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/

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/

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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.

The Martian (2015): A Masterpiece Celebrating the Wonder of Science, Discovery and Survival

The Martian

    “The Martian” is a film that truly captures the terror and wonder of space travel as well as giving us very real and complex characters who are worth rooting for. Ridley Scott has done it again (though I haven’t watched some of his more recent films so I understand there was a drop in quality at one point). Suffice to say though, I really hope this film will kick in the love of exploring space again in the populace.

     The film was directed by Ridley Scott who was also one of the producers, written by Drew Goddard and produced by Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood, Mark Huffam and Simon Kinberg. It is also based on the book of the same name (that I want to read now) by Andy Weir.

    The film involves astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) accidentally being left behind on the first mission to Mars called the Ares III mission and him having to survive and make contact with NASA in order to mount a rescue before he dies.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Dariusz Wolski captures beautiful scenes in this that show the desolation and danger of space but also the beauty and wonder of space and Mars.

The Soundtrack – Harry Gregson-Williams gives the soundtrack a very “2001: Space Odyssey” feel giving us both classic instruments, synth and even a mixture of 70’s and 80’s music intermixed throughout the score.

The Writing – Drew Goddard did a good job on this script! It all show rather than tell and the times where it gets you information you need (how Watney sciences) it is done a comedic or interesting way that drives the action forward. This alone puts it above “Interstellar.” I really want to read the novel after this.

The Characters – The characters are compelling with only two characters not really getting too much exploration but still have arcs! This is a show where even the minor characters make choices that have consequences.

Teddy Sanders – Jeff Daniels does an amazing job as the Director of NASA who has to make difficult choices throughout the course of the film as Mark surviving makes things more complex as far as getting funding and at one point he has to decide sending the Ares III crew back and risking them all or just sending the probe with supplies. He choose the latter and you get the reasons for that too. His arc involves him being willing to take risks to save Mark, even it means losing his job.

Mitch Henderson – Sean Bean is the man in charge of the astronauts and he is a great guy who is willing to go behind Sanders back to protect his men and he sends them the data they need and the plan that Purnell created. He stands by it the entire time and for him space travel being about people is key as if people are forgotten, than what is the point of sending them out there in the first place? I really liked his character and he was one of my favorites. There is also a point where he explains the Council of Elrond where Purnell’s idea is first discussed…which is a great “Lord of the Rings” callback.

Vincent Kapoor – Chiwetel Ejiofor is truly a master of his craft as he plays a guy who isn’t much of a people person but truly becomes invested in people beyond just the idea of travel and missions over the course of the film. He is very much the Vulcan Spock to Sanders being Kirk and he is there supporting Mark through the course of his isolation on Mars.

Rich Purnell – Donald Glover plays the man who comes up with the idea of using the Ares III to save Mark and is not a people person at all as he doesn’t even register his non-communication with his boss or the director of NASA. He is a lot of fun and was my favorite character in the film as he was fully in to finding a way to bring Mark home and was a put of an eclectic scientist.

Ares III crew – Two of the crew fall in love and we see it slowly grow over the course of the film and when is a funny dad. These characters don’t receive the same level of development as Ramirez the pilot and Lewis the leader though.

Rick Martinez – Michael Pena is wonderful as Martinez who is the pilot as well as Mark’s best friend. He is a guy who jokes around, is ex-military and loves what he does. He is the one who helps the others realize what it means to go back and he is willing to leave his wife and son behind longer to bring back Mark as he knows Mark would do the same to him. He has a strong moral code and is the glue that holds the crew together. He is also the clown and Pena’s wonderful sense of humor has a chance to come out.

Melissa Lewis – Jessica Chastain plays the most serious character in the film besides Jeff Daniels’s Sanders. She carries guilt over leaving Mark behind and this drives her to action and risking herself in the end to save Mark as she won’t risk her crew. She is a great commander for this reason and we get to see her tender side with her husband as well as her closeness to Mark who is her closest friend on the mission too. Her arc is moving past her guilt to help save Mark.

