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My Top 20 Films of 2016

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Let me just blow away some cobwebs here, brush off some dust there, and ok, we are good to go! Hello blog readers, it has certainly been awhile. Apologies for not producing a great amount of material across this site, but if you follow me hopefully you’ll see I’ve been busy contributing to sites such as ‘The Scruffy Nerf Herder‘ and ‘The Hollywood News‘, but I do feel bad leaving my little ol’ blog alone in the dark. However, there is only ever one place I would come to post my list of the year. And what a funny old year it has been. It has been a year of unexpected twists, both on the screen and off. In a year where uncertainty hung heavy in the air, the movies were still there to provide us with respite (even if it’s one of the more lack-lustre summer seasons we’ve had in awhile). It was still a year that managed to impress, and to demonstrate, I’ve bumped up my list to discuss 20 of this year’s finest! Buckle up! (This list only takes into account the films released in the UK from January to December).

Honourable mentions 

Midnight Special
Hail, Caesar!
Doctor Strange
10 Cloverfield Lane
Tickled

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20. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dir: Gareth Edwards)

Rogue One was never a sure thing. It was coming off a wave of fairly negative re-shoot rumours, let alone having to shake off the stigma of being a Star Wars prequel. Yet the first in a number of planned spin-off movies has proven to be an absolute treat for Star Wars fans. Following the group of rebel spies who stole the plans of the original Death Star, Rogue One opens the field for stories which allow for a different take on the galaxy far, far away, all the while maintaining a distinctive Star Wars feel. Edwards’ rough and ready approach gives this addition to the franchise a great edge, leading to a final act which pulses with engaging action and a number of fan-pleasing delights. The contained nature of it also allows for a refreshing blockbuster experience that feels contained and precise. Check out my full review here.

 

19. The Nice Guys (Dir: Shane Black)theniceguys

From the first pluck of the groovy bass line over a smoggy backdrop of 70’s LA, I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to enjoy Shane Black’s latest contribution to the Hollywood buddy picture. And boy, does it take you for a ride. So pulp fiction you can almost see the dog-eared pages of this paperback detective tale browning in the sun, Black takes you on a tour of 70’s LA with one of the best on-screen pairings of the year in the form of Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe’s hapless, yet somehow productive, P.I’s. With a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, Cadillac’s, sleazy parties and colourful voice-overs complement Black’s trademark irreverence and wit, amounting in what is a fun, occasionally very dark buddy movie that can hold a candle to Black’s iconic back catalogue. Is there a full review to check out? You bet your rear posterior there is. Click here to read more.

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18. Moana (Dir: Ron Clements & John Musker) 

2016 has proven to be something of a banner year for Disney (more on that later), with Moana representing a refreshing take on the Disney princess archetype, giving us their most satisfying take so far in the studio’s current animation resurgence. Celebrating polynesian culture, Moana‘s brilliance is also demonstrated by the stunning animation on display (it is easily the most beautiful film they have made since The Princess and the Frog) and a collection of truly memorable songs from the pen of Hamilton‘s Lin Manuel-Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i. The character of Moana, beautifully voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, should stand to be a great role model for young girls in the years to come; a Disney princess not characterised by a quest to win the heart of a prince, but more by a quest of self-discovery. And I haven’t even begun to mention Dwayne Johnson’s energetic turn as demigod Maui. A glorious Disney film that proves that the studio can change to match new generations.

 

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17. Bone Tomahawk (Dir: S. Craig Zahler)

Let us all take a moment to thank Kurt Russel for making the time to put his stunning Hateful Eight moustache to use in another, superior western. Zahler’s western is more than just Kurt Russel playing a small town sheriff. What we have here is a western by setting but a horror film by nature. As Russell puts a band of men together to go find some kidnapped townspeople, they enter a hellish world populated by a cannibalistic tribe, who remain an ominous presence throughout, until we reach the startlingly violent and shocking final act. There are horrors in here that have to be seen to be believed, and even then you may that you can’t bear to look. At times a beautifully shot western, but all the while a nerve-shredding monster story that has a prevailing sense of dread. Skin-crawlingly good.

americanhoney16. American Honey (Dir: Andrea Arnold) 

Andrea Arnold’s latest film, after her startling debut Red Road, the highly impressive Fish Tank and her rather draining Wuthering Heights adaptation, sees her uproot from an English landscape to present an American road-trip movie that comes with what is now her trademark emotional rawness and textured aesthetic. American Honey very much presents an America that feels authentic, one that is both beautiful and ugly often in the same moment. We follow Sasha Lane (a fantastic discovery) as she leaves her broken home in Oklahoma to join a pack of fellow strays on a trip across America to make money, sometimes by by unconventional means. It is a film populated by attention-grabbing performances, not just from the outstanding Lane, but an incendiary turn from LaBeouf. It may be a little long for its own good, but there is something so intoxicating, so arresting, about the rawness of Arnold’s cinematography and a improvisational spirit that is hard not to be enticed by.

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15. Star Trek Beyond (Dir: Justin Lin)

My favourite of this years somewhat lack-lustre summer blockbusters, Star Trek Beyond is a pure unbridled celebration of everything Star Trek has come to embody in its 50 year history. Here is a future that is built on the level of cooperation between humans and species of all walks of life, all working together to allow for strong diplomatic ties, celebrating our differences and thriving as a result. Beyond gracefully portrays this utopia through a story which is all about legacy, both for the franchise as a whole and the characters within it. Star Trek has always been best when focusing on its characters, and this feature refocuses the attention on the Enterprise crew, leading to the first film in this rebooted series that feels truly  designed to find the best balance for both the legions of pre-existing fans and new audiences alike. It is a film which has provided a great deal of joy and emotion for me (a casual Trekker, not a full-on Trekkie) and as a fan of sci-fi cinema. It is a celebration of everything, and everyone, that this franchise has to offer. Full review is beaming up, right over right here!

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14. Zootropolis (Dir: Bryon Howard & Rich Moore)

Who would have thought going in to the year that a Disney movie populated by furry anthropomorphic animals would come to be one of the most timely tales of the year. Along with the colourful trimmings, Zootropolis explores racial stereotyping, discrimination in the workplace, as well as the reach of governmental power. All that, and there’s still room for a Shakira pop track. It also happens to be richly detailed and imaginatively designed, often populating the background with visual gags, from cheap puns to subtle gags. It is often a little too referential for its own good, but the maturity in which it it deals with its incredibly prescient themes. A rewarding experience for all ages, and a sure-fire classic for Disney. Like I said, it has been one hell of a banner year for the house that Walt built. Full review? Sure, check it here.

greenroom

13. Green Room (Dir: Jeremy Saulnier)

In a year where many of the world’s brightest stars passed away, none felt quite as tragic as the passing of Anton Yelchin. A hugely promising talent who, at only 27, had left a considerable mark in both indie and mainstream Hollywood cinema (see above for his final turn aboard the Enterprise), one of his final films stands as a testament to the brave and daring choices he often made in his short career. Green Room is a tour-de-force of suspense cinema, with Saulnier demonstrating that his debut (Blue Ruin, equally nerve-shredding) was no fluke, as we witness a young punk band try to fight their way out of a neo-Nazis club after they stumble across something that they shouldn’t have seen. What follows is John Carpenter-esque exercise in tension, often exploding in moments of shocking violence. One of the most intense cinematic experience to have been had this year.

