In Beasts of No Nation, the Nightmare is Bearing Witness

The overarching plot of Beasts of No Nation is fairly formulaic, even sadly predictable. War comes to a small African village; a child’s family is killed; the child survives, but only to become the soldier and the murderer he once hated.

But oversimplifying the story completely minimizes the humanity at the heart of the movie’s details. The movie centers around a young boy name Agu (played by Abraham Attah), the son of a teacher in a small West African village. Since war has not yet actively found its way to where he lives, Agu is first introduced running around his village, earning money wherever he can, and generally being a good kid. But then, war finally arrives. Agu stays behind with the men of his village to protect their home, along with his father, older brother, and grandfather, and after being discovered by government troops, they are accused of being rebel spies, and lined up to be executed. Agu and his brother escape while his father pleads for their lives, but three short bursts from Kalashnikovs later, Agu is left fleeing for his life, alone.

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Creed Delivers Pound for Pound Entertainment

Rocky Balboa is back—but not as a boxer. He coaches Adonis Johnson, played by Michael B. Jordan, in Ryan Coogler’s Creed. Adonis is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed—the heavyweight champion from the first few installments of the Rocky series who eventually dies in the ring. Adonis grows up parentless, living in a juvenile correctional facility where he inherits his father’s fighting spirit. He is later rescued by his father’s wife, Mary Anne Creed, who raises him like one of her own in a wealthy enclave of L.A., keeping him far away from the brutality of the ring.

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Defying Convention: a Curvy Comedienne Becomes the Spy

Spy isn’t your typical espionage spoof. While the trailer for the film might suggest it is a movie in the vain of Get Smart, what actually transpires is a lot more engaging, since it offers a great critique on both the espionage action/thriller genre as well as biting commentary on social norms, and expectations. We don’t normally think of great spies as being overweight or socially awkward, but Melissa McCarthy shows that there is a lot more to being a spy than having the looks and debonair sophistication of a James Bond.

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Star Wars: Return of the Original Trilogy

A long time ago, in 1977 to be exact, George Lucas transported millions of young Americans to a galaxy far, far away. Among them was an 11-year-old named Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, who was utterly blown away, calling it “an incredibly powerful experience”. Now, almost forty years later, it is Abrams’ turn to introduce a new generation of fans to that same far, far away galaxy, and to recreate the glory of the original Star Wars. And while The Force Awakens, simply by dint of being a sequel, isn’t nearly as earth-shattering as the original, it is certainly a worthy addition to the quintessential galactic epic.

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The Big Short, or Banking on Exceptional Acting

I was determined not to like The Big Short.  I felt the subject – the 2008 financial crisis – was both overdone and no longer interesting.  And from the trailers, I felt this movie would be nothing but a more PG version of The Wolf of Wall Street with an annoying self-righteous tone only an Oscar hopeful film can muster.  But I was wrong.  The Big Short is a brilliantly filmed movie which explains the economic collapse in a manner that is both didactic and engaging.  Documentary, mockumentary, drama, thriller . . . whatever genre you want to call this film, it is money.

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Of Trilogies and Old Friends, a New Era for Star Wars

I am an unabashed Star Wars fan.  When I first started watching movies as a teenager, I was introduced to the universe of Star Wars by my cousin.  And when I say the universe, I mean everything.  The movies, the making of documentaries, the books, the games, and even the Legos.  I fell in love with the worlds and characters and spent many hours reading in the extended universe and debating all aspects of the experience of Star Wars.  Needless to say I awaited JJ Abrams’s Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens with the giddy excitement of a puppy and the apprehension of a fan who had been let down by the story and execution of the prequels.  Under JJ’s expert direction and the unlimited resources and power of Disney, I really needn’t have been concerned.

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R.I.P. Agent X: Where Everything Was Secret, Except What Came Next

The basic conceit of Agent X was interesting enough: it followed the story of a secret agent at the vice-president’s disposal who quietly dealt with matters of great importance, crises both foreign and domestic. This rich premise provided ample room for exploring a myriad of settings and storylines, as well as for defeating an unlimited number of adversaries. The American version of James Bond, Agent X could have worked well as a slick TV adaptation of cinema’s iconic 007. But alas, it turned out that James Bond’s American cousin was predictable to the point of boredom and was quickly and unceremoniously cancelled.

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Trumbo: Not Quite as Good as Trumbo

Paying tribute to an influential predecessor is an understandable—even admirable—artistic impulse. But here’s the catch: honoring someone by doing the very thing they had mastered inevitably invites comparison. This is where Trumbo, a biopic about legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo of Roman Holiday and Spartacus acclaim, falls short of its target. It is a good film—but not nearly as good as one that Trumbo himself would have written.

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Of Epics and Earthers, Lost in The Expanse

Every year there are two or three promising new sci-fi series that sputter out before finishing their first season. Thanks to some notable failures such as Almost Human, Caprica and even longer lasting shows like Defiance which didn’t maintain the necessary viewership to be successful, television currently lacks a new large-scale science fiction drama that delivers. SyFy’s new show The Expanse, based on the acclaimed novels by James A. Corey, hopes to become the experience we have all been waiting for. Epic worlds, the vastness of space, a compelling story of humanity: The Expanse may succeed in creating and exploring all of these things. Yet although this new show offers an intriguing variety of characters in uniquely detailed worlds, it’s difficult to tell from an uneven and at times confusing pilot if they will combine effectively to create an epic saga.

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Independence Day: Resurgence…because one wasn’t enough

I’ll admit it; when I was younger I loved the first Independence Day movie for what it was.  A good old America hoo-ha action flick that I have watched on many Fourth of Julys.  Was it a great film? Not exactly, but it was memorable for the special effects, the one liners, and the spirit.  Twenty years from the release of the first film, there is now going to be a sequel: Resurgence.  Set in 2016 (and slated for a summer 2016 release date), this movie continues down the alternate timeline in which we were invaded by aliens in 1996.  And what a timeline that is.  The trailer shows how we adapted alien tech to empower our defenses while waiting for the second wave of alien invasion, because like anyone who has ever played Space Invaders knows, there is always another wave coming.

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A Film and Television Review

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