We are almost a quarter of the way through 2016. While it may seem like we have just reached the New Year, a sizeable chunk of the year is in fact already gone. So I find myself worried about how bad this year appears to be for films. The summer’s only eye-popping entries appear to be Captain America: Civil War and Suicide Squad, and they aren’t exactly going to be unique cinematic experiences. Meanwhile, The fall prestige season has Silence, Sully and little else in terms of sure-fire pedigrees. That’s not to mention that the only film to be released so far that is in contention for my year end top ten list was a film no one had any awareness of at the beginning of the year (more on this later). So 2016 will certainly need its fair share of hidden gems to turn this into a good cinematic year.
In the last few weeks I have watched a few films that only really cement this perception of 2016. Most of these films are solid if unmemorable experiences. The first I would like to bring up is Zootopia. The film has taken America and the world by storm as it currently sits at a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can completely see why. It’s a politically correct film that kind of hides its controversial (although not really that controversial) messages behind flashy visuals and numerous jokes so it can appeal to both children and adults. However, I found myself struggling to get into this film at times. Don’t get me wrong as I found myself laughing out loud a couple of times (especially at many of Flash the Sloth’s antics), and I really admired a lot of the voice work done in the film (this is unlike anything Jason Bateman has ever done and Ginnifer Goodwin makes the most of a leading voice role opportunity). Yet the world building of the film was quite ridiculous, and while the visuals were flashy, they don’t actually deserve much artistic merit. It also doesn’t help that the mystery plot at the center of the film is clearly designed only to surprise the youngest of its audience members.
The next film I watched was 10 Cloverfield Lane. This “spiritual sequel” to 2008’s found footage monster flick, Cloverfield, is easily this year’s best film to date. Thanks to a taut script and claustrophobic direction from first timer Dan Trachtenberg this film feels like one of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone ever. John Goodman delivers what might be his best performance ever as a possibly deranged genius that is holding a young woman against her will. Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as the young woman and finally shows why she deserves the newcomer to look out for status that she has received over the past five years or so. The film’s only negative aspect is that the twist the film takes near the end of the film feels like quite a thematic jump (to the point that you will understand some people wondering if the twist was put into the film at the last minute to get it to fit in more with Cloverfield). The twist isn’t necessarily bad as it allows some great moments for Dan Trachtenberg and it’s a nice bit of world building. It’s just that the twist is so jarring that it will take a while for many audience members to come to terms with it.
The third film I watched over the past few weeks was Kung Fu Panda 3. The Kung Fu Panda series has quietly emerged as one of the best animated series of the past decade so I was delighted to see another adventure of Po’s on the big screen. The visuals are as strong as ever, and the character building is once again a strong point (the relationship between Po and his stepfather, Mr. Ping, remains one of the best cinematic relationships in recent history). An adventure into more supernatural territory in this film also opened up the movie for even greater potential. Unfortunately it all goes to waste and this film oddly ends up feeling like the many superhero films that have been released as of late where the main character gets into some crazy and lethal supernatural battle and emerges victorious through a lazy deus ex machina. Therefore, this film ultimately works better as a conclusion to a series rather than an individual film itself. The overarching narrative is fascinating, but the plot of this individual film is rather disappointing.
The final film I was able to watch was Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. The film is based off of a true story of a war correspondent, but it oddly stars Tina Fey and is written by her 30 Rock partner Robert Carlock. That odd mix perfectly sums up the film. It’s a gigantic mess, but that isn’t to say that the story isn’t intriguing and the work done by the artists here isn’t interesting. In fact, Tina Fey delivers quite a strong performance that is able to capture the more dramatic moments as well as including her more famous comedic wit. Additionally, Carlock infuses the film with some great dialogue that allows performances from Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and others to really pop. This definitely isn’t a great film, but it’s also hard not to be entertained by the many individual elements of the film.
10 Cloverfield Land=8.5/10
Kung Fu Panda 3=7/10
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot=7/10