What would movies be without their scores? A lot less engaging, I can tell you that much! Movies and music go together like peanut butter and jelly. They were just made for each other. Imagine Indiana Jones running from that boulder without John Williams’ epic score in the background. Or Jaws without those menacing notes signaling the shark’s presence. It just wouldn’t feel right, would it?
Musical scores are imperative to movies. And great movies in particular should have a great score. As far as 2015 goes, one score stood out above the rest.
Winner: Inside Out (Michael Giacchino)
From the minute I first heard that melancholic opening melody to Inside Out, I knew I was in for something special. Pixar films have had great scores in the past, particularly Michael Giacchino’s previous collaborations with the studio (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up), but Inside Out’s music stands out above them all.
The score to Inside Out is, very appropriately, bittersweet. It captures a range of moods and emotions to do the accompanying material justice, and often sounds minimalistic, ethereal and more abstract than most Pixar scores, which suits the film’s nature perfectly.
Inside Out is a sad movie, but also a happy one, and Michael Giacchino’s score captures that essence in what has become one of my all-time favorite film scores. It’s joyous and heartbreaking just to listen to. I’m tearing up just thinking about it!
Runner-up: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Williams)
Visual effects are more prominent than ever in movies. Whether it’s the ever-expanding usage of CG, or the practical effects of old, visual effects play a major role in today’s movie scene. Of all the movies released in 2015, one had to stand out above the rest in terms of visual effects. It should be a no-brainer which movie that is.
Winner: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
After the prequel trilogy soured the Star Wars franchise with horrible storytelling and an over reliance on CG effects to the point that they looked lifeless and garish, The Force Awakens was a real return to form. Both in that it was a great movie, and that it made the Star Wars universe feel believable again by utilizing practical effects along with CG (which was used as needed, instead of being excessive).
With great costumes, makeup, puppetry, animatronics, and computer generated imagery, The Force Awakens is the best looking Star Wars film so far. And one that uses its visual effects to help bring to life its imaginative universe in the best possible way. It’s as much fun just to look at as it is to watch.
What would a movie year be without a few action movies? Well, it would probably be pretty unsuccessful, financially speaking…
Anyway, 2015 gave us some great action flicks, but one stands out above the rest.
Winner: Mad Max: Fury Road
This is one insane movie. Though it manages to add some interest and depth to the characters, and even has a good story, it’s still the ludicrous, high-octane set pieces that steal the show.
After a short setup of the plot, the characters all head out to the titular Fury Road while driving an array of deadly vehicles. Then it keeps escalating into bigger and crazier things. Rarely does Mad Max: Fury Road let up. It is wise enough to hit the breaks a couple of times, but it quickly gets back to high speed chases and some gruesome action.
On paper, it may just sound like Mad Max got a Fast & Furious overhaul, but this is really a movie that needs to be seen to fully believe it. Some of the imagery and characters are so odd and/or insane and combined with such extravagant action that the experience can feel close to surreal at times.
It’s award season! Now’s the time in 2016 where we reflect on the best stuff from 2015, and give awards to them. Everyone does it, whether it’s official committees, critics, or just people with blogs. Truth be told, I was just going to skip ahead and name my top five films of 2015, but I decided to dish out a small handful of other awards first. Don’t expect too many of these, but I figured there were some movies I just had to acknowledge for their individual attributes. Let’s start things off with a movie that didn’t get nearly as much credit as it deserved.
I will readily admit that Tomorrowland has its flaws. Primarily, it’s tone a bit inconsistent, as the film works best when it’s just being a whimsical sci-fi adventure. When it tries to be an action flick, it’s less successful (which is kind of surprising, considering this is from the same director as The Incredibles). There’s one particular action scene that takes place inside a hobby shop that I’m still not sure if intensity or comedy were the intended response audiences were supposed to feel.
With that said, did Tomorrowland really deserve all the flak it received? In terms of critical response, it was a mixed bag, receiving almost equal parts praise and punishment. In terms of box office, it was a total bomb, which of course made it the butt of many a joke, as though box office returns dictate the quality of a movie.
