Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Star Wars [A Prequel Trilogy Review]

'Star Wars' is an awesome entity. When I was a kid, even before these prequels came out, I had already seen the original trilogy. I loved them to death. Then I saw each prequel film, when they hit theaters and watched the first two (on VHS) a ton. The Nintendo 64 games, Rogue Squadron and the podracing one, were awesome. I even got hype over those Taco Bell 'Episode I' toys they had. With the next chapter in the saga coming out this year, I figured I would go through the series for the first time since I was a teenager. I think my tastes have changed quite a bit, because while they're still all good in my eyes, they're not the fantastic films I would watch a ton.

'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace' is set 32 years before the events of 'Episode IV' and follows the story of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). They are tasked to negotiate with the Trade Federation leadership, to end the blockade. They are attacked and forced to flee to Naboo, where Jinn saves a Gungan outcast, Jar Jar Binks. They try to persuade the Gungan leader, Boss Nass, to help, but fail. They do receive transportation, to travel to Theed, the capital city on the surface of Naboo. The three save Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), from an attack and flee to Tatooine on her royal starship. As they are looking for the parts they need to fix the ship, when they meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a young boy, gifted in podracing and engineering. The unlikely group, consisting of Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Amidala, Jar Jar Binks, Anakin Skywalker and R2-D2, must now recover the parts needed to repair the ship, so that a treaty, that is not influenced by the Sith, is passed.

'Star Wars Episode II: The Clone Wars' takes place 10 years after the events of 'Episode I' and follows the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and, now Jedi, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). After the invasion of Naboo, the Galatic Republic is threatened by a separatist movement, organized by Jedi Master Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). Senator Amidala (Portman) is nearly assassinated upon arrival Coruscant, so Kenobi and Skywalker are tasked with protecting her. The two stop another assassination attempt, track the perpetrator, but he is killed by a bounty hunter before they could get information off of him. The Jedi Council, informs the two that they will be splitting up. Skywlaker will be protecting Amadala, where it is safe on her home planet of Naboo. While Kenobi will begin an investigation on who this bounty hunter is. The two paths eventually merge, as the start of the clone wars, has befallen the galaxy.

'Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith' takes place three years after the events of 'Episode II' and once again, follows the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Christensen). During a space battle over Courscant, Obi-Wan and Anakin are ordered to save Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). In the process of rescuing him, Count Dooku (Lee) is killed and General Grievous escapes. When the two return, Anakin is greeted by Padme Amidala, who informs him that she is pregnant. Soon after, an elated Anakin beings to have premonitions of Padme dying during childbirth. Palpatine asks Anakin to be his representative on the Jedi Council, but the Council doesn't give him the rank of "Master" and instead orders him to report on what the chancellor is planning. Anakin doesn't like that the Jedi are making him do this. Palpatine begins to entice Anakin with stories of the dark side and everything it can do, including the power to prevent death. Later, Palpatine reveals himself to be Darth Sidious and a lightsaber duel ensues between Sidious and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson). This ends with Anakin intervening, pledging to Sidious and being dubbed "Darth Vader." The end of the clone wars is nearing, and now, the Sith have one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy on their side, Darth Vader.

