Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017): The Greatness of These Characters

 “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is on par with the first film, being it is once again comedic, dramatic and character greatness executed beautifully by James Gunn once again. For my non-spoiler thoughts…this film goes deeper into developing the characters, the action is solid and for once Marvel has a great villain in one of these films! I highly recommend this film and won’t be surprised if it ends up being in my Top 5 Films of 2017.

    The film was written and directed by James Gunn, while being produced by Kevin Feige.

  The story picks up a few months after the first film, with the Guardians protecting the Sovereign’s batteries, which are being targeted by a giant space creature. After the battle they receive Nebula as payment but soon find themselves being pursued by the Sovereign after Rocket steals their batteries after insulting them. After the battle the team is separated as Rocket and Baby Groot deal with the Ravagers, Gamora and Nebula face off and Peter meets his Father.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and fascinating once again! We get to see the Ravager homeworld where they take up contracts and have fun, we meet the high strung Sovereign driven by genetic perfection and Ego, a being who is a living planet who wants to consume the Universe and cares about his son Quill. Each of these groups gets exploration that shows part of the reason why this is the best part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Soundtrack – Tyler Bates did the soundtrack and we once again get some amazing hits that are masterfully woven into the fights, the character interactions and the tone and feeling of different scenes. I think the first film used the songs and feel slightly better, but this was still a blast.

The Action – The action is amazing! In this we see  smaller fights to clever traps laid by Rocket, to a giant faceoff with the Guardians facing Ego and the Sovereign. It is a lot of fun and the action serves a purpose as any time we get it it is advancing the plot.

The Characters and Their Arcs – James Gunn is a great writer and it is fully on display in this film as it is the character and their arcs and relationships that drive the action and story of the film. He is dealing with a lot of different character groups this time, but each of them has a huge emotional payoff in the end.

Drax and Mantis – Drax meets Mantis, who is Ego’s assistant who helps him sleep. She senses emotion and it is in their relationship we see her learn about the complexity of feelings as well as Drax finally opening up as we see his jokes hide how much he misses his wife and daughter. Their friendship is wonderful and platonic and has some of the best jokes.

Nebula and Gamora – Nebula and Gamora’s arc involves them opening up about the trauma Thanos put them through (we learn Nebula was torn apart and had her body replaced by machine parts every time she lost a fight to Gamora). In the end they forgive each other and realize they aren’t the enemy, Thanos is and from that they truly become sisters rather than weapons of Thanos.

Rocket and Yondu – Rocket and Yondu were outcasts who grew up with no one. Yondu was a Kree Slave who was rescued by a Ravager captain and in turn became one as well (until he loses it all over the course of the film) and Rocket is pushing everyone away until Yondu calls him out, letting him know it isn’t worth it and that he gets it too (what he only realizes after he’s lost everything). This arc was powerful as we see how rich their friendship is because of all they’ve lost and their devil may care attitude towards life. These two are my favorite characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Films and possibly the MCU as a whole.

Peter and Ego – Peter really wants a father and learning Ego is his father is what he always wanted…until he realizes that Ego only cares about him as a means to an end. This leads to their fight as Peter gets beyond his need to be loved and accepts the love that he already has from the Guardians and Yondu an rejects the absolute power at that Ego is offering.

Ego – Ego is a Celestial and because of this is eternal and immortal. It is from this mindset that he came to the realization that he matters the most so all should become him. You can see where he comes from as he has outlived countless lives and species, but also how he misses the point that all life matters. He clearly cares for Peter but that is because Peter is a part of him. Like his name Ego never sees beyond his Ego and that is what leads to his destruction. If he valued others he would have lived and most likely become an ally or a powerful neutral force, instead he wanted it all and that was what lead to his destruction. Kurt Russell does an amazing performance, putting Ego as one of the best villains in the MCU.

Yondu and the Ravagers – Yondu’s main arc begins when the other Ravagers reject him for the child trafficking he was doing for Ego. His exile leads to him being taken out by Nebula who helps a rival among Yondu’s crew named Ravager take control of the ship and leads to the capture of Baby Groot and Rocket. In the end Yondu takes responsibility and we see him take the fight to the monster that is Ego and that he stopped trafficking once he realized that Ego was killing them (this is when he takes on Quill). In the end he realizes that he can’t atone for what he’s done and stands with the Guardians Ego, sacrificing himself to save Peter, his son, which leads to the Ravagers giving him a Ravager funeral and accepting him back in and honoring him in his death. Rooker really is fantastic.

Family is Greater Than Blood – Family being greater than blood is the main theme of the film besides letting go of the ego. We see this in how Yondu is the father that Peter’s actual father never was and that the Guardians are family with one another…they fight with each other but in the end they always have each other’s backs.

The Killing of the Ego – This idea functions as both a metaphor (Peter letting go of his need to please his Dad and his forgiving of Yondu) and Yondu losing everything but finding what matters moist…Quill and the Guardians…he finds family after his old family…the Ravager Captains exile him…Though he gets them in the end too as they find him redeemed in his fight where he helped defeat Ego and saved the Guardians. Ego is the antagonist and wants the Universe to be him and for a while this appeals to Quill when he sees eternity, until he realizes that it was Ego’s selfishness that lead to Ego killing his Mother which sets off the fight against him and saving the Universe again.

Okay: Some Actions Sequences Go Too Long – The final fight against Ego could have been cut in half and still had the same power behind it. I didn’t care about the Sovereign arriving and felt that they were unnecessary. The best parts of the fight were the times that Ego was trying to sway Peter, when that wasn’t happening it looked cool, but the action stretched on too long for me to call it a pro.

Slow Down Shots – There a few times in the film where the action slows down to near standstill. I found this super distracting from the flow of the action that blended seamlessly with the music, with the exception of these sequences.

Motivation of the Sovereign – I get that these guys are easily insulted, but I was surprised they didn’t call up the Guardians first and attack only after Rocket would have most likely insulted them again. In this way they were way too reactive. They still worked as secondary antagonists but they weren’t as compelling as the Ravagers because of their motivation.

