Monday, February 1, 2016

The Finest Hours (2016) review


In February of 1952, members of the United States Coast Guard performed what has since been regarded as one of the most famous rescue missions in the organization’s history. In the midst of a particularly harsh ‘Nor’easter’ storm that had hit the East Coast, a four-man crew from the Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts braved the storm and the harsh waters of the Atlantic in order to help the crew of the SS Pendleton, a T2 tanker that had broken in half about 20 miles or so off of the Chatham coast. In fact, it was the second of two T2 tankers that suffered the same exact fate on the very same day, the other being the SS Fort Mercer. Ultimately, though, it was the Pendleton rescue that became known as the most famous small boat rescue in U.S. Coast Guard history and the story of this daring rescue mission is brought to life on the big-screen in Disney’s ‘The Finest Hours’, which is primarily based off of the book of the same name by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman that chronicled the events of that day. ‘The Finest Hours’ is driven by some particularly stand-out performances from its two main leads, Chris Pine and Casey Affleck, and while the film is admittedly a bit straight-forward when it comes to its proceedings, it’s still a fittingly honorable and suitably thrilling take on this fascinating true story of the heroism of four men in some of the harshest conditions imaginable.    

The leader of the four-man crew was Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernard ‘Bernie’ Webber (Chris Pine), who at that time was courting a local girl from the neighborhood named Miriam (Holliday Grainger) who worked as a telephone operator. But on February 18, 1952, T2 tanker SS Fort Mercer ends up getting split in half by the impending winter storm that is set to hit the Cape Cod area. And as fate would have it, another T2 tanker nearby, the SS Pendleton, breaks in half as well. But unlike the SS Fort Mercer, the SS Pendleton was unable to make a distress call for help due to a loss of radio capabilities as a result of the breakage. While another team heads out to help the crew of the SS Fort Mercer, Chatham station commander Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) dispatches Bernie to help the Pendleton. Despite the severe risks that come from the storm and the fact that they would have to go over the extremely dangerous Chatham Bar to reach them, Bernie and his crew; Seaman Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Engineman Third Class Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and Seaman Ervin Maske (John Magaro), head out on Lifeboat CG-36500 to help the crew of the SS Pendleton. Meanwhile, on the Pendleton, Chief Engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) takes control of the crew, due to the fact that the Captain of the Pendleton was lost because he was on the other half of the ship, in order to keep the ship afloat as long as they possibly can in the hopes that they are rescued before the ship sinks.

‘The Finest Hours’ can be a bit straight-forward at times in terms of its plot. Then again, that’s sort of expected given that it’s a true story and you may or may not be generally aware of what happened and how it all ended going into it. But even with that in mind, the film is full of some genuinely thrilling moments as both Bernie and his crew and the crew of the SS Pendleton, as led by Ray Sybert, try to stay alive in some of the harshest conditions imaginable while out on the open sea. Those sequences set at sea, including the sequence where Bernie’s crew traverses over the aforementioned Chatham Bar, a sand bar that was capable of running ships aground even in lesser conditions compared to the storm that they had to go through that day, are definitely the major highlights of the film. They convey the right amount of tension and suspense and are benefitted by some solid visual effects work. However, there are some who have argued that the film doesn’t really do enough to convey the real emotional core of the story and, as a result, feels a bit too ‘workmanlike’ at times. But overall I think that the film did do a fine enough job in regards to showcasing the valor of its heroes simply by way of the remarkable nature of the situation that they’re put through.

In regards to the film’s cast, the biggest standouts are its two main leads, Chris Pine as Bernie Webber and Casey Affleck as Ray Sybert. As Webber, Pine once again shows off his strong charisma that was also present in many of his other performances like James T. Kirk in the ‘Star Trek’ films or as Cinderella’s Prince in ‘Into The Woods’, while also doing a great job of getting across Webber’s audacity and courage in the face of danger. As Sybert, Affleck is also terrific in the role of the one man who, despite the fact that a lot of the crew didn’t like him very much, took charge of them so that they could survive. The two are backed up by a solid supporting cast that includes, among others, Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, and John Magaro as the other members of Bernie’s crew and Eric Bana as Webber’s commanding officer Cluff. Pine also has really solid chemistry with the film’s main female lead Holliday Grainger, resulting in some very charming and sweet romantic moments between them. However, Grainger ends up being rather underused in the role of Bernie’s girlfriend Miriam. While the trailer may have implied that she would have a fairly substantial role in the film, as primarily evident in the sequence in the trailer where she confronts Cluff over sending Bernie and his team out into the storm on what very much seems to be a ‘suicide mission’, that’s really all that she gets to do in this film. In other words, she’s basically stuck in a ‘50’s era housewife’ role. Though from what I hear, at the very least this is more than what her character actually did in real-life. In reality, Miriam was stuck at home with the flu while all of this was going on.

The consensus on Rotten Tomatoes notes that this film is ‘old-fashioned to a fault’ and I will say that this is a pretty accurate description of the film. For some, this may be just a bit too ‘old-fashioned’ for their taste. But as traditional as it may get from time to time, it’s still a very solid and exciting adventure that highlights one of the most fascinating rescue missions in U.S. Coast Guard history. To truly put this moment into perspective for you folks, Webber and his crew had to rescue a 33-man crew commandeering a 35-foot boat that could only hold 12 in the midst of an extremely harsh winter storm. And while some may argue the film is a bit too subdued in regards to how it handles its true story, overall I’d say that the film does do a fine job in conveying the heroism of its real-life subjects. And to top it all off, the film has a solid cast buoyed (no pun intended) by leads Chris Pine and Casey Affleck and some genuinely tense action sequences backed by solid visual effects. In short, it’s a neat little look into a fascinating true story that took place in the New England area. Being a local New Englander myself, I’ll admit that I’m always fascinated by true stories like this that took place in this area, with other notable examples being ‘Black Mass’ and, to some extent, ‘The Social Network’. ‘The Finest Hours’ is the latest of these films and overall I say that it’s very much worth checking out for those looking for a good-old fashioned rescue drama.


Rating: 4/5

Thursday, January 21, 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) review


Michael Bay… talk about one of the most polarizing figures in the film industry amongst film fans on the internet. I’ve made it clear in the past that I am unapologetically a big fan of most of Bay’s films, even some of his more critically-reviled ones. But when it comes to the rest of the internet, obviously I’m in the extreme minority when it comes to being a fan of his. Because while his films have achieved much success at the box-office, with two of them (‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ and ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’) grossing over $1 billion worldwide, almost all of them have been savaged by critics and a lot of film fans consider him to be one of the worst directors working today. I, however, disagree with that notion as there are far worse directors than him out there. And like him or not, you cannot deny that he’s got a style all his own and there’s arguably no one else out there who can shoot action sequences like he can. So what if I told you that his newest film, ‘13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’, is one of the best films that he’s ever made (which I know many will argue isn’t saying much)? ‘13 Hours’ tells the true story of what happened on the night of September 11, 2012 when Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound, and later the CIA annex building located just a mile away, in Benghazi, Libya. This incident has been a major topic of controversy in U.S. politics but the film mostly ignores the politics of the situation in favor of focusing on the six men stationed there who fought to protect those stationed at both locations, which was definitely the best route that this film could’ve gone.

In late 2012, CIA contractor and military veteran Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski) arrives in Benghazi, Libya, where he meets up with fellow CIA contractors/military vets Tyrone S. Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris ‘Tanto’ Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Mark ‘Oz’ Geist (Max Martini), John ‘Tig’ Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), and Dave ‘Boon’ Benton (David Denman), who together form the CIA’s Global Response Staff. At the time of Da Silva’s arrival, the country is in the midst of the aftermath of the 2011 Libyan Revolution but is still considered to be dangerous territory. That is very much proven true on the night of September 11, 2012, the eleven-year anniversary of 9/11, when a group of Islamic militants attack the American diplomatic compound where U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) is currently located. Despite orders from their chief (David Costabile) to ‘stand down’ due to the CIA’s intended covert status in the area, Woods, Da Silva, and their fellow contractors head over to the compound in order to protect those stationed there from their assailants. Soon after this, the fighting moves over to the CIA annex as the team, as well as their fellow CIA associates, find themselves trapped against impossible odds without any real form of backup or air support.

