The Ten Best Films of 2016

What makes a film great? Quite simply, it resonates with you. What makes a film one of the best of the year? It resonates with you in ways you have never seen before. The film is original in storytelling and film making and it grabs your more than any other film.

Also, I haven’t been able to see fantastic films this year such as La La Land or Moonlight. This is either because they have not been released until very late 2016 to early 2017. But if I end up thinking that these films are absolutely fantastic. I will certainly put them up next year.

Now without further ado, let’s begin with number 10.

10. Zootopia.

Zootopia had everything you want in a kids film. It had fun, heart and characters you believed in and felt for. In a year of political divide, this movie showed, in its own way, the pitfalls of discrimination and separation. I just loved how despite being vibrant and fun, it desired to make a statement and be meaningful.

9. Nocturnal Animals/ The Revenant
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These two films have so much in common I decided to put them together. Both were well acted, had lush cinematography and focused on the theme of revenge. The Revenant explored the brooding nature of revenge and survival. Nocturnal Animals did it in a one-punch knockout moment.

I like to note that Michal Shannon gave my favorite supporting role this year as the police detective in Nocturnal Animals. That is because I think he may go unnoticed by various award ceremonies.

8. Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky that gives you a bit of everything in a war film. It is a blend of political prowess and on-the-ground tension. This was a cast of great actors that blur the lines on whether of not to stage a missile strike on a terrorist safe house with an innocent life residing in the blast. This was also a great live action swan song for the great Alan Rickman

7. The Big Short

I love this movie even more than when I watched it the first time. It is alongside with Zootopia as the most relevant films of the year. That is because both are making sociopolitical statements of our world today. The Big Short is a story that communicates to the average moviegoer the corruption of the banks that were exploiting their system hidden under a cacophony of jargon.

From a filmmaking perspective, The Big Short is also so fun. There are four different stories in this film. All four were interesting. The movie was such a smooth, well-written ride and tried to educate us at the same time. That is rare for any movie, rarer still, to succeed on that level.

6. Son of Saul

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The most harrowing of all the entries on my list, more so than The Revenant. Son of Saul is a holocaust movie that I can assure you is unique. It is not going for sentimentality nor graphic exploitation. You create the picture for yourself.

How so? Well, Son of Saul is shot in extreme close-ups of Saul the protagonist. Only his face is clearly visible. Graphic events are represented almost exclusively in sound and Saul’s reactions to the events that occur. The thing that kept me watching was the glimmer of hope that resided in Saul and that was enough.

5. The Lobster

Now we are into the top 5 with the most unusual entry. A film that would frustrate a lot of people without a sense of humor. The Lobster is the driest and most odd film about of a man who enters an apartment for 45 days and has to find a significant other in that time. Otherwise, he gets turned into a lobster.

The Lobster is not as fun as it initially sounds. It is a deadpan comedy that is so subtle that you can easily miss all the jokes. Also if you are not into weird, unconventional comedy it may come off as too absurd. If you are like deadpan, left-of-centre comedies, The Lobster is a fantastic treat. It is my favorite comedy of the year.

4. Mustang

Mustang was the first film this year that I loved in the deepest sense of the word. It was a life-affirming film about these five girls who are isolated in their home by their ultra-conservative father to be married off. It was a deepening moving film that made be feel calm but elated by the end.

Mustang was the first foreign film that I reviewed and it made such a positive impression on me. Mustang does not hold back on the harsh reality it sets, not is it restricted on the bright and wonderful moments that were interwoven so seamlessly. This makes Mustang one of the most beautiful films of 2016

 

3. Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is one of the exceptionally rare films where nothing was wasted. It was the only movie I saw where the audience was applauding. If there is a film in the Australian film industry should be holding as a benchmark, this is it. Hacksaw Ridge had the greatest use of dialogue that I have heard this year. It is funny, touching and dramatic. It has also given new life to the actor’s careers.

2. Room

Room is just heartbreaking. It’s about a mother and her 5 year old son adjusting to the real world. There is a mountain of despair alongside a mountain of hope accentuated by the perfect chemistry between Bree Larson and Jacob Tremblay. They were the best screen duo of the year bar none.

