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.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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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.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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It took 32 years, but we finally have it: A film completely worthy of the ‘Star Wars’ mantle, a mantle that has been dragged through the mud, restored, battered, and remade, but one that has always been at the forefront of pop media since the debut of the original film back in 1977.

Yes, we did get the Prequel Trilogy starting in 1999, but they always felt like they were missing something, and J.J. Abrams has given us exactly what that was with ‘The Force Awakens’: an underdog fight.

Say what you will about the Prequels, but from ‘A Phantom Menace’ through ‘Attack of the Clones’ and up to ‘Revenge of the Sith’, they never gave us a story that the masses could get behind. Honestly, I’m not even sure if any of us even knew that this was what was missing until seeing the new film.

‘Star Wars’ requires a strong, ever-present dark side to balance out what is essentially a coming of age story for our heroes and their discovery of the The Force. All three of the Original Trilogy films had an out-in-the-open big bad and the Resistance resonated with the general audience all the more for it.

With that little background information behind us, let us finally get to the meat of this little blurb. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is just simply a fantastic blockbuster film. It is not perfect, and there are a few things I that I could nitpick but I won’t for a while, but it is damned entertaining, and is a great example of how to tell a story.

You may run into some people that will lament that ‘The Force Awakens’ comes across as a shot for shot remake of ‘A New Hope’, and as a result will also begin to tear into Abrams’ reboot of ‘Star Trek’ from 2009. Don’t listen to these people. Yes, there are some similarities between the very original Star Wars film from back in 1977 and this year’s release, but that is bound to happen, as there was clearly a story that work and Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan went back to scratch from.

Of course, with any film this big, this anticipated, and under a microscopic lense from day one like ‘The Force Awakens’ was, there are bound to be a couple of slip ups, and the biggest, as far as I am concerned, was the casting as Adam Driver as the big bad, Kylo Ren. Spoilers will prevent me from diving into this right now, but this is the one major item that I wish could have been improved upon.

On the flip side of the coin, I think we are seeing the debut of the next big name actress as Daisy Ridley is the star of this film. We are left with some big questions as to just who Ridley’s character, Rey, is, but this was a masterstroke from Abrams and Kasdan, even if neither is returning in a writing role for the next two films to come. These questions will surely be the carrot to the horse for the story of Episode VIII in 2017, and I for one cannot wait to see how that plays out.

Ridley has the ability to give a complete range to her character, and most of that is built on her eyes, which is nicely tied into the film during the second act, to the point where you ask if she was cast to fit the role or if the role was adjusted to her. Either way, Ridley’s Rey is the character that the Sequel Trilogy will be tied to.

As good as Rey was and as much as I wish that Kylo Ren could have been a tad different, ‘The Force Awakens’ is stolen by the returning Han Solo and Chewbacca. Harrison Ford seems like he has been waiting for the past 30 years for this film, and be it true or not, appears to be having a sincerely great time returning to one of the two roles that made him a household name.

His chemistry with our favourite Wookie, Chewie, has never been better than it is in the new film, and the way that they play off of each other allows the film to move from the first act into the third, and provide not only the film’s key doses of nostalgia, but also the necessary torch passing to not only Ridley’s Rey, but also to John Boyega’s Finn.

At the end of the day, the easiest way to describe ‘The Force Awakens’ is this way: take everything that you love about the Original Trilogy, couple it with today’s CGI, motion capture and special effects, add some well placed nostalgia, sprinkle in enough new blood, and what will you get? A new generation’s epic sci-fi space opera. Exactly what we all hoped for 16 years ago, we just may not have been ready for it yet.

I will do a further review after the next time I have seen ‘The Force Awakens’, one replete with spoilers, but ones that will allow me to properly explain all of my thoughts.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Also, take a moment to peruse my past reviews, and let me know what you agree or disagree with. Cheers all.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part One

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The final Harry Potter book, “The Deathly Hallows”, ended up being broken up into two films, and after seeing both films for a second time, this definitely has ended up seeming to be a cash grab by Warner Bros., one that they have become quite familiar with over the years.

