2015 Year-End Movie Review: David Medsker

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I am not a difficult person to please when it comes to movies. There is a big joke among the film critics in town that we are either film critics or movie reviewers, meaning that film critics dissect everything at a subatomic level, while movie reviewers talk about whether or not they liked the film. I am squarely in the latter category.

This year, however, something was off. There are films getting a ton of film group buzz that I just didn’t get, and even worse, I found myself enjoying what was widely considered to be the worst movie of the year, but more on that later. First up, the movies I liked.

Movies I Liked

1. “SPOTLIGHT”

Nothing comes even close to this one. This expertly-paced account of the Boston Globe’s expose on the Catholic Church’s systematic covering up of abusive priests is top-notch storytelling, one in which the city of Boston becomes not just the backdrop, but the main character.

2. “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE”

Ten bucks says Daniel Craig likes this film more than any of the Bond films he’s done, and with good reason. “Kingsman” is the most entertaining spy movie I’ve ever seen, and it earned this spot on my list for the church scene alone.

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3. “THE REVENANT”

The bear attack. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. Alejandro Inarritu’s film about life in the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s is every bit as hostile and unforgiving as the landscape in which it is based. There is a scene, though, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets his hands on some raw meat (the first he has seen in a while), and he scarfs it down, even though there is a fire burning nearby. Dude, put it on a stick and cook that thing!

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Blu Tuesday: Kingsman: The Secret Service and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service”

WHAT: Lower-class delinquent Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) is recruited by a secret spy organization called the Kingsman to participate in their ultra-competitive training program. Meanwhile, his benefactor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) investigates a potential global threat involving a tech-genius billionaire (Samuel L. Jackson) who wants to save the Earth from the dangerous effects of climate change by wiping out most of humanity.

WHY: After subverting the superhero genre with “Kick-Ass,” the creative team behind that film has returned with an equally over-the-top homage to spy movies. Developed separately from the Mark Millar-penned comic on which it’s loosely based, Vaughn’s movie improves on that version in just about every way, delivering a smarter (but no less absurd) take on Cold War-era spy movies that embraces as many genre conventions as it breaks. Colin Firth is excellent as the badass super-spy, and newcomer Taron Egerton shines in his debut role, but it’s Samuel L. Jackson who steals the show as the megalomaniacal Valentine. Many people will be quick to compare the film to “Kick-Ass,” but while the former boasts the same punk-rock attitude, dark plot twists, and kinetic, no-holds-barred action sequences, “Kingsman” feels less like a satire of an entire genre than the product of a filmmaker who grew up loving spy movies. Though it doesn’t get too caught up in trying to make any logical sense of is preposterous conspiracy plot or colorful villains, that’s perfectly fine, because in the age of the overserious spy film, this is exactly the bold, silly kick up the ass that the genre needed.

EXTRAS: There’s a six-part behind-the-scenes featurette and a trio of photo galleries.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Project Almanac”

WHAT: After he notices his adult self in the background of an old family video, MIT student David Raskin (Jonny Weston) and his friends uncover blueprints for a time travel device in his father’s workshop. But when they build a functioning prototype and begin changing the past, it inadvertently effects their future.

WHY: On paper, “Project Almanac” sounds like a pretty cool idea for a short film, but there’s not enough story to warrant a feature-length movie. The characters don’t even make their first successful time jump until halfway through the sluggish 106-minute runtime, which means that the entire opening act is spent twiddling your thumbs while you wait for something significant to happen. None of the protagonists are even remotely interesting, and although two of them are supposedly really smart (they use a bunch of scientific terminology, so they must be), they don’t think to turn off the video camera while robbing supplies from their high school. Dumbasses. Of course, that’s the very nature of the found footage genre, but the gimmick doesn’t do anything to elevate the storytelling that validates its employment, often breaking its own rules in order to show intimate moments that the audience wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. “Project Almanac” had the potential to be a lot better, but like most time travel movies, it’s more interested in what its characters do with the ability than the gaping plot holes and inconsistent logic that follows.

EXTRAS: There’s an alternate opening and ending, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Serena”

WHAT: Set in North Carolina during the infancy of the Great Depression, timber magnate George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) impulsively marries the headstrong Serena (Jennifer Lawrence), who quickly proves her worth as a formidable business partner. But as the newlyweds meet resistance from local law enforcement, they’ll stop at nothing to protect their empire.

