Sunday, February 26, 2017

Predicting the 2017 Oscars!


And here we are again, another year, another Oscars ceremony that will probably be filled with controversy, however unlike the previous two years, this controversy is not due to who was or wasn't nominated, but due to who the current President now is.

Whether you agree with my stance on this or not, I really wish actors and filmmakers could really leave their political opinions aside for one night. We at home want to be entertained and enjoy ourselves as the movies of 2016 are celebrated.  We know you don't like the President, and do you really think your acceptance speech is going to change America's mind one way or the other?  No, it won't.  My thinking has always been that politics and entertainment really shouldn't ever collide anyways, especially when it's entertainment made for the general audience at large, which the Oscars ceremony is.  Half of your potential audience probably voted for Trump, while the other half didn't.  By hewing too closely to the thinking of one half, you alienate the other half of your audience, which is why I'm against movie and TV mixing politics and entertainment unless it's a niche movie or TV show where the political ideas are crucial to the story or for the audience the story is designed for.  But I digress, getting back on track...

As is per usual, I like to predict the Oscars each and every year.  Unlike last year, there are very few up in the air categories.  The only real question is:  How many Oscars is La La Land going to win?  That and the question as to which actor will bring home Best Actor, Denzel or Casey Affleck.  The other acting races have all been sewn up for a while.  The only other real surprises could come in the form of Adapted Screenplay (Arrival or Moonlight), and in the tech categories.  The real enigma with the tech categories is figuring out if the Academy will spread the love or if they'll simply mark La La Land for every category it's nominated for, even if it's not the best choice.  I personally think La La Land will have a big haul, but I don't think it will break records like some are predicting.  La La Land will more than likely net 7 Oscars, but I don't think it will do more than 9, even if some of my left field predictions don't pan out.  As for predictions regarding the show itself, well, it's Jimmy Kimmel hosting, so we can at least know it will probably be funny.  He's the kind of guy who makes fun of anybody, so he is the person I am least worried about in regards to making an annoying political statement.

So without further ado, here are my predictions, with a few bold predictions in the crafts categories for fun!

Best Animated Short - Piper

Best Documentary Short - Joe's Violin

Best Live Action Short - Ennemis Interieurs

Best Sound Mixing - La La Land

Best Sound Editing - Hacksaw Ridge

Best Visual Effects - The Jungle Book

Best Makeup and Hairstyling - Star Trek Beyond

Best Costume Design - Jackie

Best Production Design - Arrival

Best Cinematography - La La Land

Best Film Editing - Hacksaw Ridge

Best Original Song - "City of Stars" from La La Land

Best Original Score - La La Land

Best Documentary - O.J.: Made in America

Best Foreign Language Film - The Salesman

Best Animated Feature - Zootopia

Best Adapted Screenplay - Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay - Manchester by the Sea

Best Supporting Actress - Viola Davis, Fences

Best Supporting Actor - Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Actress - Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Actor - Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Director - Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Picture - La La Land

And those are my predictions!  As always, remember to check back either later tonight or tomorrow for my thoughts on the Oscars ceremony and my personal reflections on how well I did or didn't do with my predictions.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

My Favorite Movies of 2016!

And so here we are, in celebration of the Oscars and of the movies of 2016 in general, here is my annual top 10 list of my favorite movies from the previous year!  Enjoy!

****

10.  X-Men: Apocalypse
Kicking off the list is X-Men: Apocalypse, a movie that was unjustly met with a very mixed to negative response upon release, but one that I think is easily one of the finer X-Men movies overall.  Apocalypse is by no means as solid as X-2, but as far as being a fun superhero movie that pays perfect homage to its comic book roots, you can't do much better than X-Men: Apocalypse.  Plus, director Bryan Singer finally let the X-Men don their iconic costumes, even if it was only for a brief moment before the end of the movie.


9.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One is the first Star Wars spin-off movie that Disney has made since purchasing Lucasfilm in 2012.  While Rogue One is not as strong of a movie as The Force Awakens, it is an enjoyable standalone adventure that manages to work primarily thanks to its connective tissue to the original Star Wars from 1977.  The movie essentially translates the opening crawl of 1977's A New Hope and makes it into a two hour movie.  While one would think that would keep the movie from being engaging, the credit is due to the moviemakers in finding little ways to surprise when it's least expected, such as one of the most iconic Darth Vader moments when he chases the stolen Death Star plans down a hallway, slicing and dicing his way through Rebel solider after Rebel soldier.  Sure, Rogue One wouldn't be nearly as good if it were the very first Star Wars movie, but as a companion piece to the rest of the saga movies, it allows you to look at events you thought you knew in a complete new way.