As I noted earlier, there’s been quite a lot of controversy from a political perspective in regards to this incident. The State Department, and particularly then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, have been criticized for not providing additional security at the consulate in the time before the attack. But the interesting thing about this film, as well as the book that it is based on (13 Hours written by Mitchell Zuckoff and the surviving members of the Annex Security Team), is that just like ‘American Sniper’, it doesn’t really focus much on the political aspect of its story, which I feel is a good thing in this case. Instead, it makes the smart decision to focus more on the six men who embarked on the most extremely perilous mission of their lives in order to protect those stationed at both the Diplomatic Compound and the CIA Annex. All of this is done with, and I know this is going to really stun some people, a strong level of maturity from Michael Bay. What? Were you expecting anything less from a director who’s had a very strong relationship with the military as evident from the fact that they usually play a part in almost all of his films? I mean sure, at the end of the day this is still very much a Michael Bay film in terms of its overall style. Once the action kicks in, it doesn’t let go and Bay is still fairly excessive when it comes to his run-times, with this film clocking in at nearly two and a half hours long. But in this case Bay doesn’t let his style overtake the humanity of the story and amidst all of the action, he even takes a few instances in between the action sequences to let the audience take a breather, so it’s not like this is nothing but non-stop action for two-and-a-half hours.

All of this helps the film maintain focus on what really matters; those who went through of this. Of the film’s cast, which is mostly devoid of ‘A-listers’, the biggest name of the bunch is John Krasinski in the role of Jack Da Silva. It’s certainly a much different kind of role than what we’ve normally seen from the guy who’s best known for his role as Jim Halpert on the American version of ‘The Office’ but Krasinski handles the role perfectly, giving us a man committed to serving his country while also trying to be a family man back home but always finds himself coming back to places like Benghazi. Leading the way right alongside him is James Badge Dale as the leader of the GRS team, Tyrone S. Woods. Over the past few years, Dale has established himself as a superb character actor with standout supporting roles in films like ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘The Walk’. Here he finally gets the chance to shine in a lead role and he very much does. A lot of it comes from the strong camaraderie between Dale, Krasinski, and the rest of the GRS squad (Schreiber, Fumusa, Denman, Martini, as well as Toby Stephens, who plays GRS officer Glen ‘Bub’ Doherty). You can definitely sense a strong sense of brotherhood amongst these men that carries throughout the entire film. Hell I’ll even admit that there was one moment in this film that legitimately made me tear up. Yes, I got a bit teary-eyed watching a Michael Bay film of all things.

‘13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ is a film that, at the very least, should prove to hardcore cinefiles that Michael Bay can make a mature, story-driven film that isn’t just explosions and CGI characters fighting each other. I mean sure, maybe this film doesn’t really have as much nuance compared to other war films but as far as Michael Bay’s films are concerned, this is easily one of his most subdued efforts when it comes to restraining his trademark style. And sure, the political aspect of this incident can be argued till the cows come home but I feel that the film made the wise decision to not get too much into the politics and instead keep its focus on the six men who were right in the middle of all of this and who put their lives on the line when the s*** hit the fan. I know that when this film was first announced and that Bay would be directing it, some people feared that this would be another case similar to Bay’s previous ‘historical war drama’, 2001’s ‘Pearl Harbor’. While that film did receive praise for Bay’s direction of the attack on the Harbor sequence, it was widely criticized for focusing more on fictional characters and a fictional romance than the real life people who were there when it happened. But that’s not the case here. Aside from what I can assume are only a few minor differences between what happened in reality and what happens on screen, this is an extremely respectful portrayal of what happened that night in Benghazi.


Rating: 5/5!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Is Cloverfield getting a Sequel? (10 Cloverfield Lane Trailer Analysis)

It’s genuinely much harder nowadays for any major film production to maintain any level of secrecy given the expansive nature of the internet. In an age where it’s now incredibly easy to find information online, we pretty much always know when new films are set to come out and there have been plenty of instances where a major aspect of a film that wasn’t intended to be revealed before the film’s release gets leaked online. Sometimes it actually does end up spilling out through the official marketing campaign, hence why you tend to see a lot of complaints from people when they feel that trailers/TV spots/etc. are showing too much. But a lot of times it ends up getting leaked not from the studio but through sites like Heroic Hollywood and quite frankly I don’t see why this is ever meant to be a good thing. I mean imagine how less of an impact older films like ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘The Usual Suspects’ would have if their big twists were leaked online weeks before the film was meant to come out. It’s gotten to the point where whole films like ‘The Expendables 3’ got leaked online weeks before release, which most definitely had some sort of impact on their eventual commercial performance. Thankfully there have been some filmmakers who have made an effort to maintain a shroud of secrecy surrounding their films and perhaps the most notable filmmaker at the moment who does this is J.J. Abrams. While it hasn’t always worked out for him (e.g. the Khan reveal in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ that the internet figured out months in advance), for the most part he’s been able to keep us guessing about the secrets behind his films, even ones as big as ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, a film which most people, including me, legitimately did not know anything major about the plot until seeing it. And this past week he pulled another fast one on us by debuting a trailer for a new film of his two months before its intended release date on March 11th.


This new film, as Abrams describes it, is a ‘blood relative’ to a film that he produced eight years ago; one that has left its fans clamoring for a sequel. Before J.J. became known as the director of projects like the ‘Star Trek’ reboot films and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, he produced 2008’s ‘Cloverfield’, a found-footage monster film directed by Matt Reeves, who would of course go on to direct the critically acclaimed ‘Planet of the Apes’ sequel ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’. The first teaser for the film debuted at screenings for Michael Bay’s first ‘Transformers’ film back in 2007. But the big thing about this teaser was that it was released without a title. All it showed, aside from J.J.’s producer credit, was a bunch of people at a going-away party in New York for one of their friends that was interrupted by something happening in the city. It wasn’t until the film’s viral marketing kicked off when the title was officially confirmed to be ‘Cloverfield’ and the film’s true nature as a monster film was revealed. Once it was released in January 2008, it was a sizable critical and commercial hit, especially considering it was a January release. It scored a 77% RT rating and grossed over $170 million on just a $25 million budget. Talk of a potential sequel then began to circulate over the next few years. As Reeves put it, the film established various possibilities for a sequel due to the fact that the film’s protagonists probably weren’t the only people who were filming the events of that night. But for the next few years, nothing ever materialized… until now. And as it turned out, it happened without any of us knowing about it as it was filmed under the title ‘Valencia’.


The sequel, officially titled ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’, was announced via the same method that was used with the first film; through a teaser trailer that debuted without warning before a Michael Bay film, in this case his newest film ‘13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’. However, this time around the film is not being directed by Matt Reeves, who’s currently working on the follow-up to ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’. Instead the film is to be directed by a newcomer, Dan Trachtenberg, who some of you might recognize as the former host of podcasts like ‘The Totally Rad Show’ and ‘Geekdrome’. And unlike the first film, which of course was shot in the found-footage format, this film eschews that style in favor of the more traditional format which, unlike the first film, certainly won’t cause some people to get sick while watching it. Not only that, but the trailer suggests that this is a much different film compared to ‘Cloverfield’ in terms of style. The trailer shows a group of three people (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr.) just living their lives within an underground cellar; playing board games, listening to the jukebox, etc. Everything seems hunky dory at first but as the trailer goes on, the mood starts to get a bit more sinister, culminating in Winstead’s character attacking Goodman’s character and attempting to flee from the cellar. But before she can get outside, with Goodman screaming at her from behind a locked door warning her not to open the door because that’ll get them all killed, she gets a glimpse of something outside that leaves her completely stunned.

