Movies of 2015 – April

Kung Fu Dunk (2008) – Chu Yen-ping

Kung Fu Dunk photo 30Jay Chou is not a particularly funny actor. He’s not a bad actor, but I prefer him in more serious roles. I wish that Steven Chow would have just taken on the lead in this film like he did in its obvious inspiration, the much better and funnier Shaolin Soccer. The over-the-top basketball is just as fun to watch; however, and I can tell that the special effects team was going out of their way to make the wuxia-inspired basketball visually interesting. Unfortunately, the plot is paper thin. The characters are all very boring with the exception of Eric Tsang as the unscrupulous promoter who eventually takes on a fatherlike role for the main character. I can’t honestly recommend this movie to anyone unless they really just want to see a Chinese movie adaptation of NBA Jam. For those who do, check it out. For everyone else, watch Shaolin Soccer instead. – 6/10

Chinese Zodiac / CZ12 (2012) – Jackie Chan

cz Jackie Chan is one of the best action directors of all time. There’s no disputing this fact. He understands how to shoot and perform an action scene better than just about anyone else. What he doesn’t always do well is tell a cohesive story, which is why some of his movies are much better than others. He works best when he’s in charge of action and someone else is in charge of everything else or when he just makes a movie that’s very obviously just a means of putting himself into various situations that lead to fun action sequences. Chinese Zodiac tries very hard to be a movie with interwoven plots and that has an important message, but it utterly fails in both of those areas. In fact, the characters’ motivations are laughably bad. However, I watched this movie because I like to watch Jackie Chan in funny action scenes. From the opening to the very end, every action scene with him in it is great. The rollerblade suit, the fight on the couch, and the fight while skydiving are the standouts and almost make the movie worth watching. Unfortunately, you have to suffer through the rest of it if you want to see them. – 6/10

Back to the Future (1985) – Robert Zemeckis

bttf2203Watching Back to the Future in 2015 is about as fun as it gets. It’s fascinating to see what 1985 looked like from the perspective of 30 years later, and it’s just as fascinating to see what 1955 looked like from the perspective of 30 years later. Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc (Christopher Lloyd) are two of my favorite characters in all of movie history. This movie paved the way for my interest in science fiction and especially movies about time travel. I cannot even write an objective review of it. To me, the movie is perfect and holds a spot in my top 20 of all time. If you haven’t seen Back to the Future, please watch it. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who has seen it and didn’t enjoy it. – 10/10

Back to the Future Part II (1989) – Robert Zemeckis

66840-341176If seeing 1985 from the perspective of 2015 is as fun as it gets, then seeing 2015 from the perspective of 1985 is somehow even more fun. The best sequel of all time (yeah, that’s right) takes everything great about Back to the Future and keeps the momentum going. The seamless transition from Part I to Part II (with the exception of course of the change of one actress) made it seem like it was really just one great, long movie. This type of serial storytelling in movies is pretty rare. There’s almost always a gap from one movie to another in a series. However, the last scene of Back to the Future is reshot for Part II as the opening scene. Having the time travel get even more complicated without sacrificing the story is one of the greatest achievements of this film. While most people of course enjoy the sequences in 2015 with the hoverboard, my favorite part of the movie is when Marty from Part 1 and Marty from Part 2 are both at the same dance in 1955 and how they affect each other’s actions, whether intentionally or not.- 10/10 [Since I didn’t watch it this time, I’ll comment briefly on Part III. It’s a pretty good movie, too, but I don’t think it’s an absolutely necessary film to see. If you’re a big fan of the series, you shouldn’t miss it, but if you just want to see the best the series can offer, stop after Part II]