8.  Doctor Strange
In a year full of superhero movies, Doctor Strange was the best of the bunch due to Benedict Cumberbatch's inspired performance as the titular hero and the sheer originality of director Scott Derrickson's trippy visuals.  Every time you turn around there was something new that you'd never seen done in a superhero movie before, and that was the sheer joy of Doctor Strange.  While the movie lost a little of its momentum in the final act, a few missteps are not enough to keep this from being the strongest superhero movie of 2016.


7.  Arrival
Arrival is a pleasant enigma of a movie.  It is a cross between Contact, Independence Day, and The Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man," with a  little bit of The Prestige sprinkled on top.  It is thinking man's science fiction that also has a surprising heart to it that I found very emotionally involving.  While Arrival is certainly not for everyone, I found its slow burn, less action oriented approach to the alien arrival story trope a breath of fresh air for the type of story being told.  In a way, it's very reminiscent to The Day the Earth Stood Still if that movie were made today.  Plus, this movie has a pretty nice twist near the end that makes it an almost certainty that you'll want to see it a second time.


6.  The BFG
Steven Spielberg is my favorite director of all-time, I think that's a pretty well known fact by now amongst the readers of this blog, so it shouldn't be a surprise that his latest movie is on this list.  The BFG is a fun adaptation of Roald Dahl's kid's lit classic of the same name, about an orphan girl who befriends a big friendly giant.  It is a very simple story that may just be Spielberg's most kid approved movie to date.  The movie is very gentle, very funny, and genuinely fun the whole way through.  It is one of those movies that maybe only appeals to people who love kind of quirky fantasy, but it's a great little quirky fantasy movie that deserved more recognition than it got.


5.  Moana
Disney animation has been experiencing another small renaissance in recent years and Moana has continued that tradition.  While Moana won't go down in movie history books as being a Disney movie on par with the likes of Aladdin or The Little Mermaid (two other movies directed by Moana directors John Musker and Ron Clements), Moana is a fun Disney musical that does a lot new while paying homage to the old.  For starters, Moana does not feature a love story, with no sign of a prince in sight.  On top of that, there really isn't a villain.  As well, this is one of Disney's most thematically complex animated movies they've ever done, with Moana being a movie that is really all about remembering who you are deep down inside, or learning who you are for the very first time, while also being a movie about how we all must leave home at some point in order to grow.


4.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them took us back to J.K. Rowling's wizarding world and we are all better off for it.  With this being Rowling's first ever screenplay, the movie plays exceptionally well.  As a standalone movie, it's a great adventure story, but as a companion to the rest of the Harry Potter world, it's full of tiny little details that help fill in the gaps in the history of the other books and movies.  Still, what makes Fantastic Beasts what it is, is the lovable cast of characters and Rowling's trademark wit and charm in their interactions.  You fall in love with Newt Scamander, Jacob Kowalski, and Tina and Queenie Goldstein, as they traverse across 1926 New York in search of magical creatures that escaped from Newt's enchanted suitcase.  There is no other way to describe this movie other than magical.


3.  The Jungle Book
Disney has been on a hit streak the past few years adapting their animated movies into live action movies, and The Jungle Book is another point in their win column.  While it would be easy to say The Jungle Book is essentially a live action retelling of the animated movie, it's actually more of a hybrid between that movie's approach and the original Rudyard Kipling novel, making The Jungle Book its own movie, while still paying respect to what came before.  The respect is paid mostly in the return of some of the animated movies best songs, woven organically into the story.  Of course what makes The Jungle Book so phenomenal is not just the fact that the timeless story still remains timeless, but in the technological beauty of the movie.  Director Jon Favreau made the whole movie on a Los Angeles soundstage, even though it takes place in the jungles of India.  All of the animals and environments were created with CGI, with the only real element in any scene being Neel Seethi's Mowgli.  Sure, there have been other movies made in recent years that have done this same approach, but none as convincingly as were done here.


