‘Halloween’ Review

Director: David Gordon Green

Writers: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride & Jeff Fradley

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Judy Greer, James Jude Courtney, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall, Toby Huss, Virginia Gardener, Dylan Arnold, Miles Robbins, Drew Scheid, Jibrail Nantambu, Haluk Bilginer, Nick Castle and Will Patton

Synopsis: Laurie Strode comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.

 

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

 

In 1978, legendary director John Carpenter gave us one of the best horror movies in Halloween, and gave us one of the most iconic characters in film, even to this day, in The Shape aka Michael Myers. It’s a real testament to the movie and Carpenter for what it and he was able to do with Halloween, especially considering the movie wasn’t a big studio movie, but rather an independent movie. Halloween was made on the cheap, and yet, it has had a tremendous staying power over the years that can’t be explained.

Sadly, not all the movies in the franchise have been great. Carpenter never really wanted Halloween to become a franchise, but he was asked to write a sequel with Debra Hill – who also co-wrote the first movie. He ended up making it a family affair when he made Myers and Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode siblings. Halloween II was then suppose to end the Myers character, but Hollywood wanted more. We got a different Halloween story with Season of the Witch, but audiences wanted more Myers, and that’s what they got, and that’s where things got bad. Going from continuing the family affair, adding a supernatural cult, bringing back Laurie Strode as it ignored the cult storyline, to remaking them with Rob Zombie, Halloween has come a long way to get back to this point.

That’s why many were surprised and curious to see what horror production banner Blumhouse would do with the property, especially since Jason Blum was able to get John Carpenter back to the franchise. The biggest question mark was who they got to direct, David Gordon Green, and co-write, Danny McBride. However, their idea was said to be okayed by the man himself, Mr. John Carpenter. This new Halloween is a sequel to Carpenter’s first movie, and will ignore everything after it. So, is the wait worth it? Or is Halloween an over-hyped sequel?

Forty years after the events of Halloween, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has waited for the day that Michael Myers aka The Shape (played by original actor Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney) would escape custody after being caught for the murder of her friends on Halloween night. The movie starts off with podcasters Aaron (Jefferson Hall) and Dana (Rhian Rees) visiting Michael the day before he’s to be transferred to serve the rest of this time. From there they visit Laurie, who has become a recluse, who lives in the middle of nowhere, and has modified her house for a potential attack.

It’s there that we learn what Laurie has been doing since that fateful night. We learn that she’s been married twice, and had her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) taken from her at the age of twelve. The two have an estranged relationship, but it’s Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson (newcomer Andi Matichak), who tries to keep some kind of relationship with her. However, almost everyone sees her as a basket case, and no one wants to hear about Michael Myers anymore. Unfortunately for them, Michael Myers does escape, and comes back to Haddonfield to continue his murderous ways.

I have a very special place in my heart for John Carpenter’s Halloween, mainly because it was the first horror movie I ever watched. Not only that, I still to this day, get chills when I hear that iconic theme music. So needless to say, I was looking forward to this and seeing what McBride and Gordon Green would bring to the table that made Carpenter come back after all these years. Turns out, it was still a family affair after all.

Halloween does a great job establishing the relationship of this broken family. Jamie Lee Curtis does a hell of a job playing Laurie again. Gone is the woman who was a victim and dragging herself away from her attacker. In her place is a strong and ready survivor who prayed everyday that Michael would break out so she could kill him. That doesn’t mean that she’s cold and heartless, no, we see the effects that night had on her, and how her actions affected the relationships around her. The relationship between her and Greer’s Karen doesn’t have too much screen time, but it has enough to make its point, and make you care for them by the time the third act rolls around. Then there’s Matichak’s Allyson, who I wished had a little more do to. Sure her character is almost a mirror image of Laurie from the first movie, but for the most part, she acts as the middle-woman between her mother and grandmother.

The rest of the supporting cast is hit-and-miss. Toby Huss plays Allyson’s father Ray, who comes off as the awkwardly funny day/comic relief, which is welcomed especially considering the rest of the movie is pretty heavy. Rees and Hall as the podcasters serve their roles well, but don’t really standout too much. Virginia Gardner, Dylan Arnold and Drew Scheid play friends of Allyson, but the only one that really stands out to me is Gardner’s Vicky, who ends up babysitting Jibrail Nantambu’s Julian in one of the better comic relief scenes in the movie.

We have the always reliable Will Patton playing Officer Hawkins, whose character was apparently there when they took Michael Myers to prison after the events of the first movie. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really do too much with that, and even when it does it feels like an afterthought or is too rushed. Finally, we have James Jude Courtney playing The Shape/Michael Myers – Castle only plays Michael in one scene – and he does a tremendous job. This Michael is everything that John Carpenter wanted him to be, pure evil. Michael Myers shows no remorse in this movie, and some of the kills some might find borderline over-the-top, but for you gore fans, there is a plenty for you to like.

Now, not everything is good. The one real misstep in the movie is an out of nowhere twist that really makes no damn sense. In a way, it meant to get Michael where he’s suppose to be to confront Laurie, but it happens so out of the blue and with no real build-up that it slows the movie down and takes you out of everything that happened. There also the subplot, or lack thereof, of Allyson and her boyfriend played by Dylan Arnold, that again, feels like it happens only to get her alone and run for the third act. Speaking of the confrontation – this isn’t a bad part of the movie – it is a long, tension-filled sequence that is brutal and well worth the wait.

