Spectre

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I’m no expert in Bond. I haven’t even seen all the films, but I have been enjoying the new Daniel Craig Series that started with 2006’s Casino Royal. The way it’s played out has been very similar to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, where they’ve taken a franchise that seems to have run it’s course, and revive it with some new talent and a more realistic and grounded approach to the subject matter. It seems to have worked out for the James Bond franchise quite well, Especially with 2012’s Skyfall, which happened to be one of my favourite films of said year. So, naturally, Spectre was high on my anticipation list for 2015’s lineup of movies. And let me tell you, this film totally exceeded my expectations…..for the first ten minutes.

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Spectre opens with promise, showcasing a beautiful action set piece in Mexico during the Day of the Dead celebration. The sequence is beautifully shot, engaging, and a great pre-credit scene to get the audience pumped up for the rest of the movie. The opening song, Writing’s on the Wall by sam Smith) isn’t quite as memorable as Adele’s Skyfall, but it’s still a fantastic song and one of the true highlights of the movie. Once the opening credits end however, the film begins it’s slow decline. I was sitting there thinking “Wait a minute, haven’t I seen this before?” The storyline felt familiar. The idea of an evil secret organization made me think of some other film that came out this year….Ah, that’s it! Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation did it first. (and better) I won’t gripe on this too much though. After all, Rogue Nation WAS originally supposed to come out in December, So I guess I can let it slide. Let’s just focus on the film at hand. Spectre just seems to be missing something….A lack of kick. I can’t really explain it. The entire storyline just felt surprisingly corny and underwhelming that it was hard not to be disappointed. Now don’t get me wrong. I love corny. Most of my favourite films are corny. But the Daniel Craig Bond series stood out among the other Bond films because of it’s brutal realism and well thought out action set pieces. Spectre feels like a major step backwards from that, and it leaves us with just another Goofy spy movie rather than another terrific entry in the James Bond series. One scene in particular that sticks out in my mind is one of the action sequences, where Bond gets a plane out of nowhere to chase the bad guys down who’ve captured the latest Bond girl. Wait…where did he get the plane? Did I miss something? I’m genuinely asking. If you know where e got the plane then please tell me in the comments, because I thought I was paying close attention to the film until that plane showed up. It’s moments like these that took me out of the movie.

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Now there are some good things to be said about Spectre. Quite a few in fact. The score is pretty good, the film is beautifully shot, and the actors certainly don’t phone it in, and do the best with what they’ve got. There’s also a lot of clever in-jokes and references to other Bond films that fans will surly get a kick out of, and rest assured, this is a well DIRECTED movie. However, a film with good direction can still fall flat if the script is poor, and the script for this film just felt flat. Again, it’s not downright terrible, just flat. The characters, new and old, are forgettable and not terribly well developed. The film’s lead villain, Ernest Stavro Blofeld, is given far too little screen time and is a complete bore when compared to Skyfall’s villain, Raoul. Madeleine Swann, while given more to do than some of the other bond girls, doesn’t really leave much of an impression either. It’s really a shame, because these are all competent actors who are really doing the best they can. The problem truly lies in the script. It’s just not up to par with the past few features, and even when judged on it’s own merits is a little flimsy and not very engaging. I’ll admit, I was never downright BORED when watching the film, but I was sitting thinking to myself “Why isn’t this working for me? What went wrong?” As the end credits rolled and I left the theatre, an unpleasant thought began to sink in….Maybe I just didn’t like Spectre.

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It’s hard for me not to be disappointed with Spectre. Even though I’m not the biggest James Bond fan, I was still highly anticipating this film to knock it out of the park after how greatly the last few films impressed me. Well, you can’t win em all. Don’t let this review scare you away from seeing it though. The movie’s been getting plenty of great reviews among fans and critics, so maybe I’m just missing something. I’ll probably still even rent Spectre when it comes out on DVD. I’ll pop it in, watch the first ten minutes, and than I’ll take it out and replace it with Skyfall and watch that for the rest of the night. Yeah, that sounds like a plan.

