My Top Movies Of 2015

2015 was a great year for movies, especially if you’re a genre fan like me. I’ve never made any bones over where my cinematic preferences lie, eschewing normal dramatic filmic fare for stories told across more fantastical canvases. I recognize that limits my consumption of movies, and therefore limits my perspective, but it’s a cross I’m okay bearing. I’m not the Academy, so screw it.

* It should also be noted that I have not yet had a chance to watch either The Hateful Eight or The Revenant, both of which look great enough from trailers to possibly be on this list.

Here are my top films of 2015 according to my ratings on The Hollywood Outsider podcast with the scores I gave them in parenthesis beside it:

#1 Star Wars: The Force Awakens (10/10)

#2 Jupiter Ascending (9/10)

#3 Cinderella (9/10)

#4 Ant-Man (8.5/10)

#5 Furious 7 (8.5/10)

#6 Avengers: Age of Ultron (8.5/10)

#7 Mad Max: Fury Road (8.5/10)

#8 San Andreas (8.5/10)

#9 Ex Machina (8/10)

#10 Boy Meets Girl (8/10)

That’s not a bad list, I suppose. It has some world famous movies, and a couple lesser-knowns. Of that list I want to highlight five films that meant more to me than simply a score. They are:

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#1 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I don’t need to go into this one too much, do I? I’ve probably talked it to death already. But, I do want to say how thankful I am that J.J. Abrams was able to knock this one out of the park. So much rode on his shoulders, and I’m sure there were a million moments when it could have all gone to shit, but it didn’t, and now current and future generations of fans have a movie they can be proud of. Finn and Rey, not to mention BB-8, are great new additions to the franchise, and Kylo Ren will hopefully carry on to be the greatest villain the world has ever known. We’ll see. Either way, this is a great start to what will hopefully be an amazing new trilogy of films.

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#2 – Jupiter Ascending

This movie is, for me, the Oreo cookie of movies, as it combines two things I love into one greater whole – space opera and the Wachowski siblings. I am a slobbering fan of space operas, as my eternal devotion to Star Wars attests, and for me the Wachowskis have yet to miss the mark (yes, I adore the Matrix sequels and think Speed Racer is a misunderstood masterpiece), so bringing them both together was a sure-fire hit. The visuals were lush, Giacchino’s music was amazing, and I think Kunis and Tatum were great together. Only my #1 did it better this year.

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#3 – Cinderella

Yup, a Disney movie. And not just a Disney movie, but a live action remake of a cartoon classic. That usually would be a recipe for disaster, but as Disney showed with Maleficent, it can be done, and done very well. Cinderella is further proof of that. Though the original cartoon will never be replaced, this is an amazing new take on the story brought to life by wonderful actors such as Lily James as the titular character, Richard Madden as Prince Charming, and Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother. Behind the camera, though, Kenneth Branagh’s direction was exquisite, walking the line between cartoon and reality as only he can. This is a wonderful, wonderful movie.

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#4 – Ex Machina

Alex Garland is a movie writer I’ve followed from a distance ever since the film 28 Days Later came out. It wasn’t the first movie to use fast moving zombies (I think that might have been Zach Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead), but it certainly used them to terrifying effect. He then went on to write the screenplay for Halo, a science fiction film based on one of my favorite video game franchises of all time, but sadly the production fell through. He also wrote the amazing sci-fi horror movie Sunshine. Now, with Ex Machina, we not only get Garland’s fantastic writing, but we also get his debut as a director. Ex Machina is a very dark, but also strangely human take on the idea of artificial intelligence and what sentience for that intelligence might mean. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson (both of whom were also in my #1 pick) are great, but it’s really the slender shoulders of relative newcomer Alicia Vikander that this movie rests, and she carries it off in spectacular fashion. It’s high-minded science fiction made by a great group of people.

