Saturday, January 2, 2016

Best Movies of 2015

I haven't felt like using this blog in almost a year. Reviewing movies with a backlog so big that it stretches back to early 2014 just isn't practical or fun, mostly because I'm going off of year-and-a-half-old memories to review these movies, most of which I didn't like very much in the first place. Maybe I'll eventually pick it up again. I've toyed with the idea of starting a YouTube channel.  I've also toyed (more successfully) with the idea of not starting one.

But... I figured the least that I could do for this dying blog is apply pressure to the wound a bit.  Let's prolong its painful death for a while, shall we?

I saw 65 movies this year, 22 of which were released theatrically in 2015.  Here they are, in order of release:

Jupiter Ascending
Fifty Shades of Grey
Kingsman: The Secret Service
The Lazarus Effect
It Follows
The Divergent Series: Insurgent
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Mad Max: Fury Road
Insidious: Chapter 3
Jurassic World
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
The Visit
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
Crimson Peak
The Last Witch Hunter
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There are a couple of 2015 movies that I haven't seen yet that I really want to, and ones that would probably make my list (if the hype and my knowledge of my own tastes are any indication), like The Gift and The Martian, off the top of my head. This is just my opinion as of the beginning of 2016 and will certainly change as I see more movies from this year.

5.  Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron is certainly not Joss Whedon at his best.  As a die-hard fan of Whedon's well-constructed characters steeped in familiar, but interesting lore, his big-budget affairs leave a lot to be desired. These are not the kinds of films that I want Joss to be making, but I'm glad that he's the one in charge of them, if that makes any sense. Ultron, like it's predecessor, shine with Whedon's trademark wit, even if it is a bit forced at times. This movie feels very inconsequential, sure, but that isn't unique to this film. The superhero genre has been stagnating for years now. But it takes a talented writer and director to make something so pointless seem so fun.

4.  Krampus

I won't lie -- I mostly loved this movie because of Adam Scott. There are some actors that are so sublimely wonderful at playing "the straight man", and Adam Scott (along with Jason Bateman) makes it onto that list easily. I could watch him react incredulously in literally any movie. It just so happens that this one is a darkly comic Christmas horror movie involving a Germanic demon with a long, droopy face. Krampus isn't as clever or memorable as director Michael Dougherty's previous film, Trick 'r Treat, but it does walk the fine line between characters that are annoying and characters that are human. It's a dangerous line, but it does endear us to the characters, making the evil cookies, twisted elves, and demon jack-in-the-box all seem a little bleaker than one might expect, which was an interesting place to take the film.

3.  Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

I'm just going to tell you right now -- Mad Max: Fury Road did not make it onto my list, and it's because Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation satisfied me in every way that Fury Road failed. Instead of a plodding repetitive script that focuses far too much on world-building, the newest MI installment instead plays to its strengths: the likability of the lead actors, increasingly ridiculous situations, and a wonderfully charming sense of humor to tie both together. This is a huge action movie full of setpieces, much like Fury Road, but make no mistake -- this script is funny. These actors are funny. This movie is by no means under the impression that it is anything other than what it is: a good time. And come on, if you don't like Tom Cruise, you can stop being my friend now, please. Also, go ahead and take your time machine back to 2005.

2.  It Follows

I'm not easily arrested by horror movies. I love the genre, and there is a lot of good to be found in it (some I've yet to find, I'm sure), but there aren't very many movies that I would call truly unsettling. But, from beginning to end, It Follows... just works. The 80s atmosphere echoing John Carpenter, the fantastic group of unknown actors, the slow-burn, and the frightening concept all coalesce to make this one of the best horror movies I've seen in a long, long time. It does indeed follow. It wants you dead. And it has all the time in the world. So it's just going to calmly walk towards you for all eternity. That's terrifying.

1.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens

You probably saw this coming. I don't have anything to say about this movie that hasn't been said a million times already. It made me feel like a kid again, and that's something that so few movies are capable of. Like many people my age, the original Star Wars trilogy made a huge impact on my childhood. It made me wish that heroes like Luke Skywalker existed; it's what got me into fantasy in general. I owe a lot of my personality to A New Hope, and this glorified remake is exactly what I wanted from a continuation of the original trilogy: more of what made the originals so endearing and memorable. More lovable characters, more impossible odds, more tragedy, more excitement, more magic. For someone that has spent years trying to avoid become an adult, movies that vindicate that misguided choice are always welcome. Plus, BB-8 is a little cutie.

I don't know when I'll update again. Maybe I'll check out this "YouTube" thing and see what all the hubbub is about. Maybe I won't. I'm not very good at New Years resolutions.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Divergent (2014) - Review

The Hunger Games ignited a new type of Young Adult novel adaptation.  Something more dangerous than Twilight, the stakes much higher and the trauma much more realistic.  Dystopian future stuff.  Cautionary tales about a world that has destroyed itself because of pointless wars.  And it’s not just a Battle Royale rip-off, although there are a lot of similarities.  For a kids’ series, it’s actually pretty daring.  So of course it stands to reason that there would be a few knock-offs as well.  Enter Divergent.

