Hey look at this. I’m sorta almost back up to date. December was a pretty big viewing month, as it always is for me. And there was some great stuff, with a couple of the best films of the past few years here. As well as some rubbish.
- Turbo Kid (2015), Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell – Takes place in an apocalyptic ‘future’ 1997. Lovingly crafted fun with one of the very best soundtracks of 2015. Like the 80s aesthetic, and it only on very rare instances grates or lets quaintness overwhelm the story. The minor script issues may keep you from 100% engaging with it. But the performances are swell, lead Munro Chambers is good whilst Laurence Lebouef and Aaron Jeffery are even better, having great presences for this environment. Lebouef is the real find, her performance is silly and over the top, but it never annoys. The action is kinda great too. They get the grindhouse splatter down pat as the film goes on.
- Selma (2014), Ava DuVernay – A film of jaw-dropping power through style. Shows terror wrought with bombs and terror wrought with administrative oppression. DuVernay is such a smart director and coupled with an out of this world performance from David Oyelowo, brings us one of the best films of recent times The script is evocative and authentic, ringing so true. In addition to Oyelowo, the performances across the board from Common, Oprah and Dylan Baker among others are all very good. Uses historical biopic conventions and does something revelatory with them. Also contains a couple of set pieces as engaging and full of stakes as any action film. Terrifying, strident, inflammatory and prescient.
- Shaun the Sheep (2015), Mark Burton & Richard Starzak – So damn cute right from the start, full of minutiae and visual jokes filling up the screen. Made me laugh a lot with its cleverness. The minutiae of daily life is skewered. It’s never really anything but lightweight visual jokiness. But that is done very well. Struggles to maintain momentum for the full length though. Tough to tell a story this long with zero dialogue. Impossible to not be appreciative of just how damn good it looks though. Guaranteed to induce smiles.
- Return of the Jedi (1983), Richard Marquand – Almost feels like fantasy as much as sci-fi. Might be all the puppets. A little heavy on the exposition, but this is a big improvement on the second film. However Lucas’ flaws are starting to come to the fore. Jabba’s lair a weird combo of very kiddie and very adult imagery that doesn’t really work. He is good at story beats but not so much character moments, relationships and dialogue. Plus the Ewoks suck majorly. Thankfully though there are enough big monster battlin moments and atmosphere that the flaws in this one are bearable. Perhaps the best score of the series too.
- Love is Strange (2014), Ira Sachs – A unique love story. A newly married older gay couple are forced to live apart when one is fired. Chronicles that separation, how much of them is tied up in the other after living together for 20 years. A relationship examined through the longing they have for one another when wrenched apart. Can’t remember such an effective love story where the couple were apart for so much of the film. John Lithgow and Alfred both give really excellent performances too. A really nice, effective film.
- Best of Enemies (2015), Robert Gordon & Morgan Neville – a fiercely uncinematic documentary focusing on the TV debates between Gore Vidal and conservative caricature William F. Buckley. A coming together of two monumental egos. Vidal the arch-intellectual egomaniac liberal other to Buckley’s privileged stoicism. There is some serious malice between the two of them. It’s distracting enough, but I would have liked more of the actual debates themselves. Does a good job in the sidelines of establishing Vidal’s role in bringing the ‘normality’ of homosexuality to mainstream American discourse. The ideological strains set up here persist to this day as do the tactics of TV ‘news’ services.
- Creed (2015), Ryan Coogler – Coogler and Jordan once again combine for phenomenal effect. Surprisingly emotionally resonant, powerfully so actually. There is a deep vein of authenticity running through the film thanks to Coogler’s excellent script. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Sly Stallone could hold his own with the incredible Michael B. Jordan. I don’t think that Stallone has ever been this good. Tessa Thompson in the lead female role is also quite brilliant. It’s a great way to sorta revitalise a franchise and good on Stallone for being so humbly on-board. It’s reverential to the films that precede it, but happy to depart radically. The boxing sequences are beautifully shot, artistic but you can always see what’s going on. The cinematography throughout is really wonderful
- The Guest (2014), Adam Wingard – An extended ode to John Carpenter by way of vintage James Cameron. Simultaneously authentic and stylised though as it heads in a stranger direction in the second half, it becomes a little too self aware. Maika Monroe is a star whilst Dan Stevens in the lead is charismatic. The soundtrack is good, but I would have liked it to intrude more, which is a rare thing for me to say. It’s a complex thing they are going for and it works for the most part. For me it got a touch silly toward the end and the character motivations were a little unclear. But this is a really unique slow burn melding of tones, styles and genres.
- The Final Girls (2015), Todd Strauss-Schulson – Brilliantly sets up its pastiche approach. It’s a funny script, really switched on and quite inspired. I literally fistpumped with how awesome this film is on two separate occasions. I usually hate the Groundhog Day style structure but this does it in an interesting and fantastical way. It slows down a bit after a powerhouse start. But some sci-fi elements and the fact it is just really well performed get you through. As do the genuine laughs. It’s a meta-slasher that focuses on being loads of fun rather than insightful. Which is fine by me.
