Panel slides & video clips from the Salt Lake FanX 2017 panel on zombies – “Walking with the Dead: The Cinematic History of Zombies”.
Here are the slides from the panel:
And here’s the slides along with the video clips as a video:
Panel slides & video clips from the Salt Lake FanX 2017 panel on zombies – “Walking with the Dead: The Cinematic History of Zombies”.
Here are the slides from the panel:
And here’s the slides along with the video clips as a video:
I’ve been wearing a Pebble Time watch for the past 60 days (day & night), only taking it off to shower, and I have to say, it’s a solid wearable device. Having been a long time Apple Watch user (been wearing an Apple Watch since it was first released) and also having used a majority of the fitness bands on the market, I wanted to see how the Pebble compared.
The quick of it is: the Pebble easily blows away the basic fitness trackers like FitBit and the MisFit 2 in terms of features, usability, & design. That’s pretty obvious because the Pebble is a quality, full-featured wearable watch. But more surprising, the Pebble holds its own against my Apple Watch, especially when it comes to the core features a smart watch needs to really do well. And in some cases, like Pebble’s incredible battery life and price, it bests Apple’s much more expensive watch.
Overall, I like the Pebble’s design. I think it looks better on my wrist than my Apple Watch. There’s a sleekness to it but its design also makes it look more like a watch than a mini-computer strapped to my wrist. It isn’t too flashy and with the frame & interchangeable watch bands, it goes well with my wardrobe no matter what I choose to wear. I did notice that using a thicker / wider band helped make the watch look more cohesive on my wrist. (thinner bands made the watch itself look oversized & too large on my wrist). Luckily, there are tons of affordable bands for the Pebble.
The Pebble feels more rugged and solid, less like a miniature iPad on your wrist. Sort of like the difference between a case-less iPhone and a Nintendo DS (if that makes any sense). I never felt worried about banging it into a wall on accident like I do with my Apple Watch. The components feel well made and everything adheres without seams giving you piece of mind in the water or a dusty place. That being said, I did find that the Pebble’s screen seemed to get micro scratches often dulling the smooth look after several days of use (most noticeable in direct sunlight and hardly detectable otherwise).
Speaking of direct sunlight, the Pebble’s eInk display really comes alive in direct sunlight. Whereas the Apple Watch’s screen is unreadable in bright light (the Apple Watch series 2 is better but still not as good in direct sun as the Pebble). But the Pebble is less impressive in very dim light. Because the screen doesn’t provide touch and the raise wrist to turn on feature requires a massive flick of the wrist to activate, I found it hard to see the time without having to fumble for a button press with my other hand. The main issue I ran into was that the “raise wrist to show backlight” feature is difficult to trigger. Whenever you raise your wrist to look at your Pebble, the backlight is supposed to turn on but I found that I had to flick my wrist up, almost violently to trigger this action (sometimes multiple tries). After a while, I just gave up on that and instead used my free hand to tap one of the buttons on the Pebble to get the screen to show the backlight. I hope this will be improved in the next version. Still, the Pebble’s backlit display looks good in the dark and illuminates more than enough to use the device comfortably.
Wearable feel / weight / long term wear
I hardly noticed the Pebble on my wrist. It’s a comfortable device. Even more impressive, while wearing it at night for sleep tracking, I was never bothered or frankly even noticed it. It seems maybe a bit heavier than expected when you first hold the watch in your hand but as soon as it’s on your wrist, you hardly notice it.
While I like Apple’s clever custom mechanism to attach wrist straps to their watches, the Pebble has a unique advantage here because it works with nearly every existing wrist strap on the market. Instead of using a proprietary wrist strap like Apple, Pebble just works with the standard watch straps you can find anywhere, giving you many more options. They are harder to take on & off but the additional choices and cost savings are a nice benefit.
This was a big selling point for me. The Pebble can be showered with, fully submerged, and you can even swim with it. Apple has come out with a similar feature in it’s Apple Watch series 2. I used Pebble to track my swims as at a local pool, doing laps with both crawl and breast strokes. I found the swim tracking to be adequate but not overly impressive. The problem is that the Pebble can’t do much more than track some wrist movement and elapsed time, basically causing it to guess on number of calories burned and distance. I found it to be off by as much as a few pool lengths after a swim session. That might be okay in some cases but the additional problem for me is that the Pebble does not currently have a built-in Swimming app and no health kit integration so even if you do track your swims, they won’t be logged on your iPhone. Word is that several third parties are working on swim apps with health kit integration so this should get better over time. So basically, the Pebble has awesome waterproofing and a somewhat disappointing swim tracking experience.
Input: Buttons vs Touch Screen
I was a bit hesitant going from a touch screen (like I’m so used to with my iPhone) to a button-only interface but I found the Pebble to be easy to use and actually, the buttons have some unexpected benefits. One of the most useful is that you don’t need to look at your Pebble to interact with it. This comes in handy when you’re in the middle of a meeting and your wrist starts getting tapped that you are receiving a phone call. A simple quick press of the side button silences the call. With a touch screen phone or watch, you’re forced to look at the device while tapping around to silence a call. There is a way to silence your Apple Watch by just putting your palm over it but still, the Pebble’s buttons seemed easier for this type of action. That being said, when using an app on the Pebble, I did find the buttons sometimes cumbersome to use compared a touch screen so there’s pluses & minuses to both.
The Pebble’s battery life blows away all the other major smart watches on the market. I found my Pebble got almost a full week of battery on a single charge with heavy daily usage. The Apple Watch barely gets a day under heavy usage and if you do a long workout like a hike, you’ll be lucky to get more than 4 hours. That made the Pebble viable for all kinds of activities as well as sleep tracking and I found myself wearing it more often because it was spending less time on the charger.
