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2015

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:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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…”

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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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