Upgrade (2018): An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller Worth Your Time

   “Upgrade” is a really great film. This is the kind of film that reminded me so much of “Ex Machina” as it deals with a similar exploration of Artificial Intelligence and what makes a person, which any story exploring personhood and identity is something I am always intrigued by. These are ideas that when pulled off well, lead to unforgettable films, and “Upgrade” does not disappoint.

The film was directed and written by Leigh Whannell. He’s written a lot of horror movies mostly, like the “Saw” Franchise and “Insidious.” This film certainly has horror elements but is more of a thriller.

The story follows Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) a stay at home mechanic. When his wife Asha (Melani Vellajo) is killed and he is paralyzed in a mysterious attack. After the attack his enigmatic CEO client Eron gives him STEM, an A.I. that makes it so he can walk again also can communicate with him. With new drive he seeks out those responsible for the killing of his wife.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world is a sci. fi. future where there are self driving cars and areas of extreme tech. advancement and desolate poverty, such as where Grey grew up. The world is fascinating and it is a believable place where the plot that goes down would happen. The through line of wonder and desperation makes the world real and I would watch another story told in this universe.

The Lighting / Cinematography – Part of what brings this world to light is the cinematography. This is a film that uses light really well. There is a red tinge pver everything and when they are in the poorer areas of town everything is draped in darkness. These things do a great job at racking up the tension and isolating Grey. The use of red and black express the isolation beautifully and that is part of what makes the film’s presentation work.

The Plot – The plot revolves around Grey hunting down his wife’s killer and the mystery with that as he learns to work with an A.I. that he lets control his body in life and death scenarios. There are some dark twists as each new reveal shows that there was another manipulation going on, leading up to the final reveal. All is not as it seems and this film is figuring out just how many betrayals are in store for Grey.

The Reveal – STEM is the bad guy and wins. STEM wanted to become human so it created the circumstances where Grey would accept taking it in and in the end takes control of Grey’s body and mind and kills the CEO who created it, preventing another STEM from being born. It is a dark, powerful and fascinating story.

Okay:

The Wife and CEO / Supporting Cast – The supporting cast is okay but I felt like the wife, CEO and gangster who killed the wife could have done with more exploration. They are plot mechanics in the end for the advancement of STEM’s self-actualization, which worked but it kept the film from perfection. If they’d all felt as fully realized as Grey or STEM this film would have been perfect as the mystery and tension never lets up. All it needed was more realized characters on the sidelines.

This is a film I highly recommend to any fan of sci. fi. Like “Ex Machina” before, this is a film that doesn’t have a large cast and doesn’t need one. The core ideas being explored of personhood and fear of A.I. are handled really well and the main thriller is masterfully executed. I highly recommend checking this film out if you get the chance. Might not make my Top 5 at the end of the year, but it is competing to be on that list.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

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A Quiet Place (2018): The Beauty of Silence

  “A Quiet Place” is a masterfully done work of suspense. I wish I’d seen it in theaters, as even watching it on amazon, I couldn’t pull away. How quiet the movie is works at keeping you involved in the personal struggles the different family members are going through against this unknown threat. Before I get into spoilers and details, this is a film I highly recommend to any fan of horror films.

   The film was directed and co-written by John Krasinski, along with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck as the other co-writers.

   The story follows the Abbott family, who must deal with creatures that hunt by sound and have taken over Earth, so they stay silent in order to live. They are able to because they have deaf daughter, and learned ASL in order to communicate prior before the takeover. The story involves their survival and wrestling with a tragedy that has divided them.  

The Pros:

The World – Monsters that hunt by sound is such a cool concept, and you don’t see them until the end, like any great monster movie. The world is post-apocalyptic with everything just dead and humanity reeling as they don’t know to find the weakness of the monsters.

The Family – John Krasinski is owns his role as the father and has near perfect chemistry with Emily Blunt, who plays his wife, and their three children. Millicent Simmons is great as their daughter Regan, whose character is deaf. Millicent Simmons is also a deaf actress in reality. She plays a part in a a tragedy when her youngest brother activates a toy that she gave him, after he steals the batteries for the toy and turns it on. This leads to the creatures attacking and killing him. It is this guilt that drives the relationship between her and the family after that.

