Category Archives: 2015

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015) – This Aquaman Kind of Works

Justice League Throne of Atlantis Poster

 Aquaman has always been a Justice League member I’ve cared the least about. When it comes to the alien perspective, give me Martian Manhunter or for nobility and royalty give me Wonder Woman…Aquaman was always just kind of there, the noble who works with the Justice League. Given these facts, Aquaman atually works in regards to this film, the villains are the ones who don’t.

      “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis” was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by Heath Corson and produced by James Tucker.

     The story involves the Justice League being pulled together when forces in Atlantis begin to act against the surface world. It is up to them to find out the reasons why and the heir to the throne Arthur Curry / Aquaman to stop the war and save the world.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Wiedmann is part of what makes these movies great. His soundtrack gives power to the action and the scenes and gives the world an epic feel.

The Animation – WB Animation is truly awesome. This is one thing DC is continuing to do right post Bruce Timm so I salute their studio. It’s a shame they can’t pull this off with their live action films.

The Action – The action is fantastic and the fight scenes between the people of Atlantis and the surface world is handled really well.

The Justice League – The Justice League is really fun, minus Superman and Wonder Woman who don’t feel like characters, just concepts and whose romance feels contrived…but minus them I like the rest of the team.

Hal Jordan / Green Lantern – Nathan Fillion really owns this role. His relationship with Batman is fun as we see he is the guy with good intentions but can’t see the bigger picture. He has a great moment in the final battle where he uses his ring to make a giant mecha suit. He plays off the rest of the League really well.

Barry Allen / The Flash – Barry doesn’t do as much as he could have done but for what time he appears he bring lightness to the brooding of this Universe.

Victor Stone / Cyborg – Cyborg is the heart of the team and the one always looking out for Earth. He is the one who pulls everyone together to solve the mystery of the submarine and discover Black Manta’s and Orm’s plan.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Batman is great in this and the only one who Orm doesn’t completely defeat at the end. He stays out of the fight and figures out how to defeat Orm’s trident leading up to Aquaman claiming the throne. It is Batman with Cyborg who reveal Orm’s killing of the Queen to the world.

Arthur Curry / Aquaman – Aquaman reminds me of Thor and Hercules. He is half-Atlantean and his arc is discovering and claiming his birthright. There are elements of “Lion King” to it as well as his brother Orm is the one he is stopping when Orm kills his mother. For what it’s worth I liked the character and he worked in this film, which is good given this film is about him.

Okay: Queen Atlanna – We never get why she is so focused on peace with the surface world or her relationship to her possible warrior husband who died. She is a mystery and because of it her motivations are never fully known. She wasn’t bad but she was missed opportunity.

Mera – Mera is okay, but her romance with Aquaman is contrived, there is no leadup to them being attracted and liking one another it just kind of happens. She’s a great fighter at least.

The Cons: Diana Prince / Wonder Woman – She is there to motivate Superman and that is it. She’s a plot device and it sucks. She is Superman’s romantic partner and that is it.

Clark Kent / Superman – Way too overpowered and may cheating on Lois Lane? Seriously, was is the deal with Superman in “The New 52?” He is just an all around overpowered dick. He’s everything wrong with Damian Wayne tenfold.

Black Manta – This guy also is just evil and has unexplored reasons for the things he’s doing besides the desire for power. He has a cool design but he is just wasted as a character and never felt like a threat.

Orm – He’s blatantly evil (kills his own mother) his motivations are never fully explored and he has no redeeming qualities. Seriously, this guy is a terrible villain and his design is awful too. He looks like bad cosplay of an orc when he wears his mask.

   This was an enjoyable film and better than the “New 52” Batman films (seriously Damian brings those films down). I like this new Justice League minus how unrelatable Wonder Woman and Superman feel. Neither feel fully fleshed out as characters and Superman is the Damian Wayne of the Justice League. He is way too overpowered so whenever he is free the fight has no stakes. I’m surprised he didn’t defeat Orm honestly, and I’m glad he didn’t…Aquaman had to win something and his entire arc was reclaiming his birthright “Lion King” style. So I would recommend this film, it isn’t a favorite, but it is good.

Final Score: 8 / 10

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Batman vs. Robin (2015): Fascinating Villains But Execution Doesn’t Quite Work

Batman vs Robin

    This was a film that was enjoyable but didn’t quite work. Like the rest of the Damian Wayne stories, Damian is still way too overpowered and Nightwing is still nearly invisible but is gold in any scene he’s in. If anything this made me want to read the comics that inspired the film, “Batman: The Court of Owls” as the Court is a pretty awesome villain group and I like the way they do things. I want to learn more about them thanks to this film.

