Backlash to the Backlash

It happened in 2015 with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It happened in 2016 with La La Land. I saw it happen again last year with Get Out surprisingly. It will probably continue to happen as long as movies exist. What is “it” exactly? Why, the ubiquitous Internet backlash, of course! This phenomenon appears whenever a certain film attracts too much attention or praise. Then like clockwork, the naysayers arise from the dark corners of the Internet to criticize said film in an attempt to quell the overwhelming positivity. To be honest, I’m also guilty of this sometimes, but for the most part, I absolutely hate seeing a good movie unfairly buried through no fault of its own. With this mini-rant, I will try to find a solution that reduces the amount of Internet backlash from our discussion on cinema.

The main culprit of Internet backlash centers around award season, primarily the Oscars (because I couldn’t care less about those pointless Golden Globes). The most relevant example is the aforementioned La La Land which received a record-tying 14 nominations from the Academy in 2016. Coupled with the near-unanimous critical acclaim, this made Damien Chazelle’s musical the prime target for backlash. People felt the need to stress to their friends who hadn’t seen the film, “Well, it wasn’t that good.” Let me be perfectly clear: awards DON’T MATTER. Regardless of how many articles I write about the Oscars, they’re just for fun; winning “the most prestigious award in Hollywood” doesn’t automatically serve as an indicator for quality (looking at you, Crash and Shakespeare in Love). The fact that La La Land managed to tie Titanic and All About Eve for the most nominations is a cool trivia fact and nothing else. I mean, I think La La Land is close to perfect, but I would never discourage anyone from voicing a differing opinion (hehe). So please don’t make hasty decisions and rush to post negative comments based on awards alone.

This brings me to another interesting point: when did we decide that a movie had to be compared to another in order to determine its quality? Sure, it makes for spirited debate, but the world of cinema was never intended to be looked at as a competition. Do you think Spielberg constantly wonders if Scorsese is making a better movie than him in the same year? No, they’re all artists who take the process of moviemaking seriously without feeling the need to one-up a fellow professional. Look at La La Land again and Moonlight, the film that actually won Best Picture (still not bitter at all). When the real winner was revealed, I saw reactions from passionate fans who lauded Moonlight as far superior to La La Land which had already gone through prior backlash. Why can’t we examine each movie on its own without unfairly alluding to something else? Both of those films are fantastic and the only thing separating them is your personal preference. The way I see it, the only fair method to judge two movies is when they are exactly the same (i.e. a shot-for-shot remake). Even within genres, it’s hard to do so because the spectrum is quite broad; can you objectively compare Guardians of the Galaxy and The Dark Knight for instance? Therefore, other than for entertainment purposes, it makes little sense to indulge in an argument about movies, removing some of the backlash since unfair comparisons subsequently wouldn’t come up in conversation as often.

Wait…am I saying there can’t be any debate about cinema whatsoever? Of course not, but I hope that the way we do so is carried out in a respectable fashion. Don’t wait until the end of the year to denounce a movie you saw in February; I recently saw a YouTube comment about Get Out complaining that if you take out the social commentary, it’s not a very good film. Um, excuse me? Aside from the fact that you can’t remove certain elements to fit an agenda, this person seemingly went on a tirade for the sole reason that he was tired of hearing everyone praise one of the best movies of the year. It sounds like an obvious truth, but it’s worth repeating: if you saw a good movie, you saw a good movie (and vice versa). Doesn’t matter if it was five years ago or five minutes ago. Awards recognition, critics’ opinions, or other external factors shouldn’t play a role in determining your personal enjoyment of it. Yes, it’s difficult to avoid listening to outside sources, but I hope that over time, you’ve been able to form your own opinions about cinema. Therefore, you should also know how to back those opinions up. I once got into an argument with another blogger who claimed that Toy Story was overrated (long overdue backlash, but still). When I nicely asked him to explain why, he got defensive and couldn’t give any legitimate reasons beyond some form of “it looks dated.” Film criticism is strongly encouraged, but there are certain circumstances where it’s less welcome. If you didn’t like Get Out immediately after seeing it, go ahead and voice that opinion. If you took some time and then came to the same conclusion, be my guest. But when you suddenly feel the urge to go against the grain just to create some backlash, take a step back. Adding your own vitriol to an otherwise tame debate isn’t helping anyone.