All in all, Halloween is a worthwhile sequel, and the first proper sequel – besides Halloween II – to John Carpenter’s classic horror film. Jamie Lee Curtis returning as Laurie Strode is both powerful and vulnerable, The Shape/Michael Myers is scary again and the score in the film, done by Carpenter, his son and Daniel A. Davies is amazing and totally fits into this new movie. Of course, the movie will be probably divide some fans, but for me, I really enjoyed what they did and I can’t wait to see what they do after this.  Also, for those worried about McBride’s humor being too much for the movie, don’t worry, it’s not all entirely there.

Halloween

4 out of 5

‘A Quiet Place’ Review

Director: John Krasinski

Writers: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski

Cast: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and John Krasinski

Synopsis: A family is forced to live in silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound.

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

Silence in horror films is always used in two ways. One, it’s used before a jump scare to scare the crap out of you, but since we’ve seen so many horror films we can predict those most of the time. Two, a way to set something up – most likely before a jump scare right before the killer or monster pulls a character out of their hiding place. But, what John Krasinski has done for A Quiet Place, his first directed horror film mind you, is something special. Not only the movie mostly a silent film, but silence almost feels like its own character.

A Quiet Place follows a small family of father Lee (John Krasinski), mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their two children, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds) – although their names are never said during the movie, only in the credits – as they try to survive after creatures have destroyed, what seems like most of the country. What makes matters worse, is the creatures are attracted to sound, so staying silent is key to surviving this new world. However, staying silent isn’t as easy as you think.

I’ll start off by saying, if you are not a fan of slow-burning horror, you probably won’t enjoy most of A Quiet Place, especially since most of the movie is silent, and most of the dialogue is said through sign language. It also takes a while to become a full-blown monster movie. That being said, that’s one of the reasons why I loved the film. A Quiet Place also works as a drama, and an effective one, because we get to know the characters from the very beginning and we care about them enough until the credits roll.

However, credit where credit is due to John Krasinski, who has only directed two feature films. Both have fallen into drama and comedy, but watching this, you would assume Krasinski has directed more than that. Not only that, you would think he’d directed some horror movies. His decision to make this a nearly silent movie is both ambitious and a risk, and one that completely pays off in the end. Even some of the decisions he makes his characters take, like creating a system with light bulbs to let others know the monsters are nearby, or even creating a sound suppressing box for the baby. Of course, there’s more, but that’s getting into spoiler territory.

Top that off with the cast he was able to get. Krasinski’s father figure tries his best to protect his family and even teaches his young son how to catch fish, which isn’t even the most touching scene in the movie. Emily Blunt as the mother is absolutely fantastic in this, and pretty much gets the most out of the movie, as her character is pregnant for most of the movie (not really a spoiler guys). Newcomer, Millicent Simmonds, as the daughter has a very prominent role that thankfully wasn’t spoiled in the trailers, so I won’t even hint at it here either. Unfortunately, Noah Jupe doesn’t get enough development, but out of everyone, he does have the best fear face (is that a thing?).

When it comes to the monsters, it takes a long while before we get a get look at what they look like. The design is rather interesting, especially once you realize that Krasinski actually changed the design at the last minute, and while the monsters probably aren’t ground-breaking new they are extremely vicious.

All in all, A Quiet Place is an effective horror thriller, and even a drama. Using silence as a key element has been done before, but I’ve personally never seen it the way Krasinski used it here in the film. The film only has a few minor missteps, but nothing that really takes away from the film. Personally, I loved A Quiet Place, and this is how horror thrillers should be done in my book.

A Quiet Place

4.5 out of 5

Spoiler-Filled Review of ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’

I spoil review Transformers: The Last Knight on another addition of The Movie Pit Podcast, and it doesn’t go well. I do swear and yell a lot, so you have been warned. Also, check out the link below because the podcast is now on Itunes!

 

Podcast Itunes Link  – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-movie-pit-podcast/id1249582608?mt=2

 

Spoiler-Filled Review Podcast for Wonder Woman and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

The Movie Pit Podcast is back with spoiler-filled reviews for the animated adaptation of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie and the highly anticipated and much-talked about new addition to the DC Extended Universe, Wonder Woman. So sit back, take a listen and let me know what you think.

 

‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ Review

Directors: Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg

Writer: Jeff Nathanson

Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and Paul McCartney

Synopsis: Captain Jack Sparrow searches for the Trident of Poseidon.

 

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

*Reviewer Note 2: There is a post-credit scene.*

 

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has been an interesting one for me. I really enjoyed the first film, the second film was okay for what it was and the third film felt like it was an hour too long – I don’t even acknowledge the last film. So, when Dead Men Tell No Tales was announced I was a little hesitant about watching it. But, then they released the first teaser and I loved it. It gave me some faith for the new film. Now after watching it, I was kind of right. Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t a return to form, but it does make some of the right steps to bring it back.

The film starts off with a young Henry Turner, the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who goes out every night to find his father and tell him he’s going to find a way to break his father’s curse. The only way to do that is to find the Trident of Poseidon, which is said to give the bearer total control of the seas. We skip forward in time and find out someone else besides Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is trying to find the Trident in Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an accused witch – who’s really an astronomer. However, their search for the Trident gets them mixed up with the undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) who has been broken free of his confinement and Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush), who is once again a pirate trotting the seas with his new crew collecting treasure. Of course, all of them have one person in common: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).