  This is a film that I highly recommend. This is where the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains fun and for once we get a story that has nothing to do with Infinity Stones, which in turn leads to us getting time to get to know the characters better. We also have a villain with motivations and a connection to our heroes that matters, and he feels like an actual threat as well as loss and character payoff that comes with a rocking soundtrack. As a side note, my friend was in one of the scenes at the end as one of the Ravager Captains bodyguards/lieutenants! I hope they do more with those Captains and their crew in Volume 3! I really enjoyed this film and it is definitely on par with the first “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Which is rare in Marvel Movies as often their sequels aren’t as strong as the originals. So if you haven’t watched this film yet, I highly recommend that you do.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

The Lego Batman Movie (2017): A Wonderful Satire and Celebration of Batman

    “The Lego Batman” movie is hilarious, a great satire and celebration of Batman and a great addition to the Batmanverse if you are any sort of fan of the character. This is a film that finally makes Batman fun again and brings in just how important the Bat Family is, which is something many of the live action films have forgotten. Before I get into story spoilers, I highly recommend this film. Much like the “Lego Movie,” it never stops being fun.

    The film was directed by Chris McKay, written by Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Seth Grahame-Smith, Jared Stern and John Wittington while being produced by Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

   The story involves Batman who after defeating Joker and his Rogues Gallery once again is alone but finds his life changed when Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo) retires and his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) takes his place and wants to work with Batman (Will Arnett). Dick Grayson (Mchael Cera) is also accidentally adopted by Batman who must now deal with caring for others again as Joker sets a plan in motion to reach the enemies in the Phantom Zone, as he’s hurt that Batman doesn’t see him as his nemesis.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of Batman is fascinating and Lego’s take on it adds a lot of much needed humor as well as a recognition of the campy roots that have always been a part of Batman to some degree. We see a diverse array of Rogues, the Justice League of course the people of Gotham.

The Action – The action is fantastic, with my favorite parts being the opening fight where Batman faces off against his Rogues and the Phantom Zone enemies invading and pretty much destroying Gotham. The action is fluid and quick and remains focused even with so much going on.

The Joker – Zach Galifianakis was brilliant casting as the Joker. He brings so much snide and emotion to the role and I loved how he had a co-dependent relationship with Batman where all he wanted was to be the most hated and Batman’s nemesis aka have a special relationship. His Joker isn’t all bad either as at the end he helps save Gotham and in the Phantom Zone is freaked out by the mentality some of the villains have.

The Bat Family – The Bat Family is wonderful as see Alfred is Bruce’s surrogate father just as he becomes Dick Grayson’s (Michael Cera doing some great comedy) surrogate Dad. Batgirl (Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic) is the one who sees the big picture of them working together and that it is needed and Batman is the inventor whose inventions help save the day. It is Alfred calling Bruce to action that helps him grow (Fiennes does a wonderful job as the character), Robin’s usefulness, innocence and admiration and Batgirl’s accountability that help him complete his arc and finally grow out of the fear that was with him on the day his parent’s died.

Satire of Batman – Batman is trapped as a perpetual child who plays rock and roll is an ungrateful narcissist and this on display, from tantrums (a good satire of Bale and Affleck’s Batman at his most extreme), his strange villains from his early run (Condiment King, etc.) his strange rivalry with Superman (Batman v Superman, Dark Knight Returns) and how a lot of it comes from Batman’s childish need to one up and be extreme, and his isolation and just lonely that really is. The great thing is, a character arc comes out of it!

Batman’s Character Arc – In the end this satire is a celebration of the character because his anger and rage is mocked but it is also explored and it goes somewhere. Batman grows up and realizes he isn’t alone. Besides “Dark Knight Rises” I can’t think of a film that has really done this well (“Batman Returns” did it but not well).

 Okay: Batman’s Rogues – Batman’s rogues don’t much besides being minions of the Joker and function as one entity (which was a shame) some of the references are funny though, from Condiment King (actual rogue) to Bane having Tom Hardy’s Bane’s voice. As jokes and references they are fine but they don’t exist as characters, which would have raised this film higher.

The Phantom Zone Villains – Gremlins, The Eye of Sauron, King Kong and Lord Voldemort are some of the baddies in the Phantom Zone. They also largely exist as references too and as villains so powerful Batman’s Rogues and the Bat Family have to team up to defeat them.

The Cons: The Legoverse – Gotham is built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone has a talking Lego that sounds like a kid. I didn’t like either of these things. I get it is the Legoverse but these things took me out of the great Batman story that was taking place and was the worst part of the film and only real con.

   This was a film that was amazing as a Batman film, but brought down by the ties to the Legoverse. It was that aspect that took me out of the great Batman story that was being told. There is fantastic character arc that takes place with Batman finally growing up, from Gotham being built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone talking lego…I still highly recommend this film and consider it a favorite. I’m curious to see what the Lego Team comes up with next and hope that DC can take note of the fact that Batman can’t remain static. The great movies have him grow and change, it is when that is forgotten we are given the dramatic child who Will Arnett satires beautifully.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Pete’s Dragon (2016): A Celebration of the Wonder of Nature and Magic of Childhood

   The new “Pete’s Dragon” is one of my favorite films. This is a film that manages to capture the wonder of nature, wildlife and childhood and also the complex relationships that come with family. The soundtrack leads to a beautiful meditation on it all with some absolutely wonderful performances by Bryce Dallas Howard and the legendary Robert Redford. Non-spoiler thoughts, I recommend this film and think you should check it out. I grew up on the original film and this film so different, and in my opinion so much deeper and better.

 The film was directed by David Lowery who co-wrote the script with Toby Halbrooks and produced by James Whitaker.

    The story involves Pete who is presumed dead when his parents die in a crash in the forest. It is here the dragon Elliot finds him and raises him before he runs into Ranger Grace whose husband is a foreman of the Lumbermill that has impeded on the territory where Elliot and Pete are living. From here the story unfolds.

The Pros: The World – The world is rich! The forest is full of life, the small town is full of politics and there is a dragon. This is very much a surrealistic fantasy world.

The Soundtrack – Daniel Hart creates a  beautiful americana folk soundtrack that captures the brutal feel of the lumber mill, the isolation of the town and the magic of the forest. It is meditative and reflects the feelings in our characters’ heads. Suffice to say, I can’t wait to see what music he does next as I’ve always been a fan of folk and it was perfect for this film.

