched all the time by an all powerful entity? Are we masters of our own destiny? A psychological film every step of the way that shows that Garland has talent for both directing and writing films.   

Quote: “No matter how rich you get, shit goes wrong. You can’t insulate yourself from it. I used to think it was death and taxes you couldn’t avoid, but it’s actually death and shit.”

Comments: The big draw with Ant Man is that it isn’t one of these huge storylines like in The Avengers (2012), where the fate of the entire galaxy is in the balance, no; Ant-Man is a more personal story about a father trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his daughter. This is a movie about a regular Joe who discovers a way to miniaturize himself, so a smaller story goes perfectly well with the films premise. Even with its smaller scaled story, Ant-Man managed to be every bit as entertaining as some of Marvels bigger films. The effects were amazing on this show.  Also, it gets unexpectedly surreal and trippy. Add to that a good measure of humor via Paul Rudd and the excellent supporting cast and you got yourselves a winner.

Quote: “Sorry I’m late, I was saving the world. You know how that is.” 

Comment: This was another surprise for me because to be honest, I’d lost all interest in this series. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) while entertaining, didn’t really say anything to me. It was just mindless action, empty calories. But Rogue Nation impressed me because the uped the ante in terms of stunts, which were performed by the ever surprising Tom Cruise. The stunts are truly impressive on this one, blow your mind impressive. Add to that an interesting plot line about the government wanting to eliminate secret agents (which was strangely similar to Spectre (2015) by the way) and you got yourselves a film with maximum entertainment value.   

Quote: “Human nature…my weapon of choice.”

Comments: This one was a sweet surprise when I went to see it in theaters. I went into this one blind, not knowing anything about it. I came out with a smile on my face; my head exploded into a million colors out of joy. This is a James Bond spoof done right, something along the lines of If Looks Could Kill (1991), only, you know, a million times better! The action, the effects, the pacing…all great! There’s this show stopping scene that involves a massacre inside of a church, that’s just wow. You have to see it to believe it. A movie with a bite, that has no problems criticizing the world we live in.
Quote: “I’m a catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black, Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan and have a lovely afternoon madam.”

Spectre (2015)

Comments: The reconstruction of what we knew as the James Bond universe continues with Spectre, a film that yet again smashes everything we've come to know about 007 and repackages it in an entertaining and intriguing way. This is the 24th Bond film and the 4th starring Daniel Craig in what is possibly one of the best Bonds to ever light up the silver screen. It looks like this might be the last time Craig plays the character, but with the success of his run, I seriously doubt it. Something I enjoyed about this particular Craig/Bond film, it regained its sense of humor, something that had been sorely missing from Craig's Bond films. Spectre is another solid entry in the Bond franchise, a franchise that is enjoying now, after so many years, some of its best moments.

Quote: "You are a kite, dancing in a hurricane Mr. Bond."

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Comments: A Tarantino film is always a gift from the movie gods, so I was most anxious to see this, the eigth Tarantino film. For Tarantino, cinema is his religion, he breaths it, lives for it. I love seeing anything he does because making a film is a sacred affair for him, each frame, each line of dialog, meticulously chosen to perfection. At the core, is that perfectly written and planned out script, which is why most Tarantino films are so good. This time around he revisits the theme that reigns supreme over his cinematic repertoire: racism. It is not as obvious as in previous films (like say Django: Unchained) but yeah, with The Hateful Eight he once again touches upon mans discrepancies with their skin color. This time around, the story is all about these eight people who get trapped in a cabin in the middle of nowhere thanks to a raging blizzard. Who wants to kill who and why? Tarantino effectively builds tension and brilliantly develops characters. You’d think that a film that takes place almost entirely in a cabin would be boring? Then think again. Tarantino will make you laugh and cringe all in one swoop. This one is drenched in gore and blood so be ready for that! Another winner from one of the best directors in cinema.

Quote: “But when John Ruth ‘The Hangman’ catches you….you hang!”

Comments: So yeah, it was a real joy to see this one. Disney and J.J. Abrams knew what they were doing when they made this nostalgia bullet to the heart. By using A New Hope as the blueprint for this new adventure, they managed to give us that old Star Wars we knew and loved. It was a shot of familiarity that wiped clean the bad tasted left by Lucas’s overtly political prequels. It was awesome seeing Han and Chewie back flying the Millenium Falcon. And it was awesome to see so many interesting new characters populate the Star Wars universe! Not only that, the new characters rocked the house! Kudos to Disney for putting a woman and a black man in the leading roles! There was not a single Jar-Jar Binks type character in sight! In addition to that, Disney and J. J. Abrams went old school with this one by actually building sets and props as opposed to having everything be computer generated and for that I applaud these guys! This was a film that didn’t forget to be fun; it didn’t forget that the simplicity of the originals was part of their success. These films are back to being about good guys vs. bad guys and it’s a welcome return to form for the Star Wars universe. This is without a doubt the film of the year, maybe not the best of the year (that slot was saved for the next film on my list) but The Force Awakens was an event, an experience that brought an entire generation and their kids back to movie theaters. The force was strong with this film!

Quote: “The force is strong in my family. My father has it, I have it, my sister has it. You have that power too.”  

Comments: I was expecting big things from Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), but nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of awesomeness that would be unleashed upon my retinas in that darkened theater. This movie is a work of art. Every time I watch it and I have watched it many times since its release, my eyes are glued to the screen. I love the dialog, the cars, the performances, and of course the stunts! Real cars, real stunts! What I loved about Mad Max: Fury Road, aside from the brilliance in storytelling and visual flare is that computer generated images were used to enhance and not to take over the film. George Miller proved with this one what we film buffs have always known, that he is a true auteur. He understands the language of cinema, knows how our minds and our eyes work and he uses that to his advantage as a story teller. Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa was spot on casting and Tom Hardy as Max? The icing on the cake! I loved the fact that they put the female in a leading role! I loved that it was all about protecting the dignity and liberty of women. This to me is the best made film of the year, it deserves to win Academy Awards in cinematography, visual effects and hell, why not, I’d nominate George Miller for director of the year. Mad Max: Fury Road is a filmmaking feat that no other director could duplicate! Rarely does a director leave his mark on a film the way Miller did with this one, my hats down to him for making such a memorable film! Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) was “the movie of the year” but Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is the better picture, which is why I give it my number one spot. If you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for? Go and experience the madness!

Quote: “If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic! On the Fury Road!”  


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