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“WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

All hail Caesar.

We fade in on a series of words. Rise. Dawn. War. Perhaps these words could have been used to describe every conflict in human history. In this context however, they refer to the apes, who were once the inferior species on the planet, now becoming so powerful and so many that they’ve pushed humanity on the verge of extinction. The sad part is that it was never in the ape’s intentions to do so. Nature has simply taken its course.

In this penultimate moment building up over the course of several years, War for the Planet of the Apes finds the ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) picking up the pieces of his broken life. War with the humans ravages the ape’s home day by day. Apes are dying every week from the attacks. And no matter how much Caesar pushes for peace, the humans keep pushing back for war. Like any general during wartime, Caesar is stuck in a cycle of violence, and he’s powerless to do anything about it.

One day, the ape’s forest home is raided and they are forced to flee from the carnage. The apes band together and find a new, safe location miles away from the humans in the desert. Caesar, however, cannot forget or forgive the deaths that the humans have caused. Now determined to avenge his fallen brethren, Caesar sets out alone to find the man who killed them and finally end this insufferable war.

I never expected to get so wrapped up into a movie about talking monkeys fighting against human beings. I especially didn’t expect to be rooting against my own species. Yet, that’s exactly what happened when I watched War for the Planet of the Apes, an epic and emotional conclusion to this prequel trilogy that functions as a summer blockbuster, a war drama, and a somber tragedy all at once. Few films reach the depth and the complexion that War for the Planet of the Apes reaches, even fewer that belong to a franchise.

First things first: Andy Serkis as Caesar. Holy cow. Serkis has always been a powerhouse actor in motion-capture performances, with his roles ranging from the cowardly and bipolar Gollum in Lord of the Rings to the angry giant monster in King Kong. With Caesar, however, he’s always displayed an intimacy and acuteness to the character that makes him believable not just as an ape, but as a husband, father, and leader struggling with the consequences of war. With Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Serkis displays how accurate he can be in portraying animalistic behaviors. With War however, he displays that alongside the emotional gravity that is attached to Caesar, the internal conflict of an ape who longs for peace but is pursuing it through fields of dead bodies, human and ape alike. This is simply a masterful performance delivered by the talented Andy Serkis. If he does not get nominated for an Oscar for this performance, then he deserves a special achievement statuette at the very least.

The character is also written extremely well, just like all of the characters are in this epic. Reportedly sitting in a theater for hours just for the purpose of watching movies, director Matt Reeves and writer Mark Bomback pulls inspiration from any source they could find, from Bridge on the River Kawaii to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. There really are a lot of similarities between War for the Planet of the Apes and other war dramas. The crippling effects on an established society, the murderous instinct that grows within its soldiers, the post-traumatic stress that comes from battle, even the God complexes that some generals amass victory after victory. This truly is a layered film, filled with a plethora of ideas and conflicts that make all the characters and their struggles interesting. A movie about talking animals has no business being this compelling or thought-provoking, yet War for the Planet of the Apes swiftly earns its title as the best Planet of the Apes movie out of the series.

The visual effects, of course, are as spectacular as they’ve always been. Not just with the explosions and action sequences, but also with its animation of the apes, their movements, and how they look and feel like real mutated animals. Viewers cried foul play a few years back when Dawn of the Planet of the Apes lost the best visual effects Oscar to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. I genuinely believe this film has a better chance of nabbing the award than Dawn does, mostly because its job is so much harder. While the effects team still has to adapt the ape’s movements and mannerisms (even more this time, because the film almost entirely focuses on the ape’s perspective), they also have to animate the ape’s strained emotions and facial expressions. Capturing the intimacy of that is hard, especially in animated form. Yet when the ape’s tear up, cry, snort their nostrils in anger, or smile, it feels like a real animal is in front of you performing these movements, not a visual effects artist from behind a computer screen.

You should be aware that War for the Planet of the Apes is not an action film, even though it is marketed to look like one. I saw a lot of kids in the screening I attended, and many of them were restless and anxious because there wasn’t a lot of movement happening on-screen. That doesn’t mean that the film is boring, but it does mean that it takes time to build up its story and illustrate the emotions that characters are experiencing. Because it takes this time to invest in itself, War for the Planet of the Apes ends up becoming a masterful picture, equal parts powerful, emotional, and morally conflicting. I knew there had to be some reason why it’s main protagonist was named after a Shakespearean tragedy.

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La La Land, Moonlight Wins 89th Academy Awards (Sort Of)

I don’t even know what to say.

Every year, the Oscars hand out their fair share of snubs and surprises. Last year, it was when Mark Rylance won best supporting actor for Bridge of Spies over Sylvester Stallone for Creed. The year before that, it was when Big Hero 6 won best animated feature over How To Train Your Dragon 2, whereas The Lego Movie wasn’t even nominated.

I’ve seen the Academy snub films every year, but I’ve never seen the Academy snub the moment of winning before. Unbelievably, the Academy did just that last night.

First thing’s first: Jimmy Kimmel was a fun host. Running the show like he was running his late night talk show, he quipped zingy one-liners, had nominees read mean tweets, poked fun at the president, recreated the Lion King moment with Lion’s Sunny Pawar, and even invited a tour bus into the stage area to meet all of the snazzy-dressed celebrities. He was a good host, although I think he did drag on the political jokes for too long (and tweeting the president was definitely a bad idea. You never stoke the flames of a forest fire).

Everything else, however, was in complete debacle. Let’s start with the biggest one of all on Oscar night:

Best Picture: The most shocking win from the night, and not because of who won, but because of how they won. At first, Faye Dunaway read La La Land off of the card and producers Jordan Horowitz and Fred Berger came up to the stage to accept their award. A few seconds later, they retracted their statements and announced there had been a mistake. Moonlight won best picture instead.

How did this happen? Apparently there was a mix-up with the envelopes and Warren Beatty was given a replacement card for best actress instead. Since that card read Emma Stone, who won best actress for her role in La La Land, Dunaway mistakenly thought that meant La La Land won best picture. Her inferences were wrong and the La La Land team had to turn over their statuettes to Moonlight.