Woo-boy, 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace' isn't quite what I remember loving so much as a kid. While I still think the overall product is highly criminalized, it's hard to deny that the first film of the prequel series, is pretty mediocre at best. Mediocre is being generous when the story and character writing throughout 'The Phantom Menace' is almost non-existent. With the exception of Qui-Gon Jinn, to a minimal extent, Obi-Wan Kenobi (and a brief appearance from Yoda) everyone in this movie is boring or just plain annoying. Led by the king of pointless characters, and awful decisions that George Lucas made with this film, is Jar Jar Binks. If there's ever a reason to hate a character more than Jar Jar, I would love to hear it. While Anakin is really just there, Amidala are boring and Darth Maul is criminally underused, Jar Jar Binks is in a class of his own. Each line is utterly pointless and his waste of CGI astounds me to this day. The acting, by everyone, seems wholly phoned in, so I'm not going to single out anyone in particular. This is multiplied by the fact that the overarching story of the film is a boring political piece. There is some good in this. The first half of the film set up the mid-movie podrace well, and I still think it's a fun sequence. Not to mention we get the epic Duel of Fates, lightsaber battle between Darth Maul and the duo of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Throughout the film, and in this scene especially, John Williams handling of the score is awesome, and is actually a bright-spot in this. Not to mention, for a pre-2000s film, the CGI is done well throughout.
Moving on, 'Star Wars Episode II: The Clone Wars' is still the movie I remember loving to watch as a kid. Less Jar Jar was good, the story was better, the writing (and humor) were more tolerable. I never REALLY noticed how bad Hayden Christensen could be at delivering lines, but boy is he overacting to the millionth degree in this. Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor are given expanded roles, as are Yoda and Mace Windu. Plus we get a villain who is on-screen more in Count Dooku. I still don't mind McGregor as young Obi-Wan, but Portman is still pretty brutal as, now, Senator Amidala. Yoda, is, well Yoda, and Samuel L. Jackson as Windu is fine. Same goes for Christopher Lee as Count Dooku. Seeing the, almost origins, of Boba Fett is pretty cool as well. The story isn't quite good, but it's still better than what they tried to feed us in 'Episode I.' The writing, is still severely lacking too. Each one on one scene with Portman and Christensen is borderline unwatchable. Plus the exposition of every little thing is overbearing as hell. It comes off as unnecessary and makes a given scene boring. The action an CGI is still pretty good and it's the saving point of the film. I really liked the scenes were Obi-Wan traveled to the ocean planet Kamino and the fight scene that ensues. The final scenes in this film, in the battle at the area, is pretty cool as well. A swarm of Jedi in an all out-fight to stop a war, leading to an awesome showdown between Dooku and Yoda. The last 30 or so minutes, is still awesome. Once again, all of the good is accented by John Williams and his amazing score throughout the film.
Finally, we're at 'Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.' It is far and away the best film of the trio. Though it's a much better overall film, it still runs into a few the same problems the first two films hit. Hayden Christensen is still pretty meh, but settling into a conflicted, and eventually, evil role, suits him better on-screen. McGregor is still quite alright as Obi-Wan Kenobi and any scene involving Yoda draws the eye. Natalie Portman has finally settled into not being a complete bore as Amidala. It's too bad it took her (I more blame the writing for this) until the third film to finally get there. The story is also better, more complete and rounds off the prequel trilogy nicely. It gives the fans everything to be excited about, while tying up the overall storyline, these three films have managed to string together, well. The emotion runs high at times and this is the darkest of the series by far. Lending even more to the notion that this is the best of the three. This is the best writing (character-wise) and story of the trilogy. The writing and characters have been lackluster these the films, but have always been balanced out with the awesome spectacles, action and CGI. This film is no different as the fights are pretty damn fun. Darth Sidious vs. Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. General Greivous, Yoda vs Darth Sidious and ending with Anakin vs Obi-Wan Part 1. I love the lightsaber fights in the 'Star Wars' prequels and I still think they're some of the best choreographed fights in film. Despite how this trilogy viewed as a whole. Plus, we get to finally see Chewbacca, I love that Wookie. The CGI is on par with the other films, but there's a lot of obvious green screen spots that look just plain bad. As always, the film sounds amazing, and the score (still by John Williams) accents everything perfectly. Plus the ending shots, are just so amazingly perfect.

The 'Star Wars' prequel trilogy is one of the few series, that actually get better as it wears on. 'Phantom Menace' is still the worst of the entire 'Star Wars' saga, but 'The Clone Wars' and 'Revenge of the Sith' are actually very good. George Lucas may not have gotten everything right once finishing 'Episode 1,' but he did show improvements all the way until the end of 'Episode III.' Despite all of this, the prequel trilogy is more than worth your time. You get to see the back-story, in full, of Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader. We also get a deeper glimpse into Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenodi's lives as well. You also get a ton of great action and awesome lightsaber duels spanning the films. Not to mention, John William's score that never quite disappoints. Marred by an abysmal start, the 'Star Wars' prequel trilogy is a fun, action-filled affair that leads into one of the greatest trilogies of all time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Indiana Jones [A Fat Jesus Trilogy Review]

Indiana Jones is legendary. As a kid, I watched all three films with my mom and dad, but I don't really remember them. Before the 'National Treasure' and 'DaVinci Code' films, to me they're awful, there was Indiana Jones. Pulse pounding action, awesome music and exotic lands abound in some of the best action films in movie history. I've gotten into them even more because they remind me of the 'Uncharted' video game series. Films where I can remove myself from reality for awhile, to go an adventure with a larger than life hero, are some of the best films you can ever hope to see. Indiana Jones fits the bill perfectly.

