Boy with Apple

The Grand Budapest Hotel might be Wes Anderson’s finest work to date. I’m not the biggest Wes Anderson expert though. Since I’ve still yet to see anything he did before Fantastic Mr. Fox. My primary reason for seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel was because of its Oscar attention. Becoming the first of his film’s to receive a Best Picture and Best Director nomination. My parents got into it as well, despite never showing much interest in Anderson’s work before. The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place in a fictional war torn country where the titular hotel resides. Zero is the newly appointed lobby boy who assists Monsieur Gustave H. An eccentric concierge that ends up the suspect of a murder. Due to his unsavory relationship with a much older woman who promised the valuable painting, Boy with Apple, to him in her will. What follows is a hilariously colorful misadventure full of familiar actors Wes Anderson loves to work with. As well as some of his best symmetrical camera work in a live-action film. Ralph Fiennes is mostly known for his drama, but he has some of the funniest lines in the movie. I especially enjoy the way he runs away suddenly after being accused. Tony Revolori provides most of the movie’s heart. Due to his past experiences and relationship to his fiancée. Making The Grand Budapest Hotel a whimsical work of art.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Nasty

The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia is an awful slap in the face to this once inspiring franchise. I sadly remember it as a kid a bit more than the others. Bastian and everyone else are once again recast with blander actors. Only this time, as they go, so does the quality of Fantasia’s residents. Like the gnomes who are now a bickering old couple or a pop culture spouting tree, but the worst offense is Falkor. Whose design couldn’t be more off and don’t get me started on his voice. Now he sounds like a blathering moron. But even worse than them is what they did to Rock Biter. Now a sitcom character with a wife and child (who watches TV!), but it’s incomparable to the biggest insult in the entire movie. Where Rock Biter rides a bicycle singing “Born to Be Wild!” I’ve never seen anything so stupid. But who cares about all that (or Atryeu), since The NeverEnding Story III cares way more about Bastian, his bratty step-sister, and life in high school. The world of Fantasia is now brought to the real world where a force that the Childlike Empress dubs “The Nasty” threatens them. Which is for some reason represented by a gang of bullies called The Nasties. Lead by yes that’s actually a young Jack Black. Who takes control of the book. The NeverEnding Story III is a never ending insult full of cringy jokes, an overabundance of 90’s cheese, and a complete disregard for all that came before.

3. TheNeverendingStory

Bastian (human) and friends prepare to transport

Preceded by: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter

The Emptiness

The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter just feels empty. Barely capturing the magic of the first adventure. I’m not even sure I ever saw it beforehand. Their primary mistake was giving more attention to chosen reader Bastian. After giving the Childlike Empress an inaudible name and saving Fantasia, Bastian choses to read the book again. Only this time, he finds the world to be far more immersive than before. Fantasia is now threatened by “The Emptiness.” An act being doing by villainess Xayide, that leaves people a hollow husk of their former self. An even less subtle metaphor for a lack of interest in story. So Bastian teams up with Atreyu and Falkor in the hopes of saving the world once again. The NeverEnding Story II does mange to recreate the scale and artistry from before (save for a few cheap looking creatures), but there are several problems that are hard to ignore. More attention is given to Bastian’s father and late mother. Along with the wish making AURYN that Bastian was given. It wouldn’t be so bad if the characters weren’t all recast. With none of them recapturing what once made them work. Bastian is now unlikable, manipulated by the villain, and never makes smart decisions. Despite literally being able to wish for whatever he wants. Atreyu may actually be the right race this time, but his heroic side almost never shows now. Falkor’s voice is too deep and his eyes are red for some reason. The NeverEnding Story II just plays things too safe.

