New Podcast – Linda Hamilton Returns to the Terminator Franchise, Taika Waititi Eyed for Akira & More

The Movie Pit Podcast is up!

It was also a big movie trailer week, so give it a listen and let me know what you think. The podcast is also on iTunes if Youtube is too inconvenient for you to listen everybody.

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‘The Great Wall’ Review

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Director: Zhang Yimou

Writers: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy

Cast: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Lu Han, Hanyu Zhang, Kenny Lin, Eddie Peng, Xuan Huang, Ryan Zheng, Karry Wang and Willem Dafoe.

Synopsis: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The Great Wall received a lot, and I mean a lot, of criticism when the trailer was released showing Matt Damon surrounded by Asian actors and by the look of it, saving them and China from monsters. After all of it, director Zhang Yimou and Andy Lau came out and said that was not the case, and that the character was always written to be non-Asian, but people still were angry – without watching the film. Now, that the film is out, I know people will still keep to their stance not seeing past Damon’s casting, but if you can get past that – especially seeing that Damon is the true savior of China in the film – we get a descent and passable action film.

The film follows William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), mercenaries that came from Europe to China seeking the fabled “black powder” to make them rich. However, they find The Great Wall of China instead with a massive army inside that call themselves The Nameless Order. Once within, they discover that China is under attack from monsters the Order have called the Tao Tei. Once they prove themselves to the Generals, including Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau), they are recruited to stop the monsters from breaching the Great Wall and attacking the world. However, Tovar and William are conflicted once the fight becomes more dangerous. Tovar wants to complete the mission they were on, while William wants to stay and fight.

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People will have their opinions about The Great Wall, but the way I looked at it – without spoiling it of course – Damon’s William isn’t the “White Savior” many thought he would be. Does he play a factor to the end game? Yes, there’s no denying that, but at least from what I saw, he isn’t the key to killing the monsters like many thought or the trailers would have you believe. Is he special? Sure, he’s really good with a bow. That’s it. Once you get past Damon’s weird accent, and sometimes what feels like wooden acting, William is a character drawn to two worlds. He’s a mercenary that kills for others and money, but once he meets The Nameless Order and Commander Lin, he sees there are other reasons to fight.

When it comes to the rest of the cast Pedro Pascal has great chemistry with Damon, and because of that I wished he had more screen time. Tian Jing’s Commander Lin has some great moments scattered throughout, and being the only real female character in the film it was good to see. Also, she’s not a love interest! She does have an effect on Damon’s William, but it more of a respect than romantic – although you can make the argument probably. Willem Dafoe on the other hand is pretty much wasted here. Besides adding some insight in what is going on, he doesn’t really do anything and could have been played by anyone else.

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When it comes to the action, it’s pretty good despite the massive amount of CGI monsters. That shouldn’t be too surprising considering the man that directed this in Zhang Yimou. From films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, the action is pretty great and filled with great cinematography, and heart-pounding score that Zhang is accustomed to. Moreover, when it comes to the creatures, the designs aren’t that bad and their design makes them difficult to fill as well. Also, the fact that most TV spots or trailers never really fully showed them off was impressive.

All in all, people are going to have their opinions on The Great Wall as a film and politically, which is fine. I just hope people can look past that and find some enjoyment in the film. It’s not perfect, most of the characters don’t get enough screen time or are not even developed at all, and there a small subplot that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t do really anything for the film – at least personally. But, the end game of it all, the film is a passable action film.

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The Great Wall

3.5 out of 5

New Podcast: Suicide Squad Response, Drama and Mini Review & Tons More

This week podcast is live!

I tried to control all the craziness of movie news that was this week, and yes give you a mini-review of Suicide Squad. The review will be up tomorrow.

 

‘Jason Bourne’ Review

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Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse

Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepherd, Riz Ahmed, and Gregg Henry

Synopsis: The most dangerous former operative of the CIA is drawn out of hiding to uncover hidden truths about his past.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

I’ve always been a fan of the Bourne films. There was something about them that made them different from all the other spy films at the time. It helped that Matt Damon completely evolved into the amnesiac CIA operative that went against the people that created him. Also, having a director in Doug Liman and then Paul Greengrass also helped. So when the films decided to go the spinoff route, it was understandable that fans were a little disappointed, but when Damon and Greengrass said they would return fans rejoice and waited for the next chapter of the Jason Bourne series. What we ended up with was a mixed bag of what makes the franchise great, but also a film that could arguably be considered a sequel we didn’t need.

Jason Bourne follows Jason Bourne (Damon) now living off the grid making money but street fighting. However, when former CIA analyst Nicky Parsons (Stiles), who now works for a Wikileaks-type organization, hacks into the CIA and finds a new program called Ironhand, and also finds out Bourne has been connected to the CIA’s deadly programs longer than he thinks, she takes the information hoping to get help from Bourne one more time. The hack doesn’t go as smoothly as she thought because it puts her in the crosshairs of new CIA director Robert Dewey (Jones), and CIA cyber ops head Heather Lee (Vikander). Dewey seemingly thinking Bourne is behind the whole thing sends a new asset (Cassel) to take out Bourne. What follows is Bourne doing this thing of punching, shooting and causing chaos everywhere he goes.

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Jason Bourne seems like it has a lot going on, but at the end of it all the film goes for the action rather than the subplot of political themes. The film looks like it is going one place in a post-Snowden world, but instead just puts it in the back burner after the first act of the film. It’s a bit of a shame considering the films have never shied away from tackling political themes in the past. Jason Bourne tries to go there, but instead chooses to elevate the action sequences – which personally I don’t mind, being an action guy – but knowing what this franchise was built on, it is a bummer to see the film go in that direction.

