My Favorite Superhero Movies

Hey guys!

Now that I’ve been thoroughly depressed by the Oscars let’s talk about movies that will never get a live action Oscar- superhero movies.  I have actually not been a huge superhero movie fan.  In fact, in 2011 I wrote a post on my other blog called ‘Thumbs Down to Summer Movies’.  I had recently seen Green Lantern and it was the tipping point. Here’s what I said

“It’s at this point I must make a confession- I don’t like super hero movies.   It’s hard to explain why but I have never liked them. With the exception of Harry Potter, I can’t think of a super hero/fantasy franchise I’m  a fan of (I’m a marginal fan of Lord of the Rings).  I also like the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but they have been sullied by mediocre follow-ups in recent years.

Despite all the special effects I find most super hero movies boring and I don’t like 3D”

So, yes  I had sworn off superhero movies and all their progeny but then Avengers happened and I smiled at these likable fun characters with witty dialogue. And we got 2014 and I saw Captain America 2 which was actually a spy movie, Xmen Days of Future Past which is actually a time travel story, Guardians of the Galaxy which is actually a space opera, and Big Hero 6 which is a movie about loss and grief in the guise of a superhero movie.

It was then I had a revelation ‘I like superhero movies when they aren’t superhero movies’.  Ding, ding, ding! Fortunately for me Hollywood has figured this out and aside from the odious Man of Steel and the cluttered Amazing Spiderman 2 they have had a remarkable track record of late to the point where I’m actually looking forward to superhero movies now (although highly skeptical about Batman v Superman but we will see).  Marvel at least has made me a believer.

I feel like I also have to give a caveat that I am actually not a big Dark Knight fan.  It’s super well made and acted but it was just too violent for me and I found it cynical, dark and Batman is such a bore.  I wanted him to lose the whole way through.  You can all hate me now but it’s really how I felt….

So with all that what are my favorite superhero movies?  Here goes.

superman10. Superman- Christopher Reeves is so charming as Superman and he makes an ok Clark Kent.  It doesn’t get bogged down in exposition but is light and fun with great music and decent if hokey special effects. Gene Hackman is good as Lex Luther . Superman is kind of a boring superhero because he’s so perfect but this film finds the balance of embracing the silly while not being too silly (aka Superman 3 and 4…).  We also don’t get too much of the Savior metaphors like we do with Man of Steel or Superman Returns that take themselves way too seriously.

batman mask9. Batman Mask of the Phantasm- Yep friends this is my favorite Batman movie.  Maybe that won’t be a surprise because I love animation but I honestly think this is the best movie depiction of Batman.  He’s not just a bore but he gets jealous, frustrated, happy, a mixture of emotions.  Kevin Conroy is great as Batman and perhaps it is only in animation that you can pull off the mixture of Bruce Wayne and Batman because you can draw whatever you want it to be where an actor may just be better at one side than the other (same problem so far with Peter Parker).  Mark Hamil is wonderful as Joker. It’s a well written script with a bit of a mystery involved but it isn’t too grim or violent. Now I just wonder when the heck it will come out on blu-ray!

rocketeer-reboot8. The Rocketeer- A movie too often forgotten but a very sweet homage to 40’s action movies. It stars Billy Campbell as a stuntman who finds a rocketpack that was designed by Howard Hughes.  Jennifer Connely plays his girlfriend and the rest of the cast is stellar with Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton as our Nazi bad guy, Terry O’Quin and more.  I defy you to not be charmed by it.

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-Poster7. X-men: Days of Future Past- Of the big franchises Xmen has always been my favorite.  Even when I had sworn off the genre I still kind of liked the X-men movies.  Maybe partly because they are the only franchise to pull of interesting female characters and they almost always deal with something thoughtful and complex without getting mean spirited and who doesn’t like Hugh Jackman?  I think the recent X-men Days of Future Past is the best of the 7 (including the Wolverine movies) to have come out.  It has it all- amazing ensemble (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassender, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, James McEvoy I could go on. Almost every member of the cast has an Oscar nomination or win. Not bad for a superhero movie).

But its also the Inception of Superhero movies.  The time travel element creates layers of a puzzle to figure out and Quicksilver is an amazing villain with special effects.  It’s great!

spider-man-26. Spider-man 2- For my money it is the only good Spider-man movie that has come out so far.  The others have good elements but this is the only one that fires on all four cylinders. The special effects still hold up, the large set pieces like the train fight is gripping, Tobey McGuire is charming enough to get me to ignore Kirsten Dunst and James Franco and him have good rivalry. But really the reason the movie is special is Dr Octopus who is such a great, engaging villain. He has really positive motivations through a lot of the movie but he has no self control . It makes him very interesting and fun to watch.

capt 25. Captain America 2: Winter Soldier- A great superhero movie because it’s not really a superhero movie.  It’s a spy flick like Mission Impossible with an amazing villain for Winter Soldier, great action fight sequences, a car crash sequence which felt so real, Robert Redford is great (that’s the quality of actors we are getting now!).  The Nick Furry twist was very clever and it is so well paced.  It never lost my interest or got boring.  They build the case with very minimal exposition typically housed within a trip to the museum or some other outing so it doesn’t feel like exposition.  Captain America is likable and Chris Evans keeps the character innocent like a man from the 40s might be while still being tough.

