The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

The Haunting of Bly Manor is Mike Flanagan’s follow up to Hill House in “The Haunting” anthology series. Since the first show received critical acclaim for it’s ingenuity, expectations were understandably high for this entry as well. The story follows an American nanny who is hired to care for two orphans at the dreary and ominous Bly Manor. However, this is anything but your typical horror story. Let’s consider the pros and cons of The Haunting of Bly Manor…

Pros: Firstly, there is not a single weak performance in this show. Most of the actors are affecting their truest British accents, and they all do outstanding jobs. The child actors also deserve recognition for their part in holding this tragic story together. Secondly, I like the reuse of the ominous and unsettling score from Hill House. It sets the tone just as well here while also adding an extra layer of connection to the first story. Sometimes anthologies can feel too far removed from others in the series, but Bly Manor feels like a seamless transition from Hill House both visually and thematically.

Cons: While I applaud the unique storytelling process of Mike Flanagan, it is not the easiest to follow. For example, around episode 5 we learn that some characters are actually ghosts and they are stuck reliving their memories. This isn’t impossible to fathom, but as we continue to see characters return to certain memories only to be perturbed themselves, it becomes unclear what the takeaway from such scenes should be. Not only does the pace of the show change halfway through, but so does the direction. Instead of progressing forward at full speed, the story continues through memories using a series of edits. This could certainly be considered a positive for viewers that enjoy finding Easter eggs and hidden meanings in stories. However, I found the change in pace and sudden edits to be jarring midway through the series.

I give The Haunting of Bly Manor a B+. Your expectations may be high after Hill House, but Bly Manor stands out in it’s own uniquely dreadful way. If you’re a fan of the horror genre, there should be no hesitation regardless. Happy Watching!

GRADE:

B+

7.5/10

Pros/Cons

  • Acting
  • Characters
  • Score
  • Tone
  • Editing
  • Pacing

Where to Watch

“I’ve been tucked away again, in another memory.”

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the latest Netflix release to confuse the masses. Charlie Kaufman, known for mind bending stories such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, writes and directs and doesn’t holding anything back. Some will write this off as pretentious fodder for movie buffs, but there’s something to be said about the unconventional moviemaking style of Kaufman. Let’s consider the pros and cons of I’m Thinking of Ending Things…

Pros: This movie may seem all over the place plot wise, but all of the themes and moving parts intermingle extremely well with each other. In fact, the seemingly accidental wardrobe changes, sudden edits and repeated character lines all serve a purpose by the end of the film. The acting and dialogue driven script are also resounding positives. If you’re able to identify the subtle nuances of every performance and appreciate it’s pairing with the vivid imagery, you may find yourself particularly enthralled by this film. All in all, my biggest praise for I’m Thinking of Ending Things is that it begs discussion and analysis. You could have a completely different understanding of the story than the person sitting next to you, yet both of your perspectives would be valid. And as is alluded to in the movie, art can make individuals feel singled out. And indeed it does.

Cons: In spite of phenomenal acting and directing, this movie is not for everyone. Charlie Kaufman is no stranger to using metaphors and symbolism in his movies, but in this instance it may be done to excess. It also requires your 100% undivided attention which could be considered a negative for passive movie watchers. The several slow stretches of dialogue may tempt you to lose focus, but there’s always something happening in the background. In other words, you’ll need a sharp eye to catch the subtle nuances in every scene. And even then, you probably won’t fully understand the story until at least a few repeat viewings.

I give I’m Thinking of Ending Things a B+. It doesn’t have a straightforward plot, but the many metaphors and subtle nuances in every scene make this well worth a watch. It may be confusing experience initially, but it will also pique your curiosity in a way that few other films do. Happy Watching!

GRADE:

B+

7.5/10

Pros/Cons

  • Acting
  • Dialogue
  • Direction
  • Theme
  • Length
  • Plot

Where to Watch

“Coming home is terribly lonely…”

Palm Springs (2020)

Palm Springs is a Hulu original that took this year’s Sundance Film Festival by storm, garnering positive reviews from both audiences and critics alike. In a Groundhog Day-esque story, one man is forced to relive the same day over and over until a few unsuspecting bystanders join him along the way. Let’s consider the pros and cons…

Pros: The acting in this contained little story cannot be overstated enough. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti have an effortless chemistry that will effectively pull you into their world and situation. J.K. Simmons also turns in a great performance and manages to steal the few scenes he appears in. Finally, although we’ve seen many interpretations of time loops in movies, I think Palm Springs uses the format brilliantly to advance the story.

