Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2015 in Review: Entertaining Ourselves to Death

"I think we’re all up to our f@¢%ing necks in the films that are inevitably going to get made and are all going to feel the same and be all full of action and heroes and redemption and box-office potential. You know, that shit’s killing us. We’re entertaining ourselves to death."
That David Simon quote (from an interview he did with Vulture.com about Tom McCarthy and Spotlight) is a good summation of how I feel about the movies of 2015—an overwhelming sense of "sameness" started creeping in, where I thought I should be doing reviews in pairs. Movies would be about the same theme, just different story. Even small things seem familiar—right after a scene of people catch snowflakes on their tongue in The Revenant, I see it in The Hateful Eight (that happened a few times this year). Sequels and series had no spark, merely echoes of the original flame.
As an example, I am a big fan and "noticer" of film-music, that separate art whose component provides so much emotion in films. This year, there was nothing that stuck with me, all the original scores seemed to depend on atmospherics and Zimmer-ing textures, rather than a complementary melody; even music-emperor John Williams, returning to his Rebel roots, turned in his least-inspiring "Star Wars" score to date.

But, despite the cookie-cutter nature of so much movie-product, there were a lot of movies that broke the mold. Most of them were not properties, franchises, or tent-poles with their profit-oriented insistence on non-resolution (and the stench of purposely withheld potential). They were movies, large and small, that did not out-stay their welcome (or freshness), but stood on their own and did an efficient job of story-telling, of using the precious time on-screen and not wasting it. They had the courage to say "The End," having actually said something and then exiting, point made.

It's courageous to say "The End." It is also courageous to put it all out there, knowing that you might not get a second chance to get it right. Even when this year's Fantastic 4 was shown to be such a stinker, 20th Century Fox had the hubris to say they were on-track to make its sequel, then (very quietly) pulled the movie from its release schedule. Not that it wasn't noticed and crowed about all over the web. "Flame Out!" 

At least, they had the sense to do that. In the past, Hollywood has not had the ability to face facts. Iron Man 3 should never have been green-lit for production in the state of its final script (one got the impression there was nothing left to say, so they just moved set-pieces around), This year, SPECTRE could have used another couple months in editing post, but the release date was set in stone so it HAD to be put in theaters. And, like the equally unlikely Home Alone 2 and 3, Liam Neeson keeps losing members of his family in the Taken series, up to 3 now. The very existence of it nullifies the series and the lead character. Skills he may have, but vigilance isn't one of them.

One approaches 2016 with dread. What "sure things" are going to be sabotaged for their series potential (I'm looking at you, Batman v. Superman) as opposed to just being the best thing that it can be? What highly anticipated movie like Tomorrowland is going to turn out to be...Tomorrowland?  What movies will take the chance...to take a chance and be something unique, instead of just something in the crowd?

The State of the Site

When you "google" "Blogging by Cinemalight" the "go-to" reviews are SPECTRE and The Maury Island Incident (probably because they generated intense scrutiny when they were published...SPECTRE had some help from friends who are fellow Bond fans, and The Maury Island Incident was a local production that I was very impressed with involving people I knew. You look at the app on the side with "Popular Posts" it always seems that The Godfather Part III and Now I've seen Everything: The Planet of the Apes is there. It's a mystery to me why The Godfather III is so well-read: I would like to think it's because of my thesis that it explicitly deals with what the other films in the trilogy deal with, if buried in sub-text, the status of Michael's actions on his soul. My cynical side says because it's being copied for thesis papers in a film class (Anyone notice the blurb at the bottom of the site saying that this stuff is copyrighted? Just sayin') The Planet of the Apes thing...who doesn't like the Planet of the Apes

The Godfather Part III is the most viewed post of all time. Again, it's a mystery. I don't recall embedding a nude picture in the text (which grabs page views all the time from random Google Image searches...no, I don't do that...although there were a couple on the old site that when I saw people looking at the article, I knew what drew them there...especially if Google was the search engine. The second is the "Now I've Seen Everything Department" entry on The James Bond movies (updated with SPECTRE, by the way, as is the Sam Mendes entry).