Mark Watney – Watney is a sarcastic botanist and Damon truly carries this film. In this we see him have to survive in impossible conditions using only the resources NASA left behind and that Mars has. He does a great job too as we see him use Botany to grow potatoes using his own crap and the Mars soil and we later see him “Science the shit” out of everything around him in order to survive. In the end he survives and he truly owns it too as we see it is his willingness to take risks that brought him out there in the first place. Him swearing at NASA for not telling his crew he was alive was brilliant too as on multiple occasions we see he isn’t a fan of authority at all and enjoys having a good time being “the best.” His arc is facing death and moving past it to find a solution each time.

Space Travel is Wondrous, Dangerous and Worth It – This is the core message of the film as at the end Mark is teaching new astronauts in training and tells them that message. He also has no regrets as he loves what he does and what he did and is a huge promoter of more missions as he knows it is the future.

The Strength of the Human Will – There are a lot times characters want to give up, but it is when they face the challenges and rise above them that they are able to find ways to solve each of the crises they face.

This is easily one of the greatest films of the year and one I’d highly recommend. I plan to add the book to my reading list and I will be eventually buying and seeing this film again as it truly captures so much of what I love about this galaxy, space travel, adventure and science fiction and all the possibilities of the future that come with it. I’m rooting for us eventually colonizing Mars and I hope this movie will ignite the interest in space travel and colonization again.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. A nearly perfect film.

Interstellar (2014): Creating a Future

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      We complete the First Sci. Fi. Movie Week with “Interstellar.” “Interstellar” is by no means the greatest film of the year, or the greatest science film I have watched…but it is great and a favorite. The themes it explores with humanity at the edge as explorers and as a dying species speak volume to problems that exist or could arise and the possibility of something more. The folks in charge of this did their research as well, of course there are science fiction elements since this is a fictional film, but a lot of how they present ideas are solid. I’ll get into more of what I mean in the assessment.

    The film was directed by Christopher Nolan who was also one of the writers and producers. His brother Jonthan Nolan was the other writer and the other producers were Emma Thomas and Lynda Obst.

   The premise is the not so distant future where the death of crops has turned society into an agrarian society with limited means. This has lead to extreme environment devestation and dust storms are a usual occurrence. In this world former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is raising his children with their grandfather (), after tracking a strange occurrence he stumbles on the last of NASA who have a plan for discovering a new planet to settle since Earth is dying. He decides to take the mission, and the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – “interstellar” is a beautifully visual film. Be it the desolate wasteland Earth is becoming, or the Black Hole that they pass through or any of the different worlds…each feels large, unique and powerful. Hoyte van Hoytema really did an astounding job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful and great. It is Hans Zimmer so it makes sense. My one issue with it was sometimes it was difficult to hear the dialogue because of how loud the music could become. The techno rhyme throughout the film gave it a very real high science fiction feel though and Zimmer is once again amazing.

The World – The world is rich in this Universe. From Earth being a dying world where climate is making crops unsustainable, to a planet of Water, a planet of Ice and the planet Amelia settles and how Space is shown as well as Cooper’s Station at the end. It is a Sci. Fi. Universe that feels real and close enough to our own to inspire us to try and make that reality (the good parts anyway).

The Science – We are presented different scientific concepts that strengthen the film. From the bend of space and time in regards to Black Holes or theoretical wormholes would work, to planets with greater gravity where time is faster or slower than on Earth. These ideas haven’t really been tackled all that well in modern cinema (that I can think of) except this film.

The Main Cast – The main cast is fantastic. I’ll get into the details of the characters and their arcs next, but I found the drama rich and the dilemmas real.

Amelia – This is not Hathaway’s greatest role as her motivation is one of the simplest ones…to find her boyfriend. She has other aspects to like love of exploration but when it comes down to the final choice that is her focus and is part of what leads to her ending as she heads off to Edmund’s planet at the end. Hathaway does a good job with what she’s given though, and she does survive.

