Category Archives: Fantasy

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) Review

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Avatar The Way of Water

Time: 192 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Sam Worthington as Jake Sully
Zoe Saldaña as Neytiri
Sigourney Weaver as Kiri
Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch
Kate Winslet as Ronal
Cliff Curtis as Tonowari
Director: James Cameron

Jake Sully and Neytiri have formed a family and are doing everything to stay together. However, they must leave their home and explore the regions of Pandora. When an ancient threat resurfaces, Jake must fight a difficult war against the humans.

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I have to admit, I was one of the many people who didn’t love the first Avatar upon its release, the visuals and effects were certainly revolutionary, but didn’t have much love for it beyond that. I was also one of the many who were sceptical on the many upcoming sequels, which seemed to be taking forever to come out. However, as it gradually approached the movie’s release, my interest started to increase. After seeing most of the modern blockbusters from the past 5 years, it’ll be refreshing to see one that has this much craft and care put into it. Not only that, but I also rewatched the first Avatar for the first time in a decade and I appreciated it a lot more, even beyond its technical strengths. So I went into The Way of Water open minded and it turned out even better than I was expecting.

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As with the first Avatar, the story is simple, but it helps to convey the world and characters, and particularly benefits from James Cameron’s great visual storytelling. The Way of Water felt truly epic, the worldbuilding continues to excel and I was incredibly immersed. Cameron clearly has a passion for this world with the level of detail on display. It distinguishes itself from the first movie, instead of just staying in the same location, it expands on it and explores some new territory. Much of the themes from the first movie return in the sequel, namely anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, but also with more added elements, family being prominent most of all. The movie focusses on the family of Jake Sully and Neytiri and their children; the bond between the family members felt incredibly natural and believable. Despite the scale of the film, it feels very intimate as it focuses on these characters. There is so much heart and sincerity, truly magical with strong heart and soul. The emotion feels authentic and rich, an highlight being the scenes involving the whales. There is real sincerity to this movie, which I think most blockbusters nowadays are sorely lacking in. The middle hour is surprisingly quiet and lacking in conflict, but I enjoyed it for that. Much of it consists of the kids learning about their new setting and learning about the water, and honestly I could watch hours of that. Then the film culminates in a lengthy, but action filled and satisfying third act. The Way of Water is a long movie at over 3 hours in length, you definitely feel this, but in a good way, and I was never bored.  

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Whereas the first movie was mainly Jake’s story, The Way of Water is more of an ensemble piece. As a result, some characters are utilised and focused on more than others. Nonetheless, everyone is great. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana return to the roles of Jake Sully and Neytiri. While I thought Worthington worked well enough in the first movie, I thought he notably improved in the sequel, and was genuinely great at conveying where Jake is currently at. Saldana wasn’t used as much in the film, but she is still good and particularly shines in the last hour of the film. The new cast which includes Cliff Curtis and Kate Winslet also give solid performances in their parts. However, the biggest surprise was most of all the younger cast, mainly the actors who play Jake and Neytiri’s children, who were great and believable.

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Among the cast, there were two standouts to me. Sigourney Weaver plays a teenage Avatar named Kiri and the casting is definitely odd, for the obvious age difference as well as the fact that Weaver’s character Grace in the first film died. However, it makes sense in the film, especially with how Kiri relates to Grace. Her performance is great, and she was one of the most interesting characters in the film. Stephen Lang’s Colonel Quaritch was the main villain in the first Avatar; he wasn’t a very complex character by any means, but he was nonetheless effective for his role, and Lang’s performance was key in making it work. Quaritch died at the end of the first movie, but the film did find a way to get him to return. Mild spoilers (it’s shown early on), but he finds himself in an Avatar body and returns to go after Jake Sully and his family. Lang as always is effortlessly entertaining and scene-chewing, but both the performance and character are even better here. Not only is he more menacing, ruthless and dangerous in Way of the Water, but is more complex and human (ironically). This is a genuine improvement of a character, and I was interested in whatever was happening with his storyline.   

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Avatar: The Way of Water is yet another technical achievement from James Cameron. While some could just say that its just good visuals and appealing to the eye, the powerful technology helps to convey the story as well as it does. Unsurprisingly it is a visual marvel, Cameron has revolutionized visuals just like what he did in the first movie. The effects are on a whole other level, realistic looking with plenty of details, and it helps to immerse you in this setting. Some of the most impressive aspects are the water effects, which are fantastic. The action is entertaining, well captured and choreographed, and the third act is particularly a thrill to watch. The score from Simon Franglen is great and is very much in line with James Newton Howard’s score for the first movie.

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Avatar: The Way of Water is spectacular, beautiful, and epic yet intimate, with great performances, immersive and rich worldbuilding, a simple but compelling story, and outstanding effects. It’s a technical achievement, a great sequel that builds on the original, and one of the best movies of 2022. There was a lot to take in, so I’d need to see it again to check it I have any problems with it. But for now, I’ll just say that it’s worth watching in cinemas for the visuals and technology alone, even though I found the movie great on the whole. The 13-year wait turned out to be well worth it. James Cameron is clearly invested in this story and characters and I’m on board to watch however many sequels he wants to make. Hopefully it won’t have to take too long for Avatar 3 to come out.