We even see Bourne finally looking like he’s broken down. He’s not hunting down people from Treadstone or Blackbriar, he’s fighting people for a living – easily winning – but when his memories starting to come back, it does look like it’s having a bigger effect on him. Sure we’ve seen Bourne hurt before, but that is all physical pain, and what we see early on in the film is mental. When Nicky finally finds him and brings him into the fold all that is pushed aside.

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So while it sounds like I didn’t like Jason Bourne, I actually did. The series did always have great action, but it wasn’t just built on it. This film has arguably a couple more action sequences than the other films. Not that it’s a bad thing since the scenes are great. The riot in front of the Greek parliament building really puts you into the action, and the final act of the film in Vegas is non-stop once the action starts and is topped off with the typical brutal and hard-hitting fight between Bourne and the asset.

The cast is great as always. Damon can play Bourne in his sleep at this point, but he never phones it in. Julia Stiles who returns for the opening of the film is a cool sight to see, but something seemed off about Stiles this time around, maybe it was me, but I don’t know. Tommy Lee Jones, who is known to phone it in a lot, looks like he’s there for the most part. It’s hard to tell, considering he plays the old time agent that knows all about Bourne. Alicia Vikander is a great addition to the series, but it hard to get a read on her character for most of the film until the end when we finally know where she stands.

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Vincent Cassel plays the asset aka the hit-man. Cassel’s asset is different from the other assets we’ve seen in the other films like Clive Owen, Karl Urban and Edgar Ramirez. Cassel does have connection to Bourne, and has another aspect to his character that seems rather too convenient, but Cassel is a great actor that it doesn’t almost matter because at least more people will get to know him. Finally, Riz Ahmed plays Aaron Kalloor, who does play a factor into the film, but is forgotten for most of the film, and doesn’t really leave in impact which is a shame because Ahmed is a fantastic actor.

All in all, Jason Bourne could arguably be labeled as an unnecessary sequel, but it’s great to see Damon and Greengrass back in this world, that is may not matter to people. The action is great as always and the cast all hold their own. While the film delves away from its political undertones, Jason Bourne has enough for fans of the franchise to enjoy.

Jason Bourne

3.5 out of 5

Favorite/Standout Directors, Lead and Supporting Actors, & Villains

I did this last year and I figured I should keep doing it, because, well, why not? Here I’ll take my favorite and standout individuals from directors, lead actors and actress, supporting actors and actresses and villains. We all have our favorites, and these are mine. This is of course my opinion. I tried to shorten the list as much as I could, but like last year, it was a bit too hard so I left the lists as such.

Also, villains are considered Supporting Actors in other lists and some actresses who are considered Supporting Actresses in some might pop up as Lead Actresses if they have the efficient enough screen time and or are the only real female character in the film. Also it helps make the lists shorter, I want the villains to have their own category, because everyone loves a good villain right?

Finally, everything and everyone will be in alphabetical order. This is also part one of two different lists, with the other being “Genre, Action/Fight Sequences and Special Effects”. Enjoy.

 

Directors

Alex Garland – Ex Machina

Alex Garland is a well-known writer in Hollywood with films like 28 Days Later, its sequel, Sunshine and wrote the fan-favorite Dredd remake.  So it was nice to finally see Garland step behind the camera and direct this great sci-fi film about Artificial Intelligence. It also helped that he got great leads in Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and a standout performance by Alicia Vikander. This film made excited to what he does next, which happens to be Annihilation.

 

Christopher McQuarrie – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

The Mission: Impossible films have always been a steady franchise, with the films somehow outdoing themselves and managing to still have great characters, story and action. McQuarrie adds another great addition of the franchise with some great sequences and solid performances to add to the strength of a franchise that doesn’t look to stop.

 

Colin Trevorrow – Jurassic World

Trevorrow did what very little people want to do in Hollywood: Do another Jurassic Park movie. However, Trevorrow did manage to create something that the other Jurassic Park sequels missed, a sense of wonderment and terror. Trevorrow is also pretty new to the scene so getting young blood to tackle an established and loved franchise was a great move by Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures.

 

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller returned to the Mad Max world nearly thirty years after Beyond Thunderdome. But, Miller didn’t lose his step and created, again, a great world of crazy looking cars, weird-named characters, and awesome car/action sequences. Oh what a lovely day it was. Definitely one of, it not, the best action film of the year.

 

Guillermo del Toro – Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro has been one of my favorite directors since I first watched Hellboy (the first movie of his I saw), and since then del Toro has proven himself to everyone that he is one of the best visionary and visual directors in Hollywood. Crimson Peak does bring him back to the form of Pan’s Labyrinth and even some The Devil’s Backbone, but Crimson Peak is a whole other animal and del Toro managed to bring to life a beautiful, dark and twisted gothic love story.

 

James Wan – Furious 7

Wan mostly known as a horror director – with the exception Death Sentence, which had some horror elements – fills in the big shoes of director Justin Lin, who pretty much rejuvenated the franchise. Wan did a great job with the already huge established cast and characters, and managed to keep bringing the intensity and all-out mayhem that the franchise is known for. Of course, it wasn’t all easy. Wan had to deal with the tragic and unfortunate death of star Paul Walker, but made a beautiful tribute to the actor and character at the end of the film. Wan finished directing The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist and will direct Aquaman next.

 

J.J. Abrams – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

If there was ever any doubt that J.J. Abrams would “mess” up Star Wars. He proved everyone wrong with The Force Awakens. Abrams embraced the future of the franchise and didn’t lean too much on the past films, and was able to bring some fresh, exciting and new.

