Spider-Man: No Way Home should be called Fan Service: The Movie.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is not only the latest installment in the Spider-Man movie series but also the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Marvel has done a very interesting thing in that they’ve created one big franchise using many different characters to tell one big story. Essentially, these movies don’t serve themselves, but instead Marvel’s grand plan. 

Before the cinematic universe began, it was always interesting to see what a certain director did with a superhero character like Tim Burton and Batman, Sam Raimi and Spider-Man and Ang Lee and The Hulk (which is kind of an underrated movie). However, these days are gone because the director isn’t really in charge of these superhero movies anymore. In Marvel’s case, the movies have to fit the vision of producer Kevin Feige, who has a grand scheme of how each movie fits into his universe. This has made MCU films boilerplate, devoid of any artistic flourishes, and pretty much all looking and feeling the same. And also, with a cinematic universe of superheroes, each movie loses stakes because the hero isn’t the only one that can save the day. What made the previous films great is that the hero was the only one but now being a superhero is no longer special.

Spider-Man has had two live-action franchises with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield and the worst kept secret in Hollywood is that they would be appearing in the new multiverse bending chapter of the latest MCU Spider-Man with Tom Holland. The story features Doctor Strange opening up the multiverse which causes the villains from other Spider-Man universes to enter MCU-Peter’s world. These villains also happen to be the villains from the previous Spider-Man movies. Now, this has happened in the comics but it doesn’t quite work for a feature film. The inclusion of these villains and later Spider-Men (more on that in a second) feels like fan service at its worst. For years, a new genre has quickly become popular: the nostalgia genre. This genre includes sequels to some of our favorite films that we didn’t need. Next year, the original cast of Jurassic Park will meet the cast of Jurassic World. Studios love banking on people’s nostalgia, knowing that if they’ve seen and liked something before, they’ll see and like it again.

While many fans have been excited to see Doc Ock and Green Goblin on screen again, it feels like unnecessary fan service more than what is actually needed for the story. Why couldn’t the MCU do their own takes on these classic characters rather than dredge up favorites from older – and let’s face it – better films. It seems Marvel decided to take what previously worked and apply that instead of doing something new. What’s missing from Spider-Man: No Way Home is the emotional weight these characters bring. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker has no connection to any of these characters. He did so in the comics which is what made them great villains and the stories filmmakers previously crafted for their initial big-screen appearances carried this history over. Without the history, they’re just bad guys for Peter to fight and the connection between hero and villain successfully depicted in the films they come from are non-existent. Green Goblin comes with baggage from Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man it took a whole movie to depict. Here it’s just an excuse to have Willem Dafoe’s classic villain reappear and torment Tom Holland even though they’ve never met. Marvel has always been criticized for weak villains so they literally just stole good ones from other movies. Having said that, the movie does correct a missed opportunity the first time around they used Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin. In this outing, he quickly ditches the helmet many viewers hated and stays unmasked the entire movie. Willem Dafoe already has a great goblin face and it was wasted under the 2002 film’s mask. In this film, he fights Spider-Man with many maniacal faces that are scarier than any mask could do justice.

And that brings me to Spider-Man. It must be said that seeing the former Spider-Men on the big screen again was very moving, but the audience is moved because of nostalgia and the memory of seeing Spider-Man on the big screen for the first time as in Tobey’s case or the first time he got that millennial reboot like in Garfield’s case. It’s impossible to say that Spider-Man: No Way Home is not fun, but it’s possible that it’s enjoyable for the wrong reasons. It felt like a great gift that I didn’t really need and that’s not what true cinema should be. It shouldn’t be catered to the audience in order to make money. It should be about the story above all. Because if you don’t have anything new to say: why go on? Don’t try to improve your movie by leaning on what other filmmakers did successfully in the past. Ultimately, the most successful things about this movie are what was carried over from the non-MCU films.

After bringing Spider-Man to life the first time and putting his mark on the character, Sam Raimi is next at the helm of the Doctor Strange sequel – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse Of Madness. While it’s exciting he’s helming another superhero property, it won’t be like the first time because instead of Raimi giving us his version of Doctor Strange, this time he’s a hired gun doing producer Kevin Feige’s bidding. It won’t be Raimi’s vision, but Feige’s and everything he does will have to be tethered to the way Feige wants the MCU to unfold and who he wants to include to set up other movies. This feels like a step down for the man who directed one of the most beloved superhero franchises. But this is how it is now and there is truly no way home.

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is a Masterpiece. But No One Cares.

Rating: 4 out of 4.

When one thinks of Steven Spielberg, the word “flop” doesn’t usually come to mind. Believe it or not, he’s actually had several films underperform like Hook and even all-out bombs like The BFG. However, perhaps his biggest bomb is the new West Side Story remake, and unfortunately, it’s one of his best films.

Since it was announced years ago that Steven Spielberg was going to direct an adaptation of West Side Story, many asked: why? What could the cinematic master bring to a musical that everyone already knows and that’s already based on the most classic story of all time, Romeo & Juliet? What many moviegoers didn’t see this past weekend at the theater is that Spielberg is known as a master for a reason. While the story wasn’t new, he created a film that fires on all cylinders, with every element succeeding to the point where the movie surpasses the original 1961 version. Most people don’t realize that a movie doesn’t have to be new or original to be superb, it just has to succeed on every level that makes a movie great. West Side Story does this.