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2018 Movies to Avoid

Of course, any year wouldn’t be complete without some bad movies. Maybe some of these ten will turn out just fine, but don’t hold your breath.

  1. Fifty Shades Freed: Sigh…do you really need me to explain why? Thankfully, it’s all over now and we can return to a world without movies based on Twilight fan fiction.
  2. Peter Rabbit: I want you to stop reading for a second and watch the trailer for this movie. OK, welcome back. Wasn’t that the absolute dumbest thing you’ve ever seen? James Corden is disgracing the source material before the movie even comes out. Should we really be surprised though? This is the same guy who said yes to The Emoji Movie.
  3. Tomb Raider: Let’s not mince words here. Tomb Raider is a video game movie through and through. Therefore, it’s doomed to fail just like the rest. Not even the incredibly talented Alicia Vikander can save this unnecessary reboot. Alicia, if you’re reading this, why didn’t you consult with your husband (Michael Fassbender) about starring in one of these? He must have learned something from Assassin’s Creed
  4. Sherlock Gnomes: Hey guys, remember the animated classic Gnomeo and Juliet? Anyone? Bueller? Well, now the folks at Paramount made the brilliant decision to greenlight a sequel and give it the insufferable title Sherlock Gnomes. Starring washed-up Johnny Depp as the famous detective? BOO!
  5. Rampage: Oh look, another video game movie. The Rock is slowly wearing out his welcome with every dumb action movie he wills into existence. What will fighting a giant gorilla, wolf, and crocodile do to change the equation? Absolutely nothing.
  6. Overboard: Again, stop and watch the trailer. Again, marvel at the stupidity. Already a pointless remake of the cult favorite starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, the filmmakers think a gender swap with unfunny talent like Anna Faris and “Eugenio Derbez” will work miracles. Guess what? It won’t.
  7. Ocean’s 8: I assume you’re already familiar with my take on all-female reboots. If not, allow me to point out who I think will tank this movie: Rihanna and Awkwafina. Call me when either of them turn in a good performance.
  8. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: I honestly want to stop writing after constantly looking down the list and anticipating more crap like this. I mean, the only logical way to improve on the first Jurassic World is by adding a volcano and making everything explode, right? Brilliant! Oh, and let’s bring Goldblum back for nothing more than a cameo; I bet he’s only there to deliver the line “life, uh, finds a way” again. Who even cares anymore? There’s no saving this franchise.
  9. Holmes and Watson: At first glance, the title doesn’t scream “stay away.” Then you dig a little deeper and examine the team behind it. Directed by the guy who made Get Hard (yes, real movie, not a porno) and starring, of all people, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as the crime-solving duo. Really? Who’s going to buy that?
  10. Bumblebee: The Movie: Wait, Michael Bay isn’t directing this one? Don’t care (FYI, he’s still producing). I haven’t seen the last two Transformers and the casting of legendary actor John Cena certainly won’t tip the scale.

Almost made the list:

  • Robin Hood: Do we really need another one?
  • Mowgli: Do we really need another one?
  • X-Men: Dark Phoenix: Do we really need…OK, I’ll stop now. Even though more Sophie Turner is always a good thing, we have a first-time director handling a storyline that he already bungled once in The Last Stand. No thanks.
  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: Johnny Depp’s going to play a more prominent role in a franchise that will ultimately span five films? Excuse me while I go vomit.
  • Aquaman: Why do people think Jason Momoa did a good job portraying the character in Justice League? Besides the muscles, he was terrible and only showed up when the screenwriters remembered to use him. Stop giving the DCEU chances; Wonder Woman was lightning in a bottle that remains unlikely to be replicated.

