Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

The only thing strange about this guy is his facial hair. And his clothes.
And his name. And his accent. But other than that, Doctor Normal.

dir: Scott Derrickson

2016

Sometimes just letting me see trippy visuals is enough. More than enough. That’s all I’m asking for, sometimes.

Really, I’m that cheap a date.

I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy this as much as I did, but that’s because mostly I think my decision-making abilities have taken a hit in the last couple of weeks. When presented with the option of watching Arrival, that new, apparently thoughtful and uplifting science fiction film starring Amy Adams, or Doctor Strange, Marvel’s latest attempt to absorb the entirety of the world’s money, I chose the path of least intellectual requirement.

Yep, I had the choice of watching something emotionally engaging and intellectually satisfying, and something that looked cool and trippy, and I essentially opted, or at least argued in favour of the Happy Meal option.

Why? Well, I could wax rhapsodically about the actual darkness that has started spreading across the world, and how at the moment I just don’t have it in me to engage intellectually or hopefully with anything right now. I just can’t even, as the lazy phrase goes. It’ll come back, because it has to, but for now I just can’t goddamn stomach anything that requires me to think or feel too much about anything.

Rating:

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings

He's got a sword, and he's going to stab the moon with it

dir: Travis Knight

2016

I wanted to love this, I really did. I love most of the stuff that the animators at Laika Entertainment have come up with thus far. They’re idiosyncratic as purveyors of animation, getting the distinctive look you’re not going to confuse with any of the other studios that comes from still using a lot of stop-motion (physical) animation in their movies.

It’s certainly the brightest and best looking of their works, shiniest and cleanest, compared to Coraline, The Boxtrolls and ParaNorman, which all looked somewhat gothic (in Coraline’s case) or a bit gangrenous. They were shooting for a mass audience, and they didn’t get it, which is a bit of a shame.

It’s ambitious, too. It opens with a woman in a boat trying to get somewhere in a terrible storm, one which wrecks her little boat and wounds her terribly, but even worse she is not alone. A baby boy is with her, and they crawl together into a cave to die.

It’s a very idyllic cave, beautiful ocean views, though probably a bit drafty. Some time passes, and the baby becomes a boy, and what a boy. He looks after his damaged mother, who sits motionless all day, and raises money for some rice by telling stories at a nearby village.

Rating:

Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad

I guess a more honest title like "Dumb People Not Doing Much"
was never going to fly with the marketing department at DC

dir: David Ayer

2016

Considering…

No, wait – And I thought Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was a piece of shit…

Suicide Squad is a whole other unique piece of shit. It’s terrible, oh so terrible. This is the standard met where intelligent people make movies for people they see as being irredeemably stupid.

Oh so many aspects of this movie are terribly ludicrous. Sure, it’s logically possible to make arguments about a whole array of movies and whether they should exist or not. Knowing that this is based on a comic book doesn’t make this make any more sense as a premise. Even, wait, maybe I’m contradicting myself, even if I buy Amanda Waller’s (Viola Davis, who is excellent in this but it’s not enough) plan as being a necessary one, how is it that it makes any sense that these particular morons are the ones you would force into action in order to save the world?

Yes, yes, I understand The Dirty Dozen style premise. I understand it because I’ve watched The Dirty Dozen a bunch of times, and I’ve seen a stack of other films that ripped the idea off as well. There’s nothing new about it under the sun, being this sun, or any of the other suns around the galaxy around which planets inhabited by comic book geeks orbit.

Rating:

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Oh what a lovely day I had before I watched this monstrosity

dir: Burr Steers

2016

It should have been more fun than this.

It should have been more… something, anything than this.

There’s no argument that the world needs more versions of Pride and Prejudice. We don’t. Thanks, we’ve had plenty, there’s no more room at the inn.

I say that yet I happily watch any of them whenever they appear on cable. Especially that one, you know the one, the one that’s sex on a stick, with Colin Firth as Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy Bennett. Even the ones I don’t like I still watch, like that one with the stick insect and the other guy, or that Bollywood ‘inspired’ one, or any of the literally one million other versions.

We further don’t need more of them because virtually every romantic thing aimed at those humans who drink red wine / read / masturbate in the bath is pretty much based on Pride & Prejudice anyway. How so, you ask, as you sip from your second glass of wine for the night, and eat your third Tim Tam?

