Monday, February 15, 2016

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of 2015

The hallowed time that the prophecies foretold has come again, for us to delve into our critical brains, and analyze what the best and worst entertainment of the last year were. That's important to do because life can't go on without me doing this. Because I don't want time to freeze for all eternity and leave everyone's soul with the missing and nagging feeling that you don't know what Cinema Freaks thinks are the best and worst, I guess I have to bite the bullet and write this list, of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in terms of 2015's movies. Let's start off with the good.

Best of 2015, or, The Good

This was probably the surprise of the year for me. I expected a pretty safe and generic cash-in, but I got a highly passionate, well made love letter to the fans of the original. The new characters are excellently acted and written, the action heart-pounding exciting and the story is told with sweep and emotional crests to spare. It's a heartfelt action movie with craftsmanship and style behind it. I'm actually excited to be a Star Wars fan again.

An artful and creatively directed film about a woman who goes blind and starts to suspect that her husband isn't being faithful to her. It's funny and stylish, and tells a pretty emotional story in a unique way. Like a mirror showing you a dark part of yourself, Blind will make you laugh while also getting you to question some of what you're seeing and your perception in general. It's intelligent, enjoyable filmmaking. Recommended.

A mockumentary about a bunch of vampires being roommates. It plays with horror tropes and conventions, and the characters all being different vampire cliches from different time periods just ramps up the hilarity. They're also well acted and written, and you get to like them as characters while still laughing at the jokes. This is so silly, but there's a lot of legitimately hilarious things going on. Tons of fun.

Genuinely great science fiction. This story about an inventor who's built a sentient android raises some great questions about where the line is between man and machine and what makes us human. Add in some feminist sprinklings about how we view and treat women in society, and great acting and directing, and Ex Machina is a first rate movie. Go see it if you haven't.

A Young Adult movie, but it's John Green, which makes it great by default. This is a story with great characters - especially them being in high school is cool, as so few movies write good high school aged characters. The story is about how we tend to idolize those we're in love with. That's an important lesson. The fact that the movie tells that story with both energetic comedy and sobering drama, with memorable characters, dialogue and scenes aplenty, makes it well worth seeing multiple times over.

A drama about one of the little-seen facets of crime/kidnapping stories: what happens to the victim afterwards. This is hard to watch from the onset, with Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay playing a woman and her son who have been locked in a room by a sick pervert for seven years - the entirety of her son's life, in fact. The fact that they escape isn't much of a spoiler, because where less intelligent films would focus on the sensationalistic things like a trial or the cops investigating the case, this movie goes for something different by telling us what happens to Larson and Tremblay's characters afterward, showing us the emotional repercussions and healing process. It's beautifully honest, naked emotion bared on screen. An incredibly powerful film.

Crime movie of the year. This follows a woman in the DEA assigned to a drug case to work with a couple shady FBI agents south of the border. Slowly she learns she has very little control of the situation and she's in over her head. It's exciting, visceral, take-no-prisoners stuff. The commentary on how women are treated in workplace jobs is understated but very brilliant as the film gets murkier and murkier and things keep ramping up in intensity. Emily Blunt is fabulous, and director Denis Villenueve is a gem with this being his third or fourth dead-on hit of a movie in a row (he also did Prisoners and Enemy within the last few years).

Alejandro González Iñárritu returns from Birdman with this slow-burn, searing atmospheric Western survival story. DiCaprio and Tom Hardy are fantastic. And despite the bleak and desolate nature of it, this is far from one of those gimmick films that relies on silences and empty pauses to give the illusion of depth (see: Melancholia, The American, Only God Forgives). A lot happens in this movie and it's actually a very human, emotional story of man's desires and fallability, as well as a great revenge tale. The scenery is used as a set-piece to help tell the story in a way that's so simple it's almost obvious - but the craftsmanship and artistry make it ingenious.