BigHero6Team4. Big Hero 6- I just got Big Hero 6 on blu-ray and watched it and loved it all over again.  It is a superhero movie with real heart.  I loved the connection of the two brothers through Baymax.  It reminds us that those we love never really leave us because the love continues on.  I also loved the diversity of the Big Hero 6 and I thought the motivation of the villain was really clever and surprised me.  Also Sanfransokyo was gorgeously drawn and a fun new setting.  Overall a huge win for Disney.

guardians of the galaxy3. Guardians of the Galaxy- Don’t worry this is my last from last year. Guardians has everything I want in my superhero movie.  It is a likable band of misfits that are gathered together to fight a bad guy. I love the friendship between Groot and Rocket.  Chris Pratt is great as Starlord.  It’s fun, keeps you guessing and has the best soundtrack I’ve heard in years. It really reminded me a lot of Star Wars with a much weaker villain, and that’s really its only mark against it.  I think they actually picked the wrong villain.  Nebula is much more complex than Ronan.  Still I loved it!

incredibles2. Incredibles- Even when I had sworn off Superhero movies I still loved The Incredibles.  What’s so great about this movie is it includes so many of my favorite genres all in one.  It’s a family movie with a stay at home Mom and her 3 kids who all have their struggles, it’s a movie about work and how when we aren’t doing what we are made to do we aren’t happy, and its gorgeous animation.  Every choice they made works.  The villain is very scary with a believable and brief backstory.  Edna is hilarious (no capes!), and the ending is  perfect with everyone learning just the right lesson.  Also love Samuel L Jackson as Frozone! It’s actually the first movie I saw when I came home from my 20 month mission for my church and it was a great choice to get reintroduced to cinema.

avengers1. Avengers- This actually came out when I was in my ‘I hate superhero movies’ phase but it was the biggest movie ever so of course I ended up seeing it and to my surprise I loved it.  What I liked most is it didn’t take itself too seriously.  It was fun without being stupid. I hadn’t seen most of the precursor films leading up to Avengers except Ironman but I don’t think you need to enjoy the movie.  Joss Whedon is such a great writer creating likable characters that we can root for and a team dynamic that is unpredictable.

I like that the destruction isn’t too bad and its not really trying to teach us anything.  Just give us a team we can root behind and see them seriously challenged by a formidable villain in Loki, who I love.  Tom Hiddleston is my favorite performance in the movie.  He has motivation behind what he is doing and he never gets mean or too violent like the Joker can.  He’s probably my favorite comic book villain, maybe because he doesn’t really see himself as a villain.  In the end the script is well written and funny with good action.  That’s enough to get 1 on my list.

So there you go!  What do you think of my list? I know all of you would put the Dark Knight so maybe give me some other one’s besides Dark Knight you would have included?  I’d love to hear.

What are the worst superhero movies?  Well, I haven’t seen all of the worst but I’d probably say (does Howard the Duck count as superhero movie? If so than he’d be 1):

1. Catwoman

2. Batman and Robin

3. Superman 4

4. Green Lantern

5. Man of Steel

Advertisements

McFarland USA Review

mcfarland7I got the chance to see a very special film today, McFarland USA.  I know you see the pictures and you probably think it’s like every other motivational sports movie but I’m telling you it is a special movie.  I happen to love sports movies like Warrior, Hoosiers and Miracle and this is right up there with those great films but it has a human component that you don’t always see which I found very moving.

mcfarland6McFarland starts out kind of like Hoosiers with Kevin Costner’s Jim White getting in an altercation with a football player and getting fired.  As a last resort him and his family get a job in McFarland, California, a poor crop picking agricultural mostly latino town.

mcfarland12

His wife played by the always lovely Maria Bello and daughter Julie (Morgan Saylor) and daughter Jamie are at first disgusted and a little scared of living in McFarland. It is a seemingly dangerous neighborhood in a foreign land.