     “Batman vs. Robin” was directed by Jay Oliva, written by J. M. DeMatteis and produced by James Tucker. It is the sequel to “Son of Batman” and based off the comic “Batman: The Court of Owls” by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion.

     The story involves Damian having issues with Bruce’s killing policy as Batman learns more about the reason for his parents getting killed when a mysterious legend when he becomes aware of The Court of Owls who try to get Bruce Wayne to join them and to turn Damian Wayne into a weapon for them.

The Pros: The Animation – WB and DC animation continues to be beautiful. I don’t like a lot of things about this New 52 Universe but the animation is still one of the best parts and something DC has always been better at than Marvel.

The Action – The fight scenes are awesome as the Court of Owls send agents who actually feel like a threat anytime Batman or the Bat Family takes them on. You feel the stakes and it lends power to each scene.

The Soundtrack – Wiedmann continues to create a great soundtrack that captures the mystery of these films and the antagonists and heroes within them.

Dollmaker – Weird Al plays this guy and he is messed up. He turns children into feral dolls and his getting killed by Talon was one of the best parts of the film. Great and creepy enemy…

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Sean Maher really owns this role and I hate that he hardly ever gets any screen time or is relegated to Damian’s babysitter. This is a character who was Robin, why isn’t more done with that? He continues to be one of the highlights of every film he’s in but is never given much to do. At least we get to see him fight the Court of Owls and Damian.

Alfred – Alfred is the father figure who helps Bruce learn how to be a dad and Damian to feel loved. I like how he is the warmth in the Bat Family and brings out the better nature of our characters.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce is overcontrolling in this and it blows up in his face, we see him learning how to be a dad in this and it is great seeing that arc. I just wish more could have been done with Bruce and Samantha as well as The Court of Owls and Bruce. Damian steals the storyline that should have belonged to Bruce Wayne.

The Court of Owls – These guys set everything in motion for the Wayne’s to die so that they could control the city. They are a great puppeteer organization and I wish we could have seen more of what they do as there are many members and they are all the rich of Gotham and around the world.

Talon – Talon becomes Damian’s mentor and the anti-Batman as he kills murders and the corrupt. He is also insane too as he called the cops on his dad leading to his dad getting killed and slaughtered the Court of Owls in Gotham to take control of it.

Okay/Con: The Writing – The dialogue is a bit stilted at times and could have done with more showing rather than telling.

Damian Wayne – Damian continues to be one of the weakest parts of these films. He beats everyone he fights so there are never any stakes and he continues to be a jerk or cross the line that Batman lays down so he just stays static. I was so happy when he left Wayne Manor at the end.

The Cons: Damian’s Plot Armor – Damian defeats Talon, Nightwing and even Batman to some degree at different points throughout the film. Seriously, he has no weaknesses or very good plot armor. It is annoying because he isn’t even noble and his plot armor and overuse just brings down the story.

  This was a story that could have worked better if Damian wasn’t such a Mary Sue/Gary Stu and actually had vulnerability and could lose some of the fights he gets into, and if the story hadn’t been all about him. Nightwing appears and he is great in all his scenes but he is so underutilized and ends up being Damian’s punching bag most of the time. The motivations of the Court of Owls were also never fully explained which hurt the story. I didn’t know what they wanted in the end or what their vision for Gotham was outside of power for the families controlling it. These are the things that kept it from being good and kept the film in the realm of enjoyable.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

The Hateful Eight (2015): An Exploration of Hate

The Hateful Eight

      “The Hateful Eight” is a really good film. Not one of Tarantino’s best films but still his quality that he brings to all of his work. In this we see him explore some of the tropes of Westerns, History and the Civil War and from the depths of hate that characters can be driven too when they are desperate or so broken down by the world around them. It’s powerfully done and he does a great job presenting it all. I’ll get into more detail later in the review.

     The film was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and produced by Richard N. Gladstein, Shannon McIntosh and Stacey Sher.

      The film involves eight strangers seeking refuge in a blizzard as secrets unfold as all is not as it appears to be. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) the bounty hunter is bringing in Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to be hung in Red Rock but picks up bounty Hunter Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sheriff Mannix (Walton Goggins) who are also on their way to Red Rock where they meet the others at Minnie’s Haberdashery where the events unfold.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful. Robert Richardson did a great job and gives us scenes that capture the destitution of the of where this all takes place and the cost of war on a population that is recovering (this is post Civil War) and how far there is still to go in regards to being free even though slavery is done.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack fits everything so well and captures the nihilism of our characters and also the fun nature that Tarantino brings to all his work. Ennio Morricone was the right person for this film and the music is good at pulling you in and keeping you present with whatever events are transpiring.