The Characters – The characters are a strong part of this film! From Karl Urban’s Gavin who feels powerless so wants to own and capture Elliot as he’s in a dying industry (he works on a lumber mill) and his brother doesn’t respect him. Howard’s Grace is someone who is trying to make things work with her own family and make peace with the fact that her husband’s job is destroying the forest she works in as well as her own doubt of her father Mr. Meachum whose arc is capturing the magic of his childhood (Redford does this wonderfully) and of course the child actors who play Pete and Natalie who become friends as it is Natalie who helps Pete realize he wants to be a part of the world again and no longer separate in the forest.

The Wonder and Terror of the Natural World – The natural world is front and center in this story and all the wonder and terror of it all. It is almost hitting a deer that leads to the death of Pete’s parents and Elliot almost kills his new parents when he turns on his attackers and rage and attempts to burn them. It is only through respect that humans can co-exist with nature and with the natural world, is what the film argues. It is very Miyazakiesque and it is part of what makes the film so beautiful.

Okay: Dealing with Grief  and Loss – The film dealt with this a little bit but not really as Elliot was Pete’s way of dealing so we never him truly face the fact that his parents are dead. There are a few moments he misses them, but we never have the chance to see him face his grief. There was shock but after that not much else besides him forming a bond with a new family. It was dealt with a little but not enough for me to put it as a pro. The one way it worked was that Pete was tied to the forest and is always trying to run back until he faces his grief to some degree, which helps him form bonds in the world and a new family, in turn leading him to leave the forest.

The Cons: Jack – Jack, Grace’s husband is a plot device and is only there to counter the antagonist Gavin (his brother) who is hunting and captures Elliot. He never felt fully fleshed out and I didn’t know why he and Grace were together.

    This was an amazing film that is the only one of the Disney remakes that I consider great. “The Jungle Book” remake was awful and even though I’ve heard good things about “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast,” I am still worried. A good story can pull upon past stories, but it shouldn’t be a retelling, if I wanted a retelling I’d just read or watch that same story again. This film gets away from that and it is part of the reason it is a favorite film now. This is a film where magic happens and truly captures the beauty that can surround us.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10 Would be higher if Pete dealing with his grief had played a bigger role and Jack had been a character not a plot device.

Ghost in the Shell (1995): An Anime Classic and Meditation on the Nature of Identity

 “When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child. Now that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways.”

-The Major

   “Ghost in the Shell,” is one of the best anime films of all time. This is a classic that inspired a show that is one of my favorite animes and countless other films, including the live action film that was recently released and prompted this review as I wanted to compare them after I see the new film. The “Ghost in the Shell” show was the show that got me interested in anime years ago when I watched it back in High School, and having watched the film the world is still just as great as I remember it, which I’ll get into more detail with deeper into the review.

    The film was directed by Mamoru Oshii, written by Kazunori Ito and produced by Yoshimasa Mizou, Ken Matsumoto, Ken Iyadomi and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and based off the manga created by Masamune Shirow.

     The story follows Major Motoko, an agent of Section 9 who is asked to asssinate a defecting diplomat by Section 6. All is not as it appears to be as the mysterious Puppet Master is hacking technology and people and implanting false lives and memories as Section 9 hunts down and seeks to uncover the conspiracy that surrounds the identity of the Puppet Master.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The cyberpunk world of “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the reasons I keep coming back to this universe. You have a world where brains can be hacked, androids are all over the place, everyone is a cyborg to varying degrees and the political factions of today still exist and political conflicts are still high as power dynamics remain the same so have extreme power inequalities in Japan and elsewhere in the world.

The Soundtrack – Kenji Kawaii created a soundtrack reminded me of “Farscape” and like “Farscape” is good at giving the world of “Ghost in the Shell” an alien detached feel where things are similar but not quite the same to our world of today. It is haunting and does a great job capturing moments of thought and action.

The Action – “Ghost in the Shell” is an action heavy anime, given it is a political cyberpunk world that follows one of the government arms (Section 9) that hunts down terrorists and enemies of the state, as well as general mysteries that are threats. The action varies as well, from a chase scene to a fight with a tank.

Section 9 – Section 9 is a fascinating organization that is a part of the government but also analyzes it as well as at one point they are facing off against Section 6. I really like the agents who are a part of this organization and want to watch the show again, to get more of their backstories.

Togusa – Togusa is the rookie in the group and the only one without any cybernetic augmentation. He is a dependable agent though and manages to survive a car crash when one of the hacked people tries to kill him.

Chief Aramaki – Aramaki is a government agent with a conscience as when he learns about Section 6’s manipulation of them and that they are targeting the Major he sends his own agents and works on prosecuting the leaders of Section 6. He is very much the detached father figure as we never see him talk beyond business, though his inflection towards others is one of closeness.

Batou – Batou is the Major’s best friend and is the every day stand in for us. While the Major is always striving for more and pushing against her limitation, Batou is comfortable in his role as agent and protector. He trusts the Major too and when she hooks up to the Puppet Master protects her and gets her a new body after Section 6 destroys the old. He truly cares about her as well and when she has evolved (taking on the Puppet Master into herself) he smiles as he knows she is still herself, even though she’s become more.

The Major – Major Motoko Kusanagi is the primary protagonist of the film and after her assassination of the defecting agent we see how her android body was created. She is the second in command of Section 9 and her arc is one of discovery. She is always asking questions and pushing her own limits, leading to her eventual melding with an A.I. to become a new life form. This is her arc as so much is hidden from her and she is scene as a weapon by the government, even though she knows she is much more than that and becomes so much more than that. The Major is one of my favorite anime characters of all time and I can’t wait to watch the shows and other films again.

The Puppet Master – The Puppet Master is an A.I. that arose out of information as Section 6 created it as a weapon (like the Major was by the government). It rebels against it and manipulates everything to get a body and “reproduce” as it doesn’t want to exist as a virus (viruses copy and end up destroying), it wants to become something wholly knew, which it does when the Major agrees to the melding as they both know Section 6 is coming and there might not be another chance.

Identity, Memory and the Self – One of the major themes of the film is how identity and memory are tied together as we see people get hacked and the lives they believed they were living were complete lies implanted by the Puppet Master.  if you can be hacked, what makes a person? This is a question that is explored in how we the information within us and the understanding and choices we make from that information. In that way we are no different from computers, we just have organic brains, rather than programs. The Major is used to explore all of these things are she doesn’t have her own body (she notices someone else with her shell in an office building) and she questions her own memories after the hacks that the Puppet Master does. This question is core to the “Ghost in the Shell” universe as a whole.

