Best Picture: Rocky

rockyThe third entry (it has been a while) into my Best Picture Oscar series is finally here with 1976’s ‘Rocky’. The first film in what has become a seven film series over the course of forty years, ‘Rocky’ has become known as one of the greatest boxing and sports films of all time and perhaps even one of the best “American dream” films that we have ever seen as well.

Written by and starring a young  Sylvester Stallone as the Italian Stallion Rocky Balboa, the film brought Stallone to worldwide prominence in a role that has gone on to shape his career and also become a cultural phenomenon.

Earning a total of ten nominations at the 49th Academy Awards, ‘Rocky’ collected three Oscar’s, not only for Best Picture, but also Best Director for John G. Avildsen and also for Best Film Editing. It also won the Award for Outstanding Directing from the Directors Guild of America as well. To say that ‘Rocky’ is iconic would be an understatement.

Telling the story of a debt collector for a loan shark who moonlights as a middling boxer who has never seriously trained for the fights, ‘Rocky’ is a film that could never get made in this day and age. From a slower pace, to the love story between Stallone’s Balboa and Talia Shire’s Adrian Pennino, audiences today would never flock to a film like this. And I feel this is a shame, because not all films have to work at a breakneck speed of feature explosions every twenty seconds.

‘Rocky’ shifts back and forth between three clear storylines, the love story between Rocky and Adrian, the arc of Rocky embracing of his boxing ability, and the story that brings all of this together, the desire of earning a big paycheque from Rocky’s opponent in the ring, Carl Weather’s Apollo Creed.

The story between Rocky and Adrian is what really sets this film apart, and both Stallone and Shire received well earned Best Actor and Best Actress nominations. While neither won, the fact that the film had such great performances, and from a film that was shot in only a 28 day time period, really just highlights how good they were.

Weathers’ performance as the film’s counterpoint to Stallone’s Rocky is actually a very understated performance. Playing an analogy to Muhammad Ali, Weathers steps up as a brash, loud self promoter who fails to take his self appointed challenger seriously, resulting in the climactic fifteen round fight that closes out the film.

While it took me into my 37th year to see the entirety of ‘Rocky’, especially considering that growing up it would be on television a couple of times a year, I am glad that I waited to be a bit older to give a full first viewing to fully understand the scope and wonder of this film.

While not all previous Best Picture winners have aged well, and while you can clearly tell that this film was shot during the 1970’s, ‘Rocky’ does truly stand the test of time to tell a great story of an underdog reaching up and grabbing a hold of the chance that we all dream of when it is presented and making the best of it.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer, and watch for some other Best Picture reviews soon.

Hail, Caesar!

caesarWhile I haven’t seen all of the Coen Brothers films, and amongst those are some of their best, something just intrigued me about ‘Hail, Caesar!’. Be it the top flight cast, the premise of the film, of just the overall silliness of the plot, it just pushed all right buttons for me.

Now, sometimes, films like ‘Hail, Caesar!’ take a while to find time to watch, and that is exactly what happened, but I finally found the time last evening, and it was well worth the wait. The Coen Brothers have crafted a film that takes on a satirical look at Hollywood during the 1950’s, from the Red Scare of American Communism, to protecting assets in an era when it was much easier to do so.

Be it big starts, like George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson or Channing Tatum taking on lesser roles that all help move the story along, of Josh Brolin dryly carrying the film, ‘Hail, Caesar’ is able to do all of this built on current Hollywood’s good will that the Coen’s have built up over the years.

Featuring film styles of the time, like Roman epics, dancing and singing musicals and the like, ‘Hail, Caesar’ takes a look into a not so typical 48 hours for main character Eddie Mannix as he fulfills his role of studio “fixer”, moving from set to set and playing both actors and media, doing his best to keep less than savory stories under wraps to ensure only good publicity for the fictional studio’s films and stars.