1. Embrace of the Serpent

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f things all over the wall and it all stuck. The story about an Amazonian native in the middle of European settlers exploiting resources in the land.

This film had more thematic ideas than any other film I saw this year.

Ciro Guerra brings a daring piece of work in Embrace of the Serpent. He threw a ton of ideas in this film in which the visual imagery of the Amazonian rivers and rainforest help draw you into the journey that is undertaken. It is one of those stories like Apocalypse Now or Django Unchained where the protagonists experience deeper levels of hell the further they travel and each layer of hell has a statement to make.

Embrace of the Serpent also showed ideas like the thorns of survivor’s guilt and handing over you final spark to faith to someone you need to trust to keep it alive. It isn’t a poignant film but it draws you in with its themes, it’s black and white visuals and it’s addiction for ambition and execution.

So that’s my list of the ten best films of 2016. Honorable mentions (alphabetically) include:

Captain America: Civil War for creating a blockbuster film that exceeded it’s high expectations. One of the rare movies where I cannot wait for the sequel.

Deadpool: Crngrats on making the funnest superhero movie Marvel and one of the funnest movies of the year. The meta humor with a authentic romantic angle give the movie a great edge. It more than makes up for it’s lack of multi million dollar set pieces.

Dr. Strange: The best visual effects from any film this year. Cumberbatch delivers a great performance as Steven Strange.

Green Room: For producing the best thriller film of the year that went for a less-is-more approach. Patrick Stewart makes the situation of 4 young adults trapped in a room of killer neo-nazis even more morbid and engaging.

Ouija: Origin of Evil: A movie that scared the crap out of me and gave me an adrenaline rush hours after seeing the movie.

Pete’s Dragon: It created a kids film which walking though the fine line between entertaining little kids without feeling condescending to adults. Illumination Entertainment has not been able to do that for years. 2016 was a (mostly) great year for Disney

Sing Street: For being the only feel-good movie that I saw. Great original songs and a better soundtrack than Suicide Squad. The prom sequence was absolutely spectacular

Sunset Song: An incredible story about a troubling family in Scotland during the First World War. It is about a woman who gains and loses many things on her roller coaster ride. The cameraman makes it feel like you are watching the story unfold your very eyes.

The Jungle Book: The best remake this year. Neel Sethi was the second best child actor this year (After Jacob Trembly in Room). That kid had to do so much. I was surprised that the director is the same man who fought in the Mixed Martial  Arts in Friends before it was cool.

So that is the list the best films of 2016. Coming up is the rotting end that comprises of the worst of 2016.

 

Room Review

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Written by Nelson Cumming

A single word can a sentence can change the meaning of a sentence completely. That was the first thought that entered my head as I started typing. Why is that? Well, that’s because if I added the word “The” before “Room” as a typo then people will mistake it for me reviewing one of the most ineptly made films of all time. If I simply say “Room” well people will now think I am writing about one of the best films of the year. Of course, that is what “Room” is all about.

As I threw the DVD disc (yeah they still exist) into my drive I was thinking it was an escape/thriller movie based on the trailer, however, it is much more than that. “Room” follows the story of five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who has lived in a confined shed his entire life. He lives with his mother Joy (Brie Larson). The reason they both live inside the shed is because of Jack’s abusive father who locks them inside the shed.

“Room” is not only the title of the movie but it’s also the name that Jack and his mother give the shed. Room Jack believes is the entire world and Jack interacts with inanimate objects in Room as a way to socialize. He even say “Goodnight plant” and “Goodnight Lamp”

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Jack’s (Jacob Tremblay) world that is called “Room”. He has lived there his entire life.

There are a plethora of reasons as to why “Room” works so well. One of which is the premise which is both innovate and creative, a rarity in films of recent years. The other is chemistry between Larson and Tremblay. I believe their chemistry was perfect. Despite the fact that they live in social isolation, they don’t act like damaged people. Both act (especially Larson) like a normal mother-son relationship which subtly indicating that “Room” is affecting their relationship. I got immersed in this movie quickly because of the two together.