One of the things I learned on my 20 month mission for my church was in every poor ‘scary’ neighborhood there are families trying desperately to make things work and to make things better for their children.  We have this idea you cross the tracks and it leads to inherent gang activity just isn’t true. McFarland USA does a good job showing this reality.  That there are good neighbors in every neighborhood in America.  That’s a great lesson for kids.

mcfarland1

Costner ends up getting fired as assistant football coach but the principal (Valente Rodriguez) who I loved every scene he was in can’t lose any teachers so he keeps Costner around.

mcfarland-principal-valente-rodriquez-500x285

As he teaches PE he starts to notice many of the kids can run and he gets the crazy idea to start a cross country team.

The boys initially resist being on the team because they have work crop picking to do before and after school.  Costner even goes out to work at the picking one day and he says it was the ‘worst day of work in his life’ but he vows to make it work for the team and the more time together the more bonded he and the boys get.

mcfarland2

This material could have so easily veered into caricature and simplistic portrayals of a white man in a latino world but it doesn’t. The conversations and personalities felt authentic and real. Each of the boys has their own personality but not in the archetype way of Mighty Ducks. These are individuals and we root for every last one of them.mcfarland5

I particularly liked Carlos Pratts as team captain and star runner Thomas Valles. It is a subtle conflicted sweet performance and character.

I also thought the home drama as Costner’s family tries to find a home in McFarland and his daughter Julie turns 15 and gets a quinceanera.
mcfarland11

There was a point at the end when I was worried it was going to go the Pay it Forward route and give us an awful ending but then it didn’t so all was well.

It’s really quite the feat because I can’t think of a sport that is more boring to watch than cross country but the sport is just window dressing to a movie about teens, our failing educational system, family, culture, poverty and giving people something to dream about.
mcfarland14

I really can’t say enough good things about it. It has huge heart, good performances, and shows a side of urban life we rarely see- the functioning happy families that do exist and add so much to our country.

I think everyone should see and take your kids. It’s a real winner. Trust me on this. It’s great.

There are a few tense moments but other than that nothing to offend or be concerned about. A family film that will inspire everyone.

Overall Grade- A, Content Grade- A

Road to El Dorado

road to eldoradoIt is no secret I am not the biggest Dreamworks fan.  For me they’ve had two wonderful franchises, How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda and one masterpiece Prince of Egypt but the rest I could do without (although I admit I haven’t seen the Madagascar movies except for Penguins which I liked).  Anyway, I was working on a project and put on a movie as I worked and figured why not give Road to El Dorado a shot as it is on Netflix.  I’d heard some good things and I love action adventure treasure hunting movies, so maybe it would be a forgotten gem?

I’ll just say it- Boy what a stinker…

It does look nice. I will grant it that but that’s really the only praise I have for it.It’s insulting, stupid, inappropriate for children, tonally off and full of unpleasant or underdeveloped characters. In other words, a mess.

But wait…I can hear you saying ‘didn’t you like Atlantis and isn’t that very similar?’.

No it’s not.  Atlantis creates a whole new world with its own culture, people, even language, so nobody is insulted because the culture doesn’t exist (plus it’s inherently more creative and interesting to see something imagined than a cheap reproduction of a people and society).  There is also a whole cast of characters in Atlantis I found  extremely likable and engaging.  Atlantis actually embraces diversity.  This says white people are smarter and better then those silly natives.  The action is well paced in Atlantis and aside from a skimpy swimsuit it is appropriate for kids. So no the two are not alike at all.

road to el doradoThe Road to El Dorado is about 2 con artists  named Tulio (Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) who in 1519 stow away on Cortes’ boat and sneak to the ‘new world’ to find the City of Gold or El Dorado.  Cortes is a semi-villain and a total snoozefest and from the beginning Tulio and Miguel are very smug and unlikable.

road to el dorado 6
What a disgusting depiction of native women. Such cliches.

The boys find the lost city surprisingly quickly and of course they are immediately treated like Gods in an offensive caricature of native traditions and people. It’s worse, much worse, than Pocahontas. It’s one thing for Redman in Peter Pan to exist in 1953 but in 2000 to have the kind of at best culturally insensitive characters, story and behavior is really quite shocking.  At least Atlantis had a certain reverence and awe at its imaginary culture.  This was so bad.

We even get a quasi form of soccer that is embarrassing. I don’t know what they were thinking. road to el dorado3The villain is completely underdeveloped and feels like it was copied off of the obnoxious priests in Prince of Egypt. He is overtaken by some kind of evil spirit and creates a rock monster out of the Gods. I guess it is some kind of heathen magic but it is not explained and doesn’t make much sense or add any kind of fear or suspense a good villain should.  At least in Pocahontas I can remember Radcliffe’s name.

road to el dorado7Just like in Pocahontas the movie acts like the natives are completely oblivious to the value of gold, which is absurd.  They literally have scenes with tribeswomen dumping bowls and bowls of gold into the ocean.  As if all Native and Central American tribes did not have commerce, trade and even their own currency. Kids are smart enough to know they weren’t dumping tons of gold into the ocean.  They have made an occasional offering but this is totally over the top and the natives act like they are clueless of it having any value at all. Give me a break.  Seriously the natives are probably more badly portrayed than in Peter Pan because at least that is an imaginary land and it is a 3 minute song and we move on.  This is 75% of the movie one cliche and cringe inducing stereotype after another.

road to el dorado2It is also extremely inappropriate for kids.  I had issues with the skimpy suit in Atlantis but at least she was smart and kind of mythical.  In this the boys gamble, lie, cheat, steal, and are generally bad examples.

