The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2016

List by Derrick Carter

2016 has been a crazy year both on film and in real life. I’ve reviewed just under 200 movies in the course of the last twelve months and for the most part, have fared pretty well in catching cool new flicks as well as crossing many revered classics off my cinephile “shame list.” As a result, my focus in 2016 wasn’t necessarily on catching every new film that graced the big screen and I instead went off whatever the hell I felt like watching/reviewing. Though I didn’t get as many reviews up during 2016 as I have in previous years (for a myriad of reasons), I do feel that For the Love of Celluloid sort of matured over the past twelve months and deeply appreciate the support of anyone who bothers to read my little movie blog.

Apologies if I briefly bore you with a technicality, but my year-end lists will now focus on first time watches in the course of the year and not specifically releases from the year. Without further ado, here are my fifteen favorite first time watches from 2016…

Honorable Mentions: If I hadn’t previously seen RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE SHINING, and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE before 2016, then they all would have easily made this list. ANTHROPOID, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, ZOOTOPIA, SAUSAGE PARTY, THE NICE GUYS, THE HANDMAIDEN and TRAIN TO BUSAN were all stand-out movies in this rather mixed bag cinematic year. SPIRITED AWAY, UNITED 93, and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY also barely scraped by in missing this list. So, what did make the list?…

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15. LADY SNOWBLOOD: Before getting into how much I love this movie, this film deserves some context. A local cinema pub runs monthly Kung Fu Movie Nights here and a buddy of mine occasionally drags me to them. I’m not a big martial arts aficionado and most of the movies I’ve seen at this pub have been entertaining and undeniably stupid. However, LADY SNOWBLOOD blew me out of the water. This was more than just a martial arts flick being shown in a cinema pub, but rather a beautiful, bloody revenge tale that carefully unwound its plot and sold its bad-ass heroine as someone to root for as she sliced and diced her way to vengeance. Featuring geysers of blood, gorgeous visuals, and a calculated delivery of fun, LADY SNOWBLOOD may likely go down as my favorite martial arts flick of all-time!

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14. THE INVITATION: Easily the best horror film that I saw this year, THE INVITATION is brilliant in planting the viewer on the edge of their seat for 100 minutes. The premise is simple. A man goes to a suspiciously casual dinner party held by his ex-wife. Through the course of seemingly mundane actions and a possibly paranoid protagonist, we are taken on a tense ride of two terrifying possibilities. This film does a fantastic job of keeping the viewer flip-flopping on their stance and trying to figure out the dark mystery behind the plot, which fully unleashes itself in a truly frightening third act. Don’t watch the trailer. Don’t read any long plot synopsis. If you want to be scared and appreciate a classy Hitchcockian sense of unease, then definitely go into this film as blind as possible!

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13. DREDD: When DREDD came out in 2012, I quickly wrote it off as a RAID rip-off in spite of the comic book source material. Having finally watched the film four years later, I realize just how wrong I was. Though it may resemble THE RAID on the surface, DREDD could not be any more different. This ultraviolent, highly entertaining and fully loaded sci-fi action extravaganza had me laughing and cheering from start to finish. The film doesn’t present its action in a gritty, heavily edited, shaky-cam style as attention to detail and beautiful lenses have been used to portray the gory chaos. I really hope that DREDD 2 eventually becomes a reality, because this needs to be a franchise!

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12. DOCTOR STRANGE: The Marvel Cinematic Universe has now been running for nine years and fourteen films. Though none of its installments have failed to entertain me (some far more than others), I wouldn’t call any of them perfect entertainment…until now. Telling the most inventive origin story thus far in the Marvel universe and simultaneously functioning as a mystical adventure, DOCTOR STRANGE is easily the best MCU movie yet! The acting is stellar, making the main character’s transformation from selfish jerk to courageous hero all the better as a result. The effects are mindblowing (not to sound cliché) and deliver some of the most memorable sequences to hit the big screen in quite some time. It’s like a magical acid trip had a baby with a superhero movie and I loved every second of it!

