Best Films of 2015

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It always takes some time to feel ready to post the best movies of the year. While I get to the Oscar nominees pretty early, there are the dozens of fantastic smaller and ignored films that take some time (and are still coming to DVD or Streaming). There are many left on “to see” list of 2015.

 

This year saw some real entertainment from Hollywood and fewer of the super depressing films they’ve made in recent years. So with no apologies for getting it all wrong, here’s my Top 20 for 2015.

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How to become a true Star Wars Fan – Guest Blog

Guest Blogger Gregory Wildeman

(Ed. Note: Greg and I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens together. He apparently has been considering how one becomes a true Star Wars fan for the first time and shared an email with me, which I have turned into a post)

I read your review and I wanted to put an idea forth to you on Star Wars. Firstly the review was more or less spot-on in my opinion. I’d like to expand on it by taking you through a progression of what I believe is something that needs to be discussed:

How to intake Star Wars for the first time. 

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This debate, which has gone on for some time, actually has a prevailing theory: The machete order.

I find this theory to vastly under serve one trying to understand the full universe. See, the full universe is not only about the movies- there are books, comics, movies, video games, etc. Some of these are canonical (defined as released directly from a Lucas Company or now Disney) and some aren’t. I am going to create the Ultimate Order using only canonical reference. In which case you can only discuss moves, tv shows, and video games.

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Mini-Review: The Revenant

The Revenant

R, 156 Minutes, 2015 – Opens Wide January 8, 2016

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About: An 1820s scout must survive the American wilderness as lots of really bad stuff happens to him and everyone else.

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domnall Gleeson (who has had quite the year with Ex Machina, Brooklyn, and Star Wars), and that kid from We’re the Millers (Will Poulter)

Directed: Alejandro González Iñárritu – If Birdman didn’t win you over to his skill, this will. He is a modern day master especially with his ability to craft a shot.

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Best Thing About It: Wow is this film beautiful and captivating. Long uncut shots (no surprise) with 360º swings, incredible vistas, gorgeous framing of the magnificent wilderness. Nature (mostly Canada, some Argentina) which is a co-star in this film, does its job outstandingly, and is captured with mastery.

Worst Thing About It: This is not a film for everyone. It is long. There are huge periods of silence. The plot of the movie isn’t that challenging.

And it’s pretty gross. The battles are realistic with gruesome resulting injuries. On-the-fly surgery is worse. There is a nasty persistent racism towards American Indians and the violence towards woman is raw and horrific. Animals are shown and eaten in all sorts of ways you’ve never desired. It’ll be a tough sit for many people. Know yourself.

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Notable Things About It: Just give Leo the Oscar already. 5 nominations. Should have won for The Aviator. This role was physically brutal. As IMDb reports, he grew that nasty beard, learned to shoot a musket, build a fire, and speak two native American Languages (Pawnee and Arikara). Just give him the Oscar already! (By the way, Tom Hardy is pretty outstanding too, but will get no Oscar love)

Overall: The movie is a pleasure as a visual feast and for the acting. But somewhat like Birdman, the plot is not captivating enough. Go see it as it really should be seen on the big screen.

Rating: 3 RaMaKs
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Mini-Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

PG-13, 135 Minutes, 2015

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About: A long time ago… a plot was borrowed from a 1977 and told it again. But with more lightsaber fighting and a woman in the lead.

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver – your lives have massively changed forever.

Directed: JJ Abrams continues to show he can take a classic property, rework their old scripts, and make people love them anew. He does an even better job here than he did in Star Trek. And no lens flares.new-the-force-awakens-character-descriptions-for-finn-rey-kylo-ren-and-captain-phasma1.jpeg

Best Thing About It: When Rey uses the force to get the lightsaber. It is the establishment of a new generation of heroes and specifically that a young woman can be the central protagonist – something lacking in most classic Science Fiction.

 

Worst Thing About It: The Nazi imagery when General Hux address the Stormtroopers was way over the top.

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Notable Things About It: Best acted and funniest of Star Wars movies. Was not shot all in digital, so has grittier more realistic feel than the Prequels did. You can skip Episodes 1-3 and understand this fill without a problem – Prequels can be dead now.

