Have You Ever Taken the 3:10 to Yuma?

I spent last Christmas in Arizona with my fiance and her family. On Christmas Eve, her parents suggested that we venture down to Tombstone because I had never been there before and they knew that I was a fan of that Western. Pretty good family to marry into, right?

On the way, we passed the turnoff to Bisbee and I excitedly pointed out, “Bisbee?! That’s the first town they went to in 3:10 to Yuma!” My fiance laughed, rolled her eyes a little and said, “I love how you know where places are solely because of movies you watch.” She’s not wrong, but it’s simply the catch that comes with being engaged to a film lover. To her credit, she always takes it in stride and even sits through movies that I want to review and that she could care less about because she wants to be supportive. That’s true love folks, and another example of how lucky I am and that I made the right decision by proposing.

But while I could talk about my wonderful fiance from dawn til dusk, the point is that I will forever associate Bisbee with 3:10 to Yuma, the 2007 remake of the 1957 film of the same name. And when I’m reminded of that movie, I instantly recall the clever direction, expert pacing and superb acting. I then find myself yearning to experience it all over again, and that’s the mark of a tremendous motion picture: one that you can revisit repeatedly without tiring of it or being able to spot any flaws.

I’ve certainly never been able to find any, friends, and that’s why I declare that 3:10 to Yuma is a perfect film and one of the finest Westerns ever made.

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How Did 20-Year Old Me Feel About Toy Story 3?

I’m going to be upfront and admit that I have some pretty big misgivings about Toy Story 4. Sure, on the one hand, Pixar has crafted three outstanding entries for its most popular franchise. On the other hand, Toy Story 3 wrapped up the trilogy beautifully and left the story on a high note. Sometimes, you have to know when to leave well enough alone.

But regardless of how much I am or am not looking forward to the continuation of the franchise, that doesn’t really matter. Toy Story 4 hits theaters on Friday and hopefully any worries I have will be put to rest by another worthy follow-up. That really would be the best case scenario here. While we’re waiting, I thought it would fun to revisit Toy Story 3 and analyze what worked so well for that movie. The twist is that it won’t be me providing the analysis, or at least not present day me.

Back in the days before we had a blog for publishing our film reviews on the internet, Kevin and I would share our opinions with each other on Facebook messenger. Let’s just say it was the beginning of a shared appreciation for filmmaking and the first step towards pursuing a mutual passion. One of the movies I reviewed back then was indeed Toy Story 3, which Kevin and I saw together in 2010.

It’s crazy to think that it’s been that long since the last Toy Story hit theaters. It’s even crazier to me that we’ve been writing about films for almost a decade. That’s why I thought it be worthwhile, and just a little terrifying, to publish my original review and let 20-year old Jesse have his day in the sun.

That’s what we have to do, right? Take some time to remember where we’ve been, and the truth is the Toy Story movies have always been part of my life. My original review is after the jump.

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Wes Anderson’s Criterion Journey: Rushmore

Coming-of-age stories are one of the most overused archetypes in Hollywood: familiar, relatable and uplifting. In other words, it’s a proven formula that works. So when Wes Anderson revealed that his second feature film was going to follow that outline after Bottle Rocket bombed at the box office, I’m sure his producers were thrilled.

They might’ve been less enthusiastic when they read the script and found that the hero fakes injuries to try and win the heart of the woman he loves (one of the teachers at his school, nonetheless) and when his best friend starts dating that woman, he jealously tries to cut the brakes on his friend’s car. How are people supposed to get behind this guy if he’s trying to take us to all of these dark places?

The simple answer is that we have all been to those places before, because part of growing up is learning to cope with the injustices that life throws at you without succumbing to our worst impulses. That’s why we forgive the protagonist when he tries to exact terrible revenge on the friend who betrayed him. We’ve all felt that way before, only most of us haven’t acted on it.

You see, Anderson does adhere to the coming-of-age formula: he just does it in his unique, off-brand sort of way.

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Let’s Talk About Avengers: Endgame

(Update: As of May 29, 2019, Endgame is the second highest grossing film of all-time worldwide. You’ve got some ground to make up there, DC)

We’re back again with another entry in our “Let’s Talk About” series. It feels like we’ve done more of these for Marvel movies than anything else. I’m not sure if that’s true or not (Kevin will rake me over the coals for not double-checking), but it probably has something to do with the fact that we started this blog in 2013. The Avengers was almost a year old at that point and the MCU had grown into a juggernaut that owned the box office and earned all the praise from critics. Even Thor: The Dark World did well later that year, scoring the largest opening weekend in November ever for a Disney movie (that I did look up).

If that piece of crap could do so well, the writing was on the wall that there was no stopping the MCU. To be fair, I own that piece of crap and that’s just another sign of how Marvel has us by the balls: I buy all of their movies, even if I don’t like them that much.

Kevin and I have certainly been fans this whole time and that’s why it seemed fitting that he just happened to be in Denver so that we could see Avengers: Endgame together. Marvel’s behemoth of a finale for its Infinity Saga promised to be epic. It promised to resolve years worth of storylines. But did it live up to the ridiculous level of hype surrounding it?

Now that everyone on the planet has checked this movie out, I think we are safe to dive into some spoilers and nitpick the shit out of this thing. Well, not really. We’re nicer than that and have compliments to give out too, but I promise you that nits will be picked.

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How Many Superstars Wind Up like “The Wrestler?”

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I turned on Last Week Tonight, my favorite news satire program, and the topic of his show was WWE, which I’ve been a fan of since I was a little kid. Oliver’s role as a force of chaotic good always makes for a hysterical 30 minutes, and as he says, “Wrestling is better than the things you like,” so at first you’d think this would be the best of both worlds.

