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Cinemaholics Review: Paddington 2 and The Commuter

Paddington 2

Everyone’s favorite marmalade-loving bear is back for seconds in Paddington 2, the sequel to the film that utterly charmed me back in 2015. On the show this week, I review the film with cohosts Maveryke Hines (who never saw the original) and Will Ashton. The movie has an incredible 100% review aggregate on Rotten Tomatoes, but that doesn’t mean everyone on Cinemaholics agrees.

In our Mini Reviews segment, we covered a lot of other movies and shows you might want to check out. Will reviewed The Commuter, starring Liam Neeson. Maveryke and I talked about the The End of the F****** World, a binge-worthy new show on Netflix. Will recommended Blame, an indie gem directed by Quinn Shephard. Then we both dug into The PostMolly’s Game, and My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.

We also talked at length about the Golden Globes this week, but less about the actual awards and more about the impact of the MeToo and TimesUp movement, plus our plan to take part in the 52 Films By Women Challenge.

Go on…Cinemaholics Review: Paddington 2 and The Commuter

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My Top 10 Films of 2015

top 2015 movies

2015 will be known as the year that westerns took on space operas again, and the year that audiences clamoring for more LGBT dramas want better LGBT dramas. It was the year that practical effects and 70mm film started popping up more in the conversation, dictating some of the biggest hits of the box office.

It was a great year for movies, and one I was happy to participate in as a critic. Of the 80 films I saw in 2015, I’ve curated a list of my “top” favorites. This list differs from my 2015 Movie Power Rankings, in that it isn’t dictated by grade. I’m selecting movies that I personally loved, even if they have some notable flaws holding them back.

And this list comes with a significant caveat, in that I’ve been away for the holidays. I’ve missed several new releases, like The Hateful EightThe RevenantAnomalisa, and Son of Saul. For that reason, they didn’t make the list, even though one or two of them certainly had the potential.

That said, let’s take a look at some of the best movies 2015 had to offer us, starting with:

#10 Creed

Though I was charmed by Southpaw, the other mainstream boxing movie of 2015 that starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Creed worked harder to land its punches. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, this mashup of an unprivileged kid turned privileged, then unprivileged again, ended up being my favorite origin story of the year.

Director Ryan Coogler could have easily defaulted to many of the same beats that have carried previous installments in the Rocky universe, but his decision to keep Stallone out of the writing room and to place more emphasis on brand new themes (like an inventive soundtrack that still manages to pay homage to the original) push Creed to incredible heights as a franchise starter.

#9 Paddington

Movies made specifically for children have a tendency to forget the rest of their audience, including the older versions of the children who love these movies in the first place. Paddington makes no such compromises, infusing a charming script with equally charming characters.

If you had to fault Paddington for anything, it would have to be the absence of any real risks. But the true achievement of this kid-friendly adventure in London is how well it sets the standard for accessible adaptations of children’s classics.

#8 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

It’s easy to pick fun at Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a film that’s deftly aware of its indie status with showy camerawork and a parade of film references that will manufacture old Hollywood nostalgia. But it’s also easy to look past its genius, as a movie that centers around a concept most coming-of-age films never get right: detachment.

This quirky summer film harkens back to The Way Way Back, another somewhat flawed movie that floored me emotionally. If you’re seeking heart mixed in with an original concept and even more original characters, then this is a must-see.

#7 Star Wars: The Force Awakens

For all of its controversy for being a mimic of past Star Wars films, you have to admit that The Force Awakens is certainly the most interesting movie of the year. It’s a film with such rich appeal and complexity, fans and haters alike are still at each other’s throats over whether or not it’s actually good.

Of course, it’s a great movie that cancels out its many flaws with even more moments of awe and spectacle during an age when practical effects and real film were on the way out. But what makes the hype around TFA worth it the most is its lovable characters we can’t wait to see more of.

Is it shameless in its premise that it doesn’t work fully as a standalone movie? Absolutely. But as Hollywood makes this fascinating transition into an industry of franchises, not movies, TFA is at least a glowing example of how to do it well.