The Dialogue – Tarantino’s dialogue is always snappy and the actors use it very well. It feels natural for all of who they are and Tarantino continues to show why this is his forte.

 Story Structure – Tarantino’s novel like format comes again and is one of the things I really liked about the film. There are pauses and at one point Tarantino is the narrator explaining what happens after a chapter. The story takes place over 5 chapters with Chapter 4 setting up Chapter 3 with a flashback setting up the events. It’s really well done and I’m glad Tarantino has this unique style.

The Situation – The idea of 8 people trapped in a blizzard with one of them holding a lie is quite compelling. How it all unfolds is really cool too as all of them are hateful and despicable people each in their own way and it lends stakes to all that unfolds.

John Ruth – Kurt Russell’s John Ruth is one of the few characters who was the closest thing to a hero. He’s the guy taking out the worst of the worst and hanging them. He’s obsessed and is prickly to everyone. He has a respect for Warren but that takes along time and by the end we see that he was right to put his trust into him. He’s all about his job and when he dies you somewhat feel it since Kurt Russell does a good job playing the bitter bounty hunter.

Major Warren – This guy is brutal but you also get why as he is a freed man whose only protection from racism against the Union and Confederacy is a forged letter from Abraham Lincoln. He’s a bounty hunter so already he’s at the bottom of the food chain but Ruth has a respect for him and that never completely goes away. Warren is the closest thing to a protagonist even though he is still villainous as he does a pretty horrendous things to one of hte monster character’s children. There are no good characters in this film and Samuel L. Jackson represents this really well.

Okay: The Characters – They are well acted but because they are all so despicable there aren’t any reasons to like any of them. We don’t get reasons for what they did and this brings the story down and puts it below “Reservoir Dogs” in many ways (though both films are similar).

   This is a movie that is worth checking out, and I do consider it a favorite film but not one of Tarantino’s best. What really brings it down is Domergue’s Gang is just kind of there. They don’t get the kind of development that the folks receive in “Reservoir Dogs” which is the most similar as a bunch of characters who hate each other are trapped in a room. What really makes it work are the characters of Ruth and Warren who are both so twisted but manage to be compelling as they are given reason for what they do, the same cannot be said for a lot the others. This is a shame since Tarantino is usually really great at giving extended motivation for what makes his characters make the choices they do.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Top 5 Films of 2015

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Banner-Charlize-Theron-Tom-Hardy

     It has been a pretty fantastic year for films! I wish we had more original films that weren’t part of Franchises come out or were not based off books, but that’s besides the point. I will always wish for that and in the end some of those stories aren’t as good as some of the ones born out of Franchises that have the passion and commitment of a good director and team at their back. Now, before I get started on my Top 5 Films of 2015 I want to do an honorary mention to a few films that are well worth checking out.

       “The Force Awakens” didn’t make the list but it is great Star Wars and is worth seeing. “Ant-Man” is one of the funnest Marvel Films in the entire Franchise and Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” is more of his cinematic and writing charm. “Spotlight” is also a fantastic film that is well worth your time as is “Beasts of No Nation”. These are the ones that really stood out as “Age of Ultron” is a film you can take or leave and wasn’t nearly as much fun as “Ant-Man” or “The Force Awakens.”

     So without further ado, here are my Top 5 Movies of 2015, from 5th Place to 1st.

ex-machina-french-movie-poster-15x21-2015-alex-garland-alicia-vikander

5) Ex Machina

Director Alex Garland

    “Ex Machina” is high concept sci. fi. at it’s best. In my opinion it blew “Interstellar” out of the water as it had a focus on characters and concept that we don’t really ever get from Nolan. It was also good at showing rather than telling which gives us some extremely haunting scenes. Oscar Isaac does an amazing job as the antagonist as Nathan the creator of the A.I. who manages to be both threatening, scary and vulnerable. The side characters are great too and I loved Gleeson in this role versus his General Hux in “The Force Awakens.” Here I could take him seriously as you could see where he was coming from as an outcast seeking connection with anyone. It’s a powerful film with themes of what it means to be sentience and what liberation is and if you enjoy science fiction, is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/ex-machina-2015-sentience-and-the-path-to-liberation/

