I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Quarantine Logs)

I can’t tell you the last time I had a reading session that long and intense. Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things has been adapted by the incomparable Charlie Kaufman, set to release on Netflix within the first quarter of 2020, or so they say. To synopsize the book, I will say that the novel is about a couple on their way to have dinner with the boyfriend’s daughter. It’s a big step in the relationship, which makes the girlfriend narrator all the more apprehensive on account of her wanting to, well, end things with the boyfriend. It’s weird to write an opinion about a written work, for me at least. Using the very medium to critique a work of said medium is a bit meta, but here we go.

I love this book. The narrative voice of Reid is instantly accessible and engaging, especially with the content of the narration. It’s dark, unsettling, hopelessly existential but always bound within real world constraints. There are no monsters around the corner, or access to a holy book with a verse that’ll wash away the danger. Most of the danger we experience is the ones we internally encounter, hardly the ones that are imminently physical. Reid, and his characters, know this to an unsettling degree.

I am super eager to see how Kaufman adapts this story. The themes of the book mirror those that define his entire filmography. This will be his third directorial effort after the stellar Synecdoche, New York and tragically romantic Anomalisa. This will also be his first adaptation (not to be confused with the film he wrote Adaptation), which will be an intriguing reversal given Kaufman’s much discussed turbulent history with directors doing a less than faithful translation of his script to screen.

In any event, this is a mesmerizing and unsettling literary work. It’s more than worth the sleep you’re bound to lose.

Buy the book here!

Army of Darkness (Quarantine Logs)

People my age often think of the original Spider-Man trilogy when thinking of Sam Raimi. Rightfully so, those films paved the way for what a modern day comic book film could be when it’s directed with heart. The campiness throughout those films have become a welcome change of pace compared to many of the made-by-committee products we now get. Visiting Raimi’s horror roots has been a treat. A few weeks back, I watched Evil Dead 2 and loved the hyper kinetic, gore filled madhouse that made up the picture. Bruce Campbell is a bonafide movie star. In an alternate world, he’d be Nathan Drake for an Uncharted film.

Army of Darkness takes place right after the events of its predecessor, with Ash Williams finding himself transported to the Middle Ages, chainsaw in (or as) hand. Finding himself in the middle of war between King Arthur and Duke Henry, Ash prepares both parties for a battle against the undead. It’s outrageous to just summarize it, it’s a helluva good time to watch it. Raimi’s direction is as lively and energetic as ever, embracing the weird concoction of horror, comedy and romance he’s cooked up. Campbell is reliably charismatic, though the supporting cast is mostly regulated to Medieval stereotypes, complete with old English and prophecy quoting. The film works best from a technical perspective, including outstanding animatronic work and the aforementioned direction. For all its pomp and circumstance though, there isn’t a whole lot in the way of substance or vitality. Perhaps that was intentional, and Raimi wanted to make a fun, well crafted thrill ride. He succeeds handsomely in that respect, there’s just not much under the surface.

Bioshock 2 (Quarantine Logs)

Whether it’s watching a blu ray I’d never seen, clearing up the good ol’ Netflix list, a video game that I barely gave the time of day, or a BOOK that I’d been long putting off, now is the time to clear my stupidly big backlog of impulse buys and costly hobbies. 

 

*preliminary shower of praise for Bioshock*

Yes, I loved the original Bioshock. It’s a hot take as scorching as a winter’s day, but there. The single player campaign is a masterclass of storytelling that can really only be told through the video game medium. Where the vast majority of games attempt to emulate the cinematic flare fit for the big screen, Ken Levine’s 2007 opus tells a tale that strikes at the very core of video games, turning a medium into a genuine art form. Its themes of utopia, capitalism and free will were fresh then as they were when I finally completed it less than two years ago.

Bioshock 2, once again taking place in the iconic semi-sandbox of Rapture, tells a story of another silent protagonist going through another meditation of free will and morality, once again being aided by allies and intimidated by an antagonist who both rarely physically interact with the player.

Yes, I biggest criticism of the game is how overtly similar it is compared to its predecessor. I mean, Rapture is once again a beautifully realized hellscape of a setting that is as eerie and atmospheric as ever. The thing is, the original essentially did all the heavy lifting. Gamers in 2007 were floored by the world, consistently being touted as one of the great video game settings. While this sequel does retain the charm of it to a tee, it does little to go distinguish itself from the first game. Maybe that’s the point. Without Ken Levine as director, who laid the groundwork for Rapture’s ripeness with idealistic wonder and social commentary, the safest route for 2K Games to go would be the “Bioshock, but more” one.

For the most part, it succeeds: the gameplay is a notable upgrade from the original. Playing as a Big Daddy does offer more variety in combat, and the hacking mechanics is thankfully overhauled to something simpler, less time consuming and rewarding yet equally consequential. I’m not kidding, the hacking mini game in the original was the absolute bane of my existence, so having the sequel overhaul that aspect of the game lent me the most relieved of sighs.

While gameplay is an improvement, the story, particularly the pacing, is a bit of a slog. Nearly every level’s conflict is resolved by some override or key card, which is fine the first time, but gets quickly repetitive and tedious as the narrative progresses.

Overall, just some quick thoughts on Bioshock 2. It’s more of the same that challenged the conventions of video game storytelling, though it is a bit more conventional and plodding for the first 2 acts. The final stretch is a genuine blast that nearly reaches the heights of its predecessor. Alas, its shadow is too big.

The Art of Watching Movies at Home

“‘In my view, the only way to see a film remains the way the filmmaker intended: inside a large movie theater with great sound and pristine picture.

-Ridley Scott

For many a cinephile, as well as people wanting to kill time on a Friday night, the sudden closings of movie theaters across the world as a result of the rapid spread of the coronavirus has made more than its fair share of changes. Many regard the cinema in the same vein of church or any other holy place, and rightfully so: I can’t even begin to recount the countless memories and times of elation and wonder the movie theater has been responsible for. No matter what the film is, even the worse of the worse, the moment the lights turned off and the opening logos come up, I always think “what if it’s good?”. That sense of mystery and wonder is put on hold and we can only respond in adjustment. Like the filmmaking process itself, moviegoers need to adjust and adapt to the situation at hand. This is the world for the interim, let’s make the most of it.

 

  1. Clean that queue up

Regardless of the streaming services you have, it’s inevitable that your queue (or list for Netflix, or “stuff” for Hulu) has been gathering digital dust. Likewise, champions of physical media are bound to have more than a few blu-ray’s that have been yet to be viewed. This time of self-quarantining can be handsomely used by watching those films that have long alluded you. They’re on the list for a reason, you bought the blu ray with the intention to watch it sooner or later. Sure, binging The Office for the third time is not the worse idea, but I know I’d rather watch something new than taking the endurance test of the last two seasons.

 

  1. Put that cell phone down. NOW!

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One of, if not the biggest don’ts of going to the cinema is being on your phone. You pay a typically pricey ticket for a film, and add concessions to the mix, why go on your phone to spoil your experience as well as the others around you?