Everyone knows the story. Jets gang member Tony (Ansel Elgort) falls in love with Maria (Rachel Zegler) who’s brother is the leader of the rival gang The Sharks. Their different cultures make their love forbidden and Spielberg especially seems interested in showing how hate can ultimately destroy the purest of loves. Ditching the original’s glossiness, Spielberg’s West Side Story is gritty yet also beautiful when it wants to be. Recently, period-set films feel like fake Hollywood productions (this has something to do with the sheen of digital photography) but shot-on-film West Side Story feels like a lived-in, raw, and real world. Even though the characters sing and dance. Some of the best things about West Side Story even have nothing to do with the fact the musical already is perhaps the best written musical of all time and he doesn’t rely it’s already perfect score and songbook to carry the film.

There are many reasons why West Side Story has bombed: a pandemic still keeping people away from theaters, sexual allegations leveled at the film’s star, and the fact that it’s not only a musical but a period piece. Whatever the reason it is, it’s a shame more people won’t see this masterpiece on the big screen. From the way the dances are choreographed to the way the camera moves to capture these great performances, every element of this film sings. With recent movie musicals featuring sub-par or autotuned actors, every performance in WSS is goosebumps-inducing. Most musicals record the tracks before production and the actors are dubbed over during filming, however many songs were recorded live for WSS, which is clear from the way the actor’s throat moves when performing. 

We have so few movies left from Steven Spielberg, and audiences may not have many chances left to see the greatest living director’s work on the big screen. This makes West Side Story’s box-office failure a tragedy. Despite film’s small screen-only trajectory getting nearer and nearer, Spielberg still makes movies for the big screen. Years from now when he’s passed on, many viewers will surely discover West Side Story and recognize it as one of his best films and regret they didn’t see it when it was released in theaters. Going to the movies isn’t just about watching a movie on a large screen, it’s about the experience, and West Side Story is that experience millions of moviegoers are sorely missing.

Home Sweet Home Alone: An Odd IP Experiment

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Recently, Home Sweet Home Alone premiered on Disney+. It’s an example of Disney’s use of a new IP they acquired following their purchase of 20th Century Fox a few years ago. Now, what many may not realize is that this is actually the sixth film in the Home Alone franchise. While it may not be that much better than the last two films, it does change up the formula a little bit. Ultimately it’s an example of trying to use elements from a classic film to recreate magic. Spoiler alert: it fails.

In 1998, filmmaker Gus Van Sant wanted to experiment and discover what makes a classic a classic, so he made a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho using the same exact screenplay as the beloved original film. His theory: if everything but the actors are the same, it should still be a classic, right?

Wrong. I thought a lot about his Psycho while watching Home Sweet Home Alone because it feels like they were trying to take what worked about the original Home Alone, all the right ingredients, and see if it would make it a good movie.

The original Home Alone (and technically this one) centers around a boy left home alone when his parents inexplicably go on vacation without him, and he must defend his house from burglars. The problem is that Home Alone’s improbable plot is impossible to rehash without seeming ridiculous.

They tried rehashing the plot by only changing the setting for Home Alone 2: Lost In New York but the movie came off extremely far-fetched, even if admittedly entertaining. There are only so many times you can tell the story of a child left impossibly home alone who must fend off burglars, yet they’ve done it six times.

Home Alone is the type of movie that should never have been sequelized to begin with, and any attempt to recreate its immense and original success has fallen flat.

The new film does something that’s actually interesting. It changes its perspective from the child’s to the burglars’. While this is a clever change, it’s also the film’s biggest problem. Pam and Jeff (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) are down on their luck and think a young boy named Max stole a valuable doll from them that they can sell to get out of a financial bind. So they attempt to break into Max’s house, and, from there, the usual Home Alone shenanigans ensue.

Unfortunately, Jeff and Pam are very likable and not very villainous, and so we feel bad for them when they struggle to retrieve the doll and fall victim to Max’s booby traps. Honestly, the funniest sequence in the film has nothing to do with Max’s traps, but the pair having to climb a simple wall and failing spectacularly.

While changing the perspective is a fresh idea for this tired franchise, it makes the trap sequences less fun because we really don’t want anything bad to happen to this nice, desperate couple whose pursuit actually seems somewhat justified.

Max is really the villain of the movie and isn’t all that likable. But he’s not despicable. And so if he’s not despicable and the burglars aren’t despicable – what are the stakes? The first film had menace to it with Joe Pesci even saying he was going to bite off little Kevin’s fingers and “boil his cojones in motor oil.” Without any type of real threat, the story is pointless. The film was directed by Dan Mazer, who has had a long history with Sasha Baron Cohen, which suggests that the movie might’ve had a darker edge, but it doesn’t. It’s brightly lit and colorful, unlike the often dark and dangerous original. Perhaps family films can’t be dark and dangerous in 2021.

Even though they changed the film’s perspective, there are still many elements from the other movies incorporated such as the family bizarrely forgetting Max at home, a large chaotic family, and a mother having to return home to get her child because there is no way they can contact him (this plot point was a stretch in 1990 but in 2021? C’mon).

Another element that feels like an attempt to recreate the original’s success is the music. Master composer John Williams’ iconic themes are used but they don’t resonate here like they did when they were first used. For example, when Kevin McCallister and his mom are reunited in the original film, it’s accompanied by Williams’ emotional themes which are essentially birthed from the emotion we see on the screen. This film uses these themes haphazardly, not earning them and, instead, making the images on screen feel hollow. 

Home Alone is a classic film that seems pretty pointless to remake (you wouldn’t be able to use that same level of violence used in the original anyway and let’s face it, that was half the fun). The idea behind making this has all to do with making money off of a new IP and nothing to do with having a new good story to tell.

The original Home Alone is on Disney+, and already has throngs of fans who watch it every Christmas. We don’t need this movie to advertise the fact the original is on the streaming site.

