Thursday, 22 June 2017

Wonder Woman

2017 has been a year of studios playing with my mental health. I was ready to write off the X-Men franchise after “X-Men Apocalypse” and then they come out with “Logan”. Instead of the Alien sequel that Neill Blomkamp was going to do, we got “Alien Covenant”, a movie that looked at “Prometheus”, the intellectual aspirations that movie had and the incredibly dumb characters that ruined it, and decided to take a little bit less of the first and a little bit more of the latter. “Wonder Woman” luckily falls into the first category and is a pleasant surprise. Now please, DC, let this be a genuine shift in the way you make movies and not an exception to the rule.

“Wonder Woman” is directed by Patty Jenkins and stars Gal Gadot as Diana, aka Wonder Woman, returning after being one of the highlights of the embarrassment that was “Batman V Superman”, and Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, dreamboat spy pilot. After Steve is stranded on Themiscyra, the home of the amazons, Diana is shocked to hear about the devastation that World War One is wreaking on the innocent and takes it upon herself to end the war by killing Ares, the god of war. It’s her first adventure, so it’s understandable that she’s starting small.

It’s kind of hard to pinpoint the best thing about “Wonder Woman”, but since I challenged myself to write as much as I could about this movie before touching on the whole Woman aspect, I’m going to go with this: “Wonder Woman” perfectly balances the wide-eyed idealism of Richard Donner’s Superman and the extreme cynicism of Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. Wonder Woman is the best version of Superman that has been put to screen so far. It’s clear that someone over at Warner Bros. recognized the need to reassess the atmosphere and general philosophy of the DC Expanded Universe. Superman moping around, Batman killing left and right, whatever interesting ideas were behind these characterizations, they weren’t articulated in any way that justified them as a legitimate interpretation of the characters.

Wonder Woman is characterized meticulously from the off. In the first few sentences she exchanges with Steve Trevor, he frames her perspective on the war as good versus bad, before she even knows what’s happening. The rest of the movie is then about her growing up and gaining a better understanding of the complexities of humankind and why they insist on fighting each other. An easy comparison would be “Thor”, which has a similar fish-out-of-water plot-line, but isn’t nearly as well executed (and for the record, “Thor” is still pretty good). Thor’s worthiness is ill-defined, whereas Patty Jenkins never loses focus on Diana’s character for even a moment. At all times, the audience can track exactly what Diana thinks or feels about the situation based on what particular lesson she learned last.

World War One is the perfect setting for this purpose. The soldiers that went to the front in 1914 had the exact same idealism that Diana brings, but machine guns, trenches, barbwire, and gas changed that forever. At the same time, it’s also very clearly not the good vs. evil war that Diana expects. It’s been suggested to me that WWII or the Vietnam war would have been better settings, but history, both actual and film makes it almost impossible to frame WWII as anything else than good vs. bad, and any Vietnam film ends up drawing on Apocalypse Now, which is incompatible with the optimism at the core of this film. WWI, however, is, as Steve Trevor describes it, a huge mess, which is also not as well-trodden cinematically as other recent conflicts. Also, none of these have No Man’s Land, which would rob us of one of the best scenes in recent superhero history.

Another strength this movie has is it’s cast. Gal Gadot was good in Batman V Superman, but she had a very small role and it was still very hard to say whether she had the chops to lead a movie as Wonder Woman. There are also some subtle differences between the character in the two movies. In the end, however, to me, Gal Gadot is up there with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man when it comes to absolutely perfect superhero casting. She attacks every aspect of the character with a unique energy and visible excitement. She perfectly conveys Diana’s sincerity and her lust for battle. Superheroes in general operate on our desire for simple solutions to complex problems and Diana is unique because she believes in that despite all the cynicism that surrounds her. It’s Gadot’s greatest achievement that by the mid-point, she has drawn the audience in so much that for that one amazing moment, the No Man’s Land scene I mentioned above, the audience can believe with her.