Wrestling Guilt  and Finding Peace – Wrestling with guilt is a major theme of the film, as both the dad, Lee, and his daughter, Regan, carry the tension over the death of the youngest son. The father for not being able to save the son, and Regan for giving him the toy. This disharmony is finally resolved when they talk to each other and realize there isn’t blame. I loved it, especially as the payoff was the father’s gift to Regan, the ear implants, that when turned up knock out the creatures. Each must confront their fear of themselves and the monsters to defeat the monsters and this all done in near silence. The tension exists in the slightest of sounds and when the sound is finally activated the discovery…the monster’s weakness to the implants’ frequency. There is relief and victory. The payoff was amazing, and how each found peace was wonderful as Lee sacrifices himself to save his kids and the mother Evelyn and daughter Regan save the baby and find the weakness of the creatures in the process.  

(add the silence factor.)

Okay:

The Monsters – The monsters work until you see them. This is a problem with most monsters, as once you see the monster, they just aren’t scary anymore. This applies to these guys, who are scary in what they do (instant killing of the victim), but once they are close up they are no longer monster perfection. They don’t have eyes so they look like the Venom Symbiote in Spider-Man when it has a host, except without eyes. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t scare me. The scenes that made me jump, were when I didn’t see the monsters and only saw what they did. I wish they’d always been in the shadows. Their shape is alien and disfigured but the moment you see it, that alienness doesn’t matter anymore. They are just another cgi affect. 

Why a Baby? – They are having a baby when the Earth is occupied by aliens who sense sound. This is so stupid. I get life needs to go on and their plan to hide the sound was good (they have a quiet room in the basement), but I still didn’t see how it was logical, given that they didn’t know the monsters’ weakness until the very end after the baby was born.

    This is a movie I’d highly recommend. I didn’t get into horror movies until later in life and this one does the job of a horror film perfectly. So much of what makes horror works is what makes, any great story work… Does the story have tension? Do I care about the characters? This film works because of the characters. This is a family that has gone through tragedy and as they are being torn apart in surviving the unknown threat of the monsters, they find the power to come together, which is the core of the film. I cared about what happened and the struggles I saw on the screen. This is something I wish more horror movies would take note of. If you care about the people, you care about the film. 

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

Hereditary (2018): Layers of Horror and History in a Beautiful Miniature

 

“Hereditary” thus far is my favorite movie of the year. This is a horror movie that does horror perfectly. It is a slow burn, keeping you horrified and scared for the characters the entire time. This film is difficult to watch in all the right ways, as horror is meant to be unsettling and to make you uncomfortable. This films does this phenomenally and gives compelling characters, powerful themes and a mystery that is never revealed until the end.

“Hereditary” was written and directed by Ari Aster. The story follows the Graham family, specifically the mother, Annie, who is a famous miniature artist who recreates moments from her past. She has a husband and 2 kids, each deals with the death of Annie’s mother in different ways as their shared trauma slowly drives them apart.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Tension and Tone – This is a film that is seeping with tension. The film is uncomfortable and creepy from the first scene, and you are left guessing where it is going to take you next. I was at the edge of my seat through most of the film, and that was because of how unsettling the tension and tone were. The movie goes through slow escalation ,and each scene adds more intensifying moments as you spend more time with the family while they fall apart.

The Cinematography – This is a beautiful film. There is symbolism in the artwork of Annie, who has created miniatures from her life experiences, and in the house they are in. Moments are captured in the miniatures that mirror or lead into horrifying events in reality. The use of shadows around the house is done really well too, as is the red light from the tree house that sits outside the home. This use of light is haunting and fits the themes where reality is becoming distorted for Annie, as she learns the truth about her mother.

When Family Falls Apart – The main drama is the family falling apart. Annie nearly killed her son and daughter when she sleepwalked (nearly set them on fire), the son hates her because of it. Her daughter also saw the grandmother as her mother as she was nursed from birth by the grandmother who sought to indoctrinate her. From the get go the only stable part of Annie’s life is her husband. After Annie’s daughter is accidentally killed in a car crash by her son things deteriorate further as she starts seeing ghosts, and more sinister forces manipulate her grief. The characters are all compelling, and the father is especially  intriguing, as he is torn between protecting and loving his son, and taking care of and loving his wife. 

Occult or Mental Illness? – One of the things I liked is that the film is ambiguous on whether it is a history of extreme mental illness that is causing the meltdown, or if it is the cult and the demon that actually exist. By the end it is implied that the demon does exist and ends up possessing the son after the grandmother, mother and daughter have all died. But, even given that fact… the demon works as metaphor, given that it is the unaddressed illness and trauma that are passed on, and in the end destroy the house. It is beautiful and terrifying and works on multiple levels.  

