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Which is Better: Zootopia or Finding Dory?

zootopia

Disney’s Zootopia is a better film than Pixar’s Finding Dory.

Both 2016 films are competently made. Both films are humorous, well-realized, and stunning to look at. Both films have engaging, wonderful main characters with goals and story arcs that are as insightful as they are entertaining. Both films share many of the same strengths, making it hard to objectively point to one being better than the other on any sort of technical level. But…

Go on…Which is Better: Zootopia or Finding Dory?

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Part-Time Characters: Movies We Missed From 2016

2016 movies revisited

The Post Hurricane Episode

How many 2016 movies did you mean to watch but never got around to it? In this week’s episode, we discuss movies from last year we only recently saw for the first time. We also talk about movies we rewatched and if our opinions changed at all.

We start all the way back in January 2016 with movies like The Revenant and Kung Fu Panda and finish with the end of year Oscar Nominees like Hidden Figures, Moonlight and La La Land.

Go on…Part-Time Characters: Movies We Missed From 2016

Now Conspiring Podcast: Our Favorite Movies of 2016

movies

It’s that time of year again for the Now Conspiring podcast to count off their favorite movies of 2016! There were a lot of great movies to pick from and some obvious overlap here and there (aside from our Top #1 picks), so sit back and relax as we reflect on our most enjoyable cinematic experiences of the year.

We also recorded a Bonus Rogue One episode this week, which you can stream directly here.

Question of the Week: What was your favorite movie and/or movie moment of 2016?

Go on…Now Conspiring Podcast: Our Favorite Movies of 2016

Ep111: What We’re Watching In December

december

We’ve watched a lot of movies this year, but as we wind down in December, what are the movies we plan to check out in theaters and at home? Featuring special guest and the film critic’s film critic, Will Ashton.

This week, we talked a lot about early reactions to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and did our standard Show & Tell segment toward the end of the show for a change.

You can also download this podcast episode on iTunes and Stitcher.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What was your favorite superhero movie of 2016, if any? Also, what movie from 2016 do you want to see the most that you missed in theaters?

Go on…Ep111: What We’re Watching In December

Ranking The Best Superhero Movies Of 2016

From Deadpool to Doctor Strange, here’s how I rank the top superhero movies of the year. The post below is a transcription of the video above, minus some extra commentary at the very end.

It’s pretty obvious at this point in 2016 that the “superhero genre” is here to stay. These movies seize a huge share of box office profits every year, and their mainstream takeover isn’t slowing down in the slightest. Going back a decade, we’ve gotten at least four or five “big” superhero movies a year, sometimes six, and this year saw eight alone, with all but two of them being huge moneymakers and making the top 10 grossers of the year.

I say “superhero” movie, by the way, because things get messy when you try to categorize these films by “comic book.” For the same reason it would get a little hairy if you tried to lump all book adaptation movies together, because they stretch across so many genres and sub genres. With a superhero movie, you’re at least addressing a few basic similarities between movies that are derived from DC, Marvel, and other studios. You have a hero (or heroes) with strange abilities who goes on some type of emotional, action-packed journey.

superhero movies 2016

So this year, I want to point out which superhero movies in 2016 were “better” than others, not just from a film critic standpoint, but also from how they contribute or don’t contribute to the ever-expanding superhero movie genre. I have to leave out two movies in particular because I haven’t seen them: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and Max Steel. Because I don’t review absolutely everything that comes out, these ended up being on my cutting board of films to review over the summer, and I have no desire to check them out anytime soon.

But the rest of the entries on this list are certainly ones you’ve heard of if you’re a big fan of superhero movies, but in case you haven’t watched them all, I’ll be avoiding any and all spoilers within reason. So let’s begin with the worst of the bunch:

#6 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

superhero movies 2016

The film critic in me can’t stand this movie. It’s an abomination of narrative, pacing, and character development to the point of almost being a parody. But the DC fan in me has plenty of nice things to say in spite of all that, notably from a visual standpoint. The costumes are incredible, the subject matter is at least interesting in theory, and most of the characters are well-cast with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

The strange thing, though, is that despite being such a weak movie overall, it contains some of my favorite superhero moments of 2016, including Batman’s warehouse fight, the Trinity’s stand against Doomsday, and Wonder Woman’s theme music. Unfortunately, these bright spots just don’t overshadow enough of the problems to redeem the rest of this frustrating embarrassment of a superhero movie.

#5 Suicide Squad

superhero movies 2016

For me, Suicide Squad was just a slim margin better than Dawn of Justice, mostly because the standards were set just a little lower thanks to this being a movie about lesser-known characters I’ve always wanted to see on the big screen.

It does have some of the same issues as Dawn of Justice, though, particularly when it comes to style over substance with its visuals and plot. But the characters are mostly fun to watch and suggestive of a bigger, better DCEU we haven’t gotten to see enough of yet.

#4 X-Men: Apocalypse

superhero movies 2016

I actually liked this one quite a bit more than most, mainly because I’ve been hoping for a better realization of these characters since the third X-Men movie, and for the most part, Apocalypse is immensely entertaining lore for longtime fans.