The supporting cast also shines, especially Chris Pine, who goes through a similar journey to Diana’s, only in the opposite direction. He is a man who has forgotten what life is like in peacetime and can’t seem to see anything good in the world anymore, so much so that while he is questioned on Themyscira, a literal paradise on earth, with exotic animals, shining water and superhuman amazon warriors, the only thing he seems to think of as unbelievable is the suffering he has seen in the war. His chemistry with Diana is off the charts and their relationship is so perfect, I could watch them bickering on a boat for hours.

Diana’s squad of soldiers, the ones whose photo she was tracking down in BvS, serve the movies favourite pastime, subverting expectations. While the script doesn’t exactly nail it’s big third act twist, there are numerous tiny ideas, a few choice statements about race, the avoidance of the old “but I’m not a man” cliché, and out-of-the-blue character moments that are sprinkled throughout the movie and come as welcome surprises.

More than anything else, the likeable characters and its good script help Wonder Woman over the one serious flaw it has, which is the action. There’s three major action set-pieces and each one has a few weird editing moments, but in the explosion filled climax, they become really glaring. The first two work despite these flaws, especially, for the third time, the No Man’s Land sequence, but by the third one it becomes very clear that Patty Jenkins doesn’t quite have the experience needed to make a Zack Snyder style action scene. She has said in interviews that very little footage has ended up on the cutting room floor, but at times it is glaringly obvious that they were missing certain shots they needed to make a coherent scene. There’s also shots that are framed weirdly and more than once Jenkins hints at something cool but then doesn’t have the footage to show it. This makes the final action scene very confusing at times. Luckily, a strong emotional connection to the characters (and that kickass electric cello riff) carries the scene, which means that these problems do not harm the movie too seriously.


And now, finally: How good is it to have a female-driven superhero movie that is this good and successful? Diana comes from an all-female island on which not only everyone is equal, they are also incredibly strong, honourable, and loving. When she enters the world of man, she finds it severely lacking in those departments. The movie keeps a tight focus on her perspective and even though she is technically visiting our world, it’s not her who seems to be doing things wrong, it’s us. Diana is so strong, physically and mentally, she makes a mark on everyone she meets, whether they want it or not. It’s also important to note that the film doesn’t empower her by depowering the men around her, she is just that exceptional. I was tempted to delete my remark about her being the best Superman, because she’s distinctly feminine. I left it in because on some level it is true, but it’s important to stress, that Wonder Woman’s success is her own. Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins have ignited the imagination of so many people around the world in such a short time, it’s an absolute joy to watch.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Manchester by the Sea

„Manchester by the Sea“ is an intriguing study of grief and trauma. At the same time, it is also a fascinating dance between cinematic storytelling and an understated character study. Director Kenneth Lonergan finds the perfect mix to pull his audience in and keep them engaged for the whole length of the film. The story follows Lee Chandler, who is drawn back to his old home in Manchester (New England, not Great Britain), after his brother died. We follow him as he takes charge of the situation, trying to handle the immediate challenges of any tragic death. In the process, he finds out that his brother named him guardian for his son, expecting him to move back to Manchester, which is a hard step for Lee for several reasons.

The centrepiece of this film is Casey Affleck’s performance as Lee. There is no other way to put this, he feels like a completely real person. I don’t usually come out of movies thinking “oh, that was clearly an actor”, that’s what suspension of disbelief is there for. But compared to this performance, some of Affleck’s colleagues look like grade school theatre. He avoids great gestures whenever he can, thus forcing you to look closer and be drawn into the character even further.

And that deep investment is what makes Lonergan’s use of flashbacks even more powerful. Whereas the main story of the film is extremely low-key when it comes to cinematic devices, the flashbacks engage in wilful control of knowledge, inserted precisely where they will have the largest impact. And what an impact they have.

Special mention should also be made of Lucas Hedges, who plays Lee’s nephew Patrick, and Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife. Our experience is centred on Lee, but both Patrick and Michelle play an integral part in his grieving process, as he does in theirs.