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12. Kubo and the Two Strings (Dir: Travis Knight) 

Laika animation studios have been slowly crafting a formidable name for themselves when it comes to crafting stop-motion, tales which have the capability to be as scary as they are amazingly crafted. Kubo and the Two Strings represents perhaps their best work so far, telling a story ingrained in Japanese culture, following young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) as he takes on the Moon King with his magical guitar and the aid of his friends, a talking monkey (Charlize Theron) and a samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey). It all amounts to a tale that is beautifully crafted and incredibly heart-felt, often pillaging depths of emotion in an uncompromising fashion, often taking you very much by surprise. It also happens to feature one of the year’s best scores, courtesy of Dario Marianelli. A magical, stunning delight.

 

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11. Hell or High Water (Dir: David Mackenzie)

This has been one hell of a year for incredibly taut thrillers, its a wonder I still have nerves to spare. With a script courtesy of Taylor Sheridan (who scripted last year’s Sicario), Hell of High Water features one of the tightest and most efficient screenplays of the year, the dialogue ringing with wit, authenticity and inventiveness. It also helps that it features career-best performances from a subdued Chris Pine and an on-edge Ben Foster, and that’s without taking into consideration the presence of Jeff Bridges, who could quite easily ride out the rest of his years playing aged small-town sheriffs, he’d hear no complaints from me. Mackenzie keeps proceedings moving at a breakneck pace, allowing for this wild west thriller to truly sizzle under the West Texan sun.

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10. Your Name (Dir: Makoto Shinkai)

While it may look like Studio Ghibli may be on the way out (their apparent final feature When Marnie Was There, also released here is certainly worth checking out), but if Your Name is anything to go by, Toho will certainly not be at a loss for stunning Anime’s to distribute. Taking a body-swap concept and flipping it on its head in a surprising and highly emotional fashion. To say too much would ruin the ride, but Your Name is a film which will keep you constantly on edge, giving you two engaging characters, set against a backdrop of stunningly realised animation, richly depicting both rural and urban Japanese life. Seek this one out, particularly if you are a fan of anime, as it is truly one of the finest pieces of Japanese animations to emerge in the last decade. Hey look, there’s a full review for this one. Head on over here to check it out!

 

singstreet9. Sing Street (Dir: John Carney)

Quite easily the most feel-good movie of the year, Sing Street is a hard film to hate, and if you do then you’re probably dead inside. A charming and genuine Irish tale following young Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) put a band together in order to impress a girl (the startling Lucy Boynton). As he struggles with troubles at home, the restrictions of his school and the general tribulations of young love, he finds solace in his music, leading to a number of incredibly catchy, profoundly moving songs which have been part of the soundtrack of my year for the best part of the last six months. It is a story covers how every different relationship we have in our lives can affect who we are. A joy  to watch, and even more joyous to return to again and again.

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8. Everybody Wants Some!! (Dir: Richard Linklater) 

Richard Linklater has often proven to be a director very skilled at conveying the feeling of ‘living in the moment’, be it following a young boy for 12 formative years of his life, or witnessing a relationship form and develop in the Before trilogy. With Everybody Wants Some!! (never forget the superfluous exclamation marks), the moment is the first weekend before college statrts in Texas 1980, following the members of the college baseball team. What follows is a weekend of drinking, smoking, partying, and talking. And that’s about it, and it’s utterly charming to boot. With an easy-going wit and a cast of actors whose charm often exceeds that of their questionable behaviour. It is a film which is content in allowing you to simply ride along for its run-time, making you one of the gang with a camaraderie that is so effortless its impressive.

 

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7. Swiss Army Man (Dir: Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan) 

Certainly the most original film of the year, Swiss Army Man is the sort of film that reminds you that you can still be truly surprised in a day and age when a lot of films seems content to follow a predetermined formula. Swiss Army Man has proven a hard one to describe, for the simple fact that it does just sound ridiculous. Paul Dano’s ship-wrecked Hank finds possible salvation in the form of a corpse, Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) who may not be quite as lifeless as he initially appears. It is a strange, down right weird story that ends up being all at once grotesque and beautiful, grappling with themes of depression and alienation by encouraging everyone to embrace their weirdness, as that may well prove to be the place that we find we are truly at our happiest. Not for everyone, but for those who can swallow it, Swiss Army Man proves to be a very enriching and profound experience.

embraceoftheserpent6. Embrace of the Serpent (Dir: Ciro Guerra) 

Embrace of the Serpent follows a shaman, Karamakate (Nilbio Torres & Antonio Bolivar) in two stages of his life. There is him as a young man in the 1900’s, helping a German explorer find a rare healing plant, and later as an old man helping an American botanist look for the same plant. Each journey down the Amazonian region of Columbia is riddled with mystery, threat, and occasionally madness, as we bare witness to how such a beautiful landscape can be drastically changed and pillaged. Guerra’s black and white cinematography is capable of capturing extreme depth within the jungle, as well as allowing for some images that quite truly blow your mind, all the while telling a story with displays the negative effects of the Rubber boom of the early 20th century on the landscape of a natural and stunning part of the world. An intoxicating piece of work which is leaves a significant mark come its final moments.

creed

5. Creed (Dir: Ryan Coogler)

In a world where everything is being rebooted, nostalgia begins to play a heavy-hand in various sequels and spin-off’s. Some of these films  have been drowned by their own legacies, failing to find the means to produce a story which feels like a natural continuation. There is one film, however, that makes it look easy, and that is Creed. As a long-time fan of the Rocky franchise, it is an utter delight to see the franchise thrive, presenting a new legacy in the form of Apollo Creed’s son, Aldonis (Michael B. Jordan), allowing for a spin-off to craft an identity that is very much all its own, all the while staying true to the spirit of the franchise. Coogler has an incredibly amount of energy and inventiveness behind the camera, he gives Creed the blood in its veins, which is pumped by the stunning cast (Stallone turns in career-best work here), giving the film the spirit to allow it to soar. A massive, crowd-pleasing, punch the air victory. Oh look, a full review can be found right here!

victoriaposter4. Victoria (Dir: Sebastian Schipper)

My poor, poor nerves. If Green Room took a machete to them, then Victoria takes a whole truck to them. In one fell take, in one Berlin night, you are taken for a ride that initially begins as something of a meet-cute romance, before developing into something that is much more of an intense and nail-destroying thriller. It is an impressive feat of film-making, made all the more impressive by a cast working off a thread-bare script, allowing for a genuine sense of human connection to be established before the more hair-raising stuff begins. An impressionable piece of daring film-making that is hard to shake off, even once you’ve been off the ride for the best part of the year. Well, look at that, there’s a full review right here!

room

3. Room (Dir: Lenny Abrahamson)

This film has been hanging with me for some time now, having first seen it in October 2015. But, rules are rules, and with the UK release arriving in January, it can sit proudly in third place. It is a testament to the power of this film that it has remained in such a high position. Showing us the world through the prospective of five year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who has lived his whole life inside one room with his mother (Brie Larson), who soon hatches an escape plan with his help, allowing him to see the world outside the four walls of ‘room’ for the first time. Room tackles some dark themes over the course of its run-time, often making for distressing viewing, but it is ultimately a very beautiful story about perseverance, embracing the world and what the strength of love can truly accomplish even in the bleakest of situations. With sensitive direction from Abrahamson and two phenomenal performances from Larson and the young Tremblay, this is a profoundly rich and emotional experience. Check out my full thoughts over here.