My favorite horror movie of the year, and of the last few years. It's scary but also meaningful and kind of poignant, and maybe a bit funny in its own wry way, too. The scenes of that monster creeping up from far away, barely noticeable at first, and the way it plays with your expectations so you don't always know when it's coming are great. But what was even better was the message about young love and adulthood and leaving the past behind. Growing up is scary, confusing and doesn't make sense. You're thrown into a world you don't know and you make the best of it. That's It Follows.

4. Spotlight

An outstanding film that just tells a great story. This is about the discovery of the Catholic Church molestation scandal by a team of journalists, and it's a near flawless film with great characters, writing and pacing. I was never bored with this. It's rare to find a movie that's completely no nonsense and just keeps its eye on the ball, without any kind of gimmickry or pontification or trying to force some moral message. This movie knew what story it wanted to tell and it told that story, with gusto and drama. Gripping, intelligent, mature filmmaking. We need more movies like this.

3. Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation is a stunning war epic about African child soldiers. Every shot is gorgeous and every moment of the film is harrowing and heartbreaking. Idris Elba is great, and the child star, Abraham Attah, delivers a show-stealing performance. It's a long film but every second is worth seeing. This is a stand out film from any angle, and I think it will be remembered as a classic in the future.

2. Inside Out

Probably the best animated film I've ever seen. By now, you probably know the story is about emotions inside a young girl's head personified. The way this movie tells dual stories, both the emotions in their quest to help the girl be happy again, AND the girl's life herself, is staggeringly good for a kid's movie - in fact, it's so good that it's just great by any standard. The movie has a lot to say about growing up too, just like It Follows and Paper Towns - I guess that was a theme of 2015. The way it talks about emotions and memories is insanely complex but also told in a way that anyone can get into it on some level. And in today's nostalgia culture where we love remembering the past, Inside Out is even more important - the fact that it's about a kid leaving the past behind is especially poignant and I shouldn't have to explain why.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

With all the meaningful and insightful films on my list, my number one pick is still the gnarly, badass, explosion-filled action movie with cars racing through the desert. I loved Fury Road because it was extremely entertaining and well made, and didn't pander to the audience or dumb down its story with cliche. It was just a great action movie, and the level of fine-tuning. craftsmanship and detail made it a legit work of art. But I also loved this because it's a symbol of the blockbuster, that long-dead-horse flogged for years, being reborn like a phoenix from the ashes. This is the best summer movie in I don't even know how long; since The Dark Knight at least, and it's probably better than even that movie. Finally we have a great, balls-out, fucking metallic screaming ball of fury of an action movie that isn't bogged down by the sad-sack cliche and dumb writing and dumbing down that other Hollywood garbage has. This movie is a fuck-you to all that. It's a middle finger in the face of Hollywood's lifeless corpse. It's an ironclad vice-grip hand around the throat of everything we hate about Hollywood.

Is that all extremely dramatic as a way to explain my point? Yes. But that's how the movie makes me feel, and why Fury Road is the best of the year.

Now that that's done with, let's move onto the bad! Oh yeah, I can feel the hairs on my arm tingling like the fur of a cat in heat before a lightning storm!

Worst/Disappointments of 2015, or, The Bad

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Not a bad movie per se, more just a disappointment. This is a very bloated and oft-tired-feeling film that lacks severely in the pacing department. The acting, production values and action are all well done, but it's so corporately controlled and overstuffed that it loses any humanity or character development that director Joss Whedon could have brought to it. There are a few good scenes and some pretty cool fights and all that, but after two and a half hours, do we need to see any more cities blow up?

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight is three hours long, except it really only has like an hour and a half of actual good material. The rest is artificially stretched out with long silences, long pauses and lots of repeated, awkwardly extended dialogue exchanges between characters - basically Tarantino's style exaggerated to nauseating levels. The humor is just bad. While the story maybe had potential, any of that is snuffed out quick by the overlong runtime. Tarantino is like your awkward 55-year-old uncle trying to be cool by digging out his old Harley Davidson and bomber jacket with the Motorhead and AC/DC patches, but instead it's just like go home, you're embarrassing yourself.


