Fantasia Fest 2020: ‘Clapboard Jungle’ Shows the Struggle for Independent Filmmakers

Fantasia Fest 2020: With the amount of content available to audiences, it can feel like everyone is in the process of making a movie. With the advent of iPhone films and endless platforms, it is possible to get content to more people than ever before. Yet with that influx of opportunity, the field is spread thinner than ever. Director Justin McConnell faced this uphill climb over the past decade. For much of his career as an indie filmmaker, he’s had to write and find alternative routes to get his work to the big screen. Along his journey to get another film greenlit, he found himself in limbo for more than 3 full years. Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business seeks to expose the difficulty inherent in making a film. For McConnell, his video film diary is a mixed bag, but one that carries a pathos worthy of your attention.

Clapboard Jungle begins in 2014 as McConnell finds himself pushing for a new path forward. His writing partner has passed away, and his latest documentary Skull World was met with good reception, but a limited audience. After devoting his life to the industry, he believes he can step forward to make a bigger film. Caught between taking small paycheck gigs that cover his bills, and working on his personal slate of films, McConnell finds himself running into brick walls. From 2014 to 2018, we follow McConnell as he goes to Cannes, TiFF, and other festivals in hopes of selling his slate of films to become a more successful filmmaker.

In constructing the documentary, McConnell takes a bare-bones approach to the footage. He packs the film with talking heads expressing their experiences and frustrations with the industry. He occasionally takes time to include behind-the-scenes footage, but for the most part, we see McConnell’s interviews with esteemed filmmakers. Icons, including Guillermo Del Toro, George A. Romero, and Dick Miller contribute to the discussions on independent film. The cavalcade of talking heads makes it clear how difficult making a single movie can be. It doing so, McConnell makes it clear that every film is a miracle in its own right.

McConnell has the self-awareness to understand his privilege as a white male, and seriously questions if he’s even a decent filmmaker. Like any career, rejection can create feelings of inferiority. Rather than blame others for his frustrations, McConnell points the finger at himself. McConnell tries to expand the conversation beyond his experience, asking some of the women filmmakers about their barrier to entry into the industry. He could go further but ultimately the focus of Clapboard Jungle is on McConnell’s journey. The limited scope of the film leaves some ideas on the table, but the big-budget, multipart version of this story would need many more hours of footage.

Unfortunately, the overall quality of the film hits some snags on the way. While McConnell is focused on putting every piece of information into the story, he is both subject and filmmaker in this circumstance. That leads to many moments of McConnell looking down into a camera and telling us his experience. In doing so, we cannot come to any conclusions of our own, and the documentary severely lacks the “show” elements that can create riveting dialogue. McConnell makes his point, but with so many interviews broken into small sound clips, the documentary often feels like someone channel surfing rather than creating a solid, focused argument. The lack of music or footage of actual films throughout Clapboard Jungle causes the film to drag at times.

Yet, these very issues get to McConnell’s issues within the film. Without the proper budget, crew, and support, is it possible to make a film that can be considered a quality venture? His big swing comes late in the film, and as he gains more resources, he creates something that could launch the next stage of his career. Without those resources for Clapboard Jungle, which relies mostly on his own footage and heart.

While Clapboard Jungle certainly has its flaws, the personal story on display helps the film tremendously. McConnell’s willingness to turn the camera on himself and provide a mostly unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness approach to the process provides authenticity many films severely lack. When you can tell a filmmaker is putting everything he can into his art, the work becomes all the more entertaining.

GRADE: (½)

What do you think of Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business? Let us hear your thoughts below! 

The 2020 Fantasia Film Festival is running virtually from August 20th through September 2nd, 2020. 

All images are courtesy of the Fantasia Film Festival and the filmmakers.

Fantasia Fest 2020: ‘Feels Good, Man’ Attempts to Save a Cartoon Frog from the Clutches of Facism

Fantasia Fest 2020: Many were confused when an image of a cute cartoon frog was retweeted by Donald Trump. For Trump’s followers from 4chan and the alt-right, this simple gesture was one of empowered. The meme/cartoon, known as Pepe the Frog, had been a viral sensation over the previous decade. In the months leading up to the election, Trump supporters co-opted him as a symbol of disruption. Despite the popularity of the meme, few know the story of artist and children’s author Matt Furie. He created Pepe as a character in his web-comic Boy’s Club, which gained an underground following. When memes of the character began to circulate the internet, he lost control of his own creation. Feels Good, Man chronicles Furie’s journey to save his creation. Through the use of animation, archival footage, and testimonials from a diverse collective, Feels Good, Man becomes an endlessly engaging and energetic documentary through the dark side of the internet.

To understand Pepe as both symbol and creation, Feels Good Man explores his linear evolution from creation to icon. Director Arthur Jones creates an empathetic portrait of Furie early in the film. Furie is portrayed as a happy-go-lucky, sensitive artist. As we discover more about Furie, we inherently learn more about Pepe. Exploring Furie’s state of mind and motivations when creating Pepe and his web comic, Boy’s Club lays a foundation for why Pepe became such a sensation.