Rating:

High-Rise

High-Rise

I get it, you're trying to remind people of A Clockwork Orange.
No-one cares, poster design nerds.

dir: Ben Wheatley

2016

Hmmm.

I don’t know about this flick. I’m not sure I got it, really. I'm not sure there's enough of anything to get.

I mean, I watched it. I saw lots of images, and heard lots of dialogue, and most of that went through my eyes and ears into my brain, and I’m recalling many of those moments and images and ideas right now, but I’m not sure what they add up to.

Ben Wheatley is a beast of a Brit director, who’s made a swag of vicious flicks, and this is no less vicious, though it seems like a bigger budget / bigger deal than what he’s handled previously. I mean, after all, this has Tom Hiddleston in it, in a lead role.

You know, Loki? The (possible) next James Bond? Taylor Swift’s current boyfriend?

Even more (slightly less) impressive than that, this has Jeremy Irons in a key role.

Jeremy. Irons.

Sorry, old Simpsons reference, couldn’t resist.

High-Rise is based on a book by JG Ballard, which is a name that doesn’t resonate with most people, but it does with me, because I went through that stage that many aging literature nerds of my generation went through when you read many of the books of particular writers all in a row: like you go through your Bukowski stage, your Henry Miller stage, your Vonnegut stage, and then, during your science fiction phase, your Philip K. Dick stage and your Ballard stage. And I read a bunch of them, including this.

Rating:

The Lobster

The Lobster

Consider The Lobster. Now maybe consider something else.

dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

2016

These movies from this Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, like Dogtooth, Alps and now The Lobster – I question whether they are movies to be enjoyed, or movies to be endured / survived.

They’re definitely strange, that’s for sure. Being able to say “there’s nothing else out there quite like it” can be used as much as a compliment as it can as a complaint.

I have watched too many movies in my life, and too much television, and what that means is that, just like everyone else, I can sometimes be energised by watching something completely out of left field, but I can just as equally be left confused and bemused by something so fundamentally odd that my mind can’t quite latch on to it.

I like to think that I kinda ‘got’ what was going on with Dogtooth – a strange flick where a very strange set of Greek parents bring up their kids in absolute isolation, warping their sense of language, sex, the world, everything – but having watched The Lobster, it’s more than likely that I was completely wrong about that flick. As for this flick, well, I have no idea.

Rating:

Green Room

Green Room

I'm with the band, I swear. No, wait, nah, I'm not with the band,
never heard of them, let me out of here, please?

dir: Jeremy Saulnier

2016

As usual, instead of talking about the film I’m meant to be reviewing, I’m going to squander much of the start of the review and much of your patience talking about a completely different film. And I have to do that, or at least I feel like I have to do that, in order to point out what attracted me to the film under review in the first place.

Yes, this review is about Green Room, but the reason why I so desperately sought out Green Room is because I loved this director’s previous flick Blue Ruin ever so much. I loved it down to its gritty, grimy bones. It’s one of the best flicks of its kind that I’ve seen for decades, mostly because I haven’t seen anything like it in decades.

And Green Room, despite having a completely different story, has plenty of what I loved so much about Blue Ruin. There is craft involved here, real craft on the director’s part, and I really, really appreciate it.

And more!

Rating:

Midnight Special

Midnight Special

He's not from around here and he's not like us and he looks a bit funny.
And the kid's a bit weird, too.

dir: Jeff Nichols

2016

Strange yet familiar. That can be a potent combination. It can also be a boring one that fails to elicit any feelings, positive or negative.

Midnight Special is strange, certainly, as is any flick in which you have bug-eyed Michael Shannon in any role. He brings the weird to virtually any flick he’s in, no matter how large or small the role. He’s just that kind of guy. But the real ‘twist’ here is that Michael Shannon’s character isn’t the villain, or some random paranoid lunatic screaming about the doom that awaits us all, but a caring father trying to protect his special-needs son from this harsh and uncaring world.

Well, actually, as in many of these situations, it’s sometimes the world that needs to be protected from them.

This isn’t the origin story for some superhero kid, but it almost plays out like it should be. It’s very much all mysterious in the beginning. Two grunting guys in a car with a kid along for the ride drive recklessly through the night getting away from something or towards something else. We know the cops are after them, but we don’t know why.

