Monday, November 30, 2015

Brief thoughts on Brooklyn.

Since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Brooklyn, adapted from the Colm Toibin novel of the same name, has become one of the year’s most beloved films, even stirring bidding wars after its debut between competing distributors. Having played in limited release for a few weeks now, general audiences finally got a chance to see the film on Thanksgiving. The film features Saoirse Ronan as Ellis, a young Irish woman immigrating to New York City to build a new life for herself, with all the homesickness and new life discoveries that come with it. Having been anticipating the film all year, I can safely say that the movie met my expectations, undoubtedly becoming one of the year’s most beautiful films.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

"Star Wars Saga" Retrospective - #4: A New Hope.

Before Star Wars, USC graduate and Independent filmmaker George Lucas was best known for his debut feature THX 1138, and his 1973 smash hit American Graffiti. A fan of the classic Flash Gordon Sci-Fi serials, and fascinated with Joseph Campbell philosophy, his success then led him to his most ambitious project yet. It was a trilogy of films under the name of Star Wars.

After taking his idea to 20th Century Fox, and adapting the first third of his story (which years later would be given the subtitle A New Hope) to form its first installment, Lucas’ desire for creative control over his dream project and the heavy influence of the production company created friction to the work environment. Couple that with a disastrous initial edit, and various production problems on location, and it seemed like this project was doomed to failure.

However, the film just kept pressing forward, against all odds and expectations making its way to theaters in May 1977. To everyone’s surprise, including Lucas’, the film was a gargantuan success, selling out theater showings for months, and eventually earning a total of ten Academy Award nominations, including six wins and a separate Special Achievement Award. Ever since its release, it has remained one of the most fondly remembered films in all of cinema, and is commonly included among the greatest films of all time, and all for good reason.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Good Dinosaur movie review.

Just 5 months ago, Pixar came back with a vengeance. After disappointing output following Toy Story 3, Inside Out released and restored them back to the top of the animation circuit, already on its way to becoming one of the year’s defining films. Flash forward to now, and for the first time ever, Pixar has a second offering in the same year with The Good Dinosaur. Two Pixar movies in a year could only mean great things, right?

In theory, yes it could, but in practice, there was still skepticism. The Good Dinosaur, originally under the creative control of Pixar icon Bob Peterson, has had a rocky production schedule, with Peterson’s eventual removal from the project and the story being reworked under new director Peter Sohn. Not only that, but in order to accommodate the new changes, the film was pushed back from its original June 2014 release to Thanksgiving 2015, making it the first time since 2005 that a Pixar film skipped a year entirely. The question remains, did the wait pay off?

In my opinion, it did. While not in the top tier of Pixar’s outings, the end result still delivers quite nicely on family fare.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

"Star Wars Saga" Retrospective - #3: Revenge of the Sith.

After the premiere of Attack of the Clones, Star Wars fans came to the inevitable conclusion; George Lucas just wasn’t the filmmaker he used to be. With two prequel films that ranged from thoroughly mediocre to complete disaster, the same timeless quality of the original trilogy was simply gone. It certainly didn’t stop Lucas from monopolizing on the two films, including and especially in the timeline gap between Attack and the inevitable Episode 3. These included a hand-drawn animated micro-series, and Cartoon Network’s long running Clone Wars TV series (which is surprisingly, infinitely better and more like Star Wars than any of the prequels).

So with the utter disappointment of those two movies, anticipation for Episode 3 was justifiably low. Sure, we’d see it, but it was more based on obligation so that we could finally put this new trilogy to rest. This third prequel, which would be named Revenge of the Sith, was going to bring the entire saga full circle, and showcase the formation of the Empire and the near-eradication of the Jedi, and the test of willpower between friends Anakin and Obi-Wan.

But to everyone’s surprise, the movie was actually well-received. Often praised for its dark tone and significant improvements in storytelling, Revenge of the Sith to this day remains the best of the Star Wars prequels… even if that’s not a high bar, and it only occasionally flirts with greatness, for it still has several of the same problems as Menace and Clones.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 movie review.

I’ll just cut right to the chase. I’m a huge fan of the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins. I’ve gone on about them enough times; complimenting their take on reality television exploitation meets governmental uprising, as well as their now iconic lead character Katniss Everdeen.

Similarly, I’ve been a huge fan of their following feature film adaptations since the beginning. Starting in 2012’s superb Gary Ross directed original, it then bested itself with Francis Lawrence’s spectacular continuation Catching Fire, and was bigger and more expansive than its predecessor without sacrificing its heart.