On its face, Pepe is not an overly complex creation, which helped aid those who wished to repurpose the frog. On top of that, his aesthetic is both weird but calming for those feeling anxiety. A character that draws in an audience because of his inherent empathy quickly becomes dangerous when repurposed by those with ill-intent. Good-hearted internet uses found comfort in Pepe. However, so did some users who were angry with the world. Jones gains access to some of these users, who help to explain the psyche of the movement. Jones’ camera has its own empathy, never attempting to mock his interview subjects for how they live their lives. Instead, he effectively uses diverse voices on the internet to tell the story of Pepe from those who revere him.

As Pepe’s role as a symbol evolves, he becomes a prime example of Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” essay. In the essay, he argues that when a creator releases content to the world, he know longer owns its meaning. Watching Furie attempt to cope with this is difficult, especially as he reveals he just wanted to write books for kids. To add to his anguish, the Anti-Defamation League’s labels Furie’s creation as a hate symbol. Pepe may come from humble beginnings, but by the time conservative commentator Alex Jones put his face on a poster, Furie’s protests and all but ignored.

For Furie, you can see the anguish and frustration on his face. Jones captures Furie’s genuine optimism and belief in the good of people. It makes it all the harder to watch his family and friends struggle to keep his spirits up. Pepe created a genuine outlet for Furie, one that could have led to financial stability. Yet his decisions to prioritize good over hate make him all the more admirable figure. It’s easy to become skeptical of those who create solely for the purpose of money. Yet the portrait of Furie created by Jones makes him a sympathetic and tragic figure worthy of examination.

Juxtaposed against Furie’s legal battles to reclaim Pepe are some incredible interviews with some unusual voices. Jones ties in commentators from academia to explain memes to the layman, but also provide complex explanations for what has occurred. His greatest triumph is the interviews with those who own embrace NEET culture, 4chan, and PepeBucks. Each provides stunning testimonials that are jaw-dropping in their isolation but help color the digital world with a fine-tipped toothbrush. If you were to write a story about the internet, these subcultures are undeniably part of it but remain completely unknown to the general public.

At no point does Jones make the false claim that Pepe directly led to the rise of Trump, but he makes a strong case for why the cult figure of Trump mobilized a corner of the internet. Those rallying cries spilled out of 4chan into popular culture and eventually to Trump himself. It motivated a group of supporters that have become his most fervent supporters. Perhaps scariest of all, this relatively small group of commentators and posters have the resources and time to flood the internet with pro-Trump materials, which in turn strengthens the materials for conservative commentators and voters. The site, meant to give refuge for those alienated by society became a breeding ground for disillusionment and moral ambiguity. The effect that has had on society is a book we’re still writing, and Jones acknowledges as much.

Feels Good, Man certainly stretches the documentary art form. In addition to viral videos and talking heads, Jones blends in animation to add depth to Pepe himself. The adaptation of several Boys Clubs comics helps create tangible connections to Pepe and helps to isolate him from his internet persona. While the animation segments are often slower, this is necessary to help us take a breath from the breakneck and energetic tone from much of the film. Piecing together Pepe’s coverage from so many sources can create sensory overload at times, but Jones wisely builds to those moments when the story necessitates. He has total control over where the source material will take us at any minute, and it helps Feels Good, Man stand out amongst the documentary crowd.

One of the more savvy political and pop culture documents of the past few years, Feels Good, Man elegantly handles the rise of Pepe the meme. A frustrating, but a genuinely hopeful tale, Jones never lets the purpose of his doc out of sight. Ultimately, Furie is a principled artist, looking to create some good in the world. However Pepe has been used, there is a hope that he can be reclaimed by those who used him as a symbol of hope and empathy.

GRADE: (½)

What do you think of Feels Good, Man? Let us hear your thoughts below! 

The 2020 Fantasia Film Festival is running virtually from August 20th through September 2nd, 2020. 

All images are courtesy of the Fantasia Film Festival and the filmmakers.

TV Review: ‘Sex Education’ Gets Better With Personal Stakes and Ensemble

One of the surprise breakouts of 2019 came early in the year with Sex Education. The British series took a frank look at teens and how they’re learning about the birds and bees to craft a wonderfully absurd series. Carrying a 1980’s aesthetic but set during the present day, Sex Education felt unique in its vision and message. The core cast of featured the popular Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson. Yet it also provided breakout opportunities for Ncuti Gatwa and Emma Mackey, who both became fan favorites. The future appeared bright for Sex Education, and showrunner Laurie Nunn turned the momentum in an even better show its second time out.

This season, Sex Education brings its most exciting actress to school. While Anderson’s Dr. Milburn kept her professional life separate from Otis (Butterfield) as much as possible, those walls fall down in Season 2. The school brings the doctor to the school to reassess the sex-ed curriculum, simultaneously cutting in on Otis’ clinic and embarrassing him in front of his peers. The lines between their lives are further intertwined when Otis and girlfriend Ola (Patrcia Allison) discover that their parents are secretly dating. As love triangles emerge, Mr. Groff (Alistair Petrie) tries to maintain the chaos erupting at school.

One of the biggest differences between each season comes in how Nunn and her team deploy the talented ensemble. The show excelled by focusing on its four main characters, but the expansion of the cast gives the audience a half-dozen storylines to fill the screen. Rather than hanging onto the “story of the week” tropes, this season feels more holistic than the first. Everything builds on events from the episode prior, crescendoing at the right moment. Everyone gets standout moments, including future stars Kedar Williams-Stirling and Tanya Reynolds. Newcomers Chineye Ezeudu and George Robinson become integral parts of the season for different reasons. Other characters get more spotlight opportunities.

