Inspirational, “feel good” movies oftentimes break a sweat trying to earn the audience’s emotions. Through the use of saccharine music, stereotypical character troupes and cliché dialogue, not to mention formulaic plot points. Queen of Katwe, a film that very easily could have fallen into those trap holes manages to avoid all of them while holding onto its uplifting message, hitting you like a shot in the heart.
When The Blair Witch Project was released in theaters back in 1999 it became a phenomenon. There was nothing else quite like it; a scrappy little film made for next to nothing, featuring no big name stars or a high-profile director attached to it. And yet it went on to gross over $240 million, and inspired a long line of films trying to recreate its magic (the Paranormal Activity films).
Enter the sequel, aptly named Blair Witch. Originally disguised as a film called The Woods featuring a cryptic teaser trailer, the film comes over a decade after the first film (and a much maligned sequel that’s generally ignored here). It seems a little weird that this sequel would come so far after the first film, especially given the original being a product of its time. Much of The Blair Witch Project‘s success is attributed to its marketing campaign, which was revolutionary at the time. An online website was created specifically for the movie, with false “legends” and stories about the fictional Blair Witch being spread far across the internet.
In today’s world, online marketing campaigns are seen as a necessity for a lot of films, especially a film like The Blair Witch; a lot of that magic has disappeared due to to the rise of the internet and social media. Even watching the original film isn’t as magical as it was back in the pre-internet age. Blair Witch doesn’t just set out to continue the legacy of the first film, but recreate some of that magic for a new generation.
It feels like at this time every year, everyone is always discussing how disappointing it’s been for film, though this year is the first time it really feels like it.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been any good movies. On the contrary, the high points this year have been exceptionally high. But I’ve seen a lot that’s ranged from just ‘ok’ to flat out awful. Despite a really interesting premise, Lights Out proved to be extremely disappointing, while I’m still not sure we needed to wait all this time for Finding Dory when we had something as special as Zootopia. I did enjoy Deadpool, though it wasn’t a film I walked out of the theater loving. Though I prefer it a thousand times over whatever Batman Vs Superman or Suicide Squad were going for, and The Neon Demon challenges those films for the title of Worst Movie of the Year.
Still, this was the same year that brought us gifts like The Witch, Love & Friendship and The Meddler, so I suppose I can’t be too mad.
So, let’s get to it. My favorite films of the year (so far).
When Paul Feig announced his all female led Ghostbusters reboot the last thing I imagined the film would receive was backlash. Then again, I forgot that the internet is filled with sexist fan boys living in their parents’ basement with absolutely nothing better to do than organize campaigns to lower a film’s IMDB score (all before even seeing the movie mind you) so I guess I shouldn’t have been too shocked. The mere thought that four women would fill the roles originally inhabited by men in the 80’s classic was enough to send these nerds into a whirlwind of chaos. That’s sad huh?
“Controversy” aside, Feig and his Ghostbusters (returning vets Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and newcomers Kate Mckinnon and Leslie Jones) aren’t out to duplicate the original film. On the contrary, they use the familiar premise as a templet; Feig has provided his group of actresses their wackiest and zaniest playground yet, and while the hi-jinks aren’t as laugh out loud funny as previous efforts like The Heat or Bridesmaids, they still make for some of the most entertaining moments in film this year.
“I believe there’s a 16-year old girl in every man,” Nicolas Winding Refn told Entertainment Weekly of his latest film, The Neon Demon. The auteur also said he was inspired by The Valley of the Dolls, the beauty of his wife, the work he had done on some advertising campaigns and the vision of a 16 year old girl coming to Los Angeles.
Reading through Refn’s interview after watching The Neon Demon, it’s as if his inner 16 year old and hodgepodge of visions leapt straight from the auteur’s subconscious and onto the screen. There’s beauty in every frame of the film, whether we’re staring at Elle Fanning’s face, the gorgeous clothes and makeup or some abstract shot filled with lurid lighting. There’s also horror, gratuitous violence, sex, blood and cannibalism. While it all sounds exciting and looks great, none of it makes much sense by the time the credits start to roll.
I finally caught up with Batman Vs. Superman late last night, days after its premiere and a tidal wave of bad press and reviews. Even some of the biggest die hard comic book fans have lambasted the film. It’s hard to keep an open, unbiased mind when there’s been such a strong reaction to something like this, but I gave it my best shot.
The nicest thing I can say about Batman Vs. Superman is that it’s a movie.
Going into 10 Cloverfield Lane I didn’t really know anything about it. I had seen vague, quick trailers on TV but had not really paid them any attention. Within the last month or so, however, I noticed the ads picked up and soon it was harder not to pay attention. Suddenly my interest was piqued. I noticed John Goodman’s involvement, and after a quick search online I found out Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Romona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) was the lead. But I still didn’t know what it was about, and I liked that.
I’ve been hearing outstanding things about Robert Eggers’ The Witch since its Sundance Film Festival premiere last year. Eggers won the festival’s Best Director award, and the film was instantly picked up by the ever-growing A24 for release this year (this was due to their slate of films released in 2015, including the Oscar nominated Room). Everyone from Stephen King to the Satanic Temple has given the film their blessing. While it was almost impossible to wait that long given the hype preceding its release, I’m glad I finally caught up with the first great film of this year.
Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell have made three feature films together since 2012. Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and now JOY. It’s easy to see why, as O. Russell has directed her to 2 Oscar nominations, and one win. He also gives her the space to breathe, something she doesn’t receive in The Hunger Games films. While I’ve not always agreed with Lawrence’s casting in these roles (she’s way too young) she has delivered some compelling moments, even if it never amounts to a whole performance.
JOY, however, is O. Russell’s messiest film thus far, with Lawrence’s casting sticking out like a sore thumb.
I had to sum up The Revenant in one word, it would be: grueling.
That’s not a knock on the film’s quality by any means, though it doesn’t always make for an easy viewing experience. As with his last film, the Best Picture winning Birdman, director Alejandro González Iñárritu continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible when it comes to filmmaking. It’s funny, because there are some parallels between Riggan Thomson, the main character of Birdman, and Iñárritu himself. Where Riggan was tasked with proving himself as a ‘real actor’ and adapting a novel into a stage play (which he was also the star of), Iñárritu has attempted to best himself with the largest, most visually arresting film of his very esteemed career.