#6 Spotlight

My favorite ensemble of the year comes from this team up of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, John Slattery, Lieve Schrieber, and others as they uncover the massive sex abuse scandal within the high ranks of the Catholic Church.

Spotlight gets you invested within the first few minutes of its interactions between journalists at the Boston Globe. Its recency in events keeps the story harrowing to think about, but it’ll stand the test of time for its adherence to the real culture behind spotlight journalism. It will hopefully inspire (and de-inspire) future journalists for years to come.

#5 Room 

Lenny Abrahamson’s film adaption of the popular novel by Emma Donoghue, Room, is one of the boldest movies of the year, and one of the most emotionally gripping, thanks to incredible performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Imagine a film in which the main character, someone who is the victim of a horrible crime, is shamed for her imperfections throughout?

Room doesn’t sugarcoat the messiness of life. People are sick, terrible, and (sometimes) good. Watching their lives play out in one of the most horrible ways possible should make you uncomfortable, but only because the connection you’ve made with the characters onscreen is genuine and hard to forget.

#4 Mad Max: Fury Road

Technology finally caught up to the insane vision of George Miller, and audiences had the privilege of seeing this post-apocalyptic masterpiece unfold in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Designed to be something worthy of the big screen, I’m unsure of how well Fury Road will translate on a tablet or flatscreen TV. But the impressive visuals, captivating lore, and truly spectacular effects will keep fans like me re-watching this future classic for years.

#3 Inside Out 

Inside Out is one of those rare movies with such an attention to detail, it’s hard to find any real flaws (CinemaSins notwithstanding). Its storytelling is actually superior to its good story, its side characters transcend the main ones, and the comedy is even more fun than some of the more emotional moments expected from a Pixar film.

In other words, Inside Out is full of surprises, a compliment I wish I could give to more films this year, animated or otherwise. It’s spirited, original, and isn’t asking for a sequel to make it relevant.

#2 It Follows

I truly wish we could have more horror films like It Follows, which trades glossy production for an earthy feel that mixes nicely with a jarring soundtrack you have to hear to believe. Though simple in its premise, It Follows can take a while to dissect, as a film about a group of teenagers in the Detroit suburbs trying to foil a persistent, shapeshifting demon.

What makes the film superb, however, is its ability to twist its own flaws into elements of the film itself. Of course these kids are morons. That’s the point. Of course that’s a plot hole. These kids are morons. As far as horror films go, It Follows is a true standout.

#1 The Good Dinosaur

For me, The Good Dinosaur will always be one of the most fascinating films of 2015. It’s a film that feels wholly imperfect in conception, but nearly perfect in execution. For that reason, I think most moviegoers gave up on the film before they could experience it in action.

The energy of this film, which is absolutely my favorite movie of 2015, comes from its harmony between story, effects, music, animation, and characters. Everything is crafted to fit, so if you don’t like one aspect of the recipe that makes up The Good Dinosaur, then there’s a chance you won’t enjoy the meal.

But more than that, The Good Dinosaur pulls off what Pixar hasn’t tried to do in ages: something completely new. As much as I love Inside Out, it ends up feeling like a standard Pixar movie. The Good Dinosaur, while clearly paying homage to many westerns, doesn’t feel like something made by Pixar, and that’s an exciting thing in and of itself. But it’s the movie’s ability to transcend its own makers that makes The Good Dinosaur my #1 pick of the year.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Ex Machina
  • The Intern
  • The Martian
  • Beasts of No Nation
  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • The Gift
  • Still Alice
  • Love and Mercy

Have something to add or discuss? Sound off in the comments below.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

My Top 10 Movies of 2015 (So Far)

Summer is about to kickoff, so I thought it would be fun to look back on the best films of Winter and Spring 2015. There are a few films I haven’t seen this year (yet) that may sway this list, and I’ll list them at the bottom.

