McConnaughay's Reviews

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The Bib-iest of Nickels
Longtime member of Movie Forums, I have decided to bite the bullet and make a thread dedicated to the movie reviews I have written over the years (I have ones dating back to 2013). Since I am in-between blogsites and have to move things by hand anyways, I will add reviews here as I do that.

The Bib-iest of Nickels

The Rental (2022)
Like many of you, I find my available time to watch movies becoming scarcer and scarcer the older I become and the more responsibilities I take on. Another factor that keeps me from writing and reviewing as often as I may like is the scarcity of movies that catch my eye. I will always go out of my way to watch the next Scream film released, or a film from a specific director I am interested in, but it can be hard for me to make the leap of faith into a film I know nothing about. So too can it be difficult for a story to grab your attention from a brief trailer or a short summary Ė a lot of movies follow the same structure, and it is how the filmmakers decide to handle the finer details that so often decide whether a film is worthwhile or not.

My watching of The Rental can be chalked up to doing something on a whim. I hadnít spare time and I decided to use it. Rather than do what I normally do, which is browse Netflix, Shudder, HBO Max, Tubi TV, and the dozens of other streaming services available, I made the distinct, deliberate decision to not be so damn picky for a change.

Overall, I could have done a lot worse than The Rental with my decision.

Directed by Dave Franco in his directorial debut, The Rental was co-written by Franco, Joe Swanberg, and Mike Demski. The film stars Dan Stevens, Allison Brie, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White.

Itís a basic film formula, really Ė The Rental tells the story of two couples who decide to share a seaside rental together in a vacation getaway. And, as you might surmise, given the genre, theyíre not alone.

This isnít a film that tries to reinvent the wheel, and, in that respect, feels very much like what you would expect from someoneís directorial debut. It uses ingredients weíve tasted before, and, all in all, doesnít deviate from the recipe in any major fashion. It primarily focuses on two specific traits Ė that of a slasher film and that of a relationship drama.

It isnít uncommon at all for filmmakers to try and bring a guest over to the dark-side for a film, the genre can be a haven for psychological study, allegories, and even comedy. However, it can be a double-edged sword. In this instance, I couldnít help but feel like neither trait was explored to its fullest. They arenít at odds with one another, but neither feels like they reach their potential. The dramas veers away as its reaching its climax whereas the horror enters too little, too late. The villain feels like it relies less on the villain itself and more on the concept of the villain, but it simply isnít clever or unique enough to do that. None of it is bad, most of it is engrossing, but all of it feels a little short-changed.

I believe this can be seen with how fast certain things happen, how theyíre trying to checkoff things as swift as they can. Characters exposit information, and everything is set-up neat-and-tidy, all of it easy to telegraph. The drama can be seen from a mile away and doesnít have any particular wrinkles to speak of, whereas the horror itself is also familiar and holds little beyond its basic premise. It spends all of its time planting seeds, be it of the looming threat in the background or the dysfunctional relationships, but theyíre never watered and given enough sunshine to sprout anything.

As a film, it is pretty nicely made. Everythingís capably, inoffensively created. Itís a modest, but solid freshman effort for Dave Franco, and one Iíd, in turn, recommend with what Iíve said in mind.

The Bib-iest of Nickels

When Marnie Was There
Studio Ghibli is a film company I have a lot of respect and admiration for. Sometimes regarded as the ďJapanese DisneyĒ, the animation studio has released classic films for nearly 40 years now. The Disney comparison is both and overt simplification of Studio Ghibli Ė the more you think about it, the more demeaning it starts to feel. The company has its own distinct personality and has braved trenches Disney hasnít, i.e. its harrowing film Grave of the Fireflies or the epic-scale fantasy film Princess Mononoke. It is easy and, perhaps, palatable to use the description to entice newcomers, but, it is unfitting of how unique Studio Ghibli truly is. It doesnít feel like anime per se, not anymore than it feels like a 2-D Disney film, and it feels like Western animation, but yet with its own flavor to it Ė itís Studio Ghibli.

And yet, I have never reviewed a single film by Studio Ghibli.

In an effort to remedy that, I decided to sit down, watch, and now, share with you, my thoughts on the 2014 film When Marnie Was There.

The psychological drama film was co-written and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, whose directorial credentials include The Secret World of Arrietty and Mary and the Witchís Flower (a Studio Ghibli Ė esque film from animation newcomer Studio Ponoc). The film, which is based on the 1967 novel of the same name, is about a young girl named Anna who suffers from low self-esteem and self-doubt (and asthma). In-order to help, her foster mother sends her to spend summer break with her relatives, at a rural seaside town. There, she becomes acquainted with a young woman named Marnie, discovering more about herself and tackling some of the emotional turmoil stewing inside of her.

The English voice-cast, if youíre a dubber and not a subber, comprises itself of Hailee Steinfeld and Kiernan Shipka, and, for me, they make for a fairly likable duo in the film. Of course, you will have some naysayers on this particular topic, but I will sound-off by saying I believe there are talented Japanese voice-actors and English voice-actors, and they all need work (maybe not so much Steinfeld and Shipka specifically) and they were all contracted for this film. The story retains itself, as does the animation, and I believe it sometimes allows a story to shine through better when you can better interpret the cadence and context of each scenario. You do you though.

The story is, uh, fairly unique, Iíd say. Specifically, I have one aspect that doesnít sit well with me about it. When Marnie Was There isnít a romantic film, but itís kind of a romantic film. Marnie and Anna have a romantic component to their arrangement, and if you slice the last fifteen minutes or so out from this film (and honestly, even if you donít), itís a romantic film about a young, troubled girl who falls for another girl. And that partís fine! How progressive! Clap, clap! But, uh, yeah. Itís weird in the context of this film, and I canít articulate how without delving too deep into the plot points it hits on.

As you would expect, the animation is top-notch. Everything Studio Ghibli animates feels like a labor of love, and this film is no different. The greenery in the background really pops, and it makes you realize how beautiful (and timely) 2-D animation can still feel in modern cinema. As much as I love the animation of something like the new Puss in Boots film or many Pixar films, I wish this style was more commonplace than it is Ė thank you, Japanese animation, youíve helped keep the torch lit.

The story is modest, I will admit. The conflict is standard and easily remedied, and even feels a little like they pulled their punches a little too much when it came to saying something that could have deeply resonated. It feels a lot like Studio Ghibliís classic hits in some respects, but, perhaps, lacking both the edge and the wonderment youíd want from a film with this type of concept.

It doesnít have the teeth to bite down on the deeper aspects of depression nor does it develop the relationship between the characters much beyond surface-level. Early on, it appears like When Marnie Was Here may try and say something new or profound about depression, but it doesnít, really. Instead, it feels more classical and superficial, amounting to, more or less, what you think it will. Itís the classic ďSad Girl goes to Distant Family and discovers new lease on lifeĒ trope, and even Studio Ghibli knows itís so old hat they donít even bother to expand on it. Okay, maybe it isnít exactly what youíd think, but, thematically, at least, the beats are all to a very familiar tune, offering a straightforward, simple fantasy film.