Most Anticipated 2018 Movies

Another year, another (hopefully) great year for movies! For your leisure reading, I’ve come up with a list of 15 movies that I’m highly anticipating in 2018. Keep in mind that I’m not declaring all of them to be great by any means. I thought The Circle looked promising and we all know how that turned out…

*Ordered by release date

  1. Black Panther: The movie comes out in February, hence the #1 spot, but if I actually ranked them, Black Panther might still reign at the top (yes, even over another Marvel movie further down the list). Every single trailer has been amazing. I have the utmost faith in Ryan Coogler and the entire cast. It looks slick, fast-paced, and beautifully shot. What more do you want?
  2. Annihilation: What the heck is this, you may ask? Well, it’s directed by Alex Garland, the same guy who made Ex Machina, an intelligent and thought-provoking sci-fi film. His next project looks like a horror version of Arrival starring Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac, so…yeah I’m excited.
  3. A Wrinkle in Time: I confess to never having read the book, but the film adaptation looks like a visual masterpiece. It’s utterly preposterous that Ava DuVernay doesn’t get more work, but if Disney trusts her with an enormous budget, then I’m all in.
  4. Isle of Dogs: Wes Anderson may not always make the “best” films, but you can always count on him doing something unique and interesting. Isle of Dogs fits that bill perfectly. It’s very tricky to pull off stop-motion animation, but Anderson already has experience with the medium after Fantastic Mr. Fox. Throw in a solid voice cast featuring Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, and a ton of others? I think we have the sleeper hit of 2018 here.
  5. Ready Player One: Now this is one book I’ve read! Spielberg hasn’t hit a homerun in awhile, but this is the perfect property for him to rediscover his mojo. Many of the pop culture references from Ernest Cline’s novel are heavily inspired by the legendary director’s films (though, to avoid accusations of vanity, Spielberg reportedly shied away from nods to his own work). There’s a lot of CGI, but at the very least, I’m curious to see the final product.
  6. A Quiet Place: “Produced by Michael Bay” scares me (and not in the good way), but the trailer looks genuinely creepy. Real-life couple John Krasinski and the perfect Emily Blunt are trapped in a house with their two kids where they can’t make a sound or something will come out to attack them. I’m ready to give more horror films a chance after Get Out and I think this is the one that will surprise me.
  7. The New Mutants: Given the choice between the two X-Men movies coming out in 2018, I went with the one that looks unlike anything we’ve seen before in this universe. If Deadpool or Logan proved anything, it’s that we need more unique perspectives in the comic book genre and a supernatural horror film that also happens to include people with abilities sounds awesome. So does the prospect of seeing Maisie Williams in more things.
  8. Avengers: Infinity War: Man, I’m really hoping this indie film pays off. They’re taking a huge risk with unknown actors like “Robert Downey Jr.” and “Chris Evans,” but you know what? I have faith that this could lead to a new cinematic universe or something. Fingers crossed.
  9. Deadpool 2: Can they please reveal the official title as Untitled Deadpool Sequel (which is what the studio has been calling it)? That would fit so well with a movie I assume will be even more crazy and ridiculous than the first. Perhaps more exciting is the genius marketing that commenced with the hysterical “Wet on Wet” teaser.
  10. Incredibles 2: You don’t need any persuasion from me. You’re going to see this film regardless. The fact that it took 14 years to make a sequel will only enhance the satisfying experience. I just really want to hear Michael Giacchino’s score again for two hours.
  11. Sicario 2: Soldado: Don’t agree with the choice to add “Sicario 2” in front of an already solid title. Did you think no one was going to watch something written by Taylor Sheridan and starring Benicio del Toro? Well…maybe. In any case, I’m anxious to see where the characters go following Denis Villeneuve’s initial crime thriller.
  12. Crazy Rich Asians: Finally, an all-Asian cast and Matt Damon is nowhere in sight! Honestly, just reading the plot synopsis of the book enticed me, but then you cast the underappreciated Constance Wu and other famous Asians like Michelle Yeoh and Ken Jeong? Take my money.
  13. First Man: Why would Jeffrey be excited about a Neil Armstrong biopic? Who’s even directing it? Ohhh…never mind.
  14. Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2: You expect me to not include a highly anticipated sequel to one of the best animated films ever? Then it’s revealed that there will be a scene involving ALL the Disney princesses, therefore lending credibility to my Disney Princess Avengers script? Somebody pinch me.
  15. Mary Poppins Returns: Emily Blunt pops up again (pun absolutely intended), like I wish she would do in my life…dang it, stop thinking out loud! Sincerely wish it wasn’t Rob Marshall directing (FYI, Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and Into the Woods were his last two films), but in Lin-Manuel Miranda I trust.

