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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

AT THE MOVIES 2015

AT THE MOVIES 2015

2015 provide some excellent movie entertainment. I was riveted by Spotlight, detailing the Boston Globe’s exposé of the Catholic Church scandal. Spotlight featured a cast of A-list actors all keeping their performances reigned in to allow the audience to focus on the importance of the story. The writing was superb, handling difficult subject matter while balancing perspective and dramatic integrity.

Joy was a revelation. Based on the career of Joy Mangano—a self-made millionaire who created her own business empire during the early days of cable shopping channels—the writing in the opening ten minutes was word perfect. Within this short time span, the dysfunctional relationships and interactions of every family member in relation to each other was highlighted and referenced back to Joy, who is caught in the eye of the cyclone. As Joy, Jennifer Lawrence again displayed her immense talent, transitioning emotionally and physically though the demands her character arc without an off note.

Brooklyn was a beautifully filmed, understated, and layered love story. With a screenplay by the great Nick Hornby, Brooklyn details the journey of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), an Irish immigrant  who lands in 1950s Brooklyn where she is confronted by choosing between two countries, two great loves, and the lives existing within each realm. What could have been nothing more than a chick-flick, becomes elegant, engaging, and emotionally involving.

The Big Short had to have been a very difficult screenplay to write. This is an important story detailing the events surrounding the 2008 housing/market crash—but how do you take something so financial and numbers heavy, with numerous financial terms the average person couldn’t define if their life depended on it, let alone understand and make it entertaining? I’m almost falling asleep thinking about it—but I did not fall asleep in this film. Like Spotlight, I was completely engrossed in the narrative and the inevitable, criminal, ‘unthinkable’ outcome. The acting here is more showy than in Spotlight, but it needs to be in order to keep the audience on board. Christian Bale and Steve Carell do the heavy lifting (brilliantly) while Ryan Gosling pulls everything together…The Big Short also breaks the fourth wall on numerous occasions to great effect.

There were a number of other highly rated films I chose not to see in 2015 because of the level of violence. I have no doubt The Revenant and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi were excellent, but aimed at an audience with different tastes than my own.

2015, however, also premiered a number of new entries in established movie franchises. I am very happy Star Wars fans/fanatics appear to be delighted—despite gaping plot holes—with The Force Awakens. While I enjoyed the latest entry in the Star Wars saga, I am a casual fan unconcerned with minutia and finding all the hidden Easter eggs. Despite being gobsmacked and outraged by the marketing idiocy of leaving Rey out of the Action Figure—Star Wars Monopoly—Millennium Falcon line-up, my personal Star Wars-style fandom has always been reserved for other film franchises. As such, 2015 held low, satisfactory, and high points for me.

Let’s start with the low…

After Skyfall rebounded positively from the dreck of Quantum of Solace (Quantum of Crap in my opinion), I held high hopes for the latest James Bond film, Spectre. Unfortunatley, those hopes were dashed against the rocks of a clunky, derivative, mess of a screenplay (basically a rip-off of Quantum of Crap), and an insipid villain who couldn’t even bother to wear socks—how can you take over the world wearing carpet slippers?

Spectre disparaged fans by leaving their willing-suspension-of-disbelief in tatters with too many scenes of overblown, obviously ridiculous, action—like blowing a helicopter out of the sky by firing a handgun at long range while plowing down the Thames in a bumpy speedboat. I love James Bond, but Spectre did little to endear me to the franchise’s current detour into an imitative, derivative collection of CGI heavy action scenes connected by thin to non-existent plotting.

The other franchise crushing aspect of Spectre is the lack of witty dialogue—or any dialogue with more than two-syllable words. My understanding is this change was made to satisfy the foreign markets—in particular the ever growing and money important Chinese market. Apparently, English wordplay and quips lose their humor when translate into foreign languages (especially Chinese) for dubbing or voiceovers.

And would Daniel Craig please just take his millions of dollars and Bond created worldwide stardom and stop whining to the media about hating James Bond. Get over yourself or get out…Let Idris Elba have his shot in the role…

Deep breath…Deep Breath…Smile…

Leaving the trainwreck of Spectre behind, let’s move on to the satisfactory category…

I’ve been waiting fifty years for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to be rebooted. Despite fan howls over the casting and abounding naysayers, I enjoyed this big screen version of my favorite childhood television series. It wasn’t a great film, but in my opinion it was an entertaining film—much more satisfactory than the more than triple budgeted Spectre. I would have appreciated more nods to the original series, but I enjoyed the romp.

Directory Guy Ritchie’s reinterpretation of the original series, via this origin story, changed a number of things about the character’s backgrounds. While purists wrung their hands and gnashed their teeth, I felt Ritchie honored the original characters’ relationship while making each character more three dimensional than was ever required by ‘60s television.

Both Henry Cavil and Armie Hammer appeared to be having a good time on screen. Their chemistry worked well for me, especially when played off Alicia Vikander’s rookie agent character. And Hugh Grant was perfect in his limited appearance as Mr. Waverly.

The film was filled with the witticisms missing from Spectre, but the humor went deeper than quips. The original show had a unique drollness, which is hard to describe let alone reproduce. Whether by design or luck, the U.N.C.L.E. big screen reboot somehow captured the original series balance of dry humor, character, and plot, which made U.N.C.L.E. the standard for all other ‘60s spy series—even if it did lose the magic in its heavy-handed third season. U.N.C.L.E. regained its footing in season four, but it was too late to save the show from cancellation.

With its brilliantly captured ‘60s setting, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is a satisfactory romp, but hope for a sequel is nothing more than a failed THRUSH plot.

As for my movie franchise high point for 2015, you’ll have to check back next week…But to give you a hint, it’s the hardest hitting movie of the year…


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