Author Archives: David Dunn

Marvel Legend Stan Lee passes away at 95 

COURTESY: JONATHAN ALCORN/BLOOMBERG

Marvel’s real-life superhero has passed away. 

Stan Lee, the comic book writer, editor, and publisher responsible for several Marvel Comics characters, passed away Monday morning. He was 95 years old. 

Working with notable comic book artists including Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee helped launch several Marvel Comic icons throughout his career, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, the Avengers, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and perhaps most notably Spider-Man. Even when he retired in 1972, he never stopped expanding his universe, becoming a public figure for Marvel and making cameos in several movies, including Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, and Mallrats. 

“I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers,” Stan Lee previously told The Washington Post. “And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.”

Stan Lee was a beloved comic-book icon who had helped bring several heroes to life through the pages of his comic books and his movies. He will be deeply missed by all of his fans.

1922 – 2018 

– David Dunn 

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post
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“HALLOWEEN (2018)” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

40 years later…

The biggest issue with 2018’s Halloween is its title. This is the 11th Halloween movie, the fifth reboot, the fourth to feature Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee-Curtis), and the third sequel; but it’s also the third movie to be called merely Halloween. What, was it too good for a subtitle? I know you have one good film and nine awful ones Mike, but don’t try to re-write them out of existence. They still happened, and we still had to go through them. Even if you were fortunate enough that people forgot the rest of your franchise, what good does it do? Now you have three movies in the series all named Halloween. When this movie is released for home video, the studio would be wise to retitle all of the Halloween movies as Halloween: The Original, Halloween: The Reboot, and Halloween: The Sequel, just to save the audience from some much unneeded confusion.

Taking place 40 years after the events of the original Halloween (not to be confused with H20, which took place 20 years after the original before it was written out of continuity), this new Halloween features an elder Laurie Strode, still haunted by that night where Michael Myers (Nick Castle) hunted her and her friends several decades ago. Even though Michael is now behind bars, Laurie hasn’t stopped preparing for the worst that might happen. She trained her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) from birth to defend herself. She’s fitted her house with gadgets, security cameras, and traps around nearly ever corner. Not to mention that she has a weapon stockpile so big that the NRA would wet their pants.

Her paranoia is later validated when Michael breaks out during a prison transfer. Now on the loose during the one night of the year where Michael returns to wreak havoc again and again, Laurie needs to find her loved ones, keep them close, and protect them from the monster that wants her and her family dead.

With this being the 11th film out of a long and exhaustive franchise, you would expect things in Halloween to feel tired and overused. In a way, you wouldn’t be wrong. The nine films before Halloween 11 were all the same hack-and-slash nonsense that became so redundant that another knife swipe felt like another jab at our sanity. The Rob Zombie movies were especially the worst, with the gore, violence, and sex ticked up so much that it felt more like a metal head’s music than it did an authentic horror experience. Year after year, Halloween has done Michael Myers wrong so many times. Going into this movie, I was expecting it to be done wrong yet again for the ninth time.

The best thing I can say about Halloween 11 is that it is perhaps the best attempt yet at adapting what made Halloween so great in the first place. One of the things most of these movies miss is the act of subtlety. In the original Halloween, John Carpenter sent chills down our spine not through gruesome kills or bloody violence, but through slight-of-hand and anticipation. The thing that was so startling about the original Halloween was Michael Myers’ sudden, unexpected appearances: slightly standing out of frame, following a kid around a playground, his ominous figure eerily following oblivious teenagers throughout their bleak houses. Sure, when he murdered someone it was startling, but it wasn’t the scariest thing out of the movie: the terrifying part was not knowing when he was going to strike, or how.

Halloween 11 understands that subtlety and exercises it similarly, placing Michael in natural, believable environments where he can freely move in and out, killing anyone across his path. One of my favorite sequences in the movie was watching Michael just roaming in the neighborhood all while kids are trick-or-treating down the block. As the camera follows him down a driveway, past a backyard, into somebody’s kitchen, and out of frame when we hear someone’s exasperated gasps in between violent “thuds,” it’s incredibly unsettling to watch as Michael flourishes in his element. It brought me much joy to see Michael as I once knew him: as the methodical, pathological, emotionally-detached killer that was just seeking to murder as many people as he possibly could. Is director David Gordon Green copying Carpenter’s artistry in the 11th Halloween? Yes, but at least he’s copying him well.