The characters in Ant-Man don't act like real people, and there's nothing in the film that diverts from cliche you've seen a thousand times over. I hated Paul Rudd, I hated the awful comedy from him and his three friends (who are all ridiculous racial/cultural stereotypes with zero character) and I hated Evangeline Lily's super generic stoic/tough chick character, like having an actual personality or showing any emotion was too much to ask, but how can it be sexist when she knows how to fight, right? This is just a waste of time. It feels like the thought behind this was 'it's Ant Man, we don't have to try that hard.'

Taken 3

A woeful experience full of some of the worst writing of the year. The entire plot could be solved if Liam Neeson would just sit down with the cops and go, hey, I didn't kill a guy like you think I did. But then they wouldn't have a movie. And a world without this gutter-trash bullshit movie was just too much to bear for some Hollywood exec in need of a paycheck somewhere.


This is a step below even the most generic horror movies out there with terrible everything about it. Just such fraud, such absolute shit. I hated this movie, and you should too. Everything wrong with horror here.

Insidious: Chapter 3

Jump scare after jump scare after jump scare, zero thought or atmosphere put into the very rote story, nothing redeemable or even close. I will say those Islamic societies that outlaw movies have at least one positive if the oppressed citizens don't have to watch any Insidious or James Wan movies.

The Visit

Director M. Night Shyamalan, at times during The Visit, seems to be deliberately making his own story worse, as the problems in the narrative are easy fixes and it comes off like he left them there on purpose. It's either shockingly amateurish or annoyingly in-your-face bad on purpose, and neither option is attractive. Every second of this movie is just unwatchable. It was a given as soon as I started watching this that I'd put it as the worst of 2015, and in fact it's a contender for worst of the entire decade.

Phew. Well that was fun. Let's just go onto the last part now, where I talk about the other movies I liked this year.

The Other Pretty Good Movies of 2015 Not on the Best List, or, The Ugly


A really good, fun horror film about a Pagan Christmas creature called the Krampus. It grooves and bounces along pretty well, and actually does manage to be funny and scary in the same film. It didn't go quite for the throat like it maybe should have, but I was never bored.

The Walk

A classic Zemeckis film in his usual uplifting, family-friendly style. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fantastic and the visuals are great. The story about overcoming odds and achieving whatever bat shit, weird-ass dream you want is a lot of fun. What more do you need?

The End of the Tour

Parts of this were good enough to be on the regular Best Of list, but like a lot of true-story movies, I just didn't think this semi-biopic of author David Foster Wallace went as far as it should have. It ended right when I was really getting invested. But even so, Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg are great and their chemistry is great. This is a very entertaining movie.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Epic, sweeping and dark, the final Hunger Games installment delivers one of its best chapters as the last one. This was extremely detailed and well articulated, and the story had a real raw, dark power to it. I wanted to give other movies the spotlight more than this big name, but it's definitely worth seeing so far as blockbusters go.

Black Mass

Kick ass crime movie in the classic Scorsese mold. I thought this was pretty awesome, gritty fun, with a fast pace and lots of badass scenes. Johnny Depp is inimitable and this is his best role in ages.

Goodnight Mommy

Nothing makes me happier than to have so many good horror movies on one year's Best Of list. This is a killer movie that just has no nonsense about it. Its creeping unease in the first act turns into outright screaming terror, followed by an ending that is perfect for what the film was going for. It's the kind of all-business genre film, taken seriously and done with care, that the genre needs.

Bone Tomahawk

And another good horror movie. This was super old-school Western desert horror with a cannibal legion hiding in a cave and a bunch of ten-gallon-hat-clad dudes with 5 o'clock shadow hunting them. That's so badass I barely need to say anything else. Not perfect but the dedication to old school horror is admirable, and it's done with a modern touch that accentuates the cool parts. Really awesome flick.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Stephen King's IT (1990) - Part 2

Welcome back to the review of Stephen King's IT, the 1990 TV movie adaptation that made every fan of the original King novel want to throw their TV into an active volcano. I covered the first part of this a few days ago, and now I'm back for the second part. Make sure to read the first part first!

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring: John Ritter, Tim Curry, Richard Thomas

Co-written with Tony.

