Saturday, January 30, 2016

Best of '15: Brooklyn

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Home is home.

You've seen this movie before...  My Daddy would always lament at the end of a movie like this, "Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl... yaaaaawwwwnnnn". That being said, this movie is one of the very best of the year. There's a reason stories of love won and lost are so popular, they cut to our very purpose. They send echoes of collective consciousnesses to our very soul. Saoirse Ronan is brilliant, and lovers of romantic cinema (such as myself) will be swept up right along with her on her journey, no matter how familiar. As the quote above says, "Home is home", and this movie feels like home.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Best of '15: The Big Short

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For fifteen thousand years, fraud and short sighted thinking have never, ever worked. Not once. Eventually you get caught, things go south. When the hell did we forget all that? I thought we were better than this, I really did.

As of this writing, I have seen 6 of the 8 Academy Award nominated best picture films (I still gotta get to Greenville to see Spotlight and Room). Of those six, The Big Short is my favorite. This movie is funny, witty, and entertaining, but most of all, it is timely. It serves as a warning of what to avoid in the future so that we can dodge another crisis like 2008. Sadly, it probably won't win Best Picture, and, even worse, its lessons will go unheeded, because, you know, the Man....

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Best of '15: The Revenant

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My heart bleeds. But revenge is in the creator's hands.

Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), Babel (2006), Biutiful (2010), Birdman (2014), The Revenant (2015)

That's one crazy perfect filmography, and if Alejandro Inarritu keeps it up he may just be cementing himself as the greatest director of the new millennium. Seriously, what other director has had 6 movies of that quality with no misses since 2000? Sure, Tarantino, the Coens, and even Spielberg would be in the conversation, but most people would agree that their masterpieces all came in the later part of the last decade. What's even more impressive is the films' diversity. Birdman and The Revenant are so incredibly distinct. He effortlessly switched from a claustrophobic dialogue-driven Broadway drama to a cinematography-driven French & Indian war era revenge tale.  Oh yeah, and I guess DiCaprio did okay....

Best of '15: Infinitely Polar Bear

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-I bet you're sorry you married him.

This movie is about a stay-at-home dad struggling to take care of his two daughters after returning from being hospitalized and still recovering from a "breakdown" related to his bipolar disorder. I'm sure you can imagine this is a pretty tough film to watch. But it's real. So real, that I was sure it had to be autobiographical. Sure enough, after I was done with the film, I looked up the director (Maya Forbes) who not only wrote the screenplay based on her childhood, but cast her real-life daughter as herself. You can't fake that kind of realism. A powerfully moving film about loving through all adversity.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Best of '15: The Hateful Eight

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-May I sit down sir?
-According to the Yankees it's a free country...

Woody Allen, Richard Linklater, Aaron Sorkin, Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino. The list of screenwriters that could hold my attention through any subject and without limit is a pretty short one, but it is a perfect one nonetheless. Of all the hoopla over #OscarsSoWhite this year, forgotten is the fact that both Aaron Sorkin (for Steve Jobs, which I still need to see) and Quentin Tarantino were snubbed for best screenplay. The movie is nominated appropriately for Ennio Morricone's nostalgic score, but this movie lives and dies (and dies and dies and dies...) with its QT-patented witty, grungy, and risky screenplay. If you like Quentin's other movies you'll dig this one. It isn't his best but, like the other directors listed above, it offers his fans the invaluable experience of witnessing more of his words on the screen. Which, when it comes down to it, is all we ever really want from Tarantino.

Best of '15: Bone Tomahawk

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Pain is how your body talks to you. You'd do well to listen to it.

This little movie would be most easily described as John Wayne's "The Searchers" with cannibal mutants. That wouldn't really be fair though, this movie is much more original than that.  ;)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Best of '15: I am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

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All of these decades of pure love.... that, of course, is the true secret to Big Bird.

