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Monthly Archives: October 2015

HAS THE FIGHT FOR GENDER DIVERSITY IN FILM BECOME A GIMMICK? – DISCUSSION

The fight for diversity in Hollywood has been a battle similar to pushing a boulder up a mountain only for it to roll over you in the process. Whether it be for women, ethnically diverse actors, or re-imaginings of characters, there has been a jump in the changes of leading and supporting characters in films of all kinds. Recently enough, there has been buzz on the Ghostbusters reboot starring an all female led cast. Fans were curious and others snickered at the idea of women leading a famous film franchise. While I wasn’t jumping up and down at the idea of female led reboot, it was something worth focusing on as the talent began to roll in. We are now getting reports and rumors about an Ocean’s 11 sequel and/or reboot of sorts will boast an all females cast produced by George Clooney himself that may have Sandra Bullock in the lead chair. Sandra Bullock is great and the talent that will eventually come around will only be a positive to this film’s credibility, but when will there some original female led films in the mainstream?

In this report from Entertainment Weekly, it is said that the roles are open for any women of different ages, races, and so on. That’s great news and can be a great eclectic mixture of people for a film like this. My only real issues lie with the slightly unoriginal renditions we have been swarmed with lately.

I want to believe ideas such as this have honest roots and with generate positive results, but then we have films like Road House being remade with Ronda “Can’t Act” Rousey. Sure, she doesn’t need to be Meryl Streep for a role like that, but I have to believe there are films that she can get involved in to later work her way up into films with original ideas or stories. This world of remakes and the decision, because it’s trending, to inject women into formally male led roles comes off as lazy. Write great female characters and let them shine in their own films. Granted, that’s selfish thinking in of itself, but don’t you think studios and film makers should try harder than they are at bringing women into title roles?

In comic-books, we have a She-Hulk and a female Thor…doesn’t seem awfully original or thought out if you ask me. I want our women of all colors, creeds, and differences to be able to shine in the best ways they can, but I don’t see how pushing already established characters on audiences is going to help the core issues of our lack of female characters and leads. They take chances on loads of different poorly executed male led films, why not with original female lead properties?

Ideas to add women in films is a great action that should be applauded, but how about we consider some more deeply thought out concepts rather than merely throwing in a load of female leads into an already established franchise. What I mean is to simply bring them in from the start or let them flourish on their own. I consider it somewhat of a cop-out with these constant rehashes that are popping up lately. I think of it this way, imagine a reboot of Terminator (that doesn’t have Genysis in the title) and instead of a male Terminator you are putting in a female bodybuilder and then making Sarah Conner you make her Dean Conner. It sounds sort of silly right? It’s an inorganic idea with no real intellectual ideas beyond switching the origins based on their genders.

I’ll end with this, don’t think I am saying down with female led reboots. I just want more original and thought out female led films rather than the over-reliance of reboots and re-imaginings by throwing a bunch of women in there. I consider that a lazy disservice to the potential of women in entertainment mediums. Granted, there are plenty great female characters out there, but if we want more, how about bringing a new wave of originality in the process?

MY TOP 15: UNDERVALUED ANIMATED FILMS

I was inspired to make a list of this caliber after I re-watched and reviewed The Iron Giant and was nearly brought to full fledged tears in the process and thought I’d try to shed some lights on films in the animated categories who deserve more praise. Animation varies from adult humor/drama to the kid friendly nature most of us are familiar with from either childhood or adulthood and they should be the focus for once.

DISCLAIMER: The Iron Giant won’t be on the list because I’ve learned how many people enjoy it to this day.

Disney films take the cake most of the time and that’s understandable and fair to be honest, but it doesn’t make non-Disney films any less important or valuable. I am excluding anime on here because that is a whole different list for later articles. I’m also not incorporating many foreign language films on this list. Sorry.