It does have to be said that the child actors in this movie are pretty damn good, especially considering it was a 1990s TV movie made from a horror novel. That doesn't usually lend itself to good child actors, but we did get some very decent scenes with those kids in the first part of this whole thing, especially when they had to interact with Tim Curry. Curry is also fantastic and looks like he was having a lot of fun. Or at least like he was on some good drugs before shooting this, which is how I would have gotten through it all, too.

Why am I going so easy on the movie now? Well, because this is the last of anything good I'll have to say about this piece of shit. After the first part, the director probably said, yeah, I've done enough of anything resembling quality from 20 yards away by a half blind guy. It's easy for me to believe that's what happens – that movie directors consciously decide to make bad movies. That sure does make reviewing easier than actually considering peoples' motivations and what they were trying to do with a piece of art!

So, basically, all the main “heroes” gather under one roof in their old hot spot Derry, Maine. Bill meets up with Mike Hanlon, and the two embark on what I can only describe as a rejected Full House opening credits scene when they find Bill's old bike. For some reason, Mike has kept that bike all these years – for 30 fucking years he kept a 12-year-old boy's bike.

Nothing weird about that!

But you have to admit. These scenes of them fixing Bill's bike and riding around on it set to puke-worthy pop rock garbage – they're pretty unbearable to watch. I feel like this is the kind of scene that a guy writes at the very end of his rope, after his bosses have shoved him down to the bottom of the barrel in terms of projects to work on. I can't imagine how many people you'd have had to piss off.

I'm trying to think of a nice way to say 'I want to stab this scene with a pair of rusty scissors and then bury it in the Mojave desert' but...nah, that works.

Meanwhile, Richie here hangs out at a library, fretting all the time about how he should just run for the hills and go home. This character in the book was quite well rounded and could be strong when he needed to be. So I guess that's why he's a total pussy bitch coward in this movie who can't go a scene without whining about everything.

Stop whining, your ancestors had WAY more blood on their faces than this and they were fine!

He's accosted for a looooong stretch of time by Tim Curry, who makes a bunch of balloons explode blood all over him and then Curry sits on a banister and screams nonsense for a while. It's extremely entertaining, at least until Richie starts screaming over HIM in a more annoying voice at the library attendant. It's less a scary scene and more of one that makes me feel bad for the poor girl playing the librarian. I hope someone gave her a shot of Jack Daniels after that idiot screamed in her face all day.

Just another day at the library...

Then they all meet up at a dinky looking Chinese restaurant and they all have the happiest reunion a shitty ass script like this one can produce. I love when one of them, Eddie I think, sees Mike and goes “is that you, Mike?” Yeah, Mike, at this reunion of all our childhood friends that I knew everyone who would be there, is that you, my one black friend? How many other black friends did I used to have, anyway? I just can't keep track.

The ensuing dinner table conversation that happens after this is frankly psychedelic in how bizarrely awful it is. First you get a long one-shot camera take where the camera just spins around them in circles as they talk. It's absolutely baffling as to how anyone thought that was a good idea. What, did you lose a bet? Did you make a dare that you could definitely work your patented “drunk on a merry go round” camerawork style into a movie somehow, and us, the viewers of Stephen King's IT, lost out big time on that?

Then if you can get past THAT and listen to what they're saying in this scene, it's even more batshit crazy. First they're all friendly and happy, just chatting about old times. Okay, fine. Then everyone starts panicking and shouting for no reason about how they're going to die, with seemingly no transition. Then, a beat later, they're all just hanging around drunk, talking about old times again. What the hell is wrong with you people? I can see why no one else wants to hang around these idiots – no one can keep up with their conversations. It's like a roller coaster when you're high.

Oh, but they do get some fortune cookies with bugs and a human eye in them! Man, I love Chinese restaurants.

I do love different cultures!

Oh, and Bev also kisses like, half of the group on the mouths, just as a friendly introduction. But don't worry, they all really hang out with her for her personality and brains. Yeah. That's it...