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#5 – Boy Meets Girl

Because The Hollywood Outsider podcast has achieved a certain level of visibility in the entertainment industry, we are occasionally asked by studios to review movies they provide to us. Since most of these requests come from smaller independent movie companies, that means a lot of cheaper, more… limited… films are put before us. That is often not a great thing (you can go see my reviews for such films at the HO website), but occasionally something special comes along. In 2015, that something special was Boy Meets Girl, a film written and directed by Eric Schaeffer. The movie is about a young transgender woman in a small town who forms a relationship with a young woman who moves nearby. It is an incredibly sweet movie, with ever moment feeling real and honest, mostly because of the work of actor Michelle Hendley, a transgender girl herself. This is a film that will upset some, and infuriate others, and they are the audience this movie was made for. I think it has the power to actually change lives.

And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed reading this. May 2016 be a glorious new year.

What STAR WARS Means To Me

Given all the chatter that’s sprung up about Star Wars since THE FORCE AWAKENS was released, I thought I’d post a little piece regarding it and my history with the franchise.

Ahem ahem…

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What Star Wars Means To Me

If you’ve heard this story from me before, please bear with me. I repeat it here now so that it’s fully and officially on the record.

STAR WARS, what we would later come to alternatively call EPISODE IV and A NEW HOPE (depending on your level of geekery), was released upon the world in May of 1977. I was four and a half years old. I clearly remember my parents taking me and my little brother Scott (he wouldn’t have even been two at the time) to the local drive-in movie theater to see it. The weather was clear, the playground up near the screen was filled with kids swinging and clambering over monkey bars, and the smell of buttered popcorn drifted through the air like the promise of a great summer to come.

Being so young, I really had no idea what the movie was we were there to see. Movies hadn’t penetrated my fledgling mind yet, nor had any books my parents read to me or shows on the television. I was a tabula rasa, just waiting for the right thing to come and spark my juvenile imagination. My joy at being at the drive-in came mostly from the play area. What little boy doesn’t love sand boxes and seesaws? But, when the sun went down, it was back to the family car to watch whatever film we’d come to see. So long as I had a small bag of popcorn and a coke, I didn’t really care what it was. But, when the projector burst to life like some sort of Asgardian artifact and that famous Twentieth-Century Fox fanfare poured forth from Angelic horns, my life was forever, irrevocably changed.

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I couldn’t read the words that floated down the whitewashed movie screen ahead of us, but sitting on the roof of my parents’ car it didn’t matter. I knew they were important by the music and the way they marched with steady purpose through a field of stars that looked so much like the stars twinkling over my head at that very moment. And then when the camera panned down to reveal a spaceship racing away as lights flashed against it, only then to watch as the vessel that followed it thundered above me like a metallic monster that grew larger and larger and larger with every moment, a leviathan hounding after a goldfish. It was amazing, and the lights reflected like stars in my little eyes.

Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the introduction of Darth Vader, a figure that haunts me to this day, mostly in various plastic forms around my office. After all the whiteness of the small ship’s corridors and the Stormtroopers that quickly poured into it, Vader’s immense blackness sent chills through me. Sitting on the roof of that car, I felt true fear for the first time. Later, when Luke and Han were doing their fumbling best to save the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my young life, I felt joy, and love, and excitement. When the end credits finally rolled, there really aren’t words to describe how I felt. To be honest, I don’t know if even I – after all these years – truly understand just how I felt. But I do know this – I was changed. The boy that crawled back into his parents’ car and went home to dream of heroes in white and villainous evil in black, was not the same boy who played in the sand just hours before.