For all its faults, the film does contain an amusing connection to the first film. Actor Devin Ratray reprises his role as Kevin’s brother Buzz. It’s a cute cameo but the character is not utilized well. Last year, there was a rumor that Disney paid Macaulay Culkin $6 million to make a cameo in this which turned out to be untrue. If Culkin was indeed asked to appear but turned it down he made a wise decision.

Home Alone was lightning in a bottle and proves that filmmakers can’t create classics, audiences do with their love for them. Despite all the attempts, there is no formula to make a great film – it just happens. Instead of mining all their new IP, Disney should try and make more original films, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll get lucky and create a film that will be adored by generations to come.

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Ghostbusters: Afterlife Isn’t Your Typical Hollywood Blockbuster, It’s a Real Film

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

After years of waiting for a true third Ghostbusters movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife has been finally released (following a year and a half-long pandemic delay) and the result is worth the wait. Previously, a Paul Feig-directed reboot was released in 2016 that bizarrely decided to start over the Ghostbusters franchise rather than be a continuation, and the result was a disaster. The film didn’t utilize anything that made the original films great and played like one long SNL sketch. 

For years, Dan Aykroyd had been trying to make a third Ghostbusters film, but Harold Ramis’ passing made this difficult. Enter original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman’s son, Jason. Jason Reitman grew up on the set of the original Ghostbusters movies, even having a bit part in Ghostbusters II, and he ultimately became a great director himself.

In fact, he’s probably a more consistently good filmmaker than his father. Despite the lineage, it was honestly a little surprising that Jason Reitman was taking the Ghostbusters reins, because none of his movies are remotely like the ones his father made (Stripes, Twins, Meatballs), and he had never helmed a big-budget movie before.

Reitman’s career as an indie filmmaker is a rarity nowadays, when low budget success often gets directors a blockbuster superhero movie offer.

With 2005’s Thank You For Smoking, Jason Reitman burst onto the scene as a hot new director who specialized in character-driven comedies. He followed up that movie with Juno and Up In The Air, the latter of which both received considerable Oscar attention, including nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.

The rest of his filmography hasn’t quite achieved the success level of his first three movies, and his last film, The Front Runner with Hugh Jackman, about former democratic senator Gary Hart, made just $3 million at the box office. So Reitman needed a hit in order to be commercially and critically relevant.

While it feels perfect that Jason Reitman is directing a sequel to his father’s classic film, the pairing of him and Ghostbusters is much more special than just birthright. Directing and co-writing, Reitman brings a sensibility missing in today’s blockbusters. His talent for making character-driven movies made Ghostbusters: Afterlife better than it should have been. With big-budget movies dominated by Marvel and Fast and the Furious entries, it’s refreshing to get one where you actually care about the characters and view them as real people, even if everything around them is fantastical.

The first blockbuster, Jaws, is a thrilling adventure, but one of the most interesting things about it is watching the characters go through the story’s trauma. Even Roland Emmerich created relatable characters for Independence Day that the audience could care about. Before CGI got so good (and honestly less expensive), filmmakers had to rely on other things to hook an audience, and big blockbusters used to be much better written. If you look at Jurassic Park vs Jurassic World, the difference in quality is vast. Jurassic Park actually has a 10-minute scene where the characters debate the ethics and morals of bringing dinosaurs back to life. The main character, Alan Grant, has a great arc in that in the first act he makes clear that he doesn’t want kids, yet he’s forced to “evolve” and be a caretaker for Hammond’s grandchildren when they’re lost in the park together. Jurassic World has no such character moments or arcs, and the real star of the movie is the excellent CGI dinosaur creations.

This is because filmmakers know now that audiences come for the special effects, so that’s what they focus on instead of the true craft of cinema. With great cinematography and production design, Ghostbusters: Afterlife looks like great care and attention went into making it – the same care that goes into smaller films where storytelling is paramount.

All Marvel movies today look and feel the same, as if they came off an assembly line and the decision where to put the camera is a manufacturing decision as opposed to an artistic one.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife doesn’t even seem like a comedy at certain points. It feels like a family drama with comedic moments sprinkled in. In that way, it reminded me of the original Men In Black, which had a comedic tone, but played its sci-fi elements seriously and, like Jaws, relied heavily on the strength of its characters.

The original Ghostbusters was silly, but it wasn’t an all-out farce like the 2016 reboot. There was a nice balance of serious and silly moments, but in the era of sub-par and expensive special effects, it is more a showcase for its compelling characters and quality screenwriting. Watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife, it doesn’t feel like Reitman is making a movie meant to fulfill the needs of the audience or to set up a cinematic universe (though it does set up a sequel). It just feels like a story he wanted to tell that he felt was right.

While the ending may draw controversy for some “CGI trickery” that I won’t spoil here, it also won’t leave a dry eye in the house, and I can’t remember the last time I felt that emotionally involved with the characters in a big-budget blockbuster.

I truly hope that Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t the last time that story, characters, and craft are prioritized above special effects in a movie intended to be a blockbuster. Those three things haven’t been bringing people to the theater in recent years, but hopefully, with this film’s success, we’ll see more of such balance in the future.

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No, Ghostbusters 2016 Is Not Better Than Ghostbusters II

This week marks the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the true third installment in the Ghostbusters franchise. Fans have been waiting for the long-delayed third film, not just over the course of a pandemic, but really, since 1989.

Original star and writer Dan Aykroyd had tried for years to make a true Ghostbusters sequel. Stories were developed that featured the original cast, as well as some that had new casts of characters that had been trained by the old guard. Unfortunately, a major roadblock was Bill Murray, and his disinterest in returning (apparently he said he would only return if he was a ghost).

