film

Old School Review: "The Hidden Fortress" (1958)

Written by Ryûzô Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Akira Kurosawa and directed by Kurosawa, “The Hidden Fortress” is an adventure comedy that notably inspired George Lucas in his crafting of the original “Star Wars”. The film follows two peasants, Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) and Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) trying to return home after being conscripted into a regional war. They provide the levity in the film, which is more frequently in use here than the majority of Kurosawa’s work (of the films of his that I’ve seen at least). We begin the film with these two bemoaning their predicament after having gotten to the war two days late and forced to bury the dead. They wander across a desolate landscape towards home but find the border now controlled by the recently victorious kingdom, thus forcing them to find an alternate route home through separate kingdoms adjoining one another.

A few scenes later the two stumble across a gold bar lodged inside a wooden stick while making a fire for the night. Bewildered at their luck, Matashichi and Tahei make a mad dash in the morning to find more of the hidden gold. In their frantic efforts, which mostly consist of them bickering over how to divide the gold, they stumble into Rokurota Makabe (Toshirô Mifune), a well known general of the defeated kingdom- though they do not recognize him. After telling him their plan to travel through a neighboring region to avoid the newly established checkpoints, Rokurota recruits them to his cause through clever manipulation as he leads them to the eponymous Hidden Fortress. He keeps them busy for awhile by suggesting that the rest of the gold may be buried near the fortress. During that time he retreats to the waterfall hideout of Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara), the nobility left in power after his kingdom’s destruction. There they craft a plan alongside Izumi Nagakura (Takashi Shimura), the elder general, to use the peasants’ idea for their route and to enlist them to help carry the royal family’s remaining gold back home. They also decide to have the Princess pretend to be mute as to avoid detection as she could accidentally reveal herself through speech usually characteristic of nobility. The troupe, consisting of Rokurota, Princess Yuki, Matashichi and Tahei then depart hauling the hidden gold on their backs and in a large cart.

The rest of the adventure is full of high energy moments like the lance (spear?) duel between Rokurota and Hyoe Tadokoro (Susumu Fujita), a general of equivalent rank and status. There’s also quieter beats of tension like the numerous times Matashichi and Tahei create new problems for Rokurota and Yuki by either plotting to steal the gold for themselves or their general fear of getting caught with all this gold. Eventually they sneak into a procession of people marching with hordes of wood towards a fire festival nearby- thus blending into the crowd to avoid being stopped by any watchmen. There’s a lot to like in “The Hidden Fortress” so I’ll spare you all the details for your own discovery, though it is most certainly worth a watch! This film feels like a tonal standout from Kurosawa’s other works. There’s no self serious moral message or compelling heroics, or even universally relatable characters as in other films of his. This film feels most at ease with it’s premise, a high stakes energetic comedy with a sensation similar to those punchy adventure serials from American cinema from the previous two decades before this film’s release. It’s clearly crafted by a master director if you’re paying attention though. Kurosawa’s deft hand at directing and filming is on display for those analyzing shot structure and the handling of movement and blocking. In fact, there’s a scene early in the film before Matashichi and Tahei encounter Rokurota, that’s reminiscent of the ‘Odessa Steps’ scene from “Battleship Potemkin” (also reviewed on the blog @ https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/spacecortezwrites.com/11007) in which dozens upon dozens of people descend down a huge staircase against a horde of guards with guns shooting into the crowd. There’s some question as to whether or not Kurosawa was directly homaging Potemkin, but I imagine he was aware of that uniquely important film at the very least.

If you have any interest in getting into Japanese cinema, this is an easy entry point and I highly recommend it. Especially because it will likely lead you to other excellent films by Kurosawa, or dare I say it, the work of Mizoguchi or Ozu. It’s like recent Academy Award winner Bong Joon-ho infamously said “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” The man couldn’t be more right. So if you’re new to foreign cinema, welcome, and if you’re a well worn visitor to the land of subtitles and a difference in perspective, welcome back! ‘Til next time film nerds!

Final Score: Two Peasants, One Princess

film

Review: Star Wars Episode 9 The Rise of Skywalker

*Warning!* There WILL BE SPOILERS in this review.

Written by Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams, and directed by Abrams, “Star Wars Episode 9 The Rise of Skywalker” is the (supposed) end to the decades spanning “Skywalker Saga” as it is now called. Well, now that the film has opened and the saga is over, how does the Disney trilogy look as a whole? It looks messy, very, very messy. That’s not to say that there isn’t some good stuff in there- but it is now abundantly clear that there was no discernable pathway or structure for the story of these three movies. I’m honestly amazed that Disney would purchase Star Wars for $4 Billion dollars, throw out George Lucas’ ideas, and just wing it. Seems like a huge down payment to have a teenager’s style of approach to story structure. Granted, that being said, I did not hate this movie. In fact, I haven’t really hated any of these Disney Star Wars movies, I’m just somewhat disappointed. Oh and tired, I’m so tired… the cultural discourse surrounding these movies has been exhausting. So, what do we do now? Where do we go from here? And was it worth it?

“The Rise of Skywalker” is a crash course is witnessing a studio freefall into panic mode after a few missteps in organization. In December of 2015 we got to see what J.J. Abrams could do with a studio endorsement and backing to craft the first film to feature some of the old characters we loved from the original trilogy. I still have a fondness for “The Force Awakens”, it was an enjoyable return to that Galaxy far far away, but within that film J.J. fell into his formula of crafting an enticing Mystery Box full of intrigue and mystique. We all wondered, what’s in that box? Well, “The Rise of Skywalker” shows us, it was filled to the brim with MacGuffins. The crawl opens with enough exposition for a whole movie itself! Apparently, Emperor Palpatine has been alive and broadcasting his presence throughout the galaxy, and Kylo Ren has been seeking the Dark Lord- so that he may destroy any threat to his power as the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Meanwhile, Rey is training under the guidance of General Leia as Poe and Finn manage the resistance from the Millennium Falcon. That’s the initial set-up, and from here on out I’m only going to go into specifics for sequences that I thought were noteworthy or where things got choppy for me personally. There’s enough plot for about six films crammed into this one so combing through the story would prove arduous at best.

There are things I enjoyed about this film. Some bits were excellent, but the pacing was so incredibly fast that the good and the bad whiz by you before you know what just happened, why it happened, or how it was relevant to the plot. For instance, I really enjoyed the sequence on Kijimi where Poe returned to his old gang’s headquarters to decode the Sith inscription that C-3PO read but couldn’t say aloud due to his programming. The location was, clearly, inspired by old Samurai films as the wintry steps of the mountainous planet looked similar to the Japanese layout of shops and homes through the design choices and aesthetic. I also really loved the practical effects used to showcase the later destruction of Kijima by one of the Final Order’s beefy Star Destroyers (Hope you saw that spoiler warning at the top). I also enjoyed the bits of characterization we got for Poe’s background, though sadly the same can’t be said for Finn. Which, truly, is one of the biggest disappointments of the new trilogy. Finn had the most interesting origin in “The Force Awakens” but they did essentially nothing with his character for the rest of his time onscreen. This film played with the notion that Finn’s force sensitive, but that one inkling of a character trait isn’t enough to be honest. I also really enjoyed the return of Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine, his inclusion was a delight throughout the film. However, the very best portions of the film belong to Kylo Ren in my opinion, honestly, he’s been the most interesting character throughout the sequel series. Adam Driver’s a damn good actor and his turn to the light side wasn’t just an excellent scene, it was believable because of Driver’s commitment to the emotional requirements of that moment. Admittedly, I saw the film a second time and I noticed a lot more nods and nuances to the other films and trilogies. Even if they were only reflections mirroring themselves through visuals, ie Kylo and Rey’s lightsaber battle on Endor mirroring the battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin on Mustafar through opposing elemental forces with color palettes of red lava erupting everywhere versus titanic waves crashing on the second Death Star’s wreckage. I also enjoyed the visual callback to “Return of the Jedi” with the Emperor opening the ceiling of his cavernous ruins on Exogol similarly to the way he tried to pressure Luke into giving in to the dark side by showing both protagonists’ friends being blown to smithereens by his vast armada. Ole Palpy hasn’t changed much in those thirty years it seems, and I’m okay with that.