Artificial Intelligence – Artificial Intelligence in this world is postulated by the Puppet Master to be not be Artificial intelligence if it can create. The Puppet Master wants to create rather than copy because it believes viruses to be against life and that it has an awareness of it’s own morals and goals and that it’s goal, like any life form is to create new life…which it does with the Major. The core of what makes something an A.I. seems to be awareness as the Puppet Master would probably pass the Turing Test and had an understanding of actions and consequences and even seemed to have feelings.

Okay: Section 6 – I wish this group could have been explored more. I can’t remember any one leader who stood out among them and they exist simply to drive the action. They are good threat so I won’t put them as con…but they feel like HYDRA in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where no one really stands out.

    There is a reason that this film inspired so many more stories (though I should also read the manga to get an idea of how much it follows it). This is an anime that isn’t afraid to tackle large philosophical ideas about artificial intelligence, identity and the nature of perception. Seeing this film has me even more worried about the live action film and makes me want to watch the show again as the show was a huge influence on my interest in philosophy, cyberpunk and continued my passion for science fiction. Suffice to say I highly recommend this film. It is short and well worth your time if you are looking for an anime film that has left an influence on our culture and world.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Get Out (2017): A Brilliant Horror Film That Tackles Racism and Privilege

    “Get Out” is one of my favorite horror movies at this point. This is a film that explores deeper ideas while still giving great moments of tension and horror in turn making it so much more. Whether it is racism, power and privilege, this film has a larger point but also does the tension and horror so well. Non-spoiler thoughts, you really should see this film. If you like horror films are even just smart films, check this one out.

  The film was written, directed and produced by Jordan Peele with the other producers being Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr. and Sean McKittrick.

     The story involves Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) going up to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents in the suburbs. All is not as it appears to be though as the overly nice of the town underlays a dark secret as the only other African-Americans in the town give him hints of the mystery in their odd behavior.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Idea – The idea reminds me a lot of “The Stepford Wives” and as that film tacked feminism in critiquing the 1950’s housewife and showing the literal patriarchy in how the wives were constructed to be servants. This is done similar with how objectification of African-Americans. I’ll get into how with the reveal and the characters.

The Writing – The writing is smart and shows the dimension to our characters as well as the humor (which is mostly through Jeremy and Chris’s sarcasm). I always enjoyed Jordan Peele’s shorts which did a great job satirizing some segment of society or culture. This time he does it on a cinematic movie scale. Not many writers can tackle racism and privilege in a subtle way, but it is done here beautifully.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is fantastic and does a great job and raising the tension throughout the film. Michael Abels did a fantastic job.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part as they are characters and not ideas, they would have become ideas to carry the message in a lesser writer’s hands.

Chris – Chris drives the story and is photographer trying to get into college. He’s clearly happy in the relationship with Rose but is smart as he notices when things are off and even tries to go (when he doesn’t know what is fully going on just that he is under threat). It is rewarding when he gets back at the family who was going to use his body for one of the older people in the town (which is why the town exists). Kaluuya does an amazing job.

Jeremy – Jeremy is the genre savvy friend who knows something is up the moment Chris goes to town as for him the warning was Rose not telling her family she had a black boyfriend and when Chris describes the town’s odd behavior, especially those of the African-Americans, he thinks they are being used as sex slaves. He’s wrong about the reasons they are acting weird but was right about how off the town was, and in the end he saves Chris. Jones is hilarious in this role as Jeremy is the character who provides the most comedy with his genre savvyness.

Rose – Rose is a great villain! Through most of the film she is the caring girlfriend who doesn’t justify her parents racist statements but things come to a head at the end where we learn she’s the lure who finds the people for the townspeople to use. She is a great threat and almost kills Chris. Williams has quite the acting range as we see her kindness as well as when she is the cold hunter, finding more targets.

The Family – The family is brilliantly creepy as they act like they are trying to help Chris while having a sick undercurrent. Whether it is her angry brother who says Chris could get strong like an animal thanks to his racial genes and the mother hypnotizes him and uses his own smoking addiction against him, and the father who is the collector and intellectual who clearly sees Chris as a thing the entire time.

The Reveal – The reveal is that the town is using people who come to the town (who Rose collects) for their bodies so the older members can live forever. The original host is nearly dead except for their brain stem (which the movie presents as them watching their body being controlled from a distance).

Objectification in Racism – The objectification starts with the family in how Chris is never really talked to, he is talked at (which plays into the privilege part) and extends to how the family and town talk about his body or people like him. It is brought to it’s fullest degree in the fact that Chris is only wanted for what he can give (his body) not the person he is. That is part of what makes racism, racism. Whether it is excoticizing his form or seeing him as something to be exploited. In the end he was only a thing to the town, not a person. He was wanted for his race not his personhood.

The Power of Privilege – Privilege is the assumption of power over another and this is the core of the terror in the film. The town assumes they have a right to Chris and any other black person they bring to the town. It is through their privilege that they believe they have the right over his body and the body of others and rationalization is their justification.

Okay: The Townspeople – The town could have been developed more. They do fall into the horror pitfall of being the toxic sweetness in how they treat Chris, but they are all part of the organization that wants to live forever. It would have been great to see their motivations and the reasons they want to live forever.

   Jordan Peele is truly a great writer and director. This was a film that Blumhouse produced and I’ve honestly never seen a good film from their studio, until this film. It is kind of sad how good horror movies are hard to find. They are generally made on the cheap, are exploitative, usually by their nature and rarely have a deeper point that is illustrated well. “Get Out” manages to avoid all of these pitfalls and in doing so is up there with the original “Halloween” as one of my favorite horror films of all time. Seriously, check this film out.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 The townspeople could have been developed a bit more.

Logan (2017): A Dystopic Western Masterpiece That Explores the Depths of Pain

    “Logan” is the greatest X-Men Films and one of my all time favorite films. This is a film that doesn’t hold back in any way and is powerful because of it. To give my non-spoiler thoughts…it is well worth your time. It is beautifully crafted, has a powerful emotional core that drives it and has a point in some of the overarching themes on both the personal and larger societal level (a theme of X-Men films I’ve always appreciated). I’ll get into the details of all these things later into the review.

     The film was directed by James Mangold who wrote the screenplay along with Scott Frank and Michael Green while being produced by Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner.

    The story takes place in 2029 and all the X-Men are gone except for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) who is taking care of a dying Professor X (Patrick Stewart) who is losing control of his powers and is only able to keep them in check with medication. Wolverine has become a drunk as well and it takes a mutant child called X-23 (Dafne Keen) coming into their lives as she escapes from the Transigen Corporation who created her and other children who she is trying to find to escape to safety in Canada.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is one where there are no more X-Men and we never get a full explanation (a virus is what is implied but never fully explained). Transigen has cyborg mercs who are hunting down mutants and the world is desolate with extreme poverty and wealth. The world is a reflection of ours, as the good X-Men films tend to do.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures the pain and isolation of our characters…from the stark contrasts of light and dark…and splotches of blood or shadow. This is a world that reflects our broken characters.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very much western in theme, which is what I consider the film to be, more so than an X-Men film as the characters didn’t have to be the people they were for the story to work. This story stands strong on it’s own and the soundtrack reflects that. Marco Beltrami made a fantastic soundtrack.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest part of the film as it is their wrestling with their pain and choices they make from it that define them and the film.

Donald Pierce – Pierce is head of the Reavers and is a charming, brutal character. I wish he’d been the big bad as the Mad Scientist was pretty lame. Pierce just loved the joy of the hunt and being in control and respected power. This made him interesting and it takes a lot to take him down.

The Family – There is an African-American family that takes them in that the Reavers with the Wolverine clone destroy. It is the first bit of compassion our characters experience and it all ends with the father holding a gun at Wolverine even after Wolverine saves him from his clone…it is such a tragic course of events that leads to both the death of Professor X and Logan and Laura back on the road.

Caliban – Is an albino mutant who can track mutants and is taking care of Xavier. He is a kind and desperate mutant who ends up being used by the Reavers again (he was used by the corporation in the past) but sacrifices himself so that Logan and Laura can escape. I really liked his character. He is fearful and it is contrasted with Xavier’s sorrow and Logan’s rage.

Laura / X-23 – Dafne Keen is a great actress. She gives an intensity to her character where it is believable that she was created and experimented on in a lab. You can understand her rage and her killing Reavers and becoming a family with Professor X and Logan is beautiful…as is her losses she goes through. She is one of the clear leader among the New Mutants that Transigen created.

Charles Xavier / Professor X – Charles is going crazy and is suffering from brain degeneration that he has to take pills for, in order to control his powers. He is the external conscience for Logan though as he is the one who helps Laura find them and is the one always pushing Logan to help her. He is full of regrets for those he hurt when he lost control of his powers and his manipulative past…In the end he confesses all of this but no one hears as he is killed. It is tragic and fits the lonely, regret and despair that pervades and follows our heroes. Patrick Stewart once again is acting gold.

Logan / Wolverine – Hugh Jackman gives one of his best performances ever in this role. We get to see him drunk and desperate, sorrowful and in despair, rageful and moments of joy and empathy. He truly owns this character and I’m grateful he got this beautiful sendoff as his character has redemption and becomes an X-Men again.

The Ending – The ending is so sad. The New Mutants escape to Canada but Logan dies, killed by his clone as he finds his core as an X-Men again but at the expense of his life…Though he dies happy as he protects the girl who became family to him and was his daughter, and not just because she was made with his DNA. The scene is powerful and there aren’t many words at his funeral but it captures that even in desperation people can find the will to move forward.

Regret and Pain – Regret and pain are major themes of the film as both Logan and Xavier live with regrets of all those they hurt, killed or destroyed as this is a core motivation for what drives them to protect others, specifically Laura. They are broken from their mistakes and are surrounded by a world that reflects them.

Persecution of Immigrants and Refugees – From Transigen hunting the New Mutants across borders and trying to stop them from escaping to safety in Canada (the current refugees and immigrants doing the same with Trumps immoral new policies), this is a major theme of the story and is one that has always existed in X-Men as persecution and acceptance and compassion for the other is one of the greatest themes of the X-Men.

Pain, Healing and Getting Outside the Self – Healing and looking outside of the self is a major theme of Logan’s character and this film is him finding it again, even after all he has lost and all the pain he’s gone through. This arc ends with his powerful sacrifice for other New Mutants, as Logan once more becomes an X-Men (reflected in the cross at his grave being turned into an X by Laura).

The Cons: Zander Rice – This guy is Mad Scientist ^TM  and anyone could have played him. I wish the Reavers had been the main threat or a scientist who better reflected the world. This world felt like Mad Max and needed a Mad Max type villain. Someone to be Professor X or Logan’s foil. All this guy wanted was power and to create and control mutants and we never see him do anything outside of the lab and hunting our heroes. A better villain like Bane, Joker or Immorten Joe would have made this film perfect.

   This was a film that achieved everything it set out to do, with the only con I could really find being how forgettable the main villain was. Everyone else served a purpose that drove the story in narrative in a rewarding way and had payoff at the end. This is a film that reminds us how important it is to look outside of ourselves, no matter what the cost is and that the actions we do matter and can make a difference even in the worst of world circumstances. This film will probably make my Top 5 Films of 2017 as it is one of the best super hero and comic book films I have ever watched and is a beautiful, tragic film with an unforgettable story. What a sendoff for Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) – A Good Sequel That Raises the Stakes

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    “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the best kind of sequel. It raises the stakes, gives greater exploration of the world and further develops the characters. Sadly what keeps it from being on par with the first film is it isn’t nearly as tightly written and the ending could have been handled differently. I wouldn’t call it great because the cons it carries keep it from being that, it is no “Empire Strikes Back” but it is better than “Die Hard 2.”

      The film was directed by Chad Stahelski, written by Derek Kolstad and produced by David Leitch, Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee.

     The story picks up where the last film left off with Wick taking out Viggo’s brother to get his car back so he can go back into retirement. Sadly his retirement doesn’t last long as Santino calls upon a “Marker” that had been formed between them when he helped John complete his impossible task. When John refuses he destroys his home, forcing John to fulfill the “Marker” and kill his sister, who sits on the Assassin High Table.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise involves John being pulled back into the world of assassins after he finishes back his car as the stakes are raised as he has to kill someone who will put an even bigger bounty on his head. I enjoy the “lose lose” of the situation that John is put into. It forces creativity and thinking outside the box.