2.  Hacksaw Ridge
Hacksaw Ridge is a phenomenal return to form for director Mel Gibson, and the most awesome part is that it's 100% a true story.  It tells the story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to win the congressional Medal of Honor for saving 75 lives as a combat medic during the Battle of Okinawa on Hacksaw Ridge.  The whole crux of the movie is that, due to Desmond's spiritual beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist, he refuses to carry a gun and kill, even so, he wants to serve his country during World War II.  As a Christian, I found this movie especially moving and thought it to be the best faith-based film I've seen perhaps ever.  While the movie is not for the faint of heart, due to the gory battle scenes that realistically depict war, Hacksaw Ridge is an emotional story worth seeing from start to finish because of it's thematic ideas.  At the end of the day, this movie is simply about one man refusing to forsake his beliefs, even when others tell him that he's crazy, and I think that's a great, timely message for a lot of Christians.


1.  Zootopia
When I first read about Zootopia, I was uncertain that anything new could be done with talking animal movies.  Thankfully, Disney managed to prove me wrong.  At every turn, Zootopia did something new.  Whether it be the sloths working at the DMV or the brilliance in how the city of Zootopia is laid out and designed, the movie has original idea after original idea.  Then there are the rich thematic ideas of prejudice and acceptance that run underneath the story that give Zootopia an added depth, but the main reason Zootopia is number one is that it's just flat out funny.  I haven't laughed this hard at any other movie in a long while.  Zootopia is like Lethal Weapon, but made for kids.  It's really a buddy cop movie about the first ever bunny police officer, trying to prove herself by solving an almost impossible case with the help of a conman fox.  The movie follows every trope of the buddy cop movie, while also defying expectations at every turn.  In short, Zootopia is probably Disney animation's best movie they've made since the Nineties, and that is high praise indeed.

2016, Best in Movies

I have done this in the past and am doing it again.  Since I was so busy at the start of the year, I put off my best of 2016 posts till the next appropriate date.  As I got about two weeks into January and still hadn't posted, I realized that the best thing to do would just be to wait till the weekend of the Oscars and kind of turn these into my own mini-Oscars.  So what did I think of the movies of 2016?  Honestly, I thought 2016 was a so-so year for movies.  I'm going to get that out of the gate straight away.  There were a lot of good movies, but very few movies that I think will go down as classics in the grand scheme of things.  Still, there was plenty of stuff to celebrate, so that is what I am doing today.  From the best costumes and make-up, to best acting and directing.  So let's get started on looking back on the year that was...

****


Best Song - "How Far I'll Go" from Moana
"How Far I'll Go" is the classic Disney princess ballad that pretty much lays out what the main character wants (adventure, etc. and so forth), but what makes this particular Disney princess ballad so emotionally stirring is the way it is continually reprised throughout the course of the movie.   "How Far I'll Go" ultimately comes to encapsulate the theme of Moana, which is quite simply figuring out who one is and discovering that we must venture away from home in order to do so.  It is very potent thematic material that really connected with me at this current moment in my life, moving away from my hometown for the first time ever, and that is why it's the Best Song in a movie from 2016.
Runners-Up:
2.) "We Know The Way" from Moana
3.) "Something Wild" from Pete's Dragon
4.) "Another Day of Sun" from La La Land
5.) "You're Welcome" from Moana


Best Score - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Michael Giacchino was the movie score beast of 2016.  He did four scores for feature films, and all four of them are as good as his usual output, with Doctor Strange being a particular stand out for its use of electric guitar and off-kilter instrumentation, but I liked his work for Rogue One just a bit more.  Giacchino's long been my second favorite composer behind John Williams, so it's fitting that he did the music for the first major live action Star Wars movie without John Williams composing the music for it.  While Williams had another masterful score this year with The BFG, it was Giacchino's ability to channel Williams that gives Rogue One the top spot.  He perfectly calls back to Williams' themes when called for, while he also created some new themes that sound as if John Williams himself had written them.  All in all, whenever John Williams can no longer do the scores for the main saga films, I sincerely hope Lucasfilm gives Giacchino another call.
Runners-Up:
2.) The BFG
3.) Doctor Strange
4.) X-Men: Apocalypse
5.) Zootopia