 

Joss Whedon – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Joss Whedon did the impressive feat in bringing one of the most popular and biggest teams in comic book history to the big screen with The Avengers. So it was only fair that Whedon came back and made the film and characters bigger than before. The movie did have a lot going on, but Whedon bought his nerdy and quick-wit to the film that all comic book and Whedon fans can enjoy. Was it the greatest film, no, but it was still great to see.

 

Justin Kurzel – Macbeth

Directing a Shakespearian play film adaptation is a bit hard for a few reasons. Do you go with a straightforward iteration, a “modernize” take, or a blend of both? Kurzel decides to take a straightforward approach, but make is an atmospheric, gritty and visually artistic take on Macbeth filled with great performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

 

Matthew Vaughn – Kingsman: The Secret Service

Matthew Vaughn pretty much made his own James Bond movie, with some injected humor and self-referencing to the genre. Vaughn really turned this graphic novel adaptation into something special and something I’m sure not many people, including myself, didn’t see coming, but welcomed it. Vaughn will direct I Am Pilgrim next.

 

Peyton Reed – Ant-Man

Peyton Reed had some big shoes to fill when long time writer and director of this adaptation, Edgar Wright, left the project right before the movie was about to start shooting. Many were worried about how the film would turn out and if Wright’s absents would affect the film, but we should know by now that we can always trust Marvel. Reed may have used some of the original script that was co-written by Wright, but he bought his own vision as well and managed to create not only a good comic book movie, but a great action family drama film.

 

Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight

As much as I don’t like how Tarantino acts about himself sometimes, I can never take, nor will take, anything away from his talent as a director. He can clearly handle himself with a big and star-studded cast, and The Hateful Eight is no different. Tarantino takes a much more condense setting and fills it with, well, hateful and untrusting characters before it all blows to hell.

 

Ridley Scott – The Martian

Some, okay many, would argue that Scott has been in a slump recently, and some felt that The Martian could be his way back to the director that many fell in love with. Lucky for us, the film was that indeed. Scott managed to balance the film out and bring some of the great aspects of the novel to the big screen. Let’s hope he keeps the ball rolling.

 

Ryan Coogler – Creed

Ryan Coogler could have really messed this up, but what Coogler did with Creed was nothing short of greatness. Creed pays a lot of respect and homage to the original but Coogler also made his own film that works as a continuation but also a standalone film.

 

Honorable Mentions

Adam McKay – The Big Short

Danny Boyle – Steve Jobs

Denis Villeneuve – Sicario

David Robert Mitchell – It Follows

F. Gary Gray – Straight Outta Compton

Joel Edgerton – The Gift

Sebastian Schipper – Victoria

Todd Strauss-Schulson – The Final Girls

 

 

Actors

Benicio Del Toro as Alejandro – Sicario

Benicio Del Toro is one of those actors that has always given awesome and consistent performances, but also seems to be underappreciated and overlooked, which is a shame. However, Del Toro seems to be enjoying more of limelight recently with roles like The Collector in Guardians of the Galaxy, and this role in Sicario. Del Toro is absolutely great in this and honestly give one of the best performances of the year.

 

Colin Firth as Harry Hart/Galahad – Kingsman: The Secret Service

Let’s face it, Colin Firth is probably one of the last people you’d thought you see play an action hero. Well, surprise, because Firth totally nailed the James Bond-like action badass character and if not then you have to watch the church scene again.

 

Harrison Ford as Han Solo – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Harrison Ford showed up! Ford doesn’t phone it in and looked like he enjoyed himself playing one of his biggest characters. Ford didn’t lose a step playing Han Solo and seeing him around the new cast of characters was awesome to experience.

 

Jacob Tremblay as Jack – Room

Kid characters are always hit-and-miss. Sometimes they come off as annoying or too smart for their own good. Other times they come off as genuine and give a great performance, thankfully Jacob Tremblay as Jack in Room falls in the latter. There was something so naïve and touching about Tremblay playing a kid that essentially grew up in a room and knows nothing about the outside world. It adds even more to the performance that he holds his own and even steals scenes from his co-star Brie Larson. Take note of Jacob Tremblay’s name, because this kid has a future.

 

Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E – Straight Outta Compton

Jason Mitchell became a household name after his terrific performances and easily one of the best ones of the year playing famous hip hop and rap star Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton. Mitchell really embodied Eazy-E and bought every emotion to the forefront and was able to hold his own and steal scenes from Paul Giamatti.

 

Johnny Depp as James ‘Whitey’ Bulger – Black Mass

I’m not the biggest fan of Johnny Depp, the crazy-wacky character actor (although I enjoyed Jack Sparrow in the early films). I like Johnny Depp, the serious character actor. Depp’s performance as famous mobster James “Whitey” Bulger was equally terrifying and fantastic to watch unfold. The film was a bit unbalanced, but Depp made the film completely worthwhile.

 

Kurt Russell as John Ruth & Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren – The Hateful Eight

At this point, Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino are a pair that could, potentially, not do any wrong. Thankfully, The Hateful Eight continues the string of great Tarantino/Jackson characters. With great, memorable and quotable lines that are said in the almost iconic way that only Samuel L. Jackson can deliver, Major Warren, was one of the best characters in the film. As for Kurt Russell, the mustache alone gets him a spot on the list, but it’s the chemistry he has with Jackson that opens up the film is what really makes John “The Hangman” Ruth really shine.

 

Matt Damon as Mark Watney – The Martian

Matt Damon is always reliable and his performance in The Martian was no different. His Mark Watney was equal parts funny and tragic character that gets stranded on Mars when his team thinks he’s dead. The resolve of his character is extraordinary and Damon was able to bring the character to life in such a way that only Damon could.