For the trigger happy folk who can’t bear not checking social media for a prolonged amount of time, this current situation might be somewhat of a god send. I just hope I never see you. However for those who’ve been practicing the doctrine of moviegoing, this temptation has been nothing but a pestilential compromise of our daily cinematic sermon.

*gets off high horse*

Checking your phone for any reason, whether it’s a text or a casual browse across the social media’s, might seem inconsequential but adds up the more frequent you do it. You’re constantly disassociating yourself from the movie, eliminating any and all momentum it was building for you, the viewer. You’ve got the remote, pause the film whenever you want to relieve yourself of any distractions and you can get back to it. There’s a story to be told, let the filmmakers tell it.

 

  1. Make yourself comfortable, but not too comfortable

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Chances are you mainly watch movies on the couch. Nothing wrong with that, hopefully the couch is pretty comfy. A big plus of most major theater chains is the chairs. Whether they recline, warm up, or do both with the most comfortable kind of fabric, watching films is not meant to be a grueling test of the fates as it concerns your sitting down. Throw in a blanket, put your feet up with the textbooks you never use and get in a comfortable position to enjoy the film at hand. Beware: adding pillows or even a blanket with one too many thread counts can likely lead you to doze off and wake up to the part where Bruce Willis realizes he’s been dead the whole time

 

  1. Commentaries and Special Features

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To my knowledge, Disney+ is the only major streaming platform that offers any substantial special features to their films, a pity considering just how many great films are now primarily seen through streaming. Your blu-ray collection doesn’t need to be big enough to support a video rental store, but the movies you have at home almost definitely have some supplementals that go in depth to its making. Filmmaking is, of course, a time consuming, patience testing and sanity trying endeavor, and whether it be concept art or the director’s commentary, special features can help the viewer gain appreciation for even the worse of films. It takes a village, and to see the making of your favorite films can prove to be as enriching and gratifying as the films themselves. Give it a shot, it’s not like you’ll hate The Lion King remake even more. Well, come to think of it…

My Favorite Films of 2019

I know I’ve said this for all of my yearly lists, but this year has been an incredibly great year for films. Looking back, I’m a bit disappointed of what we got in 2018. Though there were a lot of great and really enjoyable films, there wasn’t much in the way of truly remarkable films. 2019, however, has no shortage of excellence in the realm of motion pictures. I love and adore every one of these films for vastly different reasons from one another, which goes to show how much variety this year had in store. This list is purely my opinion, faintest apologies if your #1 isn’t even mentioned here (not really sorry). Also, I haven’t seen all of the movies I wanted to before making this list, but I’d never publish this if I waited to watch x movie. For transparency sake, I have yet to see The Lighthouse, Marriage Story, Waves, The Farewell or Portrait of a Woman on Fire. (actual apology to A24, they’re doing the lord’s work)

*those films are the ones I can currently think of, but if you’re wondering about my opinion on a given film, leave a comment or follow me at Letterboxd @elkevino (shameless plug, I know)

Honorable mentions go to Joker, Ready or Not, Toy Story 4, Avengers: Endgame, Fighting with My Family, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie and Ford v. Ferrari

 

12. Uncut Gems

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“Jews and colon cancer. What’s up with that? I thought we were the chosen people.”

How is it that we’re ending the decade with Adam Sandler actually becoming a possible frontrunner for an Oscar? Through the good graces of the Safdie Brothers, here we are. Sandler is at an all time high here, playing a gambler who is at a perpetual fight of keeping his head above water. His natural charm and charisma makes the character of Howard much more likable and endearing than what was probably intended, which actually acts as a major plus here. The words “chaotic”, “loud”, “messy”, “Weeknd” come to mind, and with the Safdie Brothers at the helm, the chaos is sometimes orchestral in its execution. This is a seedy world of violence, money, betrayal with constant brushes with death: to play it straight would do it a disservice.

(also the score is AMAZING and Kevin Garnett is actually pretty great)

 

11. Ad Astra

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“The zero G and the extended duration of the journey is affecting me both physically and mentally. I am alone. Something I always believed I preferred. I am alone. But I confess it’s wearing on me. I am alone. I am alone.”

I wouldn’t consider putting this film on a “best of” list to be controversial, but I feel like I should explain myself, especially how the marketing absolutely butchered this film in an effort to make it more marketable and “appealing” mass audience that may or may not be drunk off the notion that sci-fi should only be loud, bombastic spectacle. Ad Astra is first and foremost a character study, a drama that uses the quiet, lonely vacuum of space as its backdrop. It’s gorgeously helmed by James Gray, who perfectly captures the cold loneliness of the protagonist that compliments its setting. It’s a quiet voyage of self discovery, regret and coming to terms with the sins of the father. Complete with one of Brad Pitt’s best performances ever, Ad Astra is a visual masterclass that has a coldly regretful narrative at its core.

 

10. 1917

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“They’re walking into a trap. Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow mornings attack, if you fail, it will be a massacre.”

In recent years, the war genre has caught a sort of second wind. From the struggles of faith found in Hacksaw Ridge to the adrenaline fueled terror of Dunkirk1917 focuses on the quiet yet turbulent horror of war. Taking place in WWI, two British soldiers are tasked to deliver a message that will prevent the British from walking into a trap. It’s presented to look like a single, continuous take (a la Birdman) which is an insanely impressive technical feat on its own. Sam Mendes once again shows his directing chops by delivering a story that constantly moves from location to location, calamity to calamity. Every obstacle, every hurdle has absolute consequence, whether it be big or small. Expertly lit by the legendary Roger Deakins, 1917 is an intimate, suspenseful and harrowing look at the immediacy of war.

 

9. Rocketman

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“My name is Elton Hercules John. And I’m an alcoholic. And a cocaine addict. And a sex addict. And a bulimic. Also a shopaholic and has problems with weed, prescription drugs and anger management.”

First off, the soundtrack SLAPS. Taron Edgerton has no right to be this good of a singer, let alone for Elton John songs, Secondly, Rocketman is an absolute joy of a film. Less of a traditional biopic and more of a drug fueled memory, Elton John is detailing his life upon entering rehab: the beginnings of a promising career that turn into super stardom with every kind of addiction known to man following suite. The musical sequences are expertly captured by Dexter Fletcher (who actually helped complete Bohemian Rhapsody when Bryan Singer got booted off the production) , who rightly directs this musical with energy and momentum that is becoming of a story about Elton John. Taron Edgerton has never been better and it pains me that he’ll probably get snubbed in this year’s Oscars. With a superb supporting cast and an affinity for the decadent, Rocketman is a textbook example on how biopics and musicals, though thought to be tired and tried out, can still amaze.

 

8. Midsommar

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“I think I ate one of her pubic hairs.”

Though it may not be for the faint of heart, Ari Aster’s Midsommar (which is actually based on my first year at youth camp) is an affective, immersive and unsettling look at the human condition, particularly grief and toxic relationships. A common criticism that I’ve seen about the film is the lack of focus on Dani’s family given their presence is the cause of her grief (tip toeing around spoilers), compared to Hereditary examining the before, after and falling out of a tragedy that is deeply rooted within the family. While I will agree with the assessment that Dani’s family is given less screen time than Charlie from Hereditary, I have always seen Midsommar as how one chooses to grieve after a tragedy, how one carries themselves after a life changing event, how to find solace and peace in a life that has mostly been bleak and soulless. The film is ultimately one of self-love, a perverse and extremely f*cked up fairy tale of how to move on from inescapable tragedy.