I also like how Jamie Lee Curtis updates her portrayal of Laurie Strode here. While she was great in the original Halloween and did an excellent job in portraying Laurie’s innocence and terror, the rest of her filmography felt like a retread where she didn’t face much growth as a character. But with Halloween 11, she demonstrates a strength and conviction that feels like it grew from all of the years of post-traumatic stress that she faced in the wake of her friends being murdered by this unfeeling cretin. Seeing her scared, jumpy, and petrified from the startling image of Michael Myers, yet adamant in her mission to be free from him Michael is nothing short of inspiring. It was great watching that growth in her character and seeing her mature from the scared, helpless kid that she was 40 years ago.

As always, one of the dumbest things about these horror movies is the “pure evil” cliche, where its villain is so supernaturally evil that he has become the physical embodiment of it. Whatever happened to letting these characters just be murderous psychopaths and leave it at that?

Also, there is a character here who Laurie dubs as “the new Loomis,” who for lack of a better word is just… creepy. Whereas Loomis in the original movie had a sound understanding of Michael Myers and was appropriately disturbed by his being, this new Loomis is awkward, unsettling, and just feels out of place. It feels like he should be locked up in the ward right alongside Michael Myers.

These are all minor problems in the face of an otherwise solid horror movie. The majority of today’s horror pictures revert to an onslaught of violence and gore that results only in shock value and cheap thrills. Halloween is the breath of fresh air that understands buildup, not shock, is what amounts to the best scares in a horror movie. As this series continues to tack on more unnecessary sequels as it’s highly successful box office numbers seem to suggest, the sequels will do well to remember that sometimes less is more. We all have our demons. Imagine if yours was Michael Myers.

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“HALLOWEEN (1978)” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Compass International Pictures

The shape will pursue you. 

There is a reason why Horror icon Michael Myers was credited as “The Shape” in John Carpenter’s first horror movie Halloween: it’s because he didn’t need an identity to make him terrifying. In fact, giving him one might have weakened him as an antagonist. Too often horror movie villains are fleshed out so much to the point where they are empathized with more than they are apathized. We are expected, after all, to be terrified by these horrifying figures: not understand them. But with Halloween, John Carpenter achieves an uncanny reaction through Michael Myers. He doesn’t even have to be doing much, yet the sheer sighting of him never fails to send shivers down our spine.

My first experience with Halloween wasn’t even with the movie. Sitting alone in my bedroom in my junior year of high school, I was eager to learn more about the screenwriting process and started tracking down movie scripts to read from. One of the earliest screenplays I read was John Carpenter’s Halloween, and from just the first few pages it completely haunted me.

The opening scene illustrates a six-year-old child stalking his older sister and her boyfriend around the house on an eerie Halloween evening. As the child makes his way into the kitchen, pulls out a knife, and sneaks his way up the stairs, he makes his way into his sister’s room and proceeds to stab her repeatedly, over and over again until she’s dead. When he exits the house, the most disturbing thing is not the bloody knife in his hand, but rather his young, innocent-looking stare: unfazed by the horrible act of violence he just committed against his own sister.

That boy is Michael Myers, and 15 years later, he escapes his insane asylum and returns to his hometown to wreak havoc on the same night he did several years ago.

When I first read the original screenplay for Halloween, I was entranced by the details Carpenter paid attention to in his script: the normalcy of the character’s everyday lives, the disturbingly methodical movements of this pathological child, the way he stalked his victims as an adult like a predator stalked his prey through the woods. But when I watched the movie, I found myself even more encapsulated by Carpenter’s spellbinding technique. He doesn’t just illustrate a feeling of paranoia, isolation, or unease: he places you right in the middle of it. It echoes of Hitchcock’s technique from 1960’s Psycho. In the iconic shower scene, you weren’t just seeing Marion getting stabbed in the bathtub: somehow, you could feel the blade digging into your own skin as you saw Marion’s blood drawn over, and over, and over again.

A large part of that immersion is how Carpenter chooses to frame his shots, and how cinematographer Dean Cundey tracks the action throughout the movie. In the movie’s early moments, nothing of major significance happens in the picture: some creep just throws on a janitor’s suit, puts on a Halloween mask, and stalks some people around town. But it’s not the actions that are so encapsulating, but rather how Carpenter chooses to capture that. A scene could be playing out naturally like any other moment would. For instance, a high school student and her girlfriends could be walking down the street, gossiping about rumors and romance. Not exactly anything out of the ordinary. But then when out of the corner of somebody’s eye, they spot a tall, stoic figure just slightly placed out on the edge of the frame, then a blink later… he’s gone.

This is why it was appropriate to label Michael Myers as “The Shape” in the end credits. It’s because he isn’t a character, but a point of fixation: something to divert our attention towards. When the Shape is noticed for a brief second, our focus shifts directly towards him. When he’s absent from the frame in the next take, we let our guard down. That’s why when Michael brutally murders someone in a violent, gruesome fashion later on, it shocks us so much: because we aren’t conditioned to the violence up until that point.