At the moment, nothing has been made official about how the film is supposed to be connected to ‘Cloverfield’. I presume that the monster from the first film, named ‘Clover’ by the production team, will probably make some sort of appearance but considering that the film supposedly takes place after the events of the previous film, apparently as much as 10 years, I have the feeling that it isn’t guaranteed that this will happen. In fact, did the monster even survive the ending of the first film? Because it seemed like that ending was pretty darn conclusive. I’ve also heard rumors that this wasn’t even intended to be ‘Cloverfield 2’ in the first place and that the connections to ‘Cloverfield’ came solely as a result of re-writes and re-shoots. Apparently the film, which was shot in late 2014 for the record, had already been completed under the aforementioned title of ‘Valencia’ but was abandoned when its distributor, Paramount’s Insurge Pictures label, was dismantled last year. But then it was apparently resurrected by Paramount who instigated re-writes in order to connect it to ‘Cloverfield’, with one of the new writers notably being ‘Whiplash’ director Damien Chazelle, which subsequently led to reshoots this past year. I mean, I can see how that would make sense seeing how J.J. and his producing partner Bryan Burk are pretty much the only major people involved with both films. As stated earlier, Matt Reeves isn’t involved with the project, nor is writer Drew Goddard. It could potentially be argued that this is Paramount solely attempting to cash in on the ‘Cloverfield’ franchise by shoving the name onto a film that wasn’t at all intended to be a ‘Cloverfield’ sequel.  


But even with that potential outcome in mind, I have to admit that I’m really looking forward to seeing this film, if primarily for sheer curiosity. While I didn’t see it when it was released in theaters, I did like ‘Cloverfield’ so I’m interested in seeing how this film is meant to connect to it. It’s cool that the film is opting for what very much seems to be a different kind of story compared to the previous film. The trailer gives off what I can best describe as a ‘claustrophobic thriller’ vibe, as it seems like it will mostly take place within that underground cellar and focus solely on the three main characters. Plus, as I already went over earlier, it’s insane that a film like this could be kept hidden from the public in the modern internet age until just less than two months before its intended release. Whether or not you’re a fan of J.J.’s ‘mystery box’ method, you do have to commend the guy for at least staying true to this method in a time where you rarely see that happen anymore in the film industry. Again, this may end up just being a case where the rumor of it being nothing more than a ‘cash-grab’ is true and we were just fooled by the marketing. But the cool thing about this first trailer is that because it is so mysterious, it could legitimately go either way. We really don’t know that much about it at the moment, and that’s what makes it so fascinating to me, hence why I’m definitely interested in seeing it when it comes out.


So what do you folks think about ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’? Are you going to go see it? Have any theories on how it’s supposed to connect to ‘Cloverfield’? Do any of you agree with the rumor that it wasn’t meant to be a sequel in the first place? Sound off in the comments below.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

TOP 12 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2015: TOP 3

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s end-of-the-year list of my Top 12 Favorite Films of 2015 and today we’ve reached the final part of this list. Today I’m listing my Top 3 favorite films from this past year. Not only that, but you can expect to see me make an extremely passionate defense for my #1 film which, I’m not going to lie, is a rather controversial pick. If you’ve missed Parts 1 through 3 of this list, the links to those posts will be provided below. And now here they are; my Top 3 of 2015.




For the longest time, this was my favorite film of the year. But even though the next two films on this list ended up overtaking the Top 2 spots, I’m still very much passionate about this superb retelling of a classic story. And yeah you read that right… this film is a remake. Deal with it, cynics!

3. CINDERELLA


Right now Disney is really big on live-action remakes of their classic animated films. And while this has attracted quite a bit of flak from people, especially now after multiple new films of that sort have been announced like a ‘Mary Poppins’ sequel and a ‘Dumbo’ remake, I for one have been fine with the current track record of Disney’s recent live-action retellings. I haven’t seen it in a few years but I recall that I was ok with ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and I did like ‘Maleficent’. And although it isn’t in the category of ‘remake’, I really, REALLY loved ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’, so much so that it ended up being my favorite film of 2013. And this year, Disney really delivered with director Kenneth Branagh’s take on the classic tale of ‘Cinderella’, previously covered by Disney in their 1950 animated classic of the same name. It was actually because of that original film that I was really looking forward to this new version. For you see, ‘Cinderella’ was actually one of my favorite Disney films growing up, having watched it quite a few times on VHS (remember those?). It’s basically in my Top 10 favorite Disney films of all-time. So clearly, I was really looking forward to the new version. And at the end of the day, I must say that I actually do prefer it to the original now. Now for the record, before many of you pull out your pitchforks and condemn me, don’t interpret this as me ignoring the original because I’m not. That’s the thing about me when it comes to remakes like this; if I really like a film that is a remake, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to completely ignore the original film that inspired it. And hey, if the remake sucks, so what? The original’s still there and despite what the internet is always claiming, its legacy isn’t tarnished. Seriously, that whole ‘tarnishing’ theory is just a mentality, not a reality. But as for this new take on ‘Cinderella’, it is easily one of the best remakes of all-time because it both honors the original and updates it for a new generation.

Each of the previous Disney ‘remakes’ took a different approach to the original story. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was a sequel and while, again, ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ wasn’t a ‘remake’, it was a prequel to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ that showed how the Wizard first came to Oz. In the case of ‘Maleficent’, it was the original story of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ but told from the perspective of the titular villain. ‘Cinderella’, on the other hand, is basically just a straight-forward adaptation of the story. And while I know that there are some out there (e.g. Cinemasins) who would argue that this makes this film completely unnecessary, obviously I see things quite differently. Because as I alluded to before, this remake does do certain things a bit better than the original. Again that’s nothing against the original film; it’s just that because it is a film from the 50’s, some parts of it are admittedly a bit dated. Perhaps the biggest improvement that the remake does is a stronger relationship between Cinderella and Prince Charming. In the original film, they met once at the ball and then didn’t see each other again until they were married. It was the very definition of a ‘shotgun romance’. And sure, their relationship in the remake is still a fairly fast developed one but I do appreciate that the filmmakers did spend more time in order to further develop their relationship. This includes, but not limited to, having them meet before the ball, having the prince invite all maidens in the land to the ball due to his infatuation with her, having him recognize her right away when she arrives at the ball, and having him be present to put the glass slipper on her foot at the end. Other added elements to the story that I feel were nice additions include more scenes with Cinderella and her parents before their deaths and even a bit more into Lady Tremaine’s backstory, giving us a better sense of why she’s been so cruel to Cinderella.

Speaking of Cinderella, it’s time I delve into the primary controversy surrounding the film. There have been a lot of complaints, particularly from feminists (remember the whole ‘Black Widow’ controversy of ‘Age of Ultron’? Yeah that was only one of the many film controversies that year of that sort), over the character of Cinderella. The character has always been one of the more polarizing of the Disney princesses with the main argument against her being that she’s too passive of a female lead and does nothing until she’s ‘rescued’ by the Prince. Now to be perfectly frank, I’ve never fully agreed with this argument in regards to the original film. I mean sure, Cinderella doesn’t necessarily act very assertively compared to other Disney princesses like Mulan or Anna and Elsa but there’s much more to her than that, which clearly a lot of her critics are ignoring. Because after all, she goes through quite a lot of s*** coming from her new stepmother and stepsisters. And despite all that she has to put up with, she still maintains an optimistic attitude through thick and thin. The same applies to this film’s version of Cinderella as well. After all, as her mother told her before she died, “Have Courage and Be Kind”. And really what better message to convey in this increasingly cynical world that we live in (as you can see, optimism and positivity have played a major part in the films in this year’s list) than that? I’m actually surprised to find that there are people out there who thought that this was a ‘bad’ message. Seriously if that’s the case, then what the hell kind of messages do they view as ‘good’, then? That it’s okay to lie and cheat and be cruel to everybody because it’s a ‘dog eat dog’ world? SHEESH!!

And to be perfectly frank, I don’t see this version of Cinderella as a passive protagonist whatsoever. She very much has a decent amount of control over her own destiny, to the point where she tells her stepmother that she’ll do whatever it takes to protect the Prince from her, even if it means that she won’t get to have a happily ever after ending with him. Lily James perfectly conveys Cinderella’s inner strength and beauty, making her, in my opinion, a perfect role model for young girls. And she is backed by an equally terrific supporting cast highlighted by Richard Madden, who is, for lack of a better word, extremely charming as the Prince, Cate Blanchett’s terrific turn as Lady Tremaine, and Helena Bonham Carter’s scene-stealing appearance as the Fairy Godmother. In short, ‘Cinderella’ is a terrific adaptation of both the classic story and the original Disney animated film. And while I’ll admit that in some ways I now prefer the newer film for the aforementioned improvements that it makes over the original, that doesn’t mean that this new film is meant to replace that film whatsoever. They’re both equally terrific and this new film shows that these upcoming ‘remakes’ of Disney classics are very much capable of being great if they have dedicated people who love the original source material working on them like the cast and crew of this film have clearly shown. If at least one or two of these upcoming ‘remakes’ are as critically successful as ‘Cinderella’, then I firmly refuse to see why all of these developing projects are meant to be seen as a ‘bad’ thing. But at the end of the day, even if they all end up flopping with critics (which for the record I severely doubt that they all will), ‘Cinderella’ will, at the very least, stand as a true bona fide success story no matter what the naysayers (e.g. Cinemasins) say.    

