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VIFF 2018 Review: Mega Time Squad

Mega Time Squad

Anton Tennet plays a young man who uses multiplicity to form his own gang in Mega Time Squad.

Every year I do the Vancouver Film Festival, I make the effort to end my VIFF with the very last show. Once again, it was at 11:15pm at the Rio Theatre on Friday, October 12th. This year, it was the New Zealand thriller-comedy Mega Time Squad. It wasn’t the best film to end it with, but it wasn’t one of the worst.

John has a life that’s going nowhere. His parents are deceased. He lives in a garage in a town full of aged people. The only way he can make any kind of money is for working with a crime boss named Shelton who’s hired him with a lot of other dim bulbs.

Shelton gives John and another dim bulb named Gaz a mission. He wasn’t them to intercept a money drop at a Chinese antique store being dropped off by a rival Chinese gang led by a man named Wen. This turns out to be a bad idea as Gaz says he’s tired of being Shelton’s bitch. The heist is successful as they grab the money, but John gets a lot more. From the antique store, he grabs a Chinese bracelet. The store-owner tells him not to take the bracelet, claiming it has a mysticism that could be harmful. John ignores and takes it.

The crazy thing about the heist is that it has the Chinese gang and his own gang after John. John doesn’t know what to do until he discovers a time machine that can transport him back into time and avoid whatever trouble they’re facing. The machine also duplicates the user, so John uses it to get more than one John around. Eventually all the Johns meet up. The lead John declares his group of selves the ‘Mega Time Squad.’

The good thing is that John can accomplish what he misses the first time with his duplicate selves. The bad news is none are brighter than the original John. Plus with the charm bracelet, it could mean all the Johns would die off soon, including him. The various Johns are able to accomplish the heist, win a fight win over Wen, and fool people while the real John has won over the affection of Shelton’s younger sister Kelly. Eventually the actions of the various Johns catch up to the real one as Wen’s gang is after him and Shelton has a mission involving a bomb for him to do, which he eventually fails. Kelly learns of this and is turned off John.

However John has to do right. John is able to fix the curse so that all the other Johns are in a room. He reverses the curse of the bracelet and all the other Johns die with Kelly witnessing. Also Wen is able to get the bag of money John stole. Meanwhile an infuriated Shelton wants to see him. Shelton is about to shoot him for not doing his part right, but John confronts him and tells him he gives everyone the risky business while Shelton sits back and calls orders. Shelton tries to shoot john, but the bullet is shot in the reverse direction. RIP Shelton! All the gang members are free and John is free to love Kelly. As for Wen and the bag of money, that’s for you to see.

Here we go again where we see a New Zealand film that tries to be a thriller-comedy. I’ve seen it before many times at the VIFF with Housebound and Deathgasm. Housebound was the best-done of the three I’ve seen. Deathgasm was more focused on the humor and the gore than it was on the story, but still delivered on entertainment. Mega Time Squad gave me the feeling like I was watching the same thing over again. Also it didn’t compare to the other two as a story or in humor. There were a lot of times in which I felt the story was dumb or lacking in thrills. There was a lot missing.

One thing I will not do is declare this movie to be a disappointment. This film wasn’t the disappointment Housewife was. The acting was still good, if not great. The story was consistent and made sense. Even the foolishness or ridiculousness of the story or the idiocy of the characters didn’t come across as stupid or confusing. I will admit that this is the type of film that could simply be a made-for-TV film on a sci-fi network. However the film does deliver on a consistent story line that is fun, entertaining and humorous. It may be boring or lackluster in comparison, but it still entertains and will make you laugh.

I wouldn’t say this is an accomplishment for writer/director Tim Van Dammen, who ironically was an actor in Deathgasm. However I will say that it delivers in entertainment. Sure, some of it was idiotic, but it was able to pull itself together at the end and even deliver a humorous ending. Anton Tennet was funny as the loser-turned-winner John. Even some of his acting looked idiotic, but it was on for the most part. Hetty Gaskell-Hahn was the scene-stealer as Shayna. She was solid in her character and she helped make the film too. Yoson An was also good as a humorous villain who meets a surprise at the end.

