2015 Year-End Movie Review: David Medsker

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I am not a difficult person to please when it comes to movies. There is a big joke among the film critics in town that we are either film critics or movie reviewers, meaning that film critics dissect everything at a subatomic level, while movie reviewers talk about whether or not they liked the film. I am squarely in the latter category.

This year, however, something was off. There are films getting a ton of film group buzz that I just didn’t get, and even worse, I found myself enjoying what was widely considered to be the worst movie of the year, but more on that later. First up, the movies I liked.

Movies I Liked

1. “SPOTLIGHT”

Nothing comes even close to this one. This expertly-paced account of the Boston Globe’s expose on the Catholic Church’s systematic covering up of abusive priests is top-notch storytelling, one in which the city of Boston becomes not just the backdrop, but the main character.

2. “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE”

Ten bucks says Daniel Craig likes this film more than any of the Bond films he’s done, and with good reason. “Kingsman” is the most entertaining spy movie I’ve ever seen, and it earned this spot on my list for the church scene alone.

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3. “THE REVENANT”

The bear attack. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. Alejandro Inarritu’s film about life in the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s is every bit as hostile and unforgiving as the landscape in which it is based. There is a scene, though, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets his hands on some raw meat (the first he has seen in a while), and he scarfs it down, even though there is a fire burning nearby. Dude, put it on a stick and cook that thing!

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Blu Tuesday: Mad Max, Star Wars Rebels and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

WHAT: Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is just barely surviving in the post-apocalyptic wasteland when he’s captured by tyrannical leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and forced to serve as a human blood bank for his diseased minions. But when a chance meeting between Max and war-rig driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) – who’s trying to rescue a group of female sex slaves that Joe plans to use for repopulation – results in his miraculous escape, he reluctantly agrees to help get the girls to safety.

WHY: George Miller may be 70 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from outclassing filmmakers half his age by making one of the craziest and most badass action movies in ages. Though “Fury Road” looks absolutely gorgeous, with John Seale’s stunning cinematography providing a painterly quality to the visuals, the real reason to see it is for the action. Conceived as one long car chase, the film is packed with some of the most amazing action sequences you’ll ever see. It’s a minor miracle that no one died during the making of this movie, because Miller’s high-adrenaline set pieces are so visceral and unbridled that you genuinely fear for the lives of the actors and stuntmen with each explosion, car flip and crash. The overcranked, sped-up look works better in some places than others, but for the most part, the gonzo vehicular mayhem is a jaw-dropping assault on the senses that gets weirder as it goes along. Every minute of action is pure cinematic magic, though the dead space in between proves troublesome. Tom Hardy does what’s required of him as the mysterious, soft-spoken Max, but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the only character who’s given any actual development, bringing a humanity to her performance that stands head and shoulders above the rest. While the movie would have benefited from a tighter runtime and falls short of the worship-like praise that many people have heaped upon it, this is easily Miller’s best “Mad Max” film yet.

EXTRAS: In addition to a fairly extensive making-of featurette, there’s an interview with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron about their experiences on the movie, a look at designing the cars and other props, some behind-the-scenes footage from filming the action sequences and three deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One”

WHAT: In the wake of the Clone Wars, the Galactic Empire rules the galaxy with an iron fist. But a group of rebels – including Jedi-in-hiding Kanan, Twi’lek pilot Hera, Mandalorian weapons expert Sabine, Lasat honor guard Zeb and astromech droid Chopper – take a stand against their oppressors with the help of newest member Ezra Bridger, a teenage pickpocket with the ability to control the Force.

WHY: Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and subsequent announcement that more “Star Wars” films were on the way, it only seemed natural to launch a new animated series as part of the hype machine. Though “Star Wars Rebels” doesn’t have anything to do with the upcoming movies (at least, not that we know of yet), it is part of the franchise’s official canon, set between the events of the “Clone Wars” animated series and the original trilogy. Unfortunately, the show is a little confused tonally as a result of trying to cater to both younger audiences and older fans. So while there are some things to really enjoy about “Rebels” (like the action and Ralph McQuarie-inspired designs), I’m not crazy about the jokier, PG-rated bits with Ezra, Zeb and Chopper. Additionally, the endless barrage of cameos featured in the first season (from C3P0 and R2D2, to Lando Calrissian and Darth Vader) is an unnecessary attempt to connect the “Rebels” crew to more familiar characters when it should be trying to exist as its own entity. The allure of that type of fan service is understandable, but it gets to the point where it makes the show feel beholden to the past when it should be looking ahead to the future.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes 14 behind-the-scenes featurettes, a collection of short films, a sneak peek at the upcoming second season and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Starring
Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Director
George Miller

George Miller may be 70 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from outclassing filmmakers half his age by making one of the craziest, ballsiest and most badass action movies in ages. “Mad Max: Fury Road” has been decades in the making, and that passion shows in the final product. Though Mel Gibson was originally considered to reprise the titular role when Miller first hatched the idea back in 1998, after production was stalled by a series of financial and political difficulties (not to mention Gibson’s own well-publicized personal issues), “Fury Road” slipped into development hell for many years until Miller eventually got to make his movie. With the entire film famously storyboarded before a script was even written, “Fury Road” is about as nontraditional as a big-budget studio movie gets, surviving on its sheer originality, audacity and no-holds-barred attitude.

Set in the year 2060 and loosely following the events of the first three installments, “Fury Road” finds former cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) just barely surviving in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. When he’s captured by tyrannical leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and forced to serve as a human blood bank for his diseased male minions, known as the War Boys, Max’s fate appears to be sealed. But after one of Joe’s war rig drivers, the bionic-armed Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), suddenly goes off course during a routine fuel run, Joe’s massive army chases after her – including sickly War Boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who’s so desperate not to miss out on the action that he straps Max to the hood of his car, connected only by a chain and IV tube, so he can continue to heal. It turns out that Furiosa is trying to rescue a group of female captives that Joe plans to use to repopulate the world in his image, and when Max eventually crosses paths with them following a miraculous escape, he reluctantly agrees to help get them to safety.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to May

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Summer is finally here, and what better way to start off the blockbuster season than with the sequel to the biggest film from three years ago: Marvel’s “The Avengers.” Though it may seem like it could only go downhill from there, May has plenty of exciting films on its slate, from the “Mad Max” reboot, to the “Pitch Perfect” sequel, to the shrouded-in-secrecy “Tomorrowland.” And while not every title is guaranteed to hit its mark, there’s enough potential here that 2015 is shaping up to be one of the best summers at the movies in years.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Who: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany and Don Cheadle
What: When Tony Stark’s robotic peacekeeping program goes awry, it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.
When: May 1st
Why: Joss Whedon was given the unenviable task of one-upping “The Avengers” (a job made even more difficult on the heels of “Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”), but it certainly looks like he’s done it with “Age of Ultron.” Though there was always the risk that adding more characters to the Avengers roster would cause the movie to feel overstuffed (just look at that cast list!), there aren’t many directors who can handle large ensembles better than Whedon, because he always finds a way to make everyone feel like an integral part of the story. “Age of Ultron” may be Whedon’s Marvel swan song, but if early word is any indication, he’s gone out on a high note.

“Hot Pursuit”

Who: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara and Robert Kazinsky
What: An inept police officer must protect the widow of a drug dealer from criminals and dirty policemen.
When: May 8th
Why: Pairing Reese Witherspoon with Sofia Vergara may have sounded like a good idea on paper, but this looks absolutely awful. Witherspoon hasn’t made a good comedy since the original “Legally Blonde,” while Vergara has been living off her funny foreigner shtick for way too long. It works as part of an ensemble like “Modern Family,” but just watching the trailer gives me a headache from her incessantly loud and nasally screaming, let alone the thought of having to sit through 90 minutes of it. Hollywood may be desperate to prove that women can be funny, but while there’s no disputing that fact, you’d be better off just waiting one more week for “Pitch Perfect 2.”

“Maggie”

Who: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin and Joely Richardson
What: A teenage girl becomes infected by an outbreak of a disease that turns the infected into cannibalistic zombies. During her transformation, her loving father stays by her side.
When: May 8th
Why: Though the whole zombie subgenre has been played to death (no pun intended) over the past five years or so, Henry Hobson’s “Maggie” offers an interesting take on the subject by spinning those genre roots into a father-daughter relationship drama that feels more like “The Road” than “The Walking Dead.” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return from retirement hasn’t exactly gone the way he hoped, so it’s nice to see the actor stretching himself here with a more subtle turn as opposed to his usual action fare. Whether he has the dramatic chops required for such a role remains unseen, but in a month jam-packed with blockbuster films, this small indie has definitely piqued my interest.

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