Rating:

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

So quirky there should be laws against it, forcing them to go on the run

dir: Taika Waititi

2016

Sometimes you watch a trailer and say to yourself “I must watch that movie.” Sometimes you watch the movie, and think “That movie was nothing like the trailer, and now I am sad.” Other times you watch the movie and say “that was exactly like the trailer, but eh.”

But this time? This time? I was really excited about seeing Hunt for the Wilderpeople, we saw it (as a family), and I loved it thoroughly and utterly.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have seen it as a family? I thought it would skirt the edges of its PG rating, but it kinda went a tad further than I would have expected. Having your nine-year-old daughter ask you out loud at the Westgarth Cinema on a Friday night “What’s a molesterer?” is perhaps a conversation for another time.

I was, at least in some respects, pre-programmed to enjoy this. I loved Waititi’s film Boy, liked What We Do In the Shadows, and occasionally enjoyed Flight of the Conchords (the tv show he occasionally directed, whereas the band will always rank in my heart as the greatest musicians to ever come out of New Zealand except for all the other ones).

Taika makes some very quirky movies, filled to the brim with quirky characters and 80s aesthetics. Sometimes it’s oppressive. Sometimes it gibes just right with the material. In this case, it’s a pretty good fit (in terms of the actors, the quirks, and the story).

Rating:

Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!

I think a better title might have been "A Tale of Two Tildas"

dir: Coen Brothers

2016

Eh. I didn’t really get it.

This is fairly minor Coen Brothers as far as I’m concerned. Yes, I get that the Coens love the Golden Age of Hollywood. Yep, okay, got it. In case I’d never noticed before, most of the Coen Brothers’ movies are about movies. Some of their greatest work or funniest sequences have harkened back to times of yore and movies of days gone by.

But, yeah, it’s not a matter of just doing a homage/reference, or enjoying a homage/reference. The whole point of this flick is that there doesn’t really seem to be a point, other than Hollywood continuing to do what Hollywood does is probably a good thing(?)

It's the feeling I had, when Hail, Caesar! ended, that I also had at the end of Burn After Reading, a flick I genuinely, actively disliked before it ended, and downright hated once the ending basically stated outright "We have no idea what the point was, either". Endings like that are such a shoulder shrug of a statement that I can't help but feel insulted.

There's some kernel of an idea, several ideas, even. There are some keen or even endearing performances. There's an almost structure, one almost kinda similar to a detective trying to navigate a corrupt world and solve a mystery.

Rating:

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse

I'm sure only good things will come from this guy being
in charge, got a good feeling about this.

dir: Bryan Singer

2016

It’s really not as bad as they're saying.

I’ve even heard that most graven of insults: “It’s as bad as Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice”, which is the new benchmark for a superhero flick sucking more powerfully than a locomotive, and more grimly than a stubble-covered arse cheek.

It’s nowhere near as bad as all that, in fact it’s probably on a par with most of the X-Men flicks, and is definitely better, at the very least, than III: The Last Stand.

The director, Bryan Singer, hopes you’ll be reminded of how bad that one was when you’re watching this. In case you didn’t already know how much he hated the fact that Fox Studios let Brett Ratner direct it, he made a flick (being the last one, Days of Future Past) with the express intention of annulling, undoing, revising and expunging everything that happened in The Last Stand.

And I’m not exactly complaining. I’m not exactly caring, either, but that’s beside the point. I’m not really invested in these X-Men flicks, because, honestly, caring about movies based on comic-book properties is not a strategy that pays off.

Comparing it with the fiasco that was the terrible B v S isn’t a fruitful path to take, and it just causes me pain, anyway, having to remember the sheer depth and breadth of its awfulness.

Rating:

Zootopia

Zootopia

Wow, streets of New York are looking more like a zoo
every day

dir: Byron Howard and Rich Moore

2016

Though it seems unlikely, in the same week I get to review two movies with Zoo in the title, and one of them is utterly synapse-fryingly terrible, and the other one is truly great.

Guess which one is which: Zoolander 2 or Zootopia? Go on, take a minute.

Zootopia is wonderful, sweet and smart, even if it comes directly from Disney, and not one of its million acquisitions and appropriations. This is Pixar Quality! Well, maybe not as soul-renderingly touching as Inside Out, but it’s definitely up there.