Over the course of the 90’s and early 2000’s, many proposed Ghostbusters movies were announced, but failed to ever get off the ground. Sadly, Harold Ramis’ passing in 2014 put the kibosh on the original crew ever returning together again. So, instead, the 2016 reboot with an all-female cast was greenlit. The film goes by many titles – the opening proclaims it as just Ghostbusters, while the end credits and Blu-Ray/DVD covers refer to it as Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. From here on out, it will be referred to as Ghostbusters 2016.

Fans maligned the film and it did mediocre box-office, but recently, there has been a growing trend amongst viewers to compare it favorably to Ghostbusters II. I’m here to say that as disappointing a movie Ghostbusters II is to some, it’s of course better than Ghostbusters 2016!

The first Ghostbusters is such a perfect movie. It’s a beautiful blend of comedy and sci-fi and it really feels like a movie about best friends, made by best friends. Ghostbusters utilized each of its performer’s comedic strengths and didn’t shy away from getting a little dark when it could easily be very silly. Despite the fact that 3 out of the 4 Ghostbusters are scientists, it feels like a blue-collar film. They curse, smoke, and work hard doing a dirty job, and despite the fact that the movie is a comedy, it respects its macabre subject matter and takes its scare scenes very seriously.

Ghostbusters II was inevitable, but it took too long to get made. In between movies, the children’s cartoon show The Real Ghostbusters became popular so the more family friendly Ghostbusters II feels more like an adaptation of the cartoon show rather than a sequel to the first.

The biggest problem with the sequel is that it repeats the beats of the first film almost exactly. The film features montages of them catching ghosts, as well as a period where no one believes them, then they get bullied by a bureaucrat, and finally conjure up a giant figure in the third act. To so clearly parrot the formula of the original is unforgivable from a storytelling perspective, yet there is so much good stuff in Ghostbusters II that it’s impossible to call it a bad movie.

Rick Moranis’ expanded role as Louis Tully is comic gold, and the courtroom scene is one of the best scenes in either film. Peter MacNichol’s Yanoush steals every scene that he’s in, and the film doesn’t avoid menace. For a comedy, there are actually a few geniunely scary moments, such as when Dana’s bathtub tries to eat her, and when the gang finds themselves in the subway surrounded by decapitated heads on pikes. It’s hard not to love these characters, and they’ve become iconic for a reason — something the film proves. Ghostbusters II may not be a great movie but it’s, without question, an entertaining movie. 

And that brings me to Ghostbusters 2016, a film mired in controversy due to its decision to feature an all-female cast. Despite all that, the problems with the movie have nothing to do with the cast’s genders. The entire cast is talented and funny, but the movie’s problems are ultimately with the writing and directing.

Director Paul Feig brings a style of humor to the movie that’s different than the first two, and because of it, there are no stakes. Unlike the original which created a real world with fantastical things happening, Ghostbusters 2016 exists in an unbelievable world. And the unbelievable happening in an unbelievable world isn’t all that interesting. The original Ghostbusters films had humor coming from the main cast while the rest of the movie’s world was serious. However, Ghostbusters 2016 has funny characters in a funny world where all of its inhabitants are idiots who crack jokes, riff endlessly, and are just plain stupid.

The other big thing about Ghostbusters 2016 is the setting. Despite being set in New York City like the originals, it was mostly filmed in Boston and never feels like a New York movie.

Ghostbusters is one of the best NYC movies ever made, and 1980’s NYC seeps from the pores of every shot of the first two movies. The hard and grimy NYC setting matches the fact that these are really working class guys doing amazing things.

Also, the writing of the original film’s characters were spot on, with each one having a specific personality trait and finding the humor in that. The four women all have the same personality traits as the originals do, yet they all can’t seem to stop riffing as if the entire movie was one big improv sketch.

And why does the only non-scientist character have to be black again? And speaking of science, one of the better aspects of the original films was that it really took the ghost science seriously, to the point where the conflicts had to do with the struggle of trying to trap ghosts. Ghostbusters 2016 forgets the science of the supernatural and its finale is a CGI-filled spectacle of the characters just zapping ghosts in cool ways, which just isn’t as interesting as the jeopardy featured in the original.

While Ghostbusters II may not be as good as the first one, it still features an amazing and iconic cast firing on all cylinders. Despite its faults, it will never be worse than Ghostbusters 2016, or whatever it’s called. Did I mention the dancing? Why is there so much dancing in that movie?

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Sleepy Hollow at 22: Tim Burton’s Last Good Movie

At one time, Tim Burton was one of Hollywood’s hottest new directors, bringing dark visions to commercial films and creating beautifully gothic fairy tales and superhero epics. However, while he was one of the most sought-after directors in the late 1980s and throughout the 90s, Burton, once a unique visionary, has drifted far from the shore.

After achieving massive success with his first several films, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Batman, Burton created his most personal film, and, what some call his masterpiece, Edward Scissorhands. It was a type of film that no one had seen before. It creatively juxtaposed dark gothic worlds with modern suburbia and featured a unique and outcasted protagonist.

He followed that up with his other masterpiece, Ed Wood, which featured Johnny Depp as the infamous B-movie director. Following creative and critical success, Burton went more comical with Mars Attacks, a clever send-up of the type of B-movies he profiled in Ed Wood. The film was not well received despite its star-studded cast, but remains an underrated gem.

Burton would then sign on to direct Superman Lives, starring Nicholas Cage as the Man Of Steel, however, infamously, the project never got off the ground. Following this disappointment, Burton took on Sleepy Hollow instead, which fit more in his wheelhouse and would perhaps be his final good film.