When Marnie Was There was alright. It isnít the most enthusiastic review to write about my first foray into Studio Ghibli films (or Japanese animation), but it isnít a negative review either, by any stretch. The animation is attractive, the voice-acting was on-point, and the storyline itself is decent. It may not set the world ablaze, but it is a nice, easygoing film. As a romance, itís a nice coming-of-age queer classic Ė if you turn it off about three quarters the way through.

The Bib-iest of Nickels


In 2014, I often frequented a video rental store called Family Video. A lot of you may not have heard of it, but it was a chain of stores throughout the Midwest, like Wisconsin or Illinois where I reside. The newest season of Stranger Things actually featured the video store as one of its settings, much to my amusement. Most Family Videosí have since closed-down, with ours closing down midway through the Covid-19 shutdown. It was a sad moment, in part because my hometown has lost establishments left and right in recent years, but also because it was a significant part of my childhood.

Iíll miss seeing those sun-damaged DVD cases and circling the store over and over, in search of something I havenít seen yet. One such film I discovered was a film called .found, directed by Scott Schirmer, who I interviewed six years later on the Nightmare Shift website. It was an interesting film, rough-around-the-edges, but with enough interesting ideas to outweigh any faults it may have had. The writer of this story was a man named Todd Rigney, a person Iíve since become well-acquainted with.

Iíve talked about it briefly on the Nightmare Shift Podcast, but I am a writer and a lot of what I write is horror stories (along with fantasy and crime/mystery). He and I bonded over our shared passion, and, this month, Todd and I collaborated to release Readers Digested, Vol. 1, available on Amazon for Kindle and Paperback, as well as on Not only him, a lot of writers like my brother Scott Moore, Bradley Walker, Matt Schorr, Ashley Grant, and Tim Babbitt also participated. Weíre very proud of it, and I hope if you can spare a minute, you might consider checking it out. Our hope to release a new installment annually for the Halloween season.

Todd has always been a very nice guy in my experience, and so, I was excited when I found out another one of his short stories was being adapted into a film. I was even more head-over-heels when I found out the film would be a Shudder Exclusive starring Ryan Kwanten and J.K. Simmons. From what he told me, the short story was optioned years and years ago, and sat, untouched, until, one day, out-of-the-blue, he was told of Simmonsí involvement, then came non-disclosure agreements, etcetera, etcetera.

Directed by Rebekah McKendry in her feature length debut, (her lone credit is for a short segment included in the well-received Tales of Halloween anthology, Glorious is an oddball film. Adapted to film by Rigney, Joshua Hull, and David Ian McKendry, Iíd have it no other way. Whether youíve seen .found, or youíve read the stories by Rigney, like whatís in Readers Digested, Vol. 1, for instance, he brings the type of story that makes you tilt your head and look on in confusion Ė and I mean that in the best of ways.

Of course, in general, I am always excited to find out about a colleaguesí newfound successes, whether it be in success found from a newly released novel, or something as special as onesí novel being adapted into film Ė I will admit I am always a little leery talking about them. A small voice in the back of my head whispers the phrase, ďwhat if it sucksĒ. Even if a film isnít outright bad, there is also the chance it may not agree with me, personally. It can be awkward to write and talk about, and, in general, I try to be sensitive about what I say on my own behalf. It is why I adopted the theology when writing reviews that I only write what I would say to the ones who made it. A simple philosophy of Ė say what you got to say but donít be a dick about it.

Thankfully, Glorious is a pretty decent film.

The feature runs at around eighty minutes and has a goofy, ridiculous premise to marvel at. Gloriousí story centers around a man named Wes who is suffering major symptoms of a hangover Ė vomiting, vomiting, and more vomiting. He seeks refuge in a public restroom and but is surprised to discover he is by himself. A voice speaks to him from the stall next door, with only what can be seen through a gloryhole lent to him. The voice belongs to a strange creature that asks for his aid, embarking him on a maddening, surrealist trip like none before it.

The filmís cinematography is vibrant, using an array of purpleís in-order to accomplish that H.P. Lovecraft style aesthetic, whereas its production-value is well contained by its own restraint. Whereas it could have gone completely balls-to-the-wall with its depiction of the creature, it went for a less is more approach, only depicting the creature in the shadows or at a distance. Thus, the film isnít exactly as gooey or slimy as the Stuart Gordon film From Beyond, however, it also doesnít have the cheaply made look of something like The Resonator: Miskatonic U. It is a choice I think is likely for the best as I assume it didnít have too large of a budget, especially after J.K. Simmons was paid.

The acting is solid across the board, although the whole film largely hinges on only two performances Ė Simmons and Kwantenís performances.

Glorious doesnít try to be anything too audacious in what it is beyond its central premise.

Iím not chastising that; Iím merely suggesting its scope is relatively small. It consists of a couple characters, mostly a single location, and mostly conversation.

That in mind, it does keep you engaged. J.K. Simmonsí omniscient voice is cool, calming, yet commanding, and his straight man approach brings some of the filmsí most funny moments. Theyíre funny moments too, I should add. Although the filmís premise is certainly campy, I found the times it actually made me laugh werenít the reasons I would laugh from a film like Gingerdead Man or Sharknado, this is a film that doesnít blink with its subject-matter which I appreciate.

It is a film about a godly creature in a bathroom stall that threatens to destroy the world and it plays it straight on that.

The worst that can be said about the film, other than that it didnít have the production budget to go completely wild, is that I feel like it maybe doesnít have enough ideas to justify itself as a feature length film. Iíd compare it to something like Benson and Moorheadís film Resolution, which mostly runs in a single location and features an unseen force as well. The difference is that that film leaned more heavily into its characters and their relationship to carry the runtime. This film does that as well, looking into the human character Wes, his backstory and who he is as a person, but even with everything that happened, I couldnít escape the feeling this couldíve been a more neat and tidy short film, running about half an hour in an anthology.

When Glorious is good, I really like it, but sometimes, too, I feel like there are things that happen that feel like they only happen to justify a feature length.

It is worth mentioning that the film itself is based on a short story called Old Glory and, although I havenít read it, I wouldnít be surprised to find it likely works better as a short story.

All in all, I liked Glorious as a film. It was a fun diversion and a nice addition to the Shudder streaming servicesí catalogue. It does suffer from some limitations brought on by the budget, and I do feel like it would have been better suited for a short film packaged inside an anthology film (this would be a great story for a Mortuary Collection style film), but itís still an entertaining, unique flick Iíd recommend.

The Bib-iest of Nickels

Final Destination 3

In some ways, the Final Destination series can feel like a little bit of a fever dream. It almost doesnít feel like they even happened at all, really. This held opinion can be attributed to a number of different explanations.

First and foremost, it isnít exactly like Final Destination itself is a memorable franchise in and of itself. For certain, Final Destination decides props for making everyone uncomfortable every time we drive behind a truck loaded with a bunch of logs, but as far as performances are concerned and the characters, Final Destination is a bit of a lightweight.