Also, did you ever think you would get a Breaking Bad reference in a Disney animated flick in this, and not some other, universe?

It’s a strange world that gets conjured up here. Perhaps it’s as weird as one in which toys are alive when we’re not looking, or where the primary organisms in a world are all cars, but it’s novel all the same. In the world depicted here, all of what would be the ‘humans’ are all mammals, either herbivores or carnivores, but mammals all the same. It would be impossible to draw a one-to-one equivalent of a species standing in for a particular grouping or race of humans, but it’s undeniable (and unavoidable) that the film plays with notions of stereotyping and bigotry based on the perceived or actual qualities of classes of animals.

Rating:

Zoolander 2

Zoolander 2

These people are all very dangerously dumb. They shouldn't
be allowed to drive, or vote, or drink, or do anything, really.

dir: Ben Stiller

2016

Ye gods and little fishes – this movie is fucking terrible! This is like an anti-comedy, in essence almost every scene seems to have been put together to be as deliberately unfunny as the preceding scene, if not more so.

How do you manage to be so unfunny? How do you make it so it isn’t even accidentally funny some times, like, according to the law of averages?

Zoolander 2 doesn’t have far to drop in terms of quality as a sequel, because, in my unhumble opinion, Zoolander itself wasn’t that funny anyway. It wasn’t, I don’t think, as aggressively unfunny as this one, though. Or maybe it seems less unfunny by comparison.

I find it somewhat unfathomable. Ben Stiller has made some very funny movies. I won’t list them all, but even fairly recently, Tropic Thunder was pretty goddamn funny (for my money). I’ve even liked him in more (slightly) dramatic roles like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. But nothing could prepare me for just how awful I found this.

I laughed once during a nearly two hour film. Well, hour and forty minutes, probably. Break that down further: 100 minutes of a movie, and I laughed for about 1-2 seconds, from one gag. As a ratio, it doesn’t look good in terms of return on investment of my precious time, does it?

Rating:

The Witch

The Witch

I never really enjoyed eating goat, have to be honest, and that's not
going to change any time soon, okay Satan?

dir: Robert Eggers

2016

I fell like I should be calling this ‘The VVitch’ instead, because that’s what it said on all the posters, which I couldn’t work out. Then the lightbulb I keep in a tinfoil hat on my head went bright, and I realised, a few minutes in, that the ‘V V’ is because this movie is set in the time of the Puritan Pilgrims of the 1600s, who were fleeing persecution / going somewhere new in order to dole out more persecution to each other.

It was the time before Ws, when V V stood for Double U. And when they used f in place of s. And everyone was cool with slavery, and Native Americans didn’t have souls so could be killed with impunity. Good times.

Confusing, frightening times. A time of great terror in the face of the unknown in the New World, a place where Puritans thought they were going to come to create a stoic, humourless, sexless Paradise on Earth, and instead they found the place just like everywhere else, just with better views and more squalor.

As this deeply unsettling film starts, a man with a thick Yorkshire accent, and his family, are being expelled from a Puritan plantation, because the lead chap’s religious views slightly contradict the party line of the other Puritans. Or it could be a conflict over those goofy hats with the buckles on them: he’s against them, they’re for them.

Rating:

The Jungle Book

Jungle Book

Look at these lazy good-for-nothing layabouts just laying about in the jungle

dir: Jon Favreau

2016

It may be a remake, but the current incarnation of the Jungle Book playing in cinemas is far more enjoyable and successful than I ever would have thought it deserved to be.

Jon Favreau isn’t really that respected as a director, and is more mocked for his existence as a shorter, fatter version of Vince Vaughn; an actor I have come to truly loathe. I don’t loathe Jon Favreau, in fact I’ve liked most of his flicks except for Chef, which was a terribly self-indulgent mess, I thought. Saying “I thought” at the end of that sentence seems awfully self-indulgent, but, you know what, I’m just trying to keep things conversational, okay?

I think he does okay as a director of comedic – actiony kind of flicks. I wouldn’t want him to direct adaptations of Wuthering Heights or Anna Karenina or nuthin’, but he seems to be, at least to me, a dab hand at light action fare. Most people probably remember him as a director of the first two Iron Man movies, and perhaps laugh a bit uncomfortably when the topic of Cowboys and Aliens is brought up.

Rating:

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War

When will these people learn that you can't run away from your problems?

dirs: The Russo Brothers

2016

Well.

