New Podcast – Baby Driver Spoiler Review & More

The Movie Pit Podcast is back recapping the slow movie news week that was. Also, I spoil review Baby Driver. Also, if Youtube is inconvenient for you to listen to the podcast, the podcast is now on ITunes. Link down below

 

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

 

‘Kong: Skull Island’ Review

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Thomas Mann, Tian Jing, Jason Mitchell, Eugene Cordero, Shea Whingham, John Ortiz, Toby Kebbell and John C. Reilly

Synopsis: A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.

 

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

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

 

King Kong is one of the most famous movie characters of all time, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood would try to bring him to the big screen as much as possible. Some have been great and some have been disappointing, but Kong: Skull Island thankfully leans more toward the great side. So, what exactly did director Jordan Vogt-Roberts do to make Kong: Skull Island a good King Kong film? Keep reading and find out.

Set during 1973, at the tail end of U.S troops pulling out of Vietnam, struggling government organization Monarch has two employees in William Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) who have a wild theory that an uncharted island could lead to major secrets. They manage to pull together a survey and mapping operation on the island with a military escort lead by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a former SAS Captain and expert tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and an antiwar photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Once they arrive to the island – and after dropping bombs to map out the island – they meet Kong (motion-captured by Toby Kebbell and Terry Notary), who isn’t happy they’re dropping bombs in his backyard.

After surviving the initial attack, the group gets separated with Packard leading some of his men in Mills (Jason Mitchell), Cole (Shea Whigham), Reles (Eugene Cordero) and Randa, while Conrad, Weaver, and Brooks are with other Monarch members in San (Tian Jing), Slivko (Thomas Mann) and Victor Nieves (John Ortiz) before they run into Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has been on the island for quite some time. What follows is both groups trying to make it off the island, avoiding Kong, but also finding out that Kong may not be the most dangerous thing there.

If you follow the news online, or are a fan of 2014’s Godzilla, Monarch is a connective tissue from the movie, and Skull Island was the studio’s way to introducing King Kong for the forthcoming mashup film between Godzilla and King Kong. However, Skull Island – thankfully – stands on its own making Kong a huge highlight and a force of nature. So since we’re talking about Kong, let’s go more into him. Obviously, Kong is someone you don’t want to mess with according the trailers. He’s king on the island as Reilly’s Marlow says, and that statement is proven the moment we meet as he takes over what felt like a dozen helicopters with ease, and going up against some of the Skull Crawlers. And when it comes to the Skull Crawlers, they do make an intimidating villains and great foes to Kong.

When it comes to the cast, they all play their part very, very well. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson have their characters fleshed out enough, while the highlights could very well go to John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson. Reilly’s Marlow has been stuck on the island for decades with the natives of the land, so his nuances are fun to watch unfold. Jackson’s characters fits into the time. Jackson is fueled by one thing after the first encounter with Kong: Find Kong and kill him. Jackson’s Packard is very much inspired by the time and films like Apocalypse Now. In fact the whole film feels a tinge like Apocalypse Now, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not so bluntly obvious that it takes away from the film. Two others that I want highlight personally is the pair of Shea Whigham and Jason Mitchell, the two have great chemistry together and is actually my favorite pairing in the film. One unfortunate casting misstep is Toby Kebbell, who gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the cast and story.

However, besides the cast and Kong, a huge highlight is the visuals and cinematography by Larry Fong. Kong and the Skull Crawlers are impressive sure, but of course we come across other creatures on the island that are either beautiful or scary as hell. Kong: Skull Island has a nice balance of the two, but it’s not just the creatures that impress, it’s the beautiful landscapes of the island. If Skull Island wasn’t filled with things that can kill you, you’d probably want to visit – maybe.

All in all, Kong: Skull Island is an enjoyable fun adventure film with a great cast, visuals, cinematography and soundtrack. While the film does slow down at times, it doesn’t do so without trying to flesh out the characters. Of course, the highlight of the film is seeing King Kong return to the big screen in all his glory.