What made the film more engrossing to watch was the dialogue, scriptwriting and narrative twists that go against the grain of cliché. The dialogue is purely written dialogue that the writers knew extensively about how mothers and sons speak and how they speak to each other.

There is a moment in which Joy tries to teach his son things about the real world and Jack denies it to the point where Joy loses patience and Jack cries. Larson is them frustrated at herself for lashing out. It’s an example in “Room” of humanity. It is written with a great observation of human behavior while retaining its narrative form and function.

“Room” is a very rare movie where the cast members are good to perfect, the narrative quickly and thoroughly engrossing, the writing was humane and sublime in its simplicity, and has believable twists that you don’t see coming. All the makings of not only a great film but one of the years best *****

Son of Saul Review

Written by Nelson Cumming

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I know people will groan when they hear the words “holocaust film”. To be fair, I sigh when I see movies who use the holocaust card for characters purely for sympathetic gain. Not Son of Saul. Son of Saul is not melodramatic nor is it evil. It is a unique piece of filmmaking that is not easy to sit through but watching it to the end is worth the reward.

With holocaust movies like Shoah and Schindler’s List, I sometimes ask “Is there any other story that could possibly be told about the Holocaust?” Son of Saul fills that void by going in a vastly different direction. Son of Saul relies on what we imagine not what we see.

Saul Alexander is a different character from most Jewish characters in Holocaust films. He is a member of the Sonderkommando, a Jewish worker who is forced to aid the disposal of gas chamber victims. The Nazi’s don’t want him dead, but they don’t want him at all.

I want to go into further detail but recounting the premise is technically a spoiler but also because it’s best you don’t know. There is a scene late in the film that reveals the story and explains why Saul does what he does. Up until that point, you are left wondering what Saul’s motivations are, but the scene is pivotal to the story.

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The entire movie is filled with extreme closeups of the character Saul during the holocaust.

The whole movie is showing from a mid-closeup view of the main character Saul Alexander. Everything else in the background is deliberately faded and fuzzy. Son of Saul relies on us, the viewer to imagine what is going on based on background sounds and Saul’s reactions to moments in the concentration camp.

This is when Son of Saul encourages us to paint the picture for ourselves. The whole movie is shot on a narrow frame with extreme close-ups of Saul the main character. Yes, the film delves into the inner workings of the concentration camp but because all the footage in the background is fuzzy and some important moments are offscreen, you can’t help but paint a picture of what happens. In all sincerity, it is like making your own movie.

Saul is not a man of heroism, nor is he a man of cowardice, he is a man of stoicism. His character does not tell us to feel sorry for the suffering, nor does he rile you up in his courage, he tells us what it is and to move along all the noise, all the panic, and all the hardship. Son of Saul tells us to go beyond holding to despair and sorrow. It tells us to leave with acceptance and that acceptance is not a sign of nihilism or flippancy but an act of humility.

As I have said, Son of Saul is not an easy watch, it does not leave you with an uplifting feeling, nor is it awe inspiring, it leaves you feeling that makes you better that you have watched it. It is unique both cinematically and thematically while telling a great, harrowing and poignant story. ****3/4

The Lobster Review

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Written by Nelson Cumming

The Lobster is one of the bleakest, weirdest, funniest, most satirical, and most original movies of the year. It blends a ton of social commentary about relationships in the most deadpan way possible. It is a story that is absurd and messy but tightly and smartly written. I love it.

The Lobster is absurd at the root of the story, yet there is a twisted, human truth that’s at its very core. The story follows David (Colin Farrell) a recent divorcee who moves into a hotel. David has 45 days to find a significant other. If David doesn’t find a significant other in that time, he gets turned into an animal of his choice. His choice is a lobster partly because “They are blue-blooded like aristocrats”.

Surprisingly enough David is not alone. He brings his brother. The thing is, his brother is a dog because he went to the same hotel but couldn’t find a life partner in 45 days.

