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Introduction – the Matthew Liedke Film Column Archive

Hello, Matthew Liedke here! I’m a film critic who has written about movies and the film industry since 2008.

From 2008-2016, my reviews and other columns were mainly written at a website titled After The Movie Reviews, on Webs.com. Then, from 2016 until May 2018, my reviews were posted on AreaVoices, a blog network website operated by Forum Communications Company based in Fargo, N.D.

Additionally, I wrote/produced reviews and columns for numerous outlets, including:

  • KGHS-KSDM Radio in International Falls, Minn.
  • The Advocate, the student newspaper at Minnesota State University in Moorhead.
  • Doing it Downtown, a student blog featuring downtown Fargo and Moorhead, including art.
  • The Wahpeton (N.D.)-Breckenridge (Minn.) Daily News.

All of my film reviews and columns before May 2018 that were featured on all of these outlets can now be found on this archive.

Enjoy.

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Fargo Film Festival 2016 Highlights

March 18

After a drive from Bemidji, Minn., through the rain and snow yesterday, I finally arrived in Fargo for the city’s 16th annual Film Festival.

Thursday marked the first time since 2012, during my last semester at Minnesota State University in Moorhead right across the Red River from Fargo, that I had gone to the festival and it was great to be back.

The historic Fargo Theatre, now in its 90th year of operation, has always been a favorite spot of mine to catch films from all sorts of genres, and yesterday was no exception.

Thursday was the festivals third day of showing and was focused on short films of all types from multiple different places. Some of my favorites from yesterday included:

Lesley the Pony has an A+ Day, directed by Christian Larrave from Providence, RI. This was an animated short and its zany art style went hand in hand with a comedic routine that got more crazy as it went on leading to a lot of laughs in the second half.

Bill Brunton: Guitar Maker, directed by Shane Reetz of Moorhead.
This movie, clocking in at about 45 minutes, featured a Fargo guitar builder named Bill Brunton. What really worked about this picture was how many different aspects were captured by the camera. The audience learned a lesson about guitar making, saw the beauty of the craft, learned the philosophy behind the art and understood the main character’s motivation. It was an impressive and charming piece of work.

The House is Innocent, directed by Nicholas Coles of Los Angeles.
A documentary short film, “The House is Innocent” was a look at an eccentric older couple with a great sense of humor who turned around the lore of a house with a bad reputation. The documentary shows that one, truth is stranger than fiction and two, the right people can turn around a bad situation.

Cops and Robbers, directed by Marco Ragozzino of West Hollywood.
One of the funniest shorts I watched yesterday, “Cops and Robbers” followed the story of an actor who is always cast as a police officer and is growing rather tired of it. The film follows his (hilarious) attempts at getting cast as a bad guy for a change.

The Goodbye, directed by Michael P. Nelson of Minneapolis.
This is one that I’d rather not spoil much of, so I’ll just say it’s a really charming short that takes an interesting, unique look at how a writer deals with writer’s block as well as his relationship with the characters he creates.

Meat, directed by Michael Forstein of St. Paul.
Forstein was one of the many directors who were on hand for Q&A segments yesterday and said the picture was shot in Duluth, Minn. The movie portrays a young man taking on a one day job as a door-to-door meat salesman and the picture really captures the hardships in doing that sort of job in the cold, stark section of that kind of city.

Team Work, directed by Michael Toubassi of North Hollywood.
Another one of my favorite humorous short pictures Thursday, “Team Work” was an exaggerated film about an office seminar on group projects that certainly had some truth to it. The film was well acted across the board with the comedic delivery being on point.

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Director Michael Toubassi speaking about the film Team Work.

What’s Eating Dad, directed by Michael Goldburg of New York City.
The last comedic short film on my little write-up here, “What’s Eating Dad” was a well crafted movie showing a normal person put in an insane situation and trying to make the most of it. The way the other characters play up the normalcy of an unusual situation around the protagonist was great.

Percussion, directed by Dominic Paczkowski, Moorhead.
A two-minute picture, “Percussion” was a fantastic musical film that was able to explore dedication to a craft in a short run time. Additionally, the film’s ending was a great example of a college atmosphere where rooms are always in use by students trying to master whatever craft they’re working on.

Schoolcraft, directed by Adam Nelson of Atlanta.
This was likely my favorite short from Thursday’s showings. “Schoolcraft” was a picture based on a true story of a New York City Police Department scandal and shows a haunting portrait of law enforcement corruption. Nelson did a great job at capturing a gritty NYPD precinct office and brought a ton of suspense in the short’s final minutes.

March 19

On my second day at the Fargo Film Festival there were certainly plenty more movies to watch, but there were two that really and obviously stood out.

The first was “Wildlike,” the Best Narrative Feature and the other was “Welcome to Leith, which won Best Documentary Feature and Best Director.

Welcome to Leith (Also played at the Sundance Film Festival)

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Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker receive the Best Documentary Feature and Best Director awards from festival staff before a question and answer segment.

Directed by Michael Beach Nicholas and Christopher K. Walker of New York City, “Welcome to Leith” followed the tale of notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb who attempted to take over a small town in North Dakota by way of building a population voting base.

