ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language including Sexual References, and brief Nudity

Directed by: Terry Jones

Written by: Terry Jones & Gavin Scott

Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Rob Riggle, Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley, Robin Williams, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Michael Palin

Simon Pegg was funny in the Cornetto trilogy (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and THE WORLD’S END). Rob Riggle delivered some of the biggest laughs in both JUMP STREET films. Eddie Izzard’s stand-up comedy is hysterical, while Robin Williams is arguably one of the funniest men who ever lived. Also, the Monty Python troupe were groundbreaking for their irreverent humor and uniquely British sensibilities. With all of these funny and talented people crammed into one film, you’d think that ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING would, at the very least, be fun to watch. That’s what I thought and it turns out that I was sadly mistaken. Learn from my error and avoid this disappointing excuse for a comedy.

After a group of hyper-intelligent aliens (voiced by Monty Python) stumble across a space probe, the extraterrestrials begin a test to decide whether or not Earth needs to be destroyed. This test selects a random human and gives them god-like powers. Unluckily for us, that test subject is amateur writer/teacher Neil (Simon Pegg) and he begins using his amazing abilities to do absolutely anything (see what I did there?). Before you can say BRUCE ALMIGHTY, Neil’s powers start landing him in hot water as he tries to win over the affection of his neighbor Catherine (Kate Beckinsale).

One of ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING’s biggest problems stems from it feeling like a Monty Python sketch that was extended 75 minutes past the point of being funny. There are a couple of chuckles to be had here and there, but the script doesn’t have much compelling flow. The repeating joke is that Neil keeps wording his wishes incorrectly and hijinks ensue. Some of these bits run for almost all of the film (with one co-worker’s crush taking a cult-like turn), and others are over in a matter of minutes (wishing people back to life and winding up with a bunch of decaying zombies).

The film’s characters aren’t worth much either. Simon Pegg is playing a bland nobody and that might be part of the joke, but you’ve seen this type of boring protagonist a million times before. There’s nothing to this person. He’s boring and his biggest story arc is the clichéd motivation of trying to win his neighbor’s love. Kate Beckinsale attempts to make her love-interest/supporting character worth something and winds up with mixed results. She definitely delivers the biggest “life lesson” in a scene where she explains how god-like powers might not be the best thing ever. Also, Robin Williams’s final role was the voice of Neil’s dog Dennis. Much like the rest of the film’s attempts at humor, Williams’s sentient pooch gets a few chuckles at first and then becomes boring.

The biggest conflict comes from Rob Riggle as Catherine’s headstrong, cocky ex-boyfriend Grant. He only plays a tiny part in the film and brings a plot point that exists for a total of 10 minutes, coming off as lame and needlessly dark in the process. A pretty huge plot hole also rears its head during Riggle’s final minutes of screen time. It’s sad when the viewer can figure out how to get out of a dilemma before the main character can, but this protagonist is so much of an idiot that he doesn’t take advantage of an obvious flaw in the villain’s half-assed plan. Also, the Monty Python cast seem like they reunited purely as a favor for director/co-writer Terry Jones (one of the members of Monty Python). Eddie Izzard also shows up for about five minutes a strict head teacher, so there’s that.

ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING is a bland excuse for a comedy that wastes an unbelievable amount of talent. The premise might have made for a fun ten-minute skit, but it simply repeats its one-note beats for 85 minutes that drag out in a manner that feels like three hours. The film is a missed opportunity all around, but I don’t know if it ever had much of a chance with its flimsy concept. Pegg, Riggle, Williams, Izzard, Beckinsale, and the entire Monty Python troupe deserved better than this.

Grade: D

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Action and Violence, and brief partial Nudity

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Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

(based on the TV series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE by Bruce Geller)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Simon McBurney & Zhang Jingchu

Before June of this year, I had never seen a single MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie. I didn’t grow up watching the series, so I didn’t have any nostalgia for it. Watching those four movies for the first time, I saw the series like this: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is big dumb fun, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 tries too hard to be cool, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III has the best villain of the series, and GHOST PROTOCOL is a better-than-expected fourth installment. All my preparation of watching those films was for ROGUE NATION (the fifth film in the franchise) and I’m so glad I got into this series at all, because MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION is one of the best films to hit the big screen this summer!

