__As we’re approaching the halfway point of the year, I thought I might as well share my first impressions on the movies I’ve seen so far. Most of these reviews are carried over from when I did a similarly titled post at the end of March on Blog.com – which I’ve now turned my back on because the site is becoming far too unstable; most of the time, it just doesn’t load.
__Now, I haven’t had the chance to see all that many movies yet (mostly because I don’t have easy access to a cinema), but what I’ve seen so far leaves me hopeful for what’s to come. 2014 was the most underwhelming year for movies in recent memory, but 2015 is already a hundred times better – because I’ve actually seen a five-star movie! 😀 But, we’ll get to that.
__I did go to see Jurassic World today, but that’ll be getting its own separate review. For now, in brief, here’s my take on the few other movies I’ve seen so far this year.
Taken 3 (2015)
__To tell you the truth, the only reason I saw this is because The Theory of Everything started earlier than I thought, and I didn’t find out until I’d already bought the ticket, so I figured I might as well see something. What I got was, hands down, the worst of the Taken series so far. The plot doesn’t even involve a kidnapping anymore; it’s just another dime-a-dozen revenge story. And the action scenes are some of the worst ever, taking the unfortunately clichéd shaky cam and frenetic editing another step to absurdity; most of the time, I simply could not tell what was happening. That’s really all I have to say: this movie’s just worthless. But like I said, I paid for The Theory of Everything, so I can at least take comfort in the fact that my money went towards what I’m sure is a much better movie.
__My rating: 40%.
Ex Machina (2015)
__After writing such masterpieces as 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd, this is Alex Garland’s debut in the director’s chair; that alone got me intrigued. 🙂 And the result certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s not a stunningly original take on artificial intelligence, but still a fascinating one that probably blurs the line between man and machine better than any other movie I’ve seen – best summed up in the scene where Caleb asks Nathan if Ava was programmed to flirt with him. I have to say, I love the way Ava is designed. 🙂 It’s also one of those movies that really excels at creating tension with a very small cast. Not to mention, Film Brain analysed the film’s themes and relevance to our modern technological society way better than I ever could. You can definitely see echoes of Alex Garland’s previous work when the last act turns into something completely different from the two before it, but it’s still a compelling and suspenseful climax – complete with one of the best stabbing scenes I’ve ever seen. Overall, it’s a very smart, solid movie and definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of the AI subgenre.
__My rating: 85%.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
__Matthew Vaughn’s second adaptation of a Mark Millar comic. 🙂 And just like Kick-Ass, it proves to be a match made in heaven! 😀 This is the five-star movie I was talking about before. In a word, wow! It’s a send-up to over-the-top spy action movies that’s equal parts gleeful homage and biting satire. It tells two stories in parallel: a young new recruit going through Kingsman training, and the actual Kingsman agents investigating Richmond Valentine – who, by the way, is a great villain. There are too many amazingly clever moments to even count; if I could gush about every single scene, I would. 🙂 But I will say this much: the whole film strikes a perfect balance between funny, sardonic and exciting, and is just all-around exhilarating. Obviously the year’s not over yet, but I’m pretty confident this will still be in my top five by year’s end. I loved it.
__My rating: 90%.
__I might have gone into this movie with higher expectations had I not disliked director Neill Blomkamp’s previous effort, Elysium. And, between that film and this one, it’s starting to look more and more like District 9 was a fluke! This was horrible!
__And that’s mainly down to the opening. Talk about starting off on the wrong foot! Everything that was being set up struck me as so derivative – especially the MOOSE, which is a blatant ED-209 rip-off – that it immediately tarnished the rest of the movie that followed. As a result, I was in such a bad mood that I just found the storyline clichéd and the scenes with Chappie learning things embarrassing. And the trite scene where Yolandi tells him about the soul actually had me yelling, “Oh, fuck off!” at the screen.
__The maddening thing is that this isn’t an inherently bad concept. The idea of an AI learning and maturing has been done well before, and it had potential to be done well here, but it’s all ruined by the immediately obvious clichés and the ludicrous one-dimensional villains.
__I have to commend the special effects, though: Blomkamp and his effects team have always been brilliant at replacing actors with animated characters so that they really look like they belong in the shot. But aside from that, this movie just flat-out made me angry.
__My rating: 25%.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
__Speaking as someone who was pretty disappointed in the second wave of Marvel movies, I think this is, hands down, the best Marvel movie since Avengers 1. It’s a concentrated blast of pure fun and doesn’t aspire to be anything more than that. It’s still the same wonderful characters being themselves and bantering brilliantly, and there are too many awesome moments to count – especially during the climax, where I wanted to go, “YEAH!” several times. Plus, it was such a breath of fresh air to see a superhero movie acknowledge the danger to civilians and the need to get them out of harm’s way; the Hulkbuster fight wasn’t just a fantastic concept, but that whole scene came across as one big statement of, “Take that, Man of Steel!” To sum it up, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Is it as good as Avengers 1? No, but I didn’t expect it to be. Again, though, I do think it’s the best Marvel movie since that masterpiece, and easily one of my favourite movies of the year so far.
__My rating: 85%.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
__I was never a big fan of the first Mad Max, but I think the second one can easily stand alone as its own movie – and a damn good one. In this reboot, whereas originally oil was the scarce commodity, this time it seems to be water. The story is set up well enough – it’s a quest to find a better life – but Immortan Joe’s society isn’t explained very well. What exactly is Nux, and why do only he and his kin require (or at least use) “blood bags”? Maybe watching it with subtitles will help. Also, bearing in mind how rare oil was in the original movies, I didn’t appreciate how extreme the vehicles were, constantly spewing fire that would most likely waste fuel. However, the action itself is where the movie shines. This is a welcome return to old-school, authentic stuntwork, making the action scenes all the more visceral and all the more exhilarating. It was also fun to spot the various nods to the original trilogy, like the scene where Max threatens people with an empty gun. So, while I still think I like Mad Max 2 (AKA The Road Warrior) better overall, this is still one of the best action movies in recent years, and a good example of how to do a reboot right.
__My rating: 80%.
__So those are the 2015 theatrical releases I’ve seen so far.
__And now, let’s take a look at a couple of other movies I saw in the cinema in the first couple of months but don’t count as 2015 releases. These are ones that were first released in the US last year but didn’t make it to UK cinemas until early this year.
American Sniper (2014)
__I always have a tough time reviewing dramas, especially biographical ones, since it all comes down to how invested in the story you get. But this is a wonderfully realised one. Clint Eastwood is one of those directors who doesn’t seem to care about style but more about simply telling a good story, and this is no different. I can’t speak to its theme of the real-life psychology of war – that’s been brought up by others – but I can say that, in every scene, you really feel like you’re there. I think my favourite parts are the opening and the ending: the tension in the first scene is utterly nail-biting, and the ending is startlingly abrupt, perfectly summing up what a tragic and untimely death it was (to anyone who knows the true story, that’s not a spoiler). Nothing much else to say except that this is a good movie that really makes up for some of Eastwood’s recent disappointments.
__My rating: 75%.
Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
__Well, well. The latest Best Picture winner. And you know what? It deserves it. 🙂 Obviously the technical wizardry immediately springs out at you: how the whole movie appears to be one continuous take, paralleling its theatrical subject matter. But it’s also a brilliantly poetic case of art imitating life, with Michael Keaton’s character being an obvious nod to his former Batman glory days, and Edward Norton playing a parody of his own reputation as a hard-to-work-with actor. Every character is instantly lovable, and I especially like the psychological trip: how Riggan’s mind keeps running away with him. I’m sure you’ve heard it analysed to death already, so I’ll just end by saying that I really liked it and I can easily see it getting even better with repeated viewings.
__My rating: 80%.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
__Really? This is what kept Interstellar off the top of the box office? This is seriously one of the most predictable movies I have ever seen – and I’m usually not the kind of guy who complains about that. Literally every single beat of the story could be seen coming from a mile away. I even correctly predicted the villain’s identity. Baymax’s “low battery” scene really bugged me, too: his battery still lasts for a disproportionately long time afterwards, and that aspect of the plot is never referenced again. I couldn’t help but love Baymax himself, though, and all the team’s different abilities were pretty cool. But for me, the highlight was the satirical car chase scene: that was funny as hell! 😀 Other than that, I confess myself severely disappointed.
__My rating: 55%.
__So that covers everything I’ve seen in the cinema so far this year. I have also watched a few other movies on the side, but so as not to let this blog post get too long, I think I’ll divide those reviews into a separate entry. See you there. 🙂