I’m not going to waste much time here, since I have a lot of film to talk about, but let me just say something about 2017: it was absolutely god-damn ridiculous. No joke, this might be one of the best years for movies I’ve ever lived through or, at the very least, seen since I started writing about the medium on the internet. The amount of absolutely great (many all-time great) movies released in the last 12 months verged on the insane, and made the formation of such a Top 10 list seem like such a foolish endeavor. I could have had a Top 30 list and still not had enough room to fit everything I loved. That’s how good this year was.
But, hey, I love needless list-making, and I’m a stickler for set rules. Plus I’m lazy, and don’t really want to put the work into writing blurbs for 30 films (though I might publish a separate list of honorable mentions in the coming days — we shall see.) So, instead, I had to go about the painstaking process of whittling down my list to only 10 movies, the cream of the cream of the cream of the crop’s cream, as it were. And by initiating the doctrine of “No Givesies Backsies,” these 10 choices will now remain set in stone. Without further ado, here is my finalized list of the Top 10 films of 2017.
10. The Florida Project
Logic would dictate that the hardest position to decide on a Top 10 list would be the #1 spot…but in my near-decade of writing these lists, I’ve never found that to be the case. No, the hardest one for me has always been the number 10 spot — and that’s never been truer than in my Top 10 movies of 2017 list. There’s literally a dozen (if not more!) films all fighting for inclusion on the list, and the number 10 spot serves as the big gateway to it. For that reason, I think I’ve changed my number 10 pick every week for the past two months. There’s just too many good films.
But, ultimately? I went with Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, a beautiful and devastating drama about life on the poorest end of the poor. A premise like that would seem to lead itself to mawkishness, but it speaks to Baker’s skill as a filmmaker that everything in The Florida Project felt true-to-life, and achingly real in a way that lends itself to the stunning filmmaking at play. The acting from the two unknowns is absolutely unbelievable (especially young Brooklynn Prince in a star-making turn), and Willem Dafoe brings to life one of my favorite film characters in recent years. The Florida Project is a film that destroyed me emotionally, but only in ways that a powerful drama can. And, on that note, the ending is very good and fits the film well — I don’t care what any of you say!
9. War for the Planet of the Apes
Guys. Just…guys. This new Planet of the Apes trilogy is crazy. Never in a million years did I expect a rebooted Planet of the Apes to end my favorite trilogy of the 21st Century so far — but I think it just might be it. Really, the whole thing is a marvel — how director Matt Reeves managed to steer this thing into a deeply powerful, action-packed, wholly cinematic sci-fi masterpiece is beyond me. But with his one-two punch of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, I completely believe he has. And even though the latter film isn’t quite up to the level of greatness that Dawn was, it’s still bloody great and, more than anything, more ambitious than I ever thought possible. I still can’t believe that Fox gave money to Matt Reeves to make his weird-ass quasi-western mood poem starring Andy Serkis pretending to be a primate. It’s unbelievable that this movie exists, and more unbelievable that it absolutely worked. War for the Planet of the Apes was as fitting an end to this trilogy as I could possibly imagine, and very much cements its status as a blockbuster series we’ll be talking about for decades to come. Plus, Bad Ape. Gotta love that Bad Ape.
8. John Wick: Chapter 2
A good action movie is surprisingly hard to come by these days, what with the world of blockbusters eating up the genre and spitting it back up torn to pieces. The 80’s this is not, and to find a straight-laced, balls-to-the-wall action movie that doesn’t involve someone with superhero powers or magical abilities is, well, quite the challenging task. Except for in February 2017, in which a man by the name of John Wick came to remind us all how invigorating the genre can be. Encapsulating everything a good action movie should be (and a good sequel, for that matter), John Wick’s second turn-at-bat outdid the first in every way. More explosive, dynamic action. A faster-paced plot that never slowed down for even a second. And even more of the batty, silly, but ultimately commendable world-building that makes this entire franchise so unique, even amongst other action movies. John Wick: Chapter 2 is a high water mark for the genre I haven’t seen since the likes of The Raid, and with a more engrossing story to boot. If the original John Wick was the birth of a new action franchise, then John Wick: Chapter 2 served as proof that he was very much here to stay. Bring on John Wick: Chapter 3 — 2019 can’t come fast enough.