When all is said and done though, Tomorowland told a good and, dare I say, unique story with a good dose of imagination, made all the more standout by the film’s themes of optimism and exceptionalism, not to mention its utter disdain for the cynicism of today’s popular culture. In this day and age, when the millennial generation seems to be on a witch hunt against all things fun, a movie like this feels all the more special. Plus, it was a girl power movie without ever forcing it. It’s great to see a movie that can pull something like that off naturally.
But, y’know, it didn’t make any money. So I guess it must’ve sucked. Right?
Yes, Tomorrowland had its flaws, and of the five feature films directed by Brad Bird, it’s the most inconsistent of the lot. But it deserved so much better than what it got.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everybody! How about that Star Wars, eh?
Yes, it’s Christmas day 2015, which means it’s been exactly one year since I launched Wizard Dojo. Well, technically I bought the domain name and set it up before that, but I didn’t publish anything on it until Christmas 2014. Because I’m festive like that.
It all started one year ago, with the very first addition to this website being my review of Mario Kart 8. One-hundred video game reviews, a few dozen animation reviews (I really need to catch up there), some top 5/10 lists, and a host of other articles and ramblings later, and I’d say Wizard Dojo had a pretty productive year.
I figured I could turn this anniversary/Christmas blog into an annual tradition, with an extensive and varied blog about, well, a lot of random stuff. Though I now realize I could have made two annual events if I had started this site on a different day, thus separating the anniversary and Christmas blog… Oh well, if I or anyone else likes how this turns out, I guess I could think of something else to add if a year is just too long a wait for rambling goodness.
While I’ll wait a few days before I write a more in-depth review of the film, I have to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was terrific. After the prequel era (and George Lucas’ constant editing of the original trilogy) largely soured many, many moviegoers to the franchise (self included), the Force Awakens brings back the magic of the original trilogy. It even exceeded my expectations (of course, how high could expectations be after Revenge of the Sith?)!
I feel The Force Awakens had a good story to tell (even if it did fall back on elements of the original film and The Empire Strikes Back), memorable new characters as well as beloved favorites, a great combination of CG and practical effects, and a good amount of emotional drama. It’s basically everything everyone wanted the prequels to be, but weren’t.
Simply put, if you’re a fan of Star Wars, The Force Awakens shouldn’t disappoint. I think I’ll see it again before I write a full review, but no doubt I’ll be seeing it a number more times still. It’s a whole lot of fun.
This past Thanksgiving, I went to go see Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur in theaters. It was a good movie, but far from Pixar’s best. Though I may wait to fully express my feelings for it, because my viewing was largely dampened (and distracted) by the audience, who were without a doubt one of the worst audiences I have ever had the displeasure of viewing a movie with.
No, I’m not talking about disruptive children. In fact, the one family who was attending the movie were the only group of people who were respectful to their fellow moviegoers. I’m talking about two groups of twenty-somethings who had zero respect for the movie or the other people in the audience.
I kid you not, the person sitting closest to me laughed through the whole thing. That’s not an exaggeration. They were literally snickering through the movie’s entire running time. It didn’t matter whether the scenes were supposed to be funny or not, they continued to laugh even in the film’s sad moments. And the group sitting a few rows behind me just had to give their own little commentaries on the movie whenever possible. Because obviously we were all dying to know what they were thinking, and not trying to watch a movie in a movie theater.
The sad thing is, I’ve noticed crowds like this are becoming more and more common. They come in with a cynical, disrespectful disposition, and treat the situation as though the movie is there for them, instead of them being there for the movie. They’ll talk whenever they feel like it, laugh during inappropriate moments, and give their two cents for all the world to hear whenever possible.
It’s really a sad reminder of how cynical and self-absorbed people have become in this internet age. These days, people are encouraged to dislike everything, because there’s always some yahoo out there who would remind them how “stupid” they are for liking something.
