Exploration of Evil

Exorcist: The Beginning is one of two unnecessary prequels to The Exorcist. It seems no Exorcist movie can escape production difficulties, but this is the strangest case yet. Exorcist: The Beginning is actually a retooled version of an already completed prequel called Dominion. I somehow missed hearing about the prequels when I was younger, but I was no less confused when I did learn about them. When the much more psychological Dominion failed to win over the studio, director Renny Harlin shot The Beginning instead.

This version was clearly only made to fulfill the studios need for excessive gore and an ending that desperately tries to recapture the original movie’s possession. It’s a shame, because Stellan Skarsgård looks a lot like a younger Max von Sydow. The Beginning sort of follows the first exorcism performed by Father Lankester Merrin in 1940’s Africa. The archaeological dig was never my favorite part of The Exorcist, so an entire movie centered around one is gonna feel dull regardless.

The main problem is how reliant they are on grotesque and/or upsetting imagery. Something the original film used sparingly. As a Christian, upside down crucifixes made me the most uncomfortable. Just like every single movie in the franchise, Merrin is now the one struggling with his faith. Even though we know he’s gonna become the Exorcist by the end. The weight of his journey is wasted on an over-the-top ending that should’ve been a possessed African boy, but ended up being former Bond girl Izabella Scorupco made to look like Regan MacNeil instead. The unfocused prequel also includes occasional flashbacks in World War II. Exorcist: The Beginning is an unholy mess.

5. Exorcist The Beginning

Possessed Sarah offers herself to Father Merrin

Followed by: The Exorcist

Opa!

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time. It couldn’t have happened to a more unlikely movie. It has a mostly unknown cast and was very independent, but I guess it just connected with people. Never underestimate the power of a Greek audience I suppose. My Big Fat Wedding is the passion project of struggling Greek actress Nia Vardalos. Her one-woman play based on her family was discovered by none other than Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks. They produced a movie adaptation and Vardalos was adamant about keeping her script exactly the same.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding centers on Toula Portokalos and her loud, enormous, and nosy Greek family. With the exception of mythology, I honestly didn’t know much about modern Greek people. Apart from how delicious their food is (Greek fries are to die for). The film explores Toula’s life as a thirtysomething Greek woman who’s never gotten married or made babies like her father wanted. Her father is an old fashioned Greek man who thinks Windex is the answer to every problem and her mother is an outspoken cooking machine.

The rest of her extremely close family is just as colorful. They’re all genuine Greeks, so I didn’t recognize anyone apart from Joey Fatone. Toula gets educated, has a makeover, and complicates her life by falling in love with the non-Greek Ian Miller. Their charming relationship goes by so fast that they end up engaged in no time. My Big Fat Greek Wedding ended up being pretty hilarious when they introduced the culture clash. Since Toula’s proud Greek family is vastly different from Ian’s small boring family. The wedding itself was more heartfelt than I was expecting. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a big fat breath of fresh air.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Toula and Ian are married

Followed by: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Bomb Disposal

The Hurt Locker is the first Best Picture winner directed by a woman. The 2009 Academy Awards ceremony was dubbed the “Battle of the exes” between James Cameron and his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow. Although I was rooting for Avatar since I’d already seen it in theaters, I appreciated the milestone of Kathryn Bigelow winning Best Director. Bigelow won because she’s a great filmmaker who makes movies that speak to anyone regardless of gender. The Hurt Locker is the most masterfully crafted film about the Iraq War. The third major American war to win Best Picture.

Best Original Screenplay winner Mark Boal drew from his own experience as a journalist alongside a bomb disposal unit. The Hurt Locker doesn’t give a political slant to the controversial war, it just tells a gripping story with as much realism as possible. I was on edge every time a complex bomb was being defused or set off in the Middle Eastern terran. Bigelow got dangerously close to actual battlefields and makes you as anxious as the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit. It’s a dangerous job that can take a toll on a person since they’re not always able to save everyone.