It feels like the relic of a bygone era, with a playfulness reminiscent of eighties slasher flicks, and yet, at the same time, feels very much like a product of the 2000s. The 2000s? When I think about mainstream horror franchises that broke out in the turn of the millennium, all my mind ever thinks about is the Saw films. You had Rob ZombieĎs Halloween and a slew of other slasher remakes as well, and, in late 2007, we were introduced to Paranormal Activity, but as far as big time horror that rocked through most of the decade Ė itís gotta be Saw. However, Final Destination had four films that decade (five in total), and they all did well at the box office, with the fifth film out-grossing any of the Saw films.

But, at the same time, that is part of Final Destinationís allure, isnít it? It is the definition of fun horror, filled to the brim with stupid fun Rube Goldberg Ė like occurrences, happening from a force of nature comparable to Death himself. Although having a faceless antagonist likely hurt Final Destinationís merchandise sales, it was a genuinely neat and different way to go about it, and I appreciate that.

Final Destination 3, as youíd assume, is the third installment in the series. It may seem obvious and redundant to mention, but I am prepping you for the fourth.

I am reviewing the series out of order as you can tell (so, donít worry if you canít find a review of the original or second film just yet), simply because when I re-watched them, I never wrote my review and too much time has went by for them to be fresh in my mind.

The film was directed by James Wong, who also directed the original film. Since this film, Wongís feature film career has largely went out with a whimper (last directed Dragonball Evolution), however, his writing can also be seen in successful seriesí like American Horror Story and The X-Files.

The film stars the wonderful Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ryan Merriman, who worked together previously in The Ring Two.

Similar to previous Final Destinations, 3 is about a characterís premonition of their death, that character intervening, saving themselves and others, and then, the ramifications of that. Basically, it is the idea that Death has a set path in place for everyone, and that by breaking from its set path, Death restarts the cycle and tries to remedy the mistake. This can mean anything from falling into a manhole, or something much more elaborate Ė Death loves Mouse Trap or setting up dominoes to watch them fall down.

It is a very straightforward, simple film, but I found it actually very watchable. It does, for better and for worse, call back to eighties horror cinema, with a junk food style horror that is a lot of fun.

Some aspects I couldíve done without, like the sleazy, horny man who constantly harasses women, and that general odor that sometimes radiates throughout the film. At the same time, I do appreciate that the film understands that it is bad behavior and that the audience sees it as bad behavior, wanting you to root for that characterís demise. It is one more way Final Destination plays into so many old-school slasher tropes.

The cast and characters are decent, if, still, nothing to write home about. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a lot of the heavy lifting in the film, in terms of performance. The film is mostly about the concept, not about the characters, so it isnít at all like she is in a position to deliver an Oscar-worthy performance, but she does well. For these B-movie horrors, the most you can ask for is that they find a leading lady or man, and have that actor be likable enough. Winstead is likable and does actively succeed at bringing a little bit of notability to her performance.

Final Destination 3 received mixed-to-negative reviews from critics when it was released.

As far as receptions are concerned, thatís par for the course for Final Destination in-general. Truth is, it also makes a lot of sense and I canít really chalk it up to pretentious, pompous film critics becoming too riled up about a stupid fun film. If you pick it apart, youíll ruin it, like most popcorn flicks. It is guilty of using a lot of the same ingredients Iíve certainly bashed before in other horrors.

All the same, I unabashedly liked Final Destination 3. The death scenes are fun and creative, and although the characters can vary (we have a Mean Girl style duo and a sleazy pervert, for instance), everything is kept afloat by Winstead, and Ryan Merriman, for that matter.

It is a decent supernatural horror film and a fun feather in the cap of everyone involved.

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Knock at the Cabin
I will be honest Ė Knock at the Cabin wasnít on my radar at all. Ever since the Covid-19 outbreak, I have had to be a lot more selective with my moviegoing (because my nearest theater closed down and now my commute to the nearest plaza has doubled). For that reason, and because I am busier, often whatever film I watch has to clear a certain threshold of anticipation. Knock at the Cabin wouldnít clear that threshold. Instead, I left my house to watch Infinity Pool, the new film from Brandon Cronenberg. That didnít happen, and for that reason alone, I watched Knock at the Cabin and am now telling you about that (groundbreaking, I know).

I didnít know anything about the film. I am not even certain I had watched a single trailer for it. All I knew was that Dave Bautista was in it and M. Night Shyamalan was at the helm. Sometimes that is all you need. I fully endorse watching movies as blind as you possibly can, especially because how often advertisements and promotional material will overexpose scenes and even outright spoil moments best experienced in the context of the film.

As a director, I have a mixed reaction to M. Night Shyamalan overall. Like many of you, I enjoyed his earlier films like Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and was deterred by his later films like The Last Airbender and The Happening, which I carry a strong dislike for. In 2015, after a string of films I had no particular interest in, the director had a return-to-form of sorts with The Visit.

The film was rough-around-the-edges, but it had a unique premise and was able to keep me modestly invested. I have watched a lot of bad films and a lot of good films, and for me, The Visit landed at the exact cutoff point of falling from decent to below average overall. That is, for the most part, a fair microcosm of how I see the average M. Night Shyamalan film.

After The Visit, he directed Split, which was an above-average film, and Glass, which was a step-down, but I still enjoyed.

Like The Visit, Old was a film with a unique premise and was able to keep me modestly invested, in spite ultimately never reaching the potential I thought it had.

The reason I have broken all of this down is because it adequately describes my thoughts on M. Night Shyamalan.

Lately, M. Night Shyamalan rarely misses at all. However, he almost misses every time.

In Knock at the Cabin, a married couple and their adopted daughter are paid visit by four unexpected visitors claiming they are there to stop the end of the world.

Thatís about all I want to tell you about it. This isnít because underneath the surface of Knock at the Cabin is some deep, complex payoff you canít afford to spoil for yourself, but I believe M. Night very much subscribes to the J.J. Abrams mystery box style of filmmaking, so to speak. Once you know what is inside of it, like a car off the lot, the film immediately loses a little bit of its value to you.

The cinematography is decent, if at times, a little jarring to watch, owed to some of the stylistic choices implanted, but, for the most part, is largely unnoteworthy. Nowadays, the cinematography in a M. Night film is straightforward Ė not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that. He is more high-concept and situational than stylistic, and in its own way, most M. Night films do feel distinctly like he did them.

The dialogue is a weak point. Often, M. Night movies have a habit of taking good actors and making them slum it Ė like with Old, which sees actors Iíd seen in great films like Jo Jo Rabbit and Hereditary years prior, ham it up to admittedly hilarious effect. This film isnít as blatant as that, but it remains an M. Night Shyamalan film. Dave Bautista steals the show in the film with a performance that shows he is currently, miles away, the best professional wrestler turned actor ever (as prestigious as that is). He comes off disarming and more than a little weird. There are other talented actors involved in this film as well, including Jonathan Groff from Mind Hunter fame, and theyíre largely undeterred by him, however. Unfortunately, M. Night has never been the best at directing children or writing their dialogue, which I believe shows through in Cabin.