Black Adam (2022) Review

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Black Adam

Time: 124 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, horror scenes & content may disturb
Cast:
Dwayne Johnson as Teth-Adam/Black Adam
Aldis Hodge as Carter Hall/Hawkman
Noah Centineo as Albert “Al” Rothstein/Atom Smasher
Sarah Shahi as Adrianna Tomaz
Marwan Kenzari as Ishmael Gregor/Sabbac
Quintessa Swindell as Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone
Mohammed Amer as Karim
Bodhi Sabongui as Amon Tomaz
Pierce Brosnan as Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

In ancient Kahndaq, Teth Adam was bestowed the almighty powers of the gods. After using these powers for vengeance, he was imprisoned, becoming Black Adam. Nearly 5,000 years have passed, and Black Adam has gone from man to myth to legend. Now free, his unique form of justice, born out of rage, is challenged by modern-day heroes who form the Justice Society: Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Atom Smasher and Cyclone.

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I was somewhat interested in Black Adam. I had been liking the DCEU, but have been losing interest with some more recent decisions. Black Adam looked like it had potential however, it had a cast which included Aldis Hodge and Pierce Brosnan, and was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Additionally, it would be focussing on Black Adam, who’s known as a Shazam villain. Ironically the part I was most sceptical about was the actor who has been attached to play the title character since 2007, Dwayne Johnson. Still, I got around to watching it, and I had fun with it.

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The writing is definitely the weakest part of Black Adam. The plot doesn’t seem to that matter much, and the story itself is overly familiar and dull (especially within the superhero genre). There’s really only one or two moments that you could really spoil in this movie. The opening 20 minutes are pretty rough and dull, from a generic retelling of the legend of Black Adam, to focussing on some human characters trying to find a magic relic. Once Black Adam is awoken the film picks up, and it picks up further when the Justice Society is introduced. There’s a lot of one liners and humour, they fall flat most of the time and are too prevalent in the movie. Funnily enough, the Justice Society was the most interesting part of the movie, and their scenes were a lot of fun. Black Adam’s story definitely had the potential and they put together a decent enough backstory for him, but it almost feels on autopilot and generic. I liked the conflict between Black Adam and the Justice Society but there was some wasted potential there. You quickly lose track of how many times the JS fight Black Adam to stop him from killing people. In fact, the sole point of conflict is that Black Adam kills his enemies, which isn’t as interesting as the movie thinks it is. Because besides him openly killing enemies, Black Adam pretty much acts like every other superhero. So it would’ve been great if they had more of a difference between them, whether it be ideology or methods of protecting. The storyline following the human characters and the villains just wasn’t interesting, particularly with everything surrounding this powerful relic which everyone is after. It just felt like they needed some McGuffin for everyone to chase. The third act is pretty much just full on action, thankfully it succeeds in that department. However it felt like a paint by numbers climax, and the terrible villain deflates it a little. The mid credits scene is definitely worth sticking around for, in some ways it overshadows the rest of the movie.

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I was very sceptical about Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam. Not that I don’t think he can’t act, but in almost everything he acts the same way, and the worst part is that it seems to be a deliberate choice from Johnson. He deliberately plays likable and lighter leads and now he’d be playing an anti-hero/villain with Black Adam, and I didn’t think that he would have it in him. For what its worth, I do think he was better in this role than expected. I do wish that he went a little darker, and he definitely has some obligatory ‘The Rock’ moments. Even if you got a better actor for this however, the performance probably wouldn’t have been that much better than what Johnson did here. I haven’t read any Black Adam stories, but this does seem to be how the character acts, so that’s something at least. The Justice Society was a little less generic and were enjoyable, their powers are fun and it was cool to see them on display. Aldis Hodge and Pierce Brosnan are the standouts as Hawkman and Dr Fate respectively (Brosnan was particularly great casting), whereas Quintessa Swindell and Noah Centineo are fine as Cyclone and Atom Smasher, but don’t have much screentime or material to work with. The human characters really weren’t anything special, the main kid was a bit annoying. While his acting was a bit rough, it was more that this movie kept forcing a connection between him and Black Adam with all their interactions, by trying to coach him on catchphrases and how to be a hero, etc. The villain in Black Adam however is quite possibly one of the worst comic book movie villains I’ve seen. I get that next to Black Adam and the Justice Society, the villain is not going to be someone too major. However, it literally felt like the villain here was autogenerated, beyond the generic plot, he was a big reason why I just couldn’t care about the stakes.

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Jaume Collet-Serra has made a wide range of movies, from horror films with Orphan and The Shallows, to action movies like The Commuter and Jungle Cruise. He’s clearly made better movies than Black Adam, but his work here is still pretty solid. The visual effects are pretty good, I like the visual style and how the powers were showcased (particularly Dr Fate). The costume designs were also really good. The action scenes are fun, it does aim for Zack Snyder-esque action, though it doesn’t succeed as well. On one hand I do like how fast and powerful Black Adam is, reminiscent of Superman’s speed and power (especially in Man of Steel). However, they overuse the slow motion to a rather cartoonish degree, like they actually were trying to out slow-mo Snyder. Lorne Balfe’s score is a shining point in this movie, especially in the action scenes.

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You can probably watch the trailers for Black Adam and predict exactly the kind of movie that you’ll get here. I’m not sure I would call it a good movie; the script is a mess and doesn’t really take advantage of its potential. Despite the marketing attempting to make the lead character stand out from the other superhero movies by making him an anti-hero, Black Adam is one of the more by the numbers superhero films I’ve seen in recent years. Still, with the entertaining action and some solid performances (mainly from Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge), I enjoyed it.

Nosferatu (1922) Review

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Nosferatu

Time: 94 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains Violence
Cast:
Max Schreck as Count Orlok
Gustav von Wangenheim as Thomas Hutter
Greta Schröder as Ellen Hutter
Alexander Granach as Knock
Ruth Landshoff as Ruth
Wolfgang Heinz as First Mate of The Empusa
Director: F. W. Murnau

Hutter is sent by his master to finalise a deal with Count Orlok. However, he soon learns that Orlok is a vampire who has his eyes set on Hutter’s wife, Ellen.