Mr. Holmes

4) Mr. Holmes

Director Bill Condon

      Ian McKellan is the most human of all the Sherlocks as it is the conceit of this film that Sherlock has to face how alone he is and that he can no longer count his mind as it is failing and nothing can prevent that. It’s a sad story for that reason as we learn about the case that caused him to retire. The film is powerful as we are given glimpses into different time periods of his life and how they tie to his loneliness in the present as he seeks to solve the problem of the case that caused him to retire, as he no longer remembers it and only has a picture of a woman as a clue. From here the case unfolds as we deal with all the layers of what it means to be mortal, and in that what it means to live and to die. I can’t recommend this film enough.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/mr-holmes-2015-a-reflection-on-mortality-regret-class-and-empathy/

The Martian

3) The Martian

Director Ridley Scott

   Check out the book. It is really good and Ridley Scott stayed surprisingly true to it. This is the best Ridley Scott film since “Kingdom of Heaven” and chances are you’ll enjoy it even if you aren’t into science fiction. This is a film full of humor and drama that gives us glimpses into the lives of the characters as Mark Watney (Matt Damon) seeks to survive on Mars until N.A.S.A. can work up a plan to bring him home. We see all of the drama…from the politics at N.A.S.A. to the hard choices that Watney has to make in order to survive some extremely difficult situations, and even the choice his crew is faced with on their journey back to Earth. There are no villains and because of it every character get’s explored in why they made the choices they did. The cast is fantastic and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. This film will no doubt win awards during the Oscars and it certainly deserves those awards.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/the-martian-2015-a-masterpiece-celebrating-the-wonder-of-science-discovery-and-survival/

Inside-Out-Official-Poster

2) Inside Out

Director Pete Docter

       There were two unbeatable Pixar films for me, until I saw “Inside Out.” Those films are “Wall-E” and “Up.” Both films capture the beauty and hardship of being alive or being human so well and this film is no different as we get to see emotions as living beings interacting and making choices when their host Riley is pulled away from her hometown to San Francisco and has to make new friends and get used to a world where she feels alienated. Without giving anything away, this film will probably make you tear up. There is loss, growing up and moving on and integrating past events and emotions to create a whole. It is one of the best films that explores human psychology that I have ever watched, and as an aspiring psychologist I appreciated the framework this film brought and explored. The characters and living emotions are wonderful and the voice actors were perfectly cast for the roles whether it was Lewis Black as Anger or Amy Poehler as joy. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. Pixar has struck gold again and told one of the most compelling masterpieces of what it means to be human.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/inside-out-2015-the-importance-of-all-emotions-and-another-pixar-masterpiece/

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Poster-Posse-1-600x900

1) Mad Max: Fury Road

Director George Miller

     “Fury Road” is one the deepest action film I have ever watched. Who would have thought that a giant car chase could explore themes of patriarchy, feminism, liberation, redemption and the healing from trauma while giving us the best cinematography and some of the best characters to come out of any fiction. Immortan Joe was a fantastic villain who managed to be both vulnerable and threatening, Theron’s Furiousa was an amazing protagonist who was flawed but whose drive carried the plot as it is her freeing Joe’s Breeding Wives that lead to the chase and the premise of the film. Tom Hardy as Max also gives us a gruff vulnerability too as we see him slowly regain his sanity over the course of the film. This is a universe that is so much fun and that I look forward to returning to again. George Miller created a masterpiece greater than all of his other past work and created a film that I expect to forever be a classic.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/mad-max-fury-road-2015-healing-redemption-and-actions-that-matter-in-a-world-gone-insane/

      These were my Top 5 Films of 2015, I’d be curious to hear about yours as well. It was an overall great year for films and I look forward to see the stories that these films inspire in the future.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) – A Return to “Star Wars” Strengthened By New Characters

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

      First, I’m going to give a warning up front. This review will contain spoilers, once I get to the summary and after the jump, so I’ll post my non-spoiler thoughts here to kick off the review. The film is great, not as great as “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” since it derives a lot from them, but it is the things that set it apart that really make it an amazing film and easily in the Top 3 films in the Series thus far. Finn and Rey are two of my favorite heroes and Kylo Ren is a great villain (though wasn’t impressed by Snoke or General Hux). The action is fast and our characters are given arcs and there are some really good payoffs, some of which aren’t derivative of the “Original Trilogy.” I’ll get into more detail below, but for these reasons it is really worth seeing.