The story is the meat of Knock at the Cabin, and is, unfortunately, very humdrum and ordinary. Although it is a silly expression, the best way I can describe A Knock at the Cabin is to call it one great big nothing-burger of a film. The apocalyptic themes are been there, done that, and have little new to say at all. There simply isnít much to this film. It unfolds, and thatís that. Everything plays out in the most paint-by-the-numbers way imaginable.

A Knock at the Cabin keeps itself from a negative critical rating on the basis that it doesnít shoot very high at all. Itís an ordinary, plain film, and that might be worse than if it were a miss.

Looking forward to reading! I am agreeable with about everything you said regarding Knock at the Cabin. Very plain indeed.

Iíll miss seeing those sun-damaged DVD cases
Not the most substantive comment on my part, but I just wanted to say I really enjoyed this line. Nice little bit of hypercompact nostalgia that conveys a lot in very few words.

The Bib-iest of Nickels
Not the most substantive comment on my part, but I just wanted to say I really enjoyed this line. Nice little bit of hypercompact nostalgia that conveys a lot in very few words.
I don't know you're from, and whether or not you had a Family Video, a Blockbuster, or anything else like that, ... but why didn't they put curtains up!? Or, ... or I don't know ... position the shelves away from the sun!?

This is also a little nugget, but my rental store Family Video was literally a baseball throw away from another, smaller rental store called Video Time. Something I always thought was unique about them is they didn't have the discs or even the cases on shelves, instead it was like they took the box art out from the disc sleeve and punched small holes in them and put them on little peg hooks, when you were ready for checkout you'd bring that crude little piece of paper to the counter.

I don't know you're from, and whether or not you had a Family Video, a Blockbuster, or anything else like that, ... but why didn't they put curtains up!? Or, ... or I don't know ... position the shelves away from the sun!?
Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, mostly. The only thing that stopped the line from being perfect for me is that I'm in my late 30s, so it was more VHS than DVD. And yeah, it always bugged me, too!

This is also a little nugget, but my rental store Family Video was literally a baseball throw away from another, smaller rental store called Video Time. Something I always thought was unique about them is they didn't have the discs or even the cases on shelves, instead it was like they took the box art out from the disc sleeve and punched small holes in them and put them on little peg hooks, when you were ready for checkout you'd bring that crude little piece of paper to the counter.
This is nice. I love hearing weird little memories and details like this. Very evocative, for some reason.

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House of 1,000 Corpses
Review originally written in 2019
Although Iíve written a lot of reviews over the span of the last five years, many films fall beneath the cracks and donít receive my acknowledgment. This isnít so much about them getting the shaft as it is several different things. Sometimes I watch a lot of films and, because of that, I fail at imparting my opinion before said film falls so deep in the backlog, I couldnít imagine trying to share my thoughts on it so far after I last watched it. Recently, Iím begun preparation for several novel releases (I intend to publish six novels in 2020, for instance), and that has left a lot of films ignored.

I re-watched House of 1,000 Corpses recently and with the eventual release of ďThree From HellĒ, Iíve decided it is as right a time as ever to crack my knuckles and share my thoughts. There has always been a lot of naysayers when it comes to Rob Zombie and his work in the film-industry. Personally, I always stood in vague support of Rob Zombie, particularly his film The Devilís Rejects, and even if they had their issues, I enjoyed a lot of the ideas had in his Halloween reboot series, particularly Halloween II, which I found messily intriguing, a theme for many of Zombieís films. Does Rob Zombieís debut directorial effort speak well of the career soon to come? Here are my thoughts Ö

When I was younger, I first saw ďCorpsesĒ without even knowing who directed the film or who Rob Zombie was. All I remembered about the film was a scene involving Dwight Shrute being turned into a mermaid (I didnít know who Raine Wilson was back then either), which was the stuff of nightmares in my youth. In the film, two young couples are traveling across the backwoods of Texas in search for urban legends of murder. An appropriate description of what happens next would be a direct line from the film, ďThe boogeyman is real, and youíve found him.Ē

If youíve watched Rob Zombie films before, youíre likely to recognize many of the actors featured in the film. Thereís his wife Sherri Moon Zombie, the clown-faced Sid Haig, and Bill Moseley, for instance.

House of 1,000 Corpses hails some of Rob Zombieís signature quirks and many of criticsí most vocal criticisms. The film is comprised of very unlikable characters and excess. Regardless, something positive I can say about the film is that itís visually on-point and is brimming with interesting, unique ideas. Where it circles back to though, is that, while it shows a lot of ideas, it tries to wedge too many of them into the film.

The film carries a fever-dream method of storytelling that finds it strangely alluring, even in its most nonsensical shots. Corpses could have been amounted to a tauter, more cohesive film had its ideas been delivered in a more disciplined, mature light. Perhaps the fault is ambition and excitement, but as interesting as some of the ideas were, many were given too little chance to breathe. Characters like Dr. Satan carried presence and mystique, but the way theyíre presented feels so disheveled and unkempt I feel like they arenít allowed to spread their wings, so to speak.

House of 1,000 Corpses expresses Robís love for the macabre, as well as his many influences, whether it be Hammer or old-school Universal Monster movies, or the clear inspiration taken from Tobe Hooperís Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its sequel. Something that occurred to me while watching for this review is how much Otisí character reminds me of ďChop TopĒ from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (which I hadnít seen when I first watched Corpses), only to discover heís even played by the same actor. As much as I can appreciate and respect how passionate he is about these, I canít help but feel the countless scenes dedicated to them and all the clear influences, ultimately take away time that could have further fleshed out the characters and discredit the filmís individuality.

Some things I want to single-out about the film are the score and makeup-effects, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Certain scenes standout in how they show Rob Zombieís potential, I believe: one in-particular sees a policeman murdered as ďI Remember YouĒ by Slim Whitman plays in the background. The hanging shot before the handgun goes off is, I think, an appropriate way to describe some of what I felt of this film. I can see where his mind is at, he has an idea for what he wants to do, but he doesnít yet have the technique or concision to bring the most out of his ideas; he doesnít know when to pull the trigger or kill a scene. House of 1,000 Corpses isnít the worst debut film from a director by any stretch. Itís wonderful to see how enthused every scene feels and if you approach it with that learning curve, youíll find a lot of gems hidden in the rubble. It remains, however, that the film is faulted by bad dialogue and frivolous scenes that feel at war with one another, never truly committed to a final product.

The Bib-iest of Nickels

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame follows the course set after Infinity Wars, which saw Thanos use the Infinity Gauntlet to end half of all living life-forms in the universe. This leaves the original Avengers cast, alongside other surviving characters like Rocket as the only heroes left to try and bring things back to the way they were. It isnít an overnight endeavor, however. It takes five-years before Antman can escape from the Quantum Realm and offer a sliver of hope for them, wondering if they might be able to manipulate the realm in some way to set things back to how they were. As youíd expect, Endgame caps off a lot of what proceeding films built toward, but it also acts as a celebration of all the films that came before it.