 

7. Jojo Rabbit

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“Jojo Betzler: Nothing makes sense anymore.

Yorki: Yeah, I know, definitely not a good time to be a Nazi.”

This film as a whole exemplifies how incredible the cinematic artform can be: an insane premise that could have gone disastrously wrong and offended every corner of civilization turns out to be a hilarious, poignant and heartbreaking satire. Taika Waititi’s shines through every frame, presenting a coming of age tale of a Hitler youth whose imaginary friend is the Fuhrer himself. In its execution, what could have been a colossal misfire is one of the most interesting, emotional films I’ve seen this year. With stellar performances by Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson and newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit is a stunning piece of vital satire.

 

6. Booksmart

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“Amy: Time for us to do what we do best.

Molly: What’s that?

Amy: Motherf*cking homework.”

Olivia Wilde’s feature film debut is certainly a tread on familiar territory: two best friends who want to party it up the night before graduation. The difference here is the characters, one of the best ensemble casts of the entire year. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein have a chemistry that instantly won me over. These are best friends who want nothing but the absolute best for each other, and their support for one another is contagious. The sense of humor is raunchy but never feels too gratuitous or overboard, even with some scenes that can only be described as “out there”. The pacing is appropriately relentless given the film’s span of time and the insanity these characters go through. Hilarious, endearing and “on”, Booksmart is a brilliant addition to the resurgence of great high school films.

 

5. Knives Out

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“It’s a weird case from the start. A case with a hole in the center. A donut.”

I’m gonna do my best in not mentioning The Last Jedi or Star Wars here, but it’s safe to say Rian Johnson has pulled off the heist of the century. Knives Out is what of the most ingenious and clever films of the year, held by its tricky screenplay directed with the wit that matches the written word. The star studded cast is used to perfection, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas being the obvious standouts. Also, it’s always a treat to see Christopher Plummer given such rich material. The trailer promised a whodunnit like no one’s “dunnit” and, well, yeah *shrugs*. Knives Out is an original property that is brimming with charm and intrigue, and a healthy obsession with donut holes.

 

4. Little Women

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“Well. I’m not a poet, I’m just a woman. And as a woman I have no way to make money, not enough to earn a living and support my family. Even if I had my own money, which I don’t, it would belong to my husband the minute we were married. If we had children they would belong to him not me. They would be his property. So don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is. It may not be for you but it most certainly is for me.”

Greta Gerwig follows up her outstanding Lady Bird with another adaptation of the famous book by Louis May Alcott that could very well be the definitive version of this story. Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh (the year she’s had!) are on expectedly top form with, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Timothee Chamalet, and Laura Dern rounding out the brilliant ensemble. It’s Gerwig’s writing and directing that elevate the familiar material. The look inside this family going through the highest highs followed by turbulent woes is incredibly emotional. It might be the most emotionally resonant film I’ve seen this year, with themes of family, love, conviction, loneliness and regret encapsulating this film, sometimes all at once. (Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are taking over this decade JUST YOU WAIT).

 

3. The Irishman

Image result for the irishman cinematography“Sooner or later, everybody put here has a date when he’s going to go. That’s just the way it is.”

Ahhh yes, Cinema! Martin Scorsese yet again makes another mob film… with Robert de Niro… and Joe Pesci… and it’s over three hours long. Sounds familiar? Scorsese knows it does, and instead of making “just another mob movie”, he delivers a eulogy of sorts: to the genre, to his body of work as well as the actors’ work. A wonderful analogy I found about The Irishman is that is starts as being directed by Goodfellas Scorsese and ends with Silence Scorsese at the helm. Rightfully so: the film acts as a meditation on life and the cruelty hindsight and regret can provide. Traditional film structures crescendo to a deafening conclusion, whereas The Irishman fades into bleak, colorless silence, just like its protagonist. Robert de Niro and Al Pacino give the best performances they have all decade, showing the world they are still masters of their well worn craft. Joe Pesci is an absolute tour de force, portraying an uncharacteristically quiet and held back heart of this world. After 50+ years in the game, Martin Scorsese exemplifies why he is the greatest living American filmmaker, making a 3.5 hour film that never drags or loses interest, making a picture that is as vital as his other masterworks.

 

 

2. Parasite

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“If I had all this I would be kinder.”

One of the few times when a film is hyped to such an absurd degree, and it’s completely justified. Parasite is a masterful, wildly entertaining yet socially conscious film that I can’t stop thinking about. Bong Joon-ho once again has made something that is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. The writing, directing, acting, music, editing come together to make a cinematic anomaly. Joon-ho’s juggling of different tones and even genres is incredible, managing to find the humor (and horror) in every situation the characters find themselves in. The cast is literally perfect, completely realizing the full and distinct potential each character has, both individually and as a collective. It’s a satire that has so much to say about class difference, symbolism, family values, what it actually means to attain a better life. Parasite is a confident, scathing, pitch-perfect and dark examination on a family’s desire to move on up.

 

  1. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

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“When you come to the end of the line, with a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife, getting blind drunk together is really the only way to say farewell”

There’s something about a Tarantino film that’s just inherently special. It might be his reputation for all his many traits as a filmmaker, or maybe the fact that he now numbers each of his films as he approaches his tenth and (apparently) final picture; or perhaps because he’s become the epitome of a film lover’s filmmaker.

Whatever it may be, his ninth feature not only has all the hallmarks that has made him a household name, but is also an infectious love letter to Hollywood and cinema as an art form. Nearly every aspect of Hollywood is impeccable: it could be the incredible production design that saw the revival of 1969 Los Angeles, the iconic soundtrack complete with radio jingles, or the bat sh*t ending. However, what I found most refreshing about this film, more than any other film I’ve seen in 2019 is the importance of breathing. Far too many films are concerned with urgency and fear any time allotted to characters being themselves, reacting to their situation and the world around them. This film has people just hanging out, dealing with the changing times, wondering if their prime has long left them. I especially love the portrayal of Sharon Tate, who has almost never not been associated with her murder instead of just the quality of her work. Here, in a film about coming to grips with change, Margot Robbie portrays Sharon Tate as a figure of kindness, optimism, excitement and all around good heartedness. This is a person who’s fruitful and promising life was horrifically cut short, and here’s a film that asks “what if?”

The dialogue, the performances, the music, and the general vibe of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood feels special, like a gift from a filmmaker who lives and breathes celluloid, inviting us to one last stroll down memory lane to do the thing that is the essence of moviegoing: to forget reality for a bit.

 

Ode to Rainy Days

 

Summer in Plano is depressing, especially for an introvert. I remember watching Ben Affleck’s The Town and Rebecca Hall’s character talking about how sunny days remind her or her brother’s death, and it confused the hell out of 13-year-old me. To have someone’s grief juxtaposed with what’s generally considered to be a symbol of happiness ravaged my prepubescent mind. Then again, I was a teenager who knew nothing about the complexities of human emotion watching a “big boy” movie.