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2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir: Taika Waititi) 

Ok, actually, maybe this is the feel-good movie of the year. Hunt for the Wilderpople has humble ambitions, to provide you with an adventure focusing on an unconventional pairing in the New Zealand bush, all the while supplying some laughs along the way. What it does deliver is a film with a unique sense of humour, a rich emotional core, and one of the most re-watchable movies of the year (it’s tied with Creed at six viewings. Waititi’s keen direction and witty script are both full of heart and the desire to present something that’s a little off the beaten track, with Julian Dennison and Sam Neil making for an incredibly engaging double act, equally capable of making you chuckle as warming the cockles of your soul. A rich, hilarious, and uplifting, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is like a good friend well worth paying a frequent visit to.

 

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1. Arrival (Dir: Denis Villeneuve)

If you have been following this blog (or just know me), you’ll know that sci-fi is very much my bag, particularly ones which provide plenty of food for thought. This year, such a dish came in the form of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, the type of science fiction tale which takes place in a world that is very recognisably our own, allowing it to have a very prescient power with its themes and concerns, namely that of effective communication. It is also utterly beautiful to behild and filled with narrative surprises, amounting in a cinematic experience which proved to be profoundly engaging on both an intellectual and visual level. Villeneuve has been quickly establishing himself as a true master of these kinds of stories, ones which appear to have conventional genre trademarks, but provide something entirely surprising, taking you to a place you may not have expected. Arrival is his best film to date, a film which goes a long way to show inspire and move in a profound, often mind-boggling fashion. A film that inspires hope as much as it inspires creative and stunning storytelling. More thoughts on why this is quite simply the best film of the year can be found over here.

There we have it, another year over, another list compiled. If the shock twists and turns reminded us of anythign it is that we still have the cinema as a means of escape, and this year has provided features that have made everything just that little easier to bear. Now, all that is left to say is a warm and happy New Year to you all, I hope you are all spending it with people that you love and who make you feel cherished as we move into 2017. Bring on the movies!

Enjoy this stunning retrospect, courtesy of Nikita Malko.

 

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victoria-1The one-take gimmick is nothing new in cinema. Hitchcock gave it a shot back in 1948 with Rope, while most recently we have had Birdman employ camera trickery to imply an effect of one seamless take. It is often a joy to behold such a technique employed, be it for the course of the whole film or a sustained moment within. It is worth noting that Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is a film which unravels all within one continuous shot, as if you didn’t know it may be difficult to actually notice. Victoria does incredibly well to avoid shots in which it is obvious where a cut takes place, leading to one of the more seamless examples of continuous editing that certainly I have ever seen. A gimmick is just that though if it doesn’t have a greater meaning for either the narrative or the characters within the piece. Thankfully, Victoria has plenty of character and narrative surprise to stand as more than just a cinematic gimmick, proving to be a thrilling and pure experience.

Ever had one of those nights that just runs away with you? Victoria (Laia Costa) is about to have one such night. The young Spaniard, who is now living in Berlin, stumbles upon the company of a group of four local guys whilst out clubbing, all of whom take a shine to her, particularly the charismatic Sonnie (Frederick Lau). Willing to see where the night takes her and eager to embark on a more genuine experience of life in Berlin, Victoria soon sees her night turned upside down when the group asks her to assist them with a highly volatile task.Victoria-2

The nature in which the narrative unfolds across Victoria’s never-testing 138 minute run-time leaves one in a constant state of heightened tension. As we move from the club setting, to hanging out on a roof-top, to the cafe where Victoria works, we are led to believe that perhaps this is the sort of film in which we are witnessing a love story form over the course of one evening. Yet throughout, even during the more intimate moments (a scene in which Victoria demonstrates her piano skills is heart-achingly beautiful) there is a sense of unease, like a Molotov cocktail being held  by an individual desperately rummaging for a lighter.

The use of the long take is a large factor as to why we feel so uneasy over the course of the proceedings, seamlessly following our players up ladders and in-and-out of cars in incredibly controlled fashion. When the second act truly kicks into gear and the stakes become feverishly high, the amount of preparation and the impeccable direction truly come to the fore, as the perfectly placed beats of action turn this character driven piece in to a finely crafted thriller of nerve-shredding tension.Victoria-3

Victoria was shot over the course of one evening, from about 4:30am to 7am, accomplished reportedly in three attempts, and that is something truly incredible when you consider what occurs during the final act (I shan’t spoil anything here, much of the joy of the film is seeing it all unfold). With only a 12 page script, the actors improvised most of the dialogue, leading to very naturalistic performances, with the beautiful Costa and the rogue-ish Lau particularly impressing with a very convincing chemistry that fuels the proceedings even as the situation escalates to boiling point.

It is rather telling that the cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, is credited before the director once the end titles begin, as his work is nothing short of exceptional. Despite having to keep up with the action, action which becomes more and more complicated as we proceed, Grøvlen maintains a keen sense of composition and framing, never failing to ensure that the image remains sharp and occasionally very poetic.Victoria-4

Victoria succeeds as both a delicate character piece and a highly palpable drama that deserves a great deal of praise for its incredibly smooth mechanics, but also for its attention to characters, especially in regards to a central duo who we care for an incredible amount, an essential component once we enter a perilous third act. It is a film which rewards patience and remains on a knife’s edge throughout, resulting in the most unpredictable film thus far this year. If you can, I urge you to seek it out as soon as humanely possible, strap in and join Victoria in a night you both won’t forget in a hurry.

5/5- A poetic and thrilling experience that manages to effectively wrap character and drama within a startling exercise of technical daredevilry. Intoxicating stuff. 

BVS-1It is no secret that I am not a fan of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, the first in Warner Bros. attempt at a DC Cinematic Universe (or the DC Extended Universe, as they appear to be calling it). It was a glum, poorly written, pretentious, and dumb attempt at dragging the icon of Superman into the 21st Century. It fared relatively well at the box-office but both fan and critical reception was divisive to say the least. It is for that reason that this ‘sequel’ to Man of Steel comes with a little added Caped Crusader. The decision to reboot Batman in only the second film of the Extended Universe must have been driven by the desire to reach bigger box-office numbers, and perhaps more favour with fans. Some may say that they were setting themselves up to fail, what with the widely beloved Nolan Trilogy still incredibly fresh in collective memory. As a result, the film hasn’t stormed the box-office as desired, what with a barrage of scathing reviews. Batman v Superman is as inelegant as blockbusters come, perhaps even more so than Man of Steel. But, to say it isn’t fun is to ignore aspects of what is possibly the strangest comic book movie to arrive in recent years.

With the arrival of Superman (Henry Cavill), the world has had to face up to the fact that mankind is not alone in the universe, and must also address who Superman is, what he stands for, and if he can be trusted. In the wake of the destruction in Metropolis caused by Superman’s battle with Zod, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who also practices vigilantism as the Batman in Gotham City, doesn’t believe the Son of Krypton can be left unchecked. With Batman keen to find a way to put the Man of Steel in his place, eccentric entrepreneur Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) sees an opportunity to pit the two together in order to rid the world of Superman for good (or something like that).BVS-2

BvS is a fundamentally flawed film, and that is largely down to a screenplay that fails to carve clear paths of motivations for its various characters found within (and boy, are there a lot of characters). It is an un-structured, cluttered, often aimless, loud, obnoxious mess. It is a collection of set-pieces, dream-sequences, Senate meetings and email correspondences that all amount in a film that while often difficult to follow, is not unlike reading a DC comic-book. Calling upon imagery from The Dark Knight Returns, the art of Alex Cross, story arcs of Dan Jurgens and further Frank Miller texts, this feels a great deal more like a comic book movie than Man of Steel, and in a way more so than The Dark Knight trilogy. It doesn’t entirely forgive it for its sloppy story-telling, but it gives it a relentless sense of pace and means that it is not afraid to get weird. And boy, does it get weird.

