Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of 2015 - The Epic Conclusion

Ok, time to finish thing and put 2015 in the books. Follow me.


There was a documentary a few years ago about the guy who famously played Elmo and how he was one of the last few muppeteers to work under Henson that were still around and working today. Well we all know how THAT worked out. Carroll Spinney, who has been playing the character since 1969 was right in the middle of the Henson renaissance but it’s not a story of a group of people changing the world. It’s the story of a single man who felt like he never felt like he was part of the gang while the character he was playing was touching the hearts of millions of children. His life story is fascinating, overwhelming and a little bittersweet. I mean, they reveal that Big Bird was supposed to go up in the space shuttle Challenger! Can you imagine the unbearable tragedy of explaining to your child what happened to Big Bird? Thankfully he is still doing what he does, into his 90’s. A stalwart humble figure that has spent decades making people happy.


Aaron Sorkin reinvented the biopic and people didn’t seem to pay attention. Even with all it’s behind the scenes problems, changing directors, changing studios, changing leads, the script was still served superbly. Everyone wanted Leonardo DiCaprio or Christian Bale to play Jobs and that isn’t hard to imagine but Michael Fassbender got the job. He’s great but not the ideal choice. WELL, IT TURNS OUT HE PROBABLY DID IT BETTER THEM ALL THEMS. His performance brings out that sympathy to Jobs’ cold personality that we saw in all the interviews and documentaries. The structure of only showing the unveiling of key products in his career was something I had read about for years and was always excited to see it but to anchor the entire thing with the relationship with his daughter is what really got me. I’ve read up a lot on Jobs and his denial of paternity was always gutwrenching. But the fact that he named one of his computers the LISA is just one of those real complex emotions that the movie tries to decode and I loved every minute of it. I was planning to explain to the people I saw the movie with about the amazing Apple Newton joke that The Simpsons once had but the movie flat out showed the clip. This is being at the top of your game if you’re a filmmaker.


I love the LA story. Most people that live and work in LA are not from here and resent every minute they have to spend in the sprawl and take every opportunity they can to leave it. If you ever spent more than 10 minutes in the East Hollywood area, you’ve been privy to some kind of madness or weird altercation, especially if the sun isn’t out. Usually you just leave the area and hope for the best. This movie is that area, and you can’t leave. Because it’s about the people that are that area and they can’t leave either. At one point, the movie spends a long shot walking down the bad part of Santa Monica Blvd. and you feel it. It’s like the opening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, feeling the burn of something people ACTUALLY went through from the safety of your plush movie theater seat. Unfolding on these streets, is a story very human story of friendship and loyalty in the harshest of conditions. You probably will never know this kind of life and you wonder what could be gained by getting a glimpse but to me, that’s the entire point of life and cinema. Gathering people’s stories in your head and getting something from them. As impressive as the movie was, the final credit was that the entire thing was shot on an iPhone, which absolutely stunned me. From the filmmakers of previous Top Ten list dweller, STARLET, it offers another look at human beings you probably wouldn’t give a second thought to.


Aardman, the studio that gave us CHICKEN RUN and WALLACE AND GROMIT return to give us this movie, apparently based off a kid’s show that has run for several seasons. But you don’t need to know that. You just have to enjoy the antics and action of one of the best streamlined emotional and hysterical stories of the year. The simplicity is one of it’s more appealing aspects. Not a single word of dialogue is spoken yet the humor is flawless. It has hands down the best long con joke of the year. There is something about British farm life that I will always call to me.


JURASSIC PARK is one of my top 5 favorite films of all time. I have read the book several times. I have many curiously emotional attachments to the ride of the same name. I’ve seen sequels miss the mark and I was ready for nostalgia to just get me through this life without every getting that magic repackaged and shoved into my eyes again. I loved being wrong about this. A wonderful idea for a sequel with fun new characters and exciting action and a cheer worthy finale was one of the funnest theater experiences of my life. It’s June and I’m watching raptors jump into battle with their Chris Pratt trainer. This is the way it ought to be.  Michael Giacchino’s brilliant score emulating the themes of John Williams while adding intense new ones encapsulate how well these ideas have been given a shot in the arm and are revitalized and ready to tear our arms out once again. It’s kind of worth it for Star Wars to suck to give me ammo to all those JW naysayers out there. Hail to the king, baby.


