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Best Movies Reviewed In 2016:
Click any of the above posters to see my most positive reviews this year...
Next anticipated movie (April 2016): Midnight Special
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Best thing: Tricking mafia thugs into being eaten by a giant flying monster.
Worst thing: Slow pacing and expecting me to care about a singer/wannabe-hoodlum who can't sing (yes we are forced to watch a performance). Also his "I'm so stressed and that makes me hit my girlfriend" routine, which would make me disinclined to engage with the character anyway, isn't helped by the stilted dialogue from both him and the girlfriend.
A large bird-like creature is supposedly terrorising a modern city.
It's a really dumb premise, the film isn't paced all that well and the central monster is barely seen.
Yet the actors work really hard to sell us on the material. There are actually a number of points where I was pulled into a scene in spite of everything.
John Carradine's charm really helps, so it's annoying that most of the film involves a screw-up getaway driver wannabe. The actor playing this role is distinctly lacking in subtlety (though I really don't think the script helped).
Overall this felt like it had a remarkable amount of potential considering how utterly stupid the basic ideas appeared to be. The idea of an Aztec god/monster terrorising a modern city has more power than you might expect.
Q is an interesting film but, on balance, I wouldn't say it was a particularly good film. I can't say I regret seeing it, mind you.
The Time Machine (1960)
Best thing: Awesome depiction of time travel with a mixture of strangely timeless effects work and wonderful iconic designs (particularly for the time machine itself and for the fearsome Morlocks)
Worst thing: Betrays the central moral of HG Wells' original story with some potentially worrying consequences.
This old classic sci-fi film is pretty well paced (and I certainly felt it was better paced than the old movie of War Of The Worlds) and it features some very engaging characters, especially the charming protagonist.
The third act takes some liberties with the story which helpfully add to the action, but annoyingly negate the conclusion of the HG Wells short story.
Spoilers for the original short story:
In HG Wells story there are two races of humans that have developed by the future. One is descended from the upper classes and the other descended from the lower classes. One has lost all necessity to adapt, while the other has adapted to being kept in the dark out of sight. The result is that the upper classes are now food for the lower classes. In the movie the time travel actively destroys the lower classes to save the upper classes. He has no cautionary tale to send to modern day humanity about the need for a more equitable society in the film. The film lacks HG Wells cynicism and satire.
Still, the film remains fun and visually engaging, but HG Wells' original story had a more powerful meaning while the story in the film feels rather slight.
Big Man Japan (2007)
Best thing: Interviews with a Kaiju fighting shape-shifting man, becoming apathetic about his fledgling career.
Worst thing: The actual fight scenes depicted with terrible 3D animation.
While there are many powerful scenes about the background of the kaiju-fighting hero Big Man Japan and while the comedy works quite well in places, it's never really enough to make for an entertaining movie. The movie's heart is in the right place, but in the end I found this more weird than funny and was never properly able to suspend disbelief.
Best thing: A very compelling premise gradually revealed and unfurling into a wider mystery.
Worst thing: Rather too long spent at a pagan bacchanal. Also the protagonist isn't terribly relateable.
Seconds involves a secret company who offer an opportunity to rich people who want a second chance at a happy life.
The initial set-up is brilliant and the ending is brilliant. Yet I found the film dragged in the middle and that the romance elements were a bit unconvincing. The most annoying scene for me involved a bacchanal where everyone gets naked and stomps grapes. It's a symbolic and arty scene and yet I found it entirely unnecessary.
This is very clever sci-fi and mostly a very effective exploration of its speculative ideas.
Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead (2014)
Best thing: Zombie gas as fuel and psychic zombie-control powers. Some definite original ideas are brought to the zombie genre here.
Worst thing: A lack any depth of personality from the characters.
An Australian zombie movie with humour, action scenes and some pretty twisted lab experiment scenes.
Still, the ending of "Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead" felt like it was setting us up for an exciting sequel and I couldn't help but feel that we could have reached that stage earlier and had a more compelling third act as a result.
Wyrmwood has lot of characters to balance and in the end most of them felt rather thinly written. Even Leon Burchill's very funny aboriginal character is more funny than a genuine personality. At certain stages in the film, characters sacrifice themselves to save others, but the characters didn't appear to have really bonded enough to make those scenes work.
