Posts Tagged ‘films’

Excusing the fact that we’re a quarter of the way into the following year: 2018 in Cinema!

Best: Love, Simon

Don’t get me wrong: Love, Simon isn’t a “great” movie. It is, in fact, a pretty standard teen rom-com, in the vein of every other teen rom-com I grew up with, except in one regard: the lead character in this one is gay. More pertinently, it’s the first ever movie released by a major Hollywood studio to focus on a gay teen romance; a fact that’s easy to overlook unless you’re in the minority of people who rarely, if ever, got to see themselves represented in popular media.

It probably goes without saying that growing up gay in Scotland during the ’90s and early 2000s was a less than stellar experience. When the word has been hurled at you as an insult for years before you’ve even recognised that part of yourself, it can be damaging in ways that don’t become apparent until much later. Absurd as it seems now, by my early teens I’d internalised so much hatred that I genuinely believed only terrible, hideous people could be gay; and it wasn’t until I caught an episode of (of all things) Dawson’s Creek in a hotel room in Florida that I realised this didn’t have to be the case. Seeing Kerr Smith play handsome, regular, gay teenager Jack (and excusing the fact that the actor was on the cusp of turning 30) was revelatory; and highlighted what I now know, as an adult, to be the power of representation. Done poorly, it smacks of tokenism and checking a box to fulfil a diversity requirement. (Done terribly, it’s JK Rowling claiming to have created a gay character in Dumbledore without ever acknowledging it in her published work but still expecting the accolades for her retroactive inclusivity.) But done well, it’s the difference between feeling isolated in a world that seems violently antagonist to your existence, and realising that there’s a future out there in which you can find happiness with someone who loves like you. (Not for nothing: Dawson’s Creek also featured the first passionate kiss between two men to ever be shown on prime time television.)

You only have to look at the toxic political debate surrounding LGBTQ+ rights being taught in UK schools right now to see that we haven’t come nearly as far as we should have in the last two decades. (Though, as a matter of national pride, it’s worth noting that Scotland recently became the first country in the world to embed it in the school curriculum). With queer youth still at a disproportionate risk of suicide, homelessness and mental illness, the importance of positive representation in media can’t be overstated; especially when our own movies would seem to indicate that happy endings are few and far between (see: the all too-prevalent “Bury Your Gays” trope). Truth be told, I’d fully braced myself for Love, Simon to follow suit. At the end of the movie, the titular Simon sits alone on a ferris wheel, having openly declared his desire to meet his anonymous online romance “Blue” but knowing that the latter might not be ready to reveal himself. “I deserve a great love story,” writes Simon, but the weight of gay cinema – from Brokeback Mountain to Weekend – tells us otherwise. Indeed, for one brief moment, it really feels like Simon is destined to be yet another victim in the cinematic annuls of queer heartbreak. Only (spoiler alert), he’s not! United at last, the two high-school boys rise to the peak of the ferris wheel and share their first kiss, and it made me cry every single time I saw it in the cinema: with happiness, with relief, and maybe with something approaching sadness for the high school experience I was never allowed to have but which I truly hope will be the norm for generations that follow.

It’s not going to change the hearts and minds of every viewer (our initial viewing was part of an advanced screening where audiences see a movie ahead of its general release but aren’t told which film it’ll be beforehand. There were at least 10 walkouts within the first 5 minutes of Love, Simon). But it’s the movie I wish could have existed for me as a teenager and which I’m so grateful exists for teenagers right now: the the one that tells that terrified little gay boy I used to be that his love story can have a happy ending.

Runner-Up: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Like a comic book come to life: totally unique visual language; loving homage to the character in all its incarnations; honestly the best Spider-Man movie in years and easily the best superhero movie of 2018.

Worst: Life of the Party

Delivering on neither of the nouns in its title, this painfully anodyne “comedy” – penned by Melissa McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone – stumbles from one scene to another with seemingly no direction or momentum, and has the dubious honour of producing not one character who feels like a believably rendered human being. The sole highlight was a hazing scene midway through when John – sensing my mounting exasperation at the movie as a whole – was trying desperately to contain his mirth before exploding into such uncontrollable laughter that the entire row was shaking for about five minutes after it was already over.

Runner-Up: Peter Rabbit

You know it’s grim when filmmakers have made an animated rabbit so detestable that you’re wishing for a sequel to Watership Down.