 

Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson – Creed

If Michael B. Jordan wasn’t a household name, he is now. Jordan’s portrayal of Adonis Johnson, aka the son of Apollo Creed, is one of those performances we can connect to in our own way and one that probably doesn’t seem like much at first, but eventually you’ll see the nuances in the performance after.

 

Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs – Steve Jobs & as Macbeth – Macbeth

Michael Fassbender tackled one of biggest individuals in history and one that changed the way the world is today. What Fassbender was able to emulate in three different times of Steve Jobs’ life was great to watch. But, if I had to pick, I think his Macbeth was his better characters of the year. He plays Macbeth as the tragic figure I’d always imagined him being and the intensity he was able to bring was so great to watch.

 

Shameik Moore as Malcolm – Dope

In what is easily his breakout performance, Moore is definitely someone to look out for in the future. He’s already signed on to star in the Netflix show The Get Down, and if does anything as close to what he does in Dope, then I’ll be watching.

 

Thomas Mann as Greg – Me and Early and the Dying Girl

Mann surprised me here. I’ve only seen him in one other thing, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which I forgot he was in until I looked it up and remembered who he played. However, he’s come a long way from that. His character in the book adaptation of a new favorite book of mine is great. The build of his arch to the end is fantastic to watch and I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.

 

Tom Hardy as Ronald Kray/Reggie Kray – Legend

Not everyone can pull off playing duo roles, but Tom Hardy managed to pull it off, and not just any two people either, but real-life gangsters Ronald and Reggie Kray from London. Hardy was able to play the twins rather well and give them their own personality to the point that you knew forgot which one was which.

 

Steve Carell as Mark Baum – The Big Short

Steve Carell has slowly been moving to more dramatic roles it feels like, and they are great. He continues with Mark Baum in The Big Short. His character has his own special and personal arch that leads to a heartbreaking scene that is done so well.

 

Honorable Mentions

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Guardian/Pops/T-800 – Terminator Genisys

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle – American Sniper

Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre & O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube – Straight Outta Compton

Daniel Craig as James Bond – Spectre

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo & Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin – The Man from U.N.C.L.E

Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Hope – Southpaw

Joel Edgerton as John Connolly – Black Mass & as Gordo – The Gift

John Boyega as Finn – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes – Spotlight

Oscar Issac as Nathan – Ex Machina

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man – Ant-Man

Sharlto Copley as Chappie – Chappie

Taron Egerton as Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin – Kingsman: The Secret Service*

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky – Mad Max: Fury Road

 

 

Actress

Alicia Vikander as Ava – Ex Machina

Alicia Vikander, yet again, is someone you should look out for in the future. Her performance as Ava, a robot with Artificial Intelligence, is a standout performance and not just the best female performance of the year, but one of the best performances of the year, period.

 

Amy Poehler as Joy (voice) & Phyllis Smith as Sadness (voice) – Inside Out

Poehler and Smith get one credit because they worked so perfectly off each other it made Inside Out work so much better. Their characters are so different and their adventure was done wonderfully that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them, especially Sadness.

 

Brie Larson as Ma/Joy – Room

Brie Larson has been in Hollywood for a few years, but it seems like her star has rising within the last few years with films like Short Term 12, 21 Jump Street, and Don Jon (also as Envy Adams in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), but it was Trainwreck that probably put her front and center by playing Amy Schumer’s sister in the film. However, if you haven’t seen Larson in anything I’d recommend starting with this. Larson gives a great and heartbreaking performance as Ma and while her co-star Jacob Trembley steals the film, Larson’s performance is equally as great.

 

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa – Mad Max: Fury Road

To say that Theron’s awesome performance in Mad Max was a standout would be an understatement. The movie may be called Mad Max, but make no mistake, Fury Road belonged to Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. She bought the right level of badass-ness, vulnerability, and leadership. I’d follow Furiosa into battle anytime.

 

Daisy Ridley as Rey – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I don’t know where Disney, Lucasfilm and J.J. Abrams found Daisy Ridley, but thank you. Ridley does fantastic as Rey giving us a great well-rounded female character. I can’t wait to see what Rey brings to the new trilogy and what Ridley brings next in her career.

 

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue – The Hateful Eight

It’s been a while since I’ve actually seen anything Jennifer Jason Leigh has been in, and now I feel a bit ashamed, because she was great in this. While her character sometimes hides behind and could get lost in the shuffle of the other characters, anytime she stands out is great. More specifically, there is a scene in the middle of the film that involves her singing which is just mesmerizing.

 

Jennifer Lawrence as Joy – Joy

Jennifer Lawrence is pretty much always reliable, and she continues here with her third film with David O. Russell. Although Joy is a mixed bag, Lawrence is what holds the film together as a single mother trying to get her invention – the miracle mop – to become a huge success she knows it can be, but she’s also dealing with the craziness of her family.

 

Jessica Chastain as Anna Morales – A Most Violent Year

Chastain has always been great in anything she does. However, there was something about her character in this that was completely different from what I’ve seen from her. She does whatever it takes to protect her family, even if that pisses off her husband who was played by Oscar Isaac.

 

Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman – Steve Jobs

Kate Winslet is probably one of the best unspoken heroes of Steve Jobs. Her character could be described as nothing more but a background character that has her moments, but what Winslet does with the role makes her, arguably, the heart of the film. She’s a constant in Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs, and one that is always there to calm him down.