Loosely based on the real-life studio “fixer” Eddie Mannix, the film relates possible stories that Mannix helped clean up during the 1940’s and 1950’s for MGM. In the film, Mannix spends his days ensuring that fictional Capitol Pictures films proceed in order and on time (and also on budget), and that the actors and actresses in the employ of the Studio stay out of trouble, and failing that, out of the news whenever possible.

Josh Brolin is a very strong, central focal point to the story, and with a whisper of a 1950’s mustache, very much fits what one would expect the character of Eddie Mannix to look like. George Clooney with his Roman-esque short cropped hair, Channing Tatum with his dyed blond hair and Tilda Swinton in the duel roles of twin gossip columnists all fill out the early 1950’s the exact way that you would expect it to work, much to the strength of the film.

An irreverant, light hearted but dry comedy, ‘Hail, Caesar’ pokes fun at Hollywood’s under belly from the 1950’s and should always be viewed as one of the strongest films from the Coen Brothers and a great way to get a glimpse of what the film industry looked like sixty years ago. A definite recommend from myself to anyone out there.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Looks for more to come soon. Cheers for today.

Sing

singEver since Illumination hit the animation scene with ‘Despicable Me’ they have proven that they are the top competitor to the animation crown that has long been held by Disney, either on their own or with Pixar. While not always hitting perfectly, there is no denying their blossoming box office power. Such is the case with 2016’s ‘Sing’.

One of the great things about the breakthroughs in computer animation has been the ability for studios to increase their output and 2016 was just that for Illumination as they not only released ‘Sing’ but also ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ during the summer. While ‘Pets’ has the ability to appeal to both children and adults alike, ‘Sing’ was clearly designed for children first and formost.

With bright animation, tonnes of music and an easy to follow story, ‘Sing’ is a film that is destined to be played over and over again by young children in their homes, but a downfall to the film is the lack of a catchy original song. Still the domain of Disney films, a song to tell the story of a film is something that really does take away from this film.

I will say that the animation looks great, the voice casting takes nothing away from the film, and the as I mentioned, the story is easy to follow and easily does the job required of it. All of this adds up to a great kids film, but at 108 minutes, has a few moments that drags for adults.

If you have kids, this is a film that you should sit down and watch with them, and then let them watch as they will, but I highly doubt you will need more than one or two viewings to be tired of the kid-friendly-ness of ‘Sing’.

As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer for all this and much more. Cheers for now.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Everyone knows a story that owes itself to an unexpected team up, from superhero team-ups in comic books, to ‘The Avengers’ in film, to buddy cop movies and the like. All of them owe a thank you to ‘Seven Samurai’ and it’s Western genre remake, the original ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

In our current world of remakes, reboots and updates, it was only a matter of time that the original Western would be updated with current actors and retold, and that is where 2016’s ‘The Magnificent Seven’ comes to us. Directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring the likes of frequent Fuqua collaborators Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, along with current in form actors like Chris Pratt, the remake tries to recapture the magic of the original films from the 1960’s.

While endeavouring to develop a film that could do honour to the originals, 2016’s offering falls short of that goal, but not due to anything the film itself does, but just down to the fact that more is expected of films today and a sense that not all stories need to be retold. The film itself is perfectly fine, a nice mix of action and comedy, but is just missing something, an unidentifiable “it” that would have pushed it over the top.

The stars of the film are the two main leads, Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. Washington brings his usual dramatic gravitas to the film, while Pratt is his equally important comedic foil. Rounding out the great performances from the cast is Haley Bennett as the widow who brings the cause that makes up the film to the main characters.

With the characters being changed and updated both to fit with actual representations of the era and to bring more diversity to the cast in our current day and age, Fuqua provided a great cast to base the story against, and with a quite fitting soundtrack and great wide ranging vistas to use, it is quite difficult to find exactly what the downfall is with ‘The Magnificent Seven’ other than to say that it falls into the trap that befalls most Westerns in this day and age: they just seem too dry.

All in all, 2016’s ‘The Magnificent Seven’ is a good film, just not great, but is definitely worth a viewing for anyone that is a fan of the Western genre in general or a fan of Denzel Washington specifically.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Cheers for now.