Number one: How could the Oscar staff mess this up this badly? The night went smoothly for all of its categories throughout the night until it came to best picture. Suddenly, Beatty and Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and announced the wrong winners. How could the production team be so negligent? How could they possibly goof it up so badly to the point where they hand a card that clearly reads “BEST ACTRESS” to the announcers for best picture? I still can’t wrap my mind around it. It is without a doubt the biggest and most embarrassing mistake in Oscar history.

Number two: Props to Jimmy Kimmel, who kept his cool and even offered a few laughs through the whole ordeal. When he got up to the mic after that massive upset, he turned to cheek and said “Sorry guys, I knew I was going to mess this up.” He made the best out of a terrible situation, and I’m grateful he was there to make everyone feel lighthearted despite going through such a heavy-handed mistake.

Number three: Respect also to the La La Land team, who graciously handed their awards over to Moonlight after that embarrassing stint. I’m sure no one was happy after having that moment taken from them, but the La La Land producers were quick to get off of the stage and to get Moonlight on it. They’ve clearly demonstrated their love, respect, and passion for the arts and were more concerned with honoring the rightful winner rather than take the moment away from them. Thank you to Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt. You are the definition of Hollywood class.

Number four: Obviously, congratulations to the Moonlight team, not only for being involved in making a brave and courageous film, but for also being brave and courageous enough to produce it in the first place. Independent film is a part of the industry that has always been wobbling on its own two legs, but putting Moonlight center stage gave the independent scene a little more foundation in its footing. Moonlight is a masterful picture, it is an important picture, and it is the best picture of the year. Congratulations to that talented team for their monumental achievements in storytelling and character development.

All that aside, I’m still frustrated by that massive slip-up. In one fell swoop, the Academy took that important moment away from multiple filmmakers at once. Somebody is definitely getting fired for that stint.

Best Director: No surprise here. Damien Chazelle won the Director’s Guild Award, so that means he also won best director. At age 32, Chazelle is the youngest best director winner in Oscar history. Congratulations Damien, and thank you for encouraging everyone to dream just a little bit more.

Best Actor: Another upset. I was split down the middle on this category since Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington were on equal footing for Manchester By The Sea and Fences. Since Washington won the screen actor, however, I felt that gave him a slight edge in his race towards the Oscar. Turns out I was wrong. Casey joined big brother Ben in the Oscar crowd and took home best actor for his quietly moving performance in Manchester By The Sea. Congratulations to him and for taking on a personal, intimate role that speaks on the human condition and for our longing to reconnect with the things we’ve lost.

Best Actress: Emma Stone won best actress for her performance as an aspiring actress in La La Land. She was a standout in the movie and deserved to be recognized for her complex role as a down-on-her-luck artist. It’s funny, though, how her win would come back to haunt the best picture category mix-up. But don’t even get me started back up on that again.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali won for Moonlight, making him the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar at the Academy Awards. Congratulations, my friend. You were one of the strongest elements of Moonlight, and your speech was also one of the strongest moments of the night. You have my blessings.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis won for Fences. Her call to exhume and exalt the ordinary person summoned a powerful force in the room, and everyone resonated with her message to celebrate life, love, and the arts. Jimmy Kimmel hilariously followed that up with “I think she’s nominated for next year’s Emmy’s for that speech.”

I still feel Naomie Harris was more commanding in her role as a drug-addicted mother seeking redemption in Moonlight. But Moonlight already got some love. It’s nice to see Fences get some too.

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia won, clearly. Look out for its sequel, which will be adapting the 2016 Presidential Elections. (I’m kidding, of course, but don’t be surprised if you see new characters introduced next year named Donald Skunk or Hillary Chimpton).

Best Documentary Feature: O.J.: Made in America won best documentary. That was when Taraji P. Henson pulled out a paper tag from the card and read “MADE IN TAIWAN.”

Best Foreign Language Feature: In another upset, Asghar Farhadi won best foreign language film for The Salesman, making him one of the few filmmakers to win this award twice. Sadly, Farhadi could not come to the ceremony to accept his award in person due to the immigration ban placed on Iran. His call to empathize and understand beyond judgement and apprehension is a message we all need to hear more of.

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan won best original screenplay for Manchester By The Sea. Lonergan dedicated the award to many people in his life, including his father, who passed away earlier last year. Him winning for his passion project behind Manchester made me immensely happy for him, and I can’t help but feel he’s written something relevant for everyone, no matter what age you are. Congratulations, Kenny. No doubt that your father would be proud.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight deservingly won best adapted screenplay, as he guides us through Chiron’s complex childhood and clearly demonstrates how actions in the past affect decisions made in the future. Like many other winners from the night, Moonlight demands that we see people not for their labels, but for their experiences. Congratulations to him and his wonderful achievement in defining human empathy.

Best Film Editing: Before I get into this, I need to apologize. In my predictions, I commented that Tom Cross was going to win best film editing for La La Land, even though he was vastly undeserving compared to his great work on Whiplash. I want to now redact my statement. The Oscar for best film editing did not go to La La Land, but instead went to John Gilbert for Hacksaw Ridge.

It was my mistake to underestimate him. Gilbert has edited numerous films, from The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring to Bridge to Terabithia. Hacksaw Ridge is a full demonstration of his talents as he expertly navigates us through the physical and spiritual warfare that happened on the battlefields of Okinawa. Congratulations and thank you, Mr. Gilbert. You’ve delivered us a very powerful film.

Best Cinematography: La La Land. It should have gone to Bradford Young for Arrival, but since La La Land got snubbed way worse in the best picture category, I’m willing to hand this one over to Linus Sandgren. Hopefully it made the loss a little easier to bear.

jared-leto-joker-suicide-squad

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Okay, now this is getting ridiculous. Suicide Squad won the Oscar for best makeup over A Man Called Ove and Star Trek Beyond. While I’m happy that it won and agree it is the most deserving nominee out of the bunch, I’m frustrated at the Academy voters because they’re so blasted inconsistent with this category. The Iron Lady beat out Harry Potter in 2011. Les Miserables beat out The Hobbit in 2012. The Grand Budapest Hotel beat out Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. Year after year, the Academy snubs the clear standout in this category for one stupid reason or another. Why is it this year that they decide to set themselves straight again?