Mega Time Squad offers nothing new for the thriller genre. I’ve seen it done before and done better. Nevertheless it will entertain you and get you laughing. It is a welcome relief after watching a lot of heavy, intense fare at the VIFF. And a good way to end the VIFF, if not end it with a bang.

And there you go! That sums it up for all the films I saw at the Vancouver Film Festival. I know it took longer than I should, but I saw a lot of movies and had little time to write. But I’m finally done now. My review of the Fest will be coming very shortly within a day or two.

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Movie Review: Deadpool

deadpool

Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson who becomes Deadpool: your atypical superhero. Actually he’s not a superhero at all but very entertaining.

Surprise, this is a different kind of superhero story.

DISCLAIMER: I know this review is late. I’ll admit that this is a common thing of mine that right after the Oscars, I become too tired to do blogging for a while. So please excuse the lateness of my review.

Just before the Oscars were about to be awarded, I admit that I went to see Deadpool. All this buzz about an R-rated superhero movie and setting box office records for R-rated movies. I was tempted to see it. I’m glad I did.

Now I will admit that this was a big risk for Marvel to release an anti-hero movie especially since they’ve had many a comic book hero made legendary because of their movies. They have a reputation  of delivering entertaining movies that win big at the box office and even give children, as well as kids at heart, heroes with positive messages.

Deadpool is something else. Actually Deadpool is not a made-for-the-movies anti-hero. Deadpool was created by a Marvel comics cartoonist back in 1991 for another comic series as a supervillain.However Deadpool’s popularity evolved over the years since. Yeah, like I said in my review of Straight Outta Compton, anti-heroes and jerk characters were all the rage in the 90’s more than any other decade.

The surprisingly mammoth success of Deadpool came as a surprise. I think it was a big success because Deadpool reminded us of our like of anti-authority jerks back in the 90’s. Gangsta rap may have had a lot to do with it but but it was like our thirst for jerk character after jerk character was unquenchable back then. Mind you Deadpool had to come at the right time in order for us to be won over by him. I felt that releasing a movie like Deadpool in February was a smart idea. The summer time is the time for superhero characters that are family-friendly. The ones that are meant to win the biggest movie crowds of the season. A February release was better because there’s not as much competition at the box office. And it paid off big-time with the first-ever February opening weekend of $100 million or more.

It should be no surprise that Ryan Reynolds was back as Deadpool for his first-ever feature-length film. It should be a fact that Reynolds was cast as Deadpool since he was described in a 2004 Marvel cartoon as ‘Ryan Reynolds morphed with a shar-pei.’ Reynolds himself even played Deadpool in a 2009 X-Men movie. Here Reynolds was funny as one of those hateable characters whom you actually end up liking for some dumb reason. Morena Baccarin was also good as Vanessa, the one person that can actually keep Wade’s head on his shoulders. Actually Vanessa’s love for Deadpool and her ability to bring him to his senses is what keeps him from being completely hateable.

Ed Skrein was good as the villain but came across as basic as your typical villain in popcorn movies with nothing that really stood out. Tim Miller did very good as a first-time director. Giving such a film like Deadpool to a first-time director could have been seen as a gamble for Marvel but Tim did things right. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were not first-timers. In fact Deadpool is their third feature-length script. They do a very good job in giving the film the needed humor and sass for such a character like Deadpool.

Possibly the most surprising thing about Deadpool has to be its surprisingly huge box-office success. The $132.4 million it made in its opening weekend shattered opening weekend records for the month of February, the winter season and for R-rated movies. It also became the first ever R-rated movie to have an opening weekend of $100 million. As of now its $346.9 million makes it the third-highest grossing R-rated movie ever. The record is held by The Passion Of The Christ with $370.8 million. It’s possible it could break the record as it held onto #5 this past weekend in its sixth week of release.

Now there’s already talk about a Deadpool sequel. I’m not surprised about that given the success of the movie. There’s also been talk of more R-rated superhero films in the future. I will say that the box office success of Deadpool may fuel the desire to shell more of them out but Deadpool’s success is not a guarantee toward a new phenomenon of R-rated superhero movies. Sure, I was entertained by a smart-aleck wise-cracking anti-hero but I’ll bet if another one was shelled out, I’d be tired of them. I will admit this film does kind of remind us how we still have a liking for anti-heroes although not unlimited like it was in the 90’s. It’s not the case like back then when the jerk phenoms won us over but made everyone else who weren’t like them either look like a joke or look forgettable. Sure we may like an anti-hero like Deadpool but I’m sure by now, we prefer our jerk-characters and anti-heroes in doses. We can only appreciate so much nowadays. Besides Deadpool only made it look good to be an anti-hero for those two hours.