'Raiders of the Lost Ark' follows the story of Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), a famous archaeologist. In 1936, Jones is hired by the United States government, to locate The Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. The Nazi's are trying to use the Ark, to become invincible like the Israelites of The Old Testament. The Nazis, on the other hand, are being aided by Jones' arch nemesis, Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman). With the help of an old girlfriend, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and a close ally, Sallah (John-Rhys-Davies), Indiana Jones must travel to Egypt and find the Ark, before the Nazis.

'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' once again follows the story of Indiana Jones. This time it is set in 1935, a year before the events of the first film. Jones escapes a deal gone bad with Chinese gangsters with the help of singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and Indy's 12 year old sidekick, Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan). The three crash land somewhere in India and arrive in a village whose children have been kidnapped. The children have been kidnapped by a cult, led by Mola Ram (Amrish Puri), and are being used to find two missing Sankara Stones, which are needed for them to take over the world. Indy, Willie and Short Round must infiltrate this cult to save the children, and perhaps, the world.

'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade', you guessed it, follows the story of Indiana Jones. We open in 1912 where a young Indiana Jones (River Phoenix), attempts to recover a valuable item from hunters, in which he fails. Indiana completes the recovery on said item in 1938, three years after the events of the second film. When he returns, he is tasked, alongside Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), by businessman Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), to find The Holy Grail. It is revealed that Indy's estranged father, Henry Jones (Sean Connery), is missing. They fly to Venice to meet Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), to begin looking for clues where his father left off. Then eventually set out to find him and the mystical grail.