Kong: Skull Island

4 out of 5

‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ Review

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Director: D.J. Caruso

Writer: F. Scott Frazier

Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose, Kris Wu, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann, Michael Bisping, Hermione Corfield, Tony Gonzalez, Al Sapienza, Toni Colette and Samuel L. Jackson

Synopsis: Xander Cage if left for dead after an incident, though he secretly returns to action for a new, tough assignment with his handler Augustus Gibbons.

 

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

 

After sitting out the sequel of xXx, Vin Diesel returns to the series he helped create with the appropriately titled Return of Xander Cage. It also has Diesel’s fingerprints all over it, as it now involves Xander Cage having to work with a group of people like him to bring down a dangerous weapon and people that cause mayhem on Earth. Sound familiar? That’s not necessarily a bash at the film, but knowing that you’ll see some of the comparison. Also, if you’re looking forward to a smart action film, no, just no. This, like the other xXx films are dumb fun action films that is filled with cheesy and ridiculous moments.

After a crashed satellite seemingly kills Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), NSA agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette) finds Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is alive and well, and decides to bring him in after she finds out that the satellite was brought down by a device called Pandora’s Box. Cage then finds out that Pandora’s Box is being held by a mysterious figure named Xiang (Donnie Yen) and his own dangerous group – Serena (Deepika Padukone), Talon (Tony Jaa) and Hawk (Michael Bisping). Cage knowing that they can’t stop him the “traditional” way gets his own team in sniper Adee Wolff (Ruby Rose), stunt man Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann) and “fun guy” Nicks (Kris Wu) to bring them down.

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While there are some descent actions scenes, thanks to the always reliable Donnie Yen, the film fails to make us really connect any sort of connection to the characters. While most of the names may be familiar to some all of them have mostly one quality that you can remember. Although, all of them are better characters than Diesel’s Xander Cage. Xander still feels like he’s stuck in the first film, and comes off just a bit smug and thinks he’s better than anyone else. We probably shouldn’t suspect different, but you would think that he would change a bit since then. Also, if you looking for an elaborate reason to why he’s still alive, won’t happen.

The film of course tries to add the big extreme scene like the avalanche scene from the first film. Here the film has the heavily promoted riding on the ocean scene that has a more ridiculous scene that if you roll your eyes or laugh, it will be okay. That being said, the film is cheesy and fun in a good way. While it feels like Diesel, who is a producer on the film, is trying to recreate the Fast & Furious formula, it could help if fans go out to see it.

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All in all, xXx: Return of Xander Cage does have some problems with its tone, and while the cast works together nicely, a majority of them are not developed enough. Is the film fun and enjoyable? Yes, for the most part it is. But Return of Xander Cage hits the mark for enjoyable dumb fun action films, but misses when it comes to almost everything else.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

3.5 out of 5

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Mini-Reviews: Keeping Up with the Joneses, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Desierto, Ouija: Origin of Evil, & Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the sixth edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, there are more movie reviews than usual. I’ve been a bit behind so this is me making up for lost time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

 

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Director: Greg Mottola

Writer: Michael LeSieur

Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Matt Walsh, Maribeth Monroe, Kevin Dunn and Patton Oswalt

Synopsis: A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

 

I didn’t think much about the film other than the fact it had a good cast. Ironically, I had that same feeling about Masterminds, which also had Zach Galifianakis, and while Keeping Up with the Joneses was a better movie than Masterminds, the film doesn’t do enough to warrant being a standout action comedy.

The film follows Jeff (Galifianakis) and Karen (Fisher) Gaffney, who quietly live in the suburbs. Karen is an interior designer while Jeff works Human Resources for a big company called MBI. However, the lives get turned upside when their new, and seemingly perfect, new neighbors Tim (Hamm) and Natalie (Gadot) Jones turn out to be spies. When the Joneses come clean, the Gaffney’s ended up being sucked into their mission to stop a deadly plot.

Keeping Up with the Joneses isn’t the best action comedy out, but it certainly isn’t the worst. The cast isn’t that bad and the mismatched casting of Galifianakis and Fisher with Hamm and Gadot actually works, although the bonding scenes and overall chemistry of Galifianakis and Hamm plays out better than Fisher and Gadot. There are some genuine laughs in the film, but overall the film does shoehorn in some jokes that fall completely flat. The film also does rely more on the comedy side of things rather than the action. Although the standout action sequence is a car chase that does feel a bit out of place within the movie, but one that actually works in terms of action.

