True Romance

Every once in a while, you discover the existence of an older film that sounds too good to be true. When I first discovered TRUE ROMANCE, I was astonished. I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films – so I was ecstatic to learn that he wrote TRUE ROMANCE. The film’s cast reads more like a list of all-stars than an actual film cast – including Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Walken. With that kind of acting caliber, and with Tarantino’s writing, I was expecting great things. Ultimately, though, I walked away disappointed.

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Pitch Perfect

It was about five minutes into PITCH PERFECT when I realized that this film was something special. The film opens at the national a cappella championship. The protagonists are quickly introduced as the all-female a cappella group, the Barden Bellas. The women are just a few moments into their song when, completely unexpectedly, the lead singer projectile vomits into the audience. It was completely unexpected, and also completely hilarious. I went into PITCH PERFECT expecting a fairly boilerplate film with a “you go, girl!” message about an all-female a cappella group – but what I got was an endearing, sidesplittingly funny film about a group of women just trying to figure out their place in the world.

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Coco

When Pixar really works its magic, it can create a film that will last in the mind for years. It’s the powerhouse that has given us films like TOY STORY and WALL-E, and continues to be the standard-bearer when it comes to defining the power of animated storytelling. With COCO, Pixar has another bonafide hit on its hands – a perfect tale that will warm the hearts of children and adults alike.

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Jigsaw

One of the freshest aspects of the SAW franchise is that the films were an annual tradition. The films were intricately connected, feeling more like a serialized television show than a film franchise. But it was also that connection that eventually led to the downfall of the franchise – mired in its own continuity and bloodlust. It took seven years for a new sequel to be created. For a series that had most of its loose ends wrapped up so neatly, JIGSAW is a great entry point into the series for newcomers and a welcome return for fans of the series.

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Justice League

There is, perhaps, no comic book film with as much baggage as JUSTICE LEAGUE. After the DC film series kicked off with MAN OF STEEL (divisive among viewers, but I adored it), and was followed up with BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and SUICIDE SQUAD – two films that were widely maligned for their bleak portrayal of heroes and major script issues. This year, WONDER WOMAN arrived in theaters with an upbeat, positive message and soared to the top of the box office with an outpouring of critical praise. It’s a series of highs and lows, and JUSTICE LEAGUE arrives at a critical point in the film franchise. Does it continue the impressive storytelling that began in WONDER WOMAN, or does it fall into the same hole that doomed BATMAN VS SUPERMAN?

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Saw: The Final Chapter

After a strong start, and a reinvention after killing its lead character, the SAW franchise has hit rock bottom. Billed as the final installment, SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER ends the series with a disappointing whimper. The film is more concerned with tying up the final remaining loose ends than it is in telling a compelling story.

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Saw IV

SAW IV is the point in the SAW franchise where the films become impossible to view without having seen the previous films. It makes for compelling storytelling, to tell a sequential story that builds upon the previous films, but it also runs the risk of alienating more casual viewers. SAW IV is certainly in a difficult position. The climax of SAW III sees Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) murdered, and SAW IV opens with his gruesome autopsy (shot with a brilliant use of color to make the red blood stand out).

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Saw III

SAW III represents a huge tonal shift for the SAW series. Whereas the first two films straddled the fine line between thriller and horror, SAW III abandons all pretense and fully embraces the horror genre. It’s intriguing how different SAW III feels from the previous films, even though it is a direct continuation from SAW II. The difference is that it has a gratuitous amount of blood and gore. In the first two films, the bloody results were rarely fully shown. Even the infamous scene where a man saws his foot off is surprisingly light on blood. Yet in SAW III, audiences are treated to scenes of brain surgery, limbs twisting until bones pop out, ribs being ripped out… and it all unfolds right before our eyes. It’s actually somewhat disappointing. The heavy use of gore somehow makes the film feel like it is catering to a lower denominator.

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