Disney is king of the jungle this year. Between its animated joy Zootopia, the live action reimagining of The Jungle Book, and the upcoming Captain America/Avengers foray, the company has/will stampede critics and the box office in 2016. As unnecessary as I personally believe they are, live action adaptions of classic animated tales seem here to stay – we’ve already seen Oz, Wonderland and Cinderella’s slipper in 3D, among others. However, while it can’t be denied The Jungle Book is a triumph of CGI, the film can’t find solid ground between its classic cartoonish predecessor and the more serious tone it strives for. Ultimately, this version of Bare Necessities is barely necessary.
That’s not to say the movie is completely without merit. Directed by Jon Favreau, the movie follows the animated classic’s tale and adds believable CGI and gorgeous cinematography to the checklist. Almost every character and setting is digitally rendered, but it didn’t matter because the screen is consistently packed with beautiful details. Favreau highlights the natural beauty of this highly unnatural jungle, laying forth the movie’s central argument for its place in the Disney lineup.
First person, second rate
If you thought found footage movies could be dizzying to watch, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Hardcore Henry, as frantic an action movie as the genre gets, was filmed from a first person perspective. Director Ilya Naishuller strapped a GoPro Hero 3 camera to our mute, nameless lead stuntman’s head so that we see all the explosions, car flips and gunfire from an up close and personal perspective. As a gimmick, it mostly works. Some scenes made my stomach flip flop, and in others I barely noticed the novelty. But a 96-minute runtime cannot be sustained by one cool idea alone, and the endless action scenes supported by absolutely no story or character development result in hardcore monotony.
Henry (played by two arms that swing from the corner of the screen) is awoken by his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) screwing robotic limbs back into his body. He can’t remember anything, can’t speak, and is being chased by a bunch of gun-wielding thugs. Their boss is Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), whose bad white wig and unexplained telekinetic powers are perhaps his greatest crimes, because I have no idea why he’s hunting Henry or why he’s the bad guy. He just is.
Batman v Superman isn’t a movie. It doesn’t tell us a story. It’s a conglomeration of product placements, advertisements for future installments in the DC Extended Universe, and mind-numbing CGI. Director Zack Snyder, who also lead 2013’s Man of Steel, hoped to create an entire cinematic universe as big as Marvel’s 12-parter in one fell swoop. He failed. Someone shine the bat signal – Snyder is DC’s greatest super villain since The Joker.
The thing about Snyder (who also directed 300, Sucker Punch, and Watchmen) is that he is not a good storyteller. Whatever he prioritizes instead, I’m not exactly sure, but it’s certainly not telling a story. Unless you’re a fan of actual DC comic books, which I’m not, much of the film will not make sense. To understand Ben Affleck’s Batman, for instance, you’ve almost had to have seen Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Very little context is provided as to who this Bruce Wayne is in this separated universe.
Taking Center Stage
There isn’t a good or bad time to release a film like Spotlight. Journalism shapes the issues discussed at a societal level, and, under the massively ambiguous term “the media,” seems to be largely blamed for many nationwide issues. Tom McCarthy’s film covers The Boston Globe’s investigative reporting of the Massachusetts Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, remaining as objective about its source material as a journalist ideally should. A film like Spotlight could and should (and in this case, does) highlight the utmost importance journalism (and more importantly, the handling of journalism) wields. A film like this is important.
In the early 2000s, Boston’s Globes investigative team Spotlight began digging for leads in a child sexual abuse case from a Catholic church. The team (here portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James) uncovered evidence for almost 90 child abuse charges in Boston alone. They had to dig deep for that number – any prior documentation was swept under the rug by legal or journalistic powers to prevent any knowledge of the scandal.
There aren’t many things more difficult than breaking into an underwater computer security system. Leaving the movie theater knowing exactly what happened in the fifth Mission Impossible is one of them. For every genuine thrill the movie has, it packs a cringe-worthy cliché or plot twist into its overlong script. The movie excels when Tom Cruise pulls off one of his many mind-bending stunts. But when anything else is happening, mission abort.
The film blasts off the runway with one of its best scenes – Cruise hanging on for dear life outside of a plane as it takes off. Director Christopher McQuarrie knows this is the meat and bones of Mission Impossible movies. The scene is as exhilarating for the audience as it must have been for Cruise – the camera angle and roaring sound effects had me clenching my fists in my seat. There is, after all, a reason Mission Impossible is so well known.
For anyone who experienced mood swings in their youth, we now have an explanation – there was a tiny, Tinkerbell-looking Amy Poehler in your head. Either that or you were watching Inside Out, a movie meticulously designed to make the audience feel all emotions, from joy to sadness, within its short run time. Handling the delicate issue of an 11-year-old girl experiencing depression after moving from her childhood home, Pixar juggles its most serious premise yet with grace and imagination. If Monsters University and Cars 2 were sadness, then Inside Out is joy.
Though it never explicitly drops the d-word, Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) falls into depression after a move for her father’s work. Little does she know, the depression is actually caused by the 5 brightly-colored, fuzzy-looking monsters in her head representing core emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust.
If you came here hoping to learn a little more about what Aloha is about, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I have no clue. The only thing I do know is director Cameron Crowe was pretty dedicated to bringing Hawaiian culture to the screen, though that doesn’t at all explain his choice in an almost all-white cast. The film probably worked on a purely conceptual level, but when it came time to put all the disparate ideas together, it seems everyone involved said aloha and decided to just enjoy the islands instead. You should too.
The film is light on Hawaiian scenery but heavy with the culture – there’s a lot of exposition to showcase various Hawaiian traditions, like mana and hula dancing. Despite this, the most thought-provoking thing about the movie is how so many big name stars signed on, including Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, two of this year’s Academy Award nominees. They couldn’t have been interested in the script, which was immediately disengaging and tried to balance multiple, completely unrelated plot threads at once.
“There are no strings on me.”
You sure about that Ultron? Because even though you were marketed as Marvel’s answer to an overall lame roster of movie villains, you still failed to shake up any long-held expectations about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Actually, nothing about this movie did. It delivered more of what Marvel has been doing for eleven films now, which is by no means a bad thing. The franchise is one of my personal favorites. However, Age of Ultron did make it painfully obvious that the series is cautious to break away from its tried-and-true formula that we’ve seen almost a dozen times now, when this deep into the franchise, a little change may feel welcome. Ultron is more tied down than he thinks he was.
Still, the movie is packed with a heaping portion of the action-and-explosions goodness that fans have come to expect. Even Ultron, the creepy robot king (voiced by James Spader) is satisfyingly freaky and intimidating, until he’s not. Spader’s impeccable voice acting could outmatch director and writer Joss Whedon’s cringe-worthy writing of the character.
So, Shailene Woodley cut her hair.
Haunted by the events of Divergent, in which she was responsible for the deaths of three people important to her, Woodley’s character Tris Prior arms herself with a pair of scissors and a mirror near the beginning of Insurgent. Okay, sure. But, one quick question: Why? Logistically, the haircut does nothing but transform the film’s recognizable star into a doppelgänger of a timid high school boy (come on, that was your initial reaction too).
As the movie’s plot charged forward and I continued to scratch my head (which has hair only slightly shorter than Woodley’s, btw) over this seemingly insignificant question, the more I realized that even the film itself didn’t know the answer. Female characters chopping their hair as a symbol of strength is the “cool new trend” in film and TV. Look at Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra, in which its title character stopped by the barbershop after a traumatizing near-death encounter. Kristen Bell did it as Veronica Mars. Allison Pill on The Newsroom. Kiernan Shipka on Mad Men. Heck, even the female protagonist of the Pokemon anime did it recently (not that I… watch that).
The last few months of 2014 saw a very abnormal trend for movies. The fall season produced its usual mixture of top-notch thrillers, sci-fis and teen franchises. On the other hand, December, normally the Mount Olympus of movies for the year, was one of the weaker release periods of the year.
Welcome to my eighth annual movie rankings list, as long as ‘annual’ means ‘whenever I feel like it every few months.’ This list will determine the order of the movies I’ve seen and may or may not have reviewed since last September. The nominees for Logan’s favorite (and least favorite) movies are, in order of release: