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Gangsters, Strippers, and Space Guns

I am a sucker for a coming of age tale. I am a sucker for an adventure film. I am a sucker for anything science fiction. So when I saw the trailer for Kin, which looked like kids on bikes, explosions, and alien-tech – you know I had to go see the movie. And I regret that I did.

Kin is not a bad movie, it is a terrible movie.

The failure of the movie is that the plot is completely nonsensical. It is almost as though every ten pages of the screenplay a new writer was brought in to write. They just didn’t know the plot of the film, and were instructed to write the film, just a film. Any film their heart desired. Spoilers below.

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“Eighth Grade” is Great

The film Eighth Grade (2018) is the recent coming-of-age tale about adolescence. The film is the feature film debut of Bo Burnham, comedian and YouTuber. What the film does masterfully, is capture the anxiety and awkwardness that we all experienced as we transition from childhood to adulthood.

As teens, we often felt unease and discomfort in our changing bodies. The film captures this beautifully. Remember feeling nervous walking into school? Or walking in front of class to make a presentation. Burnham finds a way to bring these feelings to the screen, through an understanding of pacing and deliberate cinematography. He traps us in our middle school classroom, forcing us to relive some of the most anxiety-provoking moments from our youth. He doesn’t do it alone; his filmmaking is accented by a stellar performance from Elsie Fisher who captures feelings of teenage awkwardness and insecurity without even saying a word.

One of the best scenes in the film is when the main character Kayla shows up at a pool party (one she doesn’t want to go to, and isn’t wanted at in the first place). As the camera follows her on her journey from the bathroom to the pool, you would think she was on a march to her execution. Never has a group of thirteen-year-olds at a pool party seemed so terrifying.

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Denzel is back!

The film, The Equalizer 2, is the continuation of the first film. Again, following the adventures of ex-government black-ops operative Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), and he tries to ease his conscious of the sins of his past by righting wrongs and protecting the innocent. Along they way, he transforms his community, helping and inspiriting those around him to live up to their potential. Sounds promising right?

In the sequel, again Antoine Fuqua returns in the directors chair. The movie has the same visual-style as the first film. The plot is confusing and the pacing feels off. It takes the film a little while to really get rolling. The convergence of multiple story lines in this one is a slow and ardent process. But no one goes too see The Equalizer films for the plot. We go see the films for the creative ways McCall delivers vigilantes justice to “the villains” of the world.

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Go See Your “Uncle Drew”

Growing up a kid in Hoosier Country, we had a phrase we used to use, “basketball is life.” This phrase, simple and elegant, is the premise of the new film starring basketball superstar Kyrie Irving Uncle Drew. The film is based upon the character created in the Pepsi Max ads (if you have no idea what I am talking about, that’s what Youtube is for) following a geriatric basketball player who has no problem putting “young-bloods” in their place. For Drew, basketball is life. The game rules all, because it teaches us how to live together, and work together, and solve any problem.

Uncle Drew follows the title character and blacktop-basketball-legend as he assembles his old team to help Dax win The Rucker streetball tournament in Harlem. After Dax loses his team, Drew agrees to help recruit his old streetball team – despite their falling out – for one last ride to win the tournament. As Drew recruits his team, he teaches Dax about the game (and life) and discovers he hasn’t been as true to his principles as he thought.

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Not as Good as The First

Sicario: Day of the Soladado, is a crime-thriller offering a grim view of reality. It is uncanny that a film playing off America’s greatest border fears, has been released in the midst of renewed political debate surrounding border security and immigration reform. For movie-goers, the film is essentially everything that they have come to expect following the first Sicario film released in 2015. Spoilers below.

Following a terrorist attack in Middle America, and discovering the terrorists used the Southern Border as a point of entry into the United States, a covert operation is implemented to institute a war between the drug cartels in Mexico. The plan is a simple one, used whatever means necessary to instigate the cartels against one another, just make sure that the United States maintains plausible deniability. This brings Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) back together, to continue the crusade against the cartels they started in the first film.

