Friday, January 23, 2015

Further Thoughts on American Sniper – Movies Spotlight – January 2015

Like many others, I saw America Sniper over the weekend. I gave it a 7/10 in my Quick Review, which you can read here. Overall, as a film, I found it to be very well made and acted, which is to be expected from a quality director such as Clint Eastwood and leading man such as Bradley Cooper (who has now been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar three years in a row). But, there seems to be quite a bit of frustration surrounding the film stemming from its portrayal of the Iraqi War – is it merely a propaganda film, championing a war that generally seemed to be fairly unpopular amongst most Americans today and to what purpose? Is it trying to change our minds about the war? That indeed, America was right to invade Iraq? Or, is it the heroic story of a man who fought to keep America safe without overt political motifs – i.e., this is based on a real person who served in Iraq, but really it could be a fictional account of fictional heroics, characters and situation taking place during any war? The film feels like a bit of both.

I will start my discussion by saying that I have not read Chris Kyle’s book on which the film is based. I am looking at the film as a sole and separate entity.

Narratively, the film is structured with two distinct tonal sections: one in which Kyle is stateside and one with him fighting overseas. Kyle’s character transformation is striking. He seems like a happy and gentle person, but also very protective. As his time at war mounts, he becomes dejected and disengaged at home, afraid that he is not doing enough to help the war effort and probably also affected by the horror he has seen and inflicted. The film works very well as a character piece, tracking Kyle’s psyche as he shuts down his home personality to make himself a better warrior, only to have to rebuild himself as a husband and father once he gets home for good – speaking to real issues facing many veterans returning home.

Yet, merely allowing the film to play as a character drama does not seem like it is enough for Eastwood. And so, the film has a completely un-needed and frankly idiotic (and apparently untrue) B-plot revolving around a rival Syrian sniper who Kyle must kill before he is ready to finally come home. Each man is gunning for the other, in a way reducing the whole struggle to a battle between the two men – Kyle even risks the lives of his unit to gain a kill shot on his rival – which somewhat subverts the real tragedy of war for both those who die and those who come back and face the enormous struggle of rejoining normal life (something many are never able to fully do). All this nonsense resembles the WWII action film Enemy at the Gates (which, surprisingly or unsurprisingly depending on what you thought of that film and this film, actually does a better job of playing out a rivalry between two snipers in the midst of a greater struggle – and it is actually based on a true story, unlike this made up Syrian marksman). Seemingly, this rivalry was added to heighten the stakes, create tension, produce more action, and give the film more of a straight forward plot, something that character dramas do not generally have, as they are about the character(s) and not their exploits. But again, this B-plot seems to run contrary to what is seemingly the narrative point of the film: the true cost of war on a human level.

This film champions Kyle’s exploits, killing over 160 men in combat, as if killing men were something to champion at all (it is not). His brothers in arms call him ‘Legend’ as a testament to his skill and prolific body count. The Syrian sniper and another target of Kyle’s ‘the Butcher’ also allow Eastwood to create clear villains – although, if we are critically looking at Kyle and the Syria sniper, they are really no different, except Kyle is an American which presumably automatically makes him a hero and the Syrian by contrast then must be a villain. Iraqi soldiers are commonly referred to as ‘savages’ throughout the film, which very well may be accurate to the lingo used by Americans in combat, but it still has a sting to it – reminding us that there is still a disconnect between how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive others in the world simply because they appear different (although, it is likely that they want all the same basic things as us). Eastwood have a vicious Syrian sniper, ‘the Butcher’ and ‘savages’ as the film’s villains paints a clear picture of who is right and who is wrong, who is heroic and who is evil. Everything is black and white. But in reality, war is grey.

This is where the question of whether or not American Sniper is a propaganda piece starts to be raised, as it seems to present a fairly one-sided look at the war in Iraq. As a character piece, this film would feel very much like an anti-war film, as war clearly takes a great emotional toll on those subjected to it (see some data here). The film applauding the efforts of Kyle and his fellow soldiers while condemning the opposing forces as treacherous villains treats the Iraq War as a fight America needed to start to root out all this evil. The film even narratively alludes to a connection between the attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the war in Iraq, something we all now know to be completely unconnected. In the film, however, Kyle arises the morning of September 11th to the vicious attacks on TV and then he is deployed to Iraq. This feels like propaganda in support for the War in Iraq. But why? Maybe I am out of touch, but it felt like we had generally decided that the war was a mistake and that we probably messed things up even more for the region and made thing all the more dangerous than they were before – which is why leaving Iraq completely has been so difficult. So why make a film after the fact to re-garner support for the war?

