Anthology One

Last night, the first of its kind, Rogue One, a Star Wars Anthology film-- a film set in the Star Wars galaxy, but not immediately focused on the Skywalker family saga, hit theaters. In many ways Rogue One is quite the experimental journey for a Star Wars film...some of which pays off and some of which doesn't. But the question is, after my major disappointment in last year's The Force Awakens, did Rogue One leave me just as cold? Thankfully the answer is no, and I enjoyed the film quite a lot more than The Force Awakens. Was it the flawless film that some hype would have you believe? No. It was far from perfect and in some ways had just as many flaws as The Force Awakens... they just weren't the type of flaws that left me fuming this time.

As you may have heard, Rogue One is all about a group of rebels banding together to attempt to steal the plans to the newly built Death Star. Rogue One is not a sequel to The Force Awakens, but takes place immediately before the events of the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Specifically it follows the tale of a young woman named Jyn Erso, whose father was a brilliant scientist captured by the Empire to complete their ultimate power of destruction when she was just a child.

Rogue One decided against having the traditional theme and crawl to open the film, which as a traditionalist, I didn't really care for. The opening scenes set during Jyn's youth were nice setup to her character, but the transition to her adulthood is jarring. In fact, that's kind of the problem with the first act of the film in general. Scenes on their own are fine but don't flow together well. There are so many characters to introduce us to that the beginning feels a bit clunky. Unfortunately, with so much to juggle, no one is given too much depth and the beginning fails to properly set up and earn the emotional moments in the second half of the film. I think there's some dead weight with some of the characters here, that if they focused on a smaller group and let their personalities shine a bit more the film would have had more character depth and camaraderie between everyone. Also.... I know I'm contradicting myself when I'm saying less characters should have been shoehorned in... but more Vader would have been nice. And a Palpatine cameo.

Now let me get back to the positive to assure you that I did enjoy this film. The final act is absolutely thrilling (although I'd love to see an alternate cut of this film, because from the trailers it looks like the ending was almost entirely reshot.) The thing I hated the most about The Force Awakens was creating something completely unoriginal when you had a galaxy of potential storylines at your fingertips. Rogue One hasn't been done before (at least in Star Wars,) and it feels fresh. Best of all to me, it felt like a film that truly tries to tie all trilogies together and bind the galaxy together....and for a pretty divided fandom I feel like that's a very wise thing to do. I thought Felicity Jones and Diego Luna were likable leads who just needed some more small personal moments. Maybe if Rogue One had given more to that and less to CGI characters the film could have been a bit more well-balanced. In the end, though it's not a perfect or flawless film by any means....it successfully got me a little excited about Star Wars again. And that is a very good thing. EMILY RATING: 8/10 


Oscarbait Biopic #5874

Every winter a serious biopic comes out featuring a show-stopping performance by a talented actor or actress hoping to nab Oscar gold. Out today is one such film called Jackie with Natalie Portman already having buzz of an oscar repeat in her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy. Is her performance awards worthy and more importantly, is Jackie as a film good?

In a similar structure to my all-time favorite film (500) Days of Summer, Jackie is not told chronologically, but rather in a series of memories shared randomly that reveal more and more of the woman behind the image. These memories are recounted to a journalist (played by the always reliable Billy Crudup) enquiring for a story after the death of her husband JFK. Jackie recalls all kind of memories of her time during the White House to being forced to pack up all her belongings after the assassination. 

At the beginning of the film, Natalie Portman doesn't quite fit as seamlessly into the role as one would expect, as the narrative framing scenes where she recounts the story to Crudup's character seem to be the weakest. You can see her just trying to get the role just right and it doesn't feel effortless. But once the audience gets further into her memories it seems the more Portman got lost in the role and thus the more fascinating the film, as well as her performance becomes. Some scenes are gut-wrenching and incredibly raw, and on on the whole she does a pretty admirable job.  Aside from Portman, the acting all around is strong and another performance worth talking about here is Peter Sarsgaard who plays Bobby Kennedy. He's always a welcome presence and does a solid job here. Also among the film's strengths are the haunting score and the fabulous costume and production design. Natalie Portman, as well as everyone else in the film perfectly fits the 60's aesthetic.

