Later than usual this time around as has been an exceptionally busy time for me personally. A vast majority of positive experiences here, the standouts being a surprisingly excellent remake and a few docos. However I continue to get less and less out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, films I have for the most part loved over the past decade-ish.
- The Secret Life of Pets (2016), Yarrow Cheney & Chris Renaud – Accusation of this being Toy Story (1995) with pets are (slightly) harsh. Above average fun, mainly due to the quality of the writing. There were some clever flourishes that got some hearty laughs out of me. The visual approach, especially the characters design, is really fun. And the simple adventure plot is enough to serve the joyful turns of phrase and charming characters.
- The Magnificent Seven (2016), Antoine Fuqua – Hell of a nice surprise. Looks great and is suitably epic. Unashamedly a Western, embracing the tropes and traditions of the genre in a way that is nicely familiar but not tired. The cast is exceptional and so diverse. Denzel is great and leads with movie-star magnetism. Haley Bennett provides a simple but effective emotional hook for the film. And Chris Pratt is here doing his thing where it probably shouldn’t work, but does. Everyone else brings a lot and creates a good sense of character with the screen time they get. A light, but never silly joy.
- Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016), Mike Flanagan – Flanagan is a really sharp filmmaker and it shows. Less a Ouija film and more a general love letter to classic horror – mirrors, creepy kids, priests etc. The period elements add a lot, the settings and production design are really great. It does get a touch silly with some unnecessary CGI and attempts to ramp up the scares. But it is nice to see a filmmaker clearly given huge amount of freedom with this kind of property.
- A Lego Brickumentary (2014), Kief Davidson & Daniel Junge – Feels like a doco for kids. In a good way. Thought on occasion it feels a fair bit like an ad. All quite creatively presented. It’s a fun film and conveys a good sense of the intense passion of people who work there and fandom of convention goers. There are some nicely drawn connections of projects on different scales and examination of the changes the company need to make to survive. A little fractured at times, but worthwhile for fans.
- La Paz in Buenos Aires (2013), Marcelo Charras – Wrestling documentary with a quiet, process focussed start. Making ring attire, creating posters on a home computer, the very grassroots marketing approach. Insight into the science and technique of telling stories in the ring is great. Nice portal into a world of a backyard wrestling ring that doubles as a clothesline. There’s also an interesting father/son dynamic with the dad offended his son would even consider working as a heel (bad guy). A nice film that may have been better with a stronger focus on a particular narrative.
- The Seahorse (1934), Jean Painleve – Very scientific study that voices broader themes and connections. A little shabbily shot. And contrived. But there are some genuinely stunning pieces of footage such as the male seahorse in labour. Worth it solely for those images. Which is a good thing cause it peters out. Saved by a cool montage with race horses. Although one of Painleve’s signature totally unnecessary and gross dissection scenes makes an appearance. Yuck.
- A United Kingdom (2016), Amma Asante – Good, but a little stuffy in the telling and workmanlike in terms of craft. Gets by though. The real life story is stunning and emotive which helps. Well cast too. Pike is excellent despite murmurings from some she is miscast, whilst Oyelowo is a standout. Especially in the delivery of one crushing monologue. He also really helps to envelop the audience in real life emotion of the story. Which is at times hampered by a rushed approach to narrative and character. But as a portrait of the petty meddling destructiveness of 40s-50s British Empire, it’s an effective & great one to see onscreen.
- Tig (2015), Kristina Goolsby & Ashley York – A film about Stuff, but perhaps not the stuff you were expecting. Tig Notaro sees the stand-up set where she announced she had cancer explode. And much of this is about the weight of attempting to follow up a truly great, transcendent piece of art. A remarkable love story here too as she explores new love and attempts to start a family. A wonderful doco, maybe the best I’ve seen all year.
- The Barkley Marathons (2014), Annika Iltis & Timothy James Kane – An examination of the infamous, borderline mythical ultra-marathon. Even how to enter is a secret. That desire for secrecy does mean that it is hard to give a sense of the course and how the race is progressing. But you still get enough to understand why it took 10 years for someone to even finish. The storytelling gets really good toward the end when it comes down to the last few competitors.
- Julieta (2016), Pedrot Almodovar – Does a lot of things I loved. And a lot I hated. But that makes for interesting viewing. Too arch and meandering at times. But the central relationship, which takes maybe three quarters of the film to coalesce, is rich, meaningful and complex. Actually there are a series of relationships throughout the film with complexities running underneath them. Awesomely performed, especially by the two titular performers.
- Broadway By Light (1958), William Klein – Experimental short with Alain Resnais and Chris Marker involved. Americans invented Broadway to “make up for nightfall”. A garish and striking montage barrage of branding and yellow neon light. Some interesting examination of light, both the neon and natural varieties.
- The Good Wife Season 6 (2014), Robert King & Michelle King – This is just so well acted. Matthew Goode, Michael J. Fox and Mike Colter are the regular guest stars. Not to mention Alan Cumming just doing stunning work. The political aspects of the show, in the past some of the weakest, are really good here as Alicia attempts to enter public life. Though that does mean the characters are split, so we see less of Diane and Cary than I would have liked. It’s a little unfocused, with a number of characters just disappearing. Still, worthwhile for the ensemble.
Not Worth Watching:
- Meet the Patels (2014), Geeta & Ravi Patel – Found this far more cynical than I was expecting. Chronicles the very specific pressures of a certain culture with its insistence on marriage and annual trips to India. Felt flat. The animated interludes are annoying and unnecessary. The character at the centre is also not a particularly interesting or likeable dude. Occasional examination of generational differences are the best parts. Film boils down to a guy being too scared to tell his parents about his girlfriend… but then he does.
- Doctor Strange (2016), Scott Derrickson – This sees Marvel try something new. Unfortunately it’s really bad. The storytelling is flat and uninteresting, even for a Marvel flick. And it’s basically one we’ve seen countless times before. The script does nothing to elevate the thrust of the narrative and the decently written spiritual elements toward the start disappear fast. The only real achievement is it opens up the MCU to a more mystical realm pretty well. None of the characters are well developed, aside from Strange. And it’s a weird turn from Cumberbatch, seemingly not knowing how to play it tone-wise. The visuals and some of the creative chase scenes feel original and fun though.
If you only have time to watch one Tig
Avoid at all costs Meet the Patels