Whatever. The DC Extended Universe now has an Oscar under their belts, and that’s one more thing they have over the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Congratulations guys, but don’t let it go to your head. You still have Justice League coming up right around the corner.

Best Costume Design: Another infuriating upset. While I agree that Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them has some outstanding costume work, it does not warrant it for an Oscar, especially when you compare it to its nominees such as Allied and Jackie. Plus, its win now makes it the first film in the Harry Potter series to win an Oscar. Yes, dear reader: Fantastic Beasts is considered Oscar-worthy whereas none of the other eight Harry Potter films are. That’s just lividly frustrating to me.

In either case, Colleen Atwood is still the costume industry’s version of Meryl Streep. Congratulations and all that jazz.

Best Production Design: La La Land. A worthy winner, but are you really that surprised?

Best Musical Score: La La Land, obviously.

Best Original Song: La La Land, for “City of Stars.” John Legend’s cover of the song was the stuff of dreams.

Best Sound Editing: The first big surprise of the night. Arrival took home best sound editing and not Hacksaw Ridge. It didn’t seem likely that it would win considering it was a slow burning science-philosophy film filled with quiet moments and eerie alien moans, and most of the previous year’s winners were in-your-face action movies. However, I don’t take away its nomination or its worthiness of the award. Congratulations to Arrival for best sound editing. It was genuinely shocking to see you dethrone Hacksaw.

Best Sound Mixing: However, Hacksaw Ridge’s loss wouldn’t last long since it won for best sound mixing not even two minutes later. I keep debating back and forth in my head whether it was the most worthy nominee or not, but at the end of the day, I really don’t care. It’s outstanding sound work anyway, and the gunfire and bomb blasts made every moment tingle with excitement and urgency. Congratulations to the Hacksaw Ridge sound team. You did Desmond Doss justice.

Best Visual Effects: Since the Academy ruled out Doctor Strange and Rogue One, The Jungle Book won best visual effects that night. It’s not an undeserved win. Congratulations to Jon Favreau and for making these incredible jungle animals come alive. Don’t mess it up now with the Lion King remake.

Surprisingly, I even got one of the short categories correct, predicting that Piper would win best animated short film. With that, I’ve correctly predicted 14 winners out of the 24 categories. Not my worst record, but not my best either.

In any regard, congratulations to Moonlight, La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester By The Sea, and all the other winners from last night. Hopefully next year the Academy will be more thorough with handling its envelopes.

– David Dunn

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2016 Oscar Predictions

I’m preparing to rename the 2016 Academy Awards “The La La Land Awards.”

Seriously, ever since it broke award records at the Golden Globes back in January, the amount of traction La La Land has received has been absolutely ridiculous. Almost immediately, everyone started predicting that La La Land would sweep awards season, from the BAFTAs all the way to the Academy Awards. That train kept going and going and going, and like the Energizer Bunny, it never stopped.

I know two things for certain at this point: Jackie Chan will win an honorary Oscar, and La La Land will sweep Oscar night. That’s it. I don’t know how many awards La La Land will win, or what awards the other best picture nominees will win, and I especially don’t know what will win in those blasted short categories. A lot of people are saying that there’s a strong chance that La La Land will win 11 Oscars, putting it in an exclusive club with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic, and Ben-Hur. With my current predictions, I have them winning 10 Oscars, but it can really go in any direction on Oscar night.

Either way, I’m expecting a full rundown of snubs and surprises this year, just as there are a few during every ceremony every year. Let’s go through my predictions and see where they’re expected to be:

Best Picture: No surprise here. La La Land is going to take home the highly coveted award for best picture. Last year, I went against my gut predicting that The Revenant would beat out Spotlight for best picture. While I was correct in predicting the other categories, Spotlight still managed to nab the top prize, despite only winning one other award from the night. I’m not going to make the same mistake again this year. La La Land it is.

Best Director: Damien Chazelle won the DGA, so more likely than not, that also means he’s going to win the Oscar. He wasn’t nominated in 2014 for his masterful work on Whiplash. Him winning for La La Land this year will make up for that snub years ago.

Best Actor: One of the first categories where the odds are split right down the middle for me. It’s down to Manchester By The Sea and Fences for this one. Casey Affleck won the golden globe. Denzel Washington won the screen actor. Who’s going to take it?

It’s a tough race, but I’m going with Denzel for a few reasons. First, the Screen Actors Guild is more accurate at predicting best acting Oscars than the Golden Globes are, even if it is by a fraction. Second, with most best actor wins, their performances usually break out emotively, expressing a wide range of emotions for voters to judge from. Great as Affleck’s performance was in Manchester By The Sea, it was also very muted and soft spoken, which works against him compared to Denzel’s confrontational, intimidating presence in Fences. This category really is a flip of the coin here, but I’m betting on Denzel.

Best Actress: Another pincher. Emma Stone for La La Land versus Isabelle Huppert for Elle. Who will win? Since Stone has La La Land by her side, I’m betting on her. Again though, this category can go either way.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight. Even though you could make a strong argument for Dev Patel in Lion or Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals, Ali has had the traction for a long time now and strong support from the acting community. If he didn’t get it now, it would be one of the biggest upsets of the year. Considering we already got one last year with Sylvester Stallone losing for Creed, I’m not looking for another upset anytime soon.

Best Supporting Actress: Can we all agree that Viola Davis was robbed in 2011 from her performance in The Help? Her portrayal as a confused yet courageous housemaid compelled the film forward in its narrative and made her one of the standout performances of the year. She deserved to be recognized alongside her acting colleagues including Jean Dujardin in The Artist, Christopher Plummer in Beginners, and Octavia Spencer in The Help as well. The award instead went to Meryl Streep for her performance in the dull, lifeless, mind-numbingly tedious The Iron Lady. Oh, don’t worry about it Academy voters! Give her all of the awards, why don’t ya?

