Resident Evil: The Final Chapter: How Did We Let It Go On This Long?

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Way to go out on a whimper. You may be aware but I’ve been championing this franchise for years. I’m mindful of its stupidity and simplicity as a horror video game adaptation which means plots are mission based, characters are one dimensional and its full of gun play and roundhouse kicks. I’ve found their self-seriousness enjoyable for all these years as Milla Jovovich continually proves she’s a capable and charismatic action star as she carries the weight of the series on her shoulders. In each film, there’s always been a set piece to enjoy scored with intensity to make you feel like you’re watching something amazing. I uphold the belief that the films have improved with technology and increased budgets as Afterlife and Retribution are the most cohesive with Anderson back at the directing helm and visually stunning thanks to improved special effects. Yet Final Chapter crashes and burns as it retcons so much set up from the past five films making this nearly stand-alone installment that is also one of the most poorly directed and edited films I’ve ever experienced.

Where most Resident Evil films kick off with your old pal Alice recapping the loose arc of the previous movies including the zombie outbreak and the maniacal Umbrella corporation, Final Chapter adds this backstory to the Red Queen, the child hologram antagonist of the first film. Her lengthy setup plus random zombie attack on a snow mountain vacation leads us to present day Alice, alone, in the ruins of Washington DC. This was the first red flag as Retribution’s grand finale was a blockade of characters from the video games who’ve weaved themselves into the franchise (Claire Redfield, Albert Wesker, Ada Wong, Leon Kennedy) all about to have this epic last stand against a legion of zombies and flying dragon monsters. We are not privy to whatever occurred immediately after the credits rolled except for Alice’s passing mention that Wesker betrayed her in Washington. So first we’re robbed of the most exciting of cliff hangers. I had not yet closed the door that this movie could win me back. I had seen the trailer and at least knew there was a pay off on the aforementioned dragons but as Alice’s opening fight scene kicks off, it was all downhill.

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When Politics Seemed Quaint: Game Change Review

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“…you have got to stop saying things to the press that are blatantly untrue; that is NOT the kind of campaign that we are running here!”

Game Change and its portrayal of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign comes off as a warning that we didn’t heed. The film explores the “maverick” and ill-advised choice of having unvetted first time govern Sarah Palin as the VP pick. The film tracks the landmark challenges strategist like Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) faced first with trying to train Palin into VP material but also the consequences of this authority and prominence going to her head. While she’s unmanageable by the team, her wild yet down-home rhetoric connects with the public. As exaggerated as Palin’s unintelligence and falsities seem, we’ve already lived through a candidate saying much worse so her inaccuracies seem cute by comparison.

There’s a strangeness to liberals depicting Republicans which this HBO film toes. As much as I hate the term “liberal media” the choice of a twangy country music soundtrack and the stupidity in which they show Palin (she’s ignorant to WWII?) at times can feel harsh. Julianne Moore who is seemingly playing Palin larger than life actually slips into normalcy because the woman is a caricature. The look, the accent, the mannerisms, I could easily be convinced she really was her. At the same time, this film gives me a new found respect for John McCain because at least he doesn’t have some of the more nut job conservative views.

Why this film feels so convincing besides fantastic performances from a stack casting (motherfuckin’ Sarah Paulson!) director Jay Roach weaves in so much archival footage of Obama, the debates, attack ads etc that give legitimacy to the narrative. Sometimes it’s overdone like the long clips of Saturday Night Live. I get that was an integral part of that presidential race but when playing full clips I start to prefer to just watch the entire sketch. Game Change wants to make itself a truthful snapshot of this risky campaign and unintentionally, its future effect on politics. The film ends on a scary note and once again I can’t believe this movie was made before the events of the 2016 race. Campaign Manager Rick Davis says

“I too wish that the American people would choose the future Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson, but unfortunately, that’s not the way it works anymore. Now it takes movie-star charisma to get elected President, and Obama and Palin, that’s what they are – they’re stars.”

Haunting. Can’t wait to see HBO’s take on the Trump campaign.

