Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2016 film review

I watched 31 films for the first time in 2016. I've decided to lump them in to one blog post with a one paragraph review. Key: C = cinema; D = DVD; I = in-flight movie; N = Netflix

Edge of Tomorrow (D) - Tom Cruise gets to "Live, Die, Repeat" in a Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers sci-fi adventure. I quite liked this and the idea of exploring different options each time was well done, even if I didn't see any point to the physical training every time he woke up after dying. It's not like he would keep his newly honed muscles.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (C) - the next installment in the adventures of Po the Dragon Warrior and the Furious Five kung fu masters. It was alright as sequels go, as Po and his friends teamed up against a supernatural villain seeking revenge. It has lots of Pandas in it.

Zootropolis (C) - my contender for animated film of the year. Disney do subversive quite well, and the subtext of this - politicians using fear to divide society to gain power - is very relevant. One of the characters even has a Donald Trump hair do.

(Longer reviews of Kung Fu Panda 3 and Zootropolis)

Captain America: Civil War (C) - third in the increasingly bleak Captain America series, all of which seem to end on downers. The Marvel films are a series and this one felt like one of those episodes you get to move the overall plot line on, rather than being enjoyable in their own right like any X-Files episode that focused on the Cigarette Smoking Man. Also you would really have had to have seen the previous Captain America and Avengers movies to understand what was going on, which annoys me, even though I have seen those films. There are a load of new characters now in the Marvel movies and I don't care about any of them. The best scenes were the ones with Tony Stark and yet another kid playing Spider-Man, who is now back in the mainstream Disney-owned Marvel Comics Universe instead of the pseudo one being run by Sony.

Deadpool (I) - I wasn't sure about this but I enjoyed it more than I probably should have. Ryan Reynolds obviously loved being Deadpool, although when he wasn't in the mask his 'scarred head make up' did make him look like a decrepit Ted Danson. Much was made of how Deadpool breaks the fourth wall to engage with his audience. This whole film mocks comic book movies and as such the whole thing is a fourth wall breaker.

Our Brand is Crisis (I) - Sandra Bullock plays a washed up political spin doctor who takes a job in South America running an election campaign for a deeply disliked candidate. The film was mediocre, although the comms stuff was quite interesting.

Straight Outta Compton (I) - the story of NWA, as told by the survivors (and it's noticeable how slanted it is towards them). The scene in Detroit where the band ignore police instructions not to play 'F--- the Police', and then get run off the stage by the police, was particularly memorable, as was Ice Cube's visit to his corrupt agent's office with a baseball bat.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (C) - second in the new series of films. The Turtles' good deeds get noticed by the general public. The guy from the TV series 'Arrow' plays Casey Jones. Megan Fox does her usual thing. It is very reminiscent of the cartoon series. (Which I'm not saying is a bad thing!)

The Secret Life of Pets (C) - animated film that follows some well-worn movie cliches, although it did take a diversion about halfway through with a revolutionary chihuahua advocating animal revolution against humans.

Ghostbusters (C) - the reboot more famous for daring to cast women as ghostbusters than anything else. I thought this was OK. There were some clever scenes and I enjoyed the cameos from the surviving original ghostbusters, especially Bill Murray as a sceptic unconvinced by the 'busters ghost-catching exploits. The opening scene in a supposedly haunted house that suddenly gets supernaturally invaded is genuinely creepy and very well done.

Shaun the Sheep Movie (D) - a nice, warm feature film from Aardman, with no dialogue but a lot of charm. Sean and friends go to the city in search of their farmer who has amnesia and is now lauded as a hair styling genius for his shearing skills.

Star Trek Beyond (C) - another sequel and outing for the Enterprise crew. I wasn't convinced by the motives of the main villain and there were too many convenient coincidences. There is a spectacular space habitat, though, if you are into that sort of thing. Karl Urban's version of Bones McCoy is yet again the best thing about the film. Zoe Saldana is, again, woefully under-used in a Star Trek film, which should be a crime.

Finding Dory (C) - sequel to Finding Nemo. Dory sets off to find her parents. Some fun new characters, including Hank the septipus (he only has 7 legs left) and a beluga whale who thinks his echo-location is a superpower. I was sucked in to the emotional scene at the end and got a bit moist-eyed.

Ender's Game (D) - I was sceptical if they could really make a film of the book 'Ender's Game'. My scepticism was well-founded. This film struggles to bring the source material to life and invest it with any energy because its mainly ponderous CGI. The Battle Room sequences are the best bits. Harrison Ford isn't a particularly animated actor at the best of times and was grumpily robotic. Ben Kingsley was hilariously miscast.

Suicide Squad (C) - an utter nonsense of a film, which only made money because of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in the trailer. There were so many things wrong with this film I probably need to do a whole separate post for it. Will Smith was woefully miscast.  Frankly, I'd have been happy to see all the members of the Suicide Squad die instead of the only interesting one.