These movies, much like the first trilogy I reviewed, 'Back to the Future', are an absolute blast. I was once again astounded by how well these films have held up over the years. Also why they've garnered the critical acclaim that they have. They're just plain fun to watch. 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' is the best of the trilogy. We're not even going to touch 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.' Yuck. The first film sets the tone for the series so well. From the opening ten minutes, you know you're in for a thrill ride. Complete with explosive action, a great hero and even great humor as well. The story is awesome. While it doesn't quite kick in until about 15 minutes into the movie, the opening sequence is an amazing precursor of what you're going to see throughout the rest of the film (and series). An archaeologist trying to uncover some of the worlds coolest secrets. That's a cool concept when done right, like in this series. The rest of the films lives up to the start, as the action looks great. Not being aided by the CGI we have now, the live action fights and chase scenes are done amazingly. Indiana Jones, our main hero, is built even further to be the awesome adventurer we see being chased by the rolling boulder. Played perfectly by Harrison Ford (throughout the series as well), Indiana Jones has all the bravado, snarkiness and skills to overcome any situation (that he usually gets himself into). The rest of the cast, aides in this effort. Paul Freeman, Karen Allen and John Rhys-Davies make up a great supporting cast. The cinematography was awesome, as the sweeping shots of the deserts and mountains were nice. Not to mention the set design was awesome, especially the opening scenes in the jungle and the snake-pit itself. There's also a good bit of humor sprinkled throughout, and all of it works well. The infamous scene where the giant man with the sword challenges Indy, Indy smirks, pulls out his gun and shoots him, is still hilarious. The iconic score is...well iconic. It makes the action pop and makes you feel all giddy inside. That somehow, someway, Indy is going to pull through. 
'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' is a nice follow up, this one's a prequel is a fun watch. While not quite capturing the same magic of the first film, it's undeniable, that it's an enjoyable film. Everything got bigger with the second installment. From the overall story to the stunts, everything felt, more robust. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones didn't change at all and that's one of the strong points. A character like his doesn't need to ever change. Blasphemous words I know, since you're used to seeing a character grow in films. Without his machismo and sense of adventure, these stories don't work. Kate Capshaw and Jonathan Ke Quan, as Willie and Short Round, are Indy's side-kicks this time around. I very much liked Short Round, but Willie was a little lacking. Comparing her to the hold your own style of Marion in the first film, Willie was made to be merely a damsel in distress. Not to mention the screaming throughout was on the other side of pleasant. The other problem I have with this film is the amount of gags thrown in. 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' has that perfect balance of humor, drama and action. While in 'The Temple of Doom' the humor is made more prevalent, and some of the time it falls flat. Despite these two minor gripes, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' is quite a fun film, same as the first. From the cinematography, to the story, I liked the darker feel to everything happening, to the still awesome score. This film is one that improves upon a lot, but doesn't quite nail everything in the process. Plus, the villain is able to pull a person's heart out at will, how awesome is that?
'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' is a breath of fresh air after the second film, that really does make its mark as being as good as the first film. Not quite as good, but comparable nonetheless. The feel of it, excitement. The action is grand. Indiana Jones is Indiana Jones. Whether is River Phoenix playing his younger self, or Sean Connery playing father Jones, it's a joy to watch this film unfold. The mystery is as grand as eternal life and right from the start, yet again (an action sequence roaring through a circus train) you're sucked in. Action that really only slows down when the archaeologist, and his brilliant father, are devising their next move. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery are as charismatic as a duo can get, working off each other in every scene flawlessly. Even River Phoenix gets Ford's mannerisms and style down pat. The Nazi evil is back, and while the voodoo of the second film was an alright antagonist, the Nazi side of things fits the narrative of "Indiana Jones" much better. The story overall, finding The Holy Grail is quite an interesting one. The final scenes, leading to and in the chalice chamber itself, is an amazing sequence. Once again, we are welcome to a strong female lead, in Alison Doody as Elsa, and that makes this feel even more natural. After watching the three films, you notice just how out-of-place Kape Capshaw felt as the heroine in these films. Everybody, main or supporting cast, has a strong air about them in these films, except for Kate Capshaw. The action is the same Indiana Jones action. This time there's even a bad-ass tank battle, that's now one of my favorite action sequences ever. The humor is there as well, but this time around, thanks to a capable (and charismatic cast) the gags work quite well. All of this done in a way only an 'Indiana Jones' film can do it. Oh yeah, the score is still awesome whenever it really ramps up.

The 'Indiana Jones' trilogy was a blast to watch. Credit Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford and John Williams for sticking together from beginning to end. Steven Spielberg knew how to direct these films. George Lucas had a fantastic vision for each film. Harrison Ford was the star power, that really vaulted "Indiana Jones." While John Williams conducted an amazing score for each film. This series is action packed, well told, full of humor, looks amazing and sounds beautiful. While the weak point is 'The Temple of Doom', this series as a whole is fantastic (again leaving out 'Crystal Skull'). 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' is a phenomenal film and 'The Last Crusade' is a fantastic end. This is truly a great trilogy, plus, you can knock it out on a Saturday. It's more than worth your time.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Quick Golden Globes 2015 Predictions Thingie

Golden Globe Wants/Predictions

Now I'm not an insider, nor do I pretend to be. But, I do know what I like and the Golden Globes is the first "big" awards show of the year. I've seen a ton of movies this year and most of these nominees. Here's a few thoughts on what I like. Also who I want, and think, will win later tonight. Like last year, expect a full and sweeping write-up when The Oscars roll around in the coming months. This is mostly my intro from last year, haha


Best Motion Picture- Drama
'Boyhood' or 'Selma'
Kind of disappointed 'Nightcrawler' didn't get a nod in this category. The two best of the nominees here are 'Boyhood' and 'Selma.' I'd love it if 'Boyhood' takes it, but I think 'Selma' will win tonight. 'Boyhood' is pretty awesome regardless.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Rosamund Pike- 'Gone Girl'
I'm going to be honest here, this is the only film I'm seen in this category as of right now. Despite your thoughts overall about David Fincher's 'Gone Girl', Rosamund Pike turned in one of the best performances, male or female, all year. Here's hoping Pike gets the nod here.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
David Oyelowo- 'Selma' or Jake Gyllenhaal 'Nightcrawler'
This category is stacked, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Steve Carrell also receiving nominations. The two that stand out to me are David Oyelowo and Jake Gyllenhaal. Oyelowo was the driving performance in 'Selma' while Gyllenhaal was mind-numbingly fantastic in 'Nightcrawler.'