Nearing The End of An Era: You Guys Remember Resident Evil?

In case you weren’t aware or you have a more refined taste in cinema, a new Resident Evil movie is on the horizon, the Final Chapter we’ve all been waiting for.Well, at least I am as I’ve been more dedicated to this series than most. Why do they keep getting made you might ask? Well they make some money overseas, probably boost video games sale and keep Milla Jovovich employed. As we near the ending of this neverending, mindless series I underwent an intense two day rewatch to remind myself why I’ve stuck it out all these years.

Resident Evil (2002)

 

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Big Gun!

 

I don’t use the phrase “guilty pleasure” often because I unabashedly love so many movies that most deem “bad” and feel no shame in stating that. The entire Resident Evil franchise though is genuinely terrible yet every two to three years I find myself marathoning in preparation for the next installment. Their brand of bad comes from its lack of originality, upon every rewatch I am reminded of their general blandness. They’re objection based stories (get from A to B like the video game), there’s action set pieces in between (none too spectacular), there’s always a “Boss” character to beat then it ends on a cliffhanger that will never be followed up on. They’re so simplistic and that’s why I like them so much. They’re “exist in the background” kind of films that I can watch mindlessly. It’s not like they’re dumber than the Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, they’ve just got bigger budgets and flashier/poorly aging special effects. What gives this series most of its distinction is mutated badass Alice played by Milla Jovovich who knows how to look sexy with a gun and can round house kick Doberman Pinschers. Somehow this now six part franchises has maintained a presence over the span of 15 years and keeps me loyal as if I’ve been brainwashed by Umbrella itself.

I did not start playing the video games in which the series was based on till after the third installment aka Extinction. As much as fans can complain about adaptations, it’s not like the Capcom games have a well of rich characters and storylines to draw from. Anderson adapts mostly from the basic premise of the zombie outbreak and a team sent to discover the cause. I find it strange that they opt to not use any of the original characters in 2002’s Resident Evil but Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine aren’t particularly iconic. Alice is a solid alternative as her waking up with an erased memory makes for a blank slate to the situation, perfect as an audience surrogate. We journey with her and a pack of military grunts through the chambers of the underground Hive facility that houses the outbreak.

Typically out of the series, the first is always cited as the best. I think that’s debatable because the later films take more visual strides as they have larger budgets and more advanced technology to work with. This film has the most memorable sequences that would be continuously copied in the later sequels because studios are too lazy to develop anything new. The first is the opening scene in the office where the systems go haywire. It contains no one we’ll encounter later in the series and is such a stand alone moment but is the only scene that has any tension. It’s regular people being essentially trapped and murdered by the technology they work for. The second being the hallway of bone cutting lasers that no matter what, always looks cool. Otherwise, this movie is mutant dogs (a recurring obstacle that they flog to death), the Playstation graphics monster and your garden variety zombies.

It’s a mediocre start but in its defense the films don’t get worse, they just ride that average wave. It sets a bar of stupid action movie with minimal character development or story progression in general. You know what you’re getting into so you can leave at any point or if you’re me you’ll stick it out till this train runs out of steam. Hey, I’m on board for the long haul, baby!

 

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

 

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Two Guns!

 

Apocalypse is the most direct of all the RE sequels primarily taking place just days after the T-Virus breakout. We’re given a new slate of characters, some good (handsome Umbrella soldier Olivera (Oded Fehr) and fan favorite/rival heroine Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory)) some forgettable (Weather Girl Terri Morales (Sandrine Holt)) and some bizarre (Wise-cracking comic relief from Mike Epps plus Jared Harris who was convinced to be in this). It’s a predictable video game plot in this case save a little girl and take her to a safety but they try to throw in some emotional entanglement which is never their strong suit. Alice’s sister experiment was the other survivor from the Hive (Matt played by Eric Mabius) who is now a giant ugly man mutant called Nemesis and like the name implies, he’s got a bone to pick. Annoyingly this film relies heavily on flashbacks to constantly remind you of Alice and Matt’s kinship, thankfully a tactic the later films dropped.