All in all, the film does have a lot of issues, and while many will probably end up forgetting they watched Keeping Up with the Joneses in a few years, it isn’t completely a waste of time like some will have you believe it is.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

3 out of 5

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Edward Zwick, Richard Wenk, and Marshall Herskovitz

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Madalyn Horcher, and Robert Knepper

Synopsis: Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

 

The first Jack Reacher was a pleasant surprise when it came 2012, but when the sequel was announced without director Christopher McQuarrie, fans were, respectfully, disappointed. That being said, the sequel went forward to new director Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond), who worked with Tom Cruise on The Last Samurai. However, the result this time around was not that great.

Never Go Back finds Jack Reacher (Cruise) traveling to Washington D.C. to meet up with Major Susan Turner (Smulders), who he has been talking to recently, and someone who has taken over his old unit. However, when Reacher finally reaches D.C. he finds out that Turner has been arrested for espionage, but something doesn’t feel right to Reacher and he decides to get to the bottom of it. To make things worse, Reacher finds out that there is a paternity suit against him and that he has a 15-year-old daughter named Samantha (Yarosh).

Tom Cruise really wants another franchise, and Jack Reacher could have been it if Never Go Back wasn’t such a mess. Cruise nails the no nonsense, tough guy one-liners, but having Reacher become a potential father doesn’t really fit the character, and at times, slows the movie down trying to make awkward situations where Reacher has to act like a father to Sam – and in some cases have Turner act as a mother. Some of the scenes are funny, but feel out of place next to the Reacher breaking nameless thugs’ bones, and a hitman named The Hunter (Heusinger) killing people that stand in his way.

I’m all for shaking a character up, but we’ve only had one movie with Reacher, and the first one had him as this unstoppable hitting machine that gets the job done. He’s like that here too, but it seems like he’s more tamed down this time around. There is a little more action this time around, although there’s nothing that compares to the chase scene in the first film.

The new cast is a nice addition. Cobie Smulders does the best she can with what they give her, but I kind of wished she was more important to the overall plot. Danika Yarosh as Sam, Reacher’s possible daughter, holds her own with Cruise and Smulders, but she’s sometimes left with being the person that it told to stay back or having to be saved. Patrick Heusinger’s The Hunter is an okay villain, when he’s actually being a villain, and Robert Knepper is severely underused.

All in all, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is an okay movie that happens to be a sequel. Not saying the potential franchise can’t come back, but Never Go Back was a step backwards for the character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

3 out of 5

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Desierto

Director: Jonas Cuaron

Writer: Jonas Cuaron and Mateo Garcia

Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Catano, Marco Perez, Oscar Flores and David Lorenzo

Synopsis: A group of people trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States encounter a man who has taken border patrol duties into his own racist hands.

 

Directed by Jonas Cuaron, the son of Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Gravity), Desierto is a timely film about the border of Mexico and the U.S., and while Cuaron does understand the material and issue, he rather follow the dangerous cat-and-mouse game between our leads. It’s not so much a bad thing, but Cuaron is still learning his footing in the directing game. It should also be noted that the names of the characters are never said in the film – only in the credits.

Desierto follows a Mexican man, named Moises in the credits, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who along with a group of Mexican immigrants are coming to cross the border illegally. When the truck they’re in breaks down, they are left to walk the rest of the way in the desert. However, they aren’t alone as a man, named Sam in the credits, played by Jeffrey Dead Morgan finds them and kills most of the group. Moises, along with a few others, are left to survive in the desert against Sam and his dog Tracker.

The film is one of the ultimate cat-and-mouse game films. The majority of the film is Sam chasing down Moises through the desert, which of course, adds a lot of tension since there is not a lot of places to hide there. It’s a hell of a lot harder when you also have a tracking dog and a madman with a rifle chasing you down. The film works best when it’s a thriller of the characters on the run, but it’s once it slows down is when the film starts to show its faults.

It’s not hard to see the political themes, especially this late in the political season. Sam’s truck even has a small confederate flag and once he kills the first group of people he sarcastically says “welcome to the land of the free.” It’s not a bad thing, but Cuaron never fully develops that idea, and chooses to focus on the chase instead.

