Movies of 2015 – May

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) – George Lucas

sw1Back when I was in middle school, a friend told me I should watch this cool movie his dad showed him because it has a really cool bad guy named Dark Vader. I watched it and enjoyed it as hundreds of millions of others have before and since. That was that, until it wasn’t because Episode I was announced right around that time, and there was a lot of buzz, even among middle school students who weren’t really familiar with the movies. I felt cool because I had already seen a Star Wars movie, which made me an expert among my peers. Of course, the announcement of the prequels reminded me that there were already some sequels, so I figured out some way to watch them (probably on VHS, I forget). I went to all of the prequel openings and saw the original trilogy rereleases in theaters. I played some of the video games. I read a few of the books. In short, I got burned out. (continued in Ep. V review) – 10/10

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Irvin Kershner

Battle_of_HothIt took quite a while for me to watch another Star Wars movie. I think outside of showing A New Hope to my students in 2014 (which I only half-watched while grading papers or something like that), I hadn’t watched a movie in the series for at least five years if not longer. So, when I watched the trilogy again this month, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved every minute of it. The characters are so believable. The action is so tense. The revelations in the plot are so well done. The trilogy is every bit as great in 2015 as it was when it first released. (continued in Ep. VI review) – 10/10

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) – Richard Marquand

LvVI watched all three movies the same day. Ep. IV was the ICC movie of the week, so that Monday I went home and immediately watched Ep. V and Ep. VI. On one hand, watching them all on the same day in a row is exhausting, but it really was quite an experience – like binge-watching an entire season of a great show. I don’t believe I ever did it before with Star Wars. Anyway, this hasn’t really been much of a review, more of a personal exploration of my relationship to the movies. Overall, they’re great. It’s of course one of the greatest trilogies of all time. A New Hope is the best of the bunch despite many liking Empire Strikes Back more. Return of the Jedi is fantastic but slightly less so than its predecessors. – 9/10

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

captain-america-banner1When I first saw this movie last year, I rated it a 9/10 and talked about how it was both a great spy thriller and a great super hero movie. I stand by that description after watching it again a year later. Chris Evans is perfect as Captain America. Anthony Mackie is perfect as Falcon. Scarlett Johansson is perfect as Black Widow. Sebastian Stan is perfect as The Winter Soldier. The action is both believable and fantastic at the same time. Instead of just feeling like another MCU movie, it actually seemed to have a specific influence – the Brubaker run of the Captain America comics, which is one of my favorite runs in Marvel history. – 9/10

Men in Black (1997) – Barry Sonnenfield

Men-in-BlackMen in Black is one of the funniest sci-fi movies I have ever seen. Nearly 20 years after its release, I still laughed at almost every joke. It was a huge relief to me that my students were also laughing. One who had to leave the screening early told me that she was going to find the movie and finish watching it when she got home – something that rarely happens. This movie is a close second to my favorite “buddy cop” film, Rush Hour 2, and it also ranks highly as a science fiction film as well. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are the perfect pair, and I look forward to watching this movie every time I get the chance. In my opinion, this movie is flawless. – 10/10

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – George Miller

6-MAD_MAX_FURY_ROAD_2015_TRAILERA lot has been about the new Mad Max in the past few weeks since its release. I went in with a mostly blank slate, never having seen any of the previous movies in the franchise and only having watched one trailer for this one. My expectations were middling, but they were exceeded in every way imaginable. I don’t think it’s crazy to call this the most exciting action movie ever made. I was invested in every single scene from beginning to end. The action scenes were exciting and full of novel shots and stunts, but the scenes between them which are a bit quieter and reflective also helped to keep the movie from just being an exercise in spectacle for the sake of spectacle. Of all the new movies from 2015 I’ve seen so far, this is the only one that I intend to watch again as soon as possible. – 10/10

All In: The Poker Movie (2012) – Douglas Tirola

1cb5604f24Documentaries that explore subcultures surrounding competitive games or sports have always been interesting to me. Some of my favorites include Senna (2010) – Formula 1 racing, 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience (2012) – arcade video games, and Kings of Pastry (2009) – pastry design and creation. All In is closest in feel to 100 Yen as it serves as both a history of the game and an introduction to the competitive side of things. However, in addition to documenting the rise of big money tournaments like the World Poker Tour, significant screen time is given to the fall of online poker after it was made illegal in the US. As someone who has only played poker for real money a handful of times, I learned quite a bit and got to know many of the personalities in the competitive scene. The movie performs its function adequately but isn’t cinematically interesting or even entertaining. I recommend it for fans of poker, but those fans probably already know everything that the movie sets out to tell them so I guess I really don’t know the intended audience. – 6/10

X-Men (2000) – Bryan Singer

x-men-eric-and-charlesThis is it. This is the big one for me. If not for this movie, I would have never taken classes in college to study movies. I would have never run the International Film Series or the International Cinema Club. I would have never developed a curriculum and taught a class covering the history of movies. I most definitely would not have started a blog in which I wrote short reviews of the movies I watch. X-Men  was the first movie I ever liked, meaning that it’s the first one that I went to the theater to see multiple times not because I just wanted to see a movie or that my parents were taking me out but because I wanted to watch this movie specifically. I read X-Men comics growing up, watched the fantastic Saturday morning cartoon, and played many of the videos games. When the movie came out in 2000, good comic book movies were pretty rare. In fact, it can be argued that X-Men was the catalyst that ushered in the era we are in currently in which comic book and super hero movies come out several times a year and keep making and breaking new box office records.

X-Men is better than any of them that have come out since. Aside from Joss Whedon who actually writes super hero comics, Bryan Singer understands the X-Men better than any of the other super hero movie directors do of their own characters. The X-Men are not just about fighting crime or villains; they are a stand in for civil rights, human rights, and LGBT rights activists. Singer effectively uses metaphor in an obvious and effective way. The casting choices made were almost all perfect – so perfect that I need an entirely different post to talk about them. Magneto still has yet to be topped as a super hero movie villain due to his menace, humor, humanity, hypocrisy, and principles. For the time, the special effects and action were better than anything of the sort save for The Matrix from the year prior. Wolverine being chosen as the main character had broad appeal and allowed for a great way to see the X-Men from an outsider’s perspective and allowed for the kind of exposition needed for a film like this. Everything could have been done through Rogue’s perspective as well, which would have been fine but might have made for a weaker overall series starting point as it would have probably been made for a younger audience. This film as a starting point for the now very long-running series is perfect, even if some of the other (non Singer-directed) movies aren’t.

As you can probably tell if you actually read all of that, I kind of have a stream-of-consciousness overload when I try to talk about or write about this movie. I’ve probably watched it 30 times in the 15 years since its release, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. It’s in my top 10 favorite movies of all time. It’s the best super hero movie ever made. It’s the most important movie in my life. – 10+/10

Tomorrowland (2015) – Brad Bird

tmrwIt’s a preachy movie with the message that special people get to go to a beautiful land of excitement and wonder so that they can ignore the real problems in the world because actually thinking about those problems is what literally, actually causes them. If you even try to remind people that there are real issues in the real world when at Disneyland, oops I mean Tomorrowland, they will kick you out and threaten to kill you! Many people will disagree with my thoughts on this movie, but I genuinely felt like this was the message, even if it was unintentional. I will say that some of the visual effects were pretty, and that the aesthetics of Tomorowland (meaning the place within the film) were sleek. – 5/10

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