Movie Review: ALITA BATTLE ANGEL

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

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So this was pretty awesome. A long gestating passion project from James Cameron around 20 years in the making ever since Guillermo Del Toro showed him the manga. Alita Battle Angel is (at this point in the year) the best film of 2019 so far.

Basically take a rich post-apocalyptic version that combines everything I love in sci-fi media into one: Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, Robocop, Deus Ex, Astro Boy and have it be about a mystery cyborg’s hidden past and unknown future. Firstly the backstory/world building is kept mostly light and focused on a character’s relation to it instead of over explanatory narration for the audience. It shows from producer/writer James Cameron (Terminator, Aliens, Titanic, Avatar) and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) that they get what matters is a character’s journey in a world and not that world itself. Plus director Robert Rodriquez expertly crafts the visuals, practical and CGI effects and themes Cameron buried into this project pretty perfectly. Plus having a wonderful effects team, cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix, Spider-Man 2, The Jungle Book 2016, Baby Driver) and around 200 Million dollars doesn’t hurt realising that vision.

Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner 2 and 3) does an amazing job as the delightful Alita and the big eyes thing-it really doesn’t bother me. Ready Player One already did this last year and I think that’s like the least to worry about. Alita’s this wonderful character who is happy and bright and not a cynically depressed lead like most media has characters as (when they’re not being snarky jerks). Two things I love about Alita (the film and her character) is the earnest emotional positivity of it all and how Alita isn’t Hollywood’s current strong female cliché with daddy issues on her sleeve (Tomb Raider, Pirates of the Caribbean 5). She is more interested defining herself, figuring out her past to determine her future and that’s great. Christopher Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained) as her surrogate father does a great job in his own mini arch as a character with baggage, Keean Johnson does well as the love interest, and Ed Skrein (Deadpool) and Jackie Earl Haley (Watchmen) do phenomenal work as bad guys. Unfortunately there’s a decent number of thankless roles where big actors don’t do much like Jennifer Connolly as Waltz’s ex-wife, Mahershala Ali as the 2nd tier bad guy, Michelle Rodriguez as a flashback character and Edward Norton as the big bad hidden villain. Regardless, the cast all do great work.

Alita’s biggest strength is in the action department where Rodriguez shows the talent he had as early as Desperado and El Mariachi-easily making this Robert’s best directorial effort since Sin City (14 years ago). The action is clear, exciting, inventive, engaging and brutal when it wants to be (considering it’s mostly robots). There’s also a fun reference to a Guillermo Del Toro film kill that I won’t spoil. Whether the action is a simple duel, a barfight, a Rollerball battle or a simple action playback-it’s all really well done and shows how to make big budget action work.

Other little things I like are the really great visual images that will stick in my mind, the openly feminist discussions about female bodies growing and choosing your body instead of someone else, the few truly gruesome moments in the film and the brief world building makes me want more-clearly since the sequel tease end wants it. Unfortunately I fear Alita won’t get its sequel opportunity due to it’s somewhat hard sell and being not a large property. All the studio has to say is it’s a big fun action film with robots and it’ll sell. This is the best anime adaptation (unless you’re a big fan of a Japanese film adaptation) since Ghost in the Shell from 2017 that I actually loved a lot. I wonder if this would me more acclaimed as an anime film?

Are there issues? Yes, there’s occasionally an over expository line for the sake of the audience and Cameron straight rips the line “Strong prey on the weak” from Avatar, the climax is emotionally resonant but not as epic as blockbusters like Aquaman, Infinity War or even Spiderverse and the score isn’t as memorable as I’d like. Don’t get me wrong, none of these are deal breaks and the music is well done by composer Junkie XL who has incredibly memorably music in his DC work and Fury Road-but this feels toned down.

Regardless, I still really like this film and think everyone should watch it. I think young adult females will really dig it and I hope it can get a box office spike fairly quickly. Unfortunately How to Train Your Dragon 3, Cold Pursuit, Lego Movie 2 and Happy Death Day 2U are all hovering around still, but this will be the biggest blockbuster type film until Captain Marvel (another film about a super woman with a msytery past) comes out-so go see it.

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TOP 10 BEST FILMS OF 1985

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

Honorable Mentions:
-Angel’s Egg
-The Boys Next Door
-The Breakfast Club
-Cocoon
-Code of Silence
-The Color Purple
-Goonies
-To Live and Die in LA
-Out of Africa
-Spies Like Us
-The Stuff
-Witness
-Year of the Dragon
-Young Sherlock Holmes

10. COMMANDO
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Who doesn’t love a bit of dumb 80’s pure action entertainment? Commando might be the quintessential 80’s action movie…even if that’s only in the last act. Seriously this film’s 3 act structure works as so: Act 1 sets up the hero to kill the bad guys, Act 2 has him kill a few bad guys to find where he can kill more bad guys and Act 3 has him kill all the bad guys. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role with the best one loners, best kills and badass name (John Matrix), produced by mega-action producer Joel Silver (Die Hard, The Matrix, Non-Stop), written by Steven E. de Souza (48 hrs, Die Hard, The Running Man), shot by Matthew F. Leonetti  (Poltergeist, Strange Days, Dawn of the Dead), scored by James Horner (Aliens, Titanic, Avatar) and directed by Mark L Lester (Firestarter, Poseidon Rex) the film is the kind of B movie turned action classic thanks to the focus on fun action, entertainment value and a memorable turn by actions like Arnie, Rae Dawn Chung and Vernon Wells. Action junkies have probably seen it and you should too.

9. MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME
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Even the weakest Mad Max film still kicks plenty of ass. While it lacks the simple exploitation cinema of the original, the simple gratifying action of the second or the simple (Mad Max certainly works when simple) blowout spectacle of the fourth film-Beyond Thunderdome is still a fun ride. While I think some random connections and the annoying kids in the 2nd half drag the film down a bit-it’s clear George Miller was looking to expand the world and mythology of Max. The performances (aside from the children) are great with Mel Gibson and Tina Turner as the MVPs. The action doesn’t have the chase mainstays previous established, but the Thunderdome cage fight is a classic scene of the franchise for its inventiveness and emotional peak. Not a classic like the rest of the franchise, but still a fun and unique installment in the 80’s action movie lineup.

8. THE JEWEL OF THE NILE
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Sequel to Romancing the Stone (The film that helped pave the way for Back to the Future) The Jewel of the Nile actually got a bad reception upon release-but I think is a very strong adventure film that holds up better. While the original was little more than a basic Indiana Jones attempt with some meta commentary slapped in, The Jewel of the Nile feels more like an original film with more nuances than people give it credit for. Starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito after the events of the last film-they get sucked into a new adventure along the Nile-with the promise of a Jewel just like before. What I like is that it’s a much different film from the first, forcing different dynamics to play out and having some healthy subversions. My favourite thing about this movie is that it’s a ton of fun with some great action sequences like a Fighter Jet blowing up stuff or a horseback to train chase-making it feel like a combination of action cinema past and present (for the time). While Robert Zemeckis didn’t return, he was replaced with the often forgotten Lewis Teague (Alligator, Cujo, Cat’s Eye, NAVY SEALs) who brings enough of a unique voice-while still keeping it consistent with the original. Teague reunited with Cujo cinematographer Jane De Bont (Die Hard, Black Rain, Basic Instinct) to realise the best script Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner ever wrote. I’m disappointed the series didn’t continue as producer Michael Douglas lost interest, but I think reviving the franchise as a mid-budget adventure series could work today: get Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Hart.

7. LIFEFORCE
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A box office dub and critical disappoint by Cannon Films at the time-Lifeforce is a strange film, but a good one and something genre fans should all seek out. For reference, get the recently released full Blu-Ray cut instead of the originally truncated version for US theatres at the time-it’s a much better film. Lifeforce follows a fairly typical sci-fi story about astronauts finding a spaceship with beings inside and eventually this leads into an invasion of Earth by (and I’m not making this up because it’s based on a book by the same name) Space Vampires. Directed by the late Tobe Hooper after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, with Alien screenwriter Don O’Bannon on hand-the film goes from an Alien film, to a zombie film, to an all out War of the World experience. It’s opening is pretty effective with an amazing score by Henry Mancini (Tarantula, The Pink Panther, Charade, The Great Mouse Detective,  Fear) that continues throughout the film. It’s got great effects even today, especially the puppetry by the man who made Yoda no less. And it’s shot amicably by cinematographer Alan Hume (Return of the Jedi, A View to Kill, Runaway Train, Octopussy, A Fish Called Wanda) creating this really gorgeous looking film. The cast is really great with Steve Railsback giving a worthy performance considering his character, Patrick Stewart in a small but incredibly memorable role and Mathilda May as the almost always nude villain Space Girl. If you’re a fan of science fiction or horror or 80’s cult films-you must see this. And I highly recommend watching this video on it by GoodBadFlicks

6. THE BLACK CAULDRON
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The Black Cauldron is often credited as the film that nearly sank Disney in the 80’s due to their failing returns and a recent power turnover that forced the film to be edited heavily (because the new heads thought animation worked like live action). But even that doesn’t stop this being one of my personal favourite films under Disney’s catalogue. An epic dark fantasy film based on a series of books (that I’ve never read), the film is told perfectly from the perspective of a young lad who needs to grow into a hero. He fails, he meets allies and encounters some scary stuff. The main appeal I have of this film (Now and always) is its dark nature and The Horned King played perfectly by the late and amazing John Hurt. The argument “Animation is for Kids” will always be a dumb umbrella statement, considering this is a kids film and is pretty terrifying sometimes. The Horned King is one of the best Villains Disney put out-his design and unexplained motives make him more of a horror villain than a Disney Villain. And Gurgi is a child favourite as the cute little silly fluff ball, even I’ll admit I think he’s still funny. The most interesting fact of The Black Cauldron is it’s nuanced princess in Eilonwy-who actually save the hero early on and isn’t Disney’s usual damsel. My only issues come in the form of its editing mandated by the new studio heads and the rather overly happy ending.  There’s a rumor Disney might remake this due to its cult status and if Disney does-they should make it like Maleficent, or just keep a consistently dark tone and (if I were making this, because I totally will Disney) I’d make Princess Eilonwy the main character. While modern teens/my generation are claiming films like Robots is slept on: re-evaluate this film and others that deserve it please.

5. BACK TO THE FUTURE
The poster shows a teenage boy coming out from a nearly invisible DeLorean with lines of fire trailing behind. The boy looks astonishingly at his wristwatch. The title of the film and the tagline "He was never in time for his classes... He wasn't in time for his dinner... Then one day... he wasn't in his time at all" appear at the extreme left of the poster, while the rating and the production credits appear at the bottom of the poster.
A beloved classic that…isn’t one of my personal favourites. I get how Gen Xers loves this movie and I enjoyed the DeLorean showing up in Ready Player One, but to me it’s just a really well made 80’s classic that might’ve deteriorated just a little-along with not being the best sci-fi film of 1985. So the two problematic elements are the random terrorist subplot that’s just uncomfortable today (also why True Lies is a little uncomfortable) and the entire “Marty’s mom finds him hot and wants to bang him” plot. Seriously, I don’t know if Robert Zemeckis or Bob Gale had an Oedipus complex or were working through issues or thought this would be funny-but it’s one of the reasons I’m not the biggest fan of this movie. But ultimately it’s a great high concept with great effects, amazing score by John Williams, funny jokes and perfect casting in Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Ultimately I think that any plans for a remake or reboot should be scrapped and we should just have sequel where Doc Brown and someone go somewhere back in time and need to get out. Maybe go to pre-historic times and make it a monster movie, Rome, World War 2, roaring twenties-lot’s to do. And if you need any idea on this film’s cultural lasting effect-see how many time Family Guy has parodied and paid homage to the film.

