The Potterverse Continues with FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD by Ryan Hill

 
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In 2016, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released. While not as good as most of the eight Harry Potter films, the prequel scratched an itch for more of author J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. Audiences may be getting more than they bargained for with four planned sequels, the first of which is The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Revealed to be a pale Johnny Depp with weird eyes and bleached hair, Gellert Grindelwald was Voldemort before, well, Voldemort. Grindelwald was mentioned in the Potter books, but very little of him was seen. Crimes puts the villain front and center as he tries to convert wizards and witches to his cause of ruling the non-magical world.

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Once again, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is recruited into action by Albus Dumbledore (or Dumbledamn, as some have termed the character since Jude Law plays him) to find Credence (Ezra Miller), the Obscurial thought to have died at the end of Fantastic Beasts. Once again, Newt needs to find Credence before Grindelwald. There’s so much more story going on including Newt’s brother, his childhood sweetheart, his current sweetheart, her sister, and lots of other characters old and new, but it’d take the entire review listing everything out.

Take a look at all the characters in this banner. All of them have their own backstories, motivations, etc. It’s a lot to take in.

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Suffice to say, while Rowling (who wrote the screenplays for Fantastic Beasts and Grindelwald) introduces oodles of plot threads, none of them are tied up or pay off. They’re all merely introduced, waiting to be concluded in a future entry. Grindelwald would’ve been a much stronger film if it focused on telling its own story first and the bigger picture second, but that seems like something Rowling might’ve forgotten with the Fantastic Beasts series.

One of the things that made the Potter films so good was that each entry told a story that could stand on its own. It helped to know what came before, but it wasn’t a pre-requisite. Sure, each book/movie built up the bigger story piece by piece, but it wasn’t the main goal. Except for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. That one is basically nothing but set-up for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. An outsider to the Potter-verse could watch Goblet of Fire or Chamber of Secrets without having seen anything else and be fine. The Fantastic Beasts series, to date, hasn’t been so lucky. Especially Grindelwald. The film really is the Half-Blood Prince to the upcoming Beasts films, in that all it does is set up future entries. Viewed outside of the series, a person would go wonky trying to figure out what was going on plot-wise. Instead of a standalone film, Grindelwald feels like the second chapter in a five-chapter story. Without seeing the big picture, it just doesn’t totally work.

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Despite the controversy over his casting, Depp makes for a fine Grindelwald, who’s seductive words are nicely juxtaposed against his intimidating appearance. Despite the wizard’s pale skin and strange eyes – one of which is menacing to the point of distracting – Rowling has written the villain in such a way that it’s easy to see how someone who looks so much like a villain can in people over to his cause. There Voldemort used force and intimidation to build his army, Grindelwald may be even more dangerous. He can talk someone into choosing to join him, a much scarier proposition.

Oscar winner Redmayne is always charming as Newt, who sadly gets pushed to the background so new characters can have the spotlight. Newt and his kind demeanor carried Fantastic Beasts, and its sorely missed among all the plot threads in Grindelwald.

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The Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t vintage Harry Potter. It has some great visuals and good action, but the film is tasked with carrying the load of three upcoming sequels, and the weight is too much for one film, especially one that isn’t three hours long. Grindelwald is fine for what it is and will probably age well as the other Fantastic Beasts films are released, but with nothing else to go on, it’s an enjoyable enough film for Potter fans, but everyone else will probably be bored.

FIRST MAN is scary, exciting and terrific by Ryan Hill

 
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Everybody knows who Neil Armstrong is. He’s the first man to walk on the moon. An American hero. All that jazz. But there was more to Armstrong than that. He was a stoic man who lost a daughter to a brain tumor when she was only two-years-old. Damien Chazelle’s First Man fleshes out the iconic Armstrong, stripping away everything romantic about the man and his mission: to walk on the moon.

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Ryan Gosling, re-teaming with La La Land director Chazelle, takes on the difficult task of capturing Armstrong, a stoic, quiet man who kept his feelings buried deep inside him. Sometimes Gosling pulls it off, sometimes he doesn’t. First Man frames Armstrong’s drive having to do with his daughter’s death, and it may have. It’s a great motivational device with a wonderful payoff, though it’s unclear if that truly drove the man. The Crown’s Claire Foy co-stars as Neil’s wife, Janet. Foy does everything she can with the role, which is basically another iteration of the “suffering astronaut’s wife.” Janet keeps the peace around the house, but sadly she doesn’t have much else to do besides be a mom, worry about her husband and occasionally get angry.

First Man is the perfect middle chapter in an unofficial trilogy of space films. It covers the two-man Gemini missions up through the three-man Apollo missions, ending at the moon landing with Apollo 11. Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff depicts the one-man Mercury missions that kicked off things for NASA, then Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 is the book-end. The three films make for a nice, long afternoon of movies covering the space race.

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First Man is clearly influenced by The Right Stuff, Apollo 13 and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it eschews the patriotism of the first two (which is almost suffocating in Stuff) in favor of the harsh, dangerous reality of being an astronaut. Chazelle’s framing is tight and claustrophobic, shooting the missions in a you-are-there style, rarely venturing away from what the actual astronauts saw. It isn’t until Apollo 11 that Chazelle opens things up, enjoying the history of the moment while also acknowledging the inherent danger in space flight, and boy is there danger. Every cockpit sounds rickety and unstable, as if they’ll break apart and kill the astronauts at any moment. First Man doesn’t depict Armstrong and his fellow astronauts as great patriots, but more what they really were: men with steel guts willing to strap themselves on top of a giant rocket full of gasoline that could explode at a moment’s notice, incinerating their bodies, all for the chance to go to space, and eventually the moon.

First Man is fantastic, but it isn’t perfect. There are hints of the space race against Russia early on, then that subplot disappears. Public outcry over the number of astronauts who’ve died pops up, only to go away when it isn’t necessary. Both complaints are nitpicky. First Man is a fantastic achievement and one of 2018’s best films.

Is Denzel Washington in his TAKEN phase with EQUALIZER 2? by Ryan Hill

 
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Denzel Washington deserves better than this. He received Best Actor Oscar nominations for his previous two films, Roman J. Israel, Esq. and Fences. The two films he made prior to Israel and Fences were the forgettable remake of The Magnificent Seven and the disappointing Equalizer. At 63, maybe the actor is entering the Liam Neeson/Taken phase of his career, because Washington has made his first sequel, Equalizer 2.

