Alita Battle Angel

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After being stuck in development hell for over a decade and having its release date delayed twice, The Cyberpunk Epic Alita Battle Angel has finally hit theatres. Based on the beloved Manga “ Battle Angel Alita” (or Gunnm as it’s known in Japan) the film introduces us to a deactivated female Cyborg known as Alita, who gets revived but has no memory of who she was. What follows may seem like a standard “self-discovery” narrative at first glance, but the execution, unique world and engaging protagonist help elevate the film into becoming something special. 

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While producer James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) had wanted to direct a film adaptation of the Manga himself, he eventually passed the project over to director Robert Rodriguez (well known for directing the Sin City and Spy Kids films). The result of coupling the childlike imagination of Robert’s sensibilities with a big budget is just as bonkers and immersive as I hoped, with the world that Alita and her co-stars reside in (Iron City) feeling like a lived-in and richly detailed locale. The film is drenched in special effects and CGI, but it all has personality thanks to the incredible art direction and intriguing world building. This also works in the action’s favour. You won’t find any stupid shaky-cam or frustratingly hard-to-see fight scenes here. It’s all shown in full clarity and has a real sense of energy and excitement. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will be one of the most visually fulfilling films audiences will see this year.

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Amazingly, Alita Battle Angel doesn’t allow the humanity of its characters (Cyborg or not) to become lost amidst the outrageous spectacle. Instead, the visual effects help flesh out the world and characters. Alita herself is an incredibly well-realized protagonist. Thanks to Weta’s astonishing digital effects coupled with Rosa Salazar’s wonderful performance, it’s clear that much care and love has been placed into crafting the character. I was quickly endeared by her curiosity as she explored the world around her and developed  relationships, and when the time comes for her to become locked in combat with an apposing cyborg or participate in a game of Moterball, she becomes an inventive, charming and badass heroine. Dr. Dyson Ido, the scientist who finds and revives Alita, is also an intriguing character with a mysterious edge and heartwarming connection with the titular character, and even the love interest, Hugo, is given a more interesting story than you might expect, though I do feel that the Manga told his story better.

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What I feel is really going to make or break the film for audiences (as long as they enjoy the visual style and don’t find it off-putting) is the screenplay. Some of the dialogue is straight-up corny, and it’s clear that the film is setting up for (hopefully) future stories, which may cause some to feel a little unsatisfied by the end of the film. I’m personally not bothered by corny dialogue as long as it feels earnest, and Alita Battle Angel has a refreshing sense of sincerity and heart rather than the typical self-deprecating and jokey vibe that I get from a lot of other big blockbusters these days. (this is also something that I appreciated about 2018’s Aquaman, which has a very similar tone and embraces its over the top nature) At it’s worst, the dialogue just feels like something you would hear in a cheesy Anime dub from the 90s, and is that really such a bad thing? Maybe for some it is, but that almost added to the charm of the entire film for me. As for the set-up for future sequels, I did find that Alita had a satisfying arc by the end of this film, which allows it to stand on its own fairly well as far as I’m concerned, despite the sequel set-up. I mentioned above, It will be different for everyone, but it was just the right amount of over-the-top insanity and sincere emotion for me.

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 Alita Battle Angel is one of those few blockbusters that feels larger than life and yet surprisingly intimate. You’ll get the spectacle for sure, with exhilarating set-pieces that just about blow every other film out of the water, but Alita herself is what makes this movie really shine. She’s one of the most entertaining protagonists I’ve seen in quite a while, and I would certainly pay to see future adventures with her if more films like this are to follow. This gets a very high recommendation from me, and I can’t wait to revisit this Sleek and freaky Sci-Fi world again.

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The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

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While it includes “2” in the title, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is the fourth entry in the new series of theatrical Lego films. This series began with 2014’s surprise hit “The Lego Movie”, and continued with 2017’s Lego Batman and Lego Ninjago features. This year’s Lego Movie is the long overdue direct sequel to the 2014 film, and picks up right where it left off. Characters such as Emmet, Lucy, Batman and the rest of the supporting cast (with a few omissions) are back in the spotlight as their adventure becomes intergalactic. While the film’s comedy is not as consistent this time around, its story and themes come very close to matching the first Lego Movie’s cleverness and charm.

