Tag Archives: Star Wars

Top 10 Films of 2015

[Click here to see my rundown of the rest of the 2015 films.]

'Room' is a journey out of darkness, director says

  1. Room

Room is essentially two separate films. The second half (I can call it “post-escape” without giving away any more than the preview does) is a finely crafted and superbly acted family drama. But the claustrophobic first half, which never leaves the small room and thus never allows for anything longer than a medium-shot, is a truly unique experience. We see the world through Jack’s eyes. It may be tiny, but he fills it full of wonder as any 5-year-old can.


  1. Ex Machina

Great independent science fiction movies are getting harder to find. Gorgeous setting and special effects support a tight little cerebral thriller. Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleason are fantastic. (They show up again in another little sci-fi further up this list, but sadly don’t get to share the screen.)

Big Short

  1. The Big Short

Adam McKay – that’s right, the co-creator of Funny or Die and the man behind Anchorman and Talladega Nights – took a side step from his frat-house humor well and stunned with this insightful and bruising comedy. It’s full of risky stylistic choices. He throws so much at the screen that it sometimes feels muddled and confusing. But that’s on purpose to mirror the insanity of the situation. It’s exhilarating, current, and in a way that is all too real, deeply depressing.


  1. Trainwreck

Amy Schumer’s comedy may not be as poignant or risky as The Big Short. But it’s touching, personal and wall-to-wall hilarious. Judd Apatow brings his trademark authenticity to the comedy. Bill Hader is the heart of the movie, and John Cena and LeBron James leave you gasping for air. But this is Schumer’s movie through and through. If you like her work as a humorist – and I do – you will love this.


  1. What We Do in the Shadows

Ok, the mockumentary style has been done to death by now right? Wrong! Or right, I guess when you consider that the subject here is vampires. (Pause for groans…) I’m a sucker for this kind of deadpan humor, but once again it’s the sincerity of relationships in spite of the crazy backdrop that elevates these proceedings to cinematic gold.


  1. Spotlight

Now we reach the point where I wish all of these movies could be higher on the list, but competition gets tight. Spotlight is a fantastic procedural. The performances and filmmaking are across the board phenomenal. But it’s never showy. Everything is in support of the story. As much as you think you know about the Catholic priest scandals, think again.


  1. The Martian

Full disclosure: I’m biased by my absolute love of the book. The film could never quite equal my fascination with reading it. But Ridley Scott does the next best thing: he captures and translates the tone and feel perfectly. What makes this story so much more than “Cast Away in Space” is the light tough and the emphasis on real science. Scott’s greatest sci-fi achievements have never been accused of being “light,” so I was all the more delightfully surprised by this. So much for the argument that intellectualism and populism are mutually exclusive!

Star Wars force-awakens

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Amid the deafening build-up to this release, I convinced myself it was likely to be merely acceptable. It probably wouldn’t be as bad as the prequels – what could, right? But there’s no way it could live up to the originals. Well, I’m thrilled to say JJ Abrams’ new episode blew away all my expectations! It’s one thing to honor the originals and focus on the epic excitement that we all fell in love with in the first place. But he’s raised the bar by handing the reigns over to a new, more diverse generation of heroes. The new Star Wars honors the past without getting stuck in it.

Mad Max Fury Road sniper

  1. – TIE – Inside Out and Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is a perfect work of minimalist art. Its tight circular plot is stripped of all extraneous exposition. Conversely, all of the gratuity is in supporting visuals. Elaborate practical stunts, extravagant set pieces and found-object works of art build a lived-in world that needs no extra explanation. There’s almost no dialogue besides what’s absolutely necessary. And then there’s Charlize Theron, the most badass movie heroine since Alien’s Ripley. In a cinematic landscape where action heroes – and in fact pretty much ALL heroes – are STILL, even in 2015, almost exclusively the realm of men, Furiosa fires a shot across the bow to the film industry. No, not across the bow: straight into the forehead of every Bullet Farmer with a camera.