The sequel finds Washington’s Robert McCall still retired from the CIA and still reading books, but he’s also a Lyft driver, who’s befriended an elderly customer who survived the Holocaust. McCall is also trying to steer a kid in his apartment building away from a life selling drugs for painting and zzzzzzzzzz.

Melissa Leo turns up a little as McCall’s former CIA boss, and her death is supposed to spur The Equalizer 2 into action, but only McCall seems busy with retired life, fitting his tale of revenge in between other endeavors. Pedro Pascal also appears as a former comrade of McCall’s, but with so few suspects as to who could’ve killed Leo’s character… who could it have been?

Why would Washington waste his time with something like Equalizer 2? Or 1, for that matter? Does the movie studio have incriminating evidence on him? Did he agree to the film so the studio would bankroll a passion project? The same goes for Fuqua, a solid director who can’t seem to break free from the upper tier of filmmakers considered little more than hired guns. Does he have a master plan in mind, or will we have to satisfy ourselves with the knowledge that Training Day is the best we’ll get from him? It got Washington his second Oscar, but 17 years later it remains a teaser of Fuqua’s talent behind the camera.

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In all fairness, the first Equalizer had moments of Denzel bad-assery, but on the whole it lacked momentum – a nice way of saying it was boring. There’s no need to be nice about Equalizer 2. It’s a slog. McCall is still driving his Lyft well past the film’s halfway point, begging the question what the film is really about. Is the film a rumination on the boredom of retirement? That even in retirement someone needs bursts of excitement to keep things moving along? It doesn’t matter.

Equalizer 2 can’t even be bothered to confirm if McCall is injured at one point, despite him leaving a blood trail for the bad guys to follow. Topped off with a major villain having perfect – and dry – hair in the middle of a hurricane, Equalizer 2 is the worst parts of a ‘90s action film; messy, predictable, and worst of all slow as molasses. This may have been Denzel’s first sequel, but hopefully it will be his last.

Han Solo's Star Wars movie is entertaining but unremarkable by Ryan Hill

 
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After The Force Awakens, Rogue One and the upcoming Episode IX, it’s almost expected a new Star Wars film is going to have production issues. Expectations are always through the roof for a Star Wars film, and there’s simply too much money – via box office, merchandising, life – riding on each new entry to not get it right. Solo is no exception and may have been the most difficult of all, firing the directors in the middle of production.

First thing’s first. Most films that fire their director (or directors, in Solo’s case) during production don’t turn out well. Solo turned out just fine.

Solo finds the title character (played by Alden Ehrenreich) starting out on his journey toward full scoundrel, even introducing a younger Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and the famed Kessel Run that’s been mentioned throughout the series. This Solo isn’t on the run from Jabba the Hut; no, he’s lovelorn over being separated from his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and wants nothing more than to reunite with her. That and be a pilot.

After directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the two Jump Street movies, The LEGO Movie) were let go, Ron Howard was brought in to right the ship. The Oscar-winning director shot around 70 percent of the finished product, but it’s unclear what shape Lord and Miller’s footage was in – at least the footage that wasn’t used. What’s there, like Howard’s is fine but unremarkable.

The combined work seen in Solo is fun, but it’s clear some scenes were rushed as Howard & Co. had less than a year to make that May 25, 2018 release date. Cinematography in some scenes, especially early in the film, are too smoky (hopefully watching Solo on Blu-ray or in 4K definition will clear that up), there’s very little in the way of insert shots or anything that resembles nuance. The filmmakers simply had no time. The most compelling character is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s equal-rights-for-all android, L3-37, probably due to the special effects crew being hard at work well before Howard took over.

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Ehrenreich (Hail Caesar!), given the awesome opportunity to play Han Solo but also the unenviable task of replacing Harrison Ford, is perfectly fine in the role. He doesn’t have Ford’s charisma, but it’s important to note that this iteration of Solo isn’t that Solo. The seeds are there, but he’s young, optimistic and a bit naïve. The main standout besides Waller-Bridge is, of course, Glover as Lando. Glover’s always had that “it” factor, but channeling Billy Dee Williams sends his charisma into the cosmos.

Get it? Cosmos? Because this is a review for a Star Wars movie?

If the powers-that-be had pushed Solo’s release back to, say, Christmas 2018, following in the pattern of every Star Wars film since The Force Awakens, Ron Howard maybe could’ve crafted something special. It’s amazing he pulled off what he did and yes, Solo is worth seeing. It’s broad, easily digestible and is better than Rogue One, which really lags in the middle. But this is Han freakin’ Solo. A movie bearing his name should be more than just worth seeing.

Maybe if there’s a sequel, they’ll hit it out of the park. But what would it be called? Solo 2: Flyin’ Solo? Solo 2 Solo? Solo 2: 2 Solo’s Make A Couple? Solo 2: The Chewie Connection? Solo 2: Time to Lando? Book of Shadows: Solo 2?

 

 

The world is in for a treat with Deadpool 2 by Ryan Hill

 
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Upon first viewing, Deadpool came across as a typical superhero origin story buoyed by a fantastic Ryan Reynolds performance as the title character, a role he was born to play. Repeat viewings brought Reynolds’ Deadpool to the forefront, and any narrative shortcomings fell by the wayside, making Deadpool a near-classic in the superhero genre.

Methinks the same will be said of Deadpool 2 after seeing it more than once.

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As promised in the Deadpool post-credits stinger, the Merc with a Mouth indeed goes up against Cable (Josh Brolin), a mutant from the future who’s part robot. To combat this threat, Deadpool creates the X-Force, which includes Domino (Zazie Beetz), a mutant who is effortlessly lucky. To say more of the plot would be a disservice, since the trailers have done a great job of teasing what’s to come in the film without revealing any of the surprises – and there are plenty of those, before and during the credits.

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The jokes, both meta and non-meta, fly fast and furious in Deadpool 2, even more than its predecessor. The jokes come from every direction, and are so random it feels like the filmmakers spent a weekend on a coke-fueled bender coming up with every joke possible to put in the sequel. Even Reynolds, who’s acted as a steward for Deadpool for years, receives a co-writing credit with original Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Most of the jokes land, even if the film itself sometimes struggles to maintain a consistent tone between serious, silly and meta. But that’s a minor gripe.