Let us first take a quick break to look at the word propaganda. It has a negative connotation, because it is mostly used by us to discuss the way our enemies recruit others to join them or believe in their way of thinking. We often think of it as a nefarious and deliberate tool used in the spreading of information to corrupt and harm. Thus, calling American Sniper a propaganda film (to promote a positive impression of the war in Iraq, specifically) is meant to be an insult. Yet, many of Hollywood’s great films are propaganda films (in full or in part). During WWII, Hollywood churned out films in support of the war effort – great films like: Mrs. Miniver, Foreign Correspondent, Casablanca, and even The Great Dictator. Today we still make them. Though it may not be quite as overt as American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty seems to try to justify many of the CIA tactics in obtaining information from captured persons. It is a brilliant film, nonetheless. I do not think that it is mutually exclusive for a film to be good and propaganda – for the propaganda to be completely effective, the film should be good, really good in fact.

But what feels frustrating, leading to American Sniper being simply dismissed as propaganda (which is unfair to the very good and effective propaganda films that are still beloved piece of art, culture and politics today) and not a narrative piece, is that it seems to be going out of its way to promote a war that resulted in the death of thousands and the destabilization of the region, causing lasting and profoundly dangerous ramifications. A war that we also now know was started due to bad information (which means that at best everyone just messed up really, really bad and at worse the information was doctored with the intent of starting the war – the combination of which is parodied brilliantly by Armando Iannucci in his film In the Loop).

So, what is the point of rallying support for a war we know to be regrettable? American Sniper touches on something far scarier that is building within America, and has been for a while now. This ignorant belief that America is infallible and always right, always the good guy – and not only that but also that America has the right to do whatever it wants globally (to put it in an overly simplistic way). It is not to say that this is what the U.S. government actually believes or what their foreign policy is; rather, this is seems to be a perception that has become a growing trend among many Americans. And, hand-in-hand with this belief that America is always right and good is that America’s enemies therefore must always be wrong and evil – again, making things black and white, which is far too simple. We could take the point even farther and say that it seems like this same trend is directly connected to the decreasing quality of education at the elementary and high school levels in America (some data here). Lack of education leads to ignorance and fear about foreign ideas and cultures, which also allows things to seem much more black and white, because ignorance and fears allows us to forgo taking into consideration the other’s perspective and position. Imagine what Iraq must feel like to an average Iraqi citizen before and after the U.S. bombed, invaded, occupied, and subsequently left their country in shambles.

It is not so much that America Sniper the film is a vile piece of propaganda aimed at rallying the ignorant, perpetuating their ill-informed opinions on the war, Iraq and its people. There is no evidence that Eastwood made the film with this intention, and I doubt that he did. Yet, the Box Office numbers support the fact that it fits nicely into the rhetoric of this growing trend of ignorance and fear. That is what makes it frustrating (it is also not a mark in the positive column that running to support the film is Fox News, a news organization known for putting its agenda above all other considerations like telling the truth, and the likes of Sarah Palin – both of which makes liking American Sniper feel a bit slimy even though Eastwood is a great filmmaker; and yes, cheap shot on Fox News and Palin, but they can take it).

In conclusion, I still think American Sniper is a good film, well made and emotionally powerful. It is not a great film, as it does have narrative flaws (like the pointlessness of the rival sniper), and it is probably not a deserving Best Picture Oscar nominee. The greater issue surrounding the film, however, is that it has become a battleground, to some extent, for America’s soul between those that would like to see tomorrow be better than today, not just for America but the whole world regardless of a person’s gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or economic/political background, and those who propagate and seek out ignorance, hatefulness and this incorrect notion that America is better than the rest of the world, and thereby Americans are better and more deserving than all other peoples. It feels like we are losing and ignorance is winning; and sadly, American Sniper feels like a reminder of that, which is why some have lashed out at it (fairly or unfairly).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Movie of the Week – The Incredibles

This week’s movie: The Incredibles (2004)

Superheroes were a big part of our world, but after some bad publicity they were asked to take off their masks and return to normal society. Now, many years later, former superheroes Bob and Helen Parr lead normal boring lives, raising a family – Bob works for an insurance company and Helen is a homemaker. But while family seems to be enough for Helen, Bob still has a yearning for more. This makes him an easy target to be lured into a budding scheme by a super villain to gain fame and notoriety, putting the world in grave danger in the process.

