Top 5 Films of 2015

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     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.

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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/

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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/

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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.

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Mr. Holmes (2015): A Reflection on Mortality, Regret, Class and Empathy

Mr. Holmes

    Part of the problem of Sherlock Holmes as a character is that in his stories he never grows. He is the super hero who is static while those around him change, this is a problem with the Sherlock of “Sherlock” too as he never grows beyond his sociopathic tendencies or how he relates to others. This film answers the question of what it would take for Sherlock Holmes to grow and develop and what would happen if he lost the ability to use his mind as he once did before…it is beautiful, tragic and so much more. I will not be surprised at all if this makes my Top 5 Films of 2015 list at the end of the year, it tackles so many issues and does it through showing rather than telling us. What a way to end the first “Sherlock Holmes” week.

      “Mr. Holmes” was directed by Bill Condon, written by Jeffrey Hatcher, produced by Anne Carey, Ian Canning, Emile Sherman and is based off the book A Slight Trick of the Mind (which I really want to read now) by Mitch Cullen.

        The story involves a retired Sherlock Holmes trying to solve the case that made him retire as he is losing his memory and strength as he builds a relationship with the Monro’s (the mother and her son Roger) who are taking care of him and his bees out in the countryside.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and captures the beauty and wonder of the English countryside. We see Sherlock when he was old and still active and it captures how broken he is as an old man and how for the first time, he truly has to depend on others for help…all this in how a scene is filmed. Tobias Schliessler did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Carter Burwell also did a great job on the soundtrack, capturing the very classic mind of Sherlock (the violin Motif in most Sherlock stories) and the moments of sadness are punctuated by the score.

The Writing – The writing is amazing and actions have consequences. Every scene leads into the next and we are given a story that does not know the meaning of static. Every scene is action which provides a masterful tale.

The Characters – There are only a few characters of importance (some small parts appear to give us new information) the core characters all reveal more about themselves and change through the course of the film.

Roger – Usually child actors don’t do a great job, but an exception can be made here. Milo Parker does a good job as Roger who begins to take on Sherlock tendencies. In this Sherlock keeps him curious and his desire to learn while his mother reminds him to feel for others and that he has responsibilities beyond himself. He has a good arc and is set up to eventually become Sherlock’s replacement as Sherlock teaches him his methods.

Mrs. Munro –  Mrs. Munro distrusts Sherlock for much of it until he shows emotion that he does care about Roger (after wasps attack him) and shows her that her son was a hero trying to protect the bees from the wasps (reason he was hospitalized near the end). It is a powerful scene and we see her want to learn from him after that and also him make her inheritor of his will, showing respect that he had never shown her prior. Laura Linney does a great job.

Tamiki – Tamiki is the man seeking his father and helping Sherlock face death (their time in Hirishoma seeing the victims of the bomb and the bomb site) which help Sherlock face death in the long run as he finds a way to honor the dead. Tamiki treats Sherlock with nothing but respect and sees him as somewhat of a surrogate father figure. it’s a good relationship and it’s great seeing Hiroyuki Sanada outside of “Helix.” He’s a fantastic actor who I want to see more of.

Mr. Holmes – Ian McKellan is truly a master of his art! We see him as classic Sherlock (detached, intuiting and solving cases), broken Sherlock (cut off from the world and living in regret) and a Sherlock losing his mind and body who has learned to live for the first time. It’s powerful and he truly this role. Ian McKellan is one of my favorite actors and this film would probably not be a favorite were it not for his performance as he shows a character who has never really gone through a character arc, go through a powerful one where he learns to empathize, face death, live and grow.

The Case that Broke Sherlock Holmes -In a side plot in Japan where Sherlock is getting the drug he needs to sharpen his mind. It is here he learns Tamiki said he knew Sherlock where Sherlock has no memory and that Sherlock became an adopted father in his stories that Watson wrote. It’s a powerful relationship and in the end we see Sherlock give the Tamiki the comfort he’s wanted since he was a child when his father went missing in his last letter to him.

Critique of Classicism – There is a subtle critique of classicism where Roger criticizes his mother for not being able to read and Sherlock calls Roger out on it (a nice call out on himself as in the books he was pretty classicist).

Growing to Empathy  – The main arc is one of growing to empathy as we see Sherlock learn emotional intelligence (what Watson always had in each case) and from here him to learn to comfort others and offer solace (even if it’s a lie). This is something that none of the other Sherlock’s has ever fully dealt with. Moffat’s kind of does but Series 3 forgets about it and “Elementary” seems to have the same problem of him returning to angry detachment and in the books he never progresses beyond detachment.

Remembering the Dead and Facing Death – The final scene involves Sherlock placing a stone as he saw a man doing at Hiroshima after World War 2 to honor the dead as he remembers all those he’s lost (Ms. Hudson, Watson, etc.) it is powerful and we see him facing death from the beginning as his home, body and mind are falling apart and it is a reality he must face every day and come to feel for himself and for those who have passed.

Okay: Pacing – In the first third of the film there were some slow moments but I won’t be too critical on this because it helps establish how the Munro’s and Sherlock live in the cottage, which sets up when things change.

 This is a film that pulls the heart strings in all the right ways. We see a man who never valued empathy coming to realize how much it means as he realizes just how alone he truly is. It is tragic and powerful as he takes actions to show the Munro’s how much he values them and in the last scene honors all the dead who were all apart of his life and realizes how very much he misses them all. Sherlock solves the greatest mysteries; how to die and how to live.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

First “Sherlock Holmes” Week

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   Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character and one of the few characters in literature to have so numerous adaptations that initially I didn’t really know here to start in going about tackling the different versions of him.