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I remembered once trying to watch the 1922 classic silent film Nosferatu many years ago. Within the first 10 minutes however, I could tell that it wasn’t going to work for me, mostly due to it being a silent movie. However, years later and having liked The Artist (2011), I decided I’d give it another shot. Even before watching the film, I knew of its reputation and impact; its technically the first onscreen adaptation of Dracula, if an unauthorised one. Having seen it with the right perspective, I can say that Nosferatu is well deserving of the classic status.

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Early on, its easy to see the similarities between Dracula and Nosferatu. This 1922 film follows a real estate agent named Hutter, who travels to Transylvania to meet his mysterious client. He turns out to be a vampire and develops an interest in Hutter’s wife. If you’re familiar with the Dracula story, then you pretty much know how the story plays out, and there aren’t any surprises. The difference is that the names were changed to avoid any legal issues, otherwise it doesn’t try to hide its inspirations. Given that this is a silent movie, so much of the story is expressed through its imagery and its handled very well.

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Its hard to rate silent film performances, but everyone seemed to play their parts well. However, the highlight unsurprisingly is Max Schreck as Count Orlok, the Dracula of this movie. Schreck commands a chilling on screen presence, even just with his movements. His performance combined with the grotesque and inhuman design help to get under your skin. It’s a strong candidate for the creepiest on screen vampire.

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W. Murnau’s direction is masterful. A big part of the movie is its atmosphere, it is eerie and there’s a real sense of dread throughout. The German expressionist imagery is fantastic, the use of shadows and lighting is wonderful, the set design and locations are remarkable, and its a stunning movie to look at. With it being a silent film, the music is critical to the movie working and it definitely delivers. Any of its technical issues can just be put up to the time it was made in.

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Nosferatu is a haunting, dark and atmospheric silent horror film, with creepy and memorable imagery, and a fantastic score. Its very easy to see how it had such an impact on films going forward, especially horror movies. Perhaps if you’re not into silent movies, it might be a bit hard to get into. Otherwise if you like horror movies, it’s worth a watch.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) Review

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In the Mouth of Madness

Time: 95 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Sam Neill as John Trent
Julie Carmen as Linda Styles
Jürgen Prochnow as Sutter Cane
Charlton Heston as Jackson Harglow
Director: John Carpenter

With the disappearance of hack horror writer Sutter Cane, all Hell is breaking loose…literally! Author Cane, it seems, has a knack for description that really brings his evil creepy-crawlies to life. Insurance investigator John Trent is sent to investigate Cane’s mysterious vanishing act and ends up in the sleepy little East Coast town of Hobb’s End.

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I had been meaning to watch In the Mouth of Madness for quite a while, all I knew about it going in is that Sam Neill was in it, John Carpenter directs it, and it is the conclusion to Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse trilogy (which also consists of The Thing and Prince of Darkness). I didn’t know what the plot would be about and what kind of horror film it would be, but it did not disappoint.

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Compared to some of John Carpenter’s other work, I’d say its one of his most understated entries, and I was entertained throughout. Much of it is a crossover between Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, with King’s psychological horror combined with Lovecraft’s madness. Incidentally, it is about the disappearance of a popular horror writer named Sutter Cane, in the vein of Stephen King, and it gets pretty meta with that aspect. In the Mouth of Madness is a commentary on the impact and influence of fiction, and blurs the lines between fiction and reality. There is an unsettling feeling with a strong atmosphere, a lot of the movie just feels off. It really does well at conveying a descent into madness and losing touch with reality. At times the movie could be slower paced, but I was intrigued throughout. It ends the movie in a great way too, perhaps one of the more memorable horror movie endings.

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The acting is really good, but it mostly comes down to the lead performance from Sam Neill, who delivers some of his best work here. Neill is playing John Trent, an insurance investigator who often detects con artists and frauds, and as such is an immediate sceptic when initially encountering the central mystery. This makes his descent into madness and loss of touch with reality stronger as he of all people encounters these unbelievable situations.

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As mentioned earlier, John Carpenter directs this and his work is typically fantastic, his signature style is throughout. This might be one of his best crafted films on a technical level. There is an intense atmosphere throughout which really sucks you in. There are some stunning cinematography and shots with an over-the-top visual flair. The visual effects work here, Carpenter as usual makes great use of practical effects, as seen in past movies like The Thing. The editing is great, it helps you feel like you’re going mad, especially in the third act. The score is also very effective at setting the tone and atmosphere for the movie. While it’s not one of the best scores in a Carpenter movie, the title track is great and a standout.

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In the Mouth of Madness is a solid and underrated horror film, led by a typically strong performance from Sam Neill, and with stellar direction from John Carpenter. It seemed to be a disappointment upon its release, but in the years after has been developing a cult following, and for good reason. Definitely worth checking out if you like horror, and essential viewing if you like Carpenter’s other work.

Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022) Review

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Three Thousand Years of Longing

Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, offensive language, sex scenes & nudity
Cast:
Idris Elba as the Djinn
Tilda Swinton as Alithea Binnie
Director: George Miller

A lonely and bitter British woman discovers an ancient bottle while on a trip to Istanbul and unleashes a djinn who offers her three wishes. Filled with apathy, she is unable to come up with one until his stories spark in her a desire to be loved.