What really works about “Welcome to Leith” is its extraordinarily balanced approach. The crew does plenty to explore the plight, fear and anger of the residents who live in Leith and their response to Cobb, who brings with him a frightening presence. However, the crew also put just as much emphasis on interviewing and documenting Cobb and his ilk.

It’s clear that the directors don’t pick to side with either faction and in a way it wouldn’t even be necessarily to do so, since both sides tell their own story in the interviews. Many of the town residents are worried about the negative attention from the world as well as from what Cobb might do. Meanwhile Cobb and company use the interviews to discuss their twisted logic and terrible vision.

The directors, who were on hand during a Q&A segment after the screening, even said the movie plays out like a western, having the same type of “characters:” the bad guy who comes to town, the good mayor wanting to stop him, etc.

Another thing the filmmakers didn’t do is insert themselves into the interviews or situations. The movie was strictly portraying through footage and interviews what was happening as it was happening, making the movie feel like a real life thriller.

“Welcome to Leith” was an all around fantastic documentary, filled with tension and a mystery as to what’s going to happen next. Additionally, the film sheds light on the fact that hatred and racism still exist at frightening levels in the deep recesses of the population.

Wildlike – Directed by Frank Hall Green

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Wildlike, directed by Frank Hall Green
In “Wildlike,” Ella Purnell plays a teen named Mackenzie who is sent to live with her Uncle (Brian Geraghty) in Alaska until her mother can put together a suitable home in Seattle. Mackenzie is forced to runaway from her life at her new home, though, when her uncle molests her.

As Mackenzie goes from place to place trying to survive, she ends up meeting a hiker named Rene, played by Bruce Greenwood. Rene seems to be battling his own demon but he certainly has his life together and is also an expert hiker. Through some stubbornness she ends up taking a hike through the Alaskan wilderness with him and the film explores the beginning of a healing process.

The people behind “Wildlife” were able to capture so much emotion with the camera from both main characters as the movie went on. The tension, sadness and awkwardness is all on display as both leads’ personalities grow and a friendship develops between them. There’s also some heavy suspense during the movie’s climactic finale.

Additionally, the film shows off the beauty Alaska has in its outdoors and explores the intriguing healing process that pure nature can provide. In this way, it was reminiscent of the 2014 film “Wild” starring Reese Witherspoon.

As for the acting, it’s hard to deny that Greenwood stole many scenes in the picture. The veteran actor gave a heartfelt performance and was able to display both his unwillingness and initial annoyance with Mackenzie as well as his character’s eventual coming around to help her out.

Purnell, meanwhile, gave an inspired performance, fully showing the fear and uneasiness because of the card life has dealt her. The dialogue between the two leads was well written, too, never feeling rushed or unreal.

Today is the final day of the festival and I’m most looking forward to the winner of Best Documentary Short, “The Champion,” a film about an Iraqi boxer.

The final day of the event at the Fargo Theatre presented some of the best the fest has had to offer since my arrival on Thursday.

The Summer Help

A feature documentary that aired in the morning session of the festival Saturday, “The Summer Help,” directed by Melody Gilbert of Chicago, told the story of college students from Eastern European countries who took up work in the United States in the summer months to help pay for tuition and see more of the world.

The documentary is done in a very straight forward approach, letting the film’s subjects do most of the talking and tell their own story. The picture was an informative experience and can give an audience an insight into what Europeans enjoy and dislike about America.

Supermoto

This was likely the best community-based screening of the whole festival. Showing during the afternoon session, “Supermoto” was a feature directed by Joe Maggio of New York City, but was shot just outside of Fargo and featured many performers from the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, including some from my alma mater, Minnesota State University in Moorhead. When the lights went down for the movie, the theater hall was packed.

As for the movie itself, “Supermoto” followed a young woman named Ruby (played by Jeannine Kaspar) who has been left by her boyfriend in a motel room with nothing but a supermoto motorcycle.

Setting and shooting the movie in a small North Dakota town and showing off the wide open prairie land that make up the majority of the state was a good move, as it gave a larger sense of isolation for the film’s protagonist. The character, who was a quiet person unsure of her next move in life, was portrayed strongly by Kaspar, who delivered a reserved and subtle performance that still got the point across. My only complaint is that I do wish a few of the characters had gotten a bit more screen time and development.

The Casebook of Nips and Porkington

Directed by Melody Wang of Toronto, this animated short received an honorable mention from the festival staff and for good reason. The animation was unique and the crew used a great approach of having the story take place on the moving pages of a newspaper. It was fast paced and fun.

Olilo

Another film receiving recognition at the fest was this animated short which followed the story of an introverted girl. The film, directed by Ao Li of New York City, was one of the most creative animated films I’ve seen in some time and used brilliant methods to explore what its like to be an introverted person that wants to avoid people.

The Champion

Directed by Brett Garamella and Patrick McGowan of Worcester, Mass., “The Champion” was the festival’s choice for Best Documentary Short. The movie followed the story of Estaifan Shilaita, a charismatic and charming taxi cab driver and family man living in Chicago.

