Forget the Reviews, Go See ‘Jupiter Ascending’

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I’m unaccustomed to recommending movies I find bad or, in this case, mediocre. I suppose you could say this is the equivalent of knowingly cooking bland food for house guests, so this is a bit of a new experience for me. So here it goes: I need all of you to take your hard-earned money and go see Jupiter Ascending.

Yes, the movie has a 22% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Yes, the script is filled with more clichés and bad dialogue than any Keanu Reeves movie is capable of. And yes, this movie isn’t exactly what we’d call the reemergence of Star Wars. Regardless, go to the theatre. Pay money. Get a ticket. Buy a delicious blue-raspberry Icee. Why? Because this movie had a giant budget and is an original property. You know what that means? It means it’s not a sequel, reboot, remake or based on any novel or comic book.

Jupiter Ascending

You see, Hollywood has increasingly become adverse to funding original properties with big budgets. Typically you’ll see maybe one a year if you’re lucky. And who can blame them? Last summer I asked, nay, I begged people to go see Edge of Tomorrow, because it was incredible and yet practically no one saw it in theaters. Before that it was Pacific Rim, which seemed to interest no one (What about giant robots punching giant monsters do people not understand?). Now granted, one of these two is based on a preexisting property, albeit a relatively unknown one. But you can see why producers are wary to risk giving a film big funding if movie-goers won’t go see the ones they do give big budgets to.

Last year I can think of one movie, Interstellar, that fit in the category of a new property that made a lot of money, and I suspect the only reason it got the budget it did was the name recognition of Christopher Nolan.

This brings us back to my original plea: go see Jupiter Ascending. I know you’ve complained, either secretly or out loud, that there seem to be way to many comic book movies out there, or that both Batman and Spider-Man are being rebooted way too soon, or that all we seem to get these days are mediocre sequels and adaptations of terrible books (Can we all pretend 50 Shades of Grey isn’t actually happening?). Well guess what, the universe has seen fit to give us all another chance to show Hollywood that we are ready to reward their financial risks.

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Having said all that, let me allay some of your fears about going to see what you could presume to be a humongous pile of crap, because there were some genuinely cool things in this movie. For starters, Jupiter Ascending does some phenomenal world building with dozens of unique alien species, colorful planets and a rich history only briefly hinted at. Action sequences are intense, especially a dog fight over downtown Chicago, and will keep you entertained. You’ll love to see Eddie Redmayne play an incredibly weird and creepy villain who likes to speak through his teeth. And, oh yeah, crazy hover skates. Seriously, I hope those things will be invented by the time the hover skateboard from Back to the Future Part II makes it to the market.

I pray this has been enough to convince you, because I’m telling you true that if this movie makes the big bucks you can expect that another original film will be released in the near future and it will have the budget it deserves and will hopefully be much higher quality.

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Forget the Reviews, Go See ‘Jupiter Ascending’

The Academy Awards Never Win

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

The nominations are in and the stage is set for another Academy Awards next month. Strangely enough, the Oscar nominees elicit a weird reaction every time they’re announced. Critically the Awards are treated as the hallmark of excellence for film, acting, directing, etc., but often we as a society tend to dismiss them when we don’t agree with the nominees and/or winners. In my discussions with peers, I’ve even heard that awards ceremonies in general are rather pointless due to bias and personal opinion, yet when they talk about an award-winning movie with revere, they’re quick to point out that it won an award. This bi-polar emotion just goes to show that the Academy Awards will never truly win in the court of public opinion.

Perhaps I’m pointing out the obvious here as these are likely feelings or thoughts we’ve all had at one point in time. Of course, there’s also a good bet that most people don’t even think about the Academy Awards at all. Regardless, I believe the Oscars, though flawed and prone to nominate similar films each year, serve a good purpose as far as awards go.

  1. Giving attention where attention is due

Often we can know a film will be on the nominee list before it even hits theaters. Some, however, surprise us and make it on the list with little to no fanfare. Off the top of my head, Winter’s Bone comes to mind as a film that was nominated for Best Picture and yet few had heard of and likely fewer had seen at the time of its release. It’s a fantastic movie – and notably Jennifer Lawerence’s first big role – that deserved the nomination and one that I might not have discovered otherwise. Often I hear family and friends argue that’s it’s precisely unknown films like Winter’s Bone that turn them off to the Awards because they haven’t seen them (nor, for that matter, do they want to see them).