Cons: It’s not easy to find flaws in such a carefree film, but there are some things worth mentioning. Firstly, while I do think Palm Springs uses its time loop premise to its advantage, I completely understand that some will find this to be too gimmicky. Secondly, the sections where this movie struggles the most is when the characters try explain/understand the mechanics of the time loop they are trapped inside. Of course any clarification is appreciated and necessary for the resolution, however the time loop and escape are ultimately yada yada-ed. This ending could spoil the entire movie for you if your expectations are too high, however I would contest that the movie is less about escaping the time loop than it is about the relationships formed inside.

I give Palm Springs a A-. It’s a unique rom-com with an absolutely bonkers premise and solid performances all around! I highly recommend this to everyone with a Hulu subscription. Happy Watching!

GRADE:

A-

8.5/10

Pros/Cons

  • Acting
  • Originality
  • Plot

Where to Watch

  • Hulu with Subscription

“I felt everything I’ll ever feel. So I’ll never feel ever again.”

Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Monsters, Inc. is a charming little movie with unique animation, a wild premise and a lot of heart. It shows us monster life when they’re not scaring children in their bedrooms, although there is some of that as well. Let’s consider the pros and cons of Monsters, Inc….

Pros: The voice acting is superb, especially from John Goodman, Billy Crystal and Steve Buscemi. Their voices fit seamlessly with their monster counterparts, with none so over the top as to pull you out of the movie. The writer/directer, Pete Doctor also deserves his share of the credit for this masterpiece. Not only does he craft this family friendly monster movie, but adds the whimsical twist of monsters being scared of children. This gag gets a lot of mileage throughout the movie, but because of everything else it has to offer, it never feels like a one-trick pony. Lastly, Randy Newman composes a playful score that does an excellent job of setting the tone for the film.

Cons: Although the plot is unique, it is also painfully predictable. You can only expect so much from a G rated family film, but overall it accomplishes what it sets out to do. Even with a foreseeable ending, it still has a satisfying conclusion, so don’t let that deter you too much.

I give Monsters, Inc. a B+. It’s a lighthearted family film that offers excitement, fun visuals and a lot of heart. Your kids will love the zany characters and you will likely come away with a chuckle too. Happy Watching!

GRADE:

B+

7.5/10

Pros/Cons

  • Acting
  • Originality
  • Theme
  • Plot

Where to Watch

“We have a twenty-three nineteen!”

Honey Boy (2019)

Honey Boy is Shia LeBeouf’s passion project, recounting his formative years as a child actor and his dysfunctional relationship with his father. The deeply personal and somber nature will either have you embracing its themes or denouncing its characters. Let’s consider the pros and cons…

Pros: Shia LeBeouf not only writes this emotionally devastating story about his upbringing, but plays the role of his own father. An undoubtedly therapeutic process that is mirrored by Lucas Hedges, who portrays Shia’s adult self in rehab writing this very story. Another resounding positive is how director Alma Har’el brings out spectacular performances from all three leads. She doesn’t shy away from the rawness of the character’s circumstances and captures it beautifully. Finally, the theme of acknowledging your parent’s role in your life, whether good or bad, is powerfully displayed. It also allows an otherwise dour movie to end on an uplifting and inspiring note.

Cons: This drama is unfortunately true to a fault. The plot is depressing and rarely broken up with any joy or hope. Because like real life, there isn’t always a reason to be happy or optimistic. Correspondingly, Shia’s depiction of his father is unfavorable to say the least. This could pull you out of the movie by making you wonder whether Shia is being faithful to his upbringing or is using his creative license to exaggerate his frustrations. All in all, these are minor flaws that hardly detract from such a well made film.

I give Honey Boy an A-. It’s an emotional slice of life story whose autobiographical nature makes its message all the more impactful. Happy Watching!

GRADE:

A-

8.5/10

Pros/Cons

  • Acting
  • Direction
  • Theme
  • Characters
  • Plot

Where to Watch

“Make me look good, Honey Boy.”

The Perfect Host (2010)

The Perfect Host follows a bank robber’s desperate attempt to avoid capture by laying low at an unsuspecting homeowner’s address for the evening. The many twists and flashbacks will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat in this contained indie thriller. Let’s consider the pros and cons…

Pros: This is an independent film that benefits from a better than average production value. It gets straight into the story and shows us important plot points instead of having characters tell us, which is always appreciated. Finally, David Hyde Pierce gives an unforgettably unhinged performance as the host. Not only does he play off of Clayne Crawford well, but is also tasked with playing off himself in many scenes. To elaborate further would spoil a bizarre surprise that is better experienced first hand.