I like the Pebble’s playful user interface with smiling sunshines and upbeat graphics. It’s fun and interactive. On the other side of the coin, I seemed to get lost in the menus often and had trouble getting to apps as quickly as I hoped. Still, for a non-touch screen device, the overall user interface is well thought-out and pleasant to use in most cases.
The tap you receive when a new notification arrives is comfortable, not too hard or soft, and noticeable but not annoying. I feel like this is as good a haptic engine as any other smart watch I’ve tried and worked well in every case.
Time keeping & Watch faces
The clock on my Pebble was always accurate to the second. That’s pretty much a basic must-have in a watch but I’ve found several time-keeping devices in the past to be off by as much as a few minutes over time. But what’s really great about the Pebble is the hundreds of watch faces offered by both the company and third parties. There’s a Pebble watch face store where you can browse hundreds of designs with all kinds of helpful complications & interesting themes/colors. Pebble blows away any other smart watch when it comes to their watch face store. It’s one of the highlights of the device.
I didn’t love the way the Pebble organized its settings. I think I’m in the minority here though because many people I’ve talked to and reviewers online seem to be obsessed with the idea of being able to control all the watch settings from the device itself. I see the point here and the idea behind it but in practice, I like Apple’s approach better of controlling a majority of things from your much larger and more practical phone screen. To me, it was a hassle to click around 5 levels deep into settings to get to something and I had trouble getting an overall picture of all the things the Pebble could do because I kept getting lost in the depth of the settings & options. So your mileage may vary on this. If you like the idea of being able to do everything from the watch itself, Pebble has you covered.
It seems like all smart phone manufacturers are increasingly narrowing their focus to fitness tracking. It’s now the key marketing point for both the Pebble & Apple Watch. I think it is likely due to feedback from the smart watch early adopters who found the biggest value & most staying power from devices that helped them get fit / healthy faster & easier. Pebble’s fitness tracking features are solid and with the next release of the Pebble later this year, you’ll see that focus tighten with key features like heart rate monitoring & more health sensors.
Activity Tracking & Step counting
At the heart of most fitness devices is activity tracking. How much movement did you get in a day? How many calories did you burn? How many steps did you walk/run? These types of automatic metrics are the basis for seeing an overall activity picture of your health on a daily basis and Pebble does a good job of capturing them without you having to interact with the device at all. One place where the Pebble wasn’t as accurate though was in step counting. Because the Pebble only uses the swing of your wrist to track steps, any unnatural motion could cause missed step counts. I did several tests with the Apple Watch and then with the Pebble, same paces, same distance, same time of day, same wrist movement and the Pebble continually over-counted my steps by about 10%. I found the FitBit and Misfit to also over count steps while the Apple Watch either was accurate or under-counted steps. The differences were not drastic enough to be alarmed by but I still wished the accuracy was better. This may be improved in the upcoming Pebble out later this year.
Apple Health Kit / Activity integration
As an iPhone user, I really loved that Pebble synchronizes with my Apple Health app & activity. I saw step counts, calories burned, and daily activity rates sync’d automatically to my overall health data, letting me use Apple’s built-in reports to analyze my health statistics. The integration is reliable and seamless.
I was impressed by the sleep tracking in my Pebble. This is something my Apple Watch has never been able to do (both because of short battery life and also because there is no built-in sleep tracking function on the Apple Watch). The Pebble consistently captured my sleep cycles within 10 minutes or less of the actual times I feel asleep and woke up. Best of all, there was nothing I needed to do. I just wore my Pebble to bed and in the morning, the Pebble app showed my sleep for that night in a convenient and easy-to-use graph.
Heart rate monitoring
The Pebble currently has no heart rate monitoring but the new version coming out later this year will introduce this feature. Early reviews have said the heart rate monitoring is really solid in the upcoming device so I expect this feature to catch up with some of the other devices already on the market.
The Pebble app is useful and reliable. There’s basically three main parts: 1) Home screen. 2) Watch face & app store. 3) Basic settings & notifications. The home screen shows you graphs about your sleep, activity, and other helpful info. The watch face & app store lets you get new looks for your watch and download helpful apps to use on your Pebble. And the settings section lets you set up some basic configurations as well as determine how notifications will work between your phone and your Pebble. The app is well laid-out, intuitive, and the health info is especially insightful.
Even though Apple has a very closed system in terms of what a wearable can do with the iPhone, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Pebble functioned with my iPhone. Android phones offer a lot more customization & integration points so the Pebble is even better with those types of phones but it was solid on an iPhone. The Pebble’s iPhone integration was never going to be as tight as the Apple Watch of course because Apple built specific integrations between those devices that Pebble does not have access to. That being said, the Pebble is a good device for iPhones. And on Androids, it’s even better.
Once the Pebble is paired to your phone, it basically acts as a notification extension for many of the things you do on your phone. The Pebble doesn’t actually have its own cellular connection, instead it uses bluetooth to pair with your phone and piggyback on your phone’s connection. So when you get a phone call, not only does your phone ring but (as long as your Pebble is within a close range of your phone) your Pebble will also tap your wrist and display the caller ID information. This worked reliably in every case I tested. The Pebble doesn’t have a microphone or speaker so there’s not a way to answer the call from your Pebble but for just notifying you of an incoming call, it works well.
SMS & Other Notifications
Getting notifications on your Pebble works the same as getting a phone call notification. The Pebble’s screen changes to show the notification information and allows you to scroll through the entire message. For example, when you receive a text message on your phone, the Pebble will display the person that sent the message and the message text. You can then use the side buttons to scroll up or down to see the entire text. Although the notifications were reliable and worked just fine, I didn’t love that because of the way the Pebble displayed an SMS (emails have the same issue), most of the message was off the screen and required scrolling. I found that I could only see maybe the first 4 or 5 words of a message before I had to do more scrolling to read it. In addition, when notifications come, they stay on the Pebble, covering the time display and all other details. This is great if you happen to be able to look at your wrist right away when the notification arrives but it’s kind of annoying if you were too busy to look at the time and then maybe an hour later, you want to check the time. You raise your wrist to look at the clock only to find an hour old message still covering your screen and you have to use the side buttons to dismiss it. Despite these annoyances, the notifications themselves and the wrist tapping worked well.
