The Suicide Squad

Supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and many other of the most notorious villains from the DC Universe are recruited by Amanda Waller to join a mission to liberate the South American island of Corto Maltese from a murderous regime that’s conducting shady experiments. In, exchange the villains get 10 years off their prison sentences if they successfully complete the mission, but if they fail, they’re dead.

DC’s ambitious 2016 endeavor Suicide Squad was a massive failure and disappointment that’s easily at the bottom of the DC Extended Universe ranking when discussing quality. This new sequel, written and directed by James Gunn, the man behind the Guardians of the Galaxy films, is without a doubt at the top of that ranking. The Suicide Squad does its brilliant concept justice this time, throwing away everything that didn’t work about the original and acting as a hilarious, goofy, energetic action-packed wonder that stands beautifully on its own. While the first film aimed to be goofy and comedic, it still had this dark, gritty edge to it which it struggled to balance with a PG-13 rating and fantastical, world-ending conflicts. This movie is colorful and indulges in the goofiness without ever taking itself seriously, yet the characters and story hit home further. The action set pieces are memorable and the R rating helps this movie fully realize its potential with balls-to-the-wall, cartoonish violence that fits with the twisted nature of the characters while still injecting humor and fun through the R rated violence and jokes. The movie also diverges from many superhero movie tropes by focusing less on the huge fantastical concepts and letting you know that nobody is safe.

The characters in this film are even sillier than in the first movie, and some even viler, but the movie makes them incredibly fun and lively to watch, even when there’s carnage to behold. There’s no way you can get enough of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn — she adds so much to the movie and both this and Birds of Prey have made the style as insane as her, to make her this psychotic yet somehow lovable and exciting protagonist in the most awesome way. However, the other cast members’ work rival hers here. Idris Elba can do no wrong as Bloodsport and he has some great banter with John Cena’s Peacemaker — they’re both very foul people but have some of the best moments of the movie. Joel Kinnaman also has some memorable moments this time as Rick Flag, and Viola Davis plays the menacing Amanda Waller who is trying to make the Suicide Squad do some good but may be more hatable than all the actual criminals in the film — which is a testament to Davis’ terrific casting and presence. A standout has to be Ratcatcher 2, played by Daniela Melchior who gives the movie lots of heart and empathy. Like I said before, the movie continuously embraces the ridiculousness it presents without trying to put a “sane” lens onto it, as shown with wild concepts like characters named Polka-Dot Man and King Shark (a talking shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone). James Gunn’s direction adds a twisted comedy yet so much care for the story and the people in it while not trying to contribute to the bigger DC universe with forced sequel setups which we’ve seen plenty of lately. From the eye-popping action set pieces to the daring style to the standalone nature of the story, it stands out not just as a great comic book movie but as a great movie, period.

The Suicide Squad shows what the DC universe can do when it gives filmmakers full creative freedom and don’t take themselves too seriously. Even with other R-rated superhero comedies like Deadpool around, The Suicide Squad feels really fresh and with the success of Joker and the entertaining Birds of Prey, DC has been figuring out how to make some gems that stand well on their own while differentiating themselves from Marvel and other superhero iterations.

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A Quiet Place Part II

Following the events of the predecessor, the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world. With both A Quiet Place and its sequel that’s now playing in theaters everywhere, John Krasinski has proven himself to be not only an awesome actor but a master filmmaker. It worries me whenever a studio greenlights a sequel to a great film that stands alone perfectly, but A Quiet Place Part II is one of the rare occasions where the sequel lives up the original, and not only that, but along with that 2018 film, is one of the best horror/thrillers of recent years. A lot of it is thanks to Krasinski’s direction and the style which made the concept and storytelling of the first film so memorable. The opening sequence is nail-biting and even though the violence is kept at a PG-13 level, the film knows where and how to scare most effectively with showing and not showing certain things. For example, we see scenes from characters’ perspectives so the aliens and action aren’t always in the frame but sometimes in the background. The cinematography and editing are great as well, but it’s the sound editing that makes the movie. It’s the small noises that make you terrified for the characters as they try to survive among creatures who can track them based on any small noise from a distance, and the sound creates its own tension without a single jump scare. The loud sound effects of the monsters contrast this excellently and make this a terrific theater experience.