I would be remiss if I ended this review without mentioning this film’s eerie music, which builds up with such unease that it feels like someone is peering through your window watching you. Carpenter composed the music in three days, recorded it off of a few keys on his piano, and from it comprised one straightforward melody. But its impact on the film is electrifying. The keys shifting back and forth between notes feels like feet moving at a quick pace, while the crescendoing buildup feel like a pursuer gaining on his victim. Carpenter once said in an interview that he could play just about any note on a keyboard, but he couldn’t read or write a note. How was it, then, that he was able to write music as impeccable as this? It’s because he wasn’t writing music. He was writing a manhunt.

The worst thing that can be said about the original Halloween is the endless string of copycats that it inspired in the slasher genre. Several films have followed the same formula of the lone killer stalking the rebellious teenagers. Nightmare on Elm Street. Friday the 13th. Even the later Halloween sequels lost their edge. And yet, the original remains invigorating. Why? Because it understands the environment that it’s inhibiting. John Carpenter’s Halloween is an elaborate, masterful, and bloody game of cat-and-mouse: and we are the mouse.

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“VENOM” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: SONY PICTURES

Like a turd in the wind.

There is a moment in Venom where the titular multi-tentacled anti-hero is threatening a burglar inside a convenience store. He tells him he’s going to eat both of his arms, both of his legs, and then eat his face right off of his head. “You will be this armless, legless, faceless thing, won’t you?” he narrates to the petrified thief. “Rolling down the street: like a turd in the wind.”

Why am I opening my review talking about turds? Because as awkward and misplaced as that line sounds, it is perhaps the most accurate description of this entire movie. Venom is violent, creepy, edgy, seethingly disturbing, and just when it begins to build up into something interesting… it takes a wrong turn and nosedives into the pavement. It’s already been demonstrated countless times before, but if you need further proof as to why great comic book supervillains make for terrible superhero movies, look no further than Venom.

Based on the Marvel comic supervillain of the same name, Venom follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who has a nasty habit of following people who do not want to be followed. After accusing a high-profile tech CEO of purposefully murdering test subjects at an alarming rate, Brock loses his job and is abandoned by his fiancee Ann Weying (Michelle Williams). Now without a job, a career, and a love life, Brock just sits alone in his apartment, drowning himself in pity and alcohol.

One day, Brock unknowingly comes into contact with a gooey substance that reveals itself as a life form: a symbiote that physically and mentally bonds itself with Eddie. Granting Eddie super-strength, speed, agility, and a menacingly toothy grin, the symbiote creates a new life form that is neither Eddie Brock or the symbiote. Together, they are reborn as the man-eating monster known as Venom.

You might remember that this is not Venom’s first live-action outing for the big screen. You might be better off forgetting it. His first attempt at the spotlight was in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, where he was played by “That 70’s Show” actor Topher Grace. He was rightfully and relentlessly mocked for his insipid, whiny, pathetic portrayal of an otherwise terrifying character. If I come out of the theater and I am annoyed by Eric Forman instead of shaken by Eddie Brock, you know there’s a serious problem here.

The best thing I can say about this new Venom movie is that it does an excellent job rebooting the character, washing your memory of his God-awful debut a decade earlier and updating him with a sicker, more menacing design. A large part of that is in thanks to Tom Hardy, who switches between playing the two different characters here in mesmerizing contrast. When he portrays Eddie Brock, he molds him as a sort of vulnerable, pitiful character: a failing journalist who is drunk for half of the day and down on his luck for the other half. But besides playing the exasperated and horrified Eddie Brock, Hardy also voices the Venom symbiote possessing his body, and the way he expresses Venom’s menacing, snake-like delivery is just downright chilling to listen to.

This in combination with the efforts from the visual effects team makes for an ominous, visceral presence in this 10-foot CGI creature. One of the best things about this movie is when the Venom symbiote breaks out into his full form, taking complete control over Brock’s body and just starts running over any enemy in his path. When the movie breaks out into full-blown creature-feature action, that’s when the film is at its best, with Venom’s tentacles flailing about, making giant spider-like leaps, and chomping off bad guy’s heads like they’re the stem of a Tootsie pop. Many fans were reasonably concerned what Venom was going to look like in this movie with his last big-screen appearance still in our memory. I want this on the record: Venom looks and feels vicious, and he rightfully earns the title of lethal protector.

So the Eddie Brock and Venom characters are fleshed out very well in this movie. What isn’t done as well? Essentially everything else.