These feelings were most pronounced in 2008 when the Academy nominated a relatively unknown movie, The Reader, for the fifth Best Picture slot over commercial and critical smash hit The Dark Knight. At the time, I counted myself as one of the many who were upset over what I saw to be a gross bias by the Academy of choosing weird, independent films over superhero ones. I realize now that I’ve never seen The Reader nor can I vouch for its quality, but what I can say is that, whether or not the Academy was mistaken in their nomination, a new movie is on my radar that would otherwise have flown by unnoticed. This list has grown over the years and gives me something to look forward to when considering what I want to watch over the weekend.

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  1. And the winner is …

Sometimes the Academy gets it right. Occasionally their eyes are open, their minds unbiased and the quality of the winners is undisputed. When it happens, I can’t help but sit back, grin and think to myself, “maybe humanity is worth saving.”

Again, this is obviously relative as different people will think different movies/actors/directors deserved to win over the actual winner. However, there’s a distinct difference between a great movie beating another great movie, such as No County for Old Men beating out There Will Be Blood, and a not so great movie like, oh I don’t know, let’s say Chicago beating out the likes of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. A good friend of mine was rooting for There Will Be Blood back in 2007 as we played a good round of Oscar bingo and, while he was disappointed with the final results, felt satisfied knowing that a worthy contender took home the big prize.

If all else fails, the Academy tries to put on a good show. I would wager that anticipation for the dresses and outfits on the red carpet are a bigger deal than the awards themselves sometimes. And if, at the end of the day, you still don’t like, agree with or enjoy the Academy Awards, there are always other awards ceremonies out there to satiate the desire to see your favorite films recognized and honored: the Golden Globes, the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards and – possibly the greatest joke of an awards ceremony – the People’s Choice Awards. But I can almost promise you’ll never see anything as cool as this photo at one of those ceremonies.

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The Academy Awards Never Win

Hope for the Winter Movie Slump

The months of January, February and March are tough for me. And it’s not because I have the specter of unfulfilled New Years resolutions of the past haunting me, or another Valentine’s Day to remind me it’s the worst holiday that we as a society give credence to, or another Saint Patrick’s to shine light on the fact that I’m of Irish decent and don’t drink. While all of these prove that the struggle truly is real, nothing proves to be more depressing to me than the winter move slump.

You see, what we have here is a case of confusing cause and effect. Less people go to the movie theaters during these months, which means studios typically release the films they don’t expect to do well in this time period and save their big budget or quality films (or bruisers as I like to call them) for the summer. But on the flip side, one could just as easily say the reason less people see movies during these months is because studios don’t release anything worth watching.

Now I realize this analysis is a generalization (albeit not far off from the truth) and some good movies do get released during these months with “Silence of the Lambs” being the most notable exception. So I cross my fingers every year that studios will get us out of this slump and give us some quality films to look forward too. So without further ado, here are the films that I think could be gems in an otherwise desolate time for movies.

Blackhat (January 16)

I’ll be honest and say on the surface this movie doesn’t really grab my attention. I mean, I like Chris Hemsworth and all, but if you’re going to release a globetrotting, cyber warfare action movie these days it had better stand out, and the trailer just isn’t that good. But Michael Mann is the director and that does change my perspective a bit. Mann directed such hits as “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Heat,” “Ali,” and, a personal favorite of mine, “Collateral.” This doesn’t guarantee a quality film, but it does earn the benefit of the doubt and possibly my money.

Jupiter Ascending (February 6)

The newest film from the Wachowskis, “Jupiter Ascending” was originally planned for release back in summer 2014 but got moved back to February due to reshoots and extra work on the special effects (which from the looks of it could put the “Star Wars” prequels to shame in terms of how much CGI it looks to incorporate). While the heavy reliance on effects might deter some, I for one am excited to see a new film that’s not a sequel, reboot or based on a YA novel that gets a large budget. Now let’s just hope it’s good.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (February 13)

Easily my most anticipated film during the winter slump is “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” A bit of a mouth full as far as titles goes, but it is directed by Matthew Vaughn who directed such gems as “Kick-Ass” and “X-Men: First Class.” Plus, just watch the trailer, because it looks like a fun time – like James Bond before his movies became super serious.

“’71” (February 27)

Here’s a film that I had never heard about until I read an early review for it a couple months back. It’s an action/thriller that tells the story of a British soldier who gets separated from his unit during the Belfast riots of 1971, and it’s supposed to be great. Supposed to, anyway. My fear is that although we might get a quality movie here, it’s coming from out of nowhere. You probably hadn’t even heard of it until I listed it, which means less people will likely see it upon release. But here’s hoping.