Scripted by Seven’s Andrew Kevin Walker, Sleepy Hollow was a modest hit when it opened in November 1999. The film is a reimagining of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, updated to be a murder mystery with Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane now a detective instead of a school teacher. Sleepy Hollow concerns Constable Ichabod Crane sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of decapitations the local God-fearing townsfolk believe to be the work of the legendary Headless Horseman.

Burton made the film as an homage to the great Hammer horror films, and even features a cameo by Christopher Lee.

Aside from Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow remains Burton’s most visually stunning film. Lensed by master cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, who hadn’t yet made a name for himself in America at the time (his three consecutive Oscars would come many years later), the film is a gothically photographed nightmare where the sun never shines and seemingly every shot is blanketed in fog.

In post-production, the film even went through a process called “bleach bypass,” which saturates the image, takes the life out of it, and makes every human character pale as a ghost (to see how the film was initially shot, watch the original trailer to see more color in the actor’s faces).

Besides the image, the design of the film is horrific, from the twisted trees to liberally applied thick, dark red blood. Even composer Danny Elfman’s score is a career-best, as with the music he provides as much atmosphere to the movie as the cinematography does, crafting haunting and terrifying melodies that are almost a character in themselves.

There is so much to love in Sleepy Hollow, from Christopher Walken’s horrifying and monstrous cameo as the horseman to the incredible practical effects, such as when the Headless Horseman on horseback leaps out from underneath the “Tree of Death” which, like many frames in the film, could be its own gothic painting.

While the film does have some weaknesses like Christina Ricci’s lifeless line readings, Crane’s backstory that ultimately goes nowhere, and the fact that the horseman is being controlled instead of acting on his own, Sleepy Hollow remains an endlessly watchable film that’s both thrilling and, at times, darkly haunting – this was Burton’s first R-rated film.

Sleepy Hollow harkens back to a time when Burton was truly putting his offbeat touch on commercial films. Nowadays, Burton’s style has been copied so much that his more recent films have felt as if they were Burton knockoffs.

After Sleepy Hollow, Burton directed the poorly conceived Planet Of The Apes remake, and followed that up with the crowd-pleasing Big Fish. Audiences enjoyed Big Fish but, while it has a lot going for it, it’s Burton’s inability to adequately do sentimentality that holds it back from being a truly great film.

More Burton disappointments in the years that followed would be Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, and the disastrous Dark Shadows. His most recent output was Dumbo, which bombed, and he currently has no movies in development.

His next project is directing a Netflix original series centered around Wednesday Addams of The Addams Family, which is ironic as the original Addams Family film is clearly a Tim Burton knockoff, and he’s actually been considered for years to direct an adaptation of the classic TV series. While this project is perfect for Burton’s sensibilities, it would be better if he focused on creating new original works like Edward Scissorhands instead of putting his stamp on projects that already fit his style.

It is unfortunate that someone so talented and starkly unique hasn’t been able to deliver something new and exciting in his own brand. Despite his acclaim, Burton has always been criticized for being style over substance, however, it’s movies like Sleepy Hollow that prove that sometimes that’s all you need to make an entertaining film.

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Not Much Enthusiasm For This ‘Curb’ Season Opener

It’s hard to believe that Curb Your Enthusiasm has been around for over twenty years. What’s especially great about its endurance is the fact that it feels like vestiges of a type of humor that isn’t done anymore. The comedy is blunt, irreverent, and even politically incorrect at times, which many shows and movies tend to shy away from these days. 

Having said that, Curb hasn’t been that good for a while. In fact, some might say the show peaked around the third or fourth season – back in 2004. While Curb hasn’t been as good as when it was this new risky HBO show, it still feels like that great comfort food audiences need. With Seinfeld still popular all around the world in reruns, Curb feels like it’s the closest thing to new episodes of that classic show, so while it may not be as good as before, viewers will probably always come back to see what new trouble Larry gets himself into.

Every Curb season has an arc that begins with a setup that will be tracked throughout the season, where it will finally get wrapped up in the season finale. Unlike the previous season opener where Larry uses a MAGA hat hilariously to his advantage, this season’s opener is pretty weak. It appears the arc of this season involves Larry producing a show based on his younger days called “Young Larry,” while trying to avoid responsibility for the death of what appears to be a burglar who broke into his home.

David finds himself extorted and forced to miscast a non-actor for a role in his new show. What’s interesting about this plot is that when he’s in the Netflix meeting to pitch the show, he’s surrounded by a very diverse cast of executives. Viewers will notice the network executives look different than what we’re used to, one is a young black male, a leg-less black woman in a wheelchair, and a non-gender-conforming female. I was expecting Larry to have out-of-touch conflicts with these characters, but he doesn’t. I wonder if this will come back, or if these casting decisions were made to make the show more diverse. The latter would be fine, as it does reflect the current Hollywood, but in previous years, this would be an obvious set-up for Larry’s anti-PC conflicts.

The other main plot of the season opener was Larry attending actor Albert Brooks’ funeral despite the fact that he’s not dead. The idea of someone planning their funeral while they’re alive seems like a situation rife with comedic potential for the usually socially explosive David, but it didn’t seem fully used to its advantage here.

However, Albert Brooks is a comedy legend and is a welcome inclusion to Curb. Interestingly, Brooks is the brother of the late Bob Einstein (Brooks’ real name is Albert Einstein) who played fan-favorite Marty Funkhouser for years on the show. Unfortunately, Brooks isn’t really given any funny material, and doesn’t even seem too thrilled to be on the show. Perhaps since Brooks is such a good writer, he doesn’t feel comfortable with the show’s improv nature. Even though I wasn’t thrilled with him in this episode, I do hope he returns. 

