2015 In Review: Films at Will Not Fade


I go to the movies probably more than I can afford to, but I seldom review them because nobody wants to read a review written about a movie after it has already been out for a week. I’ll try to sum up my opinion of some of the movies that I’ve watched this year.

Top 5

Deathgasm was by far the best film of thedeathgasm-poster_1444064580
year. A perfect blend of action, horror and comedy with soundtrack that referenced metal from local and international bands. I also saw Turbo Kid (also produced by Ant Timpson) during the film festival  and it was similar in many ways. Hilarious, gratuitous, and with a kickass 80’s sounding soundtrack. It makes me proud that despite the increasing influence of Hollywood over our local industry, New Zealand can still churn out some brilliant films.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the obvious runner up for film of the year. Full on action the whole way through, without most of the annoying clichés and tropes that you’d associate with a gasoline fueled blockbuster like this.

mad-max-fury-road-poster2And it may be because I only saw it a few days ago, butStar Wars: The Force Awakens gets my vote for third place. I can’t deny being a Star Wars nerd, and I’m glad the new entry does justice to the series. Just as the prequel trilogy mirrored the originals, the new episode mirrors earlier films in a way that feels familiar, whilst still introducing new characters and possibilities. JJ Abrams was a smart choice for director, having revived the Star Trek franchise in recent years.

My other faves were The Martian and Everest. I was worried that The Martian would be a drawn out snoozefest like Interstellar (both films stared Matt Damon and were set in space), but The Martian held up as an entertaining and clever sci-fi. I was also pleased to see that Everest lived up to my expectations. I had met Jan Arnold, the wife of lead character Rob Hall, in highschool. Their tragic story was brought to life tastefully, while still retaining essential elements of good cinema.

Children’s films

As a teacher, keeping up with the latest children’s filmsis part of my job. Surprisingly though, I can only think of two that came out this year. Inside Out was a great exploration into human emotion, but was perhaps too mature for its child audience (not that this prevented the children who saw it enjoying themselves). Minions was annoying, and it is a shame that Despicable Me has stooped to such levels. Children loved it though, so it doesn’t matter what I think of it.


I don’t watch as many horrors as I used to, but I still enjoy them. Deathgasm was the best I saw this year, as I stated above. It Follows was a horror that garnered universal critical acclaim. I have mixed feelings about it. I do feel that it was over-rated, but the weird premise did have me thinking about it for days afterwards. I won’t ruin the plot, you’ll just have to find out for yourself if it lived up to the hype.

Cooties was a deliciously fun low-grade horror boasting big name actors (Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, Rainn Wilson). Contaminated chicken nuggets turn children at a primary school into prepubescent zombies, with the teachers resorting to whatever extreme measures they deem necessary for survival.


I was pretty excited when I first heard about Straight Outta Compton, the NWA biopic. I enjoyed watching it, but it was so long that it started to lose impact as it progressed. There has been lots of litigation and controversy surrounding the film, with certain parties claiming that their role has been downplayed (MC Ren), or depicted in defamatory light (Suge Knight – Death Row Records co-founder, and Jerry Heller – former NWA manager). It will be interesting to see how follow up films pan out – a biopic focusing on the following wave of rappers like Snoop Dogg and Tupac is currently in the works.

One heartwarming documartian-gallery3-gallery-imagementary I saw was called Landfill Harmonic, about a village in Paraguay where children form an orchestra in which they play instruments made from rubbish found in the landfill that many of them live on. It’s one of those underdog tales that show how people can rise from poverty to achieve something great.

The big films.

Star Wars is looking to break all kinds of box office records at the moment, but
it seems that the same could have been said by every major blockbuster that came out this year. Many films were guaranteed to sell just because they were part of a successful series. It helps that Star Wars is actually worth seeing, but let’s be honest, we were all going to go see it regardless. Take the following examples:

Spectre, the latest James Bond film (with the same plot as Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation), was ok, but not great. But you have to see it, simply because it’s Jame Bond. Same goes with any Marvel film. People watch them, regardless of how good they are. I thought that the second Avengers film was better than the first, but it was still forgettable. Jurassic World was an uninspired modern rehash of the original. Some up-to-date CGI wasn’t enough to disguise unlikable actors presenting thEverest-filme same plot as the earlier films, but despite this, dinosaurs still had pulling power to make Jurassic World millions of dollars.