4. BRAZIL
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Brazil is the best sci-fi of 1985 as it has more to say on the nature of science fiction, politics, people and does it with the exaggerated lens of Terry Gilliam (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Monchausen, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). Brazil is a darkly comical satire on dystopias like 1984 and entire bureaucratical system Gilliam has lived under and despises (to the point Jupiter Ascending has a scene replicating it and having Terry cameo in the scene). A film that has a single cog (played well by Jonathan Pryce) who believes in the perfection and error free machine he works in begin to question when a single error occurs with dark consequences. It’s a film that challenges an audience on the world they live in, the lies they’re fed and the political nature of it all hasn’t ages a bit. It’s a potent as ever, bolstered by the surreal visuals cinematographer Roger Pratt (Batman, Harry and the Chamber of Secrets, Troy, Dorian Grey) creates, the score by Michael Kamen (The Dead Zone, Die Hard, The Last Boy Scout, Band of Brothers) is astounding and supporting players like Ian Holm (Alien), Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Robert DeNiro (Goodfellas), Kim Greist (Manhunter) and Katherine Helmond (Cars) help bring the rich world to life. It’s honestly just a great film that everyone should see-and whoever wanted to cut the ending should be ashamed of themselves for trying to ruin a peice of art.

3. RE-ANIMATOR
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Re-Animator might be one of the best Lovecraftian films ever made, along with being one of the best horror films people forget about. It’s a gory film about life after death, the experiments to prove it and the messy results. It feels somewhat like a mix between The Autopsy of Jane Doe and The Void in terms of modern horror cinema, just with a slight comedic tone that makes it all the better (and somehow this became a musical theatre performance). Directed by Stuart Gordon (From Beyond, Dagon), shot by Mac Ahlberg (Deep Star Six, Beverly Hill Cop 3), scored by Richard Band (Brother of Full Moon’s Charles Band and composer of The House on Sorority Row, Ghoulies, Troll, Puppet Master, Doctor Mordrid, Dragonworld, Shiver) who makes a very Hitchcockian score and stars Jeffry Combs (From Beyond), Bruce Abbott (The Last Starfighter), Barbara Crampton (We Are Still Here) and David Gale (The Guyver) with every party at the top of their game for this low budget horror affair. The gore and practical effects are spectacular, it hits the right notes of horror (including creepy surrogate father figures giving into dark desires and that haunting ending) while still being a small fun ride. I highly recommend this to every horror, sci-fi and genre fan-and reminder that Lovecraft was a racist and he sucks and I like filmmakers and storytellers adapting his work to have none of his garbage beliefs in these modern works.

2. LEGEND
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One of Ridley Scott’s masterworks often forgotten by modern audiences: Legend is the kind of fantasy I love-where mood, visuals and dreamscape logic are more important than mythology or plot mechanics. Not based on any single fantasy story and instead a universal compilation of everything from Brother’s Grimm, Germanic Fantasy, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast and more-the film is the feeling of falling asleep while a parent tells a fairy tale you know well and carrying it into your dream. Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry and the rest of the cast do an immensely wonderful job with the material and Curry especially rules as the villain Darkness who is wearing one of the best film costumes ever designed. It looks astounding thanks to Scott’s use of experimental formalism, the production work done on the 007 Studio Lot and by cinematographer Alex Thomson (Excalibur, Labyrinth, Leviathan, Alien 3, Demolition Man, Hamlet) with the amazing original score by Jerry Goldsmith perfectly punctuating the film. The film was cut down by the studio, rescored and released to mixed reviews and ultimately the director’s cut seen later became well-renowned (Just like Blade Runner before it). Now rather easy to find, Legend should be seen pretty much by anyone who loves fantasy, beautiful films, Legend of Zelda, Kubo and the Two Strings or great films in general. This might be a fairly big claim, but I think Legend might be the best fantasy film of the 80’s (only The Last Unicorn rivalling it) and the best fantasy film pre-Lord of the Rings. It’s a masterpiece and much see that perfectly blurs the line between art-house beauty and fun adventure.

1. RAN
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Ran is one of the greatest testaments of film you will ever see. Directed by master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (Drunken Angel, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, High and Low, Kagemusha) Ran is not merely a Japanese tale of dynasties and schemers, but an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear (Makes sense as Throne of Blood was an adaptation of Macbeth). It’s an epic drama about a father who must divide his land between his 3 sons while still holding a heart of anguish and war. It’s a story that starts on tense ground and eventually continues to grow darker. While the plot is dark, it’s beauty is nigh flawless. It’s one of the best looking films before CGI became a cinematic maintain. Kurosawa’s direction has always been astounding whether it be in black and white or colour, but Ran’s colours are absolutely glorious-especially the battle at the films mid-point with fiery arrows and armies adorned with red and yellow colours clashing on screen. Brought to life by 3 cinematographers, an amazing production team and wonderful cast-the film can best be described as Lord of the Rings…before Lord of the Rings.