Deadpool is the surprise hit of the winter and the surprise of movies this year. It made having an anti-hero character look refreshing and even charming. However I don’t think it will start another anti-hero revolution again. Deadpool charmed us for those two hours but time will tell how much further he can charm us.

Oscars 2014 Best Picture Review: Selma

David Oyelowo (centre) plays Martin Luther King in Selma.

David Oyelowo (centre) plays Martin Luther King in Selma about an important part of American history.

Selma appears to be about an important time in US history. However it tells more than what we’ve learned about the whole story including those involved.

The film is about the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr. that would pave way to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But it was more than that. It starts with Martin receiving his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. However it’s just the beginning for Martin. A black church in Alabama explodes killing four young girls. Annie Lee Cooper has been denied the right to vote like most black people in Alabama before her. Meanwhile King is unsuccessful in convincing Johnson to pass a law allowing black citizens to vote.

Instead of accepting defeat, King is undeterred and determined to achieve this. Selma, Alabama is the meeting place for King and other activists to organize efforts to achieve this law. However both Johnson and FBI head J. Edgar Hoover are nervous about this. Hoover uses phone calls to disrupt his marriage to Coretta. Undeterred, King and black residents of Selma march to the registration office only to be confronted by a mob of police and a riot ensues where King and Cooper are arrested.

Things get even harder as state governor George Wallace, a pro-segregationist, speaks out against the marches and even calls police in Marion, Alabama to use force from state troopers during a planned night march. An assault by troopers does occur during the march where Jimmie Lee Jackson, who hid in a restaurant for the safety of him and his family, is shot to death by the police. Jimmie’s death only prompts King to tell people to stick to fighting for their rights. However the Kings receive threats on their children and activist groups are becoming unhappy with him.

A march from Selma to Montgomery to make their message heard is planned especially with the hopes of having all of the United states watching and paying attention, especially as working on ‘white consciousness’ is one of King’s objectives. At first King is hesitant but is convinced by his colleague Andrew Young. The original march takes place with all African-Americans. Right on the Edmund Pettis Bridge they’re stopped by police and attacked. The news goes nationwide. A second march is planned. This time King not only has blacks from other cities but white supporters too from regulars to religious clergy. Just before the marchers reach the end of the bridge, the chief officer and his group are back again. This time they’re allowed to proceed but King kneels in prayer and goes back. The reason was because King was suspicious. He doesn’t trust the mob of police and wants legal permission for them to march. The push for permission is especially stressed as one of the white allies, Rev. James Reeb, was beaten to death. The permission is granted by Alabama Judge Frank Minis Johnson. Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King and the marchers make history.

There’s no question that this is to do about an important moment in American history. Actually coming from Canada, I was never taught about Selma. I knew about the I Have A Dream speech but was never taught about Selma. However the film is also about Martin Luther King himself. The movie begins with him accepting his Nobel Peace Prize which came months after his I Have A Dream speech. However we would be reminded that King had more work to be done. Selma was a new challenge for him as his people needed the right to vote. However there was the constant threat of police brutality and even death. He stood firm in his non-violence stance and his plan was to work on ‘white consciousness’ and he knew it was the only way to work. He also knew he had to work with the tough minds of President Johnson and other politicians including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Each death linked to the marches would make him more fearful but it would make him more convinced this is something that needs to be done. We all know it was achieved but this is a reminder of how King and his people had to achieve their right.

The film also takes us back to the time and place. It reminds us just how hard it was to be black in southern US states like Alabama. Living in segregation was one thing. Being denied the right to vote was another. The only time in my life I knew of black people being denied the right to vote was in South Africa up to 1994. Apartheid riots were common news stories in the 80’s. I was shocked to learn that it was happening to black people in the 60’s in the Southern US. I always thought the US was supposed to be the ‘land of the free.’ It showed the red tape black people had to face in the justice system and especially with the police. We are all shocked and disgusted to hear about the fatal shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin in recent years and their killers getting away with it. This was happening in Alabama in the 60’s all the time. Especially shootings by police on young unarmed black men like Jimmie Lee Jackson. You couldn’t blame them for having had it. They couldn’t be denied this anymore and this was a must-win situation for them and King.