Much of the strangeness comes courtesy of Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. His performance belongs in an entirely different film, something that wouldn’t be amiss in a Joel Schumacher Bat-flick. His twitches and eccentricities cloud his agenda, but do make him a credible threat, as it is often hard to predict exactly what he’s going to do next. His motivation is murky as hell, and he is too far removed from Luthor in both the pages of the comics and previous screen incarnations, but he feels dangerous enough to pose a threat, and to push our heroes buttons to get them to rumble in the concrete jungle.

The two heroes themselves are something of a mixed bag. Let’s start with the good. Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is a strong contender for being the best screen incarnation we have seen thus far. What about Bale, I hear you cry. Bale’s Wayne was infinitely more successful than his oft parodied Batman, complete with gruff growl, this Bat is made of much meaner stuff, and cuts a far more imposing figure than Bale ever did. The writing does let Affleck down, but he imbues both his Wayne and his Bat with a heap of regret that perhaps only a man with Affleck’s past could. The choreography attributed to this Bat is also a wonder to behold, as his brawler styling truly characterises him as one pissed-off vigilante who is way beyond the point of giving a shit about the lives of the scum of Gotham City. It is a controversial decision, but provides enough weight to suggest that this Batman is one with a history, and not a particularly colourful one. BVS-3

Superman is another matter. Cavill is once again given very little to do in a film which should have been his sequel. This is a Superman who seems to blatantly refuse to state his position in the world, for no good reason other than he’s a bit moody. One of the the biggest fundamental mistakes of this film is having both Batman and Superman as two characters who seem at odds with the world, and whose tactics at deploying justice are not too dissimilar, despite what the film may want you to think (they both kill people for chrissakes). The main reason these characters work well in a universe together is that their approaches to justice are so different, so when you have both of them being depressed individuals, the dynamic simply doesn’t work. This Superman becomes so passive through the course of this film that it is truly hard to invest in him as either a hero or a dubious figure. The actual bout between the two DC titans is well choreographed, but ultimately fails to work emotionally, as the motivations are unclear, with the factor that puts a stop to the fight coming across as hilarious rather an smart.

What truly hampers the film is its attempts to address the criticisms of Man of Steel and in its world-building, namely with attempting to draw threads for next year’s Justice League. The main criticisms of Man of Steel that it aims to address concern the amount of destruction and sheer number of civilian causalities that seemed to be entirely disregarded by the writers (and therefore by Superman). Its constant asides to acknowledge that a certain area is clear are often unintentionally hilarious, and in the end rather pointless as the final act simply descends into the same moronic, button-bashing action stylings that coloured most of Man of Steel. 

The Justice League set up is where the film is at its most lazy and its most laughable. While Wonder Woman, in the form of the beautiful but rather bland Gal Gadot, is present (complete with a rollicking theme), she is disappointingly very inconsequential to the proceedings, seemingly only present so that Bruce Wayne can send her an email containing video clips of other future Justice League members. What Marvel took their time to do over the course of five films, BvS attempts in an email, and it is just as lazy, dumb and uninspired as that sounds. BVS-4

BvS does seem to have weakened the DC Extended Universe more than it has strengthened it. While I enjoyed myself a darn sight more than I did in Man of Steel, there is no escaping that Snyder and co. still get a hell of a lot wrong. Snyder remains a strong visualist, but one who has a poor sense of judgement when it comes to character, while my hatred for David S. Goyer requires another post entirely. What we have here is a strange and disparate movie, one akin to dumping a bucket load of bouncy balls on a table top n the hope that some stay on the surface. It remains to be seen how DC’s future will pan out, and for the sake of the characters (most of whom I have a great deal of affection for), I hope this extended universe can be both critically and commercially successful. Guess we’re just going to have to be patient.

2/5- BvS is Blockbuster Cinema at its most unsophisticated, resulting in an un-intentionally hilarious, only occasionally inspired, yet never dull take on two pop culture icons. 

 

 

 

Clover-1In January of this year, a trailer dropped seemingly out of nowhere bearing the name 10 Cloverfield Lane. A Bad Robot Production with a title bearing the moniker ‘Cloverfield’ was something to take note of, as after years of speculation it seemed we were going to receive something akin to a Cloverfield sequel. Hiding behind a certain Star Wars, J.J. Abrams managed to shepherd this project in plain sight, and was quick to establish that this was not a straight sequel, more a spiritual sequel that would keep the Cloverfield brand alive through an anthology series. It is an inspired idea, allow a certain brand awareness to create Science Fiction projects that allow promising new talents a shot at something well within the public’s attention. Hopefully it is the start of many similar projects, as 10 Cloverfield Lane declares itself to be a thrilling début for its young director, Dan Trachtenberg.

After a fight with her fiancée, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves her home in New Orleans, very much aiming to get as far away from her problems as possible. However, as she is driving through rural Louisiana, she is involved in a car crash and wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker. She is approached by a man called Howard (John Goodman) who informs her that there has been an attack of unknown origin on the surface, rendering the outside world as a dangerous, poisonous landscape. With seemingly no choice but to stay in the bunker, along with another inhabitant Emmett (John Clover-2Gallagher, Jr.), Michelle has to decide whether Howard is worth trusting, if something more sinister is at play, and find out whether or not something has actually happened on the surface.

It is best for one to know straight off that this Cloverfield has nothing to do with Matt Reeves’ found-footage monster movie from 2008. While this film does deal with the idea of monsters, it is not quite in the literal sense as Reeves’ 9/11 paranoia driven monster movie, rather more about what monstrous acts can be capable of. It retains a certain sense of paranoia, but in a more pared-down thriller scenario,set predominantly in one location with only three characters involved in the proceedings. It allows for 10 Cloverfield Lane to be a more character driven piece, enabling Trachtenberg to demonstrate strength in crafting tension and with working with actors.

The three players involved all turn in well judged performances, never being too overtly dramatic and grounding the proceedings very well. Gallagher Jr provides a refreshing levity, but the film belongs to both John Good man and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Winstead is our guide throughout most of the proceedings, and she is put through the Clover-3wringer on many occasions, and she does well to earn our sympathy and empathy as a young woman thrown into many an unpredictable and volatile situation. Goodman is the best he has been in years, evoking both sympathy and menace often at the same time to provide a character who remains mysterious and treacherous throughout.

Much of 10 Cloverfield Lane rides on Trachtenberg’s skill at handling a chamber piece, aided by a screenplay which places character over spectacle, for the most part anyway. The final act requires something of a leap of faith, and while it proves to be quite cathartic in the grand scheme of the narrative, it ultimately isn’t as controlled or as sophisticated as what has come before. It segues into another genre not quite as smoothly as it would like, leading to a pay-off that feels strangely uninspired when compared to the superior and tightly wound proceedings of the first two thirds. Clover-4

Dan Trachtenberg, a man who only really had a strong Portal inspired short film under his belt, uses this opportunity to truly showcase his confidence as a film-maker, and particularly a strength with actors as well as high concepts. Even if the more grandiose finale is the weak-point of the proceedings, he still demonstrates a strong handling of visuals and character focus. Whatever he decides to do in the future, it will undoubtedly be a point of interest for myself and many others, as he exhibits traits that could well mark him as, dare I say it, the next Abrams.