One of the show’s most interesting choices was to set this in a post-pandemic world. The episode has a running joke about “Covid Hoarders” who hoarded such things a Purell during the pandemic. So, in this world, the pandemic is already over and no one wears masks anymore. I sure wish we could speed up to that point in real life as we do in the show.

When I read Curb was going into production on another season during the pandemic, I wondered if it would be set during it, as a pandemic seems like the natural enemy of a germaphobe like Larry, and seeing him forced into quarantine and having to face all the changes we encountered in 2020 might have been funny. However, I could understand where trying to make humor out of such a tragic situation might be in poor taste, and so it’s probably for the best that the show swept the current situation under the rug.

Overall, it was one of Curb’s weaker, less funny openers. While still funny at times, the series hasn’t been consistently funny in years, and Larry’s character has seems to have changed from being the frustrated guy reacting to crazy people to being one himself. The show once tried to find the ridiculous in realistic situations, and it was even initially filmed documentary-style. However, the show is more cinematic now, which, stylistically, seems to match the unreality of many of the episodes’ premises. But does that mean I won’t continue watching the new season? Nope. Even though this Curb may not be as good as it once was, it’s better than no Larry David in your life at all.

Fun Fact: If you’re wondering the significance of why the show randomly ends with Larry and Albert watching an orchestra play the Curb theme song, it’s because it was composed by the conductor leading the orchestra – Luciano Michelini.

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My Trip To The New Academy Museum

Recently, I got to check out the new Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Believe it or not, it’s the first museum dedicated to movies in Hollywood (the closest type of museum like this in the USA is the Museum Of The Moving Image on the completely opposite coast – Astoria, Queens) and it, largely, did not disappoint.

How an item gets included in the museum is a bit unclear since the main theme of the museum seems to be the Oscars, yet there were several artifacts from films such as Midsommar, Dolemite Is my Name, and The Big Lebowski, which never received any Oscars. However, it was still cool to see them included. The museum begins with the first exhibit, “Stories Of Cinema” which the museum describes as “an immersive, multi-channel media installation” that chronicles the history of film. However, it was basically just a montage of movie clips throughout history with the sound jumping from one screen to the next. In a museum dedicated to film, I’d prefer to see what I haven’t seen or what I haven’t seen up close, instead of an entire exhibit dedicated to why I’m here in the first place.

However, the next exhibit is where the museum really shines, which is a collection of props, equipment, costumes, and more from some of your favorite movies. A cool artifact is one of the surviving Rosebud sleds from Citizen Kane on loan from Steven Spielberg as well as the original ruby slippers from The Wizard Of Oz. One of my favorite exhibits was the Spike Lee room which featured props from his movies, Mookie’s shirt from Do The Right Thing, and even movie posters signed to him by other directors. The museum is big on equity and spotlighting underrepresented groups in films and a fascinating exhibit is on Oscar Micheaux, an African American director who made more than 44 films in the early 1900s using all-black casts – something unheard at the time, since all Hollywood movies were made up of white casts with black actors only playing maids and servants. Personally, I didn’t know that such films were made and would love to see Spike Lee or another black filmmaker take on his life story for a movie one day.

My only problem with the museum was the so-called “Oscar Experience.” For an extra fifteen dollars, guests can simulate what it’s like to win an Oscar, and it’s all recorded and edited into a video that’s immediately sent to them. Sounds pretty cool, right? As I walked through the museum I heard guests remarking that they had heard it wasn’t that great. I later discovered they were right. First, I was unable to remove my mask for the video, which kind of devalued the experience. I was confused as to why because you needed to be vaccinated to enter the museum and you’re alone in the room in which they record. However, I wasn’t going to argue with them and, ultimately, knew they’re just trying to make everybody safe. Second, the experience itself and the resulting video were underwhelming. All you do is hold an Oscar in front of a screen playing a clip of people applauding for you. And the video they send you is a mere 14 seconds. The experience is an interesting concept as everyone dreams of winning an Oscar, but it doesn’t seem to be thought out entirely.

It’s hard not to love a museum dedicated to film. Being a huge movie fan, it’s easy to gaggle at all the wonderful props. Hell, I got excited just seeing the lenses that shot Citizen Kane. There should be more museums dedicated to film because these pieces are a part of history. They may not be important artifacts like what we find in the Natural History Museum, but they are cultural artifacts that should be shared. It may not be the first fork but movie props do mean something to people and we should be given more access to them. I hope that as years go on the exhibits change and more material from films are shared with fans and respected for the historical pieces that they are. It’s strange it took this long for a movie museum like this to open in Los Angeles, a town built on the film industry, but I’m glad one exists to celebrate the great moving miracle known as film.

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‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ is the Horrible Mess That May Have Saved Hollywood

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the follow-up to the 2018 hit film Venom, which was based on the famous Spider-Man villain. The first Venom wasn’t very good, and the sequel has many of the same problems and more. Like its predecessor, the movie hasn’t been received well by critics, but it made a ton of money in its opening weekend. This is a good thing. Theaters have needed a hit like Venom and as much as I hated it, I’m so glad it was a hit because frankly, cinema in general, needed it.