Most of the rest of this is a seemingly endless slog, much of it taken up by the characters all competing for the dubious honor of most annoying in the entire film. Who do YOU think is more annoying? Richie, who constantly has a look on his face like he wants to take a shit, and who is always blathering on about how scared he is?

Or Eddie, whose voice gets higher and higher pitched as the film goes on, as if he is trying to turn into a human dog whistle?

There is a scene where the bully Henry Bowers breaks out from the mental asylum he was in all these years. He's helped out by IT, which takes the form of the security guard's worst fear...a bull dog in a clown outfit eating him alive. Hey now, don't make fun of him. That's an extremely common fear to have.

Seven of my friends are deathly afraid of this.

Then he goes and stabs Mike in the library. In the book this was a pretty suspenseful scene, but in the movie it's over in a few seconds and barely has any weight to it. I dunno, maybe the director was just running out of time and money by this point, but I've had more impactful moments in my life at the bank depositing a check.

So Mike's out, which leaves the others like retarded babes in the woods, all of them completely unsure of what to do. This leaves us much more time to develop the remaining characters, like Ben and Bev, who have an extremely contrived and cliche romance scene together. Their dialogue is so bad that even people who eat up airport romance novels would roll their eyes. This is just the worst kind of dated cheesy garbage. It's as painful a scene as any I've ever sat through on this blog. Just so fucking lame and trite.

Lifetime movies are like David Lynch compared to this.

After approximately seven more hours of bitching and whining about how they want to go home – and no, I'm definitely not exaggerating there about that length of time! – they finally decide to go back in the sewers and face IT once and for all! As they get to the place they need to go, Eddie stops them all to confess that he's been a virgin his whole life because he never loved anyone but them!

Awesome. So...he's three-fourths gay, then? Since, you know, three of the others he's in love with here are guys. Not that there's anything wrong with that, though.

But seriously, why the hell is he talking about this now? My guess is, probably because his therapist refused to see him anymore because he was that annoying. I guess IT agreed with me, because it kills him in the very next scene!

Actually, the acting is better than I gave it credit for, because no one would be able to easily pretend to be scared of that.

Oh yeah, and it's also a giant awful-looking spider thing now, which is apparently its final form in the movie. After a three hour movie, I too enjoy seeing that the big payoff is something I can kill in my kitchen by stepping on it. So this is satisfying to me.

Something really pisses everyone off, either Eddie dying or the fact that the spider looks so shitty. Either way, it was enough for them to now go gallivanting into the sewer, tip it over like a dumb old cow, and beat it to death with their bare hands, ripping its heart out. You know, they do say to handle things in the most mature way possible, so I'm cool with this.

Cool, they're like kids bored in a small town and wanting to go tip cows. Awesome.

Then we find out that Bill's wife, who had been kidnapped by IT, is now catatonic with fear. Then there's a scene where he puts her on a bike with him and rides her down a crowded street with no regard for traffic. It could have gotten them both killed and could have injured God knows how many other people, but somehow in the magically idiotic world of IT, this just wakes her up.

I know a lot of people talk about how scary this movie was when they were kids. I've had multiple friends tell me how scared they are of clowns because they watched this at age 7 or some other ridiculous age. But honestly, just try and watch this shit now, when you're older. It really is just so toothless, idiotic and silly, on every single front. While the kids are good actors and Tim Curry is a lot of fun as the clown, mostly everything else is just total shit. It's really, really not scary at all, with all the scares coming off as funny when they're not just sad.

The drama is so bad it makes me want to turn the movie off. The characters, who in the book were so great, have all been turned into awful, shitty whiners and cowards. Like they didn't just not capture the spirits of the novel's characters - they actively ruined them all. The story from the book isn't done justice here, mostly because it was so large and expansive in the book that condensing it down for a movie is very hard to do.

Maybe a remake would do it more justice. Maybe if made by someone who was genuinely interested in changing up the story to adapt it better to screen, rather than just trying to stick so faithfully to the book, IT would be a better film. Maybe this is just a sad relic from a time gone by, and we can ignore it now and focus on the great source material.

But frankly, it's more fun to just straight up bash a movie and not put any thought into a review. Fuck Stephen King's IT!

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