Best Make-Up and Hair - Hacksaw Ridge
War movies wouldn't be possible without good make-up work to sell the realities of war.  While a lot of the gory images in Hacksaw Ridge were unsettling at times, the work was stunning and really made the horror of battle all the more terrifying.
Runners-Up:
2.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
3.) Star Trek Beyond
4.) Doctor Strange
5.) Sully



Best Costumes - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Recreating period wardrobe is tough, it's even harder when the movie in question is a fantasy film, but thankfully costume designer Colleen Atwood has had plenty of experience with movies such as Fantastic Beasts.  The costumes for Fantastic Beasts were period accurate enough to where I was never doubting that they would be something that someone from 1926 New York would wear, but the costumes had just enough whimsy and fantastical accents to also stand apart from a typical period piece and shout that this movie is a part of J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World.
Runners-Up:
2.) Hail, Caesar!
3.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
4.) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
5.) Star Trek Beyond



Best Sound - Hacksaw Ridge
From the whizzing of bullets to the rumbling of explosions, all the way to the appropriate balance between dialogue, sound effects, and musical score, the sound of Hacksaw Ridge brought the movie to life.  No movie can exist without the proper balance of all these things and Hacksaw Ridge did it better than any other movie I saw from 2016.
Runners-Up:
2.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
3.) The Jungle Book
4.) Arrival
5.) Star Trek Beyond



Best Special Effects - The Jungle Book
For me, this and Best Director were the easiest categories to pick.  The special effects in The Jungle Book are what make this movie great.  If you didn't believe in the fully CGI environments and animals acting alongside Neel Sethi's Mowgli, the whole movie would have not worked.  Thankfully, everything did work.  The animals were beautifully rendered, with enough cartoon elements to their facial features to make them look subtly like the actors voicing them, but still always looking like a real animal you might see in the wild.  In short, this movie is what I think the future of movies is going to be more of - movies shot entirely on a soundstage with no location work.  While I know there are many other movies that have done this approach to varying degrees of success, The Jungle Book delivers the most believable and immersive results I've seen to date.
Runners-Up:
2.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
3.) Arrival
4.) Star Trek Beyond
5.) Sully


Best Production Design - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I thought a lot about the production design work done in other movies in 2016, from La La Land's use of lush colors to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them giving us a glimpse into the American Wizarding World, but for me Rogue One had the most impressive production design.  Simply put, what made Rogue One's production design so stunning was that production designers Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont perfectly recreated iconic environments from the original 1977 Star Wars.  The Death Star sets and the Rebel Base on Yavin 4 looked exactly as they did in A New Hope, while the design work also had room for innovation by giving us the first tropical planet ever featured in a Star Wars movie, as well as the Middle Eastern vibe of the planet Jedha and its fallen Jedi statues.
Runners-Up:
2.) Zootopia
3.) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
4.) Hail, Caesar!
5.) Arrival


Best Editing - Hacksaw Ridge
If you're sensing a theme here, I thought Hacksaw Ridge was the most technically impressive movie across the board in 2016.  The craft on display was just all top notch and the editing is another part of that exceptional display that stood out.  There is nothing real innovative done here, it's just really sharp editing that creates tension and emotion through the power of each cut.
Runners-Up:
2.) Arrival
3.) Sully
4.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
5.) Star Trek Beyond


Best Cinematography - La La Land
While I had my issues with the way the story of La La Land ultimately played out, there is no denying that this movie was a master class in cinematography.  From the opening musical number that is all staged and stitched together to look like one shot, to the beautifully rendered Los Angeles environments that almost take on a dream like feel to them, director of photography Linus Sandgren makes this movie soar through the visuals alone.
Runners-Up:
2.) Arrival
3.) Hacksaw Ridge
4.) Hail, Caesar!
5.) Sully



Best Supporting Actress - Alison Sudol, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Queenie Goldstein was one of the best characters in Fantastic Beasts, and while a lot of that is JK Rowling's writing, a great deal of the character's success is thanks to actress Alison Sudol and her performance bringing Queenie to life.  Queenie is an American witch who is flirtatious, emotionally honest, and can read people's minds.  In the hands of a different actress, Queenie may have come across as annoying, possibly even ditzy.  While Queenie has this effervescent air about her, she is a very wise character and Sudol understands that and relays that in every scene, making Queenie both playful and serious at the same time.
Runners-Up:
2.) Katherine Waterston, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
3.) Lupita Nyong'o, The Jungle Book
4.) Sofia Boutella, Star Trek Beyond
5.) Teresa Palmer, Hacksaw Ridge