Jackie is definitely a movie to be seen more for the performances than a plot you'll desire to watch over and over. Certainly the plot and the depictions of famous scenes in history are incredibly well done, but it's more of the type of movie to be admired than loved and embraced. That said, I much preferred the way this biopic was handled as compared to say The Theory of Everything where they didn't take a clear side of whose story was being told and played it safe. Here we know that everything we're seeing is coming out of Jackie's lens which makes the story far more interesting. and she as a figure much stronger. Jackie might not be one of my favorites to come out this year or a movie I will want to rewatch again and again, but is a must see for the performances that will likely be nominated in a couple months. EMILY RATING: 8/10


Easy Allied

Out just in time for Thanksgiving is Mr & Mrs Smith: World War II edition....or more specifically a film called Allied. A lot has been made out of Robert Zemeckis's latest film which pairs Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard...including speculations that the pairing of those two actors was the cause for ending the famous Brangelina relationship (of which Pitt was previously a part of.) But speculations about that aside, the real question is, is the film any good and is it worth your time?

Allied follows the tale of a couple of spies who met and fell in love during their stay at (wouldn't you know it?) Casablanca during World War II. Surviving basically a suicide mission, the two bond and decide once their mission is over that the only natural thing to do would be to get hitched. Fast forward a baby and a couple years later and the couple find themselves in Britain where Brad's character is faced with a stunning possibility: that perhaps his loving wife has been a spy for the Nazis all along. His task given by his superiors is to test her, and if she fails their test he must execute her himself or be charged with high treason. What's a man to do? The answer, of course, is for him to do some investigating to find out what the truth really is.

First and foremost, the movie looks absolutely gorgeous (and that includes the always stunning Marion Cotillard and dapper looking Pitt,) but unfortunately looks aren't everything! While it's cinematography, costume design, and general production values are top notch, the whole thing somehow just rings a little hollow. Really the best way to describe it is sadly bland and forgettable...which is a shame because the advertising portrayed something a lot more promising. As for Pitt and Cotillard, Marion is as reliable as ever, but Pitt seems to sleepwalk through his role. Perhaps your curiosity lies in seeing with your own eyes the chemistry Cotillard and Pitt have, but honestly, their connection seemed shallow and superficial....I didn't really buy it. That said, the results of the film as a whole are certainly watchable. It's entertaining but you just can't help but think it could have been more. All in all, Allied is a missed opportunity. It plays it too safe to either have fun with it and too shallow to be truly memorable. EMILY RATING: 6/10


Popular Spinoffs and Where To Find Them

I had the opportunity to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them twice this week, but because of my work load I decided to skip the Tuesday screening I had planned and just see it for the first time on Thursday with my friends. Unfortunately now I really wish I had seen it twice so I could feel a little more decided on my opinion before writing this review. As such, you'll be getting my first impressions of a film that was somewhat of a whirlwind to behold.

Being a spinoff and sort of a prequel to one of the biggest and most popular franchises of the 21st century, it's hard not to bring a certain set of expectations to what you think Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them will be. Those expectations are a lot to overcome during the first half of the film that revolves far more around magical creature mayhem than much of a coherent plot. I couldn't help but feel as the film bumbled along "this is really stretching it" because it just didn't strike me as compelling cinematic material. There was some magic and some wonder as some would expect... but weirdly it was reminding me more of the fairies from Sleeping Beauty than anything I'd seen out of Harry Potter. Also briefly on the cons side, I was a little surprised that the CGI in this film wasn't a little more polished. It's hard to suspend disbelief when things don't look flawless....and for a film of this caliber there should be no excuse.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is all about the adventures of Newt Scamander (yes I wish his last name were Salamander too,) and the book he's writing. He's researching all of the magical creatures in the world which leads him to New York. After an encounter in which a friendly nomag (aka non magical person aka muggle,) who witnesses some creatures escape from his Mary Poppins-esque suitcase, he enlists his help to capture them before other nomags get wise to the fact that there is a wizarding community in New York City. Meanwhile, a darker presence lurks beneath the shadows.