Now there’s something I wanted to address about the late Akira Kurosawa. I wasn’t aware of this at the time because Kurosawa is considered one of the old school masters like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles, but for the longest time Kurosawa was actually considered the less of the Japanese Golden Age movement compared to his peers-especially by those involved in the French New Wave. Why? Because Kurosawa was primarily a genre filmmaker influenced by American Westerns and French New Wave hated mainstream Hollywood films…even though the praised the cheap pulpy noir genre films of that era and Hollywood was producing films like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Hitchcock’s most famous bodies of work, The Ten Commandments and sci-fi was beginning to boom. Kurosawa was considered less impressive than his peers and it wasn’t until his movies began to have immense staying power that he was re-evaluated. There’s a reason Seven Samurai would be remade twice and ripped off more, a reason why George Lucas made Star Wars inspired by The Hidden Fortress and why his films are considered amazing-he was a great filmmaker who told great stories. It’s not the genre or the set-up that defines a film, but by execution in how you tell that story. And making the hipster argument doesn’t deny a film’s quality or impact. Blockbusters and genre films made by great storytellers have always stood the test of time. Right now the likes of James Wan’s Aquaman, Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman, Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe dominate the popular consciousness by being entertaining stories with something to say and the talent to say it well. While John McTiernan somewhat egotistically claimed all modern blockbusters owe credit to him, I’d actually claim it belongs to Akira Kurosawa. And he might be the greatest filmmaker in Japanese history, but that’s a debate considering the likes of Satoshi Kon, Yasujiro Ozu and especially Hayao Miyazaki. Regardless, please seek out this legendary warrior filmmaker’s work-especially Ran, the best films of 1985.

TOP 10 BEST FILMS OF 1986

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

Honorable Mentions:
-An American Tail
-Crocodile Dundee
-Delta Force
-Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
-Flight of the Navigator
-The Great Mouse Detective
-The Patriot
-Short Circuit
-The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
-The Transformers: The Movie

10. TOP GUN
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For a second directorial effort: Top Gun shows the skill and confidence of Tony Scott, the late and great younger brother of Ridley Scott. Top Gun is fondly remembered as a classic Aerial Combat movie and was the highest grossing film of 1986, but it’s somewhat a mixed bag for critics. It’s more a sports film where the sport is zipping around in a Fighter Jet while shooting other Fighter Jets. But it’s still a great piece of pre-90’s blockbuster spectacle, mostly thanks to Tony Scott’s natural gift for directing and editing and cinematographer Jeffrey L Kimball (True Romance, Wild Things, Mission Impossible 2, The Expendables). Tom Cruise proved his leading man qualities before this, but Top Gun was a solidifier in his status as an upcoming movie star legend. Top Gun’s main praise goes to its aerial combat scenes that book-end the film and they are great, but it’s nice there’s more to it than just that.

9. THE FLY
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The Fly is David Cronenberg’s most successful and well known film, but it’s surprisingly not one my favourites (I personally prefer Eastern Promises, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, A History of Violence, Naked Lunch and Crash more). However, it’s still an amazing feat of practical filmmaking with a message. The remake of a classic black and white horror film of the same name, this is one of the best remakes by being different enough from the original film and having a new take. Seeing Jeff Goldblum run around developing fly characteristics in astounding make up detail is the reason this film carries on. Now it just has a thematic message about Aids/Disease, which makes me feel like The Fly is the body-horror hit The Thing should’ve been 4 year prior. Both films have 80’s stars beloved today in practical effects horror marvels, but The Fly was the instant success while The Thing was a cult icon built into classic status. Regardless, The Fly is great and horror buffs who’ve yet to see it should: great performances from Goldblum and Geena Davis, the effects are astounding, Cronenberg knows how to make you squirm and its bolstered by composer Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings) and cinematographer Mark Irwin (Videodrome, The Blob, Scream, Old School).

8. LABYRINTH
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A movie that terrified me as a child that…ok it still sometimes gets me as an adult because some of those goldens are nasty. Labyrinth is the kind of magical, slightly mature film kids likely saw and thought was a dream-but is actually a real awesome film. Most noted for the late and great David Bowie as a character who people still crush on as The Goblin King, the film also doubles as puppet effects marvel thanks to Muppets creator Jim Henson. It also has Jennifer Connelly in one of her earlier roles doing a pretty decent job in the Alice in Wonderland role, while having a fairly important message on dreams/fantasy and their place over a young person’s mind. I just love the fantastical nature of the film and the fact it’s an original story. It belongs to the trio of great original fantasy epics of 80’s including Legend and Henson’s own The Dark Crystal.

7. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
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This action cult classic that satirises Western appropriation of Asian culture in cinema is great. Directed by John Carpenter in his last studio film before the Village of the Damned remake, as well as being shot by cinematographer Dean Cundey (Halloween, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Jurassic Park) and written by the guy who’d eventually write Total Recall-the film is quite the fun trip. Kurt Russel stars as a cocky American trucker who gets wrapped up in an ancient Chinese war with his best friend playing the “real” hero of the film against the bad guy played by James Hong (Blade Runner, Mulan, Kung Fu Panda, Black Ops 2). The story feels as much as a “tell one genre story in another genre story” as much as the original Star Wars did with a Chinese fantasy film also framed like a cowboy film combined with a “save the princess” fantasy story. The action is great, the satirical comedy excellent and it’s just a fun time. A cult classic for sure, but needing to be seen by more.

6. SALVADOR
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Before Oliver Stone disappeared from the modern day cinema cycle: he was known for writing Midnight Express and Scarface, along with directing/writing the likes of Platoon, Wall Street and JFK. Salvador is often one of his less remembered films because it came out the same year as the more successful and better received Platoon, but it’s still great. Salvador follows James Woods (Hercules, Family Guy) as a war photographer who goes to Salvador and sees the horrors of war-forcing his snarky demeanor to continually be broken. It’s a dark film and feels close to the kind of film Kathryn Bigelow’s been making since The Hurt Locker. While there is humor and humanity in this film (thanks to James Woods and Jim Belushi in one of his better roles) it’s a dark film that feels real. While not a hit at the box office and only receiving 2 Oscar nominations against Platoon’s 8 nominations, Salvador is still a subtle masterpiece deserving of your view.

