Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Shane’s Favourite Movies of 2015

If you need an introduction, read the title again. Some spoilers ahead.

5. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Plot Rundown: A punk-ass street kid is recruited into a gentleman spy organization and must defeat a mastermind planning mass genocide.

Now here’s a movie that I did not expect would be on my top five list. I remember seeing the trailer for this film and thinking, dear god this is going to be stupid. I rolled my eyes so hard I think I tore something. But the truth is, the movie is stupid. But it’s also hella fun.

Seriously, this movie is more entertaining than I’d ever guess. It’s funnier, crazier, and much more violent than it has any right to be. It introduced me to something I never knew I wanted: Colin Firth kicking severe ass. One amazing sequence that takes place in a church is this year’s hidden action gem. It’s worth watching the movie for that alone.

Kingsman has a bunch of well known actors, it’s full of fun sequences that veer off from conventions, and it has constant energy. This is, without a doubt, my guilty pleasure of the year. I had a blast seeing it in the theatre and I pity anyone who watched Kingsman and dismissed it as silly. The movie knows it’s ridiculous, and it embraces that fully.

4. The Revenant
Plot Rundown: A trapper, named Hugh Glass, is wrecked by a bear and must survive countless other horrific things in order to seek revenge against the man who left him for dead.

The most striking thing about this movie are the amazing visuals. The cinematography in The Revenant is stunning, and the use of only natural lighting really makes the setting more vivid. It pulls you into the past. The opening raid on the hunters’ camp was wild and visceral, and extremely well shot. In fact, all the moments of action feel raw and brutal.

DiCaprio has very limited lines to say, Hardy’s character is often unintelligible, and huge portions of the film have no dialogue at all. Because of this the movie draws you in, and lets you focus on the characters’ actions moment to moment. You feel like you have an intimate view of Glass’ struggle to survive.

It’s a long ass movie but I was invested the whole time and desperate to know how Glass would find his way back and if he would have his revenge. The Revenant is awesome filmmaking and storytelling from start to finish.

3. Ex Machina
Plot Rundown: A programmer wins a contest to visit a private mountain retreat and be part of an experiment with a female A.I. robot built by a reclusive CEO.

I’ve seen people really gushing over this movie. A lot. I really enjoyed the movie, but c’mon now, this is not a ground breaking film. It’s a beautifully shot, well acted movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s also filled with things I’ve seen dozens of times before.

Even if the story is often predictable, the details are what make it interesting. There’s a particular dance scene that stands out; guaranteed to have you confused, laughing, or grinning from ear to ear. The weirdness keeps it compelling, no question.

Ex Machina is dark and seductive. It sticks the audience in a sterile, often claustrophobic setting, and slowly unravels a mystery where each character’s motivations become clear. The whole movie I was waiting for twists that I thought Ex Machina was leading me to, but it turned out the twist was … there isn’t one. You may not be blown away by the ending, but it felt right. Any fan of science fiction should give it a look. Just don’t walk in expecting a masterpiece.

2.  Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Plot Rundown: Thirty years after the fall of the Empire a new threat arises as The First Order, and key information about the location of Luke Skywalker is entrusted with a pilot’s droid who teams up with a renegade stormtrooper and a scavenger with a mysterious past.

Man, it’s so good to have a new Star Wars movie that I care about. It feels damn good.

The first time I watched the film was great, but I think a part of me was tense with the worry of walking into another Phantom Menace. But The Force Awakens proved that it had recaptured the spirit of Star Wars that I remembered growing up. With those concerns out of the way, my second time watching was pure joy. It’s such a fun movie.

The Force Awakens does so many things perfectly. The characters, creatures, weapons, vehicles, costumes, and set pieces all felt true to the Star Wars universe. They were built with love, often as practical effects, and that infused life into the movie. By comparison, the prequels gave us cold green screen settings inhabited by dead-eyed characters delivering wooden dialogue to CGI creatures who weren’t physically there. So it was a great relief to see Episode VII finally showing us interesting characters who could look at the world around them with awe and emotion. Rey, Finn, and Poe are engaging in the world of Star Wars with enthusiasm. Our heroes look like they give a shit! They’re likeable, and they share a sense of wonder with the audience. There’s even humour and charm! You know, the things that have been missing from the series since 1983.

A weird complaint I kept hearing again and again was that The Force Awakens was too similar to the original film. Are you jerks serious? The prequels stepped far away from the familiar and people hated it for not feeling like the Star Wars they knew. Now people are going to gripe about it being too similar? Make up your mind!