Chappie (March 6)

Director Neill Blomkamp has had one really big hit with “District 9” and one hit and miss with “Elysium.” I’m hopeful that his newest film, which was originally announced as a sci-fi comedy but slowly morphed into more of a drama about a robot who is given artificial intelligence, will lean more toward “District 9” quality. Visually the cinematography looks to please, so here’s hoping the story, acting and script all stand on their own adorable robotic legs as well.

Hope for the Winter Movie Slump

Change the Ending to “Mockingjay”

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(Disclaimer: Major SPOILERS for the entire “Hunger Games” trilogy, both books and movies. If you don’t know how the books end or haven’t seen the movies, I suggest you read this later.)

It was easy to tell when I finished reading “The Hunger Games” trilogy that Hollywood would adapt the books to the big screen in a matter of years. The books had everything: action, a love triangle between teens, a dystopic future and a relatively interesting premise. While that’s a recipe for a financially successful movie, it doesn’t always translate to quality. Lucky for us the film adaptations for these books have been generally faithful to the source material, on top of which they’re actually pretty good movies. As a matter of fact, I’m just going to come out and say it: the movies have been better than the books so far.

The world-building, acting, visuals and a decent script help bypass “Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins’ mediocre writing, which ultimately left me wanting. It’s because the movies have impressed me more than the books that I dearly hope and pray director Francis Lawrence takes a big risk and changes the ending to “Mockingjay: Part Two” before it’s released next year.

To explain to you why it should end differently than the book requires accepting one universal truth about the story’s main protagonist: Katniss Everdeen is a bad person.

This isn’t to say that she was always a bad person – in fact she’s a good person, or at least an OK one, for the first two books. However, like Walter White of “Breaking Bad,” Katniss slowly morphs from the hero to a villain of sorts. If you’ve read the books and are scratching your heads as to what I’m talking about, let’s have a short refresher course of what happened at the end of “Mockingjay.”

The Hunger Games

Katniss and the other remaining six victors of previous Hunger Games are made to vote by the new president Coin of Panem over how to deal with the defeated Capitol citizens, in particular their children. They are given the choice to either show mercy to the Capitol people or to hold one last Hunger Games for 24 children from the Capitol. And guess which way Katniss votes? (She voted yes to the latter). Please understand the significance of her decision, because not only does the vote go in her favor, the consequences of it are forgotten as soon as she assassinates president Coin who, she deduced, killed her sister. By voting yes, she’s essentially responsible for sending 23 innocent children to horrible deaths and one child to live with the horror of having killed and survived their peers, a fate Katniss knows all too well.

No matter how you spin it, this choice damns Katniss permanently. And you know what? This was a fantastic storytelling choice by Collins. Unfortunately, despite the bold direction she started to take in the conclusion, Collins trips at the finish line, opting to please crowds (and/or herself) instead of delivering a better story.

Now that we’ve established Katniss’ true character by the end of the series we can establish the three things that can be changed so that “Mockingjay: Part Two” doesn’t make the same cardinal sin as its source material.

1. Don’t treat Katniss like a victim at the end

Katniss has been a victim many times – a victim to circumstances, like when her father died and she basically had to become a mother to her little sister, and a victim to the Capitol in two consecutive Hunger Games. Despite the fact that she has been the victim so many times does not justify her choice to have one last Hunger Games. We call that revenge, which it turns out has been her principal motivating factor when fighting back against the Capitol.

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2. Don’t have Peeta end up with Katniss

This may frustrate those shippers who like to play the whole Team Gale/Team Peeta thing, but the truth is it makes no sense why Peeta, who admittedly is the most good-hearted person in the whole series, would end up with Katniss. Yeah, I get that he’s been in love with her for years, but he’s also the same person who argued vehemently against the last Hunger Games. Unlike Katniss, he understood that repeating the games using their defeated oppressors would only restart the cycle of violence – a theme that permeates the whole series. So why then would he ever choose to be with a woman who endorses the continued killing of children?

Also, this is not a suggestion that Katniss should end up with Gale by the end of the movies. Quite the opposite, I think it makes more sense that she end up alone.

3. Give Katniss the ending she deserves

One of my qualms with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is its completely unnecessary epilogue. However, it has nothing over the epilogue for “Mockingjay,” which shows a damaged but happy Katniss who has settled down with Peeta (also mentally scarred) enjoying a beautiful landscape with their two children. It’s a scene that emotes happiness and satisfaction that its lead protagonists have finally found peace after so much suffering. The problem is that one of those two protagonists doesn’t deserve the peace and happiness.