15. 9 (2009): No one ever said these had to be strictly kids animated films…did they? Eh well, this is going on the list because it’s a beautiful and graphic depiction of life, death, and the afterlife. It’s beautiful and haunting with a daring storyline that clearly made audiences confused. It’s action packed, beautifully shot, and is completely original…and I seem to be the only one that enjoyed it. It was one of those films I caught a glimpse of as a preview for another film and my curiosity was peaked, and though it took me a few views to appreciate what it was, I loved it.

14. Oliver and Company (1988): “Now it was always once upon a time in New City…” Just the intro song gets me excited! Maybe this is pure childhood nostalgia, but this film makes me happy. An orphan kitten in the vane of the classic story of Oliver Twist with some Billy Joel thrown in there is a classic Disney film in my eyes. Sure, the songs aren’t exactly “Phil Collins in Tarzan” great, but they have their purpose and fun. It’s something about that vintage 80’s animation and sound and depiction of New York that warms me up inside…I may watch it tonight.

13. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010): People forget this was directed by the guy that gave us 300 and Watchmen but you wouldn’t be surprised when you see how F***ING gorgeous this film is! These were books popular around the time I was in high school or maybe as far back as middle school, but they were cool concepts at the time and were surprisingly well made in movie form. It’s too bad the movie didn’t make the money it should have to warrant a sequel, but it’s great on it’s own.

12. Brother Bear (2003): Native Americans stories are some of the most spiritual and magical of them all and when you put it in Disney form, you are given a winning formula. Joaquin Phoenix lends his voice as Kenai. Music, solid animation, and a great voice cast, and yet, no one cares about it. It’s tragic really.

11. Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003): Brad Pitt voicing Sinbad is just too perfect. It’s a seductive film in more ways than one and brings the traits of what makes Sinbad sin so badly while still being safe(ish) for kids. It’s rather beautiful to look at with aesthetically pleasing visuals and a unique mixture of different stories from Greek mythology to old pirate legends galore. Too bad it didn’t have just a tad more put into it or it would have been one of the better animated films.

10. The Road to El Dorado (2000): Some of you will be wondering why this is even on the list, but if you ask a general movie fan about this movie, will they know the songs? Will they remember the horse’s name? Probably not and it doesn’t help this film was a straight to DVD release film. What makes this so undervalued is because of it’s humor, incredibly elegant details in the animation, and the songs performed by the great Elton John. It’s from DreamWorks Studios and does have mild swearing and sexually motivated scenes that may come to a surprise to some, but it’s a great little film.

9. The Quest for Camelot (1998): Warner Brothers has always been able to tickle my fancy in the animation department and it was with a childhood film of mine called The Quest for Camelot that made me realize how much fun WB had with their animation department. With voice talents that include Jaleel White, Pierce Brosnan, Don Rickles, and even Gary Oldman (as a great villain might I add), it also the reason “The Prayer” by Celine Dion is even in existence. The songs are fun, but beautiful, and the same can be said for the story and the animation that incorporates knights, dragons, and female hero worth seeing a story about.

8. Treasure Planet (2003): Yes, there is a Disney film that is underrated. Take the iconic story of “Treasure Island’ and put in space, throw in some Joseph Gordon-Levitt along with some incredibly magical scenery, and you end up with Treasure Planet. This was one of those Disney films that didn’t quite hit the emotional chords like some of the other classics did, but this is still a great film in it’s own right. I think of it as the influence of Pixar meets the traditional styles of classic Disney films.

7. Dinosaur (2000): Wait, another Disney film made the cut?! Yes, yes it did. Do you guys remember the really cool scene of that spikey T-Rex looking dinosaur in front of all the Tarzan previews when you were a kid? That emotional scene when the spikey T-Rex thingy steps on all but one egg? It’s this film that harnessed the ability to tell visually epic stories with nothing but CGI. Critics call the story generic, but I call it riveting and pulse pounding. As a kid, this film frightened me, and made me yelp like a girl whenever a dinosaur was being eaten or attacked.

