2017: THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART TWO: LEGO BATMAN TO BAYWATCH

Unsurprisingly, this post follows on from Part One, which you might like to read first. Or, you know, don’t. You’re your own person, and shouldn’t let anyone else tell you how to live your life.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, 06/03/2017

lego batman

The LEGO Batman Movie is a strange case of a children’s movie which I’m sure will be enjoyed more by big kids, i.e. adults. Following in the square footsteps of the brilliant The LEGO Movie, LEGO Batman’s visual comedy is fast-paced and hilarious, and more than enough to satisfy a younger audience. Where this film shines though is its awareness of pop culture and the Batman legacy, cleverly referencing every previous Batman film and perhaps dozens of other iconic movies through a lengthy sequence filled to bursting with blocky cameos.

It’s not as good as The LEGO Movie, or as funny as last year’s Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, but it’s 90 minutes of non-stop Batman jokes, and if that doesn’t appeal to you you’ve clearly grown up.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND, 09/03/2017

The most remarkable thing about Kong: Skull Island is that I watched it at midnight shattered out of my mind and it managed to keep me from nodding off. I’ve been a fan of monster movies ever since I fell in love with Jason and the Argonauts as a nipper, and the beasty action in K:SI doesn’t disappoint.

Kong himself is much bigger than previous iterations and suitably awesome (in the correct sense of the word) – a force of nature that man can only hope to survive. The island’s other inhabitants, the terribly-named ‘skull crawlers’, could be more interesting, but they are a perfectly adequate threat to our heroes, and in their true roles as Kong-fodder they do an excellent job.

Speaking of heroes, apart from a humorous and engaging John C. Reilly, they are all pretty one-note and rubbish. But let’s face it, are you really watching a Kong movie for the humans? The final battle of beasts is so fun and exciting that the nerdy little child within me almost broke to the surface, and I found myself on Amazon with an Action Man in my cart.

GET OUT, 17/03/2017

get out

I was not excited for Get Out thanks to the awful trailer, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the movie. It’s an effective horror with lots of mystery and a fair few chills, and it gets pretty crazy when things start coming together. I didn’t think it was as biting a social commentary as others have claimed, though I could understand the relevant points it was making, and since reading certain analyses online it has fascinated me enough to warrant another viewing. It’s an interesting and thrilling film, but it’s not up there with the horror greats of past years [i.e. The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch].

A SILENT VOICE, 21/03/2017

Thanks to the success of 2016’s runaway hit Your Name (Kimi no Na wa), there was a fair bit of hype for A Silent Voice, one of this year’s anime forerunners. It’s the story of a young man who learns valuable life lessons through reconnecting with a deaf girl he used to bully at school. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what it was about, because I’ve already forgotten almost everything that happened in the film. To clarify, I didn’t like it at all.

It is very clear that A Silent Voice is a film meticulously designed to make audiences cry, and its sentimentality felt forced to me. What’s worse is the way in which disability is exploited in order to achieve this. Not only is deafness used to make audiences feel sorry for the affected character in service to the protagonist’s arc, but portraying the character as a cute girl with a cutesy voice seemed like a blatant way to induce the “awwwwww” effect.

If you’re after a beautiful, emotional anime movie that isn’t despicable, I implore you to watch Your Name. If like me you’ve been there, done that and literally bought the t-shirt, I also recommend the classic Ghibli movie Only Yesterday and last year’s When Marnie Was There. Have tissues on hand.

THE AGE OF SHADOWS, 30/03/2017

age of shadows

As far as I was aware, there didn’t seem to be much buzz for Korean thriller The Age of Shadows, which is nothing less than bonkers. I’m rather ashamed to admit that it was the first Korean film I ever saw, but what a place to start. Believe me when I say, this film is ludicrously good.

The Age of Shadows is a period piece set in the 1920s, as Korean resistance fighters struggle against Japan’s occupation of their country. It’s an enticing and layered story revolving around the deeply complex character of Lee Jung-chool, a police captain who, out of fear and self-preservation, turns his back on his people and becomes an informant for the Japanese. Through a chance encounter with this man, the resistance leader sees an opportunity to win him back as an ally to their cause, but the struggle between duty and national pride takes its toll on Jung-chool.

With the classiness of something like Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies and the sudden, kinetic violence of Tarantino’s oeuvre, The Age of Shadows is a fine piece of filmmaking that knows how to entertain. The plot is constantly unpredictable and exciting, but one scene stands out among the rest – an extended sequence aboard a crowded train. It’s an absolute masterclass in sustained tension, as the resistance fighters attempt to evade the Japanese agents within the confines of the train’s carriages. The suspense is palpable as enemies continue to narrowly miss each other, building and building until the atmosphere is shattered by an exhilarating and bloody shootout.