Al Pacino has unfortunately spent a lot of time being in bad movies over the last decade or so. That means that his comeback was always destined to be lost in the shuffle but I’m here to tell you here it is. His very own JERRY MAGUIRE shot at redemption on and off the screen. I hesitate to tell you much more about it, because a great story unfolds, and this does a great job of it. All the way to it’s brilliant ending. I’ll just persuade you with the fact that Supergirl is in it beaming and giggling and who doesn’t need more of that in their lives?


I kept wanting INSIDE OUT to get darker. Get a little harder to watch. To twist the knife a little more. Pixar has been coasting for a while and this was the movie that brought them back to greatness but I always want them to go a little further. But for the first time, I realized why they didn’t. This young girl, who’s spectrum of emotion is getting more complicated and intricate, like everyone, is going to feel pain in more diverse ways in her life. And we don’t have to drop it all on her now, even though that happens to far too many people. The beginning of it all is enough, and the message that even though the feelings will get become tougher to process, and maybe too many to handle, that the ways of coping and figuring them out will also be abundant as well. Pixar has a way of making you miss the characters and really hope they end up okay. I wouldn’t mind a sequel where Riley gets older and they have to deal with heavier stuff. Or maybe a prequel where he emotions go to college or something. Wait, scratch that one.


Lily Tomlin deserves an Oscar this year and way more attention than she’s getting. I fear that most of the young and attractive people will remember her from yelling at David O. Russell on YouTube. But she was nice enough to remind us why we’re all dumb for not thinking about her more. She plays an actual old person who doesn’t rap or smoke pot in this movie (or maybe she does smoke pot, but she doesn’t make a big deal about it) with a history that she unknowingly starts exposing her granddaughter to as they scour the town looking for money to pay for her abortion. If anything, the academy should at least give her the “body of work” Oscar for snubbing her legendary performance as Ms. Hathaway in THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES movie.


I’ve reviewed this very recently, so the only thing I can add is to tell you that this movie plants seeds in you that start growing right away and you end up feasting on the juicy fruit for days. We are lucky to have Quentin Tarantino making movies. We are lucky he cares so much about the exhibition of film. We are lucky he cares about film because I get to watch so many great films at his theater on glorious celluloid. Those of us that love movies are always rewarded with him. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


I’m so happy that Hollywood has focused so much on non-romantic relationships over the last couple of years. The idea that we can make each other better has always inspired me and kept me going. This is a movie like BIG or PLEASANTVILLE that transcends its premise and gives you something beyond an extended joke. Robert DeNiro has decided he’s going to do comedies until he hits the grave but the one or two light dramas he’s done in the last few years have really blown me away. Who knew mid-level energy DeNiro is where it’s at son. And Anne Hathaway, my great love, bogged down by a bunch of Oscar bait nonsense pays homage and builds on the phantom career of the person who was gonna make movies like PRINCESS DIARIES her whole life. I like the version of reality where THAT happens. Despite everything that this movie does, despite my breaking out in tears at it’s beauty, there is another film that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go for months on end…


I love George Miller. He’s a goddamn beast. And he had a hand in the BABE movies so he has a heart too. Who knew that in his 70’s he’d be THIS hungry? Hungry to jump back in his world and slap shot your brain into a goal made of razor wire and dipped in Taco Bell fire sauce. Imperetor Furiosa. Fuck yes. She lost an arm and she’s willing to lose everything else to get her women to freedom. Max, floats on in like a post-apocalyptic Forrest Gump, and one of three great 2015 performances by the flawless Tom Hardy, has nothing left to lose and together they both reach purpose. And along the way is the coolest imagery and stunts of the year. The second I saw the Pole Cats in the trailer, I knew I was gonna be hooked. When you can be convinced that they actually murdered people in order to accomplish stunts than you’ve done your job as a filmmaker. And it’s one of those movies that only gets more kinetic and potent upon each viewing. That rarely happens with me but in the 3 times I watched it in a theater this year it only became harder to see where the seams are. There isn’t a second of this movie where you aren’t sucked in and there isn’t a moment or action taken for granted. It is the most satisfying of the classically told cinema epics I’ve seen in a long time and it’s the fourth in a franchise. I feel it changed the way we should look at “reboots” in the way BATMAN BEGINS invented them. It’s everything we needed to see and hear at exactly the right time. To me, nothing can eclipse the accomplishment this was this year. Even Robert DeNiro watching Gene Kelly on the television and realizing he’s having a moment he thought he’d never have again. Even Joy (the emotion, not the Jennifer Lawrence character) realize that a memory can change context over time. Or a man riding a motorcycle with his trained raptors to take down a genetically enhanced super dino. Or a girl selling Fruit Brute ice cream. It bests every great moment I saw in a movie this year but I had a hell of time seeing them fight for the top of the heap. I can’t wait to see what will be better than all of those things so I’m never gonna stop looking for it.

