This year the In Memoriam section of the Oscars is going to be longer than the award ceremony.
I’m writing this shortly after hearing about Carrie Fisher dying. Yeah, I’m a Star Wars fanatic, so of course I dig Carrie Fisher. But to me, she was something more. When I found out that she was a script doctor and wrote screenplays, that was the first time I really considered screenwriting as a cool endeavor. She was sharp and funny.
So that’s why I’m here in Hollywood. I want to write. I want to be like Carrie Fisher and be known for both my writing and my personality. She was amazing, guys. Yeah, she was also bat shit crazy, but aren’t we all?
Here is a more in depth look at my favorite films of 2016. I’ll steer clear of spoilers.
Starting with a cheat…
Tied for #10: Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Both are super funny comedies, but the two couldn’t be more different. Wilderpeople is Taika Waititi’s follow up to What We Do In the Shadows (possibly the funniest movie of 2014). I think a lot of the New Zealand specific jokes go over our heads in America, but Wilderpeople is still a really touching and funny movie that’s essentially an odd couple road film…a very tried and true formula. Popstar is a modern day Spinal Tap from the Lonely Island guys. Their reign on SNL is a blind spot for me, so I really find their absurdly silly songs fresh and new. This is one that I saw in a screening very early on in the year (Judd Apatow was there) so I don’t know what’s different from the version I saw versus the final release. I’m guessing they trimmed down the final release, but the DVD/Blu-Ray features a lot of deleted material. Like Spinal Tap, the sheer number of jokes is mind blowing.
#9: Don’t Breathe. Again this is another one that I saw an advance screening. From what I understand, a few minutes of the Blind Man explaining his motivations were cut from the final release, but are on the DVD/Blu-Ray as well as a little bit of maybe a redemption moment for Jane Levy’s character. Jane Levy is becoming one hell of a scream queen. She’s great in this and writer/director Fede Alvarez’s previous Evil Dead reimagining. Don’t Breathe features a pretty realistic look at many of the vacant neighborhoods of Detroit too.
#8: 10 Cloverfield Lane. I missed a screening for this when it was still called Valencia. I think maybe the Cloverfield tie in hurt it at the box office. Did enough people see the original Cloverfield to warrant a kind of/not really sequel? The cast of this is phenomenal. I love stories that could work well as plays too. I’d love to see a stage adaptation of this. It’s really a master class in writing plot twists. I’m trying to piece together who is probably ultimately responsible for the great screenplay since there are three writers credited. Since the first two also have “story by” credits, I’m guessing Damian Chazelle, who will pop up again on this list later, is largely responsible.
#7: Sing Street. I’m probably the perfect age to really love this love story/80s musical. I’m the same age as writer/director John Carney. Like Carrie Fisher, Carney is very vocal about his opinions. Unlike Carrie Fisher, his opinions kind of made him sound like a dick. He took down Keira Knightley after making Begin Again with her. I loved Begin Again, as well as his debut Once. Sing Street, like those two films, is also the story about a boy who loves a girl and making art with that girl.
#6. Midnight Special. This is a phenomenal sci-fi allegory about parenthood. Jeff Nichols is just a master story teller. I’m really bummed that I wasn’t able to see his second movie this year, Loving. Midnight Special is wonderfully acted too. Michael Shannon and Adam Driver both play against type. Shannon is the protective dad and Driver, fresh off of The Force Awakens, is the socially awkward and clumsy NSA agent tracking Shannon and his son, played by Jaeden Leiberher, who held his own opposite Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy in the sweet St. Vincent.
#5. Other People. Nobody has been talking about this movie that has my favorite performance of the year. It opened on 12 screens in September, but is now available to stream on Netflix. This was written by Chris Kelly, who was one of the head writers at Saturday Night Live as well as almost every other funny sketch thing. I’m guessing this is a semi-autobiographic story because it’s about a struggling comedy writer, played by Jesse Plemons, who has to go back home to take care of his dying mom played by Molly Shannon. Molly Shannon is nothing short of amazing in this. The fact that she isn’t even being considered for an Oscar nomination is a real shame and says a lot about the politics of show business. She is by far my best performer of the year. Like films along the lines of Skeleton Twins, Other People is a perfect balance of super funny in one moment and then heart wrenching in the next.