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Worth the “Upgrade”

Upgrade is the most recent film from director Leigh Whannell (of Saw fame). The Science Fiction film seems to be flying slightly under the radar, likely as a result of its microscopic budget. In an era where Sci-Fi films like Blade Runner 2049 are produce for upwards of $185 million, a $3 million-dollar sci-fi film seems to pale by comparison.
But Upgrade gets back to the basics of science fiction. In true Asimoff style, the story is a collision between mankind and technology. Set in the near future, the film explores life in the perpetual surveillance state. The film also explores implants and augmentation, and when we combine the human body with tech, where does one end and the next begin. For a Luddite like me, this is the most terrifying film I have seen in a long while.

Spoilers.

The film follows Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) an auto mechanic who makes a living in the digital-world of the future by restoring classic cars. He is a man desperately out of touch with the rest of the planet. After his wife is murdered in a car-jacking and he is left a quadriplegic. After contemplating, and then attempting, suicide, Grey ends up hospitalized where he meets a tech-billionaire who promises to restore his motor-function. STEM is how he does it, an AI spinal cord implant which help to reconnect his nervous system.

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No Point Seeing “Action Point”

Something like ten years ago, a film with Johnny Knoxville preforming his death defying stupid-human-stunts would have dragged every high schooler in America to the movie theater. My, how the times have changed. Knoxville’s latest film, Action Point, is essentially Bad Grandpa meets Jackass, again something that once-upon-a-time would have dragged viewers to a theater. Now imagine that movie, but without any redeeming or entertaining qualities. That is Action Point.

Action Point is more of the same from Knoxville, just, without the laughs. It is a film completely devoid of genuine plot or characterization. It is loosely held together by a story about a father, his backyard-built-budget theme park, and his relationship with his estranged daughter. So, there isn’t much to truly build a film around.

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Photo: IMDB

Tomb Raider, The Video Game Film They (Sort Of) Got Right

As a nineties child, I spent a great deal of my money, and an even greater deal of my time, on the Tomb Raider games. We loved the games because they were fun and walked the perfect balance difficult puzzles and great action. I remember being disappointed in both 2001 and 2003 – with the release of the first two Tomb Raider films (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life). While these films were entertaining and highly stylized, the films were unmemorable. And they lacked the genuine qualities which made the games so damn good.

Film’s based upon video games have always sucked, and the bar is set perpetually low. Whether we were watching Resident Evil, Doom, Silent Hill, or Hitman; regardless of how great the gaming franchises have been, these films have all turned out to be disappointing. Part of the reason is, that video game inspired films have, and always will have, the challenge of condensing a story told via twenty-six of hours of game play into a two-hour feature film. This is not an easy task. But Tomb Raider shows us how it is not as difficult as we previously imagined.

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To Kill a Mockingbird Movie Review

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a story about race, poverty, and equal justice, all told from the eyes of a six-year old girl.

Scout, the inquisitive youngster we all know we once were, stumbles upon some very adult themes during the summers of her youth in 1930’s Alabama. Her father, Atticus, a well respected lawyer, is charged with defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of attacking, and raping, a white woman. Through her eyes, the audience sees the injustices of racism and its inherent grasp on the legal system at the time in the deep south. Through all of it, Atticus sits his daughter on his lap and explains to her, as best he can, how wrong the world can be. Although he doesn’t explain to her the racial bias that played out in the court room with Tom Robinson found guilty for a crime he very well didn’t commit, his emotional closing statement speaks volumes.

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The Siege Movie Review

“The Siege,” starring Denzel Washington and Annette Bening, is a story of ‘blowback’ and the extreme measures government will implement to maintain control.

After the bombing of a U.S. facility abroad, American military forces capture and place in custody the man suspected to be responsible (the Sheik). It’s this action that sets off a chain reaction of retaliation. Soon after, in New York, unnamed Islamic terrorists attack the city and its people, demanding the Sheik’s release. Denzel, as the FBI’s chief counter-terror agent, chases the terrorist cells through the city, always rooting his actions in law and order, despite the directions of others. It’s when the terrorists blow up a federal building, killing 600, that the President steps in and declares martial law. The army goes block by block, door to door, and rounds up any and all Muslim people that fit their broad profile: male, 14-30 years of age. Beyond that, the military sees no moral conflict in torturing suspects for information, despite Denzel’s eloquent plea against it. In the end, the FBI works in the shadows to legally take down the terrorists and arrest the military men responsible for the reprehensible actions in the city.