Okay I realize that I haven’t put any major indie flicks on this list yet so I’ll make up for that with my #2 pick. It was a nice little film from December that I was surprised to find that I really liked… (snickers) ah forget it, I’m just messing with you folks. Come on, you know what it is…

2. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS


(WARNING: This is the one ‘spoiler-heavy’ entry on the list that I make the most effort to warn about to people who haven’t seen the film yet given the fact that it’s the most recent release on this list. So if you still haven’t seen the film, please refer to my original Spoiler-Free review of it, the link to which will be provided below. Also consider this to be my official ‘Spoiler Post’ for the film. I was working on an actual Spoiler Post for the film but I ended up abandoning that in favor of discussing the big spoilers here instead.)


All throughout this list I’ve shown prime examples of why overhyping anything is never a good thing. But in the case of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, this is actually a case where the film did live up to the massive expectations laid upon it by fans. And I will admit that all of this hype for the film did worry me in a way in the months leading up to its release. Because I think we all remember what happened the last time that a ‘Star Wars’ film was hyped up this much. The film in question, ‘Episode I: The Phantom Menace’, ended up being one of the biggest disappointments of all-time for many people, a disappointment that is still felt today around the internet (as well as being one that the internet should really get over by now). So even though I was really excited for the film, namely because one of my favorite directors working today, J.J. Abrams, was directing it, I tried to keep my expectations in check while also worrying that the film would end up being another case where fans hyped it up too much. But thankfully in this case it didn’t and ‘The Force Awakens’ ended up being one of the greatest movie-going experiences that I’ve ever had. This was the first ‘new’ ‘Star Wars’ film that I had ever seen in theaters. I waited nearly five hours in line, and then two more hours in the theater, and was completely blown away by the film on my first viewing. Then I saw it IMAX just two days later and it was even more awesome the second time, especially on that big screen. It also squashed any sort of skepticism that certain people should have over the idea that Disney, the new ‘owners’ of the franchise, would ruin it. I mean come on, haven’t the MCU films proven already that Disney is allowing their newly acquired brands to do their own thing without any major interference?

But alas, the film hasn’t been completely free of criticism. In fact, the backlash towards the film has sadly been growing these past few weeks (that’s always the case with a film as popular as this… there’s always going to be a vocal group of haters to crap all over its success), with the main argument against the film being that it is nothing more than a ‘carbon copy’ of ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’. What does this mean? Well it just goes to show that not only is hype a bad thing if overdone, but you also can’t please everybody, especially in recent years. So with that said, is ‘The Force Awakens’ just a clone (I guess we can go with pun intended in this case given the cloning aspect of the ‘Star Wars’ universe… there’s even a passing mention of it in the film when Kylo Ren suggests to General Hux that perhaps a clone army would be more efficient) of ‘Episode IV’? I mean yes there are quite a few similar plot beats that the two films share, like the fact that the main plot of the film revolves around both sides trying to acquire a valuable piece of information from a droid, which in this case was part of the map to find Luke Skywalker, or that the finale revolves around a battle on the villains’ planet-destroying super-weapon, Starkiller Base. But even with that in mind, I never saw that as a bad thing. Hell, I’m surprised no one was complaining that much about ‘Creed’ for doing the exact same damn thing. So to answer that previous question about whether or not ‘The Force Awakens’ is just a rehash of ‘A New Hope’, my response is a resounding No! Instead, I view these callbacks in ‘The Force Awakens’ as J.J.’s way of respectfully paying homage to the original films while still being able to effectively continue the story. It very much does its job at establishing its great new line of protagonists and antagonists while also doing just enough to further the character development of the original trio of leads. So now let’s talk about our new ‘Star Wars’ trio; Poe, Finn, and Rey.

As the film begins, we are introduced to Poe Dameron, whom Oscar Isaac has referred to as ‘the best freaking pilot in the galaxy’. While he disappears from the film for about 45 minutes or so as the result of a fairly obvious fake-out that makes us think he’s dead (yeah sorry JJ but I saw through that ruse right away… don’t worry though I didn’t hold that against the film in any way), Oscar Isaac very much is responsible for re-establishing the series’ fun and light-hearted atmosphere right from the moment where he asks Kylo Ren “So who talks first? Do you talk first?”. Not only that but he also very much lives up to his claim of being the ‘Best Freaking Pilot in the Galaxy’ and immediately strikes up a terrifically-developed friendship with Finn as the two escape from the First Order’s Flagship. However, the real focus of the film is more on the duo of Finn and Rey. The former is a Stormtrooper who defects from the First Order when he is unwilling to follow their villainous commands. In doing so, he more or less gets in a little too over his head now that’s he a ‘Traitor!’ of the First Order (by the way, I’m amazed at how the Stormtrooper that yells ‘Traitor!’ at him, the one that wields a riot control baton, has become a viral legend here on the internet) but he has a great redemptive arc and at one point even gets to wield the lightsaber once owned by Luke Skywalker (and before that his father Anakin) himself. However, despite what the marketing may have suggested, Finn was not the force-sensitive one as we were led to believe. Instead, Rey, the no-name scavenger from Jakku who finds herself thrown into the fight between the Resistance and the First Order, is revealed to be the Jedi of this new trilogy. It’s a very neat act of deception and I’m very interested in seeing her growth through the rest of this trilogy, primarily as the new apprentice of Luke.

As for the original trio, the whole mystery of why Luke wasn’t in the marketing is now clear as the opening crawl reveals that he has disappeared. The main plot of the film revolves around both the Resistance and the First Order trying to find him via a map stored in both BB-8 and, as it is later revealed, R2-D2, the latter of whom shut down after Luke’s disappearance but turns back on at the end. Ultimately he’s only in the film for one scene and it’s right at the end, when Rey finally finds him at the location of the original Jedi Temple and she presents him his old lightsaber. And I know that some people were disappointed that he wasn’t in the film more but I didn’t mind because A.) the build-up to his appearance was perfect and B.) there’s no denying how awesome that final moment was. Instead of Luke, Han Solo is basically the main character of this specific film and Harrison Ford perfectly slips back into what is arguably the most iconic role of his career (either that or Indiana Jones). His rapport with Chewie is still great and that also translates well to his rapport with Finn and Rey. My favorite moment involving him is during the finale on Starkiller Base. Even though he helped the Resistance in finding the base’s weakness, Finn admits to Han that he only worked sanitation while stationed there, leading to an excellent grumpy response from Han, Finn replying by saying that ‘they’ll use the force’, resulting in Han shutting that idea down with the perfect response; “That’s not how the force works!” Of course Leia is back as well, now a General of the Resistance, and although it’s revealed that a specific event (more on that in a sec) strained their relationship, the scene where the two share one last embrace before Han heads off to Starkiller Base is a perfectly executed moment involving the galaxy’s most iconic couple.  

But what about Kylo Ren, the badass looking Force user with the tri-blade lightsaber? Well, this film reveals a major secret about him… he’s Han and Leia’s son Ben (DUN DUN DUNNNNN!!). I must say that this is a really nice twist and one that does a great job at paying homage to the original rise and fall of ‘Star Wars’ that was Darth Vader. This reveal also showcased the full extent of Ren’s true character and why he ended up being such a terrific villain as the result of the film’s diversion on expectations. I know that a lot of people were expecting him to be a big badass but that’s not really the case here. Instead, he’s someone that is trying hard to be a badass even though it’s clear that he still has much to learn. When something doesn’t go his way, he reacts by angrily destroying whatever’s closest to him. The lightsaber fights between him, Finn, and Rey lacked the choreographed nature of the fights from the prequels instead paving way to a more brutal and ungraceful (in a good way) style. By the end of the film, after he is defeated by Rey, his ‘master’, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) tells General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) to bring Ren to him so that he can ‘complete his training’. To me this suggests that come Episode VIII, Ren is really going to start acting like the badass that everyone is expecting him to be in this film but wasn’t. This ending also shows that all of the main antagonists of the film; Ren, Hux, and Captain Phasma (who despite all of the build-up by fans is barely in the film, though there’s a nice little nod to ‘A New Hope’ when Han, Finn, and Chewie capture her and Han suggests throwing her in the trash compactor) all survived the final battle in which the Resistance destroyed Starkiller Base. And that’s a good thing because I think a lot of us can agree that one of the problems with the prequel trilogy was the quick disposal of its villains, particularly Darth Maul in ‘The Phantom Menace’.