Dead Men Tell No Tales feels like the first film. There’s a blooming romance between Henry and Carina, although it doesn’t help that Thwaites isn’t a great lead actor. Also, the film makes sure that Johnny Depp isn’t the main character – sure he’s the big name of the film and Jack Sparrow has become a pop culture figure, but Jack wasn’t the real lead in the Pirates films, it was who he was following – another reason why Stranger Tides didn’t work. Speaking of Depp’s Jack Sparrow, he’s essentially become a parody of what the character was from the first film which is a shame because his character doesn’t really add anything to the franchise anymore and comes off as a bit annoying. Although, the name of Captain Jack Sparrow is essentially what it’s become in the movie – a revered pirate is nothing more than a drunk, selfish lowlife that is a shell of his former self.

The rest of the cast is fine with Javier Bardem playing a fine villain, who is dead because of Jack before he became the infamous pirate we saw in Curse of the Black Pearl. Geoffrey Rush is always having fun playing Barbosa, but he gets to add some of his more dramatic chops and is also involved in a shoehorned in storyline that could have been more effective if it was touched on earlier than it was. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley do appear in glorified cameos that don’t really add anything to the story, other than Bloom’s scene with a young Henry.

All in all, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is much better than the last film as it follows other characters that aren’t just Jack Sparrow. The film does lack some awesome sword fights and ship battles that made the first two films so great, but Dead Men Tell No Tales is a promising return to form if Disney decides to do more.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

3 out of 5

‘Power Rangers’ Review

Director: Dean Israelite

Writer: John Gatins

Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bill Hader, David Denman and Bryan Cranston

Synopsis: A group of high-school kids, who are infused with unique superpowers, harness their abilities in order to save the world.

 

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

*Reviewer Note 2: There is a post-credit scene.*

 

Power Rangers, if you’re like me and of the same age, that means something to you. Of course, the Power Rangers have gone through different incarnations since 1993, but that should show you that, not only is the brand still going strong, but it has a connection with people of every age. So when word broke that Hollywood was taking another stab at a big screen version of the Power Rangers, fans were concerned, intrigued and happy to see where this would go. So, does this new version of the Power Rangers work? Yes, yes it does.

Like mostly every incarnation of the heroes, the film follows five teenagers who are misfits in their own way. There’s Jason (Dacre Montgomery), a now former football star who gets into an accident at the beginning of the film ruining the school’s chances of a championship; Billy (RJ Cyler), who is mildly autistic in this version; Kimberly, the popular one who now finds herself outside her popularity; Zack (Ludi Lin), who is a bit of an adrenaline junkie and is a caregiver for his mother; and Trini (Becky G), the new girl who doesn’t fit in with her “normal” parents.

One night all of them come together, by chance, and find mysterious colored coins which end up giving them special abilities. When they go back to the site they found the coins, they find an abandoned spaceship where they meet the android Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader) and Zordon (Bryan Cranston), who tells them they have been chosen to be the Power Rangers. Moreover, they have to train because the evil force of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) has risen again and is in search of the powerful Zeo Crystals to destroy the world.

Power Rangers takes the basic premise of the first series – well, the American one anyway – and pulls concepts from other incarnations to reboot the whole thing and make it more modern and change the mythology we all know and love, which surprisingly works. The film feels like a mix of The Breakfast Club and Chronicle, but the story and characters stand on their own. Sure they have to save the world, but the characters try to find themselves amongst strangers, a mysterious head in a wall and a weird looking robot. Their journey is what keeps us engaged until we see them suit up. It’s a story that we can probably all connect to in our own way, but it’s the cast that makes it worth it.

For a group of relative unknowns, they did an awesome job making us by their characters. Dacre Montgomery’s Jason isn’t the typical jock although buying him as the leader was a little hard to buy at first, Naomi Scott’s Kimberly isn’t the Kimberly we all remember but carries something with her, Ludi Lin’s Zack is completely different from what we remember, but the caretaker aspect is an interesting one, Becky G’s Trini is the much talked about LGBTQ character, and while I was turned off by her attitude at first, she grew on me as the film went on. RJ Cyler’s Billy will undoubtedly be a fan favorite, and arguably is the heart of the film along with Bill Hader’s Alpha 5, which design is much better and less distracting once you see it move around. Bryan Cranston’s Zordon is perfect, but it’s Elizabeth Banks who fails on some levels. While she’s a bit of wildcard in terms of you never know what she’s going to do, she doesn’t really feel like a villain until the end. It’s nothing against Banks herself, but her Rita was just a little underwhelming for me. Oh, and Goldar is, well, he’s what we see in the trailers.

The film’s tone is also great. It’s got the right amount of cheesiness, humor, coming-of-age style and realness a new modern version Power Rangers needed. Sometimes the tone can be all over the place, but overall it’s pretty spot on. One scene, that is a great scene, but it came at a weird place is when the team start to really get to know each other. One complaint I know many will have is the amount of time the group have in the actual Ranger suits. It doesn’t come until the final act of the film, but I would say the team does deserve to earn the suits, which makes the wait for it to actually happen worth it.

All in all, Power Rangers is a great film for fans of the Power Rangers. The cast is great, the tone is spot on for the majority of the film along with the cheesiness the film needs. Also, for a film that is over two hours, it went by like a breeze. It’s also a great way to introduce new fans to the group of heroes we all loved as kids – and maybe even still to this day. It’s morphin’ time!

Power Rangers

4.5 out of 5

Worst/Disappointing/Least-Liked Movies of the 2016

It’s the end of the year boys and girls, you know what that means? It’s list time!