And the words “grieving process” are central to this movie. This film doesn’t play to your expectations, and it isn’t over when it ends. The characters feel so real, because I felt like they continued to exist and struggle after I left the cinema. I also felt like there was more to their past I wasn’t told. It is really quite amazing. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

La La Land

One of the most beautiful things about film as an art form to me is that it looks like real life, but it doesn’t play by the same rules. And this applies universally. Every film has its own rules and teaches you what they are. In real life, a building falling on you would be quite fatal. In a “Fast and Furious” movie, all it takes is some yelling and chest-punching, and Vin Diesel is back on his feet. In real life, you take all your sadness and hide it deep inside until it turns into mental illness (at least I think that’s how it works), in “Les Miserables” you belt it out in song form and win an Academy Award for it. “La La Land” also plays by musical rules and also seems poised to take home a few Academy Awards, what with its 14 nominations.

“La La Land” is a movie about dreams. It follows Ryan Gosling’s aspiring Jazz-Pianist Sebastian, who wants to build his own club, and Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia, who wants to become a movie star. Along the way, they meet and fall in love. On the surface, it’s not a very complicated story. It’s directed brilliantly by Damien Chazelle, who you might know from his last film, “Whiplash”, which also heavily featured Jazz and a musician who dreamed of greatness. The two films could however not feel more different if one of them was about banana-farming.

The care with which “La La Land” treats its central theme is amazing. We live in a post-modern world, in which being sincere about your dreams is frowned upon, because let’s be honest, you’re not the only person with that dream, it’s almost certainly impossible to achieve and you’re probably an idiot for following it in the first place. Chazelle confidently takes this problem head-on and starts the film with a grand opening number about a young musician and a young actress following their dreams in Los Angeles. The twist is that those two are not our leads. They are completely unrelated to the story, yet they follow the same dreams. The film is full of these moments, self-consciously commenting on its own naïve premise. However, where you would expect this to be used as a means of comedy, mocking the story, it is a statement. The film pushes through the sarcasm and the cynicism. So what if other people have the same dream, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a beautiful story to be told here. So what if that kiss in the cinema would have been totally sappy and cheesy, we’re celebrating love here, so get out with your nagging. At the same time, the film is also honest about the problems its characters’ face. It does not ignore that, following your dreams, you might fail, you might find something else that also fulfils you, and you certainly will have to sacrifice other aspects of your life. It is such an impressive and complete treatment of the topic.

As to how it presents all this, it is unapologetically larger than life as well. In his camera-work and lighting, Chazelle gleefully casts aside the usual Hollywood style, which would try to make itself as invisible to the audience as possible, in favour of whipping the camera around full of energy and spotlighting the characters when they have their moment. Oh yes, and also, characters have a tendency to break into song, so that’s not normal either. The music is rooted in Chazelle’s background in Jazz and it is incredibly catchy. I literally woke up the morning after I saw it with “Another Day of Sun” in my head.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone make for two incredibly charismatic leads and excel in their roles. Gosling learned to play the Piano from scratch and performs from the heart. He might have had to learn all the music by heart, but it feels as if he’s playing from the heart. Acting, huh… Gosling also shows an enthusiasm that is incredibly refreshing to see, especially when he talks about Jazz. Emma Stone on the other hand shows us the brutal reality of auditioning for roles, just to be interrupted by someone bringing coffee. As the movie begins, she has almost been beaten into submission, but her magnetic personality still shines through. When Gosling and Stone share the screen, they bring out the best in each other. It’s fascinating to see both of them be challenged in their dedication to their dream.

The brilliance of “La La Land” is that it manages to embody the wide-eyed joy that comes with the big music numbers and the love story at its centre as well as a nuanced deconstruction of the shiny world of celebrity and stardom. It was Chazelle’s passion project, and as far as I’m concerned, he was able to put everything he wanted on screen and it’s a magnificent piece of film. I feel sorry for all the deserving films who will lose their Academy Awards to it.