Then there’s Rey. Rey, as it turns out, is a descendant of Emperor Palpatine himself! Kind of a neat idea, though it seems to challenge the ideology of the last Star Wars movie. Which, if you hadn’t noticed, is the theme of this film. Or at least, it sure as hell seems to feel that way. Anyways, Rey, is an incredibly powerful Jedi, and it seems it’s mostly due to the fact that she’s Palpatine’s granddaughter. She can do things in this film that Jedi of the past could only dreamed of, and no, I’m not one of those fanboys crying “Mary Sue”, it’s fine, she’s really powerful, we all get that. Though, I feel like she would be a more relatable character if she had suffered any real losses in this trilogy, other than her new friends getting killed by lasers. I actually like Daisy Ridley’s performance quite a bit and she does a lot with what she’s given, but, things just seemed to work for her at almost turn. Characters evolve and grow through failure and their struggle, whereas Rey seems to “just be really good at everything”, I’m not gonna protest outside of Lucasfilm because of this- I just wish the filmmakers had more time to thoughtfully consider her character, and her arc through this trilogy. I mean, I don’t really know anything about Rey as a person- and hey, I guess we didn’t know all that much about Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy either, but I don’t know- maybe it was simply the insane pace of this film or the fact that the other two movies were so mired in the mystery of who she was and who her parents were. It felt as though we were only just starting to get to know a few of the new major players by the time this film ended, and it felt a bit strange for a “Star Wars” film.

For me, this wasn’t a bad “Star Wars” film, but it wasn’t a great one either. I don’t envy J.J. Abrams for having to course correct and react to everything that “The Last Jedi” did. To be fair, I don’t blame Rian Johnson for this new sequel trilogy being as bumpy as it is either. He tried to break the mold and do something new with “Star Wars” and that’s an admirable effort. Honestly, I blame Disney for not having the wherewithal to plan the trilogy out. They also should have put far more consideration into which writers and directors they hired for their newly acquired property, Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams are nearly complete opposites in style and tonal creative decisions. So, with the end of the Skywalker Saga comes my end with Star Wars films. I’ve got to be honest here, I think I’m just done with having my nostalgia milked for all its monetary value, and the cultural conversation surrounding these films is just death now. May the Mandalorian save us all.

Final Score: 9 Episodes

film

Superbowl 2018 Movie Trailers

Yesterday five movie trailers aired during the Super Bowl that were especially fun. Some of them were entirely new, while others were new teasers or new cuts of trailers that helped to sway me personally into giving several of these films the benefit of the doubt, even through all the exploding volcanoes and starships.

MI6_Online_Teaser_Vertical_rgb

Mission Impossible 6: Fallout

Ever since the fourth Mission Impossible, Ghost Protocol, the series has continually edged upwards in quality for me. This new Mission Impossible looks to turn expectations upside down with Ethan Hunt and company going against their former agency in the IMF? Plus there’s the new addition of Henry Cavill who should be an exciting new factor thrown into the mix. We’re also retaining writer-director Christopher McQuarrie for a series first, Rogue Nation was an excellent film so I cannot wait to see how they step up the stunts from previous entries in the series!

 

tumblr_p0549qYuNS1tr0o9mo1_1280

Avengers 3: Infinity War

Infinity War has been a long time coming in the Marvel Studios Universe, it will be the nineteenth film in the interconnected saga and will include all of the major characters from across all of those films. Naturally not much is known outside of the initial trailer besides rampant fan speculation but this new teaser gave us precious seconds of new shots to drool over and analyze until May, but hey, you don’t need to do much to sell tickets to this event film at this point.

 

starwars5f-2-web

Solo: A Star Wars Story

We finally got a (teaser?) trailer for the Han Solo standalone film, and it did enough to sway me towards a more positive outlook on the upcoming release. While we might not have asked for a Han Solo film, it’s nice to get to play around in the sandbox of the Empire’s early reign over the galaxy again. We didn’t see much, but we did get confirmation that the overall plot from the original expanded universe detailing Han’s origins in the Empire before he turned coat and became a smuggler was seemingly on track. We got quick shots of Woody Harrelson’s mysterious mentor character, Donald Glover’s sly Lando Calrissian, and of course- Chewbacca. We’ll see if this movie turns out to be worthwhile in the end, but hey, I’m always ready for another adventure in this universe, hopefully it will be a positively memorable one.

 

epic-jurassic-world-fallen-kingdom-fan-poster-hits-web-59

Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom

This trailer did a lot to turn me around after that awful cut the first time around. The first Jurassic World worked for me in concept and in practice. That film made sense as a sequel, and we’ll see how this film turns out, but not focusing solely on the volcano scenes helped a lot. If that had been the whole story I wouldn’t have bothered, but here it looks like a combination of Lost World with a sprinkling of the original’s texture thrown in, so we’ll have to wait and see if it was worth our time and money- but this trailer did put me into a more positive and hopeful mood for the sequel.

 

skyscraper-poster-dwayne-johnson

Skyscraper

Another year and another Dwayne, the Rock, Johnson action film bursts onto silver screens across the country. This time around Johnson looks to be a war vet that designs buildings, but when everything goes wrong he has to pull it together and save his family on the 240th floor of a burning building. There’s a lot of standard action beats here but the trailer was cut for maximum tension while maintaining the heightened reality of Johnson’s action movie repertoire and that works for me. Johnson can sell a movie no matter how ridiculous it may seem, hell, I never thought the Jumanji sequel was going to work out but in the end I really enjoyed it! I might just have to give this flick a shot when it hits theaters this summer.

 

Crocodile-Dundee-Chris-Hemsworth-Danny-McBride-Poster

Dundee: the perfect tourism ad

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly disappointed that this isn’t a real film, but it was a great idea for a tourism ad! The reveal doesn’t even happen until Danny McBride notices that Chris Hemsworth keeps talking up the beauty of Australia, which was brilliant by the way. We even got Paul Hogan to put on the old costume and playfully poke fun at rampant and excessive love of Australia that America experienced in the 1990’s.

film

Review: Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi

*This is your warning- THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW*

   -SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!-

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson, the eighth episode of the Star Wars saga, “The Last Jedi” is upon us. Thus I and countless other nerds and movie critics across the internet and on opposite sides of the lunch table will be debating, praising, cursing, and analyzing this latest episode of the decade spanning space opera. After the seventh episode left the Resistance (Rebels) triumphant with the Starkiller Base (Death Star) destroyed after the loss of one of our heroes in Han Solo (Obi-Wan Kenobi) we had several new heroes in Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron to pick up the pieces of the fallen republic and continue the fight against the dark side. So what happened after that cliffhanger ending of Rey seeking out Luke Skywalker and holding out his father’s lightsaber? Subverted expectations, that’s what.

Last-Jedi-Landscape-Poster-

So, let’s dive into it. First, since I have less negative things to say about the film overall, we’ll address the things that didn’t work for me in the film. 1) The humor (in parts). Personally, I am okay with a film that subverts your expectations, I would rather be surprised than being able to predict every beat and scene before they happen, however when Rey finally hands over the Lightsaber that has transitioned all three sagas- Luke nonchalantly tosses it over his shoulder as it’s played for a laugh- this did not work for me. I understand where Luke is at that point after seeing the movie, but I just didn’t care for the tone of the moment, he could have discarded it without playing the scene for a laugh. The only other major play for humor that didn’t work for me was Poe’s jokey attempt to buy time in the opening scene with General Hux, granted, that style of humor has already been built into Poe’s character like when he was captured by Kylo-Ren on Jakku in The Force Awakens, but that specific style of comedy doesn’t exactly work for me. 2) Holdo withholding info from Poe. I have mixed feelings about this aspect of Poe’s story arc. Overall I really enjoyed the ace pilot’s story in The Last Jedi, he learned that you can’t always “Jump in an X-Wing and blow something up” to solve your problems and that leadership can be cumbersome at times. The part I take issue with is Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s decision to withhold her plan to save the Resistance from total destruction. I understand that this was a story technique and it helped to further the film’s style of subverting the audience’s expectations by allowing us to side with Poe but then realizing that both he and we were wrong- but what did she gain from not informing the few people that were left alive? Alas, this is one small pet peeve surrounding this story arc. 3) Finn and Rose’s Canto Bight adventure. This part of the film, while being important in the larger scheme of the story, was a tad overlong in my opinion. I wasn’t as bothered as some critics have been with this segment of the film, but this does hurt the pacing of the film a bit. I feel that there were more efficient ways to get those story beats across without using up as much time as they did, they could have kept the main point of the story intact without sacrificing the mood of the film as a whole. Moving onward however, there is much more of the film that I enjoyed than what I did not.

null

The opening space battle between the Resistance’s bombers against the Dreadnought Starship was exhilarating! Poe Dameron may have made poor leadership choices that led to massive Resistance losses, but damn was it an enjoyable and effective edge-of-your-seat sequence. From the overly red lit deck of the Dreadnought with a First Order Captain barking orders to the last second success of Rose’s sister, this scene was ecstatic and I loved it. From there we’re introduced to Luke Skywalker and his life on Ahch-To, the ocean planet with several islands dotting the surface. We’re greeted by an older and far more cynical Luke Skywalker that wants nothing to do with the Empire, Sith, the First Order or even Jedi newcomer Rey. Rey follows him around begging for direction and training but it isn’t until Luke boards the Millennium Falcon once more and finds R2-D2 waiting there that he finds a spark of hope. There are flashes of the old Luke Skywalker in this scene as he happily rejoices at seeing his old droid, but when R2 shows the hologram of Leia from a New Hope he chides his robot friend for pulling a “A cheap move”. This gets Luke to begin to guide Rey, though he isn’t exactly a cheery mentor.