#4. Arrival. I love a movie that makes me look at life differently after seeing it. Arrival did that. I ended up going for a walk before I went to my car just so I could process what I watched. I think time jumps are really difficult to write. Arrival does that in a way that, without spoiling anything, is simultaneously clear and ambiguous at the same time. I can’t think of another film that expertly doles out information as precisely as Arrival. I’m bummed that it was based on a short story, because this is a film that I wish I could visit a more thorough version of in prose.
#3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Yes, I’m biased. I’ve loved Star Wars my entire life. I’m not only a prequel apologist, but I’ll argue the merits of Jar Jar Binks. With that being said, Rogue One is the prequel we deserved. The last ten minutes of this film, the ten minutes where you know what’s going to happen, still end up being ten of the most edge-of-your-seat tense minutes of the year. I’ve been worried that Disney was going to do to Star Wars what they’ve done to Marvel and just drown us in content both good and so-so. I was cautiously optimistic about a Star Wars movie without the core characters, but Rogue One calmed any reservations I may have had.
#2. Green Room. This was, by far, the scariest movie I’ve seen in a very long time. Mostly because I’ve been in situations that could have easily broken as bad for me as it does for the band in this film. I worked in a punk/metal club that sometimes featured Nazi bands, which drew Nazi crowds. We locked ourselves inside when fights between Nazis and SHARPS (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) spilled outside and become near riots that attracted the Detroit Police. And in my later years, comedy has taken me to some really shitty dives in the middle of nowhere. Green Room, like Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film Blue Ruin is an uncomfortably grounded story about real people stuck in unreal situations.
#1. La La Land. I’m a sucker for a musical. I’m a sucker for a Hollywood story. I’m a sucker for a love story. I’m a sucker for a bittersweet story. I’m a sucker for a story about pursuing your dreams. I feels like Damian Chazelle made La La Land specifically for me. This, like Rogue One, ties a perfect bow on a really stellar piece of art in those final moments. The music is so good. I just saw this yesterday, otherwise I’d have already overdosed Allyson (my fiancé) with the soundtrack. I think I caught all of the “hidden” edits in Birdman. If there are hidden edits in the opening number of La La Land, then I didn’t find them…although, as soon as I finish writing this, I am going to dive deep into all the information I can find about how this was made. The cinematography was just amazing. Simply amazing. Linus Sandgren takes places I see every day and shoots them so beautifully.
So that’s the list. I haven’t seen Silence yet, but I really want to. I love stories about people whose faith is pushed to the limit. That’s why Calvary was my favorite film in 2014. I didn’t get to see Edge of Seventeen or the aforementioned Loving either. I think I’ll really like them both when I do catch up with them. One film I did see this year that will definitely make my 2017 list is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I saw a preview screening and if it came out this year, it would have easily been in my top three. I think it screened at Sundance or South by Southwest, so I guess technically I could have included it, but we’ll hold off until everyone gets to see it.
After the release of the Rogue One: A Star Wars trailer last week, I posted on Facebook five IMDB message board thread titles that I felt really showed the best/worst reaction.
The fanboys aren’t happy.
Later in the day, I had a talk with a gay Asian coworker about the reason behind the backlash. He didn’t get it. That’s when I realized what it might be. He’s had a lifetime of not seeing himself onscreen in genre films. Most fanboys haven’t.
Straight, white males are used to seeing themselves represented in nerd culture. From Ant-Man to Zartan, comic books and sci-fi are riddled with straight, white male characters. I grew up in a pretty white suburb. When we played Star Wars on the playground, everyone wanted to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker. No one was calling dibs on being Princess Leia or Lando Calrissian.
If a movie hero isn’t a white male, for the longest time, that movie was a mainstream flop. Granted, Steel and Blankman are arguably terrible movies. But Spawn were decent enough. And Hancock was actually good. The Crow was a cult hit and maybe that’s because Brandon Lee was only half Asian.
To the best of my memory, Val Kilmer in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the first time I even remember seeing a gay action hero on screen.