Oscar Nominations 2017

Today, the nominations for the 2017 Oscars were announced, so for me, the race to see as many of them as I can has officially begun. For now, here’s a little bit of commentary on what the Academy got right, what it got wrong and what the major surprises were.

The major categories
I would have wished for a nod to Amy Adams for Arrival. She gave that movie the emotional anchor-point that is so crucial for intellectual science fiction. However, instead, Meryl Streep collected her twentieth nomination for “Florence Foster Jenkins”. Not as outrageous as nominating her for “Into the Woods”, but still, at this point, her nominations have almost become a punchline to a joke. The nominations for Ruth Negga and Isabelle Huppert reassure me that the Academy hasn’t gotten completely complacent in searching for strong female performances, so that’s good.

Best Actor is about the only category in which I would be confident to bet against “La La Land” (more on that later). Viggo Mortensen netting his second nomination for “Captain Fantastic” makes me extremely happy, but the real star in this category is Casey Affleck. His performance in “Manchester by the Sea” is so real, it hurts. Also great to see Andrew Garfield on the rebound from his foray into Blockbuster cinema. I can’t wait to watch “Hacksaw Ridge” soon.

In the supporting categories, we can definitely see that the Academy has finally taken the calls for diversity to heart. There won’t be a #Oscarssowhite campaign this year. Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges from “Manchester by the Sea” mean that every major performance in that film got a nomination, and deservedly so. Also, Michael Shannon snuck his way in there for “Nocturnal Animals” and despite my extreme distaste for that film (There’s a WhatsApp discussion you won’t be seeing, I got shouted down hard for that opinion and had little to offer in terms of defence) I think he deserves it, since he’s probably the best part of that film. I would also have accepted Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I haven’t had the chance to see any of the other performances yet, but from what I’ve heard, they are all deserving nominees.

Best Picture is definitely a good list, although I’m somewhat surprised to see “Hidden Figures” and “Hell or High Water” pop up. I’ve heard good things about both movies, but rarely in the sense of actual Oscar buzz, but here we are. It’s great to see “Arrival” take its spot, especially since it also boasts Best Director and Best Film Editing nominations, strong indicators on its actual chances. Not that it won’t get steam-rolled by “La La Land”, but it’s nice to see a sci-fi film in such strong consideration.

“La La Land”, all night long
“La La Land” is the biggest story, la la landing 14 nominations, tying with the record for the highest number of nominations, previously shared by “Titanic” and “All About Eve”. It will not be able to convert all of these into wins though, since it is nominated twice in the Best Song category. I’m a bit conflicted about this. On the one hand, I unabashedly love this movie. However, I fear it’s going to take away some deserved wins, because it has the unfair advantage of being about Hollywood. Now, I don’t completely buy into the “The Oscars are just Hollywood patting itself on the shoulder” narrative, but there is always an element of that present. It’s not enough to cheat yourself into a win, as recently evidenced in the relative lack of acclaim for “Trumbo”. You still have to make a good movie to sweep the Academy Awards. However, it does give you an undeniable edge. But, once again, I loved “La La Land”, so I won’t be too mad.

However
If there’s any aspect of the nominations that does get me mad, it’s the musical categories. 2016 was an extremely strong year for music in film and the Academy nominates “Passengers” for Best Score and the paint-by-numbers pop song “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” for Best Song? Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda delivered the best Soundtrack of any Disney film since “The Lion King”, John Debney did amazing things with the music for “The Jungle Book” (although I don’t know what the rules for Best “original” score state specifically in that case) and “Swiss Army Man” connected the film with its soundtrack in such a creative way, I thought that alone would warrant a nomination. And come on, people, every single song in “Sing Street” is more deserving than Justin Timberlake’s contribution to Dreamworks “Trolls”. And it’s not even as if “Sing Street” was such an underground hit or anything, John Carney’s last two movies were both nominated in the same category, with one win for “Once”, so the Academy was clearly watching.