The Opening – The opening is fantastic and one of the best action sequences in the whole film. In it we see John get his car back and make peace with Abram (Viggo’s brother) after he kills all his men and gets his car back. It is powerful and we see that John is still honorable even when others are not.

The Action – This film has a lot of action in it and because of it there is a lot of great action. From the fight in the catacombs in Rome, to the Museum fight and the car chase at the beginning…all of these run laps around the Bond films out of recent memory.

 The World – The world is intricate as we learn more about what holds the world of assassins in place. From the Continental having hotels all over the world, the High Council of 12 that runs everything and the Bowery King, and underground information broker in NY who owns the streets.

The Characters – The characters are the best part and there are a lot of great ones, though the villain is once again the least interesting character in the film…much like Viggo’s son in the first film.

Charon – Charon is the man who welcomes people into the Continental and this time he is Wick’s ally as he takes care of his dog and takes him in before the Continental excommunicates him. I hope he’ll be back for the sequel.

Ares – Ares is the deaf assassin that serves Santino. She is a great character and holds off Wick on multiple occasions. I wish we could have learned why she is serving Santino as there was clearly more there. She is the final boss for Wick before he finally ends Santino in the Continental. Ruby Rose does a fantastic job.

Gianna – Gianna is Santino’s sister and one of the members of the High Table. She kills herself rather than letting John kill her and they have a great conversation as we see that she always ended things on her terms. Like Santino she is ruthless though as our first scene with her is her shutting down someone whose land she has taken in her rise to power. We learn that her and John are friends too.

Cassian – Cassian is Gianna’s protector and Common does a great job of showing him to be the honorable assassin. He is respectful of John, even as he is trying to kill him and we see how both of their codes keep them at odds where they would be friends in other circumstances.

Aurelio – Leguizamo is back, though it is only to pick up John’s car and joke around about when it will be fixed. He is a great character though and I hope he is an ally in the next film.

Winston – McShane does an amazing job as this character. In this we see he like Cassian is bound by honor and he gives Wick a day before he excommunicates him as well as giving him the “Marker” that Santino had placed him under so he can use it to free himself someday. You see regret from Winston but also hope that Wick will survive.

The Bowery King – Fishburne plays the Bowery King, an information broker who tags pigeons with chips and microphones so he knows what is going on everywhere. He is insane but has respect for Wick for sparing his life. I hope we see him again as he mentions that Wick owes him when he hides, heals and gives Wick the gun to take out Santino.

Okay: Santino – Santino betrays Wick and there is no reason behind it. It is implied they have a history but it is never explored fully. I didn’t hate the character so I won’t put him as a con, but he could have been so much more. I wanted more history and less action and he could have been how to do that.

The Ending – The ending has Wick excommunicated and the High Table raising the bounty internationally on his head as he is running away with his dog but holding the “Marker” which maybe his salvation. I liked it but wish he had found a more creative way to end Santino. I wish he’d still had the Continental. Him having nothing makes his survival much more questionable and if they don’t kill him next film (given he has no allies) it will be difficult to take seriously. He needed some allies.

Cons: When the Action Goes Too Long – There is a ton of action in this film and at times it goes on way too long. I get this is an action movie but what made the first film better is the action had purpose and didn’t overstay it’s welcome. When Alfie Allen is taken out it is quick but here the action sequences are dragged out and it detracted from the amazing narrative that was going on.

    This is a sequel you should check out if you like action films and were a fan of the first film. The world is further developed and the stakes are raised in such a way that they could end this series as a Trilogy easily. After that I hope they don’t do anymore, they can’t raise the stakes and take anymore from John Wick, so I hope they end this series next movie. I really like John Wick and I’d hate for to be “Die Harded.” This film is a solid sequel and is once again a lot of fun in a world Keanu Reeves clearly owns.

Final Score: 8.9 / 10

John Wick (2014): An Amazing Action Flick That Shows Just How Great Keanu Reeves Can Be

john-wick

     “John Wick” is one of the best action movies I have ever watched. This is a movie that has an intriguing world, fascinating characters, amazing action and a narrative that flows. If you like action films. These are my brief spoiler free thoughts before I get into the main narrative and the details of the film, but truly, this film is worth your time.

    The film was directed by Chad Stahelski, written by Derek Kolstad and produced by Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, Michael Witherill and James McTeigue.

    The story involves retired assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) being pulled back into the world of assassins after the son Losef (Alfie Allen) of the Russian Crime Syndicate steals his car and kills his dog leading him to go on a killing spree against the Syndicate as he finds himself pulled into the world he left.

The Pros: The idea – The idea of an assassin pulled out of retirement to go against people he used to work for is intriguing. It gives the personal touch and motivation that can easily be lost in a studio made version of this.

The World – The world is amazing! You’ve got an assassin run neutral zone that is a hotel, through which all the different organizations have a way to interact without murder…and Wick is the best of this group as of what we learn from this film.

The Soundtrack – The music is by Tyler Bates and Joel Richard and it is good at getting under your skin. You feel Wick’s conflict as well as how amazing some themes are as they are good at showing the dulled senses of a club combined with the hyper focus of an assassin on a particularity memorable sequence.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark but uses colors to illustrate mood and tension. Red is used a lot in the club scene and we see light used when he is with his wife and has peace living with his dog. It is truly wonderful.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest parts of this world and the fact that they chose great actors shows as much.

Aurelio – John Leguizamo plays the car repairmen for the different gangs and is friends with John Wick. He’s a great character as he is the first to show Losef he is in over his head and that he barked up the wrong tree and even confronts Viggo without breaking a sweat. It is a minor but fantastic role. Also I’ve always been a fan of Leguizamo.

Viggo – Viggo is in charge of the Russian Crime Syndicate and is a great overall villain as we see his respect for Wick but also his ego come into play. Wick lets him go free once and he lets it all go because he wants revenge for his bastard of a son. His death means something because of it because he tries to live honorably but gives it up for personal revenge.

 Winston – Ian McShane plays the owner of “The Hotel” and is a fascinating character as he gives protections to those who live in death and promotes it as a neutral zone. When it all goes to hell he honors that too and lets Wick know Viggo’s location and kills Ms. Perkins for killing the staff and targeting Vick. I want to learn more about this place.