It’s been said that video games are the future of entertainment. They don’t have a much better track record, although I always liked to believe that Pitfall Harry was a nickname for Pitfall Harriet, and she was running across the jungle, not in an exercise of futility, but for Civil Rights.
Video games, for the most part, have straight, white male protagonists, unless it’s a game where you can create your own character. When those games offer a possibility where your male avatar can romance another man or your female avatar can romance another woman, it becomes a newsworthy and there’s backlash.
I’ve got news for the conservative parents who insist that Mass Effect made their son, playing a male Shepard, romance that hot male soldier. The game was impartial. Your son banged that dude because your son wanted to bang that dude. And believe me, he had to really work for it, just like I had to work to have my female Shepard bed down with Liara, the blue alien lady.
I like this new era of seeing diversity in our heroes. Any time I’ve played a video game where I could create my own character, I’d create a badass lady hero. And it’s not that I’m such an emotionally advanced and progressive dude. It’s just that if I’m going to stare at the back of someone running for 100 hours of game play, I want them to have a pretty butt. And that’s the same as my coworker who said that any time he can create his own character, he’d create a super hot guy.
The backlash with female heroes seems to be a pretty American thing. Luc Besson almost exclusively heads up his films with strong ladies. Mad Max: Fury Road is a technically an Australian film. And even more so, should have been titled Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road. American genre films, especially Star Wars seems to be the core of sexism and racism in nerd culture.
Was Mad Max any more groundbreaking than Star Wars: The Force Unleashed? Both movies are female lead requels of existing franchises with full realized worlds and cutting edge special effects. Star Wars was woefully snubbed at the Oscars. How many black people are in the entire Mad Max franchise? One. Tina Turner. Star Wars has Finn in a starring role and I really hope that it’s dropped casually and matter of factly that Poe is gay. Star Wars also has a much deeper plot then, let’s drive towards the left side of the screen for an hour, then turn around and drive to the right side.
The Force Awakens was dismissed by many as being a retread of A New Hope. I couldn’t disagree more. They’re similar only in that both stories are about people discovering their calling. Isn’t that kind of the case of all origin stories? A New Hope is basically just Luke’s story to blow up the Death Star. The Force Awakens is mostly about the quest to find Luke Skywalker. It isn’t just about Rey’s journey from survivor to hero. It’s about Finn going against his literal programming to be a hero. It’s about parents trying to fix their part in not being their for their son. It’s a much deeper film than Mad Max and A New Hope.
One of my biggest hopes was that if I ever had a daughter, I’d have a son first, so he could be the protective big brother. But in this age, especially in this Star Wars age, of having role models like Daisy Ridley, Felicity Jones and hopefully a better used Gwendoline Christie, I realize I don’t have to revert to ancient beliefs and hokey old fashioned thinking. If I ever have a daughter, she’ll get to live in a new era of Disney Princesses who don’t need rescuing. She’ll get to live in an era where Disney Princesses wield lightsabers and steal Death Star plans.
For free entertainment, I managed to get myself on the list to get free movie screening passes. Recently, this has gotten me into a couple of super advance screenings of movies that aren’t due out for months and months. Contractually, I’m not allowed to say anything about the movies, but there wasn’t anything in the confidentiality agreement about talking about the screening process. So let’s cover those in the broadest terms.
After the movies everyone in the audience gets questionnaires. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. Every opinion is the same. My opinion doesn’t matter any more or less than the guy in the American flag shirt with the cut off sleeves…and yeah, that guy really exists. My opinion doesn’t matter any more or less than woman who kept misplacing her child because she was doing something else. My opinion also doesn’t matter any more or less than that child, who also gets a questionnaire! Technically, my opinion matters less than all the aforementioned people because I’m too old.
This summer, I loved Harry Potter and I really enjoyed Thor, but Captain America is what I’ve been waiting for since I was 7. I am an unabashed Cap fanboy, and have been for as long as I can remember. This summer has been a countdown to Cap for me, and my wait finally ended this last night. Holy crap did I love this movie. Do not expect a blow-by-blow story breakdown or analysis of the finer points of technique. I am about to geek the fuck out.