This time around, same-sex relationships and bisexuality are confronted head-on. Gatwa becomes caught in a love triangle with Adam (Connor Swindells) and the hottest boy in school Rahim (Sami Outalbali). Focusing on a same-sex triangle lets Sex Education depict the gray areas of relationships. Love triangles extend beyond male same-sex relationships, creating conflict between its lesbian and questioning characters as well.  It’s dense storytelling that would make for a fascinating story on its own, but within the context of Sex Education, the parallels between straight and gay relationships cannot be ignored.

Perhaps the most interesting story of the season surrounds Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) and sexual assault. The way in which the assault is committed and how it spirals out of control allows the show to break down the trauma many do not acknowledge. Sex Education breaks down the subtle and seemingly unimportant details, allowing its characters to feel the weight of the event. Again, the storytelling is unlike anything you’ve seen on television before, and actively showcases the prevalence of activities many would not even consider true assault.

Once again, Sex Education revels in silly storytelling. Yet its ability to step into extremely complex issues and find the nuance of each situation makes it one of the most unique series today. While some may still be turned off by the honesty of its sexuality, there’s plenty of reasons to tune into Sex Education. After all, the birds and the bees have never been explored so vividly in television history.


What did you think of Season 2 of Sex Education? Let us know in the comments below! READ OUR SEASON 1 REVIEW HERE! 

Check out our other reviews from We Bought a Blog here! Check out AJ’s Letterboxd to keep up with what he’s watching

Florida Film Critics Circle 2019 Nominations

We wanted to give a shout out to our local friends at the Florida Film Critics Circle. The group announced its nominations for the best of 2019 yesterday, and they broke with the national critics in a handful of interesting ways. Marriage Story leads the nomination count with 7 citations. Foreign films Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Transit each scored big nominations as well.

You can check their full nominations list below!

Best Picture

Ad Astra
Marriage Story
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The Irishman

Best Actor

 Adam Driver, Marriage Story
 Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
 Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
 Franz Rogowski, Transit
 Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
 Taron Egerton, Rocketman

Best Actress

Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell
Florence Pugh, Midsommar
Renée Zellweger, Judy
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Best Supporting Actor

 Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
 Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
 Joe Pesci, The Irishman
 John Lithgow, Bombshell
 Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Best Supporting Actress

 Annette Bening, The Report
 Isla Fisher, The Beach Bum
 Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
 Laura Dern, Marriage Story
 Margot Robbie, Bombshell
 Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
 Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

Best Ensemble

 Little Women
 Marriage Story
 The Farewell
 The Irishman

Best Director

 Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
 Greta Gerwig, Little Women
 Sam Mendes, 1917

Best Original Screenplay

 Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin-Won, Parasite
 Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
 Lulu Wang, The Farewell
 Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
 Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
 Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie, Uncut Gems

Best Adapted Screenplay

 Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes
 Greta Gerwig, Little Women
 Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
 Steven Zaillian, The Irishman
 Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
 Terrence Malick, A Hidden Life

Best Cinematography

 Claire Mathon, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
 Hoyte Van Hoytema, Ad Astra
 Jörg Widmer, A Hidden Life
 Roger Deakins, 1917

Best Visual Effects

 Ad Astra
 Avengers: Endgame
 Alita: Battle Angel

Best Art Direction/Production

 Barbara Ling, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
 Kevin Constant, Christa Munro, Alison Sadler, David Scott and Gary Warsaw, Ad Astra
 Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales, 1917

Best Score

 Daniel Lopatin, Uncut Gems
 Hildur Guðnadóttir, Joker
 Max Richter, Ad Astra
 Randy Newman, Marriage Story
 Thomas Newman, 1917

Best Documentary

 American Factory
 Apollo 11
 The Biggest Little Farm

Best Foreign Language Film

 Long Day’s Journey Into Night
 Pain and Glory         
 Portrait of a Lady on Fire      
 The Farewell                      

Best Animated Film

 Frozen 2
 How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
 I Lost My Body
 Toy Story 4
 Weathering With You

Best First Film

 Queen & Slim
 The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Breakout Award

 Florence Pugh, Midsommar, Fighting With My Family and Little Women
 Honor Swinton Byrne, The Souvenir
 Lulu Wang, The Farewell
 Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit

Ranking ‘Star Wars’ – #5 – ‘The Force Awakens’ Sparked to Life a Dormant Franchise

It had only been a decade since Star Wars had graced the big screen. However, the perception of the franchise left the franchise in a perilous state. For many, George Lucas had run the ship aground. Longtime fans of the films had acknowledged the dwindling quality of the Prequel Trilogy. Then in 2012, Disney bought LucasFilm in one of the most shocking sell-offs in recent history. The House of Mouse immediately launched production on a new franchise and quickly handed the reigns over to J.J. Abrams. What would come in 2015 would restart the most exciting franchise in Sci-Fi history.

The Force Awakens opens on the planet Jakku. Decades after a battle raged over the planet, the vicious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) leads an assault on a Resistance village. He captures pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), but not before Dameron sends secret plans away inside of his trusted droid BB-8. BB comes across a young salvager named Rey (Daisy Ridley), who saves the droid in the desert. She later meets former First Order Trooper Finn (John Boyega) when BB recognizes his master’s jacket. The three escape on the Millenium Falcon only to find themselves on an adventure with the legendary Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew/Joonas Suotamo).