The calendar integration with your phone’s calendar was reliable and worked well. You can see your next appointment clearly displayed on the Pebble and you can use the scroll buttons on the side to jump forward in your day to see upcoming future appointments. Meeting notifications were reliable and the tapping felt natural. It’s a small thing but I also liked that Pebble automatically told me when sunrise and sunset were happening for a day. That came in handy several times. Calendar integration on the Pebble is very good.
Camera & Photos
There’s not much to say here right now (although this will probably change in the future). Currently there’s not a way to view photos on the watch but through third-party apps such as Triggertrap, you can remotely take a picture using your watch as the button for your phone’s camera.
I only mention this category because the Apple Watch and a few Android watches can let you pay with your wrist. This isn’t possible with the Pebble out of the box currently but there are several “smart straps” coming in the future that will enable this NFC type payment functionality.
The Pebble’s starting price of $99 is significantly cheaper than the Apple Watch’s entry level pricing of $269. The new Pebble coming out at the end of the year can be ordered for just $129 compared to Apple’s newest Series 2 watch which is currently available at a $369 starting price.
If you are an Android phone user, the Pebble is the right choice for a smart watch. If you’re an iPhone user, it somewhat depends. If price is no object, then the Apple watch provides some better integration & features (although much worse battery life) but if spending almost $400 on a smart watch seems outrageous (or only being able to go a maximum of a single day on a battery charge), then the Pebble is by far, the best smart watch in the affordable category. Either way, the Pebble is fun to use, reliable, and stylish with amazing battery life and a very reasonable price.
I’ll be at Salt Lake Comic Con 2016 this week, all three days in the Artist Alley (come check out my new comics) and also on a couple of panels Thursday evening:
Thursday September 1
6:00pm – Ghost in the Shell: An Anime Classic Goes Live Action (Room 255C)
8:00pm – A Farewell to Penny Dreadful (Room 255F)
Hope to see you there!
Such a fun panel. Thanks for all that attended! Here’s the slides from tonight’s supergirl panel at FanX 2016:
Had a great time revisiting the classic slasher films with you all. Great turnout and awesome fans!
Here’s the slides from the panel tonight:
Here’s all the slides and also the video clips from the presentation:
Thanks to the huge group of sci-fi fans that attended this panel. We had so much fun!
Here’s a link to the panel slides and list of movies:
Here’s the video clips that were shown (and many that we didn’t have time for) on the panel:
I’ll be at Salt Lake FanX 2016 next week and I’m super excited for my panel schedule this go around. In case you’re wondering, FanX is the more pop-culture-oriented convention (in contrast to Salt Lake Comic Con which is more comic-focused). It’s huge and the guest list and expected attendees for this year’s FanX look to both be record-breaking.
I’ll be at FanX all three days (Thursday, Friday, & Saturday). Here’s my panel schedule:
Thursday March 24
8:00pm – From Night of the Living Dead to The Walking Dead (Room 255E)
Friday March 25
11:00am – The Jedi Path – The Parallel Journeys of Anakin and Luke Skywalker (Room 151A)
7:00pm – So Bad They’re Good: Sci-Fi B-Movies (Room 255E)
8:00pm – The Slasher Craze of the 1980’s (Room 255F)
Saturday March 26
7:00pm – Supergirl: The Panel (Room 255B)
I have to admit, this film was gripping. Not flashy, just a solid telling of real journalists (remember them?), actually doing research, tracking down the truth of the story, interviewing eyewitnesses, using real sources. The acting is fabulous and the story grabs you and won’t let go. Not a film you want to revisit (the subject matter is really heavy) but it’s absolutely worth your time.
John Cusack’s best work in a decade? Check. Paul Dano veering close to insanity, yet ultimately being brilliant? Check. One of the most exhilarating depictions of the actual creation of decade-defining music? Check. This unconventional biopic of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys was captivating.
The best foreign film I saw this year, an absolute joy to watch with lots of clever humor, great production values, wacky old-man make-up, and a story that you will have no idea how it’s going to end. This is a Swedish film (some English spoken as well) that has more creativity and entertainment value than most American films this year. Also wins the award for the longest movie title in recent memory.
Although I loved the book a few years back when I read it, this was probably one of the best adaptations of a novel I’ve seen in a long time. It captured the high stakes adventure of the book while bringing an incredible visual style and cinematic excitement to the story. A great ensemble cast elevates every scene. It’s a crowd pleaser but one that deserves every bit of the accolades it received.
These days, any year that has this many Westerns released is a great year. Of the really great Westerns released this year, Bone Tomahawk is the best. Starring Kurt Russell and his handlebar mustache along with a brilliant cast, Bone Tomahawk plays like a classic Western until the third act when it turns into a tense, almost-horror-like rollercoaster ride. Special mention to Richard Jenkins who absolutely steals the show every time he’s on screen.
I know, I know, a disturbing and deep film by first-time director Ryan Gosling? Huh? This film effected me like almost nothing else this year. Powerful imagery, drama dripping in timely symbolism, and a David Lynch-like sense of dread throughout. One of the best debut films I’ve seen in years. If this is a taste of what Gosling can do, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I said it in my review last year and I still stand by it: “The Walk is one of the most exhilarating theater experience of 2015.” I wish more people had been able to have the chance to see the film in theaters because home video just won’t present the film in the way it should be seen. Robert Zemeckis is a master and he makes it all look so effortless.