I’ll put up my list of “Best/Favorite” movies of the year later, but with all those good/great/awesome movies I have, I had to sit through some stinkers unfortunately. Some of these I knew weren’t going to be any good walking in, but I ended up taking the hit anyway. The list ranges all over the place so don’t think I’m attacking certain movies because it’s easy. I walk into every movie with a clear mind and soaking up the movie for what it’s worth.

The list will have the movies in alphabetical order, just to be fair, and because I really don’t want to go through the trouble anymore of picking a number one because they weren’t good enough to make it on my other list. Like all lists, this is my opinion! So if you don’t agree that’s perfectly fine and probably justified. Film is subjective, and that’s why I love it.

Finally, there are other movies that could have gone on the list, but these are the ones that truly stuck out. Alright, let’s get this over with.

 

Dishonorable Mentions

Ben-Hur

Masterminds

Siren

 

 

Disappointments/Least-Liked/Worst Movies of the Year

Anitbirth (IFC Midnight/Traverse Media/Hideaway Pictures)

This is one of the many films I watched at the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival in August, and having heard nothing about the film or even watching a trailer, I didn’t know what was coming. I probably should have watched the trailer, because I didn’t like this movie. At all! I didn’t feel anything for the characters, and the story felt like it was going nowhere. The ending, oh man the ending, it literally came out of nowhere, and while the ending would have been shocking if the story hadn’t been bad, it didn’t help matters whatsoever. I know I said I wouldn’t label too many of the films, but this is easily one of my worst films of the year. Maybe the worst.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Warner Bros./RatPac-Dune Entertainment/Atlas Entertainment/DC Entertainment)

This one may take the cake for the biggest disappointment of the year. Despite finally bringing two of the biggest comic book characters on the big screen for the first time, the film was filled with poor editing decisions along with being too crowed for its own good. Zack Snyder said the film was cut severely, but that shouldn’t mean a movie should suffer. While seeing Batman and Superman duke it out was nice to finally see on the big screen, it wasn’t enough to pick this movie up. Also, it doesn’t matter – I mean it does – but why would I sit through a movie again that’s longer to see the difference(talking about that “Extended Cut” on Blu-Ray).

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Blair Witch (Lionsgate/Veritgo Entertainment/Snoot Entertainment/Room 101)

What we all thought was just another found footage movie called The Woods actually ended up being a surprise sequel to The Blair Witch Project. The film was directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) and his usual writing partner Simon Barrett –the previously films mentioned – and that had me from the very beginning. I’m a huge fan of those two, and when it was announced that the film was really Blair Witch, I was both hesitant and excited. Taking into account the film was riding high in praise it was getting in early screening, the end result was a mixed bag – being mostly negative. While the film tried to connect to the spirit of the first film, including revving up the finale, it just didn’t have that same connection the first film made. Some parts were interesting, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it was executed well.

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Gods of Egypt (Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment/Mystery Clock Cinema/Thunder Road Pictures)

Gods of Egypt was one of those movies I was excited to watch when it was announced, and when the cast came together with director Alex Proyas, I thought this has to be good, right? Turns out, I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Filled with very questionable (to put it very lightly) CGI throughout, the film felt more like a glorified SyFy Channel movie than it did a big budget Hollywood movie. It didn’t help that despite the pretty good cast, they couldn’t save this either. Dumb fun popcorn film at its finest, but still COME ON!

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Independence Day: Resurgence (20th Century Fox)

Oh boy, this was…ugh. The sequel was something many fans have been wanting for a long time, and I’m sure Resurgence destroyed any hope of getting a worthy sequel. The film had its moments, but only a few to be honest. It just was bad. I mean, I could point out the things I didn’t like with this movie or what was wrong, but that’s too much to write. Also, the more I thought about the film afterward – even know as I’m writing this – I can feel myself getting angry.

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The 5th Wave (Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures/GK Films/LStar Capital/Material Pictures)

Based on the book by Ricky Yancy, The 5th Wave had a good set-up and source material to set it just a tad apart from the other young adult novel adaptation out there. I read the first book way before the film came out and was looking forward to seeing what they were going to do with this. Unfortunately, the film was bland, and felt way too generic for its own good. It never felt like anything was really happening even when it was, and one of its supposed standout twist moments involving a character reveal was to dark to see what was going on. A big disappointment considering what the book had to offer.

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The Neon Demon (Amazon Studios/Broad Green Pictures/Bold Films/Vendian Entertainment/Space Rocket Nation)

Oh, Nicolas Winding Refn. For me, Refn is a hit-or-miss director for the films I’ve seen. I really liked Bronson and Drive, but Valhalla Rising I couldn’t even finish, and I’ve heard nothing but bad things from Only God Forgives. When it came to The Neon Demon, I didn’t know what to anticipate, and even while I was watching it, I thought, what the hell am I watching? So The Neon Demon wasn’t even a disappointment, least-liked or bad movie, it just was a movie I watched that had its very Refn-esque moments, and some what the hell did I just watch moments.

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Triple 9 (Open Road Films/Anonymous Content/Worldview Entertainment/MadRiver Pictures)

Triple 9 had a lot of good things going for it with an amazing cast and a great director in John Hillcoat (The Road). So it’s a shame that the film ended up being a bit of a disappointment. The film had some great potential, and while the film does live up to some of it, it didn’t capitalize on what the film promised or what it could have been.