Moana

moana2To say that Disney Animation has turned the corner from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s blunders that they produced would be quite the understatement. In a year that they release a “B” movie in ‘Zootopia’ that may be the most topically accurate film of the last decade, they also release the most visually stunning animated film of all time with ‘Moana’

Telling a story of the south Pacific and Polynesia specifically, ‘Moana’ touches many cords, from great songs, altogether amazing music, simply stunning animation from both CGI and hand drawn camps, to tell an epic story of accepting mistakes and not showing a blind willingness to take things at face value.

The one thing that ‘Moana’ does do really, really well is act exactly like you would expect a Disney Animated film to act. Disney Princess (and there is even a joke in the film about this) with an animal sidekick is told what she can or cannot do, then with the advice of older female mentor character, heads off into the unknown to resolve the film’s overarching issues.

That it does so in such spectacular fashion is a testament to the writers, animators and all involved in the film. While you know exactly what you are going to be getting during the film, the way that it is presented, how it is grounded in community, how it is designed as a commentary on today’s environmental issues, are all sights to behold.

While I’m not sure if I have just been more open to ideas in the past twelve months or so, I will admit that a handful of films have just resonated with me, and ‘Moana’ is one of those films. Whether reminding us of the fact that humans are explorers, or the fact that music goes right down to the soul and that there is nothing quite like music that fits perfectly with a story, or that mythology and amazing stories are similar from across the entire globe, ‘Moana’ touches all the right cords.

I want to stay away from the voice acting because it is awesome work from all involved, but hard to not say anything about Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson singing his own song in a Disney movie as demigod Maui, or Jemaine Clement channeling David Bowie for his song as Tamatoa either. But rising above all of that is the work of young Auli’i Cravalho as the title character Moana, and not only her voice work but her work doing all of Moana’s songs as well, at least one of which will be up for an Oscar.

2016 has been a banner year, not just for Disney Animation but for Disney as a whole, and it was bookended nicely by their animated films, and ‘Moana’ is the most visually stunning of them all.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Cheers for now.

Jason Bourne

jbourne

I need to preface this review with the fact that I absolutely love the original Bourne films. They are amongst some of my favourite films ever, and I firmly believe that The Bourne Ultimatum is the best spy-action-thriller film I have ever seen. So, with that, I was quite excited when it was announced that Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass were going to be returning to the franchise.

After the failed expansion of the franchise with 2012’s ‘The Bourne Legacy’, ‘Jason Bourne’ was supposed to be a return to the glorious films of the original trilogy. Alas, this is not what we got with the fifth film in the series.

Matt Damon was a great Jason Bourne during the 2000’s, but he was not able to fully recapture that spark in a film that turned out to be a bit of a bore and one that dragged during a story of cyber-sleuthing in the modern age.

But most of this is a direct result of how far from the books the films have strayed, and also from the corner that ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ put the franchise into with the ending that it provided. There really was no way to bring Damon’s Bourne back after ‘Ultimatum’ but they tried and gave us a subpar storyline in doing so.

I will say that Paul Greengrass does a remarkable job of giving us some action-y fight scenes and also gives us possibly his strongest car chase scene that he has (still not the best in the series though), but the filming was not enough to make up for the story we were given.

That being said, at least the story tried to be topical to today’s society, with the fear of the government spying on us and using our own technology to do it. ‘Jason Bourne’ did a decent job of presenting a scenario that most viewers could at least understand on some level, even if for some of those viewers it was just a way to provide examples for their own paranoia.

In the end, we can now only wait for the inevitable reboot, or retooling of the character and the franchise, and I for one will hope to finally see a Bourne film where he hunts down The Jackal, true to the original stories, and a storyline that if they had followed it in the films, could have provided a reason for a return to the character at least.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Cheers all.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one-2

Do you know someone that is not a fan of Star Wars? Yes, shocking as it may seem, those people actually do exist. And for those people that are out there, I truly feel sorry for them this weekend, because that means they are making the decision to not see what may be one of the better war films we have had lately in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’.

