My Ten Controversial Film Opinions of 2015

1. Kingsman: The Secret Service doesn’t deserve all its praise…

Director Matthew Vaughn has a very accomplished track record;Kick-Ass is a breath of fresh air amid the abundance of Marvel superhero flicks, X-Men: First Class is a hugely entertaining romp that serves as the franchise’s finest, and Stardust, despite being rarely mentioned, is a competent and non-formulaic addition to the fantasy genre. You can imagine my disappointment, then, at Kingsman: The Secret Service, a spy caper devoid of any heart or wit that we have come to expect of the director.

Read rest of review here.

2. Tomorrowland is one of the best films of the year…

Suffering from a poor marketing campaign, Tomorrowland represented one of Disney’s worse box-office flops. The trailers promised a world of wonder and excitement, but what we got instead was a 2-act buildup to that world – only to find out it was in ruins. Yet the wonder and excitement hadn’t diminished – Tomorrowland brought me back to my younger years, where I was caught up in the fascination of Spy Kids, or, heck, Star Wars – it’s a film that really tapped into my youthful core and I love it for that. It’s innocent, poignant, brilliantly acted (Raffey Cassidy is a revelation), expertly paced and at its centre is a strong, resonant moral message, wonderfully conveyed by Hugh Laurie’s not-quite-villain.

3. Amid an abundance of spy flicks, The Man From U.N.C.L.E reigns supreme…

2015 has been the year of spy films. Other than Kingsman, which I’ve already touched upon, there was MI5, Spectre, and The Man From UNCLE, a hugely entertaining romp helmed by the reliable Guy Ritchie. Mission Impossible 5 was enjoyable and contained some ridiculously impressive set pieces, but suffered from a third act lull. Spectre fared worse, much worse, and my sentiments can be found in my review here. The Man From UNCLE, however, held my interest all the way through, had a great script, and its soundtrack just asserted its position as this year’s best spy caper.

4. Jupiter Ascending is one of the most entertaining films of the year…

Moving from the six sprawling, genre-muddling stories of Cloud Atlas, to bees that sense royalty, planetary dynasties and wing-craving wolfmen of Jupiter Ascending, the film’s individual concepts are mind-boggling bonkers; as a whole, they combine to make a ludicrous, intense cinematic extravaganza that slightly crumbles under the weight of each idea floating around. But heck, it’s entertaining, and the Wachowski’s show real ambition.

5. Big Hero 6 is decent enough, but really shouldn’t be anywhere near its Best Animated Feature academy award…

There’s been talk of a Disney renaissance; hot off the heels of Frozen’s commercial – and critical – success, the studio released Big Hero 6, a charming flick that was met with a similarly superb response. So much so, it went on to beat the likes of The Lego Movie and The Tale of Princess Kaguya to the Best Animated Feature Oscar. The accolade was clearly indicative of the golden period Disney now finds itself in – away from the depths of the 2000s; the award was sweet, a success story, a signifier of great things to come. The award was undeserved.

Read rest of review here

6. The Martian is a step down from Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus’…

The return of exciting, hard-sci-fi flicks has been a refreshing occurrence in the film industry. Christopher Nolan got in on the act last year with Interstellar, and Ridley Scott now has his turn with The Martian, a film much more ‘sci’ than ‘fi’. The visuals are fascinating, the dialogue beforehand irritatingly artificial, and Scott’s film continues in this manner along the film’s lengthy 142 minute runtime. The Martian is amusing and relatively enjoyable, but nothing more than that. Scott goes for ‘feel-good’, and while he succeeds in doing so, it diminishes any emotional resonance that the film could have. Exodus was a brutally entertaining epic that had something The Martian was lacking – heart.

7. Minions is one of the best animations of the year…

Cynics beware, Minions is a bundle of joy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you shouldn’t either. The plot is generic but irrelevant – it’s used as a vehicle to display the titular characters in all their Minion-y glory. There’s been a lot of hate thrown towards these characters recently – due to their saturation in everyday life – but that shouldn’t detract from a wonderfully written animation that’s beautiful, charming, and – crucially – hilarious.

8. Jurassic World suffers from a lack of ambition…

Breaking a myriad of box-office records, Jurassic World arrived with a bang – but perhaps it should have stayed prehistoric. From the writing, the plot, the acting – everything is mundane and average and one-note, and there’s nothing that actually stands out about the film. It’s a very safe, well-marketed film that’s evidently designed for maximum profit; the flick is harmless enough to draw masses to its screenings, but I can hardly remember any of it as I’m typing this.