Conflicting ideologies are seen when the EOD receives a new team leader. Jeremy Renner is the thrill seeking wild man First Class Sergeant William James and Anthony Mackie is the by the book war-weary Sergeant J. T. Sanborn. Specialist Owen Eldridge is caught in the middle of their feud that eventually finds common ground. The sad truth is that some men want to leave and others find civilian life to be the true struggle. The Hurt Locker is also unique for containing many future MCU actors. The first bomb disposal leader is Aldrich Killian, Hawkeye works with Falcon, and Hawkeye’s ex-wife ends up being the Wasp. The Hurt Locker left an impact on both the Iraq War and the entire film industry.

The Hurt Locker

A bomb detonates

Creatures vs. Extraterrestrials

Monsters vs. Aliens is out of this world. I miss the days when DreamWorks Animation made more satirical projects centered around subjects that most children wouldn’t understand. I wasn’t like most children at 13 years old. I’ve always been a huge fan of monster attack B movies or alien invasion pictures of the 1950’s. Monsters vs. Aliens sounded like a lot of fun the moment it was announced. It was originally meant to be an adaptation of a comic called Rex Havoc before being turned into more of a classic monster movie homage. I was still very familiar with each monster type despite not seeing everything that was being parodied at the time. It may have been 2009 and/or a reference to drive-in cinema, but the 3D is still pretty obnoxious. Monsters vs. Aliens is the first DreamWorks movie to make a considerable leap with its computer animation. Resulting in realistically textured humans with unattractive appearances. Except for Susan, she’s probably the hottest DreamWorks woman in my opinion. Reese Witherspoon brings plenty of character growth to the lead monster. Susan is hit by a meteor before her wedding to douche bag reporter Derek voiced by Paul Rudd. Her hair turns white and she grows to ginormic size just like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

The government takes her to what is essentially Area 51, lead by the hardened General W. R. Monger. Kiefer Sutherland makes an impression as the stereotypical southern general. The rest of the monsters make up an enjoyable ensemble with the usual innuendo filled DreamWorks banter. Hugh Laurie’s sophisticated British voice is best suited for Dr. Cockroach Ph.D. A half cockroach mad scientist modeled after The Fly. Seth Rogen brings the laughs in his second DreamWorks role as B.O.B. An indestructible gelatinous mass with a single eyeball and no brain modeled after The Blob. Will Arnett is fun as the macho monster the Missing Link. A 20,000 year old fish man likely modeled after Creature from the Black Lagoon. Susan, Dr. Cockroach, Link, and B.O.B. are the only monsters who can have banter since the fifth monster is bigger than even the 50ft. Susan. The final monster is the building sized Insectosaurus. A giant bug dinosaur either modeled after Godzilla or Mothra. When a UFO lands in America, the President of the United States is sent to negotiate Close Encounters style.

Stephen Colbert voices what is probably the most incompetent President in movie history. All the political commentary is unusual to see in a kids movie, but the war room is the best place for Monger to initiate his monsters vs. aliens idea. The alien probe makes its way to San Francisco where it wrecks the Golden Gate Bridge. The first battle is highly uncoordinated, but it does lead to Susan literally discovering the strength she never knew she had. Although the other monsters fear they’ll never be accepted by society, Susan finds the confidence she needs to dump Derek and own the title of Ginormica. The alien in the title is actually just one extraterrestrial. Rainn Wilson voices the very eccentric big headed tentacle alien Gallaxhar. He plots to extract Susan’s quantonium in order to clone himself and invade the Earth. The final fight in the UFO is a thrilling, occasionally childish battle that saves all mankind and earns each monster their acceptance. Monsters vs. Aliens was a movie begging to have a sequel, but DreamWorks felt the parody approach didn’t pay well enough. So they made a video game, a 3D short called B.O.B.’s Big Break, two clever Halloween specials, and a lackluster one season Nickelodeon TV series. Monsters vs. Aliens is more than enough fun as long as you enjoy the classics.