StarWarsJedi1-1

There are scenes and sequences throughout the remainder of the film that hint at, and sometimes outright say, what the theme of this film is- failure. Every arc or main character experiences failure in this film. From Rey leaving Ahch-To to heading straight to Kylo-Ren in order to attempt to turn him to the light side, to Finn and Poe being sent to Canto-Bight to retrieve a master code breaker but ultimately escaping with another code breaker that has no allegiances to the light side or the dark, there are massive failures throughout but as force-ghost Yoda pointedly tells Luke at one point (which may be my favorite scene in the film) “Failure, the best teacher is..”. It is what these characters learn from their failures that propels them through the third act. Luke’s part in the third act was right on point for me, he displayed new and mesmerizing powers of the force and had his cinematic journey book-ended with his first appearance in A New Hope. Luke Skywalker is again shown in a wide shot with two setting suns before vanishing to become one with the force.

EP8-FF-000497.JPG

While there are no lightsaber on lightsaber fight scenes in this episode of the never-ending saga, a first for the series, there is one amazingly directed fight scene between Kylo-Ren, Rey, and Snoke’s Elite Praetorian guard (pictured above in the red) and it was a visual spectacle. The fight scene was also punctuated by the story elements surrounding it in which neither Rey or the audience know if Kylo-Ren has turned to the Light Side or merely seeking more power among the remains of the First Order. This takes place roughly about the same time in the film as Amilyn Holdo’s sacrifice which was another spellbinding moment of shear fantasy science fiction as she aimed the Resistance’s last major Starship directly at Snoke’s behemoth Star Destroyer. I have rarely been in a theater where a scene goes silent to the point of being able to hear audible jaws dropping at the spectacle of it all.

Star-Wars-The-Last-Jedi-Finn-vs-Captain-Phasma

While Finn was relegated to the back of this film’s attention he did get several moments to shine in. I honestly loved the short moment of Captain Phasma’s return and Finn’s subsequent victory against her. I say bring her back for the third one, why not? She got out of the Trash compacter of a planet sized base that was blown to smithereens- she can escape this death too!

Carrie Fisher’s scenes in this film were handled quite well. I believe she had finished all of her scenes by the time she had passed, which in itself was tragic and disheartening for all of us, but this film truly places her iconic character’s end in the hands of JJ Abrams’ ninth (and final?) installment in the episodic saga. She had a lot more to do in this film and personally, I wasn’t really bothered by her use of the force in this film, it was a unique scene and it added another layer to her silver screen legacy. Speaking of the force, personally, I found Kylo-Ren, Rey, and Luke’s evolution of using the force to be mysterious and exciting. I love that this film has made the force more mystical and magical once again, I am okay with an evolving interpretation of the force. Cue all the GIFs of Han Solo telling Finn “That’s not how the force works!” you want, I enjoyed this idea and hope it’s expanded on in episode nine.

1507458182868_5500093_cops_6

 

In the end, this is a film that has moments of greatness spattered amongst a decent Star Wars backdrop. This film is a little too long, a shade or two more uneven than The Force Awakens, and the humor doesn’t always mesh with the tone at hand or the spirit/feel of Star Wars- however, this film took chances and I like how the material was handled for the most part. Let’s face it, making a perfect Star Wars film is nearly impossible these days with the range of expectations that fans new and old bring to the theater with them, but this film was a damn good effort.

Final Score: 8 Episodes

film

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Movies of 2016

2016 may have been one of the most divisive years in recent memory, but when I looked back on the movies that came out I began to realize that while there were certainly big duds among the crowd there was an abundance of quality movies that came out last year. Below is the list of a majority of the films that came out last year with my thoughts on them. Enjoy!

The Good

th

Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds gets a lot of credit for this one. He stuck around after his character’s horrific introduction and then incredible misuse in the first standalone Wolverine movie back in 2009 and kept pushing for this film to get greenlit. Self referential and winking at the screen knowingly, “Deadpool” is everything you want it to be if you know the crude character in the slightest. Violent, crass, and fourth wall breaking, this film is the best direct adaption of a comic character, possibly ever.

captain-america-civil-war

Captain America 3: Civil War

Proving that you can take two characters with idealogical differences and pit them against each other and actually have the story work (Looking at you, Zack Synder), “Civil War” isn’t just one of the best Marvel movies, it’s one of the best Superhero movies ever made. Captain America and Iron Man take opposite sides of a government mandate and string up followers on each side to punch each other until you cry when it gets serious (You know what scene I’m talking about). Captain America 3 is one of the few exceptional blockbusters from this year!

doctor_strange_movie-1600x900

Dr. Strange

“Dr. Strange” continues to prove that Marvel can take any of their properties, no matter how Strange (Ba-dum-tss!), and make it work. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Strange, a brilliant Neurosurgeon that has his hands crippled in an auto accident and ends up traveling the world and spending his last dollar in search of a cure. Instead he meets the Sorcerer Supreme (Tilda Swinton) aka the Ancient One, and begins his path of mastering the mystic arts of sorcery and otherworldly magic. What sold me for this origin tale is the third act, and how Strange solves his own villain dilemma. No Sky beams. No faceless army to beat into submission. No, here lies a creative solution that I will not spoil, but it’s well worth the watch.

th-1

Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson’s directorial return to cinema is not one to miss. Easily one of my favorite films of the year, this film changed my view on Andrew Garfield. The true story follows Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector in wartime to receive the medal of honor for saving 75 men in the battle of Hacksaw Ridge, in WW2, without a firearm. The first half follows Doss’ battle to stick to his beliefs and to train as a field medic, without holding a weapon, as it was his belief not to kill another man. The second half depicts the battle, and well, hold onto your butts because it is relentless in it’s violence and horror. Gibson deserves a best director nod at the very least.

th-2

Star Wars: Rogue One

Who knew a film with a widely known ending could be this good? “Rogue One” is pure Star Wars fun. This film had a lot riding on it going into it’s opening. Would the first standalone Star Wars movie be a success? Would audiences care about a film with little to no recognizable faces throughout the runtime? As the first film in the franchise to focus more on the “war” than the “stars” Rogue One swiftly introduced us to a cast of rebels devoted to the cause. Jyn Erso leads the band of resistance as the daughter of the head engineer of the Death Star while the Empire puts the finishing touches on their shiny new superweapon. Each member of the team has notable moments throughout- Donnie Yen’s “Chirrut Imwe” is a blind, force sensitive, kung-fu martial artist with a deep belief in the power of the force- and an excellent example of this. The film goes to extreme lengths to recreate the dirty, lived-in world of the original series, from 3D printing toy model sections for digitally recreating star destroyers to the use of practical effects and some puppetry throughout. The film also breaks new special effects ground by reviving Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin not simply just for a cameo, but as a character that has several scenes and deliberately pushes the plot forward. The film adeptly handles the mythology with caring hands and even fills in former plot holes, such as the infamous womp-rat sized hole in the Death Star, while also taking new risks, like the ending. Which I won’t ruin just in case you haven’t caught this movie yet-somehow. Darth Vader also has one of his best scenes ever put to film near the ending-right before the reveal of a youthful CGI Princess Leia who, in a timely sense, reminds us to have Hope. Rest in Peace Carrie Fisher.

 

th-4

Swiss Army Man

Easily the weirdest movie of the year, “Swiss Army Man” is an oddly beautiful one that combines emotional nuance.. with farts. I know, but trust me on this one. The best way I can describe this movie is that it’s about a suicidal man that teaches a dead guy that life is beautiful and worthwhile despite the hurdles of confusion and emotions that are thrown at us. Paul Dano’s character starts the film stranded on a small pacific island and is about to hang himself when he spots Daniel Radcliffe’s dead body wash ashore. He clambors down from his noose and inspects the corpse. He quickly finds that this void vessel is full of life, flatuence, and strange abilities-like farts powerful enough to propel him off his island. From there the film follows Hank (Dano) and Manny (Radcliffe) as they discuss life and its many complexities while they wander through the pacific northwest to try to find civilization. I know I’ll be on the lookout from anything that the Daniels (Directors & Writers of the film) make from now on, the special effects, soundtrack, and quirky nature of this flick was the strangest amalgamation put to film this last year and I can’t wait to see what they create next!

th-5

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Set in New Zealand, this film follows defiant city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) as he is placed into his newest foster care home to be raised by the jovial Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and grumbly Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). Written and directed by Taika Waititi (Helming the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok) this film is an excellent example of his ability to juggle wildly different tones with impeccable skill. The film ends up becoming a buddy roadtrip comedy, in a sense, between Ricky and Hec as they are chased in a manhunt throughout the wilds of the New Zealand bush that is in parts hilarious but also a touching and heartfelt showcase of friendship, family, and how to deal with loss. Between this and Waititi’s last film “What we do in the shadows” he has become one of my favorite directors to keep in mind. Seek this one out, you won’t be disappointed.

