Review Roundup - Catching up

2015 (SORT OF) RECAP

With time in the year running down it's time to do a quick look at all those features I have forgotten to get into. Some would probably have been given a place under bonus reviews or even features to themselves at some point - but didn't ever make it due to one reason or another. It's going to be a mixed bag in terms of content, genre and of course quality but this is as good a time as any to get into things which have been overlooked. I think most of the blockbusters have already been covered recently so while a few here are larger names there are some which have had less hype or brand marketing. As I untangle my brain it's probably apt that two of these involve thought power and mental faculties... a couple of entries are from last year. So this is sort of a cheat but there you have it, let's get stuck in before this is all left unsaid and falls into the memory dump.


So yes I admit, I have caved and watched the Minions movie. It is actually pretty funny in many places even if the kind of visual gags and slapstick are fairly low brow at times and the rate at which the jokes are fired out means that not everything works. The best parts are pretty much silent besides the gibberish Minion language and a naturalist voice over from Geoffrey Rush. The plot follows the diminutive creatures from the evolutionary soup as they progress through various stages in history on the hunt for ever scarier overlords to serve. Their quest for purpose eventually finds them in 1960s London which is where the plot kicks in, but this is also where things get patchier in terms of which parts work. The human element is the least interesting part as heist clich├ęs and big chase sequences are rolled out. They also include one too many gags from the typical book of tea drinking Brit jokes, which seems like a strange distraction in a plot about small yellow creatures that should really be the source for fun.

3/5



For something with more nuanced characters Mr. Holmes provides plenty of solid drama by telling the story of an elderly Sherlock (Ian McKellan) in retirement as he tries to save his failing memory and solve a few last cases. The diet supplements he has researched through bee keeping a visits to Japan seem to have little effect, and it's through the puzzle of his final case that his faculties begin to sharpen. The premise here is that Holmes and Watson were real detectives and the latter wrote the famous stories, adding embellishments along the way that clouded the truth of events. Unsatisfied that his last published story was a real success (since it was the reason he retired from his life of deduction) Sherlock begins to piece his memories together and in doing so finds a way to understand people on an emotional level rather than simply a logical one. This core allows for a slow story full of characterisation with two sets of flashbacks slowly forming a full picture of his past. Having such a well known actor in the role of the great detective is a little distracting (as is casting Hiroyuki Sanada as his host in Japan) but overall it's a satisfying drama.

4/5



On a rather different note, John Wick is full of characters who are paper thin and actors who are less that stellar. Keanu Reeves plays the titular hitman, who has left a life of death and destruction after finding love and happiness. But of course this all goes horribly wrong and so Sad Keanu must go back to work in the name of revenge, shooting his way through a series of seedy underground locales one faceless gangster at a time. It's a back to basics kind of movie with plenty of straight up kills and little filler, in some ways reminiscent of The Equalizer reboot. But it's a far more visual film, with lots of fancy hotel rooms and neon dance floors along the way. The result is at times a little too much like a music video or a videogame, but it helps the tone. Little touches such as all the killers knowing each other and working from the same bar, and payments being made with strange gold coins adds certain flair. It's just enough to avoid the usual mundane elements that you'd usually expect in a story about a string of bad people being shot in the face.

3/5



Robot Overlords offers some distraction in terms of sci-fi drama but is pretty underwhelming in either invasion intrigue or dystopia movie elements, which should have come as standard with this premise. It's all pretty simplistic and lacking atmosphere, with alien robots putting everyone in a 24 hour curfew while they conduct some kind of nefarious scheme. But they say it's harmless and will be over soon enough, what can go wrong?  Despite them casting Ben Kingsley as another antagonist with an accent and Gillian Anderson as the mother of the hero it feels like a made for TV effort with lacklustre effects and bland robot designs. Her son and the kids in her house soon find out things are not as they seem, beginning plans to break out and discover the truth. There are some moments of humour, a few effects moments that work and the cast does a fair job, but it's all so bland and predictable. Without any kind of really sinister threat from an invading force or any social commentary it's all just kind of forgettable.

2/5



On the topic of forgettable... I pretty much missed any kind of Hunger Games buzz recently even with the last entry having just arrived. The third instalment had of course been split in half as is typical with YA adaptations recently - whether the source material warrants it or not, and the first part of Mockingjay reminded me just why I had such little recall of the events of the previous movies. The main characters are all still bland, even in the face of so much death and destruction, the derivative setup still feels unimaginative, and to make things worse they string everything out for way too long just to fill the running time when the finale has been chopped to make another film. This time everyone spends most of the movie in a bunker so there are few new side characters being thrown in to add any flavour, it's mostly just grey and cold. The tone is slightly darker with some interesting scenes showing the cost of rising up, and visually it's more interesting than before but the lack of real drama is still a problem. It just doesn't work when a rebel force is trying to overthrow a dictatorship but Katniss is still pouting over her forced romance love triangle subplot. Maybe it will go out with a bang, but this far from explosive.

2/5



Ending on a something a little more surprising, Inside Out is the return to form Pixar has been needing for a long time now. While Toy Story 3 was mostly great it recycled a lot of their old ideas, and this sadly means their last truly interesting movie was Up all the way back in 2009. While the main storyline here is pretty simple and deals with the family drama of moving away from friends and familiarity, the way it's all told through anthropomorphic emotions and memory functions is the big success. This is still a family film so it doesn't get too dark or too far into how sadness and negative experiences are what make a person whole. But they do just enough to provide both interesting plot developments and material to get the adult viewers invested. That being said while questions on how sadness and happiness are the same side of a coin are fascinating, there are also all kinds of fun sequences revolving around long term memory, dreams, personality development and of course emotional growth. Visually they've know for a while that style is better than detail, and this is no exception with characters like Anger and Fear being built from broad geometric shapes, and the brain itself being part marble maze and part theme park. It seems that although The Good Dinosaur is finally being released might not be up to this standard, but it's I understand we can't have it good all of the time...

4/5