This film deals with several major liberty themed points, namely: the idea of blowback, the morality of torture, law & justice, and the dangers of ‘racial profiling’. The film’s jumping off point is the tactical take-down of the Sheik, the man responsible for the bombing of an American facility abroad. While it is understandable to seek retribution for such an act, the film brings to light the idea of blowback – that foreign policy actions have unintended consequences. In this particular example, a “rouge” elements of the U.S. military engaged in his illegal extraction, undoubtedly invoking contempt that manifested itself in the bombings. This isn’t to say legal means of capturing the man would have had a different effect, but it is to say every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Beyond this, though only a minor plot point, it is revealed that Annette Bening’s CIA trainees are the very same individuals now terrorizing the United States. In regards to torture, and martial law in general, Denzel’s character has a rather powerful monologue, in which he regards the current situation as “shredding the constitution”, and in that effect “they’ve already won”. Finally, one of the biggest thrusts of the film is in regards to Islam and people’s fear of it in the wake of religiously charged attacks. It is in this point that the film’s message is most relevant given current American fears and political rhetoric. To this, the film shows the “lump sum” attitude as misguided, as the large net the military stretches to round up the last remaining terrorist cells doesn’t even catch one lawbreaker. Instead, this net catches the innocent, a point made by Denzel’s Lebanese partner searching frantically for his 13 year old son in the large cages.

1) Is martial law ever a reasonable option?

2) Is it a coincidence that the military’s racial profiling of Muslim individuals was completely ineffective? Was this a conscious decision by the film-makers?

3) Is this film an indictment of America’s foreign policy? In what ways is it?

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Eric Ford Holevinski Explains How “The Restaurant” is Dishing Out More Than Spaghetti

Scarily relatable, surprisingly humorous, undeniably intriguing, Eric Ford Holevinski’s indie film “The Restaurant” has it all—from moments every food industry worker will understand to startling, jump-out-of-your-seat scares. As his first endeavor in filmmaking, Ford seems to have found subject material that draws from personal and universal experiences, while maintaining both humorous and horrifying themes. “The Restaurant,” a comedy-horror centered around a fast-paced New York City Italian restaurant, leads viewers into a spiral of scares and laughs as the busboy discovers a dark secret the manager is keeping. The secret? A customer-hungry entity in the basement that must be fed for the rave reviews to keep flooding in. Being his first foray into the indie film industry, Ford explained the motivations, developments and experiences of his career in the film industry in a Q&A.

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Wonder Woman: Everything We Could Hope For… And More

I don’t know about you, but I have been anxiously awaiting a “Wonder Woman” feature film since rumors circulated in the late ’90s of one starring Sandra Bullock. For me, the films near twenty-years in pre-production hell was well worth the wait.

For starters, “Wonder Woman” is the film that we needed to finally prove the Exec’s wrong. The belief that female superhero films cannot be successful is farce! You may remember leaked emails from 2015 revealing their suspicions that female characters were not a draw in the box-office. The failure of female comic book movies – or any comic book movies for that matter – has nothing to do with the sex, gender, or ability of the character. No instead, as fans have always maintained, the failure of comic book films is the result of shoddy film making at the hands of filmmakers who do not understand the properties they are working with. “Wonder Woman” is a film seeming created by those who seem to understand, and love, the character. And what a difference it makes.

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NO SAFE SPACES: New Documentary by Adam Corolla and Dennis Prager

Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager are teaming up to make a new documentary about the “safe space” phenomenon that is plaguing college campuses across America. The pair has been filming for the past few months, but now they’ve launched an Indiegogo campaign for $500,000 to help them continue production on “No Safe Spaces.”