This film is different from Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Endgame feels heavily indebted to the events of Infinity War, feeling more like a second and final increment in one over-arching storyline. This shouldnít bother anyone who has been along for the ride so far, but casual moviegoers will find Endgame is not a casual-viewing popcorn film. Most of the actors feel like theyíve lived their characters, a benefit reserved mostly for television seriesí, now given to a lot of the Marvel cast. Robert Downey Jr.ís namesake dissipates in-favor of Iron Man and the same can be said for Chris Evans with Captain America, and they remain up to the task.

Some moviegoers were concerned about the three-hour runtime for the film, but I canít say I ever had that fear. This is different from a solo superhero film where a lot will hinge on one or two key characters to carry the film from start to conclusion. Endgame has an abundant cast, and that helps keep things from becoming tiresome in its progression. This isnít to say I donít think Endgame could have and should have been shorter than what it was. Personally, although I wouldnít say the first hour was bad, I found a couple of things I could have done without. This includes scenes involving a downtrodden Thor and a Hulk with a cheesier aesthetic than I would have liked. Like I said, none of it is stab out my eyes bad, but it does feel like a scene or two could have been left on the cutting-room floor for a tauter more cohesive final cut.

The Russo directors have been a godsend to the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Winter Soldier, producing the best films of the series, but I didnít think it had the same Midas touch early on. Most of the jokes during this didnít land with me, and maybe thatís in-part because it wasnít what I wanted out-of-the-gate. Nevertheless, as how I began, it feels like the whole film really blew by. Even films Iíve thoroughly enjoyed like War for the Planet of the Apes, which only barely exceeds the two-hour mark, make me squirm around in my theater chair, trying and failing to find some level of comfort. That wasnít how I felt during Endgame, and I think thatís a testament to how watchable most Marvel films are, despite the criticisms we may have of them.

Thereafter, however, is very entertaining and more focused, in my opinion. It feels very akin to Avengers: Infinity War, but something I think benefits this film is that it has less characters to juggle. This allows it to focus on unique character plights and have self-contained subplots with substance beyond the grandiose spectacle. As has been the case with most of the series, Captain America and Iron Man receive the bulk of the attention. This film highlights their growth as characters and the relationships theyíve built with other characters in the Universe. Although it isnít written-in-stone per se that certain characters may not show up again. Most of us thought of this as the blow-off for more-or-less every character who was around early-on. This film allows a lot of its characters a suitable, satiable sendoff, and really does feel like a nice way for them to bid adieu to the series. The final hour of the film in-particular is the most emotionally substantive for the whole brand, and it doesnít feel unearned or unwarranted, but like a seamless, natural progression.

The action-scenes and special-effects are very good, which has been usual for the series. I had some comments at the dismay of Hulk, but, otherwise, the film looks nice and about what weíve come to expect from the series. Perhaps saying so little about them discredits how much merit and worth they have to the series. Itís all very state-of-the-art and expensive, and it is a testament to how far weíve come digitally. Characters like Thanos are given enough time and attention in how theyíre presented (lighting, etc.) that they feel like actual characters and never like props. The fighting remains fun and high scale, which is what weíve also come to expect. Personally, I prefer the personal choreographed fare as seen in Winter Soldier and Marvelís Daredevil series, which we receive some of, but itís mostly about that controlled chaos in this film, like Infinity War.

​ Endgame will stand as a benchmark for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This isnít because itís the best the series has to offer (for example, I did prefer Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War as far as large-ensemble films are concerned), but because it concludes the Infinity Saga and does so very well. It has some of the most substantive scenes in the Marvel Universe and it makes for a very good film. Some might discredit superhero films, and sometimes, that might be justified, but the way Marvel has juggled its characters and spun such an interesting web is truly unprecedented and miraculous. I think sometimes itís easy to take what Marvel has done for granted. Sometimes when I look at the first novel I ever wrote, I canít help but cringe because of some of the decisions I made or didnít make. I feel Iíve improved so much that it has become as evident as the difference between night-and-day. In a lot of ways, the same thing can be said about what Marvel has accomplished. Theyíve developed such a strong understanding of what they want to accomplish and what their audiences want to see. If, in ten years, I cringe at my fifth book, I canít imagine the great state the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be in.

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M. Night Shyamalan is a polarizing director, oftentimes burdened by his breakout success with The Sixth Sense, a film nominated for six Academy Awards and for grossing well-over half a billion-dollars at the worldwide box office. The director is also infamous for his ďtwist endings,Ē which have garnered him scrutiny over the years. Personally, the directorís a mixed-bag in my opinion, which is something I think makes him curious to critics and moviegoers alike. Someone who can make something as competent and efficient as The Sixth Sense, then make a film as awful as The Last Airbender or The Happening, is a unique spectacle. If nothing else, his willingness to go out on a limb, writing and directing his films, many of which are based on his own original concepts, shows a creator whoís willing to reap the benefits of his success and is willing to accept the consequences if a project goes belly-up. The film Unbreakable has the misfortune of following The Sixth Sense and the heightened expectations that came with it. Does the superhero thriller rise to the occasion, or is it an unfortunate ďXĒ on the directorís resume? Here are my thoughts ...

Unbreakable features a cast that includes Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, alongside a supporting cast of actors like Robin Writer, Spencer Treat Clark, and Charlayne Woodard. The film starts by introducing us to Elijah Price, a man who has Type 1 osteogenesis impefecta. This condition causes bones to be fragile and more delicate, which results in them being more susceptible to breaks. Elijah has a milder form of the condition, but certainly finds himself on the receiving end of more than a few injuries, so much so that he was called Mr. Glass as a child. On the other-side of the spectrum, a man named David Dunn manages to survive a train-wreck. Accompanying him on the train were one-hundred and thirty-one other passengers, all of which died as a result of the accident. David, however, was able to survive without attaining a single scratch. This spectacular event makes David wonder about himself, and with some nudging by Elijah Price, he starts to wonder if maybe thereís something he doesnít know about himself. Quentin Taratino appropriately described Unbreakable as a film about a Superman that doesnít know heís Superman.

When I read about the criticisms M. Night Shyamalan had in-regards to how the film was marketed, I couldnít help but think contrary to his belief. He criticized how the film was marketed as a thriller akin to Sixth Sense, when he feels it should have been marketed as a straight-up comic book film. To me, this shows a dissonance between what I perceived and what M. Night evidently intended. This film feels as though it clutches the Superman mythos and re-works them into a psychological thriller. For the most part, Unbreakable feels like a very small, personal affair with Elijah Price and David Dunn both searching for a sense of purpose and identity. Elijah feels weak and brittle, whereas David feels he should be doing something more. The film is slow-burn and careful.

