Thursday, December 31, 2015

Movies: The Year 2015 - A View Into The Rear-View Mirror

(Drivebycuriosity) - 2015 was an acceptable cinema year 2015 but weaker than the years before  (2014 2013). There were certainly less movies which allured me to spend money on the box office. And I missed jewels like "Under The Skin" (2014), "Melancholia" (2011, "The Master" (2012) and "Social Network" (2010). But the year had some  remarkable productions anyway:

In my opinion there was a trio of cinema highlights:
 "Ex Machina" belongs to the rare species of real science fiction movies because it describes possible future developments based on scientific considerations, in this case information technology. The film deals with one of the most important topics of the coming years: Artificial intelligence (AI). In the year 2013 the movie "Her" had already picked the topic of machine intelligence, but "Ex Machina" is much stronger.  Director Alex Garland created a fascinating psychological triangle between a young and smart coder, who is eager to fulfill his job, a "Turing Test" in order to find out if the machine indeed is as intelligent as a human being, the employer, the creator of the machine, and the sexual highly attractive machine-girl ("sex machina"?). This creates tensions and conflicts which escalate and get more and more dramatic. The plot is spiced with intelligent dialogues and philosophical debates about evolution, creating life, freedom of will, sexual attraction, deceit, survival strategies and much more. Even that the plot was highly intellectual it had a lot of suspense and I really cared about the fate of "Ava" and the humans.

 "The Martian". Astronaut Mark, a biologist, has to fight for his survival on Mars. The plot also is based on sciences (physics, chemistry, biology and more) and very plausible assumptions. I really cared about the astronaut´s fate, but I also enjoyed how the involuntarily "Martian" uses his skills and scientific knowledge to fight for survival. I liked most that the film is optimistic and delivers a "we can do it" message.  The "Martian" is pro science, pro technology and pro progress - a refreshing contrast to the usual dystopian movies (driveby).  Cinematography and special effect designers constructed a realistic Martian environment and created gorgeous space flight scenes. I watched the film in 3D and got really the impression to be with Mark on Mars or in outer space.

"Carol" This movie, set in New York City, went into the past - the 1950s. Carol, a wealthy married woman, meets Therese, a young shopgirl. Love happens. But it gets complicated. The film based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith ( but don´t expect a murder thriller)  let the viewer participate in the emotional roller coaster of Carol & Therese and the dance of different social classes. The  cinematography is a piece of art. One of the film´s manifold pleasures is an erotical choreographed love scene between "Carol" & "Therese". Cate Blanchett - as "Carol" - proves again that she is one of the brightest stars on Hollywood´s firmament. She is charming, bitchy, arrogant, strong/vulnerable - and irresistible. Rooney Mara - as "Therese" - impressed me with her intensity. Her powerful eyes and her gazes cast a spell - and not just on "Carol".

                                                  Licence To Blockbuster

2015 brought another comeback of James Bond. Even after more than 50 years the character is still alive and kicking. Even that "Spectre" the newest Bond movies doesn`t match "Casino Royal", which is one of the best Bond flicks (my favorite its still "Goldfinger"), the franchise can easily compete with other action movie series like "Mission Impossible" and "Bourne". The film is a fine piece of contemporary action extravaganza with the help of 7 screen writers and a budget of about $245 million. Daniel Craig showed again how much the franchise depends on him. I reckon that the tough, cool and elegant British actor is the second best Bond, close behind Sean Connery. It´s a pity that he wants to retire from the Bond genre. I indulged in watching Léa Seydoux, whom I had admired in "Blue is the warmest Color" ( driveby), this time as the newest Bond girl. She is a goddess of lust and will make her way in Hollywood.

James Bond had again a lot competitors.  Tom Cruise´s ambitious long time action movie project returned with "Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation", the number 5 of the series. I really enjoyed the well-made mixture of action & humor even that many scenes were quite hilarious. The plot has a filed out set of deceptions, delusion & feints which you can expect in a contemporary action thriller (this is a spoiler free blog. The frequent action scenes are cutting edge, there is a lot of physical violence elegantly choreographed. An elaborately shot & edited combat scene ( 4 participants) during a performance of Puccini´s opera Turandot in the Wiener Staatsoper (opera house Vienna) was priceless and one of the highlights of the whole series. Rebecca Ferguson was the most important innovation in this "Mission" installment. The Swedish actress brought some glamour & sex appeal into the movie and delivered a stunning blend of charm and martial arts skills.

 "The Man From U.N.C.L.E"  also threw his had into the action arena. The movie is based on a TV series from the 1960s. The original was a parody on James Bond movies, hilarious, funny and  charming. I liked the fast paced story line, set in the cold war climate of the 1960s: An odd couple, a CIA agent and a KGB spy, are hunting together ex-Nazis who are in possession of a nuclear bomb (this is a spoiler free blog. The film was nostalgic, elegant and charming with some well placed pieces of violence. Part of the fun came from the settings: The digitally revived cold war times Berlin, with the "Mauer" (Berlin Wall), and the decadent upper class society of 1960s Rome gave the movie a special touch. And listening to the congenial soundtrack with a lot of 60s gems was a pleasure too. Arnie Hammer impressed as KGB agent by his powerful presence garnished with some comedian elements.