This movie made me giddy, like I wish the Star Wars prequels had. Every frame on the screen was my childhood coming to life. The special effects were phenomenal, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear they starved Chris Evans and shrunk him to play skinny Steve Rogers. The shield slinging was so cool, which was important, because without it, this wouldn’t have been a true Captain America movie.
The character were all spot-on. Captain America has always been my favorite because he was just a regular kid who was given the ability to be a hero, and always knew the right thing to do and how to do it. They pulled that off perfectly. Chris Evans was awesome in the role, both as the determined, awkward weakling, and as the great hero. Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull was brilliant, too. He was evil, menacing, and not too over-the top. The Howling Commandos were great, though I wish they had mentioned them by name.
I didn’t mind any of the little changes they made to the original story, everything worked for me, and I think allowed them to tell a cleaner story, rather than having to explain a lot of unnecessary back stories.
There were some cool nods to the comics, too, like the way we first see Arnim Zola. The Stan Lee cameo was quick, but funny and didn’t take away from the story. The use of the comic style Captain America uniform was also a great nod, and made great sense in the context of the movie.
The only complaint I have is that the movie was over too quickly. As it was wrapping up, I suddenly realized it was about to be over, and very much wished it was longer. Also, don’t forget to stay after the credits. The post-credits sequence is awesome.
One final note, I have never been to a movie where I have seen more people wearing T-shirts featuring the character from the movie. There was even a little kid wearing a full Captain America costume, who had his picture taken with me because he liked my Cap costume hoodie so much.
I’m not a fanboy of the Harry Potter persuasion because I’m not a young adult that grew up with the books, a female fantasy fan nor a poser trying to lure a fangirl out of her Hogwart’s uniform. I am a certified fantasy nerd and will not reveal any spoilers for those that are too cool to read the novels, but Harry wins in the end as you should expect. Read a book.
I’ve read none of the books, but I have seen all the Potter movies to see what the fuss was about. Overall, they were decent but not moving. Owing to being a series for kids, I forgave them for not having balls – which for most of the characters hadn’t dropped yet. All the while, I’m waiting for Harry to come into his own and stop being a Harry Sue character – constantly protected from heroic sacrifice by magical creatures, competent adults and ugly red-headed sidekicks written as less important.
I watched Deathly Hallows part two directly after watching part one, I’m a vet of the Lord of the Rings Extended version – yes, my life is that empty.
Part one established a dark high stakes tone in the beginning with so many supporting characters deaths, then it winds down to a magical hide and seek scavenger hunt around the world with Hermione doing research. The cutaways to show the effects of the Death Eater take over where good, but too far in between. It has a slightly more dreadful feel than when the Republicans took the House.
Finally, there’s some magical intervention that gets things moving when they can finally start destroying horcruxes (horcruxi? whores’ crotches? Is that where Bellatrix was hiding them? That’s Lastrange.)
We learn what the Deathly Hollows are, but not why they aren’t the “Deadly Hallows”. These are English speakers, right? The story arch peaks with the death of the cutest character to date, more sadness then a tonal shift to “AW SHITTLEBERRIES! Now, it’s personal!”
Part 2 had the much more quicker pace that a finale should. Action, tension, action, tension – you know, like a movie. Voldemort is made gradually weaker with each destroyed horcrux with the backdrop being a magical war I’ve been much anticipating. Harry and Snapes’ relationship is fully revealed, which satisfyingly transforms our view of the headmaster. Our “hero” fated to save everyone is going to actually have to take one for the team, team being the world – about time.
Potter goes forth to die and is merely knocked out by a loophole in wand etiquette. This bothered me. Voldemort’s entire goal is to kill Harry, yet he doesn’t check the apparent body himself? He could feel whenever a horcrux was destroyed, but not this most important one in the series? That’s as dumb as a Jedi Chosen One taking a Sith Lord at his word.
Dumbledore’s ghost tells Potter he can stay in Heaven’s subway or go back and make sure all those deaths for his sake were’nt in vain. What kind of asshole would stay, especially when there’s a Weasley wet for him?