This is something that isnít for everyone, but, at a time when superhero films feel so abundant, I canít help but appreciate Unbreakable for trying to create something self-contained and not for what will come after. Similar to how The Dark Knight applied elements of a crime-drama and blended it with the superhero genre, I feel Unbreakable does something similar as a superhero-thriller, a hodgepodge approach Iíd like to see pursued more often. The cinematography by Eduardo Serra and the music by James Newton Howard all help this feel like a film with a vision and high-production. I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and often, I am happy with what I receive from them, but that doesnít mean they arenít without their faults. Something I think Unbreakable does, and itís a testament to M. Night Shyamalan and how capable he really is, is how well-shot it is and how thematic it seems. It is grounded, but in a way that feels deserved and not like a forced marketing-decision. It feels like it has something on its mind.

Bruce Willisí performance can best be described as understated, which is something I heard praised about him in this film. Personally, although I donít think it was too detrimental overall, I canít help but escape the sentiment that he seemed a little too humdrum in certain scenes. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson, on the other-hand, can go the distance with his performance, sounding expired and articulate one minute and utterly delusional the next, spouting theories about superheroes and the secret truth buried inside comic-books.

Some comparisons made to The Sixth Sense were bound to arise, and they have, with a lot of conversation about the filmís ending and the ďtwists and turnsĒ it has. In my opinion, I didnít really think of Unbreakable as having a twist. This is both a defense against a criticism and the birth of a new one, Iím afraid. At no point did I have any doubts about the relationship between the characters, with it seeming like a very natural and easy-to-follow progression. This still makes Unbreakableís pay-off a little underwhelming, in-retrospect.
It makes sense from a narrative-perspective, but it certainly doesnít pack a wallop, instead, once again, it feels like the clearest line of trajectory. It isnít a swerve, itís a film that stayed its course.

I think the best word I could use to describe Unbreakable is solid. Unbreakable is brimming with style and technique, and although it may not stand to answer the ambitious questions it asks itself and its audience, it makes for a good film. Perhaps some of its ideas could have been fine-tuned or tightened, and perhaps more scenes could have ended on the chopping-room floor in-favor of something better, but I think it makes for a good film.

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Gerald's Game

Stephen King is a writer I have a lot of admiration for. As a devout horror fan and horror-writer myself, I have a certain respect for any writer who shares that infatuation. In Kingís case, I also respect him for ambition, range, and talent. Certain ďacademicsĒ might chastise him, comparing him negatively to other mainstream writers, but I am happy to call myself a fan, with The Green Mile (a non-horror, whoíd have thought?) serving as my personal favorite. Obviously, with successful books comes the intent for successful movies, and with the IT film grossing over seven-hundred million dollars, I would suspect King adaptations will continue to be all the rage (in-fact, in the time it took me to write this, a Children of the Corn trilogy has been released, theyíve remade Carrie again, and a Sleeping Beauties film has been greenlit). Although Iím sure some anticipated it more, for me, Geraldís Game came out of nowhere. Arriving on the Netflix streaming service, Geraldís Game brings director Mike Flanagan back to the platform. Heís a talented genre director. Oculus was decent, Hush was decent, Ouija: Origin of Evil was decent, and Ö Before I Wake was Ö well, three is enough. Does Geraldís Game amount to another solid outing, how does it stack with other King adaptations, does it flounder in my Search for the Best Horror film or does it flourish? Here are my thoughts Ö

In a catalogue comprised of crazed clown entities and telekinetic teenagers, Geraldís Game offers a simpler, more straightforward story to follow. A husband and wife arrive at an isolated lake-house, hoping that by changing the scenery and trying new things in the bedroom, they will breathe air into their dissipating love-life. Nothing too out of the ordinary, until the husband Gerald, played by Bruce Greenwood, decides to succumb his wife Jessie, played by Carla Gugino, to his rape fantasy, which involves handcuffing her to the bed. Understandably, Jessie isnít completely on-board with joining Gerald on the sexual escapade and demands she be uncuffed from the bed. Gerald doesnít comply and itís left ambiguous whether he would have freed her, suffering a heart-attack and falls on the floor. This leaves Jessie handcuffed to the bed; trapped.

Smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, she isnít left with many solutions to her predicament. Her screams for help fall on deaf-ears and the bed-posts are too sturdy and solid to break. Trapped on the bed, Jessie reflects on life (repressed childhood trauma and her marriage) and does whatever she can to survive, using her limited environment to stall her impending death, be it from starvation, fear, or something worse. Geraldís Game finds a lot of mileage in its minimalist approach.

In-fact, such praise is an understatement to what the film is truly able to accomplish, finding a level of significant on such a low-scale that higher-caliber horror fare never even provide a whiff of. Carla Gugino is an actress Iíve seen a lot of over the years. Iíve always liked her to an extent, but from what Iíd seen of her, Iíve never seen her given anything substantive to sink her teeth into. Iíve seen her into Robert Rodriguezís Spy Kids and Sin City, but until Geraldís Game, I donít think I ever truly appreciated how talented and capable she is. Her committed performance is a central-key to what allows Geraldís Game to succeed the way it does, tackling contrasting emotions ranging from declarative frustration and cynicism to emotional vulnerability and grief. Backed, as well, by the commendable performance of Bruce Greenwood, who brings the layered character of Gerald to life, relaying a character with qualities worthy of disdain and affection, particularly when projected from Jessieís psyche.

This isnít only one for the career highlight reel of Gugino, as director Mike Flanagan delivers his strongest feature film yet, providing a simple, but immensely effective execution. The cinematography and music also make commendable contributions, providing a hypnotic film that draws empathy and emotion from its audience. Itís attention-to-detail and the way it carries its run-time without lulling is a testament to everyone involved.

For me, I no longer look at horror as a vessel simply to instill fright. Most films donít scare me, but, instead, I marvel at and appreciate their ideas and delivery. This film boasts ideas and delivery to spare, but it comes with an emotional-depth I believe accomplishes an attachment to the lead-protagonist and a sense of genuine dread for what awaits her. Her festering thoughts and emotions could have easily amounted to an archetype and a clichť, but with the writing and lead-actress rising to the occasion, it can express the very real horror of what can be tucked away in a personís mind.

Geraldís Game is not only a great horror film, but itís a great film in-general, and is amongst the best Stephen King stories ever put to film, if not atop the list.