But just like Episodes IV and I, this first installment of the new ‘Star Wars’ trilogy had to end with the death of a main character and in this case, sadly, it had to be everyone’s favorite smuggler Han Solo. As already noted earlier, it’s revealed that Kylo Ren is his son Ben. Once a pupil of his uncle Luke, Ren was swayed to the dark side by Supreme Leader Snoke and killed his fellow Jedi trainees just like how Darth Vader destroyed the Jedi Order in ‘Revenge of the Sith’. This resulted in Luke’s disappearance and the straining of Han and Leia’s relationship. However, as Snoke points out to Ren, his connection to his parents is what’s still keeping him connected to the light side of the Force and unable to fully embrace the dark side. So during the finale on Starkiller Base, when Han calls out to him and tries to convince him to come home, Ren refuses and kills his father. While it is definitely sad to see Han die, I guess you can say that this was bound to happen sooner or later. Harrison Ford had previously suggested that Han die after being frozen in carbonite in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ but that idea was rejected and he returned in full for ‘Return of the Jedi’. But now the time has come and with Han’s death, Kylo Ren is pretty much now fully connected to the Dark Side and it’ll be interesting to see if he can ever truly be saved. The interesting thing, though, is that apparently Ford will be returning for ‘Episode VIII’ as well, which brings up one major question? Is ‘Episode VIII’, to be directed by Rian Johnson, going to rely a lot on flashbacks as a way to further explore the backstory of its main characters; Finn, Rey, and Ren?  

Well whatever happens next, one thing is for certain and that is that ‘Star Wars’ is back and in top form. Sure ‘The Force Awakens’ hasn’t been able to fully escape criticism, namely the argument that it’s too similar to ‘Episode IV’ which I don’t agree with at all, but to quote an argument made by my friend Jeremy Griggs from the website ‘Geeks+Gamers’, I don’t see how it’s possible to ‘not like’ this film. It’s a true cinematic experience and director J.J. Abrams and his dedicated cast and crew put their all into giving this film everything that has made this series so iconic. The action sequences are amazing, the characters are unforgettable, and the pacing and tone is perfectly balanced. It’s even more impressive that this film managed to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in film history; all of the hype that was surrounding it. This easily has to have been the most anticipated film of all-time but knowing that all of that hype ended up on backfiring on ‘Star Wars’ fans the last time a ‘Star Wars’ film was hyped to this level, there definitely must have been some fear that it would happen again and show that ‘Star Wars’ fans hadn’t learned their lesson since 1999. But suffice it to say, that did not happen and I am extremely happy that this film didn’t fall victim to the hype train whatsoever. If I had to rank this film amongst the other six ‘Star Wars’ films, this is currently my second favorite of the series, with ‘Empire Strikes Back’ only beating it by arguably the slightest of edges. What else more can I say but… #ThankYouJJ.

And finally here we are… my #1 favorite film from this past year. Choosing it was simple… in doing so, I would be able to give it a shred of the honor that it truly deserves and yet hasn’t gotten. And once I realized what this film would be, I knew that I had to go all out when it came to writing about this film, so much so that it has pretty much become a whole ‘thesis’ on this film. That’s how much I love this film. The film in question is one that makes me both really happy and really sad/angry at the same time. Obviously the former correlates to the fact that it’s my favorite film of the year. I absolutely loved this film. But the reason why it also makes me sad/angry is because when it got released, it got the shaft from both critics and audiences. Critics were split on it and I partially blame that for the film’s under-performance at the box-office. But unlike those critics and audiences, I’m not going to let this film die. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me retweet dozens of tweets from other users who tweeted that they loved this film. And ultimately it was one ‘negative’ tweet about the film that confirmed to me its status as my #1 of 2015. Well I’ve been building it up so much that I think it’s high time that I finally start talking about it. Ladies and gentlemen, my favorite film from 2015 is…

1. TOMORROWLAND


This is… ‘Believing in the Future: In Defense of 2015’s Most Underappreciated Film’

This film deserved so much more and yet when it first came out, it was almost immediately thrown aside while ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, released the week before, stole all of the attention away from it. How ironic it is that a film about an optimistic outlook of the future that called out the post-apocalyptic mindset ended getting overshadowed by a post-apocalyptic-set action film. This film was lucky just to even reach its hefty $200 million budget at the box-office but with a final gross of only $209 million, industry insiders report that the financial losses for the film are around $120 to $140 million. It’s also the third time in four years that a big-budget live-action flick from Disney has bombed at the box-office following 2012’s ‘John Carter’ and 2013’s ‘The Lone Ranger’. As my pal Kyle over at ‘Kyle’s Animated World’ will lament, this will probably lead to Disney relying more on ‘remakes’ of their classic animated films than original content. And while I understand the frustration, I’ve already gone over why I don’t entirely see that as a bad thing when I talked about this year’s adaptation of ‘Cinderella’. If any of Disney’s upcoming ‘remakes’ can be done with as much love and attention as ‘Cinderella’ did, then it won’t be ‘all for nothing’. Though seriously, given the fact that online film culture is vehemently against all of these sequels, remakes, and reboots, it makes you wonder why they decided to ignore an original film even though that’s exactly what they’ve been yearning for.  

Unfortunately, this is the second directorial effort from Brad Bird to flop at the box-office. But in case you forgot, that first film of his to bomb happened to be ‘The Iron Giant’, which is now regarded as one of the greatest animated films of all-time. So I’m confident that ‘Tomorrowland’ will eventually end up becoming another underrated classic in the years to come from one of the best directors in the business. As I’ve stated a few months ago, Brad Bird is my favorite director working today. He’s yet to make a bad film in my opinion. Of course, his career might have gotten off to a rocky start from a commercial standpoint when ‘Iron Giant’ bombed but that didn’t stop the film from becoming a classic. After that, he joined up with his old pals at Pixar to produce two of the studio’s greatest films, 2004’s ‘The Incredibles’ and 2007’s ‘Ratatouille’, both of which won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature their respective years. And then, in 2011, Bird made the bold jump from animation to live-action, a move that I’m pretty sure is rarely seen in the industry. But ultimately Bird made one damn great ‘first impression’ in the live-action genre with ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’, still the best of the series in my opinion. I do hope, though, that this film’s under-performance doesn’t put an end to Bird’s live-action career like it did with fellow Pixar alum Andrew Stanton when ‘John Carter’ bombed. Thankfully though it doesn’t look like Bird’s relationship with Disney has been affected too much as he’s currently developing the long-awaited sequel to ‘The Incredibles’. But anyway, back to ‘Tomorrowland’…

When you see the name ‘Tomorrowland’, you’re probably thinking that the film will be based entirely around the themed area of Disney parks, which could mean that the film would end up being nothing more than a giant plug for Disney. But you’d be wrong because the final cut of the film actually does not connect itself to the theme park that much aside from the sequence near the beginning that takes place in ‘It’s a Small World’. Now with that said, the deleted scenes featured on the Blu-Ray, as well as an international trailer that was released a few months before the film’s release, did imply that it originally would be connected to Walt Disney and the parks. In the scene where main character Casey travels to the ‘Blast from the Past’ memorabilia store in Houston and talks to the owners, Ursula and Hugo, about ‘Tomorrowland’, originally the dialogue would note the connection to the parks and Disney, with the owners saying that ‘the theme park was just a cover for the real thing’ and that Walt Disney himself was ‘one of them’, ‘them’ being the founders of ‘Plus Ultra’, the group of geniuses (including Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Jules Verne) responsible for the creation of ‘Tomorrowland’. But ultimately that dialogue ended up getting cut and there’s never a major connection made towards Walt Disney and ‘Tomorrowland’. Hell, the utopia seen in this film is only referred to by that name once during the entire film, noted by Frank when he, Casey, and Athena arrive in ‘Tomorrowland’. And ultimately I do think that it was the best move to take because as big of a Disney fan as I am, I do think it was better to limit the connection to Walt as far as the lore of this universe was concerned.