It’s nowhere near perfect, of course, but there are enough great moments here to overlook some of the bland story structure and checklist of characters for Fox to cross off their list. This is one of those superhero movies I walked away from wanting more, which is both a criticism and a complement in this case.

#3 Doctor Strange

superhero movies 2016

Familiarity breeds contempt, and so it goes for some who view Doctor Strange as more of the same from Marvel. And they’re not entirely wrong. This is the origin formula Marvel has been polishing since 2008, complete with a flawed protagonist who has to humble himself after gaining extraordinary powers.

And mileage varies for anyone who appreciates some stunning visual effects that go with the whole package, as you might be one of those viewers who can’t get past folding cities reminding them of Inception, or just someone looking for a breezy, colorful Marvel movie with some clever spins on what’s already worked before.

#2 Deadpool

superhero movies 2016

This was the movie that arguably had the bigger impact on comic book fans this year, even ones who never liked the character much before seeing this movie. And that’s because it’s less a superhero or anti-hero movie and more a self-reflection of the genre itself.

That lended for some great movie moments and humor, but at its core, Deadpool is just barely shy of real greatness, as it only manages to tackle a small handful of neat ideas over and over again, using a formula that’s not far removed from much of what we’ve seen before. It won’t be long before the movie will be remembered as a lightning in the bottle experiment that aged a bit quicker than we expected.

#1 Captain America: Civil War

superhero movies 2016

If you had to criticize Civil War for one thing, it might be that it almost has too much going on in its long running time. But if what you’re looking for is a dense spectacle that reshapes a cinematic universe with recognizable characters, then Civil War absolutely had you in mind.

There were so many ways for this movie to completely fail: the villain could have been atrocious, new arrivals Black Panther and Spider-Man could have been mishandled, we could’ve gotten more Iron Man than Captain America, the emotional stakes by the very end could have come off as meaningless, and so on. But while it stumbles at times, Civil War pulls all of this off in an entertaining, often thrilling way.

And close to everything we love most in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a time to shine, paid off after years of buildup and patience. Similar to how a comic book event can impact longtime readers, this was worthy of its title and then some.


Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


Review: ‘The Magnificent Seven’ Is Enjoyably Average

magnificent seven

In 1960, The Magnificent Seven came about under the direction of John Sturges to limited acclaim. Critics didn’t love it because Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (of which Magnificent is adapted from but with a Western spin) was still a near-perfect film fresh on everyone’s minds. In the decades since, critics have grown to appreciate Magnificent Seven more due to the cascading success of the film’s actors, and it’s hard to deny the sheer entertainment value to be had in the first 2/3rds of that film.

As someone removed from that era entirely, I found the 1960 adaptation to be a forgettable shadow of Seven Samurai — but I’ve always been interested in the idea of updating the original concept with heavier themes, better visuals, and other details it could rightfully borrow from Kurosawa’s work.

Yes, Magnificent Seven has had sequels and even a TV show since its mid-century release, but we now have a modern remake in the fashion of 2010’s True Grit. The only difference, though, is that Grit managed to be a remake with a purpose. By comparison, the 2016 Magnificent Seven is more akin to a video game made from the movie. There’s more violence, the characters’ stories are tossed aside for manufactured movie moments, and there’s little reason to watch this one outside of seeing a fast-paced action Western. If that’s what you want out of Magnificent Seven because you have some sort of sketched idea of what the original (and the original before that) had to offer, then you’ll probably walk away satisfied.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training DayThe Equalizer), this new take on Magnificent focuses on Rose Creek, an American frontier town under siege by a robber baron aptly named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who mostly mumbles vain platitudes about how capitalism justifies his boring villainy. This is a strange departure from the small Mexico town victimized by bandits in the 1960 version, made more confusing by the fact that this change to Rose Creek holds little meaning outside of a desire to keep things American, which has all sorts of troubling implications if you think about it too long.

magnificent seven

To ward off Bogue’s militia, newly-widowed Emma Cullen (played by Haley Bennett) seeks out the help of Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington), a warrant officer from Kansas who in turn recruits six other mercenaries from around the area. They include wise-talking and gunslinging Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt as Star Lord in the West, essentially),  a confederate sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke), his knife-throwing Chinese “manservant” Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), frontier survivalist Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), a gruff Mexcian outlaw Chisholm was previously in pursuit of (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a Comanche archer named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). 

A significant amount of time in Magnificent Seven is spent fleshing out character skill-sets more than anything else, like why any of the mercenaries are willing to put their lives on the line for strangers. The film tries to posit this as some sort of “Eff it” mentality that might be mixed in with a soft decency that doesn’t come across in any performance, especially with Faraday, who seems to change his temperament based on the position of the sun. Chisholm is the closest to having any real sense of intention in the script, and there could have been real opportunity to make his growing affection for the rest of the cast convincing. But unfortunately, Washington brings almost zero nuance or heart to the role, and the entire ensemble suffers for it.

There are flaws aplenty in the film’s basic narrative structure and script that prevent Magnificent Seven from ever having an affecting impact. But at the very least, it competently accomplishes what it set out to do. The half hour or so of nonstop gun-toting action is thrilling to watch, and you might care enough about some of the characters involved (if not the one-note villain) to share some of their tension as the odds grow ever against their favor. But once the dust settles, you’ll start to wonder what the point of all this endless violence really was as the film rushes to the finish line with as little effort as possible. There’s no reflection on much of anything important that the film accidentally managed to say.

Grade: C+

Extra Credits:

  • I love Matt Bomer, and there is no reason for him to be in this movie (for about four minutes).
  • The late James Horner composed the film’s score (which is fantastic), and it’s also his last composition.
  • Believe it or not (and I checked), this is the first western Denzel Washington has starred in. What a waste.
  • So…Chris Pratt. Honestly, I think the actor was underserved here, same as Washington. The film would have been saved if the script had gotten their chemistry right, but there’s nothing to see here.
  • Review in four words? “The quintessential RedBox movie.”

    Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

    Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


Second Opinion: ‘Sing Street’ Proves Not all Crowd-Pleasers Are Created Equal

sing street

As of September, my favorite movie of 2016 is John Carney’s Sing Street, a musical throwback set during the 80s boom in the U.K. Consider this my (late) review, perhaps made better by the fact that I’ve had months to process Sing Street and even revisit it.

For that reason, this is a Second Opinion, in the sense that I’m also forced to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Sing Street against the critic community at large. And it’s not quite so clear where critics landed with this film.

At first glance, you’d think Sing Street is the indie darling of the year, maybe because of its high score on Rotten Tomatoes or if you’ve heard me gush about the film on Now Conspiring. But that’s not to say the film hasn’t received some tepid responses as well, with many critics both praising the film and undercutting it with the “low” side of positive scores.

From what I can tell, the main reason is because Sing Street commits a “sin” in the eyes of a lot of serious film critics: it’s a crowd-pleaser.

sing street

You’ve heard the term, but let’s be more specific. The idea of a movie being a crowd-pleaser is an underhanded compliment, meant to criticize the film for using familiar tropes to elicit a specific reaction from the audience. It’s also used to note a film that is essentially boring in its formula and afraid of taking risks. Relevant crowd-pleasers include the likes of Marvel superhero movies, nostalgic franchise sequels, and even Oscar-bait — those Fall films that seemed designed to do nothing more than win awards.

So yes, it’s pretty accurate to call Sing Street a crowd-pleaser, perhaps to an even heavier degree because the film it draws so much heart from is John Carney’s previous film, Once (we’ll just skip Begin Again for obvious reasons if you’ve seen it).

Yet Sing Street also makes the case for why some crowd-pleasers are far superior to others. At the end of the film, I did find myself realizing how loud Carney’s voice was throughout, and the heart of the movie couldn’t be clearer. It’s a film you discuss and analyze for its craft in filmmaking and how it made you feel. Lesser crowd-pleasers suffer from only having the latter.

sing street

Let’s talk about how the film is set up. Set in Dublin, the movie centers around the life and journey of Conor (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a shy teenager who slowly cultivates a passion for music while attempting to win the heart of an older, beautiful girl (Raphina, played by Lucy Boynton). He starts a band in order to impress her, but the film splinters his motivations in a lot of surprising ways. Conor wants to break free of the rules of his claustrophobic prep school, suffer through his parents’ divorce, live up to his brother’s dreams, find success with his band…oh, and get the girl.

There’s real beauty in how simple the film appears, but it’s anything but straightforward. The film starts with a jumble of problems coming Conor’s way as he has to adjust to a new life at Synge Street, which is packed with bullies and a disturbing menace of a headmaster. But the moment he sees the girl, all those problems get thrown aside completely — a perfect capturing of what it’s like to fall in “love.”

That would be fine enough if the film didn’t also execute the rest of its content so fluidly and with so much endearing music (the soundtrack is sure to make an impression). There’s no crystallizing moment or raw talent in Conor that suggests movie magic. He starts like most other musicians and creatives: by ripping people off.

sing street

Eamon (Conor’s first recruit for the band, played by Mark McKenna) is the true prodigy, able to play multiple instruments and come up with the majority of the actual music. Conor’s brother (Brendan, played by Jack Reynor) mentors him on which music is worth mimicking, paving the way for Conor to gradually work his way to becoming a real musician. Even songwriting, Conor’s only apparent gift he’s discovered for himself, is only made possible because of, you guessed it, the girl.

Watching this creative process unfold as a love story is one of the most unique and charming experiences I’ve been entertained by in years. It’s a standout script with standout music and performances that makes it a crowd-pleaser for all of the right reasons, not the wrong ones. That’s not to say the film is perfect, and I could list several problems I have with the film, but at this point, they’re perfunctory and removed from what makes the film a keeper.

I think what makes Sing Street somewhat better than everything else I’ve seen this year has a lot to do with two reasons: for one thing, it transcends its genres (the comedy and romance never overshadow the darkness and melodrama). Second, the movie tackles a feeling that only movies can truly provide. And that’s creative spectacle unrestrained by a director’s heart.

Grade: A


Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


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