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IMF agent Ethan Hunt is convinced that there’s a threat out there far bigger than any he’s ever faced before. This enemy is a group known as The Syndicate. Though they only serve as tall-tales for the C.I.A. and the rest of IMF, Ethan discovers that the Syndicate is very real and have it out for him. They are an anti-IMF. They assassinate world leaders and collapse foreign economies. It’s a mastermind criminal group made to break societies. With IMF torn down by the C.I.A., only Ethan and a handful of former IMF agents (as well as a questionable femme fatale) have any hope of stopping this terrorist organization from completing their master plan.

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The plots in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise range from clichéd and stupid (a deadly virus being used by a terrorist, a madman armed with some nukes) to complicated and clever (a weapons dealer enacting revenge on an IMF agent). Having sat through all four films recently, I find ROGUE NATION’s plot to be the most complex story yet in the series. This feels like the most mature and adult MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie yet. It’s a result of the series slowly evolving over the later sequels. Tight editing and strong momentum make the film seem neat and compact in its 131-minute running time.

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It should come as no surprise that Tom Cruise slips right back into the role of Ethan Hunt with ease. As an action hero, there’s no denying that Cruise can still carry a blockbuster squarely on his shoulders. However, ROGUE NATION also lends bigger roles to the side characters this time around. Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner all have big parts to play. It was nice seeing them used as equal members of a team and not merely as means to an end. Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (coming off last summer’s awful HERCULES) plays one of the most interesting female characters in this franchise. You’re never fully certain which side she’s on, but her mere presence forces you to like her either way. While Philip Seymour Hoffman remains a vicious baddie who cannot be topped, Sean Harris plays my second-favorite villain in the series. He’s evil and calculating, but there’s also an understandable motivation behind his actions (explained as the film goes along). He was perfect in this role and can’t wait to see what he takes on next.

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Of course, what’s a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie without insane action scenes. Opening with an airplane stunt (that’s been posted in every piece of marketing for this film), ROGUE NATION packs a ton of adrenaline-pumping excitement into a story that knows where to place these crazy scenes. The gun fights and car chases don’t feel pointless or forced in the slightest. Instead, they weave right into the complex plot. One lengthy sequence set at an opera house was a special highlight for me. I was constantly on the edge of my seat through the whole film though. Every scene is riveting for one reason or another.

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It’s crazy how the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise seems to have come full circle and become the highest possible version of popcorn entertainment. However, this fifth film is far from big and dumb. Instead, it’s the most mature, complicated entry yet and made all the better for it. It was originally rumored that this fifth entry would be the final MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie and I can say that the franchise would have gone out on its highest note. However, if the sixth film (now in production) is anywhere near as accomplished and hugely entertaining as this fifth entry, bring it on! I have nothing negative to say about this summer blockbuster. I loved every second of ROGUE NATION!

Grade: A+

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (2011)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Action and Violence

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Directed by: Brad Bird

Written by: Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov & Samuli Edelmann

Of all the series I’ve covered for 2015’s summer movie releases, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was the one that I was least enthused about. I had never seen any of the Tom Cruise blockbusters until about a week ago and (aside from the second film) I’m very glad that I finally took the plunge into the franchise spawned by a 1960’s TV series. The 1996 original is the epitome of big, dumb popcorn entertainment. 2000’s sequel was too concerned over style and weighed down by a bad screenplay to be any fun. 2006’s third installment easily surpassed both films to become an outright great movie. So five years after that second sequel, director Brad Bird delivered MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL. Where does this fourth film sit? It’s somewhere snuggly between the first and the third.

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Ethan Hunt is doing time in a Russian prison, but IMF extracts him for another seemingly impossible task. This time around, Ethan and his team are being sent into the Kremlin to retrieve files on a terrorist known as “Cobalt.” Unfortunately for them, the mission doesn’t run as smoothly as planned (do they ever?) and the Kremlin is bombed by the very terrorist they were looking for. Ethan and his team members make it out alive, but tensions between the USA and Russia have risen to a level where IMF is disbanded. It’s up to Ethan and his small band of former IMF agents to take down Cobalt, prove their innocence, and retrieve nuclear codes before the unthinkable occurs.