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Forming, Storming, and Norming – A(nother) Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

I like to laugh. I like action. I like smart-ass characters and clever dialogue. Needless to say, I loved the “Guardians of the Galaxy 1” Like so many others, I waited with joyful anticipation for “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.”

I’ve read other reviews that weren’t very positive and all I have to say is, It’s based on a comic-book and it’s only a 2-hour 18-minute movie. It’s longer than the average movie but there is only so much character development you are going to be able to cram into 138 minutes, but for what it is, the writers did a hell of a job. The story reveals more well-rounded characters and yes, I felt the attraction between Quill and Gamora even though it was just one of many character relationships forming. As far as pacing, there is a lot of story going on in this movie. The writers are trying to tell an important back-story about Quill and his origin, bring us to the major conflict in this film and set up for the next movie all the while giving us more character development than you would expect in a movie based on a comic-book starring a variety of alien creatures.

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You May Have Missed: “Whisper of the Heart”

You may have missed this Studio Ghibli film since it is approaching its twenty second anniversary in July, but you still have time to seek it out, and it is well worth the search.

The first film produced by Ghibli that was not directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, it is much quieter than some of the studio’s better known films. The story focuses on fourteen year old Shizuku dealing with two big coming-of-age moments: realizing her passion/dream to write, and navigating her first love.

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It’s Morphin’ Time!

Jason David Frank – or maybe you better remember him as Tommy Oliver – has to be credited as one of the driving forces behind the new Power Rangers movie. After the internet hyped some really great Power Ranger shorts, JDF approached series creator Haim Saban about the possibility of a mature Power Ranger movie following the Green Ranger (which would have been awesome to watch). Instead of limiting the film to just the Green Ranger, we get a full cinematic reboot of the series in the new film Power Rangers (2017).

These Rangers are very different from the ones we remember. While in the series Zordon instructs Alpha to recruit “teenagers with attitude,” the original Power Rangers severely lack the attitude. They are essentially “squeaky-clean” kids with martial arts skills. These new Power Rangers – screw ups, trouble makers, and even bullies – are edgier, bringing a certain amount of depth and realism to the characters. While the purists might see this as tainting the beloved heroes, to true intention is to sever the “campiness” which defined the series in favor of something more “realistic”.

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“Contact” Movie Review

In the film “Contact” an astronomer (Ellie), considered fringe by many of her colleagues, discovers a radio signal transmitted deep in space, in essence, discovering alien life.
As the film opens, is clear to see that Ellie is pursuing her life’s dream: contacting intelligent life in space. However, soon after arriving to a large antenna in Central America, her project is shut down by the National Science Foundation (a federally funded program) who sees her work as frivolous. Steadfast, she lobbies for private funding and finds it with an eccentric billionaire who believes in her passion. It’s after this that she makes a breakthrough. On the verge of the government once again “icing them out”, she discovers a mysterious transmission flying through space, hurdling toward Earth.

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Stasi-Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich M¸he) sitzt in dem Kinofilm "Das Leben der Anderen" auf dem Dachboden eines Hauses und belauscht die Vorg‰nge in der Wohnung die er beschattet. (undatierte Filmszene). "Das Leben der Anderen" ist am Dienstag (23.01.2007) in Los Angeles f¸r einen Oscar nominiert worden. Der Film ist einer von f¸nf Anw‰rtern in der Sparte nicht englischsprachiger Film. Die begehrtesten Filmpreise der Welt werden von der amerikanischen Filmkunst-Akademie in diesem Jahr am 25. Februar vergeben. Foto:  Buena Vista (ACHTUNG: Verwendung nur f¸r redaktionelle Zwecke im Zusammenhang mit der Berichterstattung ¸ber diesen Film!) +++(c) dpa - Report+++

“The Lives of Others” : A Warning Veiled in a Thriller

In the movie “The Lives of Others,” the STASI and oppression of the East German regime are revealed to the viewer through authoritarian techniques of surveillance and control prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the collapse of communism in the region. Throughout this film, characters and scenes depict, in vivid detail, the attempts of the authoritarian East German government to instill unquestioning obedience and devotion to the state to ensure complete control. At face value, the baseline of the story seems heavy handed, but what the film truly draws is a tense thriller entwined with a morality play.

