When I started making this list I was very down on 2015 but I was wrong. I was delighted to relive all of these films; 2015 was a fantastic year.
Honorable Mention: Get Hard – Get Hard is not a movie I reviewed for this site or even one I saw theatrically but rather on an airplane. The marketing for Get Hard was so unappealing to me, but I laughed harder while watching it than I did at any other movie this year. It had all of the uncomfortable moments where this or that rape joke or borderline racist moment happens but it’s overpowered by better jokes and a better attitude. I’m not much for movie quotes anymore but I have found myself saying “You are a disappointment to your parents, who I fucked” a few too many times for polite conversation and that’s got to be worth something.
Furious 7/The Big Short – These are the movies that are probably not good enough to be on this list that I just couldn’t bring myself to cut. In their individual ways these films were both made for me. Furious 7 is not as good as Fast Five or Fast & Furious 6 but the goodwill from those sublime pieces of action cinema is too strong in me. I can’t dislike that movie even if the action sequences might be finally tipping over the edge of my suspension of disbelief and even if the characters might be getting a little too cartoony I love it too much. The touching tribute to Paul Walker is just icing on the cake.Similarly as a economics major who now works as a film critic I’m not sure any film has ever been aimed quite so squarely at me than The Big Short. Explaining the 2008 financial collapse in an understandable way is a herculean task and they accomplish it with no lack of gusto. The acting and the directing are also fantastic, but they feel a little too much like they’re aiming for awards to rate higher on this list. I don’t go to baseball games to see the players swing for the fences with every at bat, and I would appreciate a little more subtlety in my cinema as well.
Inside Out – The real brilliance of Inside Out is in the simplicity of the idea. Of course our emotions are different people inside our heads just like of course our toys come to life when we aren’t looking. It just makes an intrinsic amount of sense. Inside Out is a simple story told very well with dizzying highs and devastating emotional lows and that kind of journey is rare in any movie and even more so in movies intended for children. That Pixar has made this kind of filmmaking so routine is a testament to their sublime artistry and I’m so happy to have them around.
Straight Outta Compton – It’s been a long time coming for a serious filmmaker to make a movie about the dawn of hip-hop in a way that respects its audience, acknowledges the political reality that was urban America in the mid-80s, and respects the artistry the same way the endless parade of rock biopics have done over the years. Straight Outta Compton fulfils that promise and more. I hate when people describe actors as “channeling” a real person when they portray them on film but I feel myself reaching for that word when I want to describe how uncanny the acting performances were in this film. The icing on the cake is how relevant the struggles with the police feel even 30 years later because of the myriad ways nothing has really changed.
Labor Day 2015 is upon us. Technically, the season’s change on September 23rd but for all intents and purposes, summer closes shop right after Labor Day. The summer movie season is over and the fall seasons are gearing up. Among things to look forward to is the new Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, coming out around Christmas. However, we’re going to look back at the offerings from last summer, specifically the ones I saw and most enjoyed.
I freely admit I haven’t seen all the cinematic offerings that were out. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation got missed, for example. I saw a fair amount, though, and I’m prepared to talk about those. You should be prepared for spoilers since I may reveal plot elements. That’s okay; you should have seen these films by now anyway.
There are six films on the list – Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Inside Out, Jurassic World, and Mad Max: Fury Road. All entertained me, some surprised me, and I’ll want all of them on disc for repeated home viewing, some more than others.
Remember: these are my opinions. Your mileage may vary.
Avengers; Age of Ultron moved the whole Marvel franchise forward and, together with Ant-Man, rounded out Phase 2 of the Marvel Conquers the Cineplex movement. The Avengers film had everybody and then some (played by their usual thespian counterparts), and included the Falcon in the mix and debuted Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision, always a personal favorite of mine. The Big Bad was the nasty computer program in the crisp robotic shell, Ultron, voiced by the always silkily threatening James Spader.
Did I like it? Yes. Did I like it as much as the first Avengers film? No. It seemed more disjointed to me. There were also odd additions – a possible budding romance between the Black Widow and Bruce (The Hulk) Banner (?). The suggestion that Black Widow had relationships with most of the other male members of the Avengers (because – why?). The fact that Hawkeye has a wife and kiddies out in the hinterlands. None of it seemed very central or even germane to the plot and seemed only to pad it out.
On the other hand, it also had the return of Nick Fury and, at a key moment, the original SHIELD Helicarrier, which I loved. The big fight at the end went on a bit long and didn’t always make a lot of sense. Nonetheless, I enjoyed all of it.
Ant-Man was the surprise to me. Like last year’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy, I would not have bet you money going into it that I would enjoy it so much. But I did. Paul Rudd was a hoot and I bought his heroic side when it surfaced. Michael Douglas took the Famous Older Actor In a Surprise Supporting Role that Robert Redford did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel/Disney really can afford just about anyone it wants to get.
Ant-Man may be better suited to the movies than the comics. The shrinking man and large objects around him works better on the screen than the page. I may be looking forward to this Blu-Ray even more than the Avengers one.
