Over the past several weeks, I embarked on a cinematic journey through the Fast and Furious franchise, watching them in order, each for the very first time. It’s not a perfect series by any means, but I fell deeply in love, especially as the series progressed and switched from being prominently about street racing to being big-budget action capers, becoming all the more ridiculous and over-the-top in all the best ways. Despite what you might expect from an eighth entry in a franchise, with The Fate of the Furious, Vin Diesel and his family of street-racers-turned-government-agents still manage to up the ante and deliver one of the absolute best movies in the series.
F8 picks up with an opening scene that calls back to the good ol’ days of Fast & Furious(circa 2001-2006), complete with trash talking, street racing and a tropical pop hit setting the scene. Dom (Vin Diesel) has settled down in Havana with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), but it isn’t long before he’s dragged back into the increasingly explosive life he’s lived for the past 16 years. What sets this entry apart from its seven predecessors, is that this time Dom’s playing for the wrong team, and betraying the family he loves. Gasp!
James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither) is one of the premiere screenwriters working in Hollywood today, but his near-spotless track record doesn’t save the latest film credited with his writing, The Belko Experiment, from disappointing mediocrity. It’s too bad, as the premise alone should have made for an exciting moviegoing experience, but the self-seriousness, uninspired filmmaking, and extremely underwhelming ending results in a messy, unrewarding watch.
The poster for the The Belko Experiment cites it as a sort of “Office Space meets Battle Royale,” but the comparison to Office Space starts and ends with the fact that it’s set inside an office building, and it’s only like Battle Royale in that it’s central idea revolves around a group of people who are forced to murder each other. Unfortunately, The Belko Experiment isn’t nearly as hilarious as Office Space, nor as exciting as Battle Royale.
If you look back on the history of horror cinema, you’ll find that many make use of timely social issues in order to convey poignant commentary on their respective subjects. Visionary horror director George Romero continually did it in his Dead series, with Night of the Living Dead tackling race relations during the height of the Civil Rights movement, while Dawn of the Dead took shots at consumerism and its power to literally turn society into zombies. The Purge series of films delve into classism, Rosemary’s Baby is related to feminist ideals, They Live looks at the power of the media, and plenty of other examples handle countless other social issues.
The latest film to do this is Get Out, which comes courtesy of comedian-turned-writer/director Jordan Peele. Get Out is Peele’s first foray into the horror genre, as well as his first time being in the director’s chair, but this is never apparent as you watch it. The film is so successful in so many aspects that it ends up not only being one of the most impressive debuts of the last decade, but also perhaps the most socially charged mainstream horror film in that timespan as well.
Get Out’s central character is Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a 20-something black man who’s in an interracial relationship with his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), who plans to take him along for a visit at her family’s house for a weekend getaway. Chris is noticeably skeptical about the trip and coyly asks Rose if her parents are aware that he’s black, implying that he believes he may not feel welcomed by Rose’s family. “My dad would vote for Obama for a third term if he could,” Rose responds, Peele obviously making fun of the people who say things like, “I have a black friend,” as if that can automatically save them if they have racist opinions or support racist ideas. The punchline of the joke lands a little later on when Rose’s father recites this line to Chris verbatim.
Veteran action star Keanu Reeves returns to embody his titular role in John Wick: Chapter Two, which proves to be a fantastic follow-up to the 2014 sleeper-hit that single-handedly revived Reeves’ stagnant career.
John Wick 2 expands upon all of the aspects that made its predecessor so invigorating, and is a near-perfect example for what a film sequel should be. John Wick was brimming with style, featured some of the best gun-fighting I’d ever seen on film, and was set in an immensely intriguing world. It was light on story, but that didn’t matter, because even though we didn’t know it yet, that first film gave us everything we wanted from an action flick: John Wick being an absolute badass. John Wick 2 presents its audience with all of this and then some.
The longer runtime of John Wick 2 allows for an even higher body count, as well as a more fleshed-out story this time around. John Wick is ready to settle back into retirement after his previous encounter forced him to return to a dangerous world of assassination. However, getting out of this line of work is never as easy as Wick would like it to be.
It’s been a little more than 20 years since the release of the original Resident Evil changed the landscape of video games forever. It’s a game series I literally grew up with, as it saw its original American release mere months before I was born. My initial encounters with the game were through watching my older brother and cousins play it for countless hours, all before I even had any idea how to handle a controller in order to experience it myself, which I later would many times. It, along with some of its sequels, are among my favorite games of all time, and it’s safe to say that Resident Evil holds a special place in my heart. While I was eagerly anticipating Resident Evil 7, I did so with bated breath following several missteps among the series in recent years. But, I’m glad to say that Resident Evil 7 is the game that fans of the series have been waiting years for.
Resident Evil has been one of gaming’s most successful, important, and influential franchises, having introduced several groundbreaking ideas to the medium throughout its storied existence. With its latest iteration, developer Capcom hoped to revitalize their survival horror series after some not-so-stellar efforts that have come as of late. Resident Evil 7 incorporates a perfect mixture of ideas both old and new, effectively re-introducing mechanics that the earliest entries were originally built upon as well as instituting entirely new concepts that, for the most part, work, including the major shift from a third-person perspective to first-person.
Don’t even try to tell me that 2016 was a bad year for film. I found myself falling in love with new films week after week from the beginning of the year until its final days. Be it the year’s biggest blockbusters, the indie-est of horror flicks, or those found in between, the output from filmmakers in 2016 was absolutely remarkable.
I ended up condensing this down from a lengthy list of 35, and it wasn’t easy. Actually, ranking these films could’ve been an even harder task, but I sadly didn’t get to see every film I wanted to in 2016 — the most unfortunate among them being Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and Jackie, which I’m sure would have all been strong contenders. And before I get to the actual list, below you will find a number of standouts that just barely missed the cut for the top 10.
Captain America: Civil War – Dir. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (streaming on Netflix)
The Witch – Dir. Robert Eggers (streaming on Amazon Prime)
Zootopia – Dir. Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush (streaming on Netflix)
Hacksaw Ridge – Dir. Mel Gibson
10 Cloverfield Lane – Dir. Dan Trachtenberg
Like I said before, there were plenty of films I loved this year. Here are the best of the best:
Movies are supposed to feel magical. They transport us to worlds both familiar and alien, relay stories ranging between grandeur and intimate scale, and introduce us to an array of characters we’ve known our entire lives along with those we’ve yet to meet. La La Land, from Whiplash writer-director Damien Chazelle, is 2016’s most magical and completely marvelous film. From start to finish, La La Land pays homage to classical Hollywood musicals in a wholly engaging and visually stunning tribute — one that features class performances from co-leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who impressively dance and sing along to its wonderful soundtrack.
Emma Stone plays Mia, a young, aspiring actress desperately hoping to make her break in Hollywood, but is unfortunately stuck working a barista job on a soundstage lot. Opposite her, Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian is a down-on-his-luck pianist whose admiration for jazz guides his desire to manage his own jazz club in L.A., but is rather left performing renditions of Christmas songs at a local restaurant.
The two eventually find what they’ve always needed in each other, but as these things always go, there’s initially some chance encounters in which the two butt heads and express how uninterested they are in each other. But it’s apparent that the pair has wonderful chemistry, brought to light early on in one of the film’s best pieces, “A Lovely Night.” The couple elegantly dances around an L.A. street corner as the sun sets — the scene not only being gorgeous to look at, but Stone and Gosling’s voices evoke similarly as much beauty.