One especially powerful and telling scene is the planting of bugs at Dreyman’s house. After orders come from Minister Hempf to have continuous surveillance of Dreyman, Weisler and a team of STASI agents break into his house, plant equipment, and set up shop just upstairs in the loft of the building in order to watch, monitor, and record his every action.

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They Live! Movie Review

By Stevie Wang

In “They Live!,” a drifter stumbles upon a conspiracy about aliens who secretly rule over the human race. By wearing a pair of sunglasses, the drifter is able to see that aliens are disguising themselves in positions of great power such as company owners, police officers, and politicians and are essentially governing the human race and working for their own interests. Humans are completely oblivious to their rulers and are kept from seeking the truth due to consumer goods and materialism.

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Zootopia has Racism, Micro-Aggressions, and Misogyny and That’s Okay

*SPOILER WARNING* This essay heavily uses textual evidence from throughout the film.

The name “Zootopia” (a portmanteau of “zoo” and “utopia”) works ambivalently as the declaration of what this animal society wants to be and as an ironic joke about its failure to meet those aspirations.  The joke is on us though since it’s one large Aesop’s fable about prejudice in the real world. The city motto is “anyone can be anything [and not be limited by what they are],” an ideal that protagonist Judy Hopps takes as her own personal motivation to become the world’s first bunny police officer.  However the anthropomorphic pretense of the film forces characters to test their devotion to the ideals of this claimed post-racial utopia.  Judy believes that foxes can be trusted, despite personal experience and warnings from well-meaning though racist parents, but is she willing to bet her life on it?  This is the “Chekov’s gun” of the film, represented by something that literally goes where Judy’s police issued side-arm would be if this weren’t a cartoon.  Judy reaches for the “gun” when fear overwhelms logic for the film’s argument about how we don’t live in a society rid bigotry, but only a society that wants to be rid of it.

And sloths. We want to be rid of bigotry and sloths.
And sloths. We want to be rid of bigotry and sloths.

It’s a very daring choice to make a world full of prejudice and have this spread over into other marginalized characters as well as the main characters.  It’s writing 101 to throw the worst and most unfavorable traits at your villains, not the heroes.  Supporting lead Nick Wilde (a fox) carelessly calls Judy “carrots” and “cute,” which the rules of the film sates are racist slurs for rabbits.  Judy accidentally performs a micro-aggression on Nick, praising him as a “real articulate fella.”. (more…)

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Star Wars and Story

There is something about the pending arrival of The Force Awakens that I find to be deeply unsettling. As December 18th approaches, that feeling in my gut grows and those nagging voices in my head hound me as I fall asleep. Now, I converted to Star Wars when I was six years old, and have been a devout follower since. I’ve attended Celebrations and multiple Fridays at Comic-Con, yet something haunts me about this latest installment of the franchise.

empire-strikes-back-03At first I thought it was Lucas’s lack of creative involvement. But let’s face it, while George Lucas is a masterful storyteller; some of his greatest decisions as a filmmaker where to employ talented individuals to help him bring his vision to life. When we look at one of the greatest films ever made – The Empire Strike Back – Lucas brought on Irving Kershner to direct, and Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan to convert his story to screenplay. Lucas is still involved in this project as a creative consultant, and maybe this film will not fall victim to the same snags that prequel trilogy did with an oversaturation of Lucas’s involvement.

Then I considered that maybe my fear was that the new Star Wars film, wouldn’t feel like a Star Wars film. Any true Star Wars aficionado experienced culture shock when watching the prequel trilogy, resulting from an over-exposure to CGI. JJ Abrams has maintained that he will remain true to the practical effects used in the original films. Based on Abrams earlier films, we know that he is no stranger to preserving the integral magic of cinema with astonishing, practical effects.