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I don’t see enough credit given to how gorgeous these Lego Movies look. The first act of the film is what you’ve seen in the trailers; taking place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that chiefly parodies Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s here that the craftsmanship put on display by the animators gets to really shine. I was impressed by the level of care and detail given to each of the character models, some of which have finger-prints and speckles of dust scattered around their face. It’s all artificial, of course, as these Lego Movies are almost entirely animated using CGI, but one could be easily fooled into thinking that this was a full blown stop-motion effort thanks to the frame-rate and the charming hand-made feel to the characters and the world they inhabit. One new character that stole the show for me was Queen Watevra Wanabi; a shape-shifting pile of lego bricks that constantly alters her physical appearance and has two outstanding musical numbers that help showcase her incredible character animation.

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We’re also introduced to another major new character known as Rex Dangervest, who serves as a crystal-clear parody of actor Chris Pratt’s various action-centred roles over the last decade (most notably Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Magnificent Seven) I believe the film’s most powerful themes come into play through Emmet’s interactions with this character. The themes that this film tackles include gender roles, sibling rivalries, toxic masculinity, growing up and abandonment. Heck, one of the songs toward the end seemed to be expressing how many people feel about the state of our world right now, and yet the song finds a way to uplift without brushing off the struggles and pains as if they’re not there. it’s all done in a smart and thoughtful manner, and this is what helps set the Lego franchise apart from the rest of the family-friendly fare that’s currently out there.

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Where the film falls short is in the humour, although this isn’t as damaging as it might sound. It’s to be expected that when a comedy throws a joke-per-second you won’t get a big laugh every time, but one of the remarkable things about the first Lego Movie was that nearly every joke was laugh-out-loud funny. Here, some of the jokes don’t have the same sense of timing, and maybe that has something to do with Phill Lord and Chris Miller only being co-writers on this project instead of taking on directing duties as they did with the first Lego Movie. That being said, when a joke lands, it’s hilarious, and once the characters set off on their adventure and reach the “Sis-Star System” it only gets funnier from there. I do worry though that some audiences may find that these Lego movies are simply too hyperactive and frantic. As much as I enjoy them, even l begin to feel exhausted by the end of most of them. With The Lego Movie 2 however, I never felt exhausted or overwhelmed, and I think that’s because this film takes time to slow down more often. The musical score itself (aside from the action scenes and musical numbers) is actually quite gentle and classical, leaving me wondering if it was meant to be somewhat of a homage to the score from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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I honestly think The Lego Movies are outdoing Pixar these days. While the films look and behave like visual sugar overload, they’ve each featured rich and emotional central themes that have been clearly resonating with audiences. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is not better than its predecessor, but it’s an enjoyable return to this world and I would even recommend seeing it in the theatre, if only to take in the remarkable animation on the big screen. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part overcomes most of its flaws and gets a recommendation from me.

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

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Netflix has been on a roll with their original content as of late. They were responsible for releasing some of the best media last year, and now here we are, right at the start of 2019, and they’ve already given us an incredibly engaging and occasionally disturbing documentary covering the catastrophic Fyre Festival of 2017. Both Netflix and Hulu released two separate documentaries on the subject this past month. I have yet to check out the Hulu one, so we’ll just be focusing on the Netflix offering, which is titled Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. The sheer absurdity of the story and content itself makes this one of the first must-see films of the year so far.

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Fyre focuses heavily on giving us a clear picture of Billy McFarland; the CEO and founder of Fyre Media, as well as the key factor behind the fraud itself. We’re shown the inception of an ambitious music festival that was originally meant to take place on a luxurious private island filled with supermodels and famous musicians (and a lot of very, very rich vacationers). Instead, many of the promises that the company made via social media weren’t fulfilled, hundreds of people were scammed and the event wound up becoming a catastrophe for everyone involved. The end result of the “festival” looks more like an eerie Blair Witch Project convention than anything else. (what with all the tents and drunk young adults running around in the dark. I have heard valid comparisons to it being like something out of Lord of the Flies as well, though.)

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The film engaged me almost immediately as it explored the origins of this festival, and a few of the stories will very likely make your skin crawl or cause you to stare in complete disbelief as they unfold. (Keep an eye out for a particularly disturbing story involving a water problem) I think it’s ideal to go into the film knowing as little as possible about the event, so that the unfolding chaos will be even more absurd and shocking, but I can imagine that viewers who are familiar with the story from a couple years ago will still find some entertainment and interest in the film.

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I don’t have much more to say about this one really. It’s a competently made documentary from a technical standpoint and an unbelievable story to witness.  I’m not sure how many people will be talking about it within the next few months, but I think it deserves to get some attention. Fyre get’s an easy recommendation from me, and it’s easily accessible via Netflix for those who are curious. Check it out!

