Thursday, January 07, 2016

What I Watched in December

Even though it is always a busy time of year I caught four movies in the theater last month. I've already written about KRAMPUS and THE HATEFUL EIGHT so let's look at the other two cinema experiences for December. 

I caught the first MAZE RUNNER film on cable a few months ago and was impressed with it. It wasn't something I wanted to go out of my way to see but having the DVR catch it was worth the effort. The mystery element was interesting enough to keep me watching, the performances were solid, the dialog pretty good and the visuals were rather arresting. I did wonder why a group of young men never broached the subject of girls or romantic feelings in any way. Of course, I knew this was based on a series of YA novels so I suspect the absence of sexuality was built into the tale.

So, having enjoyed the first one, when the sequel popped up at the cheap theater I spent my two dollars and I must say that I think THE MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS is actually a better film. This one opens up the world quite a lot introducing the overarching plot, mysterious characters and setting the table for a very dark dystopian future that plays very much like a variation on what Logan's Run was doing decades ago. I began to really like the characters in this one as they started to have a definable goal with the young cast finally getting some able assistance from a very good group of adult actors. In fact, no movie that has Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson and Aiden Gillen stirring the plot/pot can be unwatchable and they are given some juicy parts to play.

Also, although this movie is primarily an action adventure, it sports one of the creepiest and downright scary sequences I've seen on the big screen in years. I won't spoil it for anyone one other than to say there are some frightening things lurking in the dark deep underground. Whew!

Far too much has already been said and written about the new STAR WARS film and I'm sure my opinion will mean just as much as everyone else's - i.e. not much. Understand that I really was hoping for the best with this one. After the garbage pit that was the prequel trilogy I was surprised that Disney wanted to do this but I guess $ will always be there for this franchise. And J.J Abrams essentially spent two Star Trek movies trying really, really hard to prove he could make a Star Wars film if given the chance so he was probably the right choice as director. But - and this is a big problem - I think that fear guided the creation of THE FORCE AWAKENS.

Fear. Not love, not hope, not even optimistic glee. Fear is behind the story that was chosen to be told in this film much more than any other single thing. I think everyone involved knew that if they didn't give the fans what they wanted they were going to be savaged from every internet hilltop in the world. I think that after 16 years of justified weeping about how bad the prequels were they felt that they had to be safe, so they stuck to the plot of the original film as if it were holy writ. I think that this is the reason the film fails on several levels for me and for quite a number of other people as well. The simple fact is that I've seen this movie before - back in 1977 - and what I was hoping for was something new. Not 'the same thing gussied up with cool new FX and fresh faced actors' but a NEW story. And what's even more frustrating is the outlines of a new story are in this movie - rebelling storm trooper escapes from fascistic army and becomes hero - but it is buried under the OLD story as it is recast and rerun. Some great performances are wasted in this mistake and the action scenes are actually very exciting but overall this is a missed opportunity. I got some enjoyment out of it but as I think more about it, the less happy I am. I wanted a new adventure and I got a spit-shined remake.

Yes- this was a story crafted from fear and Yoda taught us decades ago that fear is the way to the Dark Side. Acting out of fear will get you short term benefit but in the long term the cost is very high.


TRAPPED WOMEN (1986)-  6 (variation on Franco's FURY IN THE TROPICS with a completely different story and ending) 
KRAMPUS (2015)- 8 
DEVIL'S ISLAND (1939)- 6 (solid tale of the French penal colony with Karloff) 
FANTOMAS (1980) - 7 (French TV movie by Claude Chabrol) 
REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1947)- 9 (rewatch) 
NEW YEAR'S EVIL (1980) - 4 (rewatch) 
BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST (1941)- 6 (message melodrama)
SCROOGE (1970)-  10 (rewatch) 
THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN LIVES (2015) - 9 (amazing documentary) 
RUN ALL NIGHT (2014)- 7 (good crime film with great cast) 
AN AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL (1979) - 7 (Solid TV version with Henry Winkler as Scrooge) 
IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE (1947) - 6 (sweet Christmas tale that is just a bit too silly) 
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) - 9 (sprawling western from Tarantino - caught the Roadshow version) 
JUSTICE LEAGUE: THRONE OF ATLANTIS (2015)- 8 (great animated tale) 
THE DAY THE WORLD EXPLODED (1957)- 5 (silly, short SF) 


Nick Rentz said...

How many of the Fantomas movies have you seen?

Rod Barnett said...

Wow! I don't really know. Part of the problem is there are so many separate series of Fantomas films.

Steven Millan said...

The new STAR WARS film would have worked if only someone like James Cameron or Peter Jackson would have wrote and directed it,instead of J.J. Abrams who gave us a truly mediocre STAR WARS film with no explaination upon who certain characters are(such as the new Emperor Snoke)or why there is still a battle against a newly formed Empire(in the front of The First Order),and badly underused cameos from Luke Skywalker,See Threepio,and Artoo Detoo. And the promise that Luke's non-involvement in the film's publicity was a lead-in to a big promises about his character in the film was never delivered and never played off. Let's strongly hope that Rian Johnson(who is an interesting choice) pulls off a much more exciting and unique film than what the major disappointment that Abrams dumped upon our laps.