It seems like people no longer have respect for art and entertainment. This age of meme and internet culture has reduced people’s taste to bite-sized chunks. If something is anything more than a singular joke, it must be belittled and mocked. If a movie (or TV show or video game or whatever) gives an honest attempt at storytelling, then it’s an even bigger target for ridicule.
You’ll hear a lot of people say things along the lines of “I liked that movie because it didn’t take itself seriously.” Because heaven forbid an artist actually cares about the story they’re trying to tell. I’m not saying that stories need to be dead-serious (I personally have a preference for the lighthearted and whimsical), but people these days seem to think that unless something is entirely tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, it’s crap. We don’t want humor, we want mockery and self-parody.
We live in an age that feeds cynicism. We belittle the works of artist to satisfy our own egos, and blow the tiniest details of any given work out of proportion to give us something to complain about and make ourselves feel special. It’s sad that these days I see words such as “sentiment” used as a negative. How dare people have emotion!
It doesn’t help that these days we have things such as Honest Trailers on the internet, which basically roll with such cynicism and pretty much tell people to hate movies. I’m not saying people can’t make jokes about the things they like, but things like Honest Trailers and their ilk just cater to today’s self-important, cynical mentality. They don’t simply make jokes about movies, they more or less say “All these popular movies you like suck and you’re an idiot for liking them! Let us nitpick and tell you why you’re such a dumb ass for enjoying these movies.”
Again, I have to say that it’s like we encourage people to not like anything. Back in the day, people actually formed their own opinions, and would talk about movies (or TV shows. Or video games. Or whatever) with their friends and family. They used to bring people together and give them something meaningful to talk about.
That wasn’t even that long ago. But this internet age has rapidly turned people into self-righteous punks who simply can’t be bothered to enjoy things.
Now, I’m not saying that people have to like everything. Of course not. There are plenty of things that I don’t like, and this entire site is pretty much dedicated to my opinions. I’m not saying people can’t dislike some things, but the problem is that these days people don’t want to like anything.
In this day and age, people just seem to want to hate everything for any reason they can. I get the feeling that more people watch crappy parody videos on YouTube than they do the actual things they’re parodying. People flock to videos of some angry (and loud… Always loud) people who make fun of movies, video games, or anything else, and more or less tell people to hate them along with them. And the worst part is people go right along with it. Why actually give something an honest, insightful look and form an opinion when you can just write it off for being what it is, because some jerk on the internet said so?
I truly, truly feel bad for the creators of today. Especially those who put their own emotions and experiences into their work, because no doubt they’ll be belittled for creating something that’s more than just a picture with a stupid caption. It’s basically the artistic equivalent of someone opening up about something personal, and receiving mocking laughter in response.
I can’t help but think people laugh during sad moments in movies these days simply because they’ve forgotten how to properly react to something emotionally. Either they’ve covered up their emotions or outright denied them so frequently that they no longer appreciate (or care to appreciate) the honesty of emotion. They’ll talk during a movie because they don’t begin to contemplate that someone else might actually want to enjoy something. They’ll give their predictably contrarian opinions during a movie because clearly they’re better than it.
Frankly, this is all depressing. Gone are the days when entertainment brought people together. Now entertainment is little more than a target for us to aim our cynicism at just so we can pat ourselves on the back. Sincerity can still be found in a few movies here and there. But sincerity in their audience is virtually extinct.
October 21 2015. The day Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Brown arrive from 1985 in Back to the Future Part 2 (despite what countless Twitter posts have stated in the past, today is actually the day). Although we may not yet have self-tying shoelaces, Jaws 19, or hoverboards, the film had a very fun outlook on the future for its time, and even got a few things right (wall-mounted TVs, hands-free video games, a nostalgia-fueled pop culture, etc.). But more importantly, Back to the Future Part 2 is one of the best film sequels ever made. And what better day to reflect on its merits than today?
First thing’s first, Back to the Future Part 2 is not quite as good as the original, if only because the original is pretty much a flawless movie. Part 2 contains a couple of small plot holes with its time travel that the first film miraculously avoided. It also isn’t a sequel the uninitiated can jump into. Seeing as it literally picks up where the first film left off, it doesn’t give newcomers a proper introduction to Marty and Doc. This is a sequel strictly for fans.