Atomic Blonde and John Wick co-director David Leitch takes the reins from Deadpool’s Tim Miller, but largely keeps the same ascetic from the first film in place. It allows for consistency, but the next-level action Leitch oversaw in Wick and Blonde barely makes an appearance.

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Apart from starting off with a common sequel pitfall - coasting on the audience’s familiarity with the characters - there really isn’t much in Deadpool 2 to gripe about. It’s consistently funny and sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious, and once the narrative kicks in things move very quickly, giving any bits that don’t work a swift and merciless end. Brolin and Beetz are perfect as Cable and Domino, though their presence takes away screen time from characters that appeared in the first Deadpool, mainly Blind Al, Weaseal, Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus.

Deadpool 2 is a ridiculous amount of fun. It’s not quite as good as the first Deadpool, but honestly that’s like the difference between getting an A on a test and an A-. It’s not worth making a fuss over. Just enjoy the greatness that is Ryan Reynolds having the time of his life in a tight, red, leather outfit.

Truth: Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare is Weak Sauce by Ryan Hill

 
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Going on a trip over Spring Break – be it to Mexico, Florida or anywhere else – is guaranteed to end poorly. At least in movies. People are murdered to appease ancient gods (Cabin in the Woods), killer plants attack (The Ruins), and sometimes a corn-rowed James Franco shows up, saying, “Spring Break” over and over (Spring Breakers).

Basically, it’s best to stay home over Spring Break if you’re in a movie. If only the characters in Truth or Dare did the same. Or went on a Habitat for Humanity mission, which Olivia (Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale) was planning on doing before her best friend Markie (Violett Beane) convinced her to go to Mexico instead for Spring Break. There, the meek Olivia meets a cute guy at the bar who convinces everyone to leave the bar in favor of making the long trek to an abandoned church to play… wait for it… Truth or Dare. And in Truth or Dare, once someone plays, they have to follow through with the truth or dare. Otherwise, they die in a some PG-13 way that’s not nearly as graphic as it should be.

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The idea of making Truth or Dare a horror film is genius. It opens the door for all sorts of ingenious death scenes, the kind that would make the Final Destination series jealous. Instead, Truth or Dare is saddled with a PG-13 rating, so there goes any hope for wild, gory death scenes. Throw in some silly plot involving a demon and Truth or Dare becomes another low-level horror that’s more cash grab than inspired terror.

Truth or Dare is one of those horrors where the characters get picked off one at a time by some supernatural, all-powerful being. Those don’t work unless the characters are awful people, making the audience root for their demise. It’s one of the biggest lessons Cabin in the Woods taught us. Even Blumhouse’s Happy Death Day was smart enough to have its main character start out as a horrible human being.

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It’s hard not to draw comparisons between Truth or Dare and Happy Death Day, since both are PG-13 horror flicks from Blumhouse. Death Day wrung every ounce of PG-13 fun from its Groundhog Day premise. Truth or Dare, on the other hand, does very little with its premise, even forcing the characters to pick dare after a while.

Written and directed by Jeff Wadlow, who made the bad Kick-Ass movie, Truth or Dare is lazy from the start. Before leaving for the Spring Break trip, Olivia and Markie talk about having fun “before life tears them apart,” which isn’t ominous. At all. The rest of the dialogue is so on-the-nose, that every dare (and truth) is visible from a mile away. And what fun is a game of Truth or Dare with predictable dares? My guess is probably as much fun as watching Truth or Dare, i.e. not much.

 

Hate to say it, but A Wrinkle In Time is not good by Ryan Hill

 
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In Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, people communicate with flowers, Mindy Kaling speaks in quotes (ranging from Gandhi to Chris Tucker), Oprah Winfrey’s first appearance looms large over everyone (it is Oprah after all) and the film’s emotional anchor is played by Captain James T. Kirk, though in fairness Chris Pine is a good actor. That’s A Wrinkle in Time. If that sounds like a mess, it’s because it is a mess. And that stinks.

Adapted from Madeleine L’Engle’s novel, the film stars Storm Reid as Meg, a 13-year-old who’s been in and out of trouble since her scientist father (Pine) disappeared without a trace. She has an adopted younger brother, who’s been palling around with three mystical women known as the W’s, played by Kaling, Winfrey and Reece Witherspoon. Once Meg learns of this, it’s decided – by the others – it’s time for all of them to look for her father.

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In a taped message before the film’s screening, DuVernay said she made Wrinkle with the intent of making the audience feel like they were 12 or 13 again, and in that regard the film is a success. With a vibe similar to other kid-oriented fantasies like The NeverEnding Story, Wrinkle feels like a blockbuster made specifically for kids. That also means scenes play out longer than they should, dialogue is overly simple, and the children in the film are never in danger, even when they are. One scene is supposed to have Meg being violently whipped around, but she never really moves.

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The bigger issue with Wrinkle is that what works in a book won’t always work in a film. Some of the film’s visuals are fantastic, but there isn’t much of a plot. Meg isn’t a very active main character most of the time, doing little more than complaining as the others hold her hand, whisking her off to different places in the universe. There, they ask the locals, be it Zach Galifianakis or a bunch of flowers, if they saw her dad. Once the answer is no, the W’s whisk the kids off to the next place.

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It’s not until the third act that the plot kicks in and a villain takes shape. That doesn’t even get into the bits of stunted, awkward dialogue lifted straight from L’Engle’s novel, which was first released in 1962.

A Wrinkle in Time marks a watershed moment for minority directors, especially coming so close to the amazing success of Ryan Coogler and Black Panther. Wrinkle is the first film directed by a woman of color to feature a budget or more than $100 million. That’s a big, big deal. Directors, regardless of sex or race, deserve the chance to make bigger-budgeted fare like Wrinkle, and an influx of different perspectives can only make commercial films more interesting in the future. Wrinkle just isn’t one of them.