The film is written and directing by Brad Bird, who has made many of the best animated features in recent years, including: The Iron Giant and Ratatouille. He has now moved on to live-action features with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and the upcoming Tomorrowland. He worked with great composer Michael Giacchino on the film.

The film features voice work from Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Wallace Shawn, and Elizabeth Pena (Bird voiced Edna, a nod to famous costume designer Edith Head).

The Incredibles won the 2005 Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It is maybe Pixar’s best film to date (though, WALL-E and Up are great as well), featuring the right balance of action, drama and comedy. The characters are also very well written, something that is not too common in films made primarily for children in today’s cinema. While it is probably considered a superhero film, it feels much more like a spy thriller in the vein of classic James Bond films. It is a must-see for Pixar fans.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Most Anticipated Films of 2015 – Part 2: Prestige and Funs Films

2015 is shaping up to be an impressive year for original films as well with new work from auteurs David O. Russell, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Guillermo del Toro, and Joe Wright as well as talented up-and-comer Cary Joji Fukunaga. Plus, comedy-giant Judd Apatow has a new film. There is a lot of great stuff to see:

Prestige Films:

Title: Joy
Release: December 25th
Genre: Drama
Plot: Joy Mangano is a struggling single mom living in Long Island. She decides she wants more, becoming one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Director: David O. Russell
Editor’s Thoughts: Director David O. Russell has been on a creative roll lately. His last three films were all great (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle). He seems to have found an excellent collaborator in Jennifer Lawrence, casting her in his third straight film. O. Russell is also working with Bridesmaids co-writer Annie Mumolo on the script for Joy (sprinkling in some funny stuff and great dialog for Lawrence). With other frequent collaborators Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper also coming on-board, it seems as though O. Russell will have yet another outstanding film on his hands.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Title: The Revenant
Release: December 25th
Genre: Drama
Plot: Hugh Glass is a frontiersman living in the 1820s. After he is left for dead following a bear mauling, he sets off on the path of revenge against the men who left him to die.
Editor’s Thoughts: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in a way reintroduced himself to many filmgoers as one of the brilliant auteur filmmakers working today with 2014’s Birdman (after some less than impressive work following his breakthrough Amores Perros) – Birdman is his best film and most high profile to date. His new film The Revenant boasts an excellent cast and a plot that sounds thrilling. This very well may be 2015’s Best Picture Oscar frontrunner. Personally, I cannot wait to see it.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Release: Fall
Genre: War Drama
Plot: Agu is a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country, these are his experiences.
Main Cast: Idris Elba
Editor’s Thoughts: Cary Joji Fukunaga is a brilliant director. He has made two very good films with Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre, but most will know him as the director of season one of True Detective. Beasts of No Nation sounds like it will be a powerful and moving drama. Plus, Idris Elba is fantastic (you should watch Luther).
Trailer: Here (if available)

Title: Macbeth
Release: Fall/Winter
Genre: Drama
Plot: Macbeth is a great general in Scotland’s army. He is told a prophecy, one of great power if only he were King. Driven by greed and lust for power, he murders the King of Scotland, assuming the throne; however, his guilt may just be his undoing.
Director: Justin Kurzel
Editor’s Thoughts: The Scottish Play is one of William Shakespeare’s darkest and most revered (especially among those in the theatre – the name Macbeth is never mentioned inside a theatre due to superstition surrounding the play). Australian director Justin Kurzel is a relative newcomer whose first feature is the unflinching The Snowtown Murders. His adaptation of Macbeth is certain to play on its darkest and most horrific themes. Kurzel has maybe 2015’s best cast with Michael Fassbender as Macbeth and Marion Cotillard as his wife. Additionally, Sean Harris playing Macduff is sure to be brilliant. If the film turns out to be as good as many think it will be, expect to see it as a prime contender in the Awards Season acting categories.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Title: Silence
Release: Winter
Genre: Drama
Plot: In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests come to Japan to find their mentor and spread the gospel of Christianity; however, upon arriving they are greeted with violence and persecution.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Editor’s Thoughts: Martin Scorsese is on a roll right now. His last two films Hugo and The Wolf of Wall Street garnered Best Picture Oscar nominations (so have five of his last six). Silence seems primed to follow suit. It has a very good cast and has an Oscar friendly plot (being a historic drama). If The Revenant is 2015’s frontrunner for Best Picture, Silence (and probably Jobs as well) is its stiffest competition (at least of the films we know about right now).
Trailer: Here (if available)