One of Apocalypse’s biggest issues is that it feels so compelled to connect with the first film and doesn’t trust its audience to remember a movie that came out two years prior. As I marathon this franchise, I’d pick this to be the weakest of them all as there’s little that I could name as spectacular as far as action or horror goes and this is coming from a series I’ve already deemed deliciously average. There is at least an expanding of scope as the setting is elevated from underground facility to the streets of Racoon City (which look suspiciously like a Canadian metropolis). Jovovich still carries the movie as her running down skyscrapers in mesh tops is what makes this journey worthwhile. Her breathy voice and cocked eyebrows are getting used to selling the preposterous dialogue. There is a sincerity in the tone that is unmatched by modern meta-standards. Don’t worry, the series keeps straight-faced till the end and at least after Apocalypse you can only go up.

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

 

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Machete!

 

Or you can go West. Extinction takes a Mad Max-ian approach to a franchise that never quite found its own visual style. Out in the Nevada desert, Alice meets up with a caravan captained by Olivera and Claire Redfield (a new video game character for each installment) played by Ali Larder. Set up in Apocaplyse Alice’s superhuman powers begin to grow so not only being a kung fu master and gun expert, she has telekinesis to blow up zombie-fied crows (yeah, that’s a pretty dumb creature). I always found the beige desert setting a turn off aesthetically (props to Apocaplyse being blue) and was bothered that so much time had passed from the last story (i>Extinction jumps roughly two to three years forward). You start getting the sense this is an aimless series, struggling to connect to the larger Umbrella conspiracy. To its credit, the games have equally no logic to what this corporation has to gain from all its experimentation now that most of the earth’s population is undead. But as a liberal, I am on board with the villainizing of privatization.

This one has the best zombie fight with the showdown in Las Vegas, Alice gets to parade her new skills and everyone else gets to take cover in the sand-covered city. Fewer flashbacks here but heavy on references to the first film, simulating scenes we’ve now seen dozens of times. Every other movie we have to be reminded of the laser room. Even with being so homage-laden, number three comes out swinging with a high caliber final Boss (mostly due to great special FX makeup) and some epic battles. Ending with a promise of hundreds of Alice clones, how can you go wrong!?

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

 

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Imagine This In 3D

 

As Paul WS Anderson returns, Afterlife brings RE into the 22nd Century. What becomes evident in just the opening credits is that substitute directors for Apocalypse and Extinction (Alexander Witt and Russell Mulcahy respectively) had nowhere near the artistic talent of Anderson who can make schlock look good. Not that he has a signature style because like every RE film, it’s ripping off something else and here it’s decided to take the form of The Matrix ten years too late. The world of Umbrella becomes sterile plated glass buildings and antagonist Albert Wesker is a dead ringer for Agent Smith. For god sake, they use Bullet Time! This particular aesthetic doesn’t last very long much like the battalion of Alice clones we were promised in Extinction. After a well-choreographed action sequence (one of many as this is Anderson’s specialty) of dozens of Alice’s slaying faceless Umbrella employees, a bomb is detonated so they all die leaving us with only the real Alice, how convenient.

It’s almost as if the concept of clones was too much of an overload to try to integrate them into the story. Instead, kill them quick so we can get Alice and amnesia-fied Claire (Ali Larter) to a prison filled with survivors who need to get to safety. Resident Evil: Prison Break Edition along with a director upgrade also has all its zombies who’ve run stale get reimagined as alien mutated zombies. We now have tentacle flower faced zombies which are quite unsettling and I buy as a further mutation considering how much Umbrella loves their experiments. The 10-foot Axeman that breaks down the prison walls, he’s harder to explain away. He may be a bewildering anomaly but he gives Claire a time to shine as she battles him in a water spraying shower room combat.