But not being quite as good as the original Back to the Future is no unforgivable sin, and despite the flaws, Back to the Future Part 2 more than holds its own due to its sheer entertainment value (which somehow does match its predecessor), and for how it takes the concept of the series and stretches it to its creative limits.
As mentioned, the movie begins immediately at the end of the events from the first film (though it needed to be recreated from the ground up, as actress Claudia Wells, who portrayed Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer in the first film, was unavailable and her role needed to be recast). This means that Part 2 jumps right into the action, and the film immediately travels from the original 1985 setting into the movie’s fantastic vision of 2015.
Though we may laugh at how whimsical and technologically advanced Back to the Future 2’s depiction of 2015 is compared to the time we’re now living in, it really is one of the cinema’s more enjoyable depictions of a science fiction future. It’s fun, colorful, and optimistic, but not without its problems. Despite its fantastic nature, the film’s futuristic 2015 still feels like an everyday kind of place (even if the main characters are more entertaining than every day people could ever be).
As much as we talk about Back to the Future 2’s 2015, and as wonderfully realized as it is (pay attention to all the background details to see how much love went into making the 2015 of BttF2), it only serves as the backdrop to the film’s first act. After an elderly version of series’ antagonist Biff Tannen steals the DeLorean time machine and gives his past self a 2015 sports almanac to become a surefire billionaire, Marty and Doc return to a very different 1985.
In this alternate 1985, the now rich and powerful Biff has bought the city of Hill Valley and turned it into a place of pure corruption. While much of this now-perversed Hill Valley is comically exaggerated, it actually takes the series into some dark territory. As much as Hill Valley has changed, so has the tone of the film. Though because of the smart script and constantly moving plot, it never feels out of place.
Then we have the glorious crescendo of Back to the Future 2’s creativity. The third act takes Marty and Doc back to 1955 to stop the elderly 2015 Biff’s plot by ridding 1955 Biff of the almanac, thus fixing the timeline and undoing the alternate 1985.
What makes this third act so amazing is that Marty and Doc frequently interact with the same situations they interacted with in the first film. And this isn’t in that weird “they’re presence in the past makes things the way they were to begin with” kind of time travel of most movies. Marty and Doc altered the past in the first film, and their present had been altered by Biff in the first act of the second film, and now that they’re once again back where they were in the first movie, Marty and Doc are trying to make sure nothing they accomplished the first time around gets altered, otherwise they could create a time paradox!
Back to the Future Part 2 very cleverly handles all three of its timeframes, and weaves them together in one very creative whole. It takes full advantage of the series’ time travel setup by sending its heroes to three very different takes on its world (the future, a dark, alternate present, and the events of the first movie).
This also gives us a chance to see new sides to the characters, with the most notable being Biff Tannen. In the beginning of the film we see him as his more chilled-out middle-aged self, then as his plotting, elderly version from 2015. He becomes a full-on monster in the alternate timeline, and then the movie turns him back into the brutish 1955 bully from the first film. And that’s without mentioning Biff’s grandson Griff (who, like Biff, is portrayed by Tom Wilson), who is basically a more exaggerated version of bully Biff in 2015.
There’s just so much that happens in Back to the Future Part 2. It creates so much out of its concept and it wonderfully connects with the first movie. Universal Studios was dead set on making a Back to the Future sequel with or without director Robert Zemeckis after the success of the original, but we should all be glad that Zemeckis decided to jump onboard to make the sequel he wanted. Because of the input of the series’ creators, Back to the Future Part 2 boasts clever writing, smooth pacing, an interesting story, and a constant sense of invention.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Part 3, though a fun movie in its own right, falls considerably short of Part 2. When Part 3 sends Marty McFly ad Doc Brown to the wild west, it stays there, perfectly content in being a small-scale western and only bringing up time travel when it’s necessary. But Part 2 has so many ideas, and wants to do so much with them that Marty and Doc’s adventures throughout its two hour running time could have been its own series. Instead they come together in a fitting whole that, despite boasting so much, never feels bloated or cluttered.