 

Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth – Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is not an easy character to tackle, but leave it to Marion Cotillard to put on a damn awesome performance. Cotillard played Lady Macbeth like I’ve never seen the character played before and I just can’t get over how awesome her performance was.

 

Melissa McCarthy as Susan Cooper – Spy

McCarthy had a bad string of movies, but thankfully Spy brings her back to the form we all knew she could be: great. Gone are the fat jokes and what have you and welcome the funny, strong and badass female character. If anyone knows how to bring the best in McCarthy its Paul Feig, so give Spy a chance, it will surprise you.

 

Olivia Cooke as Rachel – Me and Early and the Dying Girl

Cooke has a good run in the A&E show Bates Motel, so getting to see her in the big screen was a nice to see. Cooke may not have the strongest performance out of the women here, but there was a few standout moments that I really loved that made me put her on the list.

 

Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

If you’re going to break out onto the scene, what better way to do it then in a Mission: Impossible film and working off Tom Cruise? Well, Rebecca Ferguson did just that and even stole the film from Cruise at times. Ferguson has done small things here and there, but Ferguson should be a household name after this.

 

(Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl – Wild)

Technically, this is a 2014 movie, but I didn’t see it until the first week of January after I had done my list. But, I can’t make a list without talking about Witherspoon’s performance in Wild. This was something really different from what she’s done in the past and you could see she went all in with this. Definitely should check this out if you haven’t.

 

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis – Brooklyn

Saorise Ronan is always giving great performances, but I feel like she goes under the radar a lot of the time. Hopefully, Brooklyn with all its acclaim can put her even more in the forefront. Ronan’s performance in this film could be one of the best of the year and one that is very relatable, which is why I really loved the film and her performance.

 

Tessa Thompson as Bianca – Creed

I’ve never seen Tessa Thompson before, but what a way to make an impression. Her character of Bianca was much more than a typical girlfriend/love interest. She had her own storyline and was a nice counter-balance to Michael B. Jordan’s character.

 

Yo-Landi Visser as Yolandi – Chappie

Known more for being in Die Antwoord with Ninja (who also stars in Chappie), Yo-Landi Visser absolutely nails her first movie performance. I was quite surprise that she was able to perform and hold her own with Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley and Jose Pablo Cantillo. If this is her only performance, then it is a damn good one to go out on.

 

Honorable Mentions

Amy Schumer as Amy – Trainwreck

Emily Browning as Frances Shea – Legend

Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne – Ant-Man

Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann – Spectre

Maika Monroe as Jay – It Follows

Margot Robbie as Jess – Focus

Sandra Bullock as Jane – Our Brand is Crisis

Taissa Farmiga as Max – The Final Girls

 

 

Supporting Actor

Ben Whishaw as Herman Melville & Brendan Gleeson as Tom Nickerson – In the Heart of the Sea

I put these two together because the film is elevated to a new level anytime they are onscreen, and it helps that they are always together in the film. Gleeson probably gets more of the credit, but no way they film or Whishaw work without Gleeson’s Tom.

 

Jason Statham as Rick Ford – Spy

Jason Statham is known for being the tough badass that spits out cheesy one-liners, but Spy not only plays with that notion, but shows that he can be funny as hell too. Seriously, this is probably one of the biggest surprises of the year for me.

 

Jeff Daniels as John Sculley – Steve Jobs

Jeff Daniels is always reliable, and his performance in Steve Jobs was a shining example of that. Daniels pops in the at the beginning and then disappears, but when he shows up in the middle of the film with his scene with Michael Fassbender, the whole film gets elevated to a new level. That scene they have is easily one of the best of the year and one of my favorites. It’s great to see Daniels getting more work and I hope it continues.

 

Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye & Paul Bettany as Jarvis/The Vision – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Jeremy Renner got the short end of the stick in the first Avengers movie, but you learn from your mistakes and Joss Whedon along with Marvel gave us a better version of Clint Barton/Hawkeye. The character is given a better arc this time around and, dare I say, some of the best lines in the movie. I hope they keep that up and can’t wait to see what they do.

Speaking of great lines and can’t wait to see what they do with the character is Paul Bettany. Finally – at least physically – Bettany joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe as fan-favorite character, The Vision. Bettany has been in the MCU since day one as the voice of Jarvis, but now he’ll have to do much more and Bettany is the perfect choice to do it.

 

Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody – Furious 7

Although he didn’t have a huge role in Furious 7, there was something about Kurt Russell’s mysterious government agent, Mr. Nobody that stuck out. He brought his charm to it and it was nice to see Russell have some fun again on the big screen. We can look forward to Russell coming back in Furious 8 – at least we can assume that he will.

 

Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel – Bridge of Spies

Mark Rylance is one of the actors that has been in Hollywood for a while, but I’ve never heard of him before. But of the things I’ve seen of him recently, he’s been great. It’s also not easy for someone to steal the spotlight from Tom Hanks, but Ryalnce did that in Bridge of Spies, in fact the film worked better with the two of them working off each other. Also, what Rylance was able to do with that cold opening was tremendous.

 

Mark Strong as Merlin – Kingsman: The Secret Service

I’ve been a huge fan of Mark Strong for years and I pretty much love anything he does. Kingsman is no different. The mentor/teacher role of Merlin was yet another fantastic role that shows off Strong’s comedic/sarcastic chops, but also – in particular one scene – dramatic chops.

 

Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym & Michael Pena as Luis – Ant-Man

I don’t think any of us ever thought we’d see Michael Douglas in a Marvel film, let alone an Ant-Man movie. But, here we are and what a role and performance he gave.