Black Panther's Wait was Worth It by Ryan Hill

 
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It’s taken entirely too long for something like Black Panther, a superhero movie starring an African American, to see the light of day. In the period leading to that film’s release, Marvel has given us movies about a guy who communicates with ants (Ant-Man), two movies featuring a talking raccoon (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2), Doctor Strange and three Thor films. Granted, those are all enjoyable – save Thor: The Dark World – but it shouldn’t have taken so long for Black Panther to become a reality.

The saving grace for the delay is that Marvel, and especially writer/director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole, did Black Panther right. It wasn’t rushed, like, oh, Justice League. The property was handled with care and precision, resulting in a film steeped in African culture, with fantastic, three-dimensional characters, gorgeous costumes and a wonderful theme. Even the villain, typically Marvel’s weak spot, has layers. It’s a film everyone should get behind.

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Taking place soon after the events in Captain America: Civil War (probably on the same point on the Marvel timeline with Spider-Man: Homecoming), Black Panther finds the newly crowned King of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), mourning the death of his father and the responsibility of becoming a new king in a changing world. Wakanda, home to the metal that created Captain America’s shield, is technologically far ahead of the rest of the world, but they’ve remained largely hidden, afraid of influence and corruption from outsiders. That fear leads one outsider, the twisted Erik Killmonger (Coogler mainstay Michael B. Jordan), to try and use Wakanda’s technology to make it a superpower.

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In a short period, Ryan Coogler has become one of the best directors out there. At 31, he’s already directed the devastating Fruitvale Station, his Rocky update Creed was a crowd-pleaser, even netting Sylvester Stallone an Oscar nomination, and with Black Panther he’s proven adept at handling blockbuster entertainment without letting special effects swallow up the important things, like character and story. Arguably the film’s only real weak spot, the plot hews a little too close to the average Marvel fare, but the focus on the characters more makes up for it. Black Panther is more than a big budget action spectacle. It’s a personal film that deals with real emotions and themes, which makes Black Panther resonate more than any other Marvel entry.

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Marvel’s Phase Three of its cinematic universe was always going to be interesting. Having already made three Iron Man movies, three Captain Americas and three Thors, the studio has not only exhausted some of their biggest properties, but their level of quality is established such that movies like Black Panther can be made. If Panther is any indication, the Marvel films may be moving in a direction more exciting and diverse than ever before.

12 Strong is a Poor Man's Black Hawk Down by Ryan Hill

 
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There haven’t been a lot of war films about the post-9/11 fighting in Afghanistan. Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor comes to mind, but most of the war on terror films center on Iraq: American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, HBO’s Generation Kill miniseries and Green Zone. 12 Strong tries to help fill that void.

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Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon star as the leaders of the 12 special forces soldiers – the 12 “strong,” if you will – into Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. They link up with an Afghani general and together start wreaking havoc on the Taliban, trying to loosen their stranglehold on the country. The Taliban has tanks and artillery, and yes the Americans have bombs, but the special forces soldiers are forced to use horses as their primary means of transportation through the mountains of Afghanistan.

There’s nothing particularly special about 12 Strong. The story of the first special forces team deployed to Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks is worth telling. More impressive is the fact that the soldiers rode on horses while fighting the Taliban. That’s awesome!

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So, why is 12 Strong so thoroughly mediocre?

Because I answered my own question. Everything about the film is mediocre.

Had the film been released in 2006 or 2007, the simplistic America is great! We will fix everything in Afghanistan! theme probably would’ve played like gangbusters. But in 2018, with fighting still going on over there and the politics behind the war on terror as complicated as ever, it feels like 12 Strong is missing the bigger picture.

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As far as the fighting goes, 12 Strong has plenty of it, but nothing that will wow or scare audiences. Director Nicolai Fuglsig is clearly going for a Black Hawk Down aesthetic with the fighting, which isn’t a surprise considering both films were produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The fighting in Black Hawk Down may be what 12 Strong aims for, but there’s no comparison. 12 Strong doesn’t have the scope, intensity, or cinematic eye of director Ridley Scott. Despite sporting a script co-written by Oscar winner Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs), the characters are painfully one note. Hemsworth and Shannon may have all the charisma in the world, but even they can’t elevate a weak script into a good one.

12 Strong is watchable, and would make for good background noise once it hits television, but there’s too many war films that are far superior. Even Lone Survivor, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, is better in most every way.

James Franco At His Best in The Disaster Artist by Ryan Hill

 
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Crazy James Franco is the best James Franco. The Interview, Spring Breakers, 127 Hours and This is the End all benefited from a less-than-normal Franco performance. Considering his prolific output, it makes sense that the actor would want to let loose on occasion. The Disaster Artist, Franco’s latest acting and directing effort, is one of his looniest outings yet.

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Based on The Disaster Artist, which chronicles the making of the 2003 cult favorite The Room, the film features Franco as Tommy Wiseau, the eccentric, European, vampire-looking director/star at the center of The Room. With his long, black hair, funny accent and broken English, Wiseau is a character unto himself.

The Disaster Artist opens with testimonials – that come across as scripted – from actors like Kristen Bell and Adam Scott that make The Room seem like this one-of-a-kind experience that is not to be missed. The book, written by Room star and friend of Wiseau Greg Sistero (along with Tom Bissell), is an entertaining tome about best intentions, rampant egos and the creative process, but watching The Disaster Artist doesn’t feel like we’re being let in on something truly special. With a cast that includes Franco’s brother Dave as Greg, BFF Seth Rogen and Dave’s wife Alison Brie, The Disaster Artist feels more like something a bunch of friends decided to make in honor of this one specific moment in time than a film that needed to be made.

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Not that that’s a bad thing.

Franco is fantastic as Wiseau, using prosthetic make-up, contacts, and a wild wig to disappear into the cult filmmaker’s persona. Franco is so good, there’s a post-credit stinger where his fictional Wiseau goes up against the real-life Wiseau, and the result is a resounding draw. Don’t be surprised if Franco racks up some awards consideration for his work.

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The Disaster Artist isn’t for everyone. Wiseau is weird. Franco playing Wiseau is weirder. Those unfamiliar with The Room probably don’t care that there’s movie and a book about that film.

The Room is one of those bad movies that should’ve died a quick and painless death, gone from the movie-going lexicon as fast as it came. Instead, it became a cult sensation. One of those “so bad it’s good” kind of films that live on in midnight showings, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Did it deserve its own “making of” film? Probably not, but The Disaster Artist still stands as an entertaining look at the million-and-one things that can go wrong on a movie set.

Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman... Everyone is Wasted in Justice League by Ryan Hill

 
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When director George Miller, he of the Mad Max films, was gearing up to make a Justice League Mortal film years ago featuring a younger cast (including Armie Hammer as Bruce Wayne/Batman) there was outcry among the fan community. It was developed during the height of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and that plus aging down the DC Comics characters to their early twenties made the movie a bad idea from the beginning.

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Ten years later, the Justice League has finally made their way to theaters, courtesy of the minds behind Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Honestly? I wish the studio had moved ahead with Justice League Mortal.

The “plot,” as it is, centers around the big bad Steppenwolf, trying to get a hold of these three mother boxes – or whatever they’re called; it doesn’t matter – so he can remake Earth in his Hellish image. It should also be noted that Steppenwolf, voiced by Ciaran Hinds, is made up of the finest computer graphics that 1997 has to offer. Standing in his way are the Justice League: Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Superman (Henry Cavill), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). After the league spends the first hour trying to figure out if they want to team up, they decide to stop Steppenwolf.

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Where to begin with Justice League and its buffet of issues. Zack Snyder’s direction? His muted, bland color scheme? The unnecessary slow-motion, which even features a crate of fruit flying? The special effects, which look worse than they did in the trailers? The fact that its painfully obvious which parts Joss Whedon reshot, especially the scenes where the filmmakers used CGI to get rid of Henry Cavill's mustache? The obnoxious use of green screen thrown into bits of every scene, including an exterior corn field conversation between Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane? Giving well-known characters like Commissioner Gordon nothing to do except show up on screen? Ben Affleck’s paunch? His obvious boredom? The film’s three beginnings, none of which connect to the other? The plot, which doesn’t even kick in until halfway through the film? The overreaction – again – to BvS’s criticism that it unnecessarily killed thousands of people by having some random family get caught in the crossfire between the heroes and the villain?

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My mother always said if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, so here’s the nice things about Justice League. Composter Danny Elfman resurrects his old Batman theme from 1989, and even John Williams’ original Superman theme for the score. Aquaman has a couple of cool scenes, mostly because Momoa himself is cool and will always be cool, because he’s Khal Drogo and that’s just the way the world works sometimes. Ezra Miller’s Flash has a moment or two, but all the speed scenes are wasted. Quicksilver, the Marvel universe’s resident speedster, was utilized so much better in two X-Men films and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. In response, Justice League offers up Miller obviously running on a treadmill as CGI lightning bolts fly around him.

Oh. Wait. I got back into saying not nice things. Sorry Mom!

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Justice League s garbage. In their rush to replicate Marvel’s success, Warner Bros. and DC have skipped the years of legwork their adversary put in to get to The Avengers, which works so well because most of the characters were established in standalone films. On the other end of the spectrum, Justice League is overburdened with the task of establishing so many characters, spending the first hour going in six or seven directions trying to let the audience get to know everyone, including newcomers Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg. At 119 minutes, Justice League was edited down to the bone, leaving more breathing room in outer space than the film. There isn’t close to enough time to do anyone justice – GET IT??? – leaving everyone with maybe one okay scene to strut their stuff.

Considering the $300 million budget, Justice League shouldn’t feel like a workprint that still needs effects work and editing.

Audiences deserve better.

The DC films deserve better.

The world deserves better.

 

 

Thor Brings on Ragnarok with a Wink and a Nudge by Ryan Hill

 
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Let’s be honest. Thor may do cool things with his magic hammer, but he’s one of the least interesting characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s not particularly funny, he’s difficult to connect with, and he’s, well … kind of boring. The first Thor was decent enough, but after the mess that was The Dark World, things needed a drastic makeover if Thor: Ragnarok would be worth anyone’s time.

Enter writer-director Taika Waititi, another art house director getting their big break on a comic book film. Waititi doesn’t have a high profile here in the U.S., with his highest grossing film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, making a little more than $5 million. Waititi sounds like a major gamble, but look closer. Wilderpeople was a delight from beginning to end, and the director’s vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows is a comedy classic.

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Maybe to assuage fears that Waititi wasn’t up to the task of Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel released a sort of preview of what to expect with Team Thor, a short detailing what the God of Thunder was up to during the events of Captain America: Civil War. Some of the jokes from Team Thor even made it into Ragnarok.

Ragnarok finds Thor learning that he has an older sister, Hela (a delicious Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. The only thing that’s kept her from destroying Asgard all these years has been their father Odin, who imprisoned her. The problem is Odin at death’s door, and once he dies – which he does early on – Hela is freed, and quickly returns to wreak havoc. Things get tricky when Thor is captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and becomes a slave/prisoner who works for free under the control of the Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum). Thor is forced to fight to the death in a sci-fi gladiator arena, and runs into his old pal Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who’s been missing since the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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Ragnarok isn’t the best Marvel film, but it is one of the best, and is definitely the funniest. None of the other Marvel films come close. Not even the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Chris Hemsworth has always been funny, but he takes it to another level under Waititi’s direction. His dry, silly brand of humor works perfectly with Hemsworth. Waititi injects a lot of the humor himself, playing Korg, a character made up entirely of rock. There’s also fun cameos galore, and the supporting cast, especially Jeff Goldblum, is clearly having a blast. Ragnarok is the first time Hulk has been featured as someone who does more than just smash things, teaming with Thor to make an intergalactic odd couple. Blanchett’s Hela, despite being a typical “big bad,” has some fun moments, and even Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is more enjoyable than usual. It should be noted that while I’ve enjoyed Loki, I’ve always found him a bit overrated. He’s never as fun as he could be.

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Anyone familiar with Waititi’s previous films will delight in Ragnarok. This isn’t a case of an art house director cashing in on a studio film or getting overwhelmed with the jump from working with a $2 million budget to $180 million. Marvel wisely let Waititi do his own thing, and the result is Thor: Ragnarok is exactly the entertaining and joyful ride one would expect from a $180 million budgeted Taika Waititi film.

N.C. State Football is No. 14. That's cool. by Ryan Hill

 
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Call me heartless. A battle-hardened cynic. Wimp. Weenie. Just don't call me crazy for not blowing a gasket over N.C. State football being No. 14 in the nation.

