Thursday 31 December 2015

2015 in Review: The Stats...

Oh, you didn't think you were going to get clean away into 2016 without any facts and figures, did you? You've had the good list and the bad list, but what's a load of old opinion without a few hard statistics to back it up? Where's the bloody fun in going to the cinema 157 times in a year if you don't have a spreadsheet to keep track of it all, eh? Don't worry, you're not going to get all the analysis (although full source-data is available upon request), just the front-end of the year we've had.

Most of them are utterly meaningless, obviously, but it keeps me sane ordering data like this.
It's hand-drawn as well. Yeah, look impressed...

This was 2015.
These were the highs, those were the lows.
Here are the stats…

This is how often I went to the cinema…

…and these were the films I watched the most.

This is how the certification, genre and ratings break down…

These are the buildings I sat in…

…and these are the screens and seats I sat in at my local.

So, yeah. My overall-viewing-total is at a record high. I'd set myself a target of 150 for 2015, and if I'm being honest, it almost broke me. It's only three flicks a week, but when your local has just five screens (with overlapping screenings of the big movies), that means you'll be watching a fair amount of filler (or worse still travelling to see it). And if you've been around these parts for a while, you'll know I've seen a lot of filler this year.

And what's next? Well, it's going to get a little quieter, for one thing. Obviously setting another (ie higher) target isn't feasible given that this year will be the cinematic hangover from 2015's big-hitters. It's also fucking exhausting. I'll still be watching most of what's on offer at my local, and taking regular excursions to the capital to catch the more niche movies, but the numbers will be whatever the numbers will be. And I'll just take this moment to point out that most of my viewing is made possible by Cineworld's Unlimited Card. If you love watching films on a big screen and there's a branch near you, it's a complete no-brainer. The Unlimited card costs less per month than two standard cinema tickets. Not everyone uses their as much as I do of course, but as you can tell from this post, I'm not entirely normal. And no, Cineworld haven't asked/paid/bribed me to say this (although in the interests of full disclosure, they have been really good to me this year - but that's for another series of posts).

I'll also use this post to say thank you for putting up with my 'I Can't Believe I Haven't Seen…' reviews. The original idea was to do one old movie a week for 52 weeks, but because I'm terrible at putting aside time to watch anything that's not in a cinema, it's fallen behind a little (plus IRL has been a pain in the arse this year, to be frank). With that in mind, the series will continue, but I'll go further back and just keep on until I run out of unseen classics to watch.

And other than that, thank you for reading this drivel. Not just this drivel, but all of my drivel that you read. I do this blog for fun and to stave off boredom, and if you weren't there clicking on the posts, I wouldn't have got this far. You're all really very special.

The full list of WoB reviews for this year is right here.

Here's to 2016!

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Review: Joy

World of Blackout Film Review

Joy Poster

Cert: 12A / 124 mins / Dir. David O'Russell / Trailer
WoB Rating: 4/7

Is is that time again already? David O. Russell tiptoes past Christmas and slides another Lawrence/Cooper/De Niro signed card under the door before awards-season kicks in. This time it's a semi-fictionalised biography of Joy Mangano, the inventor of the self-wringing mop. I know you were waiting for that sentence to end with a slightly acerbic aside, but how could I do that? It's a genius idea, and rightly made her a shed-load of cash. And it's that tumultuous chain of events which form the basis for Russell's film.

Business-end first, all the performances here are uniformly fantastic*1, and Jennifer Lawrence in particular continues to be a force to be reckoned with. The range she gets to display in the title role is magnificent considering she doesn't over-egg any of it. Also scoring significant points is Édgar Ramírez as her ex-husband, Tony, my only complaint being that his character felt a little under-used considering the supporting part he plays in the story.

But this isn't just a performance-piece, and that's where it comes undone a little. My main beef is that Joy just has way too much going on. The infrequent humour is dry and understated, the metaphor is slightly heavy-handed, the story is melodramatic and the narration is patronisingly fourth-wall-breaking. None of these would be a deal-breaker, except that the resulting film just doesn't hang together. As much good as Joy has to its credit (and there's a lot), it can't seem to settle into a focused story. Joy's mother's first-act fixation with daytime soap operas and the later strand of the film concerning the QHC home-shopping channel already lend the film a slightly superficial air, but by the time you layer the flashbacks and dream-sequences on top, the fantasy elements begin to outpace the fact in the story. And in itself, it's not a bad story. Just a bit 'afternoon TV-movie'. It also apparently takes place in the early 1990s (although no captioning will tell you this), even though the film looks more late 70s, early 80s. No matter, that's small-fry by narrative comparison.