More than that, though, Shilaita is also the former champion of boxing in Iraq and had a promising career. By recreating boxing Shilaita’s boxing matches, the film was able to explore his career in the sport.

It then describes how he was eventually forced to leave Iraq and eventually immigrated to the United States with his wife. In the end, the movie successfully managed to explore the themes of love, including love of family, love of a sport and love of a new country.

George A. Romero

This year, the film festival’s highest honor, the Ted M. Larson Award, was given to George A. Romero. Since scheduling conflicts prevented Romero from visiting the festival, the people from Fargo decided to go up and film Romero receiving the award at his home. The festival filmed Romero graciously accepting the award and also featured a great tribute of the director’s films.

Larson, who the award is named after, was an influential person in the Fargo-Moorhead area. He was a professor at Minnesota State for 32 years and directed the institution’s International Film Festival and Summer Cinema Film Series. He also influenced the planning of the first Fargo Film Festival. He is a reason why the film program at Minnesota State is where it is today.

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The End.

Before Dawn Of Justice: Ranking The Superman Films

What’s being billed as the “greatest gladiator match in the history of the world” is just around the corner. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” opens this week, but before it does, I figured I would put together a short series ranking the Superman and Batman movies.

For these lists, I’ll only be doing the more modern films, not the couple made before the 1970s. First up are the Superman films.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

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The fourth “Superman” film from the Christopher Reeve era was unfortunately the worst of the original series. Released in 1987, the film included poor acting, bad effects and an awful villain.

Before tearing the movie completely apart, though, I’ll give the lightest praise. I can at the very least give the movie credit for, one, taking on the subject of nuclear weapons which were of course a topic of the time. Second, I can also understand wanting to create another type of villain similar in power and strength to Superman, and having it be born from nuclear energy could work. Heck, even the idea of Superman questioning how much he should intervene could work.

But, wow, was the execution bad. Instead of taking on an important subject with subtlety, the film instead bashes the audience over the head, and then insults the intelligence of the viewer by how Superman rids the world of nukes as well as how the villain Nuclear Man is made.

Then there’s the fight scenes, the unbearable, terrible fight scenes. The movie reuses a bunch of flying scenes from other films and basically shows Superman cleaning up messes left by Nuclear Man. When the two actually come to blows, the fight choreography is easily the worst. I could go on, but I’ve bashed the film enough.

Superman III

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“Superman III” was a prime example of superhero/comic book movies not knowing how to handle a saga like they do today. After the great sequel, the third Superman film seemed like it didn’t really know where to go. So instead of building on the series, the film instead went more for a comedic tone, even going so far as to hire Richard Pryor for a lead role.

Like the last movie, there is an interesting idea that pops up. This time around, Superman is split into two personas, one good and one bad and they duke it out. Besides that, there’s not much else to admire about this picture. The film couldn’t even get a good villain, instead it just shows off Lex Luthor-Lite.

Superman Returns

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A new Superman film a year after the awesome “Batman Begins” and directed by a Bryan Singer who helmed the fantastic “X-Men” sequel just a few years prior equaled plenty of hype. Unfortunately, instead of being a new and exciting adventure for the great hero, what came to theaters was basically a rehash of old ideas and the whole thing came off as if it was made as just an homage to the original two films.

The picture felt way too long and had no major pay offs in terms of excitement, the grand finale being a prime example. There was simply never a moment to cheer Superman on, especially since all he was up against was Kevin Spacey doing a Gene Hackman impression. I remember seeing the film in Imax and leaving the theater with a feeling of “meh.”

I didn’t enjoy Brando Routh as Superman very much, either. I think it’s because he was being directed to be reminiscent of Christopher Reeve, but he didn’t have what Reeve had and he couldn’t really bring his own style to the character. Speaking of the character, I wasn’t particularly engaged by the route they went with why Clark left Earth as well as his relationship with Lois Lane.

With that said, though, “Superman Returns” was better than the third and fourth films of the older series. While I do think Singer was too focused on making a tribute to the original films, the guy is still a competent filmmaker and the picture was at least well crafted.

Superman

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Now we’re getting into the good stuff. Directed by Richard Donner and written by Academy Award winner Mario Puzo, the 1978 “Superman” was a great telling of the character’s origin story. In fact, one of the best scenes of the movie happens before Clark even dons the suit. In the scene following Jonathan Kent’s death, Clark talks about how despite having all his super powers, he couldn’t save his father. It was a great learning point for the hero and a solid launching point for what happened next.

The movie includes great performances from the supporting cast, too, such as Hackman as Lex Luthor, Marlon Brando as Jor El and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. Sure, the ending of this one was a bit cheesy, but for its time, it was great, especially some of the flying scenes. Plus, there was that incredible theme song that to this day is one of the best.

Man of Steel

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Probably the most divisive superhero film ever, there were quite a lot of people that really dislike this movie. I’m not one of them. I loved nearly everything about this Superman picture, the only flaw being the romance between Lois and Superman being rather rushed.