     “The Force Awakens” was directed by J.J. Abrams who also one of the writers and producers. The other writers where Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Ardnt while the other producers were Bryan Burk and Kathleen Kennedy.

SPOILERS ahead

      The story takes place 30 years after a “Return of the Jedi” and the First Order has arisen out of the ashes of the Empire. Our new heroes Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) must stand together with heroes of old in the Resistance to defeat Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order.

The Pros: The World – The World is really awesome. We have The New Republic that represents the free world, the Resistance which came about because the First Order came into being and we have Luke having gone into hiding and get to see how the First Order creates Stormtroopers and how their leadership works. It’s really cool and it feels like Star Wars. Jakku is also a really cool world.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is amazing! The use CGI and models are blended together seamlessly and the fear or wonder in our characters’ eyes is highlighted beautifully. Dan Mindel really did a great job.

The Soundtrack – John Williams is at it again and I really liked his theme for Kylo Ren and his allusions to classic themes with old characters like General Leia or Han Solo. Our new characters have their own themes too and it compliments them on the their journeys.

The Characters – The characters, like “The Original Trilogy” are the strongest part of this film, especially when it comes to our new heroes who each are distinct and have their own arcs that I wanted to see and want to see now that the beginning of their arc is done.

New Heroes – The new heroes are the strongest part of this film, I enjoyed them much more than the appearance by Luke, Leia, Chewie, Han and R2 and C-3PO. They were fresh and weren’t dependable on referencing past actions as they were making history rather than being a part of living history.

BB-8 – BB-8 is adorable and super expressive in how it speaks. I didn’t put R2 or 3PO on this list because they were just small cameos. BB-8 made choices and decisions and grew attached to our new Heroes as well as being Poe’s Droid. They had a really fun relationship.

Maz Kanata – Maz is the Yoda analogue of this story as she is 1000 years old, has Luke’s old lightsaber and puts Rey on the path to become a Jedi. She’s really cool and Nupita Nyong’o gives this character so much depth. She has seen so much and her Katina has both First Order agents and Resistance members visiting. I can’t wait to see her character again as she is not a Jedi but she knows the force and it is her training that helps Rey in her fight.

Poe Dameron – Oscar Isaac is amazing! His character is smart and mocks Kylo Ren on occasion and shows how he is a good guy when he gives Finn his name and works with Finn to escape. He’s the best pilot in the Resistance and I wish we’d gotten more time with him. He deserves more exploration and was underutilized, though he does get the killing blow on the Starkiller Base.

Rey – Rey is the Luke analogue as she is the orphan on the desert planet who will become a Jedi. She like Finn though is always running. She doesn’t begin exploring her force abilities until she has to escape Kylo Ren who is holding her hostage. For this reason her arc is fantastic, she has been alone for so long waiting for her parents it is all she knows and she doesn’t want to leave that comfort. Eventually she does when Ren almost kills Finn and she realizes that it is the only way to defeat the First Order and avenge her mentor who died. She’s a great engineer too and helps the Millennium Falcon work better.

Finn – Finn is a former stormtrooper who changes sides after he is part of the assault on Jakku taht kills a Resistance sympathetic vision. It traumatizes him and he commits to helping Poe escape. Sadly he believes Poe to be dead so searches for Poe’s droid BB-8 to get him to the Resistance, which is when he meets Rey who treats him like a human being. They clash but become friends and we see that Finn is still running from his trauma. It isn’t until Kylo Ren captures Rey that chooses to stay with the Resistance and fight to rescue his friend, which leads to him nearly losing his life to Kylo Ren. John Boyega is fantastic.

Old Heroes – Our hold heroes make an appearance too! Luke appears at the very end so I’m not mentioning him and 3PO and R2 are glorified cameos and I want to explore the characters who get explored.

General Leia – Leia’s story is tragic as we see after her son falls to Dark side her marriage to Han falls apart and she starts up the Resistance again in reaction to the First Order’s rise. She still loves Han and her son Ben and her tragedy continues as Ben seems to be fully given over to the Dark side after he kills his father. What hope Leia has is that Rey will be trained by Luke and maybe through that her son can find the light again.

Chewbacca – Poor Chewie! He’s older in this and gets hurt quite a few times from Stormtroopers. Luckily he gets revenge when he and Han set the charges that help lead to the destruction of the Starkiller Base. He also save Finn’s life and help Rey and Finn escape the planet’s destruction. He stays with Rey later too as they form a bond similar to the one he has with Han.