While I liked the opening sequence of Beasts, it was hard to tell what the movie's purpose was for a good chunk of screen time. Meandering films are not always my favorite, but once it finally found its way it did become more of the enjoyable ride that I had been anticipating. Unfortunately Eddie Redmayne doesn't really do a lot for this franchise and feels somehow wasted, and really all of the characters kind of seem like a mixed bag when it comes down to it. The scene stealer here is Dan Fogler playing the nomag character  Jacob whom the audience relates with. But Katherine Waterston's Tina seemed a little on the bland side, while Alison Sudol's Marilyn Monroe wannabe character Queenie was a lot more fun. But do they have the potential for the depth Rowlings past series characters achieved? Time will tell.

All in all, not *all* of the magic from Harry Potter made its way into this spinoff, but the magic that did is entirely welcome. As always, it's a fun cinematic ride to enter the world Rowling creates and for the most part, I always enjoy it. Beasts takes a lot of risks that I'm not entirely sure all paid off... and as such it just takes awhile to find its footing and the familiarity of what made the past series great. Hopefully the sequels can improve upon this first effort and feel a little more even. EMILY RATING: 7/10 (7.5 on a good day maybe. I don't know. Still need to rewatch it before I can say with certainty!)


The Edge of Glory

There's a sad truth in today's state of cinema, besides the over rampant release of constant superhero films: high school flicks are becoming extinct. I remember thinking during the release of last year's The Duff how rare it was to even be seeing a movie set in high school nowadays, and even though that film was incredibly flawed and formulaic it felt refreshing anyway to see this genre film make a reappearance. So hearing about the existence of The Edge of Seventeen, another coming of age high school tale, was encouraging, even though I'm not the biggest fan of Hailee Steinfeld. The advertising brands it as an instant classic and draws comparisons to Clueless and Juno, but is it that good really or are people just desperate to like something from this genre? I definitely think absence has made the heart grow fonder for the genre, but Edge is a pretty solid entry in it...that is, if you had a lonely high school experience similar to main character Nadine.

The story of The Edge of Seventeen is pretty simple. Seventeen-year-old Nadine's life comes crashing down when her only friend in the world Krista starts dating Nadine's older brother with whom she shares an intense sibling rivalry (at least on her side anyway.) After she issues an ultimatum to her BFF she finds herself utterly alone in the depths of teenage sorrow. The one parent who did understand her was taken away prematurely, while the other (played earnestly by Keira Sedgwick) is too consumed with her own pain and drama to try to take on anyone else's' problems. This leaves Nadine with no one else to confide in besides her smart-alecky teacher (played to scene-stealing perfection by Woody Harrelson,) as well as an awkward fellow student who harbors a crush on her. The friendship with both of these males provide the majority of the film's laughs, but are far from the only reason to like The Edge of Seventeen (though the humor IS a certainly one of the film's biggest strengths.)

Before I list the charms of The Edge of Seventeen, let me discuss the flaws in it that might keep people from enjoying it. Similar to The Duff, it's easy to tell that the script is written by someone somewhat removed from the high school scene (though in this case, not nearly as far removed as the screenwriters of The Duff who threw in every social media they could think of possible to try to relate to their audience.) Also similar to the aforementioned Juno, the dialogue seems just a little too adult for a high schooler. The scene where she talks about being an old soul and judging her peers for tweeting about tacos just screams a screenwriter who might be thinking "kids these days!" The difference though between this and The Duff, is that the underlying emotions here come off as incredibly genuine and from a sincerely authentic place. Then there's our main character. Nadine isn't entirely likable, but the charm of her is that she'd be the first one to admit that. Her insecurities are relatable and make her seem like a character who is really made out of flesh and blood. She can most definitely be really annoying, but characters this lived in are incredibly refreshing. She wants to change, she wants to grow....she just doesn't know how. Not only is she real, but her experiences seem real. There isn't some gimmicky plot that helps her come of age, it's just life. As such, Edge of Seventeen is a very slice of life type film....and your patience for it might depend how much you enjoy that type of film.

The Edge of Seventeen is an enjoyable film that's made with a lot of care. It would be easy for most people to enjoy it on the most basic level and deceptively see it as simple. But for me, I really connected with this film on a very personal basis. The feelings portrayed in Seventeen are intense and real and took me back to my own sometimes incredibly lonely teenage experience. Though it has its calculated quirks, I just felt very much that this story came from a very real place....a place where I've been before. As a result, I can't help but kind of love this film. EMILY RATING: 8.5/10


Welcome to Earf

Much like the review I wrote earlier in the week for Hacksaw Ridge, when thinking of how to describe this week's new release Arrival, several other movies come to mind. There are definite shades of Interstellar here, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and even a teeny bit of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With so many comparisons you would expect this film to be like an Oblivion, a repackaging of everyone else's ideas with nothing new to say, but you'd be very wrong. Arrival is one of the most original films of the year and will stand on its own for its contribution to the genre.