Divergent isn’t strictly a rip-off, it just has a lot in common with The Hunger Games.  There’s a strong yet deeply troubled heroine, a twisted regime to topple, sections of people with different cultures (called Factions here rather than Districts), and of course, a tepid love story.  But where The Hunger Games can back up most of its generic plot points with good actors and an interesting aesthetic, Divergent remains middle-of-the-road in all accounts.

The actors are fine, but there are no standouts at all, unlike the wonderful J-Law, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, etc...  I do really like Tony Goldwyn though as the dad.  The plot is serviceable but not exceptional in any way.  The gimmick in this film rather than death games are intense and surreal dream sequences that pose as tests to determine what Faction you belong to.  Each Faction represents a certain personality trait, and those that could potentially belong to multiple Factions is considered Divergent and a threat to society.  So basically if you’re a normal human, then you’re totally boned.

While I feel like there are interesting points to be made about the government, eugenics, “Factionless” (this world’s version of bums), and more, this film doesn’t delve into anything in a very interesting way.  Instead it clings to a fairly typical blockbuster structure without caring enough to go any deeper.

It’s frustrating when you can see good ideas under the surface of a very average film.  But ironically this film is just as one-dimensional as the characters from each Faction.  Better not let them have more than one personality trait!  That’s too confusing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mamma Mia! (2008) - Review

Oh Mamma Mia... here we go (again).

While I’m unfamiliar with the musical and am not a fan of ABBA by any stretch of the imagination, I thought this could be alright.  I like Amanda Seyfried well enough – her voice sounded lovely in Les Mis.  But this movie... wow.  In a midst of cartoonishly over-the-top acting, terrible songs, and a barely plodding storyling, this movie just drowns under the weight of its awful.

The songs.  Oh God, the songs.  We get the single good song in the movie right at the beginning (Honey Honey) which was kind of nice of the writers, I suppose.  There are a couple of other decent ones like the title track and Dancing Queen, but most of the songs are either complete garbage, or just plain bizarre.  Sometimes both.

The one I remember the most is The Winner Takes It All, which is maybe one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.  From a jarring chord progression to lyrical gems such as:

The winner takes it all
The loser's standing small
Beside the victory
That's her destiny

Here’s a free tip, songwriters: never use the word “win” in a song.  I don’t know what it is, but it always sounds childish and stupid.  Muse does it a lot.

Besides the songs we have some awful acting.  None of the main cast, they’re all fine, it’s mostly the two friends of Meryl Streep.  I get that they’re comedic relief, but Jesus Christ they act like they’re in a 30s serial.  I just wanted them to die, but maybe I had already been tainted by these torturous songs.

The storyline is pretty standard: woman has three suitors and she’s gotta choose just one.  Hardly the depth of Les Mis or Sweeney Todd, now is it?  It wouldn’t be so bad if we cared about any of the characters, but while most of the cast is alright, nobody elevates the script enough to make you care about anyone.

And that sums up Mamma Mia pretty well: I just didn’t care about any of it (other than when I was being bombarded with godawful music).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Penelope (2006) - Review

As it has shown a bit in other reviews, you maybe can tell that I’m not a huge fan of kids’ movies.  I’m of the opinion that you can treat a kid like an actual person instead of resorting to lowest-common-denominator comedy like so many children’s films tend to do.  Luckily Penelope is refreshingly quirky, heavily stylized, kind of adorable, and above all, not stupid.

While this isn’t exactly a kids’ movie per se, it’s innocent enough, has a low rating with nothing really objectionable, and plays everything rather safely.  It’s got a princess of sorts who must go through suitors until she finds her one true love.  It’s all very fairy tale.  Luckily the stylization of the movie works in its credit helping push the fairy tale aspect to the forefront and ultimately make the film more interesting because of it.

Christina Ricci is completely adorable as the titular Penelope even with her pig nose.  Oh yeah, I didn’t tell you?  The main character’s problem is that she has a pig nose, which in the grand scheme of things is not that bad.  Our dashing hero trying to win her this evening will be played by James McAvoy, who does a good job in just about everything I’ve seen him in, and this also stars a pre-Tyrion Lannister, evil Peter Dinklage as the bad guy trying to expose Penelope to the world.
Still pretty fetching actually.

The only issue with the movie is that it gives off a pretty weird message to kids.  Spoilers: she doesn’t keep the pig nose – it disappears by the end of the movie.  Yeah, don’t worry kids, if you feel okay with yourself, then all your deformities will go away!  And it’s kind of weird that the couple doesn’t get together until after she’s super pretty Christina Ricci again.  Sure, he kisses her while he still thinks she has the pig nose... but it’s still a bit confused.

Other than that, Penelope is a pretty charming film with a charming cast and is much more appealing than most of the modern kids’ movies you’ll find.