A lot of the humour didn't land for me. The action didn't always feel like it was filmed in the best way, with quick cuts making those sequences hard to follow. Still there's a lot of excitement, a lot of cool ideas and overall there's enough here to make it worthy of a recommendation.
First Men In The Moon (1964)
Best thing: Great character interactions and humour. Also awesome timeless effects from Ray Harryhausen.
Worst thing: A bit of a rushed ending.
It's interesting that this film pre-dates the moon landings. That was such an iconic moment in history so it's rather quaint that we start with this alternative version of the event at the start of the movie.
And what do the astronauts find on the moon? A small Union Jack flag and a note from the prior visitors. And it turns out that one of those named has been claiming to have visited the moon and ridiculed for it for many decades.
The first half of this film is excellent. The characters are clearly defined and have great chemistry. Their interactions are very funny. Also the Harryhausen effects are brilliant, long before we go into space. The effects involving the anti-gravity material the scientist develops are very impressive.
In the second half, the aliens on the moon look petty cool. Also there's a cool concept that the aliens shove members of their species into suspended animation whenever they aren't needed. But the plot seems to lose direction once our protagonists meet the aliens. The film even pulls out The War Of The Worlds ending because they didn't want to use the ending from the book.
Nevertheless I loved the first half so much and even in the second half and all the way to the eventual ending, there's a delightful comic tone. I had a great time.
I haven't read the novel so perhaps I'd be less impressed if I knew how far it was deviating from HG Wells original message. However, this is so much fun that I can't imagine my opinion changing all that much.
Terminator Genisys (2015)
Best thing: Kyle Reece in a one on one fight with the original terminator was probably my favourite part, though I also loved the nano-bot effects of the new terminator.
Worst thing: John Connor. It's tough enough trying to portray the indispensable military leader and saviour of mankind. But it's even harder to then explain why he would be fighting against his own ideals. In the end, the film doesn't even try to deal with this. The entire explanation is "he's insane" and that is a real pity since that is the entire central premise of the film being given short shrift.
I think I feel the same way about this as a lot of people felt about Jurassic World. Plenty of people thought that was a wonderful tribute to everything that was great about the Jurassic Park movies. Personally I thought Jurassic World was boring and stupid and the decision to neuter the velociraptors absolutely turned me against that film.
Terminator Genisys is a mash up of events and ideas from the other terminator movies. The liquid metal terminator, the reprogrammed model 101, Kyle Reece, badass Sarah Connor. It's all here.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is brilliant, reprising his dad-machine role from T2 with a bit of the psychology knowledge from T3. Even as early as T2 there has been a comedic side to Arnie's terminator and this film really runs with that. The main protagonists being arrested and interviewed was very funny to me and JK Simmons' inclusion as an outsider watching from the sidelines is genius.
Jai Courtney is not remotely the train wreck that he's been made out to be. (And I'll also note that he was better than Bruce Willis in the horrifyingly bad 5th Die Hard movie.) Heck, Michael Biehn's performance in the first film is not all that great anyway. Jai Courtney is dealing with a film with a very different tone and being a misery guts growling, grunting panting and wheezing through every scene would not have worked, even if it would have been closer to Biehn's original performance.
Now admittedly the horror tone is lost here. So, like with the velociraptors in Jurassic World, if you think toning that down is a deal breaker you are not going to like this. Personally I don't mind Terminator Genisys just being fun without being terrifying.
I really do wish the plot was more compelling though. Why do the protagonists want to travel forward in time anyway? It felt like the backstory about Sarah Connor's childhood raised by a terminator and her attitude towards her destiny was much deeper and more interesting than the central story of stopping Skynet... again.
It's not the best terminator movie and, missing the horror roots of the series, it couldn't be. It is, however, a lot of fun and a much better end to this franchise than Terminator Salvation would have been. I had a great time.
Link for the Cat Cave Cinema tumblr blog
Cat Cave Cinema Podcast soundcloud channel
We Are Still Here (2015)
Best thing: Gore! And a great sense of fun, which makes for a great combination. I've heard it suggested that We Are Still Here is a horror comedy and, while I disagree, I do think this film deserves a lot of credit for being so much fun.
Worst thing: Not all the acting is great, particularly a short performance from a girl in a bar. That being said, some performances are brilliant, particularly Larry Fessenden.
I normally hate ghost stories. There are a larger and larger number of exceptions and I've previously listed my various issues with regular ghost tropes. Basically if you didn't like the movie "Mama" that might possibly clue you into what kinds of elements annoy me. But even a 'classic' ghost story like the original 60s 'The Haunting' left me cold. These subtle fear inducing effects are boring to me.
