Monday, January 19, 2015

Most anticipated splody movies of 2015

At the beginning of each year, I check to see what movies are coming out and try to informally rank which ones I think will be worth seeing. My formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions. Here is what I think about the movies scheduled for 2015:

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
When: December 18. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because like just about everyone my age, the first time I saw the original Star Wars was the defining moment of my childhood. The original films still stand as the best trilogy ever made, and while George Lucas tried to kill the franchise with the prequels, all signs point to a glorious return to form with this seventh film.

2. Avengers: Age of Ultron
When: May 1. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because the first Avengers film was the most fun I have had at a movie theater since the original Star Wars trilogy. (See above.) Marvel Studios is firing on all cylinders right now, and I am all in. It was really hard to pick between this and Star Wars for my number one most anticipated splody film of 2015.

Note: at this point there is a huuuge drop-off in my level of anticipation...

3. Ant-Man
When: July 17. Why I’m looking forward to it: This film had some trouble at the beginning, as it was stuck in development hell, and then the original director Edgar Wright walked out over a disagreement with changes made to the script. Also, Ant-Man is not the most well-known or film-friendly superhero. But, you know what? I don't care. As I said before, I am all in for anything Marvel Studios does. This film has a great cast (Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly), and the more I see of it, the more intrigued I get.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road
When: May 15. Why I’m looking forward to it: I loved the low-budget original Mad Max. I loved the second film, The Road Warrior, even more – it's one of the best action movies ever made. And the third movie – well, two out of three ain't bad. Tom Hardy is a phenomenal choice to replace Mel Gibson as the lead in the series, and first trailer looks magical. I think they might just pull this off, and if they do – wow.

5. Spectre
When: November 6. Why I’m looking forward to it: Despite initial fan backlash, Daniel Craig has proven to be the best James Bond since Sean Connery. His last outing, 2012's Skyfall, was arguably the most cinematically gorgeous Bond film ever, thanks to director Sam Mendes, who returns with this year's Spectre. Most excitingly, the title of this film is a reference to the on-screen return of the secret criminal organization of the same name, which hasn't been seen officially since 1971's Diamonds Are Forever due to legal issues. After a copyright settlement in 2013, filmmakers are now free to use the evil organization again, and rumor has it that Bond's most iconic villain, SPECTRE boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld, will appear as well, played by Christopher Waltz. That would be wicked.

6. Kingsman: The Secret Service
When: February 13. Why I’m looking forward to it: Early reviews from film festivals at the end of 2013 said that this comic book adaptation was like a cross between James Bond and Kick-Ass. If director Matthew Vaughn's previous films (including X-Men: First ClassKick-Ass and Layer Cake) are anything to go by, this will be a fun ride.

7. Jurassic World
When: June 12. Why I’m looking forward to it: The first Jurassic Park is a classic, the second was mindless fun, and it's a shame that the sub-par third installment cut short a franchise that seemed to still have so much potential. When this fourth film was first announced, I was initially dubious, but I have warmed to it. The casting of the ever-charming Chris Pratt as the lead was a great move, and the first trailer was very reassuring. If the filmmakers can recapture the personality, excitement and fun of this series, there might just be some life left in this franchise after all.

8. Tomorrowland
When: May 22. Why I’m looking forward to it: In his first live-action directorial effort, Brad Bird took a mediocre action franchise (Mission: Impossible) and churned out one of the best splody films of 2011. Tomorrowland is an even more ambitious project, an off-kilter sci-fi mystery on a potentially epic scale. But as the director of such animated fare as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, Bird is no stranger to ambitious projects or world-building. Rumor has it that Bird was so excited about this project that he turned down the opportunity to direct a Star Wars movie in order to do it. Hopefully, his enthusiasm pays off in the end. (This film also co-stars George Clooney, who has quietly been doing some absolutely incredible work in recent years.)