7. The Shape of Water
I like Guillermo del Toro a lot, and find most of his movies to be very good (except Hellboy II, which was very fucking great), but he’s not a director that often inspires much passion for me. I can certainly recognize his talents, and appreciate his love of the medium, but even his best stuff (Pan’s Labyrinth, probably) often fails to get an emotional rise out of me. But that very much changes with The Shape of Water, his monster movie love story that is 100% perfect, unfiltered Del Toro. And I pretty much loved it completely. A mesmerizing, magical experience, The Shape of Water is a delight from start to finish. Featuring a whole cast giving fantastic performances (special shout-out to Richard Jenkins, proving how essential he is to any movie he becomes a part of) and boasting some amazing effects (you can always count on Del Toro for that, at least), The Shape of Water has a lot going for it. But like all wonderful movies, it’s how everything coalesces that makes the movie so damn great. And very few movies coalesce as well as The Shape of Water does. It’s my favorite of Del Toro’s work, and a high watermark for his career so far (just let me have that pun, okay? I’m very proud of myself for it.)
6. Your Name
If you want to get technical about it, Your Name is actually a 2016 release, with its initial blockbuster launch occurring all over the world then, including theaters in Los Angeles and New York (for last year’s Oscar qualifications, naturally.) Usually, I’m a stickler for such rules when it comes to making my list…but you know what? Fuck it, Your Name is so fantastic I’m throwing my rules to the side this time around. Regardless of if it is a 2016 or 2017 release, Your Name is a treasure. Funny, exciting, heartwarming, thought-provoking, and absolutely beautiful — Your Name manages to be all these things without even breaking a sweat. And considering how much plot the film ultimately goes through, that’s pretty much a marvel. Your Name is like if Charlie Kaufman decided he wanted to make an anime and, trust me, that’s quite the high compliment. The whole world fell in love with this movie (its made hundreds of millions of dollars, after all), but of course silly Americans and their aversion to Japanese animation failed to pay it much attention. But, hey, their lost. Your Name is a new anime classic, and absolutely should not be missed.
5. The Big Sick
I see a lot of great movies in any given year, but very few of them are so great that they leave me seething with jealousy. A happy seething, mind you (a gleething?), but still just pure, uncut jealousy. Because the only thing I could think about after watching The Big Sick was how Kumali Nanjiani, Emily Gordon, and Michael Showalter just made the perfect modern romantic comedy, and exactly the type of movie I could only dream of making. It’s rare for a filmmaker to so heavily tap into what drives me as a creative, but The Big Sick managed to do that…in addition to being gut-bustingly funny and emotionally satisfying to boot. The Big Sick really has it all, and I can only hope that its success will lead to more films like it down the line. It’s the best Judd Apatow-ian film in years, and that’s including like a decade of the directors own work. And, please, Hollywood — don’t skip on making Kumali Nanjiani a star. After he solidified his talents with this film, the ball is very much in the industry’s court.
4. Lady Bird
A lot of what I wrote above can also be applied to Lady Bird — if not slightly more so, what with the film scoring a rank higher on the list. Lady Bird made me laugh, it made me emotional, it made me awestruck, and most importantly in the film’s favor, it made me reflect on my own life in a way that only a deeply personal, impactful film can. The magic of Lady Bird isn’t in its fabulous performances (though, wow, everyone in that cast) or in its fantastic script (though, wow, Greta Gerwig) or in its great direction (what the fuck were you thinking with that snub shit, Golden Globes?), but in how it manages to impact every single person who sees it. Like every good coming-of-age film, there’s a mix of relatability and nostalgia at play that can elevate the genre at the best of times. I am not a teenage girl from Sacramento who attended a Catholic high school, nor have I ever been one (pretty sure.) But I didn’t have to be in order to find Lady Bird’s story to be achingly, awkwardly, beautifully real. In many ways, I was Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. Hell, weren’t we all at one point? Many films fail to connect with their viewer in such a powerful way, but Lady Bird does it with ease. And, for that, is one of the best coming-of-age stories ever told.