The past year has been rough on movie-going fans like me. Many cinemas were shut down for months last year and, unfortunately, many closed for good. I myself crossed state lines to be able to see Tenet. The idea of a darkened theater, surrounded by people, all having a shared experience is one of the things COVID destroyed. Since movie theaters have generally re-opened and studios have begun releasing movies again, it’s been slow at the box office. Many of the movies that had a planned theatrical release went straight to streaming last year, with more on the way. However, Venom’s $90 million opening shows that people still want to see movies in a theater and will go to a theater despite a pandemic. So, how did we get here? The idea of people not wanting to go to movies seems like that would never happen but, unfortunately, it’s been heading this way for a while. The pandemic just accelerated it.

Since the dawn of home media, movie watchers have enjoyed viewing movies in the comfort of their own homes. Along came HBO, and high-quality TV movies started to get produced. However, Hollywood was doing itself no favors. As home video, and later DVDs, were becoming popular, movie tickets were getting more expensive, so the cost of a family of four going to the movies (plus popcorn, candy, and soda) became astronomical. Audiences weren’t going to see Sinatra live. They were seeing the newest Adam Sandler movie in a sticky and butter scented theater.

After becoming prominent, streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon began producing their own content. This came at a time when Hollywood was making less risky content to ensure big box-office and really bank on those rising ticket prices. In doing so, mid-budget movies were not being produced, and nowadays studios make very few original mid-budget films. Many movies today are based on familiar properties like books, comic books, and true stories, with budgets ranging from very low to very high.

However, streaming sites make the kinds of movies that studios used to for theatrical release, and people watch them there because audiences would rather pay one price for a swath of risky content rather than pay one price for one. Because of this, we see more sequels and superhero movies released to theaters instead of original and potentially risky material. I don’t think any movie known as a classic was ever considered a “sure thing.” Prior to the pandemic, movie theaters were seeing record highs but the truth is that the average person only goes to the movies twice a year. If movie theaters are only banking on these big event movies, they’re in trouble. 

But back to Venom.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a 90-minute cash grab that barely has a plot. It’s too bad because Tom Hardy is a great actor, but his performance as Venom sounds like a drunk Bane and the relationship between him and Eddie Brock is cutesy and annoying when it should actually be kind of scary.

The film doesn’t contain any stakes at all (I reread the plot synopsis when I got home – nope – none), and it really feels like it was made because they knew by having fan favorites Venom and Carnage in one movie, it would make money, and despite a pandemic – it did. What’s sad is there are many truly people behind the film. Andy Serkis directed it, and one of the world’s greatest cinematographers, Robert Richardson, shot it (though it’s clearly his worst photographed film).

Not a scene of this film has any artistic value, and it feels like it was only made to showcase live-action Venom and Carnage, with a weak plot shoehorned in. Is this where we’ve gotten with film – these are the movies that need to be made to get people to come to movie theaters? In 2021, Venom is what you have to see if you want to go to the cathedral of world’s greatest artform. But honestly, why would anyone love two ugly CGI characters who look basically the same fighting? It’s mind-boggling. But you can’t argue with a $90 million weekend.

As mentioned, as much as I hated Venom, I’m glad it was a hit. We need to keep movie theaters open. Despite what people may feel (too expensive, have to drive there, have to get a babysitter, have to sit with other people) there is nothing like seeing a movie in a theater and experiencing a filmmaker beam their art into you, instead of watching it at home where distractions galore can take you away from the experience.

If movies like Venom keep movie theaters open — so be it, because if they’re open, that means there is a chance a great original movie will slip through the cracks and make its way to the big screen — where it’s meant to be seen.

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Every Halloween II (and 5 Other Direct Slasher Sequels), Ranked

Ah, the slasher genre. Perhaps one of the most ingenious movie formulas ever perfected. Slashers are a great film genre because they’re usually very cheaply made and followed by ardent fans who’ll watch them no matter the cast or budget, in hopes, it will give them a good scare. And because they’re so cheap and popular, they’re produced to be never-ending, with multiple sequels churned out as long as they make money. 

I don’t think there’s ever been a producer who felt “Michael Myers’ arc is done.” Nope, as long as these films are popular, there will always be more of them. With the release of the sequel Halloween Kills, it’s time to look back at all the films known as Halloween II as well as some other slasher movies that got another “stab” at the big screen.

8. Halloween II ( 2009)

Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is the second direct sequel to a movie called Halloween and it actually wouldn’t be the last. Zombie’s Halloween remake was a combination prequel and remake that explored more of the Myers/Strode sibling lore and was pretty well received by audiences for his unique take and visual style.

Zombie was brought back for a sequel that continued his style of constant X-rated violence and language throughout (not a frame of this film isn’t unadulterated). This time, Michael returns (with long hair), and he and Laurie experience visions of their mother and a “white horse.” This truly bizarre sequel did not fare as well as the first and a planned third entry was scrapped.

7. Friday The 13th Part 2

Serial killer Jason Voorhees is synonymous with the Friday The 13th series.However, people often forget that he wasn’t the actual killer in the original film — it was his mother. Jason didn’t follow in his mother’s footsteps until the sequel, and he’s been the star of the franchise ever since.

This sequel is a straight-up retread of the first film with Jason terrorizing camp counselors at Crystal Lake, only this time, in place of his mother. However, the character of Jason was still evolving as his first outing as the main killer featured him with a burlap sack around his head instead of his iconic hockey mask, which wouldn’t come into play until the next entry in the franchise, Friday The 13th Part III.

6. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer

Bolstered by Scream’s slasher movie revival success, I Know What You Did Last Summer took a teen novel by Lois Lowery and turned it into box office gold. The film concerns four friends whose past comes back to haunt them when a killer fisherman stalks them a year after they were all involved in a hit and run. The film was a hit among fans of the genre so naturally, a sequel was put into production with returning star, Jennifer Love Hewitt as Julie.

