Well, I managed to make it to August before flaking out on the films thing – but it’s the end of year and I want to do an end-of-year post, so the completist in me is just going to have to cover the films I saw September-December very briefly before I can justify an end-of-year review to myself.
I have friends who really hated Elysium. To me it wasn’t that bad – it was a decent set-up, with some nice special effects, but the resolution was pretty bad… a very average 5/10 sort of film, all in all. I teach a celebrity module, so I made myself watch One Direction: This is Us and Diana. The former went on FOREVER but I liked the band more afterwards, I even liked their music more, so as a promo job, job done. Resentful wasn’t being resentful enough though (but when he was, it was great). The latter was a cheesy Hallmark-TV slice of ridiculous, but it wasn’t *quite* as bad as I’d expected from the reviews. Bad, but just not quite bad enough to be a classic of schlock.
About Time is cheesy as all hell but it’s a nice, sweet twist on the romcom and on the father/son story. But the thing that happens at the end doesn’t make sense within the rules established early on in the film and thus undoes some of the good work – nice premise, decent middle, stupid ending. On the young men coming of age thing, I adored The Way, Way Back, however. Sweet, funny, heartfelt and worth a watch.
There’s been a lot made of the Bechdel test this year, and obviously I’ve been interested in the role of women in films as I’ve gone through this year of reviewing, so I was interested to watch In a World, about a female voice-over artist trying to make it in the world of film trailers. It’s quite fun, but very slight, and although our lead is a woman, many of the supporting cast are men. It does all become somewhat formulaic too, which is a bit of a shame. Rush is no good whatsoever when it comes to representing women. However, it’s a great piece of film otherwise, with Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl putting in excellent performances. The racing scenes are really good and the real-life story interesting enough to sustain the running time. It’s a bit cheesy in places, especially at the end, but a good watch nonetheless. I didn’t choose to see White House Down at the pictures, but caught it on a flight. It was everything you would expect, except possibly a bit more rubbish. Speaking of rubbish, Austenland is the only film I didn’t make it to the end of this year. I wanted to like it because it starred Kerri Russell and Jane Seymour, but I just couldn’t click with it. I guess it’s the kind of film you have to be in an exceptionally silly mood to enjoy. Maybe one day I’ll try and stomach the ending when I’m drunk and flicking about on Netflix or something, but I doubt it somehow.
I really loved a lot of things about Blue Jasmine, but I found it curious that Woody Allen has allegedly said it’s not meant to be a contemporary Streetcar Named Desire, because it is exactly that – well, aside from a few key details (I spent the whole time waiting for THAT scene from the play to be in the film, but it wasn’t) – Jasmine IS Blanche, the flat is even laid out like Stanley and Stella’s in the play. The performances are great and I love me a bit of misery porn. But something doesn’t *quite* hit it, I’m not sure why – maybe it just lacks an extra twist. Filth is in some ways a similar film in that it features a very unreliable protagonist who is completely screwed up and has substance abuse issues and who can’t respond properly to the people around them. I haven’t read the book but I know the more gross aspects are missing from the film – which has some nasty bits but nothing to rival the toilet or baby scenes in Trainspotting. James MacAvoy is brilliant but the film is somewhat lacking in having a ‘centre’ – a key hook. It’s OK, not something I’d watch again though.
It’s been a good year for films involving singing – and Sunshine on Leith is one of three in this recap alone. I know the plot is shonky, I know the idea of a Proclaimers-based musical is niche, but I loved it, mainly because it is so joyous and revels in its cheese. Well done Dexter Fletcher – who’d have thought that would be the kind of thing you’d direct? In other films involving music news, One Chance is something that sounds even weirder on paper – the life story of Paul Potts? Really? I went to watch it because it was one of those ‘hmmm, I’ve seen everything else’ kind of cinema trips. In actuality, it’s a very standard B-list Britromcom – plucky underdog sings his way to fame, gets the girl, etc. It’s not as bad as you’d expect, but it’s very formulaic. The weird thing about it is that they go to a lot of trouble in some places to emphasise the period detail – Potts worked in Carphone Warehouse (which it’s a bit of an ad for in places) and so you see older handsets… and then in the background there’s a GREAT BIG BLOODY EE SIGN, even though EE is pretty brand spanking new. You can’t change where you film, but you could try a bit harder not to get such anachronisms in shot. Honestly.
Next up, three book adaptations. I’ve read both How I Live Now and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire although the latter more recently, so remember it slightly better. Both were decent adaptations, I thought, both at the ‘adult’ end of the YA spectrum – very dark (one scene in How I Live Now is incredibly harrowing – more so than in the book – although I think Catching Fire is a bit more sanitised than its source material, as was the first film in the series) with some excellent bits. I’d watch both again – but the same isn’t true of Ender’s Game – which I haven’t read. I’ve heard good things about the book (and not good things about Orson Scott Card, the homophobic dolt) but the film was the very definition of meh – it couldn’t be more average if it tried.
In the realm of big-screen action, I liked Thor: The Dark World better than the original – didn’t love it but I did like it, went on a bit long, had some nice bits in it. Captain Phillips had some trailers that bothered me because it looked pretty racially dodgy – plucky white guy vs some bad Somalis – in practice, it’s more nuanced than that for a lot of the time – but then the ending is just… odd. It felt as if the director wanted to make some statement along the lines of ‘the pirates were human too and the white Mercans are baddies too’ – but then sort of bottles it at the end, with the result being a slightly odd taste in the mouth. Tom Hanks is much better than in Cloud Atlas though. As fighting against the elements films go, Gravity is better – a real visual spectacle, with a great performance from Sandra Bullock (hooray for a female-driven film), and George Clooney relishing his fun part. I didn’t find it quite the masterpiece some critics did, and the emotional journey of Bullock’s character wasn’t especially to my taste, but it’s a good space film that’s almost as interesting as Moon in its exploration of being lost in space – in fact, whilst Star Trek makes space look a lot of fun, both this and Moon make it seem hella boring. Sometimes Earth has enough to commend it.
Philomena was the ‘surprise hit’ of the year – that film that does way better and stays on screens for way longer than anyone imagined. Rightly so – it’s a good story, well-acted and made all the more gut punching knowing that whilst some of the real life details weren’t quite true, all the horrible ones were. A good year in cinema for Steve Coogan, then. The ‘surprise turkey’ of the year, on the other hand, was The Counsellor. So many good names attached to it, but so rubbish. I quite fancy some of Cameron Diaz’s mirrored nail polish though.
Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor is kind of a film, I guess? We saw it in 3D at the cinema anyway, and it was really great to see it there with the pre-credits skits and trailers that were a lot of fun, the audience cheering at key points, and some nice 3D. Whilst it wasn’t a perfect episode it was almost certainly the best episode this year and a good way – in conjunction with all the other specials – of marking the 50th. But more on that in my TV review.
Saving Mr Banks and Kill Your Darlings are both two interesting takes on true stories – each with a selective grasp of what really happened, as is always the case with such things. Both very enjoyable though and both sent me running to find out more of the real story whilst wanting to re-watch Mary Poppins and re-read some of the Beat Generation’s works. Emma Thompson and Daniel Radcliffe are excellent, too, whilst Dane DeHaan is creating himself quite the career in playing messed up misfits and looking like a little Leonardo DiCaprio. All in all, 2013’s been a good year for biopics.
And so to the final two films of the year. Disney has had a pretty good run this year – whilst Planes was a bit of a misfire, Monsters University was decent enough, and the likes of Wreck-It-Ralph and Saving Mr Banks have been welcome additions to its roster. On first glance, Frozen seems like more traditional mouse house fare – Princesses, romance, a cute snowman, animals, songs, a loose fairy story adaptation – and it’s true that it has all these things – but it also has a lovely story at its heart, a neat ending and the welcome gimmick of it being about two sisters – something rare in Disney films. The songs are great too and the frozen visuals stunning – even if Elsa’s castle is a direct rip-off of the Crystal Castle from She-Ra. Anchorman 2, much like its predecessor is part annoying, part inspired, part satire, part farce, part hilarious, part excruciatingly awful. It raises plenty of laughs but also has plenty of terrible bits. A decent enough satire of rolling news, though.