6. Anastasia (1997): If you’re sensing a theme here, music in early animated films were what gave them staying power. Much credit to Don Bluth for making a classic rendition of the tale of the lost daughter of the last Russian Czar. The music is great anytime of the year, but especially around Christmas. Bells and snow blanket this realistic fiction fairy tale that boasts an excellently voiced cast that ranges from Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd, and the great Bernadette Peters.

5. James and the Giant Peach (1996): This one was tough to add to the list, but I am making it the exception. The film is not all animation, but the majority of it is, and I hear the same responses when I bring this film up; “Oh that movie weirded me out as a kid”…what does that say about me? Yeah, you know, the guy who actually liked this movie as a child growing up! It’s Tim Burton inspired stop-motion animation with songs and whimsical characters galore that take from the famous children’s book of the same name.

4. Antz (1998): Though we love Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, DreamWorks was countering the bug film with their own bug infested movie, but with a more adult basis of storytelling than the Pixar production. The cast boasted people from Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Danny Glover, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken, Dan Aykroyd, and Jane Curtin. Yeah, it was huge, and it is often preferred over A Bug’s Life for it’s maturity or lack thereof.

3. The Prince of Egypt (1998): I’m glad to hear that this film is liked by more people than I thought, but because it deals with a biblical story from the book of Exodus people tend to fade from it, but the one constant from this film will always be how well it was animated, voiced, and the Grammy winning music that boasts some of the best scores by Hans Zimmer and one of the greatest duets by any artists in the song “When You Believe” by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. If you can get over your beliefs or non-beliefs, you will easily adore this movie for one reason or another.

2. Chicken Run (2000): Wait, Chicken Run? Yes, Chicken RunPeople are so snobby when it comes to stop motion animation. Unless it’s The Nightmare Before Christmas people tend to not care and that’s messed up. Chicken Run is not only great animation, but it is laugh out loud hilarious, in that British humor sort of way. There are so many quips and quotes you missed as a kid or young adult that are far funnier now and let’s not forget Mel Gibson in a role we can sort of like him in again. This was a film brought to us by the people that created Wallace and Gromit folks.

1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1997): Overshadowed by other great 90’s and early 2000’s films, The Hunchback of Notre Dame may be one of the best Disney films made in that era. With top notch music, a story that holds up no matter what time period you tell it, and a theme of “who is the monster and who is the man” becomes inspiring and heartbreaking all in one scene. The settings are drawn and painted with a craftsmanship of the best artists out there and holds up with humor as well. I’m not too sure what happened to kids my age when this film came out, but no one saw it, and no one felt the punch this film swung with.

‘THE IRON GIANT’ (1999): YOU ARE WHO YOU CHOOSE TO BE – VINTAGE MOVIE REVIEW

Animation is an incredibly tactical medium and genre for films that have always had the ability to hit audiences of all ages. It was when Brad Bird and Warner Brother Studios decided to bring to life a magical fairy tale of robot giants and the childlike wonders to a screen near you back in 1999. Today, we know Brad Bird as the director of what is still considered the best Mission Impossible film to date and has also given us one of the best Pixar films with the The Incredibles, but before his name rang in our ears, we were reminded that souls never die and we are who we choose to be…and we learned who Vin Diesel sort of was.

Throwing us into a Cold War era America rather than a war torn England like the original source material, we take in the hybrid animation style that boasts hand drawn characters and settings that later bring in some of the most visually striking dimension filled animation that still holds up today. As a mysterious metal monster falls from the sky into a small town in the state of Maine, we are brought to a young boy named Hogarth, whose lack of fear is substituted with imagination and adventure of a boy who sees things for what they truly are whether good or evil. It’s that temperament throughout the story that brings warmth to satire and satire to great narrative.

