My 2015 in Film (Part 1)
This is a brief rundown of some of the films I watched that were released in 2015 and what I thought of them… and when I say brief, I mean as brief as I can get.
Ex Machina (2015, dir. Alex Garland)
I really liked Ex Machina. It was a great SF film that posed the question ‘If I were a genius multi-billionaire what sort of sex robots would I build?’ But more importantly it was a film that:
a) Proved the necessity of Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics.
b) Neatly illustrated the creepiness of the ‘male gaze’.
c) Was a fascinating look at what AIs mean for concepts of humanity and life.
d) Never enact a plan without thinking through what could possibly go wrong.
e) Engineers and Scientists might be able to make anything, but a Humanities specialist might be able to tell you whether or not it is a good idea.
With such a small cast it was really well done and was both entertaining and thought provoking. The SFX weren’t flashy but integrated neatly into the frame and thereby added to the story rather than distract from it.
Jupiter Ascending (2015, dir. The Wachowskis)
This one got hammered by the critics and general audiences alike. Personally, I thought it was a great SF version of Cinderella. OK, so it wasn’t an SF blockbuster action movie as the trailer may have led us to believe, but it was a pretty good adaptation of the fairytale and had Jupiter not needed rescuing quite so much, would have been a strong contender for a decent feminist SF film with mass appeal. It just felt a little disjointed and pitched awkwardly to different audiences. Visually, as we have come to expect from the Wachowskis, it was stunning and the alien technology, the ships and all the SFX were first rate. But I think that in a few years people might re-evaluate it as a fairytale and it will get a lot better traction.
Chappie (2015, dir. Neill Blomkamp)
This was a film I was really disappointed in. I loved District 9, but this one (like Elysium) left me cold. It felt like a slightly tedious and overly serious remake of Short Circuit (1986, dir. John Badham) without Steve Gutenberg. The story made almost no sense, the themes were disjointed rather than marrying up into a cohesive whole, and the comic beats fell in all the wrong places for me. It also seemed to be unable to settle on whether it was a social commentary, an action movie, or a film about AIs. Even the impressive cast couldn’t save this one for me.
Furious 7 (2015, dir. James Wan)
What can I say? This was just like all the others. It was a slow Sunday. There was nothing else on. If you enjoyed the first raft of these films then you will enjoy this one. Fast cars, over the top action, scenery chewing acting, and cornball dialogue. And it has Vin Diesel. That is the major reason to see it.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, dir. Joss Whedon)
I might actually do a full review of this sometime, but in short form… it was a superhero blockbuster that almost equally divided its time between three things:
1) promoting the next instalments in the franchise;
2) Pure action scenes depicting orgies of narratively irrelevant wanton destruction;
3) Actual story.
It looked pretty though, and I am sucker for Superhero stories.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, dir. George Miller)
This was one of the highlights of the cinematic year for me. I am not really a gear head in anyway, and didn’t grow up on the Mad Max films so I was a bit wary going into this one, but I loved it. Tom Hardy did an amazing job channelling a young Mel Gibson. Charlize Theron was unsurprisingly brilliant in this. The story was action packed and had a deep thematic resonance. The visuals were amazing. Even though it is essentially one long chase, Miller did a fantastic job carving up the scenes to alter the pace and mood along the way. I just loved this film. An action movie is fun, interesting, thought provoking, has great acting and characters, stunning visuals and that challenges concepts of patriarchy without being preachy… who’da thunk it. A really excellent film.
Tomorrowland (2015, dir. Brad Bird)
This was another Sunday afternoon that I had little better to do. It was surprisingly alright. OK so the villainous Hugh Laurie was ridiculous and nonsensical, but there was some interesting stuff in there about predestination and self-fulfilling prophecies, the misuse of technology versus its potential to save us… and there were some cool visuals and some slapstick comedy. And its central message of optimism was actually rather endearing and refreshing given the cynicism and world-weariness that seems the prevalent mode at present. I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD and re-watching it any-time soon. But there were worse ways that I could have spent that afternoon.
Inside Out (2015, dir. Pete Docter)
It might not have done as well as Finding Nemo (2003, dir. Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich) but this was a fun family animated film that had some great voice acting and some heart wrenching scenes about growing up. I may have teared up a little at the fate of the imaginary friend, Bing Bong, and, barbarian that I am, I actually preferred it to Nemo.
San Andreas (2015, dir. Brad Peyton)
This has to have been one of the most unintentionally hilarious films I have ever seen. I spent most of the time watching it struggling not to laugh uproariously at the ridiculous dialogue, the massive plot holes, the complete lack of intelligence and the wonderfully unsubtle characterisations. This is a great film to watch if you need cheering up. I really, really enjoyed it… just not in the way I think the director intended.
Jurassic World (2015, dir. Colin Trevorrow)
So apparently 2015 was the year of the re-quel. Part re-make and part sequel, this was pretty much a more sparkly and visually up-to-date re-make of the 1993 original. So if you liked it, you will probably like this. The dinosaurs looked cool though. Yeah. Not much to say on this apart from it was an updated version of the original. Huh.
Terminator Genisys (2015, dir. Alan Taylor)
Re-quel number 2 of the year for me. I might be in a minority, but I honestly think that Arnold Schwarzenegger should never be in another Terminator film ever again. Hey, if we can re-cast Spiderman, Batman, and Superman every couple of years, why the hell can’t we re-cast the Terminator? It was a fun blockbuster explodey-fest that made little sense and had gaping plot holes that are undoubtedly going to be either poorly explained or made worse by subsequent films in this franchise. Did anyone else think that both Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke were remarkably well fed looking for people meant to be living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of evil killer robots? It lacked the grim punch of the original, but that was probably because it seemed aimed at a much younger audience. Well, we shall have to see what the sequels will be like.
Ted 2 (2015, dir. Seth MacFarlane)
I need to find better things to do on my Sunday afternoons. I thought this was terrible. The crude humour of the first one was occasionally funny, but this time around it just felt stale, flat, fetid, tired, obnoxious and boring. Ah well.
Ant-Man (2015, dir. Peyton Reed)
I love superhero films, and this one could have been great, especially if it had fully embraced its ridiculous premise. As it is, it has the feeling of a director wanting to do the fun, silly thing and fully commit to the absurdity, and a studio intent on making it a serious action blockbuster. So, it ended up feeling like an uneven, fairly unoriginal, origin story film. Plus, it suffered from that same problem of working hard to advertise and set up future films in the franchise instead of focusing on the story it was meant to be telling. But it had a fight between tiny people on a toy train. So I don’t regret seeing it.