Emily Blunt may be at her best in this series as a mother trying to protect her kids, including a newborn, from otherworldly threats that are a family’s worst nightmare. Cillian Murphy is also excellent as a new addition to the cast, a cynical, hopeless survivor who is changed by his time with the Abbott family. Millicent Simmonds, the deaf actress who plays the deaf daughter in the film, may be the film’s heroine as she takes on challenges courageously and delivers a stellar performance, with not only some of the most positive deaf representation I’ve ever seen in film but all around a brilliant actor and lead role. Noah Jupe, who plays the son/brother, is again excellent, and he’s proven himself with these films as well as his magnificent roles in 2019’s Ford v Ferrari and Honey Boy. And even with just a cameo, Krasinski himself makes his presence felt throughout the film, passing the courage and good-ness of his character from the last film into his children and the world of the movie. Beyond the brilliant scares, which are only strengthened by techniques such as cross-cutting that Krasinski marvelously uses to make scenes more powerful and symbolic, the film retains the heart that made its predecessor so emotional — in every frame and line, this is a movie about a monster apocalypse, but also about parenthood, family, human survival, and hope. And one can’t help but think that with a family taking back their world by venturing back into the unknown and fighting back against the apocalypse, it’s a perfect film to represent our return to theaters. I, for one, had not been to the theaters since Tenet last August, when some screens briefly reopened, and this is an impeccable choice to return to the big screen with for the thrills, sound, and amazing effects and story that will more than satisfy those who know what they’re in for, and for the shared experience we’ve been longing to have back and can finally experience for a new blockbuster once again.

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Godzilla vs Kong

The culmination of the 4-film MonsterVerse franchise pits two of the greatest icons in motion picture history against one another – the fearsome Godzilla and the mighty Kong – with humanity caught in the balance.

This massively awaited film had plenty of promise, but ended up being a disappointment for me. What should’ve been a visually enthralling epic turned out to be a cartoonish WWE smackdown with sloppy direction and editing, and the worst writing in the franchise. The visual depth and feeling of actual destruction and danger from Godzilla: King of the Monsters is completely gone, and the visual style here is a lot less nuanced. While the storyboarding of this film must have been incredible, the CGI itself in some parts could have used some improvement to seem more seamless and epic, and a little less digital, which is odd because it had 2 years in post-production, less than its better-looking predecessor. Some cool visual moments are often ruined with silly editing choices like slo-mo and weird cuts, as well as some randomly placed rock songs that couldn’t have felt less fitting. The movie has a lighter tone than its predecessor, but unfortunately the messy editing and lackluster story aren’t willing to support that vision and maintain a style that consistently delivers.

It’s weird that a CGI giant gorilla has more emotional connection with the audience in this movie than the human characters, because that’s how I felt with Kong versus the humans in this film. And writing great characters has been a challenge for this saga before. Alexander Skarsgard is just there, and Rebecca Hall does well but her story wouldn’t have worked without her connection with this young deaf girl who communicates with Kong. Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison are solid but their story is very uninteresting. Demian Bichir plays maybe the worst character in the entire franchise, who is incredibly bland and predictable from the moment he appears. Eiza Gonzalez’s character is also very generic. While Kyle Chandler was the lead in the last film, he gets nothing to do here — he didn’t need to be a large part again, but this just adds to the underwhelming nature of the cast of great actors in this film. The one cast member who was utilized well and perfectly cast was Brian Tyree Henry, who elevates his character’s so-so writing with great comedic relief and energy. The story itself that surrounds the human and monster characters is often frustratingly cliché, with big companies conspiring around these monsters with heroes with nonexistent character development and some laughable lines of dialogue. While this is supposed to be the biggest of the franchise, it’s ironically the shortest. At only 113 minutes, it suffers from a very rushed pace that never lets the film breathe and build atmosphere and adventure. It could’ve used another 15-30 minutes. The titular fights themselves are awesome, and the choreography when Godzilla and Kong fight is very memorable. However, by the time it gets really good it feels like too little, too late, and is also short-lived because of an underwhelming and predictable climax that goes for the least emotionally rewarding or daring conclusion possible. The end of the last film also set up the idea of monsters living among humans, but that’s completely tossed aside here for far inferior storylines that have been used in so many films before. There’s also no tension present, because although there are large, exciting monster fights, the spectacle isn’t treated with enough care to build a true epic, instead feeling like a rushed cartoon that doesn’t care much about all it has to offer besides the fighting. While it may entertain those simply looking for some fulfillment on the title, it’s sad how much more this could’ve been had the movie understood the full potential it held at hand.

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Mulan (2020)

Like the animated musical that inspired it, Disney’s live-action Mulan is based on an ancient legend of a young warrior who defies gender norms in an act of courage to protect her family and home land.

Last year, the shot-for-shot replicas of Aladdin and The Lion King made more money than amazing movies like 1917 and Parasite due to pure audience nostalgia, and that says everything about today’s movie demographics and Disney’s future priorities. However, unlike those other remakes, I had much to look forward to with Mulan as it seemed like a less cartoonish, fantasy-driven take on a tale that wasn’t even so Disney-like to start with. Mulan is a movie that’s definitely on the higher end of the remake spectrum — definitely below The Jungle Book but probably at the same level as Beauty and the Beast. This isn’t a difficult movie to enjoy — the scenery is lively, the acting is solid, and the story is easy to follow especially when you know what it’s going for. So while I appreciate the attempt to make something somewhat different, Disney was unable to step out of the previous film’s shadow without removing the heart that the original had. I don’t care about talking dragons or bursting into song, but even an empowering movie like this somehow felt devoid of emotional connection due to lack of character. It’s very much confusing as to whether it’s trying to still be a charming kid’s movie or a serious war movie. On one hand, you have the childish elements removed, and a PG-13 rating to focus on action scenes, but then you have a witch who can turn into a bird and Mulan basically fighting with… the Force? I’m not one to nitpick about “How could this possibly work in real life?” when I watch a movie, let alone a Disney fantasy film, but she does so many stunts that seem physically implausible and only make sense if you’re some sort of Jedi or one of the heroes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There isn’t even a throwaway line about Mulan maybe having a strong connection to nature or her physical side, she just magically is the greatest acrobat and fighter in the world and we don’t even see her develop these abilities like the rest of the soldiers, which pushes us even farther from our iconic hero.

Liu Yifei does well as the titular character with what she’s given, but I wish the director and writers showed her emotional journey more, as her entire development feels defined only by the “woman defying gender norms” and “Loyal Brave and True” mottos. The rest of the cast feels underutilized especially Donnie Yen, an acclaimed performer who’s already proven himself to film lovers in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as well as the Ip Man movies. Instead of seeing an interesting teacher-student relationship between Commander Tung and Mulan, he only serves for one scene of dramatic irony and one trust/distrust contrast moment. Tzi Ma does an excellent job as Mulan’s father, and her mother’s actress is also good, but we don’t see much of them either — same goes for Jet Li who is really great as the Emperor. There’s also a character who befriends Mulan and is the first one to really trust in her but the connection feels oddly one-sided. And the villains are awful, both the cartoonish Bori Khan and the equally pointless and emotionless shapeshifting witch. The visuals are very creative, especially the lovely scenery used for wide shots and battle sequences. The standouts include an amazing shot of a fight scene on a geyser, and the sequences in the Imperial City, that I could even see scoring the film an Oscar nomination for Production Design. The story is entertaining again to follow, especially when you remember the spirit of the story you already know, and when you follow conversations between the young soldiers, as well as the training montage where you can’t help but recall the awesome song that’s originally thee in the animation. The final battle is especially cool, but the film is greatly hurt — this may even be the film’s greatest flaw — by the horrendous editing. The random moments of slo-mo, as well as rushing through sequences in a montage fashion, is especially what hurt important character and scene-building moments, and letting the action play out for longer would’ve strengthened the spectacle. So while I did enjoy Mulan for the most part and had a positive impression of it when it ended (speaking of which, the end credits are gorgeous), something felt missing throughout which is that charm and energy that’s present in most terrific family films. It isn’t fully felt until a touching final scene where the messages unify and become clearer and more impactful to the plot. It’s a fun family watch, an important story about breaking down stereotypes and who “can” and “can’t” fulfill certain duties, but an extra 10-20 minutes of runtime, as well as stronger utilization of the cast and a more consistent emotional pull not just to the empowerment theme but also to the characters and world of the story, would’ve made this a more satisfying and excellent remake like we hoped for.