For one thing, Michelle Williams does nothing for this movie. Her character could literally have been portrayed by Megan Fox, and she would carry the same emotional relevance throughout the movie. That goes double for Riz Ahmed, who plays the movie’s villain named Riot. His character is essentially a gray-scaled clone of Venom, which doesn’t do any favors for the movie’s final battle where black and gray goo basically just splashes against each other over and over again.

The real problem here lies in how the characters are written. They aren’t organic. They don’t feel like they belong here. And unlike Eddie Brock and his venomous alter-ego, their roles don’t have any real impact on the story as a whole. Ann Weying is here because every superhero apparently needs a love interest, and this story wouldn’t be complete without some complicated romantic feelings involved. Riot feels especially shortchanged. Instead of being the relentless, unhinged force he’s supposed to be, he just feels flat and artificial: like a final boss in a video game instead of a mortal enemy for our hero. That lack of effort into fleshing out these characterizations makes for dull, uninspired portrayals, which is especially unfair given the talent and caliber of these two actors. If you don’t believe me, look at Williams’ work in My Week With Marilyn and Ahmed’s work in Nightcrawler. Then look at their performances here and tell me they were given ample material to work with.

All in all, Venom is not the worst movie in the world, but it isn’t really a good one either. It’s just sort of there flailing in the whirlwind of superhero mania that hops from one franchise to another. I am curious as to how the series will progress from here, as Sony has relentlessly teased that they wanted to launch their own cinematic universe from this movie. I at least have more hope for the Venom cinematic universe than I do for, say, the DC Extended Universe. But on its own two tentacles, Venom is ugly, messy, and something I’d much rather forget about: like a turd in the wind.

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“A QUIET PLACE” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Paramount Pictures

Shhhhhhhh.

Eli Roth once said if you don’t want to be scared in a horror movie, you don’t close your eyes; you close your ears. That’s because the scariest things in most movies are often not seen, but rather heard. That’s why we’re terrified of the shadowy corridors when we hear the Xenomorph’s snake-like hiss echoing off of the chambers in Alien. That’s why we shutter at Freddy Kruger when we hear his maniacal laugh and his claws scratching against the walls in Nightmare on Elm Street. And in Jaws, we’re never scared of the monstrous shark chasing Chief Brody and his friends, mostly because we rarely even see the creature. But every time we hear John Williams’ iconic theme building up beneath the water, it never fails to send shivers down our spine.

Environmental sound can often be used to build thrills in most horror pictures effectively. The ingeniousness behind A Quiet Place is that its sound is not an accompaniment to the film’s tension and unease. Instead, it is the film’s tension and unease. Too many times in other horror movies do we hear an orchestra of loud noises, screaming, and stomach-churning sounds as the movie’s victims react helplessly to the on-screen calamities. But in A Quiet Place, the scariest part of it is not the expression of sound: it is the inhibition of it.

Written, directed, and starring John Krasinski, a.k.a. Jim Halpert from “The Office,” A Quiet Place occurs in the not-too-distant future where aliens have taken over the planet and are hunting the remaining humans who have survived. The key to staying alive? Silence. With the aliens being blind, they use their hypersensitive eardrums to listen to any sound and strike their prey where they hear them. With Krasinski on the run with his family (portrayed by his real-life spouse Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe), he has to protect his family and find a way to fend off these monsters for good.

One of the immediate things you recognize about A Quiet Place is how expertly Krasinski manipulates sound to pull out the biggest reactions from viewers. In one of the earliest scenes, Krasinski and his family are rummaging around an abandoned convenience store for supplies. Even though we don’t understand the movie’s premise yet, we can read the family’s precise and careful movements and understand that they’re anxious in avoiding something.

The kids are tip-toeing around the aisles like they’re playing hide-and-seek. The mother is carefully picking through pill bottles like she’s trying to avoid the tripwire of a bomb. And when one kid nearly drops a toy onto the floor, the entire family is on-edge and tense from the child’s mishap.

Nothing has even happened yet, but the framing and the movements here are so meticulous that it’s easy to tell that something is wrong with this family. When the full threat is revealed later on and we witness the consequences of noisiness, we understand what’s a stake here and we are concerned about the family’s well-being. From then on, our attention to the film is unwavering and riveting.

This is what makes Krasinski’s work as a director here truly outstanding: he pulls the most significant reactions out of you from the most minuscule implications. Good directors do that, utilizing smaller details to build upon an escalating sense of dread and paranoia. Ben Affleck did that while directing his political thriller Argo in 2012, and Fede Alverez did the same thing in 2016’s Don’t Breathe. Now John Krasinski is following their lead, and he’s pulled off the tension of effect here masterfully.