Fast forward nearly an entire decade and like a pretentious movie critic, I get it. While I’ve been lucky to not experience the grief Rebecca Hall went through, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had bad days. The term “waking up on the wrong side of the bed” hits so much when you’re “grown up”. Sleep at a weird angle and you wake up with a backache that will take over your week.

You might have a day job and decide to browse Reddit and YouTube for a little bit before bed, not realizing it’s 2:00 AM and that r/PublicFreakout is a literal black hole of productivity. Now you’re bummed out about the lack of sleep that you can get at the absolute most, and that worry does nothing to help you fall asleep. Wake up the next morning per your alarm, and the sun is up and shining, taunting you and your nightly habits. “Here Comes the Sun” is less of a feel-good song and more of a tribal chant of how emotionally and productively inept you really are. The sun is less of an indication of a new day but a reminder of yesterday’s mistakes. Everyone else is up and running and your controller isn’t even plugged in.

Alright, enough with the analogies.

There’s something aggravating checking your weather app and seeing the next week’s forecast being nothing but the sun symbol. It gives you a weird kind of cabin fever, but instead of Jack Nicholson losing his mind in the snowy Overlook Hotel, you’re questioning your sanity by just being in the sunny outside world.

It’s a challenge for introverts to go out on command, so rainy days are practically my Christmas. I feel like the universe shames me for not wanting to go out during the day in hopes of not profusely sweating by just turning on the car, and rainy days are like your big brother going “hey, kid, let’s watch some cartoons and make some waffles.” The weight of societal expectations washes away in place of a lovingly gloomy and moody aesthetic that does away with the bore of the sun. It adds variety a summer that knows only one mood, one trick, one damn weather app symbol.

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I wrote this in a coffee shop in broad daylight while listening to the Blade Runner soundtrack. My brain has never been more confused. 

 

My movie diet also doesn’t help how I feel about the sun being out. It’s a challenge to make broad daylight look cinematically interesting, because the art of cinematography is the use of light and shadow to create compelling frame of film. When you’re on set and the sun is beating on you, artistic lighting and variety can almost be thrown out the window. When it’s nighttime, however, and it’s pouring rain, the world is yours.

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The world of 1982’s Blade Runner and it’s even better sequel is a neon drenched fantasy, where the gloomy visuals echo the film’s existential themes. The introduction of Rick Deckard is a tracking shot that passes through several neon lit shops and restaurants, with the sound of rain acting as the white nose counter to Vangelis’ iconic score. Add this and the film’s legendary opening that introduces you to 2019 (per 1982) LA, you’re instantly immersed into a world that is as attractive as it is hopeless. Emotional beats hit harder and are done in a dream like haze, perfectly blurring the lines of movie magic and real, palpable emotion.

Film uses rain as a means of importance, to emphasize that the world you seen within the frame is fantastical, one that almost embraces the existential dread that the sun and clear skies are supposed to shield you from.

As a writer, it’s pretty disgraceful to admit that I have difficulty putting into words how much I long for some overcast. Nearly three months into the summer, there have been less rainy days than there are Blade Runner movies, and that’s just not okay. Waking up to some quiet raindrops, maybe a little thunder, can help you deal with the crap hand that you were dealt the night before. The gathering of clouds that dim the world around you is a visual moodsetter that breaks monotony and breaks convention. And as someone who sweats on the drop of a dime without max AC, downpour is a man’s best friend.

Also, Coldplay’s Parachutes album SLAPS with overcast.

The Melancholy of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Mild spoilers for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

 

My first Tarantino film was 2012’s Django Unchained. It was my cinematic Big Bang, where I realized that movies were a collaborative experience in the vein of help achieving one’s imaginative vision. It helped me realize that film was an art form to express one’s self through comedy, violence or tragedy. It blew me away, more so than any other film I’d seen up to that point. Fast forward to today and I can confidently say that Tarantino is my favorite filmmaker, mainly in part to how he’s become the artistic definition of the word “director”. There are very few, count-on-one-hand filmmakers that can attract an entire audience solely by being involved, and I see him as the marquee name to that distinction.

It’s been interesting following his career. Starting as the new kid, the hot shot with Reservoir Dogs, then turning the cinematic medium upside down with Pulp Fiction, a film whose popularity and cultural influence could have easily typecasted Tarantino into making films like it. We now know that one of his greatest directorial strengths is adding variety to his work. In the quarter century since Pulp Fiction came out, we’ve seen Tarantino go into the blaxpoitation, martial arts, samurai, war, western and who dunnit genres, all with outstanding results. His love of cinema permeates each and every time he puts a film out, which makes Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood so special.

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With a filmography as dense with cinematic allusions and tributes as his, it’s surreal to watch a Tarantino film that takes place in the city, the industry that he unabashedly loves; it’s like Michael Bay directing a fireworks shop owner, or JJ Abrams making a Thomas Edison biopic.

Tarantino’s latest is predictably a love letter, a beautiful reminiscence of a time before. Rick Dalton, once the talk of the town, sees the parade pass him by, not as the main attraction, but a lowly bystander. He is desperate search for the next big job, slowly coming to the conclusion that there may never be a “next job”, not like before. Leonardo DiCaprio is cast as said movie star, with Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth as his right hand (stunt)man.

What makes OUATIH unique from the rest of the director’s films is context, both narratively and within Tarantino’s career. He’s famously said that he’ll stop directing after his tenth picture, expressing his worry that going further may ruin the prestige of his work. If that’s to be believed, and we hold him to his work, we’re entering the theatre witnessing the true twilight of his career. No longer is he the hotshot who reignited John Travolta’s and Pam Grier’s career, or the center of the movie violence argument. In a time of sequels, reboots and remakes, the idea of the movie star or original IP is slowly becoming quieted out in favor of surer, easier investments. A new wave of cinema is starting to set in, and Tarantino knows this. He’s always been a champion of film, and rightly views it as an art, an event where one should prepare themselves to go to. He still shoots on film, hates the mere thought of CGI, and wouldn’t dare be a director for hire. He knows he’s old fashioned, and his latest film is a meditation on that feeling, even becoming a little insecure about it. The two main characters spend the vast majority of the picture looking back at the good ol’ days or try their best to replicate that success. It’s all done with sincerity and authenticity, as if Tarantino is writing Rick Dalton through his own eyes. Rick hates hippies, and maintains a well-mannered, clean shaven demeanor, even if he stands out from the rest of the city. He doesn’t follow the current trends because he knows no other way than what he knows. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and it’s used to infectious and tragic effect.