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Goosebumps

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Ah, Goosebumps. Now here’s a movie I’ve wanted for a while. I was a huge fan of the books and TV series when I was younger, and to this day I consider R.L. Stine to be one of the most creative childrens authors out there. His Goosebumps stories were always atmospheric and scary, but had little sprinkles of humour throughout that made them less intense for younger readers. (And though the television series can be unintentionally hilarious, I still enjoy watching it for that exact reason.) Naturally, I often dreamed of what it would be like to see Goosebumps get the big screen treatment. Most people thought they would try to adapt several of the books into an anthology film,similar to the Twilight Zone Movie or Creepshow, but for kids. Some thought they might try an adapt just one book into a feature film, but I was one of the fans that much preferred the idea of an anthology. Now, 23 years after the first book was published, Goosebumps finally makes it to the big screen. Was it worth the wait? Yes and no.

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Goosebumps (the Movie) disregards both the anthology and the singular book adaptation ideas, in favour of an original story that features nearly every single Goosebumps monster ever created. The film also has a somewhat meta feel to it, as the core plot revolves around the idea of the Goosebumps creatures actually being real, and were created by Stine’s imagination when he was a kid. Soon, they begin literally crawling off the pages of all the books and start destroying the town, and it’s up to three kids and R.L Stine (played here by Jack Black) to capture them all. (Sort of like Pokemon, but with a more Halloween feel. Personally, I think the concept of the story is utterly brilliant and creative. The execution however, leaves a little to be desired. Remember how I said that Goosebumps books used to be scary but had little sprinkles of humour throughout? Well, this film might have it backwards. Goosebumps (the movie) seems far more like a childrens comedy with a few suspenseful elements, rather than a kids horror movie with some comedic elements.

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I wouldn’t mind so much if the comedy was actually funny, but most of the jokes presented here are pretty forced and I only laughed a few times throughout the film. The actors do a fine job with what they’re given, and Jack Black actually plays a really hilarious and entertaining exaggerated version of Stine, but I just wish they had better material to work with. Because of this, the movie’s tone feels a little less like a Goosebumps book and a little more like a campy Goosebumps TV episode. I have no doubt that very young ones can see this film without being too scared, but i was hoping that the film would’ve been able to balance it’s horror with it’s comedy better, and create a sort of Ghostbusters-Type movie for kids, but alas, that was to the case. Still the film is certainly well made technically. The Music by Danny Elfman is fantastic, ( It may be one of his best scores in years, now that i think about it. and there are a few neat twists and turns in the story that hardcore fans will see coming, but most audiences will probably get a kick out of.

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Now to the important quesiton; How do the monsters hold up? All the heavy hitters are here from the books, Including the sadistic Living Dummy Slappy, The Werwolf of Fever Swamp, The Jack-O-Lanterns, and even the Haunted Mask. It’s a mixed blessing to see all these characters come to life together in one movie. On one hand, it’s a thrill as a fan to look for and recognize all the characters I grew up with. Many of the creature effects in this film are practical, with some being puppets, and others being men in suits. Slappy himself is impressively adapted here, as the ventriloquist dummy that the filmmakers created looks near identical to the way he looked on the cover of al the old Goosebumps books. Sadly, when you have a film with this many characters, not all of them will be given enough screen time, but this film seems to neglect some of the most iconic characters from the Goosebumps books. Oh, they’re there. It’s quite possible that every Goosebumps monster is here somewhere, but most of them get merely one shot in the entire film, and that can be a little disappointing.The film also seems much more interested in focusing on the CGI-created monsters, such as The Werwolf, The abominable Snowman, The Giant Praying Mantis and the lawn Gnomes. The CGI looks a little shoddy at times, and they aren’t as frightening or impressive looking as the amazing practical effects accomplished on the other ghouls that are briefly featured in the film.