 This is a film that I highly recommend if you are into horror movies. The characters are compelling and you care about all of them. None of the family members are bad people, they are just so broken, and caught in things so far out of their control, that tragedy is the only realistic end the story can tell. This is my favorite movie of this genre, and I’m not a fan of the occult type horror films, however, ghost stories or monster films are more of my jam. The occult is perfect for the story this movie tells, though, and it is a masterpiece well worth your time.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – The Power of a Compelling Villain

“Infinity War” is easily in my Top 5 MCU films. This is a film I saw a second time before writing this review, and the only other Superhero films that have been that lucky were “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” As you can tell from those and this film, I enjoy my superhero films depressing or bittersweet. This is a film that hits you over the head with loss, and doesn’t stop until the end. Thanos is the villain, but also the protagonist, as his actions drive the film and force our heroes to make choices that define them before the loss comes. I’ll get into spoilers deeper into the review, but for now, this is a film I highly recommend.

This film was directed by the Russo Brothers, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, while being produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves the Avengers trying to stop Thanos from getting all the Infinity Stones (cosmically powerful stones born at the Big Bang, and scattered through the Universe), as when he does, he plans to wipe out half the universe.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – It is the Marvel Cinematic Universe… a universe full of aliens, cultures, clashing personalities, heroes, villains and in the end consequences. There is a reason I’ve become so drawn into the comic books. What Marvel and Disney have done is to interpret so much of that beautifully on the screen, and each new film I like returning to this enjoyable and fascinating world.

The Superhero Teams – The driving action of the film is the team-ups between different heroes. Characters clash and have to work out their conflicts in order to take on Thanos to keep him from destroying half the population of the Universe. I’ll cover what I liked about the teams below.

Bruce Banner and the Secret Avengers – The film kicks off with Thanos killing Loki and knocking out the Hulk. The Hulk is saved by Heimdall and sent to Earth where Hulk retreats into Bruce Banner. From here we see Banner reunite with the Avengers, and have to depend on his brains to take on the Black Order, as Hulk is afraid to come out after losing to Thanos. It is wonderful seeing this dynamic in action, with those in Wakanda, as he fights in Tony’s Hulkbuster armor against the alien swarm. Banner has always been the outcast in the Avengers, and now that he’s back he can’t even depend on his power as the Hulk. This forces him to adapt to thinking things through as Banner, as he realizes he has deeper issues to explore with the Hulk. I can’t wait to see where his arc goes with the Hulk and the Avengers in “Avengers 4.”

Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Iron Man – This dynamic is fun. To kick things off, Doctor Strange is the one who doesn’t care about people (he tells Tony and Peter that he will let them die before he gives Thanos the Time Stone). Spidey is full of pop culture references that annoy Tony, and Tony Stark is always trying to take control, which leads to conflict with Doctor Strange because of it. They succeed in taking out a member of the Black Order, but face deadly fallout when they reach Titan, Thanos’ homeworld, to battle the Mad Titan himself.

Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax and Mantis – 3 of this group eventually team up with Spidey, Strange, and Stark against Thanos… which happens after Gamora is kidnapped by Thanos, as she knows the destination of the Soul Stone. She has some powerful scenes with Star-Lord, and some funny scenes with Drax.

Rocket, Groot and Thor – This was my favorite team up, it happens after the Guardians of the Galaxy rescue Thor from his destroyed refugee ship. Thor’s ship was destroyed by Thanos when he picked up the Space Stone from Loki, before Thanos kills Loki. It is the death of Heimdall and Loki, and half of Asgard that have Thor full of anger and broken. This leads to Rocket stepping up to be the Captain and helping Thor through the process of healing, as they head to the legendary location of Nidavellir, so that Thor can create a god killing weapon. Groot is a teenager and full of attitude, but steps up to the plate when he contributes part of himself to making Thor’s new weapon.