Over time, the best animated films have been the ones that are kid friendly, but never strictly for the kids. The jokes, the humor, the drama, and the points sprinkled through the film endure no matter what age you are and give new meanings to your own being as you and the film age on. Vin Diesel as the Giant is arguably his best role and that is not a joke. There is power in simplicity and a more emotional attachment to characters with less to say and that is what Vin Diesel brought to the Giant. Though he didn’t speak much, the Giant had all the lines we remember, and it goes back to subtly. Without spoiling the ending for the souls who haven’t seen this film, the Giant brings you life and takes it away like God himself. The emotional spectrum opens in a film like this because it flows organically and is thought out from beginning to end.

An overlooked detail to this film is it’s voice cast. We know Diesel is the Giant, but did you know Jennifer Aniston is Hogarth’s mom or that Harry Connick Jr. is the voice of Dean? Yeah, I know. These are the underrated voice performances of animated films in the last two decades and without them, the film loses “it”. Of course, when checking off boxes for this movie you are pretty much filled. From the crisp animation to the voice cast, there are also the key factors that make a great movie and that is clear direction as well as emotionally taxing conflict and villain of sorts, and you have to give credit to the script written by Tim McCanlies.

In the original fairy tale, the Giant eventually battles an alien, but instead, the alien is deleted and he goes up against one man’s stupidity and ignorance and one giant missile. It takes some serious confidence in your vision and story to have a robot not battle a giant alien and substitute it with something far more original. This becomes a film about a boy and his dog in a manner of speaking. The dog becomes a giant metal man and the boy stays the same. What happens in these sort of stories is what makes all great “a boy and his dog” style tales work: character growth and acceptance.

Guys, this is a film that should not only be atop your lists of best animated films, but one of the best films made in the last 25 years. We quote the film, we cry at the end, and we cherish it like Hogarth does the Giant, and that is never going to change. It’s a beautiful tale that will teach both kids and adults that taking a life is wrong, but it’s okay to die, and that you are who you choose to be and no predetermined destiny can take that from you.

SCORE: A+

‘CASINO ROYALE’ (2005): WHEN JAMES BOND BECAME 007 – VINTAGE MOVIE REVIEW

In honor of the fourth Daniel Craig James Bond film I’ve decided to write out a review for one of my favorite –not just Bond films– but favorite films I’ve ever seen. Casino Royale is the film that tells, more or less, the origin of 007 as he takes on one of the most intense poker games in film history in order to stop the funding of terrorism. This is considered to be the film that stayed closest to Ian Fleming’s original Bond book of the same name and with the direction of Martin Campbell. This was the film, for not just myself, that brought Bond into an era where we took him seriously for what his character truly is supposed to be. In the past, we were given the more womanizing, campy, corny action filled spy films with some exceptions thrown in there for good measure, but this, this was the Bond film for me.

Rather than taking the bait of following the standard James Bond formula, Campbell decided on a blonde haired, blue eyed Bond rather than the standard brown eyes/hair Bond we’ve been given in the past, but none of that matters as much as the nearly flawless storytelling and action we are treated to for this movie. Smooth and flavorful can be to describe the film itself or the drink that the iconic character partakes in and either way it’s a compliment. Shots composed of high octane stunt work and cleverly devised banter between supporting characters and Bond give this film it’s charm and bite like we’ve never seen for the titular spy.

Bond is not just a womanizer, he is a cold-blooded killer in a life that doesn’t allow the warmth of others to enter. Cold and calculated, with an itchy trigger finger, Bond is a man of few words rather than simply having sex with all women he sees without purpose. Casino Royale had the nads to flip the concepts and trademarks of Bond to better enhance the character’s flaws and strengths for a new generation with some homages sprinkled in for good measure. Including car flips, luxurious shots of paradise islands, and action sequences that could have been the final act of the film, Campbell has us enter a world where Bond is a card playing assassin going up against terrorist organizations like it was having afternoon tea.