Like I said about Benicio Del Toro, Michael Pena is one of those actors that is always great in everything he does, but it feels like it wasn’t until recently that his star is more on the rise and people are finally starting to see that he has tremendous talent. Pena as Luis in Ant-Man was hilarious and had me cracking up every time he was onscreen, to the point that I wish they bring him back for the sequels.

 

Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller & R. Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight – Straight Outta Compton

I’ll put these two together only because they are two different sides of the same spectrum. Heller was greedy, manipulative, and saw an opportunity to take advantage of N.W.A. Suge Knight on the other hand used intimidation and brute force to get what he wanted. Giamatti is great in anything he does really and his portrayal of Heller was nothing short of great and even heartbreaking. Taylor’s Knight was damn scary and worked for the scenes he was involved in.

 

Richard Kind as Bing Bong (voice) – Inside Out

Never have I felt so connected to a character that I was okay with tearing up in a theater and not caring. Bing Bong was definitely the standout in Inside Out and Richard Kind was the perfect person to give the character life.

 

Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Simon Pegg has been a nice addition to the Mission: Impossible series since he was first introduced in part three. Pegg’s Benji has been a great comic relief, but has been showing real signs between the last two films that he can play the badass spy too.

 

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa – Creed

Sylvester Stallone has never been better. Seriously, Stallone shows up and gives us one of the best supporting roles the year and potentially his career. Stallone’s Rocky Balboa this time around is much more real and we get a much bigger sense of how he’s become this we last saw the character. His chemistry with Michael B. Jordan is tremendous and one of the only reasons the film works.

 

Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett – The Big Short

Ryan Gosling is pretty much always reliable and it’s not different here. Gosling is always pretty damn funny in this too. Anytime he’s on screen it’s hilarious and when he’s missing you sense it.

 

Walton Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix – The Hateful Eight

Walton Goggins is always a great supporting actor and this is no different. It feels like Goggins can play anything any director throws at him. Goggins always bring a certain charisma, swagger and charm and his Chris Mannix is pretty much the perfect role for Goggins.

 

Honorable Mentions

BD Wong as Liyuan – Focus

Billy Bob Thornton as Pat Candy – Our Brand is Crisis

Chris Hemsworth as Stone Crandall – Vacation

Jon Bernthal as Mr. McCarthy – Me and Early and the Dying Girl

Justice Smith as Radar and Austin Abrams as Ben – Paper Towns

LeBron James as LeBron James – Trainwreck

Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld – Steve Jobs

Paddy Considine as Banquo – Macbeth

Peter Serafinowicz as Aldo – Spy

Pierce Brosnan as Hammond – No Escape

Stanley Tucci as Mitchell Garabedian & Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll – Spotlight

Sean Harris as Macduff – Macbeth

 

 

Supporting Actress

Brie Larson as Kim – Trainwreck

Brie Larson didn’t have a lot of screen time in Trainwreck, but the time she did she left her impact. One particular scene was one that involved her Colin Quinn, playing her father, and Amy Schumer playing her sister. It was a rather powerful and short scene that really showed the kind of character Larson was playing and one that I wished was pushed out more in the film.

 

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Elizabeth Olsen is a fantastic actress that probably doesn’t get as much credit as she should. So I was pretty happy that she would get extreme exposure in not just a Marvel movie, but playing one of the most powerful comic book characters ever, and a fan favorite at that in Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. The accent wasn’t perfect, but she still bought the feel of the character to life.

 

Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe – Crimson Peak

All hail Jessica Chastain! Seriously, Chastain is one of the best actresses working on Hollywood today, and her performance in Crimson Peak was one of the best roles I’ve seen this year. What Chastain was able to do in being so cold and in limited dialogue was a sight to see. Jessica Chastain has always been one of my favorites, and with Lucille Sharpe under her belt now, I’m a fan for life.

 

Julie Walters as Mrs. Kehoe – Brooklyn

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard as I did in a drama than with Julie Walter’s Mrs. Kehoe character. Her character didn’t hold back and she’s really the only character that stays the same from beginning to end.

 

Malin Akerman as Nancy/Amanda – The Final Girls

Malin Akerman is one of those actresses that I think no one really takes seriously, but every once in a while she’ll do something that really does show her talent, and The Final Girls was one of those roles. Her duel role as Nancy the mother and Amanda the movie character was equally funny, tragic and great to see unfold on screen. The Final Girls could have been an even more cheesier meta horror-comedy, but it came out being a more heartwarming story than I thought.

 

Miranda Hart as Nancy – Spy

Miranda Hart is a British comedian that I believe got first time exposure thanks to Spy (if I’m wrong about that forgive me), but what a way to get it. Playing Melissa McCarthy’s friend, Hart was hilarious is this and got some big laughs.

 

Oona Laurence as Leila Hope – Southpaw

What’s in the water this year, man? Child actors made their statement this year and Oona Laurence was one of those with her short, but sweet and powerful performance as Jake Gyllenhaal’s Billy Hope’s daughter. There was something about her performance that really hit me that stood out more than the other child actors this year.

 

Raffey Cassidy as Athena – Tomorrowland

Raffey Cassidy is new to the scene, and make no mistake, she was a scene stealer in movie that stars A-lister George Clooney and another up-and-comer, Britt Robertson. However, it was Cassidy that shined and was the breakout star of the film, maybe even the year. This young lady has a huge career ahead of her.

 

Honorable Mentions

Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie – Ant-Man

Allison Janney as Elaine Crocker – Spy

Angela Trimbur as Tina – The Final Girls

Lupita Nynog’o as Maz Kanata – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Joan Allen as Nancy/Grandma – Room

Katherine Waterston as Shasta Fay Hepworth – Inherent Vice & as Chrisann Brennan – Steve Jobs

Krista Stadler as Omi – Krampus

(Laura Dern as Bobbi – Wild)

 

 

Villain

Common as Andrew Price – Run All Night

As much I liked Ed Harris’ villain character, it was Common who took the real villain spotlight. Common has a great presence onscreen in any role he takes, but his hitman character in Run All Night, was one of the best characters I’ve seen him play.

 

Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx – Spectre

Dave Bautista may be known for his work in the WWE, but has been able to break out of that mold by showing the man can act! And what better way to breakout even more onto the scene and with different crowd than by playing a James Bond villain. The role seemed to be tailor-made for Bautista and that train fight sequence was worth a place on the list.

 

Hugh Jackman as Vincent Moore – Chappie

It’s not every day that we see Hugh Jackman play a villain, but when we do it is a sight to see. Not only does Jackman use his natural accent, he sports a sweet looking mullet while trying to take down the lovable robot Chappie.

 

Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw – Furious 7

Jason Statham has played a bad guy before, but this villain is pretty different from the others. One, he’s driven (pun intended) by a different desire and is willing to do anything to do his worst. Second, he’s damn good at being bad.

 

Krampus and his Creatures – Krampus

One of the things that makes Krampus and his creatures memorable is that they are done practically, and not done the easy way with CGI. Although, one of them and Krampus for one particular scene is done with CGI, it doesn’t really hurt the creatures and Krampus’ look. I love that director Michael Dougherty went with practical effects instead of the easy route of CGI.

 

Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine & Sofia Boutella as Gazelle – Kingsman: The Secret Service

Although Boutella’s Gazelle is the standout between the two villains, the two worked great as a pair. At the same time, Jackson isn’t playing his typical type of villain. Jackson gives Valentine a bit of a lisp and cockiness to offset Gazelle’s tough, killer instinct, and cool swords for legs.

 

Walton Goggins as Laugher – American Ultra

Walton Goggins is one of my favorite underrated actors working today. Any time he pops in a movie I’m drawn more to his character and what’s going on. While his character doesn’t get a ton of screen time until the last act of the movie, it was still memorable enough for me to put him on the list.

 

Honorable Mentions

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser/Blofield – Spectre

Ed Harris as Shawn Maguire – Run All Night

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe – Mad Max: Fury Road

Jack Black as (voice) Slappy – Goosebumps

James Spader as Ultron – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Rose Byrne as Rayna Boyanov – Spy

Sean Harris as Solomon Lane – Mission: Impossible – Rouge Nation

‘The Martian’ Review

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Director: Ridley Scott

Writer(s): Drew Goddard

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Askel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejifor

Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit, and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Andy Weir, director Ridley Scott takes the helm of telling a story of probably someone’s worst fear: being left behind alone on a different planet. Scott has been on slump lately, but The Martian is the film that may get him back on track.

 

The film really jumps right into the action and story. The film take place on Sol 18 (“Sol” is a Martian day) of a 31-Sol mission on Mars. Astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) and his fellow Ares III crewmembers are hit by a storm sooner than they anticipated. Seeing that they are left with no choice, Commander Lewis (Chastain) orders the crew to leave Mars, but while the crew attempts to escape, the storm hits and Watney is struck by debris and vanishes into the storm. Lewis stays back a bit to search for him, but the crew eventually assumes he’s dead and leaves. Of course, Watney survives – not without getting impaled in the stomach – and makes his way back to their base of operations known as The Hab.

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There Watney realizes besides his biggest problem of being left behind on an isolated planet has to deal with other problems. He has no way to communicate with NASA, he doesn’t have enough food and the food he does have only will only last a few weeks, and finally, the next mission to Mars won’t arrive for four years. So left on the planet with nothing but wits and need to survive, he’s going to, as he puts it, “science the shit out of this.”

I actually read Andy Weir’s book prior to watching the film and Ridley Scott and writer Drew Goddard keep the spirit of the novel intact, and while changes were made The Martian is a pretty faithful adaptation. The film leaves out a good chuck of the science that Watney talks and does about his time on Mars, and what he does to make sure he doesn’t run oxygen, water, or food. Instead, Scott focuses more on the immediacy of the issue that Watney faces, and while some of the science is there, it’s scattered throughout, and the focus becomes how Watney will survive on Mars and what NASA is doing to save him. It’s really a bad move really, even though the film marks in at about two and half hours.

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Despite this, a film like this lives and dies with the lead, and Matt Damon’s Mark Watney is great. Damon may have not been on everyone’s wish list to play Watney, but Damon brings everything to the character that he can and that task is not easy. Damon is pretty much alone for the whole film and thanks to Damon’s always reliable acting chops. We feel for Watney and want to root for him. The other thing that Damon brings to Watney, and the film that will surprise some people, is humor. The Martian is surprisingly funny and filled with humor throughout. If you’re wondering how Watney doesn’t go crazy – and how the humor comes into play – Watney video records everything for NASA’s log and much like a scientist, he is documenting everything he does taking us along for the ride.

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While The Martian is on Damon’s shoulders to carry, a lead is only as good as their supporting characters, and the film has great supporting characters and actors. The Ares III crew chemistry is solid and you believe that these people have been together for months with the banter being fresh and quick. Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis is the stern and no-nonsense leader, Michael Pena’s Martinez, the pilot, shares most if not all the banter between Watney and its pretty damn great to hear and watch. Sebastian Stan’s Beck, the doctor, and Askel Hennie’s Vogel, the chemist get lost in the shuffle a bit, but have their moments. Finally, Kate Mara’s Johanssen, the tech, gets her moment to shine too, but with Pena and Chastain getting more of the attention, she also gets lost.