The sci-fi movie opening on Krypton, the aspect of fatherhood portrayed, the new idea for the Fortress of Solitude, how Clark became a drifter and how his backstory was told through flashbacks were all handled well. The scene where he first uses his x-ray vision, for example, really shows why Clark was such a lost character at first.

I also enjoyed the performances. Henry Cavill was a great Superman in my view, showing his inner conflict about where he comes from, his love for his parents and especially his unrefined approach at being a hero, which made sense since he is just at the starting block in the movie. On the opposing side, Michael Shannon was awesome as General Zod, separating himself from the performance of Terence Stamp who also portrayed the character. Shannon’s villain was a great balance between intelligent and insane.

Both Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe were great as Superman’s fathers, too, both being believable as men who are trying to find the best course for their sons in the midst of difficult situations.

The battle scenes were things of beauty, too. As a big fan of both “Dragon Ball Z” and the animated series “Justice League Unlimited,” I loved seeing the large scale fight sequences with characters throwing seismic punches and doing battle in the air.

Superman II

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As much as I enjoyed “Man of Steel,” it can’t top one of the most perfect sequels ever. Everything that the first “Superman” did, its sequel expanded upon. It called back to the first movie’s trial of General Zod and subsequently introduced a character who could match Superman in power.

Additionally it furthered the romance between Lois and Clark and explored what would happen if Superman had his powers removed. The way Superman defeats the enemies was great, too, as the hero used a clever trick to best Zod.

Stealing a lot of the show in “Superman II” was Stamp who was incredible as Zod. The straightforward, demanding tone in Stamp’s delivery fit exactly what the character needed. The returning cast was solid, too.

A minor flaw in the movie, though, is what happens at the end between Lois and Clark.

Before Dawn Of Justice: Ranking The Batman Films

This is part two in a series where I rank the films of both Batman and Superman before the movie “Dawn of Justice” hits theaters this weekend. having already done Superman, it’s time to move on to the caped crusader.

Batman and Robin

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There’s no doubt, “Batman & Robin” is the worst Batman movie and is easily one of the worst comic book films ever made.

Director Joel Schumacher seemed to make a mockery of what had been built up in the Batman movie series. It had already started with “Batman Forever,” but “Batman & Robin” doubled down.
Which is unfortunate since the movie’s story element of tension between the two main heroes is an interesting one and has been done better in other mediums. Additionally, rumor has it that the film initially intended on Patrick Stewart playing Mr. Freeze as well as having a much more serious script.

Changes were made, though, and instead audiences got to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger yell ice puns for two hours. The supporting cast was forgettable, too. George Clooney, obviously a great actor, seemed like he didn’t have much interest in the picture since he never truly becomes Batman, most of the film he’s just playing himself.

Chris O’Donnel wasn’t given much to do since all that was written for his character was a lot of complaining and Uma Thurman did nothing but ham up her performance as Poison Ivy. Then there was Alicia Silverstone’s Barbara Wilson, aka Batgirl, who was completely unnecessary in this film.

All of this is on top of the horrific action that went for slapstick and campy fighting instead of great choreography. It was really a shame because this came out two years before “The Matrix” and a year before “Blade,” both of which showed the action potential of the 90s.

Batman Forever

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This 1995 picture included Val Kilmer who gave one of my favorite performances as Doc Holiday in “Tombstone.” It also had Academy Award winners Tommy Lee Jones and Nicole Kidman as well as Jim Carrey who has proven himself as a serviceable actor.

Unfortunately, like “Batman & Robin,” “Forever” was also directed by Schumacher. At the very least, “Forever” wasn’t as bad as B&R. In fact, introducing Robin was a pretty good move and for the most part the filmmakers were pretty true to his origin story. O’Donnell, who was just coming on to the scene at the time, wasn’t bad either. He actually delivered an OK performance.

The real problems came from the headlining stars. Kidman was an unmemorable love interest for Batman and Kilmer seemed dull as the dark knight from beginning to end. Even worse was Jones, who did nothing but goof around, what a disappointment. Imagine if Jones had played Two Face like he played his character in “The Fugitive.”

Then there was Carrey, who could have made an interesting Riddler. Instead, though, Schumacher decided to just have Carrey play the same character he did in the “Ace Ventura” movies.

It’s pretty sad that the one good part of this movie was that it was used to promote “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal.

Batman Returns

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Director Tim Burton’s second Batman film was the weaker of his two, but it was much better than Schumacher’s. Michael Keaton returns from the first film, bringing with him his awesome portrayal as both Batman and Bruce Wayne.

In both movies he’s able to portray the different personalities his character has to show due to his secret identity. Adding to this element in “Returns” was that Burton advanced his character and did so by using Catwoman who was well portrayed by Michell Pfeiffer.

Despite the film’s strengths, though, it was dragged down by Burton’s need to go too far with his style. In the first movie, Burton was able to strike a good balance, injecting some of his style to make a dark, atmospheric Batman film, but was still reserved enough to not fully dive in. That changed in “Returns.”

Part of that change was Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin. While DeVito wasn’t bad, the Penguin character was turned from a gentleman-like crime boss to a vulgar creature.