In a featurette for the film, Bird noted that the film ‘was more about the journey than the destination’. And that’s very much true because Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof made the very smart choice to not have the film be completely set in Tomorrowland. Instead, it’s like this; the film starts out with a young Frank Walker, after his jetpack invention is rejected during the 1964 World’s Fair, being given the opportunity to experience the world of ‘Tomorrowland’ thanks to a young girl named Athena. Many years later, optimistic and scientifically bright teen Casey Newton also experiences ‘Tomorrowland’ by means of a special pin that ‘transmits’ a vision (or as Frank put it, a ‘commercial’) of the utopia while still keeping her in the real world (in other words, if she walks straight into a wall in real life, she walks straight into a ‘wall’ in the ‘other world’). And for the record, in answer to all of those who questioned the actual value of the pin to the plot, how the hell do you think would anyone find out about Tomorrowland without it? Anyway, the bulk of the film mostly revolves around Casey, Frank, and Athena, the latter revealed to be a robot (or, to be more specific, an audio-animatronic, a nice little nod to Disney’s iconic robotic puppetry work), as they attempt to return to ‘Tomorrowland’ while being pursued by the ‘robotic’ ‘police force’ of Tomorrowland. In taking this path, Bird and Lindelof are able to ease us into this world without going all out too early. And while some may have found this part of the film to be ‘boring’, I was fully invested in this adventure to get to Tomorrowland.

One of the key reasons why I was so invested was the film’s excellent trio of leads. George Clooney was his usual excellent self as the grizzled and bitter inventor Frank Walker, who undergoes a great arc in which he regains his hope in the future that he had lost when he was kicked out of Tomorrowland. But the real stars of the film are the two main female leads, Casey and Athena. In the year that was dominated with female leads like Furiosa and Ilsa Faust, these two stand amongst them as some of the best characters of the year. As Casey, Britt Robertson imbues the character with unabashed optimism that never once gets annoying and she also very much holds her own against Clooney, resulting in some great back-and-forth banter between them, like in the opening when she keeps interrupting his narration. Going back to the deleted scenes, originally Casey was going to be written the other way around and be the pessimistic one, despite her father’s great story about the two wolves; one light the other darkness and that the winner is ‘the one you feed’. I’ll admit it would’ve been very interesting to see that take on the story, which I’m guessing would’ve ended with her regaining her spirit, but I’m glad they decided to make her optimistic throughout because it represents a mindset that more people should abide by. Equally terrific is Raffey Cassidy in the breakout role of Athena. Simply put, she’s a 12-year old ninja who fights robots… ‘nuff said. Though I do want to add that I love that, even though she’s very optimistic like Casey, she can get a bit frustrated when people don’t follow her instructions correctly, like in the sequence set in 1964 when she’s trying to give young Frank instructions on how to get to Tomorrowland and yet he’s like five steps behind her.

So now let’s start talking about the one thing in this film that has attracted the most criticism from critics; the ending. There seems to have become a common theme on the internet that anything written by Damon Lindelof, from the ending of ‘Lost’ to basically the entirety of ‘Prometheus’ to the big Khan twist in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’, is subjected to high scrutiny and ‘Tomorrowland’ is no exception. Now I’ll admit that while I do think the ending wasn’t as big as we were expecting, as it ultimately comes down to a simple power struggle, I seriously don’t think the ending was ‘that bad’. One of the big points that critics were bringing up about this sequence was the reveal that Tomorrowland’s governor, David Nix (Hugh Laurie), was responsible for keeping on the tachyon machine, designed by Frank himself (hence his banishment from Tomorrowland), that was projecting imagery of an apocalyptic future, basically making him the ‘main villain’. First off, I already knew that going in because I recall reading a post online in which it basically said that Hugh Laurie was going to be the main villain. But ultimately I conclude that the reason why this twist was so polarizing was because after his first scenes in the past with Athena and a young Frank, he isn’t seen again until Frank, Casey, and Athena, finally arrive in ‘Tomorrowland’ so you don’t really get to know him at all before he becomes the ‘bad guy’. But then there’s another question… is he really the bad guy here? The reason why I bring that up is because of his big speech after the aforementioned ‘big reveal’ about why he’s been keeping the machine on and hasn’t been doing anything to change this apocalyptic outcome.

I’ll admit that the first time I saw this film, I kind of zoned out during this speech so I guess you can say that at first I didn’t really have a clue in regards to what he was talking about. But after seeing the film a second time in theaters and re-watching this scene a few times afterwards online, I realized how fantastic of a speech it really was. Nix basically pointed out the obvious fact that our society basically ‘gave up’, hence why an apocalyptic future is inevitable. Despite the fact that, thanks to the tachyon machine, Nix was able to give the world a glimpse of this possible future, they didn’t get scared of it, they just embraced it “with gleeful abandon”. They started ignoring all of the signs of their impending doom and repackaging the imagery they saw into books, video games, TV, movies, etc. “Meanwhile your earth was crumbling all around you. You've got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. Explain that one! Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint!” To me it’s incredibly ironic that people criticized this film for being preachy when in reality, they aren’t doing anything to make the world better and are only proving the film right. We’re living in a world that is dominated by mass shootings, overly drawn out and in some cases extremely pointless controversies, and the possibility that Donald Trump could be our next president. So don’t go criticizing this film for pointing out the BS in the world when no one’s doing a damn thing about that BS.

Yes, the ending may not have been what I think many of us were expecting for a story of this scale but to me it works just through how it sets up the messages and how we’ve come to care about the main characters. I’ll freely admit that I did get fairly emotional during the scene where Athena, on the verge of deactivating for good after being shot by Nix, replays a series of messages for Frank that shows how, back when he was a kid, she was hesitant about revealing to him that she was a robot because she didn’t want to hurt him and damage his potential. Not only that, but she realized that even though she thought that she was an emotionless robot, she had actually started to develop feelings for him (and yes I know that this is being said while she’s still a young robot and he’s already grown up but she’s basically a robot that hasn’t aged so don’t go looking into it that hard). And to top it all off, one of the best lines of the year comes from her; “Dreamers need to stick together… It’s not Programming, it’s Personal”. She and Frank share a touching farewell (“Frank, you want to know why you couldn’t make me laugh? It’s because you’re not funny.”) as her self-destruct programming is used to destroy the tachyon machine which then falls on Nix who has one of the best ‘final words’ ever; “Oh bollocks!”

As the film ends, Casey and Frank begin to revitalize the world of Tomorrowland and search for the dreamers that will ‘feed the right wolf’ as they instruct a new series of young robots to do the same thing Athena did and give people all over the world pins to show them the fantastical world that awaits them. Which brings me to yet another argument against this film; one that connects to, believe it or not, Ayn Rand and her work, something that apparently is a theory that connects to all of Bird’s films. There have been some who argue that Frank and Casey were looking for ‘the elite’ and not ‘regular people’ when they were finding new ‘recruits’. To that I say… so apparently a guitar-player and some random lady planting a bush are considered to be ‘elite’? Now I’ll be honest with you folks… I have never read any of Rand’s stories nor am I that much of a political person but I don’t see how this film is supposed to be inspired by libertarianism. It was inspired directly by the legend himself, Walt Disney, who always dreamed of a better future. That’s why he created the ‘Tomorrowland’ section of the Disney parks in the first place, which weren’t meant to be seen as tributes to science fiction but to science fact. Remember that box of old artifacts that Bird and Lindelof had been previewing in press events, which included items like the original plans for ‘It’s a Small World’ and an old copy of ‘Amazing Stories’ from 1928? They used the items of that box to craft a story about their own take on the ‘experimental prototype community of tomorrow’ that Walt Disney had always dreamed of making and was only partially realized in the creation of the Disney World park EPCOT. In short, I’ll just end this discussion by repeating the same words that Brad Bird himself said when asked about the comparisons between his films and Ayn Rand’s work; that it is ‘ridiculous’ and a bunch of ‘nonsense’.