Imagine a magical time and place where a group of creative people got together to make a television show for kids. Not for profit, not for ratings, not for merchandising, but just for kids. To teach kids their alphabet, numbers, and most of all that they were loved. Caroll Spinney serves as a perfect model for the Sesame Street ideal. This is most apparent when the documentary tells the backstory for the heart-wrenching "death of Mr. Hooper" storyline. My favorite documentary of 2015, and shamefully forgotten during this awards season.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Best of '15: Suffragette

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I would rather be a rebel than a slave.

We take the right to vote so embarrassingly for granted. Voting is the single most important aspect of representative democracy. We complain about our government, and yet have only ourselves to blame. If we voted in greater numbers, there isn't a doubt in my mind we could end wars, solve the health care conundrum, and, as a particular wanna-be politician loves to exclaim, "make America great again". In Suffragette, Carey Mulligan is heart-breakingly perfect as a young woman who gives up her job, her husband, her son, and her well-being to fight for the right to vote. The filmmakers treat the astonishing subject with such a respectful and delicate touch that the movie feels like an actual step back in time offering the viewer a peak into the struggles of pre-war Britain as women demanded equality.

Once you watch this movie (and you should, like now...), check out this link from Biography detailing the real-life stories that inspired the film:

Best of '15: Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Manners - maketh - man.

How do you make a James Bond movie that's absolutely refreshing? Ditch the James Bond rules and franchise of course. In a year of great popcorn/action movies, this one probably got the least attention, but certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Mad Max, Jurrasic World, Mission Impossible, and it's cousin from another motha, Spectre.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Best of '15: Avengers: Age of Ultron

 photo Avengers-assembled_zpsq84lf3g8.jpg Doesn't matter what you did, or what you were. If you go out there, you fight, and you fight to kill. Stay in here, you're good, I'll send your brother to come find you. But if you step out that door, you are an Avenger.

I've been a weekly visitor to the comic book store since about 2000. I don't read everything, but I got into Green Arrow, Batman, Superman, and the Justice League. For those that don't know those are from DC Comics. It's main rival is Marvel comics, which I only read sparingly. Why oh why did Marvel figure out how to make comic book movies, while DC continues to feel the need to sell their licences away to moviemakers who have no respect for their source material??? I once read that the cover of Fantastic Four #1 is so iconic because the legendary Jack Kirby was able to portray all four members of the super-team using their powers in one shot:

 photo 61de-ua6npl_zpsrexmomnt.jpg Joss Whedon and his cinematography team accomplished this with six superheroes and on film in the shot above from the film's opening battle. This detail serves as a microcosm for what Marvel films gets right. They don't try to make a film from a comic book source, they succeed in making a comic book that moves like a film.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Best of '15: Bridge of Spies

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-Aren't you worried?
-Would it help?

Spielberg is the best working director of our day. His movies are completely flawless. Yet, he is still a slave to his material. When the material is spot-on (Lincoln, War Horse, A.I.) his movies are divine, but when the screenplay is wonky (Tintin, War of the Worlds, Munich) the movies are simply above average. Bridge of Spies is luckily won of the former. The moving real-life story of one man's bravery during the cold war to save lives regardless of allegiance is especially timely for our current state of acceptable xenophobia and isolationism. Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance are expert in their portrayal of the main players in this "cold" thriller (spoiler alert: there are no shootouts) set during the Cold War. Many of my favorite films aren't for everyone, but I would recommend this film for pretty much every mature movie goer.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Best of '15: Beasts of No Nation

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I saw terrible things... and I did terrible things. So if I'm talking to you, it will make me sad and it will make you too sad. In this life... I just want to be happy in this life. If I'm telling this to you... you will think that... I am some sort of beast... or devil. I am all of these things... but I also having mother... father... brother and sister once. They loved me.

I'm not so sure how I feel about this inevitable shift from the big screen to the small screen as more movies are released on digital formats instead of in theaters. On one hand, I like the universal accessibility (I don't have to drive to Raleigh), but on the other hand I really believe we miss something when we are watching a movie alone huddled over a laptop rather than collectively in a dark theater. This movie was released exclusively on Netflix after a very limited theatrical debut (New York & LA), and I think it probably leans more towards my accepting of our impending shift in movie watching. I'm almost glad I saw this one alone. There aren't many laughs or touching moments to be shared with an audience. It's more of a grinding, painful realization of how good we have it, and how very bad others have it in this life. The young (mostly amateur) actors execute this film with stunning realism, following the lead of Idris Elba who portrays the "Kony-like" leader of their guerrilla troop. This attention to detail gives the film a documentary-esque feel which makes their story all the more painful. 