Han Solo – This episode is the tragedy of Han as we see that he became a smuggler after his son Ben fell to the Dark Side and destroyed the new Jedi Order Luke was forming. He is running away from Leia and the Resistance but is pulled by in by Rey and Finn and helps them defeat the Starkiller Base, though it costs him his life when Kylo Ren, who is his fallen son Ben Solo, kills him, completing his fall to the Dark Side.

Villains – Kylo Ren really. Snoke and Hux felt kind of like jokes.

Kylo Ren – Kylo Ren is tragic and powerful and I really like the character. He aspires to be Darth Vader who he idealizes and we see that like Vader he is hand’s on acting as Snoke’s Dragon. He tortures Poe to find out that BB-8 holds the map to Luke and he defeats Finn when Finn tries to stop him at the end. His only loss happens after Chewie shoots him when he kills Han and after Finn injures him. Rey is the one who scars him physically and we see that they will meet again when the planet’s destruction separates them from one another. This episode is him completing his fall as he confesses to Snoke that he feels the light and his killing of his father Han is his distinguishing of it as Ben is fully killed so Kylo Ren can live. Adam Driver is great in this role and made Kylo Ren feel threatening.

Rey Versus Kylo Ren – This is the final battle and it is a lot of fun and intense. I thought Rey was overpowered for having no training but the fact that Kylo Ren was physically and emotionally injured and drained helps explain why they were equal and why she was eventually beating him. I want Ren to have his Vader moment, which he hasn’t yet. Rey was also a bit overpowered in this so I hope we see her character better balanced in this future.

Han Solo and Kylo Ren – This reveal was powerful, even though I saw it coming the moment Snoke said Han was Ren’s father. So I knew this was coming. Seeing the conflict that Kylo Ren was going through lent power to the character though and made him compelling. Seeing him free in the Dark Side after killing his father was amazing too as it was there that he snapped which contributed to Rey defeating him I think.

Okay: Starkiller Base – It is a bigger and badder Death Star that is a planet that was turned into a weapon. It’s Death Star Mark 3, which is derivative and why I’m putting it as okay. It showed lack of creativity on Hux and Snoke’s part for making it.

Okay/Con: Death of the New Republic – This would have been stronger if we had spent time with the New Republic. We never did and we don’t know their relationship to the Resistance fully so I didn’t feel the loss. The fact that the system was destroyed should have been more powerful than it felt.

The Cons: General Hux – Hux is no Tarkin. Tarkin was effective, respected Darth Vader and his power and when he destroyed Alderaan and had Leia tortured, we felt it. The same can not be said for Hux who got in pissy fits with Kylo Ren and never interacted with our heroes in any meaningful way.

Snoke – Sorry Serkis but your big giant alien is less threatening than Palpatine and he was just an old man in the “Original Trilogy” who didn’t do anything except torture Luke with lightning at the end. This character has a long way to go before I can take it seriously. I really hope Snoke is not the actual character’s name, I’m holding out for the Darth Plagueis Theory.

Derivativeness – Instead of Alderaan the New Republic System is destroyed, instead of the Death Star the Starkiller Base is destroyed (3rd Time’s the charm?), BB-8 holds secret plans versus R2-D2 holding secret plans and parental confession on a dangerous catwalk. Now that all of this is out of the way I hope the future episodes can find their own beats not derived from the Original Trilogy.

   In the end what really keeps this film from being better than “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” is the lack of villain effectiveness. Kylo Ren is the deadliest of them and I could never take General Hux or Snoke seriously. The loss of the New Republic wasn’t felt as we had never been their prior or met the people there, “A New Hope” was stronger since Leia’s diplomatic envoy Darth Vader destroys was an Alderaan ship and crew and we see the loss of life in her eyes and Obi-Wan’s line about hearing the silencing of millions of voices. We don’t feel the loss and that is what sets it below “A New Hope.” The characters make this film worth seeing though, as does the music and special effects. If you like “Star Wars” you should see this. It is a great film and I can’t wait to see how our new heroes’ stories unfold.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Spotlight (2015): The Process of an Investigative Story and Giving Voice to the Survivors

Spotlight

     “Spotlight” is a powerful story that shows the process of creating a great investigative story and the in the process showing how structures that prop up people in power, especially those in regards to religion are prone to abuse and cover-up as saving face and ideology can end up becoming more important than people. As an agnostic who left religion it was wonderful seeing the media do what it is supposed to do, and reveal systematic corruption and in revealing it make possible finally putting a stop to it.

    The film was directed by Tom McCarthy who also wrote it with Josh Singer and produced by Blye Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Michael Sugar.

