My Week in Movies, 2016 Week 2 and 3, plus China trip

We are twenty two days into 2016. Three weeks and one day. And so far I haven’t watched a single film in my own home. Not only that, I haven’t reviewed a single film either. Needless to say, I’m getting more than a little behind. You see, whilst my TV and my blog have been gathering dust, my January has so far been rather eventful.
Two weeks ago I went to China for a week on business. China is, in a word, terrifying. Specifically the roads, which alas we had to traverse multiple times a day, and during each journey I could be found clutching desperately to that pathetic little ceiling-mounted handle like I was 20,000 feet in the air and it was my only parachute. Driving in China is very different from in the UK, in that the drivers don’t actually turn their heads. Their eyes may flit to the mirrors from time to time, every half an hour or so, but manoeuvres, which are often made without the aid of a blinking indicator, are ploughed into with an amount of confidence I found more than unnerving. If, mid-lane-change, it turns out there’s another vehicle already in the way, horns are beeped and drivers return to their lanes until that car has passed, at which point the change is attempted again. The cyclists didn’t help matters either, heading in whichever direction they wished, oblivious to any kinds of traffic lights and bereft of head protection, with up to four people for every two wheels. The strange thing is, there weren’t all that many accidents. The occasional car had a scratch or a dent, but for the most part the automobiles were in pristine condition and we only saw maybe two or three cars sat at the side of a road awaiting assistance.
Food-wise it wasn’t exactly the Chinese takeaway I’m used to (and which I’m enjoying tonight), with the suppliers we met with taking us out for all manner of local delicacy, including sea snails and chicken feet. I tried the former but not the latter, because well, they’re chicken feet. That’s not supposed to be eaten. The worst thing I ate was actually tofu, mainly because it’s even less like food than chicken feet. It’s like eating gelatinous clouds. It’s albino pond scum. Bland, soggy soap. Blurgh. Also, tea. Lots and lots of tea. You’d think being an Englishman I’d jump at the chance for a nice cuppa, but in reality I’d never actually tried tea before in any form, and having now tried some I won’t be rushing back to any.
Since arriving home from China (we also spent a couple of days in Hong Kong, where it just pissed it down with rain) my sleep schedule has been rocked so much that I’ve had difficulty staying awake in the evenings, hence the lack of viewings and reviewings. I did, however, watch some films on the flights to and from the East, so let’s get into those shall we? Here’s what I’ve watched over the past couple of weeks:

Bridge of Spies (2015)
I really wanted to see this in the cinema but just didn’t get around to it, so was overjoyed to find it on the plane. Tom Hanks plays a lawyer tasked with defending a man (Oscar-nominated Mark Rylance) believed to be a Russian spy, and eventually has to broker a deal to trade him for a captive American pilot. It’s quite slow and in lesser hands could have been quite boring, being mostly comprised of scenes involving two men talking in dark rooms, but just as Spielberg did with Lincoln he’s made a straightforward, dry narrative into something rather engaging by way of using stellar actors and beautiful cinematography. It’s not must-see Spielberg, but it’s still good.
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Film 8/10

The Lobster (2015)
This was weird, but it’s my kind of weird. In a world where you’re not allowed to be single, newly divorced sad sack Colin Farrell checks into a bizarre facility in which you’re given 45 days to find a partner, or you’re turned into an animal of your choosing. His fellow guests include John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw and Ashley Jensen, with Olivia Colman running the facility and Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux and Michael Smiley cropping up later too. In writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth I criticised the film for ending at a point that could have been very interesting to see, but here the same mistake isn’t made, with the setting changing around halfway through. As it turns out the first half, in which we learn more about the world and the facility, is better and a great deal more comical. It’s a very different story to everything else in modern cinema, and I look forward to whatever Lanthimos does next.
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Film 7/10