In the place of that massive snub, Viola Davis will win her first Oscar this year for portraying the supportive, strong-willed, yet heartbroken Rose Maxson in Fences. The fact that she will be recognized for her hard work is encouraging. The fact that she will get it at the cost of Naomie Harris’ performance in Moonlight is not. Different performances, yes. Powerful performances, yes. But when it all comes down to it, it’s a matter of opinion, not quality, as to which performance deserves the Oscar more. I felt Harris’ was superior, but I have a feeling I’m going to be in the minority on that one. It’s a shame Harris and Davis had to go against each other in the same year. They’re both outstanding talent.

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia. Even though Disney’s other animated nominee Moana is more deserving, there’s no denying the popularity and the influence that people share for Zootopia. Cute and cuddly zoo animals beat The Rock going on a deep sea adventure.

Best Documentary Feature: O.J. Simpson has been getting a lot of attention this year. The TV drama based on his notorious murder case, “The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”, broke critical and commercial barriers and won the Golden Globe for best television miniseries. His documentary O.J.: Made In America also swept critics’ top ten lists, both for best of the year and for documentaries. I can’t see another film winning this year, so I’m going with O.J.: Made In America.

Best Foreign-Languge Feature: I have a good feeling about Toni Erdmann. While The Salesman has also been getting a lot of traction and buzz for the Oscar, Asghar Farhadi already won the foreign-language Oscar in 2012 for A Separation. Repeated wins are unusual in this category, so I’m betting on Toni Erdmann in its place.

Best Original Screenplay: The great thing about La La Land is how many layers it has to peel away, not just as a fun and snappy musical and comedy, but also as a complex drama, a heartfelt romance, and a journey towards pursuing your dreams. The script is one of the greatest things about La La Land, but it isn’t the best thing. No, the best things from the film are its brilliant score and standout performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The script supplements their talent. It doesn’t provide it.

Since this is the case, I’m going against the grain here and guess that Kenneth Lonergan will win best original screenplay for Manchester By The Sea. That’s a movie that has less to work with than La La Land does, and yet, it ends up doing so much more. It’s a heartbreaking tragedy, a family drama, a dark comedy, and a tale of mending open wounds that achieves everything that it set out to do. For its ambition, bravery, and intimacy in handling the delicate topic of death and how we react to it, I’m going with Manchester.

Best Adapted Screenplay: It’s hard to imagine any other nominee winning this year besides Moonlight. That’s because with it, Barry Jenkins broke barriers in racial, economic, and homosexual communities, and it allowed viewers to understand its characters because of their experiences, not because of what they looked like. Arrival was equally genius in its structure and Fences was faithful to its source material. But I’m going with Moonlight, if for no other reason than it deserves it the most.

Best Film Editing: I’m going to start this by saying that literally everyone in this category deserves the award over Tom Cross for La La Land. Everyone. Joe Walker’s smart sequencing of events built up the intrigue and the mystery surrounding Arrival. John Gilbert’s assemblage of chaotic, bloody firefights in Hacksaw Ridge made all of the madness clear and readable. And Moonlight was especially outstanding in its editing, in how it gradually built up Chiron’s childhood and how it carried over into his adult years. All of these nominees are most deserving for the Oscar for best film editing. None of them will get it.

Instead, Tom Cross will win best film editing for work on La La Land. Why? Because he won the ACE award for best editing, which is more often than not accurate in predicting the Oscar winner. So Cross it is.

If this goes down as I predict, this will be the win that frustrates me the most on Oscar night. Don’t get me wrong, Cross is an exemplary editor. But the editing is not the thread that holds La La Land together. It is the music, the acting, the story, the cinematography, the art direction. Every element in the film fits and works with each other in the way that it needs to. Cross just had to assemble it all together. I realize that in itself is a time-consuming job, but it required no innovation on his part, no deep attention to detail. Just an observation on the characters and the scenery and arranging clips into the right order.

If you think I’m overreacting, look at his work on Whiplash, which won him his first editing Oscar in 2014. Now compare that to La La Land. You will see for yourself how much more difficult and impressive it was to edit that action together compared to the lighthearted ambiance of La La Land.

Moving on.

Best Cinematography: The best cinematographer in this category easily goes to Bradford Young, whose skillful, deliberate shots built up the suspense and the eerieness of Arrival. But by this point in the night, La La Land will already be on a roll, and I don’t expect Arrival to derail the train anytime soon. Linus Sandgren will win best cinematography for La La Land. Celebrate by singing a song and two-stepping to it.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: This is a difficult category to pick this year, because unlike previous years, there’s no clear standout among the nominees. A Man Called Ove is so under the radar that it’s barely gotten any attention, so you can already cross that right off the list. And everyone hates Suicide Squad, so I don’t expect a win there either. Since I’m out of options, I’ll begrudgingly guess Star Trek Beyond will win the Oscar, even though it’s only repeating the work that it did the first time it won in 2009.

Best Costume Design: While Jackie and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them both demonstrated some outstanding outfits, it’s hard to imagine La La Land working without the great costume work by Mary Zophres. From Ryan Gosling’s suave jazz suits to Emma Stone’s elegant dresses, her costumes made every scene come alive with the music. For that reason, I’m going with La La Land.

Best Production Design: First thing’s first: Passengers, get your butt out of here. Doctor Strange deserved to be in your place. Second: with a pack of outstanding nominees including Arrival, Fantastic Beasts, and Hail, Caesar!, it’s hard to pick the most worthy out of these nominees. However, none of these films throw you back to the classic Hollywood musical days where sets were filled with bright lights, vibrant colors and beautiful designs. I’m going with La La Land since it does exactly that.

Best Musical Score: La La Land. It will be a national outrage if anything else wins.

Best Original Song: This award is obviously going to go to La La Land. The question is for which song? La La Land is nominated twice here, once for “City of Stars” and another for “The Fools Who Dream.” Considering that I’m still humming “City of Stars” weeks after seeing the film, I’m placing my bet on that one.

Side note: Twenty One Pilots should have been nominated here for their phenomenally dark and ethereal work on “Heathens.” Suicide Squad got straight up robbed on that one.

Best Sound Editing: How many action films have won for best sound editing? Too many, that’s how many. From the past six years, six action films have won the Oscar in this category. Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty tied in 2012. American Sniper won in 2014. And Mad Max: Fury Road also won last year. At this point, I would be foolish not to go for the action-packed war epic like all of the Academy voters. So I’m going with Hacksaw Ridge. Deepwater Horizon also has a good chance of nabbing it too.

Best Sound Mixing: La La Land. It’s hard to time music to action on-screen, especially when that action includes tap-dancing and motion choreography. La La Land did exceptionally well not only with its music, but with making it relevant in every scene. So La La Land it is.

Best Visual Effects: The most visually impressive out of the nominees here is easily Doctor Strange, whose shape-shifting, mind-bending visuals bend and break reality barriers like you wouldn’t believe. Visual effects are supposed to be transportive in their art, and I haven’t visually seen a film like Doctor Strange since Avatar or Inception.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to get it. Why? Because a Marvel property hasn’t won a best VFX Oscar since over a decade ago with Spider-Man 2. If Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: Days of Future Past couldn’t nab it, then it’s highly unlikely Doctor Strange will now, no matter how good the visual effects may be. The fact that Captain America: Civil War isn’t even nominated in this category should tell you everything about the Academy voter’s opinions of superhero movies.

Since that is the case, I’m going with my runner-up option, which is Jon Favreau’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book. His team expertly combined practical effects with CGI, and the body movements of the animals were so accurately depicted that it’s hard to tell that they’re not real animals. If The Jungle Book had any achievement, it was in its visual effects, so that’s the one I’m going with.

And now we come to the infuriating short categories. I never know what to put any year, considering I’m never able to see any of the nominees. The following are just blind guesses: Piper for animated short, Joe’s Violin for documentary short, and Silent Nights for live action short. Watch me get all of them wrong this year. Just wait.

That concludes my predictions for this year’s La La— oops, I meant Oscar ceremony. I’ll see you guys on awards night, preferably without any singing.

– David Dunn

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Appreciating The Boy Who Lived

I have now committed what I consider a major sin as a film critic for this year: I will not be reviewing Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. At least, not in a timely matter to where it will make a molecule of a difference in whether you will see it or not. I suspect that for the most part, Fantastic Beasts will perform very well at the box office this week. It’s written by J.K. Rowling herself, it’s directed by Potter loyalist David Yates, and it has a solid cast to boast proudly about, including the Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne as the lead. I highly doubt that longtime Rowling fans will overlook this new venture into the Harry Potter universe, and I expect it to get a large turnout at the box office. Whether it deserves that turnout will be another matter decided once I have time to collect myself after Thanksgiving break.

I am a more recent fan when it comes to the Harry Potter franchise. My biggest appreciation of Harry Potter comes from the movies themselves, as I am one of the few that have not ventured far into the book series (I only read the first two. I lost interest after Chamber of Secrets).

Hardcore Potter fans criticize me frequently for watching the movies before reading the books, and maybe they’re slightly warranted in their frustration since they are more knowledgeable of the franchise than I am. After all, when Stephen Sommers changed the ending to Mark Twain’s endearing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I was livid. I can only imagine how Potter fans reacted when entire clops of characters were missing in multiple films altogether.

My defense is that by watching the movies before reading the books, it allows me to view those films through a different, vital scope that most don’t even think about: the eyes of a viewer as opposed to a reader. When watching adaptations, the job of a critic is to watch and judge the movie fairly on its own merit, not through the pages of the book that it was based upon. You can’t judge a movie through the same criteria as a book. That would be like judging a fish on its ability to fly.

Because of this, I rarely read the books before the movie comes out, and I actually make it a point to avoid reading them if I can. I’ve done this with numerous adaptations, from Lord of the Rings all the way to The Fault In Our Stars. I’ve always tried to watch the movie first, judge it on its own storytelling, then read the book and go back and see if my view has developed any further. It is not the movie’s job to adapt events, but rather emotions. If they invoke the same aesthetic and feel that the book did, I consider the film a successful adaptation.

I held Harry Potter to this same standard, ever since The Sorcerer’s Stone came out over 15 years ago. While my opinions of those films may differ slightly from fans of the books, we can all agree that Harry Potter is nonetheless astounding. Whether you’ve read the books or not, all of the elements are in there and retained. There is a boy who was orphaned after his parents died when he was just a baby. That same orphan was forced to live with a cruel aunt and uncle who spoiled their own son while neglecting their nephew. That boy gets swept up into a world full of wizards, witchcraft, and sorcery, and he learns about the true value of life, love, and appreciating the things that we’ve lost.

No matter what stance you have on the books, this much is intact in the film series: who Harry is, what are his desires, why he goes on this epic quest, and who he grows into as his journey comes to a close. This is why Harry Potter is one of the greatest film franchises of all time, as well as one of the greatest film adaptations. If both fans and non-fans can see, feel, and experience the same things in the movies, then the movie succeeded in adapting its source material. And Harry Potter definitely did that very well.

Another thing that impresses me with Harry Potter is the fact that this is a movie series, as opposed to a trilogy. Most movie studios do not have the gumption or the ambition to pursue book-to-film adaptations past three movies. Heck, Miramax films wanted to shrink The Lord of the Rings down from three movies to two, then to one. With Warner Bros. venturing to adapt all seven books as opposed to combining or omitting a few, Harry Potter went on to become the second highest grossing film franchise of all time, grossing over $7 billion at the box office.

(Although, I silently suspect Warner Bros. allowed the series expansion for more than just monetary reasons. With how large of a fan base Harry Potter had at the time, Warner Bros. might not have survived the backlash if they decided to mess with the official canon.)