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Tenet

Whenever auteur Christopher Nolan makes a movie, he makes it impossible for it to disappear in the crowd of films being made. His approach to making and presenting films transcend being just a movie, he always crafts an experience. A Christopher Nolan movie is an event, and for years his audiences have craved not only his strong writing and style, but his ability to immerse the viewer in the plot through practicality, tension, and premium formats like IMAX, and challenge them with nail-biting questions and inventive concepts. Tenet is an experience, and a marvelous one for that matter. From the opening moments my jaw dropped as the clock immediately starts ticking with an unpredictable action sequence. The loud sound effects engulfed my ears and the realistically crafted action glued my eyes to the screen, in an unparalleled fashion. Nolan’s partner for 3 films, Hoyte van Hoytema, handles the cinematography beautifully, whether it’s for making the real action feel present or having incredible shots of locations such as the Italian Amalfi Coast and the streets of London. The director’s commitment to practicality makes for more urgent, nail-biting action and of course appeals to the eye. 

John David Washington portrays an action hero whose grace feels reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s performance in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Robert Pattinson is also great as Washington’s partner, delivering charm and fun as opposed to his darker performances in Good Time and The Lighthouse. Elizabeth Debicki delivers a lot of heart and soul to the film and Kenneth Branagh is also memorable as her husband, though it’s hard to be surprised when Branagh does something praiseworthy — at this point, he’s done it all! Dimple Kapadia also delivers a nuanced performance, and Michael Caine also makes a welcome appearance, as he has in nearly every Nolan film! However, I would argue that some of the younger famous talents, such as Himesh Patel, Clemence Poesy, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson were underutilized considering their remarkable past performances and their intriguing small roles here.


Like I said, Nolan’s grand and large-scale approach to everything he makes pays off with Hoyte van Hoytema’s gorgeous camerawork, and the booming sound effects and music by Ludwig Goransson (Oscar winner for Black Panther), whose inspired work seamlessly follows in the footsteps of Nolan’s past collaborations with Hans Zimmer while leaving enough room for himself to invent. However, the loud sound and music does sometimes overshadow dialogue which is a slight issue at times. The other important point is the script’s complexity. Nolan invents new concepts involving time, physics, and science and expresses them in a way that some may find hard to follow or lament as confusing. I personally found myself lost at times because a lot of exposition is spoken very quickly by the characters, and this is problematic when you have a lot of rules and objectives that you’re hearing about for the first time. This movie even outdoes Inception and Interstellar for how complex these themes and ideas are — and for some, confusing. Even those two aforementioned films have a lot of complex new ideas as well, they felt more accessible than the way the exposition is delivered here. And of course, that always means more rewatches are warranted which is also fun, but it’s also okay to admit that there could’ve been a clearer way to help audiences follow, even to Nolan fans like myself who love the intricacies that the filmmaker invented in those other films (which for the record aren’t also easy to comprehend in one viewing). This doesn’t take away from the spectacle and excitement that is to behold in many of the sequences that are unlike any action set pieces ever put to film. But the film did occasionally lose me in a few fast-talking scenes that clouded some of my understanding of some later scenes’ objectives and motives.

Christopher Nolan is also known for having big endings, and while some massive things do happen and get revealed (don’t worry, I won’t commit the movie sin of spoiling a Nolan movie’s plot), there’s some reward left to be wished for when compared to the “totem question” of Inception, or the resolution of Cooper and his daughter’s storyline in Interstellar. There still is so much to be discovered under the surface which is always a lovely thing, but I think the moments of revelation, tension, and mystery in the final sequences needed more catharsis to get a stronger reaction. Only time will tell how much this film’s mysteries linger with us audiences — looking back and discovering new things afterwards is always a perk of Nolan’s adventures.