Steve Carell’s best work of his career. Christian Bale strikes again with an academy award nominated performance. And the supporting cast is just as good. Who knew that the director of Anchorman (Adam McKay) would be able to pull off this kind of excellent social critique with a comedic bent. This film has something important to say and is immensely entertaining in the way it says it.
If someone would have told me that the 7th sequel to a 40 year old movie series would be as good as the best entry, I wouldn’t have believed it. Michael B. Jordan carries the Rocky torch stunningly while Stallone reaches deep to find one more go around as Rocky, rivaling his best work and Ryan Coogler is somehow able to put a new spin on the boxing film with some of the best camera work this year.
I have to admit, this film made me feel something. I believed in the characters, was on the edge of my seat through their most intense moments, and I felt like I had gone through a portion of their ordeal along the way. This is as much a testament to the film’s unguessable script to the sensational acting. This flew under the radar for many people last year but it’s totally worth your time.
The best original science fiction, hard sci-fi, script in years. After all the lame attempts (hello Transcendence) at examining the complex subject of artificial intelligence, Ex Machina gives us something worth chewing on. The cast is phenomenal with Alicia Vikander leading the way as the terrifying and passive-aggressive android that you don’t know whether to root for or fear.
Magical. That’s the best way to describe Spielberg’s latest film. Tom Hanks settles right into the role, after only a few minutes, I completely bought into his portrayal of James Donovan. Mark Rylance stuns with his slow burn performance as the spy in the middle of all the controversy. Beautiful lighting, framing, acting, and pacing. Loved it.
Sicario had the best performance by a female in 2015, Emily Blunt is astonishing as a DEA agent sucked into a “world of wolves.” And SHE WASN’T EVEN NOMINATED! Regardless, this is one of the best film-going experiences this year, tense, important, unique. Benecio Del Toro does his best work in years. That dinner scene will still be talked about years from now. Director Denis Villeneuve is now officially on my “I’ll watch anything he makes” list. Can’t wait to see what he does with Blade Runner 2.
An amazing, pulse-pounding cinematic experience. I’m not sure the romanticized wilds of the western territories have ever been captured with more vivid detail and intensity. Di Caprio is headed towards Oscar territory (that’s my guess) and I have to admit, I felt his pain along the way. The camera work is masterful. I’m not sure why this film was so divisive. Some loved it, some hated it. I thought it was amazing.
When the tire dust finally settles, we’ll still be talking about Mad Max: Fury Road 10 years from now. This is game-changing stuff, next level work from the editing, to the camera work, to the stunts, to the directing. I saw this film more times than any other this year and it never got boring. In fact, I was just as excited the 7th time as the first. Honestly, this is the kind of film that makes me happy I’m still alive just to be wowed by it over and over again.
Here are some of my other favorites from the year that maybe didn’t make my top 15 but are absolutely worth mentioning and worth checking out:
Best Action Movies
Best Animated Films
Now that the 2016 Academy Award nominations have been out for a few days, I’ve had some time to think through what I would have picked. I’m surprisingly happy with some of these nominations while others I am flabbergasted by (goes with the territory every year).
I too was somewhat disturbed with the lack of racial diversity on the nominations this year but unlike most Internet pundits, I don’t think this is because of some institutional racism (come one, the Hollywood culture falls over itself to be the most ridiculously PC of anyone in the world, practically, single-handedly driving the PC obsession in America). Instead, this is a bi-product of a bigger trend (which is slowly changing) where there’s just a general lack of diversity in Hollywood films in general (just look at how few Asian actors/actresses are in films today). I expect this will naturally change over the coming years as more and more walls are broken down. (Great to see so many different faces in a Star Wars for instance this year).
One of the common complaints about the Oscars is that the typical “important” films sometimes trump stuff that was more entertaining, interesting, and (usually) popular. And because I did this crazy movie watching thing in 2015, I’ve actually seen every film on the lists below!!! Yeah, nuts. But it also makes me somewhat qualified to give an opinion on each category (shocked at how many top lists and pundits online haven’t even seen half of these films but still made picks – doesn’t seem very fair).
So below are the nominations. My pick for who should win is in blue. My pick for who the academy will probably pick is in red. And if the picks match up, it will be in purple. Also, if a category was missing a nomination that should have been there, I’ve added that in green. And if I think something should not have been nominated at all,
I struck it out.
“The Big Short”
“Bridge of Spies”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
There’s space for up to 10 nominees so it’s curious that the academy missed Creed and Sicario which are both every bit as good as the other nominees that made it. As fun as The Martian was, it’s not a “best picture” film. It doesn’t belong here. Bridge of Spies was one of my favorite movie-going experiences this year and The Big Short took a complex (and pretty boring) subject and made it so, so real. Glad to see it made the list. Also, I loved Brooklyn. It was a great little story but not nearly important or even entertaining enough to be on this list. It’s just not on the same level as the others here. Room was really engrossing but I’m not sure it’s best picture level. The Revenant was a powerful piece of cinema that I was completely into and it’s the most serious challenger but because Alejandro González Iñárritu won last year for Birdman, I think the academy will want to spread the award somewhere else this year. Mad Max: Fury Road was the single greatest film experience this year and will still be talked about in 10 years while Spotlight (which was a solid film) will be completely forgotten (yet I think Spotlight is what the academy will go for).