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Before I move on, I need to say one final thing about the memory I just shared with you in the interest of full disclosure: I don’t know if it’s actually true. That, right there, is me being honest. I think it’s true. It certainly feels true. When I cast my mind back nearly four decades, those are the things I honestly remember happening. My mother could come along and say, “Oh, son, that didn’t happen. We saw it…” and she would probably be right. But, that doesn’t matter. Not to me. I know my truth. Real or not, those memories are what I recall when I think about Star Wars. We all have mythologies about ourselves that we create using as much truth as we can and then filling in the rest with “that’s how it should have happened” bits. For me, those shared memories are my Star Wars origin story. That is where my heroic journey began. Now on with the show…

Over the years since May of ’77 the level of my fanaticism waxed and waned. I played with all the toys when I was kid, turned my bedroom into Hoth and Endor, held X-Wings and ran through the yard with them held high as they soared after Tie-Fighters. But with each year that passed after RETURN OF THE JEDI’s end credits faded, so did my passion. I read the Marvel comic every once and awhile, and if I stumbled across some toy or item I’d never seen before I’d do my best to get it, but aside from the occasional book there just wasn’t much to keep the Star Wars fire burning. Such is the way of things.

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That doesn’t mean my love of science fiction and fantasy diminished, however. No no, my brother, not even a little. Because of Star Wars I launched into the fandom of all things nerdy with a greedy abandon. Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, Dune, the Dragonlance novels, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek, and on and on it went. When everyone else wanted to play sports, I wanted to keep my face in a book, or play a game, or rewatch CLASH OF THE TITANS. While my friends wanted to play Rambo out in the woods, I wanted to play as a Jedi or an X-Wing pilot. It was just the way I rolled.

As I’m sure you can imagine, all this led to me to being a pretty geeky kid. And yeah, sure, there were rough moments from time to time holding that freak flag aloft. If I had a dime for every book slapped out of my hands or every “you’re such a nerd” spat in my face I could have bought LucasFilm instead of Disney. It never got me down though, because it wasn’t as if I could be any other way. Geekdom is woven into my very DNA.

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Luckily for the Star Wars fan inside me, the fires returned when it was announced that new Star Wars books would soon be hitting bookstore shelves, starting with a new trilogy to cap off the movies! OMG! Just as I’m entering college, Star Wars is returning to my life, and in a way I adore – books. From there suddenly there were new games, new toys, even new music (Shadows of the Empire rocked!). And then came the Special Editions! And more books! And then…holy frijole…EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE. Say what you want now, but back then the idea of new movies shook the world. I have plenty of issues with the prequels, believe me, but I never make myself come down and hate them. As bad as some of it is, there’s good too, like Vader himself proved possible. Star Wars was once again a cultural phenomenon. I couldn’t have been happier.

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Star Wars has been a gift to me, and somehow it never ceases to give. Of all the things it’s led me to, however, none is more important to me than my writing. The books I’ve written that sit on someone’s bookcase wouldn’t exist were it not for Star Wars. My mind was blown open at a very impressionable age, and in the decades since I’ve absorbed as much science fiction and fantasy as possible across as broad a range of stories and characters as you can imagine. And all of that, once filtered through my mind, comes out in the novels and short stories I’ve written and will go on to write. I cannot thank George Lucas enough for what he created, and when I say that I mean both Star Wars and myself. He was practically a third parent, tending to my brain while mom and dad took care of the rest.

Does that sound odd, or perhaps excessive? Maybe. But, I do think Star Wars has led to me being a good person. Because of my travels across space and time I’ve met so many different types of people, both real and imagined, and through that I became a very accepting person. I don’t judge people because of what they look like, or who they love, or who they worship. We’re all children of the same long ago stars. I try to be empathetic, forgoing fear for love, like a Jedi should. Some of this I gained directly from Star Wars, and some came through the universes Star Wars led me to. When I say I am who I am because of Star Wars, I honestly mean it. And I think it’s a good thing.

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And perhaps that’s really it. I love who I am. I love that my mind is filled with alien worlds and ancient kingdoms. I love that my shelves are crowded with Stephen King books, Marvel movie box sets, and action figures that cover the gamut of science fiction and fantasy. When someone says, “Where do we go?” in my mind I follow it up with a mentally sung, “From here…” (That’s a Buffy reference, y’all). If a person asks me who my doctor is, I immediately want to answer with, “David Tennant.” And of course when anyone says, “I’ll try,” you know I want to tell them, “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” My nerd runs deep, and it runs rough.