In our time of plenty and petty conflicts or privilege, Beasts of No Nation is certainly not a fun film by any means but it certainly is a necessary one.

Best of '15: The Good Dinosaur

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You have to get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.

I got a little lazy and a bit behind on my 2015 recap the past couple of days, so I'll try to do a couple tonight.

I usually side with the critics. My tastes in movies seem to coincide with folks like Peter Travers, James Berardinelli, and Todd McCarthy. Pretty much once or twice a year there is a big issue or movie that we disagree on though. This year it was the overwhelming love for Inside Out. I liked it, but I just felt it lacked the normal Pixar simplicity that made Toy Story, Up, and Monsters, Inc. so special. The Good Dinosaur was, by far, my favorite of the Pixar offerings from this year. This movie feels like a classic John Ford western... with dinosaurs. What's wrong with that? One of Pixar's greatest accomplishments is getting you to be emotional invested in things that seem silly (toys, monsters, ants, rats, etc.). If you aren't moved to tears by the scene pictured above, then you just plain don't like Pixar movies.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Oscar Ballot

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Oscar nominations will be announced tomorrow morning. Once again, the Academy forgot to send me my nominations form, so I'll just post my picks here. See you at 8:30am tomorrow!  (note: I don't rank or judge Star Wars movies with other movies, so it won't be listed here or in my top ten of the year... I loved it, it just doesn't get ranked with plain-old movies)

Best Picture:  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Best Director: Ridley Scott - The Martian

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan - Suffragette

Best Supporting Actor: Idris Elba - Beasts of No Nation

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina

Best Original Screenplay: Dope

Best Adapted Screenplay: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Best Cinematography: The Revenant

Best Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Editing: Beasts of No Nation

Best Makeup & Hairstyling: The Revenant

Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Score: The Hateful Eight

Best Song: It's My Turn Now - Dope

Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sound Mixing: Dope

Best Visual Effects: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Animated Feature: The Good Dinosaur

Best Documentary: I am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

Best Animated Short: Sanjay's Super Team

Monday, January 11, 2016

Best of '15: Tangerine

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Out here it's all about our hustle, and that's it.

A transgender prostitute gets out of prison on Christmas eve, shares a morning donut with her best friend, finds out her pimp/boyfriend has been cheating on her, turns over every rock in LA until she finds the other girl, beats her up and drags her to a penultimate meeting with her pimp and spurns the advances of a john who thinks he's in love with her. Whew. If you're still with me after that description, then you'll probably dig this movie.

Hollywood was a bit ahead of the game when it came to the marketability of the transgendered lifestyle, but this movie doesn't exploit OR standardize. The biological anatomy of the characters in the film is secondary to their vulnerability and humanity. To go with the refreshing take on telling a story, Tangerine also was shot in a refreshing way (completely on an iPhone) and the editing and soundtrack are both unconventional in a way that seems both groundbreaking and comfortably familiar.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Best of '15: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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One last thing. Hot girls destroy your life. That's just a fact.

This movie is available on DVD. It's in your local redbox. It's probably my favorite film from 2015. It is adorably beautiful. I'm sure I'll talk about it more later, so do yourself a favor and go check it out.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Best of '15: The Martian

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I've been thinking about laws on Mars. There's an international treaty saying that no country can lay claim to anything that's not on Earth. By another treaty if you're not in any country's territory, maritime law aplies. So Mars is international waters. Now, NASA is an American non-military organization, it owns the Hab. But the second I walk outside I'm in international waters. So Here's the cool part. I'm about to leave for the Schiaparelli Crater where I'm going to commandeer the Ares IV lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can't until I'm on board the Ares IV. So I'm going to be taking a craft over in international waters without permission, which by definition... makes me a pirate. Mark Watney: Space Pirate.