What accompanies being new generation RE is that this film was intended to be seen in 3D and not the Avatar “look what amazing enhancements we can make with this technology.” It’s more in the vein of gimmicky 1980’s Friday the 13th Part 3 3D where weapons swing in slo-mo towards the screen. It slows down just so you can “ooh” and “aah” at its marvel. Silly techniques aside, Afterlife is such a step up because Anderson is so skilled in directing action as he knows how to make a zombie shoot-em-up exquisite. He’s the piece that makes this series whole and why the latter half of a double trilogy reins superior.

 

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

 

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Yes To All Of This

 

This is what I’ve been waiting for. All the bullshit stripped away. Anderson delivers the purest and best of the Resident Evil movies. Retribution delivers on everything I’ve wanted from this series. Superior special effects, an array of battles involving creatures that exist only in your nightmares and lots of great hairstyles. No need to be emotionally invested in the characters or worried about any kind of stakes, it’s just Alice reunited with past favorites, fighting her way across simulated terrains to escape Umbrella’s Russian testing facility.

This is also the definition of a video game movie. Ten minutes in, Wesker is remotely broadcasting to Alice and her new partner Ada Wong their mission. It’s so blatant, having no interest in a plot with substance, a front the other films attempt. That’s not to say there are no flourishes. Thanks to having the same production crew carry over from Afterlife, there’s the improved stylistic continuity. The opening credits are one of my favorite moments of the entire series as the siege on the ship Arcadia is played in slow motion and backwards to an amazing score by TomandAndy which is reprised throughout the journey. Both the double Axeman fight and the infamous Uber Licker making his triumph return from the first film, look phenomenal. Plus instead of playing the same simulations we’ve seen in every sequel (laser room, waking up in the shower) we get this great alternate universe sequence where Alice wakes up in suburbia, married to Olivera and has long hair! It has a very Zach Snyder Dawn of the Dead feel but I like that we get to see former characters in a setting that isn’t the cold concrete walls of Umbrella.

I don’t care if I get shit for this but Retribution is epic and the best of the series at least until Final Chapter tells me otherwise.

 

The Vintage Revisits: Gaspar Noé Before He Was Gaspar Noé

I know awards season is off to a hot start with La La Land sweeping the Globes and Ryan Reynolds and Andrew Garfield kissing their way into our hearts (still doesn’t effect my feelings on Silence). With all the noteworthy movies of 2016 I have left to see (c’mon 20th Century Women, get on that wide release) I’m also embarking on an exploration of French cinema thanks to the birthday gift from my boyfriend Steven of Alex West’s academic genre book “Films of the New French Extremity”. West (co-host of one of my favorite podcasts The Faculty of Horror) covers a lot of ground starting with a brief history of France then honing in on the early 90’s cinema that pushed the limits of sex and violence on screen, how that blossomed into a booming horror subculture in the early/mid 2000’s and how it changed cinema both in France and abroad. The first movies the book tackles are the early works of divisive director Gaspar Noé. While most are familiar with his shocking piece Irréversible, West breaks down his previous works, a 40 minute short Carne and its full-length sequel I Stand Alone. Before reading this chapter I watched these two films, ready to take a dive into a filmography I never thought I’d traverse.

Carne (1991)

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Gaspar Noé is a director known for pushing the boundaries of what one is comfortable watching. This short of extreme cinema juxtaposes the forbidden delicacy of horse meat (known as Carne) with the taboo subject of incest. The story follows a butcher specializing in said meat who is left to raise his only daughter, when she hits puberty his lust rises to the surface. Since it’s from the perspective of the butcher the content is treated so nonchalantly that it makes the French seem like real perverts. I appreciate the style of the yellow saturation, hard edits and nontraditional angles. It often comes off as pretentious but you have to admit, it grabs your attention. Not for the faint of heart, the intense visuals included horse slaughter and vaginal birth. Carne doesn’t sway me toward admiration for Noe, I respect his unique cinematic language. He always presents something interesting whether or not I can stomach it.