But then the main story for his topic turned to a subject that is nowhere near as fun: the welfare of pro wrestlers who work for WWE. Oliver’s goal was to raise awareness for the good of the wrestlers, not for the multi-million dollar corporation for which they perform, because stop me if you’ve heard this before: the corporation takes advantage of its employees for its own financial gain.

It’s a subject that is probably news to people who don’t watch wrestling, one that I and all other diehard wrestling fans have been aware of for quite some time and something that isn’t going to get any better if it doesn’t receive mainstream attention. I thought it was a quality segment and if you’re so inclined, you can watch it here:

Whenever I start to think of all the wrestlers who end their careers broken, alone and too often dead at an early age, my mind always shifts to The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s brutally mesmerizing 2008 film starring Mickey Rourke.

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Us

Us, filmmaker Jordan Peele’s second feature film, is a well-crafted, modern thriller that hits all of the horror beats. The film starts off as a normal home-invasion story and then somehow seamlessly works in grand conspiracy theories without disconnecting from reality. Most importantly, it’s a film that demands an instant rewatch to fully grasp the story as well as catch all the little moments and the underlying metaphors.

If you were to strip this film of the unique and haunting story you would still have a masterclass of film making to watch. From the first moment Peele’s craft is instantly on display with the opening time-establishing shot of an old TV playing a Hands Across America ad. It’s a simple moment that ends up establishing more of the plot than seems possible.

It’s still 1986 and we jump to little Adelaide’s night at the Santa Cruz amusement park. Her father wins her a Michael Jackson Thriller t-shirt and then her parents bicker and eventually become distracted. This leads to Adelaide wandering off by herself into the dark California beach. A wandering child in the dark is stressful enough but then Adelaide finds herself exploring a classic horror movie trope, a house of mirrors. And despite the classic setup, Peele finds a way to make these moments fresh, tense, and instantly memorable. An incident occurs. An incident I cannot spoil but one that is an instant classic and that sets the entire movie in motion.

And now that the entire audience is unsettled Peele doesn’t let off. The title sequence, seemingly simple, establishes the tension and the upcoming oddities with a purely haunting score and a mesmerizing visual aid. Within the first 15 minutes of the movie you are hooked and buckled up for the worst.

Unfortunately from there the film dips into standard thriller fodder. It fast forwards to modern day and presents a normal family, Adelaide, now played by Lupita Nyong’o, has grown up to be a nervous but loving mother and is married to a man that fully embraces his dad joke role in life. They have a preteen daughter, ears buds firmly entrenched, and a son that is still filled with imagination and has a belief in magic. They are staying in their summer vacation house in Santa Cruz, returning to the site of Adelaide’s “incident”. Only Adelaide’s family does not yet know what happened on the beach in 1986.

The family is enjoying their time before a group of four people show up unannounced in their driveway. Unfortunately that’s as deep into the story I can go without spoiling the good parts. Just know at this point the film goes into full thriller mode which is heart-pounding but filled with moments that are expected and not exactly memorable. Luckily even in the cliche and normal beats, the film is anchored by Lupita Nyong’o’s captivating performance of a woman who steps up to kick ass to, seemingly, protect her family.

(To illustrate just how much ass she kicks, at some point Adelaide gets out of the car to check on one of the many murderous attackers she is fighting. This is a classic, “WHY ARE YOU GETTING OUT OF THE CAR” moments that your brain loves to hate in horror movies. Except in this case your brain is like, “Actually no, Adelaide’s got this”.)

In between all the high tension thriller action, the film does bounce back and forth between 1986 and the modern day to fill some of the narrative gaps but still leaves a few frustrating questions at the end. By the end of the film I’m not confident that Adelaide’s character arc tracks completely and it feels like we were missing a few scenes that would have been connective tissue or further clues to explain our protagonist’s life. Although even as I write this I will admit this is a minor complaint and there is the possibility that a rewatch will satisfy my qualms.

And minor qualms is really all I can complain about because between this stylistic thriller hitting all of the established beats and a script that, much like Get Out, is tightly written and hardly contains a wasted moment, it’s difficult to determine if Jordan Peele is a more skilled director or writer. In fact that might be Peele’s biggest accomplishment in his short filmmaker career. It almost seems impossible for one guy to be so good so quickly.

Us is a film that you will want to come back to. It’s memorable and important just like Get Out, however it is more tense and it’s themes more understated than Peele’s first film. Get Out was in your face, screaming it’s themes at you to grab your attention. It had to be. And now that Peele has your attention, Us unequivocally proves he deserves it.

Wes Anderson’s Criterion Journey: Bottle Rocket

I was never much of a Wes Anderson fan growing up.

Perhaps I was too young or too impatient to understand his style of filmmaking. I remember watching The Royal Tenenbaums when it came out and, other than the scene when Danny Glover falls into a ditch as he’s walking alongside Anjelica Houston, I didn’t laugh once. There were excerpts of critics praising that movie all over the case of the DVD, so what was I missing?

It wasn’t until it was screened for us during my senior year of high school that it finally clicked for me. I guess you have to experience your own period of growing pains filled with awkward moments before you can grasp that absurd and ironic sense of humor. Or maybe that was exclusive to me. Whatever the reason that it took me so long, I’ve been a fan of his ever since.

I’m also a fan of collecting movies. The guest bedroom in my apartment has shelves packed full of blu-ray discs, which is a testament to my fiance’s patience to put up with that sort of thing and a perfect example of why nowadays most people opt for streaming: storing that many movies is a big pain in the ass. For me, it’s more of a labor of love and when I found out that Anderson has gradually been remastering all of his feature films and releasing them on blu-ray through the Criterion Collection, I knew that I had to have them.

Which brings me here. If you’re going to buy all of these films, watch them and try to turn it into a series for your blog, you have to start at the beginning.

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