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Honor Among Rogues

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in December 2015, to say that it had to live up to high expectations would be a tremendous understatement. A decade had passed since the last live-action Star Wars movie was released, and the trailers had promoted the film as an exciting new take on the galaxy far, far away while also promising plenty of nostalgic moments, evidenced by the inclusion of John William’s iconic soundtrack and appearances from Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2. Although The Force Awakens was by no means a bad film, time and nostalgia made audiences and critics willing to forgive its more egregious flaws: mainly that it was a recapitulation of the Star Wars: A New Hope’s storyline albeit with superior special effects. However, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story does not benefit from the same circumstances that surrounded The Force Awakens. The familiar glow of a lightsaber or an incredulous rendition of “I’ve got bad feeling about this” are not enough to satisfy fans anymore.

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Passengers: A Wasted Chris Pratt Oscar Nomination

There is no reason that Passengers had to be a mediocre film, and it is just that — mediocre. Though I certainly enjoyed parts of the film, there’s no chance I remember this movie next holiday season. That’s a shame because director Morten Tyldum’s film had a 110 million dollar budget and a star-studded cast. Passengers is the tale of Jim Preston, played by Chris Pratt, a traveler on the Starship Avalon, which is voyaging from an overpopulated Earth to a budding colony world. When a collision with a large asteroid causes Jim’s hibernation pod to malfunction, he finds himself alone aboard a ship nearly 90 years from its destination — doomed to never see the Avalon’s destination.

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Certain Women: Tender Stories Told with Restrained Patience

The episodic structure of Certain Women falls closer on the spectrum of ensemble pieces to the dark, flaccid mirth of a film like Weiner Dog from earlier this year rather than the rapturous display of interconnectedness of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. However, this is not to say that Certain Women is a bad film. Rather, it is a film composed of three distinct parts — all whose plots intersect in very minor, trivial ways within the same state of Montana — that inherits a problem endemic to “multiple storylines” of this sort: some of the storylines are just much more interesting than others. The film commences with what is probably the weakest of the film’s three stories. A lawyer in Livingston, Montana, performed sufficiently by Laura Dern, is dealing with a disgruntled client attempting to sue his former employer, who later returns to his former workplace and holds a security guard there hostage.

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The Sun’s Top 10 Movies of 2016

From documentaries to animated flicks to art films to crime thrillers, the Arts & Entertainment writers’ picks for the year’s top films reflect the diversity of excellent movies this year. 10. Weiner 

Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg easily could have made a documentary that simply condemned former Representative Anthony Weiner. Yet, Weiner begins on a high note: the Anthony Weiner who appears at the beginning of the documentary is rejuvenated, remorseful about his sexting scandals and ready to fight in New York City’s mayoral race. The positive image doesn’t last long as Weiner, once again, descends into lying and defensiveness as more sexting allegations surface. Kriegman and Steinberg expertly elevate Weiner from an entertaining to a thoroughly thought-provoking movie by catching the moments when Weiner and the people around him reflect on his self-destruction.

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Sew Their Mouths To Prevent Further Sequels

What do you think when you think horror? A rated R flick that tries to scare the daylights out of you? Recently, rated R has become a dying art replaced by PG-13, a much bigger and more profitable demographic. But does it work? It does in The Haunting (1963) (rated G) and Lights Out (recent PG-13 flick) but doesn’t always, as with the 2014 film Ouija.

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You Just Got Trolled

Well, I said this before in a past installment of my column Animation Analysis, but I must repeat it here with greater sincerity: I owe DreamWorks Animation an apology. All of the previous flak I’ve given Trolls, I would like to redirect to their marketing team for making me think this was going to be a stinker of a film. Seriously though, do some reorganizing in that department. The cringeworthy teaser gave us twerking trolls; the film itself actually turned out far better than I dared to hope. To be sure, it has its share of flaws, but overall DreamWorks’ Trolls, directed by Walt Dohrn and Mike Mitchell, actually delivers a good time.

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Blair Witch Casts a Comic Spell

For a sequel to a film that is credited with popularizing the entire “found footage” genre, Blair Witch (2016) is quite underwhelming. In the film, James (James Allen McCune) is looking for his sister Heather (the main female character from The Blair Witch Project) in the Black Hills Forest in Maryland. Like the first film, this has also been made in the “found footage” format, which can lead to some creative shots. I’m not a big fan of this style of filmmaking, but a good example can be found in the Paranormal Activity movies. The technology used in the cinematography, and how we witness the paranormal, is what makes the films unique.

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Don’t Breathe and Buy a Rottweiler

Just an hour and a half long, Don’t Breathe, directed by Fede Alvarez, is a film you’re not soon going to forget. It’s a suspense movie about three thieves — Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) — who decide to rob a seemingly helpless war veteran: Blind Man (Stephen Lang). Imagine if Kevin from Home Alone was grown up and psychotic and you’re on the right track. The film opens up in an aerial shot of the Blind Man dragging a woman down a street, setting the uncomfortable mood that dissociates the setting from the rest of the world. You’ll know if you’re in the right theatre within the first few seconds.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF LAIKA STUDIOS

2016’s Animation Surge: Kubo and the Two Strings

First things first, I absolutely adore animation. In my eyes, it’s the most creative and culturally diverse medium in the film industry today, and if 2016 has proven anything to us, it’s that animated films are on a roll with hits like Zootopia, Finding Dory, Sausage Party and the upcoming Moana. Animation works so well for fictional stories because it’s able to make anything believable. It takes just as much time and money for an animator to draw a man walking down the street as it does for them to draw a dragon fighting a giant octopus. The only limits are the filmmakers’ imaginations.

COURTESY OF WARNER BROS.

GUEST ROOM | The Sun’s 2016 Summer Movie Preview

Yes, we have to wait until 2017 for Star Wars: Episode VIII, but, thankfully, there are some pretty fun movies to look forward to in 2016. There’s a new Star Trek installment by the director of Fast Five, who might be my favorite person on the planet. Liam Neeson is starring in a Martin Scorsese film, so we’ll see if he’s still capable of ever making a movie where nobody gets taken, because it’s debatable at this point. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is doing a comedy called Central Intelligence with Kevin Hart, which has the chance to be either really stupid or incredibly stupid. For some reason, someone thought it was a good idea to have a live-action Jungle Book and a live-action Tarzan come out within three months of each other.