Apart from that, I’m mostly happy with these nominations, although they do feel kind of safe in a few places. I would have liked it if “Deadpool” or “Sausage Party” could have snuck in somewhere. I mean, can you imagine Ryan Reynolds coming down the red carpet in his Deadpool outfit? Also, surprisingly little love for a certain galaxy, far far away…. “Rogue One” being tied for nominations with “Passengers” baffles me, especially since the latter bagged a nomination for Best Production Design. I thought the way “Rogue One” integrated its design with the original Star Wars, even going so far as to use archive footage from that movie, would have secured that spot. I mean, come on, they recreated the space-70s, that must be worth something.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Top 10 Best Movies of 2016

All right, here we go, this one’s for all the marbles. This list kept changing until the moment I hit that publish button, but here it is, my Top 10 Movies of 2016:

10. Doctor Strange
Scraggly bearded, with a ripped Cloak of Levitation and about 20 movies biting at its heels, Doctor Strange just manages to secure a space on my list. To me, Doctor Strange is Marvel Studios, after learning from all their successes and (comparative) failures, went back to ask “What if we did Iron Man again?” The result is a more refined version, amazing in the economy of its storytelling and the sure-footed navigation of complicated questions of racial representation and stereotyping. This is not meant to imply any fault in Iron Man, but to me, there is an interesting parallel universe where Doctor Strange opened the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

9. Kubo and the Two Strings
Everything about this movie was fascinating to me. The soundtrack has been on constant repeat since I first heard it, the visual style is so refreshingly different and the craft behind it is just baffling. I saw the featurette with the giant skeleton before I saw the movie, and I still couldn’t believe it wasn’t CGI when I saw it in the movie, it’s that amazing. Kubo is such a charming character and I just got completely lost in the world it created.

8. Sing Street
Certainly the best feel-good movie of the year, John Carney once again delivers a touching story dealing with music and why people make it. This time, our hero gets to begin again at a new school and totally nails it if you ask me. The music is amazing, and if you were looking for a new song to wake up to, check out Drive it like you stole it. If Carney keeps up his movies streak of getting nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars, I can’t wait to see this song performed live.



7. Green Room
It’s so simple. A punk band trapped in a Neo Nazi Bar’s green room with a corpse. Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles, Patrick Stewart as a villain. Disturbing violence. Jeremy Saulnier certainly found all the right ingredients for this horror-thriller. What makes it special though is the way that the people in this film make decisions. There’s a tendency to criticise characters in film for making poor decisions, because on some level we know that the writers had enough time to make a better decision. But in Green Room, the characters make bad decisions in a way that just makes them feel real. Does it sound like a bad idea to play “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off” in a Nazi bar? Yeah, pretty bad. But it’s also kind of appealing and I get why they did it.

6. Captain America: Civil War
I would never have thought that this movie would end up in the second half of my Top 10, but here we are. Civil War was a fascinating evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers showed us that we could unite several franchises and heroes successfully. Now we know they can also be pitted against each other, because we know them well enough as characters to understand both of them. On top of that, we still see the MCU's characters evolving, and it's fascinating to see this in a blockbuster context. Oh, and also that airport fight was amazing.

5. Deepwater Horizon
Yeah, this feels so weird. I normally hate disaster movies. They’re cliché-ridden, unoriginal and usually just bad. And Deepwater Horizon doesn’t even do that much to dodge these problems. It has the same clichés, barring the pregnant woman, but they are well-executed. Deepwater Horizon shows us how clichés develop out of effective storytelling and character shortcuts. I found myself caring a lot about the characters, even if I hadn’t spent a lot of time with them. So when the hammer dropped and the oil rig exploded, I was stunned. Then it got worse, because I remembered that there were real people in that situation. Based on a true story should always be approached with caution, but this wasn’t some nuance, these were the basic facts of the story. I’ve never felt that effect this strongly, the only comparable experience would be Lone Survivor, another Peter Berg film. I swear, Peter Berg is the voice of American-Dream-Hard-Working-Patriotism that Michael Bay wishes he was, at least since he stopped trying to copy him (Battleship). I can’t wait to see his next film, Patriots Day.