The less known about the film the better, so I will keep my synopsis short. Arrival is the story of a linguist named Dr. Louise Banks (played wonderfully as always by Amy Adams) and the titular arrival of 12 alien ships across the globe that changes her, along with the rest of the worlds' lives forever. When aliens land on earth, Louise is recruited by the United States Government to find a way to communicate with the new visitors, as well as attempting to translate their alien language. It seems like an incredibly impossible task that the film almost spends the entire time figuring out to solve. This may bore many viewers, but to those who have the patience it is a fascinating experience.

Arrival is a simple and realistic portrayal of how governments all around the globe might react to being confronted with extra-terrestrial life. For an idea so fantastical, Arrival plays it straight and is extremely rooted in reality...even though it has its fantastical 2001: A Space Odyssey type moments and....the Interstellar similarities that I alluded to earlier that I won't even get into at all here because I don't want to spoil anything. Basically what I'm saying is, for an alien movie there is not very much action at all. That's not the point here. The point in this film is studying a new intelligent species and learning all they can from them.

It's really hard to get too much further in the details, but all I can say is Arrival is brilliantly done. Everything in this film is perfection from the subtle direction, Amy Adams fantastic performance, the poignant editing and the beautifully crisp cinematography. This if a film that pops on the screen and it is absolutely one of the best of the year. See it. As far as flaws go, it might not be the most accessible film for everyone. Some people might get bored, but to me it was captivating all throughout and an incredibly rewarding film experience. EMILY RATING: 9.5


Can Hack It

Apologies for my very late review of Hacksaw Ridge which opened last Friday, as well as my absence from writing reviews the past month. As always, I'm gonna claim "better late than never" and  try to make up for my lack by giving you my thoughts on Mel Gibson's attempted comeback Hacksaw Ridge. On the surface Ridge might not seem super original as its easiest to describe it by bringing up other movies. Hacksaw Ridge has the brutality of Saving Private Ryan and Atonement, the steadfast integrity of standing for one's principles as seen in Chariots of Fire, showing the value of saving one life at a time like in Schindler's List, and the reliance of God in a time of war as seen in Unbroken. Heck it even has a romance straight out of Pearl Harbor or a Nicholas Sparks movie. So the question is, does Hacksaw Ridge have what it takes to stand out and be remembered on its own? And is it the redemption Mel Gibson has so desperately been looking for? The answer to both is a lukewarm "possibly."

Hacksaw Ridge follows the story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a religious fellow with a marked distaste for guns and the destruction they can cause because of his relationship with his alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving) growing up. Desmond is caught up in the events of World War II, but before he leaves for duty he happens to find two sources of love. The first is that he has a knack for helping out during medical situations. The second is from a lovely nurse he can't help but to cheesily woo (Theresa Palmer). But despite her love, he feels a pull to the war and feels that it's his duty to God to save as many men as he can in the role of a medic. A medic who refuses to touch a gun. However, convincing the army of his intentions is a lot harder than he bargained for.

After a really poignant scene to begin the film, Hacksaw Ridge suffers from spending too much time (or perhaps not enough) on a sweet but generic love story. Andrew Garfield and Theresa Palmer are both good in their roles, but don't have the spark in their chemistry to elevate their story. As such, the story doesn't really get good until it breaks free of their story and moves on to the bigger picture of the war. War films are not typically among my favorite genres, but the particular story of this one I found to be pretty inspiring and captivating once it began to truly unfold. As I mentioned before, the violence during the battle scenes is so devastatingly vicious that it truly frightens you as a human being. These scenes are one of the the biggest highlights of the film and are expertly crafted by Gibson to truly portray the horrific nature of war. There isn't glory in these scenes, but utter brutality in the loss of human life. This imagery juxtaposed with the decision that Doss makes is incredible makes the film carry more weight.