The Last Laugh

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The Last Laugh focuses on Al (Chevy Chase) trying to convince his old client Buddy (Richard Dreyfuss) to get back into doing stand-up comedy. What follows is a basic road-trip set up where the two friends travel around and perform at comedy shows. The premise of a retired comedian struggling to get back into stand-up after a long absence and rediscovering his craft sounds like it has potential to be not just a good source for comedy, but it also sounds like a good amount of emotional weight could be presented within that story as well. 

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Director Greg Pritikin says that the big theme of the film was “embracing the present”, and that’s a message that I can totally get behind and would love to support. What I’m trying to get at is I don’t think this premise (or this premise with these actors for that matter) was doomed from the start at all, and I appreciate what the director’s intentions and goals were. This is why it doesn’t give me pleasure to report that while The Last Laugh has good intentions, it’s unfortunately comes across as a very dry, unfunny and ultimately hollow comedy. 

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I realized about a half-hour into the film that Richard Dreyfuss’s early introductory scene was still the funniest thing that had happened so far, and I really think that he is the film’s strongest element. I’m probably not going to remember his character by the end of 2019, but there is a sense of energy and eagerness found in the actor’s performance here that you just won’t find from any of his other co-stars. I almost wondered if the film was going to become incredibly meta and get genuinely funnier and smarter as Buddy’s stand-up routine gained more and more success, but no such luck. 

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 Chevy Chase, on the other hand, kind of looks like he doesn’t wanna be there. Granted, there isn’t a ton of material that he has to work with in the screenplay, but Richard had to work with the same script and he did an okay job, so I don’t see much of a reason to cut Chevy some slack on this one. The chemistry between the two actors isn’t awful, but it’s not particularly memorable from a dramatic or comedic stand point.

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The soundtrack is the film’s worst offender, at least as far as I’m concerned. It’s the most obnoxiously fluffy and intrusive score I’ve heard in ages, and while I wasn’t expecting the film to have a great or even all that good soundtrack, I was surprised by just how it’s presence brought the already-bland film down into the depths of musical hell. Truthfully, most people who aren’t as into Soundtracks might not even take notice of the music. but I would be remise if I didn’t at least give it a mention here. 

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I apologize for the long absence from this blog, but I’m planning on writing a review for every 2019 film that I see. Some will be long, others will be short, but I’m confident that the quality will pick up with each review. As for The Last Laugh, there’s not much here. While not a hateable film, Both actors have been in far better material, and the road trip concept has been stronger in other comedies as well. I can appreciate the well-meaning message, but the execution just didn’t cut it.

The Prince Of Egypt: Blu-Ray Review

IMG_8469Dreamworks Animation entered the scene in 1998 with two animated features; Antz and The Prince of Egypt. Both films were finally released on the Blu-ray format Last month courtesy of Universal Studios The two releases might seem to be quite random, but the truth of the matter is that this year marks the 20th anniversary of both films. While I’ve never been very fond of Antz, I consider The Prince of Egypt to be one of the most beautifully crafted animated films ever made. Its powerful story, astonishing soundtrack and gorgeous animation has given the film a longevity that few other Dreamworks films can claim to match. (Some would go so far as to call it the studio’s only truly great film, though fans of Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon would beg to differ)

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Despite this, the film has gotten little to no fanfare since it’s theatrical release in 1998. While this is unfortunate, it’s not unsurprising. Unlike Disney, Dreamworks doesn’t appear to celebrate the older animated films in their catalog in the form of special anniversary releases (unless it’s name is Shrek) and for a long time the better part of Dreamwork’s early lineup of films has been unavailable to purchase on Blu-ray. That has finally changed, but is really worth a buy? Eh…depends.

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Let’s start with this tragic cover art. There has been a trend as of late with major studios and their animated film releases, where instead of using the film’s original poster or creating a unique cover, they simply opt to use a close-up of one or two of the characters’ faces. The Prince of Egypt’s cover art is actually one of the nicer looking ones when it comes to this style of artwork, mostly due to the fact that the film’s art style is always a pleasure to see (regardless of how close it’s shoved in your face) but it’s still a shame that such an inspired film has to be settled with such lazy and unimaginative box art.

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Despite this year being the film’s 20th anniversary, Universal Studios hasn’t gone out of their way to provide a beautiful new transfer. Instead, we’re treated with the same slightly grainy picture quality that you can find on Netflix and previous DVD copies of the film, with only a slight upgrade in quality thanks to the Blu-ray’s HD picture capabilities. This is a let-down, but again, not entirely unexpected. The audio quality, on the other hand, fares much better, improving upon the sound from previous editions and giving the presentation a theatrical feel. The bonus features that are included are the same ones found on the previous DVD versions of the film; An Audio Commentary, Deleted scenes and so on. The content itself is very solid, though it would’ve been nice to see a retrospective documentary or something new that looked back on the film’s legacy somehow.