Tom Cooper – Is the son who becomes stuck in the mindset of the dying Earth as he has lost children but refuses to leave as his home is all he has left. When Murphy calls him out on it he asks he never come back again leading to her burning his crops and attempting to save his children. He is the one whose scars are the most blatant after Cooper left as he sends his father a video of him saying good-bye. He moves on and becomes a part of the world destroying himself and his family. Casey Affleck does great.

Doctor Mann – Matt Damon plays a character who has gone mad and sees the only end because of how Doctor Brand used him. He wants humanity to die because he’s stared into the abyss and seen only humanity’s destruction. He nearly succeeds too and it’s only due to TARS, Amelia and Cooper that he doesn’t. His story is a tragedy as he had to live alone with his fears on a strange world with no way of getting back and knowing he was sent to die…all he had was sorrow.

TARS – Is the Artificial Intelligence that travels with them. TARS is pretty cool as it has personality and wit and the ability to make choices and withhold information. It builds a relationship with Cooper by the end and saves Cooper and Amelia a few times. I like it’s design as it’s like dark metal Tetris cubes all put together, and the voice is human but alien sounding. Glad that it survives the film.

Professor John Brand – Michael Caine’s character is the one who sets everything in motion and who didn’t have all the answers. In this way he was sending the crew off on a suicide mission which Murph finds out later as he’s on his death bed. She takes up her father’s and Brand’s work and makes sure he doesn’t die in vain as all of his character drive is for the salvation of humankind. He’s idealistic, flawed and very human.

Donald – John Lithgow play’s Cooper’s Father-in-Law and is our glimpse into the past/our present as he talks about everyone owning electronics and devices and how people get anything. His view is a reaction to this as he is fine with the way things are and values being a farmer and having a family. He’s let go of the past and moved on.

Murphy Cooper – Murph is our main protagonist on Earth as she joins Brand’s team to try and find a way to get off of Earth or reach the team that went through the Black Hole. We see that even as a young child she is curious and really attached to her dad as she is unable to talk to him after he leaves and only talks to say that he isn’t there when he said he would be. Resolution is reached in this as she works with her dad to solve the equation that makes colonizing space possible and finding her Dad. In end they meet and she’s an old woman, but they are finally at peace. The Coopers saved the human race. I really liked her character.

Cooper – Cooper is the one who is reluctant, but goes when he learns how bad Earth is getting since it would be the last chance he has to save his kids. His story is sad as his actions destroy his relationship to his son and for his daughter for a lot of her life. In the end all he has is the mission until the Black Hole placed by the Future humans gives him a way to communicate the equation or Murph which leads to his eventual rescue and the colonizing of the Solar System. He is there as his daughter dies and in the end takes off to go and search for Amelia as he fixed TARS who he became friends with and the adventure is all he has left. It’s bittersweet but awesome as it captures the essence of his character and how living his dream…no matter how costly it was, shaped him to forever be that explorer.

The Messages – There are a few messages in this film, the greatest of which is our ability to create a future. The Black Hole that’s a Wormhole was created by us to make certain that we would have a future in the first place. We see this in how Murph working with her father through space and time is able to figure out the code which makes human colonization of space possible and we see it in how TARS, Amelia and Cooper work together to get the ship back and stabilize it after Mann attempts to destroy it and in the afterword where we see people worked together to create Cooper Station off of Murph’s vision.

Okay: Red Shirts – There are two crewmen who die, but they are so unmemorable that they aren’t really worth mentioning. There’s the one who knows the science and math who Mann kills and the other guy who dies on the water planet because Amelia tries to do the mission to the point of stupidity and puts them all at risk. Their deaths only exist to raise the stakes, so they are at least successful at that.

The Cons: The Beginning – I really didn’t like the beginning. It was showing interviews with old people who are implied to be the people we’ll be seeing (and we do) and this shows that everyone lives. We don’t know how the characters live, but they live. This takes away from what could have created good tension, since there already is so much tension in the film.

