Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

My New Favourite Marvel Movie Watch Order

At just about any given moment, as certain as death and taxes, someone in the world will decide that it’s time for another Marvel movie watch-through. And even though we are currently in the middle of our longest wait between MCU films since 2010, I’d wager that choice of activity is still outrageously popular thanks to a certain ongoing world event. Even though I did a reasonably comprehensive rewatch-and-ranking in 2018 (and my feelings on each film remain mostly the same), in the middle of last year I too succumbed to the itch thanks to all the lockdown business going on and my sister’s newfound interest in going back over what she’s missed / didn’t remember from the MCU.

However, much like with the Star Wars films for decades now (not to mention a metric ton of TV series), opinions are divided as to the best overall order in which to experience the MCU. Luckily the consensus seems relatively strong that if it is your first time through the movies, the original release order is probably still the best for you. Probably. But if you’ve seen more than half of the movies already, or even just the major Avengers ones? Different story. Google “MCU watch order” and you won’t run out of different options, each backed by its own set of perspectives and rationale. So here I am, adding to that pile with my own two cents – with mere days to go before the first Marvel Studios-branded canon TV show lands on Disney+ and reignites the debate over all the existing TV shows’ place in the experience.

Needless to say some experimentation was involved here; inspired heavily by a daring attempt at re-ordering the films by Studiobinder, a couple more salient points I found on articles I now seem unable to find again, and my own long-held issues with the timeline. Like virtually every musical playlist I’ve ever made, it was tweaked several times on the page; but the order you see here is the one we followed for this watch-through. The whole thing took a little over two weeks, with some days heavier on watch time than others. Even though I wasn’t present in the room for every movie this time, my brother often was for an additional perspective; and by this point I’m quite familiar with each and every MCU movie anyway. Feedback was readily available. The order is based on the chronological framework but packs some significant differences aimed at smoothing out thematic transitions and enhancing big moments.

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Best of 2020: Top 10 Movies

Just one more day of 2020 left, so it’s perhaps fitting that this series of countdowns ends with the list most affected by the year’s defining pandemic. Finding good new movies in 2020 was a tall task throughout most of the year due to the ongoing game of film studio chicken going on overseas, but streaming services did just enough to hold us over with their own exclusive releases until the flurry of bigger-name films began to hit around mid-to-late October – only accelerating from there. For a long stretch of the year I was seriously considering reducing this list to a more casual top five, but in the end I was just about able to scrape together a full list.

A quick thing I realised while finalising this list: I saw way fewer movie trailers this year than any before it; and while that probably means I missed some movies I might’ve checked out otherwise, I really think it improved my actual watching experience for quite a few of them. Just a thought that came to mind as I was grabbing trailers for this page.

Anyway, it’s time to put 2020 behind us.

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VR BEST OF 2020 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. Onward

It already feels like years since I watched Onward – 2020 will do that to ya – so all that really stands out to me about it when I look back is that amazing finale. But the rest of the movie is still worth checking out; it’s basically Pixar’s take on a road movie, and even if that well-worn comedy hi-jinks structure feels like a bit of a waste of a really cool fading-magic-world setup, Chris Pratt and Tom Holland give spirited vocal performances backed by Marvel chemistry to keep things engaging. The mythical supporting cast is also good fun to watch while the movie prepares its pile of emotional bricks. Whenever Pixar sets its sights on a family unit, you just have to watch your tear ducts.

9. Mank

This one feels weird to talk about, because I can’t really tell you much of what Mank is trying to say as a story, and I’m sure plenty of old-school Hollywood references soared right over my head; ultimately my enjoyment of David Fincher’s latest film comes down to every layer of production except the deepest ones. The shot composition and period-apt transitions are on-point; the first of two jazz-soaked December 2020 scores by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (there’s an utterly weird bit of trivia) is just fabulous; and not only is every performance excellent, there’s proper variety in the work of each major player. Lily Collins and Tuppence Middleton steal scenes on opposite ends of the patience scale, Charles Dance commands the movie on the strength of his reaction shots alone, and of course Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried take turns making themselves at home within every frame. A case of style over substance that works for me.

Click here to bring the year home

Best of 2020: Top 10 Movie Scenes

We return to the movies, and to a list that’s always fun to write – even, as it turns out, when there aren’t all that many movies to choose from. Because I tried to widen my movie-watching scope to fit what was available this year (especially when it came to horror films and/or films with bad reviews), I feel like I was surprised by movie scenes more than usual; even if that’s all in my head, I definitely get to talk about some real corkers this year.

Quite a few of these scenes are more about execution than narrative surprise, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is always the most spoiler-heavy list of the year. Proceed with caution.

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VR BEST OF 2020 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

THERE ARE HUGE MOVIE SPOILERS ON THIS PAGE.