9. Chappie
When: March 6. Why I’m looking forward to it: Geek favorites Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver star in a movie about a robot by District 9 director Neill Bomkamp. Honestly, that's all I know about this film except that it's getting great buzz. But really – read that first sentence again. Do you need any more information to be excited about this one?

10. Terminator: Genisys
When: July 1. Why I’m looking forward to it: My first reaction: "Oh no, not another Terminator movie. Just let this franchise die already. The first two were good and everything after that is diminishing returns." My reaction after seeing the first trailer and realizing just how batshit insane they decided to get in order to fix this franchise: "Oh... uh... that might just work. Wait, is that Daenerys Targaryen?! OK, I'm all in."

11. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
When: November 20. Why I’m looking forward to it: This is the finale to a series I never wanted to like in the first place, but I just couldn't help myself, because Jennifer Lawrence. The first three installments were good, so basically all they have to do now is not screw it up.

12. The Hateful Eight
WhenNovember 13 December 25. Why I’m looking forward to it: I really wanted to believe westerns were a dead genre. Unforgiven was the exception that proved the rule, said I. Then Quentin Tarantino went and made Django Unchained, and now I have no choice but to admit that westerns are alive and well. Tarantino has said his latest western is unrelated to Django, and I have no other frame of reference for it, but I don't think we need one at this point. Tarantino has found his groove again making these period pieces, and we should all just be thankful and sit back and enjoy.


Finally, here is a full schedule of sci-fi-ish and splody-looking movies that just might prove worthwhile in 2015 (my initial selections in bold)...
  • Taken 3 (January 9)
  • Jupiter Ascending (February 6)
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service (February 13)
  • Chappie (March 6)
  • Furious 7 (April 3)
  • Ex Machina (April 10)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15)
  • Tomorrowland (May 22)
  • Jurassic World (June 12)
  • Inside Out (June 19)
  • Ted 2 (June 26)
  • Terminator: Genisys (July 1)
  • Minions (July 10)
  • Ant-Man (July 17)
  • Pixels (July 24)
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (December 25 July 31)
  • The Fantastic Four (August 7)
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (August 14)
  • Hitman: Agent 47 (August 28)
  • The Martian (November 25 October 2)
  • Pan (July 24 October 9)
  • Bridge of Spies (October 16)
  • Crimson Peak (October 16)
  • Spectre (November 6)
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (November 20)
  • The Good Dinosaur (November 25)
  • Midnight Special (November 25)
  • Victor Frankenstein (October 2 November 25)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 18)
  • The Hateful Eight (November 13 December 25)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The bowl is half empty - part 6

Congratulations to the Ohio State Buckeyes, winner of last night's National Championship game and holder of this year's NCAA football crown. For the first time in history, an actual playoff determined the champion. (Thanks, Obama!)

Still, only four teams were involved and that's not enough. After all, if the 4th-seeded team did this well, imagine what the 8th, 12th or 16th-seeded team could have done!

So, as I have done for the past four years, I'd like to imagine a world in which we had been treated to a month of playoff-level excitement. A world where we had gotten to see 16 of the season's top-ranked college football teams battle for the ultimate, indisputable title.

Here is what it might have looked like. I have bracketed and seeded the teams according to their final regular-season rankings. I also used the rule of no more than one team per conference in any given bracket.


Fiesta Bowl Bracket

1st seed Oregon (12-1, Pac-12) vs. 4th seed Clemson (9-3, ACC) -- winner: Oregon. Clemson looked really good in their bowl game, but Oregon was a beast.

2nd seed Mississippi State (10-2, SEC) vs. 3rd seed Kansas State (9-3, Big 12) -- winner: Kansas State. Both of these teams lost their bowls, but Kansas State looked more impressive in their loss.

Fiesta Bowl: Oregon over Kansas State.



Cotton Bowl Bracket

1st seed Ohio State (12-1, Big Ten) vs. 4th seed Georgia (9-3, SEC) -- winner: Ohio State. Again, both teams won their bowls, but you have to give this one to the impressive Buckeyes.