Ex Machina (2015) – Alex Garland

ex-machina-movieThere are only four characters in Ex Machina. One of them never even speaks. Just about the whole movie takes place in just one house. It’s very tight. It’s very slick. It’s very claustrophobic. The movie is about a seemingly randomly chosen coder named Caleb who works for search engine company who is chosen to fly out to meet his eccentric boss and stay with him for a week to administer the Turing test on a robot with AI. This robot’s AI is very convincing, and a romance starts to develop between the two of them. However, she is locked not only into the building but basically into just one room that she’s been allowed to leave. This sets in motion a brilliantly executed game of manipulation and deceit in which it’s really not clear who is in the right and who is in the wrong. By the end of the movie, both my empathy and my ire extended to each of the characters. – 9/10

Unfriended (2015) – Levan Gabriadze

CYBERNATURALREVI’m just going to come out and say it: I like gimmicks, and I like novelty in my entertainment choices. I generally prefer the unpolished indie video game with interesting game mechanics over the highly polished but predictable AAA games. The entire movie Unfriended is told from the screen of a high school girl’s laptop. This is a gimmick, obviously. A traditional horror movie about a girl who committed suicide coming back to haunt her bullies wouldn’t even be a blip on my radar. However, this movie handles its gimmick very well, and I think it shows what life is like for teenagers in the 2010s better than any other movie made so far this decade. Teenagers (and most young adults) spend most of their time online, whether on a computer or a phone. Why not make a horror movie that takes place totally online as well? Many critics (all adults of course) didn’t like the movie Earth to Echo, but my 12-year-old brother said was the best movie he has ever seen because it was the first time he felt like the characters (who were all 12-year-olds) actually acted like him and his friends – spending most of their time on YouTube and just hanging out riding their bikes around the neighborhood. Unfriended I think works equally well for people about five years older than that. I’d love to see how my high school students would respond to this movie, but when I asked if any of them went to go see it, they all told me they were going to wait until they could watch it on Netflix – on their computers. – 7/10

The Avengers (2012) – Joss Whedon

vrzq6In 2012, this was the biggest comic book movie event ever. Who would have thought that a bunch of B-list Marvel heroes could hold a picture together without the X-Men, Spider-Man, or the Fantastic 4? Well, thankfully, with Joss Whedon at the helm and the fact that the movie built off of the previously successful Marvel Cinematic Universe films, the movie was able to not only hold together but become one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. This was probably my fourth or fifth viewing of the movie, and it doesn’t really charm the way it did the first or second time. I guess any movie would lose some of its luster after seeing it that many times, but The Avengers suffers from this much more than many of the other movies I’ve seen several times throughout my life. The action is pretty corny. The dialogue is funny but not at all believable. The characters don’t have enough time to shine individually. I think the X-Men films do an ensemble cast better than The Avengers because they’re more about a group of people going through some kind of struggle together than a clash of egos who all try to rack up the most one-liners and cool action shots. However, the MCU has proven that its movies the focus more on just one or two characters, such as Iron Man and Captain America, are better than the X-Men films that only focus on Wolverine. – 7/10 (after 5 viewings) 9/10 (upon first viewing)

The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Joss Whedon

avengers-age-of-ultron-screenshot-03-600x300Firstly, don’t see this movie in 3D. I’m not one of those people who lament the overuse of 3D in cinema these days. Many movies do it very well. This is not one of them. I couldn’t even really give the movie a fair review after watching it the first time. Everything was dark and blurry, which really distracted. So, I went back and saw it again in 2D for the better experience. Unlike the first Avengers film, I think this one handles the big cast without reducing the characters’ personalities to caricatures. Aside from the silly Bond-like cold opening which serves mostly to remind us of how cool these characters are, the movie is tight and solid throughout the majority of the running time. Ultron is a pretty cool villain who suffers a bit from being just as snarky and sarcastic as Loki who came before him. The addition of some new characters serves well as a bridge between the B-list Avengers to the C-list which we know is coming some time soon in the next few years. We’ll have to see how the MCU handles a future where the most recognizable hero is War Machine. The action is great, especially the one-on-one fight between Captain America and Ultron on the back of a semi truck. Using Hawkeye’s family life to show the human side of things was clever and well-done. I’m kind of all over the place with this review. It’s an all over the place kind of movie. I don’t know how I really feel about it. I guess it was okay. 8/10