4. Arrival
Does this movie even have flaws? It’s definitely the best sci-fi film of this decade so far, which takes an obscure linguistic concept and spins an amazing story out of it. The film isn’t content with just being incredibly smart, it also has heart. Villeneuve has an enormous emotional range as a director and balances tension and emotion brilliantly. Arrival is also visually breath-taking, with Villeneuve working with DP Bradford Young for the first time, instead of his regular collaborator Roger Deakins. Once again, Villeneuve is a filmmaker whose name should always be seen as a sign of quality.

3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Honestly, the ranks three to six on this list have changed repeatedly throughout the process and might as well be sharing this spot. However, only one of them has the advantage of being a new Star Wars movie. Just like Civil War, this film cleverly pushes the boundaries of what a blockbuster can do narratively, this time by scooting right up to one of the most beloved movies of all time and making a few significant changes. And mentioning Ghostbusters should be enough to get across how dangerous changing an iconic movie can be. But Rogue One does it so well that, at first, no one even seemed to notice how daring this manoeuvre actually was, and by then everyone had already accepted the changes. Add to that the fact that the film is extremely entertaining. If they continue with this level of quality, I foresee great things for the Star Wars spin-offs.

2. 10 Cloverfield Lane
This movie was the best cinematic experience of 2016 for two reasons. First, it’s an amazing movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a great lead, John Gallagher Jr. an amazing support and John Goodman is maybe one of the best on-screen presences of the year. Director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted an amazing thriller that twists and turns several times and never loses its audience. The second reason is the complete surprise to everyone that this movie was. The first trailer appeared only weeks before the movie premiered and it’s a testament to how good the marketing campaign was that the film was a big hit despite the short time to build up excitement. As always, when J.J. Abrams is at his best, the projects he is involved in are shrouded in mystery, and the connection to Cloverfield added another level of intrigue to the movie.

1. Room

From the moment I saw Room, I was pretty sure that I’d found my film of the year. And although there have been a lot of great movies in 2016, more than I’ve had place for on this list, none could take the top spot. The performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are absolutely perfect, in every second of the film. Taking on the perspective of five-year-old Jack forces you to put extra effort into empathising with the other characters, which in turn makes the drama all the more effective. Also, knowing the basic premise, a mother trapped in a single room for the last seven years with her five-year-old son, does not prepare you at all for everything this movie has to offer. It’s an almost magical experience and if you watch only one movie each year, I hope it was this one.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Screentest Awards

Last time, I wrote about the biggest disappointments/worst movies, but luckily, there was actually a pretty long list of great movies as well last year, so I found it very difficult to make a Top 10 list. I will deliver one anyway, but first, in order to honour some of the great films that didn’t quite get there, I’m also going to give out a few tailor-made awards, so here we go:

Best Double Feature
If you were like me, but rich, you’d be in the cinema constantly, sometimes several times a day. And if there ever were any two completely unrelated films that should be watched together, it’s these two:

War on Everyone & The Nice Guys
Both John Michael McDonagh and Shane Black have the gift of a completely unique and recognisable voice. McDonagh skirts the line between absurdly funny and darkly serious like no one else and Black is a master of setting up and subverting expectations. How great then, that they both decided to take on the somewhat fossilized buddy cop genre in the same year. War on Everyone might be a bit darker, while The Nice Guys is funnier, but these films blend into each other seamlessly when it comes to the elusive “atmosphere” they capture.                 War on Everyone is incidentally also the best film of 2016 that nobody saw, at least according to the audience at the screening I visited.