Hacksaw Ridge definitely takes its time to be more than average, but it helps to have the solid Andrew Garfield giving a heartfelt performance the whole way through. He might not be perfect at portraying a West Virginia boy, but in the second half of the film it's easy to see him lost in the performance in a wonderful way. The final third of the film is how the movie should be remembered  and was a very good effort for Gibson (even if some people might think he was heavy handed in trying to get his Christian message across.) As a whole, it to me was what Unbroken failed to be. A powerfully true war story in which I cared about the character and his intense journey, and felt his reliance of his God.  EMILY RATING 8/10


Mr. Burton's Wacky New Movie for Peculiar People

Tim Burton has had kind of a slump for a few years. While I personally really enjoyed Big Eyes in 2014, it failed to really scream "comeback" for most people, and something stronger was needed to show that the director was headed in the right direction. When Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children was announced, it seemed like a perfect fit for the director and it was even more welcome to not have a white faced Johnny Depp doing his same old schtick. Instead, Burton reunites with Eva Green who was the best part of the disappointing Dark Shadows to tell the story of a headmistress who takes in wayward children with incredible powers (basically, the Tim Burton version of X-Men.)

The beginning of the film finds Asa Butterfield's (Hugo, Ender's Game) character Jake living a humdrum life. When he discovers his Grandfather dying in a field with his eyes stolen (yes you read that right...) everything changes as he desperately seeks for some closure. His therapist (the always solid Allison Janney) encourages him to seek out the children's home his Grandfather told him about when he was growing up. As a teen, Jake accepted the stories to be fairy tales that he hoped were true, but seemed too far fetched to be. Soon he discovers an entrance to the world his Grandfather always talked about and how magical and real it was...as well as the dangers that lurk in destroying their existence.

The film starts off with a ton of promise and a lot of the magic that made Burton's films from the 90's so wonderful. It feels like a true return to form, and you get excited about the world you're being introduced to. Unfortunately, that magic starts wearing thin due to the pacing of the film. After awhile, you've seen enough and you're ready for some of the real conflict to begin. But sadly, once it does the film kinda falls apart. The concept is good, but the execution just gets a bit sloppy from the middle on until the end. Eva Green sparkles in the role of Miss Peregrine, but the movie needed more of her. Ella Purnell, who plays the light as air Emma Bloom is kind of the film's heart and her unique look you can tell must have been a muse for Burton. She fits right into his world and is probably one of the best parts of it. The other kids are decent, but towards the end you're unsure how great their peculiarities really are. Butterfield is serviceable as the newcomer to the clan, but I've always found him to be somewhat of a bland performer....he never truly engages me in a role. Some of the TV spots declare this film as "the magic of Harry Potter meets the action of X-men." I only wish that could actually be accurate because the film needed quite a bit more of both things to make it truly stand out.

So sadly, no Miss Peregrine is not a comeback, but rather is just another jumbled mess from Tim Burton. It had potential to be a little more, but falls short in its rambling middle and ridiculous ending. EMILY RATING: 6/10


The Bland Witch

Earlier this year the world was delighted with the surprise of a secretly made Cloverfield sequel that actually turned out to be pretty amazing. When it was announced at the San Diego Comic-Con that ANOTHER beloved horror movie was getting a sequel, and that the early reviews for it were all glowing, people's expectations were suddenly sky high for a movie that just a few months ago they had no idea existed. The film in question getting its sequel was the horror classic The Blair Witch Project, a "found footage" film that basically created a million copycats and its own subgenre within horror lore. A sequel did come out for the film back in 2000 but was greeted with poor reviews since it couldn't match the height or originality of its predecessor. Also, a reason The Blair Witch Project was so successful is that its marketing campaign was so brilliant in making people actually question whether or not the film really happened. No one knew if it was a true documentary or a fictional film. For that type of magic, it's hard to duplicate....particularly with a sequel. 17 years later, we all know the first movie is fake, so for a late sequel to have that kind of impact would be difficult. But could The Blair Witch 2016 somehow pull off this feat? Unfortunately for me, the answer was a definite no.

The sequel is set fifteen years after the events of the first film and focuses on the brother of the former lead character Heather. After losing his sister to the mysteries of the woods, he is determined to discover if she is somehow still alive. The problem is, the original Blair Witch changed the game so much, that trying to copy it now just feels so standard. The characters are cardboard cutouts with not one of the leads giving too compelling of performances. The first half of the film is so bland and boring that by the time fun stuff finally starts happening in the final third it just feels like too little, too late. Certain storylines are set up with very little payoff, that overall....while there is fun to be had, I couldn't help but feel pretty disappointed by the time it was over.