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Sharon Tate is prevalent to the story, being a beacon of light and optimism that the new wave of cinema would bring in the oncoming decade. Her place in the story has become the central place of criticism for the film, ranging from the apparent lack of any meaningful screen time or how inconsequential she is in relation to the Manson family subplot. The critique of ample screen time is understandable sure, but the intent with Tate’s character isn’t just “Tarantinoing” her up, but instead act as the New Wave ready to take over Hollywood. Her optimism, kindness, cheerfulness is a direct contrast to not only the central protagonists, but how many view her legacy. Tarantino doesn’t dwell on the violent reality that Sharon meets, an event that will forever change how we look at her career and body of work. Here she’s portrayed as a star on the rise, one who lives in the moment dreaming of a fruitful career. She’s essentially the least flawed character Tarantino has ever penned, a brilliant juxtaposition to a violently tragic reality.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Tarantino’s Roma. This has all the trappings of a film made by him, but has moments that are so drawn out and specific, that we’re able to see the director’s gleeful affinity for cinema but also be wrapped up in its melancholy. It’s an examination of one’s own body of work and questions its own relevance going forward. This isn’t an old man shouting to the sky in rejection of the future, but rather a bittersweet tribute to a time that was pure and innocent, a fairytale of what was and what should’ve been.

Reservoir Dogs – Tarantino’s Prelude

Quentin Tarantino is unabashedly my favorite filmmaker. Every one of his films have sparked strong reactions, both positive and negative, with his use of violence, strong language, use of music, and the occasional foot shot. Starting with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs to 2015’s The Hateful Eight, we see a man honing in his craft, resulting in some of cinema’s greatest delights, making every new Tarantino film an event.

It’s hard to think of a time before Quentin Tarantino was, well, Quentin Tarantino. Before Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction, he made his directorial debut with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, detailing the events before and after a botched bank robbery, but never showing the robbery itself. Initially, Dogs was meant with polarizing reviews. Some critics praised its style and performances from its ensemble cast, whereas others were vitriolic towards its violence and harsh tone. If you feel a sense of déjà vu towards those sentiments for a Tarantino film, good. It’s almost impossible to detach Reservoir Dogs from the rest of the director’s illustrious filmography. We see a Tarantino who hasn’t quite found his footing as a filmmaker, showing traits that we’ll later on get familiar with, and other techniques that haven’t seen the light of day since. His films have an affinity for chapters, so it’s a foregone conclusion to view his first film as a prelude, an overture to the next 25 years of cinematic insanity.

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Let me tell you what “Like a Virgin” is about. It’s all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The entire song. It’s a metaphor for big dicks.

 

Reservoir Dogs opens with the above line, said by Tarantino himself, as if he’s christening the film as his own. It makes it clear that this is his script, his vision you see on screen. This is a writer/director of the highest order, and Tarantino knew this from the very beginning. The sweeping shot of all the characters is another Tarantino staple. The camera is moves as people are simply talking in a diner about the most mundane and inconsequential of things. The subject of Madonna’s “purity” or the morality of tipping plays essentially zero consequence to the bigger picture, but adds personality and character to an enormous cast of unknown players. You don’t need a biography to get how a character ticks, and Tarantino knows this, so he lets the viewer meet these characters like a bystander would: through incessant dialogue. It’s a clever and effective way to get acquainted with these characters, and in a 90 minute film, timing is of the essence.

Throughout the film, scenes of action and violence are always superseded and bookended by, you guessed it, dialogue. Whether it be Harvey Keitel combing his hair in the warehouse or the iconic Mexican standoff, Tarantino gives the same amount of character information to the audience and the characters themselves. We know that Mr. Orange is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, but it’s meant to be a secret, so only we know. How Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde lines up with the rest of the crew is strictly known to the people involved in the flashback, with other characters made to draw their own conclusions. The climax and resolution of the film is ultimately tragic. Everyone dies, save for Mr. Pink, and Mr. White’s sense of trust is completely shattered by Orange’s confession, culminating in the most somber and quietest end of the director’s filmography. It’s a juggling act of information, with the viewer given all the pieces to complete the bigger picture.

Even the infancy of his career, Tarantino’s storytelling talent is put on full display, making a 99 minute heist film have almost nothing to do with the heist, and everything to do with characters, and how they grow to trust or distrust one another. It’s a mystery, a thriller, a whodunnit, but most importantly, it’s a film by Quentin Tarantino.

The MCU: Worst to Best

11 years, 21 films and enough quips to make The Three Stooges blush, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an absolute cinematic juggernaut unlike any other, spanning thousands of years and hundreds of characters. 2008’s Iron Man seems like a mere start-up in scope compared to the absolute insanity that would become the norm by the time Avengers: Infinity War rolled around. Though the mere existence of Infinity War and Endgame are to be achievements in their own rights, the MCU is not without their fair share of lowpoints and stumbles with each film being churned out like clockwork. Without further ado, let’s do something no one’s done before and talk about superheroes!

*Spoilers follow for all of these films*

 

21. Iron Man 2

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Nick Fury: Sir! I’m gonna have to ask you to exit the donut.

 

The follow up to 2008’s classic is a pretty drastic misfire. Everything I take away from Iron Man 2 is not the story, plot points, or even the action. This is less of a film and more of a set up for the first Avengers film: introducing Black Widow, introducing Nick Fury for those who didn’t stay after the credits of Iron Man (I was guilty of this), and Howard Stark (whose presence would play a huge role in future films). The content of the movie itself is drab, complete with a laughably bad villain played by Mickey “I want my BIRD” Rourke and ditches the (somewhat) realistic technology in place of bland, generic future tech that removes any uniqueness its predecessor had.

 

20. The Incredible Hulk

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HULK SMASH! (this film had the balls to use that line. Respect.)

The black sheep of the MCU, rightfully so: Universal still owns the rights to a solo Hulk film, explaining why Ragnarok will probably be the closest thing we’ll get, and of course, Edward Norton plays Bruce Banner. As a film, it’s not too bad, but as an MCU movie, it feels like it takes place in an alternate dimension, mostly in the worst way possible. Norton is a fantastic actor, but is much too serious and burdened than the perfect balance Mark Ruffalo is able to achieve.  It’s a standard superhero film that managed to be spoken in the same breath out of convenience rather than merit.

 

19. Thor

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Thor: I have no plans to die today.
Heimdall: None do.

 

This absolute pains me to rank it this low. I love Kenneth Branagh as a director (his Shakespeare stuff is magnificent) but his stab at a superhero film is a bore. Thor is filled with filled to the brim with outstanding talent behind and in front of the camera, and incorporates intimate, Shakespearean themes of family betrayal. However, the mere discussion of these themes are much more interesting than its execution. Branagh wants to make a family tragedy within the superhero realm, and it just didn’t work for me. More power to you if you loved it.

 

18. Thor: The Dark World

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Thor: If you betray me, I will kill you.
Sif: If you betray him, I will kill you.
Volstagg: If you betray him…
Loki: You’ll kill me? Evidently there will be a line.

 

This is often considered to be the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the MCU, and as a film, Thor 2 is practically the definition of mediocre. However, The Dark World manages to edge out the past entries by being a by-the-numbers MCU film, complete with the typical quips, generic music, out of place humor and stunning visuals we all come to expect by now. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston do their absolute best with the material given, resulting in an inoffensive, but bland affair.