Now for those of us who are Star Wars fans, ‘Rogue One’ is the first of the anticipated anthology films that LucasFilm and Disney are going to be giving us on a bi-annual cycle, in off years from the main saga films. And admittedly, if the first film that we have received is any indication of the quality of films that will be forthcoming in the anthology series, we will all be in for a treat.

‘Rogue One’ tells the story of how the original plans for the Empire’s super weapon, the Death Star, come into the hands of the Rebellion. Alluded to during the opening crawl of ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’, the theft of the plans is a very important moment for the Rebel Alliance in their attempt to overthrow the First Galactic Empire.

The new film is an interesting mix of new ideas, taking old threads and increasing their importance, and also providing enough easter eggs for fans of not just the main saga films but also the current in-continuity projects such as the TV show ‘Star Wars Rebels’, that it really is a full run time that does not feel that it takes anywhere near the two hour and 13 minute run time that it is listed at.

From giving glimpses of new unseen planets, some new technology and ships, to showcasing well known locations such as Yavin IV and glimpses of favourite vehicles and ships as well, ‘Rogue One’ is a great melding of both new and old.

But it is the old that really grabs your attention here. Set designers did a wonderful job of building sets that give a real 1970’s vibe at times, which is critically important as ‘Rogue One’ is a direct prequel to 1977’s ‘A New Hope’, so much so that one wonders just how much time actually separates the films with regards to their timelines.

Over to the characters, and you really gain an appreciation of how much the new generation of Star Wars films are going to pushing forward with strong female leads. While I don’t really believe most people have fully appreciated just how strong of a character that Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia Organa was in the original trilogy, they have really pushed the envelope with the main front running character in both ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens’ and now ‘Rogue One’ both being female.

Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is really setup as a character that is being used to reach a goal for the Alliance, but at the end of the film, has become a great driving force for the Rebellion and is one of the more important cogs to the success not only of the mission in the film, but the film in theaters as well. While sometimes falling flat at the dialogue provided, Jones still does enough to pull off being a natural leader, one that uses her name when needed to get results, and in a great continuation of what Star Wars does best, not force a female character to be female to be a strong character.

The other characters of the main cast are at times overshadowed by both lack of development, essentially being wallpaper to Jones at times, and also by well known characters who are here to tie ‘Rogue One’ into ‘A New Hope’. This boils down to just how difficult it is to give proper character backgrounds and explore character depth in a film that is just slightly more than two hours in length as opposed to having seasons of a television show with which to build characters.

There are definitely some new characters introduced in ‘Rogue One’ that I would love to see explored more, and maybe we might get to see that in ‘Rebels’ if the show continues long enough to make it reach the timeline of this film.

But the thing that really sets ‘Rogue One’ apart from the previous seven live-action Star Wars films we have seen in the past is not the characters, but the genre of the film. While the main saga films are epic space operas, this film is a gritty war movie. From discussions of rebellion versus extremism, to being a spy and the dirty hands that come with it, to undercover beach heads, and the largest space battle we have seen before, ‘Rogue One’ is in fact what the series calls itself, Star Wars.

Regardless of if you take the main saga films to be the rise, fall and possible rebirth of the Skywalker family and their ties to The Force, or a higher overreaching arc of the eternal strife between the Jedi and the Sith, ‘Rogue One’ slots in perfectly as an entry into the history of what is now a franchise across multiple platforms.

So much so that I slide ‘Rogue One’ as the second best of the eight live-action films, trailing only ‘Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back’ as the best of the bunch, and that is high praise indeed as I view that film as one of the best films of all time.

In the end, if you love Star Wars, ‘Rogue One’ is for you. If you enjoy war films, you will enjoy this film. If you don’t enjoy either, I’m not sure what you are doing making it all the way through this.

I do promise that I am back to reviewing films on a regular basis as we now have enough stability in our home to allow it. Expect a full review of recent Marvel films coming soon. As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer for movie talk and more. Cheers all.