One of the underrated actors we recognize by face, rather than name or talent, is Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelson is a blood weeping terrorist with some bills to pay and it’s the calm fear he exudes and the terror of desperation that makes him one of Bond’s greatest villains. His character of Le Chiffre becomes the Joker to Bond’s Bruce Wayne without the purple suit and make up. Instead, he trades in scars on his mouth for one intimidating scar on his left eye, and a torture device that will make any man cringe. Because of these details, the film has a backbone, and a mystery that doesn’t finish until the final scene in the film. Once you think the film could be nearing an intense climax, the crescendos multiply with a new stunt or action scene.

The constantly impressive Eva Green is also a standout in the film as she becomes the “Bond girl” to challenge 007. She is sexy, but never slutty and is smart, but never annoying, she is in fact a capable female human being, and a remarkable character in film. Choosing to bring Bond into reality set the tone for many movies to later adopt the ideas of bringing iconic characters to a human level similar to what Nolan did with Batman. Eva Green as Vesper Lynd is a character you want to continue watching on screen. She and Bond alike set each other up for some of the best one liners in Bond history without them being laughable and corny, but instead, smooth and flavorful.

This and Skyfall took Bond to incredibly new heights while bringing Bond back to the roots that once were seeds of a man living a life similarly to what we’ve been given on, and my gosh, what a treat it’s been. Casino Royale is the perfect mixture of tradition, evolution, action, and storytelling that will hold up for decades to come. It is absolutely a standard in action films along with the spy genre and even romance films. This is the standard of Bond films from now on.

SCORE: A+

BREAKING: NEW POWER RANGERS MOVIE TITLE IS….STUPID

The Power Rangers are a known property whether you like them or not. The high flying, campy nature of these teenage ninja warriors is coming to the big screen with it’s cast quickly filling up for the main five colors (the Rangers I mean) and thanks to those working over at Collider we have the budget, names of the characters, and the title of the film. The title of the film will be…

Saban’s Power Rangers

!!!

I know, I hate it too. The man behind the success of the Power Rangers has the right to throw his name on the title somewhere, but damn, this isn’t even subtle. The names of the characters have been changed from the original Might Morphin Power Rangers names fans of the show will recognize to:

  • Callum Oliver – The Red Ranger/Tyrannosaurus
  • Priya Patel – The Pink Ranger/Pterodactyl
  • Brian Olson – The Blue Ranger/Triceratops
  • Oscar Fernandez – The Black Ranger/Mastodon
  • Teyana Jones – The Yellow Ranger/Sabre-tooth Tiger

The budget for the film is as modest as the show used to be as well at only $35 million for the whole production. It’s better to make something great out of a little than make it on a huge budget only to lose money. It sounds like the campy nature is going to return to the film rather than branch off from the shows style of action and adventure. We will have to wait until 2017 to see the final results.

THE HIDDEN GEM OF 2015: ‘ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL’ (2015) – MOVIE REVIEW

Cancer sucks. No, it really sucks. It takes away the lives hundreds of people a day with no concerns and produces consequences those around the victims feel for the rest of their lives. It’s the lives they lived before, during, and after that we should focus on, and all the good that came out of them when they were here. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl may come off as blunt and off-putting, but I’m here to exclaim to all you readers out there that this film is a modern indie classic with a heart of gold and respect for it’s audience. This comedic drama about two high school buddies and their love of film collide once they meet a quirky girl who is diagnosed with leukemia.

Set in my hometown of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Greg, a high school senior who thinks he has the details of high school down to a science is a recluse with hippy parents and a rough and tough friend named Earl. Together, they make films that are nothing more than personal projects that spoof famous films (which is seen endlessly through the film) and the titles of their films alone will make you giggle. Greg’s life changes entirely when he meets Rachel, the girl with cancer. Not beginning as her friend, he is forced to make her acquaintance once Greg’s mother presses the issue. Alas, Greg and Rachel share a uniquely bizarre relationship full of laughs and quirks they can both appreciate about each other and you will eat it all up.