The Story Arc of Thanos – Thanos is the protagonist of this film. It is desire for balance in the universe (which he believes can only come about through genocide after his planet is destroyed from running out of resources and overpopulation) that drives his desire for the Infinity Stones. Each stone costs him, as the members of the Black Order are all eventually killed by the Avengers. To get the Soul Stone he has to sacrifice the only one he ever loved (Gamora), and getting the Mind Stone out of Vision nearly costs him his life, when Thor attacks him with the God killing weapon. In the end he wins and wipes out half the universe. Where his story goes from here remains to be seen, as he achieved his goal, and as far as he knows… he is the monster who brought balance to the universe. Josh Brolin truly did a masterful job and is easily one of the best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Okay:

The Black Order – These 4 look really cool but weren’t as effective as they could have been. I would have liked at least one of them to kill one of the good guys. They might be back now that Thanos has all the Infinity Stones, so they could get more development later on… we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Battle in Wakanda – The Battle in Wakanda is pretty generic compared to most of the other fights in the film. Most of the other fights involve use of the environment and powers to try and stop the Mad Titan, where here it is a bunch of expendable aliens against a group of superheroes and soldiers all lined up. It is like every other “big battle.” It still looked good, but the genericness of it all kept it from being a truly memorable part of the film. It was the kind of action we see in every other MCU film.

Pacing – The first time I saw this film I didn’t notice any pacing issues. The second time I watched I thought the beginning could have been cut down and happened faster, the Battle of Wakanda is too long, and Thanos needed more scenes with people. Each film develops him further, and with better pacing we could have gotten more of that, or least more exploration of his faction, the Black Order.

The team ups, the comedy, the action, the characters and their arcs… there is so much I have to recommend about this film. This is a film that could have been a gigantic mess, given how large the cast was, and all the different parts that are in play. The Russo Brothers managed to pull it off. Once again, showing why they are the ones shaping the story of the MCU. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do it. This is a film that is well worth your time and shows just how powerful stories can be.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

 

Black Panther (2018): Seeking Justice in a Broken World

       “Black Panther” is easily one of my Top 5 favorite MCU films. This is a film that expands on the lore of the MCU, has great characters with amazing arcs, some of the best action and villains in any Marvel film. It also explores deeper themes of resistance and sovereignty adding up to a movie that is well worth your time.

The film was directed by Ryan Coogler who co-wrote it with Joe Robert Cole and produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), after “Captain America: Civil War,” as he takes the mantle as King of Wakanda but suddenly finds his world transformed as an enemy from Wakanda’s past upsets the status quo they’ve known for so long. This forces him and his allies to confront the past and what the choices they make will mean for Wakanda’s future.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

Wakanda – Wakanda is such a cool country. This is a Afro-Futuristic nation with advanced technology, hidden by a cloaking device that intermixes ancient tradition with tech. Wakandans are ruled by the King and a Tribal Council whose upholding of tradition drives the primary conflict in the shaping of Wakanda’s future. Each tribe differs in ideology, whether it is defending the King, the Border or trade. This world is rich and fully realized, each tribe is distinct and I wanted to know more about their histories in the foundation and development of Wakanda.

The Characters – The characters are definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of this great film, with Boseman once again killing it as T’Challa. Whitiker is fantastic as the Tribal Shaman whose history is intertwined with Wakanda’s past sins. The other minor characters, like the tribal leader W’Kabi, also have intriguing performances as well. In many cases it is these characters prideful choices that drive the conflict that T’Challa must untangle. Below, I’m going to explore some of my favorite characters of the film, as it was who they were that drew me into the story the most.

Okoye – Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is Wakanda’s General and she owns this role. Not only does she one of the major focuses is some breathtaking actions scenes every action scenes, we see how important her role is for her as at one point following tradition has her on the opposite side of some of our heroes. She serves the Crown and Wakanda, and that is a complicated dance when T’Challa is believed dead and the sociopath Killmonger is now King of Wakanda. I can’t wait to see more of her in future films.

Shuri – Shuri is the Princess of Wakanda and T’Challa’s sister. She is one of the most intelligent characters in the MCU, as she is the inventor of the advanced technology of Wakanda, she is very much the Tony Stark of Wakanda.  Like Stark, she doesn’t care about tradition and is far more invested in the relationships around her and the beauty of discovery and invention. She has some great scenes, and like Okoye, she was one of the main reasons to see this film. 

Ulysses Klaue – Andy Serkis has a lot of fun as the weapons merchant who is almost Joker-like in how little he cares about anything. This is a guy who is selfish, and racist, and every reason why Wakanda is isolationist. He is an insane character and his chaotic and manipulative nature leads to some explosive conflict in the first act of the film. It is also great to see Serkis in anything. 