Best Supporting Actor - Hugo Weaving, Hacksaw Ridge
Agent Smith himself delivered the most astounding supporting performance of 2016 in Hacksaw Ridge.  What made Hugo Weaving's work as the father to Andrew Garfield's medal of honor winning Desmond Doss so special, was how he made the character sympathetic.  In short, he plays an abusive, alcoholic, WWI veteran, but underneath that he is a man who is suffering from what we now know as PTSD.  It is a phenomenal performance and one that is heartbreaking.
Runners-Up:
2.) Dan Fogler, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
3.) John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane
4.) Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!
5.) Alan Tudyk, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


Best Actress - Ruby Barnhill, The BFG
The BFG would have fallen apart had it not had a good child portraying the part of Sophie, thankfully Steven Spielberg discovered another great child actor in Ruby Barnhill.  Barnhill is sassy, funny, and lovable all at the same time.  She holds her own with some heavyweight actors and sells the special effects in a way that could have only been possible by a child with an active imagination.
Runners-Up:
2.) Amy Adams, Arrival
3.) Auli'i Cravalho, Moana
4.) Elizabeth Olsen, I Saw the Light
5.) Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 10 Cloverfield Lane


Best Actor - Tom Hiddleston, I Saw the Light
This is a performance that has gotten vastly overlooked by critics and award shows purely because the movie itself wasn't well reviewed, which is a shame, because not only is the movie better than most said, but Tom Hiddleston really became Hank Williams.  Like when Joaquin Phoenix became Johnny Cash, Tom Hiddleston adopts all of Hank Williams' mannerisms, his accent, and most importantly, his yodel.  After a few minutes, you forget you're watching the guy who tormented the Avengers and think you're watching Hank Williams brought back to life on the silver screen.
Runners-Up:
2.) Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
3.) Tom Hanks, Sully
4.) Mark Rylance, The BFG
5.) Eddie Redmayne, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them


Best Ensemble - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Every performance in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them made this movie soar, and to me that is the mark of a great ensemble piece.  Eddie Redmayne led the ensemble with an awkward, yet lovable performance as magizoologist Newt Scamander, with Katherine Waterston playing a perfect counterpoint to Newt as the all business Tina (and coincidentally, Newt's future wife).  Then there is the aforementioned Alison Sudol as Queenie and Dan Fogler as the lovable No-Maj Jacob, who both tag along on the adventure.  Rounding out the cast are the likes of Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, and Ezra Miller, all giving their roles their all and making Fantastic Beasts an enchanting experience.
Runners-Up:
2.) Star Trek Beyond
3.) The Finest Hours
4.) Hail, Caesar!
5.) Sully


Best Movie Moment - I Am Moana, Moana
I nearly went with the Darth Vader moment from Rogue One, but I had to go with the sequence that had the greatest emotional impact upon me.  2016 was a good year for movies, but there were few movies last year that had a moment so emotionally awesome it gave me the chills, and Moana was one of the only movies from 2016 that surprisingly did that for me.  This is the moment in the movie where Moana is thinking about giving up on her mission, accepting defeat, and returning home, but that is when she is visited by the ghost of her recently deceased grandmother.  As is usual Disney fashion, they sing a song that reprises many of the movie's better tunes, with Moana's grandmother reminding Moana who she is as the ghosts of Moana's voyager ancestors surround her in the ocean.  It's a moment that might sound bizarre or hokey if not seen, but trust me when I say that it's the most emotionally fulfilling 2016 moment I had with a movie.
Runners-Up:
2.) Darth Vader's Hallway Rampage, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
3.) Astral Projection Showdown, Doctor Strange
4.) The DMV, Zootopia
5.) Mowgli Saves the Baby Elephant, The Jungle Book


Best Screenplay - Zootopia
It's almost impossible to write a talking animal movie that feels original, but the gang at Disney Animation Studios did just that with Zootopia.  Every single scene in Zootopia does something new with its animal-like humans that I've never seen another movie about anthropomorphic animals do.  On top of that, the movie is just flat out hilarious, with the DMV scene being one of the funniest scenes I've seen in a long time.  To be so funny, so original, and also still have a great moral lesson come through it all, is a sign of great writing, and it is why Zootopia was the best written movie of 2016.
Runners-Up:
2.) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
3.) The BFG
4.) 10 Cloverfield Lane
5.) Arrival