Just as much of a focal point as blacks fighting for their right to vote is also the focus of the bigoted attitude of the whites in Alabama. King made it his duty to work on ‘white consciousness’ in order to achieve this victory. Alabama, especially in the city of Selma, showed what type of ‘racial battleground’ they had to deal with. The first sign was the church explosion but we’d see it all throughout. We’d see it in the police brutality, we’d see it as a restaurant proudly advertises itself as ‘a whites-only restaurant since 1883,’ we’d see it as a white man ‘introduces’ himself to King and punches him in the face, we’d see it in the taunting of white people from all around. That’s the type of environment the black people had to fight. We should forget that Alabama has segregation removed years ago but the white people weren’t happy. They felt that segregation was right and they reacted in frustration with taunting and even violence. Even when white people joined the blacks in their march, that didn’t change a lot of people’s minds. In fact they found white supporters to be a threat and reacted with the same violence on them, even killing some. Another reminder that white supporters of the Selma marches would also be at risk to the same violent reactions as blacks. The film takes us back to the time, place and the hostile attitudes at the time. An ugly reminder but necessary to show.

Even though the film was about Martin Luther King, his crusade for human rights and the bigoted attitudes in the area, the film also showed another factor: the strength of non-violence. King’s use of non-violent means to achieve human rights may appear radical to many and even ridiculous to some at first. In fact it explains why he had a rivalry with Malcolm X as seen near the beginning of the film. Because Malcolm believed: “by any means necessary.” However it was shown to be successful in the actual event and in the film. In fact I noticed the film to also show violent means to look cowardly. We see it in the police who try to use it to strike fear in the protesters in hoping they’d quit. We see it in the white Alabamans as they use it to strike fear in the blacks and their supporters. Most of the times it’s seen they do it on impulse because they just don’t know how to deal with the situation. Funny how we’ve seen a lot of Hollywood movies, especially in the action movies of the 80’s and 90’s, where the leading man uses vengeance and violence to become the hero. Here violence looks very cowardly.

Without a doubt, this film has to belong to Ava DuVernay in directing and co-writing the story with Paul Webb. She did an excellent job in recreating the story of the marches, the people involved with them and the atmosphere of the time and place. The end result is an excellent film that won’t leave you. It’s not without controversy. There are many questioning the depiction of Lyndon Johnson in the film. Historical documents show he was actually supportive of Martin Luther King and his mission. Even I myself believed for a second that Johnson may have had some difficulty at first, knowing Johnson was originally from Texas: a state that formerly had segregation. DuVernay simply responded: “I’m a storyteller. Not a historian.” Whatever the situation, it was still a very good film put together.

David Oyelowo was excellent as Martin Luther King Jr. as she showed him in both his convictions, his inner strength and even his own personal frailties at times, like that time he relied on Andrew Young to go through with the march. Even that scene where he calls gospel singer Mahalia Jackson for inspiration and she sings to him shows that King did have fears which he needed support for. Tom Wilkinson was also very good as Johnson. Even if you feel his depiction of Johnson wasn’t that truthful, it was still a very good performance. Carmen Ejogo was excellent as Coretta. She did more than just simply play Martin Luther King’s wife. She played a young woman who herself grew in courage: a courage Coretta would need after Martin’s assassination. Oprah was also surprisingly well as Annie Lee Cooper. Right at the beginning we could see a character completely opposite to the Oprah we know. A character that looks like she’s been through the hardest life offered her. You could see it in her face. The cinematography and music added to the environment of the story. You could feel that this was a struggle worth winning.

Selma is a film retelling an important moment in history. It gives us insight into the people involved and the environment they had to fight in order to achieve their rights.

Movie Review: Big Eyes

Amy Adams plays artist Margaret Keane in Big Eyes: a story of possibly the biggest art forgery of our time.

Amy Adams plays artist Margaret Keane in Big Eyes: a story of possibly the biggest art forgery of our time.