Insanely funny at times, I was expecting the film to be lighthearted about the topic at hand, but you don’t even realize it involves cancer for the majority of the film and that’s what you want. The focus zooms in on the relationships Greg has with Earl, Rachel, his parents, and even his tatted up history teacher played by Jon Bernthal. The relationships are what drive the film and fill it with humor and sensitivity and will be the selling point for audiences of all creeds. It’s a high school age dramedy about growing up and realizing the truths about yourself and the hardships other people go through in life while you attempt to learn how you are going to handle what life throws at you when the time.

Thomas Mann brings witty awkwardness to his character of Greg while permeating a natural tenderness without the annoyance of being sappy and melodramatic. There are long shots of he and Olivia Cooke (Rachel) just talking and chatting like normal (I use that lightly) teens preparing to go to college and it’s brilliantly crafted to a point you’d think it was just a hidden camera. RJ Cyler is also fantastic as Earl, the tough and cool friend of Greg’s who counterbalances his weirdness and passions as the honest and confident side of their “partnership” as Greg calls it. They are depictions of what everyone of us are with our friends from every masturbation joke to how we talk about people around us, it’s all there.

Without producing too much repetition, I want to tell you that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl may have a title that would normally turn some of us off, but it has loads more to say beyond it’s ballsy title. It handles the hardships everyone faces during the hours of sickness and growing up through artistically focused metaphors and emotions that build you up only to break you down to remodel you for the better the third time. The messages are clear and the plot stays blurry enough to have you guessing on where the story will eventually go.

All in all, the film is absolutely loony in the best ways, but it is also strongly directed with symbolism and passion. It’s a film I would want everyone to see at least once due to the subject matter at hand as well as the craftsmanship of the direction which often felt like a Wes Anderson film at times. The settings, stop-motion animation for some of the early scenes as well as the awkward protagonist, I definitely was getting a Wes Anderson vibe from the film and I was alright with that. Please see this film for the great young actors, the direction, the writing, and the treatment of the subject matter at hand, you will not be disappointed.

SCORE: A+

STAR WARS PREQUELS: WHAT THEY MANAGED TO DO SORT OF WELL

We have all heard the complaints about the George Lucas directed prequels to the beloved Star Wars franchise and I won’t blame you on disliking them or liking them. I am here to give my thoughts on what the prequels did well rather than what they did wrong to give a new view on the argument towards or against the prequels.

  1. Great New Villains: Darth Maul is what great villains should be. He offered menace (hence the title of Episode I) along with a true threat to some of the most powerful warriors in all of the galaxy. If only he was given a chance to continue being the villain that he was later on in the films, Qui Gon Jinn’s death would have been a great story arc for later films. In Revenge of the Sith we were introduced to General Grievous, robotic being with a human heart, and a seriously annoying space cold. The shows later cleared up all the mystery behind what happened these villains later on, but sadly they were not in the live-action films themselves. 
  2. Origins of the Jedi and Sith: There were glimpses of hope for the origins of Jedi and Sith throughout the prequels, but none were related to that bullsh** about intergalactic space germs that create the Force, that’s just stupid. What I am talking about are the in depth conversations between the Jedi Council and one great scene with Anakin and Senator Palpatine at the opera where we learn about the motivations and reasons why the Dark Side is what it is. That scene alone did so much to better the already convoluted and ridiculousness that was the prequels. It was what should have happened a movie and a half ago to help us better understand who Palpatine was along with who Anakin Skywalker would later become. 
  3. SOME of the Action Sequences: There are some great actions sequences in the prequels that hold up well enough as sci-fi action, but others are either too choreographed or too random to fully enjoy. The ones that stood out go back to Episode I where Darth Maul battles Obi Wan and Qui Gon. This goes back to the first reason I had when defending the prequels. Compared to what we were given in the final battles of Revenge of the Sith, you will almost immediately realize how cheesy the fights are. 
  4. The Updated Score: If there is one thing the prequels couldn’t mess up it was the John Williams scores that brought everything to life when the films were on their dying bed. The higher tempo scores managed to bring an epicness back to the franchise without taking away the core of the original music and you see how great music can assist poor films. 
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