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Toy Story

In doing my ďSearch for the Best Animation and Best Animators,Ē I knew I would have to eventually dabble into the Toy Story franchise. In a weird way, talking about John Lasseterís directorial debut feels overwhelming to me. I have reviewed over 200 films on Mishmashers and yet Iíve only talked about two Pixar animated films in the five yearsí worth of reviews Iíve archived (those being Coco and Incredibles 2). And, as watchable as those films might have been, the amount of deeply embedded nostalgia I have with the Toy Story series is only rivaled by my infatuation with the horror seriesí like A Nightmare on Elm Street I was brought up on. The difference between Toy Story and, say, A Nightmare on Elm Street, however, is in my expectations for it. Although I love the Elm Street series, Iíve never been coy about sharing my criticisms with it. I love it, but I know it isnít without its mistakes, and sometimes thereís even a lot of them. Toy Story, on the other-hand, is simply one of the most beloved film seriesí ever, and one that has had ever film receive critical-acclaim. This review commemorates the first time Iíve watched Toy Story from start to finish since the release of Toy Story 3, has the film aged like fine wine or like milk? Here are my thoughtsÖ

Toy Story brings a robust cast of voice-actors including Tim Allen and Tom Hanks, and, features a screenplay written by Joss Whedon, Andrew Santon, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow derived from a story by Lasseter, Stanton, Pete Doctor, and Joe Ranft, respectively. I donít always run through all the names either, but Iíd be remiss if I didnít single out the music featured in the film by Randy Newman, which has stood the test of time as the distinct trademark sound of the series. The story is set in a world where toys come to life when humans are not present, except for when they are present. Iíll be the first to admit the Toy Story series is not very consistent with exactly how the rules work. Set inside the bedroom of a young-boy named Andy, lives Woody, a pull-string cowboy doll, Mr. Potato Head, Rex, Slinky, and many other toys. Everything is well and everything one gets along with one another for a smooth operation, all til Andyís birthday arrives and Buzz Lightyear comes with it. An advanced astronaut figure with wings, lasers, and a glow-in-the-dark body, Buzz Lightyear is the coolest toy on the market. Unfortunately for him, however, Woody is the most insecure toy on the market. As Woody finds himself feeling no longer like Andyís favorite, his anger gets the best of him and, because of it, Woody and Buzz are both lost from Andyís bedroom. The film focuses, mostly, on them trying to find their way back and find some common-ground.

Something I was a little leery about with revisiting Toy Story was talking about the animation. If I think about the best-looking animations, I would think of either Pixar, or, maybe even, more specifically Toy Story itself. However, by Toy Story 3ís release, the first film was already fifteen years old, and by now, itís been around for almost a quarter of a century. Toy Story is the first computer-animated feature-length film, and because of that fact alone, it is revolutionary. However, when talking about films the way I do, although I have a devout appreciation for the technical aspects and commend films that are ahead of their time, I know I must talk about how their aesthetic has aged after its release. To my surprise, Iíve found that unlike, Antz, Dreamworksí first computer-animated film, which I felt hadnít aged well and didnít look very appeasing visually from the start, despite being an alright film, Toy Story still looks very good. If you put it up-front with its successors, youíll certainly be able to see how much more detailed the sequels are and some character-models might occasionally look choppier than ideal, but I didnít find it off-putting at all. Even if it may not look like the ground-breaking film it was any more, it didnít damage my overall enjoyment. Itís a colorful, realized visual world that feels energetic, creative, and distinct.

The voice-action is performed admirably on all accounts, which is to be expected given the high-rate talent involved.

The storyline is multifaceted and easy to become invested it, with characters like Sid, the unsupervised child who blows up toys in his backyard, serving as a minor antagonist. In-retrospect, asides the fact that itís dangerous for a child to play with explosives without knowing what theyíre doing, what Sidís doing isnít hurting anyone. But, in this fantastical world where toys are anthropomorphized, he seems like the absolute scum of the Earth. Itís in this fantastical absurdity that the characters draw their emotional depth. Woody feeling threatened because Andy doesnít want to play with him and Buzz more-or-less having an existential crisis when he discovers heís a toy. A shot in the film exemplifies this, when Buzz tries and fails to fly, leaving the camera to gradually pull back, showing how small he is in the grander scheme of things. This is also complimented by Randy Newmanís singing in the background which directly correlates with the situation.

Meanwhile, Woody drew egotism while knowing what he was, staking claim as Andyís favorite. Through this, and its witty sense-of-humor, which has more visual-gags than I ever noticed as a child, itís able to juggle being substantial enough to appease adults and simple enough to entertain its more-central demographic.

The film is considered revolutionary for a reason, because it has thematic and cinematic depth that hadnít been seen by an animated film on this level. Itís entertaining and fast-moving, with well-constructed characters and strong, inspired animation, alongside a thoughtful story, backed by talented people behind the scenes. When the short-film Tin Toy, the short-film of which Toy Story is based, drew attention, Walt Disney tried what they could to bring back the director. John Lasseter declined, showing his gratitude, but saying, ďI can go to Disney and be a director, or I can stay here and make history.Ē I think that exemplifies the amount what type of effort and dedication went into this film. This great film...

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Ten added. If anyone's at all curious, there is about 300 left (I intend to keep it to about 15-20 a week, haha).

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Antz is an animated film in DreamWorks Picturesí early catalog of films but have actively ignored all opportunities to watch. I was aware of the star-studded cast comprised of names like Christopher Walkin, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Sharon Stone, and, of course, our morally ambiguous lead-voice Woody Allen. Dreamworksí first animated film was directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson. The film is notorious in some respects because its similarities with Pixarís A Bugís Life, and these similarities amounted to a public feud between Dreamworks and Disney as a result. Considering this film came out in 1998, I was oblivious to most of the actual conflict, because I was a toddler. However, even as a child, it was easy to find the parallels between each film. I loved A Bugís Life as a kid, but I avoided Antz like the plague, a prejudice that has kept me from watching the film until now.

Although both films received very positive critical reception, A Bugís Life hit far higher numbers at the worldwide box-office, whereas, Antz was, at best, a modest box-office success, depending on where the actual production budget lands, with estimates as low as forty-million and as high as one-hundred million, the discrepancy is very large. Looking back, now that I can say Iíve given it a chance, had I been mistreating Antz all these years? Here are my thoughts Ö

Clearing the air right off the bat, the reason I avoided Antz the way I did was because how cringey I found the animation to be. Animation entered an awkward period in the late-nineties, with Pixar and Dreamworks only now first dabbling with computer-animation. Obviously, the only reason Dreamworks is able to create gorgeous productions like the How To Train Your Dragons films is because of the risks and baby-steps they made in early-development, but that doesnít change the fact that Antz looks like an animated film Iíd come across and then ignore on YouTube.

This isnít a completely fair statement, after watching the film. I think it summarizes certain shots in the film, particularly of the character models, but the filmís background and scenery can oftentimes look very nice, itís simply when the ants come marching into the shot that it ruins things. Suffice to say, I thought the animation was bad in my youth, not having the timeless aesthetic of a 2-D animation production like Tarzan, not on-par with Pixarís fare of that time, and I think its dated visuals have only worsened.

In Antz, the story follows a worker ant named Z who has become cynical about the tedium in his assigned tasks. Z meets ant-Princess Bala at a bar and is smitten with her, thereafter, convincing his friend Weaver to swap places with him so that Z can assume the role of an army ant and try and contact Princess Bala again. Instead, he finds himself accidentally kidnapping the Princess in search of a utopia that may or may not exist. Meanwhile, an evil General has intents to kill the entire worker population. The film focuses primarily on individualism and carries subject-matter with a darker tilt to it than conventional mainstream animation, along with humor and language that was surprisingly able to avoid a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.