Best use of licensed music
The Oscars award their Award for the best original song, but a well-placed licensed piece of music can be just as effective. Early in the year, 10 Cloverfield Lane changed the way I listened to “I think we’re alone now” forever, Anton Yelchin and his crew get into big trouble for their cover of “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off” by the Dead Kennedys, Kubo and the Two Strings ends with a brilliant cover of “While my Guitar Gently Weeps”, but the price ultimately goes to

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” in Captain Fantastic

Not only is it a great cover, the way it plays in the movie is simply one of the most beautiful things I experienced in the cinema all year. Sadly, it’s not on Spotify, otherwise it would be in all my playlists. Alas, a link to Youtube will suffice.

Best Soundtrack
Since we are already talking about music, there was one Soundtrack this year that captured me more than any other, especially since I haven't even seen the film yet.

Moana

I haven’t even seen the film, and I refuse to do so, because there are no original language screenings anywhere and I already tried and failed to sit through the German version of Frozen. But oh, that Soundtrack, I just can’t get enough of it. With the words of absolute musical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda and New Zealand musician Opetaia Fo’ai, it’s a soundtrack that consists of nothing but highlights. I haven’t been able to get You’re Welcome out of my head for weeks now, it’s that good. The whole thing is on Spotify, so check it out, it's amazing.

Best Standalone, no strings attached, just sit down and enjoy yourself, Blockbuster film
After the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every studio wanted to have a cinematic universe of their own, which so far has resulted in a slew of bad comic book movies and an apparently serious attempt by Universal to have an interconnected monster-movie universe starting with “The Mummy” this year. Godzilla and King Kong are going to be fighting at some point as well. And as much as I love this, as long as it is done well (that’s the important part, DC), it’s also nice to just be able to concentrate on what’s before me, without worrying about how this adventure relates to a wider universe. And in that sense, one movie stood out to me this year.

The Magnificent Seven

Sure, it’s a remake, and on the internet, you’re not supposed to like those, but Antoine Fuqua’s version is just so much fun. It’s the perfect popcorn movie, with likeable characters and great action. Being a Western, there’s no way for it to fall into the skyscraper-tumbling destruction-porn category of action movies that has become so prevalent these days. And as we were just talking about great soundtracks, here’s an iconic piece of film music brilliantly teased throughout the film until it blasts over the credits at full force.
  

Best cathartic experience of unspeakable horrors
2016 has marked another great year for horror movies, which seem to be getting better each year. I remember a few years ago I was still kind of sour on the whole genre, because what we got just wasn’t very good, generally speaking. But then things got better and we started to get one or two shining examples of the genre each year. 2016 had at least four. It would feel a little constraining to call Green Room and 10 Cloverfield Lane horror films, because to me, there’s a bit more going on in those films, but The Conjuring 2 continued James Wan’s crusade to make horror movies a prestigious genre valiantly and Don’t Breathe was an amazingly grounded and disturbing little film. But the award for the best horror film has to go to

Lights Out

For any Horror film to be successful, the characters need to be likeable, because otherwise, who cares what happens to them. At the core of Lights Out is a family trying to take care of each other, and who can’t get on board with that? Then there’s the amazing cinematography, built around sharp contrasts between darkness and light. It’s also clearly influenced by J-Horror in the way the monster works, which is always a good way to go as well. 

The Surprisingly not that Bad Award
In a year as underwhelming as 2016, it’s nice when a film surpasses your expectations, even if they were non-existent from the beginning. Therefore, let it be known, that despite a resounding lack of success and the complete absence of any enthusiasm for it by anyone ever,

Alice Through the Looking Glass

is not complete shit. The message is horrible and sadly, Johnny Depp is still in it, even though with less screen-time, but all in all, it’s a fun adventure, and if you go in rooting for the villain, it even makes a bit of sense.


So these are the Screentest Awards for 2016, functioning at the same time as honourable mentions for my upcoming Top 10 list, since not all the movies I mentioned made it onto that list. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Top 5 Worst Films of 2016

2016 was certainly a horribly, terribly bad year for blockbuster movies, which is not sensationalism, it’s true, or maybe it’s not and a lot of them were just disappointing, anyway, I saw five bad ones and that’s bad.