But to make it worse it’s surprisingly vulgar for a childrens movie and the princess Chel wears practically nothing and there is a scene where it is strongly implied her and Tulio have sex. I was shocked.

road to el dorado5The music by usually reliable Tim Rice and Elton John is largely forgettable and most of it is sung by Elton John kind of like Phil Collins in the Tarzan movies.  Hans Zimmer takes a huge step down from Lion King with the mundane score.

Like I said it looks nice but I thought this was a real bomb. No wonder it did so poorly at the box office.  I mean who was it made for?  It’s too grown up for most little kids and too stupid and predictable for adults/teens.  Someone was telling me on twitter the studio got involved kind of like Disney and Hunchback and made them change things around so they are in El Dorado longer.  It feels that way. I smell a rat!

road to eldorado3

This is the era when Jeffrey Katzenberg was heavily involved with stories and the Dreamworks animation films and I don’t know what he was thinking? He usually has good taste but this is tawdry insulting junk.

I normally don’t review the stinkers but I think it being on Netflix a lot of people will turn it on and I hope this review can sway at least my friends away from it.  I was really offended by it and I don’t get offended that easily.  There is so much good animation on Netflix.  Move on to the next option.

This is a reminder of why I don’t want to review the Dreamworks Canon.  Yuck.

Content Grade- C  Overall Grade- F

Last Five Years: A Review

last five years posterAfter venting my annoyance at yesterday’s Oscars I decided to watch the new film version of one of my favorite Broadway musicals- The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown.  Faith now restored in movies 🙂

The show and movie are about a couple whose relationship lasts 5 years.  Cathy played by the luminous Anna Kendrick dreams of being a Broadway star.  Jamie played by Jeremy Jordan is a young novelist whose first novel is a big hit.

LastFiveYearsAnnaKendrickThe timeline for the movie is very clever.  It starts out with Cathy getting the break up letter and singing. While Jamie begins the movie at the beginning of the relationship and then it flips back and forth. I thought that was neat.  (The play is divided into separate segments on the stage and they get together for a duet at the proposal)

Here’s the trailer

I love, love, love, love, love the music and they translate it to the movies very well.  We know from Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods Anna Kendrick can sing but her voice is at its best here. Jeremy Jordan isn’t quite as good but he still holds his own.

The music in Last Five Years sounds like simple narration but trust me it is very tough to pull off and they do a great job here. See I’m Smiling is my particular favorite. It is such a well written song that goes through every emotion from hope, happiness to anger to despair.

One word of profanity in this but I just love it. (I like every song in this show. They feel so authentic, human and real)

last five years3

The show and movie does a great job showing the complete journey of a couple with the highs and lows.  Jordan and Kendrick have wonderful chemistry and it feels like they love and hate each other depending on the moment.  Kind of like Boyhood on the surface it is simple, just the story of a couples ups and downs over 5 years, but it tells us so much about love and life along the way.

It is also not a downer with very funny sequences like ‘In Ohio’ when Cathy is working trying to catch the eye of someone who can give her a part in New York.

last five years2

For someone who is a die hard musical fan I don’t find that many new movie musicals I like. Most are either too explicit, vulgar or dopey. Into the Woods was great until the 3rd act and then the tone went all wrong.  However, The Last Five Years is the exception to the rule.  I loved it. You can watch it on demand or in theaters so please check it out! (Wish more movies did that).

As far as content it has a little profanity, sensuality and a character has multiple affairs but it is pretty tame. Certainly appropriate for teens and up.

Content Grade- B, Overall Grade- A

Oscar Reactions

“Cinema is far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to the storytellers.”
―Peter Greenaway

So the Oscars came and went last night and for the most part I was really bummed out.  I did horribly on my picks so hopefully none of you went off my ballot…(I think I got 9 right). I know it is the Oscars and they usually screw it up.  It is just a stupid awards show but at the same time it feels good as a film lover when films you love get recognized.

Highs-

There were some highs of the extremely long telecast (honestly next time make it an hour and get this done more quickly!).