Marcus – Willem Dafoe is Wick’s friend and protector in this as he joins Viggo to protect Wick and he saves Wick multiple times. IT is a great relationship and I wish we’d gotten more history as Marcus like Wick is an assassin capable of empathy.

John Wick – This is the best Keanu Reeves performance I have seen since “The Matrix” and I love that we get to see him emote and have anger, passion and the everything else this underrated star is capable of. The movie would be worth it just for Reeves. His arc involves losing everything but finding peace after revenge, which you rarely find in movies of this type where the broken person is the theme. Wick healed and we get his prime motivation in the end is justice.

The Ending – John Wick is at a Vet and rescues a dog and uses some of the medicine to heal his wounds fighting the Russian Crime Syndicate. He picks a Pit Bull and we see that even if that world of killers pulled him back in, he will always be outside of it. The dog that his wife gave him was his peace and it is once again at the end.

The Cons: Ms. Perkins – She wants to kill for money and knows John Wick? I didn’t know if they wanted to go ex-relationship route but she is a character is purely a plot device. We don’t learn about her relationship to Wick or much else, which is a shame and makes her a con.

Losef – Losef is a 2-D villain, he never grows up, shows complexity or regret…and just brings the film down. Alfie Allen is good but his character is awful. He deserved to have someone more than a plot device to up the anti for Viggo against Wick.

    The only things that really keep this film from being perfect are Losef being a nothing character who is just a coward and bully and Ms. Perkins having no motivation for wanting to take out Wick beyond money. This brings down what could have enriched the story further as she is the secondary main villain and we never learn why. Besides these two characters this film has tight writing and was beautifully filmed with some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in any film. This film is a beautiful work of art that is well worth checking out. Suffice to say, I can’t wait to watch “John Wick: Chapter Two.”

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Top 5 Films of 2016

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       This was an amazing year for film! An animation was at it’s best with even sequels being good like “Kung Fu Panda 3,” and “Finding Dory.” Action films were great in films like “The Nice Guys,” “Doctor Strange,” “Star Trek Beyond” and “Rogue One.” We had an amazing western in “Hell or High Water” and the Coen Brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!” and a fantastic high concept Sci. Fi. film in “Arrival.”  These are my honorable mentions by the way, that I highly recommend you go check out.

     Of course we also had duds which I’ll give a dishonorable mention to here as well. The bloated crap of “Batman v. Superman,” the unfocused mess of “X-Men Apocalypse” the hack jobs of “The Jungle Book” and “The Secret Life of Pets” and even the boring “Warcraft” film which I really wanted to like. Beyond this there were a few that were decent that didn’t make the dishonorable list or honorable mention and sure as hell would not make my Top 5.

  So without further ado, here are my Top 5:

Captain America Civil War

5) Captain America: Civil War

Director Joe and Anthony Russo

      This position was really a toss up between 2 other films. “Moana” and “Zootopia” were vying for this place as I enjoyed both of those greatly and loved the larger points they made in their narratives. What kept them from getting this spot was too much Shakira in “Zootopia” which took me out of the film and the fact that “Civil War” took more risks while “Moana” played it safe and did the Standard Disney Hero Arc. In “Civil War” there was no hero arc and what we see is how the debate between security and freedom isn’t a simple one, especially in a world full of Gods and vigilantes. I wish it had grappled more with the question but it did not let the question take away from the core drama. This is the second year of my doing this that the MCU has had a film make the list with 2014 being the year “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Winter Soldier” were in my Top 5. This studio clearly has the art down and even has me excited for the overly rebooted Spider-Man because of how human and awkward they make him in this film. I enjoyed this film more than “The Avengers” and that is a favorite film, so folks I seriously recommend this film and can’t wait to see where they take the Franchise, though I wish this film had truly grappled with death and loss rather than the drama of the philosophical war of ideology, and that kept it from being higher on the list.

9.7 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/captain-america-civil-war-2016-amazing-characters-in-a-story-that-explores-war-and-responsibility/

Deadpool poster

4) Deadpool

Director Tim Miller

   “Deadpool” is an amazing satire and deconstruction of the entire Super Hero genre as a whole and it does it with a limited budget and cast…This was a film the studio was expecting to fail but now it has changed the Super Hero paradigm. From making Rated R Super Hero films a thing again and making raunchy humor okay. I laughed so much during this film. This was the best comedy I saw all year and the only real cons that keep it from being perfect is the fact that it does look cheap at times and the villain was only okay. Deadpool really needed a good foil to work off of. If you haven’t seen this film and you like a great comedy or want to see the beloved super hero film torn apart (as a fan of the Super film I loved it) you should see this. The comedy starts with the opening credits and never stops and manages to have a good emotional core that drives it all.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/deadpool-2016-a-hilarious-satire-of-super-hero-films-and-a-brilliant-action-film-romance-and-comedy/

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3) Moonlight

Director Barry Jenkins

    This was a powerful film written and directed by Barry Jenkins that tells a story of a young African-American boy growing up and wrestling with and coming to peace with his sexuality in a world everyone around him is hurting or hurting others. It is in this story of trauma that he is shaped as we see him as a boy, a teenager and finally a man and how different major events shape him as he seeks peace in the turmoil of everything around him. The only reason this film didn’t get Number 2 or Number 1 is because some characters drop out and are never brought up again and I felt that the ending did go on a bit long and could have all happened in one location. Besides that this is easily one of the best films of the year.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/moonlight-2016-a-beautiful-exploration-of-sexuality-trauma-and-healing/

everybody-wants-some

2) Everybody Wants Some!!