The first film ended with the killer, Ben Willis, attacking Julie in the shower, which we come to find out was only a dream. After winning a radio contest (with the wrong answer) Julie and her friends are given a vacation on a conveniently empty tropical island in the middle of a storm. However, Ben Willis still knows what she did last summer (err, two summers ago) and follows her to the island to finish her off.

It’s a pretty boilerplate sequel that uses the same beats but this time with a tropical locale. The dialogue isn’t a sharp as the Kevin Williamson-scripted original (the trailer lists Syriana’s Stephen Gaghan as a writer yet his credit is missing from the film) and seems to have been only made for the gratuitous shots of Hewitt in a bikini. Like the first film, this entry also ends on a cliffhanger that is never resolved in further films. Not even in the direct-to-video third entry, which has a new cast and storyline.

5. Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

After the success of A Nightmare On Elm Street, a sequel was quickly commissioned, however, horror master Wes Craven decided to move on and direct the disastrous Deadly Friend instead. Producers proceeded without his involvement and the film centers around a new family who moves into the house previously inhabited by Nancy Thompson and, of course, Freddy returns.

Most critics felt the sequel paled in comparison to the original, however, in recent years it has been reassessed as a great subtextually gay horror movie — made during a time when homophobia was running rampant. However, that’s the most people talk about when it comes to this movie. Wes Craven would return to co-write the next Nightmare film subtitled The Dream Warriors, which is considered to be the best sequel in the franchise.

4. Halloween II (1981)

The original Halloween was a surprise hit and contained an open-ended finale with Michael Myers nowhere to be found after being shot 6 times by Dr. Loomis. Fans clamored for a sequel and they got it in the form of Halloween II, but without director John Carpenter at the helm.

The sequel takes place a mere hours later with action focused on Myers stalking Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode in a hospital with Dr. Loomis in hot pursuit. While not directing, Carpenter still wrote the film and admittedly ran out of ideas when he inserted the idea that Myers was Laurie’s brother — a decision he would later regret. Despite the movie ending conclusively with Myers burning up, he would return a few years later in Halloween 4 after the attempt to turn the franchise into an anthology with Halloween III failed. 

3. Psycho II

Many consider Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film Psycho to be the pre-cursor to the modern-day slasher film, with the genre coming into its own the following decade with Black Christmas and Halloween and then having its heyday in the 1980’s. So, what better film to revive during the slasher movie craze than the one that supposedly started it all – Psycho.

In the film, Norman Bates is released from prison after 30 years and returns to his former home and business. However, murders start happening and all fingers point to Norman as the culprit. The film is more nuanced than audiences might think as Norman isn’t really the killer, yet everyone in town wants/expects him to be. By making him not the killer, Psycho II subverts expectations and makes for a surprisingly worthy sequel to the original.

Interestingly, director Quentin Tarantino actually considers this film to be better than the original. Following the success of Psycho II, the series started to hew closer to the slasher films being produced around that time with Psycho III and the surprisingly good prequel Psycho IV: The Beginning.

2. Scream 2

Following the massive success of Scream, which revived the slasher genre and gave it a 90’s twist, a sequel was quickly put into development. The film saw the return of the main cast and director Wes Craven. Continuing on the meta-narrative of the first film, Scream 2 has new killers attempting to make a real-life sequel to the first film’s events.

While Scream 2 may not be as innovative as the first film, everything about it is high quality, making slasher movie sequels from the 80’s pale in comparison. The acting is great, the dialogue is sharp and the scares are terrific as well. Scream 2 is the rare high-quality slasher sequel that doesn’t feel like a cash grab.

One of the best scenes in the entire franchise is when the Ghostface killer commandeers a cop car which he then proceeds to crash and Sydney and her friend must climb over the unconscious killer’s body to get out of the car. Scream 2 ultimately led to Scream 3 which is also not a bad movie at all, in fact, the Scream franchise is the rare slasher movie series where all the films have been very high quality for a typically low-quality and thrown together genre.

1. Halloween (2018)

The Halloween series has an interesting timeline. After the original Halloween, the franchise has four different sequel timelines. There’s Halloween II, then 4, 5, 6 – the latter three sequels focusing on Laurie’s daughter Jamie Lloyd and the rune cult (Halloween III is a completely separate film). Then there are the sequels that skip this part of the franchise and go Halloween II, the underrated H20, and Resurrection (with Busta “trick or treat motherf-cker” Rhymes). Then there is the separate Rob Zombie Halloween I & II remake series. And, finally, there is the recent franchise that skips the original Halloween II and jumps from John Carpenter’s 1978 original to 2018’s Halloween, which is also called Halloween. The Halloween franchise can literally be used as a “choose your own adventure” movie series, and each part of this huge franchise has its own devoted fans.

The idea behind skipping the original Halloween II is to negate the fact that Michael Myers is Laurie Strode’s brother – something never hinted at in the original and regretfully injected into H2 by Carpenter. This idea has been such a huge part of the franchise that having a Jamie Lee Curtis-starring Halloween movie without them as siblings feels a bit strange. However, Halloween 2018 is in a class of its own and is easily the best sequel in the franchise, and probably the best sequel to any slasher film ever.

The film picks up 40 years after the original. Michael escapes and goes after Laurie Strode who has become somewhat of a survivalist after the trauma inflicted on her from the first film. Taking a different route, Halloween 2018 is about rising above trauma and abuse, and stands above all other generic slasher sequels. This is the true Halloween II. It’s scary, funny, and contains true value and meaning. This new version of the sequel timeline is followed by Halloween Kills and next year’s Halloween Ends. So, those are the real Halloween 3 and 4, right?

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