When it comes the cast, Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dead Morgan fully invest in their characters. Jeffrey Dean Morgan doesn’t go over-the-top like he could have, but he also doesn’t see what he’s doing as wrong. In fact he barely flinches when killing the characters from far away. Gael Garcia Bernal, on the other hand, plays his character pretty straight. He’s trying to survive to make it to his kids, and does something in the film that I didn’t think the film would do. The only other character that gets some more depth is Alondra Hidalgo’s Adela.

The film does lose some steam near the end during the final confrontation between Moises and Sam because Cuaron wanted to keep the camera rolling. I’m not saying it wasn’t bad, but this is what separates him and his father in the director’s category. Although, not many directors are Alfonso Cuaron.

All in all, Desierto isn’t a bad film, but it works better when it’s a cat-and-mouse thriller rather than being a cat-and-mouse political undertone thriller. While Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are on point with their roles, the overall film lacks a certain punch to put it over the top.

Desierto

3 out of 5

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Jane Goldman

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Chris O’Dowd, Rupert Eveertt, Allison Janney, Judi Dench, and Terence Stamp

Synopsis: When Jake discovers clues to a mystery that stretches across time, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the danger deepens after he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

 

Based on the novel written by Ransom Riggs – which I haven’t read yet – and directed by Tim Burton, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a movie I was actually looking forward to despite it being directed by Tim Burton. I haven’t been a fan of Burton’s for a while, but it looks like he was returning to form with his X-Men-esque fantasy tale. Also, having never read the book, I’m judging the movie for the movie itself, and not how loyal the film is to the book.

The film follows Jake (Butterfield), who is living in Florida, and wants to do something more in his life. That just happens when his grandfather, Abe (Stamp), passes away supernaturally. Remembering some stories as a child, Jake convinces his reluctant father (O’Dowd) to go to Wales so Jake can get closure on his grandfather’s passing, and maybe find out what really happening, all the while remembering the stories of his grandfather about a woman he once knew called Miss Peregrine (Green). Eventually Jake finds out the stories of his grandfather are not stories at all, and finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that has children with powers of invisibly, floatation, pryokinesis, and other peculiarities. However, Jake finds out that all of them are stuck in September 3rd, 1943. Worse of all, dangerous monsters – known as Hallows – are after them lead by Mr. Barron (Jackson).

The film works best when the fanatical elements are in full swing. When Jake direst arrives at the home and meets everyone, the film is fun. We get to see everyone uses their abilities. Ella Purnell’s Emma is the one we get to know the most as she and Jake spend the most time together, her peculiarity is air and being able to float off the ground. We also meet Olive (McCrostie), who can turn into anything she touches into fire, Hugh (Parker) who is always invisible, Enoch (MacMillan) who has an interesting ability that leads to a surprising and cool sequence near the end of the film. There are twins, Claire (Raffiella Chapman) has a mouth on the back of her head, Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) can project his dreams, Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) can manipulate nature, and Bronwyn (Pixie Davies) is super strong.

It did seem like Miss Peregrine was tailor-made for Burton, and Burton does his usual thing and makes sure that the whimsy never fully gets put in the background. When the film does go off the fantasy element is when the film slows down a bit, but that rarely happens in the film. However, the film does get lost in itself for a bit, which is prone to happen when you have a lot going on. There’s even one plot point bought up that gets completely forgotten about once it’s introduced.

The cast does a great job with everything they were asked to do. Butterfield’s Jake does have a peculiarity that makes sense for the film, and one that makes the film rather suspenseful at one point. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is great to watch. Green brings a levity and grand approach to the children’s guardian. Samuel L. Jackson’s Barron character is, well, Samuel L. Jackson playing a bad guy – minus the swearing. His character is a bit too cheesy at times and just a smidge over-the-top. Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd, and Allison Janney pop in for small roles that don’t really do too much in the film. One casting I couldn’t get over is Kim Dickens, who appears in literally two very short scenes as Jake’s mother.