Fun Films:

Title: Pan
Release: July 24th
Genre: Adventure
Plot: The story of how the characters of Captain Hook and Peter Pan came to be enemies in the magical realm of Neverland.
Director: Joe Wright
Editor’s Thoughts: Pan is a prequel of sorts, as it tells the story of Captain Hook and Peter Pan before they became the character we know and love. It is an original story using J.M. Barrie’s characters. On one hand, this project sounds unnecessary. Do we really need yet another Peter Pan movie, let alone a reimagining of the story? And, this film comes on the heels of NBC’s Peter Pan Live! (which is so very terrible) possibly having any and all goodwill the characters had left long squandered. But on the other hand, Joe Wright is an excellent filmmaker and he has a great cast and crew. In all likeliness, he will take the story and make something that could be great (his films Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Hanna, and Anna Karenina are all wonderfully kinetic and filled with strong performances). At worst, Pan will be a forgettable summer film like so many others, but at best it could be something special (especially with the great people involved).
Trailer: Here

Title: Trainwreck
Release: July 24th
Genre: Comedy
Plot: A romantic comedy of some sort presumably.
Director: Judd Apatow
Editor’s Thoughts: Trainwreck has potential to be 2015’s best comedy. It certainly has the talent. The film is written by Amy Schumer (who also stars). She is one of the top comedians working right now. Her show Inside Amy Schumer is hilarious. Trainwreck marks her attempt to breakthrough as a film star. She has found the perfect collaborator in producer-director Judd Apatow (who will likely assist on the script as well), as he has shepherded many other great comedic talents (Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, and Lena Dunham among many others). Trainwreck also features a fantastic supporting cast. Schumer is ready to be a star.
Trailer: Here

Title: Crimson Peak
Release: October 16th
Genre: Horror
Plot: Edith Cushing is a young author who is recently married, but she starts to believe that her charming husband may not be what he appears to be.
Editor’s Thoughts: Two summers ago, Guillermo del Toro gave us the really fun sci-fi blockbuster Pacific Rim, which is simply about big robots fighting big monsters. With Crimson Peak, he hopes to give us an equally entertaining horror film (one that is also good and genuinely scary, something that the genre gravely lacks; the only good horror films I have seen recently are The Conjuring, You’re Next, The Cabin in the Woods, The Innkeepers, Attack the Block, and Let Me In; but, even though they are good films, most are not very scary). Del Toro has passion for the genre and the talent to make something great (check out his past horror films Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone for a taste of what he brings to the genre – or his best film Pan’s Labyrinth). He also has a great cast.
Trailer: Here

Title: The Martian
Release: November 25th
Genre: Sci-Fi Drama/Thriller
Plot: On a mission to Mars, an astronaut is stranded and struggles to survive.
Director: Ridley Scott
Editor’s Thoughts: Ridley Scott makes great epic films, especially in the sci-fi genre (films like Alien, Blade Runner and Prometheus – the plot of Prometheus is pretty ridiculous, but there is no denying that the visuals and style are brilliant). Scott is teaming with screenwriter Drew Goddard on the film. Goddard has a background that should make most fans very happy (having worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, Cloverfield, Lost, The Cabin in the Woods, and World War Z). Scott has a wonderful cast as well. This has a lot of potential to be a critical and box office success. As a big fan of Scott’s work, generally, I am really looking forward to his return to the sci-fi genre.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Release: Summer/Fall
Genre: Western
Plot: Eight bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard in post-Civil War Wyoming, ending up being involved in a plot of betrayal and deception.
Editor’s Thoughts: Quentin Tarantino recently said that he plans to make ten films and then retire. The Hateful Eight is possibly his seventh, eighth or ninth (depending on what you count). It is also potentially the final chapter of his revenge fantasy trilogy (Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained being the first two in the series). Tarantino loves westerns. He made his ode to Spaghetti Westerns with Django Unchained. The Hateful Eight might be his ode to the grittier, darker westerns made by American auteurs (like Red River, Unforgiven, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Searchers, and The Wild Bunch). Tarantino is using a group of his frequent collaborators for his cast, mostly made up with older, grittier actors. I love westerns too. It is a genre that is almost completely forgotten in modern cinema. I cannot wait to see this. Plus, Tarantino is going to shoot this on film, another aspect of cinema (or classic cinema) that is being left behind.