Killmonger – Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger might be one of Marvel’s most complicated villains. This is a boy who grew up homeless in Oakland when T’Challa’s father kills his father, who was connected to the royal family through blood. He is driven by revenge from this moment on, but also by a desire to help the oppressed, driven by all he has lost. Killmonger is also a complete sociopath (his body is covered in self-inflicted scars for every person he has killed), but that doesn’t stop him from being complex. You can see where he is coming from, even if his way of going about it is all wrong.

Isolationism and its Consequences – The main idea explored is isolationism and the consequences of it is the main theme of the movie. T’Challa’s father commits a grave sin to keep Wakanda hidden from the rest of the world and it is up to T’Challa to face the consequences of his father’s sins. As Killmonger reminds T’Challa there are Africans both on the continent and in the world that Wakanda left behind. Wakanda let great evils like slavery, apartheid and countless other atrocities take place, when they could have done something to fight it. The primary conflict within Wakanda is to become an Empire to help oppressed groups (Killmonger’s vision), or stay hidden and protect Wakandan technology from those who would use it for ill (T’Challa’s father’s vision). T’Challa’s arc is finding that balance between perspectives and owning the mistakes of the past…and it is beautifully executed.

Okay:

Final Fight -The final fight is fine but compared to the rest of the film comes off as weak, especially in regards to the relationship between Okoye and W’Kabi. The emotional setup earlier in the film does not add up to the payoff during this fight, and so much more could have been done with some of the locations.

Okoye and W’Kabi – These two are star-crossed lovers who are on opposite sides and leaders of their tribes. I wanted more with both of them as they are both great actors, but we never got to see them in love, it is only ever given to us through exposition. Fully fleshing out their relationship could have given us the perfect film. 

This is a film that had the Marvel problem only in that Act 3 was still a battle, and there were some plot holes that I wish had been expanded upon. Regardless, this is a film that is deserving of all the hype and praise it has been receiving. It really is that good and I can’t wait to see what else they do with T’Challa and the Wakandans in later films. This film has social awareness you don’t always get in action films and at the core it seeks justice in a broken world.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 One of my favorite films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If you noticed something different about this review it is because I am now working with an editor! He is friend Brandon Cabusas and you can find him on instagram @brandoncabusas. If you need editing work, you should check him out.

Top 5 Films of 2017

This was a great year for film. Hell, the honorable mentions I’ll be talking about were in tight competition for 5th place and it was only due to multiple viewings it won as there was no other film I saw a second time in theatres this year. As always, I’m curious to hear about your lists and what films would be your Top 5, Top 3, Top 10 or Worst of as well. Lists are a lot of fun to do, and I stick to 5 because I want the 5 to mean something. Making a Top 10 would be far too easy given how great this year (and past years) have been for film so keeping it tight makes the order actually mean something. So lets kick things off with some Dishonorable mentions before I get into the films I actually liked.

Dishonorable Mentions:

This was a year where a few films had great premises but horrible execution. I walked out of “Justice League,” so I can’t recommend that, “The Circle” was technology paranoia garbage with an amazing cast who could not save it, “The Dark Tower” missed the entire point of the book and series and felt like a forgettable cheap action flick, and “Split” was an insult to those suffering through mental disorders while being a poorly done horror film and “Deathnote” is a film that misses the entire point of the source material and is a poorly cast and acted Netflix endeavor. These are my dishonorable mentions and films not worth your time I saw this year.

Honorable Mentions:

This was  great year for film and choosing my 4th and 5th place were difficult so I’m going to do something different and say a little bit more than my dishonorable mentions in regards to the honorable mentions.:

Wonder Woman – This was a film we needed this year, from the “Metoo” movement to a sexual predator being elected president..”Wonder Woman” was the answer to that as we got Gal Gadot rocking it as the only thing keeping the DC film afloat. I loved her film and how Robin Wright as her mentor is just fantastic. It only really falls apart in the 3rd Act, and the fact none of the villains work, but you should check it out. I own this film and I can’t wait to watch it again.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/wonder-woman-2017-dc-finally-finds-a-hero/

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – This film was also in tight competition for making the list as I love how it explores toxic masculinity (Ego being one of the best Marvel villains thus far), father figures and abuse and explores my favorite characters in the MCU (Yondu and Rocket). For me it was on par with the first film, but there were sadly films that were better in both loss and character exploration.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-2017-the-greatness-of-these-characters/

Logan Lucky – This is a heist film told through the eyes of the southern working class stealing from Nascar. It is beautifully done with Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang and Adam Driver’s injured vet Clyde Logan as the stand out performance. Only thing against it is the 3rd act is overlong. I did drowse off a little during the heist which is the worst thing that can happen in a heist film. Loved the movie though.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/08/26/logan-lucky-2017/