But somehow the uncompromising and barely-human vengeful spirit (or even a plain old demon) appeals better to me. Throw in Fulci/early Peter Jackson style gore effects and I am sold!
What I particularly love about "We Are Still Here" is the subtlety. The set-up is revealed gradually and everything falls into place. The father seems mean and grumpy on the phone to the electricians and that seems out of keeping with his character in the rest of the film. Except that the electricians he is angry with are locals who don't want to go anywhere near the house and (though we don't understand this for a while) don't really think they will need to send anyone. The electrician the couple eventually hire is the only non-white character and that is because he is from outside of the local area.
Creepy locals, conspiracy and also a neat twist on hippie new age beliefs leave plenty to sink your teeth into, but this is not a film that is afraid to be silly (to say the least). Horror should be fun. “We Are Still Here” does horror properly.
A shout out is owed to tumblr's Cat Cave Cinema Podcast (a horror podcast that ranks movies from 1 to 5 cats) for highlighting this film for a special recommendation. (Actually when I listened to the end, it turned out they didn't rate this as highly as I had expected.) After listening to the initial portion of the podcast they pushed me from moderately curious to hear about the film to excitedly anticipating watching the movie. I hadn't fully understood from what I read elsewhere how visceral and explicit the horror would be, rather than simply relying on subtle implicit terror.
The Witch (2015)
Best thing: The ending. Just wow.
Also knowing that much of the dialogue comes from accounts of witchcraft from the period. This film is a showcase of the paranoia of early settlers, adapting their horrifying tales into a chilling yet bizarre tale.
Worst thing: Shouldn't the parents have rather more to say about their youngest children's odd "Black Phillip" lyrics? I understand they are just messing around and the parents have better things to do. Still, when they are singing to the goat "we are your servants" I thought the parents, who see God and the devil in everything, might at least have something to say.
Despite some claims that seemed to suggest The Witch would be all atmosphere and little payoff, the actual film gets pretty gritty very quickly.
The acting is great. I worried at times that things might go all "A Field In England". Wheatley's attempt at a creepy drama in the middle of nowhere had annoyed me with its unconvincing old timey language and its attempts to be artsy (leading to an ill-advised kaleidoscopic trip-out sequence). The Witch avoids all these issues.
Interestingly I've heard that the substance growing on their crops might be hallucinogenic, but The Witch doesn't go all Easy Rider on the audience.
Part of the reason for that is that the film takes the accounts of settlers mostly literally. This devotion to the source material also contributed to more authentic-sounding dialogue. There's a Pan's Labyrinth feel to this movie. The entirely human natural world crosses over with the supernatural world, but somehow neither seems compromised. The natural and the supernatural is blended to line up with the understanding of the time period.
The Witch is not so much scary as deeply uncomfortable. I don't know how twisted this makes me sound, but I had fun. There's a lot of meat on the bones here. The characters are all clearly individuals and there is a lot of room for interpretations, particularly by the end. So in the end, any atmospheric moments felt fully justified to me.
As I catch up with movie reviews, here are a few films that I am not technically reviewing them because I couldn’t finish them. But while I won’t be giving them a rating, I WILL be saying why I gave up on them part way through....
Is Rooney Mara supposed to be the protagonist here? She's like a non-person by comparison to Cate Blanchett who dominates the screen wonderfully. Unfortunately for much of the film we are stuck staring at Cate Blanchett's eponymous character through Rooney Mara's eyes.
We don't really have much reason to worry about Mara because Carol is rich enough to cater to her needs. We also know that later the two will still be very much a (surreptitious) couple because the film helpfully starts with a scene from a future part of the timeline so that the drama is sucked right out of the film.
Carol almost looks like she may have genuine problems except that her husband seems to know that his wife is a lesbian and rather than berating her for that he, rather more understandably, is upset that his wife is pretty openly cheating on him.
I don't know if the drama picks up later because I gave up part way through this film. As a result I have no rating for this film, but you can take a pretty solid bet that I still probably wouldn't be recommending it if I'd reached the end.
The Good Dinosaur (2015)
I kept being told that Pixar was in a slump while they continued to pump out films that I love.