2nd seed Baylor (11-1, Big 12) vs. 3rd seed Arizona (10-3, Pac-12) -- winner: Baylor. Both teams lost their bowls, but Baylor looked impressive in its losing effort against Michigan State.

Cotton Bowl:  Ohio State over Baylor.



Peach Bowl Bracket

1st seed Alabama (12-1, SEC) vs. 4th seed Arizona State (9-3, Pac-12) -- winner: Alabama. Although Alabama lost its bowl and Arizona State won, you have to factor in the level of the competition. 'Bama played good enough to win this game.

2nd seed Michigan State (10-2, Big Ten) vs. 3rd seed Georgia Tech (10-3, ACC) -- winner: Michigan State. Here again, we have two teams that had excellent bowl game efforts, but I have to believe the victory would go to the Spartans, who showed real heart on New Year's Day.

Peach Bowl: Michigan State over Alabama. New Year's Day went to the Big Ten this year, and so does this game.



Orange Bowl Bracket

1st seed Florida State (13-0, ACC) vs. 4th seed UCLA (9-3, Pac-12) -- winner: UCLA. Florida State imploded, so they go home.

2nd seed TCU (11-1, Big 12) vs. 3rd seed Mississippi (9-3, SEC) -- winner: TCU. (Note that this was the actual match-up in this year's Peach Bowl.)

Orange Bowl: TCU over UCLA.



Sugar Bowl Semifinal

Ohio State over TCU



Rose Bowl Semifinal

Oregon over Michigan State



National Championship

Ohio State over Oregon



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BONUS: The "N.I.T." of College Football

As I did the past two years, I have also set up a second-tier 16-team tournament. I've included all of the conferences champions without a spot in the main tournament (American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt), as well as the next-best available teams according to the polls.


EAST BRACKET

1st seed Auburn (8-4, SEC) vs. 4th seed Memphis (9-3, AA) -- winner: Auburn

2nd seed Louisville (9-3, ACC) vs. 3rd seed Marshall (12-1, C-USA) -- winner: Marshall

Music City Bowl: Auburn over Marshall


SOUTHEAST BRACKET

1st seed Missouri (10-3, SEC) vs. 4th seed Georgia Southern (9-3, Sun Belt) -- winner: Missouri

2nd seed USC (8-4, Pac-12 vs. 3rd seed Minnesota (8-4, Big Ten) -- winner: USC

Gator Bowl: Missouri over USC


MIDWEST BRACKET

1st seed Wisconsin (10-3, Big Ten) vs. 4th seed Northern Illinois (11-2, MAC) -- winner: Wisconsin

2nd seed LSU (8-4, SEC) vs. 3rd seed Oklahoma (8-4, Big 12) -- winner: LSU

Alamo Bowl: Wisconsin over LSU


WEST BRACKET

1st seed Boise State (11-2, MW) vs. 4th seed Duke (9-3, ACC) -- winner: Boise State