WHY: Susanne Bier’s period drama was filmed back in 2012, and if the director is to be believed, it was during that time between post-production and its eventual release where she lost creative control of the movie to the studio. And quite frankly, it’s easy to see how that might be the case, because while “Serena” has the makings of an interesting film, it’s marred by some sloppy editing and bad pacing, ultimately devolving into a melodramatic mess that seriously questions how anyone thought the source material (Ron Rash’s 2008 novel of the same name) was worthy of a big screen adaptation. Though Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence both deliver solid performances, their onscreen chemistry is lacking, which isn’t surprising considering that the story (and their characters’ relationship, in particular) feels so rushed. Several plotlines appear to have been trimmed down to the bare necessity, losing any emotional weight in the process, while the various plot turns are as predictable as they are poorly handled. The movie isn’t as terrible as some would lead you to believe, but that doesn’t make the disappointment sting any less.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette that focuses on the story, direction and characters, additional featurettes on production design, adapting the novel and creating the set, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Movie Review: “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

Starring
Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson
Director
Matthew Vaughn

After subverting the superhero genre with “Kick-Ass,” the creative team behind that film (director Matthew Vaughn, co-writer Jane Goldman and comic book writer Mark Millar) has returned with an equally over-the-top homage to spy movies. Developed separately from the Millar-penned comic on which it’s loosely based, Vaughn’s film improves on that version in just about every way, delivering a smarter (but no less absurd) take on Cold War-era spy movies that embraces as many genre conventions as it breaks. A mix of the old and new school, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a lot cooler than its clunky title might imply – a hyper-stylized, gratuitously explicit action film that would make James Bond blush. After all, this is a movie that cartoonishly blows up Barack Obama’s head without even blinking.

The movie opens 17 years earlier when, while on a mission in the Middle East, secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is unable to prevent the death of a fellow agent. Feeling personally responsible, he visits the man’s wife (Samantha Womack) and young son, Eggsy, giving them a medal with a special phone number on the back should they ever need a favor. Fast-forward to present day and Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has grown up to become a lower-class delinquent who’s wasted his incredible potential. When Eggsy gets in trouble with the law, Harry bails him out, eventually recruiting him as a candidate for the same secret agency his father worked for, the Kingsmen, an independent organization of highly-trained agents who put their lives on the line to protect the world. While Eggsy undergoes the ultra-competitive training program (with only one recruit earning a spot as a Kingsman), Harry investigates a potential threat involving a tech-genius billionaire named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who wants to save the Earth from the dangerous effects of climate change by wiping out most of humanity.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to February

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It may only be February, and half of the country may still be buried under a foot of snow, but there’s a decidedly pre-summer feel to this month’s releases – the time of year when studios unleash a barrage of popcorn-friendly movies on audiences that aren’t deemed important enough for the summer season. Delayed blockbusters with big-name stars? Check. Unnecessary sequels to cult comedies? Check. Edgy comic book adaptations with breakout potential? Check and check. In fact, the February slate is so different from what we typically expect that instead of the usual hoard of Valentine’s Day shlock, women get a film about BDSM instead. How kinky.

“Jupiter Ascending”

Who: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, James D’Arcy and Sean Bean
What: A lowly caretaker who is actually intergalactic royalty teams up with a genetically engineered warrior to stop a tyrant from taking control of Earth.
When: February 6th
Why: It’s never a good sign when a movie gets postponed, especially one as big as “Jupiter Ascending,” but what really set off alarm bells was the decision to move it from a prime summer release date to the dead zone of February. The studio claims that the delay was to provide the Wachowskis with extra time to polish the visual effects, but that’s just Hollywood talk for covering up a deeper issue. Whether it’s because “Jupiter Ascending” isn’t very good, or because the sibling duo’s last film (“Cloud Atlas”) performed so poorly at the box office, there’s a reason why Warner Bros. suddenly lost confidence in the movie. And when you have Channing Tatum playing a half-werewolf bounty hunter, that’s bound to happen.

“Seventh Son”

Who: Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander
What: A young man is apprenticed to the local Spook to learn to fight evil spirits, and his first great challenge comes when the powerful Mother Malkin escapes her confinement.
When: February 6th
Why: If you thought the delay of “Jupiter Ascending” was bad, that’s nothing compared to “Seventh Son,” which has seen its release date change three times over the past two years. Originally scheduled for early 2013, the fantasy film – which is based on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s young adult series – actually boasts a really good cast, including Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Olivia Williams and Kit Harrington of “Game of Thrones” fame. Unfortunately, this looks like pretty standard sword-and-sorcery fare, with Bridges basically playing a variation of the Rooster Cogburn character from “True Grit” and “R.I.P.D.” Fans of the genre will probably get a kick out of it, but it’s unlikely that “Seventh Son” will have much life beyond that.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service”

Who: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong and Michael Caine
What: A veteran secret agent takes a young upstart under his wing just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.
When: February 13th
Why: After satirizing the superhero genre with “Kick-Ass,” the creative team behind that film (director Matthew Vaughn, co-writer Jane Goldman and comic book writer Mark Millar) returns with an equally over-the-top take on spy films. Developed separately from the Millar-penned comic on which it’s loosely based, Vaughn’s big screen adaptation looks a lot more fun, bursting with the energy and humor that was lacking in Millar’s version. It’s incredible to think that Colin Firth was never considered for the James Bond gig, because he’s perfectly cast as the badass super-spy, while newcomer Taron Egerton is already garnering acclaim for his debut role. Early buzz for this one is through the roof, and if you’ve seen the trailer, then you can understand why.

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