But if the film has a deeper message, it appears to be concerning the methods by which Joy finally achieves her goals. Whether it's stepping out in front of the cameras on a home-shopping channel to shred your dignity and hawk your wares in a vapid and condescending environment, or travelling to the other side of the country to face-off, manipulate and counter-bully the badly behaving subordinates in your supply-chain: Ingenuity and determination will not be enough for you to succeed in this world. If you want to be a winner, you will first have to lower yourself to the level of those you know you're better than, and then you'll have to become one of them. Yay commerce.

Ultimately, for all my moaning, I know that David O. Russell is a great film-maker. Any aspects of this movie which weren't to my liking are only so because of my own preferences and niggles, and have been put in place with great care and purpose. After spending two hours in Joy's company, I'm still not entirely sure who the film's for - but I know it's not really for the guy who keeps writing 2,000 word analyses of the same Star Wars flick...

In terms of A-list populated, true-story dramatisations about cleaning products, Joy probably loiters somewhere just outside of my top five, I'm afraid.

Nice try David O. Russell, I'll see you in a couple of years...

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
Oh, y'know, whatever.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
Rental. Unless you either star in the film or are thinking of inventing a new type of mop, there's not really going to be a reason to re-watch this too often.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
Lawrence is great, Ramirez is great.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It probably does, but I think it could have achieved far more.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Probably not.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence, of course, who is due to appear in X-Men: Apocalpyse alongside Rose 'Dormé' Byrne and Oscar 'Dameron' Isaac.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yes, even Robert De Niro's performance as The Robert De Niro Character™. Sure, he's not breaking any moulds here, but I'll save my ire for next month's Dirty Grandpa. I suppose we'll see how many interviews Bob will strop out of in the meanwhile, eh?

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

2015 in Review: The Lows...

Ah, 2015. You were always going to be a difficult year, and as the studios raced to out-do each other in the scramble for bums on seats, there was always going to be a last-place. Except in a year as high-profile as 2015, it turns out there were quite a few last-places. This post is about all the movies which somehow crossed the finish-line, but don't even really deserve a participant-medal. This is in no way an exhaustive list of the flicks which have underwhelmed me in the past twelve months, it's just a round-up of the worst-offenders.

So without further ado, let's take a look at some of the movies World of Blackout has rated the lowest this year; the regretted investments made in 2014 or earlier, as the studio heads and backers alike sat in a darkened theatre with a darker mood watching their money being sprayed up the wall on a project they'll probably never brag about at a party:

This was 2015, and these were the lows…

Into The Woods
WoB Rating: 2/7
Into The Woods Well, this wasn't a great start to the year. The counterpoint to all of 2015's cinematic high-points staggered into our cinemas in January, like a belated Christmas present from a bunch of people we don't like. Cast badly and performed far worse, any semblance of fun or focus appears to have been removed from the stage production early in its transition to the big screen.

Musicals may not exactly be my forte, but I've enjoyed enough of them to know that it's not the method of delivery itself which is at fault here, but the messengers themselves.The only comforting things which came out of the debacle is that the cinema audience surrounding me appeared to like the film less than I did (judging by their poor behaviour), and that a group of my contemporaries seemed to hate it even more (I did try to warn them). Watch this if you enjoy having plot-instrumental characters die whilst off-screen.
"It's a twisted version of reality we live in where James Corden is one of the best things in a film…"

Jupiter Ascending
WoB Rating: 2/7
Jupiter Ascending And then February didn't let up, either. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed all three Matrix movies, I often feel the Wachowskis are unfairly maligned by cinemagoers who apparently 'grew up' out of Neo's world before that story was fully told. And then Speed Racer flopped spectacularly, so you think 'well, maybe that was just an unlucky strike?'. And then Cloud Atlas wasn't as well-received as they'd hoped for, so you think 'well, that was a particularly ambitious project, so fair play to them for at least trying...'