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Three Thousand Years of Longing was one of my most anticipated movies of 2022. While it already had Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba in the lead roles, the main reason I was excited is that it’s the newest film from George Miller, who last directed the incredible Mad Max: Fury Road 7 years ago. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his upcoming movie. The premise seemed a bit vague and simple, and the trailer didn’t really convey much except for its strong visuals. Still, I was curious enough to check it out, and I’m glad I watched it.

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First of all, Three Thousand Years of Longing is nothing like the trailer. It showed the basic premise and there are certainly some crazy visuals, but that’s not the nature of the movie. Its not a bombastic spectacle, and its certainly not as chaotic and fast paced as it appeared in the trailers, nor is it as thrilling compared to Miller’s last movie. In fact, it is more of a subdued, endearing and existential fairy-tale love story for adults. The plot and storytelling is more straightforward than you might think it would be. For the most part, this movie surrounds a conversation between Idris Elba’s djinn genie and Tilda Swinton, as he offers her 3 wishes and recounts stories from his past. It is a sincere thought provoking character study about stories (and the importance of them), and a meditation on life, love, and desire. The movie has a lot of narration, and while it can be hit or miss in movies, it fits here given that characters are actually telling stories here. Its very dialogue heavy as you would expect, and I found the conversations between Elba and Swinton to be compelling. In the opening 10 minutes, I wasn’t really sure about what was happening with the story or what direction it is going in. However, it picks up the moment that Idris Elba comes out of the bottle. The third act is a bit out of place from the rest of the movie, it stumbles a little and the pacing is weird. While I was satisfied with the movie, I couldn’t help but feel like it could’ve been longer. Perhaps it was originally longer and was cut down for the theatrical cut, an hour and 50 minutes does feel a little short. Part of that is that it feels a little rushed towards the end, even though I enjoyed it.

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As for acting, it really comes down to the lead performances from Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, both of them are great. They are genuine in their parts, and I like the relationship that they form. I will say however that I wished we got to learn more about Swinton’s character. At some points she talks about her life, but not a great amount, and it particularly pales when compared to all the stories that Elba tells of his very long life.

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George Miller directs, and once again his work is incredible, very stylish and creative. He already showed this in Mad Max: Fury Road, but he really is a master of visual storytelling. There are some spectacular sequences, and it was great to experience this in the cinema. The camerawork and cinematography are sweeping and amazing, and the visuals are stunning. There is also so much care put into the set decoration and designs. There is a lot of CGI in this, and sometimes is looks great. At other times however, it looks a bit weird, almost like it’s unfinished. The score from Tom Holkenborg is amazing, and some of his very best work.

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Three Thousand Years of Longing is definitely rough in parts, some of the CGI is a bit dodgy, and parts towards the second half do feel a bit awkward, and it could’ve afforded to have been a little longer. It is also definitely not for everyone, as can be seen with the disappointing box office. It wasn’t helped by the poor marketing, but then again, its not an easy movie to sell to audiences. It’s a shame because it’s the kind of film that we don’t get a lot of nowadays; director driven, sincere, and not afraid to be creative, weird or different. With Three Thousand Years of Longing, George Miller has created a $60 million arthouse movie. The story is genuine and compelling, Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton are great, its visually beautiful, and Miller’s direction and craft are on full display here. I know its not for everyone, but I do think its worth checking out. One of the most surprising movies of 2022.

Moon Knight (2022) TV Review

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Moon Knight Season 1Cast:
Oscar Isaac as Marc Spector/Moon Knight, Steven Grant/Mr. Knight
May Calamawy as Layla El-Faouly
Karim El Hakim and F. Murray Abraham as Khonshu
Ethan Hawke as Arthur Harrow
Ann Akinjirin as Bobbi Kennedy
David Ganly as Billy Fitzgerald
Khalid Abdalla as Selim
Gaspard Ulliel as Anton Mogart
Antonia Salib as Taweret
Fernanda Andrade as Wendy Spector
Rey Lucas as Elias Spector
Sofia Danu and Saba Mubarak as Ammit
Creator: Jeremy Slater

Steven Grant and mercenary Marc Spector investigate the mysteries of the Egyptian gods from inside the same body.

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I was interested in the upcoming Moon Knight show. I had no knowledge of Moon Knight except that he’s a major character in the Marvel comics. Oscar Isaac would play the titular role, and Ethan Hawke was cast as the villain. Also from the trailer, Moon Knight looked very different from the rest of the MCU, even just stylistically. So I was going into it open minded despite the mixed reactions. I have to say that I was disappointed, even thought I liked the show overall.

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The previous MCU shows were heavily linked in with the wider MCU simply by being led by a notable MCU character, Hawkeye, Loki, etc. This is however Moon Knight’s introduction into the MCU and doesn’t feature any side characters that return from the established cinematic universe. I don’t recall many references to the wider MCU either. So I for one at least appreciated that it was different and felt unrelated, it was very much its own thing. Even the tone is quite dark and different from the entries that came before. It has a portrayal of dissociative identity disorder (which the show’s subject has) and while I’m not an expert on the topic, it does have a sensitive take on it at the very least. As for the writing itself, it has to be the most unevenly written MCU show thus far. It has some strong moments and well done sections, and then it has some very messy parts with some sluggish or rushed pacing. The highlight of the show for me was episode 5 in which it goes into Marc Spector’s (Moon Knight) painful past and we learn how the split personality came to be. It was much like the penultimate episode of WandaVision in which Wanda is shown her past. There are some incredibly effective stuff in this episode, with the right amount of emotional impact. By far the best episode of the show, and it didn’t even have Moon Knight doing any Moon Knighting. A typical failing of the MCU shows (aside from Loki) is that it fails in the finale, especially with a rushed and a typical climax. That’s very much the case with Moon Knight; it was mostly just action with no room to breathe and felt rushed despite the 6 episodes. The ending itself is very abrupt, even when taking the credits scene into account. Its particularly sad because right after the amazing stuff in episode 5, it snaps back into formula for the final stretch. Much like most of the other MCU shows, Moon Knight feels like a show that really could’ve been a movie, and probably would’ve been much better as such. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like enough time was given to it. There aren’t many moments where I’ve outright disliked it, but I wish I liked it more. By the time it reached the end, I felt let down.

