I feel like I’m kind of repeating myself, but I seem to be pathologically incapable of not doing that, so here we go. In terms of movies, we have a long year ahead of us. Awards season, as it will do, is going to make things feel even longer for a little while. The blockbusters and reboots are waiting, as well, and all the speculation in the world isn’t going to get us to them any faster. We can only wait, imagine the possibility of something being better than we ever imagined, and get ready to be completely crushed by movies we were looking forward to seeing.
And perhaps it’s because I’m still feeling the pleasant buzz of realizing that I was completely wrong to be so down on 2014 (which I have recanted repeatedly at this point) in film, but I’m willing to make a prediction now: 2015 is going to be a good year.
I’m not really thinking about the sequels, remakes, and reliable franchise entries that are going to be filling up the theaters, as we become more and more desperate for things that will successfully distract us from the horror show that is humanity. I suspect a number of movies that fall under one or more of those categories are going to be pretty good. I’m hopeful about Age of Ultron. I think The Force Awakens has a slightly-larger-than-slim chance of being better than fucking awful. A few may even prove to be as good as their predecessors. Why not feel a little optimistic?
Really, you can feel any way you want about the next twelve months of movie releases. Just don’t complain to me about a lack of originality. Let’s make 2015 the year in which we acknowledge that movies have the potential to be as fresh and inventive as ever before. It really comes down to how you define originality. If you’re going to be a stickler for what the word means, and how a movie can go about making the mark, then you have to consider disregarding everything. We only have but so many stories to tell. What we have in what I believe to be a limitless supply are the ways in which we can tell that story.
Look at 2014. We didn’t get a lot in the way of stories that have never been told in any form previous. What we did have were filmmakers from an ever-increasing array of backgrounds and personalities telling stories that previously, had never been told in that specific way. That’s where we get our “original” films from. Remakes, reboots, and sequels were everywhere in 2014, but so were movies that came from some of the most intriguing imaginations in recent memory. The first category dominating the box office didn’t seem to hurt the ability for movies from the second category to find receptive, thrilled audiences.
It rarely does. I promise you that over the course of 2015, really good movies are going to come out. 2013 was lackluster. 2014 was perhaps the best year we’ve had in a decade. Keep in mind that both years, regardless of how they came out overall, had great movies within them. 2015 will be the same, and I will even go so far as to say that it will continue the momentum 2014 ended with.
My mood about this whole topic is a little schizophrenic at times. Nonetheless, I plan to hold on to optimism for as long as I possibly can.
The Interview (2014): C-
In the end, The Interview was more or less what I expected it would be.
However you feel about movies headlined by James Franco and Seth Rogen, or Sony’s controversial decision to pull the movie from a planned wide release on Christmas, or anyone making a comedic movie about/based on a country actively engaged in the mass murder of its own people, The Interview isn’t anything special.
I never imagined anything miraculous, bold, or inventive from a story in which a sleazy TV tabloid reporter (Franco) and his producer (Rogen) head to North Korea to interview/murder Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park, who is quite frankly very good). What I had always envisioned from the latest collaboration between Rogen, Franco, and co-director/screenwriter Evan Goldberg was something that felt eerily like a non-ironic throwback to a 1980s action film. That’s pretty much what you get here. Bad jokes, parking-lot-carnival-on-LSD levels of violence, and a plot that is entirely designed to service those things. The Interview is not particularly good satire, although it has its moments. It will inevitably join the long list of so-called controversial movies that offer more reputation than legitimacy, in their bid to be truly provocative.
The Interview is not provocative. It is violent, unpretentiously silly, and a little tasteless. To reiterate, it is exactly what everyone assumed it would be, before this business with Sony or North Korea ever really got started. If you’re already a fan of the guys involved with this movie, then you’ll probably put this somewhere in the middle of their oeuvre. If you think these guys are dated stoner/fart joke machines, you’ll probably enjoy speculating on whether or not this was Sony’s plan to save a potential bomb all along.
Manufactured Landscapes (2007): B-
Documentarian Jennifer Baichwal has explored the works of specific photographers in a larger context before. 2007’s Manufactured Landscapes is arguably more ambitious than her 2002 film The True Meaning of Pictures, but the thrust of using film to discuss photography remains more or less the same.
Manufactured Landscapes features breathtaking, sobering imagery from photographer Edward Burtynsky, and then endeavors to make a more specific point than the artist himself about what his work means. Burtynsky is largely known for taking shots of construction sites, factories, and industrial graveyards that exist all over the planet. However, whereas Burtynsky claims that the work isn’t designed to express a particular social philosophy, it’s impossible to look at some of his images, and not become overwhelmingly aware of the damage we are doing.