9. Gosling’s Lost River is right up there with the best of the year…

Lost River, Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, is sitting at a measly 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. Thankfully, it’s right up my street – artsy fartsy, perplexing, and stunning to look at, it’s an admirable effort that captivated me and entertained me massively. The story isn’t needlessly bloated, Ben Mendelsohn is reliably terrific, and the imagery conveyed is hauntingly beautiful.

10. Chappie is a return to form for Neil Blomkamp…

Poor Neil Blomkamp – he just can’t win. Expectations were high after his debut, District 9, and Elysium did little to satisfy that. Surely Chappie would return him to the sci-fi heights everybody hoped he would hit? I think it did – though it seems like the whole world thinks otherwise. The characters are interesting, the special effects are superb, and most importantly, the story intertwines sentimentality and action perfectly. Not as politcally-charged as Blomkamp’s prior efforts, but a lot of people don’t seem to realise that it doesn’t have to be.

-Gus Edgar

Spectre

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In the opening scene of Spectre, the Daniel Craig era of James Bond soars to new heights (quite literally) with a terrific Dia de Muertos sequence. Sadly, the following 130 minutes of screentime can’t maintain the high standards set – and as the film progresses, the expectancy of another Bond classic dwindles indefinitely.

Bond’s 24th (non-linear) outing takes place in the wake of Skyfall, where Judi Dench’s recently deceased ‘M’ kickstarts Spectre’s messy plot into action.  He must kill the criminal Marco Sciarra, and attend his funeral in Rome. From there, the murky depths of a shadowy organisation called ‘Spectre’ are revealed, and at the centre of this establishment is the enigmatic figure of Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser.

This infiltration of Spectre is clumsily written, where action sequences are nonsensical and character developments are ignored – but at least it’s engrossing. The film’s subplot, however – a heavy-handed pro-Snowden exploration of Andrew Scott’s villainous ‘C’ and his endorsement of world-surveillance – needlessly swamps Bond’s mission; the problem with it is that it’s just not all that interesting, and written less as part of the plot and more as a vehicle for director Sam Mendes’ views. With a subplot as weak as Spectre’s, the main story better be good – sadly, ‘engrossing’ doesn’t cut it.

It’s a strange concoction of Craig’s gritty new-era Bond and Moore’s cheesy Austin Powers-esque Bond, and rather than combining the two seamlessly, the script only produces a weird, tonally-jarring mood that serves to diminish Casino Royale’s attempts at a modern Bond with modern ideas. There’s a wonderfully-elaborate villain’s lair, a train fight involving Bautista’s beast of a henchman, Mr. Hinx, that hearkens back to Jaws (the figure, not the film), and the return of gadgets is a welcome sight. Unfortunately, each of these ideas are misused, a microcosm of Spectre’s extravagantly-clumsy plot: the villain’s lair is destroyed too easily, and inevitably, too soon, Mr. Hinx is poorly fleshed out and his actions contradict the motivations written for him, and the gadgets aren’t used in a clever way, but rather as a ‘MacGyver’ in order to end action sequences as they drag on. The action sequences themselves – aside from Spectre’s brilliant opener – are honestly as naff as they come. A car chase is lifeless and lacking in suspense, a mountainous plane ride is shot amateurishly and ends too soon, the aforementioned train fight is anticlimatic and opposes Waltz’s intentions, and a speedboat-helicopter chase has a disappointing resolution.

Much has been touted of Spectre’s empowering presentation of females, where Monica Bellucci has been advertised as the ‘oldest Bond-girl‘. Yet her appearance is more of a cameo, a 5-minutes irrelevance that gives way to Lea Seydoux’s barely-fleshed-out Madeleine Swann, a woman who rejects Bond’s advances and swiftly swoons for him; a rushed romance that epitomises the contrivances of Mendes’ hap-hazardous plot. Lea Seydoux is wasted potential, her character written so lazily and confusedly that she can’t muster the chemistry with Craig’s forever-average Bond for the relationship to bear any believability. The villain is equally wooden, his motives generic and disappointing. This is a step down from Skyfall’s Bardem, and is only salvaged by Waltz’s reliably menacing schtick.

 

For all the expectancy surrounding Craig’s potential final outing, its script does not deliver. From an untidy plot to stilted characterisation and development, this would be a sour note for Craig to end on. Some critics have stated that Spectre is in need of a rewrite – I couldn’t agree more.

– Gus Edgar