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One of the biggest selling points of the show is Oscar Isaac in the lead role. His character has DID and plays two separate personalities, Steven Grant and Marc Spector. Isaac has had better performances, but he’s really good here and carries much of the show. The show starts out following Steven and despite the very rough start, he makes the show watchable. He’s likable to watch and easy to root for, even Oscar Isaac’s over the top British accent made him endearing in a way. I especially liked the contrast between the two roles, the Isaac does well at making them clearly different beyond the accents. If nothing else, he’s is clearly committed to the roles, and that goes a long way. Ethan Hawke is also in this show as the main villain, a cult leader named Arthur Harrow. I wouldn’t say that it’s one of his best performances and the show could’ve been given him more to work with, but its more than a lot of other MCU villain actors are given. It helps that Hawke is pretty good here too. The rest of the performances are pretty good too, including one of the major characters Layla, played by May Calamawy.

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The direction is a bit of a mixed bag from beginning to end. The action scenes are fun to watch, and makes use of Moon Knight’s abilities quite well. The suiting up scenes for Moon Knight are very satisfying and fun to watch. I like the design of the suits (Moon Knight/Marc Specter and Mr Knight/Steven Grant). I also quite like the musical score from Hesham Nazih, especially the main theme. On the other hand, the CGI can vary, occasionally looking pretty good, other times bad and distracting like it is from a 90s comic book movie. Even on a visual level, it can look disappointingly bland at points.

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Moon Knight is down there with Hawkeye as one of the worst MCU shows. The writing is messy and uneven, with a story that isn’t that compelling, as well as some flawed CGI and visuals. It’s unfortunate because there’s some good stuff here, and things that make me want to like it more. I liked the performances, especially Oscar Isaac as the lead, and it has some genuinely great moments. I guess if you like the MCU, you’ll probably want to watch it regardless. I do like the show, but I wish I liked it more than I did.

The Dark Crystal (1982) Review

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The Dark Crystal

Time: 93 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1]
Cast:
Stephen Garlick as Jen
Lisa Maxwell as Kira
Billie Whitelaw as Aughra
Percy Edwards as Fizzgig
Director: Jim Henson, Frank Oz

On a fictional planet, the damaged Dark Crystal marks the onset of the age of chaos. If the crystal is not healed during the great conjunction of the three suns, the evil Skekses will rule forever.

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I had heard of The Dark Crystal for some time, I just knew that it was something of an 80s classic from Jim Henson and Frank Oz. When it got its own prequel show on Netflix named The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, I decided to check out the original movie. I can’t say that I think that it is great, but I am impressed by it at the very least.

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The Dark Crystal is a classic fantasy movie that has a hero’s journey plot, and pulls from other fantasy stories like Star Wars, Dune and the Lord of the Rings books. Unfortunately, that kind of works against the film, it would’ve worked much better without a traditional narrative. Not that the plot is bad perse, it’s mostly just Hero’s Journey 101 with nothing surprising or subversive, and the story is quite paint by numbers. It also very slow sometimes, especially with its meandering and sluggish first act. After a while though, it does pick up. It is very much an 80s movie with all the cheese, and while that might turn people off, it does add to its charm. However, the most surprising part is that The Dark Crystal is quite dark for a kids movie. For the story’s shortcomings, the worldbuilding makes up for a lot of it. It introduces a complex world to discover, I liked the mythology, clearly a lot of thought went into fleshing it out, and I wanted to learn more about it. With that said, it is a little too reliant on narration and exposition dumps. It drops a lot of lore onto you, especially the narration at the start explaining its world. Also, I don’t think it quite reaches its fullest potential with the world it takes place in and the worldbuilding.

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The characters were generally quite forgettable, and it pretty much just have archetypes instead of characters. The worst of them is the protagonist of Jen, who isn’t a compelling hero and is outshone by pretty much all the other major characters. He’s bland, boring and uninteresting, unfortunate since he’s the protagonist.

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The Dark Crystal is directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, and it’s an impressive technical achievement. It’s visually impressive, the production design is fantastic and I really like the use of colour. There is a gloomy atmosphere throughout with a dark tone, and the sets reflects this. It really does feel like an epic. And of course, there was some excellent puppetry and animatronics. It’s amazing how great the large variety of puppets move and look. This is still some of the best puppetry you’ll see in a movie. The characters are very well designed and detailed, especially the villainous creatures, sometimes very grotesque and freaky. I can imagine that kids in the 80s would’ve been a little scared about the designs of some of these characters. The only fault on a technical level is that it does show its age whenever it goes into green screen territory. Overall though, it’s a great visual experience.

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The Dark Crystal is a movie that I probably appreciate more than I actually like. I think that the very generic and familiar story and mostly bland characters take away a lot from it. However, I enjoy how different and weird it is, and I can see why it has a cult following. I do think that it is at least worth checking out for its achievements on a technical level. It does at least make me interested to check out the Netflix prequel series if nothing out.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) Review

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Doctor Stranger in the Multiverse of Madness

Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange
Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo
Benedict Wong as Wong
Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez
Michael Stuhlbarg as Nicodemus West
Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer
Director: Sam Raimi

Dr Stephen Strange casts a forbidden spell that opens a portal to the multiverse. However, a threat emerges that may be too big for his team to handle.