I've got to admit first of all, that I have never seen either of the two Cars movies. In fact, I actually considered the first of those to be a low point for Pixar. (So I went back to check out Ratatouille recently, which I also missed around the same time. I didn't really like it much.)
I was told that Brave was bad, yet I had a great time. (It actually felt like it had a lot of callbacks to Sword In The Stone, my favourite 2D Disney animated movie.) Then I was told that Monsters University was bad, yet I ended up preferring it to the original film Monsters Inc. There's a vulnerability to the characters in the prequel which made them more appealing to me. Plus I felt the neat twist at the end of the film was pretty cool; and tough to pull off seeing as we knew the future destinies of the characters already.
So here's the thing: Unlike with Brave, Monsters University and Cars, people seemed to give The Good Dinosaur a pass. Yet this is the first time I've genuinely hated a Pixar movie. I couldn't relate to the main characters, the themes were confused, the emotional moments felt forced and the attempts at humour consistently fell flat for me.
Also, was that Pixar's equivalent of the pink elephants sequence from Dumbo? I'm sorry to say this, but I felt the Easy Rider drugged up sequence kind of pathetic.
I couldn't even finish this film. For me, even though I won't be rating the film, this is the worst film Pixar have ever made. And I'm not happy about that.
Slow West (2015)
Wow, what a boring film! Slow paced and pointless. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender wander aimlessly around the wild west while Fassbender regularly reminds Smit-McPhee that his ideals are worthless and that his principles will lead to a horrible death.
The final straw, however, is where
Smit-McPhee meets a character who is blatantly supposed to be Werner Herzog (the character is even called Werner) who talks about the Native Americans like a modern day anthropologist before disappearing into thin air.
When the filmmakers stopped taking their lofty pretentious western seriously, you could be damn sure I wouldn't be wasting any more time.
Part terrible cheesy comedy, part incredible comic genius. I think my problem here was that the ideas were often funnier than the execution.
Some of the big exceptions to that rule are: Firstly, the scene where one member of the Stupids family, while walking through a prehistoric history display in a museum, becomes convinced that he has time travelled and develops some terrifying notions on how to use this to his advantage.
The other unforgettable element is Christopher Lee's cameo as Sender, the evil mastermind Mr. Stupid believes is trying to steal all the letters by redirecting them to himself.
The part where Tom Arnold starts singing "I'm My Own Grandpa" is a real low-point for the film. Also for much of the film I found myself more facepalming than laughing at the gags. The film feels very staged and I had trouble getting into it as a result.
I want to give this film more credit. I can see a lot to admire. But sadly I cannot say that I personally liked the film. It's funnier to think about the film's ideas afterwards than while actually watching it.
Wolf Children (2012)
From the director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I still haven't seen Summer Wars and naturally I haven’t seen Mamoru Hosada’s latest film “The Boy And The Beast”, but I'm going to be keen to catch up on those now. (I’ve also heard that a similar team worked on “The Place Promised In Our Early Days”, though Hosada’s name doesn’t appear to be on that one.)
Wolf Children has a slow start comparatively to the rest of the film. But once it gets going it regularly pulls on the heart strings as well as being funny, dramatic and beautiful. It’s the story of a woman who falls in love with a werewolf and then finds herself left alone to bring up the children; children who are as much wolf cubs as they are human.
The world they describe feels weird initially, but as I was pulled into the landscape of the movie it became easier to engage with the mythology. Wolf Children deviates from the typical werewolf mythology, but it has some interesting ideas on how to utilise the concept.
Wolf Children is a very character-driven drama and I loved every single one of the characters, except perhaps the initial werewolf character who is left more enigmatic than most. Once the central wolf children begin to grow up and develop personalities, the film never ceases to have interesting developments. Now it's probably time to re-rank my “best movies of the year” list for 2013, since this feels like this must be in the top 10.
Fire In The Sky (1993)
These kind of "believe it or not" stories about alien visitations always seem dodgy to me. So it's a good sign that I liked this as much as I did.
We never actually see anything unambiguously alien and whenever anything distinctly alien is seen it's part of a story someone is telling. It's never depicted as straight-up fact. There is an alternative story that you could tell where aliens aren't involved. But by the end the filmmakers clearly want you to think "Wow, aliens are real," and frankly that's less not interesting to me than the more plausible question of why people might THINK they've seen aliens or been abducted.