The new characters to the series are great, as I mentioned. Daisy Ridley is a standout performance for me, and Rey is a hero you can care about from the first moment. Plus, characters returning from the original trilogy haven’t just been sloppily written into the story. Their actions are meaningful and true to their characters. Han Solo’s story in particular is handled with care, and by the end of the movie the stakes have been raised in a way that fans old and new can appreciate.

I loved Kylo Ren as a villain. He’s powerful but undisciplined, making him all the more dangerous and unpredictable. The First Order may look like the Empire, but they are something quite different. They are desperate to be the Empire, but haven’t earned power by the same means. They are so blinded by the Empire’s legacy that they haven’t learned from their mistakes (eg. another Death Star!?). The First Order is just as reckless in their pursuit for dominance as Kylo himself.

The greatest thing about The Force Awakens is that it has reignited my love of Star Wars, and made me hopeful again for the future of the franchise. I’m already starving for Episode VIII and my head has been spinning with possibilities and theories. It feels like there are so many surprises and adventures ahead, and I can’t fucking wait.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Plot Rundown: A drifter named Max is captured and ends up joining forces with a rebel named Furiosa who is trying to liberate a group of female prisoners from a tyrant pursuing them through the post apocalyptic wasteland.

Star Wars is a tough one to beat, but Mad Max is another returning franchise that blew my socks clean off. I watched the trailers for Fury Road dozens of times and I could feel in my bones that something incredible was on the horizon. The hype was real, my expectations were through the roof, and it still exceeded those expectations. I walked out of this movie high on adrenaline and completely satisfied. If you haven’t seen it already, stop everything and watch it now. I mean it. Drop your baby, leave work early, jump out of that moving car and go.

I adored how this movie looked. The colour palette is rich and vibrant, and every explosion is a deep fiery red that that looks like hot magic blood. The design of all the characters and their insane vehicles was goddamn incredible. Every time I thought the movie had exhausted its creativity, another slew of freakish bad guys would come riding into action on all manner of motorized death machines. Spikes and blades and claws and guns and fire-shooting guitars. Everywhere you looked there were details of the scavenged pieces used to build these chariots from a desert hell.

The movie’s energy is incredible. The action starts almost immediately and doesn’t let up for the duration of the film. In the trailers you can see a giant sandstorm with lightning, explosions, and cars being thrown around. I had thought... well, that must be a scene from the climax of the film. Nope. It’s first act material in this fucking juggernaut.

So many characters are memorable, they feel almost iconic from the moment you meet them. Immortan Joe, for example, is a ghoulish motherfucker and a great villain. He leads the pursuit to retrieve “his property” and his presence is pure menace. The peril our heroes experience always feels real.

I’d like to address a dumb complaint I’ve heard about Fury Road: that Furiosa outshines Max as the main hero. Look, Max doesn’t have to be at the forefront of the film. He’s just a tough dude who roams the wasteland and gets caught up in other people’s shit. He’s a hero because he’ll fight injustice when he encounters it, but that doesn’t mean he has to be considered the main hero. That’s why he didn’t stick around at the Citadel when they triumph at the end. He’s going to keep moving on because it wasn’t his fight to begin with. Charlize Theron played the part of Furiosa perfectly and was a total badass. She was the hero, and that doesn’t take anything away from the film.

I will never forget the experience of seeing this film at the theatre. It completely knocked my dick in the dirt. I mean that in the best possible way. Fury Road is endlessly inventive and a one of a kind experience. It looks gorgeous, the action is frenetic and creative, and it moves at a pace that I’ve never seen before. It’s George Miller’s epic vision come to life, and he’s delivered a spectacular chase that will leave you breathless. See it.


kingshearte said...

Definitely adding Kingsman to my list. Ridiculous, over-the-top violence paired with funny is totally my favourite thing.

Have you seen Her? My brother said it was the movie Ex Machina wanted to be/should have been.

And would you believe I still haven't seen TFA? Which is becoming a problem, because it's no longer playing every day in every theatre, and I'm running out of useful options. I tragically missed the theatre boat on Fury Road, and it will be very very bad if that happens with Star Wars too. And I'll have to remember to come back and actually read your take on it once I do...

Shane said...

I've totally seen Her. That was a great movie from a few years back and the two things that stand out most in my memory is that it felt like the most realistic vision of the relatively near future that I've seen in a sci-fi movie, and that the film was much funnier than I expected. I can see the comparison to Ex Machina, but I think that Ex Machina has an all around darker tone.

I can't believe that you haven't seen TFA yet. In fact, I'm not even certain I understand the statement. You must mean that you still haven't watched it multiple times in theatres with all your friends and family. I can't imagine any other scenario. lol

But seriously, come back soon. I'm curious to see if you'll agree with my view of the film.

cole d'arc said...