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The NASA and Earth characters are as great as Damon. Jeff Daniels plays Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA, and is looking out the agency as a whole and while his decisions may look like he’s being a hard-ass or the suit bad guy, Daniels gives Sander a special feel. Chiwetel Ejifor’s Vincent Kapoor plays the Mars Missions supervisor and has some great moments especially when he’s across Daniels and Sean Bean’s Mitch Henderson, who is the Ares III’s supervisor. Anytime the three characters are together, the scenes pop because everyone is trying to pull the power away from each other. The scenes also bring the two different sides of the argument that people would face if this ever happened.

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Kristen Wiig plays NASA spokesperson Annie Montrose who has some funny scenes and honestly, I thought was great casting, although I wished they kept more of her lines from the book. Mackenzie Davis plays Mindy Park, who is the first to discover that Watney is alive on Mars and keeps track on him through satellites. Finally Donald Glover and Benedict Wong plays an astrodynamics engineer that tries to figure out a way to bring Watney home and an engineer that works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that tries to communicate with Watney on Mars and brings up an idea that could get Watney more food.

The Martian won’t be for everyone. The film does follow Watney as he’s on Mars and tries to survive, and while it’s great to see how he does it and not go crazy, the film is a slow burn and moves at pace that could make people lose focus. However, the pacing and the editing between Earth and Mars should make the film go by fasting that it really is.

All in all, The Martian is a great human story about survival. What helps the film is the great cast, especially Matt Damon who carries the film with ease, and director Ridley Scott who shots the film in such a way that it does make you think they shot the film on Mars. The Martian is definitely one of the best films of the year.

 

The Martian

5 out of 5

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‘Interstellar’ Review

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Dir: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, David Gyasi, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, and Michael Caine

Synopsis: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

Christopher Nolan is back behind the director’s chair and he didn’t take the easy. Nolan decided to tackle doing about a movie about wormhole travel and finding a new home for the human race in a different galaxy. It’s really heavy stuff and maybe a bit too much. Interstellar has some great things about but sometimes the movie should have slowed down to allow us to catch up with some of the scientifically information.

 

Let’s try to put Interstellar in simple terms. Cooper (McConaughey) is a former pilot and engineer who now farms corn, which is Earth’s last sustainable crop. All the other crops have been hit with “The Blight”, which has killed every crop around and has caused massive dust storms. During one of the storms, Cooper’s daughter Murph (Foy) gets a message from her supposed “ghost” trying to talk to her, but it ends being something else. The message eventually leads them to a secret base and find out there is a mission to save humanity and find a new home, in a different galaxy. Cooper eventually joins scientist Amelia Brand (Hathaway), Doyle (Bentley), and Romilly (Gyasi) to travel through a wormhole near Saturn and find their new home.

 

Simple right? Wrong. The major obstacle is the theory of relativity. If they spend too much time in one world it could equal years back on Earth. Time is not on their side, so they have to work fast or their will be no one on Earth left to save.

 

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Young Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

 

As I mentioned, Interstellar is cramped with a lot of stuff. The world that Nolan has made puts us in an undated future where farmers are the most important job in American and the military is basically no more and replaced with cool looking robots. And I can’t even begin to describe all the science material and theory, but I will say the movie does a great job of making sure you know what’s going on and doesn’t lose you when it starts going on its long exposition.

 

It’s also one of those movies that you should go into not really knowing much about, especially with the final act. The film is a tad long but is engaging enough that you stick with it and want to know if the mission will end well and see where they go. It’s really exciting stuff and could leave you asking questions about the possibility of this happening and what would you do.

 

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Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and Cooper (McConaughey)

 

The acting is great here, which is no surprise since Nolan has a way getting performances from his actors. McConaughey, even though he was a pilot and engineer, his Cooper character is kind of like the everyman in this situation, but he does know what he’s talking about on some occasions. Anne Hathaway gets some standout sequences at the middle of the movie while her father character Michael Caine playing Professor Brand is always great but doesn’t do much here.

 

Mackenzie Foy plays young Murph, and does a tremendous job even though most of her screen time is limited to the first half hour/forty-five minutes of the movie, but she leaves her mark. Jessica Chastain plays the older Murph in the last half of the movie and does pretty well with what she’s given. Older Murph ends up as Professor Brand’s assistant and helps him with his work.

 

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Jessica Chastain as (Older) Murphy

 

The rest of cast is hit-or-miss but feel like they are there so that McConaughey and Hathaway can play off of. Wes Bentley and David Gyasi as the other two scientists chew up scenery as they delve into all the material. John Lithgow plays Cooper’s father-in-law and Topher Grace pops up as Chastain’s helper but doesn’t bring much to the role. Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart voice the two robot helpers that bring some surprising humor to the film in TARS and CASE. Finally, Matt Damon shows up right before the final act as one of the scientists and explores that have done through before Cooper’s team. His character adds an element to the film that will probably make question some of the events of the film and what the whole mission is about.

 

The special effects however are something to see. Nolan and the special effects department really bought their A-game to the film. The overall look of the film is great and the wormhole stuff is unique to see. Even the worlds that are created like world of mountain waves that have been promoted in every ad or the ice world that is seen in the trailers as well, everything feels real and makes the viewing even more enjoyable.

 

All in all, Interstellar isn’t perfect and does lose a bit of steam in the third act, which also might even cause some viewers to tune out and lose them completely. However, overall it is a quality film with great performances and special effects. I happen to see the film in IMAX and I honestly think that is the best way to watch it.

 

 

Interstellar

4.5 out of 5

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