15. Monsters vs. Aliens

The monsters

Low on Diesel

xXx: State of the Union sucked all the fun out the extreme franchise. If xXx is exactly like The Fast and the Furious, then State of the Union is exactly like 2 Fast 2 Furious. Since Vin Diesel left the sequel only to be replaced by a black early 2000’s celebrity. Ice Cube is definitely anti-establishment, but former Navy Seal turned convict Darius Stone is all attitude with nothing to show for it. All practical extreme stunts and heavy metal are replaced by terrible CGI action and hip-hop.

In case the Bond similarity wasn’t already obvious, Die Another Day director Lee Tamahori is the one who replaced Rob Cohen. State of the Union is somehow more convoluted with an overly complex mission involving the President. Even with gorgeous women, big guns, and sports cars, State of the Union is seriously generic. It’s so generic that Willem Dafoe is supposed to be a surprise villain. The NSA is now more involved with Samuel L. Jackson returning as Gibbins alongside gadgets expert Shavers.

Their agency is targeted by the bad guys who killed Xander Cage off-screen like he never mattered. I’d probably be more insulted if I actually saw xXx at a young age. Stone being the new Agent Triple X is constantly brought up with characters comparing him to the far superior Cage. The Capitol infiltrating climax even ends with Stone bearing the xXx tattoo that he doesn’t deserve. xXx: State of the Union doesn’t work without the extreme nonsense of early 2000’s spy action.

xXx State of the Union

Darius Stone takes aim

Preceded by: xXx & Followed by: xXx: Return of Xander Cage

ExXxtreme

xXx has the early 2000’s written all over. It’s basically a Bond film with extreme sports, a dated heavy metal soundtrack, and Vin Diesel in his third major action role. The title xXx makes it very difficult to google for obvious reasons, but I’d been wanting to see the movie ever since I saw a trailer on my Spider-Man VHS tape. Xander Cage is an anti-establishment extreme sports enthusiast who frequently performs death defying stunts.

If any of xXx looks similar to The Fast and the Furious, it’s because this was producer Neal H. Moritz, director Rob Cohen, and star Vin Diesel’s second collaboration. xXx is loads of dumb fun that totally appeals to the teenage boy in me. Samuel L. Jackson plays one of his many shadowy government types as the scarred NSA official Gibbons. Cage is recruited as Agent Triple X since his tattoos and rough attitude are more suited for an undercover spy in Russia. The mission: stop Russian bad guys from destroying the world with a biological weapon called “Silent Night.”

xXx is a lot like 007 with his international adventures, sleeping with gorgeous women, and gadgets. Agent Shavers is his own personal Q who equips him with X-ray binoculars, darts, exploding band-aids, and a souped up sports car. Asia Argento is the primary xXx girl Yeleno who helps Cage on his mission. The sickest highlight of xXx is every extreme stunt Cage performs in a variety of kick-ass action sequences. Cage parachutes from a red corvette, jumps a motorcycle, snowboards out of a plane, and defeats Anarchy 99 by hang gliding out of his moving spy car. xXx is an awesome time capsule.

xXx

Xander Cage gets recruited

Followed by: xXx: State of the Union

You Keep What You Kill

The Chronicles of Riddick ditches the R rated horror of Pitch Black for a PG-13 action flick. I may not have known about Pitch Black, but I remember seeing a trailer for the sequel very well. It was released right as Vin Diesel’s stardom was beginning to rise. Suddenly a simple sci-fi horror movie wasn’t enough for Richard B. Riddick. The Chronicles of Riddick is a fitting title since it goes for an overly complex story with larger than life villains and an all-star cast. Instead of nocturnal alien creatures, Riddick faces the multi-face masked Lord Marshal and his army of Necromongers. They have laid waste to entire planets and converted their inhabitants.

The movie introduces ideas like an Underverse, elementals, soul stealing supernatural powers, and a prophecy that foretells Marshal’s demise. It’s way more action than I’d expect from a space criminal like Riddick, but he’s just the Furyan for the job. In the time since his escape, Riddick has been outrunning bounty hunters. His price is linked to one of two Pitch Black survivors. Keith David returns as the Muslim preacher Imam when he suspects Riddick is a Furyan. Jack (the teenage boy who was really a girl) returns later on as a badass fighter named Kyra played by Alexa Davalos.