4/5- This spiritual sequel carves out its own identity as a taut exercise in suspense and character, marking Trachtenberg as a talent to watch. 

Zootropolis-1Arguably, the output from Disney Animation Studios of late has been better than that of Pixar Animation Studios, not that the two are competing. Since 2010, Disney Animation (with John Lasseter as its head of production) has released Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and now Zootropolis, all of which were graced with strong to exceptional box-office numbers and equal critical acclaim. Pixar, while capable of still producing both critical and box-office darlings like Toy Story 3 and Inside Out, have seemed to lack a certain spark or depended upon hits of yesteryear (continuing to do so this year with Finding Dory). Disney themselves are once again leading the pack when it comes to mainstream animation, and in Zootropolis they have cemented what we were already beginning to suspect; Disney are in something of a resurgence period, one to match the second Golden Age of the 90’s. And this time, it’s political.

In  a world populated by animals of an anthropomorphic nature, whom all co-exist peacefully, young rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has just become Zootropolis’ first rabbit police officer. While often being faced with a certain degree of prejudice due to her size Zootropolis-2and species, Judy none the less is keen to make an impression and prove she’s more than capable to tackle the serious cases often handed out to her colleagues. The opportunity soon arises when she is tasked with a missing animal case, one of many in the city. Teaming up with street-wise con-fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Judy soon uncovers a conspiracy that could upset the peaceful balance held in the city of Zootropolis

Zootropolis is the type of animation that offers plenty for more adult viewers, despite the fact that it is a feature populated by talking animals walking on their hind legs. It is an incredibly timely tale that deals with various degrees of prejudice, holding a mirror up to American society, both its past and unfortunately its present. It tackles these mature themes through sophisticated allegory, all the while remaining a cute and engaging caper allowing for plenty of fun to be had throughout. Disney has often been very deft at such a balance, but rarely has it felt this timely.

Zootropolis-3Along with this potent allegory, Zootropolis also has a team of animators working at the top of their game. The level of detail in the design of the numerous districts of the city of Zootropolis and its suburbs is phenomenal, with many scenes littered with intrinsic features and visual gags. This is the sort of film which will appreciate home viewing experience so one can pause a frame and pick out all the wonderfully imaginative details that can be found within a chosen scene. The character designs as well hark back to Disney of old, with the 1973 Robin Hood particularly coming to mind through numerous characters.

The general plotting of Zootropolis is perhaps the weakest point of the film. While it does have some smartly applied allegory, it does take a while to get to the truly meatier aspects of its politically tinged plot developments. For the most part, the proceedings take on a noir-ish element, and it is not always all that successful, particularly when it feels the need to reference both films within that genre and popular culture which don’t particularly share any DNA with the proceedings. It means a few of the gags do fall flat, but for the most part the script remains largely witty, if a touch too obviously self-referential in regards to Disney’s history (and future).

Zootropolis does a great deal beneath the surface of being a seemingly traditional Disney animation. It has an incredibly well written central female role, as well as populating the rest of the cast with characters who feel well crafted and well defined, even if this still suffers from the prevalent issue of Disney movies of Zootropolis-4late struggling to deliver a truly memorable antagonist. The voice-cast across all the characters, no matter how small their part, all do excellent work, particularly Goodwin and Bateman, who strike a strong chord as the two leads whose dynamic is incredibly refreshing, proving to be excellent company across the neatly paced run-time.

It shall be interesting to see how long this strong streak lasts for Disney, as they will more than likely succumb to the call of sequelizing their recently popular titles (Frozen 2 is happening, a decision which is surely more financially motivated than it is creative). For now, though, they can revel in what is proving to be a resurgence in which both the studio and the audience benefit, providing films that offer excellent entertainment and important moral lessons for all ages. A shining new era is tip-toeing nearer.

4/5- Textured, progressive and incredibly timely, Zootropolis can easily class itself as an instant Disney classic. 

 

Eddie-1Let me provide you with some context so that you can understand the mind-set that led to me enjoying Eddie the Eagle as much as I did. The day prior to seeing Dexter Fletcher’s latest film, I saw both Anomalisa and The Witch within an hour of each other. That was an ill-judged double-bill, as it left me in something of a funk, as neither film is exactly a bundle of joy. I needed a lift, I needed something to raise my spirits, something so unashamedly joyous to remind me that there are films which are designed to simply provide happiness. The story of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards is one such tale, and a very welcome one at that.

The year is 1988. Ever since he was a small boy, Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) has had the dream of becoming an Olympic Athlete, despite not being all that gifted in the realm of sport. When it seems as though Eddie has exhausted all possible options in the sporting world, he stumbles across ski jumping, a sport that has had no British representative in six decades. Taking himself off to Germany to learn the sport, Eddie is initially met with ridicule, before being taken under the wing of disgraced ski jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman). Together, Eddie and Bronson aim for the 1988 Winter Olympics, an event where Eddie sets out to make British history, provided he doesn’t break his neck first.EddieAct2

This account of Edwards is largely a work of fiction, namely due to the fact that its main focus is on Edwards relationship with a mentor, a mentor who did not exist. It is an approach which allows the film to have a lighter, more whimsical spirit that marks Edwards story as one fit for an inspiring sports movie. Once upon a time this was set to be a Steve Coogan comedy, which probably would’ve treated Eddie more as a joke rather than a figure of inspiration. Which would have been a shame, because there is definitely something to admire in the determination that Eddie showed in the face of a wave of naysayers, persevering despite never being what one would call naturally talented at sport. It is an underdog story that is easy to fall for.

One of the main reasons we find Eddie easy to fall for is Taron Egerton. The rising star absolutely shines in the role, his first true lead performance, radiating a charisma that often over-shadows his co-star, who is none other than Hugh Jackman. The two clearly enjoy each other’s company, but the movie entirely belongs to Egerton, turning in a well-Eddie-3judged portrayal of Eddie, one that is very sympathetic towards its subject and as energetic as a dewy-eyed puppy.

Dexter Fletcher is a director whose two previous films, the refreshingly upbeat crime caper Wild Bill and the tad-too-saccharine Sunshine on Leith, have been films that have aimed to give one a sense that happiness is something that is attainable for any one of any background, as long as their spirits remain high. Eddie the Eagle is a perfect fit for his sensibilities, and he does well to construct a classically structured tale of a sporting underdog. It is a film that very much wears its influences on its sleeve, be it Cool Runnings (it takes place in the same Winter Olympics that saw the Jamaican Bob-sleigh team compete), Rocky or Billy Elliott, it is a tale that feels decidedly wholesome in a very British way. Eddie-4

Much of the narrative of Eddie the Eagle is driven by Eddie’s determination to master his chosen sport under Jackman’s wing. It allows for a series of highly energetic training montages set to a gloriously poppy 80’s soundtrack (Hall & Oates! Van Halen! Human League!), which does mean that there aren’t too many surprises, and much of the conflict that arises throughout feels somewhat forced; conflict for the sake of having conflict. Yet, it does not rob from the fact that the film effortlessly makes you fall in love with the underdog spirit of Eddie Edwards, ensuring that you remain enticed right until the final jump, even if you know the outcome.

4/5- sporting punchline is turned into a supremely charming underdog story, one with a soaring spirit that proves hard to refuse. Inspiring and incredibly good-natured. 