Being a fan of film as opposed to a fan of Harry Potter has allowed me to appreciate its success without bias. It allowed me to go on Harry’s journey with him with fresh eyes, watching him grow from a boy to a man to a hero, facing all of his fears and overcoming them with the help of his friends. Fans of the books will voice that they went on it first, to which I fairly give them credit for doing so. But the point is I did go on that journey with him, and it is in no way less or more amazing because I haven’t read the books.

To which I now say that I am excited to see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them for different reasons. This is an original narrative crafted from the mind of Rowling herself. There’s no concerns with being faithful to the book, or with taking narrative liberties, or with making changes fans won’t appreciate. The movie’s creativity doesn’t stop where the book does, mostly because there is no book to base it on. It excites me to see what new ideas and characters Rowling comes up with, and it excites me even further knowing that for once, myself and Harry Potter fans will be experiencing the exact same thing. This is new territory for all of us.

All of that excitement and anticipation will be paid off… soon. For now, I’m going to appreciate the boy who lived, knowing that I got to live right alongside him, as well as so many other muggles out there.

– David Dunn

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Charlize Theron buckles up for Fast & Furious 8

Looks like Charlize Theron is making Fast & Furiosa.

The Oscar-winning actress, whose performances have been featured in films including The Cider House Rules, Monster, and recently Mad Max: Fury Road, has been confirmed to appear in the upcoming Fast & Furious 8. The sequel will have Vin Diesel and others racing against her, as it was reported that she will be playing the film’s villain.

Personally, I see no need to have a Fast & Furious 8, 9, 10, or the upcoming spin-offs that will be attached to the series. It’s too long. Waaaaayy too long. If you’re passing The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter series’, you’re pushing it. There’s no reason to have this be a 10-movie franchise, then to plan more on top of that.

Grievances aside, I’m happy to hear that Theron is going to be the movie’s antagonist. Her recent performances in Mad Max: Fury Road and Prometheus shows that she’s still got the chops, and putting her in an opposing role with the rest of the cast seems like it’ll give her a good opportunity to stretch her “villain” muscles. The film reunites Theron with Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray, their first collaboration being the 2003 heist film The Italian Job.

What do you guys think? Are you excited that Theron is joining Fast & Furious, or do you wish she’d get off at the next stop sign? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: ComingSoon.net, Entertainment Weekly

Remembering (And Remaking) ‘Memento’

This is one piece of news I wish I could forget.

The Hollywood Reporter recently broke the news that Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed 2000 masterpiece, Memento, was greenlit for a remake. The announcement came from AMBI Pictures co-founders Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi, who said they were going to finance and produce the picture.

“‘Memento’ is a masterpiece that leaves audiences guessing not just throughout the film, but long after as well, which is a testament to its daring approach,” Bacardi said in a statement. “We intend to stay true to Christopher Nolan’s vision and deliver a memorable movie that is every bit as edgy, iconic and award-worthy as the original.”

Good luck with that.

For those of you unfamiliar, Memento tells the story of a man suffering from amnesia while trying to find and kill his wife’s murderer. What’s most unique about the motion picture is that it is narrated in reverse-chronological order, meaning it starts at the end and it ends at the beginning. It’s slightly confusing, but when you begin to piece events together, you notice a pattern and Nolan’s mastery at telling this incredibly fascinating story.

The fact that AMBI Pictures is remaking it is revolting, confounding, and absolutely unnecessary. Hey, let’s not stop there, guys! Why don’t we remake The Godfather next? How about Shawshank Redemption? Schindler’s List? Lord of the Rings? What about Batman Begins? It’s only been ten years, that’s enough time for a remake!

The fact these studio execs are remaking a masterpiece like Memento is 110% sickening and maddening. Masterpieces do not need to be remade. Their existence by themselves is timeless. Why would you lessen the value of this work by recycling it through the production process for profit?

The studio is currently searching for a director and writer to take on the project. They’re also looking for a soul, because clearly, they don’t already have one.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Screenrant

“THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” Review (✫✫✫)

And the Dwarf King: The Battle for Himself. 

Here it is, at last: the end of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. It hasn’t arrived without it’s challenges. Originally, the series was supposed to be directed by Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro before he dropped out and let Peter Jackson hop back in the director’s chair. Then, Jackson decided to turn it from two movies into three because he wanted to “expand the story.” Then in April, he decided to retitle the third film from There and Back Again to The Battle of the Five Armies. Every indication from the production of this film has shown that the movie was going to be either the weakest entry or the most unnecessary film out of the series. Jackson, however, has overcome every obstacle in his path and made a film that is just as exciting, enduring, and memorable as any other film in the series. Jackson’s persistence is something to be admired.

Picking up after that horrible cliffhanger of an ending we got from The Desolation of Smaug, The Battle of the Five Armies opens with Smaug the Dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) laying waste to the village of Laketown shortly after he was set free by Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). After setting the village on fire and killing many of the villagers, Bard the bowman (Luke Evans) escapes from prison, climbs the highest tower he can find, and kills the dragon with the black arrow he inherited from his father.

With Smaug dead, the dwarves have taken possession of the Lonely Mountain. However, something strange is happening to Thorin. He has become more greedy, violent, and eager to find the Arkenstone in the chamber and become the next king of the mountain. Bilbo has noticed his new attitude, and finds it disturbingly similar to that of Smaug’s personality. As tensions grow inside the mountains, things heat up with elven, eagle, orc, and human armies assembling outside of the mountains as well. Now with the four armies gathering to take the mountain from the dwarves, Thorin gathers his own dwarf (and hobbit) army to protect their inheritance and keep it from unworthy hands.

The third movie in any trilogy is always the most crucial. It either makes or breaks the series, making it just as memorable as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or as half-baked as the Matrix trilogy. Part of me wonders why they even had to make a third movie at all, and why they couldn’t just combine this with The Desolation of Smaug. That was originally the plan, after all, but I guess if they did that, they would run the risk of shoehorning two plots into one film.