5th Place: Jason Bourne
The original Bourne trilogy changed the way action movies were made. They transformed James Bond into a killing machine and introduced us to the shaky cam, a cinematic technique that to this day, only Paul Greengrass seems to be able to put to good use. So, my expectations were high when he announced his return to the franchise. What we got however was an inoffensive thriller, a few nice scenes, none of which ever came close to the heights that we’d seen before, and the same question that both James Bond and Ethan Hunt had already answered: What does a modern spy even do, when the internet allows total surveillance? For the first time, Jason Bourne was lagging behind his two older brothers.

4th Place: Suicide Squad
If ever there was a movie that visually depicted a studio panicking, it was Suicide Squad (and probably Fant4stic, but I haven’t seen that). Reeling from the lukewarm reception of Batman V. Superman, DC started to make changes, got a trailer company to do an edit of the finished product (alledgedly? I’m not sure, but it would explain why the music cues are never longer than 30 seconds) and just hoped that people wouldn’t notice how messy this film got in the process. They did notice. Suicide Squad was like a tasty-looking meal that turned to ashes in your mouth. Yes, it’s fun to see Will Smith doing the Will Smith thing again (certainly better than when he tries to win an Oscar), and Margot Robbie is the perfect choice for Harley Quinn, but that’s about all the positives that stay with you, while the list of negatives goes all the way from an extremely overhyped and underwhelming Joker to a hula-hooping voodoo-goddess. And what exactly was Katana’s thing again? Rick Flagg kindly tells us it’s stealing souls, but she never does any soul-stealing throughout the movie… And how exactly would a guy with a boomerang stop the next Superman? And, and, and…

3rd Place: Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
The only reason this is higher on the list than Suicide Squad is one question. How do you mess this up so badly when you’ve had four years since Man of Steel to get it right? This is definitely a better movie than Suicide Squad, and I love Zach Snyder, but it took you four years to introduce the Justice League to us and you do it via E-Mail? I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it. Also, I guess Lexcorps PR department came up with the names for Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg? It’s such a weird way to introduce them, especially when the movie is otherwise full of extremely interesting weird hints at the future, which might make the film seem muddled and should probably have been dialled back to focus on getting the main conflict (you know, the one from the title) right. I mean, Bruce Wayne wakes up from a nuclear-desert-mutant-Gotham-postapocalypse-Darkseid-dream and then goes on to read an E-Mail about a kid who can run really fast… I just can’t get past that.

2nd Place: X-Men Apocalypse
Ohhhhhhh boy, did this one bug me. It did however divest me of any expectation of quality for Fox’s X-Men franchise. It’s all just luck at this point. Maybe it’s going to be good, maybe it’s going to be bad, the smaller the budget, the better, because then Fox doesn’t get involved as much. Ugggghhhhhh. Shout-out to Michael Fassbender who somehow makes you miss everything that’s wrong about his scenes, at least while you’re watching him. What an actor. Nobody else really manages to rise above the material, and you can almost see the sadness in Oscar Isaac’s eyes, mixed with relief that nobody will ever recognize him in that Power Rangers villain suit, posing with his apocalyptic boy band.

1st Place: Absolutely Fabulous
So I used to regularly visit Sneak Previews at my old cinema, where I saw such gems as Bait 3D, Devil’s Due and Walking on Sunshine, but now that I moved for my studies, the sneak previews often conflict with original language screenings, so I don’t get to go there as much anymore. But one fateful Monday, I decided to visit a Sneak Preview again and yeah… I left after ten minutes. The film started with a runway and for a moment there, I was hoping for Neon Demon, but it turned out to be a cinematic continuation of a British soap opera about two old failed socialites who were so unlikable that I left early, because I couldn’t stomach their inevitable success as they learn some bullshit lesson about love or something.