Almost made the cut:

  • Mission: Impossible 6: We just haven’t gotten any footage (probably because Tom Cruise injured himself on set) or even a plot synopsis, so I can’t put it on the list yet.
  • The Predator: Never seen one of these, but Shane Black directing makes me more intrigued (if you haven’t seen The Nice Guys, you really should). The cast is…interesting? I’ll reserve judgment until I see a trailer.

Notable omissions:

  • Solo: A Star Wars Story: I’m just concerned about all the production issues; Rogue One went through a similar thing and the final film was a mixed bag. It could still be good because, you know, it’s Star Wars, but I’m less confident than most.
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Seriously, why does everyone seemingly praise Ant-Man like it’s in the upper tier of the MCU? I do approve of the new cast additions like Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne, but let’s be realistic here. Mediocre movies shouldn’t immediately get sequels.
  • Pacific Rim Uprising: See the last sentence. I feel like it’s just going to be more of the same mindless action with mild attempts at a story.

The Definitive Ranking of 2017 Movies

I made a resolution last year to see more movies and guess what? Instead of a standard boring top ten list, I’m giving you a ranking of all 29 I saw this year (and yes, I have no life). There’s only a few short thoughts for each one; if you want to know more about my opinions of each film, I’m more than happy to get into a discussion in the comments. Even considering the sheer number I saw in 2017, there are still a ton of films I need/want to see (listed below).

  1. Baby Driver: The most fun I had in a theater this year. Edgar Wright takes all other directors to school and films incredible action sequences without sacrificing story. Oh yeah, he also knows a little something about music.
  2. Get Out: Who ever thought someone most known for a sketch comedy show would go on to direct one of the greatest modern horror films? I could spend hours dissecting the multiple layers of unintentional racism that permeate the film and society in general. A masterpiece that I secretly hope wins Best Picture.
  3. Logan: I think switching to the R-rating really paid off, don’t you? Hugh Jackman has never been better as the character he’s played a million times before. Get some tissues ready for the ending.
  4. War for the Planet of the Apes: Yeah, the title’s misleading, but the character study and examination of real war is perhaps more interesting than a bunch of explosions. Andy Serkis is a motion-capture god and will probably continue to be unfairly snubbed for acting awards. A beautiful film, plain and simple.
  5. Dunkirk: Is there a genre Nolan can’t tackle? Go ahead and complain about the lack of emotional attachment, I felt like I was there on that beach with those soldiers, fearing the worst and hoping for the best.
  6. Coco: Perfect example of execution overcoming formulaic plot. Be prepared for those warm fuzzy feelings Pixar has gracefully mastered since the beginning.
  7. Blade Runner 2049: Not a single frame is wasted (please give Roger Deakins his first Oscar). Certainly slow-paced, but Villeneuve makes every second worthwhile.
  8. Wonder Woman: Cultural milestone that will stand the test of time. Gal Gadot, you are the ray of sunshine we desperately needed. Third act admittedly a little sloppy, but overall an important step forward for female representation both behind and in front of the camera.