Pixar has the best track record (even with it’s couple of duds) of any movie studio in history, with some of my favorite movies of all time. Inside Out is Pixar’s best movie to date. And it’s one of the most accomplished, nuanced, original, daring, moving cinematic achievements I’ve ever witnessed. It touches nerves so deep inside they’ve never been exposed before. I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t cried at multiple times throughout. You may leave the theater a bit shell-shocked, but it somehow leaves you a better, more complete person than you were 90 minutes before.



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Original, Unedited “Star Wars” on Blu-ray: Will Millions of Voices Suddenly Cry Out in Ecstasy?

Star Wars Limited Editions

UPDATE 2/18/16: Sorry folks, this appears to be completely unsubstantiated. 18 months later, I have heard virtually nothing else about this. It’s a rumor that appears to crop up occasionally, either by bloggers hoping for an easy viral post or by overeager fans searching the depths of the internet for any possible edification of their hopes and dreams. I assume this because, a year and a half after publishing it – even taking almost a year off posting altogether! – this post still gets one or two hits almost daily. And as an overeager fan myself, even though I was skeptical, I was clearly duped enough to write a whole post about it. But if you, dear reader, ever hear of anything more concrete on this matter, please post about it in the comments section. Until then I will join the rest of you waiting with baited breath for Disney and Lucasfilm to come to their senses.


Disney is apparently planning to finally release the unedited, non-Special-Edition versions of the original Star Wars Trilogy. The news comes from an “Exclusive!” article just published by Comicbook.com. If this is true, it’s wonderful news… IF it’s really true. Somehow, I get the feeling that “if” is a little too big for comfort.

The general consensus among those old enough to know the original Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi from before the late 90’s – when Lucasfilm began releasing the “Special Edition” versions into theaters – is that all the new scenes, altered scenes, and computer-generated special effects ended up replacing much of the heart and soul of what made the film so beloved in the first place. While the decidedly one-sided “Han shot first” argument may never die, I personally feel the real tragedy was in replacing gritty, home-made environments and practical puppet aliens with the SE’s overly clean, incongruous computer generated characters and images that pulled the viewer away from the story just to ogle some (not-that-)pretty pictures.

After the prequels were released Lucasfilm decided to make even more changes to the originals, most famously replacing Anakin Skywalker’s aged ghost the end of Jedi with an image of the younger Hayden Christiansen. Besides not making a lick of literal sense, even within the fictional realm of the Star Wars universe, it further served to infuriate fans. Even the casual, not-so-die-hard-fanatic viewers were incredulous. But the studio stuck to their guns and released the DVD’s anyway.

In 2006 however, in one of their very few not-so-terrible decisions of that time, Lucasfilm decided to give in and give their fans what they wanted: Limited Edition DVD’s of the original trilogy in which each film included a second DVD containing the original unedited versions of the films. It was a very limited production run, but at least they placated the fans (slightly). Placated, that is, until Blu-ray became a big hit. Ever since, the heat has been on among Star Wars nerds to convince the studio to release an HD version of the unedited originals.

Which brings me to today’s news. While I have no reason not to trust Comicbook.com – a blog I’ve never actually read (I’ve nothing against the comic book community, but my own geekery has never really gone far in that direction) – my journalistic Spidey-sense is tingling. I may not have much training or experience with investigative journalism, but I’ve seen enough movies about the press to know that you should always check your sources. When I post news articles or other interesting online curios to this blog, I always try to link to the original source.

Unfortunately, in this case at least, Comicbook.com is not so diligent. The most they offer up for proof of their “Exclusive!” is this line:

Comicbook.com has now confirmed with two independent reliable sources that just such a plan is under way.

The author refers to “our sources” four more times in the span of two short paragraphs, but never gives any hint as to what those sources might be. Of course if this release doesn’t happen, their tracks are conveniently covered:

Our sources indicate that the project has been under way for quite some time, but it’s been challenging because of some damage to the original negatives they are utilizing… Our sources did not have an exact date as to when the original cut of the Star Wars Trilogy would be released on Blu-ray, due to the challenges Disney has encountered in pulling everything together.