That was a bit of a step up. After the dirge of a fiasco that was DC’s latest entry into the “We can do what Marvel does, too?”, we get Marvel stepping up and delivering something that’s a bit more focussed, a lot more solid than the last Avengers flick. And, for once, it makes it feel like there are some consequences, some further changes in the Marvel universe as a result of the actions of many of the main players in this flick.

Yes, there are too many superhero flicks. Yes, there are too many Marvel flicks, to the tune of two a year, all of them basically set ups for the next to follow.

Whatever. Even within the factory that’s pumping these out, we now have a Captain America film that could just have easily been called Iron Man V or Avengers Again! or anything else, but that is certainly not to the flick’s detriment. If anything, the fact that you could have called it anything including Marvel Wanty Much More of Your Money and it would still work fine.

Rating:

Spotlight

Spotlight

People. Doing people-type things. Trying to destroy the Catholic Church for
being the foul Human Centipede of religions that it is

dir: Tom McCarthy

2015

It might seem a bit unnecessary to review Spotlight at this late stage because, surely, this far into 2016, what does it really matter anyway?

Oh. Wait. Yeah, now I remember. This flick, which was probably only watched by members of the Academy and every journalist that still carries a torch for the nobility and doggedness of their profession (in other words, all of them) somehow managed to somehow win Best Picture.

Surely that counts for something, right?

I find it incredibly hard to believe that enough members of the Academy saw this in order to vote in numbers for it to achieve a plurality of votes over the other contenders. If anything the flick tries so hard to be downbeat that it’s almost an anti-movie. Sure, the actors wear makeup and act all over the place, but it’s really trying to show just how unglamorous the profession was way back in the dim, distant days of the year 2000.

It’s funny that this is essentially a period piece. What is less funny is that this film set at the beginning of the new millennium is about the systematic sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests with the Catholic Church’s knowledge stretching back through the decades. And, let’s face it, probably centuries.

Rating:

The Revenant

The Revenant

Even looking like this, well, you know, half the ladies in the audience
(as if there were that many ladies in the audience) wouldn't leave him
for dead in a shallow grave, if you know what I mean

dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu

2015

Again, I realise this flick has been out for oh so long, and various awards have been awarded and such, but I enjoyed the flick so much that I felt compelled to write about it.

Regardless of the absurd level of hype, and this was ridiculously overhyped, which is very strange considering what the flick was like and is actually about, this turned out to be a very enjoyable film for me that succeeds despite Leonardo DiCaprio, rather than because of him.

The movie around him, the amazing cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, the relentlessness of the very landscape around them, they all combine to deliver an awe-inspiring vision of frontier times. The story didn’t really resonate with me all that much, but I guess the performances, especially of Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleason and Will Poulter, were solid.

But the real main character? Nature, baby. C’mon, sparkle for me. Work it, sub-zero tundra!

This is set in the early 1800s, and it’s meant to be North Dakota in the States. The thing is, though, I don’t even have to look it up on imdb.com or Wikipedia to know that they must have filmed this in Canada. There is not a shred, a scintilla, a skerrick of a doubt in my mind that it was Canada. Whenever they want to film something that looks this amazing, and which tries to convince the viewer that humans who travel to these regions voluntarily are idiots, they film in these bits of Alberta.

Rating:

Deadpool

Deadpool

I wonder what they're implying about Americans and their guns with this poster?

dir: Tim Miller

2016

This was plenty enjoyable. Far more enjoyable than I would have predicted.

It’s funny, it moves at a brisk pace, it satirises itself and mockingly bites the hand that feeds, and it succeeds where it has absolutely no right to.

Yes, I enjoyed this movie.

Ryan Reynolds had no real right, imaginary or otherwise, to ever expect to succeed at his endeavour to get his own superhero franchise going. It’s just not appropriate.

First of all, he’s Canadian. Haven’t the Canadians taken enough from the rest of us? He married Scarlett Johhanson. Scarlett Johhanson. Then got bored of her and moved on. He already played Deadpool in the truly awful Wolverine: Origins or whatever the fuck it was called.

And he also played Hal Jordan / Green Lantern in the astoundingly bad movie of the same name. Did I mention that it was utterly terrible, too? Like, unwatchably, eye-gougingly terrible? Like being forced to eat a shit sandwich, while being punched in the face by someone clutching a shit sandwich?

