Jojo Rabbit

Rating: 5/5

Though it may not be a movie designed for the masses, I for one found Jojo Rabbit to be highly original and capable of evoking a wide array of emotions.

Ten year old Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is living in Nazi Germany during the end of World War II. Jojo loves his country and wants nothing more than to be one of the people who devote their lives to saving it. On the weekend of his first day at the camp training him to be a member of the Hitler Youth, Jojo is very nervous, and needs guidance and assurance from his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). With a boost of confidence from Hitler, Jojo is invigorated and ready to take on the weekend.

When Jojo arrives at camp, it is nothing like he anticipated. He is bullied and pressured by the older members of the Hitler Youth to do terrible things, making Jojo slightly question his dedication to the cause, but not enough to make him think of abandoning it. In a series of unexpected events, Jojo finds himself working on the sidelines for the Hitler Youth, meaning he is spending a lot more time at home and with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). At first, Jojo is furious by this outcome, but it's not long before he realizes there is more going on at home than what he expected, causing doubts to start filling his mind about his patriotic devotion to the Nazi Party and the dictator he idolizes so much.

Jojo Rabbit is without a doubt one of the most unique and unusual films I have ever seen. It takes a horrific and devastating topic like the Holocaust, and somehow turns it into a laugh out loud comedy, without being blatantly offensive. It is a very daring and bold feat to say the least. When I first saw the trailer, I really questioned how Jojo Rabbit would be able to pull off its concept without coming off as distasteful, but it piqued my interest enough that I had to check it out. What really struck me as the most bizarre, was Jojo's imaginary friend being Adolf Hitler. I couldn't even begin to comprehend how the movie was going to tackle this idea and make it tangible and not overly ridiculous or objectionable. That being said, it wasn't long into the film that the outlandish concept began to make sense to me, and I started to fully buy into why a young boy would choose such a heinous human being as their imaginary friend. Without divulging too much of the plot, all I can write is that it says a lot about Jojo's initial beliefs and the journey he takes throughout the story. It also taps into the truths of the ideals and fantasies we all have about our childhood idols, whomever they may be.

This film has a star studded cast, some veterans of the comic world and others who have spent more time focused on dramatic roles, and they all come together to bring fantastic performances, but for me, none of them could top the stunning debuts of the children who filled the cast. With every line and every emotion, Roman Griffin Davis had me completely transfixed to the screen. He was able to deliver his scenes, both of humor and heartbreak, with astounding comedic timing and poignancy. The same can be said for Archie Yates, who played Jojo's best friend Yorki. Yates doesn't have near the amount of screen time as Davis, but every moment he's in the film is hilarious, adorable, but also tense, as you fear for his character's well being as he is being put into cruel and dangerous circumstances involving the war, that are well beyond his years. This film really hit the jackpot with its young performers, and I truly don't think the film would have landed as well as it did without them.

Being in the theater watching Jojo Rabbit, was certainly one of the more bizarre experiences I've had. There were times where the audience, myself included, filled the theater with uproarious laughter, but then mere seconds later, it would be eerily quiet, as we were all taking in the chilling scenes from the Holocaust and witnesses the recreations of the violent and vile acts committed by the Nazis. It was a film where, by the end of it, you felt drained, because you had run the gamut of all your body's capable emotions. Though Jojo Rabbit doesn't fully push the envelope too far, it does have it's moments where you are baffled at how you could be laughing while watching a film centered around Nazi Germany. It is also hard to ignore the appalling truth that can be found behind the comedy, but I believe that was the movie's full intention. No amount of humor can mask the travesties that occurred during the Holocaust, and I don't believe Jojo Rabbit was trying to hide it. More than anything, it was an effort to exploit the harmful effects of hatred and bigotry, and show the power of acceptance and kindness.

I'm sure there are many people out there who have watched this film and have been highly offended by it. There were countless times throughout the movie where I could pinpoint the exact moments where people would have stormed out of the theater in an exasperated rage. Jojo Rabbit certainly isn't going to be for everyone's taste, but it is a film that sends an immensely important message and does it with flare and style.

Late Night

Rating: 4.25/5

Politically charged and quick witted, Late Night is certainly worth taking the time to watch.

Fierce and abrasive, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) has spent decades being known as the first female late night talk show host. She is glad to continue her seemingly endless reign, but she begins to hear musings that her show is no longer considered funny or relevant. It becomes known to her that the ratings have dropped and that she may even be replaced.

Desperate to keep her post, Katherine asks her assistant Brad (Denis O'Hare) to meet with her writing team to try and solve the problem of their dying show. At first, her all male group of writers cannot seem to come up with any potential solutions, but when Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), an aspiring comedian and chemical plant worker, gets unexpectedly hired, a major shift goes through the writing staff. She is not well received and even brushed off by Katherine, who specifically asked for a female writer, but Molly won't let that stop her from her dreams. She becomes intently focused on not only achieving those dreams, but on hopefully impressing Katherine and saving her show along the way.

When I first watched the trailer for Late Night, what originally intrigued me was the creative concept and the casting of Emma Thompson as one of the leads. For years I have been a massive fan of Thompson's work, and I will usually see just about anything she takes the time to do, because no matter how great the film is or isn't, I always know that Thompson will bring a brilliant sense of class and skill to it, no matter the genre. All that stands true for her performance in Late Night. Her character has multiple facets, appearing inspiring and legendary on her nightly show, cold and unsympathetic to her staff when the cameras stop rolling, yet fragile and insecure behind closed doors. With the way her persona comes off while she's in the room with her writers, you'd think it'd be very hard to empathize with her in any way, but when you see her icy exterior slowly start to melt away, you begin to understand why she is the way she is. Such a character could have been very hard to portray by many lesser actors, but Emma Thompson embodied every facet of the role through and through.

Late Night reminded me very much of the Devil Wears Prada - but the talk show edition. The only major difference is that I found I liked the majority of the characters in this film more than I did in Prada. Now, don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the Devil Wears Prada, but I have always found the characters to be quite hard to connect with. The parallels between the two stories can be found in their central focus of a short haired viper woman who is a mogul in their industry, and who's tested by the beliefs of a young and ambitious new hire. Where Late Night really differs, is that Mindy Kaling's character Molly, truly wants her job, whereas Andy in Prada is only at Runway, hoping for it to be another rung on the ladder to success. It is because of that that I found I was fully rooting for Kaling's character to persevere through the challenges she faced, and empathized with her when things appeared to be falling apart. Her character, though a bit eccentric at times, was very believable and easy to relate to, even if one's employment struggles don't exactly match the same scenarios Kaling's character endured.

It was very clear, straight from the trailer, that Late Night had a political message it was intending to tell, and tell it did. If subtly was what it was going for, it most definitely failed, but I get the feeling it didn't exactly want the audience to have to read between the lines to understand the important causes the story was expressing. This film was stressing the need for diversity and acceptance, as well as showcasing some of the many trials a woman can face in a mostly male work environment. All things that have been discussed before on film, but I'm not sure if I have ever seen it quite done like this. Though I am sure some may have been irritated or even offended by the straightforward nature of the film's political concepts, I for one found it refreshing to see a movie take on so many deeply important causes, but tell it in a lighthearted and accessible way.

Late Night offers the viewer a chance to look behind the curtain of our favorite midnight talk show hosts, and makes you wonder what truly happens on these real life shows before the cameras turn on. It is creative, very well written, and a film that I will be sure to be watching again in the not too distant future.

The Lizzie McGuire Movie

Rating: 3.75/5

Though heavily cheesy by today's standards, the Lizzie McGuire Movie is still enjoyable to watch if you loved it when you were younger.

Famously clumsy and accident prone Lizzie McGuire (Hilary Duff) is about to graduate from 8th grade when her teacher informs her at the last minute she needs to deliver the speech at the ceremony. Terrified of speaking in front of so many people, she tries to flee the stage, only to take all the decorations down with her. Humiliated, all she wants to do is leave the country; fortunately her 8th grade class trip to Rome is just around the corner.

Once arriving in the Eternal City, Lizzie and her best friend Gordo (Adam Lamberg) are eager to explore all that Rome has to offer, but their trip of a lifetime gets an unexpected detour. Out of the blue, Lizzie is being surrounded by Italians that think she is a famous pop singer named Isabella, who was part of a duo with a man named Paulo (Yani Gellman). In a very unexpected turn of events, Lizzie is asked by Paulo to pretend to be Isabella for the upcoming music awards, and she accepts. Suddenly Lizzie and Gordo's time in Rome is taken over by sneaking out and secret trips throughout the city, but how long can Lizzie keep the facade going without being caught?

Watching the Lizzie McGuire Movie as an adult is one of those experiences where I watch, knowingly aware of how silly and implausible the entire film is, but I'm just too blinded by youthful memories and nostalgia to care. As soon as the opening credits begin to roll, I'm taken back to a time where one of my most pressing concerns was whether Lizzie and Gordo were going to get together, or wondering if they were going to turn any other Disney Channel original show into a full length feature film. That's what so great about watching movies you loved as a kid, it practically erases any stress you may have from your mind, and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy.

When discussing the acting on a movie that is a continuation of a Disney Channel show, it's difficult to really judge it, as the majority of the cast had never been anywhere remotely close to the big screen before. Hilary Duff was a fairly well seasoned actress before Lizzie McGuire, but many of the others were very green, and that definitely comes through in the movie. They certainly give it their all, but they just almost seem out of place in a film designed to be seen in a theater. That being said, that concept definitely doesn't apply to Alex Borstein, who plays the kids' future high school principal. Her comedy is as well timed as ever and she is responsible for the bulk of what I still find funny when watching this film today.

Could the Lizzie McGuire Movie be enjoyed by kids experiencing it for the first time nowadays? I really don't know. I almost feel like you had to be enchanted by the original series to really be able to look past some of the movie's goofier aspects, but then again, many of the live action films being released into the children's genre these days, aren't exactly garnering numerous accolades. This movie has all your typical Disney troupes; montages, love triangles, and an over the top musical number, but that's part of what makes it so fun. You know exactly what you're going to get from it, and there's something very comforting in that concept.

Though this movie is intended for a much younger audience than myself, I don't think I'll ever lose the desire to watch the Lizzie McGuire Movie on occasion. Watching movies for the purposes of sentimentality rarely loses its luster, so I know somewhere in the not so distant future, I will find myself wanting to watch Lizzie's escapades through Rome once more.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Rating: 4.5/5

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the precursor to the finale, and brilliantly sets up the continuing plot for the dangers that Harry and his friends will soon be facing.

Entering into his 6th year at Hogwarts, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is reeling over the loss of his godfather and trying to ignore the constant remarks in the Daily Prophet calling him "the Chosen One". He is convinced that his longtime nemesis, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), is up to something far more sinister than pranking first years, but no one seems to believe him. To add to the strangeness of his second to last year at the school, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) is no longer the potions master, and has been appointed the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, leaving his old position to a former teacher named Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent).

In addition to having to deal with the unexpected staff changes, Harry has been asked by Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to have private lessons with him, but the reasoning behind them is, at first, a mystery. Soon Harry discovers he is to learn more about the life of Tom Riddle, the boy who would become Lord Voldemort, leading Harry to believe he will, in time, be sent on a mission to find the dark wizard who has terrorized the world, both magic and muggle, and destroy him for good.