The film is a hell of a lot of fun to watch, but it is also very serious about its subject matter, considering the film’s historical setting. It is often grim, not shying away from and certainly intending to shock with scenes of torture and execution [speaking of torture, the use of a Louis Armstrong track over one particularly horrific montage was so unusual and initially jarring a choice that it crossed the line into genius]. The ending, though culminating in a spectacular visual and audio feast of a finale, is similarly brave, wrapping up with a quiet and affecting moment that leaves a lot unsaid while indicating the meaningful ramifications of the film’s events.

If you couldn’t already tell from my gushing, I adored The Age of Shadows. It is a supremely well-made and relentlessly entertaining film with a fantastic story and characters, enrapturing and terrifying and inspiring all at the same time. You can’t really ask for more than that.

GHOST IN THE SHELL, 30/03/2017

Visually sumptuous but thinly plotted, this modern update of the sci-fi anime classic [see previous post] loses most of the original’s mystifying weirdness and gains little of its own originality.

Admittedly, the world-building in Ghost in the Shell is breathtaking, creating an alluring vision of a neon-drenched and truly multicultural society (I think this movie is actually quite notable in terms of its diversity, despite what you might read elsewhere on the internet). Character design is equally cool, sticking closely to its anime roots. Sadly, a weak villain and forgettable story prevent GitS 2017 from becoming anything more than a fun tour through a comic-book future with a pretty skyline.

As for the casting of Scarlett Johansson, a white actress playing the part of an originally Japanese character, all I can say is that she’s fab, and I really don’t think it matters. Mamoru Oshii, the creator of the original manga, thinks so too (“I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it, and I believe artistic expression must be free from politics”), as do audiences in Japan. I’m entirely sure I liked the decision to explain the casting within the film itself, but at the end of the day, she’s a robot. Stop whining.

FREE FIRE, 06/04/2017

free fire

Free Fire is the Hateful Eight of 2017, in that it is a film where every one of its characters endures a tremendous amount of punishment for our own enjoyment. With a hilarious Sharlto Copley at is helm (who was so brilliant in last year’s Hardcore Henry), Free Fire is a feature-length gunfight and no one is safe from its rain of bullets.

Stretching out a shootout to fill a whole movie is a clever idea, but it’s one that I feel is not entirely successful. There’s lots of grim fun to be had from its comically brutal action and witty quips, but I did feel like it lost momentum towards the end, as if 90 minutes was just too long for its central conceit.

The pacing might be problematic, but I’m really glad that original concept films like Free Fire exist, and it’s always exciting to see what new ideas directors bring to the medium. I won’t rush to watch it again, but Free Fire is definitely one to look out for.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, 26/04/2017

The first Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the better films in Marvel’s roster, boasting a great script, fun characters and a bangin’ 70s soundtrack. It was a real breath of fresh air, essentially closer to Star Wars than standard superhero fare.

With Guardians Vol. 2, a lot of that magic has been lost. The characters are still a joy to spend time with, but the whole experience feels somewhat flat and uninteresting. Some of the humour bombs (such as a recurring joke concerning an unripe vegetable) and the film seems far more concerned with CGI spectacle than telling a compelling story. It quickly jumps from one pretty but soulless set piece to the next, leading to a final showdown that, despite looking cool, I had no investment in.

Another irk was the central twist, which I feel was poorly executed. A character’s entire personality changes on a finger snap with little to no foreshadowing whatsoever, as if surprising the viewer was more important than continuity of character. I was also annoyed by the small number of throwaway Earth scenes, which don’t really work. They fail in effectively conveying a world-ending threat, and they kind of ruin one of the things I liked about Guardians – that we don’t visit Earth aside from the opening flashbacks.

And a quick word on Baby Groot – I didn’t like him. Adult Groot was a character we cared for, whose sacrifice meant something. Baby Groot is a waddling joke.

Of course, there is a fair amount to like in Guardians Vol. 2. Drax and Yondu are the highlights here, and both are a pleasure to watch. The soundtrack is as good as before, and one musical scene in particular, involving a whistle-controlled arrow and a considerable amount of actual murder by one of the film’s ‘heroes’, is probably one of the most fun sequences I’ve seen this year. Yes, actual mass murder played out for laughs. I’m surprised Disney allowed it.

MINDHORN, 05/05/2017 (release date; seen on a plane)

With a madcap plot involving the aging star of an 80s super-detective show, this unassuming British comedy is a jolly bit of good fun – no more, no less. It could have done with more Steve Coogan, though. As, indeed, could everything.

THE HANDMAIDEN, 08/05/2017

handmaiden

Korean movie The Handmaiden is probably the most sexually explicit film I have ever seen this side of full pornography, but it’s also a gorgeous, intricately-plotted and multi-layered mystery that I feel compelled to watch again (no, not for the sexy bits). I could discuss it further, but this really is a film you should experience for yourself with no prior knowledge. There’s even an octopus in it, if that’s your thing (I really hope it isn’t).