1. Lady Gaga singing Sound of Music and Julie Andrews coming in was the highlight of the night.  I didn’t realize it was the 50th anniversary of Sound and have now ordered the 50th anniversary bluray which comes out next month.  Sound of Music is my favorite musical and I was shocked to hear Gaga have such classical pipes.  Who knew?

2. All the musical numbers were ok and at least brought some energy to the show.  I particularly liked Everything is Awesome from Lego!

3. John Legend and Common were very good singing Glory from Selma but I thought it was strange they used their real names for the award.  They don’t do that for the Grammy’s or any other award or any other part of their music? Kind of odd.

4. I was happy with all the acting winners even though I haven’t seen Still Alice (I can only handle so many depressing movies at once guys!).  They all are deserving winners.  I was especially happy for Patricia Arquette as she will go down as my favorite Mother in the movies ever.

gal_oscar_winners-620x4145. I was also happy to see Grand Budapest Hotel win so much but it should have won best original screenplay.  Birdman’s script was nothing special.  I also didn’t think Imitation Game was the best adapted screenplay of the year but the winners speech was great. I think Wes Anderson deserved it for GBH’s script.

grand-budapest-hotel

6. We all knew Kaguya and Song of the Sea weren’t going to win and if Lego wasn’t going to be included than I am thrilled Big Hero 6 won.  I like How to Train Your Dragon 2.  I gave it an A. However, I think out of the 3 mainstream Big Hero 6 had more heart. I connected more with it emotionally and it is more creative with its cityscape and characters.  The fact is I’ve seen movies that look and feel like Dragon and Boxtrolls.  They are both great but I’m super happy Big Hero 6 won.

BigHero6Team

Lows- oh boy there were a lot.

NPH-host

1. Neal Patrick Harris can be so great.  I’m a huge fan of him on How I Met Your Mother and he’s great hosting the Tony Awards. But I think he may have gotten the HIMYM finale writers to write the jokes for the Oscars because they all fell just as flat.  Not one joke worked. In fact, most were really awkward like when he bothered seat fillers or appeared on stage in his underwear. Also the belabored unfunny bit with the predictions box was terrible.

Here’s what you do Oscars- have a 1 hour show where you give the awards for acting, best picture, animation, music, costumes, effects and screenplay.  Have a couple montages a combined number that showcases every song and your done. 3 and 1/2 hours was brutal.

sq_birdman2.  I sincerely don’t understand the Birdman love.  It is a well made movie and Keaton is good but for it to win director, script and picture is baffling to me.  I don’t get how nobody else seems to see how misogynistic and predictable it is?  Characters like the critic are so poorly written and completely unbelievable.  Honestly out of the 8 nominees it would have been my 7 out of 8.  People said Boyhood was overrated but I think Birdman is very overrated.

I guess it makes sense for Hollywood to love a movie about how hard it is to be in Hollywood, how tortured and difficult it is to be a star but why the rest of American moviegoers championed it is a mystery to me…Boo!

Caesar (played in a performance-capture suit by Andy Serkis) is the leader of the ape nation in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”  Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes got the shut out last night which was easy to do because it was only nominated once for visual effects.  I loved Interstellar.  It’s one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen.  But come on, as great as Interstellar looked we’ve seen visuals like that before.  Just last year we had even better space visuals in Gravity.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes created whole characters that were not there and made them come alive.  They were flawless visual effects. Andy Serkis should have been nominated and I thought Gary Oldman was terrific in that movie (I will never forget the scene where he finally loads the battery in the ipad and can see photos of his dead family. So powerful).  Sigh…

4. Citzenfour wins- It disgusts me anyone would award a film even mildly praising Edward Snowden (and then she did in her speech too).  He has hurt our national security and put people’s lives at risk. America is a weaker less secure place because he thinks he knows what is best and he twists his recklessness and ego into supposed honesty.

I rarely agree with President Obama but even he said about Snowden:

“If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.”

Boyhood-poster-quad4. The Boyhood snubs really bummed me out.  And it’s not just because it took 12 years to make.  It is a movie about LIFE and all the small things that make up a person.  It’s about the journey of adolescence and how you  become who you are.  I honestly think we will look back and wonder what the heck were they thinking?  Kind of like when Saving Private Ryan lost or the way we see American Beauty as a bunch of pretentious nonsense now.  I think Birdman will not hold up like Boyhood will.

I can see film students for years studying Boyhood and the small moments of authentic conversation.  Scenes like when Mason is in the photography lab with his teacher.  That is so authentic to life. I think if we all could be a fly on the wall we would realize how many small voices are championing us along the way. Again I quote…

“Cinema is far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to the storytellers.”
―Peter Greenaway

It makes me sad so many people missed what was special about Boyhood.  Why does every movie have to be the same? Not every book tells a story.  Some are random, some teach us, others are poetry and others are art. I think movies should be granted the same license to take on differing forms and purposes.