Remember those popular Big Eyes paintings from the 60’s? Did you know about the story of art forgery behind it? Some of you will first think that the film Big Eyes is about art. As true as that is, it’s also a drama about art forgery and the ones caught in the middle. This is especially of intrigue to those who remember the ‘big eyes’ paintings from the 60’s.

The film begins with Margaret Ulbrich arriving in San Francisco with her daughter. She has recently divorced her husband and is hoping to make it as an artist. Art is not only her best skill but it’s her one and only skill in terms of employability. At first she’s hired by a furniture factory to paint drawings on children’s furniture. She does drawings of caricatures in a San Francisco market to make extra change.

Soon she catches the attention of a successful ‘artist’ by the name of Walter Keane. He’s impressed with her ‘big eyes’ caricatures she draws. They’re based off the wide eyes of her daughter Jane and Margaret even says that children’s eyes are the windows to their souls.  Walter promises Margaret that he can make her art famous. He’s a good salesman as he knows how to sell real estate and his own art: painting of Paris where he claims to have been inspired by the city even though spending a mere week in it. She agrees and the two marry.

This comes as a welcome relief for Margaret as she is threatened to lose custody of Jane because she can’t afford to care for her. This is also a relief for Walter as his paintings of Paris are declining in sales. Soon Walter promotes the big eyes paintings at restaurants. He’s even willing to create phony brawls to stimulate news hype. Whatever he does, it works and the big eyes painting are catching a ton of renown.

However the secret of the success is exposed to Margaret and it’s ugly. Walter is claiming the paintings as his own. As the paintings become more popular and Walter becomes more famous, they become more and more in demand. That leads Walter to keep Amy in a hidden room where she’s to paint all the portraits. She’s practically exiled away from everyone including friends and her own daughter. Further friction grows when Margaret learns the truth about the Paris paintings. They were actually painted by an artist going by S. Cenic. Somehow Walter is able to talk his way out of it.

The real turning point is when the giant painting of a crowd of big-eyed children to be displayed at a pavilion during Expo 1964 is dissed by art critic John Canaday as ‘appalling.’ Keane can’t take it. He tries to stab Canaday but fails. He tried locking Margaret and Jane in a closet and setting it ablaze. Fortunately they escape and find a new life for themselves in Hawaii. However it’s after a visit from two Jehovah’s Witnesses that Margaret is prompted to bring Walter to justice. The trial goes with Walter playing his own attorney and doing a big song and dance for the jury but there comes the moment of truth. The film ends rather conventionally but will leave the audience satisfied justice was done.

One thing we should not forget is that art forgery is nothing new. There have been imposters claiming paintings and other works of art in the past. However this makes for an intriguing story. There are many elements why one would consider this intriguing. One would be people who remember the big eyes painting and still like them to this day. Another would be because of the conniving nature of Walter who knows how to get his way until the score is finally settled. I’m sure there’s something many people can find intriguing with the film to want to see it.

However the film doesn’t make itself too clear about what it is primarily all about. I do give the film credit for showing a story of art forgery and both the artist and scammer. I do give credit for showcasing the thriving and influential San Francisco art scene form the 50’s and 60’s. I also give the film credit about showing just how much of a conniver Walter Keane was to the point he felt he could kill a critic and even connive a judge in the court of law. And I especially give the film credit for showing the mother-daughter relationship involved with the story. In fact that was one of my favorite parts of the film where after Margaret left Walter, Margaret became a typical mother again and Jane became a typical daughter again. However it does leave one to wonder if it was mostly to do about the art or to do about the forgery behind it? It’s very possible to balance those two elements out appropriately on film but I just wonder if it was balanced out right.

Amy Adams did a very good job of portraying Margaret Keane. However I’ve seen better acting performances from her in the past. Christoph Waltz was also very good as the conniving Walter Keane. He succeeds at making you hate Walter and get annoyed with him. However there are times in which I think his role of Walter is a bit too close to his Oscar-winning roles of Hans Landa and King Schultz. Danny Huston also did well in the role of Dick Nolan. However it does seem odd how the narrator of all that’s happening gets so little screen time. There were additional good performances in minor roles from Terence Stamp and Jason Schwartzman.

Tim Burton did a good job of directing a film that doesn’t seem too much like your typical Tim Burton film. Interesting fact is that Burton owns two of Keane’s paintings.

Scriptwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski did a good job with the script even though it lacked consistency and focus. The set designers and costumers did a very good job in setting the scenes to the time of the film. And the score by Danny Elfman also fit the movie well.

Big Eyes is an intriguing look at the artist, the art and the forgery behind it. Even though the story was a bit off in terms of focus to its central theme, it does keep one interested.

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

DISCLAIMER: Okay I know this is a delayed review but I have lacked ambition in the last while with so much happening. Now I’m glad to be back and posting.

You’ve heard of Frankenstein? How about Frankenweenie? Tim Burton goes animated but can it charm like his other movies?

Victor Frankenstein is a creative boy growing up in New Holland. An only child who spends a lot of time with his dog Sparky making films and doing science experiments, his parents wonder if he’s able to make friends. His father encourages him to play baseball. it turns out to be a bad decision as Sparky chases the ball and gets hit by a car. Victor is heartbroken but not down. He still remembers the science class where his teacher Mr. Rzykruski showed the power of electricity on a dead frog. He digs up Sparky one day in hopes of bringing him back to life via electricity. It works!

However secrets don’t stay secret for long. Victor’s classmate Edgar wants to learn from Victor how to bring the dead back and even promising to keep it as a secret, albeit with fingers crossed. The two perform the experiment and the goldfish are revived but invisible due to doing something wrong. Edgar shows the other students and that sparks interest in reanimation of their own.

The children get the chance to learn about reanimation as Sparky goes missing around town. They discover Victor’s reanimation technique in the science room and attempt reanimating of their own on dead animals: Nassor on his mummified hamster, Edgar on a dead rat he found, Toshiaki’s turtle Shelley, Bob’s sea monkeys, and a dead bat Weird Girl’s cat found. The experiments go badly wrong. Edgar’s dead rat becomes a were-rat, Bob’s sea monkeys become amphibious monsters, Shelley is covered in a huge growth formula and becomes like a huge monster turtle, Colossus becomes a giant monster and Weird Girl’s cat bites the dead bat while electrocuted becoming a vampire cat.  This is especially hellish as New Holland is preparing to have its town festival.

Victor finds Sparky but notices the monsters causing havoc around the town fair. In the meantime the parents are angry at what the children have learned and Mr. Rzykruski is fired. The townspeople blame Sparky for all this madness and chase him to the town windmill. It’s all up to Victor to make things right. He does succeed in the end with results both surprising and thrilling.

One thing people will like about this animated movie is that it has the familiar charm of Tim Burton’s movies. Right at the beginning when you think ‘not another story about a creative boy who has trouble making friends’, you’ll know why. The main reason why Victor can’t make friend is because he’s one of the few normal kids while almost every other kid acts like they belong in a haunted house. This is very much a trademark of Burton and nothing new. Sure he’s done animated movies before and Halloween-style characters seem to be his specialty but he succeeds in keeping it enjoyable and entertaining. The story of Frankenweenie succeeds in being charming, haunting and entertaining.

Frankenweenie is something of Burton’s own but this animated version is not something fresh. Frankenweenie was originally a live-action 30-minute film Burton did back for Disney way back in 1984. It was intended to be both a spoof and a homage to the monster movies of the 1930’s. However this did not sit that well with Disney as they originally fired him because the movie was considered too disturbing for kids. Funny how 28 years have passed and Disney actually welcomed him back to remake Frankenweenie.

Mind you it’s not just about Tim Burton’s style of filmmaking and storytelling that makes it so appealing. It’s the way that it will oddly remind you of many of the monster movies of the past. As has been stated before, this is both a satire and a homage to the 1931 movie of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There are additional tributes in the movie too: Elsa’s pet poodle has a hairstyle similar to the Bride Of Frankenstein; Nassor has a voice and face resembling Boris Karloff; Mr. Rzykruski is inspired by Vincent Price. Even with its stop-motion animated style all in black-and-white, it has its charm with it being entertaining to today’s kids. Adults will also find it enjoyable too.

Frankenweenie is not just another animated movie. It’s a movie from Tim Burton that offers a lot more. Fans of monster movies will like it and admire it.