The acting isn't bad, but the style is very televisual. The story seems to be told in chunks rather than having a consistent set of themes being built up. It's like episode after episode of was it-wasn't it? And frankly I never really cared if it was aliens.
I was fascinated when someone released Roswell footage back in the 90s, but I've seen realised that the interesting part of the true life alien stories is the people who believe in the aliens, not whether the aliens are real. So thank goodness that aspect of the story is here. Robert Patrick doesn't want to believe in aliens, but he sees no better way to interpret his experience. The friend who goes missing reappears the worse for wear after several days out in the woods and he has confused memories of his time alone which seem a bit like an alien environment.
A bit cheesy, a bit plodding and not really compelling or cinematic enough. But "Fire In The Sky" is alright.
Not so long ago I finally checked out Argento's Suspiria. I was not a fan. There are some gorgeous shots, but for me it paled by comparison to Lucio Fulci's gore-filled nightmare-scapes.
Still, with Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence, an awesome theme tune by Goblin and a recommendation from Joss Whedon (while promoting Cabin In The Woods), I thought I might like this more.
I will say that I found it had more consistent pacing, but I wouldn't say it was good. It would have been nice if the English dub was consistent. The film keeps on reverting to the Italian dub.
Another sound issue was the way the incredibly unsuitable music would play loudly over the scenes. Motorhead plays while a dead body is taken away by the police and the tone is just all wrong. The exciting part of the Phenomena theme tune by Goblin plays while Jennifer Connelly is slowly following a firefly. The music really never feels very atmospheric.
The writing is terrible, the acting is terrible and the visuals aren't really that cool for the most part. Still, there are aspects I really enjoyed. There's a kind of insect-controlling version of Carrie going on here and when the protagonist's special powers come into play in the final act it's pretty satisfying, even if not perfectly executed. There's also a swimming pool full of dead bodies which is pretty awesome.
I'd actually argue that Phenomena suffers because it's not weird enough. Fulci's films are wonderful because they are like nightmares on film. A lack of acting quality is trumped by the atmospheric quality. But Phenomena doesn't have that level of atmosphere, leaving it feeling more like just a naff film for the most part.
I can barely believe this isn't an Italian horror. The imagery is wacky and creepy and the creeiness matters more than the plot. The special effects aren't incredibly convincing, but they are effective. It's a nightmarish dream-like film.
The story is that a boy's father disappears in an abduction. Most people don't believe it was an abduction. They just think the father walked out on his family.
When he comes back the dynamics of the family are thrown into chaos. The new boyfriend gets territorial and the mother loses patience with both of them. But there's something strange about the father now he's returned.
Chock full of Fulci-esque gore and Cronenbergian weirdness, Xtro is an exceptionally and beautifully bizarre low budget horror. It has a bit of a slow build-up, but the film regularly rewards your patience and the results are rarely predictable.
The finale left me utterly stunned. Xtro is an unforgettable atmospheric sci-fi horror.
V/H/S Viral (2014)
The first VHS was mostly pretty solid outside of its wraparound section. VHS2 was even better. Sadly VHS Viral is a bit of a disappointment and that's perhaps particularly sad since it's clear how hard people are trying.
The director of Timecrimes does a parallel universe story which starts out clever yet quickly takes a beating from the stupid stick. (Satanic monster penises? Seriously?) The directors of Resolution and Spring have fun with some sports cameras filming their skateboarder characters in a punch-up with zombie monsters, but their story is way too flat.
The wraparound story about a runaway evil ice cream van is perhaps the most interesting wraparound sequence of the series. On the other hand it becomes too bizarre to actually seem genuinely creepy. The finale, in particular, is too daft to really be disturbing.
The only really great segment this time, by my reckoning, is the first segment about a magician. There's a sorcerers' showdown towards the end which makes good use of foreshadowing and involves some consistently snazzy effects work. For me, it was one of the best segments of the VHS series.
Watch that first segment, but after that it's time to eject the DVD.
Apparently this movie is a big influence on Joe Dante and, while it sounds odd to say it, Hellzapoppin' feels like possibly his biggest influence when making Gremlins 2.
The film is non-stop craziness. After 5 or 10 minutes the characters introduced so far grumpily accept the suggestion that the film needs a plot. But they are told what the central love triangle involves in brief, so that we can jump straight into the same slapstick nonsense. Awesome.
There are some good recurring gags too like the man who starts out trying to deliver a something in a plant pot and by the end is wheeling around an entire tree.