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The Gentlemen

After big studio pieces like King Arthur and Aladdin that didn’t quite feel like they belonged to him (although he did make quite a good Sherlock Holmes film with Robert Downey Jr., and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was arguably fun as well), The Gentlemen is Guy Ritchie at his most untamed and… Guy Ritchie-like. He goes back to doing what he does best — making irreverent, unforgiving British crime with non-stop violence and cursing, playing around with narrative in creative ways and even referencing himself. He celebrates his creative freedom with this film to bring to life a violent, original, and entertaining crime flick that will be embraced by his fans as well as any audience member who’s willing to enjoy this great film for what it is. Matthew McConaughey’s character would be much less lovable in real life than his other roles yet is always a blast to watch, even when he’s a marijuana-obsessed crime lord. Charlie Hunnam is surprisingly the perfect choice to play the classic British crime protagonist in a Guy Ritchie movie and this is far better than his other film roles to date. Older audiences will definitely be attracted by the addition of Hugh Grant, who plays a much shadier role than his typical romantic lead but his continued partnership with Ritchie always works well. However, my favorite part of the cast was Colin Farrell, who is no stranger to this British crime noir subgenre, specifically In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. These roles always fit Farrell like a shoe so seeing him as a mean but enjoyable criminal again is nothing but fun. The entire cast is strong, with the exception of Jeremy Strong who is awfully miscast as a role that’s supposed to come off as serious and intimidating yet ends up feeling dull and uninteresting in his performance.

From an eye-catching opening and an awesome opening credits sequence, you know The Gentlemen is something special among the action and comedy films Hollywood is used to releasing today. Ritchie definitely steps out of the box, playing around with narrative and characters, like showing you an event and then showing it again from different perspective to fool you as to what may have happened before. He also knows how to make his dialogue incredibly memorable and his characters intriguing, even when their backstories aren’t quite needed. It almost feels reminiscent not only of early Ritchie films like Snatch, but also of early Tarantino like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. This movie’s first act can be slow, but once the plot and characters are set up, it all becomes very interesting and unpredictable. Ultimately, The Gentlemen feels like a refreshing reward that we only get every once in a while with a superb cast at their A-game and some truly unique filmmaking that makes for some laugh-out-loud, unapologetic nonstop entertainment — or as Hugh Grant’s character calls it, “beautiful, beautiful cinema!”.

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1917

There’s been films this year that have enamored me, mesmerized me, and reminded me why I love films, but all year I have been waiting for a triumph on the level of 1917. Not only is it Sam Mendes’ strongest directorial effort, it’s one of the greatest filmmaking feats in years, breaking technical boundaries and capturing your senses from the first to final minute, leaving a remarkable lasting impact for long after the credits roll. Though on paper, the story sounds rather simple, Mendes is still able to create the most awe-inspiring and gripping cinematic experience of the year through the film’s outstanding execution. The film is made to look like one unbroken take, with the help of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose work alongside filmmakers like the Coens, Denis Villeneuve, and Mendes has earned him 15 Oscar nominations and one win — here, he breaks his own boundaries once again with jaw-dropping long takes, beautifully capturing the non-stop action through trenches and city ruins and conveying as powerful of a story with no cuts that most films do with thousands. The one-take act is not only dazzling from a technical perspective, but makes the story feel like one continuous movement, without room to stop and catch your breath, which works perfectly for this adventure war film in which time is the enemy. The unbelievable production design that brings these settings to life is immersive and exemplary. Also worth noting is the work of composer Thomas Newman. Having heard many of his scores that he’s made throughout the decades, this feels like the culmination of all his works in which he beautifully covers a variety of tones — ambient, thrilling, reflective, and emotional.

The stylistic elements work perfectly to elevate a basic concept into a nail-biting adventure where we fear for our leads’ lives as the journey into lands of uncertainty. Speaking of the leads, George McKay is especially excellent at capturing the fearful but determined spirit of his character. We don’t need to hear much about the characters’ pasts or personal lives to feel something — through moments of human instinct, persistence, and compassion, Mendes gives us everything we need to care about these characters and get more emotional than almost any film this year. So the style doesn’t just serve as a “gimmick” to round up Oscar nominations, but as a form of storytelling to make an already superb script feel even stronger. The closing cards, in which Mendes dedicates the film to his grandfather (who was a WWI veteran himself), makes the effect even more powerful. Thinking about the film after it ended, I was reminded why I go to the movies, and what storytelling is for — not just to put asses in seats, but to leave a lasting effect on an audience by utilizing the art of cinema to tell stories with true meaning and soul. Whether you’re a fan of war movies or not, it doesn’t matter, because 1917 is the film this year that cannot be missed on the big screen at any costs, and a definite frontrunner this year. It will certainly be looked back at in years to come for its originality and trailblazing in its genre, and might not be topped by another war film for many, many years.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The final chapter of the legendary story that’s spanned generations, The Rise of Skywalker follows the Resistance taking a final stand against the First Order, as Rey, the last of the lightsaber-wielding Jedi, prepares to face off against the Supreme Leader Kylo Ren.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker takes the challenge of concluding a culturally treasured story that’s spanned four decades head-on, yet sacrifices something important in the process. Part of Star Wars is taking you away from reality and over to a galaxy far, far away, and this film succeeds at making the eye-popping visuals stand out in every shot, especially if you watch it in 3D, as you should for every Star Wars movie considering the grand scale they have to offer. John Williams, one of the real MVPs of the franchise, has composed every film in this saga and once again stuns with his beautiful musical scores. The cast still has plenty of energy and heart, especially the trio of protagonists — Daisy Ridley’s Rey shows plenty of emotion and energy and it’s hard not to love her character as she embarks on the final chapter of her adventure, and John Boyega’s Finn, as well as Oscar Isaac’s Poe, are very lovable as the daring fighters who are eager to lead and defeat the First Order for the greater good of the galaxy. It’s difficult not to enjoy whenever the lovable Chewbacca, C3P0, or BB-8 are on-screen either. The late Carrie Fisher also appears as General Leia, and although her appearance is very small, it’s a welcome and bittersweet one. Also returning from the original trilogy are Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams as galactic legends Luke and Lando — if only they had a bit more to do on screen, though. Unfortunately, nobody really gets a meaningful arc this time except Rey, but even her arc gets muddled and confusing by a decision that harms the emotional weight of the previous two installments. Not even Adam Driver, who plays the main antagonist in Episodes VII and VIII, gets much to do. In the last film, Kylo Ren became the Supreme Leader of the First Order, but instead of utilizing that brilliant and original idea of having a young, conflicted boy become the head of the evil, tyrannical organization, he ends up answering to Palpatine for most of the film, and I’m not sure if Palpatine’s role in the film was even warranted. Finn’s a deserter of the First Order who’s become a sign of heroism and bravery for the Resistance, but that isn’t explored as an important character trait anymore — hell, he’s no longer a multi-dimensional character anymore, barely anyone is in this movie. Naomi Ackie is introduced as a new character named Jannah. Her character seems fantastic, yet they do absolutely nothing with her character other than make her stand next to Finn for the film’s entire second half, so unfortunately we’ll never know anything about her or if she was really as great of a character as she could’ve been.

The runtime is stuffed with so many ideas that either don’t make sense or are rushed past in the blink of an eye; it felt so rushed that it was almost like Disney mandated them to not make it a minute longer. The editing in The Force Awakens was so excellent it even received an Oscar nomination, but here the cuts are so fast and occasionally feel unnatural. In the other films, the action scenes feel nuanced but the ones here are so quick that it’s going to be hard to look at them as “scenes” for their filmmaking and purpose. In a movie with so much fighting, I ironically can’t remember a specific moment where the action is notably impressive, although it’s thankfully loud and colorful enough to be engaging, yet not resonant. In the predecessor The Last Jedi, I was shaking in suspense for a lot of the film, but unfortunately in The Rise of Skywalker, there isn’t really a moment where I had that same feeling. Maybe it’s because although there’s so much plot, the script never gives us a moment to breathe or just develop the characters emotionally. Without any emotional arcs being set up, we can’t be concerned about what’ll happen to them later in the film. There’s also a few iffy lines of dialogue that either felt like placeholders or sub-par ways to convey ideas that could’ve come off as stronger. The movie also has plenty of moments that allude to the previous films, such as A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and these moments will work well because how much of an impact this saga has had throughout the audience’s lifetimes. Some moments will make you applaud and smile, and my theater experience with this film only reminds me how beautiful these Star Wars films bring people together, even after 42 years. However, by the end The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t feel like the natural continuation of the trilogy’s story, but rather like it’s trying to be the antithesis of The Last Jedi. Many of the powerful decisions Rian Johnson made in VIII feel undermined by what J.J. Abrams chooses to do in some scenes, and instead of going with the flow of the story, it feels like he disregarded the tone and value of the previous film, and even his own film The Force Awakens (I’m not even sure what the tone of this movie is, if I’m being honest). Abrams is a filmmaker I regard with lots of talent towards bringing a sense of wonder and imagination towards the screen, and it’s unfortunate because there so many moments of greatness throughout that are harmed by the light-speed runtime (which although, at 142 minutes, is longer than most other SW films, still feels incredibly rushed and overcrowded), and the director’s working against the story that he and Johnson established so well before. Although the actual ending of the film and the Skywalker Saga is nicely done, the final chapter of the journey there should’ve hit home as well. Regrettably though, it’s the least risky and exhilarating film of the bunch (although it’s arguably better than the prequels, which to me don’t capture the true meaning of Star Wars that well).

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the conclusion to one of the most beloved stories in the history of not only film, but also the art of fiction itself. Unfortunately, as an enormous fan myself, I found myself disappointed. the overabundance of ideas Abrams tries to fit into a crammed runtime (if you ask me, they should’ve taken a page out of Marvel’s book and made the movie 3 hours in order to give this saga the fitting send-off it deserved), and the choice to emphasize too much fan service over a sufficient amount of character/emotional payoff end up harming the story that was so beautifully constructed in the past outings of this trilogy. This feels like a great film that was cut in half and then made some frustrating last-minute decisions that don’t even impact the later events of the film, and the main characters’ arcs would’ve been much stronger without these decisions. While there were definitely some plot points I enjoyed and the vibrant visuals and world-building, as well as the film’s role in concluding the franchise, will excite most audiences and incite instances of applause, the lack of boldness and spirit makes this the least gripping and rewarding film in the sequel trilogy, despite the satisfying nostalgia that makes for an awesome theater experience when you’re watching it with other Star Wars-loving audience members.

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Terminator: Dark Fate

Though it’s the sixth Terminator film, Terminator: Dark Fate disregards the events of all but the first two Terminator films and takes place after Judgment Day. In this new future, Sarah Connor’s fate has forever been changed when she teams up with an augmented superhuman soldier sent from the future to protect Dani Ramos, a young woman whose survival is critical to ensuring the fate of humanity. Along their way to stopping the Rev-9 (a new, advanced, deadly Terminator from the future), another familiar face, well, comes back, just like he said he would.

Terminator: Dark Fate attempts to be a course correction by righting all these previous films’ wrongs, including bringing back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and James Cameron as producer, and even straight up retconning them and pretending they never existed, except for the only two good ones. But even in all its efforts to return the franchise to form, the spark that this series once had is still missing in Dark Fate. It’s a step up from the previous installment Genisys, but I’m not sure by how large of a margin. It sticks closer in tone to the first Terminator film than the second, but soon it just becomes a rehash of the 1984 classic. Linda Hamilton gives it her all, returning as one of the greatest on-screen badasses on film. She’s accompanied by another returning ass-kicker, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has some fun moments and even some humor in his role as a new T-800 who conveniently also looks like Arnie. Mackenzie Davis was well-cast to play her role, but the writing for her, as well as for the character of Dani, aren’t as interesting or fresh as they should have been. The villain feels like a ripoff of the T-1000 from Terminator 2 and the CGI for his character doesn’t feel convincing.