Harry survives. Neville Longbottom comes through amazingly, then Potter shows Voldemort how to kill an enemy. Flash forward: Harry knocks up Ginny and Ron does the same to Hermione, kids go to Hogwarts, the Circle of Life plays in your heart and the end.
So, again, somebody else makes it possible for Harry to succeed. Neville fills his shoes to destroy the last horcrux with Hermione and Ron serving their usual role as bait. As soon as Voldemort is mortal, it’s a done deal? Wasn’t he a badass before all this? There’s a likely stated reason for this that I missed in previous exposition, the point is I didn’t find Harry’s victory all the heroic, but I guess its par for the course.
These are a good pair of movies, and I’m sure emotional investment in the series will make it awesome, but for me it was worth the price of admission: $5 bootleg.
Woo! I was going to post the Team America theme song, but decide maybe we should be the only web site that doesn’t do that today. Instead, enjoy the trailer for Captain America, which is going to kick ass all over the place in a couple of weeks.
God damn, i can’t wait for that movie.
My five-year-old son Alex came home a few days ago insisting that he had learned from his friends that E.T. “Has the Force.” My wife chalked it up to him being cute and a believer in all things Star Wars, but he insisted it was true. Of course, she decided she’d show him by ordering E.T. from Netflix.
My wife and I had not seen E.T. since it was originally released 19 years ago, so the details were fuzzy, but she was sure he was no Jedi. Well, we watched the movie, and Alex is more convinced than ever that E.T. “Has the Force,” but now I agree with him.
In the movie, E.T. displays telekinetic powers, not unlike a Jedi might manipulate his surroundings with the Force.
Additionally, E.T. passes a kid dressed up as Yoda for Halloween, and tries to follow him, saying “Home, home.” It appears he recognizes Yoda, or at least his species.
Then of course, a delegation of E.T’s species is visible in Star Wars episode I.
This may not be a new idea, but I am now convinced that E.T. does exist in the same universe as Star Wars, and that while E.T. may not be Jedi, he, and maybe his entire species, is at least Force-sensitive.
Alex and his friends were right.
Summer 2011 is shaping up to be a pretty awesome time for movies, especially if you love all things nerdy. Who ever thought we’d see Thor, X-Men First Class, Green Lantern, Harry Potter and Captain America movies all in one summer? It’s a great time to be a geek. Sadly, though, into every summer falls a few garbage family movies. As I’ve stated before, I’m the father of two young boys, and am bombarded with advertisements for things people are trying to sell them. Lately, it’s been movie ads.
These are worst I’ve seen this year:
Mr Popper’s Penguins
What a piece of crap this looks like. I can hear the Hollywood brain trust coming up with this one:
“They’re penguins, What should we call them?”
“Well, what do they do?”
“One is kind of loud.”
“One bites Jim Carrey a lot.”
And so on… My 5-year old could have come up with more imaginative names. Yeahbsolutely.
The Zoo Keeper, or Night at the Museum at the Zoo:
“Hey, kids like the King of Queens guy, right? …and funny animals? …and T.G.I. Fridays?”
The girl won’t marry him because he’s a zookeeper? Really? Don’t you have to have a degree to do that?
I’m going to make a bold prediction about this one. He realizes the blonde girl is a bitch and ends up with Rosario Dawson. Credits.
I will not be taking my family to either of these CGI animal turds. Luckily, they haven’t shown interest in either, I guess I’m raising them right.
Summer movie season is fast approaching, and with it comes the inevitable movie tie-in toy lines. With typically lackluster offerings over the years (refer to the Playmates 3-¾” Star Trek line from a couple of years ago), the major toy companies have successfully lowered my expectations of what we will see for movie tie-in merchandise, particularly in the action figure department. This year’s Green Lantern movie toys from Mattel stick to the long-standing “Throw anything on the shelves, kids will buy it!” tradition.
We had all had seen pictures of the line from Toy Fair earlier this year, and I was under whelmed to say the least. The toys looked kind of cheap, and the likenesses didn’t look right. Today, however, I got to see the 3-¾” toys in person at a Toys ‘R’ Us store.