 

17. Ant-Man and The Wasp

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Luis : So anyway, this guy gets out of jail and starts working for Hank. And that’s when he met Hope. And Hope’s all like, “I want nothing to do with you. Look at my hairdo. I’m all business.” And then Scotty’s like, “You know what, girl? My heart’s all broken, and I’ll probably never find love again. But damn, if I want to kiss you!” But then you fast-forward and they’re all like into each other, right? And then Scotty’s like, “You know what, I can’t tell you this, but I’m gonna go trashing the airport with Captain America!” Then she said, “I can’t believe you split like that! Smell you later, dummy!” So Scotty goes on house arrest, and he won’t admit it, but his heart’s all like, “Damn! I thought Hope could’ve been my new true partner. But I blew it!” But fate brought them back together, and then Hope’s heart is all, “I’m worried that I can’t trust him. And he’s gonna screw up again and ruin everything.” And in my heart, it’s all like, “That fancy raspberry filling represents the company’s rent. And we’re days away from going out of business! Oooh!”

The second Ant-Man film is a good time, pure and simple. Paul Rudd is effortlessly lovable as the one-half of the title characters, and Evangeline Lilly more than holds her own as The Wasp. It carries the same tone and feel of the original, which is welcome (especially Scott Lang’s group of bank robbers), and the action scenes are super fun given the character’s size dynamic, but I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the overall film. It’s very much a MCU film, and virtually nothing else, so for this to be the follow-up to the insanely epic Infinity War deflates whatever momentum it once had. Still a lot of fun, but just completely inconsequential (until the after-credits scene…).

 

16. Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Tony Stark: “Does anybody remember when I put a missile through a portal, in New York City? We were standing right under it. We’re the Avengers, we can bust weapons dealers the whole doo-da-day, but how do we cope with something like that?”

Steve Rogers: Together.

Tony Stark: We’ll lose.

Steve Rogers: We’ll do that together too.

By far the weakest of the Avengers films, though perhaps the one with the most distinct voice. Joss Whedon follows up his masterful 2012 juggling act with a far more ambitious, large scaled, more intimate, darker, funnier, light-hearted, action packed film. Age of Ultron is bigger than the original in just about every way, but is a far cry from the quality and brilliance of its predecessor. The word “more” is essentially the basis of this sequel, beginning with a huge battle, and ending with the Avengers fighting on what is basically a meteor. Whedon’s love of quips and one liners shine through, almost becoming a parody of himself at one point.

There is so much to love about Age of Ultron: the dynamic between all the characters are consistently entertaining, James Spader does the most he can as Ultron, a character ripe with menacing potential, and I personally love the sequence at Hawkeye’s home. It showcases character moments that hardly any other superhero film does nowadays, which is a nice break from the traditional formula. However, there is far too much fluff and oddly place humor in a film that wants to be The Empire Strikes Back and instead ends up like Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

15. Doctor Strange

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For the sake of transparency, I’ve never seen Doctor Strange, so its placement on this list was decided by an anonymous source who totally isn’t my brother. Though I do have one complaint: Benedict Cumberbatch is possibly my favorite actor working today, and doesn’t need to be burdened with an American accent. There I said it.

 

14. Captain Marvel

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Carol Danvers: You have three names. What do people call you?

Nick Fury: Fury.

Carol Danvers: Just Fury?

Nick Fury: Yep. Not Nicholas. Not Joseph. Just Fury.

Carol Danvers: What does your mother call you then?

Nick Fury: Fury.

Carol Danvers: What do your friends call you?

Nick Fury: Fury.

Carol Danvers: Kids?

Nick Fury: If I ever have them? Fury.

The most recent entry of the MCU adopts the formula to a tee, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Taking place in the 90’s, we get to see a few old favorite characters in a new light, primarily Nick Fury and the tragically underrated Agent Phil Coulson. Their buddy cop dynamic, as brief as it is, is a highlight for those who have been with these characters since the heyday of the first Iron Man film. Brie Larson is one of my favorite actors working today, but comes off as stiff and oddly one note as the title role, though she shines in the action scenes. The twist of having the Skrulls be the oppressed race of Aliens is quite clever, playing with the typical typecasting of Ben Mendelsohn (deploy them garrisons, son). Captain Marvel is a straight line, prototypical MCU film that is a genuinely good time, contrary to being the man hating romp that so many would have you believe.

 

13. Black Panther

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T’Challa: We can still heal you…

Erik Killmonger: Why, so you can lock me up? Nah. Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.

Black Panther has the distinction of being the first superhero film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Was is deserved? As a film, no. It’s still a good movie, though given the cast and the director, a “good” film is basically a given. There is so much to love about Black Panther. The world of Wakanda has the potential to be the next iconic cinema place, like Tattoine and Pandora. Michael B. Jordan is phenomenal as Killmonger, finally showing us a villain that has layers and legitimate motivations for his evil endeavors. The typical MCU humor is in full glory here, complete with a horrible WHAT ARE THOOOOSE joke. It was bad in 2018, it’s even worse just a year later. The special effects are oddly unpolished for a Marvel film and the score, which won an Oscar, is above average, a far cry from Ludwig Goransson’s brilliance in Creed. The cultural impact of this film outshines the quality of the film itself, as it’s a pretty good that could easily attain greatness if it just bothered to reach for it.

 

12. Ant-Man

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Luis: Yeah, this dude sounds like a bad-ass, man. Like he comes up to him and he says, y’know: I’m looking for this dude who’s mo’ unseen, who’s flashing this fresh tat, who’s got, like, bomb moves, right? Who you got? She’s like: Well, we got everything nowadays. We got a guy who jumps, we got a guy who swings, we got a guy who crawls up the walls, you gotta be more specific. And he’s like: I’m looking for a guy who shrinks. And I’m like: Daaamn! I got all nervous, ’cause I keep mad secrets for you, bro. So I asked Ignacio: Did bad-ass tell the stupid fine writer chick, to tell you, to tell me, because I’m tight with that man that he’s looking for him?

Scott Lang: And? What’d he say?

Luis: He said yes.

*roll credits*

We will never know what Edgar Wright’s version of Ant-Man would’ve been like. Though it is likely that this film will always be overshadowed with its directing drama, Peyton Reed does a more than acceptable job at the helm. Paul Rudd is picture perfect as Scott Lang, bringing his effortless charm and humor to Scott Lang. The heist aspect is well done, and offers a bevy of good comedy, especially from Michael Peña (still waiting for that MCU recap!). The visuals are cleverly done whenever Ant-Man shrinks, offering for so much well done humor and genuinely well thought out action sequences. Corey Stoll is such an uninteresting and cliched villain, which is the main fatal flaw to nearly all of these films. All in all, the first Ant-Man was a pleasant surprise, introducing us to an instant fan favorite, though what Edgar Wright would’ve done will always be in the back of my mind.

 

11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Yondu: He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy.

While not as memorable or fresh as its predecessor, the second Guardians film is a crazy, wildly entertaining ride that has a touch of darkness and melancholy. The central cast is better than ever in their now iconic roles, with Michael Rooker being the surprise MVP (you know why). The soundtrack, notably Groot dancing to “Mr. Blue Sky” is utterly fantastic and fun to a contagious degree, offering a nice audio backdrop to some of the most beautiful shots in the entire MCU. Kurt Russell plays a villain who is actually interesting and not generic as all hell. The humor is a bit excessive, deflating some of the more dramatic scenes’ potential (why would Peter morph into Pac-Man after learning that his dad killed his mom?) Also, the orchestral score done by Tyler Bates is incredibly generic and forgettable compared to the Awesome Mix. Guardians 2 is also tinged with sadness and so, so much grief within all these characters, exploring themes of family, depression and existentialism, culminating in the saddest ending to any of these films. Only James Gunn could pull this off, thank the good lord above he’s directing Vol. 3.