Everything you said about Kingsman is right on, and I pretty much knew this going in, that it was just going to be silly, stupid fun and not to take it seriously. But I don't know. It was just TOO dumb for me. I felt my IQ dropping as I watched it. And I'm all for movies being self referential but seriously, how many times did they mention the James Bond series? A hundred? A hundred and forty? I think it was actually three hundred and sixty-eight. I will admit that the church scene is bonkers and very fun.

I'm with you on Ex Machina. It may have been predictable and not all that original, especially when you're well-versed in scifi as we are, but i still really enjoyed it. I think what I appreciated most about it was how minimalistic and quiet it was. Although you have to wonder - if this guy isn't making androids that are super hot females would it really have the same effect?

For the record I hated Her. I might not have if i wasn't just soooo sick of Scarlet Johansson at this point.

I think a lot of the people who disliked Force Awakens failed to understand some of the excellent points you made about Kylo Ren and the First Order. In defending the movie, and by extension, Ren, i had to keep pointing out that he is NOT a Sith - merely a Jedi fascinated with the Dark Side who WISHES he could be a Sith. So while a character like Darth Maul, whom everyone loves even if they despise Phantom Menace, is all control and never showing emotion, Ren is kind of the opposite, hence his doubts, fears (which Rey even spelled out for the audience!) and temper tantrums. As you said, it makes him unpredictable and complex - not just another stock "villain". And you did what i didn't - extended the analysis to the First Order itself - it wants so much to be the Empire, to be big, scary and serious but...they just don't know what they're doing, really.

And yet all i heard about was how Kylo Ren was "whiny" and how easily he was beaten. He's not scary and badass enough, Rey's a Mary Sue blah blah blah. I didn't like the characters as much as you seem to have but i certainly didn't hate them and was mostly satisfied with the movie. It'd make my list for 2015 too.

I think i'm the only person left who hasn't seen Fury Road yet. I tried! Ryho and i went to see it at the theatre but because we were so late (rain storm and closed bridges) we were forced to see something else. Something...terrible. I dare not speak its name. Then the entire time i was at my parents' place over the holidays, i kept waiting for it to show up on movie channels. It did - the day I left. But i will correct this soon.

Shane said...

Yeah, Kingsman is dumb, like I said. And it has problems, but Colin Firth just won me over as that character, along with the weird humour and violent action. I can totally see people being put off by the film as a whole. It's a particular piece of pie, and not for everyone.

Maybe things would be different if Nathan wasn't creating hot android ladies, but that's just the way life is. Nothing has driven technology more than the pursuit of women. We built boats to look for woman across the sea, we built weapons to conquer our enemies and steal their women, we built cameras to record woman and watch later, cars to impress women, the internet to communicate with women instantly around the world, and virtual reality is right around the corner to pretend we are with women all the time. Of course you're going to build androids that look like chicks! Who wants to build a surly looking robot dude named Gus to hang out with in your secluded mountain complex? No one.

I'm glad you liked my points about the First Order and Kylo Ren. That argument has helped me to convince other friends to appreciate the movie more. The First Order totally wants to be "big, scary and serious" as you said. General Hux's screaming Nazi speech is a great example of this. Do you remember when Grand Moff Tarkin shouted at the top of his lungs like a maniac to rally the troops? Yeah, me neither. The Empire was a poison, and the First Order is a hammer dipped in poison. Them blowing up multiple planets with their over-the-top super weapon was a sloppy decision that will only unite the galaxy against them. I like that TFA has these flawed villains. It really makes me excited for where the series heads next.

Cole, for the love of God, go watch Fury Road.

kingshearte said...

(a) I'm a Trekkie (sub-species Next Gen), and thus less genetically predisposed to obsess over Star Wars than some, and (b) our December and January have been ridiculously busy. Finding time when the movie was playing and we were both available has been a challenge. However! We went yesterday! Hooray!

I do find your observations interesting. We did observe the similarities to the original movie (although I wouldn't call it the "identical ripoff" I've seen some suggest), and your take on that is very interesting. If the next movie starts with Rey in the middle of nowhere, training with Luke, and then has her training cut short, well... But I'm definitely interested to see where it goes next.

And Cole, I'm sorry to say that you're not the only one. Seriously, I'm pretty sure my life deliberately conspires against me to make sure I'm too busy to see the few movies I actually really want to see in a theatre until they're no longer playing anywhere. DVD, or Netflix, or whatever, I will see Fury Road eventually. But I haven't yet.