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Out of the upcoming MCU movies, I was looking forward to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness the most. I liked the first Doctor Strange movie and with the addition of Wanda/Scarlet Witch for the sequel and more of a horror focus, I was interested. Admittedly, I did have some hesitations going into it. With the concept of the multiverse being present, there was a chance it would just be mostly cameos, I had a feeling that the MCU would take the wrong lessons from Spider-Man: No Way Home for the movies going forward with regard to cameos. Also at the last moment, director Scott Derrickson who made the first film left the movie, thankfully his replacement was Sam Raimi, which I found exciting. While there are certainly some issues, I quite liked Multiverse of Madness.

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I will say that first of all, if you haven’t watched the WandaVision show, you might lose a lot of the context. Doctor Strange 2 is very much a continuation from WandaVision and where Wanda’s story left off; so if you can, watch it beforehand. For all the strengths of the movie, unfortunately, I think that the writing is the biggest issue; some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Despite the unique direction and style, you can definitely tell that it’s an MCU flick from the writing alone, and it doesn’t break the formula at all. The issues aren’t restricted to formula, however. Much of the movie feels underdeveloped, with some portions of the script feeling like its rushed and missing stuff. It is fast paced but not necessarily in a good way. Some of that has to do with the runtime, with it being 2 hours, surprisingly short for an MCU movie. If anything, I think it is a bit too short, there’s some plotlines, sections and characters which would’ve benefitted from more focus and attention. As it is, the runtime doesn’t allow time for some plot points to be fully explored. That’s not to say that there’s nothing going on with the characters, but the story just didn’t succeed at connecting emotionally. With that being said, the story is refreshingly straightforward and contained for the most part, and it didn’t allow itself to feel too overstuffed. Like with many of the MCU movies, it also has the same issue with the out of place and annoying humour. Not that all of the jokes are bad, but I wish there was less of it. Like some of the other movies which use the multiverse (including the MCU), MoM doesn’t quite take advantage of that aspect. Multiverse of Madness is a bit of a misleading title, the multiverse definitely play a role but doesn’t utilise it much and set it up to be bigger than it was. Once again though, I am glad that the story is kept self-contained. There is a section that contains some cameos, and it is by far the worst section of the movie, even if I liked it. With that said, I really appreciate that they kept these cameos within this segment instead of stretched throughout the whole movie. Also, I appreciated the way they ended this cameo section, that’s what ultimately made it worth it for me. The third act gets wonderfully crazy, though I will say that the actual ending is a bit abrupt.

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Benedict Cumberbatch plays his role of Doctor Strange in his sixth appearance, and once again is really good. The question of Strange’s happiness is a reoccurring theme and we see how things have taken a toll on him. I do like his storyline, but I feel like he constantly kept being pushed into the background. I especially like how he portrays the different versions of Strange. The MVP and driving force of the movie is Elizabeth Olsen in her best performance yet as Wanda/Scarlet Witch. As one of the MCU’s strongest, interesting and tragic characters, Olsen does great work here, practically a co-lead alongside Cumberbatch. Definitely one of the best performances in the MCU so far. There’s also the debut of a new character America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez. Gomez is quite good in the role and will no doubt play a bigger role in other movies going forward, but ended up being more of a plot device in this film. Benedict Wong is once again great as fan favourite Wong, this time as the Sorcerer Supreme. Chiwetel Ejiofor reprises his role as Mordo and is good in his part, but has limited screentime. Rachel McAdams also returns as Christine Palmer and considering her smaller role in the first movie, they surprisingly found a way to get her involved with the plot more in the sequel, and gets to do a lot more here. The writing for the main villain is unfortunately a bit one note and needed more nuance and development, but the performance helped it work. As for the cameos, they definitely felt out of place and their section was the worst but for the most part, I liked the characters and their performances. The exception is one actor, whose casting and performance left much to be desired.

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This is Sam Raimi’s first movie in 9 years, that alone made Doctor Strange in MOM exciting to watch. His direction is one of the highlights of the movie. There are a lot of talented directors who work on MCU movies where their style and vision are muffled and you can barely see it. While I wouldn’t call Multiverse of Madness a full-on Raimi film, his distinct style does shine through. There’s plenty of creativity throughout and it is definitely one of the most director influenced films in the MCU in quite some time. Many of his trademarks are on display. The camera movements are inventive and dynamic, and it allows for some crazy visuals. The editing is also fantastic, with some particularly great transitions. It is also one of the most violent movies in the MCU, if not the most. One of the most surprising parts of the movie were the horror elements, I wasn’t expecting to see moments reminiscent of the Evil Dead movies. There’s particularly a chase scene in the middle section of the movie which is straight out of a horror movie. That being said, I wouldn’t say that this is a Raimi movie first and foremost, it’s still very much within the MCU style. The worst thing I can say about his style here, aside from it not being fully Raimi, is that it is at odds with the writing. The action sequences are for the most part great and are entertaining to watch. The visual effects in the first Doctor Strange were some of the best in the MCU and that’s the case with the sequel too, with some good CGI. The score is composed by Danny Elfman, and while the prospect of him teaming up with Raimi sounded good, the score is nothing special and at about the same level as Michael Giaacchino’s score in the first movie. With that said, Elfman occasionally gets moments to shine through, including the use of electric guitars.