Next would be the adaptation of the final book, and my favorite of the series, Mockingjay, which had a lot of skepticism thrown its way because of the decision to split the book into two films. I myself have come to hate this trend of splitting a book into two (or three) films myself, but I was always very defensive of this decision, as the book never went beyond Katniss’ immediate point of view, and it could give us a chance to see the uprising outside of District 13 that we heard about, but never saw. I found the first part very engaging despite its occasional filler, and I’m happy to report that this finale to the Hunger Games series is every bit as satisfying as I wanted it to be… albeit with a couple stumbles keeping it from being Catching Fire good.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Star Wars Saga" Retrospective - #2: Attack of the Clones.

To this day, no movie’s release remains as disappointing as The Phantom Menace in 1999. Dividing both critics and audiences, even the most forgiving Star Wars fans had some trouble calling it a good movie. However, was it all just a fluke? That seemed to be the consensus in the wake of its aftermath. Maybe George Lucas had bigger, better things in mind, and this stepping stone was a necessary evil on the way to the meatier material of the prequel trilogy. Needless to say, the film performed gangbusters at the box office (even getting a 3D re-release in 2012), so a sequel was to be expected.

In the next chapter, Attack of the Clones, Lucas would be further expanding on the Star Wars lore by showing us the origin of The Clone Wars, an admittedly glanced over moment in history only briefly referenced by Obi-Wan in A New Hope. There would also be more focus on the love between Anakin and Padme, the future parents of Luke and Leia. It also featured the origin of Star Wars favorite Boba Fett, and looked to be an epic event.

However, it appeared that Phantom Menace was no fluke, with Attack of the Clones receiving a similarly mixed reception, although the word was more positive this time around. And I’ll be honest… I don’t get it. Phantom Menace may have been a dud with redeeming qualities, but this follow-up is an utter failure.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Brief thoughts on The Peanuts Movie.

With a production cycle of fifty years, the Peanuts comic strips by Charles Schulz remain one of the most recognizable and iconic comic series in history. Thanks to its quick-witted and lovable humor, as well as its endearing characters, it’s stood the test of time with countless reprints, TV specials, and theatrical features. Even those who haven’t read or seen its products are still familiar with Charlie Brown himself, it’s so popular. Because of this, it felt only natural that it would inspire a new modern animated feature, here in the form of the computer generated charmer that is The Peanuts Movie, from the minds at Blue Sky Studios.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"Star Wars Saga" Retrospective- #1: The Phantom Menace.

May 19th, 1999 is a day that will forever live in cinematic infamy. 16 years since the original Star Wars trilogy concluded, fans of Star Wars were hyped to revisit that galaxy far, far away with George Lucas’ first installment of his new prequel trilogy, The Phantom Menace.

In fact, to say that they were hyped would be the understatement of the century. Details of the film were kept under heavy lock and key, major news outlets covered every inch of the film leading up to its unveiling, and films showing the prequel’s trailers had fans buy tickets solely to see said trailers. Said fans also lined up for the premiere weeks in advance. The film was already becoming a cultural explosion, and ever since then, there’s never been anything like it.

Unfortunately, that’s not for all the right reasons. Receiving a mixed critical reception at the time, the film was held under extreme scrutiny by many die-hard fans of Star Wars, although there were just as many that were forgiving of the film despite its objective faults. Its reception has more or less improved as time goes on, so to kick off my retrospective, let’s take a look at both the good, and the bad, in The Phantom Menace.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Spectre movie review.

The name is Bond. James Bond. For over five decades, Bond has been a staple of action cinema, spawning 24 theatrical films, and jump-starting the careers of six classic actors. After a rough patch in the Brosnan era, the timeline was rebooted to feature a grittier version of the character. Played by Daniel Craig, this era of Bond has given us thrilling and (refreshingly) psychologically inventive films the likes of Casino Royale, and 2012’s smash hit Skyfall from Sam Mendes.

At this point, it goes without saying. I am a huge fan of the 007 films. I have loved this series for years, constantly make callbacks to it, listen to its theme songs obsessively, and even if I don’t end up liking an entry of the series, that still won’t stop me from being the first one in line to see it (Well, first in line in America, that is).

After being blown away by Skyfall, which became my new favorite Bond film to date, I was beyond eager to see what director Sam Mendes would bring to Bond 24, Spectre. I love the Craig films for heeding to the classic tropes of Bond, but also having the smarts to deconstruct them and bring new meat to the table, which is what I hoped this new entry would bring me. Needless to say, it gave me exactly what I wanted… but only in the first fifteen minutes.