Overall, it's hard to make a sequel to one of the defining horror genre films of the 90's when you can't pull the same trick on the audience twice. As someone who has only seen the original film a couple times, perhaps I couldn't appreciate the homages the director intended, but to me, everything just felt so cookie cutter and by the numbers, I was too bored. So perhaps bigger Blair Witch buffs will disagree with my opinion. But, to the film's credit, the final portion of the film is incredibly solid, and watching the first person perspective makes it feel like a cinematic haunted house type experiment. The end was incredibly fun but just couldn't redeem the mediocre beginning and middle. EMILY RATING: 5/10


Miracle of the Sully

Fall movie season wouldn't be complete without a Tom Hanks oscar baity type role. Enter the movie Sully where he teams up with another oscar caliber director in Clint Eastwood. Sully tells the tale of the aftermath of the "Miracle on the Hudson" where Captain Chesley Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles successfully landed their damaged plane on the Hudson River without any human casualties. Anyone reading this review should be old enough to remember what happened, but none of us know the story behind the scenes, and that's what Sully seeks to tell.

Sully begins when the story we know ends, as Captain Sullenberger is being investigated by insurance agencies who are seeking to know if he did everything he could to prevent having to resort to landing on the Hudson River. They believe that he could have returned to the airport with the plane undamaged instead of destroying it in their crash landing and risking the lives of the passengers. Sully's recollection of the events is told in flashbacks as Eastwood seeks to answer the question of what really happened. It plays out as a weird spiritual sequel to Apollo 13...that's set in interrogation offices and the majority of what is happening is...talking, as the insurance reps try to figure out the real story of what went wrong. It's kind of an odd film to watch because the most interesting part is the flashbacks, yet they don't hold much suspense because we know it turns out okay since Sully is the one remembering them.

The film is anchored by Tom Hanks's performance. The guy is pretty much a pro at this type of role by now, but he gets some nice help from Aaron Eckhart (really nice to see him in a good movie again.) Laura Linney is relegated to the "worried wife on the phone" role and is pretty much wasted here. Everyone else is pretty two dimensional which makes the ending not quite as earned as it wants to be. It feels way too tidy and left the film off on a note that just seemed too hero worshippy to me. I would have liked the film to have been a little more complex, with more moral gray to be explored. But that wasn't really the movie Eastwood wanted to make. EMILY RATING: 7/10


The Light Between Morgans

The summer movie season has come to an end and different movie options aside from blockbusters are now opening up. This weekend the two releases Morgan and The Light Between Oceans couldn't be more different. One is a sci-fi, horror-thriller with the son of Ridley Scott making his directorial debut, while the other is an adaptation of a popular romantic drama. I was able to see both during the last two weeks, so let's start with my thoughts on Morgan.

Morgan is all about the titular character (played with finesse by The Witch's Anya Taylor-Joy,) a "woman" who was created by scientists. She is the first successful version of artificial life....until she becomes not so successful after attacking of one of the members of the research team. Enter a risk management member of the corporate team (Kate Mara) to decide whether or not project Morgan should be terminated. We'll leave the plot at that because it's best if there's a way the movie can surprise you with the few tricks up its sleeve that it has.

Paul Giamatti arrives midway through the film and his scene with Taylor-Joy is absolutely the highlight of the film. So much tension is built that I was so excited to see what came after this point...but unfortunately, this was where the film kinda fell back on the thriller genre formula instead of kicking the horror up a notch. Really that's the problem with the film is that it's caught between too many genres. As a fan of horror, I kind of wanted this to be more on the side of Alien...where Morgan is a silent, relentless stalker...but the way it plays out, they don't really give you much time to revel in her destruction. Still though, even though the beats became a little familiar in the second half, they were still executed with a lot of fun. Plus, I'm excited to see were Luke Scott goes from here. His freshman effort was decent enough and certainly entertaining. EMILY RATING: 7/10

The first 15 or 20 minutes of The Light Between Oceans might as well have been called "Beautiful People in Love." Not that there's anything wrong with that...but there didn't seem to be a lot of depth to this film and it made me wonder why two Oscar-caliber actors signed on for this. And then the drama hit. BIG TIME. And that's where things got interesting. The Light Between Oceans is all about a married couple (Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) who find a baby and a dead man in a boat. Having had two miscarriages, Isabel begs her husband not to report what they found and just to raise the child as their own. Her husband Tom reluctantly agrees but soon finds he can't live with the guilt when he discovers the baby's mother is still alive (Rachel Weisz.)