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You might notice that plot sounds a bit generic this time around, almost as generic as your typical spy thriller a.k.a. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. However, it’s all in the execution. Director Brad Bird (who is most famous for his animated work) knows exactly how to pull off a “been there, done that” script in a way that feels fresh. He throws a number of suspenseful scenarios and the most grandiose action to grace a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie thus far. Though number three is still my favorite for a variety of reasons, the action is definitely most exciting and ridiculously awesome in GHOST PROTOCOL. We get intense chase scenes, fights while the stakes are at the their highest, and Tom Cruise scaling the world’s tallest building with a pair of faulty gloves. That last scene ramps up unbelievable levels of tension and is bound to make those afraid of heights wet their pants. Though the formula of making the action even more over-the-top with each entry can easily backfire, it works well for the fourth MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

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As far as the performances go, Tom Cruise is back in true action hero form as Ethan Hunt. Whatever you may think of his personal life, Cruise shines as this memorable agent always facing off against impossible odds. Though previous characters pop up for cameos, Simon Pegg is the only other big name to return from any of the previous films. He serves as the obvious comic relief, but does a damn fine job of it. Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner are new additions to the M:I team, but pull their weight. Renner is especially enjoyable in his role as an analyst turned amateur agent. While the good guys are worth rooting for, the villain is super bland this time around. It seems like the filmmakers knew that they would never be able to top Hoffman’s arms dealer, so they went in an entirely new direction. While I liked the concept of this nuclear extremist (played by Michael Nyqvist of the original GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), he simply doesn’t have much dialogue or enough screen time. I knew he was a baddie and that’s about all there was to his character. He just seems a little anti-climactic when compared to his competition in the series, even the moronic villain in M:I 2 is slightly more fleshed out in comparison.

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GHOST PROTOCOL stands as the second-best MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie thus far. Though it suffers from clichés and a boring villain, the fourth film in the franchise manages to up the excitement and entertainment through crazy action and solid suspense. If you’re a fan of the first three films (or even just one and three, like myself), then GHOST PROTOCOL should be right up your alley. This leaves me excited for the fifth (and supposedly final) film in the franchise coming on July 31. So far, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is three for four and those aren’t bad odds.

Grade: B+

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 6 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Frenetic Violence and Menace, Disturbing Images and some Sensuality

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Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & J.J. Abrams

Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Eddie Marsan & Laurence Fishburne

Despite having never been that interested in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise before this year, the only tidbit of knowledge that I knew about any of the films was that Philip Seymour Hoffman played the villain in the third movie. That alone was enough to make me excited for this to cleanse the palette after the disaster that was MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. This third installment in the blockbuster franchise is the best that I’ve seen in the series (I will be watching GHOST PROTOCOL soon) thus far. Intense, exciting and smart, this MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE does something that neither of the previous entries did for me. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III actually made me feel like our main character was in constant peril and that the danger might overcome him at any point. I felt the dread, suspense and excitement rush through every single intense sequence, plot twist and action scene. It’s almost unheard of to see a third installment in any series one-up its predecessors, but that’s exactly what MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III does in every way.

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Since the events of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, Ethan Hunt has retired from IMF missions and found love in his fiancé. He’s drawn back into one last assignment when a former protégé is captured. The rescue mission goes sour and Ethan finds himself hunting for a powerful black-market figure. The villain is Owen Davian, a notorious arms dealer who has pretty much become an invisible man. When Ethan is tipped off about Davian’s latest whereabouts, he sets in motion a complicated plan to kidnap Davian. Unfortunately, not everything in this plan is solid and sound. Things quickly spiral out of control. Soon, Ethan finds himself being specifically targeted by Davian and his fiancé being held hostage in the crosshairs.

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While MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was a big popcorn-muncher of a movie and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 tried too hard to be stylish and cool, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III easily sports the best script of the first three films. It ups the ante from the very beginning by showing a scene that we can anticipate later on in the movie. While I usually complain about stories starting off in non-linear fashion as a cheap gimmicky approach, this works far better in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III as the scene is an undeniably tense one. It gives us a vulnerable side of Ethan that we’ve never seen before in either of the previous entries, while also showing just how scary Hoffman is as the villain. The former is definitely a big part of what works so well for me about MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III. Adventures can only be so exciting when anyone can correctly predict where everything is heading and there’s no sense that the hero might fail. M:I 3’s script delivers a solid atmosphere of danger that hovers over every moment in which Ethan finds himself outgunned. It’s a nice change of pace for a series that seemed so content to play it safe and by-the-numbers.