5. FROM BEYOND
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A masterwork Lovecraftian adaptation the deserve WAY more attention. Made by director Stuart Gordon after his hit Lovecraftian adaptation Re-Animator, From Beyond was closer to the big scary existential questions in Lovecraft’s work. Unfortunately it was not as successful as Stuart’s prior film, but it’s still a masterful work of Lovecraftian horror. Feeling like a hybrid of Re-Animator, Hellraiser and Altered States-the film follows Jeffrey Combs (who was also in Re-Animator) as a “crazy person” who claims his scientist boss was murdered by a being from another dimension, with investigators taking Jeffrey back to the house of the incident. Obviously, bad things happens.  It’s a true testament of mostly confined location storytelling where confronting the horrors of the universe can happen in one house. Creepy, unnerving, intense and delightfully filled with practically realized monsters-the film most closely resembles The Void when it reaches its maximum potential. While a critical darling, the film is somewhat forgotten (Unless you’ve seen the Earthbound episode of Zero Punctuation) and was hated by the MPAA, but you can get the unrated director’s cut on Blu-Ray so go grab that.

4. PLATOON
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Often considered Oliver Stone’s best film that stands the test of time, Platoon is the quintessential Vietnam War film. A story of innocence lost, violence executed and atrocities committed-with Classic moments to spare. With a stellar cast including Charlie Sheen, Willem Defoe, Tom Berenger, Keith David, Forest Whitaker and Johnny Depp-the film shows the experiences Stone experienced as a soldier in Vietnam that would go onto inform his filmic ethos. Uncomfortable, human in its darkest moments, having swell done war scenes despite a lower budget and containing brilliant photography by Robert Richardson (Salvador, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Kill Bill, The Aviator, Inglorious Basterds, Hugo, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight). It won Best Director and Picture that year and is a staple of classic cinema, to the point it’s a comedy reference in  Tropic Thunder.

3. ALIENS
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The 80’s mainstay of every film buff. Whether you’re into horror, sci-fi, action or pure great filmmaking-this has to go on your best of list. James Cameron’s sequel to the much beloved Alien that bring back Sigourney Weaver to fight a horde of Aliens with an amazing supporting cast is not only a classic, not only one of the best sequels ever made, but also a continual influence on films today. Take the famous Nest scene where the Colonial Marines get slaughtered through a mix of 3rd person and 1st person cameras read by someone else-I call this the “Aliens scene” as it appears in films like Jurassic World and Rampage as recent examples. Aliens continues to be a master of tension, action, directing, writing, acting, music, cinematography, set pieces, adding detaisl to one of the most famous movie monsters and as a pinnacle of sequels. It even has themes of feminism and motherhood that James Cameron would continue to work on in other films (Although he stuck his foot in his mouth saying Wonder Woman wasn’t feminist enough). There’s only one issue I have in that Aliens ditches most of the Lovecraftian horror aspects and made the popular version of the Alien franchise with its aesthetic, weaponry focus and multiple Aliens. Ridley Scott did a great job setting up the existential horror and would continue when he got the property back, but James Cameron clearly had no interest. Now James Cameron is supposedly teaming up with Neill Blomkamp to revise the retcon Alien 3/5 Blomkamp pitched in 2016, and while that would be great, I feel it wont’ retain what I love most of the series, but this is still awesome.

2. MANHUNTER
The film's poster. Petersen's face is in silhouette at the top, along with the tagline "It's just you and me now, sport". Below this is a silhouette of Noonan standing in a doorway with a flash-light. The film's title is along the bottom in orange lettering.
You know how lots of people like Red Dragon by Brett Ratner? …Kind of awkward to do that now. While it’s still probably the best thing Ratner made, it’s really obvious with its themes and along with having 2 prior films, it had the book to take from and an entire film made 16 years prior…and it’s a much better movie. While most people know Hannibal Lecter through Silence of the Lambs or the recent tv series, he was first brought to the screen in 1986 as an adaptation of the novel Red Dragon by Michael Mann (and his last name was change to Lektor). After cutting his teeth on TV with Miami Vice and Starsky and Hutch (along with two other films) Mann was approached by Dino DeLaurentis to adapt the novel after David Lynch declined. While a box office failure and critically mixed, the film is now a cult icon of neo noir cinema. In fact, it’s my favourite of the Hannibal Lecter films due to the style, auteur theme of Mann’s (Masculinity and dreams) and the overall execution. I feel Red Dragon is trying to make sure everyone understands everything about the story instead of leaving anything to imagination, while Manhunter is a procedural film that has some great tension, mystery and pieces left for the audience to decide. It’s Will Graham is a detective that feels like he could’ve been a psychotic murderer himself, the Tooth Fairy is truly intimidating with his size and demeanor and Hannibal Lektor is a snarky, irritated genius. Its score and visuals are personal favourites of mine, each scene is engrossing and the efforts of the filmmakers (like sneaking onto a plane to shoot scenes Guerilla style I applaud) should be lauded. If you’re one of the many people who are studying criminology, or like CSI/Law and Order/Criminal Minds/Hannibal or like the Neo Noir genre-I cannot recommend this enough.