 

 

Witch-1Witches are hard to make scary. They are a prevalent figure throughout folklore, and have been for hundreds of years, be it in cautionary children’s tales, or more macabre tales of straight-up horror. When such a character, style or figure such as this feels sapped of originality, it is often a wise decision to take the figure in question back to its roots. Director/writer Robert Eggers has done just that with The Witch, a film which aims to drag Witches off of their broomsticks, throw them in a 17th Century folk-tale, roll them about in the mud, and send them back out with dirt underneath their nails, ready to creep back into the nightmares of unsuspecting viewers.

Set in 17th Century New England, a Puritan family led by patriarch William (Ralph Enison) is excommunicated from his village – along with his family comprising of wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and twins Mercy & Jonas (Ellie Grainger & Lucas Dawson) – due to a crime of conceit. Setting up a farm within a large forest, it is not long until the family is plagued by a series of mysterious, possibly supernatural, occurrences all of which slowly, but surely, tear the family apart.Witch-2

Eggers commitment to the period setting imbues the film with an edge that may make it difficult for some viewers to truly become engage with, but it undoubtedly marks the film as something truly unique. With most of the dialogue lifted directly from 17th Century transcripts, the film creates a similar atmosphere to that of last year’s Macbeth; an atmosphere that is at once intoxicating, uneasy, occasionally frustrating, but oddly spellbinding. The dialogue presents something of a challenge to the actors of the piece, as they must form speech-patterns from streams of dialogue taken from centuries old text. While all the main players provide strong work, it is the work of the younger members of the cast which does the most to sell the setting and its authenticity.

Eggers owes a great debt to his casting director, as the child actors within his cast are what truly sell the moments of terror that befall the banished family of Puritans. Be it through Thomasin’s growing instinct to rebel, Caleb’s sexual awakening or the Twins inclination to cause mischief, we believe them all to be squabbling siblings suddenly faced with accusations of Satanic worship. When the terror begins, it is often that we look to the children to know how to react, as well as look upon in fear as their respective innocent souls are made a target by either the ominous Witch in the woods, or the growing paranoia of their aggressively religious parents. Taylor-Joy, in particular, as Thomasin does tremendous work in a role which certainly puts her through the emotional wringer, while Scrimshaw as Caleb stands out in one particular sequence which truly turns your blood cold.

Witch-3When it comes to the actual horror, most of what is at play here stems from a more psychological breed of fright, meaning that gore-hounds should perhaps look for their thrills elsewhere. Religion is a theme which drives most of the horror, leading to a great deal of threat driven by religious paranoia, as we experience a period in time where life was dictated by ones servitude to the Lord, with the threat of damnation being paramount among the concerns of everyday life.

The paranoia befitting of the time fuels much of the horror, but so does the titular Witch, as it is made abundantly clear to us from the start that the family are indeed being targeted by something within the woods. Eggers shows a great deal of skill in presenting an ominous atmosphere, as scenes of slow-burning tension are stretched out to unbearable lengths, to then suddenly be concluded with a cut to reveal a scene of a horrific nature. It is a very sharp and reserved way in which to stage scares, scares which punctuate scenes with startling images that are hard to forget. It is a patient yet disturbing style of horror which greatly recalls the work of William Friedkin. Witch-4

While the film is often very capable of providing scenes which are unsettling, many of the more overtly supernatural scenes (namely involving the family goat Black Philip) tend to come across as a tad too ridiculous when delivered within an otherwise very authentic setting. This is particularly an issue with the final act of the film, which fully commits to more traditional expectations of Satanic worshipping and Witchcraft. It feels at odds with the carefully crafted authenticity given to re-creating a 17th Century setting, and leads to a pay-off which is predictable and not entirely satisfying. For the most part, however, The Witch stands as one of the most sophisticatedly crafted horror films of recent memory, one that is capable of sending shivers down your spine with images that have proven hard to forget.

4/5- Attention to period detail and exceptional performances from its young cast enable The Witch to succeed as an atmospheric, and occasionally very startling, horror exercise. 

ANOMALISA

Charlie Kaufman is an acquired taste. He is undoubtedly brilliant, but his work often doesn’t operate too well with those not prepared to view the world through his off-kilter gaze. His world view has provided some terrific screenplays, namely in his collaborations with Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) and Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and he proved himself to be an quality potent director with Synecdoche, New York. You have to be prepared for his style, his approach, otherwise it can send you on a ride that you may not particularly stay on board with throughout its course. That may well be what happened to me as I sat down to take in Anomalisa. My expectations were set more to receive something with a but more Jonze-esque whimsy injected into it; what I got was full blown Kaufman, and that sometimes isn’t the easiest of pills to swallow.

Set in 2005, the film follows self-help author Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis). Michael, despite having a family and great success as a supposed problem-solver, is in something of a depressive spiral, one which has manifested itself in an usual way; everyone he encounters has the same voice and very little to distinguish them as individual personalities. While travelling for a convention, Michael believes he may have found a glimmer of hope in the form of the timid yet enthusiastic Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who has come to attend Michael’s conference.Anomalisa-2

This film, it must be noted, is not entirely a Kaufman joint. It is based on a play of the same name written by Kaufman, but it is co-directed by Duke Johnson. Johnson, the man behind Community’s stop-motion Christmas episode, is clearly a key contributor in being the puppet characters of Anomalisa to uncanny life. Anomalisa undoubtedly represents Kaufman at his most technically accomplished, although it could well be that Johnson deserves most of the credit for the simply stunning puppetry on display, considering it is very much his field of work. None the less, the look and movement of the puppets enable Kaufman’s thematic concerns to illustrate themselves through various means, be it plainly seeing the lines in which the face masks are attached, or removing a face altogether. It is an expertly crafted film, one which makes this a far more interesting endeavour than if it had just been live-action.

There are a number of beautiful and very witty moments in Kaufman’s script, one which explores the human condition in an original fashion, but one which ends up being a little too cynical to handle. Kaufman chooses to focus on the psychological effect of an individual who has become incredibly self-absorbed, no longer concerned with forming or maintaining relationships in his life (the hotel Michael stays at is called The Fregoli, also a name of a mental disorder in which an individual holds a delusional belief that everyone is the same person). This characterisation Anom immediately makes Michael an unlike-able protagonist. The choice of Thewlis for the voice of Michael is both inspired and creepy, as we witness this man attempt to find hope, but ultimately squander it, a man who is perhaps beyond help. It makes the proceedings decidedly bleak to experience, with many moments of the final third spiralling out of control along with Michael, resulting in a denouement that ends up being somewhat grating to watch.

What is impressive about Anomalisa is its smaller details. The conversations that Michael has with complete strangers are often very well observed, as is normally the case with Kaufman. The whole design of the world is also very sophisticated in its sparse and authentic arrangement. Much has also been made regarding the love scene within the film, and it is one that is much more genuine than one would find in most live-action pictures, with it and other scenes (namely Jason Leigh’s rendition of ‘Girl’s Just Want to Have Fun’) conveying a raw emotionality that is often lacking from more straight-forward dramas.Anomalisa-4

Anomalisa has frustrated me since I saw it last month. I desperately wanted to love it and embrace it, but just when I thought I was about to, it stretched out its arms and kept me away from truly forming something meaningful for myself. Its view of the world is not one that inspires much hope, and while I respect that that is somewhat the point, it nonetheless dampened my experience and left me in one hell of a funk when leaving the cinema. This has much to do with its draining final third, as much of what comes before it is simply beautiful. As a whole, it is a film unlike any other even in regards to Kaufman. It may frustrate, but there is something very human at play here, and something definitely worth exploring. Just be prepared.

