2015: The Year in Review, Part Two: Insidious to Star Wars

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Haven’t read Part One? If not, you’re trespassing! Fifty lashes of the whip! Get back there and read it now, or else it’s waterboarding for you!

Look what I’ve gone and done. Whereas last year’s post had some reviews that were only two sentences long, I’ve inadvertently spent far more hours and written a lot more for the films of 2015 in an attempt to do them justice. I’m sure this is a good thing though, because it will give all of you lovely people a better impression of what these films are really like, even though I’m a nobody whose opinion means fuck all in the grand scheme of things.

For fears of being TLDR, I decided to split the year into two halves to make things more manageable. This second part is a real emotional roller coaster, with as many soaring highs and plummeting lows as a moderate drug user. There’s disappointing dinosaurs, a couple of bad puns, a Satan reference, two Michael Fassbenders and even a certain science fiction film that is apparently a big deal. It’s riveting stuff, believe me.

I’d like to take the opportunity here to thank all of you who have ever read anything that I’ve written. Every time someone reads one of my posts, it really means a lot to me and makes all this work I put in worth it. If you like my content and agree with my arguments, great! If not, well, we’ll arrange a fight some time. I’ll probably lose, but my dignity will be intact.

Enough preamble, let’s get on with the show…

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INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, 07/06/2015: There are a small number of interesting ideas in this third entry of the horror franchise, but overall it’s as predictable and unoriginal as modern horrors come. The first half is frankly awful, with uninteresting characters and lame jump scares, whereas the latter shows some shreds of greatness, hinting at what these films could be like if they weren’t made for idiots. Returning ghost hunters Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson are a pleasure to watch as always, providing some much appreciated comedy, and the spectre creepily known as The Man Who Can’t Breathe is genuinely terrifying: an enigmatic and tragic entity which the writers decide to leave unexplained. We’ll likely get a thousand more of these, so let’s hope they move a little further in the right direction.

JURASSIC WORLD, 11/06/2015: Watching dinosaurs battle it out should in theory be the best thing ever, but paper-thin characters and a boring, cliche story stick Jurassic World firmly in the primordial mud. Chris Pratt was in the navy once, and now he trains dinosaurs – just ’cause. This is all the writers give him to work with; he’s basically the personality of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Star Lord, but without any of the depth that character had. Bryce Dallas Howard, while competent, is equally as soulless, as indeed is bad guy Vincent D’Onofrio, whose age-old “let’s weaponise it” motive was a groanworthy disappointment. The tone of the film also bothered me – the focus on the two child actors would suggest it was aiming for a younger audience, but this was drastically at odds with the considerable brutality of certain scenes. One sequence, featuring the death of a minor character, was so unflinchingly violent and absent of the quirky, family-friendly Jurassic Park style (à la the t-rex toilet chomp) that it actually angered me. Jurassic World is watchable at a base level, but the sheer stupidity that permeates the whole of its being makes it as prehistoric as its denizens. High heels, anyone?

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION, 30/07/2015 & 16/08/2015: Across four films, and culminating in 2011’s tour de force Ghost Protocol, it seemed that the quality of the Mission: Impossible series increased with each subsequent entry. This year, the fifth mission Rogue Nation unfortunately bucks the trend, but only in that it matches the high bar set by its last outing. The stunts are jaw-dropping, as are the locales, and everything has a pristine sheen that just bleeds class. The story is full of intrigue, keeping you on your toes as it jumps around the globe, and Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is as fun to spend time with as he always has been. The well-publicised fact that Cruise does all of his stunts fo’ realsies pays off immeasurably, resulting in simultaneously pulse-raising and heart-stopping action scenes that are amazingly real. One key sequence, taking place inside an opera house, is arguably the best-executed in the series, and perhaps even one of the best in the genre. I’ll gladly take another mission after this.

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INSIDE OUT, 10/08/2015: Pixar’s Inside Out is a very grown up animated film, and there’s not a tentacle in sight. Its inventively presented story about one girl’s emotions, each envisioned as a character inside her mind, is relevant to all, and is as joyously enriching as it is pensive. Every one of Riley’s emotions is brilliantly brought to life, with Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust all playing logical parts in her day-to-day goings on. They’re all fantastic, but Phyllis Smith (Phyllis from The Office) steals the show as Sadness, who is funny, contemplative, and ties the film together in a really life-affirming way. If you don’t love this, you’re probably dead.