     The story involves the Spotilght team of the Boston Globe, being lead by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), investigating the Catholic Sex Abuse cover-up when the new Editor in Chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) believes there is a story there which comes to shake up the community of Boston.

The Pros: Boston – Boston feels alive as you see the many different levels of the city. From the poor areas where many of the events of sexual abuse and rape took place as the folks there had no advocates and the Church was the only power, from the rich fundraisers, to individual homes in Boston and the Boston Globe itself. This is a city that is shown to be alive.

The Boston Globe – The Boston Globe is shown to be a pretty great organization as we see a diversity of characters, motivation and conflict as the paper is trying to define itself in relation to Boston with the sex abuse scandal it’s uncovering and having an outsider Editor-in-Chief at the helm. I really liked how the film handled this.

The Characters – The characters and how they are portrayed is what makes this story great. It is fully fleshed out characters that lend truth to the real life events that took place and allow us to see into the choices our characters make and made.

Ben Bradlee Jr. – John Slattery is awesome as Ben Bradlee Jr. In this we see a very old style journalist who is leading the paper and because of it is comfortable with those in power, but even he wakes up when he realizes the extent of the abuse and corruption and from there gives his full backing to the Spotlight team. He is the questioner and makes the team better in the process.

Mitchell Garabedian – Stanley Tucci plays one of my favorite characters in this. In this he is the advocate for the victims who the Church keeps trying to silence and disbar. For this reason Rezendes has to slowly win him over as he shows the Globe won’t bow to Church pressure. I really liked the character and Tucci’s performance is amazing. He is the one who never stops fighting and who lives for work and advocacy.

Walter “Robby” Robinson – Michael Keaton plays Robinson and does a fantastic job! He was the one who reported on the sex abuse scandal ages ago and didn’t follow up. This is guilt he lives with until Baron calls him back to the present. Robby is also the one most in with the community as we see him get together with a former classmate to hear his story about the Priest who molested him, and from the guy who defended all the priests and played it like everything was okay. Robby sees all of it and it lends depth to Boston and the characters around him.

Sacha Pfeiffer – Rachel McAdams is a fantastic actress and in this we see her conflict being with her mother who is a hardcore Catholic and her hiding the story from her as she stops attending Church when Sacha stops going to Church after the extent of the cover-up is revealed and her and Rezendes discuss the problem of evil and faith. She could have got more development but her lending a voice to the victims while being professional and doing her job was extremely well done.

Michael Rezendes –  Mark Ruffalo played by favorite character. Rezendes is a passionate guy who is a little off in some ways and is always working a bit detached from things like Baron but also extremely passionate. When he finds the letters that Law was trying to keep from the public he wants Spotlight to run the story then, and waiting is hard for him as we learn he was an ex-Catholic who part of him wanted to go back but after the Scandal he could never see it happen given the institution covered up the rapes and protected the rapists. His genuineness and stubbornness were things I could relate to.

Marty Baron – Liev Schreiber is wonderful as the detached Editor from Miami. At first you think he’s going to start doing cuts but instead he refocuses the paper and has them follow up on the rumor of sex abuse. It’s powerful and we see he is there to fight for them even as he makes tough choices. Suffice to say I really appreciated the character and found his outsider perspective in Boston refreshing as I think it something that can lend strength to seeing things in a different light and helping reveal truths about a perspective, religion, community or organization.

Making the Story and the role of Journalism – A huge part of the plot is how Spotlight works as we see the Team following up on leads, interviewing people, analyzing sources, following paper trails, going to the courthouse,

Voice for the Victims – In this film we see the role of journalism as giving voice the the victims as the truth is revealed. It is powerful receiving their stories as kids who were vulnerable, poor and outcasts were raped by priests and had held it in for years. It is only when Spotlight shines a light on what happened that they are able to find their voice and in doing so help bring about justice in regards to what was done to them.

Power and Corruption – One of the big things is that of power and corruption. All of those connected to the Church covering up events are shown to be very well off and clearly profited from the atrocities they helped cover up. Cardinal Law himself is shown to be detached and uncaring about knowing the point that he’d attack those who were fighting for the victims. This is the price of power that believes it finds itself derived from God and is accountable to only itself. The church hides documents that are public record just because it would show how corrupt they were and the fact that Law ignored the warnings and punished those who spoke from within the church about the abuse.

Okay: Matt Carroll – This character was alright as he shows us the concerned father in everything, but he didn’t feel as fleshed out as Rezendes, Robinson, Pfeiffer and Garabedian. I still liked the character but thought that he wasn’t really needed in regards to the script.