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Suicide Squad (Warner Bros./DC Entertainment/RatPac-Dune Entertainment/Atlas Entertainment/Lin Pictures)

If Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a disappointment, Suicide Squad just added to it. I didn’t get on the hate train like a lot of other people did. I liked most of it, and I thought some parts worked, but I couldn’t get over all the missteps the film had to make it good or even great. To even say it was better than Dawn of Justice (the theater cut) isn’t even saying that much either. I didn’t hate Suicide Squad, and while I had more fun watching this than Dawn of Justice, I can’t honestly say I loved it either. Also, Jared Leto’s Joker: ugh.

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Warcraft (Universal Pictures/Legendary Pictures/Blizzard Entertainment/Atlas Entertainment)

I never played the games myself, but I knew how big the game was to some people. I also knew this film was in the works for a long time – Sam Raimi was originally attached to direct for a while – so finally seeing this on the big screen was a big deal. Unfortunately, for me, the movie didn’t click for me. The film at times felt too much like it was catering to the fans then casual or non-game fans, which is something I always thought the film shouldn’t have done. I didn’t dislike Warcraft, some of it was pretty good, but overall, the film felt jumbled at times and I had a hard time connecting to some of the characters.

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All right, so there are my worst, disappointments, least-liked films of the year. What were some of yours?

Be on the lookout for my other lists coming out soon.

‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ Review

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Director: David Yates

Writer: J.K. Rowling

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Alison Sudol, Carmen Ejogo, Samantha Morton, Ron Perlman and Jon Voight

Synopsis: The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.

 

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

 

J.K. Rowling, her first feature film credit, and David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter films, have returned to bring all of us back to the Wizarding World, and for the most part, it feels pretty great to go back. It also helps that the film is set many years before the events of Harry Potter, so we get to see essentially a brand new world of magic and characters. Of course the action now takes place in American, rather than England, but the new characters and world are fun and enlightening in their way. However, and unfortunately, if you’re not familiar too much with Rowling’s history and lore she’s created, you might be a bit in the dark on some things, which does hinder the experience just a bit.

The film takes place in New York, 1926, as Newt Scamander (Redmayne) arrives by boat with his magical suitcase that happens to hold bevy, well, fantastic beasts. However, as he makes his way through the city his suitcase gets mixed up with a “No-Maj,” what the American Magic Community call their humans with no magic opposed to the word Muggle, in Jacob Kowalski (Fogler). When Jacob accidentally opens the case, many of Newt’s beasts get out and run rampant around New York. This gets the attention of Tina Goldstein (Waterston), who works for the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA). During this, head Auror (think security/magic cops) Percival Graves (Farrell) leans on a young troubled man, Credence (Miller) for help to find someone, or something, that is attacking New York City that might cause the magic world and human to go to war. All of this is happening while the looming threat of a dangerous wizard makes his way to America.

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So as you can see, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has a lot going on, and because of that, the film does stumble a bit to keep it all together and moving smoothly. There’s Newt’s storyline about tracking his beasts down with the help of Jacob, that eventually bleeds into Newt and Jacob meeting Tina and her sister Queenie (Sudol). There’s Graves and Credence’s story that is a culmination of Credence’s story and there’s the MACUSA, lead by President Seraphina Picquery, who have the looming threat of the dangerous and powerful wizard Grindelwald, who is briefly seen in the beginning, and will be the new big bad for this series of films. Each have their fair share of screen time, but everything still feels underdeveloped. Of course, knowing there are at least four sequels coming, it makes some sense, but doesn’t make it okay – Especially if people aren’t familiar with the history and lore.

Of course that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop you from enjoying the film because it is really enjoyable, especially when it relies on the humor, and of course, the titular fantastic beasts. People will definitely get a kick out of the creatures and beasts that have some really cool designs and lead some of the funniest and great moments in the film, including one particular creature that is introduced early in the film. Some of the dark themed material is interesting too, and again, is a bit underdeveloped but I would have loved to see more of that in the film considering the time period and how strict the magic community is in America.

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The cast chemistry is pretty solid, and one that we invest in right away. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is equal parts awkward but caring toward the creatures in his case, almost as if he rather be around them than people. That is until he meets Jacob, played by Dan Fogler, who I would arguable say is one of the highlights of the film, and even steals the show – at least human wise. Jacob is also pretty much our surrogate for the film, but also one that is a vital character to how No-Maj’s probably view the world they don’t understand.

The magic community is constantly trying to keep their world hidden from the human world, and it’s something that is on the verge of breaking because of the attacks Grindelwald has been doing. This connects to Ezra Miller’s character Credence, because he’s the adopted son of a Mary Lou, the leader of the Second Salemers, who look to expose the wizarding world saying they are all evil, and that being said, she isn’t the nicest person either. However, when we go to Jacob, he doesn’t see the wizards or creatures he encounters as evil. He is scared when he first encounters them – as all of us should and would be – but he’s more in awe and amazed by them, which leads to the great relationship between him and Newt.

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Katherine Waterston continues to prove she belongs on the big screen and can handle big characters. Although she is sworn by duty to bring in Newt and his briefcase, she eventually knows that Newt is kind hearted and helps him. Alison Sudol’s Queenie is a rather interesting and wide-eyed character who has never meant a No-Maj before. Ezra Miller, who should have had more screen time makes a worthy and worthwhile impression as his tortured soul character. Colin Farrell is always reliable, and is so here, but again, I wish we had more time with his character. Carmen Ejogo as the “President” of Magic doesn’t do much in the film, Jon Voight is in the film for literally three scenes, and while it feels like he’s character is important – and it is in a sense – the storyline is quickly dealt with, which feels rather odd and like a cheat.