The key lies in the editing. Not only does film editor Christopher Tellefsen expertly track between all of the different characters perspectives at once, but sound designers Erik Aadahl and Brandon Jones are impeccable with editing and mixing the sound and making it immediately relevant to their viewers. This makes sense, of course, given how much of the film’s premise is based on sound manipulation. Still, I’m impressed with their attention to detail here. Some sound levels, like the rolling of dice on a carpet, are increased to bring attention to the family’s sense of caution, while others like the creatures’ echolocation are brought down to emphasize their limits on tracking prey. One deaf character in the picture even has sound cut entirely during scenes where it’s showing her perspective. Small things like that subtly lend towards the film’s subversion, and the sound team’s work on this film is definitely deserving of an Oscar nomination. If they’re snubbed this year, it will be the first time I will be outraged over a sound category at the Oscars.

A Quiet Place is a masterful exercise in horror cinema, an expert example of subverting the genre and proving that things don’t have to be constantly blowing up to be exciting. In that, I have to give due praise not just to Krasinski, not just to the cast and crew, but to Michael Bay as well (yes, that Michael Bay). His production company Platinum Dunes produced this feature, and I’m grateful that they saw the value in Krasinski’s vision here and was confident enough to bring it to life in the theater. It shows that even Bay understands the value of subtlety and its importance to cinema. Hopefully Bay will take the lessons he learned on this production into the next project that he works on in the near future. Imagine this film if Optimus Prime were in it.

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Henry Cavill Is Hanging Up His Superman Cape

The man of steel is no more.

After talks broke down between Superman actor Henry Cavill and Warner Bros. to potentially cameo in DC’s upcoming movie Shazam!, Cavill has parted ways with Warner Bros. and has, for now at least, put his superheroing days behind him.

“Superman is like James Bond,” remarked one studio representative. “After a certain run, you have to look at new actors.”

Yeah, but after five years? That’s not passing the torch; that’s throwing it on the ground before urinating all over it. What in the name of Hera is going on?

Note: Yes, I know the Spider-Man movies transitioned between three different actors in less than 10 years. I thought that was stupid as well.

To be clear, nobody knows what exactly happened between Warner Bros. and Henry Cavill while negotiations were going on, and people are equally clueless on what this means for the man of steel’s cinematic future. Some say Cavill left due to scheduling conflicts, which make sense since he was recently cast in Netflix’s upcoming series “The Witcher.” Others say it’s because Warner Bros. does not have a Superman sequel scheduled on its slate through 2020.

Or it’s the more likely reason that the DC Extended Universe has become completely bonkers and Cavill has become tired by it.

Honestly, whether Cavill left voluntarily or was forced out, I can’t blame the guy either way. Both Batman V. Superman and Justice League failed spectacularly in staying true to the character, turning him from the shining beacon of Christopher Reeve-hope he once was into a super-punching jock so generic that Mighty Mouse could be taken more seriously.

Whatever happened behind closed doors, I am disappointed by Cavill’s departure since he was one of my favorite aspects of the DCEU (I actually rated Man of Steel as my sixth favorite DC Comics film last year). Regardless I am happy Cavill is going to be able to put this part of his career behind him, and I hope he goes on to shine in spectacular blockbuster roles and continues to be successful at the box office.

By the way, his most recent film Mission Impossible: Fallout was not only the best Mission Impossible movie but it also arguably featured one of the best Henry Cavill performances. Yes, that includes his appearances as Superman.

What do you guys think? Are you sad to see Henry Cavill hang up the cape, or are you glad to see him go up, up, and away? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes

“CHRISTOPHER ROBIN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

And a bear of very big heart.

There is a moment in Christopher Robin where Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) tells his old friend “They say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing everyday.” Now obviously Pooh misquoted the phrase, but in his own silly way he got the meaning behind it exactly right. We often imagine our dreams as euphoric, illusive fantasies: a lifelong goal that is impossible to reach. That’s what the elder Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) thinks after all, as he tirelessly works through the weekdays and weekends away from his family. Pooh Bear, meanwhile, is content with believing that happiness comes naturally: like the blustery winds, naptime, and hunny.

There was a time where Christopher Robin believed this too, as we all do when we were as young and naive as he was. But then the most heartbreaking thing happens to Christopher Robin: he grows up. He goes to boarding school. He goes to war. Get’s a job. Falls in love. Marries. Has a child. And he’s eventually thrusted into a business where he is forced to choose profits over people. It’s a sad, dreary existence, and it is a reality every child has to face as they grow out of adolescence and into adulthood.

Watching the opening slides of Christopher Robin, I caught myself crying as the montages flipped through Christopher Robin’s life like the pages in a children’s book. But not because he left behind his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood; because he left his old self behind.