Tomorrowland is based, conceptually, on a portion of Disneyland but, like the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, is so much more entertaining than it needs to be. Part of that can be traced back to Brad Bird, who directed it and co-wrote the screenplay. You may know Bird better as the director on Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and others.
The film stars George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and Britt Robertson as the spunky young gal who is the center of the story. The city of the title exists in a fold between time and space and it’s where the dreams of the future become real. It’s in danger of being corrupted and made prosaic by those who think they are saving it. What it needs is dreamers.
I love this film because, ultimately, it is so hopeful. It’s about the necessity of hope and that’s a message I think we need more of these days. It’s far from a perfect film but it’s message really appeals to me.
I’ve written before about Inside Out, the latest offering from Pixar. Quick summary: very inventive and imaginative, heartfelt, psychologically true (IMO) and wonderfully realized. I loved it.
Mad Max: Fury Road. Wow. Intense. As reboots go, stunningly successful. Tom Hardy makes a great successor to Mel Gibson and looks very much like him in the early Mad Max films. Charlize Theron kicks major league ass. George Miller is astounding. He’s seventy years old, it’s been thirty years since he last directed a Mad Max movie, and this film had so much raw energy, imaginative action sequences and filmmaking derring-do that you would have thought he was a much younger man taking over a sagging franchise. There’s lots of things that call back to the earlier Mad Max films while, at the same, time, laying claim to it all for a new generation of filmgoers.
Jurassic World. It’s been more than twenty years since the first Jurassic Park movie and about fourteen since Jurassic Park III (which, for the record, I preferred to Jurassic Park II although, from reports, Steven Spielberg did not.) This is essentially another reboot of a franchise although, strictly speaking, it does follow in continuity from the first one. It was a thundering successful relaunch; it made just buckets and buckets of money. It also marked Chris Pratt’s emergence as a bonafide and believable action film star. Oh, he was the star in Guardians of the Galaxy but his Peter Quill was a bit of a goofball as well; he had a strong streak of coyote in him. In Jurassic World, there is a young Harrison Ford feel to Pratt. Charismatic, strong, and a star.
One of the problems for Jurassic World is that, when we see the dinosaurs, there isn’t that same sense of wonder we had in the first Jurassic Park. The plot in Jurassic World mirrors that – the park itself is having problems because having dinosaurs is no longer “new” – not so much of an attraction — so the Powers-That-Be manufacture, by blending DNA strains, a whole new – and very deadly – form of beast. And, of course, it escapes. Jurassic World pleases us, it entertains us, but it doesn’t –- it can’t — give us that same sense of wonder, of discovery, that the first Jurassic Park did.
So – which of these was my own personal favorite? I enjoyed them all but there’s no question that Inside Out is my pick. It’s not a reboot, it’s not a sequel, it’s not another link in a cinematic chain; it’s fresh, it’s engaging, it’s funny, and it has its own truths to tell. Tomorrowland comes in second for the reasons I’ve already given. Like Inside Out, it is something new and fresh and that scores a lot of points with me.
There’s an interesting duel going on at your local Cineplex – two very different views of the future. One is Mad Max: Fury Road and the other is Tomorowland. The first is a reboot of the classic Mad Max films, set in a very dystopian future, while Tomorrowland is based, in part, on a section of Disneyland. (While that might seem a bit thin a premise on which to base a film, keep in mind that the initial Pirates of the Caribbean was based on a ride at Disneyland and, the initial film at least, was delightful.)
While I haven’t yet seen the latest Mad Max incarnation, I know its predecessors very well and the trailers have certainly more than suggested that it’s the same landscape. Tomorrowland posits a city founded by the likes of Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, Nikolai Tesla, and Gustave Eiffel. In some parallel dimension, they created a utopia where the best and the brightest from all walks of life, art as well as science, can come and are encouraged to do anything they can dream. The four recruit other scientists and dreamers with a pin that has the letter “T” on it. It’s supposed to be science although for all extents and purposes, it’s a magic talisman.
I’m not going to do a review of either film but I am interested in the two contrasting visions of the future. Tomorrowland acknowledges the problems facing this world, any of which could lead to a dystopian future but it maintains that this future is not inevitable. As the villain in the piece, Governor Nix, maintains what makes it inevitable is that humanity embraces that dystopic vision, even runs towards it, because it is easier. All we have to do is nothing. Changing it requires doing something. I think doing something requires belief that the actions will have a positive effect, that the future can be changed, that it all can be made to work.
And that’s where it becomes a problem for me.
Dystopian futures are my stock in trade. Hell, dystopian present is a familiar stomping ground for me. That’s become even more so in the past few years. I look at the world, at the greed and the political insanity and the climate change and the droughts and the intolerance of all stripes, not only religious, and I don’t see it changing. I think humanity, like lemmings, are heading for the cliff and will jump off it.