While I had fun watching the film, Fantastic Beasts does have some odd pacing and tonal shifts. One moment we go from a fun and humorous moment and then suddenly go to a dark and ominous scene. While I can see what they were trying to do, it was a bit jarring the first time, and it happens more than once.

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All in all, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a good start to a new franchise, however, not without its drawbacks and missteps. If you’re not too familiar with the history and lore that’s not just in the books, you will be a little lost, but thankfully J.K. Rowling probably knew that. This new batch of characters and creatures is a magical – pun intended – bunch, and while I had my reservation about the film, I’m interested in seeing where his new story will take me.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

4 out of 5

December Movie Releases

It’s December, ladies and gentlemen!

The year is almost over! How has your year been, because it’s been a great year for films huh? The month is a bit “light” in terms of releases per week, but it’s not like that matters since those releases are pretty damn huge *cough* Star Wars *cough* but it’s still should be great to see unfold. So let’s jump right in the films that will close out the year.

 

Also, Happy Whatever-It-Is-You-Celebrate!

 

4th

Limited Release: Chi-Raq

Spike Lee’s new film, which is riddled with controversy due to the title – especially here in Chicago – is finally coming out. The film is actually a modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago. The film has a more impressive cast than I thought in Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, and Samuel L. Jackson.  In all honestly, I don’t think I’ll watch it, only because it doesn’t look that interesting to me.

 

Limited Release: Macbeth

Based on the Shakespearian play of the same name, Macbeth (played by Michael Fassbender), a duke of Scotland receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife (played by Marion Cotlliard), Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself. However, he becomes suspicious of everyone and does what he can to keep his kingdom and his throne safe. The film looks amazing and way better than I thought it would and is getting great reviews as well. This jumped way up in my must-watch list. The film also stars Elizabeth Debicki, Sean Harris, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Paddy Considine and David Hayman.

 

Limited Release: Hitchock/Truffaut

The film has filmmakers like Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, and Martin Scorsese to name a few, as they discuss how Francois Truffaut’s 1966 book “Cinema According to Hitchcock” influenced their work. The documentary has gotten some good word of mouth at film festivals so hopefully it finds a bigger audience.

 

The Letters

A drama that explores the life of Mother Teresa (played by Juliet Stevenson) through letters she wrote to her longtime friend and spiritual advisor, Father Celeste van Exem (Max von Sydow) over a nearly 50-year period. The film looks like it’s going to be powerful and moving, I’m buzz is pretty high on this so we’ll see what happens. It’s not getting a huge release, but a big enough one. Priya Darshini and Rutger Hauer also star.

 

Krampus

Directed by Michael Dougherty, who directed one of my favorite horror-comedy films Trick ‘r’ Treat, goes back behind-the-camera to direct what looks like another horror comedy in Krampus. The film follows a boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon, Krampus, to his family home. The movie doesn’t look like it’s going to take itself too seriously, but will have nice moments of horror. I didn’t think I would be looking forward to this, but I am.

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11th

Limited Release: The Big Short (Wide Release December 21st)

This film pretty much came out of nowhere, since some people didn’t even know this was coming out, and it’s rather surprising since the film has a great cast in Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. The film follows four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed. The film looks pretty great and is directed by Adam McKay, yes Anchorman Adam McKay. The film also stars Marisa Tomei, Karen Gillan, Max Greenfield, John Magaro, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Finn Wittrock, and Melissa Leo

 

Legend

Tom Hardy pulls double duty playing real life identical twins gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organized crime empire in the East End of London during the 1960s. Some of the early buzz is praising Hardy’s duel performances and saying the film holds up pretty nicely, so that’s a good sign. The film also stars Emily Browning, Paul Bettany, Taron Egerton, Christopher Eccleston, and David Twelis.

 

In the Heart of the Sea

Based on the 1820 event, a whaling ship is preyed upon by a sperm whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home. The film is directed Ron Howard and has an impressive cast lead by Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Charlotte Riley, Frank Dillane, Benjamin Walke, Jordi Molla and Donald Sumpter. Basing this off the trailers the film looks intense. The story is also what inspired Moby Dick, so there is that added layer.

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18th

Limited Release: Son of Saul

The foreign film follows the horror of 1944 Auschwitz, a prisoner forced to burn the corpses of his own people finds moral survival upon trying to salvage from the flames the body of a boy he takes for his son. The film has gotten some rave reviews already, so with a “bigger” release, Son of Saul could find a bigger audience. The film stars Geza Rohrig, Levente Molnar, Urs Rechn, and Todd Charmont.

 

Alvin and the Chipmunks The Road Chip

Yes, they are making another Alvin and the Chipmunks movie (sigh). Through a series of misunderstandings, Alvin, Simon and Theodore comes to believe that Dave is going to propose to his new girlfriend in New York City – and dump them. They have three days to get to him and stop the proposal. The films aren’t really targeted toward me, but from everything I heard about the series the films aren’t that good, so I’ll be staying away from this. The voice cast includes Justin Long, Jesse McCartney, Matthew Gray Gubler, Christian Applegate, Anna Faris, and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting. The human cast includes Jason Lee, Bella Thorne, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and Tony Hale.