Maybe my disappointment rested with the issue of “cannon”. Surely, this new film could not exist within the realm of the expanded Universe which has grown exponentially in the past three decades? However, the Expanded Star Wars Universe is in fact, expansive; and there are many contradictory story lines already within. One of the best examples of this was when the origins of Boba Fett were “rewritten”, after the revelation in Episode II that he was in fact, merely an imperfect clone. I made peace with that blasphemous information (though I still maintain that Fett’s original origin story is the better of the two) and I imagine that I will learn to make peace with future revelations, no matter how harmful.

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Kelo v. New London is Coming to the Big Screen as the Little Pink House

ReasonTV’s Nick Gillespie sat down with writer/director Courtney Moorehead Balaker to discuss the adaptation of Jeff Benedict’s book Little Pink House into a major motion picture scheduled to begin filming this fall. It’s been 10 years since the SCOTUS decision decided in favor of the city of New London over homeowner Susette Kelo in an eminent domain abuse case that sent shockwaves throughout the country.

See the interview below and read more here.

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Trailer Tuesday: “The Intern”

Don’t click away just yet…this isn’t that aimless, laughless comedy about Google that you’ve probably never seen…or at the very least never remembered.  No, this is something different entirely. Trust me, that’s a good thing!  “The Intern” brings together a very unlikely duo in Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway, which is only the beginning of the genius behind this comical concept!

The first shot sets this “buddy dramedy” up perfectly.  A young, successful interviewer aintern-screenshotsks the dreaded and most contrived interview question of all time, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?”  Sitting opposite him is not another young and hungry interviewee hoping to land a big first job. No, it’s 70-year-old Ben (DeNiro), whom retorts with the best answer…”When I’m 80?”  Hilarious.

Cut to Ben entering his new internship working for Jules Ostin (Hathaway), whose chemistry here is immediately undeniable.  As the two begin working together, we see Ben completely immersed in a world he doesn’t understand with new age millenials running the show.  Jules is the CEO of an online fashion site and although she’s seemingly Ben’s successful superior, her dramatic arc seems to center on the fact that she might not be as experienced and cut-out for the job as she thought.  You’re sure to laugh and cry and be horribly offended at the cross-generational jokes that are understood by some, and over the heads of others.

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Trailer of the Year Awards – Black Mass

I may have used my “Trailer of Year” card a wee bit early this year on Mad Max Fury Road back in January as I gushed over the pure enjoyment it brought me, because the latest trailer to drop on the scene is for the true crime film Black Mass starring Johnny Depp as notorious Boston mafia hitman Whitey Bulger.  This one sent chills down the spine, courtesy of the great chameleon that is Johnny Depp.  So I’m going to keep track of the trailers that stand out for me this year and declare a “Trailer of the Year” award at 2015’s end.  Consider Mad Max Fury Road as entry number one and Black Mass as entry number two.

Two observations: 1) It’s clear to me that Leonardo DiCaprio has been attempting to emulate Johnny Depp for the past 20 years.  2) The scene anchoring the trailer is a direct homage to the most famous scene in modern mafia film history – Joe Peschi and Ray Liotta’s “whatta mean I’m funny?” scene from Goodfellas.  The difference in scene depicted here is, the stakes are higher because it’s not personal, it’s about business and survival.  This is not a rip-off, this is a great example of being influenced by the greats and improving on it. We’ll see how it plays out in the feature.

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Goodfellas at 25

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Martin Scorcese’s New York mafia masterpiece Goodfellas. Film critic Sonny Bunch over at the Free Beacon writes about the iconic film and points out, rightly so, the obsession with the shot. 

The tracking shots have been discussed to death—I defy you to find a listicle celebrating the “long shot” that doesn’t include Goodfellas’ Copacabana entrance, along with Touch of Evil’s first crane shot and Altman’s work on The Player—but Scorsese isn’t just showing off. These shots serve a purpose. My favorite is early on, when we track through a restaurant and are introduced to the guys in the crew, Jimmy Two Times and the rest. These new characters, several of whom we never see again, make eye contact with the camera (that is, the viewer), welcoming you into their world, insinuating you into their scams.

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