  9. The Big Sick: Super charming and heartfelt. No comedy is more honest about grief and the rough patches of a relationship. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are the greatest movie parents.
  10. Detroit: Out of Kathryn Bigelow’s work, the one that affected me most simply because the depicted incidents are still happening to some degree. Will Poulter sheds the “eyebrows kid” label and should be nominated.
  11. Wind River: Haunting, but effectively captures the brutal conditions and feeling of loneliness. Not talked about enough this year.
  12. Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Sigh…this should easily be in the top ten because, you know, it’s Star Wars. But for every awesome moment, there is an equally questionable one. The breathtaking action set pieces are what keep it from slipping any farther, but at the same time, so much can be cut out.
  13. Mudbound: Similar to 12 Years a Slave (powerful film about racism I don’t need to see again). Uplifting final scene followed by Oscar-worthy Mary J. Blige song.
  14. John Wick: Chapter 2: I can still feel the pencil kill. Justifiable sequel that builds upon the original.
  15. Spider-Man: Homecoming: Finally gets both Spider-Man and Peter Parker right, but third act fight with Vulture a disaster in editing.
  16. Thor: Ragnarok: Best Thor movie by a landslide, but feels inconsequential. In Korg, Taika Waititi gifted Marvel its best idea ever.
  17. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Maybe there is such a thing as “too many jokes.” Mary Poppins line funniest of 2017?
  18. The Lego Batman Movie: See #16. The movie’s clever riffing on previous iterations of the masked vigilante does provide the biggest laughs though.
  19. Okja: Important social commentary, but suffers from odd shifts in tone along with a rare annoying Jake Gyllenhaal performance.
  20. Atomic Blonde: The one take stairwell fight scene transcends an otherwise muddled story. Charlize Theron didn’t have the greatest year (see below).
  21. The Lost City of Z: Masterfully shot and well-acted, but nothing particularly memorable stuck with me.
  22. Alien: Covenant: Didn’t see Prometheus beforehand, so my opinion wasn’t tarnished going in. Gorgeous setting, but Ridley Scott essentially borrowed from the original Alien and threw in two Fassbenders. Does contain the best unintentionally dirty line of 2017: “I’ll do the fingering.”
  23. Beauty and the Beast: A visual smorgasbord, but CGI sticks out like a sore thumb. Doesn’t really attempt to add anything different like The Jungle Book did.
  24. Cars 3: Hey, at least it’s better than the last one. But was a third film that essentially boiled down to course correction really necessary?
  25. Justice League: The momentum after Wonder Woman? Poof. Zack Snyder (family tragedy aside) continues to prove he shouldn’t be given a massive budget.
  26. The Lego Ninjago Movie: Has this franchise run out of gas only three films in? Sadly, it looks that way after a bland and cliché mess.
  27. Kong: Skull Island: The director’s rant on Twitter about the CinemaSins video alone guarantees a low ranking. Kong is cool, no other character comes close.
  28. Mother!: Mixed Bible metaphors galore from an angry director who has no idea what he’s doing. Bold and artistic? Try offensive and pretentious.
  29. The Fate of the Furious: The maximum amount of stupid with no entertainment value whatsoever. F (for failure and other notable F-words)