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Sure, Wolfpack football hasn't been ranked this high since 2003, when Philip Rivers was QB. That in itself is exciting. The team has a pivotal two-game stretch coming up against Top 10 opponents Notre Dame and Clemson (both games I think we'll lose), which, if the Pack were to somehow win both, would propel the program to heights not seen in, oh, 50 years? That's fun and all, but I'm not going to throw a parade any time soon. State's been on the cusp before, and every time we've slid right back into the loving embrace of mediocrity.

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State hasn't won the ACC in football since 1979. The last hoops title was 1987. In short, we haven't won anything of note in a long, long time. But we sure have come close a lot! What's that glass ceiling gotten us? A lot of heartbreak and the moniker known as N.C. State shit.

I doubt that will change with this year's football team, so why get my hopes up? I'm taking each game as it comes, and if we win? Cool. If we lose? Eh. Not like it was the first, fifth, or tenth time that's happened.

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I've endured more than enough heartbreak over my Wolfpack, and a few years ago I hit the wall. Until State wins something of real note - a conference title, national championship, etc. - I can only get so emotionally invested. It's great seeing all the national exposure football has been getting - even if it makes most Pack fans cringe because attention typically equals a big fat loss - and I'm enjoying their success, but we're barely past the halfway point in the season. 

Yes, things are starting to feel a little different in Raleigh. Aside from that brain fart in the opener against South Carolina, football hasn't had any of their typical hiccups. Even basketball feels like the ship may have been righted with new coach Kevin Keatts. But at this point, it's all still conjecture, and much as I want to get excited about State having nice things, I've been burned way too many times to count my chickens before they hatch. For now, I'm just taking it one game at a time, fully prepared to handle another heartbreaking, N.C. State shit-esque loss. 

Maybe it's because I'm 37, and the results of a bunch of college kids playing sports doesn't matter as much to me. Maybe it's all the losing. I don't know. Either way, I'll be cheering the Pack on game day, but don't be surprised if I shrug off another heartbreaking loss... or enjoy the win for a short while before remembering how many games - and potential losses - are left in the season.

Happy Death Day's fun premise hampered by PG-13 rating by Ryan Hill

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Slasher flicks should always be rated R. It should be a truth universally accepted by every living being in the entire history of living beings. What fun is a slasher flick without fun deaths and gratuitous violence? Nobody cares about the characters in these things; audiences just want to have their blood lust satiated. It's the entire point of Drew Goddard's classic deconstruction of the entire horror genre, Cabin in the Woods.

So why is Happy Death Day bothering with a PG-13 rating? What's a slasher film without blood? Doesn’t that make it an average, run-of-the-mill film?

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After getting murdered by a killer in a creepy baby mask, Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up to find that she's stuck reliving the same day over and over until she can ID said murderer. Tree goes through the suspects one by one, dying each time she's got it wrong. It's Groundhog Day, but for the slasher genre. Things get kicked up a notch for Tree when she realizes each death is leaving a permanent scar, giving her a somewhat finite amount of deaths before she dies for real.

The good part about Happy Death Day is its very much aware of its ridiculous premise. Everyone is in on the joke, especially Tree, which makes for some silly fun. Working her way through potential suspects, dead-ends are met with a shrug as they each end with her death. It’s just a shame those deaths are mostly uninspired and blood-free, partly due to the film’s PG-13 rating. Happy Death Day still could’ve gotten a little creative with the deaths, as the similarly-themed and PG-13 rated Edge of Tomorrow had all sorts of fun killing Tom Cruise over. And over. And over.

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Despite not having enough “awesome” deaths, Happy Death Day is mostly fun, at least until the third act. That’s where the PG-13 rating really hurts, since things break down into a typical slasher genre third act with the killer chasing the heroine. Happy Death Day tries to put a spin on the killer’s identity, but it’s pretty easy to guess who the killer is within the first 20 minutes.

Happy Death Day doesn’t break any ground in the slasher genre, but it’s breezy enough entertainment. The premise also leaves open the opportunity for oodles of sequels, a la Final Destination. If there is a Happy Death Day 2 though, hopefully it will embrace a R-rating.

Stephen King's It Gets a Scary, Funny Adaptation by Ryan Hill

 
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Does anybody really like clowns? There’s something not right with them. The white faces? The wigs? The silly behavior? All of the above? Hard to say. But pretty much everyone under the age of, say, 45 is terrified of one clown in particular.

Pennywise, the evil clown from Stephen King’s novel It.

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Famously played by Tim Curry in the 1990 miniseries, Pennywise comes to Derry, Maine every 27 years to feast on scared children. In the hands of Curry, the clown was as evil as he was fun. An all-time villain that to this day still holds up. Now, 27 YEARS AFTER THE MINISERIES, Pennywise has returned on the big screen.

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It’s the summer of 1989, and a group of kids dubbed the Losers want nothing more than to have a fun summer with no worries and no run-ins with the local bullies. That doesn’t really go according to plan, thanks to Pennywise, who terrorizes the kids one by one, feeding on their biggest fears. Bill, the Losers’ leader, is haunted by the death of his little brother Georgie, whom Pennywise killed the year before. Another is terrified of a strange painting. In true Stephen King fashion – and an obvious nod to his novel Carrie – the lone girl in the group is most afraid of her period. As the summer goes on, the Losers realize they’re all being hunted by Pennywise, and since the adults won’t do anything, take matters into their own hands.

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The 1990 miniseries version of It introduced a generation to the work of King with a bang. The author was HUGE in 1990, and King’s novels, with their supernatural elements, piqued the interest of eager young readers like myself. The catch? Most of us weren’t allowed to read his books, because they were “too scary.” The It miniseries was a chance for my generation to finally get a taste of King, and it did not fail to deliver. I was 10, and even though the miniseries aired on network TV, prompting a lack of gore, Pennywise scared the dickens out of everyone.

This new version of It is the first of two films based on the novel, with this one focusing on the Losers as children. Cutting King’s 1,100-page novel into two is no easy feat, and the first half of It can basically be described as evil clown messes with kids. There’s a struggle to reconcile the connection between the Losers and Pennywise, but once those two threads come together, It becomes almost non-stop horror.