Trailer: Here (if available)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Most Anticipated Films of 2015 – Part 1: Blockbusters

Blockbuster movie making has become the business of sequels, which on one hand is a little sad (because where is all the great original stuff we use to have?) but on the other hand we still get awesome stuff we all cannot wait to see – like a new Avengers film, a new James Bond adventure and a new Star Wars outing. These are the big films to see in 2015:


Release: May 1st
Genre: Action/Adventure
Plot: In the wake of the events of Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Tony Stark tries to restart a dormant peacekeeping program, using his AI technology. He creates Ultron, a highly intelligent robotic defender whose purpose is to hopefully replace the Avengers and protect the Earth from future alien attack or whatever threat the Earth may face next; however, Stark’s ego blinds him from the fact that he has given Ultron too much control and intelligence. Ultron, like many other AI systems in past films, realizes that mankind’s primary threat is from themselves; and thus, it devises a grand and terrible plan to destroy humanity. It is up to the Avengers to stop it.
Director: Joss Whedon
Editor’s Thoughts: Joss Whedon did a fantastic job with The Avengers, creating one of the most fun and best superhero films to date. Avengers: Age of Ultron is probably 2015’s most anticipated film and likely to be the year’s Box Office champion. It will be interesting to see how Whedon gives all the characters their moments while introducing new characters (as it stands right now, there are fourteen returning MCU characters and six new ones – this film is jam packed). The trailer certainly sets a darker tone. So far, Phase II has kept things relatively light, much like Phase I, never going too dark, preferring humor and fun action. Could Age of Ultron usher in a much darker Phase III?
Trailer: Here

Title: Tomorrowland
Release: May 22nd
Genre: Action/Adventure Sci-Fi
Plot: Casey Newton and former boy-genius inventor Frank Walker find themselves transported to Tomorrowland, a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their shared memory. Casey’s scientific curiosity leads her on a mission to find the secrets behind Tomorrowland, dragging Frank with her. He has been disillusioned by life, but seeing this wondrous place might reignite the spark within him.
Director: Brad Bird
Editor’s Thoughts: Tomorrowland is Disney’s latest endeavor to take something from their theme parks and turn it into a film franchise (it worked with Pirates of the Caribbean, but not so much with The Haunted Mansion). The creative team behind the film is very well suited. Brad Bird is producing, directing and co-writing. He has a very strong background in animation (highlighted by The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille) as well as action films (his first live-action feature was Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which was quite entertaining; this is his second). Damon Lindelof is producing and co-writing as well. He is one of the more prolific sci-fi writers working right now in film and television (he is best known for his work on Lost, Prometheus, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, and the new brilliant HBO drama The Leftovers). The film looks to be a very fun and entertaining sci-fi adventure.
Trailer: Here

Release: June 12th
Genre: Action/Adventure
Plot: Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, a new functioning theme park is thriving on the Island of Isla Nublar. It is known as Jurassic World. But with attendance dwindling, the owners of the park want bigger and badder attractions, turning to genetic engineering to create new, scarier dinosaurs – which of course backfires, leading to dinosaurs once again rampaging across the island putting human lives in danger.
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Editor’s Thoughts: Writer-director Colin Trevorrow made a great small indie film with Safety Not Guaranteed. Now, we will see if he can make Hollywood blockbusters too. Jurassic World looks and feels a lot like the original Jurassic Park, seemingly relying a lot on nostalgia for that film. Hopefully, however, the film will try to be its own thing too and not just a complete rehash. The cast is great and the teaser promises grand action and visual moments.
Trailer: Here

Title: Inside Out
Release: June 19th
Genre: Family Comedy Animation
Plot: Riley is a young girl who has recently been uprooted from her Midwestern life, as her father has taken a new job in San Francisco. But, this is a story about Riley’s emotions (Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness). They live in Headquarters, the control center within Riley’s mind. They guide Riley through her daily life. The move to San Francisco has sent Headquarters into a state of turmoil. Joy tries to maintain control, as Riley’s most important emotion, keeping things positive, but forces try to work against her.
Director: Pete Docter
Editor’s Thoughts: Inside Out is a new original idea from Pixar, which is really good to see as the studio has started to produce an alarming amount of sequels recently (three of their last four films have been sequels – additionally, two of their next four are also sequels) when they have been known for their wonderful original films. Inside Out has a great creative team with director Pete Docter and writer Michael Arndt (Docter also directed Monsters, Inc. and Up, while Arndt wrote Toy Story 3), leading me to believe that Inside Out should see Pixar return to it standard of high quality films.
Trailer: Here