The Dark Knight Rises

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The finale of Director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was certainly a well shot and expertly crafted picture, but it’s the weakest of the three. “Rises” was the only film where Nolan’s realistic tone didn’t mesh as much with the comic book-based tale.

Another issue is the film’s second act. The whole movie seems to slow down in the middle offering just some exposition for the villain Bane and a training montage for Batman. Bane’s master plan was a bit generic, too, and the final conflict lacked the type of mental battle that was seen in the previous installment.

Additionally, I felt the romance between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, was rather unconvincing.

With that said, “Rises” was a well directed film stacked with acting talent that really delivered for the trilogy’s end.

Batman Begins

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“Batman Begins” was exactly the type of shot in the arm the character as well as the comic book movie industry in general needed. Nolan brought an intelligent approach to the caped crusader, making the character believable in today’s world.

While the movie felt realistic, Nolan still brought style to the picture. However, instead of the more gothic feel of Burton, Nolan relied on a gritty crime drama atmosphere.
On top of that, “Batman Begins” was one of the first comic book pictures to bring in an Oscar caliber cast to its lineup.

Batman

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The first is still one of the best. The 1989 movie “Batman,” helmed by Burton, was a fantastic reimagining of the character and brought the dark knight into a new age. Burton’s gothic style really worked in conjunction with the mythos of Batman, such as the Batcave, the Batmobile and the dreary, crime-ridden Gotham City itself.

The two lead actors were fantastic choices, too. As previously stated, Michael Keaton managed to bring a balance to the two egos of Batman and Bruce Wayne, which is necessary to correctly tell the story of the character.

Stealing the show, though, was Jack Nicholson who portrayed the Joker. Nicholson brought a ton of energy and certainly had fun with the character, but still managed to make him menacing, too. The result was one of the more memorable villains from super hero movies in general.

The Dark Knight

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This isn’t just one of my favorite comic book movies, it’s one of my favorite films ever made. This movie was like lightning in a bottle, everything clicked to perfection. From the film’s exciting opening heist which was a perfect hook to the strong speech delivered at the end of the picture, it’s all fantastic.

The story allows for Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne to question whether or not he should continue being Batman and it also allows for the dark knight to do some legitimate detective work, laboring alongside Commissioner Gordon.

Nolan also made sure to explore the psychotic nature of the Joker and fully displayed just how crazy the character was. Looking back at the character, the line from Michael Caine’s Alfred “some men just want to watch the world burn” always comes to mind.

Often overshadowed in reviews, the movie also included a fantastic portrayal of the character Harvey Dent, in which Nolan went out of his way to include a subplot about a character turning on his morals in order to do what he perceives as justice.

All of these story elements were bolstered by the incredible acting, especially from Heath Ledger who won an Academy Award posthumously.

On top of that, the film includes amazing action sequences, such as one of the greatest chase scenes put to film.

Ten Great Alien Visitation Films

Aliens have visited Earth for a number of different reasons in movies. Sometimes for war, other times for exploration and in a few moments they are just creatures that have come down to the blue planet.

In this list, I’ll share some great flicks where aliens visit Earth, regardless of their intent and whatever the genre.

10. The Faculty – 1998

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This late 90s horror flick took an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” idea and placed it in a high school setting, making for a fun and creepy picture. The film has some great ‘creature feature’ effects and mixes it with teen characters that are actually more intelligent than an average horror movie would have.

The film seems to fly under the radar and it seems like not many people have seen it. If you haven’t watched it, check it out. Yes, the plot used by the aliens (taking over human bodies) has been done before, but this was an interesting take.

9. Evolution – 2001

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Another underrated picture, this early 2000s film was goofy, cheesy and silly in all the best ways. The movie stars David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott and Julianne Moore. The film follows their characters in a sort of ‘rag-tag group of heroes’ sort of way, where they are all different but can still work together.

While the CGI is rather outdated now, the movie is still a blast to watch as a fun throwback to old B-movies.

8. War of the Worlds – 2005

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Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” is one of the more intense alien movies from recent memory. It’s a survival picture where so many things keep happening to the point where you never feel quite safe. The protagonists make it somewhere and immediately another problem occurs, leaving the audience on the edge of their seat.

Along with Spielberg’s skills, the movie also features solid performances from Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning.

7. Super 8 – 2011

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Directed by J.J. Abrams, “Super 8” was a film that captured a lot of childhood wonder and adventure the same way “E.T.” did a few decades before. The movie featured good performances all around from its young cast and there were plenty of thrills and mystery from start to finish.

This is one of those movies where the conflict is actually a launching point to explore the characters themselves and Abrams found the right balance with taking a look at the protagonists while still featuring the alien element.

6. Pacific Rim – 2013

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Instead of coming from the sky, aliens come from the sea in “Pacific Rim.” To fight the giant alien creatures that come from the ocean, humanity builds huge robots in this 2013 film, and seeing the two clash is pure popcorn movie bliss.

The designs of the robots and the invading monsters in this movie are incredible. Plus, the cast featuring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Ron Perlman and Charlie Day make it worth watching.

5. District 9 – 2009

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The debut feature for Director Neill Blomkamp remains his best work. “District 9” is able to do so many things on an emotional and political level and still manages to be an exciting sci-fi flick to boot.