Once The Light Between Oceans got rolling, I really really liked it. All the drama in the second half made me appreciate the lighthearted opener that I didn't care for at the beginning. The performances here are fantastic, and the message at its core is pretty heartwarming. The ending could have perhaps been more solid and memorable (it's a little understated and cheesy at the same time), but it's a minor complaint. I mentioned earlier as more of a cheeky comment that the movie is basically two pretty people falling love...well I can't deny that makes the movie all the more beautiful to look at combined with the gorgeous cinematography and lovely score....so it definitely ain't a bad thing when all is said and done. EMILY RATING: 8/10



What a year for the horror genre it has been. The year started off great with the Sundance 2015 selection The Witch finally being released, and only got better when out of nowhere the world learned it was getting a horror-centric Cloverfield sequel. The summer gave us the solid, though inferior sequel to The Conjuring, the ridiculously fun, shark-filled The Shallows and the surprisingly modest hit Lights Out. During my viewing of The Shallows, I caught the trailer for Don't Breathe and was instantly wowed. I'd never heard of this horror flick that reteams the Evil Dead remake director Fede Alvarez with his star Jane Levy. Like the first Conjuring film, the trailer for Don't Breathe highlighted a specific scene and absolutely terrified me. As soon as I saw that trailer, Don't Breathe instantly jumped to my most anticipated films list. So with all those expectations, did the film disappoint? I'm happy to report that Don't Breathe absolutely did not disappoint. This non-stop horrific ride instantly became one of my favorite movies of the year. It thrilled me and awed me all at the same time.

Don't Breathe is all about three kids who like to commit burglaries in their spare time. The leader is kind of a cookie cutter thug named Money (easily the weakest point of the movie) who has influenced his troubled, wrong side of the tracks girlfriend Rocky (Jane Levy) to take part in stealing from rich people. Rocky steals in hopes that she can somehow obtain a better life for her and her sister. They wouldn't get too far though without her friendzoned buddy, Alex, whose father's job puts them into easy access to spare house keys and remote controls to silence home alarms. As a final heist, they decide to rob an old blind man, who recently won a huge settlement and supposedly keeps all his money in a vault inside his house. If they can just do this job, they'll never have to steal again. As expected in a horror film, things don't go quite as planned and the audience is taken on this ride that does not let up.

For the type of movie it's trying to be, Don't Breathe is almost absolutely perfect. Dare I say the "masterpiece" word?? The only flaws that really stood out were that the characters could have been fleshed out a little more. Usually, that's a bigger gripe for me, but the amount of time that this movie holds your attention non-stop, it's an easy thing to forgive here. Money was awful, as was his dialogue. His lines can be cringeworthy, but you don't really have to deal with too many of them once everything is all said and done. Jane Levy, once again excels in the horror movie "final girl-type" role, though Goosebump's Dylan Minnette certainly tries to steal the title with his performance on more than one occasion. I would have loved a couple more moments between them before all the action started, but once it does it's really hard to complain about anything because everything is so well done. The camera work in discovering this house was so wonderful, I'd always be a second away from commenting on how masterful the film was and then gripping my chair a moment later because something horrible was happening. Honestly, this is the horror genre at its absolute best. The way it should be. EMILY RATING: 9.5


Squad Goals

Another DC movie, another set of poor reviews. If my readers recall, I was one of the few who came to the defense of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, so is this a case of deja vu where all the negativity is largely unwarranted? I won't be able to give a fully in-depth review today, but this DC fan must admit that the negative reviews, this time, make a lot more sense. Suicide Squad was a disappointment for me as the film just wasn't able to live up to the hype promised in the trailers. I could feel a bit of studio tampering in the cut I witnessed in the theater. The editing was kind of sloppy and I just felt so much potential wasted. But......that doesn't mean the film isn't without its redeeming qualities. Let's go over the good and the bad shall we?