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Since the screenplay is rock solid and the high stakes feel like high stakes this time around, the action scenes are extremely exciting. That’s also not to mention that the comic relief actually works, because it’s not overly excessive. Little moments of laughter do ease the tension a bit, but never dominate the scenes. One sequence of Ethan breaking into a heavily guarded building has the best punchline of any of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies delivered by Ving Rhames. Aside from stellar script, a nice change of pace, and exciting action, Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates as Davian. He’s a calm, cold, son of a bitch in the role. Exuding a bit of smugness, but more sociopathic tendencies than expected, Hoffman is one villain that you love to hate. He’s scary in how he delivers chilling dialogue in such a matter-of-fact, routine fashion as if the evil deeds he’s committing are really nothing to him…because they aren’t a big deal in his eyes at all. I doubt that we’ll receive another top-notch villain to the same high-caliber degree as Davian in the entire series. He’s that good!

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It’s not often that you can say a third entry in a blockbuster series manages to outdo the first and second installments, but that’s exactly the case with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III. You can sense that somebody genuinely cared about crafting a solid film as opposed to just throwing out yet another generic sequel. The acting and characters are solid across the board, with Hoffman being the biggest scene-stealer of the bunch. The action is adrenaline-pumping and has actual emotion put behind it. The story is engaging and takes the series in an entirely different direction than simply an unstoppable guy saving the world again. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III improves on its predecessors tenfold and manages to become a great adventure in the process.

Grade: A

KILL ME THREE TIMES (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence, Language and some Sexuality/Nudity

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Directed by: Kriv Stenders

Written by: James McFarland

Starring: Simon Pegg, Alice Braga, Callan Mulvey, Teresa Palmer, Sullivan Stapleton, Luke Hemsworth & Bryan Brown

Simon Pegg plays a hitman. That one sentence alone might sell you on seeing this film. KILL ME THREE TIMES is an Australian crime-comedy that is being sold as a sort of anthology film, but it’s really not that at all. Instead, this movie plays out like a Guy Ritchie crime-comedy mixed with a Tarantino dark sense of humor, but it’s not nearly at the level of both of those filmmakers. KILL ME THREE TIMES is too tongue-in-cheek and forced on occasion, but should satisfy those who want to kick back and kill some time with a goofy flick that doesn’t have a shred of originality to it.

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Charlie Wolfe is a cheeky gun-for-hire whose latest assignment is Alice, the abused, unfaithful wife of a powerful man. What should have been a fairly routine job turns into something else entirely as Charlie discovers that he’s not the only one in town who wants this woman dead. A dentist and his conniving wife/secretary also enact a plan to kill Alice for some unknown reason. As Charlie’s mission, motivations, and objectives all fly off the rails, the whole job turns into a plot full of double-crossing, explosions, blackmail and blood. Think a more over-the-top, humorous take on BLOOD SIMPLE and you’ve pretty much got this movie in a nutshell.

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KILL ME THREE TIMES kept me interested in the plot. Even though it isn’t original at all, the screenplay twists and turns in enjoyable ways that actually surprised me during a couple of scenes. Some plot revelations are a little too far-fetched, but not to an annoying level. There’s far more violence than I was actually expecting going into this film (which is a plus) and a handful of really clever jokes that did get me laughing. The funniest of which is probably be a severe scenario of wrong place, wrong time with a shady cop. Out of all the actors in this movie, Simon Pegg is easily the best as Charlie Wolfe. This was clearly an easy paycheck for him, but Pegg seems to be having fun as a sarcastic asshole hitman. The rest of the cast members aren’t bad, but their characters are certainly overly familiar. There’s the crooked cop, the wimpy would-be murderer, said wimp’s conniving wife, the innocent battered housewife, and so and so forth. I can’t really fault any of the performers for not adding fresh blood to these age-old character tropes, because the cast really didn’t have that much to work with in the first place.

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The lack of originality is really this film’s biggest problem. I’ve seen this exact same plot, comical tone, and convoluted screenplay all before and done by better filmmakers. There’s a wannabe Tarantino tone to the whole film that seems forced. The first 15 minutes also take a little while to get into. The film acts as if there’s this anthology structure to the whole script, but there isn’t. It’s the same sort of blended storyline approach that Guy Ritchie used in films like LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS, SNATCH and ROCKNROLLA. There’s not a separate beginning or ending to any of these supposed three stories, so why did the film use title cards indicating there was? These are complete with the labels “Kill Me Once,” “Kill Me Twice,” and of course, “Kill Me Three Times.” That structure doesn’t fit well and becomes an all-out distraction as if the movie is announcing how much time it has left (a title card appears about every 30 minutes). This creative decision feels messy and unfocused.