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So we’re more than halfway through 2018, and it occurs to me I still didn’t do my movie write-up for last year. In “brief”:

Best: Wonder Woman

I grew up on a diet of ass-kicking women. If I was picking up a controller, it was to play Chun-Li, Sonya Blade or Lara Croft. If I was turning on the TV, it was to watch She-Ra, Xena, Buffy or Alias. There are few things I’d rather watch on screen than a strong female lead, and – so predisposed – watch Wonder Woman I did: multiple times at the cinema, and a whole bunch since on blu-ray. But it would be selling it short to label WW as “the female superhero movie” and not discuss its cultural impact: that in an industry which rarely affords the opportunity to either, a female-led, female-directed picture was the highest-rated superhero movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes and the highest-grossing superhero origin movie ever. (Black Panther – equally, but differently important – has since taken the titles, but WW is still firmly in 2nd place.)

Hollywood has always viewed the issue with female superhero movies as something inherent to the genre; overlooking the fact that their critical and commercial failures have invariably been a result of complete mishandling; leaving them in a no-man’s land where their general ineptitude is a hard sell to audiences of any gender. (The fact that I love Halle Berry’s Catwoman is not a compliment: merely evidence that placing her opposite a supervillainous Sharon Stone empowered by radioactive moisturiser results in a movie that can only be enjoyed by gay men.) Wonder Woman was able to buck this trend because it was taken seriously by its writing team, director and cast; it didn’t rely on over-sexualisation (indeed, the only nudity in the entire movie belongs to Chris Pine); and Gal Gadot’s pitch-perfect, immediately-endearing balance of earnest conviction and ass-kicking prowess carries the film from beginning to end; shattering Nazis, glass ceilings and blockbuster records in the process.

An image that stands out as the perfect metaphor for the entire film’s creation is Diana marching through the trenches of WWI and declaring that she will cross the unbridgeable warzone known as No Man’s Land (!) to free the occupied Belgian hamlet of Veld. “It means no man can cross it,” rebukes Chris Pine’s character, as – moments later – she emerges for the first time in full Wonder Woman regalia, deflecting machine gun and cannon fire, carving a path for the troops and declaring, in an unspoken echo of Éowyn before her: “I am no man.” Director Patty Jenkins reportedly faced pressure to remove the scene on account of executives failing to understand its importance, and the fact that it not only remains in the finished product but is arguably the most iconic, empowering scene of the whole piece is surely evidence, as if more was needed, that studios don’t always know what’s best for them.

As the sole redeeming factor of Batman v Superman, it’s a shame that the character of Wonder Woman couldn’t carry the DC Expanded Universe over its next stumbling block in Justice League; but the movie has already served as a vanguard for future entries in the pantheon of superheroine cinema (paving the way for Captain Marvel and more to come), and embodies the spirit of female empowerment that continues to sweep through Hollywood today.

Honourable Mentions:

Spoilt for choice, I’d probably narrow it down to Moonlight, Lion, A Monster Calls and Hidden Figures, with top honours going to the all-round excellent Call Me By Your Name.

Worst: La La Land

That this trash-heap of a movie was nominated for any Oscars is inexplicable to me, but least of all for best sound editing when I was struggling to discern if the opening number had lyrics. Especially disappointing because I love both musicals and Emma Stone, neither of the leads ultimately had the vocal or dance skills to carry the picture, and the filmmmakers’ subsequent statement that “it was never supposed to be perfect. And I think it would have lost some of its charm and also its accessibility to those who watch it if it had been absolutely perfect” is a stretch at best. Amost an hour into the movie – as we watched Ryan Gosling’s increasingly detestable character mansplain jazz to Emma Stone – John turned to me and asked, “Can we leave?”

We did, and I’ve never been more grateful.

(Dis)honourable Mention:

It Comes At Night. Unless the eponymous “it” is a) the film’s plot, or b) the inexorable sense of my impending death creeping closer as the minutes I waste on this film tick by, I think I missed the point.

Halloween at the Kelvingrove might have been an unmitigated disaster, but Psycho Live with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra was incredible. 🚿🔪🎻🎶

And, because there were no rows A or B, we inadvertently had front-row seats!

Averaging about 6 movies a month (and 75 in total), it’s fair to say I got my money’s worth out of my Cineworld Unlimited card in 2016. What’s less clear is whether I was blown away by any of them in the way I was in 2015 with Still Alice: a solid 10/10 in a way that nothing last year really came close to. (Indeed, if I were going purely by films I saw at the cinema in 2016 vs those released that year, I’d probably appoint The Force Awakens my favourite on account of seeing it again for the third time in January.)