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Goosebumps is perfectly serviceable for kids, entertaining for fans, but newcomers may find it to be lacking. The core story is wonderful, but the way it plays out felt a little half-baked. Still, despite the negatives I pointed out, you should still see this movie if you’re a Goosebumps fan. There are little glimpses here and there of the tone that was present in the original books and TV show, and it moves at a brisk pace, preventing it from ever becoming boring. And truly, that would’ve been the biggest sin of all. Because Goosebumps is many things, but it’s never boring. And thankfully, that’s an aspect that the film gets right.

The Martian

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Many people would agree that Ridley Scott needed to bounce back. The man is an extremely talented director, but his more recent films have failed to recapture the magic that made his earlier works so outstanding, With last year’s Exodus, 2013’s The Counsellor and 2010’s Robin Hood failing to really connect with audiences and critics. Wondering why I left Prometheus out of that lineup? Well, personally, Prometheus was one of my favourite films of 2012, and I find it to be severely underrated. To me it was a beautifully made movie that proved that Ridley still has some great tricks up his sleeves when it comes to moviemaking. After hearing all the positive buzz surrounding his latest film, The Martian, I got pretty excited, and wondered if this would be another Sci-fi hit for the director. In short, it most definitely was, and this film does feel like a return to form for the director.

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However, all the credit can’t go to Mr. Scott, especially since this was an adaptation of Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, (Also titled “The Martian”.) And the film’s screenplay was written by Drew Goddard. The screenplay in particular is one of the film’s best achievements. One would think that a film that’s essentially about a man trapped on mars would be a bit of a downer, but in the case of the Martian, A very funny and smart script prevents the movie from being depressing, and actually makes it quite the uplifting movie. Matt Damon’s character, Mark Watney, is an extremely likeable protagonist, and seeing all the clever ways he tries to survive in this terrible situation is actually quite fascinating. Chances are You’ll walk away from the film having learned something. (and for better or worse, It’ll likely have something to do with potatoes.) The rest of the cast does a fine job here as well. From the rest of Mark’s crew, to the people at NASA trying to find a way to bring him home, it’s all very strong acting across the board. One interesting thing I noticed was the amount of Marvel Actors were featured in this movie, including Michel Peña (from Ant-Man) Kate Mara (from this year’s Fantastic Four reboot) and Sebastian Stan (from Captain America 1 and 2) I won’t give it away, but there’s also a few amusing references to other films sprinkled throughout, and one of them is indeed a reference to a Marvel property.

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You’d think that the scenes on earth wouldn’t be as engaging as the ones on mars, but again, thanks to a competent cast and some great writing, the earth scenes prove to be interesting in their own right, although at times the Science-explanation dialogue can be a bit challenging to follow if you’re not at least a little familiar with the subject, but not overly so. The one thing that the scenes that take place on Mars have over the Earth scenes is the cinematography. “The Martian” boasts some the best cinematography of the year, and when the majority of your movie takes place in what is essentially an empty rocky wasteland, that’s really saying something. (both Mad Max: Fury Road and this movie really know how to make desert-like landscapes look visually spectacular.) However, my favourite thing about the Martian was Seeing the entire world come together to try and bring Watney off of mars and back to earth. I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. You know, the ones where everyone in the world puts aside their differences and instead focuses on something hopeful and inspiring. it’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that conveys this message of unity so effectively, and it made this film even more enjoyable for me. The-Martian-Matt-Damon-Hamilton-Watch-5

I much prefer this space adventure over last year’s bloated Interstellar. The Martian, despite it’s intense premise, is a refreshingly hopeful story that reminds us of just how strong we can truly be in the face of fear. I’d recommend the film to just about anyone, but especially to fans of Ridley Scott and the science of astronomy (And potatoes) It’s pretty much the complete package. Great cast, well told story, beautiful cinematography, confident direction and it leaves you with a good feeling when you leave the theatre. Definitely recommended.