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The film is vintage King. Children coming of age, over-the-top adults, sadistic baddies, shocking terror … It, more than maybe all the other King adaptations, feels like one of his novels come to life.

It’s also maybe the funniest King movie.

Yes, It is full of solid scares. Where the 1990 version of Pennywise was scary and fun, this version, played by Bill Skarsgard, is just plain menacing. With the freedom to work within an R-rating, director Andy Muschietti doesn’t skimp on the gore, fully realizing the horror within It. But none of it would work without the Losers. They trade rapid fire quips, and drop F-bombs just like regular kids. The best of the bunch is Richie (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things), who regards his mouth as a gift. The Losers are so funny and authentic, they’d fit in with any of the John Hughes films around at the film’s 1989 setting.

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It’s hard to look at this new adaptation of It without acknowledging the miniseries’ huge influence, but the film really does stand on its own two feet. Alternately hilarious and scary (and not without a couple of shortcomings), It is, to coin a generic critic phrase, a roller-coaster ride.

Atomic Blonde's action can't overshadow plot by Ryan Hill

 

Not that there was any doubt, but Charlize Theron is a bad ass. She’s never been afraid to mix it up, but 2015’s classic Mad Max: Fury Road only solidified things. The Oscar winning actress takes things to another level with Atomic Blonde, beating the ever-loving snot of everything that comes her way, and looking good while doing it.

Atomic Blonde is 100 percent style over substance. It looks gorgeous, has a great soundtrack and the action sequences are amazing, though the film could’ve used one more to keep things from dragging a bit in the middle. But the plot?

Well …

Maybe it’s best not to worry so much about that. All that’s necessary to know is near the end of the Cold War in 1989 Berlin, British spy Lorraine Broughton (Theron) has been assigned to find out who killed a fellow agent and stole a list containing the names of spies hidden in a watch. Lorraine is partnered with a shady agent played by James McAvoy, who’s intentions are very easy to figure out. The cast also includes John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella and Toby Jones.

Again, when watching Atomic Blonde, don’t worry about the plot. It borrows the list of spies idea from the first Mission: Impossible and surpasses that film’s topsy-turvy, hard to follow plot by throwing so many unnecessary twists into the mix near the film’s ending, it’s enough to make one throw up their hands and give up trying to make sense of life in general. It’s a true mess. Thankfully, the plot isn’t the main attraction. That’s the action and it delivers in spades.

Directed by David Leitch, one half of the duo behind the first John Wick (and the upcoming Deadpool 2), the action in Blonde is fierce. Wick was a ballet of bullets, but Blonde trades bullets for fists, culminating in a stunning fist fight that lasts a good five minutes. The best part? The characters actually get tired from the fighting, stumbling around as they struggle to get breaths in between punches. It’s fantastic.

The bonkers plot really hurts Atomic Blonde and justifies the film’s style-over-substance feel, but the action – and Charlize Theron – deserve better than a plot with a zillion holes in it. There’s been talk of a sequel, and if so hopefully Atomic Blonde 2 will have a plot that makes sense. Or at least partial sense.

Dunkirk is a modern war classic by Ryan Hill

 

The evacuation of 400,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers in Dunkirk during World War II is an amazing story, and one that has flown under the radar in the U.S., since it didn’t involve any Americans. With the German army surrounding the coastal town of Dunkirk, France, the armies only had one route of escape; via the sea. If the armies surrendered, Germany would have invaded Britain, and from there the United States. It’s one of the defining moments of World War II, and Christopher Nolan has made quite possibly his defining picture in Dunkirk, the director’s take on the evacuation.

Taking a page from Mad Mad: Fury Road, Dunkirk is more about the event than any one character. It tackles the evacuation from the land, the sea and the air. Each storyline lasts a different amount of time (a week, a day and an hour), but in typical Nolan fashion, the storylines interweave and time jumps back and forth.

There isn’t exactly a true “star” in Dunkirk, which features Mark Rylance as a civilian boater, Kenneth Branagh and Fionn Whitehead as the de facto lead, as his character is all over the place trying to get off the beach with One Direction’s Harry Styles in tow. But not to worry, Styles is fine. His presence as a soldier who only cares about survival isn’t a distraction. And yes, Nolan has once again cast Tom Hardy in a role where he wears a mask, a la The Dark Knight Rises, playing a courageous RAF pilot.

It’s hard to get true, genuine scares in a movie, at least for me. Having seen so many films, most standard horrors feel like a 90-minute prank show, with the director hiding out of frame, fingers tapping together like Mr. Burns and muttering “excellent” under their breath as they unleash scare after scare, but Dunkirk delivers 107 minutes of tense, suspenseful film making.

The best CGI for a film is the kind nobody notices, and Nolan knows that. Using practical effects when at all possible, whatever CGI made it into Dunkirk is impossible to spot. Combined with the director’s insistence on using film – mainly the large format IMAX – and the magnificent sound editing, Nolan has crafted a technical masterpiece. At no point does Dunkirk let up, and without CGI robots running around to remind the audience this isn’t real, the film has an authenticity that just doesn’t happen that often. In short, the deep, gorgeous imagery is immersive, the bullets are loud, the engines are louder, and there’s nowhere for the characters, or the audience, to run in Dunkirk.

And it’s scary as Hell.

Ask a Demon - New Book Edition by Ryan Hill

 

Today marks the release of Bart of Darkness, Verse 2 in my epic tome, The Book of Bart

 

Darkness chronicles my adventures trying to uncover a powerful cult that's intent on breaking the balance between Heaven and Hell, sending the entire world into chaos. 

Okay, yes, Samantha helped. A little.

And just like I did with making a historical record of The Book of Bart - Verse 1, I used a ghostwriter for Darkness.

Why use a ghostwriter? Simple, really.

I've got better things to do.

I'm not the type to sit down in front of a computer for days on end, stringing together enough words to make a book. Even I'm not that sadistic.

I'm also one of those who likes to get the attention/praise/ego boost without putting the work in. My ghostwriter puts in the elbow grease, I reap the rewards. I don't know how he feels about the arrangement, but it suits me just fine.

Let's turn the Ask a Demon format on its head and ask Ryan!