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Though it’s overly derivative without a single original bone in its body, KILL ME THREE TIMES is fun considering that you take it as an okay time killer. Simon Pegg is funny as Wolfe. The rest of the cast members do the best they can to bring their stereotyped crime movie clichés posing as characters to life. The jokes mostly hit their marks and there is entertainment to be found here. The would-be anthology structure does get distracting, but there’s enough good to satisfy fans of silly crime-comedies. You should know by now whether this film is up your alley or not.

Grade: B-

HOT FUZZ (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute

MPAA Rating: R for Violent Content including some Graphic Images, and Language

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Directed by: Edgar Wright

Written by: Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Rafe Spall & Timothy Dalton

In the realm of action-comedies, you really can’t do better than HOT FUZZ. The second installment of the so-called “Cornetto Trilogy” (also consisting of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and THE WORLD’S END) perfectly compresses tons of fun and clever humor into a perfectly paced two-hours. This feels like a British take on THE NAKED GUN with more action, an even better story, and non-stop laughs. Though I feel WORLD’S END may be the most emotionally executed and accomplished of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost’s Cornetto (a.k.a. Blood and Ice Cream) films, HOT FUZZ is my personal favorite entry!

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Nicholas Angel is an outstanding Constable patrolling the streets of London. His flawless arrest record and vast achievements are making all other officers look bad in comparison. Therefore, he’s unwillingly promoted to the position of Sergeant and moved to Sanford, a small quiet countryside town. Angel’s overachiever attitude draws frustration from his new laid-back department, scrutiny of the small townsfolk and admiration from dimwitted Constable Danny Butterman. After a number of suspicious deaths are ruled as mere accidents, Angel and Butterman try to capture a mysterious hooded assailant and prove that a murderous plot is occurring under the squeaky clean surface of Sanford.

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The script behind HOT FUZZ is a work of comedic genius and has multiple layers of jokes that reward repeat viewings. The film works as three distinct different genres at once. It’s an original flick that holds up on its own sense of humor, but manages to perfectly spoof action movie clichés in a way that simultaneously ridicules the tropes of the genre and shows love for them. Besides working as two distinctly different types of comedy, the film is also an action flick through and through. This is complete with gun-fights, a suspenseful mystery, bloody murders, and explosions. Just because there’s a sense of humor to be had, that doesn’t mean the violence is in short supply. This is a bloody movie that sports one of the most memorable gory kills of all-time, but it’s all played in a humorous way. The final 30 minutes are also something special to behold in one of the most amazing showdowns in cinematic history and I’m absolutely serious in that compliment.

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HOT FUZZ fires jokes like the high-speed of a machine gun. These laughs are hilarious during the first watch, but actually grow even funnier with each consecutive viewing. Lots of subtleties become obvious in clues thrown into foreshadowing bits of dialogue. This makes the film absolutely hysterical and reveals just how much attention to detail was paid during every step of construction. One running joke involving an escaped swan that pops up throughout different points of the action had me in stitches. Aside from being slightly better than SHAUN OF THE DEAD, this installment from Edgar Wright showcases a massive improvements on the technical side of things as the film looks slick (much like the action movies that it’s poking fun at).

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The real meat of the movie comes in the characters as every one of these people could be a star in their own movie. Simon Pegg shines as Nicholas Angel playing a completely straight-faced character and stand-up action hero the entire time. Some of the biggest laughs come from him being out of his element in the small country environment. Nick Frost could have just turned the character of Danny into a bumbling sidekick, but adds a sweetness to him that makes the viewer root for this good-natured moron to kick some ass. Other stand outs (all of the cast members are too many to list) include Timothy Dalton as a smug obvious suspect who throws out murderous puns in his dialogue and two lazy moustached detectives known as “The Andys.” Memorable little cameos also are sprinkled through the run time as well, including a particularly awesome one from Cate Blanchett that could easily sneak by unnoticed.

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Extreme attention to detail, smart writing, and well fleshed out characters make HOT FUZZ one of the best comedies to come out of the 2000’s and one of my all-time favorite comedies. This is one of those rare films that keeps increasing in quality with each repeat viewing, but was already perfect to begin in the first place. HOT FUZZ works as an action movie, a spoof of action movies, and a standalone comedy. If you haven’t seen this film yet, check it out as soon as humanly possible. Fun and laughs are guaranteed!