All in all, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is one of the better Tim Burton films in the recent years. While the film does have some things wrong with it, the cast and whimsy of it all will keep you invested until the end.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

3.5 out of 5

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Ouija: Origin of Evil

Director: Mike Flanagan

Writers: Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard

Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas and Parker Mack

Synopsis: In 1965 Los Angeles, a widowed mother and her two daughters add a new stunt to bolster their séance scam business and unwittingly invite authentic evil into their home. When the youngest daughter is overtaken by a merciless spirit, the family confronts unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.

 

A sequel/prequel to the 2014 film, Ouija – which I never saw by the way, and kind of have no intention on seeing to be honest – Origin of Evil, is just that, an origin of the evil Ouija board that causes mayhem to the people that used it.

Ouija: Origin of Evil, set in Los Angeles in 1965, it follows the Zander family in mother Alice (Reaser), eldest daughter Lina (Basso) and youngest daughter Doris (Wilson), who run séance scam, but Alice does think she’s doing good by helping people, even if it’s not really true. Desperate for money, the family adds an Ouija board to shake things up. However, when Doris starts using the board more, strange things start to happen around the family, and eventually the family finds out that Doris has made contact with actual spirits – and they aren’t happy.

Never seeing the first film (although I read what the connection was afterwards), I can only judge the film for what it was, and in part I really enjoyed the film. Origin of Evil keeps a great deal of the focus on the family, making us really care for these characters, and when everything goes to hell at the end, you do feel worried for them. It also helps that the actresses are great, but the highlight and real star of the film is Lulu Wilson, who plays Doris. One scene in particular stands out where the focus is on her and talks about a certain subject that really sticks with you, and despite the subject, I couldn’t help but laugh because it was so uneasy to hear her talk about it.

The film does have some missteps, like a subplot with Henry Thomas’ character Father Tom. The subplot doesn’t really lead anywhere, and while it gives Elizabeth Reaser’s Alice more screen time, it felt shoehorned in. The other thing is the Ouija board. The board, while a huge and really only reason the events of the film takes place, is just hanging out in the background. The film could have probably done without the Ouija board and found a way to introduce the spirits another way.

All in all, Ouija: Origin of Evil handles itself pretty well, as a horror film that also has a solid family story holding it together. While I may not have understood some of the little things that may connect it to the first film, I still really enjoyed it for what it was.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

3.5 out of 5

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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 Hateful Eight’ Review

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Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen, James Parks, and Channing Tatum

Synopsis: In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

 

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

 

Despite the script leak, Quentin Tarantino continued his eighth film with his mystery Western, The Hateful Eight. He also did something special by shooting the film in 70mm. Now if you’re not a huge cinephile, or just know what that means, it probably doesn’t mean too much, but considering the rarity of how films are made nowadays, The Hateful Eight is a special film. This film is filled with the traditional and very noticeable Tarantino tropes and works, but Tarantino still finds a way to make the film feel different and make the audience feel a bit uncomfortable watching these strangers stuck in a cabin as the tension between all of them arise.

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The film is set after the Civil War, and takes place in Wyoming as a blizzard comes roaring in. We follow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) hitching a ride with John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell), who is chained to his bounty Daisy Domergue (Leigh), who are on the way to Red Rock so Ruth can collect Daisy’s bounty. Along the way, they pick up former Confederate soldier Chris Mannix, who has just become the sheriff of Red Rock despite Ruth’s disbelief, and they all head to an inn in the mountains called Minnie’s Haberdashery. Once they get there, they meet the already there occupants in cowboy Joe Gage (Madsen), British gentlemen Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Dern), and Bob (Bichir), the man looking over Minnie’s as she’s away. Trapped in the inn for a few days as the blizzard blows over, Ruth and Warren try to figure out if everyone, if anyone, can be trusted which leads to a tension-filled environment that, in the typical Tarantino style, eventually goes into mayhem.

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The timeline for the film isn’t just some random place setting. The fact that Samuel L. Jackson’s Warren is the only real African-American character does lend itself to the plot and the characters later on in the film. Major Warren actually has something that everyone can’t believe he has, and leads to some funny moments, but also more tension between Warren, Mannix, and Smithers. Hell, the fact that Warren fought on the opposite side of Mannix and Smithers is enough to always keep your eyes on them. Warren makes a great point once everyone knows that he has the thing no one can believes he has that makes a lot of sense, not just in the movie, but even in today’s world. The Hateful Eight isn’t trying to be political; it just makes some interesting political points.

