Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Pwaters' Top Ten of 2015!

It's just about time to rip that old calendar off the wall, because 2015 is packing its bags and closing up shop! That means we'll be up to our eyeballs in "Top Ten [insert whatever] of the Year" lists. And here, in my little corner of the Internet, to contribute to the fervor of year-end lists, are my Top Ten movies of 2015! Enjoy!

10. Creed
Dir. Ryan Coogler

Creed might be my favorite Rocky movie. In a strange year where we saw 3 uber-successful seventh films in a franchise (Furious 7The Force Awakens, and this), Ryan Coogler rose to the challenge of his rivals and gave new life to the Rocky series. The immersive fight scenes, shot in one continuous take, feel like you're in the ring with the boxers. And Stallone, who I've never really liked as an actor, was at his best here; the way Rocky's "fight" with old age and losing relevance intersects with Adonis Creed's journey of literal fighting in the ring and overcoming the shadow of his father was a graceful and logical way to extend the series. While the story still follows the basic Rocky template, it felt authentic in a way none of the previous films have for me. I knew Coogler was a good director after Fruitvale Station, especially in terms of getting honest performances out of actors, but Creed solidified him as one of the top-notch guys I'll be watching out for. I hope to see this same team back for Creed II!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Pwaters' 2015 Movie Superlatives!

Before I bestow upon you all my Top Ten of the year, I've made it a tradition around this time of year to unload my superlatives. In the movie-watching yearbook of 2015, it was particularly difficult to pick some of these, as it happened to be a wonderful year for film. In general. I mean, we did have to suffer through a lot of crap, but overall it was good. And here I am to sift through the bullshit for you. Enjoy!

BEST ACTOR - Matt Damon, The Martian

A successful adaptation of The Martian almost entirely depends on who you cast in the lead, because the piece is pretty much a one-man-show. Matt Damon, playing botanist Mark Watney, trapped on Mars, brings the character to life not simply by making the character a depressed sad sack, as you might imagine a man alone on a planet would be, but by infusing him with a refreshing dose of personality and humor (enough so that the Hollywood Foreign Press nominated the film for Best Comedy at the Golden Globes). Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, whenever an actor can carry a film almost entirely by themselves, it's impressive, and few can do so in as entertaining and likable a way as Matt Damon.

The Hateful Eight, Concussion, The Big Short, Joy Reviews

The Hateful Eight
Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Watch Trailer

Before I get into the film, I just want to clear up its unique theatrical release. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino's eighth feature, appropriately enough) is being released everywhere at the end of the month in regular ol' digital projection at all the chain multiplexes. At select venues, however, there is a special "roadshow" version, projected in 70mm film (not digital), complete with an overture, intermission, program booklet, and 20 minutes of extra footage. I was lucky enough to catch the roadshow version, so that may or may not have affected my ultimate opinion on the film.

The Hateful Eight is Tarantino's first Western proper (Django Unchained was more of a "Southern"), and is by far his most restrained picture. Playing out like an ultra-violent version of the game Clue, the film primarily takes place in Minnie's Haberdashery, an isolated mountainside stagecoach lodge. It's post-Civil War Wyoming and racial tensions are high. John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive prisoner Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), on their way to the town of Red Rock, are joined in their travels by another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and a man who claims to be Red Rock's sheriff (Walton Goggins). Due to an oncoming blizzard, they all take shelter at Minnie's, where they meet the other half of the "eight": a posh british hangman (Tim Roth), a mysterious gunslinger (Michael Madsen), a Mexican running the haberdashery in Minnie's absence (Demi├ín Bechir), and a quiet old war general (Bruce Dern). But, like the aforementioned Parkers Brothers game, not everyone is who they say they are, and as tensions slowly rise, you can safely guess that it doesn't go down without some bloodshed.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Brooklyn, The Danish Girl, Hitchcock/Truffaut Reviews

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Dir. J.J. Abrams
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SPOILER WARNING: Usually I make an effort to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but considering everyone and their mother saw this film, I've decided to write this review only for people who have seen The Force Awakens. If you have not, you've been warned - I will be going over major plot points!

I sense a disturbance in the Force... I'm just going to say right off the bat, before you start reading and getting upset: I didn't much care for The Force Awakens. I'm most likely in the minority here, as everyone seems to be lapping it up. But, as a movie reviewer, I must express my own opinion, and not just cater to my audience, only writing what they want to hear. Kind of like J.J. Abrams. The Force Awakens - for better or worse - is exactly what I thought a J.J. Abrams Star Wars would look like: Non-stop, slickly-produced but not memorable action, an overload of nostalgic references and fan-service moments, and an overall experience that is left intentionally hollow with the promise of sequels to fulfill any holes in the plot. The Force Awakens, unlike a similar space franchise picture Guardians of the Galaxy, feels like a product to me.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Krampus, Trumbo, Macbeth, Victor Frankenstein

Dir. Michael Dougherty
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When today's kids are "naughty" before Christmas, all they're afraid of is getting coal in their stocking instead of a Nintendo 3DS. But in some European countries, children are afraid that a horned demon will visit their home and punish them accordingly. Krampus is an old folkloric beast from Austria that is sort of Santa's evil twin, and surprisingly, it's taken this long for a movie to exploit this concept. Taking a cue from other holiday horror movies like Gremlins, Michael Dougherty (Trick r Treat) has crafted a tongue-in-cheek, Tales from the Crypt-like story set around a family under siege by Krampus and his evil minions, in the form of demonic toys. The movie is surprisingly well made; the creatures are legitimately terrifying (using mostly practical special effects, hallelujah), the sound design is creepy, and its comedy/horror tone is pretty spot on. However, when it came to the story of the family, and the cliched ending, Krampus was a bit disappointing. It's a fun, alternative Christmas movie if you're sick of seeing It's a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time, but it doesn't have the same staying power as Gremlins for sure.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Mockingjay Part 2, The Good Dinosaur, Creed, The 33 Reviews

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2
Dir. Francis Lawrence
Watch Trailer

You'd think, with Lionsgate having split the final Hunger Games book into two films, that this final chapter would be a non-stop action thrill ride. You'd think. Unfortunately, Mockingjay Part 2 features almost just as much sitting around and doing nothing as Part 1, only with far less interesting tension brewing under the surface. While the entire cast is great (it's refreshing to see the female characters given most of the spotlight over their male counterparts), the set and costume design are top notch, and director Francis Lawrence definitely knows how to stage a CGI-filled action scene to make it feel grounded and real, I just can't get past the laboriously slow pacing of the film and the somewhat confused, contradictory plot.

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