Release: July 1st
Genre: Action/Adventure Sci-Fi
Plot: In the year 2029, John Connor is engaged in the seemingly never-ending war against the machines; however, the humans might have the advantage. This leads SkyNet to try a new plan to kill Connor in the past, once again targeting his mother Sarah. Connor sends his friend (and father) Kyle Reese back in time to help protect his mother.
Director: Alan Taylor
Editor’s Thoughts: It does feel unnecessary for there to be yet another Terminator film (coming on the heels of two less than stellar outings); but, Terminator: Genesys does boast a great cast and a new approach to the material. Director Alan Taylor is also a strong choice, as he brings a fantastic grasp of epic visuals (see his work on Game of Thrones or Thor: The Dark World) and a gritty realism, both of which should benefit the series. The film seems to be some sort of sequel/reboot, as it does tell a similar story to the first Terminator, but in a new way. Hopefully, Taylor and his fine new cast will return the series to its better days (those under director James Cameron) with a film that features great action, characters and sci-fi themes.
Trailer: Here

Title: Ant-Man
Release: July 17th
Genre: Action/Adventure
Plot: Scott Lang is a con-man who is taken under the wing of scientist Dr. Hank Pym. Lang is asked to become a hero when he and Pym must plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. Pym gives Lang a super-suit that gives him the ability to shrink and increase in strength.
Director: Peyton Reed
Editor’s Thoughts: Ant-Man is the final film in Marvel’s MCU Phase II. Initially, writer-director Edgar Wright was in place to make the film, but he fell out with Marvel over the creative direction of the film, leading Marvel to pursue other options, including hiring Peyton Reed to direct and Adam McKay to work on the screenplay. It is a shame because Wright makes great films (while Reed makes mediocre films, generally). That said, Marvel has a history of creative differences with their directors (Alan Taylor, director of Thor: The Dark World, for one), because they have a very clear idea of what they want and where they are going with their films. What has made Phase II so great, though, is that Marvel brought in fantastic people to helm their films (Joss Whedon, Shane Black, the Russo Brothers, and James Gunn to name a few). It would be sad to see Marvel go backwards creatively (as Phase II has been so much better than Phase I). Ant-Man, however, still has a great cast, led by Paul Rudd, and looks really fun.
Trailer: Here

Title: Spectre
Release: November 6th
Genre: Action Spy Mystery/Thriller
Plot: A mysterious message from James Bond’s past sends him back on the trail of the organization he uncovered in Quantum of Solace. Meanwhile, M battles in the political arena to keep MI6 alive after their recent security breaches. As Bond digs deeper into the organization (known as Spectre), he uncovers a terrible truth.
Director: Sam Mendes
Editor’s Thoughts: Sam Mendes has many of his Skyfall filmmaking collaborators as well as the main cast returning for Spectre; plus, the new additions are all fantastic (I am particularly excited about Christoph Waltz being the main villain, the addition of Andrew Scott, who is just wonderfully villainous in Sherlock, and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema – though he is replacing the equally brilliant Roger Deakins). There is speculation that Waltz is playing Ernst Blofeld despite being credited with the character name Oberhauser (we shall see). The James Bond films have been very good since Daniel Craig took over (even Quantum of Solace works well when taken as part two of Casino Royale). Spectre certainly has all the piece to continue that trend.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Release: November 20th
Genre: Action/Adventure Sci-Fi
Plot: Following the events of Mockingjay – Part 1, Katniss Everdeen and District 13 rebel in full against the Capitol.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Editor’s Thoughts: Splitting The Hunger Games: Mockingjay into two films makes financial sense for Lionsgate (especially after the Box Office success of similarly splitting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Twilight: Breaking Dawn into two films), but as a consequence Part 1 has little bite. Part 2 looks to be a much more entertaining and satisfying film (at least from an action standpoint) as it is the culmination of the series and the character journeys. It is also likely to be the second biggest moneymaker of the year behind Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Hunger Games made Jennifer Lawrence a star, but I bet she is probably ready to move on to other things (more David O. Russell films?). Mockingjay – Part 2 is all set to be the best film in the series and the most impactful, finally giving Katniss something of real substance to do (not letting her off the hook emotionally, dramatically and narratively like the other films do), or at least we can hope so.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Release: December 18th
Genre: Action/Adventure Sci-Fi
Plot: The continuation of the Star Wars saga, following the events of The Return of the Jedi (presumably taking place quite a few years later).
Director: J.J. Abrams
Editor’s Thoughts: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is yet another hugely anticipated franchise film. Expectations are also very high, especially after the very lackluster prequel trilogy (which is practically unwatchable). George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney a few years ago. Disney has put together a great creative team for the new Star Wars trilogy, including writer-director-producer J.J. Abrams (he is only directing the first film, but producing the whole trilogy), writer Lawrence Kasdan (who was a big part of the original trilogy) and writer-director Rian Johnson (who is directing Episodes VIII and IX). John Williams is also returning to score the films (which is awesome). Disney is hoping Abrams can reinvigorate Star Wars the same way he revitalized Star Trek with his reboot. So far, Abrams has put together a phenomenal cast of new actors joining many of the returning stars of the original trilogy (like Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher among others). Story details are being kept under wraps, but everything seems to be moving in the right direction.
Trailer: Here