Spies arent`t just competing with each other, at the box office they also are challenged by dinosaurs.  "Jurassic World", the newest installment of the series, allured my wife and me to 41 bucks into 2 tickets for the IMAX 3D-version. The money was well spent. We had a hell of a lot of fun watching the dinosaurs chasing people. Who can escape and who not? The film`s dramaturgy is well balanced, nail-biting action mixed with funny scenes, and there is even place for some romantics. As usual the makers quoted a lot of classics like Godzilla, Hitchcock`s Birds, Pitch Black, which amplified the fun. The stars of the movie are of cause the dinosaurs, there are tiny & cute ones and funny dinosaur pets, but the story belongs to the big predatory monsters of course. I especially enjoyed the flying predators, but my favorites are the park's four - half tamed - velociraptors, named Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo; smart, swift, elegant beasts, which looked and behaved like real predators.

Hollywood also took another look at the Mexican drug cartels ("Savages", "The Counselor", "Traffic"). "Sicario" tells again about the bloody & dirty war between the US drug enforcement and the Mexican drug cartel. It´s a well-thought-out and powerful thriller, that also satisfies art film tastes. There is a lot of blood & violence (some scenes are really tough), but horror & action are photographed like an art movie. Cinematographer Roger Deakins & the special effect teams created amazing pictures full of beauty.  

The genre black comedies was well represented by "Cut Bank". As so often, strange characters are doing bad and stupid things which brings them into trouble. Violence and funny scenes are frequently trading places. I enjoyed the great John Malkovich as an overstrained backwater sherif and Billy Bob Thornton as local businessman and would be father in law. Oliver Platt as a postal inspector "from the capital city" also was fun to watch. But the star of the movie is Michael Stuhlbarg as the inscrutable "Derby Milton", a character which will stay in the memories of his audience for a while.

The year had some good movies which didn`t belong into these genres:
"A Most Violent Year": The film tells the story of Abel, an ambitious entrepreneur, who has big plans as local oil seller, & Anna, his equally ambitious wife and business partner. The movie is a fascinating portray of a fast social climber and self-made man, who is surrounded by a viscous environment. The film is set in New York City in the year 1981 as crime ruled the streets and oil prices peaked, paralyzing the economy. Oscar Isaac radiates the aplomb and self-confidence someone needed in this times to survive. The gorgeous Jessica Chastain plays his perfect partner against crime.

"The Diary of a Teenage Girl": Minnie, age 15, has sex with her mother´s boyfriend, who is almost 40. The movie ignores the legal aspects of this relationship and focuses instead on the feelings of the girl . Minnie is smart and sexual very curios, but also very frustrated and neglected, because nature didn`t bless her with beauty. She tries to compensate her minority complexes, to escape the tristesse of her white trash home and to satisfy her hunger for life with a vigorous sex life. The movie, set in San Francisco´s liberal hippie climate in the 1970th, is an entertaining psychological study about coming of age and the issues of a teenage girl. Director Marielle Heller, who also wrote the script, wasn`t shy of sex scenes and nudity, but the amorous parts were well dosed and necessary for the plot.

2015 was also a good year for the French cinema that delivered at least 3 marvels:

"The New Girlfriend/Une Nouvelle Amie"- a kind of melancholic comedy about people who are getting confronted by their own sexuality. The film touches in a playful way issues like friendship & gender identity. There are similarities to films like  "Farewell My Concubine", the movies by Pedro Almodóvar and the Amazon series "Transparent"  but "Girlfriend" is much more subtle and filigree. The film is sometimes funny and hilarious, but also gives something to think about.

 "The Clouds of Sils Maria": Juliette Binoche impersonates an international movie star, who accepts again a role in a prestigious stage play, where she had kickstarted her career in her youth. Then this character had played the seductive assistant and lover of a ripe woman, who drove the other one to suicide, now she is cast in the role of the elder. The switch causes her a lot of doubts & and inner turmoils. Kristen Stewart plays her assistant. The movie - partly set in the awesome photographed mountain region of the Swiss Alps - moves very slow and focuses on the dialogues between 2 smart women. Psychological & philosophical conversations and musings about aging, relationships (between women), life strategies, theater business and much more replace action.

"In The Name Of My Daughter/L'homme qu'on aimait trop": The film shows a conflict between Renée, who controls a grandiose casino at at the French Mediterranean coast, and her daughter Agnès. The younger woman wants to get her heritage, some million euros, paid out immediately. Maurice, a very smart and unconscionable lawyer, gets involved in this struggle and a dangerous mess starts which spans over 3 decades. The movie is a love story, court drama & business thriller and tells about sex, obsession, betrayal, organized crime, justice - and maybe murder. Catherine Deneuve enthralled with her beauty; Adèle Haenel impressed by her intensity, acting like a wild & irrational animal in heat, driven by her craving & lust, totally out of control.

Even with very low expectations - "Star Wars - The Force Awaken" didn´t work for me. The plot is a masterpiece in senselessness. But lots of funny robots, funny flying things, funny animals and funny people who where constantly chasing each other or running away kept me awake. There was heavy fighting with light sabers, so heavy that sometimes the snow began to cook. And every third minute or so something exploded, the earth opened and some planet fell apart.


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