The movie features a phenomenal performance from Sharlto Copley and also accomplishes the difficult task of making an emotional, sympathetic connection with the alien species, despite them not speaking a human language. This makes the political message of the film have more of an impact and the action in the climax much more engaging.

4. Edge of Tomorrow – 2014

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“Edge of Tomorrow” is a brilliant sci-fi action flick and it’s really a shame that it didn’t do better at the box office. The film features an interesting character arc for the lead protagonist, played by Tom Cruise, and fantastically uses the “Groundhog Day” format of reliving the same day in an action setting.

Rounded out with an awesome performance from Emily Blunt, a story that can keep an audience guessing and action that leaves a person on the edge of their seat, “Edge of Tomorrow” is easily a sci-fi classic.

3. Independence Day – 1996

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I’ve heard all the complaints. Some say it has too many characters, other say the way the humans overcome the aliens is too preposterous. Despite it all, I love this movie. From Will Smith’s energetic performance to Bill Pullman’s delivery as the President of the United States and even Jeff Goldblum’s computer tech genius. All of the performances seem to mesh and work well together.

Also a strong point for “Independence Day” is the action, bolstered by solid special effects for their time. The film has so many memorable moments from the time the ships arrive, to the time they attack major cities and the sequences of air combat. It all adds up to an exciting blockbuster.

2. E.T. – 1982

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Spielberg really worked his magic in “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.” Remember what I said about “Super 8?” “E.T.” was the movie that did it first.

This is a film that really has it all, good characters, smart writing, a range of heavy emotions, thrills, excitement and an amazing score.

1. The Day the Earth Stood Still – 1951

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“The Day the Earth Stood Still” is still my favorite movie where an alien race comes down to our planet. The film was very much a product of the post-World War II era, just as the Cold War was starting up.

In that sense, it does what a sci-fi film is supposed to do: tell an interesting story while delivering a point and making an audience think. Michael Rennie’s performance as Klaatu was also on point and Gort is one of the all-time memorable sci-fi creatures.

Ranking the Fast and Furious movies (Written pre-part 8)

Back in 2001, not many people were expecting the simple street racing crime flick “The Fast and the Furious” to turn into an eight-part, multi-million dollar franchise. Yet, all these years later the series is still turning out films, with the latest, “The Fate of the Furious” set for release tomorrow.

With that in mind, now seems like a good time to look back on the series and share my view on where they all rank. So, here’s my Furious franchise listing, from worst to best.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (Part 3, 2006)

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Did you like the characters from the previous two movies? Do you want sequels to actually tie into the story from the previous installment? If you answered yes to both, then like me, you probably weren’t a big fan of the third installment of the series, “Tokyo Drift.” Neither Vin Diesel who played the outlaw with a heart of gold or Paul Walker playing a cop who doesn’t play by the rules showed up here. (OK Diesel showed up for 30 second cameo but come on.)

What we got instead was a weak lead performance from Lucas Black playing an annoying teenager who gets into trouble and isn’t even that good of a driver. Accompanying him in the movie was Shad Moss, formerly known as Bow Wow, giving a dreadful performance as the movie’s comic relief. The only bright spot here was the character Han, which is apparent as he’s the only character from here who got more than a cameo in later installments. The movie should have been about that guy.

2 Fast 2 Furious (Part 2, 2003)

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Yes, on this list this is technically “second 2 worst,” but the difference between “2 Fast” and “Drift” can’t be stated enough. The direct sequel 2 the original is over the top, filled with ridiculous moments and had some scenes that were rather silly. However, this flick is just so much damn fun, it can’t help but be a guilty pleasure.

Walker comes back and gets 2 play his character a little more loosely as he’s no longer a strict cop. At the same time, it created a good dynamic between his character and Roman, who was played by Tyrese Gibson. Walker’s character still played things more by the books creating a fun banter between him and Gibson’s role. It’s schlocky entertainment and it’s something I don’t mind catching on cable now and then.

Furious 7 (Part 7, 2015)

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If anyone thought “2 Fast 2 Furious” would be the extent of insane sequences, then “Furious 7” would have blown peoples’ minds. This movie had planes skydiving, a raid on a warehouse with special operatives, helicopters blowing up, cars flying through skyscrapers and an antagonist in action star Jason Statham who could match up with the heroes.

Unfortunately this flick also had some detriments. Djimon Hounsou played a secondary villain who was just after some technical Mcguffin. This is on top of the fact that he wasn’t really needed since the movie already had Statham. This also led to Nathalie Emmanuel playing a character named Ramsey who had to guard the Mcguffin and in the end it just made her character forgettable.

This one is still entertaining but doesn’t hit the levels of the flicks in front of it.

The Fast and the Furious (Part 1, 2001)

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OK, I’ve heard it all, the first one was just a rip-off of “Point Break,” blah blah blah. I still really enjoy the first “Fast and the Furious” and hold it up as one of the better pictures in the franchise. The movie had a great attitude that perfectly fit the time it was made, the characters introduced were likable and the action was fast paced and intense.