Jason Bourne (C) - it's a 'direct by numbers' action film that rhymes with 'yawn'. I don't think there was anything in it particularly noteworthy. I did go and see it with my friend, Anthony, who is a top bloke and we had a coffee and a long chat afterwards, which was better than the film really.

The Little Prince (N) - I was very excited by this animated version of the Antoine de Saint-Exupery classic book when I saw the trailer for it, with its mix of computer and stop motion animation. I was gutted it didn't get a UK cinema release and then excited again to see it was on Netflix. But, harshly, I can see why it didn't get a release. This is one of those adaptations where they try to do something new based on the source material and missed the mark by a considerable margin. The fox character is very cute in the computer animation and beautiful in the stop-motion and that's probably the best bit.

The Lobster (N) - a weird premise. Colin Farrell stars as a man without a partner in a dystopia where you have to have one. He goes to a matchmaking hotel where he must find a new mate or be turned into an animal. The first half is darkly comic, but then he goes to live in the woods with other determined singles and it goes bleakly tragic. The turning point is a distressing scene of animal cruelty. Don't watch this film if you like dogs.

The Magnificent Seven (C) - I don't object to remakes, but if you're going to remake one of the absolute best westerns of all time you need to bring your a-game. Even Chris Pratt (I love him!), Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington couldn't raise this above the mediocre. Denzel mumbled his way through most of his lines, which got very annoying.

Pride (D) - gay activists in London start raising money for striking miners during the mid-80s union-led unrest. Cue a clash of cultures between the traditional Welsh villages and the flamboyant metropolitan homosexuals. The threat of bigotry and gay-bashing, and the emergence of the AIDS epidemic gives this true life story real depth and show how far we have moved as a society.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (C) - Samuel L Jackson is making some odd film choices these days. This is one of them. It centres on a time travel plot twist, which, as ever with time travel plot twists, just doesn't work. The monsters are scary and eat eyeballs plucked from their victims' heads, which I wasn't expecting in a film pitched as a kids' film.

The Penguins of Madagascar (D) - this is silly, but miles better than Madagascar 3, which is the worst animated film released by a big studio I've ever seen. The Penguins are funny and the film's alright. It had enough scenes that made me laugh.

Storks (C) - I'd seen a lot of trailers and that drew the sting from this very well made animated film. Storks no longer deliver babies, just packages for an Amazon-esque company. But then a baby comes along and one stork has to cover up its mistake and deliver the baby to his waiting parents. You have to watch this just for the wolf pack. Seriously! The wolf pack!

Mascots (N) - mockumentary as various sports mascots (the guys in the big animal costumes) compete to be mascot of the year, including a chap from London who is the third member of his family to be 'Sid the hedgehog'. It's a gentle film and worth watching on Netflix, if you have it.

Trolls (C) - stupid (in a good way), bouncy, funny, singfest with some quite nasty villains who want to eat the trolls because that's the only way they can taste true happiness. I'm sure there is some kind of message in that.

I, Daniel Blake (C) - at the end of this film, as the credits started rolling, nobody moved. It was probably thirty seconds or more before people started shuffling in their seats getting ready to stand up and leave the auditorium. This is a visceral look at how years of Tory policy have weaponised the benefits system to deliberately make it hard for vulnerable people to get the help they need. There is a scene in a food bank that is beyond upsetting and lived with me for days. Heavily researched, this film wears its authenticity on its sleeve, and it is relentlessly damning of the people who engineered the situation desperate people find themselves in.

RED (N) - Bruce Willis and some other older actors play 'Retired and Extremely Dangerous' former CIA operatives, who are being targetted for some unknown reason. Except, even though they are retired, they are extremely dangerous, as the bad guys find out to their cost. A silly film, made very watchable by performances from Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren. And Bruce.

Moana (C) - Disney animation set in Polynesia. Moana must find the exiled god Maui to challenge the encroaching darkness that threatens to devour her island. Some great music and a very funny meta joke about Disney princesses add to the interesting concept. It's the first cartoon I can remember with such an emphasis on tattoos. I have doubts how accessible it would be to very young children but I really enjoyed it.

Elysium (D) - it's the future and the rich live on Elysium, an idyllic space colony, while the poor live on dust-bowl Earth. Matt Damon plays an engineer who needs to get to Elysium for life-saving medical treatment and makes a deal with a criminal gang leader to perform a heist and get a space on a shuttle trip. Jodie Foster co-stars as the Elysium security chief in what can charitably be described as not her best ever role or performance.

Star Wars Rogue One (C) - I wrote about this here. It's cured me of Star Wars.

Argo (D) - Ben Affleck won an Oscar for this. I can see why. It's a taut drama set after the American Embassy in Tehran was swamped by a mob and all its staff, bar six, are taken hostage. The CIA set up a fake movie production as cover to get the six fugitive Americans, now hiding out at the Canadian ambassador's house, out of Iran. It's the end of the 1970s. Everyone smokes, even on planes (remember that?). I knew the outcome but it was still tense right up until the final scenes. A really, really well-made film.

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