Maybe that’s going too far. Maybe it’s not far enough.

Do you blame the man for all those failures? Seems awfully coincidental otherwise. Did he just happen to be passing by when these terrible, horrible no good movies were being made? “It wasn’t me, the movie was like that when I got here”

Rating:

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman Versus Superman

Just kiss and get it over with, for crying out loud

dir: Zack Snyder

2016

It’s… it’s not good.

That’s not to say it’s completely terrible, but, it’s not a good movie.

I could go so far as to say that it’s a bad movie with some good bits in it.

I had hoped that the scathing reviews were just a bit of superhero movie burnout, or the punishment of high expectations, but it turns out that everything one could fear about a flick directed by Snyder with a script that David S. Goyer had a hand in easily came to pass.

The list of stuff the flick gets “wrong” about Batman and Superman is far longer than what it gets right. I put wrong in quotes because I’m not going to pretend like my opinion is definitive or expert or anything. No one likes listening to a Comic Book Guy spouting nonsense like they themselves invented Batman back in the late 1930s.

I do have an opinion, though, and it’s as valid as any other persons, with the possible exception of Professor Stephen Hawking or Sir David Attenborough, or Ginger Spice, because my opinion is pure shit compared to what those titans of thought could come up with.

Rating:

The Hateful Eight

Hateful Eight

A weekend trip to the snow turns into a nightmare for a bunch of racists
and a black man who likes killing racist white people in Quentin Tarantino's
8th film, The Hateful Eight! Be sure to take your racist Trump-voting grandmother
along to enjoy it too

dir: Quentin Tarantino

2015

I haven’t always loved his movies, but I’d be lying if I implied that I was anything less than excited whenever a new one of his movies comes out. Genuinely excited.

Remember what that was like: looking forward to a Tarantino movie? For some people that anticipation stopped just after Pulp Fiction, but me, well, I’ve liked most of the stuff he’s ever done. I know it sounds uncritical and fanboyish, but I generally do enjoy watching his movies. His movies about movies are just so movie-ish that a lot of the time I can’t help but love them as I’m watching them.

It doesn’t always pay off. It rarely pays off to have high expectations in life, I’m increasingly finding, especially when it comes to the films of Quentin Horatio Tarantino.

I generally feel sadness when I hear of people passing away. It’s a normal human thing. Even with people I don’t know. I was saddened to hear when Sally Menke died back in 2010.

Who’s Sally Menke, you may rightfully ask? She used to be the editor who painstakingly worked with Tarantino on his movies, up until Inglourious Basterds. That’s one of the reasons why the enjoyment in watching his flicks has ticked down somewhat for me since then.

Rating:

The Lights

The Lights

So, when was the last time you ever heard someone saying that
going into the lights would be a good idea? Everyone knows by
now not to go into the lights. And yet...

dir: Christopher Krupka

2015

It’s amazing what you can do with no budget, a bunch of people, a couple of cheap cameras and some terrifying sound design.

The Lights is an Australian horror flick that is unpolished, messy and very clunky in some ways, and it’s definitely an exponent of the found footage horror genre, which are a sequence of words alone that could make people flee to the hills, but in some quite powerful ways it succeeds in what it sets out to do.

There’s no doubt that it could have benefited from some more money, maybe a little more time on the script. But there is no doubting that even if The Lights uses a bunch of familiar elements in familiar ways, it still manages to do exactly what it sets out to do: unsettle, confuse and terrify.

A lot of horror flicks use the found footage conceit, yet the way it’s used in The Lights is somewhat confusing. Someone, someone who we hear ask questions of some of the participants / survivors, is filming whatever’s going on (with a few scenes of other footage thrown in from phones and other cameras as well) giving it the feel of a ramshackle documentary spliced with found footage. But whoever the unseen person filming is, despite the fact that we know it’s not one of the main four characters, there’s no real explanation as to who they are and why they’re filming.

Rating:

Anomalisa

Anomalisa

Is there a word for a type of mental condition where you see movies and think
that every character in them is played by a puppet and that they all have
the same voice?

dir: Charlie Kaufman

2015

Anomalisa is a pretty depressing film, at least I found it depressing. It’s possible that I found it depressing because it seems to be about depression, or at least the main character seems to be suffering from it.

It’s also… an odd film to describe, and it sounds far more amusing to describe than it ends up being. Being from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, he who came up with the screenplays for such out there and phenomenal stuff as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you are right to expect that there’s some strange artistry going on. And there is.

To say that the story is entirely told with puppets again makes this sound comical, but in reality this is stop motion animation with some very expressive and articulated puppets. It’s also in the service of a story mostly set in or around a drab hotel room.

Rating:

Suffragette

Suffragette

How could they not succeed in their efforts when they have access to
such resolute, steadfast facial expressions?

dir: Sarah Gavron

2015

There is a problem inherent in this movie, at least from my perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan both of women voting and of the people who fought for and earned the right (that should have been theirs from the start) to vote in Britain’s stupid, stupid elections.

Wait, why ‘stupid’? Well, tell me what point there is to enfranchising more than half the population of the United Kingdom when the House of Lords, the most transparently undemocratic institution since Robert Mugabe came to power as the ‘democratically’ elected dictator of Zimbabwe that’s only been around and certainly unreformed since, oh, about 1350, still bloody well exists.

It’s like Russian women having the right to vote: you have a dictator for life in the form of Vladimir Putin – who cares if you have the right to vote?

Well, whether it actually means anything, or whether it’s a smokescreen established to hide the fact that we vote for one of two sock puppets operated by the same person (you may have heard of that person, they’re known as The Man), the fact is that at the dawn of the previous century, the sisters in Britain had decided that they no longer wanted to politely ask to be allowed to vote.

Out the window went the cucumber sandwiches and the parasols, and in came blowing shit up, smashing windows, being tortured by the cops and doing what militant actions they could intended to force the government to capitulate.

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Sicario

Sicario

She looks like she could shoot you unless you give her a cookie.
For your own safety, just give her a cookie

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2015

Well that was… harrowing.

If you haven’t already seen it, and don’t know what it means, the word ‘sicario’ basically means ‘assassin’, as in, someone who kills people for money.

I can’t claim any particular knowledge of Spanish that let me know this previously, but I did already know the term, mostly because of a weird Colombian film by Barbet Schroeder from ages ago called Our Lady of Assassins, or, as I knew it when I saw it, La Virgen de los Sicarios.

Why do I recall something like this from 15 years ago? Well, I had the movie poster on my wall. Back then when paper still existed, you’d pick up all the free posters from places like Cinema Nova that you could because they provided cheap and slickly well produced camouflage, perfect for hiding the damaged walls in rental properties from nosy property managers.

It’s something I’ve never forgotten, not because it was a good film, but because how could I forget such a concept? Teenage assassins wearing protective amulets of the Virgin Mary, praying to her to help them in their assassinations? It’s beyond absurd, it’s child-like and monstrous at the same time. Imagine the cognitive dissonance caused by trying to reconcile the concept that Jesus’s mother wants you to shoot some guy in the face, and will protect you until you do so.

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The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens

To be a badass, one must first look the part of the badass.
And have a cool lightsaber.

dir: J.J. Abrams

2015

It’s with a sense of relief more than anything else that audiences have found themselves celebrating what’s happened. The relief comes from knowing that George Lucas isn’t involved anymore. It also comes from wondering what would happen once Disney got its grubby mitts on the biggest franchise in the cinematic / merchandising universe.

As a nerd of longstanding membership of the global dateless wonders club, yes, I did really enjoy this flick. Sure it’s got a stack of issues, but at no stage are you enduring the flick (like at many, many parts of the prequel movies) rather than enjoying it.

The most hackneyed and cliché remark that reviewers are going to make is the same one I’m going to make now: Lucas was and still maybe is a visionary capable of creating not just a ‘world’, or world-building, but of creating something on the scale of a galaxy. Galaxy-building is not a common thing, or an easy thing. And yes, by ‘creating’, I mean conceiving of and representing something on a truly grand scale. At no stage did anyone confuse this with him being a great storyteller or a great director of actors.

There Lucas sits in his great man-cave (the Skywalker Ranch), muttering to himself after being shown this: “If only they’d added more lightsabers. Something with fifteen lightsabers at the same time. More 50s diners and more drag racing. Also, awkward conversations about sand and feelings…”

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Pan

Pan

This was terrible in ways Huge Ackman has rarely ever been, which
makes it something of an achievement

dir: Joe Wright

2015

Did I want to like this? Did I go into this determined not to like it, like I had an agenda?