Release: December 25th - Now July 31
Genre: Action Thriller
Plot: The plot is unknown at present, but it probably involves action, grand stunts and face changing.
Editor’s Thoughts: I am a huge fan of J.J. Abrams’s Mission: Impossible III. It is one of the best action films of the last decade (and it completely made up for the utter disaster that is Mission: Impossible II – a truly awful film). Brad Bird, making his live-action directorial debut, did a good job with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol as well (even if the villain was pretty weak from a character perspective). The Mission: Impossible films are fun, action-packed and feature brilliant stunts. Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise collaborated earlier on Jack Reacher, which is an underrated action film. This will most likely be a fun and very entertaining blockbuster.

Trailer: Here (if available)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Movie of the Week – Sabrina

This week’s movie: Sabrina (1954)

Sabrina Fairchild, the chauffer’s daughter, grew up on the outside, always looking in on the very rich Larrabee family, falling deeply in love with playboy David Larrabee, though he never noticed her. The night before she is set to leave for Paris to take a two-year cooking class, Sabrina foolishly attempts suicide because she is invisible to David. Her plot is foiled when David’s older brother Linus discovers her. Now, two years later, Sabrina is back from Paris, and has matured into a beautiful woman. Now, she has David’s attention; however, David is engaged to the heiress to a grand sugar cane empire. If David were to mess things up with her, it would mess up Linus’s latest business venture. Thus, Linus schemes to steal Sabrina’s affections to keep his business deal live, but will he actually allow himself to fall in love too?

The film is  written and directed by auteur Billy Wilder, who is responsible for many of American Cinema’s greatest romantic comedies (like: Some Like It Hot and The Apartment). He also had a deft dramatic hand (with films such as: Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., Ace in the Hole, Stalag 17, and Witness for the Prosecution). He worked with great cinematographer Charles Lang, art director Hal Pereira and wonderful costume designer Edith Head (who won Oscar’s for both Sabrina and Roman Holiday, dressing Audrey Hepburn).

The film stars Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. It features Walter Hampden and John Williams in support.

Sabrina is a lovely romantic comedy, led by its wonderful lead actors. Today, a lot is being made of the difference in age between male and female leads in Hollywood films. Here in Sabrina, Hepburn is eleven years younger than Holden and thirty years younger than Bogart (in Roman Holiday she is thirteen years younger than Gregory Peck and in Charade she is twenty-five years younger than Cary Grant though she is three years older than her How to Steal a Million co-star Peter O’Toole, by comparison). It seems to be a phenomenon, for better or worse, that has always existed in Hollywood and not a modern occurrence. Maybe, now, filmgoers are more conscious of it, so it sticks out more. Anyway, back to Sabrina. Audrey Hepburn burst into stardom with Roman Holiday. She could not have had a better follow-up than Sabrina, as she aptly holds her own against two of the era’s greatest actors (she was nominated for her second Oscar for her performance). The film has many memorable moments (the scenes in the Paris cooking school, Oliver Larrabee’s epic battle with a jar of olives, and pretty much every scene with Hepburn, who glides across the screen). It is a must-see for fans of Hepburn and classic Hollywood films.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand