Monday, October 5, 2015

The Beautiful Immigration Message at the Heart of "Paddington"

Hitting theaters at the end of 2014 in Europe and the beginning of 2015 in the United States, the film adaptation of Michael Bond’s children’s classic “Paddington” book series was a hit with viewers of all ages and a critical smash. While the film’s humor, heart, and wit made it a perfect example of how to update a classic tale in the best way possible, it’s the message at the center of the film that makes it not only an instant classic, but a film that is timelier than ever.

That’s because at its heart, Paddington is a tale about immigration and the love that needs to be shown to those in search of a new home in a strange land. Whether it’s to be used to teach the younger generations about the love we all need to show to those seeking support in a new country or providing a reminder to adults concerning what is truly important in these difficult times, there are beautiful and heart-warming lessons to be learned from a little bear from Darkest Peru looking for a new home and family in London.

Please Look After This Bear
Who could ever look at a sweet and lovable little bear like Paddington and not care for him immediately? The simply and heartbreaking answer is when he is an illegal immigrant. Thousands upon thousands of people classified as illegal immigrants who are simply searching for a new home free of poverty, violence, and much more. However, we often obscure the love and respect that we need to show for the sake of our own money, politics, and other issues that should be far less important.

Like the beginning of author Michael Bond’s first novel, “A Bear Called Paddington,” the young Peruvian bear arrives at London’s Paddington Station with a note hanging from his neck inscribed with the simple and heartfelt plea – “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” The note was written by his Aunt Lucy, who thought that upon seeing the young bear, Londoners would show loving kindness and bring him into a new family. While the message does get The Brown Family to stop and help, it’s the open heart of Mrs. Brown that allows Paddington into their home despite Mr. Brown’s begrudging reservations.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

15 Jaw-Dropping Stunts in Film History

The great action movies in the history of cinema would be nothing without excellent stunt work. From the very beginning of film, moviemakers have understood that seeing someone put his or her life on the line in service of a story translates to huge thrills for audience members. While stunts may have originated as simply being the only way to show something happening on screen (if your character climbs up a building, someone has to climb up a building), they quickly evolved into ways to take action to new heights.

While special effects have been able to make stunts safer over the years, the element of having someone actually perform some death-defying spectacle will always provide greater thrills than a piece of computer-generated imagery. From flipping cars to gigantic leaps of faith, the greatest stunts blaze new trails in moviemaking and make the movies they are in better with every twist and turn.

Below are 15 stunts throughout film history that continue to astound audiences. Have your own favorite stunts? Sound off in the comments below!

Under the Truck – Raiders of the Lost Ark

One of the most well-known stunts in film history is also one of its best. While it’s just one moment within one action scene among many in Steven Spielberg’s classic adventure film, Indiana Jones’ trip underneath a barreling Nazi truck carrying the Ark of the Covenant is not just one of the series’ most iconic images, but is an all-time great in film.

When Indy (played here by stuntman Vic Armstrong) is thrown out through the front windshield as the truck speeds down the road, he’s quickly forced to drag himself under the vehicle’s carriage lowering himself back under by hand, then hooking on with his whip, being dragged for dozens of feet, and pulling himself back up. To accomplish, the crew dug a multi-mile-long trench that the truck drove over with the stuntman being dragged through in order to keep him low enough under the undercarriage, but it can barely be seen in the finished product.

Horse Dragging – Stagecoach

One of film history’s most notable early stunts is also one of its most influential, with the horse sequence influencing the truck drag in Raiders and inspiring generations of stunt people. As the main characters travelling across the wild in a stagecoach are beset by natives, their attackers try to sabotage them, with one jumping on the lead horse. When he’s shot, he falls and hangs onto the horses as he’s dragged along the ground before letting go and being seemingly trampled. Accomplished by legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt, this moment is insanely dangerous, but truly brilliant.

Almost as nuts is the stunt that follows, with John Wayne’s character leaping from horse to horse up the line while the stagecoach gallops at full speed. This is the more visually stunning sequence, although it isn’t as inherently dangerous. Combined, they make the scene into one of stunt work’s all-time best.

Monday, September 21, 2015

5 Movie Remakes That Should Never Happen and 5 That Should

Remakes have been happening on film ever since someone put an original idea on screen. While these have led to some excellent stories like the Humphrey Bogart-starring The Maltese Falcon or John Carpenter’s The Thing, most remakes lead to poor comparisons to the original and a general lamenting of the lack of originality in the movie system. But any money-making franchise or recognized name courts ideas of new films and bigger box office grosses. As such, the remake will never be a dead concept. And with the idea of reboots permeating the moviegoing consciousness (which is really just a remake hoping for a big franchise), there are few films that are truly spared from the possibility of being remade.

The following five films should never be remade in any shape or form on film due to various reasons and if they never happen, we’ll all be better off. On the more positive side, I’ve also selected five films that deserve remakes/reboots due to missed opportunities and the real chance for a far better film. Together, these show the double edged sword that is remaking movies.

The movies on this list are currently not in contention for a remake for better or worse. This means that films that currently have a remake/reboot in the works (like Big Trouble in Little China) or that have already been remade are not in contention for the list. In addition, movies that are definitely not getting remade anytime soon have been left off for the sake of more interesting discussion, so no Star Wars or Jurassic Park.

Have your own opinions on remakes? Let me know in the comments section at the bottom!

Remakes That Should Never Happen


The original Hollywood blockbuster and a defining film for generations, the original Jaws is easily one of the greatest films ever made. However, constant complaints by modern audiences about the fakeness of the shark (get a grip on cinema, people) have dated the film for some people today. In addition, the success of Jurassic World has shown producers that there is still plenty of weight, and money to be made, in revitalizing Steven Spielberg’s classic movies. Rumors have circulated that Jaws is ripe for a remake or reboot, but whichever way they go, it’s not going to end well.

Jaws is the result of an incredibly talented filmmaker, an awesome script, and an insanely talented cast coming together and pushing through absolutely terrible filming circumstances to make something they believed in. It was a perfect storm of talent and timing, cooked in a high pressure environment that brought out the best in everyone. That’s something that can’t be replicated. Sure, the money may be up for grabs if marketed right like Jurassic World, but money does not equal merit and remaking Jaws is along the same lines of thinking as remaking Star Wars. Don’t let money and buzz blind you from the quality of art and a proper respect toward film history.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The 15 Greatest Movie Trilogies of All Time

A great movie trilogy is one of the most exciting things in film. After all, what’s better than one great film than three great films? But truly great trilogies are few and far between. Even some of the best films of all time have led to poor to terrible follow up films simply banking on the good name and will of the original entry. And while its more than possible to create a great sequel, capping off the series with a high quality part three is a daunting task.

Here, I’ve counted down the 15 best trilogies of all time, ranging from classic action films to westerns to fantasy epics. Each of these have their strengths and weaknesses, with some coming together to create a truly special series of films.

Franchises with many entries but no distinct trilogies, such as Star Trek or James Bond, have been omitted, as there are no three films within them that form a distinct three film arc. In addition, trilogies that have had additional films added, or even had another trilogy that followed, are still in contention for conclusion, but the additional films are not included with the original trilogy.

Have your own personal favorite trilogies? Let me know in the comments below!

15. Die Hard

John McClane is a hard luck cop who just so happens to get involved in multiple terrorist takeovers. His wits and good aim win out in the end, but he takes a beating. Starting with one of the all-time great action films and ending with an amazing follow-up, Die Hard is one of the best action trilogies.

Best Entry: Die Hard – an all-time classic, the first entry in the series not only set the precedent for the entire series, but inspired countless copycat films.

Weakest Entry: Die Hard 2: Die Harder – Trying to replicate the strengths of the original simply didn’t work as well as the studio was hoping. It may be fun to see John McClane struggling with the idea that he’s been thrown into another terrorist takeover against his will, but the lack of a good villain (unlike parts 1 and 3) and a less exciting setting means that this airport adventure is fun, but still weak.

Trilogy Strength: John McClane is one of the great action heroes. Combine his appeal with some amazing action sequences and the trilogy is a fun ride through and through.

14. Mad Max

Director and writer George Miller’s post-apocalyptic trilogy follows “Mad” Max Rockatansky – who goes from good cop to wandering mad man in a nuclear world gone insane. The original Mad Max is a thrilling indie action movie that spawned an all-time classic and ended with a very ‘80s film that had some good Tina Turner tunes.

Best Entry: The Road Warrior – it’s the pinnacle of what George Miller created with the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max. This is lean and mean storytelling with vibrant characters and action sequences that blow minds again and again. It also has plenty of classic lines, a fantastic antihero in the form of Gibson’s Max, and a climax that is one of the great chases in cinema.

Weakest Entry: Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome – While it may have some fun ideas (especially the Thunderdome fight and anything Tina Turner), the light tone and fractured narrative means that Beyond Thunderdome loses the hardcore post-apocalyptic ideas of the first two. Miller’s lack of involvement also means it mostly lacks his signature style and grit.

Trilogy Strength: All three entries focus on Max – a violent and broken man who is forced to do good in an apocalyptic world gone insane. Plus, there are plenty of awesome car chases. While Beyond Thunderdome stumbled, the power of these themes is evident in Fury Road’s rebirth of the franchise decades later. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road and the Heroic Cycle

The power, ferocity, and lean storytelling of Mad Max: Fury Road has made it one of the most powerful films of 2015 so far. With an insane attention to detail and an unrelenting pace, George Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic world of Max Rockatansky was both a brand new take on the action film and a welcome return to its simpler roots.

With an incredibly linear story and an intense focus on a very small narrative told in an epic way, Fury Road avoids unnecessary exposition and extraeneous scenes that would bog down the adventure. However, this doesn’t mean that the film is simple or lacks meaningful arcs for its characters. Quite the opposite, in fact. Miller packs huge arcs and a massive world into the film, he simply does it in an incredibly lean manner that doesn’t call attention to itself. Miller does this by sticking close to the story beats found within The Heroic Cycle. First analyzed and defined in Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces, The Heroic Cycle is the multi-part structure that defines countless character arcs. This monomyth can be found in some of the earliest stories ever told and is seen in countless films today. Whether storytellers realize it or not, The Heroic Cycle is a major component of all types of fiction.

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the clearest and strongest examples of The Heroic Cycle in recent film. It both sticks to the cycle's aspects and alters them for a more exciting narrative, while using their ancient qualities to elevate the tale to a mythic proportion. By examining it through this lens, we can understand both Miller's film and storytelling as a whole better. Here, the Cycle is presented in the 17 steps outlined by Miller, but their order in the film is somewhat shuffled for both Max and Furiosa.

Call to Adventure

The hero is living in the mundane and normal world when information or an agent comes to bring him or her into a new adventure. In some cases, he or she provide the impetus for adventure.

Max: We find Max living in The Wasteland alone, haunted by hallucinations of those he could not save. He admits to only caring about survival, but his quick capture by War Boys forces him into a new adventure, one which will transform him.

Furiosa: Unlike Max, Furiosa has decided upon her adventure before the audience ever sees her. She's created her own call, which is the first proof that she is a far more active protagonist than Max in Fury Road and will be the one to experience the most classic version of The Hero's Journey.

Refusal of Call

When the call has been given, the hero refuses to heed it due to fear, inadequacy, duty, obligation, or some other circumstance that would stop the adventure before it began.

Max: Given that Max is strapped to the front of Nux's car during the beginning of Fury Road, you can interpret that his refusal of the call actively occurs for an extended period of time. Trying to ditch Furiosa and the Brides is his most literal refusal, but his need for survival slowly transforms into a heroic battle for freedom.

Furiosa: In line with the idea that Furiosa creates her own adventure, she has no refusal in Fury Road, once again proving her ownership of this iteration of The Heroic Cycle.

Monday, August 31, 2015

"Straight Outta Compton" is Powerful, Provocative, Relevant

A rap group as powerful and influential as N.W.A. deserves a film just as bold and exciting. Biopic Straight Outta Compton does them proud.

Director F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton tracks the formation of rap group N.W.A. and how its members revolutionized the music industry through gangsta rap. Primarily focused on three members of the group – Eazy E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) - the film follows how each man grew and changed through both success and tragedy and what their music meant both for themselves and society.

Portraying a group as incendiary as N.W.A. can be a difficult task for biographic filmmaking. Clean up the image of the band and its members too much and you ignore the truths about each rapper and the world they were bringing to the attention of the mainstream. Glorify the crime and violence that surrounded them and you send a mixed message about what ghettos and gangs do to the people involved. But Straight Outta Compton manages to show many different sides to what gangsta rap was about during its rise in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, as we not only see N.W.A.’s members find success through giving a voice to their struggles, but also the serious issues that the white and privileged didn’t think about at the time. Or now.

Most crucially, Straight Outta Compton calls attention to vital issues in a similar way to the actual music of N.W.A. Viewers are given a look into how police brutality and racism led to desperate situations for African American communities. The anger and freedom expressed through rap shoved these issues in the faces of everyone everywhere, which many simply could not understand. Rather than try and understand the real world situations that led to N.W.A.’s songs, people protested, journalists questioned, and the police tried to shut them up. But N.W.A. did not back down. On the flip side, Straight Outta Compton also shows the violence and anger that permeated the music industry surrounding N.W.A. through the gang ties of its members and other rappers in the industry. By bringing affiliations with them, the death and aggression that they were rapping about followed them into the studios.