The sixth Harry Potter film is widely considered one of the weaker installments into the franchise, but I'd have to say, for the most part, I would disagree. I do feel my opinion is very likely biased, considering my love for Harry Potter, but also because the sixth book just so happens to be my favorite. It is in this story that we learn an immense amount of history about Lord Voldemort, and if I am talking strictly about the book, this part is truly fascinating. The amount of detail J.K. Rowling was able to include about Tom Riddle's past is staggering, but sadly it was not added into the film in its entirety. It is definitely there, because it is utterly crucial to the plot that it be included, but there were many details that were unfortunately omitted. Whether I am correct in my thinking or not, it is my opinion that the filmmakers feared the heavy amount of information this book entailed and the lack of action that it contained, would bore the audience. So they chose to take certain aspects away in lieu of adding in more intense scenes and battles not included in the novel, to appease the non-book focused viewers. Though this definitely does bother me, it still isn't enough for me to say this film was the weakest link of the series.

What never ceases to amaze me is how spectacular the casting is for the Harry Potter films, especially when it comes to the adults who play the professors. I distinctly remember reading this book when I was younger, and having an incredibly strong visual as to what Professor Slughorn was supposed to look like. Though Jim Broadbent may not be as rotund as I had envisioned, the way he embodies the character's personality is spot on. Slughorn is supposed to exude confidence, but behind his jovial facade is insecurity covered up only by the legendary students he considers to be his trophies. A complicated character for sure, but Broadbent effortlessly turns into Slughorn with every line of dialogue he delivers.

The end of the Harry Potter franchise is bleak, intense, and full of unexpected twists and turns, so in order for that type of epic ending to pan out, it's penultimate story must set the tone and get the audience ready for what will follow. The Half-Blood Prince does this really well in this respect for both its book and film. In the movie, the coloring of the scenes is much darker and more sepia toned than the rest, giving the viewer the instant sensation that Harry's year at Hogwarts will not be without danger and dark magic. As previously mentioned, the book does a have a significantly larger amount of information and peril for the characters, and it's unfortunate that the film didn't choose to show it, but what it did show, it did quite well.

Where the Half-Blood Prince is my favorite book in the series, I was practically guaranteed to love this movie, as long as it stayed true to the novel in which it was based. Though the film at times strays too far from the page in my opinion, I still love it. I just can't help but be entranced by the world of Harry Potter and all its wonders.

Downton Abbey

Rating: 4.5/5

Just as charming as the seven years of the show that came before it, Downton Abbey is a wonderful way to be reunited with old friends.

Not many years have passed since we left the Crawley Family, and life at the grand estate seems to be carrying on as usual, except for maybe a few new modern trinkets here and there. The routine day to day life of both the family and their employees gets turned upside down when they receive a letter from Buckingham Palace, stating that the King and Queen will be spending a few days at Downton Abbey.

At first, everyone is overjoyed at the prospect of being honored by such a visit, but once they meet the numerous servants who work for the royal family, their feeling of happiness is quickly deflated and replaced by agitation and offense. With both the upstairs and downstairs tirelessly preparing for the big day, it seems they'll have no time for their own personal dramas and needs, but with it being Downton Abbey, that can never be the case.

The Downton Abbey movie is a unique experience, where if you were a fan of the show, you're practically guaranteed to love it, because you are already so familiar with the concept and characters that feature in the story. If you have never seen any moment of the famous series, than your liking of the movie could potentially be more fickle and not as easily won. Unlike many films that have been based on television shows, Downton Abbey doesn't spend hardly any time reintroducing the characters. The film is specifically catered to preexisting fans, and as one of those long term watchers of the show, I rather enjoyed the fact that the movie wasn't explaining to me plots and characters that I had already known so well. On the other side of that, it does make it tricky for those who are unfamiliar with it, but honestly, I strongly doubt many of those who journeyed to the theater to see went without already knowing the Crawley family and the other lovable people that feature in their lives.

So, with a movie that is essentially just an extended episode of the series, what makes it so special? Two words: Maggie Smith. I don't care what the movie or show is, Maggie Smith just always makes it better. There is no one who is capable of delivering an insult with such class and posh ferocity as she. Whether as Professor McGonagall in Harry Potter, or as her beloved character in this franchise, Violet Crawley, there is nobody who can match her priceless wit and delivery. The only person in this film that comes close is Imelda Staunton, who plays the Queen's Lady in Waiting. The two women battled it out as fierce enemies in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and I for one was immensely glad to be able to see the their verbal sparring take to the screen once more.

Besides its reliable cast, what really makes this movie worth seeing is the grandeur of the estate itself. When watching Downton Abbey at home, you get a sense of the vast beauty of the title home and the land in which it is located, but seeing it in a theater on such a large scale really hones in on how spectacular it really is. It almost seems silly to me now, that anyone could think such a remarkable dwelling could be worthy of the small screen, because it most certainly deserves to be given the full cinematic treatment. When I sat in my theater seat and I heard that familiar Downton Abbey tune, I found I got very excited, but when that music combined with the sweeping view of the castle; instant chills.

Downton Abbey certainly has its moments of forced humor or silliness in an attempt to bring out the most lovable aspects of each of its characters, but for the most part, I found it delightful rather than obnoxious. There's nothing overly serious about the film continuation of the series, and honestly that's a bit of a relief considering some of the events the fans endured throughout its original run. Downton Abbey is lovely and sweet, and a perfect way to spend a relaxing afternoon at the movies.

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Rating: 4.75/5

Brittany Runs a Marathon is a wonderfully simple comedy with a fantastic performance by its' lead to add to its greatness.

28 year old Brittany Forglar (Jillian Bell) lives in New York City, and has been working at the same theater job for years. She and her roommate don't lead the healthiest of lifestyles, partying all weekend and even on some weekdays, but even so, she is surprised by the news she gets when she goes to the doctor. He tells her that her health is anything but great, and that she not only needs to change her daily habits, but needs to lose a a fairly significant amount of weight as well.

At first, Brittany is put off by her doctor's diagnosis, but soon decides to take a chance at modifying her life. Inspired by Catherine (Michaela Watkins), a woman in her building, Brittany decides to take up running as a way of getting back in shape. At first, running around the block is an extreme struggle, but with the support of her new running friends, Brittany decides to tackle training for the New York City Marathon. Once she gets the hang of it, it appears that getting her life back in order may not be as tricky as anticipated, but she learns all too quickly that life's unpredictability can change everything in an instant.

I truly loved Brittany Runs a Marathon for a myriad of reasons, but primarily because of its central premise of someone becoming a runner and having it alter their life. I myself have had my own personal experience of going from not being able to run more than 60 seconds straight to becoming a long distance runner, and I can tell you that this movie was spot on with many of the transformations and challenges that one might face when taking a step into this form of athleticism. From a detail as small as Brittany going from wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt to specifically designed sweat wicking clothes, to the physical strain running can put on your body, Brittany Runs a Marathon had me reminiscent of my early days of running, and I admired and appreciated how accurate and realistic the film was.

Brittany Runs a Marathon is a comedy unlike many others, because it doesn't follow the typical pattern someone might expect to find in a story such as this. So many comedies focus on physical or overly crass humor in order to find its laughs, but this movie has none of that. The comedy is more subtle, situational and timing based. There's nothing that's obvious or overdone about it, it just is was it is, and honestly it's not all jokes all the time. Brittany's life goes through many major changes throughout the film, and with that comes more somber moments than what you'd see in a movie that is labeled as a comedy. It is incredibly genuine, almost making it seem as if the curtain is being pulled back into someone's real life, and not a movie at all.

Jillian Bell is an actress, that since watching this movie, I will be certain to be keeping an eye out for. It was her delivery and performance that made me 100% buy into every moment of the story. When her character was struggling with the ups and downs that come with trying to transform your life, I felt I was with her each step of the way. I was pulling for her to succeed in her journey, and if Brittany faltered in anyway, it was almost as if I was just as disappointed as her character felt. For me, she is what made this movie more than just a comedy and turned it into a lovely and surprisingly moving film about the power of perseverance and friendship.

Living where I live, getting to see Brittany Runs a Marathon was quite a struggle, as our local theaters don't usually get some of the lesser mainstream movies, so being able to finally watch it was a real privilege, and I am so glad I got the chance to view it at last. There's nothing overly flashy about it, and it's all the better for it. Brittany Runs a Marathon is just a great movie and that's all there is to it.

Judy

Rating: 4/5

Judy is a well made biopic that should give Renee Zellweger a yellow brick road straight to the Academy Awards.

In 1969, Judy Garland (Renee Zellweger) is struggling to make ends meet while she tries to raise her two youngest children. Though her star power is undeniable, she cannot seem to attract the crowds or book the shows like she used to. Desperate for anyway to support her family, Judy agrees to go to London and perform in a show that is predicted to sell out.

On the opening night of her new London venture, Judy is so nervous and incoherent from pills and alcohol that she doesn't seem fit to perform, but the moment she takes the stage, the star in her takes over and she wows the crowd. At first, it seems as if her stay in England will prove highly successful, but a lifetime of substance abuse and bad memories appear to be a hurdle she may not be able to overcome.

When I first saw the trailers for Judy, I wasn't exactly overwhelmed with the urge to go out and see it, but I assumed I would get around to watching it eventually. I actually surprised myself with the fact that I wasn't initially overly excited about seeing the movie, because films based around the time of classic Hollywood is usually something I am over the moon about, but at the time, I feared Judy was doomed to be just another biopic that followed the same patterns as all the rest. Though it does on occasion mimic the ideas and concepts of past films of its kind, Judy perseveres to be a strong and emotional film about one of cinema's most greatest treasures and all that she had to go through in her short and tortured life.

Initially, what semi turned me away from being excited about Judy was the casting of Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland. I have nothing against Zellweger and I think she's a very talented actress and singer, but I just didn't think she looked very much like Garland. Upon seeing the film in its entirety, my opinion on that no longer holds true whatsoever. As soon as Zellweger began to speak, there was a change in her eyes, one that showed the years of putting on a show for the cameras and studios and all the hidden anguish Judy Garland had to endure, and it seemed to literally turn her into the screen legend, especially if the shot was angled towards her left profile. The concept of her looking most like her character from the left must have been something the filmmakers noticed very early on, because it appeared that in the most crucial moments of the film, where it was vitally important that Renee Zellweger not just resemble Judy, but be transformed into her, she would only be shot from the left side. It was in those moments where I had to keep reminding myself that Zellweger was not in fact Judy Garland, because the resemblance appeared to be so uncanny.

When it comes to biopics, there's always fiction that is weaved into the facts the story is trying to tell, and whether or not Judy was more fabrication than reality, I could not tell you, but what I can say is if the majority of story they portrayed is true, it definitely has taken some of the sparkle away from Tinseltown. I love the world of classic film, but in the many books I've read and the documentaries I've watched, I know that there were some pretty horrendous acts that occurred when the cameras stopped rolling. Judy shines a huge spotlight on some of those travesties, and paints a vividly clear picture as to why Judy Garland struggled so much in her later years with pills and alcohol. In doing so, it makes the audience feel an immense amount of sympathy towards Garland. I found myself unexpectedly a little teary eyed as I sat in my seat at the theater, watching her desperately try to make a contented life out of the tremendous hardships she faced as a young girl.