2. TheNeverendingStory

Bastian (right) revives Atreyu (left)

Preceded by: The NeverEnding Story & Followed by: The NeverEnding Story III

The Nothing

The NeverEnding Story is a story I will never forget. Even though its title is total false advertisement. Only an hour and a half long, what a rip-off! Anyway, The NeverEnding Story is another modern classic to come out of 1984. It’s engaging fantasy world captured the hearts of many children at the time. Although I have a difficult time remembering if I saw it as a kid or not. I think I did, but I do know that the last time I saw it was in 8th Grade. My teacher showed it in class and everybody loved it. The NeverEnding Story is a book within a book made into a movie. Bastian is just an unassuming kid with a love for reading. Until he reads a book that changes his life forever. The titular NeverEnding Story of Fantasia. A world full of giant rock biters, racing snails, riding bats, killer wolves, ancient turtles, gnomes, and the beloved Luckdragon Falkor. A white doglike dragon that helps the hero. In the story, Fantasia is in great danger from “The Nothing.” A force that will slowly take over the land unless its ruler the Childlike Empress gets a new name. So it’s up to the child warrior Atreyu to fulfill this quest. The NeverEnding Story may seem like just another fantasy, but it’s actually a lot deeper than it looks. With many dark moments that scared kids for life. Like the sinking of Atreyu’s horse Artax. The meaning of “The Nothing” is actually meant to represent the death of imagination. As the book is a lot more real then Bastian realizes. The NeverEnding Story is a friendly reminder to never stop imagining.

1. TheNeverendingStory

Bastian rides Falkor

Followed by: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter

Getting Pantsed

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 revisits the sisterhood 3 years after their life changing summer. Only with a slighty more mature PG-13 rating. It may be the second movie, but it’s actually based on the fourth book in the series. Like the first movie though, it starts with the girls together as a group before parting ways again for the summer. Like before, I can only talk about them separately.

Bridget – Bridget is the first girl to get the pants. Her after college activity is an archeological dig in Turkey. Being around a bunch of fossils reminds her of her mother. So she leaves to visit her seldom seen grandmother in order to get more answers about her suicide. This story is probably the most disconnected from the rest.

Lena – Lena is the second girl to get the pants. After attending a nude art class, she finds herself caught up in an unintentional love triangle. With her true love Kostas and a new guy she meets in the class. Unsurprisingly, this story has the most romance.

Carmen – Carmen is the third girl to get the pants. She’s the one who feels like the group is drifting apart. The fact that her mother is having a baby isn’t helping. Which is why she decides to participate in a theater production. Accidentally landing the lead role and winning a guy’s affection. This story is the most dramatic (both literally and figuratively).

Tibby – Tibby is the fourth girl to get the pants. The problems she faces require its magic the most. She stays behind like before. Working in a video store and trying to finish her screenplay. She’s been dating the Dragon Quest guy she met in the first movie. She finds herself making difficult choices after a possible pregnancy gets in the way. It’s not as emotional, but I did find myself the most invested in her story once again.

In conclusion, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 brings back the magic of its lead actresses. Along with a few new faces. Like Lucy Hale as Lena’s never before seen younger sister Effie. At what seemed like the last minute, the sisterhood is reunited after the pants are lost in Greece. It leaves the movie a bit open ended. Making me want a third film right away. While I didn’t get into the sequel as much as the first, seeing the girls again was enough to make this magical pants adventure worth it.

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The sisterhood of the traveling pants

Preceded by: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Sisters Who had Magic Pants

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is all about magic pants. Which is why I’m writing this review while wearing jeans. Despite how popular it was (and two separate mentions of the book in TeenNick shows I watched), I thought I’d never get into it. Since a movie about sisterhood seemed like it would be too girly for me. I figured they’d be dealing with topics I couldn’t relate to. Luckily I was proven wrong, because The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is universal. It brings together four unlikely friends who decide to share a pair of pants that mysteriously fits all their unique body types. They each go on separate summer trips that I can only talk about separately.

Lena – The first girl to get the pants is Lena Kaligaris. She’s a quiet, shy, artist, with a petite body type played by Alexis Bledel. She visits her big fat greek family in Greece. Through the magic of the pants, she encounters a local boy named Kostas that her family warns her against fraternizing with. Due to a decades long feud. This story has the most beautiful location and the best romance.