Have yet to see: Split, Colossal, Your Name, Captain Underpants, Logan Lucky, It, Stronger, Battle of the Sexes, Lady Bird, Three Billboards, Wonder, Darkest Hour, Call Me by Your Name, The Disaster Artist, The Shape of Water, I Tonya, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Downsizing, The Post, Molly’s Game, Phantom Thread

My Christmas Present to You

My mother, always full of brilliant ideas, came up with another one for the holidays. She suggested that my sister and I each come up with a list of 15 movie recommendations to send out to everyone. The only stipulation? Nothing R-rated in keeping with the Christmas spirit. While that eliminated a good amount, I was still able to assemble a list with a variety of flavors for your personal enjoyment. None of these movies are in my personal top ten (that would be too easy, you can read about those elsewhere), but they will make you laugh, cry, cheer, and feel everything in between. I tried to focus on underappreciated gems that don’t get recognized as often, but the list covers the entire spectrum of movies. Let’s get started!

  1. Rear Window (1954): I don’t know how Hitchcock does it. On the surface, there’s nothing that should jump out about the premise of Rear Window; you’re just following a wheelchair-bound man observing his neighbors from an apartment window. But then the mystery kicks in and you start probing around for clues alongside James Stewart. It’s a highly engaging film that keeps you on the edge of your seat and might be my favorite Hitchcock film (out of three).
  2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): There’s just something about British comedy (see also Shaun of the Dead) that results in hilarious hijinks. Sadly, I didn’t discover Holy Grail until much later, but believe me when I say this is one of the best comedies ever made (no hyperbole at all). Almost all the jokes work better if you’re not prepared for them, so…what are you waiting for?
  3. Back to the Future (1985): I’m almost positive everyone’s heard of this movie, but I don’t know how many people, especially in my circle of friends, have actually seen it (feel free to correct me if I’m selling any of you short). When someone says they just want to “turn their brain off” and watch something, Back to the Future is the perfect choice. The plot is absolutely ridiculous (like most time travel movies), but you’ll be too preoccupied laughing at the Calvin Klein joke to care.
  4. Dead Poets Society (1989): Our first real tearjerker and not just because the great Robin Williams is no longer with us. At first, I thought a film about an English teacher inspiring his students through poetry could turn sappy real quick, but thanks to a performance that allows Williams to shine in both dramatic and comedic moments, Dead Poets Society is sincere through and through.
  5. Home Alone (1990): Kevin McCallister might very well be a psychopath who enjoys torture, but how can you resist that adorable face? Combined with a delightful John Williams score and a creative assortment of traps, there’s no way you can hate Home Alone.
  6. The Truman Show (1998): Another Peter Weir movie; perhaps we should call him “master (and commander) of the underappreciated.” I actually prefer a dramatic Jim Carrey performance to a comedic one (see also Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and if that wasn’t enough to pique your interest, The Truman Show also takes a prophetic look at our obsession with celebrity culture and reality TV. How can you top that?
  7. Ocean’s Eleven (2001): Before you ask, I absolutely hate the idea of them doing an all-female reboot of this movie, but such is the world we live in (and no, I’m not being sexist). This ensemble heist film is just so smooth and awesome, led by the Big Three of Clooney, Pitt, and Damon. Never mind that a ridiculous amount of luck has to go in the crew’s favor to successfully execute the plan; it’s great and we don’t need a repeat of the 2016 Ghostbusters to ruin the magic.
  8. National Treasure (2004): Why not double down on the ridiculousness? Featuring a rare subdued performance by Nicolas Cage and a surprisingly engaging plot to “steal the Declaration of Independence,” National Treasure works even though it really shouldn’t.
  9. Enchanted (2007): Out of the entire list, this might be the biggest recommendation from me because it checks all the boxes: hilarious, heartfelt, and underrated. Amy Adams is the perfect princess and the love of my life (um…oops). Don’t discount the music either; “That’s How You Know” belongs in the discussion of great Disney songs.
  10. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009): I don’t know about you, but I read the book so many times as a kid. The movie’s nothing like its source material, but somehow comedy geniuses Lord and Miller expand the lore and tell a hilarious story. Food puns are inevitable, but thankfully it doesn’t get annoying (unlike the sequel).
  11. Date Night (2010): Maybe the first widely unknown film on the list? The always funny Steve Carell and Tina Fey play a couple on the run after having their identities mixed up. They’re backed by a whole host of famous actors; Mark Wahlberg is the standout, but others like James Franco, Mila Kunis, and even a cameo from our Wonder Woman Gal Gadot elevate an otherwise generic comedy.
  12. Captain Phillips (2013): Did you know Tom Hanks can still act? As he gets closer to grandfather status, signs of decline are expected, but this might be his finest performance in recent memory. Based on a true story about a man whose ship gets hijacked by Somali pirates, I was invested the whole way through. Hanks is terrific, especially in the final scene after he (spoiler) gets rescued; the shock and pain on his face is some of the best nonverbal acting in history. Barkhad Abdi also turns in a stellar debut performance as the lead pirate, so you should seek out this lesser-known biopic.
  13. Sing Street (2016): We could always use more original music, so here’s the delightful Sing Street. The plot is formulaic (boy starts a band to impress girl), but the actors are endearing, the songs are infectious, and you’re just left with a warm feeling when it’s over. If any movie most deserved an Oscar for Best Original Song…
  14. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) and Rogue Nation (2015): Sleek. Cool. Sexy. No, those words don’t just describe Tom Cruise, but they also apply to his spy franchise, especially these last two installments. Sprawling set pieces, thrilling chase scenes, and cool gadgets are what make action movies awesome and the Mission: Impossible series has all of them in spades (you can skip the first three).
  15. Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy (2011, 2014, 2017): It’s right up there with Toy Story and Lord of the Rings for best modern trilogy. The visual effects alone…stunning. Andy Serkis as Caesar? Maybe better than Gollum (yeah, I went there). A story that turns into a bitter power struggle between humans and apes? I didn’t think I would care this much about apes, but before long you’re rooting for them to beat the humans. Can’t recommend enough.