THE GOOD: The best part of this movie is Margot Robbie. She makes the role of Harley Quinn her own and she's clearly having a ball. She undoubtedly steals every scene she's in, which just makes me sad that sometimes she's not given anything more to do in a scene than call someone a pussy. (Cool! She says shocking things! /sarcasm.) Will Smith is solid in the role of Deadshot and very likable, though he's not really doing anything too new. They're kind of the only two characters that really seem to matter because they're given the most depth (aside from perhaps Diablo.) Viola Davis is good at being her intimidating How to Get Away With Murder self and Joel Kinnamon was reliable as always. The comic world that we see Harley and the Joker (Jared Leto who didn't get enough time to make too much of an impression) inhabit is one of the best parts of the movie and we didn't get to see nearly enough.

THE BAD: Some of these characters are completely throwaway. I'm looking at you Killer Croc with your horrible one liners. And one liners in general grated on me where you get the sense they were told to try to copy the Marvel formula. No DC! Do your own thing I beg of you!! That style competed with the movie the whole time where you just can sense that a darker movie was hiding under the surface that was probably the filmmakers' true vision. Unfortunately what we got was somewhere in between with emphasis from studio execs to try to be crowd pleasing. One final thing to add to this category would be that I wasn't really into Cara Delevigne's villain and as mentioned before didn't get to see nearly enough of Jared Leto's joker to decide how I felt about him. Obviously, you don't walk out of this movie feeling about him the way you did when you first saw Heath Ledger's take on the character.

FINAL VERDICT: Suicide Squad is flawed, but still enjoyable. My expectations were just a little too high. EMILY RATING: 6/10


Beyond Darkness

Two new mini movie reviews today as I take on two genre films. The biggest film out this week is the third entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond and the second is a modest horror flick with a simple premise called Lights Out. Both have been pretty well received by critics lately, but since I don't seem to be trusting critics this year I had to see them for myself to judge.

Back when The Force Awakens was announced I realllllly wanted JJ Abrams to be stolen away from Star Trek because I truly believed he was the man for taking on George Lucas's beloved saga. Some will think he was, but boy I couldn't be sadder that things went that way now with what happened with both franchises. JJ had a camaraderie with that cast and his directing of them felt effortless and in the early scenes of Beyond something just feels off. Some of the chemistry feels like it's missing. It took me a long time to really get into the movie. I couldn't tell where things were going for a good while, and then once they happened it didn't feel earned. Eventually, I had to just let that go and enjoy the ride. And as always, Star Trek is a fun ride. Honestly, I'll never hate on one of these rebooted Star Trek films because it's just a fun universe to visit and solid characters to spend time with. The world building here was so much more impressive than the film JJ left Trek for. Instead of recycled worlds, our eyes are treated to something new which was half of the fun. And for a film in its genre of sci-fi adventure, it's really as fun and as popcorn as it can be.  One more thing I ought to mention is that the late Anton Yelchin has a bigger role this time around than perhaps in any of the other films and he was as wonderful as always. Made me miss him even more. Anyways, there's not a ton of substance to this film, which easily makes it my least favorite of the trilogy...but I can still appreciate it on its own terms.  EMILY RATING: 7.5/10

Anyone well acquainted with me or this site KNOWS I love a good horror flick. I heard many conflicting reports about Lights Out before seeing it. The reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were all fresh and the IMDb user score was still pretty high. Could it be the next great horror film? Or did it deserve the hate that local critics seemed preconceived to having before seeing it? The answer for me is somewhere in between...it wasn't a great horror film, but I had fun with it. And I certainly didn't think it was awful. (Side note: if you want to see a truly awful horror film made this year check out The Darkness immediately.) The film is incredibly short, and as such, some things definitely tend to be a little rushed. The investigation into the entity (real or paranormal) that haunts them is thrown together and you certainly leave the film scratching your head a little at some of the plot holes. The performances aren't amazing and the creature probably could have used a little more work in how she looked (a little too Mama CGI for my taste.) The film breaks a lot of its own rules, but in the second half, you really won't mind because it's just a lot of fun. The filmmakers took a simple premise (a creature that can only appear when it's dark) and surprisingly was able to do a lot with it.  EMILY RATING: 6.5/10