55. Phantom Boy
While I thought this year was fairly disappointing in terms of films overall, it was notable to me personally for one major reason. This year was the first year I started to take an active interest in animated films made outside of America/Japan. Sure, I’d seen a few here and there, like last year’s supremely disappointing The Boy and the World, but this time I actually actively sought them out. And, as you’ll see later in this list, found a few genuine gems. This… was not one of them.
Phantom Boy, a film by the directors of the Oscar nominated ‘A Cat in Paris’, is about a sick kid with the power to astral project himself out of his body, who aids a crippled detective in hunting down a villain. It’s ostensibly supposed to be a superhero movie, but comes off more like a detective/crime story with a superpower involved (kinda on the sidelines as well). Honestly, it’s really fairly average and I get the impression the filmmakers were far more interested more in the drama of the sick kid stuff (which doesn’t really come majorly into play until the final act) rather than actually exploring the interesting possibilities of an unusual power. The side cast is decent, albeit pretty damn cliche. The loose cannon detective, the nosy reporter who constantly gets in trouble, the asshole police chief, etc etc. I will say the villain, voiced in the english dub by Vincent D’Onofrio doing his best Christopher Walken impression, is fun but also kinda hard to take seriously as a threat. And the animation is just okay and feels a bit like a kids cartoon rather than anything breathtaking.
I’ll admit I never saw A Cat in Paris so I can’t tell you whether this is better or not (although I’d doubt it) but there are much better examples of interesting animated movies to find this year.
54. Swallows and Amazons
Hey look! Another nostalgic British property I loved as a kid getting a rather ‘eh’ remake. I’ll admit, I don’t remember a lot of the original Swallows and Amazons movie these days, but I definitely remember enjoying it a lot, in part because the movie had an adventurous sense of charm to it. This movie tries to capture that charm but, like Dad’s Army, doesn’t quite succeed. It certainly works better as an overall movie than DA, but again it feels a bit too Hollywoodised and fail to capture the fun of the original film (as well as, I assume, the original book which I’ve never read). In particular, the drama feels a lot more exaggerated and uncomfortable and the characters come off as a lot more unlikeable. In the original movie there was drama and arguments among the kids yes, but was it realistic, like a real tiff between younger siblings and everyone remained likeable. Here, the drama is exaggerated to make it easier for the audience to follow and, again, it just feels uncomfortable to watch at times.
Still, it is a fairly well made movie and not nearly as unfunny as Dad’s Army, so I’ll give it that. But really, I’d just recommend rewatching the old film to be honest. Or, I don’t know, reading the book or something
I’ll be honest, this movie was kind of a surprise. I really wasn’t expecting much, but once I sat down and started watching, I actually found myself quite enjoying it….. for about the first 30 minutes. See, the thing I liked about the first 30 minutes is that underneath all the sparkles and glitter and colour, the world of Trolls was dark as shit. Pretty much everything is out to get the Trolls, climaxing in a chirpy musical number where the main character walks through a jungle of shit actively trying to eat her. And that’s honestly kind of hilarious and entertaining. It was sugary sweetness, yes, but it was sugary sweetness hiding a wicked edge. And that’s pretty fun to see in a kids movie.
Unfortunately, once they get to Bergentown, the movie stops being amusingly twisted and pretty much just goes in all the directions I was originally expecting from the movie. Makeovers, uninteresting romances, saving the day with the power of love/dance/seizure-inducing colours. It’s about as dumb as you’d expect. I won’t say the remaining movie is terrible but it’s really not that good. That said, I’m still willing to give the movie a lot of credit for a very enjoyable and inventive first act, I just wish they’d kept it up for the rest of the movie.
Chalk this up to another on the ‘I kinda forgot this existed’ pile. But I’m willing to give it a lot more credit than other movies I forgot this year for an interesting premise and some decent moments… that ultimately don’t really come together.
Disorder is about a bodyguard with PTSD assigned to protect some rich guy’s wife and kid. Paranoia lurks around every corner as he tries to figure out whether someone is out to get them or whether its his own neuroses setting him off.. It’s an interesting premise for sure and the movie does do a decent job of getting some mileage out of that idea. Not a great job mind, but there are some tense sequences. The problem is that the movie feels fairly incomplete. I’m not talking sequel bait or anything like that, it just ends with a shit ton of stuff still unresolved and it in no way felt like the movie came to a natural conclusion. It just stopped. I’m all for bucking traditional story structure if you think you can handle it well, but this just felt unsatisfying, both in terms of narrative and creativity.
Would this have made it that much higher on the list had it stuck the landing? Maybe? While there were a lot of tense scenes, there were also a few that did kinda feel like they dragged on a bit. And the movie did a fairly poor job of pacing itself (something which I think helped contribute to the unsatisfying ending). Still, it was at least an interesting premise with some level of competence behind it.
51. I am a Hero
I watched two foreign zombie movies this year. One which made me question why people were getting so tired of zombies in pop culture… and one which promptly reminded me why. This is the latter.
It’s a shame too because the original manga (which I read the first few volumes of a year ago and enjoyed) actually had a relatively interesting idea behind it. In said original manga, the protagonist, Hideo, is shown to suffer from mental disorders and hallucinations. Thus when zombies start showing up and things go to hell, it does so such a surreal odd way that it leads you to constantly question whether the whole disturbing thing is actually happening or is just in his head (although eventually it does become pretty clear what’s actually happening). The movie however just kinda does away with that and just makes him a generic loser. I mean, yeah, he was a loser in the original manga too but it was at least somewhat interesting.
That said, despite the wasted potential, I do have to give this movie credit for a really good first act. The tension is pulse-pounding, there are a few great action scenes and, in particular, the portrayal of the zombies is probably one of the more creepy versions I’ve seen in almost any other horror movie. Along with the grotesque make-up and twitchy body movements, the zombies in this movie constantly repeat inane phrases from their lives. It’s the sort of thing that should seem utterly ridiculous (especially with some of the siller phrases) but somehow really hits into the uncanny valley and makes it skin-crawlingly creepy. If anyone’s familiar with the series Attack on Titan, it’s the same sort of thing with the titular titans. The design/movements should be utterly hilarious and narmy but something about it just works to make it utterly terrifying.
Which is why it’s kind of a shame that the rest of the movie after that first act just goes into very generic zombie movie territory. It has themes you’ve seen done better a million times before (Hey, guess what, maybe humans are the real monsters the entire time!), the drama is uninteresting, Hideo’s character arc is predictable. Hell it’s about survivors hauling up in a fricking shopping mall for gods sake! The sort of shit we’ve a million times before and in the process seen done much better. The only semi-interesting thing they throw in (aside from the world’s most hilarious athlete zombie) is a character seemingly semi-immune (kinda) to the virus and then they go absolutely nothing interesting with it. I don’t know whether this was an actual arc in the manga (I suspect it was) but I’d wager it was done a lot better there.
As it is, this movie is only really worth watching for its first act. For everything else, just read the manga or watch the other zombie movie that’s on this list (which I suspect anybody who’s already seen it has guessed already, but I won’t spoil yet).