1. BLUE VELVET
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Blue Velvet by David Lynch is one of the great American Neo Noir films. A mix between an art-house deconstruction on the darkness in Americana and a neo noir mystery about how evil one can be-the film is a masterpiece. The story of a young man returning to his idealistic small American town to find a severed ear is one of the best set ups in film. What follows is: flirting with the police chief’s daughter, voyeurism from a closest, sadomasochism and a drunk lady dancing on a car. I won’t spoil the film because you should honestly just watch it. Kyle MacLauchlan (Twin Peaks, Agents of Shield) plays the young protagonist well as someone whose change comes from learning about the world he thinks he knows, Isabella Rosselini (Death Becomes Her, Enemy) is great as the subverted Femme Fatale, Laura Dern (Jurassic Park, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as the love interested is as precious as ever and the late Dennis Hopper as the bad guy is one of the best ever (which surprised no one when he was a master bad guy again in Speed). It’s visually Lynch’s most coherent film for audiences while also saying a lot thanks to the cinematography of Frederick Elms (Eraserhead, Red Dawn, Synecdoche New York). Plus this films music is wonderfully crafted by Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The City of Lost Children) with the opening scene being one of my favourites of all time. I just love this movie and while it’s not my personal favourite (that’s still a battle between Eraserhead and Lost Highway) and I think Mulholland Drive is the better film-Blue Velvet is certainly the easiest Lynch film to get into and his efforts along with the cast and crews’ to make this is worthy of the Oscar nominations. You MUST watch this.

BONUS Mini Review-2016 Round Up

THE ACCOUNTANT
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Basically a Jason Bourne style thriller with an Autistic lead in the form of a pretty bad-ass Ben Affleck. I know there’s some difficult conversations about this film in regards to the portrayal of an Autistic person as a bad-ass one many army and the misrepresentation of that meaning ALL Autistic people have super powers. But I think this movie is pretty well done narratively, in the action and character department and the final showdown + reveal is pretty cool. But, what makes me smile is seeing my disabled brother watch this movie and see that people who are disabeld in films don’t have to be jokes or pitied or in some cases demonised-but be the hero and it makes him happy.

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE
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The Autopsy of Jane Doe is pretty much a great Twilight Zone/Black Mirror episode expanded into a full feature film that rocks. From the Norweigan director of Troll Hunter comes a contained thriller where you KNOW something’s going to happen, but you don’t know what. I won’t say is MY assumption was correct, but all you need to know is that it’s a creepy, well executed, well performed film with a few truly dark moments that make this one of the better horror films in recent memory.

DON’T BREATHE
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My opinions on Don’t Breathe have lessened since I initially praised it. Both in examining the plot, lacks of themes and discovering that…it’s basically a rip-off of another film to one degree or another. Look up the 2007 French Extremity film Inside and you’ll feel a distinct feeling of Deja Vu if you’ve watched this. Mostly I can still praise this film for its direction, cineamtography, tension, execution, Villain performance by Stephen Lang and one pretty nasty/gross twist. It’s still fun and it works; but I feel whatever themes I thougth were there aren’t, some story questions dont’ make sense and I’m not looking forward to how the proposed sequel works out because this if ONE horror film that doesn’t need it.

ELLE
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From the director of Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers comes…a high brow Euro-drama that opens with a rape. Yeah, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven isn’t one for changing things up. While I like this film, Elle isn’t the feminist rape and revenge story with genre leanings like Revenge was and feels more like the exploration of a sociopath. Yeah, Elle’s whole gimick is that we have every means to like this “victim” and she goes out of her way to avoid letting other people get emotional about it. It’s also got a subplot about her working as a video game producer where she says an in-game rape isn’t sexy enough, finds out someone trying to humiliate her and humiliates him back. Elle never lets go of the Dogme 95/High Class Euro-Drama style, but continues to go craziser and more wild with every new story beat. If your’e ok with tough watches where the text isn’t hiding subtext-check it out.

FENCES
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A brilliant drama adapted from one of the great American playwrights directed by/starring Denzel Washington-Fences is a powerhouse film. It’s a story about people in a time and place most of use won’t know with a morally complex lead in Washington. Its performances are astounding, it’s cinematography keeps the stageplay material fresh and its dark enough when it needs to be. My only complaint is that it sticks a little too closely to its stage roots with locations and framing, and I think some elements would’ve been better if made darker. But I can’t argue with such a rich tragedy brought to life.

HARDCORE HENRY
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First Person Shooter the movie. And it’s awesome. A righteously goofy, action packed and well choreographed ride where Sharlto Copley plays all the great characters and the FPS perspective keeps the action going. What I do like as well is the film’s rather subtle criticism and subversion with a video game narrative cliche as old at the NES. Just go watch this.

HELL OR HIGH WATER
The top of the poster is filled with the face of an old man wearing a cowboy hat. Beneath two men walk across a harsh landscape hauling two large black duffel bags.
From the writer of Sicario comes a neo-western that’s one a rich character drama and another part, a modern cowboy shoot ’em up. With characters and details that should be left a secret, the main things you should know is that two brothers are pulling heists, Jeff Bridges is a cop trying to get them and it has a really poignant 3rd act. Less an action film and more the kind of deconstructionist western akin to Shane or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence in a modern setting. Hell or High Water is great and you should watch it.

SHIN GODZILLA
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Toho’s own Godzilla film as a response to the 2014 monster hit from legendary is pretty good. A hair’s width away from greatness, but still pretty good. The film examines Godzilla as less a mosnter and more as a disaster like recent Earthquake, Tsunamis or Reactor Meltdowns. A pure commentary on Japanese politics that unfortunatley dedicates too much screentime to people arguing about Godzilla, and in these moments-literally fills up the frame with too much text about who or where we are instead of using dialogue or visual cues. Plus when the American actors show up-their acting sucks (and the dub sucks too) When the film is about the ever evolving Godzilla, the destruction he’s causing or the action scenes-it’s great. His new design is creepy and intimidating, while treating him less like an animal and more like a force of nature combined with a nuclear reactor. This movie is not as righteously awesome as the 2014 film, also its “Godzilla goes berserk” moment was awesome and the ending was spine chilling sequel bait. Unfortunately it appears Toho has scrapped whatever sequel plans it had originally with the directors of Neon Genesis Evangelion and the Attack on Titan films and appears to want to try and make their own Marvel Cinematic Unievrse with its Godzilal liscence. Kind of disappointing but I still liked this film.