With musical numbers and general wackiness, I couldn't help but think of ---- Jones and The City Slickers. It's such a wonderful wacky tone and it's hilarious in a very endearing way.
Even while feeling very obviously 'of its time', I feel like it's also ahead of its time. This kind of satire that breaks the fourth wall is more (sorry for using this term) meta than I'd expect from a black and white film. That may be naive of me.
A fantasy movie with Rutger Hauer as the legendary badass and Matthew Broderick as the comic relief scoundrel who, Ferris Bueller style, always falls on his feet. With Richard Donner on the case, known for directing Superman and The Omen, this looked like a slam dunk, but I was not impressed.
The action scenes are terrible. Even when I remember that movies in the 80s and 90s often don't feature amazing fight choreography, the problem remains that the climactic fight scenes in the third act simply aren't exciting. The central premise of lovers doomed to remain apart would be more compelling if I ever felt remotely convinced by their romance.
I actually quite like the music. Sure it's a big mismatch to have such a synthy score in a fantasy movie, but if the film was awesome that wouldn't matter. Just think about the music for the movie Labyrinth....
Ladyhawke is boring, poorly written and cheesy. The ponderous pacing suggests that the filmmakers thought they had something far more emotionally affecting on their hands here and I'm sad to say that I was thoroughly unmoved.
Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
I didn't see the first Kung Fu Panda movie when it first came out. In fact, it wasn’t until I heard a rave review for the sequel that, confused by this high praise for a cheesy-looking cartoon, I finally decided to catch up with the first movie. I really enjoyed the first Kung Fu Panda movie, but the sequel completely blew me away.
I think the third movie might actually be the best yet and certainly the combination of the three movies now makes for an absolutely incredible trilogy. I love how the last two movies have made Po's relationship with his adopted father into a central focus for the series.
The animation is absolutely gorgeous. The action sequences are frenetic and beautifully captured. The comedy is just as funny as ever. And on top of this, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a wonderful ending to a perfect trilogy.
And heck, even if you don't think the Kung Fu Panda trilogy is the best thing ever, presumably we can all at least agree that this trilogy is the best thing Jack Black has ever done. Jack Black is charming and funny, but his range is rather limited. But Po is an absolutely wonderful protagonist character.
I can't wait to marathon the whole trilogy when this comes to DVD.
Hail Caesar! (2016)
It's the Coens. It's not The Ladykillers. No review is really necessary....
But, to give some more details, Hail Caesar's tone is like a cross between Raising Arizona and A Serious Man. On the one hand, every scene is wacky and crazy in the most fantastic way. On the other hand, we also have a religious contemplation element and this sense that something bigger is at play.
The portrayal of communist scriptwriters is a big contrast from Trumbo. Part of the absurdity of the film is the implication that the central film-within-a-film is almost certainly scripted by communist-sympathisers and yet it doesn't matter to the Hollywood industry at all. There's also a sense that the communists' understanding of Hollywood isn't really wrong and yet that doesn't matter either. Hail Caesar depicts Hollywood as a chaotic capitalist enterprise where the content matters very little. (Which isn't as dark as "A Serious Man" which depicted the whole of life as chaotic, meaningless and also cruel. By comparison the absurdity of Hollywood feels like a triumph of the human spirit.)
Naturally if you want to understand the horrors of the McCarthy witchhunt, Good Night And Good Luck will do much more to expose its horrifying consequences than either Trumbo or Hail Caesar, but unlike Trumbo, Hail Caesar isn't trying to be a serious consideration of that issue. One sequence with the communist scriptwriters gets unbelievably wacky in the most wonderful way.
It's taken me a while to get around to reviewing this film. Partly because I've been busy, but I think also because, as much as I love this film, I can't help but point to other Coen Brothers films I love more. Burn After Reading is more consistently funny, A Serious Man is more intense, and Raising Arizona is more exciting. Yet I still think Hail Caesar is in the upper echelons of great Coen Brothers movies.
Another point I want to note is that George Clooney is so hilarious in Coen Brothers movies that I'm surprised he isn't used for comedy roles more often elsewhere. I still have no idea why Intolerable Cruelty isn't more widely lauded since Clooney provides consistent comedy gold all the way through that film.
Hail Caesar is a delight and an unmissable addition to the Coen Brothers filmography.
