Saturday, 9 January 2016

Films of the Year 2015 - The Alternative Awards!

     Now time for something a little different: Films of the Year 2015 - The Alternative Awards!

      Including such categories as: Most Disappointing Film, Pleasant Surprises, Most WTF? Film and Best Adlibbed Joke, etc… Read on to see what they are!

      Once again, this is just my opinion - and is based on this list of films that I saw last year. You can also check out my article for the Top 10 Films of 2015, click HERE.

The 3 Most Disappointing Films of the Year (AKA Films that I thought would be great but weren’t.)

3) Inside Out

      Now hold on a second. This is a decent film, no doubt. I’m not debating that fact. It is clever, well written at times quite moving. But the ‘best Pixar film yet’? Not even close.
      Despite being hailed by many critics as ‘Pixar’s return to form’, Inside Out ended up disappointing me. Of course animated features that are aimed primarily at children can have an adult subtext running through them. The only problem is, this film is too complicated and confusing for most children to fully enjoy or to appreciate as these themes are the main thrust of the movie. Concepts such as schizophrenia, mental illness and depression are difficult enough to convey even-handedly – but these themes are presented in a such a weird and abstract method during Inside Out, that it is likely to pass by the majority of the children.
     Some inconsistencies in the logic of how the ‘emotions’ work too - these characters seem to sometimes be controlling Riley (the main character), whereas at other times it appears that Riley’s actions and decisions seem to have an effect on them, which further complicates the narrative. Parents who take their kids to watch this may be impressed at the film’s unusually mature themes – but you have to remember: it has to appeal to the kids first and foremost.
      When someone mentions ‘Pixar’ as a brand you automatically think: The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, Up and Wall-E. Inside Out just doesn't feel like a ‘Pixar’ film. And maybe that’s my problem, petty though it may seem.
      It’s a not a bad film, I just feel it’s overly hyped for what it is and its limited audience appeal.

2) Chappie

      Oh, Neil Blomkamp… When Elysium came out and people knocked it I fought your corner. I really did. But then there came Chappie.

      First off, they may as well have called it “Die Antwoord: The Movie”. I’m not one to really complain about product placement in films (pretty commonplace these days), but this film takes it to a whole new level. Ninja and Yolandi from Die Antwoord play themselves (they didn't even bother to change their names), are constantly seen listening to their own music, wear their own branded clothes, and have their signature artwork plastered everywhere in the film. I actually quite like Die Antwoord as a band – but in a film like this it just becomes just too weord and immersion breaking.
      It doesn't help either that they aren’t the best actors and yet are given so much screen time.

      Now on to Chappie himself. Although the effects and CG are absolutely top notch, tonally this film is all over the place. It’s like Jar Jar Binks was fused with Robocop and thrown into the Jo’burg comfort zone of Blomkamp’s two previous films. They hint at some moral and philosophical questions, but instead squander their time on repeating cringeworthy 'gangsta'-isms. How any of actual the science works either is glossed over to a ridiculous degree (all it takes is 20 PS4s strapped together to siphon off a human consciousness?!), not to mention entirely inconsistent character beats from scene to scene. One minute Dev Patel is telling Chappie: “You have to listen to me. Promise me you wont do any crimes!” and then in the next, “You can do whatever you want, Chappie. Don't let anyone tell you want you can or can’t do!”. Ugh.

      This could have been a smart sci-fi with a great scope for an interesting though provoking narrative. Instead, we ended up with a mess of a dumb action/comedy/bandpromo nonsense.
At least a mullet-sporting Hugh Jackman seemed to be having fun stomping around in his ED-209.

1) Crimson Peak

      I love Guillermo Del Toro films. I’ve seen and enjoyed them all. From Chronos through The Devil’s Backbone, right up to Pacific Rim. I even like the two Hellboy movies, which usually divide fans. With that, I had high hopes for Crimson Peak – a film which was sold as Del Toro going back to his gothic horror roots; and featuring an excellent cast to boot.
      Now the production design, set design, costumes and most of the visual effects for this film are fantastic. Award-worthy, even. The whole film is visually stunning. The actors (Tom Hiddleston in particular) are also pretty decent.
     But that’s about all I can praise. Perhaps Del Toro got so caught up in the design side of things he forgot to check if he had a half decent story to go along with it. It starts well, but the initial scares that the film teases are to come (and it's never explained why her mother was such a scary-ass ghost!) evaporate along with the almost superfluous spirits that haunt the mansion of the title. They end up being too CG to be scary and so harmless that in honesty they could have been removed altogether without affecting the plot at all – they are that inconsequential. The villains in this are very much human, and because of that you can see where the story is heading from a mile away. The fact that main character stumbles about ten steps behind the audience is not a satisfying form of dramatic irony – it’s just mostly infuriating to watch and tedious to sit through.
      Tonally, the thing is all over the place too. At times it revels in mawkish chick-lit romance, then suddenly swings into over the top gore effects. There are set-ups which never really get an effective pay-off and the ending ‘twist’ is so downplayed you wonder if there was even any point in including it as one.