Cardinal Law – This guy is detached from everything (which may have been purposeful on the films part) but after hearing how he called the wrath of God on one of the investigations that had been done earlier…I wanted to see that side of the character…a man who looked past atrocities and saw the Church as above them and was invited back to a cushy position of power, even after all the atrocities he covered up and monsters he protected.

Church Pressure – We don’t see as much pressure from the Church to silence the story, which is a shame. Mostly it is Law trying to get Baron in with the Church at the beginning and Robby’s lawyer friend who works for the Church who keeps telling him to drop the story. It is mostly from the community that the silence comes from, not the Church lawyers.

  This was a powerful film and easily in the Top 10 of the Year. I don’t think it will make the Top 5 due to some of the characters not getting as much development as I would have liked but it doesn’t change how great it is in themes and execution. This is a story that had to be told ande here is where you can read about it for yourselves too.:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/specials/clergy

   Events like this must not be forgotten as chances are it is still going on today and many of the people who committed the crimes were never brought to justice or have never been brought to justice as the Vatican moved them out of the United States. The only way an institution can change is when light is shined upon it and even then there is going to be fighting from those who profit from the status quo. This is why stories like this matter, it lends voice to the voiceless and gives the chance for them to get justice for the wrongs done against them. This beautiful film, is one way the light has been shown on this scandal.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Beasts of No Nation (2015): The Horrors of War and the Life of a Child Soldier

Beasts of No Nation

   “Beasts of No Nation,” is a great film that continues Netflix’s streak of putting out quality productions. It’s a favorite though it does have some issues, largely related to how it handles some of the things in it’s narrative, which maybe problems the book it is based on may have as well. These issues do not change how powerful the film is though.

    The film was written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga who was also one of the producers. The other producers were Amy Kaufman, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Riva Marker, Jeffrey Skoll, Daniel Crown, Idris Elba and Uzodinma Iweala who also wrote the novel of the same name.

   The story involves Agu (Abraham Attah) a villager who loses his brother and father to corrupt government forces and finds himself a part of the rebel NDF movement as he is conscripted as a soldier by the Commandant (Idris Elba). His life as a child soldier is explored as well as the politics of his country.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of exploring war torn Central Africa is a really good idea as well as taking it from a novel from a man from the region. It gives power to the story and shows just how aware the author is of his subject material.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful! Fukunaga did an amazing job on the screenplay as well as directing. This truly was his project.

The Soundtrack – Dan Romer did a fantastic job on the soundtrack. It has a very raw and reflective to feel to it and really lets you get into Agu’s head and the isolation of the child soldiers.

The Acting – The acting is amazing, though sadly the script doesn’t give a lot of the characters the justice they deserve. We never get to know most of them, even though they are presented really well by the actors.

The Commandant – Idris Elba makes a very good bad guy. In this he is the Warlord and Commandant of the Supreme Leader and we see how twisted he is as molests his soldiers (including Agu) and takes advantage of their need for revenge and makes them his weapons with a near worship of him. In the end his second-in-command leaves him though when he turns on the Supreme Commander Dada Goodblood turning them into beasts of no nation. He promises that he’ll call upon Agu later at the end as he is left isolated and alone with only his ego.

Agu – This is Agu’s story as we see him turn to revenge that the Commandant offers him as he feels only hate for the corrupt government soldiers who killed his brother and father. He never finds his mother and his arc is leaving the Commandant when I-C gives him the chance as we see him realize that he is alone and needs to be cared for after his friend Strika (another soldier molested by the Commandant) dies when they are on the run from the Supreme Commander and government forces. Abraham Attah does a fantastic job.

Okay: The Minor Characters – Whether it is Agu’s mother or the Supreme Commander or any of the other child soldiers…we never get their motivation or why they do what they do. This is a shame as they are all acted really well and that’s why I’m not putting them down as a con, they just weren’t given much to work with.

The Con: Lack of Arc Payoff – The ending is Agu as a camp for recovering child soldiers saying he just wants to forget about the horrible things he’s done and his being a monster but we never have the Commandant call upon any of them again and we never see Agu’s mother…when so much of his original arc was finding his way back to her.

  This was a great film and even though the character payoff isn’t all that great in the end, the journey of it all and seeing Agu face everything he goes through and find agency again is powerful in it’s own right. This was a story that needed to be told and I look forward to reading the book and learning more about these conflicts.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10