Judy does a wonderful job at paying tribute to Garland. Even though I am quite sure one of the major scenes, dedicated to showing Judy the love and honor she deserves, is all made up, I find I don't fully care, because it brings some well earned joy and respect to the troubled star's life and legacy.

Joker

Rating: 5/5

One of the finest exhibitions of acting talent I have seen in my lifetime, Joker is a movie not to be missed.

In the early '80s in the city of Gotham, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) works for company called Ha-Ha's where he is hired as a clown for various businesses. He desperately needs this job so he can support his invalid mother Penny (Frances Conroy) and carry on the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to, no matter how grim or poverty filled it may be.

Arthur loves his job, but he suffers from a condition where he spontaneously and uncontrollably laughs at the worst possible times. It gets in the way of his daily activities, but he tries to do his best to persevere, however, happiness just doesn't seem to be in the cards for him. All he has ever wanted to do is make people smile and laugh, but the world seems to be against him every step of the way.

Before going to see Joker, I had already heard rave reviews about not specifically the movie, but Joaquin Phoenix's performance. Because of this and my previous knowledge of Phoenix's acting talent, I had very high expectations as I was walking into the film. My expectations were more than met, in fact they exceeded anything I could have imagined. I have been an avid film fanatic for as long as I can remember, but I don't think I have truly understood the concept of acting being such an art form until this movie. Yes, there have been hundreds of performances I have seen and loved and been immensely impressed by, but I don't think I've ever seen an actor disappear into a character, especially a fictional one, like Joaquin Phoenix did as Arthur "Joker" Fleck. There were times throughout the film where I literally forgot that the character wasn't in fact a real person, but an embodiment of a comic book villain brought to life by Phoenix. Each step, breath, and movement emanated a complete and wildly different person than the man who played the character.

There are few movies I have seen that bring the level of intensity that can be found in Joker. Part way through the movie, I came to the realization I had had my hands in the exact same position resting in my theater snacks for at least twenty minutes. I was so laser focused on the performances and story that was being laid out before me, that I hadn't given a second thought to anything else in the room. It was then that I noticed I was not alone in my response to the images on the screen. Many other audience members had also stopped reaching for their food and drinks, too enthralled with the film and its energy to pull their eyes away. Part of what amped up the movie's acute feeling of anxiety, was not just Phoenix's performance, though that was a massive part of it, but the music in the background. The score predominantly used cellos to lead its music, and the ominous sounds of the strings almost always indicated a moment where Arthur's mind was going to become further unhinged. I know that for me personally, every time I heard the sound of the cello, my heart rate began to increase with the uncertainty I knew they would bring.

Joker is a really unusual installment into the world of comic book based films, because you are on the side of its protagonist, if you can call him that, but you know what he is doing is wrong. You see the anguish in his eyes for the first act of the film, and all you want is for him to feel some glimmer of joy, no matter what could bring that to the character. When you see Arthur in his full Joker makeup, he looks so gleeful and healthy, that I actually thought to myself, "Wow, he looks so much better and happier!". Not exactly the reaction I expected to have towards such an infamous villain. Even though I knew that once he made his official transformation that would be needed to complete his origin story, he would commit a number of heinous and violent acts, I still found myself sympathetic towards his character. Perhaps that is the power of a once in a lifetime performance. It can make you connect to a character that you would thought yourself never able to relate to in almost any other circumstance.

I can honestly say, that if I were member of the crew on this film, I think I would have been frightened of Joaquin Phoenix by the end of it. His work on Joker is so chilling and convincing, that even when watching interviews of him afterwards, I find it hard to believe it is the same man who was the Joker I saw on screen. I know there has been plenty of talk about Oscar Buzz for him and this film, and I for one am one fan that will be in an outrage if he doesn't win.

When Harry Met Sally...

Rating: 5+/5

When Harry Met Sally... is easily one of the most beloved romantic comedies of all time and one watch through is proof positive as to why.

In the year 1977, Harry (Billy Crystal) is moving to New York City and is getting a ride with his girlfriend's friend Sally (Meg Ryan), who is also moving to the Big Apple. Meer minutes into the trip, the two realize they share a lot in common, but have vastly different opinions on many subjects. Once in New York, the two think they will never see each other again, and both seem to be content with that concept.

Years later, Harry and Sally bump into each other again, and are still indifferent to one another, but slowly and surely, a friendship begins to grow. Soon they are each other's closest confidants, talking about anything and everything. However, the two appear to be unlucky in love, and no matter how much they put themselves into the dating world, no one seems to be good enough, and neither of them seem to understand why.

When Harry Met Sally is the perfect romantic comedy. It ticks off all the necessary boxes needed to achieve romcom greatness. Romance-check. Comedy, double check. Creative filming style, check. Realistic and well timed dialogue, triple check. I am not sure why in God’s name it took me so long to finally watch this movie, given my fondness for the genre, but I can honestly say that When Harry Met Sally is the film all other romantic comedies should aspire to.

What I love about this film, is though the concept of romance seems to evade its main characters, the movie gets its romantic fill not through the linear story, but through small interviews of long-time relationships from the most adorable couples to be put on screen. Their stories exude joy and contentment, and are a most wonderful backdrop for the main plot being told. It is truly such a clever idea, and is one that other movies have attempted to replicate, but have only come off as cheap imitations. Other tries at this concept somehow lack the charm and affection that comes from those small moments in When Harry Met Sally. Though I loved everything about this film, it was those short scenes where I couldn’t help but feel myself smiling with ease at the love portrayed on the screen.

Billy Crystal may be one of my favorite actors of all time. I have yet to see something of his that I truly disliked, and almost everything I’ve seen him in I’ve loved. Whether it be as the voice of Calcifer the fire demon in Howl's Moving Castle, or Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, Billy Crystal just seems to know how to do it all. He has an effortless warmth about him, and putting him in a role like this was a stroke of pure genius. His character at first comes off as slightly abrasive and crass, but you can’t help but love him. His costar, Meg Ryan, is romantic comedy gold. There’s a reason she was in so many films of this genre, but this movie has to be considered her standout performance. She’s had a chance to be adorable in so many other films like this, but in When Harry Met Sally, she really gets a chance to show more than ever that she has the acting chops to back up her screen allure. Together, the two have a flawless chemistry that is most certainly what has made this movie a timeless classic.

After watching When Harry Met Sally, I was quite mad with myself that it took me so long to finally get around to watching it. It is a movie that I really and truly wish I had had in my life long before now, and will be guaranteed to be one that I will watch countless times over. There's just no way this movie could lose any of its appeal and enchantment with multiple viewings; it's just too fantastic.

Snowpiercer

Rating: 5+/5

Snowpiercer is a highly original movie that makes practically all other dystopian films seem like amateur hour.

When the planet has warmed to the point of being uninhabitable, a chemical is released into the atmosphere to try and cool it down, but it goes too far, freezing everything on Earth. The few who didn't die from the sudden ice age were transported onto a self sustaining train that is segmented into different cars by a class system.

At the very back of the train, Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) is somewhat a leader to the people considered "scum" by the elites at the front. He, and everyone else living there, are sick of being treated like dirt, being covered in filth, and only having bricks of protein to sustain their diets. Knowing things need a desperate change, Curtis and many other brave souls from the back decide to begin a revolt against the system, taking down anyone who stands in their way.

I can honestly say that I have never seen a movie like Snowpiercer. It is unconventional in all the best ways possible. After watching it, you can try and pinpoint the specific genre or category it belongs in, but I find that it is very hard to pick just one. In many ways, it is an action film, but it has much more heart and intelligence than the average blockbuster. It could essentially be a horror movie, with the upper class of society being the monsters and the lower class the victims. Could it be designated as science-fiction? Thriller? Unlike so many other mainstream movies, you just can't label it as one genre and not being able to put Snowpiercer into any specific corner is really what makes up its beauty. It can be interpreted in many different ways, but is without a doubt a breath of fresh air to whichever film category someone may decide to place it.

When first watching Snowpiercer, what immediately stands out are the striking visuals that progress from the back of the train to the front. Every car is vastly different from the next, each having its own film style and color scheme to go along with it. One train cabin could be grim and lifeless, and the next one, blindingly luminescent and colorful. Because of this, there is no two segments of the film the are alike, and therefore the viewer has absolutely no way of guessing what is going to befall the characters next on their quest to the engine room. With all the movies I have seen in my life, I always do my best to try and predict future outcomes in the story, but with Snowpiercer, I had absolutely no idea what was to happen next, and was ready for anything and everything.

Even though the villains in a story are supposed to be the one the viewer despises, there are many cases where we end up liking them despite their horrific actions. For me, this was the case of Tilda Swinton's character in Snowpiercer. Swinton played Minister Mason, a faithful and devoted employee of Wilford (the man who created the train). Her character is vile and heartless, but Swinton's performance was so sublime, that I couldn't help but find myself thoroughly enjoying what she brought to the character. I hated what she did, but I found the highly animated style of Swinton's portrayal to be endlessly entertaining. On the protagonist side of the plot, Chris Evans really impressed me as the lead in the film. Until Snowpiercer, I had mostly only seen Evans as the shield-wielding Captain America, or in a handful of romantic comedies from the early 2000s. I knew that he was a great actor from seeing him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I really wasn't aware of how far his talent could go until I watched this movie. He proved that his skill was more than sufficient to be able to go head to head with legends like Tilda Swinton, and has made me really excited to see what else he will bring to his film career.

It is really a travesty that films like Snowpiercer don't get appreciated by the Academy Award system, when it is just as, if not more, qualified to be receiving recognition as any of the past nominees and winners. Director Bong Joon Ho is a true artist, and I for one will be making a vow to see much more of the work he has already put out, as well as anything else he does in the future.

Playing By Heart

Rating: 3.25/5

Playing By Heart is a film that could not have been more a product of its time it tried, but is generally enjoyable from beginning to end.

Paul (Sean Connery) and Hannah (Gena Rowlands) have been married for decades but are still struggling with moving on from their past problems. Joan (Angelina Jolie) has just broken up with her boyfriend, but is already trying to gain the attention of a guy named Keenan (Ryan Phillipe), who appears he'd rather be alone.

Meanwhile, Meredith (Gillian Anderson) has vowed to swear off relationships and focus on her career, but an architect named Trent (Jon Stewart) is doing his best to work his way into her heart. Gracie (Madeleine Stowe) is having an affair, and Mark (Jay Mohr) is reconnecting with his estranged mother Mildred (Ellen Burstyn). Numerous people are all trying to navigate their relationships, whether romantic or familial, all realizing that love is a tricky game.

Playing By Heart is an episodic movie, akin to films like Love Actually or Crash, where there are a handful of characters and situations that are seemingly unrelated except for the time or place in which the film is set, but as the movie unravels you begin to unearth the connections between each character. I have always been intrigued by these types of stories, because I usually find myself curious to see how the plot will unfold as well as deciding which sub-plot is my personal favorite. In the essence of full disclosure, it must be stated that I am a huge X-Files fan and I only initially watched Playing By Heart because I wanted to see what Gillian Anderson was like playing a character other than Dana Scully. With that being said, her story was my favorite, but that is likely to be a very biased opinion. If I had to pick a second favorite, it would be storyline that starred Ellen Burstyn and Jay Mohr. Their part of the film is centered around a mother and son trying to reconnect in a very short period of time, and to me, it was the one that seemed to be the most realistic. This is highly due to Burstyn's impeccable acting talent, and was really the only plot in the movie that had any emotional impact on me whatsoever.

It can go without saying that a script can either make or break a film. Most of the run of the mill romantic comedies don't try and push the boundaries with its dialogue and instead will stick to your basic romantic banter. Playing By Heart didn't do this, but I am not so sure that it's such a great thing. Some movies thrive on their unusual and quirky screenplays, Juno being a prime example, but what is necessary to sell the heavily stylized way of speaking, is for the actors to fully commit to it. As much as the cast of Playing By Heart tried, it appeared to me that you could tell the actors weren't convinced of the offbeat, and at times, very cheesy dialogue they were presented with. They gave it their best shot, but I personally felt that you could see the vague sense of doubt in the actors performances as they delivered their occasionally bizarre monologues. This doesn't go for the entire script, just more than one would expect from a film such as this.

There are some movies that are iconic for their decade and are able to age fairly well as the years go on, still continuing their legacy no matter how much time has passed. John Hughes has been able to prove this particular theory many times over. Playing By Heart is not a bad film, but it doesn't seem to have the staying power that other movies of its genre seem to have. Personally, the extreme '90s-ness about it doesn't bother me, but I can see how someone who was not either an adult in that decade or at least growing up in it, could be a little lost with all the references and clothing choices. What I do like about this film is that it unapologetically used everything the late '90s had to offer and put it on screen. It is like a 120 minute time capsule, giving you a look at a decade where even though it was not that long ago, seems to be an incredible distance away from what the world is like now.

When I watch Playing By Heart, I know that its not fantastic, but I still find myself enjoying it. I like its peculiarities and general tone. I do discover more and more corniness to it every time I watch it, but that's part of the fun in rewatching movies, you always find something new to observe.

Gone Girl

Rating: 5/5

Gone Girl is a film full of intensity, twists and turns, where even when you know the story, it is easy to be compelled to watch it again and again.

On the surface, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) appear to have the perfect relationship. They complement each other in every possible way. The pristine image of their life as a couple gets shattered when Amy goes missing and Nick becomes the primary suspect in her disappearance.

The majority of the mainstream films in existence are told in a very linear way. There may be the occasional use of flashback here and there, but for the most part, the plot goes through a straightforward sequence starting with the beginning of the character's story and following it to its conclusion. Gone Girl in no way follows this pattern. At the root of the film there is a linear story that can be followed, but avoids being forced into normalcy by having flashbacks, red herrings, and point of view shifts intertwined throughout the entirety of the film's runtime. This thriller keeps you on your toes more than most, because if you watch it without any previous knowledge of the plot, you will likely be unable to figure out what could happen next, because the direction style and characters are so unpredictable.

Unlike many viewers, I had not had a chance to read the book by Gillian Flynn before seeing the film, so I had very little information on what the story was about. I knew the general premise, but beyond that I was very uninformed. Honestly, and I rarely, if ever, say this about movies based on novels, I am really glad that I hadn't read the book beforehand. Whenever you watch a film based on a book you've read, especially if it is one you loved, you are inevitably going to be comparing the two mediums for the film's duration. When I first watched Gone Girl my ignorance to the plot allowed me to get fully absorbed in it, and fall for every trick and surprise the story had to offer. I found myself being filled with an eagerness and desperation to know how this very tangled plotline was finally going to unravel. This is of course majorly due to the brilliant story that was pulled from the mind of the book's author, but also because of David Fincher's direction and Rosamund Pike's performance.

David Fincher was able to master a very challenging feat, of making Gone Girl's ever changing trajectory be accessible and understandable to the general audience. He had to be able to prevent the viewers from figuring out the film's second act, but also make it so they wouldn't be so confused or frustrated that they would lose interest. Such a battle may not have been won by a lesser director, but Fincher was able to flawlessly pull it off. Rosamund Pike's character, Amy, is one where you are never sure what to expect from her or how you are supposed to feel about her. She is a character with multiple facets to her personality, and an abundant amount of intellect to go along with it, making her very hard to fully figure out. Pike is able to emanate those qualities, and is a major reason that Gone Girl is such an unusual, sharp, and gripping film.

I have seen Gone Girl many times now since its original release, and every time I watch it, I think the same thing, I wish that I were able to erase my memory so I could watch it again for the very first time. There's such a special quality that film can have, where it creates an experience that leaves a substantial and impactful mark in your memory. If the film is really sublime, you are able to recall the moment when you saw it and exactly how you felt watching it for that very first time. For me, Gone Girl is most certainly one of those films.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Rating: 4.25

An impressive effort given the extensive amount of content provided, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix may not be the best in the film franchise, but its certainly not the worst.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has had to spend the suffocatingly hot months of summer trapped in the home of his muggle relatives, the Dursleys. He is alone and isolated from his friends and since witnessing the death of a fellow student, has been anxiously awaiting news on the return of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Harry has been unable to hear anything about what's going on in the world of magic, but when an unforeseeable event takes place, causing Harry to use his wand in the presence of his muggle cousin, he is finally taken away from the Dursleys and brought back to the Wizarding World.

Once back at school, Harry is being plagued by dreams of mysterious hallways and doors, the Ministry of Magic is calling him a liar, and his vile new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), appears to have it out for him. With so much going against them, it appears that Harry and his mates are going to be hard pressed to find themselves having a normal year at Hogwarts.

With each installment of the Harry Potter films that were released after the Chamber of Secrets, the movies appeared to became less and less faithful to the books. For the most part, this wasn't done because extra content was added in, but because there was so much information in the books that they were unable to include everything and keep the film at a reasonable length. No Harry Potter movie faced that particular challenge as much as Order of the Phoenix did. The fifth book in the series is the longest one, and therefore has the most information packed in. I believe that the movie tried its best to show what it could, but even with excluding numerous chapters worth of important plot points, Order of the Phoenix came off as being very rushed in parts, especially in the beginning. I fully understand the struggle the filmmakers must have faced in deciding what to keep and what to exclude from the book, and that by removing some aspects, the timeline for the story had to be modified for it to make sense, but there are definitely some scenes that only occurred in the book that I would really have loved to see make it to the big screen.

Lord Voldemort is the primary villain of the entire series, but there are few characters as horrific as Dolores Umbridge. From her dainty maniacal giggle to her ability to make your skin crawl with her every word, Imelda Staunton is superb in every aspect of her performance. What's so unique about Umbridge, is that from the outside, she would appear to be a petite and cheerful human being, making her almost more dangerous than some of the more obvious and malicious evil doers. She can seemingly get away with her crimes due to her physical appearance and fabricated personality. Only those who have been privy to seeing the essence of her true soul are fully aware of the horrific deeds she is capable of doing. That type of character is not an easy one to pull off, because it wouldn't take much to have her villainy go too far and lose the essence of the character, thus turning her into a more expected antagonist. As nefarious as Umbridge may be, Imelda Staunton was one of my favorite parts of the film, because of how brilliantly she portrayed the character and stayed so true to the novel.

What never ceases to impress me is the quality of the special effects in the Harry Potter films. When you look back at The Sorcerer's Stone, the computerized visuals may not exactly be impressive by today's standards, but they are still pretty good for its time. The Order of the Phoenix however has aged remarkably well. Yes, as of right now this movie is only twelve years old, but a lot has changed in the world of CGI since then. It is because of the immense amount of time and detail that went into the visuals, both computerized and practical, that the movie has been able to hold up so well. Unlike the newer Fantastic Beasts series, the original Harry Potter movies clearly spent an incalculable amount of time making sure that the Wizarding World appeared as magical, marvelous, and immersive as possible. When you watch the movies, or read the books for that matter, you are supposed to want to be transported into that universe, and thanks to the design and set up of each of the sets and special effects, you can't help but wish more than anything that the magic being shown was real. When Harry enters the Ministry of Magic for the first time in this film, you are just as much in awe of what you are seeing as Harry appears to be.

There are many people who view The Order of the Phoenix as the worst film in the Harry Potter franchise, but I'd have to say that I disagree. This movie faced an uphill battle from the very start and I applaud its efforts at trying to fit in as much book content as it could. However overly fast paced it may be, it is still a Harry Potter story, so it will always hold a very special place in my heart.

The Grey

Rating: 4.25/5

More than just a basic survival film, The Grey brings style and substance to an otherwise fairly repetitive genre.

Liam Neeson plays John Ottway, a man who is clearly running from his past, and has found himself working for an Alaskan oil company. His job is to use his skills as a sharpshooter and hunt the wolves that get too close to the base. However, Ottway appears to take pity on the animals he's had to kill, and seemingly respects the beautiful predators.

When the team working for the oil company have completed their job, they all board a plane to head back to Anchorage. While in the air, the nerves and tension of the men are high, as the plane seems to be experiencing a heavy amount of turbulence. Unable to remain in the air due to the storm, the plane and all its passengers plummet down into the icy Alaskan mountains. When Ottway wakes up, he realizes he is one of a handful of people to have survived the crash, and must take action to ensure his, and everyone else's chances of staying alive.

A small plane crashes into an undisclosed icy tundra. A story that has been told many times before, but what makes The Grey stand out from the others that came before it, and a few that have come after, is the strength in Liam Neeson's performance, and the added intensity of basic survival not being the only threat to the characters. I have seen many survival thrillers, and they are almost all focused around the concept of Mother Nature being enough of an endangerment to life that all other fear tactics are deemed unnecessary. In some films, like 2018's Arctic , this premise works, but it is not the same type of movie as The Grey. Both are very impressive and intense films, but portray that intensity in very different ways. The Grey doesn't disregard the power weather and nature has on the human body, but it doesn't make it the primary focus either. The addition of the wolves adds an element of danger that creates more scenes that are likely to increase your heart rate, and put you on the edge of your seat.

The wolf effects for The Grey are quite impressive overall. However, the scenes where the wolves are seen in the distance, or just implied to be there, are much better than any of the up close action or visuals. There's a scene in particular, where just the breath from the mouth of a howling wolf is seen, and to me, that is far more frightening than any of the sequences where you actually see the wolf full on. Seeing that breath hit the night air, and then be joined by the rest of the howling pack, is a piece of cinema that is effortlessly chill inducing. You can fully imagine the amount of fear that would be coursing through your veins if you were to be in that moment with those characters, and it makes you really appreciate the fact that you are watching the film from the comfort of your own home or movie theater.

Survival movies with a famous lead actor can at times be quite predictable, because you can almost guarantee that the big star attached to the title won't meet a violent end before the film's runtime has completed. With The Grey, I wasn't so sure of this particular theory. I was fairly convinced that all the plane crash survivors weren't going to make it out of the mountains alive, but I wasn't sure as to how or when they were going to die. There's so much uncertainty with a film like this. You can't just worry about wolves being the central problem, you also have the environment to consider as well. You have to think of both foes being likely sources for any of the character's demise, which is a tactic that keeps you on your toes for almost the entirety of the film.

Now, there are some people who strongly dislike The Grey, because it places a target on wolves, similar to what Jaws did for sharks. People worry the movie makes wolves seem like mindless killers, only focused on the hunt. There is a bit of truth in that statement, but only for some of the characters. If anything, The Grey brings out the already existing fears we all have about what we would do in a survival situation, and adds an unexpected amount of heart and compassion along the way.

The Lion King (2019)

Rating: 4.25/5

The Lion King (2019), though a bit redundant at times, is a visionary marvel that is most certainly worth a viewing.

King and queen of the Pride Lands, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard), are proud to show off their new son and future king. As the years go on little Simba (JD McCrary) and his friend Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) fantasize about the day when they won't be under the paws of their parents and have to do what they are told.

One day, in order to prove they aren't little cubs anymore, Simba and Nala venture away from the safety of the Pride Lands in search of an Elephant Graveyard Simba's Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) told him about. It is there they encounter a pack of ravenous hyenas who are ready to ensure the death of the Pride Lands' future king. Saved by his father, Simba realizes there is much more to being king than false bravery, and begins to understand the responsibility that comes with the immense power, and that it will be a long time before he feels ready to take over the throne. However, little does Simba know that it is not just the hyenas that want him gone, and there is a far more sinister plan in the works.

With the release of the new Lion King, there has been much debate over whether or not the film is actually good. Some people are saying it is an unnecessary remake, others are saying it is a beautifully new rendition of a beloved tale. Personally, I find my opinions lie somewhere in the middle. I can see the validity to both sides of the debate, but I do lean more towards the opinions that are in favor for the film. The biggest complaint seems to be that viewers and critics alike are irritated with the shot for shot aspect of the film, saying that it brought nothing new to the story. While this is true, The Lion King was in a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of situation. Unlike the numerous other Disney films, remake or otherwise, The Lion King didn't have as much untapped material to work with. If you compare it to a story like Cinderella, which has been retold and redone so many times that every version can practically have a brand new spin on it, The Lion King was really in a tough spot. If they had changed too much, people would have been irate, but apparently by changing hardly anything at all, viewers were unhappy as well, so they were facing an uphill battle straight from the start when they decided to remake such a legendary film. For me personally, I don't mind the shot for shot concept, because I think the breathtaking animation was really phenomenal to look at, and I rather enjoyed it.

The animation for this film is so realistic, that you have to keep reminding yourself it is not in fact an actual "live-action" film. The detail in the fur looks remarkably real, but it is the eyes in every animal that I found to be the most incredible. They look like the eyes you would see on these animals in the wild, but are given just enough of a glint of personality and soul behind them, that you are able to believe these animals have the ability to talk and have full personalities. I would say the only drawback to having the animation look so lifelike, is that the story begins to veer away from being "child friendly". I knew going into this film that the deaths and tragedies of the original Lion King had had a major effect on me as a child, and I was actually a little worried about how sad or emotional those same scenes would be in a more realistic light; my worries were definitely justified. More than just the heartbreaking material, some of the fights between the animals are so believable, that I can definitely see how they could be frightening to a very young viewer. The animation in itself is an unbelievable achievement, but may end up inadvertently upsetting some of its smaller audience members.

When the trailers for this film first hit the internet, everyone was marveling at the look of it, and there was great talk about the actors chosen to voice the iconic characters. Of course the vast majority were overjoyed at the casting of Beyonce as adult Nala, but it was the voices of Scar, Timon and Pumba that intrigued me most. When I was younger, the more villainous songs were the ones that I was drawn to, because they had a darker aspect to them musically that I really loved, which is why I was utterly disappointed by what was done in the remake for the song "Be Prepared". Whether it was changed because the voice of scar wasn't comfortable singing or because they wanted to stylistically change the arrangement, I couldn't tell you, but all I know is that I doubt I am the only one who felt more than a little cheated when that song, if you can even call it that, began to play in the film. On a more positive note, Billy Eichner, who voiced Timon, and Seth Rogen, who was Pumba, were a welcome breath of fresh air for the film's second act. With the drama being so heightened by the realism of the animation, their comic relief was needed more than ever, and they delivered it with ease and hilarity. Their lines, especially Eichner's, were without a doubt my favorite parts of the movie.

So, is the new Lion King a bad movie? I guess that's for the viewer to decide, but I also think it depends on the mindset you have before going into the theater. I went into it excited to watch it, regardless of what the critics had been saying, so my viewpoint was more focused on the positive rather than the negative. If you sit down to watch it already assuming you're not going to like it, than that will most certainly impact your viewing experience. My best suggestion, go into it with an open mind, bring your inner child to the surface, and sit back and enjoy.

Yesterday

Rating: 4.25/5

Yesterday; a feel good film that brought much more enjoyment than anticipated.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a former teacher who changed his career path in order to try and make it as a serious musician, but so far his attempts have been futile. His longtime friend and manager Ellie (Lily James) has been pushing Jack not to give up on his dreams, and believes she has the solution when she is able to book him a spot at a big upcoming music festival. At first, Jack is ecstatic about being able to play a real gig, but when attendance for his spot in the festival is painfully low, Jack makes the decision to quit his music endeavors for good.

On his way home, Jack is riding his bike when a sudden blackout takes over the city. Being swallowed by darkness, Jack is hit by a bus and thrown from his bike. While waking up in the hospital, he discovers that the blackout didn't just happen in London, but all over the world. After leaving the hospital, he is all set to head back to teaching, that is until he discovers he is the only person alive who remembers The Beatles. With decades of suddenly unknown hits at his fingertips, Jack has to decide if he will let this opportunity pass him by, or use it to his advantage.

My view on The Beatles is most certainly an unpopular one, as I have never been someone who would call themselves a huge fan. I really enjoy their earlier songs and definitely respect the genius and talent they have as musicians, but they've never been a group that I have spent copious amounts of time listening to. That being said, when I heard of the premise for Yesterday, I was most certainly intrigued. I honestly didn't know what to expect going into it. I knew the basic idea, but had no clue as to how it was going to be executed. After watching it, I can honestly say that, as a whole, Yesterday is a very solid and fully entertaining movie. It may have its predictable quirks here and there, but it was still able to pull off some surprises throughout its runtime, and kept me interested and tapping my toes to the music from beginning to end.

Yesterday is not technically a musical, rather a film that has music as its central focus. Even though I am not a huge Beatles fan, I did have some worries about how the creators were going to do the musical arrangements for the film. The Beatles songs are so iconic, I knew that if I were to find any issues with them, the major fanatics would be irate about them. In a way, I was almost an ideal candidate to like this movie, because I didn't have the same emotional attachments to the songs as others did. That being said, I believe that all viewers and listeners, big fans or not, will be able to enjoy Yesterday, and appreciate the respect that is clearly being brought to the music. Yes, the arrangements are slightly different, as the main character faces the struggle of trying to bring songs that were written with a '60s sound into the 21st century, but the familiar melodies and harmonies are still there and are essentially unchanged.

Even with the premise of a blackout removing prominent pop culture icons from the world, the general story of Yesterday was fairly straightforward; a musician's struggle with a romantic element intertwined. It has a simplicity and gentleness at its core, which was definitely enhanced by Himesh Patel's performance. His character is facing a moral struggle, knowing that he is using someone else's work to enhance his success, but feeling sympathy for him when he becomes overwhelmed by his sudden fame is very easy to do. Patel is able to take a story that is far out of the realm of possibility, and make the audience somehow believe it to be true. His reactions make you really wonder what life would be like without some of our most famous idols, and question what we would do if we were to be in his shoes.

It is clear to see how Yesterday is a love letter to The Beatles. As I left the theater, I began to question my outlook on the later years of the classic band, and have vowed to give the songs another go, and see what I have been missing. It is a film that can create new fans, no matter the age, and hopefully appease those who have loved John, Paul, George, and Ringo since the day they heard the first note of a Beatles song.

Patriot's Day

Rating: 4.5/5

Patriot's Day is a film with a palpable intensity and stellar performances from beginning to end.

In 2013, one of the biggest events in Boston, Massachusetts is about to begin; the Boston Marathon. Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) has been assigned to work the finish line, though he is very unhappy about it. Looking around, there are thousands of people who have gathered to cheer on the athletes running in the famous event, and the energy of the crowd is high. The Marathon appears to be running smoothly, until two blasts go off by the finish line, causing mass chaos and multiple casualties.

As soon as Tommy is able to collect his bearings, he and his fellow Boston officers go into crisis mode, attempting to help as many injured athletes and spectators as possible. Once the scene is clear, it is up to the local law enforcement and the FBI to fight the race against time to track down and capture the two men responsible for the bombings.

When creating a film about a true event in history, there's always the risk of offending people who think the story was inaccurately portrayed, or that it was glorifying a tragedy. In my personal opinion, I felt that Patriot's Day was able to tackle the difficult task of relaying the events of such a recent incident, and do it in a mostly respectful way. Instead of making the main focus of the film be action and fear, which it could easily have done, it makes its theme focused around the unbelievable strength and resilience a city or a person can have. As the final credits roll, instead of wondering why someone felt the need for making a film such as this, I found myself with an unexpected feeling of pride and patriotism swelling in my chest. Now, I have lived in Maine my whole life, so the sensation I felt at the end of Patriot's Day could definitely be attributed to how close to home its story was for me, but I also think it is majorly due to the way in which the movie unfolded; starting with small snippets of information on each person involved, then culminating them into one collective band of people fighting for their home.

Given that the Boston Marathon Bombings happened only five years ago, many people can distinctly remember when it happened and what they were doing when they were watching the news, desperately seeking updates on the massive man-hunt that took place in the hours after the bombings. Patriot's Day uses a combination of created and archived footage to tell the story. By using some of the real surveillance and news videos from the actual event, it adds a level of realism to the film that could easily have been otherwise lost. The only piece of Patriot's Day that detracts from the genuine feel of the film, is the fact that Mark Wahlberg's character did not actually exist. His character wasn't completely fabricated, as it was a culmination of three Boston police officers who worked the case of the Boston Marathon Bombings. I understand the need to create a character, so that their lead role is able to be molded to fit the needed events of the plot, but even so, it does add a small dent to the overall solid armor that makes up the film.

In a movie like Patriot's Day, there's always going to be an incredibly large number of actors that make up the cast. Some leads, others supporting, but all essential in telling the story to the best of its ability. Now, it is clear that Wahlberg's character is supposed to be the central focus of the film, but in my opinion, he wasn't what I would consider to be the standout role. Though his part is quite small, J.K. Simmons' additions to the movie were what impressed me the most. Simmons plays Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, who heads the Watertown Police Department. Simmons was able to bring a special quality to his character, making him a very stoic and humble individual. There's no need to try and make him into an action hero, the air of strength and determination he gives off is enough to make him an incredibly memorable addition to the film.

When I first heard they were making Patriot's Day, I must say I had my doubts about how they were going to portray the events of the Boston Marathon Bombings. I did have some scruples about whether or not it was going to seem like a film studio making money off of other's misery, but that is in no way what this movie does. It is a film full of strength and power that leaves a mark on your mind for days after viewing.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Rating: 4.25/5

Ralph Breaks the Internet was a genuine surprise of a movie for me and an enjoyable one at that.

Since their unexpected meeting six years ago, Wreck-It-Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) have been inseparable best friends. When they're both not busy working in their prospective arcade games, they spend their free time hopping from machine to machine and having a good time while doing so.

One day, Venellope expresses her boredom with her game Sugar Rush, stating that she has all the race tracks memorized by heart, and wishes something exciting would happen for once. Attempting to help Venellope, Ralph goes into Sugar Rush and creates a new track, but in doing so, causes a human player to accidentally break the steering wheel as a result of attempting to control Venellope in the game. With the steering wheel broken, it appears that Sugar Rush will have to be unplugged forever; but when Ralph and Venellope hear there's a replacement part being sold on eBay, the decide to jump into the arcade's newly connected Wi-Fi, hunt down the replacement part, and hopefully save Sugar Rush for the foreseeable future.

For me, Ralph Breaks the Internet was a major improvement upon the first Wreck It Ralph. To be honest, I was not a fan of the initial installment, and when I saw they were making a sequel, I had pretty much decided that I wasn't going to waste my time in watching it. However, when I started hearing musings of the sequel's premise, my interest was definitely peaked. What really deserves the credit for getting me to watch this film is Netflix. As I was scanning through new titles, I saw the little clip of Vanellope at OhmyDisney.com, and I was instantly hooked. Now after watching it, I can say that this segment of the film was without a doubt my favorite part. For one, it was so full of imagery, jokes, and nods to all things Disney, that I actually rewatched those scenes several times in an attempt to see all the incredible thought and detail that was put in. Secondly, I was just blown away by the cleverness of this whole part. Even though there's a very small amount of screen time dedicated to the Disney portion of the film, it is obvious that an immense amount of time and effort went into making sure this segment had a big impact, which it definitely did. The fact that they were able to get all the original voices for the princesses was fabulous enough by itself, but then, adding the less-fairytale focused Disney franchises into the mix, just knocked it out of the park.

What had originally turned me away from the first Wreck It Ralph, was the idea that it boasted a concept solely centered around classic arcade games, but them spent the majority of its time focused on fictional ones. I know that in the interest of creating new characters and not having to pay an arm and a leg for creative legal rights, that this decision was likely the most sensible one, but I still found it a little disappointing. However, the same cannot be said for Ralph Breaks the Internet. Just like it would suggest in the title, this film takes its two main characters into the wide world of the web, and many of the gags and scenarios presented in the film are visually funny and colorful for the younger viewers, but verbally and intellectually humorous for the adults. I suppose if you are an audience member who doesn't spend a lot of their time online, many of the jokes made throughout the film will be lost on you, but for those of us who spend more time than we probably should surfing the web, this movie will without a doubt tickle your funny bone.

The odd quality that Ralph Breaks the Internet has, is that I found myself really enjoying this movie, but not for the original characters or even a lot of the major plot line. I really only loved the portions that were the homages and inventive nods towards the infinite number of websites that exist on the internet. Whenever the movie transitioned into a scene where a new villain or challenge faced Ralph or Venellope, I found my eyes starting to glaze over a bit, as I waited for the next ingenious joke or sequence that involved some sort of internet satire. Not saying that this makes this a bad film in any way, just a little strange that for me, the use of preexisting material slightly outweighed any of the original ones.

Even with the minor issues I had with the created characters for the film, I have still found myself thinking about Ralph Breaks the Internet days after first watching it. It is a film with a definite message about the way females have been portrayed in past animated films, as well as one that shows the vast nature of the internet itself. There's so much involved in Ralph Breaks the Internet, that there's really something for everyone to like, and that ability is something Disney has always been able to excel at.

Hearts Beat Loud

Rating: 4.75/5

Hearts Beat Loud is a charming and sincere film that is deserving of more recognition than it currently has.

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) is a single father who is struggling to make ends meet for the record store he owns. His daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) will be going to college in the fall, but is struggling with her decision to move out west when her budding relationship begins to grow with a girl she met at an art gallery.

Frank and Sam both love music, and have being doing weekly "jam-sessions" since Sam was a little girl, and one night, though she is desperately trying to study, Frank convinces her to partake in one of their typical song filled evenings. They create a song titled "Hearts Beat Loud" and when Frank puts it on Spotify, it begins to garner a bit of recognition in the indie-music community. Thinking they have a potential hit on their hands, Frank starts to fantasize about the possibility of he and Sam forming a band, but she is steadfast on her decision to become a doctor. Together they must decide what the future holds for them, and how their music will fall into the mix.

Hearts Beat Loud slipped by my movie radar upon its initial release, and I wasn't even aware of its existence until I saw it being played on a bus I was traveling on. I could tell, even without sound, that it was a film I was going to like, so I waited until I was home to give it the proper attention I assumed it was going to deserve; I assumed correctly. Hearts Beat Loud is a film centered around the love for music, so it definitely needs to be watched with the volume up as loud as one can handle, and by viewers who are just as fascinated by the layers involved in creating a melody as the characters are. For as long as I can remember, I have had a strong passion for music, especially when it is worked into film, so it wasn't very long into the movie's runtime for me to realize that I was going to thoroughly enjoy it.

Years ago, I used to work in a record store, so movies with such a place as one of its main settings always have a special place in my heart. I love the lackluster look of the environment, with its scattered vinyl bins and album posters along the walls; it truly reminds me of the home away from home where I used to spend so much of my time. Such memories could have impacted my viewing, making me like Hearts Beat Loud more than the average audience, but I doubt it. There is so much to love about this film aside from one of its central locations. The record store is just one of the many genuine and heartfelt additions that were included in Hearts Beat Loud. Given the strong importance of music in the story, the songs created by Frank and Sam had to not only be catchy, but make sense for their characters. I can honestly say that since watching this movie for the first time, I found myself not only listening to the songs from the soundtrack, but having them stick in my head for some time after playing it. Proof positive that Hearts Beat Loud more than succeeded with the songs they created for the film.

What truly makes Hearts Beat Loud so wonderful, is the relationship portrayed between Frank and Sam. I have seen very few movies that have made a father-daughter relationship appear so realistic, genuine, and earnest. What I really love about it, is the film clearly implies that there's been conflict as well as emotional events and discussions in the lives of both characters, but it spends very little screen time showing the before-mentioned plot elements. By only implying such aspects to the characters' lives, their relationship is more believable. So many films have wasted time by having a child make a big proclamation to their parent, in order to add drama to the story, but by doing so, it makes the viewer wonder why that character waited until that exact moment to vocalize whatever life-changing piece of information they decided to say. Hearts Beat Loud pushes all that fabricated drama aside, and focuses more on making their characters appear as real as possible, and in fact makes their story feel so normal and ordinary, that you are able to just watch and enjoy, rather than question any of their decisions. The love and history between the two characters is powerfully evident, and is what truly sells the emotional vulnerability and love required to tell the story.

Nick Offerman is someone where if I see he has the lead in a film, I will generally make sure I take the time to watch it, and Hearts Beat Loud is absolutely no exception. Even if you aren't heavily into music, it would be near to impossible for anyone to dislike this film. It's leisurely pace and dedicated performances are enough to make any viewer happy. Plus, as a bonus, I would imagine almost any viewer won't be able to resist the temptation of tapping their feet to the music from beginning to end.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Rating: 4.75/5

As history has shown us, the people behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe rarely put out a bad film, and Spider-Man: Far From Home is proof of this continuing trend.

After battling Thanos, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is in desperate need of a vacation. He wants nothing more than to go on his class trip to Europe with his friends, and to tell his crush M.J. (Zendaya), that he likes her. Unfortunately for him, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has other plans in mind.

Just when humanity thought they were safe from an out of this world attack, a new threat called "the Elementals" begins to take over. Strange and violent entities made from fire, water, or air are starting to attack major cities around the world. When Peter and his class are in Venice, the Water Elemental preys upon the people of the streets. Without his suit, Peter can only fight the monster from the shadows, but when a new hero, Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is quickly named Mysterio, appears on the scene, it seems to Peter that he may not have to fight this battle, or any future ones, alone.

With Spider-Man: Far From Home being one of at least seven feature films about the web-slinging hero, there's always debates going on about which actor has been the best Spider-Man. Each performer has their merits, but in my opinion, Tom Holland takes the prize. For one, he looks the most like a high-school student compared to the previous casting choices, but it is his ability to go from one scene, where he is comedically naive and charming, to another, where he is breaking your heart with the sincerity of his emotions, that makes him so perfect for the role. In this film, as well as any of the other MCU installments that feature Spider-Man, Holland has been able to wrap himself around the audience's heartstrings with his performances. He has an uncanny quality about him that makes him instantly likable, but it is his incredible talent for acting that makes him the greatest live-action version of Spider-Man we've been given thus far.

Spider-Man: Far From Home had the incredibly difficult task of being the next film in the Marvel franchise to follow the ground-breaking success of Avengers: Endgame. Being in the immense shadow of a movie with that unparalleled level of fame and hype, must have been nerve-wracking to say the least. Far From Home of course doesn't have the epic grandeur of Endgame, but it doesn't need it. Visually, it is one of the more innovative installations into the MCU, and that's not just focusing on the battle sequences. For one, it had to use many of the beautiful cities in Europe for its backdrop, which of course aided in making the overall look of the movie as brilliant as it was. What truly made the Far From Home be so stunning was the creativity behind the story and the villains. There's little that can be said without spoiling major content from the plot, so all I will say is that there's more than just swinging from building to building that makes Spider-Man: Far From Home really phenomenal to look at.

Marvel has always reveled in its ability to flawlessly blend comedy and drama into their stories, making your laugh out loud at one moment, and be on the verge of tears the next. Far From Home definitely has its' heartfelt scenes, but it definitely takes a lot of screen time to utilize the comedic potential that is present with Peter's character and Tom Holland's skill. With Peter Parker being so much younger than the other Avengers or any of the recurring characters, many of the jokes that are made are by zeroing in on how little Peter knows about pop-culture that it is outside his generation. Now, this attempt at comedy could easily have fallen flat, and even be viewed as too obvious or easy, but Far From Home makes it too delightful and endearing for the humor to fail. The writers also know how to quit when they're ahead, and that way their jokes remain fresh and not overworked by the end of the film.

With Endgame practically being guaranteed to be the last of the original phases of Marvel films, I definitely had my doubts as to where the the franchise would go, and how invested I would feel towards them if the staple characters were no longer involved. After viewing Far From Home, my worries and reservations have dissolved. Marvel has made sure to demonstrate how talented they are with their craft, and if any of the upcoming films being added to the MCU are as entertaining as this one, then sign me up to watch whatever comes next.

She's the Man

Rating: 3.75/5

She's the Man is a movie I watch more for its nostalgia factor rather than its skill, and if you watch it with that mindset, it can be a really good time.

Viola Hastings (Amanda Bynes) is the star player on her school's soccer team, but she gets a major shock when she is told that her team is being cut from the school's athletic program. Desperate to play, she approaches the boy's team coach and asks to try out, but is told that girls can't play as well as boys and is denied an opportunity to play.

Thinking that her soccer season is doomed to be over, Viola returns home to wallow, but discovers her twin brother Sebastian (James Kirk) escaping out the window and getting ready to head to London with his band, rather than go to his new prep school, Illyria. In a spur of the moment decision, Viola decides to impersonate her brother, go to Illyria, try out for the boy's team, beat her old school in the first match of the season, and prove that girls can play soccer just as well as boys, if not better.