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10. Demon Bear Battle – The New Mutants

Yes, this is a scene that actually happens in the otherwise low-energy, high-angst teen-fiction-esque The New Mutants. Right at the end there is a giant, multicoloured spirit-bear-thing that arrives to destroy absolutely everything – I’m pretty sure it makes slightly more sense in context. The bear immediately solves one of the main problems faced by our principal gang of super-powered misfits, creates a brand-new one straight afterwards, and then proceeds to save the movie. We finally get to see the young mutants act like a team and use their formerly-mysterious powers in tandem, shipping in some emotional payoff where there wasn’t much earlier.

9. The Mall – Wonder Woman 1984

The opening action set-piece of Wonder Woman 1984 is sprawling, dramatic and epic, but it almost plays like its own weirdly unrelated short film. The second one is really something else, though. Anyone who grew up watching live action comic book adaptations of any kind before the turn of the century will find something to cringe at here, from airborne launches that look like they don’t have the budget to cover up the wire work, to cartoony spins as baddies are left in a daze, to Wonder Woman’s centre-frame commercial-ready wink at a wide-eyed child. Oh yeah, and the establishing shots for the scuffle literally start by panning up from a pair of leg warmers, then moving through neon-saturated streets and corridors lined with garish ’80s shoulder pads and perms. WW84 is absolutely in on the joke and the gleeful nostalgia had me grinning in disbelief the whole time.

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Best of 2020: Top 10 Movie Characters

2020 was not a great year for movies, or indeed movie-watching. As we’ve already covered this week, several studios spent the year buffing up 2021’s release slate instead. But as long as there are new films trickling out, there will be characters from those films that stick in the memories of those who watch them on a screen. If anything, lower-quality and/or lower-budget movies are more likely to have characters that stand out from their surroundings, so this list wasn’t as difficult to put together as I thought it might be.

A quick note: Here in Australia we get Soul and Wonder Woman 1984 today and tomorrow respectively, so they sadly won’t be able to count for this list if they are hiding a cool character or two.

Also there will be some unavoidable but minor plot spoilers in this one.

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VR BEST OF 2020 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. Black Canary – Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn’t the ensemble movie that it could have been, which I say is to its detriment – but then again I’m not the world’s biggest Harley Quinn fan. The movie barely manages to tell two coherent DC stories in parallel, but the fact that it does get there is hugely down to the enthusiasm of its cast. On the non-Quinn side of the narrative is the Renee Montoya sick-of-this-shit police tale, which contrasts perfectly with the hilariously awkward wannabe-baddass Huntress (who almost made this list). But if not for the committed performance of Jurnee Smollet-Bell as Black Canary, it’d all fall apart. With a compelling set-up, a handful of cool action beats and one of the most novel approaches to a superhero arc I’ve seen in a film, it’s a shame she doesn’t get more of the spotlight throughout.

9. Roy – Palm Springs

I had absolutely no idea J.K. Simmons was in holiday-themed time loop caper Palm Springs before I caught it’s late digital release down here in Australia. So I was absolutely thrilled when he popped up in what I thought was a cameo, resplendent in full military camouflage paint. Then the movie reveals more of its central premise, and it turns out the versatile star has a whole lot more to do in his role as the gruff, vengeful Roy. A cameo this sure ain’t, as Roy needs to simultaneously sell a laundry list of outlandish visual jokes and one of the finale’s key theme-capping monologues.

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Best of 2020: Five Special Awards

Got the usual mixed bag here – the same three ultimately meaningless but fun-to-write awards I’ve been unable to fit into any other lists for a few years now, joined by two new ones – and I’m hoping one of the new two has the staying power to return next year. But we will see. Not much more to say on these ones, other than that they’re a bit wordier than they were last year. Here we go.

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VR BEST OF 2020 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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Best Third-Party Game Publisher

Activision

Do not adjust your screens; they’ll still take your money any way they can (as will any of these companies) but due to the widespread delays and unique challenges of game development in a pandemic, the infamously small-output habits of the modern-day Activision did not come off quite as cynical in 2020 as they have in recent years. EA’s only decently-received new release of note was Star Wars Squadrons, although they did make a few unusually consumer-friendly moves by leading the pack on cross-platform play throughout the year and adding their services to Xbox Game Pass by year’s end. Bethesda had to make do with just Doom Eternal and an expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online before ending the year as a Microsoft first-party studio. Capcom essentially only had the Resident Evil 3 remake; Konami stayed disappointingly dormant; and Focus Home Interactive was understandably unable to back up their stellar 2019 efforts. Ditto for 505 Games, although Journey to the Savage Planet is rad.