 

jungle-book-trailer-teaser-feature-regular-2

The Jungle Book

The latest adaption of Rudyard Kipling’s 1893 literary allegory of anthropomorphic animals was released by Disney last year in groundbreaking fashion. This was one of the rare times when a reboot or reimagining of a property gave new life to the material and improved upon various versions of the story. This iteration, directed masterfully by Jon Favreau, combined some of the most cherished musical numbers from Disney’s earlier animated classic with a dash of the darker nature and tone that came from the original tale. Photorealistic computer generated imagery breathes new spectacle into the century plus old story, each of the animals move and react in a beautifully realized digital jungle with a human actor as Mowgli (Neel Sethi) that physically interacts with the imagined world around him. Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention the stellar voiceover cast with the likes of Christopher Walken as King Louie, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, and of course-the perfect casting choice, Bill Murray as Baloo.

th-6

Star Trek Beyond

The third movie in Star Trek’s newest revival of sci-fi films, “Beyond”, is a smaller film in terms of the scope of the adventure and thus feels more like a true ‘Trek’ episode than the previous films. While there is much to enjoy here, my only nitpick was some of the editing and cinematography choices during the action sequences, it was a departure from the sweeping glides of JJ Abrams whereas this seemed a bit clunkier and rife with shaky cam. The newest story takes place while the crew is on their five year deep space mission when they get stranded on an alien planet, the enterprize gets destroyed again, and thus the team is fractured into pairs where they must all work together to strive against the might of Krall, played effectively by Idris Elba. Simon Pegg pens the script here and you can feel his influence throughout in the playful pairings of the crew, Spock and Bones in particular was a great choice. The film leans a bit into nostalgia, and the revival series has earned it’s place among the canon to do so. It’s a bright future for the franchise and I can’t wait to see what they do next in “Infinity”… I mean, it might not be called that, but if they don’t name it “Infinity” they clearly missed an opportunity.

th-7

Kubo and the Two Strings

This stop motion animated epic from Laika Studios is one of their very finest work.Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, & Matthew McConaughey throw their talent behind the voices of Monkey, the Moon King, and Beetle respectively and much of it works to great effect. Kubo (Art Parkinson from Game of Thrones) is our hero who must retrieve his lost father’s armor and weapons to defeat the evil Moon King once his hiding place is discovered. Akin to a Legend of Zelda set up, this adventure wisely relies on wit and humor with crazily intricate fight sequences throughout to craft an entertaining and solid flick for children and adults.

 

th-8

Snowden

Oliver Stone’s newest film tackles the recent international affairs of Edward Snowden, the name known the world over for unleashing news of America’s sweeping surveillance program put in place by the NSA. These revelations that our government was spying, not just on other nations, but on our own citizens has changed the course of history and will have a lasting effect on policy and politics. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt effectively portrays the title character in a very true to life scenario. Shailene Woodley also stars as Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, and injects an authentic charm into the film, which is a role that I believe will net her more projects in the future. The film may lag in spots because of it’s devotion to reality, but it doesn’t make this tale any less fascinating or important.

 

la-la-land-poster

La La Land

Combining a love and devotion to Golden age Hollywood Musicals with modern sensibilities and new age ability “La La Land” is easily one of my favorite films of 2016. This is a film that was made by somebody that had something to say, and that is powerful. When a crew this dedicated to perfection comes together-it’s palpable. The amount of pure determination showcased in this film with all of the choreography, the dancing, the music, the acting, the lighting, it’s astounding how it all works! This film is about the push and pull of love of art versus the art of love, but more than anything else, it’s about hope and the pursuit of happiness. If you’re a creative person at all (and that can be applied to many, many, many variations) you will likely love this film. If you love film, you may even adore it. Even more importantly than that-you should see this movie, challenge yourself if you’re not a musical person, these are extremely human characters telling an incredibly relatable tale. This is masterclass filmmaking at it’s finest, so much so that Damien Chazelle will likely become a household name after this, and he’s earned it!

the-nice-guys-mondo-poster-400x600

The Nice Guys

Critically underwatched, “The Nice Guys” is definitely one of my favorites of the year! Set in 1970’s L.A. Gosling is an alcoholic Private-Eye who ends up teaming with Crowe’s burly muscle with a heart of gold when they stumble upon a sprawling conspiracy while investigating the alleged suicide of a famous female porn star. This is hands-down the best script of the year and possibly the hardest I laughed at a movie all year, although “the Hunt for the Wilderpeople” gives that title serious competition. Directed by Shane Black in brilliant fashion, “The Nice Guys” harbours hilarity, a snappy script, and unlimited charisma between the leads to combine into a new classic.

 

th-3

Sing Street

As the second musically themed movie on this list, “Sing Street” shares similarities about love and risk, but it is also about family and brothers. Set in the 1980’s in Dublin, Ireland the story centers on Conor, a 14 year old boy that’s strained by the familial stress at home from his parents’ arguments about love and money after he’s sent to a rough-and-tough inner city public school. He eventually finds a cool girl named Raphina whom he invites to be in a music video for his band. Then he sets out to create said band. The film is full of optimistic heart and catchy tunes from the era as Conor and his newfound friends play music, engage in youthful rebellion, and fall in love. “Sing Street” shows us that music has the power to sweep us away from the turmoil of everyday life and transform us into something far greater.

dunn-zootopia

Zootopia

Proving to be smarter than your average anthropomorphized animation, Disney’s “Zootopia” is a well crafted tale with timely lessons held within it. The story is about assumptions based on appearances, and how we (or in this case the animals of Zootopia) should approach diversity and challenge our reactions. The film follows Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin), a small town bunny with big city aspirations. She desperately wants to be a police officer, which would make her Zootopia’s first bunny cop. Right away she is placed on meter maid duty but stumbles upon a case much bigger than expected by association of Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), a sly Fox that she encounters on her first day as an officer. From there the two reluctantly work together to follow the scent of foul play afoot. This is a wildly entertaining movie by Disney that has enough humor and stylish zany cartoon antics to keep children appeased with a story that adults can also appreciate. Also starring in the film as various animals are J.K. Simmons, Idris Elba, Kristen Bell, Alan Tudyk, Tommy Chong, and Shakira. Definitely check this one out if you missed it!

Image result for shin godzilla

Shin Godzilla

Toho Studios revived their radioactive giant once more last summer in Japan to soaring review scores while also becoming a box office home-run. This is a smart monster flick that utilizes the current political landscape in Japan as a foundation for tension as well as mindful social commentary. There is camp and visceral destruction to be had of course but, the film also deftly uses Godzilla as an opportunity to decide whether or not to use force when the country effectively has no military. The film casts a wide net on the scope of the film by showcasing how Godzilla’s very presence effects the lives of the people in Tokyo and surrounding areas. This does a lot to present the audience with an effective grasp on just how many moving parts would have to come into play under such an event. There are many conversations between leading personnel about the streams of red tape and hurdles they have to jump through just to get anything done. A lot of the plot rests on these debates. The film carefully considers the weight of taking action, of following procedures, and whether or not to choose independently. As an added plus this new Godzilla has a ridiculous range of destruction rendering abilities.

 

th-11

Silence

Ending an incredibly long creative journey for legendary film director Martin Scorsese, “Silence” is a long and thought provoking summation on religion, faith, and to what lengths two men of faith will go to spread the teachings of their religion. Set in the 1640’s this is the story of two Portuguese Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver respectively) who travel to Japan to retrieve their former mentor (Liam Neeson) who had been reported as denouncing his faith in public. Scorsese is one of the last great American film directors from an age when films took their time to tell you their story. Patience is important regarding “Silence”, but while it has a long runtime, the film rewards you with visual cinematic beauty. This is not in reference to any special effects, but rather classical imagery evocative of renaissance paintings, for much of the movie regards framing, movement, and staging in this manner. Andrew Garfield will find similar themes and ideas here in comparison to his most recent role in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge”. However while Gibson’s  film had Garfield’s character utilizing his faith as a source of power-as the solution to his problems- the same cannot be said for Scorsese’s epic where Garfield’s character has to ponder whether or not his religious convictions are causing his problems. Adam Driver, still riding high from his villainous role in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, encounters a supporting role that isn’t quite as involved as Garfield’s, but is meaty with the themes that weigh on the shoulders of the story nonetheless. This a beautifully realized film, however you should measure your expectations for the type of story you’ll be encountering. If you are appreciative of the visual arts or the art of cinematography and directing in film then this is something you’ll likely enjoy.