So for starters, let me just say that I'm not kidding myself when it comes to She's the Man, I know this movie is far from being a cinematic masterpiece, but I truly do love it nonetheless. When this movie first came out, I was the exact age for being its target audience. I was a young teenaged girl who truly loved film, but didn't watch every movie looking for its' brilliance, imagery, or cinematography; I was mostly just looking to have fun at the movie theater. If you focus on that description alone, She's the Man most certainly fit the bill. The premise to the movie is inevitably going to be humorous, but also forces the viewer to suspend their focus on reality, and assume that people would actually believe Viola to not only be a boy, but convince people who knew her brother, that she is in fact him. Would this facade be truly possible? Of course not, but with a movie like this it doesn't matter. You watch it for its silliness and entertainment value, and nothing more.

What She's the Man does have going for it, is Amanda Bynes' comedic skill. Ever since she graced the small screen on Nickelodeon's All That, it was clear that Bynes was no slouch when it came to being humorous, and that's a major reason why she really dominated a lot of the teen comedy genre in the early to mid 2000's. Even though the plot of She's the Man stretches quite a ways out of the realm of believability, seeing Bynes' character attempt to pretend to be a man is still just as funny to me now as it was when I first watched it over a decade ago. She is fearless in her humor, and her timing is always flawless. Regardless of what others may think of this film, I will always look back on She's the Man and fondly remember the lovable, spunky, and hilarious qualities that Amanda Bynes brought to her role.

The only true negative I could honestly say towards She's the Man is something that I feel I could add as a comment to any of the cliche teen films that have been made over the years, and that is the unnecessary need to add frivolous fight scenes into the plot. I can honestly not think of one film of this genre that has not included a scene like this, and given the time period in which I grew up, I saw a lot of them. Sadly, She's the Man did not dodge this bullet. The fight scenes at least had a bit of importance to the plot, but for the most part, they just felt like an unneeded attempt to add some adrenaline to an otherwise low-key film. I am not saying that movies shouldn't have fight scenes, because there are countless films that have benefited from including them, but for a story like this, it really just cheapens it.

Even though I am well beyond the intended viewing age for She's the Man, I don't think I will ever come to a point in my life where I don't find it a fun movie to watch. It is an instance where the time in which you first saw a movie will forever impact how you feel about it for any future viewings. Had I watched it for the very first time as an adult, I may not experience the same affection towards it as I do now, but even so, I think that anyone who's initial viewing of it comes in adulthood, they could still enjoy it, because it is a cute little movie that succeeds in its goal to entertain.

Toy Story 4

Rating: 5+/5

Just when you think Pixar can't possibly make the Toy Story franchise any better, they prove their immense skill by coming out with the fourth installment.

Woody (Tom Hanks) and his gang are enjoying their lives at their new home with Bonnie. However, Woody does feel a little under-appreciated, as he was so used to running the show when they were all Andy's toys. When Bonnie is about to go to her kindergarten orientation, Woody sees an opportunity to make his move and show his knowledge and worth.

At orientation, Bonnie is feeling very scared and lonely, and Woody, being the experienced toy he is, takes notice. He helps her out by sneaking craft supplies and a little trash to her so she can create something. The end result is Bonnie's new favorite toy Forky (Tony Hale). When Forky goes home with Bonnie, he has a major struggle understanding that he is a toy and not trash. When Bonnie and her family go on an end of the summer road trip, Forky makes a break for it, and Woody must go on an adventure to get him back and make sure he is returned back home to Bonnie.

When Toy Story 4 began, what struck me right off the bat, was how unbelievably impressive the animation was. With this being the fourth Toy Story film, the characters themselves were not new, but the way they were presented absolutely was. Something that had been not as defined in the previous movies was the difference in texture and sheen between the plastic or porcelain toys. The original Toy Story was groundbreaking with its' animation, but it doesn't even hold a candle to the detail put into Toy Story 4. The scenes within the antique shop were where I really noticed this concept the most. The dust on the baseboards, the lifelike quality of the cat's fur, or the light reflecting off of Bo-Peep's (Annie Potts) cheeks were all immensely astounding to behold.

It is no secret or surprise when someone says that a Pixar film made them cry, as they have a strong tendency to evoke tears from their viewers, however I honestly didn't expect it from Toy Story 4. Going into the movie, I was more than a little unsure about what my opinion was going to be, because I felt the third film had a wonderful sense of finality to it, and originally I had anticipated the fourth movie to be a little unnecessary. None of that rings true now. I found myself enjoying Toy Story 4 more than 3, and maybe even more than 2, which had always been my favorite in the franchise up until now. This particular Toy Story movie used music to bring bring forth the emotion it was trying to convey, along with its' brilliant storyline and animation. I don't think I remember the music being such a prominent element in the other films in the way that it was in this one, and that is what really made the tears come to my eyes; especially in the final act.

You'd think that with there being so many children's movies in existence now, that there can be only so many stories to tell, and after awhile they'd all grow a bit repetitive, but Pixar has always been able to dodge that bullet. Toy Story 4 brought some more frightening aspects to their plot, as well as some unexpected hilarity and oddities. It is without a doubt one of the stranger additions to the franchise, and that could perhaps be why I loved it so much. I really admired the bravery behind the story, and how the writers knew that they needed to bring something new to the table, and were able to deliver that creativity in spades. Pixar has never failed to make me crack a smile, but Toy Story 4 definitely made me laugh out loud more than their average film had. It was one of those memorable movie theater experiences where there were times when just the adults were laughing, then sometimes just the kids, and then the blissful moments where the laughter from the entire audience almost muffled the volume of the actual film. Pure movie magic.

As much as I loved Toy Story 4, I really do hope this is the last one Pixar decides to do. This one ended on such a wonderful high note, that I would hate to see the franchise get cheapened with an unnecessary fifth installment. Although, I had initially thought this one was going to feel unnecessary, so who knows. Pixar obviously knows what they're doing, and they clearly felt the world needed more Woody and Buzz in their lives, and boy were they right.

This Is Where I Leave You

Rating: 2.5/5

This Is Where I Leave You is as equally predictable as it is disappointing, with just enough scattered high notes throughout to keep you watching.

After the death of their father, four estranged siblings have to return home to sit shiva and mourn their shared loss. The problem with this arrangement is that only two of the siblings, Judd (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Tina Fey), get along with each other. The other two brothers, Paul (Corey Stoll) and Philip (Adam Driver) are complete opposites, making for a lot of friction throughout the family's short reunion.

My general dislike for This Is Where I Leave You was quite unexpected. I figured with a cast consisting of Adam Driver, Jason Bateman, and Tina Fey, that the end results had to be good, but sadly I was mistaken. This Is Where I Leave You, I feel, is what happens when a movie tries too hard to be different, and ultimately falls into the same jokes and patterns of your typical indie drama-comedy. Just like other similar films in its genre, you can find sometimes unnecessarily and out of place inappropriate sexual content, a constant sense of uncomfortable awkwardness, and the attempt to find the humor in emotional despair. I know by that previous description, it seems like I would be someone who strongly dislikes indie dramedies, but on the contrary, I would actually classify them as one of my more liked film genres; as long as they are made well enough to be worth watching. Just watch Little Miss Sunshine if you want to see a brilliant example of this style of movie done right.

One of the constant happenings in This Is Where I Leave You that really got on my nerves, was the fighting between the characters. Not just arguing, but actual face punching, throw your sibling across the room fighting. Now, given the concept of the movie, I figured there would be one or two scenes of this nature present in the film, but this tactic definitely outstays its' welcome. It felt like there was almost half an hour of the movie just dedicated to the physical fights alone, and when you add that in with the verbal sparring, the idea of how much the siblings dislike each other becomes too obvious and very old, very fast.

Now, you might be wondering based on what I've written so far, why would I give this movie as high a rating as I did? Well, that would be thanks to the sheer skill in both Jason Bateman and Tina Fey's performances. They were clearly supposed to be the two characters that the audience were meant to be focused on, and even though the movie they were in was subpar at best, they definitely made it worth watching all the way through. Any of the scenes that were focused on just the two of them, were the ones that felt the least forced and where the chemistry between the characters on screen appeared the most natural. It is a testament to the talent of both actors, that together, they were basically able to save the film.

There are very few times where I watch a movie, and when the credits roll, I know I will likely never watch it again. I can probably count on one hand the number of films I've seen and thought this. With all that being said, I am not completely writing This Is Where I Leave You off, but it is one where I have my definite doubts on whether or not a rewatch will ever occur in the future.

Miss Congeniality

Rating: 4.5/5

Miss Congeniality is a movie that was doomed to fail with the critics, but was almost guaranteed to be loved by its audience.

Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) is a tough as nails FBI agent, who prides herself on her less than feminine nature. When an undercover operation goes wrong, Gracie finds herself in trouble with her director, and that quite a few of her fellow agents have lost some of their faith in her. When the FBI receives another letter by the unknown criminal who goes by the name "the Citizen", all agents are on a mission to decipher the cryptic message to see where the next attack will be.

It is not long before Gracie and a few others at the FBI figure out that the Citizen's next target is the Miss United States Pageant. Knowing that they will need someone on the inside to prevent the attack, Gracie's coworker and friend Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt) suggests that she be the agent they send to be undercover. Though completely appalled at first by the idea, Gracie, her newly hired beauty pageant consultant Victor (Michael Caine), and the director of the pageant, Kathy Morningside (Candice Bergen) agree to give it a go.

Miss Congeniality is without a doubt one of my more watched films, not because it is a cinematic masterpiece, but because it is a lot of fun; which if I had to take a guess, is exactly what the creators of the movie were going for. Miss Congeniality doesn't reinvent the wheel as far as the typical pattern of a romantic-comedy goes, but it boasts a superb cast with an equally entertaining storyline to go along with it. Even though I have seen this particular film enough times that I can recite portions of the dialogue, I still can't help but love it just as much as I did the first time around. Even if the premise is a bit out there, and the end results are predictable, I just don't care. I have a genuinely good time watching it, and that's all you can ask for from a movie like this.

Performances in any film are crucial to the audience's ability to accept the storyline, and sometimes that concept is even more important for a comedy. If the characters are too over the top or beyond the point of belief, then the quality of the comedic attempts or drastically lowered; at least that's the way I see it. For Miss Congeniality, one of the reasons the movie works so well is that each actor knew how to fit their role without crossing over the boundary into ridiculousness. Sandra Bullock's portrayal of Gracie was no surprise, as she had been cast as a member of law enforcement as well as a tomboy before, but Michael Caine's was a slightly different story. Caine appears to rarely say no to a role, and sometimes that can be a detriment to an actor's career, but Caine always seems to put his best effort into his performance, no matter the role. So many actors could have easily made the role of Victor into your stereotypical effeminate stylist that can be found in countless rom-coms (not dissimilar to a role in Miss Congeniality's sequel) but Caine played it in a fairly refreshing way. It is clear what character archetype Victor is supposed to belong to, but instead of going overboard with it, Caine takes a milder approach to the role, which in turn adds a subtle and sarcastic humor to the character that could have been otherwise lost if the role had gone to another actor.

I have been a self titled "film fanatic" for as long as I can remember, but I think I will always be a hard person to satisfy when it comes to the comedy genre. I have never been a one for immature jokes or overly raunchy comedic material, so it is usually a fairly big deal for me if I enjoy a comedy. One of the many reasons I love Miss Congeniality is that there's no painful moments of forced humor, such as making someone trip or have gastrointestinal issues in order to get a laugh. They let the material speak for itself, and trust in their story and cast to make their writing funny, and it works. The movie knows when to stop a bit before it grows old or irritating, allowing for the film to reach its full potential and entertainment level.