That impression certainly seems to be left on Baichwal, who opens the film with a look at a factory in China, so quietly devastating, you’re never going to look at a monument to capitalism or industry in the same light ever again. Unsettling doesn’t even begin to describe some of the concepts Baichwal explores, all of which use Burtynsky’s photos as the starting point. Baichwal is not as aggressive as some filmmakers are in taking us into the heart of the relationship between supply and demand, technological progress, and what that means to the planet. Even so, with visuals as arresting as the ones she displays in Manufactured Landscapes, she doesn’t need to be.
Other films about the tab our species is eventually going to have to pay for all we do make their point with statistics, theatrics, and blunt shock/horror. Manufactured Landscapes is so much gentler in making us see the world beyond our purchased comforts, and for me that makes for a much more effective film. Both filmmaker and photographer have gone on to collaborate on the 2013 documentary Watermark, but Manufactured Landscapes is far more intriguing, and quite frankly, terrifying.
Dark Star (1974): B+
Before you actually watch John Carpenter’s (Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and so on) first major film, there are a few thing that you need to keep in mind. You’ll want to remember that this movie cost approximately sixty grand to make. You’ll also want to remember that this movie was clearly designed to be enjoyed with a few choice chemicals in your system.
Carpenter would go on to prove again and again that imagination plus creative methods for implementing said imagination could trump the budget every single time. He proves that here, although Dark Star truly exemplifies the kind of movie that is best enjoyed at midnight. You’ll also want a few friends who are going to appreciate what a strange, strange adventure it is to watchDark Star, whether it’s for the first or tenth time.
Dark Star, which was co-written by Alien writer Dan O’Bannon (who also stars in the film) is pretty freaking silly, as we watch everything fall apart for the scout ship Dark Star. The ship is plagued with gross, completely random misfortune, human stupidity, and the machinations of a cabin fever-riddled, playfully murderous alien. Everything goes to hell very quickly, and it’s remained incredibly entertaining to watch that unfold after all these times. That’s great, but it’s particularly interesting to watch how Carpenter uses the obvious humor and a miniscule budget to create some moments of genuine, though minor suspense.
Big Hero 6 (2014): A-
Disney’s first animated feature film for a Marvel Comics property is one of their best offerings in years. Considering the winning streak the company has had with their Walt Disney Animated Classics over the past decade, that’s difficult for some to believe.
Big Hero 6 got the opportunity to take advantage of great writers, two excellent directors, and a really good voice-acting cast. In other words, it was afforded the usual luxuries for a heavyweight animated film from Disney. However, like any really great animation offering from Disney, Big Hero 6 lends its own energy and charm to the existing library.
It’s easy to be crass about the marketing muscle behind this. It’s also fun for some to imagine how many generous-sized warehouses you’re going to need to fill up with the merchandise these movies set forth. You can think about those things, or you can enjoy the formation of an interesting, diverse superhero team, led by a teenage robotics prodigy, and something that looks like a cross between aMega Man and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. With action sequences as good as anything in a live-action movie, and humor that never gets close to cloying, it’s naturally a lot more fun to do the second thing.
The Drop (2014): B-
Though occasionally tedious, The Drop gets too much good stuff from stars James Gandolfini (in his final film), Tom Hardy, and Noomi Rapace to get all that mad at its slow points. Although The Dropdoesn’t offer anything significantly new to the organized crime genre in its story of an ex-con’s bartending job returning him to the world of underworld theatrics, it is a prime example of a story that is, for the most part, exceptionally well told.
Bullhead director Michaël R. Roskam crafts a film with the kind of grimy atmosphere it needs, and packs the film with just enough moments of high interest, but it all goes back to that cast. In particular, Gandolfini is a frightening figure, drawing on a kind of vicious criminal that is nothing like Tony Soprano. Although it’s easy to think it’s just Gandolfini playing an abusive, arrogant bully, he plays bar owner Marv like someone who may have worked for Tony at one point, but was just a little too mad dog for the job. It emphasizes what we lost in a great actor when Gandolfini passed away in 2013, and it does so in the most depressing-yet-satisfying way.
Hardy and Rapace are fine, but Gandolfini’s final show belongs to Gandolfini himself. As you enjoy everything else about The Drop, watch a great actor go out on top.