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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.

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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