Coco – “Coco” is easily one of the best films Pixar has put out. This is a film that explores family, mortality, death, loss and does it all through the lense of “The Day of the Dead.” The biggest thing going against it is I hated the protagonist until he finally stops acting selfish, but his family, especially those in the the Land of the Dead are awesome. I can’t recommend this film enough.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/coco-2017-an-amazing-pixar-epic-that-explores-family-and-love/

Colossal – “Colossal” is a powerful indie film that explores abuse and healing from it. Anne Hathaway does an amazing job as the unlikable drunk who has burned all her bridges but is trying to put her life back together while Jason Sudeikisis’s Oscar is a fantastic villain and threat. The fact that it is also a monster film on top of all of this is a reason why it was so hard for me to keep it from making 5th place, the characters aren’t really likable except for Hathaway’s character until the end though, so that was a dealbreaker for me.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/05/18/colossal-2017-an-amazing-exploration-of-monsters-as-metaphor/

Logan – The post-apocalyptic genre is popular and this is a film that is essentially “The Last of Us,” but with X-Men. There is no hope in this film as both Professor X and Logan are the last of the X-Men in a broken world. They both find purpose in X-23, Laura an experiment who escapes and has Logan’s power. This film is one I own and highly recommend seeing. It didn’t make 5th though because in the end it didn’t have a point. This is a film with no hope, though it gives our protagonists some amazing sendoffs.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/logan-2017-a-dystopic-western-masterpiece-that-explores-the-depths-of-pain/

That was the competition, and believe me it was close, so without further ado, here are my Top 5 Films of 2017:

5) Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Director Rian Johnson

“The Last Jedi” was a film that not only managed to subvert what expectations I had (was expecting an “Empire Strikes Back” rehash) but was also about the Resistance and First Order finding an identity beyond the Original Trilogy. This film explores this through the minor characters of Rose and Holdo as well as through Kylo Ren’s choice. The themes of resistance through class are given voice as well as showing the corrupt can be more than Jabba’s gangsters. Every action has consequences and no one wins. This is a film where you feel loss and it doesn’t stop hitting you with that loss, but it is still Star Wars and it remembers hope, even in despair. This was Carrie Fisher’s last film and in this we see why she is both one of the last Skywalkers and the General of the Resistance. R.I.P. Carrie, you got quite the sendoff as your film was the only film this year I saw in theatres twice and loved just as much each time.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/12/21/star-wars-episode-viii-the-last-jedi-2017-an-amazing-subversion-of-expectations/

4) War for the Planet of the Apes

Director Matt Reeves

Much like “The Last Jedi” this is a film full of loss and explores the themes of resistance and in the end what sentience means. This is the end of the Caesar’s story and the Prequel Trilogy and it is powerful all the way through. This film brought me to tears a few times as you see both Caesar’s humanity and pain. The Ape characters are once again the most human but Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is one of the best villains this year in how warped and nationalist he is, while still being vulnerable…as you see this is after the nuclear fallout and all that remains are military outposts in a world that is ready to leave humanity behind, while at the same time we have hope through the young Nova, who recognizes the apes humanity and in turn it shows her own. Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar for this role and I hope Matt Reeves gets to make his Batman film. He is a brilliant director and in this we see what happens when humans lose and gain their humanity as we lead into the world of “The Planet of the Apes.”

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes-2017-growing-beyond-caesar/

3) Get Out

Director Jordan Peele

I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele’s next project is, as “Get Out” is his first full length film he both directed and wrote. This brilliant social satire is fantastic in how the mystery unfolds and why our hero returning to this nice small town full of rich white people is so horrifying as nothing is as it appears to be. As a thriller, an exploration of racism and classicism and as a horror movie it really works. The only place where it falls flat is we never get the motivation of the people who inhabit the town and I would have liked to learn more about the protagonist’s girlfriend’s motivation in the film.  Regardless, this is a film I highly recommend, and was number 1 for me for a long time until the other 2 upcoming films came out.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/get-out-2017-a-brilliant-horror-film-that-tackles-racism-and-privilege/