3. Baby Driver
I am tempted to just insert the “Hocus Focus” foot chase as proof to why Baby Driver is my number 3 film of 2017, but even that I feel wouldn’t do the film enough justice. On my birthday this year, I got the best gift imaginable — Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, a pop-rock action-opera that is unlike anything else I have ever seen in my life, and makes for some of the most magical 113 minutes of film I’ve seen all year. It’s a film that Wright has been working towards his entire career, and encapsulates everything about him that makes him one of the best filmmakers around: the energy, the humor, the creativity, the insane editing — this is all Edgar Wright at his absolute best. I could watch Baby Driver at pretty much any time in my life, and have a complete and utter blast with it the whole way through. Very few films can do that, but having watched the entire thing over half a dozen times at this point, I’m pretty confident that Baby Driver makes the list. Also, seriously though…that “Hocus Pocus” chase.
The fact there’s also, like, a dozen other moments just as amazing just speaks to how wonderful this little action musical is. Thank god for Edgar Wright. The world of film would be a far less fun place without him.
2. Blade Runner 2049
Trust me, I’m surprised to see Blade Runner 2049 this high on my list as you are. Even after coming out of my first viewing of the film and being extremely high on it, I didn’t think it would be able to get this far up on my overall list for the year. But the more I come away from Blade Runner 2049, the more I love it even more. We simply don’t get this kind of huge, thoughtful, beautiful science fiction that often, especially in this day-and-age. I mean, just look at the film’s box office, and you’ll very much see why. But while it’s disappointing to see Blade Runner 2049 fail to find a huge audience, that’s literally the only disappointing thing about it. Literally every other single factor in Blade Runner 2049 is A+ work. The direction, the cinematography, the production design, the acting, the writing, the action, the special effects — seriously, damn near everything. On top of all that, the film has something very interesting to say about the nature of artificial intelligence, and has the time to also provide a useful and throught-provoking twist on the standard hero’s journey. Blade Runner 2049 is everything I could want from a piece of science fiction, and that’s something coming from a guy who doesn’t even love the original. Everyone always says that Blade Runner is a masterpiece, and I’m just left kind of shrugging my shoulders at the concept. But if they say that Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece? I would high-five them effusively, because they are 100% goddamn right.
But, alas, there were TWO masterpieces of film released in 2017…both of which, coincidentally, were co-written by Michael Green (that dude is my MVP of the year, that’s for sure.) But as much as I loved Blade Runner 2049, no film in 2017 had a larger impact on me than James Mangold’s Logan. Which, like Blade Runner 2049, surprised the hell out of me. I liked Mangold’s previous The Wolverine a lot, and thought Logan had a lot of promise in the first trailers, but damn — I never expected to fall head-over-heels in love with the film as I have. It’s the kind of movie that I watch pretty much awe-struck the entire time, absolutely captivated by what is unfolding on the screen in front of me, and mesmerized by how pitch-perfect it all is. The final journey of the X-Men’s flagship character does not deserve to be this incredible, or this unique, or this as emotionally devastating. I was not prepared for how gob-smackingly great Logan would be when I saw it the first time and, after it was done, I just sat in my seat in silence as I took it all in. It was my favorite movie of the year at that point, but of course it was only March — I figured that would change as the weeks went on.
It never did. While my list adjusted wildly on a day-to-day basis (hell, I’ve even made a few switcheroos while writing it right now), Logan never shifted from the top spot of it. Just to make sure I wasn’t inflating my opinion of the film, I rewatched it again (purchasing the $30 Best Buy steelbook version of the Blu-Ray, a rare home video splurge for me that I don’t regret in the slightest.) And I loved it just as much, if not more, the second time. This is everything I love about superhero movies, and apocalyptic stories, and just damn good character dramas. The action is incredible, the writing is incredible, the performances are incredible (goddamn you Academy for ignoring Patrick Stewart’s heartbreaking performance as the dementia-riddled Professor X), and the central relationship at the core of the film is so powerful and true that the final few minutes leaft me a destroyed, emotionally abused mess…in the best way possible, of course. Few pieces of pop culture have left an impact on me as strongly as the ending of Logan did. But it took two hours of other perfect storytelling to get me there, and that alone makes Logan a masterpiece of the superhero genre — and my favorite film of 2017.