The rest of the cast includes Colm Feore as Marshal, Karl Urban as his scheming subordinate Vaako, Thandie Newton as Vaako’s manipulative wife, and Dame Judi Dench as a wind elemental. The middle act is pretty disconnected when Riddick is brought to a prison planet by miscellaneous mercenaries. The PG-13 rating may be lame, but at least his sun scorched rescue and “death by teacup” is pretty cool. The ending is especially unexpected as Riddick claims the Necromonger throne after killing their leader. The Chronicles of Riddick shines in some areas, but increased scale was its downfall.

The Chronicles of Riddick

Riddick escapes Crematoria

Preceded by: Pitch Black & Followed by: Riddick

You’re Not Afraid of the Dark, Are You?

Pitch Black made a star out of Vin Diesel. Although I was alive in 2000, I don’t think I ever heard of Pitch Black. For years I thought The Chronicles of Riddick was a stand alone movie. Little did I know Vin Diesel’s first iconic character made his debut in a horror themed sci-fi action flick. Pitch Black feels like a slasher movie, if the slasher was forced to work alongside his victims to face a greater threat. The simple premise sees a spacecraft from the distant future transporting a group of cryogenically frozen passengers.

When the ship crash lands on an alien planet, a cast of unique individuals try to survive. There’s a reluctant captain, a cop, a Muslim preacher and his followers, some prospectors, and an impressionable teenager. Although the guilt ridden Carolyn Fry is technically the heroic main character, Pitch Black is more interested in following the villain. Richard B. Riddick is a murderous criminal with a permanent eye shine that gives him night vision. Between his goggles and Diesel’s intimidating physique, I can see why Riddick earned a following.

I just wasn’t a fan of his nihilistic outlook, the disorientating early 2000’s camera work, or the disposal feel of most of the characters. It’s really the concept that drew me in the most. The desert planet has 3 suns that give the film a unique look of either orange or blue light. The R rating is put to use when a horde of nocturnal winged CGI alien creatures hunt the passengers after an eclipse turns the planet pitch black. Although it suffers from conventions of the time, Pitch Black stands out for its intense darkened action.

Pitch Black

Riddick lies in wait

Followed by: The Chronicles of Riddick

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting

Kung Fu Panda set DreamWorks Animation on a path of legendary awesomeness. After something as bizarre as Bee Movie, DreamWorks needed a sure fire hit to fully earn back their lost appreciation as a computer animation studio. Kung Fu Panda sounded like a joke the second you heard the title. Yet just like our unlikely panda hero, the success of Kung Fu Panda was no accident. The original intention was to make a parody of martial arts films with anthropomorphic animals. Like the great masters before him, the director saw the potential to tell a genuine wuxia hero’s journey that honored Chinese tradition.

It just happened to star animals. Unlike some anthropomorphic animal movies, Kung Fu Panda is totally warranted in using an all animal world. I’ve always been a big fan of martial arts, but I hadn’t seen many movies centered on the subject. Kung Fu Panda is the perfect gateway for children to become entranced by kung fu. I was 13 years old in 2008 and there was no way my brother and I would miss out on what was sure to be a blast. Kung Fu Panda was so awesome that it received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature and became the highest grossing non-sequel for DreamWorks at the time…

12. Kung Fu Panda

Po trains with Master Shifu

Kung Fu Panda is the best of both worlds for DreamWorks. It was comedic, but there are no pop culture references or Disney jabs. Martial arts movies were an influence, but this level of dedication to action hadn’t been done before. The breathtaking computer animation and respect for ancient tradition even earned Kung Fu Panda acclaim in China. Not bad for a predominantly American production with primarily American voice actors. The animation wasn’t just limited to CGI, because the opening establishes the mood with a beautiful traditionally animated sequence meant to resemble a Chinese painting. The Valley of Peace is a peaceful Ancient Chinese setting mostly inhabited by Chinese animals such as rabbits, pigs, and geese. Each of them wearing appropriate Chinese attire.