I Stand Alone (1998)

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After praising Carne for its art house creativity and reminding me what I appreciate about Gaspar Noé, its full length follow up I Stand Alone is more of what I hate about him. In this sequel, Noé duplicates the same camera movements, color pallet, etc as he continues the story of the destitute butcher. Carne had a third person perspective as it documented the aging horse meat butcher who after assaulting a man he thought molested his daughter, loses his shop, all his money, and right to see his daughter and once released shacks up with a barmaid. The 40 minute short ends with him and his now pregnant lover relocating in the hopes of starting a new life. I Stand Alone picks up immediately but now with a first person perspective as the entire film is spent listening to the stream of consciousness thought of this butcher. It turns out his prospects were not a rosy and unable to find work in his field he feels suffocated by his new wife and her mother and seething with hate he decides to return to his hometown to reclaim what was once his.

 

If these particular themes were dormant in Carne, particular French concerns grow as the scope of the narrative enlarges. Carne while very French is a more intimate and niche as a depiction of perverse, forbidden fruits whether is be horse meat or incest. Here, the Butcher serves as a greater representation as France itself which especially in 2016 America can also ring true. The Butcher is a fifty-year-old straight white man who is accustomed to everything going his way because just like America, the country was built to serve that demographic. With a criminal record and no job, his privilege has been stripped along with his independence and respect. He becomes a ball of hate as he blames everyone around him for his misfortunes. He hates his wife for being the breadwinner so he beats her, he hates the Arabic man who has taken over his shop (though most of the town seems open to being racist) and he hates the manager of the slaughterhouse who won’t give him a job and decides he should kill him because he’s “a gay.” The Butcher feels he’s done everything right and that he deserves his place in society to be restored, unable to accept the changing of the times.

 

As much as I appreciate Noé’s sharp social commentary, I can’t say I enjoy spending 90 minutes in the head of a misogynistic, homophobic bigot. It was bad enough before I had to hear him wanting to sleep with his daughter. I emphasize the stream of consciousness aspect because for the entire run time there is this unbreaking voice over of this man pontificating about all the injustices and what he plans to do about it which he babbles on and on about. It’s so repetitive and if you took out the VO, it’s mostly scenes of a guy walking down the street and sitting in his room. There’s little of anything interesting happening and you’re stuck listening to the racist Trump supporter type talk himself in circles. Noe “spices” up the third act when the butcher has reached a boiling point in his hopelessness and decides a proper last hurrah before he murders the man who won’t give him a job would be spending the day with his daughter. Then commences a horrific dream sequence as he imagines a brutal resolution where he consummates with his daughter and attempts a murder/suicide which even as a fantasy fails terribly. Sure this drama is more exciting than “old man sits alone ranting” but it’s neither feel good cinema nor the fun fucked up Tarantino stuff we’re used to in the states.

 
I Stand Alone is the sequel you never ask for and dearly wish it didn’t exist. I have no doubt Noe made this piece as a deromanticizing of French culture. He shows the hideous beast filled with mistrust, xenophobia and raw hate lying under the surface of a country known for love and beauty. The Butcher constantly proclaims his adoration for Paris believing he is a true Frenchman but the city we see is dreary and bankrupt. Noé achieves what he set out to depict but that doesn’t mean it’s something I want to watch. It’s the duality of the objective to subjective opinions I struggle with as I’m writing, the same dualities in which one can view the beauty and strife of France but much like the Butcher sees what he wants, I shall interpret this movie as the queasy and toxic narrative that is. I hope to not encounter it again anytime soon.

 

Top 10 Films of 2016

What a year! The highs, the lows, the crippling fear of what 2017 will bring. That’s what movies exist for, to escape the dread of the outside world no matter how damaging that can be. I started listening to more political podcasts so really doing my part. Still there’s nothing more fun than looking back on the year that was and if you’re keeping track, I went from two female directors on my Best Of list last year down to none and I put that on Hollywood!

10 Train to Busan

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The South Korean popcorn zombie movie that you might have missed is the best incarnation of the genre since Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. Adding some flavor to your commute, Busan is undead Snowpiercer mixing it up with some new zombie rules and a lively cast of travelers/victims.