Grade: A+

THE BOXTROLLS (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action, some Peril and mild Rude Humor

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Directed by: Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi

Written by: Irena Brignull & Adam Pava

(based on the novel HERE BE MONSTERS! by Alan Snow)

Voices of: Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan & Simon Pegg

Computer graphics have really put a damper on other animation styles. The last mainstream traditional hand-drawn film I can think of was 2009’s PRINCESS AND THE FROG and the last wide released stop-motion animated film I can remember is 2012’s PARANORMAN. For this reason, I can easily find myself getting hyped up for any upcoming stop-motion film that promises to have a bit of potential. Having waited for nearly a year to see THE BOXTROLLS, I can safely say that it’s a unique fairy tale that strays into some risky territory for children but never fully loses the sense of whimsy around it.

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Bearing little resemblance to the children’s novel on which it’s based (which featured many different creatures and magical plot developments), THE BOXTROLLS follows a boy named Eggs. Eggs has been raised since he was a baby by underground-dwelling creatures known as Boxtrolls. These monsters are appropriately named because they are indeed trolls and do wear boxes for clothing. When the grotesque Archibald Snatcher begins fear mongering about the petty-thieving creatures living in the sewers, it appears that Eggs and his ragtag family of Boxtrolls may be in trouble. It’s up to Eggs to venture to the upper world, where he befriends the young neglected Winnie, trying to stop Snatcher’s plan that might mean the end for Boxtrolls and humans alike.

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BOXTROLLS is one of those rare cases where simplifying the plot and significantly changing things up from book to film works far better in the cinematic medium. The story is full of imagination and complex in unexpected ways. The movie has a lot of creepiness, gross details, and dark humor that might make it a little iffy for really young children. Some of the best family films are the ones that take risks with on-the-surface family friendly material. To add a stroke of awe to the pretty original story is that the film looks beautiful. This is some of the best stop motion animation I’ve ever seen and it sucks you into the world on-screen. The character design of the villains in particular is fabulous and everything moves smoothly as if it were actually alive. Clearly, a lot of effort, time and love was thrown into this project and it’s wonderful to see it all turn out so well.

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Plenty of talent is thrown into the vocal performances as well. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Richard Ayoade play secondary characters and I couldn’t necessarily point of who they were while watching the film. It’s nice to see celebrities doing voice work that doesn’t necessarily distract the audience to spot them in the film. This can especially be said of Ben Kingsley as the main bad guy, who uses a deep gravely snarl that makes it nearly impossible for the viewer to recognize him. The only two that I did automatically notice (though that isn’t a bad quality) were Jared Harris as an upper-class royal (the character looks remarkably like him as well) and Elle Fanning as the constantly misunderstood child Winnie. Relative newcomer Isaac Hempstead-Wright is also compelling as Eggs. It helps that none of these characters are quite initially who they appear to be. Though the good guys remain good and the bad guys remain evil, there’s a little spin on each character by the conclusion.

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The problems I do have with BOXTROLLS are a few predictable moments and some muddled pacing. As solid as the prologue of Eggs being raised by the Boxtrolls is, the opening takes a little while to get fully going. Once momentum is built, the story rarely lets up on laughs, imagination and fun. However, there are a few scenes that are clichéd in ways and it doesn’t take a genius to see where things are heading. The most guilty of these moments is the stretched-out ending. It felt like three different conclusions were taking place. Though I don’t necessarily dislike where the film went (especially what happens to the villains), it almost felt like the screenwriters wanted to do too much at once.

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Despite this crack in an otherwise nearly great fantasy, this film is highly enjoyable for all ages. Full of colorful characters, a creative story, risks that you might not expect, and beautiful animation, BOXTROLLS is very much recommended for anyone of any age who is interested in dark fairy tales. Also, you’d be hard-pressed to find more lovable creatures on film this year than these box-wearing underground-dwelling trolls.

Grade: B+

Derrick Carter’s Top 10 Films of 2013

List by Derrick Carter

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Trance, Ender’s Game, Simon Killer, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, Rush, Captain Phillips, Stoker, and Side Effects

10. Dallas Buyers Club

10. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB: This film may not be entirely true to the events that it’s based on, but DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is the kind of the movie that makes you re-evaluate just how you’re living your life once the end credits have begun to roll. Matthew McCounaghey and Jared Leto give two of the most heartfelt performances of the year. It’s not a movie that you’ll want to watch on repeat (mainly due to the fact that it’s a film about a man fighting an incurable disease and the war the FDA launches on him), but it’s certainly a powerful one. This is a movie that drained me emotionally by the end of the film, because I was feeling the same frustration at the injustice of how the characters were being treated. Excellent film and I’ll be surprised if both Leto and McCounaghey don’t get Oscar nods.