Tibby – The next girl to get the pants is Tibby Rollins. She’s a creative, rebellious, documentarian with an average body type played by Amber Tamblyn. She’s the only one who stays home for the summer. Working a summer job at Wallman’s (Walmart) and trying to finish her movie. Through the magic of the pants, she meets a frustrating 12 year old girl named Bailey who inserts herself into her filming process. I won’t say what happens, but it had me crying my eyes out. It’s easily the most emotional story.

Carmen – The third girl to get the pants is Carmen Lowell. She’s a chatty, half Puerto Rican writer with a curvy body type played by America Ferrera. She visits her seldom seen father only a few states over. Only to discover he has a new family that he seems to care more about than her. Through the magic of the pants, she lets him know exactly how it makes her feel. Due to the subject of divorce, this story is perhaps the most relatable.

Bridget – The last girl to get the pants is Bridget Vreeland. She’s an outgoing, loyal, assertive soccer player with an athletic body type played by Blake Lively. She attends soccer camp in Mexico. Where she shows off her talent and pursues an older guy. All the while trying to forget her deceased mother. Through the magic of the pants, it’s implied that she loses her virginity. This story has a beautiful location as well and the best music (like my favorite song “Unwritten”). It also deals with some of the movie’s heavier topics.

In conclusion, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants really understands its teenage girl demographic, but their topics are too universal not to appeal to everyone. For a PG rated film, they cover a lot of mature topics. Ranging from familial loyalty, death, divorce, identity, suicide, and virginity. Even if some of it is implied. Every actress brings their best to each character. They may not always be together, but when they are, you totally buy their chemistry. In the end, each girl grows as a person. All it took was their lifelong bond and the magic of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

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The sisterhood of the traveling pants

Followed by: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

Land, Air, Sea

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s most serious attempt at an Oscar to date. Since the most critically acclaimed directors managed to win by switching to historical drama. Dunkirk very accurately details the events of 1940 in Dunkirk, France during World War II. When allied troops found themselves surrounded by Nazi forces. Because Christopher Nolan’s films draw crowds, it was a perfect opportunity to teach them history. Since I don’t recall learning about the event in social studies. Like almost every Nolan project, Dunkirk is nonlinear. Focusing on many sides of the battle.

  1. The Mole (one week) – Taking place primarily on land, it follows a group of British soldiers attempting to make their way towards the beaches while avoiding enemy fire. You feel every bit of fear and bravery even with long absences of dialogue. Kenneth Branagh is the most high profile actor in the segment, but One Direction’s Harry Styles is the one who took most people by surprise.
  2. The Sea (one day) – Taking place on the ocean, it follows a civilian’s attempt to help evacuate the stranded soldiers. It offers the film’s most human moments. As Nolan’s favorite Cillian Murphy plays a rescued soldier with PTSD. Mark Rylance is the boat captain since he recently won an Oscar.
  3. The Air (one hour) – Taking place in the sky, it follows the pilots who shot down enemy planes. Tom Hardy’s character is the one who delivers the final blow at his own expense. In a role that once again requires him to cover his face.

In conclusion, Dunkirk has a winning score, sharp direction, massive cinematography, and an emphasis on actions over dialogue. Yet it didn’t win Best Picture or Director. I’m usually not one to watch war movies. So I had trouble following Dunkirk from time to time. When I really stop to analyze it though, I see all the effort that was put into it. All the much needed renewed admiration that soldiers got after its release. Over 300,000 brave men were evacuated from Dunkirk. For that, I will always salute.