People look at every movie as having to entertain you when it doesn’t need too.  People make the same criticism of Fantasia.  That it is boring and has no story.  Ridiculous.  Fantasia is trying to inspire you with art and music.  It’s not trying to tell you a story but give you something beautiful to contemplate. Boyhood is trying to get you to think about your life and that has value.

I just think people need to go into different movies with different glasses.  I don’t watch Schindler’s List and Star Wars with the same mindset, looking for the same things.  I don’t watch Tree of Life and Monty Python with the same perspective.

If you only like movies for entertainment sake than you miss out on so much.  It makes me sad.

I found myself thinking yesterday of the amazing documentary Hoop Dreams.  This follows 2 inner city boys for 5 years as they dream of basketball stardom.  It is a movie about LIFE and how our dreams can both haunt and inspire us.  Movies like Hoop Dreams and Boyhood have high value but they require some effort on our part.

Most of the sublime movie going experiences of my life require effort.  Last night the academy had a chance to recognize a film that took on life but required some effort on the part of the moviegoer and went instead for the story of how hard it is to be a star…It makes no sense to me.

I guess it’s appropriate because in 1994 Hoop Dreams wasn’t even nominated for Best Documentary.  It’s so silly.

I think Roger Ebert’s thoughts on Hoop Dreams apply to Boyhood:

“A film like “Hoop Dreams” is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and make us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself…

Many filmgoers are reluctant to see documentaries, for reasons I’ve never understood; the good ones are frequently more absorbing and entertaining than fiction. “Hoop Dreams,” however, is not only a documentary. It is also poetry and prose, muckraking and expose, journalism and polemic. It is one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime

I’d say the same thing about Boyhood and just like Hoop Dreams holds up 31 years later because it is about life and human experience so will Boyhood because even if the trappings change, growing up is never really that different.

I wish I could talk to Richard Linklater and tell him how much his movies have ment to me. If you are out there Richard thank you!  My life is better from watching your movies. How many people can say that about watching Birdman?…

I guess at the very least the Oscars got me to see a lot of movies I probably would not have otherwise seen, so there’s that. Thanks for the great year of films 2014 (Btw I am going to post an updated best and worst list now that I have seen more of the 2014 movies) .

What did you guys think of the Oscars?

Animation Lookback 2014 Videos

I had one of the worst nights of insomnia in my life so I’ve spent most of last night and today working on a new series on my youtube channel.  It is a look-back on animation in 2014- the highs, mediums and lows.  It is basically my Rachie’s post in video form.  I thought you might enjoy them and I would love if you gave them a watch.  I would also appreciate it if you subscribed to my channel.  I do box reviews and movie reviews of which you will probably be more interested in the latter but I try to post good thoughtful content and am improving every day.

This series I think turned out very good.  I hope it will help the public at large become aware of some of the smaller special animated movies, as well as maybe seeing ‘the big 6’ in a new light.  Thanks again for watching the videos and for all your support.

Ranking the Nominees

I have now seen all of the Best Picture nominees and while I gave my predictions a few days ago I thought I would do a quick post ranking the nominees. I would also add I think Song of the Sea, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Locke, Big Hero 6, Tale of Princess Kaguya, Lego Movie and Interstellar are better than all of the films but Boyhood nominated but they are all good movies.

We can all be glad the Grand Budapest Hotel is there because without it we’d have a lot of solemn nominees.  I mean has the academy forgotten how to laugh?  Gone are the days when movies like It’s a Mad Mad Mad World could get nominated for Best Picture.  Kind of sad really.

Anyway, here’s how I would personally rank the nominees.

1. Boyhood- It’s a  movie that really moved me and made me think about my life in a new way.  It’s not a movie to entertain you but to remind you about the small moments with people that make up your life. I loved it.  To me it is significantly better than any of the other nominees.

selma

2. Selma– A movie that helped me get to know all sides of a great American.  It wasn’t all the grand moments but soft, even shameful moments where you saw that anybody can make a difference.  It was a part of the Civil Rights movement I wasn’t as familiar with and I was really moved by it. Amazing performance by David Oyelowo.

whiplash poster 2014

3. Whiplash- Mesmerizing film that builds tension so well with an insane performance by JK Simmons.  It asks the question ‘what is the price to be paid for greatness?’ I wish it had shown more of the motivations behind the characters but still very gripping movie.