COLOSSAL,  21/05/2017

Have you heard of the movie Granny Smith? It’s about a grandmother who eats a magic apple and transforms into a superhero with the power to control trees. She becomes the defender of the Welsh town of Llandudno, defeating the evil villain Doctor Medicine by firing pips into his mouth – it turns out apples do indeed keep doctors away.

Having expended all her power, ‘Granny Smith’ voluntarily chooses to end her life, crumbling into soil and sprouting into a huge, golden apple tree. Those who consume apples from the Granny Tree are cured of all ailments and gain a temporary bark-like skin. Granny’s ultimate sacrifice and the amazing powers her apples bestow inspire a generation of child fighters known as The Grandkids, who strive to rid the world of the tyrannical Pill Boys, genetically modified medical students commanded by the undead, cybernetically enhanced surgeon Harold Shipman.

Sounds great right? Wrong. Sadly, Granny Smith is not a real film, because the prospect of such a thing getting the green light is pure insanity. Anyone can come up with a ridiculous plot idea, but very few of these would make good films.

Yet, here we have Colossal, a film in which the drunken antics of Anne Hathaway are maybe related to a giant frog-man monster that stands above Seoul with a gormless expression on its face and scratches its head. The plot for this film is so weird that on paper it would seem like absolute Granny Tree nonsense, yet remarkably it does work.

It’s hard to believe, but what is essentially a daft story written by a kid, or perhaps a tale invented on a whim by a funny dad, turned out to be a great film, and one with something to say too. To explain more about Colossal would take away a lot of its surreal, magical randomness, so I’ll leave it for you to discover. It’s utterly mental, and just a little bit wonderful.

ALIEN: COVENANT, 22/05/2017

I hated Alien prequel Prometheus on the first watch, liked it on the second, and really liked it on the third. I’m not sure it was a necessary addition to the Alien canon, but it was an interesting enough film and I think some (not all) of its supposed plot holes can be explained with enough brain-wrangling. Its followup, Alien Covenant, is not so interesting, coming off more like a not-so-good covers album of the Alien franchise, featuring not-so-good repeats of lots of your favourite scenes.

That’s the second half, at least. The first half continues Prometheus’ cryptic weirdness, raising more questions and answering less. It’s occasionally revolting, recapturing some of the ickiness that made the original so disgustingly sublime, and also quite pleasantly weird. Case in point, a scene where Michael Fassbender plays a recorder duet with another Michael Fassbender. I’m not sure what it was all about, but I kinda liked it.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: SALAZAR’S REVENGE, 25/05/2017

pirates

I have a confession to make. I liked Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  Even with all the mermaid stuff, even with the unforgivable depiction of Blackbeard (and I once wrote a 5,000 word essay on the man), I still liked it.

The same cannot be said for Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge. This film is, as professional film reviewers often say, complete wank. I generally think that Jack Sparrow is a good character, but with each film Johnny Depp tries to out-Jack-Sparrow his previous Jack Sparrow, and I think it’s finally gone too far in this fifth installment. I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnny Depp was actually drunk on set, and he’s nowhere near as funny a drunk as he thinks he is.

That said, there’s still some classic Sparrow charm to be had, and there is a hoot of a set piece near the start in which the pirates rob a bank (in a very literal sense). Sadly, the rest of the film never lives up to it, as subsequent actions scenes are unoriginal and boring CGI flurries (I was quite truthfully falling asleep during the climax). Not much more can be said of the plot, which is basically nonexistent until, at the end, a thing is put in a thing and a thing happens.

As for the other characters, the villain Salazar was perhaps even weaker than knock-off Blackbeard (despite being played by Javier Bardem and having a really cool ship), and the reappearances of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly were completely arbitrary, adding nothing whatsoever to this film but no doubt facilitating another pants sequel. Then there’s the post-credits scene, which made me facepalm so hard that the bones of my hand fused with my skull and I had to spend 18 hours in surgery.

Savvy? Not even slightly.

BAYWATCH, 30/05/2017

Baywatch is a film that combines comedy and action, and does both atrociously. I slightly smiled at a gag involving a dead man’s penis, but otherwise the nearest laugh was at least a couple of nautical miles from the shore.

Then there’s the despicable manner in which it treats a major character with social difficulties. Categorically encouraging ‘laughing at’ instead of ‘laughing with’, Baywatch pushes the poor fella into a corner, prods him repeatedly and yells “hey everyone, get a load of this freak!” for two whole hours, before he does some bullshit with a computer and miraculously scores an attractive girlfriend. Hey guys, it’s just like real life!

Some people say Jaws isn’t about a shark. I say Baywatch is a shark, and you should stay the fuck away.

So that’s it for Part Two. I’m sorry, but too much of a good thing is not healthy. Go, be free and make something of your life. Part Three will be waiting.

If you liked this, please check out my reviews of 20142015 and 2016. They’re not very good, but it’s certainly better than watching the Saddam video again. Seriously friend, you need to stop watching that.

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