A year of films – the good, the bad & the unsubstantiated

Continuing my review of my annual goals, my last post looked at my ‘book a week’ challenge, this one will see how I fared with my ‘cinema visit a week’ challenge. Warning: Not ed tech related and may contain occasional swears.

First up, I rather early on decided it didn’t have to be an actual cinema visit. I watched films in a variety of ways: cinema, on an aeroplane, via on demand, etc. But it did have to be a film on current release. I watch a lot of films, so I probably saw three times this number of other movies. I just about managed it, with a couple of weeks where I was playing catch-up. I belong to a film group on Facebook, so would sometimes post reviews of films I’d seen there, which is where I’ve drawn the notes from this post from.

The Bad

I’ll start off with the stinkers, because actually these are more fun to write about.

  • My film year started in the worst possible way with The Hobbit: Is this still going on? This was probably the worst film I saw all year. My notes after seeing it read: Utter shit. Wonky CGI (those goats on the mountain look like Oliver Postgate’s Ivor the Engine), disastrous attempt at humour, Billy Connolly FFS, and just endless boring battles with no tension. Peter Jackson’s George Lucas moment
  • Jupiter Ascending: Imagine that ‘Dodgy Mike’ down the pub had a great idea for a film based on a ‘really great’ dream he had. Imagine a studio gave him the money to make that film. Jupiter Ascending is that film. Dodgy Mike’s script wasn’t as original as he thought, it ended up being a poor mishmash of clichés and half remembered comic strips. Dodgy Mike didn’t have an ear for dialogue it transpires, or any concept of good characterization. The resulting film was bad – predictably, laughably bad. It featured Chris Pine with a Bo Selecta chin and Eddie Raymond pretending to be Sting in Dune. The BAFTA committee asked for their award back.
    BTW – I saw this in 4DX. It means your seat shakes, your back is pummelled, water is squirted in your face and smoke billows around the screen. This does not make you feel ‘in’ the film but rather makes you stop watching the film as you fear being tipped from your seat. It adds nothing, apart from £10 to the ticket price, to the viewing experience. All the buttock rumbling in the seat made me want to poo.
  • Birdman: The character Greg Lindley Jones in Extras was simply described in the casting call as “smug c**t with a punchable face”. That’s pretty much how I felt about this film as a whole.
  • Monsters 2: OMFG, it’s a mess. Had the director even seen the first Monsters? It’s like making Apocalypse Now 2 as a Michael Bay film.
    So there are Monsters still but they’re in the Middle East now. This has caused insurgents to start shooting people (I didn’t quite get why) so US army is required to kill insurgents & monsters (I didn’t quite get why). All of the characters are despicable – I think we’re supposed to admire the realism, but you just want them all to die. So we have them going on patrols, getting ambushed by insurgents and occasionally a monster thrown in. My theory is they had a script for an Iraq/Afghanistan film and one for Monsters 2 and a studio exec went “somebody put these two together”. It’s genius – it’ll get the Hurt Locker AND the sci fi crowd in!
  • Pixels: Part of an occasional series in which I am forced to see movies I know are shit, and they do indeed, turn out to be shit. Adam Sandler is some form of anti-comedy matter, everything he touches turns to non-laughs. This is just awful, it is of course, completely formulaic but even beyond that it is like watching a team of expensive medics relentlessly try and beat life into a long dead corpse. It becomes embarrassing to watch. The base idea is actually quite interesting and in the right hands (think Joe Cornish or Edgar Wright) it might have been a fun, nerdy, playful film. But it’s not. Really, really not. By the end everyone looks increasingly desperate to get at least one laugh from this bloated, soulless, stinker.

The Good

But there were some gems out there too. Here are ten films I really liked and would recommend if you haven’t caught them. I think my tastes are for good blockbuster or quirky independent:

  • Mad Max – a pleasure to see something done so right, it makes you realize how badly portrayal of women is in 90% of blockbusters, and might be a game changer.
  • NightCrawler – This could have been just an ok thriller but is much more, Gyllenhaal’s creepy character elevating it to Travis Bickle type status.
  • It Follows – I like the slow pacing, the genuine sense of dread & the 80s Carpenteresque soundtrack.
  • Wild Tales – I’m not sure it really says anything deep about revenge, but each story is nicely complete, like a good book of short stories, so just one to enjoy
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – sustained shots, B&W, strong visual concept and quirky humour. It shows that with a limited budget you can create something very striking. And the cat steals the final scene
  • Kumiko Treasure Hunter – Beautifully shot and quirky, this explores loneliness, obsession and the role of film
  • Tale of Tales – This might be a masterpiece. It’s too long by some distance, but is really an excuse to put amazing imagery on screen.
  • Straight Outta Compton – This stood as a story on its own as a movie and also a good slice of cultural life (the FBI getting excited about Fuck tha police seems ridiculous now, but also never more relevant). Can’t think of a better band biopic.
  • Amy – Struck through with pathos as one knows the final outcome and all the missed opportunities to intervene, but also a sense of inevitability
  • Crimson Peak – This has many flaws, the plot is a bit silly, it lacks the brooding menace of say, The Haunting, but I loved it despite the problems that many others have highlighted. It lacks the suspense or horror it should have, but it comes down to this: do you like movies where the big double doors of a crumbling mansion are blown open, framing the heroine as snow blows in? I do.