So by the time Jupiter Ascending groaned into Screen 1 of my local, even my patience was at breaking point. Taking all of the key-ingredients for "starting a blockbuster franchise" except for the storytelling, inventiveness, style, charm, wit, originality and restraint, this cringe-inducingly farcical romp can't keep a straight face long enough to convince the audience it's serious (yet at the same time, everyone know's it's not supposed to be a parody). Like a Spaceballs for a source-movie which hasn't been made yet, this is a black mark on everyone's CV. Loses another of its much-needed points for featuring Sean Bean as The Sean Bean Character™.
"A sci-fi actioner so indelibly stupid that it makes Highlander 2 look like Looper..."

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
WoB Rating: 1/7
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 Oh, what do I say about Adam Sandler's less-talented friend? More importantly, what can be said about an unasked-for sequel which arrives six years after its progenitor, and is so thin on the ground with ideas that rehashing the first movie's slapstick with a 'Holiday On The Buses' format provides the back-of-a-fag-packet setup?

Such a cavalier approach to screenwriting allows the film to build up precisely none of the emotional core that you can tell was actually the point of the movie at one stage. Even at a lean ninety minutes, the ordeal drags terrifyingly slowly, to the point where you feel like you're trying to read through a Peter Kay script while being screamed at by the SNL team. Yes, I'm a complete comedy-snob. No, that shouldn't mean that making good comedy movies is difficult. But as much as I deplored this lazy shoutfest, it wasn't to be the last time this guy would irk me in 2015...
"If you think a fat man falling over is funny, Kevin James has a joke he'd like to tell you. Eight times."

San Andreas
WoB Rating: 1/7
San Andreas Now credit where it's due, I didn't find San Andreas as outright hateful as other "1/7" movies on this year's list, but the film has to lose any blockbuster-points it had built up due to the staggering stupidity of its execution. Ostensibly a two-hour callback to the disaster movies of the 1990s, this film doesn't even attempt to move its methodology on by the requisite two decades, instead deciding that "inherently stupid man strides into inherently dangerous situations to rescue inherently unlikable family" should be enough to make us sympathise with any/all of the characters.

The only people on-screen I felt any kinship with were the ones lucky enough to die in The World's Largest Earthquake™, at least being spared the harrowing ordeal of having to rebuild West-Coast civilisation while Dwayne Rock™ helps by looking nobly into the middle-distance, underneath a slow-motion flag, having done his bit by rescuing Carla Gugino in a knackered helicopter/truck/speedboat, even though the amount of surgical inflation her face has undergone would have kept her afloat in any marine-situation anyway. I didn't hate the film, I just hate being patronised by a screenplay which still counts on its fingers and gets confused when it has to involve the other hand, too...
"The film with a script so unremittingly dense, it's developed its own gravity well..."

Knock Knock
WoB Rating: 2/7
Knock Knock Oh, Keanu. All the goodwill our Canuck buddy had built up with his bold return in John Wick is solidly obliterated by this jaw-droppingly hackneyed flick about a movie-perfect architect having his life turned upside down because of a momentary lapse of judgement. This "Steamy Adult Thriller™ for people who think they're being a rebel by drinking red wine and playing Kiss through an overpriced DJ deck" might have been salvageable, were it not for writer/director apparently deciding that Evil Women Are Bad After All™.

Don't get me wrong, that still goes beyond any coherent subtext that this late-night Channel 5 shite has to offer, but if the film-makers can't be bothered to put any layered meaning into their finished project, then the audience will do it for them (some of them will, anyway. Although not the ones toward the back of the cinema finding something in their pockets for an hour and half). Roth has a distinctive voice, and many of his films can be described as 'a guilty pleasure'. This one's just guilty...
"Fifty Shades for the dads - excruciating"

WoB Rating: 1/7
Pixels And with that, Kevin James was back, his cack-handed attempts at Everyman Comedy™ failing to ignite under the considerable shadow of Adam Sandler, deciding to not only insult moviegoers who'd paid for the privilege of watching his Mid-life Messianic Fantasy, but also dragging the entire gaming community through the mud, too.

Whether it's Sandler's redemptionless man-child refusing to develop throughout an entire screenplay, or the vast array of one-dimensional characters he's written to surround himself with (including "The Woman One That Fancies Adam Sandler"), there's almost nothing in Pixels that I didn't find objectionable on some level. Not only is it not a good film, it's not even a good Adam Sandler film. Also features Sean Bean playing The Sean Bean Character™ (not that there were any points left to deduct for that).
"...based on a 1982 video game in which the player controls Adam Sandler, urinating over the smouldering ashes of a generation's charred memories of adolescent fun."