Categories that typically shine were uncharacteristically dull: Oscar-bait drama Room was marred by a clumsy soundtrack whose every chord was calculated to dictate what the viewer should be feeling at any given moment; The Danish Girl was commendably gorgeous to look at (and shares a cinematographer with Room in Danny Cohen), but while people were divided on the subject of casting a cisgender actor in the lead role, it unquestionably denies transgender people the ability to tell their own stories by adapting David Ebershoff’s highly fictionalised retelling of Lili Elbe’s life and not her own (readily available) notes and letters. With the exception of the hilarious Deadpool, even superhero movies in 2016 were pedestrian: Marvel’s other efforts were entirely forgettable, and it’s hard to say which major DC franchise audiences hated more. (For my money, Batman v Superman was infinitely worse, but that’s hardly a compliment. You’d think Suicide Squad screenings came with a mandatory waterboarding the way people reacted, but it would be a kindness to describe it as anything beyond “watchable”.)

Adjusting the judging criteria then to films I enjoyed purely for enjoyment’s sake, it fell to a different genre entirely to pick up the slack: which is why – in ranking the movies of 2016 – I’m awarding my top pick to:

Best: Moana

In a year of Brexits, Trumps and the statistical probability that one of your childhood heroes died in 2016 (RIP Carrie Fisher), it’s perhaps unsurprising that I found so much comfort in the escapism of animated movies. Admittedly, Moana might not be the most original entry in the Disney ouevre: a plucky outsider with an animal sidekick sings her way through a quest narrative, with echoes of (to name a few) The Little Mermaid’s cloistered princess longing for a wider world, Mulan’s (im)perfect daughter railing against familial expectations, and The Lion King’s reluctant ruler with a deceased relative spirit guide. If there’s a certain familiarity to the storyline, however, it’s executed so masterfully that you’ll soon find yourself swept along on the journey regardless. Moana eschews the archetypal lynchpins of a princess narrative (she’s perfectly capable of saving herself, and the love story is one of self-acceptance and empowerment), and while I could easily praise the beauty of the animation, its greatest strength is in the telling. It unfolds so delightfully that I laughed, smiled and, yes, cried my way through the entire thing (minus one overlong sequence involving a villainous crab) and have been singing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s soundtrack on a daily basis ever since.

Runner-Up: Kubo and the Two Strings

For almost every reason I loved Moana, but with my personal kryptonite from a childhood of Ray Harryhausen movies: stop-motion animation! Bonus points for a kid’s movie that dares to go darker.

Honourable Mentions: tapping into that other outlet for escapism: mindless violence – Green Room (tense, claustrophobic, brutally droll, and unapologetically violent) and Don’t Breathe (which cost me the majority of my fingernails).

Worst: Midnight Special

Choosing the best movie might have required some thought, but the same definitely can’t be said for the worst, which goes – unequivocally – to this dreary, shambling, plotless pile of crap. With each passing minute, I became further infuriated with the complete lack of storyline masquerading as the film’s central “mystery”, and the only improvement that could have been made is if I’d gone with my gut instinct and walked out after the first half hour. Just the absolute worst.

Runner-Up: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Here partially facetiously (but also kind of not), perhaps Rogue One wasn’t the second-worst movie I saw last year, but it was definitely the biggest disappointment. Despite having two elements almost guaranteed to win me over (to wit: a female lead, and having Star Wars in the title) one could argue that Rogue One was a victim of its own self-generated hype – trying and failing to live up to the success of the blindingly impressive Episode VII – but truth be told: it’s just not very good. From the opening sequence onwards, the movie jumps with no real focus from one forgettably-named planet to another like some faceless masturbator on Chatroulette, and never really finds its footing from there. Every actor feels like they’re starring in a different movie, with special mention to Forest Whitaker who leaves no piece of scenery unchewed, and the rest of the cast so bland and forgettable that I quite literally struggled to recall anyone’s name besides Jyn’s the minute the credits rolled. Chirrut Imwe (whose name I had to google to write this) is a blind martial artist who not only feels utterly out of place in a galaxy far, far away but is a character trope so clichéd as to have his own category on TVTropes.org; and not since Jinkx Monsoon’s “Water off a duck’s back” have I been so irritated by a repetitive and monotonous catchphrase as “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me”. He’s also a victim of the script’s second worst offense, when – after having a bag placed over his head – he responds: “Are you kidding me?” [OK, that’s pretty funny] “I’m blind.” [Sigh. The writers didn’t place enough faith in the audience to assume they’d get the joke without someone spelling it out for them.] though that doesn’t even begin to compare to Darth Vader’s actual. fucking. pun. of “Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director” whilst Force-choking said character. (Not for nothing: the director of Rogue One would do well to have heeded his own advice during production.)