The Punisher

“One batch, two batch, penny and dime.” Not entirely sure what that phrase means, but I know it’s time to talk about The Punisher since I just finished the first season and…what an amazing season it was. Ever since Jon Bernthal first introduced himself as the gun-wielding antihero in Daredevil season 2, I knew immediately I needed more of him. He wasn’t just a big hulking killing machine who grunted a lot; Bernthal brought actual depth and emotion to the character. His best scenes weren’t action-heavy; they just consisted of dialogue with another character. I had the utmost faith in the standalone series because the Netflix/Marvel collaboration has typically yielded solid returns (when the producers behind Iron Fist aren’t involved). It certainly takes its time, but The Punisher delivers on the violence and the important character moments that were promised in Daredevil and adds another excellent notch to the Marvel TV belt.

Bernthal as Frank Castle is perfect casting; I’ve never seen any of the film adaptations (thankfully), so my impression of the Punisher wasn’t ruined by Dolph Lundgren or…the other two. We shouldn’t throw the phrase around lightly, but like Hugh Jackman and Wolverine or Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man, Bernthal looks born to play the role. He has that trademark gravelly voice, but he can also deliver the lines with precision and range. He reminds me of a poor man’s Gary Oldman: usually in the background, but always solid in any role you give him. Obviously, The Walking Dead is his most recognizable, but he’s done great supporting work in Fury, Baby Driver, and a bunch more. It was probably a significant risk for Marvel to go with someone who had never played the lead in anything, but Bernthal passed with flying colors in my eyes. He successfully portrayed a tortured individual who’s haunted by the death of his family and the struggle to avenge them using any possible method.

Surrounding Castle is a decent cast, but I was most impressed by Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian throwback!) as Billy Russo, Frank’s best friend who served with him in the military. His character could’ve easily been the well-dressed mustache-twirling villain that has been done a million times, but there was a darkness to him that felt organic and distinct. You could see the internal conflict that plagued him throughout the series; one minute, you assume he would never betray Frank. But then, when (spoiler) you see him switch sides, your mind begins to rationalize why on earth he would make that choice. Barnes is clearly a better actor now than when he lived in Narnia and his layered performance adds to the recent list of surprisingly good Marvel villains (joining Michael Keaton’s Vulture and Cate Blanchett’s Hela).

With a show like The Punisher, you can expect the action to be top-notch. There are three sequences in particular (found in episodes 1, 11, and 13) that make you “feel” the violence. In most action movies, the fight choreography looks cool and all, but you can approach it from a distance without feeling viscerally affected. The Punisher films the violence in such a gruesome manner that you can sense every punch and every bullet. There were legitimate moments where I covered my face because of how horrific certain scenes played out. Just see for yourself (unless you have a weak stomach).

But the most important aspect that makes The Punisher worth watching is its handling of sensitive topics. It would be easy to just have thirteen episodes of Frank Castle taking on the criminal world in glorious fashion, but the showrunners take the time to explore not only his dark past but also the backstories of other characters. You learn about Frank’s reluctant partner Micro who’s desperately trying to see his family again after the government forced him into hiding. You sympathize with Homeland Security Agent Dinah Madani who seeks justice for her former partner, but soon finds herself in the middle of a corrupt system, unsure who to trust. Even characters you think aren’t going to be important at first like former veterans Lewis and Curtis find themselves longing for respect from a seemingly indifferent society. Through it all, the show never shies away from confronting serious issues like PTSD, terrorism, and gun violence. When Frank is deciding whether he can go through with the plan of killing everyone associated with his former life, you can see the pain and internal conflict he’s going through. You understand that he would rather not have to murder anyone (evidenced by a key scene where he’s confronted by a young soldier), but he knows that if he doesn’t act, it will only lead to more people getting hurt. It’s no secret that mass shootings have become alarmingly common in the US and a show like The Punisher coming out now would seem to be a dicey move. But given the context, the execution is respectful while managing to engage you on a deeper level than most TV shows.