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
'Birdman' or 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
In a distant third comes 'Into the Woods.' 'Birdman' and 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' are two of my favorite films of the year. 'Birdman' is a dark comedy that is filmed and acted expertly. 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is a colorful and charming comedy that is pretty great in it's own right.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Emily Blunt- 'Into the Woods'
I'm watching a most of these movies ('Maps to the Stars', 'Big Eyes' and 'The Hundred Foot Journey') this coming week. Which is why I'm just picking Emily Blunt, and to be fair, she is charming as hell. As long as Quvenzhan√© Wallis doesn't win for 'Annie', I'm happy. nothing against Wallis at all, but 'Annie' is a terrible film.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Michael Keaton- 'Birdman'
This shouldn't even be a competition. Michael Keaton is brilliant in 'Birdman.' Ralph Finnes and Joaquin Phoenix are pretty good in their respective movies. But, they're not on the level of what Keaton did in 'Birdman.'

Best Animated Feature Film
'Big Hero 6' or 'The LEGO Movie'
Most people would say 'The Boxtrolls' here, but I found that to only be okay. My complaint is that 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya' isn't in this category. By far the best animated feature I've seen in about five years. 'Big Hero 6' and 'The LEGO Movie' are my two highest rated animated films otherwise.

Best Foreign Language Film
I'm watching 'Ida' sometime this week. But I know the buzz behind it is huge. I saw 'Force Majeure' and personally couldn't get into it. Been waiting to see 'Leviathan' as well. As of right now my highest rated foreign film, not counting 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya' is 'One Day, Two Nights.'

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Patricia Arquette- 'Boyhood'
This is actually one of the most stacked categories. I've seen all the films but 'A Most Violent Year' and all of the nominated performances are pretty great. This has to go to Patricia Arquette for 'Boyhood.' Such a great and wholly unique role and performance.

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Ethan Hawke- 'Boyhood' or J.K. Simmons- 'Whiplash'
Another stacked category here. Ed Norton and Mark Ruffallo were great in their roles. But, Ethan Hawke and J.K. Simmons turned in phenomenal performances. Hawke for his role in the fantastic 'Boyhood.' Simmons for his surprisingly emotional and genuine performance in 'Whiplash.'

Best Director - Motion Picture
Richard Linklater- 'Boyhood'
Can everyone win in this category? Because I honestly liked all of these films and every director did a fantastic job. Linklater will take though because of the sheer originality and style in which 'Boyhood' was made over the past 12 years.

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Richard Linklater- 'Boyhood'
Director and Screenplay are sometimes paired up, right? This category, much like Best Director, anyone could win, but i'm staking my bet on 'Boyhood' taking another one. 'Birdman',  'Gone Girl' and 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' are still awesome.

Best Original Score - Motion Picture
Antonio Sanchez- 'Birdman'
The use of jazz music throughout 'Birdman' is mesmerizing and amazing. I loved it. Quick question though, why wasn't 'Whiplash' nominated in this? I loved the score (and music overall) in that the most this year.

Best Original Song - Motion Picture
"Glory" from 'Selma'
Again, if 'Annie' wins here that'd be pretty meh. Cause everything about that film was bad. 'Glory' isn't an awful song either, I quite liked it. Same with Lana Del Rey's "Big Eyes." I'll be honest though, I've never been good at critiquing music. Where's "Everything is Awesome" from 'The LEGO Movie'?


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) [A Fat Jesus Quick Hit]

I'd been waiting a long to time finally get the chance to watch this film. Being hailed as one of the best films of 2014, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has crafted a black comedy, that often feels more a drama at times, that will command your attention for the entire duration. 'Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)' is a film in which camera work alone with leave you impressed, but the accompanying performances, led by Michael Keaton, will captivate you until the credits roll.

'Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)' follows the story of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), decades earlier he famously played the superhero Birdman. Riggan is tormented by the voice of Birdman in his head and often imagines himself doing feats of telekinesis and levitation. Now he is a washed up actor that is trying to reinvent his career by writing, directing and starring in his own Broadway play. The play is an adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story, 'What We Talk About, When We Talk About Love.' The play is being produced by Riggan's lawyer (and friend), Jake (Zach Galifianakis). While his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), who recently got out of rehab, serves as his assistant. It stars Riggan's girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), a first-time Broadway actress, Lesley (Naomi Watts) and a role that has been severely miscast. Riggan rigs a spotlight to fall on this guys head, replacing him with a highly eccentric method actor, Mike (Edward Norton). Riggan has gone all in, as we follow the tumultuous days leading up to the premiere of his play.

This film is not for everyone and if you're going into this expecting a superhero film, ala the Marvel Cinematic or DC Universe, you're barking up the wrong tree. In fact, it almost seems that 'Birdman' is at times is being critical of the superhero films that have been very dominant lately in Hollywood. With Riggan knowing the amount of fame he can gain from it, he also wants to be remembered for something he perceives to be a more serious venture. Don't get me wrong, I love superhero films, but I can see why actors, and critics alike, can be so hard on films that usually prefer style to substance. This film deals with this issue well, and coming from an actor who played Batman, he conveys everything perfectly. The supporting cast is also fantastic and play off of Keaton, and each other, well. The scenes involving Emma Stone and Edward Norton feel real. The scenes involving Amy Ryan and Stone with Michael Keaton himself are emotional. Norton brings a crazed edge to the cast, while Zach Galifianakis brings a humorous presence to a scene. Round that out with the talents of Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough and this complete cast clicks on all cylinders. The way this film is seen is also fantastic. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu had the vision of turning 'Birdman' into a film, that had the look of a film, that only took one lone take to make. Each scene, with the aid of editing and some CGI, are blended together effortlessly to look like this film has been shot in one single go. It was a daring way to film this and it worked out brilliantly. It took great writing, a great director and a capable cast, and it was all knocked out of the park. The score also aided to everything happening in the film. The jazz tracks were a welcome addition to a given scene and sounded beautiful. I found myself tapping along a times from the opening credits and being mesmerized by the awesome music throughout.

'Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)' is one of the top films of the year and I loved every second of it. From the opening credits jazz sequence, to the closing moments of hope shown, 'Birdman' will grab you and never let go. Michael Keaton turns is an absolutely fantastic performance and the entire supporting cast follows suit. The story is a great one and the score is awesome. Not to mention the filming and camera-work is phenomenal (and downright fun). This film isn't for everyone, but 'Birdman' needs to been seen by anyone who (at the very least) was a fan of the films that were given their due during last years awards season.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Whiplash [A Fat Jesus Quick Hit]

A lot of people don't know this, but as a teenager I took up drum lessons for quite a few months. I was drumming along with everything and my mom thought it would be good for me to try and take up an instrument. I got the basics down, but between school and baseball (I believe), I didn't have the time and I'll admit, the drive, to continue further than that. I've always loved drums regardless, so when I heard about 'Whiplash', I was excited. Not just because of Miles Teller being pretty good in films lately, but because J.K. Simmons is also one of my favorite actors. The music and emotion of this film is outstanding and it may have the best score you'll hear in a film all year.

'Whiplash' follows the story of Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a 19-year old jazz drummer who has been accepted into Shaffer Conservatory, the best music schools in the country. Andrew aspires to be one of the great drummers, like Buddy Rich. Many of his classmates have learned that infamous teacher, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), is looking for a new drummer. Andrew successfully wins the job during a surprise audition. That night he asks out a girl, Nicole (Melissa Benoist), who works concessions at the theater he and his father (Paul Reiser) go to see films. It quickly becomes evident that Fletcher, while at first courteous, is a master manipulator that tends to harass his students. During one of his first classes, Andrew doesn't keep Fletcher's tempo and Fletcher throws a chair at him and slaps him, to motivate him to do better. Andrew is determined to win over Fletcher and to turn into one of the best drummers of all time. Even if it means that he loses his sanity and humanity in the process.