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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not without its issues, mainly with the script. With that said there’s a lot of other good aspects with the the solid performances (with Elizabeth Olsen being the MVP), and most of all the outstanding direction from Sam Raimi, giving the movie a distinct flavour and creativity not seen in most of the MCU. Additionally, the horror elements are a welcome addition. While I know that not everyone will love it, based off my first viewing, I liked it more than most movies in the MCU.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) Review

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Fantastic Beasts The Secrets of Dumbledore

Time: 142 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander
Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore
Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone
Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski
Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein
Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander
Jessica Williams as Professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks
Katherine Waterston as Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein
Mads Mikkelsen as Gellert Grindelwald
Director: David Yates

Professor Albus Dumbledore knows the powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is moving to seize control of the wizarding world. Unable to stop him alone, he entrusts magizoologist Newt Scamander to lead an intrepid team of wizards and witches. They soon encounter an array of old and new beasts as they clash with Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers.

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I admit I wasn’t the most looking forward to the new Fantastic Beasts movie. The spinoff Harry Potter series has been very divisive to say the least. I thought that the first Fantastic Beasts movie (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) was decent but definitely flawed and could’ve been more. I even liked the follow up The Crimes of Grindelwald when I saw it, but it soured upon further thought. It was way too messy, and I pretty much lost confident in whatever JK Rowling was planning to do with this series. And without getting too deep into it, Rowling herself has been making it difficult to look forward to anything she creates and releases outside of the Fantastic Beasts movies. So outside of the addition of Mads Mikkelsen, I really wasn’t that looking forward to the third movie in the series. The Secrets of Dumbledore definitely has its problems, but for what its worth, I liked it.

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The first two movies were solely written by JK Rowling and while the script of the first movie was okay, the second was a mess. One thing that elevated my hopes for the third movie was the addition of Steve Kloves as a co-writer alongside Rowling. He was involved with adapting most of the Harry Potter books into movies and while I can’t say for certain how big of a role he had in the writing process, it must’ve done something because it’s at least an improvement over Crimes of Grindelwald. An issue that CoG had was that the story felt incredibly scattered, with so many plotlines and characters that by the end, they all felt half baked and underdeveloped. To a degree, Secrets of Dumbledore also has that same issue, but it is definitely an improvement here. It helps that many of these characters are together in groups a lot of the time and comparatively less scattered. It was a lot easier to comprehend what was happening and I was interested enough to follow the characters, even if there were some storylines I wasn’t invested in. With that said, there are still too many characters. Some storylines felt downright unnecessary, like with the character of Yousuf Kama. If they incorporated characters or storylines together (or cut them out entirely), it might’ve worked better. Cutting down the storylines would’ve removed the unnecessary and dull scenes too. It also doesn’t help that there’s a lack of stakes; the Grindelwald vs Dumbledore storyline doesn’t have many stakes since we know the outcome already. However, they could’ve added some personal stakes with the rest of the characters, and there’s just not a lot of those here.

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Unfortunately, The Secrets of Dumbledore just can’t get away from feeling drawn out. The storyline of this whole series is the very opposite of tight, you just don’t know what it is all leading towards beyond the inevitable final duel between Grindelwald and Dumbledore. There might be some plot and character reveals, but like with Crimes of Grindelwald, I really didn’t get a sense that anything had progressed. Even Harry Potter with its 8 films, it felt like something had happened in each instalment. Each Fantastic Beasts movie feels like build up for the next one. With the storylines in SoD and the way they are resolved (or not resolved) by the end, it feels like the overarching story is being padded out. There are supposedly two more movies coming, and once again I really don’t expect much progress in the next entry. Some of the choices that JK Rowling made with this series are weird, but I’ll focus on probably the most critical one. It’s clear that Rowling wants to have this series focussing on the Grindelwald vs Dumbledore war, but because the first movie was a Fantastic Beasts film, I guess she felt that she had to keep Newt Scamander as the protagonist. However, with every movie he feels less relevant to this storyline and as a result he feels very out of place, and not in a good way. For what its worth though, they do manage to find a way to incorporate magical beasts into the storyline of this movie in a way that makes sense. Secrets of Dumbledore is a long movie at nearly 2.5 hours in length, and you definitely feel it. There were definitely scenes that could’ve been shorter, even full-on sequences which feel like padding. An example is a sequence involving Newt Scamander and crabs, while it is amusing, it is drawn out and really didn’t anything for the movie outside of having an action scene and being longer.

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There are some great actors involved in this movie, though only some are utilised well. There are two highlights in the cast for me. The first is Jude Law as younger Albus Dumbledore, returning from Crimes of Grindelwald. In the last movie he was in a supporting role, but here is in a much bigger part. Law is fantastic as Dumbledore and adds so much to his scenes. It’s actually a wonder why Rowling didn’t have this prequel series just follow Dumbledore as the protagonist. The other highlight is that of Gellert Grindelwald, now played by Mads Mikkelsen. The casting of Grindelwald in these movies has certainly been a roller coaster. In the first movie it was Colin Farrell portraying the disguised Grindelwald, then Johnny Depp played the true Grindelwald, and now they’ve recast him with Mikkelsen in this third movie. The recasting was a definite upgrade. Depp’s Grindelwald was really out of place and didn’t fit the character. Mads on the other hand felt more like a character than a caricature, less overtly evil and more alluring and convincingly sinister (which is what Grindelwald should be). It really felt like he should’ve been cast for the part in the first place. He and Law share some very convincing chemistry, it’s fantastic whenever the two of them are on screen interacting with each other.