I don’t know. Perhaps true comic book fans know this blog as a trusted source of reliable journalism. But how hard would it have been to give a little proof of this really incredible claim? It just makes me skeptical, is all.


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Meet the New “Star Wars” Cast


It’s official. Take a look at your cast for the new Star Wars: Episode VII (pictured above). In addition to the returning cast which we already knew about, there are a number of names that should make you perk up your ears, including some recent indie stars…

  • John Boyega hit it big with the lead in Jon Cornish’s excellent Attack the Block (along side Nick Frost). He’s done a number of smaller projects since, but his next big role has been eagerly anticipated, no matter what it would be.
  • Daisy Ridley is still a mostly unknown entity. Given the rest of the cast I take it she’s the female lead, but there’s no way of knowing yet what she will bring to the table.
  • Adam Driver is best known for HBO’s Girls, but he’s also seen a lot of recent exposure in last year’s indie-hits Inside Llewyn Davis and Francis Ha, as well as this year’s critically acclaimed Tracks alongside Mia Wasikowska. He also had roles in J. Edgar and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
  • Oscar Isaac came within spitting distance of an Oscar nomination last year for his revelatory role as the titular folk musician in Inside Llewyn Davis. Ultimately he fell victim to one of the most competitive fields in decades, but given a normal year he would’ve been assured a nod if not a win.
  • Andy Serkis has been practically a household name ever since his revolutionary motion-capture performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. With every new project, including his work in King Kong and especially Rise of the Planet of the Apes, he rekindles the argument for making mo-cap and voice performances eligible for Oscars and other awards.
  • Domhnall Gleeson is most recognizable as Bill Weasley in the final two Harry Potter films. He is the highest profile acting son of legendary character actor Brendan Gleeson, and he recently headlined Richard Curtis’ time-traveling rom-com About Time along side Rachel McAdams. He’s also had notable roles in True GritDredd, and Anna Karenina.
  • Max von Sydow is the most legendary name attached to a Star Wars film since Sir Alec Guinness. His career began over 65 years ago, as protege of Ingmar Bergman. Classics like The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries have cemented his name in the pantheon of all-time giants of the silver screen. More recently he has appeared in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Shutter Island, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. The latter earned him a near-record-breaking Oscar nomination at the age of 82. (Only Hal Holbrook was older – by 50 days – when he was nominated 4 years earlier.)

And these are the returning cast members from the original trilogy. (If you don’t know these names you have no business watching the new movie.)

  • Harrison Ford
  • Carrie Fisher
  • Mark Hamill
  • Anthony Daniels
  • Peter Mayhew
  • Kenny Baker

From StarWars.com

Director J.J. Abrams says, “We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud.”

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GrabBag – Marvel, DC Nab Same Release Date; also, Potential Star Wars Casting


Another week, another GrabBag full of screen-related flotsam. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

  • Famous People in Fiction is a 2-part series of pictures comparing historical figures to their more well-known movie incarnations. Something about that title doesn’t seem exactly right to me, but no matter. It’s fun to see all various actors that played the same roles lined up side-by-side. Part 1. Part 2.
  • It’s a long way off but apparently DC and Marvel are battling over my 35th birthday (May 6, 2016) for major tent-pole film releases. Marvel has held that date for a while for an as-yet-unnamed film (probably Captain America 3). Meanwhile DC just pushed the new Superman/Batman back to that very same date. There’s still plenty of time for one of the studios to back down, but if neither does it may be an interesting experiment to challenge the old standard “one movie per demographic per weekend” model. That, and I’m likely to have an awesome birthday weekend!
  • Speaking of tent-pole blockbusters, Variety gets a look at some of the actors being considered for the new Star Wars movie.
  • The theater projection instructions for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel are a fun read. (Click the image to see a full-screen version. Sorry about the blurry quality.)

GBH projection inst

  • And finally, T Bone Burnett’s music for True Detective was truly inspired. Listen to the song from the end of the finale …

That’s all for this week. Tune in next Friday for a new GrabBag!

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