When I was growing up like Christopher Robin did, my exposure to the world’s harsh realities changed me and made me different from the naïve, simple-minded, carefree child that I once was. You learn things about society you wish you never knew. You learn about history, war, violence, and death. You learn about the political forces that are pulling at the planet like a malicious game of tug-of-war. You learn about third world countries where people are dying of starvation and thirst, where parents abandon their children and people mourn for the loved ones they’ve lost. You learn all of these things and it drains you to the point where you are no longer the same happy, lovable kid you used to be. Now you’re just another sour-faced, grouchy old adult, and you carry the world’s problems on your shoulder just like every other person does.

I say all this to emphasize that Christopher Robin experiences these same things and changes too as a result of them, just like any other human being would. To me, watching Christopher Robin grow up was one of the most painful things to experience in the theater. I had always imagined Christopher Robin as one of those staple, never-aging characters: like Micky Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Superman. Seeing him brought down to my level struggling with the same issues and nightmares as I did was an emotional shock that I was not ready for. It really put into perspective how Christopher Robin changed from his old days in the Hundred Acre Wood, and what’s really at stake for himself during his journey.

Speaking of the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh and his friends are among the best things that stand out in this picture. I was absolutely overjoyed every time I saw Pooh on the screen with his tummy rumbling, or Eeyore pouting again, or Tigger bouncing, or Piglet going “Oh, D-d-d-d-dear!” The graphics and animation is convincing as the visual effects team brings these stuffed animals to life. Their movements and interactions are so believable that they felt like a kid was moving them, playing pretend with them in their bedroom.

The voice work, however, easily stands out the most in bringing these characters to life. No surprise there as Jim Cummings has voiced both Pooh Bear and Tigger for well over 30 years now. I’m more impressed with the performances that aren’t as notable as Cummings and McGregor are. For instance, did you know that Brad Garrett voiced Eeyore in this movie? Who would have known that Raymond’s passive-aggressive older brother in “Everybody Loves Raymond” would make the best sourpuss out of the entire Hundred Acre Wood?

The film is directed by Marc Forster, whose career has motioned him to tackle numerous productions, all starkly different from each other. The 2001 drama Monster’s Ball was a big hit for Halle Berry and won her an Oscar for best actress. The 2006 meta-comedy Stranger Than Fiction took a guy’s life and literally put it on the page of a book. And don’t get me started on his action repertoire, which ranges from James Bond’s Quantum of Solace to Machine Gun Preacher and World War Z.

Perhaps the movie that shares the most similarities to Christopher Robin is 2004’s Finding Neverland, which tells the story of writer J.M. Barrie and his relationship with a family who served as the primary inspiration for his play Peter Pan. In many ways, Finding Neverland and Christopher Robin are essentially the same film. Both are centered on adults who have lost their way and are seeking to regain something they lost in their childhood. Both find themselves again through the young at heart and the imagination these kids inspire them. And they both learn that even though their bodies grow older, their ambition does not and their dreams extend beyond what you learn in boarding school or the work force.

It’s true, I grew up with Winnie the Pooh and have many fond memories of playing with Pooh and his friends in my room, just as I’m sure Christopher Robin did in his own room. But I don’t believe my personal experiences impacted my infatuation with this picture. Many films about Winnie the Pooh have been theatrically released before, and none of them were as profound or thoughtful as this one. Even Pooh’s last cinematic outing in 2011 was just an anthology of random, unrelated stories bow-tied together, despite how charming and lighthearted they were regardless. Christopher Robin is different. Yes it possesses the fun, the silliness, and the joy that Pooh and his friends brought us when we were younger. But it also possess the adult perspective as well, how our experiences impact the person we were and molds us into the person we become.

The magic in Christopher Robin is that Pooh finds happiness in simple, every day things; as if the things that bring us the most joy are not extraordinary, but rather quite ordinary albeit special to ourselves. I find it refreshing that in Pooh’s and Robin’s last exchange, they don’t say anything incredibly profound or philosophical, but are rather simply talking through life’s greatest mysteries as two friends going through it together. The moment from the film that touched me the most was when Christopher Robin confesses to Winnie the Pooh how lost he truly was. “Good thing I found you,” Pooh replies in his own simple-minded way. Silly old bear.

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“MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

CREIDT: Paramount Pictures

Good intentions don’t belong in the espionage business.

How many film franchises can you name that have six entries in them? I myself can recall six of them: Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, X-Men, Lord of the Rings, and Fast & Furious. I can name you several movies from these series’, each of them consequentially getting worse the more they go on. Few of their sixth installments compare to the originals, and none of them are the best in their franchises. I can only name one film that is not only superior to the original, but is also the best entry in their franchise. That film is Mission Impossible: Fallout. 