Fantastic Four
WoB Rating: 2/7
Fantastic Four After the sterling work which Disney and Marvel Studios have done to bring superheroes into the mainstream with maximised credibility, my considered reaction to Fox's Fantastic Four rights-grab is the equivalent of sitting a child down and telling them that you're not angry with their behaviour, you're just really, really disappointed. Albeit disappointed to the point where you're fucking livid as well.

Seemingly learning precisely no lessons from their two previous efforts with the franchise (which are massively flawed admittedly, but in which even I see some entertainment value), the studio which has done relatively well with the scattershot X-Men series has decided to bring another origins-story to the screen, changing many of the classic elements of The Four's genesis, yet somehow making it massively uninteresting in the process.

There's an argument for realising that characters so rigidly clean-cut as Reed Richards and Co are actually outdated in 2015, and that the traits which made them special to comic-readers of the past are no longer viable currency to today's cinematic audience. Then you remember that Marvel/Disney have taken Captain America (a character second only to Superman in his moral integrity) and made him both relevant and entertaining. If you're not even going to try, Fox, just give it back...
"I can tell you now that Fantastic Four is no longer the worst Fantastic Four movie. Fantastic Four is."

The Bad Education Movie
WoB Rating: 2/7
The Bad Education Movie Like an embarrassing uncle thinking he's down with the kids because he buys his jeans at Next rather than Sainsbury's, Jack Whitehall edged his way into the cinematic diary's 'post-exam-results' slot with a film to make your toes curl so hard they'll tear through the top of your shoes.

Acting as an extension/post-script to the TV sitcom of the same name, The Bad Education Movie makes that classic rookie-error of thinking "hey, we've got a 15 certificate, so we can be way more over the top than we ever could be on telly!", seemingly not realising that the key to comedy is timing and restraint, not just drawing pictures of willies on everything and crudely stereotyping the inhabitants of Cornwall in the style of a 1970s club-standup.

Although the cinematic outing is clearly for fans of the existing property, my biggest beef is that (even though I don't particularly like his work) I know Jack Whitehall is better than this. I don't mind you being shit, Jack, but at least act like you're sincere…
"A film which knows its audience and plays proudly to them."

The Transporter Refuelled
WoB Rating: 1/7
The Transporter Refuelled And there are some movies you just can't give the benefit of the doubt to. After three downwardly-spiralling installments, Luc Besson and co decide that a big-screen reboot is what's needed, and so the hunt is on to cast a one-dimensional character with an actor even less capable than Jason Statham (I like Jason Statham, but let's not pretend he's good at anything other than Being Jason Statham).

Enter Ed Skrein, stuggling to keep his cockey-wideboy accent at bay, as the smooth, debonair and staggeringly misogynistic Frank (yes, that's really his character name), who frowns, trashes cars and gropes women for about an hour and a half while the audience wonder how the investment money was gathered for this Jeremy Clarkson dream-sequence.

Any points the movie may have accrued in petrol-burning adrenaline are deducted for a screenplay assembled by a computer and some woeful miscasting (when Ray Stevenson's your "mentor" archetype, you know you're really in trouble). A waste of the money it takes to print the ticket.
"...utterly, utterly turgid."

The Last Witch Hunter
WoB Rating: 2/7
The Last Witch Hunter You're absolutely right, of course. Just how could Vin Diesel fail to capitalise on the Fast & Furious movies, XXX movies and the Riddick movies, as a character (A. Character. Singular.) whose best cinematic work involves him not speaking at all? Yep, that's right - you assemble a Franchise-Starter™ in the sub-Highlander style, based around the Dungeons & Dragons character which the star actually plays when he's not being paid to grimace on-camera. Which is akin to taking a doodle on a beer mat by someone who can't draw and constructing an oil-painting around it.

Perfectly adequate straight-to-DVD fare, this meandering mess stinks of multiple rewrites and lifting ideas from pretty much every fantasy flick of the last forty years. There's no Sean Bean Character™ present, but The Michael Caine Character™ turns up for long enough to make everyone remember that he's an opportunistic actor, at best. Again, not marked down because the cast and crew can necessarily do better, but more because they're just not trying...
"The cinematic equivalent of a drunk who keeps forgetting the story he's telling."

