Transcendence (2014)

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Director: Wally Pfister

Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman

Screenplay: Jack Paglan

119 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality.

 

When longtime visual perfectionist Wally Pfister decided to make his directorial debut on a project produced by colleague and master filmmaker Christopher Nolan, I think I wet my pants in excitement. And why not? The film, Transcendence, seemed all too perfect to fail. The screenplay was part of a shortlist of amazing unproduced screenplays floating around Hollywood. The director had proven himself visually. It had an all-star cast at the front lines of major players in the business. It couldn’t fail, right? Then, reviews started coming in. The film immediately dropped down to “rotten” on the famous tomatometer, and I started to get concerned. Finally, my chance to see the film came, and I knew I had to form an opinion all my own.

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I saw it. Oh, I saw it.

Transcendence is the story of the Casters, Will (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, Tusk) and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige, Iron Man 3). Will is dying, and Evelyn will do anything to save him. So when Will comes up with a controversial theory concerning crossing his living mind with a technological super-computer in order to leave his withering body of flesh to exist amongst cyberspace. Longtime friend Max (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind, The Avengers) helps the Casters achieve their goal only to second-guess his decision when Will’s mind wants more input. As Will’s consciousness continues to expand into new avenues of human psyche, a more horrifying truth comes to light for Evelyn: is this thing still her husband anymore, and if not, what has it become?

I want to like this movie so much. I really do. It has fine performances and the dialogue isn’t bad. The real issue of the movie is the pacing. After the first third of Transcendence, it slows the hell down. Seriously. There is a whole middle of this movie that has stuff going on but doesn’t feel important, which leads to an underwhelming ending trying to be deeper than it is. There are issues.

After Will’s consciousness begins learning and becoming something greater than itself, we see him experimenting with humans to progress both humans and itself, but I didn’t feel the stakes. I knew they were there, but I just didn’t find myself caring about them, which disappointed me. Maybe if the film pulled me in more, I would have found myself rooting for a solution, but Evelyn Caster doesn’t take up the lead as far as cathartic characters go. I wanted her to figure out what we had all figured out, but it took too long. On the other hand, Max has entrenched himself with known terrorists to try exposing this experiment to the public, so he wasn’t as likable either. Then you get Cillian Murphy (TV’s Peaky Blinders, Inception) and Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, Dolphin Tale 2), who play Agent Buchanan and Joseph Tagger. Seriously, who the hell are these guys and why do I care about them. They bare no weight whatsoever on the plot or anything going on. They merely observe. They just exist. Why? Exactly. These roles seemed more like a favor to Pfister than anything else. Yeah, I liked The Dark Knight trilogy too, but I wouldn’t take an easily worthless character to show my affection.

Then, there is the ending. It tries to be the ending to Inception or perhaps The Dark Knight Rises. It tries to compel its viewership into discussing exactly what happened. The problem here is that it feels so forced. It feels shoehorned when it could’ve been a simple explanation of what Max thinks happened without trying to imply anything. Just let us have the info that we have attained and let us use that for watercooler talk. Instead, the film leaves a dry taste on the tongue that leads to simply nothingness.

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I want to love this movie. There are so many parts of it that I do love. Many of the actors turn in fine work, and I didn’t have any issues with the visual presentation of the film, but I think good ol’ Wally needs to learn about pacing.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Wally Pfister’s Transcendence? Did you login or shut down? Let me know!

 

100 Posts! Thank You!

Hey everyone!

Last week, I crossed the 100 post mark, and I just wanted to take a minute to thank all my faithful readers for tuning in for all the craziness as I get used to this again. Below, you will see links to my Top 10 Posts of the last 100 posts (or 107 to be exact). Thanks again! Keep reading and I’ll keep writing!

 

  1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
  2. The Lego Movie (2014)
  3. Oculus (2013)
  4. Mitt (2014)
  5. The Collector (2009)
  6. Godzilla (2014)
  7. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
  8. 2012 (2009)
  9. Monkey Shines (1988)
  10. Leprechaun (1993)

Brick Mansions (2014)

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Director: Camille Delamarre

Cast: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA

Screenplay: Luc Besson

90 mins. Rated PG-13 for frenetic gunplay, violence and action throughout, language, sexual menace and drug material.