Picking up a few years after the events of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Fallout finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) on the pursuit of an evil organization called “The Apostles”, trying to stop them from stealing plutonium and starting a nuclear war (as if Ethan would be doing anything else?). This new venture finds Ethan re-teaming up with some old friends including Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), as well as some new faces including CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) and Agent Walker (Henry Cavill).

What do you need to know about Mission Impossible: Fallout? Well for one thing, it’s just like every other Mission Impossible movie out there. Tom Cruise’s sickeningly good-looking mug? Check. Supporting cast that serves as the comedic relief? Check. Evil super villain? Check. A pretty-looking love interest? Check. Shocking plot twists? Check. Ridiculously over-the-top superhuman stunts that only Tom Cruise can seemingly pull off? Triple check. If it’s been in another Mission Impossible movie, it’s definitely here in Fallout.

And yet, Fallout is infinitely more exhilarating than its peers are. Yes, dear reader: even more so than the first Mission Impossible or Ghost Protocol. Why is that? Well like with any great action movie, the key is in its execution, and Fallout is executed here masterfully.

While the plot is relatively straightforward and similar to its predecessors, the stunts and spectacles are pulled off with a conviction that makes them feel urgent and enthralling. I’ve seen all of the Mission Impossible movies, each of them with breathtaking visual feats, from the vault scene in the first movie to scaling the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Ghost Protocol. In each of these movies, the sensational spy action punctuates a picture filled with espionage and intrigue, all while not losing its energy in the process. Fallout is unique to its peers because its excitement and intrigue lasts throughout the picture, barely slowing down for us to even catch our breaths. From the opening firefight to the last spectacular struggle on a cliff edge, Fallout is a movie that racks up the tension with every passing minute: like a time bomb clicking downward.

Then there’s Tom Cruise himself, who seems incapable of slowing down even for a second in both the movies and real life. He’s been a part of this series for well over 20 years now. How does he retain the enthusiasm to not only keep coming back to the same role, but to keep eclipsing his last physical feat film after film after film? I think it’s because like his character Ethan Hunt, he’s unable to leave the past behind and always feels like there’s something left unfinished. With most franchises, some actors will return to recurring roles just to get another paycheck or another press tour. I feel like Cruise is one of those actors that is motivated to keep outdoing himself with each role that he accepts. The stunts he pulls off in this film are so ridiculous that he even injured himself during one of the shoots late last year. The guy is 56 years old, as old as both of my parents. Yet he seems more enthusiastic for this franchise now than he did when he was in his 30’s when he first started.

The film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who seems to be sharpening his technique in a crowd full of writers-turned-filmmakers. His first collaboration with Cruise in 2012’s Jack Reacher was fun albeit straightforward, while the last Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation seemed way too preposterous to be taken seriously, even by IMF’s standards. Fallout is a reckoning for both McQuarrie and the Mission Impossible franchise. It not only brings together the greatest elements from all of the Mission Impossible films, but it makes you forget that it’s even part of a franchise and immerses you masterfully in the tension of the moment.

Fallout is the sixth movie in the Mission Impossible franchise, but it’s so hot-blooded and exciting that it feels like it’s the first in a breakthrough: a rebirth, if you will. There was one moment in the picture when Benji asks Ethan how close they were to failing the mission. Ethan laughs: “The usual.”

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“ANT-MAN & THE WASP” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Quantum-realm conundrums.

Out of all of the new heroes introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the one with the worst timing is easily Ant-Man. Here is a guy who, no pun intended, is much smaller than his Marvelite peers. He shrinks to Honey, I Shrunk The Kids size and zips around like the Road Runner from “Looney Tunes.” His sidekicks are literal insects. And he has released not one, but two movies directly after the Avengers’ last two outings. When will this guy learn you can’t piggyback off of the Avengers? The only insect-based hero capable of doing that is Spider-Man, and something tells me we won’t be hearing from him for quite some time.

In this sequel to both Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest after helping Captain America and crew fight Tony Stark in Germany. Sick of his frequent bouts with the law, Scott just wants to take it easy on the superheroing gig and finish his sentence so he can be a free man and reunited with his daughter Cassie (Abby Fortson).

Unfortunately, his mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) have other plans for him. After Scott escaped from the Quantum Realm in the first movie, Hank has been eager to travel back to search for his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been lost to the Quantum Realm for several years. Believing that Scott somehow still harbors a connection to the realm, they recruit him into their scientific endeavors to shrink back into the Quantum Realm and save Janet. Meanwhile, a mysterious new enemy called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is following them, also seemingly interested in the Quantum Realm and Janet.