^^ All of this is just my humble opinion, of course, and I've already met a few people this year who don't share my ire for the movies in question. If you're one of them, why not damned well explain yourself in the comments?

The full list of WoB reviews for this year is right here.

Here's to 2016!

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Monday 28 December 2015

Review: Soylent Green

I can't believe I haven't seen…

Soylent Green Poster

Soylent Green (1973)
Cert: 15 / 96 mins / Dir. Richard Fleischer / Trailer
WoB Rating: 3/7

Oh dear, it really makes you appreciate what we've got. The future was crap in the past, wasn't it? Soylent Green is the very epitome of 1970s conspiracy/paranoia flicks, but it's also the very epitome of 1970s movies that represented futuristic opulence with pastel colours and sliding panels for doors. A briskly efficient opening montage depicts the rise and fall of civilisation before dropping us in New York City in 2022, where crime, poverty and general discontent result in it looking like the Bronx in 1973. Food is in short supply, and the government's solution is a radical new type of sustenance derived from plankton! Soylent Green is the… oh, you knew already.

This is the main crux of the problem, of course. The film's big 'reveal' has passed into common culture since the original book/film, but notwithstanding that, it's still so heavily telegraphed that I can't believe the early 70s audience didn't pick it up half way into the movie. Other than that, the screenplay is often quite slick, implying rather than flat out stating many of the societal quirks of 2022's underclass. It's just a screenplay which is let down by the film's production values, the acting and some of the most toe-curling fight choreography you've ever seen (I'm guessing the real strain on the budget wasn't the film's make-and-mend sets but the film-stock itself, as more than a few of the scenes look like they'd have been reshot if the money had been there).

Even making allowances for it being a bit crap, Soylent Green is still a bit crap. Although it becomes an interesting thematic progenitor to Blade Runner (a film released only nine years later), the bottom line is that this procedural detective thriller underlines Charlton Heston as a really one-dimensional actor. And it's not the dimension which is needed for this movie. In many ways, I think a 21st century remake could solve a lot of the issues this film had with its production. Then again, Romero's Land Of The Dead wasn't a million miles away from this, and that already felt dated when it was released…

Credit where it's due though, John Solie's poster is far better than Richard Fleischer's film.

I do hope this dystopian scenario doesn't come true in seven years, as I'll have to get the CRT television out of the loft, and I'm not sure I can carry off a neckerchief…

Have you really never seen this before?
Really, never.
Well, once you know what the punchline is, it seems like a long joke to sit through, y'know?

So are you glad you've finally have?
I'm glad I've finally seen it, yes.

And would you recommend it, now?
Only for fans of schlocky nostalgia, to be honest.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't, and there are a couple of perfect moments for one.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Soylent Green stars Charlton Heston of course, who showed his face in 1993's Wayne's World 2, a film which featured Ralph 'Ric Olié' Brown.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

2015 in Review: The Highs...

Ah, 2015. You were always going to have big boots to fill, as all the studios raced to present their prize-pieces to audiences between the big-hitting money-grabbers which had been announced well in advance. But fair play to you, as cinematic milestones go, you did us proud. Many of your highest points have been unashamedly mainstream, and all the better for that. Because when the great flicks are playing in the multiplexes, that means more regular punters are watching more fantastic movies.

So without further ado, let's have a look at some of the movies World of Blackout has rated the most highly this year. For reasons which should be obvious, this list doesn't include either Avengers: Age of Ultron or Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I was always going to love those flicks, so the fact that I did came as no surprise. This is more about the smiles I had when I left the cinema:

This was 2015, and these were the highs…

Big Hero 6
WoB Rating: 7/7
Big Hero 6 Well, the year got off to a strong start with Disney/Pixar's adaptation of a Manga-esque Marvel comic about a gang of geeky, gangly superheroes and their robotic pal: Big Hero 6. While the movie wears its anime heritage proudly, it's also undeniably Marvel, combining the label's trademark underdog- spirit with a coming-of-age adventure that will appeal to anyone who's ever loved a comic or a video game.