      Like I say, beautiful looking film. Duff story. Most disappointing.

3 Films That Were Pleasant Surprises (AKA Films that I thought might be bad but were actually quite good.)

3) The Gift

      This film was great as it kind of came out of nowhere. Directed, written and starring Joel Edgerton. Impressive. Is it a case of an ego-trip or a vanity project? Definitely not – and as you see the kind of character he plays in it you will see why.
      The Gift is great for a few reasons. Firstly, the cast are all excellent. As well as Edgerton being creepy in a very subtle way, we have Rebecca Hall (good in almost everything she is in); and it’s great to witness a darker side to Jason Bateman – something you don't normally see and the film cleverly uses that very well to its advantage.

      As the film unravels, it preys on the sense of the unknown - you find yourself wondering just how far they will take it  – which makes it so effective. To say too much is to spoil the viewing experience. Needless to say it is a great 90s-style thriller that manages to make you squirm without having to resort to gore or torture. Great ending too.

2) Terminator: Genisys

     Okay so I’m not saying this film was amazing. But the point is, ever since the film was announced (along with its terrible sounding title) everyone had already made up their mind that this was going to be utter shit.
     But you know what? It was alright – in a kind of fun and disposable way.

      The fact that Genisys seeks to effectively rewrite the events of the previous Terminator movies (due to yet another time travelling plot device), means they can go in a different direction altogether and not be shackled too much by the events of any of the other films in the franchise. So it’s not really a sequel/prequel – more of a divergence to the canon.
      Yes, title is still stupid and yes there is yet another gimmicky ‘new kind of Terminator’ to contend with but there are lots of fun moments. Plenty of cheeky call-backs to the original two Terminator films: we get to see more future stuff (purple lasers and Hunter Killers!), it’s great to see Byung-hun Lee as a T-1000, and seeing a certain scene with a young Arnold Terminator is a delight. The film also has a decent twist in it – one that is unfortunately most certainly spoiled if you have watched any trailer for it. It certainly got me though! 

      Oh, and did I mention that Arnie is great in this? He is legit funny and actually gets the majority of the laughs. Who would have thought it? It’s throwaway fun, but worth watching just to see the big man do what he does best.

1) John Wick

      Keanu has been away for a while. He’s has kept a low profile recently, apart from Eli Roth’s Knock Knock, which nobody seemed to have watched. On the face of it, a ‘hitman forced out of retirement’ film seems like the straight to DVD fodder that is routinely thrown the way of many a faded action star.
      But John Wick is different. It has such a simple set-up – a straightforward revenge movie – that it really just allows the action to be centre stage. The film is directed by a pair of ex-stunt guys, so they know their onions when it comes to framing and shooting action scenes – and there are plenty of them. We basically just see Keanu killing lots of bad guys and doing so in a very efficient manner. It’s slick and well choreographed but in a more realistic style – not overly dressed up with lots of with kung-fu, CG or wire-work. 

      In terms of just showcasing sheer action - this is probably the best movie of the year. It makes you believe Keanu is that bad-ass once again.
      It's also fun to see him chasing down Alfie Allen – basically playing a Russian version of Theon Greyjoy.

The 3 Most WTF? Films of the Year

3) Bone Tomahawk

     This one is a most unusual mash-up of genres: a western/drama/horror that's played fairly straight. It has a great cast (Kurt Russell, Matthew Fox, Patrick Wilson and Richard Jenkins among others) and a great script. A slow-burning and creepy start gradually builds up to some crazy violence towards the end.
      Bone Tomahawk never got a wide theatrical release, most likely on account of one or two ultra gory scenes. The majority of the film isn’t like that though. It utilises a great sense of unease for the most part, so that when it does happen it is truly shocking. It definately gets my vote for one of the most horrific death scenes this year - worse than any of those in The Green Inferno (another cannibal film seeing a delayed released this year – Eli Roth’s homage to Deodato’s infamous 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust).
      Okay, so there it is! It’s a western with cave-dwelling cannibals! Let's move on.