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What holds the film together is the very Tarantino-esque characters, and the great cast that brings them all to life. Of course, Samuel L. Jackson – the only actor in the cast that has worked with Tarantino the most – is great in this and delivers a great monologue-like speech around the beginning of the third act that could potentially send chills down your spine. It also reminds us why the film is called The Hateful Eight. On the other end, Kurt Russell’s John Ruth aka The Hangman doesn’t have a speech that makes us hate or feel awkward, although his mustache will probably make you envious, but the way he treats Daisy goes ranges from threatening to shoot her, despite wanting to hang her, to hitting her if she gets out of line. It’s an odd relationship that – somehow – seems to work once we see them juxtaposed to each other. Hey, speaking of Daisy, Jennifer Jason Leigh is just memorizing to watch. Daisy sometimes just blends into the background as we focus on the other characters, but every time Daisy is in the spotlight, she shines. One scene is particular had me going, which involved her simply sitting with a guitar and singing.

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The supporting cast is equally great in what they are given. Walton Goggins is the highlight for me personally. Goggins is always a great supporting character guy and he can do anything that a director throws at him, and he does it here again and has one of the best arcs at the end of the film. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Demian Bichir all have their moments to shine and bring some nice nuances to their roles. Bruce Dern doesn’t really do much until the middle of the film where his arch finally comes into play. Channing Tatum also pops up in a different role than he’s usually known for.

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On a technical level, The Hateful Eight is great to look at. The cinematography by Robert Richardson really puts you in Minnie’s Haberdashery, which is a great set, and out in the wintery landscape of Wyoming. Moreover, legendary spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone score is both tense and a bit haunting, almost The Thing-like. The score is more haunting due to the fact the film is a slow burn through-and-through.

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All in all, The Hateful Eight is a slow burn, scene chewing, mystery Western that makes you question every character until the end. The great cast and the characters they play are elevated even more thanks to the secluded and close-quarters environment. If you love Tarantino films, this will be right up your alley, although it can be arguably said that this may not be Tarantino best film, but it still a great one in his filmography.

 

The Hateful Eight

4.5 out of 5

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Review

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Dir: Joss Whedon

Writer(s): Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader (voice), Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis and Samuel L. Jackson

Synopsis: When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.

 

 

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

 

 

It’s hard to believe that Avengers: Age of Ultron is only Marvel Studios’ eleventh film, and what better way to cap it off with the second outing of one of the biggest teams in history. Joss Whedon returns to direct his last Marvel films – at least for now, hopefully – and boy does he go out with a bang. Avengers: Age of Ultron not only brings the gang back together, but also sets up the craziness that will be the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 

Whedon doesn’t hold back and really shows us what the movie will be like with the opening sequence, which is a huge action sequence, with some great comedy and humor, involved, on a Hydra base as The Avengers: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Thor (Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Ruffalo), led an assault to capture an important item. While there they encounter The Twins, Pietro (Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Olsen), who are also called “enhanced,” and find out how deadly they can be. Wanda uses her powers to show them their worst fears, which varies on each Avenger, and I fears I won’t spoil here in the review.

 

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Moreover, Tony and Bruce discover what they think is a key to unlocking their “Ultron” program, A.I. Their hope is to have another peacekeeping option so their burden is not as strong. Of course, things don’t go according to plan and instead Ultron (voiced and motion captured by Spader) becomes a menace and sees the only way to peace is eliminating the human race and The Avengers.

 

If it is not clear by the opening sequence, Age of Ultron has a lot going on. Not only do we have the new characters, but also the multiple arcs going on that set up not just the rest of the movie, but also the future films, in particular Thor Ragnarok which actually slows down the movie a bit. One of the things that the movie is doing is pretty much showing us these characters aren’t always perfect, but also have their bad or imperfect sides, despite being labeled “superheroes.” They are still, for most of them anyway, human, they have flaws. Can they keep fighting forever?

 

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The other part that slows down the movie is the return of Nick Fury (Jackson). Don’t get me wrong, it is great to see Jackson back as Fury, but even his scenes slow down the movie too. Are they important scenes? Sort of. Fury is there to somewhat remind The Avengers why the world depends on them and why they were bought together, but during the third act they find that out themselves anyway.