Holy crap, what steaming piles of dog turds these are. As fake-y as the CGI characters look in the trailers and TV ads we’ve seen so far, they look even goofier in plastic form. Kilowog looks like a cartoon dog. Hal Jordan looks like a stiff-armed Jerry Seinfeld. Also, the line boasts a whopping 6 points of articulation – shoulders, hips, head and waist, at least on the figures I saw (Sinestro, Hal and Kilowog). It does appear that some of the figures have ball joints at the shoulders, which provide some range of motion, but most of the Hal Jordan figures are simple up-down swivels. So, the only action poses you can do with them are waving, pointing, and goose-stepping. At $8.99 MSRP per figure, are we really supposed to get excited about toys like that?
As toy collectors, we have come to expect better, even in a 3-¾” line. In a hobby where Hasbro is putting out super-articulated G.I. Joes, Jedis and Marvel Superheroes, we demand better. Mattel has really dropped the ball on this line, in my opinion. They can say it’s aimed at kids and not collectors all they want, but it’s no excuse for poor quality. Hasbro has been making beautiful figures at that scale for years, Mattel just can’t seem to get it right. They should have learned from their ill-fated DC Infinite Heroes line a couple of years ago. You need to please the kids and the collectors with a line like this to be successful, and you do that by offering a combination of cool sculpts, reasonably good articulation, and a high level of playability. You don’t achieve that by giving us cheap-looking, stiff-armed junk.
To be fair, the 6” line doesn’t look terrible, but those figures are fifteen dollars each. I’m already stretched thin trying to collect toys I really want, like the great 6” DC Universe and comic-book themed Green Lantern lines Mattel is putting out, which does prove Mattel can make great toys when they try. Too bad they didn’t put in any of that effort here.
In short, I will not be buying these, not for me or my kids, not even when they inevitably end up in the clearance aisle at Wal-mart. Am I completely off-base? Does anybody want any of these? What movie toy are you looking forward to Thor? Captain America? Let me know.
Dennis Burdziak is a toy enthusiast, comic book reader, and friend to people more talented than himself. Follow him on twitter @dburdziak.
OK, I know I’m a few weeks late on this one, but give me a break. I’m new to this site and blogging in general.
The trailer for the final installment in the Harry Potter Octology (is that a word?) was released, and has Potter-heads everywhere all atwitter, myself included. I’m a late comer to the Harry Potter world, having waited until my wife made me watch the first 6 movies before I ever cracked one of the books, but I am a full-on Potter nerd now. The trailer is beautiful, and gives us glimpses of some of the coolest parts of the book brought to life. I’ll try to stay spoiler-free, but I make no promises, especially if you haven’t seen the previous movies.
In this final chapter, it’s a race for Harry and friends to complete their mission begun in part one, the destruction of Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes, the items that he has imbued with a piece of his soul in an effort to live forever, and to then vanquish him once and for all. Right away, the familiar theme music brings us back into the magical world. The Voldemort voice-over sets the tone, reminding us this is no longer a kids’ movie series, these characters are grown up now and are dealing with some dark, life-or-death situations. The trailer then gives us glimpses of the roller-coaster ride into the Gringott’s vault, a dragon, Death-eaters galore, wizards flinging spells all over, and a whole bunch of stuff on fire. Only one thing bugs me, I don’t remember the scene with Harry and Voldemort falling off a bridge in the book, so that may be a movie add-on, please correct me if I’m wrong. Everything leads up to the battle of Hogwarts, which we see bits of, not enough to spoil anything, but enough to give those of us who already know what happens glimpses of all the things we are hoping to see.
This movie should shut up anyone who called the last one slow or boring. Everything that I can remember that is left of the story is non-stop excitement and action, which is what the trailer seems to show. There will be battles, there will be death, and there will be fire and explosions. Characters will meet their fates and fulfill their destinies. In the end only one can survive – the Chosen One or the Dark Lord.
Yes, many of us have read the books, but seeing it alive on screen is something completely different. Between this and Captain America, July can’t come soon enough for this nerd. I’m excited, are you?
Dennis Burdziak is a married father of two, a total nerd, and wannabe member of Dumbledore’s Army. Follow him on twitter @dburdziak