Our hero is the most unlikely warrior imaginable. Po is a big fat panda with an intense fanboy appreciation for kung fu. After his less than inspired role in Shark Tale, Kung Fu Panda was exactly what Jack Black needed in his 2008 career resurgence. Jack Black’s hilarious enthusiasm was just right for Po, but he also gave the panda more depth than you’d expect from a comedian like him. Po dreams about being the legendary Dragon Warrior even though his father wants him to run the family business. They trick you into thinking he’s a panda, but Po’s father is actually a cheerful goose named Mr. Ping. Ping loves his son as much as he loves making his secret ingredient noodles. The funny and criminally underappreciated James Hong is one of at least four Oriental actors in the movie.

The center of all kung fu action is the Jade Palace. A sacred hall where the greatest warriors in all the land come to train under Master Shifu. A role filled by the critically acclaimed Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman isn’t someone I’d immediately associate with kung fu, but his experience brought great complexity to the stern Shifu. Despite his anti-panda sentiment, most people forget Shifu is actually a red panda. The wisest member of the Jade Palace is the elderly tortoise Master Oogway. Randall Duk Kim voices the ancient mentor who envisions the return of a deadly foe. Leading to a ceremony where the Dragon Warrior is chosen. Everyone including Po is shocked when he’s the one chosen. Shifu doesn’t believe a flabby panda can become the greatest warrior in history, but Ooway knows what he’s doing.

The Furious Five are the most clever use of anthropomorphic animals in the movie. Since each of them embody a different animal style of kung fu. The Furious Five are easily the coolest characters with all their high energy martial arts experience. Like Jack Black, Angelina Jolie got her Shark Tale redemption as the fierce and highly dedicated Master Tigress. Next to Shifu, Tigress is the most vocally against Po training among them. Jolie really captures her warrior spirit and longing to prove herself. The rest of the Furious Five are made up of 2 Chinese actors and 2 comedians. Jackie Chan himself is the high energy humor loving Master Monkey. He’s a monkey of a few words, but a great fighter on the team. Lucy Liu brings slithery sweetness to Master Viper. She’s probably the least hostile team member towards Po. David Cross uses his trademark sarcasm for the flighty Master Crane. The first team member to directly interact with Po, but it doesn’t go too well. The least likely Furious Five member is Seth Rogen as the small Master Mantis. You get what you expect from the laugh prone Rogen, but every warrior is beneficial to the team.

The Furious Five was so interesting that they got a short film detailing their unique origin stories called Secrets of the Furious Five. The slapstick that comes from Po’s training is hilarious, but a real warrior never quits. Not even when the main villain escapes his inescapable prison. Ian McShane is excellent as the extremely intimidating snow leopard Tai Lung. He was once raised by Shifu like a son, but his heart turned to black when Oogway rejected him as Dragon Warrior. His prison is heavily fortified with thousands of rhino guards and Tai Lung as the only prisoner. The late Michael Clarke Duncan makes the most of his small role as a guard who shows a Dan Folger voiced messenger goose every precaution. Kung Fu Panda is very funny, but action is the real highlight of the movie. The stylised, fast paced, yet cartoon friendly kung fu sequences are edge of your seat excitement.

He may be the villain, but Tai Lung’s escape is a pure spectacle. The Furious Five vs. Tai Lung is an epic bridge showdown that practically defies the laws of physics. Meanwhile, Shifu makes a breakthrough with Po when he realizes food is a great source of motivation. You really come to believe Po’s journey as he fights for his dumpling and masters panda style. When Tai Lung nerve strikes the Five, it’s finally time for Po to unlock the secrets of the Dragon Warrior scroll. It appears to be blank, but Po’s father helps him to realize there is no secret ingredient. You need only to believe you’re special. Master Shifu vs. Tai Lung is a brutal fight between mentor and mentee that only ends when Po eventually climbs up the stairs.