Wow. All I can say is wow. This film is one of the most captivating films of 2014. From the opening scene where Andrew is playing drums alone on a room on campus, you're hooked. The story of a young, ambitious jazz drummer trying to get to the top, getting a push from an overbearing (and borderline abusive) teacher, is one that is good, made better by the actors and director. Director Damien Chazelle, does a masterful job with everything, in just his second feature length film. The performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are outstanding. Both convey emotion to the point that they are the characters they are playing. The hard-ass Terence Flecther who's perceived rants and emotional distress are designed to push students. The hopeful, driven and determined Andrew Neiman who is on a tear to become the best jazz drummer in the world. Simmons and Miller fully embody Fletcher and Nieman. Their interactions and scenes are heavy. The rants are personal and cut deep. While there some genuine laughs at the things Fletcher says, the raw emotion Simmons and Miller bring to the interactions are perfect. The score and music are the other driving point of this film. I'll admit, I'm not a jazz connoisseur, but I've always liked the genre. When I was younger, my dad would always put on a jazz station in the car. Smooth Jazz 107.5, The Oasis. I think it was. Shout-out to that DFW radio station that I think closed or something. What I liked most about the film, is they way they used the drumming (and the shots of drums being played) as a way of turning the instrument into a character of its own. The harshness of a given practice session. The joy in progressing with a piece of music. The sorrow in not thinking that you can succeed in the instrument you've been playing all your life. All conveyed beautifully by Miles Teller and a drum set. The music itself is beautiful as well. Each piece of work sounds effortless and fantastic. The conclusion of the film vaults this from a good film to one that needs to be seen. I was fully entranced for the final act of the film and by the time the credits rolled, there was a big goofy grin on my face. Giving me, and anyone else who watches, the hope that hard work really can pay-off in the long run.

'Whiplash' is one of those films that you won't be prepared for. I wasn't prepared for the very nice story told. I wan't prepared to be completely blown away by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. I wasn't prepared to be sucked in by all the awesome music. But that's what this film did, surprised the hell out of me. I had heard this film was good, but I try not to over-hype films before I see them. Damien Chazelle directs this film well and deserves just as much praise as anyone involved. Full of emotion, full of great performances and full of amazing music, 'Whiplash' deserves to be with the top films of 2014.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Back to the Future [A Fat Jesus Trilogy Review]

I honestly have no clue why, but I woke up New Years Day thinking about trilogies. How the age old tradition in the film industry is to take a good films and ideas, and tap them dry, whether the subsequent films are good or not. Of course not all film series are like this at all. So, I rounded up a bunch of the best trilogies (and the ones I just plain enjoy) and I've decided to go through them and watch them at my leisure. Since it is the New Years, with the hope of our future year fresh on minds, I figured why not start the year watching one of the best trilogies of all time dealing with the future..and the past and the present and everything in between. I've seen 'Back to the Future' growing up, but I've never properly watched it (and the rest of the trilogy) as a whole. I must say, it has been a pleasure going through these three films today and I'm blown away at how well they hold up to a viewing still.

'Back to the Future' follows the story of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) as a teenager growing up in Hill Valley, California in 1985. He is an aspiring musician and is dating a girl, Jennifer Parker. His father and mother are less ambitious. One night, Marty meets is scientist friend, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), in the parking lot of a mall. Doc unveils a time machine to Marty which is modified into a DeLorian. He tells Marty that time travel is possible thanks to his invention, The Flux Capacitor. The Flux Capacitor is powered by plutonium that he swindled off of Libyan terrorists. The machine works once you get the DeLorian up to 88 miles per hour, transporting you to whatever time and date you have input. Trouble erupts when the Libyans come back for the stolen plutonium, Doc is shot and Marty takes the car and travels back to 1955 by mistake. In 1955 Marty accidentally changes the course of his families history by saving his father from being hit by a car. Causing his mother to become infatuated with him. Now Marty and Doc must find a way to get Marty back to the future while keeping the future they both know, intact.