american sniper

4.  American Sniper- Gripping account of the most successful sniper in US Navy Seals history, Chris Kyle.  The movie gets you down with the soldiers a lot for a sniper movie and it feels gritty and very intense.  The narrative at home and on his tour of duties flow well together and are brought together in the story of a very complex man.  It is a movie that tells his story and leaves the judging for God and others. I was really moved by. grand-budapest-hotel5. Grand Budapest Hotel- The one comedy nominated! I think I give this a little bit of a pass because it is Wes Anderson’s best and most mainstream film.  I’d have to watch it again to decide if I really like it better than the other nominees but I did like it.  It’s not over-quirky like a lot of Anderson’s films.  It is witty and the world creation is strong with more likable characters than many of his other films.  Very good engaging cast as always.

imitation game7

 6. Imitation Game- A solid biopic about Alan Turing, the man behind the computer which decoded the enigma machine.  I liked the stuff about the decoding better than the more predictable personal portions but it was all strong and very well acted. The big mean boss who is constantly after Turing felt like such a cliche and the cop narration felt a little phony but I liked it.

sq_birdman

7. Birdman- I know I’m not as high on this as everyone else but I’ve got to tell you what I really think not what is popular.  I really hated the way this movie treated its female characters.  I’m shocked that nobody else in criticism seems to be saying this? It will probably win tomorrow when Boyhood a movie featuring complex woman will not (although hopefully she will win).  I have thought about it and I know it is an allegory for popularity and fame but why does the movie assume women are so much more fragile and judgmental than men?  Is there not a Chris Farley, River Phoenix for every Lindsay Lohan and Judy Garland? The critic and the near rape especially bother me.   But that said, it isn’t at the bottom because I do think they tried to do something different, the cinematography is very good and I thought Michael Keaton was great.  I just don’t think it was anywhere near the best picture of the year. Oh well.

theory of everything2

8.  Theory of Everything–  This is a good movie.  I enjoyed watching it much more than Birdman. And Eddie Redmayne was unforgettable as Stephen Hawking.  You forget it is an actor after a while.  That’s pretty amazing especially since he doesn’t have a voice for a good chunk of the movie. However, it is pretty predictable biopic and large sections drag a bit.  I didn’t think Felicity Jones was very good and the dewy sepia toned cinematography and constant twirling (even in the coffee) got on my nerves.  Still a very good movie just bottom of the 8 for me.

Imitation Game: A Review

imitation game7As I said in my American Sniper review I saw it and Imitation Game on the same day and they are more similar than you might at first think.  They are both about unusual men who saved lives in time of war.

The Imitation Game is about the mathematician Alan Turing who invented an early computer that helped the British to solve the enigma coding machine the Germans used.

At the end of the movie they say Christopher (Turing’s machine) saved 14 million lives and helped end the war 2 years sooner.  That is pretty amazing especially for someone I’ve never heard of before this year.

THE IMITATION GAMEThe reason why we haven’t heard of Alan Turing is his untimely death in 1954 and the fact the entire code breaking enterprise was kept secret for 50 years.

In a lot of ways The Imitation Game is a lot like The Theory of Everything.  Both about geniuses who aren’t appreciated at first but end up making great contributions.  Both have personal struggles that make it even harder for them to be accepted- Stephen Hawking his disability and Alan Turing being gay at a time where it was illegal to do so.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing with Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game.Both are good movies but I would say The Imitation Game is better although it falls into some of the same standard biopic formulas we’ve seen before.

Of the 4 biopics nominated for best picture I’d rate them- Selma, American Sniper, Imitation Game and Theory of Everything. And they are all good movies just Game and Everything are a little predictable and formulaic.

Benedict Cumberbatch is very good as Alan Turing and I thought Keira Knightley was pretty good as his fiance and friend.  The rest of the cast is good with the exception of Charles Dance playing the obligatory stick in the mud boss who doesn’t recognize genius we’ve seen in a million other movies. I could have also done without the cop interviewing Turing narration throughout that felt extremely phony. I don’t think anyone had to tell a gay man in 40’s England to keep quiet about their homosexuality. This is a genius we are talking about.

imitation game4Matthew Goode and Allen Leach (from Downton Abbey) take small parts as members of the code breakers and all the sets and costuming is very well done. Alexandre Desplat’s music is also very moving and not over the top like so many biopics.

imitation game10The movie ends on a very sad note that is necessary as it is the real events but I couldn’t help but wish the movie had been a little less formulaic to help absorb that sadness- it kind of came out of left field.  But it was tragic for sure.

Cumberbatch is great as Turing.  He is basically playing the same role as he is in Sherlock so if you like him there you will like him here. He is vulnerable and awkward yet still likable in a way few actors could pull off.  The parts with the codebreaking were new and I learned something.  And like I said the rest of the performances are great.  Overall a very entertaining enlightening film.

It is also nice that it tells the story of a gay man without an agenda or vulgarity being shoved at the screen.  It’s just his story.  I love that and think it is perhaps more impactful than some films that are more blatant and heavy-handed in their messaging.  I certainly was moved by it.