Even if the film abides by conventional formula, I appreciated its willingness to incorporate darker elements into the formula. Regardless of what Iíve said about the animation, itís worth acknowledging the voice-work and storyline making for an enjoyable film. The themes of individualism, the antagonists innate desire to massacre inferior beings, and its scenes depicting war are substantial, and even if it might not capitalize on the subject-matter fully, it does so with a competent and satiable tale of going against the grain and embarking on your own journey.

Antz is a solid debut effort for Dreamworks, and I commend them for their ambition both in pursuing themes unique for mainstream animation and their initial strides in computer-animation. It may not deserve to stand alongside the classics of the medium, but I was certainly wrong to have avoided it all these years.

Something I always thought was unique about them is they didn't have the discs or even the cases on shelves, instead it was like they took the box art out from the disc sleeve and punched small holes in them and put them on little peg hooks, when you were ready for checkout you'd bring that crude little piece of paper to the counter.
That's more or less how most mom-and-pop video rental stores worked back in the day; at least where I'm from. They put the empty boxes in the walls which you then brought to the counter for them to fish the actual tape for you. I suppose that just the box art slip or whatever helped them with space, I guess?
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That's more or less how most mom-and-pop video rental stores worked back in the day; at least where I'm from. They put the empty boxes in the walls which you then brought to the counter for them to fish the actual tape for you. I suppose that just the box art slip or whatever helped them with space, I guess?
Nay, nay.

You're right that most rental stores would put empty boxes on the walls. That's common. That's normal.

These were box art slips on little hooks. I remember all the times I'd see little kids at rental stores, knocking things over (innocently, usually). Keep in mind, these weren't laminated sleeves or reinforced someway. It was like somebody just took a hole puncher to them. How many times you think a child, or a careless adult grabbed at one of those covers and tore it up? Just makes ya think.

I knew of another store that did something similar to that. They would have the box-art normal, and then, under it, they would have a little string tied in a knot, hanging from a hook. It'd have a number attached to it, and you'd take the string you brought up to the front counter at checkout.

At Family Video, they would have the DVD on a shelf, and then, behind that, they'd have a plastic silver case with the actual movie in it you brought to the front at checkout (it would have a lock of some kind that had to be taken off to prevent theft).

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

The How to Train Your Dragon series has been a beacon of light for Dreamworks Animation and has become one of my all-time favorite animated seriesí. In the early 2000s, Dreamworks Animation started the millennium my introducing us to Shrek, an enjoyable and creative animation that showed what Dreamworks was capable of with the right idea. I believe the 2004 sequel even improved on its predecessor, both in-terms of quality and definitely in-terms of box-office reception, grossing nearly a billion dollars. Unfortunately, the decade thereafter wasnít as kind to the Shrek franchise, dulling the shine from Dreamworksí most consistent money-maker. Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After damaged the brand and the ogre has seemed reclused to his swamp since then, which might be for the best. Fortunately, the How to Train Your Dragon series has really taken the torch from Shrek in this decade, showing Dreamsworks operating at all cylinders. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World marks the third and (allegedly) final installment in the near decade old series, and while I had no doubt that I would enjoy it on some level, I was a little leery on whether it would be able to provide a send-off as strong as its predecessors. Here are my thoughts Ö

Written and directed by Dean Deblois, the final installment in the Trilogy brings back the original cast of characters, including Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Craig Fergus, and Kristen Wig, while introducing new characters like our antagonist, played by F. Murray Abraham. In a summarization of the essentials, How to Train Your Dragon 3 follows a year after the previous installment and focuses on Berk being challenged by their strongest opposition yet, one that wishes to capture and slay their dragons. This leaves Hiccup with no other choice than to search for a land called ďThe Hidden World,Ē yearning to find somewhere for the civilization of Berk to live in peace with their dragons. As well as this, Hiccup and Toothless discover a female Light Fury who Toothless swiftly establishes a bond with. A black cloud looms over much of the film, threatening to rain down the seriesí end, which this film suggests is an inevitability.

Something I thought pertinent to say about this film and its relationship with other animated seriesí, is that it doesnít feel like a rehash. Dean Deblois has stuck true to his intent at the series being comprised of three films and each one actively builds on the other in a way that feels organic and ambitious. Whereas other animated sequels can feel workman-like or, perhaps, like theyíre forced to bend old ideas to make them resemble something unique, it feels real and necessary that How to Train your Dragon carried on to its third film. For instance, although I very much enjoyed The Lego Movie and I also enjoyed The Lego Movie 2, my night out at the theater always saw How to Train Your Dragon 3 as the main-course and Lego Movie 2 as the appetizer. Although that series is fun and energetic, ďHow ToĒ simply hits harder and higher, accomplishing that little something special that only happens once in a great while. That ďHarry PotterĒ or ďToy StoryĒ sentiment where Iíve spent so long with these characters and it has elevated itself to an ďepic-scale,Ē an ďevent film,Ē if you will.

ďThe Hidden WorldĒ turns on all cylinders, benefiting and fully capitalizing on the goodwill established by its predecessors. The visuals are the best theyíve ever been (an especially impressive feat when you consider how the production budget is more than thirty-million less than where we started) and the production-value on display with its attention to detail on lighting and music is slick and at a high-standard.

One thing I was trepidatious about was the inclusion of the Light Fury, which suggested a romantic subplot for Toothless. I wasnít bothered by it for some of the reasons Iíve seen thrown around, which seem like theyíre fishing for controversy where there isnít. I was afraid that it would be a very conventional and simplified story-line about Toothless finding a female Light Fury and that it would be inconsequential. Suffice to say, I was fearful it was meant only as a way for Toothless to have something to do. However, what I found instead was the film deciding to use this sub-plot as a way to further develop the dynamic between Hiccup and Toothless, their relationship, and the overall tone of the film.

The story is aware of the journey its audience has taken with it and makes certain to deliver an emotional epic pay-off, carrying a grandiose spectacle at times that walks the fine-line of never forgetting the smallness and sincerity between the relationships it has cultivated. Iím always skeptical about ďfinalĒ chapters and series cappers. At the end of the day, Dreamworks is a business and, artistic integrity be damned, they will decide whether itís really the end. The same way Pixar decided to do Toy Story 4, regardless of the third filmís finality. However, as it stands, I really respect the filmís end and hope they hold true to it. I wouldnít be against spin-offs or new characters, but I would love if they let the cards fall where they land on the current story-arc. If they did, How To Train Your Dragon would be able to do what Dreamworks didnít let Shrek do as a series, and that is, to say goodbye and mean it, forever after.

Although the film is certainly amongst the high-ranking animations (its predecessors included) that transcend the conventions of what mainstream animation is, carrying substantial stakes and dramatics, while also combining humor and sentiment in a way that makes it an enjoyable experience for moviegoers of all age-groups. (even if I found the humor with the siblings more hit than miss)

How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World officials caps off the Trilogy on the high-note, amounting to what I always want from animation, but so rarely get. The film doesnít coast off cheap gags and instead, respects its audience with a thrilling conclusion to a fantastic series of films. The film is brimming with production-value, some of the best animation on the market, and top-of-the-line voice-acting, especially from the main-cast. It's a great film and I highly recommend it.