9. Maniac

9. MANIAC: 2013 was a fantastic year for cinema, but it was a bit of a pathetic year for the horror genre. The best wide-released horror flick was YOU’RE NEXT (which is missing from this list and isn’t even in my Honorable Mentions). There’s always independent and foreign horror to satiate the need to be frightened. MANIAC is a remake that outdoes the original in every conceivable way, whilst also adding the element of seeing the entire film literally through the eyes of a serial killer. What could have wound up being a cheap gimmick becomes a wholly disturbing and chilling experience that will leave you struggling to get a good night’s sleep for a long time after.

8. Place Beyond The Pines

8. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES: There are gripping stories, moments that shock you, and conclusions that leave you emotionally devastated. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES contains all of the above in a narrative that could be seen as almost an anthology format. It’s a story that follows three different characters that are forever shaped by the choices of someone else. Tragedy is one of the most accurate words I can pick when describing this film. Also, it should be noted that the final moments of the film (fueled with a haunting score) had me crying like the first time I saw AMERICAN HISTORY X.

7. Frozen

7. FROZEN: It seems like ever since Disney switched to the computer animation format, they lost the spark of what made their former efforts so magical. Gone were the musical numbers. The sense of timeless fairy tales seemed to be replaced with potty humor and pop-culture references. Recent films like TANGLED and PRINCESS AND THE FROG tried to recapture that flame that gave Disney films like THE LION KING and BEAUTY & THE BEAST. Somehow, against all odds, FROZEN winds up being the best Disney film in about two full decades. The songs are catchy and have stuck with me since my viewing experience. The script also gives memorable characters, while mocking certain Disney clichés and delivering a timeless, wonderful tale. FROZEN is truly something special!

6. American Hustle

6. AMERICAN HUSTLE: Capturing the essence of the 70’s from set designs, costumes, a very cool soundtrack, and Bradley Cooper’s unforgettable perm, AMERICAN HUSTLE told an intense and very entertaining crime story without ever delving into the ultra-violence that the subgenre usually contains. It was a bold move on the part of David O. Russell, but he’s crafted a fantastic film that let the A-list cast run loose and wild to my delight. This is a movie about people double-crossing each other and by the time everything begins hitting the fan, it’s unlikely that you guessed much of what was in store for you as a viewer (including one very neat cameo).

5. Gravity

5. GRAVITY: You can’t get much more epic than the setting of space itself and that’s exactly the canvas that director/writer Alfonso Cuaron (who held off on directing this film until technology was advanced enough to get across his vision) uses for this tale of survival. It’s spectacle, but cinema comes in many forms. It’s not all about important statements, human drama, character studies, or entertainment. Sometimes, a film just needs to be a ride and this is what GRAVITY was. A huge roller-coaster of a movie and I enjoyed it as such. It’s been a tad overhyped at this point, but GRAVITY still remains on my top 10 of 2013!

4. Worlds End

4. THE WORLD’S END: The final part of the “Cornetto” trilogy (also consisting of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ) is my favorite of the comedic trifecta. Some human drama is thrown into this sci-fi comedy which makes for some unexpectedly emotional moments (much like in SHAUN), which in turn make the laughs that much more heartier. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright have closed off their so-called trilogy in grand style and though it’s sad to see it come to a close, I can’t imagine a better way to conclude the so-called Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy. Jokes are brilliantly set up in advance and the chemistry between the cast is so convincing and enjoyable to watch that you may even forget there are robots that show up later on (I certainly did).

3. Prisoners

3. PRISONERS: Few movies have ever made me as uncomfortable as this one did. I was uneasy for the entire running time and for good reason, PRISONERS quietly builds suspense and keeps itself one step ahead of the audience. It’s unflinching in its violence, but also shows restraint when it needs to. Some of the more shocking moments in the film come as to what’s implied rather to what’s shoved into the viewer’s face. This script was supposedly passed around from many directors and tons of different casting choices. The end result is so flawless that it makes one wonder if how it even would have stood a chance with anybody else involved. Heartbreaking, intense and concluding in the most provocative way possible. PRISONERS is the best thriller I’ve seen since Fincher’s GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

2. Wolf Of Wall Street

2. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET: Give Leo the award. Just give Leo the award already! The man is proving himself to be a chameleon of acting (in the same way Gary Oldman is). In THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Leonardo DiCaprio skillfully slips into the skin of drug addicted, sex addicted, all-around rich scumbag Jordan Belfort. Far from an unpleasant watch, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is easily the most entertaining film I’ve seen in all of 2013. I haven’t laughed harder at a movie all year (the scene involving Leo and Jonah Hill high on Quaaludes is one of the funniest movie scenes I’ve ever seen in my life). The three-hour running time seems to rush right past, showing the best pacing I’ve seen in a movie this length. Overall, just see it. I loved this movie and it’s one that I plan on buying the moment it hits home video!

1. 12 Years A Slave

1. 12 YEARS A SLAVE: It’s pretty surprising that there’s never been a proper film depicting the horrors of slavery until 2013 (ROOTS doesn’t count). This is a heartbreaking movie that tore my emotions apart and had myself (along with a sold-out movie theater) crying heavily during multiple points in the film. 12 YEARS A SLAVE is the kind of film that you never forget once you’ve seen it. It will stick with you and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes required viewing during History classes for its unflinchingly realistic look on the dark stain in American history. The acting from everyone is top-notch, as is every single aspect with this film. I can’t say that I enjoyed this movie at all, because it’s not made to be enjoyed. It does show one man’s struggle to retain his humanity and survive a 12-year-long period in slavery. Hard to watch, but ultimately rewarding in many ways, 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a masterpiece through and through!

THE WORLD’S END (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language including Sexual References

Worlds End poster

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Written by: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Rosamund Pike & Pierce Brosnan

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost all burst onto the spotlight in America with their zombie comedy SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Three years later, they returned with an equally hilarious and brilliant (maybe even a tad more so) action comedy HOT FUZZ. It’s been six years and the long awaited arrival of these three capping off their trilogy of spoof-comedies has arrived with a sci-fi romp titled THE WORLD’S END. This third and final entry in the “Cornetto” trilogy is also the movie that packs the most punch.

Worlds End 1

In 1990, Gary King and his four friends set off to conquer the Golden Mile, a series of twelve pubs in one night. Though they didn’t quite make it to the end, Gary still considers it to be the best time of his life. Now a middle-aged alcoholic, Gary gathers his mates together for a reunion to return to their hometown and conquer the Golden Mile again, once and for all. All of the friends are a little reluctant to come though, especially Andie (Gary’s former best mate). As the five adults catch up, it appears that something is wrong with their hometown. Most of the population has been replaced by robots and the group (including another acquaintance of theirs) must work together to survive the night. But more importantly, will they finally make it the last bar (aptly named The World’s End).

Worlds End 2

THE WORLD’S END works as a comedy, a science-fiction film, and a drama about friendships that last, as well as reminiscing on the past. In fact, the first 30-40 minutes of THE WORLD’S END play out without a bit of science-fiction or robots to be found. This is far from a detriment to the film, as it allows us time to watch these characters interact, laugh at Gary’s constant blundering and idiocy, as well as feel for them (both the frustrated companions and the tragic figure that Gary is).

Worlds End 3

By the time, the first robots are made apparent, I had almost forgotten that this was a sci-fi comedy, because I was buying it so well as just a plain comedy with dramatic elements. Once the action starts though, it rarely lets up. Seeing as this is an Edgar Wright film, it never takes the road we expect it to. The two regulars, Pegg and Frost, deliver their best roles to date as two former friends who have had a falling out for a major reason that’s revealed as the movie goes along. Meanwhile, Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine (who have both appeared in Wright’s former films in side parts) are given a lot to do here. Eddie Marsan shines in this comedy too, which is particularly impressive when you consider his filmography contains a whole lot of serious roles.

Worlds End 4

THE WORLD’S END also concludes on a bittersweet and wholly satisfying note that took a lot of guts to go through with. In fact, I didn’t know how I felt about the ending as I walked out of the theater, but the more I think about it, the more I love it. This is a comedy with damn near every attribute you could want a film (of any kind) to have. It’s funny, touching, entertaining, and leaves you thinking about it for a long while after. Not only is THE WORLD’S END the best comedy in years, it’s also one of the best movies of 2013! So gather your mates, maybe get a drink or two, and prepare to be annihilated in the best way possible!

Grade: A+

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