But, once again, it was a stacked year, so the competition was fierce for the title. But going into 2018, I can only hope for half as many great films as we got in the past twelve months. Like 2017, we’re going to need it if we hope to make it through another goddamn year of Donald Fucking Trump. Here’s to entertainment in 2018 — may you coddle us all up in a blanket of sweet, sweet comfort for as long as humanly possible.
Also published on Medium.
Disney Celebrates International Women’s Day By Giving Its Favorite Man, Jon Favreau, A Live-Action Star Wars TV Show
Deserved or not…THE OPTICS, DISNEY. THE OPTICS!!
It’s no big secret that Disney is going in gung-ho on bringing new people into the Star Wars franchise. In the last year, we have seen over half a dozen people be given new movies and projects set within the series, as Lucasfilm slowly starts to build up what the future of this franchise will be following next year’s Star Wars: Episode IX. But while I say “people”, I probably should be more clear — white men. Disney has given the keys to the franchise solely to a bunch of middle-aged, white men.
Is this in and of itself some type of hiring sin? Eh, no, not really. And I don’t even blame Disney/Lucasfilm entirely for the situation — it’s clear that Kennedy and her cohorts are running scared a bit here, with a string of high profile, low experience collaborators causing headaches behind the scenes (Josh Trank, Gareth Edwards, and Lord & Miller.) For that reason, they have been turning to experienced “sure things” to take the reigns of Star Wars, namely in the form of J.J. Abrams (who already did it in The Force Awakens!) Rian Johnson (who already did it in The Last Jedi!), Stephen Daldry (a prestige journeyman with twenty years of experience!), and Weiss/Benioff (they show-ran the most complicated series ever made, THEY ARE PROS!) And you know what the paradox is here? All the filmmakers with decades of experience and a reputation of being professionals are almost entirely — you guessed it! — white dudes.
Enter Jon Favreau. Disney is clearly a fan of the man ever since he gave them the first Iron Man (which in and of itself was a bit of a risky decision to give to him at the time…but I digress), and has worked with him again on massive hits like The Jungle Book and future GARGANTUAN hit The Lion King. They appear to like him, he appears to like them, and there are billions of dollars that prove the relationship works. So now Favreau is being given a pretty big role in Disney’s current crown jewel franchise — Star Wars.
Not the Star Wars project you might think, though. Rather than diving head first into the crowded realm of future Star Wars movies (occupied by at least one more saga film, two competing trilogies, and a whole bunch of individual “story” films), Favreau will apparently be helming the previously announced live-action TV series on Disney’s forthcoming streaming service. This was announced just earlier today on StarWars.com, alongside the expected statement from Kathleen Kennedy:
“I couldn’t be more excited about Jon coming on board to produce and write for the new direct-to-consumer platform. Jon brings the perfect mix of producing and writing talent, combined with a fluency in the Star Wars universe. This series will allow Jon the chance to work with a diverse group of writers and directors and give Lucasfilm the opportunity to build a robust talent base.”
And the expected outburst of excitement from Favreau:
“If you told me at 11 years old that I would be getting to tell stories in the Star Wars universe, I wouldn’t have believed you. I can’t wait to embark upon this exciting adventure.”
Putting aside the pure exhaustion I have to new Star Wars projects right now (TOO MANY), who the fucks idea was it to announce this news today of all days? It’s no big secret that the critical community at large (or Film Twitter, at the very least) has been giving Lucasfilm crap for their seeming dismissal of having more diverse voices behind the scenes. Warranted or not, the complaints about the lack of anyone but straight men being a creative force of the series is extremely prevalent. And if you’re facing backlash over not hiring women to do things…adding yet another man to your company on the damn day of appreciatiating woman just reads as a back slap at worse, and tone deaf at best. READ THE FUCKING ROOM, LUCASFILM.
Ignoring the exact date of the hiring, though, Favreau being announced for this is…fine, I guess. I am not nearly as enthusiastic on the guy’s filmography as some (or Disney, especially) seem to be, but his films are usually pretty good at least (unless they are Iron Man 2.) So this certainly isn’t the worst pick for a Star Wars project. That being said, choosing a guy with zero experience writing a TV series to write a TV series of this scale is a bit disappointing. There are plenty of fine, experienced showrunners out there — why give Jon Favreau, who has already cultivated success in his career a dozen times, yet another big project? Hiring Jon Favreau to do this Star Wars series is ignoring TV showrunners who are perhaps more suitable for the part, which puts his hiring as a “double whammy” of ignoring potentially better candidates, if you ask me.
Anyways, whatever — I’m just hoping that the next announcement of someone getting a Star Wars project is a little more unique, a little more interesting, and a little more diverse. Or, second option…don’t announce another Star Wars project for a while. I think we have plenty to mull around already, Lucasfilm.
Also published on Medium.
Why Marvel Moved Up The Avengers: Infinity War Release Date
It was a win-win-win-win decision for the company, really.
The first weekend of May is considered the “start” of the summer movie season…but, in recent years, that has pretty much evolved to become the “Marvel movie” slot. Barring one exception in 2009 (the only year Marvel didn’t release a movie in the past decade), every year since 2007 has given us the release of a new film featuring a Marvel superhero in the first weekend of May. It’s become something of a tradition, one that wasn’t entirely surprising to see Marvel keep intact as it approached its tenth anniversary as a film studio. And with Avengers: Infinity War by far representing their largest and grandest project, the Marvel May slot seemed perfect for the film to have its grand debut. And for years, we’ve all been working off that assumption. Disney set a May 4, 2018 release date for the film some time ago, and there was no way they were going to change that.
Well, they just changed that.
But unlike most sudden release date changes, this one is A) minor and B) mostly a good thing. Instead of launching on May 4, Avengers: Infinity War will now hit theaters everywhere on April 27, abandoning the May month completely. Two months before the film’s release, it’s a bit of a shocking development, although Marvel had fun with it on Twitter, by way of (who else?) Robert Downey Jr.
Any chance I could see it earlier?
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) March 1, 2018
Great. With friends?
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) March 1, 2018
The entire world?
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) March 1, 2018
That’s a FANTASTIC idea! Done.
— Marvel Studios (@MarvelStudios) March 1, 2018
Now obviously this was planned (Robert Downey Jr. didn’t just push Marvel to massively move the release date of its biggest film out of the blue — come on now), but what was the reasoning for Disney’s decision here? Well, a few things.
Number one? The film was already going to release on April 27 overseas, which is typical for a Marvel release (they almost always open internationally before coming to the States). So moving the release date for America only puts the film in line with the rest of the world, which is ultimately pretty smart: now Marvel and Disney can brag on April 30 about how the film made approximately $67 billion worldwide in its first weekend of release. It will look great, vanity wise.
And this also moves Infinity War away from Disney’s own Solo: A Star Wars Story, opening at the end of May. That’s not even to mention the recently moved Deadpool 2 on May 18, which was a surprisingly big threat to Infinity War’s legs. With a three week gap between the two, however, Infinity War is now in the clear in terms of maximum, immediate revenue (all that really matters in Hollywood in this day and age.)
And as for first-weekend competetion, neither weekend poised much of a threat: nothing was playing on May 4, sure, but the only thing on April 27 was a Paula Patton thriller entitled Traffik, a horror movie called Bad Samaritan starring David Tennant, and comedy I Feel Pretty from Amy Schumer. The latter film already moved back a week to April 20, and neither of the others will make much of a dent on pop culture, so Marvel had nothing to fear with placing Infinity War against them.
Finally, the move will also cut off the threat of spoilers reaching America before the majority of the country gets to see the film. That hasn’t been too much of a threat for other Marvel releases like Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok (both opened overseas a week earlier)…but Infinity War is different. It’s rumored to make some massive changes to the state of the MCU and the characters in it, and I’m sure Kevin Feige would prefer people witnessed such developments in the theater, rather than on Twitter.
Ultimately, there’s nothing all that fishy here about the move. It’s only a week, but it could end up helping the film quite a bit in the long run. And if it means we get to see this movie seven days earlier than expected, I’m sure I’m not the only one who will take this offering with little reservations.
Also published on Medium.
