By Ezra Stead
Kong: Skull Island, USA, 2017
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Nothing can destroy one’s enjoyment of a new movie like anticipation, and this type of (sometimes) misplaced enthusiasm is never more likely to occur than when it is attached to a new version of a beloved property. As excited as audiences might have been about, say, Jurassic Park in 1993, the anticipation for its sequel a few years later was bound to be even higher, leaving open the road for diminishing returns down which that particular franchise has been barreling ever since. 60 years before that first Jurassic movie, there was a little black-and-white classic without which Spielberg’s masterpiece likely never would have come to exist; that, of course, was the original King Kong, and if you’re not a pretty huge fan of that one, I’m kind of surprised you’re even reading this.
Needless to say, going into Kong: Skull Island, I had mixed feelings of hope and despair, balancing out to a sort of cautious optimism. Kong’s last big-screen outing, at the hands of Peter Jackson and company in 2005, was certainly reverent of the source material and technically impressive overall, if perhaps over-ambitious, and certainly a bit bloated at over three hours. Luckily, Skull Island has all the technical prowess of its predecessor with none of the awkward self-seriousness. It is a wildly entertaining romp from start to finish, and without a doubt my second-favorite Kong movie yet (I’m pretty sure most fans of the 1976 version are really just fans of young Jessica Lange). Read More
By Ezra Stead
This is always a difficult thing to do, and this year, just like every other year, I left out plenty of movies I really like, even from the Honorable Mentions. This is a particularly interesting year in that I actually really like all the Oscar nominees that I’ve seen, which is relatively rare for me. Anyway, of the 107 new movies from 2015 I managed to see in time for this list, these are my (completely subjective) favorites.
1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – it’s always a treat to have really high expectations for a movie and then to see them exceeded. George Miller’s return to the wasteland of his career-defining trilogy is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The first time I saw it, though, Fury Road appeared to only meet my expectations, a rare enough feat in its own right. It was the second viewing that made me realize that this was not only my favorite movie of the year, but also my favorite Mad Max movie, and quite possibly my favorite movie of the last two decades. Then I saw it three more times in the space of about two weeks, and I noticed something new about it every single time. The rich, detailed world-building not only rewards but demands multiple viewings, and it’s a testament to Miller’s craft that the movie doesn’t rely on a lot of expository dialogue and other hand-holding devices to make sure the audience can keep up. Max Rockatansky’s world of “fire and blood” has its own language that is every bit as evocative and original as its eye-popping visuals: War Boys, Blood Bags, Bullet Farms, etc. This is a movie in the glorious pulp tradition of Robert E. Howard and Heavy Metal magazine, but it never feels derivative, even of its own source material (The Road Warrior being the original Mad Max movie it most closely resembles). What seems to be overlooked in all the talk about its incredible visual effects and stuntwork (which makes a better case than any movie I can think of for an Oscar category devoted to the people who risk their lives to make movies awesome) is the quality of the writing and performances. Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult are especially great, but there is also a surprising tenderness and depth to Tom Hardy’s performance as Max, a man of few words and great stoicism, and Melissa Jaffer managed to break my heart with just a few minutes of screen time as the Keeper of the Seeds. Critics and skeptics say this movie is just one long chase scene, which is reductive, but even if that were strictly true, complaining about that misses the point of how amazing it is that a movie this compelling could be made from a single long chase. Others might say it doesn’t belong in the Best Picture Oscar race because it’s not serious and important enough, but its themes of feminism and environmentalism are extremely relevant; they’re just not belabored to the point of didacticism. Fury Road’s vision of the destruction of the Old World, in which water was plentiful and “everyone had a show,” seems all too plausible, despite its over-the-top visual antics, and there’s a funny/scary comparison to be made between the film’s main villain, Immortan Joe, and a certain current Presidential candidate. I have no doubt this movie will ride eternal in Valhalla, shiny and chrome. It is perfect in every way. Read More
By Mike Shaeffer
I was totin’ my pack along the icy frontier of Hoth, when along came a wild-eyed pistol waver a-ridin’ on his tauntaun. He said, “If you’ve heard of the Millennium Falcon, with me you can ride,” then he sliced open the tauntaun, and then I settled down inside.
He said he made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. I told him that a parsec is not a unit of speed but a unit of distance equal to approximately three and a quarter light years, and then I looked right into his frostbit face and said, “Han, ol’ buddy… I’ve been everywhere, man.
“I’ve been everywhere, man. I’ve crossed the deserts bare, man. I’ve breathed the mountain air, man. Of travel I’ve had my share, man. I’ve been everywhere. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Every year, I struggle with the relatively arbitrary process of ranking movies, so this year I’ve decided to do something a little different. Instead of a traditional Top Ten list, I’m grouping two thematically connected films together for each place on the list, resulting in a hopefully more interesting Top 20 list. I’ve also included a more traditional Top Ten below that, for all you “too long, didn’t read” folks. One final note before we get to the list: it should tell you a lot about my credibility as a film critic that I liked Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa more than most of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees for 2013.
10. THE WICKER MAN: FINAL CUT / JURASSIC PARK 3-D – BEST RE-RELEASES. Obviously, this category doesn’t really count, as both of these films were originally released decades ago, but I can’t deny that each of them provided one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in a movie theater in 2013. This new cut of the original 1973 classic The Wicker Man adds some nuance and more musical numbers to an already great film. Most crucially, it opens with a scene of Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) praying in church, emphasizing his piousness from the very start, which enriches the events to follow. Jurassic Park, on the other hand, is quite simply my favorite movie (it has the most dinosaurs in it – I rest my case), and seeing it on a big screen again, in 3-D no less, made me fall in love with it all over again. Read More
By Jason A. Hill
Prometheus, USA, 2012
Directed by Ridley Scott
Much has been said about Ridley Scott’s career of late. Even though he’s given us such great additions to the Sci Fi lexicon as Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), much remains to be concluded concerning his legacy or if he can return to his former glory. Unfortunately, Prometheus does not help the conversation in his favor. Prometheus is visually stunning and the FX are what you would expect from a big-budget film, it’s ambitious and epic within its context, performances by Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are memorable, but the film slowly falls apart in its far-reaching themes and illogical plot.
By Ezra Stead
Transformers, USA, 2007
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, USA, 2009
Directed by Michael Bay
With the latest Michael Bay monstrosity, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, taking more than a billion dollars at the box office and potentially remaining the top-grossing movie of this year (please, please, prove me wrong, awards season), now would be a good time to revisit the first two, which might help explain why I have sworn off the third one, or any future editions. I hope no one thinks I’m a snob just for occasionally displaying some standard of good taste. Remember, I love The Toxic Avenger (1984) and The Lost Boys (1987), not to mention much lower quality films like The Room (2003) and Birdemic: Shock and Terror, so I’m not always too pretentious for a good time with a bad movie. Read More
By Scott Martin
Coraline, USA, 2009
Written and Directed by Henry Selick
Based on the Book Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Henry Selick, notable director of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), is hit or miss. With James and the Giant Peach (1996) and the aforementioned Nightmare under his belt, I’m not quite sure where he went wrong. Those two organically energetic and bright films were followed by Monkeybone (2001), and the soulless concoction of Coraline. His heart might have been in the right place, and I’m sure his intention outweighs the validity of the project, but it’s been years since I’ve seen a film so bereft of heart. This is not to imply that heart means something jolly or even fun, but rather a passion for craft, mainly. The film as a whole winds up being depressing, mainly because of this lack, and ugly for a slew of other reasons, and while moments of the film remain frightening, as does the entire idea behind it, there’s something intangible that’s hard to abide. Read More