Cons: This story hinges on a few unlikely character decisions. Starting with Clayne Crawford character’s idea to rob a bank to help his love interest. As if there’s no possibility of making the money honestly. The next instance of poor decision making happens later on after he has been held hostage for the entire evening. Instead of taking his one opportunity to escape, he is coaxed into engaging his captor further due to name calling. Lastly, the detective is the only redeemable character in this movie and he gets less screen time than anyone else. And the theme of getting your just deserts doesn’t quite land, as the robber and host are both free to continue their unreformed lives.

I give The Perfect Host a B+. It’s a unique and compelling story with several twists along the way to keep you engaged. Sit back and enjoy this little indie thriller. Happy Watching!

GRADE:

B+

7/10

Pros/Cons

  • Acting
  • Suspense
  • Tone
  • Characters
  • Theme

Where to Watch

“You’re my guest. And I’m glad you’re here. But you have no one but yourself to blame.”

The Fifth Element (1997)

The Fifth Element is a sci-fi epic starring Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman and Milla Jovovich. When an ancient evil returns to destroy life as we know it, former commando Major Korben Dallas decides to help Leeloo retrieve the four elemental stones to save the universe. Let’s consider the pros and cons of The Fifth Element…

Pros: Luc Besson does an excellent job building this futuristic world and laying a unique story on top of it. The attention to detail and beautiful set pieces are an impressive sight to behold. Along with the great direction and vision is a stacked cast. Gary Oldman can’t help but chew up every scene he’s in as the evil Zorg. Finally, there is an action scene that takes place during a space opera that does a fantastic job of encapsulating what this movie is all about. It’s an entertaining ride from start to finish and this scene will keep you pumped and engaged throughout the final stretch.

Cons: I love Chris Tucker to death, but his character Ruby Rhod is intentionally over the top and grating after a short period. Unfortunately he plays a prominent role in the second half of the movie which could influence your overall experience. The only other con worth mentioning is the action heavy scenes, especially toward the end. This sci-fi adventure devolves into shoot outs more times than not and the rapid cuts can get overwhelming at times. However, if the many gun fights don’t bother you, there’s not much else to complain about.

I give The Fifth Element a A-. The originality and world building alone make this a splendid sci-fi adventure, but the great direction and cast is a resounding bonus. Happy Watching!

GRADE:

A-

Pros/Cons

  • Acting
  • Direction
  • Originality
  • Characters

Where to Watch

“Multipass!”

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Galaxy Quest follows a cast of washed up actors who are hilariously mistaken for their TV space crew characters by real aliens. Galaxy Quest found a rare balance between poking fun at and simultaneously respecting its subject matter. Let’s consider the pros and cons…

Pros: This movie is an absolute delight from start to finish. The pacing is well balanced and the endlessly quotable dialogue will keep you engaged throughout. David Newman’s score is also a bright spot, doing a wonderful job of capturing that 80’s Sci-Fi TV show aesthetic. Another takeaway from this most recent viewing was the theme of supporting your friends and family and simply leading a more selfless lifestyle. At the start of the film, Tim Allen’s character is vain and self absorbed. After realizing the laughingstock he’s become, his determination to redeem himself leads him to embody his old TV role in order to help a struggling alien race. By the end of the film, he finds a new appreciation for his friends and his fans. To sum up, it’s a humorous and heartfelt homage to Star Trek.

Cons: There aren’t many ways to critique such a well crafted movie that doesn’t take itself seriously, but I will try. For one, the plot is rather silly and doesn’t make much sense. However, the preposterous events in the beginning lead to a highly entertaining journey and return. Secondly, the CGI is slightly dated which is understandable after 20 years. But once again, It’s worth noting that many effects are practical and still hold up. For instance, Alan Rickman’s fin head helmet looks as real as any CGI you might see today.

I give Galaxy Quest a solid A. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s clever dialogue and tasteful direction make it a joy to watch nonetheless. If half as many parodies showed this much respect to their source material, this comedy would be in much better company. Happy Watching!

GRADE:

A

Pros/Cons

  • Dialogue
  • Pacing
  • Theme
  • CGI
  • Plot

Where to Watch

“Never give up… Never surrender.”