Best Director - Jon Favreau, The Jungle Book
Jon Favreau deserves an Oscar for The Jungle Book.  There, I said it.  Simply put, to direct a movie like this where almost all of it is reliant on the director's imagination relaying what he wants to the cast and crew is no simple task.  For that movie to be as good as The Jungle Book is, is a sign of a fantastic director who should receive all the recognition he is due.  Jon Favreau has long been one of those overlooked directors who delivered good movies, but he never really had that breakout hit that made him seem more than just a generic blockbuster director.  With The Jungle Book, I think Favreau finally proves to any of the naysayers that he is more than generic, he is a unique talent in the movie industry.
Runners-Up:
2.) Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
3.) Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
4.) Steven Spielberg, The BFG
5.) Scott Derickson, Doctor Strange

****

Check back later tonight or tomorrow morning for my list of the my 10 favorite movies from 2016!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hello, 2017! My New Year's Resolutions!


It's a new year!  While I typically don't think of the change in year as being such a big deal (I mean, it is just literally going from one day to the next), it really feels like a bigger change this year due to a lot of change I am currently going through in my own life, which is the reason I have been a bad blogger as of late.  I have not written new posts as regularly as I like and have not reviewed the last two movies I have seen, however I have a good excuse.

Over the past month and a half I have been preoccupied with getting started at a new job and moving to a completely new state!  With that said, my first New Year's Resolution is to be better at upkeeping the blog.  The fact that I've moved is simply an excuse, precisely as I called it.  I have had time the past few weeks to write blog posts but have felt uninspired to do so.  I believe it's simply changing environments so much and not being around the familiar that has made it harder to be productive with the blog and with my own writing pursuits as well (which hint-hint, that is my second New Year's Resolution, but more on that in a moment).

When it gets right down to it, I have never been a huge fan of change, but change is precisely what God has planned for me right now and I think I've done pretty well handling it overall.  With this being my first time away from home, I do get the occasional bouts of homesickness like anyone does, as well it's hard to feel at home in a new place immediately when you lived in your last home for 23 years!  Right now I still sorta feel like I'm in an extended stay hotel.  It's gonna take an adjustment period, and part of that adjustment period is learning when to carve out time for blogging, writing, and filmmaking.  On top of that, taking the time to do those things will help to start making life feel normal again and not all that different.  While I am in a new place surrounded by new people, I am still who I've always been and am resilient and capable at facing life head on, so this is where my New Year's Resolutions come in.

As I've already mentioned, my first resolution is to blog more regularly again.  In truth, I have been slacking off  for the past year or two and I miss being more regular with my blog posts.  My second resolution is to be more disciplined in my writing.  When I talk of writing, I am not talking of blogging, what I am talking of is my work on novels and screenplays.  I am never going to become the multi-millionaire I feel I'm going to one day be if I don't ever actually finish a book or a script and actually get them out in the world, which leads directly into resolution number three.  This may seem like my resolution every year, but I am determined to get my first narrative feature film made in 2017, or at the very least, written and financed so that I can start making it.  I feel a calling on my life that God has placed upon me that I still have yet to fully embrace.

I have these stories in my head, that whirl around in my heart and soul that I know are gifts from God, gifts that he wants me to share with the whole world.  While I know I need to continue paying the bills until the so-called "big break," I know I need to devote more time to making something actually happen with my dreams rather than sitting around and talking about them.  To share a quote from one of my favorite books and movies of all-time, courtesy of JK Rowling and Albus Dumbledore, "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."  That to me is one of the most underrated book and movie quotes of all-time, and in pretty much every way, that is a lesson I need to take more to heart.  I am already making big changes in my life with my new job, new home, and other new experiences I am embarking upon trying to fulfill other personal dreams of mine, but it also means that I need to take things one step at a time.

