Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hindsight: A 2014 Cinematic Retrospective

So I saw even fewer films in 2014 than I did in 2013. Yeah, take that, Hollywood! You're not getting my small contribution! Anyway, let's consider what I didn't watch.

9 Films You Might Have Expected Me to See but I Didn't
X-Men: Days of Future Past
The trailer for this did not inspire me. As much as I enjoyed "X-Men: First Class" and was intrigued by the idea of the new, younger actors being contrasted to the traditional cast of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and the like, the trailer made it look like way too much of a monotonous CGI assault on the senses, with loads of CGI Sentinels flying around a CGI wasteland and shit. I'll pass for the time being, but I may watch this eventually.

Update in 2017: I've seen this now and I actually quite liked it.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The first one was balls, no way I was watching this one. It's amusing that this attempt by Sony to reboot the franchise is now already dead because Disney has renegotiated to bring Spidey into the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Hopefully they'll make a new version of the character who, for the first time ever in cinema, is actually like the character in the comics.

Guardians of the Galaxy
I was unsure about this because generally I've watched the Marvel Cinematic Universe films but the trailer really put me off: loads of corny jokes seemed to be incoming, and I didn't think I could hack it. Once it was out people were acting like it was the greatest film they'd ever seen. Seriously? A Hollywood action movie is the greatest film you've ever seen? I think you may need to watch more films.

Update in 2017: I've seen this now and I actually thought it was pretty decent. The final battle was a bit unoriginal before the dance-off but everything else was fine.

I am actually curious to see this because as a general rule I like Christopher Nolan's stuff but it didn't interest me sufficiently to cause me to go out of my way to see it. Kinda looks awfully similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey I must say.

Transformers 4
Piss off.

Ninja Turtles
Piss off again.
To go into slightly more detail, a new Ninja Turtles film should eschew the cheesy franchise baggage the concept has accumulated since the 80s cartoon and deliberately set about satirising modern comic-book films. Set it in the 80s and use it to contrast modern superhero cinema's pretense at realism with how absurd it really is. This film did not look like it was going to achieve anything so intelligent. And before you argue, TMNT was originally a satirical concept with a bit of thought behind it, not just a dumb franchise about goofy turtle characters eating pizza and fighting a guy with steak knives strapped to his wrists.

The LEGO Movie
Supposedly this is good. I just haven't seen it.

Update in 2018: I've seen this now. It was a lot funnier and more charming than I expected. Chris Pratt is spot on as the voice of Emmett, the tributes to Lego eras old and new is pleasing, and Mark Mothersbaugh's music fits right in. A pleasant surprise, to be honest.

No way in hell was I gonna see this: not because I'm some mortally offended hardcore Robocop fan but because I found the idea phenomenally crass. The original Robocop (the only one I've seen) is probably one of the best action films of the eighties: an extremely violent science-fiction-crime-dystopian mash-up satire which ruthlessly attacked the worst excesses of 80s culture. Not only is Robocop therefore totally irrelevant outside of that context, the only way to reshape that would be for a new film to do the same thing to 2010s culture, ripping the shit out of its plutocratic-authoritarian political structure, monstrous consumerism and cultural deadness. When it turned out this was just going to be sanitised PG-13 bullshit I completely lost interest.

I want to see it but I haven't yet. Give me time.

Update: I've seen this now. As everyone else at the time said, it's very good. By a weird coincidence I ended up reading Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" short story collection before seeing this, which was convenient.

5 Films I Actually Saw in 2014
The Inbetweeners 2
I really like the tv show this is based on, but this film went further than the first in losing sight of its main comedic purpose, I think. I would argue that a large part of the point of the TV show is to specifically highlight the sense of horrendous alienation many people feel as adolescents. Thus they're 'inbetweeners': they simply don't fit in with anyone in their community. This film seemed to just rely on cheap gross-out humour mostly: Will getting shit on his face and spewing everywhere, or Neil pissing on Simon. In the TV series, comedy of this sort derived not from the grossness of, say, Simon spewing on Carli's little brother or Neil pissing the bed at Tara's sister's house, but because of how utterly untenable the situations are socially: it's impossible to fathom how those situations could be resolved. The film also basically rehashes Simon's plot from the first film in bits with Jay and Will. Like the first film, this one also featured far less comic dialogue than the TV series. I was a bit disappointed with this.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I have rewatched this film and I'm afraid to say that I just don't think it's that good. My opinion hasn't really changed since my review. The film's plot tries to do too much - it really undersells the idea of Steve discovering that his best friend is still alive, but brainwashed - the action scenes are repetitious and there are way too many main characters, as if they didn't feel that Chris Evans could carry the film on his own (even though he'd to a significant extent managed as a main protagonist in the first one). They needed to focus on SHIELD and the other Marvel characters like Nick Fury a lot less, drop HYDRA completely and focus on the personal story of Cap in my opinion. I would have even probably shunted Bucky into a later film, because his resurrection so soon lacks impact. The satirical content of this film is also rather thin, in my opinion: yes, surveillance is bad, but it's much more confronting to be spied upon by your own government than by a conspiracy of evil people who've infiltrated your government, because it reduces the complexity of the issue. Even if we argue that our politics have been infiltrated by authoritarian nut-jobs, we need to understand why, not just characterise it as an "evil conspiracy." This film could have been much better in my opinion.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
More like "Paranormal Activity: The Farked Ones" amirite? Let's just say I... uh... didn't see this one at the cinema. As a general rule it was pretty crap, but the twist ending where they go back in time to the first film was actually quite cool. Not much to say about this one: very far from being essential viewing unless you're a fan of the series.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
You can read my review of this here. It's probably in some respects the best of the three films in my opinion, at least for its first half. The second half is crap. I'm glad it's all over. It'd be nice if they'd stop dicking around with Tolkien's work now. Y'know, I occasionally read defensive film fanboys going "Tolkien would have liked them." Sorry, but regardless of quality, he would have bloody hated them. I don't think he liked cinema in general, and if you read his letters you can see how strenuously he tended to object to even fairly minor deviations from his source material. One thing I'd argue he probably did want was for his work to be taken somewhat seriously as literature, and I don't think the Hollywood adaptation treatment achieves that by a long chalk. Now I'd appreciate if shallow corporate interests would leave his writing alone.

Although I didn't see this in 2014, it's a 2014 film. Read my comments on it here. It was a pretty dark and confronting film, taking an extremely bleak view of the America equivalent of the "idle rich" and those who fall through the cracks in American society. Observed curiously through the lens of Olympic wrestling, the film represents a fundamental awkwardness and sense of discomfort in the American dream and ideal and how badly that dream can fail or disguise far deeper problems. It's not a film I'll be rushing to see again, but at least it had something to say, unlike most of this trash.

Thus, my top film of 2014 must be:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Another 2014 film I didn't see in 2014. It's good. Read my thoughts here. It's an amusing and well-performed film which questions our romanticised perceptions of Interbellum culture and different decades and time periods in general. I'd heartily recommend it. It makes most of this other stuff (apart from Foxcatcher really) look like the brainless nonsense it is. I still haven't quite escaped Hollywood, but I've at least well and truly escaped bad action films as being the extent of what I see. If you're going to watch any one of the films I've mentioned here, watch this one.

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