(note: the above quote garnered spontaneous applause during the movie in my Greenville theater. ARRRRGGGHHH!)

I have to begin by thanking Megan Potter for posting on facebook that Andy Weir's book The Martian was one of her recent favorites. She's an English teacher, I trust her judgement, and it was a sci-fi book, so I was hooked. I loved the book and was super-excited about seeing Ridley Scott's take. Although the movie lost a bit of the page-turning stress to fit into a manageable run-time, Scott and Matt Damon nailed it (save for the "Iron Man" change near the end). With the back-to-back space adventures of Interstellar and The Martian, sci-fi, NASA, and my Chemistry class have all gotten a much-deserved boost!

Golden Globe Predicitons

I'm still a little too far behind to provide my own preferences for these categories, but here's my yearly guide to winning your  Golden Globe office pool:

Best Motion Picture - Drama: Spotlight

Best Actress - Drama: Cate Blanchett - Carol

Best Actor - Drama: Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant

Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy: The Martian (yeah... I don't really understand how it's a comedy either...)

Best Actress - Musical/Comedy: Amy Schumer - Trainwreck

Best Actor - Musical/Comedy: Matt Damon - The Martian

Best Animated Feature: Inside Out

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul

Best Supporting Actress: Jane Fonda - Youth

Best Supporting Actor: Paul Dano - Love & Mercy

Best Director: Ridley Scott - The Martian

Best Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino - The Hateful Eight

Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone - The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song: "One Kind of Love", Brian Wilson - Love & Mercy

Oscar Nominations are announced Thursday, and then the real fun can begin!!!!

Best of '15: Dope

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I don't want to go to jail. I want to go to college!

I will turn 35 this year.... Ugh....  I'm reaching the point where many of my friends, coworkers, and associates are falling into the "kids these days..." trap. This is what I call the common idea that the current generation has it better/worse/different than in "our days". I have vowed to avoid these logical traps like the plague if for the simple reason that every generation has used them. I find it much more plausible that something changes in ones persona as they get older that makes a person think this way than there is actual, significant detrimental generational change occurring. I hope to never generally lament the work ethic, attitude, or respect of "kids these days...", but we also fall into the same trap with pop culture: "Music these days...", "Books these days... (or lack thereof)", "TV these days...", and ultimately "Movies these days...". I was never a huge fan of scripted television, so I feel pretty good about that one. I try to encourage reading regardless of the quality. Music I probably fail on the most (have you heard how terrible Justin Bieber's new stuff is and what passes as Hip-Hop today???), but I blame it on pop music always being bad and not having enough time to devote to the quality stuff which I am sure is out there. As for movies, I immerse myself into each year's offerings and have yet to even take a step towards any understanding of a specific generation's superiority. Movies like DOPE make this easier.

Three teenagers of color from the wrong side of LA unironically love '90s hip-hop style, have their own punk band, make straight A's, and have lofty aspirations of Ivy league university education. They get wrapped up in a drug-deal gone wrong and have to figure out how to unload thousands of dollars worth of meth without getting busted by the cops or worse the local drug kingpins that could have them killed on a whim. Movies like this give me inter-generational hope. True artists have never subscribed to the "kids these days..." trap, they are constantly trying to find originality, beauty, and emotional reflections on the fact that "kids these days" are just the same and just as different as they always have been.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Best of '15: Truth

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Our story was about whether the President fulfilled his service, but nobody wants to talk about that.... they want to talk about fonts and forgeries and they hope to God the truth gets lost in the scrum!"

For a large portion of my formative years, my afternoons went kinda like this: Get home, do homework, watch silly cartoons, eat dinner, watch the news, watch Jeopardy. The homework was usually quick or non-existent, the silly cartoons ranged from Tiny-toons to Animaniacs, dinner was always together with my family, Jeopardy was always trying to keep up with my Daddy, and the news was nearly always Dan Rather. With his smooth delivery, sly grin, and empathetic half-wink he guided me through the end of the Cold War, the election of the first Democratic president of my life, the slimy fall from grace that president would have a few years later, and the worst day any of us could imagine in September not long after. More than any other before or after (and with apologies to Jon Stewart), Dan Rather will always be MY newsman.