Belief comes hard to me these days. For example, on the notion of God/god/ghod (pick a god, any god) I’m an agnostic in general and an atheist in specifics. Could there be a god out there? I don’t know. Quantum mechanics suggests all sorts of strange things; maybe within that a notion of god could exist. However, in regards to a specific god – Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, Zeus, Eshu, Thor, Shiva, Vishnu. Hecate and on and on – I don’t believe in any of them. The stories are interesting and can even have moral worth but I don’t believe any of their gods are real. If you do, fine. I’m not trying to correct you and tell you your belief in a specific image of god is wrong. It’s not mine, however.
Nor do I believe that humanity can or will come to its collective senses in time to avoid any of the disasters that seem lying in wait for us. There’s not enough profit, political gain, or perceived power to be had in doing something about any of this even if we could agree that something needs to be done and what that something would be.
And yet. . .
And yet, my heart responds to Tomorrowland. In it, they use the metaphor that we all have a bright wolf and a dark wolf within us fighting for control. Which will win? Whichever one you feed.
I know which future I think is more likely given who we are as a species.
But I want one of those pins with the “T” on it. I want to hope. I want to believe despite everything I think I know.
In 2009 my parents visited me in Los Angeles for the first time and I needed to show them a movie as the Arclight chain of theaters because I wouldn’t shut up about how great they were. There wasn’t anything out that we were dying to see so we saw the latest movie from Jason Statham more because we liked him than because we thought we would see a fantastic movie. That was the first time I saw Crank: High Voltageand it changed what I wanted from an action movie: pace above all other things. I want a movie to move as fast and damn the audience if they can’t keep up. Mad Max: Fury Road is the first movie since that feels like it is genuinely pushing at the limits of the genre and it makes for a truly impactful filmgoing experience.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a 120-minute movie that has well over 110 minutes of action. Fast action at that, breakneck paced, innovative fire-belching action that constantly threatens to overwhelm the senses of the audience. Chase sequences so far above and beyond the norm that it feels like the cinematic equivalent of the invention of the steam engine and it’s like we skipped a thousand steps and went from farming to factories in no time at all. That they could do these choreographed ballets of explosions, high speeds, and flying bodies almost exclusively with practical effects defies belief. It all simultaneously looks like it would take a million takes to get right but would only really ever accommodate one. (more…)
Today’s Zen question: Can a movie be called a sequel even if it has a cast that hadn’t been in the earlier three movies but it stars the same lead character and the worldview remains consistent with those movies and all four movies have the same director, but the last one was released 30 years ago?
Today’s Zen answer: Who the hell cares? Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolutely terrific movie.
I saw this epic with my ComicMix comrade Martha Thomases and our mutual pal, Michigan’s own Penelope Ruchman. It was the beginning of an amazingly astonishing pop entertainment day; I’d give you those details but you know how I absolutely hate to name-drop. I won’t speak for Martha or Penny except to say that Martha enjoyed the movie at least as much as I did and I believe Penny liked it even more. Yes, it really is the Gone With The Wind of action movies, except instead of torching Atlanta they trashed several megatons of George Metzger-esque decrepit vehicles traveling across the desert to… well, to nowhere. Action ensues.
And that’s about it for the plot. Usually, that is not a good sign. Here, somehow, it works. If somebody pitched this to me as a graphic novel I’d have rejected it – but on the screen, in George Miller’s more-than-capable hands, it soars. I did not notice one person in the crowded Manhattan theater leaving for food or a bathroom break. That’s better than “two thumbs up,” particularly when damn near the entire movie was set in the desert. You’d think people would need some water or soda or a Slurpee or something.
Tom Hardy is fine as Max. The role isn’t overwhelmingly dependent upon acting chops, but when needed Tom delivers. The true star of this movie, in every conceivable way, is Charlize Theron. She plays the other title character, Imperator Furiosa. She is the heart and the soul of the movie but, to the regret of a few morons, she and her women companions also carry the brunt of the action. They carry it right to your lap.
There’s a bit of a controversy contrived by these aforementioned morons about how Mad Max: Fury Road emasculates men. There is a phrase for this attitude: neurotic bullshit. If this movie made their balls shrivel up and fall to the ground, trust me: society is better off.
There’s a long-standing meme in Hollywood about how women can’t carry an action movie. Executives point to truly shitty movies such as Catwoman, Elektra, and Supergirl. It doesn’t occur to the cigar-chompers that if you rewrote these movies for a male lead, they would be just as shitty and only marginally more income-active. I have three things to say to these people:
Mad Max: Fury Road
Greenlight the fucking Black Widow movie already.
Mad Max: Fury Road was co-written by comics great Brendan McCarthy, of 2000 AD fame. Particularly of Judge Dredd fame. The parallels between the Mad Max series and Dredd are, well, overwhelming. Jus’ sayin’. I thought Mick McMahon should have received royalties for The Road Warrior, but it is a great movie. Just like Road Fury.
This movie was so relentless and so compelling that even George Eastman’s parents should be proud.
Go see it. But first, stop by the ridiculously overpriced candy counter and buy vast quantities of consumable liquid. This time, it’s actually worth the money.