- D

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Best of 2015 - Part 1

It’s that time again for the guy who saw too many movies to tell you which ones he thought were good enough to talk about and gush over. I will say that these movies are good but I think the year suffered from a real lack of stand-outs. The best this year didn’t move me like other year’s but that tends to happen during years with so many big anticipated releases. Let’s start with some honorable mentions:


We are probably all way past the prime of any of us being someone that actually read this when it was out. But the importance of not only the content but the talent behind it sent shockwaves throughout the comedy world still being felt today and probably for a long time coming. The institutions of Saturday Night Live and MAD Magazine owe a lot from this publication and all that’s left of it’s legacy is about 1000 terrible direct to video Will Friedle movies with it’s name on it. They discovered so much talent that went on to become icons of the industry and they were all pilfered and pillaged away toward more successful and notable ventures. Now their bittersweet story finally gets told. I sort of wish it was available to me when I was in my teens as a way to continue my humor mag education. I could have really benefitted from that vicious bite as a lad.


My era of horror preference is the 1980’s. That’s when I was most frightened of what they could do to my impressionable imagination. The video boxes told entire stories in my head that were far worse than what was actually inside. For most cases, as I would find out years later. Christmas horror is a particular favorite of mine because of the juxtaposition of hopeless against the background of the season of hope. KRAMPUS is inspired from this era and does it’s inspiration proud. It never forgets the fun and humor in the ridiculously tragic circumstances and takes delicious pleasure in the tried and true horror principle. This is all your fault.


I haven’t loved a Bond movie in almost 20 years. I love the franchise and the characters. I’ve seen every (LICENSED!!!) Bond movie made. I of course have a taste for a certain kind of Bond. The fun of being a fan is that it will always steer back to what you loved about the movies eventually when it gets tired of being a certain way. Bond has finally given up on his self importance and learned to have fun again. Learned how to do great cinematic set pieces again. And use its strengths again. It may have veered toward it’s classic sensibilities a bit too early for everyone else’s tastes, but tell them to meet me in the toilet of the facility and we’ll hash it out there.


This has become a year of the return of classic heroes. Not everyone made it through but one of the best premises managed to get executed beautifully even with a change of creative team. All of the heart and soul of the franchise beginnings return through new eyes, and Rocky Balboa, the man that has been getting knocked around for his whole life, has a new reason to keep punching.


Michael Moore returns after five years to do something we’ve seen him do a little bit of in previous films but really hammers it home with this one. In this, he goes to different counties to “invade” and take the ideals and practices of the country back home to America to use. He wants us to have 8 weeks paid vacation. Better nutrition for our public schools. Better prisons and better acknowledgement of our checkered past as a nation. All of the ideas these counties have all came from American principles and it’s a very entertaining reminder that we can always do better. There’s a sequence in a Norwegian prison that is right out of a Christopher Guest movie and made me laugh like a maniac. Can’t even credit Moore for it. It’s reality.


Another documentary and it’s not just about a version of a 90’s Superman movie that didn’t happen. It captured a time and era of filmmaking that brought forth the edgy and gritty epics of the 2000’s due to it being the stark opposite of complete ridiculousness. The Tim Burton directed Nicolas Cage starrer based off the massively popular “Death of Superman” storyline that was not only the height of the sales for the comic book industry but also brought about the major implosion it has since to fully recover from. The movie’s story mirrors this pretty closely. Not only was it the corporate brand emphasized committee filmmaking that caused the destruction of this movie, it was that it was going to be yet another high concept oddity in a steady stream of high concept oddities that failed miserably. Even though I followed every leaked bit of concept art or script drafts or costume tests throughout the years, this movie still told me tons of new information of just how close we got to a movie that for better or worse, could have been talked about for decades after. I mean it was never made, and we’re doing just that.


The Peanuts gang was one of the many beloved batch of characters that came back to us this year sans its creator at the helm. But due diligence and capturing of a certain spirit lead to a successful return. Peanuts seems to be the one exception when it comes to riding art and commerce harmoniously. They are critically lauded for changing the medium they bore from with an exceptional style and wit that cannot be duplicated, and they also appear in insurance commercials. It would be easy to sell these kids out, to change them for these app obsessed kids but they don’t need to. They are timeless and still get more character added to them in this. How do you make Snoopy even better than he was? They did it. They plussed Snoopy.