2nd seed Utah (8-4, Pac-12) vs. 3rd seed Nebraska (9-3, Big Ten) -- winner: Utah

Holiday Bowl: Boise State over Utah


OUTBACK BOWL SEMIFINAL

Wisconsin over Auburn


CACTUS BOWL SEMIFINAL

Boise State over Missouri


NATIONAL INVITATIONAL CITRUS BOWL

Boise State over Wisconsin

Monday, January 5, 2015

Most anticipated splody movies of 2014: recap


At the beginning of each year, I make a list of what I think will be that year’s best movies. My formula for success: equal parts good character development and explosions. Now that 2014 is over, here is my analysis of how my predictions for 2014 went.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 89%). This was the best splody film of the year, and maybe Marvel Studios’ best to date. A perfect blend of 1970s spy-thriller, 1980s action-hero romp, and over-the-top summer blockbuster, this movie had it all. Chris Evans remains perfectly cast as Steve Rogers, and directors Joe and Anthony Russo brought a visceral edge to the action that kept audiences on the edge of their seats. The supporting cast was also top-notch. (One of the best scenes belonged solely to Sam Jackson as Nick Fury.) Every moment of this movie was crammed full of wonderful moments and Easter eggs for Marvel fans, and it is a testament to the skill of the storytelling that the more ridiculous plot elements feel organic. This is where the strength of Marvel’s shared universe begins to shine—small elements that were set up in Cap’s previous film and those of his fellow Avengers pay off here. You don’t have to have seen those films to appreciate this movie, but having seen them enriches the experience. Everyone knows about the famous elevator scene, but two other scenes in particular stood out to me. First, his one-man stealth assault in his first mission in the film is fast-paced and unforgiving, finally showing us what Captain America is capable of when firing on all cylinders. Second, his chase scene with the Winter Soldier is so kinetic I think it knocked the wind out of me as I watched it. Cap is so intense as he pursues his mark that he runs right through walls or leaves huge dents in them as he careens around them. The payoff of that scene is shocking and amazing—just like this film overall.

2. Godzilla
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 73%). This was the first American adaptation of Godzilla, so I was not sure what to expect. (OK, I realize there was a 1998 American film called Godzilla, but let’s be realistic, shall we? That was a Matthew Broderick comedy about a giant iguana, not a Godzilla movie. In Japan, they claimed the iguana creature was a different monster—and then Godzilla killed it. I rest my case.) I need not have worried. Director Gareth Edwards didn’t do the best job with the so-so human drama in this film, but human drama is always filler in a kaiju film. The monster drama, on the other hand, built up steadily to a glorious payoff in the film’s final act. I and the rest of the theater cheered loudly.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 90%). A lot of people predicted this would be Marvel Studios’ first cinematic failure. Instead, it became a runaway success and the highest-grossing comic book movie of the year. (Suck it, a lot of people.) It would be wrong to call this a superhero film, as it was more of a Star Wars type space adventure story. And it was Marvel’s most comedic effort to date. Those elements certainly scored points with mass audiences, and I’m sure that the pure on-screen charm of leading man Chris Pratt (“Star-Lord”) and his talking tree (“Groot”) and raccoon (“Rocket”) sidekicks didn’t hurt. Marvel struck gold with this franchise, and the consensus now is that they could turn Howard the Duck into a billion-dollar franchise if they wanted to.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 53%). I almost feel bad for kicking Sony when they’re down, but the simple fact of the matter is that Sony needs some tough love when it comes to Spider-Man. They have the world’s most popular superhero in their film stable, and they consistently lose money on him. And deservedly so. TASM2 was a mess. Thanks to the Sony Hack, we now know that the entire point of the movie was to kill off Gwen Stacey, something Marvel Studios recommended against doing so soon, since she was a popular character, and a move which turned out to alienate a lot of viewers. The rest of the plot was shoehorned in, in random pieces, to fit a variety of conflicting studio directives, the most ridiculous of which was to sow seeds for an entire cinematic universe—that has now been scrapped because of how disjointed and awful this film was. The sad thing is that there were elements of a good story here, but Sony didn’t know what they had and refused to listen to any of Marvel Studios’ notes to improve the product. Sony and Marvel are supposedly in talks now on a deal that would allow Marvel to reclaim creative control while splitting the costs and profits of these films with Sony. Whatever Marvel asks for, Sony, take the deal. The first step is admitting you have a problem! What should have been on my list: Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow. (Tomatometer 90%). Who would have thought that Tom Cruise had another sci-fi hit left in him? Apparently no one thought that, but he did, and this sleeper got great reviews, although it barely made a dent at the box office due to poor marketing.

5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 92%). Fox remains a step behind Marvel Studios in crafting a compelling and audience-friendly superhero world. But only a step. This film successfully performed a soft reboot on the franchise by using time travel to hit the reset button on the less popular films in the franchise (X-Men: The Last Stand and at least part of X-Men Origins: Wolverine), thereby erasing past sins and opening the X-Men universe to tons of new storytelling possibilities. Plus, it was a great film in and of itself, ranking alongside X-Men: First Class, X2: X-Men United and The Wolverine as one of the best in the series.

6. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 60%). I haven’t seen this yet (although I plan to this week), but I have it on authority that it is a fitting end to the trilogy and perhaps the best of the three. And while it should be noted that The Hobbit was bloated, overly reliant on digital effects, and nowhere near as good as the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was nevertheless pure delight to return to Middle Earth.

7. Big Hero 6
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 89%). Disney made good on their promise to translate this Marvel Comics property into an animated feature, giving us the best family-oriented superhero film since The Incredibles. (Given that Disney own both properties, I wonder if we could see a cross-over in the future…?)

8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 66%). With the Hunger Games, the books get weaker as the series progresses, but the films have gotten better in relation to the books. I think the film makers have a better handle on this world they have created than the author did. Still, it is strange that they turned the final—and shortest—book into a two-parter. I haven’t seen this one either, and probably won’t until Part 2 comes out. But from what I hear, it’s fine. Just the captivating presence of Jennifer Lawrence is enough to keep me going on this series.

9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 91%). The original Planet of the Apes in 1968 was cheesy—but delicious. All attempts to expand the franchise, however, were miserable failures until Rise of the Planet of the Apes completely redefined it in 2011. So I wondered if Dawn would follow in its predecessor’s success or sink back into miserable failure. With a new director and almost a completely new cast, I suspected the latter, but this film delivered in spades. The POTA franchise is alive and well, and I cannot wait for the next installment. Long live Caesar! Long live the Apes!

10. Interstellar
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 73%). Can Christopher Nolan do any wrong? That has yet to be proven. His first outing in pure sci-fi gives us yet another gorgeous example of his skill with cinematography, and the acting and storytelling are also compelling. It’s not his best work, but it is delightful, as always. One thing to note: Nolan was intent on using practical effects and avoiding green screens wherever possible—so much so that rather than adding the stars of space in post-production, he projected them onto the background of the actual soundstage, so the actors would feel that they were in space as they did their scenes.

11. Jupiter Ascending
Result: INCOMPLETE (Tomatometer n/a). This movie was delayed to February 6, 2015. Out of pure coincidence, the planet Jupiter is at opposition (its closest approach to Earth) on that date. What should have been on my list: Snowpiercer (Tomatometer 95%). This film was actually released in 2013—everywhere but in the United States. Here, distribution rights disputes caused its delay and it opened in extremely limited release. A major success elsewhere, you should see it if you like dystopian sci-fi. Starring Chris Evans (Captain America) as a passenger aboard a post-apocalyptic train, it tells a riveting, intense and highly original story.

12. RoboCop
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 48%). This film actually received a lot of hate from both critics and fans alike, but I loved it. I think the important thing to remember as you’re watching it is that it is not a remake of the 1987 classic by the same name. Actually, that would have been a disaster, because the 1987 RoboCop is one of the universe’s most perfect films and does not need to be remade. Instead, renowned Brazilian director José Padilha, in his first English-language film, takes the underlying RoboCop concept and crafts an entirely new story around it. And it is a great story. Instead of being rooted in 1980s paranoia, the new tale expands upon modern-day concerns and does it well. It’s not a perfect film, but there is a lot to love here. A lot of detail was put into every scene. For example, there is a fight in the dark where the two different sides are using two different kinds of night vision, and the effect is amazing. What’s more, unlike the original, this one exists in a more realistic and fully-realized world, perfect to explore in more detail in future installments. And I hope we do get sequels to this.

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Bonus Wins: I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable the kid-oriented The Lego Movie (Tomatometer 96%) was, and I look forward to future installments for this franchise. Meanwhile, Gone Girl (Tomatometer 88%) was a magnificent thriller from director David Fincher and removed all doubt that Ben Affleck has the acting chops to be the new Batman.

Finally, lest I forget, Sharknado 2: The Second One was, if anything, even more glorious than the first installment.

Coming soon: my choices for splody movies most likely to please in 2015...