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Exceeding Its Grasp, by Bob Connally

25 Nov

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

While it would be unfair to ask any film to be on par with one of the greatest ever made, when a movie chooses to open its story in 1942 Casablanca, it’s going to have a lot to live up to. While Allied boasts Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as its leads, a screenplay by Steven Knight (Locke), and direction by Robert Zemeckis, it’s no surprise that it is not in the same league as Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca.

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Meant to Be, by Reed Lackey

23 Nov

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It is no longer surprising when a new Disney animated feature contains stunning visuals, memorable and moving songs, or funny and engaging characters. The studio has long been not only the pioneer for feature-length animated storytelling, but often the gold-standard bearer. So the fact that Moana, the latest entry in that ever-growing canon of classics, contains all of those elements was certainly no shock.

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First Contact, by Bob Connally

22 Nov

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First contact with alien races has been depicted in many different ways through the history of science fiction. Some stories are about invasions, others offer hope of friendship with far away worlds, but always there is uncertainty and at least some degree of fear for the characters in their forever changed universe. Arrival doesn’t put all of its cards on the table right away in that regard but it does engage the heart as well as the head throughout, which is always welcome.

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Movie Magic, by Bob Connally

19 Nov

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It’s difficult not to be wary of films detailing the backstories of our favorite movies. Between the disastrous Star Wars prequel trilogy and the decision to turn the relatively short novel The Hobbit into three bloated films adding up to the length of a full day’s work, there was reason to be concerned about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Harry Potter novelist J.K. Rowling was writing the screenplay herself, it would have been hard to see it as much more than a desperate cash grab by Warner Bros. Especially when it was recently announced that there would be five films in this new series set in the Potterverse, decades before Harry was even born. It turns out that Rowling was all the reason fans needed to feel confident because this first film in the series is a complete joy to watch.

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War is Fine, by Bob Connally

8 Nov

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Films about real life historical heroes are often given a pass by a certain percentage of their audience. Regardless of the quality of the movie, the mere fact that the story of a laudable figure is being told is enough for some viewers. It’s as though the film is above reproach because its subject is someone- or something- to be admired. Hacksaw Ridge will certainly have many singing its high praises because the man at the center of its story, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), was such a great hero.

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One of a Kind, by Tyler Smith

4 Nov

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Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter is a beautiful and fascinating work of art. It is a film of intangibles, borrowing its tone and imagery from various genres while never belonging to any of them. Somehow it manages to stand alone, defying categorization. That the film was the sole directorial effort of Laughton – a venerable character actor since the 1930s – only adds to its mystique. Not only is it difficult to speak about the film in regards to genre, but it also sidesteps any discussion of auteurism, as we have no previous nor future works by the director to compare it to. Given the surreal, dreamlike quality of both the visual and thematic elements of the film, it seems appropriate that it would remain so academically elusive. It is a film that insists we first view it on its own terms, rather than try to fit it into any larger theories.

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Eternal Significance, by Tyler Smith

4 Nov

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Just when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was starting to bore me, along comes horror director Scott Derrickson to completely re-energize it. This film not only feels like a breath of fresh air narratively, but visually, as well. It’s been a long time since a movie’s visual effects left me stunned, but Doctor Strange features such virtuoso filmmaking that I found myself asking not merely how the director did it, but how he even conceived of it. That is the mark of true creativity and freshness. While so many other films in the MCU were phoning it in, Doctor Strange sets out to genuinely intrigue and astound its audience.

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Scare Zones, by Jason Eaken

30 Oct

The epic 25th year of the nation’s best Halloween event, Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights, marks the biggest, longest and most intense event in history with nine haunted mazes, five unique scare zones and two thrilling shows. On select nights Sept. 18 through Nov. 1, guests can visit Universal Orlando’s theme parks by day and by night, become victims of their own horror film at Halloween Horror Nights 25.

Put yourself in a dark hallway. You can’t see much, you’re feeling your way through. You come around a corner and in this part of the hall, there are doors on both sides. You’re nervous something might come out of one of the doors, and for good reason, because suddenly Freddy Krueger jumps out from one door. His knife-hand swipes across the hall, barely missing you!

A hockey mask and machete lunge out from the other side. They belong to none other than Jason Voorhees, who towers over you. Things have gone from bad to worse, because these two maniacs are blocking the hallway, and in order to get past them, you have to turn sideways and slide between them, ducking under Freddy and Jason’s weapons, as they try to slice you to pieces.

That’s just one moment from the final act of the Freddy vs. Jason scare maze at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. If the above made you want to sleep with the lights on, you’ll be in for a long night.

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Answering the Question, by Bob Connally

24 Oct

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As I write this, it is two years to the day since four students were murdered by a classmate at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington. 15 years earlier, I was a junior at that school, looking around the campus on the morning of April 21, 1999. It was the day after the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. School shootings were not as commonplace as they would become but I still remember feeling that if someone really wanted to commit such a horrific act on our campus, there would be little to stop them. Tragically, 15 years later that would turn out to be true.

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Real Heroism, by Tyler Smith

23 Oct

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Clint Eastwood’s Sully is the director’s latest film about real life heroism. Starting with Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima in 2006, Eastwood has made several films based on inspirational true stories, though often from an odd angle (telling Nelson Mandela’s story as a function of the rugby World Cup, for example). With Sully, however, Eastwood – ever the deconstructionist – has decided to approach what could be a straightforward story and treat it as an opportunity to meditate on the very nature of heroism itself.

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