A stronger approach would be to wrap up the series with the scary truth that this story is, at its core, a tragic one, either with Katniss ending up as a lonely alcoholic like Haymitch or with having the realization that her “happy ending” is jaded and wrong considering the choice she made.

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Of course there are other routes a director could take with the ending – other choices that I haven’t thought of yet. What I do know is that “The Hunger Games” series actually has real-world significance (see: ISIS) about the cyclical nature of war, violence and oppression that shouldn’t be sullied by the false belief that violence stops more violence.

In this regard, Collins failed to deliver a worthy conclusion despite having all the ingredients and ideas necessary to do so. Hopefully the director of “Mockingjay: Part Two” won’t also leave audiences hungry for a better ending.

Change the Ending to “Mockingjay”

You Should Be Watching: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’

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Few shows make me laugh. Even fewer shows make me physically laugh out loud. When a show accomplishes the latter, I take notice rather quickly to see whether the writers can continue to deliver or if it was all some misleading fluke. As luck would have it “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” delivers more laughs than any show on TV this fall.

For those unaware, the show is a workplace comedy in the veins of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” but in a police precinct. However, unlike the other shows listed, “Nine-Nine” leaves out the invisible documentary crew and character interviews that have become all the rage these days.

So that my recommendation to give up 30 minutes of your Sunday evening to watch this show doesn’t fall on deaf ears, her are a couple of inspiring reasons to watch this show:

It will likely avoid an early cancellation.

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Whenever I find a new, good show in its freshman season, I (like many others) find myself stressing and sweating over whether the network will cancel a good thing because not enough people have discovered it yet. It’s a terrible feeling, one that fans of “Community” have been feeling on an annual basis for the last five years.

But after the show won two Golden Globes – one for best actor and the other for best comedy – and a Critics’ Choice Television Award for best supporting actor, viewers seem to have taken notice of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Ratings for the show have gone up during its second season, so it looks to be here for the long run, meaning fans will (hopefully) have at least one great comedy to look forward to every fall for the next few years.

Without fail, the entire ensemble is brilliant.

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Even some of the best shows around suffer from a weak actor or character that fails to live up to the rest of the cast in some way. Shirley from “Community,” Rachel or Angela from “Boy Meets World,” and Ann Perkins from “Parks and Recreation” are just a few examples of characters who, despite or because of the actors, just don’t seem to fit as well as they should. They have their moments, but I always feel a little crestfallen when an episode revolved around these and other characters like them.

As of right now, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has no weak characters or actors. Sure the show boasts some all-star talent with the likes of Andy Samberg and Terry Crews (who I’m so pleased chose acting as his post-NFL career), but the rest of the cast members hold their own and at times eclipses these two fine comedians.

Speaking of all-star talent …

This man. This beautiful, hilarious man.

Andre Braugher

I understand the Emmy’s are rather inconsistent when it comes to who wins, but this is a no-brainer decision that might actually hurt me physically, mentally and spiritually if Andre Braugher doesn’t win. Jim Parsons may do a respectable – and sometimes funny – job in what I consider to be an otherwise un-funny show, but his monopoly on the award for best actor in a comedy show for the last few years needs to end during the next Primetime Emmy Awards to make way for Braugher.

As Captain Ray Holt (who, unfortunately, is in no way related to Steve Holt of “Arrested Development”), Andre Braugher presents the perfect foil to Andy Samberg’s uncontrollable lunacy, bringing to the role an unusually funny lack of outwardly expressive emotion and possibly the best use of deadpan looks I think I’ve ever seen. I don’t believe any words I use can properly express how good Braugher is, so I can only say that you need to experience this character for yourselves.

I dearly hope all of you that read this will feel the urge to watch “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” because it is a gift that you can enjoy right now, every week. Don’t let this be a show that you binge watch three or four years from now; have a seat on the couch with the rest of us as we enjoy the antics of a bunch of talented comedians working undercover as detectives for a spectacular TV comedy. Anything less would be criminal.

You Should Be Watching: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’

Authors Owe Readers Nothing

 

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While driving my brother-in-law’s sister to the airport we started talking about favorite novels and books. I had heard through a third-party that she strongly disliked the novel “Allegiant,” the final book in the “Divergent” trilogy, and inquired as to where she thought the story failed to live up to expectations.

You see, I had read the first book in the series – which left me wildly underwhelmed – so I wasn’t expecting the last one in the series to be any better; nevertheless I was interested in what she had to say on the matter. Apparently her dislike of the story stemmed from the fact that the characters of the series changed too drastically while the ending seemed to surprise her (and thousands of other tweens) in a bad way.