That left five major third-party publishers in the running. 2K Games deserves a mention for at last giving people a decent mainstream golf game in PGA 2K21, as well as bringing almost the entirety of the Borderlands and Bioshock series to the Switch in fine fashion. XCOM Chimera Squad is excellent – as well as cheap – and the Mafia remake wasn’t awful, but the 2K challenge ends there. Sega cannot be discounted in a year where it released the absolutely wonderful Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Sakura Wars and Streets of Rage 4 – not to mention a sequel to Puyo Puyo Tetris – but alas, we move on. Ubisoft was sitting pretty in 2020 thanks to its decision to delay literally every big game in its holster out of 2019, prompted by the poor critical and commercial reception of Ghost Recon Breakpoint. As a result they were able to unleash huge open world adventures Watch Dogs Legion, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Immortals: Fenyx Rising in consecutive months despite the pandemic, right after re-launching their much-improved game client Ubisoft Connect. They also launched their own battle royale title Hyper Scape, though opinions differ on that one to be sure.

For me 2020 comes down to two publishers in the end. The crown could quite easily have gone to Square Enix on the strength of its Japanese contingent alone – the Trials of Mana remake gives the Japan-only 1995 SNES classic a properly impressive modern presentation, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory surprised plenty of people with its content, and Final Fantasy VII Remake is a triumph on plenty of fronts. However, despite a thoroughly enjoyable campaign, Marvel’s Avengers has utterly failed to justify itself as an online experience, and the less said about the XIII remake the better. No, the most consistent game publisher of 2020 was somehow Activision-Blizzard. The extremely pretty Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War successfully evokes the variety and value of the first Black Ops title a decade ago; World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has recaptured a ton of lapsed players; and Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time proved that not only is there still an audience for the marsupial mascot in 2020, but you can still make a really good game for that audience. The clincher? Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is simply one of the very best videogame remakes I have ever played.

Runner-Up: Square Enix

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Best of 2020: Top 10 Disappointments

Take a number, get in line.

Tired jokes aside, 2020 was certainly packed with negative news, and that gave me plenty of time to think about this list. Some of the truly heinous things that went on in the world of entertainment media this year made my usual first-world vents seem truly pathetic. But at the same time, the word “disappointment” feels like it’s nowhere near strong enough to describe them. So I ran with that; I tried to think about the whiniest things that specifically pissed me off about entertainment media in 2020, just to make it clear as day how what kind of pettiness this list is all about. This is the result.

In other words, it’s only slightly different from the normal annual list. Now let’s purge the negativity so we can move on.

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VR BEST OF 2020 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. The Impossible Game Delay

No, I’m not talking about Cyberpunk 2077 – delays have become an expected part of CD Projekt Red’s games even in years without pandemics going on. And because there was, in fact, a pandemic going on this year, I’m also going to give a break to the two games that continue to frustrate me with their ongoing lack of release news, Roller Champions and Samurai Gunn 2. Nope, the only game with a significant enough delay to qualify for this list is none other than Halo Infinite.

If you were lucky enough to get your hands on an Xbox Series X this year, you would have noticed the giant Infinite artwork splashed across the back of the box. You might even have seen some merchandise around the place – mugs, action figures, Nerf guns – all emblazoned with the Master Chief and some even including DLC codes for the game. Delaying Halo Infinite from its position at the centre of the Series X launch lineup was supposed to be impossible, yet the mad lads did it anyway. It was the right call, which is why it’s at the bottom of this list; the game’s July gameplay debut undershot expectations so much it became a meme. But boy, did it take the wind right out of Xbox’s sails.

9. Good Ninjas Hide From Players

Remember Ninjala? The free-to-play Switch game that looked like a Splatoon spin-off with charming ninja-themed character designs? Oh it’s still going, don’t worry – it’s even got itself a devoted community. But if this is the first you’ve thought about the game since its disastrous late May launch, that would make two of us.

The stage was set for Ninjala to take over the lives of many a Switch player. Nintendo, as a Japanese company, was feeling the effects of the pandemic more than most companies in the gaming space at the time, and had almost no first-party game releases announced for the rest of the year. A colourful free-to-play title with that Nintendo-style polished looked was just the ticket for quarantine. But actually playing the game was easier said than done. I had no success getting into any of the scheduled beta sessions, and reactions on Twitter soon turned merciless. This was mere days before the Borderlands, Bioshock and Xenoblade avalanche, mind you, so it wasn’t long before there were plenty of things to play instead. I haven’t seen any of my Switch friends online playing Ninjala since.