 

Sisters

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are two of the most beloved people in Hollywood, and every time they are together, they are great. So this should go to many people’s must-watch list as the two will play sister who decide to throw one last house party before their parents sell their family home. The film looks okay, and with Poehler and Fey, we should get a funny film, but I’m not completely sold on it just yet. Sisters also stars John Leguizamo, Maya Rudolph, Madison Davenport, Dan Byrd, Ike Barinholtz, Heather Matarazzo, John Cena, Dianne West and James Brolin.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Do I really need to put anything here? Like really? Do I? Alright. The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after Episode VI – Return of the Jedi and follows the new adventures of characters like Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), Finn (John Boyega), and Rey (Daisy Ridley) and their fight with new villains like Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). Overall, everyone is excited for this, so let’s just hope that it’s good (please be good). The film also stars Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, and Max von Sydow. The film also brings back original stars in Peter Mayhew, Warwick Davis, Anthony Davis, Kenny Baker, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.

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25th

Limited Release: The Revenant

The film will get it limited release, with a wide release in the coming week and while I don’t write up a tidbit, I figured I should here because this film looks damn fantastic. Directed by Alejandro G Inarritu, the film is set in the 1820s following Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a frontiersman, who sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki looks equally fantastic as the rest of the cast of Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Paul Anderson, and Lukas Haas.

 

Limited Release: The Hateful Eight

Again, the film will get a limited release this week and a wider release in the coming week, but this limited release has something more special than others. The film this week will be released in a special 70mm film aka how they filmed the Westerns back in the day. Of course, Quentin Tarantino would be crazy enough to film in the actual film used to shot Westerns back in the day. The film is set in post-Civil War Wynoming as a bounty hunter tries to find shelter during a blizzard but gets involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. The film also has a crazy impressive cast of Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Zoe Bell, Michal Madsen, and Bruce Dern.

 

Daddy’s Home

A step dad’s life is turned upside down, when his step-kids father comes back into their life. The comedy reunited Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell and it looks okay, but I’m not completely sold on it just yet. Maybe when it gets closer to the release I’ll think differently. The film also stars Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio, Paul Scheer, Hannibal Buress, and Thomas Haden Church.

 

Point Break

A remake of the classic 1991 film, follows the film’s basic story of FBI agent Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) infiltrating a group of thieves lead by Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez) to take them down, but starts to fall for Bodhi’s charisma. Thankfully, the remake is changing some things around by adding an extreme sports touch, and a nature-theme inspired heists. I like that it is doing its own thing, which all remakes should try to do and that’s what Point Break is doing. Also starrin is Teresa Palmer, Ray Winstone, and Delroy Lindo.

 

Joy

David O. Russell is reteaming with his Silver Linings Playbook actors Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro for this biography. The film follows a family across four generations centered on the girl, Joy, who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right. The film looks like it could be good and we know the team O. Russell puts together can lead to something great, but maybe I’m not sold on it just yet. Joy also stars Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Rohm, Drena De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen and Isabella Rossellini.

 

Concussion

Based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), the forensic neuropathologist, who made the first discovery of CTE, a football-related brain trauma, in pro players. The film looks like it’s going to be a great drama and the fact that it is a very touchy nowadays, it’s going to put this subject in a better forefront to get the message out there. The impressive casts includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Eddie Marsan, Stephen Moyer, Luke Wilson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dave Morse, Richard T. Jones, and Albert Brooks.

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So, what are you looking forward to?

‘Fantastic Four’ Review

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Dir: Josh Trank

Writer(s): Josh Trank, Jeremy Slater, and Simon Kinberg

Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Tim Blake Nelson and Reg E. Cathey.

Synopsis: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.

 

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

 

The Fantastic Four aka “Marvel’s First Family” is very beloved by many fans. However, 20th Century Fox has never really been able to nail down the characters. Tim Story’s 2005 film, and its sequel in 2007 were not received well and came off as too goofy and campy. Enter the age of gritty and darker comic book movies and Josh Trank brings his take – sort of – to the Fantastic Four with a movie more connected to science instead of science-fiction, with elements of experiments gone wrong and familiar characters. However, it’s all the behind-the-scenes drama that most people will probably remember from his reboot.

 

I don’t want to focus on the behind-the-scenes drama because if you walk in to the movie with all that in your head, as much as you want to enjoy the movie for what it is – which you should always do that – it will get to you. However, Trank isn’t completely to blame, at least according to some well place and reliable people. That being said, this review will ONLY focus on the movie and not things that unfortunately happened. I will just say this, Trank and Fox may take the hits, but at the end of day, it’s the fans that lose.

 

The movie starts off by showing us a young Reed Richards (Owen Judge) building a machine that he believes at the time to only be a teleporter. With the help from a young Ben Grimm (Evan Hannermann), the two pull it off. Up ahead seven years, an older Reed (Teller) and Ben (Bell) try to show off their invention at a science fair only to be disqualified because they think it’s a magic trick. However, Reed and Ben meet Dr. Franklin Storm (Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Mara), who sees Reed’s invention as the last piece of their own project they’ve been doing. Reed gets to go work at the Baxter Institute where he continues his work.

 

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Franklin Storm eventually brings in a resentful former worker and co-founder of the project they bought Reed into do, Victor Von Doom (Kebbell) and Johnny (Jordan) to help finish transporting to another dimension. Seeing that the machine works, and it is possible to travel safely to the alternate dimension, the project takes a bump that they didn’t see coming. So Reed calls Ben so the two, along with Victor and Johnny, can go and see their work for themselves. However, disaster hits as the four try to return and as they try to head back the four – along with Sue by accident – becoming affected with abilities they don’t know and can’t explain.