I’ve made a stronger effort to watch more new movies this year, and it’s certainly paid off. For the first time in my life, I actually feel equipped to evaluate which movies are worth highlighting 6 months into the year. And we’ve gotten quite a few highlights. Starting with…

# 1 Mad Max: Fury Road

top 2015 movies

This shouldn’t surprise too many people. From its opening scene, George Miller had me hooked on his crazy, post-apocalyptic nightmare made reality.

With some of the best action scenes in years, combined with furious performances from Charlize Theron (get it?) and Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road has so far made the top of my list of must-watch films in 2015.

#2 Paddington

top 2015 movies

OK, this is certainly a departure from the #1 spot, and I’m sure many of you are rolling your eyes at the fact that I’m elevating this family friendly movie all the way to #2, but hear me out.

Paddington is a kid movie done right, amidst scores of cheap remakes and strange misfires disguised as high-level (I’m looking at you, Spongebob). Simply put, Paddington has the charm, wit, and effortless script that most movies this year have chosen to skip.

#3 Ex Machina

top 2015 movies

I usually hate feeling uncomfortable during a movie, especially when it has CGI Paul Walker involved (too soon?) But Ex Machina subverts what we expect in an eery movie about artificial intelligence without insulting our intelligence.
It’s not a horror movie. It’s not a thriller. And it’s certainly not just a commentary, if at all. The mystery of what makes this movie…what it is…only makes me love it even more.

#4 What We Do In The Shadows

top 2015 movies

Technically, this superb “mockumentary” about the lives of vampires living in New Zealand came out last year, but it’s wider release didn’t kick off until January. That means I get to share the delight of this monster movie homage with all of you who haven’t managed to see it yet. Seriously though, get on that.

#5 Kingsman: The Secret Service

top 2015 movies

Speaking of homages, I wasn’t too surprised to see that this James Bond action successor ended up being one of the most fun adventures of the year. Yes, even moreso than another certain superhero flick…
I can still remember the best moments of the film, including the controversial church scene that was shot in just one take (if you can believe that). While I’m not necessarily itching for a sequel, though it would be nice, Kingsman still reigns as one of the year’s most interesting escapes.

#6 Selma

top 2015 movies

History is my weak spot. Take me to any colonial town and tell me that guy is really a smith from 1776 and you have my money. But historical biopics from any era tend to rank low on my attention span. Why watch a movie about that bridge in Selma when I can just go there?
Well, it turns out, Selma does a brilliant job of revitalizing this subject matter with faithful storytelling, a chilling script, and yes, David Oyelowo. And that’s not even mentioning the soundtrack.

#7 Avengers: Age of Ultron

top 2015 movies

It’s not as groundbreaking as the first film, but it’s still groundbreaking. Leave it to Marvel. 2015 has not yet hit us with a lot of comic book movie adventures, as Fox has saved its movie for the summer and Sony is conspicuously absent.
But even without competition, Age of Ultron is a triumph of patient buildup, electric characters, and an excellent effects budget. It’s not the dark story many of us expected and hoped for, but it had plenty of memorable moments to make it standout, even if it is just a trailer for even more exciting events to come.

#8 While We’re Young

top 2015 movies

I’ll admit I’m easily charmed by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts (despite finding Birdman a bit meh for her). So pairing these veterans with relative newcomers Adam Driver (of future Star Wars fame) and Amanda Seyfried (OK, not a newcomer, but still untested for the most part) was almost overkill.
Specifically, every scene combining these characters or a mixing and matching them was pulled off brilliantly, and it helps that the script had something pretty meaningful to say about my generation, your generation, and their generation.

#9 Unfriended

top 2015 movies

Do you believe in miracles? Unfriended was a made-for-tv movie destined for MTV reruns and live-tweets. But it ended up being transformed into a perfectly timed film that did something pretty novel and refreshing with the horror genre, while also preaching a sermon on cyber-bullying that didn’t come off as forced. Well, maybe a little.