'Back to the Future Part II' picks up after the events of the first film, with Marty about to take Jennifer to the lake in his pick-up truck, back in 1985. Doc rides up in the DeLorian and informs the two that he needs them, as in the future (2015 to be precise), their kids are in big trouble. Marty and Doc must team up in the 2015 and, once again, go back to 1955 in order to right all the mayhem they always seem to cause when they use the DeLorian.

'Back to the Future Part III' begins, once again, right where the end of the second film leaves off. Marty, who is still in 1955, receives a letter from Doc, who is stuck in 1885. Informing him that he is okay and the location of the DeLorian, which is in need of some repairs. He also tells Marty not to come back and save him. After repairing the DeLorian, Marty spots a tombstone with Doc's name on it dated a week after he sent the letter. Marty ignores Doc's wishes and travels back in time to save him, before he is killed by an outlaw with an all too familiar face.

'Back to the Future' was the best film of the three. While all three are fantastic, the first film holds the best overall feel and charm to it. The story is expertly crafted, the action is fun, the romance feels genuine, the music and score is nearly iconic and the humor is top notch. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are a highly charismatic duo throughout the series You can really see how well they work off of each other, even in the first film. It's one of the best films you'll ever see. What makes it even better, is that it gives you incentive to watch the second part, rather than just watching it because it is the second part. 'Back to the Future Part II' is probably the weakest of the three films, but that doesn't make it any less good. The future world crafted may be a little too mundane and over-saturated with fax machines, as we're currently living in the 2015 they traveled to, but it's fun to see what we all hoped we could be now. Hover-cars (and boards), full body holograms and bio-genetic touch controlling everything we use (that's not too far of). The story is less humor and more science. As the second film focus' on Doc and Marty trying to avoid themselves, to not break the present, while fixing the alternate present, that they caused by going into the future. Kinda confusing right? Doc explains it way better than me. The same elements are there, but it just doesn't feel completely like the first or third installments. While it's a great film in it's own right, it doesn't have quite the fun and charm of the first film. 'Back to the Future Part III' is a great end to this series and takes it to a place no explored by the first two films. The past. Doc is stuck in 1885 Wild West Hill Valley and it's quite a change of scenery. I say that, because it really is. 1955, 1985 and even 2015 Hill Valley are pretty distinct and seem familiar and accessible. But, 1885 Hill Valley it truly becomes a western. With this film comes back a lot of the charm the first film had. There's humor and one-liners again, the science is still there, but toned down, and a romantic element sorely missing from the second film is re introduced again. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are completely settled in as Marty and Doc by this point. Familiar faces abound in this lively western town, while the story remains pretty much the same as the first two films. This is probably the best designed of the films, as I thought that Wild West Hill Valley and the sweeping shots it brought with it, were awesome. What puts this ahead of the second film is the ending. Which is hard to pull off a times in a trilogy of films. It made your heart feel warm, it made sense (for the most part) and most of all, it put a smile on your face. Here's hoping to that Chicago Cubs World Series win too.

The 'Back to the Future' trilogy is a must watch for anyone, as it's one of the best sci-fi, comedy, romance, western, you name it, series ever put on film. While the sub genre may change, the sci-fi element stays true throughout each film. The comedy, action, romance are kinda iffy in spots, but you're not gonna find me complaining. Same goes with the actual science and plot-holes that are here and there. Not to mention the music and score throughout each film is a pleasure to listen to. Robert Zemeckis, who directed all three films, did a fantastic job with each film and deserves praise for this awesome trio of films. Same goes for executive producer Steven Spielberg. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd as Marty and Doc, may be one of the most iconic duos in film history. Both shine in each film and drive the stories that span the trilogy. The acting support from Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, Claudia Wells, Elizabeth Shue and Mary Steenburgen, is more than adequate and helps lend to the talents of Fox and Lloyd. 'Back to the Future' is a film series you can sit down and watch in a day, that you won't feel bad about. Each film is so good, you're never not happy about viewing it. Great Scott, indeed!