And while that sounds like it's going to exclude anyone over the age of 20, the heart of the story is the bond between young robotics-geek Hiro and his guardian/mentor, Baymax, built as a medical android by his brother, Tadashi. Behind the outlandish action and comedy, there's a rock-solid rendition of the hero's journey, masterfully assembled by Pixar. One of the best positive examples that behind the visual punch and high production values, a film needs great writing at its core. It's also the first film which made me have something in my eye in the cinema, this year. Both times I watched it.
"A heart-warming, adrenaline-pumping, tear-welling adventure yarn..."

Ex Machina
WoB Rating: 6/7
Ex Machina Also in January (and with a considerably straighter face), Alex Garland's artificial intelligence thriller set a bar that few other films met this year in terms of philosophical musing. Unlike other stories of its ilk which spend over half their screentime debating whether the machine in question is really conscious, there's no doubt from the off that Alicia Vikander's Ava is very much aware of everything around her and very much capable of making her own decisions because of it.

The quandary comes in the film's pondering over how she gained that level of intelligence, and the moral consequences of her actions given that she's learned entirely from human behaviour. Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleeson play a strong support in this claustrophobic tale, as does Sonoya Mizuno to a lesser (in terms of screen-time) degree. The film might not blow you away, but it'll hang around with you for some time afterwards. For best results, watch as a companion piece with Chappie.
"Part satire, part thought-experient; although it's true that the performances are more complex than the story..."

Kingsman: The Secret Service
WoB Rating: 7/7
Kingsman: The Secret Service Oh, yes. Even for its faults (which were only underlined the second time I watched it), I couldn't help but be in love with Kingsman. A bizarre hybrid of James Bond plotlines and Austin Powers humour, the resulting film is given the same energy and sass which director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman brought to 2010's Kick-Ass.

It certainly won't be for everyone of course (and nor should it be), and the film takes no time at all in establishing its ground rules of bone-crunching violence and a potty-mouth. And yet for all its intensity, Kingsman never forgets to have fun. Given the writer-director team's previous track record with comic-book to cinema sequels, the inevitable and highly-anticipated Kingsman 2 may be a patchier affair, so enjoy this one while it's still fresh.
"A joyously foul-mouthed triumph of style and adrenaline..."

Still Alice
WoB Rating: 7/7
Still Alice A late-entry for the awards-bait that the first months of the year usually bring, Still Alice managed to arrive to a fairly low-key distribution in the UK and pretty much floored me completely. This heart-breaking story of an English-language teacher with early-onset Alzheimer's is lifted well above the mawkish rut it could easily have fallen into by Julianne Moore's masterful performance. As she gradually loses the connection with the words and mechanics of language she loves, the film examines Alice's relationship with her family, as they struggle to maintain their support throughout the course of the illness.

It's thoroughly heavy-weight of course, and not the sort of thing you just breeze into on a whim or leave on when you're skipping though the channels. In fact truth be told, it's a film I may never watch again, but that's because it left such an indelible mark the first time around.
"If you don't have Something In Your Eye™ at least once during the film, you're clearly some kind of monster…"

WoB Rating: 6/7
Cinderella And March brought a very pleasant surprise in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of a Disney classic. Not normally my thing, obviously, but the House of Mouse had already given us a fascinating redux in 2014's Maleficent. This time, however, the update of the 1950 animated film plays its hand completely straight, with no real twists or reveals hidden up its sleeve.

Branagh's love for the source-material and the purity of storytelling is evident as he employs a cast of seasoned veterans and relative newcomers to tell the best possible version of a well-known tale. All of the players are committed to their roles and bring a sincerity which steers clear of the pantomime it could easily have become. Even Richard Madden's turn as a David Essex stand-in doesn't manage to derail things (cf. Chris Pine in Into The Woods) when Lily James, Helena Bonham Carter and Cate Blanchett are in full flow.
"Outstanding at being a good old fashioned Disney Princess Film™..."

Fast & Furious 7
WoB Rating: 6/7
Fast & Furious 7 Well, they can't all be worthy and thoughtful, can they? I've only ever been a civilian-level fan of the Fast & Furious series (indeed, if memory serves, I've only been watching them from the fourth movie onwards). But the loss of one of the film's central stars seems to have been what was needed for the film-makers to push the envelope and produce something really special (although both the cynic and the sap in me were disappointed to hear they're now going to make more - It looks like going out on a high is too old fashioned when there's goodwill to exploit).

But there are scorched tyres, thoroughly unfeasible stunts (in both execution and cinematography), dodgy acting, crap jokes and the kind of camaraderie you only get from a group of performers who've worked together for years. It may not be perfect, but it's the perfect Fast & Furious flick.
"An insane amount of fun, of course, and occasionally the dumbest F&F movie to date..."

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
WoB Rating: 6/7
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night Because sometimes you just want to spend a Saturday afternoon in an independent London cinema watching a black-and-white, subtitled Iranian film about a skateboarding girl vampire who listens to Lionel Richie. Intriguing is perhaps the best word to describe it, although unnerving and baffling also raise their heads on more than one occasion, too.

Although it's subtitled, the minimal dialogue and monochrome presentation make this evocative of the silent-film era, and the ghost-town in which the story takes place also has a timeless quality that defies your brain's attempts to pigeonhole it.

And just when you think everything's going to be arty-farty-subtext with the vampires existing only on a metaphorical level, no - they're actually blood-drinking murderers. So in this respect, it's already far more accomplished than those other vampire movies which didn't have actual vampires in. More importantly, it's an example of a film which is resolutely different also being utterly fantastic, proving that the cookie-cutter isn't needed if you have faith in what you're making ;)
"Creates a tension like playing Buckaroo, when you've got the mule loaded with syringes..."

WoB Rating: 6/7
Maggie Another movie which was a pleasant surprise was July's zombie flick starring the insurance salesman himself, Arnie. We're so used to him just rolling up in a movie and playing a caricature of himself that it's nice to be reminded that with smart scripting and careful direction, he can be a reasonably accomplished actor, too.

That said, this is really Abigail Breslin's movie, as the teenage girl who gets bitten in the middle of an undead epidemic, and is returned home to her family to spend her last weeks with them until 'the change' kicks in. The film never feels the need to completely upturn the established zombie-mythology, but still manages to tell the story its own way and with a few new ideas thrown in.

But ultimately - like any great movie - it's actually a metaphor for something else. It's not a particularly subtle metaphor, but it really doesn't need to be and the two stories play out in perfect sync.
"You've never seen such a thought-provoking film which also features two zombies making out..."

The Walk
WoB Rating: 6/7
The Walk And dropped unceremoniously into the Autumn cinematic wasteland was Robert Zemeckis' dramatised biopic about Philippe Petit, the performance artist who walked between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Coming not too long after the award-winning documentary about the self-same feat, the Back To The Future director focuses on the why rather than the how (although that's taken care of in delicious detail, too), and becomes a study in what makes artists tick, and what art even is, anyway.

Joseph Gordon Levitt grabs the lead role with both hands, and while his accent may be occasionally questionable, his commitment to the film isn't. I found myself surprisingly engrossed during the climactic act, considering that everyone essentially knows Petit didn't fall off the wire. But once again, Zemeckis demonstrates what a great storyteller he is, even when his main character is punching through the fourth wall at regular intervals.
"A reminder that the best art is created for the sake of art itself..."

Kill Your Friends
WoB Rating: 6/7
Kill Your Friends And sometimes, you just enjoy a movie because you know you shouldn't really be smirking that much throughout it. Blissfully nihilistic, this bloodthirsty and morality-free tale of the excesses of the 1990s record industry doesn't even want to shock you, per se, it just wants to play in its narcissistic, egocentric sandbox; and if that upsets a few people, so much the better.

Nicholas Hoult is great casting for the central role of Stelfox, a London-based A&R rep with more demons than redeeming qualities. Yet no matter how exaggeratedly corrupt he's shown to be, Hoult never lets go of the brittle vulnerability which makes him watchable. Not because you want him to be saved, but more that you'll enjoy seeing him being taken down. This is another movie where James Corden is surprisingly enjoyable, although don't let him know I told you that.

If all else fails, you can always watch Kill Your Friends for the Britpop-era soundtrack, because as much as I enjoyed it, even I felt that John Niven's novel had been adapted for the screen with the soundtrack album in mind ;)
"Every bit as grubby and exploitative as the business it claims to be lampooning, indeed that's very much the point..."

As much as I'm an unashamed fan of the mainstream, I do enjoy broadening my cinematic horizons when I get the chance. And if I hadn't done just that, this year, I'd have missed out on some absolute gems. While 2015's certainly given viewers its fair share of duds, this has also been a generally great year for movies.

The full list of WoB reviews for this year is right here.

Here's to 2016!

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.