 

th-9

*A Monster Calls

Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, and Liam Neeson (as the Monster) surround Lewis Macdougall as Conor, a young boy dealing with familial illness, schoolyard bullies, and the trials of youth. This is an engrossing coming-of-age story that is awash in vibrant color, brilliant special effects, and dark themes that the film boldly never shies away from. The film seems to be partly fantastical in it’s cinematography and art direction while deftly weaving in a teary-eyed story of loss and growth. Keep an eye out for this one.

 

th-10

*Hell or High Water

A modern day Western in the skin of a bank heist thriller, “Hell or High Water” offers a tried and true formula that is ultimately satisfying on multiple levels.  Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are two renegade brothers that start running multiple bank heists and subsequently getting rid of the evidence, then starting up the cycle again constantly keeping the cops at bay. That is, until Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Briudges) arrives on the scene looking for one last grand pursuit before retirement becomes his reality. The efficient pacing and solid character work here elevates this above mindless popcorn gunplay, comparisons have even been made to a more bombastic “No Country for Old Men”. If you enjoy the Western genre or a solid cat and mouse heist thriller; you’ll likely find much to enjoy here!

 

th-12

*Nocturnal Animals

Written and directed by Tom Ford (a well established American fashion designer, this is his second film), “Nocturnal Animals”follows Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal as a divorced couple that get caught up in a haunting romance thriller. The film begins with a passion-lost Amy Adams owning an art gallery and living in a mansion in L.A. while her current husband (Armie Hammer) flubs their planned vacation and she ends up reading a book sent to her that was written by her former husband, Jake Gyllenhaal. This opens up the story contained within the book, a film within a film if you will, in which Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-johnson also star as side characters. Eventually the book melds with elements of the modern day storyline to form a violent and dark thriller that has a mixture of revenge, love, cowardice, and art all intertwined together.

th (13).jpg

*The Edge of Seventeen

Not just another coming-of-age movie, “The Edge of Seventeen” wisely plays on the humor and emotional trauma of what it’s like to be a young woman in today’s world. The plot centers around Nadine, played with appropriate angst that endears sympathy by Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), as her popular older brother starts dating her best friend. Ouch. That’s prime awkward Teen comedy/growth material. Woody Harrelson is also a supporting character here portraying Nadine’s History teacher who becomes a sort of venting partner/mentor throughout the film. A step above many in this genre; “The Edge of Seventeen” effectively reminds us of classics like “The Breakfast club”, “Sixteen Candles” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” particularly because it doesn’t hold back its punches and inserts some well respected honesty into the story.

th-14

*Arrival

Hailed as one of the most memorable performances from Amy Adams in a leading role, “Arrival” is the thinking man’s (Or woman’s!) science fiction film. This alien invasion starts the film as an elite team is brought in by the government to try to understand this possibly invading force. Adam’s character, Dr. Louise Banks, is a superb linguist joined by a welcoming physicist Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner) as agents of the military, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and others, inform them with what they know. There are eleven other gigantic alien crafts besides the one floating out in the wilderness of Montana, the alien spaceships reside in plain view as solitary stone-like structures in Shanghai, Siberia, Sudan, and Sierre Leone to name a few. Their mission is multifacted. They must open a line of communication with the aliens quickly, before the Russians or Chinese do, while yet learning more about them than what they can learn of us, the military influence pressures this with overbearing intent. This film is delibreate, cerebral, mysterious, and tension permeates the dialogue throughout. Another exceptional entry from Denis Villeneuve, who also directed Sicario, cementing yet another director to keep an eye out for!

 

th-15

*Manchester by the Sea

After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him the sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the sea” has been bandied about as the character piece that will likely skyrocket Casey Affleck to the top of many Oscar contenders lists. This is a painful yet powerful tale of the tragedies of life along with the nuances that accompany it. There is a palpable sadness that is true to life, it makes the experience fuller, and richer with humanity than it would have been without. This seems to be among the top awards contenders, showcasing unchained acting that feels authentic beyond measure.

 

th-16

*Green Room

Posing as a genre B-movie thriller, yet proving to be much more, “Green Room” offers an offbeat and intelligent addition to the horror/thriller genre. Punk rock band, “The Ain’t rights” are roughing it out, low on money, gas, and energy when they hear of an odd opportunity in the backwoods of Oregon- playing a show for Neo-Nazis. Reluctantly they accept but end up accidentally witnessing a brutally violent act. The club’s owner, played with a fiendishly fun and elegantly evil performance by Sir Patrick Stewart, quickly mobilizes his cronies to get rid of the outsiders. The rest of the film delves into murderous fun full of dark humor, expertly crafted tension, and a wicked good time. With the exception of his role as Chekov in “Star Trek Beyond” this is Anton Yelchin’s last starring role, and its one that’s worth watching if you’ve been craving a unique and violent genre flick.

 

th-17

*The Lobster

Requiring an acutely acquired taste, “The Lobster” will most undoubtedly be a rare viewing opportunity for most. Despite its drab color scheme, muted and bleak, or the nature of its droll adaption of society, this film creates a truly unique effort. In the near future being single has been outlawed. If found to be single, you’re quickly transferred to a prison/hotel of sorts, with strictly enforced rules, where you must meet another single participant and become a couple within forty-five days or you’ll be transformed into an animal of your choosing. The film isn’t a straight up comedy, but there are many moments throughout that elicit laughter, particularly for the absurdity of the scene itself. It acts as a social commentary on how society can pressure people into finding soulmates so much that it leads to reckless choices, however the film flips this ideology by applying this radical treatment to people who are happy being single. The films stars Colin Farrell in the lead role (an uncharacteristically oddball choice for the actor), and Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Angeliki Papoulia as supporting characters.

 

th-18

*Paterson

The latest film from Jim Jarmusch “Paterson” is about Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives and works as a bus driver and would-be poet, with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) in the town of Paterson, New Jersey. If you’ve never seen a Jim Jarmusch film, you might say, “Wow, not a lot happens in this movie”, welcome to his style. This is, much like his filmography suggests, a repetitive rumination with beauty and comedy meshed in-but here it excels beyond previous efforts because of the performances and the ideology of the story. Paterson is about everyday life and trying to create art inbetween shifts at work, and the different ways people approach this. His girlfriend Laura, for example, treats every day as a new art project and switches from country music singing to another skillset or genre altogether. Paterson writes art, but Laura lives it. Jarmusch doesn’t play favorites with each character’s personal style either, both are presented as different approaches from different perspectives, no right or wrong here. Charmingly mundane, “Paterson” is a collection of very human moments, where Paterson will overhear bus passengers tell tales, catch up on the love lives of the barflies at the local bar he frequents, banter with bartenders, and passes by a late-night laundromat where Method Man (as himself) is rapping about the 19th-century black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. It’ a pretty Zen film and a lovely change of pace, check it out for something new!

 

th-19

*The Witch

One of the freshest horror films to come out this year, “The Witch” delivers it’s scares with proper skill and serious commitment. In a dread filled, puritan embellished flick set in New England in the 1600’s, this film has an unreal amount of dedication to the correct period piece way of life. Not only does the film boast proper spoken English for the period, it is also regionally specific to that time, with Carolinian prose for these Calvinist settlers. Realism is key in this setting, because in this world, the supernatural does exist. There really is a witch out in the woods plaguing the town, and how the film builds tension versus how it unravels it’s secrets will grip you until the credits.

 

th-20

*Moonlight

“Moonlight” acts as a series of one act plays all centering on a character in three specific periods of his life: as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult. Accordingly, three different actors perform as Chiron during these eras of his life (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes). This all makes sense as it is an adaption of the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Told in these particularly powerful stanzas is the story of Chiron and his path in life as he attempts to understand society and more closely, himself. Witnessing Chiron’s progress is both thrilling and agonizing as he tackles manhood and the issues he faces because of his sexuality. Being his second film, Barry Jenkins crafts a story that is very specific yet it has an inclusive nature of universality among its scenes without ever weakening the value of whose story is being told. The nature and meaning of manhood is the most primed focus here. How tough are you supposed to be? How cruel, or tender? How brave? And how are you supposed to learn? These are all pondered on and exemplified throughout the film. As powerful and challenging a look at life as you will ever come across, “Moonlight” is more than deserving of its award season buzz.

 

fences

*Fences

Starring, and directed by Denzel Washington “Fences” is an adaption of the 1987 Pulitzer prize-winning play by August Wilson. This isn’t the first time Washington has played around with the material though as both he and Viola Davis, also starring in the film adaption, were awarded Tonys for their 2010 revival of the Broadway play. The film, set in the mid 1950’s, is about Troy (Washington) and the inner workings of his family, through thick and thin. There may be temptation to limit Troy to his outwardly friendly demeanor at first, however upon peeling back the layers we see a man who is far more complex than is first realized. Bitter that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier years after he was able to play on the national stage, Troy barks harshly at his children who dream of being musicians and college football players undercutting their hopes with a dark realism that the world has not changed as ideally as they would like to believe. Troy’s wife Rose (Davis) battles him verbally as the film progresses and enters into a monologue at the end that will ensure her name in the best supporting actress nomination. Intense and raw acting paired with brilliantly impactful dialogue, this is definitely among the best performances from this year.