While The Force Awakens cribs from several previous incarnations of the franchise, the true power lies in the heart of the characters. Both Ridley and Boyega pop off the screen. They became instant superstars thanks to their movie star personas. The excitement that Ridley channels throughout the film makes her the perfect embodiment of the lifelong fans of the franchise. It’s easy to empathize with her, connect to her, and wish you were on your very own Star Wars adventure. Meanwhile, Boyega gets to show off his comedic chops throughout the film. While he refuses the call time and time again, his care for his new friend echoes throughout the story. His chemistry with Ridley is off the charts and the two usher the franchise in a new direction.

Ford’s return to the iconic character ties us to the adventure. Expertly utilized to create an emotional connection to the audience, he wears the weight on his life in every gesture. He brings the emotion and love that made us fall in love with Solo in the first place. He’s at his best when he gets to mentor Rey, but his secret weapon remains his humor and charm. Ford had not been this good since The Fugitive in the 1990s. Limited screentime for Carrie Fisher felt special, and the two rekindle their spark. Fisher employs her own quick wit to bring her presence back to the franchise. Watching the two actors feel right and their scenes together make it hard to not smile.

The real divisive figure in The Force Awakens remains Driver. The actor keys into the anger and selfish nature of the character. His performance of Kylo never feels out of place. The problem lies in the writing, which often forces him to lash out like an unpredictable animal. There is no doubt he is the grandson of Anakin Skywalker, but to bring those character traits back into the universe was not the smartest choice. While Driver elevates the material, the first run at Kylo does not totally work.

The direction from Abrams stands out for its jaw-dropping visuals. He perfectly keys into the aesthetics and practical effects that made the original films thrive. For the first time since the 1980s, the grandiose setpieces matched the seemingly infinite galaxies. Rey riding across a desert felt right. Prosthetic monsters roam in cantinas and fighters fly through the skies within a newfound dexterity. Few directors can create as much emotion in a shot, but The Force Awakens does just that.

For many, The Force Awakens popped off the screen. The links to the new characters brought the franchise back in full force. You cannot really critique the storyline, because frankly it had already been told before. Despite this, it’s tough to ignore the amazing performances at the heart of the film. The Force Awakens is so earnest that it charms your pants off. Abrams writes the ultimate love-letter to the franchise. With the technical advancements and brilliant casting, The Force Awakens overshadows several classics, but falls short of some of the ingenuity of other films in the franchise.

GRADE: (½)

What did you think of Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Let us know in the comments below! Check out the other Star War rankings here! 

Check out our other reviews from We Bought a Blog here! Check out AJ’s Letterboxd to keep up with what he’s watching

Ranking the Star Wars Films After of ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ (UPDATED WITH FULL RANKING)

UPDATE: As The Rise of Skywalker has released and several of these reviews were written after its premiere, we’ve changed the title. Sorry for the delay, but it was necessary. Enjoy the article as it exists today!

As we eagerly await the release of the “final” Star Wars film of the Skywalker saga, people are abuzz. Between a seemingly non-stop calamity that is the press tour, as well as years of frustrations between the fandom and Disney, the release of Rise of Skywalker feels somewhat anticlimactic. Despite this, love for The Mandalorian continues to drown out the noise. Thank god for Baby Yoda and Mando, because the last thing we needed was another full-blown fight over The Last Jedi.

To commemorate the release of the new film, I’m revisiting the entire series over the next few days. Rather than rag on the films that have disappointed me, I’m going to focus on the positives. I’m also going to cover the THEATRICAL FILMS ONLY, so, unfortunately, Clone Wars and The Mandalorian are not part of my active ranking. Check out the full list as it posts, and in the meantime, use this page as the base article for each of the films.


The Star Wars Christmas Special

Many of the questions I will ask God when to get to the pearly gates will concern this special. Namely, why did the people who made this special possibly believe why the first fifteen minutes should be entirely spoken in Wookie with no subtitles? It’s a question that haunts me to this day. The character design for the Wookie family crosses into absurdity from the word go. Every one of these costumes belongs in Times Square instead of in this show. (READ THE REST OF THE REVIEW HERE)

The Mandalorian

What has truly allowed The Mandalorian to become such a massive hit has been their willingness to make everything real. The show features some CGI, but the vast majority of the series has been created using practical effects for both production design and characters. The tactile world The Mandalorian stands out, even among the J.J. Abrams and Gareth Edwards directed films. (READ FULL REVIEW HERE)

The Rankings

12. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

The battle sequence on Geonosis remains the best part of an unstable film. Unlike the first film, we actually get to see lots of Jedi in their element. The actual fighting pit features some cool creature designs. The action showcases some excellent choreography despite the abundance of CGI.

Christopher Lee brings his A-game as Dooku, making the ambitious and power-hungry aspects of the character clear. His gravitas and serious approach heighten Dooku as a threat, making him one of the best Sith characters in the franchise. We also get Samuel L. Jackson in full badass mode as Mace Windu. The purple saber, his succinct delivery, and death glare instantly make the character iconic. Each of these character actors gets showy roles, and it’s shame the franchise could not utilize either more often.

11. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

For all the hate this one receives, the pod racing sequence remains one of the great set pieces in the franchise. The vile Sabulba (a very gross and disgusting creature) serves as a great mini-boss for Anakin. The effects were truly groundbreaking at the time of release, and Jake Lloyd does an admirable job acting against nothing. The adrenaline pumps and the side quest aspect of the story really works. Imagine if other Star Wars films could take a day on a planet to get into the local customs.

The sequence ends with a bang, but it’s the rush back to the ship that introduces our heroes to Darth Maul. The insidious presence of a Sith Lord expands the scope of a fairly specific story. This push helps push our characters into the larger world we know they’ll enter.

For a more in-depth defense, here’s Josh Walbert’s thoughts on the film.

10. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker


9. Star Wars: The Clone Wars

That’s right, we’re giving this little flick the respect it deserves. It filled in canon and genuinely works better than at least two of the films. So yeah, I’m counting it.

The film that would spawn an animated series features an excellent Anakin Skywalker. You read that correctly. I’m a huge fan of how the animated series handles the famed Jedi. It gives us reasons to actually believe the hype that surrounded “the chosen one” while crafting a very exciting story around him.

The other huge positive coming out of the film was his Padawan, Ahsoka Tano. The youngling provides an interesting stand-in for what could have been in Anakin’s life. While the two bicker and fight on occasion, their ability to make up and grow together creates emotional bonds to each of them. If you ever wanted to know what a Leia/Darth or Luke/Darth relationship may have looked like, The Clone Wars film gives you the opportunity to explore those relationships.

8. Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith

The battle between Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin (Hayden Christiansen) nearly redeems the entire trilogy.  A broken Christiansen finally keys into the hate and frustration that Lucas intended the character to emote. Meanwhile, McGregor layers his emotion and pain into each lightsaber swing. You hate that it bounces back to the Palpatine/Yoda fight because the stakes feel so much higher here. For three movies, we have watched these men grow as friends and brothers. The emotional toll each saber strike places on each of their souls can be felt. The pairing of a consumed Anakin and a determined Obi-Wan gives the prequel trilogy the crescendo it needed.

Equally as fun is the downfall of Anakin. You can watch the “I have the high ground” back and forth on loop. It’s hilarious, captivating, and devasting all at once. While the unintentional humor should give way to the pain, there are few scenes in the franchise more thrilling than watching Christiansen burn. McGregor’s dialogue grounds the sequence. Obi-Wan proves to be the only true Jedi in the universe as he walks away, unable to finish the job of killing his fallen apprentice. While this paves the way for a tyrannical creature to rise from the ashes, it also proves to save the galaxy at the end of it all.

7. Solo: A Star Wars Story

The Kessell run provided Solo reason enough to exist. The thirty-plus minute sequence of the heist, the death of L3, and the run itself gives us the ride of a lifetime in the Falcon. All the cockiness of Han (Alden Ehrenreich) comes to full blast, and for the first time all movie we get a real sense of the man he would become. Lando (Donald Glover) comes across as the more compelling of the two, and Glover’s charisma is undeniable.

An underrated droid in the history of the franchise, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) knows how to bring the humor. She’s hysterical and charming, instantly stealing the film from Han and Lando. While the idea of a human/droid relationship threw many fans off, her fight for equality feels necessary. It gives the character agency and heart that you do not expect from a bucket of bolts. Her destruction in the ensuing raid comes across as heartbreaking, expertly played up by Glover. Knowing that L3 becomes the brain of the Falcon actually has precedence in the original trilogy, and knowing that her special brand of humor would later infuriate C3PO should make everyone love her.

6. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

There’s only one place to go. The redemption of Darth Vader (physically played by David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Earl Jones, and facially brought to life by Sebastian Shaw), remains an iconic setpiece of the franchise. As he watches Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) electicute his child Luke (Mark Hamill), Vader finally redeems himself.

Perhaps no duel in the canon meant as much as the final showdown between Vader and Luke in the Death Star II. The slug them out battle combined physical prowess and mental fortitude that no other battle required from beginning to end. Each character exposes themselves emotionally, and this vulnerability allows the Emperor to get between them and incite their passion. Vader’s taunting of Luke finally causes him to break, and in anger, Luke exposes Vader’s weaknesses as an android man. People forget that Luke only stops after seeing the damage he has done, and he pulls back at the last second from going to someplace he could not return from. It’s a defining character moment that would go on to define his arc in The Last Jedi. 

However, Vader’s final moments bring down the house. For the first time in decades, he removes his helmet in an environment that will cause him to perish, yet he needs to see his son with his own eyes. The tragedy of Vader has always been his inability to think or feel for himself. This manipulation cause him to turn in the prequel trilogy, allowed the Jedi to set him up for failure, and ultimately caused a reckoning of seismic proportions. Yet he finally gets the chance to see the boy who believed in him, the first to do so since he met this boy’s mother. With a sly smile and tears in his eyes, he passes. The ballad of Vader and the man he became at the end makes him one of the most iconic characters in the history of popular culture.