The Pink Panther (1963)
It's almost like two films combined. A fairly mediocre crime drama on the one hand and a Peter Sellers comedy on the other. It only really becomes explicitly comedic outside of Peter Sellers scenes in the most active moments of the third act, with multiple ape costumes and an intentionally disjointed car chase.
I enjoy the Peter Sellers parts very much and I quite enjoy the film as a whole. The Indian princess who isn't really Indian feels a little bizarre. (She's from an unspecified country, but it's clearly supposed to be India though that doesn't really fit.)
The scene where the princess gets drunk drags and the Pink Panther's plan to kidnap the princess's dog seems particularly dumb now I come to rewatch the film.
But there is so much to like here and perhaps if the two tones of this film were to gel a little better it could be amazing. As it is, you really need to watch this bearing in mind that Peter Sellers hijacking the film is the main reason to check this out.
A Shot In The Dark (1964)
Peter Sellers returns in the role of Inspector Clouseau, this time firmly in the central role from the start. It's an Agatha Christie-esque story with a neat Peter Sellers twist to it.
The vibrant colour of the blood when it shows up just adds to the character of this exceptional spoof.
For the first time we are introduced to the chief inspector who hates Clouseau with unhinged passion and his rather calmer assistant Francois. The film as a whole is much more clearly centred around Clouseau this time, yet somehow that makes this feel like a smaller film. In the big crime drama in the first instalment Clouseau was
just one piece in a much wider puzzle whereas this is more like The Clouseau Show. Yet it's still a real blast and certainty has the advantage of being more consistent this time around.
Oh and don't forget that Shot In The Dark also sees the first appearance of Kato: Clouseau's somewhat incompetent yet hard working and devoted sparring partner, instructed to attack Clouseau at random moments to prepare him for a genuine assassination attempt.
The Return Of The Pink Panther (1975)
Bizarrely, the big box set of Pink Panther DVDs misses this one out. Unsurprisingly Paramount are unwilling to give up the rights to this one.
I had previously believed this one was the best of the bunch. It benefits from a return to the dual tone format of the original, but with more exciting James Bond-esque serious sections. The Pink Panther has been recast with Christopher Plummer who, despite looking completely different and way too young, is one hell of a performer.
Unfortunately the weak link is actually the Peter Sellers sections this time. His material this time around really doesn't match up to his work in Shot In The Dark. He's still incredibly funny though.
Overall this is still quite a strong entry in the Pink Panther series. Like all the entries it's a bit of a mixed bag, but it's rather more consistent than the first entry even if it's a bit of a dip in quality after Shot In The Dark.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
I was pretty shocked when I put this in the DVD player, partly because I was expecting Return Of The Pink Panther, but also because I'd never even heard of this film before.
In the opening scenes Inspector Clouseau has the most ridiculous costume ever: An inflatable hunchback outfit - which causes him to float off the balcony!
This time around the chief inspector who hates Clouseau has gone full megalomaniac villain and is forcing a scientist to develop a devastating ray for him to hold the world to ransom.
I never even imagined it was possible for The Pink Panther to jump the shark quite this badly. Clouseau's attempts to break into the ex-Chief Inspector's castle hideout are ludicrous in a remarkably unfunny way.
When the chief inspector's laser beam removes someone's legs but doesn't stop them running away (because it's just a cheap blue screen effect) we really have reached the bottom of the barrel for this series.
Still I won't say that this is no fun. The failed attempts to assassinate Clouseau are generally very entertaining. There are too many jokes that fall flat and the premise is too daft for words, but for a bad film this is pretty watchable.
Revenge Of The Pink Panther (1978)
Having seen Strikes Back I was able to appreciate this a lot more. Nobody seems to remember the Ex-Chief Inspector's time as a horrifying terrorist supervillain. While Kato's side-plot is incredibly daft he gets more of a genuine personal character than ever before as a result.
One of my least favourite aspects of this film on previous watches was the costume shop which seems to rely on Clouseau for its livelihood. This makes more sense if we've seen his ridiculous costumes in the last film. And I must admit, I found the shopkeepers to be very funny.
The dual tone is back once again, with a genuine serious crime organisation pitted against Clouseau’s wacky antics. Though the organisation has plans to kill Clouseau they aren't obsessed with this goal, so Clouseau is able to be a small cog in a big machine again.
This had always seemed like a weaker entry to me before, but after Strikes Back it's a real return to form and it while a bit messier than Return it seems just as consistently funny.
Allowing Kato to be involved in the car chase scene in the third act worked well. Clouseau's ridiculous costumes are pretty funny. This film has actually rather grown on me.
An open member of the US Communist Party and supporter of Stalin during the height of the Cold War is shocked that the government might blacklist him for it.
The true life figure of Trumbo supported Josef Stalin and North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung, so portraying him handing out leaflets on the first amendment is a little rich.
But even if I judge the character purely on how he's represented in the film, everything still feels far too naive. He explains to his daughter that communism is all about sharing and she's left confused as to why anyone would hate communists. Those of us who have seen Bridge of Spies will have seen how children at this time were bombarded with propaganda and were aware of communists as: "Those people who want us all dead." With the prospect of a nuclear strike against the US, no one was surprised by hatred of communists.
Like all actors in this film, Helen Mirren gives a great performance as a contrived villain. She's apparently THE media figure threatening to bring down Hollywood moguls because of her unbridled anti-semitism. Naturally threat of exposure from the media and the anti-semitic undercurrents make sense, but in the film it's as if this one woman is powerful enough to bring down the movie studios. That's ridiculous and, what's more, the way it is portrayed in the film is entirely unconvincing.
That being said, there's somewhat of a comedic tone to the film and certainly Bryan Cranston's central performance as Trumbo is highly entertaining. There's also a very funny scene with John Goodman's character.
The trailer made it look like Trumbo would be a morally ambigious figure. For parts of the second half this feels true to the actual film, but the entire first half seems to want me to think of him as a saint and a hero.
At the end we get a speech looking back at the past, just like in "Good Night And Good Luck" and Trumbo points out during this speech that people died as a result of blacklisting. The thing is, in Trumbo the only death is due to cancer. In "Good Night And Good Luck" there is a case of a tv personality driven to suicide and in "The Lives Of Others" a director is driven to suicide due to blacklisting by the Stasi. But Trumbo has no such examples. Blacklisting does not cause cancer.
Trumbo and his friends are guilty of being Communists. They don't even bother to try to convince us that they wouldn't pass national secrets to Russia, but I'll presume they never would, or at least that they never had the opportunity. What is interesting about them is the way they manage to dominate the film industry, in spite of their blacklisting and in spite of their guilt.
Trumbo's big script that puts him on the map was a delightful surprise, I must admit. There was a delightful irony involved. However, this biopic is tonally inconsistent, unconvincing and morally suspect. It's dealing with subject matter already handled much better by "Good Night And Good Luck" as well as by "Bridge Of Spies" just last year. The performances do much to make this enjoyable and l laughed out loud at several different funny moments, but the script comes off as hideously naive.
My original Movie Guide with full explanations at the beginning of the year is here.
Below is my Movie Guide 'at a glance' with updated UK release dates.
The Hateful Eight - 8 January 2016
A War - 8 January 2016
(The 5th Wave - 22 January 2016)
Spotlight 2015 - 29 January 2016
Southbound - 27 February 2016 (According to IMDB. If this received a decent cinema release they sure as hell stayed quiet about it.)
(Trumbo - 5 February 2016)
(Deadpool - 10 February 2016)
Hail, Caesar! - 4 March 2016
Kung Fu Panda 3 - 11 March 2016
10 Cloverfield Lane - 18 March 2016
(Eddie the Eagle - 28 March 2016)
Midnight Special - 8 April 2016
Hardcore Henry - 8 April 2016
(The Jungle Book - 15 April 2016)
Captain America: Civil War - 29 April 2016
X-Men: Apocalypse - 19 May 2016
(Green Room - 13 May 2016)
Warcraft - 30 May 2016
The Nice Guys - 3 June 2016
Star Trek Beyond - 22 July 2016
The BFG - 22 July 2016
Finding Dory - 29 July 2016
September - December 2016
Kubo and the Two Strings - 9 September 2016
(The Free State of Jones - 9 September 2016)
A Monster Calls - 21 October 2016
(Doctor Strange - 28 October 2016)
(Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - 16 December 2016)
(Passengers - 23 December 2016)
(Assassin's Creed - 30 December 2016)
Gambit - (Previously expected 7 October 2016 - pushed back to 2017)
No Release Date
(Band of Robbers)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
In a Valley of Violence
The Devil's Candy (turns out that 27 February 2016 was a film festival date - whoops!)
The Neon Demon
War on Everyone