Some might say that all this makes it impossible for me to be unbiased when it comes to the Star Wars universe, and more specifically the movies. To them I answer, you’re right. I can’t. But that’s not because I lack the objectiveness needed to see the flaws and failings of the movies; rather, it’s because they aren’t just movies to me. They’re friends. Hell, they’re more than that – the Star Wars movies are my family. They’ve been with me practically my whole life, through good times and bad, giving me advice when I needed it, hope when I felt hopeless. I know the films aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t make me love them any less. I acknowledge all the problems with Star Wars, can understand why some might not like them, but I can do  all that without lessening my affection one iota. I don’t let the rough patches make me stumble, or get lost in plot imperfections. I accept the movies as they are and love them unconditionally just as a father loves his children, or as a brother loves his siblings. Is Jar Jar an idiot? Yeah, but he’s my idiot. Are Ewoks cool? Nope, but who cares, they’re still cute and still kill Stormtroopers. Could I have possibly written better dialogue than, “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth,”? Probably. But a cheesy line has never made me love my younger brother any less, so why would it with Star Wars? For me it’s all the same.

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So there you have it. That is what Star Wars means to me. To most people it means a lot less, and that’s cool. I don’t expect them to love it as much as I do. Wish, yes, but not expect. And I understand that most people haven’t grown up with it in their lives the way I did. We can’t change how we grew up. For me Star Wars goes beyond fandom to family. I know it has its problems, but I’ll always love it, and it will continue to be unconditional.

Until next time…

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Movie Review – Prometheus

As some of you may or may not know, I am a co-host on a podcast called The Hollywood Outsider, which is a weekly show all about news and reviews for films, television shows, and DVDs/Blu-Ray releases. I really love doing the show, as movies and TV are passions of mine, and I highly recommend that you check it out to not only hear my thoughts and opinions on the latest in entertainment news, but also those of my three fellow co-hosts, all of them bringing their own unique and humorous perspectives. So please, click on the link and join us.

This past week the four of us reviewed the recently released PROMETHEUS, which is Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi epic and his first return to the universe of the ALIEN franchise since the original ALIEN film back in 1979. Did Sir Ridley Scott reach the heady and horrifying heights of ALIEN, or did the movie crash and burn on reentry? Our review was so long that Aaron Peterson, the creator and primary host of the show, actually broke it down into four pieces, each one focusing on our individual reviews. Here is my take on the film. If you’re interested in the thoughts of my fellow co-hosts — and really, you should be — then please visit the site and give them a listen as well. Now, on to my review…

Just a quick update

There are times when I wonder if updating this blog serves any purpose. I rarely get comments or emails, and by rarely I mean once in a blue moon, so does anyone even read it? Perhaps if I put up notices on Twitter and Facebook letting people know I made an update, that might draw more people in. I’ll have to give that a try.

Anyway…

First, an update on my writing and the upcoming books. It looks like A MINOR MAGIC will be the first to hit the market. We’re hoping for a November/December release. And then, somewhere around March of 2012, you should see HAYWIRE come out. I’d like a bit more space between then, but I won’t know if that’s possible until dates firm up a touch more. I’ll keep you in the loop. And as for STILL WATER, I took a break the past two weeks to work on my podcast’s anthology plus to rest for a few days, but next week I’ll get back into it hardcore. If I’m not done with it by the end of October I’ll be upset with myself.

Speaking of podcasts, I’m still doing two of them right now. The Dead Robots’ Society is nearing it’s 200th episode, which doesn’t include all the convention panels, special episodes, and audio dramas we’ve produced, so in reality we have over two-hundred files available for download right now. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished with it. But I’m also still co-hosting with the guys over at The Hollywood Outsider. If you haven’t listened to it yet, I really encourage you to, especially if you like movies and TV shows. I have a lot of fun doing it, and the guys I host with are a lot of fun. I wish they lived closer so that I could hang out with them in person. Please, do yourself and us a favor, and give it a spin. We just put out our ninth episode.