With the rise of talk radio and cable news, I could tell the CBS evening news and it's magazine edition 60 minutes were struggling to find more provocative and intriguing material. This story was pretty much the demise of the struggle and the surrender of the once mighty news giant. Blanchett and Redford step seamlessly into their respective roles of producer Mary Mapes and Rather. As the viewer is treated to the story behind the story it plays as both a memoriam for the days of hard-hitting no-nonsense reporting and an elegy of its demise. As the quote above alludes to, gone are the days where the real facts matter. The only thing that is left is does the perception of a fact match my preconceived dialogue. If so, run it... If not, who cares....  What has gotten lost in it all though.... Is the reverence for TRUTH.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Best of '15: Tomorrowland

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-There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is... which wolf wins?
-The one you feed.

Brad Bird turned down Star Wars because he didn't want to lose the chance to direct this film. Let that sentence sink in..... Bird, the director of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, preferred the opportunity to create a new universe than play in arguably the greatest fantasy universe of all time. Judging by the response to this movie, both critically and commercially, most would say he made a pretty epic mistake. I'm not so sure though. I admit that this movie is pretty flawed. I admit that The Force Awakens was perfect. But I also respect Brad Bird's vision for what a movie should be. 

He probably should've trimmed about a half hour from the runtime and cut a couple of subplots, but he also created one of the most moving reflections on modern society in recent cinema. This movie doesn't just seek to entertain, but to inspire. It is not just a sci-fi romp through a section of Disney's marketing machine, but hearkens back to what Walt Disney originally envisioned as a Utopian future of peace and knowledge. Between this movie and The Martian, I wasn't just happy to take Abby to the theater, I was truly proud.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Best of '15: Mad Max: Fury Road

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Witness me.

I was never a huge fan of the original Mad Max movies (I even admit to skipping the Tina Turner starring third entry, but I saw the "California Love" video a bunch of times... that counts right?). That didn't stop me from getting a little excited when I saw the trailer for this little puppy. I was lucky enough to sneak away and check it out in the theater, and what I was treated with was probably the best pure action film of the '10s (maybe even the new century). 

Since Neo and Jar-Jar signaled the beginning of the CG-age in 1999, Hollywood has been churning out cartoon action faster than Saw sequels. The term "practical effects" was probably coined before this year, but this film brought it to the forefront. Real cars, real crashes, real flips, and real explosions, ultimately led to REAL thrills. Couple this with a shift in focus from Max (a grunty character with little charisma) to Furiosa (one-armed, butt-kicking, big-rig-driving riot grrrl) and you have the perfect recipe for the biggest surprise of 2015 (at both the box office and, most likely, the awards stages).

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Best of '15: Ex Machina

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One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.

"Ex Machina" is a slow burn thriller retelling of the Pygmalion story that strives to ask the questions we have been asking since science fiction authors first dreamed about the implications of artificial intelligence more than one hundred years ago. Can a robot love? Can a robot hate? Can a robot replace a lover? Can a robot murder?

This is certainly not a film for everyone, and could have been near perfect in the hands of a more skilled director, but it is still worth the watch for anyone who prefers their science fiction thinking instead of exploding.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Best of '15: Going Clear

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Scientology really is a journey into the mind of L. Ron Hubbard and the further you get into it the more like L. Ron Hubbard you become.

I caught this when it premiered on HBO last Spring. It is an in-depth and pretty scathing examination of the Church of Scientology. Hubbard's faith group has been a near-ubiquitous whipping boy in popular culture over the past ten years or so. Admittedly, picking apart another person's religion is a bit unfair. Faith is a personal journey and, regardless of the ancient nature (or lack thereof) of one's belief system, should rarely be used as a subject for ridicule. The filmmakers here are very effective at showing the dark side of the religion, but I caught my self wondering how many of their criticisms could be used against the Catholic church or the Nation of Islam or the Southern Baptist Convention. Still, this is a powerful look into a secretive organization that should have the viewer questioning their own church, sacraments, and ultimately what faith looks like.