The Unsubstantiated

Some trends I made up based on very little evidence are the following:

  • Decent music films – there have been a few music biopics that have bombed recently (eg. Get On Up, Jersey Boys), but there were a few very good ones this year that steered away from being either overly pretentious (I can’t tell you how much I hated I’m Not There) or just straightforward, life story. So with Amy, Straight Outta Compton and Love and Mercy we had films that showed ways you can approach the subject in a way that appeals to not only fans, but stand as a good movie in their own right.
  • Indie-westerns – slow-paced, beautifully shot, well acted, elegiac westerns seem to come out and disappear without much notice. But I think actors, directors and cinematographers like making them. I can watch them all day long, and this year we had Slow West, Salvation and Bone Tomahawk.
  • Portmanteau revival – I LOVE a portmanteau film. I have bored many friends (okay, two, but that is half my full complement) with how great I think The Dead of Night is. This year we had two excellent portmanteau movies, both with Tale in the title: Tale of Tales and Wild Tales. I hope it sparks a portmanteau revival.
  • The best action heroes are women – with the likes of Chastain, Blunt, Theron and Lawrence at the top of their game, it seems that if you want an intelligent thriller, ignore the blokes (male action films tended to be all in the crash, bang, mode). I hope this is part of a longer term shift and not a Hollywood fashion thing (women are ‘in’ this year, next year, they’re ‘out’).

In the end this year ended up like every other year – quite decent. Every year I hear people bemoan the lack of good quality films, but then you look through and there’s always a clutch of excellent films, and maybe even some great ones. Here is the list of all 50 (at the time of blogging) films I saw, with a meaningless score out of 10 for each:

The Hobbit – 2
The Imitation Game – 6
Nightcrawler – 9
Ex Machina – 7.5
Inherent Vice – 6
Jupiter Ascending – 4
Birdman – 4
Enemy – 7
Pride – 7
Paddington – 6
Monsters 2 – 3
Starred Up – 6
Insurgent – 5
It Follows – 7.5
Exodus – 4.5
A Most Violent Year – 7
Montage of Heck – 5
Wild Tales – 8.5
Avengers: Age of Ultron – 3
Big Game – 4.5
Mad Max – 9
‘71 – 7
Lost River – 7
Jurassic World – 6
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – 8
Mr Holmes – 6.5
Terminator Genisys – 6
Slow West – 7.5
Salvation – 7
Inside Out – 7.5
Kumiko treasure hunter – 8
Pixels – 2
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – 5
Tale of Tales – 8.5
TomorrowLand – 5
Legend – 6
Straight Outta Compton – 7.5
Everest – 5.5
Cop Car – 5.5
Me and Earl and the Dying girl – 5
Amy – 7.5
The Martian – 7.5
World of Kanako – 7
Bone Tomahawk – 7
Love and Mercy – 6
The End of the Tour – 6
Mockinjay – 5.5
Spectre – 5
Crimson Peak – 7.5
Krampus – 7

4 Comments

  1. “All the buttock rumbling in the seat made me want to poo.” This makes me tremble with fear as my first 4D experience happens next week with Star Wars.

    I don’t see near enough films as I would like these days, but of the new releases I did see, Tomorrowland was my big disappointment. I am a big Brad Bird fan, and so had high expectations for the film.

    1. admin says:

      Yeah, Tomorrowland didn’t do it for me either, it kind fo just went along and I didn’t really care. I admire them for trying to do something different though.

  2. CogDog says:

    I’m in awe of this on top of the reading challenge. Thanks for the three Indie Westerns; I did see Bone Tomahawk as a subversion of the expectations of a Western, adding the others to my shopping list for a western ds106.

    1. admin says:

      Salvation is like a mish mash of every western script but looks good and has the excellent Mads Mikkelson in the lead. Slow West is also quite familiar scrip wise, but looks even better.

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