Honestly though, I don’t know if it would have been that big of an issue. The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies offers exactly what the title suggests: a battle which is bigger and bolder than any other fight in the Lord of the Rings movies. Yes, that includes the final siege on Sauron in Return of the King and the fight against Smaug in Desolation of Smaug. The scale and scope is bigger here than any other Lord of the Rings movie, with elves, dwarves, eagles, orcs, villagers, trolls, wizards, spirits, and a hobbit crashing, slashing, and colliding into each other like nobody’s business. This is the most action-packed Lord of the Rings movie yet, with it’s final lengthy action sequence clocking in at about over an hour.

Some of the action runs rampant and gets repetitive now and then. In one scene, for instance, Legolas the elf fights against an orc on a tumbling castle. The scene ran for well over 20 minutes, with them clashing swords and fists against each other, and I sat there wondering to myself “Why couldn’t he just trip him off and be done with it?”

But here’s the interesting thing: no matter how long the action ran, it kept me engaged. If this were a Michael Bay or a John Woo picture, the action would have ran wild and I would have gotten bored about 10 minutes into it. But Jackson is more talented than most filmmakers. He understands that in order for your audience to be invested in the action, they need to be invested in the characters first, because what’s the point of having characters go through these epic fights if you don’t care about them?

With this movie, I noticed that the character I cared most for was not Bilbo Baggins, but Thorin Oakenshield. He has the most interesting arc out of any other character in the movie, spending one half of the film fighting orcs, and the other half fighting himself. His character in the film reminds me a lot of Gollum: his conflict isn’t so much with others trying to take the things precious to him, but with himself in how the things he values most changes him. He especially serves a crucial part in the film’s final climatic battle scene, which is so nerve-wrecking and heart-pounding that it brought me just as much excitement as the climax in Return of the King did. The impressive part? Return of the King’s climax featured an entire armada of warriors, while The Battle of the Five Armies’ climax only needed two.

All in all, The Battle of the Five Armies did to The Hobbit what The Return of the King did to The Lord of the Rings: it wrapped it up nicely into a tight, satisfying conclusion, bringing excitement, emotion, and resolution to these characters that we’ve cared so much for so long now. Granted, it didn’t do as well as The Return of the King did with this, and I personally would have wished that Jackson would have made it less messy and cluttered than it already was. Does that ultimately matter, though, if I had fun watching it? Let’s just be glad that Bilbo made it there and back again in one piece.

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“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” Review (✫✫✫)

Be honest, Mr. Smaug: do you need a breath mint?

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is both one of the most satisfying and maddening films of the year. It’s visually splendid, illustrating the joys and perils of the world of Middle-Earth as finely as any movie before it did. It’s emotionally versatile, being comical and lighthearted at certain moments and then treacherous and gloomy in others. The performances are sound, with CGI characters being just as memorable as the live ones. Everything in the film was perfect up until it came to it’s end, which ended on a cliffhanger so big that a slackwire artist couldn’t tightrope across it.

Taking place shortly after the events of An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the journey of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), his troop of dwarves, and the slight hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). After narrowly escaping the clutches of the white orc Azog (Manu Bennett), Bilbo and the rest of the dwarves venture on towards the Lonely Mountains, only having a few days left until the secret entrance closes, leaving them forever locked outside of the Lonely Mountains.

Bilbo, however, has greater concerns if the dwarves do manage to get inside. Deep within the twisty lairs of the mountain lies an endless sea of gold and jewels, and asleep among these riches is the vicious Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), a violent, terrifying dragon that formerly laid waste to the dwarves’ land and took their possessions all for himself. If the company does manage to get inside the mountains, Smaug will be waiting there for Bilbo, and there will be a massive conflict between the 100-foot tall fire-breathing dragon and the small, terrified hobbit.

One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings movies is that the stakes are set up really well in them. Peter Jackson, who has been writing/producing/directing/godfathering the series since The Fellowship of the Ring has proven time and time again how well he can make depth-defying set pieces and visual spectacles, all while raising the emotional stakes of the movie.

Here is yet another example of what Peter Jackson can do in a movie. Visually, the film is unparalleled. There were many moments in the film that I recalled for being either visually spectacular or heart-poundingly exciting. One of them was a eerily creepy fight scene where Bilbo and the dwarves were fighting off an army of spiders in a cursed forest. Another was a chase scene where the crew was stuck in a line of barrels while falling down a waterfall. Other instances in the film include when the dwarves encountered a giant who could transform into a bear, or when Gandalf confronted an early confrontation of Sauron in his own castle. And don’t even get me started on when we meet Smaug for the first time. Jackson’s visual prowess excels just as much as his emotional involvement, and with each of his movies, he always seeks how to outdo himself from his last effort. I’d say he’s outdone himself tremendously here: the look of the film shows just that.

The performances are just as refined as the action and visual effects are. Martin Freeman was just as charismatic and loveable as he was the first time he was Bilbo in An Unexpected Journey, and Ian McKellen once again does well as the wise, ambitious, righteously-driven wizard Gandalf. And Richard Armitage has gained traction as Thorin Oakenshield since the first movie, showing that he can be more than the brutish tough guy. He’s a more vulnerable, more fleshed-out character here, with deep desires and hidden intentions showing that perhaps will be explored more in the third installment.

My favorite character by far, however, wasn’t even from a live performance. Benedict Cumberbatch was frightening, fearsome, and daunting as the terrible Smaug, his articulate, vocabulary-filled speech lining up perfectly with his sinister, seething voice. The visual spectacle of Smaug is perfect, with the dragon leaning luminously over his small, feeble enemies, while his long, slender, scaly arms and body lunge across the dungeon like an elongated spider. But the vocal performance is what makes him convincing, what makes him more than just a CGI creation and a terrifying villain in his own right. The minute I heard Smaug speaking to a shaking Bilbo, I had shivers run down my spine. The entire time he was speaking to Bilbo in mysterious anecdotes and sinister undertones, I was on the edge of my seat. When he started to attack, I clutched my mouth and stared endlessly at the screen, wondering and hoping for the fate of these characters in Smaug’s way.