3/5– While masterfully crafted and often very well observed, Anomalisa unfortunately leaves one with a hard, bitter taste, making it difficult to embrace.

 

 

HailCaesar-1The Coen Brothers have now ascended to that special realm of film royalty for film buffs everywhere. It is a realm which grants their work a certain level of excitement, with many of us simple followers looking on at their next film as another potential masterpiece. It is a realm which now grants them a certain level of safety from critics, as the thought of the Brothers making a bad film is something that is inconceivable to many. It makes going in to Hail, Caesar! an interesting experience; I had probably subconsciously already decided I liked this film even before going in. And I do, it offers the Brothers at their campiest and produces both a hilarious satire and a touching homage to Golden Age Hollywood (I’m a sucker for anything set in the Hollywood of old). Yet while it is enjoyable, it probably should serve as a reminder that not everything the Coens touch turns to gold.

The year is 1951. Josh Brolin stars as Eddie Mannix, head of physical production at Capitol Pictures (the same fictional studio in Barton Fink). Not only must he deal with a number of large scale pictures at once, he must also wrangle the big personalities found amongst the cast and crew. While he contemplates a job offer at a sensible airline company, Mannix must also seek to find movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) who has been kidnapped from the set of his latest prestige picture, biblical epic Hail, Caesar!, by a group known only as ‘The Future.’  HailCaesar-2

The plot is one that is made up of many character threads intertwining all around the focus point of Brolin’s Mannix. Hail, Caesar! sees the Coens once again work with an ensemble cast populated by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Throughout the film, we have turns from the likes of Scarlett Johansson as an actress pregnant out of wed-lock, Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly-esque musical star, and Ralph Fiennes as a well-mannered high-class English director. Everyone on board the cast clearly had a wonderful time in less exposed roles, allowing them to forge memorable moments throughout without having to carry the weight of the narrative on their shoulders.

Much of the weight of the narrative falls to Brolin, whose Mannix must deal with a number of situations at the studio, with Whitlock’s kidnapping being simply another thorn in his side. It provides Brolin with a character that allows him to display his strengths as a performer, as he is a man capable of providing charm, intimidation and confidence. Even if the character himself is a bit bland, it is a terrific performance. Clooney once again plays a Coen nitwit after turns in the likes of O Brother and Burn After Reading, as his movie star spends company in the time of ‘The Future’, who may or may not have a Communist Agenda. The HailCaesar-3highlights of a cast which also includes fleeting appearances from Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jonah Hill, are Fiennes in an excellent comedic turn and bright new star Alden Ehrenreich as a fresh faced cowboy actor forced to star in pictures out of his comfort zone (the scene between Fiennes and Ehrenreich is likely to go down as the funniest of the year).

The narrative of Hail, Caesar! is by far its weakest point, as the proceedings are very loosely sketched together in-between extended moments of homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It would be a problem, if it were not for the pitch-perfect casting and the impeccable means in which Joel and Ethan have re-created filmic styles of the post-war Hollywood period. The film at its centre, the epic Hail, Caesat! is a wonderful pastel-hued riff on Christ pictures such as Ben-Hur (but more notably Richard Burton’s The Robe), while we are also treated to extended scenes of Ehrenrich in a cowboy picture complete with drunken prospector, a Busby Berkeley-esque aquatic dance number with Johanssen as a Mermaid, and an outstanding musical number with a tap-dancing Tatum. It is in moments like this that the film truly thrives and exhibits the best work from regular Coen collaborators, particularly Roger Deakins’ cinematography and Carter Burwell’s period perfect score.  HailCaesar-4

Hail, Caesar! quite possibly represents the Coen Brother’s finest technical achievement, but there is ultimately no way of shaking off the knowledge that this film is something of a release for them, the light comedic affair they make to blow off steam in-between more dramatic pictures. The truth remains, however, that the Coens blowing off steam is often better than what most directors put out when they are on their A-game. Hail, Caesar! is campy, airy, inconsequential, beautiful, and uproariously entertaining. If it won’t be remembered all too highly in the pantheon of the Coen’s, it will at the very least stand as one of their more proficient homages to the film-making styles  of old.

4/5- The Coens head to Old Hollywood and bring an outstanding ensemble cast with them, delivering their campiest, most technically assured feature yet.

 

Catch-Up Reel.

Greetings all! I have been somewhat lax of late with my publishing, and I aim to rectify that with this mini-review article being the first in what I hope will be more productive, regular business. I have seen plenty over the course of these past three months of 2016, so I figured the best way to catch up and start afresh is to give a quick two-cents and rating of the films which have populated the early months of 2016. They have all left their mark, for better and for worse. 

Deadpool (Dir: Tim Miller) 

The latest addition to 20th Century Fox and Marvel’s X-Men franchise sees the two companies finally realising one of their shared characters in a faithful fashion that we have never quite seen in the franchise thus far. Deadpool is a character who has been wronged by the studio in the past, making this victory lap all the more sweeter. Deadpool is a character coloured by his potty-mouth, fourth-wall breaking, general irreverent Deadpool-2behaviour, and that has all made it to the screen in all its gloriously smutty possibilities. The glee of Ryan Reynolds performance fuels the, at times, formulaic plotting (the weight of the ink of Studio Execs script notes can certainly be felt in the final act). But the humour remains sharp, with the R-rated touches feeling fresh and essential to a character and a movie that does well to run apart from the crowded superhero pack. 4/5 

Goosebumps (Dir: Rob Letterman) 

R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps series is one that I and many of my friends have a great affection for, having grown up with both the numerous books and the insanely fun Fox TV series. A film adaptation seemed inevitable, and while it may seem to be arriving at a time when Goosebumps-fever is probably at a low point, what has been delivered is a fun 90’s throwback that owes much to the Jumanji-playbook. There is a certain wit and subversive Goosebumpsbent to the proceedings, as Jack Black plays a version of Stein, whosecreations are brought to life, leading to our young heroes heading out to save the day, Monster Squad style. It is a plot device which allows many favourite monsters from the books to come to life, but unfortunately the CGI is often not up to scratch, one of the many elements which colour this interpretation as an adventure movie strictly aimed at young kids. Nothing is going to frighten young viewers in quite the same capacity as the TV show was often capable of, leaving this adaptation as a fun, light adventure,  but one lacking in fright. 3/5

Grimsby (Dir: Louis Leterrier) 

If Deadpool was smut, then Grimsby demands a new adjective. The latest character to stew from the mind of Sacha Baron Cohen has all you would expect from the artist formerly known as Borat; in that you are set to be repulsed, offended, shocked, and left absolutely dying from laughter. Grimsby, with its initially fairly bland conceit of a Bond-spoof, with Mark Strong’s secret agent begrudgingly re-touching with his football hooligan brother (Cohen), is revealed to be one of the ultimate Grimsbytests of bad taste that one may ever embark upon at the cinema. With Leterrier’s action chops adding gloss, and Cohen determined to test your bar, Grimsby comes away as a wholly surprising and ballsy exercise in the profane. You will look away in horror, all the while losing all control of your funny bone as the film sets-up scenarios which end up diving to depths that you could never predict. A testing, sinful film that leaves you feeling in need of a shower, if only due to how bad you feel for enjoying yourself so damn much. 3/5  

The Hateful Eight (Dir: Quentin Tarantino) 