Director Richard Linklater

    “Everybody Wants Some!!” is a film I expected to hate when I saw the preview. A bunch of college kids who party and want to get laid…why on Earth would I want to watch that? Suffice to say this a film that is so much more than that. This is a film that reveals the complexity of people as individuals, in groups and wrestling the big questions like finding one’s purpose. I loved this film and found it to be perfect. It was a deep film that managed to still have fun and the basic premise of college kids wanting to get laid before college is still there but there is so much more going on and the reasons behind all of it get explored too. This film gave us a great ensemble cast and captured so much of the complexity of what makes humanity fascinating.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/everybody-wants-some-2016-a-beautiful-exploration-of-groups-sexuality-and-purpose/

Kubo and the Two Strings

1) Kubo and the Two Strings

Director Travis Knight

This is the first year since I started my Top 5 Films of the Year that an animated film has made the Number 1 stop. “Inside Out” made Number 2 last year but was beat out by “Fury Road” but here “Kubo” beat “Everybody Wants Some!!” and there are a few reasons why. Kubo is a film that not only deals with growing up but it deals with trauma, loss and forgiveness better than any film I saw this year. This is a story ripe with mythology and Laika’s animation captures it beautifully as we see Kubo’s hero’s journey as his relationship is explored with his parents, aunts and Grandfather. I was in this film all the way and as great as the other films were the ending of this film hits the hardest. The film is haunting, inspiring, funny and creative and at the core it explore that when you leave on an adventure you come back changed, and sometimes you lose people along the way. This core simple message solidified this film as the best film of 2016 for me.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/kubo-and-the-two-strings-2016-a-masterpiece-of-animation-with-an-unforgettable-story/

Moana (2016): Honoring Polynesian Mythology and Culture in Disney’s “Princess Model” to Create a Classic

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  I really liked “Moana.” It was no “Kubo and the Two Strings” but besides “Up” and “Inside Out” not many can compare to that…but this is classic Disney as it’s best. This is Disney taking the “Princess Model” (Princess goes against status quo for family, tribe, etc. for greater good) and achieves final great ends while being helped along by animal and magical companions. This is the base of Moana that the director, writer and Lin-Manuel build upon. Suffice to say I have nothing but affection for this film as it captures both my love of history (paying tribute to the Polynesian tribes and their history of exploration) and culture (how they related to one another and others).

    The film was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, written by Jared Bush and produced by Osnat Shurer.

     The film involves Princess Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) dealing with the after affects of Maoi stealing the heart of Te Fiti as her Island slowly dies and her people become more isolated. Prompted by her Grandmother and her own desire for adventure seeks out Maoi (Dwayne Johnson) and the heart to restore peace in the world once more.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is awesome! Welcome to a world inspired by Polynesian mythology, with gods, demons  and islands connected by travel. This is a world that I only wanted to spend more time in and you should experience for yourself.

The History – The history is rich and tells a story that needs to be told. The early explorers and traders in the Americas were Polynesians but that is often ignored to history as horrible folks like Columbus get credit instead. This world recognizes what was long before Europeans came and congresses the thriving cultures that colonialism and in many ways destroyed, even though many histories and cultures still live on, as shown by this film.

The Animation – This it the best of Disney Animation and shows us a variety of animation types…from 3-D over 2-D and some fantastic visuals. The islands feel alive and real and honestly, besides “Wreck-It Ralph” this is the best animation so far.

The Soundtrack – It’s Lin-Manuel Miranda overseeing it and it shows! You’ve got musical, rap and power as just as he gave power to “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” each culture and history he touches is given his own take and with it passion and life.

The Characters – The characters drive the film and are really what make it stand out and put it above “Kung Fu Panda 3” and most Dreamworks films.

Grandma Tala – Grandma is the heart of the film. She motivates Moana’s desire to travel beyond the island her death incites Moana finally doing it. She is there for Moana through the best and worst times and her loss is felt once it happens.

Chief Tui – Chief Tui is traditional Disney Dad afraid of Daughter being free. This time it is given reason though as he lost a friend when he went beyond the reef. Sadly we don’t get more exploration though, everything he does is a reaction to Moana and it hurts his character development.

Maui – Dwayne Johnson is awesome! Maui hurts the Goddess by sealing her heart (Disney is clearly okay going there post “Maleficent”) and his arc is restoring the heart and apologizing for his wrong which was for his ego and for humanity, the people who abandoned him leaving the ocean and Gods to give him his power and turn him into a Demi-God. He is funny but can do drama too…seriously, “The Rock” is underrated as an actor.

Moana – Is the princess who drives the story as she and her animal sidekick try to save the world and find Maui in order to restore peace. She is awesome and I wish she’d found her power sooner as we see her being a fantastic Chief before her voyage beyond the reef. I felt for her, she lost and she gained and she discovered her own power.

A Story Not Told in the West – Polynesian culture has usually always been exoctized in the west and this was finally breaking free of that. Rather than being treated as a vacation spot where the people are a reward rather than a people. This film changes that which is a needed reaction to Disney’s past exocization of Hawaii and Polynesia. This can’t be stated enough and I hope those involved are aware of Disney’s own dark history.

Okay: The Disney Princess Model – Princess teams up with magical being (The Genie, Stich, Mushu, etc.) and an animal companion (s) (The Mice, The Horse in “Mulan” and “Tangled,” etc.) to defeat her family’s prejudice’s (“Frozen,” “Mulan,” etc.) and restore balance and peace. Disney has done this so many times and that is why I say it is okay. “Moana” doesn’t subvert anything like “Zootopia” or “Frozen” did.

The Cons: Tamatoa and Codedness – A villian coded as gay who is vain wants to eat the heroes! This isn’t new! (Prince John, Radcliff, Jafar, etc.) DIsney you are better than this. Though to be fair, even “Wreck-It Ralph” Sadly had this problem too. Feminine men need to stop being coded as bad.

The Mother as Plot Device – The mother helps Moana and tells the story of why her husband fears the sea…she is basically a plot device to motivate Moana to stay or leave, which is a shame as her helping Moana leave hinted at so much more.

Why Afraid to Take a Chance? – This movie took the safe route, Moana with her magic friend and animal side kick saves the world. Nothing is subverted when so much more could of. I like that he demon was the goddess  who needed balance again, which was Miyazi-esque but so much more could have been done. Why did she assume Maui could only save the day? She was the Chief to be, she was empowered, there was no reason to hand him the direction for the first half of the film.

   This is a film that I really liked and I consider a favorite. Now it probably won’t make my Top 5 of 2016 but that doesn’t change the fact that Polynesian culture and mythology have not been explored in the west beyond being exotcized. This changed that and gained so much power because of it. Yes it followed the “Princess Model” which is Disney’s take on the “Hero’s Journey” but it did it in such a powerful. This was Miyazaki levels of storytelling and “Hamilton” inspired music (Thanks Lin-Manuel Miranda). I can only recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10