So yeah, I’ve gone through all that I can talk about in regards to ‘Tomorrowland’. Unlike the rest of the internet, I’m not going to let this film become one of the forgotten box office flops of 2015. I’ll be perfectly frank with you, folks; I primarily blame the critics for this film’s under-performance at the box-office. I mean I know that critics don’t always influence a film’s commercial performance but in this case I feel that critics did have some influence through the film’s polarizing reception and 50% rating on RT. So for those who haven’t seen the film yet, take some advice from your good pal Sean. Ignore the critics’ reviews of this film, don’t watch BS videos like CinemaSins’ video on it that try and make it out to be worse than it seems, and just please give the film an honest try. Who knows? You might just like it. I know I said before that ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ was my favorite cinema-going experience this year, which meant that I probably should’ve given it the Number 1 spot. But if you recall last year, I basically pulled a cop out and had two films listed at the Number 1 spot (note: after mulling it over, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is my favorite film of 2014 with ‘Interstellar’ right behind it at #2). I didn’t want to do that again this year but I think the fact that ‘The Force Awakens’ is still at #2 is still putting it in a terrific position. Like I said before, giving ‘Tomorrowland’ the #1 spot was my way of giving the film some form of the recognition that most people wouldn’t. And that is why ‘Tomorrowland’, the most under-appreciated film of 2015, is my favorite film of the year. Unlike the rest of the internet, I ain’t giving up on it.

And there you have it; my Top 12 Favorite Films from 2015. I’d like to thank all of you for following along with me on this blog since I first started it back in May 2012. This May will mark its 4th anniversary and I couldn’t have gotten to this point without you all. Here’s to what I hope will be another great year of film in 2016.


Friday, January 8, 2016

TOP 12 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2015: #6-4

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s end-of-the-year countdown of my Top 12 favorite films from 2015. This is Part 3 of 4 and we are now halfway through this year’s list. Today I’ll be listing Films #6-4 and I must say that starting with today’s post, we are really starting to get into my absolute favorite films from this past year. If you’ve missed Parts 1 and 2 of this list, links to those posts will be provided below. But for now it’s time to get back to the list…



At #6, we have the first of two films on this list that sadly underperformed at the box-office this past year despite having positive/optimistic themes and stories about following one’s dreams, which I feel are becoming more and more important in regards to combating the increasingly cynical nature of society these days. This film in particular tells the tale of one of the most amazing feats in human history.

6. THE WALK


I have two primary theories as to why this film didn’t attract much attention when it was released back in October. The first reason was that there were a few incidents where the titular ‘Walk’ sequence was such a jaw-dropping sequence, primarily due to director Robert Zemeckis’ decision to shoot the sequence from the top of the high-wire instead of below it (in other words, the usual ‘audience view’ of a high-wire performance), that it actually caused some people to vomit at the film’s New York premiere. With that said, yes the ‘Walk’ can be a very hard sequence to watch for those prone to altitude sickness. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that this sequence truly is an exhilarating cinematic moment. As noted earlier, the fact that Zemeckis did shoot from the perspective of the high-wire artist gives audiences a different perspective of the performance that is rarely ever seen. I did see the film in its intended format, IMAX 3-D, and it was truly one of the greatest sequences that I’ve ever seen on the big IMAX screen. But perhaps another reason why this film may not have done so well at the B.O. is because it was primarily set around the World Trade Center and obviously we are now living in the world that is post-9/11. But like how I said that I hope that the sickness incidents wouldn’t take away from the cinematic merits of the ‘Walk’ itself, I hope that the post 9/11 stigma doesn’t keep people from watching this truly beautiful film. Because it’s not a Twin Towers story that ends in tragedy. Instead, it’s one that pays tribute to these iconic buildings by recalling a fantastic moment of humanity of which it was directly involved around.

This is the story of French high-wire walker Philippe Petit’s famous high-wire walk between the Towers on August 7th, 1974. This was right around the time that the Towers were nearing completion and one of the reasons why this was such a big deal was because, at first, the people of New York weren’t too big on the Towers. Many felt that they were ‘ugly’ and ‘utilitarian’ in design. It wasn’t until Petit’s legendary moment when the Towers finally became a beloved icon of the city. At the same time, the film really has a great message that encourages viewers to follow their dreams no matter what life may throw at them. I mean sure, Petit and his team had to do a few illegal things in order to accomplish this but Petit’s spirit is on full display throughout the entire film. And given that the majority of the film revolves around the set-up of the walk, it’s pretty fun to see Phillipe and his team enact his plan and the film benefits from an excellent ensemble cast highlighted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s terrific turn as Petit. In short, ‘The Walk’ is a very fun old-fashioned adventure that serves as a touching tribute to the Twin Towers, especially as a result of the film’s extremely poignant ending. After he completes the Walk, Petit (who’s been narrating the entire film) reflects that the building manager gave him a free pass to the observation deck and, with a solemn look, notes that the ‘expiration date’ was changed to ‘forever’. He leaves the frame, the camera pans over to the Towers, and the film fades out on them. 9/11 is never mentioned once but we all get why the smile fades from Petit’s face at the end. It’s a subtle yet extremely powerful and dignified way to pay tribute to the Towers and the victims of 9/11. Combined with all of the things I talked about before, ‘The Walk’ ended up being one of my favorite cinematic experiences of the year; one that hopefully many others will experience in the years to come.

A classic group of friends came back in a big way this year and despite the initial skepticism over their jump to computer animation, their new film was one of the most heartwarming films of the year, hence why it takes the #5 spot on this list.

5. THE PEANUTS MOVIE


Who doesn’t love ‘The Peanuts’? They’re one of the most famous franchises in the history of pop culture. Of course it all started with Charles Schulz’s iconic comic book series which ran for nearly 50 years with 18,000 comic strips being produced over that span. And then the franchise became an even greater cornerstone in the lives of audiences both young and old once Schultz and the duo of Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson started to produce numerous TV specials starring Charlie Brown and his friends. These specials, many of which were based around major holidays, became a staple of the TV landscape with nearly 50 produced over the course of six decades. And this year, a year that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the comic strip and the 50th anniversary of the first Peanuts special, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’, the Peanuts gang made their grand return to the big-screen, after a series of films that were produced during the Schulz-Melendez-Mendelson era, in Blue Sky Studios’ newest film, ‘The Peanuts Movie’. With no disrespect towards the previous four Charlie Brown films, this new film was easily the biggest Peanuts film to date, primarily due to who was involved in its production. Not only was it being produced by a major animation company like Blue Sky, but it was also produced by major comedic director Paul Feig and had a screenplay written by Schulz’s son Craig and his son Bryan. However, there was some trepidation towards this film amongst film fans, namely due to the fact that the film would bring the characters into the world of 3-D computer animation even though they’ve always been traditionally animated in the past.

However, all of that skepticism was proven wrong once the film came out. And that is because this film is very much a heartfelt tribute to this classic franchise. It’s clear that the filmmakers spent a lot of time not only perfecting the animation (which I’ll get to momentarily) but also keeping the characters and world in its original old-school setting. In other words, this wasn’t a case where the characters were modernized for today’s audiences as is the case with some other old-school franchises. This is a film where the characters are still using landlines and typewriters, two things that you definitely don’t see much of nowadays. And as for the animation, it’s some of the best animation that I’ve seen this year. The characters may be in 3-D now but the overall style actually does manage to give the film the 2-D-esque look that has always defined the series since the beginning. The best way I can describe it is that it’s sort of like 2.5-D, where the characters are in a 3-D world but are almost always shown from a 2-D perspective (other examples of this include the ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ games). There are even a few instances where the film utilizes a bit of 2-D animation, like when the characters’ eyes turn into big cartoony eyeballs or when a character is daydreaming and the thought bubble shows some of the classic hand-drawn animation. The final result is simply one of the most unique animation styles to come out of an animated film in recent years.