Click here to see just how first-world things can get

Movie Review: Tenet

My second full-on movie review in four years! Why not!
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Starring:
John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
Director:
Christopher Nolan (Inception, Dunkirk)
Rating: M
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Before the year turned over, 2020 looked to be studded with tentpole film releases. A new James Bond movie, two big Marvel Studios releases, another wave of Disney live-action remakes, two new Pixar films, and at least one DC juggernaut. And yet for many of us out there, the promise of a new Christopher Nolan movie with another trademark timey-wimey gimmick stood above them all. Perhaps it was the ‘surefire sequel success’ vibes of most of the above, contrasting starkly with Nolan‘s stubborn refusal to leave behind practical effects, needless IMAX shots and fiercely original scripts with no concern for cinematic universes. Tenet loomed large.

Of course we all know that’s pretty far from how 2020 actually played out. Here in this current reality, most of those tentpoles have yet to see release. New movies in general have been hard to come by, matter of fact, even though streaming services have been more than willing to help out. Yet Nolan‘s reliable stubbornness has now ensured that not only is Tenet going exclusively to cinemas, it’s doing so before any other title of comparable size and hype. If Tenet looked like an imposing 2020 title before, it’s now positively monolithic. For this and many other reasons, I’ve actually written a full review. Yeah, 2020 is weird for us all.

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Ten 2020 Movies Summarised in Ten Words Each

Well, this was tricky.

For obvious 2020-specific reasons, it’s quite difficult to see any fresh films right about now. Cinemas are not exactly prime real estate at the moment, and quite a few movies on my to-see list have been delayed either several months or indefinitely. After tearing through seven new release movies in six weeks, it took me a full two months to see my eighth. Then, thanks to the help of one or two major movie studios and digital entertainment platforms, I reached the ten you see here. Who even knows whether I’ll get to twenty this year.

Even before the current global health crisis began to gather steam, I was struggling with whether some of these films counted as 2020 releases, but that became less of an issue once our bigger problems emerged. At the very least, all ten of these movies got their wide mainstream releases in Australia this year.

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The Gentlemen

Hunnam, Grant, Farrell dominate the screen. Ritchie’s best since Snatch.”

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1917

Utterly spectacular on a technical level but don’t expect optimism.”

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Best of 2019: Top 10 Movies

Like any other recent year, I spent the majority of 2019 trying to see as many movies as I could, thoroughly enjoying posting an entry in my ten word review series every time I passed another ten-film milestone. I wrote up two of those this year – a decent effort I thought, given some years I’ve struggled to get to 20 movies.

Four of those 20 made this list.

Yep, although the first two thirds of the year were certainly no slouch, that final bit brought the goods like nothing else and turned 2019 into a banner year for worthwhile theatrical adventures (though sadly I haven’t seen Parasite yet). In the process it transformed this list from a Disney-dominated extravaganza to a… slightly less Disney-dominated extravaganza. Yay for a bit of competition, right?

Happy New Year!

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VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. Toy Story 4

This was a strong year for animation to be sure, but the most surprisingly good dose of it came from Pixar’s initially derided bonus sequel to the beloved Toy Story trilogy. Pixar is still doing a fair amount of good stuff in the modern era, but this still felt like a cash grab when it was announced. Then it actually came out, and wow. The team who brought you a heart-rending tale about growing up now brings you a heart-rending tale about parenthood and shifting between phases in your adult life. Oh, it’s also the prettiest animation you ever done seen, and it’s by far the funniest Toy Story movie yet. Unafraid to use only the legacy characters it needs in order to serve this particular story, it also introduces a hilarious set of new ones and none of them outstay their welcome. Toy Story 4 kicks a come-from-behind goal to beat 23 other movies to the tenth slot.

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Best of 2019: Top 10 Movie Scenes

Now we arrive at the year’s most stacked and probably most fun list. I had a shortlist of 28 scenes from 31 movies to whittle down to ten, and it’s been a good time reliving these well-constructed moments of tension, emotional catharsis or just plain fun at the movies. But while sifting through the shortlist I had a wild realisation: 2019 was a real good year for movie songs. I’ve got three of them on the main list and two in the honourable mentions, but worry not – there’s plenty of other stuff too. Including, obviously, lots and lots of big fat spoilers.

Proceed with caution.

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VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!

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10. All Hands on Deck – Shazam!

Like quite a few people out there, outside of Batman and friends I’m not a huge DC guy. There’s an awful lot about DC Comics characters that I don’t know. I also did not keep up with a ton of the marketing for Shazam! So I had no idea that the titular character has a super-powered foster family in the comics with whom he fights bad guys. But it didn’t take long for the movie to charm me – and make me well up a bit – with its regular human foster family plot. The movie’s portrayal of believably flawed kids living together in a community held together by a ridiculously patient couple really, really got me. So when the finale places a bunch of dominoes in a row in order to set up that power-dividing moment, it felt triumphant and earned. The fight afterwards is incredibly cheesy and a bit too neatly staged, but it was hard to care. I was having too much fun.

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