Dunkirk

Soldiers look in horror

Sins of the Father

Creed II may be a sequel to Creed, but it’s really a continuation of Rocky IV. While not the most positively received installment, Rocky IV still had great material to work with. Despite Ryan Coogler not returning to direct, Michael B. Jordan still brings his A game. Mirroring Rocky II, Donnie proposes to his girlfriend Bianca and has a baby girl. After winning the World Heavyweight Championship, Adonis Creed starts a new life outside of Philadelphia. Leaving Rocky with not much else. Creed II is entirely centered around fathers and their sons. Donnie’s main opponent is Viktor Drago. Son of Ivan Drago, the man who killed his father Apollo Creed. The set up is superb, but despite more attention than the last 3 movie’s opponents, Viktor doesn’t leave much of an impression. I was really impressed by Dolph Lundgren’s performance. His portrayal of Drago as somewhat of a sympathetic man living in near poverty is some of his best work in a long time. His reunion with Rocky is just as satisfying as their boxing match was 33 years ago. I definitely wasn’t expecting a cameo from a certain key character. Of course Rocky’s relationship with Donnie is examined as well. Since he spends more time with him than his own son. He reluctantly trains Donnie in the desert (meanwhile Viktor trains in a gym) so that he’s better prepared for the rematch. Their match is brutal, but (SPOILER ALERT!) Donnie wins. Sylvester Stallone claims this is his last time playing Rocky. If it is, I’d say his final scene is the best possible ending. Creed II isn’t a game changer, but it does bring everything full circle.

CREED II

Rocky prepares Adonis Creed for his fight

Preceded by: Creed

Boxing Runs in the Family

Creed breathed new life back into the Rocky franchise. Despite ending two seperate times, Ryan Coogler figured out a way to keep it going. By having the long lost son of Apollo Creed step into the forefront. Coogler’s favorite Michael B. Jordan effectively plays Adonis Johnson. Since more time is given to the Creed family, Phylicia Rashad now plays Mrs. Creed. She’s the one who raises him after his biological mother dies. Donnie is far more hot headed and prone to outburst. Wanting to distance himself from his late father’s legacy. Although hesitant at first, Sylvester Stallone returns to play Rocky for a 7th time. Delivering his strongest performance as the character to date. Teaching Donnie everything he knows back in Philadelphia. While also facing his own problems. Everyone except the son he never visits is gone. So Donnie is all he has left. Like Rocky, Donnie also finds someone special. Bianca, a singer played just as effectively by Tessa Thompson. Donnie’s main opponent is “Pretty” Ricky Conlan. A boxer on his way to jail that challenges Adonis provided he change his last name to Creed. Also not a very standout villain, but that’s not where the true battle lies. Not that it isn’t a well executed, perfectly shot, adrenaline fueled fight. SPOILER ALERT! Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. For the first time since the first movie. Rocky discovers he has cancer and the performance he gives is the best in the film. I wasn’t crazy about the harsher tone and PG-13 language, but I understand the raw emotion Adonis Creed feels. Creed had some big shoes to fill and it succeeded with every punch it threw.

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Rocky trains Adonis Creed

Preceded by: Rocky Balboa & Followed by: Creed II

That’s How Winning is Done

Rocky Balboa finally brought Rocky back to his former glory. By this point in his career, Sylvester Stallone began to reevaluate his older work. Even though we all thought he was crazy to be doing it at his age. However, since Rocky V wasn’t the best conclusion, he wanted Rocky to go out on a high note. So he got back into fighting shape and returned to the directors chair (even earning a PG rating). The title is Rocky Balboa because this is the most human Rocky has been up to this point. Rocky is older, retired in Philadelphia, and sadly, lost his wife Adrian. Naming his Italian restaurant after her. All he has left is Paulie and a son that wants nothing to do with him. After a computerized boxing simulation pits Rocky against the newest champion, it sparks interest in a possible comeback. Rocky’s main opponent is Mason “The Line” Dixon. He suffers the same problem as the last opponent. Being played by a real life boxer, he doesn’t have much of a personality. That’s not too important though, since Rocky just needs someone to punch. There also needs to be a female lead. So that role is filled by Marie. The young girl Rocky gave advice to all the way back in the first movie. Along with Duke, they help to prove Rocky can still hold his own even at an older age. SPOILER ALERT! Rocky doesn’t win, but that’s not his most memorable moment. It’s when he delivers one of the most powerful movie speeches of all time to his son about moving forward no matter how many times life knocks you down. Rocky Balboa is a true winner.

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Rocky Balboa vs. Mason “The Line” Dixon

Preceded by: Rocky V & Followed by: Creed