Q (Bart): How honored do you feel putting pen to paper to tell my story?

A (Ryan): Oh, extremely. You wouldn't believe. It's the most beautiful thing.

Q (Bart): Is that sarcasm?

A (Ryan): I don't know. Is it?

Q (Bart): Would you rather I found someone else to tell my story?

A (Ryan): We both know that nobody else would tell your story as well as I do at the pay you offer.

Q (Bart): True. So what keeps you coming back, Mr. I wish I had a raise but the world just doesn't work that way?

A (Ryan): Same reason you won't write your story. I've got nothing better to do.

Q (Bart): That's ridiculous. There's nothing better you could possibly do with your day than tell my story.

A (Ryan): Says you.

The Q&A gets a little muffled at this point, since I had to teach Ryan a thing or two about gratitude.

A (Ryan): I apologize for my earlier hubris. Telling Bart's story is the honor of a lifetime. A thousand lifetimes, even. -wipes blood from nose-

And there you have it! Ryan loves telling my story (as well he should). 

You can see how amazing my story is yourself over at Amazon

Check it out!

Spider-Man’s “Homecoming” is Pretty Amazing by Ryan Hill

 

There was a minute there when nobody cared about a Spider-Man movie anymore. After the disappointment of “Spider-Man 3” in 2007, the series was rebooted in 2012 to mixed results, and that reboot was scuttled after only two films. It seemed Spider-Man could no longer do whatever a spider could. The character was so downtrodden, Spidey’s parent studio worked out a deal with Marvel to use the character in their cinematic universe.

Now, after all these years, Spider-Man is finally home with “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

But does the world need a second reboot of Spider-Man, the sixth film featuring the web-slinger since 2001? In the hands of Marvel, the answer is hell yes.

“Captain America: Civil War” gave the world a glimpse at what Marvel could do with their most popular character. In short, they nailed Spider-Man. In the web-slinger’s limited screen time, Tom Holland portrayed the character with a perfect mix of wonder, amazement and snark. The Tobey Maguire trilogy was good but mopey, the Andrew Garfield films were, eh, whatever, but “Homecoming” is everything that makes Spider-Man so great.

“Homecoming” ignores Spider-Man’s origin story, but still focuses on Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s life in high school. He’s tormented by the bully Flash, crushing hard on his debate team colleague Liz, and wishing more than anything Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) would make him a full-time Avenger.

But the fifteen-year-old Parker has bigger fish to fry outside of the classroom, like stopping Vulture (Michael Keaton) from stealing weaponry left behind in the wake of battles fought by the Avengers.

Director Jon Watts, who made the Kevin Bacon indie “Cop Car,” also knows just how New York-centric Spider-Man is. Without the skyscrapers of that metropolis to swing from, Spidey is left to hitch rides on trains or run around, resulting in a great “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” homage. It’s one of many nods to the great John Hughes, which “Homecoming” takes most of its cues from. The film is very much in the vein of a Hughes film, just with … you know … a guy running around in red tights shooting webs from his wrists.

“Homecoming” is one of the most fun blockbusters – comic book or otherwise – out there. It rivals “Guardians of the Galaxy” for sheer joy and is as good as, if not better than, “Spider-Man 2,” which is considered one of the best superhero films ever made. It even has a solid villain in Vulture, something the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been missing outside of Loki, who even then hasn’t been fully utilized.

The key word for “Homecoming” is fun. By keeping the stakes lower – Spider-Man doesn’t have to save the world – the film avoids the underlying sadness of Ben Parker’s death, which anchored the original trilogy, and veer away from pretty much everything in the “Amazing Spider-Man” films. Marvel is free to embrace the Spider-Man character, relishing in Peter’s high school years, but without that pesky origin story.

It’s also one of the best Marvel films, and arguably the best Spider-Man film ever.

 

Pixar Mostly Makes up for Cars 2 with Cars 3 by Ryan Hill

 

When Disney purchased Pixar, the animation studio pledged to make a sequel every other year. It’s why there’s been a Monsters University and Finding Dory. Neither Monsters, Inc. or Finding Nemo needed a sequel, but in the quest for the almighty dollar, they happened. Pixar’s list of sequels also includes the worst film they’ve ever made, Cars 2, which should have put the franchise in the garage.

Get it?

Because it’s a series of films about cars?

Anyway. Considering around $10 billion of Cars merchandise has been sold to date, not to mention the combined $1 billion the first two entries earned worldwide at the box office, why wouldn’t there be a Cars 3?

This time around, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is the aging veteran struggling to hold onto relevance in the Piston Cup circuit. Once Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a new, more powerful racer, enters the scene, its curtains for McQueen and his contemporaries. McQueen tries to hang on, but a horrific wreck sends him back to square one. Working to get back to a championship level, the racer butts heads with the smart but insecure Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonso), who once had dreams of being a racer herself.

The best thing about Cars 3? There’s racing. Lots of it. The opening race in Cars was stunning, and the lack of speed in a franchise about a race car has been more than disappointing. That’s not the case in Cars 3, thank goodness.

Cars 3 is completely unnecessary. After Cars, there wasn’t a lot of room for an organic sequel. How many movies about cars can there be? It helps explain the ludicrous premise of Cars 2. Cars 3 does its best to remedy things, forgetting all about the first sequel and building upon themes from the first film, especially the relationship between Lightning and Doc Hudson. Scenes from the original Cars are used in flashback, including Paul Newman’s voice. There’s even new material featuring Newman, with Pixar using alternate takes and behind the scenes conversations from his voice recording sessions during the first Cars for the new material.

The addition or original material from Newman, who died in 2008, only adds to the nostalgic and bittersweet McQueen/Doc relationship, which lies at the heart of Cars 3. Newman’s presence also makes up for the absence of Michael Keaton, who voiced the first film’s villain, Chick Hicks. Keaton has been replaced by Up co-director Bob Peterson. This time around, Hicks hosts a racing show, getting digs in at McQueen every chance he gets.  

Cars 3 isn’t as good as the original Cars, but it’s cute enough entertainment. Outside of Toy Story, Pixar has struggled with sequels, and Cars 3 doesn’t solve that issue. The threequel gets it right for the most part, For the most part, Cars 3 gets it right. At least, as much as a Cars sequel can.