2) Baby Driver

Director Edgar Wright

“Baby Driver” is a work of musical, editing and cinematic genius. You are shown rather than told so much and every character is a flawed anti-hero with the exception of Debra, who is Baby’s (our protagonists) girlfriend. The music is genius and I love how it tackles the different ways certain characters are trying to escape or to free themselves, whether it is through internal redemption through an act of bravery, seeking revenge or owning up to mistakes and actions. This film is so much fun and the soundtrack by Steven Price, is easily the best soundtracks of the year. I can’t wait to see what Edgar Wright does next, but I’m glad he left “Ant-Man” and the MCU as this was the work of art we got in return as this was a film be both wrote and directed. Again, this film has an amazing story but the film is worth it for the music and visuals alone. Up until yesterday, this was my Number 1 film of the year.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/baby-driver-2017-the-unforgettable-soundtrack-of-a-life/

1) The Shape of Water

Director Guillermo de Toro

Sometimes you have to wait and the order of a list can be upset. The first Top 5 I created in 2014 had “Noah” as Number 1 until I saw “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and the genius of Wes Anderson upset Darren Aronofsky. This happened once more with the genius of del Toro upsetting Wright. Why is “The Shape of Water” Number 1? Because it does what all the other films do as either better or on par. Like “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “The Last Jedi,” and “Get Out,” it explores the themes of resistance and the voiceless as our mute protagonist Elisa fights to save the creature who is being tortured by the government agent in the lab, as her closeted roommate Giles and co-worker Zelda hep her succeed. The villain like in “War” and “The Last Jedi” is an insecure Colonel (in a creepy and powerful performance by Michael Shannon) who abuses others while assuming he has a right to others because of his position and privilege. The music is on par with “Baby Driver” while the cinematography and story are like a surrealist fairy tale. This is easily one of the best movies of all time and I can’t wait to buy it when it comes out. There was steep competition this year in films but after seeing this film, this film deserves its place at the top, and I can’t wait to see what else is born out of the fantastic imagination of Guillermo del Toro who not only directed but co-wrote and co-produced this unforgettable film.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/the-shape-of-water-2017-a-transcendent-romantic-fairy-tale/

This was an amazing year for cinema, though a crappy year for politics and many of the people these movies were fighting for. I’m curious to hear what your Top 5, Top 10 or worst films of the year are as well and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings in regards to the fantastic stories that can be born out of the art of film.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) – An Amazing Subversion of Expectations

   “The Last Jedi” is my second favorite Star Wars film. This is a series that is second only to “The Empire Strikes Back,” and in many ways has greater depth even though the structure of this film is a bit of a mess. What this film does though is upset the status quo, delve into the reasons the First Order and Resistance have for even existing in the first place and also a much deeper analysis of “The Force” that we haven’t really gotten since the Original Trilogy. Before I get into spoilers, this is a film with the best characters and themes thus far, amazing character development and emotional payoff, amazing action and it is easily the most beautiful of all the Star Wars films. Seriously, check it out.

The film was directed and written by Rian Johnson while being produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman.

The story involves the Resistance attempting to escape from the First Order who are attacking them after the destruction of Starkiller Base, while Rey is seeking Luke’s help in their fight. Things soon get more complicated when the First Order executes a trap that forces members the Resistance to seek outside help  to escape the First Order trap, and a clash within the Resistance itself between Poe and Vice-Admiral Holdo after General Leia is incapacitated.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The Cinematography – This is visually the best looking of any film in the Star Wars franchise. Whether it is the filming of fight sequences in space or within a ship…the camera executes the action beautifully and each planet was somewhere I wanted to return back to after it was done.

The Universe – This Star Wars has quite a few different environments and animals. From the adorable porgs, to crystal foxes, to the salt world of Crait, Luke’s Island and Snoke’s Flagship and a Casino World. I was never bored because there was always more to see as each environment was so rich.

The Reason for Resistance – One of the major themes of the film is the reasons to resist. We see this as a class struggle in regards to oppression through the eyes of kids and Rose, a character we are introduced in this film…and also that personal identity is a huge role too and that finding the balance between them is important. Poe is driven by ego and glory for much of what he does but comes to see that it is bigger than each fight, the war is larger than any one person as the individuals and groups define what it means to resist, just as much as if not more than the personal reasons to fight.

The Cost of War – So many people die in this film. There are lots of heroic sacrifices, but also the people who are being oppressed by those profiting from the war, the deaths of so many soldiers on both sides who die. You feel that in this and it does a good job humanizing both the Resistance and the First Order. War is hell and sometimes no one wins, this film captures that theme beautifully.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. This film is all about relationships between characters, be it Leia and Poe, Rose and Finn, Kylo and Rey or Luke and Rey. Each relationship gets developed over the course of the film and reveals layers to the characters that didn’t exist in “The Force Awakens.”