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11. THE BREAKFAST CLUB: Yes, I know. I hadn’t seen this movie before and was only pressured into watching it by a co-worker who kept bugging me about it. After finally caving in, I discovered why this John Hughes classic has so many fans and is widely considered to be one of the best films to come out of the 80’s. Revolving around five fleshed-out characters and skewing teenage clique stereotypes (that still exist to this day), THE BREAKFAST CLUB is equally funny as it is insightful. The film is a perfect balance of comedy and drama, resulting in an emotionally involving and beautiful story about how people are alike in spite of their differences. Maybe, in a world that’s so divided by differences and labels, we should all just kick back, watch this movie and remember that we can get along. I’ll never forget about this movie. Get it? That’s a reference to the song that plays during the end credits. Whatever, let’s move on…

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10. THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY: Yes, I know this is technically a miniseries, but you know what? This is my list and I don’t care. THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON is better than damn near every true-crime film I’ve seen in my lifetime. Featuring a bevy of great acting talent and more than guaranteed to push a few buttons on every viewer, this 10-part miniseries stays true to the facts and relives the “trial of the century” in painstaking detail. I was addicted to this show when it aired earlier this year and have since binge-watched it as a complete cinematic experience. When paired with ESPN’s excellent five-part documentary O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA, there isn’t much left to be examined about the O.J. Simpson case. If you are the least bit intrigued by true crime, then PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON is a must-see!

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9. DEADPOOL: Though this year had more than its fair share of disappointing superhero flicks, 2016 still managed to deliver two spectacular comic book movies. I loved DOCTOR STRANGE, but DEADPOOL might just be one of my favorite superhero movies of all-time (next to the DARK KNIGHT trilogy). This rowdy X-MEN spinoff did everything in its power to be entertaining as hell and milked the R rating for everything it was worth. Because of DEADPOOL’s massive success as an R-rated money-maker, I truly hope that more studios will realize older audiences will pay to see great R-rated movies on the big screen too. Not everything needs to be accessible to younger viewers and every demographic, DEADPOOL was refreshingly bonkers and the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD!

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8. ON THE WATERFRONT: Another title that I crossed off my shame list this year, ON THE WATERFRONT never seemed that appealing to me. Sure, I had seen Marlon Brando’s contender speech out of context and heard the basic premise, but none of it sounded particularly special. This movie isn’t about a corrupt union and poorly-treated dock workers though, instead it’s a story about broken souls and a long walk to redemption. Marlon Brando’s performance is breathtaking as he disappears into the role of a tough guy with a soft heart. This film progresses naturally and doesn’t cheat out on its dangerous stakes, resulting in some very tense moments. The final minutes are unbelievably emotional as a simple dockside walk becomes a test of willpower and ultimately sums up the entire film. ON THE WATERFRONT is an emotional, brilliantly acted, and spectacularly written piece of art that deeply moved me!

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7. ANIMAL HOUSE: Here’s another movie I crossed off my shame list during 2016. I had never seen ANIMAL HOUSE before, though I was well aware of its reputation. No hyperbole, this film changed the face of movie comedies and opened the door for crass humor to hit the big screen in gross-out fashion. This movie has plenty of hilarious scenes and quotes, but taken within the film’s context, they become ten times funnier. The dark sense of humor in areas had me cackling while the many sex jokes easily contributed to the likes of AMERICAN PIE and SUPERBAD further down the line. Also, John Belushi was a comedic tour-de-force to be reckoned with. With jokes about sex, death, horses, chainsaws, beer, racial differences, impressions of zits, and much more, ANIMAL HOUSE truly is one of the greatest and wildest comedies of all-time!

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6. TRAINING DAY: Though it was released fifteen years ago, TRAINING DAY still seems frighteningly relevant in today’s world. Showcasing a dark underbelly of corrupt cops and street gangs, this film takes place in the space of 24 hours and sunk its hooks into me from start to finish. Ethan Hawke is a naïve protagonist (that’s kind of the point of the story) and we are forced to follow in his footsteps as he stands alongside one of my new favorite cinematic villains. Denzel Washington’s character is a beast and delivers one of the greatest movie monologues (for my money) of all-time in Detective Alonzo Harris’s street-side closing speech. Grim, gritty, and suspenseful the whole way through, TRAINING DAY is one of my new favorite movies!

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5. ARRIVAL: A beautifully crafted and mature piece of science fiction, ARRIVAL’s true brilliance didn’t fully hit me until the closing credits began to roll. This film takes the alien invaders trope and spins in a mature, realistic direction. Though this has already been done in films like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and CONTACT, I guarantee that it hasn’t been executed in the complex and thought-provoking manner that ARRIVAL delivers. Seemingly innocuous scenes take on whole new meanings when you realize the story’s true nature. The ending also guarantees that you won’t be able to watch this film in the same way upon a second viewing, much like Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE becomes a completely different movie once you’ve been wowed the first time around. ARRIVAL is a science fiction masterpiece and continues director Denis Villeneuve’s winning streak.

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4. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Despite stemming from a book that’s required in many classrooms and existing for decades as a beloved classic that’s cherished by countless film fans, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD somehow never made its way across my eyeballs before 2016. However, I now count it among the most emotional dramas that I’ve ever seen. This film tackles hard-hitting issues through the innocent eyes of a child in a coming-of-age tale crossed with a courtroom drama. Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch is outstanding and the rest of the cast put in stellar work as well. This profoundly powerful film deeply moved me and left me on the verge of tears with its beautiful conclusion. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a masterpiece!

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3. THE REVENANT: The film that finally won Leo an Academy Award, THE REVENANT is an amazing cinematic feat that was created by both madness and brilliance. Did Leo look like he just puked when biting into a buffalo liver? That’s because he did. Do these cast members look like they’re freezing their asses off? That’s because they are. Does it seem like these are real locations? That’s because the director shot in natural light and proceeded to put his cast and crew through a hellish outdoor shooting experience. Production accomplishments aside, THE REVENANT remains a riveting tale of revenge and survival in harsher than harsh circumstances. This film is a gritty, unforgiving, and awe-inspiring piece of cinematic art that has blown me away twice at this point and will continue to do so many times in the future. Also, this movie may have given me a fear of bears too.

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2. THE LOBSTER: The best love story I’ve seen all year belongs to a twisted dystopian dark comedy about a guy who’s forced to choose between finding a romantic partner or being turned into an animal. Sound weird? Oh boy, it is! Besides being strange all the way around, THE LOBSTER is also a wonderfully unique flick that’s equal parts charming and disturbing. This cinematic world felt like Terry Gilliam made a movie with David Lynch. The feelings this film gave me are almost impossible to properly describe as there really hasn’t been anything like it before. It’s a romance like no other and if you have a penchant for weird arthouse cinema, then I highly suggest that you watch THE LOBSTER at your earliest convenience…preferably with a significant other who’s also into awesome cinematic oddities.

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1. HIGH-RISE: So if you thought THE LOBSTER was an odd choice for this list, then brace yourself because I can see people flat-out hating my number-one pick. HIGH-RISE is one of the few movies to be adapted from the work of British science fiction author J.G. Ballard. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because David Cronenberg adapted his work into twisted romantic thriller CRASH. That’s the level we’re at here, folks. HIGH-RISE is a grim, darkly hilarious and disturbing tale about a high society that devolves into a bloody class war in the space of a forty-floor apartment building…and I absolutely friggin’ adored this film! I’ve watched it four times within the space of the year and plan on revisiting it many more times in the future. The stylish visuals, colorful characters, twisted story arcs, oddball humor mixed with darkly disturbing content, a suffocating atmosphere, and shocking social commentary blew me out of the water. I love this movie so much that I actually listened to the DVD commentary. It’s the first film to make me do that in years! Though it’s definitely not for everyone (see THE LOBSTER’s divisiveness and crank it up to 11), HIGH-RISE is my favorite movie of 2016 and makes me hope for more big screen adaptations of Ballard’s work.

2016 was a pretty insane year in a lot of different ways. Many movies disappointed me in the theater, but I still saw plenty of good and great films. I also crossed many titles of my cinephile “shame list,” though I still have many more to eventually get through. Here’s hoping for an even better 2017!

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 8 hours 19 minutes

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Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance, David Schwimmer, Nathan Lane, Kenneth Choi, Bruce Greenwood, Chris Bauer, Selma Blair & Steven Pasquale

AMERICAN CRIME STORY is the more mature true-crime cousin of FX’s AMERICAN HORROR STORY. This is a new anthology series wherein each season will examine a notorious American crime (hence the not so subtle title) and they picked a doozy for the first season: the O.J. Simpson murder trial. This “trial of the century” was a double-homicide case turned national sensation. A car chase interrupted the NBA playoffs, broadcasts of the trial resulted in a media circus, tabloids took sexist jabs at the main prosecutor, and racial tensions across the country became even more tense. The whole trial is a fascinating story and makes for equally fascinating television. If THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON is any indication of the quality in store for AMERICAN CRIME STORY’s future seasons, then this has just become one of my favorite TV shows!

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On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were brutally murdered. The key suspect in the case became football player/actor/Nicole’s abusive ex-husband O.J. Simpson. This was a black celebrity being tried for the murders two white people in Los Angeles, a city where the Rodney King riots had taken place two years earlier. State prosecutors seemed to have an open-and-shut case (with mountains of evidence against O.J.), but Simpson had a dream team of lawyers who weren’t afraid to divert attention away from the actual case at hand by any means necessary. The trial became less about the murders and more about media, elaborate conspiracy theories, racial tensions, police corruption, and celebrity status. You get to see this all play out in painstakingly detailed fashion.

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“I already know the ending of this trial,” you might say, “what could possibly be gained from watching this show?” I would respond by pointing out that THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON goes through every fascinating bit of the trial. We see the initial investigation, the forming of O.J.’s legal dream team, just how much the prosecution screwed up in presenting evidence, drama among jury members, the public’s reaction to the case, the race card being played time and time again, and the ultimately heartbreaking verdict. This miniseries keeps a level hand as to whether or not O.J. committed the crimes, even though it’s based on Jeffrey Tobin’s book THE RUN OF HIS LIFE (which works under assumption that O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole in cold blood). We are given evidence for the possibilities of O.J. being guilty as sin (something I believe), but also enough wiggle room for the assumption that he might not have committed the crimes (something that other people might believe). It was an undeniably difficult tightrope to walk, but AMERICAN CRIME STORY does it well.

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Besides going through the courtroom drama and murder proceedings, this show also holds up a mirror to mid-90’s America in order to explore ugly truths about racial tensions and media sensationalism. It’s scary how relevant this show is to our current times and how certain things still haven’t changed much. It’s not brought up to an over-the-top degree, but the Kardashian children occasionally pop in and their portrayal is less than glamorous (young fame-seeking whores). It’s an apt reminder that we’re still living in the country the O.J. Simpson trial created. Every time you see a Kardashian “news story,” you’re looking at a direct result of post-O.J. America.

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The media circus isn’t the only thing that PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON nails, because we get loads of scenes that examine racial tension. There is a particularly powerful scene wherein Johnny Cochrane is falsely pulled over and handcuffed in front of his children, but keeps his cool. This small moment demonstrates that the black populace were indeed being horribly mistreated in the streets of L.A. (again, Rodney King just a few years earlier). Other areas of the country were just as bad (if not, worse) and it’s understandable that a “win” was needed to feel justice. Unfortunately, that “win” had to come in the form of O.J. Simpson. More rock solid examinations of racial tension arrive in the jury episodes (near the end of the season) as we watch these people interact with each other and base assumptions solely on color of skin. It’s a touchy subject, but AMERICAN CRIME STORY covers it even-handedly and with a level-head.

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I’ve mentioned the historical content and deeper areas that O.J. SIMPSON covers, but have yet to mention the performances. To be blunt, they’re brilliant across the board. Sarah Paulson is sympathetic, but equally frustrating to watch as prosecutor Marcia Clark. Sterling K. Brown is great as Christopher Darden, a black face for hire in the prosecution’s eyes and a man who wants to convict a murderer in his own eyes. Kenneth Choi is a dead ringer for Judge Ito and actually managed to come off somewhat likable.

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As far as O.J.’s defensive dream team goes, John Travolta plays a diva in Robert Shapiro and Nathan Lane is perfectly slimy as F. Lee Bailey. David Schwimmer isn’t exactly known for his acting prowess, but he’s surprisingly fantastic as Robert Kardashian. His complete arc through the season offers one of the most quietly powerful scenes during the finale. He’s only outshined by Courtney B. Vance’s Johnnie Cochran. To me, there was no Courtney Vance in this series, it was just Cochran brought back from the dead! Vance is perfect! He captures the rage, determination, and underhanded ethics.

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Finally, there’s Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson. Though he might not bear an immediate resemblance to the titular criminal, Gooding Jr. captures the arrogance, mental instability, and anger present in the real-life O.J. It’s funny though, because Cuba Gooding Jr. isn’t exactly the focus of this series. He’s actually overshadowed by the legal teams duking it out among one another. O.J. doesn’t get to do much but sit in his chair and occasionally yell at his lawyers. After the first few episodes, Gooding Jr.’s screen time is significantly shortened, but that actually makes for a more interesting show as a result.

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Parts of THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON were definitely exaggerated for the sake of ratings (a bar scene between Christopher Darden and Marcia Clarke is clichéd, F. Lee Bailey has an enemy juror nicknamed “the demon,” etc.), but this show also sticks true to the facts on a lot of fronts. It’s unapologetically grim, harsh, and depressing…but also, extremely well-written, carefully detailed, driven by stellar performances, and packs many powerful (frighteningly relevant) punches. THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON is one of the best true-crime television miniseries to ever hit the small screen and I’d also argue that it’s better than most true-crime films too!

Grade: A+

MOUSE HUNT (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Language, Comic Sensuality and Mayhem

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Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Written by: Adam Rifkin

Starring: Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Vicki Lewis, Maury Chaykin, Camilla Soeberg, Debra Christofferson, Christopher Walken & William Hickey

MOUSE HUNT has the distinction of being the first-ever family film from DreamWorks. Despite being intended for kids as well as adults, the movie tries too hard to make things equally enjoyable for both age groups but in very different ways. Sometimes, the movie is a well-intentioned and genuinely funny romp that has a surprising level of sophistication around it. About an equal amount, the film turns into a live-action TOM & JERRY episode. Sadly, both approaches don’t blend together well or coherently. There are a decent amount of laughs in the well-intentioned parts of the movie that focus on a creative screenplay where everything doesn’t result in a pratfall.

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Lars and Ernie Smuntz are the two sons of a formerly rich proprietor of a string factory. Leaving not much of an inheritance to his sons (some knick-knacks, a rundown factory, and an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere), Lars and Ernie find their lives upended through two separate acts of fate. Things seem to be changing for the better when the brothers find out that their father’s countryside property is actually the legendary abandoned house of a famed architect that’s worth millions. Blinded by the possibility of a fortune, the Smuntz siblings embark on renovating the house. This process is made difficult and destructive by a mouse that’s smarter than your average rodent.

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MOUSE HUNT has an identity crisis between being a kids movie about a mouse outwitting two grown men or a raunchy comedy that happens to have a seemingly indestructible rodent as a plot device. The former doesn’t work quite as well as it wants to and the latter feels like it’s pushing the boundaries for what’s appropriate in a family flick. There are utterances of notable swear words that I’m sure parents don’t want their young ones picking up. Also there’s frank talk about sex and some risqué humor. One stand-out scene is a moment near the end that made me laugh hard, but didn’t fit at all within the boundaries of a PG-rated family flick. It’s like how CASPER (a film that came out a couple of years prior) threw in curse words for the sake of being edgy and was bound to irritate some parents. I almost always praise family entertainment that takes risks, but there’s also a certain level of content that should be avoided if you’re making a movie that’s specifically geared towards children and MOUSE HUNT rubbed me the wrong way in a few areas.

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The performances from the cast are well above the level of material they’ve ended up working with. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are a good comedic duo and it makes you wonder that if this film had been more well-received, they could have possibly have gone on starring in more family films together. At any rate, they both highlight different styles of comedy. Nathan Lane is Ernie and the more brash of the brothers. Lee Evans delivered more laughs as Lars, but came off as the goofy screw-up. The late William Hickey also makes his last film appearance as their father, seen in one flashback and appearing in a painting with multiple expressions. Christopher Walken also takes a brief cameo-length role that has a few chuckles, but ultimately winds up being entirely pointless. It literally felt like someone felt they should hire Walken for a day to be an exterminator and he’s in the film for about five minutes at the most.

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It may sound like I’m bad mouthing MOUSE HUNT quite a bit. It’s true that I don’t consider it to be a necessarily good movie and I found it a lot funnier when I was a kid watching this on the old-fashioned VCR, but there are still some solid laughs in the film. Ironically, the best scenes don’t involve the title animal at all. The opening is solid enough and showcases dark humor that may have pushed the envelope for kids material at the time. My favorite part is a three-minute bit with Lee Evans at the string factory that was filled with stellar slapstick. I had fun revisiting this movie, but I don’t think I’ll ever go out of my way to watch it again.

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MOUSE HUNT feels too episodic in moving from one set piece to another. It also can’t make up its mind about whether it wants to be for kids or adults. It doesn’t seem to have the level of talent down to please both demographics and it’s doubtful to completely satisfy anyone. There’s a fun pieces of slapstick here or there and some jokes are legitimately funny. The actors all do well in their roles, but the identity crisis and confusing tonal shifts of the film will throw many off completely liking it. Nostalgia be damned, MOUSE HUNT is not a good movie. I can say it’s an okay effort that isn’t horrible or mediocre. That’s hardly the praise you’d want for family entertainment though, especially in an era where there are so many better options from the past and present.

Grade: C+

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