But the animation is only the icing on the cake in terms of what makes this film so great. There has been some criticism towards the film for its story not really being that ‘groundbreaking’ and being more of a simple story. But even if that were true, which I guess you can say that it sort of is given the fact that it’s mainly about Charlie Brown trying to woo the Little-Red-Haired Girl, I didn’t mind that at all because this film’s strong messages really shined through its simplistic plot. Of course we all know that Charlie Brown has always been the lovable loser who always has bad luck no matter what he tries. But the thing that makes ‘Chuck’ such an endearing character is that he never gives up and it is his kindness that always leaves the most lasting impression on others. And that is very much the case in this film in how he’s able to really attract the attention of the Little Red-Haired Girl. At first he tries to impress her by participating in the school talent show but when his sister Sally’s act starts to bomb, he selflessly gives up his own time in order to help her out. Then it seems like he finally succeeds for once in his life when he learns that he got the highest score on the standardized tests, which results in his friends and classmates treating him like a big celebrity. But then, at a big award ceremony for him, he realizes that Peppermint Patty actually had the highest score and willingly sacrifices his popularity in order to maintain his integrity. Finally, he and the Little Red-Haired Girl are partnered up for a book report but when she is forced to take a week off from school due to a personal matter, he does the entire book report for them on ‘War and Peace’, a nod to when he had to read the book for school in ‘Happy New Year Charlie Brown!’  

(P.S. I’ve always wondered why Charlie Brown was forced to read that gigantic book despite the fact that he’s clearly too young to read it.)


These noble acts are what truly gets him noticed by the Little Red-Haired Girl at the end of the film. I have to admit that I was hoping that this film would allow Charlie Brown to succeed for once in his life and it did, and I can tell you that there was quite a huge smile on my face during the finale when the Little Red-Haired Girl chooses Charlie Brown to be her pen-pal over the summer and she tells him that she admires his honesty, selflessness, courage, and kindness right before she leaves for Summer Camp. In fact, that perfectly correlates to what I feel about the film overall. It’s one of the most heartwarming films that I’ve seen in a long time and will probably leave you grinning from ear to ear by the end. Because not only is the story sweet and the messages strong, but the film is also clearly a labor of love from all involved. This isn’t a case of a popular franchise getting ruined by people who don’t care about it whatsoever. The filmmakers really made an effort to get everything perfect from the animation to the characters themselves, with the film’s young cast of general newcomers (save for ‘Dog with a Blog’ star Francesca Capaldi as both the Little Red-Haired Girl and Frieda) perfectly capturing the personalities of these beloved characters. This is easily Blue Sky’s best film to date and a film that Charles Schulz would have been extremely proud of.

I’ve never been in the camp who felt that Pixar went downhill after ‘Toy Story 3’. But thankfully the studio managed to redeem themselves in the eyes of those people with this, my #4 favorite film of the year.

4. INSIDE OUT


At this point in Pixar’s prestigious run, I’d argue that Pete Docter is the studio’s best director. Having been involved with Pixar pretty much since the beginning, he’s been responsible for some of their absolute best films. His first directorial effort with Pixar was 2001’s ‘Monsters Inc.’, a film that I realized was one of my absolute all-time favorite Pixar films in the months leading up to its prequel, ‘Monsters University’, which Docter did not direct, for the record, but was still pretty darn good. Then in 2009, he directed ‘Up’, the studio’s first film to be nominated for Best Picture as well as Best Animated Feature at that year’s Oscars and one that I can assure you is most certainly in many Pixar fans’ Top 5. And this year it seems like Docter has delivered another one of Pixar’s best efforts to date in the form of ‘Inside Out’, a film which focuses on the personified emotions that control the mind of their human ‘avatar’. In the case of this film, we follow the emotions of a young girl named Riley who is forced to move from her hometown of Minnesota to San Francisco when her dad gets a new job. As if that couldn’t be bad enough for her already, her main emotion Joy ends up getting sucked out of the headquarters where she and the other emotions control Riley’s actions as a result of fellow emotion Sadness, who gets sucked out of HQ as well, trying to be more involved with Riley’s life, resulting in Riley becoming emotionally distant towards everyone around her. The journey that they and the other emotions go on in this film is one that is both beautifully animated and arguably features the studio’s most mature storytelling to date.    

The animation is definitely one of Pixar’s best efforts to date. It produces what are arguably the studio’s most cartoonish visuals but that is in no way a bad thing because the imagery in this film is incredibly colorful and imaginative, especially within Riley’s mind. My favorite parts of the film were when Joy, Sadness, and their new friend, Riley’s former imaginary friend Bing Bong, who by the way is easily the film’s standout character, travel through the various parts of Riley’s mind. These areas include her ‘Abstract Thought’, an area where their bodies get changed into different shapes from non-objective fragments to 2-D drawings and run the risk of being forgotten about forever, and her Imagination, represented in this film as a theme park-like area complete with a forest full of French fries, an area full of trophies where everyone wins an award (even Sadness, who comically only gets a Participation Award), and even an Imaginary Boyfriend Generator that produces a whole bunch of imaginary punk rocker-esque boyfriends from Canada who constantly exclaim that they ‘would die for Riley’. These imaginative visuals also contribute to one of the other great things about the film; its great humor. There’s the annoyingly catchy ‘Triple-Dent Gum’ commercial jingle, the classic scene from the trailer in which Riley and her dad get into an argument instigated by their emotions (another great thing about the film is that we get to see the emotions of other characters and not just Riley’s), and the ending in which we see the emotions of various side characters, including a potential future love interest for Riley whose emotions lose it when he is approached by a girl, an angry bus driver who has nothing but Anger emotions, and Riley’s teacher whose emotions are just waiting for summer vacation. We even get to see the emotions of a dog and a cat.  

But ‘Inside Out’ is more than just a funny animated film about a bunch of emotions. It may be an ironic statement to make seeing how this film is about emotions, but the film truly has a terrific emotional depth to it. The filmmakers are tackling the idea of our emotions in a creative way and cover events that many of us have experienced at one point in our lives, like moving to a new town and having to go to a new school. There’s also a nice arc for the characters of Joy and Sadness. As the film begins, Joy narrates that she’s unsure about Sadness’s importance in Riley’s life and constantly works to keep her away from the emotions’ control console but Sadness ends up making a mess of things anyway which leads to the two of them getting sucked out of Headquarters. But despite all of this, the film never paints Sadness in a negative light as Joy learns that Sadness’s true purpose is to alert others when Riley is sad so that they can come and comfort, making a sad memory a happy one in the end and showing that it’s okay to be sad sometimes. And yes, you will get extremely emotional during a few particularly sad scenes in this film. These moments include a scene where Joy and Bing Bong get trapped in the ‘Memory Dump’, where memories are disposed of and forgotten, and the always happy Joy finally starts to break down in tears and a moment just a while later when Bing Bong sacrifices himself to help Joy get out of the Memory Dump and fades away from Riley’s memory forever (“Take her to the moon for me, okay?”).

Like I said before, I am not one of those people on the internet who feel that Pixar started to ‘suck’ following ‘Toy Story 3’. I’ve already gone over my thoughts on the post-2010 Pixar films and while I never want to repeat myself too much in these posts, I have to reiterate the argument that I made earlier in this list with ‘The Good Dinosaur’. There is nothing wrong with Pixar making a film that’s not a 15/10 masterpiece. But of course because Pixar is held to such a high standard, their ‘failures’ are treated by the internet as if they were a crime against humanity and a betrayal from the studio. How dare they not make an absolute masterpiece? FOR SHAME!! So for those who are always expecting that ‘15/10 masterpiece’ from them (to which I argue that you should really cool it on those expectations because you’re the ones responsible for creating the anti-post-2010 Pixar attitude… just saying), ‘Inside Out’ is that film. It has it all; great animation, lovable characters, and a screenplay that handles the concept of emotions with maturity and grace. Pete Docter may have only three directorial efforts to his name right now but it’s quite an accomplishment to have all three of those films be animated masterpieces. First there was ‘Monsters Inc.’, then there was ‘Up’, and now there’s ‘Inside Out’. Some will say that with this film ‘Pixar is back’… and some of those people will then probably retract that statement when they do a negative review of ‘The Good Dinosaur’ that negatively compares it to this film and claim that ‘Pixar is Dead!’. But if you ask me, Pixar never left.


And that’s the end of Part 3 of my Top 12 Favorite Films of 2015 list. Check back tomorrow for the finale in which I’ll be listing my Top 3 favorite films from this past year.