      This is a character who connects to the way we are the “Other” and also is more than human in how he is able to put things together and solve difficult puzzles that are placed before him. It is little wonder why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books have inspired so many versions and adaptations.

      The versions of Sherlock Holmes I will be covering will be Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock from “Sherlock”  and his pilot episode “A Study in Pink.”

        Jeremy Brett’s version (who to me has always captured the character best) in his pilot episode of “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

        Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock from “Elementary” and his pilot episode simply labeled “Pilot.”

     Peter Cushing and his introduction as the character in the Hammer Films in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” for one of the said films and his first appearance as Sherlock.

      Finally, Sir Ian McKellan in “Mr. Holmes” the new film that is out to end it.

    Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters in fiction and what he has brought to the cinematic world can never be fully comprehended as so many greats (only a few named here) got their chance to play the great detective.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Day of (Much Needed) Retcon

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“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is an amazing and much needed retcon of the embarrassing X-Men films that missed the point of X-Men (“X3:The Last Stand” and “Origins: Wolverine”). There was so much I enjoyed about this film, largely the character relationships and how they go about bringing about the retcon with one of the most fascinating stories from the X-Men mythos. It is better than X2 in some ways but worse in others but overall is comparable to it in relation to both the good and the bad.

The basic premise is Wolverine is sent back in time by Kitty Pride to change the future since the future is overrun by the Sentinels (think the Borg from “Star Trek” but robots or the Cybermen from “Doctor Who” except larger and specifically aimed at killing Mutants and all those who harbor or could make mutants). The drama unfolds as Wolverine shines a light on the flaws of Magneto and Professor X (as on the other side Mystique is doing as the primary antagonist besides Trask and his Sentinels). Mystique is the one who drives the drama since her act is what brings about the Sentinel controlled future. The story deals with this and the power of choice in how we choose to treat those who are different.

Now for the assessment:

The Pros – The Characters – X-Men is one of the most character driven franchises that marvel has. They do a good job at exploring motivations and the flaws of the characters. You think Professor X is perfect? Than you aren’t paying attention. You think Magneto and Mystique are simply evil? Look at what drives them and the real trials they’ve faced. “Days of Future Past” expands on this more than any X-Men movie prior and answers the questions we were left with after “First Class” in regards to what happens to the characters and the inner conflict that drives them.

The Message – X-Men has always had a great message. It is the message that all are worthy of equality no matter how different they are, it also explains why people may lash out. If a group is oppressed how do you expect the group to act? It is when people are supported and loved that they are healthy. We see that with Xavier repressing his power through drugs, through Trask and his Putin’s Russia or Religiously Tyrannical approach that seeks to annihilate all members who are gay, queer, transgender or otherwise…who in this case are represented by the X-Men. We see Wolverine, someone who has found peace in himself in coming out and how Xavier helped him get there, he helps Xavier in turn when Xavier is in the metaphorical closet. The message is one thing this movie gets right. That an eye for an eye just makes things worse and that the worth, rights and dignity of all people must be recognized if we are to have peace in our time.

The special Effects – There are some great cinematic moments. Not as good as “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” which in my opinion is the best Marvel movie so far. But it was good, though there was a con related to some of the filming I’ll bring up later.

The Retcon – “X3: The Last Stand” and “X:Men Origins: Wolverine” were some of the worst superhero movies that have been made. A contradictory message sent in both, horrible action and not much pacing to speak of…and of course killing off some of the characters that make X-Men, X-Men for no point but cheap thrills. This retcon was needed…if not Disney Marvel Studios should really get the rights back. If a company can’t treat their stories with respect, they don’t deserve their stories.

The Aftercredits scene: So much potential…it is great to see that the studio is getting back to the comic books stories in X-Men that made it so interesting. Here is holding out for “House of M” at some point!

The Actors – I want to see more movies in the “First Class” Universe. Young Magneto (Fassbender), Mystique (Lawrence), Professor X (McAvoy) and Beast are handled so well by the actors that I would love to see more of them. Even the minor actors who make appearances as Toad and others do a great job. Stewart and McKellan and Page are great in the future scenes too and of course Jackman is still the go to Wolverine for a reason.

Okay – The music. It wasn’t anything special and was like everything we’ve heard before from an X-Men movie. Again, didn’t touch “Winter Soldier” here, or even “The Amazing Spiderman 2” soundtrackwise.

The cons – Nostalgia – There was the way some scenes from filmed, as well as the leather fetish that showed that Bryan Singer hasn’t grown much as someone who can film a scene. It was better than the first X-Men movie that way, but even X2 had some better filming than this one at certain points. It wasn’t consistent but that nostalgia in costumes and filming detracted from the fact that this is a new film. Sadly it looks like he hasn’t grown to the level of the Disney Marvel Studies in relationship to their world (“Iron Man 3”, “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Thor: The Dark World” are all growth from the movies that came before in a MAJOR WAY). There was growth in “Days of Future Past” too, it was just small…how the next movie is handled will see if that growth fully happened or if we’ve just been retconned back to Square 1 where X-Men 1 and 2 are.

X-Men is one of my favorite comic books and comic universes besides Spider-Man and Batman in regards to the large franchises (for smaller I ones I love more there are “Hellblazer” and “Sandman” and would recommend both series). This movie is worth seeing since it treats the subject matter (message and story) with respect. I would definitely recommend this movie.

My rating for it is 9 / 10.