Additionally, the action while great visually, was a bit more simplistic in comparison to the wild sequences that populate the later movies. The dialogue also struck a solid action movie balance of having enough tough-guy one-liners mixed with humor.

Fast and Furious (Part 4, 2009)

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This put the whole thing back on track. After the absolute train wreck (or maybe car wreck is more fitting) of “Tokyo Drift,” “Fast Five” brought the series back to its roots and set up its future. Back were Walker and Diesel, now tougher and more experienced in the crime world than they were in the first installment, which was great to see.

The action and racing was also a welcome return, too, Bringing the intensity that was in the original. While what was featured in “2 Fast” was fun, the raw, fierce action featured here, especially in the final chase sequence was highly engaging. It may not be my favorite of the series, but this may be the most important. It took the franchise off life support after “Tokyo Drift.”

Fast and Furious 6 (Part 6, 2013)

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The sixth installment earned a lot of points for its amazing action sequences. There’s fantastic hand-to-hand combat both in the middle of the movie in a subway as well as on an aircraft at the end. Plus, there’s incredible moments with car chases, especially when it involves a tank.

The picture was just pure popcorn madness, completely embracing the ridiculousness of the car combat that the series had been building up and running all the way with it. Keeping it out of the top spot was a subplot with Walker’s character going undercover at a prison which slowed things down a bit too much.

Fast Five (Part 5, 2011)

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Everything that part 6 did, “Fast Five” did better. In fact, this movie really took the best of both worlds. The film kept the lead characters as anti-heroes, keeping them outlaws and trying to pull off a heist while being chased by agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). At the same time, though, they’re called in to take on a Brazilian Drug Lord, forcing them to fight the crime world, ultimately making for a solid dynamic.

Bringing the whole crew from previous movies together and adding Dwayne Johnson to the roster was brilliant and the action in the series was never better. Plus, the movie featured the fight between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, arguably the two biggest action stars of the 2000s. Everything simply clicked.

How about your favorites? Leave a comment down below and name how you would rank them.

Enjoy ‘Deadpool?’ Hyped For ‘DP2?’ Cool, Then You’ll Love ‘Kick-Ass’

A main character dressed as a superhero fights crime, narrates his own story and in some moments breaks the fourth wall.

Think I’m talking about “Deadpool?” Nope. I’m talking about “Kick-Ass,” the 2010 action comedy adaptation of the comic book. In just a few days “Deadpool 2” will be released, with the first one coming to theaters in early 2016.

Despite both of these films having a great number of similarities to “Kick-Ass,” though, people seem to have forgotten the movie that’s now nearly a decade old. But the fact is that “Kick-Ass” deserves to be remembered and recognized because of how it raised the bar, especially in this period of time where we have the “Deadpool” films coming out.

So let’s go back to 2010. The Marvel cinematic universe had just gotten started, with only “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” coming out so far. As for mature themes, the closest mainstream audiences got to see when it comes to superhero features was “The Dark Knight.” Additionally, aside from “Mystery Men” from over a decade ago, not many films from Hollywood brought a satirical view on the superhero genre.

Then, came “Kick-Ass.” A well written, superbly acted and topical feature film that poked fun at the superhero genre while still taking itself seriously enough to tell a meaningful story.

It was also rated a hard R, with brutal, bloody fight scenes, complete with all kinds of style and color thanks to Director Matthew Vaughn and his crew. Just like “Deadpool” had its entertaining and gruesome highway battle, “Kick-Ass” featured an amazing shootout in a hallway.

It should also be noted that the “Kick-Ass,” like “Deadpool,” has a kick ass soundtrack. The music is mixed in fantastically with the battle sequences, such as the scene where “Kick-Ass” wins his first fight. This is something that both films share, as each uses numerous songs in great ways to match what’s going on in their respective movies.

“Kick-Ass” surpassed “Deadpool” in some areas, too. For example, the supporting characters in “Kick-Ass” such as Mindy (better known as Hit Girl) and Damon (Big Daddy) added a ton of intrigue to the film and made it much more engaging. There was also a fantastic villain in the crime boss Frank, played by Mark Strong. The supporting characters in “Deadpool,” meanwhile, were fine, but were never as interesting as the main character.

As for the main characters, relatively speaking, Deadpool is probably the better lead character. Deadpool is so damn entertaining, seeming to have a joke ready for everything he sees. He also often has commentary that usually reflects what the audience is thinking. However, in all fairness, Kick-Ass, aka Dave, is also a solid character. He’s a teenager who gets into an extremely dangerous situation but still holds onto some of the responsibility related to the path he’s chosen.

From my perspective, “Kick-Ass” also had a better story than “Deadpool.” The latter, at the end of the day, was actually a fairly straightforward superhero origin story. It was a very funny, self-aware and meta origin story, but an origin story nonetheless.

“Kick-Ass,” meanwhile, has a story that follows a character who at first is a naive teenager who transitions to a person who’s in over his head and leads to an ending where the protagonist learns what the consequences and sacrifices are for a person who decides to be a vigilante. It’s also an origin story, but told from the perspective of a person who realizes he’s in an origin story and has to come to terms with it.