Fences

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Pennsylvania represent! Fencesis amazing if you’ve never seen Fences. August Wilson’s writing is masterful making a tightly contained family drama so gripping. Even if it’s not the most cinematic, Washington adapting the play for the screen makes it accessible to those unable to catch a live production (we can’t all live in New York, dad). Viola Davis gives the most natural, grounded performance, outshining giving us the best phrase of 2016 “Out Denzeling Denzel”.

8 London Road

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This experimental musical is Sweeney Todd meets My Favorite Murder meets The Office and that’s all I want from every movie. Catchy songs recounting gruesome murders is my jam and plus it’s funny. Also there’s one scene with Tom Hardy which of course isn’t enough to fill the Tom Hardy size whole in my life but I’ll take what I can get of that big weirdo.

 

7 The Nice Guys

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It’s the year of the Gosling and who would have thought his perfect counterpart would be Russell Crowe. 1970’s Los Angeles never looked so good. Once again more murder mystery which I’m on board with set on the familiar vintage streets of my neighborhood. Leave to Shane Black to make an amazing slapstick neo-noir and it doesn’t even have to be Christmas themed!

 
6 Hell or High Water

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Just thinking about this movie I can feel that Texas heat and dust rising as the two bandit brothers speed away from a bank robbery. The film balances social commentary with heist all with gorgeous cinematography by Files Nuttegens. Who knew it’s hopeless sensibilities would ring so true as we start 2017.

 
5 Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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If Sam Neill’s greatest achievement is playing opposite of dinosaurs (twice!), his second would be his role as foster dad on the lamb with the most idiotic runaway in all of New Zealand. Taika Watiti has proved to be one of the greatest comedic directors out there right now, so much so that I’ll watch his Thor movie because Wilderpeople is so good. I hope to see more of young Julian Dennison as well either as an actor or a rap star.

 

Jackie

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Pablo Larraín’s portrait of a grieving widow in the highest position in the United States has lingered with me ever since viewing it and not because I can’t stop doing impressions of Portman’s outrageous affectations. I don’t love the performance but I’m completely enamored with the operatic beauty and tragedy of the 1960’s expressed with all its flaws in this film. It single-handedly makes smoking cigarettes and the musical Camelot really cool.

 

3 OJ: Made In America

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Did I mention I love murder? I initially scoffed at the idea of sitting in a theater for an 8-hour documentary yet once I started watching the ESPN series, I couldn’t help but binge it, much to my boyfriend’s chagrin. Even if you’re not a sports fan, it’s a fascinating piece about the history of racial tension in Los Angeles and America as a whole and the final chapter is one of the most surreal true life stories I’ve ever seen.

 
2 La La Land

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I am completely sold on Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as America’s Sweetheart. Why La La Land made it so high on my list is not because of the songs or the choreography, it’s because I fell in love along with them. I felt like I was sitting in the Rialto watching Rebel Without A Cause waiting for that first kiss. Their chemistry is so believable which is what made the ending so heartbreaking. As much as I don’t want my movie going experience to end in a gut punch, it was so well executed that I’m willing to take that abuse with the many rewatches to come.

 

1 Green Room

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This movie has managed to stick with me since April as one of the most visceral theater experiences I’ve ever had. Rarely have I found myself holding my breath in hopes that characters will get out of the dire situations they find themselves, and trapped in a Nazi punk bar is the pits. The unpredictability of who would make it out alive and who would succumb to gnarly, unthinkable deaths has kept Green Room present in my mind throughout 2016. It’s a cinematic thriller and a perfectly made splatter fest. RIP Yelchin.

Honorable Mentions:

Best Use of A State Nobody Likes: Moonlight

Best Messy, Bizzare Passion Project: Rules Don’t Apply

Best Use of 80’s Music/Aesthetic: Sing Street

Best Inspirational Film Even Though Our Country Is Still Super Racist: Hidden Figures

Best Death By Fire Movie: Manchester By The Sea

Best Kate McKinnon Movie: Ghostbusters

Best White Girl Movie: Edge of Seventeen

 

And don’t worry my most anticipated movie of 2016, wasn’t that bad. Happy 2017!

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