5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Both Ridley and Boyega pop off the screen. They became instant superstars thanks to their movie star personas. The excitement that Ridley channels throughout the film makes her the perfect embodiment of the lifelong fans of the franchise. It’s easy to empathize with her, connect to her, and wish you were on your very own Star Wars adventure. Meanwhile, Boyega gets to show off his comedic chops throughout the film. While he refuses the call time and time again, his care for his new friend echoes throughout the story. His chemistry with Ridley is off the charts and the two usher the franchise in a new direction. (READ THE FULL OF THE REVIEW HERE)

4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Originally pitched as the Zero Dark Thirty of Star Wars, Rogue One had the potential to be the best film in the franchise. Approaching the material with a darker edge and an obvious ending, many questioned whether or not LucasFilm would actually pull the trigger. Not only did they pull the trigger, but they created one of the most intense sequences in the franchise’s history. The tale wears emotion on its sleeve while crafting a story of sacrifice and faith. To quote Hamilton, the characters were either going to rise up or die on the battlefield in glory. The strength of Rogue One is that both can be true. (READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE)

3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The emotional core of the film comes from Ridley, and Johnson quickly establishes an unconventional nature to her side of the story. He fully embraces the Luke parallels within the character, including her ambition and excitement to receive training. He knows that Ridley comes across as an infectious performer. She needs to belong to something bigger than herself and having the ability to utilize the Force has always sparked an internal examination. Its only fitting that Rey’s involve the biggest hole in her heart, and wanting to belong can often stem from knowing where you come from. (READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE)

2. Star Wars: A New Hope

There’s no heap of praise that I can write that hasn’t been said about A New Hope before. It remains a masterpiece, even as Lucas added in subpar material. The rules of the world make sense from the word go. The story can stand alone, even as it launched the greatest cinematic universe. Star Wars began as a story that paid homage to what came before while forging its own path into the future. That was the power of its story, as a story that dared to voyage into the unknown. (READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE)

1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Deepening and expanding the lore of any fantasy story requires commitment. Sometimes these choices to change the lore can destroy a fanbase. Other times, they can completely upend the perception of that series. For Star Wars, expectations were extremely high as it entered its second chapter. Empire Strikes Back faced the challenge of living up to a phenomenon unlike any other. (READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE)

Each of the remaining films deserves their own entry, so check back over the next couple of days to see how I rank the top five Star Wars films. 

Let us hear what you think! Leave your own rankings at the bottom of the post!

Academy Shortlists For Nine Categories, Including Top 10 Songs, International Features, and Scores

Yesterday, the Academy announced shortlists for a handful of their categories. A few years ago, we only received the benchmark nominations for a couple of categories, but last year they expanded the field. This change has already proven to be a positive. For prognosticators, we get a better sense of which films are actually competing for nominations. For the industry, they can see which films are clicking into place. The result is a win-win for everyone, and it gives us a reason to get excited before Oscar nominations are announced in January. Below are the categories with predicted nominees in each. These are the only films eligible in each category.

Animated Short Films

(10 Shortlisted Nominees)

Dcera (Daughter)
Hair Love
He Can’t Live Without Cosmos
Hors Piste
Mind My Mind
The Physics of Sorrow
Uncle Thomas: Accounting for the Days

Predicted Five


Documentary Feature

(15 Shortlisted Nominees)

American Factory
The Apollo
Apollo 11
The Biggest Little Farm
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
The Great Hack
Knock Down the House
Midnight Family
One Child Nation

Predicted Five

American Factory

For Sama


Midnight Family

One Child Nation

Documentary Short Subject

(10 Shortlisted Films)

After Maria
Fire in Paradise
Ghosts of Sugar Land
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
Life Overtakes Me
The Nightcrawlers
St. Louis Superman
Stay Close
Walk Run Cha-Cha

Predicted Five


International Feature Film 

(10 Shortlisted Films)

Atlantics (Senegal)

Beanpole (Russia)

Corpus Christi (Poland)

Honeyland (North Macedonia)

Les Misérables (France)

Pain and Glory (Spain)

The Painted Bird (Czech Republic)

Parasite (South Korea)

Those Who Remained (Hungary)

Truth and Justice (Estonia)


Beanpole (Russia)

Corpus Christi (Poland)

Les Misérables (France)

Pain and Glory (Spain)

Parasite (South Korea)

Live-Action Shorts

(10 Shortlisted Films)

The Christmas Gift
Little Hands
Miller & Son
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
A Sister
Sometimes, I Think About Dying

Predicted Five


Makeup and Hairstyling

(10 Shortlisted Films)

Dolemite Is My Name
Downton Abbey
Little Women
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Predicted Five




Little Women


Original Score

(15 Shortlisted Films)

Avengers: Endgame
The Farewell
Ford v Ferrari
Frozen II
Jojo Rabbit
The King
Little Women
Marriage Story
Motherless Brooklyn
Pain and Glory
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Predicted Five



Little Women

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker


Original Song

(15 Shortlisted Songs)

“Speechless” from Aladdin
“Letter to My Godfather” from The Black Godfather
“I’m Standing With You” from Breakthrough
“Da Bronx” from The Bronx USA
“Into the Unknown” from Frozen 2
“Stand Up” from Harriet
“Catchy Song” from The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
“Never Too Late” from The Lion King
“Spirit” from The Lion King
“Daily Battles” from Motherless Brooklyn
“A Glass of Soju” from Parasite
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman
“High Above the Water” from Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from Toy Story 4
“Glasgow” from Wild Rose

Predicted Five

“Speechless” from Aladdin

“Into the Unknown” from Frozen 2

“Stand Up” from Harriet

“A Glass of Soju” from Parasite

“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman

Visual Effects

(10 Shortlisted Films)

Alita: Battle Angel
Avengers: Endgame
Captain Marvel
Gemini Man
The Irishman
The Lion King
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Terminator: Dark Fate

Predicted Five

Avengers: Endgame

Gemini Man

The Irishman

The Lion King

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

What do you think of the shortlists? Who are your early predictions? Let us know in the comments below! 