When I heard of the premise I was so excited to see it. I was interested because not only was the premise fit my style of humor but it was so original. What’s even better is that the premise is only the surface of the movie, the tip of the iceberg if you will. When I thought about The Lobster more and more, the ideas came out.

Left to right: Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), Limping Man (Ben Waishaw) and David (Colin Farrell) 

The irony of the rich, funny premise is the movie is played deliberately bleak, deadpan and monotonous. Therein lies its satire, a human truth that is the rules of love we make up. The movie presents this hotel as rigorously organized in terms of improving human qualities like hunting and sexuality in the most matter-of-fact way possible as if love is formulaic.

The Lobster even satirizes the ways in which people may lie to their significant others so they would feel more attractive to them. A man called “Limping Man” (That is his name in the credits) is attracted to “Nosebleed Woman” (Also her name in the credits) who has frequent nose bleeds. Feeling insecure, he deliberately makes his nose bleed behind her back in an attempt to woo her.

The second half of the movie occurs in the woods which consists of rebels of the hotel. Their belief is remaining single forever. No one can have a relationship and you literally dig your own grave. Even in its satire, The Lobster is morbid. It goes to all of these extremities to find the humor and to find the darkness with great results.

If deadpan humor is your thing then The Lobster is the film to see this year, if you’re the kind of people who wants a dose of originality then this is will be up your alley. The Lobster can be grim and bleak, but the heart the humor and storytelling more than make up for it. Even the grimness and bleakness is justifiable for the morals of the story. The Lobster is one of the most original left-of-centre movies of the year ****3/4

Eye in the Sky Review

Written by Nelson Cumming

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Eye in the Sky does what great films do. They get a concept that gets you thinking while turning the idea on its head. More specifically, Eye in the Sky is centered on war ethics. Movies that focus on terrorism normally internalize the fear and build suspense on the threat (like The Hurt Locker). Other movies focus on the hunt for terrorists themselves. Eye in the Sky looks at a situation from multiple perspectives that helps answer the question “Do I pull the trigger”.

Helen Mirren is an army official who is overseeing a terrorist operation with intent to capture terrorists in a house. She later learns that the terrorists in the house intend to record a suicide bombing that aims to kill many people.

After learning this, she believes a missile strike should be appropriate but she is not in the position to make the decision. She gets Alan Rickman to represent the army and tries to encourage the prime minister for an approval but with intense political opposition makes the strike all the more difficult to execute.

Not only that but it becomes even more difficult when a young girl sells bread right beside the bomb radius. It does because the milirary was stuck between several rocks and a hard places. The question I was asking myself constantly throughout was “does the army win or do the terrorists win”

The ethical dilemmas and the scriptwriting

Alan Rickman’s final live action film. What a way to go out. 

This is a great premise that deals with war ethics, human ethics, legalities, public perception and political prowess. Those themes dominate this film in such an easy digestible way. It’s rare that I have ever heard 30 minutes of legalities of such a unique situation be so interesting. This comes from great written dialogue from the script.

It is undeniable in my opinion that Eye in the Sky is a great film. You start to think how much a life is worth as the main characters do. Many of the characters have different political agendas but it’s never confusing as you watch it. You have people who want the strike, others that don’t, people that do, but they don’t want to be the person who pulls the trigger etc. You get caught in the cobwebs as much as the characters. It’s how they made Eye in the Sky immersive

All the actors play their roles really well. I hope there is a nomination for this movie for the best cast. Alan Rickman in his final role in a live action film is terrific as the military man in the board room. Aaron Paul won’t get enough credit but I thought he was very important in establishing a humanity in the film. Paul’s character is a soldier who has to decide to pull the trigger and it’s his first time doing it. You feel the moral struggle with his performance.

I think anyone who has an open mind will go into Eye of the Sky and leave discussing it with yourself or with someone. This is a movie that is unique, simple, moving and makes you question the decisions that are made by the characters in the story. This is a candidate for my top 10 list of the year ****3/4

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Written by Nelson Cumming

This review will have a lot of spoilers as my sources of praise and criticism involves the final act. I say this because I am a nice, swell guy.