Life changes don't occur in the blink of an eye.  They take time, they take planning, and they take faith, as is evidenced in essentially a two month whirlwind where things had to be meticulously thought out and faith was required to get all the needs met for this move.  I didn't just get this new job one day and the very next was up here, settled and working.  It's been a process, and while I am now physically settled, I know it is going to take a few weeks, maybe even a few months to start to feel emotionally settled.  Throughout all of this, I am seeking to continue growing closer to God (which thankfully my new job is helping to facilitate the strides I already took in 2016), while also returning to some normalcy after the insanity that has been the last two months.  It's been real hard for me to unwind and not feel like I have something that I have to do every second of every day because I have been so on the move recently.  I say all of this to say that this post is very much my making a contract with myself to slow down a bit and get back into the normal swing of things, while still keeping one eye toward the future.

All in all, I am excited for what 2017 will bring.  2016 unfolded in so many unexpected ways.  Each time there was a setback, there was a blessing just around the corner, and as I'm coming to learn, that's sort of how life works in general.  At this point last year, I would have never imagined I'd be living three hours away from home, on my own, with an 8-hour-a-day/five-days-a-week day job, but here I am.  Isn't it amazing how God works that way?  So hello, 2017!  In the next few days look for my annual year end lists, encapsulating my favorite movies from 2016, as well as my annual list of the movies I am most looking forward to in the coming year!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Movie Review: "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"


Return to J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first of a new five part prequel series to Harry Potter.

In Fantastic Beasts, we are transported back to 1926 New York, during the height of the Jazz Age, where Rowling lifts the veil on the American Wizarding World for the first time.  It is here we meet British magizoologist, Newt Scamander, who is traveling the world cataloging magical creatures and keeping a literal zoo within his magically enchanted suitcase.  When Newt's suitcase is opened and some of his magical creatures escape, Newt must return them before getting arrested by MACUSA (the American equivalent to the Ministry of Magic), with the aid of an ex-auror named Tina, her sister Queenie, and a No-Maj (aka American Muggle) named Jacob.

Fantastic Beasts sees the return of many of the behind the scenes talent from the Harry Potter movies.  David Yates, the director of the last four Potter movies, has directed this one as well, while David Heyman, the producer of all eight Potter movies, is onboard here too, alongside Rowling and Steve Kloves, who wrote the screenplays for seven of the Potter movies but is merely a producer this time.  Of course the biggest draw of this movie is that it is the first screenplay ever written by J.K. Rowling herself.  While there was a fictional Hogwarts textbook that Rowling wrote about fifteen years ago that bears the same name, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, this movie is not so much an adaptation as it is the story that tells of how the author of that textbook, Newt Scamander, wrote it.

In all honesty, how much you enjoy Fantastic Beasts really all stems back to how much you love Rowling's Wizarding World.  If you are not already a fan of Rowling's work, this movie will not change your mind.  On top of that, this movie would not make a great entry point for someone who has never read a Harry Potter book or seen any of the movies.  If you don't know your Muggles from your Nifflers, you might be a little lost, with that all said, as a diehard fan of the books and movies from the Wizarding World, Fantastic Beasts is a more than satisfactory return to Rowling's imagination.

Like with all of Rowling's writings, there are deeper themes running underneath the whole story that help to give the story weight.  No theme is more prominent than that of tolerance and understanding, however the real draw of Rowling's writing is the colorful characters she creates.  Fantastic Beasts is no different, with these characters being brought to life by the great actors playing them.  Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander with an awkward sensibility that often finds him more attune to creatures than other people, but throughout the course of the movie you really get a sense for Newt's heart and come to love him for who he is.  Then there are sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein, played by Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol.  Tina is very straight to business while Queenie is a little more open and flirty, especially with Jacob, the No-Maj that tags along for the ride.  Actor Dan Fogler steals practically every scene he is in as Jacob, acting as the main source of comic relief for almost all of the movie, and Jacob's potential romance with Queenie is easily one of my favorite aspects of the whole story.  Then there are the titular fantastic beasts themselves, who all are characters in their own ways, in particular the platypus-like Niffler who garners many laughs.

Once the credits roll, you realize you've gone on a great adventure.  To compare the modest adventure in this movie to the grand ones in the Harry Potter stories is almost a little foolish.  Like the Star Wars prequels, we ultimately know where this story ends, but it is how we get there that is what makes Fantastic Beasts worthwhile.  Fantastic Beasts is definitely a different experience from the Harry Potter books and movies, but it also has all of the heart, humor, and thrills of those other stories to be a fantastic addition all on its own (pun definitely intended).

I give Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them a 9 out of 10!