ANT-MAN, 02/08/2015: Ant-Man is not Marvel’s best superhero film, but it’s a lot better than the tripe that is Age of Ultron. It’s also not the most interesting origin story, but it more than makes up for it with its playful comedic flavour and witty script. Like its titular shrinking hero, it is smaller in scale than the more recent entries in the comic behemoth’s Cinematic Universe, which I liked. While the Guardians of the Galaxy blast across the universe and the Hulk levels cities, the final showdown in Ant-Man takes place in a family home, complete with Thomas the Tank Engine train set. After the noisy racket of hammers and shields earlier in the year, this was a nice, easy watch – unremarkable, but a good laugh nonetheless.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., 17/08/2015: Director Guy Ritchie lifts his snappy visual style from the Sherlock Holmes films and into the world of espionage in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Style over substance is an understatement, but leads Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, as America’s and Russia’s top secret agents respectively, are cool and charismatic enough to keep the film rolling along, and the audience with it. Like Matthew Vaughn with Kingsman, Ritchie has a knack for making unusual music choices work like a charm, as demonstrated by a particular scene with an electric chair. Shocking!

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MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS, 10/09/2015: I thought last year’s post-apocalyptic young adulter The Maze Runner was pretty interesting. Its characters were two-by-fours with painted-on faces, but its premise of teenagers waking up in a shifting maze stalked by robotic scorpions was surprisingly captivating. For the sequel, the mechanised arachnids have been replaced by the kind of runny zombies that have been done to death – and undeath – so many times before, giving it a touch of the generic that the first never really had. The 28 Days Later meets Fallout aesthetic kept my attention, but just barely. I never usually think films are too long, but The Scorch Trials assuredly is. I actually found myself checking my watch at multiple points, as the not-so-merry band traveled somewhere, talked to someone and got attacked, before traveling somewhere else, talking to someone different and getting attacked once again. The zombie chases are admittedly thrilling and quite intense (it’s the most high-end 12a I’ve watched), but not even a wild Alan Tudyk appearing could save the film from descending into tedium.

EVEREST, 20/09/2015: Many critics have commented on how much of a visual feast Everest is, but I feel like not enough love has been given to its characters, which were definitely my favourite aspect. Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and the other actors do an incredible job portraying the true victims and survivors of the 1996 Everest disaster, coming across like real and very likable normal people caught up in a horrific series of events. In a short space of time we get to know the climbers, who could as easily be people we actually know, and join them on their expedition. Because of this emotional connection, seeing them summit is exhilarating, and watching the ensuing tragedy unfold is crushing. You know what’s going to happen and you want more than anything for it not to, but you have to watch on, powerless to prevent the cruel bitch that is Mother Nature from taking its course. Once it’s all over, we end on a shot of the sun setting over the peak, because despite everything that’s happened, despite all the lives that have been lost, it’s just another day on Planet Earth. A visual feast indeed, but it’s hard to see through the tears.

LEGEND, 29/09/2015: Disappointingly, Legend is not an adaptation of David Gemmell’s magnificent heroic fantasy novel of the same name, about an aging warrior called Druss defending a mighty fortress against an unstoppable army. Nor, alas, is it a remake of the Ridley Scott unicorn film, also of the same name, in which Tom Cruise squared off against Satan. This spruced-up and sugar-coated gangster legend does feature fantastic central performances by Toms Hardy as the Kray twins, but really there’s not much else to it. The voice-over script that Emily Browning was forced to read at gunpoint is fucking dire, and the film seems like it’s building up to something that never comes, trying to make a point that doesn’t exist. Maybe its pointlessness is the point, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. The acting is worth the admission, but it’s a hollow shell, and it doesn’t have Satan in it either.

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THE WALK, 14/10/2015: The Walk is simply triumphant. Following the true story of Philippe Petit, who in 1974 walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, Robert Zemeckis’ film is a joyful celebration of life, art, and as cheesy as it sounds, following your dreams (I literally hate myself for writing that). The central set piece of Petit doing the walk is nerve-wracking yet positively glorious, with all fear of something going wrong nulled by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s gleefully spirited hijinks as he dances across the wire, as well as the firm knowledge that the man himself completed the stunt without any hiccups. The whole thing has such an upbeat, jovial sense to it, from its framing structure of Petit telling us the tale atop the Statue of Liberty, to its exuberant soundtrack and smart use of visual tricks. It’s an old school, feel-good movie that will leave you feeling really good, unlike how you felt in your old school.