You wouldn’t expect a fierce snow leopard to be a match for a lazy panda, but Po vs. Tai Lung is a hilariously unconventional fight that’s very evenly matched. Po proves himself by mastering the Wuxi Finger Hold and conquers his enemy with a final “Skadoosh.” In the end, Po’s dream comes true as he’s honored by the Furious Five and accepted by a much more light hearted Shifu. An after-credit scene (that I often forget about) shows them bonding over a meal and reveals a symbolic peach tree that begins to sprout. Of course I’d be sad if they didn’t use the always catchy song “Kung Fu Fighting” at the end. A song normally used as a punchline, is given an honorable cover by CeeLo Green. Kung Fu Panda is more awesome than DreamWorks could’ve expected.

13. Kung Fu Panda

The Furious Five

Followed by: Kung Fu Panda 2

Black & Yellow, Hello!

Bee Movie is the most unbeelievable DreamWorks Animation movie ever made. There wasn’t much buzz when it first came out, but Bee Movie made an out of nowhere come back in the 2010’s. It beecame an internet meme thanks to my generation realizing how truly bizarre the movie is. I was 12 years old in 2007 and Bee Movie was the first DreamWorks movie my brother and I saw by ourselves. I fondly remember the movie, but I definitely questioned its unusual concept when I was a kid. After focusing on an ant colony with adult comedian Woody Allen as the unexpected lead, Bee Movie beecame the first animated movie to focus on a bee hive. Understandable considering how layered a bee civilization is (luckily I’ve never been stung). Less understandable is stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld making this his only major film role after Seinfeld ended. “What’s the deal with bees anyway?” Bee Movie was first marketed with unusual live-action concept trailers of Seinfeld in a bee costume. I was so confused since I was too young to have watched Seinfeld at the time. Along with Seinfeld’s awkward stand-up based humor, Bee Movie is about 80% bee puns. Bee Movie beegins with an inspirational quote about the science of bee flight.

You might expect a realistic approach to bee life, but Bee Movie really goes for a modern hive approach where bees wear black & yellow striped clothing, sharpen their stingers, and make honey at Honex Industries. They also do stranger things like use their antenna as a phone and drive in little cars despite having wings. Not to mention honey being an all purpose product. Like Antz, bees have unusually human faces. Seinfeld practically plays himself as Barry B. Benson. The only bee to ever question the hive mind that is working one job for the rest of a bee’s life. Matthew Broderick tries to bee cautious as Barry’s best friend Adam, but Barry yearns to leave the hive. The only bees that leave are the pollen jocks who collect nectar and spread pollen with extracting equipment. Bee Movie really gets weird when Barry ends up lost in New York where he meets the love of his life. An attractive human florist named Vanessa Bloome voiced by Renée Zellweger in her second DreamWorks role. And yes, they do call a lot of attention to the fact that it’s a bee/human romance. When I was younger, the oddest aspect of Bee Move was all bees being able to speak, but choosing not to. Barry & Vanessa learn about each other’s lives before things take another turn. The biggest conflict comes when Barry discovers all the honey in a supermarket and investigates the source. Along the way flying into Chris Rock doing his second DreamWorks role as the mosquito Mooseblood.

Beekeepers are made to look like over-the-top villains and their mistreatment of bees is so much that Barry actually sues the human race. Followed by a news interview with Bee Larry King. There really aren’t any specific villains apart from two of the biggest scene stealers. Patrick Warburton is absolutely hilarious as Barry’s dimwitted romantic rival Ken. Meanwhile, John Goodman entertains as a stereotypical Southern big city lawyer. The court battle amps up the weirdness with appearances from Sting, Ray Liotta, and Vincent the bear from Over the Hedge. The only Disney jab is Winnie-the-Pooh being tranquilized while Piglet watches. Barry ultimately wins the case, but this is a late 2000’s movie. So expect a last minute environmental message. Bees are so important that every flower on Earth dies. The only hope is for Barry & Vanessa to fly a plane full of flowers back to New York with the help of the hive. Bee Movie is full of black & yellow (hello) that’s pleasing to look at in computer animation. Bee jokes can bee a little insufferable at times, but at least they use ironic songs like “Sugar Sugar” or “Here Comes the Sun.” I’ll even admit that the B movie pun used for the title is pretty clever. Bee Movie is beeyond bizarre in a way only DreamWorks can pull off.

11. Bee Movie

Barry flies with the pollen jocks