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Eddie Redmayne once again returns to the role of Newt Scamander, and he is very well suited for this role, he plays it well. Unfortunately, as I just said earlier, Newt’s inclusion makes less and less sense with every entry. At this point, there’s no reason for him to be the protagonist, and he makes more sense as a supporting player instead. Dan Fogler also returns as Jacob Kowalski and remains likable and enjoyable to watch as before. Jessica Williams is a new addition to the cast, and I really liked her, she brought a lot of energy and humour to her scenes and made her scenes enjoyable to watch.  However, some of the other cast members and characters weren’t handled the best. One notable mishandling was Alison Sudol’s character of Queenie. In a very underdeveloped storyline in the last movie, she joined Grindelwald at the end. All I’ll say is that Queenie’s story in the third movie is half baked and disappointing, especially with how it is resolved. Ezra Miller’s character of Credence is notable throughout the series, now he’s joined up with Grindelwald and going after Albus Dumbledore. This character is definitely meant to be a major part of the movie, however there’s something about the handling of the storyline that it makes it difficult to care about. However the more egregious handling is that of Katherine Waterston’s character Tina Goldstein, who is barely in the film despite being one of the main Fantastic Beasts characters alongside Newt, Jacob and Queenie. There’s definitely an explanation given for her not playing a part in the plot ( “she’s busy”). While it’s one thing to reduce a character’s role down a little (like she was in the last movie), it felt like Waterston had said or done something that caused her role to be minimised to a couple scenes (and I’m 95% sure that’s what happened).

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE

David Yates once again returns to direct another Fantastic Beasts movie. As expected, his work is competent, but you really wish that someone else stepped in to give their own take on a Wizarding World movie, because Yate’s direction and style feels a little stale at this point. For the most part, the visuals are good with some solid cinematography. Most of the VFX are good, especially with the beasts and the magic, and there’s some entertaining action scenes, especially with the wizard duels. The score from James Newton Howard is also quite good and accompanies the movie nicely, even if it occasionally overuses familiar Harry Potter themes at points.

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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore was better than what I was expecting. I was more invested in the story compared to CoG, there are some entertaining sequences, and the cast are solid, if mostly underutilised, with Jude Law and Mads Mikkelsen really shining in their respective roles. It also avoided some of the issues that the first two movies had. Unfortunately, there is still a fair amount of Fantastic Beasts problems that it can’t escape, like the feeling of being yet another entry building up for the next film in a prolonged series. There are two more movies to come and while I’ll probably end up watching them, I can’t say I’m super excited to see the next one, especially if it’ll just be another set-up film. For what its worth though, if you liked the other two Fantastic Beasts movies then you’ll probably like Secrets of Dumbledore too.

Your Name (2016) Review

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Time: 107 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Coarse language and sexual references
Voice Cast:
Ryunosuke Kamiki as Taki Tachibana
Mone Kamishiraishi as Mitsuha Miyamizu
Director: Makoto Shinkai

Two teenagers share a profound, magical connection upon discovering they are swapping bodies. Things manage to become even more complicated when the boy and girl decide to meet in person.

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I had heard about Your Name, plenty of people has recommended this film especially in terms of anime movies. From the looks I had from some images of the movie, the visuals looked stunning but I didn’t know much about the film itself. I didn’t even know going in that it had body swapping as part of its main plot (which was quite a surprise for me when I eventually got around to it). Surprisingly, I actually loved the movie from beginning to end.

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It’s been said many times before about countless movies that it’s best going in not knowing much beforehand, but that is especially the case here. I went in knowing basically nothing and the experience I had was truly incredible. The premise of the movie isn’t new, it’s essentially a body swap story where two people keep swapping bodies. However, this has to be one of the best body swap stories, and it does a lot with its initial premise. The concept of the body swapping starts out simple but turns into much more as time progresses and as the two people try to keep notes, log moments in journals and write on their bodies, sometimes to keep the other person informed. It was compelling watching these two different characters living the other’s life, but experience it entirely different. We live through lead characters Mitsuha and Taki as they live through one another, a powerful bond is formed between the pair even though they aren’t on screen together a lot. The plot sounds basic at first but as the story unfolds it becomes so much more. The film balances very separate characters and storylines, and manages to connect them well. You are emotionally invested with what is happening, you care about the fully realised characters, the emotional moments felt earned, and the plot twists make sense. It is vast in proportion with its scale, yet the story is so intimate. Despite the fantastical elements (with the body swapping and all that), there’s a very human story at its core. It is enthralling throughout, with a pace that keeps the energy where it needs to be. It’s difficult to not be engrossed by its upbeat spirit. Your Name is many things, it’s romance, comedy and adventure, and it is sweet, sensitive, heartwarming and exciting. The story also gets dark and it handles the tonal shifts greatly. I was liking the movie already a lot leading up to that point, but I loved it even more after that point. Also without getting into it, the ending is beautiful and perfect for this movie.

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Makoto Shinkai’s direction is spectacular. I have seen a number of excellent looking animated (anime and not anime) films, but Your Name is quite possibly the most stunning animated movie I’ve ever seen. That visual style immediately got me hooked into the movie even before the story really started, with vivid colours with a style that’s well crafted to compliment the themes of the story. Honestly the visuals alone make it worth watching. That’s not all, the soundtrack by RADWIMPS is also amazing and memorable, really enhancing an already dynamic film and making it even more energetic.

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Your Name was truly spectacular. Not only was it visually amazing and gorgeous to watch, but the story is also energetic, heart-warming and compelling to watch play out, and I got very invested with it. One of my favourite anime films, and one of my favourite animated movies in general. Check it out as soon as you can, even if you haven’t watched an anime movie before.