Perhaps the thing that’s truly missing from this installment is the groundedness the first two had; they were relatively low-budget so they felt like action chase films. But in the age of infinite CGI, nothing feels real, imminent, or threatening like it did back then. At times it feels like the movie’s attempting to be the Logan of the Terminator franchise with small-scale sequences set in Mexico like a scene involving the characters being apprehended by border patrol officers — but soon it ditches all that for a CGI-filled mess, and the finale is almost as cartoonishly bad as some sequences from Genisys. The action sequences all have nice concepts and were probably storyboarded out really well, some of the action, like an opening fist fight or a car chase, turns out to be poorly shot, although a scene involving two planes colliding and a dam was very entertaining. And the score is no longer haunting or memorable — perhaps they could have benefitted from more use of the original theme? Also, the new evil supercomputer that’s producing Terminators is exactly the same as Skynet and everything is the same in the concept, even though the future battle is well-done. There’s also a “plot twist” near the end of the movie that’s embarrassingly executed and so predictable I could see it coming before the movie even began. The theme of fate recurs throughout the film, yet it never feels like it belongs. All the dialogue about fate feels so forced, if only they had focused more on this franchise’s real theme: humanity. None of this is made better by the fact that there’s a choice made in the film that may anger fans of the first two films, and never really justifies itself — or a “we’ll make a sequel if this one makes enough money” ending that I wish had the finality the first two films had, back when we weren’t worried about the continuations and each film could stand as one. There’s some fun callbacks to the original, like the iconic line that has made the series so popular, or a scene taken directly out of the second film. However, Hamilton’s depth and Schwarzenegger’s charisma is all that make the movie, and even those aspects aren’t as strong as they used to be, to which the script is at fault, not the actors. So many times has the sequel that “brings back the true spirit and nature of the franchise that people cherish so dearly” decades later been done now — it felt exciting with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and daring and new with Blade Runner 2049, and was also done by Halloween, Mary Poppins Returns, Independence Day: Resurgence, and soonly enough by Top Gun: Maverick and Doctor Sleep. Unfortunately, though it tries its best to maintain its ties to the original, Dark Fate falls trap to some more modern action trademarks, ending up being too formulaic and not as emotionally raw as before. The big action and concepts often compromise the urgency, excitement, and resonance Terminator used to have, while this one is rather disposal and forgettable. Perhaps the dark fate the franchise may be going down is what the title warned us about.

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Zombieland: Double Tap

Life in the zombie apocalypse can be quite tough — yet these four know how to make the best of it. The ten-year wait for the sequel to a fan favorite has finally ended, in the too-good-to-be-true reunion of the original cast, who by now have become renowned and award-nominated household names if they weren’t already – Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. Sony even successfully brought the original writers and director back on board — writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who have since then found great success with another genre-breaking, beloved series with Deadpool and Deadpool 2 — and director Ruben Fleischer, who even after an awful misstep with whatever the hell Venom was supposed to be, retains the signature taste of what made Zombieland so great. Double Tap is one of those sequels that takes everything the first film does and tries to do it all but bigger, and for the most part the film hits its target quite well. From the opening narration that will already get a few laughs, to a slo-mo opening credits action scene that recalls a montage that opened the predecessor, it’s clear that the heart and unique fun from the first film is back. It’s ideal to watch the first film to thoroughly understand the characters and their relationships, as well as some call-backs, like Harrelson’s character Tallahassee’s signature catchphrases, as well as a joke about a famous celebrity’s unfortunate demise as depicted in the first film. However, Zombieland: Double Tap can still stand on its own for general audiences searching for a violent action comedy that doesn’t hold back.

While not as iconic as he was when he first played the role, Woody Harrelson is still delightful as the badass Tallahassee who since the first film has grown to love his new family but still is the unrestrained, hilarious zombie-killer who loves Elvis and his guns, and takes annoyance towards car designs and pacifism. Eisenberg is also once again solid as Columbus, even though sometimes his narration gets a bit too explanatory or excessive, and his character arc feels slightly questionable at times when it comes to his love interests, and Stone is also charming and great again, though it’s hard today not to compare to her superior performances like La La Land and The Favourite. And while Breslin is still decent, it’s slightly disappointing to see her character separated from the rest of the gang for part of the film so we don’t get to see as much chemistry from the main four. Rosario Dawson and Zoey Deutch are surprisingly terrific additions to the cast who both have plenty of energy and also have great chemistry with the leads. While the film mostly keeps that signature fun the first film had, there’s one action scene that felt poorly shot, with too many cuts and shaky cam. However, this is redeemed by a later long-take action scene that’s quite enjoyable and creative. Also, the humor does sometimes get routine and predictable, but there are still a fair share of laugh-out-loud moments. Overall, the movie doesn’t feel as fresh as the original considering how many films have tried to do similar, and the story doesn’t have the same natural flow, but there’s still plenty to commend here, including an exciting final battle. Ultimately, Zombieland: Double Tap is a worthy sequel, and although some moments are rushed and other comedic moments don’t feel top-tier, the over-the-top violence and dialogue and the ultimate execution of the film including the cast and story, that’s set in a violent apocalyptic world yet still makes you smile and think about themes like family, is what makes it feel worthy of your time and money, so follow Columbus’ list of rules and enjoy the little things by going to enjoy Zombieland: Double Tap on the big screen.

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