Rogue One: A Star War Story is one of the most epic-looking spin-offs that I have ever seen. I stress the term “epic-looking” here. That is because it has enough visual effects and good moments combined to make Rogue One a good film. However, there were things that bugged me while watching it.

Rogue One is set between Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star wars Episode IV: A new Hope. It is a spin-off story that focuses on the destruction of the Deathstar (a weapon that can destroy planets) and the subsequent plans that Erso attempts to steal from the Galatic Empire to give to the Rebel Alliance.

Let’s Start Positive

 

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Me after seeing the special effects on Rogue One.

 

The two best things about Rogue One are the special effects and the final third of the movie. The special effects in Rogue One are as good as any movie I have seen this year. Rogue One went for huge set pieces and made a blockbuster look epic. There was one shot in a birds-eye view of two massive rebel ships that collide in mid-air which was the best shot in the movie. It is a vivid picture in my head. For a movie to have a moment like that is a huge positive.

 

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The penultimate battle on the beach, in my opinion, was the best scene in the film.

 

The final act in which the Rebel Alliance set off to destroy the Deathstar from the Galatic Empire is by far the best section of the movie. From the espionage of Jyn’s father to the Deathstar’s destruction was nearly all well choreographed and shot. The battle sequences from the supporting characters had a smooth pace and the final battle between Jyn and Orson Krennic was thrilling.

The origin story of Jyn Erso was fine but not great. It would have been noticeably better had I been able to decipher what Forest Whitaker was saying (he spoke very hoarsely and gives the weakest performace of the cast). They developed that origin story into a major plot development. It also helped give Jyn Erso a third dimension to her character when it was needed later on.

Now onto some negatives.

Rogue One really suffers from underdeveloped supporting characters. In one scene, they really bite off more than they can chew. I believe that in Rogue One, the ultimate goal was for us to like all the characters because they have a quirky personality trait or a single moment of depth. This can only get a movie so far and where they wanted to take them was so much further than what was given to them.

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Donnie Yen plays a character equivalent of a fun friend who is not a close friend. So it does not help when the film expects you to be his close friend.

A prime example is Donnie Yen’s character, a blind Asian warrior. He has the personality quirk of being able to fight while blind and he has repeats the one line “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me” From that I am supposed to feel a sense of sadness when him and all the other supporting characters (who are just as underdeveloped) when they all die in quick succession.

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Instead, I went to my friend and said “Jesus! are there any more people who want to die. This isn’t Game of Thrones you know” That statement was not premeditated. That was my first reaction. After that was when I realized how little I care for the huge stakes the movie was going after. The characters themselves were not terrible but they were not worth the huge threat that was thrust upon them.

Rogue One really suffers from the dragging second act and taking itself too seriously when they didn’t have the characters that could sustain that level of drama. There were lots of little moments throughout Rogue One that worked such as the Darth Vader scenes and the lines the new quirky droid K-2SO says. Since those little things permeated throughout the movie, added with a really good third act, it was enough for me to like Rogue One. ***1/2.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Retro Review

 

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Written by Nelson Cumming

I remember several years ago hearing the news that Disney was going to make another Star Wars film. My reaction was “Dear God no!”. Then I saw the movie and my reaction had changed.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fun movie. It knows how and when to be serious and fun. Star Wars: The Force Awakens could have fallen into being too dark or atonal like Batman vs Superman but it didn’t.

Instead, Star Wars: The Force Awakens explores what made the franchise popular in the first place. Jar Jar Binks does not play a role, There is no holiday special (Noooooooo) The set up of the lead protagonist is in the middle of a desert, There are battles with flying ships and several key characters returned.

While Star Wars: The Force Awakens retains the acts of nostalgia there are also many elements that distinguish it from the other films in the franchise. The most important of which are several new characters that drive the story.

The two new characters are Finn, a Stormtrooper that has gone AWOL after a battle that changed him, causing him to switch sides to the New Republic (The good guys) and Rey, a scavenger who gets swept up into the adventure. These roles are played by John Boyega and Daisy Ridley respectively

 

 

What makes this cast so good is their believably. When the dialogue wanes, their performances are so good that I believed them anyway. Every actor who was in it didn’t overreact to moments where lesser-made movies would have. It made it easier to watch and avoided my eye-rolling.