Now, I want to be clear. I liked “Deadpool” and I have high hopes that its sequel will be a great experience at the cinema. Ryan Reynolds has been perfect as the titular character, and the film really succeeds with its crude, vulgar humor and action sequences that don’t pull punches.

But from my view, “Kick-Ass” did it first, and in some areas, did it better. So, before you head to the theater to see “Deadpool 2,” it’s a smart decision to put “Kick-Ass” on your screen and watch a fellow R-rated superhero action comedy that has unfortunately been somewhat forgotten.

Just don’t watch “Kick-Ass 2,” let’s all pretend that one doesn’t exist.

A Look At How ‘Mystery Men’ And ‘Unbreakable’ Were Ahead Of Their Time

“Avengers: Infinity War” continues to dominate the box office, now reaching a total of nearly $1.2 billion.

The theater tickets sold, as well as the great feedback from audiences and critics, is the latest example that we are in the superhero movie golden age. Since 2000, when the original “X-Men” came out and was followed by “Spider-Man” a few years later, the genre has been on an incredible upward trend.

“Infinity War” is just the latest highlight in a series of milestones that includes great films such as “The Dark Knight” and “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” Even comedy films based around the genre have popped up over the years to some solid success.

What’s interesting, though, is there were two films that came out just before the superhero movie boom that seemed to be way ahead of their time. A superhero comedy, “Mystery Men,” in 1999 and a drama titled “Unbreakable” from 2000.

First up was “Mystery Men,” a film that poked fun at all kinds of tropes in the genre, from the costumes to secret identities. The movie follows a group of misfit crime fighters who are seeking recognition but are often overshadowed by a more popular and better established superhero.

The picture features a really great cast, including Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Geoffrey Rush and Jeneane Garofalo. Each one of them played an over-the-top and exaggerated superhero, but for the time, it ended up working.

Unfortunately, though, the film didn’t get the recognition it deserved when it came out. From what I can tell, the movie’s failure to attract a larger audience and have a bigger place in pop culture was it simply came out before the superhero craze that we all live in today.

Much of the film’s humor is based around genre clichés and many gags throughout the picture have a lot of fun references to science fiction and comic books. However, at the time of the film’s release, comic book superhero movies hadn’t really found their footing yet.

Keep in mind, this film came out just two years after the complete disaster that was “Batman & Robin.” That 1997 movie was the final of a four-part “Batman” movie series that began in the late 80s. Before that, there were the four “Superman” flicks. Aside from the Man of Steel and Caped Crusader, though, there were very few major superhero blockbusters coming out.

Had “Mystery Men” been produced in the last eight years, its writers would have had much more to draw from and audiences would be able to pick up on a lot more of the references leading to much more recognition. “Kick-Ass” from 2010 and “Deadpool” from 2016 are modern examples of how films can take satirical looks at the genre and point out clichés with a comedic angle.

Now, in all fairness, I wouldn’t call “Mystery Men” perfect. There are parts of it that are certainly outdated (for example it features a song that starts with the word “Somebody”) and not all the comedy lands. Still, there are things that click here, and it’s worth looking back on because the humor is still relevant.

The other film I mentioned, “Unbreakable” is a completely different tone. The film, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson as the two leads.
Willis is a man named David who comes out as the only survivor of a major train disaster that killed dozens of people. David soon meets a man named Elijah (Jackson), a comic book art store owner who believes Willis’ character may be a real life superhero.

Again, this is an idea that seemed ahead of its time. The film thoroughly explores the concept of a person in the real world, our world, learning that he’s different, that he has these abilities. The anxiety, the supposed responsibility and the connections to stories in comic books are all brought up in a very believable, dramatic way. This is executed partly because of the great performances from Willis and Jackson.

It’s also thanks to the direction of Shyamalan. Since this film, Shyamalan’s career has taken an unfortunate turn with plenty of duds, but credit where it’s due, he did fantastic work in creating “Unbreakable.”

There’s a very important connection that Shyamalan creates between the fantastical nature of superheroes and humanity, it’s what really drives the movie and makes it memorable. Again, this is another factor that I think would have caught on with many more audiences in today’s film era with so many superhero movies coming to theaters.

While there’s no exact modern equivalent, I think one movie that comes to mind when taking such a dramatic look at the superhero concept is “Birdman.” While “Birdman” is much more about an actor’s relation to the superhero film industry, Vs. “Unbreakable’s” focus on a person coming to grips with actually being a superhero, both use the genre as leaping points to explore the human condition. The deconstruction of our relationship to comic books and superheros is relevant in both films and works very well as a concept.

It’s quite astonishing looking back at both of these pictures now and knowing that they came out before the superhero genre planted its flag in pop culture. Now nearly everyone knows about the Justice League and the Avengers, and audiences have seen most superhero movies out there and are familiar with the genre.

Back then, though, that wasn’t as much of the case. As a result, both “Mystery Men” and “Unbreakable” went a bit overlooked in their initial release. If you haven’t seen either movie or haven’t watched them in quite some time, they are worth checking out now, especially because you will be able to pick up on many more of the references and the connections to their genre counterparts.