Bryan Cranston in “Trumbo”
Matt Damon in “The Martian”
Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant”
Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs”
Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”
Oscar Isaac in “Ex Machina”
Jason Mitchell in “Straight Outta Compton”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “The Walk”
Michael B. Jordan in “Creed”
Tobey Maguire in “Pawn Sacrifice”
Paul Dano in “Love & Mercy”
The more I see Eddie Redmayne’s performances, the more I think he isn’t that interesting and actually kind of terrible many times (hello Jupiter Ascending). Matt Damon was a delight in The Martian but really not being anything more than super-charismatic Matt Damon. Bryan Cranston was outstanding in Trumbo. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled an upset on DiCaprio (who was great as always in The Revenant). Fassbender was excellent in Steve Jobs, a joy to watch. But I think Oscar Isaac blew me away in Ex Machina (one of the most complex characters I’ve seen in recent years). And Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E owned every scene he was in and had one of the toughest jobs of humanizing an enigma of a real guy. And despite his shaky accent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was captivating in The Walk. Michael B. Jordan was powerful in Creed and should have been nominated. I’m usually not a fan of Toby Maguire but he was a force of nature in Pawn Sacrifice. And my jaw dropped watching Paul Dano’s wacky work in Love & Mercy. Still, this is probably DiCaprio’s year and I’m fine with that.
Cate Blanchett in “Carol”
Brie Larson in “Room”
Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy”
Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years”
Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn”
Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Christina Hendricks in “Lost River”
Alicia Vikander in “Ex Machina”
Margot Robbie in “Z for Zachariah”
Emily Blunt in “Sicario” *
Tessa Thompson in “Creed”
This has to be the most mishandled category of all this year. My pick would have been Emily Blunt’s performance in Sicario. Just amazing and yet she wasn’t even nominated. Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years was unfortunately like watching paint dry. That film was catatonic and so was her performance. I can’t see the reasoning behind nominating her. The closest runner up to Emily Blunt was Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. Wow, she did so much with her understated screen time. And again, not even nominated! I thought Christina Hendricks was excellent in Lost River and Alicia Vikander stole the entire movie in Ex Machina. Also need to give a shout out to Tessa Thompson’s performance in Creed and Margot Robbie’s enigmatic character work in Z for Zachariah. All of that being said, of the actual nominees, I’d choose Brie Larson’s heartbreaking performance in Room. Definitely one of the best of the year and really showed her range. I felt what her character felt. Powerful work. That’s my pick of the nominees. But I think the academy will go with the eye-rollingly, socially-current, overly-politically-obvious choice of Cate Blanchett in Carol.
Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale in “The Big Short”
Tom Hardy in “The Revenant”
Mark Ruffalo in “Spotlight”
Mark Rylance in “Bridge of Spies”
Sylvester Stallone in “Creed”
Ben Mendelsohn in “Lost River”
Chiwetel Ejiofor in “Z for Zachariah”
Benicio Del Toro in “Sicario”
John Cusack in “Love & Mercy”
Michael Keaton in “Spotlight”
Steve Carell in “The Big Short”
The biggest misstep here is that Benicio Del Toro wasn’t even nominated for Sicario. He should absolutely be on this list in place of almost any of the others. That’s how good he was. But let me hit the others. Christian Bale was intense as always in The Big Short. Tom Hardy almost upstaged DiCaprio in The Revenant. Mark Ruffalo was interesting in Spotlight but I didn’t feel it rose to nomination level. Mark Rylance was only in Bridge of Spies for a small amount of screen time but completely stole the show each time. And there’s Stallone reprising a role over 40 years old now and just as good as ever. Of the actual nominees, he’s my pick and I think the academy will go for him also because this award would be as much for the role as a recognition of his long career. There’s a few others worth mentioning though including Ben Mendelsohn’s scary and intense role in Lost River (he was also great in Mississippi Grind this year). Chiwetel Ejiofor was mesmerizing in Z for Zachariah. I’m not sure if John Cusack qualifies for Best Actor or Best Supporting but I’m putting him here because not enough people are talking about his performance in Love & Mercy. Although not as showy, Michael Keaton was brilliant in Spotlight (my favorite performance in that film along with Liev Schreiber as a close second) and I’m not sure why Steve Carell isn’t getting huge accolades for his career-best work in The Big Short. Still, I think Stallone wins this and I’ll be so happy to see him finally with a statue.
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hateful Eight”
Rooney Mara in “Carol”
Rachel McAdams in “Spotlight”
Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl”
Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs”
Lake Bell in “No Escape”
Malin Akerman in “The Final Girls”
Jessica Chastain in “Crimson Peak”
Joan Allen in “Room”
I wasn’t a big fan of The Hateful Eight, but I’d love to see Jennifer Jason Leigh win for her bizarre, bad girl role in that film. She is my pick for this category. It’s one of the most interesting female performances in years. Rooney Mara was very solid in Carol but also, pretty much what you would expect. I’m so happy Rachel McAdams got a nomination because she was so good in Spotlight. Although I really like Alicia Vikander, to me, The Danish Girl was Oscar-bait rubbish and I don’t think it deserved the nominations it received. Kate Winslet won a Golden Globe for Steve Jobs (deservedly so) but I think the academy will go for Rooney Mara because her performance feels the most inline with the type of roles the voters usually go for. As for actresses that were missed, I loved Lake Bell in No Escape. I don’t think any actress made me feel more on the edge of my seat this year. And it’s non-obvious but Malin Akerman really brought out the emotion in a comedy/horror movie of all things (of course the academy virtually ignores all genre fare, especially horror films). As great as Jessica Chastain was in Crimson Peak, I also need to mention her excellent work in The Martian as well. Finally, I wonder why Joan Allen is not getting more recognition for her strong supporting work in Room.
“The Big Short” Adam McKay
“Mad Max: Fury Road” George Miller
“The Revenant” Alejandro G. Iñárritu
“Room” Lenny Abrahamson
“Spotlight” Tom McCarthy
“It Follows” David Robert Mitchell
“Ex Machina” Alex Garland
“Straight Outta Compton” F. Gary Gray
“Sicario” Denis Villeneuve
“The Martian” Ridley Scott
“The Walk” Robert Zemeckis
“Bridge of Spies” Steven Spielberg
“Creed” Ryan Coogler
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” J.J. Abrams
“The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared” Felix Herngren
Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but with the massive consensus building over the past 8 months for Mad Max: Fury Road, and the fact that anyone watching that film had to be astounded by the technical directing achievement on display, I think George Miller wins this. Adam McKay had such a tough job with the material in The Big Short and yet, delivered on every level so he absolutely deserves to be on this list. The technical directing work in The Revenant by Alejandro was staggering but because he won last year, I hope the academy skips picking him this time around. Lenny Abrahamson is not showy at all in Room which really helped the story but still, it isn’t at the same level as the others. Spotlight is another film where the directing is purposefully hidden and because it will probably win best picture, it won’t win here. Others that I would have liked to have seen on this list include It Follows (more dread than any other film I saw this year), Straight Outta Compton had a tough job telling that story and did it brilliantly, and Sicario was one of the best directed films of the year. Can’t believe that didn’t make the list. The best thing The Martian had going for it beyond the story was the brilliant directing. I can’t believe Ridley Scott was ignored. The Walk was one of the most exhilarating experiences in theaters this year. So was Bridge of Spies and it would have done the academy a lot of favors to at least put a nod towards Ryan Coogler’s ground-breaking work in Creed. Although Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a lot of issues, I have to give huge credit to J.J. Abrams for doing such awesome work with a ridiculously tight timeline. Finally, even though no one has seen it, The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out The Window had some of the most energetic directing work I saw this year.
Best Adapted Screenplay
“The Big Short” Screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
“Brooklyn” Screenplay by Nick Hornby
“Carol” Screenplay by Phyllis Nagy
“The Martian” Screenplay by Drew Goddard
“Room” Screenplay by Emma Donoghue
Now we get to the secondary categories so not as much to say here. Since I’m not sure which of the films I liked were adapted, I’ll just stick with the nominees here. Of these, I haven’t read all of the novels so it’s harder to choose. I know The Martian was perfectly adapted to film (book is still more fun though). That being said, I think The Big Short had to be the hardest to bring to screen so I’m picking that. My hunch is the academy will go for Brooklyn just because it feels more like their type of pick.
Best Original Screenplay
“Bridge of Spies” Written by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
“Ex Machina” Written by Alex Garland
“Inside Out” Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
“Spotlight” Written by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy
“Straight Outta Compton” Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff
So glad to see Alex Garland here for Ex Machina. That’s my pick. One of the freshest and most complex science fiction stories in years. I’d also be happy to see the Coen’s win for Bridge of Spies. But I think the academy will go for Straight Outta Compton if nothing else, to save face with the vociferous PC crowd online who is demanding more diversity in the awards.
Best Animated Feature
“Anomalisa” Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran
“Boy and the World” Alê Abreu
“Inside Out” Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera
“Shaun the Sheep Movie” Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
“When Marnie Was There” Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura
“The Peanuts Movie” Steve Martino
While Anomalisa was a marvel of technical animation, the story was rubbish, horrible people being horrible to each other while masquerading as some transcendent commentary on existence. Pixar almost always wins this category but I’d love to see Ardman finally get some love with Shaun the Sheep Movie. That’s my pick. Still, I think the academy might actually go for Anomalisa because it’s considered “important.” The biggest gaping hole here is The Peanuts Movie which was amazingly well done and I actually liked better than Inside Out.
“Carol” Ed Lachman
“The Hateful Eight” Robert Richardson
“Mad Max: Fury Road” John Seale
“The Revenant” Emmanuel Lubezki
“Sicario” Roger Deakins
“Lost River” Benoît Debie
“Ex Machina” Rob Hardy
“Everest” Salvatore Totino
“The Walk” Dariusz Wolski
“Crimson Peak” Dan Laustsen
“Bridge of Spies” Janusz Kaminski
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Daniel Mindel
“Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” Sean Porter
Please let this be Roger Deakins year. He’s been passed by for way too long. Part of me worries that The Revenant comes from behind to snatch this away again. I could also see The Hateful Eight getting a win just because it was holding onto the dying medium of film. There’s also a ton of films that deserved to be nominated that were passed by. I’m going with Deakins work on Sicario though. Tough one to call.
Best Costume Design
“Carol” Sandy Powell
“Cinderella” Sandy Powell
“The Danish Girl” Paco Delgado
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Jenny Beavan
“The Revenant” Jacqueline West
Because the nominations are so light on genre fare, I’m going to say Cinderella gets some love here. My pick would be Mad Max: Fury Road though.
“The Big Short” Hank Corwin
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Margaret Sixel
“The Revenant” Stephen Mirrione
“Spotlight” Tom McArdle
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey
“Sicario” Joe Walker
How did Star Wars: The Force Awakens make it onto this list? That’s one of the weakest parts of that film, the sometimes unintelligible editing. Weird. This one probably goes to The Revenant because (hopefully) it loses in some of the other important categories. My pick is Mad Max: Fury Road again. An astounding achievement in editing for all of film history. Really next level stuff.
Best Makeup & Hair
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin
“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared” Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
“The Revenant” Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini
“Bridge of Spies” Mitchell Beck
I’m going with The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared because that old man makeup was some of the best I’ve ever seen. There isn’t another standout here but hardly anyone has seen that film so I think the academy may go with The Revenant.
Best Original Score
“Bridge of Spies” Thomas Newman
“Carol” Carter Burwell
“The Hateful Eight” Ennio Morricone
“Sicario” Jóhann Jóhannsson
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” John Williams
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Tom Holkenborg
As sad as I am to say this, John Williams score for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a big disappointment. He is only on this list because of his career. Didn’t deserve it this time around. The giant glaring miss here is Mad Max: Fury Road. That was the best score this year and didn’t even get nominated. Of the nominees, I’d go with The Hateful Eight (solid work). I think the academy will go with it as well because of Morricone’s long, influential career.
Best Production Design
“Bridge of Spies” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich
“The Danish Girl” Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Michael Standish
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Production Design: Colin Gibson; Set Decoration: Lisa Thompson
“The Martian” Production Design: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Celia Bobak
“The Revenant” Production Design: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Hamish Purdy
Because I hope Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant win other categories, I’d love to see Bridge of Spies get some love and I think the academy may come to the same conclusion.
Best Visual Effects
“Ex Machina” Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
“The Martian” Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
“The Revenant” Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould
It’s interesting to note that no Marvel films (or any other superhero pictures) received a nomination for anything. This would have been the most obvious category but they are gone. That’s a pretty big statement on how shaky Marvel’s effects work has been this past year. I certainly noticed the dip in quality especially in Avengers: Age of Ultron. So glad to see Ex Machina on this list. That’s my pick. Brilliant, next level work there. I think the academy may throw a bone to Star Wars: The Force Awakens in light of A New Hope’s win back in 1977, which would be fine. That being said, there’s an outside chance The Revenant wins it because of the bear attack scene (which was admittedly astounding).
Best Sound Editing
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Mark Mangini and David White
“The Martian” Oliver Tarney
“The Revenant” Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
“Sicario” Alan Robert Murray
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Matthew Wood and David Acord
I think The Revenant may win it here and I’d be fine with that. The bear attack’s sound alone could clench it.
Best Sound Mixing
“Bridge of Spies” Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin
“Mad Max: Fury Road” Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo
“The Martian” Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth
“The Revenant” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
Not as qualified to make a call here even though I saw all of these. I’m rooting for Mad Max: Fury Road because of the organized chaos.
It’ll be interesting to see how these picks shake out compared to what really happens on February 28th, 2016.
The short version:
I liked it. But you can definitely tell George Lucas was not involved. His (trying to be nice but seeing right through the film) quote last week after seeing it “I think the fans are going to love it. It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for” was spot on with my impressions as well. The Force Awakens is a 2+ hour Star Wars fan film.
The even shorter version:
It’s Star Wars for the Remix / Reboot generation.
Spoilers: Trying not to be too spoilery but if you read beyond here, you might get some hints about the film and may choose instead to read the rest after you’ve seen the film.
I’d put it ahead of all the Prequels but behind any of the Original trilogy. The characters were brilliant but the plot was full of some disturbing holes and honestly, the constant near-copying of moments (and the same plot structure) from the Original Trilogy was so distracting that it kept pulling me completely out of the film.
Say what you will about George Lucas, but he would have never repeated himself like this. It feels a bit soulless without George. If there’s one thing The Force Awakens did, it was vindicate George Lucas somewhat. We may not have wanted to see three poorly-acted movies about trade disputes, political conspiracies, and a man-child with too much force power but doggone it, at least George was trying something new with the prequels.
But I did enjoy it. Just a little underwhelmed with how easy it was to poke holes in the plot and all the constant copycatting. Where The Force Awakens really hits its stride is in the last 15 minutes. The ending lightsaber battle and big reveal are when this film truly felt like it was working on its own terms and if there’s one thing the film did well above all else is make me want to see Episode VIII.
The film succeeds because its characters are so awesome. This is some of the best acting in the entire series, a brilliant cast, which helps us to overlook all the rushed moments, copycat plotting, and the confusing coincidence-ridden narrative.
Daisey Ridley was stunning. Just blew me away in every scene. My favorite new character of the series. She’s an obvious copy of Luke but she is such a great new actress, commanding every scene she was in, that I was captivated the entire time by her performance.
Kylo Ren, wow. Adam Driver continues to amaze me. When was the last time you rooted as much for the bad guy as the good girl? This is exactly how Lucas wanted us to feel about Anakin in Revenge of the Sith (but none of that character worked). Here Kylo Ren is conflicted, confused, moving from one emotion to the next. An incredibly interesting character I was fully invested in.
BB-8 was a big home run for me. So good. Perfect amount of character and cuteness. So much personality. One of the best things about the entire film honestly. Ben Burtt’s sound design makes another Star Wars character come alive.
I loved how the film examined some different sides of the force we haven’t really seen before. Having Ren be primarily propelled by fear (instead of hate) was a great addition to the lore.
The set design was incredible. Some of the best sets in the entire series.
JJ Abrams directing was assured at every turn. This film looks great, probably the 2nd best looking Star Wars film in the entire series (behind Empire Strikes Back) with beautiful glowing blues, reds, and oranges against hard shadows. Huge credit goes to the cinematography here for making The Force Awakens look like Star Wars.
Finn was excellent. My brother didn’t like him as much because he felt that as a Stormtrooper, Finn would not have that personality he displayed in the film. I can see that view but John Boyega is such an awesome actor, that I was buying everything he was selling. To my brother’s point though, I do think that if Finn had been written more as a brainwashed guy that starts to question and then slowly comes out of that brainwashed state through the film, it would have been more interesting.
Oscar Isaac as Poe, so natural, so effortlessly fun. That’s why I say the characters were amazing. The acting totally saves and elevates everything and Poe is a good example of this.
Nostalgia factor was off the charts with this. They did such a good job of playing to what fans have been demanding. For those looking to relive the original trilogy and their childhood’s positive thoughts towards it, The Force Awakens has it in spades.
Carrie Fisher didn’t have the greatest track record as an actress during the original trilogy but I REALLY liked her in this. The years have made her a much better actress. Her facial expressions were powerful. Some of the most touching and most memorable scenes in the film for me. I was sad that the audience clapped for nearly everyone else but when Leia first came on screen, there was silence.
Hamill is amazing in this. Although he is short on screen time, what he does with his facial expressions is incredible. My favorite part of the film. Perfectly encapsulated how Luke would act and react.
In terms of lightsaber battles, the ending battle here was excellent. One of the TRULY unique scenes in The Force Awakens that stood apart from all the other films. I loved the amateurism of the fight. The emotion. The staging. Having real lighted sword props that shined off their faces and the snow made it so intense and believable. I’d put this lightsaber battle tied for second place with Empire Strikes Back’s Luke vs. Darth Vader fight. (Return of the Jedi’s throne room battle is the all time best and Phantom Menace’s acrobatic battle is third for me).
Harrison Ford is pitch perfect here. It was so nice to see him having fun and owning the character that made him famous again. Also, Kasdan’s dialogue for Han was so perfect. It’s hard to write Han correctly but Kasdan really gets the character. Some of the best scenes in the film. So nice to see that old Ford charisma. Great chemistry with the new cast. He earned every dollar of the TONS of money Disney threw at him and finally got his wish.
Probably my biggest complaint was the ridiculous coincidence after coincidence that filled up the plot. They just happen to find the Falcon, then Han just happens to find them 10 minutes later, etc. It’s one contrivance after another and I was shocked Kasdan had allowed that kind of thing to get through in the script. But again, time crunch forced them to make concessions. I hate deus ex machina stuff like that in a script. “This plot point happens not because it makes sense but because the plot needed to have it happen at that time.” George Lucas’ stories and worlds always fit together so perfectly. I was missing that here.
Maz Kanata’s design and character fell completely flat. She looked like a prequel CG reject, there was nothing memorable about her, and she served only one purpose, to provide exposition. In some ways, you could look at her as the Yoda of this film and in that comparison, Yoda blows her away in every category: design, personality, importance to plot, etc.
The bounty hunters Han encounters looked liked third rate cosplay rejects. Compare their design and costumes to the bounty hunters we get glimpses of in Empire Strikes Back. Boba Fett, Dengar Bossk, IG-88. All genius designs. But these bounty hunters couldn’t have been more disappointing in their costumes and their characterization/dialogue/acting. Also, what a waste to use the team from The Raid films and do nothing with them.
Supreme Leader Snoke looks absolutely horrendous. A bad CG combination of Voldemort and The Emperor. Threat level: zero. So disappointed in that design. That’s the kind of thing that feels way too obvious, done before (in a better way), and totally rushed without time to do it right. A huge crime to use someone as talented as Andy Serkis for motion capture and then just have him sit in a chair. Lame. As my brother put it, “they should have seen the demo reels and said ‘this isn’t looking convincing nor is anywhere near sinister enough, we need to go back to the drawing board.'”
Rey’s journey to the force was seriously rushed. Again, plot let me down here. I didn’t like how she just suddenly became powerful on her own. Even Anakin, Luke, or Yoda couldn’t do stuff like that without training.
Some of Finn’s dialogue was too modern-sounding. “Did you see that?” is one example, exclaimed in an uncomfortable stereotypical way that sounded nothing like Star Wars.
Max von Sydow is totally wasted. He gets maybe four lines of forgettable dialogue and then he’s not seen again. Wished he had been given more to do.
Did you hear that interview where JJ Abrams said Captain Phasma was the best character and how she is his favorite part of the film? After seeing it, I’m scratching my head. Huh? I liked her design and she was fine in her small role, but there was really nothing there to give any credence to what Abrams said. Biggest misstep was having Fenn fight a nameless Stormtrooper in the middle of the film. That should have been Phasma he was fighting. Would have made so much more sense when they face each other later on.
Way, way, way too much “as you know Bob” dialogue where characters tell each other things they already know so we can hear them as an audience. Super distracting.
R2-D2 was mishandled. He’s “pouting” because Luke is gone? That’s the best they could come up with? Then he just turns on at exactly the right moment when the plot needs him to. Felt so unearned.
John Williams score is kind of forgettable. I can’t believe it. Compare his work in the prequels with themes you were humming along with right after the films to this. After seeing it twice, I’m still scratching my head as to why there’s nothing here to really get excited about. He uses the old themes well but I was looking for something new like he had done with the past films.
There were several times in the film where I was actually bored. Bored! I don’t even remember feeling that way in any of the prequels. Some of the scenes with Maz Kanata really fell flat. There were a few others too. Not many but still found that really odd.
The space battles were pretty generic and forgettable. Since so much of the plot we had seen before, it took a lot of the suspense out of the film because you already knew what was going to happen. “Oh, here’s another trench battle, we already know how that ends…” etc. I will give big credit though to that X-Wing tracking shot with Finn coming in and out of frame. That was a jaw-dropper.
I know JJ Abrams had begged Disney to give him 6+ more months to get the script fixed up and prepare some better production designs but the suits at Disney said “no way”, giving him an ultimatum of Christmas 2015 or else. So on those terms, I think JJ and team did a really great job with the time they had. But if only they’d had a chance to do 2 or 3 more passes on the script to fix the plot holes, coincidences and contrivances, and some of the character & design issues. This could have gone from good to really great.
In the end, The Force Awakens had a few specific jobs that it needed to (and successfully did) accomplish:
1) Make Disney its $4 billion back – CHECK
2) Introduce a new set of likeable characters to push the series forward – CHECK
3) Be better than the prequels – CHECK
4) Capitalize off the nostalgia in the original series to sell tickets – CHECK
I believe there will be some pretty heavy blowback on this film, years down the road when the hype wears off, but for now, we can just enjoy the highest budgeted fan film ever created. A crowd pleaser for the generation that demands we have the same thing repackaged to us over and over again and loves to refer to their favorite intellectual properties as “franchises.”
With JJ having done his job and now moving on, I look forward to what comes next as a new director takes over and hopefully shows us something we haven’t seen before (but still just as thrilling). On home video though, Disney might want to consider a title change for this film:
Star Wars: The Force Remakens.