 

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So let’s get the cast. Everyone has their moment to shine. The already established cast members do great in the roles as usual and do even better with the added depth the plot of the movie is giving them. Jeremy Renner’s Barton/Hawkeye does get some renewed justice, after playing a zombified henchman in The Avengers. He has a great and surprising arc in this that finally gives the character justice and more than a secondary character. Johansson’s Black Widow and Ruffalo’s Hulk have their blooming romance, which makes a bit more sense when you see it fully played out onscreen. Downey Jr. and Evans tease out their Civil War bout with their ideals on what to do with Ultron, and Hemsworth’s Thor is well, Hemsworth’s Thor (not in a bad way).

 

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As for the new cast members, they’re a bit hit-and-miss. Let’s start with the obvious, James Spader’s Ultron. I don’t like to compare the comics to the movies, because they movies are their own thing, but the Ultron here is a bit different from the comics (and that’s as far as I’ll go with that). The movie version of Ultron is a bit all over the place. For the most part, he is ruthless and wants to rid the world of pretty much everything and everyone. However, he does a quality that Spader really nails and makes Ultron a little bit more complex and truly a creation of Tony Stark. It was rather odd to behold, but kind of welcomed.

 

Secondly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as the twins Pietro and Wanda. Yes, they do have European accents, and no, they are not mutants (damn you 20th Century Fox, DAMN YOU). Instead, the Maximoff twins have been experimented on by Hydra’s scientists, mainly Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschamann), and are called “enhanced,” for their special powers for super speed and telekinesis and other psychic powers. It’s fairly clear in all the promotional that the twins work with Ultron at the start of the film and eventually end up working with The Avengers, which any comic book fan and maybe even casual fans would have guessed, so I don’t really consider that a spoiler. Taylor-Johnson’s Pietro, not Quicksilver which I don’t believe he’s ever called in the film, is cocky and a bit brash, while Olsen’s Wanda –also never called Scarlet Witch from what I recall, but is called witch by Tony– is both vulnerable, but mostly dangerous.

 

The two are a bit underutilized unfortunately. They have their own story as to why they want to team up with Ultron at the start, but after that they really don’t do a hell of a lot. Yes, they play a role in the final act, but this is the trouble with having so many moving parts, it was bound to happen. Again, that isn’t to say they don’t have their moments to shine, more so with Wanda as Olsen gets the edge of screentime than her onscreen brother, but as a whole they are just okay until the final act of the movie.

 

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Finally, Paul Bettany as Jarvis/The Vision. It’s a bit weird to say Bettany is a new cast member, since he has been a part of the MCU since day one as the voice of Stark’s helpful computer program Jarvis. But here in Age of Ultron, he is physically there with everyone as The Vision. I won’t say how he comes to be in the movie, but when he finally shows up and how he shows up it is truly great to see. More importantly, it is more great to see Bettany finally be an actual part/physically there for The Avengers from this point forward.

 

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There are some nice small appearances in there. Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie and Cobie Smulders pop up during the fun and funny party scene that happens before the “Lift Thor’s Hammer Challenge.” Andy Serkis plays Ulysses Klaue, which if you’re not a big comic book fan, you should try to remember his face and name for the future. There is some other surprises, but I’ll leave you to see those yourself.

 

Age of Ultron is filled with great action, the opening sequence is great and the Hulk vs. Tony in his Hulkbuster suit was awesome, but it is also filled with great humor. Yes, some of the jokes fall flat or feel unnecessary, but most of them feel right and it’s nice to have a laugh when despair and destruction is going around. Also, there are some serious surprises in this, that I won’t spoil, but one truly comes to mind that I’m sure many fans will be talking about.

 

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All in all, Avengers: Age of Ultron does have a lot of stuff going on, but Joss Whedon being Joss Whedon manages to be able to balance a large chuck of it and make a great sequel to what many thought, would be an impossible team-up movie. Age of Ultron has it all; action, drama, humor, and a great cast. You will surely have a fun time watching this. Of course, stay for the first credits scene, no after credits scene.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron

4.5 out of 5