 

Remakes are really not worth it.

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Brick Mansions is a remake of the earlier film District 13, and suffers from being just like everything else. It stars the late Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious) in his final finished role as Damien Collier, an undercover detective in future Detroit who wishes to take down criminal kingpin Tremaine Alexander (RZA, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, G.I. Joe: Retaliation). Along the way, he meets Lino (David Belle, District 13, The Family), whose girlfriend has been taken by Alexander. The two form an unlikely partnership to take down the notorious crime boss. Also there is parkour. So yeah.

The thing that made District 13 so great was that it has a unique visual style and some great action. Brick Mansions has neither. It has a badly derived plot that seems to get lost in itself before realizing that nobody is really paying attention to it. It has Paul Walker as a lead, who can’t do much with this poorly outlined character. His dialogue wouldn’t be realistic no matter what Walker had done. David Belle just plain can’t act. Yes, he can parkour, but should that mean sacrificing a lead performer for some action? Then there is RZA. I actually like RZA for the most part, but not in this movie. He isn’t likable. He isn’t menacing. He just isn’t anything.

I know a lot of people see a movie like Brick Mansions for the action, and the fact that most of the action here is without CGI is pretty cool. What doesn’t help is constantly playing with the edit and slowing down or speeding up the action and fights so that it seems less real than it actually is. All director Camille Delamarre (The Transporter Legacy) needed to do was capture it on film, but he fiddled. He fiddled hardcore.

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This film just feels uninspired. The ending to it was so laughably stupid that I actually had to rewatch it to make sure that I didn’t miss something really grand that made the whole thing worth it. It didn’t. I didn’t have much fun watching it at all. I know it is perhaps wrong to think on an actor’s last films after they die, but you hope an actor can leave this life with something strong to cap it off. Brick Mansions was a disappointing fare, and I really hope that Furious 7 will be a strong finale to Walker’s legacy, because I liked him. I just didn’t like this.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Camille Delamarre’s Brick Mansions? Did you leap in or drop out? Let me know.

 

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, John Turturro

Screenplay: Ehren Krueger, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

150 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

 

I was extremely surprised that I enjoyed Michael Bay’s Transformers. I had convinced myself all the way up to the premiere night that I was in for a long slow burn of disappointment. I was wrong. I had fun. That was a similar case with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the 2009 sequel featuring Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless, Fury) heading to college and trying to balance his life and relationships with Mikaela (Megan Fox, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, This is 40) with that of Bumblebee and the Transformers. I found the film to be an occasionally enjoyable romp with much lower quality of technical achievement. I didn’t think the movie was boring, but I felt like they had stretched the premise of the first film without offering anything new of merit. It felt like a big budget movie with absolutely no forward momentum for its characters. It looked nice, but really nothing special.

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Sam Witwicky is college bound. Unfortunately, his Autobot friends are challenged by threats old and new including the reanimation of Megatron and the reemergence of an exiled Transformer known only as The Fallen. The remaining Autobots have joined with new allies as well as a human tactical team called NEST, featuring old friends Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel, TV’s Las Vegas, Scenic Route) and USAF Master Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Black Nativity). Before leaving for college, Sam uncovers a piece of the Allspark which gives him visions of Autobot language and clues leading him around the world in search of a mystical tool that can save his friends and defeat The Fallen.

After multiple viewings, I began to notice how none of the plot actually made a whole lot of sense. The convoluted quest Sam finds himself on is strange as it is leading him to something he doesn’t even need yet. It isn’t until partway through the quest that he actually has a use for what he is looking for.

Shia LaBeouf’s performance is downright underwhelming. If there was an award for yelling “Bumblebee!” as many times as you can, he might win, but performances don’t really matter when the script is so shotty. We have to blame the writer’s strike, which caused the death of several terrific television series and a screenplay that wasn’t ready entering production. Disappointing, too, because if waited on, I’m sure the film would have been more successful, but this team just didn’t have the time to actually create an organic story. This is more jerry-rigged.

Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Blood and Chocolate) added some underwhelming touches to the original material drafted by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), and I feel like he was too attached to the material as he was quoted as being a major Transformers fan. Of course he can’t do justice to the film. Too much pressure.

I didn’t really hate all the annoying characters (I tend to believe that Jar Jar Binks is needed in Episode I to prove that some aliens are going to be annoying as shit), but there was a lot of them, ranging from Autobots to humans.

The big win of the film is Devastator, a Decepticon comprised of several moving parts and automobiles. That was some great creature design.

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If given the option, find a copy of this film in its IMAX edition because the only major element of this film that works is the Visual Effects (even if Bay does continue to show us the robots transforming just because). This movie will delight fans of the Transformers brand, but likely no one else.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers, click here.

For my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, click here.

For my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, click here.

[Happy 10th Birthday!] The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (2004)

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Director: Stephen Hillenburg, Mark Osborne

Cast: Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Roger Bumpass, Mr. Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Jeffrey Tambor, Alec Baldwin, David Hasselhoff

Screenplay: Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Stephen Hillenburg, Kent Osborne, Aaron Springer, Paul Tibbitt

87 mins. Rated PG for some mild crude humor.

 

I think every generation has some children’s entertainment that earlier and later generations just wouldn’t quite understand. It’s for the same reason that older generation thinks that kids’ music these days aren’t good, while I can simultaneously play music that I love around younger folks today and they don’t like it either. It just existed in the right time and couldn’t have in any other.

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I think that holds about as true as ever with Spongebob Squarepants. It just couldn’t have happened at any other time. But it did happen. It still is happening. There have even been two movies (the sequel is coming in 2015). Today, I’m going to discuss the first film, which celebrates 10 years of release today. I actually remember seeing it in the theater way back when. I think my buddy and I were the oldest people in the theater that weren’t parents. And that was okay. We laughed at the right times. We even cried at the right times (totally serious here). When I got out of that theater, I felt like I had learned something incredible about myself. The lesson in The Spongebob Squarepants Movie is simple, yes, but also incredible important to people finding themselves being forced to grow up when they just aren’t ready.

Spongebob Squarepants (Tom Kenny, TV’s CatDog, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) is dreaming of his new promotion running the Krusty Krab 2, the new restaurant opened by his boss Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown, The Shawshank Redemption, When the Game Stands Tall). The only problem is Mr. Krabs didn’t give him the promotion; he gave it to Spongebob’s coworker Squidward (Roger Bumpass, Monsters, Inc., The haunted World of El Superbeasto). Meanwhile, the evil nemesis Plankton (Mr. Lawrence, TV’s Rocko’s Modern Life) has discovered Plan Z, the only plan he hasn’t tried to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula, and has enacted it by stealing the crown of King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor, The Hangover, A Merry Friggin’ Christmas). Mr. Krabs has been framed for the theft, and King Neptune isn’t a forgiving man/fish/whatever. So now, Spongebob, with the help of Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke, The Artist, The Babymakers), Neptune’s daughter Mindy (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy), and the ever-incredible David Hasselhoff (as himself, Click, The Devil’s Carnival: Alleluia!), needs to become a man to “Get the Crown, Save the Town, and Mr. Krabs!” But there is evil on their way as well, as Bounty Hunter Dennis (Alec Baldwin, The Departed, Blue Jasmine) has been deployed to stop them.

First of all, I love that this movie, much like the show, rides the line of batty and tragic. There are definite moments when our heroes face certain death and I honestly started tearing up. Spongebob is such a nice and caring character, and his friendship with Patrick Star is one of the guiding reasons he is able to keep going when he feels at his lowest.

The guest voices from Johansson, Tambor, and Baldwin are what helps create the atmosphere here. These are talented and seasoned performers delivering this goofy and lovable script.

The animation takes a leap in the movie as well, and still looks pretty good ten years later.

Let’s not forget the music. There isn’t a musical’s worth of musical numbers, but when they do pop up, they are incredible and rattle around in the brain long afterward.

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All in all, I’ve seen a lot of people give Spongebob Squarepants, his series, and his films a lot of flak for the lack of lessons and learning, and I say to them, no, there are lessons and warm characters and just a lot of good ol’ wackiness to keep one happy. Don’t fault the show for trying to have fun. Same thing here, this movie is a ton of fun.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Netflix Jumps on the Historical Epic Bandwagon with Marco Polo; Trailer Out Now!

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Netflix is becoming one of those dynasties in entertainment; they create amazing original programming, they house thousands of good films and a lot more no-so-good, but forget those for the moment.

When they began original programming with series like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix immediately proved that they were worth the monthly price of membership. Now, Netflix is taking on the epic series with Marco Polo, stylized like Vikings and Game of Thrones in their sand and sword, blood and breasts approach to high action.

The trailer is below, and looks pretty kick-ass! I’m excited to have a pass to see something like this just for having a service I already use a ton. Let me know what you think of Marco Polo’s trailer and are you excited for December 12?

[Happy 15th Birthday!] Sleepy Hollow (1999)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci

Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker

105 mins. Rated R for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design

 

I remember reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a kid. I remember the way it made me feel. It was a very unhappy and dreary story, as was expected to be. I remember my excitement at hearing that there was a new film version coming along in 1999. It was a new film from director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Dark Shadows), with whom I was already familiar with at a young age. I remember finding the film to be very different than the original story, much more convoluted than it needed to be. I wasn’t a great big fan of the film, though I remembered that it had several some really great moments. I thought I would look back on the film for its 15th anniversary and see if I felt any different about it.

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As it turns out, I still find numerous flaws with the film, but I feel as though it has aged very nicely over the past fifteen years.

It’s the story of Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Transcendence) as he hunts down a murderer in Sleepy Hollow who lops his victim’s heads off. Along the way, he meets Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci, Monster, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax), a woman he develops an emotional connection to even though she may have more to her past than he knows. The townspeople believe that the murders are being committed by The Headless Horseman, a mythical being who has been birthed from Hell to avenge his death.

This film looks pretty damn good for its age. I still find the lighting to be too little during some of the more menacing action sequences. I think it could use a bit more light in its scenes. I like Johnny Depp, pre-overused by Tim Burton here. Christina Ricci returns to the genre that made her famous in The Addams Family. I find her inert sensuality and innocence brings chilling ambience to her performance here. Then there’s Christopher Walken, who gets a lot less screentime as The Headless Horseman, but all the seem, he gives one of the most iconic and terrifying performances I have ever seen here. He is almost monstrous and beastly even as a humanoid spirit.

I also enjoyed the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki here. He definitely deserved the nomination from making this film feel like a Hammer film and gives homage to even older films of the horror genre.

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Of all the films in the Burton canon, this one feels more like the Burton we know and doesn’t tread very much new territory, but overall, I enjoy the film much more now, and part of that has to do with the awesome soundtrack and the screenplay from Andrew Kevin Walker (even with an uncredited rewrite that messed with the pacing a bit). Tim Burton has done better, but he has also done worse, and Sleepy Hollow exists somewhere in the middle.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

[Happy 10th Birthday!] Alexander (2004)

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Director: Oliver Stone

Cast: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins

Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis

175 mins. Rated R for violence and some sexuality/nudity.

 

Ten years ago today, silver screens everywhere were graced with the presence of Oliver Stone’s newest film, a bold epic about Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, Winter’s Tale). Audiences and critics alike were in agreement. This was one of the worst films ever. I myself hadn’t seen Alexander until I heard that the 10th anniversary was coming, so I took it upon myself to see if the film has aged well or if perhaps the rest of the world was wrong.

As it turns out, they weren’t.

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This movie is dreck. The plot is unbearably convoluted to sift through, but essentially tells the entire life story of one of the greatest rulers in existence through the word of his general Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal, Noah). We get to see his uncomfortably sensual relationship with his mother (Angelina Jolie, Maleficent, Kung Fu Panda 2), his constant need to kill his father (Val Kilmer, Heat, Palo Alto), his undersensualized sexual relationship with friend Hephaistion (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club), and his animalistic relationship with first wife Roxane (Rosario Dawson, Sin City, Cesar Chavez). Seriously, I had no idea what was going on throughout this movie. It jumps around so damn much that I couldn’t quite remember where we were in time, which wasn’t helped with the horrible makeup that showed us that in ancient times, no one actually aged; apparently Angelina Jolie is hot no matter what age she is and Anthony Hopkins was actually born an aged bearded old man (that being said, at least a younger actor was cast to play Hopkins’ role in his flashbacks, that’s about it). I feel like this film should have been released with a light up timeline that people could check off events in the movie as they happen so we knew exactly what the hell was going on.

Colin Farrell kills it in this movie. Wait, I meant to say he killed this movie. If nothing else, I was so pissed to find that he absolutely tried his hardest not to act for the entirety of this three-hour tour. Oh, I didn’t know that Alexander was Irish. Hmmm, interesting.

I also didn’t know that somehow Alexander’s mother Olympias was Russian. It certainly seemed that way from the broken accent work given by Angelina Jolie.

Val Kilmer actually gives a nice enough performance were it not for the atrocious makeup work on his eye. You can literally see the prosthetic piece’s edge. Totally takes away what he could put down.

I actually like Jared Leto’s work as well as that of Rosario Dawson, but I felt like both roles were wasted by having nothing to do (again, I’m not complaining about Rosario’s nude scene, perhaps the only scene in the film worth keeping in the finished film).

And what was going on with Anthony Hopkins in this movie? Was his performance work based on a Roomba, because it seemed to me like he was walking all around his little balcony for 175 minutes bopping back and forth like a screensaver on a DVD player. I kept waiting to see if he would bump into a corner ‘cause I just wanted to see what would happen.

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Honestly, I have never seen a more wasted group of talent. This was one of those films that marked the end of Stone’s career; it really hasn’t moved much in a good direction since. From the opening overlong and boring prologue to the ending that seems to discredit any actual fact in the film, Alexander is a pointless film not worth the three different cuts the film had. Good movies are supposed to have multiple cuts, like Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Lord of the Rings films. It seemed like maybe if they kept recutting the picture, maybe they’d find a version that worked (ultimately, they did not). Avoid at all costs.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Cuban Fury (2014)

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Director: James Griffith

Cast: Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O’Dowd, Olivia Colman

Screenplay: Jon Brown

98 mins. Rated R for language and sexual references.

 

Nick Frost has spent a lot of time with Simon Pegg onscreen. We as viewers haven’t seen much around starring work for him to know if he is able to carry him own film. Until now. Cuban Fury is about Bruce (Frost, Shaun of the Dead, The Boxtrolls), an ex-salsa dancer who lost his thunder when he was a teen. Now an adult, Bruce is nuts over his new coworker Julia (Rashida Jones, TV’s Parks and Recreation, Celeste & Jesse Forever), who has another suitor in the form of all-around asshole Drew (Chris O’Dowd, TV’s Moone Boy, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel). Bruce finds that he has one major thing in common with Julia that could give him an edge: salsa dancing. Unfortunately for Bruce, he hasn’t practiced salsa in decades. Cue the inspirational Rocky score.

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This film is cute. It isn’t laughably perfect like Hot Fuzz or The World’s End, but it is cute. I would like to tell you that it contains top notch writing like the previous collaborations with Pegg, but it doesn’t. Nick Frost gives a nice but not special performance as Bruce, while Jones and O’Dowd add a few laughs but mostly stay out of Bruce’s main plot. I just didn’t believe the chemistry from any of these characters. I didn’t believe that any of them loved or hated anyone of the others. I didn’t believe that Nick Frost could salsa dance. I didn’t believe that Julia would even go on one date with Drew. I didn’t believe that Ian McShane could teach salsa.

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I thought the film was somewhat likable but mostly forgettable, which doesn’t bode well for Nick Frost considering his Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy with Pegg and fellow collaborator Edgar Wright has come to a close. I hope the next attempt will be more outlandish and comedic, for I see very little room for Frost to fail alone again.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of James Griffith’s Cuban Fury? Did you dance or drop at first viewing? Let me know!

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