Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in review: Films I saw at the cinema

I've decided to list all the films I watched for the first time in 2015. I've split them into cinema releases and movies I watched on TV or DVD, some of which are a bit older - those follow in another post because otherwise this would be crazily long. FYI, I've listed these films in the order I saw them rather than in order of quality.

Kingsman ~ The Secret Service
Comedic take on spy films based on a comic book. Despite the ludicrously over the top violence, I enjoyed this apart from the controversial brief sexual content right at the end. Although the big names in it were Colin Firth, Samuel L Jackson and Michael Caine, it also offered a rare cinematic outing for Mark Hamill, who didn't have much to do except look surprised.

Big Hero Six
Disney animation based on a comic book. A genius kid inherits his brother's robot nurse (naturally, being a Disney film, family members die) and turns it into a super-hero. It was a good film, but the supporting hero team weren't necessary and the villain's actions didn't really make any sense. So it turned into one of those films with some good central characters and not much of a plot.

Moving drama about the events in Selma, Alabama, during the height of the Civil Rights movement. It really made me aware of how the racism of powerful institutions worked to keep black people subjugated, and the sheer strength of character shown by Dr Martin Luther King and other leaders. I blogged about it here.

South African-set science fiction action drama about a robot programmed to become self-aware. I quite liked this because it seemed quite realistic in portraying how a machine would feel when it came alive - shocked and awkward.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Latest chapter in the Avengers franchise. Didn't really do much for me. Also about machine intelligence, but fell too easily into tropes. Why would a robot decide to create multiple copies of itself when theoretically it could just take over any machine going? Also it passed over spending time with characters in favour of MORE EXPLOSIONS!

Disney live action science fiction story starring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie. It had a surprising theme of hope in the future despite the way the world has been exploited and ruined to the point where it's on the brink of destruction.

Jurassic World
Basically, this is Jurassic Park, except the park and the dinosaurs are bigger. It had a more callous approach to human victims than the original, especially one character, an Executive Assistant, who was marked for death early on because she had a British accent. Chris Pratt starred, continuing his A-list trajectory that started with Guardians of the Galaxy last year.

Melissa McCarthy divides opinion. But this film was funnier than the trailers would have you believe. Also featured Alison Janney (yay) and Miranda Hart ( no, seriously) along with Jude Law as a slimy James Bond-spoofing chick magnet spy. But Jason Statham stole the show for sending up so many of his own films.

Moomins on the Riviera
A slow animated adventure based on an early Moomins story. If you like Moomins then it's one for you. It's European origins are very obvious.

The Despicable Me prequel. Being fair, it had some great set pieces. The first 20 minutes or so were fab. But the point about the Minions is they are knockabout background characters and asking them to carry a movie is a bit much. Although the showing we went to see did have the added bonus of a chap showing up in an adult Minion onesie, much to the embarrassment of his friends.

Terminator Genisys
I really enjoyed this. It took the Terminator mythos and turned it on its head. Arnie was back, which was the big seller, and they incorporated his real-world ageing well into the film. He was also deadpan funny. In many ways every Terminator movie is about the same thing - avoiding the fate that seems unavoidable, and this wasn't too different, but the plot was suitably complex to keep me interested. Matt Smith, former Doctor Who, has a small but important part as well.

I knew very little about this going  in, except that it was Marvel Comics and the trailer looked good. It was very enjoyable, different enough from the main story arc to not feel like a retread of the same old ground (unlike Age of Ultron). In fact, the bit that jarred was the unnecessary attempt to tie in the wider Marvel franchise with an appearance by The Falcon. Although that did lead to a fun on-screen fight. Paul Rudd made a likeable leading man. Michael Douglas is always good value. And the final showdown involves a model train set. Could you ask for anything more?

Inside Out 
The summer's big Pixar movie, starring the emotions inside a little girl's head. As usual for Pixar, this is a top concept and very cleverly done. The basic story is the 'main characters are exiled and need to get back to their home' that worked very well in Toy Story, but didn't work so well here. It does have what I would contend is the cleverest joke to appear in any Pixar movie as a throwaway gag that I think most people missed. My main complaint, however, is the way Pixar allowed their main characters to shill for Sky and Subway, with them appearing in adverts before the film came on screen, That spoiled it for me. There was also an ad for the toys that gave away a key plot point. It would have been a better movie without these commercial spoilers.

Song of the Sea
This is my movie of the year. It's a beautifully drawn animation based on an old Irish legend about a little girl who is a selkie and the last hope of the faerie folk trapped in the human world. The artistry of the animation is gorgeous. The story deals with love and loss and I'm not ashamed to say I was blinking away tears at the end. Thoroughly recommended.

Before seeing this movie I hadn't fully grasped what it meant to be denied the vote and various rights on the basis of what genitals you were born with. I thought the subject matter was well-handled. It didn't glorify acts of terror, but it did made me think about how the boundaries blur. I recognise the sacrifices of the suffragettes, but setting off bombs and destroying property aren't really actions to endorse. Or are they? I've written more about it here.

James Bond does what he does best - following his own orders, killing people mercilessly and exploiting vulnerable women for sex. I've written about glorifying a sexual predator here. On the other hand there was a lovely shot of a train in the North African desert, which if you like trains is worth watching the film for.

The Good Dinosaur
Pixar's first flop? Certainly the first Pixar film that I thought borrowed too heavily on other films. A bit of A Bug's Life as Arlo the dinosaur doesn't fit in and makes a mess of things, a bit of the Lion King (why do parents always die in Disney films?). The similarities to non-Disney franchises like Ice Age were also surprising. This film took ages to get to screen apparently and had been in production almost a decade. And yet, while beautifully animated even by Pixar's high, high standards, it was still let down by the story.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (seen x3)
Also known as Episode VII. This was great. Long review WITH SPOILERS here. My Mum loved it as well. In her words "So good to get away from the awful prequels."

Charlie Brown and Snoopy: The Peanuts Movie
I have to admit I found this a bit slow. It is a very loving tribute to the original TV cartoons but there isn't much of a script. However, Cathy is probably one of the biggest fans of Peanuts there is and she really enjoyed it, so that's all that really matters. I did enjoy Snoopy acting out his dogfights with the Red Baron, prompting phone calls from worried kids all over the neighbourhood to Charlie Brown.

And that's it. 22 trips to the cinema to see 19 different films makes for a very full year of movie-going.

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