SUICIDE SQUAD
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Suicide Squad is overly hated. Is this really the worst film of 2016? Is this honestly one of the worst films of all time? I don’t think so. Sure I don’t think it’s as great as when I first saw it now that some plot questions have popped up and I still think “Suicide Squad go hunt Batman” or “Suicide Squad go rob a bank” would’ve been a better stories idea-but I still like it. I think its style and Tony Scott style editing, along with one of the best diverse superhero casts and David Ayer’s auteur theme of “Dysfunctional family units coming together” is good. I like the cast, the visuals, the action, the style, the soundtrack and yes it’s dumb in some areas-were you expecting a masterpeice out of DC’s Dirty Dozen? Plus, give this movie more credit for its diverse cast when Marvel was still behind them in that department at the time.

TERRA FORMARS
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Japan’s most prolific and hard working director Takashi Miike (Who has over 100 films under him since starting in 1991) adapts another anime into live action and it’s pretty awesome. While Terra Formars is not as nasty, brutal or thematically rich as Dead or Alive, Audition or Ichi the Killer, it’s still a pretty awesome watch. Basically a teraforming company send some unwilling supersoldiers to Mars to kills humanoid cockroaches and it basically turns into ridiculous anime Aliens. The heroes have insect powers meant to fight the Caveman/Saiyan like bugs and its stupid awesome fun. I’m suprised they didn’t decide to go in a particular anime direction, but I’m ok with that. Overall it looks cool, is pretty unique and I just wish Mako from Pacific Rim had more to do.

BONUS Mini Review-2017 Round Up

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
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Ridley Scott’s pretty gripping thriller that he shot, reshot and released the same year he finished Alien Covenant is a pretty solid film. While not his A+++ tier like Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down or The Martian-All the Money in the World is certainly a good film. Immensely well acted with Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer (and his grandson) and Mark Walberg doing a great job, it also has some really tense and dark scenes. The main attention this film got was when original actor Kevin Spacey got revealed to be an attempted child rapist and Ridley was tasked with the studio to reshoot a month before the release with Christopher Plummer. Ultimately I think the film is underrated, with many of its visuals being inspiring despite the material suiting the low key style of Spotlight. I can whole heartedly recommend this film, and Christopher Plummer was better for the role anyway. 

LIFE
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Released a little bit before Alien Covenant from the director of Safe House starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds- Life is another underatted 2017 film. While I know some people have plot issues and lack of originality, the film still gives a pretty scary and incredibly well crafted sci-fi horror tale. The alien Alvin has a pretty cool design and two scenes in particular made me squirm. Plus it’s incredibly well shot, well acted and has one of the creepiest endings I’ve seen in a while. Fun trivia fact, people thought this might’ve been a Venom prequel movie and while that might’ve been a fun idea-I think that surprise would seem like a Split knock-off…even though this wouldn’t have been able to know abotu Split in production.

RAW
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Raw is not as gross as I heard. I heard it was super gross and nasty and makes you vomit and…honestly no. It’s still a gross film with some dark creepy stuff, but it’s the most disturbing film I’ve seen and not even of 2017. The whole story of a vegan turning into a cannibal is dark and the methods this film goes about it is kinda fun, but it really only culimnates with the final scene putting things into greater context. If you’re interested seek it out, but don’t expect “The grossest film ever”.

THE RITUAL
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This Netflix original is kind of like The Blair Witch Project is it was directed well, had an actual monster and was thematically richer. 4 friends go into the wilderness, find some weird stuff and start going crazy, with the main guy’s prior trauma haunting him. The movie is a solid watch; well directed considering the director has only done segments in feature horror films and is produced by Andy Serkis. The acting’s good, the visuals and creep factor work and it’s just a fun enough horror film with a point.

THOR: RAGNAROK
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Thor Ragnarok is the best Thor movie and probably one of the 5 best Marvel movies overall. It’s fun, funny, colourful, satirises and deconstructs Thor’s character while setting up recurring themes and ideas for Black Panther and Avengers Infinity War (Marvel’s interconnecting universe following more than just continuity). I like the visuals, the action, the performances, the comedy and all the flavor from New Zealand director Taika Waititi. I wish it had a bit of a sharper edge, didn’t redo one practical environment for CGI in post and had a truly epic set piece-but it still works.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
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A box office failure that is severly underatted…what a surprise. Valerian is one of the best looking films you’ll ever see, has one of the best opening montages that promotes a positive future ideal and kicks ass quite a bit. It is kind of bulky, sometimes problemtic and dumb-but it’s got more invention and imagiantion in one scene than some filme do in their entire runtime. A passion project by Luc Beeson (Leon the Professional, The Fifth Element, Lucy) based on a series of comics, Valerian is the film to grab on blu-ray and watch with a bunch of genre buffs for a kick-ass ride.

BONUS Mini Review-2018 Round Up

So while I’m waiting for buy Suspiria to make my best of 2018 list, here’s some films I didn’t formally review and aren’t on my best of list that I want to talk about.

ANNIHILATION
Five women, all armed, in a forested area
The second directorial effort from Alex Garland (Directed Ex Machina, wrote Dredd, Sunshine and 28 Days Later, and the novels The Beach and The Tesseract) Annihilation has some of our best female actors basically part take in a story about self discovery, destruction and an examination on The Hero’s Journey story arch. It’s also a movie about animal hybrids attacking people. So people focusing on this movie’s plot mechanics and not the very on the nose themes that run through the story are a little annoying as it feels like more and more we’re forgetting movies are about stuff and not the plot mechanics for a cinematic universe. I like Annihilation when it’s being about those themes and being artful and a scary monster movie, but I feel it’s a little long in the parts between that. When it flashes back to prior story elements involving Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac, they kind of drag and lack the drama that should be a part of it-but it doesn’t bring the film down too much. Personally I love Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez most in the film and just wish it did more artful or monster scenes. Still it’s on of the better films on Netflix (better than Birdbox) so go check it out.