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If you already own a copy of the film on DVD and don’t care about upgrading your entire movie collection to the Blu-ray format, there’s sadly very little reason to pick up Universal’s latest release. The packaging itself is far blander than even the original VHS edition of the film, and the lack of new content and just passable quality really hurts what could’ve been a special release. If you don’t own the film, this is technically the best official version you can currently get, but it could have been a lot stronger. Here’s hoping for a remaster somewhere down the line.

My Most Anticipated Films of 2017: 5-1

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Welcome back! Yesterday I shared a few of my most anticipated films of 2017, but today we’re looking at the ones that are on the top of my list. These next five films are the ones that I’ll  go out of my way to see on opening night. (Though to be fair, Kong: Skull Island also falls into this category.) Let’s begin!

Number Five: Thor: Ragnarock

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I know that I’m in the minority on this, but the third Thor entry is the upcoming Marvel film that I’m most excited about. It’s being directed by Taika Waititi, the man who gave us the wonderful “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” last year, and I’m really interested to see how he injects his brilliant sense of humour and heart into the Marvel universe. I’ve also made it no secret that Thor: The Dark World was my favourite Superhero film of 2013, so it seems fairly likely that I’ll enjoy this one as well. Plus, any film with Loki in it is going to be worth seeing. It’s been too long since we’ve seen the best Marvel villain back in action.

Number Four: Star Wars: Episode 8

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Rest in Peace, Carrie Fisher

It’s Star Wars. What can I say? It might even be your most anticipated movie of the Year. The Force Awakens was a fun ride, but what really gets me excited about Episode 8 s the new directions that it will go. We’ll learn more about Rey, Finn, Poe and all the other new characters, but we’ll also finally get to find out what Luke’s been up to all these years. (and can we please see more of C-3PO and R2D2 this time?) Seeing Carrie Fisher on screen will be a touching and emotional experience for many viewers and fans. and with a great director attached, I’m confident that this will be one of the best Star Wars films we’ve seen yet, and easily one of the best of the “Disney-era” of Star Wars films.

Number Three: Untitled Godzilla Anime

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Truth be told, we know hardly a thing about this film. All we have is that it’s going to be the first full-length animated Godzilla film, it’s going to be animated by Polygon pictures (the animation company that worked on the excellent Transformers Prime and several episodes of the Clone Wars TV show) and we have that image above. To be honest, that’s all I need. A Godzilla Anime has been a fan’s dream for years, and only now is it finally becoming a reality. I have a feeling some may be upset that I ranked such a under-wraps film so high, but Godzilla rarely lets me down. Can’t wait for this one.

Number Two: My Little Pony: The Movie 

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Photo credit to Johnjoseco

Ever since 2011 when I first fell in love with Equestria and the world of Friendship Is Magic, I’ve hoped and wished that at some point we would get a feature Film based on the newest incarnation of MLP. Now, in 2017, that wish is finally coming true. Despite the fact that I think the most recent Season of the show (Season 6) was really poor, I still adore the first few Seasons of the show, and think that the loveable characters, the expansive lore, and the grand story would really lend itself well to the big screen. The animation is going to be somewhat resembling a traditionally animated film, and even has legendary animator Michel Gagné  (Who’s worked on classics such as An American Tail and The Land Before Time) working on the film as an animator. Very hyped for this one.

Number One: Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie 

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YES. Finally. At long last, The Jungle Movie is finally coming out. For those who don’t know, Hey Arnold! Was a wonderful Nickelodeon series from the 90s. The series had a good run and lasted for about Five Seasons. The series finale ended on a cliffhanger, showcasing Arnold finding a journal and a map to where is long-lost parents might be located, but we’ve never gotten a proper conclusion to that story…until now. Series creator Craig Bartlett is heavily involved with the film, and many of the classic voice actors are returning as well. Out of al the films being released in 2017, This is easily the biggest deal for me. (And that’s saying a lot when there’s also a Godzilla and FIM movie coming out in the same year!) The Jungle Movie will be released as a Two Part film (Each part an hour long!) in November 2017.

And there you have it! Those are the ten films that I am the most excited to see this year. Which films are you most looking forward to. Any of my picks make your list? let me know in the comments! Have a great 2017, everyone. Make it count.