If you’re interested at all in video games, I just finished replaying Gears Of War 1 and 2 in preparation for playing the third game, and I also just finished playing a new RPG (that’s Role Playing Game for you non-gamers) called X-MEN: DESTINY. As you can tell from the title, it is a comic book game, but with an RPG feel. It’s not the best RPG I’ve ever played (Hey, Bioware, what’s up? Get Mass Effect 3 out NOW!), but it was still a lot of fun. I’d give it a solid 8 out of 10.

I think that’s it for now. This brings you up to date on where I am with some of my projects, and as they develop I’ll post ’em here and keep you in the loop. Thanks for coming, and please let me know what you think regarding anything I’ve talked about.

Oh, before I go, please notice the new icons I’ve put at the bottom of this post. I got the idea for this from Robin Sullivan, and I’m hoping they’ll help in keeping people connected with me and what I’ve working on. If you see any problems with them, or have other ideas, please let me know.

Take care.

Hollywood Outsider – Episode 5

In Episode 5 of the Hollywood Outsider, we run through some current movie news before reviewing the recent releases Fright Night and Conan the Barbarian. After discussing next weeks upcoming releases, Scott puts his own spin on ‘Does It Make Me A Sally?’ before a quick trailer break. Our ‘From The Outside In’ topic this week is ‘A Night Out At the Theater: What’s it going to take to get us there?’. We round out the show with DVD releases followed by our Flashback Pick’s of the Week and outtakes.

Podcasters: Aaron Peterson, Scott Clark, Brian Williams and Justin Macumber

Email: HollywoodOutsider@comcast.net

Twitter: H_Outsider

Hollywood Outsider – Episode 3

In Episode 3 of The Hollywood Outsider, we take on the weeks upcoming releases, how Apes and Smurfs are conquering the Box Office as well as numerous news items including looks at 5 newly released trailers and some recently announced projects. Our weekly topic is ‘Remakes: Is Hollywood Creatively Bankrupt?’. Brian takes a stab at a new segment called ‘Does It Make Me A Sally?’ (seems like a rhetorical question to us) and we finish out the episode with our Flashback DVD/Blu Ray picks of the week and, of course, outakes.

Podcasters: Aaron Peterson, Scott L. Clark, Brian Williams and Justin Macumber

Intro/Outro music provided by: The Buddha Nuggs

Email: Hollywoodoutsider@comcast.net

Twitter: H_Outsider

The Hollywood Outsider Podcast – Episode 2

I’m not sure if I’ll be a permanent or constant guest on this podcast since I’m not the person in charge of it, but I hope I’m able to be on as often as possible. It’s a lot of fun to talk about movies with people who just as passionate about them as I am, if not more. Here is this episode’s description:

In Episode 2 of The Hollywood Outsider, we tackle our regular format for the first time. After sharing some impressions of Cowboys & Aliens and thoughts of some upcoming releases, we dive into the week’s news and new trailer releases. We also have a spirited discussion on 3D and whether or not we should take out James Cameron for this epidemic. We finish up with DVD releases and each of our own ‘Flashback DVD’ choices. Be sure to stick around through the end song for our own version of film outtakes.

And now hear me talk about movies

Well, the guys over at the Official Thread podcast asked me to come back on their show, but this time it wasn’t to talk about video game. Instead we talked about movies. Most of the discussions was focused on this year’s movies, especially the summer blockbusters, but we did talk about films from the past as well as those that are upcoming. I had a blast, and I hope you give it a listen.

Let me also apologize for how loud my voice occasionally gets. Apparently I was too close to the mic or I had my gain up too high, but either way I was louder than I should have been, and I’m really sorry about that.