 

For all intent-and-purposes, Fantastic Four is an origin story. The characters are new version from what you’ve seen before. In fact, the movie tries to play them as teenagers. Yes, teenagers: Miles Teller, who is 28, and Jamie Bell, who is 29, are treated as that and when we see the “adult” versions of them, they are in a science fair in school. Sue is apparently the same age or maybe older, and Johnny is able to drive – the first time we see him he’s street racing – and tells his father during an encounter later in the movie that he’s in adult. Victor is the most notable adult of the five. The age issue is probably a small thing, and not the worse part of this movie, but it is odd once you think about it.

 

The nice thing about the film is, for the most part, you know who these characters are. Reed wants his work to mean something and do good for everyone, he’s not doing it for the fame. Sue wants the same thing, but goes about it for own way. Johnny wants to be his own man and doesn’t want to really follow in his father’s footsteps although he could. Victor is driven by ambition and doesn’t want his work to be messed with by anyone, especially the government.

 

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The least developed character at the start is Ben Grimm. The only thing we get from his character is that he comes from a poor income family and gets beaten up by his older brother. Once he gets turned into The Thing he becomes angry, but, he uses his anger. It’s hard to talk about it because I don’t want to get into spoilers, but there is a single shot that connects to what he’s been up to since turning The Thing, that I thought would be a great place to go and have that be a new character trait or something that can change the character that we’ve known for ages. But, no, instead it gets tossed aside and it never mentioned again.

 

I’ll say this, the first two-thirds of the movie work, even with the middle of the movie being a bit sluggish and unbalanced. Fantastic Four is a filled with action. Instead it brings the focus to the characters and dealing with their newfound abilities. Instead of automatically embracing it, they are actually scarred, especially Ben, who of course gets the worse of it. The film jumps a year after they get their powers and sees them be able to use them. It did irk me that we couldn’t see the actual scenes of them learning how to use their powers because it would have given us an extra layer to attach to, but as is some of the rest of the movie, a missed opportunity.

 

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Now, that’s the first two-thirds, and again, it isn’t that bad as many are saying it is. It’s not perfect. However, the final act of the movie is what really hurts Fantastic Four, so much so that no matter how hard I tried to not think of the behind-the-scenes problems, I thought of them, and you can clearly see some of the problems. Moreover, the final act is way too rushed and kills any sort of potential and monument the movie had. It’s almost a shame to say, because you obviously you want a movie to end strong, but Fantastic Four’s ending feels like they were doing too much in little time.

 

The cast does okay with what they are given. Miles Teller is pretty reserved here and doesn’t step foot into the typical leadership role until the very end. Kate Mara’s Sue Storm has her very brief moments to shine, but gets a little stronger as the movie goes on. Jaime Bell, again, is one of the most underdeveloped characters as human Ben Grimm and even The Thing. There was some great potential for his character, but they don’t do anything with it. Also, the CGI-d Thing isn’t too bad. It’s probably the best effect the movie has, which is saying something because some of the CGI is a bit wonky in areas.

 

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Michael B. Jordan is okay as Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch. He a certain attitude to him that makes sense when you look at everything that he goes through. Of course, everyone was up in arms when he was cast as Johnny and the question of race came up – along with some disturbing and disgusting comments – but no one batted in eye when Reg E. Cathey was cast as Franklin Storm. Anyway, the stupid argument of race doesn’t even matter at the end since Sue is the one that’s actually adopted. The adoption is bought up about twice, never to full effect, but it almost doesn’t matter. Which brings me to my next point.

 

The four never really feel like a full fledge team. Instead when they face Doom at the end, it feels like they are just teaming up because Doom is trying to kill everyone on Earth. Even when the movie tries to make it seem like they’ve always been together as a group, it feels forced. Yes, the argument could be made that it is an origin story and this is how they become the team or they haven’t earned the team at this point, but considering Sue and Johnny are supposed to be siblings, and Ben and Reed are suppose to be best childhood friends – although they only have a few scenes together and some don’t even work – the group doesn’t blend well together.

 

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As for Toby Kebbell’s Victor Von Doom aka Dr. Doom, or just Doom, well, let’s just say that it isn’t all that great. Kebbell is a great actor and is finally getting some recognition for that, but wow, did Fox mess this up. I’m even going to say that Victor is a better character than Doom, and Doom has superpowers! Maybe it was because there isn’t enough Doom in the movie, and even his short screentime isn’t the best. I think if his look was different, than the scenes of him using his powers could have been more terrifying. I’m indifferent about the look, only because of the way they went about making the look. Unfortunately, even Kebbell couldn’t save the character.

 

Reg E. Cathey is highly misused here and no thanks to some weird editing – most likely by Fox when the kicked Trank out of the editing process – is robbed of what could have been a great scene with Jordan before the final act. Tim Blake Nelson plays a greedy government official that chews up any scene he’s in, but the role is wasted on Nelson, who is a great actor, because it really adds nothing, other than have a human antagonist opposite Doom.

 

All in all, Fantastic Four is not as bad as people and critics are saying. The movie isn’t fantastic (sorry, I had to), but it isn’t terrible either. The final act of the movie does hurt the film a lot because of how rushed it feels and the terrible structure of it. The behind-the-scenes drama coming out does hurt the film a bit, but only because it is extremely noticeable in a lot of places. Also, there are quite a few shots in the trailer that seemed really cool that aren’t even in the movie! So be ready for that. Yes, Fox and Josh Trank will take the hit, but it is us the fans that suffer from all the drama. So is Fantastic Four worth watching? In most cases it is, and then the ending comes around, and then it isn’t.

 

Fantastic Four

2.5 out of 5

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