When it comes to Miss Congeniality, I am not kidding myself, I know it's not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes movies are made just to be enjoyed, not to be marveled at. I occasionally tire of the concept that in order for a film to get a good review, it needs to be innovative or artsy. Miss Congeniality is a film that's made to watch and have fun with, and that is exactly what makes it great.

Surf's Up

Rating: 5/5

A truly one of a kind children's film, Surf's Up is one of my personal favorite animated movies.

16 year old Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) is a penguin living in Antarctica, who dreams of becoming a professional surfer. Unfortunately for him, it doesn't appear his goal can become a reality. However, when a camera crew making a documentary about the upcoming Big Z Memorial Surfing Competition arrives in Antarctica looking for surfing competitors, Cody finally sees his hopes for a career as a surfer potentially becoming a reality.

When Cody arrives at Pengu Island, he is completely overwhelmed and excited about the prospect of participating in a real surfing competition. When Cody meets the top competitor Tank (Diedrich Bader), he quickly realizes that he is not nearly as skilled in the sport of surfing as he once thought. With the help of local lifeguard Lani (Zooey Deschanel) and fellow surfing contestant Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), Cody will do his best to redeem himself in the eyes of the competition.

Surf's Up is without a doubt one of the most unique children's films made by a big name studio. For one, the concept of it being a documentary is brilliantly executed, but it is also truly creative and its jokes rarely, if ever, fall flat. I can honestly say that I there are very few films intended for children that have made me laugh as much as Surf's Up has. It is a movie that is more than enjoyable for any age, and I have yet to find an adult who doesn't love this film as much as I do. There are even times in Surf's Up where I found myself laughing at jokes that if they were made in any other movie, I most likely wouldn't have found it nearly as humorous.

What I really admire the most about Surf's Up is how accurate their portrayal of a documentary is. The way the "interviews" are conducted are spot on, and how they show past events that influenced the documentaries are exactly how I have seen them in the real life films of the genre Surf's Up is emulating. It is so wonderfully well done, that if you look passed the talking penguins, it is quite easy to forget that you are watching an animated film, and not a legitimate documentary.

Surf's Up is one of the best exhibitions of the importance behind good casting for voice acting. Shia LaBeouf doesn't necessarily have a distinctive or unique voice, but his acting skills effortlessly come through his cartoon character. Zooey Deschanel has one of the more recognizable voices in the film, and her soft, quirky tone is a great blend alongside Jon Heder's slow drawl, and the gravelly vocals of Jeff Bridges. There is a wide assortment of characters assembled for the cast, and I don't know if you would ever find a live action film where you'd see all the actors together, but put their voices to animation and it miraculously works.

Surf's Up may not be as popular as the majority of the animated films put out by Disney and Pixar, but it deserves just as much recognition. It is quick witted, innovative, and in my opinion, a must see film for viewers of all ages.

Chef

Rating: 5/5

One of my all time favorite summer movies, Chef is a film that never seems to get old.

Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a highly-renowned chef, on the verge of celebrity status. The only thing holding him back is the man who owns the restaurant he works for. Carl wants nothing more than to experiment with the menu he serves, but is being forced to create the same dishes day in and day out. Even though he is making the same mundane meals every day, Carl cannot seem to find any time in his week to devote to his son Percy (Emjay Anthony).

When a major food critic dines at the restaurant where Carl works, he is just as disappointed in the food as Carl has been. Unaware of how social media works, Carl blasts the critic on Twitter, not knowing that he has just started a viral online war. After an outburst towards the critic who trashed his menu, Carl must find a way to rectify his mistakes both inside the kitchen and within his family.

Chef is a film, that oddly enough, I didn't overly love the first time I watched it, but that particular opinion didn't last long at all. After my initial viewing, I had this nagging feeling of wanting to give the movie another shot, and I am so glad that I did. Chef has now become one of my favorite movies to kick off the summer with. When I watch it, I easily feel as if I could start it all over again, and not tire of it at all. There's a very unusual tone with this film, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes it so unique. I believe that part of it is that it is effortlessly enjoyable, without any hint of pretension whatsoever. The actors fall naturally into their performances, and it is impossible to even tell that they're acting, and not actually the people represented on the screen.

Like many other movies made in the 2010s, Chef utilizes the world of social media to help move its plot forward. There are films where this particular tactic falls flat, but for Chef it is a major asset. It doesn't use it as strongly as a movie like Searching does, but by including the Twitter aspect to the film, it not only gives a driving force to the story, but adds a sentimental element to the movie that may have been missing otherwise. The great thing about the way Chef uses this particular form of social media is that you don't have to be overly proficient with how Twitter works in order to see the beneficial impact it has on the overall film. This movie speaks to multiple generations, and is immensely enjoyable because of it.

Jon Favreau is a director and actor that I have put on my radar to keep a watch out for his work. I have yet to see a film directed by him that I didn't at least like, and his take on the Jungle Book is a piece of cinema to truly marvel at. Chef is proof that Favreau is a Jack of all trades in the film world. He can go from animation to action and not lose any of his skill along the way. Chef is definitely what I would consider to be a low key movie in his collection of work, but it is just as entertaining as his more epic films. Favreau's performance is incredibly subtle in Chef, and not requiring any over the top actions or gestures. There is one moment where his character's emotions boil over, but even then, Favreau doesn't allow the performance to get carried away. This goes for every other actor in the film as well. Nobody has a scene where it could be considered, the greatest or most dramatic moment in a movie, but that's part of what makes the film thrive. There's almost a calming sensation that can be found by watching Chef, and it is majorly thanks to the excellent chemistry and portrayals given off by the cast.

I feel as if Chef is a movie that isn't overly well known, but for those who have seen it, they have fallen in love with it. You can see the immense amount of culinary training done by the actors playing the chefs, as well as the heart, and soul that was put into the film by entirety of the cast. I have rarely seen a film that has made food look as irresistibly appetizing as this, and my one major recommendation to any new viewer would be to not watch it on an empty stomach.

Cape Fear (1991)

Rating: 4.75/5

Brilliantly directed and acted, Cape Fear is a thriller that packs a serious punch.

Convicted rapist Max Cady (Robert De Niro) has just been released from prison after over a decade of incarceration. Upon his reentry into the free world, the only thing on Cady's mind is revenge against the lawyer who defended him, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte).

Meanwhile, Bowden, his wife Leigh (Jessica Lange), and daughter Danny (Juliette Lewis) are unaware of Cady's release, let alone his thoughts of vengeance. They are trying to enjoy their summer, but when Max sets his plan into motion, there appears to be nothing they can do to stop his reign of terror.

Cape Fear is one of the few classic film remakes that attempts to pay homage to its roots, but is still able to modernize it to the time in which it was filmed. This particular remake is definitely more violent and upsetting than what one would normally find in a film from the classic era, but it pays tribute to that time with its use of score and shadows. Given that the music in this film was originally an unused film track composed by Bernard Herrmann, it is clear as to why this movie hits so many Hitchcockian notes throughout its suspenseful runtime. This is a movie where the tension rarely ceases, and it is strongly due to Scorsese’s vision and the combination of the editing and the music.

Robert De Niro is famous for his committed performances, and his portrayal of Max Cady is certainly no exception. His character is filled with rage, and an unyielding willpower, which put together creates one intensely frightening role. The other actors have to basically build their characters off of whatever off the wall and psychotic decision De Niro chooses to do as Max Cady, and therefore Cape Fear has very believable reactions portrayed by its cast. You can tell they are almost as terrified to see what Cady/De Niro will do next, and have no way to plan their performance, but instead have to rely on instinct. Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis are great examples of this in Cape Fear. Both have scenes in the film where their characters are being pushed to their emotional limit, and the end result is two performances that feel remarkably raw and genuine.

For Cape Fear, Scorsese clearly traded style and symbolism for reality, but it worked for the overall tone of the movie. There are aspects to the film, especially to De Niro's character, that would be very unlikely to be possible, but I don’t believe possibility is what Scorsese was going for. To me, it felt like turning this movie into a work of art instead of your run of the mill thriller was his goal, and he certainly succeeded. If this movie had been put into the hands of another creative team, the results would have been very different, and most certainly not as impressive or impactful. It would most likely have been another addition to the ever growing collection of thrillers that are fun to watch at the time, but forgettable as the credits begin to roll.

Cape Fear is a movie that I usually only watch once or twice a year, and it’s definitely not due to it being poorly made. I actually have to psyche myself up to watch it because there are scenes that make me immensely uncomfortable or stressed. However unsettling this movie may be at times, it’s 100% worth the viewing, because the performances and creativity are too good to be missed.

The Proposal

Rating: 4/5

In a romantic comedy full of charm, The Proposal is a movie that boasts a great cast and is incredibly easy to enjoy.

Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) is a fierce and feared editor for a publishing company in New York City. Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds) spends every waking moment as Margaret's assistant. He despises her, but knows that if wants to become a book editor, he needs to meet her every demand.

When Margaret learns that she has violated the terms of her immigration, she is told she must go back to Canada unless she has proof that she shouldn't be deported. Panicked and desperate for a solution to keep her in the states, Margaret lies and says she and Andrew are going to be married. In order to sell their scheme to the immigration officer, Andrew and Margaret must prove their "relationship", and to do so, they must go to visit Andrew's family for his grandmother's 90th birthday in Sitka, Alaska.

One of the issues with looking at reviews for any rom-com, is that they are almost guaranteed to be negative. The critics always gripe about the lack of originality in the plot or that it follows a pattern. Well, here's my thoughts on that. Romantic comedies aren't supposed to be groundbreaking works of cinema. There should be a sense of comfort and ease while watching a film from this genre. You know there will be a moment where the water gets choppy for the couple around the second act of the film, yet you know it will all work itself out in the end. Not earth-shattering by any means, but enjoyable nonetheless. The Proposal is a great example of this concept. Yes, it does follow your typical rom-com formula, but it does so with excellent performances, and comedy that isn't too silly or over the top.

The Proposal is without a doubt one of my favorite romantic-comedies, and it easily in part to its' excellent casting, and that isn't just for the two leads. Every member of Andrew's family is made up actors and actresses who almost always make a film better, even the most mundane or ordinary ones. I for one feel that Mary Steenburgen, who plays Andrew's mom, is an actress who adds instant warmth and heart to a film, and she is without a doubt one of the best additions to the movie. Andrew's grandmother, played by Betty White, is quirky and a little crazy, but lovable all the same, and no one could do this as well as the incomparable Betty White.

As far as its' two leads go, I had already been a Sandra Bullock fan before this film, so I knew that I would like the female lead, but I wasn't completely sold on Ryan Reynolds yet; the Proposal changed all that. I actually found myself laughing more at the lines delivered by Reynolds than anyone else in the movie. He delivers his comedy with subtlety and effortless wit, and is just another example how great the casting for this film is. Though their is a noticeable age difference between the two, Reynolds' and Bullock's chemistry throughout the Proposal is both humorous and adorable.

The Proposal is a romantic-comedy that may have one of the biggest critic to audience review discrepancies I've seen. For audiences who enjoy rom-coms, they love it, but for critics who don't, they aren't very kind to it. This movie definitely has its' moments where the comedy might be overly goofy or strained, but for the most part, it is fun, delightful, and an all around good time.