Harry Potter Movies Ranked

The Harry Potter franchise was as successful in movie theaters as it was in book stores. Much of the credit can be attributed to J.K. Rowling, who mastered the technique of telling stories that build upon each other, while simultaneously standing on their own. A feat that translated extremely well to cinema, much to everyone’s satisfaction. Let’s go through my rankings of the Harry Potter films from worst to best.

#8 The Chamber of Secrets

The second movie winds up dead last on my list. Although it is a fun and contained little mystery, this is simply a case of cons outweighing the pros. More so than others in the franchise, this movie is riddled with plot conveniences while not adding much substance to the world. It’s not bad overall, it’s just not nearly as magical as the movies around it.

#7 The Half-Blood Prince

The sixth movie is good and filled with suspense, but it ends up at #7 on my list. I generally think the franchise gets better over time, but this one’s low rank should tell you just how good some of these other movies are. I think this one looks fantastic, but ultimately spends too much time on Ron and Hermione’s relationship.

#6 Deathly Hallows: Part 1

The seventh movie is also very well directed, but it suffers from painstakingly slow plot progression. Although the source material is a 759 page novel, some moments feel stretched in order to justify splitting the story into two parts. It does have exciting elements, but it struggles to stand on it’s own without the second part.

#5 The Goblet of Fire

The fourth film ends up at #5 on my list, just nearly cracking the top half of heavy hitters of the series. Goblet of Fire is by far the most exciting movie of the series, but it also requires you to shut off your brain for the duration. Overall it’s very entertaining, but the circumstances leading to Harry competing in the Triwizard Tournament is difficult to believe, even in a world with magic.

#4 The Sorcerer’s Stone

Starting off the top half of my rankings is none other than the movie that started it all. The Sorcerer’s Stone kicked off this juggernaut of a franchise and for the next decade, Harry Potter fans would focus on little else. The CGI is slightly dated at this point, but the score is beautiful and the story provides a solid foundation for the rest of the movies.

#3 The Order of the Phoenix

The fifth film of the series lands the #3 spot on my list for several reasons. For the first time, Harry Potter and his friends are left to their own devices. Unable to rely on the professors at Hogwarts to bail them out of trouble this school year. This movie also gives us the highest high of the series with the visually stunning duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort. I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

#2 Deathly Hallows: Part 2

The climactic finale comes in at #2 on my list. Where Part 1 falls short, this movie pays off in a most spectacular way! Not only is it a well acted and directed film, but an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the decade long franchise.

#1 Prisoner of Azkaban

That’s right, the third movie, Prisoner of Azkaban tops my list at #1! Time travel paradoxes aside, this movie showed us the most dramatic transformation of our three beloved heroes. Alfonso Cuarón’s bold direction of this film changed the tone and trajectory of the franchise for the better. Once innocent children, now cast into the very dangerous wizarding world…

There you have it! T-man’s definitive ranking of the Harry Potter franchise. Comment below and let me know which is your favorite and why. And as always, Happy Watching!

8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is based on the novel from J.K. Rowling and the eighth and final movie of the series. The story continues with Harry, Ron and Hermione desperately trying to destroy the remaining Horcruxes and defeat Lord Voldemort. Let’s consider the pros and cons of the final film…

Pros: Where Deathly Hallows: Part 1 falls flat, this movie pays off in a spectacular way! Firstly, Ralph Fiennes is finally given the opportunity to embody the role of Lord Voldemort and gives an absolutely chilling performance. Secondly, the climactic action sequence at the Battle of Hogwarts is thrilling and excellently depicted. A particularly powerful moment of the battle are the callbacks to the first three films we see in rapid succession. Ogres from the Sorcerer’s Stone, spiders from the Chamber of Secrets, and Dementors from the Prisoner of Azkaban. Lastly, this movie is not only well acted and directed, but an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the decade long franchise.

Cons: While it’s clear the filmmakers had a large budget to work with, the CGI isn’t as polished as it could be. Part of the reason for this is due to many action scenes, including the Battle of Hogwarts, occurring at night. The battle is still a visually stunning centerpiece for the movie, but several times I felt my eyes straining to see what was on screen. That’s my only gripe with this otherwise great film.

I give Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 an A-. It’s an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the Harry Potter saga. So much thought and care was put into this franchise, which allows for a truly magical ending and a one of a kind experience. I hope you enjoy this series as much as I do. Happy Watching!

GRADE:

A-

Pros/Cons

  • Acting
  • Direction
  • CGI

Where to Watch

“C’mon, Tom… let’s finish this the way we started it. Together!”