2) The Human Centipede: Third Sequence

      Now this isn’t bad because it's a Human Centipede movie – having seen the first two, the concept itself doesn't bother me all that much. It’s the direction they decided to go with it that is truly mind-boggling.
      The first Human Centipede film: a fairly straightforward horror. A mad doctor captures wandering tourists; experiment ensues. The sequel is where it gets a bit meta. About a guy who becomes obsessed with the first film and sets out to recreate the experiments for himself (but with no medical knowledge) and tries it with a whole bunch of people instead of three.
      The third film takes place in a prison and stars both the leads of the first two films but in new roles (as prison warden and his assistant) who watch the first two films and get the idea that this could work in a prison, but with pretty much all the inmate population incorporated into the madness.

      The problem is – its not as clever as it thinks it is. It takes too much stupid randomness before they even get to the outrageous ‘centipede’ part which surely is the main point of the movie. Although the first two films were pretty damn dark, they seem to have gone for a more comedic tone here and it's just plain weird. Even the director Tom Six appears in a cameo as himself to visit the prison in order to assure the warden that yes, it is all medically accurate and entirely possible for one to create a human centipede. As you do.
      The most off-putting part of this film is not the gore or the gross-out scenes – it's the fact that Dieter Lasser (so effectively creepy as the mad doctor in the first film) is instead reduced to a raving madman with a terrible Texan accent bellowing out almost every single one of his lines at the top of his voice – making this film nigh on unwatchable.

1) Tusk

      Kevin Smith… what the actual fuck… Hats off for original ideas but this one is truly bonkers.
      Clerks and Chasing Amy are among my favourite films – he was so awesome at writing quirky characters with loads of smart quick-fire dialogue. Later on he started to head off in an interesting horror direction with Red State - but this is just…
      Michael Parks is excellent as always and Justin Long seems to do the usual and play someone you just love to hate - so you don't mind so much when he gets kidnapped and turned into a Walrus… Wait what?

      The idea for the story apparently started off as a joke on one of Smith’s podcasts and the thing just ballooned into a movie from there.
      Is it any good? Well, it tries to be funny and disturbing at the same time and sits kind of oddly in the middle because of it. And are we also really supposed to believe that Genesis Rodriguez shacked up with a chubby Haley Joel Osment?

     Oh, and did I mention that Johnny Depp is also in this but is disguised under heavy make-up, with a strange French accent and is only listed in the credits as ‘Guy Lapointe’?
      It’s one of those films in which everything just seems to say: Ha! The joke’s on you! But if Smith is willing to finance and distribute his own films I guess he can do what the hell he likes.

Best Performance

Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher)

     Steve Carrell is mostly known for his comedic roles but even when appearing in the occasional drama he always seems to showcase a dry wit. But here, due to his strange performance and make-up he is almost unrecognisable.
     Creepily effective as John Du Pont – the eccentric billionaire, at times a coach and father figure, sometimes a petulant man-child and occasionally a hint of homoeroticism. It’s an unbelievable transformation from how we normally see Steve Carrell and is my favourite performance of the year.

Best Vehicle

The Doof Wagon (Mad Max: Fury Road)

      Love it or hate it – you can’t watch the scene where they introduce the Doof Wagon without having some kind of reaction. A mobile speaker stack with drummers and a guitarist seems a wacky concept on the face of it - but it does make sense.
      These tribes are warriors of the road and travelling war parties throughout history have always tended to have a musician with them (from drummers to bugle boys) to keep the tempo, keep them all hyped-up and to boost morale. Or perhaps it’s just the post-apocalyptic equivalent of having a bad-ass stereo.

      'Coma-Doof Warrior', the blind guitarist strapped to the giant speakers with bungee cords is played by real-life guitarist iOTA. Who was actually playing that guitar as they rode around and filmed the scenes.
      Oh, and did I mention the guitar shoots fire? Which it also did in real-life.
     Love it or hate it – it’s awesome and unforgettable.

Best Ad Libbed Joke

‘Bye, Felicia.’ (Straight Outta Compton)

      The scene itself is shot as a single take, where we watch two guys knock on a hotel room door looking for one of their girlfriends, who they heard is in a debauched after-party with NWA. As the door opens and we get a good view of the room’s goings ons, the two men are chased off by the band brandishing guns. As they look to return to their party, the girl in question is pushed out of the hotel room by Ice Cube (Oshea Jackson Jr.), with the dismissive: ‘Bye, Felicia’.
      Why’s this so good? Well it was ad-libbed when they shot the scene by Oshea Jackson Jr. who plays his own real life father Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton (directed by F. Gary Gray). The line is a call back to the same line spoken by Ice Cube’s character Craig to similarly dismiss a bothersome girl in the popular movie Friday (1995) - which was also directed by F Gary Gray… 20 years ago!
      Talk about full circle…

      So there you have it – just some random awards I felt like mentioning. If you want to check out last year’s Alternative Awards, click HERE, or check out my main Top 10 Films of 2014 article HERE.

8th Jan 2016

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