Vice Admiral Holdo – Holdo is a character who has got a lot of crap from the fanbase, but she was one of my favorite characters in the film. She was respected for winning in the past but Poe doesn’t get that. She is presented as an antagonist through a good portion of the film, and the payoff of who she actually is and what she is doing is great.

Rose and Finn – It is through these characters that we get to see another face of the Resistance and why they fight. Finn is originally a part because of his friends and is even willing to leave in order to protect Rey but Rose reminds him of the bigger picture and that at the core they exist to fight oppression. It is handled on the casino world and seeing their friendship bloom was one of the more memorable parts of this film.

Master Luke Skywalker – Luke is done with everything. Like before in the Original Trilogy guilt defines him and it is mistake that helped lead to Kylo Ren’s creation and that guilt is something he carries with him and resists until the end. He is wanting to destroy the Jedi order and die as the last Jedi until Rey helps him realize there is so much more that he’s forgotten and that he can still make a difference and change things. Mark Hamill is fantastic.

General Leia Organa – I miss Carrie Fisher. It was great seeing her in this, her whole drive is survival and protecting the Resistance from the First Order. She is the mentor who is there to remind the young folks there is a time and place for glory but you have to work to keep everyone alive, or there won’t be anyone else left to fight. This was my favorite presentation of her besides “Empire Strikes Back” and I’ll miss her in these films, now that she’s gone.

Rey and Kylo Ren – One of the core relationships is that between Kylo and Rey both of who are alone and seeking more beyond the old order as so much of who they were was tied to the legends of the past. They are connected but still adversaries and it is great relationship to see explored as Ren becomes more confident and much more of a bully and Rey finds an identity outside of her parents and her expectations of Luke and the Jedi.

Subverting Expectations – If you go in expecting “The Empire Strikes Back” or another version of “Return of the Jedi” or “A New Hope” prepare to be surprised. This is a film where most things don’t work out for any characters. Things change, both in the First Order and the Resistance in regards to their identities…but it doesn’t repeat the cycle. We get away from The Ring Cycle a bit here and from that “Star Wars” seems to finally be developing it’s own identity outside of the past. We also see The Force not being tied to bloodlines and the fantasy feel of the past films and midichlorians are implied to no longer be a factor (Rey’s background and the last scene of the film). I loved that, this is no longer the Skywalker show, Star Wars has to be bigger than one family drama and I can’t wait to see where the series goes.

Everybody Loses – Poe finds out he was wrong, Rose and Finn get betrayed, Rey isn’t able to turn Kylo Ren and even the Resistance only barely survives. The First Order isn’t in great shape either after the events that take place and it is going to be transforming further or it will collapse. That is powerful and with it we see the most potential for change both within the Resistance and the First Order. They’ve lost too much to remain static.

Okay: Welcome to the Casino / Side Quest – This first point is related to the second point, there is a side plot on a casino world in order for Rose and Finn to get a code breaker in order to break onto Snokes’s ship so that they shutdown the Empire’s ability to track the Resistance’s fleet. It explores the meaning of the Resistance so I’m not putting it as a total negative but it could have been shorter and achieved the same purpose in the plot, and I would have traded a few Finn and Rose scenes for more scenes with the codebreaker played by Del Toro named DJ. He is fun.

Structure and Clutter – The greatest issue with this film for me was the structure and how cluttered some of the different plots are. It wasn’t bad, I saw this film twice but it does feel long during some of the side tangents. The overall story and themes greatly overwhelm this in quality though and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.

This is probably going to be in my Top 5 films at the end of the year. This is a film I’ve watched twice and is easily the most fun I’ve had at a film this year since “Baby Driver.” I can’t wait to see where things go after this film as it upsets so much of the status quo. I am a guy who loves the original Extended Universe and I always will, but I’m glad they didn’t repeat it (and I still enjoy it as another timeline of Star Wars). By the time of “The Force Awakens” I was done with the Skywalker drama, predictability will kill this franchise as so many of the problems that plagued the Prequels was the lazy recycling of the Original Trilogy. This film is strange, different, takes chances and changes things and honestly, it is the only way Star Wars can grow beyond the corner it was written in to. Here is to Disney embracing that change and giving us more great stories like this film.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. Second best Star Wars film thus far.