#10 Tomorrowland

top 2015 movies

Yeah, I might get a little heat for this one. Though Tomorrowland certainly isn’t amazing overall, it happens to be one of the riskiest, gutsiest movies of the year. And a lackluster ending doesn’t do enough to eviscerate an inventive and entertaining first two acts.

Possibly great films I haven’t gotten around to yet:

I’d love to add to this list, but alas, there are just some 2015 films I haven’t had a chance to see for myself yet. Here are a few ranking high on my list of must-see:

  1. It Follows
  2. ‘71
  3. A Most Violent Year
  4. Still Alice
  5. Girlhood

I also want to point out my biggest disappointment of the year (so far): Chappie. Oh, what could have been.

If you something to add to this list, feel free to let me know in the comment discussions below. See you in another 6 months.

Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, you can subscribe for weekly updates by clicking the “Subscribe” button on the right sidebar. Or just follow me on Twitter for the latest updates – @JonNegroni

Why Do Movie Trailers Suck?

movie trailers suck

We’ve all watched that trailer. It gives away the whole movie, including key plot twists. Sometimes you watch a trailer that isn’t even close to what you get in the real movie (we’re looking at you Frozen and Kangaroo Jack).

And sometimes, a movie trailer is just plain bad, even though the movie itself is quite good. Well this week on the Now Conspiring Podcast, Maria and I delve into what makes our trailers, well trailers. Is it money? Greed? Power? Greedy power? We discuss.

Later in the show, we quickly review PaddingtonAmerican Sniper, and Blackhat. And we also cover this week’s movie news, including our thoughts on the Oscars, the new Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer, and more.

Stick around for our Netflix Recommendation of the Week, and as always, we finish the show with new Movie Releases coming this weekend.

Question of the Week: 

Why do movie trailers suck? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe to our show on iTunes for updates on every episode!

Links to cool things we mentioned:

My American Sniper review. 

How George Lucas almost directed Star Wars: Episode VII.

The second trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron (which Maria hates for some reason).

All of the Oscars nominees in one place! 

Review: ‘Paddington’

paddington

The original book series by Michael Bond is now a live-action family film, but for once, that’s not a bad omen.

Paddington is a breezy, unrelentingly imaginative story about a talking bear taken in by a British family. Their effortless charm is so apparent, plant life within their storybook house is altered according to the events of the movie, and that’s just one clever piece of imagery intended to make you fall in love with these characters.

While frenetic gags and slapstick humor are something to be frowned upon in kid-friendly movies, Paddington reminds moviegoers of why those jokes were once so effective, and it has little to do with the actions themselves. The results of each gag speak louder than the set ups, forcing you to laugh more at the emotions and subtle realizations of the characters, rather than what someone wrote independent of the script in order to infuse more laughter.

But that doesn’t mean Paddington is a lightweight on symbolism, as its immigrant themes are front and center through the adopted bear simply looking for a home. It’s telling, then, that the various people of London care little about the fact that a bear can talk. All they can really register is an aversion to immigrants, or someone different, which is a surprisingly smart and powerful message for such an old property.

Even the villain (well played by Nicole Kidman as a taxidermist) is given a full story arc that eschews mustache twirling for a misguided search in legacy, playing nicely with a main story that more or less follows the same beats with the bear (voiced by Ben Wishaw) and each of his new family members.

The marketing for Paddington has been a huge misfire for marking the quality of this standout children’s film, unless this was an intentional decision to underplay expectations. Whatever the case, Paddington is a delightful surprise.

Grade: A

Extra Credits:

  • A stunning reminder that reboots don’t need to be gritty reimaginings.
  • I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a performance from Kidman. Yes, counting Australia.
  • No celebrity cameos. No pop culture references. No problem.
  • I forgot to mention the CGI itself, which is impressively done with Paddington and his environments. It’s not transcendent, but your immersion will remain intact throughout.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if Wes Anderson secretly consulted for this movie. The absolutely British framing devices scream his style.

 

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