The other major aspects of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was their set pieces, designs, and special effects. There was a moment in which Kylo Ren, the main antagonist stops a shot from a laser gun in mid air which was awesome. The action set pieces coupled with the large and fast airships was both thrilling and delightful. They helped provide the film with the action and the fun it needed.

I just love it when large, $200 million blockbusters work. I have found that the good blockbusters are inventive with the special effects they put their money on. Not only that, but these movies know how to moderate it bu focusing on keeping the story simple and believable. That is what a blockbuster needs to do to make the movie immersive.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens ticks a lot of boxes. I laughed, I gasped, I got the story, I believed in the actors and the drama combined with the sheer size and scale made the film a great installment to the franchise ****1/4

P.S. I don’t know why but the best part for me was the introduction to C-3PO. He caught me by surprise. It was a nice surprise indeed. A surprise it must.

 

Office Christmas​ Party Movie Review

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Written by Nelson Cumming

I just wasted my time watching Office Christmas Party. It was nearly two hours of vacuous unfunny material. Needless to say, this review will be pretty short.

The plot is essentially the film title. Zenotek, a software company, try to secure a multi-million dollar account by throwing a massive office Christmas party to persuade the owner of the account to invest in the Zenotek company.

The problem with Office Christmas Party are the gags are either too contemporary (Uber and Gone Girl references) or so cliched, old and archaic like sticking your bum on a photocopier. What’s worse is that barely any of the gags are funny.

Office Christmas Party is not good at all but it’s not bad enough to hate. It just exists in the material form of film as proof it exists. I have to finish now because I am forgetting scenes already *

Uno: The Movie

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Written by Nelson Cumming

After Rooster Teeth created Laser Team, a film that took years to get off the ground, their subsidiary company Achievement Hunter, created a movie with a stripped-down minimalist approach. There were no concerted efforts of pre-production or the filming this feature. So much so, that the movie wasn’t considered a movie until filming was nearly completed.

Yes, Rooster Teeth’s follow-up feature length film Uno: The Movie has many unique characteristics that I have never seen in the last 11 months I have been reviewing movies.

First of all, Uno: The Movie is the first movie I have seen this year where the main plot involves a game of Uno. Secondly, Uno: The Movie is the first movie I have seen where I couldn’t see any of the character either animated or in real time.

The story centers around five gamers Geoff, Ryan, Jeremy, Gavin and, later on, Jack. These five gamers battle their hearts out on the children’s card game that is Uno. However, with house rules such as drawing cards until you have the right colour or number, draw two stacking and hand swapping, it takes the gamers an eternity to complete a single round. Who will win, if there is a winner at all?

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Drawing 8 cards is just the beginning of the hurdles the gamers have to face

 

Uno: The Movie relies on knowing the characters entirely through the sounds of their voices. I have not seen this since Scarlett Johanson in the movie Her. While the product placement in Uno: The Movie is grotesquely extreme, I cannot deny that the movie worked for its bold experimentation in film that you don’t see in the mainstream, mass-produced movies.

What makes this movie watchable is the simplicity of the plot, the characters, and their motivations. All of the key characters want to win a game of Uno but all of the characters are likeable and relatable. So unlike some bad movies, I can understand what is going on and they don’t make the story overly complicated.

The main problem in this movie is the repetitive gags. I can only laugh so much at guys being unfortunate enough to draw eight cards. When I no longer laugh at the misery of players getting 18 cards there is a problem. Uno the movie is 164 minutes in length which is 2 minutes less than Transformers: Age of Extinction but only half as boring and five times better.

 

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I can only see all players getting 10 or more cards in their hands so much. I want the game to end after awhile

 

I see Uno: The Movie as an allegory to life itself. When you have a goal and it is tough and pointless to reach, you dig in deep and achieve your pointless goals and, hopefully, you catch someone filming it. Knowing that the unreasonable struggle to obtain something meaningless makes it much sweeter.  ***