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Lights Up the Skies In Second Trailer

Tom Cruise will likely kill himself on the job someday. The man simply cannot help himself from putting his life in mortal peril. Whether he’s holding onto planes as they lift off or climbing the tallest building in the world, Cruise knows how to be a movie star. This year, we get to see him return to one of the films that made him a superstar, with the Top Gun sequel finally making its way to the big screen. Top Gun: Maverick brings Cruise back the danger zone, and the latest trailer makes this one an early favorite for action film of the next decade.

Cruise obviously steals the show, but the cast gets some nice screentime this time around. Beyond the Jon Hamm and Jennifer Connelly‘s making mostly non-verbal appearances, the future appears bright. Glen Powell and Miles Teller look to be the new Iceman and Maverick, but they’re not alone. Monica BarbaroJay Ellis, and Manny Jacinto appear to join the air teams as well.

The visuals look amazing, the aerial sequences featuring some mindblowing footage. Even the scenes in the academy and beach appear to be instantly iconic. It’s an exciting time to be a Cruise fan, and if Top Gun can approach the recent success of the Mission: Impossible franchise, this will be something special.

Check out Top Gun: Maverick on June 25, 2020. This looks like one you’ll want to watch on the biggest screen possible. 

Review: ‘6 Underground’ Is Pure Michael Bay Id Running Wild…Which Is Surprisingly Great

The absurdist and self-aware action film has become a genre unto itself. The landmark franchise within the subgenre remains The Fast and the Furious, but these throwbacks to the 1980s classics continue to grow in popularity. Perhaps no director better embodies this better than Michael Bay. The director has often been a punchline to cinephiles, yet he continues to make massive hit after massive hit. While he’s languished in the Transformers franchise for the majority of the decade, his work has always found an audience. This weekend, he released his most interesting project since 2013, with 6 Underground dropping on Netflix. The resulting insanity creates the ultimate Michael Bay movie of his career. With more explosions and non-sensical plot points than any movie he’s ever made, 6 Underground is another fun action romp.

6 Underground follows Ryan Reynolds‘ Ghost Ops team as they murder their way through the bad guys of the world. Reynolds plays One, a former billionaire tech mogul that faked his death to form a libertarian death squad. Rather than worry about political alliances or diplomatic third rails, his team exterminates anyone they perceive as a monster. They work outside the law and answer to no one. Reynolds leads the group but has plenty of psychotic and funny specialists in tow. The group plans a coup in the fictional country Turgistan (a real province in Pakistan) after One observes human rights atrocities committed by its dictator.

 Bay directs the team with ease and remains the star of 6 Underground. Advancing his frenetic style, his latest feature looks like 13 Hours or Pain & Gain. However, Bay blends his usual aesthetic with late Tony Scott and Go-Pro wielding parkour runners. The adrenaline comes across in every scene, making it one of his most visceral films in years. The director known for absurdist action brings that to life and 6 Underground works as his most exciting film since Bad Boys II. His libertarian side comes out in full view, and while the militaristic worship he’s employed over the past decade remains problematic. Despite these problems, 6 Underground‘s technical merits make this a must-watch for action junkies.

Reynolds bets big on himself as a franchise star, and it pays off. The success of the film weighs on his turn and Bay’s direction. Reynolds gets to play in the movie star sandbox here, coasting on his charisma and comedic timing. It’s not a bad performance by Reynolds by any means, but he can perform this role in his sleep. Still, there are not many actors that could spew his non-sensical monologues (let alone a half-dozen).

The actual team features a combination of foreign all-stars and young up-and-comers to fill out the team. Mélanie Laurent gets a showcase character. She’s both a badass and simultaneously nonsensical. Why Laurent jumped into this role is beyond me. The Inglourious Basterds actress has paved a career as an arthouse performer and director, but her “one for them” will give her the flexibility to really get her passion projects off the ground. Corey Hawkins continues his upward trajectory, and he gets the opportunity to show off his movie star persona here. Hawkins can disappear into a role when asked, but he’s starting to earn credit as a good performer for tentpole fare.

The issues with most Bay films are present as well. He lets the camera objectify his characters, especially the women. Guns and kills are fetishized throughout. 6 Underground reaches new levels of gore for Bay. His movies rarely feature blood, and this one pours it on by the bucketload. Bodies and corpses litter the street, and each setpiece offers its own level of destruction porn. None of this should surprise you if you’ve ever seen a Bay film, but to be clear these issues remain problematic and lower his potential as a filmmaker.

GRADE: (½)

What did you think of 6 Underground? Let us know in the comments below! 