Tarantino’s latest felt a very essential cinematic endeavour this year, due to it reviving the ‘Roadshow’ exhibtion style of Hollywood-old, in which the film was introduced with an overture, with an intermission half way through, and a lovely little photo accompaniment to take home. Seeing The Hateful Eight in 70mm felt like a very special, and rare, experience, which makes it all that more disappointing to say that the film itself is Tarantino’s most frustrating movie since Death Proof. There’s a great deal of strength on
display here. The cinematography is absolutely amazing, finding use for the 70mm format in a surprising fashion. Ennio Morricone’s original score is one of his finest. The cast are all on especially fine form. Why, then, does it all somewhat fall apart? The film is very much made up of HatefulEighttwo halves; the talky slow-burn first half, and the chaotic bloody second. Both have their issues, and both display the worst of the director’s vices; cartoonish violence and over-indulgent streams of un-involving dialogue. Tarantino is a fine writer, but he often doesn’t know what needs to be cut, leaving the film feeling very laborious to begin with, and then too violent the next. The second half is perhaps more entertaining and does make great use of the long set up we endure (the first half does arguably present Tarantino at his most politically astute), but ultimately The Hateful Eight is far too inconsistent to be considered one of Tarantino’s greatest hits. 3/5   

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition (Dir: Brad Bird) 

A delightful surprise announcement came last month, with the news that the new Signature Edition of Brad Bird’s 90’s animated classic (the last great 2-D animation?) would be screened across Cineworld Cinemas in the UK for one week. Seeing as this is a childhood favourite that escaped me during its original run in 1999, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see this beautiful film on the big screen. The story of Hogarth Hughes and his giant metal friend is one that is seeped in 1950s culture and design, and one whose charm comes from great attention to character and simply stunning hand-IronGiantdrawn animation. It was a lack of interest on Warner Bros. part that saw Bird’s film fail to ignite the box-office, but audiences that did embrace it continue to fervently, and it is one that has a secured legacy, highlighted by such a re-release which sees additional scenes animated afresh especially for this release (the scenes are made up of a flirateous moment between Dean and Hogarth’s mother and a dream sequence for the Giant). The new scenes ultimately don’t add much to the experience, but it is an excuse to sit down with this movie once again, especially with the opportunity to see it in all its splendour on the big screen for the first time. 5/5   

Point Break (Dir: Ericson Core) 

So yes kids, we live in a timeline where studio executives think its a good idea to remake a film like Point Break. The Keanu Reeves-Patrick Swayze thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow is by no means a terrible film, it is just very much of its period (the early 90s) and is not something that particularly needs improving upon. Yet, here we are, with a charisma-less cast leading us through various extreme sports in a loose update of the story of an FBI Agent going undercover with a group of extreme sport hippies, only to start to align PointBreakhimself with their ideology. Everything here, bar the occasional exciting practical stunt, is so laborious, so sapped of life, so bereaved of purpose, that it will make you look at the original with the same reverence as fellow 90’s cops and robbers flick Heat. The plotting is routine, inconsequential, with every character underwritten (the female lead may as well be a figment of New Utah’s imagination), Point Break 2.0 forgets the fundamental reason as to why Bigelow’s flick worked so well back in 1991; it was fun. 1/5  

Pride + Prejudice + Zombies (Dir: Burr Steers) 

The adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s genre-blending re-working of Jane Austn’s classic romantic novel which sees the period setting invaded by a hoard of the un-dead is one that has been in the works for a long time, and we do unfortunately seem to have ended up with the least tantalising version (remember when Natalie Portman and David O’Russell were teed to take a shot?). Nonetheless, what Burr Steers has delivered is an albeit tacky yet surprisingly entertaining and well-judged adaptation. What is surprising about the proceedings is how much the film reflects a fairly straight adaptation of Austen, with the un-dead simply shuffling through at I opportune times to accentuate Liz Bennett’s struggle to go against the grain of tradition. The cast are all on fine form, with a particularly hammy MattP+P+Z Smith getting all the best laughs. The action itself is what leaves much to be desired, with the zombies often being too easily dispensed in a world where this threat is nothing new. What is worse though is the muddy cinematography and editing, all seemingly designed to make seeing anything as difficult as possible. This is a film that owes a great deal to its cast and script, as there is very little in the way of sophisticated film-making on display. 3/5 

Triple 9 (Dir: John Hillcoat) 

John Hillcoat is a director who has given us films of great moral complexity, tales which depict the more savage element of man’s nature, constructing moments of startlingly violence throughout, as seen in the likes of The Road and The PropositionTriple 9 sees him play in a more conventional sandbox, one which sees him work in his first contemporary setting following thieves and cops in the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. It is frustrating, then, that this strong talent has made a film that feels far too routine when taken in regards to the potential of both filmmaker and cast. The main issue with Triple 9 is that it includes far too many characters, leading to a lack of focus which dilutes the effect of many of the twists and turns of the narrative. You’re likely to come away from this barely knowing a character, with your reference point probably only amassing to be the name of the actor Triple9playing them. It is to the benefit of the film that it is populated with actors who are extremely capable of doing a lot with a little. We have Chiwetal Ejiofor playing a hard man as the leader among the professional thieves, who have been put to work by an over-indulgent Kate Winslet (doing her best Chekov impression). The individuals who come away as the more memorable performances are a conflicted Anthony Mackie and stoner detective Woody Harrelson. As it stands, Triple 9 is an over-stuffed film, one which is capable of delivering sharp set pieces but is left gasping for breath in its final act. 3/5

Trumbo (Dir: Jay Roach)

Trumbo tells the story of black-listed Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a man whos political beliefs saw him imprisoned and shunned by the Hollywood community during McCarthy’s Witch-hunts in the 1950s. Never one to let anyone else have the last laugh, Trumbo devised a way to keep writing in secret, leading to fake credits on a number of very popular films. It is a story pulsing with political intrigue taking place in a confused and irrational time in America’s history. The film which depicts the tale of this man does often flirt with the idea of making a political statement, but does often retract in favour of Hollywood gloss. However, what we do get is an utterly transformative and commanding turn from Bryan Cranston as Trumbo himself. Many scenes are often quickly ticked off by both director and writers, leaving little time for rumination, but due to the highly emotive turn from Crnaston, even smaller scenes have an impact that you suspect would not have Trumbohad if any one but Cranston was delivering the performance. The focus on his family home, an environment which literally became a Script Sweatshop allows strong connections to the individual himself if not quite offering an in-depth examination of the damaging nature of the Witch-hunts of the 1950s. The film is close in spirit to Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin; a little gaze at the Hollywood of old, one perhaps a bit too airy to carry much weight, but one elevated by one hell of a leading performance. 4/5

Zoolander 2 (Dir: Ben Stiller)

If there was any demand for a Zoolander 2, then it would have been a good 10 years ago. Now, turning up late to its own party, Ben Stiller’s long-gestating sequel just feels desperate, fatigued and wildly misjudged. The sequel sees Derek Zoolander (Stiller) come out of self-imposed exile to reconnect with his son, and all the while stop another terrorist plot set within the world of high fashion. The film plays to a similar beat of the first one, but piles it all on like an over-indulgent sundae, overflowing with gratuitous Zoolander2cameos in the hope of tickling a cheap laugh from a now-too-wise-for-this-shit audience. There is pleasure in seeing Stiller and Owen Wilson as Zoolander and Hansel, but
that quickly fades as it becomes clear that the writing is a little more cynical this time around. Stiller is a director who has proven to be a capable visionary, and has often proved to be very funny, but everything about this belated sequel reeks of development hell; with jokes that would have been dated in 2010, being delivered to an audience who simply does not care anymore. 2/5