Retro-Active Fun-Time Review-Cram Extravaganza!

For those of you following me on Facebook, I’ve been randomly posting short reviews here and there for films and music and books and such over the years. It’s also where the updates to this page go when I fire them off into the internet stratosphere, so it’s far easier to have that page followed than it is to continually check in here for new posts, otherwise I’ll aim to do a collection like this a few times a year here. For the most part I try to skirt around spoilers, unless otherwise noted.
Meanwhile, here’s a copy/paste recap of the last lot back to December last year.

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

Well, the second Comic Hero(es) v Comic-Hero(es) blockbuster of the year has landed and ain’t it refreshing to have some colour and personality and character-grounded emotional stakes rather than mute-palletted dour-faced punch-festy boredom? That’s a trick question, it absolutely is.
CA:CW gets everything right that ORPHAN FIGHT: THE MOVIE got so wrong. Firstly, the main objective of every character in this has been keeping civilians safe, and the consequences and moral choices required to maintain this ideal (which frequently fails) are something that are knitted throughout the Marvel universe’s films and TV shows and have finally come to a head in equal parts a follow up to AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. The tango of liberty vs security embodied across the roster here is very well executed, characters old and new feel like they have a personal stake in all of the proceedings and all of them come across clearly regarding their stance on the matter which is no easy feat considering there’s freaking TEN points of view being factored in. Anything more on the plot is spoilers, really, but rest assured that if you thought the trailer had given away too much you are totally, utterly wrong.
By setting the dichotomies as black and white and demonstrating the flaws of each application on a human level, we’re still left in a moral grey area by the end.
Which, as I stated, is way more watchable than gruffly slamming each other through CGI buildings and then randomly becoming buddies when a monster shows up out of nowhere (*cough*BvS*cough*).
OBSERVATIONS:
– Vision in a sweater is possibly the best understated visual gag in a comic book movie ever
– Black Panther will be generating a hell of a lot of hype after this, and would be THE scene stealer if not for…
– Spider-Man being every bit as pitch-perfect as everyone says. Seriously, he’s the best version of the character ever.
– Great comedy moments, especially for Ant-Man and Spidey. And some pretty dark turns for both Iron Man and Captain America.
– Despite the huge cast, the Russo Brothers still managed to keep this central to Cap’s story. Where they take the cinematic universe from here is pretty intriguing.
– It really is a treat being a geek and having one of these films come out on your birthday every year smile emoticon

 

THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

I’m aware that within the next two years there will be at least another two versions of this film coming out from various studios, including Andy Serkis’ directorial debut – Kipling’s novels (imperialist racism aside) are in the public domain now, and as such everyone’s decided to have a swing at it.
I feel bad for those coming out further down the line because this one has pretty much nailed it as a modernised live-action adaptation of Disney’s own animated treasure from 1967. There’s a warmth to it that doesn’t undercut the jungle’s menace or danger, the lip-syncing is for the most part understated and works astoundingly well with photo-realistic CGI work on the animals. I don’t know if they used any animal wrangling at all on this, but someone needs commendation because every creature moves and feels like a tangible presence.
And the voice cast? Bill Murray IS Baloo the Bear. You can’t follow that up. It’s done. I’m calling it. Likewise Idris Elba as a far more violent, monstrous Shere Khan than earlier incarnations, Ben Kingsley’s proper, dignified Bagheera is great and Christopher-Freakin’-Walken is a far bigger, scarier King Louie than I was expecting. The rest of the voice cast just completely knocks it out as well, but the headliners are just SO stacked and use the materials SO well.
Gives “remakes” a good name.
Not perfect, but well recommended.

 

ZOOLANDER 2 (2016)

Nope.

 

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)

Hot damn, what an antidote to the glum overproduction of a certain recent superpowered grimace-and-grumble-fest. This is a not-sequel to the Abrams produced CLOVERFIELD – existing within some amorphous shared universe but otherwise holding very little in common with it. Does this mean we can expect more genre films from Bad Robot that work as tight little thrillers like this? I damn sure hope so.
This is a career-best turn from John Goodman, and the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Mary Elizabeth Winstead is fantastic to watch.
Notice that I’m avoiding talking about the plot? That’s because it’s really worth going into this as blind as you can and letting the twists and turns play out.
Seriously though, it’s really really good. Highly recommended.

 

ORPHAN FIGHT: THE MOVIE (2016)

“My parents are dead!”
“MY parents are dead!!”
“RRRRAAAAAAARRRRRRR!!”
“Wait, your mum’s name is Martha too?”
“What the shit is that monster thing?”
“FRIENDS 4EVA!!!!!1!”

Could have been at least an hour shorter and much better for all the cutting. Someone will probably get fired over this. Probably the editor because they were definitely asleep on the job.
I recommend getting drunk and heckling, it’s pretty fun.
It’s not QUITE as horrible as some of the reviews might lead you to believe but it’s also really not very good.
Still, looks like we’ll be getting the inevitable ORPHAN FIGHT 2: MOAR FRANDS AND JUSTICE BROODING AND SERIOUSNESS AND STUFF. My liver is cringing.
OBSERVATIONS:
1. Kill the dream sequences. All of them. With fire.
2. Chop Lex Luther to the bare essentials. BARE.
3. Stop repeating scenes and motifs. The audience is following. This is not a complex movie. You don’t have to ram everything down their throats.
4. All the Justice League stuff should have been a 30sec post-credit sequence.
5. Seriously, wake your editor up. Cut 30% of this movie out and rearrange the pieces. You need 100min. MAX.
6. Bloody hell, DC. Lighten the eff up.
7. Affleck’s Batman is actually alright. Sad Affleck is hilarious. I heard Simon & Garfunkel over almost every single long brooding shot and it was REALLY amusing.
8. Wonder Woman was one of the better elements among a pile of mishandled mess. With the exception of a few super-fetishising shots of her. Bad move, Snyder.

 

KRAMPUS (2015)

There was likely some confusion last year, considering that there were about three or four different Krampus-themed Xmas movies released for the season at once with qualities ranging from laughable straight-to-DVD to… well, this.
Economic use of CG and some freaking awesome practical monster design on show, the Michael Dougherty KRAMPUS movie sits in that sweet spot of horror-comedy made famous by AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and GREMLINS. Adam Scott, Toni Collette and David Koechner head a solid cast of a slice-of-America family, but the real stars here are the sound design, creepily imposing weather, seriously impressive creature effects and humour. I also dug the fact that the Germanic grandmother isn’t subtitled and we rely on the family to translate or are left in the dark. If you don’t know anything of the Krampus myth by now, feel free to go in blind and be surprised.
I’m amazed this didn’t get more press, it’s really bloody excellent. A new anti-Xmas classic. Highly recommended.

 

THE VVITCH (2016)

Why don’t they make horror like this anymore? Rather than modernising mythology and transposing the occult into modern times, why not drop a Christian family ostracised from their community at the edge of the wilderness and slowly bleed in the pagan supernatural using natural symbology and a distinct lack of CG trickery? It’s unnerving and creepy as all hell. The cast is brilliant – props to them finding young and child actors that are genuinely engaging. It burns slowly and unravels the family by inches, and pulls no punches when it needs to. The imagery throughout is chilling and plays incredibly well as a period piece and obscures its direction in atmospheric dread in ways most modern horror directors would be envious of. From a first-timer too! To say much more would spoil its surprises. Recommended.

 

DEADPOOL (2016)

Well, Ryan Renolds did it. After years of battling to get one of Marvel’s crassest, most irreverent, fourth-wall-breaking, violent and vulgar characters onscreen, we got an R-rated version that has been a monumental success. Highest ever R-rated opening weekend, highest February opening, biggest opening for 20th Century Fox etc etc. Plenty of people have pointed out that studios will take all the wrong lessons from this – the fact that it succeeded BECAUSE it’s so different from much of the rest of the comic book slate is of course entirely lost on bean-counters. But is DEADPOOL any good??
Hellsyes! It’s dumb and crass and juvenile and funny and hilariously violent. It’s borderline Jim Carrey in THE MASK decapitating his way to vengeance while dropping pop-culture references and sexual innuendo. Not every joke lands, but they’re coming so thick and fast I laughed purely at the fact they were willing to go there half the time. And sure, it had to tread some origin story tropes, but it’s non-linear and if anything it’s set itself up for an even more perverted sequel. Which by all accounts should be hilarious.
Go see it. DO NOT take your kids.
UPDATE: I have watched this again several times now and it’s still hilarious.

 

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015)

So you take Vin Diesel’s DUNGEONS & DRAGONS character (the man has 20-sided dice tattoos!), drop him as an immortal in modern times and throw a Hollywood budget at it. Oh, and you hire Elijah Wood, Ygritte from GAME OF THRONES (Rose Leslie) and Michael Freakin’ Caine. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, yeah. BUT in the best conceivable way. This movie is going to have a cult following in no time because, unlike the generic big-budget-fantasy you’ve assumed this to be, it’s actually a fucking truckload of fun. I’m a big fan of Vin’s enthusiasm for sci-fi and fantasy schtick (anyone that both plays the charming tree-person Groot and can get Dame Judy Dench into D&D wields mucho nerd-cred), and this reminds me of the kind of fun I had with PITCH BLACK way back when. It’s not the most amazing thing ever created, sure, and it’s fairly niche, but it’s still un-amazing in all the right ways, oozing with style and personality. Recommended.

 

THE PEANUTS MOVIE (2015)

Yup. Released this year to almost no fanfare, Charlie Brown & Co exist in this weird cultural limbo between being a series your grandparents and parents were maybe fond of decades ago but still has enough stake in the cultural subconscious to justify an attempt to reboot it for a modern audience of young kids (read: nostaliga cashgrab). And y’know what? They nailed it. Probably not the cashgrab part, though, it. Sure, it’s a kids film without the surreal adult complexity of a Pixar project – no adults are actually shown and their voices are abstract trumpet blasts – but damned if it isn’t charming as all hell. The complete absence of pop-culture jokes or overly “zany” hijinks definitely helps. MINIONS this is not, and all the better for it. The animation sits in this strange zone of stylised CGI that’s almost rendered 3D while still looking like cardboard cutouts or hand-drawn pastel sketches, with character thoughts animated in the style of the original comics and extended fantasy sequences in Snoopy’s imagination doing some really pretty things with simple ideas. And I suppose that’s the best part: it never really tries to be anything other than an endearing story about a boy with bad luck trying to overcome his anxiety.

 

SPECTRE (2015)

>>>>SPOILERS<<<<
I was really hoping the franchise would have had the balls to actually kill Daniel Craig off at the end of this and finally admit that James Bond is a codename given to a revolving door of agents with similar psychological issues, but they instead opted to go the most disappointing route and make a big long mess with no solid through-story, underused/uninteresting Bond women and a weak retroactive insert of recognisable “Bond” elements into anotherwise flat and forced plot. Plays into fan service in the same way STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS tried to make you care by revealing the villain is actually some franchise legacy character that has had zero introduction before being dropped in as the “mastermind” behind not only all the evil schemes of the whole Craig-Bond run but also of Bond’s WHOLE LIFE. Stop trying to tie everything every characters’ past or family. Stop it. It was fine that he was the head of the organisation we’ve been hearing about since QUANTUM OF SOLACE. Hanging all this other stuff on a character half the audience won’t recognise the name of should be a warning that maybe you haven’t developed enough investment or stakes in their own right. It doesn’t work. Stop doing it.
Felt like they were so busy trying to make Craig’s last instalment the Bondiest Bond Movie it could be that they forgot to actually make it good.
YAY!: Visuals, as usual; impressive action; the opening Dia De Los Muertos festival (which feels very tacked-on) and one of the best credit sequences in the franchise; supporting cast is excellent but largely unimportant to anything because it all has to be about BOND.
BOO: the opening song is THE WORST; plot was already done better by CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER; franchise tie-ins were super-forced; Bond women do nothing of any real importance and seem much less capable of looking after themselves than some of the more recent, memorable ones; trying to make a prequel and a sequel at once without committing to either.

 

THE REVENANT (2015)

This is the movie Liam Neeson’s THE GREY wants to be, except far more brutally violent and bleak. Like, crazy violent and bleak. Oscar-buzz around Leo is fairly trivial compared to the absolutely jaw-dropping cinematography and visual design shot completely using only natural light, and which will almost certainly take out the award. Worth seeing big and loud. Definitely not a fun, breezy date movie.
I give it five grizzly bears.
UPDATE: Leo totally didn’t deserve to take out the Oscar for this film, Hardy was better.

 

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Alright, nerds. Cool your jets. It’s not perfect, but there was no way it was ever going to be, and my criticisms of some fairly ham-fisted-too-quick-establishment of characters/history etc melted away in the final 20min when it finally came into its own and delivered what we always wanted: fun fantasy adventures in space with likeable, interesting characters. It skews so far (far) away from what made the prequels feel wrong that it’s borderline desperate in its fan-service to the Original Trilogy – Disney knows this, but always manages to keep things just this side of eye-rolling pander. I’d have liked it to be just a smidge slower-paced so it could breathe more as a standalone film, but that’s not what this is. It’s Part One of Three – and it’s actually the new elements that make it work best.
This is “A New Hope” for this generation, and it telegraphs itself as a very good setup for a VERY good second instalment next year when this trilogy gets to really branch out into itself.
TL;DR – They did it! Star Wars is fun again. Star Wars is good again. Star Wars is back.

 

FARGO – Season Two (2015)

Season two of FARGO is basically the FARGO version of what you wanted season two of the good-but-not-great TRUE DETECTIVE to be. Nick Offerman, Ted Danson, Kieran Culkin, Kirsten Dunst and that creepy redhead guy from late-era BREAKING BAD. Get into it – it just finished and is not getting anywhere near the attention it deserves.

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