Doctor Mann’s Story – I wish we could have got more of his story…be it from Professor Brand, who was his friend…or more of his story when we meet him and find out he’s an antagonist. I get why he is mad but I still don’t fully get it…What was his life on Earth like? We know how Amelia’s and Cooper’s life was, why not Mann?

   This was a great film and a wonderful way to end the First Sci. Fi. Movie Week. I highly recommend this film if you like Nolan, High Concept Science Fiction and space travel as it executes all of these really well. The minor characters don’t get justice done to them, but the main is given good exploration in what motivates them and in how they relate to one another.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. A few things could have got more exploration, and I would have cut out the spoiler beginning.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999): The Sociopaths Dance

The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley

“Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it, in your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they’re a bad person. ”

-Tom Ripley

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a film that makes me want to read the book. It is hard to pin down what the director was going for with the film since so many of the character’s are unsympathetic…the film it reminds me of most is “American Psycho,” which is a film I really like but has a much clearer message. It is a critique of corporate America through the eyes of the main character and the superficial disconnect from that lifestyle in brief. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” on the other hand is much more vague on it’s point. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a character study of Ripley or a critique of the people around him. Well, it is time for the assessment.

Warning, this review does have Spoilers.

The Pros – The cast is fantastic. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Davenport (Admiral Norrington from the “Pirates of the Caribbean Series”). All of them do well with what they are given in how the relate to one another and their relationships.

The Sociopaths – The main draw of the film is the relationship between Ripley (Damon) and Dickie Greenleaf (Law) in the first half and later Peter (Davenport) in the second half. These are the main people who use one another and are used (mostly by Ripley who is the master of it). It is worth watching just for them since that was where the script was most invested. None of them except Peter (Who is also gay and thankfully it isn’t presented as bad – He is there for those he loves (Ripley and Marge but uses everyone else) are good people. Dickie Greenleaf and Ripley are some of the more despicable characters in film and are ready to murder at the drop of a hat if they feel threatened as well as using, abusing and leaving their partners versus Peter who is more like Dexter, using his disconnect to protect Ripley his love. Also, an honorary mention to Philip Seymour Hoffman who was also clearly one of the sociopaths in the group (especially in relation to women and anyone outside of Dickie). He did great and his character actually had a fair amount of agency.

The Music – It is haunting and is good at adding tension. It adds to the scenes rather than just being background ambiance. The music was the glimpse into Ripley’s head when he didn’t have moments of honesty during his monologues.

Okay – The cinematography. It isn’t anything special. We don’t get any glimpses into the mind of Ripley from the cinematography…at least none that I found truly groundbreaking or worth noticing.

The Script – It wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t anything special. Much of the dialogue, especially for the women could be said by either of the female leads and it would change absolutely nothing.

Cons – The female characters – They were props and they had no agency throughout the entire film. The actresses are fantastic and their charisma at least made their scenes interesting…they just weren’t given anything to do and were cast aside or taken on as Ripley or the guys in control needed. I wish Paltrow’s character Marge had gotten revenge against Ripley even if she would join the Sociopaths (since we saw echoes of her being that way, the director or script writer just couldn’t commit).

The Message – I didn’t know what it was. If it was a character study of Mr. Ripley than we don’t know what he wants except the quote at the beginning of this review about him being a somebody rather than a nobody…but so often he gives that up to adopt a new identity and use another person. The ending is desolate and empty which would have been more powerful if we saw more of that empty Ripley between the roles and the characters he chose to be. Because we didn’t..the message fell flat.

I would give this movie a recommend nonetheless. It was good, especially for seeing the different types of sociopathy and the darker side of humanity, and the music creates great tension. Matt Damon, Jude Law and Jack Davenport have a chance to shine as the sociopathic dancers dancing with one another. Their characters show the different reasons that people commit wrongs against other human beings and those two characters and the relationships around Ripley are the only things that make him interesting.

I would rate it as 7.5 / 10.