Check out our other reviews from We Bought a Blog here! Check out AJ’s Letterboxd to keep up with what he’s watching

Catching Up on the Guilds 2020: An Oscar Precursors Roundup

Total Guild Nominations:

Abominable – CAS (1)

American Factory – ACE (1)

Apollo 11 – ACE (1), CAS (1)

Avengers: Endgame – SAG (1)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – SAG (1)

Bombshell – SAG (4)

Dolemite is My Name – ACE (1)

Echo in the Canyon – CAS (1)

The Farewell – ACE (1)

Ford v Ferrari – ACE (1), CAS (1), SAG (2)

Frozen II – ACE (1), CAS (1)

Harriet – SAG (1)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World – CAS (1)

Hustlers – SAG (1)

I Lost My Body – ACE (1)

The Irishman – ACE (1), CAS (1), SAG (5)

Jojo Rabbit – ACE (1), SAG (3)

Joker – ACE (1), CAS (1), SAG (2)

Judy – SAG (1)

Just Mercy – SAG (1)

Knives Out – ACE (1)

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice – ACE (1)

The Lion King – CAS (1)

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound – ACE (1), CAS (1)

Marriage Story – ACE (1), SAG (3)

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool – CAS (1)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – ACE (1), CAS (1), SAG (3)

Parasite – ACE (1), SAG (1)

Rocketman – CAS (1), SAG (1)

Toy Story 4 – ACE (1), CAS (1)

Us – SAG (1)

Woodstock: 3 Days That Changed Everything – CAS (1)


Full Guild Nominations Below



Ford v Ferrari – Michael McCusker, ACE & Andrew Buckland
The Irishman – Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE
Joker – Jeff Groth
Marriage Story – Jennifer Lame, ACE
Parasite – Jinmo Yang


Dolemite is My Name – Billy Fox, ACE
The Farewell – Michael Taylor & Matthew Friedman
Jojo Rabbit – Tom Eagles
Knives Out – Bob Ducsay
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood – Fred Raskin, ACE


Frozen II – Jeff Draheim, ACE
I Lost My Body – Benjamin Massoubre
Toy Story 4 – Axel Geddes, ACE


American Factory – Lindsay Utz
Apollo 11 – Todd Douglas Miller
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice – Jake Pushinsky, ACE & Heidi Scharfe, ACE
Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound – David J. Turner & Thomas G. Miller, ACE




Ford v Ferrari
Production Mixer – Steven A. Morrow CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Paul Massey CAS
Re-recording Mixer – David Giammarco CAS
Scoring Mixer – Tyson Lozensky
ADR Mixer – David Betancourt
Foley Mixer – Richard Duarte

Production Mixer – Tod Maitland CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Dean A Zupancic
Re-recording Mixer – Tom Ozanich
Scoring Mixer – Daniel Kresco
ADR Mixer – Thomas J. O’Connell
Foley Mixer – Richard Duarte

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood
Production Mixer – Mark Ulano CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Michael Minkler CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Christian Minkler CAS
Foley Mixer – Kyle Rochlin

Production Mixer – John Hayes
Re-recording Mixer – Mike Prestwood Smith
Re-recording Mixer – Mathew Collinge
ADR Mixer – Mark Appleby
Foley Mixer – Glen Gathard

The Irishman
Production Mixer – Tod Maitland CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Tom Fleischman CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Eugene Gearty
ADR Mixer – Mark DeSimone CAS
Foley Mixer – George A. Lara CAS


Original Dialogue Mixer – Tighe Sheldon
Re-recording Mixer – Myron Nettinga
Scoring Mixer – Nick Wollage
Foley Mixer – David Jobe

Frozen II
Original Dialogue Mixer – Paul McGrath CAS
Re-recording Mixer – David E. Fluhr CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Gabriel Guy CAS
Song Mixer – David Boucher
Scoring Mixer – Greg Hayes
ADR Mixer – Doc Kane CAS
Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Original Dialogue Mixer – Tighe Sheldon
Re-recording Mixer – Gary A. Rizzo CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Scott R. Lewis
Re-recording Mixer – Shawn Murphy
Foley Mixer – Blake Collins CAS

The Lion King
Original Dialogue Mixer – Ronald Judkins CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Lora Hirschberg
Re-recording Mixer – Christopher Boyes
Scoring Mixer – Alan Meyerson CAS
Foley Mixer – Blake Collins CAS

Toy Story 4
Original Dialogue Mixer – Doc Kane CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Nathan Nance
Scoring Mixer – David Boucher
ADR Mixer – Vince Caro CAS
Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis


Apollo 11
Re-recording Mixer – Eric Milano
Re-recording Mixer – Brian Eimer

Echo in the Canyon
Re-recording Mixer – Chris Jenkins
Re-recording Mixer – Paul Karpinski

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound
Production Mixer – David J. Turner
Re-recording Mixer – Tom Myers
Scoring Mixer – Dan Blanck
Foley Mixer – Frank Rinella

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Production Mixer – Gautam Choudhury
Re-recording Mixer – Benny Mouthon CAS

Woodstock: 3 Days That Changed Everything
Re-recording Mixer – Kevin Peters


2020 Screen Actors Guild (SAG)


Bombshell (Lionsgate)
The Irishman (Netflix)
Jojo Rabbit (Fox)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Sony)
Parasite (Neon)


Christian Bale – Ford v Ferrari
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Taron Egerton – Rocketman
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker


Cynthia Erivo – Harriet
Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
Lupita Nyong’o – Us
Charlize Theron – Bombshell
Renée Zellweger – Judy


Jamie Foxx – Just Mercy
Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Al Pacino – The Irishman
Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
Nicole Kidman – Bombshell
Jennifer Lopez – Hustlers
Margot Robbie – Bombshell


Avengers: Endgame
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood