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Friday, January 01, 2016

2015 in review: Films I watched on TV or DVD

I've decided to list all the films I watched for the first time in 2015. I've already listed the 19 I saw in the cinema in another post because otherwise this would be crazily long. As previous, I've listed these films in the order I saw them rather than in order of quality. As I saw them on TV or DVD, some of them are a few years old, although some were released this year.

Freebirds
A fairly poor animation about a group of turkeys who travel back in time to try and stop the tradition of eating turkey at Thanksgiving (and the resultant slaughter of turkeys in the present day). It had its moments, but none of them memorable enough for me to recall for this review. The notion that turkeys suffer because humans want to eat them isn't really explored in any depth, but this film could provide a useful discussion starter with kids about animal welfare and vegetarianism, if you wanted something like that. But then Chicken Run probably does it better.

Identity Thief
Melissa McCarthy steals Jason Bateman's identity and he has to track her down to clear his credit rating. McCarthy is an acquired taste, but I quite like her. Jason Bateman raises the film slightly and it's nice to see him playing the wronged victim for a change.

The Smurfs 2
Sequel to The Smurfs from a couple of years ago, For me, the new characters didn't really work that well, but Hank Azaria as Gargamel puts in another scenery-chewing performance that ensure the film is better than many animated sequels. It's not as good as the first one, which I really enjoyed.

Hoodwinked Too
I didn't think I'd ever see this sequel to Hoodwinked, as it got pulled from cinemas before release for some reason. However, a fellow animation fan had it on imported DVD and loaned it to us. It was very funny, like the original, although not all the characters returned, sadly. It also suffered from the trope of 'baddie was just misunderstood and decides to help the good guys after a short heart to heart conversation', which even in a cartoon isn't really that believable. But easily deconverted villain aside, it was generally well-scripted and quite fun.

10 Years: The Reunion
A cheapie DVD we bought because it had Chris Pratt in it. (After Guardians of the Galaxy and Parks and Recreation, we got slightly obsessed with him.) So, about this film... It's basically the most photogenic bunch of friends who ever went to high school in America reunite for their reunion. Nothing much happens in the course of the film and there are no big questions here. Chris Pratt plays an obnoxious, high-spirited individual and gives some comedy value to the proceedings, but generally this is a forgettable film.

Delivery Man
I quite like Vince Vaughn and he lends a certain air of quality to this fairly average story that illustrates the 'great concept / poor story' conundrum that many films fall into. Vince plays a man who discovers his deposits in a sperm bank have been used to father over 500 children, many of whom are now joining together to find out who their biological father is. Unwisely, he starts to interact with them and it all gets a bit messy. Chris Pratt is his best friend and legal counsel and manages to steal the scenes he is in. Worth a watch, but not one for repeated viewings.

The Nut Job
Animated adventure featuring squirrels trying to steal enough nuts for winter after an accident wipes out their food supply. Covering similar ground to A Bug's Life and Over the Hedge and with a fairly obvious story, this was enjoyable, but not great.

The Five Year Engagement
Jason Segal proposes to Emily Blunt but then life gets in the way and the engagement drags on. It's a sort of anti-romantic comedy up until the happy ending. The stand out moment is Chris Pratt (again) doing a rendition of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start the Fire' listing all Jason Segal's former girlfriends at the meal celebrating his engagement. Cringe-inducing but hilarious. Rhys Ifans is also great as a seedy professor with eyes on Emily Blunt.

Crazy, Stupid Love
Steve Carrell is known for slapstick comedy, but it's his darker turns where he really shines. However, he kind of stumbles through this slightly sad film. When his character's marriage breaks down, he comes under the tutelage of ladies man Ryan Gosling who turns him into a hit with the ladies that doesn't help with the hurt and loss he is feeling. There's a twist at the end I didn't see coming and also a highly inappropriate plot-line involving someone taking nude photos of themselves. Despite an almost happy resolution, the film left me feeling a bit gloomy.

Mr Peabody and Sherman 
A big-budget flop and it's not hard to see why. The script cuts so many corners I imagine it was printed on circular paper. There's a villain who is a villain for no other reason than the plot needs a villain. Characters switch allegiances way too easily. The jokes don't work. It feels criminal to waste the talents of Ty Burrell (Phil from Modern Family) in this, but this is the second poor film I've seen him in after the Muppets sequel. Maybe he doesn't have what it takes to make the leap to the big screen.

Quantum of Solace
I watched this on TV to fill in the gap before going to see Spectre. It was alright. Not really sure it added much to the Bond mythos at all. The trope for the Daniel Craig era Bond films tends to be the women he sleeps with end up dead. It happens in this one too as Gemma Arterton gets drowned in oil. Bond doesn't seem to care. The next conquest will be along in a minute. It also suffered from the villain's base having 'Death Star syndrome' as the whole building blows up with the minimum of effort.

Cinderella
Disney's live action version of their cartoon. I really liked this, mainly for the theme of 'Have courage and be kind' - what a great motto! - and for Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. I don't like watching cruelty on-screen so actually found wicked stepmother Cate Blanchett quite hard to watch. They also made Prince Charming into an actual person with his own moral dilemmas. So, all told, well worth seeing.

Elf: Buddy's Musical Adventure
This is an animation using songs from the stage show and the plot-line of the film, Elf. Confused? Well, it's enjoyable nonetheless. The animation is pretty good. The songs are pretty funny. A good film for repeat Christmas-time viewings.

Home
This animation didn't do that well at the box office but I really liked it. The main character, an alien called Oh who is voiced by Jim Parsons (Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory), is a bit annoying, but bearable. The plot isn't totally unique but has enough charm to get past that. The bad guys have a reason for being bad guys, which gives the film an unexpected turn, and overall, this is different and funny enough to justify watching it more than once.

The Muppets: Letters to Santa
Before the Disney-backed revival the Muppets released occasional straight to DVD films. This one is from 2008. It's not terrible, but it's not brilliant either. The film title tells you what you need to know. There's a fun musical number in a post office. Uma Thurman and Nathan Lane appear in cameos. The late Richard Griffiths plays Santa. There's a heart-warming moral, as you'd expect.

Maleficent
Disney's live action retelling of Sleeping Beauty that explores the story of the villain, Maleficent. Some grown up themes of greed and betrayal, loss and vengeance, and a pre-Frozen exploration of the idea that a 'true love's kiss' might not be from a handsome prince. Overall I was impressed with the film. Angelina Jolie is other-worldly as fearsome faerie queen Maleficent, and Sharlto Copley plays the King, and father of Sleeping Beauty, with the right mix of wickedness and tragic doom.

Into the Woods
Disney does Stephen Sondheim in a musical mash-up of various fairy tales. It's very dark. We watched this on New Year's Eve and finished it just past midnight, but I'm counting it in the 2015 list. James Corden is a better actor than you might think and carries this. Emily Blunt is also very good. Johnny Depp steals his scene as the Wolf who encounters Little Red Riding Hood - "There's a difference between nice and good." I also like the Prince's line: "I was raised to be charming. Not sincere."

So, that's 17 films on TV or DVD, making for a grand total of 36 films I've seen for the first time this year. That's 3 a month. Not too shabby.

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