As she said it, when the author of a series develops a fan base and followers, that author has a duty to those readers. In other words, she didn’t like the direction the author took because it didn’t fit into the vision she had of the series.

Many may agree with her sentiment of author responsibility to the fans, but if this statement were true, many books would have been ruined by unnecessary fan service that would have pleased few, and only for a short time.

The truth is, authors owe readers nothing. At the end of the day, the author is the one that chooses to write the story and we, the readers, choose to read it. Who then knows better how a book should end than the author?

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Think about it this way, were any of us happy that (Spoiler alert #1) J.K. Rowling decided to kill off Sirius Black two books after Harry and company helped save him? Or were fans absolutely delighted when (Spoiler alert #2) George R. R. Martin executed his central protagonist, Ned Stark, at the end of the first book in his new series? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no, they weren’t. And yet in retrospect you can see why both decisions were probably the right ones as well as appreciate the authors for making the literary choices they did.

This doesn’t mean that every literary decision an author makes is a good one. In fact, I would wager that many an author has the desire to write fan fiction, which for clarity purposes we’ll define as the desire to bring secret fantasies to life despite the fact that it makes for poor storytelling.

fanfiction-fanfiction-everywhereStephanie Meyers is perhaps the greatest example of an author who repeatedly gave in and wrote her own fan fiction, making an already bad series of books so much worse. A review for “Breaking Dawn” by Publishers Weekly on Amazon.com summed it up best:

“Essentially, everyone gets everything they want, even if their desires necessitate an about-face in characterization or the messy introduction of some back story. Nobody has to renounce anything or suffer more than temporarily–in other words, grandeur is out. This isn’t about happy endings; it’s about gratification.”

You can also thank Meyer’s bad example for the atrocious “Fifty Shades of Grey” series, which may actually be more fan-fiction than anything Meyers has ever written. Other popular authors have followed this trend, such as Suzanne Collins, whose ending to “The Hunger Games” trilogy I’ll be tackling at a later date.

So perhaps authors do owe readers (as well as themselves) something; they owe it to everyone to write the best story possible and leave the fan fiction to the online forums.

Authors Owe Readers Nothing

My Post-Halloween, Christmas Carol Freakout

 

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My Halloween went about as well as most. I received a free lunch at work, got a bunch of candy from co-workers, gave all that candy back to the trick-or-treaters because I forgot to buy some and finished the night watching the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with my brother (an excellent movie that you should all watch).

I drove home when, at 12:38 AM, due to my complete lack of a smart phone or iPod, I decide to see what’s on the radio. In a moment that scared me more than any horror movie or costume I’d seen in the entire month of October, the first station I turned to was playing Christmas carols.

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In what I can only describe as a small panic attack, I scrambled to silence the horrendous tunes that emanated from the radio and hurried to call a friend so as to properly relate the horror I was experiencing firsthand in the car. Do I consider this an overreaction? Yeah, maybe a little. Still, we weren’t even an hour done with Halloween and we’ve got to deal with Christmas carols already? Just stab me with a sharpened candy cane already.

But let’s have a serious conversation about Christmas carols for second. Why do they bug so many people besides myself? I theorize that it has something to do with the fact that Christmas carols as a whole have remained relatively unchanged. Those carols are generally regarded as classics that lend themselves to an almost immoral number of remixes.

The way I see it, if movie reboots are turning people off, imagine what these music remixes are doing to them?

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Those rare new Christmas songs that are released every once in a while are generally forgotten or ignored due to the relatively uninspired lyrics that preach about the magic of Christmas, which we’ve had drilled into our heads since The Gift of the Magi.

Let me pause here to mention that I love Christmas and the Christmas season as a whole. It’s one of the few times of the year I get to see my parents, people generally seem more (dare I say it?) jolly, and I get to give and receive gifts. But what has always made this time of year special is that it only lasted for a short period of time – a month to be exact. I can deal with, and even enjoy, carols for a month. However, the early onset of Christmas carols and their remixes by Justin Bieber, Michael Bublé and Alvin and the Chipmunks only serve to rob the season of its specialness.

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So who’s to blame for the early onset of carols? Strangely enough, I can’t say it’s Bieber’s fault for once. No, this is the fault of music producers capitalizing on the opportunity to make money off of songs that were written 40+ years ago as well as perhaps subliminally suggesting that people start buying Christmas stuff now ahead of Black Friday.

Of course there are some who are content to start off the Christmas season early, and I hope they enjoy listening to Little Drummer Boy from now until New Year’s. I see no solace for the rest of us.

My Post-Halloween, Christmas Carol Freakout