As far as content it is pretty clean.  There is a little bit of PG-13 level profanity and one sexually explicit joke I’m surprised they could slip by with but other than that a film appropriate for middle school and up and a worthwhile message and story to learn about.

Overall Grade- B+, Content Grade- A

American Sniper Review

american sniperSo I just saw American Sniper and Imitation Game so will post both reviews in the next little bit.  It was quite the downer of a double header I must admit but they actually have more in common than you might think.  Both movies are about men in times of war who’s unusual excellence saved soldiers lives.

american sniper2American Sniper is the story of Chris Kyle played by Bradley Cooper, the greatest sniper in Navy Seals history who was referred to as ‘The Legend’ by other seals.  There is lots of controversy over the wars overseas,  Chris Kyle, his book, and some of his statements.  I’m really not going to get into all of that.  I am just judging the movie. It is God’s place to judge Chris Kyle and any others who had the guts to do something I could never do for a cause they believed in.

To those that feel American Sniper is a propaganda piece for a war that is a mistake,  I would make this counter argument. Imagine if you had a movie about a German WWII soldier.  The soldier may do great and admirable things for what most believe is a wrong cause but that doesn’t make the actions themselves and the way HE see’s them any different than any other soldier.  Chris Kyle is a man who did what he was told to do and saved many of his Navy Seal brethren lives and far be it for me or anybody else to put the condemnation of a cause on the shoulders of one man.

APphoto_Film Review American SniperI happen to believe there was value in the cause and what we did over there but that is a conversation for another day on another blog.  American Sniper does not really turn Chris Kyle into a hero.  It is clear he is very uncomfortable with such recognition.  He is a man who did his job and that job was saving Navy Seals and Marines.

The movie is brutal. It’s a tough sit through, and I had many a moment where I had to look away or close my eyes because it was too intense.  That’s not a mark against it.  War and its horrors are the one type of violence that I think is important and worth seeing.  Director Clint Eastwood does a great job helping you feel like you are there with Chris Kyle and the other soldiers in Chris’ four tours of duty. For a man famous for being a sniper you feel on the ground with the troops a lot.

mufastaAl-qaeda has their own sniper called Mustafa which kind of puts both sides on equal playing field (if you can call it that) in the  movie.  It is clear the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq is one of individual houses and skirmishes with neighborhoods.  Not the  rows of cavalry or the mass of soldiers we see in other war movies.  It makes sense why a sniper would be needed because it’s such an individual version of warfare.

The only other movie I can think of which has shown this type of conflict was the Hurt Locker and I personally think American Sniper is much better.  I certainly felt way more invested in Chris Kyle’s story than anyone in that movie.

american sniper7I thought that Clint Eastwood does a good job keeping a narrative throughout each tour and Chris’ time at home.  At each intense period of fighting there will be a call to his wife played by Sienna Miller, thus bringing the family into the action and then at home he will have flashbacks bringing the action to the home.  I thought it was interesting how both times seemed equally intense but in different ways. In war Chris seemed to wish he could save more men and at home Chris wished he could save more men.

Like I said it is a brutal movie.  It is graphic, violent and disturbing but it is war people.  I would have been more bothered if it wasn’t all of those things.  Again it felt like you were there with Chris on the ground and Clint Eastwood does a great job of building a comradery with Chris and his men quickly so that way when things happen you as a viewer feel the loss or fear along with Chris.  It’s pretty remarkable the way he does that sometimes in just one conversation or smile you feel bonded to a soldier.

The movie doesn’t really make Chris Kyle into a hero.  If it was a Stephen Spielberg movie there would have been soaring music and dramatic speeches.  There isn’t any of that.  Just a man who did what he had to do in his worldview.

american sniper6The language is very bad but what you might expect out of a bunch of soldiers risking their life everyday.  American Sniper is the kind of movie I won’t ever want to watch again but I am very glad I saw once.  I feel I got a tiny bit of insight into what our brave men and women do over there.  I know it is still a movie but it’s at least more insight than I had this morning before seeing it.

The ending when you’ve just seen Chris Kyle growing and changing is devastating.  It just doesn’t seem right with all he went through for it to have come to that.

american sniper9Again it is not our place to judge a man like Chris Kyle.  He did what he had to do and he saved many lives.  That is the story of American Sniper and it tells that story well.  The rest of Chris Kyle or the value of the war itself is for another movie, another discussion.  I was very moved by American Sniper and I’m glad I saw it.  It’s brutal but I’m glad I saw it.

Bradley Cooper is terrific as Kyle.  He’s proud, stoic, vulnerable.

Overall Grade- A  Content Grade- F  (although I don’t think it is Adults only.  It’s war! Teens should be able to appreciate that).