Problems like these contribute to a movie which ultimately just doesn’t feel like it belongs in the same universe as the established movies (discounting the prequels), and the frequent parade of cameos (everyone from series mainstays R2-D2 and C-3PO, to Cantina extras Ponda Baba and Doctor Evazan) feel crammed in and tacked on to remind the viewer: “no, really – you’re watching a Star Wars film regardless of what you might be feeling.” Maybe the alarm bells should have been ringing the minute George Lucas – notably outspoken about The Force Awakens – voiced his approval of the finished product.

Even if I could have forgiven the film it’s many other faults, however, its greatest crime is reserved for the indignity it inflicts on the late Peter Cushing and (now, tragically) Carrie Fisher: with some of the most horrendously ill-conceived, suspension-of-disbelief-shattering CGI since that digital baby in the last Twilight movie. Plumbing the depths of the uncanny valley, Grand Moff Tarkin and (young) Princess Leia are resurrected so unconvincingly as to jar you out of every scene they appear in, jerking mechanically through the sets like they’ve just crawled out of the movie’s inevitable video game tie-in. With the film happy to recast Mon Mothma and – soon – Han Solo for his own tie-in movie, it’s an inexplicable choice not to have another actor play the part: not least because Cushing-alike Guy Henry not only voices Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One but provided all of the motion capture for the monstrosity which eventually appeared on screen. Equally, Princess Leia – for the one line she utters – could just as easily been shown from behind: the white robe and distinctive hair buns alone providing even the least Star Wars-knowledgeable audience members enough clues to gather who was speaking. Beyond just this movie, the ramifications for what it means for Episode VIII onward in Fisher’s absence is a chilling thought.

Dishonourable Mention: Storks, which I walked out of but will forgive on account of being marketed to 10-and-unders.

Here’s looking ahead with more hope for 2017!

In honour of the Oscars (and forgetting to post these in January): (±)2015 in cinema, courtesy of my Cineworld Unlimited card! (Yes, I saw Star Wars three times.)

My choice for best movie of the year: Still Alice (which I’ve written about at length.)

Joint runners-up: Jurassic World and The Force Awakens, both of which so perfectly captured my childhood love of the franchises that a sweeping shot of Isla Nublar accompanied by that John Williams score, or the sight of Han and Chewie aboard the Millennium Falcon nearly brought me to tears. Far from banking on the viewer’s nostalgia, however (filled as I was with glee on seeing the original T. rex from JP in the finale!) both succeed in being damn fine movies in their own right; with Star Wars in particular making me fall in love with a new generation of characters who, by the film’s close, I was just as engaged with as the original cast. (Special mention not only to Rey, who I loved, but also to BB-8, who – like WALL•E before him – succeeds in conveying an entire gamut of emotions belied by his lack of a single line of dialogue throughout. Indeed, his “thumbs-up” with the lighter which was just about my favourite moment in the movie.)

My uncontested choice for worst movie of the year: Absolutely Anything. Given the frequency with which I go to the cinema, it’s statistically improbable not to encounter my fair share of duds, though I can usually forgive them on the basis that they at least achieve the basic function of their given genre. Trainwreck was meandering and about an hour too long, but – at least in parts – it made me laugh. Sinister 2 was a pale, horror-by-numbers imitation of the original, but – every so often – it made me jump. It’s rare, therefore, that a film so utterly misses the mark that I’m not only angry at its creators for its existence, but also myself for the two hours of my life I wasted on it. The Simon Pegg movie Absolutely Anything is one such film, and – adding to its list of crimes against filmmaking – also holds the dubious honour of being the last on-screen credit for Robin Williams, who is beyond wasted in this howlingly unfunny pile of shit.

After seeing Still Alice, I remained open to the possibility that something might come along in 2015 to change its position as my favourite film that year. I was entirely confident, however, that I could declare Absolutely Anything the unmitigated worst, without fear of another film even approaching its spectacular craptacularity in the four months that remained. The list of films I’d rather see again in my lifetime is both brief and comprehensive. To wit: absolutely anything.

And, if I had to appoint a runner-up: Life – a James Dean biopic, in which a woefully miscast Dane DeHaan infuses the Hollywood legend with all the charisma of a tree stump.

Here’s looking ahead to the remainder of 2016!