 

10. Captain America: The First Avenger

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Nick Fury: You gonna be okay?

Steve Rogers: Yeah. Yeah, I just… I had a date.

Cap’s trilogy is easily the most consistent and best among the original characters, with each entry getting better and better. The brilliance of The First Avenger is that it doesn’t really try to line with the tone and feel of the previous movies. Sure, there’s humor and crazy fantasy elements, but it is first and foremost a story about Steve Rogers, and how he comes into his own. The supporting cast of Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter and Tommy Lee Jones bring their collective A-game among the charming WWII aesthetic. Chris Evans is literally perfect as Steve Rogers, effortlessly bringing the likability, charm and insecurity of a man who just wants to do good. While the best action scenes are done in a montage, and the villain of Red Skull is a bit one note despite Hugo Weaving’s natural charisma, The First Avenger is the best Phase One film that doesn’t involve a tin man.

 

9. Iron Man 3

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Colonel James Rhodes: Are you okay?

Tony Stark: I broke the crayon.

Perhaps the most divisive film in the entire Marvel catalogue, the third (and I assume final) Iron Man film is a weird, offbeat, and surprisingly original effort by Shane Black. When I first saw this film back when it first premiered, I almost hated it. The Mandarin twist was jarring as it was also weirdly comedic, and with Ben Kingsley being the front man to nearly all the trailers, I felt duped. Watching this now, given the MCU’s tendency to deliver stale and overtly similar films, Iron Man 3 feels like a breath of fresh air. Robert Downey Jr. shows off an erratic and paranoid side of Tony Stark that is super compelling, and adds layers to the reluctant hero he has become. He spends the majority of the movie outside of the suit, having to resort to his ingenuity and genius to get him out of absurdly dangerous plights, just like the original. Though it doesn’t add much to the grand narrative of Phase 2 or the Infinity Saga, Iron Man 3 is perhaps the MCU’s diamond in the rough.

 

8. Iron Man

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Tony Stark: [reading the newspaper] Iron Man. That’s kind of catchy. It’s got a nice ring to it. I mean it’s not technically accurate. The suit’s a gold titanium alloy, but it’s kind of provocative, the imagery anyway.

Just like every single ranking you’ll find on the MCU, this is tHe OnE tHaT sTaRtEd iT aLl. Nearly everything about Iron Man was an insane, futile gamble: hiring the director of Elf and Swingers to the helm, starting a cinematic universe (which was unheard of) with one of the lesser known heroes in Marvel’s canon, and hiring recovering addict Robert Downey Jr. to the man the ship. Eleven years later, the gamble’s paid off, and it’s one of the most influential superhero films ever made. Almost every aspect of this film set precedence as to how later films would shape, and as its own film, it’s a hell of a time. Nearly everything holds up extremely well, with Tony Stark’s journey from brash, arrogant playboy to brash, arrogant hero being a thing of beauty. Robert Downey Jr. is picture perfect as Stark, in ways that have been said and repeated at nauseum. The only sore spot is the final act, which is a pretty common trait among these films, but other than that, Iron Man is still one of the most iconic and fun superhero films out there.

 

7. Thor: Ragnarok

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Bruce Banner: [on Loki] I was just talking to him just a couple minutes ago and he was totally ready to kill any of us.

Valkyrie: He did try to kill me.

Thor: Yes, me too. On many, many occasions. There was one time when we were children, he transformed himself into a snake, and he knows that I love snakes. So, I went to pick up the snake to admire it and he transformed back into himself and he was like, “Blergh, it’s me!”. And he stabbed me. We were eight at the time.

It took six years, and four films, but Thor FINALLY comes into his own in his third solo outing. Chris Hemsworth has made it public that he was growing tired playing Thor, mainly to how one dimensional his arcs had become. Ragnarok obliterates whatever’s expected of his character, ditching Shakespearean influence for straight up comedy. Thor is a straight up goofball, and with the help of Taika Watiti, it’s played off as legitimate instead of pure parody. The movie is so wildly different compared to the rest of the series, with gorgeous visuals and a color palette that feels otherworldly. The supporting cast is fantastic, with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki at an all time best, and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk portrays the character’s iconic temper fueled burden to perfection. With a killer soundtrack and well earned hilarity in nearly every scene, Ragnarok is the Thor film we’ve all been waiting for.

 

Immigrant Song, am I right?

 

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Ms. Warren: [Finds Ned in the computer lab] What are you doing here? The dance is going on.

Ned Leeds: [Trying to come up with an excuse] Oh I was just, um… looking at… porn.

Now we get to the good stuff.

Spider-Man’s first solo outing in the MCU is the most sincere and true to heart portrayal of the character up to that point. It’s a high school comedy starring a kid who has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he always keeps his spirits up despite this. Tom Holland was fantastic in his brief stint in Civil War and is able to flex his acting chops here. He perfectly embodies the friendly neighborhood quality of Spider-Man and shows the warm optimism that makes Peter Parker such an iconic character. The high school tone is literal perfection, with jokes and teen drama that would make John Hughes blush. This is Spidey’s movie through and through, with the much advertised Tony Stark only taking up maybe 5-6 minutes of screentime. Michael Keaton (in another bird based role) is one of the best MCU villains, containing one of the absolute best twists in any superhero film. Homecoming is the best live action Spider-Man film to date, and is a much needed shift in pace and tone to a formula that was starting to get tired.

 

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

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[Groot grows a cocoon of branches to cover his friends]

Rocket Raccoon: No, Groot! You can’t! You’ll die! Why are you doing this? Why?

[Groot uses a thin branch to wipe away Rocket’s tears]

Groot: We are Groot.

This movie shouldn’t have worked. One of the most obscure and weird Marvel properties, with even weirder characters (a talking. Freakin. TREE voiced by Vin Diesel) directed by the insane mind behind Slither and Super. If you wanted any proof of Kevin Feige’s ability to pick the right people for the job, look no further. The oddball, sci-fi odyssey that is the first Guardians film is a phenomenal showcase as to what these films can be. From the legendary casting of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, to the beautifully different visual effects, to the amazing soundtrack known as the Awesome Mix, Guardians of the Galaxy is simply one of the greatest superhero films of all time, almost in spite of the traditions of the MCU.

 

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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[about to fight a squadron of black ops]

Steve Rogers: Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?

Directed by the Russo Brothers, Cap’s post Avengers adventure is a testament to the MCU’s ability to be more than typical superhero fare. This film is a political thriller, taking notes from Cold War era films that highlight The Winter Soldier’s ever-present theme of paranoia. Steve Rogers is still adjusting to modern life, worrying for what will come out of S.H.I.E.L.D’s increasingly shadowy tactics. The prototypical MCU structure is thrown for a loop when the agency turns out to be a front for Hydra, completely dismantling the status quo for Cap’s already tragic life, and actually bringing a sense of stakes and consequence to these films. The action scenes are still some of the most hard hitting and well made out there, especially the iconic tussle in the elevator. The Winter Soldier is really the first MCU film that brushes with the mortality of these larger-than-life characters, a trait that is the basis for these later entries.