Trainwreck (2015)
Trainwreck seems to survive or fail on one’s opinion on Amy Schumer and her comedy. I’ve seen some of her sketches on YouTube and haven’t found many of them to be all that funny, almost always relying on her appearance in comparison to a stereotypical Hollywood woman to garner laughs, and for much of Trainwreck that remains the case, but fortunately she is surrounded by an excellent and often hilarious supporting cast. Bill Hader is reliably awesome, Tilda Swinton is unrecognisable and killing it as Amy’s boss, but the biggest surprise for me was John Cena as Amy’s go-to booty-call. He’s really funny and, just like Bridesmaids, it’s these supporting parts that make the film a recommendation, rather than the leads.
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Film 6/10

Everest (2015)
It was probably a mistake to watch a film of this scale on such a small screen, especially when the screen in question had been infuriatingly angled down by the inconsiderate lifeform in front of me who insisted on reclining his seat despite the seat in front of him not being reclined. I refuse to follow suit because it would have screwed over the passenger behind me in the last row who could not recline. Airlines, please stop installing reclining seats. Even on ridiculously long flights it does not need to be done. Anyway, Everest. Too many characters with not enough actual character prevented me from becoming emotionally involved with anyone, and the fact that they’re all wearing big coats, gloves, hats, goggles and beards often made it hard to tell people apart. I got what they were going for, but they fumbled the delivery by not making me care for anyone. It’s the kind of screenplay that will occasionally realise “Oh shit, Keira Knightley and Robin Wright are in this film too? Quick, let’s put them in for 45 seconds,” instead of spending more time with the enigmatic but way-under-used likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin and John Hawkes.
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Life 5/10

Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Post-Oscar nomination announcements, this was the only film available on the flight home that was nominated and that I hadn’t seen, so it was priority one and deservedly so. I can honestly say that before the trailers were released, and even for a while after, I’d never even heard of the band NWA. I thought it was an offshoot of WWE, the National Wrestling Association of something, but apparently it was a real life music group. I’d known Ice Cube had a music career before acting, but never gave it much thought, and I’d always assumed that Dr. Dre might have been a DJ before becoming a music producer, but again I didn’t care enough to look into it. I’d never even heard of Easy E, and I’m still not sure what a Suge Night is, and why it’s not spelt “Shug”. Hence why I didn’t rush out to see this one, I just let the hype wash over me and kind of ignored it all. Turns out that this is in fact a pretty damn good movie. The cast of relative unknowns are all great , with Paul Giamatti adding his usual gravitas as the band’s manager. The racial elements felt well used and not as tacked-on as I thought they might’ve, but some emotional elements towards the end fell a little flat for me, which may have been due to my lack of connection with some of the characters involved. And, as well made as I thought the film was, the overall subject matter of a music group isn’t something I’m all that interested in. Still, I can definitely say I know more about the group now than I did before.
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Film 7/10

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Damn I loved this film. I’m still (STILL!) working on my Review of 2015, and this has jumped up to a pretty high spot, so my laziness and procrastinating has proved beneficial for this film at least. Greg (Thomas Mann) has drifted through high school as an almost-acquaintance of everyone, but only really a friend to Earl (RJ Cyler), with whom he makes crappy versions of existing movies. That is until Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) forced him to spend time with the terminally ill Rachel (Olivia Cooke), sending Greg’s carefully cultivated world into a spiral. Everyone is terrific and perfectly cast. There are top notch supporting roles from Jon Bernthal, Molly Shannon and my spirit animal, Nick Offerman. It’s hilarious when it needs to be, touching elsewhere, and there are so many film references throughout. I cannot wait to buy it and watch it again. Easily one of my best from 2015.
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Film 9/10

Dope (2015)
Sharing a lot of coming-of-age parallels with both Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Straight Outta Compton, Dope sees a straight-laced 90s-loving kid (Shameik Moore) finds himself embroiled with drugs and hoodlums when he accidentally becomes the carrier of a large quantity of drugs. Some scenes felt a little too much like wish fulfilment as essentially his dream situations come true, right up until the point everything gets flipped and someone pukes in his mouth. I never knew where this was going, and appreciated the interesting and unexpected structure of having scenes play out, then seeing them again from another perspective until all the pieces came together. There are some moments of cliché, but overall this was a nice surprise.
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Film 7/10

Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
The title didn’t grab me, but I’d heard good things about the central performance from Bel Powley, and for some reason I also thought it came out later this year, so I’d get a headstart on some 2016 releases. As it turns out the central performance is great, but the film got a UK release last August. That performances is, alas, pretty much the only great thing about an otherwise dreary film that, were I not trapped in a metal tube really high above the ground and completely unable to sleep, I’d have happily switched off and moved on with my life. Powley plays a 15-year-old girl who loses her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård). Her very sexually active mother is Kristen Wiig, and her more conservative father is Christopher Meloni. The adults are also good, but don’t get a whole lot to do compared to Powley. She gives an incredibly game and rarely clothed performance, as that first sex act gives way to a cornucopia of orifices and experiences, many of which are shown in graphic detail and none of which should be available to watch on an airplane full of strangers. Even in the privacy of my own home much of the scenes would have been creepy-uncomfortable, especially the build-up to the first sex, and many third act plot events could be predicted from the first couple of scenes.
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Life 5/10

Aloha (2015)
By this point I’d run out of new things I wanted to watch, so opted from something that had people I liked in it, but which hadn’t gotten great reviews. Turns out those reviews were on point, because this is drivel. Bradley Cooper is a disgraced military returning to his old base for some kind of business deal with his boss (Bill Murray). Whilst there he’s given a military escort (Emma Stone) and visits his ex-fiancée (Rachel McAdams) who is now married to John Krasinski. Alec Baldwin is a military higher-up, and Danny McBride is Danny McBride, only he plays with his fingers so much he has the nickname “Fingers”. There are a lot of sub-plots – Stone is fascinated and obsessed with Hawaiian mythology, as is the youngest child of McAdams and Krasinski, Murray is involved in some shady deal Cooper is brought in on, Cooper tries to rekindle the flame with McAdams, McAdams and Krasinski are having difficulties because he’s emotionally closed-off and rarely speaks, Cooper also hits it off romantically with Stone, who is investigating Murray’s deal, Baldwin is perpetually furious, there’s some bullshit with a satellite – but there’s no main driving plot for them all to support. It’s just a big mess. Krasinski surprisingly was the highlight though.
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Life 4/10

The Hateful Eight (2015)
The first film I’ve seen this year at ground level! As Tarantino is one of my film-maker lists I’m going to try and write a full review of this soon, but for now consider me a fan, though it’s not amongst his best.
Lists: 2016 Movies, Quentin Tarantino

Posts you may have missed:
Lambcast #304 Most Anticipated Movies of 2016: I was joined by Jess Manzo, DJ Valentine, Darren Lucas and Kristen Lopez to look ahead at our most anticipated movies of 2016.

Goals Update
Aim: Review 8 or 9 1001 List movies each month
Reviewed: 0
To go: 8
Should be on: 6
On Track: No!

Aim: Review 1 “Bad” movie each month
Reviewed: 0
To go: 1
Should be on: 1
On Track: No!

Aim: Review 1 “Blind Spot” movie each month
Reviewed: 0
To go: 1
Should be on: 1
On Track: No!

Aim: Review 2 “Film-Makers” movie each month
Reviewed: 0
To go: 2
Should be on: 1
On Track: No!

Aim: Read 1 New-To-Me book each month
Read: 1 (Room, Emma Donoghue)
On Track:  Completed!

Aim: Visit somewhere new each month
Visited: China & Hong Kong
On Track:  Completed!

7 thoughts on “My Week in Movies, 2016 Week 2 and 3, plus China trip

  1. Having lived in Shanghai for half a year back in 2008 I know what you are talking about. I also go to Beijing once a year so I traffic-wise I can see that it is only getting worse, though the big issue is the smog.
    Any good travel guide should advise you what to eat and what to stay away from:
    Noodle soup – Yes
    Tofu, jellyfish, dishes consisting of 9/10 chill – No

    • We had noodle soup, it was pretty good (I’m not really a soup guy, so me liking soup says a lot). Fortunately the dishes weren’t too spicy either, so all good there.

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  3. Pingback: My Week in Movies, 2016 Week 40 | Life Vs Film

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