IMAX/3D: Saw it in 3D on a regular screen and on IMAX/3D. While IMAX/3D makes your viewing into an event – and therefore worthwhile – neither is really needed.

Overall: JJ Abrams succeed in creating Star Wars for the next generation while satiating those of us who were transformed by it as children decades ago. That is one tough task and he did an amazing job.

As we prepare for 18 months of waiting for the next episode, some questions below…

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Questions: The film leaves a host of questions to debate until Episode VII in May 2017. Some of them:

  • Who are Rey’s parents? Unlikely to be Han and Leia. Current betting is on Luke, but she was a little girl when left on Jakku so you’d think she’d remember her parents and everyone else (Han, Leia, Ben Solo) would remember her.920x920.jpg
  • Is Finn just a rare rebellious Stormtrooper or does he have some interesting back story? I doubt he is Lando Calrissian’s son, but love to see some Billy Dee Williams.
  • How did Kylo Ren turn evil? And where did Supreme Leader Snoke come from? And is he really very tiny (like Yoda), but compensates with a Wizard of Oz giant head?
  • Who is the old guy at beginning and what’s his story? Internet tells us his name is Lor San Tekka and gives some history that wasn’t in the movie.
  • But most of all: Why does C-3PO have a red arm?

 

Rating: 3 1/2 RaMaKs (out of 4)

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In a Galaxy Far, Far Away… Best and Worst of the Star Wars Original Trilogy

StarWarsFinding flaws in the Prequels isn’t a challenge. Everyone does it. But judging the Best and Worst in the Original Trilogy which  I’ve seen so many times and that are iconic is harder than bullseyeing womp rats back home. So I picked out a few favorites, a few misses, and especially looked for connections back to the Prequels that stood out on watching all 6 films in a row.

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Worst Thing: The Special Edition. Yes, the Jabba scene isn’t needed and Han shot first. However, it is the clutter that most gets me. Every scene has to be endlessly busy at all times. The least George could do is release a box set that also had the otherwise unavailable original versions.

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Happy Birthday to the Worst Star Wars thing ever

Star Wars fans tend to be harsh. We love the franchise and characters so much that when near misses (Ewoks), true misses (most of the edits on the original trilogy by Mr Can’t-Leave-Well-Enough-Alone) and total abominations (Jar Jar Binks) show up we are vocal and even manic. Many are panicked over the Disney take-over of Star Wars and the coming episodes VII-IX. I’m not. I bet they surpass Episodes I-III and lead to great rides in the theme parks. But maybe that’s because I’ve already seen the lowest Star Wars can sink.

As an 8-year-old boy, a year removed from seeing Star Wars when it was first released into the theaters, I discovered true hell. On this day, November 17, in 1978, my family gathered to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special. The variety special that unfolded was so terrible, so ridiculous that I couldn’t even bring myself to watch it all again today for this post. I appreciated the YouTube commentator who said he was too high to watch this. That’s how bad it is.

Let’s share just a few lowlights of what’s been called “the worst two-hours of television.”

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#BlogElul via the Movies 16 – Some Kind of Wonder-Full

Movies are fickle things. Tim Burton is one of the most amazing directors to create a world immersed in his fantastic vision. Why is that Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorshands are still full of wonder, but recent Tim Burton fantasies such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland are not “wonderful” or perhaps “wonder-full”? I know my age makes a difference regarding wonder. It’s a piece (and only a piece) of why I love the original Star Wars trilogy and am much more ambivalent on the second threesome.

Wonder is that which arouses astonishment or marvel. Things enriched with positively experiences of amazement and transformation. The High Holy Days are supposed to that. Choirs, robes, shofar, sermons, big musical pieces, the sheer number of attendees are all supposed inspire you into awe. Thomas Carlyle said, “Wonder is the basis of worship.” Nowadays, we often seek such wonder differently. Choirs and robes are often no more. Sermons often don’t live up to the anticipation. The music and even the congregation are intentionally scaled back for alternative or intimate services. At least the shofar is still the shofar.

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