I’m not sure. I think I was predisposed towards liking it, because I have a nostalgic love of the original story, or at least earlier versions of Peter Pan (that don’t include Spielberg’s Hook, which I still loathe with every fibre of my being to this day, like all good-hearted people). The thought of a ‘prequel’ didn’t particularly excite me, because it just seems lazy to me, or like a boring stealth way of trying to ‘reboot’ Pan without having to do too much work.

I’ve liked a lot of Joe Wright’s movies thus far, I think he’s a pretty impressive director. Atonement, Hannah, even his sweaty Pride and Prejudice would have been solid had there not been a Keira Knightley at the centre of things. And his Anna Karenina would have been a decent experiment (had there not been a Keira Knightley at the centre of things). Okay, well I loved at least two of his films outright, and tolerated the others. That’s better than most of the other directors you can think of.

Alas, now he’s made a flick I downright disliked. My problem is not the direction per se, since it’s probably as well directed as crap of this kind could be. I just feel like the script itself is a misbegotten and awful thing that should never have seen the light of day.

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The Martian

The Martian

One man against an entire planet, and the planet loses

dir: Ridley Scott

2015

You’d have to really, really like Matt Damon to want to spend about 2 ½ hours with him, just watching him do chores and talking to himself.

I mean, I like him well enough, but even for me it requires a level of commitment I’m not sure I possessed.

And then there’s the Ridley Scott factor. The last occasion where I spent time with him as he ‘transported’ me to another planet , I’d shelled out a small fortune to watch Prometheus in an absurdly gilded theatre in 3D (the ones where they serve you food and or drinks during the film if you so desire, and the seats are individual recliners). Let’s just say that my determination to watch Prometheus at all costs in a cinema did not lead to an outcome where I thought the money it cost was well spent.

No, in fact had I spent the same amount of money on a bunch of crack and handed it to the first person I saw outside the theatre, it would have led to the same profound feeling of foolishness and disappointment.

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Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

This is the part of the caption where I say something
pithy that mocks the poster or the actors on the poster

dir: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

2015

Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

If this never got the attention it required, if not that many people saw it who otherwise would have been the prime audience for it, then it’s a shame, but it all comes down to timing.

If the flick had been released before Fault in Our Stars, not a soul would have thought it was trying to cash in on some perceived teens-dying-of-cancer upsurge in audience interest. Released this year? Then it just looks like it’s jumping on a sickly bandwagon and riding some dubious coattails.

It’s a real shame, because the movies are nothing alike, and are both based on completely different books, and were being developed completely independently of each other.

I enjoyed Fault in Our Stars well enough, despite seeing how mawkishly sentimental it was, and how godawfully manipulative. It had good core performances (by Shaleen Woodley and the actors playing her parents at least), and a decent script especially as it related to the arsehole author Hazel worshipped and then loathed (played by Willem Dafoe). Nice soundtrack, too. It was always aimed at and intended for a non-discriminating mass audience, which it got in spades.

Although maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe putting “Dying Girl” in your film’s title isn’t going to have patrons kicking down the theatre’s doors to get in and see it

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Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak

I'm sure everything will be fine, she seems perfectly sane

dir: Guillermo del Toro

2015

Ghosts are just a metaphor…

It’s said so many times in the movie, that you know that the ghosts are actually meant to be ghosts, as well as metaphors for metaphors. When the characters within a ghost story question the parameters and plot points of ghost stories, I think we’re officially in the realms of the “meta” without ever having intended to take a trip there.

Crimson Peak is kinda sorta a ghost story. If you took the ghosts out completely, it would not affect or change the outcome, or even the path along the way, at all. The ghosts are queasy and nightmarish in some instances, but I would humbly suggest that they don’t really do much that couldn’t be easily done otherwise from a story point of view.

In fact, just to keep belabouring the point, I would argue that the screenplay already has the plot elements being discovered by the various relevant characters just fine, and then unnecessarily has those revelations underlined sloppily with these spectral redundancies.

Plus, it makes little sense. They’re maybe trying to help Edith with advice and warnings and such, but all they’re doing is scaring the shit out of her so that she makes dumb decisions that would seem to make it harder for her to achieve their goals.

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