Blake Lively gets struck by lightning in the 1920’s and has gained the power to stop aging. I’m not entirely sure this isn’t a documentary based off her real life. Having to restart your life every couple of years is the nomadic life that I know all too well. This is a real dirge of the lonely. Of the empathetic. And the pain of the abundance of time. Blake Lively really gets to do her best work here. I mean, for Blake Lively. I really respect when an actor's personality shines in a character and even though she's a robot, she's a pleasant one. And this is the best Harrison Ford performance of the last few decades. And certainly of the year. It feels like if Philip K. Dick was a hopeless romantic and wrote this. There is a decadence to emptiness that feels like if Lana Del Rey was directing movies, they would be like this. This is what I wanted Benjamin Button to be. How come only severely hot people are the ones stuck with the aging diseases?


Last year we got a real boon of quality horror. This year, not so much. But we did get this, which was fun and tense and actually frightening. They attacked us at our most vulnerable. In our beds with our laptops. The premise of this being unfolding all in the screen of a laptop is so powerful that it was also a Modern Family episode this season and it made me a fan of that show for life. I feel this will hold up to the passing in time in the way that horror used the phone to terrorize us. This one uses our warm inviting screens. People think I don’t use video chat because I don’t want to remind people my head is shaped like Gumby’s but the real reason is that I don’t want this to happen to me. Okay, maybe both reasons.


I have a friend named Ameesh. I have probably told you stories about Ameesh. They are always wild and hilarious. I am convinced Mark Ruffalo found and decided to base this character based of good ol’ Ameesh. I can’t prove it but I just know it in my heart. This is a movie about a father who has had a mental break down getting back into the groove of taking care of his kids in the 1970’s. It doesn’t always work out and could get kind of crazy. And not burn the soufflé crazy either. Characters that have parents you come to resent but can’t really truly dismiss also speaks directly to my inner most kindlings. Mark Ruffalo racks up another amazing performance that makes you even wonder why you’re surprised, but it still surprises you. Like when we saw his debut in YOU CAN COUNT ON ME fifteen years ago and didn’t know why were so dazzled because he is always surprising, rarely repeats himself and is always sincere. I can’t believe Edward Norton was the Hulk once.


Sony remade ROBOCOP last year to typically unsatisfying results. This year, they remade ROBOCOP a lot better with CHAPPIE. Built to be a police robot, experimented on to have artificial intelligence and emotions, becomes a liability and then must take on a bigger more military skewed robot in a David and Goliath like square off. Sharlto Copley comes at it from a much more sympathetic angle playing Chappie as a naïve newborn instead of Peter Weller playing the cold and sterile dead soul. What Copley had to do in this movie was pretty magic, and you kind of wish there was more charming robots out there for him to play. Or at least babies. Can he motion capture a baby or something for a LOOK WHO’S TALKING reboot set in post-apocolypic South Africa staring Aqua as Molly and James? Why is Hollywood not paying me?


I have never felt such affection for a dead past time as much as I have watching this. If you live in Los Angeles or pretty much near any big cities I can tell you with much certainty that there is most likely a record store around. But it’s not a corporate run discount big box run by hippies that jumped on the big business boom just as it was leaving the station. To feel nostalgic for a company that set up it’s own demise with greed is such an odd occurrence. But the America Dream is built up so much in our heads that we can’t help but admire the story of a small band of trouble makers that managed to put their love and attitude into every corner of the country. I think the 80’s and 90’s, their heyday was also a time where mainstream media as we know it peaked before it got splintered in all kinds of different directions by the internet. There was this manufactured rebellion that us Tower customers all fed into, as we roamed their well stocked aisles of infinite discovery. We are at the point where mourning the tragedy of the baby boomer generation and I think that’s a perfect ending to their story.


A woman abandons her well to do family to play in dive bars in the deep valley. It’s hard to be mad at this woman when Meryl Streep is the one playing her. Then you’re just kind of mad at everyone that gives her a hard time. Her daughter justifiably is furious at her and is having a hard time with life and won’t let her mom show her the attitude it takes to handle a steady diet of humble pie. Diablo Cody has made this list 3 times in a row now, after her debut ended up on the worst list. And we’re not even paying attention to her. We’re really bad at this kind of thing. Blowing our wad on a debut and not even following up with your darling. Well, I am Diablo. And so is Jonathan Demme who really puts his RACHEL GETTING MARRIED chops to good use here. Especially with the musical sequences.