 

th-22

*The Founder

The story of Ray Croc, founder of the franchised McDonalds, is a story-as the trailers say- of persistence. Michael Keaton looks to soar in this grimy power grab of a film about the rise of McDonalds through shear determination.. and slimy business tactics. This is the tale of how a wily businessman took an idea and made into one of the most profitable and globally recognized property of the twentieth century. The supporting cast is also excellently rounded out by Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, and Patrick Wilson.

The Bad

Image result for independence day 2

Independence Day 2: Resurgence

This sequel tries so very hard to outdo it’s much loved predecessor, and fails in alomst every regard in that attempt. It’s worth a watch just for Jeff Goldblum’s antics, but make no mistake, much of this film was a mistake. The biggest issue, it seems to me, is that the film tries to balance two very different tones that don’t mesh well. While attempting to recreate that 1990’s big budget take on Sci-Fi and Aliens in all it’s explosive glory, the film wanders near that attitude, but then veers into our post “Dark Knight” world where dark and brooding close-ups reign in measured and overly serious bits. I say, if you’re going to do weird, go full weird. Don’t wander between tones like that, it shows indecision based on fear and profit margins, not the inherent joy of fighting off an alien invasion that we should be getting from this movie. Honestly, with “Collateral Beauty” and “Suicide Squad” now on Will Smith’s filmography, he’s shown a willingness to take on terrible films. He could have done something this film- and it would have benefited greatly from his presence just as “Suicide Squad” did.

 

Image result for sausage party

Sausage Party

The idea here is somewhat brilliant, take an animated Disney style 3D animation focused on food products-but show them swearing constantly and point out all the sexual innuendos possible. There are enough puns here to sink a ship, and some of that is acceptable and pretty funny at times, however the problem with this flick is that it’s overly excessive with this idea. A swearing hot-dog can only induce so many giggles after all. That and there is some heavy handed themes against the ideas of the most popular religions, which I get-but again, it was a bit excessive.

 

Image result for alice through the looking glass

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Through the studio inspired paradigm of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, “Alice through the Looking Glass” is jam packed with colorful candy cane vomit. Decent visual effects can’t cover up a general lack of comittment to the characters and plot because it seems they have forgotten how to focus on telling a good and whimsical tale. From the opening Alice is now a swashbuckling adventuress that returns to feminist-viewpoint-squashing victorian era London to shove aside a former admirer before jumping through a mirror to land back in Wonderland. There’s something wrong with the Mad Hatter (who seems to have overgrown his original place in Carroll’s stories to appease fans of Depp’s first outing as the character.) and Alice strives to help him sort it all out. While the pace seems to want to rush along a breakneck pace to keep you from noticing the near underserving of the well known characters, you can’t help but become aware of this as the runtime wanes on. Even a time travel sequence can’t hide the workman like response to try and recreate Tim Burton’s first take on the world, and his missing presence can be felt.

 

Image result for Passengers

Passengers

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in this futuristic sci-fi romance as two passengers on an intergalactic voyage that are awakened 90 years too early. There are aspects about this flick to be admired, it’s not downright bad, it’s just lackluster. There is a twist that is revealed way too early in the film that could have been played for far more benefit if certain elements had simply been told in a different order. Other than that both Pratt and Lawrence are fine in their roles but they were clearly not challenged by the director to dig deeper or find the center of these characters because both seem to act exactly how you would expect either celebrity to act, they played into their own archetypes and the romance never feels fully developed, there is a false charm to it. Personally, I believe this is one of the few movies that I would have preferred as a book where the author could have the time to develop the characters better.

 

Image result for Gods of Egypt

*Gods of Egypt

While this whitewashed take on Egyptian mythology is saturated in bad CGI and immense overacting-It can be a good time in the right setting. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) as Horus, Gerard Butler as Set, & Brenton Thwaites as ‘mere mortal’ Bek play as the lead characters in which Set usurps Horus’ rise to power among the Gods. Horus then unites with Bek to undo Set’s ravenous power grab. Although, admittedly the story doesn’t really matter here as this movie doubles down on the ridiculous aspects as much as possible. For example, the Gods are physically much larger than mortals, but not to a gigantic amount, reaching roughly around ten feet tall making pairings of the mismatched characters outright silly from the beginning. Geoffrey Rush, Chadwick Boseman, & Elodie Yung also all star in this film. This is unequivocally the best “so bad it’s good” movie of the year.

 

Image result for Ghostbusters

*Ghostbusters

It’s a credit to this film’s creative team that this wasn’t down in the “Ugly” section of films that came out this year, it wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t all that great. Pitched as a female led revival of the Ghostbusters franchise, this straight up recycle of the first Ghostbusters was largely just “okay”. The worst I heard about the film was just that it wasn’t really quite as good as the first and that some of the jokes fell flat. Now, just because something isn’t as good as we would have liked doesn’t mean it deserves the hate it got. Personally, I say if Paul Feig wants to make a sequel, let him-he might be able improve upon the franchise now that they’ve wandered knee deep into the material and know what works and what doesn’t. They should probably ditch the “Answer the call” tagline though, doesn’t seem to make much sense.

 

Image result for tmnt out of the shadows

*Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows

While the sequel quelled some of the problems with the initial outing, these corrections and changes were not enough to make the “Michael Bay-ification” of the turtles worthwhile. The additions of Bebop and Rocksteady alone will assuage nostalgia for some older fans of the material though it cannot cover the sugar coated glean of issues plaguing most of the film. Movies like this can be fun and intelligently made, just look at any Marvel Studios movie, this one just lacks enough wit and charm to merit any further iterations, although we’ll probably get one anyway.

 

Image result for BFG

*The BFG

An adaption of Roald Dahl’s literary children’s classic “The BFG” sits on the bad list not because it is necessarily terrible, it’s here because Steven Spielberg made it-and it’s somewhat lackluster. The story is about a small girl and a giant (Mark Rylance) who set out to stop evil man eating giants that have begun to invade the human world. The visual effects are efficient, and there is some merit to the film, but when Steven Spielberg steps up to the camera we’ve all come to expect the cinematic “magic” that is so often associated with his work, and there isn’t much to feel here.

 

Image result for x men apocalypse

*X-men: Apocalypse

Sequel/prequel/threequel “Xmen: Apocalypse” unfortunately fell from the heights that “Days of Future Past” set it up for. The film is overloaded with an over reliance on special effects, to the point that it’s trying to cover for a weak and baseless villain who unfortunately falls prey to cliche. However the film isn’t straight up awful, there is fun to be had here at times, but the shortcomings outweigh the few strengths available to them. Which is a shame, because the cast is great, they were simply under-served by the film around them. Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) story is really the only one that has good motivation, everyone else’s is either sub-par or passable. However the biggest failure is most definitely the wasted opportunity of Oscar Issac as En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse. He is resurrected and begins his world domination with a fairly poor plan and almost no characterization. Besides the multitude of characters (which can be done intelligently ie Civil War), weak excuses for destruction, and lack of reasoning as to why killing off humanity would make the world a better place-the film has entertaining moments, but they’re simply not enough. To quote Jean Grey (Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones) after viewing “Return of the Jedi” in the movie, “The third ones always suck”.

 

Image result for Bourne

*Jason Bourne

What do you do with a character whose former motivation was regaining his memory, now that he remembers everything? Well, you end up with “Jason Bourne”. This is a film that has a magnetic lead in Matt Damon, and an effective director in Paul Greengrass, but it cannot shake the fact that they are working with seriously thin material. More of the same and yet nothing new. This latest Bourne flick has him chasing down the mystery behind his father’s association with the Black Ops Treadstone program. The typical character archetypes of past Bourne iterations are present; the shifty middle-aged intelligence chief, the female CIA agent who eventually believes Bourne’s actually a good guy, and a fierce opposing assassin. The shaky cam fight sequences are back too, which isn’t a good thing in my opinion, especially while shot in the dark. There might be a good fight scene happening, but the audience is just listening to two guys trying to kill each other in the dark. This is passable summer diversion, just don’t reflect too long on the films that came before this one, lest you realize this lesser Bourne for what it is.