Rounding out the top five are It Follows (which is interesting because it only came out this year, indicating that readership is slowly growing despite my efforts to keep it from doing so...like not writing it for long stretches. Mea culpa), Lucy (see above in regards to ScarJo Google searches) and San Andreas (I wouldn't have a clue why).

Far and away, the audience is from the United States, using Windows, and Google Chrome.

State of the Films

As always, I don't "do" Best Ten lists (because I hate choosing only ten, especially if there was more then ten great films in the year). Here's the list of new movies from the 2015 release schedules that were reviewed at Blogging By Cinemalight. The best ones are bolded and brightest. The rest fade into varying shades of dullness until they become nearly invisible (if only...). It's my own version of "Fifty Shades of Gray."

AND (this is a Big Deal), I have help this year from international author Michael Destro, an esteemed co-worker with whom I trade observations, notes, and brick-bats about movies (everywhere I work it becomes quickly apparent that I obsess over movies). We don't always agree, which is good, even though I don't often act like it is. And I find his view-point well-considered and frequently wise. 

Which annoys the hell out of me.

His list (he can't do "Top Ten's," either, for the same reason I can't) appears below. He also helped (ENORMOUSLY) with the "Freeze-Frames" section later on. 

Thank you, Michael. Multe multe mulțumiri  

Michael's books "The Thirteen Doorways" and "Don Quixote and the 13 Tampits" are wonderful reads and I highly, highly recommend them (links for them are at the bottom of the page, which will be a surprise to Michael)

TOP 2015 MOVIES (of Michael A Destro)

(in no particular order)


Best Sound Design of 2015: 

This is a tough one, despite—but more probably because—it was one of the noisiest years in movies. There were some sequences—sound designer Lon Bender escalating the sounds of a chess-room in Bobby Fischer's paranoid mind in Pawn Sacrifice; Michael Caine conducting "in the field," as it were in Youth; Pixar did their usual splendid job in both Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur; The Revenant had good sound, but mostly I was grateful they didn't use the same red-tail hawk cliche that always seems to get used for conveying the outside (whether desert or alpine). Nothing stood out and was noticeable.  That's either a bad thing...or a very good thing.

Best Score:
As above, nothing came to me. There were clever song soundtracks (I particularly liked The Man from UNCLE and The Martian amused), but original scores seemed lacking. Even veterans like John Williams and Ennio Morriconne seemed lackluster. I would hate to put that to age, and shouldn't as Thomas Newman, Alexander Desplat and Michael Giacchino seemed to be running in place in their respective scores (other factors might be running out of post-time—I think Newman had that issue on SPECTRE because a lot of the tracks were dependent on music from Skyfall— and over-reliance on "snorting the temp-track," when the film-makers fall in love with a temporary piece of music for pacing or "feel" and tell the composer to "make it like that." A lot of it just may be film-makers exerting creative control over composers and watering down the music because of it, in a mixture of ego over talent. In Quentin Tarantino's DGA talk about The Hateful 8, he said he hates handing over "his vision" to a composer. When the composer is as legendary as Ennio Morricone and he actually entertains the notion of giving you music designed for your film, it might be best to put illusions of "vision" aside and watch how he might actually improve the "vision" of your film (and with The Hateful 8, frankly, nothing could hurt).

Carter Burwell, on the other hand, did some very nice things with Carol, Anomalisa, and Mr. Holmes.

(Inspired by the yearly feature "Moments Out of Time" done every year by Kathleen Murphy and Richard T. Jameson. Their 2015 entry is here

I asked Michael Destro to help on this and his entries are in glowing white, while mine are slightly more dull. 

Infinitely Polar Bear ---  Cam Stuart is picking mushrooms with his girls and their friends, then the scene shifts to them all eating lunch out in nature

The Walk: Jean-Phillip Petit narrates the amazing story of his walk across a tight-rope fastened between the twin towers of the World Trade Center—and it's revealed where he's telling the tale: a particularly impossible shot of the past New York skyline as he's perched on the torch of the Statue of Liberty.

Dope --- the final scene where Dom is writing his application letter to Harvard, such wise and brilliant words

Carol: Therese (Rooney Mara) leaves a Holiday party alone and contemplative in the dark, where a single street-light shines like an after-thought (or a beacon). One of the few unobstructed shots in Carol.

Brooklyn: Over a voice-over of Georgina's make-up tips,  we watch the back of Eilish's head standing in line at Ellis Island awaiting immigration. Her head turns around, as if affording us a view of her make-over, and director John Crowley cuts to a shot of a distant New York shore with the Statue of Liberty standing as gate-keeper/concierge. Cut back to a long-shot of Eilish looking back/looking forward—a seamless transition for the audience's benefit.

Experimenter: We already know that the movie is going to be a bit out of the ordinary when the lead character Dr. Stanley Malgram (Peter Saarsgard) turns in mid-experiment to address us. But when he leaves to go into the hallway, he is soon joined by a literal elephant in the room.
Experimenter - when Stanley Milgram is walking down the hallway talking to the viewer and an elephant is walking behind him

Spotlight: "We're running the story on the Feast of the Epiphany." "Seems appropriate."

Amy: "Dad! It's Tony Bennett!" It's not winning the Record of the Year Grammy that most gob-smacks Amy Winehouse—it's that Tony Bennett is presenting it. The wide-eyed naked hero-worship is raw, and later, he will treat her so gently for a studio-duet, as both mentor...and peer.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Finn (John Boyega) gives BB-8 a "thumbs-up" for playing along and the little droid improvises a return gesture (which makes you wonder if this Universe didn't once have a Roman Empire from which the gesture originated—a little too familiar and "on the nose" to be from a galaxy far, far away.

Crimson Peak - the rich blue and red hues throughout the entire film, especially the red clay seeping out onto the white snow.

Mr. Holmes: "Do you regret?" "So MUCH!"

What We Do in the Shadows: Lest we forget that vampires live a very long time, at a house-meeting, the subject of cleaning up after themselves is dispelled by Vladislav (Jemaine Clement): "Why don't we just buy slaves?"

Black Mass: Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) is sitting down to a nice quiet meal with one of his enforcers and his two FBI accomplices and casually asks what the "secret family recipe" for the steaks are. John Morris (David Harbour) tells him, and Bulger turns all-serious, telling him that a man who would betray such secrets can't be trusted and pushes it until the FBI guy starts to sweat bullets. 

Spotlight: The whole of Stanley Tucci's performance as attorney Mitchell Garabedian. In an ensemble film filled with great performances, his burned the brightest.

The Walk - Philip Petit sitting on the wire in a meditative pose

Ex Machina: It's not all work at the Nathan's technological hideaway. He and his A.I. servant Kyoko break into a synchronized dance routine. So...who taught who?

Brooklyn: Eilish, on the ship taking her to America and not knowing if she'll ever return, blows a kiss good-bye to her Mother and sister Rose, and her fingers add a couple extra waves, as if in fear that it won't be enough and won't reach.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: "Ben-jy! O-pen...the...DOOR!!!" Granted, Tom Cruise is crazy. But, I don't care how many lanyards and safety-harnesses were CG-erased from that footage of him hanging off the side of an ascending Airbus A400M, he is one brave Mo-fo.

Focus: (Will Smith) does a long Sherlock dissertation of why the shakedown of Jess (Margot Robbie) and her accomplice just doesn't work and sums it up nicely: "It was a bum lift. You suck!"

Avengers: Age of Ultron: The best running gag of a disappointing movie.

It Follows: Is it THAT big a sacrifice to have sex with Jay (Maika Monroe) and become "it's" next victim?: two guy-friends (Daniel Zavatto, Keir Gilchrist) weigh the pro's and con's...for "the good of all."

Love & Mercy: Paul Dano's eerily "right" portrayal of a young splintering Brian Wilson.

The Martian: The martian landscape dryness of Jeff Daniels' reply to Purnell's (Donald Glover) antic, breezy "who are you?:" "I'm Teddy...I'm the head of NASA..."

The Revenant - Hugh Glass has been woken up by an attacking tribe and rides his horse over a cliff and into an ice cold river

Youth: Composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) sits at the edge of a forest overlooking a field of grazing cows. After awhile, he raises his arms and the cows watch waiting. Then he begins to conduct the scene: the wind, the bells, the birds, everything.

SPECTRE: A hung-over, sleep-deprived James Bond draws down on a mouse in the Hotel L'Americaine, and asks it whose side it's on. Moneypenny was right: at this point, he doesn't trust anybody.

Mustang --- The sisters are cheering at the all women spectator football game, a moment of solidarity, sisterhood, patriotism, and most importantly freedom.

Mr. Holmes: The elderly Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellan) goes to see himself portrayed at the cinema. The actor playing the actor playing Holmes is Nicholas RoweYoung Sherlock Holmes now-grown-up.

Inside Out: The lovingly conceived compartmentalization of a young girl's mind.

Victoria -- Victoria is sharing a drink with Sonne and his friends on a roof while Germany sleeps, as well when she first gets on the back of his bike, the conversation and scene felt so authentic as if I was a voyeur

SPECTRE: The Day of the Dead: One long tracking shot (joined by CG, evidently) starts with a smoking skeleton float and ends when James Bond taking aim at nameless baddies. It gets more frenetic and heart-stopping from there, but that opening shot, even in this post-Gravity world is still amazing.

Room: Jack (Jacob Tremblay) unwraps himself from the carpet just the way Mom said to, but he is quite unprepared for his first view of the Outside World.

Avengers - Age of Ultron - toward the end of the opening long beginning, Hulk lays his humungous hand in Black Widow’s tiny one.

Mad Max: Fury Road: "You will ride eternal, shiny and chrome!"

The Revenant: In a momentary truce in the war against Glass by Nature, Hikuc (Arthur Redcloud) convinces him to catch snowflakes on his tongue.

The Martian: A line that could have been in The Revenant—"Surpriiiise!"

Mad Max: Fury Road- The Green place where the hues have turned from desert colors to a violent bruised color. We see sick men walking on stilts and a barren tree covered in ravens.

The Walk: Like an overture before a ballet, Nature (actually director Robert Zemeckis because it really didn't happen that way) provides a dramatic fog -curtain opening to Petit's walk.

Trainwreck: The rhythm of Amy Schumer's comedy aided and abetted by the essential Bill Heder. To wit:

Kumiko - the Treasure Hunter ---  While searching for treasure in an icy Minnesotan wasteland, she stands out as a tragic speck in a sea of white.

Ant-Man: It's all a matter of perspective, of course, but the creators of Ant-Man are just not afraid to show that the frenetic fight on the moving train—eventually looks like this:

Straight Outta Compton - the scene when Dr. Dre is recording Easy E’s first hit, the scene for me captured something historic and groundbreaking was taking place

ROOM: "Look at him!" Cut to the face of Robert (William H. Macey), loving father of Ma (Brie Larson), and though he tries, he really tries, he can't and crumbles internally.

Phoenix --- Johnny’s expression of utter disbelief at discovering the woman singing is not the woman he hired to impersonate his supposedly dead wife, Nina, but is actually her. The scene is wordless and the realization a devastating victory.

SPECTRE: Searching the L'Americain secret room, Bond finds a video tape among many, looks at the label "Interrogation--Vesper Lynd" and pauses. Then tosses it away.

It Follows: All it takes is a 360 pan of the surroundings and you're looking for "it" and immediately identifying with every "target" in It Follows.

Concussion -- Preema first arrives at Bennet’s house and is looking at pictures, there’s a moment when they look at each other and there’s a feeling they are meant to be together

The Walk: The last shot of the film. Only ten people have walked on the Moon. Jean-Phillip Petit is the only man to walk in a space that doesn't exist anymore. 

The Assassin ---Yinniang has just entered the room where Huji is sleeping, it is a scene filled with incredible stillness yet pounding tension

And...lest we forget:

Thanks for reading.  Moving forward.

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