MACBETH, 19/10/2015: Although I studied it at school long ago, I wasn’t that familiar with Shakespeare’s Scottish Play when I went to see Macbeth, so the criticism some have that it alters parts and themes from the original text didn’t apply to me. Free from these restraints, I was able to assess the film as just that and, well, it floored me. Its striking, unique look is a majestic feat that evokes utter awe, so much so that I didn’t want to blink as my ocular organs drank it in like a fresher downing Southern Comfort. You know, I think this even beats Mad Max as the best-looking film this year. It is characterised by a palette of deep oranges and reds that reflect the fire and blood of war, and the savage battle scenes are animalistic, violent affairs, almost poeticised with a dazzling employment of slow motion. Macbeth does a fine job of carrying the viewer through the story, even if like me you find Shakespeare’s flowery dialogue a little difficult to follow. Both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are flawless as Lord and Lady Macbeth, conveying their characters’ thoughts and desires as much through their physical performances as their speech. Accompanying all of this is a haunting and sorrowful score by Jed Kurzel, which is probably my pick of the year. It may not be the essential adaptation of Bill’s work, but as a film Macbeth is nothing short of phenomenal.

Soundtrack Pick: ‘Macbeth’ by Jed Kurzel, from Macbeth.

THE MARTIAN, 19/10/2015: What made The Martian stand out the most was that, in a genre normally spread with doom and topped with gloom, it was unrelentingly optimistic, thanks in no small part to its bouncy 70s disco soundtrack. Matt Damon stuck on Mars could easily have been a grueling survival movie, but despite being stranded in a hostile environment and having to listen to ABBA on repeat, wisecracking astro-botanist Mark Watney remains good-humoured throughout as he uses his scientific knowledge to get comfortable in his new home. Personally I would have preferred less emphasis on the stuff happening on Earth (featuring Sean Bean in the least peril he’s ever ‘Bean’ in) and even more on the team of astronauts coming to rescue him, but that’s only really because I’m a fan of both Jessica Chastain and spaceships in general, so it’s a minor gripe. The Martian isn’t as mind-blowing as previous years’ sci-fi hits Gravity and Interstellar, but its light tone and many funny moments mean it’s a delightful way to spend a couple of hours.

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CRIMSON PEAK, 24/10/2015: Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro returns to the horror genre with this Victorian ghost story that’s not about ghosts. As with everything Del Toro does, creature designs are as grotesque as they are fantastical, and the level of intricacy in the costumes and sets is mouthwatering. The titular house especially is a work of grandeur, and is almost a character in itself. Acting is also standout across the whole cast, with Jessica Chastain in particular being exceptional as the creepy Lucille Sharpe. With so much hitting the high notes, it’s a shame then that behind its impressive veneer, Crimson Peak is so average and nothing was really surprising. As a Del Toro film, there’s loads to love, even more so for his fans, but those wanting more might end up a little disappointed. Warning: if you’re not good with knives in movies (something about them just gets under my skin), parts of Crimson Peak will go through you like a knife through… well, probably best not to say. One scene had me reacting with audible sounds of discomfort, progressively lowering myself in my chair until I was almost horizontal. Prepare to squirm.

SPECTRE, 07/11/2015: Spectre (not Spectra as some are infuriatingly pronouncing it, every time making me want to gouge out my eyes with a blunt pencil) is the best Bond film since Goldeneye. It manages to retain the seriousness of Daniel Craig’s previous outings as 007, nicely tying up his films’ overarching storyline while also returning to the fun style of Connery, Moore and Brosnan. It’s got all the things we’ve grown to love about the series – a gadgetastic car chase, a fist fight on a train, an impossibly impervious henchman, an elaborate villain’s base that screams “I want to take over the world” and even a surprise for seasoned fans (though it totally wasn’t a surprise). It’s a damn long film, but it zooms along at breakneck pace, constantly exciting and always happy to toss a few laughs into the mix from the get-go. In the first scene, Bond falls through a roof and lands sitting down on a sofa. From this moment, I knew I was in good hands. The straight-faced Casino Royale and Skyfall were brilliant films (Quantum of Solace? Never heard of it), and they really invigorated the franchise, but as a Bond nerd, Spectre made me feel right at home. How is Bond suddenly driving a plane down a hill? Because he’s Bond, duh. Bond’s a lad.