The only flaw (aside from the occasional nitpicky stuff) might be the pacing. After the premiere, not much happens in the next five or six episodes. There are minor revelations that keep you watching, but it’s a slow burn compared to what you were probably expecting from a show with the Punisher in it. That might not be a bad thing since the extra time allows for needed character development, but it can drag sometimes. I’m not the first to suggest this, but perhaps Netflix should look into shortening their Marvel shows to ten episodes each instead of the arbitrary thirteen. Overall, The Punisher is an excellent show that doesn’t require you to be a fan of the comics or even the superhero genre to enjoy it. There are elements of a police procedural, a gritty spy thriller, and a deeply emotional family drama. One online reviewer described it as “John Wick meets This Is Us” and strangely enough, I agree with that sentiment.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure: Just the Tip of the Iceberg*

*No pun intended

I just saw Coco, a beautiful and poignant work of art. Sadly, the experience was ruined ever so slightly by the preceding “short film” Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (yes, that Olaf). This 20-minute marketing ploy, after I had already heard the overwhelming negative response, soured my opinion even more. There’s absolutely no reason this thing should even exist, especially before a cinematic milestone like Coco. But it further illustrates a larger problem that is ruining movie theaters everywhere; I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that actually started playing at the designated time. With trailers, short films, and promotions for the theater itself all contributing to the delay, it forces us to sit in our chairs and endure a boring slog that only wastes what little time we can devote to the movies anyway.

I’ve said before that there’s nothing like watching a film on the big screen. But the statement also implies a sole desire to enjoy the main event rather than all the bonus unnecessary content. Let’s start with trailers, which have been a constant in theaters forever. This may not be the case for everyone, but as a fan, I take it upon myself to see at least every blockbuster trailer soon after it premieres online. Sure, I don’t mind seeing the truly epic ones in a theater (Black Panther, The Last Jedi, etc.), but it does become repetitive seeing the Geostorm preview for the third or fourth time. With the current social media landscape, it’s almost impossible for someone to witness a trailer in the theater for the first time. So other than briefly getting your hopes up, I feel like the marketing department is actually pitching their movie to a smaller population than expected. Again, I understand why they feel obligated to show a trailer, but I firmly believe that if you’re eagerly anticipating a film (blockbuster or otherwise), you’re going to see it regardless of what the advertisements show you. Maybe something new and interesting will catch your eye, but there’s always the Internet (and word of mouth) to help in this situation.

Short films are less common, but still take up a good chunk of time in the theater. The worst example may be these so-called student films that Regal Cinemas put out. Winners from various universities present a 30-second clip of a “film” they made that contains egregious product placement and a weird nonsensical plot (if you can label it that). It’s hard to explain, so here’s one for your “enjoyment” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ESDWzAuraY). Tell me, what’s the freaking point? Are we just supposed to cheer for some kids who won a contest? To make matters worse, their film isn’t even fully realized; it’s simply an ad promoting the company that picked them to win in the first place. If a theater absolutely has to show them, do so before the trailers since I feel like only people who show up early to a movie would enjoy this form of entertainment.

Not all short films are garbage though. Pixar has graced us with some masterpieces over the years (Knick Knack, Lifted, and Piper are some of my favorites), giving young animators a major opportunity to showcase their skills. They’re not all homeruns (Lava is downright creepy), but I can rest easy knowing they don’t last more than 5-7 minutes. That’s not the case with the aforementioned Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, which clocks in at four times the length and a million times the nuisance (I chuckled maybe twice). Olaf is like the Minions from Despicable Me: fine in small doses, but put him front and center and the nightmare never ends. Accompanied by a soundtrack that’s almost as long as the original Frozen, it’s hard to comprehend how Disney let this happen. Did they think non-Hispanic audiences wouldn’t go see Coco unless there was something more universally appealing before it? Were they furiously trying to assemble something to remind you that there is indeed going to be a Frozen 2 (easiest decision ever)? Whatever the reasoning, it’s a tremendous waste of time that runs longer than your typical short film and doesn’t engage you on an emotional level like its Pixar counterparts. Thank goodness it’s getting pulled soon.

All this is enough to make you ask: why even bother showing up on time to a movie? As long as they don’t lock the doors, I could walk in 20 minutes late and not miss a beat. In all honesty, there isn’t a good answer to that question. On one hand, tardiness is a habit that can be hard to break. But if you could spend those 20 minutes doing something more important before escaping into the movie world each time, why not go for it? Do you really need to see certain trailers again or self-promotional ads that the theater puts out to remind you where your money’s going? This lines up with my plea to all moviegoers post from awhile back; when you decide to venture out to the theater, make smart decisions as far as your capability allows. Maybe spend some quality time with your family (as Coco taught us) before frivolously wasting time on pointless previews.