- The Flash Season 1 (2014), Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg – Fits beautifully into this CW comic book TV universe. A traditional style superhero origin story. Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen working out how the hell to use his new powers. They do a really good job in conveying Barry’s speed. Much more effects heavy than most shows, but thankfully the effects are also a lot better than most shows. Recalls, but also has a separate identity to Arrow, the two shows crossover really nicely. The key relationship here between Joe and his adopted son Barry is really sweetly drawn. It’s cheesy, and dispenses with deep mythology so some moments don’t carry the weight they could. Very much heightened comic book storytelling with time travel, multiple Flashes and more. If a comic show with a giant psychic gorilla is your thing, you’ve come to the right place.
- Arrow Season 3 (2014), Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim – Oliver Queen has grown into a super interesting character. The flashbacks have fleshed out his character well. The show is by this point basically a team show and the audience is emotionally invested in the whole lot of them. This season perhaps struggles without the long arc of the one prior. But in terms of storytelling, this has evolved from pulp into something more high quality in terms of dramatic storytelling. I also love how basically every woman ends up turning into a total action packed badass. There are a couple of great antagonistic presences, including Aussie Matt Nable doing a pretty good Ra’s Al Ghul. Can’t believe how there are now so many, really satisfying and complex relationships in this show, both romantic and otherwise.
Not Worth Watching
- Tusk (2014), Kevin Smith – Kind of an in-joke for listeners of Smith’s podcast (which I’m not one of). I actually liked a reasonable amount of this. Some of Smith’s comedic writing early on is genuinely funny. There is also a nice focus on, and engagement with, the theory and practice of storytelling. But that fades over the second half. Justin Long is a good comedic performer whilst Michael Parks is chilling as a brutally sadistic villain. But the film turns when Johnny Depp turns up in an extended, unwatchable, cameo. His stupid performance totally ruins the tone, importing a silliness that belongs to a different film. Sucks all the atmosphere right out of it.
- Ruben Guthrie (2015), Brendan Cowell – Opened the Sydney Film Fest this year, which is frankly a mind-boggling choice. And given this film is laden with Lexus product placement, a company that is a major sponsor of that festival, it’s a pretty questionable one too. From the first, the critique of Aussie drinking culture (which needs critiquing) is blah, with a sneering bent to it. The film is unfunny too. It’s better to make an issues film about characters who resonate with us. The more interesting, but totally ignored, aspect of this film is the effect of a substance (or lack of it) on a creative. They don’t touch on this in any interesting way though. A lumbering script, it looks ugly and there’s a mean-spirited way that the film treats it’s characters and their foibles, especially disparaging to the main female characters. Cowell has something much better in him than this.
- Paper Towns (2015), Jake Schreier – This film features two very interestingly constructed and performed main characters. And basically nothing else of note. Doesn’t bother trying to hide it’s teen film conventions. But there is some kinda bold plotting when we are just hanging with the leads. Carla Delevingne and Nat Wolff bring to life two characters that feel fresh, though the film unnecessarily is from the perspective of the male character. She does not have a typical teen star vibe or gravitas, bringing a unique presence lacking elsewhere. The film crawls along with totally contrived and not particularly creative adventure film construction. Plus the supporting characters are badly written and averagely acted which brings the leads down.
- Aloha (2015), Cameron Crowe – Probably the worst script of 2015. Attempts to be generate depth through the Hawaiian setting and mainly fails. It’s a great cast, but most of them are bad. Emma Stone is miscast to the point of offensiveness. Not to mention her performance is distractingly manic, recalling a bad Jim Carrey impersonator. Bradley Cooper proves himself totally unable to elevate awful material. Actually that’s a universal criticism with the notable exception of Rachel McAdams who convinces, despite a horribly written character. It’s a really awkward film. Motivations jump all over the place, to the point where it seems like on a few occasions they forgot to shoot pages of the script. A monument of awfulness.
- Tomorrowland (2015), Brad Bird – Has a very classical Disney feel and look to it. So much so it often feels like an average midday movie. The design elements, a mix of handmade and computer generated stylings, impress early. But it’s pretty slow going with a labouriously unnecessary flashback. Even the world building quickly becomes beset by huge gaps in logic. Not really sure about the philosophical stance it is taking either. Clooney is wasted, but Britt Robertson has a lot of charisma. She is hamstrung by the horrid material. Hugh Laurie cops it worst on that front though, forced to deliver a horrid, jarring soliloquy. It just doesn’t have any weight to it. Middling.
- Big Eyes (2014), Tim Burton – With no Johnny Depp on offer, Burton turns to Christoph Waltz for a distractingly shit performance, and boy does he deliver. There is some fun filmmaking in parts, playing with the colour palette and Amy Adams is wonderful. It’s just really clunky. Writing just does not feel sharp at all and Burton’s usual unsubtly it front and centre. Tis a shame, because it’s a wonderful true story and there are some interesting, if underexplored, notions of domestic control and its insidious nature. Interminable.
- The Good Dinosaur (2015), Peter Sohn – Really quite bad. Overly cutesy vibe immediately makes plain we are not watching top shelf Pixar. Animation style is innovative but the phenomenal and realistic backgrounds often jar with the cartoony characters in front. On both story and thematic levels, we’ve seen all of this before a million times, most notably in The Lion King (1994). The score, ranging from bland to distractingly schmaltzy, characterises the difference between this and Pixar’s other, exceptional, 2015 effort. A concerning low point for Pixar, with their template journey storyline feeling much more unoriginal this time out.
If you only have time to watch one Selma
Avoid at all costs Aloha