STEVE JOBS, 18/11/2015: Danny Boyle is my favourite director, and Steve Jobs is a worthy addition to his filmography. Boyle’s direction and Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay are top notch, and I thought the decision to tell the Apple co-founder’s story through a small number of key moments in his life was very effective. In the minutes before three separate product launches, which form three distinct acts, we briefly enter the world of an intelligent but deeply flawed and often detestable man as we try to figure him out. Michael Fassbender does a wonderful ‘job’ in bringing these traits to the character, making us hate and admire him in equal measure. That it’s not a complete portrait of Steve Jobs has been an issue of criticism, but to me it seems wrong to criticise it for not being something it has no intention of being. Behind all the technology, and past the man’s insufferable facade, Steve Jobs is actually rather poignantly about his relationship with his daughter. The ending especially is a beautiful piece of Danny Boyle magic, and left me just as elated as the climax to his film 127 Hours. What’s also great, is that Steve Jobs has a different job in each act, and that’s a bit funny because his name is Jobs. It could even have been called Steve’s Jobs, but it’s not. Missed opportunity there.

KRAMPUS, 06/12/2015: This festive horror comedy desperately wants to be Gremlins, but dodgy pacing and a general lack of nastiness prevent it from reaching up to Joe Dante’s Christmas classic. It’s not a bad film though – it’s more comedy than horror, but it’s a lot funnier than many modern comedies, and the mayhem that begins in the second half had me laughing out loud, particularly when the evil gingerbread men got involved. Also, the extensive use of practical effects for the demonic Krampus and his horrible little helpers, designed by the renowned Weta Workshop, was a cool throwback to the monster movies of the eighties and provided the same sense of grisly enjoyment. Sadly, I wanted it to end with Santa arriving to biff his cousin in the face and save the day, but it didn’t. Man, that would have been amazing.

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STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, 17/12/2015: After the downright toilets that were the Star Wars prequels, J. J. Abrams would have had to do something properly stupid to cock up The Force Awakens, like making Chewbacca go bald, revealing that C-3PO is actually a man in a suit, or creating some bullshit about how The Force is a biological phenomenon. That said, the levels of hype for this seventh film have been so high that at least some disappointment in the final result seemed all too possible. Thankfully, upon seeing the film, fans could pocket their emergency eggs and sleep easily, because The Force Awakens is very good. It’s no game changer or landmark achievement, but I don’t think it was ever trying to be, and it doesn’t matter because it defiantly is Star Wars. It feels like we’ve gone back in time and been given a true followup to Return of the Jedi, right down to the fact that all of the aliens are actors in costume rather than CGI. The story is very close to A New Hope’s, but that’s not a problem as it immediately feels closer to the original trilogy than George Lucas’ trio of turds. It’s a simple framework that allows superfan Abrams to give us all the Star Warsy stuff we know and love in one tidy package, and, considering the hype, it’s likely the least disappointing film of the year. What’s great is that this is just the start of something seriously huge – the first steps in the galaxy-spanning adventure of Rey and Finn, superbly played by newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. Provided they stay away from galactic politics, I’ll take as many of these films as Mr Disney can shit out. Indeed, if all of this is supposed to be happening ‘a long time ago’, there’s a whole load more stories to tell.

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And with that, fin. This whole escapade has taken far longer than I had originally envisioned, but I had fun writing it and hopefully you’ve all had a great time reading both parts! If you agree or disagree with my meaningless opinions, why not let me know in a comment, or shout really loud and maybe I’ll hear you. If you see me in the street, give me a high five, or come and slap me in the face for not liking Avengers or Jurassic World. It will only strengthen my belief that I am correct, and you’ll look like a bully.

Because lists are the grooviest thing since sliced Elvis, let’s round this off with my top 5 best and worst of the year. For the sake of not taking the piss, I will exclude the early-year Oscar season films, notably the modern masterpieces Birdman and Whiplash.

Top 5 Best Films of 2015

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Macbeth
3. It Follows
4. The Walk
5. Steve Jobs

Top 5 Worst Films of 2015

1. Seventh Son
2. Taken 3
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
4. Jurassic World
5. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

That’s really it now. If you liked this, why not share it with your mates (assuming you have any)? If not, maybe graffiti the URL somewhere, or leave a printout in the dentist’s waiting room. Every little helps.

Tesco.

I mean, ‘And thus endeth the Word of Tom’. Saved it.

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