My Most Anticipated Films of 2017: 10-6

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Welcome to 2017, everyone! 2016 was a pretty bumpy year for movies. We had some Gems like “Arrival” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” but we also had a heap of disappointments (mostly in the blockbuster department, though). Not since 2015 However have I been so excited for a yearly film lineup. For some. this might not be their most anticipated Year, but for me, there are some HUGE releases coming out, and we’re  going to take a look at my Top Ten most anticipated Films of the Year.

Number Ten: Paddington 2

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This may seem like an odd choice to start off my list with, but let me explain. Me and my sister grew up watching the Paddington Cartoon on TVO Kids. It was one of the few Channels we had, and Paddington was one of the most charming and humorous shows on that network. Despite this, I was concerned that 2015’s (or 2014, if you live in the UK) Live-action Paddington film would fall flat on it’s face. The advertisements simply made it look like one of this dreadful Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. Thankfully, Paddington turned out to be one of the most joyful and pleasant surprises of that Year, and it even made it into my top ten favourite films of 2015.  Much like the books and show, It was an incredibly endearing and loveable story that had a very Wes Anderson-ey vibe.  The reason I’m so excited for Paddington 2 is because it looks like much of what made the original so great is coming back. Paul King is back in the director’s chair, the whole Cast is making a return and the writers remain the same. I’m not sure if it’ll top the delightful first entry, but with the creative team involved, it’s very likely that it will come close.

Number Nine: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Spider-Man is by far my favourite Superhero. His Role in Civil War was brief, but a highlight. It’s no surprise that Marvel Studios pushed for a solo Spider-Man so soon after actor Tom Holland’s Civil War debut, and hey, it looks pretty great! The director has stated time and time again that he’s going for a John Hughes vibe with this film, and it shows. The trailer spends a lot of time  establishing the fact that this is going to be a very high-school centric Spider-man story, which is a fresh way to go about it. (The Sam Rami and Marc Webb films also featured Peter Parker in High school, but only for a short period of time.) Michael Keaton looks intimidating as the Vulture (though this is an ironic role for him to take so soon after Birdman!) and the humour looks spot on. Will it top Rami’s Spider-Man 2?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Number Eight: Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

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As you can probably tell by this point, I really like Marvel. (This isn’t the last Marvel film you’ll see on this list) 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was the surprise hit of the summer, and it’s sequel honestly looks like it could be even better. From the gorgeous cinematography, to the vibrant colours, to the hilarious banter between the team that we grew to love back in 2014, this is shaping up to be one of the biggest highlights of the summer. Despite the comedy that will surely be present, director James Gunn has said that this will be a more emotionally driven film than it’s predecessor, which is kind of scary, because the first film’s ending with Groot was one of the most tearjerking moments in Marvel’s whole cinematic universe. Will the sequel make audiences fall in love with Baby Groot? I think it already has.

Number Seven: Alien: Covenant

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Holy CRAP. That trailer was spooky. I know I’m in the minority on this, but I loved 2012’s Prometheus. I loved the atmosphere, the story, and the different approach Ridley Scott decided to take with it. It wasn’t so much a straight up Horror, as much as it was a pure Science Fiction epic. Alien Covenant however, looks like it’s going back to the series roots…and it looks pretty terrifying. It’s going to be a treat to see the Xenomorph Alien a classic Horror movie icon, back on the big screen, but I’m also incredibly excited for the return of Michael Fassbender as the android and the ways this film will bridge the gap between Prometheus and 1979’s Alien. Between this and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, it’s going to be a Galactic summer. (Sorry that was awful. Please don’t stop reading.)

Number Six: Kong: Skull Island

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You know it’s a packed year when King Kong is only at number six. Make no mistake, despite the fact that it didn’t crack into my Top Five, Kong: Skull Island, looks like an absolute blast. As a huge Godzilla/Kaiju fan, i’ve been waiting for a new King Kong film for a while now. We haven’t seen Kong since Peter jackson’s excellent remake back in 2005, but the great thing about 2017’s Skull Island is that  it’s not following the classic King Kong story. Instead, this is an origin story of sorts, depicting a group of people who get stranded on Skull Island and encounter Kong and other Kaiju-like beasts for the first time. The Cinematography looks atmospheric and beautiful, with some very clear visual nods to “Apocalypse Now”. Did I mention that this film takes place in the same universe as Legendary’s Godzilla film, and that the studio is building up to a Godzilla vs. King Kong film? Kaiju fans, we’re living in a golden age, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

And that’s part 1 of my most anticipated films of the year list! Stay tuned for Part 2, and let me know what films you’re most looking forward to! I’d love to read your thoughts! Happy New Year!