First thing’s first, I love Paul Rudd. Watching him playing a character who is one part superhero and another part awkward dad, I was reminded of why I like him so much: he’s just such an earnest performer. In his introductory scene, he’s seen pretending to be Ant-Man with his daughter Cassie, and he navigates her through his own cardboard maze complete with its own giant-sized ants and wasps replicas. Watching the way he seemed so excitable with Cassie, filling this young child with the wonder and imagination of being a superhero, it was sweetly sentimental in the way it reminded me of times when I was a kid playing pretend with my own father.

That speaks to Rudd’s skills as an actor, and also exemplifies why every scene he’s in just feels so natural. Part of why Ant-Man is so appealing is because of how unassuming he is. He’s not a high-strung billionaire like Iron Man, or a literal Norse deity like Thor, or even a Star-spangled super soldier like Captain America. He’s just some guy, and he’s trying to juggle superhero life with his everyday problems as an ex-convict and a father the best he can. That makes him shine throughout the picture regardless if he’s trying to be dramatic or comedic. There was one part in particular where he mimicked Michelle Pfeiffer so well that I wondered if the real Michelle Pfeiffer would have done any better. It had me dying in laughter.

But it isn’t just Rudd who improves his artistry for the second outing: Peyton Reed also fleshes out his skills as a director to make a much more creative action movie. One of the things that underwhelmed me from the first film was how basic Scott’s abilities were. The full extent of his powers basically involved shrinking, controlling ants, and once in a while enlarging objects, and that’s it. I was bored watching Ant-Man, but here I’m exhilarated seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp shrinking, expanding, zipping, zooming, and zapping their enemies back-to-back. If you don’t think superheroes named Ant-Man and the Wasp can be taken seriously, think again. Their lightning-quick reflexes and their special effects-heavy spectacle was so dizzying that I was surprised at how immersed I really was in all the action. And be honest here, fellow reader: there’s something really satisfying about watching a giant Pez dispenser nearly crush an exasperated criminal chasing the miniature duo.

As with most Marvel movies, the villain isn’t very interesting and lacks the depth and complexion that made villains like Killmonger in Black Panther and Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War stand out in their movies. Some of the gimmicks and jokes repeated so much that they got old after a while, and there was one part of the film that was so eye-rollingly cheesy that I wondered when the director was going to yell “CUT!” and show the next outtake.

Still, for all of its immaturity and childishness, Ant-Man & The Wasp is a fun, lighthearted outing: a breather we desperately needed after being emotionally exhausted from the other two Marvel movies released earlier this year. The first Ant-Man movie seemed to struggle between deciding whether it wanted to be a heist movie, a comedy, or a superhero film and split itself into three different parts. Ant-Man & The Wasp demonstrates a better understanding of its characters and premise. For once, I’m excited to see what the third installment will bring in a trilogy. Somebody just needs to tell Scott to wait a little while longer after the next Avengers movie releases.

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Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift Join ‘Cats’

Cats like Taylor Swift, like, a lot. And no, I’m not talking about Olivia and Meredith.

COURTESY: @taylorswift

In case you didn’t know already, the broadway musical Cats is getting the live-action treatment from director Tom Hooper, whose work ranges from the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, to the operatic Les Miserables, to the daring The Danish Girl. The cast was announced earlier this week, and it is nothing short of spectacular.

First of all, Jennifer Hudson is cast in the lead as Grizabella, the former “Glamour Cat’ of the Jellicle tribe. This in and of itself is exciting, because Hudson has starred in a slew of musicals, including Black Nativity, Sing, and her Oscar-winning performance in 2006’s Dreamgirls.

But that’s not all. The film also casted late night host James Corden, Lord of the Rings and X-Men actor Ian McKellen, and of course Grammy award-winning pop singer Taylor Swift. Cats will be Swift’s fourth film role, with the first three being Valentine’s Day, The Lorax, and The Giver.

Creative Commons

I never saw the Cats musical (I know, I know, I’m ashamed of myself too), but looking at the cast alone, I must say I am very excited for this picture. Hudson and McKellen themselves are incredibly talented dramatic actors, and Corden is a comical force to boot.

I’m even excited for Swift’s inclusion as well. While her former film roles retorted to stupid, silly clichés and included Swift seemingly just for name recognition, Cats looks like it will be the first of her roles to truly utilize her talents as a vocal performer. I’m very excited to see how well she does performing in a musical, even if I’m still lacking confidence in her acting ability. But who knows? Cats might give her the big break she needs in the movies.

What do you guys think? Are you excited for these actors to take on Cats, or do you wish they’d get dragged off of the stage? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Daily Mail, Deadine
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