 

 

Image result for Legend of Tarzan

*Legend of Tarzan

Another year and another reboot of an ages old property. Granted this Tarzan adaption attempts to be weightier than most of its predecessors, it doesn’t do much else to warrant this revival. With a capable cast and hints of Tarantino glory, this is a reteaming of Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson after all, the film begins with Tarzan returning to the Congo after having lived in London for some time as John Clayton III aka Lord Greystroke. His reason for returning to the jungles of the Congo? He’s told of a Belgian plot, led by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), to conquer the land and subjugate it’s people. This news comes to him by way of American diplomat George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), and it isn’t long before they travel, along with Tarzan’s Wife (Margot Robbie), to the African continent together to foil it. David Yates attempts to distance this film from some of the more unsavory aspects of the character’s past, ie being a white savior to the African countries and peoples along with the way Jane is typically presented, and he succeeds on some parts. Particularly when Jane is captive and spits in Rom’s face upon him mocking her and attempting to stir a scream, when she responds fiercely “Like a Damsel?”. There are fun aspects to the film, however it’s hard to get past the past when it comes to transforming Tarzan into an eighteenth century superhero of the jungle.

 

The Ugly

Image result for batman vs superman

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Two of the most iconic superheroes of all time come together in a fury of fisticuffs. Sounds like fun right? Wrong. Long, muddled, and a flawed understanding of the characters leads this film straight to the dump. At least the ultimate edition straightened out that Lois Lane scene at the beginning of the film. #Martha

 

Image result for suicide squad worst heroes ever

Suicide Squad

With a tagline like “Worst. Hereos. Ever.” you’d think this film would have a fun edge with a sassy commentary on the tropes and themes of modern superhero flicks. Wrong again. 1 & 1/2 acts of introducing characters set to outrageously overplayed hits, the only saving grace here is that Will Smith and Margot Robbie make the film worth a watch, but not much more.

 

Image result for assassin's creed movie

Assassin’s Creed

There was a hope among many that “Assassin’s Creed” could break the video game to film adaption curse. It most definitely did not. This film is overly loud and so frantic you can barely tell what’s going on at times. The hyper fast editing style also didn’t help, there may be good choreography in this film but you wouldn’t know it as the camera cuts away from the action so many times to get sweeping location shots that add nothing but more confusion. Michael Fassbender is an extraordinary actor but maybe he should choose his projects more carefully after this because his “I’m Crazy” sequence alone was so over the top and out of place I literally mouthed “What the hell is going on?” in the theater. The story only takes a barebones structure of narrative from the games and dashes the rest of the rich stories available to them. Particularly curious was the choice to make Fassbender’s ancestor a near mute, with “devoted to the cause” being his only character trait and motivation. Ezio Auditore had charisma, layers, and purpose. No one in this film came close. Oh Ubisoft, maybe next time?

 

Image result for ben hur

*Ben Hur

A remake of one of Hollywood’s golden age classics is already enough to boil some viewer’s minds just at the thought. A couple of visually interesting scenes cannot save this trainwreck from the graveyard. Morgan Freeman’s dreadlocks and an overly butterflys-and-cake-frosting ending send this movie into the abyss of unwatchables.

 

Image result for zoolander 2

*Zoolander 2

Not only did this sequel not need to happen (Nor was anyone clamoring for it), it retroactively makes the first movie worse. The comedy sensibilities of the first film do not work 16 years later, and it shows. The first movie worked for its time, but it’s a different world now. Cringeworthy at best, Ben Stiller- what happened?

 

Image result for max steel

*Max Steel

A half baked and eye rollingly bad cash grab for an action figure with no notable name recognition (At least for me, and I grew up in the 1990’s!), “Max Steel” isn’t even “laughably bad”-good, it’s just bad.

 

Image result for Nine Lives

*Nine Lives

Who knew Kevin Spacey needed money this bad? At least, that’s the theory I have for why this movie even exists. Kevin Spacey stars as a daredevil businessman who rushes to get a cat (which he hates) for his daughter for her birthday, and is thus somehow turned into that very cat. This is an entirely forgettable, debasing, poorly written, with hamfisted acting abound, slog of a movie. Please, for your own good, do not waste your time on this one.

 

Image result for Fifth Wave

*The Fifth Wave

Generic and middling in plot with forgettable tropes that are overly familiar to this sub-genre of films, “The Fifth Wave” is another bad effects and teenage-love-triangle-riddled bland movie. Maybe this film will be the end of the Young Adult (YA) dystopian films. We can only hope for so much.

 

Image result for collateral beauty

*Collateral Beauty

While some of the performances here are fine, Will Smith in particular, this film resides on the ugly list for how it was marketed versus what the story actually is. I won’t ruin it for you, but just know that the story is morally deficient and that there’s a reason it was buried under the latest Star Wars film.

 

*For one reason or another I did not get to see this film (yet), or simply wasn’t all that interested but thought it was worth mentioning. I have collected a general sense of the film through the marketing, reviews in video or written form, and the general consensus from word-of-mouth experiences through secondhand accounts. Some of these may receive individual reviews if I find them interesting enough to write about after an initial viewing.

 

film

Favorites of 2015

2015 was another excellent year for the film industry! Cars, Dinosaurs, Spies, Emotions, Space, Robots, and Boxing! Last year had all of those genre regulars and more, especially the spies, we had a great many antics within that realm. Here though is where I take a moment to zone in on all the films that I believe earned high praise. These aren’t Oscar picks, nor are they the films I think that are “The Best”, but rather my personal favorites of 2015, aka the Future.

Ex-Machina

Between the Avengers sequel, Chappie, and this lovely little film by Alex Garland you might sense an anxiety about artificial intelligence in the cultural Zeitgeist. This film is the best out of those three and not because of any special effects, although it does look good when it has to, but because of the ideas it introduces and leans on. The story centers on Genius Mastermind Nathan Bateman’s (Oscar Issac) latest creation, artificial intelligence, and the turing test administered to said creation by an employee of Bateman’s tech company in the form of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson). Alicia Vikander’s performance as the savvy AI Ava is the masterful centerpiece performance that the axis of the story pivots on throughout. A smart psychological thriller worth falling in love with.

Kingsmen: The Secret Service

I went into ‘Kingsmen’ not knowing what to expect, it is from this point that I benefitted from most. It was unexpected , high octane, gleeful action snazzed up in a fine suit and cufflinks. With a nicely fleshed out cast surrounding the new talent ‘Kingsmen’ took the spy movie to a memorable new place, and in a year when both Mission Impossible and James Bond earning  entries in their respective pantheons, that is no small feat. Taron Egerton stars as the young street level inductee into the british spy organization known as, you guessed it, The Kingsmen, a highly refined and hyper violent group that saves the world while looking exceptionally dapper. Watch for the Church scene, it’s a bloody affair. This is  strong kinetic action in a new property that knows its place in the world of genre fair spy films, and it revels in it.

What We Do in The Shadows

Easily my favorite comedy of the year, ‘What we do in the shadows’ utilizes the mythology of The Vampire to spin pure comedic gold. Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav ( Taika Waititi, Jonny Brugh, & Jermaine Clement) play three vampires, all born and from different time periods, that all room together in the same house in New Zealand and squabble with each other over things like rent obligations, chore responsibilities, getting into nightclubs, and squashing conflicts among themselves. Done in a mocumentary style in which a film crew follows the vampire gang around filming their everyday lives. I found it to be a pun and wordplay laced riotfest throughout the runtime. Genius comedy filmmaking in a unique style and voice.

Mad Max: Fury Road

What can I say about ‘Mad Max: Fury road’ that hasn’t already been said? It’s grandiose. Gorgeous. Brutal. Spectacular. Intense. Gritty. Pure Fun. If you somehow haven’t seen this film yet, you need to. Point blank. It’s that simple. Need more? It’s the best car chase sequence in film history and its oddly, and beautifully, feminist in its nature. With the addition of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa the decades old series has roared back to life, even without the original Mad Max himself, Mel. Tom Hardy played Max in a gruff and tortured turn and it worked better than expected. George Miller has made a ground breaking Mad man’s masterpiece in his seventies, we should all be so inspired.

Turbo Kid

This film is the bloodiest entry on my list. It’s also the most heavily 80’s inspired piece as well. ‘Turbo Kid’ is an independent flick that takes place in a radioactive wasteland version of an apocalyptic future… in 1997. The toxic tale follows our young and lonely protagonist (Munro Chambers) as he takes on a tyrannical one eyed overlord, Zeus (Michael Irondside), to save his newly acquired, and bombastically enthusiastic friend Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). There’s saw-blades and fountains of blood, bicycles chase sequences, and a cowboy with a robotic arm. It’s weird and self aware, and a lovely unique film, check it out!

Dope

This story is about well meaning misfits Malcolm, Jib, & Diggy (Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, & Kiersey Clemons) as they navigate the end of their High school experience in modern day Los Angeles. As self proclaimed geeks that are in love with 1990’s hip hop and culture the three are fleshed out, layered characters that get caught up in outrageous scenarios. Malcolm in particular is the character we follow most closely as the story progresses. As life in a tough neighborhood has its own challenges Malcolm has his sights set on gaining higher education admittance, he just has to survive with his friends until graduation. The message of the movie lays out nicely over the course of the story and admittedly, I might be partial to coming of age storylines if done well, and this film definitely falls into that category. This won’t be the last time you see the three leads, they each ooze charisma were all a joy to see onscreen.

Inside Out

Pixar hit another homerun with ‘Inside Out’. It’s instantly memorable and heart wrenching. Only this studio could take such a concept and make it so relevant to the inner child in each of us. We follow Riley, a young girl that must navigate the new challenges of life in San Franscisco after her family moves to the west coast from the wintry Midwest. Riley’s emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, & Disgust all vie for the best method of handling these new hurdles in life. Learning concepts like ‘It’s okay to be sad’ and ‘Life has ups and downs, we all just learn to live and make the best of it with a healthy mindset’. It’s a brilliant film with a stellar voice cast to round out a profund idea with Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling.

Jurassic World

I may get some flack, maybe even lose some credit for having this film on my list for some, but I can’t help the fact that I absolutely loved this film. Is it perfect? No, not at all. Is it better than the original Jurassic Park? No, absolutely not! But it IS a very fun monster movie with a super predator hunting our heroes. I quite enjoyed the antics of Owen and Claire (Chris Pratt & Bryce Dallas Howard) as they tried to retrieve and save Claire’s nephews from the Indominus Rex. Like I said, I recognize that some characterizations were slightly cartoonish to say the least, Vincent D’Onofrio’s villainous character for example has hilarious motivations, using Raptors for Military use? If you thought a Dino theme park was nuts then strap in, it gets a little nuts. It’s just great to see dinosaurs in movies again.

Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation

Who knew Tom Cruise had this revival of the last few years in him? After a resounding return to form in the fourth Mission Impossible the lastest doesn’t quite live up to Ghost Protocol’s standard, but its an incredibly enjoyable return to the Impossible franchise. As in both Rogue Nation and this year’s 007’s Spectre the plot centers around our hero spy taking on a shadowy organization on a globe trekking scale with plenty of action, intrigue, charm, and huge set pieces. If you want a solid spy movie, this might be the best of the year,  which is saying something in a year when the genre exploded with numerous unique attempts.

Creed

My personal favorite of the year, ‘Creed’ is the story of Adonis Creed, son of famed Rocky Balboa opponent Apollo Creed, as he comes to terms with the legacy of his father and shaping his own future going forward. Stallone shines again as the Italian Stalian in one of the best performances he’s given in years and Michael B. Jordan deftly crafts Adonis as a hungry and determined personality that snaps and crackles with potential in his punches. The beauty of Rocky’s story coming full circle as he trains Adonis in the ring coupled with exquisitely shot fight sequences in and out of the ring ties everything together incredibly well in the end, the film doesn’t even feel like it should have the right to be this good. There isn’t a single shot I would change, and I find it a disappointment that Ryan Coogler wasn’t nominated for Best Director for this film, he deserves it.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars. Modern Mythology at its finest. The Force Awakens did exactly what it needed to do following the somewhat disastrous prequel films of the early 2000’s. It brought back memorable characters, like Chewbacca & Han Solo, scenery and aesthetics from the original films, and established new fan favorites in Finn, Rey, and Poe (John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, & Oscar Isaac). We also got new villains in Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke, the overlord of the new evil regime The First Order. Granted, this isn’t the best Star Wars movie, it’s just a really satisfying entry in the saga that never ends.

Hector and The Search for Happiness (2014)

Lastly, here is where I cheat a bit. Technically yes, this film came out in 2014, but I didn’t even know of its existence, much less watch it, until 2015. This film has one of the qualities I love most about movies: It’s got an earnest positivity about it that doesn’t quit. I also have a tendency to love films that involve Simon Pegg. ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ is about Hector (Pegg), a psychiatrist in Britain that feels unfufilled by the doldrums of his overly regimented life. He laments giving people advice while not yet having lived life himself. Thus he goes off on an international quest to find the formula to Happiness. Is it a particularly challenging film for the viewer? No, not really, but that’s okay. It’s a tale meant to uplift, and maybe I’m a shmuck for it, but this film made me feel things, and I love it because of that.

Potential Contenders that (somehow) I missed: Straight Outta Compton, The Revenant, The Big Short, Spotlight, Sicario, The Danish Girl, Trumbo, Brooklyn, Peanuts, Spy, Trainwreck, Sisters, Joy, Chappie, & Concussion

Those are the films that affected me most over the course of 2015. It was a uniquely stellar year in which Hollywood learned that some franchise returns can yield Box Office smashing results like Mad Max, Jurassic World, and Star Wars. However they also learned that some franchises don’t soar as high as they could or should, here’s looking at you Terminator Genisys and 007’s Spectre. Let’s Hope this year holds as many gems, if Deadpool is any indicator it’s going to be a weirdly amazing year. Go see Deadpool if you’re old enough, it’s a bloody riot in the best sense. Then see it again.

film

Review: Star Wars The Force Awakens, or “A New Hope Part 2”

This review will be Spoiler free.

Finally. It has happened. We got a good ‘Star Wars’ movie. From the moment the opening crawl descends on us until the end credits hit the screen I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face if I tried. The Force Awakens is easily the best Star Wars film in decades, and while it does have some flaws within it- the film succeeds on almost every front.

The Story follows Rey, a scrapper from the desert planet Jakku, Finn, a renegade Stormtrooper of the First Order, and Poe Dameron, the Resistance’s ace pilot among others. The search for Luke Skywalker is the main thrust of the film as the opening credits inform us, “Luke Skywalker has vanished..” and his sister, General Leia Organa begins the search through trusted X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron. From there we are quickly introduced to the previously mentioned leads and spend some time getting to know them through their actions before stumbling into the lovable scoundrel turned rebellion hero, Han Solo. The first act does an impeccable job meshing the fresh with the familiar. Finn and Solo’s banter alone is gold, but it is a relatively small moment between a litany of lovingly crafted scenes and a clear respect and adoration of the original trilogy and the world it inhabited long, long ago.

Firstly, mother of God the amount of practical effects and production design showcased in this film by itself is almost enough to wash away those feverish nightmares of senate meetings and insufferable Gungans. But enough about the terrible Star Wars movies because this one is great! Maz, a new character, runs a ‘watering hole’ that Han and the new kids eventually arrive at and it is a feast for the eyes as every square inch is packed with puppets, costumes, makeup, and props. Kudos JJ, Kudos. Even BB-8 himself (herself?) was practically created. Robots and aliens aside the best parts about the film are the new characters and how they interact within the story and world. Rey is the standout performance, a young female lead that is incredibly capable and quickwitted? Yes please. We need more of her ilk in huge pop culture films!

As a villain, Kylo Ren was better than expected. He had layers that became more intricate as the runtime trotted along, and he was ridiculously powerful with the force. Plus he actually made use of the extra crossblades of his lightsaber, nice to see they weren’t just for show. As there were a lot of homages and familiarity throughout this film there was also another shadowy figure pulling strings in the background, Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke was but one of two CGI characters in the film, the other being Maz, and in a film with such a focus on the practical effects in the world, they stood out, and not in the best way. That’s not to say they weren’t interesting characters, just curious that they would go that route when other methods would have been more in canon with the Original Trilogy. A mild complaint in the end. There will be more to be known about Snoke as we get more of these films, but let’s hope, for the love of god, that its not Palpatine… somehow.

There is a very fine between good and evil in this iteration, and some characters straddle the line with poise, but it is an engaging turmoil that boils over onscreen for those involved. The New Order may be vague in its deliberate mission statement, but that’s okay, we all know this is the first step in a new trilogy and who wants to know all the secrets right away anyways. The film tantalizes us with homages to old but keeps us tethered to the story with the curious nature of, how will this unfold? What’s next? This is the first time in a very long time that we know not the ultimate outcome of the standing, or current, set of ‘Star Wars’ movies. The New Order’s ambitions may not be known in terms of their exact inner workings, but we do know they are incredibly ambitious with what they have created.

Starkiller Base. Is it basically a bigger Death Star? Sort of. Only way more impressive, that and it lives up to its name. I won’t go into further detail for the three people that haven’t seen the film and also happen to be reading this, but know this- It is visually, very awesome. Oh and the Dogfighting that ensues is beyond nostalgic, but also simply very satisfying to watch. That really is the core of why this movie works so well, at just over two hours long the film feels like an hour twenty at most, it’s cogs are constantly churning from action to well timed banter or spaceship battles/chases. The pace is a triumph, and more than anything else, this film is pure fun. It won’t win any oscars, and that is completely fine because all this film had to do was give us something new, something familiar, and something fun. The film succeeds on every front, and then some.

Star Wars is playing until the end of time in all theaters everywhere. May the force be with you if you’re on the internet and still haven’t seen this movie for some reason. In the end we all got a good ‘Star Wars’ movie for Christmas, go and enjoy it!

Final Score: 4/5