3. Captain America: Civil War

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Hawkeye: I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m Clint.

Black Panther: I don’t care.

The start of Phase 3 was basically the Avengers movie that Age of Ultron should’ve been. Matching the intensity of The Winter Soldier, the Russo Brothers flex their storytelling muscles in a Marvel film that is familiar, yet thematically unique from the rest. Whether you side with Iron Man or Captain America, the conflict between these characters was captivating and surprisingly emotional, with me genuinely believing someone was going to die (turns out Rhodey just lost got paralyzed lol). Civil War is the first film that requires you having seen the other Marvel films, as pre-existing relationships and character dynamics are done with a break neck pace, using almost a decade’s worth of character investment to its advantage. This also saw the debuts of Black Panther and Spider-Man, who both steal the show whenever they’re on screen, with the Airport Battle being the MCU’s crowning achievement. Though it’s not as epic as The Avengers, Civil War works best in its more quiet and character driven moments, offering a conflict that’s intimate and methodical, with Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo being an understated, yet effecting villain. This is the beginning of the end; once Cap dropped his shield in front of Tony, the endgame truly began.

 

2. The Avengers

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Steve Rogers: Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?

Tony Stark: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.

Steve Rogers: I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I’ve seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.

Tony Stark: I think I would just cut the wire.

Steve Rogers: Always a way out… You know, you may not be a threat, but you better stop pretending to be a hero.

Tony Stark: A hero? Like you? You’re a lab rat, Rogers. Everything special about you came out of a bottle.

If Iron Man was a huge gamble, was the impossible payoff. Joss Whedon writes and directs one of the biggest cinematic experiments ever, weaving four years of characters and storylines in a juggling act for the ages. The first Avengers movie is true cinematic bliss, with an ever present tone and mood that makes you feel like you’re watching history in the making. Every single one of the performances are near career best, with each actor truly becoming in sync with their characters and co-stars. Character moments are the true highlight, with the movie being its absolute best when these characters are bickering with each other. Whedon has such an ear for dialogue, that nearly every piece of spoken word has his distinct style, but done in a way that is tailor made for each character.

“That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.”

The Battle of New York is one of cinema’s greatest third acts, with absurd action anchored by comedy that is done to perfection. If Justice League showed us anything, it’s that filmmakers need to earn those iconic moments, to take their time and care with these characters so the audience will actually care about them. When the Avengers finally assemble, with Alan Silvestri’s iconic score playing, the entire landscape of cinema changed forever.

 

1. Avengers: Infinity War

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Rocket Raccoon: You speak Groot?

Thor: Yes, they taught it on Asgard. It was an elective.

Every single film before Infinity War was made in service to it. Every character moment, post credits scene, Stan Lee cameo, the occasional reference to an Infinity Stone. This is less of a film, and more of an event. It’s the result of ten years of careful planning that was done so well, it looked easy. The film itself, is superhero perfection. It’s the most fun, epic, crowd-pleasing, anxiety inducing and darkest film of the entire MCU. As it progresses, the jokes fade away, the music dies down, and the sense of dread and defeat cloud our heroes. Thanos won, and the road that led to the Snap hear around the world is a testament to ten year’s worth of being with these characters. The 150 minute run time flies by with impeccable pacing and storytelling by the Russo Brothers, who have proven to be the golden boys for the MCU. It’s a legitimate anomaly how one film can perfectly encapsulate so many characters who were previously done by completely different people and ends up being perhaps the best representation of each one of these characters. Avengers: Infinity War is a cinematic achievement, the result of the experiment known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And that was just part 1…

iPhone Case Review: Keyway Designs’ “Cellular”

We’ve all seen it. It might have been your phone or a friend’s, but we’ve all been subject to seeing a caseless iPhone slipping out of one’s hand and landing screen first on the rough, unforgiving pavement. You reach to pick the phone back up, horrified of the damage dealt, and voila: your phone’s now a broken piece of glass.

Phone cases are an absolute necessity in order to truly preserve and protect the device that essentially holds the glossary to your everyday life, unless you’re willing to run the risk of destroying your display. If you’re on the market for an iPhone cases, and also want trusted durability with some style, Keyway Designs‘ cases are an absolute triumph.

*The design in question will be the “Cellular” case, though the shell itself are the same across the board. The design is the main point of variance.*

Visuals

ALL_-_Cellular_ZOOM_1ccb9576-3f58-4ef3-a2b7-c15c0bc3b225_1024x1024

The “Cellular” design is perhaps the most visually ambitious and intriguing entry in Keyway’s catalogue, sporting a maple wooden, hexagonal pattern reminiscent of a beehive. The inlays feature a beautifully done mix of Wenge, Purpleheart, Padauk and Cherry, as which is said to be every type of wood Keyway uses. For those not well versed on various wood types, the visual aesthetic of the case is downright gorgeous to the untrained eye. The clash of these different wood types work harmoniously with one another, like a sort of controlled chaos in the best way possible. As you look closer, the texture each piece is beautifully detailed, which can easily lead you to study and appreciate each individual piece in all its splendor. Keyway’s website and social media outlets showcase their extensive production process, ranging from lasering each individual piece to succession, to piecing said pieces into every individual case by hand. The painstaking attention to detail featured in Keyway’s products are second to none, and their “Cellular” case epitomizes this.

 

The Case Itself

TPU/PC Sides of the Cellular Maple Wood iPhone XS Max Case by Keyway Designs

For all its visual splendor, the success of the “Cellular” would be futile if it were unable to protect the phone proper. Fortunately, Keyway provides exceptional protection for your device without sacrificing its aesthetic elegance. As is the case with all of the site’s phone cases, the “Cellular” is surrounded by Flexible Rubber as it wraps around the entire body of the phone, ensuring that, if dropped, any exposed part of the phone would not absorb the impact. The design guarantees to take the brunt of the fall, also covering the side buttons up, practically assuring you those faulty lock/volume buttons are a thing of the past. There are also bumps along the side of the case that give you a much more comfortable time gripping the phone after prolonged use, preventing the familiar slippery smudges that plague the modern-day smartphone.

This is a marked improvement over Keyway’s previous models, as they offered very little protection between the phone and just about any surface stronger than carpet. Now, every case that the site provides are considerably more durable and able to withstand considerable damage, providing as much appeal to the eyes as it does whenever a smartphone takes a long fall.

 

Verdict

Keyway Designs have delivered on every single order that I have made with them, ranging from their bread and butter of phone cases, to experimenting with wooden cardholders. Each and every one of their products have been made with the utmost class and satisfaction. Their “Cellular” model is easily their most ambitious design, providing a showcase of their knack for stellar artistry. It also does a fantastic job protecting your smartphone from the tragically occasional drops and tumbles, without being overtly bulky. This is the pinnacle of wooden phone cases, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Rating: 5/5

*Pictures provided by keywaydesigns.com*