Joe Dante was forged in low budget horror and that's where you can find him these days. Not even going through the ringer on a corporate Looney Tunes commercial can ruin him. Even with little money for budget, he can still take a charming group of actors and an outlandish premise and make it one of the most fun rides of the year. There are so many things in this movie that are tailor made to pander to me. Th LA small business. The pop culture obsessed characters. The Alexandra Daddario. I can't even fully recommend this to non-me's but you should really get in my head some time. It's a riot.

Next up, THE TOP 11 OF THE YEAR!

 - D

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Top 5 films of 2015 That Weren’t As Bad As You Thought They Were Gonna Be

Instead of doing a worst list this year, I’ve decided to highlight a few movies that didn’t set the world on fire but were kind of worth your time anyway with

The Top 5 films of 2015 That Weren’t As Bad As You Thought They Were Gonna Be


A lot of purists and fans of the cartoon didn’t even bother to see what Hollywood had cooked up for them. There really shouldn’t even be a Jem movie because the last movement of the needle on Jem interest was sometime before the Soviet Union fell. These aren’t real fans, because if you love Jem, you gotta at least answer the ransom note that Universal was sending to you. If you did, you would have seen that they at least tried to introduce the character and the same elements of the show into a modern live action setting for new kids to enjoy. It was like the SUPER MARIO BROS. movie (which isn’t exactly helping my case) but I find it interesting how to interpret things in new ways and the soundtrack brought the hot traxxx. It’s actually pretty impressive how many parts of the Jem lore they put in here and made make sense. And you really have to give them props when you realize they did all this with a 5 million dollar budget. They also gave you the best end credits tease since Skeletor promised to come back and kill He-Man and you didn’t even care. Sometimes you guys are too spoiled.


This was a big hit primarily because of couples with no imaginations having nothing better to do than to go see this on Valentine’s Day weekend, but if anyone was familiar with the novel on which the movie was based, you’d know that a lot of lambs would have to be sacrificed to make something that even resembled a movie. Well, consider the desolate one please, because they managed to even surpass that high benchmark. A lot of the malarkey was excised and Dakota Johnson delivered a performance that took this from a Lifetime movie to a film truly worthy of a February release. Her, the screenwriter, and the director (all females) managed to tell the story of withdrawn girl with no life experience being thrown into an overwhelming situation and coming out stronger and wiser from it. They even made this doomed romance something that I thought about FOR MONTHS after I saw the movie. In the end, despite all the sex gimmicks, anyone could relate to the problem of loving something that isn’t good for you. Another killer soundtrack here as well. I have no hope for the sequel because the book is based off of is even more insane and the nutty author who hated this movie now has more control. Be thankful it kind of worked once.


A lot of you got caught up in the politics of this one, one way or another and never allowed yourself to get into the amazing cast conducted by the Crowe. Entertaining and all sorts of feely even though not at the levels of what he was at in his prime, the cast makes it work. I’ve seen far worse from him and he makes a ground rule double feel like a triple. I also think Emma Stone’s work this year was largely ignored. Going into dicey territory again by working with Woody Allen in IRRATIONAL MAN, she really showed this year that she was worth every bit of ink written about her in 2011 about how she was gonna save us all. We never treat our saviors well, anyway.


The fact that we’re at the point where we need to put teens in a post-apocalyptic society or give them cancer to take them seriously is a sad thing. There have been a very small group of teen films in the last few years with no outward gimmicks that really do a good job of the low-key angsty tone that these kind of movies deserve. The film doesn’t know what it wants to be, but who does when you’re that age? It gets a lot of the feelings right and has two great performances with Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne. The movie takes her away just as you’re starting to fall for her and she becomes a siren of your own design at that point, and when the movie catches up to her? It’s one of the best bits of reality done this year.


Saying that you had any preconceived opinion about this movie is saying too much. Because implies you even heard of this movie before now. But this Paramount Pictures release was kind of dumped into a Halloween slot without warning (prints of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 12 touted a special preview of this movie after the end credits, and didn’t even deliver, that’s how against the movie fate was). But just because Paramount had a movie they didn’t know how to market, didn’t mean they had a bad one. It’s actually one of the more fun surprises of the year. It’s fun, a bit bawdy but often clever and rather satisfying. This really was a movie for a small distributor to build an audience for, but it was instead the small fish in the gigantic ocean planet Splashoria. This is the best possible thing you can get from a Red Box blind rental.

Coming soon: The best 20 or so films of the year!

- D