Sadly, we may not live in the 2015 that Marty McFly arrived in. But in this 2015, we can still look back at Back to the Future Part 2 as one of the best sequels ever made.
There are a number of undeservedly popular trends in social media sites and viral videos that I find insufferable, but one that I have an exceptional distaste for is the trend of defacing movies with nitpicking and self-aggrandizing commentary. Granted, nerds have always found pleasure in ridiculing the works of people who can create things that they never could, but the social media age has given them a platform to become stars out of it.
This may seem a tad hypocritical coming from someone who’s dedicated an entire website to giving his thoughts and opinions on movies and video games, with a not entirely un-nerd-like field of preference. But I will defend my stance as someone who simply has opinions and wishes to share them. There are plenty of people out there who use blogs, videos, and other such methods of sharing their thoughts who can be constructive and well-meaning with what they do. While there’s always means for me to improve, I at least try to fit into such a category.
What I’m talking about are people who simply trash movies for entirely inconsequential reasons. A certain technical goof gets blown into a movie-breaking flaw, or a tiny gap in plot consistency demeans all merits a movie could have. Oftentimes, it seems even great movies are written-off for the most trivial things, these days.
The internet age has practically endorsed cynicism and self-aggrandizement, combine this with the nitpicking of nerds and it turns into a whole new beast. Every time I check into YouTube and see a new “Honest Trailers” or “Cinema Sins” video is up, I frankly feel a bit disgusted. Some would argue that they’re “all in good fun” and perhaps on occasion that is the intent. But there are plenty of other videos or blogs I’ve seen that can deliver some inoffensive humor towards movies without seemingly eviscerating them just to inflate their own egos.
I know, I sound like a horrible jerk now because I’m saying bad things about popular internet videos. The way I see it, these internet videos are the ones that are more or less bullying filmmakers and artists for inconsequential elements just to give themselves a pat on the back. Personally, if I had to pick sides, I’d always pick the artists and studios who are able to create wonderful works of art and entertainment over the nerds who belittle them.
There is the old of “everyone’s a critic.” But I feel things like Honest Trailers are taking it more into the realms of “everyone’s a self-righteous a-hole.” And well, I’d like to see anyone who makes any of these snarky videos even begin to make a movie even half as good as the ones they criticize. Of course, chances are their bully-like critiques probably stem from their inability to create what artists and studios can, and the jealousy that comes with that.
Sure, The Dark Knight Rises may have some pacing issues or a couple of questionable editing choices, but it’s hardly the disaster that a lot of these popular internet nerd-baiting sites and videos would like to claim. Even if they don’t like a movie, it’s possible to share that opinion intelligently and even humorously. But pointing out the most throwaway inconsistencies and using them to fuel petty complaining has become so sickening. The sad part is these people get millions of views, proving that we’re willing to feed trolls at the expense of people who are actually creating great things just so long as it gives us a brief moment to feel more important than them.
To be blunt, I hate the whole idea of “nerd criticism” and how popular it’s become. It’s not constructive, it’s not creative, it’s not contemplative. And it most certainly isn’t honest.
Go ahead and call me an elitist, but I find the things that filmmakers are doing, whether it’s creating something profound or simply entertaining, whether I like it or not, is infinitely more meaningful than the self-insistency of internet nerds.
I recently attended Disney’s D23 expo, and one of the events’ biggest highlights was, of course, the panel for Disney and Pixar’s upcoming slate of animated films. This particular panel was hosted by none other than John Lasseter himself, and some high points included a preview showing of Riley’s First Date?, an appearance by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who will be voicing a character in Disney’s Moana) and some greatly hilarious scenes from the upcoming Zootopia. Here are some thoughts on the Disney and Pixar movies shown at the panel. Starting with Disney. Continue reading “Thoughts on Disney and Pixar’s Upcoming Animated Films”