APOSTLE
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From director Gareth Huw Evans (director of The Raid movies and a segment in V/H/S/2) comes an action/horror movie about a cult in the early 1900’s. Basically combine both Outlast games, The Evil Within and Resident Evil 4 and 7-this is that movie. It’s not so much a horror film and is more like an action thriller in a horror setting and with horror themes. Dan Stevens (The Guest, Beauty and the Beast) plays a very morally grey character who has a really good arch and the villains are nicely played too. But in reality, it’s the amazing visuals thanks to expert cinematography in making deliciously violent gory action sequences perfect that’s the reason this is a great film. Kind of just wish it went a little more nuts, but it’s another great Netflix watch.

DEN OF THIEVES
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This is basically Heat the Cliff Notes edition. I know most modern audiences have probably never seen Heat, but Den of Thieves will do nicely as a smaller and more sellable version. Its plot is fairly well done, the shootouts aren’t too flashy, but are well choreographed and the performances all work. This is actually directed by the guy who wrote London Has Fallen and it’s way better-so if Angel Has Fallen sucks later this year, watch this for cheap instead.

MOWGLI: LEGEND OF THE JUNGLE
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Ok, so this movie has dumb parents mad about nothing because despite this movie being sold as “Dark Jungle Book”…they’re complaining it’s a dark Jungle Book film. I’ve been wanting to see this ever since it and the Disney remake were both announced. The Disney remake was big, but in all honesty is REALLY forgettable considering the original and the money they spent. This version directed by/starring Andy Serkis is a lot more interesting and has this bigger universe feel without needing to show it. The cast is more interesting, its Mo-cap performances live a more interesting impression and the characters are more nuanced. Some scenes are genuinely tense and I’ll always appreciate a bold auteur take over the safe bet that leave no impact. Check it out on Netflix if you’re curious.

UPGRADE
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Between seeing Upgrade a few weeks ago and now-writer and director Leigh Whannell (Co-creator of Saw and Insidious) has been assigned to write the remake of Escape from New York and direct/write the remake of The Invisible Man…impressive. Upgrade is a pretty awesome little junky sci-fi film that feels like the kind of direct to video stuff Cannon Films or Full Moon would’ve released in the early 90’s to capitalize on Robocop and its sequels. I know Venom was a similar comparison with the trailers, but it’s really not the same. Upgrade is more akin a gritty sci fi thriller like Elysium while Venom is pulling the “Monster Inside” gambit. The robotically enhanced fight scenes are amazing to see-like the bullet time effect in The Matrix or the First Person perspective in Hardcore Henry. There’s also the twist that kind of makes the movie feel like a soft Ghost in the Shell type film that I’m mixed on…but it’s still kick-ass so watch it.

MY TOP 10 MOST ANTICIPATED 2019

10. VELVET BUZZSAW
Probably the only film I want to borrow someone’s Netflix for this year. From Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal (The minds who made the perfect Nightcrawler) comes one of the craziest looking horror films in a while. I hope it’s good as Netflix horror films (The Ritual, Apostle, Annihilation) are all great. It looks great, the trailer confused me at first but then the game was revealed and I went “Oh…” Yeah this looks fun.

9. ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
Delayed for almost a year, now coming out and I’m still pumped for this 200 million manga adaptation by James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez. It looks great, could have a really strong female character push and could set the standard for manga/anime adaptations with Naruto and Attack on Titan around the corner.

8. POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU
Initially I was uninspired…then I saw the Sonic the Hedgehog poster and took it back. This could be a Who Framed Roger Rabbit for this modern audience, give the video game/movie curse a full lift and just looks fun.

7. HELLBOY
I know, I’m sad too Del Toro’s Hellboy trilogy won’t be achieved…but this look awesome. A fun, ridiculously silly, Thor Ragnarok style action romp. “Closer to the comics” doesn’t concern me. I just like the cast and the director (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday, Centurion, Game of Thrones).

6. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Quinten Tarantino’s star filled fictional story about the Manson murders…yeah I’m down for that.

4. STAR WARS EPISODE 9
Please don’t listen to the toxic fans JJ. I don’t need backstories for Snoke, Phasma or Knights of Ren. I don’t need Rey and Finn to be related or anything. I just need a good story that’s fun and progresses the Star Wars universe for new creators to take it.

4. JOKER
This project sounds super interesting. Nigthcrawler/Taxi Driver style superhero story with one of our best/strangest actors as one of the most famous movie villains. I’m hoping DC embraces just having different universes and if they want to try Infinite Earths of Flashpoitn to smash things together, it’s fine.

3. IT: CHAPTER 2
I like It a lot more than I’d thought. A well made, scary film and the sequel sounds like it could be just as great-if not better. Plus I need to monitor director because he’ll be doing Attack on Titan next.

2. AVENGERS: ENDGAME
Avengers Infinity War was awesome. It’s sequel was destined as one of the most anticipated films of all time. Endgame could a revolution, it could by fan service tripe…but I’m interested nevertheless.

1. GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS
Godzilla and Kong Skull Island were awesome, I’m loving the kaiju boom at the moment (Pacific Rim, Rampage, The Meg) so I want this to be good the most. Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah come together in a giant blockbuster film for what could be the greatest Kaiju showdown since the Hong Kong battle in Pacific Rim. Even if every other film on this list sucked-I would be happy if this one didn’t.