Disney Is Rebooting The Muppets (Yes, Again) And A Whole Bunch of Other Dormant Properties For Their New Streaming Service
Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Father of the Bride, The Parent Trap, the concept of time itself. You know, the usual.
Disney has conquered mainstream Hollywood. That is an undeniable fact, if you ask me — between their Marvel and Star Wars output (not to mention their live action remakes, animated films, and projects from Pixar), Disney seems to be the only big studio thriving in the modern age. But as much as that seems like a compliment to Disney, it’s also something of a dour note for the industry overall — things are rough for theatrical film, for a variety of reasons. But perhaps the most substantial one is competition from the world of cable, Broadcast, and (especially) streaming outlets. When you are routinely getting things of the same (if not better) quality out of TV and streaming, why even go to the theater? The question is baffling to me (because it’s a movie theater, that’s why!), but not for the majority of Americans — ticket sales are the worst they have been in decades, as people would rather get their entertainment fix by staying at home and watching Netflix.
And Disney knows this. They are content with having conquered the ashes of traditional Hollywood, but they aren’t idiots — the media landscape is changing, and they want to be just as viable in the new one as a Netflix or HBO. So they are creating their own streaming service, and taking the battle for entertainment supremacy to Netflix in a big way.
But in building their new streaming outlet, I was rather curious how Disney planned to convince people to subscribe to their service when there were dozens more out there competing for the same eyeballs (and monthly set of dollar bills.) Well, today we got a pretty big hint in how Disney plans to build out their streaming portfolio and, no surprise, it’s taking advantage of their biggest asset: all the well-liked shit they have made and/or acquired over the last century. Brands are king for Disney, and they very much seem to be putting those at the forefront as they dive into this new frontier. Call it a safety blanket if you want (I will: it’s a safety blanket), but it has served Disney well in the last decade, so
…reboot time it is!
Of course, many of Disney’s bigger properties have already been rebooted or remade on the big screen, leading the selections for their streaming stuff to be a bit lower tier. The biggest property announced today for the potential reboot treatment is The Muppets, who Disney acquired from The Jim Henson Company back in 2004, and have since been left scratching their heads at what exactly to do with it. Things seemed great at first when the Jason Segal-led reboot film managed to enliven the love for the franchise, and perform pretty great at the box office to boot. But then Muppets Most Wanted came out and, despite being a whole lotta fun, underwhelmed at the box office. It seemed The Muppets would not be the blockbuster franchise Disney was hoping for.
So they transferred the property back to TV, relaunching a new series simply entitled The Muppets. This series had a promising hook (basically The Muppets meets 30 Rock, through the mockumentary lens of The Office) but it failed to get an audience on ABC and, quite frankly, wasn’t even all that good to begin with. Then a whole controversy broke out when longtime puppeteer/Kermit the Frog voice actor Steve Whitmire was fired from working on the property. He argued that Disney’s plans for the character was against what Henson would have stood for. They argued he was a shitty worker who didn’t play well with others, and everyone else was glad to be rid of him. The truth probably rests somewhere in between the two stances, but that didn’t make the controversy anymore crippling for The Muppet brand. They laid low for a year or so, only popping up to make wacky promotional videos and the like for the franchises’ various social media pages.
But apparently, Disney still thinks they can make this thing work in a big way, as The Hollywood Reporter confirms the Mouse House intends to bring the property to their new streaming service. Which, by the way, could use a name pronto. I’m tiring of just calling it “their new streaming service.” Judging by what they seem to want to put on it, maybe simply “Reboot” will do?
Kidding aside, The Muppets isn’t the only reboot Disney plans to anchor the service with. Also in the mix according to THR is film properties like Honey I Shrunk the Kids (you, know the Rick Moranis movie about shrinking kids), Father of the Bride (you know, the Steve Martin movie about being the father of the bride), and The Parent Trap (you know, the Lindsay Lohan movie about trapping parents.) This is in addition to previously announced reboot fodder like High School Musical and The Mighty Ducks which, yeah, were all certainly things at one point in time. They have name value, and that’s all that matters to the house that Micky Mouse built! At least there will be some top shelve franchise extinctions from brands like Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. And, who knows, maybe an original property might sneak its way in there!
…But no promises.
Also published on Medium.
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