Furious 7 , Terminator: Genysis and Hunger Games: Mockingjay pt 2 were some of the few major blockbusters from established series that I’d consider recommending (other than Star Wars and Mad Max, that I’ve already mentioned).

There were other films that I saw that aren’t worth mentioning, and likely many that I missed that are. What were your top movies of 2015? What ones did I miss that I really need to see? Or which ones do you think I need to reevaluate?

Joseph James

Film Review: Insurgent

Insurgent poster

I fell in love with the dystopia genre in 6th form English class, when we read Aldous Huxley’s futuristic novel, Brave New World. The marriage of science-fiction and social commentary captivated me. Not only was the story interesting, but it contained an underlying message that fascinated me. Here was a novel written way back in 1931, that had accurately predicted societal functions 80 years in the future.

It makes sense then, that I enjoyed watching Divergent last year. Based on the novel by Veronica Roth, Divergent, follows on from some of the same themes found in Brave New World. The setting is a familiar sci-fi scenario – a post-apocalyptic city containing the last of civilization. The world has been ravaged by war, so the last of the Earth’s population have created for themselves a city contained within a wall, the last refuge for humanity. In an attempt to maintain peace and preserve what they have left, the leaders have elected to split themselves into different factions based on temperament.

To steal from Wikipedia, the factions are: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intellectual

This system would be fine for maintaining peace, were it not for divergents – those whose temperaments are split, meaning that they do not fit within any one faction. Divergents are not tolerated, being considered threats to the system. The film follows one divergent, Triss, and how she tries to fit in as a square peg in a volatile world of round holes

Insurgent picks up a few days after the conclusion of the first film. Protagonists Triss and Four, along with a handful of others, are fugitives after having thwarted an uprising of one of the factions. They have to fight for their survival, either by hiding from those hunting them, or by going on the offensive and leading a war.

The romantic chemistry between the two lead characters is odd – certainly not what I would consider obviously affectionate. I was thinking that the producers had tried to tone down the PDA to get a suitable rating for their ‘tweenage’ audience, until an awkward gratuitous sex scene came up mid-film.

This is not to say that the acting is bad. At many times Shailene Woodley (Triss) seems quite plain (the Oatmeal has an interesting commentary about Twilight that could apply here also), but during the fighting and action scenes she holds her own. Her star moments though, are when she is stricken by grief and has to confess a guilty secret to her friends. Her tears and anguish shine through, really tugging on the viewers heartstrings.

The scenery and the sets are brilliant. Ruined skyscrapers dominate the landscape in a post war-torn Chicago. Plenty of thought has been put into the stark contrast between the different homes of each faction. The characters live in dingy underground tunnel systems, fight on streets of rubble, farm lush fields and calculate in sterile cities, all connected by a large train circuit. CGI has been used to generate holograms and ‘sims’, dream worlds that characters can plug into. Watching the film in 3D did detract from the visuals at times (like when the background was blurred out of focus to make the foreground ‘pop’), but nothing ever appeared cheap or poorly done.

The plot is fairly predictable, but there are enough double crosses and surprise fight scenes to keep the viewer alert. The action sequences are scattered throughout. Be warned that some of the violence, though not explicit, could certainly upset the viewer.

It’s all too easy to draw comparisons with The Hunger Games. Both series are blockbuster movies based on novels. And in both are set in a dystopian future in which society insists on an unjust system to “maintain the peace”. Things slowly begin to unravel, and a strong female leads the underdogs to fight for a more just world.

I see these two trilogies as a positive thing. The series are largely marketed at the ‘tweenage’ demographic, but are enjoyable enough for all audiences. I think widely influencing films such as these are beneficial because they get the viewers thinking: What would I do if I lived in a world like that? Where would I fit in? Would I challenge the status quo? It is also nice to finally see some gutsy female lead roles in a movie industry currently dominated by macho superheroes.

Dystopian stories and films of allegorical nature are becoming increasingly relevant. The factions could be viewed as a feudal class system, something that has potential to happen in the future, with the ever-widening gap between the wealthy and the destitute. The once outlandish and unthinkable ideas found within Brave New World and Georg Orwells’s 1984 are becoming reality. The New Zealand government is selling off citizens rights to multinational corporations and choosing to support unjust wars against the will of their people. The extent of control held by those wielding power needs to be questioned.

The story line of Insurgent wasn’t as good as it’s predecessor, but I still recommend both films, and intend to watch the final installment in the trilogy. Not only because I enjoyed watching them, but because I think that they contain important questions that have the potential to engage many people.


Joseph James