I need to be honest here, as ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part One’ was the first Harry Potter film that I ever saw. I know that this seems weird, and it probably is, but I saw this film in theaters as a way to get a free ride home from a visit at a friend’s place over an hour away from my home. The fact that I saw this with the woman that would become my girlfriend just a couple of weeks later has never been lost on me, and I know it carries a special place in her heart five years later.

That being said, upon an in timeline viewing of ‘Deathly Hallows 1’ is the most bloated, over-blown film of the series since ‘Chamber of Secrets’ was filmed as a book-to-screen literal translation. The weakest of the four films directed by David Yates, ‘Deathly Hallows 1’ suffers as a result of far too much exposition, too many scenes of sitting around and waiting, and an overall dullness that does a disservice to the start of the film.

Opening up with a scene which shows the great lengths that the remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix will go to keep Harry alive, we see an interesting battle between Harry and Voldemort, a prelude to the series finale we will see in the final film. After this, we get to see a wedding, an attempt to return to the normalcy of life, one that does not end well and finally puts our main three characters, Harry, Hermione and Ron, on the run from Voldemort, his Death Eaters, and the Ministry of Magic.

As the film progress, it slows down to a snail’s pace, in what can only be considered a full on attempt to justify splitting the final book into two films. Eventually, ‘Deathly Hallows 1’ finds its footing again as it builds to its “climax”, the splitting of the story, in a pair of scenes that will not reveal their full truths until the bitter end.

In between, we see the effects of the recently acquired Horcrux on all the main characters, but mainly on Ron, where he sets of on his own from Harry and Hermione, and in the end, with his destruction of this Horcrux, literally comes face-to-face with his worst fear and overcomes it.

With the destruction of a third Horcrux, Voldemort feels he is becoming ever more vulnerable and heads off to find the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand in existence and one of the fabled Deathly Hallows. This is how ‘Deathly Hallows 1’ ends, with Voldemort in possession of the one wand that he believes will allow him to kill Harry Potter and live forever.

The beginning and end of ‘Deathly Hallows 1’ are strong, essentially rivaling any other film of the series, but the middle part, which drags like only the first two films do, hurts the overall caliber of the film. I wonder what a full single ‘Deathly Hallows’ would have looked like and if the splitting of the story was truly needed.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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The Harry Potter series continues with the sixth instalment, ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’. ‘Half-Blood Prince’ deals with the realization that Lord Voldemort has dealt with horcruxes in a bid to cheat death and reign supreme over the wizarding world.

Along with this plot thread, we also start to see how Dumbledore is willing to use Harry and his “celebrity status” as the possible Chosen One to further his investigation into what he sees as artifacts of Voldemort’s youth.

‘Half-Blood Prince’ also gives us a final decision on the see-saw nature of Severus Snape’s allegiances, as he undertakes the Unbreakable Vow with Draco Malfoy’s mother, in order to complete Draco’s killing of Albus Dumbledore should he fail to do so himself. While very in line with his “double agent” role in the series, his story ultimately leads to the films defining moment, when Snape follows through with this on a weakened Dumbledore.

The rest of the film deals with the final realization that a young Tom Riddle used former, and now present again, Potions teacher Horace Slughorn to learn how to create Horcruxes, and how Dumbledore and Harry will need to eliminate those items in order to defeat Lord Voldemort in the end.

The second film from David Yates, ‘Half-Blood Prince’ succeeds due to the continuation of having a consistent vision from the same director as the previous film, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’. As a result of this, ‘Half-Blood Prince’ is a stronger film than the story may have originally allowed. Essentially, this film is told to just further the story, and at times feels that is in place to just get us to the last story, which is split into two films.

Character development is a shining star in ‘Half-Blood Prince’, as Ron Weasley gets, and loses, his first girlfriend, which as a result finally forces Hermione Granger to come to terms with her feelings for Ron, something that fully plays out during the next film. We also see Dumbledore come to terms with his mortality, the way that Snape is seemingly torn by his role as a Death Eater, and that Harry is growing more and more into is role as the most important wizard of his age as he takes on more responsibility throughout the film.