In An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo benefits from being a more active protagonist than that of Frodo. Here we have Smaug, a giant, fearsome beast that is more actively sinister and spiteful than the stillness of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings.

Everything in the film is refined to the quality of film that you’d recall from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. My only regret is the copout, cliffhanger of an ending that inspired my theater to erupt into boos and groans. I hate it when movies do this to me. They put in so much effort to make a great film up until the last five minutes, where they pull the rug from under you and say “Sorry, that’s all for now! See you next year!” What was Peter Jackson thinking when he went with this ending? At the end of each Lord of the Rings movie, it ended with some form of closure and assurance that the adventure would continue into the next installment, but you didn’t know how it was going to pan out. It kept us intrigued, and it kept us wondering what would happen next. With this movie, it sets itself up to where we already know how it’s going to end: we just don’t get the payoff along with it.

I quote J.R.R. Tolkien: “Books ought to have good endings.” The same should be said for movies.

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“THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A journey J.R.R. Tolkien would want to go on. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the story I first experienced when I saw The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring for the first time. Like The Wizard Of Oz or Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s a sweeping fantasy about ordinary characters getting thrown into extraordinary circumstances. So if hobbits, dwarves, wizards, and fire-breathing dragons constituted as “ordinary” in this universe, imagine the extraordinary circumstances that they go through.

Serving as a prequel to the J.R.R. fantasy epic The Lord Of The RingsThe Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a relaxed and easygoing hobbit who doesn’t like to do much throughout the day except for eat, sleep, and smoke his pipe every now and then. One day, he gets a visit from a mysterious stranger named Gandalf (Ian McKellen), an elderly wizard who is looking for shelter and a young companion to go on an adventure with. Much against Bilbo’s wishes, Gandalf not only stays in his small village home: he invites an entire company of dwarves, who proceed to wreck Bilbo’s house and eat everything in his fridge.

After having a nervous breakdown and cleaning up his entire house, Bilbo overhears Gandalf and the small dwarf brigade’s plans. Ages ago, the dwarves‘ prized possession, the Lonely Mountain, was overtaken by a vicious fire-breathing dragon named Smaug, who destroyed their village and stole the castle and all of it’s gold for his own desires.

After being betrayed by their allies, the elves, and being left to fight for their land all by themselves, the dwarves are determined to travel back to the mountain and fight for their home. Bilbo must make a decision of continuing to live on his normal, uneventful life, or to reach out, travel with the dwarves, and seek out adventure the likes of which he’s never experienced before.

Remembering that it was only a few years ago when I originally fell in love with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the RingThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a prequel that hits on all of the right notes, and then some more that I wasn’t expecting. In comparison to it’s elder companion, The Hobbit is uncanny. It has a wide verse of characters, each one being unique and memorable both in appearance and personality. It has a dynamic and involving story, ripe with exposition and emotion, retaining your full attention despite the lengthy run time. And it has highly stylized set pieces and visual spectacles that excite the eyes and overwhelm the mind. Do not mistaken Peter Jackson’s intentions here: he was inspired by Lord of the Rings when he was making The Hobbit.

And yet, there are so many differences from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings. One of the biggest, I think, would be it’s protagonist. Bilbo is different from Frodo, his nephew in Lord of the Rings whom Elijah Wood inhabited so wonderfully. They’re similar, of course, in that they are small hobbits not necessarily fit for fighting, but are clever, creative, and courageous nonetheless.

And yet, Bilbo is so much more than Frodo is. He’s funnier, for one thing, a bumbling, clumsy little hobbit that reminds me so much of the antics between Pippin and Merry in the original movies. He’s also more outgoing, a more active protagonist doing more in the film than just holding a ring and trekking long miles. He does so much in the film, sneaking around trolls, fighting Orcs, going through traps and mazes, and having a first-hand involvement in many of the film’s biggest fights. My particular favorite scene is one where he is talking to a fan favorite from The Lord of the Rings about the possession of a mysterious gold, rounded object. Hint: His favorite word is “precious.”

My point in saying all of this is that Bilbo is a dynamic character in his own right, and Martin Freeman handles the character very well. In the previous movie trilogy, Freeman had four hobbit inspirations to pull from, and instead of following just one of them, he took characteristics from all of them and made a character all his own. That took great talent and risk, and Freeman’s efforts paid off, making a character that I think is the most memorable and charismatic hobbit out of all of them.

Without a doubt, the best film in the series is Return of the King. This film is perhaps the second best. Sure, at times it might suffer from a slight overdose on exposition, but doesn’t all of the films? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an adventurous, ambitious gamble of a film, and it makes me believe once again in the power that a wizard, a slew of dwarves, and a brave little hobbit can have.

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Tom Hiddleston to travel to “Skull Island”

Okay, this makes the King Kong prequel just a little bit better.

It looks like Avengers star Tom Hiddleston is scheduled to take the lead role for Skull Island, a prequel to the King Kong series taking place years before he met Ann Darrow. Not only that, but filmmaker Jordan Vogt-Roberts, most known for the indie project The Kings of Summer, has been announced as the director to helm the project. Little details have been given about the project, and we’re probably not going to get much more information until production begins in 2015.

I was never really keen on this project, because I got my King Kong movie in 2005 through Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. However, I am interested in this project, especially since it involves Loki himself and Vogt-Roberts, who is also slated to director the movie adaptation of Konami’s popular video game series Metal Gear Solid. It is also important to note that Max Borenstein, one of the screenwriter’s behind Gareth Edward’s 2014 remake of Godzilla, is scheduled to write the script. While I didn’t care much for the movie entirely, I don’t blame the writers for that, and for the most part, this looks like a solid team put together for Skull Island.

What do you guys think? I know you all like Hiddleston because he’s JUST PERFECT OMG. But what about the production overall? Are you excited for a King Kong prequel, or are you satisfied with Peter Jackson’s iteration?

Comment below and let me know.

-David Dunn

SOURCE: TotalFilm, ComingSoon.net