In the grand scheme of things, ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ suffers overall from its place in the series, but is saved by the continued vision of David Yates who directs the last four films in the series, and also from strong character development.

As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer, and if you are so inclined, check out older reviews on films you may be interested in. Cheers.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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Year Five at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry sees Harry, Hermione and Ron deal with the fallout from ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, mainly the full return of Lord Voldemort. Dealing mostly with the debut of the titular Oder, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ brings to light more of Voldemort’s connection with Harry while also dealing with the Ministry of Magic’s outright refusal to admit that the Dark Lord has indeed returned.

Once again featuring a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, one Dolores Umbridge who has been appointed by the Ministry itself, ‘Order of the Phoenix’ is really a story of how the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, does everything in his power to discredit both Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore. Fudge does not believe that Voldemort has returned and that Dumbledore is using these steps as a way to take over Fudge’s job.

Going in a darker direction from the previous ‘Goblet of Fire’, ‘Order of the Phoenix’ sees Harry teaching a fellow group of students spells and measures to protect themselves against the Dark Arts. This transpires as Harry deals with visions of attacks on members of the Order deep in the Ministry.

This film shows us the Ministry of Magic for the first time, and also gives us our first real look at a magic battle at the end of the film, as Voldemort’s Death Eaters try to secure a prophecy from the Ministry and face off with the Order of the Phoenix, resulting in death and our first look at Dumbledore’s prowess as a wizard as he goes toe-to-toe with Voldemort.

‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ really takes a giant leap forward from the previous film in actually giving us life and death situations that match all the stories that the films are telling us. While not a perfect film, it does give us enough to work with, and even more information on the pasts of key characters, such as Harry using the Occlumency spell on Severus Snape to see how Harry’s father and friends had bullied Snape.

With more information brought forward on the main characters, a full on final battle, and character defining deaths, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ becomes the strongest of the films to date and a great build to the final three films of the series. The series finally seemed to have found its voice with new director David Yates, and the fact that he also directs the final three films is a great sign.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer, and check out the site for other films you might be interested to read about. Cheers.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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We reach the halfway point of the Harry Potter series with ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’. Year four for Harry, Hermione and Ron sees the first outright appearance of the Death Eaters, the introduction of two other wizard in schools, and finally, a brief look at what the whole series is about.

‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ is based around a school year round Triwizard Tournament, which is designed to feature a selected champion from three different schools in a series of tasks to determine a champion. Added into the mix is Harry Potter himself as a fourth competitor, because how else could you have this actually happen?

As the film progresses, we get to see more and more of the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (yes, the fourth in four years), one Alistar “Mad Eye” Moody, who appears to have taken a very particular interest in Harry throughout the film. Asked personally by Albus Dumbledore to take over the position, Moody acts as Harry’s family figure as the tournament progresses.

There were times during ‘Goblet of Fire’ that the film seemed to almost stand still though as we were waiting for the next task in the Triwizard Tournament to take place, and when those tasks actually take place, the film is actually quite good, but the inbetween parts reminded me very much of the first two films in being dragged out too much. Essentially, the good parts were good, the lesser parts nowhere near as much.

The climax of the film is what ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ is all about and what the entire film builds towards. After becoming co-winner of the tournament, Harry is transported via a portkey to the Riddle family graveyard, where one Peter “Wormtail” Pettigrew is waiting with a recently reformed Lord Voldemort.

Pettigrew completes his full and utter betrayal of the Potter family by using Harry to complete a spell in which Voldemort is finally able to return to full life, at which point and time we finally get our first glimpse into the battle that will happen between Harry and Voldemort. While not a full, drawn out battle, it is nonetheless a great step forward for each character.

At the end, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ is an, at times, uneven film,but one that does exactly what it sets out to do in giving is a return in full of Lord Voldemort and a huge step forward for Harry as a character.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer, and please do take a look at older reviews and articles here on the site as you may just discover other films you might want to see. Cheers.